Thursday, January 11, 2024

How a Brechewold Campaign Works

I have been delinquent in letting you know that Brechewold has been available from the LotFP US web store for some time. If you’ve been waiting to save on shipping, now’s the time. If you live outside the US and want a physical copy, go here, and if you want a PDF, go here.

I was never that interested in writing a book about sitting in class. I suppose I could have cracked the code to making fantasy school interesting, but I think most high school fiction agrees with me here. I’m sure there are ways to do it, but here’s the thing: school is kind of a railroad. If the focus of the game were the classroom, then everything would already be predetermined. There are far more student-directed educational models, of course, but I didn't want to convey that kind of vibe with Brechewold. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It would also necessitate entirely different mechanics, and I wanted to make a dungeon game. I could certainly imagine a guided-dungeon-as-lesson type thing, but for some reason that rubs me the wrong way. "Today's quiz is the flying axe puzzle room, students." I think the guided nature would run counter to the sense of discovery, my favorite part of D&D.

No, I'm far more interested in the "we're not supposed to be here" feeling. So here's the engine of the campaign I did write: PCs select courses at the beginning of the term, but their main function is to impart secrets that will hopefully entice players to investigate further. I like to think of the course catalogue as an a la carte rumor menu that should align with player interests since they picked the courses themselves. Each term will have one major investigation, so there's a ticking clock in the background: after four years (eight terms), the PCs graduate.

The courses also act as a way for PCs to begin building relationships with the professors. There's a web of intrigue going on behind the scenes, and in my experience players tend to side with the professors whose courses they've most selected. You'd be surprised how much loyalty picking an imaginary course from a list can create.

For a long time in my playtesting, I was using milestone experience. I don't think I'll ever use it again. It seemed like the obvious choice: at the end of the term, PCs pass their classes and level up. Graduating is about the closest real-life analog to leveling up most people experience. But it provided no incentive to explore and take risks. Even worse, it seemed to rob my players of forward momentum - they asked me several times, "So, what are we supposed to do next?"

So I went back to the old standby, XP for GP. It might not be the flashiest or most innovative reward system, and yes, it prioritizes greedy accumulation, but boy does it just work. I tried to put a little twist on it - PCs only earn XP for treasure they use to decorate their common room, hopefully evoking a feeling of a frat house full of junk that all tell stories of past glory.

This will be my last navel-gazing Brechewold post for now. Up next: what does the future hold?

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