Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Fizzle

"House of Cards" by Indenture is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

About 2 months ago I started a new campaign. I was ambitious, I created a fairly open called Ær. The concept was that the player characters are agents of a kingdom built on a chain of floating islands. I borrowed much of the geography and basic concepts from the kingdom of Floating Ar in Mystara after the cataclysm in the Wrath of the Immortals and then mutated it until it was functionally unrecognizable.

The players are a group of young people who have won a lottery and been given a chance to psychically bond with wyvern (think Dragon Riders of Pern). Those that make the bond become members of a knightly order dedicated to furthering the kingdom's needs. They fight the terrible floating pterosaurs that prey on the region, explore a mainland overrun by lovecraftian horrors, chart the islands that their homeland passes over, and run diplomatic envoys to known kingdoms that were not overrun by the eldritch things.

While I started the campaign using index card RPG for 2E, I was inspired by Stephen Smith to build a custom B/X game for it. This included creating a class of ace dragon riders as an option, replacing clerics with alchemists that were talented surgeons, and importing the pact magic system from Lucas Rolim's Pacts and Blades: Moorcockian Fantasy RPG to give me a magic system consistent with the idea of someone who forms psychic bonds. Clerics exotic and foreign type of magician unavailable for play, and Magic-Users as members of the ruling elite were not permitted to bond with Wyverns (That's work for people who are expendable.) 

I will be sharing the details of my custom system here. with my rationale for how I designed it.

But, unfortunately, life got in the way. Players with migraines, were emergencies, acute sinus infections, and children who can't stay in bed all got in the way of actually playing. After 7 weekends of getting less than 2 hours a week in, and the players having a hard time keeping track of what was going on because of the frequent interruptions, we decided to call the campaign.

It Fizzled. DOA before the players hit third level.

This happens to the best of Game Masters more often than most would expect. 

The dreaded fizzle happens to me for about 2/3 of my campaigns. 

Sometimes it is a lack of time (a killer for fresh campaigns). Sometimes it is that my players had hopes or expectations for the game that they were unable to articulate. Sometimes I am not having fun (more likely if I've not had a chance to be a player for awhile) Sometimes my players don't care for their characters.  A good campaign requires chemistry that isn't always there. Especially when you mesh New and Old School as much as I try to do.

The Fizzle is not something to be worried about, but it can be frustrating. It can cost the GM valuable prep time. I have found that if it is a consistent problem, it is time to take a break and be a player, or to run a series of one-shots to change the pace. Not only will it give you a chance to try a few different scenarios and techniques, but let the players try on a few different characters to help them decide what they might like to try next time.

I also treat the Fizzle as a source of feedback. I look at what I was doing differently from the more successful campaigns I have run in the past and make note about what isn't working or isn't grabbing my players. I have a journal of notes about what has and has not led to durable campaigns. I will probably share some of it on the blog going forward. After all, it is often more useful to discuss our failures than our successes. 

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