Earlier in the year, James Mullen and his gaming group embarked on something that had not been done before – a campaign of Dead of Night. In July I asked him to talk about the set-up for the Endangered Species campaign, and James laid out some of the rules tweaks that he’d be using to maintain the game over a series of sessions. With the campaign now laid to rest, I’ve asked James to write a series of guest posts reflecting on how Dead of Night worked as a campaign.
The Endangered Species campaign wound up a few months ago and Andrew has kindly asked me to reflect on what we learned from the experience. If you recall, I implemented an extra rule module called Baggage, which acted as an extra life for characters, allowing them to lose something really important to them instead of dying, but it also allowed players to roll 3d10 instead of 2d10 and pick the best 2 results when they narrated the Baggage into the action. During play, we modified this slightly, adding the rule that if you used Baggage to provide a bonus but failed the roll, you immediately lost the Baggage, unless you spent a Survival Point.
While Baggage did prove very effective and useful, it wasn’t as essential to a campaign as I assumed it would be and characters survived for several sessions just by gaining 2 Survival Points for making it alive to the end of each episode. If you do want to use Baggage in a campaign, though, I can recommend the following guidelines:
First, create Baggage that is represented by something physical that the PC has to lug around with them, whether that’s a valued possession or a dependent NPC. Using Baggage to represent NPCs proved to be a very effective way of handling large groups of characters in the fiction without requiring players to run more than one character at a time; the NPC simply provides their bonus die when they do something to help the PC they are connected to, but providing this help also puts them at risk. Possessions were also very interesting and Baggage would be a good way of creating superior weapons, personalised vehicles or mystical artefacts within your stories.
Second, create Baggage with a story attached, something the PC will risk their lives to protect or strive for, e.g. travelling to a particular destination or winning a target’s affection. This gives players much more of an incentive to have their characters go off the rails and gives the GM more ammunition to use in making the PCs’ lives more complicated. In any horror campaign, the horror can’t be the PCs’ only concern all the time, there have to be other things for them to do or else they become jaded to it; Baggage of this type is a perfect hook for engaging the players’ and the characters’ attention in other concerns and can be used to turn the screws on them whenever they think they have gotten a breathing space. It also helps in keeping the intra-party relationships on the simmer and provides a source of further conflicts between PCs, as they take sides in the argument over doing what’s necessary to survive or sticking together as a group when one of them wants to go off on a side-quest.
The very best kind of Baggage is something that has elements of both of these, such as where a PC wants to change the relationship they have to a dependent NPC (rebuilding the trust with your estranged family, winning the heart of your unrequited love) or they have to get a significant plot item in undamaged condition to its intended goal (bring the vaccine to those who can make more of it, win the Zombie 500 Rally in your tanked-up muscle-car) . Given these considerations, I’d be tempted change the name of Baggage to ‘Reasons to Live’, as that better reflects what they should be about, but ‘Baggage’ is just much snappier.
In my next post, I’ll talk about how we used Bad Habits, and how they helped sustain the campaign.