WFRP, A Port Mortem

WFRP, A Post Mortem

After 2 long years of running the same campaign, Shadows Within Shadows, a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game, the journey is finally over. Last night me and my RPG group, the Melbourne Organisation for Tabletop Enthusiasts, or M.O.R.T.E., completed the ultimate session of the campaign. There may be one last session as an epilogue, but the campaign itself is over - done and dusted.

This is technically the first long campaign I've ever finished. I have finished smaller campaigns of 3-5 sessions before, and mini-campaigns all round. But I have never finished something this long, with approximately 70 sessions all up over the course of the game. 70 sessions with, all up, 11 different players featuring, and ending on a group of 9 wonderful players, each of whom holds my eternal gratitude.

Finishing this game has left me with many thoughts - I've learnt a lot from this experience, and I hope I can shed some hard-earned lessons with you all. These aren't just about gaming - some are about everything in life - but they are born out of gaming. And that is my first lesson learnt:

1. Always Be Willing To Try New Things

The entire concept for SWS was new to me - a large group of characters, all within a doomed city, barely scraping by, and trying to save everyone who essentially didn't want to be saved. It was a lock-in campaign. I had to fill the city with enough menace to last 2 years... And I went a bit over board on that one!

But I am glad I tried this style. It wasn't perfect, and I didn't do it as well as I could have. But I tried. I learnt my strengths and weaknesses as a GM. I learnt that my sessions run best with a plan on my end, instead of complete freedom for the PCs. Which I will get to next...

So please never turn down a new experience, unless you have a damn good reason not to. My group is filled almost completely with players who had never played before and many of whom were shaky to begin with... And it has caused us to bloom life-long friendships, forge relationships close enough to share a house together as room mates, and even been a vessel for love to blossom. No, I shit you not.

But that brings me to lesson 2...

2. Direction is Good

Every GM I've ever met has been terrified of railroading their players, and every player has lashed out at the concept of being railroaded. If a GM told a player that their character was tired, they'd scream and thrash and kick a fuss and stay away for a month...

Well, not really, but you get my point.

I once thought this way, that the only way to have a successful and "fun" game was to let the players do whatever the hell they wanted with the tools available. I thought giving them the ultimate decision was right on the money in terms of GMing chops.

I, like many others, was wrong. Players, especially new players, are coming to a world that exists for the first time only in the mind of the GM. The GM may see all these avenues to solve any problem, and they certainly know all the lore necessary to plan against and exploit. But players probably wont know it as well as a GM - and that is how it should be. If they knew everything, then there could be no surprise.

But this also means that they cannot possibly envision the world as well as the GM can when left to their own devices... The solution, then, is direction. The GM needs to direct their players - subtly, of coarse - with the use of NPCs, rumours, chatter, and general goings on. The GM should have a plan of what happens in the world, and make the PCs react instead of act first.

So, instead of saying at the beginning of a session: "What are you guys going to do today?", instead begin with "The commander of the city guard was found cut in half and nailed to his door frame this morning... What are you guys going to do about that?". (Note, that is actually how one of my sessions started. Not word for word, but the quest hook was the same.)

Eventually, your players will grow into their own and become used to the NPCs and information channels, and will start acting before things hit the fan - so long as you give them enough shadows preceding misadventure. Which leads me to my next point...

3. Trust Each Other

GMs, you have to trust your players. Players, you have to trust your GM. Trust me, you will both enjoy the game more so if you do. Everyone spouts off about the "Rule of 'Yes'" for GMs, but they never get into the nitty-gritty of it. Why are so many GMs reluctant to say 'Yes'? Because doing so towards an untrusted player could mean the unravelling of the GMs hard work. This is a real fear... And why do players often become defensive and guarded towards their GM? Because doing so protects the part of themselves which they have exposed to play the game.

RPGs are incredibly personal. A campaign, even written down word for word, would be different if played by a 10-year-old male GM, than if it was run by a 25-year-old female GM. Or two siblings. Or hell, even two twins. The mind of the GM makes the world, and no two minds are alike. Likewise, the minds of the players make their characters, and again echo the world created by the GM and make it their own. So, if you have a GM and 5 players, there are 6 echoes of the same world playing concurrently, which are all unlike anyone else's world...

If you don't trust the people around you to enter your world and leave it for the better, it can never truly be beautiful. It may feel natural to hold each other out, only letting them effect the world with your say-so, but that is wrong.

Trust me.

When you place that trust in each others hands, the emotions born from it are intense and incredible. The stories told become legendary, and they feel like they've happened directly to you. Because, really, they have. You are your character, your character is you. You are your world, and your world is you.

But this is generally a lesson for everything you could find. You will find that the simple act of trusting another human being will open them up to you, and the trust will flow both ways. I can't say it very well without sounding weird, so watch this video, and it should clear up what nonsense I spout.

Final Words...

I learnt many more lessons in this journey, and perhaps some day I will be able to articulate them, but for now I feel I have said all I can on the matter. Finishing SWS has left me feeling both insanely proud of all my group, and free of the burden of the world. But it has also left me a little hollow... It is weird to say, but in the two years of GMing my group, I think I fell a little bit in love with each of the characters. How can you not, when they play inside your mind that much of the time?

But I am stupidly, insanely, pathetically grateful for all my group. Thank you for letting me run this campaign, and thank you for sticking by me throughout it. I know it wasn't always a great ride, and I know some of you probably hated me at times... But it was an amazing ride, and I hope you've learnt as much about yourself as I have through the experiences.

I will never forget this campaign. Thank you.

O, Nine's just a few.