Yesterday while we were waiting for some of the usual gang to arrive at The Dungeon Tower FLGS it occurred to me that we were trying to run a long-run campaign in the game store. It’s something that one would run at home with a solid regular group, not a place where people come and go from one week to the next. Or where new gamers just want to sit in for a couple of hours.
I recalled Gary Gygax’s Tomb of Horrors. It’s less an out-right campaign adventure and more of a “See how long you can last” challenge. There were a few other stories I heard from Ernie about the Dungeon Hobby Shop where people would drop in and just want a quick game for various reasons. We needed a solution that let us drop in, game, and if others were an hour late or didn’t come, we could still have a game.
In 1925 Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp created an art exercise called “The Exquisite Corpse”. A paper is folded into thirds. The first artist draws on the top, folds it to hide the section leaving only small hints to end lines for the next artist, and likewise for the third. The end creation is a surreal and abstract whole creation. I knew Herman wanted to get a break from GMing and I was getting my fill of waiting for people to maybe or maybe not arrive.
We threw most ideas of an on-going campaign out the window. We also threw large portions of organized adventure out the window. It was decided that we’d have a blank slate world with just some core elements. Similar to my Lands of Lunacy setting, we’d embrace the chaos void. Characters would be allowed to drop in and out without story-logic explanation. If nothing else, a chaos shadow would sweep away the character.
Game Masters can rotate at any time or at any natural pause. The GM (previously a player or guest) after the first one has the little story threads left to pull and create a game in an improv fashion. The world as a whole gets built one hex a time as each GM establishes new things. GMs can even rotate mid-dungeon if they like. The end larger creation ends up being an adventure and campaign. Even if it’s a bit ‘abstract’ it still creates the game world.
We are keeping a stack of Pre-Gens available. Players can also generate one on site, but the game continues while they work. Generally speaking, the party has an “adventurer level” as we move along and each GM picks up the torch. As players drop in and out some level adjustments need to be made.
Running an improv adventure is a real challenge, but in the Exquisite Dungeon a GM can run as few as a handful of encounters or as many as a few sessions. The GM can run off-the-cuff, a portion of a module, or something they googled during the break. In some way it should make sense according to the story threads of the previous GM.
This removes a lot of GM pressure and allows us to game with new visitors to the shop and regulars. We also get to keep our gaming muscles active and ideas flowing. One of the core reasons for us playing more is to become more familiar with the 5E system and its nuances. If your group tries the Exquisite Dungeon approach, I’d be interested in hearing about it below.