One of the scenarios RPG players face time and time again is the inconsistent group. For many the greatest villain in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons or any tabletop roleplaying game is Scheduling. Oh, the trials and tribulations involved with maintaining an RPG player group on a regular basis. Online gaming goes a long way towards mitigating this challenge because it’s easier than ever to find people to roll funny shaped dice with but what about keeping one group of people together consistently enough to complete a long campaign, or even a few sessions to finish a single adventure? Personally I frequently run into an issue getting a group to meet more than once with any consistency. I still manage to satisfy my gaming itch, but whether as a player or Game Master I yearn to experience a protracted RPG campaign following the same group of characters. While going through some notes I came across one with a potential way to circumvent some of the issues I’ve faced keeping an adventuring group together. So let’s get into it.
Adventure simulator for 5E D&D
A few different concepts coalesced into an idea for structuring a 5E D&D campaign. This could work for any RPG really, and other game systems with lighter approaches to rules might lend themselves even better to what I’ve got in mind. Let’s start with the short note I dashed off weeks ago and came across this morning.
“Adventure simulator campaign — you awake in a pod.”
The premise for this campaign style removes the characters from the campaign setting. Rather than exist as people who live in world, the adventurers instead enter and interact with it from a remote location. This could be another plane of existence, another planet or another time — either in the past or future. Noodly enough for you yet?
Think about a scenario like The Matrix or the Animus device from the Assassin’s Creed video games. In this adventure simulator campaign the characters use a device to transport themselves into various settings and situations, arriving at the designated times and places in forms suitable to the circumstances. Names and personalities remain the same but character classes, levels and so forth change depending on the quest goals. I know, I know, sounds crazy right? Here’s how I would manage setting up this unusual campaign.
Developing a location where characters return after adventures and deciding the broad concept for your adventure simulator campaign forms the foundation for the stories to follow. Both of these factors offer limitless creative boundaries. If your campaign has a central plot it starts right here at the characters’ home base when you decide what and where it is and the purpose for its existence. For the purposes of this campaign, the world beyond the home base is irrelevant. Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
- Castle or Keep. A fortified structure that houses an arcane device capable of transporting creatures’ consciousnesses to other times and places along with the immortal wizard who created the device eons ago.
- Research Facility. A futuristic compound with advanced technology and machines to send people’s minds across time and space.
- Pocket Dimension. A planar bubble adrift in the Astral Sea capable of creating portals to anywhere in the multiverse.
Along with the party’s home base there is an entity there to handle all the fiddly bits. Like all the best RPG mentor type characters this one possesses great knowledge. They must remain at the home base for a very specific and important reason. They are the only one capable of operating the adventure simulator device, enabling characters to enter and exit the adventure locations. This character also acts as quest giver, informing the party of their next destination. Here’s some examples to give you a few ideas.
- An impossibly old mage who either created the adventure simulator or acts as steward.
- An integrated artificial intelligence maintaining the home base and controlling the adventure simulator device.
- The ancient spirit of a long forgotten civilization lingering on to guide those making use of the adventure simulator.
Here’s where things start getting really funky. Character creation leans heavily into personality and background because race and class — and even level — change over the course of the party’s adventures. As you probably surmised this unusual campaign idea asks for a lot of player buy in. Keep in mind I’ve exploring this concept to address a very particular situation.
My long time home group gets together very sporadically and while the players love their characters from our main campaign they also naturally get curious about other character options. None of the players want to abandon those characters but at the same time our group would like to play adventures at different levels, try new classes and subclasses and so forth. I got to thinking what if we could preserve each individual character’s persona but keep everything else flexible enough to change things up?
Here’s how I envision creating characters for this 5E D&D adventure simulator campaign. Think of a show like Quantum Leap, where Dr. Sam Beckett inhabits and controls the body of another individual.
- Choose Background. This is what your character did before becoming a full fledged adventurer. It also represents a character’s personal interest or hobby. When characters are at their home base, this is the extent of their features. Since our home base is removed from the world outside, they won’t need weapons, armor or spells there.
- Develop Personality. This aspect of a character along with any skills or proficiencies they gain from their background are the only traits that transfer through the adventure simulator. Because of this it becomes important to figure out who a character is and what they’re about. The adventure simulator takes care of the crunchy stuff but having a solid idea about a character guides players through why they became involved with these circumstances.
- Group Collaboration. Outside the game presumably everyone is on the same page as to the goal of this kooky campaign style. Trying new character options, maintaining beloved characters and accounting for group inconsistencies covers why the players are doing this but what about the party? You could borrow again from Quantum Leap and imagine the party are all involved with adventure simulator research when the funding gets pulled and the mentor risks everything to activate the device before its ready. Taking this a step further they might be aware of anomalies throughout time and space, using the device to try and smooth out cosmic wrinkles. Or they could belong to an organization of people in an otherwise mundane world you simply are able to survive the adventure simulator process.
When need arises somewhere in the multiverse characters enter the adventure simulator device at their home base. The mentor activates the device and the party’s bodies remain in their pods while their consciousness transmits to wherever they need to go and interacts with the world through an adventurer avatar. Once the group determines the adventure they intend to engage with, players complete the other normal steps in character creation, choosing their race and class and assigning ability scores. Remember, personalities stay the same along with background features. This is also an opportunity to break from the standard linear level progression nature of 5E D&D and jump around a bit. Here’s a few examples.
- The mentor identifies the spirit of Vladimir Horngaard, a once great dragon knight now bereft of honor and nobility. The adventure simulator sends the party to Argynvostholt where they must confront the brooding undead knight and guide them toward redemption. The party takes on this adventure at 7th level, adding appropriate race and class options and leveling them up.
- Next time the group gets together the mentor sends them to the Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl as 12th level characters. Using their basic frame of background and personality players build them up as 12th level adventurers, making completely different choices or certainly welcome to revisit the same race, class and subclass as before.
- After this adventure the mentor informs adventurers a clone of the wizard Manshoon needs dealt with in the city of Waterdeep and sends characters through the adventure simulator at 3rd level.
How do all of these disjointed adventures and characters fit together and make a coherent story? If I’m honest this is beyond the scope of the post, which I thought I’d share in case any of the ideas or concepts apply to your own 5E D&D groups and may be useful. My home group of friends likes rolling funny shaped dice, fighting monsters and roleplaying and those primary goals steered my thinking as regards this adventure simulator campaign. The seeds your group plants during collaborative character creation for something like this can develop over time and between adventures. Perhaps the mentor is mysterious and sends groups to these adventures for a grand purpose. On the flip side it could be a malfunctioning device and there is no connective tissue between adventures or (to borrow from Quantum Leap again) something goes wrong and sends characters careening through time, space and levels.
What do you think about this style of campaign for 5E D&D or really any RPG? Does it feel counter intuitive without a clear and linear level based progression? Do you dig the storytelling potential? Would the players in your group be okay with this scenario and the base assumption when they’re at the home base, they’re just regular 0th-level people? Let me know in the comments and of course, stay nerdy.