It’s said that good fences make good neighbors, and it’s been posited here that good rules make for a good role-playing game. In a related corollary, today I’d like to suggest that setting some good boundaries for a campaign can make for a good role-playing experience.
Establishing the limits and parameters that will define the culture of your game can add just as much to the campaign as the right setting or an interesting character. Good fences for a campaign aren’t as much about what you play, but rather how you play.
We have to start by talking about what motivates these boundaries. More accurately, I want to point out what shouldn’t motivate them. Let’s compare!
Good fences are motivated by definition, clarity, and common understanding. Bad fences are meant to cramp, restrict, and hold back areas of a game. Good fences follow natural borders in your campaign, while bad fences are artificially installed- almost forced into place at times.
Good fences should be easily visible and widely known, and acknowledge a common accessible area wherein all game play occurs.
Ultimately, good fences should address areas of a game that naturally present questions or ask for interpretation or personal judgment. Some examples of areas that might need some good fences built are:
- Missing or absent players
- In-game vs. Real life conversations at the table
- Common races, classes, or attitudes toward magic
- Tracking resources, wealth, and ammunition
- Character access to powerful items, experimental weapons, or legendary allies
- Necessary party roles, duties, or composition
Before. You. Start.
Ok, that’s the ideal. Building these good fences prior to needing them helps to avoid making anyone feel like the boundary is being established in the moment to cut them off or hold them in.
We’ve got to be a little pragmatic about this, however; no one can predict every discussion or debate that will arise in a game. (I bet no one ever expected to need the Armor Class for a goat, and yet…) In recognition of that fact, it’s good to settle upon a policy for deciding where these fences should go once you’re in the midst of a campaign.
In most cases, the game master will have to make a judgment call in the moment, and arbitrate as best they can. Once that moment has passed, however, the topic may need to be researched or revisited. The GM’s original interpretation may stand, but when your group has a policy in place that assures group members a say in a permanent place for that fence, it will feel more natural and make it easier to respect that boundary in the future.
This is actually a matter of debate in our group right now. Again, “all together in the same room” is probably the ideal answer. We’ve even talked about including a ‘planning period’ as the first meeting before each campaign. At present, however, that’s just not possible.
Real life commitments and long distance group members make game time around the table a valuable commodity, so our group is loathe to give that up when other options may suffice. As such, the ‘planning period’ idea quickly evaporated. Some other options we have used or are using are:
- Email between players, or between a player and the GM
- Online forums or micro-blogging
- Private Wiki site
- Text messaging/Phone calls
- Peer editing/voting
Has your group developed a progressive process for building good fences? Have they found some fences that needed tearing down? What other gray areas have you purposely defined prior to kicking off a campaign? Don’t keep us out- tell us in the comments!