Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Return to Mar Tesaro - Prologue

As I've said in previous posts, I've been running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for the last several months.  Since writing typically helps me to organize my thoughts about topics, I thought it might be worthwhile to start a series on the setting of my campaign.

Back in 2006, I'd never played a tabletop RPG.  I was introduced to Shamus Young's website via his webcomic, which lead me to his synopsis of a campaign set on the island of Mar Tesaro.    Reading his stories made me want to try the games for myself, so I went to my friends with a proposal that we play D&D.  "Sounds great!"  they said.  "What are you going to run for us?"

Instant campaign.  (Some assembly required.)

This was a pretty daunting prospect.  It wasn't just that I hadn't played an RPG before, much less run one, or that I knew almost nothing about the game itself, but the fact was that I didn't really know what to do for a story.  I certainly wasn't about to write a new setting myself, and I didn't know anything about the established D&D settings like Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk.  Mar Tesaro, however, looked perfect.  I was familiar with it, there was just enough detail available to provide for a campaign, and the story was already provided; all I had to do was plug in my players.

I've written about how that campaign went.   In retrospect, I made a lot of "new GM" mistakes. I treated Shamus's campaign too much like a script rather than a guideline.  I expected my players to interpret the clues and come to conclusions the same way Shamus's players did, and that's really just asking for trouble.  With a few notable exceptions, I basically presented Shamus's setting with only the thinnest veneer of personal touches to it.  Half the time I used his NPC dialog verbatim.  This wasn't a sophisticated effort, but everyone cuts their teeth some way or another.

In the years since that game ended, I've learned a lot about the finer points of running and playing games, both from having more experience and from listening to others tell their stories.  One question I kept asking myself, though, was how to take that Mar Tesaro campaign and do it right, make it mine, apply all the ideas and lessons I'd absorbed since the first game.

Last year, my players returned to Mar Tesaro.  This series is going to be about how I turned that beginner's effort into a mature setting and story.

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