A Hydra in the Marches

This past Spring I started to realize that my current campaigns were overwhelming me from a quality control standpoint. I was doing a lot of work and having fun, but running campaigns in three different settings caused my work to be inefficient. Which hampered the quality I was giving to my players.

  1. My Wickshire campaign focuses on a band of (originally) halflings in an entirely custom world. No modules, etc. All my creation.
  2. I’m running Hoard of the Dragon Queen with other friends as a convenient way to game with more people, and to get a feel for how Wizards of the Coast has 5th Edition D&D adventures designed.
  3. I started a Birthright setting campaign with the intent of it becoming a major campaign for me in 5e, conversion and all – but that quickly shifted into running Lost Mines of Phandelver as a means of giving me the ability to handle the design crisis of a home game, full book adventure arc, and conversion of an old setting to new rules.

In short, I’d bit off more than I could chew well. I was managing to chew it, but I didn’t like the result. I want to give my players something better.

Running three games was going fine. Generating the content to make them detailed, interesting, and responsive wasn’t. People seemed to be having fun and enjoying the games, but I felt the quality slipping and started to consider how to improve it. At the same time, I discovered the West Marches campaign approach – something that was conceived a decade ago, in my D&D hibernation phase.

Part of that approach is to shift the focus from DM crafted adventures to player initiated adventures. Sure, the DM still builds the world, but only as a response to player initiative. All of the work done is in answer to a player saying “My character would like to go here and investigate.” This would mitigate work done that players never see, or choose not to interact with. DM time and effort is focused entirely on where players want to go. Additionally, players form parties ad-hoc in West Marches games; based entirely on which characters feel interested in the adventure. This allows for larger player pools, and adventure parties that change as needed.

That inspired me, and I saw it as an opportunity to fix some of the issues I had with the core design of Birthright; the world is too stable, too populated. There aren’t as many expanses of uncharted wildland to explore. It started to feel like the answer to my challenges. All my friends playing in one setting. All my work done in response to what they want; benefiting them all. That sounds far better than three fixed parties, in three fixed worlds, where work done for one party can’t benefit the other. All I needed to do was script a bit of catastrophe to regress the Birthright setting, and convert it’s special quirks to 5e D&D vs. 2e.

So I started to go for it. Months in advance of when I anticipated needing it. I started to talk to my wife about it, to my friends about it – pretty much anyone who’d listen. My DM passion was piqued, and I felt the excitement from the opportunity growing. In the process, two other DM’s expressed interest. The opportunity to join forces added to the excitement, my energy, and my desire to see this happen.

What if we shared a West Marches game? What if, instead of one land to explore, there were three? What if the players could not only play in a different party of adventurers each session, but with different DM’s? All with one pool of characters? All in one world?

I had to say yes. YES!!! technically. A game that could last years. Players that have constant opportunity to create characters and explore them in a setting that spans multiple adventure regions. DM’s that could manage a pool of dozens of players, countless characters, and nonstop opportunity to enjoy adventure with friends. It’s too much fun to say no to.

So the three of us have been working on the game this summer. We ended up leaving the Birthright setting behind. It caused too many questions, and too many things to work out and was cut away by the Sword of Simplicity. We are, instead, building a custom and shared setting, focused on the core rules (to start), so the options don’t overwhelm us – or our friends.

Thus was born the Detroit Marches. A Western Marches style campaign for gamers in Metro Detroit. One of the things I love about living here is that there are countless gamers. We keep meeting new friends to game with, and I’m excited to have a D&D setting to share with them. I’m also beyond excited to share DM duties with two friends. I’ve taken to calling what we are doing the “Hydra-DM” approach (as there’s more than one head and the game can live on without one of us if someone needs to take a break, relocate, etc.).

A Hydra in the Marches

This blog will explore my path, as just one head of this hydra, and the adventures I share with friends along the way.

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