An overland map of the city of Bluecliff

Decision Paralysis | Campaign Diaries

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This article was originally found on the Grinning Rat Publications Medium account. It has been brought over and made free for viewers. Note: Some ideas and considerations may be out of date.

I began running Bluecliff Adventures in the early fall of 2018. It was a direct sequel to a previous campaign that had been set in the same world, but with different main characters. At the time, I had envisioned it as a west marches-style game — where people could drop in and out of the campaign at will.

The original elevator pitch I had written (dated August 2018):

Bluecliff Adventures … seeks to solve the issue of balancing Dungeons & Dragons session availability with a typically complex adult schedule. By shifting the perspective on the planning of sessions and adventures, a more ‘pick-up-and-play’ style of game can be achieved.

The hex map I gave to my players before we began Bluecliff Adventures. This map would be tweaked and altered considerably over the next two years.

What I had intended to happen was to have a roster of players and a map of cool locations that they could pick from to explore. The adventurers would be centralized to a guild hall where they would find bounties, swap stories, and build their fame and fortune.

For expeditions, players would input their time to a calendar and would come to me to ask for a session — which I would then plan and schedule. The players who didn’t play would perform downtime or other miscellaneous activities to keep them invested and growing as characters.

Getting to these locations would take some work, as they were buried or lost to the wilderness. It would be a dangerous proposition, but would often be rewarded with riches and loot beyond one’s wildest dreams.

If you’re starting to see the problem with this plan, you’re a better DM than I was back then. I, unfortunately, began to notice it too late.

Divergent Goals

As we progressed through the first few sessions, there was an uncomfortable tension between the players who could consistently play and those that could not. The players who couldn’t make it to every session would find that their availability coincided with Part 2 or Part 3 of an already ongoing adventure — therefore, they couldn’t join. Then when that adventure ended, they were unable to play again due to scheduling or because we were following up on something that came up during the first adventure. Even worse, the players who went on the adventure would often learn new information about their enemies — information that would need to be relayed to the others who missed the session.

Not only this, but I started giving out adventure hooks that directly related to the characters while simultaneously introducing the main antagonist and their minions. This particular issue, while seemingly innocuous, is the primary reason I stopped running the campaign and will be covered in detail in a future post.

All of these issues were exacerbated by the fact that, during the campaign, I was a DM who thrived on lore and giving information. I created new races and created entire ecosystems for why they existed. I carefully crafted NPCs to overlap with key factions at the right times. I spent hours making recordings of how my players invested their downtime during a hiatus we took. Hell, I made a 50+ page full-color setting guide for those playing in the campaign.

And remember — I did all this and the thing still didn’t work in the end.

Looking Ahead

That’s not to say that all things were bad. There were also some absolutely beautiful moments that should be shared about this campaign. Moments that every DM wishes for — moments I honestly feel are comparable to the likes of those seen in the Adventure Zone or Critical Role.

I intend to go through these good and bad moments chronologically as that is the only way that makes sense to me. Hopefully, as I work through it and put them to paper, you can understand where I was coming from and learn from my mistakes as well.

At the very least, I’ll feel better for getting it all out and into the open.