The campaign to make my campaign more like Campaign's campaign
(I am so sorry.)
So what makes the Campaign podcast great? Well, besides everything, there are wolves, catchphrases, and an over abundance of ham. Okay, sure, they edit things down so that the ridiculousness you hear is all intentional (including the ham), but each of their 45 minute sessions gets recorded in about an hour and a half.
That means they're fitting in more everything (save for maybe plot advancement*) in one session than I have been able to conjure up in ten times as many hours with mine.
At first I thought maybe it was just my group of (dear, dear) friends (love you guys!) - maybe they're not really into the heavy role-playing and theatrics, which is totally a-okay. I mean, listening to Campaign is pretty much like listening to people role-play professionally - it's just that good - and here I am comparing my non-improv-trained players to them.
But I continued to think on it. I listened to more episodes, and I attended a few GM and storytelling panels at Gen Con.
And then it hit me.
My group wasn't making a big effort to really get into their characters, let alone the story or system, because I was not enabling them to. I wasn't setting the tone for the type of session that I (and some of my players, as it turns out) wanted to play.
We would rarely start on time (and looking back, one of our favorite sessions to date had a strict start time), play would often get interrupted, and there were many times I was wholly unprepared to run a session. We had no direction. We had no structure. Whereas Campaign is a beautiful sort of chaos, it is an organized one. My sessions were simply a mess, and that is on me.
Bacta** the topic at hand
So what does make Campaign great? After listening to thirty plus episodes, and checking out the latest bloopers reel, I arrived at these points.
Focus: Having everyone at the table (whether in-person or virtually) is the cornerstone to having a smooth, enjoyable session. People have to not just be there physically, but mentally as well. If someone's at the table but derping around on their phone, the whole experience suffers. You can laugh and joke and have fun, but keep people focused.
Fast paced: Even when an entire 45 minute episode is accidentally-on-purpose dedicated to shopping, there is never a dull moment. Kat (the GM) keeps the show moving; do this enough and your players will start to police themselves. It's okay if the time is spent doing something silly. The point is, they aren't focusing on the things not important to what they're doing right now.
Collaborative storytelling: The players are all-in because the GM is. Kat often prompts characters to go into more detail on things, or explain how or why something would be what they're saying. It's a wonderful example of saying "yes, and.." instead of "no, but..". By prompting your players to fill in the blanks, you give detail and purpose to an otherwise colorless action.
Player: Is there a [blank] in the room? I want to [blank].
GM: You tell me. Why would they have a [blank]?
Player: Totally. She always uses [blank] before going out to [blank]. I want to use that to my advantage
GM: Okay great, that's perfect. There is totally a [blank] in the room. You grab it and do [blank] with it.
Keep the immersion: Unless it's a question about a rule or something happening around the table but outside the game, aim to keep the chatter in-character. Heck, sometimes the crew of the Mynock even has out of game table talk via their characters - and it is hilarious!
Group buy-in: If you want your players to invent cool backstories, give their character a voice (who said accents are easy?), and really get into the RP experience, you need to lead by example. Give different NPC's they encounter different voices and personalities. Don't make every run-in for them a variant on a conversation with you the GM.
That doesn't mean you need to flesh out complicated backstories and character profiles for everyone the PC's meet, but make each one a little different from the last. Give main NPC's a quirk or dominant personality trait. Try changing up the voice you use when you talk as them, even if you just recycle the same few variants across all of your NPC's.
Nobody is expecting you to be a pro voice actor, but stepping out of your shoes can really break the blank mold of Every-NPC-Sounds-Like-Mike, and instead drops your players into a living, breathing world they can become a part of.
This is hard, I know. I am very timid about trying different voices, but I started doing some reading, pulled up YouTube videos, and will start trying a few different voices by myself. Once I'm comfortable, I'll start slipping them into my games little by little. So what if I sound ridiculous? My friends will laugh and be having fun right alongside me, and it will encourage them to try the same.
From the beginning
I will be rebooting our fizzled out campaign, working with each player to really craft their character and set the path for a wonderfully immersive game. As I work these changes in, I'll write about what I learn, share what worked and what didn't, and hopefully help you make your campaign, a little more yours.
* Actually, they manage to do this, too, oft' much to Kat's surprise.
** You do listen to the show, don't you? No? Okay, fine. One of the main character's name is Bacta.. so it's like, "back to".. You know what, forget it. And shame on you for not listening.