The Underdark Campaign – The End
My own contribution amount to no awards, and a position mid-way down the leaderboard. Particularly average, though disappointing when one considers that I took on the newsletter duties, and the occasional leadership role, in any faction I was in. Apparently it is all about how many backs you stab, or players you rip off. But hey, that’s cool. That’s the name of the game.
But since it is all over, I thought I would add my own observations and suggestions.
Firstly, I was disappointed that the short stories dropped off fairly quickly into the game. True, it was difficult keeping track of what everyone had written, but it helped to flesh out the world. Unfortunately everyone fairly quickly worked out that the gains of writing a story weren’t worth the time it took to do it. I mean, you got 5 spoils for doing absolutely nothing, so why spend hours trying to scrape up one more? I would like to see the use of short stories better integrated into the mechanic, if they are going to be a part of it. How this could be done, I don’t know. Even a sum of spoils awarded to the best fiction piece for that turn could be an incentive.
Player inactivity was a problem. For instance, there was a player in The Syndicate of the Council that joined, and for the twelve or so turns he was a member he didn’t spawn a character, contribute to the faction, or even post on the forum. Some hard rules needed to be set to clearly define an ‘inactive player’. Three turns of not contributing, with no explanation, seems like more than enough reason for ejection from the game.
I liked how complex the game was, but the rules weren’t very clear from the outset. It took me a couple of turns to get the hang of it, and even by the end there were still those who didn’t understand even some of the basic operations. I also wasn’t very fond of all the implied rules. Like for instance, you spend 1 spoil to buy 5 regiments. This was clear enough, but nowhere did it say that each of these 5 regiments could be put onto separate nodes. Evidently you could, though I strongly disagreed with this rule. It should be one purchase, one node. So those who had a grasp of this unwritten rule had a distinct advantage.
While we are talking about advantages, I think it was The Syndicate that started out with one. Their faction was made up largely of previous campaign players, while the other factions contained a mixture of veteran and new players. This allowed them to steamroll the game early on. While this forced some players to get a better grip on how the game functioned, it also pushed a whole lot of players away really early. This just doesn’t seem like the optimal situation.
Spying was a part of the game, but over zealous espionage forced faction tactics talk and movement decisions into the world of private messages. I was terribly disappointed when this happened, as this was supposed to be a game where you were working with a team. Instead it became one player portioning out bland orders to other players who just had to cut-and-paste them into their battle report. I discovered, especially when I was running a faction, that this caused a lot of players to become disconnected. They weren’t really involved in the game anymore, having been relegated to pawns. And that is not even a metaphor, they were literally pawns! Faceless things to be ordered about and moved around.
The mine in the centre of the map was a good idea. It gave something for the proceedings to centre around. However, The Syndicates early steamrolling meant that the mine became insurmountable, and the main crux of the campaign fell to the wayside in campaign play. Though I think this was a product of the players actions and the game mechanics, rather than a fault in the mine idea itself. Still, it was sad to see one of the campaigns main story points quickly fade into the background.
Some people didn’t like the two-week turns, but I loved them. It gave me time to actually digest what was going on and then contribute. Especially handy when things got extra busy. Though I must admit, the short turns really helped to push The Syndicate of the Council to their later successes. For some reason we just seemed to respond better to the short timeframe. Either that, or we were insanely lucky.
Now that I have The Underdark Campaign under my belt, what would I like to see in a future campaign? Well for starters, I think it would be interesting to not just run an individual character, but play as a whole clan. I also think it would be interesting to burden players with their own secret missions, objectives that they can accomplish to gain bonuses. For instance, off the top of my head, 4 spoil reward for each Special Project in your faction that you sabotage for failure. I suppose I’m interested in introducing something that forces players to not just blindly follow orders they are sent. They have to decide between towing the party line, or achieving the personal goals they have been given. It could wreak havoc if included badly, but I think done right it could add that hook that will keep players interested for longer.
A movement mechanic with a bit more finesse would be nice, too. The current system meant that the more movement you had, the more power overall you had as you could also attack each node you moved into. There was no real trade-off for being fast, where as there was for being focussed on other attribute upgrades. Using the clan idea could be an interesting part of the solution, as taking your clan in a certain direction could lock you out of some upgrade options.
While the map was artistically beautiful, the individual aspects of each node became superfluous fairly quickly. Using a map is a good idea, but perhaps something better than moving from node to node can be enacted? Personally I would like to see something a bit more amorphous, a map that represents the factions power levels and success, not just what little caverns they occupy. The factions radius of influence could directly correspond to the map area under their control. Perhaps they nominate what direction to spread their power, trying to envelope handy bonuses on the map in the process.
In the end, I understand running something like this is quite an undertaking, and I applaud the guys that made this thing tick. I wouldn’t have changed anything about it, it was a great, fun and frustrating game that had a rollercoaster like momentum. I’m just hoping that this can be used as a base to learn from, and to bring something even better.