Trapped Between the Pages

By on 9 July 2011

Can campaign books be too constricting at times?

In my little and limited experience with role playing games, I’ve run what must be collectively 3-4 campaigns and one shots and one thing I have always had issues with was campaign books. As I’ve said previously I like free roaming, wide open games to encourage my players to let their imagination run free and really immerse themselves into the world. Because I began my time as a GM doing this I’ve found campaign books to be cramped and limited, and the ones I have bought are usually turned into reference materials. Recently I’ve been planning a few new campaign ideas with friends and as ambitious as these ideas are they are all possible thanks to the power of the imagination… and the right system.

The fact you are bound to a select path and a few avenues of space to discover and move within has all the intentions of keeping the players on track and leading them to the ending of the plot. But if there is little to do beyond, let’s say, discovering the cause of monsters attacking a village and navigating the big bad boss guys evil dungeon in search of him, then is leaves a lot of people dissatisfied. Recently one of my group decided to run War of The Dead a brilliant campaign setting published by one of my favourites, Cubicle 7 (and written by Daring Entertainment). We began the cruise ship adventure with a lot of movement around areas and immersing ourselves into it when naturally zombies attack and we have to build a plan to survive. This is where problems arose. The plan that myself and a friend thought up was to simply escape the boat as fast as possible with probably some alternate plan to detonate the boat and the likes. Yes, it is a very simple idea that yields no adventure but I like to be extreme and efficient. So the GM stops us and says we have to team up with the security and help them with everything. The more we tried to think outside the box the more the GM got fed up with the book and the more we got fed up with being trapped in the guidelines of the story. It’s probably my fault we were all like that because their first ever game was mine in an open realm to play in.

So after a few games the GM decides he’s going to read up on the books and go on the fly from there with his own notes. This is problematic because he spent cash on the book only to use it like I do, as reference material. So I have to leave an open question to readers, give me your point of view on this, which school do you belong in, free form gaming or campaign book gaming? Answers in the comments area below please.

‘Til next time adventurers.

About James Grimes

James is writer from Derbyshire and when he's not running games he's writing them. He has spent 3 years running games trying to perfect his craft. Like a reluctant hipster he supports indie games and new systems that people haven't probably heard of but that doesn't jade his opinion of the classics and greats.


  1. Dave McAlister

    9 July 2011 at 8:07 pm

    When it comes to running games, I’m firmly of the belief that the plot is there to be followed in the PCs want to. If they want to ignore it and do their own thing that’s up to themselves. It does make my job as GM a bit more interesting but that’s part of the fun.

    I own the War of the Dead campaign you mention and, in that particular case, it is possible to try your plans without derailing the plot – I’m not suggesting that they would succeed (or even fail out of hand) but the main plot would continue with or without your interferrence 🙂

    That said, I do love buying setting and campaign books for a wide variety of settings and use them, entirely, for dipping into for encounters or locations. Those, mixed in with a set plot/campaign (whether published or something I’ve put together myself) are my modus operandi 😉

  2. John Davis

    9 July 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Well I like campaign settings…..that way I can use them and allow free-roam (which is a good term) , if what a player has its better than what the ‘book’ has

    They are both a useful tool for GM, and player

    If the players wonder out of the oage that trap them , then its up to them to keep things going, not the GMs so much.

    The only issue ive have with free-roam is that it can kill Pace, which is number 1 rule for me, and it can go to places that the GM neither cares for, nor is comfortable with

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