In previous articles, we've discussed the origins of shared-world campaigns and their impact throughout the end of the 20th Century. In 2000, Wizards of the Coast launched the then-newest edition of D&D, 3rd Edition. Alongside the launch of the new game came a campaign that took the Living system to new heights -- Living Greyhawk.
Living Greyhawk first came into the public eye in 1999, a few months before 3rd Edition was formally announced. Building on the success of Living City, the campaign was designed to be administered at a local level by regional volunteers called "Triads" who reported to contracted administrators known collectively as "The Circle." The world was broken into these regions, and each region was assigned a World of Greyhawk region to administer.
For over a year, the new campaign staff worked diligently on preparing the campaign for launch at Gen Con 2000, the same place that 3rd Edition would be unveiled to the world. On a hot August weekend in Milwaukee, players converged on the venerable show to get their first experience of 3rd Edition and the future of the RPGA. On Friday at the show, Living Greyhawk play commenced.
It was a runaway hit. Soon after the show, regional adventures started showing up in local areas. Many players hungrily devoured whatever adventures they could get their hands on -- driving long distances and flying when the drive was too much. Many adventures for Living Greyhawk were exclusive to regions, meaning that if you wanted to play a regional adventure, you needed to travel to that location.
Documentation of character rewards underwent a radical shift after the first year of the campaign; certificates were removed in favor of an access system given out through an adventure record. Removal of certificates quelled one of the longstanding problems of the granddaddy campaign, Living City. No longer did players have to argue who received what item or "dice off" to randomly determine which character would get a certain piece of treasure. While there was some resistance to the removal of certificates at first, the campaign continued to grow at a breakneck pace. Membership in the RPGA was now free, and home play was beginning to be recognized, leading to tremendous growth in the player base. Tens of thousands of people were playing D&D in the RPGA.
By the early 2000s, Living Greyhawk had achieved a first for a shared-world D&D campaign -- it had a critical mass of players in the United States and several other countries. This meant that as long as you lived in a community with a sizable D&D gamer population, it was very likely you could get a group together to play Living Greyhawk or hold a modest-sized game day. The accessibility of the internet greatly contributed to its growth. Dozens of message boards and mailing lists helped to keep gamers in contact with one another and informed about Living Greyhawk events.
Living Greyhawk catered to the experienced, involved gamer. If you were very involved, it also helped if you had the means to travel often. A number of players went to a new Living Greyhawk event (like a convention or game day) almost once a week, driving anywhere within easy distance and flying around the globe when possible.
While Living Greyhawk was a great success, it was not without its organizational problems. The regional system, while great for creating an involved player base, lived and died by the work of the volunteer triads and its real-world geography. If a region had a very productive and responsive group of administrators, play flourished. Occasionally, some regions were less productive, and players from those regions that could not travel far did not enjoy the play opportunities that others from well-staffed regions with close neighboring regions enjoyed. Adventures were seeing only a fraction of the possible play with the regional restrictions.
The magic item access system for Living Greyhawk, while serviceable and a good replacement for certificates, also had problems. Characters with eclectic builds might never find that capstone magic item for their character, and access was sometimes uneven. Adventure records took up a large amount of space in a character binder and looked pretty intimidating to a new (and sometimes existing) player, leading to the moniker "Living Accounting."
With the success of Living Greyhawk, another program was created to support play in local shops and to appeal to a more casual gamer. In 2003, the RPGA decided to launch the shared-world program called D&D Campaigns. Its initial offering was Legacy of the Green Regent, set in the Forgotten Realms. Soon after, the program featured campaigns set in the new world of Eberron, including Mark of Heroes and Xen'drik Expeditions.
While Living Greyhawk targeted continued, regular play, D&D Campaigns focused on tight storylines in a contained, two-year campaign. To keep play manageable for casual gamers, the program features a "level kick" semiannually to bring the base character levels to a higher minimum. This allowed adventures to be more focused and solved many problems with getting a group together to play at a table (called "mustering").
Legacy of the Green Regent (and the Eberron campaigns that followed it) also used an online character tracking system to house all character data. In theory, this would make it easy for a player to store a character's history and rewards -- just log in, print out your information, and bring it to your next game session. In practice, there were many technical issues with the system that needed smoothing out. Despite bumps in the road, the D&D Campaigns programs were also a success, eclipsing all other campaigns except Living Greyhawk in total players and activity.
Xen'drik Expeditions, launched in 2006, expanded on the D&D Campaigns model by introducing story-based factions that determined what adventures a character could play. Each faction had a series of faction-only adventures as well as adventures where the factions could mix and match, called Expedition adventures. It was also the first shared-world D&D campaign to allow players to play evil characters, albeit in a controlled environment.
Now the RPGA has reached the end of its 3rd Edition days, and is beginning a new chapter in its existence with 4th Edition. At Origins 2008, the finale adventures for Living Greyhawk and Xen'drik Expeditions will take place, marking the close of the 3rd Edition era for the RPGA while a new campaign looms large on the horizon -- Living Forgotten Realms. Next time, we'll talk about the future of shared-world D&D in the RPGA as we prepare you for the launch of Living Forgotten Realms in August 2008!