GM Guide - Campaigns

In A Thousand Faces of Adventure, there are 3 different kinds of Campaigns:

The stories you will tell by playing 1kFA are told in 3 parts: beginning, middle, and end.

If you've played other RPGs that don't have endings, ones that go on for months or even years, this might seem weird to you. Don't worry, try out a 9-hour campaign and see the results. You may find your doubts erased.

1kFA is designed to tell a particular kind of story. It's called The Hero's Journey.

The Hero's Journey is a skeleton upon which many successful and popular movies and books are arranged: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Breakfast Club, Die Hard, Beowulf, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the list goes on. To help you execute a successful and popular campaign, 1kFA gives the GM Journey points and Shadow points and specific rules for using them.

The main premise of The Hero's Journey is, characters start out in a figurative "ordinary world", they go to a "mysterious world", and finally, they return.

As you and the other players create the narrative, you will have opportunities to shape events. You decide how the world and the NPCs react to the actions of the PCs, and you have the freedom to describe the "meanwhile" -- all the goings-on "off-screen". Use these powers to pull the narrative into a multi-chapter structure, and in each chapter, try to earn Journey points.

The players may just be along for the ride, or they may also want to delve into The Hero's Journey. Be on the lookout for how they signal that they're into this kind of fun, and use what they express about themes, relationships, emotional tone, conflicts, and backstory to co-create the journey.

It's ok to skip it

You don't need to get every available Journey point. You should especially not try to force it if doing so would sacrifice fun for the players. Remember, you're not the only author of this story, and while earning points feels nice, you've got other jobs too, like paying attention to the signals the players give you about the kind of fun they want to have.

It's ok to end it

You may find that you and the players have collectively gone as far as you can. Maybe you've reached the deepest, darkest part of the adventure, and the characters decide to stay and call it their new home. Maybe they find a way to destroy something you thought would be permanent, or make permanent something you thought would be temporary, and that changes the whole conflict structure of the story. Maybe they found a shortcut or outsmarted the Oracle.

Maybe they all died.

Take a break and ponder. Sometimes you can think of a way to reinterpret events or move forward with themes while abandoning specifics. Sometimes you can take a subplot and move it to the forefront.

But sometimes the choice that provides the most fun for everyone is to just admit that it's over.

Getting Journey points is great, but the reason everyone is here sitting around the table is to have fun.

It's ok to blend it

The boundaries between chapters do not need to be strict, explicitly defined lines. There may be a natural blending between two adjacent chapters as you and the players set forth the narrative.

For example, It's common for the 9-hour Campaign to blend chapters 5 and 6. Maybe the treasure of the dungeon is glimpsed, then the ordeal begins, then the ordeal gets really serious, and that's the point to really plumb down to the "dark night of the soul", fully reveal the treasure, and then emerge to complete the ordeal.

Even when there is a threshold, as in chapters 3 and 7, the different players' characters might cross over at different times.

The lengths vary

The final chapter might go very fast, or it might be a long journey home. The first threshold might be crossed so fast that you only notice after the fact. Taking the prize might involve a twisting road of trials, or it might be one explosive boss battle.

Let the story be what it must be, and play to find out the details of what happens, but also take your opportunities to earn Journey points when they arise.

One-Shot Campaign

In a One-Shot campaign, there are 4 potential Journey points to earn.

## Chapter 1: Start in a place of normalcy / comfort

The first Journey point is a "gimmie": If you can think of a way to start all of the PCs in their place of normalcy or comfort, gain a Journey point. You did remember to do Step 10 in the Character Creation chapter, right?

Give the players a chance to establish what "normal" is for their characters. This is an environment that they can manage. They know what to expect here, and to survive here requires no fundamental change on their part.

Here, the players can get a feel for taking actions and having some dialogue in-character. Perhaps they have some interactions with NPCs familiar to them. Perhaps they describe their character moving through the environment and pointing out specific details. Perhaps the characters get into conflict: social, or physical.

As you are playing this out, you should be looking out for two things:

  1. Opportunities to establish a need that will move the story to Chapter 2
  2. A premise. Listen for a statement or action that asserts a fundamental truth

You should make a note of any premise, so you can use it later when creating puzzles, monsters and villains.

## Chapter 2: Cross a threshold with a true choice

As the game progresses, the conversation at the table will start establishing details about the world and about relationships between characters. Find areas of tension and try to develop that tension. Push characters into discomfort. Raise the stakes. Then look for a threshold. Look for some line that, once crossed, they can't simply turn around and go back. They might enthusiastically seek it out, they might even cross over before you've figured out what it should be (if so, all that's left for you is to mark yourself a Journey point). But you might also need to increase the pressures in their "home" to gently nudge the characters up against that threshold.

But, if you want that Journey point, don't push them through.

See if the players choose to step their characters through the threshold. If all of them cross the threshold and step away from their ordinary world into a mysterious world of danger and adventure, gain a Journey point.

Hooks

A common way to get players to choose to go through the threshold is to create a "hook". Here are some things to think about to help you invent a hook:

## Chapter 3: Take a thing and pay its (mortal?) price

Give the players an opportunity to earn something epic for their characters. It can be a great treasure, it can be fame and renown, it can be weaponry, a magical boon, the elusive respect of an NPC, it can even be self confidence. It can be an appreciation for the power of friendship. (Pixar and Disney have some incredibly well-done Hero's Journey stories.)

It's important not to create a prize that just seems cool to you, the GM. The prize should follow from the fiction. It should be something that is actually wanted or needed by the players' characters. Pay attention to them, they are the protagonists in an odyssey. What would be miraculous for them to receive?

Maybe you don't have to create the prize at all. What have the players been talking about, is there already a specific goal? What themes have already emerged through the action, dialogue, and relationships?

Put that prize in a terribly difficult location.

It could be at the end of a road of trials, or inside the cave where they must conquer their greatest fear, or in the clutches of their most powerful adversary.

Allot Shadow Points

Whatever the fictional set-up, when you're ready, set up a challenge in the narrative, then draw a circle around all of the Shadow points and use them all before the characters get a chance to Rest.

If you can do this, when they complete the challenge that used up the last of the set-aside Shadow points, give them the prize of this mysterious world and gain a Journey point for yourself.

Death Is Real Here

This is the chapter of the game where characters are most at risk to lose all of their Stamina points. In other chapters of the story, the GM may choose to narrate this as unconsciousness, imprisonment, or something else that the character will naturally recover from.

But not in this chapter.

If the character loses all their Stamina in this chapter of the story, the GM should represent this as "death". Sell it as a permanent removal of the character, and by extension, the player from being able to impact the events of the story.

Don't make this a downer for the player though. Make the death epic. Give the character a final stand that saves the day, or gives the other party members a chance to survive an enormous threat. A moment of tremendous, meaningful sacrifice. Look for what the character symbolized, or what niche they filled in the party's personality, and amplify that symbol or personality aspect to be everyone's salvation.

Also realize you can give them a second chance at life. If you don't want a gritty, hardcore vibe in your campaign, you don't have to let the death stand. For rules on ressurection, see Using Journey Points.

The Prize

The "prize" can be something completely related to the narrative, or it can invoke the mechanisms of the game, or both.

In giving the characters the prize, you may "break the rules" by removing a cost or condition.

So, for example, you may declare that the characters do not have to be "in a town" to execute the Study Under a Master move. Or the Tales of a Weapon move may be skipped to award the characters with a powerful weapon.

This relaxation of the rules only applies to Chapter 3, and should be narratively justified.

## Chapter 4: Return to the surface, changed.

In the final chapter, find a way to return the characters "home". It need not be their literal home, nor does it need to be where the adventure started, geographically. The important thing is: at this stage in the narrative The Hearth is available again.

You are free to "re-imagine" The Hearth here. If it was previously the song of the Wood Elves, it can now be the song of the Iron Gnomes. If you keep the emotional core the same, you can change superficial details. But give the players enough superficial hints to recognize it.

The heroes are "home", but they are changed. They have been on an adventure, seen things, done things. They are now masters of a new way of existing, unafraid of crossing into the previously "alien" world.

By dialogue or action, each player character should exhibit their change.

This can play out in many ways:

Gain your final Journey point if you can hit this note.

9-hour Campaign

The 9-hour Campaign is a bit more complicated. Committing these 8 points to memory will make it go a little easier:

  1. You
  2. Need
  3. Go
  4. Search
  5. Find
  6. Take & Pay
  7. Return
  8. Change

(this compact formulation is inspired by Dan Harmon's "Story Circle")

## Chapter 1: You

AKA: Start in a place of normalcy / comfort

In the 9-hour campaign, start the game just like you would in the One-shot campaign. See Chapter 1 of the One-Shot Campaign

## Chapter 2: Need

AKA: Call to adventure

In this chapter, the characters still feel safe, but discover that there is something they need to do soon, or somewhere they need to go. This is also a great chapter for the characters to express premises.

This chapter is an opportunity for players to elaborate their characters' relationships, interests, and skills. Provide a sandbox to play in, let the players establish what their characters value here in the sandbox. Try to give them some choices that express themes of the Touchstone List. Will they choose harmony over freedom? Freedom over peace? Peace over progress?

The Threat

While this is playing out, reveal that something valuable is threatened. This valuable thing is often The Hearth itself, but it could be many things, up to and including the known universe. If you are ever struggling to decide, just choose The Hearth or ask the table.

The threat might be revealed by an NPC that acts as a "Herald". This is someone that appears with a message about something from the mysterious world where it is dangerous to venture. Usually this mysterious world or one of it's denziens is the force behind the threat.

The threat might be revealed by using the game rules and playing out a challenge that the PCs cannot yet overcome. If this plays out as combat, be honest about the size of this threat - the PCs may fight something they cannot subdue. It may result in their defeat and incapacitation.

The Mission

Establishing the need serves a purpose for both the narrative and for the game. The characters need the things they will get when the players play the game.

This unstoppable threat should come alongside a suggestion of hope. NPCs can be very useful to propose this last thread of hope.

When it seems clear that the PCs are aligned towards a common goal, ask the table to formulate their goal as a 2-6 word phrase. When this is decided, write the phrase down on the same sheet as the Touchstone List. If you do this, gain a Journey point and aim to move the plot to the next phase.

This threatening force will progress no matter the characters' choices and will pervade the narrative. A common narrative device in movies is "The Refusal of the Call" wherein the protagonists deny the Call to Adventure. If the PCs refuse their call, continue ramping up the tension and expose the downsides of that choice. It will lead naturally to Chapter 3.

## Chapter 3: Go

AKA: Threshold and Threshold Guardian

In the 9-hour campaign, run Chapter 3 just like you would in the "Cross a Threshold" chapter of the One-shot campaign. The Journey point is gained when the PCs cross a threshold with a true choice. See Chapter 2 of the One-Shot Campaign

In a 9-hour campaign, the characters might have built up a little more XP or other resources than they would have in the One-shot campaign. One way to make the threshold-crossing choice more dramatic is to set up a resource-depleting challenge that blocks the threshold. This challenge is called a "Threshold Guardian" and is often expressed in the narrative as a literal guardian - some kind of monster.

Another way to dramatize the threshold crossing is to make the choice about whether or not to enter the mysterious world alone. Maybe the portal is closing, maybe their NPC allies are buying them time. Maybe these PC halflings are the only ones who will fit into the goblin armor.

## Chapter 4: Search

AKA: Road of Trials

AKA: Fun & Games

The characters have now entered a situation that is not ordinary, not comfortable. There is mystery here, unknowns, new people, new territory. Their old coping mechanisms and skills will not have the same effectiveness as before. Consequences will change and heighten. New skills will be learned, new friendships established. New enemies will emerge.

The Search should deliver "the promise of the premise". Go back to your Touchstone List and ask yourself some questions. What is the "juice" here? What spectacle, what adventure might the players have been fantasizing about when they chose the titles you see on this list? Don't be shy about copying.

Allot Shadow Points

To begin the Search chapter of the story, circle half of your Shadow points.

This new mysterious is dangerous. The circled Shadow points represent this. Show the players that they might need to be smarter now. Problems are not solved here as easily as in the place of comfort.

New Problems, New Solutions

At least once during the Search, give each player a chance to use the Study Under a Master or Shop / Procure moves and give each player a chance to use the skill or item they chose.

The Power and Magic of the Mysterious World

Make an exhibition of how this world has power unlike their place of comfort. There are forces here that aren't understood. Those forces can be scary, yes, but they can also be miraculous.

Use one of your Journey points to make this exhibition.

You achieve your GM goal in the Search phase if

If you do this, gain a Journey point and aim to move the plot to the next phase.

## Chapter 5: Find

AKA: Dark night of the soul

AKA: Find the Hero within

When the narrative arrives at a point of relative quiet or peace, maybe during a Seek Help or Rest move, have an honest conversation with your players.

This is a time for total vulnerability, weightlessness, and revelation. It is a time for the entire identity of the protagonists to "hang in the balance. Using dreamlike and mystical imagery in your exposition can be a great way to dress the stage.

Taking a moment to change the background music can be especially effective in Chapter 5.

Tell your players how you interpret the plot so far. Revisit where they've been, reinforce where they've arrived and say what it all means to you. Not as the sole author of a story, but as an interpreter of your shared authorship. Tell them how you see their characters, what they value, what they might represent metaphorically.

Go around to each player and ask them

Make a note of all the answers.

Next, ask any players still using the "Lucky" Stamina system if they're ready to switch over to the "Heroic" Stamina system. This is an opportunity for a player to gain more control in exchange for higher difficulty. If they say yes, make a note of it.

If each character answered "stay", "sacrifice", or "abandon" to any of the questions above, or if any player switched from "Lucky" to "Heroic", gain a Journey point.

## Chapter 6: Take & Pay

AKA: The Ordeal

Just before this chapter, if you can give the players an opportunity to gain new skills or equipment for their characters, you should. They're going to need it.

The characters have learned something in this mysterious place that is the key to both worlds. Maybe they learned something about themselves, maybe they received a great boon or symbol. Maybe they met a goddess that whispered a secret of the universe. Maybe they met their father. It could be something very literal, like the skill they just learned or a spear enchanted to pass through dragon's hide.

This is the thing that will answer the Need.

Allot Shadow Points

When you're ready, set up a challenge in the narrative, then draw a circle around all of the unused Shadow points on your GM sheet. To earn the Journey point of this chapter, use all the circled points before the characters get a chance to Rest.

Death Is Real Here

Just as in the One-Shot campaign's Chapter 3, in this Chapter, the consequence for full Stamina loss is death.

## Chapter 7: Return

Start a conversation.

This is a time to consider grief and acceptance.

Ask the players what their characters will miss most about the world they're leaving behind. NPCs left behind? A fellow PC that died? It can be anything.

Then ask the players how their characters will be received when they return. Was a Need established in Chapter 2, and if so, will the characters be able to answer it? Will the people of the ordinary world accept the characters back? Will they accept whatever treasure might have been found in Chapter 6? Will the dragon-piercing spear actually work against the dragon?

What changes have happened in the familiar world, with our heroes being gone so long?

Did a player's character die in an earlier chapter? Will their friends and family accept the survivors?

Maybe the answers aren't clear, and you need to set up scenes and get everyone to flesh them out.

Bring the story to a threshold. A doorway that will seal shut once crossed. A monster that once slain, will change everything forever. A volcano that must be extinguished or exploded.

Build one final challenge for your players, a "Threshold Guardian". This can be a mob of villagers whose minds must be changed, it can be their cleverest adversary, or it can be that invulnerable dragon.

Gain a Journey point if you confront the PCs with a monster, challenge, or obstacle that embodies:

## Chapter 8: Change

AKA: Freedom from the fear of death

When the characters return back to the ordinary world, they will have to defeat the Threshold Guardian, or if that chapter was skipped, they will have to come to terms with where they've been and who they are now.

A game of 1kFA can resolve in many ways. Where does their new power lie? Game mechanisms? Relationships? Knowledge? Something else?

The Chapter 8 Move: Reveal The Hearth

The first time any PC:

Use a Journey point to Reveal The Hearth. The Hearth was the specific people, food, song, environmental feature, ritual or festival, or group activity that was identified at the beginning of the game.

Describe how The Hearth which has been inaccessible, snuffed out, or hidden since the characters crossed the first threshold is now rekindled, reborn, re-imagined or its inheritor is revealed. All the PCs now have a chance to fully heal their wounds.

For every wound healed, gain another Journey point.

30-hour Campaign

A 30-hour campaign is a trilogy of 9-hour campaigns, called "Books", with slight rules tweaks in the Book 2 and Book 3.

Book 1 will play just the same as the 9-hour campaign. The PCs will venture from their original home into a mysterious world, and return.

Book 2

At the beginning of Book 2, make a new GM Sheet. Copy over any leftover Journey points and Shadow points from Book 1 onto this sheet.

During Chapter 7 of Book 2, the PCs do not return to their original home. They return to a place that has some elements of their original home, but it is not where they came from.

These elements may include:

Only gain a Journey point during Chapter 7 if the threshold they cross brings them to a place like this.

Book 3

At the beginning of Book 3, make a new GM Sheet. Copy over any leftover Shadow points from Book 2 onto this sheet. This Book starts with zero Journey points.

In Book 3, Shadow points grow at double the normal rate:

Chapter 7 of Book 3 can return the PCs to their original home or wherever makes narrative sense.

In this Book, show downsides of the narrative character changes made earlier. Will the characters give up their earlier accomplishments or boons to attempt for even greater ones?

Try creating some monsters with immunities specific to the PCs' strengths. How will the PCs react if the prizes earned in their earlier adventures are rendered useless?

The real juice

When you gather with friends you care about, sit around a table, and tell stories, you are sharing in a great power.

There is a second journey that happens during play, and that is the journey that the players are on. Not the characters. The players.

Every thought, idea, action expressed in the narrative came from a player, one of your friends. Even the most ephemeral or small contribution is special because it was unique to that person in that context.

If you want to make a game of 1kFA really great, pay attention to who your friends are and guess at why they are expressing their character the way they do. Then use those guesses in the story.

This power, this "juice", this "second journey", is difficult to fully express in words. The narrative you create together is a means to explore the human experience. To exist in the moment. Create a model of reality, drop an avatar for yourself into it, distance your "real" self from it, and play at being different. Be free to express anger, affection, pain, the whole field of emotion, even that territory that is kept walled-off to cope with everyday life and behave harmoniously in society.

Just like the fictional characters who cross over to a mysterious world, face the unknown, and return to the ordinary world, we players can choose to cross over and play, explore our unconsciousness, and find ourselves changed by what we confronted, unchained, poked, or set free down there.