Meagan breaks down the biggest night of the week at Gamers XP
If you're a fan of tabletop role-playing games, you're likely familiar with the classic campaign structure: a linear story arc, a group of recurring player characters, and a fixed setting. But have you ever heard of a West Marches Campaign? This innovative approach to RPGs offers a different kind of experience, with a focus on player-driven exploration, discovery, and episodic adventures. And if you happen to be a regular at The Gamers XP you may already be familiar with our very own West Marches Campaign, known as the Greenmarch Campaign. We’re here to explore what a West Marches Campaign is, how it differs from a traditional campaign, and how the biggest weekly Dungeons and Dragons event in the SBC came to be.
So what is a West Marches campaign?
A West Marches Campaign is a type of role-playing game campaign that is designed to be more open-ended and player-driven than a traditional campaign.
In a West Marches Campaign, the players are adventurers who operate out of a central hub, usually a town or other safe location, and explore a large, uncharted wilderness or frontier region. The players decide where they want to go and what they want to do.
One of the defining features of a West Marches Campaign is its focus on exploration and discovery. Some campaign achieve this by dividing the map into hexes that must each be physically explored, while others, like the one at Gamers XP, steer away from the hexes in favor of letting the story develop organically as players explore and interact with the world around them.
Another key aspect of a West Marches Campaign is its episodic structure. Rather than a traditional campaign's linear story arc, each session of a West Marches Campaign is a self-contained adventure that can be completed in one session (or in our case, 2-4). This allows for more flexibility in scheduling and player participation, as players can drop in and out of sessions as their schedules allow.
How is this better than a regular campaign?
There are several benefits to running or participating in a West Marches Campaign!
Flexibility: Because each session is a self-contained adventure, players can drop in and out of the campaign as their schedules allow. This makes it easier to accommodate a large number of players with varying schedule – this is important, as we have a roster of around 70 players who rotate through the campaign.
Player agency: In a West Marches Campaign, the players decide where they want to go and what they want to do. We accomplish this with our mission board that goes up every Monday night before session begins. Any player who isn’t already in an on-going mission can go up to the board and pull a tab from any mission they want!
Exploration and discovery: The player-based exploration system in a West Marches Campaign creates a sense of excitement and discovery as the players explore the wilderness and uncover its secrets.
Replayability: Because each session is a self-contained adventure, the same region can be explored multiple times with different players or teams.
Community building: A West Marches Campaign fosters a sense of community through its player-driven content, collaborative world-building, and cross-table interactions. Players have agency and control over the direction of the campaign and they build their world together, leading to shared ownership and investment. Cross-table interactions create a more immersive and interconnected world, building stronger relationships between players outside of the game itself.
How we got here:
Monday night Dungeons and Dragons at Gamers XP started as one-shots run by one DM every Monday night. Our very first session had one player – and that player still attends every week, nearly 3 years later.
The sessions quickly grew from there. There were some nights that Meagan found herself running one table for twenty players – so we brought in a second DM. That worked for a while, but we soon found that both tables were being filled every Monday and we became concerned about reaching the point we had to turn players away.
It was at this point that one of our regular customers brought up the idea of running a West Marches campaign – a system that lends itself to in-store play very well with its self-contained adventures and centralized “home base.” It didn’t take long for us to decide that this was how we wanted to move forward with our Monday nights, so we got to work!
We spent about a month and a half developing our first campaign and spreading the word. We made maps, developed a history for our world, and sealed and singed over a hundred letters titled “Dear Adventurer.” We ended our series of one-shots with a treasure chest discovered at the end of our final session, stuffed to overflowing with invitations to come and explore the exciting new world of Leander.
The response was phenomenal. We quickly went from 3 Dungeon Masters, to 4, to 8 as we rushed to keep up with the overwhelming demand. We had a 4 foot by 8 foot map printed and hung it on the wall in the store. Every week we pinned location updates to the map for all of the players to see.
We’ve only grown from there! We’re now on our third full-scale store-wide campaign, and we’re not planning on stopping any time soon.
How do I join the campaign?
Just show up on Monday night with your session fee – premade character optional! We can roll you up a pre-generated character, or one of our DMs or lovely community members would be thrilled to help you get set up with everything you need. At the time of writing new characters would be joining our world at level 10; we keep our minimum level only 2 levels higher than our campaign cap to try to keep everyone on an even playing field!
What are the character creation guidelines?
All new characters must be made with Point Buy or Standard Array. Any class/race/background from ANY printed 5e book is allowed! We do restrict characters to a maximum of two classes (unless you are given a third class due to plot reasons!) All new characters start with one Rare magic item or 1,000gp.
How do I level up?
Every new player is given a Session Tracker; this is a form that your DM signs at the end of every session to show you were here. For every 3 signatures on your tracker, your character gains a level! There are also Downtime options to help you catch up to everyone else if you miss a few sessions.
What happens if my character dies?
You get a new set of trackers and roll up a new character, one level below your now deceased character. Then you keep playing!
Why do you charge a session fee?
Because we pay our DMs for their time, and spend quite a bit of time during the week making sure that this campaign is the best that it can be for you, our players.