You live and learn, eh? Apparently the lessons took some time sinking in, since the next campaign, titled Verikosto (roughly translates as Vendetta or Blood Feud), ended up repeating many of the mistakes I’d made when running Varjosuot. Verikosto had a strong back plot about a tightly knit group of soldiers in the wake of a great war. Having been on the loosing side, the soldiers were now landless and homeless, fighting a guerrilla action against foreign occupiers. This campaign was heavily influenced by the excellent western The Outlaw Josey Wales, and to a lesser extent, Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh + Blood.
My main stumbling block was, again, the rules themselves. I realized early on in this campaign, that since D20 has rules for pretty much everything, the players are going to feel short-changed if I use my storyteller’s fiat to bulldoze any kind of on-the-spot rulings. This is something that GM’s using the Storyteller rules do all the time, since a) the rules aren’t that comprehensive, b) the rules and the designer’s intent of the game itself places such a strong emphasis on the story. Furthermore, in order to run anything “off the cuff” using a D20-system, I’d have to be extremely proficient in the use of the game’s mechanics, especially if (as in my case) the players are also system experts, who will point out faulty rulings and raise protests. Despite what some people (you know who you are) have to say on the issue, in my opinion the 3.5 rules system defaults to a playing style that empowers the players and penalizes a GM who takes too many liberties, even if for the sake of the narrative. This meant that I had to change my approach to GM’ing if I were to continue using the d20-system. The Storyteller style narrative approach, to which I had grown accustomed, simply wasn’t working out with a primarily gamistic (and to a much lesser extent simulationistic) game system. Don’t get me wrong; despite its many faults, I really like the d20-system. Its just, well, pretty much completely different from the games I had been running for the past five or six years. Verikosto had great characters, some nice plot elements, and a lot of atmosphere, but in the end I had to chalk this one up as a failure, for pretty much the same reasons as Varjosuot. The Lesson, however, had started taking root, which would lead to, hopefully, more successful campaigns.