All right, let’s gear up for some edition war goodness! Time to draw some lines in the sand! And…..I got nothing…. Ok, let’s talk about what I see going right and wrong in the adventures I play.
I love DnD( yes even you 4e, even you), Pathfinder, Shadowrun, DCC, Numenera, and all the others. Heck, when I see a kickstarter, I have to try NOT to give it money if it’s an RPG. But, I’m seeing a bit more rail roading lately(maybe I’m paying more attention), especially in living games, and I think that’s a problem. Not a giant one, but one to keep in mind.
Now, I’ve talked before how I love the living game model. I do love the community that living games build. But, lately I’ve seen them being very linier. That’s not “bad” as the Lord of the Rings is a fantastic story, but completely linier. But I feel that limiting the choices a player has limits their agency and therefore engagement in a RPG. The door swings booth ways though. If you give the players a swimming pool of options, they drown. And, in a four hour con slot of a game, having the entire world of Pathfinder to play in won’t get much done.
What’s got me thinking is how adventures are laid out and what is put up front for the GM. I’m bad a preparing for my games, so I end up reading my adventures about an hour before show time. But, what I’ve seen is mostly a standard layout.
Act 2-get to a place (box text)
Act 3-Kill x of y guys
Act 5-Kill z of y guys
Act 6-Three minute wrap up of an adventure so you get your certificates and the GM gets a drink before doing it again.
Now the above isn’t bad. It’s an adventure that with some extra from the GM will be fun. However, I’m seeing this repeated a lot. And that’s where it’s not as much fun. I see LFR and PFS as having been the guiltiest of this. Then again, these are two of the most prolific groups out there. And I still love these guys!
What’s been making me more happy lately is Shadowrun, old school gaming, Numenera, and the current season of DnD encounters. What’s the difference between these? Let me describe their typical adventure setup.
Act 2- location A
Act 3- location B
Act 4- location C
Act 5- location D
Act 6- Summary of events, usually done in five minutes so your GM can get a drink and do this again.
The difference is how the information is presented. All adventures have box text. All adventures have monsters. However, by giving me the information as a location with stuff there, it’s less “we’re all gonna die/have to fight monsters”, and more “here is a world, go play in it”. As a GM, the emphasis is less on combat as the only way to fix stuff and more on making the PC do their own things. Combat is always “fun”(relatively speaking), but if I get more freedom/descriptions as a GM to allow the world to “live” I can consciously and subconsciously give that as freedom/choice to my players.
Now I know living games have to have a similar structure/adventure across all the games that get played. Hence, the whole “Living” thing. But I think trust has to come into the game somewhere (along with some behind the scene rules.) Shadowrun right now is the front runner for my favorite RPG for its living game. The game is less rules tied down, and it gives a ton of trust out to its GMs. However, the system does have its rules. If you steal a tank, you can’t keep it. Nor can you really sell it. That would break the game. And the game/system basically tells you to tell your PCs that. While that does break the forth wall a bit, so does the episodic nature of the game. And that’s ok. Players want to have fun, see the world for a bit, but really don’t want to say there! Don’t believe me? Even the most hard core DnD Player will want a shower after a while and they don’t
There is a drawback to location vs encounter description. Locations with lots of information require preparation. I as a GM have to read the location, know what in-game mechanics are required, and be able to rattle off my own box text to describe what happens. I also have to have a better knowledge of the rules then if they are just given to me. Encounters can be written really easily for beginner GMs as you front load the chapter with rules to make life easier. That’s again not bad and even great for someone who needs to learn how to GM, but if you older in the tooth like me, then maybe the location with descriptions is a better model. Also, it will make me prep more ahead of time!
Basically, the more “freedom” you give me as a GM the more “real” world will be for the PCs. Keep that in mind when you play and run your next living games. Have fun!