Today's post is short [I just got braces and I'm slowly adjusting to them] and has no new game mechanics.
In the early 1980s RPGs were still a relatively new concept. Just about any release, no matter how poorly published, would garner attention and people would clammor around it. Game after game would be bought, characters would be made, and a few sessions would be played before someone got bored or a new game was released to grab our attention.
Everything was a horizon and the art of making characters was as important as anything else in the book. If you gamed at all in the 1980s, you understand what I'm talking about.
It was here we learned to avoid scifi games, gamma world, super hero games, and anything by FGU. These games may have been fun one or twice, but outside of the new names for sword, orcs, and ale... there was nothing different from these games, than DnD. And while some people migrated to Palladium, few people left DnD forever.
If you're new to gaming, none of this matters, so let me get to my point.
Scifi games are unplayable. Cyberpunk is for a different breed of person altogether. Superhero games last one session. Western games revolve around one theme. Post-apocolyptic games only draw in certain kinds of players.
There are many reasons why these games fail, and we always come back to DnD. There are a hundred reasons why DnD, Cthulhu, and Vampire are really the only games with any longevity, all of which I can address if you want. But, the meat of today's lesson is what makes DnD work.
Dungeons and Dragons has move plot possibilities than any other game. This is not arguable. Look at the lists. Examine the plot hooks in say... GURPS Space vs. Fading Suns vs. Basic DnD. While there are only 36 basic plots (according to the book, "36 plots"), the potential for adventure in a fantasy setting is nearly unlimited... which is ironic, because the save the village/princess/caravan story is so overdone... you'd think DnD was a video game. I could do an entire post about posts and it would be 10,000+ words.
The reason for the failing of any game world is that it does not ADD to this list, but rather detracts from it. It does not embellish, but rather restricts. I see game world after game world that violates this tenet, making the game less playable than DnD. The basic save the village, loot the dungeon, kill the orc, and recover the holy sword stories need to always exist. But, the game world should create NEW ones.
And these new ones need to be obvious.
Now. It's okay if you don't have orcs or dragons, but there need to be alternatives. If you're playing in a game set in an aztec empire, killing olmecs is the same as killing orcs and slaying dragons is the same as slaying the jaguar king. Pillaging tombs is easy enough and I'm sure there's a village or two that needs to be saved.
But, the aztec empire supported cannibalism in a very narrow way... eating the heart of your victims... swallowing their strength and virtue. So. When the aztec RPG comes out, I expect to see a chapter about ALL the potential adventure ideas and how to incorporate them AND the rules for eating the hearts of your enemies.
What are ALL the potential adventure ideas?
I'll use 7th Sea as an example... since I worked on this product. This game sorta did this, but sadly, the tools to do this were never evident. In 7th Sea there was a plot about the missing bishops and dead cardinal in Montaigne. Lots and lots of adventure potential. Where are the bishops? How do I as GM write stories involving these bishops? How does this change the game world when the PCs do rescue 1 or 2?
In Eisen, there was a stubborn baron named Steiger who burned and salted his owned land before letting the Castillians take it. How then do the PCs adventure in this land repairing the damage? What tombs exist in the realm that PCs might explore? What "orcs" might need fighting against?
Where are the nuggets of adventure that make this world MORE adventurous than the one I'm playing in now?
I would say, in this regard, we failed with this product. We didn't provide the tools to the GM to make all the stories work that we spent so long creating. And if all a game company is doing is selling you on their fiction... why aren't they printing fiction? Gaming fiction, to me, is masterbatory.
should be bigger than the adventure chapter in the DMG.
Dungeons and Dragons is about adventure, conflict, heroism, and potential. A truly memorable campaign involves the PCs changing the world around them, becoming the heroes of legends their new 1st level characters will come to admire. Remember those statues you saw of heroes that saved the world. That's what you want to become.
Sadly, the Forgotten Realms has none of this. In fact, I will go so far as to say that FR is a place for ren faire and SCA bard tales, but not for gaming.
And before you close this page and never speak to me again, let me illustrate.
In Waterdeep there are 100th-level wizards, hordes of paladins, Elminster, and the ivory palace (or whatever its called). Who cares when orcs attack? Where's the conflict? What challenges lie in this world that I could even care about? And who even knows who your PCs are? If they don't show up to fight the drow, I'm sure someone will.
Dozens of game worlds suffer from this, "My NPCs are cooler than your PCs" syndrome. The designers are so busy populating the world with their own bad-asses, that they've forgotten what adventure is all about; they've forgotten that heroes are borne from conflict; in most cases they've stopped gaming and have forgotten what the end user needs.
Game worlds like the one's we're designing here, require conflict... enemies to fight and a need for the PCs to fight them. There's more, but it's getting late and I need to post this before I become one of those people who never updates his site.
And as much as I don't like Eberron, Keith Baker gets it too.
I want to end this article on one last piece of information.
Gaming is whatever you want it to be. If you like gnomes and bards (you're an idiot), then play them. Go have fun with your buddies, singing happy twinklebottom songs. The information and advice on these pages is for the benefit of those who want change. Those who want to spice up their gaming. Advice about sneak attack, races, initiative, and whatever else, are advice.
I have years and years of experience playing with every gamer under the sun. I've attended over 50 conventions and even gamed at a few of them <snark>.
I've played across from people who thought a candy bar up the butt was a funny way for a cthulhu character to die. Yeah. I've ran games for people who needed to be constantly entertained. I've endured stinky gamers, sleeping gamers, thoughtless gamers, power gamers, drama queens, rules lawyers, bullies, drunks, attention hounds, children, misanthropes, know-it-alls, and manic-depressives.
There is no constant thread amongst our breed. We come from so many dejected backgrounds, I don't even know where to start. But, certainly most of you love star trek and joss whedon (to whit I say... huh?) and so many other alternative entertainment mediums. Yet, nothing unites us... except perhaps our overly opinionated nature.
I've seen so many different types of gaming, that I'm sure what I say here is greek to the people who think Battletech is an RPG. You game how you game. I'm not here to judge that. And I can't and won't convince you these ideas are law.
What I know is how to shake things up. How to make what you're doing better, stronger, different, powerful. I know drama and dramatic content. I know dramatic conflict, plot, characterization, and adventure threads. I know how to end an adventure in 3 hours or how to stretch it out for 3 months. My published works are all examples of this; tools for gaming. I can't hold the pen for you, but I can tell you which pen and which paper work best for the task at hand.
I seriously just want to help people enjoy this craft at a higher level.
So... eat what you want and leave the scraps for someone else.