Lest you think that all I’ve been doing in rambling on about D&D…
From left to right, you have two corners from the Gothic Arena, the front of a Gothic Church, the main part of my Zombie Bunker, and the back of the Demon Shrine. I should just pick one project and finish it, rather than try to do four at once.
Over at The Grand Tapestry she has this meme about being able to describe your campaign in 25 words. For my formative fantasy campaign, I came up with the following:
An unknown frontier filled with unexplored ruins, savage tribes, blasphemous shrines, cunning traps, fabulous treasure, and a sinister world-shattering conspiracy but no heroes
That’ll go good on a flyer.
I’ve begun to really avoid gaming forums lately, mostly because I can find myself having wasted a good hour of my life with little gained but a stomach full of “nerdrage.” Moreover, I’ve rarely seen a place that offered a fair and balanced critique of the different editions of D&D that didn’t quickly degenerate into something less. RPGForum? 4E is the beloved. TheRPGsite? 4E (or FATE) is emblematic of what’s wrong in the RPG universe. And don’t even get me started on the disputes between people over which is their favorite retro-clone. That has all the feel of “which is better, this store brand of diet cola or that store brand of diet cola?” It’s mostly the same syrup and carbonated water, and costs about the same.
A while back I wrote about how I thought 4E was really a different game entirely rather than an expansion on earlier editions. A lot of this was based on things like starting abilities and the vast number of classes and races available. But in browsing the RPG blogosphere I came across this.
It’s a great article but I’ll give my own synopsis. Essentially the writer makes the case that the underlying motivation for characters have shifted from the classic “I’m in it to get rich and powerful by killing things and taking their stuff” (leading one commentator to remark that D&D characters appear to be sociopaths) to a model of “I’m a superhero in a fantasy realm.” First-level PC’s can wield a variety of magical abilities and superhero-FX stunts like slamming the ground really hard to make everyone fall down.
But here’s the 4E genre disconnect. In 4E you still need to kill things and take their stuff. In fact, it is a critical part of the game engine. To put it plainly: the game designers presume that it is normative that PC’s will pick up magical weapons. armor, and other paraphenalia regularly if not in every gamign session and have scaled “Encounter Levels” accordingly. So the game isn’t really “Fantasy Superheroes” but more “Fantasy Superheroic Muggers.” Batman defeats Captain Cold, and then straps Captain Cold’s freeze gun onto his utility belt. It’s that conflation about avarice and heroism that sort of blurs the line.
See, which I think that the generic dungeon-crawl genre is heroic, it has that King Solomon’s Mines or perhaps more appropriately Conan feel to it. Most D&D campaigns have the median alignment (in reality or on paper) of “Neutral Good”: vaguely altuistic self-interest.
All of this is a rambing way of me processing as I bounce around trying to figure out which edition I want to use next. As I think about 4E encounters, I’m thinking more and more like I did when I was GMing Champions (archvillain, principal henchmen, flunkies) and less like I normally do when I’m putting together dungeon scenarioes. Actually, the team-on-team tactics of 4E remind a lot more of Champions than 4E. Defender becomes “brick”, Striker becomes “blaster”, controller becomes “psionicist”, etc.
And I’m really wondering if that is what I want scratching my RPG itch, or if I’d rather go with the pulp-level exploration of earlier editions instead.
A little too quiet, if you ask me. Or rather, all quiet on the hobby front. Right now I’m working very slowly on a new 40K piece that I’m calling the “zombie bunker.” It’s not gothic like my friend wanted, but its free and he can’t complain.
I’m also finally getting my act together about putting some real D&D stuff on paper, but in the process have short-circuited by Gothica modular dungeon set because I think the rooms are too small. I’m thinking more about doing the whole “dungeon tiles” thing with some corners and other accessories that can be moved around to suit how I want that particular room to look. Should have some trial pics up soon, right after I cast a bazillion gothic floor tiles. Sigh.
I’ll freely admit I’m building these rules based more on what I’ve read on other’s people sites and my own previous experiences running failed quasi-sandboxes than actually running a right one, but one element of a sandbox is distinctly to allow the PC’s to choose the direction of the campaign, and that means doing a lot of work in advance.
In The Legacy of the Dragon (or whatever my mini-epic C&C campaign was called) I did the exact opposite. I laid out what appears to be a sandbox environment: a major city and three “dungeons” that were three ruined castles (which I called “caers” after Forgotten Realms). The caers were practically lined up like stops on a railway line, with the PC’s going to one, then the next, then the last after that. I thought it would be helpful because my gaming group was relatively new, and taking away these decisions would make things easier. Moreover the plot, my plot, would slowly grow to its climax as clues were uncovered in each dungeon.
Instead, the campaign got woefully predictable. I realized at one point that I literally knew what I would be gaming for the next six months to a year in advance. And the climax was impressive, but I found myself telling the story at the end like I was reading out of a book to my kids at bedtime. The player’s weren’t engaged as participants, just viewers. To make matters worse, the novice players just learned by “roleplaying games” meant being led around by the nose. It would be literally a year or more of gaming to break them of that.
So, in order to do it right, you do need a few venues mapped out, but scatter them around, leave plenty of rumors, and let the players figure out where they want to go. The means having the work front-end loaded, but then you can continue to add on new venues in advance, always keeping a few areas in play.