Let's Not Save The World...Again
  • Let's Not Save The World...Again



    It used to take a lot less to make us feel heroic. Guns and ships and criminals used to be good enough, as in the stories of Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and even James Bond as written by Ian Fleming, not as he's known from movies. In pulps, it was enough to defeat a gang or an unusual villain. The "science fiction" adventure of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne is surprisingly tame by contemporary standards. Now we want everything in movies to be flashy and completely unrealistic, approaching the ridiculous, as in most comic book movies and other action movies (Indiana Jones IV, anyone?).
    Jaded: "tired, bored, or lacking enthusiasm, typically after having had too much of something;"
    "feeling or showing a lack of interest and excitement caused by having done or experienced too much of something"

    We see it in video games: "save the world (or galaxy)" is a pretty common, almost mundane, motivation. It's not enough any more to rescue the kidnapped person or prevent a dastardly deed.

    "Saving the world" creates a cheap sense of grandeur. It's the Age of Inflation, everything has to be "stunning" or "awesome," everybody is "saving the world." I call that jaded.

    I played in a campaign where, invariably, we faced such waves of monsters that few of us (sometimes only my character) were left standing. The GM evidently manipulated numbers so that this would happen. But it became almost tedious rather than exciting.

    We lose impact when it's always "save the world", or always any particular outcome/objective. Pacing is vital both in games and on the screen, and good pacing requires alternate tension and relaxation. If every story is “epic”, epic becomes normal, not extraordinary. If we always save the world, that becomes mundane. Games (like life) benefit from variation in tension/relaxation. The contrast makes them both more intense and more enjoyable. Good pacing would mean alternating the Save the World objectives with others at a lesser scale. (For an under-3-minutes explanation of pacing see https://youtu.be/QAPkcr4b0EE.)

    What can a GM do? Set expectations from the campaign beginning. Choose players (and adventures) wisely. Make "Great Objectives" the purpose of an entire campaign, not of each adventure. The threat of death, or of losing all their stuff, should be enough to thrill adventurers without resort to saving the world.

    In my campaigns, stretching back more than 40 years, we've never saved the world; an entire campaign might be about saving a city or country, but that didn't happen in every adventure (nor any particular adventure, really). Saving the world calls for really experienced (high-level) characters, and few get that high.

    If it isn't enough to risk death, regardless of objective, then there may not be much you can do about jaded players. Or maybe there's no risk of death in your campaign? That could lead to boredom: no extreme lows.

    References:
    Extra Credits: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LScL4CWe5E
    Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/featur...mes_arent_.php

    contributed by Lewis Pulispher
    Comments 92 Comments
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      I have similar thoughts, but it's not really "save the world" that I find is as the main issue - it's the focus on gaining levels and abilities along with designing "cool stuff". It's not the scale of the story that matters, it's the focus.

      In most movies, books, TV series, etc., the focus is on the characters and their stories. Sometimes the setting plays a large part, and the story is how the characters react to the setting. But in most cases (there are some exceptions) there isn't a lot of advancement in the skills of the characters. Indiana Jones is Indy, Bond is Bond, Superman's abilities are well known and largely haven't changed in decades. Luke Skywalker did advance, but the rest of the characters around him for the most part didn't.

      In addition, the setting is usually fairly consistent, and more importantly, used to set the stage. The most successful of the Indy movies are set against a backdrop of WWII, with the Nazis as the villain. Superhero villains return again and again. The same applies to the many villains in Bond movies. In a lot of TV series (mostly non-fantasy ones, but also science fiction like Star Trek), there is no overarching villain. Each story is self-contained, although sometimes there's a bigger story looming in the background that becomes the focus from time-to-time. Police or legal dramas have an endless parade of crimes to solve, criminals to put behind bars.

      Major villains are frequently thwarted, but not killed outright. They return again and again.

      The advantage of an approach where characters remain at a certain level for a long time is that you have time to get to know the characters. For the characters to grow. To see how they'll handle a certain situation, survive this challenge, etc. Knowing that they aren't the most powerful beings in the universe. That survival or success isn't assured.

      While I love the D&D 5e ruleset, it's heavily weighted toward success. Level advancement is very fast, and new abilities every couple of levels. Next week's monsters are "bigger and better" and encounters are designed around mathematical equations driving toward combat, but make sure it's not too hard. The APs are designed to bring characters from 1st level to 15th level (with some variations), with a big story to go with it. Once you reach the end, there isn't really many places to go with those characters from there. The design seems to imply it's time to make new characters and pick up the next AP, instead of maintaining the same characters across multiple APs.

      That's an inherent problem with the "level-up as a goal" design - eventually you level out of the system. It's always been a challenge for DMs, and 4e tried to address it, but the 4e approach had its own issues. Mostly because as long as level advancement and gaining new abilities is the goal of the game, you can only go so far.

      It reminds my of a common problem TV shows have at the end of a season. Instead of continuing with their development of the characters and their stories, there's some big event that shakes up the world of the show. Half the cast might be dead next season! Except that the first episode of the new season neatly resolves the issues, and everything goes back to normal (often completely ignoring the ramifications of those couple of episodes). Of course, the end of the next season has to be even bigger.

      While I understand that Spielberg and Lucas wanted to get away from the Nazis in the Indiana Jones franchise, they are the perfect type of villain, like the Russians in Bond or other spy series of the era. You can't destroy the ultimate villains and their network, just thwart their current plans. War settings in general work well as a backdrop, as there are always stories to tell, missions, or challenges that somebody must handle, but you know they aren't going to defeat the opposing army single-handedly. The mob is a good model for an a villainous organization (or organizations, as they have rivals of their own).

      But recent RPG design recommends against recurring villains. Expect that the encounter with your villain will result in the death of the villain. Don't take away your player's victory by allowing the villain to get away. The design model is to drive toward the encounter with the BBEG, and success is defined as the destruction of the BBEG.

      As I was going through the AD&D PHB recently, a picture near the end struck me as a perfect example of how the focus of RPGs has shifted. It's a picture of a small group of adventurers leaving the dungeon. The rogue (thief) has a bag of loot, and is looking back, as if there's more to be found, and there's a silhouette of a dwarf, and a fighter, holding a bag of loot, and raising his axe to the sky. And to me the picture is all about survival. Not the big battle with the BBEG, but we simply got some treasure, had some adventure, and survived. They are excited simply to be able to leave the dungeon, to adventure another day.

      There doesn't have to be any more story than that. Like a cop show, each episode is about a new crime to solve, a new criminal to identify and stop. A party of adventurers just has one more dungeon to explore. Come back to town, blow it on the high life, and go back and get some more. There doesn't even have to be a big story to go with it.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not against their being a story. But it doesn't always have to be "bigger and better" than the last one.
    1. Mallus's Avatar
      Mallus -
      Quote Originally Posted by prosfilaes View Post
      The extremely popular Lensman series, finished at its core by the 1940s, had humans save the universe; I don't know any other setting that broad, or that high-powered with people throwing around planets. The Golden Age of comics was when Superman and the other big superheros were at their flashiest and virtually invincible, whereas the later Iron Age offered us guns and gangs.
      I was going to post about Doc Smith's Lensmen. By the end of the series, using entire planets as FTL missiles wasn't good enough. They used planets made of antimatter. And the series bad guys were a race of ultimate brainy evil that decimated entire continua (if I'm remembering the Eddorians backstory correctly).

      Even incidental details ran towards the big & crazy, like the species that thrived in environments like Pluto's and grazed in another dimension.

      And didn't a lot of early DC pantheon of heroes, barring of course the Batman, resemble mortal gods? All flying and super-strong and nigh-invulernable, decked out in capes? It was Marvel in the 1960s and 1970s that popularized supers down at the more human, street-level scale.

      edit: I'm all for reducing the scale/scope in genre fiction & games that rely on their tropes. But I also wary of arguments that describe a perfectly reasonable-sounding history narrative which is also false.
    1. lewpuls's Avatar
      lewpuls -
      Perhaps I should explicitly state the obvious: my articles here are descriptive, not prescriptive. I can't care how you run or play your game (unless I'm playing!).


      prosfilaes, I just reread the Lensman series. Yes, it's apocalyptic, yet so much of it is individual adventures, quite a contrast, and I think quite unusual.


      No one can "prove" much of anything in 500 words (and usually, not in 5,000). Trends are trends, you can always find exceptions (such as Lensman), yet finding individual exceptions doesn't destroy the generalization about hundreds or thousands of items. "No generalization is always true (not even this one)."


      I have an historian's skepticism of saving the world, of conspiracies, of the supernatural. There's a place for high-stakes objectives in FRPGs, it's when that's done over and over again that it becomes tedious.


      Ilbranteloth, I pose what you've described, as players who focus on the destination, not the journey. If you rise in levels rarely, you'll pay more attention to what's happening every session. But we've been doomed by video game RPGs.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      But, how is this anything new?

      Going back to the early history of D&D - you have the GDQ series. One of, if not the most popular module series of the game. There's no going back. There's no revisiting. And it's all about getting to the next boss, which is bigger and badder than the last boss.

      Or the A series of Slaver's modules. Again, same thing.

      Even the T series was intended as this ongoing complete campaign.

      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      Don't get me wrong, I'm not against their being a story. But it doesn't always have to be "bigger and better" than the last one.
      But, since day 1 of D&D, it's always been thus. You go to the dungeon, do whatever, come back, gain XP, gain that level, go back to the dungeon to go deeper with bigger monsters and bigger threats, and then wash, rinse repeat.
      @lewpuls is trying to pin this on video games. Good grief, this was part of D&D when video games consisted of Pong and Pac Man.

      And just to address @lewpuls directly - you repeatedly claim that you cannot "prove" anything in 500 words. Then why are you trying to prove something? Why are you making claims about the "way things were" and "the way things are" when those claims are very contentious? Instead of making broad, sweeping claims about history that, perhaps focusing on means to compromise or resolve what you see as an issue might be more productive?


      ........ Edit to add

      Just to be fair, I do enjoy these articles. They are thought provoking, and they do have a pretty interesting point. The problem I have, is that the history is spun in such a way that it's very difficult to get to the message without first trying to address some quite questionable attempts to paint the history of the hobby in a very self serving light. No, it is not true that we've gone from local to world shattering fiction. No, it's not true that it used to be that we were happy with fighting gangsters. Good grief, A. C. Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, wrote The Lost World - a lost island full of dinosaurs where humans evolve into vampire demons. ((and we'll ignore the incredibly racist bent for now)) Not exactly "dealing with gangsters".
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      In most movies, books, TV series, etc., the focus is on the characters and their stories.



      As I was going through the AD&D PHB recently, a picture near the end struck me as a perfect example of how the focus of RPGs has shifted. It's a picture of a small group of adventurers leaving the dungeon. The rogue (thief) has a bag of loot, and is looking back, as if there's more to be found, and there's a silhouette of a dwarf, and a fighter, holding a bag of loot, and raising his axe to the sky. And to me the picture is all about survival. Not the big battle with the BBEG, but we simply got some treasure, had some adventure, and survived. They are excited simply to be able to leave the dungeon, to adventure another day.

      There doesn't have to be any more story than that.
      There doesn't have to be. Likewise, in narrative ficiton, there doesn't have to be any more story than there is in Hardy Boys books. But obviously some readers prefer more.

      I've never encountered anyone who plays classic dungeon crawl D&D for the story. If you want a RPG in which the focus is on characters, and their stories - rather than, say, on a combination of effective planning and clever play in the moment - then who would recommend starting with a dungeon crawl of the sort advocated in the 1st ed AD&D PHB?

      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      recent RPG design recommends against recurring villains.
      Which RPGs have you got in mind? At the moment I'm GMing games in three systems, all of which is relatively recent (4e, BW, MHRP/Cortex fatnasy hack). None recommends against recurring villains. And all my campaigns have featured recurring villains.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      Ilbranteloth, I pose what you've described, as players who focus on the destination, not the journey. If you rise in levels rarely, you'll pay more attention to what's happening every session. But we've been doomed by video game RPGs.
      I'd probably characterize it as the opposite, that to us it's about the journey, not the destination. But yes, with level advancement slower, you tend to focus more on the story and the characters.

      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      But, how is this anything new?

      Going back to the early history of D&D - you have the GDQ series. One of, if not the most popular module series of the game. There's no going back. There's no revisiting. And it's all about getting to the next boss, which is bigger and badder than the last boss.

      Or the A series of Slaver's modules. Again, same thing.

      Even the T series was intended as this ongoing complete campaign.

      But, since day 1 of D&D, it's always been thus. You go to the dungeon, do whatever, come back, gain XP, gain that level, go back to the dungeon to go deeper with bigger monsters and bigger threats, and then wash, rinse repeat.
      Yes, and no. Originally, the concept behind D&D was that the DM would prepare their own world and dungeons. It took TSR a while to start publishing adventures, in part because Gary reportedly didn't think anybody would want to buy them. The original modules published often came from tournament adventures.

      B2 (Keep on the Borderlands) was a good example of the original design approach, where you'd have a home base and a dungeon to explore, and as you cleared out things, new things could move in. We did play those adventures, but they were within the context of our ongoing campaigns. Where each of us had a number of adventurers at any given time. You had Ed Greenwood's and others articles in Dragon magazine that were implying a broader approach to running a campaign, that became even clearer with the release of the Forgotten Realms set.

      The issue I have isn't that it's not possible. The 5e rules (other than the very fast advancement) do allow this approach and it works very well. But the presentation of the rules, adventures, and such point very much to the BBEG playstyle. To give them credit, they have tried to make each AP unique in it's feel and specific approach. And for a mass market game, their approach is much easier to support and to pick up a casual game.

      I can't really speak for others, but back in the day, everybody I met and played with had the more character focused, long-term approach. Where they would have play the same characters for years (while adding others for other parts of the campaign as needed).

      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      @lewpuls is trying to pin this on video games. Good grief, this was part of D&D when video games consisted of Pong and Pac Man.

      And just to address @lewpuls directly - you repeatedly claim that you cannot "prove" anything in 500 words. Then why are you trying to prove something? Why are you making claims about the "way things were" and "the way things are" when those claims are very contentious? Instead of making broad, sweeping claims about history that, perhaps focusing on means to compromise or resolve what you see as an issue might be more productive?


      ........ Edit to add

      Just to be fair, I do enjoy these articles. They are thought provoking, and they do have a pretty interesting point. The problem I have, is that the history is spun in such a way that it's very difficult to get to the message without first trying to address some quite questionable attempts to paint the history of the hobby in a very self serving light. No, it is not true that we've gone from local to world shattering fiction. No, it's not true that it used to be that we were happy with fighting gangsters. Good grief, A. C. Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, wrote The Lost World - a lost island full of dinosaurs where humans evolve into vampire demons. ((and we'll ignore the incredibly racist bent for now)) Not exactly "dealing with gangsters".
      Absolutely, they existed before video game RPGs. But it wasn't the predominant approach. There is no doubt, that D&D and RPGs has always supported many playstyles, and the games being released in the late '70s and early '80s began to highlight the many playstyles around. My "objection" if you want to call it that, is that the predominant game style has moved away from what I see as its roots. That's my perspective. On the other hand, as I've said, I think that for the game as a whole, the approach that WotC has been taking seems to be a very successful approach, and their purpose is to build the brand and sell more games. And they seem to be doing well with that.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      See my problem with that characterization of the history of the game is that both the G series and the D series predate the ADnD DMG. How can we argue that it was this or that way back in the day when you had both approaches being punished at the same time?
    1. prosfilaes's Avatar
      prosfilaes -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      No one can "prove" much of anything in 500 words (and usually, not in 5,000).
      Again, do you want a participation trophy? Rise up to the challenge of 500 words, don't complain about it.

      Trends are trends, you can always find exceptions (such as Lensman), yet finding individual exceptions doesn't destroy the generalization about hundreds or thousands of items.
      But you have to establish that something is a trend, first. You say "hundreds or thousands of items", but in 2013, in books alone, there were 305,000 titles published (plus 459,000 self-published titles). What did you count? Did you in fact count anything?

      As per @Hussar, there is an interesting discussion here about saving the world again, but by starting it off with a claim about history that's not at all convincing hurts the discussion.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      There doesn't have to be. Likewise, in narrative ficiton, there doesn't have to be any more story than there is in Hardy Boys books. But obviously some readers prefer more.

      I've never encountered anyone who plays classic dungeon crawl D&D for the story. If you want a RPG in which the focus is on characters, and their stories - rather than, say, on a combination of effective planning and clever play in the moment - then who would recommend starting with a dungeon crawl of the sort advocated in the 1st ed AD&D PHB?

      Which RPGs have you got in mind? At the moment I'm GMing games in three systems, all of which is relatively recent (4e, BW, MHRP/Cortex fatnasy hack). None recommends against recurring villains. And all my campaigns have featured recurring villains.
      My point about the story is that it doesn't have to be the epic "end of the world" type of story. It can be similar to an open ended TV series where each episode focuses on the same characters in a different story.

      And I said RPG design, not specific games. Just like there are a lot of blog posts and recommendations across the internet about "the DM should say yes" many of them also recommend against letting the BBEG get away at the end, that it "robs the players of their victory."
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      See my problem with that characterization of the history of the game is that both the G series and the D series predate the ADnD DMG. How can we argue that it was this or that way back in the day when you had both approaches being punished at the same time?
      Because Gary Gygax wrote a lot of editorials, and has answered a lot of questions, and the original players and other designers have also written or responded to a lot regarding their approach and intentions in the design of the game at the time.

      TSR didn't start releasing adventures until after Judge's Guild did, and showed there was a market for it. But they had been running tournament modules before that. Tomb of Horrors was originally run at home before it was formatted to be a tournament adventure in 1975, but not released as a published product until 1978. Things that became "rules" or "canon" upon the publication, such as what it took to kill Acererak, were partially improvised in the original campaign in response to the actions of the players.

      While GDQ and the A series certainly had longer APs, most of the adventures released were standalone. The S-series, the B-series, etc. were mostly one-shots that you dropped into a campaign designed by the DM.

      Don't get me wrong - it doesn't make it the "right" way to play the game or any RPG for that matter.

      Ed Greenwood's approach is well documented as well, and is even closer to my preferred approach. Note that Ed's novels are under certain contractual obligations (Elminster must appear in every one for example), and aren't necessarily in line with the descriptions of his home campaign. Of course, I'm dependent upon what's been revealed and reported as well, so it might be very different than what I think.

      In any event, my point is that the way AD&D was written and presented, it was a lot more open-ended in terms of the expected structure. Since the Holmes box along with AD&D were my introduction, the design of Keep on the Borderlands was fairly influential as well. While my friend's parents played D&D at the time, we learned on our own. And pretty much the first thing we (and everybody I met in school that were also players) did, was start to design our own Caves of Chaos copies, with lands around, dungeon and hex crawls. Add in the release of the original World of Greyhawk, and the writings of many in Dragon magazine, and that seemed to be the "proper" way to DM. You fleshed out the world for the characters to explore.

      My point is simply that this style of play is largely missed by new players. One reason is that back then we had no other frame of reference. Now there's lots of movies, video games, MtG style card games, complex board games, etc. that set expectations to some degree. If you decide you want to learn how to play D&D, you start with the Basic set and the free downloads or the PHB, and then buy an AP. If you're a new DM, you might pick up the DMG. The advice in the DMG is pretty good, and combined with most of the APs it presents one particular style of play.

      Overall, it makes sense to me, and is a much better way to get folks into the game. There's a much lower level of complexity in terms of learning how to play (and especially how to DM), although it could still be better. But it doesn't do a great job of introducing players to the many playstyles that D&D supports (or spawned with games others have released).

      I can't say that the old days did it better. It undoubtedly didn't because there was a lot less guidance. Although Dragon magazine was full of articles about different ways of doing things (contrasted by Gary's editorials about how to do it "right."). Even the tone of Sage Advice was very different. And I think that more "adult-oriented" presentation - that it wasn't a game marketed to kids yet - had a significant impact on how a kid like me learned it.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      My point is simply that this style of play is largely missed by new players.
      How does anyone know this? It's not as if the OSR and all the commentary, publications etc surrounding it are some secret things.

      If people mostly play APs, I assume that's because they like APs.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      the way AD&D was written and presented, it was a lot more open-ended in terms of the expected structure. Since the Holmes box along with AD&D were my introduction, the design of Keep on the Borderlands was fairly influential as well. While my friend's parents played D&D at the time, we learned on our own. And pretty much the first thing we (and everybody I met in school that were also players) did, was start to design our own Caves of Chaos copies, with lands around, dungeon and hex crawls. Add in the release of the original World of Greyhawk, and the writings of many in Dragon magazine, and that seemed to be the "proper" way to DM. You fleshed out the world for the characters to explore.
      In the example of play in the AD&D DMG there is no hex crawl. There is a bit of background narration, and then the PCs start at the entrace to the dungeon.

      The foreword to Moldvay Basic has the protagonist freeing the lands from the dragon tyrant, by slaying the latter using a magical sword gifted by a holy man. That doesn't suggest hex crawling or exploring the world.

      And before either AD&D or Moldvay Basic was published, @lewpuls was writing essays arguing that the "wargame" style of D&D is superior to the "story" style.

      This is all consistent with @Hussar's point: it's one thing to have a preferred style, and a personal history of how one came to and played the game; but that doesn't give a licence to distort the actual history of D&D play.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      In the example of play in the AD&D DMG there is no hex crawl. There is a bit of background narration, and then the PCs start at the entrace to the dungeon.

      The foreword to Moldvay Basic has the protagonist freeing the lands from the dragon tyrant, by slaying the latter using a magical sword gifted by a holy man. That doesn't suggest hex crawling or exploring the world.

      And before either AD&D or Moldvay Basic was published, @lewpuls was writing essays arguing that the "wargame" style of D&D is superior to the "story" style.

      This is all consistent with @Hussar's point: it's one thing to have a preferred style, and a personal history of how one came to and played the game; but that doesn't give a licence to distort the actual history of D&D play.
      The section titled "The Adventure" starting on pg 47 of the AD&D DM Guide certainly read like a hexcrawl to me.

      The single most published adventure - The Keep on the Borderlands, was included in the Holmes and Moldvay basic sets and starts with exploring the keep, and a hex crawl to find the caves of chaos.

      I also acknowledged that I'm probably leaning too heavily on my personal experience, both what I played, and the people I met and either talked gaming or played with in probably the first 10 years of my gaming experience. The general approach for anybody I met that started around the late '70s had similar approaches.

      Having said that, it is still just my experiences. But my point is that the presentation has an impact. When the starting point for learning how to play the game is an adventure that starts with an exploration to find a dungeon, and the design of that dungeon is of the type where you can return to safety, and come back to explore some more. The 5e presentation is different. And I think it has an impact on how new players learn to play the game. Not all of them, but a good portion of them.

      It's not good or bad, just different. But I do think that the products (and in particular Dragon magazine) promoted a lot of different approaches to playing the game, and to some degree that variety is less represented in today's releases.

      Maybe I'm just wrong. But I've had at least a couple of new players in pretty much every group I've DM'd since the early '80s. And I also like talking (listening) to new players outside of my groups as well. So that's my perspective, based not only on my personal experiences, but what they've told me. And also how things have changed in such discussions over the years. What players that have played in my group tell me about other groups they play in, etc. But I'm a very small sample set. Just take it as another perspective.

      I agree with you, and @Hussar, and others that it's really just one perspective, and that we all have had different experiences. So I don't think I'm rewriting the history of D&D, I'm just pointing out my perspective. I don't think anybody can write the history of D&D - even the ones that were there in Gary's campaign. They can only write about their experiences. It's not like a game of checkers where each game is constrained by a strict set of rules. That's part of the beauty of RPGs to me, they are unique to each group.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      The section titled "The Adventure" starting on pg 47 of the AD&D DM Guide certainly read like a hexcrawl to me.
      That's not an example of play. It's a set of (incomplete) rules for running a hexcrawl. The sample of play is found later in the book, after the combat section. And as is typical for 1st level scenarios, the action begins at the dungeon entrance.

      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      The single most published adventure - The Keep on the Borderlands, was included in the Holmes and Moldvay basic sets and starts with exploring the keep, and a hex crawl to find the caves of chaos.



      When the starting point for learning how to play the game is an adventure that starts with an exploration to find a dungeon, and the design of that dungeon is of the type where you can return to safety, and come back to explore some more.
      The first D&D product I ever owned - Moldvay Basic - included the KotB. It was the first adventure I ever played. But I also read the foreword to Moldvay Basic. The tension between the promise of that foreword, and the experience of the Keep, was something that I did not learn how to resolve until I taught myself around 4 years later (using Oriental Adventures as my medium). But I knew that something was going on that didn't just involve me, because I read magazine articles, including those by Lewis Pulsipher in early White Dwarf; and I learned from experience that when I ran games in the way that he described they were not fun for me or my players, at least in part because they didn't play anything like the Moldvay foreword. (I could also see the weaknesses Lewis Pulsipher described in the so-called "story" approach to play - hence my need to teach myself how to run a game in the fashion that later became known as scene-framing play.)

      Also, I don't really think of the Keep as involving a hex crawl to find the Caves of Chaos. The caves are not hidden or in an unknown location - you can get to them by following a road for about 3 miles (though rather inexpicably, the module allows for moving only 900 yards per hour, so that 3 miles is half-a-day's journey).

      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      I do think that the products (and in particular Dragon magazine) promoted a lot of different approaches to playing the game, and to some degree that variety is less represented in today's releases.
      I don't trawl through DM's Guild - the contemporary equivalent to Dragon magazine - but I'd be surprised if there's nothing in there that is hex crawl-y or similarly exploratory.

      My own perception - based on reading online forums, looking at products available, etc - is that the amount of advocacy and product support out there for "old school" play is probably at its highest level (in proportionate terms) since the late 70s or early 80s, and at its highest level ever in absolute terms. Maybe there are new players who would love all that stuff but simply don't come across it - but my own feeling is still that the reason many people play APs is because, on balance, they like them.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I don't trawl through DM's Guild - the contemporary equivalent to Dragon magazine - but I'd be surprised if there's nothing in there that is hex crawl-y or similarly exploratory.
      There's a big difference to the DMs Guild and a monthly magazine back in the day, and again it has to do with presentation. Nowadays, of course, magazines don't have the influence they used to have, and even by 3e, Dragon magazine served a different purpose than it did in the early days. In DMs Guild you have to go looking for stuff, and if it looks interesting, purchase it and hope you like it. While I agree it serves a similar purpose, and in particular is a great outlet for the rules variations, etc, they primarily appeal to those who know what they are looking for.

      Dragon magazine, on the other hand, had articles about different aspects of RPGs, and while it focused on D&D, at the time it wasn't quite a house organ yet. Each month you'd be exposed to a mix of ideas and approaches. So it was quite different.

      My own perception - based on reading online forums, looking at products available, etc - is that the amount of advocacy and product support out there for "old school" play is probably at its highest level (in proportionate terms) since the late 70s or early 80s, and at its highest level ever in absolute terms. Maybe there are new players who would love all that stuff but simply don't come across it - but my own feeling is still that the reason many people play APs is because, on balance, they like them.[/QUOTE]

      I agree that there are a lot of "old school" options out there, just like most other things in this age of the internet. And I'm not implying that the people playing the APs don't enjoy it. But my perception is that there are a lot of more casual players that don't spend time on the forums, or debating things like this, that just play the game. That's fantastic, and there's a good chance that many of those casual players don't want anything more than the APs.

      I guess it's just an observation that if you're interested in a different play style than what the Basic to AP path provides, you have to look elsewhere. You have to look online to see what others are doing, or find a group that is playing a different style than that. I don't necessarily have a good answer as to how the game could be published in a manner that promotes other styles of play more, since it would make the rules more complex, and probably more confusing. Don't really know. It's just an observation that the focus has shifted and that focus is part of what leads many to the "save the world again" approach. Because that's what's "officially" published.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      My point about the story is that it doesn't have to be the epic "end of the world" type of story. It can be similar to an open ended TV series where each episode focuses on the same characters in a different story.

      And I said RPG design, not specific games. Just like there are a lot of blog posts and recommendations across the internet about "the DM should say yes" many of them also recommend against letting the BBEG get away at the end, that it "robs the players of their victory."
      Oh, sure. And I agree with the point that not ever scenario has to be epic. Fair enough.

      However, I think you're missing a bit of a point of those blog posts. It's not, "Don't let the BBEG get away", it's, "If the players legitimately whack the BBEG, don't rob them of that success". And, by mandating that the BBEG gets away, you are forcing specific stories on the game, and that's generally a bad idea.

      Also, if you look at the structure of Keep on the Borderlands, it's essentially set up in very similar ways - you enter the cave, fight your way through to the boss monster, and kill the boss monster of that cave. Wash, rinse, repeat for each cave. It's not quite as open ended as you might think.

      ------

      This all aside though, my biggest issue with "how it was in the day" is always a very self serving point. No one ever argues, "Well, we played this way back in the day, but, I think we were the only ones". No, it's "Well, everyone I knew played this way" with the presumption that that means something to the wider audience.

      But, there are so many problems with that. If we're talking the "roots" of D&D, where do we start? With the stuff in the 70's where we have only a tiny fraction of the total number of gamers that boomed during the 80's? What's the point in that? We're only talking about a very small slice of the total gaming population - a population that apparently to some extent rejected the stand alone adventure in favor of the larger campaign. Why are things like Dragonlance (1983), Cult of the Reptile God (1982), Isle of the Ape (1985), Immortal Rules (1986), Ravenloft (1983), heck, even the Avatar Trilogy (as bad as they were) come out in 1989.

      How is that not one of the roots of D&D? The game is what, 45 years old now. The Avatar Trilogy is almost 30 years old.

      There isn't ONE root of D&D. There are a bunch of roots all making the tree. Arguing which root is more "rooty" is pointless.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      See my problem with that characterization of the history of the game is that both the G series and the D series predate the ADnD DMG. How can we argue that it was this or that way back in the day when you had both approaches being punished at the same time?
      A few things about the GDQ series: Against the Giants is very clearly modeled on the first Incompleat Enchanter/Harold Shea novels by Pratt and de Camp, particularly G1. They were very loosely connected by some story in their original releases and are clearly expanded out tournament modules (they even have their maps annotated that way, showing what was tournament and what wasn't). I'm talking no more than a paragraph or two of setup more or less saying "the giants have been attacking the kingdom, so the king sends the adventurers to go deal with them... or face the headsman's axe!" The D modules are similarly not particularly story-rich and big parts of them are also clearly based on tournament scenarios. There's an expedition mounted against the drow because of all the sh*t they stirred up in the G series. Q came out a few years later. The setup is similarly thin, more or less indicating that surface elves, now that they know about the drow, send some to go finish the job. This was also true of the venerable Slave Lords series (A1-4) which started as tournament modules and had some fluff attached about dealing with the slavers who had been raiding. These are brilliant modules, mind you, and they got expanded out nicely but you can definitely "feel" their tournament roots.

      The supermodules that TSR released in the mid '80s were backwards assemblies of the original modules with a bunch of story fluff connecting them. Very little of that fluff was there in the originals.

      As far as I recall---I was playing in the early '80s but I was a kid---the first series that really had a fair bit of story attached was Pharoah-Oasis of the White Palm-Lost Tomb of Martek, which I believe were the original modules the Hickmans did for TSR. There are probably some others that have more story, but those three were among the first that really weren't expanded out tournaments (the previously mentioned modules, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Tomb of Horrors), joke dungeons (like White Plume Mountain), or mini-campaign settings (Keep on the Borderlands, Isle of Dread, or Chateau d'Amberville).

      You could put a good bit of story onto these if you wanted. Playing many of these in some form in the '90s or early '00s with 2E we did exactly that.
    1. Ilbranteloth's Avatar
      Ilbranteloth -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Oh, sure. And I agree with the point that not ever scenario has to be epic. Fair enough.

      However, I think you're missing a bit of a point of those blog posts. It's not, "Don't let the BBEG get away", it's, "If the players legitimately whack the BBEG, don't rob them of that success". And, by mandating that the BBEG gets away, you are forcing specific stories on the game, and that's generally a bad idea.

      Also, if you look at the structure of Keep on the Borderlands, it's essentially set up in very similar ways - you enter the cave, fight your way through to the boss monster, and kill the boss monster of that cave. Wash, rinse, repeat for each cave. It's not quite as open ended as you might think.
      Yeah, many of them are more specific. And while I find the topic extremely interesting, it's not really my point here, other than to say that design goals have changed over the years and that specific "guidelines" such as those (which are also in the DMG) prevent some common tropes from occurring, or at least make it very difficult.

      B2 gives specific directions to repopulate any rooms after 1d4 weeks, with returning monsters, or new monsters. It's designed as a living dungeon. In addition, there's another dungeon on the map that is specified for the DM to design, and also that the DM is to design what goes on outside of the mapped area of the wilderness. There are multiple aspects to the dungeon that are specifically directing the DM to expand the adventure beyond just following what's written in the module. Yes, there's a boss monster in each cave, and the design of boss monsters at the time was essentially one class of monster larger. So if you had goblins, the goblin chief was as powerful as an orc.

      But we're really getting into a different discussion here. The specific play styles or differences aren't my point. I'm just giving examples, they examples aren't the specific point.

      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      This all aside though, my biggest issue with "how it was in the day" is always a very self serving point. No one ever argues, "Well, we played this way back in the day, but, I think we were the only ones". No, it's "Well, everyone I knew played this way" with the presumption that that means something to the wider audience.

      But, there are so many problems with that. If we're talking the "roots" of D&D, where do we start? With the stuff in the 70's where we have only a tiny fraction of the total number of gamers that boomed during the 80's? What's the point in that? We're only talking about a very small slice of the total gaming population - a population that apparently to some extent rejected the stand alone adventure in favor of the larger campaign. Why are things like Dragonlance (1983), Cult of the Reptile God (1982), Isle of the Ape (1985), Immortal Rules (1986), Ravenloft (1983), heck, even the Avatar Trilogy (as bad as they were) come out in 1989.

      How is that not one of the roots of D&D? The game is what, 45 years old now. The Avatar Trilogy is almost 30 years old.

      There isn't ONE root of D&D. There are a bunch of roots all making the tree. Arguing which root is more "rooty" is pointless.
      By that argument, The Phantom Menace is one of the roots of Star Wars. Roots are roots. Understanding the roots (which go beyond OD&D) can be enlightening and is an interesting discussion. But that's not my point. I specifically stated that I'm only relating my experiences, perception, and that it's necessarily a small sample size. So NO, I don't think it's how everybody played the game, and I also indicated that.

      My message isn't "how it is in the day" so much as a simple observation that the focus of the game, by both design and presentation, has changed.

      The OP was that adventures don't always have to be "save the world" adventures. Since 5e has come out, what type of adventures have been published by WotC? A two-part adventure to save the world from Tiamat. An adventure to save the world from the Elemental Cults. An adventure to save the world from the Demon princes. And one to save the world from the giants. The only ones that break this mold is Curse of Strahd, and now Tales from the Yawning Portal.

      To somebody new to the game starting with the "official" published adventures, you have a pretty high likelihood of playing a "save the world" style game. That's not to say that they haven't incorporated other play styles. Princes of the Apocalypse and to a larger degree, Storm King's Thunder provide more of a sandbox approach. Out of the Abyss looks back to the Descent to the Depths of the Earth (and later adventures with similar approaches) with it's underground exploration. But the overriding story, the goal of the adventures remains "save the world."

      This isn't an "it was better then" observation. It's just an observation of how the rules have altered the way the game is presented. Those who play indie games can tell you that the design of the game can have a huge impact on the types of adventures played by that game. They are frequently designed around a single intended play style, and the rules themselves help reinforce that play style.

      D&D has never been designed for one specific play style. Well, perhaps Gary felt it was. But the reality is that it has always been more than one particular style. But over the years, certain play styles have been promoted more than others simply by the rules and the decisions of what to publish (and what not to publish). Whether you like 4e or not, it promoted tactical grid-based combat. What it did not promote was theater of the mind play. It wasn't designed for that.

      I've also said that the current approach makes a lot of sense, especially from a business standpoint - a focused and consistent approach makes the game more approachable, easier to pick up and learn, and (from my perspective) appears to target the mass market, not the hardcore gamer. As much as I'd like more material that focuses on the types of things I like, they don't need to. I'll continue to pretty much buy it all, but modify it and pick it apart for my purposes. Not only would I be a very difficult audience to design "perfect" products for, but it would undoubtedly be a very small market. I would hope that people are playing them because they like them. That's kind of the point.

      So, my perception is that in 5e, WotC is promoting the "save the world" style of gaming. Simple premise tied directly to the OP based on what has been published for 5e, especially when compared to the history of D&D and how other editions have been "promoted" through what has been published.

      That may not be their intent. And perhaps it's not as obvious as 4e not promoting theater of the mind. But I think it is. I think they are playing up the epic style of play, which to some degree is at the expense of other styles.
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      I'm currently running the first 'save the world' type plot I've ever run (although its more 'the world would suck until some other heroes saved it' than 'the world would end').

      My primary negative discovery about this sort of plot is that it puts the campaign on rails completely. If the fate of the world is at stake, the then PC's have a huge pressure on them to not attend to anything else. That means that all personal and party goals other than the main plot have to be continually side lined as less important. Fantasy authors tend to deal with this lack of low melodrama, by having lots of intraparty personal conflict - unrequited love, personality conflicts, defects of character, backstory as an abused character. But this doesn't necessarily work that well in an RPG situation, as only a small portion of players/tables have any interest in that sort of thespian centered play.

      In fairness, I didn't send out a survey to all players at the start of the game and they did indicate that they wanted an 'Adventure Path' type story, but even so, I'm finding I miss the digressions and side quests that come with a game with less intense and less long term primary goals.
    1. Jay Verkuilen's Avatar
      Jay Verkuilen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
      To somebody new to the game starting with the "official" published adventures, you have a pretty high likelihood of playing a "save the world" style game. That's not to say that they haven't incorporated other play styles. Princes of the Apocalypse and to a larger degree, Storm King's Thunder provide more of a sandbox approach. Out of the Abyss looks back to the Descent to the Depths of the Earth (and later adventures with similar approaches) with it's underground exploration. But the overriding story, the goal of the adventures remains "save the world."
      Yes, definitely.

      I've also said that the current approach makes a lot of sense, especially from a business standpoint - a focused and consistent approach makes the game more approachable, easier to pick up and learn, and (from my perspective) appears to target the mass market, not the hardcore gamer. As much as I'd like more material that focuses on the types of things I like, they don't need to. I'll continue to pretty much buy it all, but modify it and pick it apart for my purposes. Not only would I be a very difficult audience to design "perfect" products for, but it would undoubtedly be a very small market. I would hope that people are playing them because they like them. That's kind of the point.
      I'm definitely part of the market more like you, though I am not buying most of what they put out because I find stripping off all the AP fluff annoying. The value for me is pretty low. What I find annoying is how little really useful content they put out: Monsters, magic items, decent spells, some feats, short scenarios that are 2-4 pages long, etc. The APs do have some of those, but not enough to justify the cover price for me and they have all the AP plot I have to wade through and cut out. I suppose the fall release will have such in it, but it's been a LONG wait with bupkus released in the meantime. Volos was OK, as was SCAG, but the latter really had way too much fluff in it. Yeah, there's DMSGuild. Wading through that is really a pain and when it comes to player option kinds of things I'm really skeptical of things posted there. It just opens up too many cans of worms.
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