story or world campaigns

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  1. #1
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    story or world campaigns

    I just got the march issue of dragon. I really like it. It is the most useful issue in a long time. I found an inconsistancy however.

    In the first article, about writting your campain as a TV show, the author implies that the campaign should be based as a TV show. Ie a overarcing plot made of many shows. Each show then would have a loose script. This is the kind of campaign I run and have always played in

    In the very next article, the author of the "Dungeoncraft" series states that games should not be scripted stories (this leads to a game in which the players have little in put into the story). He makes the point that a campain must be driven by the players and not the DM. The DM only sketchs out the city and the players create the events. As an idea I like this very much, however it requires a very creative DM.

    I must say I like the second idea but I am a bit afraid the campain could fall flat on its face if I did this. Thoughts?


  • #2
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    This is one of the great debates of gaming. I prefer to have at least a loose plot, and not just let the players loose on the world.

    Luckily, the rest of the group prefers this too.

  • #3
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    I've seen both methods work very well.

    It really is a matter of preference, and what style is suited to your particular group. Many players don't want to be terribly proactive. If you sit them down in a city and don't give them anything in particular to do, they won't do anything in particular. Other players hate being led into plot by the nose.

  • #4
    I think you have to know your players. Are they going to go out and make their own plots, or are they going to wait for the DM to dangle one in front of their noses?

    I must say I'm pretty lucky with my current campaign setup - since the PCs are members of the City Watch, they're essentially in a reactive role, which means that I dangle hooks and they follow. It's much easier to plan for.

    I think Ray Winninger (the Dungeoncraft author) is unnecessarily harsh on the "plotted" campaign - sounds like he's had some bad experiences with stuff that's not so much plotted as "railroaded".

    The problem with the open-ended style is often that they lose focus, and the players, when presented with an entire world full of options, feel completely lost and overwhelmed. It also won't work if you're not a GM who can improvise and improvise well.


  • #5
    Why not have both? It is entirely possible for a DM to have an overarcing plot, but to only introduce elements of it at various times, when things are getting slow for the adventurers.

    Take two of my favorite shows on TV *ahem* Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These shows capture me for two reasons:

    One is the "Uber-Plots" that slowly unveil themselves over the course of the season - the Third Season's villain, Mayor Wilkins, slowly revealing his plans to become a Demon and swallow all of the city as a living sacrifice.

    In between the important events and elements that the characters go through, there are always side stories that reveal "minor evils," and allow the characters to grow and develop.

    It would be child's play for a DM to have one set of major events and clues that he introduces to the PC's bit by bit, and then have many totally unrelated hooks that he leaves dangling, just waiting for PC's to pounce on. If the PC's are the types to be self-motiviated, then the DM doesn't even need to do this much - he jsut makes the Uber-Plot, and introduces bits and pieces when the PC's get slow.

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  • #6
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    I have to say that I am lazy and run alot of canned modules, The only winging it I do is to either increase or decrease the difficulty of the modules on the fly. I also add or subtract encounters if I thing the players are getting board or are just hacking their way through.

    How do you do this world based DMing, if the characters do something that you have not planed on are you left out in the cold. or is there some kind of trick that you can use to keep the campain from falling flat?

  • #7
    Originally posted by bolen
    How do you do this world based DMing, if the characters do something that you have not planed on are you left out in the cold. or is there some kind of trick that you can use to keep the campaign from falling flat?
    Bolen, just the hard, cold knowledge brought by experience.

    Do your players not throw you many curves in what they do? I find that mine will introduce some of the craziest stuff I've ever seen. What do you do when you produce a small mine of monsters that threaten to cut off the world's supply of Mithril, and the PC's decide to flood the mine instead? Their reasoning is that they will drain it later with spell power.

    More specifically, although my players will run through a "hack-fest" in pretty much a predictable manner, they will take a multi-level problem I introduce, with three solutions I can see, and they will come up with a fourth. I sometimes find it easier to plan multiple endings to an adventure, rather than just one, and just have the NPC stats in front of me with general notes on what each one is like and what they tend to do.
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  • #8
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    My old story hour worked on these premises. I always sketch out whats going to happen during the seasons. Season 1 always has 12 episodes and seasons 2 and on all have 24.

    Each season schedule i leave 6 entries blank just in case the PCs wander off the main plot. In certain episodes, i reveal Troll Hammers (things needed to defeat the big bad in the end of the season) and major plot revealings.

    It works =)
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  • #9
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    I think the dichotomy is somewhat artificial. Yeah, I agree you shouldn't railroad. But by the same token, you can't rely on the players to be self motivating and sometimes, building up a situation can be very dramatic.

    What I do is decide what is happening in my world, and decide what interesting stuff results that the players get caught up in, in essence making a story arc based on the circumstances of the world. However, as I have said elsewhere, I don't make plots. I make situations. I do throw specific tangles at the players and expect them to get involved, but how it plays out is largely in their hands.

    But this is not really contradictory with either stance. Occasioanlly players do something that nullify all my assumptions... but that's okay. That is what the game is all about. The players deserve to be rewarded for ingenuity and unconventional thinking.

    For example, in one game, I hade a staff made of a cursed gold called "faegold" that could invoke cataclysms. Before its last user perished, he set into motion a cataclysm that would end the world if not stopped. The stop it, the staff must be destroyed. But it can only be destroyed by an artifact that can only be wielded by members of the true blood of the royal family. There are only two more members of this family, and one is not sympathetic to their cause -- he is a priest of an evil god who actually set this whole situation up as a massive sacrifice that will significantly help his status in the lower planes. So what the party had to (in theory) do was find his exiled sister and help her to destroy the staff, which was a campaign in and of itself.

    It never happened. I had totally forgotten that the party had the means to gate things to another plane. The sent the staff to the plane of water, temporarily anulling the crisis.

    This pretty much scrapped the tenative story arc I had in my head. But that's okay. The party's way of dealing with the problem with have some other consequences I can use in the future, and it spun the campaign off in a fresh direction. That is one major element that RPGs can give you that movies and novels can't.
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  • #10
    My approach think globally then use'Templates'
    A story is made up of 3 things (ie Templates) - Setting (Map), Events and Characters. The interaction of Characters and Events creates the story

    1 Think up an Uber plot
    2 Generate the important participants (NPC), Sites, Monsters and their backgrounds (motives, relationships with others, cohorts, families, allies and enemies)
    3 Work out how the seperate elements of the plot and setting might be related - eg I have goblins, ogres, gnomes and Sahuagin as the main humanoids in this region. OK Goblins are slaves living in fear of the ogres. Gnomes are numerous sometimes encounter goblins and tend to avoid ogres entirely.
    Sahuagin are raiders who attack the coast but otherwise don't interact.

    3Generate Map (Geographic and Ecological features)
    4 Divide map into sectors and populate with NPCs and creature ecologies

    5 Create plot events and random events which make sense to the adventure/ecology/region
    6 place 'plot events' (episodes) in a few selected sectors
    7 place random events in the other sectors (at least 4)
    8 sprinkle info/clues, PC enhancers (useful items and bonus 'powerups') amongst the random events (this helps to link random stuff to the uber plot)

    9 Tell players where they are and get the Players to determine WHY the PCs are 'here, now" (players are now focussed on their own goals - work these into the random events and even the plot where possible)

    10. Play - let the PCs explore the whole 'map region' encountering events (hopefully they will hit upon a Plot event which will lead them on to completing the planned Adventure), HOWEVER be ready to improvise (this is where creating NPC backgrounds, and ecolgies is handy). Remeber though that even random events should give clues linked to the plot events and hopefully steer PCs that way

    Remember that Events 'Templates' can be moved and layed over different settings (map sectors) as required

    Always have some subadventure idea handy just incase the PCs decide to ignore the plot and follw a random encounter instead

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