Critical Role Story, rails, and running games


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To try to be generous to the guys that write published modules, a lot of the problems with published modules have to do with page count limitations. The economics of module publishing generally involve having to publish less than complete information about how to run the game, and generally they have to publish to the lowest common denominator - that least experience GM who hopefully stays on the happy path. Ironically though, it's usually that least experienced GM that is least able to deal with players getting off the happy path.

I rarely find a published module that I don't have to rewrite or add notes to equal to about half the page count before I'm happy with it.

For a good treatment of this problem, watch Seth Skorkowsky's CoC reviews on youtube (assuming you aren't spoiling yourself) where he talks about the work he does to make published modules playable. Sometimes he's fixing actual mistakes by the designer, but I think a lot of times he's fixing limitations of the page count by adding story details that in practice the module designer might well have added themselves if running the module, but couldn't fit into the 32 or 64 pages of text (or whatever) that they had to deal with. Still, whether it's just bad writing he's fixing or parts of the module left out of the published form, it's a very good primer in how to read and prepare a published module for play.
I don't want my post to come off as me attacking the people who write published modules. It is a very difficult job, and no module is perfect. Even the best modules of this edition, or the best modules in any edition, I could not run out of the book, and that is fine.

While I think the modules can be improved, I do not want to insult the writers by saying that. Overall, they do good enough work to keep DND selling and to build excitement throughout the world.

And page counts, as always, are the devil of TTRPG production.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Making problems without solutions takes some finesse, but WotC are slowly figuring it out. Sometimes they take steps back, sometimes forward. Overall, in terms of home games, this is advice that I think if published would do nothing but improve pretty much every table that took this advice to heart. YMMV.
The Alexandrian blog is fantastic for similar kinds of advice about prepping dynamic and playable problems, not solutions.

And page counts, as always, are the devil of TTRPG production.
For print, yes. For PDFs, no.
For a good treatment of this problem, watch Seth Skorkowsky's CoC reviews on youtube (assuming you aren't spoiling yourself) where he talks about the work he does to make published modules playable. Sometimes he's fixing actual mistakes by the designer, but I think a lot of times he's fixing limitations of the page count by adding story details that in practice the module designer might well have added themselves if running the module, but couldn't fit into the 32 or 64 pages of text (or whatever) that they had to deal with. Still, whether it's just bad writing he's fixing or parts of the module left out of the published form, it's a very good primer in how to read and prepare a published module for play.
Seth's channel is amazing. One of my favorite gaming YouTube channels.
 


Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Yes, he makes a really good point.

The PLAYER wants the character arc, the story etc. But the PC doesn't want that - they want to accomplish their mission/goal as quickly and safely as possible. This is such a useful insight.
I know quoting myself is silly but... this idea is really fertile ground.

I think this is relevant to another thread by @GMforPowergamers about roleplaying vs problem solving. And it think it illustrates that maybe not ALL players want the character arc. Some players REALLY LIKE problem solving. And if the party doesn't solve the problem in an effective and efficient manner, it bothers them.

Just look at how frequent and persistent the old "why didn't they just used giant eagles to fly to Mount Doom?". Of course if that had happened most of the story would have been circumvented (and I think it wouldn't have worked, but PLEASE don't start a debate about this, it's besides the point!).

On the other hands, other players are the reverse - a quick, logical solution to a problem that circumvents the adventure would drive them mad.

And now we get into the challenges with high level play, where the GM must ensure that "adventure circumvention" doesn't happen.... yeah, this is definitely something worth pondering
 


I know quoting myself is silly but... this idea is really fertile ground.

I think this is relevant to another thread by @GMforPowergamers about roleplaying vs problem solving. And it think it illustrates that maybe not ALL players want the character arc. Some players REALLY LIKE problem solving. And if the party doesn't solve the problem in an effective and efficient manner, it bothers them.

Just look at how frequent and persistent the old "why didn't they just used giant eagles to fly to Mount Doom?". Of course if that had happened most of the story would have been circumvented (and I think it wouldn't have worked, but PLEASE don't start a debate about this, it's besides the point!).

On the other hands, other players are the reverse - a quick, logical solution to a problem that circumvents the adventure would drive them mad.

And now we get into the challenges with high level play, where the GM must ensure that "adventure circumvention" doesn't happen.... yeah, this is definitely something worth pondering
Put a third way:

How many movies can you think of where a character does something stupid (or stupidly fails to do something) early on because if they were smart in that moment the movie wouldn't happen?

It's generally considered weak writing if it's too stupid anyways, but in a ttrpg the player needs to decide that their character is going to do the stupid thing so the game can happen. That's asking a lot, given the attachment we tend to for with our characters.

So the dm, if they want to make sure stuff happens, need to make sure the plot/whatever doesn't rely on the pcs being stupid. (The npcs, however, are fair game for plot-enabling stupidity.)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
My version of the analogy would be slightly different. I want to put everything on the hill, then pour the water on and see where it goes.

So, in the analogy...

The GM is largely responsible for setting up the hill in the first place. If the GM does absolutely nothing, then there is no hill, and the water goes nowhere, and does nothing. If the GM creates a hill, but puts no features on it, the water goes straight down the smooth hillside, taking no detours - this is predictable and not terribly interesting. The GM, then, has a responsibility to make the terrain on the hillside such that nobody can really guess where the water will go, and we can be surprised by its action as it flows.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
I know quoting myself is silly but... this idea is really fertile ground.

I think this is relevant to another thread by @GMforPowergamers about roleplaying vs problem solving. And it think it illustrates that maybe not ALL players want the character arc. Some players REALLY LIKE problem solving. And if the party doesn't solve the problem in an effective and efficient manner, it bothers them.

Just look at how frequent and persistent the old "why didn't they just used giant eagles to fly to Mount Doom?". Of course if that had happened most of the story would have been circumvented (and I think it wouldn't have worked, but PLEASE don't start a debate about this, it's besides the point!).

On the other hands, other players are the reverse - a quick, logical solution to a problem that circumvents the adventure would drive them mad.

And now we get into the challenges with high level play, where the GM must ensure that "adventure circumvention" doesn't happen.... yeah, this is definitely something worth pondering
Put a third way:

How many movies can you think of where a character does something stupid (or stupidly fails to do something) early on because if they were smart in that moment the movie wouldn't happen?

It's generally considered weak writing if it's too stupid anyways, but in a ttrpg the player needs to decide that their character is going to do the stupid thing so the game can happen. That's asking a lot, given the attachment we tend to for with our characters.

So the dm, if they want to make sure stuff happens, need to make sure the plot/whatever doesn't rely on the pcs being stupid. (The npcs, however, are fair game for plot-enabling stupidity.)
Yeah. That’s kinda where this catches for me. It assumes the player and character want different things. That’s not always true. I might go so far as to say it’s almost never true. Because they’re not actually two different people. Whatever the character does is what the player wants them to do. If the player wants story, they’ll push for story. If the player wants quick and efficient resolution, they’ll push for quick and efficient resolution.
 


So, what you are saying is that players are fickle, and difficult to please?
yes... 100% this.
Sometimes you are in a bad mood cause your boss was a jerk today. Sometimes you are tired. Sometimes you are super happy cause you long term SO agreed to marry you. Sometimes you just want an excuse to choose violence.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
yes... 100% this.
Sometimes you are in a bad mood cause your boss was a jerk today. Sometimes you are tired. Sometimes you are super happy cause you long term SO agreed to marry you. Sometimes you just want an excuse to choose violence.

Yeah, I get that.

But, you know, there's a half-dozen other people at that table, and they didn't all have their SOs say yes at the same time. The GM, at best, has to work a compromise. The burden of getting the benefits of playing with other people is... that you have to play with other people.
 

Yeah, I get that.

But, you know, there's a half-dozen other people at that table, and they didn't all have their SOs say yes at the same time. The GM, at best, has to work a compromise. The burden of getting the benefits of playing with other people is... that you have to play with other people.
yup the REALLY hard part is when someone has a bad day and someone else is half asleep and the other player is on cloud 9... just got to makke it work.

I love playing with others... I hate playing with others.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
We have an agreement in our group that, if you don't feel like you can bring your A-Game, it's okay not to claim a seat. Someone else will take the spot. Show up energized and ready to contribute or take a week off.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I love playing with others... I hate playing with others.
The worst part about WoW is that it's an MMO.
We have an agreement in our group that, if you don't feel like you can bring your A-Game, it's okay not to claim a seat. Someone else will take the spot. Show up energized and ready to contribute or take a week off.
My long-time AD&D group is basically the opposite. It's a game. It's meant to be relaxing. It's not a job, it's a hobby. We play to hang out with each other. Maybe that's why we've been playing togehter for the better part of 38 years.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The worst part about WoW is that it's an MMO.

My long-time AD&D group is basically the opposite. It's a game. It's meant to be relaxing. It's not a job, it's a hobby. We play to hang out with each other. Maybe that's why we've been playing togehter for the better part of 38 years.
I don't want people feeling obligated to show up if they aren't feeling up to it. Better to beg off in my view than potentially drag the game down for others. We've set up our gaming circle to allow for people to come and go with little risk of having to cancel the session, so it's totally fine for someone to skip a week if they need to.
 

We have an agreement in our group that, if you don't feel like you can bring your A-Game, it's okay not to claim a seat. Someone else will take the spot. Show up energized and ready to contribute or take a week off.
we don't ask our friends to go home to be replaced just cause they had a bad day
 

I don't want people feeling obligated to show up if they aren't feeling up to it. Better to beg off in my view than potentially drag the game down for others. We've set up our gaming circle to allow for people to come and go with little risk of having to cancel the session, so it's totally fine for someone to skip a week if they need to.
if you need to take a week off we wouldn't force someone to show up... but i cant imagines omeone having a badday would make them NOT want to relax with there friends often
 


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