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Styles of Play

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
For me personally, I garner absolutely no enjoyment of world-building for the sake of world-building. To me... spending hours upon hours trying to come up with entire regions of "stuff" that end up never getting used is such a waste of time that I wouldn't DM D&D at all if I was forced to do so.

I'm much more a story-focused DM. I care about the player's experiences engaging with the area they are in and their personal place and stakes within it. Everything I put in front of them is for their benefit as characters. To me, "sandboxes" are pointless. That's creating a whole crapton of areas that are completely worthless to the game if the players gain nothing from engaging with it (either because the areas are too low-level to be uninspiring cakewalks or so high-level that they are guaranteed to be TPKs).

I am the opposite. I LOVE world-building and for me developing adventures and storylines runs parallel with that work. We may not always get to all the possibilities but that is okay because I start with outlines and skeletal structures, a few named NPCs and then develop an area more as it seems like the PCs will be going there.

Since I tend to run multiple campaigns in the same setting, this also means that whatever doesn't get used in this game can be used in some future one, and the actions of the PCs in this game can influence the world being played in the next game.

Heck, even if it is not the same setting, I just grab stuff from older ones and file off the serial numbers. For example, in my Ghosts of Saltmarsh game, I took a place I never got to fully develop in my old homebrew and just yanked it out and built a new setting around it - thus making use of some past work, but also shaping it for the current game.

For me, running a campaign is world-building, because what is a world if not a story about the world and the people in it?
 

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Emerikol

Explorer
As a side note, I used to think this made sense. Now I realize that this is a lie DMs tell themselves because they've read it elsewhere and it sounds wise. It's complete bunk for most DMs, and absolutely every non-abysmal DM.

The DM isn't neutral. The DM cares that the players have a good time. The DM is on the player's side - which is not the same as he's on the character's side.

I am my player's biggest cheerleader. I want them to have a great time. I put effort into crafting character arcs, memorable NPCs, plots both deep and comedic, make handouts and find images, and all of the other parts that make up a successful game. Yes, I find it rewarding - but "I can't wait until they see this" is a huge boost to my enjoyment.

A referee in a sporting match needs to be neutral - that's how they add to the team who are competing. But D&D only has oen side that has real world cares and feeling, that are the protagonists that we craft the framework around and tell the story with. The players are our co-collaborators in making wonderful moments, sessions, and campaigns. While we may play merry havoc with their characters, we do it because we aren't neutral, because we want the players to have a grand time. And that includes tension and drama in game. It includes real risk and real challenges in-game so that there is a real feeling of reward because there was a chance to lose.

In-game there are sides. Outside the game there aren't - everyone wants the game to be enjoyable. There's no chance to be neutral because there are no sides. Everyone is working together in different roles but with the same goal. Fun.

I don't really see where we were disagreeing.

My point is don't use knowledge obtained as DM/GM that your NPC adversary does not know. My players enjoy being challenged so a well played adversary adds to their fun. Sure I'm rooting for them. I'm not playing the NPC's stupidly though because that will detract from the players fun. It's like the short term benefit of never dying vs the long term benefit of death being a real threat. I prefer the long term benefits.
 

Emerikol

Explorer
As a DM: I'm lazy, so I'll gladly do loads of worldbuilding provided I only have to do it once (or once in a very long time), as it's a crap-ton of work. After that, I can keep augmenting that setting as the mood strikes and the years go by, as once built I expect the setting to last me for at least a decade.
Oh I MOST I would do it once per campaign at the start and then I'd add detail as the campaign progresses into new areas. Often I will run multiple campaigns in the same world. If the players recognize the world, usually only after a time because I start them somewhere different, that is fine. I chalk it up to their general world knowledge. Sometimes they even meet their old characters as NPCs.
 

Emerikol

Explorer
I'm much more a story-focused DM. I care about the player's experiences engaging with the area they are in and their personal place and stakes within it. Everything I put in front of them is for their benefit as characters. To me, "sandboxes" are pointless. That's creating a whole crapton of areas that are completely worthless to the game if the players gain nothing from engaging with it (either because the areas are too low-level to be uninspiring cakewalks or so high-level that they are guaranteed to be TPKs).
Sandboxes are there to give players choices. The give them the feeling they are in control of their destinies. Anything not used can be salvaged for the next campaign. This doesn't mean they won't get interested in some plot thread and pursue it to its conclusion. If you have an adventure path, it's fine to put it in the sandbox but if the players hope off the train after 3 of 5 adventures that should be okay. Another good example is the Against the Giants series. At the end, they suggested the group could go on against the Drow but that there was no compulsion to do so.

One way to do this is to be able to use preexisting material, massage it for your world's flavor, and put it into the sandbox.

I also like to have lots of NPCs up to things. These NPCs are not all related or working together. I want the world to feel like a living breathing world and not just a video game. I want the players to think that if they hide in a cave for two months that when they return to civilization something will have changed. The world goes on and on. Why? Because that is how our world feels. It doesn't wait on us.
 

Recently, it occurred to me that my players may just decide to trek straight across the mountain range to stop the villain at his source. I hours thinking through how this would work, planning interesting environmental challenges, setting up some fights with encounter maps, preparing handouts for the Shangri-la style hidden city up on the mountain plateau etc etc.

In the end, they didn't go there, and all that prep was wasted. Except it's not. I know that, at some future point, in this campaign or another, someone will need to cross a mountain range. And then it will only take a very short time to reskin all this content to be campaign and level appropriate, and I'll finally get to use my mountain chasm encounter map.
I don't prevent my players from coming up with plans like these - I just prefer they give me some heads up time between game sessions, so I have time to craft that adventure for them. So if we finish a given adventure at the end of one session and they plan on having their PCs cross the mountain range next, I'd forego whatever I might have planned for the next adventure so I could write up a "crossing the mountain range" adventure. And then that's what we'd play through the next game session. So you an I are pretty much doing the same thing, I'm just having my players make their "what do we do next" decisions at the end of one session to maximize my prep time for the next session.

I have written up a few mystery-style adventures where depending upon what avenues of exploration the PCs opt to try, they may hit various locales. For those, I always end up prepping more than I actually need, which is very much in line with the way you describe your adventure prep. They didn't pick up on one possible suspect, so the whole encounter I had with him and his wife was never used - oh well. But for the most part, I've found it easier to do my prep for one specific adventure and then go through that specific adventure the next session. I suspect if we gamed more often than we do I might be open to a greater amount of flexibility. (Then again, we run 3.5 and thus the stat work for the enemies tends to take a fair bit of time, so I don't know how much more "winging it" and flexibility I'd be willing to open myself up to.)

Johnathan
 

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