Worlds in Motion

Worlds in Motion

Learn how to make your campaign world live and breathe - and get a free copy of Southland, from Points of Light.

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You lost me at "the genius behind I Hit It With My Axe." In theory, that series does sound brilliant. In reality, it's boring and unwatchable.

EDIT: I was being unfair here. In the past few years i've gotten to know Zak's rpg work outside of the IHIWMA series and it is almost universally great. I still think IHIWMA is not fun to watch, but Zak's other RPG stuff is brilliant.

Here's an example: http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2010/05/snakes-are-books.html

Did I lose you in the sense of "I agreed with your other points, but not that one" or in the sense of "because you think highly of Zak, I stopped reading your article"? It's unclear which you meant.

As far as triggers go, how "railroad-y" do you think you should be with them? I'm currently writing up a campaign where several tribes of underground dwellers are in the process of allying to invade the surface - would you say a few separate events in nearby areas where the adventures can find the remains of a raided caravan with a few dead undergrounders, or just one which is put in wherever the players go?

Also, what would you say is the best way of getting a party who utterly ignores multiple storyline triggers back on track? It's something I've yet to find a decent way of doing short of my current favourite - "Roll spot checks, you see the railroad tracks going off in this direction with the sign saying 'talk to the priest about the undead...'" :P

Bribes (i.e., free content) are always appreciated. Feel free to include these every week.

Regarding the rest of the article - I enjoyed it. Each installment in this series is slowly convincing me that the "sandbox" campaign style has more going for it than I previously assumed - and that I already used several elements of this style without realizing it in what I always thought of as scripted campaigns.

I used to use the gods as triggers. Taking the Odyssey as an example, Odysseus blinds the Cyclops who then tells his Farther Poseidon. Being the god of the sea he can blow Odysseus to where he wants. To take it to the general case, your party hunts the sacred cows of the storm god. The enraged God's torso appears in a thunder storm throwing lighting bolts at the party, the priest in your party appeals the god that he worships, say the earth god, who then opens an entrance to cave. Hey presto, the start of a new adventure. I limited the actions of the gods in the world I used to protecting against the actions of other gods rather than direct intervention in human affairs stop it becoming over powered. Placating a previously annoyed God can be used as a plot hook as well.

That PDF is pissing off my antivirus.

Anyone else got this problem?

Chipperz:
As far as triggers go, how "railroad-y" do you think you should be with them? I'm currently writing up a campaign where several tribes of underground dwellers are in the process of allying to invade the surface - would you say a few separate events in nearby areas where the adventures can find the remains of a raided caravan with a few dead undergrounders, or just one which is put in wherever the players go?

I think either is fine. It's a question of allocation of your resources. If you have sufficient time and creative energy that you can create a web of clues, that's a better solution. On the other hand, if the time/energy spent creating multiple events will prevent you from, for instance, being able to flesh out a key dungeon, then you'd be better off focusing in other areas.

Also, what would you say is the best way of getting a party who utterly ignores multiple storyline triggers back on track? It's something I've yet to find a decent way of doing short of my current favourite - "Roll spot checks, you see the railroad tracks going off in this direction with the sign saying 'talk to the priest about the undead...'" :P

If a party is utterly ignoring multiple storyline triggers, I think the best thing to do is talk to them about it *outside* of the game session. Here's how the conversation should go: "Guys, I'm concerned that you and I are not in synch on this campaign. I have offered multiple storyline seeds, but you haven't followed up on any of them. Instead you've done [whatever else they've done.] My question is, are you not following up on the story seeds because the story does not interest you, or are you not following up on them because you haven't realized they are story seeds?"

If they say "the story doesn't interest us" then you either need to find a new story or find new players. The one thing you can't do is force people to enjoy a story they aren't interested in.

If they say "we didn't realize there were story seeds" then I think the appropriate response is something along the lines of, "I am experimenting with new DMing techniques that are less railroady, but as I'm learning these methods, it may be that sometimes I am failing to make you aware of the opportunities for adventure. Would it make sense for me to point out a few that you've missed, so then going forward you are aware of that sort of thing?" If they say "yes" then out of game mention a few things they missed.

Again, this should be done out of game. One participant in a campaign to another, working together to create an enjoyable play experience.

Archon:
Did I lose you in the sense of "I agreed with your other points, but not that one" or in the sense of "because you think highly of Zak, I stopped reading your article"? It's unclear which you meant.

I kept reading - the advice in the article itself was good, but it did make me stop and wonder, "If that's the kind of stuff he views as great gaming..." I'm choosing to pretend i never read that now. ;)

It seems to me that the net effect of these techniques is to give the illusion of a deeper story and world than what actually exists. Not everyone has the ability or the time to build the kind of depth that these tricks hint at, and even those who can aren't always able to give it the feeling of a living, breathing world like some of this stuff could. So all-in-all - good ideas.

Okay, no. This article is full of crazy and is seriously way too time consuming. I wonder, can I post a link to this thing for a bit of advice that works so much better:
http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=517294

Apparantly I can. Awesome!

Okay children, listen up. This is one of the best points of advice that I have found, and it can be summarized thusly: When in doubt, make shit up! Don't plan a bunch of shit out, you don't have that much time and you will run out of energy. Every now and then, just make something happen that you think makes sense. Trust me, no one's going to be checking up on you. Also, write it all down, kay.

In fact, I've been gming for a very long time, and I would say that Check for Traps advice column on how to be a good Game Master is full of all the wonderful amateurish rubbish that those who have survived the gauntlet do best discarding. Also, you can find everything that he's suggested somewhere else... let's see:
http://www.gnomestew.com/top-30-game-mastering-articles

Right, now some of this is good, a lot is bad. Be discriminating, people!

I've met a lot of guys who thought that they could run good game by just "making shit up" at the spur of the moment. Very few of them actually could. Most of them end up running shallow, schizophrenic hackfests.

Next time, perhaps you could provide the interesting link to other resources with a little less douchebaggery?

Nope, can't be done. He's offering the same advice that's been offered before, and I've had to break so many people of these bad habits that seeing the bad advice just makes for a full on rage.

Okay, so biggest point, pick your content carefully and make as little as you can get away with, 'cause you won't use but about 10% of it anyway. So, to avoid being bitter, avoid doing work.

Like I said, though, I've been gming for far too long to just let bad advice go anymore, especially when the author is making no effort to mention that his column is giving out advice that is as old as rpgs themselves.

So, yes, condemnation, from me, is spades.

Argonnsi:
I've been gamemastering for 23 years. By age 14, I had two officially sanctioned RPGA modules to my name and never scored less than 2 points from perfect in any game I ran. By 16, I was running demo games for Cyberpunk 2020 to packed tables at Gencon and had been published in Interface magazine. In high school, college kids and 20somethings would buy me rules and chauffeur me to their campuses and homes just to run games for them. In college, my campaign had over 12 players at every session and an actual waiting list of people who'd signed up to play and would come to the sessions *just to watch me run.* I currently juggle 2 D&D campaigns, and the players in my current campaign include the president of a major videogame studio and the lead level designer of its best-selling game. These are gentlemen who make some of the world's best games. They could play RPGs with anyone they'd like. They choose me to run for them.

Your condemnation is, therefore, a sad joke. I'm sorry for your players that you think that being lazy and making shit up is a good way to GM. They deserve better.

Mutak:
I kept reading - the advice in the article itself was good, but it did make me stop and wonder, "If that's the kind of stuff he views as great gaming..." I'm choosing to pretend i never read that now. ;)

It seems to me that the net effect of these techniques is to give the illusion of a deeper story and world than what actually exists. Not everyone has the ability or the time to build the kind of depth that these tricks hint at, and even those who can aren't always able to give it the feeling of a living, breathing world like some of this stuff could. So all-in-all - good ideas.

That's the intent, yes! At least some players will appreciate the sense of the world being "real". And I certainly enjoy creating that sense of versimilitude. But you can't actually create a truly real world, so it's a matter of how best to simulate what you can...

Archon:

That's the intent, yes! At least some players will appreciate the sense of the world being "real". And I certainly enjoy creating that sense of versimilitude. But you can't actually create a truly real world, so it's a matter of how best to simulate what you can...

I agree thats why I enjoyed playing in the Glorantha world of runequest, I think its had the deepest and largest setting ever created. The D&D worlds all ways seemed to me a little "by the sacred jockstrap of Robert E Howard" to be taken seriously to me.

However I must say that when I ran things I preferred things a little more free forum. I would use a basic setting from the real world say the Mediterranean around 800 BC and go from there. To make it seam real you have to be flexible and knowledgeable of the time period your using. I took the greek myths as starting point and used the less well known ones at as plot lines. In 800 BC you have once great empires in decline (Egypt), a new strong ferocious empire in Assyria and the long abandoned capital of a vanished empire (Hattusa). You have a real breathing world, with real customs, gods and legendary monsters to start with, but you have really know more about it than the poeple you are playing with. The research takes effort but I think its less than drawing up hex based grids. When I was doing this there was no google or wikipedia, so its should be easier now than it was then.

For example as lets use our lvl 1 characters from Greece, put all the players on a ship for a short journey to across to a near by island. The ships captain being a greedy and impious man fails to make the proper sacrifice to Zeus. The enraged God send a storm that drives them far out to sea and only abates when the captain is thrown over the side and drowns. Now drift them to shore in Egypt. Now they can engage in a little tomb robbing in the valley of the kings and face undead, sign on with Egyptian army and help prepare and defend a fort against the on coming Assyrians, or spy for the Assyrian royal corps of magicians.

Mutak:
You lost me at "the genius behind I Hit It With My Axe." In theory, that series does sound brilliant. In reality, it's boring and unwatchable.

Gotta say, I pulled up a tad at that sentence - I didn't get past the first two minutes of the first episode of that show! Fortunately, the rest of the article had plenty of food for thought. To throw in my tuppence, here's another trick that I've seen used to good effect: Arrange for major NPCs to be "played" by someone else in absentia. It's a good way to involve someone who can't get to sit at the table for one reason or another and it makes the NPC more interesting in ways that the GM might not have considered. When I saw it done, the NPC-player created a character with an outline backstory and motivations, then the GM and the NPC-player exchanged emails between sessions to decide how the NPC would respond to the PCs' actions. Any face-to-face stuff was handled by the GM, keeping as close to the original character concept as possible.

Albino Boo - Glorantha is inspirational. Great stuff.

Amazon Warrior - I've never done that, but it's a great idea that I will poach.

So that explains why you essentially tell people to create rpgs like video games, which are sub-par.

In all seriousness, I've only once used a published gaming module, and the results were a complete disaster. I never worry about more than 1 or 2 game sessions ahead, because the actions of the PC are the plot, not what I work up, and world feels more real if I let the players fill in the details. After all, there are more of them than there are of me, so they can do more.

Also, I don't do dungeons, ever. My players seem to prefer a heavy politics game, which leads to few combats and action driven by the players, so planning out more than what the NPCs want and how they can get what they want is more than enough, and, again, remaining vague is always for the best.

And, yeah, in case I haven't made my opinions clear, "professional cred" just means that you've been published. It doesn't mean that you are good. I mean, look at Michael Bay. He's made $100 million dollar movies, but they are total crap.

Finally, all the advice that you've given in your column has been written dozens, if not hundreds, of times before, been written better, and it still sucks. Bad advice stays bad, no matter who gives it or why.

Argonnosi:
So that explains why you essentially tell people to create rpgs like video games, which are sub-par.

In all seriousness, I've only once used a published gaming module, and the results were a complete disaster. I never worry about more than 1 or 2 game sessions ahead, because the actions of the PC are the plot, not what I work up, and world feels more real if I let the players fill in the details. After all, there are more of them than there are of me, so they can do more.

Also, I don't do dungeons, ever. My players seem to prefer a heavy politics game, which leads to few combats and action driven by the players, so planning out more than what the NPCs want and how they can get what they want is more than enough, and, again, remaining vague is always for the best.

And, yeah, in case I haven't made my opinions clear, "professional cred" just means that you've been published. It doesn't mean that you are good. I mean, look at Michael Bay. He's made $100 million dollar movies, but they are total crap.

Finally, all the advice that you've given in your column has been written dozens, if not hundreds, of times before, been written better, and it still sucks. Bad advice stays bad, no matter who gives it or why.

Your rebuttals contain nothing that contradicts anything in this series of columns, and instead merely add to the aura of laziness you embrace, since you appear to have done nothing more than skim for things to be outraged about. You proclaim flexibility and creativity, while presenting only hostility and closed-mindedness.

You've made a sad case for your preferred style, and are just digging a deeper hole by attacking the person behind the message because you can't defend your own. The existence of "dozens, if not hundreds" of articles offering similar concepts as advice is a far better indicator of what GMs have found useful than what you've shown, by far. Your failure to adapt one gaming module to your needs are not exactly damning evidence of modules being at fault. Professional, published works may not guarantee your enjoyment, but it's far more likely you'll find something useful and well made, and in less time, than browsing the offerings of people not held to any standard.

Since you seem to have charged in here blindly, you've likely also not read and understood the Posting Guidelines. When the hammer falls in response to your behavior, remember ignorance and arrogance make poor armor here, in real life, and in most gaming systems, too.

Argonossi, I will take you at your word that your players enjoy your DM style and that your technique works for you. There are as many schools of thought on DMing as there are styles of painting. I don't wish anyone ill for enjoying their game.

But if you are going to show up on my thread and announces my advice is rubbish -- not just "not to my player's preference" but, literally, amateur rubbish -- you better step up and take some time to explain, in as much detail as I've offered, why your way is better. Any BA student in philosophy knows it's easy to tear down the works of others, and a lot harder to offer a constructive edifice of your own thought. That's why there's a 1,000 critiques of Aristotle and only 1 Aristotle. I'm not Aristotle, but I AM offering the edifice of my DMing philosophy over a dozen columns. You showing up and saying it's rubbish doesn't make it so - it just means you're another in a long line of people who find it easier to criticize than construct.

As for the notion that "this advice has appeared all over the place," I really beg to differ. Some of the ideas have appeared elsewhere, and where they have, I've linked to them (e.g. last column and Rob Conley). Some have not. I've certainly never seen my agency theory of fun, or the differentiation between the DM-as-God and DM-as-Satan, appear anywhere else, and in fact they were fairly controversial when I published them here. Even if they have appeared elsewhere... so what? If the requirement for publishing on the Internet is that everyone should shut up if it's been said before, then essentially no one could say anything, as it's all been said before.

Indeed, by that line of thinking, you should shut up, as people have already said I suck dozens of times, and better than you.

Okay, it's time, I think, to put the vitriol aside and actually give some contructive criticism. When you started discussing GM technique, you began by stating that your goal was to increase the number of GMs, which you saw as the choke-point for increasing the number of people who play table-top rpgs. And I followed your line, partially reading the fairly dry text of material I had seen before, but then something struck me about this one.

So, for the second time in on this site, I left a comment. And, for some reason, an angry and somewhat contemptuous one, which was usually not my style. The response was as it should have been expected, so I've put myself into a bit of a time-out until I could clear my head. Now I'm back, so here goes.

I believe that your stated motive of creating new GMs and the techniques that you espouse are contrary to each other. Most people have no aspirations to massive world-building or even something as difficult as a high-school paper. The techniques you recommend are time-consuming to those who have done it for a while, and even more so to those just starting out. My recommendation is to cut things down until everyone can do it.

Simply put, if you want more GMs, you should recommend simpler games that are easier to run for, recommend simpler techniques that only need a limited upkeep, or none at all. You shouldn't recommend world building, you should recommend grabbing a game that uses a pre-built setting (WFRP, for example) or one that uses the modern world (with World of Darkness all you need is Google Maps). Offer up simple games that don't require balanced encounter generation (yeah, DnD is one of the most difficult games to run for, so fuck that) or making large maps, or even small maps, of areas that often feel anachronistic anyway.

Hell, that's another thing. Tell people that role-playing doesn't equal DnD. There are a lot of people I know that enjoy Cyberpunk, but if their introduction to gaming had included hobbits and elves, they would have run for the hills. None of them wanted to play, or run for Gandalf and Aragorn. They wanted John McClain.

And, last but not least, I assure you that it is quite possible to run with nothing more than a name list, a pad of paper, a pencil, and some dice. But it means that you have to leave the dungeon and trust that your players can actually join the dance and support the game as well.

Good article and I am glad to see you got Southland up. I hope everybody enjoys it.

I do have some comments on event triggers. I use a similar technique that I developed from following and participating in writing "what-ifs" for alternaty history forums. (http://www.alternatehistory.com). Basically the best alt-histories are those that start with the divergence point and the author show how the changes causes the altered history. Generally there is some feedback sometimes the author realizes that he wrote something wildly improbable and sometimes the reader learns something as well.

This technique is great for plotting for sandbox campaign. Instead on focusing on a single timeline you branch out to prepare for what the players do. "If they do this then this result, if this then that." The idea that the consequences flow naturally from the causes. So it is a trigger system but of much more general utility and capable of being used on several levels of scope.

Argonnosi:

I believe that your stated motive of creating new GMs and the techniques that you espouse are contrary to each other. Most people have no aspirations to massive world-building or even something as difficult as a high-school paper. The techniques you recommend are time-consuming to those who have done it for a while, and even more so to those just starting out. My recommendation is to cut things down until everyone can do it.

A person can get through my 35 steps to create a fantasy sandbox in two weeks spending 2 to 3 hours each evening. While Alexander's setup does differ than mine I don't see anything in there that suggests it would take any longer then what I recommend.

Argonnosi:

Simply put, if you want more GMs, you should recommend simpler games that are easier to run for, recommend simpler techniques that only need a limited upkeep, or none at all. You shouldn't recommend world building, you should recommend grabbing a game that uses a pre-built setting (WFRP, for example) or one that uses the modern world (with World of Darkness all you need is Google Maps). Offer up simple games that don't require balanced encounter generation (yeah, DnD is one of the most difficult games to run for, so fuck that) or making large maps, or even small maps, of areas that often feel anachronistic anyway.

The tradeoff being $$$ that you spend for the setting and adventures to go along with it. And you still don't get all that you need to run it because the vast majority of the settings out there are written like travelogues which require additional prep work which takes you right back to doing what Alex, myself, and others are talking about.

As for D&D being difficult to run for? What edition are you talking about? 3rd, 4th, 1st, etc. I know that B/X or BECMI D&D plus Keep on the Borderlands was enormously success in teaching millions on how to referee roleplaying games. And Keep on the Borderlands is a small sandbox setting with a map with keyed locales. Basic D&D is about as simple as they come.

Don't get me wrong there are other RPGs in different genres and systems that also are successful in teaching people how to referee. What I don't get this disdain for D&D.

Argonnosi:

And, last but not least, I assure you that it is quite possible to run with nothing more than a name list, a pad of paper, a pencil, and some dice. But it means that you have to leave the dungeon and trust that your players can actually join the dance and support the game as well.

while it possible it not easily teachable. And saying it is possible is not the same as explain how it is possible. And when that happens you start breaking it down and it winds up looking similar to what Alex and myself talk about. You won't the same steps as what Alex and me. But but you will get a lot of detail oriented fussy looking steps. And mind you the mix that works for you doesn't work everybody else. The fallacy in your post is that there are a body of techniques for refereeing a RPG that is "best".

Alright, I'll nibble on that for a bit. I will say that one of my primary biases is that there is a best way to do everything, and what is best will also depend upon your goal. And, yes, I do realize that the way I do things is difficult to teach, mostly because I end up telling people what not to do, rather than what to do. I end up sounding like a crazy kung fu teacher in a Karate Kid knock-off, but the truth is that if you know how to write, can add and subtract, and have a system you like, then most of your work is taken care of.

Seriously, three step process to creating a sandbox: 1) Make shit up, 2) Write it all down to keep it straight, 3) Adjust in response to honest criticism and your changing needs. Most people aren't going to care enough anyway, and there is enough free information on settings that you can easily take care of that. Hell, there's a Wiki on Fallout, so if post-apocalyptic is your thing, there's your setting information all laid out for you. A lot of games take place in the modern world, so Google Maps is what you really need.

Seriously, though. 2-3 hours an evening for two weeks. That's a movie and a half. That's way too long. I'm talking about people who have jobs that often have overtime, kids, and other, considerably more important time sinks. 2-3 hours for fourteen days to set up for a weekly or bi-weekly game which will usually suck up an evening, if not more, plus all of the prep time just to get ready to be at the game for that length of time. This is the kind of person that we need to reach if we're going to proseltyze for gaming, and 28-42 hours of prep is just too damn long. Especially when you consider that this is the last, not the first or only step.

So, yeah, faster is better, and speed is of the essence. If I told you that I could run most of my games with less than five minutes of prep, this might not surprise you. If I told you that I could do it using 4th edition DnD without purchasing a pre-gen you'd probably call me nuts, and you would almost certainly be right to do so. But this is the kind of prep time that we need to aim for, because what keeps people going back to WoW and dropping out of table-top is the fact that the terminal is easy access and doesn't require a huge time-sink just to start the game.

And, why are you discussing previous generation game systems? If we want new blood we should be talking about what is readily and easily available on the current market, and that is what we are after. New blood requires current games. And that does mark out the greatest advantage of DnD. It's everywhere.

As for my disdain for DnD. Well, it's set to one very specific style of play and it takes way too long to prep for. I've sworn off dugeon crawls (I don't run them, I don't play them), and that's what the current version is definately made for, so I'm not interested.

Appreciate your switch to constructive comments. You're about the only person who's said my writing is dry though. Most of the other commentators said I was too vitriolic. Go back and read the column comments in the earlier essays...

Anyway, when I started discussing world building, I specifically listed world building as essentially an optional task for game masters that could be avoided by using a pre-purchased setting, and I even offered links to some that I think are great - including Cyberpunk's Night City 2020. I've also discussed Traveller, Mutants & Masterminds, etc. I don't think it's fair to characterize me as D&D myopic or demanding that everyone write a D&D world. Yes, I have covered D&D more than other games in this column, but it's because it holds the dominant market share.

As for the sort of game you describe; I personally do not enjoy playing in or running campaigns which are essentially ad hoc narrative and creative theatrics. Ergo, I'm not going to write a guide to that. Essentially, you and I are not members of the same faith. I'm like a Catholic missionary, concerned about a shortage of priests. You're suggesting that if I would just get rid of baptism, confirmation, and celibacy, and picked something a little more lightweight, like Unitarianism, it'd be easier to get converts. Maybe so, but that's not the religion I care about.

On a more fundamental level, I do not participate in the culture of immediacy that you seem to espouse. I don't think that everything has to be doable in five minutes, I don't think faster is better or that speed is of the essence. I think folks are willing to invest time into things they are passionate about, whether it's WoW, golf, or RPGs, because they recognize that there are things that take time to master, time to do right, and are worth spending the time on. In my opinion, running a great campaign takes time, and is worth time.

You are clearly an advocate of what might be called "microwave DMing". I'm the equivalent of the "slow food" movement. Live and let live.

Fair.

Argonnosi:

Seriously, three step process to creating a sandbox: 1) Make shit up, 2) Write it all down to keep it straight, 3) Adjust in response to honest criticism and your changing needs. Most people aren't going to care enough anyway, and there is enough free information on settings that you can easily take care of that. Hell, there's a Wiki on Fallout, so if post-apocalyptic is your thing, there's your setting information all laid out for you. A lot of games take place in the modern world, so Google Maps is what you really need.

The 3 step process may be accurate but it also vague and unhelpful to the novice. In addition most roleplayers play D&D or other Fantasy RPGS so while Google Maps and many internet resource are great for other genres they don't help as much for fantasy. In addition using existing setting is often just as time consuming as most don't offer much detail on the local level where the adventure takes place. So they are not as much of a timesaver as you would think. Unless they are explicitly designed to be ready to run out of the box. Then you usually lose scope. Each of my settings in Points of Light only cover a 200 by 100 mile region.

Argonnosi:

Seriously, though. 2-3 hours an evening for two weeks. That's a movie and a half. That's way too long. I'm talking about people who have jobs that often have overtime, kids, and other, considerably more important time sinks. 2-3 hours for fourteen days to set up for a weekly or bi-weekly game which will usually suck up an evening, if not more, plus all of the prep time just to get ready to be at the game for that length of time. This is the kind of person that we need to reach if we're going to proseltyze for gaming, and 28-42 hours of prep is just too damn long. Especially when you consider that this is the last, not the first or only step.

It may sound like a long time but most will stretch the process over a month or two perhaps a weekend after or two devoted to writing. Plus there are various shortcuts one could take and various points where one could stop and just wing it from there. It all depends on how much detail you are going to put in. I explain that this is the process I use when writing up a setting for the PoL series and that how long it takes me to get it to the editing and layout phase. Using sketch maps and short notes a person could have this done in 8 to 10 hours.

I am talking about a setting something that is used as a backdrop over multiple sessions. Not an adventure for a single session.

Argonnosi:

So, yeah, faster is better, and speed is of the essence. If I told you that I could run most of my games with less than five minutes of prep, this might not surprise you. If I told you that I could do it using 4th edition DnD without purchasing a pre-gen you'd probably call me nuts, and you would almost certainly be right to do so. But this is the kind of prep time that we need to aim for, because what keeps people going back to WoW and dropping out of table-top is the fact that the terminal is easy access and doesn't require a huge time-sink just to start the game.

Roleplaying games it one of the demanding games out there. Nothing is going to change that fact. Trying to compete with WoW and other forms of entertainment by become simpler is a losing game. Tabletop RPG originated in a time where there few alternatives. As those alternatives developed slowly the audience for tabletop RPGs shrunk. But the situation is far from hopeless there are things that tabletop RPGS do that are unique like having a human referee at the center of the action. By focusing on these elements RPGs can be sustained as a healthy niche hobby.

You can run a game in 5 minutes because you have a bag of bits in your head that you can pull elements out of to create a setting and an adventure on the fly. Novices don't. What Alex and I describe is a way to get that bag o' bits in a novice's head. By clearly explaining what going on we help make better referees which makes for a healthier hobby.

Argonnosi:

And, why are you discussing previous generation game systems? If we want new blood we should be talking about what is readily and easily available on the current market, and that is what we are after. New blood requires current games. And that does mark out the greatest advantage of DnD. It's everywhere.

As for my disdain for DnD. Well, it's set to one very specific style of play and it takes way too long to prep for. I've sworn off dugeon crawls (I don't run them, I don't play them), and that's what the current version is definately made for, so I'm not interested.

We could debate what "wrong" with D&D and the hobby until the cows come home. I prefer to focus on use what there in the most effective manner. Those who feel that strongly about it should get out there and publish their alternative. I will answer the specific in a followup post.

This was pretty brutal, and they lost several characters and most of their mercenary band

On a RANDOM ENCOUNTER, you had players die? It's one thing to have a world that interacts with the PCs, whirls around them, evolves when they close their eyes...
but a world where they randomly encounter an Ancient Black Dragon? That's one of the most difficult enemies in the game, and to drop it randomly...

I've done gaming both ways. Every year I run a christmas-eve zombies game with two steps of prep:
A) Are the players at a mall? If not, where are they?
B) How many people can I get to show up on IRC?

They've been fabulous every year. Sometimes, I come up with traps and attempts on how to thwart the heroes, to give them a good challenge. I wouldn't improvise an entire dungeon, I generally use modules for those.

Improv is a skill, just like wrting. You get better at it by working at it. It's hardly innate (although its practice form is more 'let's play pretend' than dungeon mastering).

Brainstrain:
On a RANDOM ENCOUNTER, you had players die? It's one thing to have a world that interacts with the PCs, whirls around them, evolves when they close their eyes... but a world where they randomly encounter an Ancient Black Dragon? That's one of the most difficult enemies in the game, and to drop it randomly...

A few thoughts here.

First, you need to realize that dragons in 1st edition D&D are considerably less powerful than they are in later editions. An ancient green dragon is about a 10HD monster with AC2 (equivalent to AC18 in 3.5), and his claw does the same damage as a sword. As a result, dragons are much more common in classic D&D. So you need to think "monster as powerful as a fire giant" not "monsters as powerful as a Tarrasque" in judging this encounter. According to the default encounter tables in the Expert handbook, encounters with dragons should average 5-10% of all wilderness encounters. In the campaign so far, they have slain an ancient red dragon, an ancient green dragon, an old red dragon, an adult black dragon, 2 adult blue dragons, a young red dragon, and a young blue dragon. That should put this in a bit more perspective.

Second, I didn't "have" characters die. I don't "have" characters live or die. This is part of my agency theory of GMing. Characters live or die based on where they choose to go, what they encounter there, and how they handle it. The characters in this case had marched a band of 50 followers into the dread Waste, and sacked a village under the protection of the dragon. So, when the dragon showed up (being listed in its own territory's random encounter chart, following the guidelines in the Expert rule set for frequency), it attacked.

Also, I don't like improv games, but not because it can't be a fun experience; rather, the fun experience it provides simply isn't the experience I want to run or enjoy. I prefer to offer and face objective challenges and see the result. My preference for this is fairly universal. For instance, at convention play in tabletop wargaming scenarios, I've known wargame referees who will respond to exceptionally brilliant or lucky play on the part of Side A by "having reinforcements appear" for Side B, to ensure the scenario lasts four hours and is a hard fought battle. While this is perhaps fun in the short-term, in the long term I feel this cheapens the entire experience of wargaming, as what's the point of being brilliant or rolling the dice? Likewise, I quit playing Oblivion because of the dynamic scaling in that game. I'm not looking for or offering guaranteed fun, merely the opportunity to have fun by being smart, lucky, and wise. This mandates that players have the opportunity to not have fun by being dumb, unfortunate, or foolish.

Archon, I like your style... but then that's pretty much the style of game I DM. I've been running the same sandbox game for 30+ years largely without complaints. The people I've met who don't appreciate this style tend to be younger and fans of published material, adventure paths and / or "simpler" games. To each their own. Not all of the young ones suffer from short attention span theater disorder though. I've made a lot of "converts" in the last few years. I've just started another younger player (college student) on the path to creating his own campaign (he's using Pathfinder). I've given him a lot of what would probably seem to you like very familiar advice. Now, I think I'll just point him to your column. You've done a nice job of laying it all out. That's more time I can work on my own game! Thanks :D

I don't like the idea of meaningless world in which to loot stuff. I hated FC2 and probably would despise Crackdowns, Just Causes or WoW exactly same. I just cannot understand what kind of a loser could find something of relevance in such endeavor. It happens to be the rule that all games made purposely for fun are cursed by their own inventors.

Thanks for the kind words, r_Chance! Good luck in winning new converts to the cause.

 

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