Friday, June 11, 2010


      Sometimes when I read play reports, I'm amazed at how much people can do in a single session. I average three to four "situations" in a session- whether these be combat, puzzles, dialogue, etc. I sometimes envy the pace at which some groups burn through ten, twenty combats in an evening's play. The Temple of the Frog for instance assumes a very fast pace, given the sheer number of combatants and the like present. Early D&D in general, with its close ties to wargaming operates on a much less detailed, much more abstract plane than I have ever really attempted. But I'm not sure that that's a bad thing in all cases. The issue I think stems from my inability to zoom out on the players- the pace of my dungeon adventures varies from about "first person survival horror" to "point and click adventure." I stock my dungeons with pretty huge amounts of detail, and most of the time this works in my favor, as I can create an atmosphere of dread, with enough things to keep everyone interested.
 But I have become too accustomed to feeding payers details- the SCALE of my descriptions is too zoomed in to let them make meaningful decisions in a larger world- they pick what trail, but have no idea how to act on their own initiative. The blame is probably 50/50, but whatever the cause, my games focus too much on details- combat, dialogue, puzzles, whatever, and logistics/player initiative suffers, while game modes that deserve different types of refereeing are all treated with the detail and precision of deathtrap dungeons. Player kingdoms and business plans dpeend on letting them make schemes without worrying too much about details.
        The trouble is, once my players leave the dungeon/the boat/ whatever "chokepoint" we've come to- I have an inability to stop giving details. I need to open the game up more to my players, and this necessitates giving them a broader overview of their environs. I have plenty of pretty good locations, and I do give my players freedom, but my narration is either too broad or too vague- I am in a mode of perpetual exploration- a problem which I think is emblematic of issues with modern D&D.
         A sandbox is a set of static locations, effects, and people waiting for Pc interaction. There is no preplanned anything, and the game lies in what players choose to do with the environment. Modern rpg design I think, has ingrained the story so much, that both I and my players unconsciously seek the storyteller/participant paradigm. My supposed "sandbox" is rather like playing "Oregon Trail." My players will pick an arbitrary destination, and respond passively to what they encounter along the way. I want to encourage my players to vie with each other for personal goals, and to actively change the world to their tastes, rather than reacting, but I'm not sure how best to proceed. The detail I give makes them look for something I want them to find, rather than setting their own goals.
           In short, I want Settlers of Cataan, plus Dark Tower. I'd like the players, after initial exploration to take stock of their environs, and manage resources in competition with each other. I'd like to see strategic, or at least personal decision making, but modern thinking has taught us to create elaborate characters, and then sublimate them into the level appropriate challenges presented by the dm. How do I change this? I am sick of having solely reactive players- I want to REFEREE them in their own endeavors. Is more information with less etail the answer?
             Also, I just realized that I would absolutely Love a Stephen King edition of the Dark Tower- "Your Ka-tet is now fighting a band of Slow Mutants!" It just FITS.

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