Thursday, December 4, 2014

Are you part of a story or are you the story?

"They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover, in which he's reading his own story, right now."

As I look at the many different styles of adventures over many different genres and systems of today, I tend to compare them to the first RPG I ever played, Basic Dungeons & Dragons. When I started we didn't have a plot or even a well thought out plan; we were just out for a walk in a dungeon to compete against monsters, avoid traps, solve interesting puzzles, and take as much loot as possible in the process. Then a fundamental shift took place where the story arc became the center of the adventure—Dragonlance.

Was Dragonlance the first Adventure Path?
Dragonlance is the first campaign series with a complete story arc and the first adventure series that I can remember including pre-gens that were key to the story; a story I knew very well. My group of friends and I had read all the novels and we all had our favorite character, so it was only natural to want to play that character as well. Playing a PC in our Dragonlance campaign was totally different than any other D&D game I had played before then because when I was playing Tanis Half-elven I was not playing my version of Tanis, I was stepping into the skin of the character as written. We all tended to play through the adventures as though it was a reenactment of the novels. For us it was a blast getting to play out our favorite scenes from the books we so loved. This was the first time I can remember the story leading the PCs instead of the the PCs leading the story. Did Dragonlance change the way everyone played the game? Was there a fundemental shift from being "murder hobos" creating a story as you played to being a hero in a story already written?

After a 17 year hiatus from the hobby, a lot had changed and it seems this idea of playing a character in someone else's story is an ok idea. Today we have plot point campaigns, adventure paths, and organized play that is produced like a television series complete with seasons and episodes. A lot has changed for me as well; I no longer have as much free time as I did as a teenager and my biggest responsibility is far greater than being ready for our weekly game. I have a limited amount of time in my weekly budget for game prep and even the time spent creating a character can be too expensive. As a result I have come to like using old school style systems that allow for quick and sometimes random character creation and pre-generated characters that are tied to the story.

Is this style of adventure advantageous to those of us today who have busy lives but still want the thrill of adventure? Is there a place for an adventure, a series of adventures, or even a complete campaign that asks the players to pick from a list of pre-generated characters that the adventure was specifically written for? Should an adventure have a 3 or 5 point plot or should an adventure just be a loose outline of possible people, places and events that the characters interact with as they blaze their own trail to glory? Perhaps there's a middle way?