Friday, October 17, 2008

Campaigning

I know weather isn’t very interesting. I know that writing about it for two posts won’t win me any awards for viewership. And for that I apologize.

But I can’t run this blog on the subject material I find elsewhere on more “popular” blogs. I couldn’t begin to review the endless parade of sad products dumped out by the various RPG companies, nor pause to give credit their authors; I’m not prepared to enter into long debates on the virtues of one fictional magician book series over another; or propose whole new kinds of RPGs based on the movie I saw last week. These are the things that bore me.

I’m not connected to the whole media side of the game. There is in this city a local fantasy gaming store that has been in existence since 1979. When I was fifteen, I would enter it all agog and frustrated that I didn’t have gobs of money with which to buy the product one shelf at a time. When I was 18 and working, I spent those gobs of money…but I slowly grew jaded as I became more familiar with what was available. Since my friends were spending their gobs too, we all had access to pretty much anything.

By 21, I had made my choices about what my world was going to be and what kinds of games I wanted to play. Having a “new” game to play didn’t make much sense to me…like having someone show up to every baseball game with the suggestion that we try playing it by different rules. I didn’t want any new rules, and neither did my serious players. We wanted to get “good” at the game we had. We wanted to get skillful at it.

By 24, I’d stopped going to the gaming store altogether. It was just the same stuff on the shelves, year after year. Another module, another round of miniatures we didn’t need (we had lots, and we were spending money on other things); more gaming aids, made more cheaply than the ones we had at home. More dice. Always, more dice.

I could never find the sort of thing I really wanted: an intelligent system for siege warfare or mass warfare…not just for a few hundred warriors, but for thousands. Something that would include seagoing vessels, which would give me practical rules on how many hits they could withstand from a ballista in relation to their size (not just for one pre-determined size of ship). A miniature that wasn’t another freaky looking thief, that was just a goddamn human soldier. An ordinary, everyday human fucking soldier. Maybe fifty of them, with a convenient number on the base for telling them apart…

Sigh.

Other things too. But really, I found most of what I needed at the university. Almost everything I’ve ever done with my world came out of a library, not a store.

I could talk for a long time about my world…that’s why I started this in the first place. Not because I really care if anyone reads this. I have to talk, to get it off my chest. In person, it just bores people glassy-eyed.

I had been thinking…why do I care about weather, really? Yes, I do think it makes things real, but why is that important? Clearly, real isn’t a big requirement for a lot of players. The recent go around about heroes was enough to prove that.

I think I care about weather because I want my world to be a world. I want it to be a place where a player can stand on at a crossroads and know two things:

The first is that no matter which way they may choose to go, what happens to them will depend on their decision and not on some predestined schedule dreamed up by the DM. I’ve played in enough worlds where the DM had it all set up in advance: west road, east road or south road, they would all lead to a village, where lizard men would be terrorizing the population and the players would have to throw off that tyranny…

If there are three roads, I want clearly in my mind three possibilities—and I want to be limited as a DM to the adventure the party chooses. Tough luck for me if it isn’t my dream-running.

The second thing I want is that everything is a part of a whole. I’ve also run in too many campaigns where, once the lizards are removed and the village saved, none of that remotely matters in the next campaign. I don’t want my world to be a series of individual stories, loosely tied together with geography. I want a single unified adventure, one that reaches forward into an uncertain future and leaves behind a rich and varied past.

The idea that there isn’t an “end” to an adventure is paramount for my world, I think. I always knew as a player that when we were told to get this jewel or save this princess or whatever, that was what was going to happen…like sitting in a film and knowing in the first five minutes that no matter what happens, Brad Pitt will still be standing when its all over. And bored as I might have been as a player, I can’t imagine running that as a DM. After all, as a DM, I don’t go up levels.

To make any of it happen, I need to run a “world”…not Adventure A followed by Adventure B followed by Adventure C. I’d rather the party discussed going south for the winter and establishing a second defensive depot in the off-season than standing around listening to yet another dull description of how such and such a kingdom was once happy until the blah monster arrived. I’d rather the party coming to blows with each other over what official religion the fiefdom will declare (there are two religions in the party, one among the common people) rather than paying lip-service to NPC gods. I’d rather the party contemplate their own plans for global domination, rather than foil the plans of NPC villains. If someone in the party does good, I want it to be for their own reasons, not mine. If someone does evil, I want no more retribution for that act than a real world would offer…either the individual wisely covers their tracks or they make enemies. I myself am wholly impartial to the event.

For that kind of world, I need weather, and an economy, and social structures large enough to allow for tours. An adventure is too small a thing. I want a campaign.

2 comments:

Restless said...

As you allude, the trick is that players aren't really into that gritty detail of reality. I'd love to know where you got the players you have!

Alexis said...

Or it could be that, as a writer, I'm able to provide that gritty detail of reality on spec.