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Friday, 8 January 2010

My Life And Roleplaying: I Have A Dream...


All 'old school' Dungeon Masters (in my humble opinion) are dreamers by necessity - as opposed to 4e DMs who appear to be civil engineers and computer programmers (but I digress) - and I expect we all have our 'wish lists' of cool moments we'd like to see in our games.

My personal list has been knocking about in my head since I was in my early teens.

Among the events I want to run in this mythical long-term campaign I really am going to get off the ground one day (better get a move on, son, you're not getting any younger... and neither are your players!) are:

* A "Horatio Holds The Bridge" moment - I'd just discovered D&D when this poem was read to us at school and the two just clicked.

* An interesting time travel story (cf. Doctor Who et al)

* The party encounters cosmic entities that threaten the world and only the heroes can stop them - every Marvel/DC comic book that features this sort of stuff inspires me to greater madness, combined with a lifelong love of the works of HP Lovecraft.

* Rescuing a trapped companion from incarceration in the pit of Hell - this came from reading the dedication pages in my original (and treasured) Arduin Grimoire Trilogy, by Dave Hargrave, where he mentions an epic campaign to free his own character.

While these are probably the foremost 'moments' (particularly the last) I want my players to be able to talk about in their retirement, one idea that has recently resurfaced - thanks to the advertising for the forthcoming movie Legion, as well as my watching of Supernatural and seeing the trailer for the video game Darksiders (above) repeatedly on television - is getting the player characters caught up in a war between angels and demons.

This idea has been with me since I perused my first copy of the Judge's Guild Ready Ref Sheets and saw, among the lists of monster statistics, details for an "angel".

Of course, now I can't find the reference - and am beginning to wonder if I'm actually misremembering something from one of the Arduin books or other early D&D books I used to have.

But that isn't important, what is important is the idea of having player characters either fighting alongside or going up against kick-ass, winged angels.

The big problem though with all these dreams is that none of these "set-ups" are suitable for low-level characters and the other aspect of Dungeons & Dragons that has always been central to my way of thinking is the satisfaction of building characters from the ground up; developing them from first level and having a hand in their fate until you choose to retire them.

However, as regular readers of HeroPress will know, the major problem I had in Tekralh, our Labyrinth Lord campaign with The Tuesday Knights, was that the fragile, little first levellers kept getting killed off (sometimes twice in one session).

I find the idea of "level-appropriate encounters" totally counter-intuitive to my own gaming beliefs, so wasn't going to expose the players to room after room of single kobolds, a few rats and some wild boar just so they could wrack up enough easy experience points to boost them a level or two.

At the time a lot of wise 'old schoolers' chipped in with ideas and suggestions to keep The Tuesday Knights' characters alive and kicking, but recently I came across a brilliant blog post that summed the issue up very succinctly.

Entitled The Lost Art of Running Away (on RPG Blog II), it offered the following sage comments:

"Look, the world does not adjust levels to suit you. The entire point of adventuring is that there’s crap out there that can’t be beaten, at least not easily. That’s why they call it “Adventuring”, and not “Encounter-Appropriate Jaunt That Adjusts To My Level Of Ability”. You do your homework, scout things out, and pray to St. Cuthbert with your running shoes on, just in case.

"I think, in a way, running to fight another day is important. One of the most exciting parts of the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy for me was the party fleeing from the Nazgul. Now, what makes exciting literature does not always make exciting gameplay, but I think the uncertainty of running, the possibility of returning down the road to re-face your fears, and the idea can be a heroic thing, if not strictly a part of the Hero’s Journey itself."

Hopefully, I'll be able to get this across to my players better when I resume my position behind the DM's Screen again, once Pete has wrapped up his Top Secret S.I. campaign.

Given that this has barely got off the ground, it gives me plenty of time to work on my campaign overhaul and its re-imagining as what I am cleverly calling Tekralh III (the first was our original Castles & Crusades campaign, with heavy house-ruling; the second was the houserule-free Labyrinth Lord game).

And then we might start to see about making some dreams come true...

4 comments:

  1. Playing 4e is like being in a maths lesson, particularly the character generation, but running it is fairly free and in keeping with the older editions. The game definitely has a bit of a split personality in that regard.

    My Call of Cthulhu game is based around a handful of these Cool Moments, but it's died, so I don't know if they'll even come to pass.

    ReplyDelete
  2. To be fair to 4e, I've never played it, only read the rulebooks (I'd be willing to give it a go as a one-shot at a con or something), but while I liked some of the ideas overall it wasn't what I was hoping for from all WoTC's promises of a "streamlined game".

    Streamlined for me means getting rid of all the feats, skills and other Munchkin power-ups that the DM has to memorise.

    Then there's the whole concept of handing out magic items like candy etc

    On the other hand I liked the fact that first level characters were a lot harder to kill, so it's probably swings and roundabouts. There are possibly other aspects I might like if I had the energy (and money) to get into it.

    It's probably a great game, but it just isn't how I like to play Dungeons & Dragons.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, the thing is, from how we've been playing it anyway, the DM doesn't need to know how the player's powers work; they're all in the PHB for a reason. Monsters, in comparison, have much less complexity in their mechanics. It's a very imbalanced game in terms of rules, because I'd say 80% of it is on the players' side.

    It's by no means my favourite version of the game, and it doesn't feel like D&D, but it's not bad... if you're the GM. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Interesting insight. If I had a more regular gaming group I might be inclined to give it a go, but meeting once a month it's hard enough as it is to get a campaign going and every session is "special".

    This is why now it's best to stick with systems that if we don't know are at least comparable with games we knew "back in the day".

    ReplyDelete

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