Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Telling the Story (a.k.a. Sharp Plot points really hurt. Also: Red Herring Mania!)

Most of my campaigns are Sandbox style and the game I'm running right now is a VAST Living Sandbox that has a lot of instances of rippling effects across the campaign.

I'm running a Mekton Zeta game, the games are set up as if the campaign is an Anime series. The main name of the series is Darkest Eve, with the individual seasons having their own names, Rogue Queen Saga for the first season of 24 'episodes' and Cast to the Black as the second season. There are 4 seasons scheduled, totalling 96 episodes, with the possibility of a few more to wrap up the campaign if needed. Of course, the players have the option of canceling the series at the end of a season, but they won't get to find out what happens in the story if that happens. Yes it's blackmail, but if you kill the story before it's done then you probably will never know the end. The series is set in space and has giant robots that the characters get to pilot around, there are other races and space battles along with going out to a great big asteroid field to do some mining. The story for the beginning of the campaign is that an officer of a galactic territory is leading a crew to find what is called Lost Tech. This lost tech is from a civilization that predates all of the civilizations that are around now, even humanity (BTW, Earth was lost a couple of thousand years ago. Well, the entire solar system was lost.). Now here is the part I wanted to get to, the story.

The group hasn't been directly told what the main goal of the campaign is. They know what the story is and are helping it unfold, sometimes in ways I didn't think of. I've given them the option of me directly telling them what the main goal is but they haven't wanted me to reveal that yet. Mind you, the goal doesn't mean they will know the story. This is how I am trying to keep the interest going in the campaign for the 96+ games that I have planned (loosely, I gave up on planning it out fully when the PCs altered things a bit with their actions).  I have given clues to what the main point is, but I have created a number of 'Side Quests'. These are making up the main part of the first part of the campaign and they are rather fun and even have an effect on the game world. This is also giving the players reason to explore the game world (or universe in this instance) since they don't really know what the direct goal is. It's been my experience that if the players have a direct goal they will pursue it, often forsaking everything else for it. This way they get to explore and shape things more their own way.

2 main problems with this style of storytelling:
1: Not enough information to keep the characters moving in any direction. PC's can get lost or lose interest if there isn't anything going on.
2: Too much information. PC's can get lost in the information and with all the stuff that there is to do.

I have set up a work around for that, the group has a mission that they are on, searching for Lost Tech. Anything that deals with that they are on top of. Everything else is just icing for them. Whether or not this is the main plot or goal of the series has yet to be seen, heck it might even be a side quest. Am I ever going to tell? Maybe, maybe not. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA!!!

The Consequences of the PC's Actions (a.k.a. What do you mean I got the queen pregnant and then king found out?)

I love to have the PC's actions have consequences, either immediate, short term, long term, or campaign altering!  Ah the joys of killing a major noble of a kingdom... Many times in my games have PC's sparked wars, released things they shouldn't have, or just plain mucked up things that really should have been left alone. These repercussions don't even have to have anything to do with the main goal of the campaign but sometimes can become the main goal. These things can be a pain to keep track of if there are too many changes, generally I keep track of the major or far reaching ones for the whole campaign while minor ones might be forgotten later in the same game session. In a related note to the Encounters post, the PCs actions can have a rippling effect across the game world that can alter many things. Like I mentioned in Encounters, if an event happens that the PCs really needed to be there for but they decided to go somewhere else what has changed (These type of instances can only occur in Living Sandboxes)? I just continue going on and let the PCs hear about it and they realize that they should have gone to the castle for the coronation ceremony of the new king rather than going berry picking with the naked hot elven babes.

Encounters/Events (a.k.a. The stuff that goes on between tangents.)

This is just my thoughts on the effects of what the PCs do in a campaign, but it does  kind of tie into the Static and Living worlds a little bit, but not much.

Encounters and Events are the staple of a good game. How I define an Encounter is a real good question, I really can't say there is much of a difference between an Event and an Encounter in the grand scheme of things. How about this, Encounters directly involve PCs and an Event is something that the PCs are witness to but don't necessarily get involved in? Anyway, there are 2 types of Encounters in my book, random and planned. Now random encounters are exactly that, random. They happen for no real reason other than the dice said so (GMs generally will come up with a reason for the Frost Dragon to be in the desert, or at least they should). I don't really have any issue with random encounters but sometimes I have issue with planned ones.

For Planned encounters are times that the PC's need to be somewhere specific for something to occur but what happens if the PC's never go there? Do you force the encounter? There are GMs that I have gamed with (and I have done this a couple of times myself) that will move the encounter to where ever the PCs are, regardless of it if makes sense for it to occur there or not. I know that some GMs work really hard to create encounters and want the PC's to find them but rather than shoe horn it into a spot, change it to suit where it is, and if the group is trying to avoid it because they don't think they can handle it, don't force it. But I have to admit, I've done it too.

Static and Living Worlds. (a.k.a. 'The Universe revolves around Me' and 'What do you mean it doesn't revolve around me?')

This kind of goes with my previous post about Linear vs Sandbox style of games and is my take on my 2 classifications of game worlds, Static and Living.

When dealing with the Sandbox style in the past (playing and running for some of it) I have found that many game worlds seem to wait for the PCs to appear for something to happen. Almost like the barbarian horde that is just over the ridge has a lookout watching for them and when the PC's arrive the horde just "happens" to attack at that time( I have the image in my mind of this horde sitting around drinking tea and discussing the finer things when someone runs in shouting "The PCs are here!" and at that time they all grab weapons and charge, after cleaning up the tea of course. Makes me think of the Capitol One Card commercials actually). I call these type of worlds as Static. That isn't a bad thing, it just means that the world revolves completely around the PCs.

In Living worlds life goes on when the PC's aren't there. This can be a nightmare to keep track of. Living worlds are constantly changing, evolving, growing, and moving so when the PCs go back to a place they've been or have heard about it can be completely different. Kingdoms can rise or fall while the PCs are out and about. Of course this can make the players wonder if they are doing the right thing in the game since there is usually a lot of information coming to them.  Static worlds are good for keeping a group on the right track since the world doesn't change much at all without the PC's there so information is still relevant regardless of when the PCs show up. Living worlds can be overwhelming since things change and evolve as the campaign progresses, and sometimes thing are completely different when the PCs get there.

Nothing against either one of these style of campaign worlds, its just my perceptions of the 2 types that I see.