These thoughts are reflections I had from reading Angry’s recent articles. You should read those. They’re better than mine. Longer, and better thought out. He’s at theangrygm.com.
I’ve been running Open D&D games at the shop for nineish months now and its getting a little tiring. Not because of the workload, because its not as tough as I sometimes make it out to be, although I do try my hardest to do right by my players. I’m not even really concerned about the weight of the social interactions. It is difficult to be preparing a game when you have no idea who will be there and what amount of preparation they have for the game.
My biggest source of ennui it that I can’t tell stories under the current format. I have too many players coming in and out. As soon as I set up a plot element, the player is gone and all of my efforts at story telling are washed away like sand writing at the beach.
Take the city of Gavony, for example. My first week, I seeded story threads of undead, flooding, a few locations of importance, and managed to cleverly separate a looted item from a player, which was secretly going to be a Maguffin. It was a rich city, (generated randomly from a MtG booster pack, which is a tricky thing) and I thought of some fun things I could do, pulling a Da Vinci code mystery. In later weeks, I added a tournament, some faction play, roof top assailents and a crazy benefactor. There were some good threads in there.
None of those thread got a good finish. Players who cared about the pieces kept leaving the table. It felt like there was no difference between my attempts at a coherent story and running completely random non sequiterious adventures.
Narrative is one of my favorite parts of the game. Telling stories is what I believe D&D is about. That’s why I can gleefully describe how I’d love my characters to die, when it causes other players discomfort. Story is my type of fun. You can tell by the vast amounts of novels and movies that I have, how I can dive into a book I’ve read a hundred times and love the feel of it the same way, again and again.
What I’ve been running at shop D&D has been smothering the narrative side of D&D, killing the part I find fun, and I can’t think of anyway to fix it.
I can’t further the plot of characters if they keep changing, with players coming in and out.
I can’t prepare to run this part of someone’s back story if I’m going to be suddenly trying to keep 8 people interested in my two hour time block.
Actually, I do have an interesting idea. It is a bit outside of normal D&D, so I don’t know how much I like it and I don’t know how well it would be received, but here’s an idea. I’m coming up with it right now as I’m typing, so I haven’t vetted it past my gaming people. In the raw, as it were. Here we go.
- Step one: I make 6(ish) fully fleshed characters. Not the basic mechanics like I’d normally prep, but a full out writeup, one with a name of my devising, a backstory, ideals, flaws, quirks, the whole lot.
- Step two: Design a story that gives a development of some sort to these characters. Or tries to. Got to leave some room for flavor and such.
- Assurance number one: These characters should be amazing. Not quite cheating levels of good, but I shouldn’t feel bad about tweaking them and giving them extra little something somethings here and there, so these characters can be super memorable and fun to play.
- Side note number one: Make sure I give out plenty of inspiration for people acting the character with the predetermined characteristic. Also, character sheets should be super easy to read, including spells lists, items, proficiencies, and character histories.
- Step three is the bit that sounds a bit sketchy. The first player at the table gets to pick one of the characters to play. I might restrict people to not play the same things every time, to let them try out different tings and be better at versatile roleplay and stuff. And also let them try out new classes and races and so on.
- Step four: run the game as if its the same party all the time, no matter who is in the driver’s seat for that character. This means I’d probably need to update my notes for the character each session.
- Step five: Collect the sheets at the end of the night, because these are my characters, not the player’s.
- Step six: Be even more awesome than I am now (somehow)
That’s my thoughts on what I’ll call Fixed Table D&D. I’m not sure if this is a thing I will do at the shop, but I want to try it, I think. I can tell, right now, that there is immense start up effort from me (aka the DM) as I have to fully flesh the characters and tie the plots together in a way that would feel natural. I think it could be good for new and weak players to learn how to play and how to play better. I think that it would be good as a solid player, as it sounds new and intriguing to me, but it would have to be well done to keep it from getting tedious or annoying. I can’t imagine a fellow player that I could do this with, swapping characters back and forth each week. (actually, that’s a lie. I can think of a few players, but I don’t play with them ATM)
All in all, this idea needs more thought. If I have those thoughts, I will let you know!