When Posts Bounce Back Upon Themselves
So sometime back, my friend the Admiral talked about buy-ins and railroads. I pulled an entry out of my response on this. Then in reply, my friend the Engineer talked about what we talked about with his own entry about the same sort of ideas.
For his part, Gregory talked about how his experience with modules tended to run directly into the tender mercies of his players, who seem determined to avoid plot hooks whenever possible. This put him in the situation of needing to either modify the adventure on the fly or attempt to direct the characters back into the main plot, in whatever way he found available. He goes on to cite how some published adventures even suggest doing this, wherein a scripted event would take place no matter which choice was made.
Kill the Dragon? The Giants attack. Spare the Dragon? The Giants attack.
It seems a little stupid, but a lot of it owes to the fact that the module writer wanted to have a certain encounter take place within the module’s flow, no matter what happened. I’ve seen it in play both ways, where something just has to happen for the sake of the plot; or where the adventure is so strictly defined that the players have to specifically state their intention to do something, else the detail is completely missed. (The example that comes to mind is when the characters in one game I played in discovered two identical cars belonging to recently defeated foes. We searched one, to no avail, and went on with our day. It turned out later that we had missed an interesting plot hook by not assuming that we’d check both cars in a similar manner. The left one held the clue, where the right one did not.)
Neither of these extremes are particularly great modes to aspire to.
For myself, I’m a lot more concerned with presenting the best adventure I can, no matter what my players manage to think of. If they miss an interesting bit of scenery, I make a point of highlighting it for them. If they’d breeze past a particular clue, I’ll allow a roll to see if it’s noticed. (This is a sort of inversion to my own bad tendencies. I’ve got the habit of relying on Perception checks to fill out my worlds and get an idea of whether the characters themselves are paying attention to things. In those cases where the players fail to pick up a clue, I’ll call for a Perception check just to give them the detail they overlooked.) I don’t like the idea of playing through an adventure and missing out on all of the neat things that can take place.
Largely, this only applies to pre-written adventure modules.
For my own homebrew campaigns, I employ a similar style of gamemastering, but it takes the form of trying my best to over-describe a setting. Given my heavy literature and writing background, I can spend quite a long time spinning out the details of a place. Usually, I throw down some essential pieces of the setting and let the players loose to see what they find interesting about it. If they’re in a marketplace, I’ll offer up some standard merchants for them, with the odd item here and there that might pique some interest. If that doesn’t hook someone, I’ll spend some time on the architecture of the place, the various passerby, and whatever other points of note that might grab someone’s eye to pull them toward some interaction.
Basically, it boils down to just exactly how bored I am with waiting for a player to do something. I’ve been known to go into great depth on the setting, just to pass the time while the players confer about one thing or another. Players that know my GM’ing style are well trained to recognize this as my own entertainment, and either they’ll decide on a course of action or wait to see what comes next. It keeps me focused on the situation by holding my interest, and it allows a greater scope of action if the players are having trouble figuring out what next to do.
It also addresses the sort of player that Gregory talks about, where they’re likely to wander off the reservation and look for something outside of the expected path of the adventure. Like him, I keep my homebrew games fairly loose and adaptable, and many of my adventures rely on the players finding their own way. This is why I will keep going with setting description until something catches a player’s interest; if I know how to appeal to their characters, it’s a lot better for my purposes than forcing them down a prescribed path. I’ve heard some well known game designers talk about how they rely on their background with improv theater to be able to branch out as they need to. I don’t have a lot of theater experience, but I do know improv well enough to hold my own.
At the same time, my playing group appreciates the concept of an Adventure Path for what it is, rather than what they want it to be. If I pick up an Adventure Path to run, they know that the basal expectations are in line with trying to follow the outlined plot. Yeah, they can deviate from it at points, and I’ll do my best to keep them within sight of the overall plot. But they know that they’ve bought in for the path itself, and that’s going to require some sacrifices along the way.
Occasionally, I’ve run into the obstructionist player that refuses to allow himself to be hooked into the plot, despite his willingness to sit down at the table in the first place. I can offer any sort of rationale that would suit their own ego and character background, but in the end (for whatever reason), they’re not interested in trying to make the needed accommodations to fit into the plot. To me, this is much the same mindset of refusing to follow the general plot of a long term adventure plot. And I find it a bit strange.