Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Published Campaigns vs the Home-brewed

There is something of a dividing line among dungeon masters, especially in my backyard, where storytelling is furiously guarded. Published vs Home Grown. I feel it's best for the podcast, and my inner emotional struggle, if I describe the stance we've taken.

Let's meet the fighters.

On one side of the playground is the Home-Brewed adventure, I imagine this is the artsy hipster kid whose an outcast even among other artsy hipster kids, by design, and watched a youtube video right before the fight so he now claims to be a Kung Fu expert. These campaigns are highly sought after, ripe with the complete unknown, extreme difficulty swings, gaping plot holes, loose notes stored in trapper keepers made for adults, and NPC names born from pop culture/friends/whatever is around the room. Some DMs are better than others with this, but the illusion must be made that this world is fully flushed out, living and breathing, able to be explored, and ready to be saved from utter destruction.

This is my default mode when getting a "game" together.

Home Brewed Gaming Scientist
My home brewed worlds are always about 1/4 thought out and the rest of the time I'm just wanting to run the story-line and world of Big Trouble in Little China. Often this leaves me scrambling to straighten out the story\backgrounds\cities just as the players are busy thoroughly dissecting them. It's a stressful delightful, and often I'm saying, "YES OF COURSE THAT WAS THERE THE ENTIRE TIME!" The other end of this spectrum is a friend of mine who carves up his game worlds through a long research process and seems to know the name of every mountain, blade of grass, peasant and lich rotating around however many moons he'd plucked from his impressively thriving imagination. You can live in his game world because he did, he packed his bags and had forgotten about us mere mortals for months on end as he played god in some empty dimension. He works, I imagine without sleep, first breathing life into the characters, then immediately issuing these characters shovels and surgical gloves, sending them off to construct every grain of sand and soul gem until the project is complete.

Accountants of Storytelling
On the other side of the playground fight? The good looking popular bully accountant, cracking his knuckles, readying his solar powered calculator and aligning the roll tables just right until his prophecy is fulfilled. Yeah he's the published campaigns.  His carefully thought out adventures were play tested to the point of dullness, stories that make too much sense, and entire chapters devoted to Gods and Politics. If Gods and Politics are your thing then that's cool bro, I'm going to write something up on this one day, but here it's a point that swings whatever way you want it to. There's also art, glorious portraits and maps all just falling like feathers from nerdy heaven. I have embarrassing little exposure to published adventures, have spent zero time with DMs running them. They'd always seemed like evil beings with well kept beards and wore howling wolf shirts with purpose.

I judge no more, for I rank among them now.

I've gotten phone calls from friends who'd joined a newly realized role-playing circle/band/convent and expressed lament over the DM taking them through a "by the books" world. You get the sense that you're truly talking someone off the ledge, or back on the ledge, depending on your stance and perception of the ledge's structural integrity. Your hope, as I've come to find, is that perhaps you get the best of both worlds. A published book can be an excellent source to frame up your story telling style and keep it on track. An experienced DM still rolls with the punches but those punches are a little easier when most of the hard work is already fleshed out. Your fear is that you have a DM who strictly enforces the world and events leaving you feeling powerless over the outcome. Horror stories are made from DMs using all the mechanics of foraging, lunar cycles, worship rituals, and spell components.

Loot and Dagger is built off of published adventuring and yet the story train consistently jumps the track almost immediately after leaving the station. It is without fail and the train is completely unashamed of it's transition to an all terrain vehicle, with all the gusto hollering of redneck dude bros. This is every game, not just ours, this is every game in the history of gaming. Unless you're playing with a bunch of historical reenactment junkies obsessed with  "authenticity".

Of course now I want to play with a bunch of fantasy historical reenactment junkies.

Just once.

Once is all I'll need. (Note: I bet you can find them steampunk LARPing)

Gaming groups are like packs of wild rock bands. They get together, drink heavily and roam the storytelling landscape from dining rooms, to living rooms, to skype, all depending on availability. They attach to ideas, morals, storytelling flavors with a pack like mentality and pace themselves accordingly. Likely your group is one or the other, I've found it's rare to have both.

But my end of the debate is to use what players will both accept and excite them, something that challenges them comfortably and prepare to extract caution with sweeping changes.

As for the podcast? I'm planning a series of homebrewed "non moduled" one shot games to satisfy that need for, "and now for something you can't find anywhere" experience. But the flagship show will be a campaign straight from the books, and why? Because, honestly, I'm having fun trying something new in front of the microphone and the players will always do their part to rip the railroad to pieces, and I maniacally let them. The players and the DM's imagination, at the end of the day, make the story what it is and not the book.

What are your thoughts?

<3 - James Stiver

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