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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Stories vs Adventures

I ride the subway to and from work every day. Since I don't tend to obsess over my iPhone's screen and I don't like carrying "extra encumbrance" e.g. books, this leaves my mind some time to roam freely. Of course gaming is a common subject.

I was pondering different GM tactics the other day. More specifically how to incorporate certain classic plot devices into an adventure to add tension to a situation. The problem, it seemed, was that too often springing a "gotcha" on the party seemed like taking away player agency.

Here's a super-simplistic example:

GM: "Your torch sputters out."

Player: "I light another."

GM: "You don't have any more."

Player: "What? Yes I do! I have three more on my character sheet!"

GM: "You lost them jumping across that chasm. They fell out of your pack."

Player: "You didn't tell us that! I would have noticed!"

GM: "Well, you didn't and now it's dark. You hear slithering."

See what I mean? Kind of a screw job. The specifics can vary widely, but the general idea is that -in a piece of fiction- you see a character not lock a door or accidentally drop their phone or forget their ammo bag and it leads to extra tension or humor in the story. The tricky part about a PC leaving their lifesaver behind is that for it to work best the player can't be aware of it until after the fact, which means they can't "make a save vs oops!" Which brings us back to lack of agency. PCs are not characters in the GM's story, they are avatars of proactive agents: the players. The GM has no story, he is presenting the party with a situation, from which they create the story.

 A while back I wrote about the use of random encounters in "classic" style gaming, arguing that it's an important cost-benefit agent in a resource management focused game like BX. I would argue they serve another purpose: a way to represent a certain amount of the unplanned into the adventure. It's not a perfect parallel, but it seems a good way to make the PCs deal with something they couldn't have anticipated.

These aren't really new ideas, but it was another example of finding interesting depths between the lines of a "Basic" game.





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