In January, I spoke of PC, mechanical advancement in RPGs. This time around, I have in mind to speak of thematic accomplishments.
My average convention one-shot experience is better than my average home campaign experience. When it came to details as to why, I could think of some. I didn’t do a very good job of tying those details together, however, to get a principle for increasing enjoyment.
After running one of the sessions of my new campaign, it was pointed out to me by two-thirds of my players that the reason a particular session was better than others was because it felt like the party accomplished things.
Since then, I’ve been thinking within that context. I used to look at campaigns as opportunities to have fairly serialized adventures, as I love continuity. However, between thinking about convention games and thinking about where home games run into problems, I’m increasingly interested in moving towards a more episodic model for my own campaign.
Too often, what ends up happening in a home game is that the party doesn’t have clear goals or a clear path to accomplishing what goals it does have. With an overarching plot, the goal may involve so many steps that even making progress doesn’t feel like progress. Either way, by having more sessions be self-contained or be part of mini story arcs, the party can get some quick wins to feel like thematic progress is being made. (In contrast with my January 6th post, where mechanical progress is the topic.)
Consider a convention one-shot. It will end, one way or the other. The party has to make progress within a limited amount of time. Further, the party is unlikely to get bogged down in things that don’t relate to the plot, knowing this is the one chance to achieve plot resolution.
But, there’s more to convention play that I think moves things along. Players are less invested in their characters, so they don’t worry as much about role-playing them correctly, all of their miscellaneous abilities, what stuff they have, or even if they survive. The focus is more on seeing the plot through. And, the PCs tend to be simpler in function because the players aren’t experts on their own characters. Then, challenges tend not to be as mentally taxing, whether due to GMs realizing that action is better than thinking or because they know that they might end up with an 8AM or midnight slot where nobody can think too clearly.
One-shot adventures are more linearly constructed. Heroes of Rokugan mods get some grief in local quarters for being too constrained, but at least you know what you need to do (usually) and, with better GMs, I’ve gotten to satisfy my personal interests, which is not something I can say about all of my home campaigns.
My experience is that players aren’t nearly as interested in player-driven play as GMs think they will be. I don’t have problems with linear adventures; it’s the quality of the scenes I care more about. The tactics, how to deal with the scene, can be player determined where the strategy, what the party should be doing, can be largely predetermined.
More episodic adventures will likely have a predetermined plot. I don’t want to play in or run a campaign entirely modularly because I like the sense that the world goes beyond and evolves with the PCs. But, I do like the idea that there’s something of a beginning, middle, and end to any session, even if time constraints force completing things over a second session.
Because. I want the players to feel like they are accomplishing in-character goals each and every time they play. Well, feel like they have the ability to accomplish their in-character goals – failure is an option. It just shouldn’t be the case that the players are more invested in experience points than they are what is going on thematically.
On to the next problem – establishing goals …