Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Narrative as a method to ensure repeat business. A.K.A. the Long Narrative

Let me start by saying the self-contained adventure is fine. I have nothing but admiration for you guys who sculpt one of these to perfectly fit an evening and pull of the whole show with the perfect pacing, just in time to send everyone home for work the next day.  The guys who do a slick convention performance which winds up in time to go drinking.

I can do it, the quest to the valley with the carnivorous apes and the lost temple.  The one where you'll never return a second time.  That odd adventure where we spent an hour exploring that really large giant's pencil box in his cloud castle.

  Most of the time, I always have some messy threads hanging off the edge of the map.  That watery passage which leads to the theoretical hunting grounds of the Froghemoth (It's a Frog! It's Behemoth! It's frogHEMOTH!) when he's not waylaying the occasional goblin servant in that cavern the party is exploring, while stalking the high level wizard's secret underground lair.   Some of it is the preference I have for "sand box" games, where the players decide what they want to do, it's letting them write their own stories.   Other times it's just them innovating, taking the metaphorical garbage chute to escape from the prison level.  Still other times, it's because they've missed a lot of clues when they were bickering or because Mappin' Joe didn't show up this week and he was the guy who paid attention to the route.

Yet there are other threads which hang off the edge as well.  The party just looted a working temple and stole a cherry magic item.  Don't people get pissed at that? Doesn't that God have a few high level followers?  Don't they have access to those same spells which let the players track down the crap they've lost to thieves?  Those supernatural forces which seem to enjoy very long games of twenty questions? Aren't they coming to beard the party in it's lair?  

I try to keep a storyline, the assassins who show up in the night. That evil wizard who's vexed

I call this the long narrative, the story arc which makes something a campaign, rather than an adventure.  Some GMs don't bother with back story, some do.   I always do, because I feel you need to give players more than just a now.  They need to start thinking of their character's lives as an epic.  A tale that we're both writing.  Even when we neatly finished off the adventure at the end of the night.  I want them thinking about unresolved plot lines while their nose is to that grindstone. Yes, I said it. My goal is to make them deliberately less productive at work.  My goal is also to make them want to come back next week, even when it means paying a sitter.

We might be writing a tale of a Peasant Hero, an Elvish Lord exiled from court over a duel, a Dwarven rebel-priest who is an enemy of the King under the Mountain, the last bard of the White School, and Jimb.  Who all just happen to hang out together, break things, and run off with what they can get a way with, while the getting is good.

Now it's not every week.  Most of the time, it's just looking for crap that isn't nailed down. I admit the narratives I tend to write usually subconsciously favor those who put some effort into their characters, the ones who either email me how they see their characters or who I bend an elbow with while bullshitting about the current campaign. Get me excited about your character, I write your saga, rather than someone else's.

That Peasant Hero, he started off with a back story of the typical peasant lad who runs off after his father is killed for poaching.   He ended up eventually assassinating the Lord who'd killed his father, as well as the first two replacement lords who didn't have the right attitudes.  The assassination wasn't easy and only came about after a prolonged period of sewer exploration under the royal palace and a couple out of town quests, as well as a lot of more pressing business.   In my mind, he was destined to earn that manse at some distant point or at an even more distant point, I had an idea of some sort of communard apocalypse to remove the aristocracy.   That Elvish Lord was mostly played as a fop, the scenario of him returning to court and ascending the throne, never really followed up on.   That dwarven rebel built himself a heretical shrine to chaos under the city, and took up remodeling old dungeons using rock to mud and stone shape.  The last bard nagged the party into a number of quests for magical instruments, mostly because he was the player who bothered to sift through.  He even refounded the white school. Jimb?  Had a back story, I just forget what it is, because he stopped coming after week three.

I want a complex narrative.  I think most players do as well.  

Sure Conan is a fun character.  You can read most Conan stories in any order and it never matters.  Yet don't you want the complexity of George Martin?  The anticipation of next week, as much as the memory of last week?

 I still run into old friends, other veterans of youth and victims of middle age. We spend our time reminiscing about the days when a game was as simple as walking across the hall or peddling down the street.  When the only obstacles were convincing your Mom you'd get some sleep eventually, the need to finish your paper on time, or the lure of free beer.   "Back in the day" before we were strewn like leaves across the world and started spending our time on careers and kids.  We say all the usual things that start with "remember that time" and "whatever happened to"  but I have to say the best moments are when I get that compliment on the era, rather than just the night. For all the times a story talks about specifics, it's the fact that they remember the character's whole career so well that is the real moment of pride for this architect.  That it's not just the moment, but the whole narrative.  Not, that was the best night or best fight, but that was the best summer.  The romance of falling in love, rather than just the night they got laid.

Some people write novels you remember, I write campaigns.

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