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Sunday, 4 March 2018

Putzing With The Plot

Dungeon Crawl.

The very words make my SKIN crawl. They're just...boring. Just. Boring. Check for traps, pick the lock, open the door, kill the monsters, solve the puzzle, rinse, repeat.

Of course, they can be made more interesting. Making the dungeon make sense, for instance. Why have just a random coagulation of caves and junk when this place could be a sprawling catacomb for the thousand generations of a noble family's dead? A literal hidden fortress, carved out of the back of a cave by orcs? The basement of the tower of a Dark Lord (tm) that remained even after the tower was obliterated by the Chosen Ones (tm)?

My first RPG experience was Heroquest. From that came Advanced Heroquest, then a brief stint at D&D, before I fell into the pitch blackness of the World of Darkness. You find a dungeon in WoD, you are probably about to learn a lot about the person who owns it, and not necessarily the kind of stuff you can bring up at the dinner table.

WoD became my RP mainstay for years. Absolute years. I just stopped playing the kind of game where you'd grab a sword and yomp off into the dark to kill a big bad. It was all about shades of grey and narrative and the motivations and struggles of the individual.

Then along came Eclipse Phase, which - with its posthuman technology and its potential for absolute existential horror - provided a whole plethora of opportunities for doing something else. Something new. Here's a system where you can do both. You can worry all about the Tharsis League's most recent push toward industrial action on Mars, while also kicking in the doors of an exhuman terror cell to clean house.

I like it when a book messes with a standard narrative - I like it when a stereotype is used in an interesting way or the expectations of the reader are used against them. I love it when a movie does this, too. Arrival is a killer example. It takes a viewer's assumption and uses it to inspire.

So why wouldn't I like doing it in an RPG?

The thing I did most recently in Pathfinder...well, let's maybe not give away too many details. The players might be reading this after all. But suffice to say, a not-insignificant number of individuals the world over have lost their memory and have no idea why - and that number includes some of my players.

Because why not? I don't just want to run a number-crunch where we work out how many times you can roll to disarm traps before you fail one and lose some HP. I want my players to think. I want my players to have to wonder about if this is really the way their characters - specifically their characters with the problems and limitations that they are currently suffering from - would solve this problem. What they would assume to be the right path. How they would deal with the notion that, just maybe, three weeks ago, they didn't feel the same as they do now.

I get too invested in character. I love playing a character. I get the feeling that there's some RPGs that are more geared toward being your character, playing them and engaging with them (and through them the rest of the group), than others.

So I like putting folks in places where they can explore that. Where they can decide what they think is the best or right way forward. Chances for them to talk to each other and the denizens of the world we're making.

Generally taking the good old-fashioned narrative and turning it on its head can be good for that.

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