Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Forking The Culture: Making "New Model Colony" Pt. 3

Continuing from yesterday's post, I structured this campaign on the old-school paradigm of play that's based in wargaming. The campaign scenario relies on exploration in a practical sense, that sense being "We need to build an economy from scratch or we're screwed." Players are expected to participate in solving that problem by their actions, so gameplay focuses on the planning and execution of those solutions.

A frontier-oriented environment, which the West Marches model (see the 2016 post linked to on Monday's post) uses, makes this plain to even the most casual of players. Being up-front about this as the Dungeon Master--and I mean "There is no (x) unless and until your characters make that happen."--avoids misunderstanding of what is expected from players at the table. The presence of a handful of high-level NPCs--the Colonial leadership, initially--exists purely to get the ball rolling; the situation is beyond what they can do by their own hands, or that of their henchmen so there's plenty of room for players to make their mark and become actors themselves.

The game is not in town. The game is in the wilderness. The routine of play is that a group sorties from town to some target location, deals with what is encountered along the way, arrives on location and executes their operation, then returns to base. This routine is meant to be done in its entirety in one sitting, avoiding multi-session tie-ups of both characters and players as much as possible due to this being an Open Table game and thus friendly to pick-up groups. (Yes, this means that shortening logistics lines is a problem for players to solve; I'm not going to do it for them as the Dungeon Master.)

The game, being a wargame derivative, is about resource management. Time, health, provisions, subordinates, equipment- all resources that players are expected to manage, along with imperfect intelligence, in the pursuit of their objectives. Success is theirs alone, and so is failure. This emphasis pushes players to be active agents concerned about and involved in their own affairs, whereas relying on narrative tropes makes players passive as they put the work on the Dungeon Master to make things happen. In short, by making the game an actual game and not a storywanking writing exercise players finally get to experience the magic that makes tabletop RPGs--real RPGs--a medium in their own right.

The game being a game of risk, failure happens. Failure in D&D often means that your character dies, and I don't hold to the idea that new characters automatically come in at the current level of the group by default. No, I have players start over at 1st level unless they have one or more henchmen in their retinue; if that is the case, then the highest-level henchmen is now the player's new character and play continues. Death-reversal mechanics are accordingly scarce. These policies are informed by years of degenerate player behavior when these norms are not observed, from the sort of absurdity seen in "Knights of the Dinner Table" to the more common casual disregard for danger due to a lack of cognizance that such disregard is contrary to verisimilitude due to the constraints of the medium.

Which brings me to the character minigame, which is for tomorrow.

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