Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Worst. Module. Introduction. Ever.

I've been looking through some old adventures in my cupboard, particularly those that are poorly regarded, with a view seeing what I can 'rehabilite'. But when on page 4 of a book you find the following lines introducing an adventure... 

"[Adventure X] is a race against time - but the exact times and dates have actually been kept vague. Role-playing should always be about creating an exciting story: not just problem solving or beating the clock. [...] If the GM can impress on the players that there is no time to waste, and then create a persistent and mounting sense of urgency without actually keeping track of the exact number of days until the [climax], the adventure will stay exciting and tense. [...] Players may feel their characters are being 'railroaded'; forced from encounter to encounter with little choice in the matter; but you should make them feel that this is because Fate has forced them into this path, not the adventure writers of the GM's style of refereeing."

Obviously the title is hyperbole, but these lines epitomise what I really do dislike in many published adventures, even those who are not as explicit as this in their assumptions of what constitutes a role-playing *game*. I would argue that if you set the scenario up as a race against time, and then proceed to absolutely invalidate every single decision that the players take (and the actions taken by the PCs) vis-a-vis this 'race', the best part of the game is an illusion. 

With regard to a conversation I have been having elsewhere: I have no problem limiting player choices*. The game world naturally limits choice. And sometimes it is a useful GMing technique to present possible choices to the players, gamebook fashion. But I really hate invalidating player choices by rendering those choices meaningless. This doesn't mean that the world is fixed - if the players know nothing of the plans and plots of the villains of the world they can remain in an indeterminate state, waiting for the PCs to encounter them. But once the players and making decisions, and the PCs are taking action, with regard to these villainous plots, the *game* is having these choices and actions have consequences.

This module suggests that the vast majority of what the players choose to do over the weeks it would take to play this adventure ought to have no real consequence. Having played in these kind of games, even the merest suspicion that this is going on is an enthusiasm-killer. But when I have found myself employing techniques such as these as a GM I have felt that I have cheated myself. I don't want to 'tell a story', I want to play a game.

Anyway, guesses as to the year, the system, the adventure itself?

*Addendum - ten minutes after 'publishing' this post I realised that I'd forgotten to say that player choices are also limited by the social contract that ought to bind people when they are playing a 'fantasy adventure game' (or 'horror investigation game', etc.). YOU are playing an 'adventurer' (or 'investigator'), and the player choices you make should not be made to prevent adventuresome things from happening. Yes, your PC might want to settle down to a farm, but you as a player have a 'contract' with the GM and the other players to play a fantasy adventure game for three hours that evening. I've seen criticisms of (presumably hypothetical) sandbox games in which the (imagined) campaign devolves in non-adventuring. If this isn't what the group wants, it is a result of people breaking the social contract, and correcting this shouldn't necessitate introducing heavily-plotted railroads.


  1. Replies
    1. My thoughts exactly. I love the module however if only for the illustrations.