Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Kalesh campaign

So when I kicked off this campaign, I decided I wanted to run a straight-up improv, plotless, challenge-oriented game. I guess it's what you'd call a sandbox, but it's not a hexcrawl. It's what I'm starting to call the pinball.

The primary two characters (the players who are able to play most often) got themselves in front of a judge. This then lead (through various twists) to a mandatory stay in the army for the period of one month, bound by a magical contract.

Which sucks so hard.

It's a prime requirement of this type of play that I as the GM don't control the narrative. It's the players and the dice that decide what happens. If I don't respect that, it starts to suck. I'm divested from the outcomes, pacing or any other dramatic considerations.Which means I just follow what naturally evolves from the fiction.

The problem is that the flow took us (through no specific decision on my part) to a place where the players are at my mercy (or rather the mercy of my NPCs), specifically under a commanding authority. Which means they can't make their own choices. Which mean I have to tell them what to do. Which bores me right out of my skull. It's the worst thing ever.

Here's a note to self: Do not have an NPC authority above the PCs in a Pinball game, ever. Seriously. Don't do it. Unless it's (a) not a Pinball and possibly that kind of game where missions are handed out or (b) it's done as a kicker. I should print it out in big flaming letters and keep in in front of me when we play: "don't have outcomes in mind".

The funny thing about the whole thing is that this chain of events in fact got started by a moment where I forgot my duties and played towards the future, rather than the now. So it's probably my fault, objectively speaking.

So now I'm in a double-bind. I got the game into a rut by forgetting to take my hand off the steering wheel. But the only way I can get it out of the rut is by taking hold the steering wheel. The answer is obvious, but annoying.

Lesson learned.


  1. Well, how the hell do you plan of never having a NPC above the PCs except making them supreme rulers of the universe? ; <

  2. Let me try and rephrase that. :) Nobody should be able to tell the PCs what to do (over a period of time), without the players having a choice. For the simple reason that it's boring, and screw any other reason. It's taking over the characters by proxy. I'm making your choices for you. I don't know what your characters should do, they're your characters.

  3. But you did give us a choice. There was a trial by stone and even after that we could have tried to wriggle our way out of it. Sure, it could have resulted in our death, but the choice was there.

  4. True. And I've also struggled to give you choices even after your "temporary enslavement".

    1. We're now in a situation where instead of the players creating/inventing quests for themselves, they can only be given quests. Which I don't only find personally boring/exhausting but I find I'm also bad at, as a GM.
    2. We got into this situation because of the certain choices I made (even if it was ultimately the consequence of your actions).

    Lesson learned: I shouldn't do it again.

    In other words:
    The freedom of the players to make large-scale challenge-oriented strategic choices (where to go, which fights to take and which to avoid etc. etc.) takes priority over any preset "naturalism" of the setting.
    A choice that results in character death (without also creating at least some tactical advantage for the party) is bad form for this sort of play. (so a choice that results in death isn't really a choice)
    There is a time and place for a game where those priorities are reversed, but I don't think this is one of them.


  5. Mye, when talking for a general playerbase I would agree; but you know me, I always tend to gravitate towards a certain level of "naturalism".