Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 16, 2013
Degree of involvement of the players in the story

I talked about the two D&D Sundering adventures Murder in Baldur's Gate and Legacy of the Crystal Shard recently. Without giving away too much of the plot, the two adventures share a common structure: The adventure is divided into 10 stages, and in each stage the players can be involved in one or more of multiple events. This is deliberately designed in a way that they can't take part in every event that happens, and there are even instructions on what happens if they don't get involved in any event of a given stage. In short: There is a story that happens, and the players can influence that story by their action, but the story will progress even if they don't.

While I don't plan on using these adventures anytime soon, I might want to use that structure in some variation. The more classic form of adventure has a story that doesn't progress if the players don't act: Like in a video game the NPCs of a scene are frozen in time and space, and the scene involving them only takes place once the players arrive. You never arrive at the altar of the evil god to find that the virgin has been sacrificed an hour ago. Well, at least that is never part of the written adventure, although a DM annoyed with his group taking a full night of rest after every combat might improvise some consequences for tardiness into the story. The "open door, action happens" style of story-telling works reasonably well with the classic dungeon crawl adventure, but tends to work less well with city adventures.

I consider the typical city murder mystery / intrigue adventure to be difficult to run. Of course that depends on your players and your circumstances. But my group only plays twice a month, and a story that relies on the players remembering lots of hints and clues often fails because the players simply forget stuff over the months that the adventure runs. Thus a structure where the story advances whether the players push it forward or not has definitive advantages.

I am, however, also acutely aware of the disadvantages: If the story happens without the players, the players might not become very involved in that story. Dungeons & Dragons after all is supposed to be heroic fantasy, with the players as the movers and shakers. In Murder in Baldur's Gate it will not be obvious to most players how their actions influenced the eventual outcome, as the DM is instructed to secretly count points for three different factions, depending on for which faction the players intervene with what degree of success. There is a risk that at the end of the adventure the players only remember that "stuff happened", and can't say what their role in that was.

If I am going to make an adventure like that, I think I will stick to a much simpler story, which is easier to remember, and where the consequences of the players actions are much more obvious. Even if the players didn't plan the outcome of something like it then happened, it should at least be logical and clear how their actions caused or influenced whatever eventually happened.

Totally agree: moving parts that are invisible to all but the DM or dev doesn't really matter to players anyway.

Take a stage play for example, the production manager might know everything that's going on offstage, backstage and onstage, but that knowledge might not necessarily be entertaining or relevant to the audience.
I vaguely remember that there was some 2nd edition DnD Ravenloft module that actually ran off a clock. It had loads of events that would happen at specific times whether or not the players were there. So the players would have been under constant time pressure. I liked it.

However I used to essentially provide my players with hooks into 3 different adventures at the end of one. As they had just finished a rather hard Ravenloft adventure not too long before (Goblyns it was called I think) they happily choose to ignore the hook about weird otherworldly events and go for something else. And so I never actually DM'ed it.

Lucky for them, it was also probably the hardest of the three options they had, so they were actually wise in ignoring it.
Such a story usually ends up at something like three possible end results, all of them chosen by the GM.

It might be better to just have NPC's, who have various resources at their disposal, who simply have plans to gain more resources toward forfilling their goals in life (good or nefarious, as one might subjectively percieve them)

Or at the very least, talk with the players and get some ideas from them for some of the story endings.

Too long, didn't read: I didn't really enjoy murder in baldurs gate. The ending even ignored what we did - one of the main guys would just turn evil, no matter what. Did it really matter who turned into a big demon thingie? No. So our choices didn't matter. All in the name of a pre written story.
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