Reverb Gamers: Adventure Types

Question #14: What kinds of adventures do you enjoy most? Dungeon crawls, mysteries, freeform roleplaying, or something else? What do you think that says about you?

Each has their place. I like dungeon crawls, because I don't have to think after I've written the scenario. I like mysteries, because it's often fascinating seeing how players and characters go about solving them. I like freeform roleplaying, because it immerses me much more in the campaign world.

It's hard to pin it down to any of those types, and I can think of a dozen more - political intrigue, economic maneuvering, creeping horror, action mission, swashbuckling rescue, high-fantasy exposition, for a start - all of which I've used at various times. It comes down to what the campaign needs at that point in time, really, and to some degree what people are in the mood for.

My main groups don't do dungeon crawls much. That's mostly reserved for the D&D 4E crowd, although one of the main campaigns is venturing into the Underdark soon, to try to work out what's happening down there to push all kinds of unpleasant creatures to the surface. Even that, though, won't be the open-the-door-roll-for-initiative-kill-the-monster-and-grab-the-treasure routine; the group just doesn't work that way. On the other hand, the 4E game is essentially a series of dungeon crawls, some more blatant than others. They're entertaining, but they're... not really RPGs, more sort of a scenario-based tactical boardgame. And that's ok, too.

Mysteries underlie a lot of my game sessions. There is some piece of information that's being sought, or there are unexplained events that need to be stopped. Someone has to be located. Unknown information, and the assembly of new facts into a coherent (or semi-coherent) whole has been a major focus of most of my longer campaigns, so mysteries are important to me.

Freeform roleplaying is a fuzzy enough term; I'm choosing to interpret it as conversations between PCs and NPCs taking most of the session, with a minimum of dice-rolling. In any campaign I've ever run, this becomes the default play-style for a good chunk of time toward the end. It can crop up earlier, as well, of course, and I find that the decisions that guide the rest of the campaign usually happen in these sessions. Players from Spellbound still recall the long session of discussion about who to give a particular artifact to; they were down to two choices, which looked about equal. Eventually, they settled on one. Had they given it to the other, I'm pretty sure the entire history of the campaign world since would have been different, and involved a lot more in the way of smoking ruins and glowing craters.

Political intrigue has been a varying factor. Sometimes, it's an absolute mainstay of a campaign, usually in the early-to-mid stages where the player characters are still working out who's in power, and who's not. And sometimes it never comes up at all. It seems to depend on active decisions by player characters, rather more than most styles of game, and that varies greatly from character to character.

Economic maneuvering has never been a major factor in any of my games, although it's starting to appear now in the D&D 4E game. It requires a few things in the system - specifically, explicit tracking of equipment and money - so any game that has, say, a Resources skill can't run anything meaningful in that field. Within the rules constraint, there are two ways it can come up; a player character can decide to get rich, or to take down someone whose power depends on money, or alternately, it can be the background reason for missions and jobs the PCs are sent to do by some mentor or employer. The 4E game is headed in that latter direction.

Creeping horror is a thing I've used touches of here and there. There are two major ways I've approached it; one is the subtle (or not so subtle) implication of really physical, gross aspects of bodies and interactions. This, I find, can creep players out, but can also result in them being too grossed out to actually continue playing. The other approach is the more cerebral; is this NPC actually on your side, or has he been stringing you along? Betrayal is a very visceral horror. I use it lightly, though - it's such a staple trope of fantasy that I don't find it all that interesting anymore.

The action mission is a very simple concept - go here, do this thing, fight if need be, come back when you've achieved your objective. There are a million and one episodes of TV shows based fairly directly on this, from Charlie's Angels and Mission Impossible to Star Trek. It's well suited to episodic play, and also to situations in which the player characters are members of an organisation that can direct their actions. This gets a lot of use in my main campaign at the moment, and also in the 4E game. It's possibly too broad a category to really be useful, though.

Swashbuckling rescue is a specific kind of action mission, but it seems to have its own tropes and rules. "Go here, rescue this person, come back" is obviously the core, but there's a lot of swordfighting on stairs, swinging on ropes, swinging on chandeliers, and climbing up balconies implicit there too. I've mostly encountered this in convention scenarios, and I tend to think of it as more single film than TV series. Rescue missions of any kind are not a thing I've made a lot of use of, since it hinges on there needing to be someone to be rescued. That means using the player characters' contacts as an "X is in danger!" motivation. Any more than a little of that, and the PCs start to maneuver toward having no friends because they're clearly a liability, and that's not a kind of game I'm interested in.

High-fantasy exposition is a particular type that has come out of me trying to pin down types for sessions I've run. Plain old exposition for a full session is boring, but occasionally you need to provide a massive information download so that the campaign gets moving again. This works far better if the player characters take a trip through a new plane in which they see bits of history and prophecy rendered as dreams, or find a talking magical item which has the information but has to be coaxed into letting it go, or a massive archive of books and objects collected over centuries, or... you get the idea. Anything other than "So, the sage says..." and then the GM talking non-stop for three hours.

I'm sure there are a few I've missed; I might have to return to this question again.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 25, 2012 1:22 PM

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