Monday, July 20, 2009

Inspirational Passages: Give Your Players Enough Rope

One of the things I’ve learned over the years, which is also one of the primary reasons that the old style of gaming has such an allure to me, is that I’m not a big fan of the huge, mega-plot, “we must save the world,” style of adventuring. I think it’s important that everyone gets to play one of these at least once just for the experience, but once was enough for me. I’m much more a fan of the “collection of short, unrelated events” method of rising in level and developing a character. I guess this is why the Adventure Path idea was lost on me.

I won’t begrudge you if you like that form of gaming. Adventure preference is a highly-subjective thing, after all. But for me, I prefer the “story” to be something that can only be determined in retrospect by collating the events of previous adventures and letting the ramifications of such endeavors lead to the next series of events in the campaign world. Although I’m sure it may be possible given the right referee and players, I have trouble picturing the following conversation (or something similar) occurring in a game where the characters weren't allowed to attempt to forge their own destinies and to suffer the consequences of being able to choose what they wanted to pursue each week.

“I see we're expected,” the small man said, continuing to stroll toward the large open gate in the long, ancient wall. As if by chance, his hand brushed the hilt of his long, slim rapier.

“At over a bowshot distance how can you –“ the big man began. “I get it. Bashabeck’s orange headcloth. Stands out like a whore in church. And where Bashabeck is, his bullies are. You should have kept your dues to the Thieves Guild paid up.”

“It’s not so much the dues,” the small man said. “It slipped my mind to split with them after the last job, when I lifted those eight diamonds from the Spider God’s temple.”

The big man sucked his tongue in disapproval. “I sometimes wonder why I associate with a faithless rogue like you.”

The small man shrugged. “I was in a hurry. The Spider God was after me.”

“Yes, I seem to recall he sucked the blood of your lookout man. You’ve got the diamonds to make the payoff now, of course?”

“My purse is as bulging as yours,” the small man asserted. “Which is exactly as much as a drunk’s wineskin the morning after. Unless you’re holding out on me, which I’ve long suspected. Incidentally, isn’t that grossly fat man – the one between the two big-shouldered bravos – the keeper of the Silver Eel tavern?”

The big man squinted, nodded, then rocked his head disgustedly. “To make such a to-do over a brandy tab.”

“Especially when it couldn’t have been much more than a yard long,” the small man agreed. “Of course there were those two full casks of brandy you smashed and set afire the last night you were brawling at the Eel.”

“When the odds are ten to one against you in a tavern fight, you have to win by whatever methods come easiest to hand,” the big man protested. “Which I’ll grant you are apt at times to be a bit bizarre.”

He squinted ahead again at the small crowd ranged around the square inside the open gate. After a while he said, “I also make out Rivis Rightby the swordsmith…and just about all the other creditors any two men could have in Lankhmar. And each with his hired thug or three.” He casually loosened in its scabbard his somewhat huge weapon, shaped like a rapier, but heavy almost as a broadsword. “Didn’t you settle any of our bills before we left Lankhmar the last time? I was dead broke, of course, but you must have had money from all those earlier jobs for the Thieves Guild.”

“I paid Nattick Nimblefingers in full for mending my cloak and for a new grey silk jerkin,” the small man answered at once. He frowned. “There must have been others I paid – oh, I’m sure there were, but I can’t recall them at the moment. By the by, isn’t that tall rangy wench – half behind the dainty man in black – one you were in trouble with? Her red hair stands out like a…like a bit of Hell. And those three other girls – each peering over her besworded pimp’s shoulder like the first – weren’t you in a bit of trouble with them also when we last left Lankhmar?”

“I don’t know what you mean by trouble,” the big man complained. “I rescued them from their protectors, who were abusing them dreadfully. Believe me, I trounced those protectors and the girls laughed. Thereafter I treated them like princesses.”

“You did indeed – and spent all your cash and jewels on them, which is why you were broke. But one thing you didn’t do for them: you didn’t become their protector in turn. So they had to go back to their former protectors, which has made them justifiably angry at you.”

“I should have become a pimp?” the big man objected. “Women!” Then, “I see a few of your girls in the crowd. Neglect to pay them off?”

“No, borrowed from them and forgot to return the money,” the small man explained. “Hi-ho, it certainly appears that the welcoming committee is out in force.”

“I told you we should have entered the city by the Grand Gate, where we’d have been lost in the numbers,” the big man grumbled. “But no, I listened to you and came to this godforsaken End Gate.”

“Wrong,” the other said. “At the Grand Gate we wouldn’t have been able to tell our foes from the bystanders. Here at least we know that everyone is against us, except for the Overlord’s gate watch, and I’m not too sure of them – at least they’ll have been bribed to take no notice of our slaying.”

“Why should they all be so hot to slay us?” the big man argued. “For all they know we may be coming home laden with rich treasures garnered from many a high adventure at the ends of the earth. Oh, I’ll admit that three or four of them may also have a private grudge, but –“

“They can see we haven’t a train of porters or heavily-laden mules,” the small man interrupted reasonably. “In any case they know that after slaying us, they can pay themselves off from any treasure we may have and split the remainder. It’s the rational procedure, which all civilized men follow.”

“Civilization!” the big man snorted. “I sometimes wonder –“

“- why you ever climbed south over the Trollstep Mountains and got your beard trimmed and discovered that there were girls without hair on their chests,” the small man finished for him. “Hey, I think our creditors and other haters have hired a third S besides swords and staves against us.”


- The Swords of Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber

The chance to have conversations like this in character is one of the reasons that I play, and love, this game of ours.

I'm entertaining family this week and plan to spend an awful amount of time playing "Uncle Mike" to my nephew who I don't get to see nearly as much as I'd like. Needless to say, when it comes down to either blogging or family, my family wins. I've got some posts similar to today's lined up, so there's fresh content prepared for the week. Just don't expect anything groundbreaking in house rules or design philosophy for the next few days.


JB said...

Um...if it wasn't about family table-top gaming would be a lot less valuable to us all.

Have fun; your blog readers will still be around when you get back!

E.G.Palmer said...

All hail Fritz Lieber!