Friday, January 08, 2010

Riffing Off of Rogues, Sandboxes, and Themes

If you aren't reading Playing D&D With Porn Stars then you are missing the heck out. Brilliant stuff about Rogueish Heroes vs. Upright Heroes and their behavior in sandboxes:

In other words, whereas a villain confronted with a sandbox world will immediately start generating ideas, Upright Heroes (typical heroes) need a plot. Without the bank robbery, Superman would just endlessly circle Metropolis, then go to work at the Daily Planet. Without the whole problem with the Ring, Frodo would just sit and hang out in the Shire forever being wholesome and loyal and sipping tea. Without fires, firemen just hang out in their firehouse, Ever Vigilant, playing cards.

I'm sort of a sucker for structural analysis of game behavior like this, but this is something that I've definitely seen in the Doom & Tea Parties game. My character in the solo game is actually pretty stand-up -- she's in the middle of a save-the-world-quest right now, sort of -- but she started out with just "I want gold for personal background reasons, and because dwarf," added "What exactly happened to the elves who used to live here?" and "My friends are in danger!" along the way, and got involved in the world-saving business in the process of following those goals. Because we started out working on other things, the she's now trying to save the world in a way that's very particular to her and interesting to me.

The thing that makes this work really well with Trollsmyth's game is that nothing in the setting lines up into Good Guys vs. Bad Guys. On a large scale, there's "the folks who want to make the world a better place but maybe have their own motives for doing so" vs. "the folks who think that 'making the world a better place' is crazy and dangerous but maybe have their own motives for working against it," and on a small scale there's a bunch of folks with their own particular things that they want out of the situations they're in. Some goblins you meet while they're torturing people for fun, and some goblins you meet while they're hunting spiders.

Which means that even if I'm going to play a fairly stand-up character (And I'm evil enough in real life that I usually end up doing that, just for a change of pace.) there's still a lot of decisions to be made and flexibility to be had in figuring out exactly what "stand up" means. Do I hire on with the priests to wipe out the murderous, troublesome pirates and make the seas safe for honest folk? Or do I go warn the pirates about the obnoxious, slave-taking priests?

This does mean that I spend more time than I would in a lot of games thinking about things like "what's the right thing to do?" and "how should society be organized?" (Though the latter is because I'm weird, not just because of how Trollsmyth runs things.) Which is all kinds of fun for me, but isn't what everyone wants out of game, and isn't even what I want out of every game--sometimes a girl just wants to goof off and steal things. But it does make for a pretty powerful, involving, and player-driven game.


  1. I think the premise is flawed. It's not Good = Reactive, Bad = Proactive... It's about what kind of world it is and who likes the status quo and who doesn't.

    Good characters are reactive in a "Good" world. So if you want more proactive Good characters, put them in a world that isn't good. ;)

  2. Which Zak S points out later on in his post, yeah. And which is basically what I'm saying; I'm talking specifically about what a world that's *not* good might look like. Though in a rambly and not especially rigorous way.

    The thing, though, about the rogueish hero sandbox combo is that it's really easy to set up. Making a world that's not good requires tying those assumptions into the setting in some way or another. Going the Rogueish hero way just means saying "Okay guys, we're using gold for XP, so if you want to level up come up with a reason why your character cares about gold."

  3. I think this ties back into some of the discussion around the differences between a setting like The Forgotten Realms (basically good) and something like the Warhammer Universe (not so good) or even something like Dragonlance or Ravenloft (not good).

    Superman and Green Lantern are going to circle Metropolis doing nothing in a happy world. If dropped onto Ravenloft or Carcosa... they're gonna start kicking some ass. :)

    This isn't to say you can't have a successful game doing the Rogueish gold for XP angle - you definitely can... for some player preferences. For others they need more motivation. If I was using XP in my upcoming campaign I'd make Neutral characters get XP from gold. It's just as easy to say "Okay guys, Lawful characters get XP for defeating Chaotic enemies".

    When I actually thought about the player behaviour I wanted to reward the most with XP... it was "showing up". So characters level up based on player attendance. :D

  4. Hey, thanks for the kind words

    Debating whether to do a follow up "everyone who disagrees with me is wrong and here's why" post there or just getting a life.

  5. Zak S: Tsk! Lives are overrated. Post! Post! Post! Post... ;)