John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey


"The more time you spend preparing for your game, the more you want your players to experience what you prepared. ... Every bit of time you spend preparing for your game emotionally commits you to use those results. You want your players to see the stuff you make. Therefore, the more stuff you make, the less likely you are to let your players deviate from that course. ... DMs might often think the stories happen when they type out their adventure notes or build a map, but the true story is told while the game runs at the table. How much should we write ahead of time for a story that is supposed to happen during our game? How do you prepare for a spontaneous story to erupt? You certainly don’t do so by writing up six pages of prose you expect everyone to follow. The story of our games occurs at the table, not before-hand. The more you try to fill out the story ahead of time, the more likely you’ll fall into a scripted, rehearsed, and potentially boring plot."
—Michael E. Shea, The Lazy Dungeon Master

So I was doing a bit of angsting about my Eberron campaign, largely on the grounds that the intended "adventure path" I actually started the campaign to play, Seekers of the Ashen Crown, doesn't very well fit the character group that got created. I mean, it could be forced, but it would be just that-- and that was sucking all the fun out of it for me as I worked on game prep.

So instead of sitting there banging my head against it, or worse, dumping the whole thing only three scenarios in and doing something else, I examined just what was bugging me and tore it out by the roots, and spent what free time I had to devote to it this weekend implementing fixes as I prepared the next game.

The first problem was railroadiness. While it would be easy to get the PCs interested in the opening of the big adventure path, it is not a reasonable assumption that they would then just follow the crumbs along to chapter two, and from there chapter three. They might want to, but the adventure as written didn't give them any other options.

So to fix that, I have come up with a small handful of "mini-adventures" in the form of patrons/jobs the PCs can choose from at the beginning of the next session, including the opening of Seekers, but not limited to it. The jobs are more-or-less random ideas I plucked out of Sharn/Eberron sourcebooks and are quite varied in tone and focus. Whichever one or two they pick, that's the adventure, and the others may or may not be available next time. This should give the players a lot more control of not only their own destinies, but the feel and flavor of the game generally. I still need to write up stats for the various encounters etc., but as each of these adventures has a page or less of "dungeon" to them, it shouldn't be that hard. Each of these jobs will have little teasers that could point to future adventures if the players want to follow up on them-- but it'll be up to them to indicate that they want to do so.

The second problem was TOO MANY THREADS. The Eberron setting has a ton of stuff going on all the time, and lots and lots of lore, ranging from minutiae about the deities to reams of information about the neighborhoods of Sharn, and it's easy to get lost in it. Frankly, if I can't remember who the important NPCs are and what they're planning, how the heck are the players supposed to know?

So I went through all of the stuff the players have done so far (fortunately not that much yet, as it's only been three scenarios) and created a spreadsheet for myself of who the NPCs they've encountered are, a few quick descriptor notes (e.g., "destructive madman covered in a burning aberrant dragonmark"), and their basic role. I then threw out all the long-term plans had for any of these characters, and instead simply made a note of what their allegiances were and where they were seen last. Because long-term plans require a lot of coaxing into fruition, and a lot of continuity-policing, which is frankly way more work than the enjoyment the group would get out of it warrants. But having this list, when I'm coming up with scenarios in the future, I can give it a quick look-through and see if any of these characters could fill a space in the adventure at hand.

Moving forward, my plan is to simply ask the players at the end of any given session what if anything their characters want to immediately pursue, whether goals of their own or following up on one of the teasers mentioned above-- if they give me something, they get that next time, and if they don't, they get another group of random mini-adventures.

And I get to quit angsting about "what to do with my game," because now it's not my problem. It's theirs. ;)

-The Gneech
Tags: dungeons & dragons, eberron, gaming, roleplaying games
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