Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Open Call for Gaming

My friend and fellow game designer, James Maliszewski, mused recently on the difference between "sandbox" game settings and "quest" game settings. (Truth in advertising, I must always go to his website and  cut and paste his name whenever I refer to him in print. You try typing Maliszewski from memory.) In the former, there is no set plot or agenda. They players can direct their characters wherever they want, and the gamemaster (GM) tries to adapt. One week, they may fight orcs in the barren hills of Cimmeria; the next might be a bit of necromancer bashing. In the latter, there is very much an over-arching plot. Toss the One Ring into Mount Doom, or collect the pieces of the shattered Sword of Dawn. You can read the original post here:

Now, I must confess, I haven't ever run a sandbox campaign. I've always had an agenda, a story that I wanted to tell. Whether it's opposing the sorcerers of Athas, or defeating a Romulan plot to dominate the Veltran sector, I have in mind a beginning, middle, and end. I find it easier to plan each week's adventure session, since I know, generally, what's going on. First, the Hook; I have to get the characters involved in the quest. Next, they have to find the wizard who has the secret knowledge to the next quest point. Then, there's the introduction of allies, enemies and helpful devices... I'm very much into the Hero's Journey. (If you don't know what that is, go and return your diploma to whatever college you graduated from. It's Joseph Campbell. Read him.)

Typically, running a quest style campaign means railroading the players along a particular track. I didn't have much of a problem with this, as I would generally move whatever was supposed to happen to wherever the characters went. Imagine if Weathertop didn't take place at Weathertop, but instead happened at Joe's Deli (because the hobbits were hungry, and Joe's has a nice, lean pastrami....). You get the point. Sometimes, I had to stray into railroading territory, by having the forces of evil get worse and worse -- more bandit attacks, more orc raids, etc. After all, that's what would happen if the heroes stayed home. I'd keep this up until the group got tired of being attacked by yet another gang of gnolls and got back on track.

As James says in his post on the subject (and you did go and read it, right?!), quest-style campaigns have inherent drawbacks. Either they peter out because the story takes too long to unfold, or the players lose interest in the quest (or worse, the gamemaster loses interest), OR there's nothing left to do once the quest is complete. The heroes return from the Special World of the story, and settle down, and tell their tales in the local tavern. The Scourging of the Shire notwithstanding (and that was Tolkein tying up a loose end, and being unable to just stop writing). Once the quest is complete, the gamemaster can hold up a big sign that says "The End," and everyone can go off and play some Munchkin.

Reading James' site, however, has put me in a mind to run a sandbox style campaign. I'd like to give it a try. So if you live in the New York City area, I'm interested in running a game of something. I'm not even particularly particular about the game's setting. I'd even be willing to run a Star Trek campaign (though I'd prefer not to). Right now, I'd like to either use the Blue Rose True20 System, or the Houses of the Blooded System, though not necessarily the worlds themselves. While I'm jonesing for a more traditional fantasy setting, I'd be willing to entertain a modern urban fantasy game. Oooh, or my AFMBE setting (which needs work). If you're interested, contact me through email, or post to the comments section.

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