Last year, I mulled over the possibility of running a story-arc based D&D game without the usual tropes of phat lewt and my strict following of the doling out of XP. I was told, by several readers, that it was a bad idea and just plain bad wrong fun.
I ran the game anyways over 12 sessions.
It was a blast.
When people hear “story arc based game” the immediate response seems to be “WARBARGLE! RAILROADING BASTARD!” instead of what my players did which was “Awesome, we’ll focus on our awesomeness instead of the awesomeness of the dungeons this time around!”. And we did. The players made Labyrinth Lord / Advanced Edition Companion characters, came up with a background and a goal for the characters and the team, and went about changing the world.
Each game session represented a major adventure, with one adventure per game year. I would also work together with the players between sessions and play out the growth of their endeavours. One player was a half-elf magic-user/assassin who became a merchant prince and one of the rulers of the city where the game began, another founded a very successful thieves’ guild after taking over the stomping grounds of another guild (who were working with an upstart merchant who was competing with the half-elf). The Sorcerer-Priest had a bunch of lousy reaction rolls in his first two games and was disliked by all the major powers in his church, and had to fight tooth and nail to establish himself as a true power among the rest of the flock. It was a sandbox game of epic dimensions.
We played our hearts out. The players invested big-time into their characters and the primary reward for good play transitioned from XP and phat lewt to advancing their temporal power in the setting. Two characters died in the first two sessions, and another was lost to us at level 5, but the replacements showed up (albeit at lower levels) and had a great time also. In my eyes, the main reward mechanics of the game (having fun, building up your character, surviving) were all intact and the players’ response was that they enjoyed the looser feel of the setting in this “turn everything up to 11” version of the game.
The setting is richer for it also – when the players sat down for a “regular” game a month later, there were interactions with a cabal of assassins, a merchant prince, and the church that involved greater powers than them that they got to feel connected to. They felt more closely tied to the setting having powered through a character each into the upper echelons of the world before starting out a new party in the classic style of the game.
So, raise a cheer to bad-wrong-fun!
Thumbs up! “story-based playing” is what we do mostly and it’s never railroad if you have an open story and respect player input/decisions and such things. A dungeon is more railroad that one might say. And it seems like you did respect your players ideas and motivations big time. Cool stuff, keep it up!
Christopher B said:
Wait – do you mean to say that both styles of play can generate enjoyment? Who knew?! ;D
Tim Brannan said:
I am glad you all had a blast!
I don’t see what the big deal is either, we do story-arc games all the time in pretty much every other system I play. It is the de-facto way of most horror games and nearly all my Unisystem games. D&D should be able to do the same.
I love your re-working of the xp awards. The other day I took offense at Grognardia when James referred to xp awards for role-playing or “story awards” as bizarre. I countered that I thought a game based upon systematic breaking and entry followed by murder could be seen as a bit out of hand. (I don’t necessarily feel that way; I just like to play contrarian at times.)
Greg Christopher is writing an old school role-playing game and his system of handling xp awards is excellent. Basically he says, “Award xp in any manner you see fit. XP for gold, for wasting beasties, for goals, role-playing, whatever. Just do what works for you.”
Game on and yay for bad wrong fun!!!
When I played D&D while I was in the army, our DM ran an epic campaign. I loved it and thought that was how D&D was played in general. We started out by exploring for a few sessions, found an arch-nemesis (who actually revealed himself to us) and then spent the rest of the campaign trying to put an end to Nohmer the Evil Wizard. All our side trips earned us better weapons, spells, etc. We finally took him on and lost quite a few in the battle. We finally defeated him and it was all a blast.
Turns out Nohmer was a real guy! He was a company commander for one of the units next door to ours. He didn’t think it was so funny when I saw him and screamed “Death to Nohmer!!!”
Matthew Slepin said:
That’s great to hear. How did you structure the game? It sounds like you let the players decide what they wanted to do, which isn’t rail-roading by any definition I know.
This sounds like it was a lot of fun, and I’d be interested in some more mechanics behind how you handled sessions, adventures, and awarding of XP.
I’ve got a group that might really benefit from moving our game to this style, but I’d like to know how you handled the disparity between encounters/monsters/obstacles and the XP doled out. Clearly, there was a storyline explanation, or maybe some hand-waving, but how did you structure your adventures? How much playing time did your group spend per session? How many encounters (of any kind)?
We didn’t structure by encounters, but by “adventures”. Some of the adventures were mostly politics and wrangling, but at least half were classic dungeon-crawls, minus most of the worries about appropriate magical treasures.
An adventure would wrap up in 12 hours of game play. And then XP was awarded using the table I used in the last article.
That’s perfect. Between your info and Greywulf’s, I think I’ve got a chance to breathe life back into a game that I really loved!
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Sersa V said:
“Last year, I mulled over the possibility of running a story-arc based D&D game without the usual tropes of phat lewt and my strict following of the doling out of XP. I was told, by several readers, that it was a bad idea and just plain bad wrong fun.
I ran the game anyways over 12 sessions.
It was a blast.”
There is no greater pleasure than this, I think. 🙂