Tuesday, March 2, 2010

All The Numbers Are Awful

Oh, I hate February.

Any other month, this post would have been made in the month after my last post. But no, now I have to have some kind of missing-month BS. I've never missed a month before.



You may not (read: don't) know this, but I have been working on a novel. I haven't mentioned it because I am of the extremely hypocritical and probably racist opinion that DMs who want to be authors just want their players to enjoy Happy Railroad Adventures Starring My DMPC - or rather, I worry that I'll turn into that guy.

I do my best to avoid it, though I will admit that at one stage I actively changed where a campaign would be set to keep it away from the main setting of said book, just in case. Since said book was set in the only real metropolis in the setting and I eventually just used different settings the PCs haven't been there yet. Heh.

That was, oh, years ago. Then I got caught up in education and, like a fool, World of Warcraft. Years onward I decided another reason the story which I had started in high school wasn't actually finished yet was because I had only half-realised that I no longer enjoyed it (a Lord of the Rings parody always seems like a better idea in high school), and promptly shelved it in favour of a completely different story, a Lovecraftian comedy. I'm sure that's going to go well.

Even in settings I tailored specifically to play games in, though, I find that I still feel like I'm holding back all the time.

Take the setting my players termed "BESMecha", a kind of silly game using the BESM system where the players are high-school students with psychic mutant powers in a military school on the Moon where they get to pilot mecha. The solar system is divided into three factions: APTO (Atlantic-Pacific Treaty Organization), NERU (New European-Russian Union) and SEAA (South-East Asian Alliance). Relations between them are civil at best and APTO and NERU in particular seem to be drifting into a Cold War. The situation could explode any minute.

Come on. Psychic mecha pilot kids. Metaphorical excrement is going to be detonated and it will be awesome.

Instead, "Season 1" (okay, okay, the first campaign) focused on a terrorist group called ATLAS (long version unknown) which started as an anti-newtype group, later turned out to be a newtype-staffed group and finally (in the last session) turned out to be a group made entirely of newtypes led by a psychic space octopus.

Cool though it was, I realised that I was backing away from a storyline potentially more epic in scope: A war between APTO and NERU.

Why? I don't know, exactly, but I think I feel that there's a certain limit, which (until someone tells me someone else wrote about this already) I will call the Vecna vector, where the potential impact of a campaign on its setting is enough to drastically change it and thus every campaign that comes after it.

I'm just not comfortable with hitting that vector. I can come up with plenty of good ideas that work in the setting as it is, why change it drastically? I'm also worried about screwing it up. D&D has plenty of examples: the Spellplague, Faerûn's personal kick in the balls; Faction War, Planescape's personal extremely angry badger down the pants... okay, that's two. Let me know if you can think of more.

That's not to say my settings don't change at all. During my games I have had events drastically change entire areas (say, kingdoms) for years, just nothing on a grand scale. Most villains are from "outside", as such: demons from another plane, a group that doesn't work for one of the main "factions" of the setting, some random lich asshole, et cetera. Memorable opponents, all, but still.

I know some of my players would like it. A few of them have stated as much, though the fact that some of them just wanted to use it as a springboard for turning games into wank sessions about their favourite characters turned me off a little.

Of course, if I could fucking finish a game that would be great. I've finished a grand total of one campaign in years of gaming, thanks to schedule conflicts shutting the damn things down.

I'm working on that too, though. See, I also noticed that games tend to... drag on a bit. Not that they're individually boring - at least, if they have been my fellow gamers have failed to say anything for quite a long time now. It's just the main arc of the campaign tends not to end for the same reasons I don't massively change the setting: I feel like said campaign could use a few more adventures.

Season 1 of psychicmutantmechapilotsinspace only ended recently because I sucked it up and made it end; the PC's investigations finally led them to an abandoned research facility on the moon of Iapetus long before I had been planning to let them find it only a month earlier. Judging by their post-game analysis, though, I don't think they noticed or cared. In fact I think they rather liked it.

A good DM is always looking for ways to improve. Ending that campaign within a more reasonable time was the first step. Eventually, I hope, I'll be ready to run a campaign that changes the scope of a setting my players are familiar with and enjoy.

Eventually, I'll be able to kick that setting in the balls.


Ran said...

Awww. Cheer up, Ettin. You're a great DM, and your players love your games for a reason. If we didn't notice you moving when we were going to find it up, blame EXPERT TRANSITIONING.

Also, I believe you've finished *two* campaigns now: MIRU and Mearth. :)

Ettin said...

Mearth was more an episodic series than something with an actual campaign arc!

Sure, though, why not.

Patrick said...

I actually do get what you mean, HOWEVER, I think you made the right choice.

GREAT BIG SETTING-ALTERING EVENT matters more to the players if they've had a while to get used to the way the setting is. I mean, the HOLY SHIT, EVERYTHING IS UPSIDE DOWN only matters if you've had time to get used to the status quo.

It's something that videogames, books and movies often fuck up, in that we never get to see the main character in their Normal Situation for more than a few minutes before they realize their boss is actually a mutant space-vampire from Venus.

Also, as it comes to Faction War... things were supposed to go back to normal afterwards, largely, so it only ended up as the Ball Bashing Event because it wasn't quite finished. In concept it was more like the Time of Troubles for the Forgotten Realms or something, with the world getting flipped around temporarily, but eventually returning to normal with a few new names in positions of power.

Stuff dragging out only tends to be an issue when there are no, um, "sub-resolutions," I'd like to call it.

It's easy to have a game where the end of every dungeon ends up with tripping over another portal to another location or another NPC who leads the players off somewhere without them being able to properly finish off what they were just doing. To fold it up neatly and say: "This is done, let's move on to something new."

I think the way you avoid things really feeling like they drag out, is because you seem to design your games episodically. I mean, obviously they're part of the same big storyline, but we constantly have chances to say: "We just accomplished something!" and unwind.

Though I will say that in a few cases it feels like some situations were resolved somewhat faster than I would've liked. It felt like there was potentially more meat on their bones, etc.

Then again, it could just be I was having a lot of fun and wanted more. Because I WAS enjoying myself.

For example... some of the early PSMG adventures we barely showed up on Arcadia or etc. before we were throwing the bad guy in a ditch and calling him a faggot. But at the same time, maybe if we HAD spent twice as many sessions on it, it would've dragged out and I would've been begging for it to end.

The only recent version I can think of is possibly Carceri-tan, I kind of wanted to play around in her home some more. Toy with some more prison-related stuff, maybe some PUZZLES, etc.

Fluffums said...

Shut up and get back to the DM cage where you belong. :>

Oh, and good luck on your book.

Senji said...

I'm glad you're not dead :)