Friday, 17 July 2015

The Unpredictabilities of Role-Playing

The last few weeks have seen the end of my Anthropophagi of Xamboola playtest. Overall I was pretty happy with how it ran, and of course, there are plenty of amendments to include. When designing the town/city of Xamboola I believed it would be somewhere the party would want to stay for an elongated period of time. I thought it had everything they needed. There were bits of "the old city" they had not explored, as well as some more localised adventuring possibilities. Surely that would keep them entertained. 

Anyway, in the true fashion of a pack of vagrants they did the exact opposite of what I expected — travelling for two weeks to the nearest city of Yithorium (it's in the ASSH universe for those who care). Hey, they wanted some magic ID'd! Luckily I had a couple of mini-encounters already up my sleeve, but the city itself was a completely untouched area. 

There has been one theme or idea that has been very resonant with me lately. It actually was a learning curve that eventuated from designed the Xamboola adventure. Basically, I read a kickass Conan story, and it was filled with so much vibe I needed to game it. The idea that I've been kicking around lately — and I've seen it discussed on a few blogs too — is simple: begin with a vibe. For me, Howard's action-packed prose was all it took to get the first ideas on paper, and the whole thing snowballed from there. How does this relate to my first anecdote? Glad you asked.

I was presented with a similar situation on Wednesday night. Basically I had a pretty distinct vibe of what Yithorium was like. There was a bit of gazetteer information on it, but the rest was a distinct mental image residing in my imagination. As a DM/Ref I have never been great at running games on-the-fly. I excel when I've thought about things, planned encounters, giggled to myself at the NPCs that emerge from my warped brain. But generally there is a level of preparedness that goes into my running of games.

In an attempt to be more comfortable with the unknown, and with a looser style of play, I have begun writing tools to assist with this process. Some of you may have seen/downloaded the first three of my NPC Toolkits. I had those at the table with me. I was surprised at how well some random dice rolling worked in creating two distinctive NPCs. The adventurers had been lured to Yithorium mainly to get rid of accumulated wealth and items, but they had also heard some strange rumours from Xamboola. With that barest framework a large portion of the session was essentially ad lib — or rather, unplanned. I had no idea what was to eventuate, but the narrative sort of naturally unfolded. One of the PCs wanted to enquire about the strange rumours. Others wanted to hunt for magic-users. I used a table to roll up an inn. Ideas emerged through role-playing: a strange concept for the town guards, and the city's mores and values. After the session my brain was alive with creativity and more ideas came to me to develop for next time. 

My point, I guess, twofold:

1. I need to make more tables!

2. It's really amazing what happens when your plans go out the window.


This is probably nothing new to most (or all) of you, but it was a nice reminder to plan a little more loosely. I had an entirely different adventure planned, but I'd rather give the players autonomy. Now, time to get back to the adventure writing.