Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Guest Post: Context, Cut Scenes, and the Pen and Paper Experience

The world background and adventure setup I’ve posted about thus far correspond to about the first hour or so of the first game session. I really do want to get to the meat of the module itself, but first, one last bit about the lead-in and the groups’ reactions thereto.

B4 has about two pages of intro and background for the Dungeon Master. It has a seven paragraph text box, to be read to the players as introduction. All my posts thus far are encompassed by the first sentence of that text box: Days ago, your group of adventurers joined a desert caravan. That’s it. Maybe Moldvay assumed the Dungeon Master would come up with his or her own way to get the players into the caravan. I think it is more likely that most old school gamers simply didn’t care about background and intro, and that they just rolled up characters and jumped into it. Regardless, I’m clearly on the contextually-deep end of the spectrum. That’s just how I roll.

As of this writing, I’ve actually run three separate parties through world background, adventure setup, and through first contact with the module proper. The first group was three players running two characters each, as enumerated here. The second group was two players, each with one character. The third was two players, each running two characters.

Groups one and two eventually meet up—they exist in the same space-time continuum. Group three exists independently, and has only had the one game session thus far. The three parties come from different gaming backgrounds, and I thought it might be illustrative to share their responses to the first phase of the adventure.

The players of group one are all about thirty years old, and while too young to have experienced (what I consider to be) old school gaming first-hand, they get the spirit of old-school gaming pretty well. They kind of naturally view the environment as an obstacle to overcome, and they expect hostility in the form of monsters and traps everywhere. They certainly understand the character-development and story- telling aspects of role-playing. But they also see the game world as something to be figured out, every bit as much as something to role-play within.

Group one had lots of questions during the intro. They wanted to know about the mission into the desert. They were puzzled (and therefore slightly wary of) the weird variety of personnel in the expedition force. They had an immediate mistrust for the Orc away-party and the Halfling with them. And they attempted both the chat up potential friendlies who could yield information, and to spy/ eavesdrop on others. They wanted to harvest all the intel they could before landing in what they knew would eventually be a dungeon-type environment.

Group two was made up of players in their mid and late 30s, who have been close friends of mine for a decade, and who played in an 18-month campaign in 2002/03 set in the same game world. That made world background really easy, because they already knew all about Scumville, etc. They also know my play style intimately, and how introducing game world info is inherently fun for me. So they had a pretty decent intuitive sense of what information probably “mattered” and what didn’t. They also know that I sometimes throw out world details in such depth and frequency that “important” tidbits can get buried, and that such is exactly my intention. In any event, they kind of knew not to sweat it, and were indulgent of my style. They had questions during intro, but not a ton of them. They pretty much trusted that I was going to get them to the beginning of the adventure proper, and they were prepared to take that ride with me at whatever pace I set.

Group three was really different and kind of eye-opening for me. Neither player had any experience to speak of with pen and paper RPGs. They play video and online games and are both in their early twenties. World of Warcraft is about as close as either got to a RPG. I was struck by how passive they were during the intro sequences. I’d present world background, and pause for them to respond or ask questions, and be met by silence. Then I’d press on, pausing on occasion, with the same response.

I liken it to a cut-scene in a video game. During a cut-scene, gamers know they can’t modify the outcome of the action or story, so they just sit back and watch. Eventually, I pointed out that this wasn’t strictly a cut-scene, and that questions and character action were permissible at any time. That the fact that I’m describing something doesn’t mean they can’t do stuff.

Then there was a brief period where they seemed to take that revelation, and imbue everything I offered with too much meaning. They seemed to think that every detail involved something with which they were expected to interact.

Eventually, I responded by telling them that such is not the case—that I will describe lots of things, significant and otherwise—and that they can choose to interact or not, to take heed or not, at their discretion. Here, I contrasted the tabletop RPG experience with games like Myst, where every scene has details that really do contain a puzzle. My reference to cut-scenes and to Myst really seemed to help them orient themselves to the game and to wrap their minds around the pen and paper RPG experience.

Read Earlburt’s entire series on The Lost City:

  1. Setting out for the Lost City
  2. Nonvariable Weapon Damage, Alignment Tongues, and Rolling Hit Dice
  3. Setting and Player Introduction for The Lost City
  4. Into The Desert

10 responses to “Guest Post: Context, Cut Scenes, and the Pen and Paper Experience

  1. RogerBW November 8, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I might go even further at some point, and say “to some extent, the things you express interest in will determine the direction of the campaign”. If they bash the dungeon but really want to get back to being caravan guards and merchant magnates, well, that’s the campaign I run…

    • earlburt November 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      I hate railroading. However, they all knew going in that this was going to be a straight-up dungeon crawl. However, if they decided to try to get home, I’d totally let that happen. Indeed, five sessions in (having gained access to a secure water supply), they could pretty much go home wnytime they wanted. I don’t think that has really dawned on them yet. Visions of avarice have displaced concern for the lower strata of Maslow’s heirarchy of needs.

  2. Chris Mata November 8, 2012 at 9:47 am

    I am really diggin this series of posts. I hadn’t realized 3 groups are simultaneously going through it. The group of the twenty somethings intrigues me the most, can’t wait till you report more on their game experiences.

    To be honest, fantasy roleplaying has almost zero draw for me now a days. Your posts on this campaign(s) help keep the dream alive!!!

    • earlburt November 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      The 20somethings were an unexpected bonus. I just happened to meet them through (non-gamer) mutual friends. I don’t know much I’ll post about them, if the pace of gaming is slow, as I suspect it will be. It also would make for more record-keeping on my end. But I will certainly integrate my experience with them as opportunity permits.

      And thank you both for continuing to read and enjoy. Fantasy tropes do have a tendency to get stale. I think it’s easier in some ways to run a boring FRPG than some other genres. But I’m really attached to fantasy. That plus my fanatacism for the game world keep me coming back year after year.

  3. Chris Mata November 8, 2012 at 11:19 am

    @rogerBW totally agree. I really can’t agree or play with a DM that starts the linear campaign thing. A one-off or single story arc? sure, i can handle that. I played a DC Heroes campaign that went that way once and it was way too rat in a maze with only one way out for me.

  4. Chris Mata November 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    @earburt I think with your immersive self created world the GM is more invested and it will show for the players. Good job!!!

  5. PeterD November 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Different groups have different approaches to boxed text, GM descriptions, etc.

    Some groups effectively pause it, like a cut scene. The GM tells you what you see, you listen, and then you can act. You aren’t penalized for not interrupting, and if you do you might miss something.

    Other groups treat it like live game time, and you damn well better interrupt and/or ask questions. If you don’t, you’re passively accepting whatever bad stuff happens.

    My group, I noticed, is the former. I make it clear I’m never going to penalize you for sitting and listening carefully. You’ll get a chance to act, you won’t suffer for the boxed text, and it’s rude to interrupt. But I have notice some groups do it differently, and some pre-packaged adventures punish you for not interrupting.

    I think this is something you need to decide on, and make clear, early, which one you prefer.

  6. Pingback: Guest Post: Death Lurks in Every Nook and Cranny « Jeffro’s Car Wars Blog

  7. Pingback: Guest Post: Shattered and Demoralized in The Lost City | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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