Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Adventures: Episodic or Serial?

I've always run campaigns as serial adventures; it's never occurred to me to do it any other way.  Each session ends by pressing the metaphorical 'pause button,' sometimes at a cliffhanger moment, sometimes not, and the next session always picks up from that point.

In general, this type of adventure pacing has worked reasonably well, and is often necessary when a session ends mid-adventure, but of late I've been contemplating the virtues of episodic adventures in which, much like a television series, an indefinite period of time has passed since the last episode.  This is also how Conan and Fafhrd and Grey Mouser adventures are presented: a series of loosely linked adventures with a brief introduction to explain what has transpired in the heroes lives since the last story.

One of the problems inherent with the serial style adventures that I usually run is an that the game becomes one unending string of adventures without pause.  Often, one forgets to provide much-needed downtime for characters to pursue other interests like spell research or building that stronghold the party has always wanted.

One of the advantages of episodic games is that players can provide a list of things they want their characters to do between sessions, be it carousing and wenching, training with the 'hidden master of forbidden lore,' or building a  network of street-urchin informants - the sorts of things that would be difficult to do when each session picks up immediately where the last one left off.  Another thing that episodic adventures allow for is the passage of time.  I've run campaigns lasting several years in which only a couple of months have passed for the characters and I always thought it odd that games like GURPS charge a hefty point cost for advantages like Unaging, which never seemed like much of an advantage or, like AD&D, provide rules for aging that are unlikely ever to be used unless a character is somehow magically aged.

Yet another advantage of the the episodic adventure is that it can serve to keep the characters hungry for treasure.  I propose assigning an upkeep cost of 100 gp per level each session to cover the interim expenses incurred by the free-spending lifestyles enjoyed by most adventurers.  I am finding it necessary to come up with ways to part characters from their money since in a game where most of the character's experience comes in the form of treasure the coin starts to pile up faster than players can spend it, and soon there is little incentive to adventure.

There is also a super-cool idea that I read about on another blog (I can't remember where I read this, so I'm not able to give appropriate credit where it is due - it may have been Jeff's Gameblog, though I could be mistaken) of allowing players to spend extra treasure over and above their upkeep costs on wenches and ale and gain an equal amount of experience.  It stands to reason that characters might be spending time between sessions improving themselves, even if only their ability to endure prolonged bouts of debauchery.  The amount of treasure that one can spend on wenches and ale in exchange for experience points would depend on locale; obviously 'Shadizar the Wicked' offers far greater opportunities for debauchery than, say, the Village of Hommlet.

Ideally, I think a campaign will need to consist of both serial and episodic adventures.  It isn't always practical to allow time to pass between session when in the middle of an adventure, and I'm fond of ending sessions at dramatically appropriate places whenever I can manage it.  Nothing beats a cliffhanger ending to make everyone eager for the next session.  But I look forward to allowing for periods of downtime between adventures.  I just can't believe I haven't thought of doing this before now.


Trey said...

I agree. Like a good TV show or a comic book series, a combo of "done in ones" and "multi-parters" are the optimum.

P. S. Mangus said...

These past few years I have switched gears from serial to episodic play. It just makes more sense given the kind of picaresque characters, situations and stories that are present in my games. Plus I found I just do not have the stamina to maintain a never ending story of grand proportions. Each adventure might be serialized until the conclusion is reached, but I never guarantee the characters will find themselves right where they left off when a new adventure presents itself. In my opinion classic fantasy roleplaying is best represented with this approach.

Sean Robson said...

I've found the continual serialized adventures can result in a lot of unnecessary tedium, too. In the past I have, much to my embarrassment, forced players into long, boring cross-country treks for no good reason, when it would have been much easier and more fun to just gloss over the trip and get straight to the action.

In my current campaign I'm trying to allow the players as much autonomy as possible without any sort of preordained path that the campaign must take or adventures that they must pursue, but within those bounds I'm not above using a little dramatic license for some cinematic railroading and cut to the chase.

bliss_infinte said...

I run an episodic sandbox campaign which I feel has worked very well for us. A couple things I do, though, is if the session ends in the middle of the adventure, we pick up next session right there. However, if the session ends in town, then however much time passes in between sessions (be it 2 weeks or more)also passes in game time. I also use Jeff Rients Carousing chart but only let players use it once per PC per game week. So we have been playing for about 9 months, six months of game time has passed which has worked out pretty well.

nykster said...

That's a pretty good idea bliss_infininte.
However, why must there be a break in sessions in order to "fastforward" things
Our group recently came into a lot of money and a piece of land along with titles. What's to stop us from taking a month to get the building of our "base" started mid session. It would only take a few minutes to work out minor details and the more in depth ones can be applied at the next session after every one has time to think.

On a side note, Sean, I must decline the title that the King has bestowed upon me as Theon has sworn his fealty to another, the Drowned God Lir.
I will of course do this humbly and apologetically and ask for no further reward in its place.

bliss_infinte said...

If my players wanted to extend time during a session I would happily go along with that. They just haven't seemed to think along those lines yet.
"We'll take a week to prepare for our next delve" never comes up. Sometimes I push time along if some characters need healing but if the characters want to run themselves ragged, so be it.