I think I like it ‘Dead Simple’

Maybe I’m just a simple minded person.  Maybe I’m just lost in nostalgic meanderings which are just the first signs of senility.  Maybe I just am not that clever.  But I think I like what I would call ‘dead simple’ in D and D or similar campaigns/games.  Not too much overarching plot.  Not too many conspiracies or complicated, interwoven relationships between factions that toss the players back and forth whre they cannot keep track of one faction versus another. 

“Game of Thrones” and similar might be entertaining to watch as TV drama, but I wouldn’t want to be a player in ‘A Game of Thrones’ game simply because the characters themselves are so frequently battered around by circumstances — the dwarf nobleman (I’m terrible with names; played by the actor from “The Station Agent”) is the only one in the show who seems to have even the slightest degree of choice in what he does for the first half of season 1, but even he is manipulated by events beyond his control.  Byzantine dramas don’t give the individual players much agency (and, although I’m no lit scholar, that is probably how it should be in such works — we watch them to see these different characters push against each other). And I like having agency… even if its just little things, like “Which way do we go?”

A few years ago, I tried to run ‘The Shackled City‘ campaign (I think that was what it was called).  This was a monster of an ‘adventure path’ from Paizo that was supposed to take the players from level 1 to level 15 or 20 or something.  A few of my players were really hyped up about it; I had my doubts (especially because of the size of the book), but I wanted to be a good sport and ‘see what the new adventure path thing’ was all about. I wanted to play the new D&D the way that I thought most of the rest of the world played it.  And ‘chapter 1’ was a lot of fun. 

There was a ruined gnome city under the city where the players were staying… and evil ‘skulks’ were kidnapping citizens from the city to sell as slaves in the underground economy.  The players made friends in the city, researched some missing kids at the local orphanage, found the entrance to the secret ruined gnome city, uncovered and eventually smashed the slaver base under the city (at great loss to themselves — only 2 made it out alive). Despite difficulty with the rules (I just can’t handle the big stat block), the players were having fun and so was I.  But as I read forward in the book, I realized it got more and more and more complicated.  One of the people who had been kidnapped, a teen age child, was ‘special’ in some way and was going to be a special ingredient in some world-shaking catastrophic series of events and plots. I just couldn’t keep track of it all.  So I dumped Paizo’s big book. I made up a ‘new’ adventure, sometimes drawing the maps and making up the encounters I needed the night before, and I had MORE fun than I would have if I had followed the ‘Adventure Path.’  The players seemed to like it, too.  I ran it for at least two years, then a player in the campaign took over DMing duties and took it off into new and unexpected directions. And I guess that’s kind of my ideal campaign.

One Comment on “I think I like it ‘Dead Simple’”

  1. I prefer to keep things simple too. I'm running two games at the moment, both sandbox in nature. One is pure sanbox, driven by the PCs following adventure hooks or their whim; the other is playing through the 25th Anniversary of Against the Giants, so while there is technically an overall 'plot' it's loose and the players are going about it their own way. I much prefer it to any adventure paths I've played in or ran.

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