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Author Topic: [gamist RPGs] Player Driven Games and  (Read 7603 times)
Natespank
Member

Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« on: February 05, 2011, 11:37:39 PM »

Hey guys,

Some of my favorite computer games are [Day of the Tentacle], [World of Warcraft], [Warcraft 3], [Diablo/Torchlight], [Killing Floor], [Half Life 1 and Minerva for HL2], [Left 4 Dead], [DooM original], and obviously [Deathspank]. Deathspank is awesome, especially Thongs of Justice.

Of those games, besides neat stories, the good parts are the interactive parts. The aspects of the game which just involve going from point A to B to C in a set order bores me, there's no freedom or choice, there's no more interactivity than there is in turning a page. Neverwinter nights 2 and Dragonage origins have this problem- their linear and you're prodded along.

The parts that lure me in are the ones that give me a ton of freedom and a range of interesting choices mixed with huge challenge. Take original DooM for example: I can rampage those levels however I like, solve the puzzles in whatever order I like (within limits), learn the mazes, etc. In Warcraft I can develop my own strategies and I don't have some jerk constantly telling me what to do. In Half Life I can run through Black Mesa at my own pace, and in WoW there's not a single required quest- I can go wherever I want and take whichever quests I want. In Day of the Tentacle (epic game) there's dozens of puzzles and you can solve them in whatever order you like, wandering without being pushed this way or that. In Diablo or Torchlight you delve into the dungeons at your own pace, delving deeper if you want it to be harder, or keeping in shallow areas if you like; and all the quests are pretty optional with a few exceptions.

Bearing this in mind, I think a good table top RPG maximizes player freedom and provides a lot of choices that interest players. A sandbox, player-driven campaign with hooks, mystery and challenge mixed in seems to me to be an ideal gamist game design plan. However, this is HARD TO DO! You have to improv and plan a lot to manage it- further, the players might do stupid things for a while and get bored. Lastly, it's really hard to plan a story for the campaign if it's player driven without stealing the reins from time to time.

How much player freedom do you guys use in your games? How have your sandbox campaigns went? Do you have more success with more structured story-driven campaigns? I begin a campaign in the morning that will be as open and player-driven as I can manage, but it's gonna challenge me to balance the freedom and direction I want to use...
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Bret Gillan
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Posts: 425

That's Bret with one 't' damn it.


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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2011, 11:18:55 AM »

Hi Nate,

I am a computer game fanatic and I love and have played most of the games you've described. I'm currently playing Red Dead Redemption, and the open-world and sandbox aspects of the game are fantastic. However, the term "sandbox" can be problematic. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people when describing RPG play (as opposed to video game play). Could you give us some examples from the campaign you're doing now or perhaps a campaign of yours in the past that you feel illustrates what you mean by sandbox play, or an example of when you had a difficult time structuring a story around this kind of play so we can have a better idea of what you mean?
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Natespank
Member

Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2011, 05:25:37 PM »

Currently the campaign is in the introductory phase. I tried to arrange it in as open a way as I could.

There's a fame system in my game where people won't give you quests if you have too little fame. They found out about a treasure hunter in the area and want to work with him but he refuses because they're nobodies. Then they plugged the area for information so they could figure out how to become famous. They found out about a cannibal island, a slaver island, a dragon island and a few others; they got vague directions and have been roaming the seas (on a hex map) trying to find the spots- they keep finding the wrong islands including the dragon island and were nearly eaten!

I have a central island with a few important things on it, with many peripheral islands with little notes attached to them. Orcs, halflings, etc. Many represent factions with goals rather than specific quests, so that players can play these factions against each other or attack them at their leisure. Instead of prodding them towards the next objective I simply ask "what do you do now?" They're enjoying the exploration aspect so far.

To make up for players doing boring things I'm careful to add SMART goals in the form of quests- if the players fail to set and achieve their own goals the NPCs offer quests (goals) that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Tangible.

I view gamist games as achievement simulators so this seems to work well. So far the campaign is going perfectly, though I hope they stop stumbling upon the super hard islands and find the easier low-level islands soon. I may send a few hints their way. They got lost and think they're on the slaver island when really they're on the Hydra island- it'll kill them all if they screw up.
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Cliff H
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Posts: 49


« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2011, 05:21:34 AM »

How much player freedom do you guys use in your games? How have your sandbox campaigns went? Do you have more success with more structured story-driven campaigns? I begin a campaign in the morning that will be as open and player-driven as I can manage, but it's gonna challenge me to balance the freedom and direction I want to use...

The single most successful game I've ever run was similar to this. The campaign set up a situation, and then turned the characters loose. I played the NPCs and introduced some events, but largely I played off what they did. It went fantastically well.

Later, I tried it again, and it bombed. That group didn't want to chart its own path. They wanted the guidance of a traditional, quest based game where they grabbed the plot hook and did what they they were "told." So it really seems to be a matter of taste. Subsequently, I've found the most success in this kind of game by giving the character something they want in an early, scripted scenario that establishes certain characters and conflicts. Then I turn much more control over to them. Once they are oriented in the campaign world, many more of my players seem comfortable charting their own course.
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Natespank
Member

Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2011, 02:50:48 PM »

Quote
Later, I tried it again, and it bombed. That group didn't want to chart its own path. They wanted the guidance of a traditional, quest based game where they grabbed the plot hook and did what they they were "told." So it really seems to be a matter of taste. Subsequently, I've found the most success in this kind of game by giving the character something they want in an early, scripted scenario that establishes certain characters and conflicts. Then I turn much more control over to them. Once they are oriented in the campaign world, many more of my players seem comfortable charting their own course.

I think this is why there's quests in WoW and a lot of other games- it's to give the players something to do when they're not inspired to act on their own. I want to use a "go treasure hunting" main quest idea for now to tie this little area of my campaign together, but it's mostly just to help them along. My group's great for setting their own goals.
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Devon Oratz
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2011, 11:28:40 AM »

The last D&D campaign I ran was pure sandbox (I created an entire world, populated it with towns, dungeons, and quests, and set them loose in it, with an additional caravan type quest that would take them past the first four or so dungeons, each of which, conveniently enough, was the objective of sidequests offered in the first town) and honestly the players did not seem to like it that much. Basically, I noticed that 4E D&D was tabletop WoW and tried to embrace that. I think they may have preferred there to be an overarching metaplot. Actually, there was, but it was completely hidden and optional, and the hints to it that they found were pretty subtle. I think they may have liked things better if I'd started off with a main story to begin with.

My regular Shadowrun game is um...sort of in the middle. There is certainly an overarching plot. The PCs are (usually) welcome to reject any mission at the table, at which point I scrap the game I'd planned and just run a bull session of the characters doing what they'd like to do instead, perhaps with some of their Enemies and other Negative Qualities coming into play. They have yet to reject a run. Once they accept the run, on a typical game session, I like a model where HOW to do it is completely up to them, with very few hints. I design the opposition "in a vacuum" ignoring their strengths and weaknesses as best as I can. The challenges they're up against are not tailored to their characters' abilities, but to the verisimilitude of the world in question (this kind of simulationism makes sense with the general fluff and flavor of Shadowrun). They have to come up with a Mission Impossible style plan and execute it as best they can. A good plan is more important than dice luck, and every security system has some kind of weakness. To be perfectly blunt: they're pretty bad at this, especially the planning part. But I love them anyway, and everyone seems to be having a good time. PC attrition is very high and those who do survive generally only make it by the skin of their teeth. I hope that this makes it more rewarding for them. Certainly things would be easier

I have run lots of other games but most of them are semi-complete games I have designed and never released that you would not know anything about, or established games that I'm running in a way that has little or  nothing to do with their basic setting and premise (nWoD).

I have yet to run any game that was completely linear: most of my games are somewhere in the middle, leaning towards nonlinearity.

Quote
To make up for players doing boring things I'm careful to add SMART goals in the form of quests- if the players fail to set and achieve their own goals the NPCs offer quests (goals) that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Tangible.

Thanks for that rubric! It will be amazingly useful to me in the future, as my LARP is based around making sure that at every game session each PC starts with goals that are exactly that. Whether or not the mnemonic is yours, thanks for mentioning it. : )
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stefoid
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« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2011, 07:26:05 PM »

Hi Nate. 


You are on the right track with your sandbox idea, and the problem is that without you pushing the players, nothing happens, right?

There is a game called sorcerer by Ron Edwards which addresses exactly these issues with some stuff that could be applied to any game.   

see the sorcerer link 
Quote


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stefoid
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« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2011, 07:26:36 PM »

Oh, I should add - the relevant bit is Kickers and Bangs
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Natespank
Member

Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2011, 07:58:42 PM »

Quote
Thanks for that rubric! It will be amazingly useful to me in the future, as my LARP is based around making sure that at every game session each PC starts with goals that are exactly that. Whether or not the mnemonic is yours, thanks for mentioning it. : )

The term SMART goal is from some book I read, I can't take credit :( Neat idea though.
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Natespank
Member

Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2011, 08:29:10 PM »

Quote
You are on the right track with your sandbox idea, and the problem is that without you pushing the players, nothing happens, right?

Depends a lot on the players; I've had players who could turn a walk to the grocery store into a campaign of some sort. Others have to be spoon fed choices. I think the best campaigns are player driven and open ended, but you need good players for it. I've been lucky.

Quote
Oh, I should add - the relevant bit is Kickers and Bangs

Actually, I have Sorcerer. Bangs are great! I forgot about them, I sort of use them but now I'm gonna reread that section, maybe I can use them intentionally. What I do is if the pace slows too much, I usually start a fight or reveal something or hint something, throw in some sort of proven hook for picking things back up- and sometimes to keep up a pace. I think that's bangs, right?

Quote
The last D&D campaign I ran was pure sandbox (I created an entire world, populated it with towns, dungeons, and quests, and set them loose in it, with an additional caravan type quest that would take them past the first four or so dungeons, each of which, conveniently enough, was the objective of sidequests offered in the first town) and honestly the players did not seem to like it that much. Basically, I noticed that 4E D&D was tabletop WoW and tried to embrace that. I think they may have preferred there to be an overarching metaplot. Actually, there was, but it was completely hidden and optional, and the hints to it that they found were pretty subtle. I think they may have liked things better if I'd started off with a main story to begin with.

I've had that too. I thought about this a lot because I figured it should have worked- I made a whole continent for them to roam free in, but the campaign died out pretty quick.

I think that in my case I didn't provide enough hooks for the players- they had no investment in the region, or the NPCs in it, and weren't driven enough to go out and seek their own fortune. They needed adventure hooks- optional ones, I think it's essential that most are optional- but interesting hooks to lure them into action.

Unfortunately, some players never did start setting their own goals- half I think just followed the others' lead. Twas a great lead though, a dragonborn won a fiefdom and steadily built it up in the name of Bane (it was an evil campaign). He multiclassed to paladin from fighter! It amazed me! Most players don't do that on their own.

I want as open a world as possible, but I haven't successfully made a completely open world that will engage the players- I still need adventure lures like bounties and treasure maps to get them out there. So much potential though! Endless potential!

Quote
Basically, I noticed that 4E D&D was tabletop WoW and tried to embrace that.

WoW heavily influenced 4e, for better or worse. I think for better: it really fires on all pistons in some ways, but to do so it had to give up certain other things. It's more focused now.

Quote
and honestly the players did not seem to like it that much

A friend ran a completely open ended short thieves campaign. We went to a town, the thieves guild recruited us, and the rest was up to us. They sent us on missions and there was politics and intrigue... the problem was we didn't care. The DM didn't invest us in any of the variety of NPCs he'd created- he'd just assumed we'd interact with them, when really I ignored most. His campaign only lasted 4 sessions :(

I wanted to do missions because it seemed like the only thing worth doing- I didn't know who these people were or whether my character had reason to befriend ANYONE. He just wanted some money to rebuild his lost fortune (gambling). The majority of the world wasn't relevant to the character so he ignored it- it was distracting and annoyed him.

I really hate that because his campaign had a lot of potential and I'd love for him to be able to modify it in a way that made it work- possibly with a hybrid approach where he integrated quests and rewards to get the ball rolling and invest the players and characters.

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stefoid
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« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2011, 08:46:29 PM »

So Kickers are player written bangs that are baked into the character, I think you can look at it that way.  Presumably the player is interested in this type of character motivation because they wrote it themself.
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Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2011, 09:58:09 AM »


The problem I had with World of Warcraft, and I think it's a concern for the sandbox style play you are describing is the static nature of the world.   Doing these quests does not really matter, play is just a mechanical hamster wheel to get your character levelling up.  It doesnt matter if you succeed or fail in a quest the world goes on the same.  I think thats a problem with subtle hints of side quests along the way type scenarios, they dont really captivate. 

Now if instead you make the world active, with threats that have to be beat back or the sandbox will be messed up.  Have incursions of Orcish armies that can be beaten back or they could succeed and capture a few towns where they set up occupation.  Have a wizard doing research into strange mixed montrous creations that occasionaly rampage the area.  Have goblins getting bolder and bolder about sneaking in and stealing livestock, foodstuffs.  I find that more interesting than the dungeon tourism that seems to be the standard idea of "sandbox".
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Devon Oratz
Member

Posts: 75


« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2011, 10:32:08 AM »

Quote
The problem I had with World of Warcraft, and I think it's a concern for the sandbox style play you are describing is the static nature of the world.   Doing these quests does not really matter, play is just a mechanical hamster wheel to get your character levelling up.  It doesnt matter if you succeed or fail in a quest the world goes on the same.  I think thats a problem with subtle hints of side quests along the way type scenarios, they dont really captivate. 

As is fairly typical of my GMing style for anything other than *ESTABLISHED WORLD I DID NOT CREATE* (i.e. Shadowrun) is that the world was in point of fact completely dynamic, and player actions would have the power to create and destroy factions, settings, start wars, create and kill kings, etcetera. We never got quite far enough in the campaign for any of that to happen, but that was the idea. 
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Natespank
Member

Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2011, 09:17:14 PM »

Quote
The problem I had with World of Warcraft, and I think it's a concern for the sandbox style play you are describing is the static nature of the world.   Doing these quests does not really matter, play is just a mechanical hamster wheel to get your character levelling up.  It doesnt matter if you succeed or fail in a quest the world goes on the same.  I think thats a problem with subtle hints of side quests along the way type scenarios, they dont really captivate. 

They tried to fix that a little with "phasing" in WoW, but the definite good thing for us is that we can have the world as alterable as we like. Like I said, the PCs love to affect the world- after every major quest I try to alter the world a little due to their actions. For example, at the start of the campaign it might rain 24/7 until 3 levels later they stumble upon a weather control station and destroy it. Then the weather goes back to normal- world affected.

Quote
I find that more interesting than the dungeon tourism that seems to be the standard idea of "sandbox".

Build more dynamic dungeons.

The first 4e D&D dungeon I ever ran I built myself as the hideout of an orc raider named Skincleaver. Outside was about 20 orcs/gobbos (mostly minions) and when the PCs attacked it and narrowly survived, the survivors ran inside to warn the rest of the dungeon. The gobbos "organized" defense points, and throughout the dungeon goblin trappers left traps behind the PCs in an interactive way- the remainder of the denizens holed up as best as they could for dear life, bargaining and begging (and backstabbing) to the bitter end.

Dungeons, like sandbox worlds, ought to be dynamic and react to the players- the players love that. Just be sure to show how their affection of the world is limited compared to how it WILL later be...
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Natespank
Member

Posts: 97

I usually use the male pronoun to mean either sex.


« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2011, 09:23:01 PM »

I should add one thing: my greatest pet peeve about pre-built modules and computer game RPGs is that the player's choices don't matter.

You can choose various dialogue options, but it's revealed that the set result happens anyway. Same with various decisions- only the path might differ. I hate that so much! Neverwinter nights was AWFUL for that.

In my games I go out of my way to make player choices affect the world, at least in small ways, but still ways that affect future story/gameplay/setting.
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