Tackling Cliches: The Princess is in another Castle, Prisons, And Fetch Quests
Again I would like to remind my readers, I am not saying you can not have a great game using any of these examples. But I am emphasizing that with these locations extra care needs to be taken to ensure that the scene is a successful and that your players do not feel like they standing in line to be the next adventuring group served fast food style.
This weeks topic was the hardest of the three that I have done so far. It took a very long time deciding just how I would tackle the topic today. In the first topic of the week I addressed the Inn/Tavern. In that case as I said unless handled well your first game session can be an uphill battle to win the interest of your group back unless you run the scene well. In this instance it will only be a bump in the road for a game session at worst.
From a Bump in the road we moved to a Caravans. Here I pointed out that with this cliché unless the players willingly sign on to the hook that is your reason why they would be actively traveling with a caravan. They might now be stuck with your trope for several sessions before they can cut the cord and feel less like they are being railroaded or tethered to one location.
Moving into today’s topic I set out several starting locations/events that not only need to be run well to make your players buy into the story early on. But can literally trap your players into a story line with these introductions. If the players are going into the game knowing upfront that this will be the style of game you will be running then you have nothing to worry about. If not now you have to weigh your options. Because each one has the possibility of taking prolonged encounters or game sessions to move past. In addition they will have lasting affects on the party and its members.
First up, The princess is in another castle. Or any variant of you have been summoned by the king. Okay look first off if this is how your kicking your PRG game off you have to ask yourself a few questions before you even crack the lid on this can of worms. WHY on earth are your players even being summoned before a King for anything ?
There are several occasions that make this perfectly acceptable. Are you playing a Mid to high level game ? Is this an experienced group and the start of a new story. Maybe the players are the children of great adventures ? If none of these questions is the reason why you are dragging the party before a King for any reason ? After all I am sure that the King has Higher level men at his disposal to do what needs to be done and not involve you. It also makes for a contrived beginning to a potential game of political intrigue ! Would not your efforts be better spend having your party do something that in turn draws the attention of the king first ?
Next we move to Prisons in all shapes and forms. This would include Slave camps, Gladiator Arenas, And Pirate or conscripted ships. Look I loved Spartacus as much as the next guy. And the concept of being a bad ass champion of the arena sounds pretty awesome. Yet now you have set your players the daunting task from the intro of their game to overcome a situation that might take them several sessions to get past. Before they will get to the heart of the real story. Unless that is the entire theme of your game your players will have to get past your introduction. Worse yet now they have a mark on them as hunted for making their escape. The scope of the story becomes that much more narrow now.
When you put your players into these situations at the outset of the game you are also giving players reason to potentially distrust their fellow party members. Why was your party’s rouge really sent to the pits to die ? What might he have done ? These are potentially good role play options or if you have a number of good party members in your group. Maybe a point of contention that will instead hang your game up for a bit.
Then there is the break out. In most these situations your going to have to give the players a way out. If they try to just brute force their way out it will probably end badly. After all Prisons and Arenas are likely to contain stronger NPC’s then what your party can handle.. Hence why they are there. And if not orchestrated well your players may feel that their escape was contrived. The good news here at least you have a few options to introduce NPC’s of power that might offer to free the party for a cost.. Freedom ? after all we know freedom isn’t free right ? Or in the case of a Pirate vessel maybe the players can Mutiny.. Not that it is not a cliché in its own right. So in general be careful when putting a starting group into these situations unless it is going to be the theme of the entire story or you want it as a black mark in the party’s background.
Lastly we come to the dreaded fetch quest ! I want to hire your party to go from location x-y. Find z. and bring it back to x, and I will reward you. Years ago fetch quests were not so much of a cliché. But with the wonderful era of MMO’s fetch quests, unless creatively worded are now probably one of the biggest cardinal sins in tabletop gaming. These days fetch quests are best used with a subtle hand and not a closed fist. It is far better to lead your players into the story and mention they see a sign on the way out-of-town that says,
Bounty: goblins left ears, Reward: 1GP
Then it is to have a town merchant or Town guard hammer it down a players gullet telling them to head to the hills and root out all the goblins and we will pay you for it.
I would like to close this months Topics up with a few thoughts. Any location can make for a good encounter location or back drop for if you take the time and effort in advance to make it a work. But when you pick a location and give your players little to nothing that will excite them then you will have just that, bored players. And when your players become disinterested they become detached from your game and the things we do to dodge tedium set in. Pens and pencils start scribbling. Phones get glanced at.. apps may get turned on. Generally behavior that you don’t want to have to compete with at the table. One can ban such devices from their table and this is for another blog. BUT if your poor session design is the reason that has driven your player to these things is on you. You are all h ere to have fun and your players and friends are not hostage to your enjoyment. But it is not just Dull setting back drop that can kill a game with its clinched locations. An amazing setting with rich detail and hollow stick figures of NPC’s can kill a beautiful setting just as fast.