Sunday, September 12, 2010

B1 Aftermath: The De-Brief

Despite killing off my brother's two characters in three weeks, and wiping out almost his entire cast, he was still willing to go back down into the dungeon and immediately rolled up a new character. However, we ended play for the evening, and I was willing to hold him off on going back to Castle Q. I wanted to move onto a new adventure, having sprung most of the "surprises" from B1 (I forgot, the final battle included a couple mummies as well...taken care of quickly by the party).

In de-briefing (i.e. on the way back from the bar), AB had no unkind words for the hand he'd been dealt. Talking to him again tonight, he still didn't. "It didn't stop me from playing the next day, did it? We're still playing again on Thursday, ja?" But this has often been my experience when DMing games...characters die but the players want to come back for more. Really. Even my poor wife, the FIRST time she played (not the Keep on the Borderlands adventure I described awhile back...a BECMI adventure in Threshold from either Mentzer Basic or Expert, played a few years back)...she rolled up three characters and had each of them killed in fairly quick succession, but kept wanting to play. Her main reason for not wanting to play RPGs has to do with her "becoming to attached to the characters."

Now contrast this with our experiments with Mordheim...possibly my favorite game ever published by Games Workshop. We played one match, and I destroyed her...and she never wanted to play again. For whatever reason there is a difference between playing someone one-on-one and acting as an "impartial referee." Even though I'm not gloating or yelling "In your face!" at my wife over a wargaming's hard to watch one person's dice rolls remove individual playing pieces from a game board. A DM though...he (or she) is simply interpreting dice rolls and describing "what happens." The DM's not really trying to kill you off, is he?

Anyway, while I've had people crumple up character sheets at the table (which always annoys me...what if the character gets brought back to life with a spell?), I can't recall anyone who let the death of their character ruin the play of the game. Which is why it has always been weird to me that so many game groups make such an effort to keep player characters alive, fudging dice rolls and whatnot.

Not that I don't understand it...even my Old School buddy Kris has said, "Dying is no fun." BUT the Doctor also notes that "Dying is part of the game." You take character death off the table and the challenges...and the triumphs!...mean a lot less to the players.

Well, anyway, back to the debriefing of Thursday's game: though AB had no issue regarding his character's death, that's NOT to say he didn't have some complaints about the game...specifically, he felt there wasn't ENOUGH back-story.

The whole confrontation with Z and R had given him a momentary epiphany regarding the nature of Dungeons & Dragons in general. "What the hell ARE we doing here?" he asked. "Basically, we're not doing anything more than knocking over these guys' house!" Home invasion. Burglars. Nothing lofty or "heroic" regarding their actions at all.

Faced with the realization didn't make him want to quit the game, nor did it detract from the fun...after all, all his characters to date have been Neutral in alignment. He just hadn't really thought of the whole r'aison d'etre for being there in the first place. Yes, the adventurers were a group of members with varied skills seeking treasure, willing to risk their lives in dangerous situations...and looting some higher level adventurers' stronghold was a certainly part of their M.O.

However, it left him curiously un-satisfied at the end.

My brother wanted there to be more reason for his mission. More "backstory" is the term he used. "I got more backstory from the random rolls for how the characters knew each other! What we needed was more of THAT." He actually suggested I create random tables/charts for why they were in the dungeon in the first place.


We were playing an adventure module...a modified one, but still a module. It presents a scenario...a reason for being there. A background is presented, and your characters are supposed to be motivated to be there. Treasure. Danger. The whole nine yards, ya' know?

It didn't seem enough to him.

On pondering, I guess it wouldn't have been enough for me either.

I'm going to consider the question more for our upcoming Thursday night game and think about what (if anything) I can do about it. Right now, I can only look at it in terms of myself and my feelings.

It's the same old chestnut, chewed over at the Forge multiple times, relating to the ability of story magically emerging in-play. For some people...maybe those over the age of 13 (15 or so for males) there's an interest in their RPG being about something. An idea that more is at stake here than simple house-breaking and tomb-robbing. And there's this great hope that when we are done with a play session, we can "look back on what we've wrought" and see some sort of existing coherent narrative tapestry...a "story" that has been created by the events of the game play.

It's tough to do this with RPGs not expressly built to facilitate this Dungeons & Dragons. And yet, I'm not really ready to junk D&D in favor of an indie-fantasy RPG that addresses story directly...I prefer the abstract systems of B/X D&D as written for a fast-paced, exciting game that provides all the means one needs to create a fantasy world.

Maybe a random motivation or "kicker" chart IS needed. Certainly both the Hats and the Relationship tables have been highly successful so far.


  1. Though I haven't written about it yet on the blog, this very idea has been a major change in my gaming. A change for the better. I hadn't gamed for YEARS and then returned, triumphantly talking two of my non-gamer friends into trying out B/X. They loved it, but like your bro, quickly wanted more backstory. So I made some NPCs pop up repeatedly and basically just made the world around them start doing stuff independent of them. Bad guys started plotting and doing stuff, and my player's were ALL OVER IT. Rather than one railroad of a storyline, there were multiple things going on, and they chose what to get involved with. They also came up with their one backgrounds and motivations. I think it was session 2 when someone asked, "Why do our characters want to go adventuring?" I replied, "I don't know; they're your characters, you tell me." This got their creative juices flowing and gave me tons of hooks for future adventures for them. One's a bounty hunter who is in trouble with his boss, and now has a bounty on his own head. The other's a cleric in an order dedicated to holding back the intrusion of Cthulhu Mythos evils. I think putting a bunch of the backstory on the shoulders of the players is part of what makes it a fun collaborative experience. And rather than needing some particular game system to help make a story, you need a system that doesn't restrict your imagination with lots o' rules (e.g. B/X--perfect).
    B/X is perfect for another reason, too. If you don't want the backstory, you can do it that way, too. I know a lot of people don't like having to come up with a story, but you might find that collaborating on a rad backstory with your bro is one of the most fun things about it. That's been my experience, at least.

  2. My favourite Games Workshop game, perhaps my favourite board game ever, is Blood Bowl, but I don't get to play it much, because of the people around here who do play it.

    Not because they win often, and they do, but because they take it so very seriously. I just want to play and have fun.

  3. @ Kelvin: I own around 20+ Blood Bowl teams, most of them fully painted. I LOVE BB (but then, I love American football, too), and I rarely get to play the game. The kids that want to play don't like playing against me ('cause I beat 'em, natch) so I often end up simply acting as referee...and the local competition might be a little too similar to your own. It's tough to find the "right level" of fun and competitiveness, and I can totally grok what you're saying.

    @ Monk: this is part of the greatness of RPGs in general and B/X in particular (it's rules so light, they get the hell out of the way of the fun). Now that we've expanded the game to two players, I'm eager to see the interaction and story development (if any).
    ; )