Open-Ended-ness

Author: Andrew /

Hey all; I was doing some thinking and I realized that I haven't written in a while and what's more, it's been a REALLY long time since I made a post that wasn't "Ohdd" related. This stems from it a bit but it is, I promise, a genuine, bona-fide, real deal post. Enjoy!

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So I was doing some thinking and the idea of "open-ended-ness" was on my mind. In my recent game I was able to run with some of the players involved, just to get the ball rolling, I discovered something. Well, in truth, I knew already, but more I ran into an obstacle I had thought about but one I hadn't actually coped with in a game situation.

That thing is an open ended setting.

In my mind, I really dislike railroading characters. I don't want to force them into anything and I sometimes would like to see them really run around with the setting and have some fun with it. I see settings such as Forgotton Realms and Eberron and even Dark Sun (the new setting being published by Wizards of the Coast) and I want to build that. All told, I have the basis for that with Telain and it's well on its way. That said, trying to build a campaign while having some things planned and at the same having some other things not planned at all can lead to problems.

Firstly, it's very important to have all players on the same page. There was a point in the game, for instance, where a player was unable to make it for the first section of the game, which is fine. I was told to run the player's character as an NPC, so I did. Things went fine but one problem I encountered was that a DM can play a PC very differently than a player has in mind and there can be conflict there. When the player was able to show up, he took over the character and there was a drastic shift in said character. The way I played him and the way that the player played him was hugely different and threw off some players who quickly got used to my way, and then switched. This was a large learning experience for me, and thank you to the players involved for helping me learn this. It was a good experience.

For other sessions, it's fine if a player can't make it for some or all of it. For first session (or a character's first session) they need to be there to establish the character in the way they want them portrayed. Once the DM can see how the character is supposed to be portrayed, the character can be DM run in certain circumstances without a continuity problem. That said, things managed to get on track.

Secondly, having a major plot hook for the group to follow is also very important. This may seem like a "No Duh" point, but it's slightly more complicated. Being the type of player and overall person I am, I love great story. This means I love great backstories. Therefore, I push players to have great backstories themselves. The problem with this is that sometimes the player's backstories are so far from one another or they are so deep or have so many details that impact the character in a large way that bringing the party of characters together can be very difficult or may even seem impossible.

The problem I think I've run into is this. I think I have a problem with the term "backstory". I like backstories. I like backgrounds where characters have done things or things that explain why they are the way they are. The problem I've faced is when backstories lack the ability to adapt to many situations. I think what I really like to see are players who just understand their characters.

So often I see players (I've even been this player many times) who roll up a character, see the numbers and whatnot and think it's go time, but when they get to the table, it's just the player and the character itself seems absent. It seems like "John" and not "Regvemar the barbarian". I think that this stems from certain players having little interest in the character side of things or possibly just not knowing how to go about figuring out the "What's my character like as a person?" question.

Also, it's my fault, as a DM. A lot of times, I push for backstory. I push for role play. A lot of times, I feel I can come off as elitest and force things from players that I want when it may not be things that the players want. Granted, sometimes a DM has to say "no" when it's appropriate and saying "yes" all the time can lead to problems and frustration, and it also doesn't make anyone happy.

So, to kind of sum up my random thoughts, open-ended-ness and open world is great. But that means being open to lots of things and sometimes being too open can cause problems. Guidelines are ok and having a target to hit or a destination to go to doesn't make a game poor in any fashion.

Also, certain players like certain things. Certain players don't want to come up with huge backstories and role-play til their eye's bug out, and other players don't want combat after combat, sometimes they want to talk and role-play and enjoy themselves in that fashion.

So, from here on out, I'm going to make an effort to be a better and different DM.

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This is a note to my Ohdd players:

Guys, first of all, I want to tell you you're all great (whether I've gotten a chance to play with you yet or not, believe me, I want to). I've gamed with almost all of you at one point or another and I see value in each and every one of you. I know that there have been some conflicts and and there have been some miscommunications and I know that I've not shared my vision as best I can because I wanted to keep a sense of mystery about my plans. I realize that I want to do that now.

My desire for the Ohdd game's set-up was something of an MMO style set up, in that I wanted to have an open city in which the character party could go around, see tons of neat things, and run into characters, sometimes "average joes" on the street, talk to them, and find things out about the people and gain quests that way. I wanted quests to come up from exploration, instead of the more traditional exploration steming from quests.

The city was designed with many buildings and I don't believe that I showcased it very well. I have a world map and I have a city map but those don't do the city literary justice and I did a poor job of portraying the city and I want to remedy that.

Players, I also want to say this. I am sorry if you feel that I forced you into making a backstory or forced you into playing in a way that you didn't want to, that isn't fun for you. This is a game and it should be fun. If you are unhappy with your character or if you'd like to make some changes, please talk to me. Send me an e mail at -andrew.geertsen[at]gmail[dot]com- (put those in to avoid net-trolling spiders lol).

So, as a final treat for you guys putting up with all this, here is a description of Ohdd that I hope does it justice. Enjoy!

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"Ohdd is a city that was named after it's quality. In this city, there really is a bit of everything. If you were to walk across The Bridge to Away, into the city, you would see things that would amuse, baffle and intrigue you. There are places within Ohdd that bend the mind, incite booming laughter and sometimes just simply raise an eyebrow in confusion.

"Surrounding the city is a massive towering barrier called 'The Shifting Wall'. The shifting wall was designed by the most powerful wielders of magic in the city (who are quite powerful indeed) to protect the city from any possible outside threats for as one of the aforementioned magic-weilders was quoted as saying "There's gotta be some out there somewhere, right?" The Shifting Wall is just that, a magically shifting wall. It towers fifty feet in the air and is ten feet thick. The wall magically shifts every once in a while to another "kind" of wall, every time remaining within the dimensions of fifty feet tall and ten feet thick. Sometimes it might be solid, seamless stone and other times it may be a massive sheet of iron. Other times the space may be filled with roiling fire or churning water or possibly an ever undulating mass of vines. There are many forms the wall can take, all of which inspire a new feeling of awe and adds something interesting each day to the lives of the residents of Ohdd. 'What's the wall going to be today?!'

"The powerful magic users mentioned above are called 'The Sparklers'. If you were to ask one of them, most would tell you straight out that they hate the name. They take themselves very seriously and it was because of this that, sometime a ways back, a bard in posession of some great mass of nerves, decided to dub them something rather less than intimidating. He called them 'The Sparklers'. Try as they might to convince everyone they were 'Mages' of the highest order and 'Wizards' who defy the elements and bend reality to their will, alas, to their chagrin, the name stuck and whenever someone mentions them, it's not uncommon to hear a giggle or a stifled chuckle come from somewhere nearby.

"The Sparklers reside inside what has been dubbed, accordingly, 'The Sparkling Hall'. This is a place where those of the magic occupation study and hone their craft. It is a place of class and intelligence and, at some points, some eccentricities. It is crafted of beautiful stone, carved wood and inlaid stone. It rises about three stories on the outside, but who can speak for the inside but those who are, in fact, inside?

"Another main facet of the city is its greatest and, indeed its only tavern, the Nervat. The Nervat is run by a half-elf named Severius Wilkins. Wilkins is known to most to be a wonderful host who is not above getting to know his patrons and sitting down for a drink or two... or three... or four... after all, it's his place, eh?! The Nervat is a place laced with magic. All the tables sport a small flame in a brass bowl, sitting in the middle of the table, and next to it, a small stack of papers and a pen of some sort. All a patron need do is write their order on a slip of the paper, toss it into the happily dancing flame and it burns away. Shortly thereafter, they can expect their order to be brought out to their table by hand, with expedious service.

"The Nervat is constantly growing as Wilkins indeed loves to see his place expand. In constructing The Nervat, he built a bottom floor that anyone would consider large, but not massive by any stretch; but as time went on and he kept building, the Nervat took on a look and presence all his own. Enlisting the assistance of The Sparklers (you hear a giggle coming from another room), the buildings floors expand outward to points where they would most assuredly collapse if it weren't for the help of enchantments placed on the building materials to support the structure. The Nervat is indeed one of the wonders of Ohdd.

"Also there is the "No Way Out Current" that surrounds the city. Folk from outside Ohdd tend to find it rather bemusing when they come that there is, in fact, this large waterway that, in the end, doesn't go anywhere but.... well, around. An inlet from the sea lets water in and it is carried in via a current. The current, however, simply comes in one way and it goes in a large circle, reconnecting at the origin and feeding into itself. The current is rather strong so once on it, a boat would not be able to leave through the inlet. In order to stop ships from entering, a gate was built over the inlet so that boats would not be trapped within the current. Boats have been built in Ohdd, though, and they're used for mass trasportation to other sides of Ohdd, as there are four major docks.

"If one was to look at Ohdd, they would see many things. At night, they would run into small groups of zombies roaming the streets, during the day, large groups of bustling people running hither and thither, going about their days. You would see cobbled streets, houses leaning over the major thoroughfares as if to try to get a really good look at the action. You would see vendors on The Trodden Way, hawking their goods to one and all. You would see performers from large stilt walkers to jugglers, to fire spitters, to sword swallowers. You would find races unique and common, interesting and not. You would see amusing, confusing, interesting and troublesome types all. Ohdd is a place of strageness, wonder and absolute personality. One does not go to Ohdd to find experiences. One comes to Ohdd to experience Ohdd itself."

Welcome =]

~Andrew

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P.S. - I'm currently about to acquire a new computer and as of Thursday, Oct 22nd, I'll be switching over my system. I'll be copying files and whatnot and just settling into it. On top of that, I've got some games I've really been wanting to try and plan on putting some time in to get my inspiration going. Some of the games I plan to try will include Borderlands and Dragon Age: Origins. They look great and like they merit some checking out. I mean, a game that actually says, in their trailer, that The RPG and the FPS just made a baby and that they have 87 bazillion guns has gotta be fun! Dragon Age is from Bioware, who are the makers of just about all the classic D&D video games made to date, including Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 as well as the new Sci-Fi franchise, Mass Effect (whose sequel is coming early next year, if I heard right). I plan on checking these games. Also my birthday is coming up on the 27th, I've been getting about 20 hours a week at work and I've got plans on the weekend to celebrate my birthday, as I work during the week and so does the woman I plan to celebrate with. On top of THAT, the holidays are approaching so I know we'll all be busy and I just want to forwarn everyone that there may be large stretches where an Ohdd game may not be possible. I'll do my best to work something out, I just wanted to give all of you my status. Thanks again, all of you, for your vigilence and support with The D&D Take. It's alive and well and has really been awesome so far. I plan on posting more perspectives and thoughts on the game in general and hopefully we can all find ways to become better gamers! Thanks again!

4 comments:

silent stone said...

On the subject of backstories and characterization:

I love it when a character is more than just a set cryptic words and numbers on a page, and as a player (and also as a DM, but that's another point) I almost always take the time to figure out where my PCs came from and why they're doing what they're doing.

But I've found that the character I plan out ahead of time is never quite as interesting as the ideas I come up with in play. Case in point: my first 4E character, Amarael, female elven cleric*. Originally, I had thought of her as a hypercompetent woman, very direct and efficient and loyal to her deity.

But in gameplay, things slowly changed, and before either of us really knew it, Amarael was a brusque, near-fanatical crank with some pretty extreme views of her deity's commands and a tenuous grasp of reality. She was terribly amusing (or is that amusingly terrible? Either way), especially since she was one of "the good guys," purely Good in intent and never truly Evil in action. My DM thought it utterly bizarre that I could portray an irrational religious zealot so well, especially given that I'm a nontheist.

If there's any point to this story (odds are low, but anyways), then it's that making a backstory and characterization beforehand are a good idea, but letting those two things shift and morph as the campaign progresses is a better idea.

*Funny, back in the day, as I was growing more and more disillusioned with D&D 3.0/3.5, I swore I'd never play an elf, a cleric, or a female. 4E rolls around, and now I'm eating my words. They're not half bad, if you use plenty of ketchup.

Andrew said...

Yeah, I very much agree with you. I'm also going to do another post soon that should help with figuring out your character without the need for a backstory. The way I've been doing it, a backstory has always been, for the most part, mandatory. Now, I'm starting to see that it's not necessary, more that players just need a way to see their character in focus. Too many times I see players who see their characters as the ambiguous, amorphous blobs in their heads that don't have any focus and lack any intrigue. They just come to the table to roll dice. If you wanna do that, just play Yahtzee. Anyways, yeah, that's something that was in my head this morning and I'm totally with you.

Adam said...

Backstories have their place

Having said that, backstories should be brief and open ended. After that, it is the DM's job to pull it all together. If something happens in a game which a player did not envision, then I am sorry, but that player has got to roll with it. The most a DM can know about a character or things about their backstory is the player who wrote the backstory in question.

One of the things which makes DnD awesome is the improv. When stuff happens, both players and DMs gotta roll with it. You dont get on the perverbial forum and QQ your heart out until the game changes. If your backstory vision doesn't exactly playout I am sorry but it doesn't totally matter. It is a baseline to get the game started.

What is with all the gloom in this post? You act like it was the worst session ever done! Far from it believe me, remember Paradigm? Live and learn with each game and keep it rolling, and even more important, keep it positive.

It looks like the way I played Rho threw some people off. Well, like you said when two people play a barely defined character it is bound to change. I'm not going to apologise for how he was played. Roll with it, handle it. When I ran Breath of Life, some players didnt like the characters the other characters had created. My answer was this, "thats too damn bad, it might not be cool to you but to them it is awesome".

Open endedness. Yes, it can get lost and players will lose interest if this is all there is. It is natural for it to be such. If given free time, why would a Rogue and a Paladin hang out in the same place? Create a unique setting like Ohdd, this is great. Then create a story. Remember, Forgotten realms is a campagin SETTING not a campaign. There must be a strong central storyline, and a place for it to take place in. Cloverfield might be a cool place, but unless there is a giant monster blowing it up, no one cares. Open ended-ness is about having different outcomes or "ends" so give us a story which end hasnt been written.

Finally, go easy on yourself man! Running a game can be difficult enough, but then run it online and you got more problems. Cut yourself a break and give yourself some credit, you made a damn nice setting! I am looking forward to the next game.

Andrew said...

=] Adam, thank you for that. I really appreciate it and your kind words. I honestly didn't mean for the post to come off as gloomy but I can see how it would. I meant it to be more as a deep breath and me shaking myself loose of the cobwebs and things obscuring my vision. I would like for some cohesiveness in the party and trying to get it together only to run into snags, on the first day no less, just threw me off.

That said, we now have a plot hook that everyone is invested in. You guys thwarted a would-be assassin who apparently was working for a fella by the name of Montarg, who also, apparently, had a problem with you defending Mervin. (Poor Mervin... lol). Anyways, with what happened, I think that sufficiently gave you all a reason to work together and be a team, and should give more opportunity for... bonding lol. I hope to see more of that. All that said, I'm just sad that the hook had to emerge at the end of the session BUT, emerge it did, and make no mistake, that makes me super happy! =]

Thanks again for being a voice of reason. And I think this is what needed to happen. It was rocky but now that I think of it, it did sort of go like I planned. Can't wait til next game either.

In the meantime, I'm gonna get Borderlands for PC and I'd love to play with you guys. It's games for Windows and apparently it is at it's shining best when playing Co-Op. It's up to 4 players and I think it'd b a blast to play with you guys =]!

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