Listening to: Devil’s Harp – Jan van Dyck (Medieval II: Total War OST)
Recently, I resumed the running of a campaign of Dungeons & Dragons that had been on hiatus for the better part of a year. The initial session of the campaign, involving the party rescuing a company of soldiers from a besieged fort, went off (mostly) without a hitch. Most of the session went as expected: the ranger employed his eagle companion to scout, the rogue scouted out the enemy camps using his ring of invisibility, and the wu jen tried to impress upon the blood magus the importance of cleanliness. Other things were more of a surprise: the party pooled their skills to poison a full camp of enemy soldiers, and decided to adopt what I had originally intended as one-off NPCs as full-fledged support staff for their party.
I spent a good portion of the weekend drawing up character sheets for said NPCs, crafting a series of characters that would accompany our party–fleshing out their personalities as well as their statistics, gear, and specializations. Knowing that my party wanted to bring along a few dozen soldiers significantly altered my long term campaign plans, but it also gave me a plethora of new ideas for other situations that they could get into. Running even a single session filled me with creative energy, energy that will be enough to spark a positive feedback cycle of increased creativity. (I apologize for using scientific terms, but they seemed appropriate.)
My favorite part of tabletop games, and others like them, is not the gameplay, but rather the excitement of banding together with a group of like-minded people and collectively telling a story. Every action that each participant takes has the potential to have a major effect on the storyline. A character who loses his or her temper at the wrong time can destroy other party members’ attempts at diplomatic relations. On the other hand, a significantly silver-tongued player can deftly dismantle combat situations, profiting the entire party without having to lift a finger. Every choice that the players make has the potential to be fantastic, and the choices they make are limited only by their imaginations.
As a child, I was always interested in writing stories of my own, or shaping existing stories to fit what I thought they should be. I was never fond of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, though: I found them too narrow, too restrictive, and very often telling stories that I didn’t actually want to hear. “I grabbed the sword because I wanted to go kill the dragon that killed me in the other story path, not because I wanted to become king!” (Or similar complaint.)
It’s for that reason that I was so intrigued by the release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor late last year. On the surface, it’s a fairly straightforward plot: you’re a ranger, you have a wraith buddy, and you fight
crime orcs. When you get down to gameplay, though, the story is a lot deeper than it seems. The “Nemesis” system, which uses procedural generation to create unique captains, each with their own personality traits and names. As each one of them gains more power, they become more formidable combatants and gain more followers.
The real story of the game, then, is not about the player, but about their enemies. If you’re not thorough enough in finishing them off, they can survive your assassination attempts and come back more powerful than ever. My friend told me about one particular captain who survived no less than eight attempts to kill him, becoming more and more powerful. The most interesting thing about this plot, to me, was that it was completely incidental. No two stories were exactly the same, just like no two D&D campaigns are exactly the same.
That’s all for now! Once I’m more securely settled in at college, posts will resume on a more regular basis. Signing off, until next week!