Monday, October 29, 2012

Too Many Options

The difficulty for me with wide open worlds is that you can go anywhere with them.  That's also the benefit of them.  In any sort of objective-based game where the Storyteller seeds the world with missions or otherwise uses a guiding hand this can be quite tricky (at least for me) because I find it easier to be creative around constraints.  What should I run next session?  Well, it could be anything really.  It's the ultimate blank page.  This is utterly true of my Dystopic Campaign as I can have totalitarian countries beside cyberpunk beside Fallout-style beside zombie apocalypses beside communist regimes beside magocracies and thus this is both a genre-trotting and globe-trotting campaign.  True, my signature style will infuse it and provide the consistency it needs (hopefully) but where to begin?  What to do?

True sandboxes get around this by putting the onus on the players.  I create a world and you saunter around it and either deal with what you see or don't deal with it.  I could provide that for the Dystopic characters but that wouldn't give them much motive to stick together as their wide range of hosts with their differing expertise and cultural backgrounds ensures that each have their areas to shine ... and also that they don't have a lot in common.

Sure, they share a lot of BIG values like compassion, courage and loyalty but in a huge sandbox world those values can actually clash.  There's too many things to feel compassionate about.  Too many organisations to feel loyal to.  So if I began it as a pure sandbox than they would only stick together out of Player Fiat and acknowledgement of the Game Contract (if you leave the party you leave the game) and that's not very satisfying either.

All right, so to be honest it began pretty sandboxy with them going for a spin in a dropship, saving some ghosts (they thought was a family) from zombies and then heading out to see if a kid someone saw in a dream was alive or dead.  That was pretty cool but, to be honest, they were sort of bound by their word (and fear of repercussions) to the Prometheus Faction who raised them from the Abyss with a job offer and the rather paltry demand that they remain for three days to 'think about it'.  Remove that constraint (which will happen soon) and things will get pretty problematic.

So they need missions to keep them together and help forge them as a team.

Okay, but what sort of missions?  Personal Faction missions?  None of the characters are that tightly tied to their factions (which makes sense given the game's premise involves a super-faction).  Personal Organisation missions?  That could work (and will come up) but most of them have pretty broad organisational needs. 

We have:

Tokyo: Augmentation Company called Kurosawa Bio-Connects.  So we're looking at industrial espionage and counter-espionage, internal security, foreign agents, augmented thugs, and pretty much any plot you might see on Deus Ex.

London: The British Authority including the SWAT team he worked with and the Special Forces Primary Units (werewolves) that are a leading plot in the area.  How long can a party spend solving crimes, dealing with spirits (mostly werewolf purview but as demons they might gain special policing powers), and coping with the totalitarian regime, dissidents, and foreign agents.

Miami: An occult private investigator with connections to vampires and Santeria who roams a future-tech city (still somewhat cyberpunk as there's more of sunshine, beaches, and hi-tech communications than darkness and industrial decay) and solves the usual sorts of client dilemmas (is my ghoul cheating on me?  has this spirit stopped riding my sister?) while occasionally locating and stealing rare books for his clients.

Leningrad: The mysterious order of assassins who have been trying to influence the Russian government and take out tyrannous elements but whom he lost contact with when he slipped into a brain dead state in 2026 (its 2052).  Simply finding them would be a task in and of itself.  The section of Russia he's interested in has influences from Dishonoured.

Nomad 6: Fallout-style American outback with radioactive sink holes, strange monsters (where did they come from?  radiation doesn't do that), zombie menaces, and all the hazards of basically being a long-range supply carrier between western and eastern America.

Each one of their backgrounds could provide enough fodder for an entire campaign and if I sandbox it there's a good chance that they'll be forever chasing threads here and there that there'll never be a satisfying moment to switch to another person's 'campaign'.

So how do we tie all this together?

Enter two comments made innocuously by Miami:

Miami's Player: "Will my specialties be useful this campaign?"  One specialty involves book authentication and other about larceny to do with stealing books.

Miami (in response to a 'What can you do?' question by Nice): "I'm good at tracking down and stealing rare books."

And, of course, as I've been reading about Bookhounds of London in the Ephemera blog it all clicked together.

I could make them akin to the Bookhounds but with a more diverse range of possible prizes: books, memory cards, floorplans and blueprints.  This allows me to generate missions through which they can explore each of their campaign arcs and come back to the primary one.  It also allows them to be involved with their old organisation (or in Leningrad's case, a chance to track them down) while providing a home base and a sense of identity to them.  It also gives them an 'in' to the greater Fallen world without being sucked into it.

There's information that would interest each one of them.  Book collections hidden in library vaults in western America for Nomad 6 where he can also drop off or sell / pick up supplies as in his usual runs.  Accounting data and blueprints from augmentation companies for Tokyo.  Defence plans of Britain (stealing them back) or occult texts hidden in the UK (for London).  Anything on terrorists, dissidents, and hidden assassin orders in Russia or the tyrannous governments that suppress them for Leningrad.  Rare books, in general, and anything spirit-based for Miami.

They all have motive.  They can all globe trot after this information.  It provides identity and a consistent theme.

In short, I've finally found my constraint that will make adventure generation so much easier.

Have you ever had a similar problem?


  1. Damned fine read. If you spotted my article last Monday, you'll know I have a few similar problems with open world style gaming where I actually need to keep it on track to some extent. I can myself nabbing some ideas form here...