About Me

Saturday, July 27, 2013


I run a paper and pencil game. The game, and the tactical play that goes with it, should be taking place in the mind, not on a table with the miniature play with the facing rules and base size and square count. You do not need miniatures, or the WoTC version of D&D to show the players caught out in the open field and forcing to form a shield wall to receive a charge of the goblin wolf-riders bearing lances (a shorter goblin version doing 1d6+2 damage). The impact scores two critical hits for goblins and one character is dead, and the other takes massive damage, with the point of the goblin lance bypassing the shield, penetrating the chain mail, and breaking off inside the fighter's shoulder, just below the collar bone, ripping the neck and chest area. That player character is unconscious, seconds away from bleeding out and death. Two remaining characters are engaged in melee with the two riders, while the third one, a cleric swinging his mace at one of them, he fumbles and slips in the pool of blood at his feet and falls down on his hands and knees. His hands slick with blood, he fumbles for his mace, then sees the two of his friends. He tries to help one, but he is dead... tries to help the other, life is still pulsing in her... then just as he starts casting the healing spell, he sees another rider galloping towards him, lance extended towards him...

This really happened in my game. It used a critical hit system, but no hit location table. I run a narrative-based game. Narrativism in role-playing is not railroading by the DM, or running the players along the storyline or a pre-determined script, even s script with decision points along the way. Narrativism means that we use storytelling and the game takes place in the mind of the players, not on a table top cluttered with miniatures and a 3D representation of the dungeon. Narrativism does not mean improvisational play by the DM. It is not Narrativism, when the DM assumes the role of a powerful NPC, who has just captured the players, and starts an unscripted segment of the game, negotiating with players, who try to bluff their way out, and eventually releasing them with another quest to fulfill. I might add, that the army of the undead that captured the players in that instant was unscripted, and unannounced as well. What makes D&D a game, as opposed to mere storytelling with the audience participation, is that is a system of game mechanics, for realistically resolving and adjudicating situations that come up in the course of the game, and that there is a discoverable background of the world, on which the DM bases his story-telling. In order for the game to be fair, or winnable by the players, everything that happens to them as a result of their actions, should already have been considered and touched on by the DM. This doesn't mean that everything has to be written down in detail, but the all of the major aspects of the game world touching the players should have been at least outlined by the DM. An army of the undead does not come from nowhere, and once these undead are destroyed, there will not me another army to take their place. This is nor Diablo video game and there is no monster generators. There may be replacements, but if the players disrupt that, there will be no more undead and no more army of the undead.

Players, on the other hand, are free to improvise. They can't fly away on a pair of Icarus' Wings, if they don't have them, but they can try to get those wings. A good DM in a good sandbox campaign will turn those attempts by the players into roe-playing encounters, travel and exploration by the players, as they research to see of these wings exist, and then to find and secure these wings. It is this kind of play that creates adventuring possibilities without signposting or trails of crumbs, generating a genuine sandbox game.


  1. @ Brooser Bear,

    So, you use NPCs or research, to avoid the 'trail of crumbs' routine, leading PCs to where the adventure/mystery is? That sounds viable to me.

    It probably doesn't help much with meaningful choices to avoid huge big bad monsters in a dungeon, though. Unless you bring your own NPC, like Gollum, who knows all the ways to take. In which case, it becomes a railroad. So, that can't be what you have in mind.

  2. I use NPC's as one source of the information. There are other sources, mirroring the real world. Big Bad Monsters are still in the dungeons, and some dungeons have nothing but death, such as a section I had infested with Tiger beetle larvae. Players can literally go in there, and get killed for nothing. There are no clues telling them to go there, and I guess No Reason for going there is the only clue the players have that there is nothing there, except a realistic dungeon ecology. Not sure if this answers your question.