Friday, August 26, 2011

The Difference Between Planning and Random Generation

As usual, I was going to write a post, and then I saw somebody who wrote on a similar topic with greater precision than I could likely muster.  Go ahead and read this post on Monsters and Manuals, then come back.

If you ignored the post, noisms basically suggests that random generators help with story planning.

And that's true.  I recently made a dungeon using the tools from Dungeons & Dragons (the white box or brown box or 1974 edition or...whatever), along with some dungeon help from donjon.  I found it to be Zen, but not the typical Zen of RPG prep I've found in the past.

Typically, campaign planning is a little like writing a novel, but a lot more like acting.  After setting up the initial situation, everything is typically sandbox, so preparation is just me either brainstorming a new element, or someone's reaction.  New elements are either to break the monotony, take into account something that just makes sense, or simply because it's a neat element the players might like and it fits the game somehow.  Reactions are more typical, something along the lines of "last week, the PCs killed one of Charles Odderstol's lieutenants, so this week, one of the others is going to make a preemptive strike."  It's more a game of strategy and escalation, where the rising action happens naturally as the PCs try to complete their goals.  New elements get added, but they build on existing elements; the brute squad with the surviving lieutenant isn't quite "new;" sure, these are characters the PCs have never met, but you knew this guy had some serious hardcases with him, so you could infer the existence of a bunch of occult weirdoes ready to live and die at his command.

Random generation is Zen, but a different kind of Zen.  Rather than getting into a mode where you brainstorm and ideas flow through you, random generation requires that in smaller steps.  I altered the random encounter tables in Underworld & Wilderness Adventures to make the dungeon more internally consistent, which is a form of reaction to the concept I had for the dungeon.  As I roll for random elements, that sparks ideas for other bits of the dungeon — since this treasure is behind a secret door, it has to be there for a reason; since this monster is here, it's probably guarding this thing; since the dungeon has this layout, it says this about the creators.  Stuff like that.

As with many of my recent forays into the Old School Renaissance, I've found I liked it.  It's no better or worse than my typical gaming style, just different.  But it suggests a different play experience than normal.

Anyway, I'd like to run my 1974-era D&D scenario for ConstantCon, but it sounds like I'll get to playtest it this weekend.  Stay tuned for results.

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