Guest Post by +Travis Ellis
When I started blogging three years ago, it didn’t take long for +Douglas Cole to comment that the games I was running had plots that could be ripped from television shows or movies. I run games that are very plot heavy. My games that focus more on why you do something and the effects that you hope those actions will have, over the actual actions of doing something.
To put it another way, my players can usually set any short-term goal they want and succeed. Killing someone, stealing a shipment of booze, stealing a shipment of cocaine heading through mexico, assassinating four targets in a simultaneous strike across Dallas, that’s all simple, easy-peazy.
The hard part is choosing the right actions. Recently +Mavrick Fitzgerald (a player in my Agency 17 and Prohibition Mob campaigns, as well as Christopher R Rice’s Aeon C-Team campaign) tried to incite two rival gangs to attack one another in Prohibition Mob.
He approached one of the gang leaders, George, and used some social engineering to get him to agree to attack. Later things fell through, hard, when one of George’s advisors heard about what was going on, and proposed that backstabbing my players was a better course of action.
My players succeeded in the short term, crushing numerous skill checks against Diplomacy, Savoir-Faire and Fast-talk, but it wasn’t enough. The foresight and paranoia to send the team skulk after George to keep tabs on him during a politically tenuous time wasn’t there, and it allowed George to maneuver my players into one hell of a bad spot.
The players never had a chance to counteract George’s next move, and it caught them completely by surprise. Crushing the skill checks didn’t make up for the deficiency in planning for the larger picture. It’s that larger picture that often prevents me from running Dungeon Fantasy, because the dungeon is the larger picture, and that’s a shift of thinking that I have a great deal of trouble with.
New York City is kind of analogous to a dungeon in a few ways. There’s treasure to be gained, and treacherous denizens who’d like to send you to the morgue, but that’s about where the similarities end.
In a dungeon, the terrain and layout are integral parts of the challenges that face players, and those challenges are usually entirely short-term. Once a ladder has been cobbled together from twigs and hardening troll spit, it’s there. Later you might have rope or a new member of the party with the right climbing skill levels to trivialize the challenge, assuming that the ladder has disappeared or broke since you were last there.
Sure, overcoming successive short-term physical barriers can open up new parts of the dungeon, or make traversing in the future more simple, which is progression…
But it’s just not the same as meeting a Cuban criminal at a wedding in Boston, flying down to establish a trade route deal, and getting caught in a family spat. The obstacles, the difference between physical and social/monetary barriers to success, they require entirely different approaches and thought beyond just rolling dice.
Dungeon Fantasy, as a GURPS supplement, expects little in the way of vision or planning for future outcomes. It’s designed to drop a bunch of murder hobos into a cave where they can loot, murder, pillage, and overcome obstacles as a team. Excellent GMs will treat the dungeon as a larger picture, but that takes careful consideration and planning on their part to not weld on elements that don’t belong.
Town politics? NOPE.
Starting a Business in Town? NOPE, GET IN THE DUNGEON AND FIGHT SOME FUNGI.
My Mob game and any Dungeon Fantasy game have very similar goals when looking at the longest time frame: Get Rich. Get More Powerful. Don’t Die.
That said, the means and methods to getting more powerful, more money, and survival are completely and wildly different. And as a GM too addicted to watching my players puzzle out how they should apply their talents and skills, fretting over how best to set short-term goals in favor of the long-term progression, I just can’t run Dungeon Fantasy the way it’s meant to be played.
Because you simply kick down the door, kill what’s inside, and the only question is if the loot it had was worth the effort, because the path to glory and riches is just a few bloody combats away.
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I think your viewpoint is a bit off. Dungeon Fantasy is less interactive to be sure, but that doesn't mean it can't be engaging. Sure the hero might be two dimensional, but that isn't necessarily bad. Fast Talk, diplomacy, and other skills still come into play. This means interaction is still a thing, if it's not a focus. All the things you describe just beg to be manipulated by the GM for story purposes.
Yes, one can create a ladder into the treasure chamber, but the group of adventurers who also want the treasure find they have no problem climbing down because you did all the work. You solve all the puzzles, but they just have to follow the corpses you leave in your wake destroying monsters. You turn around to realize they know more about you than you know about them because you were in town looking for supplies, swords and other things. Now the battle just got deep because you are fighting rival treasure hunters.
Dungeon Fantasy doesn't mean "Only Dungeon". It just means "Straight to the point". People can negotiate trade deals, but maybe they'd rather jump the drug lord and beat him into the deal they want. Dungeon Fantasy allows that. Sometimes intricate plots with a thousand things for players to do doesn't mean more enjoyment. Sometimes the fun is just picking between two choices…
Do I take the prize or what's in the box? SUSPENSE IS KILLING ME!
Often as GMs we enjoy trying to build giant layers of plots and rabbit holes, but sometimes players just want things simple because playing once a week makes them forget how important a feature was.
What's funny is that this:
"my players puzzle out how they should apply their talents and skills, fretting over how best to set short-term goals in favor of the long-term progression"
describes very accurately what play is like in my dungeon-only, no-politics, no-quest, town-is-abtract by-the-book DF game.
You should write a (guest?) post detailing HOW you make that happen in your campaign.
I kind of have, in previous posts:
I put forth Problems not solutions.
I hand out actionable rumors.
And I play in a limited sandbox, which forces you to consider both short-term and long-term.
That is pretty much it – a limited sandbox, with repeated delves to the same areas, actionable rumors, and problems the PCs need to solve that don't come with pre-decided solutions. Those things drive the players to, as you said, "puzzle out how they should apply their talents and skills, fretting over how best to set short-term goals in favor of the long-term progression."