Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Pacing vs. "Making Progress" in campaign play

Okay, so this weekend I had the pleasure of re-uniting with the scattered members of our extended gaming group for another all-too-rare session of our buddy Steve's game.  The members have become scattered geographically over the years and it is a rare moment when we can all be in the area for a game.  The result is that for this particular game we only meet once or twice a year.  Yes, that's quite a massive lag between sessions.  Luckily for us Steve keeps meticulous game notes so he can give us a detailed recap at the start of each session.  But with so few sessions (and my Shackled City campaign is in the same boat) I pondered the question of pacing.

For me, role play gaming is meant to include plenty of interaction between players and interaction with NPCs outside of combat.  We get clues, learn lore, discover new friends and enemies, make contacts, and discuss plots, plans, and ploys.  But that means that entire sessions can go by without a big battle, travel to a new area, characters leveling up, or other major "events".  That can lead to the impression that we "didn't make any progress" in a session.

But does that even matter?  Yes, RPGs are about enjoying the journey rather than scoring goals.  However it is satisfying to clean out that dungeon, take down the big boss, finish that epic caravan trip, etc.  But if you want each session to include "making progress" then you are forced to trim it back to just the dungeon runs and major battles.  It then devolves into almost a miniatures wargame with character sheets.

My current game is using a published adventure path which was designed as mostly a series of set-piece major encounters anyway.  Thus I have not had to consciously decide between "roleplay" and "progress".  I have actually been fleshing it out on the fly but it's still mostly "dungeons" with travel and meetings in between to provide context.  I have, however, decided to review the upcoming chapters of the adventure with an eye to eliminating or shortening some so that we can play through to a satisfying finish in under ten years.

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