Saturday, 17 September 2016

Idea for a collaborative sandbox type adventure, feedback wanted

So I have an idea for a game. It's based on the games of 3rd ed I've most enjoyed, where each player is only bringing a handful of figures. My idea is sort of a collaborative sandbox type game, but I'm trying to figure how you'd work it so it wouldn't be a total mess. I thought I'd put the idea out here and see what people think...

The setting would be your standard fantasy adventure village, you know, something like this (from John Higgins' Grailquest gamebook The Den of Dragons):


Or if we were thinkingmore exotic, something like this (from Titan):



Each player would be tasked with bringing two things to the game:

1) A character and a retinue. Probably no more than a level 10 character (just to give him the extra wound for stickaroundability) and a couple of henchmen. Standard issue adventurers looking for a job. Or blackguards running from a fight. Or pilgrims on their way somewhere and requiring shelter and rest. Or whatever.

2) An NPC encounter. A market trader with something to hide. A comely barmaid who asks the adventurer to do them just a teeny tiny favour and they'd be forever grateful. A shack that looks abandoned, but in fact... Well you get the idea.

So in effect, the village that we set up on the table is divided up so that each of the people playing has designed something interesting that will happen at a particular location in the village (and maybe the encounter in one place will lead to the characters having to head off somewhere else, thus stumbling into the path of the other PCs). The characters all converge on the village, and based on the motivations, explore - perhaps a pious pilgrim will want to visit the chapel first to give thanks. Some may be in need of supplies and head to the shop. The thirsty will head to the tavern. When the characters get to the location of a particular NPC encounter, the person who designed it takes the role of GMing that particular interaction - bringing out the guarddogs if the shopkeeper feels threatened, for example... or controlling the barmaid's jealous half-orc boyfriend... or, hang on, I'm wasting too many good ideas already.

Does that make any sense? Would it work?

None of us would know what the other players had planned in terms of NPC encounters, so ALMOST all of the village would be a total mystery for each player, except of course for the one encounter they had designed (and one would presume they'd have the grace not to take their PCs to the NPC encounter they themselves had designed. Unless they had a serious case of split personality disorder.). What would be interesting is to see what stories (if any...) would organically develop as the characters explored the mysterious village and the different NPC encounters were 'triggered'. My primary concern is the mechanics of turn taking with all of these different things going on, for which reason there's probably a perfect number of players which is large enough to make for an village filled with intrigue and curiosity, but small enough not to be unwieldy and lead to people waiting around scratching their arse while other people resolve an encounter that they're not part of.

This is sort of inspired by the spooky Shadows of Rensburg game Bane GMed at Bring Out Your Lead 2014 and which I greatly enjoyed:


And by jointly GMing Gnomophobia with Steve Beales:


But comes from a desire for wanting to try something a bit more collaborative and experimental where we all have a stake in the mystery and no single person knows quite how the story might develop. Is the idea workable? Thoughts? Refinements?

12 comments:

  1. A great idea! I think it would benefit from there being an overall story arc to follow, like "the Orcs are coming, get out of town!" or "Who is behind the mysterious disappearances at night?", just to give some direction to everyone's narrative.

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    1. Now that's a very good suggestion! I agree, that would help with things coming together, although I would say it would be important to keep the arc very general (exactly in the manner of the two backgrounds you you've just suggested) otherwise people may feel a bit too constrained in what they design and the element of mystery would be sacrificed.

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  2. It certainly sounds intriguing. The turn issue shouldn't really be a problem. You could use a card based system or priority rolls to see who would go next, the encounter is played out then you move on to the next person. The only issue I can see is how you connect each of the encounters into an overall arc without the players knowing what the arc is. Maybe a deck of clues could be created by a central GM or a non-player that all connect into the plot and each player picks one at random that they can build into their own encounter without knowing how it connects to the whole.

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    1. That's really helpful. Priority rolls worked well in our Combat of the Thirty game and I've tried them since in multiplayer games and I definitely think they're the way forward.

      I get what you mean about a story arc, I suppose part of my guiding question is "does a single GM have to be in charge of the story? Can a story arise organically out of the different pieces people bring to the table?" But I recognise that's a risk. Having some element that helps bring things together is ideal, but how to do that without "railroading" people, I guess?

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    2. I suppose you want the story to develop organically based on the ideas folk bring to the party? That's fair enough, I think the best bet would for you to give a guiding 'scale' for the first game ie, no daemons or super heroes or whatever you think would 'break' the game. Then allow people to develop their own objectives after the first game based on the stuff they found out. You'll need to be crafty with follow up games if you want to keep them on the same board. You'll still have to centralise stories in some way.

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  3. I ran another scenario based game at this year's Boyl (I'm "bane") and used random turns to keep everyone on their toes. I'd like to use he leader's initiative in a future game. I also love an NPC and was thinking along the same lines, in terms to players ringing their own to the game, with objective. I like thhe idea of the role of GM switching between the players too. Lots to ponder.. Here's a link to the scenario I player last time whic was just as fun as the Shadows over Rensburg one:
    http://thelostandtheverydamned.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/boyl-2016-storming-of-perlsea-fort.html?m=1

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    1. First off, can I just say how much I enjoyed that game! I'll read your Storming of Perlsea Fort report now, looks amazing. And I agree, random turns definitely are the way forward. Initiative would be worth a try, it certainly makes sense "in character", although I think the predictability of it could affect gameplay. Perhaps random rolls with initiative modifiers as best of both worlds, or is that too complicated?

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  4. Would suggest that you divide the campaign area (the village for instance) to specific zones and then give each zone to a participant. This way they get more control on their own thing and the scenarios aren't in conflict. After 1st round of games you can then redistribute the zones so that each player gets to continue the story of another player's zone. If there's a metaplot, even if its very generic, you should be careful how you construct it, because the participants might make scenarios, which take the metaplot in different direction in unrealistic ways. Maybe you, as the "head GM" could dictate after each "round of games" how the metaplot continues in such a way that it ties the individual scenarios into itself?

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    1. I think the zoning idea is well worth considering. I see your point about metaplot (cool term by the way) - as my desire is to experiment with a collaborative storytelling experience, if there was an overarching plot I'd want to keep it a very light touch. Something that gets people thinking in a similar direction, but isn't so concrete that it railroads them. If you have the right players and they're all on board with the idea, my hope is that they should make connections themselves in the course of play to build up a story. However, I may be being too idealistic.

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    2. If you have the right people, I would not think, you are too idealistic. I have great experiences from co-operative story telling. For example there's an rpg called Shab Al Hiri Roach, which just gives you a framework and the story is created co-operatively. Its really surprising how cool those stories are, when they are created by a group instead of a single person. Also when everyone has power over the story, peeps tend to invest more effort to the game, making the whole thing better.

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