Monday, July 15, 2013

The Importance of The Journey

I love gaming, and I love the fantasy genre of movies/novels. One of the large consistencies I see in fantasy works (especially Tolkien, who is undoubtedly the grand-father of fantasy gaming) is the importance of the journey.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are both primarily stories about a journey. In the former, Bilbo and the company of dwarves take a journey to The Lonely Mountain with the goal of defeating the dragon at the end. The Lord of the Rings is a three book tale profiling a number of journeys, mainly that of the ring back to Mordor, but also the internal journeys of a number of characters (most notably Aragorn's internal journey to his destiny as King).

As a GM, the thing I've struggled with the most is making the journey a key part of the tale. In the first campaign my gaming group ever played together, we essentially handwaved months of travel for the sake of time, just because we wanted to flesh out this world we had created (there's probably a whole other series of posts that I could write based on the world-creation).

But my point is this, if the 4 hobbits hadn't stopped at weathertop, and it hadn't been included in the journey, would the story have lost a bit of its poignancy?

We watch Sam and Frodo's journey with such anticipation, partially because we can see the profound impact that they journey itself is having on them.

I've struggled with making the journey feel epic because I thing I fall into one of two traps.

First, the journey become too epic. I played through the first two books of Jade Regent from Paizo publishing and felt like the whole thing was too bogged down in the journey. It just... took forever and felt like we weren't making any progress along the way! We could really make sure that we track the days/nights, set up watches for each night and roll perception checks each night while on watch. But, after then tenth night of "you all sleep well because nothing happened," it gets pretty mundane!

On the flip side of that, if you handwave the nights when nothing is going to happen, and only concern yourself with the nights that the bandits try to rob the camp, all the sudden your PCs think they sleep in their full plate armor and the magic users have scrolls and spell components in hand while they sleep.

The other trap I already mentioned, we just assume that over a few months the party gets from point A to point B. They gain no XP along the way, we just pick the story back up once they get to the place you want them. This is completely against everything I'm trying to accomplish in a game and therefore I try to avoid doing anything of the sort. I believe that the journey itself does shape the characters. Their destiny is forged in the difficult journeys.

My final problem with journey-based storytelling is that I feel like they severely railroad the players. We know they are supposed to get from Point A to Point B, and I can even plan 3-4 things along the way. This is literally the railroad we try to avoid when planning out games.

So, what do you do when thinking of the journey? How do you tell the epic tale of characters getting to their destination to kill the dragon, destroy the ring, and/or find the treasure?


Post a Comment