Saturday, April 21, 2012

J is for Journey

As I mentioned in my post for D, "when I told one of my current players about running an old-school game using Labyrinth Lord, he said it would be cool to do some dungeon crawling again. And I found myself assuring him that it would be more than just about dungeon crawling. There's another OSR sacred cow that I want to send to the butcher: that the focus of a Classic D&D campaign needs to be on dungeons."
I think that, no matter what system you use, the journey can be just as thrilling as the location. A lot of old-school gaming is site-based. There's the dungeon, of course, but it could also be a castle, a city or town, ruins, etc. But it doesn't have to be that way all the time, IMHO. The most basic sort of roleplaying journey is the quest (for a magical artifact, to save a nobleman or woman from bandits, etc.), of course. But not all RPG journeys need be quests. What about traveling between two cities just because they players want to get out of their usual town for a bit? What about the trip to that infamous dungeon or haunted castle? When I think about the journey to such places, I feel the need to at least give some chance of an encounter or a "side quest" or plot development to occur. Not all the time, mind you. There are times when I do the old "time passes, your journey is uneventful, you enjoy a leisurely hike through the mountains, and arrive at your destination" bit. But to "hand wave" every trip across country in order to just get to a place? BORING!

And hell, there are so many cool random event tables out there to use!

I know that I've read some OSR bloggers who outright refuse to leave a city in which they have set their game, for example. That sort of sounds like a dreaded railroad to me. I mean, if the players want to leave the city, aren't you obliged to allow them that ability, in the name of the much-vaunted "player agency"? There's nothing saying that you have to make the experience a  pleasant one. I guess I'm talking about giving them disincentives rather than forbidding them outright. I don't care if players have agency out the wazoo when it comes to that city they are in. If they can't leave the place just because the GM says they can't, that's a big old railroad track that encircles the place.

Perhaps this reluctance to let players sally forth into the wild stems from the common OSR boogeyman of not developing a significant portion of a campaign world before a campaign or particular session starts. As a busy adult, I can sympathize with regard to not having a lot of time to develop world details. But there has to be a balance. You have to put in some work on defining that world, both for the players to get a feeling of a somewhat-living world, and for you (the GM) to hang plot hooks or create on-the-fly situations. Even if that work is a couple sentences for a specific bunch of hexes on a map. 

Anyway, I would love to hear from you out there! What place does the journey have in your campaigns?

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