Game Design: Dungeons, Dragons & Venue

By 16/02/2017 Game Design

Now listening to: “Greatest Hits”, by Gypsy Kings

Strong Underground Prison Cells & Flying Lizards

So D&D starts too late.

There, I said it. D&D starts too late, and I think it’s a huge problem that makes many things suck for everyone else involved later on. D&D starts too late because, by the time players take control of their characters, the ball’s already been rolling for a good couple of feet.

There’s no “characters living their ordinary lives” scene. There’s no “call to adventure” scene. The characters are, starting right at level 1 and as stated in the Player’s Handbook itself, already beings with a destiny and a cut above everyone else.

And this sucks. It sucks because it removes the gravitas of an adventurer. There’s a reason all “Final Fantasy” games, no matter how bad, start with a tragedy. There’s a reason Wolf Team’s excellent “Tales of Phantasia” makes you dick around a forest with your best friend before launching you into high adventure. A good adventure story needs this sort of warm up.

And D&D, whatever else it may be, is at its core a collaborative adventure storytelling game.

I’ll cut to the chase. Taking a┬ánote from an excellent post at /r/dndbehindthescreen, I’ve been thinking of starting future D&D adventures from level 0. What do I mean? You don’t get your fighter, or your ranger, or your wizard. You don’t get your adventurer already having experienced his “ordinary lives” and “call to adventure” scene.

You get a commoner, with maybe a pitchfork, and I’ll pit you and everyone else against a goddamn pack of wolves attacking your village. Or whatever. I’ll give you something to truly worry about, and little to no means of defending yourself. And we’ll see how destined for greatness you really are.

You survive? Good. Now you get to pick a class that’ll firmly place you above the rest of the typical inhabitants of the world. You earned those special powers and abilities. You didn’t just get whacked over the head with the Special Hammer.

We’ll see how that goes.

Venue

So the essential experience of a game should be embedded as much as possible and in as many ways as possible in the game for it to be effective. And given that at least part of the essential experience of a game is affected by the venue one chooses for the game to take place in, it’s important to choose the venue wisely.

This is not the internal venue, but the external venue. You’ve got your Hearth, where TVs and consoles thrive. You’ve got your Workbench, where PCs and intense hours of play take place. And you’ve also got your Reading Nooks (ideal iPad fodder), your Public Venues (Disney ahoy!), the Theater (LARPing), the Arena (hello eSports!), the Museum, the Gaming Table, the Playground and… well, Anywhere really.

My horror game? I think I’d like to choose the Gaming Table. The gaming table is where the players take on the role of gods of the toy world. Not literal gods, mind you. More like observers from above. The Gaming Table is all about intensity. It’s a limited number of players. It’s physical presence.

I think the Gaming Table is a good match for a party who at times hunts and at times is hunted. It brings out the intimacy of the subject matter (treason and tension). It’s where the heated debates can happen best.

I am, however, concerned about the compatibility between the Gaming Table and a horror experience. Kingdom Death: Monster styles itself as a horror game. I do wonder, though, how effective it really is in eliciting that kind of reaction in its players.

And if we’re talking about essential elements, about the tropes and signifiers of a genre, horror usually has a hard time getting its conventions right consistently. So it’s probably best to begin with a venue that’s as compatible as possible with the genre. If the Gaming Table doesn’t work, it must just end up being a solo experience for the Reading Nook or the Workbench.

#3 Venue

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