Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

D&D Excellencies

D&D has been much on my mind today (particularly because of Monica's recent entry about the game. But I've been complaining a lot about my challenges--even I am tired of hearing myself complain. So instead, I'll take an entry to talk about some of the things that I've done right with my game:

- I've had a very dynamic setting. In this campaign, dungeons are popping up all the time, because the Land itself is diseased and its festering wounds are dungeons. This goes a long way to explaining how there are nasty monsters in dungeons with little food, and why there are dangerous monsters near population centers. The fact that the setting is extremely unstable allows a variety of unstable conditions to exist. It also allows the PCs much more impact on the game, because they may be guiding an avalanche.

- I have limited the setting a lot. D&D comes with a huge variety of 'stuff', and there is a great temptation to use it all. But I think I've made a better story by leaving things out to a more manageable, narrower scope. Some of the things I've left out:
Races: Dwarves exist in the campaign world, but haven't been encountered yet. Gnome communities haven't been explored. Elves and half-elves are rare, and therefore more special than in stock D&D.
Classes: Barbarians have rarely been encountered. Paladins are being treated like a prestige class. Monks are very rare and exotic. Even sorcerers are pretty rare.
Deities and alignment: Pelor has made a significant showing, and Kord, Ehlonna, and Gruumsh have made cameos. But this is not particularly a story about gods, and I plan not to have any onscreen appearances of deities. The fact that none of the PCs had alignment-based powers until recently let me sweep many of D&D's alignment assumptions under the rug; I even modified Larissa's paladin ability to detect evil so that it wouldn't trigger for normal thieves and murderers.
Monstrous humanoids: Goblins and gnolls haven't appeared. Nor have lizard-men, sahuagin, or kuo-toa. There's been one orc and one half-orc--and in retrospect, I regret those.
Planes and outsiders: There's been one trip to the Ethereal plane, but mostly I've tried to leave out alternate planes and their inhabitants. Occasionally I use a monster that's given the outsider type in the Monster Manual, but I'll change the type to aberration or magical beast instead.
Dragons: Despite a heavy campaign focus on dragons and dragon-like things, I have not had a lot of dragons in the game. I've discarded all the color-coding of dragons. In my game, there is only one true dragon--and that makes him much more impressive.

- I've had a set of themes to improvise upon. Even at the very beginning, I had this central concept of the land being shaped like the dragon, and the dragon being sick. And I built on this; just about everything in the campaign has had some tie to these two themes of 'dragon' and 'disease'. (Even in the very first adventures. If I had those adventures to do over again, I might do them rather differently, but I'm very satisfied with the way they started the story.) This has had the same sort of effect as the narrowing of scope I mentioned above; I believe the campaign has been much more unified and focused as a story because of these recurring themes.

In contrast, the travels of the party have been very picaresque; they've only returned to places very rarely. Another way to narrow the scope of a campaign would be to have it happen in a smaller location, such as a single city--but that would not so easily have had the epic sweep that I've tried for with this game. On the other hand, the dragon theme of the of the geography has, I think, made the geography more graspable; it's easier to keep a mental map when it's an anatomical figure. (Bruce Baugh has pointed out that an overlooked part of rolegaming is the chance to be a tourist in an unusual world, and I like to think that I've been a pretty interesting tour guide.)

There are other good things I've done that aren't quite as distinctive:
- I've created some nifty NPCs, some of whom have become recurring characters.
- Despite my moaning, I have managed to create some interesting fight scenes.
- I've created some nifty props. Some of the journals I've written have been pretty nifty IMHO, and I'm currently listening to the tape of my cousin Adam performing the song that Seamus sang IC.
- I've been fairly light on the railroading. (A more distinctive thing I've done: when I do want to railroad my players, I'm pretty upfront with them about it. I think they enjoy it more that way.)
- I've staunchly avoided letting NPCs steal the show from the PCs. If anything, I've not given NPCs enough of a role.
- I think I've generally been very supportive of the players and the PCs, and helped them be cool in the ways they want to be.

That's really a lot of good stuff, and I do feel happy about setting it all down. Perhaps I should focus on that good stuff more often.
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