Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shared World Campaigns in RPGs

I am not a huge fan of shared world campaigns in role playing games. In fact, I am not a huge fan of canon. With the old World of Darkness setting by White Wolf, there was a lot of canon. I would sit around the table with people who memorized every page. They hated it when I ran games in Cleveland and didn’t make Cleveland controlled by the Sabbat. They hated when I didn’t use the characters and storylines created by White Wolf. As a player, I was expected to know all these various stories, characters, etc.

I never took part in things such as Living Greyhawk or Living Forgotten Realms, because they just didn’t seem to suit me. It was like tournament play for D&D. It was good idea, but I believe it feel flat on execution. That is my personal opinion, though. Obviously, it didn’t do too badly, as they were were around for years.

Now, my problem was never with the actual content. In fact, some of the things I read over the years were very good. They showed tremendous talent and writers’ love for the games often showed through their writing.

My problem with these things were that they took place over many books. There was a significant investment of capital required. The other problem was how these stories laid everything out for you. The DM or GM had a few options, which meant characters had a few options, but people who wanted to stay true to the story were quite limited in what they could do. For someone in a World of Darkness game for example, demolishing the Mall of America might not work if a later supplement required Mall of America as one of the settings. Now, some people would change the setting, say the mall was rebuilt or otherwise work around it. Other—and a number of them—want to stay strictly by the book.

Now, here I am reading a new role playing game book with LOTS of setting material. That would be the Numenera RPG, which should come as no surprise to those of you who have read my recent blog posts. +Monte Cook  has done an awesome job is laying out a world for us to explore in a wide variety of ways. He plans on doing a lot more with it, too. The discussion or organized play has come up, but the team indicates it is a long way off from doing this.

From a recent G+ Hangout, where we talked about Numenera, an idea I had come up with some time ago regarding shared worlds and organized play came back to me.

What about a setting, supported by the publisher, but directed by the fans? I believe this is something the new Shadowrun is supposed to do—where actions players take through organized play and the company website will have an effect on the progressing game world.

I could totally see organized play where everyone is given the same adventure to start with. The plot hook style games with a general outline provided in the way that Monte Cook does are excellent for this. Then, game reports are sent back to the publisher. Let the fans vote on the ways the stories player out and how they ended. What did they find the best or coolest? Then, base the next adventure off of those votes. These can be strung together in a story by publishing company and be supported as official canon.

Of course, there are some logistical concerns to this, especially if you are working with different players with different characters, etc. However, as a basic idea, it sounds kind of neat. This is the sort of interaction I believe should exist between gaming companies and the fans today. It provides the transparency consumers are demanding in so many markets. And fans obviously want to be involved. That explains the activity on blogs, forums, online communities, etc. It also helps to explain the success of Kickstarter as a publishing platform.

Shared worlds are great. They can be extremely fun and surprising. However, if it is just reciting and following canon, how fun is it really?