Thursday, September 6, 2018

Adventure Time and Campaign Construction

Adventure Time aired its last episode this week. Eight plus years on, the show was a different sort of thing in many ways than when it started. While its gradual evolution meant it lost some of the zaniness of its earliest days, the show gained a depth of world and storytelling in its place.

But anyway, this isn't a post particularly about Adventure Time. I bring it up to point out that very little (perhaps none) of the world-building and character development done over 10 seasons was planned from the outset. Like most TV dramas up until people started complaining about it in the wake of Lost and Alias, the writers made it up as they went along. (Quite likely this is still the standard for TV dramas outside of prestige dramas, and even there they may just hide it better.)

This may not make for the best novelistic storytelling, but there are good, practical, even one might say democratic, reasons for serial fiction presented in weekly installments and at the mercy of weekly ratings to operate this way--and (I'd argue) for the rpg campaign settings to do the same.

I don't have to waste time extolling "a light touch" and  a"focus on evocative, potentially player-involving details" in regard world-building, because that's the received wisdom, right? I will add that keeping it simple to start with not only keeps from drowning players (or purchasers of your product) in detail, it also serves not to fence you in a way that might not serve your or your players' enjoyment in the long term. The revelation of the world through play should be an experience for both player and GM--even though the GM must necessarily stay a few steps ahead in that journey.

The players are both creative consultants and the audience. Their interest guides where the focus goes. Their speculations about the world and their actions within it generate ideas for further development. And like with Adventure Time, the developments shouldn't be limited to locales, items, or monsters. It ought to extend to relationships between NPCs and even history. These developments should be doled out (and maybe even only created) in small adventure-relevant or tantalizing details not immediate info-dumps.

For instance, Adventure Time gets a lot of mileage out of showing us occasional relics of a technological past, then dropping the phrase "Mushroom War." It ensures it has our interest before it shows any nuclear war backstory.

I'm not advocating some sort of shared narrative control (Though neither am I arguing against it. Whatever works for you.), rather I'm just suggesting using player interest and action to spur world-building efforts, not just in the sense of what dungeon you'll draw next, but in what that dungeon, its denizen and their history says about the world, seems a good way to go.

No comments: