Sunday, March 29, 2020

A D&D Party as Skillful Companions

There is a type of folktale called Skillful Companions tale. It's exemplified by stories like the Grimm Fairy Tale "The Four Skillful Brothers." In these tales each character has a valuable, specific skill (sometimes highly specific). The use of each companion's ability is necessary to successfully complete the group's undertaking.

Noting that D&D characters (and rpg characters) are defined by classes, races, and player chosen abilities that make them ideally different from the other characters in their party, I going to suggest that D&D adventures really click when they work a bit like a Skillful Companions tale: when ever player gets to contribute their thing and their thing helps the adventure reach a happy conclusion.

I think "player skill" and creative solutions to problems should of course play a part in rpgs. Players derive more satisfaction from solving problems when they feel like they did it, not just their characters. But contrary to some not infrequently repeated old school wisdom I think the answer should sometimes be on your character sheet, or at least the tool your going to leverage to derive the solution ought to be. Having different character types or arrays of spells, weapons, and other abilities having mechanical differences would be inexplicable otherwise.

Adventure design for an unknown group of players obviously has a hard to tailoring challenges, but I think if you're making adventures for your regular group, maybe they should be crafted with the players in mind. There should never only be one way around a problem, of course, and player's can and should be able to avoid encountering a problem entirely, but there's nothing wrong with at least thinking of things that might give each character their time in the spotlight.


richard said...

You make a really good point about the spotlight, that I tend to overlook because I generally think everyone is going to try to solve all problems with their hammer/wrench/smile anyway. I should probably be more mindful of that.

Funnily enough, I've been trying to get a game going for years where you all play the same class and have to really think about how to solve basic problems because you don't have a whole toolkit at your disposal, but whenever I suggest it, even the most osr types say "oh but one of the characters could be sneakier and another one better at shielding, and that way you can have your classes back!" This issue of the unassailable specialization and the spotlight moments that come with it might be the reason for its unpopularity.

My favorite problems involve heterogenous engineering, where you need a smile and a hammer working together, but there's a tension between that and anticipating multiple pathways around each obstacle.

Trey said...

I think you could absolutely run a game where every character was exactly the same except what the player brought to it, but I do know if that has as wide appeal.

Eric Diaz said...

I read The Four Skillful Brothers in a fairy tale collection, around the same time I learned about RPGs... It crossed my mind that someone had inserted a "modern" telling of some old tale, inspired by RPGs (specially because there was a thief). I had half forgotten it already... I wonder if its the first tale like that? I mean, there are tales with multiple sailors, soldirers, or knights with different abilities... but thief + hunter + astronomer looks very D&Dish to me.