Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gameable Campaign Capital in Exploration/Adventure Campaigns

Bear with me while I muse on a few things I'm trying to sort out. All I'm really trying to do here is label an idea, so I can refer to it later - this is first in a short series.

Campaign Capital

Emily Care Boss came up with a useful term, Story Capital, as a label for the way that as a campaign progresses, fictional elements like player deeds, NPCs, nations, a favorite tavern - whatever - become laden with meaning and emotional investment.

For now I'm going to use the term 'campaign capital', because I'm looking at this all through the lens of exploration/adventure games rather than story games or character-driven games, but I mean more or less the same thing.

Now, I want to take about gameable campaign capital (to borrow a word Zak S. uses often), meaning accumulated capital that can provide fodder for ongoing play.

This leads to a sort of spectrum: campaign capital from least gameable to most gameable:

1. Fondly-Remembered Deeds (aka Remember that Awesome Thing We Did?)

This type is common in linear dungeons and travel-intensive quests. Challenges were overcome, Bargle died and got left behind, great battles were fought. It's awesome, and all in the rear-view mirror.

It's not really relevant to ongoing play because it's four hundred leagues back, and anyways why would we go back to that dungeon we collapsed?  Still, remember when Garridor rolled 20 and critted the lich with his lantern?  That was awesome.

2. GM-Initiated Recurrence (aka Boba Fett! Where?!)

At this level, the GM is bringing things back into play.

Actually, you've got to go back to Zoundheim all because the lich's phylactery was smuggled out by those death cultists you never took care of.  Then it turns out they were the ones who hired you in the first place.

The campaign capital gets reused, and now it's even more awesome - the little groove in your memories gets dug a little deeper.

Lasting curses and injuries inflicted by enemies also belong in this bucket.

3. Player Consideration (aka Bring More Bloody Arrows From Now On)

At this level, the players are aware that things come back into play, and realize that they're worth preparing for.

If the GM has made a recurring threat of harpies, the players may not be seeking out or avoiding harpies - that's in the GM's hands (or the hands of the random encounter table) - but they've figured out that it's a good idea for everyone to have a ranged weapon.

This isn't an exciting example, but play is being shaped by the mere memory, the threat of flying monsters.

For something to quality as this level, it's got to be the players that are bringing it back into play. This is important - not because collaboration is magical or anything like that - but because there are more players than GMs. The more people around the table that can bring something back into the game, the more gameable that thing is.

4. Hard-Won Assets and Options (aka Let's Introduce This Guy To Boba Fett)

This is player-initiated recurrence.  Elements at this level are both useful and worthwhile for players to bring back into play, and they have the means to do it (perhaps at some cost).

Maybe it's allies, maybe it's just a shit sandwich they've figured out how to serve to someone else.  Either way, it's a tool that they control (or can influence).


(This taxonomy is 100% complete and authoritative, and I didn't just make it up right now.)

Okay, So What?

Yes, good question. After all, in urban intrigue or investigation games, player-initiated recurrence is so common you don't even notice it. Your bookie is threatening to beat you up, you can get in touch with him any time you want by phoning him. It's trivial.

Right now I'm thinking a lot about exploration/adventure based play, and I notice in many cases that hard-won assets and options accumulate a lot more slowly.  Part of it is that travel is so difficult (which is why you need explorers and adventurers in the first place!), so hard-won assets are often far away.

You met the queen and you made friends, for instance, but when the harpies are attacking, the Queen and her honor guard are forty miles away where they can't help you.

In adventure games, the usual hard-won asset is character advancement - more hit points, spells, and dish out way more damage with their haul of magical weapons.  But these rarely bring the history of the game back into the present.  Sure you have a +3 sword, but after three adventures it rarely matters where you got it from.

This is what I'm currently noodling on - what are good ways for exploration/adventure games to quickly build gameable campaign capital?

My ideas right now revolve around patterns of clues, the value of knowledge, and fiction-connected advancement. More soon!