Saturday, April 14, 2012

Where does the cool shit come from?

I played a game over G+ with Chris Kusel today, delving solo into his megadungeon The Core. Quite apart from being by myself, it had a different feel to the other FLAILSNAILS games I've played. The Core is very much an old-school dungeon crawl which feels like it must be pretty similar to the games that were played 'back in the day' by the earliest D&Ders. I fought some kobolds, found a secret door, evaded a dart trap and looted some coins from a treasure chest. It was generic D&D, without any of the negative connotations that the word 'generic' usually implies.

In contrast, the other FLAILSNAILS campaigns I've played in all seem to be created by people who for whatever reason have moved beyond the original premises of D&D. They've added an 'and' or a 'but' on the end. Agrivaina is like "There's dungeons and dragons and space aliens and undead armies." Caves of Myrddin and Blight of the Khazars are both (in different ways) a matter of "There's dungeons and dragons but it all fits into real-world history and geography." As someone who's entered the world of old-school D&D through these campaigns, I found it kind of refreshing to go back to the original flavour of dungeoncrawling, which I'd sort of skipped over without ever actually experiencing.

But it also got me thinking about how these different campaigns are constructed, about the cool shit that happens in them. Here's the coolest things I can remember from five different FLAILSNAILS campaigns - see if you can spot a pattern.

Jeff Rients' Caves of Myrddin: Throwing rainbow grenades at medusas; DM ruling on whether a blue cheese golem counts as a fungus monster.
Trent B's New Feierland: A Cleric got traumatically inseminated by a slug; an orc expanded until he was one with the universe.
Ian Burns' Agrivaina: Drinking mutagenic crab's blood; Samson Jones seeing a vision of himself in a satellite(?) firing a laser that blew up the entire campaign setting.
Zzarchov Kowolski's Blight of the Khazars: A giant winged lion being dissected by halfling Huns; insane hordes of adventurers running blindly into a dungeon while a boatload of Jews wisely escape over the horizon.
Chris Kusel's The Core: I put a bunch of fanged worms in a jar to make a worm grenade; I kidnapped a kobold and forced him to lead me to treasure, and he died after opening the trapped treasure chest.

The pattern I'm seeing is: in The Core the coolest things were things that I made up myself, as a player. In the other campaigns, the cool stuff is almost all made up by the DM (although there are some border cases, like Ian made up the mutant crab's blood but it was our own stupid fault for fucking around with it.) So I'm wondering if the other campaigns have a different style of play where the players are more like spectators to the DM's awesome ideas?

I mean, I'm not saying that these campaigns are railroads or the players don't have agency. We definitely always had control over our own destiny, where we went, whether we lived or died... but in those campaigns, there was always so much crazy stuff to see that I think it led to a bit of creative apathy amongst the players, like why bother inventing something cool when the DM has already done it for you? Whereas The Core is more like a blank canvas inviting you to paint your own cool shit all over it.
Both styles are a heap of fun. I'm still thinking about which kind I want to emphasize in my own campaign, if/when it gets off the ground. Would it be possible to strike a balance between the two?


  1. Appreciate the kind words about my game. It was a fun game. I have always tried to reward player creativness.

  2. Interesting observations, I think that one good way to generating cool shit is to put in things that aren't that interesting by themselves but that can inspire the players to do their own cool shit. The classic example would be the bag of holding which is very simple but any party that uses it to carry their supplies around instead of using it for hijinx should have their ten foot poles confiscated.