Thursday, July 3, 2008

Group Stagnation and You

As mentioned before, my gaming group is currently playing a World of Darkness game set in the Night's Dawn book series. As a whole, the WoD rules seem to fit the scenario pretty well and the first few sessions went pretty smoothly.

The problem, and I don't have a real solution for it, is that things went formulaic pretty quickly. Now, running on a formula isn't always terrible. A roleplaying game often sort of inserts one anyway, particularly D&D. Go to tavern, get quest, kill monsters, loot, sell, buy, repeat. The problem is that certain game systems aren't about loot, and playing World of Darkness with primarily combat and little RP to speak of becomes an issue.

It's a fact of my group that most of our campaigns are combat based. Few of us tend towards the character-laden backgrounds and the longwinded conversations with NPCs. Why? I'm not sure. Call it videogamer culture. Most of us seem to expect the "Hi, I'm Joe NPC. Here's a quest, come back when it's done and I'll give you money" sort of conversation. I'm as guilty as anyone in this regard. That's fine in D&D. A group like this can run dungeon crawls for weeks on end without much problem, as long as loot keeps flowing and the dungeons aren't always the same.

The problem that I see with the current campaign, and to be frank with the latter half of my previous campaign, is that it's all we do. Yeah, we occasionally hang out in town, but for real-life months on end we have weekly sessions that are just combat broken up by periods of planning for combat. Of course, as players we could affect this slightly. We could hang around 'in town' forcing our DM to come up with more NPCs while we schmooze our way to allies and bollocks up diplomacy for enemies. The problem is that the DM doesn't plan for this and the players, myself included, don't go this direction.

Again, fine for D&D, but not for WoD. In WoD, you mostly have all the guns and crap you need in the first session. Your wealth/resources stay near-constant and you don't need to buy any more equipment. Magic items are rare and scary; there aren't +5 Vorpal Swords sitting on shelves in your local pawn shop. So instead of even combat-loot-combat-loot sort of gameplay, you end up with combat-combat-combat-combat.

How to fix it? This is a bit hypocritical, since the last campaign I DMed ran into the same problem, but mix it up! Let the PCs have allies outside of the combat! Let us go to new locales that are described in interesting ways! Don't assume I've read the source material, make up new places and new planets! Have us make an enemy of some criminal syndicate that we can't just shoot to death! Have a character have a subplot that lasts for two sessions! I dunno, something other than "Hey, I'm Joe NPC Jr. Go kill that cult and here's $40,000 you can spend of stuff you don't need anymore".

This isn't an insult to the current DM. He's got a decent style and we do mix things up occasionally. The issue is that the current story arc seems to have stagnated, and it's a pity, looking back on how awesome the first few sessions were.

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