Tuesday, 19 August 2014

#RPGaDAY: Day 19 - Favourite Published Adventure

A cover that promises a tense, horror-
themed adventure... for those who really
care about Frugelhofen.
Man, fuck published adventures.

Okay, I shouldn't say that there are no good ones. The Enemy Within for WFRP (see Day 17) is a classic for a reason, an epic campaign consisting of a series of interlinked adventures that take your PCs from wandering ruffians to badass heroes of the Empire in a time of tumult and turmoil, taking in most of the major themes of the game along the way. I talked about it as the funniest game I'd played in, but that wasn't to say that Slagdarg the Mutant Ogre Torturer wasn't a tense fight in which Sven the Glass Dwarf almost got his head staved in, or that we didn't have moments of intense and slightly misty-eyed concern for the Graf's lovable lunk of a champion, who was acting all possessed, and just when he wanted to retire and buy a farm with his sweetheart.

The flip side of the coin is something like Lichemaster, one of my least favourite published scenarios. It's a WFRP adventure that was adapted from Terror of the Lichemaster, a Warhammer Fantasy Battle campaign, which thus consists of a series of the kind of massive combats that the roleplaying game is so bad at. It fails mostly on the grounds that, unlike its original version, it needs - and fails to - provide a reason for the PCs to give a rat's ass about the fate of the little town of Frugelhofen, rather than just punking the fuck out when the Army of Darkness comes to call. There's a whole section where the PCs are supposed to persuade the people of the town to make a stand against the horde of the undead rather than evacuating, then in the end you have to flee down the river in barrels or some such shit because you're overrun. The real problem is that there is no reason for this; not even that if you don't make that stand the undead will overtake the retreating children and other civvies (because then the villagers would be persuading the PCs, which wasn't what they wanted, I guess).

In an oWoD scenario, you're the one in the middle. Not the
one actually firing a gun at someone; the one behind that
On the up side, it doesn't have what many White Wolf adventures have, which is cut scenes. The average WW scenario contains at least one moment when the PCs are basically obliged to watch as a couple of NPCs do their thing. Maybe Sam Haight murders someone, or Baba Yaga eats a Niktuku child-vamp and asplodes, or a werewolf and a four thousand year old ghoul fight to mutual fatality, while the player characters apparently watch and do nothing. This is specifically an old World of Darkness problem, since that was a game line which had a serious crush on its metaplot, and often forgot that even if they aren't the movers and shakers of their society, the PCs are still who the game is supposed to be about.

In between these extremes, the bulk of scenarios that I've seen - especially the short-form versions, which as they appear in the back of core books I have seen most often - suffer from the problem that they are railroads. This might make them a useful aide to a novice GM, except that the nature of a railroad is that it leaves the driver without any useful tools in the event that the train jumps the tracks. They often assume a single solution, whereas as a friend once put it: "If you devise N ways for the PCs to solve a problem, they will come up with N+1, so I just set N as 0."

The best published adventures I've found are more like setting guides in which something is happening. The Enemy Within is a very open adventure, especially as it moves up to Middenheim and Power Behind the Throne (which is in fact often packaged with the Middenheim setting guide), an adventure in which the PCs could conceivably just profit as best they are able from the fall of the city to Chaos infiltrators and run off to the Border Princes to live like dissipated kings.

So, a bit of a non-answer today, and I can't promise better for tomorrow's topic 'a game I'll still be playing in 20 years time'. In the meantime, check out the hashtag for more #RPGaDAY.