A while ago, I posted an article on the Gamer Assembly titled Adventures Should Die. I argued that traditional published adventures, with their mostly linear adventure paths, are decreasingly useful as RPGs evolve from dungeon crawls to player-driven, open-ended stories.
Let me be clear: adventures have uses. They’re great for new GMs, and for experienced GMs who don’t have the time to prepare for a session (and lack improv skill).
But published adventures tend towards linearity. This is not just an accident of fate; this is fundamental to published adventures. The more specific an adventure, the more linear. (Yes, exceptions exist.)
Why? Because an adventure is a story. Most published adventures introduce a problem, then throw obstacles at the PCs until they reach a climactic confrontation that solves the problem. That’s a story.
How can an author balance encounters and ensure a narrative progression without specifically ordering those encounters to make a narrative?
More detail tends towards linearity, as well. As soon as you draw a map, you restrict player choice about their positions on that map, and which locations they can visit in which order. As soon as you place specific enemies at specific locations on a map, you open up questions. Why is that enemy in that room? Can she escape if the battle goes poorly? Why can’t the PCs just avoid this room that contains twelve goblins and no treasure?
An open-ended adventure is one that’s hard to pick up and run with no prep. An open-ended adventure will necessarily require some interpretation from the GM, and the GM will probably need to understand the implications of those open ends. An open-ended adventure becomes what I call a scenario.
What’s a scenario? I’ll talk about that in my next post.
Adventures are the prefab housing of the RPG world; useful, yes, but not something to which architects should aspire.