Saturday, June 13, 2009
Musings on the Compression of Time
As I mentioned in passing in a previous entry, I've been in charge of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with my friend Kato and a number of other local twenty-somethings who are living in the same hometown as their parents for the summer (many of whom aren't moving out once the fall rolls around, but that's another story).
Since this is my first foray into Dungeon Mastery, I have been reading up on a lot of the basic rules and concepts that underlay the game's own mechanics; not so that I can run a campaign to make Wizards of the Coast proud, but rather so that I can shatter them while still keeping the game world logical. Sadly, I did find one massive problem with my plans and that was with the pacing of my encounters.
In D&D, multiple weeks are supposed to pass in game time between each encounter. This allows the world to continue ticking while the players aren't actually at the table. This would also explain why you're able to loot ancient ruins and fight epic evils every single time you sit around the table. If the characters actually had to face such monumental challenges every day, they would be a little tense and stressed out to say the very least.
In a virtuous campaign, it's easy for a group of adventurers to hang out in a friendly keep or inn for a month, get a quest from the proprietor once in a while and then return once you've safely completed the mission. During the down time, fighters would be training and sparring while arcane spell casters would be studying lore in the libraries in an attempt to hone their skills. This allows level progression to take a reasonable amount of time in-game even if your players are burning through levels on a weekly basis.
Sadly, the pacing of my campaign doesn't allow for this kind of down time in the slightest, not to mention the fact that my players have decided to actually role play the majority of their downtime. If I were to use the standard XP model, it would take three months out of game time to get from level one to two, and therefore I would have a lot of angry players on my hands. But the flip side is that the characters are learning new techniques and skills that are making them exponentially more powerful within the course of a couple of days.
It's a conundrum really.
The fact is though, that the best moments in this game (at least when I'm DMing) take place when the players step up and act out their character's motivations. I'm really fortunate to have a group of players who have adopted their characters so thoroughly and they're all too interesting to not let them speak to each other. We have a barbaric elven ranger who loathes humans, an evil swashbuckling accountant, a crack-addicted rogue who suffers from immense paranoia and an autophobic human druid who likes to believe he's an elf, just to name a few.
And the players will seriously talk with one another for hours on end. As a DM, I love this kind of interaction and it makes the game an absolute blast, but according to the official D&D model, I shouldn't give them experience for it. I do anyway, simply because I'd like to reward them for playing well, but then we end up with a logic-shattering situation in which we have characters becoming physically more powerful simply by sitting around a tavern and talking about the weather.
Oh well, at least we're all still having fun, which I suppose is more important then the world functioning logically. Come to think of it, people can throw fire from their hands in this world, so maybe logic isn't necessary at all.