The Spaces in Between

Some campaigns are non-stop affairs–the characters move immediately from one adventure to the next and every minor incident and encounter is tracked along the way. Every blade of grass can be accounted for and every shoelace purchased is an exercise in roleplay.

Is this something you really want to dwell upon? Does this add value to your game time or is it just substituting for the story itself? Take James Bond. We never see him purchase a tuxedo or a pair of shoes or a slick cigarette case, but he has those¬†accoutrements, nor do we see Legolas buying arrows. We want action and adventure and we typically want our stories to be about the bigger things, unless…it serves to broaden the depth and scope of the character or add tension to the story.

If Legolas happened to be in the rocky lands of Nom, then finding arrows would be an adventure in and of itself (or at least finding some wood, so he could craft his own arrows). This adds tension. Right? ¬†If James Bond has to negotiate for the purchase of a gun–highly unlikely–it’s to serve some greater purpose and reveal a bit about his character. We can be certain he’s not buying a gun just for its own sake, but perhaps to make a connection or learn how the underworld in the area operates.

Players and GM need to arrive at a tacit agreement upon how the spaces in between adventures are handled. There are pros and cons to eliminating the spaces in between.

The Cons: Eliminates a bit of realism and accountability. If the characters know they can go into the fortress guns blazing and can use up all their ammo going in and, as long as they accomplish their goal, they don’t have to worry about it on the way out, you can be certain they’ll be hell-bent-for-leather on making sure every grenade is tossed, rocket launcher is fired, and every enemy lies filled with lead in their path. No need to worry about ammo or logistics can reduce tension. However, if you’re playing the larger than life type of adventures as envisioned in Agents of Oblivion, this may not matter to you. Once the heroes save the day, back up comes in and cleans up. Why should the heroes mop up their own messes?

The Pros: You can progress further in your campaign if you jump ahead and every inch of grass is not traveled in your campaign. If the characters can easily move from one point to the next, does it matter what they see along the way? Having adventures move at the speed of of plot (along with the old dotted line on the globe) can certainly shrink the world and let the GM easily place adventures where they will, and focus on the good bits. Like an editor, dry, dull bits are left on the cutting room floor, saving room for the good stuff.

I’ve played in both types of campaigns, and a good campaign is a mixture of broad strokes with a touch of micromanagement. From time to time, it’s good to have characters haggle over goods, especially when they’re in new areas, because it can reveal the culture they’re dealing with and provides them with a touchstone character who can give them them a snapshot of what is going on. Something which is much forced if such little details are missed. And details are good. It’s not so much as the destination as the journey.

Let’s consider the Fall Out games. It’s a struggle for the hero to get from place to place starting out. The journey is the adventure. Getting from Point A to Point B is the main focus starting out, but once the character completes the journey, he can then Fast Travel between the two locations. The game designers figured it’s fun to make the journey once, but a number of players won’t want to have to truck back and forth, and leave the option in the player’s hands.

For tabletop gaming, you need to get a sense of your game and your players. Everyone needs to decide what kind of detail is appropriate. Some games flourish on the molecular level, while other tales can only be told in broad, sweeping strokes.

I’ve long been tempted to create a campaign arc which is multi-generational; one where the players each build upon the successes of their forebears; a game where been long-lived or immortal has some true meaning as a player who elects to play such a character may maintain his role through the ages. This, naturally, would be a game which would not benefit from certain types of scenes, but, rather, the collapsing of decades into a single session. As I throw this out there, I can think of no mechanical set truly encompassing such a process, and I don’t know how broad (pardon the pun) the appeal would be, but it’s an interesting exercise in thought.

At any rate, consider the pacing of your game and how to deal with the littlest pieces of your game and how they interact the biggest pieces. I’ll leave you to reflect upon this and bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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