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felonius

What makes campaigns fun? Not levels!

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I am a RPG game fan (both computer and pencil/paper) and I have many times argued that playing part of an ongoing campaign is more fun than jusr playing a single session. Many computer games today seem to share that opinion in that the single player games often are quite long and in that people get to play the same character in MM games every time they play. I used to think that this was because I liked to see my character get more powerful and I then felt I was getting somewhere in relation to other characters. This might still be true for MM games, but for single player games I am no longer so sure. In these games the feeling on advancement is not so tightly linked to the improvement of the character - for some people maybe but not me (otherwise Diablo wouldn''t be so popular). But campaign is more fun than single session stories so there must be something than grab my attension? Single session stories also have a good story compared to campaigns (often better) so the quality of the story is not it. I have tried making up a list of things that I think could be the thing that grabs my interest in campaigns: * The feeling that you stay a long time with a character and begin to identify more closely with it. * The feeling of recognision of locations and NPC as you pass over the same places/NPCs multiple times. It is always great to return to known places that then has changed slightly since the last time. It gives a feeling of belonging to the place instead of just exploring new places all the time and NPCs feel more alive. Other items may be added to the list that I have forgotten. My point is that I think we should focus more on these issues in single player games that the advancement of player levels. That the player rises from little power to much power during the game is so cliche that I frankly find it boring. Furthermore, the fact that the player changes in power during the game makes it harder to design the world. The designer must avoid the player to go to dangerous places until he is powerful enough. By removing the player''s increase of power during the game this becomes much easier (and natural) to handle.

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Other factors that make campaigns more interesting than single session stories colud be (depending on the person):

* The "What happens next" factor. The player keeps coming back to the campaign to both find out what happens next in the story, and to explore more of the world.

I do have to disagree with you slightly about the advancement of levels thing.... the drive to have a better and more "invincable" character under thier control will cause the player to come back time and time again.. BUT only if the designer gives them tougher and tougher opponants (and only if there are opponants tougher than the player to start with... but not to many of them, if the player just keeps on getting killed then he will get bored of it). If the opposition doesnt get tougher and more of a challenge then the player will eventually get bored with "oh an enemy.. wack.. enemy dead" type of thing.

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quote:

If the opposition doesnt get tougher and more of a challenge then the player will eventually get bored with "oh an enemy.. wack.. enemy dead" type of thing.



Of course this assumes that the main purpose of the game is to kill things. This is not always the case RPG''s arent really supposed to be pure hack and slash, its just that they tend to end up that way.

In the Call of Cthullu game, combat was pretty rare - after all, most of the creatures in that could annihilate even the most powerful character in a few rounds. The game was more about solving problems.




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I think the "what happens next factor" also is present in short stories (single session games) so I don''t think campaigns have a big advantage there. One might say, though, that it is true on a larger scale. Something to make a kind of cliffhanger, linking sessions together just like they did with old tv series (Flash Gordon spring to mind). That might give the feeling of greater whole.

And NightWraith, I am provoking a bit here. Of course I find a odd kind of power drive that want my character to become powerful, but it just seems so hollow after a while. If the monsters get stronger as fast as you get stronger then there is no real point is there. Take Diablo for instance. As the game progresses the treasures get bigger, the weapons more powerful, the monsters wilder, but the overall difficulty or goals never change so there is no real progress in my eyes. The game is the same just will increasing scale. If monsters are powerful then I don''t feel powerful. This is why this level scheme, in my opinion, works better in MM games as these actually have weak characters. If you become strong you must feel strong - otherwise there is no point.

And about Call of Cthulhu - I very much like that RPG. In the rule book I have they actually say that a campaign should be like an onion. Each session / scenerio should peel a layer of the onion and let player get more and more information about the mythos. This way game progress is about learning something about the world and experiencing stories - not power. As a player I just love coming back to peel off another layer. It is almost like those first episodes of X-files (before the series went bad) when I was really exciting about what would happen the next time.

And to bring back the issue of locations and power. It is so much easier (and "realistic") to build a world where the power of creations is distributed all over the world. Even games like Baldur''s gate fall into this trap. Some areas contain powerful monsters while others don''t - and even in various species. That is kind of weird in my opinion. Avoid giving characters "experience levels or skills" (or maybe just a little) but give the character something else, such as better repuations, contact, better social standing, wealth, respect, knowledge as so on.

Jacob Marner

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Yes the "what happens next" factor is there in single session games but as that implies these sessions are over in one sitting, thats it. It wont make you come back to the game to find out "what happens next" because NOTHING can happen next, you''ve already played it to its conclusion. Thats it. You wont come back and play another single session level in order to find out what happens next, because they''re not linked.

Ok, yes you can point to games like Starcraft. But even so its levels are grouped together in a campaign, and part of the reason you come back to that campaign is because its part of the story (Take for example the Zerg campaign, you start off having to protect a crysalis for the first few levels, one of the things that keeps you playing is to find out whats in the crysalis [unless of course you''ve worked out its Kerrigan (like I did) but then you keep playing to see if you''re right]. Note: you''re more likely to come back to Starcraft for plenty of other reasons NOT related to a story, but you keep coming back to the campaigns for the reason it is a campaign! (I mean there are plenty of non-campaign levels in starcraft)

About the "power drive" thing... It may not be what keeps YOU interested felonius, but it would keep other people interested. Also on that subject I would like to point out that I dont believe that there is ONE thing that keeps a game interesting to the player and keeps them coming back. Its a mixture of things, it also of course depends upon the player and in a really good game ALL of these things should be catered for (not always possible, or worth it, granted).

Of course a good story is about learning the world, learning the characters, etc... But in any game there is still the desire to be better.. in RPG''s this is usually having a better character, and in most RPG''s today, that means stronger, better fighter.

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quote:

About the "power drive" thing... It may not be what keeps YOU interested felonius, but it would keep other people interested. Also on that subject I would like to point out that I dont believe that there is ONE thing that keeps a game interesting to the player and keeps them coming back. Its a mixture of things, it also of course depends upon the player and in a really good game ALL of these things should be catered for (not always possible, or worth it, granted).



I can''t really argue against this one can I? Games shoudl target as many people as possible and if many people like getting more powerful so be it.

This "power drive" thing is good for some people but it really does have disadvantages - such as those I mentioned - besides being utterly unrealistic/unbelievably. So I think that if a power drive must be present it should be less severe (a AD&D 30th level fighter is MUCH more powerful than one of 1st level - very unrealistic) or could maybe be moved to external factors, such as just getting a better weapon (if we are talking fighting).

Jacob Marner

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Guest Anonymous Poster
quote:
Original post by NightWraith
Of course a good story is about learning the world, learning the characters, etc... But in any game there is still the desire to be better.. in RPG''s this is usually having a better character, and in most RPG''s today, that means stronger, better fighter.



The keyword here is "usually". Just because RPGs do it, doesn''t make it the right thing to do. And in the Paper/pencil RPG world games such as Call of Cthulhu, GURPS and the like put fairly little focus on power increase. This is mostly a computer RPG pehnomenon. The PP game Vampire has almost no power drive (beside the social that is), but the computer games is almost solely based on it. Isn''t that odd? It is like, the CRPG designers say: all CRPGs have a power drive, ours must two, without actually thinking abount why the PP RPGs ditched that idea.

And as I said if characters just stonger just as fast as they monsters, there aren''t really any progress. The game is the same.

Jacob Marner

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quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster

The PP game Vampire has almost no power drive (beside the social that is), but the computer games is almost solely based on it. Isn''t that odd? It is like, the CRPG designers say: all CRPGs have a power drive, ours must two, without actually thinking abount why the PP RPGs ditched that idea.




I don''t think they copied. I think they (like most) simply DO NOT understand how to do anything else. Combat and puzzle solving is all most seem to really know how to do, even in the best CRPGs. Some propose filling the gap with story, but then it''s a story where you puzzle solve and fight your way through the plot.

Until someone figures out alternatives and is gutsy enough to break the mold, CRPGs will forever be the same.

I say this, btw, because I''ve hung out on the board for a number of months and have seen few people do detailed brainstorming on what it would take to provide something different, especially at the nuts and bolts level.


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Just waiting for the mothership...

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Powerbuilding / leveling are nice, and the "what-happens-next" factor is also a big draw, but...

I rely prefer a world where it feels like I''m important. You can get this in a single adventure, but it''s much more prevalent in a campaign. If my old foe is spreading poison gas about the town again, and the Bat-Light goes off, I know Gotham needs me. (Hmmm... a superhero RPG.... drool)

BTW, if the GM does it right, the sense of being needed and important in the made up world isn''t too feeble or grandious. Of course it depends on the RPG and it''s scope, but if the world isn''t going to end w/o me, but some people or things will be affected greatly, then the balance is right for me. (Saving the universe each campaign gets dull, but so does wading through kobolds week after week.)



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Just waiting for the mothership...

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator
I rely prefer a world where it feels like I''m important. You can get this in a single adventure, but it''s much more prevalent in a campaign. If my old foe is spreading poison gas about the town again, and the Bat-Light goes off, I know Gotham needs me. (Hmmm... a superhero RPG.... drool)



I think you are hitting on something essential here - ie. I think you are right. It isn''t levels or player stats/power that are essential for the feeling in the world. Stats/power can be pretty empty, as in most games were a high levels does nothing but put you against larger monsters. You are still a pawn or puppet in some greater scheme.
The feeling of feeling important, gaining fame, and recognizition from NPCs, or gaining power over NPCs that earlier was above you is much more powerful emotions than just stats.

Jacob Marner

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Two other important things Wavinator mentioned:

1) We''ve discussed the difficulties in presenting a true plot in which the player/character (not just the character) plays an important role, an essential component of table-top campaigns, and one quality I''d like to see emulated in a computer game. The main difficulty is that a human GM can react on a higher, subtler level than any game engine in existence. Now, given that hurdle, (one which I, at least, don''t have the talent to overcome[yet ]) what can we do to achieve the appearance of continuity in an intelligence (the computer''s) that is, for all purposes, autistic, deaf, and blind?

Wav mentioned a signal going off, alerting the player to his old foe up to trouble again. This highlights a vital difference between games (non-RPG''s in my experience) that make me feel my avatar exists in a living world, and games that feel like movies w/ minigames. (Final Fantasy, for one) Game designers have observed that players like to take part in an ongoing world, so they provide the player w. one in the form of a deep, rich storyline, (ok, deep and rich is the idea, anyway) a save the world type plot, or some cataclysmic encounter in which the world changes forever.

Problem is- the world changes in one way, and one way only, every time you play. That sensation hangs like a residue over every action you take in these games. You as a player, act more like a coach or accountant than a hero, so you lose the empathy w/ the avatar. I get much more involved in SimCity, or Pirates! than these CRPGs, because I can affect the world in a real way. I can bulldoze the park, bring in some heavy industry, and turn my city into Gothom. Then I can reload, bring in an amusement park, dig out a pond and plant a marina, and everyone''s happy. Then I bring in the UFO invasion. . .and so on. My imagination fills in the gaps that this level of abstraction leaves. Now, if we pulled in midway between these two extremes, sacrificed a little less personality/story-arc in favor of a slightly smaller impact on the world, you could strike a nice balance.

Put another way- there is a reason that writers of pen & paper supplement packs do not usually have big "destroy/save the world" type plots, or if they do, the option is usually forced. The players are simply not allowed to ignore the plight and go off in a dungeon somewhere. Supplement packs must account for player actions, and if the world changes in some major way, the next edition of the "official" game world must reflect these changes. If the players did not go along w/ these changes, then the next supplement pack will be useless to them.

CRPG''s are like supplements in that they must be written ahead of time and are thus limited in their accounting for individual player choices. Thus, they are usually limited in scope to a single city, or a set of cities plus an abandoned castle, etc. W/in this limited melieu, (sp?) they can offer the players a wider range of choices, since there are less variables to account for. The grand story arc may continue, giving the players a sense of involvement in a global scene (if their campaign was even related!!!) w/o having to write endless versions of the story arc to account for every individual game''s course of action.

BTW- this only applies to what I would consider "bad" tabletop supplements. I''m a fan of background material type supplements, as the play to tabletop''s freeform strengths. OTH, rigid supplements are very similar to CRPG''s, and we could pick up some tips from them on how to deal w/ giving the player a sense of real involvement in a semi-linear plot.

Oh, and Wav''s other important point:

2) Superhero RPG!!! *droooool* Why is that such a kiss of death in this industry?

(ok, only one )

If you see the Buddha on the road, Kill Him. -apocryphal

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