Adding depth to "old-school" RPGing
June 18, 2014 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any tips for adding some more modern narrative tricks to old school gaming, while maintaining the "it's just fun" feel?

I am running an old-school campaign for my regular role-playing group, set in Titan (the Advanced Fighting Fantasy world). This is a pretty unrealistic world and a very simple game system, but it is a lot of fun. The group are enjoying themselves so far but I would like to give the campaign some depth, particularly as some of the upcoming modules are basically dungeon crawls.
posted by Grinder to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You need XDM: X-Treme Dungeon Mastery, by Tracy & Curtis Hickman, illustrated by Howard Tayler (who does the hilarious Schlock Mercenary webcomic). (There is also a cheaper Kindle version on Amazon if you prefer ebook format.)
posted by Wretch729 at 8:07 AM on June 18, 2014

I wrote this, maybe it will be helpful:

Next Time Gadget: Techniques for Fictionful 4e
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:12 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Re-occurring NPCs. Not just villains, though re-occurring villains are fun. Give the players a sense that the world exists and moves outside of their characters.

A story arc; why do these dungeons exist? Why are the PCs going there? Treasure can be a reason at first, but eventually they will gather enough wealth that it cannot be their sole motivation. Perhaps *someone* created these dungeons, for some reason. Perhaps there are parts of a MacGuffin hidden in each one.
posted by fings at 11:32 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the campaign I run for my daughters, I've played with narrative techniques, such as starting in medias res. For example, I began one session with goblins attacking their campsite in the woods, and told them that their horses -- which they hadn't had before -- were so far okay. When one of them naturally asked where they got the horses, i described a flashback to them being asked to escort a group of refugees to town and being lent horses for the task. So the campaign started with action as opposed to "present the adventure hook and hope they bite."

Not every player would appreciate such a device and I don't use it every time, but it started the campaign with a bang.

Along similar lines, I try to end sessions on the cusp of a battle sometimes, giving a cliffhanger effect.It's also easier to set the stage next time; instead of recapping plot, we can go with "when we left off, you were about to tussle with a horde of orcs. Roll initiative."
posted by Gelatin at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2014

Ask questions of your players:" the assassin you just killed has something interesting in his pockets - what is it?". Give people one drama point per session they can use to do something awesome (the group decides if it's sufficiently awesome and touches it up as necessary). Read Dungeon World (seriously - there is no DM anywhere who wouldn't benefit from reading Dungeon World, even if you don't want to play it).
posted by Sebmojo at 3:37 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Without knowing how your plotting is set up, this could come across as incredibly condescending, so apologies, but I'd look to complicate the reasons/motivations for doing a dungeon crawl.

For example:
Instead of having them do a dungeon crawl because macguffin needed to defeat big bad (or even just plain loot) is inside it, maybe set up a bunch of different factions that want macguffin. Make none of them clearly good or clearly bad so that there is an actual choice involved in who to turn in the macguffin to. Further, you can have the motivation for the subsequent dungeon crawl emerge as a consequence of that first decision: because you turned in macguffin to faction x, y happened so you need to go do this other thing in dungeon #2.

This gives your players something to be interested in outside the dungeon crawling. "Who do we want to support?" "Have they been truthful with us?" etc. It also lets your players feel like they have a hand in shaping the politics of the world even if they're still doing the same old thing of popping into a dungeon and murdering everything in sight.

This approach gives you recurring npcs in the other members of the their own faction as well as members of other factions (who notably, need not be enemies. they may well be uninterested in attacking the PCs and more interested in recruiting them/gaining their support by convincing them they have supported the wrong faction etc).
posted by juv3nal at 6:35 PM on June 18, 2014

I agree with juv3nal's suggestion about providing some political latitude, and letting your players choose sides. However, my player's didn't agree when I tried the same thing on them. They went back and forth and couldn't decide whether to support a merchant making dragon skin armour or a dragon worried about his skin. I ended up exposing the merchant as an especially vile person just to get them moving again.

Too much choice can apparently take away some of the "it's just fun" feel as players try to figure out what the hell is going on. Know your players.
posted by Naib at 8:20 AM on June 19, 2014

Some things that always liven up a game:
The Interdimensional Traveling Magic Shop. Full of incredible wares on the cheap, but is there something sinister lurking there? As seen in Fahfrd and the Grey Mouser

The Call-Back. Remember to casually mention something early on in the game that you'll call back later. Make it something that sticks out, but don't give away what it is. In fact, you don't have to know what it is. Who was that in the back of the tavern with the gold and purple robe? Or, what was that mysterious door that seemed to appear and disappear. Keep it in your back pocket and you can use it later as a story hook, or, if you need to, as a way to save your players from death while making it seem like you planned it that way the whole time. The robed man swoops in and saves them. The door appears in the villains lair and allows them to escape. As seen in Chekhov.

What Are The NPCs Up To? Have the players play as NPCs who have been in the background of your campaign. The NPCs get glimpses of the PCs doing their heroic deeds while the NPCs deal with their own problems and maybe help the PCs out a little. This can be fun by having the NPC action happen after an adventure your PCs have already completed and seeing how the NPCs actions explain things that happened during that earlier game. Or, you can have your PCs play that co-temporal scenario after they play the NPC one. Both require the players to not take advantage of their meta-knowledge of events. As seen in that episode of Buffy that entirely focuses on Xander.

The Other Party. Your PCs run into an equally matched party of adventurers trying to claim the same prize, or complete the same quest. Can the players figure out what sets them apart from the opposing party? As seen in... I don't know, the episodes of Leverage with Wil Wheaton?

The Game Within A Game. Have your PCs have to play a strange game involving dice and acting in order to defeat their latest foe. Even better, have them play their characters playing themselves in real life completing mundane tasks.
posted by runcibleshaw at 12:57 AM on June 20, 2014

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