For the past two years our gaming group has been working it's way through the Scales of War adventure path, a very loose follow-up for the Red Hand of Doom. At present the characters are at 18th level, so we have 12 more levels to go. So sometime at end of 2013 we should be finishing up. That is a long-time to play the same character, and watch them grow.
While this campaign has been running we've also played a few Burning Wheel sessions and started a Diaspora campaign. Both Burning Wheel and Diaspora are systems that deal with explicitly stated player goals; Burning Wheel in the form of Beliefs and Instincts. Diaspora's and it's interplay of Aspects, Invokes and Compels. These mechanics cede more narrative control to the players.
This explicit declaration of “what makes a character tick” and a rules mechanism for interacting with the character's inner clockwork is something I feel is missing in Dungeons and Dragons. Without the mechanism, there is a disconnect in the interaction between the characters, players, and the Dungeon Master. How does the Dungeon Master know that the characters will even respond to the adventure hook? How do players steer the story in the direction they want to go? Dungeons and Dragons thus uses the character advancement as the bait for continuing the game.
Drawing from Other Influences
As a result of our forays into other game systems, I've had some discussions concerning our Scales of War campaign. Mostly in the form of how to better incorporate the “what makes a character tick” mechanic into the game. If these mechanics were introduced, I would wager that the ongoing campaign would steer off the rail road tracks of the adventure path. After all, giving players more control over the narrative will certainly create wildly divergent stories.
As it Stands
My character, Tordek Battlebriar, a dwarven barbarian, in Scales of War started out early with a defining moment. He went head to head with the Ogre of the first encounter, and landed a killing critical hit and saved the tavern. With that the “Ogre's Head Ale” and it's home tavern became an underlying story arc. Tordek was invested in the story.
In later battles we arranged, as part of our reward, to have Bram Ironfell administer and franchise our Ogre's Head Ale holdings. The contract and steady income was a reminder of our early success. And serendipitously, Bram's later betrayal, as written in the adventure, became all the more meaningful.
I've worked hard to incorporate implicit beliefs, instincts, and aspects into Tordek, fully owning the fact that he will always compliment a lady, charge headlong into trouble, be strong as bull, and twice as stubborn. If these were explicit, I'm certain that the other players and the Dungeon Master could more easily draw Tordek into the story, and offer a reward for assuming the risk of the down-side of an aspect.
It is wonderful that the Adventure Path can be run out of the box…That is it's strength and it's weakness. As players, we all have agreed to the social contract of “don't go to far off the rails.”