One of my most frustrating gaming sessions ever was when our group of D&D characters were attempting to get information from a venerable old dragon. The dragon was placed under an extremely powerful spell that by all accounts was unbreakable. Ultimately the spell prevented the dragon from talking about the major plot elements. The typical response when asked a question was “I can’t talk about that.” We jumped through hoops asking questions, and were stonewalled. We had spent a session or two merely traveling to talk to the dragon only to get there and encounter a might stonewall blocking access to more information. Granted, in not getting information, we were able to glean that there were most definitely extremely powerful agents at work. But we were unable to advance the plot.
Presently we are playing the Scales of War adventure path and have been doing so since January of 2009; As of now we are 19th level and it is likely we will wrap up sometime in late 2012. Sadly my interest in the events contained in the adventure path is only minimal; Hell I honestly can’t remember two of the player characters’ names in the game. We continue to play, and enjoy each others company, but slogging out three combats per week at 1.5+ hours for each is leaving my interest rather flat. And, as we gain levels, combats are likely going to take longer (On paper stunning effects may be interesting, but loosing 20% of your actions for a single 1.5 hour combat sucks mighty hard.)
So with the arrival of D. Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard I am left with his admonition:
Every moment of play, roll dice or say yes.
If nothing’s at stake, say yes to the players, whatever they’re doing. Just plain go along with them. If they ask for information, give it to them. If they have their characters go somewhere, they’re there. If they want it, it’s theirs.
Sooner or latter – sooner, because your town’s pregnant with crisis – they’ll have their characters do something that someone else won’t like. Bang! Somethings at stake. Launch conflict and roll the dice.
Roll dice or say yes. Roll dice or say yes. Roll dice or say yes.
For me the question becomes, is there anything at stake in these games? For all intents and purposes, both plots are opaque. In one case, we had creative freedom to explore the world, but weren’t able to punch through the stonewall. In the other case, the focus is so much on the tactical elements, that the plot is non-existent.
What I am ultimately after is to have my weekly role-playing session focus on the story that can be told by all of the players. Can this be done in a tactical game? Yes. Is it something that is easy in a tactical game? No. After all, combats take a long time, thus leaving less time for the non-combat elements (i.e. the story). I don’t want to see a movie that with three fight scenes that consume 90% of the screen time. Likewise, I don’t want my role-playing games to be that either. If I wanted to grind out XP advancement, I’d play a CRPG.
So where does that leave me? Confused. I want to spend time with my friends, but I’m struggling, because I’m eager for something different that what I’m getting.