Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mundane Adventures


We use plenty of inadvertent oxymorons in the game - war games, realistic simulations, living dead, giant dwarves, little giants, chaotic organizations, and plenty of random logic.  Here's another one to put in the mix - mundane adventures.

Have you ever run an adventure, where the characters get hired to do something, and no fantastic elements make an appearance?  They rob the rich merchant, and get away with all the loot without triggering any magical countermeasures; they escort the caravan to the next city for mere mercenary wages, and no monsters attack from the hills?

There's a principle of contrast to consider - the weirdness of monster-filled adventures juxtaposed against the banality of everyday life.  But I question if anyone bothers worrying about creating such a contrast when table time is limited.  I recently reviewed Death Love Doom, where the group believes they're going to loot an abandoned mansion, and instead it's all blood, horror, screaming and running.

A setting or gaming milieu can be so removed from the player's everyday experience that nothing seems banal even though it's mundane… Traveller attempted to get away with games lugging trade goods from one star system to another via arbitrage as an 'adventure'.  How'd that work out?  No, seriously - if you were a big fan of classic Traveler - did the rules lead to interesting games because everything else was so extraordinary?

I spent most of last week down in Williamsburg, VA, taking in all the exciting historical sights (and sites) - Jamestown, Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg - it's truly spectacular.  The notebook I'm using to keep my  Colonial Hex Crawl notes has gotten some heavy work!  Adventures in the setting will be in the horror / weird fantasy vein, and less of an ongoing campaign, more like one shots.  But it got me thinking about a game set along the eastern seaboard in the early 17th century and the types of mundane adventures had by the explorers of the time - scouting the frontier, prospecting for resources, trading or negotiating with Indians, dealing with pirates and foreign agents.

The "problem" of introducing mundane adventures primarily shows up in a sandbox game, particularly a game set in a low-fantasy or historical setting where the fantastic is less commonplace and verisimilitude would dictate a percentage of opportunities that having nothing to do with supernatural intrusions and the blood, horror, screaming and running.

I've been equivocating myself - on the one hand, there's the Call of Cthulhu model; it's a historical game, but we don't run mundane scenarios and players rarely have a wide range of choice among plot hooks; regardless of milieu, it's a given that every COC scenario is going to cause some character-sanity damage and result in the screaming and the running.  Like Scooby and the Gang, no matter where the party goes, they happen to be the "lucky ones" that uncover all the eldritch horrors.

Opinions or examples of how you've used or avoided mundane adventures are most welcome, as I work through the pro's and con's myself.  Like most things at the table, the social element favors not making such a decision unilaterally, but consulting with the players around their preferences as well.