374 RPG, The Rough Draft

One of the things we like to compare RPGs to is to novels, screenplays, etc. One of the things that we need to really understand and appreciate about this is that those products are HEAVILY edited, managed, and modified before they come to us.

When we create an rpg adventure, campaign, or even a simple encounter, we need to understand that it is a rough draft. Even after running an adventure/encounter/campaign, multiple times, it’s still no better than a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th draft.


HI! I hope all you Bsers are doing well.

For me, “module canon” barely exists. As such, I take this episode as a reminder not to be too vested in the printed word, especially in the face of at-play ebb and flow. For example, when playing The One Ring, there’s no way I would portray Legolas as a Stoor thief who shines boots in far Harad: that adjustment would trounce on the accepted world my players have entered in our Tolkien-based game. However, would I take an adventure’s mountain setting and instead run the scenario on an appropriate riverbank? Absolutely. Would I move a door or alter an ending? Without hesitation, especially if the at-play flow pushed in that direction sensibly.

The “rough draft” notion has never been an issue for me–but I will say that I’ve run into many GMs and players who would never dare. For them, I suppose the adherence to text provides comfort.

For me, the term “blueprint” works a little better than “rough draft,” and I do believe that design flaws exist in both. Some blueprints have doors in the wrong places, if you know what I mean. Sure, I can and will improvise around the flaw, if we ever get to that part of the layout. You never know. The best adventures, in my experience, have just the right balance of plans and open-space to be helpful but not too constricting.

edit: by “players who would never dare,” I mean that some players are shocked or even angry when a printed module is not run exactly as published. I’ve heard them at cons and stores, and had a few at my table, who then had to get comfortable with the fact that I may diverge, variety being life’s spice and all.

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Having a similar discussion with my party currently.
I’ve started up Stars and Wishes (THANKS BSers!!!) and a some of the wishes don’t align with the module. I’m ok with this, but I want to make sure the players are ok that you aren’t really playing the advertised module anymore, we’re veering into homebrew.

Oh no, kids, it’s time for another episode of RPG to Filmmaking Comparisons. Brought to you by Kodak - we swear we’re still in business.

Some film directors are 100% true to the screenplay and have every shot storyboarded to look like they made a comic book adaptation of the movie before they ever yell, “Action!” In many cases, these are directors who also wrote the screenplay. Sound familiar?

Others use the blueprint approach - the screenplay is a guide and the crew will adjust as needed or desired during filming. Perhaps the best example of this is the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The script was being rewritten on a daily basis, action sequences were made up on the spot during filming, and revisions were made during editing to end up with the final version. “It’s the most expensive independent film ever made,” was the joke on set. All the while, they still had to adhere to some of the absolutes about Middle Earth and the progression of the story already written down in Tolkien’s books and yet still be able to make it their own film.

And it’s not locked in stone to direct one way or the other. It’s a plethora of variance to suit the creative approach of those involved. Some actors want to work with directors who let them bring their own creativity to the film, others like to be told exactly what their character does and thinks.

It’s why I believe in “auditioning” players when looking to form a new group. Present them with an overview of how I like to GM (direct) and what I expect from my players (actors). But that’s another topic.

It all reminds me of watching The Firm (with Tom Cruise) in theatres waaaaaay back then. Two women sat behind us constantly commenting on what happened that way in the book and what didn’t. Shit you not and this quote is burned in my brain-damaged head for eternity, one of them said, “In the book, she didn’t take the dog with her.” It was the only time I gave the glaring “shut up” look to an adult in theatres.

Now those are some commonalities between RPG storytelling and other forms of fiction… yet RPGs are a horse of a different colour. By their very nature, elements of the story change during play as decided by player actions and randomizers. Screenplays, books, even video games (that allow you to come back from death to try again without any concerns of continuity) do not kill off a character or accidentally blow up something important because they rolled a 1. Everything in other works of fiction happen because the people writing it are in full control - it happens because it needs to happen. A hero solves the puzzle because the author wants them to solve the puzzle. They’re not sitting at their keyboard pulling their hair out because their hero sucks at riddles.

For me, all games are rough drafts. The text, regardless of who wrote it, is a guide post. Trying to stick to the script feels like whittling away at player agency - this particular thing has to happen because that’s in the script. Yet we use a randomizer to create spots of failure here and there and crits don’t just happen on their own. If anything, I prefer to use the script (adventure) as a guide - this is what happened before, what the NPCs goals and motivations are, and how things appear when the heroes arrive. What happens next is up to my players. Even if that means she doesn’t take the dog with her.