Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Lovely Overview

Today, I voted. I hope everyone did. I will leave it at that.

You will notice a distinct lack of political posts or commentary here at Barking Alien and that is for a reason. I don't like to discuss such things in the same place I come to in order to relieve stress and enjoy myself. Dogs don't want to poop where they eat or sleep.

My home this is, as Yoda might say. Take your filthy politics elsewhere.


I was thinking a lot about yesterday's post and how in many of my games, the geography, landscape and locals change but the themes and overall atmosphere of a given game stay pretty consistant.

The idea here is that the GM, like the director of a movie or a play, is there to provide a single unifying vision to the campaign. They are not by any means the only source of input of course. The players, the game itself, the genre being emulated or invoked, even prior campaigns or shows you've recently seen and liked influenced the 'look and feel' of the game you're running but you, the GM, are the final cut editor, deciding what works, what doesn't, what should be expanded upon and what ends up on the cutting room floor.

It might seem to some that more Story-oriented GMs are following a tighter, less flexible mental image of how their game 'should' or 'will' go. I can't speak for all of them but that is certainly not what I am advocating here. Rather, I am suggesting that even a complete sandbox game can take on the appearance of a world you thought out and planned from the get go if, regardless of the sourcebook you plug in or the module you're using, you tweak everything so that it fits an overarching element you want to focus on.

For example, let's say you want to explore the themes of 'Survival in Hostile Conditions', 'Bureacracy' and 'The Underdog'. Cool. I could set this campaign in practically any game or genre, though D&D and Traveller popped into my mind first. I wouldn't mind pursuing it as a Western either. The key here is that whatever the adventure, plot or villain, the heroes have a tendencey to be ill or under equipped, can't get help from the local authorities or business people because of endless red tape (real, imagined, honest or bogus) but there will be a few opportunities for the PCs to shine even in their currently crappy situation.

When thinking about my current Ars Magica game, the ideas I wanted to investigate were 'Change', 'Old Ways vs. New Ways in Religion and Politics' and 'Tradition vs. Innovation'. So far, the adventures have not directly with any of these except maybe 'Change' in a sense (the death of the covenant's leader and the appointment, though perhaps temporary, of Dave's Magus as his acting replacement). At the same time 'Tradition' ties into that as well. As we go forward, whatever course the PCs decide to take, these reoccurring themes will find their way into plots and subplots. At the very least they will be on my mind as the Storyguide whether they impact a given adventure or not.

Do you have themes or overarching concepts for your adventures or campaigns? Have you found it ties things together or does it fade into the background?

Comments are welcome. Really. I welcome comments. I will provide them with a warm, damp towel to refresh themselves. Tea and Coffee are on the house. Comments...anyone?

Barking Alien


  1. It depends on the game- I have ideas I like to emphasize, but I'm not sure that I've had full themes play out from planning to finish. More likely I'll have a bunch those concepts (repeating cycles, difficulty of trust, family vs. friends) sketched in my notes at the beginning. As the game goes along some will hit better than others, so they become emergent as themes (which is a better way for me to put it than going back to the well).

  2. Interesting and I can certainly see that working.

    I definitely focus more on the concepts that take, lessen or drop the ones that don't and new themes have been known to form mid-campaign. Still and all, I find having one or more overall adventure/campaign themes helps guide me by keeping them in mind over the entire course of the game.

  3. Dogs don't want to poop where they eat or sleep.

    You're referring to poliranting—and quite rightly—but what leapt into my head was "That's the most apt description of voting that I've heard all year."

    You put a big smile on my face, man, though perhaps you didn't intend it.

    1. Heheh - Why say and ruin the mystique. ;)