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Fantasy Immersion and the Things that Ruin it.

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2 hours ago, massey said:

 

Sure.

 

Excalibur

Camelot

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Destroyer

The Black Cauldron

The Sword in the Stone

Krull

Dragonslayer

The Sword and the Sorceror

The Princess Bride

Legend

Red Sonja

The Lord of the Rings (animated)

Jason and the Argonauts

Clash of the Titans

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

The Last Unicorn

 

 

Those are the fantasy movies that I was familiar with when I started playing D&D.  Now tell me, apart from Merlin the Magician in The Sword in the Stone, which protagonist from these movies is skilled in matters of international trade (and Merlin cheats, because he travels through time to a place with TV)?  Which characters have an interest in studying the silk road of their world?  In an age of no internet, no newspapers, no public libraries, and 95% illiteracy, why is it important to detail something that I have a never ever seen a player ask about, and that a character has no way to know?

 

 

I think the Dread Pirate Roberts would have known something about trade routes and specifically the vessels that sail along them. Sinbad would have had a clue about them too, especially after his previous 6 voyages.

I could make a case for some of the others on the list, but those two are obvious enough.

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2 hours ago, Chris Goodwin said:

 

You're not wrong, actually.  I've been letting stuff get to me lately a bit too much.  I shouldn't have gone off on you; I'm sorry.  

 

No problem man.   We're good.  :)

 

I wasn't trying to crap on anybody's opinions.  Sorry if you thought that I was.

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1 hour ago, assault said:

 

I think the Dread Pirate Roberts would have known something about trade routes and specifically the vessels that sail along them. Sinbad would have had a clue about them too, especially after his previous 6 voyages.

I could make a case for some of the others on the list, but those two are obvious enough.

 

Yeah, sailing captains probably do know about trade routes.  No argument there.  And the Dread Pirate Roberts is basically Fantasy Batman.  But I'm not sure that they're going to know much beyond the seas that they normally operate in.  If you are raiding ships off the coast of the equivalent of Europe, you probably know ship schedules and the like, going from port A to port B.  That doesn't necessarily mean you understand the entire network of worldwide trade though, not enough to require detailing out a Silk Road equivalent.  Or that the players want to know about it.

 

What about planting seasons?  Do you work out what crops each region grows?  Do they let certain fields lie fallow every seventh year, or have they uncovered nitrogen fertilizers?  Do they use crop rotation?  Do wars end at certain times of year because that's when the harvest comes in?  Those things are all real, and people would know about them, but is it important for us to talk about it in the game?  Is it fun?

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11 minutes ago, massey said:

 

Yeah, sailing captains probably do know about trade routes.  No argument there.  And the Dread Pirate Roberts is basically Fantasy Batman.  But I'm not sure that they're going to know much beyond the seas that they normally operate in.  If you are raiding ships off the coast of the equivalent of Europe, you probably know ship schedules and the like, going from port A to port B.  That doesn't necessarily mean you understand the entire network of worldwide trade though, not enough to require detailing out a Silk Road equivalent.  Or that the players want to know about it.

 

What about planting seasons?  Do you work out what crops each region grows?  Do they let certain fields lie fallow every seventh year, or have they uncovered nitrogen fertilizers?  Do they use crop rotation?  Do wars end at certain times of year because that's when the harvest comes in?  Those things are all real, and people would know about them, but is it important for us to talk about it in the game?  Is it fun?

 

I wouldn't put it past the DPR to have circumnavigated the globe, raided ships off the coast of China, the Indian Ocean, the African coast, the West Indies... But still.

 

At least some of the farming questions are potentially relevant. "It's harvest time, coming up to the Harvest Festival". Wars being fought, or not fought, at certain times of year is not necessarily insignificant either.

 

Nitrogen fertilizers, not so much.  Although... I could think of situations where control of sources of guano could be important. Especially if it's found in caves...

OK, this stuff is hardly a mandatory piece of world building.

 

That said, I have a setting (partly scribbled down and partly in my head) where trade and trade routes are a major driver of the campaign. The key factors are, on one side of the map, a fictionalized version of the Papuan maritime trade in pottery (the Hiri), and on the other a similarly fictionalized version of the Makassan fishing fleets north of Australia. One acts as a reason for PCs to leave their villages and go travelling, while the other links them to the wider world, including allowing metal to be traded into otherwise Stone Age societies.

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It's true, trade is a huge motivator in the development of history. The Americas are the way they are today because Europeans were looking for a shorter route to the goods of the Orient. They kept going for that reason, but conquered what was in the way because they also found gold, and beaver pelts (seriously, those were very valuable fashion items at one time), and all the other unique products of the New World. Even the most world-ignorant bumpkin would like to get rich, and to find stuff that will make him rich; or to find a good-paying job with someone who has that motivation, and maybe wants his employees to go get that stuff.

 

For my own immersion as a PC, I like to at least have the potential to discover over time how the world I'm playing in hangs together, because as I become more experienced I'd naturally learn that. If my GM is making it up as he goes along, but can make it all make internal sense, that's fine with me; but as a GM I find it much easier to have a framework already in my mind, for when the players get to where and when it applies.

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Oh, and calendars were incredibly important. Planting and harvesting season, times for storms and floods; as well as marking important days for religious or historical reasons. That's part of a local culture that everyone would know. And fighters or wizards still benefit from knowing the prices for goods and services, who's likely to be hiring for a job, who are a city's or region's power players they might serve or run afoul of. Where they can reliably get their armor repaired, or horses shod, or sell treasure they bring back. What are the constellations, so they can use them to navigate at night. How to survive in landscapes they have to traverse. The languages spoken by the peoples they meet, and their customs so as to avoid giving offense. There's tons of stuff adventurers would benefit from knowing, and would be expected to learn over their careers.

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10 hours ago, massey said:

What about planting seasons?  Do you work out what crops each region grows?  Do they let certain fields lie fallow every seventh year, or have they uncovered nitrogen fertilizers?  Do they use crop rotation?  Do wars end at certain times of year because that's when the harvest comes in?  Those things are all real, and people would know about them, but is it important for us to talk about it in the game?  Is it fun?

 

If a GM worked all of that out, or at least was aware of it, and used it to give an otherwise glossed-over travel through farmland that much more verisimilitude, that makes it more immersive to me.

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Working out intensive background such as planting seasons (are there distinct planting seasons? In an invented world, that can't be taken for granted) is part of what I've heard called the "Invisible Book" style of worldbuilding. Characters (whether in a movie, book or game) might never see a lot of this background, but it helps keep what is seen consistent. It helps supply tossed-off background details that increase the sense that the world exists beyond where the protagonists happen to be.

 

And sometimes, as I have noted earlier in this thread, bits of this background you never thought would be relevant suddenly become important and your players gape at you like fish and ask in amazement how you set that up?

 

Or sometimes you just want to fight a frickin' dragon and get a bunch of loot. But even then, it can be more memorable to win the Arkenstone than "a bunch of gold and jewels and stuff."

 

An important part of the Invisible Book method, though, is you don't force players to read it, because the point is still to create an exciting adventure, not a social studies course.

 

Dean Shomshak

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20 hours ago, Chris Goodwin said:

I didn't just click "Like" on Dean's post for the hell of it.  I can instantly imagine this city in my head.  The sights, the sounds, the smells!  I have no idea where Vohai or Jiranda are, but I want to know more about this place and the people in it!  That to me is immersion.  

 

Vohai? Equatorial country. The Vohinese stand about three feet tall, with skin so dark brown it's almost black, with straight black hair worn long in elaborate braids, often with beads. They introduced curry to the Plenary Empire, and if you want the very best curry in Thalassene you need to know someone in Little Vohai. But the curry at Thana Mavo's stall at the Pillars lunch counter is still pretty good. (Historical note: Ancient Rome had lunch counters!) Lots of people go there for lunch, which means Thana Mavo knows everyone. A good person for you to know, if you want to stay up on who's doing what.

 

Dean Shomshak

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13 minutes ago, DShomshak said:

An important part of the Invisible Book method, though, is you don't force players to read it, because the point is still to create an exciting adventure, not a social studies course.

 

Dean Shomshak

 

Absolutely. I would want a fair-sized book as GM, but don't want to have to read it as a player. But as a player I would like to be able to skim the CliffsNotes. ;)

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And it's perfectly fine if people want to do that.  But can you really say it ruins your immersion if it isn't there?

 

Things that ruin my immersion are modern pop culture references in a fantasy world.  Taylor Swiftfoot the elf and Kanye the giant must rescue Queen Beyonce from the evil wizard Lord Weinstein.  My immersion also is ruined when somebody loses a character, and immediately their twin brother shows up.  He's got the exact same stats, is the same level, and has the same personality (except he's pissed at whoever let his brother die), and he wants you do hand over all his brother's equipment and gear.

 

Knowing it's a game world, where real life mundane issues aren't fully fleshed out, isn't an immersion breaker for me.  I don't need to know how often dragons poop, and the GM doesn't need to know it either.  You've also got the issue that we can only worldbuild to our own level of competence.  I've listened to too many people lovingly describe the detail of their worlds, and think to myself "this guy doesn't know how XYZ works..."

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26 minutes ago, massey said:

I've listened to too many people lovingly describe the detail of their worlds, and think to myself "this guy doesn't know how XYZ works..."

 

This is a problem with ship based games. You need to know about sailing, unless you have some serious magic happening.

 

It's a particular problem with my Papuan/Makassan setting, because a Lakatoi or a Proa doesn't handle like European ships.

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Well, you wouldn't have to know about sailing with me, because I don't know a damn thing about sailing.  You could fool me pretty easily.  But there are other areas where I know quite a bit about a topic.  That's one advantage to just glossing over things.  Keep it simple and you won't have players have to correct you all the time.

 

That's also why I don't like mysteries in RPGs.  Just because it makes sense in the GM's head doesn't mean it makes sense to the players.

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1 hour ago, massey said:

I don't need to know how often dragons poop, and the GM doesn't need to know it either. 

 

 

I'd never given that any consideration before myself, but hearing it out loud.....

 

I have to wonder the value of knowing when and where....

 

"Okay, guys!  We have to come back here Tuesdays and Thursdays, and bring your strainers!  I'm betting there are quite a few magic rings and amulets in there......"

 

 

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5 minutes ago, Duke Bushido said:

 

 

I'd never given that any consideration before myself, but hearing it out loud.....

 

I have to wonder the value of knowing when and where....

 

"Okay, guys!  We have to come back here Tuesdays and Thursdays, and bring your strainers!  I'm betting there are quite a few magic rings and amulets in there......"

 

 

 

A lot depends on how many unicorns the dragon has eaten.

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18 minutes ago, assault said:

 

This is a problem with ship based games. You need to know about sailing, unless you have some serious magic happening.

 

It's a particular problem with my Papuan/Makassan setting, because a Lakatoi or a Proa doesn't handle like European ships.

 

Don't get me started.  I am a big naval history buff.  Not the Who's and Political Why's, but the technology and tactics of naval vessels pre-aircraft. 

 

I have been so disappointed by so called RPG Ship supplements that I honestly think the people who made them should be sued out of existence for stupidity or at least fraud for using the term Ships.  Just reading them is painful.

 

It is an RPG, so I am not expecting realism, but at least spend 2 minutes on Wikipedia to make sure that the three ships in the product existed within 500 years of each other.   It would be like making a gladiatorial RPG supplement that that takes place in ancient Rome and features races in the coliseum.   Your PC's get to choose between a Chariot, a motorcycle and a Formula One race car.  And then have the writers say "What?  Those have all been used in racing!" as if that means that makes it all good for ancient Rome.

 

I was thoroughly disappointed in the bait and switch fraud RPG called 7th Sea.  I backed it and even though they talked up the seafaring part, the game was basically "urban political three musketeers" with lip-service for the Sea's part. A whooping 14 pages out of the 296 page rulebook for seafaring.  And then they go for "vague narrative" with the eight ship "types" being drawn, apparently randomly, from a span of 500 years of technological development.  Not to mention the remaining 13 pages give an equally vague cursory skim over of ships and crews.  All in all, the game has literally nothing to do with seafaring beyond what the GM can create.  Totally disappointing.

 

I can understand keeping things to just enough detail to use in play.  Too much information is worse than to little sometimes.  

 

But if you claim your book is about breeds of dogs and then you start discussing Hereford, Angus, and Brahmas (breeds of cattle) then I will say your book is garbage.  Not matter how correct you are in the details about cattle.    When I buy a book about dogs, I expect dogs.

 

If you are an RPG writer and want to put out a D&D book of ships, at least take five minutes on wiki to make sure you are actually using period ships and not the USS Enterprise .   Wikipedia is not my choice for real information, but apparently it is 100% more informed than 99% of gamers, at least for this subject.  

 

Hmmmmm..... well that touched a trigger....

 

Rant over :ugly:

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Likewise. Thalassene, after all, is a seaport but I haven't given much thought to the ships used, because I do know I don't know much about ships. Socially, the setting combines aspects of Alexandria, Constantinople, Florence and other great port cities, but I don't want this to feel like it's just an homage to any one source. There's long-distance, deep-water sailing, but what ships would be suitable? 15th-16th century European Age of Exploration? Chinese junks like the treasure ships of Zheng He? Arab dhows, for the smaller ships? So many possibilities, and I hardly know where to start.

 

Not that I expect this to be a big-time seafaring campaign, but I'd like to give the PCs something cool that isn't ridiculous.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Likewise. Thalassene, after all, is a seaport but I haven't given much thought to the ships used, because I do know I don't know much about ships. Socially, the setting combines aspects of Alexandria, Constantinople, Florence and other great port cities, but I don't want this to feel like it's just an homage to any one source. There's long-distance, deep-water sailing, but what ships would be suitable? 15th-16th century European Age of Exploration? Chinese junks like the treasure ships of Zheng He? Arab dhows, for the smaller ships? So many possibilities, and I hardly know where to start.

 

Not that I expect this to be a big-time seafaring campaign, but I'd like to give the PCs something cool that isn't ridiculous.

 

Dean Shomshak

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On 4/17/2020 at 9:39 PM, massey said:

 

Yeah, sailing captains probably do know about trade routes.  No argument there.  And the Dread Pirate Roberts is basically Fantasy Batman.  But I'm not sure that they're going to know much beyond the seas that they normally operate in.  If you are raiding ships off the coast of the equivalent of Europe, you probably know ship schedules and the like, going from port A to port B.  That doesn't necessarily mean you understand the entire network of worldwide trade though, not enough to require detailing out a Silk Road equivalent.  Or that the players want to know about it.

 

What about planting seasons?  Do you work out what crops each region grows?  Do they let certain fields lie fallow every seventh year, or have they uncovered nitrogen fertilizers?  Do they use crop rotation?  Do wars end at certain times of year because that's when the harvest comes in?  Those things are all real, and people would know about them, but is it important for us to talk about it in the game?  Is it fun?

For me and a few of my friends this is fun. I groove on world building. With lockdown, I am playing a lot more D&D online. This has me thinking about economics, commerce, and trade for a couple of campaigns, one for FH another for Star Hero. So there is a lot of discussion about such systems, because most of my friends prefer sandbox campaigns to narrative based ones. 

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On 4/18/2020 at 3:17 PM, massey said:

And it's perfectly fine if people want to do that.  But can you really say it ruins your immersion if it isn't there?

Yes, absolutely. If a campaign is just Cartoon Fantasy, then my mental involvement is minimal until combat, and even then I might have a browser tab open and have to be verbally reminded that it is now my turn. 

However, a good and deep piece of world building gives me enough to lace my character tightly into the background and adds immersion. Immersion sparks much better role play. 
 

Quote

 

Things that ruin my immersion are modern pop culture references in a fantasy world.  Taylor Swiftfoot the elf and Kanye the giant must rescue Queen Beyonce from the evil wizard Lord Weinstein.

 

There is a vast difference between glib and clever. Smug GMs often confuse the two. Look how the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin  has aged so Badly. It also manifests with players giving Characters joke names. I have strict “ no joke characters” rule, when I run. Definitely agree here. 

Quote

 

  My immersion also is ruined when somebody loses a character, and immediately their twin brother shows up.  He's got the exact same stats, is the same level, and has the same personality (except he's pissed at whoever let his brother die), and he wants you do hand over all his brother's equipment and gear.

 

Lax or lazy GM there.  With D&D Beyond, one can generate a new character in less than 30 minutes, so why allow “Gary, son of Harry, brother of Larry, who just died in a pit trap in the 13th level of this dungeon the party is in”?  An old time GM of mine used to rip character sheets of dead characters to prevent duplication. He got complaints and stopped, eventually. 
 

Quote

 

Knowing it's a game world, where real life mundane issues aren't fully fleshed out, isn't an immersion breaker for me.  I don't need to know how often dragons poop, and the GM doesn't need to know it either.  You've also got the issue that we can only worldbuild to our own level of competence.  I've listened to too many people lovingly describe the detail of their worlds, and think to myself "this guy doesn't know how XYZ works..."


The Dunning - Kruger effect. I know at least that there is a ton of stuff I know nothing about, especially anything dealing with accounting and and financial stuff, but I still have a love of trade and commerce subjects.   However, if I have a player knows something about a subject then, I draft them to write up a system for the game. Hero players seem to often do this or they did in the past , and the pre-internet gaming alas used to have lots of these systems shared among the members. One should not allow one’s self to believe their ego, and conduct their games as if they were all knowing, and infallible gods. 

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I definitely think about things like trade routes and such. It tells me where the biggest and richest cities are going to be, if nothing else. 

 

In one of my current games the heroes have just travelled a little of the main sea trade route that connects their own land (at one end of the route) and a whole bunch of others. It's my campaign's analogue to the East Africa/Arabia/India sea trade routes. And although the players have not asked anything specific about it there have been questions (about the people they see, the foods to be eaten, the loot to be found, distant lands their ship's captain had seen) that I could answer more fully because I had thought about the trade routes already.

 

Not having something like this doesn't break immersion for me, but having it does make my immersion fuller and more satisfying.

 

I'll admit that I am an inveterate world builder. I love working out odd details for all sorts of things. But I have long since realised that I do this for me, not for the players. (On one of my campaign settings I went into detail about the history of Dwarven Opera in the campaign city. Never once came up in play. Why would it?) But it is nice to occasionally have a player ask a weird and wacky question about an aspect of the campaign world and be able to answer it right there on the spot.

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On 4/27/2020 at 12:04 PM, Scott Ruggels said:

So there is a lot of discussion about such systems, because most of my friends prefer sandbox campaigns to narrative based ones. 

 

OK, so I have to jump in here and get some clarification, term’wise, because I do not think your gaming dictionary is the same as mine.

 

To me in TTRPG’s the terms “sandbox campaign” and “narrative based RPG’s” are refer to completely different subjects.  One is setting structure and the other describes game mechanics.  

 

There are many campaign types, here are just a few as examples as I define them. 

 

You have Theme Campaigns where the players take roles within an “organization” and play out their adventures within that theme.  They are Holy Knights, they are Pirates, they are Spies, they are Lawmen in the Wild West and so on.   Players make all their own decisions, but they stay within the campaign theme.  So, if the campaign is about British 00 agents in the cold war, the players will all be 00’s (like James Bond) or support (like Q) and all either be the “good guys” or maybe all be the “bad guys”.  But everyone will play as part of the same agency and will have the advantage of developing develop arch-foes over time.  This is one type of campaign that take a lot of prep on the GMs part.  They have to research enough material to support be prepared for what ever direction to players go.  When I ran a cold war spy game I prepped submarine pens, KGB facilities, military bases, research centers, high finance companies, dive bars, casinos, common civil aircraft and so on.   As a GM I might give them a mission, but the players never ever completed it the way I thought they would. 

 

You have Objective Campaigns.  Most D&D campaigns are objective campaigns.  They have a little pre-structure, but they are really a loose framework so the PC’s can kill stuff and loot while giving a nod to a loose story.  Much easier to GM because if you have the Monster Manual and DM’s Guide for treasures you can pretty much make it up as you go or use a pre-gen adventure as a very very general and non-binding guide.

 

The Sandbox Campaign is brutally boring for GM even if some players like it.  That is because a sandbox campaign is exactly that.  An open sandbox with nothing.  The players just ramble around doing whatever with no real rhyme or reason.  Back when I was talked into running one, I based it in Forgotten Realms.  Some of the players just wandered around looting and pillaging, one just wanted to craft all the time.  Another wanted to be a thief and gamble.  Not a single common theme or direction that I could plan for and build any kind of adventure that might have been interesting.  It was continuous grindingly boring for me.  Every “sandbox campaign” I have run or played in was the same.  They may be great if run by a computer, but they have very little attraction for a GM that can spell their name without help.

 

Now to me “Narrative” refers to the complexity of the rules. 

 

Pathfinder, Hero and D&D “Rule Based Games” are all similar because they require the use of dice to decide most anything and have a higher degree of complexity for building PC’s and adversaries.  The rule structures give greater support to players by allowing them to play their PC even if they do not possess in-depth background knowledge or are thespians. They are "crunchy".

 

On the other end of the spectrum are “Narrative Games” also known as “Rules Lite Games”.  For these games it is all about acting with loose nods to any game mechanic.  Some are so rules lite that you can play multiple sessions without ever rolling a die.  It can be great with the right group of players, but it takes a lot of effort to make sure the game is not dominated by one or two players.

 

For myself I prefer run two types of games.  Either a Rule Based Game like Hero & D&D 5th or Semi-Narrative Game such as GUMSHOE where the players can take advantage of narrative flexibility, but the rules ensure that the spotlight is shared by dividing areas of expertise and PC ability an the quite introvert can contribute just as easily as the drama major.

 

As for the setting to run the games in, I prefer to run Objective or Theme Campaigns. 

 

But from reading your posts, I do not think you define things the same.  I’m interested in hearing how you define things.

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On 4/18/2020 at 4:06 PM, massey said:

That's also why I don't like mysteries in RPGs.  Just because it makes sense in the GM's head doesn't mean it makes sense to the players.

 

Dear gods this the truth.

 

I don't know HOW many times I've been in a game where there's been this "Grand Mystery" that the GM has set up yet,  the only "clues" that could/would have been available are those that exist in his/her own head or things that the characters would understand but the *players* have no concept of.

 

Then having to sit there and listen to the rant and rave about how no one appreciates the time and effort they go through to prepare things like "this" is infuriating.

 

Even more infuriating is when they try and tell you that they explained and/or dangled clues in front of you and the general response from the gathered players is "No, you didn't".

 

It's really easy to pat yourself on the back and tell yourself how much of a genius you are when you're the one with all the clues . . . 

 

@Spence

Very nicely written.

 

I agree with you on the Sandbox campaign.  I've been in one or two and they don't last long.  I mean, not more than one or two sessions because there's absolutely nothing for the characters to do.  There's no focus or drive to move the characters forward.  Those type of campaigns may sound like they're going to be good because "no ones' tied down!" but i've yet to play in one, or hear of one that amounted to anything.

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