I recently posted a tool I like to use called a Campaign Map. It shows the connection of major plot points in a story leading to a finale. There seemed to be some concern about this post, and the map itself. A few folks were concerned that this was simply a guide to railroading your characters. I can't quite blame them, what with the large, linear straight line that draws the eye and dominates the whole piece.
"That's... that's pretty linear."
Nothing could be further from the truth. While there is a large black line that looks ominously like a railroad track, I can assure you that it is only there to connect the plot points. There is also a great deal of negative space, which is where I open up the world to be explored. I never tell my players where to go. I let them gather their own information and make a decision based on that. They decide where to go and what to do. That is why I plan adventures week-to-week. Palyers are like little chaos-generators. You never know what they will do next, so I don't account for that in the map, because frankly, you can't. The map only exists to plot out major events in the large, prevailing story.
This is what the map looks like after introducing side quests and exploration of the player characters' backstories.
"Campaign Relationship Status changed to 'It's Complicated'."
- The Linear Adventure: This is often the kind of adventure you find in published modules. It has a definitive beginning, middle, and end. All elements of the story are presented in the pages, and it allows little deviation from the main story without the Game Master tweaking it. Some people consider this a railroad style of game play, where the players have little freedom to deviate from the established storyline. While this is, in a way true, it does not mean that is is a bad thing. Some of the greatest adventures ever written, like D&D's The Red Hand of Doom and Paizo's Rise of the Rune Lords are all very linear adventures. Sometimes players really just like to engage in a story that flows.
- The Sandbox: This is the open world that gives the players unlimited freedom. The entire adventure hinges on what decisions the players make. They can go where ever they want, do what ever they want, and follow or abandon any storyline they want. It is the ultimate power to the player style. Many Game Masters swear by this style of game play, though many lack a large, overreaching story arc that ties the adventure together, it does allow for the characters to move about as they please when they please, making their own story as they go.
- The Non-Linear Adventure: This is sort of a mix between the above two. There is a main storyline, but it need not be finished in order, or at all. The players have the freedom to move in and out of the events of the story freely while still taking part in the original main plot. This allows for the addition or removal of quests in between plot points, which often occur when the Game Master sees fit to throw them in. The allows players to explore their characters, who they are, and what they're like. I prefer this type of gameplay because I am a fan of television shows. They often play out like a non-linear adventure. There are a few episodes dealing with the main plot, and a lot of stand alone episodes that delve into character backgrounds and allow for some fun “adventure of the week” scenarios to play out before the main plot rears its head once again, building to a satisfying payoff in the season finale.
Honestly, the only wrong way to run an adventure is running something your players don't like. Get them invested in the world and their characters and I promise you, they will enjoy any game you put in front of them.
What type of adventure do you like to run or play? Are you a fan of a straight shot from start to finish, or do you prefer something with a bit more freedom? Let me know in the comments below.
Keep runnin' 'em, keep playin' 'em