Last week I spent several afternoons playing Space Hulk and Gears of War 2. Both games feature very linear story lines which are organized into a series of objectives which your characters must carry out successfully to move the narrative (i.e., the game) forward. In both instances, the characters are members of a small, elite military squad, and, naturally, this reminded me of the advice in the old Heroes of Battle on running a military campaign.

Of course, being a board game and a video game respectively, Space Hulk and Gears of War 2 have a far different structure than what a paper & pencil RPG would, by necessity, have. On the other hand, they provide a good contrast by which to better understand how a military-style campaign should best be organized.

The main difference between other types of games and roleplaying games is that there's no redo or save point in a roleplaying game. In Space Hulk, if you fail a mission, you can just do it again, and you can always start again from the last checkpoint in Gears of War 2. In D&D, however, it's assumed that you don't have those same safeguards. At the same time, it's not as though the PCs never fail. Thus, whereas most game designers have the luxury of assuming success on the part of the player, you, the DM, do not. Thus, look at each mission objective as a T-intersection of possible outcomes for your objective-based adventure: One leading from success and the other from failure.

Really, this "failure is always an option" school of adventure design of course applies to non-military-style campaigns, but whereas in other types of campaigns failure might mean retreating from the dungeon for a day, a failed objective may not provide an opportunity to retry. While planning for each contingency means a bit more work for the DM, the occasional failure makes success all the sweeter, in addition to showing the players that they are not invincible.

In many ways, the environments in both Space Hulk and Gears of War 2 embody the potentially sprawling nature of the possible outcomes of such an adventure; they are generally large areas, and even the dungeons of Space Hulk are meandering affairs. In a lot of ways, this is a much more organic way of constructing adventures and encounters, allowing events to grow in any number of interesting ways. And really, doesn't everyone want their adventures to be interesting?

This entry was posted on May 21, 2010 at Friday, May 21, 2010 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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