19 April 2009

Hack and Slash vs. Storytelling

For those who don't know, I haven't been able to do any gaming now for over two years. Moving to a new country can have that effect; I haven't yet been able to find anyone to game with over here. There's been talk about gaming via Skype, but that won't be for a while yet. It's kind of frustrating at times.

But it has given me plenty of time to analyse and think about gaming in more general, abstract terms. Especially since I recently acquired the second Order of the Stick prequel book, Start of Darkness. Reading that made me want to reread the entire series, which I've been doing. And as I read that story, I'm struck by the intense plotline.

For those that don't read it (and I highly recommend that you start), there's the good guys (the titular Order of the Stick), and then there are the main bad guys (the lich sorcerer Xykon and his goblin lackey Redcloak). But then there are the secondary bad guys, the Linear Guild. Then we have other key players, like the paladins of the Sapphire Guard, and the Thieves' Guild in Greysky City. Not to mention loads of bit players, like the oracle of Sunken Valley, the Cliffport City police force, and the bandits of Wooden Forest.
What I really like about OOTS is the way that the characters are dynamic, plausible, well-rounded characters with a lot of development and growth. The characters have changed over the 600+ installments of the series, and the group dynamics are always in flux. Despite being stick figures, author Rich Burlew is capable of making us feel real compassion for the characters. Even as early as strip number 56, he had fans outraged at the nearly-fatal betrayal of one of the OOTSers, and then in number 84, he had them crying with the "saddest. comic. ever."

This is particularly impressive given that when he started the comic, it was meant to be a series of unrelated strips poking fun at rules intricacies. But he introduced an overarching plotline with fully developed, rounded characters, plots, subplots, sidequests, romance, intrigue, betrayal, adventure, action, excitement... sorry. Got a little carried away there.

What intriuges me about this is that the same people who so dearly love this comic are those who very likely sit down at the gaming table for an evening of "kick in the door" style gaming. It just amazes me that the level of storycrafting that they so adore in OOTS should be so anathema to them when their own GM tries to introduce it into their games.

Just a little something I've been thinking about lately, as I devise intricate plotlines for a game that I will likely never run for a group that doesn't exist. Until next week,

Game on!

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