DM Commentary #3: Too Loose? / by Anthony Morales

Albus Dumbledore: You must be wondering why I brought you here.
Harry Potter: Actually sir, after all these years I just sort of go with it.
— Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

 This week's session was dominated by an intense airship-to-airship fight scene.  A combat-heavy session irked me at first as lazy - but we had almost no combat last time, so I thought it would balance out. In that, at least, I was right. Since I knew it would be a combat-heavy session, I didn't prepare very much. I didn't have the 3-act structure in place and only a vague idea of what the major NPCs had planned. There were no names for the captain, first-mate, or the 2 major NPCs. Partly because I suck at names, partly because I wanted to involve the players in creating, and partly because of laziness. Ok, mostly laziness.

Aside from a funny embarkment procedure that spoofed the safety lecture on planes, I worried the session would feel mechanical. It was, after all, a lot of combat and I am not yet proficient with combat encounters. But the problem I was most concerned with was this: the players weren't invested in the world yet.

We're running a heroic, high fantasy game, and the players have whole heartedly embraced the it. A problem with high fantasy settings is sometimes the heroes move along from challenge to challenge no questions asked. Players act as if, as a hero, it's their job to accept any task an important NPC presents to them.  The problem is the players don't get a real sense of risk or danger: "if we don't destroy the One Ring, our world ends." Instead it's a rush to the next boss encounter. Ok. So how to get the players invested in the world? One technique I'd read recently suggested that the players also create some of the world. Through that contribution they'd form connections with the world. 

The major event for this session was the pirate attack. To give the the party a reason to risk their lives, aside from survival, I introduced the roguish elf merchant. She didn't have a name so I asked the players to name her. They did and the players engaged with her unlike any other NPC thus far. In fact, so much activity revolved around her that I didn't have to name anyone else, not even the ship captain! There was lively role-playing in the quest-acquisition scene, and during combat players asked about and moved to protect or assist the elf. It made it much easier to manage what could have been wild and chaotic scene. Between Evelyn and the pirates' grappling ropes, we had enough tension and drama to hold the long combat. 

Lessons Learned

One data point isn't enough to draw conclusions but I definitely want to experiment with this further. Next session the heroes will enter a new location. Only the dwarf NPC and Evelyn's store/warehouse have been identified. I'll leave blanks for more than just names.