Sunday, December 5, 2010

DM Theory: The Goblin Cave

It’s easy to think of role playing games as sprawling, epic adventures in which the fate of the very universe hangs in the balance. The players are heroes (or villains) in the utmost, with each of their actions sending ripples through the entire world that they inhabit. And while that can be true, there is also nothing wrong with the Goblin Cave (or as it known in some circles, Bargle the Wizard). Often players and DM’s get caught up in these gigantic story arcs that ultimately crumble under their own lofty ambitions, thus squashing a game before it ever has a real chance of succeeding. To those games I say, have you been to the Goblin Cave?

The Goblin Cave can take many forms but at it’s heart it is a straightforward adventure that allows the players to make decisions, roleplay, learn something about their characters and have a good time. It goes like this: the party is somehow hired to kill the bandits that are stopping the local caravans. They lay in wait, defeat the goblin bandits, find some way to track them back to their cave lair where they kill the leader of the crew. They probably find something in the cave (a map, a hostage) that plants the seeds for the next adventure. I know, it sounds totally simplistic and it is. But it’s also fun. And for new players and DM’s it is a great way to play the game in a relatively closed environment and figure out what it is all about. Think of the opening scene of a lot of action movies. In many cases it is just a way to meet the characters and highlight some key traits that will pop up later on. This is just like that!

Another nice aspect of the Goblin Cave scenario is there is no pressure to create some sort of lasting villain that always gets away and continues to harass the party at every turn. The leader of the goblins dies in the goblin cave and then he is looted by the party. He is recognizable only by his slightly better weapon than the one’s wielded by his minions (perhaps a short sword to their clubs?). Maybe he yells out to the party just as the melee is joined. If he needs to be a little more memorable than sometime earlier in the adventure the party can learn his name and a little physical description, so that the party knows who he is when they go up against him (“The goblin with the short sword and long red hair, that must be Greasy Garth!”). There is a sense of accomplishment when he is defeated, knowing that he had been wreaking havoc on the townsfolk and now that has been ended by the actions of the party. It’s an immediate reward for the group.

I’m a big fan of promoting discussions amongst the party regarding their motives and intentions. To me it’s kind of what makes a roleplaying game so much fun and different from video games and board games. And the Goblin Cave has many opportunities to get the players talking and learning about their characters. Why are they taking on this assignment? Is there a bounty on the goblin bandit? Do they feel the need to protect the community and undertake the mission for altruistic reasons, or do they just love violence and despise goblins? What happens when they find stolen merchant cargo in the cave, is it returned to the original owner or is it claimed by the party as loot? The point is that there is a lot that can go into such a seemingly simple adventure.

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