Back early this year, I worked hard on an implementation of Ultima 1. I had the world of Sosaria written out. I had maps. I had a game flowchart, an outline, a schedule of events in the world, I had hooks, main quests, sub-quests. I had a freakin’ SPREADSHEET with every encounter, gold piece, treasure item and monster tied to macros and calculations to make sure that everything was “balanced” and that the CRs worked out and that the likelihood of leveling would allow someone to go to the next area. I even had flowcharts for if the PCs really screwed things up and failed quests – I hadn’t written out those story lines, but I was ready for it. This thing was *tight*…
… except that it was really suited for a computer game and not a role playing game. (Continued in full view)
Sure, I could have run this, and it would have been a nice railroad. But what if the characters had told Lord British to take a flying hike? What if instead of performing the tasks to get the required gems, they stayed at home, or worse, went on a dungeon raiding spree to get gold? What if they decided to let Monitor fall to the army besieging it? What if, for some reason, they just didn’t care that Mondain was about to lay waste to the countryside, they wanted to just protect the forests and the city of Dawn?
I had fallen into the worst of all traps – assuming that players would want to do XYZ and setting up a railroad adventure that assumed XYZ. And that wasn’t what I wanted to do, in the end. I don’t think the problem was that I write bad adventures. I think the problem is the source material and concept I started from.
Ultima 1 is a railroad story that we participated in. It was a fantastic story and the first 4 Ultimas will always have a special place in my heart, right next to Bards Tale 1 and Morrowind. It was, however, a story with an arc. I didn’t want the players to re-enact Ultima 1, because as a player, I would be *bored*. I wanted the players to live in the time of Ultima 1 and, if they chose, to participate in the quest to rid the world of Mondain. I could present them the hooks, give them the opportunity, if they chose, to run a series of adventures who’s campaign end was to rid the world of Mondain… but ultimately (no pun intended) it should be less about the same story arc and more about *their* story arc.
And that is where I get hung up. It’s almost like the anti-thesis of what I understand “old school” D&D to be about. Yes, there was a Greyhawk campaign and yes, there were plots and plans and things that happened, but ultimately (if I understand my D&D history right), it was about what the players did and how they shaped the world.
I’ve already started raiding my ideas to put them in other campaigns. I’m rewriting (again, for the 3rd time) my Vale campaign. It’s based off the old “Fast Play” modules that came out for 2e right before 3e came out. I rewrote it for 3e and now I’m rewriting it for microlite74/0e-ish play. A really nice and nasty dungeon is going from my Ultima 1 writings to Vale.
I don’t want to leave the land of Sosaria behind. I really want to bring Sosaria and Lord British and Mondain to the tabletop, but I’ll be damned if I know how to do it. Maybe it’s the fact that I “know” the story as it was written by the CRPG and I need to leave that behind. Start at Ground 0, put the chess pieces on the board, write out a few of the opening sandboxes and let it go where it can?