roleplaying games

Drama and Adventure

Someone started a thread on this at RPGnet, and I immediately was taken by not only the definitions contributors came up with, but also the extreme relevance to my future campaign planning.

In short, adventure is the external challenges and problems that a party faces over the course of the story, while drama is the internal challenges and problems. To use an example, the problem of a power struggle for leadership of the settlement in my Apocalypse World game was part of the adventure…the Chopper and the Gunlugger throwing down over their personal motivations and values was drama.

As soon as I heard the distinction a light bulb went off in my head about why I was worried about The Sprawl. Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games all have some mechanical elements for drama, though it varies. The debts system in Urban Shadows is a very strong drama system, while the History (Hx) rules in Apocalypse World are bit milder.

The Links system in The Sprawl is a much weaker drama system than Hx, despite being made from the same bones. First, there is only one move in the game which uses Links (whereas there are playbook moves that use Hx in Apocalypse World), and there are several playbook moves which allow you to use something other than Links for that one move. Second, the Links process doesn’t encourage you to actually gain Links in character creation. Advancing corporation clocks is much more dangerous that having more Links is helpful, even including the ability to gain more experience from Links.

The meat of the system is still there…you still take time at the end of each session to figure out how your characters know each other better, and it’s not like Help/Interfere isn’t a core move. Still, The Sprawl spends less time on it and gives fewer places where it matters.

This won’t stop me from running a dramatic game with The Sprawl. Still, understanding that the system is more geared towards ‘adventure’ than ‘drama’ allows me to put my finger on where my feeling came from, and better understand what I need to do to produce the sort of game that I want to run. There are other systems that can be used to produce drama in The Sprawl (Contacts and Directives both have a lot of potential), so I can go ahead and plan how to use all of these systems in a way that will produce the results I want. The key information was merely understanding what I thought I was missing.


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