Day 23 of #RPGaDAY 2020. Today’s prompt is ‘Edge’.
My first association for this prompt is the Flammarion engraving (one of those things that everyone has probably seen at least once, but doesn’t know the name of). And that makes me think of what happens when a group of players wanders out of the area that the GM has prepared for the adventure/session?
The worst response you can have is to “force” the players “back on track” — the dreaded “railroading” where the players are just along for the ride and can’t really affect how things play out. Especially in the early days there were a lot of frustrated novelists who used RPGs as their way to tell their “amazing” fantasy novel to others — and woe befell anyone who would try to stray off the path! There is a very justified backlash against railroading.
Playing RPGs is a social activity, and thus there are social rules surrounding it. Most of those are unwritten (though there is a trend to make these explicit, which really helps in many situations) and one of those unwritten rules is that the players cooperate with the GM to tell a fantastic story together. If the GM has put the seeds of an adventure somewhere, it is expected of the players to pick up on that and see where their characters end up. If neither side cooperates, then you’ll never have a satisfying play experience.
I love the idea of Dungeon World’s “Fronts”: there are things happening in the world that affect the characters — or will affect the characters, later on. And the GM should know how such a Front is going to escalate if the players do nothing about it. Then, if they go “off the map” and explore some random wizard tower that you plonked down on the map to keep them entertained, the Front(s) are going to progress. Sooner or later, the characters won’t be able to ignore the situation and will have to deal with it — but this is now the result of their choices and actions, not because of some pre-determined plot that they were destined to fulfill.
That being said, most of my gaming these days are one-shots, and there’s very little time to have a Front develop. As I said in the entry for ‘Push’, I am blessed with players who cooperate with me to tell an entertaining story together.