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RPG Blog Carnival – the Parable of the Bridge

8 March, 2021

Bridge to SomewhereIn support of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival Say yes to your players(hosted by the Roll4 Network) I thought that I would tell a story from some years ago that taught me a vital lesson.

So, I had gathered a group of five players. Their characters had all been drawn from across the Sea of Stars to the edges of civilization by a set of powerful dreams.  They arrive in the city of Asku-Korla, once a wealthy city that sat astride a major trade route, which has been slowly dying since the Sundering changed the world.  Much of the city is abandoned and the core is now ruled by the Bronze Lion, a Conan type former adventurer who deposed the former king.  This will be important later.

They find each other at an inn, the Compass, knowing but not knowing each other, where they each receive a letter inviting them to a tomb to discover the truth about the dreams.  Together, they venture out to the tomb, defeat some monsters and each recovers an item from the tomb that seem to be of a deeper significance, almost as if it was made for them.  Emerging from the tomb, there is Burns Brightly, a sorcerer and the source of the letters, who ask them to join her in her plans of conquest as together they can ascend and rule.  The characters refuse, a fight ensures, Burns Brightly escapes, vowing revenge and the characters return to the city.

So, here we have the characters (and the villain) as reincarnations of great heroes (actually demi-gods, but the characters never learned this) set up for a classic conflict of good against evil as they try to reclaim their birthright!  But it did not happen that way . . .

One of the characters, Kao Li, was one of the apprentices of a famous magistrate of the Jade Pillar Dynasty and disliked by his rival apprentices.  An attempt is made on his life and they trace it down to the Resident Magistrate of the Dynasty, who was acting on a request from one of the rival apprentices, depose him and install Kao Li as the new Resident Magistrate.  When they visit the Bronze Lion to introduce themselves, it goes well, and they learn who Ashu-Korla was once a rich and prosperous city on the trade route from the Dynasty to the outside world but it is rarely used now as it marginally easier to sail around the island than travel over it.  The characters decided to rectify this by . . . building a bridge!  Making travel to and from the Dynasty easier and restoring the ancient trade routes.

The rest of the campaign was devoted to the task of building that bridge: gathering materials, drawing up plans, making deals on both sides of the bridge and so on.

But that was what the players were excited by, so that is what the game’s focus shifted to.  That was the important lesson learned, follow what the players are interested in even if it is not where you thought the game was going.  I was a bit surprised at first (“My beautiful campaign idea!”) but quickly adapted and since then, I have never made big plans and let the players choose their direction (if any) for campaign arcs.

Image Suō Province: Iwakuni, Kintai Bridge (Suō, Iwakuni, Kintaikyō), part of the series Famous Places in the Sixty-odd Provinces, No. 51 (Sanyōdō group) by Hiroshige, found on Wikimedia Commons and is in the Public Domain.

 

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