I’m all about player creativity in Dungeons and Dragons.
To me, the game is a shared creative work. This hasn’t always been my opinion however. Back in earlier editions of the game, specifically Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, I felt that it was the DM’s World, and that we as players were there to enjoy it, sometimes rebel against it, and generally try to shape it with our actions. But there was no give and take, no shared world building. The end. Amen.
I’m not certain if this was just the longtime DM’s influence, the way we learned the game, or if it was built in to the game subtlety or not so subtlety. Its been some time since I had the opportunity to sit down with those books and get a feel for it again. We won’t be blaming my younger brother for selling all of my RPG horde while I was away at school in this post. I’m sure that that will fuel one of its own.
Whichever influence shaped this mindset, 4th edition has really changed that for me in a lot of ways. Backstory now includes events that happened along the way, that have details not provided by the DM in advance. My Avenger, Zire, for example, had to travel with his mentor from his monastery south to the Lowlands, through the Dwarven Nations, through a shallow piece of the Underdark, and finally through the lowland plains alongside a pilgrim’s convoy to get to the parties starting spot. Fairly basic stuff, unless you consider that most of that didn’t exist in the world before a player wrote it into being. From the mentor, to the monastery, to the dwarves we met, to the fight against the fire elementals while underground, and the pilgrim’s passage, all of it came from a player’s imagination. And of course from a great DMs understanding and care.
All of this is a long expository just to insert and celebrate the idea of shared world-building. And along those lines, my suggestions for Road Stories.
Road Stories are something that I have introduced to my fellow players in our Ishtal campaign recently. In those times that you have some uneventful days of travel, across boundless tracks of wilderness, or roads trafficked with nothing but benign wildlife, rather than just says days past, you as players can use this time to bring to the table 2 -3 things that you would have as characters shared with friends along the way around the campfire.
Always have a short list of events from the past years of your PC’s life that you can use to shape the world around you. This is your stage to dazzle but keep it within your character’s capabilities or you risk breaking the shared sense of disbelief. Very few new adventurers have bested a Balor in single combat, but you sure could have fought alongside a Dwarven scouting party to hold back some minor fire elementals, while trying to hold back your fear.
Thought of a bandit encampment that you passed along the way? Tell us about it. Some strange and unexplained magical phenomenon you saw while sailing across the sea? Details, please! The best Dungeon Masters will grab at the chance to revisit this later on in your travels. Some appreciate the plot hooks you’re raining down on them.
Again, depending on the overall feel of your campaign, don’t blow your wad with airship battles and planar invasions. The smallest details can still bring about fun and creative event with a clever DM in place.
Worldbuild, help shape your surroundings, then have fun dealing with whatever comes back for you in the night! Its all about shared experiences, and growing your characters in the end.
I really hope that was a pilgrim’s caravan after all…
Questions? Comments? Bananas? Feel free to use your creativity and leave a sign that you were here!