Sunday, January 26, 2020
Authentic vs Epic
So, I tweeted out a poll last night. If you were DMing, would you rather go for authentic or epic?
Several people responded "both" or asked what the difference was or just needed clarification. My reply required more than Twitter's character limit could give me.
When I say "authentic" I mean a few things...
1) Realism: Yes, it's hard to talk about realism when we're dealing with sorcerers and dragons. Verisimilitude is probably closer to the mark. What would a genuine romp through the campaign setting look like? Sleeping on the ground, cooking beans and sausages in the fire, or the Disney version where sleeping arrangements aren't even considered because everyone's rushing from starship chase to disarming the nuclear fireball to dueling with the PCs' arch-nemesis.
2) The mundane stuff: Doesn't have to be all grim and gritty and covered in filth, but it shouldn't be super glamorous. The lived-in universe of Star Wars IV where Luke has to scrape off the carbon scoring by hand. That's not epic. Nor is cleaning bedpans, but someone's got to do it. Should the PCs? Well, not for the entire scenario, obviously. However, would it kill them to start their adventuring life mopping the tavern floor or chasing after poop-covered chickens?
3) Things just happen: Not much attention is paid to the beginning, middle, and end. No inciting incident, rising action, or climax. As you get deeper, things may get increasingly hairy, but that's just logical progression, not anything to do with a story arc.
When I'm talking about epic, I mean things that are larger than life and grandiose. Since I'm already on a Star Wars kick, the sequel trilogy (episodes VII - IX) would be epic. Humble beginnings quickly lead to whooping ass and taking names right in the middle of a galactic drama between good and evil (or what passes for such things).
If this were an epic D&D session, even meeting in a tavern would launch straight into a quest to save the kingdom or at least a princess. In contrast, an authentic session where PCs also meet in a tavern might escalate into a barroom brawl before overhearing that an entrance to the mythic underworld has just been found just outside town.
Epic goes for adventure with a capital A. Authentic reminds you that even if you score a decent haul of treasure, there's still a chance for catching a splinter while you're polishing the blacksmith's anvil, listening to the village idiot drone on about his imaginary cat.
And yes, there's a connection between authentic vs. epic and sandbox vs. pre-plotted linear adventure. The former moves along at it's own pace, organically... usually haphazard and occasionally awkward. The latter is sleek and stylish with thrills and chills at regular intervals, but let's face it, those adventures also feel kind of staged, plastic... artificial, even.
So, the big question! Are these mutually exclusive or can epic and authentic go together like chocolate and peanut butter? I'd say, yes, it's possible to do both. And yet, exceedingly rare is the Game Master who can consistently pull off authentic and epic in the same session. Campaigns are easier to manage authentic and epic because different adventures can provide for tonal shifts. Even the farm boy from Tatooine can blow up a Death Star after 10 sessions of hard work.
In the end, I, too, prefer both. However, if I had to set my sights on just one... it would be authentic because that gets you closer to immersion, which is the prime factor of roleplaying games.
p.s. Want the Cha'alt hardcover? Due to high demand, I've decided to extend the special January deal until Valentine's Day... while supplies last!