101 Days of D&D: D&D's Core Story and "In-between stuff"

In a comment to a post on Mike Mearls LiveJournal , Ryan Danceystates D&D’s core story:

A party of adventurers assemble to seek fame and fortune. They leave civilization for a location of extreme danger. They fight monsters and overcome obstacles and acquire new abilities and items of power. Afterwards they return to civilization and sell the phat loot. Next week, they do it all over again.

Mearls goes on to say about Eberron and core stories that:

I think it’s possible to use settings to introduce new core stories that exist besides D&D’s core story. […] I think, were I in charge of Eberron, I would hijack the Star Wars RPG’s core story, filter it through Shadowrun, and come up with:

“The heroes are independent operatives who accept comissions from powerful merchant families to infiltrate exotic locations, accomplish a goal to defeat a rival or evil organization, and flee to safety as the location either blows up, collapses, or falls into a volcanic rift.”

That’s a really interesting way to look at Eberron, and most of the published Eberron adventures definitely have that groove to them. And since I’m going to be working in a fair number of those published adventures, my campaign’s going to have some of that groove, too, though the characters all have agendas of their own and themes of their own running through that “core story” that drives the action each session.

Mearls states in another post that “[The statement about D&D’s core story] is dead on. There are a number of common variations, mostly dealing with how a DM unites each session into an arc of stories, but that’s D&D in a nutshell.”

I’m really interested in the last statement by Mearls about how the DM unites each session into an arc of stories. I think they’re more or less right about D&D’s core story. I sometimes struggle with that, wanting it to be something different (more story or character-focused), but I’m coming to terms with that core story. I do think you can tinker with how you approach that core story, though, even moreso than Mearls alludes to in his assessment of Ryan’s definition.

So far in my Eberron campaign, the party has gone on two “smash and grab” type adventures (for those of you who are familiar with the published Eberron adventures, they’ve done “The Forgotten Forge” from the ECS and “Fallen Angel” from Dungeon December 2004). Three sessions and two adventures in, and I’m already in a rut! I did make the plot of the “Fallen Angel” more complex than the published story, making all the factions sortof equally good/evil/neutral, riffing on the whole “flexible” alignment thing in Eberron. I think the players dug that ambiguity. I know one of them really enjoyed it.

My initial plan to was to use mostly published Eberron adventures for this campaign, trying to weave a metaplot of some sort around them to satisfy some more player (and GM!) desires other than “kill things and take their stuff.” The problem is that I keep drawing blanks on the “in-between” stuff. I used to be REALLY good at that sort of thing, but, being so out of practice, I’m having some “issues” this time around. I’ve got a few things cooking, but I’m hoping this 101 days project will help me focus on some things I can do to improve my knowledge of the D&D 3.5e system — and GMing in general — so I can free up cycles (and time!) to work on the plot stuff. I’d also like to get to running more original adventures and fewer published adventures, though I do plan to use at least two other published adventures which seem like they’ll fit in well with the vague notions of a meta-plot that I have floating around in my head.

Stay tuned!

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