Eyes Up: A Trouble with Terms

Never talk to me about adventures, because if you are trying to it’ll be a book in length and I’m going to be bored, or it’s going to be a about something that isn’t all that long but I’ll be wondering where the rest of it is because I’m expecting the whole novel. Adventure is a meaningless term that could be anything from going and building a snowman to throwing some jewelry into a volcano, or even following the adventures of a Naboo ship-repair droid as he goes through the galaxy orchestrating the overthrow of an evil empire.

Linguistic twitches are a very interesting thing when they aren’t driving me batty. When at the table, words are all you have drawing allusions to what frames of reference others have but every now and then it devolves to talking about Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. We talk about quests, adventures, campaigns, modules, manuals and expect others to instantly grasp what we mean. The problem starts when two people have different definitions and these definitions, while similar, can cause major issues in how things are consumed. This is going to get into definitions and what I prefer to call aspects of various parts of RPGs, and I’ll talk a bit about the fallout from one of the main assumptions I’ve made about ‘adventures’.

Fantasy Flight Games Adventure Supplements are where this whole thing started and I used the first one with my own table definition of adventure, get it done in a short amount of time because it shouldn’t need to go on for sessions upon sessions. Before I got thinking about it and how I cheated my players out of good roleplaying time and space at the table I was thinking of an adventure as the smallest narrative chunk to be given to the players. I didn’t consider how Adventure is nearly meaningless and is thrown about as “let’s do something fun”.

I’m going to be referencing @TheAngryDM ’s  article on the pieces of stories and how to use them, a valuable article once you get past the bluster. Now on to my definitions.

Scene – The smallest meaningful unit inside any RPG session. This is where characters are doing things in a place for a reason. The scene has to have a reason for existing and a drag on the action so the players can’t just walk up and accomplish what they want to do.  This always takes place in a specific place, even if it’s in the classic extra dimensional grey square box in limbo, that’s still a place.

Quest – That thing where characters are asked to deal with an item or person at the behest of another. Quests can be the base for entire campaigns, such as the saving of a species of TV loving aliens from a double dealing ‘evil’ alien, or they can be small things where the players need to get from point A to point B taking little more than two scenes. If done right small quests can be used to get players to move from one location to the other that you have planned for them by giving them an attractive carrot to get there. Removing the need to point at a road and say “Thou shalt go”.

One Shot – These are simple modules that are to be completed in 2-5 hours and can be run with new players. They epitomize the theme and setting of the roleplaying game. This is very much an essentialist style of session, anything that can be pruned from the set up needs to be. For my own thoughts I liken One Shots to Sessions that don’t have people coming back.

Session – A single block of time that people get together and have fun playing a roleplaying game. This isn’t the same as a one shot, since the expectation is that it’s happening again in a week or two, but this is the smallest amount of get together time that people have. A session can have several styles of scenes within it and have a particular theme and setting for that day but this isn’t always the case for a fast moving group.

Adventure – An adventure is what some call a campaign, others a one shot, quest, or even an epic scene. This is usually has two different meanings depending who is using it.

  1. A publisher will use adventure to mean a collected book. Usually these are on the scale of Campaigns that take many Sessions to complete. The new Hoard of the Dragon Queen has chapters intended to be finished in a single session and the whole book of them is connected to make it an epic adventure. Fantasy Flight Games published adventures fall into this scale where it would be missing quite a bit of detail to finish it in just a couple of sessions, but do not make time distinctions and only theme distinctions.
  2. A player or GM will use adventure as a fit in for the small scale one or two week narrative sections in a campaign. This scale of description allows people to compartmentalize smaller pieces together without having to invent a new word. Each YALP would be considered an adventure on each planet for the recent Age of Rebellion YALP. Many adventures would then make up a campaign together.

Campaign – A series of encounters and quests that contain an overarching plot. This can be of a set length or, once the plot, the themes, and the setting of a game are found through ongoing play and a goal has been found that the players and GM want to achieve, it can be finished so that an end can happen.

Having these two different definitions for adventures is what has confused me. While both are useful descriptions the two are no where near equivalent. This is where my own issues have come from and why I feel I’ve cheated some of my players.I’ve rushed them through locations and not expanded upon things that they showed a little interest in but that distracted from moving forward quickly. I’ve now found that it helps to keep in mind published Adventures are meant to be things that players can inhabit for a long time, giving inspiration to your own ideas and plot threads and expanding in ways the original developers could never think of.

Have you run across other definitions to the words I’ve put forward? Let me know below in the comments.

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