“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
I have within the last twenty four hours acquired and played Vanillaware's latest endeavor, Dragon's Crown. It's a side-scrolling beat-em-up very much inspired by Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons arcade games: Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. At about five hours into it, I can say I'm having a blast! It's even got me thinking of campaigns and my next turn at GMing again.
The premise is rather simple. A group of adventurers goes from dungeon to dungeon in search of the mythical Dragon's Crown, aka: the McGuffin. Sounds like a basic campaign to me. The details of the plot and all related events are a thinly woven excuse to get you from scene to scene. Still sounds like a campaign to me. Go from dungeon to dungeon, killing things and taking their stuff. Alright, it's an extremely basic campaign. That can still be fun, right? Let's analyze it a bit.
I'm just going to get this right out the way in the beginning: Not everyone wants to just kill things and take their stuff. Got it? Good, because you can be simple without it devolving into that. The two are not mutually inclusive. Moving on!
As much as I love a good plot filled with things to puzzle and ponder over, I also like to simply exist in the moment. It is, in fact, quite possible to have a plot so convoluted and chock full of stuff to have to piece together that you don't really have time to do anything else. You know, things like being a character. The balance point between a simple plot and a complex plot may also coincide with the balance between plot-driven and character-driven storytelling: are we more focused on the characters and their story or the main plot and it's components?
A simple plot is, as stated earlier, a thin excuse to get the characters from scene to scene... just as a complex plot is a convoluted excuse to get the characters from scene to scene. Keeping that in mind, the complexities and nuances in-between are used primarily to provide context to what is happening in-scene. As long as the point gets across, does the reasoning have to be intricate? Does the addition of more variables or plot threads make that much of a difference when the next scene is still going to be 'bonk the orc on the head to get pie'? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. While there is a feeling of gratification to be gained from puzzling out something like this, if inadequately presented, it may come across more like a chore than an adventure.
Just because a plot is simple doesn't mean it can't have rising tension either. You can have an epic tale with a simple plot. Tolkein's works are a great example of this. Both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings use the basic plot of the 'quest', and they still turned out epic. A simple jaunt from point 'A' to point 'B' becomes embroiled with ever-snowballing adversity as things move along.
How's this for an idea? One of the things I'd like to do eventually is to run an entire campaign via randomized tables and such. Just as an experiment. Take one group of adventurers and fabricate an ever growing tale one die roll at a time. As each element is generated, the trick is to weave it into a semblance of a plot. Whether or not every little bit ends up relevant to some masterstroke of villainy is immaterial. By the end of it all, the party will have an adventure. At the end of the day, isn't that what's it's all about?
Remember, keep it simple, and Stay Classy!