In designing dramatic campaigns we focus on the character, creating intimate settings that allow Players to inhabit their character’s background, leading (hopefully) to the flourishing of the character(s). What does this mean for action adventures? If we put less focus on character backgrounds, what role do Players have in creating an action setting?
Some may disagree with me here, but I find action games are best suited for the oft-maligned “railroad” campaign. While you can always run action campaigns in a sandbox, the desire for fast-paced action will be answered much more directly and frequently if you get on the action train. Just take a look at classic modules and published adventures to see how their scenes are often linked, one action scene after another.
This desire to link action scenes together explains the love of “dungeon crawls,” in which a series of rooms and halls is jam-packed with adventures and challenges. Another good approach to action adventure is the classic “hex crawl.” These adventures provide more freedom of movement for Players, but still work hard to bring the action through an unpredictable series of random encounters.
With the GM often solely responsible for creating the individual scenes and links between them, what role do we Players have in these settings? I break them down into the following:
• Get on the action train: This isn’t a sandbox so don’t dawdle: instead, agree to follow the GM’s lead and follow the plot as best as possible. These games usually focus on the here-and-now, so background won't matter all that much. Get to the encounters quickly, and embrace them.
• Pacing matters: In a dungeon crawl you are moving in turns and round rates; you don’t have a lot of time to dilly-dally, so let the dice and the the GM set the pace. Then just keep up!
• The action is all in the encounter: Your time to shine will be during the encounter, as you describe your actions in turn. You can embrace the action and assist the GM by helping to describe details in excited tones during the encounter. This is where the magic happens!
We should probably talk about that last point, just to make it more clear: classic or “trad” games usually rely on the GM to define all aspects of the encounter, but many modern games move away from this. My favorite would be Fate, because by taking advantage of the Aspect mechanics, Players can really get involved in the setting of encounter scenes.There is no doubt that the action of an action adventure lies within the encounter. Therefore as Players we should work hand-in-hand with the GM to get to each encounter, be prepared to embrace them by knowing the rules, and pay attention to the mechanics that prescribe how our characters can interact during the encounter. After that, the action you take is the action you make!