Black Panther 1

black panther 1

Today, Patrick and Ryan M. are discussing Black Panther 1, originally released April 6th, 2016.

Patrick: It’s tempting to believe that we live in an era of non-localized revolutions. People may be demonstrating in Ferguson, but images of those demonstrations were tweeted and shared and broadcast all over the world. Through media (both social and vanilla), I am able to experience the revolution. That is privileged belief: at most, I can only pretend to participate by engaging with those television broadcasts and facebook posts. I can always offer myself an emotional distance because I am physically removed from the actual chaos and momentum of revolution. The people actually swept up in those demonstrations aren’t so lucky — energy of the revolution pushes them ever forward, without time to craft their think-pieces about the most effective way to express their dissatisfaction. Black Panther 1 finds Wakanda on the brink of civil war, and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze expertly propel the chaos forward, while constantly reminding the reader how badly the powers that be wish they were only dealing with static, distant images on a screen.

Part of those powers that be is our hero, T’Challa, the newly re-crowned King of Wakanda, and re-cowled Black Panther. We are introduced to T’Challa with three simple panels that express some of the defining relationships in his life: with his father, representing his legacy as a member of the royal family; with Namor, representing his history as a superhero; and with the Dora Milaje, representing his country. All three of these panels bleed through the upper gutter of the page, implying that we’re joining a the story already in progress.

this is black panther

Of course, we are. These formative events have all happened on pages of comics published years (and in some cases, decades) ago. The cover may say “#1” but we all know this isn’t the beginning. Interestingly, these three panels all terminate in this image of T’Challa hunched over on the ground. T’Challa doesn’t appear to be in any panel here, notice how the white from the gutter creeps in on the ground beneath him. Pay attention to that gutter — it plays a huge part in the storytelling in this issue.

How huge? Well consider that every page begins with the first panel violating the gutter and ends with the final panel doing the same. Those first panels are always coming in from the top or the left, and those last panels always go out on the bottom or right side of the page. All other panels dutifully respect the boundaries of the page that the gutter establishes — every single one. The result is that each page pushes into the space of the next, making the cause-and-effect of this issue feel as though it’s tumbling over itself to occur. This is the chaos — the non-stop grind — of revolution. I first noticed this during Ayo’s rescue of Aneka, because I thought the size and distribution of the panels was a little funky. Like, it struck me as odd that those two panels of Ayo kicking ass in the Midnight Angel costume weren’t next to each other.

Ayo rescues Aneka

The exact positioning of all the characters in those two panels would have been so much tighter if they were on the same line — as it stands, it takes a little extra work to make those non-adjacent panels read like they’re part of one fluid motion. But this does put a larger emphasis on that final panel of Ayo flying away with Aneka in her arms. Again, notice how the page starts as though it’s continuing a long strip of panels from the previous page, and goes out like it’s going to be continued off the page. This lends the sequence, and by extension the whole issue, an impressive momentum.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this rule, and they come about in the form of computer screens. Throughout the issue, T’Challa, Ramonda and the citizens of Wakanda attempt to figure out what’s going on by consulting screens. No one’s watching the news or checking their twitter feeds, but screens show T’Challa fighting his own people, or delivering vital stats on the woman with the Aura of Chaos. Pages that start or end with screen-panels do not violate the gutter in the same way, which suggests a reduced amount of urgency when this revolution is viewed through the safe distance of a computer screen. Through the screen, Ramonda is able to judge Aneka’s act of killing the lecherous chieftain with a different set of eyes than she would have had she actually been there. Ayo tries to make that case to her mother: Aneka was swept up in the justice of the moment, and it is fundamentally unfair to judge her actions from a place of such safety.

There’s another parallel here in the pronounced shapes of the windows in Wakandan government buildings. In Ramonda’s palatial judgment chamber (or, whatever that room is supposed to be), there’s an enormous and bizarre window.

Wakandan windows

It’s like there’s an artificial frame around her view of the outside world. LIKE A SCREEN PERHAPS?!!? I can appreciate that this might be a little bit of a stretch, but the idea of the window is reinforced later when Aneka is in prison.

Prison Window

It’s telling that the only way Aneka gets involved in the revolution again is by having Ayo physically destroy the wall that supports this window. The window, or the screen, signifies distance, and the only way to close that distance is to demolish those barriers.

Ryan, I might be a bit too enamored with the comic-craft that went in to this issue, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t really mention what happened in this one. Hey, I’ll leave plot and character to you! I like the idea that the Midnight Angels could be superhero-esque leaders of the revolution, but I feel like any of the revolutionary themes are a tad undermined by the implication of mind-control. I assume that’s what “Aura: Chaos” means, but who the hell knows?

Ryan: You’re right that the mind control aspect of the plot could de-legitmize the rage of the rebels. Given the recent traumas and the evil that has grown up in its wake, it’s also easy to see how the revolution is merely being hastened by Zenzi’s powers.

Coates does an excellent job showing us a few angles on that revolution through multiple storylines. I want to get into the rebels, but, first, another screen! In addition to visual language of screens, they also play a concrete narrative role in the issue. The screen forms a literal barrier between T’Challa and Ramonda as they discuss the unrest in Wakanda.


T’Challa is approaching the impending revolution like a solider, as Ramonda notes. T’Challa can’t hear what his step-mother is saying to him and the screen acts as a visual cue to reinforce the lack of clarity in their conversation. While he may be back on the throne, T’Challa is still treating the nation’s unrest like a super-hero. If he can vanquish the woman on the screen, he can restore the faith of his people.

The issue uses the origin of the Midnight Angels to demonstrate T’Challa’s shortsightedness. There are no signs in the issue that Ayo and Aneka are under Zenzi’s control. Instead their desire to change Wakanda comes from personal experience with the failures of the system. Aneka murdered a chieftan rapist who was otherwise protected within the confines of the law. Ayo rescued the woman she loves from an unjust death sentence. T’Challa could dispatch Zenzi and stop her from fomenting any more skirmishes, but the agony that she exploits will not go away.

Ayo and Aneka state their philosophies and reasoning for revolution in a series of panels that take them from a tender moment to battle stance.

midnight angel origin

I was a bit thrown by the paraphrased Kanye lyric in the first panel, but Coates does an excellent job in justifying the women’s decision to don the suits and fight for revolution. They see the injustice of Wakanda and decide to transcend their lives and fight as if they are beyond death. The phrasing in the last panel as the Midnight Angels vow “to act as a dead woman should” works not just as segue into Necropolis but as a judgement as to T’Challa’s behavior in the final scene of the issue.

T’Challa is trying to defy death itself to return his sister to life. Wakanda has fallen apart. T’Challa’s choice to devote his energy on the resurrection of one woman rather than heal the fissures is indicative of his inability to function as a king rather than a super hero. Heads of state don’t have the luxury of spending their evenings trying to save a single person. Instead, the weight of your entire population lays on your shoulders.

T’Challa establishes himself as a capable fighter and detective as well as a scientist in this issue. These are great skills for an Avenger, but a king needs to address problems  on a macro level. Coates uses the women in this issue as a chorus, speaking to T’Challa’s inability to see the problems that are leading Wakanda toward a bloody and destabilizing revolution.

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12 comments on “Black Panther 1

  1. Stan Lee deserves a lot of credit for making Black Panther. I believe the story goes that he realized there was no one in the Marvel Universe that reflected his black friend, so he made one. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that for every great thing about Black Panther, Wakanda and the surrounding mythos, there is a lot of bad stuff.

    I’m reminded of the really interesting critiques about Cyborg – namely the fact that he has no dick. A recurring criticism of Cyborg has been the fact that he has been emasculated, that he’s the black guy who you can trust not to sleep with your daughter. And in many ways, there are similarities with Wakanda. Wakanda is this genius utopia, but defined by being isolationist. No white guy is ever going to be threatened by Wakanda’s intelligence, because Wakanda will never ‘win’. Even if they have the cure for cancer (and in the comics, they actually do), Wakanda’s isolationist nature will never mean that a white person will be properly threatened by it. Quite simply, the Black Panther mythos is black empowerment in a way designed to make sure a white person will never lose. There’s a lot to explore there, especially when you also have to deal with balancing the African roots with avoiding nasty tribal sterotypes AND the misogynistic lore around the Dora Milaje.

    And that’s why you get Ta-Nehisi Coates. You guys have done a fantastic job at discussing the art, but it is impossible to discuss this book without discussing Coates. I mean, this is a book that is getting mainstream attention unlike anything else simply because of who Coates is. I remember seeing one person say, when the book was announced, that Coates hiring showed just how hard it was to for black writers to work for Marvel – that the only announced writer was an actual legend. Coates’ ability to explore systems is allowing him to critique Wakanda is amazing ways. In a single word, Coates is able to attack the sexist foundations of Dora Milaje, and Coates only wants to go on. What I like best about this, though, he is is not taking the easy root and just magically fixing it. He is actually addressing it and working through it all, and it truly looks like we are at the start of something classic.

    The book obviously has the signs of a writer unused to writing comics, but also shows someone who knows how form and structure works. Someone who looks like he will quickly learn from his mistakes, while creating the sort of story that truly resonates. He has such an understanding of Wakanda, its problems and its people, and the desire to dig into it. This is the sort of stuff that provides the foundations of a masterpiece.

    Will it be one? Who knows. Coates looks to be learning fast, but still has a lot to learn. Comics are a very different medium to journalistic articles. But between what we can see Coates doing, and Stelfreeze’s amazing art, Black Panther has already proved that it deserves the attention it got

  2. Coates has been talking about how he is use DND Modules as a model for writing this (to the point of looking around for GM tools so that he can make an actual map of Wakanda), and honestly, there is a lot of interesting stuff to discuss from that idea.

    Running a Tabletop Roleplaying game requires you to break from the usual accepted practices of story structure. Running a game requires you to overcome some major hurdles that nothing else has, which provide really fascinating differences. And the really interesting thing is that there is nothing stopping you from using these strategies in a comic, like Coates is doing.

    The first major thing about running a game is that the GM does not have sole control over the story. Players can have their characters say or do whatever they want, which leads a GM to need to treat the setting as a system. Location, people and events need to be understood in a way that when character X does something, reverberations can quickly be understood. In the game I am running, I had a player character get blinded, and now have to adjust all my plans around the fact that one character now cannot see. This creates a situation where the best stories work not by building towards something, but building from something. And often means that you reach endings not through meticulous structure, but careful guiding. A sacrifice of elegance and structure for reactivity and humanity. THough this isn’t too different from many other sorts of stories. Being a glorified soap opera, this is the exact sort of structure that Game of Thrones uses. And honestly, the sort of stuff Coates would probably write anyway, considering who he is and what he does

    But the other, more important difference, is a much more complex difference. In traditional narratives, characters have to balance wins and losses. This is something that works really differently in gaming. Quite simply, players losing is honestly a bad story. The mechanics that underline your average RPG are designed such that if the players lose, they are also likely killed. The party wipes, everyone rerolls, and you have to start a new story while the last story ends anticlimactically fighting a patrol of orcs. The need to have players reach the actual finale means that they often win their encounters. Instead, you have the concept of ‘Fail Forward’, the idea that when you fail, the best thing to do is have the characters succeed at a high cost, to keep the story moving forward (the classic example is tracking the bad guys. If a player fails the roll, either your story grinds to a halt as they can’t follow, or you tell them that they successfully track the bad guys… but step on a stick and alert everyone)

    There are solutions. You ‘win’ the fight, but the bad guys did what they wanted anyway – an unsatisfying way of doing it. You were secretly working for the bad guy all along – a boring and quickly played out plot twist. But even these bad solutions fail at one important point. No matter how you have the characters ‘fail’, you also have to contend with the consistent increase of a character’s competency. At the start of a campaign, the heroes are at the weakest, but every session, they get closer and closer to the power level that is required to defeat the Big Bad. Even in a failure, experience points means that you end the session better off than you started. You are constantly succeeding (unless you are in the rare game where a character can be permanently blinded, but that only happens when you have the right sort of critical hit rules, and are therefore by definition very rare).

    So, this means that in your average game, the villain is at the height of their power at the start, and the story of a game is about how each and every asset they have is slowly chipped away from the constantly get stronger and stronger. So if you don’t want to use the cheats I discussed above, how do you have failures? Through choice. Create situations where every path has a cost. I once did this by having a game where nearly every action they made helped one of the Bad Guys. In another, I gave them three objectives, and gave them time only to do one (the players split up, but this still meant that they failed one objective). Players fail not due to being inadequate, but by choosing to succeed in something else.

    Which seems to be something that could play an important insight in Coates’ Black Panther. Black Panther’s failure in this issue isn’t the inability to solve the crisis, but the choice to not to in order to solve another crisis – his sister’s health. I would not be surprised if this is the backbone of his run. The cost of decisions. A story where a character’s failures aren’t in his lack of ability (something always a little hollow in a superhero story) but on what he decides to value

    • I will just say this: From your post, which I liked, I can tell you are at least moderately younger than me, based on your description of DND.

      I will also say this: I don’t know the names of the people that created this comic. I’d never heard of them. It’s possible that’s more a testament to my ignorance, which I will publicly admit. However, the ads in previous Marvel books were so glowing with praise for the description of the two I honestly for a while assumed it was a joke and this was going to be a comedy book. It was not a promising start. You don’t need to tell me the creator is a genius and the other is a legend.

      I also will say this: I really wanted to like this comic. I really try to support diversity in creators and characters, even if they are not creators or characters I have a previous interest in.

      I must also say this: I found this unreadable. I was bored from page one. I find the Marvelverse has changed since Secret Wars enough that I’m forced (and willing) to take changes at face value and dive into the story. It’s how I liked Power Man and Iron Fist, how I thought Red Wolf was great, and how I completely didn’t like Angela. Some things are for me and some aren’t.

      I do need to confess this: I wanted to like it, but circumstances did make it harder for me to appreciate. I don’t think any comic about a ‘new’ character (haha, new. New enough to me, I guess) should be $5. I had to pay $7 because the comic was sold out and I needed to buy a variant. I didn’t even like the variant cover (although I think the regular cover is weak as well). So there was even more pressure on this.

      But it was boring. It was about characters I didn’t know (and I found the art to be mediocre at best and the coloring and shadows added to the lack of clarity in every action scene). The story read like bad modern Shakespeare cosplay, and I seriously was ready for Namor to come back from the dead and wipe the whole thing out again so I wouldn’t have to read it any more.

      I stopped reading it the first two times I tried to read it. I read it all the way through although i fell asleep and then reread it again. I’ve tried and tried and this was very easily one of my bottom 5 Marvel All New All Different comics.

      And I keep reading how awesome the creators are and how everyone likes it and the fact the writer is using DND modules (really? I certainly hope not 4E, unless he’s just looking for pretty maps) to help the process makes me want to like it more and I just am so unsatisfied with it.

      I even reread the first ten pages while writing this and still can’t get through it without it feeling like I’m reading a bad 7th grade textbook about a land of stupid vain people.

      I like the title page and the splash intro page. I think those are pretty cool. So there was something I guess. But man, for dollar value for me (especially considering it was $7)? Worst comic per dollar of the year and I don’t think it’s close

      • My comments were on roleplaying games in general, and not DND specifically. In fact, examples of my own games come from very new systems (systems that generally have done a great job refining the shape of Dungeons and Dragons into something more conductive to flexible roleplaying). I don’t believe many of the ideas I discussed are new, but they have certainly only been properly codified recently. Fail Forward is certainly a concept that all of a sudden sprung up in books.

        Naturally, roleplaying games have had to shift towards this. Back when the community was still new, this sort of stuff didn’t exist, leading to things like dungeon crawls full of disconnected puzzles, players dying at any point etc (Tomb of Horrors being the great example). But as time goes on, the storytelling has evolved. I rarely run modules, but one of my players is about to run a 5e adventure path, and it is truly amazing how it is set up. There is no set path, but instead of setting full of opportunities that allow you to achieve your goal. There is a large focus on choices, being the true way of dictating the story. A published DND module is doign all the same stuff that I do, and all of the great GM advice stuff does, and DND will always be one of the slowest games to evolve, due to the nature of the brand.

        More and more, the sort of stuff I talked about is being formalized, as people udnerstand how to tell a story in roleplaying games. Despite the disastrous step backwards that was 4e (it is honestly astonishing how big of a step backwards 4e is for Roleplaying as a whole), the new DND is as modern as I can imagine DND being. And there are so many games that really push the modern design ethos outside of Dungeons and Dragons.

        On Ta-Nehisi Coates, he is a correspondent for the Atlantic, well known for is incisive discussions on social and political issues. He comes from a really different worlds to comics, and that is what makes him a big deal. Someone at the top of his game in a completely different field, coming to write for Marvel (also why the first issue cost so much). My praise for Stelfreeze comes only from the form that we all discussed here, I have nothing special to say about him.

        I do think this issue has a problem in that it is all set up, understandably a problem with a writer new to comics. Still, I found it a good start, with lots of potential. A shame you didn’t, but then there are just as many books I wish I liked that I don’t.

        • 1) Tomb of Horrors is great. It’s always been great, it always will be great.

          2) I don’t like adventure paths. I actually don’t like most modules as most people use them, although I love most modules. My idea of an ideal DND world is one that IS based on a megadungeon type event (be it Stonehell, Caves of Chaos or Isle of Dread or Castle Greyhawk or whatever). The game that I Dm’d for a couple of years used the basic and expert rulebook rules (the oldschool blue and red books, although we just used the modern compilation of them, Labyrinth Lord) and was mostly an open world for players to choose from. They had the option of the megadungeon (actually, two. I also had a mini-megadungeon called Dyson’s Delve that caused the death of beloved dwarf henchman, Murray). From these points, the world was open where there was a variety of homemade or professional modules (intact or modified). As the dm, I was surprised when the players heist of the local competing cult went bad so they took their ill-gotten gains and got on a boot to the isle of doom. Completely surprised me.

          Really, player agency is what I was going for, and most players liked that.

          3) I’ve heard good reviews about most modern 5e adventures. I’m currently playing in Hoard of the Dragon Queen with the kids at school, and it’s pretty terrible, unfortunately. No matter what we do, we’re going to end up chasing the Dragon Queen. If we veer off the path, there’s nothing for us to do except find a clue to get to the Dragon Queen. That’s how it’s set up, and we’re having fun, but it’s not what *I* would do to run a game.

          4) That’s the danger of following Pathfinder’s route to adventure making. Their adventures are paths, stories that you’re in, rather than a world you’re in and who knows what the story will be.

          5) I think DND itself is a bad example of a role playing game, even if it’s the game that started role playing for so many. Its original design wasn’t for that, and 5e still has mechanics that discourage actual role play. “I persuade the slumlord to give us the key to free the half orc orphans.” “Ok, roll the dice!” (simplification, but true). It was DESIGNED for dungeon crawls originally, and then world crawls later on. As people got into it, it morphed into these more modern RPGs.

          6) Yes, I realize most modules are ‘paths’, even the famous ones by Gygax. Although I think his two best are the least linear, Barrier Peaks and Tsojcanth.

          I better go to work today. Which means leaving the keyboard. Have a good day! I need a regular DND game other than sitting in with students for 2 hours after school on Fridays.

        • 1) Ah, Tomb of Horrors. Memories…

          2) I would argue there is a big difference between a megadungeon and an open world. To me, a dungeon is specifically something like Tomb of Horrors, where you have that singular location, and everything is primarily combat based. A Dungeon is ‘walk into room, deal with encounter’. Essentially entirely ‘game’ based. If you are looking for player agency, and want players to have the choice the run a heist or something, you don’t have a dungeon, you have an Open World (but you can certainly have dungeons in your Open World). But dungeons, by themselves, are bad for player agency as there is generally little to do except solve puzzles and kill monsters (a choice of dungeons, however, is player agency).

          3) Honestly, my GMing style is kind of similar to the 5e adventures, I guess. I’m all about player agency, but I’m not truly Open World. I agree with my players on a premise, and they build characters who are all motivated to achieve that goal. Then I let them loose on the world, to choose how they solve my plot. So in my games, the players will always chase the Dragon Queen, but they can choose how they do it. Technically, they could choose to ignore the Dragon Queen, but they’ve all created characters who want to move through the plot. But that’s because I like having an actual story. Nothing wrong with your Open World style (in fact, I’ve had fun experiences in games like that). And even if 5e’s adventures aren’t too your style, I’m just happy that they are telling their adventures like that. Quite simply, the way they are doing it is much better than ‘1st you fight these goblins, then you fight these orcs, then you fight this boss, no leaving the railroad’. If you want to run an Open World, that’s awesome. If you want to tell a story, the way I do it/5e does/the stuff I discussed above is the best way to do it

          4) Yeah, DND is going to be a game that is always behind the curve. 3.5 let’s you be anything, but is mechanically broken to hell. 4ed is a miniatures game masquerading as a Roleplayign game. I like 5ed a lot, but can’t help but feel that if I had the choice, I would run 13th Age or something instead.
          I actually don’t have a problem with systems having you roll for conversation skills, as I feel it let’s players play whatever they want, even if they aren’t good at talking in real life. And it is very useful when you have players who have played for so long they have become experts at creating elaborate arguments. What I do is I actual roleplay out the scene, and only tell the player to role when I feel the discussion has reached the climax (and reward bonuses depending on the scene)
          Currently, the system I am using is Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars system, which is really great. Really flexible, letting all sorts of different characters work together. Unlike DnD, it isn’t designed for dungeon crawls, but to allow utterly any character you can imagine to work together. I can combine murder mysteries, heists, starship fights and diplomacy in one game, if I want. And I have a massive collection of games

          5) I’m currently running a Star Wars game set after the Battle of Endor, about to start a Guardians of the Galaxy game and run a LARP. Also have a couple of smaller stuff, short five session games, I want to run. Includign a Suicide Squad game (I recently did a fantastic game like this based on INglorious Basterds, which ended with the greatest story ever)

        • 2) I think what’s missing in our conversation is the difference between ‘dungeon’ (like Tomb of Horrors or Tomb of the Lizard King or White Plume Mountain or whatever) and megadungeon (like Stonehell or Castle Greyhawk). Most modules that TSR (and later, Wizards) put out were the former. They were there to put a relatively linear path in front of players and give DMs a story to follow. A map, rooms with monsters and traps and treasure, sometimes a big bad. Those were, in many ways, good things. They also were, in many ways, bad things.

          Tomb of Horrors, for all its greatness (which i won’t debate, because I understand all the contrary arguments), is a linear path to a near unbeatable bad guy at the end. To ‘win’ you have to find the right piece at the right time and jump through 7 or 10 or 18 hoops to get to the end. Everyone who plays it and ‘wins’ kind of has to do the same thing to get there. There’s occasional moments of genius deviation, but mostly you find the secret door, don’t fall into the fire chute, kill the four armed stone golem, find the right gem, pull the right lever, etc…

          It’s a great piece of the game.

          To me, and many others of my age group, we played all the modules. Sometimes many times. If you asked me right now to play G2 and attack the Frost Giants, I’d feign illness and pull up some level 9 mage hoping not to fireball an avalanche on me. But the true tentpole of all of these modules and dungeons were the megadungeons, which just weren’t published by TSR becuase they were just too damn big.

          Example: Stonehell, which is still in my opinion one of the best published adventures ever, is a megadungeon that offers more than a linear path to the big bad guy. SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO PLAY DND. It’s a 10 level monstrosity, with each level having 4 wings at least. There is also a surface level and some sub levels. There are paths to deeper parts that involve skipping easier parts. Each level has its own ecology and each wing of each level has its own as well. You barter with the kobolds because they actually can provide safe haven while you bribe the orcs to get through to the second level because you ahve two clerics and can handle the undead there. You then recruit the orcs to help fight the hobgoblin redoubt while searching for information to find out how dangerous the lizard folk in the southeast corner are. You skip them (because both your fighters had to work late and you’re short on melee) to work deeper in the undead, where you find a map through the mecha portion of level 4. Your mages are interested, but you’re overpowered. You need more magic (and levels and hp) so you leave the megadungeon to return to town and spend some time hunting the villains that had been ransacking local caravans only to find that they have ogres! That leads away from the megadungeon long enough to…

          So the dungeon can BE the world, but can also be a starting point out to the world. If the characters never want to leave, they honestly don’t have to. And from conversations with Gygax, a lot of the modules put out were meant to be branches off his megadungeon. EX1 and EX2 were exactly that: Magical portals to other worlds, requiring skill and imagination to get back. So was X2, Castle Amber.

        • 3) I have not read all of the 5e adventures. I’ve read Hoard of the Dragon Queen, (don’t tell my students, but I’m good at playing dumb) and I think it’s the worst kind of railroad. Not only do I have to exactly do chapter 10, It’s set up to do exactly chapter 1 and then chapter 2 and then chapter 3. You have to find the letter and then have to be on the caravan and then have to find the white dragon lady and get teleported…

          And we’re having fun with that. It’s just not my first choice of style. Even though I reminisce fondly about Castle Amber (which I’ve played twice and dm’d 3 times), it’s as railroady as hell. It just needs to be a GREAT story then. I prefer a more open ended approach of Keep on the Borderlands, which is a railroad in the sense there’s monsters, go get them, but open in that it’s a series that doesn’t need to be done in any order. Most fight the kobolds or orcs first, some find the ogre, others dive into the evil cult. And you can fight or negotiate or befriend whoever you want however you want.

          4) I’ve heard good things about Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars game. I’m always slightly disappointed in space type RP games, but I’m more of a sword and sorcery guy at heart. But if I found someone running that and it fit my schedule (which nothing does right now, very unhappy about my lack of gaming), I’d love to try it.

        • I’m not sure I would call multiple paths proper player agency, or at least not agency in the ways I like to talk about it. To me, giving players the choice to go left or right isn’t interesting, nor is the ‘let’s go to another part of the dungeon to train up’, even if the ‘other part of the dungoen’ his the caravans being attacked outside. I’m more interested in ‘What do you do with the orc camp ahead’. That’s the sort of stuff I find interesting. Setting a challenge, and letting the players solve it how they wish, instead of just wandering around to different encounters that are all solved in the same way.

          So things like the Hobgoblin Redoubt and bribing the orcs is exactly the stuff I liek the sound of, and the way I like to play my games. I haven’t read any of the 5e adventures, but I’ve talked to a friend about to run the Underdark one, and what I like is that you start in prison, and you have to work out how you want to escape. You are given a prison routine, and a bunch of events that happen during your stay, and your job to to think up how you take advantage of that routine and the other events to escape. I like the sound of that (even if I don’t know how it is actually done in the book). You then start a quest for the surface, which begins by travelling to one of your fellow prisoner’s cities. Which city? Your choice, made by talking to them and deciding who you want to follow (and which ones survived the escape). Again, I like that sort of choice, which feels like your character making an actual choice, instead of just choosing where to explore next.

          In my Star Wars game, I enjoyed giving them multiple objectives in the finale, but not giving them enough time. Force them to actually make a choice. To me, that is the essence of good roleplaying. That doesn’t mean you can’t have what you do, and have players choose where to explore. Just that each place you explore should have encounters designed around the idea of choosing how to solve the crisis, instead of every encounter having a single solution. That’s how I like to play.

          And yeah, I completely understand being a Fantasy guy at heart. Honestly, I find Fantasy games aren’t as naturally inspiring to me, despite loving fantasy. Just struggle to come up with good ideas with DnD. Though I do have a big fantasy game I want to run at some point…

        • Obviously there are many levels to player agency. I started writing what I thought about them, but I realized we’re mostly saying the same things.

          To me, agency that I want players to have in a game I run are these:

          1) Options on where to go and what kind of adventure to have. They should be able to choose between raiding the Caves of Chaos or delving into Stonehell or building a bankroll to buy a boat to explore the Isle of Dread or investigating the missing caravan. That’s where the multitude of adventures that I’ve made over the years and the adventures that I’ve bought come in. I can make a world that has many things to do and locations to travel.

          2) Once the adventure is chosen (and this is by character play usually, not them sitting around saying, let’s do Caves of Chaos! I like to think my stuff is a little better hidden), there are multiple routes to the end goal. To ‘defeat’ CoC, they can start at the lowest level and clean out each tribe. They can go to the Death Cult. They can start with the hobgoblins and work backwards. In essence, there are multiple paths through the dungeon/wilderness/city/adventure.

          3) Encounters have multiple ways of being overcome. Sometimes negotiation, sometimes trickery, sometimes brute force, sometimes magic. And backtracking IS allowed. Sometimes (many times if they chose terrain with difficult obstacles) backing up and avoiding the encoutner (or fleeing in terror from the tribe of half-ogres) is best.


          I find the modern adventure path to only succeed on the third level of agency. I prefer the adventures that I can easily piece in to my world than grand overarching campaigns. I can fit in Slave Pits of the Undercity (although that’s pretty linear as it was a tourney module) into my world. I have a hard time fitting modern creations in.

          In the end, I think we’re mostly on the same page. We want characters to have to solve problems in a variety of ways rather than open the door roll for initiative fight fight spell spell loot treasure for hours after hours. I just prefer to have a more open world – but I also prefer using the old school red/blue box or Labyrinth Lord than even AD&D.

        • Honestly, from what it seems like, our differences are twofold, and honestly quite minor.

          Firstly, you like using planned adventures, which I don’t. Nothing important there, that’s just how it goes.

          Secondly, I prefer to give my players a broad goal, while you don’t. Which means that my players make their choices in an attempt to best solve that goal, while your players make their choices in an attempt to best solve whatever goal they came up with themselves. 5e’s adventures are designed for the former (as they give the players a goal like deal with the Dragonqueen’s plans or escape the Underdark), while older adventures are designed for the latter (and can be plugged into your game wherever you want, so players can encounter it when they make the decision to)

          Small, subtle difference

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