A little help from your (DM) friends: is ‘crowdsourcing’ adventure plots possible?

This writer’s “day job” is a newspaper editor. Typically, that vocation has little impact upon this Web log, apart from having posts formatted to conform with the Associated Press Stylebook, but a recent realization about how a relatively new method of covering news stories could be used to create a plot for a D&D adventure has brought this writer’s employment and blog together.

The reporting concept came to this writer’s attention through an article in American Journalism Review. Dubbed “crowdsourcing,” the idea involves using the Internet’s capacity for mass communication to assist a reporter with the task of telling multiple sides of a complex story. That same capacity could be harnessed by blogs and discussion boards to brainstorm superior D&D adventures.

Crowdsourcing is well-defined by the example set forth in the article. In August 2007, a bridge in the American midwestern State of Minnesota collapsed, killing more than a dozen people and injuring almost 150. Recognizing that there were countless witnesses to the event, the daily newspaper in the region used its Web site to solicit eyewitness accounts and photographs of the tragedy. From the responses that poured in, reporters were able to select multiple perspectives, including those from people on either side of the bridge at the time of the collapse, people at the river’s shore and others boating on the river, for example. After the accounts were chosen and verified, reporters could literally describe the event as viewed from almost every angle.

The concept of crowdsourcing could be modified and applied on a much smaller scale for the creation of D&D adventures, using the Internet and free applications like Yahoo! Groups to bring a small group of dungeon masters (DMs) together to exhange ideas about developing specific adventures.

It can be argued that some Web sites, most notably Plot Storming, already exist for this purpose, and they do an admirable job of crowdsourcing D&D ideas. Since there is no such thing as a useless suggestion when brainstorming, even ideas that are undeveloped, immature, plagiarized, silly or just plain weird have intrinsic value to some reader, even if they don’t help the original poster.

The advantage of using such a site is getting input from a potentially unlimited number of creative minds, many of which will suggest ideas you never would have considered.

The disadvantage is that you may get suggestions that don’t match your gaming style, level of plot complexity or campaign intent, making you sift through a great deal of chaff to get to the proverbial wheat, if  any of what you consider to be “wheat,” according to your personal tastes or needs, is present. If you have any players who would use secret information about your game to their character’s advantage, posting your campaign’s plot secrets in a public forum could present an additional problem.

How can some of the benefits of crowdsourcing D&D adventures be obtained without having some of the disadvantages as well? An answer (in theory, at least, to be tested by this writer in the near future) involves twisting the definition of crowdsourcing by restricting the size and composition of the audience. After all, it’s not like the Associated Press or Wired Magazine – the publication that first coined the term – will seek us out for not pursuing crowdsourcing in the strictest sense.

What if a handful of DMs, sharing similar play styles and maturity levels, set up their own discussion group for the purposes of fine-tuning their adventures and campaigns? Although some of the unfettered creativity of unrestricted crowdsourcing would be lost, could that loss be compensated through suggestions from a few hand-selected DMs who share mutual respect and the same outlook about what makes a good D&D game?

Most people who read RPG blogs probably know several individuals with opinions they respect and with whom they agree on some of the divisive aspects of the D&D community: edition preference, hack ‘n’ slash vs. storyteller, adversarial DM vs. neutral DM, scarcity or abundance of magic, use of supplemental materials, ad nauseum. By inviting those people to a Yahoo! group or Google group, something like a password-protected “DM Chamber,” would the utility of the suggestions relative to each member be higher than an unrestricted crowdsource? Would the knowledge each member gains about other members’ campaigns lead to more insightful suggestions?

It may very well be that some readers may have already done exactly what has been suggested. while this writer may have something to report on this topic in a few weeks, if you have had a “crowdsource-like” D&D creative experience, please consider sharing it in a comment to this post.

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4 comments on “A little help from your (DM) friends: is ‘crowdsourcing’ adventure plots possible?

  1. Avertedd says:

    Класно! Нашел, наконец толковый блог на просторах интернета) Ура!

    • Toe-Knee says:

      Just lending a hand…
      Translated:
      [Klasno]! Found, finally intelligent [blog] on the spaces of the Internet) hurray!

      Na zdrowie!

  2. kaeosdad says:

    A website for DMs would be a great resource, I’ve been working on collaborating with my group(the majority of us are DMs) on a shared setting.

    http://symptomsofmadness.blogspot.com/2009/05/4e-west-marches-style-starting-second.html

    This approach takes a lot of time though, a website where DMs could get together and look for other DMs to collaborate on projects would be great. Especially if everyone wrote up a summary of their preferred genre/play styles and their goals.

    Hm, I need to think about this more but it’s late and I have to wake up in a few hours for work. I think this is a great idea worth pursuing.

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