I think one of the coolest roles of the DM is as the dramatic storyteller. Don't get me wrong, among old buddies, sandbox freedom is awesome. But for newbies, the sandbox is confusing and disorienting. And, can therefore often drag in boredom...
Newbies need plot hooks to get them going! And the best kind of plot hooks are ones that involve the character in larger social conflict plotlines.
By necessity, since beginning characters are low level "nobodies", these plot hooks might seem a bit "railroady", because they involve larger social forces, over which the character has no control, into which he is helplessly swept. This is the basis of all story telling, the foundation of plot tension and audience engagement. The formula is basic: establish identification with a character, then buckle up for the thrill ride as the character is buffeted by the winds of fate, thrown into wild scenarios which require all of his resources and willpower just to survive.
Was Luke railroaded into his adventure? Yeah, probably, but think about it, the DM had no choice! Just look at it from his point of view:
The DM prepared this sweet campaign, and thought of this really cool plot hook, involving a meeting with an old warrior and some NPCs who had some cool info, a mysterious message from a princess, which could lead him off on a dangerous adventure! Rad hook, right???
And what does the PC do? "Oh gee, I dunno, sounds a bit too scary for me... I'm just a level one fighter... I think I need to spend more time exploring the desert, skirmishing with those 1-1 hd jawas... maybe level up a little... I mean, shit, those 2 hd Sand People kicked my ass..."
Krickie, what would you do if you designed all these cool setpieces and monsters -- running from pursuing Storm Troopers, meeting cool NPCs in a Dangerous Tavern/Cantina, Sith Lord boss monster, in Space Station Mega-Dungeon -- and your PC is a total pussy and refuses to go???
KILL OFF HIS EFFIN' FAMILY, that's what you'd do! Burn his house down, too, just for good measure... Can't you just see the DM and PC at the table:
DM: "Coming home from your visit with the old warrior, you see smoke in the distance. Its the smouldering ruins of your home, among which you find the blackened corpses of your whole family. All your possessions are destroyed, and you are left with no connection to this place at all."
PC: "What??? Are you effin' kidding me?"
DM: "No, everything is gone. The old warrior shows up, and offers to help you find the killers."
PC: "Why you railroading mother effer, fine, just fine! I go with the old man... dickhead DM..."
Yeah exactly! Good adventure -- gripping action that brings the average newbie hungering back to the table -- requires a structured but dangerous milieu, complete with moral guidelines, specific objectives, and a developed social conflict into which the character is thrust.
THAT is what I am aiming for with AZ Adventures. I want to create a sandbox-like platform, which has an embedded social conflict structure, into which a player can be plugged according to his preference, but which contains an over-arcing narrative structure and end-game. In other words, not just a series of random, disjointed adventures, but ones which play a role in a larger development.
It's kind of like Risk -- meets Diplomacy -- meets wargaming -- meets D&D. The game will involve a competition for territorial dominance between five or so major powers, who then have to form alliances with each other, and with several other minor powers, in order to achieve supremacy. The main powers, at this point, are the Arya, the Derjuden, the Monmore, the Dineh, perhaps the Celts and Asya. Minor powers include the Elfs, the Giants, the Dwarves, the Gith, the Orcs, the Ogres, the Halflings, the Werewolves, the Centaurs, the Wemics, perhaps others...
Each of the major powers has an option to call upon reinforcements from a homeland "off the map", but most of the work has to be done "by hand" as it were, accomplishing the dirty taks of empire building against rival claimants, defeating their leaders, dispersing their armies, destroying their alliances, stealing their wealth, despoiling their magic, that kind of thing...
As your PC progresses in level, they will rise in rank too. They start as footsoldiers taking orders, accomplishing minor tasks while doing "one-shot", "module-based" adventures. As gain power and experience, they become leaders of men, tasked with bigger objectives, more dangerous foes... Eventually the PCs would rise to directors of armies, rulers of the realm, moving the pieces around to achieve final victory!
Anyway, does that sound like the kind of game you'd like to play? I'm thinking all of it self-contained in a boxed set. Thanks for the feedback.