Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Am A Book

One of the characteristics I believe I possess that makes me a good DM is being able to sit on information almost indefinitely, to keep it out of the party's hands.  Earlier I wrote a post on the campaign blog that describes a detail I've kept to myself for a little more than seven months.  This is nothing.  There are details about my campaigns that I have kept to myself for more than six years.  I haven't told anybody.  Moreover, unless a party goes and investigates those mysteried, I will go to my deathbed with the knowledge - because I believe that is how a story works.

It annoys me when someone won't read a book I've written, but that is how that particular artform works.  A musician can bring his guitar to a party and force everyone to listen, whether they want to or not.  A painter or sculptor can stand a picture in your way, and though you won't get much out of it unless you invest, if you pass that picture every day you will eventually realize it's of a pond or a beast or something else.

Books, on the other hand, are not visual and they are not auditory.  They require active participation on the part of the reader - and without that participation, the book may as well not exist.

If you have never opened Tolstoy's War And Peace, then you have never experienced the smoke and death surrounding the artillery battery and Andrei Bolkonsky's perspective at the battle of Schongrabern.  You know nothing of Peter's distain for the freemasons, or of Natasha's loss.  You never will, until you open the book and read it.  You will live the rest of your life unenriched, if you so choose - the book will not chase you on streetcorners or come to your house and open itself for you.  It will be your loss.

The same must be said of any place you do not choose to visit, or any knowledge you do not seek to gain.  The world is not built in such a fashion that it makes itself convenient for those who will not do work.  The world will happily leave you in your despair, if the four walls of your room are as much as your gumption will allow.

Because I am a novelist, I think this right and proper.  I cannot bring myself to be concerned with the sort of people who cannot read, any more than a playwrite can afford to worry about those who will not buy a ticket.  My D&D world is no different.

I will rain 'hooks' down on my parties, sending out encounters and having them stumble across lost items, or tempting them with deserted islands and caves.  If the party chooses to take up the mystery, I am committed to making that mystery as brilliant as I can manage, given the skills I have been able to muster these many years of playing.  But if the party declines to go farther, then I will go no farther.  They know what they have earned; and they will know no more.

More to the point, I will hold back and hold back the critical points of those mysteries until the time comes to reveal them.  If a campaign continues for years, I will hold my tongue for years - just as the last page of a book will not be understood in its entirety until all the pages that proceed it are read (there is a special place in hell reserved for people who read the last pages of books first).  This is how entertainment is derived from the artform; this is how I choose to lend the artform of D&D to the business of entertaining players.

1 comment:

Bluebear Jeff said...

I agree with you completely, sir.

But one of my occasional GMing tricks works in a sort of opposite way.

When the party has begun a longing overland journey from a hook, I will several days into it have them all roll dice and I will roll one behind my screen.

I will then take one player aside (please note that the die rolls meant nothing; I will have pre-picked the player to talk to, choosing one who is normally less involved in game action).

I will tell him that he or she has had a disturbing dream. The party has forgotten something vital for their mission. Their character doesn't know what it is, but it is vital.

Each night this dream will get stronger and stronger until the character convinces the party that they've forgotten that unknown vital thing.

I have nothing specific in mind. The party will eventually think of something and will somehow acquire it . . . but I don't really care what they choose . . . the whole object is to involve a less-involved character and to pose a "thinking problem" for the party.

I don't do this often but it has over the years resulted in some interesting situations.

-- Jeff