Monday, May 6, 2013
I don't know how many are familiar with this picture. Certainly, reading the blog, you know the part of the image in the bottom right. The painting's name is The Adoration of the Magi ... and you can find more material written on it than that which briefly occurs on the wikipedia page. I want to say that I love Botticelli - because he's a marvelous artist, yes, but also because of his appearance in this picture. The Virgin and Child are clearly the center of interest, and most of the people in the picture are enamoured with the site. There are three people looking elsewhere - at you - and the expression on Botticelli's self-portrait is priceless. It says to me, "Are you buying this shit?"
And that is me where most of D&D is concerned. All weekend long I had an argument with ravencrowking on the last post, who feels I've got my head up my ass (my words, he's much more polite than that). At the same time, Yagami has been fighting the same fight on this thread here, though I suppose from the other side, defending his world and the post I wrote last Wednesday. I think overall he's doing a better job of it.
Here's what I've learned: 1) people think dungeons are necessary to the game; 2) people feel they have "to play a more active role than just being the manager of a sandbox" (as stated by a fellow with the unfortunate name of 'snot-elemental' ... obviously he's proud of his creativity); and 3) people don't have a fucking clue what a 'sandbox' is.
The argument has been drifting around long enough that there's now plenty of effort to argue that neither the railroaded nor the sandbox game actually exist - a good example of that kind of thinking to be found here (sorry JD). And that's only natural. The lines blur, people redefine the terms to fit their conceptions of either narrative or sandbox, until the definitions grow bloated and ill-defined, and then anyone can call their campaign anything they want, throwing all the terms around at random to describe this or that momentary event.
We've seen this done culturally a thousand times. Redefinitions of republicanism, democracy, libertarianism and so on abound. Whenever someone wants to create a new controversy, it always begins with a hugely vague re-definition: the rape debate was a sensational example of that, where rape was alternately defined as anytime a man had sex with a woman, or anytime a woman didn't definitively use the word "yes," or even any time that a man thought about a woman. Other favorites for ridiculously redefined concepts include science, religion, literature, 'small-business' and so on and so forth.
When you feel pressured by a word that describes you in away you do not like, redefine that word. Don't change your behavior. Redefine the word. And watching that happen over and over, we're all standing there at some point watching a mass crowd fawn over the new concept, thinking, "wow, are they really buying this shit?"
And the shit I'm not buying at the moment is that the sandbox is the narrative is the sandbox is the narrative. I am not buying the argument that at this moment in the campaign, I'm playing in a sandbox, and at this moment in the campaign, I'm being railroaded. And neither exist.
It's all terribly convenient naval-gazing.
The whole issue comes down to a question of causality, "the relation between an event and a second event, where the second event is understood to be the consequence of the first."
Where the cause begins with the player making a statement, "I wish to do this," then it is a sandbox. It is a sandbox even if there's a cave and a dungeon below that cave, that at every point the party agrees to keep going further. It is still a sandbox if the party goes into the cave and the door of the cave snaps shut, locking the party inside. That's not railroading, because the party made the decision to enter the cave. And if the dungeon has walls and and rooms and a final big bad that has to be gotten over before the exit can be found again, that's still a sandbox, because the cause of being in the cave is still the player.
But if the DM continues to make it impossible for the players to leave the cave for session after session; if the DM uses that justification to rule the players, then the DM is a fucktard. Intrinsic in the sandbox is a stipulation that the players should be allowed further opportunities to consent. That if the door snaps shut, and they fight their way for three hours, then the trap should end in a reasonable amount of time, preferably that game night, so that the players can decide again, to leave the cave or dungeon, or to go deeper. Over and over they should be allowed to either pull away, or venture forward.
The game ceases to be a sandbox when the DM denies this. And the game never was a sandbox when, from out of the blue, the DM deliberately places the party in a position where they must do something because the DM has "prepared" an adventure, or has "created a story" where something must be obtained, returned, fixed, enhanced, stopped or otherwise altered in order to satisfy the requirements of the DM's story.
If the DM has conceived of a series of events - any series of events - which have not been directly brought into play by virtue of the players initiating action, then that game is NOT a sandbox, it is a railroad. If the DM has been anything except the "manager of the sandbox" ... if the DM has determined that a given set of events ought to occur because that DM wishes to be creative, or wishes to act as a "player" of the game, because that DM wants to insert his or her own ideas, then that game is NOT a sandbox.
It does not matter how good these ideas are, or how original, or what the DM's motivations are; it does not matter if those motivations are for the good of the game, or the party, or for the purpose of presenting something really interesting - it is still NOT a sandbox. It is NOT a sandbox because the DM is creating events, and not responding to player actions.
The DM's role is to interpret the player's decisions, to place the logical obstacles between the player and the player's goals, and to describe the world and the inhabitants of that world to the player. Any other action is a deliberate misuse of the DM's power, to selfishly direct other persons, friends and families, to enact out the DM's fantasies in a situation where the DM has all the power and the players have none.
It must be understood that the DM at no time, in the game, can "lose." No die roll, no game structure, no counterbalance exists to the DM's authority or the DM's will - so the DM must manage his or her own power by denying it 100% in every possible instance. Anything else is an abuse of that power.
The referee does not stand in the huddle and make plays. The referee does not bet on the game. The referee cannot, must not, ever, have any stake in the play or deliberation of the game, not even to the point where the referee might want it to be a really good game. Referees are expected, universally, to have neither an emotional nor an intellectual stake in any game which they ejudicate, because it is universally understood that that would ruin the game.
A DM who creates his or her own story; or who takes either intellectual or emotional action to ensure for the sake of that story, or the presentation of that story, or the presentation of any series of events, an action which is not a reaction directly resulting from the player's action, is a BAD DM. He or she has been corrupted by the power of their position and that should be made clear to them.
This is not negotiable.