Friday, May 30, 2014

Strange Vacuum

The argument goes very much like the trope:  ". . . noteworthy for its lack of detail or coherence . . . where a person explaining a process on a whiteboard gets to a part that is not well defined or important . . . sometimes it's better to gloss over something trivial and get on with the story."

Mostly, however, it is bone-laziness.  Only now, it has been with us long enough that it has developed a traditional aspect, so that the proponents of the irrational, unstructured, context-free dungeon now feel justified in their dogma, just as proponents of the imaginary cloud entity feel justified in their tax-free status. "It has always been this way," they say, and "we're just having fun," they say, but they might just as well be a congregation of rich white parishioners nodding their head in the pew at the words, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

No wonder J.C. had to tell them more than once.

Of late I have found myself watching campaigns from outside, reacquainting myself with the community, and I'll be damned if I can figure out the 'fun' in it.  I know I'm not alone when I imagine sitting down at a table at one of these campaigns, only to watch the DM unroll their huge, geometric production - and knowing, "Oh, okay, it's going to be one of those campaigns."  Feeling my heart sink with disappointment as I realize this.  Because it is going to be a lot of tramping through empty rooms (for how else can we explain the geometry?), annoying little puzzles (Dan Brown, anyone?), five minutes of combat against three orcs and the equivalent of four hours of cut scenes.

I know video gamers who speak of 90-second cut scenes with vehemence and malediction, and yet of course all night in this campaign we're going to be subject to yet another long description of a huge 50-foot diameter room with images on the wall and a font of some kind, another pattern in the floor tiles and a big grotesque head that's supposed to scare me.  Oooo.  I'm scared.  Of course there will be fourteen doors, and 13 of these will lead to dusty dead ends, but no worries, the last one we find (because you never luck out and find #14 on your first try) will lead to those three orcs.  Written with great amounts of exhaustion:  Woo-oo.  Bring on the fun times.

I truly think the uber-dungeon's popularity stems from the fascination that certain people gain from being able to draw straight graphite lines overtop of faint blue-lined graph paper.  There must be something very gratifying about this practice for these people, since they're prepared to do it for hour after hour, for week after week, getting their little dopamine rushes every time the soft HB pencil, aided by the clear plastic ruler, enables them to perfectly align the thin trail of graphite overtop of the thin trail of printed blue ink.  Seriously.

Oh.  I'm sorry.  Was that hurtful?  I'm sorry.  I'm not supposed to be hurtful anymore.  I'm supposed to be gracious.  And I suppose I would be, if it weren't for all the screaming self-righteous indignation that pours from the strained throats of those who so vociferously defend the SANCTITY of the uber-dungeon, and all its other little offspring imps and sprats.

See, I would just say, "Uber-dungeons are dumb," but that doesn't seem to be getting the message across. That doesn't seem to change anything.  It doesn't seem to make the people who believe and support the making of uber-dungeons look at themselves with a sense of shame.  That's the goal, you see.  When we writers employ really, really abusive rhetoric, it serves a double purpose.  First off, it causes rational-thinking people to look at the whole uber-dungeon craze and think, "Wow, he's right, those are really dull, boring, dumb and made according to a logic that must be somehow visceral rather than intellectual."  And it makes a few of you uber-dungeon fanatics pause and think, "Wow, that's a lot of hate, what did I do to deserve that?"

Yes.  Exactly.  What did you do?  You were completely innocent in your dungeon-making, never harmed anyone, etc.  You were just going alone, espousing your way of participating in the hobby, enjoying your efforts, showing them off, etc.  Assuming that, of course, in showing them off to the world, no one would ever, ever criticize your efforts.  Because, after all, they were an effort.  Anything that is an 'effort' is automatically 'good,' right?

Written deadpan:  No.

No, I'm sorry, you don't get off that easy.  I would like you to understand that this uber-dungeon crap is continuously picked up by others, who then pass it on to others and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.  Making every new DM think, "What I need is an uber-dungeon!"

"Well so what?" I hear.  "Why not?  I like making them.  Why shouldn't a new DM?"

Because, you idiot, the new DM puts it in front of a bunch of players who soon realize that this is a lot of shit. Meaning that role-playing must be a lot of shit.  So why fucking play?  Why fucking respect people who do? Those role-players are a bunch of morons.

Strawman argument?  No, not really.  Because you people are everywhere.  And you all make the same arguments.  And you all think your players are in love with your little hobbies.  But I've seen their faces.  And they're bored.  They are stone-bored.  I don't know why the hell you don't see their faces, but even in the last four days I've been in a room with a DM running an uber-dungeon to a group of wax-work figures, and he didn't seem to notice.  I'm sure he thinks his silly dungeon is the best entertainment since the invention of television.

Written with a shake of my head:  Ah, what's the point.  It's like a disease.

1 comment:

Dave Cesarano said...

Man, I've been meaning to write about this sort of thing on my own blog for a long time. I just never got around to really coordinating my thoughts and arguments enough to pound it out on my keyboard.

You beat me to the punch.

There's a lot to be said about the puzzle-solving aspects of good mega-dungeons. They can be fun. BUT there still is that real problem with them making absolutely no damn sense.

Being a historian, I've seen the layouts and plans for actual fortresses, castles, palaces, etc. With all of the materials I have on hand, I'd much rather take the players through a ruined labyrinth based on the Bronze Age palace at Knossos.

Who needs paragraph after paragraph of boxed text to give canned descriptions to the players when I have Google Image search and a short stack of illustrated history books?

The how and why of rooms may not be readily apparent and the players can guess at their purposes but basing the layout, design, structure, art, and architecture of your "dungeon" on a real place makes it more realistic by necessity. Who knows for what some of these real, actual rooms were designed? Guessing is part of the fun!

That's different from the dozens and dozens of featureless, boring dead-ends you'll find in the average megadungeon. At least my dead-ends were actually lived in at one time and have gorgeous illustrations that evoke a vibrant and very real culture that existed once upon a time.