Friday, April 24, 2015

Second Thoughts

Yesterday, I had to make a clarification, one that I will remake now.  I am firmly against increased and incessant role-playing constraints in role-playing games.  That is, the sort of thing where players are compelled by the DM to 'act out' lengthy scenes, often repeatedly, between their characters and the DM's NPCs.  I am not a fan of diceless participation events, which I will not call games as nothing game like occurs.

My post yesterday regarding funhouses was written to highlight how greater emphasis on mental participation has derived from the failure of RPGs to maintain their value in a rapidly changing world.  It was also written to point out how 'role-playing' has itself been redefined in order to justify the inclusion of insipid bantering as an alternative to making a better playing field for play.

Plainly, I wasn't clear.

The "Funhouse" I addressed is the closed, ordered, simplistic module set piece designed to
 surprise, challenge and amuse the player.  Specifically in a way that can be controlled, manipulated and most importantly simplified so that the DM is never challenged, never has to step out of his or her comfort zone and is never, ever, compelled to redesign or rethink a prepared, static and stultified landscape where the players have been placed.

We like to call it a railroad, but it is much more.  Railroads go somewhere.  The Funhouse is a box.  It goes nowhere.

Yesterday, I argued that the Funhouse was the logical construct for role-playing, given that it was made in a time of pencil and paper graphics.  More wasn't possible . . . except with excessive resources, none of which were available, asked for or expected by a small company fundamentally unable to service the very game they created.

What have we changed since?  Not a blasted thing.

Most people express sounds of being stunned, surprised and amazed that I have systematically been making maps that cover a fair part of the world.  That's fine, I'm just one person and I don't spend all my time working on maps.  But think what could be done with extensive resources!

Steam is all excited that they can offer this interactive system for the official 5th Edition, but how much is it, really?  In the demo, the creator/demonstrator literally goes on line and proceeds to steal the work/content of another, random person, then insert it into the game system you're using.  In fact, it is a design feature of the system, that it can rip off the internet so you don't have to make your own maps.  More importantly, STEAM doesn't have to make them.  "Hey, we know you're already ripping off the internet!  This will make it easier!"

I don't really care . . . but it shows where the focus is.  Steam and the programmers aren't interested in providing you with any sort of consistent, reliable setting for your campaign; they're making it easier for you to insert other people's funhouses for your convenience and their profit.

Fundamentally, since the program does nothing my earlier version of publisher didn't do back in 1998 (except for the auto features, which were technologically possible 17 years ago), the company hasn't done anything.  In fact, they've taken a few short cuts, since they're relying on the existing internet to fill in the holes for their product's imagery.

Does the program allow me to build on the program, then extend that build indefinitely into endless space?  No.  In this age of GoogleEarth, that is not an option.

But that's okay, because I can build my world on a totally different program, then import it into Steam's system, where it is useless because I prefer hexes to squares.

Someone invented Greyhawk more than 30 years ago.  Where is the massive Greyhawk virtual surface where players can move their pieces, not just independently but also simultaneously, in real time, in a non-turn based process, like any multiplayer video game right now?

Sorry, that's not available.  Not because it couldn't be available, but because, well, that's not our agenda.

I apologize.  I'm very biased about this.  I never began a campaign with the notion of running a dungeon funhouse.

Anything less than a world bores me.

Gawd, I wish I had better content to write about than this.


JB said...

@ Alexis:

Oh, I think this is pretty good content. Sometimes it's necessary to critique the thinks folks might gush over without much examining.

Your point about ripping off other folks' work is especially well taken.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

The problem, I think, is that people want to automate the wrong things.

Computers are fantastic at crunching numbers and serving data from storage. But instead of people making more and more powerful programs to mimic or automate the world-expanding stuff you do manually (i.e. scanning big chunks of data to provide factual motivation for a game system), they are instead automating stuff that needs no automation. (For example, my pet peeve is virtual representations of physical dice and of paper books, both of which are present in the linked video.)

An alternate direction for automation which would expand the game is to provide greater ability for even the non-technical DM to source world data for processing into game rule bases. These types of things do exist but you usually have to be technical to apply them, and usually various tools must be chained to get anything useful.

to sum up, I think that people are trying to turn the ENTIRE D&D game into a program when what's really needed is D&D "helper" tools, since humans can pretty much take care of e.g. gathering in one place, socializing, rolling physical dice. I'm against all-in-one package* solutions, and for individual programs - one to make characters, one to produce environment groups, etc. You're doing it that way, which is why I tend to agree with your views on the role of technology in the game.

*Of course if enough good-at-one-thing tools are arrived at, they can be packed together. The goal is to avoid virtual simulation of "D&D as we play it on a table".

Ozymandias said...


I had a brainstorming session while running, maybe a week ago, where I laid the conceptual groundwork for building a virtual world based on randomly generated parameters. The player would enter the world and the world would exist, but only once the player was present and not a moment before. Why does this not exist today? Because, as you said, our priorities are in the wrong place.

Fuck that shit. We need to do better.

Maliloki said...

Only slightly tied to your final comment, and I apologize if you've already talked about this and I missed it, but I was wondering how you're dealing with your world's timeline. I know you've run/maybe are running multiple campaigns in the same world, but does the timeline move forward and the new starting state reflect what previous groups have done? Do you "go back in time" and start them roughly around the same time? If so, do the things other groups have done impact the new group if they're in the same area, or is each group in it's own "parallel universe" as it were.

Just curious, feel free to ignore and go about your life as normal :)

Alexis Smolensk said...

It's an excellent question.

I start all my parties on May 1, 1650. I do so because it is the warmest time of the year and it is easiest on the parties. My world's history is based upon the borders of 1650.

In my campaigns, two are moving through 1651 and one is at the end of 1653. Because I want the world to be fairly static, there are no massive world-changing events taking place, though some things like the end of the 30 years war has less influence on individual thoughts. I prefer the players to make history based on their actions, rather than have history thrust upon them.

As far as players affecting each other, that would be great. It must be understood, however, that my world, the real world, is HUGE. All three parties could easily cross each other's path dozens of times and never notice - since they're not, say, destroying a major city. None of the parties in my world has the power to do that.

Whenever possible, however, I have tried to have the events of one party's actions be relevant to other campaigns - it is a rather pleasant 'in joke' for all concerned. Truth be told, however, there are very few chances for this, as each party runs in a very different circle of npcs.

If, however, one party were to stumble across another, I would do my best to have the groups affect one another, yes. I would prefer my world were not a set of parallel universes.

Of course, a paradox could result where one of the parties in the past could do something that should change the history of the most chronologically advanced party. I suppose that I would fall back on the 'parallel universe' motif . . . but only because it was forced on me.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

Huh, interesting. So I take it you develop unique adventures for all groups running in your world? The group in 1651 won't come across adventure sites that the 1653 group did, even though they are "in the past" of the 1653 group?

[I'm assuming this because it's not a "parallel universe"]

Or are the groups separated by enough geography that it's not an issue?

Alexis Smolensk said...

On the contrary, the group has ever possibility of coming across something the 1653 group did - IF they happen to go to the same places.

Oh yes, EVERY group experiences a 100% unique adventure. That's because I don't make the adventure, they do.

That wasn't clear?