Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bag Of Spilling

It's convenient that, whenever I have nothing particular to say, I can do another of these:

"Let's Start From The Very Beginning (Yuna Rule):" Whenever there is a sequel to an RPG that features the same main character as the previous game, that character will always start with beginner skills.  Everything that they learned in the previous game will be gone, as will all their ultra-powerful weapons and equipment.

Now, I've said it before - the video game cliches do not translate universally to D&D.  But what this makes me think of is all those DMs that are out there who are treating their worlds as though they are a collection of Final Fantasy editions.  In other words, Hey guys, lets dump our old characters and roll up NEW ones!  Won't that be fun?  Hooray!

If you'd like to know why every - fucking - superhero - movie has to be an origin story - for the good guys in the first movie, and for the bad guys in every movie thereafter - it is this rather sickening need for geeks of a particular nature to connect the word reboot with good.  Having had to run a ranger for all of two complete sessions, they are now tired of running a ranger and would like to run a mage instead.  Thus, let's roll up characters tonight!

And this of course translates to the DM also, who after running a D&D world for - gasp! - a whole evening, they'd like to run ... Shadowrun!  Or GURPS or Call of Cthulu or the Masquerade or Whoremaster or whatever other fucking game came out in the last five minutes.  Thank Buddy Christ and flapjacks, at last everyone can now reboot their adopted personalities and spend a good two or three hours rolling up or choosing new skills and abilities.  Yes, we're having a good time now.

Without question there's something appealing in knowing that in rolling up new characters tonight, the dice might come up with one of those perfect combinations that will make this character truly memorable ... which is not unlike the same emotion that comes from heading down to the videogame shop (or scanning for new crap games on-line) with the dream that THIS game will be unlike any other that has ever come before, and will shatter one's malaise by proving, at last, what computer gaming can be!

Of course, the Bag of Spilling rule is there because the game makers can't think of any other way to make the game take sixty hours to play without bringing you right back to the beginning again.  If they started you out at the point of the last game, the only thing they could do to fill up the time would be to make you fight the same combat over, and over, and over.

Which, let's face it, some people think would be great.  This being people who have not yet found that its possible to masturbate without a video screen.  The handheld, electronic device still has merit, but its not made by xBox ... though it sounds like it should be.

And so we can argue that DMs start new compaigns because, obviously, after the rolling up of new characters and the careful placement of town rumors and the cliched front entrance of the Designated Place of Questing ... they're pretty much out of gas.  Their imaginations have been strained to the very limit and now, NOW, there's nothing left to do but start again.  With space this time.  Or steam.  Or whores.

(Now I'm thinking I have to invent an RPG called 'Whoremaster,' where Players act as slavers from the Land of Albion, who must pursue their quarry through lands distant and dangerous to provide the means of resuscitating the flagging bloodlines of their Ancestral Lineage ...)

It is a weakness of the videogame format, which continues to be dependent upon creators who then provide manna for users.  'Interaction' is limited to reviewer feedback, or cheesy limited choice options after the manifestation of the game.

It is a powerful aspect of D&D that creation and participation have the potential to occur simultaneously, with the DM making shit up on the spur of the moment based upon something the players happen to mutter out loud, and the players in turn responding immediately to the invention of the DM.  But whenever people speak of playing at the very edge in this manner, out come the naysayers.

Carl over at Three Hams Inn has a post up that's getting plenty of feedback related to this: you can read it here.  On the page Carl makes the following point about the traditional style of playing, the one promoted in the DMG:

"Leading the group around by the nose results in frustration. Frustration for me because no one ever follows my clues or finishes my adventures, and frustration for the players because they want to do what they want, not what the DM tells them. Railroading also utterly destroys suspension of disbelief. It's like watching a movie and figuring out the entire plot in the first 10 minutes. You know what's going to happen but instead of just leaving, you have to sit there for another 90 minutes before it's over. I never want a game to go like that. I want it to be almost as much of a mystery for me, the Dungeon Master, as it is for the group of players."

To which I would add, there is a hope that characters who felt free to participate in a game that they CAN influence by their behavior will be less inclined to dump that game for the 'thrill' of once again rolling up new characters.  The DM is less inclined to run out of ideas, and at the same time can enjoy the 'mystery,' as Carl puts it.

It must be very dull for some DMs to have everything laid out, where the only interest is to see how other people react to the designs I have created, at some point in the past.  Believe me, I understand that interest - I'm experiencing it now, since I am writing this and it is being done at some point in the gentle reader's past.  It is an experience that does not compare to the animated, spirited experience of being in a room full of people all creating at the same time.  Writing, as far as its emotional gratification, is tepid compared with the gritty back-and-forth of a game.  Which would be why I could understand many DMs getting upset that their carefully preplanned adventures don't rouse the room quite as spiritedly as they hope for -

Whereas beginning again, that jumpy, urging excitement that comes with the fresh spilling of dice and the results that are produced - where no one knows what's going to happen - too often proves to be the best moment in a DM's campaign.  Which is a sad thing to think about.


Zzarchov said...

People going off tangent is the best part.

Last session the party left rural ireland (a small town) to winter in Edinburgh. Immediately after arriving in Edinburgh (and buying some big city goods) they look at the docks, and randomly find that one boat is going to the Ivory coast. They decide to go there, so I wing it. I had not expected this in any way shape or form and it will be gloriously unexpected and fun.

Butch said...

Brilliant observations, loved it!

Anonymous said...

nice job! waiting for your new artical. .................................................................

Brian said...