The Red Box Diaries

The Red Box Diaries
Out of the D&D Closet

Rowan Kaiser | 14 Sep 2010 12:30
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Fortunately, it was not my only experience with tabletop roleplaying. The longer campaign that I observed the night before provided a very different and more representative example of a tabletop game. The first thing that I noticed was a negotiation between the players and the Dungeon Master. As the players walked in, the DM told them that the party's rooms had been robbed by a now long-gone player character at the end of the previous session. The party lost all of their items which would have been in their room at the inn. Each player tried to claim that they had certain items on them at the time of the robbery, or that they were staying somewhere else, or that something would take far too much time to move for the robbery to take place.

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The negotiation was instantly appealing. Instead of the mechanical nature of videogames, which utilize a binary system of whether an action is possible or not within the game, here was a chance to bend the system. Of course, the key difference is the Dungeon Master, who must work with and against the characters. I like these grey areas within videogames and I was happy to see that experience realized around a table.

Even more appealing were the infinite options available to the players. When given a quest to investigate a forest with a mysterious silencing effect, the players sat around and debated how to proceed. Without the ability to speak because of the magical silence, should they tie themselves to a rope which could be tugged if something happened? Burn the woods down? Buy sandwich boards, a la Buffy in "Hush?" Do some perfunctory research in the local library and make a fake report, skipping the quest entirely? The group eventually chose to travel around the woods on the edge of the silencing effect and see what they could learn

Nothing in videogames compared to these few minutes of discussion and debate. Such negotiation between the players and the DM, more than anything, made me believe that switching to tabletop RPGs was something I might actually want to do.

Yet these strengths of the tabletop game and interaction with the Dungeon Master and other players also led immediately to weaknesses and un-fun concessions. The quest to investigate the wood was necessary for only a few of the characters in the party and one of the players - rightly - stated that there was no reason for her character to make this long and potentially dangerous journey.

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