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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In a videogame, of course, such conflict doesn't happen. In a single-player game, you're given a quest and you do it (or sometimes you don't), and any party member's protestations are almost always meaningless. In an MMO, a player asked to do something with no potential reward always has the ability to go do something else for a while and then reconnect when motives realign. In this case, however, the player has already planned her evening here. She's obviously not going to go anywhere else if she has the option, and there's only one Dungeon Master. Some motivation for her character has to be tacked on, or the whole problem ignored, for the game to work. The player went along with the plan in the end, of course, but I'm not certain that her character ever had good reason to do so. If such roleplaying concerns must be ignored, then what is the point?

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Likewise, all of the options which the players discussed in trying to figure out a plan, while interesting, ultimately led to a simple choice: investigate the forest or don't investigate the forest. The end result was almost exactly the same as a videogame which did not offer such infinite options. The party ventured towards the woods and encountered an ambush, the results of which would no doubt channel the party and story in a specific direction. The challenges faced by both Dungeon Masters and videogame designers are not so terribly different; both must encourage the players to do the "correct" thing to make the game run smoothly, while convincing the players that they are in control.

So would I play again? Yes, I think that I would, but I don't feel compelled to actively seek out further games. I also certainly wouldn't play in Pathfinder Society games often, though it could be a fun supplement. If a game came along with people I knew and conveniently timed and located, I would be tempted. I don't think my fundamental position towards tabletop Dungeons & Dragons has changed since I've played it. I respect its influence on the games that I love, and I feel a kinship with its players. But I am still a videogamer, and that's not likely to change.

Rowan Kaiser is a fashionably underemployed freelance writer living the Bay Area. He blogs at renaissancegamer.blogspot.com, tweets @rowankaiser, and is currently working on a book about the history of videogames. He'd like to thank It's Your Move and Endgame game stores in Oakland, CA for hosting his tabletop indoctrination.

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