The Red Box Diaries

The Red Box Diaries
Imagine Your Perfect Arcade Game

Tavis Allison | 14 Sep 2010 12:32
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The Red Box groups have a disproportionate number of game industry types, both tabletop (Eric Minton, aka Quendalon, who has written for Exalted and Paranoia) and computer (marketing managers for major game publishers as well as coders). Some of the same skills are involved in the solitary work of making games, planning for everything a player might later do, and in the immediate collaboration of responding to whatever Red Box players have their characters do. It's as similar, and as different, as a musician writing sheet music versus playing live in a jam band.

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"The strength of the original Red Box," RBV founder cr0m says, "is that it consistently delivers discovery to everyone involved. The players are surprised as they explore the dungeons and overcome challenges. The DM is surprised when he randomly stocks the dungeon, rolls reactions to player activity, and otherwise determines 'what happens' through the application of dice and tables."

dorje, who plays Basic D&D with NYRB and with his seven-year-old, says "It's about improvising and stretching my imagination." Part of the mandate for improvisation comes from the design of the original Red Box, which often requires the Dungeon Master (or DM) to creatively interpret the meaning of random dice rolls. The other requirement to make stuff up comes from all the things the Red Box rules don't cover. RBV's cr0m says, "We spend a fair amount of time negotiating the 'reality' of the game in the absence of hard-and-fast rules."

The mind-blowing thing about D&D is that it opens a window into another reality; its fans grew up to become game designers because there weren't job openings for gods. Tabletop games run on human intelligence so the imagined world can have unlimited interactivity, unlike games that rely on AI for their physics engine and NPC behavior. In Red Box D&D, you just have to make up the rules for it as you go along.

Red Box is an arcade game, not a videogame.

In Basic D&D, "You play your character like you play a game of Space Invaders," according to RBV's cr0m. "You know you're going to die. It's just a question of how much glory!"

Arcade games need to be immediately accessible to new players, unlike hardcore games for players eager to invest hours in a Prima guide or the Dungeon Master's Guide. "Teaching Red Box to noobs is quite easy," PeteC of the RBV group says. "People really just need to know what hit points, armor class, and saving throws are, and they are good to go, so you can concentrate on the whole 'you are a person in this world of my imagining' concept of RPGs."

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