271: Out of the D&D Closet

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Out of the D&D Closet

Many gamers are familiar with hit points, dragon breath, and gaining a level through experience, but have never played the game which introduced these concepts. Rowan Kaiser takes the plunge and loses his tabletop gaming virginity to see how it compares to a lifetime playing CRPGs.

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while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

I love D&D, and have played every incarnation of it since the original. I loved 3.5, but it just became too much. I think 4th edition helped streamline it greatly. Yes, 3.0 and 3.5 were great years, because of all the customization. But after a while, in my opinion, it became less about playing a fun character and more of a trial in making the ultimate min-max character.

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.

Perhaps it was just that DM's style of game but I find that entirely wrong. My Dark Heresy campaign im running at the moment has every session entirely determined by what the players do. The next session is written and built based upon the party's actions. The party does not have control over NPCs like in a videogame but NPCs are consistently acting regardless of whether they are present.

I love dnd and want to come out of the the dndcloset but there is no one outside the closet D:.

kingcom:

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.

Perhaps it was just that DM's style of game but I find that entirely wrong. My Dark Heresy campaign im running at the moment has every session entirely determined by what the players do. The next session is written and built based upon the party's actions. The party does not have control over NPCs like in a videogame but NPCs are consistently acting regardless of whether they are present.

Not only that, the DM should have other things in mind for the character to do if they don't want to do the main quest or storyline. Most of my games are around the theme "Do you stand by your beliefs or do you save the world?" (ex: Do you side with the evil and corrupt government of your parents, side with the demons that want to bring it down to make it their own or stay on your own and fight a lost cause). I've seen groups do one or the other, groups that break out in the end because of the dilemma and groups managing to do both. It must also change most of the game if they choose one or the other and things like that don't happen in videogames.

kingcom:

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.

Perhaps it was just that DM's style of game but I find that entirely wrong.

Ditto. That's not an experience I ever had during the years that I played -- we never knew what was going to happen. We rotated the DM slot and some of us were better at it than others, but when it was going well it was a real push/pull of creativity between the players and the DM, which is something no AI can provide.

This was years before computer and console RPGs became the norm though, when words like "tank" "healer" and "DPS" weren't part of the lexicon. Games were stories, not just a sequence of events which resulted in better gear for your character.

standokan:
I love dnd and want to come out of the the dndcloset but there is no one outside the closet D:.

I felt the same way until i got to University. Before then it just felt horrible to know i liked something which appared so completely reviled.

I guess thats what Post By Post games are for or I've heard games over Skype can work.

pathfinder is awesome, and you did have many choices, you just chose not to take them. So it boils down to you going in to the forest. I bet you walked along the main road like an idiot with a sign on you saying JUMP ME. you could've crept along the side of the path and maybe surprised the ambushers. the possibilities are only limited by your imagination

D+D should never be about the rules, we play 3.5 just because the books were available for the newbies (still got all of my dusty old books, can't bare to throw them away), but the DM should be able to get away with any thing in the name of fun, story or what ever. Maybe I've mist the point?....FIREBALL!!!

You don't need to act like Pen and Paper Roleplaying and Videogaming are mutually exclusive, I've been regularly engaged in both for my entire adult life so far and I find that the enjoyment of one doesn't necessarily preclude or detract from the enjoyment of the other. If anything they occasionally enrich each other, Videogames especially acting as a great source of ideas for Pen and Paper Sessions.

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

I'm kind of glad we have both D&D 4e and Pathfinder available. The former is definitely better for bringing in new players and bringing the game back to its roots. The latter is good for adding some more complexity and customization for the veterans who want it. I can enjoy both.

Both are an improvement over the mess that was 2nd edition, the system of my high school and university years.

Your experience with the Pathfinder Society games mirrors my own during my involvement with the Living Greyhawk campaign that Wizards ran for the better part of the last decade until they replaced it with the Living Forgotten Realms, though aside from a change in rule sets, the look and feel is very much the same. They're tournament-style games with timed adventures and parties of players that have mostly never played together, so the chances for good storytelling and roleplaying are few. In fact, you'll typically get a player or two that wants to push things along if things seem too bogged down, given that if you don't finish your adventure in the allotted time, you'll have missed out on XP and rewards. This feels exactly like a WoW pickup group, which is one of the reasons that I lost interest. Why would I drive across town or even across the state to partake in the little gaming cons that run these events when I could get the same experience staying at home.

However, all this does is really shine a light on the importance of a good gaming group and a good DM. This isn't an indictment of the tabletop hobby any more than a bad CRPG or MMO means that they're all not worth playing. But the greatest strength of games like D&D is also its greatest weakness, in that you're only going to enjoy the game as long as you've got people you want to play with and a DM that clicks with the rest of the group. I think that until we had widespread availability of CRPGs available that anyone who wanted their fantasy fix just had to put up with whatever players and DMs were in their area, and I've talked to folks who love CRPGs but hate tabletop RPGs, only to find that the reason they hate it is because they had some truly horrible experiences at the hands of DMs or their fellow players, and assumed that the games just weren't for them.

Still, it doesn't mean that the only good tabletop RPG is one that's full of drama and well-developed characters, or that CRPGs can't deliver as good or better of the same. Just as there are roleplaying servers for MMOs, there are tabletop groups where more or less roleplaying is the norm, ranging from intense, detailed character-diary keeping and scripts that the whole group writes out (yes, I've seen and done it) to groups where, unless you're playing an optimal build in the optimal fashion, you're just not going to fit in with the other wargaming grognards at the table.

Falseprophet:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

I'm kind of glad we have both D&D 4e and Pathfinder available. The former is definitely better for bringing in new players and bringing the game back to its roots. The latter is good for adding some more complexity and customization for the veterans who want it. I can enjoy both.

Both are an improvement over the mess that was 2nd edition, the system of my high school and university years.

I'll give you that, more core players do prefer the harder rules. Few friends of mine are bent on hatred for 4.0

I'd disagree about GMs having to convince players to do what they want - I've run games where the players were basically free to do whatever they wanted, and I actually think it's a bit of a mistake to try and railroad (which is the term for forcing players into doing things they or their characters don't want to do) players into an action. One of my favorite campaigns I ran was a Dark Heresy campaign. In my favorite session, the party was met up with overwhelming odds (after triple-crossing one NPC), and rather than surrender or make a brave last stand, every single one of them basically betrayed every other member of the party at one point or another to try and make it out alive (they all managed to succeed in surviving, although it was hardly their most dignified moment). Watching the total dissolution of teamwork into an 'every man for himself' scramble... well, it's been probably six months and my players still talk about that session with amusement, and that's really what I think a GM should aim for - creating moments in time that their players will enjoy and vividly remember.

Which is, of course, why I don't think computer RPGs are even a pale shade to a good human GM - a good human GM is as much there to judge the infinite ways a group of players respond to a challenge as he is there to come up with the challenges they face - as of yet no computer RPG engine has the capacity to interact with the insane creativity of 6 players trying to solve a problem - it can say 'no' to the unexpected plans of players, but it cannot say, 'sure why not.'

Pathfinder has different worlds, characters and rules from D&D and is developed by a different team of people catering to a different audience of players. Playing a couple sessions of Pathfinder and Pathfinder Society and trying to make comments about the D&D roleplaying game is like trying out motor vehicle transportation for the first time by riding a motorcycle around a residential neighborhood for an afternoon and then trying to write a paper about what driving offroad in a pickup truck is like (well, they both have wheels and an engine after all). The similarities between Pathfinder and D&D are purely superficial.

Mr. Kaiser should have either written his article about his initial impression of Pathfinder based on his experiences or he should have played D&D 3.5 or 4.0 instead of Pathfinder for the role playing experience and D&D Encounters instead of Pathfinder Society for the casual pick-up game experience. Also, he needed to play more than one session of each tabletop game. Then he would have been making a fair comparison.

The way that one DM runs a tabletop RPG is vastly different from the way that another DM would run a game even if he was using the same published adventure and had players playing the same races and classes of heroes. D&D Encounters is an excellent example of this. I've played Encounters games with two different DMs. One DM stuck to the published and printed material in the Encounter like glue. He wouldn't budge from the script at all. If players tried to do something that didn't fit in the script, he wouldn't allow it. He also didn't allow players to use any characters other than the pre-generated characters that came in the set. In response to some attempt to do something "out of the box", he'd say something like "That's not what encounters is. Go play in a campaign." The other Encounters DM I played with was almost the opposite. He treated what was in the box as a starting point and let both his and the players' imaginations run wild from there. We used characters we rolled up ourselves, even bothering to come up with back stories for them. By the time the last session was done, our story looked totally different from what was in the Encounters book. In both cases, there were players who enjoyed the experience and players who didn't. The storytellers who were playing in the first DM's game got frustrated with the constraints he placed on them while the wargamers in the second DM's game got impatient sometimes with too much talk and not enough action.

The main thing in Mr. Kaiser's article that rings true for both D&D and Pathfinder is that all variants of these games have far more potential for interaction between the player and the one "in charge" of the game than video games will probably ever have. I don't know if an A.I. can be created that can match the creativity and interactivity of a human DM. Not in our lifetimes anyway.

I have started playing D&D (so far one session) and I already like it. we haven't got chance to do anything really but the two fights we had were intense (because they seem like they were designed for 4-5 people but we just had 3 with one missing more then halve the time. Also even with my very little knowledge I am using the rule book and by looking at other classes my own class I will properly post it up for people to try when I am finished making it. what I like about D&D is how flexible it is after the fight my brother (the DM) pointed out that we could have used the forest around the road to narrow the monsters attacking (to create a 300 situation) so we are going up a learning curve but it looks fun at the top of it.

This artical is in complete opposite of my first D&D experience. My group is actually a nice balance of 3 guys and 3 girls and a rotating DM system, My first game, like 6 weeks ago, was with a DM who's style is more sparatic, and random, who really has no plan and makes some things up on the go, which was actually quiet fun for a beginner like me, It was great And i couldn't wait for the next game. We play with the 3.5 rules, The DM at the time was really helpful and let me start with a level 10 character to better balance the game.
Then the rotation happened and the other DM (who happens to be the husband of the other) Is more of a story teller, but still lets things remain open, he truly uses the character's average level to base monster encounters and the like so its challenging but we are not all dieing, but he dose tend to punish over powered characters.
I guess my group is different because its mainly family, (cousins and such) but its still fun! Its a time were we come together and socialize and play. It wasn't just a campaign were you get to get some better loot, but instead a story, were we the players desired what we do and the DM goes off of that. And that is something games are very basic in but have yet to rival, a choice in a CRPG might make some people not like you or change this one small part of the story, but with a table top rpg like d&d, you actions effect the entire story, campaign, etc.
Unlike you I will be actively seeking the next game.

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

Actually, that's quite backwards.

Pathfinder was in production way before 4e was announced at GenCon. Paizo had been creating the Dragon/Dungeon magazines, and were looking at how to make 3.5 better. The only reason I correct you is because that seems to be a 4e fanboy Pathfinder hater myth being passed around.

It's unfortunate that there's a rift in D&D fans about which RPG is better than the others. Both Pathfinder and 4e have their flaws and merits. I actually play a different game system altogether (and 3.5), but I like both games.

boradis:

kingcom:
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.

Perhaps it was just that DM's style of game but I find that entirely wrong.

I've also not run into that problem. As a player, I've had DMs that create totally open-ended worlds that let the players drive. As a DM, it was always my belief that the players drive, so I never try to "steer" players into certain actions if they don't feel like doing it. And perhaps that's the fallacy of playing TOO many videogames - future DMs think that everything is an "either/or" choice when approaching potential adventures. In reality, asking players what they want to accomplish at the end of each session always helps me design the future session so they have a multitude of options available (and even surprise me by doing something I haven't planned for - which is uber fun).

I am a 28 year old man and I still play D&D! me my brother and my friend are going to play a 2 character campaign. Should be ... interesting.

Hey all - I just wanted to talk a little bit more about the DM criticism you all are making, and to some extent, other people who've read the piece for editing have made.

The DM, in the case of the silent forest, created an interesting puzzle for his players to solve. He then took the most obvious course of action - that they would attempt to explore the forest - and had an encounter prepared for it. The issue, in my opinion, was not so much that he was unwilling or unable to be creative, but rather, that given the situation, there was probably a 90% chance that he'd have to use the encounter.

I have noticed often that people when playing games tend to start playing within the game. That is, they recognize the game's inherent gameyness and smooth over the cracks. They see that they, as players, are supposed to behave according to certain parameters. To some extent it's rules, like Scrabble not allowing proper nouns, but to another extent it's social, in that they won't work against one another or the game by exposing the flaws of the game.

So what happened in this case is that, with an interesting puzzle, there were eight player characters who, in building a consensus as to what they should try to do, ended up taking the most likely path. This doesn't mean that the DM wouldn't have been prepared had they surprisingly chosen a totally different path, but rather that he was totally prepared for them to take the path of least resistance to the game and each other.

As for those of you who say that they've had DMs created totally open and free worlds, I'd have to see this to agree with you. I really don't understand how that could be played as a game with rules.

McClaud:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

Actually, that's quite backwards.

Pathfinder was in production way before 4e was announced at GenCon. Paizo had been creating the Dragon/Dungeon magazines, and were looking at how to make 3.5 better. The only reason I correct you is because that seems to be a 4e fanboy Pathfinder hater myth being passed around.

It's unfortunate that there's a rift in D&D fans about which RPG is better than the others. Both Pathfinder and 4e have their flaws and merits. I actually play a different game system altogether (and 3.5), but I like both games.

boradis:

kingcom:
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.

Perhaps it was just that DM's style of game but I find that entirely wrong.

I've also not run into that problem. As a player, I've had DMs that create totally open-ended worlds that let the players drive. As a DM, it was always my belief that the players drive, so I never try to "steer" players into certain actions if they don't feel like doing it. And perhaps that's the fallacy of playing TOO many videogames - future DMs think that everything is an "either/or" choice when approaching potential adventures. In reality, asking players what they want to accomplish at the end of each session always helps me design the future session so they have a multitude of options available (and even surprise me by doing something I haven't planned for - which is uber fun).

I do not consider myself a 4e fan-boy, but running campaigns in 3.5 (honestly i haven't tried pathfinder I've just looked at the rule books in passing interest) was a painstaking effort as a DM. Yes, it was rewarding but the ability to create creatures was very complicated and frankly i didn't want to take the time to get good at it. I had a great time running 4e campaigns because I felt I wasn't bogged down with the formulas. I just took a template and smashed something together. IT worked, i had all sorts of tactics to use as a DM. Also I like how players are forced to do something useful in battle. I had a lot of players who were "I swing" roll miss/hit "cool/ahh" I'm done. The introduction of every class having abilities I feel builds better for not only characters themselves but role-playing. In no way do I say that playing anything but 4e is bad i'm just saying that as a DM i find that set of rules to be the easiest and funnest.

mattaui:
Your experience with the Pathfinder Society games mirrors my own during my involvement with the Living Greyhawk campaign that Wizards ran for the better part of the last decade until they replaced it with the Living Forgotten Realms, though aside from a change in rule sets, the look and feel is very much the same. They're tournament-style games with timed adventures and parties of players that have mostly never played together, so the chances for good storytelling and roleplaying are few. In fact, you'll typically get a player or two that wants to push things along if things seem too bogged down, given that if you don't finish your adventure in the allotted time, you'll have missed out on XP and rewards. This feels exactly like a WoW pickup group, which is one of the reasons that I lost interest. Why would I drive across town or even across the state to partake in the little gaming cons that run these events when I could get the same experience staying at home.

However, all this does is really shine a light on the importance of a good gaming group and a good DM. This isn't an indictment of the tabletop hobby any more than a bad CRPG or MMO means that they're all not worth playing. But the greatest strength of games like D&D is also its greatest weakness, in that you're only going to enjoy the game as long as you've got people you want to play with and a DM that clicks with the rest of the group. I think that until we had widespread availability of CRPGs available that anyone who wanted their fantasy fix just had to put up with whatever players and DMs were in their area, and I've talked to folks who love CRPGs but hate tabletop RPGs, only to find that the reason they hate it is because they had some truly horrible experiences at the hands of DMs or their fellow players, and assumed that the games just weren't for them.

Still, it doesn't mean that the only good tabletop RPG is one that's full of drama and well-developed characters, or that CRPGs can't deliver as good or better of the same. Just as there are roleplaying servers for MMOs, there are tabletop groups where more or less roleplaying is the norm, ranging from intense, detailed character-diary keeping and scripts that the whole group writes out (yes, I've seen and done it) to groups where, unless you're playing an optimal build in the optimal fashion, you're just not going to fit in with the other wargaming grognards at the table.

I also played in Living Greyhawk games and felt that they sucked - HARD - but I recognise that the reason was a lack of decent GMs in my area and also that the whole set up basically stomped on much creativity. I play, run and design table top RPGs and I rarely have a bad experience. It really does depend on the players and the GM making it work.

Give me a break. You sat in on one session and just watched another, and suddenly you've got the whole thing and all of its infinite possibilities figured?

Look, I love video games as much as anybody, but I don't think you could ever rightly call any of them true RPGs. Tabletop games offer a level of real free will that video games likely will never be able to replicate until real AI is invented in a form that can duplicate the imagination of a human DM.

As to the matter of coercing players into doing the "right" thing or the party having to fulfill a specific quest being a necessary evil in tabletop world, actually, it is not, and thus the game is not limited as the author has put forth. As a DM/GM of going on thirty years' experience, I can't tell you how many times I have allowed the party to split, and either took turns gaming both groups, cutting back-and-forth as in a movie, or simply scheduled two individual sessions until they got back together again.

The limitation here comes from various sources: the rigidity of what is essentially tournament play (which really is a much rarer form of gaming and should not be used to represent the whole); or the limitations of the GM's imagination, which I submit may actually come from that GM's overexposure to the way video games work. In other words, while it's possible the GM was simply a stubborn guy or not good at thinking on his feet, it's much more likely that his determination to coerse the difficult player into playing along had more to do with his using video games as a model for adventure planning.

Nearly every group I've ever been involved with (and certainly the ones I GM) value free will and will either prepare for a rogue character wandering off, or will improvise something to accomodate her.

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

so noobs can go do what ever noobs do. and experance players can have fun( better spells, magic stuff, non-battle spells, epic combos and mages have to use weapons sometimes)

kingcom:

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.

Perhaps it was just that DM's style of game but I find that entirely wrong. My Dark Heresy campaign im running at the moment has every session entirely determined by what the players do. The next session is written and built based upon the party's actions. The party does not have control over NPCs like in a videogame but NPCs are consistently acting regardless of whether they are present.

know i mean i had a player deiven campain once. we just when from town to town getting quest tricking the dm into failling and other stuff. (the Dm tryed to make a epic battle and this huge monster came out of a tower then we used open close to trap it and just walked away)

Great Sage:

I also played in Living Greyhawk games and felt that they sucked - HARD - but I recognise that the reason was a lack of decent GMs in my area and also that the whole set up basically stomped on much creativity. I play, run and design table top RPGs and I rarely have a bad experience. It really does depend on the players and the GM making it work.

While I did play in some LG games that were downright terrible, on average they were merely just that, average, and for every one that was a snoozefest I had one that was actually very exciting. And what's funny is that there are so many reasons a game can be good and bad, given the various skillsets that a good DM has to have. The average games were run by DMs who had a base knowledge of the rules (but maybe not as much as some of the players), knew the adventure well enough (though perhaps he had to pause and clear things up now and then) and most importantly, kept the game moving, one way or the other. The really good and really bad games were usually instances where knowledge of the rules, the adventure or their 'tableside manner' was above or below average.

I played in games where the DM had no business running the adventure because it was clear he'd not been expected to run it, or had been expected to run it but didn't read it, or maybe he read it but he just didn't comprehend it well enough. Or perhaps he knew the adventure forwards and backwards, but he was constantly making incorrect rulings, arguing with the players or acting in an overly adversarial manner, either through simple lack of experience or flat out incompetence. Then there were the DMs that never gave me a chance to judge them on the first or second criteria because their presence at the table barely registered, with one or two of the players having to drive the action and goad not just the rest of the party, but the DM himself to push the story along and trigger the encounters.

Part of all that was the reality of staffing a convention full of volunteers who were expected to run 8 to 12 or more hours of games a day, sometimes back to back to back, sometimes having only been handed the adventure before they sat down, though if they were lucky they at least got to play it the night before. I appreciated all the hard work that went into the people who ran the cons and the DMs who did all that, but there's a point at which running a game badly is worse than not running it at all.

@ Fortuan:
No problem. I was merely commenting that the "Pathfinder was created by 4e haters" is not a true rumor. I think the rumor was merely created by 4e fanboys who dislike Pathfinder being an alternative to their favorite RPG. I'm not suggesting you invented the rumor, since I've heard it so many times before.

The fact you like 4e is cool. I agree with you that both games have limitations, and you like 4e's system better because you can deal with them.

@ Rowan Kaiser:
My only issue with your statements is that pnp RPGs pose the same issues as RPG video games. That is, the DM and players are restricted to pre-set choices because they "fit in the game." I would criticize the DMs you observed as being stuck in that mindset that every encounter is hammered out the night before the game. That's a rookie mistake - more experienced or talented DMs avoid this mistake by presenting a world for the players to explore, allowing them to create characters that work for them in that world while merely making a few notes here and there about interesting things characters can encounter while exploring.

As for player consensus, it's like any sport - you usually share the spotlight with other players. And a good DM will not only know when to hand the spotlight to players, but how to encourage players to take the spotlight and make it fun for the others. I also don't set up encounters for players to resolve backstories, drama, etc. The players create those moments, and I roll with it. I know the basics of the location they are in, so I can easily wing an on-the-spot encounter. I have nifty tables of random NPCs, events and such to help me create on-the-spot encounters, but I usually let the players form the outline and depth of the encounter.

I've played within the rule systems I use, and I've pretty much DM-fiat'ed when the rules actually impede the fun. Every game needs rules, but you don't always have to use or follow them. That's the beauty of pnp RPGs vs video game RPGs - programmed RPGs always follow the rules, have to have scripted events and restrict players as far as character classes and attitudes go. In a pencil and paper RPG, a good DM will break the rules to keep the fun going, and the players will cooperate to create a memorable and entertaining experience.

I think your two examples are lopsided, really. There has to be a decent group and DM to play with that will help you see what I'm trying to say. You can have open-ended worlds - you just have to know how to play the game correctly.

Rowan Kaiser:
As for those of you who say that they've had DMs created totally open and free worlds, I'd have to see this to agree with you. I really don't understand how that could be played as a game with rules.

This comment mystifies me. It sounds like what you're saying is that you believe that in a tabletop game, the background cannot be interacted with. As in a video game, where furniture, for instance, is static.

Since the general rules for a tabletop game cover everything from picking up a rock and throwing it, to swimming across a lake, to falling off a cliff, to getting a job as a blacksmith, and since the world itself is created by a human being who can improvise reactions in and from that world and its inhabitants, of course every game world in tabletop playing is an open-ended and free world.

I think you need to change the way you approach the nature of world building. In a video game, the programmers start with nothing, and are limited to how much they can get the game to simulate for you. Thus, you simply cannot speak with every character you see, and you are limited to only a few actions. In a tabletop game, the GM begins with the basic premise that the world is real, like to ours, and you can go anywhere and do anything, and interact in any way you see fit. The rules are just there to simulate actions fairly for everybody. They do not interfere with, or dictate the will of the players.

in during edition wars! :D

*cough* Anyways, nice article. I'm actually tempted to say that the reason for some of your concerns (for example the whole part that a player was not happy with the negotiations with the DM because her character wouldn't need to go to the forest and so on) might actaully be related to the simple fact that you are playing D&D. Now, before people crucify me and throw me to the wolves, let's take for example a smaller, more indie game - Dogs in the Vineyard. Now, I won't go into details about it - if you are interested, go do some reading. However one thing that made an impression when reading the rulebook, was that on several occasions the book specifically points out to the GM that he is NOT the one making the stories. The players were. The players decided where to go, what to do and the GM was there to provide the feedback. One of the rules towards the GM was something along the lines of "If a player wants to do something, either say "yes" or roll the dice." meaning that if you don't want the players to do something, you can't just say "no",but you have to pick up the dice and put something in their path to try and stop them.

One of the things that you said in the article really resonated with me. GameStop is very.. impersonal, corporate as you put it. You always feel like you're.. well, you know, "in a store". There's always this vibe of 'em trying to sell you something, of caring more for their bottom line than the customers. Most locations are tiny, clustered things with narrow aisles and wall-to-floor shelves of games.

But when you go into a gaming shop loaded up with board games and tabletop rulebooks and huge tables set aside for Warhammer and the like, the people in those stores give a much more personal vibe. It's not just a place where you buy stuff, it's a community center where people hang out and talk to each other and play games together. That's one of the reasons I'd like to get into D&D or something similar.

I've often considered a bit of 40K, actually, but that initial investment has always held me back.

greenflash:

Fortuan:
while, I do love D&D I find the Pathfinder series a step backwards. People didn't like how D&D 4.0 worked so they made Pathfinder to keep the mind bendingly complicated systems that drive out new players.

so noobs can go do what ever noobs do. and experance players can have fun( better spells, magic stuff, non-battle spells, epic combos and mages have to use weapons sometimes)

Have you tried DM'ing? besides i dare you to have more fun playing a fighter in 3.5 or pathfinder than in 4.0

@McClaud - In the case of the Pathfinder Society, yeah, the DM is stuck in the world. There's no way around that. And you (and others here) could argue that that's not "real" tabletop role-playing, but there a good fifty people there, on a weeknight. It's clearly a popular form of the game. As for the other game - maybe the encounter was improvised. It certainly wasn't totally rigid. It just kind of felt that way. Maybe another way to put it would be that it was expected - the form of the storyline and the gaming-playing nature of the characters expected an encounter there, and there it was.

@bruunwald - Being able to interact with anything within the game doesn't mean the game is totally open-ended. A player can't just walk into a game and declare "My elf wizard is the greatest wizard in history and rides a dragon and has a permanent invincibility spell on and can read everyone's mind." The form of the game exists to narrow down the possibilities, so that neither the impossible nor the impossible-to-fail are an option. Within that range of the interestingly-possible, you then have to find out what the players and DM are willing and able to do. Someone has to have some preconceived notion of a quest they wish to accomplish, a town or dungeon they wish to explore, a character or monster they wish to deal with. Otherwise, I think, it's meaningless - think of the difference between Second Life and World of Warcraft: one is a toy without rules, one is a game with rules.

@Jenx - I suspect you're right. In my initial version of the article, I talked a lot more about my experience with D&D video games, and one of the things I noticed was that many of those games did actually mirror the combat aspect of the tabletop game quite well. So much of D&D seems to be based around combat mechanics that I suspect that causes people to want to utilize them. I understand other games are much more or much less mechanical. Hell, I could have gone LARPing....

@Errickfoxy - Thanks. I just find I like being in comics shops or games shops, even though I buy much less of them than video games.

bruunwald:

Rowan Kaiser:
As for those of you who say that they've had DMs created totally open and free worlds, I'd have to see this to agree with you. I really don't understand how that could be played as a game with rules.

This comment mystifies me. It sounds like what you're saying is that you believe that in a tabletop game, the background cannot be interacted with. As in a video game, where furniture, for instance, is static.

I think this is a pretty understandable position, frankly. If you learned tabletop roleplaying during the 90s or 00s, most of the support was for adventure-path type gaming, where there were certain "givens" or else the game didn't go off. Not to mention all the text in various rule books about fudging dice or otherwise using force to get players to end up where the DM wants them to go.

In a CRPG, you've got legions of developers and artists making content so players can have more choices, but in a tabletop game, you've usually got one DM. It's understandable that he doesn't have the same amount of "assets" as the average CRPG on any given night. Then if you factor in the tactical complexity of modern D&D, where the DM is expected to build challenging encounters and complicated tactical situations, and suddenly it's easy to understand why the author rightly deduces that if they didn't do what the DM wanted them to do, there wasn't going to be any game to play that night.

What the author doesn't know, is that there are ways to run a D&D game with a lot more random elements and improvisation, so a DM can present more choices and handle unexpected decisions by the players. Sandbox gaming on the tabletop is alive and well, and in some ways more satisfying than sandbox gaming on the console or computer, because the dialogue and NPC reactions aren't canned, and your responses aren't limited to a few stock phrases.

@Rowan Kaiser: if you want to see what a more wide open game can look like, check out the shared sandbox setting I run with a few other DMs and a dozen or so players: http://redvan.wikidot.com (and the article that mentions it by Tavis Allison in this issue of the Escapist). We use Basic D&D, simply because it doesn't have all the tactical complexity of modern editions, and our DMs are short on time. But I'm sure that the same thing could be accomplished with, say, a Pathfinder game from levels 1-6.

Rowan Kaiser:
As for those of you who say that they've had DMs created totally open and free worlds, I'd have to see this to agree with you. I really don't understand how that could be played as a game with rules.

As a GM I try to create an open world for my players.

In reality, I'm well aware that I don't - not fully. Your instinctive thoughts that it's damn near impossible to create a totally open world for people to play in is pretty accurate.

And to a degree, you normally don't want to give your players complete freedom, because it makes it difficult for the game to progress (complete freedom being "Here's the world, there's your character. What do you do?") - your players need at least a bit of direction from you as GM.

I just try to create a world where I know roughly what's going on away from and around the players, I have some detailed NPCs for them to meet (so that when they interact with them, it doesn't matter how they interact, I can work with it) and basic outline for a plot (some of it built on the backstory of the PCs).

I can usually prepare a fair bit of detailed stuff in advance by guessing what they're going to. And in every single session, they do something I haven't prepared for, and I have to wing it (sometimes with more success than others). Most of the roleplaying is therefore the players interacting with things and dealing with the consequences.

I think the real goal with roleplaying is to give your players as much freedom of choice as they (and you) can manage.

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