So I’ve been reading up on hexcrawling and pointcrawling and dungeon and adventure design in anticipation of running an Iron Falcon game. I’ve looked at random generation, including online generators, of which there are many very nice ones. I’ve looked up the various bloggers out there who are mapping, and even looked at some tutorials about doing my own maps. Sadly I have very little artistic talent, and I can’t even begin to compare myself to some of the talent out there. To sum up, I felt defeated.
The most important thing we learn from pen-and-paper roleplaying games is that anyone can be a storyteller. Books, movies, TV, video games—all of these can inspire a would-be writer, but the audience’s role is still fundamentally passive. These media are fun, but do nothing to fill the chasm separating us from creative “professionals”: the gulf between “Wow, that was cool,” and “I want to do what they did!” At the end of the day, we’re still standing outside the dream factory looking in.
Roleplaying games burst right through that wall, Kool-Aid-Man style. By their very nature, RPGs force audience members to take control, to see themselves as storytellers. RPGs are improv, and even the best-written adventure module is still only a stage for the participants. Creativity is mandatory, and as people game, they come to identify as creative. I can’t count the number of professional authors I’ve met who were drawn into writing by the urge to create more elaborate backstories for their characters, or settings for their game, or journals of their parties’ adventures. Gaming breeds writers like salad bars breed bacteria.
Here’s a fun idea: A digital book about the development of a game that’s also a platform for that game’s release. Game…book… ception? Nathan Meunier, author of This Book Is A Dungeon [This Dungeon Is A Book] describes his new project as “a multi-format creative experiment that merges the worlds of game design, interactive fiction, indie authorship, and self-publishing together in one crazy project.”
Meunier took just over a month to teach himself Twine, and made a dungeon-crawling game he says mixes the interactive fiction elements of Twine with pixel art and the features of a traditional RPG game (try a free demo of the game). Along the way, he documented the process in a book he plans to release on Kindle with the game itself inside.
The API offers the ability to retrieve individual comics, an entire series, components of issues (for example, the cover), events from inside an issue, creator details and individual character data. For example, you can retrieve an entire story arc from the Marvel universe with a simple API call.
The makers of This War of Mine do not see their game as politically or artistically reactionary. “Our motivation wasn’t so much to create a natural opposite to many war games as to create a different kind of dramatic experience, something closer to a tragedy,” Pawel Miechowski, a senior writer at 11 Bit, told me. But tragedy is the natural opposite of Call of Duty-style triumphalism. In turning its focus away from the high drama of conflict, This War of Mine runs counter to a broader cultural project that, through the lens of entertainment, makes us more familiar with—and perhaps more readily accepting of—war itself. Drozdowski will admit that his team hoped to defy player expectation. “Video games have programmed us to see characters in games as enemies, or to believe that there is always a perfect solution, or even a riddle to be solved,” he said. “But, in This War of Mine, there is often no good or obvious choice. It’s always simply about trying to survive the night, in the hope that, in the morning, the guns will have stopped.”
Fantasy Grounds, one of the leading virtual tabletop platforms, now offers officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons content from Wizards of the Coast. Available through Steam, the software can allow players to virtually recreate the 5th edition D&D tabletop experience complete with dice rolling, 2D maps and a play experience completely controlled by a dungeon master.
For their new study, published in the journal Social and Personality Psychology Science, Bormann and colleagues wanted to investigate whether this immersion is fostered by storytelling and whether it affects players’ ability to assess the mental states of other people.
This assumption that a game needs to be fun to play can be traced back to the roots of the medium. In The Theory of Fun for Game Design, the developer Raph Koster defines games as mental puzzles. According to Koster, the sense of fun we feel when we play a video game comes from learning and mastering systems that need planning and coordination, much like we’d do in Connect 4, Jenga, or tiddlywinks. Aspects such as story and character are just dressing in the same way that knights, kings, and queens are dressing for the mathematical system at the heart of chess. “This is why gamers are dismissive of the ethical implications of games,” says Koster in his book. “They don’t see, ‘get a blowjob from a hooker, then run her over.’ They see a power-up.”
One thing I’ve struggled with a lot as a dad is letting my kids make and learn from their own mistakes. After all, I know from my own experience that most of what my parents told me went in one ear and out the other, but when there were natural consequences for making a bad decision, I rarely made that same mistake again. It’s really hard with a young child to know when and how to let those mistakes happen, though; you spend the first several years just trying to keep your child out of harm’s way, then suddenly you have this small human who’s capable of making her own decisions about things.
Point two is about where the plot should go. The GM might lay out everything the player characters would need to sneak into an enemy fortress, including scrounged guard uniforms and a supply delivery wagon, expecting the heroes to slip in, steal the stolen relic, then return it to the local villagers quietly. For the GM, that’s the most obvious solution.
Unfortunately, the players have their own ideas. One wants to rally the local villagers to storm the walls. Another wants to stuff a rock into the gullet of a rotting raccoon carcass and drop it into the well. Another wants to spoil the supplies before they’re delivered to poison them that way. In short, GMs learn quickly that flexibility is important because players are unpredictable; you can’t predict what course of action they’ll think is best.