Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gamist v. Simulationist

I want to start this post by saying that the first blog I scroll to in Reader every day is Grognardia. I find James' posts to be very insightful and well thought out when it comes to designing and running your game. The main reason I enjoy his blog so much is that we have completely opposite styles. His profile even states his interest in philosophy. I, on the other hand, am an engineer working on becoming a patent attorney. I like to think that I am a pretty good DM. I have brought quite a few new people into the hobby over the years and I haven't had a lot of complaints. I personally find James' work in Fight On!, Thousand Suns and other places to be excellent. He comes to a lot of the same conclusions as me, and produces stuff I like, but his way of getting there fascinates me. It is totally opposite of the way I do things.

An illustration. In a recent post he discusses keys in dungeons. He feels that every lock in a dungeon should have a key hidden somewhere. He talks about how he thinks of dungeons as puzzles. When I first read this my mind protested. People walk off with keys all the time. That is why we have keys and locks! So you can protect something while you are not there. People are often inside a locked area, with the only key in their possession. To me, the assertion that you should always have a key on the unprotected side of the door that can be used, Zelda style, to break in is silly.

But, he has a valid point. There should be some way to get through those doors. When you put a door in a dungeon you have not only put an obstacle in the players' path, you have given them a challenge. Sometimes I might have the key where they can find it. It is far more likely that I will put the door there, have it locked, and react to what the players do to get through or around it.

As an engineer, worse a perimeter security engineer, I know that doors are not denial devices they are delay devices. They force an intruder to make noise that is followed by time before they can fully breach the portal. This allows security to react before they can get in. There is always a way through a locked door. It is just a matter of time, effort and noise. You can get through most real life doors in a few D&D turns at the longest. But in real life, this is more than enough time for security to react. A locked door does not force a party to have a thief, it forces them to be creative. It also forces the DM to know enough about the physics of breaking through a door if he is not going to provide a key.

I am not trying to say that James' dungeon as game/puzzle philosophy is wrong here. Ultimately our conclusions can be expressed in the same broad statement: there needs to be a way through that door, and it is your duty to provide it. My strength as a DM lies in my ability to construct a world that players can effect in a physical way they are familiar with. I feel this really helps me when I have to improvise and make stuff up on the fly. I know why my dungeon was built and how all the creatures whithin interact. I can quickly calculate how the players' actions at one end of the dungeon will effect the other.

My DMing style will never produce James' Crystal Hemisphere from Fight On! Issue 4 though. When I get my review of that issue up you will see that I love that dungeon.