Saturday, March 21, 2009

Inside the Box or Outside??--EDITORIAL

While perusing the internet for D&D gaming experiences I came upon several "interesting" angles on spells in play. Actually they were more perceptions grounded in assumptions. Assumptions about how certain spells, or even whole swaths of spells, are useless or minimize the game experience. Such as...

"It's a very situational spell."

Hmm. Aren't ALL spells situational? Why yes they are! This was somebody's answer to someone else not seeing the use for a certain spell. This line of thought reveals a disturbing aspect of the D&D game today: set in stone, non-mutable, ever understandable and thus no-where creative or fluid in campaign terms, only in perceptions of what is useful NOW and under "understood circumstances" in a game atmosphere I presume to be riddled with combat challenges. Then again, players rise or fall with their DM, so this is not as concrete an example as the next...

Another post... "101 Spells not to Memorize..."

Huh? Now what line of thought could possibly group 101 spells into the not worth memorizing category? Hmm. One beset with no possibilities of change within a campaign structure or gaming environment, perhaps?

I know that Hackn'Slash is here to stay, especially with computerized FRP games which are at best flashy examples of same, but really, where has the imagination fled to?

In the Original Campaign, we treasured every spell for its possible worth in any given situation that could arise; we even implemented these in ways that were considered non-standard or had not been thought about along those lines by EGG and others who created these. We weighed heavily on combat and escape and detect spells, but so too, if we thought that a certain scenario might present itself otherwise and that we might have to pick from spells already known to excel in the challenge ahead as we perceived it, then these were gold. In other words, no spell could be defined as useless, as gaming situations and dimensions were highly mutable.

Smart DMs will use all manner of dungeon crafting in their scenarios and encounters to force the players out of standard situational responses. This design points to the holistic possibilities of adventuring and indeed attaches to how a dungeon, by example, is designed with these all-round play components in mind. This was done in Greyhawk, as most of the spells EGG perceived as being useful in one context or another had actually been formed around the idea of how these could or would be creatively used in his dungeon encounters. This meant to seasoned players that a lot of what could be achieved once the understanding of what "that" was presented itself was an option always preparing itself through the exercise of a player's imagination (i.e., they had not brought the necessary component to succeed with the perceived objective before them, such as a needed spell or magic item, etc. and now were faced with the expanding circumstances). That lead to their minds exploring the possibilities and took them outside of the box. The Original Campaign as DMed by myself and my counterpart promoted the mutable and expansive notes whenever possible rather than the refrain of sameness. I would put the players from that time and place up against anyone today.

In summary, possibilities are only as limited as the DM's mindset, and clever players will pick up on this after time goes by. Some of the coolest adventures can be generated through the use of non-standard spells as opposed to those emphasizing "beat-um-up-and-get-the-goodies." So too for magic items.

Unfortunate as it may seem, it's increasingly apparent to me that those who sit in a box and make suggestions as to the usefulness of said confines should only receive their echoes back from its four sides. Now if someone would only close the lid...

RJK

3 comments:

James Maliszewski said...

Very well said. I too have never understood the mentality you describe here. The notion that spells should always be immediately and obviously useful is one I don't share. Perhaps I am spoiled by having seen "useless" spells like ventriloquism and pyrotechnics used to great effect one too many times. Like magic items, I prefer my spells to be, well, magical, meaning they have their own logic, one I have to wrap my mind around and engage before they will serve my purposes. That's as it should be in my opinion; anything less is to turn magic into an ersatz technology and what's the fun in that?

Benoist said...

I agree with you both. I think that in the later mindset of 3rd edition on, it has to do with a shift towards "game balance", and the notion that, to some extent, a "good" DM would fulfill the expectations of the players. This directly leads to a choice between circumstances that would satisfy the players or not, as estimated by the DMs, hence the belief in "useless spells".

This seems to be all fine and good but for that often the players won't even know themselves what will satisfy them ultimately during the game. They might even assume that some situations would be to the detriment of their entertainment at the game table, and later find out that the DM presented these situations in a way that made them very fulfilling indeed.

I think that the group indeed rises and falls with the DM on this. It's got nothing to do with any objective usefulness of this or that element of play, but rather everything to do with the limits the DM and players impose on the game play itself.

Lord of the Green Dragons said...

I feel that it goes deeper than that. It's beyond expectation and into the realm of psuedo-fantastic, which in order to be achieved a person has to be separated from the facts of what Fantasy is to begin with, with all of its underlying roots. Back in the day TSR under Gygax and crew attempted to keep those gaps bridged, bringing into view Vance, Leiber, DeCamp, Norton, HPL, Howard, Gardner Fox, etc. There was an appreciation for the myths and legends that inspired these authors as well (it all carries forward). I am now convinced that this process, this vital link has been broken in many ways what with the advent of computers, the commercialization in full swing, and the dumming down of our educational systems.

Somehow in this morras WotC flourishes, does not promote the past which lead to the advent of Fantasy merging with Games to create a distinct by-product, and now only offers ooohs, ahhhs, and flashy art and groupy sayings. JRR Tolkien's advent then (1970's) inspired a new respect for fantasy fiction which had been struggling to maintain respectability, and we can only hope that the JRRT movies to date do the same. But when folks love flash and instant gratification (push button mentality), my thoughts upon a resurgence of the mind in that area of imaginative application coupled with creative force dims by comparison to the past. Recapturing the tales that inspired us subconsciously to latch onto these fantasy elements to begin with is hard when the biggest promoter is saying, "its whatever you want it to be." Kinda like the abstract art movement created numerous good artists in that field but was latched onto by the majority who claimed it as their expression of worthy content (i.e., I'm an artist because I placed red on a canvas and made an "apple" I could not otherwise have drawn anyway). Thus: I game therefore I am...