Wednesday, July 8, 2009
UP ON A TREE STUMP #3: D&D’s Ongoing Paradigm Shift
Up on A Tree Stump™
(or) All I Know about D&D™ I Learned From Life
©2009 Robert J. Kuntz
#3: D&D’s Ongoing Paradigm Shift
A game is a game is a game. We all agree on that. But D&D in its many facets breeds different abstracts of the game idea for each person who experiences it. This is the paradigm shift that is in fact ongoing through that games unique presentation. It will never end and there is no argument for or against what is better. The concept is open-ended and mutable, indefinable beyond the points of its mechanics, as the influences—each player and every DM—in essence sets their own game scope and projects it along a singular, and in many cases, ever diverse path. We incorporate endless and diverse data from many sources and project it into each unique structure, unifying the base philosophy as each evolves into an interdependent whole.
That said, there are some basic tenants that cannot be ignored as inconsequential to good play or good DMing, as this is still a game. A game, of course, predisposes the use of strategy and tactics used by its players therein. Even in Monopoly, for instance, that simple but far ranging and ever-present concept is always, or should be, at the forefront of every player’s thought process.
Imagine playing a board game such as Monopoly without a plan, without gauging the “lay of the land,” so to speak, and note how far such players progress within its territory as compared to players who otherwise adhere to such tenants.
Of course if Monopoly had not been created with a mind to the use of player tactics, then we would have but another example of a game of limited range with consequences garnered from just rolling dice and ascribing personal success or failure while doing so to luck alone.
As noted--and as an unrelenting telling point, in terms of infinite structural choices possible in such a mutable game as D&D--there are no Apples and Oranges within any games perceived and/or adopted conceptual range; and only understanding what a game with a set of rules “is” for its participants and that each participant understands their individual levels of investiture of resources is paramount. A game is a game is a game.
Yet what distinguishes a game from being a challenging or less challenging one in any of its presented levels is the degree of thought and expansion given to its base range of expression. As DMs will set that tone from the beginning—structure—such base understanding is more or less passed along to their players thereafter. Inherent structure will only move from its initial perceived base in D&D through the interjection of shifts that directly reflect back upon the game’s most important tenant: that there is always an expanding possibility range within an open structure. As originally expressed by EGG and D&D’s first co-designers, this is an ever-present and intuitive gaming philosophy. Further, the more these types of shifts are present, the more each participant grows through their use. Expansion expands.
Thinking Horizontally and Vertically: As D&D has an ever-expanding range of possibilities, creative lateral inputs (horizontal shifts) will indeed elongate the structural base in those directions. This is the most important part of a published adventure, as many vertical shifts (which I will explain hereafter) are not as structurally prevalent within such abstracts intentionally scaled for specific ranges as they are within home-brew scenarios. On the whole this is where the phrase “Apples and Oranges” does apply to a greater or lesser extent.
As the inclusion of horizontal shifts is limited only by the creative inputs of the designer (or DM)--and in the home-brew scenarios, by the players, as well, and more-so in this case than within a published scenario—we may continue upon this extending, linear path forever. Perceptions aside, this still remains linear unless the base itself as presented is not only elongated but also challenged for its range, no matter how extensible it is perceived to be. That is where verticality comes in.
In game design one cuts across the axis of the horizontal with vertical lines of design, extending the whole in the process. As the base expands laterally, it also expands outward and thus holistically onward exponentially. It only stops when it reaches self-imposed or insurmountable, and often artificially introduced, design limits. This expansiveness can be realized at any level within the DM’s or player’s expression whenever each can interject to the model during moment by moment game exchanges—and this is one of the most profound aspects of our game, and of course of unlimited expression, overall, which the game maintained from its onset as its strongest, most immutable tenant.
The “Dial” of Design: From a flat-line base of the horizontal we interject extensibility to it, creatively widening its base; and perceptually this looks and feels like a set of “rolling hills.” When one inserts the vertical model into this, that is when these expressions can potentially reach for the height of mountains or the depth of seas, even with their “tiniest” portions. Verticality comes in so many examples, as it did in the Original Campaign, but one could say that it is a dial DMs and players place over each horizontal aspect and rotates to note its effects upon their ranges or limits. A good set of journalistic questions—Who? What? Where? When? Why? And How?—can be a useful dial--a creative barometer—when so applied, and we as designers and DMs are always expressing same, whether we are consciously aware of what is for the most part an intuitive process. It is important to realize, however, that its application has no limits at any time as long as the DM and his or her players accepts its ongoing inclusion as part of the gaming process.
“Vive la Difference”: Players accepted what EGG and I offered in the Original Campaign as a range of possibilities and indeed communicated within that same accepted range with us, knowing that the parameters were established and open. In so doing they learned to expect anything and we in turn learned to expect a range of responses befitting that same model, and certainly expected that these could and would challenge our abilities. In turn, all participants gained by this open model. Participants--DMs and players alike—were enhanced along many levels, and mainly creative and logical ones. Tactics and strategy came to the fore. There was no random die roll, anymore, as verticality added or subtracted from that. We were now merging with the realm of possibilities to the extreme, and within our mindsets stayed aware and open to that endless panorama. Everyone learned their own gaming limits and ranges and at the same time expanded their personal ranges of thinking and expression.
Two quotes from Lao Tzu apply here to cover every perceptual base about D&D’s ongoing shifting terrain:
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”
“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”
May you never get caught in a dead-end by an iron golem…