Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Responses to Reader Comments

Today I'm going to respond to a couple of reader comments, one that I've been meaning to get to for weeks and another that's quite recent.

Last month Jeff Hebert (the mind behind HeroMachine, one of the cool people behind Broadsword, and maintainer of a pretty cool blog) asked me my opinion of online RPG play. In general I applaud any technology that makes gaming easier and more fun. Online venues allowing hobbyists in remote areas a chance to play has got to be a godsend to many isolated fans. And I use the internet all the time to enhance my RPG experience. Sometimes that means grabbing stuff to use at the table from places like the Hypertext SRD or YourGamesNow and sometimes it means gettting awesome insights from my fellow hobbyists on RPG forums (theRPGsite, EN World, and Citizens of the Imperium being my current favorites) or RPGer blogs (Dr. Rotwang is my number one guy in this area right now). And then there's the shopping! With the internets it's a zillion times easier to get obscure gaming stuff.

But for me personally, online play does not fire up the same brain-circuit that burns white hot during my tabletop games. I've tried various forms of the online experience over the years. In college I did some MUDding. I've given play-by-post a shot on two occasions. For about a year I got pretty deep into E-Fedding, the strange world of internet wrestling roleplaying. None of these satisfied me in a way the least bit comparable to even a lame tabletop session. I find online play about as viscerally satisfying as trying to split a pizza with your friends via e-mail. It just doesn't work for me. I find it lacking in the social dimension, the body language, the shared smiles, the food passed around, picking dice off the floor, pushing around toy goblins, etc., etc.

There's just a whole lot that happens at the game table that trips my trigger in ways that online play doesn't. Again, this is not an attempt to denigrate the fun of others. It's just not my scene, man. On occasion I've turned down some totally sweet offers from ultimately cool people regarding online games. I do this out of respect for the integrity of their game, because I know I won't take the commitment for an online game half as seriously as I do tabletop gaming. I don't want to drag anyone down because my heart is only half in the game.

In my most recent campaign report johnthegm left some very kind remarks. I won't repeat them all here because I'm not that big of an egomaniac. (Though I'm a big enough egomaniac that I'll surely go back an re-read the comments at some future date.) I will quote one comment of his that stuck out at me:

"I'm jealous that you aren't posting a full campaign guide."

I hate to disappoint you, john, but I don't have a box full of three ring binders giving the excruciating details of my campaign setting. It's not that I'm holding back on you, man! If you click the Beyond Vinland tag at the end of this article you will have access to as much information as my players are working from. And I don't have much more than that. I've got a single page of notes with things like Randolf the Red's class and levels, a couple of customized monsters, a full charsheet for Druzella the Witch, and a partially completed Canyon of Chaos.

My D&D campaign is not one of those rich backgrounds destined for nuanced exploration of setting. I'm way too interested in what is happening in the moment to worry too much about a larger context. What's going on at the table right now takes supremacy over the history of basket-weaving in the kingdom of Udrogoth and like concerns. We've got goblins to kill, riches to win, lovers to woo, and a land to conquer! As Ron Edwards rightly points out in his supercool Sorcerer & Sword, Robert E. Howard built Conan's world only as needed, one story at a time. Pictland only came into existence when a land of wild stone age savages was needed for a story about wild stone age savages. Stygia was created when spooky pyramids and mummified sorcerers were required. That's how I'm running Beyond Vinland.