Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Self-imposed Limitations

This blog post is a little more Devil's advocate than my usual stuff.  After all, I'm a dyed in the wool anti-authoritarian who loves creative license.

Just before falling asleep last night, a vague notion hit me.  Something about Facebook and MySpace... why the former was more successful than the latter.  If I told you that a MySpace page was totally open-ended, you could do virtually anything with it - colors, designs, fonts, images, have all kinds of wild, modular powers of manipulation and choice, and then told you that Facebook was artificially limited, that it imposed lots of regulations and restrictions... you might "like" MySpace over that other social networking site.

Why, then, is Facebook more highly regarded and well respected than MySpace?  Why does Facebook get more traffic and have more gravitas?  How come no one made a movie about the CEO of MySpace?

This is just a theory, but it goes back to man's unconscious need for structure; the world should be regulated.  Human beings say they want loads and loads of freedom, they might say it until their blue in the face, but that doesn't necessarily make it so.  Consciously, man yearns for wide-open spaces.  However, he secretly craves the ground under his feet and familiar scenery at which to gaze.  After all, the void is a scary place.

How does this relate to roleplaying games?  I believe the vast majority of gamers dislike RPGs or campaigns with little to no structure.  Sure, they want choice, they want their decisions to matter, but at the end of the day, players want to know there are rules.  I'm not saying sandbox campaigns suck.  On the contrary, a well thought-out sandbox is usually preferable to a strictly linear scenario - as long as GMs are careful to occasionally leave a trail of breadcrumbs and clearly mark clues, plot points, NPCs with useful exposition, etc.

A GM has to lead just as much as he describes.  Not along tracks like a railroad, but in a realm of boundaries and barriers.  Don't characters enjoy the occasional feel of an invisible hand upon their back, gently pushing them in the right direction?  If you asked them, some might deny it.  Nine times out of ten, they're kidding themselves.  Suggest to them an RPG where the setting is anything they want, their character concept can be whatever they choose, and there is no pre-determined objective - it's all open-ended.  Lameness, game session for two.

Does this mean the silliest offenses to conventional storytelling should be thrown out without a care?  Must players give up on playing a Half-Orc, Half-Drow ninja/bard/sorcerer with a magic ring on every finger, a spell-storing bastard sword in each hand who can transform into a Were-Spider when it suits him?  Sure, it sounds cool.  So does a fantasy world of unlimited possibilities where the rules are whatever sound good at the time.  Trust me, the novelty will soon wear off, and then the only people enthused about that game will be the same teens using MySpace.

Have you encountered too much freedom in a roleplaying game, as either a player or GM?  Does the old school renaissance resonate more towards the limitation or unlimited end of the spectrum?  What about modern RPGs?  Does this also apply to horror RPGs?  Because there are few things more frightening than knowing the walls aren't really there.  Perhaps that's for another blog post...