Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Dungeons and Dragons dilemma

An interesting difference of opinion--and gaming styles--recently cropped up during our regular Dungeons and Dragons game. The scenario involved an interesting quandary about player versus player-character decisions, and revealed a simple truth about role-playing games in general: That sometimes, there is no right answer.

To provide a little background: The island nation of Aflitan had just declared war on the island of Ilsardia, whom our party (or at least three of us) have sworn oaths to protect. Our party was hurrying to stop an all-out attack that we thought was about to occur on the peaceful village of Hommlet. It was now early evening, and the attack was to come sometime before daybreak.

En route, my PC (an elven ranger) noticed a single set of tracks leading away from Hommlet--a strange finding, given the snowy conditions, the time of day, and the general unsafe conditions of the road. We reasoned that it may have been an Aflitanian spy off to deliver a signal for the attack. But opinions were divided: should we make all haste to Hommlet, or follow the tracks and investigate? Ultimately, we decided to violate one of the oldest and most sacred rules of the game ("Never split the party!") and break into two groups: Tristan and Shem, our human fighter and halfling thief, respectively, would press on at all speed to reach Hommlet and warn the populace. I would follow the tracks with our cleric and wizard.

Our progess following the tracks was slow and Tristan and Shem reached Hommlet first. Naturally, the worst scenario occured--an attack had already begun. Hearing yells of pain and the clash of steel on steel--and witnessing a Hommlet defender pass his spear clean through an attacker, only to have it strike back, seemingly unfazed (undead?)--Tristan and Shem drew their swords and charged into the fray.

So was this the appropriate action? One of our players who controls the wizard PC (Cyrus) argued vehemently against it, and with good reason. When attacking piecemeal, a party is much more vulnerable. In D&D, as in real life, there's strength in numbers. Each PC has a role in combat, with bow users and spell-slingers providing long range support for the toe-to-toe fighters. Shem and Tristan also deprived themselves of entering the battle powered up with valuable "buff" spells, like haste and bless, that our wizard and cleric could have conferred.

Secondly, no one likes to sit and watch from the sidelines. Presumably when we next meet, I and the wizard and cleric players will to have to wait and watch a couple rounds of tense, exciting combat as we rush back toward Hommlet.

In summary, these are all good reasons for irritance. But Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing aren't that simple, and there's another side to the story to consider.

In role-playing games (as is evident by both their name, and their nature), the player assumes a role--that of his or her character. The degree to which we imbue ourselves into these roles varies from player to player. This level of player immersion typically falls into one of three camps:
  1. Players who actually adopt voices and accents and "become" their character as much as possible.
  2. Players who play out how they believe their character would act in a given circumstance, based on their character's alignment (i.e., good, evil, neutral), personality, history, and other factors.
  3. Players who consider their character to be an abstraction, and play their PC as an extension of themselves. In other words, I, Brian Murphy, am also Arden the Ranger, and Arden has the same beliefs and exhibits the same behavior that I would in a given situation.
Personally, I tend to hew closest to option no. 2. I'm not one for mimicking voices and mannerisms, but I like to think and act as Arden would act, even if it means that I might make a less than tactically-sound decision. I get a kick out of stepping outside myself. But there's also something to be said for option 3: D&D can be enjoyed as a fun game, in and of itself. There's a host of tactical decisions to make, resources to keep track of, experience points to be gained, etc.

In summary, Tristan was "right" for rushing into his combat, as it was a heroic, selfless action and villagers lives were in peril. And Cyrus' player was right, as Tristan's decision was not tactically sound, and may cost us in the end. Suffice to say that there's many ways to play and enjoy role-playing games, and none are inherently better than the other.

In the end, it's all a matter of style and opinion. Can you say the same for Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit? Hardly. And that's why for me, role-playing games are a great hobby and remain a constant source of entertainment and fascination.

1 comment:

Falze said...

Yeah, but when was the last time a Lurker Above killed your favorite little shoe in a heated game of Monopoly?