Discovery versus design

In a discussion over in the D&D Next community on G+, I wrote:

 Drying scaffoldPlayers should understand that the creation of an interesting character happens primarily through gameplay, not backstory. They should write just enough backstory to give them a scaffold upon which they can build. Everything else should come during the campaign . Otherwise they risk having the most interesting part of a character’s story happen offscreen, which defeats the purpose of the game.

I know this insight isn’t unique or even particularly new. But a lot of us tend to forget from time to time. The Backgrounds in D&D 5e only provide handles for the characters before they start adventuring. Nothing that happened in their lives before the game should outshine what they do once it starts. Back when I played Star Wars Galaxies, I thought of this as a question of discovering or designing characters.

The most interesting things their characters do should happen in the world during play. By the same light, the most interesting things that happen in the world should involve the characters. Note that “world” here refers to the campaign itself. The players may or may not alter the course of civilization. In a city-based campaign, the campaign events should be the most dramatic events in the city during that period.

The entrance to the castle, main square, Camelot Theme ParkDon’t fall into the trap of creating a theme park for your campaign. Players should do more than get on some rides and see some shows. They deserve the opportunity to make meaningful choices. Otherwise they can just read a book or see a movie. The pre-eminent virtue of tabletop roleplaying is that the characters can try to do anything. And if their attempts don’t even matter, then why bother?

Gaming and operating systems

UNIX Magic

I’ve noted here before that I have played MMORPGs since at least 2005. Actually, though, my history with computer games goes back about 30 years before that, including online gaming most of that time. BBS door games like Legend of the Red Dragon and Solar Realms Elite occupied huge amounts of my time when I was in middle and high school. In fact, I remember when Microsoft started pushing Windows as a platform for games. At that time, most games ran under DOS and we saw Windows as a resource hog. Our expectations that this strategy would fail turned out wrong, of course.

Since then, things have split for me. I do my real (professional) work under Linux these days. Most of my personal computer usage also happens in Linux, largely because I know it better. When I want to set something up or fix a problem, I can generally do so far more quickly and with less trouble in Linux. Unix in general lends itself better to hacking for fun. Compatibility for web sites and such hasn’t caused me trouble in a decade or so.

Gaming is the obvious and glaring exception to that statement about personal usage. But it occurs to me, as I’ve returned to tabletop RPGs, that almost all my gaming could shift to Linux too. Other than MMORPGs like SWTOR, most of the other games I play run fine under Linux. Dwarf Fortress, Kerbal Space Program, Shadowrun Returns and several other games accessible via Steam don’t require Windows at all. Quite a few others actually work fine using Wine or one of its derivatives. I do almost all of my RPG preparation in a browser, text editor, or GIMP. Some specialized software like Hexographer (a mapping program) runs under Java, making it cross-platform by nature.

I don’t want to stop playing SWTOR, though, at least not yet. Shadow of Revan, the next expansion, launches in December. It should provide several months of enjoyment before my next break from that game. When that happens, though, my kids might end up getting my gaming computer and I can shift everything back to my preferred environment.