Friday, June 6, 2014

The Sandbox Buddha


It's been a busy week by me - I've been putting up crown molding at the house, taping, repainting, all sorts of home remodeling stuff.  I've learned the ins and outs of the "compound miter saw".  But the project is wrapping up - at least until I start tearing up the old flooring - so I can get back to some writing.

I enjoy bloggers and the folks that visit us out here on the blogs.  It's a chance to learn new techniques, see how other people run their games, and take in some contrary viewpoints.  My recent post here on my megadungeon practices linked to older posts here on the Lich House, and after seeing some of the questions dropped on them, I recognize that clarity and communication are skills I don't always demonstrate.  Let's see if I can improve!

The ambiguity in question is around my sandbox mantra, X is for Killing.  While my joy and excitement in the post is palpable, the actual underlying message was oblique.  The phrase came from Il Male, an Italian blogger (English as a second language), who populated his sandbox with all sorts of things for the players to target:  "Gods are for killing;  clerics worship gods, therefore, are for killing;  if it's not human, is for killing." (sic)  Il Male, what happened to you, buddy?  Someone should compile a list of all the old school type blogs that have flamed out - like a diff between one of Cyclopeatron's old lists and Dyvers mega blog roll.  Anyway, the mantra isn't that all the campaign elements are there to kill the players; rather, it means that it's perfectly fine if the game elements get destroyed or killed by the players.  Nothing in the referee's world has plot immunity.  Nothing is predetermined, and the game can go in any direction.

This philosophy is extremely liberating to me.  It's like a  gamer adaption of Buddhist thought.  Let go of your material possessions and your expectations, referee.  Expectations are the root of suffering.  Allow the experience of your game setting to happen without premeditation.  This sense of detachment from your creations is what allows your game to be open to any possibility.  It allows you to truly be an impartial referee.

Other virtues that are evangelized on the old school blogs such as letting the dice fall and honoring random results, these all flow naturally when you distance yourself from the results and leave behind any expectations that a game session or a combat needs to go a certain way.

Sandbox Buddhism is not the opposite of story.  Your game setting should be loaded with game elements that are rife with goals and motivations and potential actions - the building blocks of story.  Your NPCs must have their own agendas, along with the rulers, the organizations, the conspiracies.  Events are happening all the time in the game setting, regardless of what the players are or aren't doing.  Just don't get attached to any of them.

This game approach is the opposite of the Adventure Path.  Adventure Paths require following a predefined story from scene to scene.  The Adventure Path style seems immensely popular with the 3.x player base.  It's a fantastic vehicle to allow the players to take on a specific role (heroes, marauders) and follow a strongly outlined narrative to an epic conclusion.  However, where I'm at with my gaming hobby, I prefer running games where I have very little idea how things are going to go from game session to game session or how the campaign is going to develop.  I don't know how it's going to end, and it's that detachment from the results that allows me take such a neutral stance.  The players are the drivers that determine the path of the game, not me, and certainly not an author.  The games are significantly more interesting and enjoyable for me by allowing the players to drive the direction.  I'm as surprised as anybody at the end of a game night - and that's worth everything.

I do realize I've developed a great reliance on the megadungeon structure.  For all of its flaws around fantasy realism, it is the simplest campaign structure to put sandbox theories to the test and hone the craft.  As I continue to grow as a hobbyist, I'm sure I'll branch out into the other sandbox forms.  Eventually.