Monday, January 23, 2006

The DM Daemon...

"You are in a long corridor, there are doors to the [N]orth and [S]outh. Underfoot, the bones of small animals crunch sickeningly in the shadows..."

The good old days, eh?

A good DM would have the rule set memorised, a bank of prerolled characters to torment you with and the ability to lift you and your friends out of your seats round the kitchen table and off to some far off imagined land.

'Back in the day' my brother, a couple of schoolmates and myself would spend hours ploughing our way through dungeons that were either part of the AD&D series or ones which I'd dredged up from the darker recesses of my twisted elder brother mind.

The brother, playing a human thief suggests that he'll open the door to the North. It's locked, does he want to try forcing the lock or picking it? He choses to pick it, his skill modifier is added to the roll, I counter roll and, aye, he gets through, this time.

The paladin opts to go through first, casting a Holy Light spell that reveals a bunch of undead... oh noes. He's used his action turn casting that spell... muahaha

and on, and on into the night.

A well designed dungeon (the sort that the lads would come back to play more than once) had challenges, a clear set of rules, a few unexpected turns (personally I loved the creatures I designed after watching Aliens once too often. Huge, black, threatening looking creatures that dripped acid and had a slashing attack (+ elemental damage) but were in fact pacific, wise and had taken to living inthe dungeons as a way to limit the damage that they could do. Sure, they had a shedload of treasure, charmed items, jewels... but if you chose to fight them you'd pretty soon find that they'd defend their lairs to the death. Talk to them, work WITH them and you would eventually gain access to their treasure.) and an identifiable 'win' condition so that the game didn't just roll on for days...

Nowadays, instead of having a big brother sitting as custodian of the dice we've got the game engine, churning out random generated numbers, modified attack and defence rolls, all in the blink of an eye. Or not, as it all happens behind the screen. Behind Oz's curtain.

One of the first uses that the brother and I had for the little Tandy handheld computer he owned was a random number generator, wot I wrote, that'd calculate the roll of a d6, d20, d[n] and, if we'd taken it a bit further, would have done the modifiers at the same time.

With a bit of inspiration we COULD have merged the dice programme with the rather lumpy Tolkien rip off text adventure that we slaved over, managing to get the first steps of the adventure written just in time for the rest of the lads to discover computers with graphics....

ah, how different it could all have been ;)

Now of course, as you play DDO, SWG, DnL, the game engine is doing just that. Rolling the dice for you, tallying up your score, checking for your skill modifiers and whether the other guy has got a saving throw.

Unlike big brothers who can be reasoned with ;) the DM Daemon in your games innards is implacable and merciless. Unlike big brothers who DM for their sibling his school pals the DM Daemon also has a horde of minions, called Devs, who scrive away trying to come up with ingenious plots, cunning devices and amazing creatures. Then, because we don't use our imagination in quite the same way these days, they have a bunch of artists and writers to breathe life into these creations.

Those if us, of an age to remember when 'back in the day' we sat round the kitchen table and were carried away in ships of our own imagining. Do we remember the DM getting it wrong? Making a mistake? Misrolling? dare I say... cheating?

Hand on heart I think I have to say that maybe once or twice I, ahem, rerolled to teach somebody a lesson. Sure there'd be a bit of heated debate, but we'd settle down and get back in the game.

Why then is it so different with computer based RPG's? Specifically the MMORPG? We expect it to be flawless, a perfect gem. When the engine barfs and spawns a MoB up a tree when he's meant to be in a cave, we totally freak out...

Y'know, I think I've worked out why we bahave so badly towards Devs. Your big brother could always black your eye for being a lippy little sod ;)

Take care, and good gaming,

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