Logical Illogical

   When I first started AD&D, all players went back and forth between Dungeon Masters, depending on what adventure was available, but keeping the same character. Now, this whole situation is reversed – and when you come to think about it, it’s a difference almost as significant as last century’s migration from theater to the big screen.

   In those pre-1985 role-playing games, the individual PC was the hero – and the world just “happened” all around him or her. In post-1985 games with their crazy deluge of supplements and clanbooks and whatnot, the world is the hero – and the PCs just “happen” in it.

   When the world becomes the hero, things have to get logical. You cannot put fifty crashed spacecrafts on one medieval fantasy continent, unless it’s Medieval Nevada or something.

   In those early days, this is the average conversation players used to have when they first met:

   “Hello, I’m David, and this is my friend JS.”
   “Hi. You guys joining in for this one?”
   “Yes. We’re both level 9. JS is a magic-user. I have a ranger, with blaster rifle.”
   “Barrier Peaks?”
   “Loved it.”
   “Us too. Just finished it last week.”
   “And before?”
   “Defeated Drelnza.”
   “Us too!”
   “What about The Village of Hommlet?”
   “Not yet.”
   “I recommend it. Lots of fun. But your characters may be overqualified now...”

   There was no logic at all in there. How many adventuring groups entered that crashed spacecraft anyway – and every artefact is always lying around? And Drelnza got killed how many times exactly?

   This is how role-playing games started out. It’s almost like a boardgame: everything is reshuffled right into the box, ready for the next group of players. Me and my friends explore the Village of Hommlet. Another group of players explore the Village of Hommlet, uncovering the same pernicious secrets. Then two guys from my group meet with three guys from the second group, and together they tackle some other adventure. But who went to that damned village first? There’s no need (and no point) in settling that.

   But then, something happened.

   Role-playing games became logical.

   A rather large proportion of Dungeon Masters got infected with a nasty streak of WBV, the “World Builder Virus”. We’ve all forgotten what it was like and how it used to work in the very beginning.

   Don’t get me wrong: World Building is cool, and I did my fair share of it, trust me, but I think in some cases it’s unnecessary. In fact, I really do believe it depends on how long your game sessions actually are, and how often you play. Here’s my personal little chart for that purpose.

Game Sessions of less than 3 hours
Game Sessions of 3 to 6 hours
Game Sessions of more than 6 hours
1-3 Games / Year
No World Building
No World Building
4-6 Games / Year
World Building OK
7 + Games / Year
World Building OK
World Building OK

   Nowadays, there are two ways a game session can begin.

   TYPE 1 START: “You guys found a forgotten cave with a big bronze door at the bottom of it. What do you do?”

   TYPE 2 START: “You guys can’t return to Stiflebury as planned because of Goblin troops on the border with the Duchy of Brulhg – there’s a war brewing, even if you haven’t played into that arc yet (but you heard the rumours). Today, instead of returning directly to your mage contact in Stiflebury to finally complete the ritual and save Vince’s wise old master from his curse, you’ll have to detour through Qerryn Forest, and risk a new encounter with Constable Phemk, whom you insulted last time around (or maybe the King’s other Constable is patrolling Qerryn Forest with his men these days, because you know the King has two Constables, and Phemk’s wife is about to give birth. So, what do you do?”

   Logical worlds are for players who can play often, and for long game sessions. Illogical is for casual, occasional play. Ashardalon and Drizzt are quick, efficient, and they cut to the chase: we’ve come full circle now, we’re almost back to Castle Greyhawk – the original megadungeon.

   The Flanaess was an awesome place, and the very first “world setting” many of us ever played into, but that big illogical-to-logical switch I talk about wasn’t yet complete nor absolute, and weird stuff happened. For example, I remember this crazed three-day weekend at a friend’s house, during which we played Dwellers of the Forbidden City and then White Plume Mountain. Now, in retrospect, I look at the distances and think “Wait – what?”

   My ranger didn’t own a horse, and neither did those other PCs... so, did we actually walk from Hepmonaland all the way to the Rift Canyon and cross the Tilva Strait and the Vast Swamp – more than twenty-five hundred miles?

   What about those DMs who became world builders in their twenties when they had lots of free time, but now they reach forty and don’t have as much time – and neither do their players? What then? Is it possible to downgrade the whole thing, to scale down a huge world carefully crafted over ten or fifteen years or more?

   One of my friends is a fantastic world builder. The complexity of his world is almost impossible to fathom: he created his own personal computer database and has twelve fat 6-inch folders full of printout charts and maps and NPCs and backgrounds developed since ’95. He even integrated all of his Photoshop maps into one enormous thing, kinda like Google Earth: you can see his entire fantasy continent and then zoom in to a small kingdom, and to a city, and even to some main streets... He’d probably tell me to go fuck myself. “You want me to take my life’s work and downgrade it? Take a magnificent three-hour movie and turn it into an MTV clip?”

   On the other hand, we only play twice a year. We used to play much more often, but it gets harder and harder to find a convenient time slot – so we only play twice a year and the sessions only last about five hours. On my little chart, that’s labeled No World Building.

   I offered five of my friends to try out Ashardalon, but there was really no enthusiasm at all on their part. “We are used to drinking a unique bold eighty-year-old scotch – and now Dave wants us to switch to a six pack of wine cooler?” Yes, I understand what they mean by that; but then again, we only get a taste of that eighty-year-old scotch twice a year! We could be chugging those California Coolers once a month! And why can’t we have both, by the way?

   I wonder if there’s ever gonna be a clear solution to that dilemma; and I’m quite certain we are not the only ones facing it. The hobby we love has officially become too complex for our own good and busy schedules.

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