Dungeons not characters (again)Posted: March 7, 2011
The “Other Side” blog has continued the ‘Dungeons not Characters’ discussion, although I get the feeling that
a) the participants don’t understand what I was trying to say, and
b) they seem to think the question presents a strict dichotomy of choice: I suspect they feel I am presenting the reader with a choice between 2 extremes: they think I am saying that one must either just plod around mapping out the dungeon and look in every room OR explore your inner feelings for your character in a gassy-ass larp… no happy medium availible.
c) the Other Side statement and responses seem pretty snarky. I posted a response there but removed it and brought it here because I didn’t feel like paddling my canoe upstream.
Consider the following heavy-handed illustration of my position on the matter:
I’m not going to pretend to know what other people think ‘exploring
dungeons instead of characters’ means. But as one of the early adopters of the
phrase and the dude who dragged it into the blog-o-sphere (having no idea of the legs it would have), I can only tell you what I mean by it. And it is not complicated.
People sit down to play a game of D&D. Player A has a written backstory and has decided that his character likes elves, does not like the color yellow and has a secret enemy whom the dungeon master will introduce later
— someone who killed his parents and he will one day seek his revenge… and
there is a magic relic in there somewhere too… and an evil twin… or
whatever. The character has yet to do anything in the game and yet there is already a lot of information “about” him. This level 1 character is named “Elphegor Dragonsbrother” even though the fantasy character has never met a dragon since the player thinks it would be cool to have a character who is fascinated with dragons. Whenever the DM introduces something yellow (like an NPC wearing yellow clothes), the player announces that since his character hates yellow he will be negatively disposed towards the NPC in the yellow shirt. When elves enter the picture, his player cites his character’s life-long fascination with elves as a reason why he should
be allowed to negotiate favorably with the elves. Player A spends game time
trying to make whatever events unfold in the game fit the backstory and vice
Player B shows up and rolls dice and decides that since his
character had a decent CON he will be a hobbit fighter. He chooses a name and
buys the weapons and armor he can afford. His hobbit is level 1, so he is pretty
much a blank slate. He goes off on adventures and, when he gets betrayed by an
NPC, the player then has an enemy that he hopes to get revenge upon in the
future. If he nearly gets killed by a blink dog, his character might avoid blink
dogs in the future. If he nearly drowns in a river, when he encounters rivers in
the future the player might annouce that the hobbit is going to be very careful
because of what happened last time. There is no backstory (other than what
happened to the character before in the game). The more the character does, the more the players ‘know’ about the character. The ‘events’ of the characters
life, that form him/her/it, take place at the game table. There is no
“backstory” that player B made up before the game and then has the other
players and DM play along with.
I prefer player B’s mode of play.
I’m not claiming its the right way or the only way, but, after trying it both
ways it is the way I like. Thus, I explore dungeons, not characters, and through
the course of exploring the dungeon and having the adventures, the character is
formed. The character is not a collection of adjectives, he or she is the
product of events.
I’d add that I don’t think any way is the wrong way of doing it, just that one way seems more fun (and more suited to my conception of a ‘role playing game’ as opposed to ‘acting’ or ‘improvisational theatre.’). If you enjoy writing out a ‘character background and using that to guide your actions in the game, more power to you.