Friday, May 6, 2011
Waiting for Godot
How unreal, how strange! While such a set-up might very well work for zombies guarding a necromancer's lair, or carrionette dolls awaiting a victim to come pick them up, it absolutely doesn't work for flesh and blood monsters such as bugbears. (A cool touch for a pair of zombie guards: describe the layer of dust that covers them, their faded footsteps showing where they walked forward to assume their current posts years ago, only to stand still as the seasons turned and the dust settled on their desiccated flesh, dust which suddenly falls from them as they animate, turning their heads to stare at the intruding PC's...)
A million questions begin to bubble up in my mind: what do the bugbears do to pass the time? Where do they go to the bathroom? Do they take turns sleeping, or does another squad come replace them every eight hours? Do they bicker, resent each other, have small rivalries that might blossom into a split second betrayal in combat?
That perhaps is one of the main differences between 'old school' and 'new school' gaming as described by Monte Cooke's article "No School But an Old School" in Kobold Quarterly #10. Old school games wouldn't care for the ecology of a dungeon, having hosts of traps and monsters simply awaiting the next party of PC's to come stumbling into their midst in much the manner illustrated by the map above. 'New school', however, asks those questions, and allows a curious or intelligent PC to access a host of innovative strategies that might otherwise be beyond them (a perfect example is Erik Mona's Whispering Cairn dungeon crawl, where ever denizen had a story and reason for being there).
Reminds me of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Bruce Willis guns down John Travolta who's reading a magazine while sitting on the can. I love adventure modules that have their monsters and NPC's caught in media res when the PC's come upon them. Arguing, taking a nap, wrestling a hog out of a mud hole, excoriating the heavens over an increase in taxes, writing a love letter, tongue stuck out of the corner of their mouth. From such minor details is verisimilitude derived, and a world that exists only in the minds of the players and DM given ever more depth, color and vivacity.