Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm getting old...

I had a few blog topics I was tempted to cover today, but before I actually started typing them I did a search of my past blog posts and discovered that I've actually already talked about both of them in depth. The first was the concept of a "sandbox" in roleplaying games, and the second was the E6 houserule set which is designed to keep D&D 3.5 (or any d20 game, for that matter) stuck forever in the "sweet spot" of 5th to 10th level in terms of power, but without just arbitrarily stopping the game (the method I've used previously.) My E6 experience to date is all hypothetical; the only two E6 games I've run didn't actually get above 6th level anyway before we moved on to something else. But I've had more experience with sandboxes.

See, I started a thread at ENWorld not long ago about the concept, and it quickly got derailed into rather silly bickering. Then I got swamped with some things at work, and I didn't have time to get caught back up with the thread. Then I decided that I didn't really care to get caught up again anyway, since the thread had long ago ceased to be any kind of fun to talk about.

One point that I thought was worth noting, which seemed to be causing my "opposition" all kinds of grief, was that no game can be called a "sandbox game." Several posters kept saying that my discussion of sandbox in a theoretical sense was pointless and tried to point out specific games (OD&D game up more than once, but given the fixated obsession of the guy who brought it up, that was hardly surprising.)

The thing is; no game can be a sandbox. There's no such thing as a game that's a sandbox. "Sandbox" as a label is an artifact of play not of game design. While its true that certain products can encourage or facilitate a sandbox experience much more easily than others, a ruleset by itself certainly doesn't. It's a style choice if the person running the game. Two people running OD&D for two different groups could have a completely different experience with regard to how sandboxy the game is, depending on how the GMs run the game.

That said, I still think that sandbox as a term also loses any real utility when folks run around calling any game that's not a railroad a "sandbox." It's not. That just makes it... not a railroad. If the definition of sandbox is so inclusive as to be "not a railroad" then what's the point of using the label at all? Similarly, if its fans are trying to saddle the term with a bunch of qualifiers that are simply artifacts of a well-run game, then it also loses any utility as a term; it just becomes a synonym for a well-run game.

In fact, I've noticed this before in similar discussions; people who seem to be on complete opposite spectrums of this debate end up describing their games... and they sound very, very similar. A well-run game tends to have certain similarities, and trying to pass exclusive labels off as onto your games, when really all you're talking about is a well-run game, isn't a very useful pass-time.

Plus, as a pet peeve, "non linear" was already a perfectly viable term that was used quite a bit in the biz and by fans. "Sandbox" in comparison, sounds trendy, faddish, and juvenile.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

It occurs to me that I never explained the post title. Which is ironic, because I picked it because I had forgotten that I had already blogged about the topics that I'd picked to blog about, but hadn't remembered it.

And then I forgot to explain that.