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Cyber Monday Bonus: Keith Baker’s “Why I’m Thankful For D&D”

Written by Keith Baker - Published on November 26, 2012

All this month we’re asking our various Dungeonmastering.com contributors what D&D means to them, whether its delving into their Geek past, looking at how the game currently manifests itself in their lives, or wondering what the future with it holds.  Here is a special bonus article for Cyber Monday with what Keith Baker, 20th Level game designer said:

Most forms of entertainment are passive. We watch. We read. The story is set in stone, and the TV show will go on whether you watch it or not. Computer games are increasingly interactive, but you are still limited by the mind of the designer. If you’re traveling through a forest and want to climb a tree, you can only do it if the designers saw fit to include tree-climbing code.

Roleplaying games break from that passive experience and allow player and gamemaster to create something entirely unique. As a gamemaster, I love it when my players come up with something I’ve never considered, and I’m challenged to take the story in a different direction than I’d planned. One time I was running an Eberron session that involved a murder mystery, and two-thirds of the way through, the players stopped and pieced all the clues together and declared who they thought the murderer was… and they were entirely wrong. But the fact of the matter was that their answer made perfect sense; I simply hadn’t considered that the clues could be read in that way. If I’d written the adventure as a novel, they would have been stuck with my original answer. They would have gotten to the end and said “Really? It was the wizard? But it made more sense with the general.” This sort of thing happens to me all the time with television and movies—I see a different path to a story, and I’m disappointed with the choices the writer makes. In this case, I had the ability to hear the conclusions of the players as they were experiencing the story, and to decide that, in fact, their interpretation was better than mine… and when they finally confronted their chosen murderer and I revealed that he WAS the culprit, they were thrilled to have figured it out.

Now, you could say that I cheated. They DIDN’T solve the mystery. They came to the wrong conclusion… and if I’m going to hand them victory regardless of their actions, why bother? But the key here is that I didn’t hand them victory. I changed the identity of the murderer only because their interpretation of the clues made just as much sense as mine; it made a good story. If they’d simply been lazy, I would have found a way to force them to reevaluate their clues. Instead, they’d taken the foundation I’d provided and they’d done something I hadn’t expected… but it was actually a better story than the one I’d created on my own. And as for handing them victory, identifying the murderer was only part of the challenge; they still had to bring him down, and I wasn’t pulling any punches here.

In decades of roleplaying, I have been a part of hundreds of fantastic stories—stories I could never have created on my own. I have had an opportunity to share my worlds and ideas with other people and seen them create things I never imagined. I enjoy writing novels. I like watching movies. But roleplaying gives me the opportunity to create something unique with my friends. It’s also allowed me to make hundreds of friends I’d never have known otherwise. I’ve traveled around the world and had a chance to play with dozens of different gaming groups, as well as year-long campaigns with personal friends. Through the stories that we’ve shared, I’ve gotten to know these people – both the friends I played with every week and the strangers I only knew for a weekend – in a way I never would through casual contact. I’ve seen how they face adversity, found out what makes them laugh and what drives them to anger. And I’ve got a thousand memories that make me smile or laugh, and moments from twenty years ago that I still remember vividly today. And I’m thankful for every one, and for the games that made them possible.

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Written by Keith Baker

Creator of Eberron, Gloom, and awesome snickerdoodles.

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2 Responses to “Cyber Monday Bonus: Keith Baker’s “Why I’m Thankful For D&D””
  1. AJ says:

    “In decades of roleplaying, I have been a part of hundreds of fantastic stories—stories I could never have created on my own.”
    I think that all DMs/GMs would find this statement fantastically true. I’m the DM for 3/4 of the campaigns that me and my friends do, and although I am personally brilliant in creativity and construction, it’s just a dry fish bowl. It’s the players who bring in the fish and water, making the game the transcendent experience we all love. Great skill is required to be a DM/GM, but in the end he’s only a facilitator for the story of the players.
    The active aspect of the game is fantastic too. Unlike those other modes of entertainment, with D&D, you have to put in to get anything out of it. That sort of makes the experience that much better because it’s your own fantastic creation (for both DMs and PCs).

  2. jorge says:

    Another interesting article.
    Its great to see how u have made new friends…

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