Open Monday: Do you go into the basement?

“Sometimes, I forget that the D&D® Fantasy Adventure Game is a game and not a novel I’m reading or a film I’m watching.”

— Tom Moldvay, Dungeons & Dragons, 1980

The comparison between roleplaying games and movies is at least as old as I am. As Moldvay suggests, the classic pitch to new gamers is “it’s like a movie where you’re the star.” Several years ago, the most common buzzword for a new system was “cinematic,” and it’s still one you hear a lot.

I think, though, that two very different playstyles huddle the umbrella of movie-like gaming. Consider this classic scenario:

GM: “The night’s dark and stormy, like it always is. You hear a noise from the basement, something at once like the rattling of chains and the cry of a baby. What do you do?”

Playstyle A goes like this: “I’m the star of this movie, so I’ll do what people in movies do. I’ll go down into the basement.” You’re enjoying participation in the conventions of the source media.

Playstyle B goes the other way: “I’m the star of this movie, and I am not going to do the dumbass thing that characters in movies always do. I’m staying in the kitchen.” You want to improve upon the source media, or just see what happens when a character breaks the conventions.

Most people shift back and forth between the two. There’s more to B than risk aversion,1 but players who have been getting their butts kicked recently tend to end up there. It’s the style suggested by Matt Finch’s Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.

Similarly, style A often ends up associated with author stance gaming,2 but I’m not sure that’s the whole story. Games like Buffy the Vampire Slayer build in rewards for character actions that reflect source media, but may hose you in the short term.

Overall, I’m more of a style A person. I enjoy doing the kind of thing you only get away with3 in the movies, and like seeing favorite tropes emerge in play. What about you? Do you game to do things like what you see in the movies, or to defy and fix them? Do the people you play take the same approach? How well does that work out?

  1. Of course, going down into the basement may be less risky if you can Turn Undead.
  2. Which I have been told is a plot of the communists.
  3. Or only lose hilariously doing.

4 thoughts on “Open Monday: Do you go into the basement?

  1. Bit of both, I suppose. I’ll go in the basement, but I’ll generally go in the basement carrying a working and heavy electric torch and checking my phone has a signal. Or carrying a magic sword. I’d generally shy away from an Idiot Plot… but I’ve jumped into them often enough.

  2. More generally, I shift from A to B depending on game. I tend more to authorial distance than deep immersion, and am a filthy Trotskyite in that regard, so I go in the basement or not depending on mood. As well as availability of heavy torches.

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