#RPGaDay2020 Day 17 - "Comfort"
Comfort is something that makes our souls relax. Comfort music, movies, books. They don't have to be fluffy or light, or even necessarily fantastic--but they should be familiar and give us a "break" when we consume them. Some of my own comfort movies are Good Will Hunting, Enchanted April, and Cabin in the Woods. My books include Ender's Game and Anansi Boys, and my music includes Blue Oyster Cult and Simon and Garfunkel. And sometimes I will play Infamous, on my PS3, at a point after I've beaten the game, but can still run around and blow up bad guys and explore.
When I experience these things, I get to largely sit back and enjoy the expected experiences without having to really work for it. No new experiences, no mind-blowing revelations, no tensions that I didn't choose. And yet when I'm done, I get to feel I've accomplished something in going through them--maybe caught a nuance I had never seen before, drawn a new connection, or maybe I just got to a deeper level of appreciation of the work.
So what is the RPG equivalent of a comfort session? What takes away uncertainty and lets people just relax and enjoy it. Ironically, I would say it's a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. It's true the dungeon crawls can be intense and deadly, but as a player you have a good idea what to expect--and while you have to be thoughtful, cautious and careful to have your characters survive, you don't really have to put too much brainpower into the event itself.
There is no subtlety to a dungeon crawl. You don't have to interact with the local guard to entice her to give you the schedule of the accountant, so you can sneak in and look at the books as you gather evidence of possible. You don't have to worry about how your actions that serve to secure your honor or safety might be viewed by the guards, the citizens, and the nobility. In a dungeon, you go in the front door with arms out and you take on whatever comes at you.
There is also no greater intelligence required. Sure there are puzzles, but those puzzles are in front of you as a condition for moving forward. They let you pass, reward you, or punish you...but they ultimately have clearly defined barriers between this and that. And the GM has created them to be solved, so you just need to figure it out. During normal play, there are often no clear answers, and sometimes not even clear problems. It can be fun to unwind a whole scenario to figure out what's going on, but it's also fun to just go in and hit things.
Dungeon crawls are refreshingly violent. In town, you have to worry about civilian casualties. In dungeons, you just see something and just beat on it until you get to the objective you are after. Fighters and barbarians didn't learn their trade to discuss the subtleties of tea types with a storekeeper. Wizards don't learn fireball to replace it with "Detect Higher Value Herbs" and Rogues didn't learn backstabbing because they want to enter corporate politics. These people learned their trade to run headlong against a wave of impressive foes, and come out the other side with a minimum of casualties and hopefully a bunch of gold.
And at the same time, they are focused. In a dungeon, everybody is on the same page; everybody knows the goal. Each person has specific skills, tricks, and benefits they bring to the party, and when the time is right, they know when and how to use them. You don't get many times when someone wanders off to do something else. When there's a room to explore, a trap to disable, a troll to fight--the word "battle stations" gets everybody doing what they are supposed to.
They are profitable. Let's be honest--killing monsters is fun, as is solving the great mystery or defeating the boss of the dungeon. But what people really get excited about is the treasure: Is it going to be magical items that let the players be more flexible or more powerful? It is going to be lost treasures that take the campaign in whole new directions? Or is it just mountains of gold, which allow the players to be flexible in how they advance their characters? And speaking of that, there's are the mountains of XP to be gained...a good dungeon crawl can advance a player an entire level in one extended session--giving them access to new and improved abilities.
They are also popular. Some people like exploration games; some like social games; some like more combat-focused games. There are people who proudly talk about year-long campaigns without a single combat--and that's totally legitimate. But tell people that you've set up a dungeon crawl and almost everybody will be on board. Not just the warrior--you'll also see your usually centered and noble diplomat pull out a brace of throwing knives and want to know who dies first. For all the reasons listed above, but also because they are just fun.
And ultimately: Dungeon Crawls really are the quintessential event of Role Playing Games. The granddaddy of all RPGs is of course Dungeons and Dragons, and even in the most refined of games, that word, "Dungeon", evokes a primal desire to bash monsters and take their treasure, all while keeping each other alive.
I was shocked, a few years ago, when I found out about one of my mother's comfort movies. She adores Pride and Prejudice (honestly, also a comfort movie/series for her) She is always reading something impressive. I specifically remember the pride she had in the 80's reading a thousand-page book that had been written in English, translated to a Native American language, and then back again--to enhance its authenticity. She doesn't like movies with car crashes--thinking they are trite. She is frankly a very classy person...but when the chips were down, she wanted to watch Kill Bill--one of the most straightforward and violent films ever made.
And why is Kill Bill that movie for her? Why do I watch Enchanted April and Cabin in the Woods when I need to escape? Why do people like Dungeon Crawls when they know their characters are likely to die? It's because they ARE straightforward and while you don't always know exactly what's going to happen, you do know the parameters, and at least for a while, you can turn off parts of your brain and just enjoy the experience, and in doing so..find comfort.
About Today's Art
Today's art is "Sweet Halloween Dreams" by Alex Panogop, known as begomott on DeviantArt. Much loved on the Internet, this piece is probably best known from a meme that uses the art with the caption "Teddy Bears: protecting innocent children from monsters under the bed since 1902." I chose it today, not only because of its cuteness and the teddy bear tie-in, but because it explicitly illustrates that the comfort items in our life don't just make us feel better. They sometimes defend against those real terrors in our lives and help us sleep at night.