Or, At Least, Until We Get Around To Inventing True AI
The concept of an AI DM… true AI, creative and self-aware, is terrifying. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bribed with pizza or boobies. It never forgets a rule or its notes. And it never, ever, stops. But I digress… this time, before I’ve even… uh… gressed.
Anyway, last night, at our weekly Pathfinder game, sometime before the crippling sinus headache that reduced me to whining “Let me die!” over and over again, I managed to pull off one of those things that simply can’t happen in any computer-run RPG, unless it was pre-coded to happen, which undermines the point.
In our prior game, some sorceror-type had been lurking around the room our party had holed up in for the night, and had left us a present just outside the door… a rock with explosive runes written on it, well aware that if adventurers ever see writing on the floor, especially vaguely mystical writing, they will stop and read it, much like dogs sniffing at a tree. My character managed to spot the runes in time and, by dint of a high Disable Device check, mage hand, and a bit of cloth, stuck the rock in the bag, in case it could be useful later.
Later, but not at the Hall of Justice, we encountered the demon prince we’ve been hunting for nine levels, perched on a standard issue boss monster floating platform. As my character has a totally undeserved reputation for being willing to bargain with entities of the lower planes, he offered me the usual power, knowledge, etc, to betray my friends. My reply was, “I’ve taken the liberty of writing the terms I’ll accept on this rock. ” I used the aforementioned mage hand to send the rock over to him, and rolled a really good Bluff check. Start of his turn…. boom. Sadly, it didn’t get through his SR (sigh), but it did penetrate that of his succubus girlfriend (insert your own obvious joke here about what hasn’t penetrated her SR) and it was probably the most direct damage I inflicted in that fight. (Conjuror/Rogue… while most of my direct damage spells ignored SR (yay!), they did acid damage, which demons all resist, my summoned creatures were too low level, my rapier wasn’t cold-iron or good-aligned, and spells like spiked pit and aqueous orb are pretty worthless against creatures with at-will teleport. I was reduced to casting buff spells and even using aid another. Who uses aid another? Sheesh. But I digress. Again. Trigress?)
So, upshot is, while it’s certainly possible for a coder to have written that explicit chain of events into a game, it’s not likely they would, and, if they had, it would have been at the cost of some other sequence of events which could still be carried out in a tabletop game. That kind of freedom of action, the ability to interact with an imagined world in any way you wish, is something we’ll never see, even in the most “sandboxy” games. It bothers me that this feature, the most unique selling point of tabletop games over MMOs, is so underplayed by game companies, who focus, instead, on trying to make games “easy to learn” and turn RPGing into a beer-and-pretzels hobby where you get some friends over, run a “delve”, and quit. The things that make tabletop RPGs unique are long-term campaigns where you build a sense of history and legacy, where you tell each other stories over and over and create memories you’ll cherish long after you’ve forgotten how to control your sphincter, and the ability to try anything you can imagine — whether you succeed or not, of course, is up to the dice.