Saturday, August 20, 2011

Deus ex machina in RPGs

After 3thirty years of gaming, I have seen this plot device used many many times. Basically, deus ex machina refers to an ending (usually positive) brought about by an event or agent in a manner that is very unlikely or impossible or minimally has no context or connection with previous events.

The most obvious example I can think of occurring in high school sometime. In this instance, our DM, Toma the Lip (yes he was called Toma the Lip or Lips), had ushered the party into an untenable situation and our failure in gaining some quest item and subsequent death was imminent. That is, until the servants of the gods erupted through the floor to slay our foes and show us the way to the gem or sword or beer. Whatever it was ceased to have any import as soon as we realized the gods were going to give it to us and make sure we used it as they desired.

Another funny incident in college occurred when our party was ambushed and faced death. The DM assumed we would surrender to the orcs. We didn't. Sooooo, suddenly an earthquake to shake things up. Terrified and confused, the orcs ran away. In one year of play previous, we had never experienced even so much as a rain (the characters anyway).

I have had characters trip and fall into a secret door, find an antidote to a poison sitting on a chair in a dungeon (that was funny), saved by a king (when I was 1st level) and on and on.

Deus ex machina all (I think anyway). Ok, so I can understand the desire for a particular end on the part of the person running the game, but to force an end is, in my opinion, destructive of the spirit of the game. If I knew I would win the ultimate prize, victory, quest etc every time, I just would not participate. That would be sorta boring. Sorta like playing chess against a cat.Its boring (unless one rubs the chess pieces with catnip).

Ok, I'm falling asleep.

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