(From Darths and Droids. Click for full-sized sunset.)
What little name I have I owe to Darths and Droids (and David Morgan-Mar in general), so perhaps I owe it to that strip to take another look at it.
I mentioned in my two previous reviews of Darths and Droids that the Comic Irregulars were willing to explore the possibilities of the “RPG screencap comic” much more than its inspiration, DM of the Rings, and broaden people’s horizons in the process.
Well, it appears they’ve done it again, because in the past few strips they’ve adopted a fairly radical new convention that they’ve only acknowledged in the annotation for today’s strip. They’ve adopted a “show-don’t-tell” policy for settings we can see but which the GM must describe to the players. In those cases, the GM’s description is omitted, and we only see, well, what we can see.
It’s sort of jarring that we’re no longer privy to every single thing the players and GM say, and it points to a general problem with RPGs. In the last panel of today’s strip, the sunset itself is stunning by any definition, but Ben’s comment, by necessity, is in reference not to the sunset itself, but to the GM’s description of the sunset. In an RPG, there could be the most brilliant landscape in the world if the players could see it, but no matter how brilliant it is they cannot; they can only attest to the GM’s description of it. Should the GM get a sheet of paper and draw the image he wants the players to see? The obvious answer is no; no drawing could do it justice unless the GM was Rembrandt, and if he was then it would take a year’s worth of sessions to get through a single battle, so that the GM could get enough time for his drawings.
(Okay, that paragraph was a lot better in the version I lost earlier. This would never happen if I had a real Internet connection.)
I don’t think DM of the Rings could have done something like this, because several times in that strip the players directly riff off the DM’s descriptions. I recall at least one strip (which I’m not looking up because, again, I still don’t have a real Internet connection) where the players enter a place, look around, and realize the only course of action is to go back the way they came. If that strip had been done as a series of images of the surrounding landscape followed by the characters deciding to turn around and go back, it would have lost much of its impact (as opposed to today’s Darths and Droids, which would have lost much of its impact if we had been privy to the GM’s descriptions) and its importance to what little metaplot DMotR had. An important part of DMotR was the conflict between the DM and the players; take away the DM’s descriptions and you take away an important part of the strip.
As I said in my earlier review, DM of the Rings was a comic about a role-playing game, while Darths and Droids is a comic about Star Wars. Darths and Droids can get away with omitting scenery descriptions because it’s about the scenery, not the descriptions. Nonetheless, there are still pitfalls with this approach, and I hope Darths and Droids can manage to avoid them.