The Fell Gard Codices

The Aleatory Process V

November 21st, 2012

Having written these past few days about how the dice shape the dungeon, I want to talk a bit today about how I cheat.

I don’t cheat lightly. But it does sometimes happen that the dice seem to be telling me that a room overlaps space already occupied by another room. At that point, I’ll look for ways to move things around, or harmonise contradictions. As I’ve noted over the past few days, the process of establishing the map is fairly flexible. But if I’m creating a suite of connected rooms, problems can potentially arise; too many exits on a single wall, rooms branching from rooms and running into each other.

There are some things I can do about that. I can, say, work in three dimensions. While I tend to assume a dungeon level is more-or-less level, I can decide that a hall ducks down underneath another hall, or a room is actually a loft space above another room. But if I’ve got multiple passageways or exits leading off from that space, then I’ve given myself another headache — a level above or below the regular level. To a point that can be interesting, but I find it also gets very complex very quickly. So I usually prefer to cheat more blatantly.

I try to keep my cheating consistent. There are rules to it. For example: I don’t waste die rolls. If I’ve rolled a given number on a given die, I’ll keep that number — I just may retroactively decide it applies it to a different table than the one I was looking on. There are points in the creation process where I have to make decisions about which way to go with a given result; so when I find myself faced with an impossibility, I’ll go back to the last point of decision and work forward along a different set of results.

Why bother, though? Why come up with rules, and then play fast-and-loose with the rules I myself have created?

The answer, I think, is that no rule system is absolutely perfect. Apply a system too mechanically, and you’ll run into contradictions. So I have my cheating rules, a kind of para-ruleset or meta-ruleset, helping guide me in the application of the overall system. As I say, in some ways the rules by which I create the dungeon mirror the telling of the story; this sense of rules-above-rules seems to me to echo the multilayered nature of storytelling, where the rules you see are never the truly important rules. There’s always something deeper, if the story’s really any good.

So cheating becomes one aspect of the peculiar collaboration that’s evolved between the dice and various parts of my psyche. More on that later.

You can read it here.

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