Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Empty Room Principle


Here is my Empty Room Principle of D&D:

D&D is a vehicle for creative input. Logically, therefore, D&D is hindered when the potential for creativity is reduced.

Why the Empty Room? The Empty Room is a metaphor, it represents the potential space provided by the designer or author of a game, to be used by the players of that game to exercise some form of personal creative input.

Room 212: Empty Room. This room is empty.

Wow, are you kidding me? I purchased this module so that the author could do this? What kind of product is this…this is a rip-off. How uninspired and unoriginal. An empty room. Bah!

OR

Oh goody! Now I have a nice neat area for me to drop in my recently home brewed Giant Frog Mud Golem guarding that sink hole to my Muck and Mire sublevel!


The Empty Room is evocative of Old School gaming. It means nothing, it insinuates nothing, it is empty and devoid of description. Does it mean that when the characters enter it, they are in fact in a vacuum? No, it means that the referee must fill in the blanks, creating the room’s description to whatever extent he so desires. It’s an invitation for creativity. It’s the best analogy I can think of for OD&D’s open ended potential for creativity, limited only by one’s own imagination. OD&D’s gaps should always be taken as creative possibilities, much like empty rooms, not as a detriment. As Gary said in the OD&D afterward “…why have us do any more of your imagining for you?”.

Thus, the Empty Room Principle, that D&D is a vehicle for creative input. Any version which limits this creativity is in fact moving away from the Empty Room Principle, and therefore moving away from the purest form of D&D.

The Empty Room Principle borrows from a simplified form of Occam’s Razor Principle. Occam’s Razor? Huh? Simply put it says: Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate, or, Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily. Wait, that’s not the same thing! Essentially, it is. A stronger form of Occam’s Razor is: If you have two equally likely solutions to a problem, pick the simplest. Or in the only form that takes its own advice: Keep things simple.

To extrapolate upon this Empty Room Principle:

1. Rules are what you make of them, and the limits of D&D are defined absolutely by one’s own imagination.

2. D&D is best when engaged, both by player and referee, with critical thought and creativity.

3. If everything is defined, D&D becomes a session of rote memorization of the rules, with success or failure boiling down to random numbers generated on dice. A situation which can be mimicked by a computer.

4. OD&D trumps all other versions. It is a vehicle for creative input in ways that modern versions are not. How? By keeping things simple (Thank you William of Occam).

I am not going to get up on my soapbox again and attempt to say my preference for the purest form of D&D is the best. Clearly, it is not for everyone. Many, nay MOST players and referees alike enjoy the more defined, in-depth treatment of the modern D&D rules. Maybe someone out there reading this will look at OD&D differently because of this post, and this Empty Room Principle, maybe not. What’s truly important here, is that OD&D should never be thought of as primitive or outdated. It’s simply the purest form of D&D, and one which should be the acknowledged basis for all other versions. After all, every later edition of the game is simply a heavily house ruled version.

Now, go out and fill some empty rooms!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

4 comments:

James Maliszewski said...

I like this. A lot. I propose we establish Sham's Empty Room Test. It's like a personality test you can apply to gamers. You create a half-finished module for D&D -- the map is complete but the key inside is mostly empty and you give it to a random gamer free of charge. If his reaction is "I was ripped off," you know he's not an old school guy, but if his reaction is, "Cool! Just what I needed for my game on Saturday night," you can give him his grognard decoder ring and teach him the secret handshake.

Seriously, great post.

Sham said...

Haha, thanks. I hope I was able to convey my intent with the principle. I didn't come up with this analogy, but the 'LBB as a tool-kit' is one of the best, and I should incorproate that into the principle for a later revision.

It's about creative opportunities for players and referee alike, and it's about creative opportunities before and during game sessions. Rules light and fairly close to a blank canvas. It can become rules heavy, or as defined as the individual referee wants for his own campaign/style. It can be tinkered and reworked (ala Arduin/OEPT/Greyhawk) to the referee's taste.

And I know I'm preaching to the choir when I spout off like this, but it's what I enjoy most about OD&D.

Robert Fisher said...

Nice post!

On a different note: I like creating dungeon rooms that appear empty. Close inspection, however, may reveal any number of secrets.

Best used when there are a few actually empty rooms in the dungeon.

Nick Crayon said...

Very cool. I'll keep this in mind when I'm designing my upcoming module. It's easy to get carried away, designing this and that and this and that to be an air-tight, logically planned and thought out little area, but you made me remember my favorite part of gaming; the part where I make it up as I go along.

Of course, I hope that somebody will like my module enough to tear it to bits and practically rewrite the thing like I always do, but still, you've inspired me sir.