Recently, I had a very unusual experience while playing Dungeons and Dragons with my regular group of friends. I had gone ahead of the group, fulfilling my role as the scout, and I came upon a heavy iron and wooden door on the left side of the passage. As an experienced dungeon crawler, I assumed that A) the door was locked, B) the lock was trapped, and C) beyond the door lay some sort of slavering, fanged monster specifically suited to my class and level. That is to say, it would have been picked out especially to ensure that I would not see another day.
As any good scout would do, I listened first (didn’t hear anything, even with a good roll), and searched the lock for traps. Another good roll (unusual for me), yet the DM looked at me with a smirk and said I found nothing. I let the player with the rogue know it seemed safe, so she stepped forward to pick the lock. Again, a good roll brings no success. Seemed like no matter what we did, we couldn’t get past this door.
I asked the DM, “So now what? What do we have to do to get past this door?” He replied, “It’s not a real door. It’s just there for decoration, for ambience.”
What the hell? What do you mean, it’s not a real door? We can see it, right? “Yes, you can see it.” It’s got a doorknob and a lock, right? “Yep, it does.” But it’s not an actual door? “Yep, not a door, just painted there on the wall.”
Right about now, you may be thinking that’s ridiculous. What sort of DM would do something silly like that? Is it part of some evil wizard’s scheme to drive us mad?
No. It was just decoration. This whole game took place, not across a tabletop with a group of real friends, but in the virtual space of a computer game RPG.
And that is the point of this whole article. Genuine, tabletop games with an actual flesh and blood GM will never be replaced by programming. Even with state of the art games that we have today, and the advances I can’t even imagine in the future, tabletop in-person gaming will not fade into history.
I’ve seen recently a different sort of video game that had a real-time Gamemaster (called Zeus in that game) that closely approximates the approach of an in-person GM, and it has real promise, but even in that game some of the virtual world is just there for decoration. The GM cannot make that fake door on that fake building open up and let the players enter the room.
Not so in a real RPG. If the players take an unscheduled left (as they are so wont to do), then they can. They can, once they pick that lock and disable the trap, can go through any door they find. No amount of programming can stop them!