Theory and Practice

I’ve been working on An Echo,  Resounding lately. It’s a supplementary book for Labyrinth Lord focused on creating sandbox adventure regions, managing domains and political polities that PCs or locals might have there, and running mass combat in a way that integrates with the whole. While I’ve been sweating over the specific mechanics and resource tables of the book, it’s left me thinking about theories.

Theories are beautiful things. I’ve got lots of them about game design and building optimal sandboxes, and in many ways Sine Nomine itself is just a convenient rubric for me to use in expressing these theories. I think sandbox gaming provides a remarkable set of possibilities to a GM and players, and I think the design space hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves over the past ten or twenty years. Given the opportunity, I’d talk your ear off about all the things that sandboxes can give to a group that other gaming styles can’t provide so easily. Those other styles each have their own strong points and advantages, certainly, but the special virtues of a sandbox are experienced all too rarely these days. I have my theories about why that’s the case.

But GMs and players don’t need theories in a published product. They need tools. One of my pet peeves about a lot of RPG books aimed at GMs and worldbuilders is the studied vagueness of the contents, the preference for giving sweeping advice and broad generalities over specific guidelines. The author will explain why a particular technique or goal is a good one and leave it to the reader to actually implement the directive. I’m not sure whether the authors honestly believe this is the best way to go about things or whether they’re perhaps paralyzed by the sheer scope of material they’re dealing with. Perhaps they fear to put down anything specific because they can easily imagine a case where any particular offering would be wrong or useless. I don’t think they’re doing their readers any favors this way. Why? Well, here’s a theory:

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