Thursday, November 12, 2009

And they burned the (Doll)house down

Dollhouse has been officially cancelled and I can’t say that this is a big surprise.  While I have felt the show substantially improved as it went on, the ratings continue to be abominably low.  Not to mention, when a network puts a show on hiatus during November sweeps, it is an obvious presage of things to come.

I am sad to see Dollhouse go.  The show had a rocky start, but then so did Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.  I will admit that I enjoyed Dollhouse less for what it was than for what it had the potential to become.  We saw some of this potential in the episode "Epitaph One".  I really believe that if Dollhouse had been given the full five season run that Joss Whedon envisioned that it could have become a truly outstanding show.

Still, my feelings about the cancellation are a lot more complex then mine were when Fox cancelled Firefly back in 2002.  At the time it seemed like Fox had deliberately sabotaged its own show.  Fox chose not to air the pilot episode, forcing Joss Whedon to rework the second episode into a new pilot.  They continuously preempted the show when it was just starting out, making it almost impossible for it to find an audience.  They even cancelled it unceremoniously after eleven episodes, with three completed episodes left unaired in the United States.

What made this treatment inconceivable to me is that unlike Dollhouse or even Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Firefly hit the ground running and caught my interest in the very first episode.

You could argue that Dollhouse had some of the same issues with Fox.  Like Firefly, it was stranded in the TV wastelands of Friday night.  Dollhouse also had an unaired, and in my opinion superior, pilot episode (although in this case Joss Whedon took the blame for pulling it). So there are some similarities.

There are also differences.  Fox gave Dollhouse a full season to find an audience.  They also put a marketing push behind Dollhouse at the start of season two, something they never did for Firefly.  They have even stated that they will air the full thirteen episodes they ordered for this season, another courtesy they never gave Firefly.

So I am sad to see Dollhouse go, but not outraged like I was when Fox cancelled Firefly.  It does make me long for a time when TV shows were given a greater opportunity to grow before the threat of cancellation loomed.  After all, by today’s standards a low-rated show like Seinfeld would have been pulled by the second season, long before it hit its stride and became a ratings juggernaut.  Nevertheless, I am not sure I can lay my ire at the feet of Fox since these changes are occurring industry wide.

I am curious to see what Joss Whedon’s next project will be.  He has stated that if Dollhouse was cancelled that he would begin work in earnest on a second Dr. Horrible series, which I am definitely looking forward to.  I am curious if he will make another attempt at creating a network TV show after the fate of Dollhouse though.  After all, Joss Whedon has great name recognition, a loyal fanbase, and has already had great success on the Internet with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.  

Maybe he needs the television networks less than they need him!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is it wrong that I don’t want to create my own campaign world?

Many Dungeon Masters (DMs) aspire to be world creators.  They create intricate campaign worlds with fully realized politics, cultures, and geography.  They design unique races, monsters, and classes to compliment the vision of Dungeons & Dragons that they have in their head. 

This is not me

In my current gaming group, my friend Brian spent years developing the World of Tyr.  While not all of our games have been set in that world, the passion Brian showed for it caused us to brand ourselves as the Lords of Tyr when we decided to create an online presence.  In the RPG Bloggers Network, Wyatt shares the development of his game world with his readers on the Spirits of Eden.  The time and energy he spends developing his world is evident on the (virtual) page.

In the shadow of such evident passion, I have to admit, perhaps a little sheepishly, that game world design never appealed much to me.  My first game worlds lacked coherence, having a lot in common with the “throw everything in” nature of the implied setting in Dungeons & Dragons 4e.  When I bought the original “old grey box” Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, I pretty much abandoned world building entirely.

Don’t get me wrong: I love to tell stories.  I can spend hours working on plots, coming up with motivations for my villains, and finding ways to bring the player character backstories into play.  I work very hard to engage my players in the plots of my stories and ensure everyone has a personal stake in the adventure.

Which I suppose is the point.  I tend to focus on character drama rather than on sweeping epic storytelling.  This is probably why I prefer to work in established campaign settings.  It allows me to “sub-contract” the work of world creation to someone else, allowing me to focus on the character drama that is my bread and butter.

I suppose this is true for most other roleplaying games I have ran as well.  In Sci-Fi games, I tend to go for established settings like Star Wars.  When it comes to superhero games, I prefer to run in the Marvel Universe (although this may be more of a result of my encyclopedic knowledge of that universe than anything else).

Still, I sometimes look at world builders with a little bit of envy.  When a good world building dungeon master is on a roll they can create truly amazing campaign setting which put even the best published campaign settings to shame. 

I suppose it is just a different skill set.  Some DM’s are like George Lucas, capable creating vivid worlds and writing vast epics but stumbling over character motivation and dialogue.  Some are like Joss Whedon, giving you great character interaction and willing to tweak the world for the sake of the story.  Rarest of all are those DM’s like J.R.R. Tolkien, capable of telling personal stories while building a world  of epic scope.

So what kind of a DM are you?