The Art of Ambistructure

14 January 4437: En route to the city of Sanctuary, Blandisford Barter encounters an Elven minstrel on the Bridge at Three Roads Crossing. The RunePlayer introduces himself as Rimsel, and informs Barter that he has been sent by the Council of Deneldor to oversee the halfling's progress. Unfortunately, some evil priest's spell bound him to this bridge several days ago, and he is unable to overcome the magick. Blandisford uses the Codex of Truth to call upon the power of the deity and free his Elven ally, who repays him with a much-needed clue...

11 January 4437: Bearing west from Sanctuary, Rakasha is stopped by a party of Deneldoran WayGuards, sent by the Council to secure the Bridge at Three Roads Crossing. Their leader, Rimsel the RunePlayer, is disgusted by the Evil One's presence in the land, and the group engages Rakasha in a duel. Quickly dispatching the lesser foes, Rakasha turns upon Rimsel, whose eerie fluting begins to weave a potent spell in the air. "You shall not cross this Bridge!", Rimsel sings through his flute. Rakasha shouts a quick obeisance to his evil deity, resisting the spell so mightily as to reflect it back upon the Elf, who is rooted helplessly to the spot. Rakasha leaves Rimsel behind as a symbol of his superiority, and continues west...

Note: the second encounter occurred prior to the first.

MultiMedia programmer Robert Edgar has pointed out that one of the key defining factors of Interactive Fiction is *Relativism*. In order to create and maintain a realistic "world", the writer must be able to shift gears, to interpret events, objects and characters from different points of view, perhaps simultaneously.

The "GameMaster" or "RealTime Processor" of the presentation must utilize a holistic writing style which may be termed "ambistructural" - meaning that it relies upon both constructionist and deconstructionist techniques. The two entries above, taken from the Campaign Calendar of Thear (my own long-running fantasy world), serve as a good example of ambistructural processing.

Note that the second encounter took place before the first one in GameTime, but later in RealTime (such things happen when running a large-scale campaign). When Blandisford first met Rimsel it was just a random encounter roll which I decided to spice up a little bit. I added the stuff about the Council and the spell which stuck him to the bridge in order to give the Blandisford character a test/reward; if Blandisford saved the minstrel, then I'd give him the clue he needed to proceed to the next adventure. So far so good.

But then, when Rakasha came along (later in RealTime but three days earlier in GameTime) and I rolled a Guard encounter at Three Roads Crossing, I couldn't resist tempting fate a little, and decided on the spot to put Rimsel there. It took very little maneuvering on my part to make Rakasha's Player hate the pompous little guy, and I may even speculate that the depth of this reaction had something to do with the dramatic way in which the dice cooperated with the story, causing Rakasha to roll a critical success on his resist roll (this oft-noted phenomena is the only reason why dice are better than random number generators; many Players feel that they have some degree of psychic control over their dice, and who's to argue?)

In any event, I had to quickly deconstruct the first encounter in order to construct the second one, thereby tying my world together in a seamless, logical whole. Only when they got together later did the two Players realize what had occurred, and by then, it seemed as if I had planned the entire thing all along.

Because of the complexity of game worlds, it seems like an obvious idea to use computers to run Interactive Fiction presentations. After all, no human can immediately consider the hundreds of tiny variables which may be taken as bearing upon a situation, and respond with a visual and auditory presentation of the results of those calculations. However, the state of the art of IF programs is still severely limited by the lack of original ideas and our current inability to write programs which can "think" in an ambistructural way.

A good GameMaster runs from a mixture of prepared notes, random dice rolls, and sudden flashes of inspiration. If done well, Players will have no idea whether an event was preplanned, dice-dictated, or completely ad-libbed. The illusion will be complete.