Offices Without Doors

A while back, my boyfriend and I introduced one of our fellow gamers to the first two seasons of Babylon 5; this would be my second time going through the series. While there are many things that came up during my first watch-through, and in my third, there was one thing our friend noticed in this one: that many of the most important and privileged conversations were in places that had doorways, but no actual doors, and that often even a conversation interrupted or delayed by a third party would continue the moment said third party was out of sight, if not necessarily out of earshot. This got me thinking about the whole concept, and what it means for us as writers and GMs; what do we do with these offices without doors?

First, what are they to us? An office without a door is something that you’d think would occur to everyone present as a matter of common sense, but that doesn’t. In-character, nobody questions it—or sometimes, when someone does figure it out, they’re treated as amazingly clever for being the first people whom this occurs to. If it comes up as an action, the logical consequence never seems to crop up; for instance, I don’t think any conversations in the offices without doors that got me onto this topic ever left them unless it was through a participant in said conversation.

Where do they come from? In some cases, it’s a matter of necessity. The B-5 offices without doors, for instance, I’m pretty sure are due to the demands of set design and flow—having to deal with a door would slow down transitions between conversations, making it even more disruptive and time-consuming when another character enters or leaves, and there’s no risk of a door drowning out important dialogue by closing at an inopportune time. Game mechanics, also, lead to offices without doors—one of the complaints about some of D&D 4E’s daily powers was that there seemed to be no in-character explanation why someone should be able to perform a particular sort of feint only once per day. But then there are offices without doors because it just doesn’t occur to whoever’s involved that there might be an issue; I had one GM, under a lot of stress at the time, who once pointed out a bound elemental powering the group’s enemy’s magic city-thing and then was surprised when our first move in creating havoc was to release it.

What can we do with them? That part’s a bit more difficult. On the one hand, an office without a door that nobody addresses can stand as a plot hole, or a sign of incompetence on the part of the people who never do anything about it. On the other hand, sometimes it’s difficult to actually address it. One might be able to get away with an un-addressed office without a door if the external reason why the office lacks a door is visible and reasonable (the set design explained above, for instance). If the reasoning isn’t immediately clear, though, you may need to find a way to explicate it, or at least to have someone notice that there might be a problem—that way you can shift the blame for the doorless office off of you-personally and onto the requirements of the story. (Be careful, though; a sufficiently important and insufficiently justified office without a door comes across like an idiot plot.)

Watch out for those doorless offices!

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