Posts Tagged ‘players

07
Apr
12

Mixing Virtual and In-the-Room Players in a RPG Session

Tomorrow, Saturday April 7th from 3pm to 6pm Pacific Daylight Time, I will be running a Dwimmermount session using Adventurer Conqueror King on G+. In addition to the usual 4 other players that G+ bandwidth supports, my son Javi and from 1-4 of his cousins aged 10-14 will be joining the party.

When I played 4e with George Strayton’s group, one of the players was often George’s brother in LA, participating via videoconference. In this case, there were so many more people physically present that having one there virtually didn’t make much of an impact. I am interested to see what it will be like with a more even mix of PCs in the room and not. Does anyone else have experience with a similar setup?

As someone who likes to play with big tables, one of G+’s limitations that I chafe at the most is the bandwidth restriction that causes video to break down after about five different channels are active. However, a promising way around this is to have each channel represent multiple players. Following up on my recent exploration of using callers, presumably each group of people gathered around a computer would have one of them announcing their sub-party’s action to the Judge, who coordinates the inputs of everyone on G+ (as well as the players in the room with the Judge) and then describes the results to all.

This is something I’ll be looking to experiment with more in weeks to come. For now, if you’re interested and available Sat April 7th from 3-6 PM Reno, Nevada time  (which is to say, Sunday April 8 from 7-10 AM Seoul time) let me know in the comments or drop me a line at tavis.allison@gmail.com – if you can get some other players together to play in the room with you while we G+ with the players in the room with me, so much the better!

ADDENDUM: We’ll roll PCs at the start of the session, or you’re welcome to use a first- or second-level character from whatever fantasy RPG you like; I’ll work up more detailed FLAILSNAILS conventions if there’s demand. We’ll do mapping on paper held up to the camera and to the people in the room; dice will be done physically by whoever is making the roll, we’ll trust you.

16
Mar
12

Last Chance to Back the Adventurer Conqueror King Player’s Companion

Cover for the Adventurer Conqueror King System Player's Companion. Art by Michael C. Hayes, design by Carrie Keymel.

The Kickstarter for the Player’s Companion ends today, Friday March 16th at 10 pm EDT. After Autarch’s crowdfunding campaign for the Adventurer Conqueror King System wrapped up, we often got comments from people saying they wished they had known about it while the Kickstarter was still going. I hope that this announcement can help save people from a repeat of this terrible fate!

It’s worth noting that, if you haven’t picked up ACKS yet, by backing the Player’s Companion backer you can choose rewards that’ll get you both the core system and its first expansion. Two Sought Adventure gets you both books in PDF, each of which has a coupon that’ll give you a discount on a future upgrade to its hardcover equal to the price you paid for the electronic copy. Pair of Kings gets you ACKS in hardback + PDF and the Player’s Companion limited edition softcover pre-release, shipping together as soon as they’re available (weeks before they’re in stores), after which you’ll get the final Player’s Companion in hardback + PDF once it completes its final development based on feedback and playtest reports from backers. You can also add to your Player’s Companion pledge to get various other combinations of ACKS and its new expansion, including using the coupon in the ACKS PDF you may already have for a hardback upgrade. Email support@autarch.co if you have questions about how to do this!

Yes, you may say, but what is this Player’s Companion of which you speak? Good question! It’s an expansion for the widely acclaimed Adventurer Conqueror King System, designed to give players new tools for creating the kinds of characters they want to see in their campaigns. Because ACKS builds directly on the legacy of the original fantasy roleplaying game, the material in the Player’s Companion will also be useful to groups playing other variants of that lineage. No conversion should be necessary to use the Player’s Companion with Moldvay/Cook’s original B/X and its inheritors Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, and adapting the material to other TSR-era editions and their retro-clones will likely present no problems to those hip to the essential similarities between all OSR systems.

Here is what is in the pre-release version of the Player’s Companion that we will have at Gary Con IV. Thanks to the backers who helped us reach the first three bonus goals and thus enabled this list of contents to be much more expansive than originally planned!

  • 16 new character classes to expand your campaigns, including the anti-paladin, barbarian, dwarven fury, dwarven machinist, dwarven delver, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, gnomish trickster, mystic, paladin, shaman, Thrassian gladiator, warlock, witch, and Zaharan ruinguard.
  • 238 character generation templates with pre-selected proficiencies, spells, and equipment options to create archetypes such as the Aristocrat Bard, Buccaneer Thief, Gladiator Fighter, or Runecaster Shaman.
  • A host of new spells, including never-before-seen dweomers such as dismemberearth’s teethand trance, as well as ritual spells including cataclysmplaguetemporal stasis, and undead legion
  • A point-based customized class system that lets you create the perfect blend of fighting, thievery, divine, and magical power. The custom class creation rules are 100% backwards compatible with every class in the ACKS core rules and all of the classes in the Player’s Companion.
  • Additional equipment and proficiencies to provide options for character classes new and old, plus prices for building traps to defend your stronghold
The final edition will have still more content, including guidelines for creating new spells through magical research and a system for side effects from experimentation we’re developing using Gygaxian democracy.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Player’s Companion is the explosion of player-created content it’s heralded, either because it gives many tools for custom creation to the user, or simply because it coincides with the ACKS PDF having been out there long enough for people to start sinking their teeth into it. Every game designer wants to know that their stuff is being played with, so it’s really gratifying to watch this happening. Check out the Autarch forums for a sense of the creative ferment that’s out there!
12
Mar
12

Roll for the Caller: Using Initiative for Faster Group Decisions

Delta’s D&D Blogspot has posted a session summary of Saturday’s expedition into Dwimmermount. He notes:

Tavis may have more courage than I do, because he had something of an open call out to players, and once we had dinner, piled into the Brooklyn Strategist, and set up to play around the custom gaming table there, he had no less than nine players ready for the session… About the first thing that Tavis said to me was, “You can have 4 henchmen, does that appeal to you?” Does it!? (I’m semi-infamous for gleefully playing multiple characters. Here I would get to play a whole crew of 5 dwarven plate-armored fighters. This was a very good sign.) With similar rulings around the table, we had a total of eighteen characters assembled and marching up to Dwimmermount.

I'm glad Stefan insisted that we actually put all the miniatures into the layout; the work he put into wrangling them was well worth the visceral sense we got of just how insanely stretched-out our marching order was.

This weekend there is indeed an open call for players at the Dwimmermount sessions I will be running on the evenings of both Saturday 3/17 and Sunday 3/18. After that, the expeditions will continue every Saturday until 4/14, but I will be passing my spot at the big Sultan gaming table on to other GMs.

I am famous for running groups of up to 15 players, but normally those are shambolic affairs in which we are glad to spend six or eight hours chatting and chewing the scenery and not getting much done. The Dwarven Forge scenery we have at the Brooklyn Strategist is so appealing that it begs out to be played with right now, so I evolved a way to get this big group moving faster than I normally do. I hope this house rule will be useful to those who come after me.

Because we were using the Adventurer Conqueror King System, when combat occured I would ask everyone to roll for initiative at the start of each round by holding up a d6. This part is standard, and with the possible exception of the kobold massacre, each of the fights on Saturday was sufficiently complicated and high-stakes to make it worth paying close attention to who got to go before the monster(s) and who didn’t.

When we weren’t in combat and the next course of action wasn’t obvious – basically whenever the flow of action seemed to pause a little as people wondered what to do – I would hold up a d20 and ask everyone to “roll for the caller”. (Actually I said “roll for initiative” here too but that led to confusion. Do as I say, not as I did.) Only the high roll counted, so once I heard a pretty high number I’d say “OK, can anyone beat an 18?” I didn’t have the players modify the dice roll by anything, so that all participants had an equal chance of winning. I don’t think it makes sense to have charisma modify the roll – this is a procedure for the players, not their characters – but it might be interesting to keep track of how many times this call for callers had been issued, and tell everyone who had not yet been a caller to add that number to their roll.

Once a high roller had been established, I would find a way to describe the scene to explain why that player’s character now found him or herself in a position to set the next course of action for the party. The first time I called for a roll was in town as soon as everyone had a character sheet ready. Stefan and Peter tied with an 18, so I said “OK, Father Roy and Dewdrop Morningwood, you were the survivors of the previous expedition. As you’ve been here in the Fortress of Muntsberg healing and re-equipping, you become aware that news of your exploits has brought a new crop of adventurers who are looking to repeat your success. Do you want to lead them to the dungeon right away, or spend more time in town seeking out special equipment or pursuing the truth behind some of these rumors?”

It was intentionally implicit in this setup that all the new and old characters would form a party together, but I think Pete picked up that it was not actually covered by anything we’d roleplayed, so he had Dewdrop’s henchman Lafonte Shimmersky give an elaborate recruiting/motivational speech, and then Stefan and Pete read the mood of the group and decided to head for the dungeon right away. (This was what I thought everyone wanted, and also what I wanted myself – all that Dwarven Forge terrain begged to be marched upon – so the caller procedure worked!)

At the top of the landing, we rolled for caller again and the dice chose Miguel. His character was a prestidigitator named Obed Marsh, so I said “As the group reaches the head of the stairs and the metal Thulian doors, a feeling of eeriness settles over the party and they unconsciously look to Obed for his expertise in arcane matters. How do you direct your fellow adventurers?” Miguel chose to have his characters take the lead and investigate the situation, asking questions that let me feed the group information. But just as you can see in historical accounts of parties using callers like the example of play in the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, the caller was the decision-maker but not necessarily the spotlight player. Other players might speak up to contribute – when Obed learned that the mountain was protected from tunneling by some kind of enchantment, Dan said “My dwarves put away their axes and picks, disappointed that their plan is shot” – and sometimes the caller would designate another character to perform a task, whose player would then take the spotlight (for example, Carl’s thief who led the exploration of the rockfall that exposed the gorgon cave).

I felt like this procedure worked very well for speeding up decision making by giving the power to the dice. As the Judge, I didn’t have to think “how can I get the players to start moving and stop debating; I only had to recognize when it was time to call for a roll, and then hand off the problem to the randomly appointed caller. A key part of the method was to set up the caller’s authority by setting the scene for their character. By describing to everyone how and why Obed had emerged as the leaders for the other characters, I was encouraging everyone to start thinking in character as well, which thus included accepting that their character was going to be regarding the caller as the natural leader for the moment.

I think the caller procedure would work even for smaller parties. If you try it out in your games, let me know how it goes!

23
Jan
12

Standard Pack Comes Filled With Fresh Monster Gore

Be prepared! Preparedness begins with knowledge, to whit:

Edible items will have a small likelihood (10%) of distracting intelligent monsters from pursuit. Semi-intelligent monsters will be distracted 50% of the time. Non-intelligent monsters will be distracted 90% of the time by food. Treasure will have the opposite reaction as food, being more likely to stop intelligent monsters. (Gygax & Arneson, 1974)

This is all well and good, but how do you make sure to have both edible items and treasure always ready to provide a distraction? The New York Red Box has a solution!

Infographic by Scott LeMien, credited to an idea of Thaddeus's.

In the forum thread from whence I have ripped off this bit of practical advice, Ridiculossus further notes:

The jars are filled with fresh monster gore when you start, or other animal kill.

Pack cost (backpack) = 5g
Mini-loot drop = <20g
5 vials of oil: 10 gold
Clay jars (and padding) = 1g

It is to my great shame that I didn’t think to include this in my section on mundane gear and adventuring kits for Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium. I blame Scott, who should leave these ideas lying around ready to be swiped when I need them, not months later.

20
Jul
11

Campaign Economics as Player Empowerment

Who is served by the classic D&D rules for economic activities like building strongholds, hiring armorers, and (if your definition of classic includes the B/E/C/M/I gazetters) running mercantile enterprises? An email from Eppy, the designer of Dread and Swords without Master, that followed up on a mention in my last post has me thinking about this in a new way. He wrote:

I had a moment, last year, while working on Swords, where I found myself compelled to hack D&D. It was like I was exorcising a demon. With both Sw/oM and the hack, I was striking at the very roots of my gaming in an attempt to capture the essence of what lured me into this hobby. And what I was finding was two completely different games. Swords answered all the promises in one way; and something in that Basic-Expert-Companion set combo felt like the other way to answer them. ACKS looks like it’s hitting right on that second way. I’m excited about that.

I think that one of these different games empowers GMs, and the other empowers players.

As a GM I don’t feel compelled to work out economies in a rigorous way. I want to be able to make stuff up like “gold pieces are huge things that weigh 1/10th of a pound because the gods designed them for their own hands” and “coins are inherently Lawful because of this divine origin, and because they symbolize the sun” and “dragons hoard gold because, as Chaotic creatures, they seek to weaken civilized economies by depriving them of their life-blood.” I just want to throw these ideas out there half-baked; I don’t feel like I need rules for how a dragon in the region would cause a depression, because if it seems to make sense that this would happen I’ll just use my narrative authority to make it so.

This is the style of play that “why let us do any more of your imagining for you” systems like OD&D facilitate for GMs, and modern indie improv and shared narrative authority games like Swords without Master facilitate for all players.

But when they sit down to scratch their itch to “play D&D” with whatever system best acts as a backscratcher for them at the moment, I think most players neither have nor want the kind of narrative authority that would let them say “My robot cleric attracts more followers because it’s sitting on a giant pile of gold that demonstrates how well it has pleased the Lawful deities.” Even though that totally follows from the premises, I can see why as a player I’d want rules to show how I could make that follower-attracting goal happen in incremental steps, and guarantee that I can make it so without the GM taking the improv in some other direction.

The great promise of old-school sandbox games is that your character’s goals and beliefs can organically become part of the game by just taking concrete actions in the world that will make them manifest. Yes, there is a strong belief in rules-lightness in the OSR. And yes, as a GM it no longer appeals to me to calculate the construction costs of every castle I plop down on the landscape. But I think there is a real utility for players in having detailed rules for building their own castles, running their own thieves’ guild, and every other kind of concrete, large-scale way they might act on their beliefs and pursue their goals.

For GMs, I think the virtue in having a ruleset like Adventurer Conqueror King that thoroughly encodes those detailed economic rules is that when you randomly generate a band of knights, the size of the castle it is implied they come from makes sense given the size of the domain it supports and all that other world-building stuff I want baked in rather than having to pay attention to myself. This kind of “making sense” is important because it enables appropriate player action. The party won’t be frustrated that they can never afford an army big enough to reduce to rubble these castles that pop up as a result of dice-based-improv, because the tables that generate the castles follow the same internal consistency as the rules the players use to build them.

Now, the idea that more rules = player empowerment is frequently advanced in the context of D&D’s change over time, but I generally feel that this isn’t the case. For example, having a skills or feats or combat maneuvers tends to disempower players who didn’t have the system mastery to choose those rules options in pre-play. I feel differently about rules for economics because:

  • they lead in lots of different directions and leave open what the game is about in a way that combat, which is where most detailed rules development tends to happen, does not. Players who really want to build strongholds may feel gypped if they don’t get to use those rules, but I think that providing lots of rules for combat produces a much stronger feeling that a session without using crunchy fighting rules is a waste of time, and tends to disempower players who want to make non-combat characters.
  • they model concrete and high-granularity stuff, which affords lots of leeway for doing it in ways outside the rules. Like if you have the Trip feat and I say someone else can trip just by sticking a polearm between the giant’s leg, it feels unfair not to use the rules in that situation. But if you follow the guidelines for building a castle, and I say someone else gets one for free as a reward for helping the Faerie Queen, it’s a different kind of unfair because you can deal with it within the game – “how can I suck up to this gauzy-winged royal tart,” not “how can I get a DM who doesn’t cheat.”

Cross-posted to nerdNYC this morning hoping for confirmation of these ideas, which mumblethrax provided in the form of a claim that his rogue once disarmed a liquidity trap 

25
Aug
10

Fear and Loathing in Greyhawk

His hand jerked back in instinctive repulsion. Sword shaking in his grasp, horror and revulsion and fear almost choking him, he backed away and down the glass steps with painful care, glaring in awful fascination at the grisly thing that slumbered on the copper throne. It did not move.

—Robert E. Howard, “The Devil in Iron”

Over at The Delver’s Dungeon, there’s an interesting thread about whether you can have a frightening dungeon crawl.

I’m of the opinion that while it’s very difficult to scare players who don’t want to be scared, it’s very easy to scare players who do want to be scared, as they’ll do all the heavy lifting for you. It’s a matter of personal investment; the more immersed a player is in the game, the more likely it is that they’ll react emotionally to what’s going on—whether or not you intend for that to happen!

If your players are fully engaged and you’re aiming for a bit o’ fear, there are a couple of factors you’ll want to bring in:

1) Threat: If the players actually value their characters’ lives and put themselves in their characters’ shoes, then they’ll be at least a bit scared of anything that they recognize as a serious threat to the PCs. Note that this is a matter of perception rather than fact! In my game, the players often charge into fights with powerful opponents without too much worry, but they’re chary of ghouls because several encounters with ghouls have resulted in near-TPKs.

2) Mystery: Sometimes unknown danger is more threatening than the known, because it could be anything. For at least a dozen sessions, the thing in my dungeon that most unnerved my players wasn’t a monster, but a stairway. It was an enormous thing that wound deep into the earth, its lights growing dimmer as they went down until it disappeared into darkness. They didn’t know how far down it went or what lived at its base. This allowed them to invent their own fears.

As a player, what have you found scary in a D&D session? As a DM, what have you done to scare your players during play?

20
May
10

Alas, Poor Black Leaf

It gets worse, as is to be expected from Jack Chick.

Suicide in D&D is less about the fate of poor Black Leaf’s player than it is about drawing a bloody line between your old unwanted character and your shiny new one.

It’s a story as old as D&D itself. A player doesn’t like their character—these things happen!—and decides to play a new one. But instead of a pleasant retirement, the old character suffers a drastic and terminal end. Methods vary from self-inflicted injury to lurid player-narrated tales to the time-honored “death by goblin,” where the character is thrown into deadly situations until the dice take their grim toll.

Why suicide instead of peaceful retirement? There are, I think, three reasons:

1) The Reroll: By the book, if you don’t like your character’s stats, you can’t reroll. You have to play the character you rolled. Character death provides an end run around the problem! Just view your replacement character as your “reroll.”
2) Player Authority: In a world where the DM controls everything other than your character, you may feel that surrendering control of your character is anathema. Killing your character is a final gesture of defiance in the face of the DM’s implicit tyranny.
3) Closure. What’s the end of your character’s story? If the character recedes into the quiet mists of NPCdom, you may never find out! Better, perhaps, to write your own ending to the story while you still have authority to do so.

Personally, as a DM, I find it annoying when players casually kill off their PCs. Characters in which the group is emotionally invested are valuable assets to the DM, and I hate to see such assets tossed away thoughtlessly or inefficiently. On the other hand, I can see how players can find such an attitude grating. This tells me that this is one of those things that should be talked out between players and their DM.

The important thing is that if you’re going to wipe the slate clean of old characters, that you incorporate it into the story of play just as you would everything else. Adventuring is a ghastly profession. Does it drive people to suicide? Does it welcome those with a death wish? Is it a magnet for character-killing weirdness? Of course!

22
Apr
10

Cartography to Conjure By pt. 2: Beneath the Chateau

As a follow-up to Eric’s post about the beauty of player maps, I present some maps by myself (grotty pencil) and Maldoor (beautiful GIMP):

The first level beneath the Chateau d'Amberville

One level further down, connected by the curving stairs in the SW of the L1 map

An outbuilding of the main Chateau, suspected but never proven to connect with its dungeon

The map of the aboveground castle in Eric’s previous post was my hand-drawn copy of Eric’s GM map. Here, I started with a player map hand-drawn during a session I wasn’t able to attend, copied it over into my own sheet of graph paper, added notes about what was encountered in that session, and then drew in new rooms and comments as we explored.

The room on Level 2 had a three-dimensional geometry which proved difficult for us to understand and especially for me to map:

ERIC: Let me see what you’ve got there. (Shakes head) Do you just want me to draw it in for you?

ME: Yes, please.

ERIC: (erasing) How did you get it over here?

ME: I think I confused east and west.

ERIC: You’re not a very good mapper.

ME: That’s true, I just like drawing them.

Although it’s frustrating when my maps are inaccurate due to my miserable spatial sense (which frequently includes an  inability to tell left from right), I think map-making has several benefits:

  1. The act of making the map causes you to think about how things connect. For example, when we retreated from the termites, I was able to run to the east and be confident I could link up with those fleeing to the south even without consulting my map (as my PC would be too busy to do), because having just drawn those rooms made their layout clear in my mind.
  2. Likewise, it leads you to think about what might lie beyond the edges of the map. Sketching out the double-wide corridors led us to theorize these were main hallways and more likely to take us somewhere interesting than the narrower ones we thought were originally built for servants to use.
  3. Unlike swinging a sword, making a map is an action you can perform in real life just as your character is doing in the fiction. This creates a satisfying sense of the difficulties involved in map-making, and causes you to value maps all the more. For example, copying out the previous player map made me appreciate the effort involved in making sure that the hard-won knowledge of the dungeon layout doesn’t perish when one cartographer falls into a pool of acid along with the sole copy of the map. And when my previous PC mapped some of the watchtower dungeon, he didn’t own any parchment and I didn’t have graph paper, so I had him carve lines and notches in his shield and tried to draw what that would look like on my character sheet. The result was versimilitudinous and surprisingly useful for navigation, but much less nice looking than Maldoor’s.  Our experiments with mapping structures in NYC in real time also suggest that even with parchment in hand, our PCs are doing a similar thing – jotting down paces counted and directions taken or not, and only compiling this into a drawn-out map readable by others.
30
Mar
10

Conan the Contrarian: Creative Agendas in Conflict

I can’t stand it, I know you planned it
I’m gonna set it straight, this Watergate
I can’t stand rocking when I’m in here
‘Cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear

So while you sit back and wonder why
I got this fucking thorn in my side
Oh my God, it’s a mirage
I’m tellin’ y’all, it’s a sabotage

—Beastie Boys, “Sabotage”

One of the most useful terms to come out of the controversial gaming forum called The Forge is the “creative agenda.” Sheared of excess verbiage, this boils down to what the player wants out of play. One may want to beat the opposition, explore an imaginary landscape, partake in witty in-character banter, or any combination of these and other things.

Conflict between players’ creative agendas can lead to conflict between players. Player A likes combat while Player B prefers diplomacy. They encounter a monster; A wants to fight and B wants to talk. What happens? Maybe there will be an argument at the table, and eventually one side or the other will prevail and play moves forward. More likely, Player A’s character will attack, rendering the point moot.

It is important to note here that conflicts between creative agendas are typically asymmetrical, in that it’s easy to take actions in support of some agendas that will preclude pursuit of the other agendas. Attack overcomes negotiation, while both inhibit stealth. Latching on to the Big Noble Quest thwarts sandbox-style roving exploration. I’m sure the reader can come up with other examples.

DM: You press on into the tree-lined ravine. Cave mouths yawn darkly up and down the slopes of the ravine. These are the Caves of Chaos, and your skin crawls as you consider what horrors may lie within. What are you doing?
Player 1: I follow the route to the wizards’ cave, moving quietly and staying low so as to avoid attention.
Player 2: Me too.
Player 3: Ditto.
Player 4: I climb atop the tallest rock I can find and shout, “Creatures of the Caves of Chaos! I am Dragoon Lancer Captain Era of the Company of the Crossed Swords! Be warned that we are here to destroy you!”

Of particular note is the agenda of interesting failure. This is a common theme in new-school play dealing with stories and thematic issues, and in such games it’s a very useful tool for fun and engaging play! But adversity in such games is generally provided by the player(s), and characters typically act on their own and take their own lumps. In old-school games where adversity is generated by the DM and your fellow players are expected—and expect—to work together, this can be a frustrating agenda to deal with, because not only does it oppose many other agendas, it typically trumps the others in play. If you poke the dragon, insult the king, conceal the villain’s weakness or push the shiny red button labeled “DOOM,” everyone else gets dragged into a disaster of your making.

A similar problem arises when a player seeks out conflict with the other players. Whether their agenda is catharsis or simply being the center of attention, such a player gets off on arguing in-character with the rest of the party. Such a player can easily bog a group down for a large part of a session by taking the opposite side in any debate about the party’s goals, strategies or tactics.

Players with contrarian agendas typically aren’t doing it to mess with everyone else’s fun. They may not recognize that other players have different agendas. More likely, they recognize the differences but fail to grasp the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, thinking that each player can do what’s fun for them and it’ll all even out in the end.

As always, this sort of thing needs to be calmly and frankly discussed by the players and the DM. People who enjoy one another’s company will find a way to compromise! And if compromise fails… well, that’s a subject for another post.

16
Mar
10

Trash? On the staircase?! BATTLE STATIONS!

Two or three weeks ago, while playing in Tavis’s White Sandbox game, our gang of crafty adventurers descended into the Caverns of Thracia, where we came across a pile of trash . . . on a staircase!

This was obviously a trap, or a monster, or a trapped monster.  And it took our party of eight 4th-Level adventurers at least 15 minutes to bypass it.  Mainly by tentatively suggesting an outcome, and then pulling back in a panic, and then suggesting it slightly differently . . . and then not getting a confirmation of the theory, necessitating a new cycle of guessing and tentative theorizing.

  • “I poke at it with my 10′ pole . . . NO WAIT”
  • “I sprinkle holy water on the pile of trash, just one drop.  Does anything happen?  No?  Okay, two drops.  Anything happen?  No, okay, three drops.”
  • “I roll to hear noises coming from the pile of trash.  But not right next to it!  My ear is, like, 5 feet away.  But I’m listening.  Unless it’s psychic.”
  • “I use ESP on the pile of trash.”

This was really funny . . . for about five minutes, and then the paranoia became aggravating.  With eight players, it’s never clear when we’ve had enough and are willing to take a chance–because once one person has become satisfied, another person’s curiosity will have been piqued.

Every session we have a moment like this, where everything . . . grinds . . . to . . . a . . . halt as we debate whether to stand on this 5′ square or that 5′ square, or whether we should kill the Gnoll guards by a frontal attack, or kill them through backstabbing.  It’s like the 90/10 rule: 90% of the discussion involves only 10% of the plan.

As a semi-frequent player, I can endure this.  But if someone is brand-new to our campaign, and thus a little unsure of what’s socially appropriate and/or lacks the knowledge about the campaign world to contribute, I suspect this would be frustrating as hell.

Question for the audience – How do you solve the problem of allowing players maximal freedom, including the freedom to fail and the joys of sometimes pointless exploration, without it bogging down to wasting time?  How do eight people come to a decision, given limited information, in something less than 20 minutes of second-guessing and third-guessing?

(As a GM, when I get bored of this stuff, I say, “Look, maybe there’s just nothing there,” but that’s only socially useful if I get bored before the players do.)

PS.  It turns out there were caltrops under the trash.  Thank God we finally figured it out, though I can’t remember how we did so – so that if we need to do it again, we’ll be back at square one…




Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2020
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