Friday, April 26, 2019

What is the game you want to play?

A while back now, I got "into it" a bit with a friend over skill checks. Much has been written on this topic so hopefully I won't be rehashing much, but I felt like I came away with a new personal understanding of my feelings on the matter.

The conversation began, as it normally does, talking about keeping information about the world locked up behind a skill check. A quick scenario (not the one discussed):

A zombie has been killed.
The DM says: "What are you doing right now?"
Player says: "I'm looking at the corpse to make sure it's really dead, and glancing around the room to keep a look out for more."

At this time, one of the zombie's arms is attempting to wriggle away from the body to push a button that will open a door and unleash more zombies.

If a player specifically says they're looking at the corpse, and there are no obscuring environmental effects or other pressures on their attention, I think the DM should tell them that the arm is 1. still moving and 2. attempting to move away from the corpse, possibly even towards something (unsure what it's target is though).

Some would make this a perception check: did you notice the movement? Or ask that lovely question of "What's your passive perception? Something is happening, but I won't tell you what it is unless you have a number above X, or you can just roll."

As we went back and forth over a few scenarios, he said, something to the effect of "You would just tell them where all the secret doors are, and I'm not like that." Yes, I would tell players where the secret doors are (assuming they were looking for them in a way that made sense it would reveal said secret door, and yes I would provide clues in my description of the room/area if applicable that could reveal the location of said secret door and "help them" find it. (he seemed slightly aghast at this)).

And what hit me is that I am very much not interested in the "process of finding things" or the "process of opening things" or the "process of spending a sufficient amount of in game gold and time to learn a new language" as the baseline "normal" of the game.

It is my opinion that if a door is locked there should never be a limit to the number of times you can attempt to pick the lock, unless it's tied to something "real" in the game. Like, "It looks like you can try picking the lock twice before the shambling mound gets close enough to hit you." is good. Likewise, "Your attempts have completely stripped out or broken the mechanisms of the lock, and now it won't even unlock with a key" is good too. Seems obvious, but here's the question about this over on Stack Exchange, and that "vague memory" seems to have an echo.

And so I found myself saying "That's not the game I want to play. I'm not interested in playing a game about figuring out how to open a door, or find a door. I'm interested in the consequences of what's on the other side of all those doors."

If you look at Disney's version of Aladdin, the movie begins at the end of Jafar's adventure to get the door to the Cave of Wonders open. Finding the correct golden scarab halves couldn't have been easy and would doubtlessly be an adventure in and of itself (and tbh one I'd probably enjoy playing), but I don't think it's nearly as interesting as dealing with the consequences of unleashing a genie upon the world.

In Hot Springs Island, getting the gold is the easy part. Getting it home isn't. And what hell could be unleashed upon the world by a massive infusion of gold destabilizing the money system. That's the game I want to play. I don't want to spend a whole game making sure players have payed the appropriate character creation tax to be able to speak the language to find the right person who can give them a map if they make the appropriate intimidation check, and then make sure they can make the right persuasion/insight checks at the docks to ensure they're getting on a ship that's going to actually take them where they want to go and not sell them into bondage somewhere.

Likewise with the dungeon. Yes, some doors should be special. Some doors should require tricks and esoteric knowledge, but I don't think it needs to be every single door. I don't want to play a game about finding and opening doors. I want to play a game about dealing with the problems of rescuing the "wrong" people or unearthing the "wrong" artifact. I want to play the game where the treasure hoard is found, and known and confirmed and it's a race to extract as much as you can before rivals get there.

Perhaps it's just a phase, but it's where I'm at right now.

1 comment:

  1. There are some things you say (like pay and time for a language) that I start to disagree with, but then you finish it up with to lock content behind. I love leaving esoteric hints and yelling things in languages the characters don't know, but it never stops the adventure unless they choose to bang their heads against the side passage instead of continuing on.