Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Players Have the Choice to Ignore Empty Rooms

[I usually resist joining in on blogosphere esp "OSR" blogsphere shit storms.  They're boring, and 99% chance someone else has already said what I was thinking.  Which may be the case here.  But, I just  commented on and Both comments rang true as one of my "fundamentals" of the style of RPG I like to play these days.]

Players have choice, even more so in sandbox, non-linear megadungeon. No one forces them to spend time in any room or even to open the door to any room. If they chose to spend 3 hours in/out of game time searching and futzing with every brick in wall and piece of garbage they have no one to blame/thank other than themselves.

If uninterested they could open door, see nothing, move on. Could even preempt "dressing description" by asking DM "Any monster, any obvious loot? No, we close door.

I've personally witnessed many people accustomed to railroads and storybased games struggle when given choice. Often either doing nothing waiting for plot to advance or doing everything (e.g. exhaustively searching every room) assuming it all must be important part of plot or it wouldn't be here.

Whether a player likes sandbox or not has to do with the player (and their expectations) more than with the sandbox. This is why it's very important to explain sandbox and "train" players how to make choices. Or, help them identify sandboxes just aren't the type of game they like and live and let live.

I was skeptical at balance, you lost me at "monster power curve". [context]

RPGs aren't games that require or benefit from "balance" or even rules in the traditional sense. they have an intelligent, adaptable referee who will outperform any set of rules or mechanisms hoped to provide balance. The referee is not just another player, they are the game. I don't mean that in an egotistical way. But rather referees are what distinguishes a RPG from say an adventure boardgame or an MMO themed skirmish game.  And those are fun types of games. They aren't RPGs.   (Miss)using the label leads to mis-matched expectations and shit-storms like "Are empty rooms teh Awesome!".


  1. People have a choice whether to purchase a product or not and most criticism I've seen has to do with this being a product and not getting one's moneys worth.

  2. I think you raise a good point about balance, but a better one that in RPGs, the DM is the "cpu." However I think that a tool that roughly calculates an "effective level" can be be really useful to a DM.

    In one case, a DM can at least get a warm feeling that his monsters are in the ballpark for his players. Any additional action the DM makes after computing these values is entirely optional.

    Effective Level is a good tool for module designers to use in designing a module. Again, there is no need to be slavish about matching power levels. Some designers will want to ensure that certain monsters really are overmatched for an average party.

    Anyway, you have provided food for thought.

  3. @Joe

    Yes, but ;)

    Without really noticing I do it or having to think about it much I have a feel for "risk" of monsters, encounters, areas, etc. It is a skill DM needs.

    The key difference is in how I use it. If situation is way beyond characters it's important to impart that info (hopefully subtlety) to the players so they can **decide**. The mistake with balance / games that attempt to provide "level appropriate encounters" is that the DM has pre-decided for the players. Robing them of agency. Which is always bad in my book.

    Players have often succeeded against the odds after ignoring my warnings. Those are some great times. Other times they have gotten spanked. Those are the times that make the victories sweeter.

    Don't pre-filter away opportunities for awesomness.

    On subtlety; This is hard. Are too obvious and players assume DM is saying "do this", too subtle and they don't understand it for the warning it is. A good example. Players are prowling about TPKmonster's area. Describe to them the remains of monster(s) that previously kicked their ass. They should know if a defeats b and b defeats us that a is a serious risk and 1) run away 2) be extremely cautious recon 'a', find some weakness in 'a', gamble their lives on exploiting that weakness.


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