Monday, January 31, 2011

The Safe Option

Something that was mentioned with the post on players as walking tanks has come up before: in reference to the dangers that players face, Zzarkov's made the comment, "...Any soldier in a warzone always has their weapon in arm's reach."  And that's true - in a warzone.

My own experience is that many DMs do run their worlds with a warzone in mind - and that Z's comment is fair.  I don't blame him - he's reacting to a ridiculous standard for gaming.  I take umbrage with the idea that different settings only provide different opportunities for violence.  A cheese shop represents more than a chance to battle around large vats of curdled cream.  Horse-drawn wagons do not only exist so that fights can be had on the run.  Players stripping to the buff is not an opportunity for a unique combat experience.

Surprisingly, the vast majority of residents in my world hardly ever touch a weapon.  The citizens of towns live their lives eating as best they can, seeking to make a living, napping in the afternoon, entertaining themselves with small pleasures, falling in love, falling out of love and so on.  They would prefer that swordfights did not break out in their cheeseshops.  They would prefer that the wagon just gets to its destination with its cargo intact.  People strip fearlessly to a state of nudeness with alarming frequency, and yet have nothing to worry about.

It is almost certain in most worlds that if you send two zero level followers off on a 500-mile journey with a wagon and goods amounting to 500 g.p., they'll never arrive.  Surely something will attack them, bandits will grab the wagon and the party will be forced to kill every bandit to get their stuff back.  But in reality, the roads are filled with ordinary people driving valuable loads pretty much everywhere, for the most part reaching their destinations in good time with very little terror to show for it.  True, it is not particularly dramatic.  It is not a video game.  It's no Hollywood.  But if the trade system as written is expected to function rationally, than it must be so.

A player choosing to wander about the city for a day's shopping, taking in a show at the local ribald theatre, or a few drinks at the nearby street's watering hole shouldn't have to worry about being armored up or having their weapon close at hand.  There wouldn't be much point in having towns or spending money on walls to keep them safe if anarchy was the rule.  If fighting in latrines was so common that one had to take a weapon along, weak, fearful people would be dropping dead in the streets from constipation.  My god ... what parent would allow their 7-year-old child to make their dangerous way to the privy at 3 in the morning on their on?  This is a world of outdoor plumbing we're talking about here.  Surely the eating of recently relieved little boys and girls (you have to get them after they go, the meat is sweeter) by ravenous monsters would depopulate whole areas.

If you're going to allow peoples in your world to live lives that produce children and families and goods, who can grow crops in the open or cut wood from the woods while separated from all others, you have to allow players to fearlessly walk about without their equipment continuously slapping their thighs.  If you want a higher intelligence of play, you have to concede that the vast majority of opportunities for a surprise fight have to go unused.  If you push for your players to relax in town, you have to give them a just reason to relax.  You have to pledge to yourself that IF there is some combat that might occur against players does happen in town, it should be telegraphed to the point that they have plenty of time to grab their weapons before the fight occurs.

In that other post that's linked above, I made a suggestion of attacking a player in the middle of marketing, to see what they would say about being armored and having their weapons.  I did not mean that you should actually make an attack.  I haven't done so in 30 years of play.  For me, buying stuff unhindered is an important part of the game.  The players have the right to feel safe at some point in their adventuring.  While I recognize that some DMs will argue for a thief to cut a player's purse during this period, I'd argue against the value of such a practice.  How many times, really, can it be done before it gets unbelievably tiresome for the player?  How much does it actually add to the game?  A few minutes of DM's folly, that's what I say.  Harassment, nothing more ... and in the scheme of things, not worth it.

There's more roleplaying to be gotten from a player interacting with the townspeople as a daily event than in five minutes of a thief's cliched theft.  There are greater plays to be made.


Zzarchov said...

In a town, perfect sense. When travelling with a wagon full of gold, probably never going to be harmed or even approached in any way. Indeed when carting around just that in 1300's england only a handful of longbowmen would go with the cart (according to the time travellers guide to medieval england anyways).

Never the less, even though he may go his whole career and never need it. An armoured car guard DOES have his weapon within reach. Travellers up north DO carry a rifle by them at all times just in case a polar bear comes by.

And deep in the USA, sitting in a starbucks where nothing bad has ever happened or will ever happen..A 'right to carry' adherant is walking around with a loaded .45 just in case Ninja-Terrorist-Drug Dealers bust into the place.

People have to put laws in place against carrying weapons and wearing armour about for a reason, otherwise an increasing number of people would as they try to outpace each other. Some people just don't feel safe unless loaded to the teeth.

5stonegames said...

Many parts of the medieval and ancient world were not policed and if you look at village records of the time , all kinds of violent crimes even murder were seen, some quite commonly.

I don't see any reason that fantasy settings outside of cities were that different.

My own game world is a violent place and I'd guess that between brigands, wars, raids and monsters at least 25% of the male populace and maybe 10%-15% of the female populace will die violent deaths.

Now most people don't wear armor as its expensive, uncomfortable and hot but they are armed with knives and cudgels and sometimes other weapons as a matter of course. May people keep shields and leather or padded doublets at home as well. Just in case.

Its either that or wait on the big man who could care less about you to bury you.

Lastly, high powered magical characters like most PC's are generally above the law anyway.

Even a typical group of knights (3-5th level with some outliers and maybe a cleric and wizard ) is fodder for a party of high level adventurer types.

They are like Greek Mythic Heroes at that point and fully capable of burying cities and then slipping away to an extra-dimensional stronghold. Only other heroes or terrible monsters can challenge them

Kaspars said...

I had a player who, uppon being attacked while chopping wood, insisted he was doing it in full armor and with his shield on his back. I kid you not.

On the fighting in latrines thing: PCs are not worried about monsters. They’re worried about ninjas attacking them because they pissed of the local crime boss or whatever. Adventurers have enemies normal people don’t. Also: would you rather carry your 10 000 gp sword with you or leave it in your room?

Blaine H. said...

I think this is why there is so many people who go for the enchantments to weapons that allow for them to summon their armors and weapons in a moment's notice. Or the ones that allow them to disguise the full plate they are wearing as normal clothes, so that they won't be caught with their pants down when the fighting starts unexpectedly (or worse, started by another player who death dragged it to them).

It really does come down to incentive to not be complete walking armories. The better players do understand the level of intimidation that a 6'6" gentleman carrying a gleaming battle axe that is bigger than that the average towns person. The best ones tend to refrain from it... or at least the diplomatic ones.

Zzarchov said...

Then again, I think Kaspars made the best argument.

High level characters are movers and shakers. Even if you catch someone without their weapons and armour on, can you say the same about their 6 bodyguards within 10 feet and the 40 more than come rushing when the alarm sounds?

After all, would the PC's ever stumble upon a prince, or even a count without their guards? In a modern game would they run into a drug kingpin or tinpot dictator without their elite guards?