Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Scout

If we may continue.

Ignoring rules about what attacks what in Civ IV, or the relative strengths of either, I would argue that the player party more substantially reflects the Scout unit than that of the Warrior. In effect, it sets out from the Keep on the Borderlands, striking out for the distant hills on the horizon, getting first glance of the sea or the desert, encountering 'monsters,' and so on. The Scout moves quickly and it sees much.

Naturally, within D&D, the player party has one principal goal - to find a monster hoarde belonging to monsters who aren't too dangerous, and plunder it. It is a simple-minded goal, and it utterly ignores the reality that if there were monsters just a day and a half away sitting on two or three thousand gold pieces, why has it waited there so conveniently for the player party to arrive?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the prospect of finding a few ounces of gold per day drove people to risk life and limb and travel thousands of miles to live in the worst conditions imaginable (Klondike, Australian Desert, etc.) ... yet in D&D a local lord won't walk a day and a half to kill off a few dozen goblins and collect up enough gold to pay the mortgage for a month. Apparently, he won't order his steward to either, or be able to count on his fully grown sons. No, that gold will sit out there and rot until the RIGHT party has luckily stumbled across the right hole after a few days of walking along beaten trails. The gentle reader or I should have such luck.

I'm not suggesting it should be any different - that's the game, after all, and without it there wouldn't be much of a game. I've played in and tried my hand at choking off the 'gold supply' (in my woefully mis-spent youth) and come to realize that reality isn't really much recompense for spending Saturday nights at a kitchen table. So yes, gold will be plundered.

But its part of the overall problem that presents, when gold is metaphorically hanging off like ripe fruit in comparison to the clinically difficult work of drawing out plans and sorting out the business of running an efficient settlement. Why struggle and calculate for that gold when its right there for a party to take (clearly, since no NPC wants it).

So the Scout format becomes the default format. There is always another hill, and always the next treasure to be hauled to the next settlement that is someone else's problem to run. So long as it is a great wide world and there's no end to the treasure, there ought to be no end to the player's freebooting lifestyle.

Of course, DMs recognize this freebooting shit begins to get tiresome and dull if there are no consequences imposed along the way. So towns become difficult things to enter and extricate one from, the business of buying and trading and getting your money's worth for goods gets fucked with, followed by endless annoying taxes and picky guardsmen harrassing parties who dare to use public roads as the DM attempts the easiest and most obvious means of making the whole grab-and-take lifestyle have some sort of meaning. "Maybe, perhaps, they'll appreciate their money if the cost of living keeps them at least off-balance."

But of course it all seems very petty and contrived to party players. I wrote a post just recently how I wouldn't put a convenient price tag on treasure, and predictably received some whining responses about how such things are inhibitory towards the game and general good will towards the players. I guess I see the point (though it was whining). Not knowing things sucks.

It's true that applying the fog of war to the cost of gems is a somewhat petty restriction on a player's knowledge base. It's seems less descriminatory, however, if that same fog of war is applied to virtually everything - and in my world it is. I try, to the best of my ability, to keep players terrifyingly in the dark, to make them feel as best I can that moving through my world is something like walking naked in Soho after dark after having paid a stranger to randomly attack you when your guard is down. If that's your goal as a DM, then a party not knowing things is key.

A lot of people would rather not play D&D under those conditions. I understand completely. The door is right over there.

If the party is going to be at all encouraged not to see the world consistently as their personal apple orchard, fabricated by the gods to be stuffed with wooden cliches and frontages without bite, something has to be done about this day and a half shit it takes to find the treasure that must be out there. More importantly, the highest level characters have to find themselves starved a bit to find something worthy of their magnificent level-achieving requirements.

See, the logic is to presume that IF the party has gone up ten levels, then the universe has ALSO gone up ten levels. Suddenly the hill tops are full of chimera and manticores, frost giants blow in with every snow storm and the once-quiet forests and now chock full of killable treants. In short, if it takes 200,000 experience to get the fighter to 10th level, then stuff those forests with slaughter-foes aplenty and stack that gold high. Nevermind that the party used to walk all week to find a dozen orcs with 300 gold ... those are the far-gone days when forests were safe for 1st levels. Today (2 game years later) the hit dice are far thicker on the ground. How else to keep the game healthy and exciting?

What I'm proposing is that where once the party found killing three ogres difficult, and where once they found the treasure from three ogres an abundance, now that the party is 10th level, when they march out to see what adventure they can find I suggest you have them find ... three ogres. With the treasure of three ogres. And after that they should find a dozen orcs, then a few dozen goblins, and so on and so forth.

Why? Because I'm a tremendous asshole, isn't that obvious? Because they should be starved. Because D&D shouldn't be a catering service, or a hotel where room service in the form of monster-served platters should be made available. Oh certainly the really horrific monsters should exist, no question ... but they should be a) a lot farther away than 30 hours walk, and b) unpleasantly hard to find.

Again, why? Won't your players just quit the game?

They would, I suppose, if you weren't very careful to throw them a biscuit once in awhile between slowly weening them from their mother's milk to solid food. Players have to be encouraged to recognize - by demonstration, by finding it out for themselves - that your world is not an endless smorgasbord. Of course it can be if you want it to be, but then it isn't your players who are responsible for seeking nothing but spoils. You're spoiling them. You can keep doing that forever, but you're bound to end up with squalling, grown-up infants. The kind who can't understand why there's no '100gp' etched into the agate gem they've found.

If you're enormously clever, it won't happen overnight. It doesn't take overnight to ascend from first to tenth level ... so why should the realization that the treasures just aren't as meaningful as they used to be? And oh look, here's the other readily acceptable option that offers reward that is more immediately accessible than another four month hike to the middle of nowhere.

Step by step, my brothers. First the scouts go out and search what's beyond the dark. Then there's no more dark, and the scouts just wander around aimlessly, and you stop wasting your time building them. It seems so natural, so right, so ... clear as to why this change happens. You've done this part. It's time to move on to the next.

1 comment:

fluerdemal said...

It certainly makes sense to me. Back before there was fire I had already redone the wilderness encounter charts into something more reasonable - namely you would mostly run into normal animals. Hunting became an easy task, walk out into the woods and see what you ran into - probably prey but occasionally a predator and even more occasionally a really nasty predator (or wandering raiding party of humanoids).

And this was the same no matter what the level of the characters were. Now the players found out that some parts of the world were more "monstrous" than others, but often by wandering at too low a level...

Players quickly found out that the quickest route to XP and treasure was by taking it from NPC's. Which inevitably meant that they became involved in politics and really couldn't advance much as typical murderhobos.

I have to say that I never had any players really complain about that. It spawned some great games as they were drawn into greater and greater conflict with "the Cult of the Reptile God" (or whatever) because they would keep attacking each other either out of greed or revenge.

D.