Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gaming Under Duress

There are, right now, 33 Chilean miners trapped in a copper mine in Atacama, the farthest northern province of Chile.  According to sources, the effort to get them out will require three to four months, leaving the miners trapped in a space about the size of a living room, in a "humid, warm and dark habitat."  Apparently there is a means to get the water and food, and I only just heard on a radio program that they can also get power for their hand-held electronic devices ... the interviewee was saying that several persons had gameboy-like toys.  I presume then that they can get light.

Because I can't help but identify with people in these situations, my imagination going right there, I find myself wondering what I would do with my time.

Immediately the answer comes to me.  Along with sending some cell-phone batteries, do you mind sending down my dice?

I feel that I would be capable of running a sustained, complicated campaign in that situation, even if I were trapped with dozens of people who had never heard of the game.  I think - on some twisted level - that it would be an interesting experiment to see if at least some part of the group could have the game explained to them, enough that they could 'roll' characters, memorize their basic stats and actually play through the scenarios as they developed. 

Off the top of my head, huge considerations would have to be made to simplify much of the game.  I wouldn't have any tables or maps, the rules would have to be straightforward and easily agreed upon, and whenever possible the finer points of the game would have to be cut back.

For example, I'd get rid of three of the ability stats, reducing them to Body (Str, Con, Dex), Mind (Int, Wis) and Appearance (Chr).  These could be simplified further, being designated as low, medium and high, so that you'd only have to remember that your three stats were "low-high-high," or "high-low-medium."  Or even, "HLM."  There'd be an awful lot of stuff you'd have to keep in your head, with equipment being the biggest problem, and anything that reduced the pressure on your memory would be excellent.

The equipment could also be reduced.  Rather than using specific types, your character could be designated as "unarmored" vs. "armored," and either possessing a weapon or not.   Armor might not even be relevant, given that combat could be simplified immensely.

Suppose all you had was a coin?  Then it would come down to either hitting or missing your opponent ... and if you didn't want to keep track of how many times most creatures could be hit, a hit would in most cases indicate a kill.

One way that you could get around that would be to keep a little pile of stones for certain things.  Two stones for the number of hits you could stand at 1st level, for example, and 3 stones at 2nd level and so on.  The stones could be set aside when used.

And of course this brings us to experience.  How do you keep track of it?  I would suggest the method used by many DMs - hinge it to the adventure itself.  When the goal is reached, you go up a level.  The emphasis in the game would have to be based on roleplaying anyway.

Hoo boy, will there have to be roleplaying.  The thing that is going to make the time go by will be the investment the players are able to have in a fantasy world ... a world that I'd have to run with far less emphasis on the misery of life and far MORE emphasis on the pleasure.  It would be, without question, the easiest campaign I'd ever run.  Whenever possible, people would have to have the opportunity to live out their fantasies, rather than compelling them to suffer life's slings and arrows.  Traps would be easy to overcome, guards would be easy to fool or sidestep, most of the residents of the world would be profoundly dim-witted and remarkably easygoing.  Not like my world at all.

The reasons why should be obvious.  The last thing anyone needs is a source for stress.  There might be issues to overcome, but the trick would be to make each day a victory, with a thought-provoking element included.  Something to keep the players warm in their minds while waiting ... the situation itself would provide all the stress necessary for the campaign.  If I didn't want people at each other's throats - and mine - things better go very well, most of the time.

Those are just thoughts of mine I've put together since hearing about the disaster this morning.  Short of actually getting myself trapped in a mine, I couldn't say for sure if they'd work.


  1. Might as well play some games while you're trapped in what is essentially a dungeon for three or so months.

    You'd probably have to go extremely simple, in the vein of some sort of indie game, like maybe you have three advantages and a disadvantage, and if you're rolling something you're good at, you'll succeed on a 1-5 on a d6 roll, everything else is 1-3, and thing's you're bad at you only succeed on a 1.

    You'd have to move away from the resource-management, dungeon-crawl aspect without paper, that's for sure.

  2. If I can get power, I'm set - this phone has rulebooks, dice, notepad…everything I'd need.

    Then again, if they can get food, water, and power down there - and assuming they also have some way get rid of waste - they can probably get you pencils and graph paper, too.

  3. My first reaction was that they could probably finish a game of Advanced Civilizations before they got rescued.

    right after i read this story initially, i heard about motorists trapped on a stretch of highway in china for almost two weeks now, and they'll be there for probably another month.

  4. My first introduction to gaming was a cyberpunk campaign at Boy Scout camp. All we had was 1 D20 and one guy who knew what he was talking about. Needless to say I was hooked by the idea. Took me a few years to get a book, but the rest of the time I was trying to stumble into making my own for my friends. I did something similar to your post for a one day project to teach the class a game. It went over very well.


If you wish to leave a comment on this blog, contact with a direct message. Comments, agreed upon by reader and author, are published every Saturday.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.