Friday, January 28, 2011

Unusually Uninteresting Sight

Wow.  I haven't written one of these since last July.

"Just Nod Your Head And Smile:" No matter how big that big-ass sword is, you won't stand out in a crowd. Nobody ever crosses the street to avoid you or seems to be especially shocked or alarmed when a heavily armed gang bursts into their house during dinner, rummages through their possessions, and demands to know if they've seen a black-caped man.  People can get used to anything, apparently.

The above cliche certainly applies to hundreds of videogames produced in the last ten years, and mostly occurs because game designers feel that 'people' make nice scenary, but they're too much trouble to program.  I would argue that the cliche occurs to a greatly lessened degree in non-video RPGs ... but it still does occur.  Most parties, I think most any DM could argue, sincerely fail to recognize what they must look like to NPCs.

What player doesn't argue that their character is in full armor, along with every weapon in their personal arsenal, when they drop down to the local tavern for a drink or two?  Yes, that's right, every individual sitting at the bar is in plate mail, shield on their arm, bristling with three or four weapons - including a four-foot long heavy crossbow on their back - just in case a fight breaks out.  And the bartender, obviously, doesn't mind at all.

Don't believe me?  Instigate a fight of some sort, involving a player character, when they're in the middle of shopping.  The moment you hear the fighter say, "I buy two weeks' rations," have a cow or something break loose in the market and make a rush.  Ask the fighter for AC, and I promise you he or she will include their shield.  Because, you know, it is permanently strapped to their arm, all the time.

It is a power player's headspace.  They don't want to get caught with their pants down, ever, and they don't like their armor class being even slightly below full power.  Attack them in their sleep, attack them while they're taking a crap behind a tree, attack them while they're bathing ... that armor will be no more than an arm's reach away.  Along with everything else they possess.  You just never know when you're going to need that scroll of protection against lycanthropes; it brings a special comfort to drum your fingers on the scroll case, day and night.

I can't blame the characters.  There's nothing worse than being attacked by six wereboars and having the DM point out that the scroll and case (along with your other scrolls) might either be in your saddle bag, hanging on a hook somewhere in the stable downstairs (we don't store it on the horse!), or possibly in one of the sacks in that pile of articles you stacked in the corner several hours ago ... and not exactly on hand at the moment.  Just about every player I've ever met would argue that no, they'd never  leave a magic item in some random location, even though they've had the item for two years of game time and they've never needed it.

Therefore, if the player is to be believed, they travel everywhere as a group of profoundly encumbered persons, and this phenomenal encumberance never bothers anyone.  Not the enormous mace hanging from the player's side, nor the sharpened khopesh, nor the odor of the many flasks of oil the player carries in their pack, nor anything else.

Sound, of course, is a biggie.  The world is phenomenally deaf.  Enemies stand at readiness while the DM waits for the party to decide what to do, as they call each other names and argue and make suggestions.  I have taken it for granted that my offline party never surprises anyone - they haven't in an age - because they never stop talking, they never consider what they're wearing as they lope down corridors or streets, through forests and glades and up and down hills.  I love that my players are excited and involved with the game, that they are loaded up with energy and thrilled to be out and adventuring ... but stealth is not in their playbook.

In reality, my players - and probably yours too, if the gaming club I attended a few weeks ago is any evidence - should be a kind of monster-pulling gravity well, so that as they move over the landscape the monsters find themselves helplessly drawn in to find out what in hell is making so much noise.  But reality is overrated.  It is troublesome, inconvenient, and makes poor drama.  I mean, I like a strong dose of real and all, but the facts are its easier not to have to roleplay every stranger standing around a 5,000 population town.  Yes, I could describe the townspeople staring at the party, or have people ask the players to please put their shields down.  It is never a good thing when I have to explain that there's no armor allowed inside the town walls, or that weapons can't be carried.  I do actually do this.  But it never goes over well.  To the players, it seems to feel like cheating, somehow, that I am merely looking for an excuse to take away their weapons, so that I will be able to kill them more easily.  I don't know why they don't trust me.

I can't give out advice on this - I'm as guilty as anyone.  I think every DM just has to accept how far this goes to the extent that makes them comfortable in their worlds ... and beyond that, not worry about it very much.

I have to get up now and take a walk.  If I sit too long with these greaves on, it just kills my legs.  I'm not as young as I used to be.


JDJarvis said...

I love when players have the PC's go clothes shopping in their platemail.

Brunomac said...

I like the occasional scenario where a usually heavily armed and armored PC gets caught in a fight while fresh out of bed or while making "hay" with the farmers daughter in the barn or whatever. Grab a dagger or even your sword, but be prepared to do a combat with your junk hanging out. Want your shield? The baddies get a free swipe while you grab it. Don't want your nads exposed? Then let your free hand hold a chicken in front of it (just don't choke it).

I always loved when Iron Man had to fight with half his armor tore up, or Superman having to fight at a much lower power level becaue of Kryptonite or something. A big tough hard-ass fighting at less that full protection barefoot and bareassed is just cool. Every player with a big armored dude should love the occasional unarmored smackdown.

Imon Fyre said...

This is an excellent and thought providing post...

I know that in the game I am currently playing(my noobie game, of which I am a noobie), the town we are currently in has our weapons strapped down when within the city walls. By this I mean that we have a strap of leather that is attached at the hilt to our belts, so that it becomes a momumental PITA to get at our weapons, should something happen.

But I agree on the 2nd point raised, that the player takes for granted that they are always armed and armoured up.

This just gave me a supremely evil idea for the campaign I have floating around in my head. House rule of the back pack that the PC may buy, it is as big as a normal pack. In such that you can only fit in it what you can fit in a real one. Also, some cities will not take kindly to anyone, other than the guards, walking around like a sherman tank.

Hehehe, methinks this will be a bit of fun, if I ever get off my ass and do it.

Zzarchov said...

I always explain what they would look like in modern equivalent.

Swords are the equivalent of assault rifles or SMG's, a big maul a rocket launcher, body armour, helmets etc.

And ask if they really want to be in a town where you are allowed to wander around with that kind of crap (think Mogadishu). As for being in other gear all the time...

I can kinda see that. Any soldier in a warzone always has their weapon in arms reach, even on the crapper. But I also have reduced inventory loads, 1 dot per point of strength. Small item 1 dot, medium 2 dots, large 4 dots. Adds up quick.

Wickedmurph said...

I just started a new campaign last night, and I started all the characters naked, floating in tubes full of fluid and a basement. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes them to be dripping with gear.

Although, since it's a TMNT game and one character is basically a psychic cat (Dr. Cat, in fact) and another is a 14-inch tall mutant bat who knows ninjitsu, I'm thinking gear overload may not be such a problem.

Lord Gwydion said...

Lots of people I've played with (and I gotta admit, I do it too when I'm a player) tend to view the quasi-medieval towns in fantasy settings as Wild West frontier towns, where everyone's walking around with at least a pistol or two on their belts, and many have their Winchesters handy as well.

Also, encumbrance can be a pain in the butt at the best of times, and having to micromanage dungeon encumbrance, wilderness encumbrance, town encumbrance, sleeping encumbrance, taking a crap encumbrance, shopping for new armor encumbrance... Too much for most players, as it's a lot of work for very little payoff in fun.

I do agree with Brunomac, above, that the occasional fight at less than full armor/equipment can be fun and challenging, though.

Blair said...

When PCs are always armor clad, regardless of the appropriateness of the situation, I call it the "Exscalibur" (as in the movie) or "Human Action Figure" phenomenon; as in such pop culture influences makes such behavior commonplace and acceptable in their imaginations.

Liam Gallagher said...

To me the issue around arms and armour depends on the type of game that the table wants to run. Some people just down want to keep track of things like ammunition, what they are wearing and exactly how much gold they have on hand. I think any player who hold this stance has a very good arguement on their side because D&D as a game is very band at tracking wealth and possessions.

Look at it this way, you have a sword that is worth 100,000 gp that the fighter uses, by the ranger is still using arrows that cost 1 cp. The ranger can actually afford to buy so many arrows that they would force the regional timber stocks to colapse. If they're no scarcity then keeping track of arrows is like keeping track of breathing.

So what happens when the party find 17,000 gp at the bottom of a pool? Do they spend the week of in-game time it would take to scour and collect each piece? No, they add it to their inventory instatly and then move on because the game is designed in such a way that fishing for coins isn't all that interesting.

So you have armour, and because it takes a team of two a half hour to get plate mail on and off the party's paladin might be reasonable in just forgetting about the whole thing.

If you want to play a cloak and dagger or survival game where every last resource counts then yeah, you'll what to dedicate a portionof the game to loadouts and equipment, but if you're playing standard, mash the monsters, get the loot D&D then there's no sense in nit picking over such details.

Blaine H. said...


I have run into those players in the past, the kind that handwave off a good deal of that information. Then there are those who do intricately keep track of all that. The people who intricately keep track of everything tend to be the ones who actually come out ahead. It adds to the immersion and fun of it.

One time, one of the handwave types decided to play a knife thrower. Cool, no problem... except when he said he was carrying like 38 daggers in quick draw reach. We suddenly all stopped and stared at him. The detail oriented people just face palmed as we realized with we were walking around with someone covered on every single place with knives... plus all his adventuring gear. Immediately, we all scooted away from him as the GM smiled.

Yeah, the details hurt when you put it under a microscope. That 17000 gold that a high end player might have in coin is volume wise bigger than even the low end bag of holdings. Do we call that out? Well... yeah actually... but after a few bandit raids, having the party buy a santa sack (the big end bags of holding) to fill with gold gets kinda silly. Especially if you have spend a lot of time trying to limit that.

Though it does beg to be hilarious about a character shoveling out money from a portable hole that he used a ladder to get into or pulling piles of gold out of a santa sack.

I guess it does depend though on the game. It has taken YEARS of abuse but I finally managed to get players to adopt the idea that only during times of war are people allowed to wear armor or carry weapons better than a long sword (which is peace bound) into a town. City guard enforce this. They even provide nice wooden boxes (assuming the players don't already have one) to put it all in that is sealed with a cord and wax to ensure they are not drawn within the city limits.

This leads to alot of the hidden armors coming into use and concealed weapons... and it cuts down on the walking battle tanks going to the bar to get a drink. It also led to players getting really inventive on how hide their important gear in town on their person.

Adversity inspires ingenuity.

At least then, you can have a civil society. It also keeps the dungeon adventures different from the high court adventures. But it did take a lot of effort to get players.

Anonymous said...

I've been on both sides of that argument before my play style matured, but I'm in agreement with our host's post now.

I'm don't put 100% of the blame on the players though. If they've run across some of the same types of bad DMing I have, then it's partly a learned and rational response to incentives. If the game world is such that there's a real chance of being attacked in town when you take off your armor and leave behind your sword, then keeping them on becomes the rational thing to do.

I don't know if the two pro-unequipped combat posts above are players or DMs, if they're talking about straight D&D or a swashbuckling game, or if we would really disagree about this, since I'd be fine with, say, a knife fight that arose organically. But a DM latching onto the idea of getting the PCs out of armor and away from swords so you can spring a cool fight on them strikes me as part of the problem. The player is going to weight that against the number of game sessions they've attended with that character rather than against that character's whole life in that setting and react accordingly.

(To be clear, I don't think that's what's going on with our host, I don't know if it's going on with the above comments, I just think it happens in the hobby.)

5stonegames said...

In 3.5 and other editions, there are many ways to armor up as needed at will.

There are arming spells, a ring of arming (store instant armor in an Extra-Dimensional Space) and of course spells and bracers. Even leather armor is manageable.

Now of course, you can always try and catch them in their underwear but realistically as dangerous as adventuring is baring some rules hack (ala D&D) most people would sleep in their armor (its quite possible) and their partners would have rotational watches. After all the monsters can see in the Dark.

The best way I think to get rid of the need for armor is to not make PC's practically helpless without it . It counter intuitive but of you use some kind of level based bonus w/o armor, the PC's will skip the arming up for when they need it.

Now I have run games with weapons restrictions but every PC in that game was a thief (not a rogue, a thief, they stole for a living) its not as plausible with a party of warriors.

GragSmash said...

My players always look so hurt when an NPC reacts to something one of them said to another, apparently telepathically.

"Ok, I'll distract this guy while you go steal his stuff"
"Um.. I'd rather you didn't, thanks."

Sharon Kerr-Bullian said...

I'm one of those people who, for better or worse, is often the one that points out to the DM that my character probably doesn't have this, that, or the other handy. It bites my rear-end more often than not, but it's important to me. I also have my mounts, usually horses, react (un)predictably, playing up as you'd expect a horse to do under stress it wasn't trained for. Sure, a warhorse is okay in a battle, but even warhorses see hedge monsters! Ride checks for everyone because a peasant just stumbled half-naked out of a thicket! I get unofficial control of all mounts from the DM in games, since I'm the horse expert in the group.

The characters I'm playing in my current D&D and D20 Modern games are all quite lightly equipped to begin with.

My favorite D&D (3.5e) example is a prince, actually rolled using your secondary skill tables, currently at level 12, whose only large pieces of adventuring gear include a magical rapier, a bag of holding, and some enchanted Elven chain.

Not wearing his armor does reduce his AC a bit, but most of his AC is from his dexterity, so he doesn't fare too badly without it. Without his rapier on the other hand, he can end up in a bit of a pickle, since he relies on his dexterity for fighting, thanks to

Most of Tristan's party, on the other hand, typically rolls heavily equipped. They would get odd looks if they weren't traveling with a royal, and some of them are very reliant on larger, heavier equipment.

Fortunately, Tristan, being a prince, has almost free rein in his own country (his mother and father, and both older brothers, and a select few religious leaders, of course have the final say). This means his traveling companions are pretty well free to go where they please, equipped as they please, within the borders of Carafell. Better still, Tristan and his betrothed, the Crown Princess of the neighboring kingdom, have adventured together in the past, which means the party can travel through one of the neighboring kingdoms without much hassle.

He doesn't have quite so much freedom in other countries, of course.

The problem is, Tristan typically goes to great pains to conceal who he is, because he adventures to be something other than a spoiled rotten prince. For all the effort Tristan puts into trying to appear to be just a regular lower noble (he's too well-spoken to pass as a commoner), he often ends up being found out. Innkeepers don't like people who conceal their identity, they give other customers the creeps.

Tristan very quickly found out that getting himself and his companions out of a tight spot was often as simple as revealing his true identity. With that done, his traveling companions are often able to go about their adventuring without officials causing a fuss about their equipment, since he can claim they are his protectors.

Playing a royal can really skew the balance of a game. It's a good thing it's such an unlikely thing on your chart.