Monday, January 13, 2014

Desperation & Distraction

An excerpt from the book, How to Run: An Advanced Guide to Managing Roleplaying Games. 2nd Draft.

"If a player loses half their health to a gargantuan menace, the player is hardly surprised. That’s what happens when facing a thing that is 18 feet tall. On the other hand, however, if the player loses a tenth of their health to something that should have been harmless, because of bad luck, the player is apt to be quite annoyed. They’re annoyed again, when cutting their hand while climbing; and again, when this time it’s the burro that turns and kicks them because a jackrabbit bounded across its path. Each time, the player loses a bit of health—and grows aware of their unexpected bad luck.

"In fact, it isn’t bad luck at all. If four players make six low-chance rolls in the space of a session (let’s say a 1 in 6 chance), the odds are the distribution of those rolls are going to turn one player into someone ‘unlucky.’ Add to that a series of guesses, with good or bad results liable to go either way, permutations build until someone in the party gets the brunt end of it. That will make the player annoyed. The player will be vocal about it.

"Each small encounter exasperate the party, increasing that annoyance and improving the opportunities for bad luck. A great big encounter would, at a moment like this, seem like a blessing. Small encounters, on the other hand, peck and peck away.

"This is a reason I advocate using dice in a game. Dice do not necessarily direct my games, but uneven distribution offers a character to an individual’s player’s success on a given night precisely because dice are indeterminate.

"Add to this the many, many ways a party’s mood can be driven to the point of desperation, and one has a recipe for immersion. Things go missing that shouldn’t be missing. Non-player characters supporting the party make more noise than they should be making. One of the bandits the party is tracking shoots a deer that bounds out near the party—and now the bandit, in full sight of his friends, walks towards his kill, where the party is hiding. A pond, that the party has taken two days to reach, has a dead creature floating in it; it’s been floating there for days. The town isn’t letting in foreigners today. There’s been a flood and the road the party needs to take is out. The very expensive, ingeniously carved sign of uncertain origin, in the middle of nowhere, says ‘no fires.’ The iron spikes fell out when the party was crossing a bad bridge. Now they need two dozen, but the village pedlar only has 17. An annoyance is followed by a bother, enhanced by an imposition, tempered with misunderstanding, leading to the acquisition of the wrong item, that can’t be traded in because today is a Monday. From there it just gets aggravating.

"All this is interspersed with the usual role-playing adventuring most anyone does. My party fights, overwhelms the enemy and brings home the bacon—but along with success, there are bitter frustrations that have the power to put a party off its feed … and once there, they’re ready and primed to make mistakes."

Context withheld.


Michael Julius said...

I worked for many years as a paramedic and it would seem that at any given time in the middle of the worst of calls my bloody patient, with altered consciousness, combative and at risk of losing his airway, would by some contortionist miracle knock the essential last piece of I.V. appliance from my hand. It would sail slowly across the ambulance, roll a little on the floor and park itself as far under the stretcher as it could get, nestled in it's little sterile package, looking at me like a mouse in a f***ing hole.


It's also an enduring memory.

Michael Julius said...

Ugh. Your write, Michael. 'its' doesnt have an apoplectic.

Alexis Smolensk said...

One of those grammatical rules, Michael, that doesn't seem to have a comprehension issue. Very few of us on the 'net don't slip up, since when we write comments, we 'hear' the words before we see them.

A little annoying thing though, I agree.

kimbo said...

this is not something I had ever considered as part of the game, but clearly it can be. Of course I have experienced bits of this… perhaps more so when I knew less of what was going on, when more of the heart is at play than the head.

Characters in D&D always seemed to me as being unfeeling automatons. Except by spell-like influence they have no; fear, morale failure, pain, irritation, desire, anger, loss of concentration, tiredness etc . ( let alone the heavier psycho-physiological effects of combat)

But you can and do elicit most of the emotional joys and suffering in the players themselves... magnificent manipulative bastard.

And if due to open table randomness rather than fiat, betterer and betterer...
the world (and not the DM) is against the player.

But with this deep emotional immersion (rather than mere investment) in an open world offering free agency, what is it that you get out of observing the immersed players pursue their desires and reaping the consequences and experiencing catharsis from time to time? You have said yourself it’s not fun. And your satisfaction sounds like it is as much in the world creation as in the player interaction.

So what is it you are enjoying as DM during play?
Is it you exploring the players’ psyche as they explore your world?

Alexis Smolensk said...

It is a good question, Kimbo. I'll write a post about it.