Sunday, September 7, 2014

Non Character Threats

Probably my favorite story/character of all time is Allan Quatermain. First off, he’s not that handsome dashing hero. He’s a very practical man, though he certainly has his honor. His “super power”? He’s just a really good shot.

But the important point for this post is that his biggest challenges are not other people or even the terrifying animals of Africa, but instead the terrain. Oh, he’s faced armies of natives and had a pod of hippos try and crush him, but the thing that always comes closest to actually killing him is the terrain. Deserts, disease ridden swaps, seemingly impassable mountains; these are the things that nearly kill Allan and his “party”.

I don’t think that we GMs use these tools enough. I always wanted to write a book, or a series of books, that laid out what GMs can do when the PCs face up against catastrophes. Which catastrophes? Well, that was always fluid. After all, a hurricane is a serious issue and will normally bring floods, so is the catastrophe the hurricane or the flood? and can a description of hurricanes be described without also detailing the flooding afterwards? So did the hurricane book cover both? Then did the sea water flood then destroy the fresh water in the area? So is the issue of not having enough water part of a hurricane or is it a desert issue? What about crops being destroyed? Famine? A catastrophe? part of a hurricane? Can you discuss the winds of a hurricane without also running into tornadoes? You can see how these probably belong on one book - but WOW is that going to be a big book!

Games are different. Maybe your game has some of these covered, either while discussing some spells or elsewhere. I think the issue comes down to one of drama vs. action. It’s tough as a GM to build drama and tension in a game setting, especially one where the players are almost equally interested in the drinks and snacks as they are in the game. Action is easier, and FRPGs are notorious for covering the action parts and not as much the drama parts. But having spent a considerable time tied up in a campaign centered on political struggles that only rarely break out into battles, I’m becoming more excited about the huge plots and not the little skirmishes. A warning, when you’re worrying about whether or not your character is about to die of thirst, a lot of little details become important: movement rates, fatigue factors, endurance in the face of dehydration, etc. Worrying too much about the little details will ruin the drama! My suggestion - Try to run the numbers before the game starts when no one is there. Then whether the players go down the route you expected or not, you have some pretty good information about how the rules would play out. I’ve never been one who could just throw the game rules aside and decide whatever I wanted, so by having some of the math done early, I could base the results on what I had earlier calculated. The best of both worlds - following the rules and shooting from the cuff.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for turning me on to Allan Quartermain. My GM does this to me all of the time. We mostly campaign in a desert world, the sand seas, where tent cities come and go like sand storms. There are no maps, the sands are always changing, as are the people. It affects the very nature of the residents of that realm. They are desparate, innovative and will spend a lifetime building a lavish empire, only to know they will lose it in days, weeks, maybe months or years; but nothing there lasts. Thirst, heat, fatigue, monsters; they keep your pack light, you carry only what you absolutely need, and nothing more. It makes treasure interesting. More often than not, the coin isn't worth carrying? Where would I put it that is safe?
    Terrain is a setting, more than any other aspect of the setting. It determines so many factors. We can easily get used to temperate light forests, villages dotting the hilly rolling landscape; yeah there are swamps and jungles, mountains and caves; but they become something overlooked because everybody is used to gliding over terrain.