... now with 35% more arrogance!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Planned Screw-Up

Over at Noism's blog, there's a post proposing that the player's job is to screw up the GM's game world. Or, more generally, that fun comes from the consequences of unexpected player solutions to problems in the game world.
They go where they're not supposed to. They start fights with people they shouldn't. They do stupid and dangerous things. They decide on courses of action you never could have dreamed of. They squabble with each other. And 99% of the time this leads to a good time had by all.
There's a couple ideas I get from this: first, most of the creative effort on the GM's part should be on the "specials", the "modular hub" rooms. The surrounding rooms, monsters, traps and treasure can be fairly standard, with most of the effort for these areas showing up during play. You should describe the barracks for the orcs in an exciting way and react to player actions, but avoid planning any plots for these orcs beforehand. 95% of your rooms should be planned in a mundane way ("mundane" within a fantasy context, that is.) You have these monsters here, they prep traps and other defenses the way you'd expect for their kind, they have a typical kind of treasure for their kind and the region they're in. Getting too fancy planning beforehand what's in the 95% will exhaust you and overwhelm the players; just keep this sketchy and elaborate on the spur of the moment, based on what the players have already done or learned.

The reason why I emphasize being mundane when planning that 95% is because it leads to the second idea: the kind of planning you should do for the bulk of your dungeon (or town, or wilderness) is planning options. When you plan specials, you often have a solution or two in mind (offer the chaos priest the head of the minotaur and he'll give you a boon.) Having a solution in mind means you might resist unplanned solutions. When you plan a mundane obstacle and keep the description simple (the corridor is blocked by a 40' wide chasm, 40' deep,) there is no planned solution, so you'll accept anything that's reasonable, which gives the players free reign to be creative ("we start filling it with bodies from the big orc fight we just had...")

Using Noism's quote as an actual idea list:
  • You need to have a sprinkling of monsters and NPCs the players shouldn't start fights with (too strong, or too weak, or more useful as friends than enemies.) Then, let them start fights with whomever they wish.
  • You need to have easily-avoided but very dangerous situations, so that players have an opportunity to do stupid things -- and genius things.
  • You need to have difficult problems, avoidable but with a possibility of reward, so that players can have an opportunity to surprise you.
  • You need to have a single item that more than one player would find desirable, or ordinary treasure that's hard to divide, to give a chance for squabbling.
Plan opportunities for your players to ruin your plans.


  1. Yep. And a corollary is, "Don't put any treasure in there, no matter how hidden or inaccessible, that you wouldn't mind the PCs getting their hands on."

  2. I don't think you can make things too mundane: you need at least one or two twists. If you present a completely standard problem, there's no reason for the PCs to come up with a non-standard solution, and that's where the fun comes from. Now, three twists... that's pushing it.

  3. I'd go further and say its good to have some "unwinnable" challenges around - things the players shouldn't pick a fight with, but which they're sure must have very tempting cheese behind them. Either the PCs will blunder in there or they'll file such places away for later, when they're more powerful, or they'll get creative and amaze you.

    And I'd let the players tell me where they think the cheese is and, contra some arguments around these parts lately, cheerfully and quietly palette switch to make use of their best ideas. With a twist, natch.