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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hazard, Puzzle, Trap, Trick

Telecanter's Receding Rules has a post categorizing types of tricks. They're fine ideas, but I think categories based on purpose are more important for planned tricks, or for interpreting already-generated random tricks, than for actually rolling randomly. Not all categories are going to desirable in every campaign.

I have thought about random generation of tricks before, though. I have no iron-clad rules yet, but I've run some tests, using some formulas and the quickie tables. I'm not completely satisfied. But then, it might be helpful to others to talk about how I analyze tricks.

Let's start with things related to tricks: hazards, traps, and puzzles. A hazard is an obvious (or nearly obvious) harmful or unpleasant situation: a deep chasm, a raging underground river, ground covered with spikes... or, for less harmful hazards, non-deadly gasses that cause sleep, sneezing, or obscured vision. They are designed to keep you from passing through an area (chasm, tunnel blocked with rubble) or lingering in an area (irritating gasses, unpleasant conditions) or even move you out of an area (river with strong current.) Some hazards will harm those who try to deal with them.

A trap is basically a conditional hazard. If you step on this stone, the ground will collapse and drop you into a pit. If you trigger this tripwire, an iron gate will drop behind you, sealing off your escape route. If you disturb the idol, a restraint will be removed and a boulder will roll down a chute towards you. Either the trigger or the hazard might be obvious, but the connection between the two won't be.

A puzzle is also conditional -- if you solve the puzzle, something will happen -- but the target of the conditional isn't a hazard. It's something that's probably beneficial: a shortcut or escape route, removal of a hazard, revelation of a treasure. The puzzle does not need to literally be an intellectual challenge, like the cliché living chessboard puzzle or solving a riddle. In its simplest form, it's just a matter of doing X (and possibly Y and Z) to get the desired result.

Within this context, tricks are also conditional and undesirable, often hazardous. They all have a secret, concealed component, like puzzles. There are three types of tricks that I can think of:
  • Secret Results: The conditional triggers something that you won't be aware of until later, such as a teleport that secretly sends you to a nearly identical room. These can possibly be considered delayed payoff traps.
  • Diabolical Puzzles: The trigger is obvious and designed like a puzzle, making it tempting, but the payoff is undesirable. What sets them apart from traps is that the trick itself, and often times the payoff as well, does not prevent or discourage movement to or through an area.
  • Time Wasters: Again, the trigger is obvious and will make adventurers think it's a puzzle, but there's no real payoff, other than delaying the party and thus indirectly putting them at greater risk.
Since Secret Result tricks are basically traps, you can design them the same way, just making sure that neither the trigger nor the result is detected.

On the other hand, Diabolical Puzzles would require a more complicated formula to produce. I've been thinking of them in terms of a "gypsy switch", the con game in which the victim thinks he's getting X when he's really getting Y: swapping identical containers, for example. So, any theoretical random generation method for Diabolical Puzzles would involve rolling for:
  • the trigger object, which has an obvious trigger, like a lever that can be pulled;
  • the bait (what the victim thinks he will get;)
  • the switch (what the victim actually gets.)
There's a couple ways you can bait a trick. The main way is to make the trick act like a legitimate puzzle part of the time -- maybe the first 1d6 times, or when both obvious trigger AND obscure condition are met, or randomly weighted towards beneficial results. This is where I think things like Telecanter's trick categories come into play. His "Whimsical Obstacle" would be one of the random result Diabolical Puzzles. Obscure secondary triggers would be more appropriate for Alien Machines or Arcane Tests.

What about Time Wasters? Really, they're just Diabolical Puzzles where the undesirable effect is "wasted time". For a random trick generation system, you would probably want something like a 50/50 chance that the trick is a Time Waster or a truely Diabolical Puzzle.

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