Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Peter Mork © 2012

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

Welcome to the 165th edition of the Guild Companion. This month we continue our tour of Forgotten Realms races, with a conversion of the underground "demi-humans:" Dwawrves and Gnomes. This issue also adds a fourth magic lantern to the previously published trilogy. Finally, we offer a set of optional rules for HARP to make combat more like Rolemaster combat, complete with lethal criticals.

In a recent fencing lesson, we talked about two strategies for fencing: avoidance and countering. Despite the non-standard forum (namely a fencing salle), I think that much of what we learned applies to running a role-playing game.

Avoidance is all about not doing things that don't work. Obvious, it seems, except for the details. Before you can avoid an ineffective behavior, you need to be able to precisely describe that behavior. For example, in a recent session, the players were disengaged and the game lacked focus. I might have told myself, "Don't run an unfocused game," but that lacks precision. Instead, the takeaway message was: "Don't run a game in which there are no obvious plot hooks." At least with these players, I need to ensure that I provide a candidate set of goals (acknowledging that the players are likely to re-frame those goals).

Countering is all about doing things that work (because they are unexpected). Whereas role-playing games are (usually) not competitive in nature, it can still be refreshing to try a countering strategy. The first step is to recognize the player's default behavior. For example, when faced with a "dungeon" setting, the players keep their characters stuck to each other like glue. The second step is to induce the default behavior (to trick the players into reacting in a predictable manner). For example, I recently introduced a glass labyrinth in the Void. The existence of an entrance and a series of corridors was enough to put the players in a "dungeon" mindset. Finally, you introduce the surprise. In this case, the labyrinth was growing so fast that the players had no choice but to split up. The result was some excellent role-playing as the characters were forced to handle adversity without being able to rely on standard tactics. (Although any time you set up a mental trap, make sure you reduce the difficulty of any encounters.)

Until next month, may all of your Large criticals be open-ended.
Peter Mork
General Editor