Wandering Monsters: Trite Trickery

Wandering Monsters takes a break from monsters this week to talk about what exploration means and various dungeon "tricks".

Starting things on a positive note, I actually agree with the definition of what exploration is, as well as the bullet list of activities (which could be broken up into travel, problem-solving, and investigation). The only thing I would add is that more than just a category of things that can occur in the game, I think it is also important for adventure pacing.

>In other words it is not only the glue that holds your encounters together, but it is also the padding that keeps the game session from being an endless
sequence of fights and dialogue.

Kind of like how meat binders keep every bite from being cheap meat.
Where I start to disagree is when it mentions how you will "more often" rely on your wits while interacting with the Dungeon Master.

I have never liked this disparity, where it is for some reason okay to roll your Strength to scale a wall or Dexterity to balance across a narrow beam, but not when you want to use Intelligence to solve a puzzle or Charisma to fast talk your way past a guard. That is kind of the point of playing a game where you allegedly can pretend to be whatever you want, so why potentially close those doors to characters who might not be as intelligent or witty (or conversely, benefit a player who is smarter or witter than her character)?

Like pseudo-Vancian magic I cannot remember any bit of fiction where the main character sits around and fiddles with levels for awhile before continuing on with actual the story. It might amuse some Dungeon Masters to grind the game to halt for an hour or so while the players poke and push statues trying to intuit the correct combination of actions required to get on with the fun parts of the game, but that probably means that they are either bad or inexperienced. In either case advice in the DMG on how to avoid that sort of thing could be helpful.

It would also be nice if there at least guidelines, optional ones even, that inform you how a character's mental and social strengths can help them overcome those sorts of challenges. If nothing else, I would at least like a system where characters can make ability score checks in order to gain hints. If puzzles are worth XP, then you could reduce or even waive the reward entirely if the group decides to make a check to bypass it. It would still not be equal, but at least it help prevent players from getting stuck at puzzles that their characters should not be.

When it comes to tricks I have never really maintained an "arsenal", at least not like the fountain described in the article, which just comes across as confusing and random. I get that there is a lack of context, but the first thing that comes to my mind when I read the description is not interest or excitement, but why. Why everything. Why is it there? Why would someone go through the effort of constructing an elaborate fountain, enchant a gargoyle to ask a riddle and spray you with acid if you fail, and also enchant a nymph statue to clue you in on some treasure?

It just seems like the kind of thing that would take a long time to construct, enchant, and program, and for what purpose or payoff? To randomly spray explorers with acid, or reward them for answering a riddle? Seems kind of extreme in either case, and not the kind of thing that I would expect a wizard to do, or even something that someone would pay a wizard to do. All it does for me is pull me out of the narrative, and remind me that this is just a game, with a dungeon specifically designed to be explored and conquered.

If I had to describe my arsenal, it would be more like how you write and use Fronts, Dungeon Moves, and Custom Moves in Dungeon World; a list of contextually appropriate events--which can include bits of dungeon dressing, traps, monsters, and effects specific to the dungeon environment--and locations to draw inspiration from, add to the game session if I have the time (or remind me of stuff to use later), and fall back on if the characters go off the rails or do something else unexpected.

Barring specific circumstances I do not see myself using any of the map-muddling tricks, at least not with the express intent to "foil" the characters' mapping endeavors. In that regard they seem cheap and silly, and like the fountain drag me right back into reality. I have heard of dungeons where if the characters step in a circle--or even an unmarked area--and it teleports them into some ridiculous death trap, or pit trap filled with oozes that closes after you fall in. I do not understand the draw of randomly killing characters, and like map tricks consider them equally cheap and silly.

I am fine with trick categories. Not sure if they are needed, but can see the use of having things better organized for reference so that if I am looking for the obstacles I know where to look.

What surprises me is that the author is bold enough to even suggest that traps as depicted in older editions might not be necessarily good for the game. I do not remember how traps worked in 2nd Edition, but in 3rd Edition it used to be that if you found one and disarmed it you got XP. If you found it and failed to disarm it by a certain margin, or just blundered into it without noticing then it triggered, and the effects varied depending on if it was a dart trap, pit trap, teleporting trap, etc.

The point is that what they were usually for was just a way to deal a bit of random damage before being forgotten. I called this underwhelming method "nut-punching traps", and like save-or-die effects they are not good for the game, but a way for the lazy DM to try and peddle tension and danger. I find 4th Edition's way of utilizing them much more engaging because it is advised that you use them with other encounters, and almost everyone in the party can help deal with them; it does not just fall to the rogue and a single die roll.

In regards to the three pillars the only thing I would change is to add traps and hazards to the combat pillar, too, as in 4th Edition the more memorable traps were those that were so elaborate that the entire party had to deal with them, or just a piece of the bigger picture.

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