Thursday, 15 March 2012

In-Character Ingenuity, Out Of Character... Outgenuity?

In my post on death I said that players need to work within the limits of their characters to create a memorable character that will be looked upon kindly by reminiscences. This post is about the polar opposite, how out of character actions can create memorable situations. By this I am not referring to the inevitable joes that constitute 99.99% of table chatter. Its more about the issues I alluded to when I was talking about rollplaying vs. roleplaying and that have come up repeatedly in this thread. Namely where the balance point between using character abilities and player ingenuity is.

As I mentioned in the linked post on roll vs role I am a strong advocate of using player ingenuity to solve problems. The INT or equivalent stat in my eyes should not limit the ways in which a character can act because of a low score, anymore than a high score would lead to me giving answers to every puzzle that the character comes across. The classic example is rolling perception (or Spot Hidden for those of a Lovecraftian bent) checks. I usually handle these by using the checks as a sort of 'you notice something is off' trigger, if they make the roll then they are rewarded with the information, if not then the players get (usually two) guesses to try and work out where the thing they have noticed might be. Of course if they are percieving an ambush, they are unlikely to get additional attempts and if they're searching a room then they might get a few more as they narrow down locations. Season to taste, the point is that this is a nice compromise to my mind for two reasons:

Firstly, and this is important, it doesn't eliminate the usefulness of the character skills. I have heard of many GMs (for CoC in particular, though it is a common thing among 'story-gamers' I think) that ignore many checks, especially if the 'story' demands it. This seems to be pointless and cheats those players who have spent days agonising over their point placement (I'm not talking power gamers, just committed players).

Secondly, this is a game after-all. This means the players can actually get involved and influence their fates without being at the complete mercy of the Dice Gods.

Another way that is suggested to utilise player ingenuity is by including puzzles that can be solved by the players. This is the kind of thing that can lead to those afore-mentioned memorable situations, be it the players working out the correct sequence of levers in a Mastermind-esque minigame or the tactical planning of a dungeon assault. These things exercise the player's creativity and (provided they are not too time-consuming or difficult) can be good liittle intermissions and give oppurtunities for character advancement. If you can combine the two, so the player has to work out the correct way to use the character's skills, then this is truly the holy grail of gaming puzzles.

One of the best ways (in my humble opinion of course) is through investigative gaming. Call Of Cthulhu is focused on this of course, but I'm intent on building this into my RQ game too. Simply put this is where a scenario of some description requires the characters to collect clues of some description, but the players have to put them together to gain any sort of use from them. This can be solving murders as in many detective styled games, or merely collecting information that reveals the way to open that Dwarven carved lock. This is of course how the sandbox investigation will be implemented. The players will encounter various locked or otherwise blocked locations, and will discover information that will enable them to open it. Not that it will tell them that of course. The best structure for these things is most definitely to make them optional so the players know they will get interesting rewards if they do choose to follow up, but they won't be hindered if they don't wish to mess around with it.

A quick google search can bring plenty of tips on putting puzzles into your games and places like Gnome Stew have decent articles too so I won't bother linking any particulars here. Specific examples will be revealed once I have constructed a few for my RQ map.

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