Coming up with genius ideas vs Tackling your Players’ genius ideas
Here we are again, fellow geeks. Welcome back. I’m starting to really settle in here at Geek Syndicate. They finally let me put a blanket in the corner of the closet I sleep in, and someone remembered to fill my water bowl today. Things are looking up. But, why do I need my basic human rights met when there’s Dungeons and Dragons to be played?
In the last week, I’ve started a new campaign for just two players in the Survival Horror oeuvre. The players started with nothing (Level 1, no equipment, only a few NPCs who didn’t last long), surrounded and outnumbered by shambling Blight (which acted as my zombies). Magic is outlawed in my Ravenloft-style setting, so they don’t even have spells to sling. Sticking together, they had to help each other think their way out of certain situations. That caused some very interesting ideas to be thrown around, and gave me an idea for this Ready To Role column. So here goes:
Players! Coming up with genius ideas!
If your DM is anything like me, I’m sure they’ve thrown you a curve-ball or two (I think that might be a baseball reference. Who knows?). Sometimes you’re in a situation where a decent Persuasion check/punching your way out isn’t an option. Lateral thinking is all you have left. You need a genius idea!
Here’s how to do it.
Step one: Get into your character. Roleplaying your character can feel hammy, forced or self-conscious when you first start to play. Unless you’re the theatrical type, we’ve all been there. And everyone roleplays to whatever level they feel comfortable. However, if you can get inside your character’s head, it gives you a higher chance of thinking your way out of your predicament. Ask the DM to describe the room/situation again. But this time, imagine you’re stood inside your character, looking around rather than listening to a communal book on tape. This will give you a better chance of coming up with a genius idea than being two steps removed from the situation your character is in.
Step Two: Pay attention. Active listening is a valuable tool for Players. Your DM has created the room you’re trapped in, or the characters barring your way. Unless you’ve gone completely off the track and caught them off guard, they know how you’re supposed to get out of this. So listen. Because they’ll be giving you clues. This isn’t meta-gaming (we’ll discuss that in a later column) because you’re just taking the information that’s given to you and using it. They wouldn’t put you in an impossible situation. So it’s possible.
Step Three: McGyver that mother-lover. Check your equipment list/inventory. Players are magpies in armour. I know you have all kinds of trash in your Bag of Holding. In the Survival Horror game I mentioned before, one of my players collected cutlery from an abandoned cottage. Just in case. Some of the trash you’ve collected when your DM was ad-libbing and has since forgotten you have it. Some of it will have been given to you specifically for a moment like this. So dig deep. If you have to rip up those fancy robes, wrap them around a stick and light it using that magnifying glass you pilfered twelve sessions ago, then do it. Your DM will tell you whether your efforts work or not. There may be some rolls involved but your band of humans stuck in the Underdark now have light. Take that Lolth!
DMs! Tackling your Player’s genius ideas
Your Players are painted into a corner. Either you’ve waited until they aren’t looking and done the painting, or you’ve provided the paint and brushes and they got there all on their own. Either way, they’re stuck. They’re not fighting or talking their way out of this one. They’re going to have to think.
If your group is anything like mine, the brain food at your disposal will be scrummy donuts and various delicious beers. So…this could take a while.
The classic example is that you’ve put a trap in their path and they missed the actual method of deactivation that you provided them with. That’s fine, it happens. But now they’re stuck. Once again, the DM’s job is about balance. Yes, there is a pre-ordained deactivation for this trap, but they’re just not going to get it. So let them do something else.
They’re thinking as their characters, digging through their kit and what they know. First, make sure there’s no meta-gaming (more about that at a later date). If they come up with a justifiable solution, you should definitely let them have it. Reward their ingenuity by having the Spinning Blades of Beheading retreat. If they create some contrived Rube Goldberg machine using spit and string to lower their Halfling compatriot safely past the trap, then that’s a step too far. Make some bare Intelligence checks, for starters. Also, think about their characters’ backgrounds. If there’s no way their character would come up with something like that, then it’s a no-no.
But also be fair. If they’ve seen a pulley system in the Wizard Tower three sessions back, and the Gnome’s Tinker Check pulls through, then let them have it. They’re enjoying your game enough to remember these little details. They deserve it.
Alternatively, use degrees of success. Yes, they have thought of a way out, but is it really going to be completely safe? The Oozing Pit of Stinky Death is lapping at their toes. They’ve set up a rudimentary bridge using a ladder from the Bag of Holding and a few lengths of rope. But is it safe. In any of my games, that genius idea would come with a few conditions. There would be DEX checks to make sure they can stay upright on a rickety bridge (with Advantage if they decide to go over on all fours, but they’d have to come up with it themselves). There would be constitution checks to see if they can withstand the fumes coming from the pool.
As always, don’t just come up with a list of reasons why something will fail. But don’t let them have it easy, either. The bridge does the job, but Oh no! There is still an element of danger, is just fine. Having an Ooze-resistant Spit Fish appear and take pot shots at them is just douche-baggery.
Thanks for reading, fellow geeks.
See you next episode, same Dungeon-time, same Dragon-channel. We’ll be talking about Players: Roleplaying to maximise your fun vs DMs: When not to roleplay
Craig Hallam is an uber-geek and author of Speculative Fiction from Yorkshire, UK
Find him at www.facebook.com/craighallamauthor or on twitter @craighallam84