Monday, March 10, 2014

Interesting Space

This is a fundamental challenge: how to make interesting the negotiation of a fictional physical space.

Things I Have Done:

  • Summarize
    • this is no good
    • "You pick your way through the stalactite-littered room. They are hard and cold and sharp. How do you know they're sharp? Well they look that way. Maybe you touch one? You don't? How?" Blah blah blah. 
  • Checkify
    • no good
    • "Roll under Dex or fall down."

What I've Been Thinking About

  • say what it looks like 
  • say any physical effects simply being there produces (pupils shrinking, sweating, shivering)
  • if the above produces mechanical effects, tell them what
  • think of the considerations you would have to entertain were you actually there
  • make them entertain them
  • ding them with stamina loss (q.v.) for doing strenuous or tedious things
  • anti-ding them with refreshment for taking in the beauty or comfort of it
  • make them dread just the thought of going back through that room or else long for the refreshment of it

We want outcomes like:

  • "not that hill again"
  • "let's take a breather beside that milky pool"

I think the key to this is to:

  • ask a concrete question about their interaction with the physical space 
  • really the point of these is to make the players think about the imagined space
  • call that jargonically "an interaction", as in, they have now pressed A on the glowing rock formation
  • use "interactions" to zoom in and do interesting things
  • use interactions to check for wandering monsters
  • when you check for encounters, say what you're seeing (and/or smelling/hearing/etc) as if you were an observer in the room


  • You: The floor rises up ahead of you. It's all slick broken rocks, some pebble size, some as big as you. You'll have to go slowly to keep your balance.
  • Them: Okay we go up it. 
  • You (to leader, asking a leading, specific question about interaction with the physical space): Do you try to keep your balance walking upright, or do you stow your gear to use your hands for balance? It'll cost you less stamina to use your hands. 
  • Them: [they tell me how they're going up and mark off the appropriate amount of stamina on their sheets]
  • You check for wandering monsters. 
  • Whatever the result, take the opportunity to describe something else about the space: the crunching of the rocks, the drip of water. You can make the description seem like a WM encounter—don't tip your hand. 
  • If there is a WM, keep that poker face: reveal the WM through the space
  • Repeat as long as warranted, like if the climb is long ("There's a huge boulder ahead: which way do you go around it?"; they tell you; they lose more stamina; you make WM check; you describe something else). 
  • Take the opportunity of any failed checks, missed attacks, or whatever to use the space against them: slip on the rocks, save to not drop your gear or slip down the slope; you hit the speleothem: as your weapon rebounds they get a free shot, or there's dust everywhere so you can't see; your torch dislodges from its place and starts rolling down the hill
  • In general, monsters should not be negatively effected by the environment but will use it to their advantage. 
  • You can call for balance checks, etc., but be sure to penalize for encumbrance and to let the players specify their movement in such a way that no check may be required (such as stowing gear to use hands for balance)
The takeaway I suppose:

Use the mechanical moments (WM checks, saves, ability checks) as opportunities to make present the physical space, its feel and limitations and dangers.

Use encumbrance and tie it together with a stamina system that works across all editions and levels. 

Such that simply traversing the environment is itself a game of resource and risk management

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