Thursday, January 30, 2014

Making distractions

If there's one conclusion I've reached while trying to write a compelling tabletop RPG plot, it's that videogames have it easy.

One idea I've had, to try and make the city feel more alive and make travel more interesting, was having a stack of "random encounters" to pull from every so often - short, incidental missions and exchanges to pull the party off-course temporarily (if they feel like being charitable - I imagine the magnitude of their current primary objective will affect their willingness to assist strangers in the street).

But how do I make short, incidental missions that are interesting, that the party will want to (or have no choice but to) get involved with, and which aren't just combat?

I'm having real difficulty coming up with interesting sidequests and mission types. Sure, they can be interesting from a story or character angle, or help build up the world for the players, but there are gameplay tropes that videogames can take for granted which I just can't see being anything but boring at the table.

Take, for example, that humblest videogame staple: the Escort Mission. Travel with a computer-controlled character, defend them from attackers, reach your destination safely.

There's a lot of variety to be had in a videogame with that - whether they have to stop temporarily to perform a side-task, whether you're in close-quarters or open spaces. To me, trying to convert that into a tabletop encounter, that just sounds like combat interspersed with "and now you're in this alleyway!" - boring.

In videogames, particularly the sort with escort missions, it's widely accepted that your primary method of interacting with the world should be violence. Need to open a door? Shoot it. Need to get through a barrier? Run it down with your car. That NPC look at you funny? Kick his teeth in. I want my players to do more than roll to hit and roll for damage.

Even traversing the environment can be mechanically engaging in a videogame - you've got moment-to-moment decisions to make, essentially hundreds of skill checks a minute to avoid traffic. In D&D? "I walk to the tavern". I can't make them roll for every footstep.

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