Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gygax on Informing Players

Chapter 7
TACTICAL MASTERY (127-137)
Part II

At the beginning of the campaign, the GM supplies the players with information needed to come to the point of active play, from which point on, the players directly engage the GM rather than passively receive information.  Before embarking on the campaign, all the player needs to know is a title, genre, and a brief statement about what the campaign is about.  More information, but only just enough, is given once they set down at the table, but before play proper has become.  Gary reads the players this information so that they can begin acting and planning their execution of the mission.  He breaks such information down into three categories: Background, Current situation, and General information.

Background: The general framework of the scenario.  Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Current situation: Who the players are, why they have become involved, how they arrived, what they have at their disposal, and so forth.
General information: Here is where the clues lie, and this seems to actually be a mix of material that Gary would assume is common knowledge and would simply be given to the characters, and information that they would have to obtain through role-play.  This seems an unfortunate mix to me, and it would be clearer to identity general information with common knowledge and Clues as a separate category that has to be investigated in active play.


Moving Outside the Scenario and Endgame Ignorance
A couple of characteristics of Gygaxian play emerge through is discussion of the categories in terms of his three genre examples.  (See my earlier post detailing one of these, here.)  One is that Gary is always ready to let the players move outside of the scenario (131-133).  One the one hand, this gives them the freedom to arrive at a conclusion to the mission outside of the avenues that have been preconceived.  On the other, it gives players the freedom to get off track and fail at the mission through their own foolishness.

Another characteristic is keeping players in the dark about having arrived at the "goal point" or "goal area."  Building on the example of the fantasy scenario, the party could:
  • have found the mastermind behind the disappearance of the dwarf king and not know they had him/her.
  • be in the chamber where the dwarf king is hidden, but not seen him due to magical measures.
  • have found the dwarf king, but not recognized him for he has been stripped, shaved, and feeble-minded.
This latter point especially intrigues me.  It seems that oftentimes, it is obvious to the players that they have found The Dragon's Lair or The Villain's Secret Chamber or what have you.  The idea that they could be standing there with everything set for the final scene, and then the final scene not happening (then) because they did not realize everything that it was capable of realizing is appealing.  I would be wary of it descending into games of Guess what the GerkMaster is Thinking, but handled with some wisdom, this could be done well.  (I read with a bit of shock that Gary thought "well-designed scenarios... often conceal the fact" and "a master GM always [!] does so," but I will pay more attention to this in the future to see when I, or the writers of adventures, use this element.)

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