Game Mastery

Don’t stick your players in a fucking hole.

by on Oct.15, 2013, under GM

Lt. Aldo Raine: You didn’t say the goddamn rendezvous was in a fuckin’ basement.

Lt. Archie Hicox: I didn’t know.

Lt. Aldo Raine: You said it was in a tavern.

Lt. Archie Hicox: It is a tavern.

Lt. Aldo Raine: Yeah, in a basement. You know, fightin’ in a basement offers a lot of difficulties. Number one being, you’re fightin’ in a basement!


Ok, Inglourious Basterds isn’t really relevant.  At all.  But that dialog amuses me.  Here’s why you should keep your goddamn game out of a fuckin’ hole in the ground.

One of the things my games do well is keep the players engaged with many NPCs and many plots all at once.  I run lively worlds that move.  Or at least I think I do.

My games are predominately in urban settings and only rarely venture into dungeon territory.  I think this is one of the factors for why I’m successful at keeping my world vibrant.  Here’s why.

First off, being in a city means plots can interrupt the PCs.  If the fighter is trying to get the players through the city watch plot, but the cleric is getting urgent messages from the church, and the rogue’s shady contact is risking being seen by the paladin to fence some stolen goods, the players are going to be busy.  This is a good thing.  They can’t juggle all those balls at once so they have to evaluate which is the most interesting, important, or profitable.  The ones they neglect will come back to bite them in the ass.  (Sidenote.  I briefly considered whether it was worth writing “ass” here despite having “fuck” in the title.)

These are all good things and are the cornerstone of how I run my games.  I like to be a little more personal than attaching plots and NPCs based on character class, but that’s another matter.  The point here is that when you stick your players in a hole, these interruptions can’t happen.  The players can embrace their tunnel vision and focus on the task in front of them.

What’s more is that game time will pass while the players are in the dungeon.  This is a bad thing.  If the players get back and half their contacts are dead or fled, the work you did in establishing those contacts is gone.  The city knowledge you’ve given them is no longer up to date.  Players who embrace the 15 minute work day will come back from the dungeon months later.  New NPCs will have shown up.

A world that turns when outside of the players’ view is a good thing to have in your world, but if it turns too far the players will lose track of it.  You’ll have to start at square one AND the players will be less inclined to care about world info if you’ve already shown them it can pass them by once.

I’m struggling with a conclusion, so I’m actually going to back off a bit.  “Don’t stick your players in a fucking hole,” is a bit strong.  I don’t want to tell anyone else their game style is wrong.  Dungeon based adventures are a good time.  I’ve had fun playing them and I wish I ran them better.  But adding a dungeon delve in the middle of your intrigue game will have adverse affects that should be understood before you shoot yourself in the foot.

Maybe the title of this post should have been “this is what happens when you stick your players in a fucking hole.”

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