Crafting a Situation

Now, I don’t want to make sharing the mundane details of my life at the beginning of these posts a habit, dear reader, but today, I had four glorious hours to myself!  My wife is at her best friend’s bachelorette party, and my son was being babysat by my sister-in-law . . . and what, you ask, did I spend this precious free time on?

Pictured: The Lord's Work
Pictured: The Lord’s Work

That’s right, I ordered a feta, gyro, and mushroom pizza from my favorite local pizzeria, cracked open a beer, and commenced my first ever “Daddy’s Special Alone Time” ritual. Someone call a cleric! I think I’ve slain hunger!

Anyway, as I sat, stuffing all of that sweet, sweet za into my mouth, I started thinking about all the best situations I’ve encountered in our many gaming sessions over the years.  I was sitting at our game table, which was still out from the night before, and I realized that I’ve been talking about npc’s, and giving examples of individual pieces of running a game, but I have yet to touch what is most near and dear to my heart: The Situation.

Years ago, when I started running my first games, I wish someone had explained to me how to craft interesting situations for my players.  I would do things like make the pc’s search a room for something vital to the storyline, and make forwarding the story dependant on that roll:

"Did you find the files?" "I botched."  . . . well, shit.
“Did you find the files?”
“I botched.”
. . . well, sh*t.

The problem with making anything that is majorly important to the plot of a role-playing game dependant on a single roll of the dice is that botches happen.  Then, you either look silly making the characters roll the same roll over and over until someone “gets it right,” or you just give it to them, and then maybe they wonder, “well, what the hell are we rolling for anyway?” You can give them something extra for success, but always try to keep the situation open, and let the players take the spotlight.

Here’s an example:

No it's not, it's a piece of crust covered in tziki sauce!
No it’s not, it’s a piece of crust covered in tzatziki sauce!

Sorry! Here’s the example, for real this time:

The Situation:  Your players need a paper file that proves a local cop is on the take.  This file is located in a room on the bottom floor of a corporate building nearby.  It is being guarded by two people.

You can handle this one of two ways.  The first is to plan for your characters every move, pitting your intellect against theirs in an epic battle of wits; one you are sure to win, because you are the very ground beneath their character’s feet! The guards are always alert, always focused!  There is no getting the drop on them, foolish players!

Ok,, I’m exaggerating . . . a little.  I’ve seen this done in many games!  it’s a very adversarial type of running a game, in which the player’s victories somehow represent a deficit in the GM’s skills.I like the second way better:

Create short but distinct traits for each of the guards.  Barry Wiggins likes to take frequent smoke breaks, but always does so at a different exit from the building.  Jimmy Double-Points shops A LOT at the local coffee shop, and hates his nickname.

"It's Jimmy Double BARREL, damn it!"
“It’s Jimmy Double BARREL, damn it!”

The room the files are in has one door, a bathroom adjacent, and one locked window.  This is literally all the plan I will make.  If the players take the time to case the place, they will pick up on the guard’s quirks, maybe find a way to exploit them . . . Or, they could run in, guns blazing, consequences be damned.  Either way, they make the plans, and all you do is . . . react!  Reward good roleplaying and excellent ideas, but let THEM fill in the blanks!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll probably try to throw in a situation example from now on . . . It’s seriously my favorite thing about running games, just reacting to all the crazy stuff my brilliant friends come up with.  Until next time, compadres . . . and remember, don’t fall for the kobold pit trap!

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