Sunday, September 24, 2017

Invisible walls

Recently I got involved in a dungeon crawl 5th edition DnD campaign.  It is meant to be a short run, no roleplaying, grind through the insane dungeon sort of thing.  I find this tricky sometimes because I like roleplaying games, and I like games where you try to win with tactics, but this particular iteration combines them in a way that is pretty absurd.

We started out being told that a incredibly powerful wizard who somehow is still alive after more than a millennium has stolen several artifacts from their place of safekeeping and left behind a note to tell everyone where his hideout is.  Our job is to go into the hideout and get the weapons.

This is preposterous.  Look, if the villain specifically says "I am right at the X on the map" my first assumption is that the villain is definitely not there.  Pretty much anywhere else, really, but definitely not where they say they are.  Why in the world would they do that?  Any villain with two brain cells to rub together would just put the X in the middle of the most dangerous place on the planet and hope some fools were stupid enough to try to go there to get their stuff back.

And we are fools that are exactly that stupid.

This same scenario happened to me in a game many years ago.  The villain sent us a message about his dastardly plan.  For no reason other than to brag, apparently.  We all agreed he must be lying to us to trick us to we assumed he was doing something else.  The GM got furious at us because the villain totally got away with his plan since we didn't just go where he told us to go.  Why would we believe the villain?  That dude is EVIL and tricky and certainly would lie, so why would he give us the truth?  The game blew up after that in part because I was so disgusted with the GM ranting at us for not doing what the villain told us to do!

Anyway, we are gigantic idiots who do exactly what villains say.  This is our life.

And because this module is silly, presumably this will actually help us to some extent instead of being a pointless way to die.

We get into the dungeon and right away we discover that when we step in the wrong place a wall of force stops us.  We do not have any magic capable of breaking it, nor can we teleport past it.  We can, however, answer the riddle of a Sphinx to lower the wall of force.

But then we traipse on through the dungeon.  Into the lair of a wizard who has demonstrated that he can cause walls of force to appear at will.  Why exactly he wouldn't just have a trap right before his room that causes two walls of force to appear in the corridor, pinning us in place, and then fill the corridor with gas / fire / ice / acid / whatever is completely unclear.  Our characters have faced the certainty that whatever is in here has the capability to kill us easily, and without us having the slightest chance to defeat it.

But we soldier on, because we are suicidal idiots relying on plot armour.

Now I get being brave.  Sometimes you face down hard odds to do the right thing.  But we are just mercenaries here, being paid to get back some weapons that are just rotting in a dungeon.  Who cares if they are in the dungeon?  Nothing bad is happening!  We should really start to worry only when the weapons leave the dungeon and threaten people.  Going into this dungeon (which, in any sensible world, wouldn't have the stuff we are looking for) to fight this enemy (which, if we consider the stuff we know it can do, can dispose of us effortlessly) isn't brave, it is just a quick way to die.

I like roleplaying brave.  But to play these modules I have to roleplay a blithering idiot with no sense of self preservation... and to survive it I need to roleplay an extremely intelligent, careful, cautious person.

Good thing we insisted from the start that this was just a puzzle game, not a roleplaying game.  The puzzle part has been okay so far, which is good.  If you refuse to roleplay at all and just try to beat the game with the character you have, munchkining as hard as possible, then it is a fine thing to do.  Just don't ever consider your motivations.


  1. I did warn you that the adventure didn't make any sense, hence the one-shot. It was originally a tournament adventure - groups of players would compete to see how far they could get in X hours. Role playing would just slow you down.

    Also, there are many movies where the heroes are forced to do the thing they least want to do by the villain, starting with: "toss your gun on the floor or I'll shoot the girl" and expanding to: "I've got the girl in my max security lair and I'll kill her if you don't surrender". Sometimes the villain saying, "here I am" is your only clue, and you need to walk into the trap that you know is there.

    That being said, you are making big assumptions about the villain and the plot. In a well-crafted adventure, things that don't make any sense like: "why are the gods not smiting me?" or "why is this archmage suddenly active after a millennia of quiet?" may actually be clues to a weakness or different set of intentions than the obvious one thrust in front of you. And maybe you could work that to your advantage.

    Or maybe the bad guy is just insane and full of hubris.

  2. The problem with introducing realism into a high-fantasy game is that things get boring fast.

    Economies of scale mean that it's probably almost always cheaper to send a horde of desperate peasants in to kill off a threat than to shell out the same amount of money for four to six "heros".

    Similarly, dungeons as such wouldn't exist, since they're ecologically improbable at best.

    Magicians wouldn't ever waste their lives skulking about in dank dungeons when they can make a perfectly good living doing things like sending long distance messages, mending broken objects, creating water for desert caravans, creating lights that don't ever go out, helping insomniacs sleep, and so on...

    You *can* design worlds that realistically depict magic; but they won't be high fantasy anymore... whether or not they're fun is very much up to the opinions of the players...

    1. I can address some of these, I think. DnD assumes that characters have access to absolutely staggering sums of money right away. If characters aren't stupendously rich even at low levels then modest sums of money being paid to them can make sense. In DnD you could send 10,000 soldiers or a group of adventurers. But in some sensible world maybe it is 20 soldiers instead of the group of adventurers, and the adventurers are a much better bet. You just have to stop with the ridiculous DnD economy. (Which I do in my games in any case)

      I also agree that wizards probably spend time helping people instead of hiding in dungeons. That makes sense. I don't see the problem! There are all kinds of wonderful adventures to be had in worlds where we don't randomly and for no reason plant a mad wizard in a dungeon every few kilometers.

      Some people want dungeons that make no sense, adventures that are absurd, and characters whose decisions are inconsistent and ridiculous as long as they get to walk down that next stretch of 10 by 10 corridor to find the next trap. Fine by me, but I think that is a sad roleplaying experience.