Let’s Make ‘Em Dance!


It’s been on hiatus during the holiday season, but this weekend my DnD group is starting up a new adventure, with myself at the helm as GM.  As a result, RPGs have been on my mind in the past couple of days as I work on the last details of my next session.  I’m actually running a Pathfinder campaign, which for those of you who don’t know, is an update /offshoot of Dungeons and Dragons version 3.5.

A lot of what I’ve been focusing on, aside from updating character sheets to the right stats and abilities, is not really system-specific.  As I create my plot, I’m working not just on story advancement, but ways to give the players some unique choices, as well as ways to make combat and non-combat encounters unique.

One of my big focuses for this upcoming campaign is the issue of trust.  I required backstories from each player, and I also will be assigning them some specific character traits – suspicions, knowledge of the world that may or may not be contradictory to other players knowledge, predispositions towards certain classes or races – to encourage the RolePlaying aspect of the RPG.  As I am a storyteller first and foremost, my goal is not just to give my players a reason to fight the big [whatever it might be]at the end, but to give them an interesting journey.  And I like to do all I can to make those players part of the journey.

A mechanic I’m attempting is specifically designed to create a bridge between player knowledge and character knowledge.  One of the biggest challenges of really role-playing a character is taking into account what that character doesn’t know, more than what they do know.  As such, these mechanics I’ve developed are an attempt to make it easier on the player withholding knowledge from the player that the character wouldn’t know, thus making it easier for the player to react with their character as accurately as possible.  Here’re some of the things I’ve come up with:

1. Searching for Items.

When players search for, and find, something interesting in the room, its almost inevitable that the other players will come over and inquire, “what did you find?” even if their character might not have noticed the other character picking something up.  To that end, when players search rooms, I will be handing players note cards with details of what they find on them.  In this way, I do not need to reveal to all the players what is found, only the finder.  In addition, even if a player finds nothing, they will still recieve a notecard, simply labelled “nothing.”  They will not be allowed to reveal this, so when a player refuses to reveal what they’ve found, if anything, they may have truly found nothing, or they may have found a valuable item that they want to keep away from prying eyes.  Players will only have the actual reactions of other players to judge.

2. Maps

At the start of the game, players will not yet be in the same group, but there will be some combat.  They’ll be in a town, so I drew out the town map on gridded paper, and then cut that paper up into smaller sections.  Players will start in a section and it wont be connected to the other sections unless the players intentionally go exploring.  They wont need to roll dice to create “randomness” in their exploration, they will simply have to explore to find their future allies.

3. Split-second decisions

At some points in my campaign, decisions will have to be made almost instantly, in a reaction to something that has happened, without being able to stop and confer with the other players.  At such times, each player will be forced to decide what they want to do by writing it on a card, and everyone will reveal their action at the same time.  This way players cant use their own player knowledge as well as the extended playing time to create a tactical plan when in the ‘reality’ of the game they would simply have to react.

There are many more ideas I have planned for this campaign to spice up character interaction, drive character tension, and enhance the plot and gameplay, but I want to keep those secret from my players so I wont be revealing them here until after I use them.  However, these ideas I have revealed to you, and the ones that are coming are not specific to any system.  Anyone could incorporate things like this to their own RPGs whether it be DnD 4e, Pathfinder, Shadowrun, or something else entirely.

What do you think?  Clever or Stupid?  Any particular hooks you guys use to further the role-playing experience that you’ve found to work particularly well?

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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