Round pegs/square holes

From: Ian Cooper <ian_hammond_cooper_at_...>
Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2004 21:14:55 -0000

> Question, warrior attacks (10M) scholar, scholar defends with
>combat skill (17). When the scholar attacks he uses his bemuse with
>irrelevant facts(1M2)! Warrior defends with bloodthirsty 17. The
>scholar wins thus, the guy gives up trying to kill him. Would you
>allow that scenario in a game?

Probably. This can be a tricky one. The positive side is that you avoid the 'whiff' factor: The player is a hero, he should be able to extracate himself from such dilemnas. The negative is that it can harm suspension of disbelief - does it work for you and your players that the bloodthirsty warrior desists because of the irrelevant facts spouted by the scholar.

My personal feeling is that it can be entertaining once or twice, but if the scholar constantly enters battles armed with only with his trusty store of trivia, the narrator may begin to find it dull. And that applies not just across contests but within an extended contest. A couple of quips or a good boast is to be welcomed, but as the option of choice every round soon becomes the overstaying guest.

The trick, I now think, is to avoid putting players into inappropriate contests for their skill set, and to generally wrap them up in simple contests if they do. So a scholar without any combat skills just shouldn't face too many fights. If he does get involved in a fight then in a simple contest that augment for befuddle with facts can be used without too much pain. Having plenty of appropriate contests tends to make it more palatable to the player when you explain to them that this fight is a one-off designed to create a bit of tension by putting them on the backfoot,  so they have to rely more on their meagre skills.

We're having this debate a bit in our game. I feel that linear adventures with transitions dependant on achieving tasks through the use of particular skills push people into bashing square pegs into round holes. If the climatic scene is an extended contest battle, everyone is going to need a combat skill, or push to use something less appropiate. I will admit I've written a few episodes just like that. They're easy to play, but everyone really needs round-pegs for round-holes characters. I've come to believe that less-linear scenarios that let the players choose resolutions that play to their skill-sets tend to go down better. That tends to reduce the number of these questions, because the heroes try to solve the problem in appropriate ways. The square pegs look for square holes.

But maybe I'll change my mind again in the future.

Try to avoid pushing square pegs into round holes too often. Save it for a one-off trick.  

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