Wednesday, October 5, 2011

hunt the pixel

I read about this thing.

It got me thinking about last month, when my brother Tim came to visit for a week and we rolled him up a cleric for my Pathfinder game at home. Within the first few minutes of his introduction, I saw that his methods of play were drastically different from my regular group. He drilled me for background information on the setting, and I had some prepared but I really had to be quick on my feet to build up the details of the Empire the PCs all lived in. Before his character even had equipment!

Now Tim and I grew up together, obviously, and had the same formative experiences in the hobby. What I didn't realize is how much difference it makes. While the 'hunt-the-pixel' gameplay of the old Sierra adventure games has been mentioned (and sure, that aspect wasn't very good), I think those very same games trained my brother and I to play D&D the way we do.

A few examples:

-my regular players (there are three), upon arrival in the tiny frontier town where my game is based, did not bother with anything except the blacksmith and the inn. With equipment on and rooms paid for, they headed out into the wilds. Following an old treasure map, they fought a few randoms, went past a waterfall and finally reached the ruined fort (the evening's dungeon).

-Tim scoured the town for clues: he entered the barracks for an interview with the guard-captain (finding the town notice board in the process); went inside the church to see the town's records and pump the clergy for info; wandered around outside town speaking with every peasant and farmer he could find; and finally checked into the tavern for the night. He woke up the next day, did it all again, and THEN headed into the wilderness. While traveling through the forest, he peered (no one else bothered) into the waterfall, tried to climb behind it, took his armour off and swam down into the pool at the bottom! I never said anything about the waterfall, it's just there! It's there because there is a river and a cliff and waterfalls are what happens when you combine them.

But this is what Tim and I learned from those Sierra adventure games: look everywhere, try everything, talk with everyone, take anything not nailed down. That's how you gather information and how you solve puzzles, and I think D&D is the same. Didn't stick your hand into the dirty water at the bottom of the old fountain? Well you missed a few coins, and maybe some other cool thing. Even when I had to ask my dad for help in those games (I was pretty young at the time), the solutions made sense when they were shown to me. You need salt water? Well, Valanice starts crying every time she looks at that memento of her lost daughter Rosetta... get it?

Yes, sometimes this devolves into hunt-the-pixel bullshit, which everyone hates. But it doesn't have to. If you do your homework and the DM (or game designer) is playing fair, you'll have at least an idea of how to tackle any given puzzle, because you're learning about the game world and its logic all the time. And that key you picked up 3 adventures back? Well, it just might unlock that big adamantine vault...

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