Monday, September 28, 2009

Keep out! Really.

Not sure why, but I got to thinking about a brief episode in the first official module, "Keep on the Shadowfell".

Our party had just come to a large door covered with slime and mold. Colorful.

The really important detail was that carved into the slime were the words "Keep out. Really."

This caused a memorable stir amongst our gaming group (and one that surely amused our dastardly DM Crwth). The gist of the debate was whether or not to go through aforementioned door. I was the lone dissenter.

My argument was the emphasis created by the word "Really". To me, that meant there was something not to be trifled with beyond that doorway. To everyone else, it just piqued their curiousity.

Naturally, in the end I was shouted down and in they went. Naturally, there was a nasty monster in there. Naturally, there was an important clue to the mystery hidden amongst the loot.

Good, memorable encounter but at it's most basic this was a poorly written section of the adventure.

At first blush, that seems counter-intuitive. I just said that it was a memorable encounter that sparked furious debate and ended with a fun battle and interesting loot. What's not to love?

The fact that we were baited into it by the writer.

Now, most adventures are basically dungeon crawls at some point where the party is obliged to kick open every door it sees. As players we're almost conditioned to do exactly that. A door causes us to practically salivate. Add the cryptic warning to "Keep out. Really." only throws more gas on the fire. It's like telling a five year old to stay out of your closet. The results are utterly predictable.

Yet that thinking goes against role-playing.

Adventurers live on the edge and explore incredibly dangerous places in the hopes of finding gold and treasure. They go where others fear to tread. They risk life and limb on a daily basis. Opening doors and fighting monsters is their gig. I get that.

However, the adventurers who want to retire someday should also be expected to show some prudence now and again.

Rock climbers risk their lives for the sheer thrill of it but they still listen to warnings. If a cliff face is icey after some freezing rain they don't climb. At least the ones who aren't mentioned on the local news don't climb.

That slime covered doorway was the same thing. From my point of view, or more accurately from the point of view of my character, someone took the time to carve a warning into that doorway. That sorta shit ain't to be taken lightly.

As a dnd player however, I'm expected to go through the door. It's a must. Hell, there's no question about it really. There's a door. We open it. Worst case scenario we roll new characters and know what to expect when our new party reaches that door.

To me that's a failure for the writer. He knew that we'd ignore the dire warning and go in regardless. He even placed a quest advancing token inside. A token/clue we wouldn't have found if not for our Pavlovian need to go through every door. A fact that as a player sitting at a table I was well aware of. Even as I argued against it, I knew that meta-game-wise there was something to fight and some loot to find.

Therein lay the problem. The entire encounter forced me to divorce myself from my character and do something he wouldn't want to do. All for the sake of using our miniatures and rolling some dice. So much for escapism.


Aolis said...

I like this post.

You don't have to fight every encounter. Encounters are balanced to your party level. You aren't actually loosing out on experience and are wasting daily powers on a non essential fight that could be used for the upcoming boss.

From a story perspective, you also don't have to find every clue. If your opinions of the writer are correct, you would find other ways to end up at the same place, even if you hadn't found the clue.

S'mon said...

Strange, if it were me DMing/writing what was behind the door I'd have put in green slime, or a 14th level Roper in a 2nd level Dungeon. Not an EL-balanced fight.