Friday, September 28, 2012

Asking People Stuff

It seems that people have forgotten how to live without the internet. When you have a question, how do you answer it? Increasingly, the common answer is to pull out your smartphone and check Wikipedia or even Google. This isn't an inditement of the modern age, as I'm not a Luddite–I love having information at my fingertips, it's revolutionized how we find things and the way memory works. After all, why do I have to have an amazing memory when the internet acts as a collective memory for all of society?

But, as I said in Information Before the Information Age, there are skills that are atrophying amongst people used to bathing in a sea of (nearly) free information. One of those is the simplest of all: Asking People Things. Where's the nearest inn? Have you heard anything about those creepy ruins? How can I find Lady Soldava's house? Do you know the best path over the mountains? These questions are simple ones that things that could save the lives of many PCs. But, more and more, they don't ask them.

So, I guess this is a survival tip for players. TALK TO PEOPLE! Don't flounder around in a town wondering how you're going to figure out who's important. Unless your characters know the town very well, you probably aren't going to get that information from the DM. You'll get it by interacting with people. I know its a foreign concept because when we want to know who the Prime Minister of Georgia is, we look it up on our phones. You can't do that. You have to interact.

Thankfully, I've been playing with the same group for about 3 years and they have all internalized this concept very well. Of course, Steve still has this nagging problem wherein he'll ask about something, get the information, and then forget to ask where exactly the location is. This is minor compared to the confusion that new players of D&D have when they're given a task but no idea of how to complete it.

In fact, this is part of the trackless gameplaying experience that I love so much: people who aren't used to it may start having choice paralysis. "Kill the king," the little spy whispers. "How can I do that?" the PC asks. "That's your job, not mine," mutters the spy before vanishing into a nearby alley, hood pulled down over his face.

People in the OSR would probably do a survey of the royal grounds, figure out how they could get into the palace, and judge whether a frontal assault would be suicide. Once they had a rough plan, they'd go about implementing it. Folks who aren't used to that sort of trackless gameplay will instead mope around the royal city, half-heartedly looking for hooks that the DM has placed to give them entry or, worse, get depressed and complain to the DM that they don't know what to do.

This isn't their fault. Games just aren't played with this element of player-driven decision anymore (or at least, they aren't very common). You can't blame players that have never had to shoulder the plan-from-scratch burden when they balk at making their plans from scratch. However, like talking to people, I think it can result in a game experience far more rewarding (or at least equally rewarding in a different way) from being given a video-game like series of steps to achieve their goal.


  1. That's why I love running CoC in the 1920s. It's modern enough that the players can feel (sort of) at home but far enough back that they can't rely on the sort of stuff that we take for granted today. Two of the three players are in one part of NYC and another is elsewhere and I know that they're not even going to see each other till the next day. In 2012, mobile phones would solve that problem but in 1920, they're going to have to wait and wonder what's going on.

    It also means that interpersonal skills and actually listening to what they've been told, as well as the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff are very important.

    1. Investigative games are particularly good for this kind of tomfoolery. WHen you've got a game centered around gathering information, players are generally more wiling to ask about things, I've found.

      Still, it can be an experience that takes getting used to!

  2. No matter the setting or access to information that people have, there are always huge parts of my game that are investigation based. It makes for fun and really drives character interaction; my favourite bit of being a GM.

    Of course this is making me think back to playing a game of Witcher 2, and really wishing I could just ask NPCs for directions...