I eat my way through dungeons! In one convention game I ran, my players got around a door by using a spell to turn stone into bread. They turned the dungeon wall next to the door into a brick shaped piece of pumpernickel, punched through bread and got through the door. Someone watching the game remarked that they wouldn’t have let them use the spell like that. I asked why, and they said because that wasn’t how the challenge was meant to go down. I wondered why that person thought that way, but then thought about the fact that some game systems are so mechanically focused that not having the specific power means you can’t perform particular tasks. This is less of a mechanical aspect of those systems and more of a game philosophy. “In order to do X, you need ability Y.”  Sometimes this is stated, sometimes it is just assumed. Thankfully, many Game Masters value a clever idea more than a mechanical description and will allow awesome things to happen because a player has a nifty power, but sometimes people think that a special power ends with the last period in the description.

But Why Should It?

To me, the powers a character has should never work in this way. A task is a task – and if the player can come up with a logical, fun, or semi-valid way to complete it, then that should be allowed. If a character is trying to get past a door, there are many ways to make that happen. They could go the standard routes:

  • pick the lock
  • knock the door down
  • remove the hinges
  • find a weak point in the wall

But they could also dig into their character’s theme and abilities to do something really cool. They could:

  • use a telekinetic power to turn the handle from the other side.
  • use a spell to teleport to the other side or make a duplicate on the other side to open the door.
  • utilize their incredibly high finesse and skill to drive a blade through the lock, breaking the tumblers but allowing the door to be opened.
  • use a matter manipulation power to modify the door or wall (like the stone to bread spell in the description above).
  • use their misting ability (intended as a defensive mechanism) to move under the crack.
  • call upon their knowledge to find a hidden lever for the door (even if the description doesn’t really set that particular option up).
  • use their ability to break armor or cleave opponents in two to get an advantage to break down the door.

While the many ideas listed above aren’t necessarily the way the challenge was written to be overcome, they each provide a solution. In many of the cases, they provide a solution that is more appropriate to a player’s concept of their character. A knowledge based character’s knowledge should enable him to do more than just read books and make rolls to remember things. A combat character with interesting options in other situations  is much more epic than a combat character who just kills things. A character whose theme is their deep connection to shadows shouldn’t need a million skills on their sheet to be able to do cool things with the shadows. Letting the special powers or skills a player has enable awesome actions makes a character feel more vibrant and well liked.

This is why Game Masters should….

Think Of Special Powers and Skills as Enablers

Special abilities in all systems enable characters to do awesome things beyond what you would find in mundane life. A soldier trained to fight in the army isn’t the same as the cyber-jacked soldier who is the hero of a movie. A martial artist can’t really fly through the air ala wire-fu, but that wouldn’t make for great movies that detail the concept of achieving the awesome through skill and training. A character in a roleplaying game is almost always more awesome than any real life counterpart or inspiration. The differences are those special abilities, sometimes just incredible skill, that are built into the character.

So when a character has a nifty power, look at it in a multifaceted way. What could that enable the character to do beyond what is written in the description?

For the focus Shadowwalk, a power that allows a character to move between two shadows, a bit of stretching and some extra rolls or manna spent in the use might*:

  • allow a character to explode the shadow they come out of for intimidating effect or to blind their enemies. (+1 manna, Extra roll)
  • enable them to extend the shadow and darken a streetlight to help hide themselves. (+1 manna, extra roll)
  • let them roll through the shadow but leave an item they are trying to hide behind to prevent it from being taken by guards. (No extra roll or manna, but no guarantee they can easily retrieve it later. Make it only available when the shadow they left it in is in the same place or they have to go into the exact shadow to find it, a fun time if that shadow was a person or moving object’s shadow.)
  • The Game Master might let the player stretch the ability far from its intended purpose and let them see through shadows instead of walking through them. (+2 manna, extra rolls, headache for the character and a die penalty for a little while afterwards. They could however spend some extra exp and make this an additional ability tied to the shadowwalk without any penalty.)

Using powers as enablers can make cool fluff elements possible too.In these instances, the power is an enabler for some piece of fluff not necessarily written in.

  • It might mean that they are constantly covered in thematic moving shadows, a sign of their dark pact or their time trapped in the shadow world.
  • Be the reason that their gun fires bolts of black material, flying through the air crackling with dark lightning.
  • Allow them to work shadow’s like marionettes while telling a story. (1 manna)

While some of these uses might be covered better by other powers or skills, they might also be the difference between awesome and mundane in a situation where the player is really into the game. Really, what is more fun for a player: Being told they can’t do something really cool because they don’t have the specific ability that is written in that way, or letting them stretch the established rules a bit to do something thematically or mechanically awesome in one situation?

So think of the powers, skills, and abilities on the sheet as things that can open up whole new worlds. Look at the options they might present or the cool moments they could be the genesis of. If you like the idea, let the players know you might be amiable to more open interpretations of the powers and they will find ways to make it happen.

Do you think of powers like this, or do you think doing it that way destroys game balance? Have you allowed broad interpretations of powers in your games before?



*Things bolded in parentheses within the lists are my suggestions for extra things the Game Master might require to make it happen.

40 replies
  1. Orikes
    Orikes says:

    I definitely prefer GMs who are willing to let their players think outside the box and come up with unique resolutions to problems. It’s always gratifying to see the ‘I didn’t think of that’ expression on a GM’s face as they let a player try something unexpected but feasible.

    As a GM, though, I can understand some hesitation with this, especially for a new GM. It can be very frustrating to have what you think might be a neat scenario/situation completely bypassed by a player thinking of something you didn’t. It takes some time, practice and skill to be able to adjust things on the fly to keep the game moving and interesting while allowing the players to flummox you with an idea you didn’t expect.

    Ultimately, I think if a player comes up with a viable, feasible solution to a problem, no matter how unorthodox, a good GM should know how to let a player run with it.

  2. ouzelum
    ouzelum says:

    I think the fear of a lot of GMs (my GM and myself included) is that once the players do this once, they’re going to do it a million times.

    It turns into an arms race: This door is locked so we turn it into bread. Next time the door is magically-resistant so we turn the wall next to it into bread. Next time the door and the wall is magically-resistant and all of a sudden this idea that was clever once is something everyone who’s ever locked a door has to consider when building a wall near any locked door.

    And suddenly you have to explain why every grime-covered kobold and every thief’s guildmaster has the knowhow and the resources to make sure all their masonry can repel these spells. It reminds me of this article you guys posted a while back http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/one-spell-can-change-the-world where you have to think about the consequences to each action like this down a long, chess-like string.

    If you have players who are legitimately willing to say “okay, that was funny, but it’s not going to turn into a staple maneuver, we’ll overcome the next challenge a different way…” then you have neat players. But I bet in a tense, high-stakes chase scene where they come across a locked door that would take time to pick, they’re still going to signal to the wizard.

  3. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    @ouzelum@Orikes – Great comments, both of you! It does take a certain amount of skill and experience to know how to adjust things on the fly without letting them get out of hand. I’ve generally gone by two rules when I do this:
    1. If it makes sense, let it happen.
    2. If it makes the game more fun, and doesn’t let the genie out of the bottle, let it happen.

    Determining if something is irreversible or will open doors to chaos down the road is the hard part though.

    Like @ouzelum said, you might have to justify why every door is protected from magic. There are other ways to handle it though. Sure, the PCs can bypass any door by stonebreading it. If they had a good thief, they would eventually be able to pass any door by lockpicking it as well. It also comes down to a question of how common magic is in the world. If magic is common and stonebreading is a way past stone walls, then it is likely that protections against it would be common as well. Maybe the spell doesn’t work on quartz, so there is ground quartz in almost all bricks mortar. If magic isn’t common, then the stonebread trick might not be picked up by everyone and becomes a signature move for the PCs. Something that lets them get past many doors, yes, but also something they can be tracked by and that their prime enemies know to guard against.

    It is still a tenuous balance when allowing non-common uses, but it can enable awesome cinematic scenes that the players go nuts over.

  4. evil
    evil says:

    @ouzelum – As a veteran GM, I’ve given my players extra points for solving puzzles or winning conflicts through flare and style. As for the wall of bread issue, give them credit for doing the first time, but then give them nothing for using the same tactic over and over. Your players will soon start to realize what’s wrong after it impacts their experience and treasure.

  5. Techieninja
    Techieninja says:

    These are all great ideas. As a green GM, I always look for things that 1) I can try with the next game, 2) will improve my skills as a GM and 3) will make my next game more enjoyable for the players. I always enjoy browsing through the Stew to see what I can do with my next game.
    On the behalf of new GMs, I thank you, and I hope that with time and experience that I will be able to contribute to these discussions more.

  6. Razjah
    Razjah says:

    I’ve done this a couple times, it is always great. My players know enough to not abuse it or they talk to me if that is going to become a defining character ability.

    I think you can open this up more than just powers. In a game I’m currently running a party of 3-4 level characters snuck into a dragon turtles lair and ambushed it (it is E6 and they had some magic help). The very first thing that happened was the rogue threw a magic dagger (the party knew it would help but not how) and broke the dragon turtle’s jaw. Then the alchemist tries to throw a bomb down it’s throat because they jaw is open. After missing she downs a potion of True Strike to get +20 and gets the bomb into the throat. The turtle had a ton of hit points left, but I wasn’t going to rob my players of this type of victory -others covered her and distracted the dragon turtle.

    Even though I intended another character to kill the dragon turtle, and I’m pretty sure he knew it, everyone was amazed at what they did. They were especially proud when they earned a ton of XP and I told them the CR.

    I think it has to do a lot with flexibility and loosening the rules interpretation. If the rules every get in the way of fun, hang them up, house rule, change it, I don’t care. These are games, if someone does something truly awesome- reward him or her. Don’t say no because the book doesn’t say something works this way.

  7. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    @ouzelum – “I think the fear of a lot of GMs is that once the players do this once, they’re going to do it a million times.”

    Or just every time in order to avoid actually solving the puzzle of the door/whatever.

    A very realistic fear in my opinion. I love my players but some of them only see the game as four hours of hitting things and taking their stuff. The thought that the game can and should be something more is alien to them, which is okay until they are in with a group who want deep immersion and problems to solve without involving the character sheet overmuch.

    Which is why the “lever out of nowhere” option to me would be an absolute last resort. I locked that door for a reason.

  8. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @Roxysteve – I understand what you are saying, but I don’t agree with the presentation.

    You locked the door for a reason. Was it to keep that door locked? Or was it to challenge the players to open it? If it was to keep the door locked next time put up a wall instead. If it was to challenge the players then I think John’s advice is great to apply to such situations.

    If the players are using a certain tactic so often that it is negating the challenge for the game use that to your advantage. Lock the door to keep the PCs safe, and watch them open it like they have a bunch of times before. When the giant sloth of doom rips them a new one they’ll think twice about opening any locked door ever again! 🙂

  9. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    @evil – I like the idea of giving out points. I tend to do it a lot to reward fun things. Like you put out there, getting a point the first time and not after that will give players the sense of reward for creative solutions, not just one creative solution done over and over again.

    @Techieninja – I’m glad you liked it. Contribute away! Being new to GMing gives you a different perspective that a lot of seasoned GMs lack. It’s hard to remember how fun learning a new game is or how those first few times in the GMs chair felt. We’d love to hear your thoughts on anything, so comment away and never let a lack of experience hinder you.

    @Razjah – That sounds awesome. I wondier if their actions weren’t inspired by old legend of zelda games. I remember an enemy or two that could only be killed in that way. Wherever it came from, allowing an awesome moment like that to happen might have hovervanned over the intended way of things, but I bet the players loved it.

  10. Razjah
    Razjah says:

    They did love it. Using narrative combat helped open up more interactions and a fun critical hit effect table led to the broken jaw. My players so far seem to be having a blast. I even get a new request to join every couple weeks. I must be doing something right with the hovervan.

  11. shadowacid
    shadowacid says:

    I’m with Patrick on this one. Locked doors are fun, a few times. But if you’re putting them in the same situation and expect players to try something different when it’s worked before then you’re expecting too much.

    But this is not a situation where the players are at fault. I feel it’s up to me as the GM to change the scenario and give rise to that creativity that I want from my players. So after the 3rd locked door then the scenario changes. Perhaps now it’s a chasm they have to cross that blocs their pass. New situation = New way to solve it.

    I’ve also come to the point that if a locked door is there to just be a locked door and not actually do anything plot wise it gets tossed out. Locked doors are no fun. I don’t think the player of the thief is going to say “I’m the most awesome thief EVAARRR for unlocking random door #2.”

    But when the team is being chased by that iron golem and they’re stuck with a locked door that is the difference between life and death, now that is something worth having your thief pull the “I’m the best Thief EAVARRRR for unlocking the door with 1 awesome roll.”

  12. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    @Patrick Benson – 8o)

    No Patrick, the challenge is never to open the door but sometimes to understand the logic behind the construction of the place by understanding how the designer’s mind runs when it comes to securing his/her/its assets, or to require a backtrack after the key has been recovered.

    My doors are there to make the players wonder what might be behind them.

    Having been doing the GM tango for around 35 years I’m a bit beyond “the locked door *is* the challenge” puzzles.

    Going round the side of a problem is clever the first couple of times. After that it sorta makes the whole thing a drag as it is really metagaming and I believe far from promoting inventive play actually rewards lazy play, and will eventually kill the game if taken too far.

    Stone to bread – clever. Inventive repurposing of magic is part of why it is in the game. Loll around until the GM puts in a “secret lever” just so it will all end sometime this century – not clever, shouldn’t be rewarded.


  13. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @Roxysteve – Metagaming is a label that is thrown around far too easily as a negative. Phil wrote an excellent article on it which really summed it up nicely, but for me it is just “thinking about the game.”

    You are saying that a player who is thinking of ways to overcome a challenge in the game is doing something wrong, because it is not the solution that you think should work. You also suggest that such a player is lazy.

    I don’t agree with that at all. An engaged player coming up with cool ideas is great for a game, and inventive use of a PC’s abilities is a sing of engagement. Now if that inventive use of the power becomes cliche the GM could say “Stop doing that. It isn’t fun anymore.” It is a possible approach, but it breaks from the game and deals with a social situation instead.

    On the other hand, the GM can start thinking of challenging consequences for the use of the cliche tactic. Go ahead and turn that stone into bread again! It worked, just like it always does! But this time the bread is crushed as that key stone has vanished and the wall begins to tremble. Don’t worry about the door, because it just shattered from the weight of the arch collapsing since you altered the structural integrity of the doorway itself. In fact, how about we roll for initiative to find out the order in which you will attempt to escape this cave-in?

    As for the door being significant to the design of the dungeon, or whatever, well now we are dealing with what you find fun and what I find fun. I don’t care about the floor plan. I don’t care about the plan with which I conceived the layout for. That plan was fine up until the players replaced a brick with a hunk of sourdough. Now it is time for a new plan

  14. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @Roxysteve – Dang, I wasn’t finished but the cat had a different plan. These damn plans!!! 🙂

    Let the dungeon have significance to its design. Put that locked door in that not meant to be open, but is meant to be understood. Just be ready for when the players decide that understanding the significance of the door is not as much fun as chopping through it with an axe. Then at that point have fun with challenging the players with the consequences of that action. Hell, a TPK can be awesome under such circumstances if handled well!

    I can just hear the stories around the table now…

    The fighter – “And everything was going fine until Wizzo the magician here decided to open the portal of never ending darkness by transmorphing the sacred prison walls into cornbread!”

    The mage – “Seedless rye. Stop screwing the part up…”

  15. DireBadger
    DireBadger says:

    I don’t think players should be punished if they turn wall-to-bread into a way of getting past doors. Why should they be? If it works, it’s perfectly reasonable for the PCs to do.

    So. Locked doors aren’t challenging anymore, at least most of the time. Bring in a different kind of challenge; why should you be repeating the same kinds of challenges the entire campaign?

    We once played a campaign in a very barren steppe-type setting. Scarce water and food and all that. The first few sessions, we had to put a lot of effort into finding how to survive in that environment. But after a while we sorted it out and came up with solutions. Thereafter, foraging was just glossed over for the rest of the time we were in that region. It wasn’t interesting anymore – it was something we knew we could handle.

    So it can be the same with locked doors. In the normal run, the party just bypasses then without any incident, and you have more game time to focus on different exciting things. But occasionally the door is challenging, because there’s something different;
    * They don’t want to leave a trace that the door has been bypassed (infiltration scenario)
    * They want to be able to lock it behind them (party being pursued scenario)
    * The building might collapse
    * Wall-to-bread is their signature, and they want it to look like someone else
    * Maybe wall-to-bread costs mana to cast, and the mage is out of mana…

    So there’ll surely be instances when they need a different approach. But most of the time, wall-to-bread is reasonable for the PCs, and why should they be punished for using something that works?

  16. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @DireBadger – When you say punishment I guess you are referring to my examples of unintended consequences? If so, I want to make something very clear – a punishment and a negative consequence are not the same.

    A GM punishing players is a dick move, but a GM creating fun and exciting situations in reaction to what the players’ choices is great! The players are not being punished when a tactic that they have used suddenly has an unexpected consequence if the GM’s intention is to add something fun to the game. Now whether our not something is fun depends on the group, because what is fun is always subjective. That is why a good GM is constantly getting feedback from the players to ensure that the game that the GM is running is the hashed that exertions wants to play (the GM included).

  17. DireBadger
    DireBadger says:

    @Patrick: no, I was talking about comments like these:

    “If you have players who are legitimately willing to say “okay, that was funny, but it’s not going to turn into a staple maneuver, we’ll overcome the next challenge a different way…” then you have neat players. But I bet in a tense, high-stakes chase scene where they come across a locked door that would take time to pick, they’re still going to signal to the wizard.” (ouzelum)

    “As a veteran GM, I’ve given my players extra points for solving puzzles or winning conflicts through flare and style. As for the wall of bread issue, give them credit for doing the first time, but then give them nothing for using the same tactic over and over. Your players will soon start to realize what’s wrong after it impacts their experience and treasure.” (evil)

    I disagree with the premise that the players are doing something bad if they use the same solution for the same problem.
    If a GM wants to see different solutions, then he should come up with different problems. If you present the same problem, you can’t complain if the players don’t get creative – you didn’t!

    I personally rather like it in a campaign when a particular kind of obstacle stops being an obstacle. It feels like progress.
    When you can breeze through the stuff that used to bring you to a halt – you can now put that valuable game time into new, fresh challenges.

  18. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    @Patrick Benson – “You are saying that a player who is thinking of ways to overcome a challenge in the game is doing something wrong,”

    Stop right there! *You* are saying that, not me.

    I am saying (in so many words) that encouraging players to avoid the game is something in which I don’t indulge myself, and I see the magic lever as a case in point.

    Not only did you construct a straw man, you demolished “my” position using the very example I said I had no problem with as it constituted a different class of “problem avoidance” – clever use of a game feature.

    Now you must wear the cone of shame.

  19. Matthew J. Neagley
    Matthew J. Neagley says:

    For the record, I was playing in an Exalted game once and the GM placed a massive sealed chained stone door carved with runes of dire portent in a room (which was a portal to “the bad place” and sealed off because it was incredibly deadly and sickene the land, etc…) and sitting on a pedestal 3 feet away, by random treasure roll was… A pickaxe of breaching.

    My mind went “Door. Door door door door…. Oh! Key!” and grabbed the pickaxe and started whaling away at the door. The GM even said “Maybe that’s not a good idea..” But i went right on. Door + Key = open, you see. So that’s how I doomed the world to Abyssal control…

  20. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    I quote from the eminently sensible “Paranoia” rulebook:

    “Reward player behavior that you want to more of see in a game. Punish player behavior you want to see less of in a game.”

    The terms punish and reward have a specific meaning in that ruleset, and should not constitute the belief that hitting a troublesome player with a rolled up newspaper is a good idea (though in fact it usually is).

    Reward means let the player’s character be showered with goodness and stuff. Punish means don’t do any of that.

    Making a magic lever when the players cannot figure out a way to do something but won’t let their characters walk away is rewarding bad game behavior in my opinion. The players’ lesson learned will be that if they wait you out you will “open the door” for them just so the agony stops.

    Some doors are designed to be burgalar proof, some cities are designed to be siege-proof and some inner sanctums are designed to be super-hero proof. Just because the players cannot *at this moment in time* figure a way round a problem is no reason to throw common sense to the wind and give them a “let”. These problems were designed to be hard to solve, and having a hard limit on how much you want from your players before you’ll just let them in is essentially the same as what happened to Hollywood when they decided to stop making audiences think. You end up with lots of action adventure stories, each with a raft of SFX but in which the plots don’t hold up to any sort of analysis.

    Short version: Bread-to-stone solutions are player-derived and a good thing. Magic levers are just the GM solving his/her own riddle for the players. Try as I might I cannot see how the habitual use of this tactic is a game-building move.

  21. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    @Matthew J. Neagley – Sounds like the sort of thing I’d do too. I am a lousy RPGer when I’m on the group-fun side of the screen. Nil powers of observation, zero feel for the milieu, appalling luck with dice and no matter what accent I start out using they all end up sounding like “Scenery-Chewing Cornish Pirate” arr Jim lad.

    “A man’s gotta know his limitations” – Detective H. Callahan.

  22. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @DireBadger – Thank you for clarifying what you meant, and I think that your point about player creativity being influenced by GM creativity. That really got me thinking about how cyclical the nature of players and GMs can be in a great game.

    @Roxysteve – Whatever works for you.

    @Matthew J. Neagley – Was it fun even after the world was doomed? 🙂

  23. Troy E. Taylor
    Troy E. Taylor says:

    The starving townsfolk cry: “Feed us, you tyrannical bastard!”
    Greedy king: “Bugger off”
    Wizard: “Hey townsfolk. I’d love to help. But my magic won’t overthrow the king. However … I could turn his castle walls into bread.”
    Townsfolk: “Do it!”
    Wizard: “Turn these French built walls into French bread.”
    Townsfolk: “Yeah! Let’s eat!”
    Greedy king: “Where are my walls to protect me from the people?”

    … and the beat goes on.

  24. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    I think it comes down to the difference between gaming the game (perfectly fair, walls to bread etc) and gaming the gamesmaster (which is metagaming’s canonical meaning in the RPG context rather than the generic “dat bad” placeholder some people think it to be).

    You never want to try the waiting for a lever game with me, because I’m likely to eventually say “Next Friday? Sorry, can’t make it. Nor the one after that. Nope nor the one after that”.

    “How is this possible?” you ask. I realized a while back that the one universal law of RPGs is that four-to-eight times as many people want to play a game as are willing to run it. The trick was to find that pool of people standing around begging for a game. The answer was obvious. Since I began running games at my LFGS I’ve had no shortage of players, just a chronic shortage of time.

    An interesting side effect is that I’ve also managed to avoid many of the political/personnel problems that small, regular groups report having encountered, because everyone has the option to walk, me included, without their RPGing being overly impacted.

  25. John Arcadian
    John Arcadian says:

    @shadowacid – Chatty DM sent me an email saying about the same thing “Why, after 40 years playing RPGs, still have such mundane challenges such as opening doors?”

    Your example points that out brilliantly. Locked doors aren’t fun as a perpetual challenge. A locked door with a purpose is. It’s never the challenge that makes the fun of the game, it’s the purpose and meaning behind it and it is the GM’s job to convey those things.

    @Matthew J. Neagley – Stuff like that makes the game much more fun. The players feel involved, even if they kill the world in the process.

    @Roxysteve – “Reward player behavior that you want to more of see in a game. Punish player behavior you want to see less of in a game.”

    I can’t really agree with that bit of advice, at least when stated like that. A player generally engages in a particular pattern of behavior because they find it fun to do so. If it’s disrupting or annoying other players’ fun, then I can see trying to stop the behavior, but punishing a player’s behavior because it isn’t what you want to see doesn’t feel right. Mind you, I realize that comes from the paranoia book and that could color the advice in a whole number of ways.

  26. ouzelum
    ouzelum says:

    @evil @Patrick Benson – Lower EXP I can jive with, but lower treasure seems a bit unfair and a metagamed response to their solution. Or a monster with a tenuous explanation as to why he’s locked in a random room. Or dropping the ceiling on them. Perhaps they’re fair, but they’re the exact kind of arms race I was talking about. You’re putting a bullet-proof vest on the door because you know what kind of bullets your players like to shoot. If you have a good story reason why there’s less treasure or a monster or a falling ceiling, that serves a good purpose and isn’t just there as some sort of dueling ideas counterpoint, that’s another thing.

    To me it’s never just about the locked door. It’s about something making sense. Magicians using magical locks, thieves using trapped doors, warriors just making it really heavy or going for a lock that would be a real challenge to brute-force, because that’s the first thing that comes to that NPC’s mind when he’s thinking, “how would I protect this?” He’d be thinking of how to counter the approach that first comes to his own mind, or to use the tools of his or her particular trade.

    The locked door is there to tell you about the story, the location, the person behind it. It is not frivolous. The locked door CAN be the challenge itself, but “lock” and “key” are just abstract concepts to me. The “lock” can be an icy lion’s head and the “key” can be any number of clever solutions–feed it something, melt it, beat it in a riddle game. Whatever interesting avenue the players decide can be rolled with… But I want them to interact with the puzzle I put there. I don’t want them to breadwall past it, which in my opinion is no different from a brute force solution. It is interchangeable with a warrior saying, “Can I Kool-Aid Man through this wall?”

  27. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @ouzelum – What you are talking about are personal preferences and priorities. That is what you like to have in your games, and that is fine, but it may not be true of every GM and every group. This hobby is very subjective.

    Furthermore I never suggested that you should do something that doesn’t make sense with the story. People who have played in my games know that I am a story first GM. Not because the story is sacred, but because if you can’t fit your ideas into the story then you are risking the suspension of disbelief. When that is threatened the fun of the game is put at risk.

    You can have fun with unexpected consequences and still keep the story intact. Some systems make this easier than others, but it can be done and IMO is not very difficult to begin with.

  28. Necrognomicon
    Necrognomicon says:

    Another problem is when these enablers start to infringe upon other PC’s realms of expertise:

    A friend and I joined the party in an in-progress D&D campaign. We were explicitly (and separately) told that the party required a thief “because the DM uses a lot of traps and locks”. I rolled a Beguiler because I didn’t want to play a pure Rogue, but wanted to have the thieving skills for the party’s sake. My friend rolled a straight Rogue, a class he did _not_ want to play.

    It was only after a number of sessions (by which time we were both invested in our characters), that we finally encountered challenges that actually required our ‘necessary’ services. Those challenges were overcome with stonebread-type magical solutions, courtesy of the Mage and later the…um..Beguiler. This effectively made my friend’s Rogue obsolete and greatly lessened his enjoyment of the campaign.

    My point is that sometimes it’s hard enough to keep players’ areas of expertise separate, unnecessary expansion of powers might only further this, to the detriment of some players’ enjoyment of the game.

  29. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @Necrognomicon – You make a strong and good point, but isn’t the bigger problem there that your friend was playing a character that her never wanted to in the first place? PCs stepping on each other’s toes is a problem that extends beyond just character roles and abilities, and it has more to do with the social dynamics at the table IMO.

  30. Wesley Street
    Wesley Street says:

    Turn that wall into pumpernickle… and watch the ceiling cave down on the PCs heads as it was a load bearing wall! Nooooooooo! 😉

  31. Roxysteve
    Roxysteve says:

    @John Arcadian – “, I realize that comes from the paranoia book and that could color the advice in a whole number of ways. ”

    No, I don’t think so. To me it seems a statement of common practice, albeit phrased a little more baldly than is usual. I think the sentiment is in line with advice that’s been handed out in GM advice columns for years, including here in The Stew.

  32. unwinder
    unwinder says:

    I am of two minds on this one.

    In the specific case of the locked door, I think that in some cases I have to come down on the side of the dudes who don’t want their locked doors to keep getting bypassed. Sometimes a locked door is a locked door, and it’s fine if the players get through it without unlocking it. Sometimes a locked door is just the GM’s justification for putting a puzzle in the room, and I think that it’s healthy for a group to operate under that understanding and take a crack at the puzzle rather than having the GM come up with an endless supply of new obstacles that, from a mechanical perspective, mean the same thing to the party as the locked door.

    I guess that a more important consideration, though, is what your players want out of the game.

    If your players like puzzles, then designing a puzzle should be about designing a puzzle, and not about designing an impenetrable vault to put it in. If your players don’t like puzzles, and they keep breadwalling them, then maybe you shouldn’t be using so many puzzles.

    When I started my current campaign, I polled my players on what they wanted, and the thing that they unanimously said they were interested in was more puzzles. So I put a lot of work into meeting that demand with a massive dungeon containing a complex network of pipes and valves that allowed a certain character with the ability to assume gaseous form to travel to different parts of the dungeon. In order to get to the final boss, they had to figure out how to redirect the pipes to get the character behind a deadbolted door.

    The first thing they did was try to make a hole in the pipe right next to the door so that the character could easily bypass the valve puzzle. Given the circumstances, I feel justified in having blocked this with some improvised security features, making them at least attempt to solve the puzzle that they had specifically requested.

  33. Necrognomicon
    Necrognomicon says:

    @Patrick Benson
    “You make a strong and good point, but isn’t the bigger problem there that your friend was playing a character that her never wanted to in the first place?”

    ^ No, the fact that a character’s area of expertise would be encroached upon by expanding the scope of another character’s powers/abilities does not depend upon the player’s original enjoyment of the character/class, but it does directly effect their continued enjoyment. Someone who really wanted to play a Rogue would encounter the same neutering of their class effectiveness as someone who didn’t want to play one.

    “PCs stepping on each other’s toes is a problem that extends beyond just character roles and abilities, and it has more to do with the social dynamics at the table IMO.”

    ^ This is not a question of social dynamics, but of game balance. You are advocating the expansion of powers that will cause even greater problems by increasing their overlap with other powers/skills. These problems already exist in most systems to some extent, but this article suggests we create even more.

    The Pandora’s box being opened here has nothing to do with whether or not the DM should start having NPCs mix quartz dust with the mortar, but rather how do we continue to ‘enable’ PCs to retain their own areas of expertise when their skill-set has been made obsolete by ‘enabling’ other players?

  34. Patrick Benson
    Patrick Benson says:

    @Necrognomicon – The Pandora’s box was opened the moment a group of people decided to play a game where a shared imaginative world was going to be explored.

    The rogue still has value. Put the locks in physical locations that the rogue is the most ideal character to reach, give the rogue opportunities to encroach on the other classes specialties (“Save your fireball spells there mage. These magical exploding shuriken that I have work better.”), change the challenges to require teamwork so that no one character can encroach on another, etc.

    We’re no even touching upon the story opportunities that can be used to empower the character. Sure, go ahead and send the mage to negotiate with local thieves guild. Let’s see how they react when a magic user tries to tell them what to do. What happens when the party are guests at the wizards academy where the use of magic is strictly monitored? Seems that the rogue is suddenly in demand for using actual skills to sneak around and infiltrate the premises for secret info.

    These are the things that I immediately started to think about upon reading your reply. With some time and better knowledge of the group I’m sure that any GM worth their dice bag can come up with more and better solutions.

    But I still think that while it may not have been the precise problem here, the fact that a player made a character that they weren’t really interested in playing because of the GM’s comments is the larger issue. If the player had been playing the fighter, or ninja, or talking gerbil, or whatever, the player would not have cared when another character unlocked the door creatively.

  35. GiacomoArt
    GiacomoArt says:

    The endless interplay between evolving problems and solutions is the story of life itself. So if your players coming up with a tactic so innovative that the whole game world has to change to adapt to their cleverness, congratulations! They’ve experienced the pure spirit of role-playing by creating a story that never would have existed without the benefit of their own choices, and you’ve achieved the holy grail of game mastering by creating a living, evolving world.

    The first time the world fights back to make an over-used PC tactic obsolete, the players should learn the true value of having a “secret” weapon. Then the challenge becomes the struggle to keep their next secret weapon a secret, lest it too lose its potency.

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