So, my Friday game has come and gone. Over all it was a successful game, though I did learn a few things about the weaknesses and strengths of the format I've been using for the game - more on that later in the week. However, something did stand out to me quite severely this week, and it came in the form of impeding possibly the simplest request a player made of me. Today, I want to talk about that.
First, Some Background
To give you an idea of the scene, my Friday game is an L5R game. L5R is essentially samurai drama in a fictional land known as Rokugan. My game is set in a gm/play made city called the City of Webs and is home to the fictional (not-AEG made) Spider clan. The clan's been around in home brewed games since before AEG's spider, and yeah, AEG's spider makes me sad by comparison. Anyhow, one of the players is playing a Ronin who through various PC actions is currently in control of a fairly powerful gang. She is used to getting her way, even if she doesn't realize that yet. Which is why getting to the "public" Library held in the section of town that hosts the great clan ambassadorial estates was such a fun challenge to present.
The challenge by the way was nothing huge. The day the Ronin tried to get to the library was simply also the day that the Scorpion clan was hosting a party to celebrate the beginning of winter. The streets were full of clan samurai and important guests, so the city magistrates were also in force. It simply didn't do to have a ronin also wandering the streets, and so one of the magistrates blocked the Ronin's way. Over the course of the interaction, the magistrate appeared to be asking for a bribe (not that he wouldn't take one, mind) and the ronin left to go back home for the day choosing to not make an issue of it.
Why It Works
The reason I like this sequence is because it worked wonderfully. A lone magistrate isn't much of an impediment to a Rank 3-4 PC in my game. Honestly, had she wanted to the ronin could have simply killed the magistrate and kept going. Yes, there would be consequences but she also would probably have been able to get back to where the magistrates can't touch her with little problem. She also could have just said "ok" and then tried to go again. Or tried to walk past. Or just bribed him/shown him how much money she actually has. Any of these could have worked, but she chose to back off.
I like this because it shows a lot about the character. Faced with an easily surmountable obstacle, how will it be approached? The answer: cautiously. Perhaps the character thinks its too easy. Perhaps they think time is on their side and they can try again (foolish player!) Perhaps a lot of things, but they chose what they chose and that is important.
Now compare this to a harder block. Say that Zembi (the district) has an enforced "no Ronin" policy in it. Now getting to the Library is a harder deal than just one magistrate being both attentive and a pain at the same time. Now there are harsher consequences for going in and instead of getting to the library being a stepping stone to another matter, it becomes a mini quest in and of itself. More to the point though, by making it a "big deal" to get into the library you also limit the player's choices. Why? Because when things are a big deal they have greater consequences. You take away the freedom to act just because big deals take much more consideration. In the end, you don't learn as much about the character or the situation.
In conclusion, this really cemented in my brain how awesome the occasional small obstacle can be. Everything doesn't have to be a quest. Sometimes you just need to decide how you want to handle something and go forward with it. Remember that next time you're planning a session. Not all the obstacles have to be huge. Sometimes how a player handles a puddle will tell you more than how they handle a wall.