Monday, March 17, 2014

Perspective Is Everything

I very recently, because I'm totally behind the times, finally finished watching Breaking Bad. Now, I'm not going to spoil the ending if you haven't, but part of the reason why the end of Breaking Bad is good - the real reason why it works - is because the writers somehow managed to keep in mind, and isolate, every character's individual perspective of what had happened so far in the show so they could act appropriately. This is a very important, and very hard, skill to nourish for the best games you can run. So, how does it work? Let's talk about that.

What I Said Was True From A Certain Point Of View
The topic there is a famous line from Obi Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy. Now, since we know Ben knows the whole story it is still kind of a BS line in the moment, but it does hold merit. See, Anakin and Darth Vader are the same person if you know the whole story. However, to most people there is no way to know that. The perspective there is that Darth Vader is a jedi/jedi trained. He betrayed and killed all the jedi. Anakin was a Jedi (a well known one too) and right around the time that Vader arises Anakin vanishes.

From that perspective it wouldn't be hard to believe that Vader had killed Anakin and act on that. We know that that isn't the whole story as audience members, sure, but very few people in world know that. Really, only three people in world know it aside from Vader himself.

How Does This Apply To Your Game?
Think about your game. I'm willing to bet your players have accomplished some awesome feats. Have they killed any dragons? Maybe a death knight? Perhaps, through great personal turmoil and the loss of friends they defeated a dungeon containing ancient treasures and a dead lich? Sounds like an awesome game, and I'm sure your players had fun. But have you actually thought about how the world, how the people in the know in the world, see those events?

Well,here's a starting point. The cost very rarely stays with the reward for very long. When the Kings of the land go looking into who slew the ancient Black Dragon Obsidiae they're not going to hear "a group of eight adventurers were pushed to their limits and lost four members but managed to slay the beast." They're going to hear that a group of 4 adventurers (the survivors) killed the dragon. Maybe, MAYBE, if the intelligence officer is really good he'll get the full story, but almost everyone is just going to hear that four adventurers killed this ancient dragon. Or maybe they won't even hear that...

Kill Shots Matter
You ever been a player in a game and done a ridiculous amount of damage to a monster only for the mage, or some other player, to finish it off with a low damage attack - maybe even a 1 point of damage attack? Yeah, kinda sucks doesn't it. Why? because everyone sees that that player killed the monster. It takes an active act of conscious to recognize that the other player did the lion's share of the work because all our brains see is "The bard attacked and killed the Death Knight."

This is true in world as well. The person who actually landed the killing blow - even if they try to diffuse the credit among the group and others - is going to get the majority of the credit. It doesn't matter if three armies attacked Obsidiae, if one person landed a killing blow they're going to get a huge chunk of the credit for the kill. They're also going to get all the costs and benefits that goes along with that credit.

Acting On Perspective
It's great that we now know that most people are not going to have the whole story and only going to hear the most basic result (i.e. "Shannon the Bard killed the ancient dragon Obsidiae") but how do we act with that information? Well, that part is tricky. It involves divorcing your thoughts from all the facts you know and filtering things through only the relevant facts, the one a particular NPC knows.

In this case, threats from Shannon are likely to be given more credit or taken more seriously because Shannon slew a great dragon. At the same time, people might seek out Shannon to challenge her because she slew a great dragon. The mitigating knowledge of "Shannon barely hit" or "The dragon was wearied from fighting 2 armies and 3 dragon hunters" doesn't matter for most people because they won't hear it. So take that out of the thought process as well.

How would you act when dealing with someone who is known to topple Liches in their towers, Dragons in their caves, and Kings in their castles? Would you be threatened? Friendly? More willing to deal? Would you be frightened? Would you try to deal evenly but take precautions just in case? Would you even want them in or around your city knowing the kind of trouble you cause?

All of those are valid answers. They're also a great way to keep your game world feeling alive. Just remember two things when an NPC is about to interact with the PCs:

  1. What does this NPC know about the PCs accomplishments, if anything?
  2. How does that knowledge shape their approach?

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