Monday, May 11, 2015

Standard Operating Procedures

Standard operating procedures are wonderful things, both in real life and in games. In real life they give us a script with which to complete certain actions to make sure we either do them right or in a way that will bring about similar results to previous endeavors. In game they serve as a great tool for reducing the amount of time that needs to be spent on important but highly mechanical/nuanced obstacles, or just for having an idea in mind as to what a character is or would be doing in a situation when they were not specifically doing something else.

Standard Door Opening Procedure
I, personally, started using standard operating procedures (SOPs from now on) in a D&D dungeon crawl that an old friend was running. In the game I was the party thief, and we were going through a large tower run by a lich. The tower had dozens of doors per floor, and as our party was very thorough/completionist we were clearing the whole thing out. This meant that a very large part of one session was tied up with the following exchange.

  • ME: I check the door, and area around it, for traps, alarms, or triggers
  • GM: Ok, you don't find any
  • ME: I check if it is locked.
  • GM: It is
  • ME:  I pick the lock.
  • GM: Difficulty is 25
  • ME: Ok, I made it. With the door open I'll open it just a crack and use my mirror to check inside.
And so on and so on. Tedious, no? Some of you may even think I was being paranoid, but it was that kind of game. After that, and all the die rolls and such that occasionally tied things up I decided to pull the GM aside for a moment. Then, with the GM privately, I worked out what my character does as "standard" when he checks a door. I said that he'll check the door, lock, handle, hinges, doorway, and floor around it for traps. He'll then check if the door is locked. He'll pick the lock if it is locked. He'll then open the door carefully, if it squeaks he'll oil it, and  he'll check the room with a mirror first before opening the door all the way."

Still paranoid, but by doing that - and having established in a session I would do it all the time - it also let me and the GM save time. Our lengthy back and forth came down to "I check and open the door" and then the GM gave me a difficulty for my check traps, pick lock, and notice rolls. Easy peasy.

A Day In The Life
SOP as detailed above may be too nuanced for your game. I understand that. How nuanced and detailed a game is highly depends on the GM and players. Some games are very nuanced. Others less so. As I've grown older I've noticed that the need to be specific in games every time has gone way down. 

However, one thing that does work well regardless of how specific a GM/group may or may not be, is something that details what your character's day is like when not doing specific other things. This can work for any kind of game, you just need to keep in mind the kind of life your character has.

An adventurer's life could easily be:
  • Dawn: Wake up and have a quick breakfast
  • Shortly after: clean up camp and get moving
  • Noon: break for mid-day meal and to avoid afternoon sun
  • Afternoon: travel until early evening
  • Early evening: hunt/forage for food
  • Evening: set up camp and have dinner
  • Evening: sleep
Not the most complex of daily schedules (why I used it) but it gives an idea into how the character lives their life, which is primarily on the road. It also lets us know several things. For example, if I knew this as the GM it means I'd have the easiest time setting up a random encounter in the early evening when the character is hunting/foraging. If I wanted a chance meeting, noon when the mid-day meal was eaten is a great time. That sort of thing.

In other games, especially modern games, this is also a great way of accounting for daily responsibilities (school, work, etc) and when your character takes care of things. Do they practice their Tai'chi in the morning or the evening? When do they do their homework? Do they work late into the evening? More importantly, when do they relax?

Even if not for your GM, having a daily schedule down can show how full your character's life is, and give you an idea as to who they are. Sure, we know that Michael is playing Natasha, the escaped russian super spy and assassin now living in the states. But who is she at home? Is she a morning person, an evening person, or a 'doesn't sleep' person? They're neat things to know that can really help flesh out a character.

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