Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Less You Show The Less It Can Matter

This may come as an obvious piece of advice, but I see it come up countless times in various ways across almost every GM I've ever seen - including myself. As the GM you have this scene in your mind. You use your words to paint it for the players - so much of the game is Theater of the Mind after all - but the picture the players see with those words can vary greatly from what is in your head.

For most things this is fine. Does it really matter if you picture the door being made of oak while the player thinks it is made of ash? Not really. It would have to be a very specific situation for that to matter. The same for if a door is on the right or the left. Yeah, it may matter, but not too much and not in a way that is going to cause problems.

But what about when it is going to matter? Combat for example is a great example. D&D claims it doesn't need a grid to run - and technically that is true - and then all the abilities talk about how big an aura is in feet and now it matters exactly where everyone is in relation to everyone else. If I drop a fireball on those bad guys, how many can I get in it? And who else will be involved? Does the bard get the benefit of the Paladin's 10' aura against that Succubus charm? Can I even reach those gnolls in order to push one off my friend before she gets thrown off the ledge?

So often, especially in combat and especially in games like D&D, the distance between creatures and objects matters so much....and if you aren't presenting that information visually you are just opening things up to arguments, discussions, and headaches as suddenly player B thinks player A went to the gnolls by the ledge when they went to the gnolls by the wedge and anyhow that doesn't matter because those gnolls are bound and restrained.

This isn't even a problem solved by "just pay attention."

And distance isn't the only thing. Objects in the environment? Where are they? If it is going to matter you need to show it.

Breaking from combat. Are the PCs setting up to defend a village? Great. But you're going to get confusion and can't make tricky things matter if you can't show them. Yes that means the way the river flows under the wall. It also includes the way trees grow over the wall somewhere.

This doesn't mean you can't have these things in your game. It doesn't mean you have to have visuals for this stuff all the time. It just means that the less you can show, the less visual details have to matter. Call out those specific things. Let the rest flow with the same arbitrary coverage we use for everything else.

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