Monday, October 26, 2009

Sightseeing

I feel like crap warmed over today, so this will probably be a short one; my apologies to any readers. Like the title says, sightseeing. As a video gamer, it is one of the reasons I play games - I like to see what kind of interesting places and personalities the developers have put into the game. In games like World of Warcraft, there are all sorts of interesting places to go, from the alien mushroom forests of Zangarmarsh, with its tripod-like creatures and infestation of naga, to the simple wilderness of Elwynn Forest, with its pastoral views and trees inhabited by bandits, to the deadly peaks of Icecrown, with its ongoing war agains the forces of the lich king and the ghosts and undead that haunt its peaks. These are the kind of things I like to see in a game, and what I often look for.

In a tabletop game, it is harder to get across the feeling of being in a specific place. Without a graphical interface, the GM has to actually describe the area around you, and sometimes that is difficult to do or even remember. I am guilty of this as much as anyone; I often presume that players see the same images in their heads as I do, and so forgo the description of what they see, smell, and feel around them. But these things are important to immersion; without a clear idea of where your character is, it becomes that much harder to describe what he or she is doing, and once you lose that, it almost seems like you are playing a violence-oriented game of Pong.

So next time you are designing an encounter, GMs, think about what your players see around them. Tell them what it smells like; this is especially important to characters with enhanced senses. Tell them how the wind feels, or whether the ground is muddy; tell them how the mud squishes around their boots or feet. These details may not seem important to GMs, since we often have a picture of what is going on, but for the players to partake in the picture, they need to see what we see.

And players, if you aren't getting a picture of where you are? Speak up. It does the GM no good if you keep quiet, because he or she will assume you see what the GM sees, and will afterwards be confused when you act like you are in nothing more complicated than a text-based videogame where all you do to move around is choose a direction. The GM has probably put some time into thinking about the world you are in, and it can be hard remembering exactly what to tell players all the time. So if you want to enjoy the game more, ask your GM what your character sees, hears, smells, feels. If they're worth their salt, they'll try and show you the picture they have in their minds, and then everyone can experience it.

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