A lot of my early gaming experience — and based on anecdotal evidence, a lot of other folks’ early gaming experience — conspired to teach me this lesson: When in doubt, hit it.
It’s amazing how often this works, partly because players have learned that it works, and partly because GMs have learned that it works (sometimes as players, in fact).
And because it’s often more interesting than the alternative (talking to it, for instance).
- When you can just tell that NPC is going to betray the party, do unto him first (just in case).
- Not sure that strange creature you just spotted is hostile? Hit it anyway.
- As prisoners, those orcs will just slow you down…
- Unknown blip on the radar screen? Warm up the photon torpedoes.
Sometimes this approach fits the game perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t. In the latter case, I’ve seen games bend to make it fit (and bent games to make it fit myself), which generally isn’t a good thing.
The fact that it’s commonplace often makes certain types of games tough to run well, and some genres much trickier to pull off than they should be.
At least to me, it looks like a vicious circle. The question is, as a GM, how much of that vicious circle is your responsibility?
I agree that one and “I kick down the Door” have always worked for me. The problem is that unless you players are just the hack-n-slash kind. It really gets boring.
On the other hand, before I joined the group I am with now and after a few sessions. It wasn’t uncommon for the party to cover maybe 40 feet in an 8 hour session. That was a bit much for me. So, naturally I made an npc that went with them and had a tendency to just kick down door or open chests (even trapped ones) just to get the game moving again.
“The question is, as a GM, how much of that vicious circle is your responsibility?”
I’ll take a lot of the blame. I want bold action from the PCs, so I will tend to award this sort of behavior.
I would say a fair amount of it rests in the GM’s hands, but it is a standard of roleplaying. I can see two ways to combat it though.
1. Beloved social contract – make it well known that beting down stuff won’t be the answer to everything and that you’d like the players to explore other options, compromise by saying you’ll take ingenious ideas that avoid this into account. You can’t say “avoid the orcs”, then make the orcs attack them anyways just for the fun of it. If that’s the case let them beat down first.
2. When appropriate, note when appropriate, punish the characters in game. If they decide to beat down on someone with no reason or say (grumble grumble) hijack the train that was going to get them to their destination quickly make some in game complication. Maybe the NPC they just beat up had their plot hook, but now runs from them or the king who had sent the NPC to hire them won’t trust such brigands. If they hijack your train, make them wanted criminals. If you want to stick to plot, maybe the king agrees to give them their freedom if they complete his mission. Before it would have been a nice reward, now they don’t see the executioners chopping block.
You don’t want to go overboard with that though. You beat up orcs before they got to you shouldn’t get a penalty of the king considers you brigands or your wanted criminals. Make anything situation appropriate. When in doubt consider how the situation would play out in a real setting without a GM’s influence or a plotline behind it.
I guess I have better players in my group that look for roleplay reasons and innovative ways around problems. Part of that is the way I play and have always played, which definitely informs the way I GM. I have always played the ambassador/face/talking head type of rogue character. When I write up gaming adventures, I look for intriguing ways to involve the players, and try to think about non-fighting solutions to the problems I present.
Of course, I reward good roleplaying separately from any experience points gained for overcoming an obstacle. In all, I would lay the blame for the tone at the GM’s feet in all respects. When a GM gathers the group of players together and they set up the social contract, part of it needs to discuss campaign styles. When the group begins to actually play in the game, the first session sets the tone of play, and the GM is largely responsible for the first session, perhaps moreso than any other session in a campaign. In later game days, the players have more buy-in and more control over the plot elements.
Another important element in the tone is the actual plot itself. If you don’t want a hack and slash campaign, don’t write or use a module that is primarily a dungeon crawl.
My players aren’t bad in this respect, but they do have a tendency to take the “easy way out”, which may be partly my fault. Note that this isn’t always combat. If the “easy way out” is talk, they can run that one in the ground too.
One of the ways I’ve found to stop the vicious circle is to make sure that the players find about the consequences of whatever action they took–even if I have to be blatant, or even tell them after the relevant events are resolved.
It’s easy for players to miss consequences in the game. Sure, if the party kills the town guard, the guard’s sister may find out and not be very helpful with that important piece of info she knows. If all she does is get mad, the party encountering her may decide that’s just the way she is. Instead, I’ll make sure that it comes out that she is the sister of someone they killed, even if she blurts it out to them somewhat out of character. Or a mutual friend will tell a PC later. Or something. Worst case, after the adventure is over, I’ll mention it OOC, as something they picked up through the rumor mill.
Of course, I also reinforce this by doing it for those times when the party doesn’t take the easy way. I make sure they find out that they got “B” only because they did “A” and made “X” pleased with them.
Good comments… *takes notes*
The question is, as a GM, how much of that vicious circle is your responsibility?
Your “responsibility” is exactly 1/N, N being the number of people in the group. 🙂
Few games have clear rules and procedures the players can turn to and know what to do with, that won’t either be “Guess what’s in my pocket?” problem-solving (aka, pixelbitching), or praying the GM doesn’t Fiat away.
My solution? 1) play games that have alternative means of solving problems, and 2) show that in action, often. Use scenarios where violence isn’t the focus.
Karnov, I couldn’t agree more — I’m taking notes too. 😉
I find this issue interesting, partly because (as Jeff mentioned) it’s not actually an issue in all cases, or for all groups.
Great comments so far. 🙂
Let’s make our games better.
As a GM, think about the ways you reward players. You reward them with in-game items like treasure and experience, but for many groups, a great story is its own reward. If players have been betrayed, tricked, or backstabbed one too many times by encounters that they tried to “role play” through, then sure… expect them to start hitting anything that moves.
But if you keep your mind open as a GM, and let them try to solve problems in new and unique ways, they’ll keep trying new things to get through them. Show them there’s more than one way to solve problems. Make it so that they need information, advice, leadership, and guidance from these NPCs they are mercilessly slaying. When they’ve destroyed the very answer to their quest, and have to go the long way around (so to speak) to get the job done, let them know.
Award experience for “quest completion” instead of how many monsters are slain. That way, when they do all this extra work that wasn’t needed because they unrealistically fought everything that moved, they realize it wasn’t worth it.
Be fair. Part of the fun of the game is tossing around the dice and beating things up. Just think reasonably about how your world works. Don’t try to find ways to take that fun from your players.
“When in doubt, hit it?”
Suddenly it’s all become clear to me what’s happening in Trinity. 😉
Players shouldn’t try this tactic in my games, as it won’t get you very far. If you’d like to hit stuff, I’d recommend finding a D&D game or playing some WoW online. I get little enjoyment — and have little patience — for this playstyle.
Hitting stuff is an acceptable resolution to some situations, but it should not be the default response as this article advises.
It’s called a role playing game for a reason.
(Abulia) Hitting stuff is an acceptable resolution to some situations, but it should not be the default response as this article advises.
I’m not advising that players (or GMs) make it their default response. I’m saying that for many groups, it is the default response, and that when I look at that situation I see a vicious circle: it keeps working (GM’s fault?), so players keep doing it (players’ fault?), etc. 😉
“Not sure that strange creature you just spotted is hostile? Hit it anyway.
As prisoners, those orcs will just slow you downâ€¦”
These examples, among others, seem to make it pretty clear that “hit it first” is the default response and that the article advocates doing so.
Also, you state “experience…conspired to teach me this lesson: When in doubt, hit it.” That doesn’t denote that it’s part of a vicious cycle, instead that experience has shown this to be a superior and preferred playstyle. One that I’ve personally seen you employ with negative effects on a game.
Don’t care for that NPC that the GM has put several hours into fleshing out and crafting a role-playing experience around? Hit it! 😮
I don’t mean to argue semantics, but the article is stating one thing while your position appears to be another (via comments).
As people we don’t hit strange persons whose motivations we don’t understand because we’re confused. If we presume in a role playing game that the foundation of our actions are derived from what is “traditionally” acceptable behavior in the Real World (TM), then when is “hit it” really a desirable first response?
I’d say rarely, if ever.
Abulia: If you see my original post as saying one thing and my comments as saying another, then I’ve screwed up somewhere along the line. 😉
I typed out a detailed response to try and clarify what I was getting at again, but realized I was just saying what I’d already said in the post. So let’s try a different angle.
The examples I picked are (based on my experience):
1) All situations in which “hitting it” is the safest, most paranoid response. Since PC death — which is rarely any fun — is always on the line in most RPGs, safe choices are often more attractive than they should be.
Whose fault is this? Often, a mix of the GM, the players and — as has been brought up in the comments — the game rules.
2) Situations in which there is probably a more interesting, more fitting and all around better response than “just hit it.” But player and GM experience — the vicious circle — conspire to make just hitting it the more attractive option for many groups.
This is a weird issue, and one with many facets. This post scratched the surface, and it’s interesting to me to see what readers pick to respond to here. (That’s half the fun. ;))
As for my personal in-game behavior, I’m not sure what situation you have in mind. I’d be happy to discuss it here if it’s relevant to the original post (which it sounds like it would be), or via email if it’s off-topic.
I’m not a great player, but I’m always happy to hear how I can improve. 🙂
Works right up to the point where the GM starts using it against you, by getting you to hit things that will lead to phenominal headaches all round.
I prefer the “When in doubt, grab anything that’s valuable and run.” approach myself. Still gets you in trouble, but at least you can live comfortably while waiting for them to catch up to you.
Abulia, I think you may have got caught out by the difficulty in expressing sarcasm in print…
I certainly read Martin’s initial article as complaining about the situation that “just hit it” is so often the response.
I still lay MOST of the blame on the system. But a new thought arose, and I’ll dish out some blame in another arena. That arena is the GMs who have decided “I don’t do hack ‘n slash, I tell a story.” The problem being that they are intent on telling their story, and no matter what the players do, the story is going to come out the way the GM intended. And guess what, “just hitting them” is one of the few ways the players have to try and get input. Of course eventually they realize that even though they keep killing key NPCs, the plot STILL winds up the way the GM planned. But by then, they’ve been trained to hit everything in sight.
The only way to get out of the mudhole is to actually make the players actions matter. No matter what those actions are. If you smack the players any time they dare raise their weapons, that isn’t any good (especially when using D&D or some other “combat heavy” game).
But that’s back to blaming the system. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Combat heavy games typically don’t have many tools other than killing things. One problem is that even if they have a social resolution system, there’s nothing in the system that forces finality of resolution, other than killing things. This means two things, first, a social resolution is always subject to being countered by murder and mayhem, second, without anything forcing finality of resolution by social means, if you really want someone out of the picture, you kill them.
If you have Dogs in the Vinyard, look at how the rules talk about finality of resolution. Sure, you can come back with a buddy, in the haybar, and with guns blazing, to try and replay the same stakes, but otherwise, them stakes is settled.
I once ran a DnD game in which the players were exploring the underdark. They encountered a group of myconids who, my rulebook said, would sit in circles motionless and indistinguishable from other giant mushrooms. So, I described to them exactly that. “As you wander through the cavern, the luminescent fungus all shining weakly on you from the ceiling, fist-sized mushrooms and slimes everywhere underfoot, you pushing through the rubbery underbrush, and find a curious ring of mushrooms. They range from five to ten feet high and are arranged in perfect order, like a double staircase.”
To which Gronk the warrior responds: “I hit the smallest one with my flail as hard as I can.”
So, Gronk and comrades got to work as slaves in the mushroom farms untill they managed to escape rather than recruit the help of the myconoids.