Tuesday, November 01, 2011

November 2011 RPG Carnival: Tricks & Traps

Tricks & Traps, or How to think like a Villain.

This month's RPG Carnival is being hosted here on Elthos RPG.  The way you participate is to write a blog entry (or two, or three, etc) on your own blog that answers the question raised by the RPG Carnival topic, and then post a link to your post in my comments page here on Elthos RPG.   

At the end of the month I will write up a summary recap of the posts entered and we'll all have a merry time of it!  The ultimate Archive for all of the RPG Carnivals is being held at Nevermet Press, so you can go there to look for previous (and future) RPG Carnival links.  Ok, ready?  Here we go!

Setting up challenges for RPG Player Characters that make sense in terms of the story is a matter of thinking “What would the villain *really* do?” Learning to think like your villain is a bit tricky because if you think too well then your players may not survive very long, but if you don’t think enough …well, it is just too damn easy. What Tricks-n-Traps have your villains set for those who dare impinge on their turf, or interfer with their nepharious plots? Did the PCs live or die, …or something far far worse?! 

Have at it, Mates!   :)

As for me, I take a lot of time between games thinking about what my villains are up to.  Sometimes I discover that old ideas from last week don't really measure up.   Sometimes I realize that the villain has thought about something so well that should he put his plan into effect the PCs would definitely be doomed.   I'm also always trying to comb my campaign's hair by working out the kinks and smoothing the complexities.   One of the things I have found that helps is to keep a board (yup a regular old cork board) with little bits of paper tacked to it that show each villain (actually all protagonists and antagonists in the current campaign), as well as key places, in relative proximity to each other.   This helps me a lot to remember who is where, especially when there are multiple NPCs who are each having some effect on the Campaign back story, and sometimes have links to one another.

All of which is helpful when I'm designing my tricks and traps.  For me the key, really, is to not let things get *too* complicated.   There is a sweet spot somewhere between intriguing and holy-freaking-cow-what-the-hell-just-happenned.   Finding that sweet spot is like finding just the right herbs to add to your soup.  The right mix, and the soup tastes great.  Too much is just as insufficient as too little.   And this is really why Gamesmastering, regardless of system or tools, is not merely a technical activity, but also very much an art.

At some point during the Carnival I'll post something about one of the villains in Elthos, the tricks and traps he created, how my players reacted to them, and how I feel that the Campaign succeeded in it's goal of creating an entertaining story by keeping things not too complicated, but far from simple, too.  Villains, I think, should pose significant challenges for Player Characters, but not be so smart, so knowledgeable, and so freaking powerful that the PC's have no chance.  It is kind of a tough balance, actually, and it requires some finesse and artistry on the part of the GM.   What's your technique?

I look forward to reading your posts!


Anonymous said...

Good topic, but a challenging one~

My entry into the carnival is called 'Cracking open the skull of evil' and can be found on the Casting Shadows blog here:


vbwyrde said...

Yup... I agree with you, it is challenging! My villains never fail to surprise me with just how challenging they can be to 'get right'. That's why I'm looking forward to reading other people's ideas! hehe... :)

Also, for whatever reason blogger added an extra 'http;//' to your 'here' link, sorry to say. I would fix it but it doesn't let me do that. But in any case it's ok because you provided a link below it that can be cut and pasted into the browser, and that works fine. Ok, off to read what you wrote!

Anonymous said...

I usually wait, but here's my entry


Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting me know about Blogger cursing my link~

Lee said...

Heyo, a post from me about this, took me awhile but I think it turned out alright, if typically ramble-ish.


vbwyrde said...

Great Lee, thanks! The post was interesting. I left my comment there, but I'm not sure if it took, so I'll double post it here:

Good points, Lee, thanks. The 'sense of urgency' idea is great. I like to do the same thing. In my current game I did just that and it worked out great. The player characters are trying to rescue some kids whom they know through an NPC. They were captured while exploring a newly discovered dungeon section beneath the old quarter of the town they live in. The circumstances of the capture were nebulously described, and there was an implication that if they don't act fast the kids might be taken deeper into the dungeon by unknown forces. This created a nice sense of urgency which the PCs immediately used to befoul themselves several times as they semi-panicked while rushing in where angels would dare to tread. :) Fun! In another example I enjoyed a lot one character has a power called 'Danger Sense'. He used it while entering an odd little room with a metal octagonal plate on the floor, and into which he saw one of the villains may have entered and vanished. Danger Sense was tingling wildly as he pushed his torch through the heavy purple curtain to peer into the room. He froze and watched. Finally he looked up. The ceiling had a grate above the metal plate and by the flickering torchlight he could see that there was a panel above the grate that was slowly and silently sliding open. This was enough. He stepped away and decided to run. :) In that case the sense of urgency told him to scram. It was great. So yes, using sense of urgency is a wonderful thing! And yup, totally agree - don't make your traps too tricky or you're likely to wind up with a lot of dead PCs and a short game.

Also, for those who may have trouble with it, the link to Lee's post is most easily followed as:


And just so you folks know, Blogger is a bit finicky about links for some reason. You have to used the hyperlink tags < a href = http:// mysite.com / >My Site < /a > for it to become a link in the comments. Sorry for the inconvenience. Blogger is great, but has some things that could be better. That's one.

vbwyrde said...

Thanks for the post Berin. Very interesting!

For those who don't care to cut and paste his link it is:

The Indifference Trap

Great points!

satyre said...

Using the crime mystery approach of method/motive/opportunity to work out traps & tricks.

villainous Psychology - traps & tricks

This is a deep topic, hope you get plenty of participants as this one was plenty of fun.

vbwyrde said...

Awesome, satyre, thank you! I hope people are not finding it too challenging. I'm putting a lot of thought into it myself. It is one of the more difficult challenges for GMs I think... which is why I like the topic so much, of course. Getting that balance point between challenging the players but not overwhelming them, and keeping the story coherent while balancing the game mechanics ... it's something we all do intuitively because we must, but ... when you think about how... hehe... that's the tough part. Thanks for your thoughts on the topic! :)

Anonymous said...

Cool, I've been having a huge brain fart on what to write about next. Thanks for the inspiration!

Can't wait to read your thoughts on some devious traps!

Check 'em out on the DrunkDM.

Desyth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My second entry for the carnival is entitled 'A Pentacle of Trapping' and can, if Blogger allows, be found here.

My earlier post - Cracking open the skull of evil - will, if the curse has been lifted, be found at the end of this link.

vbwyrde said...

Much obliged! Great posts! I will definitely consider the points as I build out my world's campaigns.

Traps are always tricky for the GM... if they are too difficult then the players are going to die. If too easy, then the players just look at them without any emotion. They need to make sense in context of the story, and the villains need to be smart enough to make good traps, but not so smart as to make impossible ones. There's a delicate balance there.

Michael Schulz said...

I struggled with this, but my entry 'Saying 'Yes' can be found over at Late to the Party: http://latetotheparty.ca/?p=547

vbwyrde said...

Great post Michael. Very much enjoyed your take on the question. Your categories of Defense, Rope, and say "yes" are well considered. Thanks!

Fitz said...

Thanks for kicking this one off!

Definitely a bit of a challenging topic. Wasn't sure how to approach it until I saw the movie Hanna last weekend. :)

Here's my entry on Gleeful Villains.

vbwyrde said...

I just read your post Fitz. Awesome. One caveat I would have is to say "allow your villains to enjoy their work - IF that is the kind of personality they have." Its a very minor quibble, but in my world I have some villains who definitely enjoy their work with glee... others who trudge onward toward their doom... others who simply know no better...

The way I would put it is this: allow your villains to have a personality that motivates and drives them. Hopeless despair in a villain can be just as gripping as jovial insanity. It's all good.

Anyway, thanks again! :)

IronWolf said...

The Iron Tavern's entry for the RPG Blog Carnival has been posted. This topic was an interesting one, though slightly difficult to write on I thought!

Thinking Like a Villain: Tricks and Traps

vbwyrde said...

Another great post by IronWolf. Thanks! :)

Everyone who has contributed has done a really great job! Very much obliged! This is, as pretty much everyone has mentioned, a pretty challenging question to answer. That's why I asked it! I have a hard time with this aspect myself. And so I'm really grateful for all of your thoughts and opinions! Very helpful. Thank you!