Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Conflicting Assumptions while Gaming

My sporadic playing in a 3.5 game has been interesting; it's been the first time I've spent anything more than a one-shot on the players' side of the "screen" since I started refereeing, so it's been interesting to see someone else referee after having worked on my own referee skills.

One thing I've noticed is that players and referees can have very different assumptions. This has gotten me into (in-game) trouble twice so far.

In the first instance, we had killed some kind of demonic or otherworldly being that had infiltrated the temple of Pelor or something (I wasn't there for that session) and were in a town where lots of weird stuff was apparently happening. One of the players was playing some sort of "chosen by Pelor" character. We wanted information about what weird stuff was going on. We are playing in a setting where you can buy just about anything, including magic items, on the 3.5 lists and where most un-leveled NPCs own a magic item or two. This is not a low-magic setting.

So, I suggested that we take the corpse of the thing we had killed out into the town square and burn it in public, announcing that we had killed it, it had been infiltrating the temple of Pelor, we thought more weird stuff was happening and we needed information. I thought a theatrical demon-burning and an announcement to be on-guard and that we needed information would result in 1) the town being on guard about weird stuff going down, 2) probably some information from NPCs that had seen something and 3) our show of righteous strength in the service of Pelor would win the support and respect of the townfolk

Instead, we had an irrational mob form that apparently got so confused that it got angry and our characters almost got arrested for inciting the mob. Confusing. Frustrating, even.

In the second instance, all the characters except for mine failed their Fortitude checks against spiked stew and so my Wizard was the only character awake to fight some bandits. I had some great spells prepared, but the referee insisted that I couldn't use most of them because we were fighting in pitch darkness and I apparently needed to see my target before I could cast spells on him.

Now, on the one hand, that makes some sense. On the other, I don't think I've ever heard that discussed before, either in rules or in conversations, on or off-line (granted, I've read very little of the 3.5 rules). I'd just assumed that spells that didn't make you roll for a ranged touch attack or whatever didn't need to be aimed, at least not by sight. I ended up losing the fight because the ref and I had different assumptions and most of my spells didn't work (I didn't have any way to make light. I know, I know…)

Have you ever encountered issues with different assumptions about the setting or about some rules question that isn't addressed in the rules (at least as far as you know)? Of course you have. This is the OSR! OK, seriously, how would you have ruled? How have you dealt with other situations like this?

Personally, I'm drawn to Jeff Rients' quote in the left column. And I think there's a responsibility on the part of the referee to explain as much of the setting assumptions as possible to the players. In the first situation, he heard me talk about the results I expected, knowing that my expectations were unrealistic in the setting, something my character would probably have known. I wish he'd informed me that my expectations actually wouldn't have been shared by my character, that my expectations wouldn't in fact be met. I've seen writing on meaningful choices in gaming, where players should be making choices where they can at least predict a range of likely consequences for their choices. I'm feeling too tired to put that more eloquently right now.

The second instance… that's a bit more dicey for me, and I can't deny that I'm biased because I was involved in both of these situations and had a stake in them.