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Players, Don't Overcomplicate Solutions to In-Game Problems

It's Often Simpler Than You Think

By Neal LitherlandPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Top Story - March 2022

"All right, so I'm going to cast the three spells I mentioned, activate my bardic music for the bonus, and then take out the wand, and all of that combined should-"

The fighter tapped the bard on the shoulder, interrupting his planning. When he turned, Kurteus held up a grappling hook and a rope.

"Maybe I missed something, Duncan, but I've got 50 feet of rope and a Strength score of 20. You think that would be enough to pull that rowboat to this side of the 25-foot stream?"

It's been over 10 years since I had this interaction at a gaming table, but it is one that has stuck with me because the lesson becomes more important the longer one plays any RPG. Because so many of us get used to making absurd combinations of powers and abilities, and using big, flashy resources to accomplish things, that we sometimes forget there's usually a simpler, more straightforward way to accomplish our goals.

This week I wanted to remind folks that, before you pick up your dice, work smarter, not harder.

And before I go any further down this rabbit hole, don't forget to stop by my gaming blog Improved Initiative for more RPG content, and check out my full Vocal archive as well!

Keep It Simple (The KISS Method)

Even when your character sheet looks like this.

Regardless of how mechanically complicated (or not complicated) your particular RPG of choice is, this is a trap that we all fall into sooner or later. After all, there is a reason it's a trope that a group will sit around a table, making a plan for three hours, and then once the dice come out the plan is immediately scrapped.

That's why for this week's Crunch post I wanted to remind everyone out there to take a moment, breathe, and re-focus when they're faced with challenges at the table. And then to consider using a few of the following steps that I go through myself in order to make sure I'm not missing the forest for the trees.

- First, establish your goal. Whether you need to get the rowboat from one side of the river to the other, or you need to get into a guarded room in the palace, you need to firmly establish what you're trying to accomplish. Otherwise you'll get all snarled up going forward.

- Second, ask what options are off-limits for achieving that goal. For instance, if you need to steal an item of great importance, but that item is under guard, can you just slay the guards? Or is that not acceptable? Do you need to be able to do something stealthily? These modifiers can help clarify your initial goal.

- Third, ask what methods are going to most directly lead you from where you are, to achieving your goal, without violating any conditions from option two. Returning to the heist, you could fill the room with choking smoke while the party slips in using some form of protection, stealing the items in the chaos, and vanishing in the night. You could cause a distraction elsewhere, hoping the guards leave and give you a window of opportunity. You could just kick in the door and use non-lethal spells and weapons to render the guards immobile, absconding with your ill-gotten gains.

While some plans may become complicated, requiring different members of the party to perform different roles, it's important to make sure your plan can be easily explained to someone, and that you have a clear understanding of how the actions you're taking lead from where you are to what your goal is. And, perhaps most importantly, that you reduce as many stages as you can in order to streamline your actions so there are as few moving parts as possible.

This also has the benefit of using fewer resources, more often than not.

A Final Note on Over-Reliance on Magic

Phenomenal cosmic power!

This last note is not meant to throw shade at all the wizards, sorcerers, clerics, and druids out there. However, one of the most common sources of overcomplication in solving problems in RPGs comes from an over-reliance on magic as a fix-all solution. Because it's true that magic is a potent resource that can solve a great deal of problems in game, but sometimes it can be like trying to swat a fly with a sledgehammer... or it becomes a Rube Goldberg device as you get so caught up in what you can do with your magic that you lose sight of what will be the most effective solution.

As an example, I was once in a game where a player used a confluence of events to create a pocket realm where time would pass differently so their wizard could invent a car that ran on cantrips, allowing us to drive across a vast desert in a shorter amount of time once the strange device was built and brought back to the proper plane.

Did the math check out? Absolutely. Did this overly-complex series of events achieve the goal of getting the party from Point A to Point B? After half the session had been spent making crafting rolls and reading vehicle sections, yes. However, what would have been even more useful would have been to use the lower-level spell that summoned a group of phantom steeds for everyone to ride. While it wouldn't have had the same horsepower (pun very much intended), we could have ridden hard and constantly as the magic horses were not living creatures, and thus needed no food, no water, and no care, making them ideal for transport across an inhospitable waste.

Keep it simple, whenever you can.

Like, Share, and Follow For More!

That's all for this week's Crunch topic! Don't forget to check out my full Vocal archive for more... or if you'd like to read some of my books, like my alley cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife or my latest short story collection The Rejects, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and now on Pinterest as well! And if you'd like to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular, monthly patron! Even a little bit of help can go a long way, trust me on that one.

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About the Creator

Neal Litherland

Neal Litherland is an author, freelance blogger, and RPG designer. A regular on the Chicago convention circuit, he works in a variety of genres.

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Blog: Improved Initiative and The Literary Mercenary

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Comments (1)

  • Peter Evans 2 years ago

    The greatest pleasure is solving puzzles in games by yourself.

Neal LitherlandWritten by Neal Litherland

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