Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Quick Fire: The Illusion of Depth

Note: This is a quickfire, from-the-hip article I'm writing in part to challenge myself. It won't be as polished as my usual fare. You were warned.

If there's one sure way to lose the interest of your players, it's to drown 'em in details. Read a large, dull block of descriptive prose to them and eyes glaze, dice become towers, and phones begin to coldly glow beneath busy, uninterested fingers.

Quick, what's the exact placement of items on the shelves nearest to you right now? Okay maybe you know that, maybe. Alright then, at your best friends house, what are all the decorative items in his/her living room? You probably can't name half of them and I'd expect you spend a fair amount of time there. When ya walk into a room, you probably don't immediately inventory the place and attempt to gauge the exact size of the draperies and wall-art. You instead get an immediate impression of the general layout and sort of take in the atmosphere of the place.

The room I'm in right now as it probably ought to be described --> "The smallish room is cluttered and haphazardly decorated. Random papers, envelopes, and note cards lay on most of the flat surfaces. There's a computer and a fair sized TV. Smells of cooking waft in from the nearby kitchen."

How it often goes instead "The first thing you see is a big computer monitor it's pretty much right in front of you. There's a printout of a watercolor of a god-like figure stuck on a dry-erase board with doodles and numbers on the board behind it. The room is 12' x 14'. To the right is part of a blue-white sectional, wedged against the wall. There's a black coffee table between you and the computer desk. It's 1.5 x 3.5 feet. There's a pile of mail and books on it... ad nauseum"

When the Heroes/Grave-Robbing-Scumbags/PCs come into a room give them a few details that set the mood for the area then let them ask questions and explore. This is a game of interaction not a damn book-reading. Be prepared to improvise. They will, I repeat WILL go off and investigate something you didn't expect and will demand details about the least important thing in the room. The secret is to have an idea of the mood, atmosphere, and inhabitants of the place firmly in your mind. Then just sort of let the minute details grow from there as the players direct you around the space.

In a similar vein, vagueness is your friend when it comes to measurements. Everything should start at about this big, good-sized, a few feet deep, maybe a yard wide, should hold a quite a damn bit,  etc. Unless there's a cyborg with a scanning eye in the party, nobody will know the exact measurements of anything just by sight. There's no surer way to jar a player out of immersion and remind him/her that they're playing a game than saying, "the ogre magi is 17 feet away. What's your move?"

In short, remember the mood/purpose of the room and pull it outta yer ass from there. It's a lot more exciting to explore the dungeon alongside the players anyway.