Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Luck of the Draw

Please excuse me while I continue my week of content-light posting. I’d like to quickly touch upon something that happened to me during my last week’s regular gaming session that might be of use to other referees running games.

After a quick side trip to dispatch some wyverns that had been thinning the local lord’s horse herd, my character and his fellow adventurers found themselves standing over the slain carcasses of two wyverns: bloodied, poisoned, and triumphant. As the rest of the party took the time to collect the beasts’ tails to bring back to collect the bounty on, old-school player me took the time to ransack the nest.

Since this whole side trip was a spur-of-the-moment quest, the DM was running it without any notes other than the Monster Manual. But, since wyvern’s have a Treasure Type, there was a chance that something was in that nest. I don’t think the rest of the players even thought of searching the beasts’ lair for anything of value – a clear example of where expecting too much realistic simulation in a game can be detrimental to one’s pocketbook – but I certainly did and was well rewarded to boot. The gold coins found therein were worth more than the bounty on the wyverns. But there was magic to be found as well!

My DM happened to own a set of the Deck of Magical Items and, rather than rolling on the magic items table and sub-tables in the DMG, allowed me to pick blindly from the deck to reveal what was found. A moment later, the rest of the party watched in awe as my little gnome suddenly appeared well-garbed in finery and possessing a regal, commanding aura and a gleaming smile. I’d pulled the card for a rod of splendor.

I’d never put much stock before in such game accessories like cards, fake coins, and the like, but I now see the attraction of them for both sides of the screen. As a player, when cards are used in a fashion like the one described above, the player knows that he is responsible for his destiny: either for weal or woe. That’s much more exciting than knowing that the DM placed an object in the game either by design or by his own random method. The player feels more involved in the mechanics and direction of the game, even if it’s only by blind chance. As a referee, especially one like myself who enjoys random tables in the game, it keeps things exciting and unpredictable, as any game should be. The player may draw almost anything and it will then be up to the referee to either make the result plausible or plan for later ramifications of that draw to the campaign world.

While I wouldn’t resolve all treasure determinations this way, as over-reliance on such a method smacks too much of “board game mechanics,” I wouldn’t be adverse to implementing this to my own games to some degree. I can’t see plunking down the cash to buy a pre-made set of these cards, but some time, a stack of index cards, and a little elbow grease would produce a similar set customized for my world.

It looks like it’s time to add another pot to my overcrowded creative stove…

1 comment:

E.G.Palmer said...

I'd never heard to the deck of magical items, that sounds like a great idea. The randomness of the draw results appeals to my sense of realism. You just never know what you're going to encounter in real life. I found a chain of silver coins in a dump one time when I was a kid. All australian from the 1940s and connected by silver links. In a dump, in Indiana, in the 80s. What are the chances of that?.
I think it was Jeff Rients who put a bunch of random stuff on 3x5 cards for his first time players to draw from. I thought that was a great idea. Then the players can make up a reason for having it, gift from grandpa, found it in the road, thrown from a passing wagon, whatever. It adds to feeling of depth in the game. And then they fall in a pit and die. Next character!