Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Group Exploration

Still feeling a little fatigue in my creative muscles, also DMing regularly on Friday nights takes some of the juice that I would normally use to post on here.

But I've been playing Fallout: New Vegas.  First, be careful it's buggy; the only console game I've had that's frozen on me.  Second, it's more linear than Fallout 3; sure you can go into the hills, but when they say your bullets won't hurt the critters up there they mean it.  But even after all that and some other little annoyances it really gives me something I crave.

I love exploring and scavenging.  In the game, I see an abandoned gas station up ahead and I burn with curiosity to see what's in it.  I know from experience there won't be much of value, some radioactive food, a little cash, some ammo.  But I want to see it just the same.

And then once I've barely survived the giant scorpions surrounding the place-- and spent more ammo than I'll ever be able to buy from the combined trash in the place-- I proceed to pick the place clean.

I imagine if this video game allowed for cooperative play, most folks would find the way I play boooooring.  How does this compare to an oldschool D&D game? I wonder if group exploration is fundamentally different from solitary exploration.

That is where I see our group play slow down most, (or maybe I should say that is where play happens?) when the group is trying to decide where to go and how long to stay there.  Not sure what to do about that other than talk with players about what they enjoy most in the game, and try to facilitate the group communicating with each other when they make decisions.
A recent post by Trollsmyth made me think about the idea for an exploration based game is not so much to have appropriate rewards to be found after appropriate exertion, which I've long thought, but to have interesting things to find and interact with.  I think this applies here because if a party of six find a glowing sword, five people go without-- but if the party finds a fountain that does weird things to imbibers, each party member can choose to interact with it or not.

And if party decisions about where to explore mean some players will have to go places that weren't their first choice, the least I can do as DM is to make every place as interesting as possible.

Not sure I have an insight here, so I'll put it to you: What ways can a solo exploration game differ from a group exploration game fruitfully and vice versa?  What are the limitations of each type?


  1. I'm not sure if this is really on-topic or not, but from my recent experience of running both a group game and a solo game I find that the main difference is in focus.

    It takes a lot for my group to get focused on any one thing. In the current adventure, a pair of players are puzzling over the strange bits of what appears to them to be a disassembled door scattered about the dungeon. A third is trying to make heads or tails out of the dungeon layout (yay teleporter room). A fourth is more or less focused on accomplishing the initial goal the group established when entering the dungeon while the fifth is trying to connect the dots between all of what the first four are focused on. The advantage is that's all fun stuff to us. The disadvantage, of course, is that in pursuing any one of the above as a party, at least half the group is putting their own interests on hold.

    In the solo game there's only ever one thing going one. Sure, other stuff is simmering in the background, but when we sit down to play my player initiates or decides upon a great deal of what happens without having to defer to anything save the limitations imposed by the campaign world and rules. The advantage is, of course, a focused and entertaining session when all goes well. The drawback is that she and I miss the benefits of having the many ideas and problem-solving approaches of a full party.

  2. Group exploration can have some serious disadvantages: there's the guy that wants to check every 10' for a trap, there's mr. never check for a trap, there's the guy that looks for secret doors everywhere, there's the guy that just can't stop from getting in a fight,there's the guy that seems to teleport all over a room when others are finding interesting things. There's almost always some jerk in your party backstabbing someone you are trying to talk to.

    In solo exploration there is never someone else other then yourself that may run slower then the foe. You are stuck with one idiots view and methods. It's darned tricky to throw yourself a healing potion during a tough fight.

    In solo play you do have a better chance to avoid rolling dice. You seldom get killed unless someone is rolling dice, avoid that at all costs. In solo play you can surrender and escape afterward, it's hard to do that in group exploration when everyone else is willing to fight to the death.

  3. I've been musing about the possibilities of a mostly-exploration tabletop game. It's a bit of a minefield, but I haven't given up hope that it will be worth it eventually.

    The major problem is content vs time. A few monsters can provide hours of gameplay but players burn through non-combat exploration much faster. How to slow them down without boring the hell out of them?

    Puzzles are a major help here. If they have to stop to figure out a multi-stage puzzle, then play is extended but they can still be progressing.

    Making satisfying puzzles is hard in itself and can end up feeling contrived. Maybe making 'predicaments' rather than puzzles is the answer, that require lateral thinking and creativity from the players rather than a single correct answer. Things like crossing a river and other group-building exercises used by the armed forces, scouts and other such out-doorsy groups.

    The other difference is one of scale. I know exactly how you feel about the Fallout 3 exploration - I absolutely love absorbing the atmosphere of an abandoned location, looking for clues as to the personalities of the long-gone residents. Did they have toys on the shelf? Did they keep a gun under the counter? Did they leave any information behind? In those games information is my greatest reward. I will search every desktop, every draw, to find written material.

    In a group game the scale is wider. I don't think that many people can comfortably examine every object and surface. The unit of exploration becomes the room. And that room can be digested relatively quickly - going back to the problem of content I mentioned way back at the beginning of this comment. What can we do about this? I'm not sure, but random generation seems like an approach worth a try, relieving the pressure of mass content creation on the DM and adding the frisson of chance for the players.

  4. Thanks, folks. Yep, sounds like you have seen this with groups and I agree Dan, that it is an issue of scale.

    I think that's really smart to say the unit is the room, maybe I would say a little finer a scale than that, but seems on the right track.

    I think what I have been doing in regards to content vs, time is to have things in the rooms that can be taken and remain puzzling or interesting. Basically magic items and odd objects.

    My last session the party found a chest that appears to teleport things somewhere else. They were very curious but decided to head for safety before fully investigating it.

    That makes me think that this abstraction can really be a benefit; we only play once a week I think it would be hard to remember all the objects in a dungeon room if they were as jam packed as a Fallout room, but the players can remember "the room with the chest."

  5. On another note: You might want to check your "posts awaiting approval" I think I've got a couple dozen you might find interesting, plus anything others have written.

  6. Thanks for the interesting comments C'nor, I'm reading through them.

    As far as the chest, the party barely restrained one of the party members from doing just that! She's currently cursed (can't heal) and is feeling a little fatalistic. I'll let you know what they eventually do with it.

  7. So is the fatalism part of the curse on the gold?

  8. No, she's just demoralized that her tough, 1st level fighter (6 hit points if I remember) is down to 2 hit points from a few combats and can't heal until the curse is lifted.

  9. Ah... Is she slowly bleeding to death or does clotting still work? Can she get infections from the nasty gunk in the water/mud that this place is full of?