Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Fostering Creativity

 One of the things I most want to do in any given role playing game is to be able to appreciate other people's creativity. Maybe it's my childhood spent around talented artists and craftspeople, or my hedonistic life philosophy, but nothing impresses me and fills me with joy so much as seeing someone else come up with a beautiful way to bring more themselves into the world... or creative way to solve a problem.

"The Pinnacle of Virtue" by Scrap
Princess from the Planescrap
Primer ©2020 byScrap Princess. 
This is the reason why I have come to love the OSR community so much. Creativity is King. It doesn't matter whether you have the slick production values of some of the a-rated products, or if your style is technically perfect. If you have a new and clever idea, people want to hear from you. Artwork like the incredible creativity of Scrap Princess might not be as technically sophisticated as Wayne Reynolds, but it has such vibrancy that I would take it anytime.

And, that is also why I love the older style of role-playing games. With fewer rules and a faster flow, the GM can offer the players more information about their environment and their equipment, and then let them come up with their own solutions to problems. That is what D&D and most OSR games are specifically designed to do just that. Combat is a fail state. Player characters die so easily in Basic- & Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that if you pick a fight without having some kind of advantage and intelligence, you are playing your characters like they have a death wish. Creative problem solving trumps mastery of the rules in any game with a GM who has a strong sense of fairness, an open system, and faith in the Rule of Cool.

This has been at the heart of most of my module designs. I don't give easy and immediate solutions, instead I give a lot of possibility. Although, l sure that there are at least a couple of non-violent ways to solve the problem. When you present a problem with no obvious solution but lots of options, players really shine.

Cover of Love Nest of the Barbarix
One of my favorite examples of this was a report I got on how one he overcame The Love Nest of the Barbarix.

This module involves an opportunity to rescue a kidnapped bard from a barbarian tribe. After his flirtatious performance gave their female champion the wrong impression, she felt the need to rescue him from what she believed was servitude to the innkeeper. One she realized he was just telling songs of hopeless love to try to move coin from her, she locked him in a cage, and now has to figure out how to avoid potential humiliation before her tribe. 

The first major obstacles just getting past the tribe into the petrified skull she uses as a fort. The tribesfolk are not hostile. In fact they can be quite friendly, but the fear that the PCS might interrupt their champion on her honeymoon means that they won't be keen to let the players in if they ask the wrong questions. Likewise, they're not likely to let the bard or anyone else leave alive if they try to sneak out after causing a fuss. 

In my tests of this game, players tended to talk their way into the village then break into the fortress by stealth. Once in front of the Barbarix, they were usually able to talk it out and then walk out with the Bard. Some poisoned the local hounds and mounts to escape, and some managed to bluff, with the support of the champion, the idea that the bard had duties to discharge before he could marry, appealing to the tribe's sense of honor and tradition. In either case, a hasty retreat was beat without embarrassing the champion. 

This approach can let player characters avoid combat, except possibly with a magical guardian in the lower foyer of the fortress, or a prized axe-beak mount of the champion's. A modern gaming group playing a carefully-balanced modern adventure would have no incentive to engage in these kinds of clever maneuvers. They would probably consider fighting their way in. Fighting a clan of axe-beak-mounted berserkers, in an OSR game, however, would be suicide - - and the players know it. Thus, their creativity must be engaged.

In the case of the player who sent me the report, his party ingratiated themselves to the barbarians by offering meat from a recent hunt, bringing them a ferocious wild boar. That made themselves well-liked by the tribe. Then they brought more meat from a second hunt after a day of trading... only they included a sleeping daught in it that knocked most of the tribe and their dogs unconscious. Then they thought their way into the Barbarix' chamber past the immortal demon guard, and parlayed. They persuaded the champion to fake that she had been poisoned too, allowing them to run off with The Bard. They had to evade trackers, but as they were acting as independent adventurers and telling tales of their scurvy deeds, it led to no war between the barbarian tribes and the local city folks, The bard was free to start a new life in another city.

This is most definitely not a move I would have considered. Harmlessly poisoning the village, or hunting aa mighty beast to win their respect. I was blown away by the creativity of the solution. And that is what I always want to foster when I put something out there for people to use.

"Cockatrice" CC-BY Lady of Hats
Right now I'm in the process of testing and translating into a readable form and adventure I call the Rumble at the Lazy Cockatrice. And I am hoping i'll top myself in inviting players to be creative.

My premise is that the 1st lveel PCsc are meeting a patron about collecting magic items that allows one to give a perfectly infuriating insult. Numerous of the relics landlords adventuring history, up to an including deactivated automatons and ancient firearms from a much higher tech civilization Are scattered around the inn. Moreover it has hoists for barrels, oil lamps, ample cover, and an array of dangerous object laying around, plus a few helpful NPCs, and a a handful of disposable magic items that forces a foe to target a PC for one round.

With all of this scattered around a single large, oddly shaped room, I'm going to hit the first level player characters against a foe that is vastly superior in every way except intellect. If they choose to act like a bunch of munchkins and charge headlong into the central encounter there will be a TPK in a number of rounds equal to the number of player characters plus two. Almost guaranteed. With smarts and creativity, I see it as conceivable that the players will be able to defeat is insanely powerful opponent without getting a scratch.

It is far from a conventional adventure. Only one room needs to be given any kind of detail . I'll be very curious to see what people have to say about it when it is fully ready for sharing, And hope to hear of many creative battles. 

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