Risk Is Half The Fun


Constructing a game is hard. There are a million things to think about: accessibility, presentation, positive and negative feedback, storyline, immersion, and of course, the mechanics. Yet among the multitudes of concepts it’s important to remember that the best way to surprise your player is to surprise yourself.

For instance, I have a player in my tabletop RPG campaign who spends most of the missions either asleep or drinking until he falls asleep. This is partly because he only plays to interact with his friends, and partly because he feels that his Druid is generally useless. His primary contribution was to turn into a bird and fly around screeching until the other players yell at him to come down. For a long time, the most animated he ever got in-game was an argument with the Sorcerer over whether his spell was “Resilient Sphere” or “Resilience Fear”.

This was until he got a spell that allowed him to convey sentience to plants. Stuck in a malaise that would make Jimmy Carter speak disapprovingly, the druid used it on the most inconvenient thing possible: A giant system of carnivorous vines. The vines, suddenly enlightened, offered to share the Ranger’s corpse as soon as they were done tearing it in half. What followed was one of the more bizarre persuade checks I’ve ever had. Yet when the vines let the ranger go, wrapped themselves around the many skeletons of their victims and ambled away a giant, writhing army, the druid was delighted.

Like a domineering family patriarch armed with a map and an itinerary, I had been attempting to control the fun in a way that I believed completely maximized it. But those of us who have, at one point, been children (you know who you are) can recall memories of being entirely dissatisfied of when we had to play by someone else’s rules. I remember playing hide and seek thinking, “This would be more fun if we could tag the person seeking.” Giving your players a chance (and the challenge) to make their own fun, or at the least, their own mess, can create amazing situations that test everyone involved.

And why stop at players of tabletop RPGs? Video game developers make sandbox games so that people can release rabid cassowaries on their opponents (Far Cry 3) or build whole worlds and kingdoms where you can make and enforce your own rules (Minecraft). Video game design and development could go far with some controlled laissez-faire. Some of the most devoted fans of more rigid classics like the Zelda series live for finding glitches, only because it lets them bypass the system.

Developers, Dungeon Masters, managers, parents, and leaders of all kinds must often ask themselves: Who am I doing this for? Sometimes giving your players a little freedom can create extraordinary situations, and that’s often what we seek in terms of creativity and entertainment. And if that turns into terrible, regrettable mistakes, they usually make for great stories or hilarious screenshots.

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