Immersion through Interaction

I was having a conversation elsewhere where the topic of how the referee handles “searches” in the typical D&D game. Searches, in this case, includes looking for treasure or other items, especially places in which the items sought might not be obvious to the glance or included in the referees initial description of a locale.

Back when we first played D&D, we rolled for secret doors, but not for ‘concealed doors’ (i.e.: a door behind a tapestry that you could not see unless you pulled aside the tapestry). Things that were concealed the player had to find by describing where they looked. This was (as far as we knew), the ‘correct’ way of doing it. There were no ‘search’ or ‘perception’ skills. And, if I ran a game again, I think this is how I would like to handle it.

I recall describing the characters using poles or weapons to probe things that were suspected of being trapped, etc., rather than using a dice roll. So if you thought the floor was trapped, you might toss the corpse of a dead opponent on it, etc. Personally, I find this style of play (where the player describes what or how they do things and results are adjudicated from that) to be a more immersive one than using a funny accent while speaking in the first person, predetermining psychological quirks that will artificially govern your character’s actions, etc., simply because you weren’t playing a part — you were attempting to insert yourself, mentally, into the role of the adventurer. So if you were actually physically searching the laboratory of an evil wizard for a hidden treasure, where would you start looking? I suppose one could both speak with an accent and adjudicate searches verbally, but I would posit that using accents and assuming mannerisms often falls under the general rubric of ‘roleplaying,’ as in, “I am playing the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter who is stupid, superstitious and speaks with a broad Moronican accent…” I would offer that another interpretation of ‘roleplaying‘ might be, “I am placing myself in the role of Fflunfreddles the Fighter. I have these items and these skills. The referee has described the situation. Using what I have available in the game, what would I like to do?”

The person I was having the discussion with thought that the method I described took too much time (as opposed to using a search skill or similar mechanic). I don’t honestly think it takes up more time to adjudicate such minor tasks verbally rather than rolling for it (assuming ‘rolling for it’ involves the referee determining some sort of target number, the player (or DM) rolling a dice and adding modifiers, then comparing what is rolled to the target number, etc.).

I did notice that when I did it this way a few years ago, I did not tend to have a lot of rooms or encounter areas crowded with lots-and-lots of furnishings simply because it could get tedious to have the players describe exactly how they were searching in the 900 nooks and crannies one might find in a room crowded with furnishings… and, honestly, as DM I made up a lot of the inconsequential details on the fly. So maybe ‘realism’ in terms of room furnishings takes a hit, but so what? As DM I was not above ‘fast-forwarding’ through searches or activities that were routine (i.e.: if the player found a store room with 100 crates and announced they would search each one for valuables, I would have just determined how many hours it took, rolled for wandering monsters and given them the run-down on the contents).

3 Comments on “Immersion through Interaction”

  1. Jim says:

    Great post. I think it sums up well two styles of roleplaying. I think that I straddle somewhere in the middle. (Isn't that always the way?) For example, I frequently play LG characters. When I play them, I *do* try to place myself in their shoes, but I also try to be a *better me* than I would probably be. In other words, I try to adopt the manner of the alignment or the character type, but I do eschew all the funny accents/angst/etc. I save the funny accents for when I'm DM.

  2. If my players are suspicious of an area, they certainly describe their actions in specific details:
    – “I'm tapping the walls listening for hollow sounds.”
    – “I cut through the velvet lining with my dagger to see what's behind it.”
    – “I lift open the lid of the chest while standing behind the chest, and I close my eyes while I'm doing it.”
    – “While the rest of the party is 90 feet back, I stand as far as I can behind the frescoed circle on the floor, while still being just close enough to push the sack of grain onto the circle with my 10-foot pole.”

    … because doing so empowers them to protect their PCs from danger.

    There are times when they (knowingly or not) lack specificity, and that's fine too. I use my best judgement, using any applicable “standard operating procedures” they've developed, and make random rolls as necessary to determine whether any Bad Things (™) happened, and who they happened to.

    They're free to say, and frequently do say, “we toss the room looking for obvious loot and interesting details,” which is their way of saying that if something dangerous/interesting happens, they're fine with me randomly determining who it happens to.

    That hybrid works very well for my game. As referee, I certainly get more immersed in the game that way, and I believe my players do too.

    On the subject of secret/concealed door rolls, dwarves' ability to detect stonework traps, shifting walls, and similar stuff, I run them such that a successful roll only gives them observable evidence of an applicable feature: Scrape marks on the ceiling or floor, a draft, worn spots on the wall, a wall sconce that's slightly shinier than the others in the room, a section of floor that's a sixteenth of an inch higher than the surrounding area, or similar.

    A successful roll *doesn't* necessarily give them knowledge of exactly where the secret door is, how it opens, how the trap might operate, or what might disable it.

    You could think of those rolls as a saving throw for the player (not character) that occasionally gives the player some information without having to be very specific about their actions/methods. That is, any information that they could gain via one of those rolls could *also* be gained via the “describe my specific actions” method.

  3. Aplus says:

    I made a post on the paizo forums a while back about how our game got better once we decided to stop trying to handle all the skills by the book. The chapter on skills for Pathfinder is 26 pages, so you can probably imagine what it's like. Anyways, some of the guys were like, “Yeah, that's cool!” But a lot of them were acting like I insulted their mother by committing such a heinous atrocity against their game, and it was clearly due to mental deficiency on my part. If you're ever bored, here's the thread:

    Pathfinder Skills Thread Where Aplus Pisses People Off

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