Monday, January 4, 2010

Sherlock Holmes, dungeon delver I

Last night I watched the newest Sherlock Holmes film, and I started thinking of gaming as soon as I was out of the theatre. The rest of this post and those related to it will talk about what happens in the film, decide for yourself if you want to come back and read them after seeing the film.

Now we can get started talking about what happens in the film, and how it can be used to make your games better.

I think the film was quite fun, even though it was an interpretation of a more action and violence oriented Holmes than I'd prefer. Victorian London was a quite rough place to be, and maybe I've been seduced by the fairly idealized picture that Conan Doyle presents, and ignored the sooty and miserable place London was for the majority of its inhabitants during the late 1800. Still, there were a few very graphic fights, which I will now dwell a bit further upon.

Except for the fight in the arena, or pit fight (which by the way made me think of a certain career in Warhammer FRP), the environment was crucial to the outcome of the fights. The fight with the big French speaking dude was just about destroying furniture until Holmes found the electric device. Picking up junk lying around will in most games just give you something equivalent to a dagger, or similar "light" weapon. Improvised weapons like the leg of a stool or chair might not pack the same punch as a gun, but sometimes they might be just what you need. I made me wonder if beefing up those improvised weapons, handing out action points or some other way to use game mechanics to bolster combat effectiveness is the answer to make this happen in a game. Frankly I think not. The best way to handle it is probably a change in the attitude of Game Masters, giving out support for innovative actions. Still, game mechanics are such a method. Hmm.

Apart from that insight, I think the general question of the environment is interesting. When they were fighting, it made the fights less repetitive and more interesting when there was a possibility to fall off a tall bridge or get crushed by a ship while fighting. Dan Bayn used to write a column over at about action scenes. I think it should be mandatory reading for any GM. Dan is overflowing with cool ideas, and I only wish I remembered half of what I've read of that column when I sit behind the screen. One of the things Dan writes about is how to enliven fights using the environment. Just think about when Sherlock swings around on top of that bridge, rotating around and coming up behind whom he was fighting. Are there a rope or chain hanging around? Grab it and swing!

So, you say that all this is cool and great, fun you want your game more traditional, and more focused on the thrill of fantasy than cinematic steampunk? Well, think about rivers of lava, high bridges over deep ravines. I don't know about you, but some of those images gives me a great feeling of fantasy. Just think about Moria.

Maybe the lesson from all this is that when designing dungeon rooms or encounters in general, we as designers should include some random junk, and some more cracks in the floor, ice patches, lava rivers and red hot pokers. One way to make it less "canned" and make it more of a toolbox would be to include a chart of these effects and suggest the GM rolls on it once in a while to liven up the delve. Food for thought if you plan on writing an adventure for somebody else to run.

My next game will include a Sherlock Holmes and Dan Bayn.
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