The Alternative to Pure Potential

Yesterday, I talked about the primary danger of building the world literally as the players interact with it: that the players, having no idea where to start, will just sit in the only defined space and let the world come to them, creating a reactive/reactive style feedback loop potentially leading to complete shutdown. Not much fun, is it?

The logical opposite to this is, of course, “Detail the socks off of everything ahead of time”: a valid strategy, but very tiring, especially when you consider that the players don’t always go everywhere. Spending five or six hours designing a storylet that nobody so much as touches because that spot over there that you could barely finish because it was so annoying is more interesting to them is frustrating at best and capable of turning a newbie GM completely off of running games. Fortunately, it’s not the only answer.

The reason why the characters aren’t going anywhere, after all, is that they’re not sure where to go that will be of use or interest to them. Most of the time, when they step off the tracks of a more plot-pushing game, it’s because something over there looked like it might be useful, or promised a bit of fun or a cool scenery moment. To them, being in a pure-potential environment is rather like being in a field shrouded completely in mist—if they walk too far, they don’t know what they’ll run into, and they might get lost in the process.

What we can do, then, is create skeletal versions of the people, places and things we want them to interact with. The most important elements are a name (how else would we be able to figure out what they were moving towards?) and a reason to check it out, whether it’s an explicit reason like “The bad guy lives here” or “This person knows how your unexplained powers work” or a more subtle reason like “With a name like that, it’s got to be relevant to something”. At this point, your proactive, save-the-world-with-a-screwdriver-and-a-hamster types are going to be breaking down the door to get there, and even your reactives are likely to realize that hey, this was a hint, may as well act on it. What the group knows doesn’t always need to be accurate, as long as it’s reasonable that the characters would get the information they got. You don’t even have to detail out too much; if your basic pure-potential world is a field full of mist, then this is silhouettes faintly visible through the mist, with just enough of a shape visible that people can orient to them and get some vague (if not always accurate) idea what they might be. Then, when the players take the bait, you can hurriedly detail enough to get you to your next chance to plan.

Pure potential may be easier, but balancing pure potential with giving the players enough information to make a reasoned decision will be far more satisfying in the long run.

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