Where Are You Looking?

In a sense, “Where is it?” can be an optional question for the object of a search plotline—or at least, one that doesn’t necessarily require a very precise answer. Motile search targets, after all, have that obnoxious tendency not to stay in one place, and the answer to where they are might be “in this city somewhere”. For search targets that aren’t going anywhere, though, there are three elements of object and location that create difficulty in a search.

First, there’s associating the object of the search with the location—it doesn’t matter how easy or hard a location is to locate if you have no idea whatsoever that the target of the search is likely to be there. Sometimes, the main challenge isn’t figuring out where a place is geographically, but figuring out which place you’re looking for in the first place!

The second is how hard it is to locate the location itself. Just because you know that an object is in a little room off of an abandoned warehouse somewhere in the mercantile district doesn’t mean that you know where the abandoned warehouse is, let alone where the room is within the warehouse. I don’t recommend going for more than about four or five levels of location—after a while, it starts looking more like Russian stacking dolls than a plotline—but people needing to focus inward can create a bit more complexity to a search, and can allow you to phase the difficulty of finding the location up from pretty easy (it’s on the tallest mountain on the skyline!) to difficult (it’s in a secret room in the deepest part of the abandoned temple).

Then there’s the last—once you’ve gotten to the location, how hard is it to find the object itself within that location? Sometimes, once you’ve found the location, the object is a piece of cake (think of all the big-time magic items that sit on or in a pedestal in the focal part of the room they’re in). Other times, this is where the challenge is; letters hidden under false bottoms of locked drawers, a specific pebble on a beach full of similar-looking pebbles, invisible items in mostly empty rooms.

When you’re using these elements, it’s often a good idea to try to balance their impact. If, as is common in quest scenarios, it’s not too hard to figure out what place the object of the search is supposed to be in, you might want to tag up the difficulty of figuring out where the object’s location is actually located. If finding the place was a bear, you might want to ease up on the difficulty of finding the object within the place itself.

Searches aren’t simple, but knowing the components of an item’s location can keep them a lot less complicated than they look. Keep it in mind!

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