Can, Can’t, and Shouldn’t: Three Ways Location Shapes Behavior

This is another post for RPG Blog Carnival. Thinking about locations seems to bring out the best in my inspiration.

Locations have many different effects on the characters who occupy them: physical, metaphysical, emotional, you name it. But one of the biggest effects a well-designed tactical environment creates is a change to behavior. Particularly, it creates three categories of behavior that might not otherwise be present in a generic environment, each of which creates its own challenges and has its own impact on the characters.

The first of these are the “can” behaviors: things the character can do that the environment makes possible. In some cases, admittedly, these are things the character can do but doesn’t necessarily have the option for: climbing trees, for instance, if the location has trees to climb. In other cases, these are things that the character can only really do because of location factors—take advantage of a geyser to boost a leap twenty feet higher, for instance.

The second are the “can’t” behaviors: things the character can’t do because of the environment’s interference. These often have to do with visibility or maneuvering room—the newfound inability to target past a certain distance due to the smoke, for instance, or a winged character not being able to fly properly because the ceiling is only eight feet high. Of the three behavior categories, this is the one that directly impacts the characters the most—choosing a location for its “can’t” behaviors, or even creating a location specifically to have “can’t” behaviors, leads to additional challenge for PCs and drama for readers.

The third are the “shouldn’t” behaviors. Like “can’t” behaviors, they limit a character’s options, but unlike “can’t” behaviors, it’s not a matter of feasibility, but a matter of practicality; the character can do this thing, but it’s not a good idea. These are things like causing a seismic disturbance in an avalanche zone, using an energy cannon to rocket-jump off of the wooden deck of a ship crowded belowdecks with people, taking a relaxing dip in a pool of caustic acid… you know, highly risky or collateral damage-prone behaviors.

If you can’t think of anything else about a location, then, or you need a way to come up with one, think about the can, can’t and shouldn’t behaviors it creates, and what impact their existence is going to have on the characters (or, in the case of the “shouldn’t” behaviors, what’s going to happen if they do something they shouldn’t). You’ll end up with much more interesting and challenging results than the standard stone walls, floor and ceiling would get you.


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  1. Impractical Applications: A Room With a Shouldn’t | Exchange of Realities

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