The Evil DM

The Evil DM
The Evil DM

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Quest for Knowledge

One of the oldest spy stories is record in the book of Numbers in the Bible.

When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, "Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not?" Numbers 13:17-20a (NASB)
World of Warcraft is infamous for quests where you need to get some number of trophies from killing a specific creature. Skyrim has similar quests, for example, the quest to kill ten bears and gather their pelts. Video games have a difficult time asking for qualitative answers. Tabletop roleplaying games have no difficulty giving quests requiring qualitative instead of quantitative answers.

The party receives a quest to spy on an enemy installation. They need to determine if the enemy is prepared to fight off an attack. Are there guards? If there are guards, are they alert or just going through the motions? What is the best direction to attack the installation?

Quest like these provide player the opportunity to strategize and plan. Charging straight up the middle without considering the strength of the defenders is a sure strategy for defeat. The party needs to determine how strong a defense. Observing the guards provides insight on their capabilities. One of the weaknesses of Skyrim is guards are only on alert for a short time. I once tried to use a monster like Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th. The party found a safe place to hole up and plotted how to kill the monster. None of the party would venture out alone, unlike the movies. The party was paranoid about every noise and movement. In Skyrim, you can sneak into a thieves den and kill the guards one by one. The guards will go on alert for a little while, and then settle back into their usual unobservant ways. In real life, it would take weeks, months, or even years before the guards would stop thinking how something killed one of their own in a sneak attack. That can break the morale of the guards. Snipers can effectively destroy the effectiveness of a force by killing only a few. If you killed eight of the ten guards the last two guard would probably run away or at least call for reinforcements.

Planning an attack require gathering information. The information may be only partial or incomplete. For example, you do not know the exact number of guards, but the party can count the number on duty at any time. They can deduce there are at least three times that number if the guards follow a standard rotation. The key is knowledge.

This is very similar to solving a logic problem. You have a set of facts or clues. You need to use logic to determine the best course of action. The difference is formal logic problems have one and only one solution. There may be many possible solutions to attacking an enemy installation. However, not all solutions are as effective.

Most fantasy roleplaying adventures focus on the hack-and-slash. Consider giving your party a quest where they need to obtain information instead of killing.