Order From Chaos

EscapeManorHey, gang. Warden here. From time to time – as I’m sure it is with any game designer – my mind drifts away from reality and ponders the intent and purpose behind game mechanics when the world around us offers a new puzzle. This is one of those moments.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a rather exciting and new form of party game that psyched all of us in the group because we’re all hard core roleplayers. D&D mostly, but that’s beside the point. It’s a place in the heart of downtown Ottawa called Escape Manor and the premise is this: you and a group of no more than five other friends are locked in a room for 45 minutes. The room has a particular theme and is packed with hidden clues, which you and your group must uncover and decipher one-by-one until you find a way to unlock the door and escape. Oh yeah, the decades of D&D gave us an empowering sense of experience and we were incredibly confident this room would be open within 30 minutes.

Nope. We failed. According to the host, we were probably 50% of the way through. Maybe 60%, if he felt generous.

I’m not going to get into any details nor were any photos allowed because it is truly something you have to try yourself and any hints and lead-ins can truly spoil the experience. If you’re interested in checking it out and live in the Ottawa area, here’s their website. If not, check around any major metropolitan area and see if there are others like this near you. (I know there’s another one in Toronto at least.)

Why did we fail? Each of us had a different opinion, but I couldn’t help but notice the absolute flood of independent thinking going on during our time in the room. This was a given as it’s human nature for everyone to scramble without proper leadership, guidance, or experience, but that’s not what struck me at that moment. The irony was that the quote-unquote experience we had solving similar puzzles in a roleplaying game did jack squat for us in a real life experience. It seemed that without the order brought on by organized turns, we were all running around grabbing clues left, right, and centre without devising any plan of attack or working together on each clue individually. Instead, everyone started grabbing things and shouting out questions and suggestions in a mad panic.

Which brings me to the crux of this post. What would your game be like if there were no turns? If everyone could freely act whenever they wanted and play as if it was Black Friday: The Shopping Frenzy RPG, how chaotic would things become after time? Even during organized turn structures, player still have a tendency of forgoing logical limitations such as distance during communication (one player moves in the opposite side of a crowded room and yet can still provide a suggestion to the other player or share details on what they witnessed). Basically, meta-gaming. It’s part of the gaming experience, there’s no doubt. Unless the rules clearly state no player shall vocally contribute during another player’s turn (and punish any infringement), players will push their opinions and observations into the game as part of a mad dash to move the game forward.

It can be very easy to forget that while it is a game with friends gathered around pretending to be other characters in dangerous situations, there are many in-game restrictions that drastically affect how their characters function and how gamemasters allow these alterations to happen for the sake of play. In other words, if our characters acted as chaotically as players, how well do you think they’d do in an actual dungeon or in negotiations with a hostile nation? Granted, the entire purpose of a roleplaying game is to pretend you’re someone else with skills and powers beyond your own, so the entire function of an RPG should allow for these kind of exceptions. My point in all this is to simply consider the effect meta-gaming has during tense moments where every minute action, movement, and sentence can make an impact on the game. How would characters actually communicate if they’re on opposite sides of a crowded tavern? Would the group have a chance to continuously huddle and consider their next words when brought before a powerful warlord? How well would your players perform if they had to face similar restrictions in a social scene as they would in combat?

Just a little something to think about next time you’re playing your favourite game.

Random Thoughts is an ongoing series of… well, random thoughts provided by BRG’s lead designer, The Warden. Maybe this week will talk about the effects of initiative rolls and the next will cover how cool his new dice look. Whatever comes out of his head, this column is an outlet for these ramblings. 

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