Two or three weeks ago, while playing in Tavis’s White Sandbox game, our gang of crafty adventurers descended into the Caverns of Thracia, where we came across a pile of trash . . . on a staircase!
This was obviously a trap, or a monster, or a trapped monster. And it took our party of eight 4th-Level adventurers at least 15 minutes to bypass it. Mainly by tentatively suggesting an outcome, and then pulling back in a panic, and then suggesting it slightly differently . . . and then not getting a confirmation of the theory, necessitating a new cycle of guessing and tentative theorizing.
- “I poke at it with my 10′ pole . . . NO WAIT”
- “I sprinkle holy water on the pile of trash, just one drop. Does anything happen? No? Okay, two drops. Anything happen? No, okay, three drops.”
- “I roll to hear noises coming from the pile of trash. But not right next to it! My ear is, like, 5 feet away. But I’m listening. Unless it’s psychic.”
- “I use ESP on the pile of trash.”
This was really funny . . . for about five minutes, and then the paranoia became aggravating. With eight players, it’s never clear when we’ve had enough and are willing to take a chance–because once one person has become satisfied, another person’s curiosity will have been piqued.
Every session we have a moment like this, where everything . . . grinds . . . to . . . a . . . halt as we debate whether to stand on this 5′ square or that 5′ square, or whether we should kill the Gnoll guards by a frontal attack, or kill them through backstabbing. It’s like the 90/10 rule: 90% of the discussion involves only 10% of the plan.
As a semi-frequent player, I can endure this. But if someone is brand-new to our campaign, and thus a little unsure of what’s socially appropriate and/or lacks the knowledge about the campaign world to contribute, I suspect this would be frustrating as hell.
Question for the audience – How do you solve the problem of allowing players maximal freedom, including the freedom to fail and the joys of sometimes pointless exploration, without it bogging down to wasting time? How do eight people come to a decision, given limited information, in something less than 20 minutes of second-guessing and third-guessing?
(As a GM, when I get bored of this stuff, I say, “Look, maybe there’s just nothing there,” but that’s only socially useful if I get bored before the players do.)
PS. It turns out there were caltrops under the trash. Thank God we finally figured it out, though I can’t remember how we did so – so that if we need to do it again, we’ll be back at square one…