…because where would you put it?
In the previous post, I talked about Near and Far thinking in RPGs, and recommended that the GM try to make as much as possible in the game amenable to Near thinking. As much as possible doesn’t mean everything, though; there are situations where it’s either not possible, or not desirable.
- If the GM and the players don’t know (and can’t be expected to learn) enough details. E.g. open-heart surgery, or starship hyperdrive repair. In the former case it’s conceivable (barely) that in a game that’s about being a surgeon it would be worthwhile to learn enough about surgery to not only provide accurate description, but enough real choices of the sort that surgeons face to make Near thinking possible; in the latter, the details just don’t exist, and while the GM could certainly make them up and try to teach them to the players, the amount of effort involved to get the kind of free-wheeling thinking of fully grasping the problem-space as when a player thinks about searching an ordinary desk doesn’t seem like it would pay off, even in a campaign about starship engineers.
- If the situation is about performance, not decisions. When the task at hand is something like playing the cello, it doesn’t really matter exactly what the GM or the player knows about cellos, or even music in general, because it’s the character’s physical skill that’s called on. Now, if you were to search a cello… Note that this is often going to be true of the physical activity of combat. The strategy and tactics are decisions that can be carried out by the player, the physical activity of shooting the bow or swinging the sword is all the performance of the character.
- If it’s about the character’s skill at making certain kinds of decisions. Even if the GM and the player both understand what’s involved enough that they could go into detail, sometimes it’s about what the character can think or understand, not the player. It’s often the case that the character is supposed to be better at thinking about certain situations than the player (sometimes the other way around). In these cases it’s possible to use a skill roll to backstop or supplement the decisions that the player makes, but much of the time you should just substitute Far thinking. Even if the GM and the player both know how to play chess, actually playing out the match between the character and Death isn’t likely to be a satisfying way of resolving it.
- For pacing reasons. There’s only so much time in a session, so sometimes even if the characters would have time to go through all the gory details the game is better off if you hand-wave it. You don’t want to do too much of this, though. It’s easy to imagine that you’re getting more done in the game when you fly by everything at 30,000 feet, using Far thinking all the way, when actually you’re just leeching out all the color and vibrancy and eliminating potential decision points. You should only use this as an excuse when spending the time in Near mode is going to freeze out the other players for too long, or you know that they find that particular activity boring to think about in detail, or it lets you get to a different and more interesting Near mode episode immediately.