Monday, March 23, 2009

Recommending Burn Notice and Applied Problem-solving in RPG's

There's one TV show I recommend to all gamers. Not because it encompasses anyone's game perfectly or provides inspiration, no this one I recommend for instructional purposes.

Burn notice is into it's 3rd season now and besides the fact that it has Bruce Campbell in it and is probably one of the most entertaining new shows out there currently, you should be watching it because it will teach you how to be a better gamer.

How is this? After all, it has nothing to do with dice rolling or building a character, and isn't even set in a fantasy world which is where 90% of all RPG's are set. All this is true, so how does Burn Notice teach people how to game better?

In a nutshell, it is an instruction manual on how to do sneaky stuff, often with little or no resources.

Burn notice is about a spy named Michael Weston, at the start of the first season he gets "burned" or blacklisted from the spy biz. All his assets are seized, his contacts alienated and he's dumped off in Miami with a few broken ribs and a very grumpy ex-girlfriend. The meat and potatoes of the show is about him trying to figure out who burned him, while gathering new resources and occasionally helping his wacky family out of the occasional bind, but that's not what makes the show such a great instructional tool. The most awesome part is that usually just before the action starts or a plan is put into place, Michael does a little internal monologue. This monologue usually amounts to shop-talk, or why he's about to do what he does, it's almost always common sense and can be applied to so many situations no matter the setting.

Need to get into a guarded building? Get a messenger uniform - here's how.
Need to know a fast exit from overwhelming odds? - Burn notice has a few good tips.
Need to defeat someone without violence? - Create leverage over them, it's surprisingly easy.

The show offers some great tips on how to apply creative logic to common problems that come up in games. These aren't so much about specific techniques but overall common sense approaches to handle them. The first step to handling a challenge in-game is having a plan of action, it's not until you declare that action that the GM will require a die roll, so having a smart plan is often more important than having a good roll.

Don't believe me? Here's an example of a common situation that can be made easier with a better plan that having higher skill will have no effect on:

Say you're in a dungeon and you you know you're about to come into a room where bad things are guarding the loot you're after. There's no back entrance and no way you can sneak into the room without alerting the guards. You're going to have to fight your way through them. So what do you do?

You might have the thief pick the lock while the mage and cleric cast their buffs which is standard. But Burn notice teaches us that if you can't sneak upon your enemies the best approach is to go in with as much fanfare as possible. Make noise as you break in, break the lock rather than picking it, that way all the guards will turn to look at the door. Then cast a blinding flash spell (or in a modern game use a flash-bang grenade) through the hole and blind all your enemies just before your tank kicks the door down and you make short work of your blinded enemies.

See what I mean? Only an extremely generous GM would tell you to do that approach after making a skill roll, but such a simple approach is the difference between a tough fight and a relatively easy one. This is what Burn Notice has to offer and is why I recommend it.

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