“When people live, one thing that tends to happen is they get into a comfort zone, they do things because that is how they’ve always been done, they don’t go for change because they feel safe in that little bubble. Of course,” Drraagh says and smiles, “This applies to stories and games too. So, I want to talk about getting out of your character comfort zone. Anyone, authors, players, gamemasters and more, will fall into the pattern of this is what this character is and what they do because it is the way they were always played. In a fantasy setting, Clerics are healers who take up a secondary fighter position. In a futuristic setting, the hacker is a techhead with little direct combat abilities. This happens usually because it gives you the best boosts. Same reason dump stat is a thing, as one or more abilities wasn’t important for the build. A rogue doesn’t need much strength, as they won’t be sitting on the front lines of combat.”
Drraagh chuckles a little at that as he moves to pace around the room slowly. “I, however, try break that concept as great things can happen, especially when you do it with characters already established as acting a certain way. Usually, this will happen most often when they are pressed into a corner. A great example of this can be seen in the first of the two parter of first season finale of Leverage. The heroes have been bested by a rival who knows all their abilities and knows how they will think. So, the solution was stated to think like somebody else, with the grifter thinking like the thief and the hitter and the leader thinking like the techie, using their skillsets to help out in solving the problems.”
“So, by stepping outside of your character’s exceptional abilities as your immediate solution for solving their problems can create some excellent twists in your game. Hercules’ Labours were not solely overcome by his might, as he used a good deal of smarts to find solutions to problems like cleaning the Augean stables by diverting the river to clean it out. Pixar has 22 rules for storytelling and a couple of them can apply here, specifically:
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
The implementation of this in your game is really easy. Separate the player characters occasionally and put them into scenarios where they will have to do things they need to reach for, or at least figure a creative solution for. Without fly spells or similar, a wizard would have a hard time getting someone on the side of a cliff as their strength isn’t usually very high. Meanwhile, have your rogue be pitted against a test of intelligence like having to find a specific herb with only basic information to go on. Put the barbarian in a situation where social skills and problem solving is the key and let them figure out it isn’t always about smashing.”
“Of course, another way to do this is that you can have your NPCs do this to keep your players on their toes, especially when they are applying pressure to an NPC. Have your straightforward fighter use a disguise and sneak around or perhaps using magical potions and wands to fight more tactically than they are usually known for. Having them do something out of their usual acts will surprise players and make them have to rethink their strategy of confrontation on the fly. Makes it sound quite interesting, now doesn’t it, where the players have to react to changing conditions when they aren’t expecting it.”
“If you are having problems thinking about how to do this, you could take a look at some written examples out there, like the Book of Five Rings and the Art of War when looking at Battle Strategy options, but I also like some other options like The Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla and the various books here in Wikipedia’s entry on Philosophy of War, such as the Machiavellian books for manipulation and deception. These sorts of books will give you some ideas of how to think in some different ways. The rules tell you what you can do, but these sort of books will tell you why and some approaches of how to make these things work well for you in your stories.”
Drraagh picks up a deck of cards and starts shuffling. “See, it’s like trying to think about playing a game where some of the information is hidden. Play Chess and you can see the moves the player can make because all the information is visible. Play a game like poker, and you have to make guesses about what sort of cards your opponent has so you can’t always be sure if they are bluffing or not, but… this is why I have such love for those games, because it is a risk, it is trusting your gut, making a choice and sticking with it. So… you take your chances, you bite the bullet some, try and hold out for those big moments. Let’s reference Ocean’s Eleven on this one:
Because the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes, the house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet big, and then you take the house.
Sounds like the sort of thing I’m talking about, the idea that you have to wait for those moments where you can twist things to your favor, but you do need to put some preparation for this one. You need to be able to rely on the skills and abilities outside your comfort zone, and at least be comfortable of those options. Think about the fighter who tries to sneak or socialize his way through problems.”