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Schrödinger’s Gun (and Other Useful Tropes)

posted Tuesday, June 8th 2010 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering Advice

Television cliche wiki TV Tropes has an ever-expanding collection of common gimmicks and genre conventions that will be familiar to players of tabletop roleplaying games. (Be warned: TV Tropes is rather addictive, so expect to spend several hours clicking links.)

TV Tropes are especially useful for Dungeon Mastering ideas. One such trope is Schrodinger’s Gun, a rule defined as such:

“The state of anything in a Tabletop RPG that has not been observed by the players is undefined until the players’ actions affect it.”

–Schrödinger’s Gun

You are free to change any detail that the players haven’t seen yet. An example of this from my home game is when the players were looking for a prophecied hero named the Faith Scion, who I was going to have turn out to be one of the PCs all along. When that player left and another joined the group, I decided that the new player was actually the Faith Scion all along, and that his unusual choice of weapon played an important role in his backstory.

You can also use this rule when the players guess the ending to your mystery ahead of time, or an important NPC is killed unexpectedly. Reveal that the real villain was someone else all along, or that the mage they killed was actually a simulacrum created by the mage as a decoy. Use this carefully, as players don’t like to be robbed of their achievements.

Another rule is called Chandler’s Law, named for a piece of advice by pulp writer Raymond Chandler:

“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.”

– Chandler’s Law

This rule applies readily to Dungeons & Dragons, and in fact I believe it appears in editions of the Dungeon Master’s Guide. When the game is going slowly, roll for initiative! Combat is engaging and interesting, and gives the opportunity to introduce new information or modify a difficult situation.

Some other useful RPG tropes include Pragmatic Villainy (see also the Evil Overlord List) and Dangeously Genre Savvy. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read a few more hours of TV Tropes.

Comments

  1. Andy

    June 8th, 2010

    The RPG site Errant Dreams used this rule for a LOT of work-saving in a unique circumstance: buildings. It worked on the theory that, unless your players are obsessive about exploring every room of the castle, you only need to make a percentage of the rooms in that castle. And then slot them in as they run across them.

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