The Weekly Noun: Space
This week's noun is space, the distance between all the other nouns in your game. Having an accurate understanding of the space your game takes place in is very important if you want to keep your game realistic. It can also lead to some very interesting situations if the GM is aware of space and the silly players are not.
While using some of our nation's incredibly safe airports this holiday season, I was befuddled by the National Guardsmen carrying rifles. I can only assume, that like the two headed weapons some gamers insist on their characters using, these are primarily an impressive deterrent.
If I can hardly manage to pull my carry-on bag along behind me without it getting kicked and jostled by dozens of impatient travelers, how could anyone effectively use a 3 foot rifle in such a crowd? Furthermore, the likelihood of civilian casualties that would result from firing at a single person in the crowd makes it an effectively useless weapon.
Since I believe that the soldiers and their weapons are intended to impress and frighten any potential criminals, and the National Guardsmen hope never to have to use their guns, they probably serve their purpose quite well. But in a game situation, where the players have every intention of using their dangerous and impressive weapons (usually as often as possible), problems of space come into play.
There are dozens of mundane space issues that will effect every game, and should be remembered. Distance traveled in a certain amount of time, how many people realistically live in a town, how you can manage to walk around with 90 arrows in your quiver, and how the Halfling managed to club the fleeing Hill Giant in the head all deserve due consideration. Remembering how space works in these situations will help to keep the game more realistic (it IS a custom made quiver, it's quite roomy). Perhaps most interesting and often overlooked though, is space in combat.
The National Guardsmen, however brave and well-meaning, would not find very much use of their rifles in the unlikely event that they should ever need them in the airport. The crowd of people would make the large weapons difficult to use in such tight space, and the power and range of the weapon makes it too dangerous to innocent bystanders. A nice, stout shillelagh would probably work better under the circumstances.
The same considerations should be taken of the weapons and attacks used by characters in your game. Is it possible to use a 2-handed sword in a hallway? Is it really such a good idea to throw a grenade at the enemy at the other side of the living room? Don't forget your friends standing a foot away on either side of you when you start swinging your six headed laser flail.
My fondest memory of the horrible tragedy that can occur if a character doesn't take space into consideration happened in a game of AD&D I was running. One character was playing a pacifist priest. While the party was trying to find a ship upon which to book passage, they were attacked by some town guards.
Because she didn't want to have to attack the guards and cause them any harm, she simply cast a fear spellï¿½which projects in a long cone effect that terrified not only the attacking guards but dozens of townspeople and dock workers, all of whom ran screaming away from the priest, off the end of the dock, and drowned.
She spent most of the next adventure in jail, until she was freed by some misguided Paladins and was later tricked into helping to usher the avatar of an evil god into the world by slaughtering dozens (more) innocent townspeopleï¿½but that's all just gravy.
So players and GMs alike need to be very aware of the space in which the game takes place. From mundane considerations like how someone manages to get into a Corvette while carrying a rocket launcher, mini gun, and a dozen land mines, to more important issues such as the Hill Giant opting to ignore the relatively tiny magic club that the Halfling has just dropped and instead using the Halfling AS a club, the space things occupy and the space around characters plays an important role in every game situation. The GM and players will be consistently challenged to think, sometimes frustrated, and often entertained if they consider the effects of space on their characters' actions.