Window on the World

From the perspective of being the GM, which of the following descriptive passages do you think works best?

A

As you look across the bridge, thousands of metres above the frozen surface of the river, the wind slices through your clothing like a sharp blade. The cold penetrates your flesh with a chill deeper than any you have ever known; hurting sharply and aching dully through each layer of skin and muscle and deep into your bones simultaneously.

Fingers numb, and hands barely able to grip the rope connecting each of you to the others, the group takes step after laboured step away from the limited shelter of the rough face of the mountain, and onto the exposed surface of the dangerously narrow mountain trail expanding outward to the wide stone bridge. The first buffet from the unchecked Northern winds slams each figure roughly in the chest like an exuberant ram eager to test its strength against a challenger, then cruelly transforms into daggers of air so cold and sharp, their passage through the heavy layers of protective woolen clothing burns as much as chills. You know you will not be able to survive in this weather for long.

If the wind continues at this intensity or less, and if the bridge is not iced over at any point, you estimate that you will be able to reach the other side in about 20 minutes. It will take longer if things worsen. The rocks on the opposite side of the gorge are not as high as those on this side, nor is the trail as wide. You may have to travel a considerable distance once you cross to find shelter from the wind significant enough to construct a fire or erect a windbreak – it is too hard to tell from this vantage point.

The last good shelter on this side of the gorge was about 200 metres back down the trail. It took you about 1 hour to get here from there. It was out of the direct wind, had enough room for most of the group to lie down to sleep, erect a windbreak, and build a decent fire. The wind is howling so loud that it is difficult to hear anything else.

What would you like to do?

B

As you look across the bridge, thousands of metres above the frozen surface of the river, the wind slices through your clothing like a sharp blade. Fear grips your heart, and you suffer vertigo as you cast nervous glances over the edge of the dangerously narrow mountain trail. The cold penetrates your flesh with a chill deeper than any you have ever known; hurting sharply and aching dully through each layer of skin and muscle and deep into your bones simultaneously. It makes you wish you had never started this journey in the first place.

Fingers numb, and hands barely able to grip the rope connecting each of you to the others, the group takes step after laboured step away from the limited shelter of the rough face of the mountain, and onto the exposed surface of the trail expanding outward to the wide stone bridge. The first buffet from the unchecked Northern winds slams each figure roughly in the chest like an exuberant ram eager to test its strength against a challenger, then cruelly transforms into daggers of air so cold and sharp, their passage through the heavy layers of protective woolen clothing burns as much as chills. As you cry out in surprise and pain, you know you will not be able to survive in this weather for long.

If the wind continues at this intensity or less, and if the bridge is not iced over at any point, you estimate that you will be able to reach the other side in about 20 minutes. It will take longer if things worsen. The rocks on the opposite side of the gorge are not as high as those on this side, nor is the trail as wide. You think it looks bleak and unsafe. You may have to travel a considerable distance once you cross to find shelter from the wind significant enough to construct a fire or erect a windbreak – it is too hard to tell from this vantage point.

The last good shelter on this side of the gorge was about 200 metres back down the trail. It took you about 1 hour to get here from there. It was out of the direct wind, had enough room for most of the group to lie down to sleep, erect a windbreak, and build a decent fire. You had good reason to pass it the first time, but now as you consider going back, you wonder if you made the right decision.

The smell of fear and exhaustion in your nostrils, you press your heads together firmly to be able to hear each other over the howl of the fearsome winter wind. Your faces mirror the worry in your voices as you discuss options.

Would you like to keep going or go back to the nearest point providing shelter?

C

Ahead of you the trail widens to three or maybe four times its current size – from as wide as the sofa, to almost the width of this room. The temperature has been dropping for a while until you cannot believe it still continues to drop. Do you remember how cold it was when we went to that concert last year and the car died just outside of Bathurst? Up on the mountain? That’s nothing compared to how cold your characters are right now.

There is a narrow stone bridge which crosses the gorge, and it looks really dangerous. It’s about as long as the distance from the porch to the convenience store and as wide as the sidewalk. The wind is really strong, but you will be walking straight into it, so it probably won’t push you off the bridge. The biggest problem you guys are facing is the cold. From here, it doesn’t look like there is as much shelter on the other side as there is over here. Once you go out on the bridge, you will be exposed and you will experience penalties from the cold, and might take damage from stuff like frostbite… like what happened to Dan in grade ten… or eleven? Remember?

About 200 metres back along the trail is a spot which would make a decent place to camp for the night. It’s out of the wind and big enough for everyone. If you press on, you might not find a place to camp, or you might find one just around the bend in the trail. You just can’t tell.

What do you want to do?

If you were one of the players in this instance, would your answer be any different?

Comments
5 Responses to “Window on the World”
  1. BF Wolfe says:

    I definately liked the first the best. It was descriptive, and the dangers and options that the characters faced grew from the story naturally. The main difference I found with the second one was in making the choices explicit, and it left a taste like those movies that assume you aren’t smart enough to work out the plot subtleties. The third is just wrong, and instantly pulls you away from that suspension of disbelief. If anyone needs more details on the length of the ledge for some ides they come up with, they can just ask.
    As to whether my answer would be different? not sure. I suspect not.

  2. Kyrei says:

    At first glance, I preferred the 2nd one; the first was just too wordy. Then a few hours later I re-read it and preferred the 1st. It may be a little strong in terms of making sweeping statements “deeper than you have ever known” but sometimes that is good. I like that it reads like a book and brings the character right into the story. I am not at all sure how I am as a GM; wait a few weeks and ask Runeslinger…

  3. Runeslinger says:

    I first noticed this sort of thing in GM-ing in an AD&D game what feels like a century ago. The DM was a long-time player, but had only been running games for about a year. He wanted to run a few of us through the original Ravenloft module. We were regularly playing Shadowrun 2nd Ed and Call of Cthulhu 4th Ed at that time. I had given up on AD&D years before, as had the other selected players, but as we had never had a chance to play, or had never completed that module, we thought it might be fun to see what we had missed, and to see what we could bring to the pre-generated characters he preferred that we use. The game ran for three sessions, but the DM chose not to continue based on his own growing dislike of the module. I don’t think he was quite ready to kill characters. Anyway…

    After the end of the first session we all went out for coffee at Tim Horton’s and he asked us for feedback. The group of us talked most of the night, and we agreed pretty soundly on one element of his approach that was problematic for us, and you can see a sample of that style in B.

    While C practically makes it impossible to stay in character, I think I might prefer a game run that way, to one done as demonstrated in B.

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