Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Critical Thinking

Problem-solving is a basic intellectual skill. When presented with a goal and a set of obstacles, creative methods of problem-solving are sometimes required where simple methodology fails. By reputation, gamers in general exhibit a certain degree of creative thought bordering on ludicrous in regards to hypothetical scenarios. At least this is what I've come to believe and expect. I've heard tales of players going to outrageous lengths to surmount various stumbling blocks to mixed degrees of success. Examples range from launching arrows at pavilion-like structures before ascertaining breed or disposition to conquering dungeons by simply digging around them to constructing Rube Goldburg inspired contraptions in ad hoc attempts to open unlocked doors without touching them. 

The critical thinking involved in these kinds of exploits (the successful ones at least) is one skill I feel I could and should develop further. Tabletop games often present opportunities to do so in a fun and creative environment, so what better way to practice than to pull a heist? That's right. I'm talking Shadowrun.

My Sunday group has switched format once again as usual, and I've asked the GM to show me the typical SR experience for this very reason. As my buddy Ross has outlined before, there are two main ways to play Shadowrun, planning or not-planning. The entire idea of planning a job is one big thought experiment in an effort to account for as many possible obstacles that may or may not crop up. This past weekend I got my first taste of attempting such an experiment, and it was a hoot!

I'll be the first to admit that I had no idea what to expect or what to try to account for so I just let them go on for a bit until I got a feel for things. By the end of it all, I had several reactions to what was going on at the table as I observed my comrades.


Many times in the planning phase, the problem may have been viewed in loose terms. The scenario is a simple one, relatively speaking. Acquire the McGuffin. Our plot-coupon needs to be intercepted and retrieved at any one of three opportunities: In transit from the airport to a warehouse. At the warehouse. Or in transit from the warehouse to it's end destination. 

Our GM, like many, made it quite clear that we do not exist in a vacuum. Every action we take will have follow-up actions and reactions. A number of times, we had to remind ourselves that failure at certain key points would make the following actions that much harder if not altogether impossible. If we made the attempt on the first transit route and failed, how would that impact subsequent attempts? Would security increase? How big of a scene could we get away with without drawing too much attention to ourselves? Needless to say, several ideas had gone out the window in rapid succession...


On the opposite end of the spectrum, some needless complication can enter the equation. While attempting to account for logical possibilities, at what point do you start accounting for the irrational ones? Do you really need to go through with a long list of bribes and sub-contractors to pull off a snatch-and-grab? Does the more intricate scheme really mean less chance of being caught or does it increase the odds? Would this be better solved by hitting it with a hammer? 

One of my favorite moments of the evening was when reciting our plan and checking for lapses in judgement. A phrase beginning with "Why don't we just..." was uttered to loud replies of "That's brilliant! We should do that one." We ended up trading a laundry list of bribes, stolen identities, false inspections, altered records and other potential screw-ups for popping the tire, knocking the guy out cold and making it look like an accident. Yeah, that hammer does sound nice right about now.

Plan B

I'm not a Shadowrun veteran, and I've never tried anything like this in a game before. In fact, this is the most thought-out course of action I've been apart of at the gaming table to date. I am well aware of what happens to most plans however. I did spend a good couple of minutes joking about how this is going to devolve into a case of 'shoot stuff and watch things go boom' as the whole plan falls apart over the one thing we didn't account for. That's one of the things I've come to expect from Shadowrun and our Vets totally agreed. One moment's hilarity derived from vicarious expectations provided us with an alternate strategy that, yes, does involve a lot of shooting and running away with the goods should things not go according to plan. And here I thought I was just joking. Funny how that works out.

Again, I've heard stories about gamers and plans, so it's very interesting to finally experience this first-hand. I have no idea how this is going to go down next session, but I'm sure the wheels will fall off in no time. We'll find out in two weeks or so.

Think hard and Stay Classy!

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