19 Comments

Where did you have that?

3D People - Crazy with MinigunzEver play Dungeons and Dragons? They have something called encumbrance rules. Very few Dungeon Masters pay more than scant attention to them. That is, until they figure out that the 40 pound hobbit is carrying a professional kitchen, an armory, and 3 tons of gold on his back. There are work-arounds for this, in terms of magic devices that allow it but even those have limits. As mentioned earlier the DMs would rather use the work-arounds and ignore the limits than do the hard mental work of keeping track of everything being carried and worn. Who can blame them? After all it is a fantasy situation, right? Wrong!!

As a reader I will probably notice if your one man space runabout has a battery of guns with the power of a spinal mount from a Deathstar. I’ll also notice if your squire is carrying a full-fledged smithy and a selection of swords, armor, bows, crossbows, cooking equipment and a kitchen sink on his pony, you know, the one he is riding?  I will notice a lot of other things as well, if your naked character pulls out a heavy machine gun he has been carrying concealed in his escape from the WWII prison camp, I will be scratching my head.

This is a long way of getting to a point for writers. Make sure your character’s supplies are believable. If he is wearing a skinsuit to transfer between ships he had better not pull out a massive handgun. Well, not unless you cover for it. Mentioning his placing the weapon in a carryall before the crossing is one way to handle it. Mickey Spillane and a number of other writers of detective and spy fiction would mention that the suits they wore were tailored to hide the shoulder holster, etc. If your character is marooned on a planet for 6 months you had better mention that the local food is edible by humans or that he was able to find a cache of food. If the local food is edible there had better be an explanation of how humans can metabolize the alien vegetation, and how the human knew which local plants were not only nutritious but non-poisonous. If there is a city and interstellar trade it becomes easier, but how does he pay for food which has to be shipped in from off world? He certainly cannot pay for exotic imported food while hiding from other humans in the slums. Not unless he has a lot of money before going to ground.

OK, you stocked the ship with everything he needs to live and accomplish his mission. He has a pulse rifle he smuggled into the space station by hiding it under his dirty underwear which reeked so bad the customs agents weren’t willing to check under it. OK I’m not buying that one, but find a way. Now he is on a climate controlled station. Perfect 20c temps 24/7. Style for women is a wide belt and a pasty on the left nipple for available women, right nipple for married women. Men are wearing yoga pants with a beret. All our hero has to do is get to Guido’s headquarters and wipe the villain from the galaxy. How does he get his pulse rifle there? If he has it tucked into the waist band of his Yoga pants everyone will notice. And they won’t suppose he is just happy to see them. I know! He can hide it under his overcoat! I bet he doesn’t get two corridors before the station security personnel pick him up.

Yes I just gave ridiculous examples, or did I? While I will own the station clothing as made entirely from my imagination (yes I DO have a rather sick imagination) it isn’t far off of things I have seen before. Sadly, the examples of equipment carried and concealed are equivalent to things I have seen in Real Published Books(TM) from traditional publishing. Think about these things before you send that story off to the editor, your fans will appreciate it. If you don’t think about it you might never have much of a fanbase.

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19 comments on “Where did you have that?

  1. Your point is good. I have to say, though, that I expect more reality from fiction than from role-playing games. If my players are having fun, why encumber them with encumbrance?

    Also, your article reminded me of the climactic scene in Die Hard. Any Die Hard reference is a good thing, even if unintentional.

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  2. A lot of it depends on the tone of your RPG… or of your fiction. I fondly remember some of Heinlein’s ‘just where is she keeping that gun’ bits, and you can get away with a lot in a good noodle incident, “so there we were, marooned with nothing more than a case of bananas, a screwdriver, and a hockey puck… to make a long story short, once we got in touch with the pirates, it turned out they were all massive Elvis fans.”

    You can also bore the gamer… or the reader… to death by micromanagement if you get too into the details. “I reach in to the bag of holding stuff and pull out two 12 foot poles. One plain wood and one metal. By metal, I mean the Iron one. The Cold Iron one. The Cold Iron one we got from the gypsy that’s proof against curses…”

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    • Yes you can get too serious about it, and Heinlein did it well with the naked girl producing the weapon. He also did it intentionally. I am not saying that you need to list every bit of lint in your characters pockets, simply that you need to explain the ability of a character to have something if it should have been noticed

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    • Too many details can definitely hurt the flow of a story. I’m beta-reading a story right now and struggling with over-adjective-itis.

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  3. Sanford – A minor quibble, but we used to smuggle things into Iraq by putting a woman in line for customs in front of three or four guys. As long as she had her underwear on top in her luggage we could get damn near anything past the customs guy because he was busy freaking out over seeing a non related woman’s unmentionables.

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  4. When I’m writing I try to use what I’ll call the Movie Hero technique. Basically what I do is picture what I’m writing as it would look if it’s displayed on screen. It works. Kind of, anyway.

    Think about it: “Ok, he can sling the rifle across his back. If he puts a pistol in each hand and a knife down each boot, then puts a backpack on, oh better make sure it’s a long sling, then he can balance the McGuffin on his hea…

    Yeah…

    So like, a pistol in a holster, a knife in the right boot and the McGuffin strapped to the top of the backpack. Much better.”

    Dunno if that would help anyone else, but it sure does work for me.

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    • Oh, and about RPGs. No warrior is ever completely equipped without at least two sets of armor, four knives, three swords, a crossbow, a longbow, a short bow, a sling, ammo for all of the above, a thrusting spear, a quiver of javelins, rations, at least two hundred feet of rope, some torches with a flint and steel and a dress cloak for fancy occasions. Really. Encumbrance rules suck. At that point though it’s less about what makes sense than what is fun.

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      • It’s a game of cat and mouse with the GM. If the GM is willing to allow players to get away with not having a complete inventory list, the players need to be willing to allow the GM to say ‘you don’t have that’ as long as he’s not being abusive. If the GM is a stickler for inventory, the players need to have a down to the item list, which will necessarily get rather ludicrous at some point. As long as the two match, the players and GM will have more fun.

        We have one compulsive hoarder player, and as soon as she gets a bag of holding or comparable storage space, her inventory starts looking like the contents of a Home Depot plus two of everything in the catalog at the fantasy weapons and armor shop (aka Bloodbath and Beyond), and I think it’s because her first GM was of the ‘you need a precisely 11-foot pole to disarm the trap’ compulsive type himself.

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    • It should. thing is a lot of people write the story and get to the point where the character needs a thingamabob and never realize they didn’t provide any way for him to have it. Very much like Bugs reaching into his pocket and pulling out a Taxi

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      • I’m obsessive about that. I think it’s because of my background as a computer programmer: all the pieces have to be there, and they all have to connect properly, or the program crashes. In a story, if the pieces aren’t there, I have to go rewrite and figure out how to get them there. You can assume common items — a modern teenager has a cell phone, a soldier has a gun — but nothing that the plot hinges upon.

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  5. Speaking of Heinlein, one of the reasons the characters in “The Number of the Beast” chose one world to stop at for a while, was that the local style was near-nude (partially due ot climate) to the point where their Adversaries’ modifications to try to disguise themselves as humans would be blatantly obvious to all observers.

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