Paladin is a bit of a jerk. He is the lawful stupid alignment. He made Necromancer cry that one time. But lest we forget, Necromancer creates flesh-eating abominations from the remains of desecrated dead people. Homegirl ain’t exactly innocent. That’s the thing about relationships. It’s usually a two-way street, and learning to communicate with the other party is just as important at the gaming table as it is on the battlefield. Nowhere is this more evident than in theater of the mind style description.

Today’s warning against linguistic ambiguity comes courtesy of a recent trip to Doskvol. Like so many campaigns in the time of COVID, this one plays online. And even if Roll20 is great at representing the pseudo-Victorian metropolis of Blades in the Dark at zoomed-out scale, we’re down to verbal description when it comes time for tactical heisting. That’s exactly where we find our b̶r̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶h̶e̶r̶o̶e̶s̶ dastardly shits in today’s story.

So no shit, there we were. We’d done a bit of asking around and so discovered the location of a secluded smuggler’s cove. It was located near a deserted park in an unfashionable quarter of the city. We even knew when our quarry was set to arrive. Unfortunately, there was going to be a lot more of them than there were of us. Running with a three-man crew meant we had to play it smart rather than plotting a straightforward ambush.

The plan was simple. Our Cutter would start some fracas with the smugglers. At the earliest opportunity he would bail on the fight, turning tail and running through a set course which I (the gang’s sneaky-ass Lurk) had set with booby traps. These inconveniences would slow the presumable-enraged pursuers, giving our fighty-boi just enough time to reach the race’s finish line. That’s where the third member of the crew would come in. Our Whisper would set a ritual in motion to summon up some hungry ghosts in the area. They’d dispatch the smugglers for us while we looped back around to take that precious cargo.

There were three points where things went wrong. All of them came down to miscommunication.

  • The Cutter was instructed to bloody our enemies’ noses a bit before retreating. The trouble was that the plan included one little caveat: “If by some miracle it looks like you can take them all, then go for the kill and save us some trouble.” In consequence, the Cutter was beat half to death by the time he remembered that Plan B was not Plan A.
  • As the trap-laying Lurk, my ideas were simple. I’d pay off a cabby to pull out from a blind alley on my signal, giving the fleeing Cutter a head start in the chase. Once he made it into the alleyway, I’d rig one of those nice alley fences to swing open for him but latch shut for the pursuers, forcing them to climb over. The only problem was that I’d overlooked the “you’re in a city park” part of the plan. There were no alleys in sight.
  • Finally, when things started to go south and the Cutter was getting beat to a pulp, our Whisper invoked her Tempest ability to call down lightning on the enemy combatants. As we realized later, however, she was the entire width of the city park away. There was no way she could see the fight in the ‘secluded smuggler’s cove’ from her location.

In all cases, a simple clarifying question could have resolved matters: How long should I fight before retreating? Are there any alleyways in the area? How close is the ghost ritual to the cove?

Just to be clear, these are all relatively minor issues from an otherwise successful session. The plan worked out, and we got away with the goods before our own summoned ghosts could kill us. But in the same vein as Necromancer’s ‘raising a family’ oopsie, getting on the same page as your partners is always worth getting right. Part of the responsibility lies with the GM: when it comes to theater of the mind, describing positional relationships and distances is an acquired skill. But by the same token, players have to step up and make sure that their assumptions are accurate.

And so, in the spirit of better interpersonal communication, I now turn to all the Heroes out there with today’s question of the day. When has your mental model failed to match the GM’s? How could you have avoided the issue? Tell us all about your most unfortunate misapprehensions down in the comments!


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