Inquisitor can sense a subtle wrongness in the room. It’s almost as if an air of palpable evil pervades the place. No doubt it’s thanks to that diabolical chair — the only distinctive object in the place! — and has nothing at all to do with the avatar of Evil currently body-swapped with her girlfriend. Magnifying glass notwithstanding, I’m beginning to think that Quiz might not be so hot at this whole investigator thing. But then again, we’ve all been there.

This the power of flavor text. As a GM, I love launching into elaborate room descriptions. It’s an opportunity to set the stage, foreshadowing monsters or hazards while simultaneously giving your PCs a sense of place. You’ve also got an opportunity for misdirection baked into these moments. It’s the old magician’s trick of making ’em look at the distraction (a shining golden lamp) rather than the real magic (your own shadows coming alive to strangle you).

Unfortunately, players have all seen The Last Crusade. They understand that the innocuous can conceal the miraculous, and are justifiably reluctant to look where you want them to look. Here’s the opening room from my own “For Rent, Lease, or Conquest” as an example:

The front door creaks open at a touch, and you find yourselves in a well-appointed entry hall. The furniture is made from expertly carved dark oak. An expensive rug runs the length of the hall, ending abruptly in the middle of the room where the staircase ought to be. Looking up at the mezzanine of the second level, you can see the grand staircase thrust out into space, stretching uselessly up to the intersection of wall and ceiling. Clearly, this architect was something of an eccentric.

If you’ll forgive the spoilers, I can tell you where interesting bits are. There’s a pit trap beneath the carpet. Climbing up to the mezzanine is a simple skill check. The staircase conceals a major secret.  The architect is a check to recall lore. And the ‘expertly carved dark oak furniture’ is nothing but meaningless dungeon dressing. No points for guessing which details my play testers decided to interact with.

To some extent, this is the same problem as the Boblin phenomenon. Players don’t want to talk to your quest giver. They want to talk to the awakened raccoon hot dog vendor that you just improvised into existence. And when that happens, you can make the raccoon / chair / object of your players’ interest interesting… Or you can just wait until they tire themselves out rolling checks in its direction. That second option represents its own gazebo-based RPG tradition.

So for today’s discussion, let’s talk about all those times your group inexplicably focused on some random bit of meaningless dungeon dressing. Why did it attract your attention? How did you investigate it? Were your suspicions ultimately confirmed? And for you GMs out there, how do you help your players move on when they’re stuck nosing at dead ends? Tell us all about your own expertly carved oak chairs down in the comments!


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