What you search for twice, exists

2012-12-24 01:05

Long ago, I used to run a lot of D&D games. I still play on and off, as time allows. But back then, I used to run these gigantic, sprawling, dungeon adventures, with basically no preparation. And you know, the thing is, I’m not super organized, and I don’t have a great memory. And yet, no one ever seemed to find anything out of place; the verisimilitude was, by all accounts, exceptional most of the time.

This is because I cheated, horribly.

“What you search for twice, exists.”

Yes, really. It’s that simple. People don’t expect everything to exist, but if they’re sure something exists, and they don’t find it, they keep looking. So if everything you keep looking for exists, the world seems exactly right. Despite the fact that it’s utterly inconsistent, has no internal logic driving it, and so on. But it’s what you expect, so it seems right, and everyone’s happy. Is there a secret compartment in the chest? I didn’t put one there, so searching yields nothing. But if the players keep poking, trying to find it? Then there must be one. So there is. And this creates arbitrary depth — you never explore something so fully that you run out, and since everything you search really carefully has lots of detail, it feels like the entire world is really detailed.

While not everyone runs fantasy RPGs, I suspect these techniques apply elsewhere as well.

Peter Seebach



  1. Wow Seebs, I thought I was the only DM that used to do that! I used to prepare really detailed modules that ended up with 90% being unexplored and my players chasing off in directions I had never thought of before. So, it turns out the players were better at writing my modules than I was, what’s more they enjoyed it more.

    And I get the analogous reference as well…

    — Wayne Doust · 2012-12-27 16:39 · #