As they went around the corner, the pit trap triggered for the two fighters in front. This caused some push back from the players– they didn’t think it should have gone off. They claimed that their ten-foot-pole trap checking was a continuous action and that they never stopped doing it. I didn’t quite see it that way, but in the interests of appearing fair, I gave one of the guys that fell in a DEX check to avoid falling in. He made it, but the other guy was in deep trouble: he only just barely survived the fall
- From Jeffro's Car Wars Blog, discussing Madicon21 and running Basic D&D.
There is a clash of expectations and play style that happens in gaming.
One style is that your character only does what you specifically say he's doing, and if you stop saying it, you stop doing it. This is where this happens: "I swing my sword at the dragon!" "You never said you drew your sword when you entered the dragon's cave. You need to spend a turn readying it."
Another style is that your character is assumed to be doing some "common sense" actions no matter what. If you're entering a dragon's lair, you need to say that you're not readying your sword otherwise we all assume you are. Or if you say you're watching the door, you keep watching the door until you say otherwise. Or that you reload your guns between fights even if you don't say so. Or that you don't touch anything when you examine it unless you say you're touching it. Or watch your back, even if you don't mention it.
You can get a serious culture clash, and disagreements/arguments/fights, when these styles encounter each other. If you assume you're doing the latter style and that looking up is just assumed, you're going to be pissed off when green slime drops on your guy and kills him. Or you might conversely frustrate the GM and other players by saying "I look up. I keep looking up. I'm looking up, okay?" when the rest assume that yeah, duh, that's just assumed and you have to say if you're not.
That bit I lifted from Jeffro's blog is an example of that. I've had the same - and in my current DF game I had to make it a particular point to say that we're doing the former. I will ask players what they are doing. "You're opening the door? Describe how, and everyone tell me what weapons or whatever you have out." I try to prompt them less and less, but it's an adjustment from a more heroic, "of course you slept lightly, facing the door" approach to "your PC is going to die because you didn't say you slept in your armor."
Some games split the difference, or allow you to cover style A with style B via the rules. GURPS, for example, has a Perk called "Standard Operating Procedure" that you can buy, describing some routine action you are assumed to do. "Always sits with his back to the wall, near an exit" say, or "Always cleans, oils, and maintains his weapons before doing anything else" or "Always keeps his dagger within easy reach" or something of that sort. You pay a premium to avoid having to remember to tell the GM you did some basic thing. GURPS also has genre switches where you can just say "In this game, you automatically reload in lulls in combat or between fights" or "bad guys only fight you one-on-one in melee" - essentially letting you set the basic assumptions of the game before you play. An OSR-inspired game wouldn't use these, but they make a heck of a lot of sense in an action movie or martial arts movie (or a Hollywood fantasy movie).
I think it's hard for people to adjust to that clash right out of the box. I think you need to do your best to state the assumptions up front. But everyone needs to recognize that assumptions are just that, and you won't realize you have them until it's a bit too late. Many people can play with either style, but if you expect one and get the other, well, you may end up in a pit despite your 10' poles.