Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Adventuring Mistakes II: Stay on Target!

Yesterday was Part I of this mini-series: Oooh Shiny!

If you just clicked on that link, never to return . . . you probably suffer more from Oooh Shiny than from Stay on Target.

If you ignored it because you're here to read this post and you'll get to it later . . . maybe you're more of a Stay on Target type.

Stay On Target

This is a refusal to be swayed from your plan once you've set on it. You have your task, and you go after it without varying from it.

Just remember this famous proponent of the "Stay on target!" approach, Porkins.

Everything turned out for him okay, right?

Note, however, that inflexibility or stubborn foolishness is often fatal.
- Gary Gygax, "Successful Adventures," AD&D Players Handbook, p. 107

The Stay on Target approach can cost you opportunity. You have a chance encounter that presents an action you can take or pass on . . . do you pass on it to stay on the plan, or do you swap to this new thing? What if that "new thing" is a clearly better option, or a one-chance option?

Sometimes Stay on Target is, like Oooh Shiney, a way of avoiding decision making. Ironically, a cost of Stay on Target is missing out on your real goal. For example, you may plan to find a set of stairs down and explore there . . . but really you're doing so because you want to find a way to avoid a specific monster. Then you find a different potential way down and ignore it, because Stay on Target! We're looking for stairs! This especially happens when your plan is even more vague, or is really just a hope disguised as a plan (Step 1: Find monsters. Step 3: Profit!) Instead of shifting to an actual opportunity, you stick with the sunk costs of a plan that isn't as valuable as what you came across.

What kind of behavior do you see with Stay on Target?

Usually some or all of the following:

- insisting on a plan

- refusal to adjust or change the plan, even in the face of evidence of something better

- unwillingness to entertain changes

- arguing for continuation based on the costs expended on the plan already (sunk cost fallacy)

- risk aversion, especially in the form of avoiding new risks while insisting on surmounting old risks

How do you know you do this?

This one is generally very clear - you refuse to take opportunities or shift to something else until your original plan is done, or until it becomes completely untenable.

So which is better?

Like the choice of being frozen to death or burned to death, neither is really what you want. Neither is better than the other - they're both mistakes. One is an inability to stick with a plan. The other is an inability to be flexible in the face of changing circumstances. Both are built on logical fallacies. There is a third option - always keeping the goal the goal. More on that tomorrow.


  1. I like this series of posts and am looking forward to Part 3. There are downsides, at times, to staying on target, and this illustrates them well.

    1. It's especially amusing when people insist on "staying on target" to avoid investigating the very thing the plan insists on investigating. I've seen that more times than I can count, in more campaigns than I care to recollect.

    2. Could you elaborate? Perhaps provide an example? I can't picture the scenario you are alluding to where a player sticks to the goal to avoid the goal.

    3. Sure. A perfect, recent example was in this session:

      Session 151, Cold Fens 10

      The PCs questioned the spirit of a slain swamp-dweller in Session 150. He told of loot on a rocky island in a troll shrine. The PCs found a mist-shrouded island . . . and immediately turned around because that wasn't it and they didn't want to be distracted by some side issue. A minimal exploration would have shown them the island was rocky, and a further exploration would have led to the giants. They didn't want to be distracted and thus refused to even check if the place they found was the place they were looking for.

  2. I have never had this problem personally (see yesterday's response for "I always have "Oh Shiny!" baked into every plan on some level) and I can't actually think of any time I've seen it foil my Players. I've seen it in individual Players in my groups, but someone always manages to argue them down from the Firm Hard Line of "Stay On Target" (we probably have the other problem far, far more often).

    Probably because I started running LARPS waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the early 90s, and as a LARP GM you have to have flexibility, you have to adapt, and you have to live by "None of my Plotlines will survive contact with the enemy". And if I've learned anything in my forty years of gaming it's this: Your habits as a Player or GM will inform your habits as a GM or Player.

    I have a very strong tendency to "game by the seat of my pants" (in rpgs only, with boardgames and such, I can be strangely more prone to Stay On Target to my detriment, usually if it's a new game that I don't fully understand*).

    * I've been accused of "driving rules into the ground and picking over the debris" and having a "very deconstructionist understanding of how things work". In other words, I like to break things to see why they worked they way they did. I don't do this with actual, tangible, physical objects anymore... because you know, as an adult I have to pay to replace them if I can't fix them.


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