GM Advice: Looking for Trouble
Whether they know it or not, your players are always looking for trouble.
In Munchkin, when you kick down the door, meaning you draw from one of the decks it means that you either find a monster you have to fight or you suffer a curse or you find an item. If you don't get a monster, you can go looking for trouble, meaning you put down your own monster to fight it, because that is what the game is about. You want to fight monsters to gain experience to win the game!
Rpgs are about looking for trouble and players are constantly doing it. They never think there is nothing on the other side of the door. If they kick down a door, they expect there to be something interesting behind it and if there is nothing immediately apparent, they go looking for it. They go looking for trouble.
For instance, you as a GM may have come across this problem. You describe a door. You don't really have anything planned about this door, you just thought it would be a neat door and set the tone of this area in the dungeon. The door is not trapped, not a puzzle, not even locked. This is just a neat looking door.
And then you are befuddled when your players treat it like this door is radioactive. They start rolling their checks, casting detection spells, poking it with a ten foot pole, seeing if it holds some great secret of lore. The door becomes everything in their brains for the next 10 minutes minimum. Finally, they get the picture that the door itself is nothing. You sense disappointment, just a little bit. A little bit of wonder leaves their eyes, but they light up again as they are eager to see what is on the other side of such a fabulous portal!
You groan inwardly and curse your busy hands which drew that damnable door! For on the other side of that door is... a broom closet. The whole song and dance plays over again. Disappointment wells up, preparing to break the damns of their polite, almost pitying smiles. You feel like the lowliest creature God ever condemned to existence.
You didn't count on them looking for trouble.
This is not something you can stop, not something you can turn off. This is just a regular human response although it will not always manifest the same way.
One contributing factor is genre. Dungeon games like D&D use little details to signal players to pay attention to everything, investigate everything, risk more encounter checks and resources to make sure they eek out every bit of treasure. It tends to create players that are hyper sensitive to anything out of the ordinary. In games that are science fiction or even just more genre or setting focused, that attitude changes a little, but the instinct is still there. They may not be poking every stone with a ten foot pole, but they are still looking for trouble.
So how can you, as a GM tired of feeling like a worthless worm, do to make your players stop such foolishness? You can do nothing. As I said, you can't turn this off. You'd have to find the most incurious lumps of barely sentient coal to find people who do not do this. However, you can manage this behavior.
You have to learn to be on the lookout for Doors so you can be in control of where they lead.
Here are some tips for Doors:
- Anything you describe in detail: If you take time and focus to describe something, expect your players to pick up on that and be drawn like flies to honey. This applies to things to things like elaborate doors, but it can also be something like a rug. If you have never described another room with a rug and then there's a rug, the players are going to examine it. If you describe the sconces in a room while you've previously just said that they occasionally dotted the walls and never mentioned them since, you better believe they're going to be pulling in those sconces.
- All that glitters: shiny, glowing, or evidently magical stuff is bound to draw attention. Players are tuned to look for treasure to take and magic to meddle with. If something glows with arcane light, players will notice. The only possible exemption that comes to mind is bioluminescent fungi in Underdark areas because they are so expected, but if you take any time describing them, you better believe they'll go looking for trouble.
- The weird, out of place, or quirky: Players will always try to adopt Zamboni the Tuba Playing Goblin. Remember this.