So far this has been primarily for GMs but hopefully useful for players. Now it’s time to turn that on is ear and shoot for something primarily useful to players which may also be of use to GMs. KWORC is all about the problems that characters may encounter as a result of Knowledge, Will, Opportunity, Resources or Capability. The anti-KWORC is all about how to tackle those problems.
The first thing you need to do with any problem is to state it as clearly as possible. I want to do X, but cannot because of Y. If there’s some muddiness to it, then break it down a little further – if one problem is really four different problems, you need to know that because otherwise you’re just going to frustrate yourself with solutions that address only part of the problem. Use KWORC to break things down as needed, and keep your eye open for problems of opportunity. Those are usually the most straightforward to resolve, and if you can break a problem down to nothing but necessary opportunities then problem solving is purely a function of good timing.
Once you’ve got a got a problem identified, the question is how to get past it. That may seem like an odd choice of words – you would expect to solve a problem after all – but that’s the kind of thinking that will get you stuck.
See, while the first option is to overcome the problem directly (that is, to solve it), that’s not the only possibility. You also want to consider how you could circumvent, subvert, neutralize or destroy the problem.
Overcoming a problem is the first thing we tend to think of when faced with one. We look at the problem, look at the tools we have, and apply them. If the problem is a locked vault door, we blow up the lock. It’s kind of easy to write this off as “thinking inside the box”, because you’re implicitly buying into the challenge, but sometimes it really is the right solution, especially if you have the tools and talent to do the job.
To circumvent a problem, you look at the problem, and just go around. If the problem is a vault door, you cut through the wall to get in. By finding another approach, you render the original problem moot. This is, to be frank, some of the flashiest brainwork you can do when you pull it off. Most really cool smart-guy tricks in movies are of this type because when its done right, it cuts through the problem like a hot knife through lukewarm butter. The trick of doing this is spotting disconnects between the problem and the goal. In the case of the vault door, the problem is not really the door, it’s that you can’t access the room. This also takes advantage of a GM blind spot too – if the GM has focused on the specific problem (like the door), she’s usually got nothing in place to prevent you solving a different problem.
To subvert a problem, you turn it into an asset. In the case of the vault door, you get the key or combination, allowing you to use it legitimately. This may simply allow the problem to be overcome, but it may actually turn an obstacle into an asset (as in the case of hacking into a security system – not only can the characters now avoid detection, they can also use it to track the guards). The best way to think about how to subvert a problem is to ask what you would do if you were the legitimate owner of the obstacle, then see what you can do to act as if that were so.
Neutralizing a problem can be similar to subverting a problem at times, but the net result is that the problem is now irrelevant. In the case of the locked vault, you arrange for the owner to take the object you need for you. This is the classic misdirect, and it can be almost as flashy as circumventing the problem when done right. Effectively, you are opting to replace one problem with another, but presumably the new problem is one you are more capable of solving. At its most dramatic, this can involve getting someone else to solve the problem for you, such as when you convince a mark that the widget he’s holding will get him killed so he begs you to take it off his hands.
Finally destroying a problem is often the most straightforward solution, and the one adventures often gravitate towards – why sneak past guards when you can kick their asses? In the case of the vault door, you simply blow up the door. The problem with this approach is usually less about its effectiveness and more about its consequences. Destruction is rarely subtle, and it often attracts a lot of attention. Still, if you’re fast enough (or if attention is exactly what you want) then it can be the right tool for the job.
Now, there is one other option, but it’s of a different type – sometimes you need to change goals. This is tricky because if it’s just a matter of “This is hard, I quit” then it’s going to be a pretty lame game. Rather, it is possible that goals might escalate as a result of opposition. You see this a lot in crime movies, where the criminal is above the law, and our unstoppable hero changes his goals by escalating from “Arrest the Bad Guy” to “Stop the Bad Guy” (Or perhaps more bluntly “Kill the Bad Guy”). This sort of escalation might be powerful and dramatic or it might be a simple excuse to bring in bigger guns. Either way, remember that the change can be a big deal.
Ok, now that you’re armed with the tools for overcoming the problems of the next step will be threading it all together.
1- Off the record, this is effectively my “How to Think Like Nate Ford/Danny Ocean” piece for people who find themselves thrust into leadership and problem solving roles and are feeling a little overwhelmed.
2 – This could also probably be called SECOND if one really likes acronyms (Subvert, Escalate, Circumvent, Overcome, Neutralize or Destroy).
3 – The KWORC lens is useful here because in this case, you realize what looks like a problem of capability (can I pick the lock) is really a problem of opportunity (can I get in the room).
4 – Warning: If your GM is the kind who responds badly to being “outsmarted” then be careful about doing this, if only because she may improvise a deadly response. Also, consider changing GMs.
5 – There is no footnote # 5. I have no idea why I put that there.