This is RPG-ology #69: Distracted, for August 2023.
Some decades back I was a scout leader, and as I have mentioned elsewhere our troop did a lot of canoeing.
The Delaware River has a few sections that are very touristy. Aided by wing dams which raise the water level upstream, there are calm stretches in which amateur boaters and tubers can float lazily. As a whitewater canoeist, I found these sections boring; they were more work, really, because in rapids the water pushes you forward, and in these areas you have to push yourself. Our group had just passed through such a section, and there were pleasure boaters around as we began organizing to enter the swifter current downstream, where we would send our boats through one at a time. Mister Larrat and I were holding back, sending the other boys first, in part to ensure no one got lost, and in part because if someone got in trouble it was easier to get to them going downstream from above than going upstream from below.
As I was watching one last canoe head out before following, a group of canoes passed us piloted by a co-ed group in their late teens or early twenties all in bathing suits, including several bikinis. Abruptly I heard a splash behind me, and turned to see Mister Larrat and his bowman in the water, their canoe rocking gently upright on the surface. They were fine. Apparently the arrival of one particular pair of young women had caused both of them to lean in the same direction such that the canoe tipped just enough to dump both of them in the river.
There ought to be a mechanic for that.
Seriously, life is full of distractions. Most of the time they simply interrupt our efforts to accomplish something. Sometimes they are more serious. We have laws against using cell phones while driving, because distractions cause accidents. Workplaces using heavy power tools make a point to minimizing them. Yet they are not entirely avoidable, and sometimes they cause problems.
In our game worlds, our characters are almost never distracted–even when their players are. We might not be focused on the game, trying to grab a slice of pizza, or engaged in a side conversation, or paging through a rulebook or character paper, but our fighter is concentrating on his combat, our wizard is focused on casting his spell, our thief’s steps are taken with incredible care. They are rarely inattentive, and certainly not when it matters. A boatload of scantily clad youths could pass directly in front of them and they would not notice.
There are people like that in the world. In my radio days there were stories of newsreaders who were so unflappable that their co-workers attempted to put them off their game. Of one in particular it was said that they once hired a stripper to perform on the opposite side of the glass in front of him, and on another occasion they quietly crept into the booth with him and began removing his clothes while he continued to read, in both instances failing to disrupt his calm professional presentation. (Yes, people who visit radio professionals while they are on the air are often quite surprised at what is actually happening in the studio out of sight of the listeners.) Yet most of us have trouble staying focused. There are days when the background noise in my workspace is so annoying that I don my headphones and flood my ears with white noise so I can think. Some people are so readily distracted there are jokes about it (like, how many ADHD patients does it take to change a–look at that bird!). Even that remarkable newsreader when they were removing his clothes took a second to hit the cough button (a button on a newsreader’s desk that kills his mic while depressed so he can clear his throat if necessary) so he could say, “Watch the glasses.”
We can be distracted by a wealth of stimuli–objects coming into view, sounds from speech to sirens, smells pleasurable or pungent, even atmospheric conditions. We are easily distracted–it is perhaps a survival mechanism, that we notice change, and have the opportunity to process an appropriate response. It is still bothersome when we are trying to concentrate.
I have had distraction in my games, but it was always a skill a character used to draw the attention of some other character toward or away from some person or object. I don’t recall ever including an arbitrary distraction in a game–and I think perhaps that’s a failing on my part.
I’ll have to give it more thought.