Legends & Lore 09/03 - RPG design philosophy - Page 8


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  1. #71
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crazy Jerome View Post
    Your character is hugged by an owlbear and bites it. The party takes you back to town . . .
    I really was expecting this to end with "to have the disease you contracted cured". It was only when I got to the end of the second sentence that I realised "bites it" here is a term of art!

    Quote Originally Posted by Crazy Jerome View Post
    Want to make running away and negotiation matter, make death hurt, but use it very sparingly.
    My own view is that that's not the only way, at least for negotiation. You can also set up fictional situations, in which the players are invested via their PCs, which will be advantaged by negotiating rather than fighting.

    But setting up such situations, adjudicating them fairly and effectively, and drawing in the players, is not trivial. It's a GMing skill that can be developed like any other, but good advice can help.

    (I don't think that you, CJ, will disagree with much of what follows - though perhaps I'm wrong on that. Rather, I think I'm treating "negotiation" more broadly than you had in mind.)

    A simple example: In my game, the PCs fought a Torog cultist and her hired rabble. The rabblee include dockside heavies and wererats. Some of the wererats and one of the heavies escaped. The wererats went back to their base, a ruined temple of Erathis. The heavy went back to the docks. The PCs could easily have tracked down and defeated either or both in battle, but had better things to do with their time - and the players had better things to do to! So the PCs started court proceedings to get the wererats evicted as squatters - which ended up working, but the resolution of the courtroom skill challenge gave me the chance to put in a nice twist concerning the balance of power between secular and religious authorities in the town - and, once they'd retaken possession of the tower in the name of Erathis, defeated the troll, rats and gargoyles that the wererates left behind, and restored it as a temple, the party invoker-wizard tracked down the heavy and hired him as leader of the temple guard and tithe collectors.

    Why did the players go this route? Well, they (and their PCs) were getting anxious about the bodycount in the town since their arrival (around 40, in a town of 5,000-odd, over the course of a few days) and didn't want to add to it. They wanted their PCs' re-establishment of the temple to be as legitimate as possible. And the temple is in the docks quarter, and the PCs wanted a reliable guard who would make the temple a site for the projection of power, rather than a victim of others' projection of power.

    What are some of the GMing techniques that help lead to the players framing their choices in this way? Showing that death is not the only stakes, by having NPCs run away. Showing that negotiation is possible, by having former enemy NPCs agree to and keep to new terms (the recruitment of the dock heavy as a guard is only the latest such episode in the campaign). Making it clear - by overt communication, as well as practices of adjudication - that the PCs can get what the players want them to get by means that raise rather than lower the esteem of the PCs in polite society (winning court cases rather than killing and terrorising), and making that social context itself matter for subsequent framings of situations - for example, letting the PCs enjoy the modest but real benefits that flow from being esteemed, Paragon-tier saviours of a town.

    Conversely, what are GMing techniques that can shut down these sorts of possibilities? Never having NPCs run away or surrender. When NPCs surrender and agree to terms, having them routinely break their promises - or, even moreso, having them routinely betray the PCs (I have seen @Hussar be especially vocal about this in the past). Having NPCs treat even high level PCs as hired rabble of no social consequence (published adventures have from the beginning been rife with this). Making it hard or impossible for the players to achieve goals for their PCs (eg treasure, status, McGuffins, whatever) without fighting for them (eg Gygax advised that NPC wizards will never agree to reasonable terms for sharing spells - this is practically inviting the PCs to slaughter and rob every NPC wizard they meat, in order to power up the PC magic-users!). More generally, making "0 hp" the only measure of finality for the GM: or in other words, the GM behaving as if s/he is free always to reopen some conflict, go back on a settlement, unless it was made final by death of one of the parties.

    Some of these techniques are about GMing style. But some - like the issue of finality in non-combat conflict resolution - also go to mechanics.

 

  • #72
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    Quote Originally Posted by underfoot007ct View Post
    After the 'wizards and lackey's' comment, I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, this edition has a good chance to succeed.
    It's easy to say that it's not a game about 'Wizards and lackeys' ('Casters and lackeys might be a better term'). It might not work out that way.

    Quote Originally Posted by GreyICE View Post
    I think that going through books with a black sharpie banning stuff is exactly the sort of thing that becomes a dealbreaker for casual players and pushes them away from the market.
    Not necessarily a dealbreaker, but I've certainly experienced people wondering why X wasn't allowed if it was in the books. Not allowed for this particular game is one thing, but things that are outright banned is regarded as odd.

  • #73
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ratskinner View Post
    While I think we are flirting with extending the analogy too far...

    Sure, everybody would love to be the QB, but people still show up to be the Center.
    And some people still show up to be the 3.0 monk. That does not mean they are balanced, and does not even mean monks being cooler couldn't make those people happy too.
    To be clear, I don't particularly want an "unbalanced" game. What I don't want is for the designers to spend inordinate energy worrying about a finely detailed "balance". Approximate balance or Workable balance is fine with me. I feel this way for several reasons, not the least of which is that I feel that "balance" usually means "combat effectiveness"
    Not at all. Balance is not only giving the Rogue cool stuff to do in combat. It's also giving the fighter *something* to do outside of combat, as well as barring the wizard to outshine both of them in and out of combat. 4e tried both things (arguabily with some degree of success, as well as some degree of failure). In 4e, a fighter can do a *LOT* more things out of combat than in 3e. Skill challenges also were an attempt to make everybody being useful out of combat (although with it's own problems, sure, but the *intention* was balancing things out of combat)

  • #74
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    Quote Originally Posted by underfoot007ct View Post
    There should be option for the fighter to be more simple/old school.
    There is, so far as I can see. Don't bother with a fighting style and just use your CS for Deadly Strike every round. (Parry when you miss if you want.) Or just Parry every round. It will get a little more complicated once you get multiple dice, but such is life.

    Really, though, I don't think CS is hard for a new player to pick up at all. And the game itself eases you into it; at 1st level you only have 3 choices and one die to spend.
    Last edited by The Shadow; Wednesday, 5th September, 2012 at 04:00 PM.
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  • #75
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Conversely, what are GMing techniques that can shut down these sorts of possibilities? Never having NPCs run away or surrender. When NPCs surrender and agree to terms, having them routinely break their promises - or, even moreso, having them routinely betray the PCs (I have seen @Hussar be especially vocal about this in the past). Having NPCs treat even high level PCs as hired rabble of no social consequence (published adventures have from the beginning been rife with this). Making it hard or impossible for the players to achieve goals for their PCs (eg treasure, status, McGuffins, whatever) without fighting for them (eg Gygax advised that NPC wizards will never agree to reasonable terms for sharing spells - this is practically inviting the PCs to slaughter and rob every NPC wizard they meat, in order to power up the PC magic-users!). More generally, making "0 hp" the only measure of finality for the GM: or in other words, the GM behaving as if s/he is free always to reopen some conflict, go back on a settlement, unless it was made final by death of one of the parties.

    Some of these techniques are about GMing style. But some - like the issue of finality in non-combat conflict resolution - also go to mechanics.
    Yes. I might have been a bit more forceful in my previous post than I intended. I don't see making death rare as a necessary component, but one example of the kind of thing that makes it necessary for the GM to use various techniques to compensate, lest the game falter into "almost whole party died, but it worked out well in the end because Joe got away with all the stuff." I've successfully run games where death was common and avoided that pitfall, but it was because I tooks steps to avoid it, not because it wasn't a potential pitfall.

    I see this kind of issue, when it turns into a problem, as a case of critical mass. There are all these compromises and tricks and mechanics for gaming fun, ease of handling, particular flavor, etc.--none of which can really be singled out as a killer by itself. Yet, it is the collection of exactly these things that, when the tipping point is reached, can turn into something like, well, what Order of the Stick and DM of the Rings parody.

    I'm especially interested in these kind of issues because I like to steer a game such that we run right up to the parody line, but stop short of it for something more dramatic. It's a fun DMing challenge for me to skirt that tipping point.

    Oh, and the "bites it" bit was deliberate. I started to use "bought the farm" instead, but realized that the former worked better.

  • #76
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Shadow View Post
    There is, so far as I can see. Don't bother with a fighting style and just use your CS for Deadly Strike every round. (Parry when you miss if you want.) Or just Parry every round. It will get a little more complicated once you get multiple dice, but such is life.

    Really, though, I don't think CS is hard for a new player to pick up at all. And the game itself eases you into it; at 1st level you only have 3 choices and one die to spend.
    Not only that, but "use CS for Deadly Strike" all the time is not a bad strategy for a player who doesn't want to think about it, or is tired tonight, or had one too many beers earlier. It might not be optimum, but using all the CS options has the distinct potential to allow a fighter player to outsmart himself, if he isn't careful. This may not hold up as Next progresses, but right now it is not as if the "simple fighter" style is losing all that much.

  • #77
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    Quote Originally Posted by GreyICE View Post
    /snip
    I think that going through books with a black sharpie banning stuff is exactly the sort of thing that becomes a dealbreaker for casual players and pushes them away from the market.
    Just to add a smidgeon of gasoline to this.

    Before 4e came out, the standard, stock answer to any problems with 3e was to ban any material outside of core. Balance issues? Core only. Too many whatsits? Core only. It was the basic answer to everything.

    With 4e, I don't think I've ever seen anyone advocate that a core only game is somehow inherently better than one with additional material.

    So, while I think GreyICE has put it a bit too strongly, there is a point here. In 3e, there was so much material, both from WOTC or ((shudder)) 3pp which was really, really bad. To the point where it was the knee jerk reaction, very similar to 2e as well, to simply ban anything outside of the original books.

    4e at least has that going for it - there is a pretty recognized improvement in the game as time goes on.
    The rules don't give the DM their authority. The consent of the players does. - Mallus

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    Just to add a smidgeon of gasoline to this.

    <Snip>.

    With 4e, I don't think I've ever seen anyone advocate that a core only game is somehow inherently better than one with additional material.

    So, while I think GreyICE has put it a bit too strongly, there is a point here. In 3e, there was so much material, both from WOTC or ((shudder)) 3pp which was really, really bad. To the point where it was the knee jerk reaction, very similar to 2e as well, to simply ban anything outside of the original books.

    4e at least has that going for it - there is a pretty recognized improvement in the game as time goes on.
    To add more gasoline, that's not necessarily an improvement if more of the market seems to be rejecting the game rather than cutting out specific elements that are unappreciated. 3e, taken all together with expansions and 3Pp, may be uneven, but it seems to stick with the market more readily than 4e.
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  • #79
    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    Just to add a smidgeon of gasoline to this.

    Before 4e came out, the standard, stock answer to any problems with 3e was to ban any material outside of core. Balance issues? Core only. Too many whatsits? Core only. It was the basic answer to everything.

    Yes, but it's also a terrible answer for everything. The core caster classes are amongst the most powerful; only a few non-core classes measure up to them. Buff, Scry, Teleport: core. Planar Binding: core. Rope Trick: core. Polymorph, Shapechange, 3.0 Haste, Natural Spell...

    Yeah, there's a lot of OP stuff that's not core, ie Shivering Touch and such. But a lot of really powerful, game changing stuff is right there. There's a lot of room for material to be significantly better than core stuff in many cases, and still not be as good as what core casters get.
    "I'd like to shake the hand of the genius who invented that - just the hand, after it's been cut off from the now screaming man."

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    Quote Originally Posted by billd91 View Post
    To add more gasoline, that's not necessarily an improvement if more of the market seems to be rejecting the game rather than cutting out specific elements that are unappreciated. 3e, taken all together with expansions and 3Pp, may be uneven, but it seems to stick with the market more readily than 4e.
    Well, if fuel is what is wanted...

    It depends what "market" you are talking about. Those I game with more-or-less abandoned D&D for many years; we touched base with 3.X for a bit, since the rules were at least coherent, but DM burnout and the lack of sustained play (beyond level 10 or so) meant it was never our "core" RPG element. It took 4e to get us to be enthusiastic about an actual D&D game.

    The main difference between what we did and what I've experienced with 4e is that we just went off and played some of the myriad other good games out there (plus some homebrew), rather than whining and moaning about how "bad" D&D was for year after year after year.
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