Judgement calls vs "railroading" - Page 124
  1. #1231
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ilbranteloth View Post
    The Star Wars analogy is convenient, that's all. Like @pemerton has said as well, the story itself doesn't really tell you anything of how it occurred, so if Star Wars was a story of what occurred in an RPG, you can't really tell how it occurred.

    But my point isn't so much about whether it could occur one way or the other, using whatever system. My point is that the power of the story is more effective if the character Luke, and by the extension the player playing Luke, doesn't know the secret backstory until the key point.

    Consider the impact if:
    Luke knew it all along; or
    Obi-Wan had told him at the outset; or
    He had learned it during the battle between Obi-Wan and Vader; or
    He learned it from the Rebellion

    None of those have nearly the drama or impact as learning it from Vader himself, when you are in the midst of your first one-on-one battle to kill him. I'm not talking about the audience perspective watching the movies - I'm talking about the player experience in the game.
    From the point of view of the practicalities of playing an rpg the next question is when does that piece of fiction need to be authored?

    If the GM authors it beforehand, are they then steering events with Luke to a duel and showdown with Vader for their big reveal? Isn't this undercutting the Luke player's agency in exactly the way suggested? And if they don't do that, how do they bring it into play - especially given your analysis that doing so at any other time is less satisfactory...

    An alternative is to leave these details open and author as response to the action and the dice. It only gets addressed as and when it's dramatically appropriate. Then I don't need to steer the game to any point for my 'reveal'. The reveals are created to suit the events, not the other way around. And I, as GM, get to enjoy the unfolding of events as much as the players.

    You may not think it's possible. But I've done it session after session. I believe Campbell has as well, Pemerton too, Manbearcat too.

    Where is the confusion over this approach?
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I'm in the early stages of a new Dark Sun 4e game. Dark Sun departs in several respects from the default 4e setting, and I'm a bit worried that it won't provide quite the same degree of seamless integration between setting colour, mechanically defined story elements, and the page 42/skill challenge resolution frameworks. If I'm lucky, though, then I'm wrong about this! (I know @darkbard is also running 4e Dark Sun. Any thoughts on this particular issue?)
    Unfortunately, my Dark Sun 4E campaign is still in its nascent stages, having only engaged in PC creation; some discussions about PC backstory, "kickers," and beliefs/goals; and my framing, as the DM, of the initial scene. So I have nothing to add here from praxis ... yet. I hope to have more to contribute to this sooner than later, but, with my work as an academic and this being the last stretch of the semester, real life continues to intervene.

    That said, I am curious as to why you think the particularities of the fiction/mechanics of a Dark Sun game might present difficulties to seamless integration in the fashion you suggest. (Though I also wonder if this is the thread for such a discussion. I would very much like to have such a conversation but perhaps as its own thread?)

    EDIT: Unless I'm seriously mistaken, @Scrivener of Doom is also DMing a new 4E Dark Sun game and might have interest in such a discussion.
    Last edited by darkbard; Saturday, 22nd April, 2017 at 08:43 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    @Imaro @Ovinomancer

    I take issue with framing design trade-offs in terms of drawbacks. The framing feels overtly hostile in a way that feel leads to debate and argument about which way to play a role playing game is superior. I am far more interested in discussion, analysis, and fruitful criticism of techniques and principles. I am more than happy to speak to the specific expectations, social environment, suitability, pain points, and risks entailed in the approach I favor most of the time. I am willing to engage with that conversation. I am not really interested in having a conversation about justifying preferences.

    I would also appreciate it if we could avoid bringing the popularity of various approaches into this. First, it largely ignores the particular cultural context of the greater community and geek culture in general. It also feels like an attempt to shame those who fall outside of the orthodoxy. It also does not meaningfully speak to issues of flexibility or the actual details of the experience.

    I think these sorts of conversations are important. Normally our communities stay in their walled off gardens. This only serves to increase tribalism, virtue signalling, and a lack of real understanding. For instance, most of the people I know who play indie games also play mainstream games. I happen to be rather fond of The One Ring, Exalted 3e, Edge of the Empire, and Demon - The Descent. I am also rather fond of B/X, Stars Without Number, Godbound, and The Nightmares Underneath.
    To your first point, drawback has less of a negative connotative than pain point or risks. Perhaps because I'm an engineer by trade and deal with risk analysis all the time. To me, it's entirely natural for a game style to have drawbacks. I'm not, in the least, bother by the fact my preferred style does. I know my style can degenerate into illusionist and railroading, both rather more pejorative terms than drawbacks, but still used. It also has a lot of DM overhead. And, since I mix styles a bit, there's also the drawback of uncertain expectations for the players. These are all pretty apparent to me as drawbacks of my style.

    However, since I'm aware of them, I can take pains to mitigate them. I avoid railroading and "secret backstory". I invite players to author fiction by leaving spaces and doing some asking questions and using answers (my players get a lot of latitude to continually author things related to their backstory, including the appearance of the Halfling Mafia from whole cloth at one point in my game). I try to enunciate when I'm using a different mechanic or expectation for a scene. I can do these things because I'm aware of the drawbacks of my style.

    I don't confuse a drawback in my preferred style with a drawback in me, or even how I run a game. Maybe that's a trait of my professional life; I don't take criticism of my tools as criticism of me.

    As for the reference to popularity, I'll just assume that wasn't meant for me, as I don't recall that entering into an argument I've made. I don't lend much, if any, weight to the majority.
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaochou View Post
    From the point of view of the practicalities of playing an rpg the next question is when does that piece of fiction need to be authored?

    If the GM authors it beforehand, are they then steering events with Luke to a duel and showdown with Vader for their big reveal? Isn't this undercutting the Luke player's agency in exactly the way suggested? And if they don't do that, how do they bring it into play - especially given your analysis that doing so at any other time is less satisfactory...

    An alternative is to leave these details open and author as response to the action and the dice. It only gets addressed as and when it's dramatically appropriate. Then I don't need to steer the game to any point for my 'reveal'. The reveals are created to suit the events, not the other way around. And I, as GM, get to enjoy the unfolding of events as much as the players.

    You may not think it's possible. But I've done it session after session. I believe Campbell has as well, Pemerton too, Manbearcat too.

    Where is the confusion over this approach?
    I don't think there is confusion over the approach. I think that, in the general way you've described, it's understood. The particulars of how it is acheived seem to vary pretty sognificantly among the posters you've listed, so I think some confusion may come from there.

    I also think, there's some confusion about resistance to not simply discussion of potential drawbacks or failings of this approach, but the very idea that such failings could even exist.

    For instance, based just on your description, I would be concerned that authoring such details along the way may not allow for as detailed a story. I would expect that, compared to a story authored beforehand, that one authored on the fly would possibly lack verisimilitude.

    This is certainly a failing I've seen in games where I have relied almost entirely upon improv rather than pre-authored details.
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    Quote Originally Posted by chaochou View Post
    From the point of view of the practicalities of playing an rpg the next question is when does that piece of fiction need to be authored?

    If the GM authors it beforehand, are they then steering events with Luke to a duel and showdown with Vader for their big reveal? Isn't this undercutting the Luke player's agency in exactly the way suggested? And if they don't do that, how do they bring it into play - especially given your analysis that doing so at any other time is less satisfactory...

    An alternative is to leave these details open and author as response to the action and the dice. It only gets addressed as and when it's dramatically appropriate.
    The worry there, of course, is that it never gets addressed at all.

    If I as DM (or as player, for that matter, in a player-driven game) have this really cool idea but can't steer the game toward it, the idea ultimately goes to waste. If I have some really cool idea in a DM-driven system, however, as the DM I can find ways to steer things toward it. And if a player has a really cool idea - or better yet, lots of them - she can always try her hand at DMing her own game.

    Lan-"the world needs more DMs"-efan

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    Quote Originally Posted by hawkeyefan View Post
    I don't think there is confusion over the approach. I think that, in the general way you've described, it's understood. The particulars of how it is achieved seem to vary pretty significantly among the posters you've listed, so I think some confusion may come from there.

    I also think, there's some confusion about resistance to not simply discussion of potential drawbacks or failings of this approach, but the very idea that such failings could even exist.

    For instance, based just on your description, I would be concerned that authoring such details along the way may not allow for as detailed a story. I would expect that, compared to a story authored beforehand, that one authored on the fly would possibly lack verisimilitude.

    This is certainly a failing I've seen in games where I have relied almost entirely upon improv rather than pre-authored details.
    I will try to explain my own resistance. The implication is that there is something wrong with the approach or a given game design rather than it simply not being suited to a particular set of player motivations, risk tolerances, and cultural values. I would rather not make evaluative judgments based on what I feel other people might perceive to be failings. The problem with that sort of analysis is that it involves merely guessing what other people could possibly value. I can only meaningfully speak to my own interests, values, experiences, and knowledge.

    Part of the reason why I prefer to speak in terms of suitability, risks, and pain points is that there is no implication that we must do something about them. Often the specific pain points and risks involved with a given design are necessary to achieve some other result that we value. Additionally a pain point might be there by design in order to spur a player to action or act as a meaningful consequence for unskilled play. It sucks when you cannot play a particular character anymore, but you have learned lessons along the way that will result in a more rewarding experience in the future. Rewarding play is dependent on well considered risks. What happens when we mitigate risks is we remove the possibility for dramatic failure, but also the great rewards that come along with social, creative, and strategic risk taking. We can consider which pain points we are willing to experience and risks we are willing to take to get what we want out of play rather than assume some failing.

    There is also the element where I would prefer not to do anything which would push this discussion more into the realm of debate rather than the realm of analysis and criticism. I am somewhat concerned about providing rhetorical weapons that could be used to cut off discussion rather than enliven it.

    Essentially we are talking about matters of perspective here.

    I do not view it as a failing of my most preferred approach that active and vigorous collaboration can sometimes fall flat or result in narratives we might not be particularly pleased with. These potential pain points and the creative risks involved are necessary to experience these deeply personal stories and the experience of achieving creative success together and to learn how to best collaborate in the future. It might not be what someone who is not me wants out of their play, but that is neither here nor there.

    I also do not view a tendency towards illusionism as a drawback outside the particular context of my own desires. It cuts against my particular interests, but that says nothing meaningful about the interests of the people who want to play that sort of game. Just because a given design, approach, or set of techniques happens to not coincide with my own motivations and cultural values does not mean there is something wrong with it.

    Aside: I strongly disagree that a more improvisational and collaborative approach will necessarily lead to a less meaningful sense of being there in the moment and reduced coherency. That very much depends on the actual techniques and drives involved in making those decisions. I find that when I engage in copious prep of the type recommended by most mainstream texts the resulting experience is less organic, feels less genuine, depends too much on contrivance and lacks authenticity. I find when I put less emphasis on designing everything and let go, depend on the other players, and approach things with discipline during play I feel much more connected to the fiction.
    Last edited by Campbell; Saturday, 22nd April, 2017 at 08:05 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    To your first point, drawback has less of a negative connotative than pain point or risks. Perhaps because I'm an engineer by trade and deal with risk analysis all the time. To me, it's entirely natural for a game style to have drawbacks. I'm not, in the least, bother by the fact my preferred style does. I know my style can degenerate into illusionist and railroading, both rather more pejorative terms than drawbacks, but still used. It also has a lot of DM overhead. And, since I mix styles a bit, there's also the drawback of uncertain expectations for the players. These are all pretty apparent to me as drawbacks of my style.
    Other than the engineer bit (I'm not one) and that I don't see illusionist style as a degeneration, this pretty much sums up my own thoughts as well.

    However, since I'm aware of them, I can take pains to mitigate them.
    For my part, being aware of them allows me to (usually) see them coming and then make a conscious decision whether to carry on or not, based on my best educated guess as to what will make for a better game....which should really be my overarching goal as DM anyway, right?

    I don't confuse a drawback in my preferred style with a drawback in me, or even how I run a game. Maybe that's a trait of my professional life; I don't take criticism of my tools as criticism of me.
    Well, I've over time also come to recognize (and, I hope, mitigate) some of my own drawbacks as a DM that relate to me as a person; as the two are intertwined. Sometimes what seems like a criticism of the tools is in fact better addressed as a criticism of the wielder, whether I like to admit it or not.

    Lan-"the old line of 'a good worker never blames the tools' might apply here too"-efan

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    Quote Originally Posted by hawkeyefan View Post
    I also think, there's some confusion about resistance to not simply discussion of potential drawbacks or failings of this approach, but the very idea that such failings could even exist.
    Perhaps people so keen to find such failings could have the decency to have tried the approach for themselves instead of engaging in empty speculation about a playstyle they have neither used nor understand.

    I have plenty of experience of many types of play - gm-led and player-led, totally improvised to heavily scripted, scenarios and sandboxes and indie. I can run @pemerton's game. I'm fairly sure I can run @Campbell's game. Can you? I'll discuss techniques and their potential difficulties with people who can say the same, not with internet gainsayers looking to point-score.

    So why are you asking about failings, exactly? What game are you playing or planning and what difficulties are you having? Or are you just parroting that guileless, point-scoring rubbish hoping for a line of attack on @pemerton?

    Quote Originally Posted by hawkeyefan View Post
    For instance, based just on your description, I would be concerned that authoring such details along the way may not allow for as detailed a story. I would expect that, compared to a story authored beforehand, that one authored on the fly would possibly lack verisimilitude.
    Based on what experiences? None is the answer, and no plans to either. So on what basis are you saying these things? Unless you can describe a player-led game you are playing or trying to run and want to discuss actual play, in the real world, with your own experiences... don't waste my time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    I will try to explain my own resistance. The implication is that there is something wrong with the approach or a given game design rather than it simply not being suited to a particular set of player motivations, risk tolerances, and cultural values. I would rather not make evaluative judgments based on what I feel other people might perceive to be failings. The problem with that sort of analysis is that it involves merely guessing what other people could possibly value. I can only meaningfully speak to my own interests, values, experiences, and knowledge.
    Fair enough. I feel that a comparative element was baked into the thread in the sense that the premise was A vs. B. I mean, the word versus is in the title of the thread, so it seems the inent was to evaluate A against B...and doing that involves analysis of comparative stewngths and weaknesses.

    But I don't think that means that we must lose sight of te fact that ultimately, any playstyle and any mechanical rules system are fine as ling as they work for those involved in that game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    Part of the reason why I prefer to speak in terms of suitability, risks, and pain points is that there is no implication that we must do something about them. Often the specific pain points and risks involved with a given design are necessary to achieve some other result that we value. Additionally a pain point might be there by design in order to spur a player to action or act as a meaningful consequence for unskilled play. It sucks when you cannot play a particular character anymore, but you have learned lessons along the way that will result in a more rewarding experience in the future. Rewarding play is dependent on well considered risks. What happens when we mitigate risks is we remove the possibility for dramatic failure, but also the great rewards that come along with social, creative, and strategic risk taking. We can consider which pain points we are willing to experience and risks we are willing to take to get what we want out of play rather than assume some failing.
    This is precisely what I'm driving at. I used the term drawbacks instead of pain points. I get the difference...drawbacks implies a flaw with the system, where as pain points implies an issue on the part of the iser. But that distinction aside, they are the same thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    There is also the element where I would prefer not to do anything which would push this discussion more into the realm of debate rather than the realm of analysis and criticism. I am somewhat concerned about providing rhetorical weapons that could be used to cut off discussion rather than enliven it.
    Criticism was what I was hoping for. Rather than guessing at criticisms of a system like Burning World, I'd prefer togear about them from someone familiar with the game.

    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    Aside: I strongly disagree that a more improvisational and collaborative approach will necessarily lead to a less meaningful sense of being there in the moment and reduced coherency. That very much depends on the actual techniques and drives involved in making those decisions. I find that when I engage in copious prep of the type recommended by most mainstream texts the resulting experience is less organic, feels less genuine, depends too much on contrivance and lacks authenticity. I find when I put less emphasis on designing everything and let go, depend on the other players, and approach things with discipline during play I feel much more connected to the fiction.
    Okay! I wouldn't call this an aside so much as a return to meaningful discussion.

    I think it's interestingt hat you feel that the fiction is stronger when you let go and allow the game to establish everything as you progress. My approach in my game is to have some basic skeleton or outline in place before playing, but to allow plenty of leeway for change or the introduction of new elements based on how thjngs come out in play. Doing that means I can't be married to any ideas I've thought up prior tothe start of play, but that they are there for me to lean on or to inteoduce as needed to help keep play moving.

    As I said earlier, I feel my game is a blend of GM and player driven aspects. ButI have tried games in the past where I've not prepared in any way and rrlied solely on improv and player input...and I feel the game suffered for it.

    You memtion copious amounts of prep...and I know for many, that is how they like to approach the game. They have a Silmarillion's worth of backstory and world information. My prep is much simpler...most of it is just brainstorming, having a few key ideas or characters or what have you. Actual prep isually consists of like a bullet pointed list of possibilities for the game, along with some possible outcomes for each possibility. This is usually like 5 to 10 lines on a page.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    The player of the invoker/wizard in my game is probably the most adventurous with this sort of thing, but I can't say whether that's a feature of him as a player, or whether that's the result of playing a PC whose build (lots of skills with high bonuses, lots of spells, lots of rituals) is very well-suited to it. When the player explains (both to the table, and in character to the other PCs) that an Undead Ward, suitably powered up using the Aspect as a focus, can sever the connection between Vecna and his Eye, I am not going to contest that statement about the fiction. (Just as, in relation to the episode I quoted upthread with the sealing off of the Abyss, I didn't question the players assertion about what would be possible in the fiction.)
    Thanks for the that, that particular reply made it all sink in and I think I now have a better understanding of how you run your games. Would you dare to say you run shared-narration sandbox games?

    My job, with the fictional possibilities established, is to manage the resolution using the processes the game offers. (Which, as I've said, are very strong for this sort of stuff.)
    I think the primary difference between our two styles is that I wouldn't be comfortable allowing players to freely establish fictional possibilities. A player at my table can certainly come up with fictional possibilities but they still run them passed the DM who would determine whether they become established fiction or not.* Now people with similar playstyles to mine fall within quite a wide range. Personally if the idea is reasonable, to me and many times I include the table in on this discussion, then we run with the player's idea. Success or failure the narration is done by the DM.

    *The reason it is run passed the DM is to ensure story integrity (for open and secret backstory) and to a lesser extent that the mechanics 'work'.

    A question that might arise here is: What stops the player(s) just making up any old nonsense to get what they want for their PCs? The answer, I think, is one that @Campbell has thought about harder than I have: fidelity to the fiction.
    Which was/is my primary concern. Now just as you do not like to make evaluative judgements on the moral/ethical actions performed by characters and thus on the player's interpretation of such actions (refer our alignment thread which I previously posted a link to), in the same way I do not like to make evaluative judgements on the narration offered by the player and thus cannot make that leap to shared narration.

    4e is good for this, too, at least in its default mode (the three tiers of play, the default cosmology, etc): the whole setting - PCs and antagonists - are infused with colour that tells you what does and doesn't make sense within the gameworld.
    I can agree with this.

    I'm in the early stages of a new Dark Sun 4e game. Dark Sun departs in several respects from the default 4e setting, and I'm a bit worried that it won't provide quite the same degree of seamless integration between setting colour, mechanically defined story elements, and the page 42/skill challenge resolution frameworks. If I'm lucky, though, then I'm wrong about this! (I know @darkbard is also running 4e Dark Sun. Any thoughts on this particular issue?)
    I have not read enough about Dark Sun, but from the little I know, the setting certainly feels more restrictive for the type of gaming style you wish play.
    Last edited by Sadras; Saturday, 22nd April, 2017 at 11:38 PM.
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