What Is an Experience Point Worth? - Page 7
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  1. #61
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Well, obviously I agree that in your example there is no framing of the PCs into a situation. That was my point. The potential situations - encounters with various NPCs who have various motivations that may intersect in interesting ways with those of the the PCs - are all elided by GM narration. The GM tells the players a series of stories about what happened to their PCs, and then narrates some GM-authored backstory/plot (about the mountain expedition, the beholder parts, etc).

    Choosing between six bits of GM-authored backstory and plot is still choosing between six bits of GM-authored backstory and plot.
    How is the party's reaction to the old man's proposal (the six options - yes, no, haggle, etc.) in any way pre-authored by the DM?

    When do the players get to influence what the game's fiction will be?
    When they start making decisions based on what they've learned. In the case of "what adventure will we take on?" (Yeti, beholder parts, etc., including none-of-the-above if nothing appeals) their influence will soon be obvious, as its their choice(s) that'll determine which story gets played out.

    It's like a smorgasbord - there's a selection of dishes on the table (adventure hooks). After walking up to the table and checking them out (party gathers information) the diners (party) choose one or two to feast on. The rest get put in the fridge for later, or maybe fed to the cat.

    What you're advocating is that the diners be instead allowed to go into the kitchen and produce their own dish...in which case what's the point of hiring a cook?

    EDIT: Another way to put it: a rail-roading adventure path doesn't cease to be a rail-roading adventure path because the players get to choose which of the six rail-roads the group is going to work through.
    Assuming, of course, each option points to an independent and linear adventure path, rather than to just a single adventure that may or may not lead to anything further. You're also assuming the DM is even looking any further ahead than the next adventure...which ain't always the case.
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  2. #62
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    One obvious motivtion to enter a dungeon would be to rescue a captured family member. But by your lights it would be bad GMing (because "contrived") for the GM to write a dungeon with a captive in it who is related to one of the PCs. (This would also be bad GMing by @pming's lights, based on this recent post, but I think for different reasons from you.)

    I don't really know what you regard as the proper way for a GM to give PCs sufficient motivation to enter a dungeon, when it is verboten for the GM to deliberately write in any part of the gameworld to engage some cue or signal sent by a player in the build or play of his/her PC. You talk about a world in which "interesting things" happen, but that must mean "generically interesting, given some generic set of motivations". This would seem to lead to many rootless PCs with few personal/intimate motivations - or else players who write their PCs to accord to the GM's world/plot.
    You can engage the PCs directly without treating them as mere protagonists in some meaningless story. You just need to treat them as you would anyone else. If the bandits kidnap every elf in the village, then that may well include the Paladin's sister, if she is an elf in that village. Of course, if you only have the bandits kidnap elves because there's an elf in the party, then you're back to meta-gaming a contrived coincidence.

    It's not hard to avoid protagonizing the PCs, when you're the DM. Just stop meta-gaming. It's not your job to make sure that the PCs are personally invested in everything that happens. Your job is to play the NPCs, and adjudicate uncertainty in action resolution.

    As regards to motivation, the players should probably make characters who are willing to rescue those elves regardless of family affiliation. If the players have resigned themselves to playing bystanders, such that the only sufficient motivation would be to protagonize them, then that's their own fault. You may need to reboot the campaign with new characters. Everyone needs to work together if there's any hope of playing this game.
    Last edited by Saelorn; Friday, 5th January, 2018 at 01:07 AM.

  3. #63
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Choosing between six bits of GM-authored backstory and plot is still choosing between six bits of GM-authored backstory and plot.

    When do the players get to influence what the game's fiction will be?

    EDIT: Another way to put it: a rail-roading adventure path doesn't cease to be a rail-roading adventure path because the players get to choose which of the six rail-roads the group is going to work through.
    If the PCs are looking for an adventure, there may only be so many options. They might pick one or choose to wait and look for more. I've had players do just that. I've also had players bail on an adventure they had undertaken or take one sideways into something completely different. I've also had players find some apparently insignificant bit and turn it into an adventure more or less spontaneously. It takes work and a good poker face but if done well the players will never know it wasn't planned out. In all of these cases the players have choice and input on the games story. Like real life, sometimes the options are more limited than other times. I run a sandbox game with what I think of as "adventure seeds" planted all over the place. The players live their lives, and make their choices. The world has it's own events and the game rolls on.
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  4. #64
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Except that, by default at least, it is accrued only by fighting.
    This statement is neither correct for all versions of D&D nor for all recent editions. 5e needs less than two pages to describe several possible XP mechanics:

    * Completely driven by what amounts to "story milestones." Which indirectly implies there is something to achieve at all - like killing a bandit you took a bounty (major) or finding vital clues to his whereabouts (minor).
    * Based on completing missions within a larger campaign. This could be an adventure path but that is not inherently required.
    * Session-based - divorced from actual in-game events.
    * Driven by combat and non-combat encounters, where it's also mentioned that resolving a combat situation by any means that overcome the encounter earn you the XP. This includes several of the scenarios you mentioned later.

    Even with these simple guidelines any GM is open to build any hybrid advancement system and not just reward combat or resolving tense situations with violence. Claiming otherwise is simply not true for 5e D&D. So, a general claim regarding "all D&D" is also untrue.

    Just to address this point.
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  5. #65
    Regarding the other part of what is framing, railroading, etc, there are many implicit claims floating about from various statements, like...

    * Playing an adventure path is inherently inferior experience because freedom. (I'm overstating this because there seems to be no rationale given as to why one style of play is inferior to another except by a matter of taste.)
    * Nothing short of "simulating a world" is really a game enabling choice. (It's kind of implied that this is also superior, at least one could get that impression.)
    * "Adventure path" seems to somehow subsume under it all notions that having missions combined with an idea how they will most likely play out is pretty much the same as railroading.

    These are valid preferences to have but not necessarily universal truths. Not sharing these preferences one might come to other conclusions, given the usual constraints of how much time you can invest, your preferred mode of prep, and specifically, whether your players feel that their choices matter, that consequences of their actions matter, and last but not least, if they have fun playing the game. Simulating a world according to a certain standard is just the preferred mode of a subset of players, not all players, else the adventure paths wouldn't be the norm or not sell like hotcakes.

    Now, it would be interesting to hear a full description of what pemerton's preferred mode is simply be describing it in sufficient broadness without assumed meanings of terms in enough detail that we can get a good idea about it without having another round of discussions what each term means (and ideally without claims of virtue, but that's my preference). What would their preferred mode of driving gameplay come down to in the first place, how is it set up and managed, and optionally how do name-dropped systems like Burning Wheel or RuneQuest actually enable that better in the first place. So, instead of disagreement about basic terms like "framing" it would be worthwhile to know from what set of perceived ideals pemerton wants the game to emerge, and hopefully from that a discussion can emerge that is less back-and-forth.

  6. #66
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    Quote Originally Posted by Campbell View Post
    I have a deep and abiding for specific and targeted XP like you see in games like Apocalypse World and Blades in the Dark. I think it is important to keep a game's reward structure transparent and easy to understand so players know the specific goals they should be shooting for in their play.

    One of the issues I have with games like D&D is the way larger numbers of experience points and lack of knowledge of how many a given encounter, milestone, etc. is worth makes it almost impossible to effectively reason about and make informed decisions.
    Quote Originally Posted by DMMike View Post
    I have a deep and abiding too. However, players should be rewarded for all of two things in RPGs: role-playing, and having fun. If the player is the ultimate authority on who his character is, then the GM is in a bad position to award XP for either of these cases since they're pretty subjective. Sure, you can assign lesser XP goals like Helping Other PCs or Achieving Plot Goals, but why bother with XP then? Just grant more character features or levels when these milestones are passed, and save some space on the character sheet.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
    Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your comment, but: shouldn't 'having fun' be its own reward?

    Rewarding good role-playing makes slightly more sense, but I still dislike the practice because some players _are_ good role-players and don't need (and usually don't care about) the extra xp. They're roleplaying because they consider it fun (i.e. see above). It's the players who struggle with role-playing who'd benefit most from a rule granting them extra xp to encourage them to give their best. But if you want to treat all your players fairly, they'll still always fall behind the players who are already good role-players.

    In other words: granting xp isn't a good choice if you want to encourage good role-playing.

    What you really want to achieve is that your 'problem' players realize that role-playing is fun! So, what works better, imho, is to give them more opportunities to be in the spotlight and reward their efforts with mostly immaterial things, like better contacts or allies.
    I agree with @Campbell and (at least in part) with @Jhaelen here.

    The issue I have with @DMMike 's position above is that it seems to assume that GM-agnostic systemization of XP gain is either not feasible or undesirable. The GM doesn't need to be in any position to hand out XP.

    In the Powered By the Apocalypse systems that Campbell is bringing up, XP isn't "awarded" via one person's (likely opaque and cognitive bias-laden) adjudication. Its simply gained via transparent, focused triggers; eg did you fail on a move, did you make Desperate Action Roll, did you overcome a tough obstacle/threat via coercion, did your Vice get you into trouble. The GM's role in these things isn't in the awarding. The GM's role is in following the game's premise and the player cues, in framing the action whereby decision-points related to vice temptation, desperate situations, and dangerous NPCs that can be coerced are the central focus of play (and whatever else might part of the game's PCs' portfolio and xp triggers such as themes of heritage, beliefs, aspirations, relationships).

    I significantly appreciate this approach to designing games and running them because it reduces cognitive burden on the GM while serving as a handy/low overhead reference point that transparently cues all participants at the table about precisely what "the action" is about. Accordingly, it moves units in enabling improvisational, focused play.
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  7. #67
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    Quote Originally Posted by DerKastellan View Post
    This statement is neither correct for all versions of D&D nor for all recent editions.
    The statement was made about 2nd ed AD&D, 3E and 5e. It is true that, in all those editions, the default rule for accruing XP is winning fights.

    I'm aware that each has options and variants. Hence my reference to the default.

  8. #68
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    Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
    If the PCs are looking for an adventure, there may only be so many options. They might pick one or choose to wait and look for more. I've had players do just that. I've also had players bail on an adventure they had undertaken or take one sideways into something completely different.
    If I am looking for a movie to see in the cinema, there are only so many options: movies cost money to make, cinemas cost money to build and operate, and so I'm dependent on the commercial decisions of others that affect what films are available for me to watch.

    But if I want to imagine something, or write my own story, the only limit on options are the ones I bring with me - my imaginative and creative limits.

    RPGing seems to me more like the second than the first.

    Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
    I've also had players find some apparently insignificant bit and turn it into an adventure more or less spontaneously. It takes work and a good poker face but if done well the players will never know it wasn't planned out.
    I think what you are describing as a departure from the norm - the spontaneity that takes work and a good poker face - is more-or-less how I have been refereeing since about 1987.

    For a bit of elaboration, here (spoiler blocked for length) are three actual play reports of how three of my more recent campaigns started:

    Spoiler:
    4e D&D
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Up until recently my group had three campaigns active or semi-active: a core 4e campaign that is at 30th level and is close to its resolution (but always seems to manage to hold on a bit longer than I anticipated); a Burning Wheel campaign; and a Marvel Heroic RP campaign.

    A few weeks ago we added a fourth campaign: we had the first session of 4e Dark Sun.

    The first half or more of the session was spent on PC building (despite my admonition to the players that they could only have 1 hour). With three players, we got 3 PCs: an eladrin bard with the virtue of cunning (with the Veiled Alliance theme); a mul battlemind gladiator (with the gladiator theme and wielding a battle axe); and a half-giant barbarian gladiator (with the wilder theme and wielding a glaive).

    I came up with a list of background options - the standard stuff like a +2 bonus or a bonus language or adding a skill to the class list, plus some other stuff I took from somewhere or other (maybe some FR backgrounds from some book or article? I made this list a long time ago), plus some Dark Sun specific stuff like one wild power or the ability to cast Arcane magic as a preserver. (Otherwise, I had said that Arcane defiles by default.)

    The bard's background choices were Preserver (I am treating bards as psionic - and avengers likewise - but he is a multi-class wizard with Beguiling Strands) and Sensing Eye as a wild power. The mul's background choices were Perception as a class skill and +2 to initiative. The barbarian chose Body Equilibrium, and a +2 bonus to saving throws vs Charm and Fear effects.

    As the final part of PC building, and trying to channel a bit of indie spirit, I asked the players to come up with "kickers" for their PCs.

    From The Forge, here is one person's definition of a kicker:

    A Kicker is a term used in Sorcerer for the "event or realization that your character has experienced just before play begins."

    For the player, the Kicker is what propels the character into the game, as well as the thing that hooks the player and makes him or her say, "Damn! I can't wait to play this character!"

    It's also the thing that the player hopes to resolve at the end of the game. At the start of the next game with the same character, the resolution of the Kicker alters the character in some way, allowing the player to re-write the character to reflect changes.

    In my case, I was mostly focused on the first of those things: an event or realisation that the character has experienced just before play begins, which thereby propels the character into the game. The main constraint I imposed was: your kicker somehow has to locate you within Tyr in the context of the Sorcerer-King having been overthrown. The reason for this constraint was (i) I want to be able to use the 4e campaign books, and (ii) D&D relies pretty heavily on group play, and so I didn't want the PCs to be too separated spatially or temporally.

    The player of the barbarian came up with something first. Paraphrasing slightly, it went like this:

    I was about to cut his head of in the arena, to the adulation of the crowd, when the announcement came that the Sorcerer-King was dead, and they all looked away.

    So that answered the question that another player had asked, namely, how long since the Sorcerer-King's overthrow: it's just happened.

    The other gladiator - whose name is "Twenty-nine", that being his number on the inventory of slaves owned by his master - had been mulling over (no pun intended) something about his master having been killed, and so we settled on the following:

    I came back from the slave's privies, ready to receive my master's admonition to do a good job before I went out into the arena. But when I got back to the pen my master was dead. So I took the purse with 14 gp from his belt.

    (The 14 gp was the character's change after spending his starting money on gear.)

    Discussion of PC backgrounds and the like had already established that the eladrin was an envoy from The Lands Within The Wind, aiming to link up with the Veiled Alliance and thereby to take steps to save his homeland from the consequences of defiling. So his kicker was

    My veiled alliance contact is killed in front of me as we are about to meet.

    (A lot of death accompanying the revolution!)

    With all that in place, we started the session proper. I started with the barbarian, describing him standing over his defeated foe in the arena as the cry comes through the crowd "The tyrant is dead!" - taking all attention away from his victory and the pending kill.

    I then cut to the mul slave in the pens. I told him he could hear someone moving off in the corridors and cells under the stadium; and also that the sound of the crowd sounded more worked up than normal. He decided that, with his master's unexplained death in front of him, he would head to the arena gate rather than back into the warrens. The gatekeeper recognised him, and at first told him that his time hadn't yet come to enter the arena. Twenty-nine tried to talk him around - and succeeded on a Diplomacy check - and I narrated a blast of psionic energy coming from somewhere above in the stands and exploding near the gate. The gatekeeper released that the insurrection was on in a serious way, and left his post - so Twenty-nine was able to open the gate himself and enter the arena, where he could see the wild barbarian (whom he knew by reputation if not as a personal friend) standing over his defeated enemy.

    The barbarian, meanwhile, followed through on his exultation in victory and killed his defeated enemy despite the lack of crowd attention. (No roll was required for this.) Members of the crowd objected, however, calling out "No more murder!" - and some jumped over the low wall down into the arena, to try and remonstrate with the gladiator. I rolled some dice and decided on 10 people. Either another roll or an arbitrary decision - I can't remember which - told me that two fell into hidden pits in the sand before they could close, but that still left the gladiator facing 8 angry people (mechanically 2nd level Human Goon minions from the MV).

    Twenty-nine saw this and ran across the arena to close the 17 squares. (And at this point I think got a slight speed boost, as we hadn't yet remembered to factor in the speed penalty for scaled armour.) He used the flat of his bone axe to knock down one of the commoners (ie non-lethal reduction to zero hit points); when the barbarian then got a hit in, after taking a bit of damage himself from the NPCs, I asked him if he was using the flat of his obsidian-tipped glaive, to which the reply was "It has a flat?" One dead NPC.

    Up in the stands, meanwhile, the eladrin envoy - a student of the ancient tactics of the eladrin, and visiting the arena (i) to see how the people of this land fight, and (ii) to meet up with the Veiled Alliance - saw his contact approach, giving the secret signal of recognition that the eladrin had been told to expect. Then the contact feel down dead. The eladrin used his Sensing Eye to try to inspect the body and identify an assailant, but even with a +2 bonus (for clairvoyance) the Perception check failed, and so instead he attracted the attention of a Templar who noticed his psionic sensor. He succeeded in persuading the Templar that he didn't know the dead Veiled Alliance member, but not that his interest in the matter was innocent (there was a successful check in there somewhere - Diplomacy, I think, which is +4 CHA +5 training +5 Words of Friendship and so hard for him to fail - but also a failure, maybe on another Perception attempt). So when the Templar insisted that he come with him he teleported down into the arena itself, just as the events described above were unfolding.

    The Templar (I was using a MM 4th level human wizard re-specced as a 2nd level elite) unleashed a psionic area attack that took down 4 of the NPCs (no good killing them when they make useful slaves later!) and dazed all of the PCs. The two warriors charged across the arena and scaled the wall - Twenty-nine making it only with the help of some people in the stands (which was my narration of his failure - ending up prone with no movement left at the top of the climb). As they took the fight to the Templar two of his bodyguards (MM 3rd level human guards reduced to 1st level) were approaching from higher up in the stands.

    The last two commoners in the arena ran off rather than be embroiled in this, inviting the bard to come with them - but he declined.

    The bard's player rolled poorly over the next few rounds, but the two warriors were able to take down the templar and then the two guards, the barbarian shining in the damage department but the mul showing off a defender's AC and hit points. At the end of the fight some quick maths showed that it was a Level 5 encounter for three PCs, so everyone earned an action point for the milestone, we spent some surges for a short rest, and ended the session there.

    Two of three kickers are still unresolved, and eventually there will be two more PCs to integrate (one will be an eladrin artful dodger, who should fit in nicely into the eladrin contingent). But I felt that, for the opening of the campaign, it was suitably Dark Sun-ish: gladiators, slaves, templars, insurrection, and brutal death. The only thing missing was desert.
    Cortex+ Heroic
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Over the past year or so my group has been playing a bit of Marvel Heroic RP, mostly as an alternative when the full 4e crew can't turn up.

    Last week I bought the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide and, knowing that one of our players would be in the US for a couple of weeks, I wrote up some PCs to run a Heroic Fantasy session.

    <snip>

    The PCs were deliberately conceived so as to be suitable either for a Japanese or a Viking setting; when we played yesterday the players all voted for vikings, and so that's the way it went.

    The 5 PCs (only 4 of whom saw play) were:

    * A swordthane (or ronin in the Japanese version) who is DISCIPLINED (a version of the elf background power set) and WELL-EQUIPPED (a version of the fighter class power set, plus a Hercules-style SFX allowing a power-up of Riding or Combat assets);

    * A berserker who is BORN TO FIGHT (a version of the human background power set) and goes into a BERSERK FURY (a version of the barbarian class power set);

    * A lone scout who is a werewolf (or a fox spirit, in the Japanese version) who is a SKINCHANGER (bits and pieces from lizardfolk and druids) and READY FOR ANYTHING (bits and pieces from the rogue, I think the ranger as well, and the Punisher in the Civil War book for MHRP);

    * A troll (or korobokuru in the Japanese version) who is of THE ESSENCE OF THE EARTH (dwarf background power set) and is a SHAPER OF THINGS (two powers - Earth Control and Melee Weapon - plus appropriate SFX like rune-carver and the like);

    * A seer (who ended up not being played, as noone chose it) who is NOT FULLY OF THIS WORLD (based on the otherworld background power set) and who suffers from SHAMANIC VISIONS (I made this one up myself).

    After people chose their characters, and we voted on vikings over Japan, the next step was to work out some background. The PCs already had Distinctions and Milestones (that I'd written up, picking, choosing and revising from the Guide and various MHRP datafiles) but we needed some overall logic: and the swordthane needed a quest (one of his milestones) and the troll a puzzle (one of his milestones).

    So it turned out like this: the Berserker (who has Religious Expert d8) had noticed an omen of trouble among the gods - strange patterns in the Northern Lights; and similar bad portents from the spirit world had led the normally solitary scout (Solitary Traveller distinction, and also Animal Spirit) to travel to the village to find companions; and the troll, a Dweller in the Mountain Roots, had also come to the surface to seek counsel and assistance in relation to the matter of the Dragon's Curse; and, realising a need for a mission, the village chieftain chose the noblest and most honourable swordthane of the village - the PC, naturally - to lead it.

    And so the unlikely party of companions set out.

    <snip>

    the group travelled to the north, gradually climbing through the foothills ever higher towards the snow-capped peaks. In spring and summer the more adventurous herders might be found here running their animals upon the pasture, but in the autumn there were no humans about.

    Cresting a ridge and looking down into the valley below, they can see - at the base of the rise on the opposite side - a large steading. Very large indeed, as they approach it, with 15' walls, doors 10' high and 8' wide, etc. And with a terrible smell. (Scene distinctions: Large Steading, Reeks of Smoke and Worse.)
    Classic Traveller
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Recently I've been re-reading my Classic Traveller books, and yesterday I GMed a session.

    <snip>

    We approached PC generation in a fairly leisurely fashion, and with only one copy of the charts to go around. So we did it term by term, with everyone seeing how everyone else's PC was doing, until we had two characters each for the three players. (I was re-reading some advice from early White Dwarf - I think by Andy Slack - which suggested 2 PCs per player, and it was good advice, at least for our group. It worked out well.)

    Of the seven PCs generated, only one died during generation (necessitating generation of another PC for that player). That same player would have had a second PC die too, except that We were using a rule that if you fail your survival roll by 1 - which he did - you can muster out instead with a shortened (2 year) term and a -1 penalty to the roll for special duty.

    In preparation for GMing, and to give my charts a test-run, I had generated about a dozen characters of my own (and I've hung onto these as potential NPCs), but PC gen was much more fun in a group. Each character really does unfold with a story. We ended up with the following PCs:

    * Roland, who served 4 terms in the Interstellar Navy but never received a commission despite finishing a PhD (Educ D);

    * Xander, a pirate who didn't even make it to Henchman status in 3 terms of service and ended up being denied "re-enlistment" - clearly this meant he'd been marooned by his piraticals shipmates!;

    * Sir Glaxon, who started with Soc A and so "enlisted" as a noble, only to be denied re-enlistment after 1 term - the player tried for a roll of 6 on his one mustering out roll (to get a Yacht), but got TAS membership instead;

    * Methwit, who had poor physical stats but good Edu and Soc and served as a diplomat - it quickly became clear (given his skill rolls) that his status as 3rd Secretary was a cover for some sort of espionage role, and after 3 terms the player decided there was no reason to hang around and risk aging rolls, so Methwit "retired" from the diplomatic corps to make himself available for a wider range of "irregular" operations;

    * Tony, a 6 term Merchant who made it to 3rd officer, hung on in hope of further promotion but was not going anywhere (and hence had no hope of getting a ship in mustering out), and who spent his last 4 terms of skill rolls rolling to maintain his stats agaist the ravages of aging - his Str survived but his End still dropped, leading to the conclusion that he'd been dosing himself on some bad steroids;

    * Vincenzo (Baron of Hallucida), the replacement for a belter who died in his first term (crushed between asteroids!), was rolled up last - with Soc B the player went noble to try for a yacht; this looked pretty unlikely when he failed his second term survival roll (by 1) and so had to muster out early with Gambling-2 and Bribery-1 his only skills, and just a single roll for mustering out benefits; but the die came up 6 and everyone cheered - now the group would have a ship.

    Given that all the players had submitted to the randomness that is Traveller - and had got a pretty interesting set of characters out of it - I had to put myself through the same rigour as GM. So I rolled up a random starting world:

    Class A Starport, 1000 mi D, near-vaccuum, with a pop in the 1000s, no government and law level 2 (ie everything allowed except carrying portable laser and energy weapons) - and TL 16, one of the highest possible!

    So what did all that mean, and what were the PCs doing there?

    I christened the world Ardour-3, and we agreed that it was a moon orbiting a gas giant, with nothing but a starport (with a casino) and a series of hotels/hostels adjoining the starport (the housing for the 6,000 inhabitants). The high tech level meant that most routine tasks were performed by robots.

    Roland, having left the service and now wandering the universe (paid for by his membership of the TAS), was working as a medic in the hospital, overseeing the medbots. Vincenzo was a patient there - the player explained that Vincenzo had won his yacht in the casino, and the (previous) owners had honoured the bet but had also beaten Vincenzo to within an inch of his life (hence the failed surival roll).

    Xander, meanwhile, had been marooned in a vacc suit in open space - but Traveller vacc suits have limited self-propulsion, and so he'd been able to launch himself down to Ardour-3 (burning up his vacc suit in the process, but for some parts which he sold for 1,500 credits - his starting money). He was hanging out at the starport looking for a job and a way off the planet.

    Tony was also at the starport, working as a rousabout/handyman (no technical skills, but Jack-o-T-3) - and it was decided that he was the one who had bought Xander's vacc suit gear and fitted it onto a vacc suit that he modelled himself (paid for out of his starting money).

    Glaxon and Methwit, meanwhile, were at the casino - Glaxon getting drunk and Methwit keeping his ear to the ground, having been sent to Ardour-3 as his final posting.

    With the background in place, I then rolled for a patron on the random patron table, and got a "marine officer" result. Given the PC backgrounds, it made sense that Lieutenant Li - as I dubbe her - would be making contact with Roland. The first thing I told the players was that a Scout ship had landed at the starport, although there it has no Scout base and there is no apparent need to do any survey work in the system; and that the principal passenger seemed to be an officer of the Imperial Marines. I then explained that, while doing the rounds at the hospital, Roland received a message from his old comrade Li inviting him to meet her at the casino, and to feel free to bring along any friends he might have in the place.

    In preparation for the session I had generated a few worlds - one with a pop in the millions and a corrosive atmosphere; a high-pop but very low-tech world with a tainited atmosphere (which I had decided meant disease, given that the world lacked the technological capacity to generate pollution); and a pop 1 (ie population in the 10s) world with no government or law level with a high tech level - clearly some sort of waystation with a research outpost attached.

    Given that I had these worlds ready-to hand, and given that the players had a ship, I needed to come up with some situation from Lt Li that would put them into play: so when Roland and Vincenzo (just discharged from medical care) met up with her she told the following story - which Methwit couldn't help but overhear before joining them!

    Lt Li wondered whether Vincenzo would be able to take 3 tons of cargo to Byron for her. (With his excellent education, Roland knew that Byron was a planet with a large (pop in the millions) city under a serious of domes, but without the technical capabilities to maintain the domes into the long term.) When the PCs arrived on Byron contact would be made by those expecting the goods. And payment would be 100,000 for the master of the ship, plus 10,000 for each other crew member.

    Some quick maths confirmed that 100,000 would more than cover the fuel costs of the trip, and so Vincenzo (taking advice from Roland - he knows nothing about running a ship) agreed to the request.

    Methwit thought all this sounded a bit odd - why would a high-class (Soc A) marine lieutenant be smuggling goods into a dead-end world like Byron - and so asked Li back to his hotel room to talk further. With his Liaison-1 and Carousing-1 and a good reaction roll she agreed, and with his Interrogation-1 he was able to obtain some additional information (although he did have to share some details about his own background to persuade her to share).

    The real situation, she explained, was that Byron was itself just a stop-over point. The real action was on another world - Enlil - which is technologically backwards and has a disease-ridden atmosphere to which there is no resistance or immunity other than in Enlil's native population. So the goods to be shipped from Ardour-3 were high-tech medical gear for extracting and concentrating pathogens from the atmosphere on Enlil, to be shipped back to support a secret bio-weapons program. The reason a new team was needed for this mission was because Vincenzo had won the yacht from the original team - who were being dealt with "appropriately" for their incompetence in disrupting the operation.

    (I had been planning to leave the real backstory to the mission pretty loose, to be fleshed out as needed - including the possibility that Li was actually going to betray the PCs in some fashion - but the move from Methwit's player forced my hand, and I had to come up with some more plausible backstory to explain the otherwise absurd situation I'd come up with. And it had to relate to the worlds I'd come up with in my prep.)

    The PCs stocked up on some gear - combat and non-combat related - and we made some rolls for the content of the ship's locker. Methwit also made sure that they stocked up on a high-end medical kit with good pathogen analysis and vaccine-development capabilities - "just in case".

    Then they headed off
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Another couple of thoughts:

    Re-reading Book 3 (Worlds and Adventures), I was struck by the extent to which this 1977 RPG system envisages shared contribution to the fiction by players and GM. In the world creation rules, for instance, it says that if the generation system produces "combinations of features which may seem contradictory or unreasonable", then "the players or referee will generate a rationale which explains the situation".

    It was one of the players who made the initial suggestion that Ardour-3 was a gas giant moon.

    And the PC gen system gives details - like Roland's naval service, or Vincenzo's ownership of a yacht - that feed very naturally into the referee's framing of the situation.
    There is no "story" or "adventure" in advance of play - we generate PCs (using different methods, depending on system and inclination), establish some backstory, and then start playing! Which means that, as GM, I establish an initial scene/encounter (or, in the case of the Dark Sun game, elaborate on one established by the players) - the arena in Dark Sun, the steading in Cortex+ Vikings, Lt Li's approach in Classic Traveller - and then the players start declaring actions for their PCs.

    Quote Originally Posted by DerKastellan View Post
    Simulating a world according to a certain standard is just the preferred mode of a subset of players, not all players, else the adventure paths wouldn't be the norm or not sell like hotcakes.
    I don't doubt that adventure paths are popular. Despite it often being assumed that railroading is bad, there's actually no evidence that RPGers, in general, dislike railroading. 2nd ed AD&D, Vampire and allied games, Call of Cthulhu, 3E/PF and 5e adventure paths - these are all very popular RPGs, and for all of them the default adventure is a largely pre-scripted railroad, where the function of the players is to provide some colour and characterisation via their PCs, and to make a few choices that have purely local significance ("Do we take the bus or the ferry?" "Do we interrogate the barkeep or the watch captain?") but that make little or no difference to the overall arc of events (eg if the players don't have their PCs interrogate anyone, then the GM makes sure the clue is found in the form of a note on the next dead body, or whatever).

    Quote Originally Posted by DerKastellan View Post
    it would be interesting to hear a full description of what pemerton's preferred mode is simply be describing it in sufficient broadness without assumed meanings of terms in enough detail that we can get a good idea about it without having another round of discussions what each term mean
    Besides this post and this thread, I have dozens of actual play threads on these boards that are illustrative.

    The short version: the GM does not pre-author ingame events. The GM does not rely on secret backstory to inform adjudication. The basic driver of play is the GM's description of an ingame situation which (because of the way it presses the PCs'/players' buttons) generates action declarations from the players, which - when resolved - lead to a new situation that generates new decisions etc.

    Eero Tuovinen describes it here as "the standard narrativistic model". This blog talks about the related idea of "no myth" roleplaying.

    Note that the essence of "no myth" is not "no prep" but rather "no secret backstory as a factor in resolution". The GM might have stuff prepared (NPCs, other beings, worlds, maps, etc), and might have ideas (this NPC knows that person, hates this other person, etc); but it is only in the course of actual play that "the truth" of the gameworld is established. Which means that there is no role for "the truth" of the gameworld to be a constraint that the GM keeps secret from the players and applies in resolution and framing. That doesn't mean that backstory is unimportant - it's crucial, because it establishes the infiction logic/rationale/context of the events the GM is describing. But the backstory that plays this role isn't secret from the players. In fact, it is able to play this role excatly because it is known to the players!

    Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    When do the players get to influence what the game's fiction will be?
    When they start making decisions based on what they've learned. In the case of "what adventure will we take on?" (Yeti, beholder parts, etc., including none-of-the-above if nothing appeals) their influence will soon be obvious, as its their choice(s) that'll determine which story gets played out.

    It's like a smorgasbord - there's a selection of dishes on the table (adventure hooks). After walking up to the table and checking them out (party gathers information) the diners (party) choose one or two to feast on. The rest get put in the fridge for later, or maybe fed to the cat.

    What you're advocating is that the diners be instead allowed to go into the kitchen and produce their own dish...in which case what's the point of hiring a cook?

    Assuming, of course, each option points to an independent and linear adventure path, rather than to just a single adventure that may or may not lead to anything further. You're also assuming the DM is even looking any further ahead than the next adventure...which ain't always the case.
    In this context, an "adventure" is not relevantly different from an "adventure path" - it's a prescripted series of events (involving yetis, or beholders or whatever).

    As I said, having the GM read you a story, with the bits that s/he reads being prompted by the choices you make (so a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure), is having the GM read you a story. That's not how I prefer to run or play RPGs.

    Hence I don't find the culinary analogy very helpful. When I GM, I am not (metaphorically) the cook of a meal that the players consume, nor (literally) the author of a story that I then recite to them. I describe situations (eg in our last session, at one point - following a random encouner check - I told them that, when they returned to their ship's boat from a local market, it was surrounded by a group of armed and surly-looking individuals) and then they declare actions (eg in response to that description, the PCs waited until nightfall and then attacked the NPCs taking advantague of their superior technology).

    There is no pre-authored story. There is situation, action, resolution, new situation. The new situations are established by a mixture of mechanical procedure (eg the encounter check I mentioned) and other guidelines. Some of those guidelines are implicit in the system (eg Traveller is a game about sci-fi adventure, so situations should be ones apt to lead to sci-fi adevnture, like using your superior tech to rout some tech level 3 locals). Others I have picked up over the years from a mixture of reading and experience (eg "always go where the action is" - so when a later encounter check indicated that the PCs encountered a pirate vessel while leaving orbit around the world they had been on, I decided that the "pirates" were connected to a bioweapons conpspiracy that is connected to that world, and that has been the main focus of the campaign so far).

    To relate this back to the thread topic: for me, the 4e XP system works fine (as the game is played, the PCs advance in both mechanical and fictional terms, and the dramatic scope of the campaign grows larger and becomes more cosmologically significant); so does the Cortex+ Heroic system (as the game is played, the players explore and develop their PCs, and those PCs grow gradually in power). So does Traveller, for that matter - ie there is no XP and mechanical development of PCs is pretty minimal.

    But the 2nd ed AD&D and 3E/5e systems - especially in default "XP for fights" mode - really contribute nothing at all.

    Quote Originally Posted by DerKastellan View Post
    Regarding the other part of what is framing, railroading, etc, there are many implicit claims floating about from various statements, like...

    * Playing an adventure path is inherently inferior experience because freedom. (I'm overstating this because there seems to be no rationale given as to why one style of play is inferior to another except by a matter of taste.)

    <snip>

    * "Adventure path" seems to somehow subsume under it all notions that having missions combined with an idea how they will most likely play out is pretty much the same as railroading.

    These are valid preferences to have but not necessarily universal truths.
    I've never said that they are universal truths; nor that anything is "inherently" inferior.

    But I do stick to my claim that the point of XP in 2nd ed AD&D, 3E and 5e is opaque to me: they don't plausibly simulate anything (contrast advancement in Runequest, or even Rolemaster's default XP system); they aren't a pacing device (contrast 4e XP; or the somewhat similar but more GM-centric "milestone" idea found as a variant in 4e and 5e); and they aren't really a measure of skill in the manner of Gygaxian D&D, unless the game is just about winning combat encounters (some 3E seems to be played that way, but I don't think that is the typical approach to play even for 3E, let alone 2nd ed AD&D or 5e).

    A related claim: a recurrent consideration in 3E adventure design is ensuring that there are enough encounters to progress the PCs to meet the challenges at the culmination of the adventure. To me, this is a clear-cut case of the tail wagging the dog. Instead of adjusting the advancement mechanism to suit the sorts of adventures we want to write, we write adventures full of encounters that are pure filler, and pointless from the overall perspective of the adventure, so as to fit with our advancement system which is a sheer legacy of (quite different) Gygaxian RPGing. (Also: this claim is independent of the fact that, personally, I don't care for pre-written adventures at all.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
    You can engage the PCs directly without treating them as mere protagonists in some meaningless story. You just need to treat them as you would anyone else. If the bandits kidnap every elf in the village, then that may well include the Paladin's sister, if she is an elf in that village. Of course, if you only have the bandits kidnap elves because there's an elf in the party, then you're back to meta-gaming a contrived coincidence.

    <snip>

    As regards to motivation, the players should probably make characters who are willing to rescue those elves regardless of family affiliation.
    So you seem to be agreeing with what I said:

    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    One obvious motivtion to enter a dungeon would be to rescue a captured family member. But by your lights it would be bad GMing (because "contrived") for the GM to write a dungeon with a captive in it who is related to one of the PCs.

    <snip>

    You talk about a world in which "interesting things" happen, but that must mean "generically interesting, given some generic set of motivations".

    I stick by my further claim that

    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    This would seem to lead to many rootless PCs with few personal/intimate motivations - or else players who write their PCs to accord to the GM's world/plot.
    The latter seems to be confirmed by the following part of your reply:

    Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
    If the players have resigned themselves to playing bystanders, such that the only sufficient motivation would be to protagonize them, then that's their own fault. You may need to reboot the campaign with new characters. Everyone needs to work together if there's any hope of playing this game.
    Working together, here, seems to mean exactly "players who write their PCs to accord with the GM's world/plot", so that eg if the GM is writing an elf-kidnapping adventure then the obligation is on me to write a PC who will rescue elves, if I don't want my PC to be a bystander.

    That is pretty standard AD&D 2nd-ed, mid-to-late 80s through 90s RPGing.

    The most common two arguments I see on ENworld in favour of this approach are that (i) the GM has to have fun too, and (ii) anythinge else (eg improvisation, "no myth", etc) will lead to an incoherent and contradictory gameworld. But these are (obviously) both metagame considerations. What I don't really understand about your paritcular take on it is why you think it's all realistic and non-metagamey for players to build PCs who care about elves because the GM is all over elves, but terrible and verboten metagaming for a GM to build NPCs who care about elves because the players are all over elves and have (eg) built this group of elven PCs.
    Last edited by pemerton; Sunday, 7th January, 2018 at 03:20 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    [/sblock]There is no "story" or "adventure" in advance of play - we generate PCs (using different methods, depending on system and inclination), establish some backstory, and then start playing! Which means that, as GM, I establish an initial scene/encounter (or, in the case of the Dark Sun game, elaborate on one established by the players) - the arena in Dark Sun, the steading in Cortex+ Vikings, Lt Li's approach in Classic Traveller - and then the players start declaring actions for their PCs.

    I don't doubt that adventure paths are popular. Despite it often being assumed that railroading is bad, there's actually no evidence that RPGers, in general, dislike railroading. 2nd ed AD&D, Vampire and allied games, Call of Cthulhu, 3E/PF and 5e adventure paths - these are all very popular RPGs, and for all of them the default adventure is a largely pre-scripted railroad, where the function of the players is to provide some colour and characterisation via their PCs, and to make a few choices that have purely local significance ("Do we take the bus or the ferry?" "Do we interrogate the barkeep or the watch captain?") but that make little or no difference to the overall arc of events (eg if the players don't have their PCs interrogate anyone, then the GM makes sure the clue is found in the form of a note on the next dead body, or whatever).

    The short version: the GM does not pre-author ingame events. The GM does not rely on secret backstory to inform adjudication. The basic driver of play is the GM's description of an ingame situation which (because of the way it presses the PCs'/players' buttons) generates action declarations from the players, which - when resolved - lead to a new situation that generates new decisions etc.
    Which in the moment is fine, but when there's no "big picture" behind it all you're stuck there in the moment - and all you can do is lurch from moment to moment. You as DM can't or don't or won't plan ahead such that some big event coming later can be foreshadowed or hinted at now, nor can you bring the currently-played moments into any sort of larger focus.

    Eero Tuovinen describes it here as "the standard narrativistic model". This blog talks about the related idea of "no myth" roleplaying.

    Note that the essence of "no myth" is not "no prep" but rather "no secret backstory as a factor in resolution". The GM might have stuff prepared (NPCs, other beings, worlds, maps, etc), and might have ideas (this NPC knows that person, hates this other person, etc); but it is only in the course of actual play that "the truth" of the gameworld is established. Which means that there is no role for "the truth" of the gameworld to be a constraint that the GM keeps secret from the players and applies in resolution and framing. That doesn't mean that backstory is unimportant - it's crucial, because it establishes the infiction logic/rationale/context of the events the GM is describing. But the backstory that plays this role isn't secret from the players. In fact, it is able to play this role excatly because it is known to the players!
    If there's no secrets, what's the point? There's nothing to discover...which, when one of the theoretical pillars of the game is discovery (via exploration) seems kinda counter-intuitive and counterproductive.

    The DM makes a game world (and by the by, a rule system), populates it, puts stories and adventures and what-have-you in it, and away we go.

    I as player then get to explore this game world along with the other players, encountering and solving its mysteries as we go along but always able to wonder "What's over that next ridge?" or "What clue have we missed?". We might explore things the DM expects us to, or we might not. But we get to explore, and discover...which we can't do if we already know what's there! (which is also why I don't much enjoy playing in pre-published settings - same problem)

    Having all the backstory be pre-known by the players is to me the same as showing us all the dungeon map before we go in - it ruins the mystery; and thus the game. And having no predesigned world at all, with the whole thing instead being some sort of Schroedinger's Universe, is even worse - I want to know these things in the game world would be the same if I explored it again tomorrow with a different party after having not explored it today.

    In this context, an "adventure" is not relevantly different from an "adventure path" - it's a prescripted series of events (involving yetis, or beholders or whatever).
    Or a made-up-on-the-fly series of events, and if I'm doing it right you-as-player won't be able to tell the difference.

    Hence I don't find the culinary analogy very helpful. When I GM, I am not (metaphorically) the cook of a meal that the players consume, nor (literally) the author of a story that I then recite to them. I describe situations (eg in our last session, at one point - following a random encouner check - I told them that, when they returned to their ship's boat from a local market, it was surrounded by a group of armed and surly-looking individuals) and then they declare actions (eg in response to that description, the PCs waited until nightfall and then attacked the NPCs taking advantague of their superior technology).
    But if the players already know the back-story - which obviously includes what makes these guys tick including the logic/rationale/context of who they are and why they are there - they'll already know who the attackers are, right? They'll have metagame information players really shouldn't have which will make dealing with their foes a much simpler matter than it probably should be. Either that, or you're not following your own principles as noted above.

    There is no pre-authored story. There is situation, action, resolution, new situation.
    Which is really sad, in that not looking any further takes away all kinds of opportunity for mystery and long-term story.

    The group of armed and surly-looking men, for example. You as DM can have them just be a random bunch of toughs, or they can be members of or hired by a gang whose toes the PCs have unwittingly stepped on (setting this gang up as later opponents or long-term villains), or they could be there as a distraction to allow someone to stow away on the PCs' ship (again setting something up for later). The players (and characters) don't and shouldn't know at the meta-game level whether these men are a random interrupt or part of something bigger; they just have to deal with the moment. You as DM, however, can juggle all sorts of things behind the scenes; and it makes for a better game if you do.

    To relate this back to the thread topic: for me, the 4e XP system works fine (as the game is played, the PCs advance in both mechanical and fictional terms, and the dramatic scope of the campaign grows larger and becomes more cosmologically significant); so does the Cortex+ Heroic system (as the game is played, the players explore and develop their PCs, and those PCs grow gradually in power). So does Traveller, for that matter - ie there is no XP and mechanical development of PCs is pretty minimal.

    But the 2nd ed AD&D and 3E/5e systems - especially in default "XP for fights" mode - really contribute nothing at all.
    5e is more like 1e in that it's not straight xp-for-fights; avoidance, diplomacy, etc. get you the same reward.

    But I do stick to my claim that the point of XP in 2nd ed AD&D, 3E and 5e is opaque to me: they don't plausibly simulate anything (contrast advancement in Runequest, or even Rolemaster's default XP system); they aren't a pacing device (contrast 4e XP; or the somewhat similar but more GM-centric "milestone" idea found as a variant in 4e and 5e); and they aren't really a measure of skill in the manner of Gygaxian D&D, unless the game is just about winning combat encounters (some 3E seems to be played that way, but I don't think that is the typical approach to play even for 3E, let alone 2nd ed AD&D or 5e).
    Xp aren't very simulationist and are probably best just left that way. They do work as intended if used as individual character rewards based on what a character does, to measure the mechanical advancement of characters as they progress through the game.

    A related claim: a recurrent consideration in 3E adventure design is ensuring that there are enough encounters to progress the PCs to meet the challenges at the culmination of the adventure. To me, this is a clear-cut case of the tail wagging the dog. Instead of adjusting the advancement mechanism to suit the sorts of adventures we want to write, we write adventures full of encounters that are pure filler, and pointless from the overall perspective of the adventure, so as to fit with our advancement system which is a sheer legacy of (quite different) Gygaxian RPGing. (Also: this claim is independent of the fact that, personally, I don't care for pre-written adventures at all.)
    The root cause of this problem in 3e-4e-(sort-of-5e) is that level advancement is simply far too fast. Fix this, and these other headaches go away.

    Lanefan

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