What is *worldbuilding* for? - Page 29
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  1. #281
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    You make this statement that there's a difference between creating an encounter map and pre-authoring setting details but don't actually provide an argument for the difference.

    <snip>

    If I have an encounter map that has no couch, and my player wants to interact with a couch... is this not the same kind of pre-authoring a lack of a couch prior to play as the existence of a map in the study? If not, what's the difference, in your eyes?
    Well, first, there's no use of secret backstory there - the GM has made a decision already about framing. That is to say, when the scene is framed - which in this case consists in, or at least overlaps with, placing the map down on the table, the players can see (from the map) that there's no couch. (Unless invisible furniture is a possiblity. I'm putting that to one side for ease of exposition.)

    Now, what's the context for the player wanting his/her PC to interact with a couch?

    If the whole logic of the current trajectory of play is to find some particular couch (or any old couch), then authoring the map with out a couch is like stipulating that the map is in the breadbin and not in the study, and telling the players as much. The GM is saying (in effect), "OK, everyone, this scene does not have the big reveal."

    That seems to me really to be a pacing decision. Whether it's a good one or a bad one depends entirely on context. And if a player looks around for clues to the couch - "There's an armchair on the map - is it of a style that is famous for coming in matching sets with couches?" - then previous considerations around the map apply. A GM who makes a deliberate decision to delay the big reveal, and then simply refuses to entertain action declarations that might generate momentum/foreshadowing etc seems to me - in the abstract - to be making poor calls. But it's not an instance of relying on secret backstory to adjudicate action declarations. Everyone can see the map on the table, and if there's no furniture on it well there's no furniture on it! (I think this point also responds to your discussion with @darkbard and @Aenghus.)

    If the player wants a couch for some more prosaic reason eg because, for whatever reason, s/he wants his/her PC to be able to gain elevation, or to take cover, then the situation is different. Burning Wheel (which doesn't use encounter maps in the D&D/miniatures style) favours "say 'yes'" to this - a player who wants an advantage die, and can set out a plausible context for one, is entitled to it. (There are other reasons in BW, to do with its advancement rules, that mean players don't always scrounge for every die they might be entitled to.)

    Cortex+ Heroic makes this an issue of action resolution - the player is trying to establish a Couch For Me To Stand On asset, with the Doom Pool as opposition. If the GM has established that the room is sparsely furnished - eg by way of a Sparsely Furnished Room descriptor - then that can appear in the Doom Pool as part of the opposed roll.

    In D&D I think the default approach is that this is up to the GM. D&D is (among other things) a game of resource management. If a player wants an advantage, the GM is entitled, I think - as a convention of D&D play - to say "Find it yourself out of the stuff on your PC sheet plus what I've already given you in my framing." Equally, a GM is entilted to be more generous - "Yes, there's a stool next to the bed that I didn't mark on the map - it will give you about 18" of extra height".

    In OGL Conan, one of the resources on a PC sheet can be a fate point, which can be deployed to change the framing. This is direct player authorship which - to very loosely paraphrase the fate point rules - might be used to get some furniture to give you a height advantage, but can't be used to stipulate that the couch you are searching for is in the room.

    And again to respond to your discussion with @darkbard and @Aenghus - none of the above involves relying on pre-authored backstory as a secret element of framing/fictional positioning that feeds into the adjudication of action resolutions. If the encounter map has no couch on it, that's not secret. If the player says (speaking as his/her PC) "I jump up onto the couch", the GM (assuming D&D or another RPG with similar rules and conventions) would be correct to say "But there is no couch." That sort of GMing - ie refusing a player suggestion/request for some minor advantage in the situation - may or may not be too viking-helmeted, depending on the particular group. But the GM is not relying on secret backstory. The player can see from the map that the encounter has been framed without couches present.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    You establish that fictional positioning for some things, like an invisible opponent, is okay to have not meet the player's perception but other things, like the presence of a map, aren't not. This seems like special pleading, because those two things are actually very analogous.
    Well, I set out a number of principles that I think are relevant - knowability within the scene, which includes salience, and impactfulness of the secret element. As I also said, context is everything when it comes to satisfying those principles, but I think the discussion of the map example with @Lanefan and others helps show why there are many contexts for the map example where they would not be satisfied (especially the third, which is what triggered my digression to Gumshoe).

    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    Unless I badly misunderstand your style of play, players are expected to include an outcome in their action declaration -- in effect, they provide the fiction to be added in case of a successful action declaration.
    This is a bit puzzling.

    All action declaration has to include some sort of outcome, either expressly or implicitly: I attack the orc (hoping to defeat it). I lookf for secret doors. Etc.

    When the action declaration is nothing more than a request for the GM to provide more framing - "I look around the room - what do I see?" - then different games take different approaches. As I've said, that is fairly common in my 4e game ("I cast Object Reading while picking up the book - what do I see?") On the other hand, in BW it's borderline degenerate.

    One reason for the difference is that BW is meant to be a harder-driving game than 4e. Another reason is that BW has mechanics in service of this - it has very few player-side fiat abilities, which means that there always needs to be some implicit consequence for failure, which means that there always have to be stakes, and a request simply for more GM exposition doesn't establish any stakes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    If the map has been previously introduced, then the only check is if it's in the study.

    <snip>

    the DM either says yes or rolls the dice. Again, if yes or successful roll, the player has introduced that the map is, in fact, in the study.
    Yes.

    This is completely routine in all RPGing.

    The player (speaking as his/her PC) says "I want to kill the orc." Currently, it is established that the orc is alive, that the PC is in the vicinity of the orc, and that the PC has some means (eg a loaded crossbow) that is apt to kill the orc.

    The GM says, "OK - make an attack roll". The player rolls to hit, rolls for damage, the GM deducts the damage number from the orc's hit point number, that latter number drops to zero or less, and the GM declares "OK, the orc's dead!

    At the start of that resolution process, the fiction was live orc near PC. Now it's dead orc near PC. (Plus, perhaps, one less bolt in PC's quiver, if the game has ammo tracking. Maybe other stuff too.)

    Or, the player (speaking as his/her PC) says "I want to ask around town, at the usual inns and stuff, if anyone has seen that bandit who ran off before we could capture her around the place." The GM calls for a Streetwise or Gather Information or similar check, and depending on the result narrates some stuff. At the start of that resolution process, the fiction was PC in town; town has inns and similar places where information might be obtained; a bandit escaped and may have come to town; people may have seen her and be willing to speak about it; those people might be at the inss and like places, or have spoken to people who are there and are willing to pass on what they heard. At the end of the resolution process, there may be something additional like Jake the farmer saw the bandit near his haystack, and told the innkeeper about it when he came into town to sell some eggs.

    In a typical moment of D&D play, the parameters of the orc example are tighter than those of the rumour example. The framing fiction in the rumour example is much more implicit. But both are, at heart, the player using action resolution to change the state of the fiction: from live orc to dead orc; from ignorant PC to knowledgable PC.

    Neither involves the player outright authoring the fiction (contrast the player, in writing PC backstory, talking about his PC's ruined tower, abandoned mace, etc - that's outright authorship): the player expresses a desire about the state of the fiction, and the action resolution rules then determine whether or not that desire becomes true. In conventional D&D play, I think the GM is expected to exercise a fairly strong mediating role in narrating the outcome even on a successful check (eg the GM probably decides whether or not the crossbow bolt shot the orc in the head or the chest). In BW, by contrast, the GM is permitted only to add embellishments (so if the player says, "I shoot the orc in the head", and the dice deliver a success, well that's what happened).

    The player asking "Is the map in the study" and then - on a good roll - fiding it there is strictly analogous to the player "introducing" (by way of successful action resolution) that the orc is dead.

    Now, if it's controversial that RPGing should include players expressing desires as to the content of the fiction, which then become true if action resolution works out a certain way - well, we're back at what I talked about with @Mercurius, namely, player action declarations as, at best, suggestions to the GM as to possible narrations of furure states of the fiction.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    Under no secret backstory conditions, the player has now signaled that they wish to introduce a map, and the DM has to engage this hook and say yes or roll the dice. If the dice are rolled and successful, then the player has now introduced fiction.
    Well, this takes me back to the two contrasting cases, both of Circles checks that I've seen occur in BW play:

    (1) "Jabal the Red is leader of my cabal. I reach out to him to see if he can help us." That is direct authorship of fiction - the cabal is led by Jabal the Red. Then there is a statement of desire - the player wants the fiction to include Jabal helps the PC who has reached out to him.

    (2) "I wonder if any knights of my order are living around here. As we travel, I keep an eye out for any signs of them." That is a statement of desire - the player wants the fiction to include As I travel through this area, I see signs of the presence of knights of my order. But there is no direct authorship of fiction.

    There are (at least) two sorts of no map yet established as existing or salient in the context of play example.

    The first: the player says "There's a map. We're going to find it. Is it in the study?" That is like (1) just above. In D&D it would be highly atypical, I think. (Contrast Circles in BW, which expressly permits a player to specify that sort of stuff about friends and contacts, should s/he want to.)

    The second: the player says "A map would really help us. Are there any maps in the study?" That is like my (2) above, or like the Streetwise rumour-gathering example a bit further above. RPG players are always hoping to find stuff for their PCs, that is, to change the state of the fiction in some desired fashion. It's no different in resolution structure from the orc example.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    the existence of a map has not been previously introduced in play and the existence of a map has been previously introduced in play.
    Well, I've been assuming the latter. Ie it's established that the PCs are hunting for the map. (Perhaps the map doesn't really exist - it's like the gold at the end of the rainbow - but at a minimum that hasn't been estabished yet, and the players have reason to think their PCs have some hope of finding it.)

    But the examples of (2) above, and of gathering rumours, show thats it's not radically different that it has or hasn't been established. Just as in the rumour example the main thing is not that the GM has already said "There are rumours", but rather than it's implicit in the situation that there may be helpful rumours; so likewise in (2) above it's implicit in the situation that there may be knights of the order about (the adventure isn't happening on the 3rd layer of Carceri) and in the analogous map example, it's implicit in the situation that the study might have maps in it.

    This is the difference from the possible existence of beam weaponry in the duke's toilet, which is not implicit in the situation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    I'm now actually very interested in how you would deal with a player declaring they're looking for an invisible opponent that you didn't prep for your 4e game. This seems directly relatable to the issue of the map in the study, and I'm curious if the answer is the same.
    Here's one way: say "yes", which means (when they are hoping for no invisible person) assuring them taht there is no invisible person.

    Here's another: invite a check, and if it is not very good say "None that you can see." This is standard GM taunting. In Cortex+ Heroic, th GM has to spend resources (ie Doom Pool dice) to introduce new elements into an alread-framed encounter/situation. Not so in 4e, and so that sort of taunting (ie leaving it open whether or not new elements are going to be introudced that are adverse to the PCs) I regard as legitimate. In more prosaic terms, it factors into resource management in the scope of an encounter (eg one of my players likes to try and hold back one big gun because he thinks I always have something else up my sleeve and he wants not to be caught short by it).

    Here's two more, one where the player didn't want to see something (but was going to be excited if he did), and one where he did want to:

    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    As the PCs continue through the tunnels, I described them coming to a cleft in the floor, and got them to describe how they would cross it. The drow sorcerer indicated that he would first fly over (using 16th level At Will Dominant Winds) and then . . . before he could finish, I launched into my beholder encounter, which I had designed inspired by this image (which is the cover art from Dungeonscape, I think):




    I'm not sure exactly what the artist intended, but to me it looks as if the central beholder is hovering over a chasm, with uneven rocky surfaces leading up to it (archer on one side, flaming sword guy on the other). I drew up my map similiarly, including with the side tunnel (behind the tiefling) which on my version ran down into the chasm, and the columns, stalactites, etc.

    I didn't use four beholders, only 2 - an eye tyrant (MV version) and an eye of flame advanced to 17th level and MM3-ed for damage. And also a 15th level roper from MV, introduced on a whim when the player of the wizard asked, before taking cover behind a column, if it looked suspicious. (Response to result of 28 on the Perception check before adding the +2 bonus for knowing what he is looking for - "Yes, yes it does!")

    <snip>

    The invoker-wizard also came through the gate, in order to Thunderwave some elementals into the lava, but this turned out to expose him to their vicious melee and he, too, got cut down. In desperate straits as he lay on the ground next to his Gate (he was brought back to consciousness via some sort of healing effect), being hacked down by fire archons, he spoke a prayer to Erathis (one of his patron deities). After speaking the prayer, and after the player succeeded at a Hard Religion check, as the PC looked up into the rock cleft high above him, he saw a duergar standing on a ledge looking down. The PC already knew that the duergar revere Erathis (as well as Asmodeus). The duergar gave the Deep Speech hand sign for "I will offer you aid", and the PC replied with the sign for "The dues will be paid". The duergar then dropped a potion vial down to the PC. (I had already decided that I could place a duergar in the cleft if I wanted some sort of 3rd-party intervention into the fight. The successful prayer was the trigger for implementing that prior decision.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    that phrasing is akin to saying that if I cannot show it to be a good thing, then I'm left with only it being a thing or a bad thing.
    It's not about being able to show it to be a good thing. But you might say a sentence or two about why you find it good or fun, in RPGing, for the GM to trick you into thinking stuff was preauthored that really wasn't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    Okay, but please explain how one type of note doesn't constrain the DM but another type does? Again, this reads like special pleading: this thing I prep isn't that kind of thing that's prepped, the one that constrains you.
    I think my longer post (just upthread) explains my analysis pretty clearly. But the short version is: an encounter map I'm carrying around in my backpack ready to whip out if/when needed (or a Monster Manual, or notes about a mysterious benefactor, or whatever) isn't an established element of the shared fiction that is secret from the players and yet that might be a factor in adjudicating the resolution of the actions that they declare for their PCs.

    And once the map is on the table, there is no secret. The players may not like the GM's framing (it's boring, it's contrived, whatever) but they can see what action declarations are and are not feasible within that framing. So it's not like @Mercurius's omnipotent GM, who - in principle - enjoys the power to mediate every action declaration through his/her conception (be it prior, or made up on the spot) of what the fiction contains and has room for.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
    They were; and they were niche within the hobby then and - along with many similar systems published since - are niche within the hobby now.
    Best of White Dwarf Scenarios (vol 1) has scenarios for three systems: D&D, RQ and Traveller. Volume 2 has scenarios for D&D and Traveller only.

    Traveller and RQ were niche only in the sense that they weren't D&D.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
    Hidden-design play has been the default (and majority) approach since Day 1.
    Most contemporary D&D play is not "hidden design" in @howandwhy99's sense. Just to give one example: in hidden design play the ability to try again is crucial: you can go back into the dungeon and have another go (at mapping and thus unravelling the maze; at working out the solution to the green devil face or the orange mist; etc). But very few contemporary D&D adventures are based around retries like that - they are one-way trips through a series of episodes/scenes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Emerikol View Post
    I do think you are wrong in saying players have no agency in my style of game.
    I think that the bigger the "sandbox", and so the more that the players rely on the GM to present them with bits of it, to make bits of it salient, etc; then the less agency they have, because their cognitive access to the materials they need to beat the challenges (related to @Nagol's comments uptrhead about "levers") becomes dependent on the GM.

    Part of the cleverness of the dungeon idea is that the parameters (geography; social relations between NPCs/monsters; the possible subject matter of clues found; etc) are confined, so that the players can learn stuff and reliably act upon it.

    Conversely, if, in the fiction, everything is connected to everything, so that pulling on one "string" gives the GM licence to evolve the whole of the fictional situation as s/he thinks appropriate, in ways that aren't even in principle able to be known by the players, then I think the players' agency is considerably reduced.

    Because I don't know the details of your game, I'm not making any judgement about agency or otherwise in your game. What I am doing is trying to explain what I think are some practical limits on running what @howandwhy99 has called a "hidden design" game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
    I think there's a lot to this about putting trust in the DM's hands. Many statements you've made over many threads leads me to believe that you just do not want to play in a game where someone other than the dice decides what you can do. I think you fundamentally do not trust that any DM can provide good enough play over you having control over what gets introduced
    I think the notion of trust is a red herring.

    What stands out to me in your post is you just do not want to play in a game where someone other than the dice decides what you can do. Now, in the context of RPGing, "someone other than the dice decides what you can do" means the GM tells you some fiction that s/he made up. And you are correct that, when I RPG, I don't want the GM just to tell me some fiction that s/he made up. But that has nothing to do with trust.

    It's like when I go to the pictures, I don't want a stand-up comedian to come out to the front of the theatre and start telling jokes. If I wanted that, I'd buy tickets to a comedy show, not a movie. That's got nothing to do with trust, and everything to do with the desired leisure-time experience.

    The notion of trust is particularly odd in a context where I am predominantly a GM. Are you suggesting I don't trust myself to tell my friend's entertaining stories, so that my preferred GMing style is a sign of self-doutbt? The more prosaic explanation is that "Hey, let's get together to do some RPGing" is not the same as "Hey, let's get together so I can tell you a story."

    That's not to say that the GM is unimportant in my preferred approach. The GM manages the bulk of scene-framing and big chunks of consequence narration, plus is the default supplier of whatever generic backstory is needed to move things along. (Robin Law, in Hamlet's Hit Points, calls this "laying pipe" - I think the term is from screen writing. Christopher Kubasik, in his Interactive Tookit essays, called the GM the "Fifth Business" - a term from opera, I gather - because of the GM's role in facilitating the unfolding of the plot by managing all this stuff.)

    But that's not the same as deciding what a player's PC can or can't do; which is to say, is not the same as deciding whether or not a players' desire about the content of the fiction gets to come true or not. That's what I see the rules as being for!
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    The thread title really says it all. But here's some context to explain why I'm asking that question.

    In classic D&D, the dungeon was a type of puzzle. The players had to map it, by declaring moves (literally) for their PCs. The players, using their PCs as vehicles, had to learn what was in there: this was about inventory - having enough torches, 10' poles, etc - and about game moves too - searching for secret doors, checking ceilings and floors, and so on. And finally, the players had to try and loot it while either avoiding or defeating the monsters guarding the treasures and wandering around the place - this is what the combat mechanics were for.

    The game is something of a cross between a wargame and a complex refereed maze. And *worldbuilding* is all about making the maze. I get that.

    But most contemporary D&D isn't played in the spirit of classic D&D: the players aren't trying to map a maze; when it comes to searching, perception and the like there is often an emphasis on PC skills (perception checks) rather than player game moves; there is no clear win condition like there used to be (ie getting the gold and thereby accruing XP).

    In the classic game, alignment (and related aspects of character motivation) become components in, and establish the parameters of, the puzzle: if I find a prisoner in the dungeon, should I be rescuing her/him (after all, my PC is lawful and so I might suffer a GM-imposed penalty if I leave a helpless person behind)? Or is s/he really a succubus or medusa in disguise, trying to take advantage of my lawful foibles? This is one reason why divination items like wands of enemy detection, ESP medallions and the like are so prominent in classic D&D - they're "game components" which, once obtained, allow a clever player to make better moves and so increase his/her chance of winning the game. And their function relies upon the GM having already written the dungeon, and having already decided what the truth is about the prisoner.

    But in most contemporary play, character motivations (and alignment etc) aren't treated purely instrumentally in that waym as puzzle components and parameters. I'm expected to develop my character, and to care about his/her motivations, for their own sake. This is part of the standard picture of what it is to be a good RPGer.

    So, given these difference between typical contemporary play and "classic" play, what is world building for?

    And here's a final thought, in spoiler blocksbecause it's a little bit tangential:
    Spoiler:
    In this blog post, Luke Crane has interesting (and very enthusiastic) things to say about playing Moldvay Basic. He also asserts that "the beautiful economy of Moldvay's basic rules are rapidly undermined by the poorly implemented ideas of the Expert set." I think at least part of what he has in mind there is that Expert-style wilderness adventuring doesn't establish the same clear framework for play. There is no clear maze, and so no clear parameters for establishing puzzles to solve in avoiding or defeating the monsters while getting the gold.

    I see this contrast, between Basic and Expert - dungeon crawling compared to wilderness exploration - as raising the same question as this thread: what is world building for once we're no longer playing a dungeon crawling, puzzle-solving game?
    Drats, I let this thread get 10 days ahead of me

    I have no idea what the intervening 284 posts have said, so I'm probably just putting my foot in it, but...

    I don't think there's GOT to be anything more to it than sheer fun and interest in doing it. I mean, I've come up with 100 ideas for different places to set a story, but yet as a rule I run most of my D&D games within the same setting that has hosted them since roughly 1976 or so. Granted, its evolved a BIT in 42 years, but the whole point of it is simply the sheer history of it and existing plots, locations, past events that can be referred to. Maybe its just the doing it just to do it.

    Now, from a story telling kind of perspective? In a game where, as we play it today in our groups, there's considerable input from players, shaping of things after the fact, dramatic changes, etc. I mean, I don't consider anything in 'my setting' to be particularly canon unless its been revealed to the characters and played through and become part of an established narrative. Even then we've elected to retcon a few things, or maybe even just 'mythologize' them in a way that fits them better into modern play (since a lot of the early stuff was pretty different from what we do nowadays).

    I guess my point is, I'm not sure the old-style world building really serves a central game purpose anymore. There's value in imagining some structure, ala DW's fronts and such, but those are intended to be very loose and nonspecific, so they're only worldbuilding in a pretty different sense from the old time 'flesh out the details of every building in the town' kind of thing.

    Its just an exercise, a craft unto itself. I would point to the fact that a vast array of authors, good and bad, have done the same thing, particularly F & SF ones obviously. It is clearly an activity of intellectual interest at the very least.
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  6. #286
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post

    <snip>

    I think that the bigger the "sandbox", and so the more that the players rely on the GM to present them with bits of it, to make bits of it salient, etc; then the less agency they have, because their cognitive access to the materials they need to beat the challenges (related to @Nagol's comments uptrhead about "levers") becomes dependent on the GM.

    <snip>
    A quibble here, the levers aren't necessarily meant to act as a key for a specific lock. They aren't designed to be counters to specific challenges, in general. They exist to wreak change on an apparently stable environment. A particular lever might be able to help with an obstacle, but that is likely to be more of a side effect.

    I don't think player agency is substantially affected the size of the sandbox. Take a look at a sandbox at the Imperium in Traveller: if the PCs are in system the Spinward Marches, an incident in Hiver Space on the opposite side of the empire may be beyond the PC's reach, but they have the agency to adjust that once they hear of the event. In a sandbox, if the players are "far" from an area in terms of receiving information or having the reach to respond, it's a choice they made. Agency is not reduced for the reach and information flow the game assumes for the type of PCs in play just because the sandbox is bigger, their ability to react as PCs is only smaller in a relative sense. By necessity, the information about events from the larger sandbox needs to be condensed during transfer to the players which is why players need to be strongly proactive in a sandbox and signal what they are interested in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Best of White Dwarf Scenarios (vol 1) has scenarios for three systems: D&D, RQ and Traveller. Volume 2 has scenarios for D&D and Traveller only.

    Traveller and RQ were niche only in the sense that they weren't D&D.
    Back in the day I'd see the occasional White Dwarf magazine on a shelf, alongside lots of Dragon magazines that (relatively speaking) sold like hotcakes.

    I've met a reasonable number of gamers over the years. I can't think of any who ever played Traveller for anything more than a one-session try-out, and only one who played any serious RQ.* I know several who played GURPS for some years - but other than that it's been all [some version of D&D or Pathfinder] all the time.

    * - though he singlehandedly tips the balance considerably: his love of RQ got him to the point that he now co-owns Moon Design and Chaosium.

    Most contemporary D&D play is not "hidden design" in @howandwhy99's sense. Just to give one example: in hidden design play the ability to try again is crucial: you can go back into the dungeon and have another go (at mapping and thus unravelling the maze; at working out the solution to the green devil face or the orange mist; etc). But very few contemporary D&D adventures are based around retries like that - they are one-way trips through a series of episodes/scenes.
    A lot (though fortunately not quite all) of published 4e modules were like that - very linear with few or no choice points, closed loops, or any other reason to care much about the exploration side as you go from one set-piece to the next - but from what I've seen of the 5e adventures they're (with exceptions, of course) generally quite a bit better-designed providing choice points, closed loops, multiple means of access, and some engaging/interesting exploration between the set-pieces.

    And when one particular 4e module (which I've run, modified for my game) did manage to present a couple of good chances for some interesting exploration, in each case the author blew it off with a skill challenge. How boring!

    I think that the bigger the "sandbox", and so the more that the players rely on the GM to present them with bits of it, to make bits of it salient, etc; then the less agency they have, because their cognitive access to the materials they need to beat the challenges (related to @Nagol's comments uptrhead about "levers") becomes dependent on the GM.
    Depends how you define agency.

    Agency over the game world itself? They have very little, and less perhaps as the sandbox gets bigger. No problem here; as building and narrating the game world are DM jobs.

    Agency over the story, and what the PCs do, where they go, what adventures they tackle (or run screaming from - it's a sandbox, after all)? They have boatloads of it. The DM is in full react mode most of the time.

    Part of the cleverness of the dungeon idea is that the parameters (geography; social relations between NPCs/monsters; the possible subject matter of clues found; etc) are confined, so that the players can learn stuff and reliably act upon it.
    These do make it easier to run contained dungeon modules or adventures, no denying that...but by the same token it's by no means impossible or even all that difficult to run a less-contained or even uncontained module or adventure. Most adventures have elements of both - the travel to and from the adventure site is not all that "contained", and while it's sort of expected the PCs will go from A to B there's nothing at all sayng they won't go via C D and E and find all sorts of trouble along the way; while the adventure site itself might very well be a contained dungeon.

    Conversely, if, in the fiction, everything is connected to everything, so that pulling on one "string" gives the GM licence to evolve the whole of the fictional situation as s/he thinks appropriate, in ways that aren't even in principle able to be known by the players, then I think the players' agency is considerably reduced.
    Hmmm...not so sure about that.

    From the perspective of the here-and-now player at the table and PC in the gameworld, she's "pulled a string" and achieved some sort of result or reaction. All is good, and the game goes on. Her amount of agency here was, let's call it X.

    From the perspective of the DM she's pulled a string that's not only achieved the immediate result observed by the PC and thus narrated, she's set dominoes falling all over the place behind the scenes that she may well never know about...but note this does not in any way change the value of X. She doesn't have any less agency, nor any more; she just did what she did and the game goes on. And while it's possible that ramifications of the falling dominoes may affect the PCs at some point now or later, it's also possible they won't.

    Let me try an example.

    There's skullduggery going on all over the city. The place is rife with rumours and plots and spies and gossip, and into all this prance the innocent naive low-level PCs looking to spend the spoils of their first real adventure. They take a room at an inn, and go out for a night on the town. At some point things go a bit sideways - there's some yelling and pushing and screaming and the party mage ends up having to discreetly charm a local harlot in order to calm the situation down; the charm works, well, like a charm. The mage now has a new friend, adventurers-plus-new-friend go about their merry evening, and a good time is had by all. The adventurers, including the mage, pass out around sunrise whereupon the harlot wanders off.

    Player side: mage charms harlot who at his invitation joins mage and friends for a night of partying before slipping away a bit after sunrise. String pulled, result obtained.

    DM side: harlot is actually an agent (who, depending on developments, the party may or may not have met later in this capacity) working for the local Duke. She realized the yelling and pushing was a distraction intended to mask something else, and joined the fray in order to get herself into the scene so she could try to determine what was being masked by the distraction. She managed to notice two men sneaking into an alley that she knew led to a hidden access to the Duke's manor house, just before being charmed by the mage and taken along for a night of revels. She didn't report this - in fact, she failed to report at all - and thus the two sneaks get where they're going and none the wiser. Meanwhile other agents who really can't be spared are sent out to search for the missing one, who none too sober comes in on her own not long after sunrise. String pulled, dominoes fall.

    Ramifications: next morning word gets out of an attempt on the Duke's life during the night by two unknown men.

    The PCs might never know of their unintentional involvement in this crime. Conversely, their mage might suddenly find himself arrested for treason and thrown in jail.

    Lan-"I think this scenario could be pulled off in any system where charm spells last a while"-efan
    Last edited by Lanefan; Sunday, 28th January, 2018 at 12:54 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    The notion of trust is particularly odd in a context where I am predominantly a GM. Are you suggesting I don't trust myself to tell my friend's entertaining stories, so that my preferred GMing style is a sign of self-doutbt? The more prosaic explanation is that "Hey, let's get together to do some RPGing" is not the same as "Hey, let's get together so I can tell you a story."
    Those aren't the choices on offer here. A game in which the GM authors the surrounding fiction, and the players only author the actions taken by their own characters, does not have to be "the GM tells the players a story". It can still be a game in which they players' decisions, on behalf of their characters, take events in entirely unexpected directions. Your binary view of these playstyles - that the only alternative to "players drive the surrounding fiction" is "players sit back and have a story told at them" - is at the heart of why no explanation of alternative approaches is good enough for you.

    And that's why it's about trust. In order to accept that there is a range of playstyles available, rather than just two, you need to trust that other approaches can be as viable as your own. And I don't think you do.
    XP hawkeyefan, Lanefan, Xetheral gave XP for this post

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nagol View Post
    A quibble here, the levers aren't necessarily meant to act as a key for a specific lock.
    Not just a quibble.

    And yes, I realised this, and hadn't meant to give an impression to the contrary.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nagol View Post
    I don't think player agency is substantially affected the size of the sandbox. Take a look at a sandbox at the Imperium in Traveller: if the PCs are in system the Spinward Marches, an incident in Hiver Space on the opposite side of the empire may be beyond the PC's reach, but they have the agency to adjust that once they hear of the event. In a sandbox, if the players are "far" from an area in terms of receiving information or having the reach to respond, it's a choice they made.
    One relevant consideration here is what counts as player agency. But let's skip that for the moment and try to work with some generic notion . . .

    In your description, what makes me ask about agency is (i) once they hear of the event - this seems to be a heavy degree of GM mediation - and (ii) it's a choice they made - well yes, but not a choice made relative to the fact that some exciting thing is going to be estabished by the GM as part of the fiction that is (in game terms) far from them and hence is (in play terms ie relative to their ficitonal positioning) outside their current zone of action declaration.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkB View Post
    Those aren't the choices on offer here. A game in which the GM authors the surrounding fiction, and the players only author the actions taken by their own characters, does not have to be "the GM tells the players a story". It can still be a game in which they players' decisions, on behalf of their characters, take events in entirely unexpected directions.
    Suppose this is so - you think it is, I have doubts about the "entirely unexpected" (eg the GM is not going to be surprised by the location of the map) - how does it relate to the point about trust? Preferring a different approach isn't a sign of a lack of trust in anyone, any more than wanting to see a movie rather than go the comedy theatre means you don't trust the comedians.

    Quote Originally Posted by MarkB View Post
    In order to accept that there is a range of playstyles available, rather than just two, you need to trust that other approaches can be as viable as your own.
    Again, viable for what? I'm not saying that various playstyles aren't viable per se. At the instigation of some other posters I've articulated my preferred approach - how does that mean I don't trust anyone?

    Let's suppose that you prefer to run a more GM-driven game (eg the GM decides in advance the solution parameters for key questions like where the map is)? Does that mean you don't trust your players?

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