Overusing Coincidence in Game-Related Stories - Page 4
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  1. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
    I think that if you ask any improv (or jazz) guy what their secret is it would probably be practise*.
    Oh, tons, absolutely, but even so things don't always go the way you plan. This is of course part of the point, but still, not the way you plan often sounds not good. Strings break, things go flat, etc.

  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
    I played through a Pathfinder adventure path, once. I distinctly remember a point when the group found itself in a strange world, where I decided to do some quick exploring before my Wind Walk wore off. A quick (move speed 600') fly around the locale revealed a horrible demon that was (coincidentally) in the middle of consuming a humanoid corpse. I had no chance of fighting such a thing by myself, so I just made a note of it, and flew back to the rest of the group.

    The GM later told us that this has been a contrived coincidence, and that the demon was always going to be in the middle of consuming that corpse, whenever the first PC spotted it. The corpse was actually a plot key, and there was no way to get back to our home world without it, which is why it was guaranteed to be there whenever we got to that area. Since I observed it without engaging in combat, though, it was lost forever.

    Of course, that was stupid, and there's no way that my character could ever believe that they had done something wrong by gaining more information about an unknown situation, even if the player knew otherwise. My suspension of disbelief was shot, though, and I lost all confidence in Pathfinder adventure paths.

    Are you sure that was a problem with the Adventure path? I mean it is a pretty short path if you get Planeshifted somewhere without a way to get back (or forward I guess).

  3. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
    Are you sure that was a problem with the Adventure path? I mean it is a pretty short path if you get Planeshifted somewhere without a way to get back (or forward I guess).
    There was a lot to do in that other world, before getting to the bottleneck, and there was no way to know that we needed that plot key until much later. In order to open the gate to the next place, we had to make a series of DC 45 Use Magic Device checks, and speaking to the corpse was supposed to grant a +20 modifier.

    I have no idea what provisions were in place, for if we failed those checks. Maybe it would have opened the gate anyway, and we would have just taken a bunch of level drain or something. It didn't actually come up, because the GM had some stupid house rule about a natural 20 always succeeding on a skill check, and the player claimed to roll three twenties in a row. (By that point, I was pretty checked out from the game, so I couldn't bring myself to bother watching them roll.)

  4. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
    in a story like Indiana Jones, the writer(s) get to make choices and often go back and edit/rescript
    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
    I tend to think of RPGs more like improvisation (aka spontaneous composition) or sketch comedy compared to pre-written compositions or sketches.
    I agree that the inability to edit is a big part of RPGing. Another big part, which I think helps compensate for the inability to edit, is the fact that the audience members are the creators. So there is scope to take pleasure in the process of doing it, which is a big thing that the audience of a jazz session or improv comedy don't have.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
    The GM is usually setting out the world and various events, but the players usually have important roles to play in terms of choosing where to go, what to do, etc.

    <snip>

    for some players it will be, especially GMs who have a sometimes adversarial relationship with one or more players (which can certainly happen).

    <snip>

    the Doom mechanic is a clear tool for the GM to introduce narrative elements, such as deciding this is where the random encounter is. Given that the Doom pool is filled up by player choices, it's also something that the players indirectly control. If they see a rapidly building Doom pool, they know something's coming for them, be it a hard fight or some hazard.

    <snip>

    This is really quite different than D&D, where narrative elements are not really part of the game mechanics.
    I think this is a real site of tension between D&D-as-wargame and D&D-as-"story".

    To try and explain what I mean, I'll come at it like this: Have we reached 20th level yet? Iin 2nd ed AD&D, 3E or 5e - in 4e the question would Have we reached 30th levelyet?) If not, then it's no secret that more encounters are coming. If the game is a mega-dungeon type dungeon crawl, or a hex crawl (ie the two classic modes of D&D-as-wargame), then the players can exercise quite a bit of control over when and where those encounters occur (although there are still the wandering monster dice). But if the game is anything that's more typical to the past 30-odd years of D&D play, then it will be the GM who exercises predominant control over when and where those encounters occur.

    (It was a recognition of this that drove 4e to a balanced-by-encounter paradigm, where "daily" (ie long rest) resources are only a modest part of a party's capacity for action (both doing stuff and staying power). It's only when a party is at rock-bottom both of surges and dailies that a 4e GM has to wonder whether or not yet another encounter would be fair to the players.)

    I think doom pool mechanics are interesting - I GM Marvel Herioc RP/Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy, which uses a Doom Pool to help regulate the way the GM is able to escalate an action scene - but that's not the only way to do it. Heroquest Revised has a pass/fail dynamic in which DCs are set in part in relation to how many successive successes the PCs have experienced (the more successs, the higher the difficulty); and 4e manages this through a fairly strict correlatin of encounters to XP to levels and treasure parcels.

    So while I agree with you that some players regard GM management of pacing, and - as part of that - of coincidence, as railroading, I actually don't think it's a very coherent perspective unless the game really is being played as a wargame.

    (5e further complicates it by having mixed party resource recovery suites - long rest and short rest - which put pressure on the GM to ultra-manage the pacing of the "adventuring day", in the interests of fairness, while puting pressure on the players to maximise their control of the rest cycle, in the interests of mechanical efficacy. I think this is a real tension in design and so don't find it at all surprising how often it seems to come up in threads on the 5e board. I don't really know how a 5e GM is supposed to give a satisfying play experience under those conditions if the players aren't just on board to be railroaded.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jay Verkuilen View Post
    the game system itself is quite wargame-y and generally lacks tools for making it more narratively driven

    <snip>

    it's an old system that much more clearly shows its wargame origins.
    I see what you're saying, but there are also lots of elements of contemporary D&D that are not well-suited to wargaming (and I think the short-rest/long-rest thing is one of them). I think it's as much about legacy play culture as legacy system elements.

  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
    Are you sure that was a problem with the Adventure path?
    To me it sounds like a problem with GMing. If the GM is going to use a situation where the corpse is the clue/McGuffin, and the clue/McGuffin doesn't work out, then the GM either (i) needs to drop the idea of an adventure path or (ii) introduce a new clue/McGuffin to keep things on the rails.
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  6. #36
    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I agree that the inability to edit is a big part of RPGing. Another big part, which I think helps compensate for the inability to edit, is the fact that the audience members are the creators. So there is scope to take pleasure in the process of doing it, which is a big thing that the audience of a jazz session or improv comedy don't have.
    I was implicitly thinking of the players or performers as part of the audience, too. I've played a lot of jazz and most of the time the audience and the performers are one, just as in an RPG session. In jazz (or improv... I don't know, never done that), you're usually playing off a chart so there's a basic script and structure of "play the head in, play solos, play the head out" but there's a lot of freedom and spontaneity in that structure.


    I think this is a real site of tension between D&D-as-wargame and D&D-as-"story".

    To try and explain what I mean, I'll come at it like this: Have we reached 20th level yet? Iin 2nd ed AD&D, 3E or 5e - in 4e the question would Have we reached 30th levelyet?) If not, then it's no secret that more encounters are coming. If the game is a mega-dungeon type dungeon crawl, or a hex crawl (ie the two classic modes of D&D-as-wargame), then the players can exercise quite a bit of control over when and where those encounters occur (although there are still the wandering monster dice). But if the game is anything that's more typical to the past 30-odd years of D&D play, then it will be the GM who exercises predominant control over when and where those encounters occur.
    Yeah, that's a good point.


    (It was a recognition of this that drove 4e to a balanced-by-encounter paradigm, where "daily" (ie long rest) resources are only a modest part of a party's capacity for action (both doing stuff and staying power). It's only when a party is at rock-bottom both of surges and dailies that a 4e GM has to wonder whether or not yet another encounter would be fair to the players.)
    True, though I tend to think that way as DM anyway, and have for a long time... they're running low on hit points and spells, yep, it's time for a break.


    I think doom pool mechanics are interesting - I GM Marvel Herioc RP/Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy, which uses a Doom Pool to help regulate the way the GM is able to escalate an action scene - but that's not the only way to do it.
    Oh absolutely not, there are many other ways. Indeed, good DMs did it many years ago without formal rules. What I've liked about Conan is that the rules back up running things in a narratively oriented way, so I don't feel like I'm fighting with it.


    So while I agree with you that some players regard GM management of pacing, and - as part of that - of coincidence, as railroading, I actually don't think it's a very coherent perspective unless the game really is being played as a wargame.
    Ah, well at the micro level I don't think pace management is railroading, but I suppose it would depend on the circumstances. If it was a video game and I'd be pissed I'm stuck in this same cut scene over and over, sure, it would be.


    (5e further complicates it by having mixed party resource recovery suites - long rest and short rest - which put pressure on the GM to ultra-manage the pacing of the "adventuring day", in the interests of fairness, while puting pressure on the players to maximise their control of the rest cycle, in the interests of mechanical efficacy. I think this is a real tension in design and so don't find it at all surprising how often it seems to come up in threads on the 5e board. I don't really know how a 5e GM is supposed to give a satisfying play experience under those conditions if the players aren't just on board to be railroaded.)
    IMO this is the biggest weakness in 5E's design. It creates pointless inter-party and often inter-player tension, especially if you have a PC that's much more of a "long rester" in with "short resters" or vice versa.

    I see what you're saying, but there are also lots of elements of contemporary D&D that are not well-suited to wargaming (and I think the short-rest/long-rest thing is one of them). I think it's as much about legacy play culture as legacy system elements.
    Sure, 5E has all this legacy "backwards compatibility" that newer games don't need. Things like the short rest vs long rest tension are examples of how newer more narrative modes are a bit at loggerheads with older more wargame-y styles. 4E explored a lot of newer mechanics and was, in this sense, innovative, whereas 5E rolled back but only kept some of the innovations. Alas they lost some that I would have liked them to keep, such as using a PC resource as the most notable healing resource. I don't want to restart a heavy 4E discussion, though---those aren't going anywhere!
    Last edited by Jay Verkuilen; Tuesday, 11th September, 2018 at 01:12 PM.

  7. #37
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    That's a good point, that coincidence is often involved in the start of an adventure.

    Interesting discussion.

  8. #38
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    Which famous author (Elmore Leonard, maybe?) said that writers should use coincidence to get heroes into trouble, but not to get them out of it. I think that is good advice for DMs, too.

    Used sparingly, of course.
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  9. #39
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    A good rule of thumb is "no more than one coincidence per story".

    We all experience coincidences IRL. Recently one particular chain of events caused me to have to order a new passport, having been without one for three years. The very next day an old friend invited me to visit her in Rotterdam - needing a passport.
    So, the reader or player's mind will not normally rebel at the single coincidence. It's when they pile implausibly atop each other that cognitive dissonance arises. Taking Game of Thrones, the first time characters happened to run into each other at Hot Pie's roadside inn, I thought nothing of it. By about the third time, I was noticing.

  10. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elfcrusher View Post
    Which famous author (Elmore Leonard, maybe?) said that writers should use coincidence to get heroes into trouble, but not to get them out of it. I think that is good advice for DMs, too.

    Used sparingly, of course.
    You can probably get away with a deus ex machina once - but better if you can show that the apparently implausible rescue actually derives from prior events.

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