Introducing Complications Without Forcing Players to Play the "Mother May I?" Game - Page 10
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  1. #91
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    The issue of "Mother May I?" is muddy, obviously. That said, from my perspective there's a clear set of procedural steps, or sequences, that seem to be common to it:

    1. Player proposes an action/intent for his or her character
    2. GM makes a determination of some kind about how to resolve the action declaration.

    2.a. Is the stated action declaration even possible in the context of the agreed upon genre conventions? E.g., the player isn't asking for the Millennium Falcon to come out of hyperspace and destroy the Tarrasque if we're playing a Forgotten Realms campaign.

    2.b. Even if theoretically possible, is the stated action declaration congruent with prior play state(s)? E.g., a player declaring, "I use the Knife of Ogre Slaying +7 I found in my pocket to attack the two ogres on my right" when no prior fiction established the presence of the +7 weapon.

    (For the record, I don't think 2a or 2b constitute violations of the "Mother May I?" principle, it's just general bad form on the part of the player to make these kinds of declarations. After eliminating the general potentiality of the absurd, things get a bit trickier.)

    2.c. Does the stated action declaration properly address relevant fictional positioning? For example, the player declares that their character wishes to persuade a minor noble who the character previously insulted, which should at the very least involve some complication to the attempt. Or, say a player expresses that their character tries to woo the barmaid in the middle of a tavern brawl. Certainly possible contextually, but not directly addressing the current obstacle (not getting the character's head bashed in).
    --2.c.i. If 2.c. doesn't appear congruent on the surface, is it something that can be clarified by the GM providing more information/context around the current fictional positioning?

    2.d. Does the GM deem the action declaration important enough and relevant enough to the current stakes to warrant taking the time to adjudicate the success or failure? In other words, is a simple "Yes!" response from the GM sufficient?

    2.e. Does the action declaration have a mechanical "plugin" that can adjudicate the declared action? In come cases this may supersede point 2.c.


    But truthfully, anywhere down the decision tree until point 2.e. could theoretically be nixed outright by the GM, for whatever perceivable reason(s) he or she deems. So just how much negotiation happening between points 2.a. and 2.e. would be considered "Mother May I?" How much of the onus is on the GM to provide relevant, critical information regarding the current fictional state, and how much of the onus is on the player to find the right balance between asking for too much vs. asking for too little?


    Quote Originally Posted by Sadras View Post
    We recently had a session where the party tracked down the group of Frost Giants hoping to negotiate some sort of deal with them (long story).

    Anyways one of the PCs was carrying one of the shards of the Rod of Seven Parts (modified) which also happens to be the PC's heirloom. The PC noticed that one of the Frost Giants (Frost Giant Everlasting One, VGtM) had a similar shard but was using it as a hairpin (stolen idea).

    The above PC managed to gain the Frost Giant's attention and showed him his shard, holding his upwards in open palms for the FG to inspect. The FG, intrigued, took the PC's shard and removed her hairpin and with little difficulty joined the two shards. Satisfied, she then placed the now unified piece back in her hair. The PC, then in desperation, made an attempt with his hands and a loud cough that he desired his piece returned. The FG, unperturbed began chatting to her fellow kin. The negotiation with the FGs ended successfully and the two groups parted ways.

    Needless to say, the PC was annoyed, but was unwilling for the party to take on the 7 FG's in order to retrieve the artifact he had had from 1st level (party is currently level 10).

    None of that was rolled for, except for the negotiations which were a separate exercise. None of that was planned for obviously. The PC declared his actions. I as DM adjudicated the interaction. No dice was necessary for the FG response in relation to the PC wanting his shard back. I determined the reasonable course of action for the FG based on the actions declared by the PC and my knowledge of FGs. I do the same with anything else in the setting. If I decided the outcome was uncertain I would let the dice decide. I don't consider any of this a Mother-May-I play-style.
    This is an interesting example, because as a player, my first instinct would be to immediately declare, "I would like to recover my shard without instigating violence." Would you have seen this as a possible action declaration? Why or why not? Would the PC in question have been allowed to make a diplomacy/persuasion check of any kind to resolve that action?
    Last edited by innerdude; Monday, 4th February, 2019 at 11:12 PM.
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  2. #92
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bedrockgames View Post
    I'd much rather the possibility be open for the GM to decide something because it is reasonable that it be the case.
    This is pretty central to my assertion, in the other thread, that the GM deciding things is not much like real life.

    Things in real life don't generally happen because someone has decided what is reasonable to occur. This is why a gameworld in which things happen because the GM decides they are reasonable is not much like real life.

    Quote Originally Posted by Bedrockgames View Post
    II understand there are different variations of Just Say Yes, and I understand what they are.
    In that case, it will be clear to you what I am and am not describing as "Mother may I".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sadras View Post
    The PC declared his actions. I as DM adjudicated the interaction. No dice was necessary for the FG response in relation to the PC wanting his shard back. I determined the reasonable course of action for the FG based on the actions declared by the PC and my knowledge of FGs. I do the same with anything else in the setting. If I decided the outcome was uncertain I would let the dice decide. I don't consider any of this a Mother-May-I play-style.
    While I consider it most likely a completely Mother-May-I playstyle. There is absolutely no evidence of a lack of MMI, and all the evidence points towards it.

  4. #94
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    This is pretty central to my assertion, in the other thread, that the GM deciding things is not much like real life.

    Things in real life don't generally happen because someone has decided what is reasonable to occur. This is why a gameworld in which things happen because the GM decides they are reasonable is not much like real life.
    You've made this argument countless times, and I and other posters have pointed out the problem with it. And I've already explained to you, my interest isn't modeling real world physics or causality, that you wrongly interpreted my statement "it is no more mother may I than real life is mother may I" to mean 'the game world is just like real life'. We've had a whole debate in that thread on this topic and I think we've both made our respective points regarding it. Personally I think it is a straw man.

    In that case, it will be clear to you what I am and am not describing as "Mother may I".
    Maybe. But your clouding the discussion with so many side points, parsing of language and terminology it is easy to lose sight of what you actually think. Either way, I don't really care how well informed you think I am about this concept. The concept isn't terribly important to me. What matters is whether I understand you. And any time I ask for clarification, you respond with posts like this. My understanding is you consider an approach where the GM decides what is present to be mother may I. If I am wrong let me know. Otherwise that is my assumption.

  5. #95
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    Quote Originally Posted by innerdude
    This is an interesting example, because as a player, my first instinct would be to immediately declare, "I would like to recover my shard without instigating violence." Would you have seen this as a possible action declaration? Why or why not?
    Yes it would be seen as an action declaration, but as DM I would ask what does your character actually do.
    My player essentially did that by drawing the giant's attention and making the motion to accept back the shard. The giant was under no compulsion to return anything. It did not fear or respect the PCs. If anything, the group of giants were annoyed by the party's presence. The spell Suggestion in 5e requires a sentence or two for the spell to work and "the suggestion must be worded in such a manner to make the course of action sound reasonable."

    So why would the giant return the shard back to the character? What would its reason be?

    Would the PC in question have been allowed to make a diplomacy/persuasion check of any kind to resolve that action?
    Yes, if he made a decent proposal. Just like the spell has a requirement to work so too can the proficiency skill have a condition before a roll is called for.

    Quote Originally Posted by chaochou View Post
    While I consider it most likely a completely Mother-May-I playstyle. There is absolutely no evidence of a lack of MMI, and all the evidence points towards it.
    Some place lesser value on the roleplaying aspect of the game.
    Last edited by Sadras; Tuesday, 5th February, 2019 at 07:26 PM.

  6. #96
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bedrockgames View Post
    My understanding is you consider an approach where the GM decides what is present to be mother may I. If I am wrong let me know. Otherwise that is my assumption.
    I think that if the GM decides the outcome of action declarations, that is "Mother may I" in the context of this thread.

    If an action declaration is made, and then resolved, and the player fails (eg the "Luck at finding cultists in teahouses" roll is a bust), and the GM then - in narrating the failure - decides who is present in the teahouse, that is not Mother May I, as the player's chance at having his/her PC successfully find a sect member in the teahouse was not gated by the GM.

    I don't really see why this is so puzzling to you - I've been saying it since post 13 upthread.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I think that if the GM decides the outcome of action declarations, that is "Mother may I" in the context of this thread.

    If an action declaration is made, and then resolved, and the player fails (eg the "Luck at finding cultists in teahouses" roll is a bust), and the GM then - in narrating the failure - decides who is present in the teahouse, that is not Mother May I, as the player's chance at having his/her PC successfully find a sect member in the teahouse was not gated by the GM.

    I don't really see why this is so puzzling to you - I've been saying it since post 13 upthread.
    Except describing this just as 'the outcome of a declaration made' is misleading. The players is announcing an intention to go to the tea house and also happens to state why they are going (and you are picking up on that reason as part of the action declaration). The GM lets them go the tea house, and decides what is at the tea house when they get there. An action declaration is something like "I smash the barkeepers face" or "I walk into the tea house". Things like "I take over bone breaking sect", "I go the tea house and find members of bone breaking sect" are not really the same thing (this is blending an action declaration with narrating things going on in the setting (and the first one is covers far too great an expanse of time/events to be considered a far declaration in most games. Either way, you can define that as mother may I if you want, but it simply isn't for the reason people have pointed out. A player may say "I go to the tea house and find members of bone breaking sect" but most GMs are going to read that as "I go to the tea house to see if there are members of bone breaking sec there", and many do not feel they have to add the sect into the scenario just because the player included in their statement. Not including them, isn't mother may I, because mother may I is a situation where the player is constantly prodding the setting for things that should be there, only to be blocked because the GM really wants them to do something else, or hit on something very specific. If the GM had a note like "Bone breaking sect can only ever be found in this one spot on the map" and the players had to keep guessing until they found it, that would be mother may I. But in the example we've been talking about, I and others have said in our responses we are trying to emulate a living organization and environment, where things are not simply pinned down to one spot. And our judgement is simply more "well who would be there at this time". It is possible bone breaking sect would be there, possible they wouldn't, possible one of their representatives or allies or enemies would be there as well. That isn't the kind of play most people have in mind when they say mother may I. It is only mother may I in conversations where people have an axe to grind against something like the traditional GM role or old school style of play, or sessions where role play and in character exploration are really important. Not saying you got to like these things But it is pretty obvious a lot of people in this thread have an axe to grind against a style and are using a term like mother may I to sneak in critiques of it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post

    I don't really see why this is so puzzling to you - I've been saying it since post 13 upthread.
    Because I find your posting style very unclear, and I find your responses to direct questions not very direct.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sadras View Post
    Yes it would be seen as an action declaration, but as DM I would ask what does your character actually do.
    .
    This is a pretty crucial point. In most games I play in, you can make some kind of broad declaration if you want, but the GM is going to try to figure out exactly what it is you are doing and deal with each step (some steps might involve dice rolls, some simple RP, some a decision of what is there or what happens by the GM). There is an expectation in this approach that you are interacting with the world at the ground level.
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  10. #100
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    Quote Originally Posted by innerdude View Post
    The issue of "Mother May I?" is muddy, obviously. That said, from my perspective there's a clear set of procedural steps, or sequences, that seem to be common to it:

    1. Player proposes an action/intent for his or her character
    2. GM makes a determination of some kind about how to resolve the action declaration.

    2.a. Is the stated action declaration even possible in the context of the agreed upon genre conventions? E.g., the player isn't asking for the Millennium Falcon to come out of hyperspace and destroy the Tarrasque if we're playing a Forgotten Realms campaign.

    2.b. Even if theoretically possible, is the stated action declaration congruent with prior play state(s)? E.g., a player declaring, "I use the Knife of Ogre Slaying +7 I found in my pocket to attack the two ogres on my right" when no prior fiction established the presence of the +7 weapon.

    (For the record, I don't think 2a or 2b constitute violations of the "Mother May I?" principle, it's just general bad form on the part of the player to make these kinds of declarations. After eliminating the general potentiality of the absurd, things get a bit trickier.)

    2.c. Does the stated action declaration properly address relevant fictional positioning? For example, the player declares that their character wishes to persuade a minor noble who the character previously insulted, which should at the very least involve some complication to the attempt. Or, say a player expresses that their character tries to woo the barmaid in the middle of a tavern brawl. Certainly possible contextually, but not directly addressing the current obstacle (not getting the character's head bashed in).
    --2.c.i. If 2.c. doesn't appear congruent on the surface, is it something that can be clarified by the GM providing more information/context around the current fictional positioning?

    2.d. Does the GM deem the action declaration important enough and relevant enough to the current stakes to warrant taking the time to adjudicate the success or failure? In other words, is a simple "Yes!" response from the GM sufficient?

    2.e. Does the action declaration have a mechanical "plugin" that can adjudicate the declared action? In come cases this may supersede point 2.c.
    Interesting - you see this sequence as a (or the) definition of mother-may-I where I just see it as close to how play normally occurs.

    I'd throw in a few other clauses however, so it'd end up something like:

    2a. and 2b. - as above; also lob in a relevance and-or possibility factor to summarily deal with "I jump to the moon"-style stuff.

    2c. Does the action declaration fit in with the general level of detail or granularity in play at the moment? This one's hard to pin down sometimes, but often situations will arise where different people at the table (including but not always the GM) are viewing and-or want to resolve a situation at different levels of detail. The @Sadras story with the Frost Giant is a perfect example: the player gives a low-granularity action declaration where the GM wants - and then has to ask for - something more detailed.

    2d above is redundant - IMO if the player has deemed something important enough to declare an action over, and that declaration otherwise doesn't violate the clauses above, it's on the GM to deal with it whether she sees it as relevant or not (and if a GM is instead dismissing declarations as irrelevant then yes, we're into MMI territory). This falls in with 2c. above - it doesn't matter whether the declaration makes complete sense as long as it fits in with the current fiction. Maybe the PC who is trying to woo the barmaid in mid-combat really does see winning her affections as more important than the condition of the side of his head - he's hoping that if he gets knocked out she'll be the one who nurses him back to health, perhaps; and 2.c.i. might bring this out (or not, if the player/PC is trying to keep his affections secret for whatever reason). Put another way, the player/PC is changing the priorities.

    2e. - as above.

    But truthfully, anywhere down the decision tree until point 2.e. could theoretically be nixed outright by the GM, for whatever perceivable reason(s) he or she deems.
    Even 2e. could be nixed if a GM decides to overrule or ignore the mechanics, but that probably puts us into bad-faith territory again.

    So just how much negotiation happening between points 2.a. and 2.e. would be considered "Mother May I?" How much of the onus is on the GM to provide relevant, critical information regarding the current fictional state, and how much of the onus is on the player to find the right balance between asking for too much vs. asking for too little?
    The GM has to provide the relevant and-or critical information, no question there. However I see her as also free to lob in whatever other not-so-important imformation she likes, leaving it to the player(s) to sort the wheat from the chaff - never mind that information that is superfluous to one player might turn out to be critical to another e.g. the actions and reactions of the barmaid in the brawl example.

    As for the player, I'm not sure what you mean here. What is "too much" or "too little"? Too broad/not broad enough actions? Too lofty/not lofty enough goals? Too little/too much detail or granularity? Please elaborate.

    This is an interesting example, because as a player, my first instinct would be to immediately declare, "I would like to recover my shard without instigating violence." Would you have seen this as a possible action declaration? Why or why not?
    Were I the DM that would not be an action declaration in any sense. It would be a statement of a goal, and I'd probably first ask whether those words were being said in or out of character as what came next would be quite different based on the answer.

    If "Yes" the FG's response might be "Oh really? I don't think so", leading to a potentially difficult (and maybe dangerous!) role-play for the PCs.

    If "No" my response would be something like "How?" or "What do you do or say?"

    Would the PC in question have been allowed to make a diplomacy/persuasion check of any kind to resolve that action?
    System dependent, and even then only after digging for more detail and-or some actual role-play. Were I the DM it'd be no anyway, as my game has no such mechanics.
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