Introducing Complications Without Forcing Players to Play the "Mother May I?" Game - Page 3
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  1. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by innerdude View Post

    If there's no mechanical/rules-based method to resolve the presented complications, then the end result is nothing more than "direct social negotiation." If there's no way for the game mechanics to enter into the resolution process of the stated complications, than gameplay devolves to little more than the GM answering a series of questions: "Do I like this idea? Does it sound fun in context of the game? From a coherence and plausibility standpoint, will implementing this idea transform the fiction into an acceptable result state? Will the other players also find that result state acceptable?"
    I think this doesn't quite capture what it is like in practice. I feel like people use Mother-May-I as a bit of a rhetorical bludgeon to argue against a play style. To me, at the table this does not feel like a social negotiation at all. Because the players are not sitting there advocating for a particular outcome. They are trying to do things in the setting through their characters. The game begins with a simple question: what do you do? The players say what they want to do, and the GM simply decides, given what information is available to him or her concerning the location, NPCs, involved, etc what the natural outcome of that might be. But mother may I suggests the players are sitting there asking if they can do something until the GM says yes. It isn't this binary or pre-planned. And it isn't as if mechanics never come into. If the players try something and that leads to a battle for example, the mechanics get involved. If the players try something and the GM decides it requires the use a particular skill, the mechanics get involved. What this sort of game doesn't typically have are mechanics for handling GM rulings and judgements. In my mind this is generally a good thing. It is not needed in every system. But for me the advantage RPGs have always had over other types of games (including computer games) is you have a human there who can consider any requested action and think through what might actually occur as a result, which creates this sense of being in a real place. That said, many things can inform a GMs rulings and judgements, including genre physics.
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  2. #22
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    I agree, @Bedrockgames, that it's probably less of a black-and-white binary than the issue is often presented.

    There's a definite middle ground between "No, you can't do anything that doesn't directly play into what I've pre-scripted ahead of time" and saying yes to every player request with reckless disregard to how it alters the (in- and out-of-fiction) game state.

    It's about having the flexibility to let players advocate for their characters' agendas while simultaneously generating appropriate challenges that allow both players and GM to find satisfaction in "learning how things are going to turn out."

    This thread has been highly clarifying for me in several regards. @pemerton's advice to connect (as much as possible) the challenges to the players' available resources and avenues for mechanical resolution is an excellent suggestion.

    Two, I need to remember that as much as possible, challenges should address characters' goals and dramatic needs. You can have interesting gameplay in spurts with well-crafted, "gamist" challenges to overcome, but in my experience the most memorable, exciting RPG sessions connect the gameplay to dramatic stakes.

    Three, I do need to remind myself that occasionally it IS okay as a GM to respond judiciously with a hard "No." Or if not a hard "No," with a "Well, that's probably possible, but here's the five or six major obstacles you'd have to address before you'd even have a hope of achieving that desire."

  3. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by innerdude View Post
    I agree, @Bedrockgames, that it's probably less of a black-and-white binary than the issue is often presented.

    There's a definite middle ground between "No, you can't do anything that doesn't directly play into what I've pre-scripted ahead of time" and saying yes to every player request with reckless disregard to how it alters the (in- and out-of-fiction) game state.

    It's about having the flexibility to let players advocate for their characters' agendas while simultaneously generating appropriate challenges that allow both players and GM to find satisfaction in "learning how things are going to turn out."

    This thread has been highly clarifying for me in several regards. @pemerton's advice to connect (as much as possible) the challenges to the players' available resources and avenues for mechanical resolution is an excellent suggestion.

    Two, I need to remember that as much as possible, challenges should address characters' goals and dramatic needs. You can have interesting gameplay in spurts with well-crafted, "gamist" challenges to overcome, but in my experience the most memorable, exciting RPG sessions connect the gameplay to dramatic stakes.

    Three, I do need to remind myself that occasionally it IS okay as a GM to respond judiciously with a hard "No." Or if not a hard "No," with a "Well, that's probably possible, but here's the five or six major obstacles you'd have to address before you'd even have a hope of achieving that desire."
    I think it depends on what you are after. If you are after the things pemerton wants, and it sounds like you might be, what you say is true. But I run a lot of sessions that are what I like to call Drama and Sandbox. Appropriate challenges and feeding into the players available resources or dramatic needs. Drama happens out of the chemistry of NPCs, PCs and stuff going on. But there isn't an set rhythm to it or an expectation that every thing that arises in the campaign has to intersect with player character's dramatic desires. Dramatic things happen. I am not afraid to deploy some drama (and I even have tables that occasionally call for things like twists or fated encounters). But the more traditional approach to play is still preserved (narrative tools are not given to the players for example). I find this approach is very rewarding for long term play and doesn't descend into the caricature of the style (mother may I). Obviously this might not be a good fit for your goals. I just think it is worth remembering not everything thinks in the terms that you and Pemerton appear to be (and not everyone embraces the concepts of G N S in their approaches to play---Since Gamism came up). There are plenty of rewarding approaches to complications that don't abide by the stuff laid out by Pemerton.

    One thing I am sensing here is the sense of time scale appears to be broader on your end than mine. I could be wrong, but in your example it looks like a player asks do achieve something and you are able to insert 6 obstacles. I don't know what that something is. But generally I find my players take each step in the task they are trying to perform. For example they don't respond to "What do you do?" by saying "I take over Bone Breaking Sect", rather they take the immediate step toward that goal "I go down the street to Lofty Silkworm Teahouse and look for people who might be part of Bone Breaking Sect". We tend to take things in rather small steps. I may be misreading your posts. But that could also be a factor in the different approaches working or not.

  4. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bedrockgames View Post
    they take the immediate step toward that goal "I go down the street to Lofty Silkworm Teahouse and look for people who might be part of Bone Breaking Sect".
    This is an interesting example.

    In B/X or Gygax's AD&D, this is Mother May I - there is no rule for resolving this beyond the GM's decision about whether or not sect members may be found at the Teahouse.

    In Oriental Adventures there is a mechanic for this, available through the otherwise rather weak yakuza class. In Classic Traveller, this can be done via the Streetwise skill. Neither offers any guidance for how to establish or handle consequences of failure.

    In Burning Wheel there is a mechanic for this (Circles and -Wises checks) and also a clear procedure for establishing and handling consequences.

    If a group doesn't want Mother May I, but does want hunting down sect members to be part of play, then it makes sense to choose a system that will facilitate this. (As @chaochou suggested in his post.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bedrockgames View Post
    I just think it is worth remembering not everything thinks in the terms that you and Pemerton appear to be
    Not really.

    When I go online looking for a mud cake recipe, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like chocolate or cakes. When I post asking for advice on how to stat up Godzilla in 4e, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like 4e and others find Godzilla silly.

    And when @innerdude asks for advice to solve a problem he (? I think) is experiencing in his game, and fairly clearly sets out the parameters for a useful solution, I don't see who he needs to keep in mind that other people don't have that problem or would reject his parameters.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    Not really.

    When I go online looking for a mud cake recipe, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like chocolate or cakes. When I post asking for advice on how to stat up Godzilla in 4e, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like 4e and others find Godzilla silly.

    And when @innerdude asks for advice to solve a problem he (? I think) is experiencing in his game, and fairly clearly sets out the parameters for a useful solution, I don't see who he needs to keep in mind that other people don't have that problem or would reject his parameters.
    I disagree Pemerton. It is a general conversation where assertions are being made about different approaches. I was responding to generalizations he started making about the merits of the approaches being presented. When people are talking about different styles, if your style comes up and is cast in a negative light or presented as lower quality than another, your going to want to weigh in. I don't think it was particularly antagonistic the way I did it. I was just pointing out some of the subjective differences. But if you see no value in my posts, your free to ignore them. You and I have very rarely seen eye-to-eye on these matters. I don't imagine we will start doing so today.

  7. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    This is an interesting example.

    In B/X or Gygax's AD&D, this is Mother May I - there is no rule for resolving this beyond the GM's decision about whether or not sect members may be found at the Teahouse.
    Pemerton, this isn't mother may I. Just because there is no rule for resolving it, doesn't mean it is mother may I. Mother May I suggests a negative social negotiation with the GM, where the players keep asking until they hit the right note the GM is looking for. In the situation I am talking about, the players say they go to the Tea House and the GM either makes a decision about whether the Bone Breaking Sect would be present or draws on some kind of tool (like a random table, asking the players to make a roll, etc). It isn't about whether the GM has decided in advance that they are there, or about the GM putting them there because it helps get to where he wants by the end of the night. The GM is the mechanic.

    And if your definition of mother may I is "there is no mechanic", I think really the term is just being used as a rhetorical device to promote a particular style of play or game system. If you don't like games that lack such mechanics, that is fine. But dismissing them as mother may I, is a bit childish in my opinion.

  8. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    If a group doesn't want Mother May I, but does want hunting down sect members to be part of play, then it makes sense to choose a system that will facilitate this. (As @chaochou suggested in his post.)
    I am all for people finding a system that works for them. I just think mother may I is being used a bit sneakily here to suggest that your preferred approach is the better one for most people (because very few folks are going to see a term like Mother May I and say "I want that"). And your use of the term is rather expansive. That said, it does sound like Innerdude wants the kind of system you are pushing for, which I think he should pursue if that is the case. But I think people following the thread should be wary of some of the terms and arguments being deployed here.

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    I'm following with growing interest.

    "The Gm is the Mechanic" sounds so true, but also so double edged a weapon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    This is an interesting example.

    In B/X or Gygax's AD&D, this is Mother May I - there is no rule for resolving this beyond the GM's decision about whether or not sect members may be found at the Teahouse.

    In Oriental Adventures there is a mechanic for this, available through the otherwise rather weak yakuza class. In Classic Traveller, this can be done via the Streetwise skill. Neither offers any guidance for how to establish or handle consequences of failure.

    In Burning Wheel there is a mechanic for this (Circles and -Wises checks) and also a clear procedure for establishing and handling consequences.

    If a group doesn't want Mother May I, but does want hunting down sect members to be part of play, then it makes sense to choose a system that will facilitate this. (As @chaochou suggested in his post.)
    The issue is, if you are using mother may I to describe a method of play where the GM decides whether the sect members are at the tea house, without necessarily using a mechanic, then I think the term is little more than an insult rather than a useful gaming label. At best it is being used a very rough analogy that, like I said previously, doesn't really reflect what it feels like to play in such a campaign. It describes more of a worst case scenario by invoking a children's game. Sort of like the term magic tea party.

    In the games I run, there are mechanics I may call on in that situation, but I don't have to. I would be the one who makes the call about whether they are specifically at the tea house or if they are even present in the city. But I am free to allow players to make a City Survival Roll or something to see if they run into trouble going from district to district. I don't think not using the mechanics makes the game feel like mother may I at all. If anything, when done well, it frees the Gm to respond with situations that feel plausible and appropriate.

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