D&D 5E 5e* - D&D-now

pemerton

Legend
Have you read the DW Guide? one interesting piece of guidance in the text is (here quoting)
"1. The GM gives the setup of a threat, but not the conclusion.
2. The player responds and probably rolls some dice.
3. The GM narrates the results, based on the player's roll."
The following passage is from the Torchbearer Scholar's Guide, p 213:

The game master is the arbiter of when the rules are invoked in Torchbearer. Play proceeds as the game master describes the scene and the action occurring in it, to which the players respond by describing their characters’ actions as they interact with the scene. The game master then replies with how the environment and the supporting cast react to the characters’ actions. Play goes back and forth like this until the game master decides a player’s description requires a test of a skill or ability.

When a player asks you, “Can I test this?” as the game master, your response should be, “What is your character doing? Tell me where you put your feet or how far you go or where you look.”​

I feel that by the logic of your argument, I should conclude that 5e D&D (or 5e*), Dungeon World and Torchbearer are all fundamentally the same game. (The GM replies with how the environment and supporting cast react to the character's actions is just a wordier form of the GM narrates the results.)

I just pulled my GW-imprint version of RQ3 off the shelf. The following is from page 5:

As a RuneQuest player, you take on the mental guise (role) of one or more adventurers who live in the game world . . . The gamemaster operates the game world. You (in the guise of your adventurer) encounter what he or she creates. The gamemaster also roleplays the incidental characters, creatures, and evildoers which your adventurers confront. . . .

Suppose that you say that your adventurer wishes to open a door and enter a room, and that the gamemaster replies that the door is locked. But you want your adventurer to open it anyway. . . The rules [I think it is clear that the text is referring here to the action resolution rules] tell everyone how to resolve such game situations. . .

In summary, RuneQuest is a series of interactions between players (who pilot characters through adventures) and a gamemaster (who runes the world in which the adventures occur). Most play is verbal exchange: the players tell the gamemaster what their adventurers intend to do, and the gamemaster then tells them if they can or may do it - or, if not, what happens instead.​

Does this mean that RQ is fundamentally the same game too?

There is nothing magical about the word narrate as opposed to describe, tell, reply so as to convey some information, etc. What we see in all these similar passages is a description of the basic process of mainstream RPGing: the GM frames a scene/presents a situation; the players declare actions for their PCs; the GM says what happens next.

All the difference between these RPGs - and the gap between (say) RQ and Torchbearer is probably about as big as it gets - is in the detail of what constrains the GM's framing and what constrains the GM's description of what happens next. RQ, DW and Torchbearer all address these things differently. All are pretty clear. I tend to find D&D 5e rather unclear in its rules text, but what is there seems to me ultimately to be more like RQ than DW or Torchbearer.
 

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clearstream

(He, Him)
The following passage is from the Torchbearer Scholar's Guide, p 213:

The game master is the arbiter of when the rules are invoked in Torchbearer. Play proceeds as the game master describes the scene and the action occurring in it, to which the players respond by describing their characters’ actions as they interact with the scene. The game master then replies with how the environment and the supporting cast react to the characters’ actions. Play goes back and forth like this until the game master decides a player’s description requires a test of a skill or ability.​
When a player asks you, “Can I test this?” as the game master, your response should be, “What is your character doing? Tell me where you put your feet or how far you go or where you look.”​

I feel that by the logic of your argument, I should conclude that 5e D&D (or 5e*), Dungeon World and Torchbearer are all fundamentally the same game. (The GM replies with how the environment and supporting cast react to the character's actions is just a wordier form of the GM narrates the results.)
I don't want to force a conclusion on anyone. I find the parallel wording inspiring, due to both subtle differences and overt similarities.

5th edition PHB 181 (2014)
"1. The DM describes the environment
2. The players describe what they want to do.
3. The DM narrates the results of their actions."

DW guide pdf version 1.2 (2012 so far as I can find)
"1. The GM gives the setup of a threat, but not the conclusion.
2. The player responds and probably rolls some dice.
3. The GM narrates the results, based on the player's roll."

I just pulled my GW-imprint version of RQ3 off the shelf. The following is from page 5:

As a RuneQuest player, you take on the mental guise (role) of one or more adventurers who live in the game world . . . The gamemaster operates the game world. You (in the guise of your adventurer) encounter what he or she creates. The gamemaster also roleplays the incidental characters, creatures, and evildoers which your adventurers confront. . . .​
Suppose that you say that your adventurer wishes to open a door and enter a room, and that the gamemaster replies that the door is locked. But you want your adventurer to open it anyway. . . The rules [I think it is clear that the text is referring here to the action resolution rules] tell everyone how to resolve such game situations. . .​
In summary, RuneQuest is a series of interactions between players (who pilot characters through adventures) and a gamemaster (who runes the world in which the adventures occur). Most play is verbal exchange: the players tell the gamemaster what their adventurers intend to do, and the gamemaster then tells them if they can or may do it - or, if not, what happens instead.​

Does this mean that RQ is fundamentally the same game too?
I'm writing a separate piece - a taxonomy of parts of an RPG text, with a discussion of where and how they are used. In it, I argue that rules of the sort we see here are regulatory (permissive, generally, but sometimes restrictive). To say that they are regulatory is to say that there is an antecedent activity that can happen even in the absence of the rule.

The antecedent activity is roleplay. Some might say that what finally settles how a group roleplay is a text that has an objectively true meaning. I do not believe that. "Any given rule is constructed between the text of the rules and the players and the text of their game." The final and authoritative act of design is at the table.

There is nothing magical about the word narrate as opposed to describe, tell, reply so as to convey some information, etc. What we see in all these similar passages is a description of the basic process of mainstream RPGing: the GM frames a scene/presents a situation; the players declare actions for their PCs; the GM says what happens next.
5e* makes that word "narrates" magical. It encourages DM to say something meaningful. It grasps the rule as regulatory, signaling a shift or arrow from system to fiction. One subtext is that a fiction-first version of D&D is alive in the 5e text. Particularly inhabiting rules such as DMG 237.

Once I understand these rules as regulatory, and take a non-formalist view of rule-following, then I can set aside assumptions about what each game must be, and look at what is constructed at the table through interpreting the text in the light of broader standards. It's consistent with that to accept that for another interpreter, it might be genuinely impossible to see the text in the same way.

All the difference between these RPGs - and the gap between (say) RQ and Torchbearer is probably about as big as it gets - is in the detail of what constrains the GM's framing and what constrains the GM's description of what happens next. RQ, DW and Torchbearer all address these things differently. All are pretty clear. I tend to find D&D 5e rather unclear in its rules text, but what is there seems to me ultimately to be more like RQ than DW or Torchbearer.
5e is rather unclear. That's a flaw and a virtue. In its ambiguities there is plenty of scope to assume a traditional style of play. For those that do, then their game is dissimilar from DW as you say.


[PLEASE NOTE EDITS]
 
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The exact proportion isn't at issue: there are some, yes.


What I am saying - my subtext - is that it is as (in)correct as to say the same thing of 5e*.

[Have you read the DW Guide? one interesting piece of guidance in the text is (here quoting)
"1. The GM gives the setup of a threat, but not the conclusion.
2. The player responds and probably rolls some dice.
3. The GM narrates the results, based on the player's roll."]


[Last night, characters are taking on the Atropal in ToA. At last! (This dungeon is not at all to my liking.) The Atropal is spending Legendary actions to wail. It's imposing exhaustion. Worsening their movespace.]


I agree, but when it comes to text saying exactly what to narrate next, there are almost no cases of that.


And likewise, in 5e, DMing is profoundly far from unconstrained anarchy. 5e leaves more of principles and agenda to DM to bring to the table. One might say - "It is preferable for an RPG text to articulate principles" - but one can't say - "DM is not be influenced by principles if they are not in the text." One cannot say that DM will not have principles in mind when narrating. DM has to have them in mind: that's the only way they can narrate in the first place!

A well-known example is the principle of prompt response. Suppose lacking this principle I DM. At what time following result should I narrate? Ten minutes? A day? A year?! [What constitutes a dramatic pause versus broken conversation? And consider how the principle changes at end of session, where a week might become acceptable.]
My feeling is that the fundamental difference, the key differentiator, is REALLY all those statements which FILL the DW book (and I presume other PbtA systems are pretty similar in a general sense, though I have little experience with any of them).

So when you read DW MOST of what the rules text talks about are the things @Manbearcat is saying. They are the central theme and subject of that text. There's a bunch more that explains moves, the general structure of a game, some specific tools, etc. but in every case there is a laser focus on this structure of play.

How you operate on the GM side, what you do, why you do it, and when and where to apply different elements of the game, techniques, and considerations IS the rules by and large. The actual mechanical "here's how you roll the dice" sort of stuff could be summarized in 3 pages, at most! Playbooks and Monsters take up a decent amount of space as well, but this is vastly different from 5e.

5e, typical of D&D, is MOSTLY mechanics, or else focused on how the mechanics are intended to map to the fiction (IE an explanation of what a Fighter is and various color related to that). VERY LITTLE is actually expended, proportionately, on the things which DW focuses on most heavily. When there ARE statements of intent or structure, like PHB p6, or the several paragraphs in the DMG which talk about narration and when to ask for checks, they're like 'raisins' in the bread. Most of the bulk of the game is discussing various mechanical considerations and subsystems.

Now, I'm not saying 5e lacks color or anything like that. There's a good bit of both basic color (descriptive text) as well as text which is meant to be expositive of character motivations, background, capabilities as related to the fiction, etc. But there's really essentially nothing about the primary driving loop of the game and how it relates to what the players want, etc.

You can call it 'flexibility' if you want. Frankly I just call it sloppy. I mean, I don't argue that it isn't deliberate. Its just easy mode design though, and it happens to also work well for a game which basically rests on name vs quality of underlying conceptual design, TBH. I think it has the virtue of being the accepted and sub-culturally approved style, everyone understands it, has played it, was probably introduced to gaming on this style of game, etc. And sure, you can interpret it in your own particular style (5e*) and imagine that its this or that game. Given an experienced GM with a wide knowledge of GMing techniques, no biggie. I just found it a TON easier to GM 4e, and WAY WAY easier to GM DW, or my own game (there I cannot say actually what other people would get out of it, maybe my style of play isn't really inherent in the text, lol).

So, whole cloth game design IS hard. That's mostly because you can't really know what it is you're doing simply 'by feel'. Other people will come and see something totally different, and not approach it with your assumptions. So a good game, IMHO, has to rely heavily on conceptual structure to guide the game designer. 5e IMHO lacks that, though it does have "be like other D&Ds" which itself is a pretty strong constraint.

But this is why I don't even really find it super useful to talk about principles of design or how to interpret and apply a game like 5e, there's simply no THERE there. It is like looking at a pile of rocks and discussing the virtues of living in the castle, first you gotta build it, and to do that you need architecture!
 

5e* makes that word "narrates" magical. It encourages DM to say something meaningful. It grasps the rule as regulatory, signaling a shift or arrow from system to fiction. One subtext is that a fiction-first version of D&D is alive in the 5e text. Particularly inhabiting rules such as DMG 237.
OK, but my contention is that there is then nothing that really tells you WHAT to narrate, or WHY, or even HOW. That is the PRIMARY FOCUS of a game like DW. I would go measure word count on these different topics in each rules system and you may start to see what each one thinks it cares about.
 

Once I understand these rules as regulatory, and take a non-formalist view of rule-following, then I can set aside assumptions about what each game must be, and look at what is constructed at the table through interpreting the text in the light of broader standards. It's consistent with that to accept that for another interpreter, it might be genuinely impossible to see the text in the same way.
Obviously what we actually DO with a game's text imbues it with whatever meaning it has; as a game at least. I think everyone accepts that basic fact. What I contend is the proper realm of analysis of these texts is to understand what characteristics are salient, and how they relate to the play of the game. It always strikes me as odd when people compare 2 games, one which is very explicit, and one that is very vague, and then contend that the vague one "does the same thing" essentially as the explicit one.

Sure, its POSSIBLE that SOME PEOPLE will, when they play each game, have a very similar experience. Possible, but since any constraint on that is not contained within the more vague system's text, it is hard to describe that as an attribute of said game, isn't it? I'd say that, in as much as all RPGs tend to get played in similar ways, this is a CULTURAL result! We have been lead to expect, and have had, a certain type of experience in play, and thus we attempt to reproduce something largely similar, at least absent any explicit textual indicators to the contrary.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
My feeling is that the fundamental difference, the key differentiator, is REALLY all those statements which FILL the DW book (and I presume other PbtA systems are pretty similar in a general sense, though I have little experience with any of them).

So when you read DW MOST of what the rules text talks about are the things @Manbearcat is saying. They are the central theme and subject of that text. There's a bunch more that explains moves, the general structure of a game, some specific tools, etc. but in every case there is a laser focus on this structure of play.
To what extent do you feel those explanations clarify, organise and overall articulate principles and agendas that DMs have had in mind from the outset? The author of Monster of the Week commented on this question, that - "That sort of play goes back decades, including when D&D was first getting started in the 1970s."

How you operate on the GM side, what you do, why you do it, and when and where to apply different elements of the game, techniques, and considerations IS the rules by and large. The actual mechanical "here's how you roll the dice" sort of stuff could be summarized in 3 pages, at most! Playbooks and Monsters take up a decent amount of space as well, but this is vastly different from 5e.

5e, typical of D&D, is MOSTLY mechanics, or else focused on how the mechanics are intended to map to the fiction (IE an explanation of what a Fighter is and various color related to that). VERY LITTLE is actually expended, proportionately, on the things which DW focuses on most heavily. When there ARE statements of intent or structure, like PHB p6, or the several paragraphs in the DMG which talk about narration and when to ask for checks, they're like 'raisins' in the bread. Most of the bulk of the game is discussing various mechanical considerations and subsystems.

Now, I'm not saying 5e lacks color or anything like that. There's a good bit of both basic color (descriptive text) as well as text which is meant to be expositive of character motivations, background, capabilities as related to the fiction, etc. But there's really essentially nothing about the primary driving loop of the game and how it relates to what the players want, etc.
There's page 6 in the DMG I suppose, that ties it to what different kinds of players want, and page 9, which lays out some core ideas to have in mind. Two significant differences in perspective that I notice are
  • 5e encourages toward grasping the world as externally real: somewhere the characters live, but not necessarily built around them
  • 5e leaves it to DM to know how they will DM: the RAW is insouciant or coy
I feel like the text you allude to is very well justified. I see that as a separate question from whether the play it guides to cannot be reached otherwise.

You can call it 'flexibility' if you want. Frankly I just call it sloppy. I mean, I don't argue that it isn't deliberate. Its just easy mode design though, and it happens to also work well for a game which basically rests on name vs quality of underlying conceptual design, TBH. I think it has the virtue of being the accepted and sub-culturally approved style, everyone understands it, has played it, was probably introduced to gaming on this style of game, etc. And sure, you can interpret it in your own particular style (5e*) and imagine that its this or that game. Given an experienced GM with a wide knowledge of GMing techniques, no biggie. I just found it a TON easier to GM 4e, and WAY WAY easier to GM DW, or my own game (there I cannot say actually what other people would get out of it, maybe my style of play isn't really inherent in the text, lol).
I'm not so sure they had a choice. They couldn't come down on one side or another in the commercially-motivated game design for the widest possible audience. That's one reason I find echoes in the text inspiring. Professional designers almost always know their context thoroughly. They're aware of the discourse and any landmark works. I am reading through yours and will give you at least one more perspective. It'll be interesting to understand if I can interpret your style of play from it!

So, whole cloth game design IS hard. That's mostly because you can't really know what it is you're doing simply 'by feel'. Other people will come and see something totally different, and not approach it with your assumptions. So a good game, IMHO, has to rely heavily on conceptual structure to guide the game designer. 5e IMHO lacks that, though it does have "be like other D&Ds" which itself is a pretty strong constraint.
To be honest, I agree. It's an area I wonder if we will see developed in 6e? It seems likely to me that WotC designers are aware of what they have left unsaid. Design is a highly intentional activity.

But this is why I don't even really find it super useful to talk about principles of design or how to interpret and apply a game like 5e, there's simply no THERE there. It is like looking at a pile of rocks and discussing the virtues of living in the castle, first you gotta build it, and to do that you need architecture!
That what is I find magical about that word "narrates". Taking the text holistically, and interpreting that word as 5e* suggests (both as to saying something meaningful, and as to its regulatory significance), leads me directly to a consistent interpretation. Admittedly, it didn't need to do any heavy lifting, as it was speaking to my natural style of DMing.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
OK, but my contention is that there is then nothing that really tells you WHAT to narrate, or WHY, or even HOW. That is the PRIMARY FOCUS of a game like DW. I would go measure word count on these different topics in each rules system and you may start to see what each one thinks it cares about.
I do not find this with 5e. It's a genuine puzzler for me: the implication that some DMs hit points where what follows isn't clear to them. Other posters described that "the actual cognitive workspace a GM is inhabiting during play and the conversation is pushing toward yields consequences that are profoundly far away from unconstrained or anarchy" and for me that is true in 5e.

The closest I've come to not knowing was two sessions ago, where the player-characters were all down (due to a cursed necklace of fireballs) and two non-player character allies were standing. Due to complexities in the situation, it took me a couple of minutes to parse what to say next. Afterwards, one player felt that one of their foes, who was also standing, should have made a more vicious move. In the moment, I felt that relied on information that foe wouldn't have. Everyone else agreed with what I narrated.

I feel sure you are right about word count. As I hoped to explain above, I very much feel it is right to say - "It is preferable for an RPG text to articulate principles." At the same time, I know that I cannot say - "DMs is not influenced by principles, unless they are articulated in an RPG text." I'm not meaning to embrace the Oberoni Fallacy. Rather I see external influences as unavoidable, and in fact virtuous in play. Essential for play to occur. There must be something left unsaid between text, system, and fiction.


[It strikes me that a game that clearly and extensively articulates its principles works to exclude other interpretations. On first reading, Stonetop looks like a good example of that.]
 
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Faolyn

(she/her)
These two statements seem to me to be at odds with one another. By my reading of 5e, one would have to go outside the RAW to rule that the player decides whether or not the guard spots them, so I don’t see how both of these things can be true of 5e*
I don't think those are contradictory. In the example, it can be assumed that the characters are being somewhat stealthy--either with die rolls or simply by saying that they're trying to blend into the crowd and not doing anything to draw attention to themselves. Then they see the guard they know, and can choose to go "Hey, guard, over here!" if they want to.
 


Faolyn

(she/her)
Il even cast a wider net: can anyone participating in this thread provide an example of meaningless narration by the GM in a situation that would actually occur in play?
Maybe going into details about someone's clothing when that clothing has nothing to do with the individual's life or the plot and doesn't create atmosphere?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
But what, actually, is the rule? How do you enforce "no meaningless narration"?
How do you enforce the banker giving players $200 when they pass Go in Monopoly? You just do it, because it’s what the rules say to do. If you don’t, you’re house ruling.
In fact, how do you define "meaningless narration"?
According to the opening post, the play group decides that amongst themselves.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
But what, actually, is the rule? How do you enforce "no meaningless narration"? In fact, how do you define "meaningless narration"?
There are differing views on that, and I'd like to add something else to reflect on, which is the notion of untethered narration. Narration that doesn't contain the results and follow from the conversation. What constrains a 5e* DM from untethered narration? What forestalls anarchy?

And then again, if they cannot define what is meaningless, how can 5e* DM possibly uphold the DMG 237 rule - "Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure." What differentiates a meaningless consequence from a meaningful one?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Through grasping DMG 237 and PHB 174 as regulatory rules, they are reconciled as follows:
  • DMG 237 contains a restrictive regulatory rule, with the effect of saying when not to call for a roll. Don't call for a roll, unless there is a meaningful consequence for failure.
  • PHB 174 contains an imperative regulatory rule, with the effect of saying when to call for a roll. Call for a roll, when there is a chance of failure. (This rule is repeated in restrictive form, in DMG 237.)
  • DMG 237 contains another restrictive regulatory rule, with the effect of saying when not to call for a roll. Don't call for a roll, when a task so inappropriate or impossible - such as hitting the moon with an arrow - that it can't work.
The rules are clearly structured in DMG 237. The logic there is straightforward: it's like starting lights for Formula 1 racing. Is the first light out? Great! is the second light out? Are all lights out? Go!

PHB 174 adds a complication by flipping one of the three rules to the imperative. Extending the F1 analogy, is the first light lit? Great! Is the second light out? Is the third light out? Go! Once the flip is noticed, interpretation is straightforward.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
How do you enforce the banker giving players $200 when they pass Go in Monopoly? You just do it, because it’s what the rules say to do. If you don’t, you’re house ruling.
Passing Go is a specific action that is is extremely obvious to all players just by looking at the board, dice, and where the pawns are. However...

According to the opening post, the play group decides that amongst themselves.
When combined with this, this rule is extremely unhelpful. It is not obvious what counts as meaningless to the game, scene, or individual.

For instance, take this line from the OP:

"That off-duty guard is the one you befriended earlier, do you let her spot you or just sneak on by?"

Is this @clearstream's point? Only narrate if your narration gives the PCs a choice to act upon, and then, you the DM must offer that choice to the PCs? Which since he said this:

And then again, if they cannot define what is meaningless, how can 5e* DM possibly uphold the DMG 237 rule - "Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure." What differentiates a meaningless consequence from a meaningful one?
Might very well be the case.

Although these are very different situations, because a failure on a roll, like passing Go in Monopoly, is an obvious event clear to everyone: there is a DC attached to the roll; you either beat it or failed. And I would think that it should also be obvious here what is meant by meaningless: if the failed results require additional rolls or complications.

The party is confronted by a locked door! But it's got a really cheap lock that requires like a DC 10 to pick, and the party has a rogue with high Dex and expertise in lockpicking. There's no time crunch here--nobody is around to discover the party and attack, no clock ticking down to a disaster they can only avoid if they get past the lock, no traps, and the lockpicks are of decent enough quality that they're not going to easily break, even on a roll of 1 (assuming you even use critical failures). You could have the rogue roll the dice to pick the lock... but you don't really get anything out of it if you do. The game isn't enhanced in anyway, and by rolling the die, you slow the game down, even if only by a minute. So this, in fact, can be described as a meaningless roll. When I read that section in the DMG, I immediately understood what they meant by meaningless in this situation.

But when it comes to narration... well, does @clearstream mean "only narrate if you can give/dicate a choice to the players on how to act?" Does it mean "don't try to flavor text the area the PCs are in, give physical descriptions of NPCs, set the tone for the scene?" @Charlaquin, would you consider it meaningless to provide flavor text, physical descriptions, or scene tones?" I wouldn't.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Passing Go is a specific action that is is extremely obvious to all players just by looking at the board, dice, and where the pawns are. However...


When combined with this, this rule is extremely unhelpful. It is not obvious what counts as meaningless to the game, scene, or individual.
The group could easily define “meaningful” in a way that is obvious, if they so desired. The entire message here seems to me to be “agree as a group on a set of parameters for what constitutes appropriate narration, and then stick to them.”
But when it comes to narration... well, does @clearstream mean "only narrate if you can give/dicate a choice to the players on how to act?" Does it mean "don't try to flavor text the area the PCs are in, give physical descriptions of NPCs, set the tone for the scene?" @Charlaquin, would you consider it meaningless to provide flavor text, physical descriptions, or scene tones?" I wouldn't.
I don’t think all flavor text is necessarily meaningless, but nor do I think all flavor text is meaningful. What does the flavor text convey? If it doesn’t contain information the players can do something with, I probably wouldn’t consider it meaningful. But that’s pretty academic. What would be an actual example of flavor text the players can’t do something with? Off the top of my head, I don’t know what that would look like.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
The group could easily define “meaningful” in a way that is obvious, if they so desired. The entire message here seems to me to be “agree as a group on a set of parameters for what constitutes appropriate narration, and then stick to them.”
See, I'd love some examples as to this, though.

I don’t think all flavor text is necessarily meaningless, but nor do I think all flavor text is meaningful. What does the flavor text convey? If it doesn’t contain information the players can do something with, I probably wouldn’t consider it meaningful. But that’s pretty academic. What would be an actual example of flavor text the players can’t do something with? Off the top of my head, I don’t know what that would look like.
Flavor text typically conveys the tone and mood of the scene as well as locations and actions of objects, NPCs, etc.

But if you can't come up with of an example of "meaningless" flavor text, then why create a rule about it?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
See, I'd love some examples as to this, though.
🤷‍♀️

I set a rule for myself to always re-establish the environmental description after describing the outcomes of a player’s action to restart the play pattern. This might be something that, in the hypothetical game where deciding on parameters for “meaningful narration” was an expectation set by the rules, I would put forth as a possible parameter.
Flavor text typically conveys the tone and mood of the scene as well as locations and actions of objects, NPCs, etc.
Sure, and if for your group that is sufficient to constitute meaningful, that would be something you could agree to if you were playing “5e*.” To other groups, that might not be sufficient, and they might decide (for example) that narration must also be actionable to count as meaningful. It would be up to the group to set those terms together.
But if you can't come up with of an example of "meaningless" flavor text, then why create a rule about it?
I didn’t, @clearstream did. I just clarified because some folks seemed confused about what he was saying.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
See, I'd love some examples as to this, though.

Flavor text typically conveys the tone and mood of the scene as well as locations and actions of objects, NPCs, etc.

But if you can't come up with of an example of "meaningless" flavor text, then why create a rule about it?
I'll explore some examples that are meaningful/less for me. I can't promise they will be for you, because ultimately meaning lives in your conversation. To get the context right, 5e* interprets "narrates" in this way
  • say something meaningful
  • the rule is an imperative regulatory rule: a green light or arrow to go from system to fiction
  • it's a guarantee: players can respond to what DM narrates as meaningful
Prior-conversation:
Player-characters were haggling with a stone giant, one character got really greedy, and the conversation went south. She's huge, has 126 hit points and a giant-sized club. One character - a fighter - leapt to interpose themselves between the giant and his squishier friends.

Example 1:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "You roll 1 on the 1d8."
I find this meaningless as it restates information about game state that is available to all. It's not the kind of narrative I'm thinking of.

Example 2:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Monica, your turn next."
I don't mind that DM is bookkeeping the process for the group, but again this isn't narrating the result. It might be done as well, but shouldn't be done instead of. Even bookkeeping, DM could have kept the conversation in the fiction by using the name of Monica's character, Demeter. Saying something meaningful about the results implies containing or following from those results. Regulatory rules don't have to be all or nothing (driving through a green light at 10 miles an hour is as much driving through it as at 50), but I feel this does too little to satisfy the rule. There are other cases where "Dem, your turn next" might be meaningful enough. Say where the fighter misses.

Example 3:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Okay, that's 1 plus dueling plus your DEX. Six."
I find this meaningless as it restates information about game state that is available to all. It's not the kind of narrative we're thinking of.

Example 4:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Ram's slash barely scratches her. She presses forward unabated. She's huge: you can't hold her back."
I find this meaningful in the following ways
  • Barely scratched: players learn that she has a lot of hit points remaining, and this may be a tough fight.
  • Presses forward: it's hopefully clear to players what's coming next.
  • She's huge: creatures can barge past those two-sizes smaller than themselves, so this reminder telegraphs that the squishier characters might find themselves targeted.
The way in which these elements are meaningful is that they matter to the player-character's fictional positioning: A player's position is the total set of all of the valid gameplay options available to her at this moment of play. Valid means legitimate and effective. Ram (the fighter) can see that they will be ineffective trying to hold the giant back, even though it would be legitimate for him to try and do so. It upholds and returns to our fiction (F > S > F) and I think will carry forward the overall flow of events in combat that together will form our story.

Example 5:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Ram's slash barely scratches her. She laughs 'I didn't realise you were so weak! Why fight small man?' and couches her club."
I find this meaningful too, but it goes in another direction. Here DM has decided that she feels her point is made, and is willing to go back to haggling. How does DM know to narrate this instead of example 4? For me, that depends on prior conversation and established fiction. In this DM's world, it seems that stone giants are a more nuanced people.

Example 6:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Due to the unique page numbering scheme of this book, the electronic pagination of the eBook does not match the pagination of the printed version."
I mention this to repeat the question above in another light. How does DM know to avoid this narration? Why isn't the conversation anarchy? It should be clear on reflection that meaning lives in your conversation. This example is one of meaningless narration. When I see an example like this, I am tempted to say it is not narration at all. But if I'm saying that "narration" is my word for only meaningful speech-acts, I should accept the 5e* interpretation and retract my demand for examples of meaningless narration.

Example 7: (moving the scene forward)
Giant hits Horatio - a squishy - for a third time. Horatio's got like three or four hit points remaining. All see that the giant rolls a crit.
DM is silent. Everyone at the table knows that Horatio is down.
I find this meaningful even though the DM chose to say nothing. How can silence be narration? DM is conjuring a solemn moment. There's no need to state the obvious, and I assume in a minute DM will say something that moves the conversation forward. Perhaps pointedly not discussing the roll or the damage dealt. Perhaps turning it over to Horatio to narrate their fall. Perhaps the damage roll will take Horatio negative more than their positive hit points, instantly killing them (no death saves). If so, that will need narrating. Horatio's fall matters to their fictional positioning: their list of valid gameplay options is cut short.

What is meaningful is normally something that matters to fictional positioning. When a 5e* DM interprets - only roll if there are meaningful consequences - they're probably thinking about consequences on immediate or even deferred or remote fictional positioning. But what about colour?

Example 8:
After the loss of Horatio (it was instant death) the party return to their beloved villa by the Greenstone Sea.
DM narrates "It's summer. Warm sea breezes play over the vines and passion-fruit flowers. On the broad veranda are four chairs."
Here DM is intending only colour. They don't have anything in mind for these details, although they are right for their world.
Ram responds "Four chairs, gods, one of those was always for Horatio. Do you remember, Dem?"
And the conversation follows from there. Perhaps that detail leads to group to find out something about Horatio that takes them to a new adventure? A year later, Ram's player comments "Those chairs again. Imagine if you'd never mentioned them, I wouldn't have... and then Dem wouldn't have..."
This colour has the promise of being meaningful, because of the guarantee. 5e* mandates that what DM narrates is meaningful, so when a player responds to a detail, it turns out to matter. I chose this example inspired by one that Baker crafted about retroactive meaning; he said

The GM says "in the room there's a table and a few chairs, 4 chairs in fact, and one wall is all mirror, of course it's one-way, they can watch you through it," and we all nod. Yes, yes, all true.

...in roleplaying, every move is uncertain until you make it and find out. This means that the significance of an established fact is ungiven until the game's over, until you can look back and see how everything came to fall out. A year later: "wow. Do you realize, if there had been a closed-circuit camera in that room instead of a one-way mirror, how differently everything would have gone?"...

And then as another poster put it, colour can "reinforce the sense of 'reality' or vibrancy of the shared fiction; and to give the players something relatively concrete to support their knowledge of the fiction and to remember who's who." Which are cases of unconditional meaningfulness. Again, colour finds its meaning in mattering to the fictional positioning. How will we know what to say? What follows? All the things said before then. Warm sea breezes might make it feel more legitimate to say - "Ram's going for a swim." Contrast with "Sleet lashes across the veranda, and the chairs there are tipped all ways by the gusts." "Ram's going for a swim" feels very different. I've mentioned validity (legitimacy and effectiveness), but there is something else too. I read the second "going for a swim" as defiance rather than indulgence. There's danger for sure. 5e* DM narrates meaningfully when they say something that has implications or consequences, or is permitted to have.

I aimed here to produce examples from a barebones case. More detailed results, that mandate or work to legitimize system or fiction constraints (class features, spells, all kinds of rulings within the scope of skills, predefined and improvised actions), will hand DM meaningful narration on a platter. Even so, any examples are likely to be incomplete or unsatisfying taken out of context, because what will be decisive on "meaningful" are principles that hold true for you, agreements at your table, and the specifics of your prior conversation.
 
Last edited:

Faolyn

(she/her)
Example 1:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "You roll 1 on the 1d8."
I find this meaningless as it restates information about game state that is available to all. It's not the kind of narrative I'm thinking of.
This isn't narration. This is just stating the result of a die roll. At most, it's bookkeeping. Also, what DM does that? Unless it's followed by "OK, you did one damage and... I can't math today, hang on a mo."

Example 2:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Monica, your turn next."
I don't mind that DM is bookkeeping the process for the group, but again this isn't narrating the result. It might be done as well, but shouldn't be done instead of. Even bookkeeping, DM could have kept the conversation in the fiction by using the name of Monica's character, Demeter. Saying something meaningful about the results implies containing or following from those results. Regulatory rules don't have to be all or nothing (driving through a green light at 10 miles an hour is as much driving through it as at 50), but I feel this does too little to satisfy the rule. There are other cases where "Dem, your turn next" might be meaningful enough. Say where the fighter misses.
This is also not narrating. This is keeping the game moving along. Now, I agree, I use the PC names since it (hopefully) keeps the players immersed in the game--but it's not narration. Not in the dictionary definition of "the action or process of narrating a story." There's no story in these OOC moments. This is mechanics. And because this is a game, not a storytelling exercise, some discussion of mechanics is necessary. At least until we can get all that fully automated.

Example 3:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Okay, that's 1 plus dueling plus your DEX. Six."
I find this meaningless as it restates information about game state that is available to all. It's not the kind of narrative we're thinking of.
Again, this isn't narration. Also again, who does this? The player does the math. Unless the player has dyscalculia, in which case it's just polite--but then, another player should be doing the math, not the DM, who has too much to do already.

I fully agree on examples 4 and 5.

Example 6:
Fighter on higher initiative slashed at her with his longsword, hitting. All see that he rolls 1 on the 1d8.
DM narrates "Due to the unique page numbering scheme of this book, the electronic pagination of the eBook does not match the pagination of the printed version."
I mention this to repeat the question above in another light. How does DM know to avoid this narration? Why isn't the conversation anarchy? It should be clear on reflection that meaning lives in your conversation. This example is one of meaningless narration. When I see an example like this, I am tempted to say it is not narration at all. But if I'm saying that "narration" is my word for only meaningful speech-acts, I should accept the 5e* interpretation and retract my demand for examples of meaningless narration.
I have a hard time imagining any DM actually saying this, unless you're gaming with an AI. And again, this isn't narration. Not everything the DM speaks during game time is narration.

At this point, I have to wonder if the 5e* rule is "The DM does not talk unless it is directly for the game." In which case... no. The DM is a player too, and maybe your table doesn't allow any OOC conversation and demands 100% immersion all the time, but many tables find the social aspects of the game to be nearly as important, as important, or more important than the actual gameplay.

Example 7: (moving the scene forward)
Giant hits Horatio - a squishy - for a third time. Horatio's got like three or four hit points remaining. All see that the giant rolls a crit.
DM is silent. Everyone at the table knows that Horatio is down.
I find this meaningful even though the DM chose to say nothing. How can silence be narration? DM is conjuring a solemn moment. There's no need to state the obvious, and I assume in a minute DM will say something that moves the conversation forward. Perhaps pointedly not discussing the roll or the damage dealt. Perhaps turning it over to Horatio to narrate their fall. Perhaps the damage roll will take Horatio negative more than their positive hit points, instantly killing them (no death saves). If so, that will need narrating. Horatio's fall matters to their fictional positioning: their list of valid gameplay options is cut short.
I disagree here, because yeah, it could be meaningful, but it could also be anything else. Silence isn't narration; it's whitespace, where the listener imparts their own meaning to it.

I agree with #8.
 

2 Things:

1 - Meaningful should be subbed out and consequential subbed in. Does this narration consequentially impact the present gamestate, the trajectory of play, the decision-space and suite of moves available to participants, does it provoke them thematically? If the answer isn't yes to any of those things, its not consequential.

2 - The difference between soft moves and hard moves is very well demarcated in PBtA texts whether its Apocalypse World or derivatives (eg DW). I've written about this in extreme detail on these boards so I'm not going to rewrite the essays of work I've put into this. But here is the instructive text in DW:

DW p164

Generally when the players are just looking at you to find out what happens you make a soft move, otherwise you make a hard move.

A soft move is one without immediate, irrevocable consequences. That usually means it’s something not all that bad, like revealing that there’s more treasure if they can just find a way past the golem (offer an opportunity with cost). It can also mean that it’s something bad, but they have time to avoid it, like having the goblin archers loose their arrows (show signs of an approaching threat) with a chance for them to dodge out of danger.

A soft move ignored becomes a golden opportunity for a hard move. If the players do nothing about the hail of arrows flying towards them it’s a golden opportunity to use the deal damage move.

Hard moves, on the other hand, have immediate consequences. Dealing damage is almost always a hard move, since it means a loss of HP that won’t be recovered without some action from the players.
 

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