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A GMing telling the players about the gameworld is not like real life

Arilyn

Hero
If our reality is indeed a computer simulation, who knows for sure how tea houses pop up?

Maybe rpgs have gotten so good, we don't even know we're in a game. Some days I really want to switch tables though...

Now I'm craving tea, and I don't even like tea. I also have to go grocery shopping. I'm going to be eying my fellow shoppers very carefully, for signs of sect activity. No, GM. I don't want to find any sect members here.
 
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5ekyu

Adventurer
This thread is a spin-off of this thread. Its immediate trigger is the following post:


In real life, people move through a physcially-structured environment where events happen in accordance with causal processes. Notions of request, permission, decision etc have no explanatory work to do in relation to real-life causal processes (except for a rather narrow range of phenomena involving interactions between human beings).

At a RPG table, in the situation being described in the posts above, the players give rise to an idea - our PCs find some sect members at the teahouse - and they suggest that that idea should be an element of the fiction that is being collectively created at the table. The GM then decides whether or not that idea actually does become part of the shared fiction, and communicates that decision to the players by telling them what it is that their PCs find at the teahouse.

That causal process has very little in common with the causal processes that bring it about that, if I go to a teahouse looking for members of a particular sect, I find any of them there. The most obvious difference is that whether or not, in real life, I meet any sect members doesn't depend upon whether anyone takes up a suggestion I make about an interesting idea.

Whether or not the GM making decisions about the gameworld, and then conveying that to the players, makes for good RPGing seems a matter of taste. But whether or not such a process is like real life seems a straightforward matter of fact. It's not.
I have had plenty of situations like the tea room hunt for cultists occur in RPGs of many types as player and gm.
Never had problem resolving them.
So, not seeing much of a dispute ever coming from such in actual play.
 

pemerton

Legend
I have had plenty of situations like the tea room hunt for cultists occur in RPGs of many types as player and gm.
Never had problem resolving them.
Nor have I had problems resolving these situations.

Is going to a tea house in a computer game like going to a tea house IRL, or going to a tea house in a TTRPG?

The CRPG tea house was created by the programmer. He didn't create it based on the desires of the player. He decided to make a tea house independent of player preference, just like the IRL creators of a tea house made it without reference to my preference.

Likewise, in some TTRPGs a tea house may be created as in the CRPG - independent of player desire/preference.

Pemerton you seem to see the TTRPG world as something that is always and necessarily created in a manner I recognise from Ron Edwards posts and Nar games, but is not really how simulationist play creates the world. And you seem to want to erase the distinction between the two approaches, or are confused about the difference. Hopefully the videogame example makes it clearer.
If I've understood you correctly, you are suggesting that is established/narrated without regard to player preferences as functions like real life. I don't agree with that suggestion. One main reason is that real life is indepenedent of anyone's will.

A further consideration is that, in a TTRPG, it is relatively uncommon for a GM's notes or a setting book to specify every patron of a teahouse at all times. Or to have an encounter table for each teahouse. (I own many setting books. None of them purports to offer comprehensive coverage of the teahouses and the like that they describe.) So the action declaration We go to the innhouse looking for sect members triggers a decision-making process on the GM's part which is more than just looking up and reciting a note, or even looking up and rolling on a table (eg even if the encounter table has a "cult" entry, the GM has to decide if the rolled cultist is a sect member).

There are many principles that can govern the GM in making those decisions. But my contention is that none of them makes it like real life. A further point - related, but not the same: I think that, in practice, most of those principles make the gameworld far less varied and far more predictable than real life generally is.

This comes out in [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION]'s post not far upthread:

In real life if I go to the local tea house looking for members of the mafia, I may or may not find some there. If the mafia runs the tea house, the chances that I will find members there are high. If the mafia does not run the local tea house, then it's still possible that some member of the mafia likes tea and just happens to be there, but the odds are fairly slim that I will just happen to be there at the same time.
On Friday I left some friends to head off and do my own thing. My own thing was a bust, so I went into a nearby library. I sat in there for about half-an-hour until my laptop battery went dead. Then, just as I was leaving, my friends were coming in so that I bumped into them at the entrance.

This is a very big library on a very large university campus, so a minute either way for me or them and we would not have bumped into one another. Not to mention this was the first time I'd been in that library for over ten years, and the first time ever one of my friends had been in there - so neither of us would be on the other's library encounter table.

Having re-met, we then were walking back to where one of my friends was parked when we bumped into another firend as he was leaving work. Our paths were only going to cross on a 50 metre stretch of footpath, so again a minute either way and that encounter wouldn't have happened. Whereas, as it was, I eneded up getting a lift home with him and then talking to him in his car outside my house for about half-an-hour.

My view is that for a RPG experience to be like real life even in outcome, it at least has to produce these sorts of events.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
My view is that for a RPG experience to be like real life even in outcome, it at least has to produce these sorts of events.
Well, not quite: it has to have the potential to produce these sort of events. That's where dice come in.
 

I've just read the lead post so I have no idea what the following 3 pages says, but the lead post made me think of something.

Ouija is basically a game whereby participants fake lack of volition and create a narrative about a spirit. A question is asked (not unlike "are there members of sect x at the teahouse?"), the planchette moves around the board (a form of mechanical resolution via the agency of one of the players who secretly takes the initiative) and answers the question. Another question is asked, mood is set, rinse-repeat, and at the end you get a story.

In TTRPGs, just like in Ouija, there is no paranormal volition. There is merely the volition of participants at the table (and perhaps some math).

The illusion of lack of (material) worldly volition is just that; illusion. The illusion of causal processes underpinning the outputs, which are discrete from a singular participant/the collective/or from mathematical output is just that; illusion.

The illusory process of content creation may engender a neat feeling within the participants of "paranormal-ey-ness" or "immersive-ey-ness"...but its just an illusion. Someone is expressing agency over content introduction. There is no disembodied will providing the necessary energy for play to persist.

Because a shared imagined space isn't a real thing (a computer game's setting isn't a shared imagined space...its a real space, with encoded boundaries, parameterized to some degree of resolution or another to persist and interact "physically" with inhabitants), and because for the purposes of TTRPGs humans can't parameterize a shared space at anything remotely nearing the resolution of the physical world (without encoding it...and even then we aren't even close currently...or at least nothing brought to market), we're going to have to have questions answered that are without prior parameterization or consideration. When we do that, something/someone (content introduction procedure/table participant) mediates and the agency of that thing/person is expressed. We feel one way or another about this (immersed, empowered, disempowered, regretful, bored, excited, disgruntled, anticipatory, etc). Rinse and repeat and the shared imaginary space develops.

One person at the table may "feel" that they had a paranormal experience or an immersive experience while another may feel silly or disgruntled...but fundamentally, the machinery of output is the same; someone (be it a participant at the table or the designer) is guiding the planchette through their personal volition (unlike actual life where many concrete, established causal forces and varying wills are integrated on multiple timescales).
 

S'mon

Legend
If I've understood you correctly, you are suggesting that is established/narrated without regard to player preferences as functions like real life. I don't agree with that suggestion.
I think everyone agrees that playing an RPG is not exactly like experiencing real life. This seems a trivial observation.

The problem seems to be that there are several very different approaches to generating the contents of the tea house, and it feels as if your central paradigm is the GM deciding it in the moment with a "what would be cool?" type question. Which is a fine way to do it, but can lead to a less real-feeling world than "what would likely be there?" Most games tend to encourage a mix of the two.
 

S'mon

Legend
In TTRPGs, just like in Ouija, there is no paranormal volition. There is merely the volition of participants at the table (and perhaps some math).
You're omitting the role of the dice roll. :)

As GM I tend to find answering "what would I like to happen?" type questions exhausting, and I prefer something which takes control out of my hands. A bit like my Parliament voting for a referendum and agreeing to abide by the result - it's most satisfying if the outcome isn't fudged. :D

One thing I often do is use published site-based adventures, seed the world with them and run them as-is. I very rarely make a decision to alter the content, usually only in extremis ("Oh no, no babau stat block in my 5e MM! I guess bar-lgura is close...") - and the players decide where to go and what to ignore. I find this creates more of an objective living-world feel for me and for them.

Eg yesterday my Runelords group could have followed the tracks to Runeforge, or go straight to Xin-Shalast, but instead decided to build a boat and sail it to Guiltspur. I have all three sites detailed in Paizo adventures but I have only a general idea what is in each, and as I play I'll be surprised at what happens. I like that feeling.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think everyone agrees that playing an RPG is not exactly like experiencing real life. This seems a trivial observation.

The problem seems to be that there are several very different approaches to generating the contents of the tea house, and it feels as if your central paradigm is the GM deciding it in the moment with a "what would be cool?" type question. Which is a fine way to do it, but can lead to a less real-feeling world than "what would likely be there?" Most games tend to encourage a mix of the two.
My contention is that the what would likely be there approach is not an approximation to real life. And thus that whatever experience it engenders in those who enjoy it, like real life or more like real life than (say) declaring and resolving a Streetwise check is not an appropriate description for that experience.

Well, not quite: it has to have the potential to produce these sort of events. That's where dice come in.
As I said, my friend and I wouldn't be on the typical GM's library encounter table, given that I have been in that library once in the past 10 or so years, and one of the friends whom I bumped into there has never been in there.

And potential is not enough. They actually have to happen. The real world is something in which I am intimately embedded and have repeated experiences which are coincidences, but reaffirm my myriad connections to the world. Many RPG settings are incredibly sparse in comparison.
 

You're omitting the role of the dice roll. :)
I was folding that into math:

* The designer (Moldvay) has decided x aspect of play has a (just above) 16 % chance while the GM who sets a DC and gives Disadvantage (where the player now needs a 13 or better twice) is the volitional force of that 16 %. The players can express their own by choosing Elf (if it’s Secret Doors) or by deploying Inspiration or some other means to offset the Disadvantage (if they have it).

I liked your post. I do agree that there is a spread of volitional force (or planchette moving) in orthodox adventuring site/module play (designer, GM, player). I think it’s just that, were we able to (not that it can’t be done...just that it would require extreme computing power), we could build a model that could discern the precise % of volitional force of those 3 - 10 (ish) humans for every moment of play...and that would add up to 100 %...in the same way that Ouija or real life doesn’t have a provable external volitional force (paranormal or metaphysical)...but different from real life in that the number of participating volitional forces in the system is extreme (which is not something a GM can approximate in any real sense...we’re all just doing our Knuckledragger Best to abstract it and pretend to tease out, but inevitably fail to do so, our cognitive biases).
 
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Numidius

Explorer
Always IME, the problem I encountered with Gms explicitly self proclaiming Keepers of Reality/Causality/Plausibility (which nonetheless implicitly they are and should be, in classic Gm driven style) is that they tend to the extremes in enforcing the proclaim:
either by running a too strict railroad kind of game, in which the drama, the turning points are already established during prep, not accepting off the rails Pcs' declarations and course of action statements,
or, on the other side,
by a sandboxy style game where, though, nothing interesting really happens, and when one asks for "stuff" to happen, or Npcs to actively interact, they just dismiss it as naive requests of drama in their world of pure immersion and realistic (read boring) display of setting.

Interesting the fact that both behaviours don't like nor allow backgrounds for Player Chararcters, dismissing them as burdens soon to be relieved of as the game/story begins to unfold.

My opinion is that a component of apprehension, almost fear, is preventing a more collaborative and enjoyable playstyle; a deep concern about sharing some narrative aspects of Rpg, about listening to inputs from the table and adding those to the usual output of being a Gm, so to enrich the experience.

Again, IME in actual play: nothing to do with the ongoing diatribe in the OP, which I find interesting to read, btw.

Anyway I understand that in a long campaign, with players coming&going, the Gm is the Keeper of Continuity, and rightfully so; I'm ranting about the rigid, fringe behaviours that role, more often than not, leads to.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Always IME, the problem I encountered with Gms explicitly self proclaiming Keepers of Reality/Causality/Plausibility (which nonetheless implicitly they are and should be, in classic Gm driven style) is that they tend to the extremes in enforcing the proclaim:
either by running a too strict railroad kind of game, in which the drama, the turning points are already established during prep, not accepting off the rails Pcs' declarations and course of action statements,
or, on the other side,
by a sandboxy style game where, though, nothing interesting really happens, and when one asks for "stuff" to happen, or Npcs to actively interact, they just dismiss it as naive requests of drama in their world of pure immersion and realistic (read boring) display of setting.

Interesting the fact that both behaviours don't like nor allow backgrounds for Player Chararcters, dismissing them as burdens soon to be relieved of as the game/story begins to unfold.

My opinion is that a component of apprehension, almost fear, is preventing a more collaborative and enjoyable playstyle; a deep concern about sharing some narrative aspects of Rpg, about listening to inputs from the table and adding those to the usual output of being a Gm, so to enrich the experience.

Again, IME in actual play: nothing to do with the ongoing diatribe in the OP, which I find interesting to read, btw.

Anyway I understand that in a long campaign, with players coming&going, the Gm is the Keeper of Continuity, and rightfully so; I'm ranting about the rigid, fringe behaviours that role, more often than not, leads to.
This is a post I would like to respond to because you raise concrete things about table play that I can wrap my mind around. This is much better in my opinion than a discussion about how like or unlike the real world a game setting is or can be.

I think you raise interesting points. I will give my take based on what I have seen at the table and in online discussion. I think the extreme cases of this do exist, just like they can in any style, and any GM who is overly rigid about play style is eventually going to run into tension with the right player or group. However, I think one thing that can often feed this extreme adherence to playstyle, where things that once may have been totally permissible within it are now forbidden because of ideas that have taken root as guiding principles or pillars, is online discussion and gaming theorizing itself. I've seen it on the immersive end and the sandbox end, where, because our style frequently clashes with more narrative styles online, as discussion unfolds, we tend to define ourselves against them. Which almost leads to an inverse GNS theory like mindset at times. Personally I am more in favor of rolling back the clock before these discussions, and simply asking whether we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater at various points when it comes to adventure structures, tools, and approaches to GMing. I also always try to keep in mind, there is more than one way to run a successful campaign or game session, and at the end of the day, anything you embrace has to pay dividends towards that end at the table. Sometimes you hit on an idea, and it works great for a year, two or three, but something in the group changes, you change, etc and what was working, stops working. So my only real guiding principle here is to do what I can to continue having successful play at the table.

That said, I think critiquing a play style by its extremes isn't terribly productive. It can be useful to caution against the more extreme ends, or at least be aware that not everyone is going to have fun at those extreme ends. But I run a lot of sandbox campaigns where the GM is the one who essentially plays the setting, and they just don't look like what you are describing. I am not averse to incorporating emulative genre elements, and I also don't mind working with player character background. However I do tend to draw more of a line there. I'll happily take suggestions from players and I may let them in whole or recommend changes so they fit the setting. The reason I do this isn't because of some blind adherence to "The GM is God", it is because I was miserable as a GM and Player in the 2000s 3E era when it just became normal to let players allow all of their background, character concepts, etc into gaming (at least in many of the groups I played with). I am absolutely happy if a player says something that fits and is cool. I will allow. I will even allow powerful backgrounds. For example the other day I had a player ask to be the prefect of the region the adventure was taking place. This was well outside the normal allowance of the system (players in the game I am running can start as rank 9B officials and prefects are much higher than that). But I understood the player's ability to run such a character, and knew it would be used to make things more interesting and add layers to the campaign, so I allowed it. And it worked great. He elaborated on some of the details and those were all permitted into the campaign. The thing I think is important to retain here is the GM needs to be able to say no. Whether it is because of power concerns, or because of things not jiving well with the setting or campaign (these latter two are particularly important to me), I think that is a key function that, at least for how I like to play, I don't want to relinquish (or see relinquished when I am a player). Again, I just want to emphasize, I am talking about my bread and butter, weekly campaign preference. I am totally open to other possibilities when we are not trying to keep our long term groups intact.

Just one other example here that may shed light on why some players actually like to feel like the world is external to their character. Again I really do have to advise against rigid adherence to this. There will always be things like edge case mechanics that deviate from this concept, but are not so overwhelming, so they add to the game with their presence. I have been play testing a new system. And the players in one of the groups are people I've gamed with for about two years. They are pretty mixed in terms of preferences. They seem to like drama. They are not afraid of words like plot or story. And so I made a new ability in the game (largely because of their tastes) that was called something like "Master Schemer". It allowed characters after the fact to make a roll and declare they had dome something devilishly deceptive like poison the very wine the NPC is drinking. This was meant to emulate something that comes up a lot in wuxia. I was very surprised by the strong negative and cautious reaction it received across several groups, but even among the more story oriented group. The reasons for disliking it did vary, but one of them was the players were being given control of what happened in the setting without having to walk through the steps of doing it. I thought it worked great from a story point of view, but because I think it stuck out because it didn't jive with the style we had developed together as a group (even though preferences were all over the map).

Just to defend sandbox, I want to say, what you are describing sounds like a failed sandbox to me, not a well run one. I mean, if you are running a game and nothing is happening, then that is a bad session (unless you literally have five players totally content to do nothing). This is something plenty of sandbox GMs have written about and talked about. I would point people to Bat in the Attic (Rob Conley's blog) for some good advice on that. I've played in Rob's games and seen his advice in action. It is easy to mischaracterize his advice, or misunderstand and assume it leads to what you are talking about, but if you pay attention to his real points, you see he advocates avoiding that very problem. In fact, one of the things he advises is throwing more hooks and leads for groups that might not be as accustomed to taking initiative. I played in a real gritty medieval adventure with him, which is a campaign concept that could easily fall into the extreme you laid out. However there wasn't a dull moment. I worked out my character background with him. We tied it to the setting material (which was important because this was an attempt to do an authentic medieval campaign), and it worked great. He didn't shy away from making our backgrounds relevant. It is just rather than have us declare things and those things be reality, he fit our concepts to the setting and brought the setting to life enough that we could use our backgrounds well in interactions. We were free to do what we wanted, but stuff still happened in the setting.

A sandbox isn't supposed to be static. There are pages of advice online regarding this. And there are any number of approaches to handle it (from countdown clocks to adventure seed tables to encounter tables to world in motion). My advice to anyone who is thinking of playing or running a sandbox but might be hesitant is to get information from the horse's mouth. Go to the places where people enjoy that style of play and learn what they do. Getting that kind of information from a thread like this or a venue where it isn't really the norm, is sort of like me getting all my information about narrative play from a sandbox GM or forum. You are going to get a misleading perspective on the matter (not saying you are doing that as I don't know your background with sandbox play, just making a general point).

That said, if you don't like sandbox, it might not be for you. If you don't like GM as final arbiter, it may not be for you. These are just play style preferences. And they don't have to be all or nothing. You can easily take elements of a sandbox and mix them with other things if you like the idea of the openness and freedom but worry about the adventure not having enough sense of direction or excitement. Also, you can honestly run a sandbox with any kind of 'setting physics' you want. A lot of people run settings like they are the real world. Not everyone does. I run my wuxia campaigns using wuxia logic (my players like to say "Chang Cheh physics are now in play"). This means it isn't at all unlikely that when they sneak into the brothel ship to investigate the sleeping weasel of a scholar who has been spying on them, a bunch of sect henchmen jump out from the cabinets and attack. A lot of my choices in this kind of campaign are often guided by that kind of genre logic. I am somewhat sparring in its use. I try to give it the feel of a grounded wuxia. But it still has dramatic flare.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
There are many principles that can govern the GM in making those decisions. But my contention is that none of them makes it like real life. A further point - related, but not the same: I think that, in practice, most of those principles make the gameworld far less varied and far more predictable than real life generally is.

This comes out in [MENTION=23751]Maxperson[/MENTION]'s post not far upthread:
Yep! I believe I also mentioned that even though you can't mirror real life, you can approximate it, making this style of play similar to real life.

On Friday I left some friends to head off and do my own thing. My own thing was a bust, so I went into a nearby library. I sat in there for about half-an-hour until my laptop battery went dead. Then, just as I was leaving, my friends were coming in so that I bumped into them at the entrance.

This is a very big library on a very large university campus, so a minute either way for me or them and we would not have bumped into one another. Not to mention this was the first time I'd been in that library for over ten years, and the first time ever one of my friends had been in there - so neither of us would be on the other's library encounter table.

Having re-met, we then were walking back to where one of my friends was parked when we bumped into another firend as he was leaving work. Our paths were only going to cross on a 50 metre stretch of footpath, so again a minute either way and that encounter wouldn't have happened. Whereas, as it was, I eneded up getting a lift home with him and then talking to him in his car outside my house for about half-an-hour.

My view is that for a RPG experience to be like real life even in outcome, it at least has to produce these sorts of events.
I also covered this when I said that there's no way a DM can hope to mirror all of the possibilities that real life comes up with. However, that doesn't mean that the approximation we come up with shouldn't be done. Nor does it make it Mother May I.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well, not quite: it has to have the potential to produce these sort of events. That's where dice come in.
But only the ones that the DM thinks of. For instance, going back to the tea house. The mayor might be there, as might the warlock's patron waiting to give him a task, or the wizard's master, or... There are waaaaay too many possibilities for the DM to be able to think of, let alone spend hours rolling the thousands or millions of them to see if any of the really long shots happen.

There is no potential for this method to mirror real life, but that's okay. It can approximate things and give the game a similar feel to real life. If the DM only thinks of a few possibilities and one of them hits, say the warlock's patron waiting at a table for the warlock to get there, that's enough to give it the real life feel.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
..but different from real life in that the number of participating volitional forces in the system is extreme (which is not something a GM can approximate in any real sense...we’re all just doing our Knuckledragger Best to abstract it and pretend to tease out, but inevitably fail to do so, our cognitive biases).
I just want to make one minor point about this: the perfect is the enemy of the good. Responding because I think this connects to a much broader discussion of GMing, fairness, and arbitration in general. No GM is going to be perfectly X in anything. Whether X represents fairness, real world physics emulation, etc. That is obvious. No one would seriously suggest that. Doesn't mean it isn't worth the attempt or worth holding up X as the goal. You see this in sports for example. No referee is perfectly fair. But some referees are more fair than others. No writer has created a fully functional world, but some writers create more plausible and deeper worlds than others. When it comes to GMing to create a sense of a living setting (and I am not talking about a simulation of the real world) what matters is the GM is effectively functioning as the physics in the places where the mechanics are not used. A GM can be biassed and flawed, just like a theoretical universe could have wonky physics. What matters is the consistency. A GM's quirks and flaws become part of the physics of the setting. So that actually does give it a senes of being a concrete real place over time. And yes, it is a vast simplification when the GM tries to emulate real world physics. But it doesn't have to match reality 100% for it to feel like something real, or to be real enough for people to make informed decisions about where they are looking for members of Bone Breaking sect.

My issue with the premise of this thread is it is basically a reductio ad absurdum argument. Would definitely encourage posters not to fall for the bait.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Always IME, the problem I encountered with Gms explicitly self proclaiming Keepers of Reality/Causality/Plausibility (which nonetheless implicitly they are and should be, in classic Gm driven style) is that they tend to the extremes in enforcing the proclaim:
either by running a too strict railroad kind of game, in which the drama, the turning points are already established during prep, not accepting off the rails Pcs' declarations and course of action statements,
or, on the other side,
by a sandboxy style game where, though, nothing interesting really happens, and when one asks for "stuff" to happen, or Npcs to actively interact, they just dismiss it as naive requests of drama in their world of pure immersion and realistic (read boring) display of setting.
My experience has been the opposite. I've never encountered that issue you describe with sandbox games, and I've rarely encountered the railroad you describe. I have however encountered many DMs who run the game and attempt to model real world possibilities as best as they can.

Interesting the fact that both behaviours don't like nor allow backgrounds for Player Chararcters, dismissing them as burdens soon to be relieved of as the game/story begins to unfold.
About half of those DMs I encountered, including sandbox DMs, wanted backgrounds.
 

Numidius

Explorer
My experience has been the opposite. I've never encountered that issue you describe with sandbox games, and I've rarely encountered the railroad you describe. I have however encountered many DMs who run the game and attempt to model real world possibilities as best as they can.



About half of those DMs I encountered, including sandbox DMs, wanted backgrounds.
Glad to hear it. I'm complaining about my generation of friends / local gamers, say in their forties - late thirties - in Italy.
 

Numidius

Explorer
This is a post I would like to respond to because you raise concrete things about table play that I can wrap my mind around. This is much better in my opinion than a discussion about how like or unlike the real world a game setting is or can be.

I think you raise interesting points. I will give my take based on what I have seen at the table and in online discussion. I think the extreme cases of this do exist, just like they can in any style, and any GM who is overly rigid about play style is eventually going to run into tension with the right player or group. However, I think one thing that can often feed this extreme adherence to playstyle, where things that once may have been totally permissible within it are now forbidden because of ideas that have taken root as guiding principles or pillars, is online discussion and gaming theorizing itself. I've seen it on the immersive end and the sandbox end, where, because our style frequently clashes with more narrative styles online, as discussion unfolds, we tend to define ourselves against them. Which almost leads to an inverse GNS theory like mindset at times. Personally I am more in favor of rolling back the clock before these discussions, and simply asking whether we've thrown the baby out with the bathwater at various points when it comes to adventure structures, tools, and approaches to GMing. I also always try to keep in mind, there is more than one way to run a successful campaign or game session, and at the end of the day, anything you embrace has to pay dividends towards that end at the table. Sometimes you hit on an idea, and it works great for a year, two or three, but something in the group changes, you change, etc and what was working, stops working. So my only real guiding principle here is to do what I can to continue having successful play at the table.

That said, I think critiquing a play style by its extremes isn't terribly productive. It can be useful to caution against the more extreme ends, or at least be aware that not everyone is going to have fun at those extreme ends. But I run a lot of sandbox campaigns where the GM is the one who essentially plays the setting, and they just don't look like what you are describing. I am not averse to incorporating emulative genre elements, and I also don't mind working with player character background. However I do tend to draw more of a line there. I'll happily take suggestions from players and I may let them in whole or recommend changes so they fit the setting. The reason I do this isn't because of some blind adherence to "The GM is God", it is because I was miserable as a GM and Player in the 2000s 3E era when it just became normal to let players allow all of their background, character concepts, etc into gaming (at least in many of the groups I played with). I am absolutely happy if a player says something that fits and is cool. I will allow. I will even allow powerful backgrounds. For example the other day I had a player ask to be the prefect of the region the adventure was taking place. This was well outside the normal allowance of the system (players in the game I am running can start as rank 9B officials and prefects are much higher than that). But I understood the player's ability to run such a character, and knew it would be used to make things more interesting and add layers to the campaign, so I allowed it. And it worked great. He elaborated on some of the details and those were all permitted into the campaign. The thing I think is important to retain here is the GM needs to be able to say no. Whether it is because of power concerns, or because of things not jiving well with the setting or campaign (these latter two are particularly important to me), I think that is a key function that, at least for how I like to play, I don't want to relinquish (or see relinquished when I am a player). Again, I just want to emphasize, I am talking about my bread and butter, weekly campaign preference. I am totally open to other possibilities when we are not trying to keep our long term groups intact.

Just one other example here that may shed light on why some players actually like to feel like the world is external to their character. Again I really do have to advise against rigid adherence to this. There will always be things like edge case mechanics that deviate from this concept, but are not so overwhelming, so they add to the game with their presence. I have been play testing a new system. And the players in one of the groups are people I've gamed with for about two years. They are pretty mixed in terms of preferences. They seem to like drama. They are not afraid of words like plot or story. And so I made a new ability in the game (largely because of their tastes) that was called something like "Master Schemer". It allowed characters after the fact to make a roll and declare they had dome something devilishly deceptive like poison the very wine the NPC is drinking. This was meant to emulate something that comes up a lot in wuxia. I was very surprised by the strong negative and cautious reaction it received across several groups, but even among the more story oriented group. The reasons for disliking it did vary, but one of them was the players were being given control of what happened in the setting without having to walk through the steps of doing it. I thought it worked great from a story point of view, but because I think it stuck out because it didn't jive with the style we had developed together as a group (even though preferences were all over the map).

Just to defend sandbox, I want to say, what you are describing sounds like a failed sandbox to me, not a well run one. I mean, if you are running a game and nothing is happening, then that is a bad session (unless you literally have five players totally content to do nothing). This is something plenty of sandbox GMs have written about and talked about. I would point people to Bat in the Attic (Rob Conley's blog) for some good advice on that. I've played in Rob's games and seen his advice in action. It is easy to mischaracterize his advice, or misunderstand and assume it leads to what you are talking about, but if you pay attention to his real points, you see he advocates avoiding that very problem. In fact, one of the things he advises is throwing more hooks and leads for groups that might not be as accustomed to taking initiative. I played in a real gritty medieval adventure with him, which is a campaign concept that could easily fall into the extreme you laid out. However there wasn't a dull moment. I worked out my character background with him. We tied it to the setting material (which was important because this was an attempt to do an authentic medieval campaign), and it worked great. He didn't shy away from making our backgrounds relevant. It is just rather than have us declare things and those things be reality, he fit our concepts to the setting and brought the setting to life enough that we could use our backgrounds well in interactions. We were free to do what we wanted, but stuff still happened in the setting.

A sandbox isn't supposed to be static. There are pages of advice online regarding this. And there are any number of approaches to handle it (from countdown clocks to adventure seed tables to encounter tables to world in motion). My advice to anyone who is thinking of playing or running a sandbox but might be hesitant is to get information from the horse's mouth. Go to the places where people enjoy that style of play and learn what they do. Getting that kind of information from a thread like this or a venue where it isn't really the norm, is sort of like me getting all my information about narrative play from a sandbox GM or forum. You are going to get a misleading perspective on the matter (not saying you are doing that as I don't know your background with sandbox play, just making a general point).

That said, if you don't like sandbox, it might not be for you. If you don't like GM as final arbiter, it may not be for you. These are just play style preferences. And they don't have to be all or nothing. You can easily take elements of a sandbox and mix them with other things if you like the idea of the openness and freedom but worry about the adventure not having enough sense of direction or excitement. Also, you can honestly run a sandbox with any kind of 'setting physics' you want. A lot of people run settings like they are the real world. Not everyone does. I run my wuxia campaigns using wuxia logic (my players like to say "Chang Cheh physics are now in play"). This means it isn't at all unlikely that when they sneak into the brothel ship to investigate the sleeping weasel of a scholar who has been spying on them, a bunch of sect henchmen jump out from the cabinets and attack. A lot of my choices in this kind of campaign are often guided by that kind of genre logic. I am somewhat sparring in its use. I try to give it the feel of a grounded wuxia. But it still has dramatic flare.
Well said.
Now I should contact all the Gms I met in the past and have them read that.
Myself in primis.
But I already agreee with you, otherwise I'd not be complaining in here.

My search for the right party, to run or to play with, continues...
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As I said, my friend and I wouldn't be on the typical GM's library encounter table, given that I have been in that library once in the past 10 or so years, and one of the friends whom I bumped into there has never been in there.
To that level of granularity, perhaps not; but having as a low-but-not-zero percentage option on a table "You bump into someone you know" makes sense. Put another way, were you a PC in a game your action is to go to the library; the DM then rolls to determine if anything interesting happens there - and in this case, it did.

Were the table much more granular - say, using a d-10000 instead of d% - then maybe there'd be a 1-chance that you bump into someone you haven't seen in ages and who otherwise never goes there; but most games (Hackmaster perhaps excepted) don't tune things that finely.

And potential is not enough. They actually have to happen. The real world is something in which I am intimately embedded and have repeated experiences which are coincidences, but reaffirm my myriad connections to the world. Many RPG settings are incredibly sparse in comparison.
Potential is all there is. Saying as an absolute "they have to happen" starts to push things into unbelievability, but saying "they have to be able to happen" is bang on. Why? Because they also have to be able to not happen.

An example of "not happen" might be there's someone you haven't seen in ages who is working in the building next to yours, but by random chance your paths just never happen to cross and thus you never realize he's there.
 

Numidius

Explorer
Maybe DMs in Italy are different, then. I'm in the same age range here in America. :)
;) i better not generalize. I'm sure there's plenty of valid Gms in Italy. Let's say: the ones I've met, then.

Sometimes I just wonder why is it so hard (for me) to just sit down, roll some pc, agree on an initial set-up/situation, generate background accordingly, and start rolling dice :D
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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