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A Question Of Agency?

Clearly 'Toon' is not your average RPG, so I would not disagree with you that in MOST other RPGs there is a sort of background assumption that the laws of physics as we know them would adequately describe most events, barring magic or whatever. This is, IMHO, more a matter of 'relateability' than anything else. This can be seen in certain interesting tropes that RPGs carry. For example, Traveller (and a lot of other Space Opera type RPGS) has artificial gravity. Now, we know that Hollywood LOVES artificial gravity, it just obviously makes their job feasible, but why would it exist in an RPG? There's no special effects budget to constrain scenes filled with zero-G action, yet every single location in Traveller is absolutely ASSUMED to have a 1G gravity field. The reason for this is plainly relateability, we players are used to living in a 1G gravity field, and imagining most of the action taking place in zero-G, or under heavy acceleration, etc. is simply burdensome. IMHO this is the explanation for pretty much all of this kind of thing. The game needs to work this way in order to be playable and to conform to genre tropes which originate from other mediums.

I don't think 'plausibility' is really all that much a factor. Anti-gravity, for example, is utterly implausible. As a physics-conversant person I can tell you with utter assurance that such a thing is completely unphysical and no more likely to exist in the real world than spell-casting, no matter the level of technology. So it isn't adding any plausibility to Traveller, quite the contrary! I will agree that in other genres there wouldn't be much motivation for something like gravity, or the existence of the Sun, etc. to be changed, unless you want to deliberately create a very alien sort of environment. D&D traditionally uses this technique for 'other planes of existence', and that's cool. Again though, I don't think this is due to plausibility, these other weird worlds are not really 'implausible' to any vastly higher degree than a world full of dragons and magic is.

This honestly just looks like more of the same argument. But also you are accepting the plausibility I am talking about, pointing out that RPGs often rely on deviations from plausibility for magic and exceptions, then you introduce the exception of anti-gravity, to say plausibility isn't a thing in RPGs. That doesn't make sense. Whether you file anti-gravity under a trope or an outdated theory, obviously it is operating as an exception here. But anything else in the setting is going to be assumed to conform to common sense perceptions of reality. And the anti-gravity itself is still going to be expected to abide by the players and GMs sense of gravity (unless there is something special stated about it in the rules: like it only approximates earth gravity or something).
 

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I don't do maps like that anymore at all, and I don't actively encourage detailed mapping at the table as I find it often bogs things down more than it helps. Of course I don't do random traps or secret doors either.
Right, and I wouldn't normally use much in the way of maps, except maybe as aids to communications a bit, in a game I was starting up 'zero myth' either. I ran part of a CoC game (it consisted of episodes GMed by each of the participants in round-robin fashion where the PCs were reincarnations of themselves in different periods of time) where I set my part in 1920's Cornwall. I used a real map to kind of fact check my geography a bit, and created a railroad schedule based on what seemed logical from online research, but overall the setup didn't really have maps. The PCs went into an area that I described and had some encounters/did some stuff, and then they ended up finishing up my part stranded on the Moon! Presumably they, at best, survived a while in the alien base there, but again there was no map and not a lot of details. I think the next segment took place in the far future and the PCs found the bodies of their former selves. There were a few other similar details that carried through from the Roman Britain part as well. IIRC the timeline was non-linear too, I think the medieval section was actually the end of the whole 'mini-campaign'.
 

This honestly just looks like more of the same argument. But also you are accepting the plausibility I am talking about, pointing out that RPGs often rely on deviations from plausibility for magic and exceptions, then you introduce the exception of anti-gravity, to say plausibility isn't a thing in RPGs. That doesn't make sense. Whether you file anti-gravity under a trope or an outdated theory, obviously it is operating as an exception here. But anything else in the setting is going to be assumed to conform to common sense perceptions of reality. And the anti-gravity itself is still going to be expected to abide by the players and GMs sense of gravity (unless there is something special stated about it in the rules: like it only approximates earth gravity or something).
yeah, I just don't think 'plausibility' is all that high on the list of reasons for things, really. It is familiarity mostly, and that can be considered a type of 'gamist consideration'. Now, there are games which aim more at being plausible than others, Aftermath seemed to value that, and there is at least one SF RPG which attempts to accurately describe spacecraft (maybe a couple of them, never looked into it much). I just don't see it as the focus of most games.
 

@prabe I'm snipping your post a bit, not because I think anything you said wasn't relevant, but because I think we're largely in agreement, and I'd like to just hone in on a few points.

Yeah. I give out neighborhood-level maps of every city the PCs enter. I almost never make it difficult for them to find what they need/want (or at least, where what they need/want would be).

Right. So what impact, if any, would you say this has on the players' ability to make decisions on that matter? I mean, these decisions probably relate to the things found on the map, but I think you get what I mean.

Think of everything you can learn by looking at a map. The proximity to other places that may matter, how many paths one can take from point A to point B, and so on. All of this is placed in the players' hands rather than relying on the GM explaining it all. Or replying on the players to know to ask every single relevant question for the GM to answer.

Now, it's on the players. If they overlook the fact that the watch station is three buildings away from their target, they shouldn't be surprised when the watch shows up. It's their mistake.

The same can apply to other elements beyond just physical geography.

In a game where the Hive is a known entity, not much. OTOH, if the Hive (or the PCs) were a moving into new territory, this could a form of foreshadowing (to the extent that's a thing in Blades).

I guess I'd rather reveal they're dangerous, unless there's a way to measure the reputation of NPC groups. Have them lay waste to something/someone, leave that symbol around.

Oh, sure.....I think using that kind of thing is likely a good way to display the threat that the faction poses. You can even combine the two. "You see this honeycomb symbol, and you remember hearing about The Hive from Slade at the Tin Whistle Tavern...." and then sharing the details.

Huh. So ... if the PCs are trying to figure out who's been impersonating people in the dwarven stronghold, and they guess doppelgangers, and it turns out to be oni ... That doesn't sound quite like what you're talking about.

So ... if they find out that an NPC wizard they've trusted (and always taken to be human, as she presented herself) is an ancient silver dragon with wizard levels ... maybe that's closer? (I think I figure it out around session 36, and I revealed it in session 62, which is about a year, real-world.)

No, not exactly. Definitely not the first example, and I have no problem with the second as long as it doesn't require altering facts that have been established.

I just mean that with any judgment that the GM makes, there's going to be a little leeway. And what's "obvious" to the GM may not be obvious to the players. So to go with The Hive example from Blades......let's say there was no Tier system in place, and instead all of this relied on nothing but GM narration of some sort in order to be established.

What if the GM portrays The Hive as having done something that establishes them as dangerous. In his mind, he thinks it's clear that The Hive are among the most dangerous factions in the city. But the players have taken it as pretty standard levels of danger. If the PCs are to make decisions that matter about The Hive, then the better they understand The Hive the more informed those decisions will be.

I would not say that the Tier system for gangs in Blades is meant to replace narration. I think it's there just as a quick reference to facilitate understanding in the same way narration would facilitate understanding, but to help leave it a bit more concrete.

Like a Strength of 18 isn't the most descriptive way to convey how strong a NPC may be, but it lets players know exactly what it means in the game.

It's a tool. I think some of the principles from that kind of play can go a long way toward improving the experience at the table in games that otherwise aren't built for it, but I haven't really found a need to do much else in this direction.

I think, based on the way you describe your approach to play, that perhaps you already have considered some of these things, even if not for this exact reason.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Right. So what impact, if any, would you say this has on the players' ability to make decisions on that matter? I mean, these decisions probably relate to the things found on the map, but I think you get what I mean.

Think of everything you can learn by looking at a map. The proximity to other places that may matter, how many paths one can take from point A to point B, and so on. All of this is placed in the players' hands rather than relying on the GM explaining it all. Or replying on the players to know to ask every single relevant question for the GM to answer.

Now, it's on the players. If they overlook the fact that the watch station is three buildings away from their target, they shouldn't be surprised when the watch shows up. It's their mistake.

The same can apply to other elements beyond just physical geography.
Oh, sure. If a party were doing something that I needed to detail out the buildings nearby, I would; for finding, e.g., stores or inns or libraries, I haven't needed to.
No, not exactly. Definitely not the first example, and I have no problem with the second as long as it doesn't require altering facts that have been established.
Oh, good. Both of those are sequences that happened in my campaigns (as might be clear, at least from the second example).
I just mean that with any judgment that the GM makes, there's going to be a little leeway. And what's "obvious" to the GM may not be obvious to the players. So to go with The Hive example from Blades......let's say there was no Tier system in place, and instead all of this relied on nothing but GM narration of some sort in order to be established.

What if the GM portrays The Hive as having done something that establishes them as dangerous. In his mind, he thinks it's clear that The Hive are among the most dangerous factions in the city. But the players have taken it as pretty standard levels of danger. If the PCs are to make decisions that matter about The Hive, then the better they understand The Hive the more informed those decisions will be.

I would not say that the Tier system for gangs in Blades is meant to replace narration. I think it's there just as a quick reference to facilitate understanding in the same way narration would facilitate understanding, but to help leave it a bit more concrete.

Like a Strength of 18 isn't the most descriptive way to convey how strong a NPC may be, but it lets players know exactly what it means in the game.
Oh, sure. Like, wizards in a D&D world might not think of spell-levels, or slots, but they have an understanding of how things work in practice (and the players talk in game terms). I'm not any kind of fan of insisting that players at the table not use game-terms, even when speaking in-character, just on the grounds of sanity being a precious, non-renewable resource. ;-)
I think, based on the way you describe your approach to play, that perhaps you already have considered some of these things, even if not for this exact reason.
Probably. I GMed Fate for close to a year, IIRC, and I definitely had put some thought into how I wanted the campaigns I'm running to work before I started them.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I'm going to throw out an example from Blades here because, first, I'm re-reading it for design purposes, and second, there's on bit of the rules that really captures the idea of putting decision making in the hands of the players. Actions in Blades have a two part rubric that determines how easy and effective they will be. This is the bit about the Blades mechanics that mystifies a lot of new players, so bear with me.

First, you have position which doesn't determine the level of effect, but rather the scale of consequences for failure. Keep in mind here that Blades is a 'player rolls' game, so bad guys don't attack PCs, that part of melee (just as an example) is determined by the success of the player's roll. Failure means the PC takes damage, Success with conditions means both sides take some damage, and complete success means the enemy takes damage. Position can be Controlled, Risky, or Desperate with the default being Risky (roll the dice only when there are consequences that matter etc etc). In melee, to keep using the same example, you're looking at lesser harm, harm, and severe harm as consequences in those three positions. It's not super important exactly what those mean, the labels speak for themselves for our purposes. Position is determined by the GM based on the fiction, but the players have some resources they can choose to spend to add dice to their pool once it's set. However, it's the second part of the rubric I really wanted to talk about, which is Effect.

Effect is also set into three levels, which are Great, Standard, and Limited. This is also baselined by the GM, who has three categories to base their decision on - Potency, Quality, and Scale. The base roll in Blades is Risky-Standard. Here's where things get interesting, at least for me. Let's take Scale as an example. A Warrior decides to charge a band of 20 thugs, sword waving. Well, that was silly, 20-1 isn't great, so the effect there is going to limited (and probably Desperate position as well). However, and this is the bit I really wanted to drill into, is that player choices can change this without rolls. Lets say that same Warrior decides to defend a choke point so only a few thugs can get to him at a time. That would change his Effect to Standard, which in mechanical terms doubles his effectiveness. No rolls, just tactical thinking, and you success doubles. That's a huge carrot, and one that makes complete sense within the fiction. Of course, you can make the same tactical move in any game, but the results for doing so are nowhere nearly as stark and obvious.

I'm going to back this up and get a little more general. What this example shows is that by engaging with the fiction, and declaring actions that makes sense within that fiction, a Blades player can dramatically shift the odds in his favor, and in a way that doesn't quite get matched by other games I can think of. This isn't about better or worse, just about agency. The same logic applies to any test in Blades, not just combat, so framing on the part of the players is crucial and incentivized to a large degree. You can't always do this in Blades of course, it has to make sense within the fiction as presented by the GM., there's no get out jail free card here.

If you compare that to D&D or it's OSR children, just to pick an opposed rules set that I'm intimately familiar with, there's is nothing in terms of framing and approach to situations that carries the same weight. Anyway, this isn't a Blades is better post by any means, I just wanted to throw out an example of how one rules system really makes great hay out of the players' interaction with the fictional framing in a way that allocates a lot of agency to the players.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I'm going to throw out an example from Blades here because, first, I'm re-reading it for design purposes, and second, there's on bit of the rules that really captures the idea of putting decision making in the hands of the players. Actions in Blades have a two part rubric that determines how easy and effective they will be. This is the bit about the Blades mechanics that mystifies a lot of new players, so bear with me.

First, you have position which doesn't determine the level of effect, but rather the scale of consequences for failure. Keep in mind here that Blades is a 'player rolls' game, so bad guys don't attack PCs, that part of melee (just as an example) is determined by the success of the player's roll. Failure means the PC takes damage, Success with conditions means both sides take some damage, and complete success means the enemy takes damage. Position can be Controlled, Risky, or Desperate with the default being Risky (roll the dice only when there are consequences that matter etc etc). In melee, to keep using the same example, you're looking at lesser harm, harm, and severe harm as consequences in those three positions. It's not super important exactly what those mean, the labels speak for themselves for our purposes. Position is determined by the GM based on the fiction, but the players have some resources they can choose to spend to add dice to their pool once it's set. However, it's the second part of the rubric I really wanted to talk about, which is Effect.

Effect is also set into three levels, which are Great, Standard, and Limited. This is also baselined by the GM, who has three categories to base their decision on - Potency, Quality, and Scale. The base roll in Blades is Risky-Standard. Here's where things get interesting, at least for me. Let's take Scale as an example. A Warrior decides to charge a band of 20 thugs, sword waving. Well, that was silly, 20-1 isn't great, so the effect there is going to limited (and probably Desperate position as well). However, and this is the bit I really wanted to drill into, is that player choices can change this without rolls. Lets say that same Warrior decides to defend a choke point so only a few thugs can get to him at a time. That would change his Effect to Standard, which in mechanical terms doubles his effectiveness. No rolls, just tactical thinking, and you success doubles. That's a huge carrot, and one that makes complete sense within the fiction. Of course, you can make the same tactical move in any game, but the results for doing so are nowhere nearly as stark and obvious.

I'm going to back this up and get a little more general. What this example shows is that by engaging with the fiction, and declaring actions that makes sense within that fiction, a Blades player can dramatically shift the odds in his favor, and in a way that doesn't quite get matched by other games I can think of. This isn't about better or worse, just about agency. The same logic applies to any test in Blades, not just combat, so framing on the part of the players is crucial and incentivized to a large degree. You can't always do this in Blades of course, it has to make sense within the fiction as presented by the GM., there's no get out jail free card here.

If you compare that to D&D or it's OSR children, just to pick an opposed rules set that I'm intimately familiar with, there's is nothing in terms of framing and approach to situations that carries the same weight. Anyway, this isn't a Blades is better post by any means, I just wanted to throw out an example of how one rules system really makes great hay out of the players' interaction with the fictional framing in a way that allocates a lot of agency to the players.
Good example by the way. I don’t think the contrast is quite as large as you think. A 20-1 choke point in d&d will have a huge effect vs being surrounded 20-1. Much greater than double.

However, it’s good to explicitly point out that Blades action resolution does depend on fictional positioning which does tend to get lost in translation a bit.

My issues that I keep coming back to with blades are:
1. The players role in determining the outcome of a success. It’s very possible this is overblown in critics minds as there may be some fairly large constraints on what can be achieved with a success. But if those constraints exist to the extent that would be necessary then it’s really hard to see how it’s nearly as agency enhancing as advertised. What I’m afraid is most likely happening are that players adapt to the boundaries in any given system and so as long as they can do what they want within those boundaries then agency! IMO. I don’t see blades or d&d as having fewer boundaries over what a PCs can attempt, just different ones. nor does the set of outcomes that can be achieved via each systems action resolution actually differ much if any as far as I can tell.

I might be wrong and change my mind later, but i get the feeling that blades is set up to handle complex actions better, whereas d&d is set up more to handle simple actions. That’s an interesting difference to me.

But agency isn’t a useful descriptor here. We all agree that the major thing the blades player can do that the d&d player cannot is set what the success state of his action is. (Well some forms of d&d play approximate this with goal and approach). What we disagree on is whether that’s actually more agency. That’s not something we are going to agree on.

2. The players ability to change fictional positioning by creating fictional details their character in the now doesn’t have control over. (Think flashbacks and possibly some details they can add to the scene on a success or via some other mechanic).
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Good example by the way. I don’t think the contrast is quite as large as you think. A 20-1 choke point in d&d will have a huge effect vs being surrounded 20-1. Much greater than double.

However, it’s good to explicitly point out that Blades action resolution does depend on fictional positioning which does tend to get lost in translation a bit.

My issues that I keep coming back to with blades are:
1. The players role in determining the outcome of a success. It’s very possible this is overblown in critics minds as there may be some fairly large constraints on what can be achieved with a success. But if those constraints exist to the extent that would be necessary then it’s really hard to see how it’s nearly as agency enhancing as advertised. What I’m afraid is most likely happening are that players adapt to the boundaries in any given system and so as long as they can do what they want within those boundaries then agency! IMO. I don’t see blades or d&d as having fewer boundaries over what a PCs can attempt, just different ones. nor does the set of outcomes that can be achieved via each systems action resolution actually differ much if any as far as I can tell.

I might be wrong and change my mind later, but i get the feeling that blades is set up to handle complex actions better, whereas d&d is set up more to handle simple actions. That’s an interesting difference to me.

But agency isn’t a useful descriptor here. We all agree that the major thing the blades player can do that the d&d player cannot is set what the success state of his action is. (Well some forms of d&d play approximate this with goal and approach). What we disagree on is whether that’s actually more agency. That’s not something we are going to agree on.

2. The players ability to change fictional positioning by creating fictional details their character in the now doesn’t have control over. (Think flashbacks and possibly some details they can add to the scene on a success or via some other mechanic).
The doubling effect is about the PCs effect on the thugs, not their effect on the PC, although that does play in based on position.

To speak to 1) I have played Blades, I've also played other FitD games like Scum and Villainy, and a couple of others, so I'm pretty familiar with how the mechanics and adjudication work. The difference in this instance is player control over the outcome. Not only can the player move in-fiction to increase effect, the plyer can also elect to trade position for effect if they're willing to risk increased damage. This is before any dice are rolled. It's not even remotely about what PCs can attempt, as in both rules sets the PCs can attempt anything, but in Blades, after the declaration or as part of the declaration, the PC can substantively change the chances of or effect of the action they have proposed, which is something that doesn't really happen in, say, D&D.

No rolls, just player decision making and framing. The player chooses to engage with the proffered fiction, and by doing so in a competent way changes the dynamics of the test and resolution. That is the essence of player agency.

As far as complex actions go, Blades does handle those really well, but not any better than 4E's complex skill challenges does IMO. That level of competence can be had in 5E from a good DM, but it's not enforced and bounded by the rules like it is in Blades.

I wasn't really addressing your 2), although we could chat about that if you like. The flashback isn't what most people think it is when it comes to how it changes the basic experience of an RPG at the table.
 

Campbell

Legend
From my perspective the most empowering feature of Blades in the Dark is Position and Effect. It foregrounds negotiation of fictional positioning between the GM and other players. Because you do not have to commit until Position and Effect are agreed to you always know what you are getting into. Between Position/Effect and being able to ask specific questions with Gather Information pretty much all your decisions will be informed ones.

That's not to say that with the player agency that provides you lose nothing. Blades is not really a game that rewards you that much for being clever. Instead it provides you with the ability to influence the setting that in other games would require clever thinking. I like having to be clever sometimes. It provides a rush when I get it right and something to strive towards when I get it wrong. 3D Pictionary is a lot of fun for me sometimes. It also means that you lose out on the joy of discovery because you do not need to hunt information down or explore red herrings.
 

pemerton

Legend
I would not disagree with you that in MOST other RPGs there is a sort of background assumption that the laws of physics as we know them would adequately describe most events, barring magic or whatever. This is, IMHO, more a matter of 'relateability' than anything else. This can be seen in certain interesting tropes that RPGs carry. For example, Traveller (and a lot of other Space Opera type RPGS) has artificial gravity. Now, we know that Hollywood LOVES artificial gravity, it just obviously makes their job feasible, but why would it exist in an RPG? There's no special effects budget to constrain scenes filled with zero-G action, yet every single location in Traveller is absolutely ASSUMED to have a 1G gravity field. The reason for this is plainly relateability, we players are used to living in a 1G gravity field, and imagining most of the action taking place in zero-G, or under heavy acceleration, etc. is simply burdensome. IMHO this is the explanation for pretty much all of this kind of thing. The game needs to work this way in order to be playable and to conform to genre tropes which originate from other mediums.

I don't think 'plausibility' is really all that much a factor. Anti-gravity, for example, is utterly implausible. As a physics-conversant person I can tell you with utter assurance that such a thing is completely unphysical and no more likely to exist in the real world than spell-casting, no matter the level of technology. So it isn't adding any plausibility to Traveller, quite the contrary! I will agree that in other genres there wouldn't be much motivation for something like gravity, or the existence of the Sun, etc. to be changed, unless you want to deliberately create a very alien sort of environment. D&D traditionally uses this technique for 'other planes of existence', and that's cool. Again though, I don't think this is due to plausibility, these other weird worlds are not really 'implausible' to any vastly higher degree than a world full of dragons and magic is.
What I would add to this is that D&D worlds don't assume the laws of physics as we know them, just common sense.

Eg D&D worlds tend to have a sun, but there's no reason to suppose that the sun is a giant thermonuclear furnace. Maybe it's a ball of light, or of fire.

Things fall to earth, and so in that sense there is gravity; but there's no reason to suppose that the explanation for objects falling to earth is the same as the explanation for planets orbiting the sun. (And maybe planets don't orbit the sun at all!)

Conversely, a game like Traveller does assume law of physics but "cheats" with them in certain respects - eg anit-grav as you say, and FTL travel. Which shows that in a sci-fi game even laws of physics are just a trope, not a deep thing about plausibility or realism.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
From my perspective the most empowering feature of Blades in the Dark is Position and Effect. It foregrounds negotiation of fictional positioning between the GM and other players. Because you do not have to commit until Position and Effect are agreed to you always know what you are getting into. Between Position/Effect and being able to ask specific questions with Gather Information pretty much all your decisions will be informed ones.

That's not to say that with the player agency that provides you lose nothing. Blades is not really a game that rewards you that much for being clever. Instead it provides you with the ability to influence the setting that in other games would require clever thinking. I like having to be clever sometimes. It provides a rush when I get it right and something to strive towards when I get it wrong. 3D Pictionary is a lot of fun for me sometimes. It also means that you lose out on the joy of discovery because you do not need to hunt information down or explore red herrings.
Your mention of red herrings has (of course) gotten me thinking of whodunit-esque mysteries--which aren't a super fit for TRPGs because the pleasures of the genre (in books, movies, etc.) aren't all that compatible with the pleasures of TRPGs. Obviously, if one is running such an adventure in D&D, the expectation is that the emergent story is going to be about the players figuring out who the killer is, probably with some sort of (probably metaphorical) ticking clock, and that the DM knows who did it. I know people have run mystery-type stories in FitD or PbtA games, but it seems to me that they'd have to work differently around the table. It seems likely to me they'd have to focus less on if the playerss will figure out the mystery and more on the results and repercussions when the PCs do so. This isn't intended on slagging on such games, FWIW; I'm just saying the play experience, here, would be a very different one.
 

The doubling effect is about the PCs effect on the thugs, not their effect on the PC, although that does play in based on position.

To speak to 1) I have played Blades, I've also played other FitD games like Scum and Villainy, and a couple of others, so I'm pretty familiar with how the mechanics and adjudication work. The difference in this instance is player control over the outcome. Not only can the player move in-fiction to increase effect, the plyer can also elect to trade position for effect if they're willing to risk increased damage. This is before any dice are rolled. It's not even remotely about what PCs can attempt, as in both rules sets the PCs can attempt anything, but in Blades, after the declaration or as part of the declaration, the PC can substantively change the chances of or effect of the action they have proposed, which is something that doesn't really happen in, say, D&D.

No rolls, just player decision making and framing. The player chooses to engage with the proffered fiction, and by doing so in a competent way changes the dynamics of the test and resolution. That is the essence of player agency.

As far as complex actions go, Blades does handle those really well, but not any better than 4E's complex skill challenges does IMO. That level of competence can be had in 5E from a good DM, but it's not enforced and bounded by the rules like it is in Blades.

I wasn't really addressing your 2), although we could chat about that if you like. The flashback isn't what most people think it is when it comes to how it changes the basic experience of an RPG at the table.
Right, this is what I see as a big problem with more classic RPG processes similar to D&D's where each discrete element of any 'activity' invokes a separate check, with each one being binary pass/fail, gauged purely on some judged measure of difficulty for its DC, and not related in any way to a risk/reward kind of calculation. You see this very evidently when you try to do really serious action adventure with, say, 5e at most tables. Something like "I leap off the balcony, grab the rope, swing across the room, drop, and come down on the bad guy, slamming him with my legs, and then attacking with my sword!" Guess how many checks that is going to provoke in a D&D game? A smart, and nice, GM might be your ally in this sort of action and only make you take an acrobatics check, and a couple of to-hits, and then of course you have to roll damage. A dud roll on any of these will pretty much result in things not going off in an impressive manner. You'd be, mechanically, better off in 99% of cases to just get out your missile weapon and take a shot. Worst case you have to make several very difficult checks. Either way, the cumulative chances of success are low. This may be 'realistic', but is it fun? Sure, once in a while players will just toss common sense to the winds and try anyway, but at its core D&D's process rewards careful, conservative, systematic play, not risk taking. This is baked into its DNA! Other similarly structured games overall do the same thing to varying degrees.

A more macroscopic aspect of this sort of thing exists too. Imagine you built a game along the basic mechanical lines of D&D, and your goal was to be the first guy to land on the Moon. Forget it. Its literally a 1 in billions against you opportunity. 'Realistically' you'd have to play through a scenario where you already get to start with most of the qualifications, and then rely on luck and skill at play which will produce that result with fantastically low probability. It is simply put, impossible. This is the problem with the whole concept of play where each thing 'logically and plausibly follows from the rest' where dice, or picking the right options at various points, scale in difficulty in a plausible way. Sure, you are 'free to try', but this is a meaningless freedom.

I mean, it is one thing to say "its hard in E. Gary Gygax's D&D campaign for your PC magic user to survive and make it to name level." However, if you play for a while, and hone your skills, you have a pretty decent chance to achieve that. Probably most people who played in 'Greyhawk' for a while 'made it'. Sure, the difficulty made it an interesting challenge, and I'm all for that, but it didn't involve 1 in a million odds. Not because that would be unrealistic (What is the % of name-level wizards in Oerik, it surely isn't very high), but because it wouldn't be that much fun.

These are the considerations which led me to cinematic play and resolution systems which match risk to reward and don't pile on layer after layer of accumulated luck as a task becomes more dangerous or implausible. And I get that when in Dungeon World swinging from the balcony, knocking down the bad guy and hacking on him succeeds (at least partly) on a 7+, that in a 'this is a challenging game move' sense it isn't some big deal, but it is STILL COOL, you thought of it, the results are spectacular, the consequences of failure are undoubtedly nasty (even on a 7-9 you can pretty well guarantee you're in some hot water) and even in the best case the bad guy may just stand up again and look REALLY PISSED before he proceeds to try to thrash you! Yes, if you manage to pull off the 20% chance of passing all the various checks in the D&D version you will have done something literally very risky and pulled it off. The coolness is IME not really different though, and in the long run you will have to endure a lot of "you fall on your ass and look stupid" if you play like that every day.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I completely agree. What's more, I generally want my players swinging from chandeliers. So in games like D&D I often find it difficult to adjudicate and strike a balance between fostering the kind of play I want and maintaining some fidelity to the rules set. It's actually easier in OSR games because there are fewer subsystems and over determination bogging things down, but its still that same binary resolution system.

I'm actually in the middle of trying to design some complex task rules for my own OSR hack, and this kind of situation is exactly the sort of thing I want to be able to accomodate.
 

I completely agree. What's more, I generally want my players swinging from chandeliers. So in games like D&D I often find it difficult to adjudicate and strike a balance between fostering the kind of play I want and maintaining some fidelity to the rules set. It's actually easier in OSR games because there are fewer subsystems and over determination bogging things down, but its still that same binary resolution system.

I'm actually in the middle of trying to design some complex task rules for my own OSR hack, and this kind of situation is exactly the sort of thing I want to be able to accomodate.
Yeah, I've been thinking about it too. When I first hacked on 4e I didn't really think a lot of these ideas all the way through. I just kind of accepted task resolution process as it already was (which is, for discrete checks basically classic D&D style). Obviously you can use SC mechanics too, but they don't REALLY address this issue head on. Nor does "I swing from the chandelier rope" seem like a very good candidate for an SC.

So, I haven't really come to firm conclusions on what approach to take. Perhaps simply insuring that any 'improvised action' type of move in an 'action sequence' (more generic term for 'combat encounter') is gauged in a risk/reward manner. I just haven't sorted out how, and then that check mechanic needs to be consistent with checks used in SCs as well, so I have to consider how to rework that too.

Now it is a lot less 'a variant of d20 D&D', so is it even worth writing that game vs simply adopting some existing engine or complete system? These games are fairly tricky to get right.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
You see this very evidently when you try to do really serious action adventure with, say, 5e at most tables. Something like "I leap off the balcony, grab the rope, swing across the room, drop, and come down on the bad guy, slamming him with my legs, and then attacking with my sword!" Guess how many checks that is going to provoke in a D&D game?
I think I see an Acrobatics or Athletics check (player's choice) resolved as a Push check (and occupying the PC's move and bonus action, because it's doing two things) to knock the bad guy down. Then an attack with advantage. If the PC's a rogue, that's probably going to hurt. But I am probably what you'd call a "smart DM" and I'm very much a fan of the PCs and I am completely unafraid of the PCs doing things I hadn't anticipated (though if they start making "planning something weird" moves, I'll outright ask where they're going--I don't care if they wrongfoot the NPCs/monsters, but I don't want to be wrongfooted as the DM).

RAW, the Push is the only thing I see that needs a separate check, which, if that's a straight rogue, means they don't get a weapon attack; that's why I'd rule it the way I would.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Well, i think there's a range of possibilities when it comes to fostering this kind of play. On the one hand, at least some part of this cinematic play is straight description with nothing at stake from a mechanical perspective. That part is easy to deal with, just dont call for a roll and move along.

Things get sticky when we start talking about mechanial advantage of some kind (bonuses etc). In the chandelier example, we'd need to be specific about the stakes in order to decide how it should be handled. Is the chandelier just a clever use of terrain to bypass some mooks? If so, that's entirely within the idea of intelligent play that sits at the heart of OSR play. That shouldn't be penalized by compound rolling. My answer there would be make a Dex check for the acrobatics portion and I'd use the results of the Dex check to adjudicate the following attacks, with a range if possibilities between disadvantage and advantage, with some spots in between. That would be easier with a different mechanic, say PbtA's, but it's doable with the binary if the first check is just set up for the second. To be clear, the first roll can't fail, per se, only set you up better or worse for the following roll.

Where I start to flail about a little is once this idea gets past two rolls.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
We have talked some about plausibility. I don’t think anyone has phrased it this way, but it sounds like in blades the player is choosing which plausible outcome will occur on the success. The Dm determines the position (almost an advantage like slider). The effect part wasn’t as clear to me. I thought the player set the outcome which sounds a lot like effect to me?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
By the book, if I'm remembering right, the GM and player narrate success cooperatively as a back and forth thing.

Edit, sorry that wasn't very clear, that is how it works I just don't have the book open to quote the wording. The player has a range of options on extra successes to modify the outcome, but the GM is in charge of the mechanical side of things. Mostly the outcomes is bound, as it should be, by the nature of the action declaration and the choice of skill that was rolled.
 
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We have talked some about plausibility. I don’t think anyone has phrased it this way, but it sounds like in blades the player is choosing which plausible outcome will occur on the success. The Dm determines the position (almost an advantage like slider). The effect part wasn’t as clear to me. I thought the player set the outcome which sounds a lot like effect to me?

The player states their goal for the action. "I want to dash across this courtyard without being seen." The GM considers all the relevant factors and then says something like "The courtyard is pretty big. If you want to remain unnoticed by being as quiet and careful as possible, then you'll only make it part of the way. I'd say your position is Risky, and the Effect would be limited."

This is the GM taking the players goal and saying that they can only achieve part of that goal with a success. Their Effect will be Limited. I think one of the things to notice here is that the GM is gauging everything based on the player's stated goal.

The player has a few options at that point.

1) "What if I just run full speed and try to get across before anyone sees me? So I'm less careful, but going at full speed. What then?"

The GM might respond "Okay, so it sounds like you're trading Position for Effect. So the chance that you're noticed goes up, but you can make it all the way across. I'll say Desparate Position, Standard Effect. Go ahead and mark an XP." The player has made the action riskier....they're more likely to be noticed, but they can make it all the way in one action. Standard Effect means you should achieve what we would consider a full success. The player also gets an XP for a Desperate action.

2) Or the player can say. "Okay, Risky/Limited. I'll spend 2 stress to Push for Effect. That makes it Risky/Standard, right?" Spending 2 stress allows you to either roll an extra die as part of your roll, or allows you to increase the Effect by one stage on a success. In this case, from Limited to Standard.

In this case, the GM says, "Okay, yeah....if you Push for Effect here, then it's Risky/Standard. You can make it all the way across and you can stay pretty quiet about it, but it costs you some real effort."

3) Finally, the player may have other factors that they want considered. So they may say something like "Limited Effect? Well, I took a Light Load specifically so I'd be mobile for a situation exactly like this. Do you think that's enough to give me a shot at Standard Effect?"

The GM would consider this, and decide yes or no based on all the relevant factors. If it was me, I'd say "You took Light Load? Okay, yes, then I think you're prepared for exactly this kind of fast but silent move. Go ahead and roll with Risky/Standard."

4) The player could accept the initial statement of Position and Effect as Risky/Limited, knowing that a success will only get them partway across the coutyard, and they'll likely need another action to make it the whole way.

***

The player has various ways to provide input on the process. The GM does use their judgment to set the initial Position and Effect, but these are based on the player's stated goal. Then, once established, the player may use resources or negotiation to alter the Position and Effect, and the GM is bound by this. Whatever option from the above happens, the Position and Effect are finalized and agreed upon before the roll is made. The player can always decide not to proceed once it's all been worked out.

Then, based on the actual outcome of the roll, the player and GM discuss what happens, with the GM having final say. Very often, the outcome may be obvious based on the established fiction and the outcome of the roll.
 
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