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An example where granular resolution based on setting => situation didn't work

pemerton

Legend
This thread is a sequel to these two: Approaches to prep in RPGing - GMs, players, and what play is about and Space and time in RPG setting and situation.

The example scenario is one I was remembering a couple of days ago, although it was one that I actually GMed around 30 years ago. The system was Rolemaster. The PCs were high level wizards (one was a F/MU) - mechanically RM spell-users are a bit different from D&D ones (in particular, every spell casting requires a roll, with a risk of spell failure) but their in fiction capabilities are comparable.

For reasons that are now a bit hazy, the PCs wanted to explore Tovag Baragu, the mysterious standing stones in the Baklun desert in the World of Greyhawk. The PCs teleported there, and then used magic to create a great pit that they were using to search for something-or-other that might be there. And then Paynim nomads arrived on the scene. The PCs hid themselves by creating a cover over the pit, which stopped the Baklun riders from finding them.

In principle, this should have been a dramatic scene (and I find it fairly easy to imagine a cinematic rendition that made it so): the riders wheeling to and fro on their horses, looking for the intruders into their sacred and magical place; the PCs beneath their hastily-conjured shelter, hoping to find the whatever-it-was and teleport out before they're discovered.

But in practice it fizzled, because RM has no principled way of resolving this sort of scene. (It can do some scene- or near-scene-resolution, especially for social situations, but not for this sort of thing.) Nearly everything turns on the GM's decision about how thorough the nomads will be in their search; whether one of those present knows and casts a Detect Magic-type spell while in the right area; whether they notice the different feel of the conjured floor beneath the hooves of their horses, compared to the natural terrain; etc. But resolving by way of GM decision-making is almost the opposite of dramatic!

Since then, I've become familiar with the appropriate techniques for resolving this sort of thing: although the technical details are different, I could imagine this as 4e D&D skill challenge (where the PCs accrue successes by succeeding at actions that gather their information, maintain their hiding place, or befuddle the riders above them), or as a MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic Action Scene (where the players end the scene having eliminated both the Pursued by Paynims and We Need to Find It scene distinctions), or in In A Wicked Age (contests of Covertly and For Myself vs Manoeuvring by the nomads), or as linked tests supporting a vs test in Burning Wheel. A less scene-based but still exciting approach would be Acting Under Fire in Apoclaypse World. (In that case replace the nomads with a rival bikie gang, and imagine the standing stones as an pre-Apocalypse installation.)

This example is a practical illustration of two things:

*There are many sorts of situation, such as the one I've described, which in principle can make for fun and exciting RPGing, but which will not be best established via a technique of PCs-going-to-place-X activates situation Y as per the GM's prep;

*Space-and-time focused resolution frameworks, which were invented for dealing with dungeon exploration where the environment is largely static and the PCs are the principle instigators of action, are not well-suited to other sorts of fictions.​
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
This example is a practical illustration of two things:

*There are many sorts of situation, such as the one I've described, which in principle can make for fun and exciting RPGing, but which will not be best established via a technique of PCs-going-to-place-X activates situation Y as per the GM's prep;​
*Space-and-time focused resolution frameworks, which were invented for dealing with dungeon exploration where the environment is largely static and the PCs are the principle instigators of action, are not well-suited to other sorts of fictions.​

I can see what you mean in the second point.

However, your discussion doesn't seem to address how the scene was established, so the first point seems unsupported.
 

I can see what you mean in the second point.

However, your discussion doesn't seem to address how the scene was established, so the first point seems unsupported.
Yeah, we'll have to disagree there as the first point is not about how the scene was established, it's about what the scene does. The problem was the lack of any mechanism/process/principle beyond GM fiat to determine what happens next. For example a 4e skill challenge would have been helpful here.
 

Imaro

Legend
Yeah, we'll have to disagree there as the first point is not about how the scene was established, it's about what the scene does. The problem was the lack of any mechanism/process/principle beyond GM fiat to determine what happens next. For example a 4e skill challenge would have been helpful here.
Sooo... Rolemaster doesn't have any type of resolution system that could be applied? Its just all fiat? This seems...odd.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I don't really see a problem here, nor the proof you're holding out. The need for the GM to define the NPC capabilities, and then to make decisions acting as them isn't unique to this situation, nor any more or less problematic here than it is anywhere else.

It's a professional responsibility for the GM to separate their function as the worldbuilding creator of those NPCs, where the determination of whether they have magic detecting capabilities is made and as the motivating force behind their decision making, where the choice about where and how that capability is deployed are made, but it's not even strictly necessary. The GM could be using a module or set of prepared NPCs they didn't actually create themselves, resolving the need for that professional separation in this particular instance.

After that, I don't really see a problem with the nomads deploying the search/tracking mechanics (presuming the game has them) and/or deploying magical abilities to that end (if they have some reason to presume the PCs have and/or will use magic). Those are pretty reasonable judgement calls to be made from the perspective of the NPCs in question.

Whether or not the situation is "dramatic" is not, as far as I am concerned, a question the game mechanics are supposed to answer. They seem perfectly capable of answering the question they are for, "what happens next?" by taking in all the inputs from each action in the situation and determining the outcome.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Yeah, we'll have to disagree there as the first point is not about how the scene was established, it's about what the scene does.

I wasn't really looking for your agreement or disagreement. But, if you desire to insert yourself...

"There are many sorts of situation, such as the one I've described, which in principle can make for fun and exciting RPGing, but which will not be best established via a technique of PCs-going-to-place-X activates situation Y as per the GM's prep."

That's the point in question, quoted in full, emphasis mine. He makes a direct and explicit assertion of what techniques are best to establish the scene, so, I think he's talking about how the scene was established. If that was not what that point was about, why is it half the text?

How is this point about what the scene does, when, beyond "fun and exciting RPGing" the point does not reference what the scene does?
 

Sooo... Rolemaster doesn't have any type of resolution system that could be applied? Its just all fiat? This seems...odd.
@pemerton is the authority here, his OP said no. I'd expect there are possible approaches, like saves, or something, but it is unlikely to be a clear process. Part of the reason for this is that games like RM or AD&D adjudicate action and situation, and there's no way to make such a game complete. 4e adds a way to adjudicate in a goal centered way, so it can be applied to basically any meaningful situation.
 

As you probably recall from my occasional posts, I am most experienced with GURPS and its various offshoots. It is, I think, rooted in the same tradition as Rolemaster and D&D, with GM prep establishing the setting and events that may be "activated" by PC actions. (There have been strides in recent years to accommodate wider varieties of play.)

In thinking about your Rolemaster example, I'm trying to imagine how I might run that today using GURPS. I think I would divide the scene into a few smaller, opportunities for characters to take meaningful action. (A bit like a 4e skill challenge.) I might, for example, have the party overhear the riders talking above. Do they have someone who might understand the language? Or a magical means of doing so? If so, they might hear them calling for a shaman to come test for magical interlopers. If not, they would have to guess based on the snippets that they hear (including, perhaps, the shaman approaching, chanting and shaking his staff). Or they might hear a horse's hooves echoing on the cover. Do they try to create a distraction? Prepare for battle? Perhaps plan a ruse (an illusion of a Baklun deity rising from the pit...) Etc.

Each choice would likely be resolved with skill rolls against pertinent abilities, whether mundane or magical, with consequences and further opportunities for action emerging from the particulars. I think it could play out to be fairly dramatic. I can think of similar nail-biter moments in recent game sessions.

Admittedly, this does require plenty of GM fiat, and no amount of pre-planning could account for all the possibilities. This isn't to say that other systems couldn't manage a similarly dramatic scene using entirely different mechanisms.

*There are many sorts of situation, such as the one I've described, which in principle can make for fun and exciting RPGing, but which will not be best established via a technique of PCs-going-to-place-X activates situation Y as per the GM's prep;

I am not sure I understand this point.

*Space-and-time focused resolution frameworks, which were invented for dealing with dungeon exploration where the environment is largely static and the PCs are the principle instigators of action, are not well-suited to other sorts of fictions.

I agree. I attempt to manage this by keeping the setting focus loose and a bit blurry for most situations. The exact ranges of spells and whatnot don't matter when we're in a broader story mode. Things can be more fun if they flow from the descriptions and die rolls. (I love using margin-of-success and failure to guide the story.) For players who like the tactical combat mini-game, I'm happy to drop into fully particularized combat when the second-by-second drama is the ideal focus. I think of that a bit like "bullet time" in The Matrix. For other groups and genres, even combat can remain a bit fuzzy.
 

As you probably recall from my occasional posts, I am most experienced with GURPS and its various offshoots. It is, I think, rooted in the same tradition as Rolemaster and D&D, with GM prep establishing the setting and events that may be "activated" by PC actions. (There have been strides in recent years to accommodate wider varieties of play.)

In thinking about your Rolemaster example, I'm trying to imagine how I might run that today using GURPS. I think I would divide the scene into a few smaller, opportunities for characters to take meaningful action. (A bit like a 4e skill challenge.) I might, for example, have the party overhear the riders talking above. Do they have someone who might understand the language? Or a magical means of doing so? If so, they might hear them calling for a shaman to come test for magical interlopers. If not, they would have to guess based on the snippets that they hear (including, perhaps, the shaman approaching, chanting and shaking his staff). Or they might hear a horse's hooves echoing on the cover. Do they try to create a distraction? Prepare for battle? Perhaps plan a ruse (an illusion of a Baklun deity rising from the pit...) Etc.

Each choice would likely be resolved with skill rolls against pertinent abilities, whether mundane or magical, with consequences and further opportunities for action emerging from the particulars. I think it could play out to be fairly dramatic. I can think of similar nail-biter moments in recent game sessions.

Admittedly, this does require plenty of GM fiat, and no amount of pre-planning could account for all the possibilities. This isn't to say that other systems couldn't manage a similarly dramatic scene using entirely different mechanisms.



I am not sure I understand this point.



I agree. I attempt to manage this by keeping the setting focus loose and a bit blurry for most situations. The exact ranges of spells and whatnot don't matter when we're in a broader story mode. Things can be more fun if they flow from the descriptions and die rolls. (I love using margin-of-success and failure to guide the story.) For players who like the tactical combat mini-game, I'm happy to drop into fully particularized combat when the second-by-second drama is the ideal focus. I think of that a bit like "bullet time" in The Matrix. For other groups and genres, even combat can remain a bit fuzzy.
This all sounds good. I think the reason I like stuff like 4e SC is that it reduces the judgement part to picking a complexity. From there on out running it can be pretty much by the book. I could also see something like Cortex+ scene distinctions or FitD clocks there too. All can done on the fly.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
So the PC create a barrier over the top of them, the NPCs are searching?

I dont recall RM mechanics but youre saying the spell to create the cover doesnt suggest a DC for the Paynim to overcome? (Ie Players have established a situation, DM is responding) Or conversely the Paynim presence doesnt trigger the PCs to do something? (even if the choice is to ‘wait it out’ thats still players choice)
 

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