Approaches to prep in RPGing - GMs, players, and what play is *about*

And where your game lands on the fault line of either of those pivot points is going to create a matrix for play which works out as a dichotomy.

If you're a 5e table and your (i) GM decides unilaterally what happens and what operationalizes that happening is (i) the GM's particular conception of naturalistic causal logic and extrapolation of setting then your table experience is going to be quite different than if you're a 5e table and your table decides by (ii) some manner of negotiated consensus what happens and what operationalizes that happening is (ii) what creates the best story outcomes for the most participants at the table.

And if you mix and match (i) and (ii) (either arbitrarily and opaquely or via declared organized principles and transparently so), then that formulation will create a very different experience than either of the two above.
You know, I think all I wanted was someone to say exactly that.

Cheers!
 

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You know, I think all I wanted was someone to say exactly that.

Cheers!

I’m not sure if you’re telling me what I wrote was helpful or…something else?

Regardless though, the nature of GM’s prep (amount and type) and their employment of that prep is going to be quite different (leading to a very divergent play experience for both players and GMs) in the above configurations, right?
 

Okay...

And?

I mean, yes, if I'm playing Bushido, Pendragon, Burning Wheel, or Vampire: the Masquerade the precise game definitions are important. If I'm playing D&D with an honor system addon the precise definition is important.
I think the assertion here is that a declaration of a belief, say in Burning Wheel, is a proposition, not an assertion of fact about the character. If I were to say put forward the belief "I am loyal to the king" and then I'm also an officer of the kingdom, owing a duty to the kingdom as a whole, how loyal am I to the man on the throne? More loyal than I am responsible to my office? In a D&D game a character can be absolutely lawful good, and the GM can tell you "this is lawful good behavior" even if it isn't obvious to the player which that is. In Burning Wheel the character will simply test their belief, its not a fact about them, its really a QUESTION "am I totally loyal to the king?" Well, lets find out! D&D isn't even TRYING to test your alignment, its just a thing about your character. The fact that going against it requires mechanical punishment to ENFORCE IT tells us all we need to know! Granted, 5e has a bit different approach to it, the expectation is STILL that alignment is an indicator of how the PC WILL ACT, not a question to be answered about who they are.
 

soviet

Hero
I think the assertion here is that a declaration of a belief, say in Burning Wheel, is a proposition, not an assertion of fact about the character. If I were to say put forward the belief "I am loyal to the king" and then I'm also an officer of the kingdom, owing a duty to the kingdom as a whole, how loyal am I to the man on the throne? More loyal than I am responsible to my office? In a D&D game a character can be absolutely lawful good, and the GM can tell you "this is lawful good behavior" even if it isn't obvious to the player which that is. In Burning Wheel the character will simply test their belief, its not a fact about them, its really a QUESTION "am I totally loyal to the king?" Well, lets find out! D&D isn't even TRYING to test your alignment, its just a thing about your character. The fact that going against it requires mechanical punishment to ENFORCE IT tells us all we need to know! Granted, 5e has a bit different approach to it, the expectation is STILL that alignment is an indicator of how the PC WILL ACT, not a question to be answered about who they are.
Agreed. Ultimately if you are playing a paladin with a code of honour in D&D and the GM spent half of every session poking at it and seeing if you will break or subvert the code, or imposing harsh consequences on you or those you love for sticking to it... you'd probably think that GM was being a dick. But in a narrativist game you might think the GM was being a dick if they didn't do that because they'd be neglecting your intended theme.

In a D&D game you would normally expect your paladin with a code of honour to stay a paladin with a code of honour for the whole of the campaign. And if it did change for a while, for the status quo to be restored not long after. Whereas again in a narr game that paladin with a code of honour is likely to be very different after X sessions of play - to have either breached their code or have paid a very heavy cost for not doing so.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Agreed. Ultimately if you are playing a paladin with a code of honour in D&D and the GM spent half of every session poking at it and seeing if you will break or subvert the code, or imposing harsh consequences on you or those you love for sticking to it... you'd probably think that GM was being a dick. But in a narrativist game you might think the GM was being a dick if they didn't do that because they'd be neglecting your intended theme.

In a D&D game you would normally expect your paladin with a code of honour to stay a paladin with a code of honour for the whole of the campaign. And if it did change for a while, for the status quo to be restored not long after. Whereas again in a narr game that paladin with a code of honour is likely to be very different after X sessions of play - to have either breached their code or have paid a very heavy cost for not doing so.

I think that comparing these two kinds of play, it’s clear there’s a starker line between GM and player in one than in the other. As you suggest, in D&D, the character and just about everything about them is up to the player, while the setting and everything about it is up to the GM.

But narrative type games blur that line. The players have more say about the setting, and the GM has more say about the characters; specifically is meant to challenge the characters’ concepts rather than just give players space to express their chosen concept.

Neither is better than the other, beyond preference, but they are certainly distinct.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I think that comparing these two kinds of play, it’s clear there’s a starker line between GM and player in one than in the other. As you suggest, in D&D, the character and just about everything about them is up to the player, while the setting and everything about it is up to the GM.

But narrative type games blur that line. The players have more say about the setting, and the GM has more say about the characters; specifically is meant to challenge the characters’ concepts rather than just give players space to express their chosen concept.

Neither is better than the other, beyond preference, but they are certainly distinct.
It's also true that the Paladin's code of honour in D&D is filling a very different mechanical/narrative niche than beliefs in BW. Poking at beliefs works in BW because it's designed to (and BW is nothing if not elegantly designed). The Paladin's code, by comparison, is more like a bothersome ribbon in terms of character.
 

niklinna

učim hrvatski
It's also true that the Paladin's code of honour in D&D is filling a very different mechanical/narrative niche than beliefs in BW. Poking at beliefs works in BW because it's designed to (and BW is nothing if not elegantly designed). The Paladin's code, by comparison, is more like a bothersome ribbon in terms of character.
Now you've got me imagining if, instead of recharging on a short or long rest, a 5e paladin's powers recharged only when they did a noble or pious deed.
 

Bagpuss

Legend
Agreed. Ultimately if you are playing a paladin with a code of honour in D&D and the GM spent half of every session poking at it and seeing if you will break or subvert the code, or imposing harsh consequences on you or those you love for sticking to it... you'd probably think that GM was being a dick. But in a narrativist game you might think the GM was being a dick if they didn't do that because they'd be neglecting your intended theme.

In a D&D game you would normally expect your paladin with a code of honour to stay a paladin with a code of honour for the whole of the campaign. And if it did change for a while, for the status quo to be restored not long after. Whereas again in a narr game that paladin with a code of honour is likely to be very different after X sessions of play - to have either breached their code or have paid a very heavy cost for not doing so.

That's perhaps true but it doesn't need to be. I played a Paladin in a recent 1st Ed Pathfinder campaign that routinely visited brothels between adventures (which was totally legal in the setting). The GM acting through the NPCs Mayor of the town and head of the local church that he followed, constantly challenged him on it, saying it was bringing the church into disrepute, not behaviour fitting of a paladin. It allowed my Paladin to have a religious debate with him. At no point did the DM go "This isn't Lawful Good, you loose your Paladin status", but it was challenged in character.
 

I’m not sure if you’re telling me what I wrote was helpful or…something else?
Oh, it was helpful. My apologies for being unclear, no hidden meaning or snark intended.

Regardless though, the nature of GM’s prep (amount and type) and their employment of that prep is going to be quite different (leading to a very divergent play experience for both players and GMs) in the above configurations, right?
Maybe.

There seems to be an assumption that preparation for a game / setting is necessarily onerous. Also, that the play experiences are necessarily divergent. I don't think it needs to be. Now, it may be unusual that the players at my game can make whatever character they want and have full permission to "break" the world I have created. There have been many changes over the years, and they can "see behind the curtain" enough that they can author changes which then unfold. A delight we share is when current players encounter aspects that were authored by players past.

I mean, is it "setting tourism" if you encounter something authored by someone else than the DM?

I think the assertion here is that a declaration of a belief, say in Burning Wheel, is a proposition, not an assertion of fact about the character. If I were to say put forward the belief "I am loyal to the king" and then I'm also an officer of the kingdom, owing a duty to the kingdom as a whole, how loyal am I to the man on the throne? More loyal than I am responsible to my office?
I think this is an excellent question to play through, and really doesn't matter what system you're playing in. It is easier when there is a formal means of contesting ideals, certainly. In Burning Wheel the player certainly has 3-6 specific things that are to be directly challenged, where in other systems the player may not be expecting to be challenged over what is little more than "color". Again, communication is key, especially so that it isn't unexpected.

Sometimes people play paladins so they have a fighter+, not because they want to be an ethical chew-toy. Sometimes they do. It depends.

Part of the reason I acquired Burning Wheel, and will eventually acquire Apocalypse World, is to see what the magic is that you, pemerton, et al., are talking about. My games are larger affairs, 6-8 players on average, and we seem to have a blend of map-and-key and narrative styles. Some of my players aren't really interested in more narrative aspects, some are. Things that I see in narrative story hours I have experienced in my own game. I didn't design for it, but it seems to be an emergent property. Anyway, I'm reading these other games to learn about some mechanics that might otherwise improve the game I am currently running.

That was probably all over the place. Distracted.
 

pemerton

Legend
Why? 5e doesn't handle alignment in a classical manner. Among other reasons, that's why it is false.
I don't follow. @soviet asserts that there's a difference between X and Y. The fact that a particular game might be Y rather than X doesn't show there's no difference!

But also, the fact that 5e D&D doesn't exemplify its X-ness via the particular mode I described doesn't show it's not X. My overwhelming impression is that 5e D&D, as actually played, is mostly a version of exemplifying the idea of the character, not challenging the idea of the character.

not only are there several oaths for paladins there is explicitly an oath for the oathbreakers.

<snip>

If the character is honorable, then the milieu responds to that according to the worldbuilding / setting, be it reinforcement or challenge. And the challenge could be how do you deal with betrayal or dishonorable people.
Oathbreaker paladins are not part of a system for challenging the idea of the character. They're a method for giving mechanical expression to the idea of a fallen paladin.

And the idea of the milieu responding to a character is all about the content of the fiction. Whereas @soviet's contrast is not about the content of the fiction, but about the purpose and the focus of play.

I mean, yes, if I'm playing Bushido, Pendragon, Burning Wheel, or Vampire: the Masquerade the precise game definitions are important. If I'm playing D&D with an honor system addon the precise definition is important.
The RPGs you mention are all examples of @soviet's X (ie "exemplifying the idea of the character").

None of them is a RPG widely used to play a game of "challenge the idea of the character" - they could be drifted in that direction, but the drifting will reveal the mechanical limits of their frameworks.

Ultimately, I think that the order of Worldbuilding / Setting => Character or Character => Worldbuilding / Setting is irrelevant. The key part is Character => Situation. I need to know what kind of game my players want. Presumably, they will make their characters in accord with that desire and will seek out those situations appropriately.
The idea of "seeking out situations" already shows the difference that you deny. In Burning Wheel (or Apocalypse World) there is no "seeking out situations".
 

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