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

Nobody is "demanding" anything. So please don't push that narrative.

The point has merit, in that it speaks to what you're trying to do - sell someone on a game, or teach them about a game.
You're exceedingly wrong about what's going on in the OP, and in this thread. This isn't about selling or teaching someone a game. As usual, you're coming at this from a familiar perspective—justify the existence of non-trad games. There's no need to do that, but you love to call for it, and wonder why people aren't doing it every time non-trad games come up.
Again, what's the goal? Selling someone on a game, or teaching them about a game? If the latter, then it isn't a digression.

Again, selling and teaching are not the goals of the OP or thread. You're showing your priors, and your biases, and risking derailing the thread with what you think it should be about. It's not helpful.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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I think the goal of this thread is set out fairly clearly in the OP. It's to discuss what happens when prep for RPGing is based around player-built PCs rather than GM-built setting.

Fair point. However, if you are talking about techniques for doing this, you should speak about both the strengths and difficulties with the techniques, right? If you are turning to systems to cover the issue, the same should hold, no?

The OP does take as a premise that this is possible. For the simple reason that it's been done, by me and by many other RPGers.

Of course it is possible! It isn't even all that hard, in my opinion. It seems to me that the most difficult thing about doing it is in embracing the mindset that can be a bit alien to traditional gamers.

In the real world, GMs can have as much invested in their settings as players have in their characters. Many GMs have pride in those settings. Getting GMs to focus on things that aren't currently their source of pride isn't trivial, and this aspect of it should not be overlooked.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Again, selling and teaching are not the goals of the OP or thread. You're showing your priors, and your biases, and risking derailing the thread with what you think it should be about. It's not helpful.

Priors? As if I've been convicted? Really?

I betcha that if you listed what you thought my biases are, you'd largely be wrong. But that's okay.

My goal in raising the point is to enhance the ability to understand the fullness of techniques and games. The broader view is a tool in enabling people to try different things in an intelligent way. Otherwise, you risk them having a bad experience when they do try them, and then they develop undeserved biases.

Basically, if you never mention the negative things, you set folks up to fail when they run into those things unprepared.

All that said, if folks don't find the point something they don't want to address, that's fine. Just talk about what you want to talk about.
 

pemerton

Legend
In the real world, GMs can have as much invested in their settings as players have in their characters. Many GMs have pride in those settings. Getting GMs to focus on things that aren't currently their source of pride isn't trivial, and this aspect of it should not be overlooked.
The thread isn't about how to overcome troublesome emotions. It begins from the premise that people, using whatever methods of self-control and self-cultivation they prefer, are able to achieve that.

It's about some particular RPG techniques, which - so the OP posits, based on experience - are useful for achieving certain goals that I see mentioned from time to time, including in some threads and by some posters that the OP mentions.

if you are talking about techniques for doing this, you should speak about both the strengths and difficulties with the techniques, right?
I don't think the techniques have any generic "difficulties".

If someone wants to ask, say, What's a good way to get creative PC building? we can talk about that, maybe with references to particular approaches (eg we could compare Burning Wheel's Lifepaths to Wuthering Heights' Problems Table to Dungeon World's Bonds and Alignments).

If someone wants to ask, say, How do I as GM create situations that flow from, and engage, multiple characters? we can talk about that, perhaps contrasting (say) Marvel Heroic RP and its Affiliations with Apocalypse World and its preference for character triangles.

Etc.
 

pemerton

Legend
Priors? As if I've been convicted? Really?
I believe you've misread. I think that "priors" is meant to refer to prior credences or perhaps more generally to the beliefs that you are bringing to the conversation prior to considering the evidence and reasons adduced in the conversation. That is, the term is being taken from the theory of rational belief rather than the theory of sentencing and criminal evidence.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
RPGing needs "stuff" - fiction. The things we are all imagining together when we play.

Some of this stuff is characters. Some of it is setting - where the characters are, the history of that place, etc. Some of it is situation - ie what is happening right here and now that will prompt the players to declare actions for their characters.

A lot of discussion of RPGing - especially when framed through ideas like "the dungeon" or "the adventure" - makes some assumptions about this stuff that aren't always brought to the surface.

It's often assumed that setting is primary - the place that the characters will be exploring and acting in. (In D&D and kindred systems this leads to very precise rule about searching for hidden things, opening doors, etc.) With setting taken as primary, it is then often assumed that situation will flow from setting - eg the players will have their PCs go somewhere, or open a door, or confront a NPC, and that will trigger/enliven the situation.

These assumptions then feed a further one: that setting needs to be prepared by the GM, so that (i) players have a relatively "concrete" thing to explore via their PCs, and so that (ii) the situations that are latent in it arise "fairly" for the players (ie based on how they go about exploring the setting) rather than in an arbitrary fashion, at the GM's whim.

These assumptions about setting prep as a GM responsibility, how setting prep feed into situation, and how this relates to "fairness" in play, and also how it relates to play being interesting or boring, then feed into standard discussions about sandboxes, railroading, etc.

For those RPGers who are interested in player-driven RPGing - @innerdude starts threads about this from time to time, and @Yora had a recent thread on it - one approach is to drop these assumptions about prep.

Instead of the setting as the source of situation, look to the character as the source of situation. So responsibility for prep shifts from the GM (with their setting) to the player (with their character). The player needs to set up a character that has hooks - backstory, goals and commitments, relationships, etc - from which situation naturally flows. This player prep (which need not be particularly onerous) provides the content and context that the GM draws on to frame situations and consequences. On this approach, setting - rather than being primary - becomes a secondary or tertiary concern: it is a byproduct of the creation of characters and the framing of them into situations.

Play becomes unequivocally about these characters, rather than about this setting.

(I'm also tagging @hawkeyefan because of some things he posted recently about playing in The Temple of Elemental Evil.)
It might be that there is a third case to call out. Eliding for brevity, you have these two
  • GM prep of setting - where situation flows from setting
  • Player prep of character - where situation flows from character
A third case could be
  • Designer prep of rules - where situation flows from rules
In this third case the latency and fairness of situations, (where latency includes inspiration for them), are algorithmic. Settings and characters may be implied by the rules, but are unstated until players follow those rules to create them. It might then be right to say that play becomes about those implied characters in that implied setting. When the group decide what to say next, they look at what they have said and what the system says.

I think as well there are a range of interesting cases formed from combinations of the above. Possibly that's usual, seeing as characters are seldom - say anything at all you like - but rather - say things that describe characters from the Gilded Age, or whatever.
 

I betcha that if you listed what you thought my biases are, you'd largely be wrong. But that's okay.
I'm talking about a pattern of responses to threads that are about non-trad games.

Basically, if you never mention the negative things, you set folks up to fail when they run into those things unprepared.

All that said, if folks don't find the point something they don't want to address, that's fine. Just talk about what you want to talk about.
The implication here—as in past responses of yours to these kinds of threads—is that part of having this sort of discussion is to evangelize or really to assuage by ensuring anyone reading that non-trad games aren't perfect. No one's ever saying that they're perfect. That's not the point, and not relevant.

But my point in responding to you was to try to stop things from getting derailed as they usually do, and I'm probably making that worse, so I'll stop engaging with you in this thread.
 
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pemerton

Legend
if you never mention the negative things, you set folks up to fail when they run into those things unprepared.
I don't think this is true.

An analogy: the downside to doing things myself, rather than hiring a professional, is that the job will be shoddy. Generally that's self-evident. I don't need a youtube video on (say) how to change a washer to remind me of this risk. I need it to clearly show me how to change a washer for my type of tap (faucet) in my type of setting (eg a bathroom sink, or set into the wall of a shower).

So in the case of RPGing techniques, I think what is most useful is trying to talk about how they can be done. For instance, we can talk about different ways of undertaking prep, as this thread tries to!
 

pemerton

Legend
Here's a thought - a tip, if you like - that builds on the OP.

To run a game based on character => situation => setting, rather than the more mainstream setting => situation, let go of setting prep.

Really let it go.

For instance, with your NPCs: conceive of them in their relationship to the character as a presence in the situation - perhaps the NPC is asking for something, or offering something, or forbidding the PC from doing something. If the NPC is taken from the build of a character - eg the character build lists them as a rival - then the NPC's initial role in the situation might be obvious. Otherwise that role might be invented by the GM, either because it seems fun and/or appropriate (Given the sort of thing you've described your PC as doing, it makes sense that someone approaches them and asks them their what their business is here on the docks among the warehouses) or because it follows as a consequence for action resolution (Given that you just failed your Inconspicuous check, it makes sense that a burly bruiser type comes up to you and tells you "We don't want you hanging about - why don't you make yourself scarce!").

Then resolve the situation, using the tools the game gives you, and construct your setting in response to that - eg suppose that the situation is the one of the bruiser telling the PC to make themself scarce, and then the player declares action which successfully reduce the NPC to a weeping, quivering wreck, perhaps the NPC starts babbling about their family, and how the PC should spare them because otherwise "How will my family make a living?"

In building these elements of setting, have regard to how they can interact with the prepared characters to create new situations. Eg the example I just gave will work especially well if the character includes an element - say, a Belief in Burning Wheel or a Milestone in Marvel Heroic RP or an Alignment in Dungeon World - that means that looking after innocent families, or scorning family relationships, is salient to them. Suppose, on the other hand, you have a character who doesn't have that sort of element but has one that is about honour, it might be better not to construct some setting around the NPC, but rather to have the weeping, quivering NPC plead for their own life, thus provoking the player of the character concerned with honour to respond to this display of dishonour.

(Full disclosure and acknowledgement: for me, the clearest and most influential statement I have come across of the approach to NPCs I've just described is from Paul Czege, here.)

Notice that the approach to NPCs I've just described will only work if you have some technique for resolving PC-NPC interactions other than extrapolation, by the GM, from their pre-established backstory for the NPC. This is one way in which mechanical details of systems, and differences between them, can become quite interesting.
 

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