At the Intersection of Skilled Play, System Intricacy, Prep, and Story Now

A summary of 4e's procedures on player-authored quests, would be really appreciated, at this point.
I get it is a sort of stipulation, Player declares a goal, Gm sets a reward (or XP?) based on difficulty, but then, how actual play unfolds? The Gm sets up an adventure about it? An encounter, or skill challenge?
Well, the bare rules just talk about how there are major and minor quests, and how achieving them grants XP basically just like any other reward (generally equal to a monster of your level for a minor quest, or a full encounter of your level for a major quest). The reward is granted to the party, and treasure is also rewarded. It doesn't say EXACTLY how much of this should happen, but it generally seems like its intended to represent 10-20% of XP for any given level.

In terms of the overall role of quests, etc. DMG p102 has a section (part of Chapter 6, Adventures) which provides a considerable amount of information:

1. Quests are "the fundamental story framework of an adventure" - so 4e is supposed to be BASED AROUND quests as its core architecture!
2. A list of 'quest seeds' is provided. These basically list most of the fairly common adventure motifs that you find in D&D. This indicates that basic stuff like "we need to escape from the Orcs!" IS A QUEST. So XP should be getting doled out (and treasure) based on "just having adventures" effectively.
3. An adventure normally contains three 'quest seeds', which formulate the basic quest motif of the adventure. When fleshed out these three seeds should specify the parameters of the undertaking, like 'Slay the Dragon of Weldhelm Pond and bring back its treasure!'.
4. Each quest has a level, just like encounters, but normally this will be set to the expected level of the PCs at the time of quest completion. It could be somewhat higher if it is extra difficult.
5. There are some other miscellaneous 'rules' of quest design intended to point out elements like clear goals and such that will make them more effective. The upshot is, quests are an open thing, the players, and probably the PCs, know what their goals are and have some idea of how to achieve them, or at least know to look out for such.

The system then tells us that there are Major and Minor quests. A single major quest can define an adventure, while several minor quests can form subplots, etc. It then states that "Thinking in terms of quests helps focus the adventure solidly on where it belongs; on the player characters."

Finally there is the "Player-Designed Quests" bit, which is the last subsection in the whole section. It states that the GM should 'allow and even encourage' players to 'come up with their own quests'. The GM then assigns it a level, and is admonished to 'say yes'.

So, 4e never quite completely leaves the "GM is in charge" planet, explicitly, but it is pretty clear that in terms of how it should be properly played, that players are AT LEAST allowed to generate quests, and the GM should only veto ones that are outright breaking the established fiction or genre/milieu. In a game where the participants are playing in a Narrativist mode, this procedure is adequate to establish a pattern where the players address their character's concerns by designing quests, and the GM's job is limited to framing the encounters required to actualize them in accordance with the rest of the encounter building rules, and keeping in mind the advice on constructing adventures and campaigns where it applies. You can also play in a more traditional mode where now and then a player suggests/establishes through some action or detail of background a motivation that is then elevated to the rank of quest. This would be very close to the way 2e suggests XP should work in a general sense.

So we see that 4e isn't textually committed in an explicit way to Narrativist/Story Now kind of play, but it is carefully woven into the game at multiple points such that you could play a very player-focused and directed game with very little overarching GM direction on where it goes. As with various indy games the GM will still play the key role of actually establishing each scene's details and thus challenging the PCs. One area where 4e doesn't really delve much textually is in terms of focusing this sort of thing on dramatic needs arising out of PC personality factors and such. It is highly doable, a PC at level one even, has a lot of 'hooks' inherent in their race/class/theme/background/feats/skills/power selections alone, but beyond the 'candy' of keywords and a lot of suggestive background bits that are dropped around that part is really left largely unsaid.
 

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pemerton

Legend
Wow. Excellent, thanks @AbdulAlhazred
Adding to AbdulAlhazred's summary of the DMG, there is this from the 4e PHB (p 258):

Sometimes a quest is spelled out for you at the start of an adventure. The town mayor might implore you to find the goblin raiders’ lair, or the priest of Pelor might relate the history of the Adamantine Scepter, before sending you on your quest. Other times, you figure out your quests while adventuring. Once you assemble clues you find, they might turn into new quests.

You can also, with your DM’s approval, create a quest for your character. Such a quest can tie into your character’s background. For instance, perhaps your mother is the person whose remains lie in the Fortress of the Iron Ring. Quests can also relate to individual goals, such as a ranger searching for a magic bow to wield. Individual quests give you a stake in a campaign’s unfolding story and give your DM ingredients to help develop that story.​

It's not quite Burning Wheel, but there is this underlying idea that players will set goals, or at least thematic orientations, for their PCs, and the GM will respond to this. In my own 4e GMing, I did all the encounter design, and most of the setting nitty-gritty, but followed the leads provided by the players in building their PCs and establishing goals for them. And of course this sort of thing iterates and inteweaves over the course of play - eg the Queen of Chaos and Miska the Wolf-Spider are elements that I introduce in response to both the Lolth-opposing but demonskin-wearing chaos sorcerer, and the Erathis-worshipping invoker who is trying to restore the Rod of Seven Parts.

AbdulAlhazred mentioned PC dramatic needs. In my play these didn't figure a great deal - it was closer to Ron Edwards's discussion of narrativist setting (I think the link to that is now dead, sadly). A bit like a more gonzo and less intricate version of Glorantha and the Hero Wars.
 

niklinna

Legend
Torchbearer 2 has something that looks a little bit like that, the Goal. But, your Goal has to be related to the current adventure and achievable during it. Not quite on the level of a Quest. Anyhow, you can wonder how specific a player can get with the Goal, in terms of authoring new facts into the world. Perhaps the adventure is to defeat evil goblin in their lair, and the player says their Goal is "rescue my cousin from the goblins", or "take the goblin chief's magic sword". Now we have a cousin or a magic sword being put forward by a player; you can imagine other possibilities at different levels of effect on the shared fiction, and the possibilities of gaining particular resources (relations, gear, etc.). Different GMs and groups will have different ideas about how cool that is.
 

pemerton

Legend
Torchbearer 2 has something that looks a little bit like that, the Goal. But, your Goal has to be related to the current adventure and achievable during it. Not quite on the level of a Quest. Anyhow, you can wonder how specific a player can get with the Goal, in terms of authoring new facts into the world. Perhaps the adventure is to defeat evil goblin in their lair, and the player says their Goal is "rescue my cousin from the goblins", or "take the goblin chief's magic sword". Now we have a cousin or a magic sword being put forward by a player; you can imagine other possibilities at different levels of effect on the shared fiction, and the possibilities of gaining particular resources (relations, gear, etc.). Different GMs and groups will have different ideas about how cool that is.
Right. This came up in my play.

The idea seems to be that each adventure will come with a list of suggested goals - we see this in Cartographer's Companion, for instance - but they are opt-in. When I started with the Tower of Stars, one of my players chose as his goal to learn whether or not his brother - who is his starting enemy - had visited the Tower. So this is similar to your cousin or magic sword example.

What is interesting and challenging to me as a GM is that, whereas in Burning Wheel I would no exactly how to run with that, in Torchbearer I have to integrate it with my prep. In this particular case I was easily able to make a decision about where that information could be found; but haven't yet thought about how I would pick it up and run with it in more dramatic/thematic terms.

EDIT to add:

A related example from play - in my second session, the player of the Dreamwalker PCFea-bella tried to Circles up her Elven Ranger friend. And failed. The player had included the Dream Haunted trait in the dice pool (because everyone knows that Dreamwalker's learn where their friends are via their dreams!). So I opted for a twist - in her dreams, Fea-bella saw that her (starting) enemy Megloss had captured the ranger Glothfindel while he was travelling to the Tower of Stars hoping to meet Fea-bella there.

This opens up the possibility of a new Goal for Fea-bella: I will rescue Glothfindel from Megloss.

Again, what I'm still trying to get a feel for is how this interplay of player-driven and GM-curated elements works. I know how to do it in Burning Wheel; but Torchbearer has the extra aspects of The Grind, Conditions etc which create the "skilled play" pressure, and seem to invite more GM curation in setting up the adventure site etc.

So for me it's nothing to do with "how cool it is" and more about still learning what the game's dynamics and possibilities are.
 
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Right. This came up in my play.

The idea seems to be that each adventure will come with a list of suggested goals - we see this in Cartographer's Companion, for instance - but they are opt-in. When I started with the Tower of Stars, one of my players chose as his goal to learn whether or not his brother - who is his starting enemy - had visited the Tower. So this is similar to your cousin or magic sword example.

What is interesting and challenging to me as a GM is that, whereas in Burning Wheel I would no exactly how to run with that, in Torchbearer I have to integrate it with my prep. In this particular case I was easily able to make a decision about where that information could be found; but haven't yet thought about how I would pick it up and run with it in more dramatic/thematic terms.

EDIT to add:

A related example from play - in my second session, the player of the Dreamwalker PCFea-bella tried to Circles up her Elven Ranger friend. And failed. The player had included the Dream Haunted trait in the dice pool (because everyone knows that Dreamwalker's learn where their friends are via their dreams!). So I opted for a twist - in her dreams, Fea-bella saw that her (starting) enemy Megloss had captured the ranger Glothfindel while he was travelling to the Tower of Stars hoping to meet Fea-bella there.

This opens up the possibility of a new Goal for Fea-bella: I will rescue Glothfindel from Megloss.

Again, what I'm still trying to get a feel for is how this interplay of player-driven and GM-curated elements works. I know how to do it in Burning Wheel; but Torchbearer has the extra aspects of The Grind, Conditions etc which create the "skilled play" pressure, and seem to invite more GM curation in setting up the adventure site etc.

So for me it's nothing to do with "how cool it is" and more about still learning what the game's dynamics and possibilities are.
Yeah, I was thinking about this as well WRT our play and just how much control of where the action is going can players achieve? It is uncontroversial to say that a player can introduce some fiction related to a trait which explains its invocation (positively or negatively) in respect to overcoming an obstacle, within the limits of 'not reaching'. Could the player introduce a genuinely new element for this purpose? (like say a temporary ally that appears to assist in delaying the gnolls, invoked using the 'clever' trait, as in "I took the time to prepare for something like this by using my ability, X"). Could they simply posit an entirely new fiction as a factor (some rocks fall)? Etc. And then your suggestion at a more strategic level, can the player posit new elements of a scenario by way of establishing a goal.

How DOES all that interact with and what the implications for, the carefully established adventure construction mechanics which @Manbearcat states provide a pretty precise formula for what sorts of obstacles and journeys and such combine to give a particular level of challenge. How would we work it if players use the resources mentioned to cleverly attempt to circumvent the grind? I mean, I don't think that can REALLY happen, but I'm curious just how strongly a really clever player can reshape these things so they at least fall directly within their character's wheelhouse, for example.
 

pemerton

Legend
It is uncontroversial to say that a player can introduce some fiction related to a trait which explains its invocation (positively or negatively) in respect to overcoming an obstacle, within the limits of 'not reaching'. Could the player introduce a genuinely new element for this purpose? (like say a temporary ally that appears to assist in delaying the gnolls, invoked using the 'clever' trait, as in "I took the time to prepare for something like this by using my ability, X"). Could they simply posit an entirely new fiction as a factor (some rocks fall)? Etc.
My feeling is No. At least, what you describe doesn't seem to be countenanced in the rulebooks. The trait descriptions talk about strengths and weaknesses the flow from the personality and inclinations of the PC. Maybe some of the 'magical' ones - Wizard's Sight and the like - get close to what you're suggesting here? But "close" isn't "the same place as"!

That's not to say that you're suggesting anything wrong. Just that, to me, it doesn't seem orthodox.

And then your suggestion at a more strategic level, can the player posit new elements of a scenario by way of establishing a goal.
I think this is more orthodox, because of the place of relationships in PC building, and the repeated exhortations to the GM to have regard to them in scenario design, deploying camp and town events, etc.

How DOES all that interact with and what the implications for, the carefully established adventure construction mechanics which @Manbearcat states provide a pretty precise formula for what sorts of obstacles and journeys and such combine to give a particular level of challenge.
I'm trying to answer this via the method of play! It will probably take me a while!
 

My feeling is No. At least, what you describe doesn't seem to be countenanced in the rulebooks. The trait descriptions talk about strengths and weaknesses the flow from the personality and inclinations of the PC. Maybe some of the 'magical' ones - Wizard's Sight and the like - get close to what you're suggesting here? But "close" isn't "the same place as"!

That's not to say that you're suggesting anything wrong. Just that, to me, it doesn't seem orthodox.
Right, I think the game is more firmly invested in GM management of the Grind, and thus having a fairly tight handle on what elements come into play at the obstacle (tactical) and adventure (operational) level.
I think this is more orthodox, because of the place of relationships in PC building, and the repeated exhortations to the GM to have regard to them in scenario design, deploying camp and town events, etc.
Right, so my impression is that the designers envisaged players marshaling things like allies mostly at the level of how they approach an adventure. Like when the PCs are contemplating whether they will attempt some journey, or how they will do so, that the players might at that point utilize things like circles checks in order to approach the problem with maximum chances of success, or at least a favorable cost/benefit ratio.
I'm trying to answer this via the method of play! It will probably take me a while!
Yeah, it sounded like in your play some of those circles checks and whatnot were apparent. It does strike me that you might find basic BW to be more amenable to the style of play that seems to be favored there. I mean, TB2 certainly has a sharp focus. That is good, but in terms of running a more open-ended kind of "do stuff in Greyhawk" it might not ultimately do all of what you want, lol. It seems like it may be better though for quicker one-shot sort of stuff where you'd like to have the PCs on the spot in a pretty straightforward way right off.

I wonder if it might be interesting to start off a TB2 adventure in media res, just toss it out there, like "OK, goblins burned your village, survive the trip to Busy Crossroads, have fun!" lol.
 

niklinna

Legend
Right, so my impression is that the designers envisaged players marshaling things like allies mostly at the level of how they approach an adventure. Like when the PCs are contemplating whether they will attempt some journey, or how they will do so, that the players might at that point utilize things like circles checks in order to approach the problem with maximum chances of success, or at least a favorable cost/benefit ratio.
This is very much an explicit part of town phase—recruiting helpers of various kinds to accompany you on your perilous adventure.

If you can afford it.
 

This is very much an explicit part of town phase—recruiting helpers of various kinds to accompany you on your perilous adventure.

If you can afford it.
Right, it doesn't seem like the rules really come out against a player trying to invoke a circles check out in the field, but I'd be surprised if it would be successful unless you're really lucky, though obviously things might be different if there was some logical reason why it might be likely (IE prearranged meeting, known hangout, some means of contacting the NPC, portents or similar).

This is different from some games. Like in my HoML game you could literally use your disposition towards Fate to invoke a relationship with an NPC or PC and specify that they show up, though you will still have to provide some sort of fictional explanation (though it is acceptable to do that in the form of a retcon). It is obviously a more explicitly Story Now sort of game!
 

pemerton

Legend
it doesn't seem like the rules really come out against a player trying to invoke a circles check out in the field
Agreed. This came up in my second session: a player wanted to Circles while still in the Adventure Phase, and I insisted on waiting until Town Phase.

A complexity I haven't resolved yet is that you get visit a Town Friend at-will during Town Phase, but the rules are much less clear on how Adventurer Friends are meant to work. Given that, as per PC gen, Fea-bella had last seen her Ranger friend Glothfindell in a northern forest, and the PCs were in Stoink well south of there, Fea-bella's player didn't object to needing to Circles him up; but I am thinking about how to provide some sort of reward/benefit for the friendship in the next session that helps reflect its place as a component of build.

There's other stuff I'm still making sense of, where I would like the rules to be a bit more explicit. Eg as far as I can tell, the function of the Cartographer role in a journey isn't to make Cartography easier or harder per se (although that is what actual language in the LMM tends to suggest) but rather to permit a Cartographer test to be made during the Adventure Phase (in exchange for paying some toll) - ie it is not about how easy or hard the test is, but about manipulating the action economy. Thor, I'd love you to have just come out and told us!
 
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Agreed. This came up in my second session: a player wanted to Circles while still in the Adventure Phase, and insisted on waiting until Town Phase.

A complexity I haven't resolved yet is that you get visit a Town Friend at-will during Town Phase, but the rules are much less clear on how Adventurer Friends are meant to work. Given that, as per PC gen, Fea-bella had last seen her Ranger friend Glothfindell in a northern forest, and the PCs were in Stoink well south of there, Fea-bella's player didn't object to needing to Circles him up; but I am thinking about how to provide some sort of reward/benefit for the friendship in the next session that helps reflect its place as a component of build.
Yeah, my current character in @Manbearcat's game, Awanye, has a 'Friend: Redband the Wizard' on my sheet (I picked that name, but not with any specific reasoning in mind). Given that the NPC is designated as a 'wizard' I am treating it as an adventuring friend. Given that my character is an elf ranger, and the elves have been MIA for like 100 years, I don't even actually know how it is POSSIBLE to have a 'Wizard' as a friend, but I guess I'll find out... lol. None of us has really messed with Circles, yet!
There's other stuff I'm still making sense of, where I would like the rules to be a bit more explicit. Eg as far as I can tell, the function of the Cartographer role in a journey isn't to make Cartography easier or harder per se (although that is what actual language in the LMM tends to suggest) but rather to permit a Cartographer test to be made during the Adventure Phase (in exchange for paying some toll) - ie it is not about how easy or hard the test is, but about manipulating the action economy. Thor, I'd love you to have just come out and told us!
Hmmmm, so we have been using Cartographer, Jasper has it, and the process has simply been for each leg that we tick off a grind and he checks to see if he made an accurate map of that leg. The theory being we can obviate any checks/toll on the way back. It seems like a kind of logical process, we're adding to the grind now in order to make our later return trip safer (since we presume we will have to drag our half dead arses back the way we came).
 

niklinna

Legend
There's other stuff I'm still making sense of, where I would like the rules to be a bit more explicit. Eg as far as I can tell, the function of the Cartographer role in a journey isn't to make Cartography easier or harder per se (although that is what actual language in the LMM tends to suggest) but rather to permit a Cartographer test to be made during the Adventure Phase (in exchange for paying some toll) - ie it is not about how easy or hard the test is, but about manipulating the action economy. Thor, I'd love you to have just come out and told us!
This is how @Manbearcat is handling Cartographer for our group. Basically after every significant test that ticks the Grind, we have the option to map that bit of the journey. It keeps the Obstacle level low, since I'm always mapping just the last little bit, but mapping every stage would advance the Grind twice as fast as normal on the way to the adventure destination—yet another tradeoff! So we have to decide if it's worth streamlining our exit path, and that's also assuming we'll be going out the way we went in.

edit: scooped!
 

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