Beginning to Doubt That RPG Play Can Be Substantively "Character-Driven"

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Sorry to snip; this is what I'm responding to.

I'd like to think I gave FATE a fair try, over a year-ish of play. I'm not sure how much of my gradual-then-abrupt frustration with the system was about the other players at the table, and how much of it was me, and how much of it was ... shrinkological badness that doesn't seem particularly relevant to this conversation. At this point, I think what I'd start with is that it seems to me to call for a more adversarial approach to GMing than I'm happy with, from either side of the (metaphorical) screen, which doesn't seem to me as though it'd be conducive to the trust I think is necessary between player and GM. I don't see how you can pick an aspect (let alone a trouble) if you don't trust the GM not to hose you with it.
No problem, I definitely don't want to seem like I'm saying you not liking FATE is in any way a negative. I'm not much of a fan of it, either, preferring a more traditional D&D 5e game or, more strongly, something more in line with PbtA games (specifically Blades or Scum and Villany). Those are pretty far apart, play way, and I find FATE too in the middle for my preferences.

That being said, I think your last line is very telling of the mindset you've brought with you. Your trouble isn't something you should see as the GM using to hose you, but rather something that you've chosen to hose yourself. Of course, I apparently have an idiosyncratic view of FATE, as I'm struggling to understand it as a planned game versus a 'in the moment' game, so the idea of the GM compelling a trouble really just sounds like an opportunity to see where the fiction goes as defined by a player telling me what kinds of things they want to see in the game. Apparently, though, that's not how many people approach FATE play, instead having a strong DM curated storyline where troubles really are something the GM uses to bleed points from players. I struggle with that concept as the best use of the rules, but I'm told some really enjoy this kind of play. So, yeah, I commiserate at having a conception that doesn't jive with how others use a system.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
... the most famous being White Wolf with its Golden Rule, of which AD&D 2e co-opted (and spawned an orthodoxy henceforth).
Um...

2nd Edition AD&D came out in 1989.

White Wolf games was founded in 1991, and Vampire: The Masquerade came out that year, 1991.

Did someone from TSR travel ahead a couple years in time, to co-opt rules that hadn't been published yet?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
No problem, I definitely don't want to seem like I'm saying you not liking FATE is in any way a negative. I'm not much of a fan of it, either, preferring a more traditional D&D 5e game or, more strongly, something more in line with PbtA games (specifically Blades or Scum and Villany). Those are pretty far apart, play way, and I find FATE too in the middle for my preferences.
I haven't looked more than a little bit into the PbtA constellation of games. The ones I have looked at, though, have generated nearly-visceral noooope, though, so I don't exactly hold out hope. That said, roughly congruent with you, I don't think liking them makes someone a bad person.

Your trouble isn't something you should see as the GM using to hose you, but rather something that you've chosen to hose yourself.
It's not the general "I've chosen this trouble" that bothers me, genuinely. I don't mind the concept of disadvantages as part of building a character. It's the specific timing of the compels that would grind my nerves, I think, along with the "I want things to go badly for my character" thing, because as a player I really want my desires to (more or less) align with my character's.

So, yeah, I commiserate at having a conception that doesn't jive with how others use a system.
Yeah. Thanks for answering in good faith. After my little flare-up earlier, that matters to me.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
@Ovinomancer

I would say that almost completely unstructured Free-form gaming where dispute mediation is table consensus and a simple coin flip to break ties can yield character-driven play if Force (as I've outlined above) doesn't emerge to co-opt thematic/tactical/strategic decision-making to control the gamestate and trajectory of play.

Force (be it for or against the player's interests) is absolutely anathema to character-driven play. Its kryptonite.
My opinion is just that table consensus will move towards play that is degenerate with respect to the goal of authentic, emergent character-driven play (because peoples' biases, unconscious or acknowledged, and then the propensity to assemble into tribes based on common aims).

Consequently, a system that:

(a) constrains GMing such that Force isn't on the table
(b) makes it easy for awesome character-driven play to emerge as a byproduct of simply playing the game (c) has clear thematic PC build flags and incentive structures + feedback loops in place that press upon the players to coherently advocate for their PCs
(d) while ensuring compelling, relevant opposition will consistently emerge to interpose itself between the PCs and their goals in conflict-charged scenes

...that has the best chance of consistently achieving the goal of emergent fiction and character-driven play.

Can you do so without b and c? Yes. But (a) and (d) are pretty much mandatory in my opinion. And (b) and (c) makes the whole operation easier/more reproducible.
I'm not sure I agree. I think that Force can be present and still have arcs. In other words, I can see (and have played) a game where some of it is the GM's plotline while other parts have room for player directed play. Sometimes, these line up and you get character arcs. But, as with anything ad hoc, it's not predictable.
 

Wolfpack48

Explorer
"Playing in character" sounds like acting? If so, that's one way to roleplay, for sure, but not the only or even best way, although it seems widely preferred (and is one of my preferences, largely). However, the topic isn't 'how to act at the table like I imagine my character being' but rather how to enjoy a game that focuses, at least largely, on characters growing and changing. Acting isn't necessary for this, nor does acting cause this -- it's orthogonal to the issue. So, no, I don't really see how your argument actually encourages character arcs. I mean, you can successfully act a flat, unchanging character with great skill and aplomb as much as you can terribly act or even third person a dynamic, evolving character. Acting doesn't mean much in the context of the discussion.
Yep, acting could be one way of exploring character growth, but certainly not the only way. Plenty of books on writing character in short story or novel or screenplay form. Trying to codify it in a rule set only creates constraints as players try to squish their play into the framework or terminology. Just play a.character. It’s much more free and natural especially if you find a like minded group.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Alright, before the proverbial horse that you're setting up to get out the gate wreaks its havoc, let me correct your misunderstanding (at least with respect to me...I'll let others speak for themselves or they can agree with me as they like):

When I use the term GM Force, its associated with a very specific type of player agency that is being subordinated to the whim of the GM. Now some systems promote this "GM Force subordinating player agency" as a "feature", the most famous being White Wolf with its Golden Rule, of which AD&D 2e co-opted (and spawned an orthodoxy henceforth). In that case its not "extra-system" GM Force. Accordingly, I won't decry it for being a game that is deceitful about what is happening behind the curtain, because it is honest that Illusionism (covert GM Force) is fundamental to play because the apex priority is about something else (typically "the GM tells a good story and controls the trajectory of play, while the players participate in the GM's story and everyone has a good time.").

But, regardless of the systemitized GM Force/Illusionism...its still there.
OK, so far I'm with you.

So here is my issue as it pertains to GM Force (covert or overt) and player agency.

GM Force is the subordination by fiat of a player's thematic, strategic, tactical (any/all) decision-making to the whim/will of the GM, for the sake of controlling the gamestate and the overall trajectory of play.

The games I'm talking about in this thread (a) don't have subordination by GM fiat and (b) they don't condone (in fact they do the opposite) GMs controlling the gamestate and the trajectory of play.
Right, still with you, though you're drifting off point a bit.

Social Conflict mechanics imposing states-of-being on PCs and creating finality of resolution are neither principally nor definitionally the same thing as GM Force (whether the system condones it as a feature or not).

Hopefully that makes sense and clears that all up.
No, in fact it rather muddies things. :)

You're looking at GM force and player agency as an either-or (that's how the above reads, anyway). But GM force is but one of three main things that can impact player agency - and for the purpose of this discussion isn't even the relevant one.

The second is external effects e.g. charms-dominations-possessions-etc.

And the third is social conflict mechanics; and while these are certainly "neither principally nor definitionally the same thing as GM Force", they still take away player agency. These mechanics can be invoked by the GM, or by another player, or by the system; my objection is that they exist to be invoked at all.

Of the three, the first is generally bad while the second is IME usually accepted as part of the game. It's the third one - the social conflict mechanics - where the issue lies, as for some of us they're a completely unnecessary blow to player agency and fully-in-character roleplay.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
The two bolded phrases are not synonyms.
True, player agency over one's character is a subset of player agency overall. (though I happen to think it's by far the most important aspect)

But for the purposes of the points I'm trying to make in this discussion, they're more or less the same: player agency includes complete control over one's character, absent the use of external control mechanics.

I have never seen anyone argue that players should have unlimited agency (ie be the sole authors of the shared fiction). What I mostly see disputes about is whether players should have any agency in respect of the shared fiction.
Which is a different branch or aspect of player agency, and though perhaps germaine to the larger discussion around character-driven play it's not all that relevant when talking of the impact of social conflict mechanics.

I think that character-driven play of the sort @innerdude describes can't take place of players don't have some agancy in respect of the shared fiction, including in respect of the emotional states and social responses of NPCs. (Eg it has to be possible for a PC to befriend a NPC without the GM being the one who decides it.)
However, if the player of an NPC (that being the GM) can be forced to play a character a certain way then it naturally follows the same can and will happen in reverse: the player of a PC can be forced by the same mechanics to play that PC a certain way: the emotional state and social response of the PC will be driven by those mechanics. (and I'll cut off the "PCs and NPCs work differently" argument right now by simply saying don't bother, as that discussion is a non-starter)

Never mind that some of the examples here have involved two or more PCs trying to influence each other: the GM isn't even involved. Does it - to use your own example above - have to "be possible for a PC to befriend [another PC] without [that PC's player] being the one who decides it"?

If player agency is confined to fighting and climbing and other feats of physical prowess, it will be very hard to get character-driven arcs because those things on their own tend not to reveal enough about the character.
Agreed. Character, with all it entails, is more often (and usually better) revealed through roleplay than through physical actions.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think that it's hard to not place importance on who the characters are specifically if you want character driven play. If the characters in the story can be easily swapped out for another, and little is changed about the course of play, then I don't think that it's strongly character driven play. I don't think that means that it is entirely absent of character driven elements, just that they are less central to play.
I don't think that you can claim to promote character driven play while simultaneously dismissing the importance of character.
Pithy and true!

It's possible to have RPGing where character is central in the way you describe here, but there aren't the sorts of dramatic arcs that are described in the OP. A lot of my 4e D&D play has been like this - the events and concerns are particular to the PCs, but the fundamental nature of the PCs often is not at risk. (Sometimes it has been. But often not.)

But the converse is, as you say, not possible.

Real people are not as in control of themselves as a Player is of his PC.
beyond that is the idea that things that we know about our characters can change without our permission. They don't happen because I've decided that my character is now angsty because his family was killed, or any similar characterization element. Instead, they happen as the result of play.

When there are mechanics that involve aspects of the character such as their beliefs or goals or flaws, then those mechanics are kind of by default character driven game elements.

<snip>

If the system instead allows me at any time to decide how my character behaves, then it may be a flaw that never comes up in play, or will only come up when I as a player decide it's convenient. The character's "struggle with deep and unfathomable anger" is anything but.

Now, there are players that maybe play with a strong sense of character, and who will allow such a flaw to meaningfully complicate play for them. There's nothing that really prevents this kind of play.

It's just that a game that has character traits and mechanics that promote this tend to do it more readily.
I think it was @Neonchameleon upthread who gave examples of character arcs from an Apocalypse World game. But AW doesn't have mechanics for flaws, aspects etc in the way that some systems do.

Burning Wheel has Beliefs, Instincts and Traits for PCs, but there is no mechanical system whereby they are changes as a direct outcome of play. A player is free to rewrite his/her PC's Beliefs and/or Instincts at almost any time. (The GM is allowed to delay a change if s/he thinks the player is trying to change them sim;y so as to avoid a hard situation for his/her PC.)

What makes character development take place in these games is that the GM has both the tools and permission to push the PCs (and thereby the players) hard, and the players have permission and even an expectation to respond to that, including by sucking up big impacts on their PCs. I've seen similar stuff in Rolemaster and even AD&D, though these are a bit more wobbly when participants start pushing hard so I wouldn't necessarily recommend them for this purpose

None of the above is to disagree about the potential utility of social/emotional resolution mechanics (below in this post I have an example that involves the use of them). But to the extent that they operate on the PCs (at the initiative of either the GM or other players) I think they're just one tool in the box. They're not fundamental. (I think player-to-NPC social/emotional mechanics are much more important, virtually fundamental, for the reasons I've already posted upthread.)

Mechanics are not necessary for character driven play, but they help, a lot. You don't need them, and can have deep and meaningful character arcs without them, but, at that point, you're doing so ad hoc, as an unstructured (and often unspoken) agreement between player and GM.

<snip>

That said, mechanical systems, with constraints, can often do a lot of the heavy lifting for character arcs
I think this is all true.

If the unstructured agreement is about GMing approaches (eg framing scenes on pressure points) then I think that can work fine. If the unstructured agreement is about laying some combination of GM decision-making and loose table consensus over the gaps in the formal system's finality of resolution, I think that creates a much higher degree of instability even with the best will in the world, because the player who cares about his/her PC has such a strong incentive to push back. I would say that, in those sorts of cases, and everything else being reasonably equal, moving to greater finality in resolution (either via informal drifting or changing systems) would probably be a good idea.

need to be understood by all involved and play goals need to be aligned. This puts a bit of an artificial spin on play, where everyone's trying to do the arc and using the mechanics to do so, that it can be jarring for some that are wanting a more organic experience. Depending on the mechanics, game genre expectations, and player goals, this artificiality can vary greatly by system, so it can sometimes be reduced by finding the right setup, gamewise and genrewise. However, there's no doubt that mechanics can push character arcs, but the feel of that pushing can be offputting.
This is why, personally, I tend to play systems where the mechanics can't themselves, directly, produce arcs - but they can produce PC-affecting outcomes that recast the circumstances a PC is in and thereby lead the player to take his/her PC in new ways.

I think I may already have posted this example upthread:

There was talk of a powerful knight who was blocking the road north, not letting anyone pass who was unable to beat him in battle - and so far unbeaten. (This was Sir Lionheart, of the second Challenge from a Knight scenario in the rulebook.) Naturally the PCs headed off to see if they could do better, with a crowd in tow to see the excitement and the performer working the crowd.

<snip>

The first of the PCs to have a go was Sir Gerran. He lost, soundly beaten (but Storyteller Certificate still in the player's hand).

Next up was Justin "the Gentle", Sir Gerren's son . He lost too.

Sir Justin and the squire PC were in competition for the hand of the young and beautiful Lady Violette of Warwick, and hence their players were having a bit of a stand-off over spending their Storyteller Certificates: one use of such a certificate is to "Incite Lust" and another is to "Suppress Lust" - so if one used it to ensure Violette's affections, the other could cancel. But use in the joust with Sir Lionheart would change the balance of power.

Sir Justin's player decided, in the end, to use his certificate, but somehow let the player of the itinerent performer talk him into spending it not on outright victory ("Knock and Opponent Senseless" or "Kill a Foe in Combat") but rather on a "gold star" - a permanent PC buff allowing a bonus die once per session. The bonus die was not enough for him to defeat Sir Lionheart.

Sir Justin's player also wanted to bring his skill of arms 4 (rather than joust 0) to bear, so Sir Justin agreed to joust with real lances rather than blunted ones, and (as per the scenario description) with stakes therefore being not a small token but the loser's arms and steed. So for the second time in the campaign, Sir Justin lost his kit by losing a joust!

The squire PC asked for a joust, but the proud Sir Lionheart declined to joust with a mere squire. To which the PC responded, "Fine, I'll just continue on my way then!" and tried to pass Sir Lionheart and continue along the road. This called for a Presence vs Presence check, which the PC won - and so Sir Lionheart knighted him so that he could joust and perhaps succeed where the others had failed. I took the words of the knight ceremony from Excalibur - "In the name of God, St Michael and St George I give you the right to bear arms and the power to mete justice".

The player of the (now) Sir Morgath determined that he would use his certificate for an outright victory. He considered knocking Sir Lionheart senseless, but he suspected (correctly, as it turned out, given the scenario description) that if he unhorsed Sir Lionheart but didn't kill him, Sir Lionheart would insist on fighting with swords to the death. So he decided to Kill a Foe in Combat - when the lances of the two knights connected, the one wielded by Sir Morgath splintered, and a shard flew through a gap in Sir Lionheart's visor and entered his brain through his eye, killing him!

Sir Morgath was feted by the crowd. He also was able to upgrade his gear, being the first of the PCs to have heavy armour and a warhorse. He also won Sir Lionheart's superbly jewelled sword, which grants a bonus die for social situations where prestige is in issue.

The other two knight did their best to re-equip themselves using surplus gear the PCs had accumulated (including Sir Morgath's old kit) and then they continued north to see what adventures might be had! On the road, they met a richly-dressed damsel, Lady Elizabeth of York, and her handmaiden, who had barely escaped from bandits while returning home from a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Sigobert. She asked for assistance, and the PCs offered it.

The introduction to the scenario notes that "An amusing use of this Episode is to get one of the Adventurers married off to the main character" and goes on to say that "Once [she] feels safe she will begin to flirt with the Adventurers, prying for information on marriage status, lands held, family, etc. During this scene she picks a candidate for marriage, if possible, from the Adventurers. Depending on the way you wish to run the Episode, the victim may consider himself lucky, or cursed". Sir Morgath, with his knightly armour, his jewelled sword, and his famous victory over Sir Lionheart, was the object of her pursuit.

Flirting and courting was interrupted by an attack by the bandits.

<snip>

The PCs were victorious and the bandits routed.

When the group arrived back at the castle of the Duke of York, he was very impressed by the young and obviously valiant Sir Morgath. An attempt by Sir Morgath to persuade the Duke that he might not be the best match for his daughter failed (ie Sir Morgath's player rolled poorly) and so he found himself being wed to Lady Elizabeth rather than the Lady Violette whose handkerchief he had been carrying with him.

<snip>

Sir Morgath and his wife were gifted with a manor. So he started the session a squire, and ended up a famous knight married to the daughter of the Duke of York!

I would guess that this is not quite as gut-wrenching an arc as the OP has in mind. But it is an arc, and has continued - while travelling to the Holy Land on crusade Sir Morgath became infatuated with the Countess of Toulouse (via my use of a GM fiat ability - that's a feature of the system), and has since been joined on his travels by his wife Elizabeth, which has made things even more difficult for him. The player has a certificate whereby he could, if he wished, Suppress Lust and thus end his infatuation, but to date has not done so. (There is no "certificate economy" comparable to the fate point economy in Fate, but some of your remarks upthread about the balance there between player choice and GM force I think are also apposite in the context of this system.)

It doesn't depend on there being any "personality" or "flaw" or "goal" mechanics. It does depend on there being conflict resolution mechanics that result in binding finality for all participants, supplemented by a limited supply of both player- and GM-side fiat options. And I think that the fact that those options extend to social/emotional aspects of the PC is a big help.
 
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Monayuris

Explorer
I've been thinking a lot lately about how despite having a tremendous amount of fun with RPGs over the years, I continue have a sense of lack, or dissatisfaction with one particular aspect of my play experiences---namely, I have found it to be nigh impossible to drift into what I would consider a true "character-driven" style of play.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

I know that most new systems these days have specific focuses on character backstory, personality traits, motivations, and desires. Even D&D, the long-time standard bearer for keeping the game more focused on gameplay rather than character driven needs, added new character-oriented traits in 5e, to say nothing of Fate which goes out of its way to purposefully bring these elements to the forefront of play.

And yes, these new character design features are incredibly useful in helping us as players come to "see" our characters as more "real" within the fiction. But in my experience, even the best of these character "hooks" or inputs don't seem to make a difference in driving an in-play narrative of substantive character change---i.e., the experience of watching a character materially change in ways that are fundamental to their place in the fiction.

It's generally agreed that one of the vital, key elements of great literature is a character "arc"---the observed phenomenon of a character or characters fundamentally coming to view the world and their place in it in new ways. It is these character journeys that create some of the most powerful, compelling moments that cause as us reader-participants to feel emotional resonance---to feel as if we are experiencing something meaningful, even if we are only having the experience referentially.

Obviously not having this kind of emotional resonance in RPG play doesn't mean that our player-characters aren't making "meaningful" choices. Players are often faced with having their characters act out in response to moral choices, in multiple gradations---we choose to fight for the noble baron instead of the greedy viscount; choose to let the orc leader live rather than killing him; choose to steal, but from only the top 10% of most wealthy citizens; choose to kill the evil sorcerer now to prevent the deaths of thousands later.

But the actual mechanical interplay of rules in a typical roleplaying game experience does almost nothing to promote the kind of self-reflexivity that is necessary for the kind of deep-rooted emotional resonance found in literature. At no time during a roleplaying session have I ever come close to having the vivid, deep, emotional response I felt when reading the last 100 pages of Guy Gavriel Kay's novel Under Heaven---nor even upon reflection am I able to see how the act of tabletop roleplaying would provide the means to do so.

It's interesting, because though I find "Railroad GM-ing" to be highly distasteful and generally anathema to the types of RPG experiences I personally would enjoy, I can begin to glimpse why a GM might try to use specific GM Force©™ in a campaign---because they think that the application of force to the "story" is a means to getting to some of that emotional resonance. It's a recognition on the part of the GM that emotional resonance is possible through a "story focus" that leads to potential meaning. Unfortunately, it seems that the application of GM Force runs counter to both endpoints---it detracts from the aspects of player freedom and choice, while only minimally (if at all) leading to the resonance made possible through the act of "pure creation" of fiction whole cloth.

And so I begin to wonder if the desire to have those kinds of emotionally resonant experiences during RPG play are somehow a fool's errand on my part. That I'm looking for a "character-driven" experience that simply isn't there and never really can be, and so should just accept RPG play for what it is, rather than trying to somehow keep reaching for this illusory experience that it's never once provided before.
Don't worry about it.

Role playing is literally just imagining yourself as your character in an imaginary dungeon. That is it. No more needed.

The idea of deep character development or the level that Critical Role goes into the game is not necessary for role playing. This is all ancillary things done by people who feel it adds to their own personal experience and it is not at all required to enjoy this game. It is definitely not required to be a role player. It is something a select few do because they think it is fun, but it is NOT how you need to play the game.

Do your thing as you wish. Ignore the other people who try to tell you you are doing it wrong. If you are playing D&D and you are having fun... no more needs to be said about the subject.
 

pemerton

Legend
it seems to me to call for a more adversarial approach to GMing than I'm happy with, from either side of the (metaphorical) screen, which doesn't seem to me as though it'd be conducive to the trust I think is necessary between player and GM. I don't see how you can pick an aspect (let alone a trouble) if you don't trust the GM not to hose you with it.
I've never played Fate, and probably won't anytime soon, so my thoughts are a little bit conjectural.

But to me it seems like choosing when to compel, as a Fate GM, is a bit like choosing how hard to narrate consequences in a game like Burning Wheel or Prince Valiant or 4e D&D, or choosing how hard a move to make in a game like Apocalypse World, or choosing when to activate a PC's limit in Marvel Heroic/Cortex+ Heroic. As a GM you have multiple obligations - to maintain pressure, to uphold the integrity of the fiction, to be fair to the players particular in respect of honouring their past successes. At least in my experience there is no magic formula which will combine all these duties and the current state of the fiction as input to produce a unique GM decision as output - so many intangible factors around table mood, pacing (the latter itself synergistic with the former), etc are in play I don't think there could be any such formula even in principle.

I just posted an account of Prince Valiant play. In one session I initiated a social conflict which a player lost, with the result that his PC entered into a marriage somewhat against his own preferences. Later on, I used a GM fiat ability to have the same PC fall in love with a different NPC whom he was rescuing from her cruel husband (the Count of Toulouse). Looked at from the outside this might look more arbitrary than a compel: the player has chosen any sort of romance-related flaw for his PC, and there is no Fate point economy whereby he gains from going along with me, or can immediately pay me to leave his PC alone. He has to suck it up, at least until he earns a certificate (entirely in the gift of the GM, based on my sense of roleplaying intensity and entertainment) and so gets his own chance to use a fiat ability.

Why the player accepts it - and I know this from talking to him - is because it's fun! It's hijinks in itself that leads to more hijinks. And it's hardly any sort of rabbit from a hat or bait-and-switch that in a relatively light-hearted Arthurian game knights should find themselves troubled by their relationships with damsels.

EDIT: Just saw this relevant thing from Ovinomancer:

Apparently, though, that's not how many people approach FATE play, instead having a strong DM curated storyline where troubles really are something the GM uses to bleed points from players. I struggle with that concept as the best use of the rules, but I'm told some really enjoy this kind of play.
To me that sounds a bit suck-y. It negates all the stuff I mentioned in this post as what I would assume would guide the use of compels.
 
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Sadras

Hero
I just posted an account of Prince Valiant play. In one session I initiated a social conflict which a player lost, with the result that his PC entered into a marriage somewhat against his own preferences.
That was not clearly evident from the excerpt you posted.

Later on, I used a GM fiat ability to have the same PC fall in love with a different NPC whom he was rescuing from her cruel husband (the Count of Toulouse). Looked at from the outside this might look more arbitrary than a compel: the player has chosen any sort of romance-related flaw for his PC, and there is no Fate point economy whereby he gains from going along with me, or can immediately pay me to leave his PC alone. He has to suck it up, at least until he earns a certificate (entirely in the gift of the GM, based on my sense of roleplaying intensity and entertainment) and so gets his own chance to use a fiat ability.
So you apply GM force (I'm assuming you have unlimited GM fiat ability) and the player has to suck it up until they earn a certificate, which earning of and number are also controlled by you as GM? Have I got this right?
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm a believer in social skills (or whatever the equivalent is in a given system) to account for differences in competencies between player and character.
This reason isn't very important to me. In 4e D&D - a rather tactical game - the fact that all the PCs have combat ability doesn't stop the best wargamer at the table shining in combat.

And the system has social skills, but the player still has to understand social dynamics at least to the extent of declaring relevant actions. So a player with more social imagination has more scope to do stuff here.

That's not to say that the reason should be irrelevant to everyone, and maybe I'm underestimating how weak some players' social skills are. But for me it's much more about what domains of activity are subject to finality in resolution as opposed to sheer negotiation/consensus/fiat.

Maybe you could unpack why character-driven play necessitates imposing those sorts of consequences on NPCs? I'm not sure I understand the relationship.
Here's a gratuitous self-quote from somewhere not too far upthread:


I think that character-driven play of the sort @innerdude describes can't take place of players don't have some agancy in respect of the shared fiction, including in respect of the emotional states and social responses of NPCs. (Eg it has to be possible for a PC to befriend a NPC without the GM being the one who decides it.)

If player agency is confined to fighting and climbing and other feats of physical prowess, it will be very hard to get character-driven arcs because those things on their own tend not to reveal enough about the character.

That's the reason. I just think, based on a mixture of intuition and experience, that non-social (ie primarily physical/environmental) conflicts are not revealing enough of a character to produce character-driven arcs. The players also need to be able to have their PCs make changes to the social/emotional elements of the fiction.

That's not to say it has to be unlimited fiat power. It can be done through skills, rationing, etc. And sometimes it might fail, so the would-be friend becomes an enemy instead. That's part of putting the character at risk.

I don't think the mechanics for this need to be very complicated: the 1st ed AD&D reaction system might be enough, if used with a bit of imagination. But I think you need some way for the PC's persona/nature to feed through. That's why, for me personally, Oriental Adventures was so significant as a RPGing experience: PCs' honour, status etc affects reaction rolls and so suddenly what happens in the social sphere isn't just the result of an arbitrary roll but starts to tell us something about the character.
 

pemerton

Legend
That said, in my 5E games, I don't have absolute authority over the world. Players have established facts about it, which I have incorporated (or occasionally altered slightly). The PCs can change the world in the course of their adventures (which may not be exactly what you're talking about).
I think what you say is what I'm talking about. That sounds like an approach closer to my experience with (original) AD&D and less "DM empowerment" than I often encounter associated with 5e D&D.

(I don't play 5e myself, so my impression of it is based on reading rules plus others; accounts of it.)
 

pemerton

Legend
But for the purposes of the points I'm trying to make in this discussion, they're more or less the same
No. You were accusing multiple posters, including me, of self-contradiction. You don't get to impose your meaning on our assertions and then infer that we've contradicted ourselves!

if the player of an NPC (that being the GM) can be forced to play a character a certain way then it naturally follows the same can and will happen in reverse: the player of a PC can be forced by the same mechanics to play that PC a certain way
Here's evidence that it doesn't "naturally follow" - there are many RPGs in which what you assert is not true. Upthread I posted the seduce or manipulate move from Apocalypse World, which is an example of this.

I'll cut off the "PCs and NPCs work differently" argument right now by simply saying don't bother, as that discussion is a non-starter
Last I knew naturally follow wasn't a synonym for decreed thus-and-so by Lanefan.
 

pemerton

Legend
That was not clearly evident from the excerpt you posted.
I think that was a tag issue. I've removed the spoiler tags (which were meant to help manage a long quote).

So you apply GM force (I'm assuming you have unlimited GM fiat ability) and the player has to suck it up until they earn a certificate, which earning of and number are also controlled by you as GM? Have I got this right?
GM fiat ability is not unlimited. I'm not sure why you would make that assumption.

The discussion of how to manage GM fiat abilities is one of the important bits of advice in the system. From pages 43-45:


Special Effects are ways in which a Storyteller (or, in the Advanced Game, any player) can decisively affect the action of the game without any coin throws. Special Effects give the Storyteller control over the course of events, even in the face of very powerful Adventurers.

When possible, the Storyteller should use coin throws to impose his will on the Adventurers. For example, it is more realistic and entertaining to assign a high Difficulty Factor to a task, and let the Adventurers all try and fail, than to simply say “it’s impossible to do that.” But leaving your story vulnerable
to a lucky coin throw can be risky.

For example, if a puny Adventurer was fighting your main villain and making excellent coin throws, fairness dictates that he win, even if it spoils your story. But a Special Effect gives the Storyteller an event that occurs without fail. This can help him control the story without being too dictatorial. To continue the example of a fight, the villain might be able to knock the annoying Adventurer unconscious using the appropriate Special Effect, KNOCK AN OPPONENT SENSELESS.

Special Effects are normally linked to specific characters
in the story (see the Episodes for examples). Usually no more than three characters with Special Effects, or one character with three Special Effects, should be used, so as to let the players retain some control.

The players should not know what Special Effects your characters have, but they should be logical ones for the characters. For example, a beautiful girl is more likely to have the Effects of INCITE LUST or INSPIRE INDIVIDUAL TO GREATNESS than she would be to have HIDE or KILL A FOE IN COMBAT. Your players may be able to guess what kind of Effects a character has, and this increases the fun of the game.

Only one character can be influenced directly by a Special Effect, although the ramifications of the Special Effect may affect a group. The holder of the Special Effect decides which character is affected. Both Adventurers and characters controlled by the Storyteller can be aided or influenced by a Special Effect.

The user states that he is putting into action a Special Effect and reads it into the plot. The desired event happens, and the story is changed, often dramatically. The Storyteller must create a reasonable explanation for the way in which the Effect takes place, in terms of the current situation.

Special Effects are available from two sources: Episodes and Storyteller Certificates, the latter used only in the Advanced Game. Thus in the Basic Game, only Storytellers will be using Special Effects, while in the Advanced Game, any player may use a Special Effect.

Special Effects from Episodes may be used more than once if specifically stated in the Episode writeup. Special Effects can be used only once when derived from a Storyteller Certificate​

The award of Storyteller Certificates at out table combines the rules on pp 55-56 for the award of Certificates and Gold Stars:


[T]he Chief Storyteller may award a Certificate to any player as a reward for good acting or other reasons.

Anytime during play, whether or not they are the current Storyteller, the owner can turn in the Storyteller Certificate to the Chief Storyteller and exercise one use of a Special Effect. . . .

In the Advanced Game, all Storytellers can use gold stars to reward good players.

(The Chief vs all Storyteller stuff isn't relevant to us as we're not using rotating storytelling. I'm the sole GM.)

In our game we've probably averaged a bit less than one Certificate per session. We think of them as a bit like Persona or Deeds points in Burning Wheel - awarded for big achievements and/or impassioned roleplaying.
 

KenNYC

Explorer
You will never get a meaningful roleplaying experience worrying about rules. The moment you look at your sheet the roleplaying is over, so to achieve whatever character immersion you want, you have to go back to OD&D or D&D or a relaxed AD&D and just roleplay with a system that has next to no stats. It also helps if you have a DM that doesn't worry about rules either and just says "yes, and..." a lot and you say it right back to him. This is why 5e was such a letdown to me after 30 years away. I don't want to make a religious check to see if I know something. I want to approach an NPC and have a conversation with them and learn something, Keep on making tedious skill checks and you'll never have a character driven campaign. And throw away those backgrounds the books try to foist on you. I have to play a character four or five times, get the feel of him, and then I know what his background is. Yes I can act out playing whatever was randomly rolled for me, but it is certainly more immersive and natural to just play five sessions, realize my character detects magic a lot, and suddenly the answer comes to me and the character is fleshed out. Then I play accordingly.
 

Sadras

Hero
You will never get a meaningful roleplaying experience worrying about rules.
It is important to note the OP is discussing a particular type of roleplaying experience which includes a risk of the foundation of the character. It is not about simple immersive play.

This is why 5e was such a letdown to me after 30 years away. I don't want to make a religious check to see if I know something.
You do not have to. The DMG provides the die route, the middle path and the limited/no die route as possible options when handling a situation. It really depends on the DM.

I want to approach an NPC and have a conversation with them and learn something,
All still possible within 5e.

And throw away those backgrounds the books try to foist on you. I have to play a character four or five times, get the feel of him, and then I know what his background is. Yes I can act out playing whatever was randomly rolled for me, but it is certainly more immersive and natural to just play five sessions, realize my character detects magic a lot, and suddenly the answer comes to me and the character is fleshed out. Then I play accordingly.
Again, you do not have to randomly roll your background, every table I have known has players select their preferred background for their character. I believe the background rolling possibility might have existed within AD&D.

Keep on making tedious skill checks and you'll never have a character driven campaign.
The idea by some is that GM-force based on DM-decides whether for or against the character works against character-driven campaigns. Some, similar to you, have advocated for less die-rolling system.
 

chaochou

Adventurer
I'm not certain if the correct term should be "at stake" as this fallout was already pre-planned by the players upon character generation...
Right, so the characters weren't being changed as a result of the events of play. This was planned prior to any play having happened.

and although they had laid the bread crumbs for this story arc along the way (now evident), both myself and the other players had missed them.
And these changes were so 'dramatic' that everyone else failed to notice them.

They also had such an impact on the events of play - what was going on in the game - that no-one else noticed.

Sound exactly like what the OP is after, and what @pemerton and I and others are discussing.

Needless to say, the player of the paladin is retiring her character (for now) - while the warlock now free from the burden of the lie, looked to continue on a different path (new class).
So the players finally resort to the only way they're allowed to impact the actual subject matter of the game by nuking the one thing they have control of - they're own characters. I wonder what effect that had... it must have completely changed everything...

The player of the paladin is to create a new character to join the others.
Join the others. On the main railroad 'story arc'.... to add some colour to your scripted plot with their 'unscripted dialogue'.

I feel the above statement is clearly false, given my above example.
Your example only demonstrates how powerless your players are. They can roll dice then they're told, and fight what they're told (but only win when you decide). And if they're having fun, good for you. Just don't bring that into a thread about character-driven play and expect plaudits from anyone other that railroaders also seeking to validate illusionism as a technique.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yep, acting could be one way of exploring character growth, but certainly not the only way. Plenty of books on writing character in short story or novel or screenplay form. Trying to codify it in a rule set only creates constraints as players try to squish their play into the framework or terminology. Just play a.character. It’s much more free and natural especially if you find a like minded group.
No, acting is orthogonal to exploring character growth. Orthogonal, in this sense, meaning 'not related to.'

I say this because I can look at acting and determine if it is either necessary to have character growth, meaning that acting must be present to have character growth, or if it is sufficient to have character growth, meaning that acting alone can cause character growth.

The necessary part you've already noted isn't true -- there are other ways to have character growth, so therefore it's not necessary to have acting be present to have character growth. I'll leave aside your attempt to limit other methods to writing for now.

That leave sufficiency. This is as easy to show because all I have to do is show that you can have acting while not having character growth. This is a trivial show -- there's a wealth of acted parts with no character growth in all forms of media, including at the table. I, personally, have acted the part of many NPCs that have had no growth, and not a few PCs that have likewise had no growth, in both 1-shots, short campaigns, and even in longer campaigns. So, therefore, acing is not sufficient to have character growth.

If acting is neither necessary nor sufficient for character growth, then it's not really part of the discussion of 'how do we do character growth.' It is a useful discussion for 'how to we connect to our characters in play?' This is because, while acting is not necessary to connect to character, it can be sufficient. It's just not terribly interesting in regards to the discussion on character arcs, as it's not an important component of having character arcs.
 
L

lowkey13

Guest
Your example only demonstrates how powerless your players are. They can roll dice then they're told, and fight what they're told (but only win when you decide). And if they're having fun, good for you. Just don't bring that into a thread about character-driven play and expect plaudits from anyone other that railroaders also seeking to validate illusionism as a technique.
I'm just going to excerpt this.

Do you think this is likely to lead to a productive conversation? Do you think that this is particularly helpful?

This is ... neither nice, nor helpful. Even if your characterization of someone else's play is accurate (which is ... doubtful, given that you weren't there and are using your own loaded verbiage), what positive thing do you think you're going to accomplish by writing this?
 

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