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

Both these cases are strong assertions of GM authority over scene-framing. I don't necessarily see that they're force because in neither case does there seem to be any action resolution going on.

Yeah, I'm not sure they quite reach the idea of Force as it had been presented, I was just trying to throw out a couple of examples that occurred to me.

That second claim might be contentious - but if we say that action resolution means some meaningful change in either the mechanical situation, or the fictional situation, or both, then I think it's plausible. Your mundane encounters (I'm assuming this is talking-to-shopkeepers stuff) seem (if I may be so bold) mere time-wasting colour.

Yes, you got it. I am uninterested in banter between a shopkeeper and a PC, unless there's something potentially meaningful involved. Same with haggling about prices and so on....we don't need to act that all out. You want to talk the guy down in price a bit? Okay, make a check to see how successful that is. Luckily, our games have kind of moved past that resource management aspect to the point this rarely comes up anymore. But I used to have one or two players who would use every single NPC they met as a chance to act out an interaction of some sort. A little of that is fine to help establish a person's character.....but for me it quickly becomes self indulgence, and I move on.

The second one maybe is meant to involve resource consumption? But it's also a safe place where they can rest and get back their spells and hp? And at least as you present it no actions had really been declared. (In my Illusionism thread I mentioned Roger Musson's union meeting of ogres, to stop the players going down a corridor that the GM hasn't written up yet. The line between that, and what you did, might be fine but I think it's worth noting. You didn't leave the players' action declarations on foot and narrate further content and consequences. You just reframed the whole situation.)

Right, I just reframed it. Which is what I would have done had I realized all the implications in actual play of what I thought was a kind of interesting idea when reading through the book. Then we got to that point of actual play, and I realized we were going to spend potentially hours of the game on this, and I just didn't want to do that. Nor would I have expected my players to want to do that (which they later confirmed when I explained), so I simply narrated it, said that they spent a couple of hours on it, and that yes, they could use it as a potentially safe hiding space to rest and recover if needed.

This goes back to something I think I posted upthread (again, I've got thread-merging-confusion) - if all GM decisions about the fiction are equated with force than the latter concept becomes analytically unhelpful.

There is a widespread view that the GM framing scenes is railroading unless they're scenes with a "quest-giver" in a tavern so that the players have the (at least notional choice) of taking the quest or keeping on chatting with the barmaid. But I think you only have to state the view plainly to see it's pretty implausible. Of course strong scene-framing might be contrary to some agreed point of a game - say dungeon-crawling or hex-crawling - but that doesn't make it force. Not all bad GMing, or poorly-judged narration, is force.

Yeah. I know you and I have in the past had some discussions on this where we disagreed a bit, but I really don't think that we do. A GM will always have influence on the game via setting and scene framing and the like. As we've discussed further, I think we're very much of similar mind on this.
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
There is a widespread view that the GM framing scenes is railroading unless they're scenes with a "quest-giver" in a tavern so that the players have the (at least notional choice) of taking the quest or keeping on chatting with the barmaid. But I think you only have to state the view plainly to see it's pretty implausible. Of course strong scene-framing might be contrary to some agreed point of a game - say dungeon-crawling or hex-crawling - but that doesn't make it force. Not all bad GMing, or poorly-judged narration, is force.

My own feeling is that the GM is allowed to drop in what I think of as instigating events, but other than whatever starts the campaign (or equivalent, don't get hung up on that) needs to be handled with thought and care (and if it ties to character backstories or previous campaign events, all the better).
 

pemerton

Legend
the GM is still making choices about interesting ways to challenge or include characters, choices about what is interesting or cool from a frame perspective, choices about how to respond to player choices - choices are involved.
I think this is true. GMing involves authorship. Even in austere Gygaxian/Moldvay-ian dungeon crawling the GM still has to author stuff on the spot, like what the wandering monsters say if the PCs try and talk to them.

I personally wouldn't describe this as the GM having a "desired result". I mean, of course the GM wants his/her authorship to be interesting but that's (almost) inherent in the concept of authorship. (Maybe there are some avant garde RPGers who are exploring the edge case of deliberately unengaging authorship, but I don't think they're posting in this thread.)

But the result, to me, is the outcome of the interaction and tensions that you mentioned. And I don't think the GM has to have any particular desire about that.

I'm guessing you meant something different by result, but I haven't worked out what yet!
 

pemerton

Legend
My own feeling is that the GM is allowed to drop in what I think of as instigating events, but other than whatever starts the campaign (or equivalent, don't get hung up on that) needs to be handled with thought and care (and if it ties to character backstories or previous campaign events, all the better).
My preference these days is to get the players to start things off. This can be done via a "kicker", or in some more relaxed way, or via BW-style Beliefs etc, and probably other ways too.

Conversely, if I'm going to do it as GM I'd rather just frame hard into some action. Faffing around with hooks and unconnected "quest-givers" seems like a waste of time that doubles as a pathway to a railroad.
 

pemerton

Legend
Depending on the group of players, even a table amenable to player driven systems like BitD or AW may need threads of GM force in the form of harder framings that demand a certain amount of reactivity. Some players (or even a larger group of players who might be having an off-day) simply might not be engaged enough to help frame compelling fiction; using GM force to give them some GM driven fiction is no vice in these cases to get them to a point where they're better able to engage.
I don't tend to see hard framing as force per se. In @Manbearcat's terms, where's the negation of player input? (You're positing that that's exactly what's missing.) In my terms in the "illusionism" thread, where's the guidance/manipulation towards a fore-ordained goal? (You're positing production of a reaction, but not forcing a particular reaction.)

This goes back to the framing = railroading thing. I just don't see it. What choices are being blocked or negated or channelled in a particular direction?

(Sorry, this is a bit ranty. But hopefully not outrageously so.)
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
My preference these days is to get the players to start things off. This can be done via a "kicker", or in some more relaxed way, or via BW-style Beliefs etc, and probably other ways too.

Conversely, if I'm going to do it as GM I'd rather just frame hard into some action. Faffing around with hooks and unconnected "quest-givers" seems like a waste of time that doubles as a pathway to a railroad.

Oh, an instigating event is a pretty hard thing. Party is all in same place and time. Stuff breaks out around them, which leads to other stuff, which leads to other stuff, by which point the players (and characters) are, inshallah, invested. First campaign the party was in [city] during [festival] and hordes of undead started attacking festivalgoers. Second campaign, party was at a caravanserai during [other festival], having all received letters telling them to be there and then; cultists of the Hunger Between Worlds showed up and started trying to convert and/or kill people in the caravanserai, which led to stuff, which led to other stuff, and the players and characters are, it seems, invested.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
@pemerton - Hah, no, not the outcome itself, the 'desire' I'm talking about indexes that the session outcomes be, first, in line with the table expectations of framing and genre and the like, and two, that the outcomes be positive or good relative to the quality of experience at the table. In the second case I'm talking about the players enjoying themselves, not about positive outcomes for the characters. So the GM has desires about running a good campaign, for whatever value of good fits the system and players we're talking about. The result is the extent to which session outcomes match those desires - we can all tell when a session has been awesome or when one has dragged. We might not always be able to fix that, because we aren't the only one's making decisions, but that's generally the desire.

Was it cool? Did I juggle all the balls well or drop some? Were the players engaged? Did I give the players some chances to add their own great ideas to the frame (bump and set baby, bump and set)? Etc Etc.

The above is framed about as generally as I can manage. Any particular table could be described far more specifically in the same terms, of course.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Yeah, given this info I'd call this Force.

Unfortunately, there'll now be no way of knowing whether it was justified or not, in that you were kinda guessing how your players would react to the bits you skipped (unless there's more you haven't said). Further, you admit to having your own bias in point c), in not looking forward to the work you'd have to do.

It's possible your players might have enjoyed the sub-dungeon, for all I know. :)

You also altered the course of play in that whatever resources they'd have used in the sub-dungeon didn't get used, whatever knowledge and-or treasure they might have gained there they didn't get, and so forth.
As a player, I would have been very happy and relieved that this sub dungeon got narrated over. Sounds tedious to the extreme. 😊

I believe whether any force is justified really depends on your players. Know your players and make adjustments as needed has always worked well at my table.
 


miggyG777

Explorer
Fundamentally, RPG players tend to play these games to ESCAPE reality. They don't want to be forced to reflect upon what would naturally be considered character evolvement.
True character evolvement relates strongly to what we experience in real life. Finding the meaning in our existence. And that can be unpleasant, especially for people that are extremely averse to any kind of meaningful change.

In essence: An RPG is commonly used like a drug to numb the drive that would be necessary to create the experience that you are asking for.

Therefore you will very unlikely see players that are able to "play" this sort of character advancement, because :

a.) it fundamentally is not what they are looking for, rather they look for the opposite in gaming.
b.) they would have had to make experiences in real life that would allow them to do it, which they however suppress through constant escapism.
 
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nevin

Adventurer
I think character driven plots can work but In my experience you have to get the ball rolling. Some players will come up with things all on thier own, some you have to lay out a couple of breadcrumb trails to get them there. But it can work.
Fundamentally, RPG players tend to play these games to ESCAPE reality. They don't want to be forced to reflect upon what would naturally be considered character evolvement.
True character evolvement relates strongly to what we experience in real life. Finding the meaning in our existence. And that can be unpleasant, especially for people that are extremely averse to any kind of meaningful change.

In essence: An RPG is commonly used like a drug to numb the drive that would be necessary to create the experience that you are asking for.

Therefore you will very unlikely see players that are able to "play" this sort of character advancement, because :

a.) it fundamentally is not what they are looking for, rather they look for the opposite in gaming.
b.) they would have had to make experiences in real life that would allow them to do it, which they however suppress through constant escapism.

If you think what I am saying is unsound I suggest to find any RPG discord server and see what kind of players you find there. A significant amount of players I have ACtua
I suggest you go read a few of the several studies that have been done since the 80's on role playing and the effects and kind of people that play. In fact the majority of those studies indicate that role players are generally more mentally healthy and tend to avoid a lot of other unhealthy behaviors. That and on the internet people say and do things they'd never say or do face to face. I don't think any internet forum is a place to meet people and see who they really are.
 

pemerton

Legend
Fundamentally, RPG players tend to play these games to ESCAPE reality. They don't want to be forced to reflect upon what would naturally be considered character evolvement.
True character evolvement relates strongly to what we experience in real life. Finding the meaning in our existence. And that can be unpleasant, especially for people that are extremely averse to any kind of meaningful change.

<snip>

Therefore you will very unlikely see players that are able to "play" this sort of character advancement, because :

a.) it fundamentally is not what they are looking for, rather they look for the opposite in gaming.
b.) they would have had to make experiences in real life that would allow them to do it, which they however suppress through constant escapism.
This doesn't really fit with my experience of RPGing. I have always found that players enjoy RPGs that centre the PCs and their "journey".
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Character development doesn't really intersect with 'real life' in any meaningful way IMO, nor does thinking about it somehow obviate the escapism inherent in the hobby. In fact, I might argue that the opposite is true, that the tangible teleos of an RPG character might be a soothing balm to someone looking to escape the never-quite-sure of their daily life. To say that an RPG is a "drug that numbs" I think is to fundamentally misunderstand the stakes of the endeavor.
 


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