D&D General Chekhov's Gun and the Hickman Revolution- What Type of Campaign Do You Run?

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Good article.

When they find a magic arrow of dragon slaying in Act One, will there be a Dragon in Act 3 to shoot at?
Coincidentally, I just saw someone I used to play with recommend as a piece of OS DMing advice, to give a low level party an arrow of dragon slaying. Just so they have it. He was not advising this for any kind of foreshadowing, but just so the PCs have such a tool in their toolbox, and so it can influence their decision making and foster excitement IF and when they happen to hear about or see a dragon in the area.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
I don't agree with that. I think he just thinks as poorly of rowboat worlds as winging it as I do.

But then maybe I need you to define for me what you mean by "gameplay concerns".
I'd suggest reading that book, then. He takes several pages giving in-depth advice and instructions on exactly how to railroad players. His advice on hard and soft bumpers is particularly useful for railroading referees.

Gameplay concerns. Things like player agency and not violating that.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I'd suggest reading that book, then. He takes several pages giving in-depth advice and instructions on exactly how to railroad players. His advice on hard and soft bumpers is particularly useful for railroading referees.

Gameplay concerns. Things like player agency and not violating that.

Hard and soft bumpers are not intended to violate player agency. They are intended to prevent the players from being bored because they are trying to achieve some goal but have temporarily lost track of how to do so. If the players however really don't want to achieve some goal, you open the gate and let them move into a new pasture.

What you don't do is design a rowboat world, let the players paddle off into the middle of nowhere, and then tell them, "Well, it's all your fault you have nothing to do and are bored and are failures. I was just respecting your agency."
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Hard and soft bumpers are not intended to violate player agency.
Weird, because that's exactly what they do. The players don't get to choose where to go or what to do. They get to choose between: 1) engage with the pre-planned story the referee has decided to force feed them; 2) be pushed back towards the pre-planned story the referee has decided to force feed them, or; 3) go home and not play. That's pretty much a defining feature of Hickman's bumpers and a clear violation of player agency.
They are intended to prevent the players from being bored because they are trying to achieve some goal but have temporarily lost track of how to do so.
That's explicitly not how Hickman presents them in XDM. They don't exist to keep the players from becoming bored. They exist to keep the players on the rails.
If the players however really don't want to achieve some goal, you open the gate and let them move into a new pasture.
Because players are cattle. That's nice.
What you don't do is design a rowboat world, let the players paddle off into the middle of nowhere, and then tell them, "Well, it's all your fault you have nothing to do and are bored and are failures. I was just respecting your agency."
So...you think the only options are pure player-agency robbing rails or boredom? That's a laughably terrible false dichotomy.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Weird, because that's exactly what they do. The players don't get to choose where to go or what to do.

Of course they do.

They get to choose between: 1) engage with the pre-planned story the referee has decided to force feed them; 2) be pushed back towards the pre-planned story the referee has decided to force feed them, or; 3) go home and not play. That's pretty much a defining feature of Hickman's bumpers and a clear violation of player agency.

Which is all of course BS. The whole point of an adventure like this is that you've already got player buy in. They want to and have signaled both in and out of game that they want to be doing this adventure and this campaign. If that buy in ever falters, well, then by all means remove the bumpers. In my 40 years of gaming, the overwhelming majority of players that I've ran of all different levels of experience want to bite the hook, want to follow the bread crumbs, and want to engage with the story. They prefer that to there not being a story or having to manufacture all their own fun. The experience that they are buying into is being in a choose your own adventure book, of being the protagonist in a movie where they can make the choices. They aren't buying into the experience of writing that novel themselves.

Regardless of what goal the PC's set, regardless of how much agency they have to set their own goals, the experience they want is that cinematic and dramatic experience. Wherever they set off to in the world, they want it to be fun, and simulationism can't achieve that because the average experience in the imagined universe isn't an adventure. The bumpers are there so that the players get one. So even if they decide to be pirates or to be caravan guards or to run thieves guild or to be free traders or to found a kingdom, they want to dig into that story. And the bumpers are always there because nothing is a perfect simulation. The only real differences are between the GMs that are conscious of that and the ones that are fooling themselves, and the GMs that are good at implementing the adventure and the ones that aren't.

Because players are cattle. That's nice.

Yeah, because that's a fair assessment. </sarcasm> Look, I don't know who took a leak in your corn flakes and burned you badly with terrible GMing, but you really need to get that chip off your shoulder.

So...you think the only options are pure player-agency robbing rails or boredom? That's a laughably terrible false dichotomy.

I think that every GM railroads by necessity, it's just a question of the technique that they use. A popular one among players that don't like railroads is Small World. What the heck do you think the walls are in a dungeon if not hard and soft bumpers to keep the scope of the adventure manageable? What the heck do you think a hex crawl is but a dungeon staged slightly differently?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As usual, a thoughtful and interesting post. Some thoughts:
A. Classic Storytelling and the Open-Ended World; When Chekhov's Gun Never Fires.

Chekhov's gun is the principle that states that every element in a story must be necessary, and those elements that are irrelevant to the story must be removed. Typically this is explained by saying that if you see rifle hanging on the wall in first act of a play, then that rifle has to go off in the second or third act. If you aren't going to fire the rifle, don't put it on the stage.
I've never bought into this theory even in stage plays. Putting some significant element on the stage (e.g. a rifle over the mantel) and never having come into action serves to keep the audience guessing - will it or won't it - until when going home after the show they realize the rifle was just there as a distraction. Fine with me.
Now, before getting into the final section (which gets more into the heart of the issue), I wanted to make sure that the following was noted- there are some people that make a lot of youtube clicks by saying that the Hickman Revolution was bad, evil, nogood, whatever. I'm not saying that at all. In fact, I'd like to point out what the Hickmans themselves said in the original introduction of Pharaoh as to the types of modules they wanted to write-
1. A player objective more worthwhile than simply pillaging and killing.
2. An intriguing story that is intricately woven into play itself.
3. Dungeons with an architectural sense.
4. An attainable and honorable end within one to two sessions playing time.
(Daystar West Pharaoh, 1978).

None of this is objectionable,
1 and 4 might not sit well with some tables - not everyone wants to play the hero; and not everyone wants an adventure to end within one or two sessions. 2 and 3, however, are very sound principles.
... the (in)famous MIT Meatgrinder Megadungeon).
Never heard of this. Now I'm curious. :)
When they find a magic arrow of dragon slaying in Act One, will there be a Dragon in Act 3 to shoot at?
IME it probably won't matter, because they'll have sold the arrow for cash in Act 2.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Not necessarily, but there is a rule of good adventure design that applies to both styles and that is that the dungeon ought to include sufficient resources within it to solve it. You don't necessarily need all the resources because the PC's bring their own prior resources into the adventure, but you should make sure that careful play and utilization finds the resources that make victory not only plausible but likely.
I think this is true only if an adventure needs something specific to solve it. In a low-level 1e adventure that has some gargoyles in it, better make sure there's a magic weapon to be found just in case the party doesn't have any.

But in general, no. If nothing specific is needed e.g. they're going up against a camp full of Ogres then no need to give them any specific resources.
 



ad_hoc

(they/them)
I've found this to be the source of some passionate fighting in D&D forums.

There are quite a number of people who feel the DM has an obligation to change the game to fit the PCs.

If there is a lock picking rogue the DM must then create locks to put in the adventure.

If I were playing that rogue I would be upset that my presence caused a bunch of locks to get in our way.

I find that thinking actually negates player choice. Their choices don't matter if the DM is just going to change things around.

I play published adventures so I am still in the narrative is important camp. I just think there should be some game there too.

This also comes up with the outcome of combats. There are many who argue the PCs are expected to win and it is the bad DM that allows them to lose.

Finally, on the matter of the literal gun - I use random treasure which seems to be very unpopular. The PCs get what they get and it is up to them to use it as best they can.

It is these elements - unique characters, uncertain outcomes, random treasure, and oh yes the also unpopular in modern play random encounters that makes for a compelling game and an exciting story.

Narrative is important for me in play but I don't want to know how the story ends before I've even played.
 

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