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Consequences of Failure

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
That's because the example hides where the difference is. (IMO, as I see it, etc.)

So, in standard exploratory play (i.e. most D&D, etc.):
  • if there is a connection between the stones, the DM already knows it
  • the PC's history with another group of stones must have already been established, either in character creation/backstory or in play. (Some DMs can even introduce it at the moment: "You recognize these symbols from another stone circle near the village where you grew up....")
  • its actually questionable (IME) that a player could introduce such a history or the existence of another stone circle without prior consent of the DM, especially before the roll is made or the check is called for by the DM. ("Critical Success! I remember runes like these from the stone circle near my village!")
In non-exploratory play (most Fate games, Apocalypse Games, etc.):
  • the players are "free" to introduce such elements of their history (sometimes by spending a mechanical resource...so maybe not "free" free.)
  • the results of the roll may tell you, not just whether the PC can recognize any connection, but even if it is there at all (varies from game to game.) This might include whether or not this information is important to any ongoing plot, or instantiates a new plotline.
  • whatever the outcome is, it is likely related to some facet of the characters' already. (an aspect on a
    Fate character, or a quirk in some other systems, etc.)
  • someone (either GM or player) is likely quite capable of introducing whatever they want at this point, and in fact, may be required to inject new fiction into the game by the mechanics. (This is one reason many of these games have either very light or entirely player-facing mechanics. Injecting a new plotline on a roll would crash the game if the GM had to go look up a spelllist, generate relevant NPCs, etc.)
Oh! that’s what “exploratory play” vs. “heightened drama play” means? Ok, see that’s a real, meaningful distinction that I can understand. I just think “exploratory” and “heightened drama” are terrible names for the categories, in that case. Either style could be highly dramatic and/or prominently feature exploration. I’d define them based on the degree of narrative control the players have. I’d also say it’s a spectrum rather than a dichotomy.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
What even is “playstyle?” Are there categories? If so, what are the categories? If not, is it some indovidualized preference? If it is down to individual preference, is it reasonable to expect a game system to account for each potential player’s preferences? Or is it strategic? Tactical? Dwarves favor a running game while elves like passing and goblins just rely on sneaky fouls?
This is discussed in the D&D 5e DMG, page 34. Basically it's "Hack & Slash," "Immersive Storytelling," or "Something in Between." But these are exaggerated examples to get the DM to think about the sorts of games he or she wants to run.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
This is discussed in the D&D 5e DMG, page 34. Basically it's "Hack & Slash," "Immersive Storytelling," or "Something in Between." But these are exaggerated examples to get the DM to think about the sorts of games he or she wants to run.
So it’s content?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Personally I would say a system supports a particular combination of playstyle and DMing style if that combination works without needing to houserule any of the system's core mechanics. For example, the three combinations I expressed as being supported by 5e all work with 5e's core ability check mechanic (and also with all of its major susbsystems). All three combinations work with goal-and-approach too, at least when that term is defined broadly.
That raises the question of what constitutes a house rule though. If you ask Iserith, I imagine he might say that allowing players to initiate checks (either by asking permission to make them or by simply announcing intent to make them) in 5e is a house rule, and I imagine Oofta would disagree with that quite emphatically. How broad a range of playstyles a game supports under this definition depends on how strictly you interpret the rules.

As for the DMing styles, I'm using those terms as shorthand for a dominant DMing priority. For DM-as-Referee, I understand that the primary priority is accuracy to the pre-established content without any agenda other than neutral adjudication. For DM-as-entertainer I'm using the term to refer to styles where the primary priority is the players' and DM's fun. I'm definitely open to changing terminology if you have something in mind that promotes clearer communication.
This would imply that placing a higher priority on fun necessarily demands a lower priority on adherence to pre-established content and vice-versa, which I don’t believe is the case. These are certainly two priorities that different DMs might have in different amounts, but they are not, in my opinion, conflicting priorities.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
That raises the question of what constitutes a house rule though. If you ask Iserith, I imagine he might say that allowing players to initiate checks (either by asking permission to make them or by simply announcing intent to make them) in 5e is a house rule, and I imagine Oofta would disagree with that quite emphatically. How broad a range of playstyles a game supports under this definition depends on how strictly you interpret the rules.
That is a good point. I guess I'd say that whether a system supports a given style is not going to be binary, and is also going to be subjective. That's probably also why I'm willing to uncritically rely on posters' self-reported success with 5e when gauging what styles the system supports.

This would imply that placing a higher priority on fun necessarily demands a lower priority on adherence to pre-established content and vice-versa, which I don’t believe is the case. These are certainly two priorities that different DMs might have in different amounts, but they are not, in my opinion, conflicting priorities.
It's certainly not my intent to imply that fun and adhering to pre-written material are mutually exclusive. Hmm, how best can I rephrase....

I'm trying to point out a contrast between my style, which emphasizes changing the (unseen parts of the) game world on the fly in response to the DM's reading of the players' enjoyment, versus a sharply contrasting style that emphasizes designing pre-written content to be fun and then accurately presenting that content. Both styles are presumably fun-maximizing (for players with different preferences) but the DMing processes are very different.

If you have suggestions for better ways to communicate the contrast rather than analogizing the DM's role to other professions (e.g. Referee, Entertainer) please let me know. :)
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Oh! that’s what “exploratory play” vs. “heightened drama play” means? Ok, see that’s a real, meaningful distinction that I can understand. I just think “exploratory” and “heightened drama” are terrible names for the categories, in that case. Either style could be highly dramatic and/or prominently feature exploration. I’d define them based on the degree of narrative control the players have. I’d also say it’s a spectrum rather than a dichotomy.
I agree that "heightened drama play" is a terrible name. I think "exploratory" is fairly spot-on. As far as it being a spectrum....maybe in the way people run their games. Mechanically (RAW), though, it tends to be a little more "chunky". I mean, if you're game says "The DM is the final arbiter of what happens in the gameworld." then you're pretty much putting baby in a corner. Especially since the mechanical zeitgeist of most exploratory games is pretty prohibitive of things like injecting a new plotline, or broadly altering one in the course of play ("Play to see what happens.") without the DM being able to prep. There's other stuff that exploratory games tend to do poorly, but often mentioning them seems to create umbrage. Conversely, games that are "narratively intense"(?) tend to not provide or deal well with "strict" things like gridded combat and the like. Such a substrate is generally cumbersome for addressing those playgoals.
 

Ovinomancer

Flip Nazi
I don't see consistency as binary. Rather, I see it as a sliding scale. Sure, all playstyles value consistency, but I would argue that exploratory play places a much higher premium on consistency than a heightened-drama playstyle. In exploratory play it's not enough to avoid outright inconsistency, instead a goal of play is to demonstrate the consistency of the setting. This is commonly done by accurate adhereance to a pre-written setting if the exploratory playstyle is accompanied by a DM-as-referee DMing style, but as I described in a previous post I think the requisite heightened awareness of the consistency of the setting can be achieved through other DMing styles as well.



I haven't seen anyone report experience with running 5e with a playstyle of a DMing style similar to PBtA (admittedly, the distinction between playstyle and DMing style appears to matter less in PBtA where they are so closely intertwined). My experience with PBtA is limited to a single campaign of Urban Shadows, so I don't feel qualified to opine on whether 5e is flexible enough to accommodate that style. (Please also see my response to @Ovinomancer below.)



Two tables of 5e can have entirely different playstyles and DMing styles and still be successful. For example, my 5e games emphasize player-driven exploratory play where combat difficulty depends mostly on the strategic choices the PCs and their opponents make prior to rolling initiative. At the same time, I run the game in a DM-as-Entertainer style where accurate refereeing with reference to pre-written material has no intrinsic value. I will modify the (unseen parts of the) game world on the fly to control pacing, drama, and increase enjoyability, but my framing and telegraphing of that content is always a neutral adjudication that avoids deliberate stake-setting.

By contrast, assuming I am understanding correctly, many of the posters in this thread DM in a style that values accurately adhering to their pre-written material, but will consciously frame and telepgraph that content as a tool to control pacing, drama, and enjoyability and promote deliberate stake-setting. There has been less discussion of playstyles than DMing styles, but I get the impression that many of those posters favor DM-driven, drama-focused styles where players are tactically reacting to the material as it is being presented (with some difference of opinion on how immediate those reactions and their consequences should be).

So we've already got two almost-inverted combinations of playstyles and DMing styles that 5e apparently works for. Then we've also had a couple posters in this thread who fully support an exploratory playstyle with a classic DM-as-referee DMing style, and 5e works for them too.

These three entirely-different combinations are sufficient variety for me to stand by my assertion that 5e supports a wide variety of playstyles and DMing styles. Sure, as I said to @pemerton above, I don't know if 5e would support a PBtA play/DM style, and I also don't know how well it would work in playstyles that permit the players to add fictional elements of the game world. But even if 5e won't support those styles, I still feel justified that it supports enough disperate styles to qualify as supporting a wide range.
But, we don't have inverted combinations because there's a bit that you're letting do a lot of work buy not mentioning -- that everything you have above is playing 5e. So, yes, two tables of 5e can have entirely different playstyles of playing 5e. And that latter bit locks those entirely different styles into a rather narrow grouping of ways to play RPG in general. And that narrow grouping is one where the GM is the ultimate source of authority for fiction and entirely controls the backstory of the game. This fiction can be prepared or generated on the fly, but the controlling factor is that it will flow from the GM. Further, in 5e styles, the players have absolute authority only over their declared actions. It's considered bad form for a GM to overstep this and direct PC actions absent a game mechanic like charm or dominate.

This is what I said above -- there's a narrower carve-out of styles that fit "D&D 5e" than are available across all RPGs. You cannot, for instance, replicate the playstyle of an Apocalypse World game in 5e, even though the available playstyles in 5e is broader than that available in AW (which severely curtails the possible options for playstyle). You're committing the error of "I play 5e, and my game looks different from that game, so 5e must allow for many, many types of games." The error here is that your game is really only superficially different from other games in terms of style. Content, sure, but style? You're still directing the fiction from the DM's chair, the players still interact with the game by declaring actions, and the mechanical system focuses on resolving discrete action declarations. Also, prep is required, even if it's just pulling monsters from the MM. This is the same in your professed style above and in mine and in Oofta's. The differences are where we pull our content (which varies a good deal) and how we do the mini-game of resolutions.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
That is a good point. I guess I'd say that whether a system supports a given style is not going to be binary, and is also going to be subjective. That's probably also why I'm willing to uncritically rely on posters' self-reported success with 5e when gauging what styles the system supports.
Yeah, I’d just say that doing so brings us back to the idea that any system can support any playstyle if the GM is committed enough. I’m trying to find a way to express this that isn’t going to come across as one-true-way, but I think the fact of the matter is that any game system “supports” one specific style of play - the one defined by its rules. GMs who want to play the game in a different way can certainly still do so and have a good time - maybe even a better time than they would playing strictly by the book. But I wouldn’t describe that as being “supported” by the system.

It's certainly not my intent to imply that fun and adhering to pre-written material are mutually exclusive. Hmm, how best can I rephrase....

I'm trying to point out a contrast between my style, which emphasizes changing the (unseen parts of the) game world on the fly in response to the DM's reading of the players' enjoyment, versus a sharply contrasting style that emphasizes designing pre-written content to be fun and then accurately presenting that content. Both styles are presumably fun-maximizing (for players with different preferences) but the DMing processes are very different.

If you have suggestions for better ways to communicate the contrast rather than analogizing the DM's role to other professions (e.g. Referee, Entertainer) please let me know. :)
I mean, I think you articulated it pretty well here. It’s a sliding scale of how much the DM is willing to change the (unseen parts of the) game world on the fly in response to the their reading of the players' enjoyment. I might say their assessment of the needs of the narrative rather than reading of the players’ enjoyment, but the idea is the same.

I think analyzing it as a spectrum of how much or little you do a thing, rather than trying to create opposed categories of people who do the thing and people who do something else helps. For example, I don’t think I would fall under what you would define as a “DM as entertainer.” But I do occasionally adjust unseen things on the fly to suit the needs of the game - for example, if I’m trying to run a complete adventure in a limited time frame, I might move scenes around or cut them out in the interest of time.
 

Ovinomancer

Flip Nazi
Yeah, let's get back to it:

During wilderness exploration, the party stumbles upon a grove of standing stones with weathered runes upon them, the caretakers having long abandoned the site. No one knows who they were, or what they were doing. But now one of the PCs harkens back to wandering the woods behind the family farm... "I approach one of the standing stones to examine, visually at first, the runes and compare them against what I remember of the stones behind our family farm where the green robed humanoids chanted but always kept their distance when we wandered nearby."

An INT ability check seems appropriate for a DM to call, assuming a meaningful consequence of failure might follow.

Which of the 5 INT skills (or even other skills, if you allow variant Skills with Different Abilities) might you let a player invoke in response to being asked to roll?
What might be a meaningful consequence of failure here?

I have some ideas on both, but wonder what others might say. Assumption here is following a goal-and-approach style.
In effect, this scenario is presenting a fiction to the players with no information about what's expected or what's possible and asking them to either ask you questions about it to find out or do things blindly. This is a poor formulation from a number of angles, especially since you establish that even the DM doesn't know what they stone are or what they do. We have a vague situation that we're asking the players to negotiate. In other games, like a PbtA game, this would be okay, because the players have a lot of ways to introduce new fiction and the mechanics of those systems work well with that. But, that's lacking in 5e. Still, that's essentially what you have the player's ask do -- create new fiction.

The player's declaration is actually both complex and just asking the DM to narrate more. It's complex in that it has a buried proposition to create new fictions -- that these stones are like the stones back home. This is problematical in 5e because there's no mechanical way to do this and, in effect, the player is asking the DM to add this to the game. The adjudication of this is DM whim. So, once we've negotiated past the part where the DM decides if it's permissible for these stones to be like the ones back home, we get to the basic part where the player is now asking the DM to narrate to the player the fiction of these stones, which are now like back home, that the DM elected NOT to do prior to this (didn't know, didn't want to say, eh). The premise of the question is that the DM now decides that receiving this narration is uncertain, and has a cost for failure, and so calls for a check. Only, this check is difficult to parse because we've missed that it is just an ask for more DM narration and that there's nothing at risk here except that DM deciding that these stones aren't like back home, but, again, 5e lacks a strong mechanical use case for this kind of determination.

So, essentially, this entire though experiment boils down to the DM failing to preset a complete scene, forcing the players to ask both for new fiction and for the DM to narrate the scene more, This leads to confusion because it's assumed that the player's ask should be gated behind a check. We're asked to identify a possible failure case for this check, which is precisely backwards -- you should know this before asking for the check.

I see no check necessary here to ask the DM if the player's backstory can please be relevant to the not-fully-developed scene presented -- this is entirely up to the DM.
 
How are we defining support for a playing style? If it’s simply that you can tailor the game to suit the playing style and still have a good time, then I would argue that any game “supports” any playing style if the GM is committed enough. I do think that some games lend themselves more to certain playing styles than to others.
Often when you hear "such and such game 'supports' my style, and such and such other games do not," 'supports' really means forces the style and/or punishes other styles. That is, the game's mechanics heavily favor a certain approach to play. It can be quite specific, quite obvious, or rather general or obscure.

For instance, D&D 'supports' the 'CaW' style, in specific/obvious ways - if you can engineer a 5MWD, you'll overwhelm the enemy, for instance - and in more subtle ways, such as ambiguity leaving the door to angling for favorable rulings open.

Alternately, 'supports' can be taken as 'enables' - the game can be played in the style in question without distorting or breaking, or the game is robust enough to play in a variety of styles without undue mechanical issues.

If it’s simply that you can tailor the game to suit the playing style and still have a good time, then I would argue that any game “supports” any playing style if the GM is committed enough. I do think that some games lend themselves more to certain playing styles than to others.
That's the sense in which a GM-empowering game supports a style, it gives the DM latitude to reward/punish/allow/enable styles of play as he sees fit.

I’m also still highly suspicious of these categories of “exploratory vs. heightened drama” or “DM as referee vs. DM as entertainer.” They seem like arbitrary waffle on the order of GNS theory to me.
Agreed.
 
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Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
But, we don't have inverted combinations because there's a bit that you're letting do a lot of work buy not mentioning -- that everything you have above is playing 5e. So, yes, two tables of 5e can have entirely different playstyles of playing 5e. And that latter bit locks those entirely different styles into a rather narrow grouping of ways to play RPG in general. And that narrow grouping is one where the GM is the ultimate source of authority for fiction and entirely controls the backstory of the game. This fiction can be prepared or generated on the fly, but the controlling factor is that it will flow from the GM. Further, in 5e styles, the players have absolute authority only over their declared actions. It's considered bad form for a GM to overstep this and direct PC actions absent a game mechanic like charm or dominate.

This is what I said above -- there's a narrower carve-out of styles that fit "D&D 5e" than are available across all RPGs. You cannot, for instance, replicate the playstyle of an Apocalypse World game in 5e, even though the available playstyles in 5e is broader than that available in AW (which severely curtails the possible options for playstyle). You're committing the error of "I play 5e, and my game looks different from that game, so 5e must allow for many, many types of games." The error here is that your game is really only superficially different from other games in terms of style. Content, sure, but style? You're still directing the fiction from the DM's chair, the players still interact with the game by declaring actions, and the mechanical system focuses on resolving discrete action declarations. Also, prep is required, even if it's just pulling monsters from the MM. This is the same in your professed style above and in mine and in Oofta's. The differences are where we pull our content (which varies a good deal) and how we do the mini-game of resolutions.
Regardless of whether you consider the range of styles that 5e supports to be "wide", it remains true that it supports (to the satisfaction of the posters) the disperate styles of mutliple posters in this thread.

Yeah, I’d just say that doing so brings us back to the idea that any system can support any playstyle if the GM is committed enough. I’m trying to find a way to express this that isn’t going to come across as one-true-way, but I think the fact of the matter is that any game system “supports” one specific style of play - the one defined by its rules. GMs who want to play the game in a different way can certainly still do so and have a good time - maybe even a better time than they would playing strictly by the book. But I wouldn’t describe that as being “supported” by the system.
I can't agree that only one style is "defined by [5e]'s rules". Even if there was such a singular style, I don't think you'd ever find consensus on what that style is. I suspect many of the posters in this thread would each claim that their disperate style is included amongst those defined by 5e's rules.

Notably, that isn't true for all games. PbtA have a much more well-defined style.

I mean, I think you articulated it pretty well here. It’s a sliding scale of how much the DM is willing to change the (unseen parts of the) game world on the fly in response to the their reading of the players' enjoyment. I might say their assessment of the needs of the narrative rather than reading of the players’ enjoyment, but the idea is the same.

I think analyzing it as a spectrum of how much or little you do a thing, rather than trying to create opposed categories of people who do the thing and people who do something else helps. For example, I don’t think I would fall under what you would define as a “DM as entertainer.” But I do occasionally adjust unseen things on the fly to suit the needs of the game - for example, if I’m trying to run a complete adventure in a limited time frame, I might move scenes around or cut them out in the interest of time.
I'm fine with defining styles in terms of a spectrum how often a particular technique is used. In this case I think the label DM-as-Referee would apply to games at one end of the adjust-unseen-elements-on-the-fly spectrum where such is never done. By contrast DM-as-Entertainer would refer to the other end of the spectrum where there is no expectation at all that unseen elements will remain constant. There may be better labels that would be more useful as communicative aids, or it may be more useful to dispense with the labels altogether.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
CaW means Combat as War, right? More Forge waffle?
To my understanding the terms Combat as War (CaW) and Combat as Sport (CaS) originated on EnWorld in this thread. The original post offers descriptions rather than concise definitions, but I would distill the two ideas as follows:

CaS: Describes a playstyle where encounters are approached as presented, with combat difficulty being determined primarily by (1) the encounter design decisions of the DM, (2) the PCs' remaining rechargable resources, and (3) PC tactics after initiative is rolled. Skilled CaS play results from knowing how to maximize the impact of the PCs' tactical abilities and wise rationing of consumable/rechargable resources. Combats tend to be balanced, short-range affairs at DM-planned locations.

CaW: Describes a playstyle where the expectation is that PCs will strive to engineer encounters to play to their own stregnths, with combat difficulty being determined primarily by the combination of the PCs' and antagonists' strategic choices prior to rolling initiative, as constrained by their relative power and available resources. Skilled CaW play results from knowing how to leverage off-character-sheet resources (e.g. influence, wealth, terrain, strategic deception, etc.) and off-label uses of on-character-sheet resources (e.g. multipurpose utility spells) to bypass/obviate/co-opt potential opponents or maximize the party's tactical advantages. Combats tend to be lopsided affairs at a range and location determined by whichever side has superior mobility.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I definitely agree that exploratory play was a misnomer on my part. I am not talking about anything that came out of the Forge. The type of play I am talking about largely comes from the OSR (Old School Renaissance or Revival). It's the rediscovery of the way the war gaming community that was the initial audience for Dungeons and Dragons played the game.

Basically it is a personal level closed war game played with a referee. The sorts of war games that Gygax and Arneson played featured prepared scenarios with a referee who was on hand to use their expert knowledge to resolve how things went. Fog of war and asymmetrical information played a critical element in these war games. Often players would spend resources on their turns to scout out enemy forces and probe for weaknesses. Then players would declare their actions based on incomplete information and the referee would determine how things went based on their knowledge of the situation and military history.

Dungeons and Dragons was a natural outgrowth of this. Dungeons become the new scenario which players worked together to explore, remove riches, and exploit. The referee become responsible for making judgement calls when things were unclear and playing the monsters with integrity. Fog of war and asymmetric information still played a big part. A large part of the skill of the game involved navigating the environment, mapping out the terrain, and general reconnaissance. Combat was largely something to avoid unless you had an overwhelming advantage. Careful management of resources including spell slots, ammunition, food and water, etc, was crucial to success.

The purpose of the referee was two fold - represent the environment as accurately as possible and in the event that there something the rules did adequately cover or covered poorly make a ruling so play could proceed. It's a job that absolutely requires judgement, but not towards a particular outcome. They were supposed to judge every action not covered by the rules based on what they think would be likely to happen. For the most part referees were still expected to be bound by the rules unless there was something in the fiction that required them to make a judgement call. There were even referee only rules like morale and reaction rolls that were definitely expected to be adhered to.

This sort of play is deeply strategic, requires careful management of resources and information, and features asymmetric information for both players and referees.
 

Ovinomancer

Flip Nazi
Regardless of whether you consider the range of styles that 5e supports to be "wide", it remains true that it supports (to the satisfaction of the posters) the disperate styles of mutliple posters in this thread.
I'm glad, but the reason we're able to have this conversation about the narrow points of how do you specifically adjudicate actions in 5e is that our playstyles are very, very similar. Again, there's a difference in what you do in play (playstyle) and the content of your games. The biggest point of difference you've alluded to is whether content is ad-libbed in play or prepared, but that doesn't address how play actually happens. Given what you said, you as GM are still the source of the fiction and the players the source of their character's actions. Believe it or not, those are not givens in other playstyles in other games, even if they're bog standard in 5e.

Don't confuse a difference in what happens in your game being from a separate playstyle. @iserith and I share a great deal of playstyle, but our games likely look very much different due to different interests and content.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
In effect, this scenario is presenting a fiction to the players with no information about what's expected or what's possible and asking them to either ask you questions about it to find out or do things blindly. This is a poor formulation from a number of angles, especially since you establish that even the DM doesn't know what they stone are or what they do. We have a vague situation that we're asking the players to negotiate. In other games, like a PbtA game, this would be okay, because the players have a lot of ways to introduce new fiction and the mechanics of those systems work well with that. But, that's lacking in 5e. Still, that's essentially what you have the player's ask do -- create new fiction.

The player's declaration is actually both complex and just asking the DM to narrate more. It's complex in that it has a buried proposition to create new fictions -- that these stones are like the stones back home. This is problematical in 5e because there's no mechanical way to do this and, in effect, the player is asking the DM to add this to the game. The adjudication of this is DM whim. So, once we've negotiated past the part where the DM decides if it's permissible for these stones to be like the ones back home, we get to the basic part where the player is now asking the DM to narrate to the player the fiction of these stones, which are now like back home, that the DM elected NOT to do prior to this (didn't know, didn't want to say, eh). The premise of the question is that the DM now decides that receiving this narration is uncertain, and has a cost for failure, and so calls for a check. Only, this check is difficult to parse because we've missed that it is just an ask for more DM narration and that there's nothing at risk here except that DM deciding that these stones aren't like back home, but, again, 5e lacks a strong mechanical use case for this kind of determination.

So, essentially, this entire though experiment boils down to the DM failing to preset a complete scene, forcing the players to ask both for new fiction and for the DM to narrate the scene more, This leads to confusion because it's assumed that the player's ask should be gated behind a check. We're asked to identify a possible failure case for this check, which is precisely backwards -- you should know this before asking for the check.

I see no check necessary here to ask the DM if the player's backstory can please be relevant to the not-fully-developed scene presented -- this is entirely up to the DM.
Agreed. I like that the player has offered up some interesting backstory that may be useful later, but I just can't see the reason for an ability check here. I'll just provide more information.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
The reason I associate the GMing techniques of a game like Apocalypse World with a heightened sense of drama and tension is that a significant part of your agenda is to stir it up.

Whenever the players look to the GM they are supposed to make a GM move. This comes in 2 varieties : soft moves (threats) that imply something in the fiction is about to change irrevocably and hard moves (follow through) that make that change a reality. Balancing the two is the core skill of an Apocalypse World GM.

Running Apocalypse World is like sparring with the players. You throw a jab and if they don't respond or if they leave their guard open you are kind of obligated to throw the cross. You like them and do not want to hurt them, but it's like the only way they get better. It's constant move and counter move. Keeping a good tempo is really important. Knowing how hard to hit back is a crucial skill.
 

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