Contrivance in story dynamics

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Could they create humunculi and send them in to retrieve the items? Though I guess you’d have to trust them once they entered wherever the bag’s contents got dumped (assuming it’s a different plane). 🤔
The creation of humunculi would be a production in itself - the PCs are nowhere near the kind of level to be able to do it themselves, so someone else would have to do it for them. And yes, even after that there's the issue of how reliable/trustworthy they might turn out to be... :)

And then how do they get back?

Interesting idea, though - thanks!
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The creation of humunculi would be a production in itself - the PCs are nowhere near the kind of level to be able to do it themselves

In 5e, creating a homonculus is a standard Artificer infusion, and can be done starting at 2nd level.
 


That's 5e. In my game it's something only done at rather high level...far higher than are the current PCs.
Yeah, this was always something I found unsatisfactory in early 'classic' versions of D&D, like 1e. Making items and potions and things like maybe a homonculus or whatever is FUN and cool, why force everyone to play for 12 levels before they can have fun? Heck, 2e basically says "never let them do this stuff!" (though it offers some high level rules to use for certain things).

I found systems like 4e to be so much more interesting in that you can basically allow a version of almost anything at any level, it just has to follow within the bounds of the existing sorts of stuff that can happen within the tier/sub-tier of play that is current. So, Shaman have basically a 'homonculus' and wizards can very easily recruit a familiar at the cost of a feat. There are rituals which presumably can produce temporary versions of these kinds of things as well. Obviously creating items is also possible at any level in 4e, you just can't make stuff that is higher than your level. Same with scrolls, they are quite possible and simply require some expense and time. Powers often do similar stuff in a more limited context.

I just never understood the classic D&D mentality of "low level guys can't do squat." Given that MOST play is at low levels, it was a pretty big bummer IMHO.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, this was always something I found unsatisfactory in early 'classic' versions of D&D, like 1e. Making items and potions and things like maybe a homonculus or whatever is FUN and cool, why force everyone to play for 12 levels before they can have fun?
In part because one of the underlying tenets of old-time D&D is what I'd call "enforced randomness". Characters generally didn't get to pick and choose what they got, instead it was at the whim of the dice (or module). The new spell given an MU on training? Random. Stats and hit points? Random. Treasure found? Random, and sometimes random whether or not you even found it; you might get a ring of multiple wishes at 3rd level or you might never see one in ten years of play. And for the most part I like this. The randomness of it all is part of what makes it fun.

There was also a line of concern suggesting that if item creation was allowed too soon, PCs would spend much of their time making items instead of field-adventuring to find them. 3e would be the test of this, as PC item creation was a big deal in that system; but I can't speak to it much as despite being in a 3e game for 7 years I in saw next to no PC item creation - it just wasn't our thing. (my PC researching and designing her own new spell was a real outlier)
I found systems like 4e to be so much more interesting in that you can basically allow a version of almost anything at any level, it just has to follow within the bounds of the existing sorts of stuff that can happen within the tier/sub-tier of play that is current. So, Shaman have basically a 'homonculus' and wizards can very easily recruit a familiar at the cost of a feat.
Find Familiar was a 1st-level spell in 1e (and 2e I think); but wise characters never cast it as written because of the risk, and any fix I've ever seen makes the familiars way too useful/powerful. Technically the spell is still in my game but it's probably going bye-bye next time I change settings and go through a rules update.
I just never understood the classic D&D mentality of "low level guys can't do squat." Given that MOST play is at low levels, it was a pretty big bummer IMHO.
Not for me, for a few reasons.

One, those high-level abilities gave us something to aspire to. If we keep at this long enough and survive, we can do that too. It also added a sense of open-endedness, which is good.

Two, I prefer that very-low-level characters not be too far removed from ordinary Joes when it comes to game mechanics. The big mechanical gaps between commoner and 1st-level characters in both 4e and 5e is to me a massive design fail.

Three (and connected to the first two), if you're going for a zero-to-hero experience, there has to be a 'zero' phase, followed by a near-zero and slowly improving from there.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Well, it goes back farther (probably the most clear are religous references, which I'll avoid), but how about...

"Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England. " - Thomas Mallory, King Arthur and his Knights.

last KAP campaign, I had a player pass all but one virtue... it moved... but he drew it not...

Since Mordred was not yet when Arthur died in Battle, and the PC had worked his way into Arthur's graces and been named his heir sans famille, The campaign ended with a new king...

It's entirely possible to make use of such in play, give PC's a chance, and just have the victorious player NPC, but given that half the party died in the same battle as Arthur...

Yeah, I do use the battle system complete with rolls for major PCs... so it's always possible for Arthur to bite it well before he faces his son...
 

aramis erak

Legend
In part because one of the underlying tenets of old-time D&D is what I'd call "enforced randomness". Characters generally didn't get to pick and choose what they got, instead it was at the whim of the dice (or module). The new spell given an MU on training? Random. Stats and hit points? Random. Treasure found? Random, and sometimes random whether or not you even found it; you might get a ring of multiple wishes at 3rd level or you might never see one in ten years of play. And for the most part I like this. The randomness of it all is part of what makes it fun.

There was also a line of concern suggesting that if item creation was allowed too soon, PCs would spend much of their time making items instead of field-adventuring to find them. 3e would be the test of this, as PC item creation was a big deal in that system; but I can't speak to it much as despite being in a 3e game for 7 years I in saw next to no PC item creation - it just wasn't our thing. (my PC researching and designing her own new spell was a real outlier)
There's a real simple reason why, despite the pages devoted to it, it seldom happened: It cost XP. the stuff players really wanted was outside their available XP...
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It's entirely possible to make use of such in play, give PC's a chance, and just have the victorious player NPC, but given that half the party died in the same battle as Arthur...

I have no idea what you're on about. I was responding to someone asking where the "chosen one" trope was coming from. I gave an example, from one of the most well-known bits of fantasy literature in the English language. That's all.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Yeah, this has been my central thesis for years on this point, ALL RPG play is fundamentally pretty contrived. I mean, its possible to imagine some that is a bit less so than other instances, I guess. However I don't think anything resembling the classic model of a group of players who play individual PCs who form a cohesive group really can ever get much away from that. Either the group exists sort of purely for meta-game reasons (typical of most classic D&D play) or else there is a plot device to explain it (IE the 'squad of soldiers' kind of model). In the latter case, why is this particular 'squad' so specifically going to engage in some highly unusual activities? Or if their activities are more typical, then they aught mostly to be pretty mundane, right?

I CAN imagine an RPG that was something like "Play the High School Football Team" or something where the things that happen are highly typical and not exceptionally unusual. The drama would then be purely local and pretty down-to-earth (one PC gets his girlfriend stolen by another, etc.). I don't see anything WRONG with that, but it seems weirdly unfit for something like a fantasy game.
Perhaps it is in part the contrivances that make the play gameful.

It is interesting how RPG play has developed. I've observed a tension between what one could call immersionist play, where the player aims to live within their character and world, and authorial play, where players aim to collectively develop not only a story, but perhaps more importantly opportunities to develop or reveal truths about their characters. For many, the latter is preferably pressured and intense.

I have been thinking about whether one way to look at it is that immersionist play places the player-character in a subjective mode, while authorial play is occasionally objective: the player becomes conscious of the mechanics and fiction, and their character as their subject. In a way, immersionist play is what historically much RPG play assumed players would do, while objective play is what much RPG gave to GM. However, perhaps greater confidence and mastery of the medium leads participants to feel they can, and then want to, contribute on both layers. While at the same time a native familiarity with video and games makes the mechanics feel more natural, and less visible and jarring... implying that for them it is not non-immersive to also consider and apply the mechanics. It's access to the full vernacular.

That creates a space for gameful contrivances of the sort discussed in the second part of the OP (in relation to TB.) Players with a native grasp or conversance with modern forms of story and RPG as game, can be afforded by game designers who, too, have a strong grasp or conversance, and a body of tools/design-patterns to call on, to better frame and employ contrivances. For example, where they are systematic and not simply random pulls from lists.
 
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In part because one of the underlying tenets of old-time D&D is what I'd call "enforced randomness". Characters generally didn't get to pick and choose what they got, instead it was at the whim of the dice (or module). The new spell given an MU on training? Random. Stats and hit points? Random. Treasure found? Random, and sometimes random whether or not you even found it; you might get a ring of multiple wishes at 3rd level or you might never see one in ten years of play. And for the most part I like this. The randomness of it all is part of what makes it fun.
Well, I agree, in WELL RUN and interesting games this was quite true. Unfortunately it isn't really something that is well-supported by the game design or the material. So Gilladian gets a hand chopped off and then gets a Soul Sword (I can't remember what it did exactly, something cool). One of my characters got radiation in Gamma World when we went there and got some mutations, etc. A lot of GMs didn't like that stuff though, they didn't get it. These are usually the same ones that love to run low level games with the characters grubbing for a coin.
There was also a line of concern suggesting that if item creation was allowed too soon, PCs would spend much of their time making items instead of field-adventuring to find them. 3e would be the test of this, as PC item creation was a big deal in that system; but I can't speak to it much as despite being in a 3e game for 7 years I in saw next to no PC item creation - it just wasn't our thing. (my PC researching and designing her own new spell was a real outlier)
Well, 3e also kind of proved that the concern was spurious (though 3e's crafting is badly implemented IMHO).
Find Familiar was a 1st-level spell in 1e (and 2e I think); but wise characters never cast it as written because of the risk, and any fix I've ever seen makes the familiars way too useful/powerful. Technically the spell is still in my game but it's probably going bye-bye next time I change settings and go through a rules update.
Depends on the type of game you are playing, but it can be a quite powerful spell. Particularly if you luck out and get an Imp or Pseudo Dragon.
Not for me, for a few reasons.

One, those high-level abilities gave us something to aspire to. If we keep at this long enough and survive, we can do that too. It also added a sense of open-endedness, which is good.

Two, I prefer that very-low-level characters not be too far removed from ordinary Joes when it comes to game mechanics. The big mechanical gaps between commoner and 1st-level characters in both 4e and 5e is to me a massive design fail.

Three (and connected to the first two), if you're going for a zero-to-hero experience, there has to be a 'zero' phase, followed by a near-zero and slowly improving from there.
Yeah, we just don't like the same things. Anyway, I played 9 bazillion worthless 1st level AD&D PCs, can we move on now? lol.
 

Perhaps it is in part the contrivances that make the play gameful.

It is interesting how RPG play has developed. I've observed a tension between what one could call immersionist play, where the player aims to live within their character and world, and authorial play, where players aim to collectively develop not only a story, but perhaps more importantly opportunities to develop or reveal truths about their characters. For many, the latter is preferably pressured and intense.
I feel a bit unhappy with your use of the 'immersionist' in this context, as it would tend to indicate that there is LESS immersion in character in a game that is more 'authorial' to use your term. I mean, the argument gets made that 'meta-game processes' break immersion. Its one of those kinds of statements that cannot really be examined, its purely subjective. I just maintain that my identification with my character is no more difficult because of that than because of all the fairly contrived stuff that goes into "you are a party" or whatever. @pemerton has also pretty consistently argued that there are other deal-breaking aspects, like the way in which the character's understanding of the world has to be fed to him, where it would be inherent in reality, and that the authorial activity, in his opinion (which I tend to agree with), better matches with a verisimilitudinous experience of being the character.
I have been thinking about whether one way to look at it is that immersionist play places the player-character in a subjective mode, while authorial play is occasionally objective: the player becomes conscious of the mechanics and fiction, and their character as their subject. In a way, immersionist play is what historically much RPG play assumed players would do, while objective play is what much RPG gave to GM. However, perhaps greater confidence and mastery of the medium leads participants to feel they can, and then want to, contribute on both layers. While at the same time a native familiarity with video and games makes the mechanics feel more natural, and less visible and jarring... implying that for them it is not non-immersive to also consider and apply the mechanics. It's access to the full vernacular.
I don't know, I suppose there are factors which account for these preferences, though they may be so personal and non-specific as to be beyond analysis in any realistic sense.
That creates a space for gameful contrivances of the sort discussed in the second part of the OP (in relation to TB.) Players with a native grasp or conversance with modern forms of story and RPG as game, can be afforded by game designers who, too, have a strong grasp or conversance, and a body of tools/design-patterns to call on, to better frame and employ contrivances. For example, where they are systematic and not simply random pulls from lists.
I think, though, it is a legitimate criticism of TB (at least TB2, which is all I've played) that the process of play is VERY all-encompassing and thus you find yourself heavily 'in the meta'. Where with a game like Dungeon World as a player I often find myself focusing almost entirely on the fiction, that is hard to achieve in TB2. The difference being DW is much less structured above the 'participants make moves' level. Probably the main thing that happens on the player side above that level is the GM may ask the players, out of character, questions, and then use the answers. Actually I don't think DW intends those questions to BE out of character, they are addressed to the characters, not the players. However, they are likely to provoke 'player side' thinking as "Do you think there's an ocean to the east?" COULD be asked of a character, but they would never think "well, should I say 'yes' and signal that I want to go sailing or 'no there's a desert' and signal something else?"
 

pemerton

Legend
it is a legitimate criticism of TB (at least TB2, which is all I've played) that the process of play is VERY all-encompassing and thus you find yourself heavily 'in the meta'. Where with a game like Dungeon World as a player I often find myself focusing almost entirely on the fiction, that is hard to achieve in TB2.
I'd probably frame it more as an observation than a criticism.
 

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