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D&D General D&D's Evolution: Rulings, Rules, and "System Matters"

Yup, trust is a red herring argument altogether.
I don't think trust is a red herring but rather "trust," like "fiction," is a more capacious term in context than it might seem to be. But yes lots of rpgs have moments when they rely on trust, and in different ways, some more so than others. As far as FKR goes, I think trust is an extension or rearticulation of rulings not rules. That is, the example of a low trust game would be something like 3e (or maybe even a board game), even if 3e has areas (social interactions) that are still high-trust.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I don't think trust is a red herring but rather "trust," like "fiction," is a more capacious term in context than it might seem to be. But yes lots of rpgs have moments when they rely on trust, and in different ways, some more so than others. As far as FKR goes, I think trust is an extension or rearticulation of rulings not rules. That is, the example of a low trust game would be something like 3e (or maybe even a board game), even if 3e has areas (social interactions) that are still high-trust.
Going to disagree. 3e still has lots and lots of ways to abuse the system and requires trust. Similarly, FKR has lots of ways to abuse the system and requires trust. Both can lose trust very quickly. The difference really is that in 3e you lose trust by misapplying or ignoring the understood rules of the game, and in FKR you lose trust by misapplying or ignoring the understood...rules.... wait. It would appear that you lose trust in both by putting your thumb on the scales.

No, the argument being made isn't that FKR requires more trust, but rather that the GM hiding information being used to adjudicate (via rules or via fiat) requires that players have faith that the GM is acting in good faith. This approach, ie hiding information, is not particularly associated with rules heavy or rules light systems, and there's variants of both that showcase little or lots of information hiding.

What the argument is for D&D FKR (and I do so hate this term because it's, again, so badly misaligned) is to have the GM as both the supposed trusted umpire for resolution, but also the architect behind the mysteries. Here you have to have faith (not really trust) that the GM is doing both fairly and for good purpose. This, though, is a specific application, and you don't have to have either, really. Looking at a game like Cthulhu Dark, for instance, screams for a very impartial GM with respect to scenario design if you're enabling neutral resolution GMing, or you can have neutral scenario design but then have to engage in non-neutral resolution GMing (because you have to stick to the scenario).
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
1. The DM/GM/Referee can't cheat- they can abuse their authority. It's a difference. I understand that you have vociferously argued this point on another thread, but just as an FYI, many people would disagree with you on this.

2. FKR is "high trust". That's .. the whole point. It's kind of baked into the definition. If you are worried about cheating and/or abusing authority, then you shouldn't be playing FKR games.

3. Finally, the types of games that FKR produces don't tend to lend themselves to "cheating" scenarios. See also the whole "high trust" thing.

1) I obviously understand there is a contention over whether or not DMs can cheat. As you said, I'm participating in that discussion elsewhere. I don't understand how that is relevant. I only talked about cheating because The Magic Sword did, here "Neutral between the entities that they're emulating (the world, the monsters, whatever) and the entities they aren't emulating (the players and their characters) in other words, the GM is playing the orcs, but isn't cheating in their favor, and in theory they may kind of want the players to win, they aren't cheating in the player's favor either, so the simulation is unbiased by a desired outcome, but instead plays to its logical conclusions based off the actions of both entities."

So, I engaged in their definition of neutrality, which relied on the idea that the DM is not cheating in either direction. If you have a problem with their definition, talking to me doesn't resolve that.

2) Again, irrelevant. The Magic Sword defines Neutrality as not cheating. I asked how they view neutrality as possible if cheating is impossible, which it would be in a ruleless system. If you want to extend that further to DnD, feel free, but then the same question arises, if the definition of neutrality involves not doing the impossible, then every DM no matter what they do or how they favor one side, is neutral, because they are not cheating.

3) Then, based on The Magic Sword's definition of neutrality, FKR games also don't lend themselves to a neutral referee. Since you will claim that they do have a neutral referee, one of two things must be happening. Either cheating is possible in a game without rules, or Magic Sword's definition of neutrality is wrong. You liked the post that had their definition, which puts you in a rather odd position to be saying that their definition is wrong, and that you liked their definition.


I think that there are many FKR resources (that I have linked to) that provide better explanations than I can. I also think that given that the rule-sets tend to be very short, it would be best that you read them as source material than to take someone's word for it- I believe a link to the itch page with a bunch of them was already provided, along with the link in the OP to a designer who has his game.

Obviously (not so obviously?) 5e is not FKR. But I think that exposure to multiple ways of running games and thinking about them helps the overall experience. Maybe it's just a change in how you choose to prep, or discuss things with your group; maybe it's as far as trying to run a 5e game entirely in a FKR mode (in other words, appropriate the tropes of D&D but run it without the rules). But it's a useful exercise to sometime think about what, if anything, we can take to make our individual games better.

Maybe it's nothing! YMMV.

Sure, multiple ways of running games is helpful in general to address tropes. But, if we agree that some rules are necessary and good (which it seems even FKR games do, since you state that they have rule-sets) then what are we discussing no-rule games for? It would seem that everyone has agreed that that is not offering much to us.

I agree, perhaps thinking about how a rules-lite game runs, or the type of prep it requires can help understand how to improve our games, but giving it cursory thought (all I can afford since I'm an hour late to bed) I wonder what useful things we can pull from them? The first thing I can think of is that a FKR game would require extensive research into a subject matter, to be able to run it with expertise and answer any obscure questions that come up. This could be useful in DnD... except, as we often know, DnD rules sometimes break the reality that research would reveal. Like Brigantine armor, or the amount of crew a sailing vessel needs.

In fact, I've often found that too much real-world knowledge of certain subjects makes running DnD harder, not easier. There is value in figuring this out, obviously, but it seems a difficult thing to reverse once done.


So, what are some values you have found in studying these games that you think we could bring into DnD? You've thought about it far more than I have, but I don't recall you actually offering any fruits of that line of thinking. Other than reducing rules in general.
 

pemerton

Legend
Fiction, fictional positioning, narrative: these terms are more capacious than they might seem to be at first glance. What you call fictional positioning, referring to classic dnd, is the kind of "realism" and verisimilitude, perhaps derived from the wargaming tradition, that makes it so that a player trying to determine whether a dungeon floor is sloping or a dm adjudicating whether a character can climb a sheer surface are legitimate concerns (even if they sit alongside spells and supernatural monsters). On the other hand, "fiction-first" gaming is less concerned with the verisimilitude of the shared imagined world, and more concerned with replicating genre.
By fictional positioning I mean the immediate fictional context in which the PC is located eg my PC has a gun in her handbag; is on the fourth floor of an apartment building; the windows in the apartment are open; etc.

By action resolution based primarily on adjudication of fictional positioning I mean stuff like the following: my PC can draw and fire her gun, because it's ready-to-hand in her handbag; she can leap out the window, because the windows are all open; if she does so she will die (or at least almost certainly be very badly injured) because she's going to fall four floors to the ground.

Here are just a handful of all the possible ways a RPG could interpose mechanics between action declaration, fictional position and resolution; any of these would be pushing the RPG away from free kriegsspiel-ish resolution towards something different:

* I have to make a check for my PC to successfully pull her gun from her handbag, rather than (eg) fumble it. (Rolemaster tends to have rules like this.)​
* I have to make a check for my PC to screw up the courage to fire her gun once she has it in hand. (Burning Wheel has Steel rules that can apply in this sort of context.)​
* I have to make a check to successfully jump out the window. (Wuthering Heights has rules for this: a character who can't make the successful Rage checks suffers too much ennui to kill herself.)​
* I have to make a roll to determine how much damage the fall does, and compare that to some sort of damage-resistance pool. (D&D notoriously takes this approach to the resolution of falls.)​
* Etc​

In the context of classic D&D, the use of unmediated fictional positioning for resolution is most common in the context of exploration or furniture and architecture: eg the GM has notes on whether the floor is level or sloping, and if I declare that my PC uses a marble or pours water or does something similar to determine whether the floor is level the GM gives me the appropriate answer. (This is most often discussed in OSR-ish debates about how to go about resolving searches for secret doors.) There are many ways that a RPG could take a different approach from this classic D&D one: an example is Burning Wheel, where every action that matters (given PC Beliefs and Instincts and the unfolding trajectory of play) demands a check - so if the slope of the floor really mattered then when I declare my PC getting out a marble or pouring water I would still have to make an appropriate check, probably against a very low obstacle, so that if I fail then the GM is able to narrate some appropriate consequence that will drive the action forward.

Needless to say BW is not a very free kriegsspiel-ish game.

To take a practical example, let's say you are trying to do a chase scene. This is a staple of action movies, and we can all picture how these scenes are put together, with tension building, characters negotiating obstacles, etc. Many games have rules for chases--do any of them create chase scenes as interesting as those you see in action movies? In trad games, part of the tension is wanting the chase scene to be realistic (skill challenges/checks, tables for random obstacles, examples of how to keep track of the various elements) on the one hand, and the fact that our idea of tense chase scenes is, in so many ways, driven by genre and not by any kind of realism.
I'm not 100% sure I follow you here. I don't think free kriegsspiel-ish resolution is going to lead to tense/dramatic chase scenes. The most recent effective chase scene I recall GMing - two groups of PCs in ATVs escaping across-world while trying to avoid orbital bombardment from a starship with a triple beam turret - I resolved using a slight adaptation of Classic Traveller's abstract system for resolving encounters between a small craft and a starship (basically roll to evade, if that fails roll to avoid being blown up, if you survive that then go back to the start). It was surprisingly tense. And it did not depend on anyone having expert knowledge or a realistic sense of how such a chase might resolve.

That sort of abstract resolution is pretty much the opposite of resolution based on adjudication of fictional positioning: rather, the fictional positioning - Phew, we've been able to find cover beneath an overhang in a deep valley where the starship won't be able to detect us - is established as an output of the resolution system.

For example, let's say you wanted to play Brideshead Revisited roleplay. The most important thing would be that everyone read the novel and have as much knowledge on its historical context as possible. What character stats, resolution mechanics, and rules you use would be not that important compared to that shared knowledge of the fiction. What the "gm decides" would be what to do when there is uncertainty about what happens next. Do you roll a percentile dice, or 2d6, or come up with something else on the fly? And here, "gm decides" could easily be reconfigured as "everyone at the table agrees."
I don't think that "GM decides" and "everyone at the table agrees" are easy reconfigurations of one another, as the latter looks to me very much like cooperative storytelling and doesn't seem to have much in common with free kriegsspiel nor with what the FKRers are advocating.

Putting that to one side: what is the basis for establishing that something is uncertain? Is it uncertain that my PC can get her gun out of her handbag and shoot it? Rolemaster and Burning Wheel, for different reasons and operationalised in different ways, tend to say No. Apocalypse World says it depends on whether or not you're acting under fire (which might arise not only literally - eg the apartment building is under bombardment - but because you're trying to shoot another PC who already pleaded with you for their life and made a successful Seduce/Manipulate move). Classic Travellers says this is not uncertain - though if a question of who can draw and shoot the quickest arises it has a little DEX-based subsystem to resolve that.

Is it uncertain that my PC can hurl herself out the window? Wuthering Heights answers yes, Classic Traveller answers no (it has PC-facing morale rules by they don't apply in this context).

My understanding of the FKRers is that they answer this issue of uncertainty by focusing very much on the referee's interpreation of the fictional positioning, though of in causal/mechanistic terms and not in (say) emotional or dramatic terms.

Trust: in the Questing Beast video I posted, Mark Diaz Truman argued that he was not a fan of free-form rpg because it is difficult for him as a gm to "disclaim responsibility." The example he gave was players interacting with a king, and as a gm he doesn't know how the king responds, because he wants to respect the investment of the players but also be true to the fiction. So in that example, something like pbta-style gm moves are helpful because both gm and players can refer back to the system. I don't know if that reference back to the system says anything pejorative about the level of trust that the players have in the gm, so in that way both FKR and pbta can be "high trust" games but still arrive at different approaches to the same problem.

That same situation in fkr or osr--or, tbh, trad dnd--is typically handled by the dm playing the role of the king and no one complains too much about it. The dm can just decide what the king says, subject at most to a charisma check that serves more as guideline or prompt than anything determinative. So, even trad dnd places a lot of trust in the dm for those kind of situations, rpghorrorstories notwithstanding. Where trad dnd draws the line mostly has to do with combat, because the dm cannot be trusted to fairly adjudicate a grapple without a few paragraphs of rules, for example.
I agree with @Ovinomancer that "trust" in the context of FKR is a red herring. Playing BW or AW is a high-trust activity, because the play is going to force you to make hard decisions in front of your friends that will tell them something about you. Prince Valiant or 4e D&D are both far more light-hearted in comparison.

The reason I love BW isn't because its systems mean I don't have to trust the GM. It's because its systems produce incredibly dramatic and compelling RPG experiences - and they do that whether I'm playing or GMing.

I don't think trust is a red herring but rather "trust," like "fiction," is a more capacious term in context than it might seem to be. But yes lots of rpgs have moments when they rely on trust, and in different ways, some more so than others. As far as FKR goes, I think trust is an extension or rearticulation of rulings not rules. That is, the example of a low trust game would be something like 3e (or maybe even a board game), even if 3e has areas (social interactions) that are still high-trust.
Others can talk about 3E - I don't have enough experience to say very much about it.

The "trust" in FKRing appears to be primarily trust in the referee's judgements about the causal processes at work in the fiction. That is the sort of trust that is at work in actual free kriegsspiel - ie the referee is knowledgeable about warfare and hence makes sound decisions about (eg) how the rain creates mud that leads to your artillery getting bogged.

If we are talking about RPGing where faithful modelling of the causal processes at work in the fiction is not a high priority - which I think would be the case for a Brideshead Revisited RPG - then I'm not really persuaded that FKR is offering me a great deal. For Brideshead Revisted I'd start with Wuthering Heights, though maybe look at toning it down a little bit.
 
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pemerton

Legend
Looking at a game like Cthulhu Dark, for instance, screams for a very impartial GM with respect to scenario design if you're enabling neutral resolution GMing, or you can have neutral scenario design but then have to engage in non-neutral resolution GMing (because you have to stick to the scenario).
Cthulhu Dark (the 4-page free version, which is the version I know and have played) presents itself as designed for playing through published CoC scenarios. It flags, as a hypothetical possibility, its use to play improvised scenarios.

I've not used it for the first purpose but only for the second. My refereeing wasn't particular neutral: I used my sense of pacing and trajectory to call for checks, establish consequences of failure, and handle framing. In terms of principles, think AW; but in terms of resolution methods, think something closer to BW (say 'yes' or roll the dice) rather than AW (if you do it, you do it).
 

Aldarc

Legend
Well, I tend to GM with the principle of being a fan of the PCs, but I do so as I explained above....according to the principles of Apocalypse World and Blades in the Dark. So I don't think I put my thumb on the scale in favor of either the PCs or the world (viewing those as the two opposing forces where neutrality may be considered necessary by some).

I absolutely influence the direction of the game. I don't think that's a bad thing. Some others may....sometimes it's hard to tell when it comes to these topics. But I don't think that's the same as pushing toward certain outcomes.

So if I present one of my characters with a dramatic decision.....some point of conflict where they have to choose A or B, both of which have some importance to them.....I've tailored this with that PC and player in mind. That to me does not seem neutral in the way it's often used in discussion. But do I push them toward A over B, or vice versa? No....that's for them to decide. I'm neutral in that regard.

Given how I prefer that my games be about the characters that are in them....meaning that the scenario is theirs, and is not just one that features them....there's some conflict about GM neutrality. I don't think of it as putting my thumb on the scale.....I can let things play out as they may. But I am absolutely going to make effort to make things personal to those characters and make things be about them because I'm interested in seeing what happens.....I'm a fan in that sense.

I don't want to force certain outcomes, but I want to move things to interesting points and areas....largely based on what the player seems to want to see for the character, or that seems relevant for that character. I hope that distinction is clearer.
It seems similar to writing or presenting scenarios for characters in a TV show or comic books. You aren't just presenting random or entirely neutral scenarios to see how Sherlock and Watson will fare versus how Spider-Man will fare in the same scenario. The scenarios are personalized for the respective characters, such that we want to see what visceral choices Spider-Man, for example, will face when it comes to the tension between his responsibilities and his own desires. We want to see the choices that the characters make and how they come through the personalized adversity.

I don't think trust is a red herring but rather "trust," like "fiction," is a more capacious term in context than it might seem to be. But yes lots of rpgs have moments when they rely on trust, and in different ways, some more so than others. As far as FKR goes, I think trust is an extension or rearticulation of rulings not rules. That is, the example of a low trust game would be something like 3e (or maybe even a board game), even if 3e has areas (social interactions) that are still high-trust.
I'm not sure if I would frame these things such as "rulings not rules," FKR, or 3e's more elaborate rules in terms of "trust" or levels of trust.
 

D&D, from the beginning to 5e's emphasis on "rulings, not rules," is a game that cries out to be FK, to be a game of players doing whatever they want with a neutral referee providing the results ... yet ends up encumbered by rules, cruft, and debates about RAW.
As long as you view all possible rules, no matter how well-designed, as "encumber[ing,]" as "cruft," it will never be possible to have a conversation about this that is meaningfully productive.

When you begin from the assumption, "The only quantity of [thing] that is good is zero," it's not possible to have a good-faith discussion about [thing,] regardless of what [thing] is.

If you allow that some amount of rules--some amount of fundamental consistency, that can be relied upon to just work as advertised--can be permitted to exist and NOT be "encumber[ing]...cruft," then it becomes possible to have a conversation about system design and rules. It's not the people saying that some rules can be useful and others detrimental that are the impediment to useful discussion.
 

1. The DM/GM/Referee can't cheat- they can abuse their authority. It's a difference. I understand that you have vociferously argued this point on another thread, but just as an FYI, many people would disagree with you on this.
Abuse of authority is a form of cheating, for one thing. For another, "cheat" (in every online dictionary I have access to) specifies deception or fraudulent behavior, which is exactly what DM abuse-of-authority results in. The players are defrauded of the experience they were led to expect; the DM uses their power over the situation specifically to deceive, in order to make some particular outcome happen.

DMs can cheat. I'm pretty sure you were around for the rather contentious thread discussing Mr. Colville's video about fudging and how he openly admits to sometimes pre-setting dice so that, if his players demand to look at the die, he can show it to them to "prove" that that's what he rolled. Even though he factually did not.

2. FKR is "high trust". That's .. the whole point. It's kind of baked into the definition. If you are worried about cheating and/or abusing authority, then you shouldn't be playing FKR games.
This leads me to a rather important question. In the OP, you said:
D&D, from the beginning to 5e's emphasis on "rulings, not rules," is a game that cries out to be FK
Would not these two ideas, namely "D&D cries out to be [an] FK[-style game]," and "if you are worried about cheating and/or abusing authority, then you shouldn't be playing FKR games," combine to be just a fancy way of saying, "if you don't like this style, D&D wasn't and isn't for you"?

3. Finally, the types of games that FKR produces don't tend to lend themselves to "cheating" scenarios. See also the whole "high trust" thing.
I'm unclear on exactly what "high trust" means in context. I've gone back several pages, and don't really feel like reading through an entire other thread to know exactly what "high trust" means in context, so...would you be willing to give a relatively concise explanation?
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
As I mentioned above, I'm a fan of rules lite systems, but it's led (for me) to a lot of comparing systems. That is, you start with the ruleset you want, and then you build your setting. Or, you try to match ruleset and setting. So you might start with a ruleset, even 5e, and try to hack it to make it a sci-fi game, or you might pick up Stars Without Number, because it's already a ruleset created for the purpose of running an osr sci fi game.

To me, "play worlds not rules" suggests that you start with the setting/genre, and then you build a ruleset around that as needed. The provocation there, such as it is, is to say that when you do that, actually, you might need a lot fewer rules than you think. As you and others point out, maybe this is only tangentially at best related to Free Kriegspiel wargaming, and if so, fine but I do think the switch in the order of operations (not "ruleset, then setting/genre" but rather "setting/genre, then ruleset) is interesting.

I would strongly agree with this, except that the things people would identify as genre related don't always make a difference in the rules.

For example, many people might say that firing laser pistols is indicative of sci-fi, while using an assault rifle is indicative of a modern setting. But, from a rules perspective, the two are and can be handled identically. This is why, to an extent, any rule set can be kitbashed into a new setting or world. Especially into a sci-fi world, since I can't really think of any type of action or mechanic that would be unique to sci-fi.

What rules do even better than genre though, or setting, is tone. Warhammer Fantasy and DnD are both fantasy games, without question, but the tone of the worlds and of the game play are vastly different. And I think this is where you find the biggest differences between rule sets, is the tone of the game they are trying to emulate.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
You have criteria and ettiquette, its a little more flexible than rules, but it can fulfill the same role-- the biggest 'cheat' in that context is overriding agency, controlling a character's thoughts and actions (god-moding), and much like Sanderson's rules of magic insist that magic can only be a solution if its well explained so as to make an application of magic a clever solution, there's still an expectation things must be 'earned' in the dramatic sense.

Okay, but this only handles a single side of the equation. Not overriding a character's agency in their thoughts and actions is simply not cheating on the player side. But, the DM controls the thoughts and actions of the NPC side absolutely. You could try applying a standard like Sanderson's, but I don't think that would quite cover the same ground.

It seems where this idea is heading is that neutrality exists as long as the explanation "makes sense" in the context of the world, but not only does that run into issues in regards to genre tropes which often break the realism of the world in exchange for story logic, but it also runs into issues with idiosyncratic approaches. It may "make sense" that the super genius villian started their plan 30 minutes before the heroes arrived, but that isn't satisfying for the characters. It could still be considered "neutral" though, even though it denies the players the chance to, well, play.

Not favoring one side or the other when you are a third-party makes a lot of sense. But when you are one of the two parties, it becomes a rather strange set-up.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Fans certainly can be irrational at times, but not always. I don’t think the principle of “being a fan” as we’re talking about in relation to roleplaying is telling us to be some kind of soccer hooligan.

It’s telling us to be a fan in the same way that we root for John McClane in Die Hard. Yes, we care about the character and we’re pulling for him to save Holly and kill Hans.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t want to see him walk across broken glass and get shot in order to do it.

In writing this is summed up pithly in the statement "You should empathize with your characters, not sympathize with them"

The idea is that you must have empathy, you must be able to feel what they are feeling, so that they react accordingly. However, once that turns to sympathy, you are more likely to alter the story to make the character's life easier, which is generally more boring than the original content. This can go the other way though, to be fair, where there are writers who seem almost sadistic towards their characters, in a way that is equally detrimental to the writing process.
 


Chaosmancer

Legend
I think that this might just be an issue of connotation?

As far as I'm concerned, if you aren't running a game on the principle "referee neutrality," then the GM will be "putting their thumb on the scale." But that's by definition! If you are running a game by other GM principles, or trying "to move the game in certain ways," then you are influencing the direction of the game.

It seems like you are reading that phrase like it's a bad thing? I was using it solely in the sense of adding weight to the situation (in other words, moving the game in a certain direction), not in the negative or pejorative sense of cheating.

To the extent I used a phrase that had connotations I wasn't thinking about, I apologize.

I don't think it is reading the phrase like it is a bad thing, just noting that the "platonic ideal" of neutrality would be running the scenario whether or no the situation that resolves from that scenario is fun. Which I think is a fair criticism of neutrality gone too far.

So, if we hold neutrality up as an ideal, which some GM/Storytellers/ECT do, then what do you do when neutrality leads to boring and unfun resolutions? I think this comes back to the post I made a few minutes ago, Empathy not Sympathy. Understand that your players want things, and skew in that direction to make an exciting story, but don't say "I know you really wanted to succeed right there, so I'm going to let you succeed no matter what"



Side Note: I'm wondering how useful the idea of scales actually is as a metaphor. A scale has a central pillar and then two sides balancing from that pillar. But if the DM or the world is the pillar... there isn't another side. The DM doesn't have to balance the concerns of the orcs to capture an NPC with the concerns of the party protecting that NPC, because the DM is both the orcs and the NPC. They both want to be captured and want to escape, both sides don't get what they want, the PCs determine which side prevails through their actions.

I wonder instead if a more insightful idea of balance would come from holding a very full bowl of water. There is no "other side" but you still have to maintain a level field and not tip too far one way or the other,or you make a mess.
 

turnip_farmer

Adventurer
If complete neutrality was the goal, wouldn't a computer be a better choice? It doesn't favor anyone and runs the process?

I thought human judgement was there to improve things when the process would lead to lastluster results?
That's not the only benefit of a human. A computer is limited in being able to process a set of predefined inputs. The special thing about a table-top rpg, with a human GM, is the idea that you can do anything (or, at least, you can try anything). You don't need to choose your dialogue from a curated list of options. You can say whatever stupid thing comes into your head and a human GM can improvise an appropriate response. That's an entirely orthogonal issue to neutrality
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Cthulhu Dark (the 4-page free version, which is the version I know and have played) presents itself as designed for playing through published CoC scenarios. It flags, as a hypothetical possibility, its use to play improvised scenarios.

I've not used it for the first purpose but only for the second. My refereeing wasn't particular neutral: I used my sense of pacing and trajectory to call for checks, establish consequences of failure, and handle framing. In terms of principles, think AW; but in terms of resolution methods, think something closer to BW (say 'yes' or roll the dice) rather than AW (if you do it, you do it).
Yes, and I think I perhaps didn't clearly state my point.

IF I am using it to follow a prepared scenario, which in my experience of Mythos games are pretty well constrained solve the mystery style plotlines, then when I use Cthulhu Dark I must constrain the scope of action resolutions so that they remain within the scope of the scenario. This requires that I put my thumb on the scale of resolution, and cannot be neutral, because I have to mind:

a) the open nature of CD resolutions so that they conform to the scope of the scenario
b) limit when checks are made to appropriate moments for the scenario
c) constrain the resolution space of checks to maintain proper pacing

In return, the scenario space can be very neutral, in that it's created without expectation of any particular investigator being present and doesn't specifically hook any character. This is the FK concept of scenario -- neutral with regards to the players, but it's not the FK concept of resolution, which now cannot be neutral because it must conform to the pacing/story beats of the scenario.

If, on the other hand I am playing Cthulhu Dark in a more Story Now approach, I can be fully neutral in the resolution space because I have none of a, b, or c to concern myself with, but I cannot be neutral in the scenario space because I have to adapt to characters to provide thematic adversity for them to overcome.

Either way, Cthulhu Dark cannot be used to be neutral both in scenario AND in resolution at the same time. You have to pick. You can flip-flop, but that sounds like the least enjoyable approach.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, if we hold neutrality up as an ideal, which some GM/Storytellers/ECT do, then what do you do when neutrality leads to boring and unfun resolutions?

Well, I think that to abstract this a little, it's like the difference between rule utilitarianism and act utilitarianism.

To briefly recap, and to avoid any contentious connotations, I will provide a google-approved definition:
There is a difference between rule and act utilitarianism. The act utilitarian considers only the results or consequences of the single act while the rule utilitarian considers the consequences that result of following a rule of conduct .

A proponent of neutral refereeing might say that while specific outcomes (acts) are boring and unfun, the consequences of following the principle for the table are more fun.

Again, I am not an advocate for any particular position, but I am reminded of a story I once heard relayed- a person was playing 3e (I think? maybe PF? or 2e ... it was a while ago) and they had a great time! They thought the DM was awesome. Later, they learned that the DM wasn't following the rules- wasn't being neutral; the DM was just "winging it" for everything. All of those careful bonuses that they had worried about ... didn't matter. And then, the experience transformed into a terrible one.

I often think about that, because it raises a lot of questions for me! Some of them are philosophical- what does it mean, really, if an experience can be great at the time, but you hate it later? But the more salient question point for this is that there are people who derive great pleasure from overcoming challenges, knowing that the referee is neutral, and knowing that the possibility of "boring" and "unfun" exists- because it makes the existence of fun, not boring, and success that much sweeter.

It's not everyone- in fact, I would say that given the limited amount of leisure time people have, it's probably the minority of people. Heck- look at video games. As much as people like to talk about how awesome those incredibly hard video games of the past were, there is a reason that modern video games tend to be incredibly forgiving (in terms of save states, or restarts, or lives, or whatever).

Anyway- that's the gist; it's not necessarily a problem if it leads to boring or unfun outcomes, because that ratifies the experience.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Ovinomancer, the closest that Cthulhu Dark (4 page version) gets to expressly recognising the point you made is this:


When you investigate, the highest die shows how much information you get. On a 1, you get the bare minimum: if you need information to proceed with the scenario, you get it, but that’s all you get. On a 4, you get whatever a competent investigator would discover. On a 5, you discover everything humanly possible. And, on a 6, you may glimpse beyond human knowledge (and probably make an Insanity roll). . . .

If someone thinks it would more interesting if you failed, they describe how you might fail and roll a die. (They can’t
do this if you’re investigating and you must succeed for the scenario to proceed).​

Need information to proceed and must succeed are not neutral notions!
 

pemerton

Legend
if we hold neutrality up as an ideal, which some GM/Storytellers/ECT do, then what do you do when neutrality leads to boring and unfun resolutions?
Upthread, I quoted Gygax from his DMG responding to this very issue. (You "liked" the post.)

I don't think it's a surprise that he felt the pressure. Especially as the "story"/"character" aspect of RPGing starts to loom larger in play.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
... it seems that you thought it was good fun to take the piss out of people...

Seriously- what is wrong with you?

Mod Note:
And, here is where I point out that the two of you have shifted into making things personal, and need to disengage from each other. Pelase and thanks, before we need to take stronger measures.



Having looked into it some more, the use of the name Free Kriegspiel to mistakenly pretend that GM-controlled rpgs are run on similar principles to the an umpired wargame is simply an attempt to disguise a cult of rule zero* with a pretentious name.

You do realize that, "people who disagree with me are members of a cult," is transparently insulting, and without rhetorical merit, don't you?

Since you've stooped to that, rather than being constructive, you're done in this conversation.

Folks, that's three at once that needed to be reminded about being respectful to each other. Please, let's not have a fourth.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
Going to disagree. 3e still has lots and lots of ways to abuse the system and requires trust. Similarly, FKR has lots of ways to abuse the system and requires trust. Both can lose trust very quickly. The difference really is that in 3e you lose trust by misapplying or ignoring the understood rules of the game, and in FKR you lose trust by misapplying or ignoring the understood...rules.... wait. It would appear that you lose trust in both by putting your thumb on the scales.
While this is true, I think it's also equally true that a stated and clear design goal of 3e (and even AD&D, for that matter) to take trust somewhat out of the equation by minimizing the impact of DM judgement and fostering a reliance on rules-as-written. In the D&D-sphere, that's been true since the announcement of AD&D, with maybe the exception of the early runs of D&D (as opposed to AD&D) for a little while after the split, and it's also true in many other non-D&D games as well.

Of course, it's a quixotic and impossible goal, so of course it failed, as you point out. There's lots of ways to abuse the system, and trust is still required. But just because they failed doesn't mean that that isn't where the designer's heads are at.
 

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