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

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
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.
There's a big difference between moving rules to be player facing and codified and trust. One does not necessarily implicate the other.
 

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Campbell

Legend
My personal view is that there can be no trust without expectation. You trust someone to perform specific sets of tasks or responsibilities. Like I trust my buddy to watch my dog. I do not trust him to manage my finances. If I can trust a given GM to be a neutral arbiter and play their world with integrity that means nothing if I'm looking for character exploration. We have to have expectations that sync up in order for trust to be meaningful. No amount of trust can fix a situation where we want different things.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
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.

So, you think that for some, the fun comes from playing the game, not from what happens during the game, to summarize.

I can certainly see that, but it seems like neutrality is different. We aren't talking about the results of a single act, or about the results of really following a rule of conduct. In neutrality we are talking about a tone of a rule of conduct, to my eye. I could see neutrality as a summarization of rule utilitarianism, but what is interesting about that is that I think that ideal rule utilitarian situation rely's on more rules, and it doesn't really touch the idea of the scenarios I was presenting, because it is (to a degree) equally neutral to have the villain's plot succeed before the players arrive, or not.

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.

This seems like a non-sequitur, because I think the change in the experience came from the DM deceiving the player. Whether or not the DM intended it, the player felt like they were treated like a fool, and things they considered to have been their cleverness succeeding and conquering the day were revealed to have never mattered. I don't think the experience would have been the same if the player knew the situation going in, instead of finding out later.

I also find it interesting that again "neutrality" is defined by "following the rules" which seems to be an impossibility in a FKR game where the entire point is that there are no rules. It seems then that the value of neutrality is the value of following the rules, which makes it an odd-statement for a non-rule system. Though, in the original context, it makes more sense because the referee doesn't favor either side, however, in the context of a GM, I don't think there is a good value in thinking about it in terms of two sides with a third neutral referee.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
There's a big difference between moving rules to be player facing and codified and trust. One does not necessarily implicate the other.
Here's a hypothetical example I posted in another thread:

Suppose that, in an actual free kriegsspiel scenario, some process (random roll; designer's stipulation; whatever) dictates that it is raining on the battlefield. Now the umpire is expected to use their knowledge of weather and terrain to determine the extent to which resultant mud bogs down the artillery.

Imagine transposing that sort of scenario into RPG adjudication: somehow or other it is established that it is raining; the PCs want to get from A to B in a hurry; and the GM - like a free kriegsspiel referee - tells the players that as a result of the inclement weather it will take such-and-such a time to do so

Now let's say that one of the players is an experienced trekker, and responds Hang on, I've walked such-and-such a trail when it was pouring rain for 6 hours and was carrying a 15 kg pack and it only took such-and-such a time for me; and my PC has a CON of 16! I don't know how that sort of revealed failure of expertise was dealt with in the Prussian wargaming rooms; but in the context of a RPG the GM has an easy out: the rain is heavier, and the muddy soil likewise heavier, than anything you experienced on your trek. And now instead of the referee neutrally adjudicating the fiction, we've got the GM's adjudication establishing the fiction!​

That's just one example, imagined as I said. But there are infinitely many parallels. The last one that I remember personally was in a tournament sci-fi game, when the adjudication was not about how long will it take to get from A to B, but how long can we go without a supply of fresh oxygen? Our group had at least one person with a high degree of technical qualification in that field, and we made calculations and plans on the basis of his rough estimates, only to have the GM pull the rug out from under us with an implausibly low stipulation of our maximum survival time.

A free kriegsspiel approach depends upon it actually being the case that the referee's rulings are a good match with reality. Otherwise we just have the GM making things up!

There's a long tradition of RPGing based around the GM making things up as they go along, but it's never been universally popular. Lewis Pulsipher (@lewpuls) was expressing preference for a different sort of approach, closer to wargaming (ie based around predictable outcomes of tactics chosen) back in the late 70s and early 80s. In the context of travel times, this might mean having charts of rates of movement and effects for terrain and inclement weather (AD&D and B/X D&D have these; I haven't checked my copy of ODYD). In the context of surviving without oxygen, this might mean having rules for that (Classic Traveller has rules for what happens if the air purification system on a small craft breaks down, what happens if a vacc suit is damaged, etc).

This isn't about trusting or not trusting the referee. It's about what someone wants to experience as a RPG player.

In my current Classic Traveller game, the PCs wanted to cut through more than 3 km of ice using their ship's triple beam laser. There are no charts or rules for that, and we adjudicated it free kriegsspiel-style. But we didn't rely on my expertise as referee (I have none that's relevant!). As a group we Googled up some current results for cutting through ice with lasers, and we reached a consensual extrapolation from that. It doesn't really matter whether the conclusion we reached was realistic or not; the key thing is that everyone at the table agreed to it, understood where it came from, and was able to work around it as a result.

It's reflections like the above that make me agree with @Ovinomancer that the FKRers are misdescribing things when they use trust to try and explain the particular role of the referee in their preferred sort of play.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I also find it interesting that again "neutrality" is defined by "following the rules" which seems to be an impossibility in a FKR game where the entire point is that there are no rules. It seems then that the value of neutrality is the value of following the rules, which makes it an odd-statement for a non-rule system. Though, in the original context, it makes more sense because the referee doesn't favor either side, however, in the context of a GM, I don't think there is a good value in thinking about it in terms of two sides with a third neutral referee.
I think the most helpful way to think about neutrality, in the context of RPG refereeing, is to look at the historical examples and the departures from them. We can then see what neutrality does and doesn't bring to the table, what some of the pressure points are, and what we gain and lose by sticking with it as a principle.

In the same way that there's no unique best answer to the question should we film a movie in black and white or in colour?- The Maltese Falcon is inconceivable in colour, while Hero is inconceivable in black and white - so there's no unique best answer to do we want the referee to be neutral. It depends on the experience we are hoping to have. (See also @Campbell not far upthread.)

I want to put to one side a GM who actively deceives about action resolution processes - that raises a further range of issues that are important (eg did the players implicitly agree or even desire to be deceived?) but easily distract from a focus on neutrality as such.

So: sticking to the wandering monster clock come what may is clearly neutral. It can cause the sort of problem Gygax identifies in his DMG (p 9). The response Gygax recommends is varying brutal wandering monster results for groups that are playing skilfully but getting unlucky on the checks. That prescription in itself isn't a departure from neutrality, but it is hard to implement in a neutral way because judging the boundaries of played well but got unlucky is a hard thing to do! It's no surprise that, over time, wandering monsters drop away as a source of adversity and time-pressure and that use those encounters that will make the game fun in a pacing/drama sense becomes a more popular technique (4e D&D is probably the full development of this principle in the context of D&D).

Just as with how situations are established in play, so action resolution can be approached more or less neutrally. Rolling for success/failure on simple tasks like (eg) opening doors or finding secret doors is pretty neutral; and classic D&D has lots of this. Deciding if the process someone describes for how their PC disarms a trap, and adjudicating that by direct application of fictional positioning (rather than any sort of roll) can be neutral, if the player is a competent describer of things and the GM is a competent judge of how the machinery of the trap works.

But it's easy to hit limits. In my Classic Traveller game, one of the PCs wanted to make modifications to a communicator so that instead of performing its normal function it would do something slightly different (maybe jam an enemy signal? I can't remember the details). The player's PC had relevant skills (Electronics, I think it was). The player knows little about radio technology; I'm the same; and there's the further complexity that we're talking about science fiction adventure in the far future! As referee, I decided that the attempt was possible: that was done non-neutrally, and rather having regard to questions like does it make basic sense? (yes, it seemed to) and is it abusive? (no, it didn't seem so) and will it contribute to the ongoing trajectory of the game? (yes, it would).

I then set 10+ as the basic throw required (on two dice), applied appropriate modifiers for skill and stat, and stated a final throw required - this was extrapolated by me from an example of resolution in the Electronics skill description, and was neutral enough in that sense but not connected to any "realistic" sense on my part or the player's part of how hard the thing might be.

There are approaches to adjudication that depart further from neutrality than what I've just described. Eg the GM answers my questions in the same fashion that I did, and then instead of setting a difficulty just says Yes, it works. That sort of free-form approach is a perfectly feasible way to approach RPGing, but will produce a pretty different experience from free kriegsspiel! We're moving much closer to the GM as storyteller, or maybe collaborative storytelling between players and GM.

A third domain of GM decision-making we could look at through this lens of neutrality and departures from it is establishing consequences of action declarations, especially when they fail. The most "neutral" approach - which works well for trying to open doors, or trying to find a secret door - is you don't get what you wanted. But we can see the limits of this even in classic D&D, when it comes to tasks that are risky, like climbing a wall or trying to disarm a trap: does failing a climb walls check mean you can't see any way up (a bit like failing to find a secret door) or does it mean you fall and get hurt (which is a pretty different proposition!). If the latter, how frequently do checks have to be made? The early D&D texts are all over the place in this respect (eg Moldvay Basic says to check once per 100', with failure meaning a fall at the halfway point; the PHB says to check once, at the midpoint of the climb, with failure meaning a fall; the DMG has movement rates in feet per round and says to call for a check every round to avoid a fall). This shows the limits of neutrality in task adjudication; it only gets more complicated if the task is I approach the hobgoblins in a friendly fashion (what does failure mean here? that they're unreceptive? that they attack?) or I send threatening letters to the mayor under a pseudonym, with the goal of bringing about a change of city policy.

My own view is that the more complex the range of anticipated fictional situations and acceptable action declarations, the less feasible that neutrality is as a referee disposition, even if is desired by the game participants. The converse of that is that play in a neutral style works best in an artificially sparse and constrained fictional environment - eg a classic dungeon!; or an Agatha Christie-style mystery set-up where all the relevant parameters can be pinned down in advance; etc.
 

Here's a hypothetical example I posted in another thread:

Suppose that, in an actual free kriegsspiel scenario, some process (random roll; designer's stipulation; whatever) dictates that it is raining on the battlefield. Now the umpire is expected to use their knowledge of weather and terrain to determine the extent to which resultant mud bogs down the artillery.​

Imagine transposing that sort of scenario into RPG adjudication: somehow or other it is established that it is raining; the PCs want to get from A to B in a hurry; and the GM - like a free kriegsspiel referee - tells the players that as a result of the inclement weather it will take such-and-such a time to do so

Now let's say that one of the players is an experienced trekker, and responds Hang on, I've walked such-and-such a trail when it was pouring rain for 6 hours and was carrying a 15 kg pack and it only took such-and-such a time for me; and my PC has a CON of 16! I don't know how that sort of revealed failure of expertise was dealt with in the Prussian wargaming rooms; but in the context of a RPG the GM has an easy out: the rain is heavier, and the muddy soil likewise heavier, than anything you experienced on your trek. And now instead of the referee neutrally adjudicating the fiction, we've got the GM's adjudication establishing the fiction![/INDENT]
• As I said in the other thread, the fiction has to be established somehow. That being the case, what is an appropriate means of establishing the fiction. Is a dm creating exhaustive prep and then sticking to that prep more "fair" than a dm deciding in the moment that the terrain is more difficult in the moment?

• If it is the case that FKR offers no particularly innovative solution to such a problem, and that may be, then it is also true that your criticism of the problem is not really a criticism limited to FKR games but applies to all games that allow the DM to make judgement calls. The same scenario could easily happen in 5e:

DM: the day is spent walking through Neverwinter Wood. Because it's raining heavily, you move at half speed*
Player 1: But I've gone hiking before
Player 2: But in the rulebook it says we should be moving at 2/3 speed*
Player 3: Back in 2e, you only moved at half speed if you were more than 3/4 encumbered and had a Str score lower than 15 and failed a 65% percentile roll.*

*I'm deliberately not looking up any of these rules because I think the point is, does it matter? An adversarial table will challenge each other, whether on the ground of realism (as defined by individual knowledge and experience) or on the basis of a ruleset that could be ever extended and more codified. I think the best solution, whether in 5e or in a rules minimal fkr game, is make a ruling and move on.

That's just one example, imagined as I said. But there are infinitely many parallels. The last one that I remember personally was in a tournament sci-fi game, when the adjudication was not about how long will it take to get from A to B, but how long can we go without a supply of fresh oxygen? Our group had at least one person with a high degree of technical qualification in that field, and we made calculations and plans on the basis of his rough estimates, only to have the GM pull the rug out from under us with an implausibly low stipulation of our maximum survival time.

A free kriegsspiel approach depends upon it actually being the case that the referee's rulings are a good match with reality. Otherwise we just have the GM making things up!

You have to trust in the GM's ability to make things up in a consistent manner, or at least make up a die roll to address the uncertainty. And I would say the GM has to earn the player's trust by listening to their suggestions. Again, I can accept that FKR holds no special answers, but that also means the approach you are critiquing is not limited to FKR but applies more broadly to trad games (where the gm makes up everything from the setting to the possible scenarios to the npcs in the fiction.) It's an interesting question to ask, when does a gm just "making things up" become a problem for a style of game or a style of play. Further, it's not necessarily a matter of realism or verisimilitude; sometimes you just need to trust that the gm and in fact everyone at the table knows the genre of story that you are trying to play through.


In my current Classic Traveller game, the PCs wanted to cut through more than 3 km of ice using their ship's triple beam laser. There are no charts or rules for that, and we adjudicated it free kriegsspiel-style. But we didn't rely on my expertise as referee (I have none that's relevant!). As a group we Googled up some current results for cutting through ice with lasers, and we reached a consensual extrapolation from that. It doesn't really matter whether the conclusion we reached was realistic or not; the key thing is that everyone at the table agreed to it, understood where it came from, and was able to work around it as a result.

It's reflections like the above that make me agree with @Ovinomancer that the FKRers are misdescribing things when they use trust to try and explain the particular role of the referee in their preferred sort of play.

The dynamic you describe here is exactly the kind of thing that is interesting to me about some of these FKR posts. But I'm confused as to why this has nothing to do with trust. I think if you wrote a game, and wanted to explain to the reader how a group was supposed to arrive at a consensus about what should happen next in the story, or what sort of method to use to resolve uncertainty, either you would have mechanics like gm intrusions that gameify consensus-building or you have play advice that would emphasize the collaborative nature of the game and how you needed to trust each other, whether or not you used the T-word.

What does still appeal to me about FKR is less to do with its framework as a system than in a shift in perspective that emphasizes transparency over illusionism, improvisation and collaboration over extensive rules and prep. These all seem like an extension of OSR principles, but moving beyond the dungeon-and-wilderness setup of much OSR play. Now, as I mentioned, I don't know about many if not most rpg systems or debates on rpg theory that have happened over the years, so it's great to learn from all of you about that!
 

pemerton

Legend
What does still appeal to me about FKR is less to do with its framework as a system than in a shift in perspective that emphasizes transparency over illusionism, improvisation and collaboration over extensive rules and prep. These all seem like an extension of OSR principles, but moving beyond the dungeon-and-wilderness setup of much OSR play.
I'm starting with this, because maybe it affects how we view the FKR stuff.

I actually don't see any hints of collaboration in the FKR material I've looked at - it all emphasises the GM authority over backstory and resolution. And when I think of transparency over illusionism I think of the RPGs that were designed in response to AD&D 2nd ed and WW storyteller games - ie Forge-y type games - or other games in a similar vein. The best known is probably Apocalpyse World and its offshoots; my personal favourite is Burning Wheel. Of "classic" games my favourite, and one that can be run transparently (I know that because I'm doing it), is Classic Traveller.

In another recent thread I quoted Christopher Kubasik's "Interactive Toolkit", a critique of certain sort of approaches to RPGing first published in the early 90s. Kubasik was not strictly a Forge person, but his ideas were influential there. The Interactive Tookit essays are still available on Kubasik's Play Sorcerer website. And of course Sorcerer is the quintessential Forge game, being Ron Edwards's magnum opus!

But Kubasik also has a more recent Classic Traveller website, and that includes a discussion of Traveller combat through the lens of free kriegsspiel. I haven't read much of Kubasik's Traveller material - I've got my own views on the system, and how to get what I'm looking for out of it (I GM it closer to an AW style than I think is typical).

I guess where I'm heading with all this is that, as a result of my reading and my own play experience which includes BW, Traveller, D&D 4e and Rolemaster all among my favourite games, is that I think I prefer the eclectic, wide-open perspective of The Forge and Christopher Kubasik and Vincent Baker (who once posted defending LotFP against criticisms from Edwards), to what I see as a rather strident and even dismissive tone in some of the FKR material I've looked at.

Or to put it in a slightly different way: as far as I know I'm the first regular ENworld posters to have played and posted about Cthulhu Dark, so I don't feel like I need my eyes being opened to the possibilities of "lite" gaming. And in the Cthulhu Dark sessions I've run the players took the lead in establishing the initial situation (built on their decisions about PC occupations), which we then ran with in play. So I feel like I have some experience with improv-ish, collaborative RPGing. (Not as much as @clearstream.)

Overall, I prefer analysis of how different approaches work, what different techniques can look like and how they interact. I mean, I play both Prince Valiant and Burning Wheel. They are pretty similar in many ways: scene-framing is the basic GM-side technique; resolution is via dice pools vs "objective" difficulties; neither uses map-and-key. So why is Prince Valiant fundamentally light-hearted, whereas Burning Wheel is so intense and demanding? I've got some views about the answers, but working it out is about careful analysis, not advocacy for one game over the other. (I love both.)

That went a bit longer than I meant it to!, so I'll stop there and reply to the substance of your post in a separate post. But I hope it gives you a better sense of what my perspective is.
 

Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
This skirts denying that game design is a skilled profession, and overlooking the impact of playtesting on rules quality.
Creating a roleplaying game is dead simple. A 16 year old kid wrote Flashing Blades. The "skilled" profession of game design may be desired and required for board games, because a board game can be created which is broken. But designing a roleplaying game is incredibly simple. Roleplaying, at the end of the day is a free-roaming conversation and children chattering in a sandbox together is a good example of how easy this is to do.
 

Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
"transparency over illusionism, improvisation and collaboration over extensive rules and prep. These all seem like an extension of OSR principles, "

I'm stealing this! Great explanation of what great play looks like for both players and game masters. The degree in which this occurs at the table is the measure of the quality of game play.
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
"transparency over illusionism, improvisation and collaboration over extensive rules and prep. These all seem like an extension of OSR principles, "

I'm stealing this! Great explanation of what great play looks like for both players and game masters. The degree in which this occurs at the table is the measure of the quality of game play.
Yeah, I think that's a pretty good slightly more detailed explanation of what I mean when I say that I'm not old school, but I am old fashioned. It's the principles of OSR play vs the actual rules of OSR play that I like. The actual rules I tend to not like.

Tim Kask explained it in more detail in a blog post some time ago as well.: How I helped to pull the rope that tolled the bell for OD&D
 

pemerton

Legend
• As I said in the other thread, the fiction has to be established somehow. That being the case, what is an appropriate means of establishing the fiction. Is a dm creating exhaustive prep and then sticking to that prep more "fair" than a dm deciding in the moment that the terrain is more difficult in the moment?

• If it is the case that FKR offers no particularly innovative solution to such a problem, and that may be, then it is also true that your criticism of the problem is not really a criticism limited to FKR games but applies to all games that allow the DM to make judgement calls. The same scenario could easily happen in 5e:

DM: the day is spent walking through Neverwinter Wood. Because it's raining heavily, you move at half speed*
Player 1: But I've gone hiking before
Player 2: But in the rulebook it says we should be moving at 2/3 speed*
Player 3: Back in 2e, you only moved at half speed if you were more than 3/4 encumbered and had a Str score lower than 15 and failed a 65% percentile roll.*

*I'm deliberately not looking up any of these rules because I think the point is, does it matter? An adversarial table will challenge each other, whether on the ground of realism (as defined by individual knowledge and experience) or on the basis of a ruleset that could be ever extended and more codified. I think the best solution, whether in 5e or in a rules minimal fkr game, is make a ruling and move on.

You have to trust in the GM's ability to make things up in a consistent manner, or at least make up a die roll to address the uncertainty. And I would say the GM has to earn the player's trust by listening to their suggestions

Again, I can accept that FKR holds no special answers, but that also means the approach you are critiquing is not limited to FKR but applies more broadly to trad games (where the gm makes up everything from the setting to the possible scenarios to the npcs in the fiction.)
Well, the fiction has various parts.

There's the setting/backstory. There's the immediate scene/situation. There's the declared actions of the PCs. And there's the outcomes/consequences of those actions.

These don't all have to be established the same way. And different ways of doing any of them will produce different experiences.

My default, these days, is to start play with little or no prep. That's how I started my Classic Traveller game, all my BW games, my Cthulhu Dark and Wuthering Heights one-shots, and one of my Cortex+ Heroic Fantasy games.

Sometimes I use someone else's prep. In my Prince Valiant game I've mostly used episodes either from Greg Stafford's rule book or the complementary Episodes Book. In our MHRP game I used some scenes taken from the Civil War book as well as some stuff that I made up on the spot. In my Classic Traveller game I've used the Annic Nova starship - suitably adapted - from Double Adventure 1, and have also used the Shadows complex (though not its framing) from the other adventure in that Double Adventure volume. This has all been primarily about situation prep. The setting in our Traveller game is "The Imperium" as implicit in the 1977 rulebooks - with its interstellar navy and nobles - and interpolating a few ideas from early White Dwarf (I ignore the published Imperium material). The setting in our Prince Valiant game is "Arthurian Europe" and when we've needed maps to work out where we are we've used the map of Britain on the inside cover of Pendragon 5th ed, and a historical atlas that has maps of 8th century Europe.

Some games need prep. Eg Agon needs an island (in our first session I used one of those from the rulebook); DitV needs a town. These are all situation; the backstory in both systems (Odysseus-like heroes trying to return home from war while hunted by the gods; dealers of justice in a slightly weird west) is implicit in the whole game set-up and doesn't need additional prep. Classic D&D needs a dungeon map + key, which provides the basis for evaluating movement and then for framing situations when the players move their PCs into the appropriate corridor or open some or other door to a room.

As far as action resolution is concerned, there's too much to say in one post! But we can contrast unmediated adjudication of the fictional position of the PCs with (as one example) rolling a dice against a known target number. We can also look at different ways of setting target numbers: "objective"/realistic DCs (Classic Traveller, Burning Wheel, Prince Valiant, classic D&D for the most part); fixed target numbers (either always uniform, like AW; or changing but in a system-determined, largely fiction-independent pattern, like HeroQuest revised and 4e D&D); opposed checks (all checks in MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic are opposed, either by another acting character or the Doom Pool; all checks in Agon are opposed too). The GM will play a different role in these different approaches.

We can also look at what flows from action resolution. At one extreme is Burning Wheel: success means the PC succeed at the declared task, and the fiction changes/grows to reflect the player's intent; failure means the GM can introduce an appropriate thwarting consequence, with the focus being on thwarting intent (which may or may not mean narrating a failure at the task). And Let it Ride means that either outcome is binding until the fictional situation changes in a major way (the rulebooks provide examples of what counts for this purpose).

At the other extreme is the standard approach to D&D, where success on the check means the task succeeds, and failure means the task fails, but what this means as far as intent is concerned, and how binding this is downstream, is all in the hands of the GM. (Eg D&D modules are replete with advice to GMs on how to draw on, and manipulate, unrevealed backstory so as to ameliorate the impact of unanticipated player successes - like killing the BBEG early - or unwanted player failures - like missing a vital clue. That sort of thing is anathema in Burning Wheel.)

These different approaches give the GM a different role, and produce different experiences: those D&D modules produce tightly curated stories; the BW approach produces spontaneous and unpredictable "emergent" plot.

I have my own preferences across these various approaches, but they're more about what I don't like (which is fairly specific) than what I do like (which is quite broad). Eg I think that map + key resolution is a recipe for disputes over how fast people can travel and how long things take and so on, and hence I basically avoid it these days. (Outside of particular contexts where it works beautifully, like 4e D&D combat which has all the answers to movement rates, what happens when you push someone towards the cliff edge, etc all built in.) That's not to say that we don't use maps - I've already mentioned Prince Valiant, and in our BW game we use GH maps - but they are for colour and to provide content and context for narration; they are not a resolution tool. In Traveller I've built up a star map out of our play - at a certain point improvisation yields to the need for a record of what has been established! - but interstellar travel in Traveller is governed by its own little subsystem that doesn't depend on knowing precise interstellar distances.

So in BW or Prince Valiant, if the PCs are hiking through the woods either they get where they're going, and then the interesting stuff happens; or if the trip itself matters, then a difficulty is set and a check is made. If I as GM say it's been a hard trek - make a roll against obstacle 4 using Forte (in BW) or Brawn (in Prince Valiant) and reduce your Forte/Brawn by 1 for each failure - the players aren't going to quibble. If they're experienced hikers, they can project their experiences onto the fiction to form a clearer sense of the hardness of the trek. If their PC is really good at trekking (eg has some appropriate Trait or skill) then they can use that to augment their check. And so there are systematic reasons that certain disputes don't arise - systematic in the sense of resulting from the system rather than being connected to issues of trust, adversarial play, etc.

The flip side of this sort of approach is that players can't enhance their prospects of successful checking by eg pulling out a map and calculating a shorter route. It shifts the general "tone" of play from wargaming to theme/"feeling". There's a good description of this in Maelstrom Storytelling (I've cut and pasted this from Ron Edwards's quote of it here):

use "scene ideas" to convey the scene, instead of literalisms. ... focus on the intent behind the scene and not on how big or how far things might be. If the difficulty of the task at hand (such as jumping across a chasm in a cave) is explained in terms of difficulty, it doesn't matter how far across the actual chasm spans. In a movie, for instance, the camera zooms or pans to emphasize the danger or emotional reaction to the scene, and in so doing it manipulates the real distance of a chasm to suit the mood or "feel" of the moment. It is then no longer about how far across the character has to jump, but how hard the feat is for the character. ... If the players enjoy the challenge of figuring out how high and far someone can jump, they should be allowed the pleasure of doing so - as long as it doesn't interfere with the narrative flow and enjoyment of the game.

The scene should be presented therefore in terms relative to the character's abilities ... Players who want to climb onto your coffee table and jump across your living room to prove that their character could jump over the chasm have probably missed the whole point of the story.​

For completeness: in BW or Prince Valiant, a player wanting to pull out a map to calculate a shorter route is itself an action declaration that can be resolved (eg on Cartography in BW; on Lore in Prince Valiant) with the upshot being an augment to the main check (if the secondary check succeeds) or an increase in difficulty (if the secondary check fails - oops, you misread the map and led everyone into the Fireswamp!).

In the BW/Prince Valiant sort of play, no one has to "trust" the GM to make the right call about how badly rain affects hiking speeds, or how far someone can jump, or how likely it is that the PCs will get lost (something that classic D&D has rules for, as part of its map-and-key resolution system). Instead the onus is on the GM to come up with interesting ideas for scenes and for consequences.

It's an interesting question to ask, when does a gm just "making things up" become a problem for a style of game or a style of play. Further, it's not necessarily a matter of realism or verisimilitude; sometimes you just need to trust that the gm and in fact everyone at the table knows the genre of story that you are trying to play through.
I don't think there can be anything like a single answer to these questions.

Is the GM deciding, in response to the PCs killing the BBEG with the goal of ending the evil conspiracy, that an as-yet unrevealed second-in-command takes over a problem? In Burning Wheel, yes - that would almost certainly be terrible. In the typical D&D module? If the killing of the BBEG has happened when the game has got to page 10 of the module, and there's another 20 pages the group was expecting to play through, then the answer is probably no - and that answer is reinforced by the advocacy for this sort of approach found in D&D modules and GM advice.

In the context of the trek, does it matter what, and how, the GM decidess? That depends upon what is at stake in the resolution. Here's another Edwards quote:

It has rightly been asked whether Simulationism really exists, given that it consists mainly of Exploration. I suggest that Simulationism exists insofar as the effort and attention to Exploration may over-ride either Gamist or Narrativist priorities. . . .

Concrete examples #2: Simulationism over-riding Narrativism
  • A weapon does precisely the same damage range regardless of the emotional relationship between wielder and target. (True for RuneQuest, not true for Hero Wars)
    . . .
  • The time to traverse town with super-running is deemed insufficient to arrive at the scene, with reference to distance and actions at the scene, such that the villain's bomb does blow up the city. (The rules for DC Heroes specifically dictate that this be the appropriate way to GM such a scene).
In a system like that last dot point, getting the effect of rain on super-speed movement right is pretty important, because that decision by the GM is going to determine whether or not I can stop the bomb! I don't see that any amount of appealing to "trust in the GM" is going to help here - it's not about trust, it's about the GM getting it right, where a minimum condition for getting it right is that no one at the table thinks the GM got it wrong.

I've never played DC Heroes, but if I was and this issue came up, I wouldn't object to someone pulling out an old copy of the Flash to try and find out how (if at all) rain affected his running. The time spent getting it right would be worthwhile, given the stakes.

On the other hand, in Marvel Heroic RP this would be easy: the check would be made against the Doom Pool, as an attempt to target a Scene Distinction (eg Ticking Bomb in the Centre of the City) and the Pouring Rain Scene Distinction would be folded into the Doom Pool, thus contributing to a chance of a slightly higher opposing target number than would otherwise be the case. There are plenty of GM responsibilities in MHRP play - managing the Doom Pool is one of them, and not trivial - but getting it right about the affect of rain on movement speeds isn't one of them.

The dynamic you describe here is exactly the kind of thing that is interesting to me about some of these FKR posts. But I'm confused as to why this has nothing to do with trust. I think if you wrote a game, and wanted to explain to the reader how a group was supposed to arrive at a consensus about what should happen next in the story, or what sort of method to use to resolve uncertainty, either you would have mechanics like gm intrusions that gameify consensus-building or you have play advice that would emphasize the collaborative nature of the game and how you needed to trust each other, whether or not you used the T-word.
Well, to be honest, here is one discussion of trust in RPGing that I think is on-target (Edwards again):


  1. The potential for personal risk and disclosure among the real people involved.
    • High risk play is best represented by playing Sorcerer, Le Mon Mouri, InSpectres, Zero, or Violence Future. You're putting your ego on the line with this stuff, as genre conventions cannot help you; the other people in play are going to learn a lot about who you are.
    • Low risk play is best represented by playing Castle Falkenstein, Wuthering Heights, The Dying Earth, or Prince Valiant. These games are, for lack of a better word, "lighter" or perhaps more whimsical - they do raise issues and may include extreme content, but play-decisions tend to be less self-revealing.
My own experience with Wuthering Heights suggests that Ron might have put it in the wrong box, but his point is (in my view) well-made: some RPGs mean putting your ego on the line, and you need trust that other participants will respond appropriately (eg in kind; or at least not kicking you when you're down). @Campbell is in my view a very thoughtful poster about this aspect of trust.

But as far as systems of play are concerned, I prefer that the game author just tell us how to play. The rules should make it clear who gets to decide what, preferably by coming right out and telling us; and then it will be clear who is meant to be talking when, and what principles should govern what they say,.

Whatever those rules and principles are, I have to trust that the various participants will abide by them.

I'll finish with another Edwards quote about trust, in the context of a request for advice from someone struggling with the GMing of scene-framing play and working out who is responsible for what:

I think [your problem] has nothing at all to do with distributed authority, but rather with the group members' shared trust that situational authority [ie the GM's scene framing decisions] is going to get exerted for maximal enjoyment among everyone. If, for example, we are playing a game in which I, alone, have full situational authority, and if everyone is confident that I will use that authority to get to stuff they want (for example, taking suggestions), then all is well. Or if we are playing a game in which we do "next person to the left frames each scene," and if that confidence is just as shared, around the table, that each of us will get to the stuff that others want (again, suggestions are accepted), then all is well.

It's not the distributed or not-distributed aspect of situational authority you're concerned with, it's your trust at the table, as a group, that your situations in the S[hard] I[maginary] S[pace] are worth anyone's time. Bluntly, you guys ought to work on that.​

And the way to work on that isn't for the rulebooks to say Players, trust your GM to come up with interesting stuff! It's for the GM to actually practice coming up with interesting stuff, drawing on every cue the players give!
 

Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
Yeah, I think that's a pretty good slightly more detailed explanation of what I mean when I say that I'm not old school, but I am old fashioned. It's the principles of OSR play vs the actual rules of OSR play that I like. The actual rules I tend to not like.

Yeah, I think that's a pretty good slightly more detailed explanation of what I mean when I say that I'm not old school, but I am old fashioned. It's the principles of OSR play vs the actual rules of OSR play that I like. The actual rules I tend to not like.

Tim Kask explained it in more detail in a blog post some time ago as well.: How I helped to pull the rope that tolled the bell for OD&D
Old School Rationale
 

Aldarc

Legend
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).
Video games are also being designed with greater attention to psychological feedback loops and player engagement. Also, older video games were not necessarily "harder," but, rather, they had not necessarily been "solved," information about the games were harder to come by before Twitch and YouTube walkthroughs, and people tend to forget that they were playing when they were kids. I have watched a number of game retrospectives that have talked about games such as "Vanilla WoW" or "WoW Classic." The game was perceived as more "difficult" because it wasn't yet solved. But for the people who played WoW Classic, for example, it was mostly a bit of a cakewalk. People knew the appropriate strategies and gear. Old dungeons and raids were beaten extraordinarily quickly with even suboptimal gear and leveled players. Even if games have become more generous with higher quality of life additions, the difficulty of older games is not always what it's cracked up to be.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
I think the most helpful way to think about neutrality, in the context of RPG refereeing, is to look at the historical examples and the departures from them. We can then see what neutrality does and doesn't bring to the table, what some of the pressure points are, and what we gain and lose by sticking with it as a principle.

In the same way that there's no unique best answer to the question should we film a movie in black and white or in colour?- The Maltese Falcon is inconceivable in colour, while Hero is inconceivable in black and white - so there's no unique best answer to do we want the referee to be neutral. It depends on the experience we are hoping to have. (See also @Campbell not far upthread.)

I want to put to one side a GM who actively deceives about action resolution processes - that raises a further range of issues that are important (eg did the players implicitly agree or even desire to be deceived?) but easily distract from a focus on neutrality as such.

So: sticking to the wandering monster clock come what may is clearly neutral. It can cause the sort of problem Gygax identifies in his DMG (p 9). The response Gygax recommends is varying brutal wandering monster results for groups that are playing skilfully but getting unlucky on the checks. That prescription in itself isn't a departure from neutrality, but it is hard to implement in a neutral way because judging the boundaries of played well but got unlucky is a hard thing to do! It's no surprise that, over time, wandering monsters drop away as a source of adversity and time-pressure and that use those encounters that will make the game fun in a pacing/drama sense becomes a more popular technique (4e D&D is probably the full development of this principle in the context of D&D).

Just as with how situations are established in play, so action resolution can be approached more or less neutrally. Rolling for success/failure on simple tasks like (eg) opening doors or finding secret doors is pretty neutral; and classic D&D has lots of this. Deciding if the process someone describes for how their PC disarms a trap, and adjudicating that by direct application of fictional positioning (rather than any sort of roll) can be neutral, if the player is a competent describer of things and the GM is a competent judge of how the machinery of the trap works.

But it's easy to hit limits. In my Classic Traveller game, one of the PCs wanted to make modifications to a communicator so that instead of performing its normal function it would do something slightly different (maybe jam an enemy signal? I can't remember the details). The player's PC had relevant skills (Electronics, I think it was). The player knows little about radio technology; I'm the same; and there's the further complexity that we're talking about science fiction adventure in the far future! As referee, I decided that the attempt was possible: that was done non-neutrally, and rather having regard to questions like does it make basic sense? (yes, it seemed to) and is it abusive? (no, it didn't seem so) and will it contribute to the ongoing trajectory of the game? (yes, it would).

I then set 10+ as the basic throw required (on two dice), applied appropriate modifiers for skill and stat, and stated a final throw required - this was extrapolated by me from an example of resolution in the Electronics skill description, and was neutral enough in that sense but not connected to any "realistic" sense on my part or the player's part of how hard the thing might be.

There are approaches to adjudication that depart further from neutrality than what I've just described. Eg the GM answers my questions in the same fashion that I did, and then instead of setting a difficulty just says Yes, it works. That sort of free-form approach is a perfectly feasible way to approach RPGing, but will produce a pretty different experience from free kriegsspiel! We're moving much closer to the GM as storyteller, or maybe collaborative storytelling between players and GM.

A third domain of GM decision-making we could look at through this lens of neutrality and departures from it is establishing consequences of action declarations, especially when they fail. The most "neutral" approach - which works well for trying to open doors, or trying to find a secret door - is you don't get what you wanted. But we can see the limits of this even in classic D&D, when it comes to tasks that are risky, like climbing a wall or trying to disarm a trap: does failing a climb walls check mean you can't see any way up (a bit like failing to find a secret door) or does it mean you fall and get hurt (which is a pretty different proposition!). If the latter, how frequently do checks have to be made? The early D&D texts are all over the place in this respect (eg Moldvay Basic says to check once per 100', with failure meaning a fall at the halfway point; the PHB says to check once, at the midpoint of the climb, with failure meaning a fall; the DMG has movement rates in feet per round and says to call for a check every round to avoid a fall). This shows the limits of neutrality in task adjudication; it only gets more complicated if the task is I approach the hobgoblins in a friendly fashion (what does failure mean here? that they're unreceptive? that they attack?) or I send threatening letters to the mayor under a pseudonym, with the goal of bringing about a change of city policy.

My own view is that the more complex the range of anticipated fictional situations and acceptable action declarations, the less feasible that neutrality is as a referee disposition, even if is desired by the game participants. The converse of that is that play in a neutral style works best in an artificially sparse and constrained fictional environment - eg a classic dungeon!; or an Agatha Christie-style mystery set-up where all the relevant parameters can be pinned down in advance; etc.

I 100% agree with your points. To be clear, I wasn't trying to say that a neutral DM is a bad goal, but we have seen a few posters who have put it forth as an ideal. Which, to stretch a metaphor slightly, would be similar to declaring black and white film the ideal for all film making. Not to say it doesn't have merits, but it has downsides as well.

But I think your examples are exactly on point that neutrality is at best complicated when it comes to running a game for an extended length of time. And I agree that a prime example of the shifts we have seen is the change from the wandering monster tables from being gygaxian style, to more DMs choosing to curate encounters based on what would be the most interesting or dramatic in the context of the ongoing campaign. Clearly not truly "neutral" but many people would say that they prefer that sort of decision from their DM.
 

pemerton

Legend
I wasn't trying to say that a neutral DM is a bad goal, but we have seen a few posters who have put it forth as an ideal. Which, to stretch a metaphor slightly, would be similar to declaring black and white film the ideal for all film making. Not to say it doesn't have merits, but it has downsides as well.

<snip>

I agree that a prime example of the shifts we have seen is the change from the wandering monster tables from being gygaxian style, to more DMs choosing to curate encounters based on what would be the most interesting or dramatic in the context of the ongoing campaign. Clearly not truly "neutral" but many people would say that they prefer that sort of decision from their DM.
Right. Neutrality is not an ideal. It's one technique/approach that can deliver some experiences but not others. Some like those experiences; some don't. Some want only those experiences in their RPGing; some want different, or enjoy variation across different systems.

I love The Maltese Falcon. And I love Hero.
 

turnip_farmer

Adventurer
• As I said in the other thread, the fiction has to be established somehow. That being the case, what is an appropriate means of establishing the fiction. Is a dm creating exhaustive prep and then sticking to that prep more "fair" than a dm deciding in the moment that the terrain is more difficult in the moment?

• If it is the case that FKR offers no particularly innovative solution to such a problem, and that may be, then it is also true that your criticism of the problem is not really a criticism limited to FKR games but applies to all games that allow the DM to make judgement calls. The same scenario could easily happen in 5e:

DM: the day is spent walking through Neverwinter Wood. Because it's raining heavily, you move at half speed*
Player 1: But I've gone hiking before
Player 2: But in the rulebook it says we should be moving at 2/3 speed*
Player 3: Back in 2e, you only moved at half speed if you were more than 3/4 encumbered and had a Str score lower than 15 and failed a 65% percentile roll.*

*I'm deliberately not looking up any of these rules because I think the point is, does it matter? An adversarial table will challenge each other, whether on the ground of realism (as defined by individual knowledge and experience) or on the basis of a ruleset that could be ever extended and more codified. I think the best solution, whether in 5e or in a rules minimal fkr game, is make a ruling and move on.
In full agreement with that.

However, this leaves me with a bit of an issue with the idea of Free Kriegspiel.

If something's only going to come up once, I'll just make up a ruling and move on. I can not imagine ever stopping a game to look things up on Google to establish the plausibility of my interpretation of solid state physics. You just need to be transparent with players about how things work so they can plan effectively.

But, a lot of things you need to make a judgement on come up more than once, and I do want to ensure that my judgements are consistent. My players aren't going to require that the numbers I made up for carrying capacity accurately model the real world, but they do expect that they'll work the same each time. It's reasonable to use what you've learnt about how things work in the game world to plan for future.

So, when I've played with systems with few rules for any length of time, I find myself adding rules as I go. If there are no rules for how far someone can jump, or how long they can hold their breath, I write my rulings down so I remember to do it the same way next time.

And at some point I find myself asking 'why am I not just using a book that already has rules for this stuff?'
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Creating a roleplaying game is dead simple. A 16 year old kid wrote Flashing Blades. The "skilled" profession of game design may be desired and required for board games, because a board game can be created which is broken. But designing a roleplaying game is incredibly simple. Roleplaying, at the end of the day is a free-roaming conversation and children chattering in a sandbox together is a good example of how easy this is to do.

This is exactly equivalent to declaring that writing a novel is dead simple and doesn't require a skilled profession by calling on Christopher Paoloni, Gordon Korman, and other children authors. Just because someone is incredibly skilled and achieves at a young age doesn't mean you can call a profession superfluous
 

Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
This is exactly equivalent to declaring that writing a novel is dead simple and doesn't require a skilled profession by calling on Christopher Paoloni, Gordon Korman, and other children authors. Just because someone is incredibly skilled and achieves at a young age doesn't mean you can call a profession superfluous
No it isn't. There is no equivalency between writing a novel and writing up some rules to adjudicate a role playing session. Have you tried writing a novel? Have you tried writing a set of role playing game rules? If you try you will find the difficulty level between the two is extremely vast. Who is saying the 16 year old who wrote Flashing Blades is incredibly skilled? He just went ahead and did it. Highly motivated, sure. And he didn't make it in a vacuum. He would have had numerous examples at the time to use as a model.
 


Chaosmancer

Legend
No it isn't. There is no equivalency between writing a novel and writing up some rules to adjudicate a role playing session.

If the novel writing is so much more difficult, why are 16 years old and younger still doing it? The entire point was that you can't dismiss the efforts of professionals because of extraordinary young people.

Have you tried writing a novel?

Yes

Have you tried writing a set of role playing game rules?

Yes

If you try you will find the difficulty level between the two is extremely vast.

I agree, even though I consider both attempts a failure, the RPG writing was vastly more difficult. In the novel I just had to tell a good story, my major downfall was motivation and trying to get the entire novel in my head at the same time, something it seems my writing is ill-suited for as I have been finding much greater success in a different format. With the RPG we had to consider many many different factors of balance, math, growth, tone, statistical averages, story, setting, historical events, ect ect. It was a massive and overwhelming project.

Who is saying the 16 year old who wrote Flashing Blades is incredibly skilled? He just went ahead and did it. Highly motivated, sure. And he didn't make it in a vacuum. He would have had numerous examples at the time to use as a model.

And? Christopher Paoloni and Gordon Korman had numerous examples of novels to use as models too. Again, do you find that writers should not be considered to have a profession just because young people made highly successful novels? Do you think that the skill level is so low that you could do better than the 16 year old who made a system that penetrated the market to a degree that you are talking about it now as a counter to Dungeon and Dragons?

I don't make a policy of downplaying the successes of others, I find it much more appropriate to celebrate those successes.
 

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