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


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Aldarc

Legend
The way you do that is by leaving the thing you don't want to engage with alone. Not alluding to it repeatedly in disdainful tones and putting the burden of disengagement on someone else.
I feel you are being disproportionately more hostile and disrespectful to me than I believe that my own tone and meaning conveyed.
 

I feel you are being disproportionately more hostile and disrespectful to me than I believe that my own tone and meaning conveyed.
Ditto, you acted awful when we discussed my experiences with Story Now, though in other interactions you seem fine, and now whenever we happen to intersect over it in other threads including those not about Story Now you disengage, which is fine, but your means of doing so convey a need to get the last word in about how that disengagement should be interpreted. No one is forcing you to debate my thoughts if I happen to spin off you while working through the thread, you don't need to make cryptic allusions to how you see my arguments. I am sorry for the bad blood, because I can see I rubbed you the wrong way too, or maybe made you feel pressured to argue with me? I wasn't trying to pick a fight with you, I'm trying to understand my own experiences in contrast with other cultures of play, which your post helped me crystallize while grappling with the differing styles of narrative source.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
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've skimmed the last few pages, so apologies if I mistake your meaning here. What you describe in your last sentence captures what I have overwhelmingly experienced with rules light games. The setting (or some other premise) comes first. Rules are secondary. I want to caveat here that rules light games are ontologically a patchwork. The motives behind one rules light game may differ wildly from another, and what one such game chooses to codify another might not care about.

I see that as necessarily true because of the role rules play in definition: the fewer rules, the less we can say about what game is being played. Now, one might point to crunch-light / fluff-heavy games. We've already referenced some examples. I think there one is either taking the fluff to be rules, of a sort - play this way - or where the fluff is not taken to have that weight then we are back to what I'm claiming. It might even be that a decent way to analyse rules light games is to understand their use of fluff as crunch. Including fluff in circulation outside the game.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Mod Note:

@Aldarc @The-Magic-Sword

I just posted a similar note to this one in another thread. You two seem to butt heads frequently, so perhaps y’all need a vacation from each other. How about using your respective accounts’ ignore feature to not see each other for a while. Like…a month?

Because, while it isn’t happening NOW, if this kind of stuff continues, both of you are on a collision course with the moderation staff.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
When I see "play worlds, not rules" I think of the blog you pointed me to, which says this:

- You play worlds, not rules. Have you read Brideshead Revisited? The Wizard of Earthsea? Foundation and Empire? Any captivating novel, regardless of timeframe, setting, or genre? Well now you can run a full FKR game based on that book. You don't need an RPG sourcebook because all books are now sourcebooks. All television shows are sourcebooks. All movies and songs and comics and memes and medical brochures are now sourcebooks.​
At its heart, FKR suggests that the world is a real place, the players/characters can act in any way which reasonably interacts with the fictional environment, and that narrative concepts reign over and above numbers and abstraction.​
John Ross sums this up wonderfully with the term "Tactical Infinity":

The freedom of the Player Characters to attempt any tactic to solve a problem, subject to the adjudication of the Game Master.

And what that quoted passage makes me think of is action resolution based primarily on adjudication of fictional positioning. This is what I take to be intended by the world is a real place [and] the players/characters can act in any way which reasonably interacts with the fictional environment.

Although Brideshead Revisited is mentioned, and that fits withnarrative concepts reign, I would be very interested to see how this is actualised in these systems. Because having regard to (say) Charles's emotional entanglement as part of the process of the GM adjudicating what is reasonable in an argument between Sebastian and Charles seems to me to depart a fair way from free kriegsspiel. The RPG I'm most familiar with that suggests that any novel you're familiar with could be your RPG setting and context is HeroQuest revised (by Robin Laws), but it has very straightforward mechanics for factoring in narrative concepts like emotional entanglements - which it achieves in virtue of not being a free kriegsspiel/"GM decides" RPG.

Even when it comes to The Wizard of Earthsea, there is a lot going on that is not just about the world being real. That book and its sequels are loaded with narrative concepts whose adjudication via free kriegsspiel doesn't seem straightforward to me.

I think the idea of "the world as real" and "reasonable interaction with the fictional environment" fits much more naturally with adjudication via direct reference to fictional positioning. Which makes me think of early D&D, some approaches to Classic Traveller and RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, but nothing too gonzo or drama-laden.
 

I think the notion of neutrality is actually pretty fundamental in analyses of the "GM" role in RPGing. I don't know how common it has been historically, though I would guess that it was more common (at least in proportionate terms) 40 years ago than today.

But conceptually it's been pretty fundamental to understandings of RPGing. And I think it's legacy is felt in many ways even when the reasons underpinning it have been left behind.

I didn't mean the historical presence of neutrality, or the importance of it as a defining element. I agree that the idea has been there all along, and indeed comes from the wargames that predated D&D and other early RPGs.

I think its importance in the actual play of those games is often overstated.

* The setting/situation/scenario is established, and set-in-stone, prior to play;

* Action resolution is (ideally, and hopefully in actuality also) a "model" or reflection of how things would really unfold were these events really happening;

* The influence of the players' desires on action resolution is fully exhausted once the PC's action has been declared (and hence can be disregarded by the referee, provided the action declaration has been properly interpreted);

* The influence of the players' desires on setting and situation design does not extend beyond informally telling the referee what sort of stuff might be fun (and for the truly austere even that might be stretching things, because it risks the players recognising the influence of their expressed desires on the fiction as they engage that fiction via their PCs).

This a solid summary. I think that liberties were taken with all of them at different points very early on in the hobby. And all but the most strident of neutral-GM proponents often cherry pick how to apply them.

But I think why I'm kind of challenging the idea of a neutral referee in this regard is more about the quality of the game. I want a GM who is invested in what's happening and who wants play to, if not go a specific way in terms of the outcome of events within the fiction, to go well. They do have expectations about how things go.

It's not about making sure the PCs are able to kill Acererak, or making sure they discover the fate of the Carlyle Expedition or what have you, but that the players are engaged and interested in the scenario. A neutral referee wouldn't really care.

And I think most people would likely agree, even if they'd also agree with your listed points.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
not about making sure the PCs are able to kill Acererak, or making sure they discover the fate of the Carlyle Expedition or what have you, but that the players are engaged and interested in the scenario. A neutral referee wouldn't really care.

On this one specific point, I would have to disagree.

If you look at (for example) the 1e DMG, you will see that it is written from the perspective of keeping players engaged. See, e.g., pp. 86-87.

It's not correct to say that neutral referee in the 0e-1e mode doesn't care if the players are engaged, or having fun, or any of that! They certainly do! Instead, it's correct to say that they have designed things to engage the players, but that they are running the world (monsters, NPCs, etc.) in a neutral manner. The set-up (scenario) should be engaging, but they should not be intervening to make it more, or less, interesting.

Again, given the history of concepts like "fudging," I think you can argue that this was not always practiced, but even in its ideal and platonic form, I don't think its fair to say that they don't care if they players are engaged and interested.
 

On this one specific point, I would have to disagree.

If you look at (for example) the 1e DMG, you will see that it is written from the perspective of keeping players engaged. See, e.g., pp. 86-87.

It's not correct to say that neutral referee in the 0e-1e mode doesn't care if the players are engaged, or having fun, or any of that! They certainly do! Instead, it's correct to say that they have designed things to engage the players, but that they are running the world (monsters, NPCs, etc.) in a neutral manner. The set-up (scenario) should be engaging, but they should not be intervening to make it more, or less, interesting.

Again, given the history of concepts like "fudging," I think you can argue that this was not always practiced, but even in its ideal and platonic form, I don't think its fair to say that they don't care if they players are engaged and interested.

I see this kind of sentiment expressed very often, actually. Not universally by any means, but often enough that it would seem to be how many interpret it.

Broadly speaking, I prefer when the GM has designed scenarios without that sense of neutrality as is assumed with the old school modules and similar. Here's the Keep on the Borderlands, plug in party A or party B, and see how it goes. I prefer a GM who is thinking of party A when he designs the scenario.

This is what I have in mind when I'm talking about this. Although I can understand the appeal of a set scenario and seeing how different groups may handle it, and the shared experience that creates across the hobby....it's not generally something that any individual GM or group needs to worry about all that much.

I do find that many GMs that I've played with, and that I've chatted with here, seem to routinely eschew neutrality in this regard, as well as in other ways, such as fudging and curating experience and the like.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I see this kind of sentiment expressed very often, actually. Not universally by any means, but often enough that it would seem to be how many interpret it.

Broadly speaking, I prefer when the GM has designed scenarios without that sense of neutrality as is assumed with the old school modules and similar. Here's the Keep on the Borderlands, plug in party A or party B, and see how it goes. I prefer a GM who is thinking of party A when he designs the scenario.

This is what I have in mind when I'm talking about this. Although I can understand the appeal of a set scenario and seeing how different groups may handle it, and the shared experience that creates across the hobby....it's not generally something that any individual GM or group needs to worry about all that much.

I do find that many GMs that I've played with, and that I've chatted with here, seem to routinely eschew neutrality in this regard, as well as in other ways, such as fudging and curating experience and the like.

So, prior to answering this specifically, I am going to go a little "meta" here, because I don't want this to be misinterpreted.

One issue that I often have in these discussions, and I try to be mindful of, is that to many of these discussions end up as arguments. In others words, instead of looking at these conversations as areas where people can learn from each other (and find places of mutual agreement), it too often devolves into arguments about things- usually pretty stupid things.

A big part of is the nature of internet forums; you post on a public place. If someone agrees with what you say, most likely they do nothing, or maybe give you a reaction (a like, a laugh). So already, any feedback you get is most likely self-selected into people that want to argue or disagree with something.

I don't immunize myself from this either. Look, for example, at the response I gave to you; even though I almost entirely agreed with what you were saying, my response to you was about one area (and one sentence!) from a larger post that I happened to partially disagree with. And a lot of this back-and-forth ends up in frustration, if for no other reason than, while there are a few posters I just cannot abide, for the most part I think people confuse discussion with argument.

Now, with that background in mind, and with the hopeful understanding that I am not advocating for a particular position, but merely observing certain differences and discussing them ...

I think that if you read the pages in the DMG I referenced that the idea would be a little more clear, but at the most abstract level, I think that it is a truism that any good GM cares that her table is having a good time.

I just think that the GM who is approaching the game in the "neutral referee" manner believes that her table is going to have more fun if they use that method of adjudication. They will, of course, select scenarios (or create them) with the particular party in mind, but the choice of system itself is because the table is a fan of that system, and thinks that it will, overall, bring the most enjoyment.

That certainly doesn't mean that it's right for all, or most, tables! I would go so far as to say that this mode of GMing is definitely in the minority- but there are still some who enjoy playing that way.

That's why I think a lot of these conversations often get short-circuited; earlier, someone mentioned the "best practices" as opposed to the "one true way" issues that pop up. I think it's unfortunate, but what happens (IMO) is that discussions get short-circuited because they aren't granular enough.

For example, I think it would be possible to have a conversation about best practices and/or tips and techniques for a GM that is using "neutral referee" approach. Or for a GM that is using "fans of the players" approach. But instead of either, you end up having people argue about the two approaches (and others!) in comparison to each other.


Woah, that was very long-winded! Um, something something bards suck.
 

So, prior to answering this specifically, I am going to go a little "meta" here, because I don't want this to be misinterpreted.

One issue that I often have in these discussions, and I try to be mindful of, is that to many of these discussions end up as arguments. In others words, instead of looking at these conversations as areas where people can learn from each other (and find places of mutual agreement), it too often devolves into arguments about things- usually pretty stupid things.

A big part of is the nature of internet forums; you post on a public place. If someone agrees with what you say, most likely they do nothing, or maybe give you a reaction (a like, a laugh). So already, any feedback you get is most likely self-selected into people that want to argue or disagree with something.

I don't immunize myself from this either. Look, for example, at the response I gave to you; even though I almost entirely agreed with what you were saying, my response to you was about one area (and one sentence!) from a larger post that I happened to partially disagree with. And a lot of this back-and-forth ends up in frustration, if for no other reason than, while there are a few posters I just cannot abide, for the most part I think people confuse discussion with argument.

Now, with that background in mind, and with the hopeful understanding that I am not advocating for a particular position, but merely observing certain differences and discussing them ...

I think that if you read the pages in the DMG I referenced that the idea would be a little more clear, but at the most abstract level, I think that it is a truism that any good GM cares that her table is having a good time.

I just think that the GM who is approaching the game in the "neutral referee" manner believes that her table is going to have more fun if they use that method of adjudication. They will, of course, select scenarios (or create them) with the particular party in mind, but the choice of system itself is because the table is a fan of that system, and thinks that it will, overall, bring the most enjoyment.

That certainly doesn't mean that it's right for all, or most, tables! I would go so far as to say that this mode of GMing is definitely in the minority- but there are still some who enjoy playing that way.

That's why I think a lot of these conversations often get short-circuited; earlier, someone mentioned the "best practices" as opposed to the "one true way" issues that pop up. I think it's unfortunate, but what happens (IMO) is that discussions get short-circuited because they aren't granular enough.

For example, I think it would be possible to have a conversation about best practices and/or tips and techniques for a GM that is using "neutral referee" approach. Or for a GM that is using "fans of the players" approach. But instead of either, you end up having people argue about the two approaches (and others!) in comparison to each other.


Woah, that was very long-winded! Um, something something bards suck.

Sure, I hear you. I don’t think you and I have been arguing so much as discussing some different elements of rules systems and how they’re applied….most recently the idea (or probably more accurately, ideas) about GM neutrality.

There are different ways of viewing neutrality, as I think we’ve covered.

Focusing specifically on Gygax’s take you’ve sited, I think that’s generally true that most GMs care about the quality of the game. Although I have been told here on this site, when I’ve advocated for skipping past mundanity to focus on interesting points of play, that I’m not being neutral, and that without the boring bits of play, the fun points are not as fun.

As bonkers as this sentiment seems to me, I do think that I am in some way eschewing neutrality in some ways. I’m certainly trying to move the game in certain ways…so obviously my opinion is involved. But I’m not putting my thumb on the scale as you mentioned earlier.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
As bonkers as this sentiment seems to me, I do think that I am in some way eschewing neutrality in some ways. I’m certainly trying to move the game in certain ways…so obviously my opinion is involved. But I’m not putting my thumb on the scale as you mentioned earlier.

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.
 

pemerton

Legend
On this one specific point, I would have to disagree.

If you look at (for example) the 1e DMG, you will see that it is written from the perspective of keeping players engaged. See, e.g., pp. 86-87.

It's not correct to say that neutral referee in the 0e-1e mode doesn't care if the players are engaged, or having fun, or any of that! They certainly do! Instead, it's correct to say that they have designed things to engage the players, but that they are running the world (monsters, NPCs, etc.) in a neutral manner. The set-up (scenario) should be engaging, but they should not be intervening to make it more, or less, interesting.

Again, given the history of concepts like "fudging," I think you can argue that this was not always practiced, but even in its ideal and platonic form, I don't think its fair to say that they don't care if they players are engaged and interested.
I think the DMG shows Gygax - as he, perhaps, always was - in a state of transition and invention, responding to the problems that his own game was throwing up for him and for others who were playing it. He doesn't always have the technical vocabulary to explain those things well - I think we have an advantage in that regard, being 40 years on in the history of RPGing. But in terms of game play I think he could clearly see what was going on.

There are two places in the DMG where (in my view) we can see Gygax recognising some of the limits of neutrality as far as the transition from prep to actual situation in the game is concerned. (In previous posts on this point I've also referred to this as "content introduction".)

The first is in the intro, on p 9: he considers the possibility that unlucky wandering monster rolls might wreck the game even for a group of players who aren't playing unskilfully and so haven't merited such punishment. He affirms that, in such cases, the GM should not "allow the party to kill them easily or escape unnaturally, for that goes contrary to the major precepts of the game." In other words, he sticks to his guns on skilful action resolution. But he does say that the GM might "omit the wandering monsters indicated by the die." That is to say, the GM might curate content to ensure the play experience doesn't become self-defeating.

The second places is in the discussion of dice rolls on p 110. Here we see Gygax reinforce the major precepts of the game, when he talks about the possibility of ameliorating undeserved character death: this should only be done for a player who "ha<s> done everything correctly, taken every reasonable precaution, but still the freakish roll of the dice will kill the character." In such cases, the GM may inflict a lesser penalty than death, such as blinding or maiming or unconsciousness "that still takes into account what the monster has done." But we also see him reiterate the point from the introduction, about the possibility of non-neutrality in "content introduction", ie in establishing the in-game situation: "You also might wish to give them [ie the players] an edge in finding a particular clue, e.g. a secret door that leads to a complex of monsters and treasures that will be especially entertaining."

This is a departure from neutrality. By giving the players an edge in finding an entertaining part of the dungeon, the GM is no longer neutrally playing the setting. To a modest extent, this undermines the control that skilful players exercise over scene-framing if they play as Gygax advised them to in his PHB. It undermines the utility of a wand of secret door detection.

But it obviously has the potential to make the play experience more entertaining.

Strict neutrality is a very demanding requirement, and I think fits more naturally with wargaming than with the cooperative "immersion in situation and character" that RPGing quickly evolved into for many if not most participants.

EDIT:
Focusing specifically on Gygax’s take you’ve sited, I think that’s generally true that most GMs care about the quality of the game. Although I have been told here on this site, when I’ve advocated for skipping past mundanity to focus on interesting points of play, that I’m not being neutral
This is a more pronounced version of the same issue that Gygax is grappling with in his DMG, of managing the transition from set-up to actual situation in play without making the play experience a pointless or self-defeating one.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Strict neutrality is a very demanding requirement, and I think fits more naturally with wargaming than with the cooperative "immersion in situation and character" that RPGing quickly evolved into for many if not most participants.

One of the (many) issues with Gygax is that if you are looking to find one opinion from him, you will usually find three contradictory quotes (or more, if you expand your timeframe!).

That said, I completely agree that this is one issue where he struggled- the strict mechanistic approach (often combined with some poorly thought-out rules) would result in outcomes that were palpably unfair; this is what I alluded to before when I mentioned "fudging."

Still, I think that it is entirely correct that, to go back to the earlier quote, a neutral referee (GM) is, or at a minimum, aspires to be:
"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)."
 

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.

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.
 

This is a more pronounced version of the same issue that Gygax is grappling with in his DMG, of managing the transition from set-up to actual situation in play without making the play experience a pointless or self-defeating one.

Sure, Gygax seems to be all over the place on this. Which....of course he is....it's a complex thing. I feel my comments have been a bit all over the place, too. But I think there are different ways for a GM to be neutral. I find some to be valuable, and others not. I'm sure that will vary form person to person according to what they like in their games.
 


When I see "play worlds, not rules" I think of the blog you pointed me to, which says this:

- You play worlds, not rules. Have you read Brideshead Revisited? The Wizard of Earthsea? Foundation and Empire? Any captivating novel, regardless of timeframe, setting, or genre? Well now you can run a full FKR game based on that book. You don't need an RPG sourcebook because all books are now sourcebooks. All television shows are sourcebooks. All movies and songs and comics and memes and medical brochures are now sourcebooks.​
At its heart, FKR suggests that the world is a real place, the players/characters can act in any way which reasonably interacts with the fictional environment, and that narrative concepts reign over and above numbers and abstraction.​
John Ross sums this up wonderfully with the term "Tactical Infinity":​
The freedom of the Player Characters to attempt any tactic to solve a problem, subject to the adjudication of the Game Master.


And what that quoted passage makes me think of is action resolution based primarily on adjudication of fictional positioning. This is what I take to be intended by the world is a real place [and] the players/characters can act in any way which reasonably interacts with the fictional environment.

Although Brideshead Revisited is mentioned, and that fits withnarrative concepts reign, I would be very interested to see how this is actualised in these systems. Because having regard to (say) Charles's emotional entanglement as part of the process of the GM adjudicating what is reasonable in an argument between Sebastian and Charles seems to me to depart a fair way from free kriegsspiel. The RPG I'm most familiar with that suggests that any novel you're familiar with could be your RPG setting and context is HeroQuest revised (by Robin Laws), but it has very straightforward mechanics for factoring in narrative concepts like emotional entanglements - which it achieves in virtue of not being a free kriegsspiel/"GM decides" RPG.

Even when it comes to The Wizard of Earthsea, there is a lot going on that is not just about the world being real. That book and its sequels are loaded with narrative concepts whose adjudication via free kriegsspiel doesn't seem straightforward to me.

I think the idea of "the world as real" and "reasonable interaction with the fictional environment" fits much more naturally with adjudication via direct reference to fictional positioning. Which makes me think of early D&D, some approaches to Classic Traveller and RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, but nothing too gonzo or drama-laden.

I have not yet passed my RPG theory qualifying exams, so I'm not sure I follow all your points, but some notes/questions/thoughts:


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.

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.

Mechanics and Rules
The end of the that blog post reads as follows

Typical FKR games simply proceed as the players and referees describe. If there is chance, perhaps you roll opposed 2d6, or roll 1d00, with anyhing 80- being bad news and anything 80+ representing a critical boon. Maybe the referee and player don't have control of the narrative unless they win the dice contest. Maybe you succeed at your risky 2d6 endeavor on a 9+, or 7+ if you have any realistic advantage?

The point is that the rules are not the crux of the game. You can have a rich, trusting game experience with little more than "you've got three hits and can roll 1d6 when things go south," as the entire game system. The point is that you enter into a world and treat it as reflexive, malleable, and responsive. You're actors on a stage not contrived by guidelines, but by actual roads, fences, scenic byways, and other travellers. You sit down to play a game with your peers. Don't bring your splatbooks, classes, and modifiers. Bring your imagination and the daydreams you've had since reading the Prose Edda.

This is what I mean by you start with the world and then build mechanics organically around that, rather than starting with the rules and mechanics and then create a setting. 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."

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 feel like this post isn't long enough. To compensate, I quote at length from the play advice of Blades in the Dark on "fiction-first":


The important concept here is that you first choose what your character does in the fiction, then the group picks a mechanic that suits the situation to resolve what happens. Once you establish the fictional action, selecting a mechanic from the options at hand is pretty easy. If you try to do it the other way around—picking the mechanic and then trying to “color-in” the fiction after—you’ll find that the game can become confusing and muddled.

When something seems weird, or a situation resolves in a bizarre way, back out to the level of the fictional narrative. What’s going on? What are you trying to do? Which mechanic is suited for this? Don’t try to force a particular mechanic onto the fiction. Take the fiction first (ah, see that? “fiction-first”) and then use the mechanics to support it.

Think of the mechanics of the game as tools in a toolbox. There’s no point saying, “I hammer it” until you know what you’re building. Also, there’s no constraint that says you must always use a hammer and nail every time you need to attach two pieces of wood. You use the tools that suit what you’re trying to do. The same goes for mechanics in a roleplaying game. First establish the fiction, then select a mechanical tool from the toolbox that suits the situation you need to resolve. Which tools you pick will often be pragmatic, but can also be a stylistic choice. There’s no one right way to choose a tool, after all. The tools are there for you to use as you see fit; developing a style of use and set of precedents as you go along.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I have not yet passed my RPG theory qualifying exams, so I'm not sure I follow all your points, but some notes/questions/thoughts:


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.

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 remotely sure this is so. I think it's going to depend on the game being played and the intent of the players. Realism is quite often a guest in our Blades game, but then so is genre. There's a blend, and each has lost to the other. A different approach to the same game could easily drive hard into realism and have the game be very gritty (it's already gritty). Or you could go hard into genre. I don't think fiction-first gaming necessarily requires a focus on replicating genre.
Mechanics and Rules
The end of the that blog post reads as follows



This is what I mean by you start with the world and then build mechanics organically around that, rather than starting with the rules and mechanics and then create a setting. 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."

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.
Yup, trust is a red herring argument altogether.

ETA: I think your Blades rulebook quote suffers a bit from being the middle of a longer section. It makes it seem like you're only considering the immediate fiction and then reaching for any of the tool. The preceding paragraphs, though, outline that it's also the fictional timing and space that help determine these checks, which makes it clear that when you're in a score, the tool you're reaching for is going to be an Action Roll or a Fortune Roll. Even if you leverage a Flashback, those come into play. You won't be using a DTA for that. The point of this section isn't necessarily that all tools are always available, but that the tool is sensitive to the context of the fiction and goal/risk/reward of the proposed action.
 

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