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Do you prefer your character to be connected or unconnected to the adventure hook?

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Oh no doubt. You are right. My point was specifically 5e, specifically AP's. And also how it mirrors those that choose to play without AP's.
As far as your 5e game, that's great. You may not know where the PC's choices are taking you except for the next session, but you already have an idea of how they will interact with the next session you created. They may surprise you, and that's always fun as DM. But, if you do already have their motive (which of course has a goal) in mind. So technically even though you haven't written it down, there is an objective.
But not mine, which is the point I'm making. I don't prep that objective -- the players do. I prep some challenges, and how the players choose to interact with those on the way to their decided goal is the game. Here's a reasonable example. My players' PCs are following up on their own agendas, but occasionally want to fulfill a contract (they advertise services as recovery specialists in Sigil), so I have a few generic preps lying around that I can brush off fairly quickly and plug in if they just want a session or two of loot and monsters. This time, it was recover a doodad from an abandoned dwarven smithy deep under a mountain in the Outlands. A pretty standard dungeon crawl, the details of which are rather uninteresting for this discussion. The point is, they failed at the end when facing the aboleth that I had set up as the final monster. Did I pick this? Yup. I prepped it because I found it interesting, but it was a side quest style thing -- no story outside of the side quest. Until, that is, they failed and fled, which allowed the aboleth to escape with the doodad. Now, they had a bit where they decided if they wanted a blemish on their record or not, and the players decided not. I had nothing to follow this at that time, so I ginned up a quick skill challenge to determine what they could find out about where this aboleth might go. I run my skill challenges a lot like how some other games work -- there's the goal, but the steps are not at all scripted. I ask what the PCs are going to do, and they tell me what they're doing to start finding out. This quickly lead to an ability check being called for to find out how well that works out -- on a success, it works and the fiction advances a step towards the goal and we reiterate. On a failure, a complication or problem is added and we reiterate. To many failures results in a failed attempt -- but I often use fail forward here so the attempt might yield the goal, but at a steep or unexpected cost. Enough successes leads to the goal with whatever complications have been earned. In this case, the PCs succeeded, but only after a number of failures adding complications. This, organically in play, lead to discovering the aboleth had fled the Outlands, returned to Toril's Underdark (tied into a PC's background), and was going to trade the doodad to some mindflayers for favors (also tied to a PC's background). So, the party now had to organize a trip to the Underdark on Toril, which required calling in a favor to gain a key to access a portal there, and a hike through the Underdark. A few failures on that (I organized that trip as another skill challenge) led to a third party (Drow) being interested in the trade (making the problem four sided) and a few combats but also a few allies were gained. The trade was an epic encounter where the PCs surprised me at multiple turns (I prepped the lair of the Aboleth, and the attending factions, but no outcomes) and recovered the doodad, defeated the Aboleth, made the Mind Flayers aware of them, and extracted a favor of the surviving Drow (who weren't even involved until that session). None of that was prepped, and now the PCs are following up on some of these events, having become convinced the doodad is more than it seems for this much attention (I hadn't planned anything, it was a doodad, but, of course, now it is important as discovered in play), and next sessions are dealing with them following up on that (I don't, at this point, know how).

The short of all of that was that a self-contained side quest (an A with no B, in your parlance) developed into more through play, not prep. There was not B in my head for this A, and I only prepped what came out of the play at the table -- that a skill challenge revealed that the aboleth had fled to it's old lair in the Underdark (I prepped a lair) and that this would require a journey through the Underdark (I prepped some Underdarky challenges to appear on failed ability check during the travel skill challenge). It would be hard to say that this, as in an adventure path, was an A-B-C thing, as no one at the table was at all aware of B or C until it showed up in play.

Now, all that said, do I prep B's and C's sometimes? Absolutely, for 5e. The structure of the game almost requires it. But do I always? Nope, less than half the time, because I've found that I, at most, really only need to prep an A and play will provide any necessary Bs or Cs. I don't count that at all as you present, because these are found in play, not in the GM's notebook.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Oh no doubt. You are right. My point was specifically 5e, specifically AP's. And also how it mirrors those that choose to play without AP's.
5e or any other D&D edition, doesn't matter. But I'm talking about more than just APs here, I'm talking about the campaign as a whole (and specifically ignoring those situations where the whole campaign IS just a single AP), and assuming it's intended to go on for quite some time.

If I start an open-ended campaign and drop hooks for five disconnected adventures A-B-C-D-E in hopes the players/PCs bite on at least one, I've no way of knowing which one they'll pick - but let's say they pick adventure A. Now during adveutnre A I can drop in hooks or foreshadowing for adventures F and G but the others are all still out there, as is at all times adventure Z which the players decide on their own to do without any input from me. Meanwhile, I've ideas for major villains and plot arcs but that's all they are - ideas.

So they've done A, and now decide to follow up on the hooks from D. By now they might even have discussed a sequence - we'll do D, then look into B, after which we ought to be fit enough to tackle F and-or G. (and they've also come to realize C is way beyond their pay grade!) To me, that's A to A to A, with some of those As potentially leading to a B - or not.

By the time they've done all that any of the following might apply:

--- they decide to do something unexpected, as in let's clear out those hills and build a party stronghold there
--- (most likely) they've now got six more potential adventures, either independent or as follow-ups from something already done
--- one of the adventures has led into a connected series or path embedded within the larger campaign, a la Rod of Seven Parts, which they've decided to follow up on

What's most important to realize here is that none of this could have really been preplanned by either the DM or the players, other than the DM putting the connected series together in case the PCs ever stumble across its beginning. It's also worth noting that by now the DM's probably got fifteen or twenty different adventures in the hopper, most of which she'll probably not get to run in this campaign.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Solved? You are positing a problem where one does not exist. It's like switching from poker to bridge. The two games have different metagames about how they are played.
That's just it - I'm not switching from poker to bridge, nor even talking about that type of game.

I'm talking about an RPG, in which the R stands for Role. To best play that role, ideally* your knowledge as player doesn't impact your decisions as character as you're using the character's knowledge rather than your own.

* - ideals sometimes have to bow to practicality; but where there's a choice, always follow the ideal. :)
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
I personally do not sit down to the table with intent to tell or be told a story.
If your premise is this. Okay. Whatever you say goes and whatever happens at your table is apparently correct.

If you watch any online 5e game... any... the purpose is to tell a story. If you do not do that, great.

But any extrapolation about sitting down with players, etc. is null and void. You are not telling a story. You are having random encounters. If they happen to go together thematically. Great. If not, great. But that is all it is - random encounters.

No protagonists. No antagonists. No real conflict. No exposition. No rising action. No climax. No resolution = random encounters made up on a whim.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
But not mine, which is the point I'm making. I don't prep that objective -- the players do. I prep some challenges, and how the players choose to interact with those on the way to their decided goal is the game. Here's a reasonable example. My players' PCs are following up on their own agendas, but occasionally want to fulfill a contract (they advertise services as recovery specialists in Sigil), so I have a few generic preps lying around that I can brush off fairly quickly and plug in if they just want a session or two of loot and monsters. This time, it was recover a doodad from an abandoned dwarven smithy deep under a mountain in the Outlands. A pretty standard dungeon crawl, the details of which are rather uninteresting for this discussion. The point is, they failed at the end when facing the aboleth that I had set up as the final monster. Did I pick this? Yup. I prepped it because I found it interesting, but it was a side quest style thing -- no story outside of the side quest. Until, that is, they failed and fled, which allowed the aboleth to escape with the doodad. Now, they had a bit where they decided if they wanted a blemish on their record or not, and the players decided not. I had nothing to follow this at that time, so I ginned up a quick skill challenge to determine what they could find out about where this aboleth might go. I run my skill challenges a lot like how some other games work -- there's the goal, but the steps are not at all scripted. I ask what the PCs are going to do, and they tell me what they're doing to start finding out. This quickly lead to an ability check being called for to find out how well that works out -- on a success, it works and the fiction advances a step towards the goal and we reiterate. On a failure, a complication or problem is added and we reiterate. To many failures results in a failed attempt -- but I often use fail forward here so the attempt might yield the goal, but at a steep or unexpected cost. Enough successes leads to the goal with whatever complications have been earned. In this case, the PCs succeeded, but only after a number of failures adding complications. This, organically in play, lead to discovering the aboleth had fled the Outlands, returned to Toril's Underdark (tied into a PC's background), and was going to trade the doodad to some mindflayers for favors (also tied to a PC's background). So, the party now had to organize a trip to the Underdark on Toril, which required calling in a favor to gain a key to access a portal there, and a hike through the Underdark. A few failures on that (I organized that trip as another skill challenge) led to a third party (Drow) being interested in the trade (making the problem four sided) and a few combats but also a few allies were gained. The trade was an epic encounter where the PCs surprised me at multiple turns (I prepped the lair of the Aboleth, and the attending factions, but no outcomes) and recovered the doodad, defeated the Aboleth, made the Mind Flayers aware of them, and extracted a favor of the surviving Drow (who weren't even involved until that session). None of that was prepped, and now the PCs are following up on some of these events, having become convinced the doodad is more than it seems for this much attention (I hadn't planned anything, it was a doodad, but, of course, now it is important as discovered in play), and next sessions are dealing with them following up on that (I don't, at this point, know how).

The short of all of that was that a self-contained side quest (an A with no B, in your parlance) developed into more through play, not prep. There was not B in my head for this A, and I only prepped what came out of the play at the table -- that a skill challenge revealed that the aboleth had fled to it's old lair in the Underdark (I prepped a lair) and that this would require a journey through the Underdark (I prepped some Underdarky challenges to appear on failed ability check during the travel skill challenge). It would be hard to say that this, as in an adventure path, was an A-B-C thing, as no one at the table was at all aware of B or C until it showed up in play.

Now, all that said, do I prep B's and C's sometimes? Absolutely, for 5e. The structure of the game almost requires it. But do I always? Nope, less than half the time, because I've found that I, at most, really only need to prep an A and play will provide any necessary Bs or Cs. I don't count that at all as you present, because these are found in play, not in the GM's notebook.
Just once, I would love for people to post (and I mean this in the most observant of ways) their sessions that they believe does not follow A to B to C. But I get what you are saying about prepping. Sometimes only the next is needed. But, to say you do not have a grip on the world, or the C, D, E, F, etc. is absurd. You are the DM, and probably a good one, so you do have an idea.

I remember your aboleth question (at least I think it was you). The question was that the group used command to make it "fuck off" or something similar. You are creating all this backstory about the aboleth. And on top of that, you are creating an entire adventure for your players to track down this creature, A to B to C, you can say.

It does not matter how many tertiary characters you throw in, you are still doing the exact same thing an AP is doing. Not that that is a bad thing. I just dislike it when DM's try to point out how their campaign is so different, and in reality, it isn't.
 

pemerton

Legend
I agree other games are not so linear, although I would suggest if they try to tell a story, they have to still follow a plotline.
I don't agree with this. I'm not sure what systems and experience you're drawing on, so I don't know the basis of our disagreement.

To explain for my part: there are a number of RPGs, some dating back to the late 90s and many more over the past 10 years (especially those that are PbtA or otherwise Apocalpyse World-influenced), which do not require or rely upon a pre-authored plotline but which do, reliably, in play, produce story. By story here I mean some sort of up and down of thematically-relevant tension that rises and is then released, with the release of the tension telling us something about the characters and their situation.

This post of yours suggests that maybe you're not familiar with these games:

You are not telling a story. You are having random encounters. If they happen to go together thematically. Great. If not, great. But that is all it is - random encounters.

No protagonists. No antagonists. No real conflict. No exposition. No rising action. No climax. No resolution = random encounters made up on a whim.
If you are familiar with them then it would help for you to clarify what you mean by tell as story and how you see that relating to pre-authorship, which is of the essence of an Adventure Path but is precisely what these systems repudiate.

The Wuthering Heights session I linked to upthread produced a story: a conservative but republican clergyman clashed with a group of socialists, and was inadvertently killed by them. They threw his body in the Thames, but his ghost came back to haunt them. As a result the socialists fell out, and one of them (Hamish) ended up in prison. He escaped after starting a riot, but the resulting brief friendship with a sympathetic police officer turned sour, and - urged on by the haunting ghost - he burned himself alive in the socialist bookshop. So the ghost got its way, at least i part - the socialist tracts were all destroyed.

That's not a great work of literature by any stretch of the imagination, but I think it's clearly a story. There were protagonists (Neville the clergyman/ghost and Hamish) and antagonists (Barry, most prominently). There was conflict (between the protagonists and Barry; between the protagonists themselves, although in the end they were in a sense reconciled in death). There was rising action, climax (disposing of the body; the arrest of Hamish; the riot, the burning down of the shop) and resolution.

But that session did not rely on anyone having any sense of a plotline. The point of the system mechanics, informed by appropriate GM techniques, is to generate the story without the need for curation of the plotline.

Not far upthread @Ovinomancer mentioned Burning Wheel. Here's a play report. It's not as overwrought as Wuthering Heights, but again there was rising action, climax and resolution. Thurgon's attempt to care for Aramina resulted in a fire in Evard's tower, which exposed the basement; the protagonists' action in the basement resulted in the tower collapsing completely, with Thurgon and Aramina escaping only in virtue of her sorcerous control of the Orcish scrap metal; the protagonists met first Thurgon's brother, which foreshadowed the despair he would find when he returned to Auxol and his mother; but in that final moment of climax Thurgon's prayer resulted in his mother being lifted out of her despair, setting the scene for an attempt by the protagonists to liberate Thurgon's ancestral estate.

Again, that is a story. And it did not depend on any prior sense of plotline. The system mechanics plus the GM techiques it advocates (which it is much clearer about than is the case for Wuthering Heights) make this happen.
 

pemerton

Legend
Just once, I would love for people to post (and I mean this in the most observant of ways) their sessions that they believe does not follow A to B to C.

<snip>

It does not matter how many tertiary characters you throw in, you are still doing the exact same thing an AP is doing. Not that that is a bad thing. I just dislike it when DM's try to point out how their campaign is so different, and in reality, it isn't.
I've posted the actual play links, and also the further analysis just above.

I can give more links if you like - I have a lot of actual play reports on these boards.

One fundamental contrast between an AP and the sessions I have linked to and described is the relationship between play, authorship and time. Of course after the event a series of things can be seen to have happened - both at the table and in the fiction - but that is very close to being a tautology.

During play, however, no one needed to choose to tell a story. Other, different choices are being made. The system (mechanics + techniques) ensures that a story results.

Prior to play, there is nothing but agreement on a system, some characters and a starting situation.

EDIT: A further comment on time. In the BW session, as things played out the encounter with Rufus foreshadowed the reunion of Thurgon and Xanthippe. Had things gone differently with Rufus, there may have been no, or a different sort of, foreshadowing. What supports the foreshadowing in these systems is not deliberate pre-authorship but rather resolution frameworks which ensure that certain thematic elements are (re-)introduced and sustained as concerns of play. This is part of the starting agreement on characters and situation.
 
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Aldarc

Legend
That's just it - I'm not switching from poker to bridge, nor even talking about that type of game.
Except you are essentially switching from poker to bridge when you switch between TTRPGs. Poker and bridge are both competitive card games in the same way that D&D and PbtA are both TTRPGs. But when one goes into PbtA trying to play it like D&D, then there will be a disconnect. This is because not only the differences in rules, but also differences in the meta-games between them. I have often found that one of the biggest hurdles for players switching between TTRPGs isn't just the differences of rules but also the differences in the meta-games. This is one reason why I find taking long-time players of D&D and having them play other games is fascinating, because you can see how much the meta-game surrounding D&D informs their decision-making in other games.

I'm talking about an RPG, in which the R stands for Role. To best play that role, ideally* your knowledge as player doesn't impact your decisions as character as you're using the character's knowledge rather than your own.
Funny coincidence. I'm also talking about an RPG, but in which the G stands for Game. Do you think we might be talking about the same thing? Let's find out. What does the P stand for in your RPG? In mine, it stands for Playing.

It amazes me how many people forget that the G in RPG stands for "game," a game with rules, mechanics, and procedures. (A game that people take way too seriously for how ridiculously low the stakes of play actually are.) The presence of an R in RPG does not somehow negate the presence of a G in RPG, particularly since the "RP" is an adjective that modifies or describes the nominal "G." An RPG is categorically always a Game. And where there's a game, there's always a meta-game. Meta-gaming involves the method of play surrounding the rules of the game that are not formally part of the rules of play. Sorry, meta-game deniers out there, but the presence of an R does not change that meta-gaming is an inherent part of play. It may be banal to point this out, but different games have different rules or otherwise they would be the same game. So differences in rules produce differences in meta-games. Some games may have more similar meta-games than others, but meta-gaming nevertheless is still a natural, if not fundamental, part of play.

Different games have different rules and mechanical procedures that will impact the meta-game. League of Legends, Dota 2, and Heroes of the Storm are all MOBAs, but they have different meta-games that stem from their different mechanics and character counters. Likewise World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XVI, Elder Scrolls Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic are all MMORPGs, but their different games naturally generate different meta-games as a result of their different mechanics. Sports also have meta-games, and sometimes the rules have been changed for various sports leagues in response to particular the meta-games that formed (e.g., Hack-a-Shaq).

The same definitely holds true for a TTRPG. It is not somehow exceptional from other games in this regard simply because "R" stands for "role." Going from D&D to other games, such as Savage Worlds, Dungeon World, Forbidden Lands, Blades in the Dark, Fate, etc., entails players engaging different mechanics that engender different meta-games. There are even differences between editions of D&D that impact the meta-game (e.g., skill checks, rest and HP/spell recovery, concentration, Vancian vs. Neo-Vancian casting, multiclassing, hit points, grid play, distance rules, falling damage, etc.). The prevalent idea of needing a healer for the party forms part of the meta-game. And the player's knowledge of these rules most definitely impacts their roleplaying decisions as a character. While one can argue that these may represent aspects that a character could also know in-universe, let's not pretend that these do not also represent outside knowledge that inform the decision-making players make for their characters. It's not exactly rocket science why the characters of experienced players are likelier to have this in-universe knowledge than the characters of first time players: i.e., experienced players have a greater grasp of the meta-game. You can better see how ingrained that meta-game can be for longtime players of D&D, particularly of older editions, when you switch them from their edition of D&D's particular meta-game to games like Call of Cthulhu, Dungeon World, Fate, Cortex, or Blades in the Dark. Watching such players play their characters in these games as they would in D&D can be quite amusing.

All this is to say that the idea that somehow player-side meta-gaming is "full stop" bad is laughable, if only because it's a natural extension of play. Want a tip on how to stop meta-gaming? The only way to rid your games of meta-gaming is to stop playing those games entirely.

So maybe the problem that you are having is not with meta-gaming, which is a natural by-product of the G, but with some issue or fault with the RP aspect, keeping in mind that playing a role is done in isolation, but, rather, within the contexts of playing a role in a game.

* - ideals sometimes have to bow to practicality; but where there's a choice, always follow the ideal. :)
The ideal of roleplaying IMHO is not some condescendingly ONE TRUE WAY approach resting in elitist notions of playing a role to utter perfection, but, rather, the ideal of roleplaying is fun, because you know... it's a game that is meant to serve as a form of recreational entertainment for all participants for fun.
 
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Nytmare

David Jose
Just once, I would love for people to post (and I mean this in the most observant of ways) their sessions that they believe does not follow A to B to C.
Think of a game set up more like a Plinko board instead of a sliding board.

Yes, in retrospect, you can say easily point out what the string of events were and see what steps logically lead from one to the other. But looking at it from the other end when you're starting out, especially when so many of those possible plot points are variable, or haven't even been written yet, all you're looking at is a sea potential outcomes.

As an example, the sandbox I'm running right now is driven by exploration and rolling on charts. I did some prep work: the mountains are here, the deserts are over there, difficulty ramps up roughly like so. I threw in some stand alone dungeons and populated some random encounter tables to describe how the map will be further populated, but any story that unfolds in the game happens as the players make decisions as to what goals their characters are setting for themselves.

The group bounced hard off an intro "save a kid from an evil crypt" and party wiped. Instead of picking up and continuing along that same thread, they decided to see where their new characters' starting rumors lead them.

Starting rumors are a direction, a distance, a random pick off the "36 Dramatic Situations" list, and three tarot cards. The rumor they decided to follow was built off of: South - 1 hex - sacrifice of loved ones - health problems in the past - has caused theft right now - which might lead to rebirth. I decide that story hook will be that there's a cult paying people for corpses for some ritual to turn their dying cult leader into a vampire. The character noticed that rumors of grave robbing and suspicious disappearances increased right about when they started hearing stories about a robed figure in a skiff who would pay you a bag of silver coins for a corpse.

I have no end point for that story. The players can play with it and do whatever they want to it. The "B" plot point gets decided on after the fact, and in response to what the characters decide to do. Do they rush off to stop it? Do they become grave robbers? Do they decide to roll the mysterious figure and rob them?

Yes. When it's all said and done, the story line will be linear, but the experience is just one path on an ever expanding tree of possible story lines.

Even that intro adventure wasn't linear till the players decided on their goals. The players assumed that the kid was dead. Two of them were going in to recover the body. One was just in it to loot the crypt. One of them was trying to keep everyone else safe. And the last one was trying to glean some kind of information off of the writings on the crypt walls which would have, had they deciphered the script, lead to a roll on a chart to see what other world-building information it gave them about the vast unknown wilderness.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Just once, I would love for people to post (and I mean this in the most observant of ways) their sessions that they believe does not follow A to B to C. But I get what you are saying about prepping. Sometimes only the next is needed. But, to say you do not have a grip on the world, or the C, D, E, F, etc. is absurd. You are the DM, and probably a good one, so you do have an idea.
Again, I encourage you to look into different games. My Blades in the Dark game, for instance, I have absolutely no idea what comes next and won't until we sit down to play tomorrow night. I do know that, though play, the PCs have a demon that has demanded a service (Blades demons are kinda like elementals), that the PCs are looking into a mystery involving a secret cult and some alchemical zombies, that one of the PC's good friends (a ghost, no less) has gone missing, that the gang war in the PC's neighborhood is about to end with the side they don't support on top, and that they need funds to improve their gang rank and so need to do a job that pays. Those are all situations that occurred in play (except the gang war, which was a starting situation but has played out in play). I literally have no idea which of these will feature in tomorrow's game, nor do I have any idea what will happen when they do. That is because my job as GM in Blades is entirely reactionary -- I cannot introduce fiction until the PCs do something, and then am limited as to what I can introduce. If they decide to deal with the cult, for instance, they tell me how they're going to do that and I can either agree or run a score. If I run the score, they again tell me how it starts and what the goal is, and I present a starting situation based on that and the engagement roll and play proceeds. So far, every one of the situations above has occurred in play, at the table, as a complication or consequence of a failed roll on the part of the PCs. The cult started as a possible paying job (the PCs are theives) from a contact that, through play and failures, turned into an alchemical formula that turns people into possessed zombies of differing kinds and that now threatens things the PCs want directly. I do not, and cannot, conceive of what the next letter is at all, and, if I did, the game would break because it's not built that way.

Now, in 5e, I don't have the mechanical structures that Blades has to allow play to generate only at the table. Prep is kinda baked in. Also, the approach to D&D is more passive on the players part because they lack established authorities over parts of the fiction outside of their character, so that's entirely on the GM to create. However, I can leverage my experiences in Blades and use things like skill challenges to replicate the kind of 'play to find out' that's part and parcel of games like Blades, at least in limited amounts. So, my 5e game often features things where I had no idea what B or C or D would look like until we played it out. Planning these things out is an approach you can use -- arguably the most common by far -- but it is not required. That you continue to argue that it is doesn't display a truth that you've uncovered, rather it uncovers that you're not experienced in other approaches. That's fine, you don't need to be -- fun is fun and can be had in lots of ways; there's no right way to have fun. And, until a few years ago, I believed very much as you do. It took some doing and a good dose of "let's assume that it's true that you can play that way, how would that work?" thinking.

I remember your aboleth question (at least I think it was you). The question was that the group used command to make it "fuck off" or something similar. You are creating all this backstory about the aboleth. And on top of that, you are creating an entire adventure for your players to track down this creature, A to B to C, you can say.
Not my Aboleth question. I mean, to start, I my story features an aboleth in a Dwarven mine in the Outlands, a plane, not an Aboleth in a lake on the Prime. Secondly, my Aboleth beat the players and made off with the treasure, it wasn't dismissed by a Suggestion spell. So, yeah, this whole bit is incorrect.
It does not matter how many tertiary characters you throw in, you are still doing the exact same thing an AP is doing. Not that that is a bad thing. I just dislike it when DM's try to point out how their campaign is so different, and in reality, it isn't.
No, I did not do the same thing. I didn't know if the Aboleth had escaped or where it was until we ran the skill challenge and those things were added due to failed checks from the PCs. It could have been very different, even with the same number of failures if those failures had occurred in different places in the skill challenge. That's because the fiction and what gets established is very much based on what things the PCs attempt in the challenge and how they succeed or fail at those. So, every one of those tertiary NPCs, as you call them, occurred directly from play not planning. And that is very, very different from the kind of planned encounters an AP creates, or planned things in a sandbox game. Those things were created because of what happened in play. A single die roll different would have resulted in a different result.

It honestly appears, at this point, that you're retreating into an argument that things occur in sequence instead of your initial argument that things occur in a preplanned sequence. APs are preplanned sequences, even if those sequences are broken into concrete pieces and scattered they're still preplanned sequences. I'm presenting a game that doesn't have preplanned sequences -- that generates next bits based immediately and solely on thing that occur in play. An AP cannot do this because it cannot anticipate what occurs in play. Heck, just using the skill challenge framework I do explodes this argument of similarity. But, to preserve your argument, it appears you're now retreating to an argument that things happen in sequence, regardless of how or when they're generated. In essences, you've swapped from "This A happens, then this B happens, then this C happens..." to "An A happens, then a B happens, then a C happens." This latter is trivially true. I'm pointing out the former isn't necessarily correct, even if it is how APs and many, many games are structured (and, as you note, this is not a bad thing).
 

This really makes me appreciate games like Blades in the Dark, and Torchbearer all the more.

In Blades, character histories are built as you play the game, with flashbacks explaining how, as an example, the guy guarding the door to the private club you want to get into just happens to be a childhood friend who owes you a favor.
I find that Blades is actually a good combination in that a lit of things are determined during play, but there are also some very specific things required during character and crew creation that immediately give the PC a place in the world.

They have to select a background and a vice and a purveyor of that vice. They also need to select a friend and an enemy of their own, and then contribute to decisions about the crew and its contacts and enemies.

All of this goes a really long way to provide a really solid skeleton at the start of play, which van then be built upon during play as you describe.

I think many games could benefit from this little bit of decision making up front.
 

I think that part of the problem when looking at story as produced by a RPG, is that after the fact, yes, it will all look like A to B to C to D and so on. Of course it will after the fact.

The question is if those letters are known ahead of time or not. What is A? What is B? Does the GM know prior to play?

I think that those advocating for emergent story are pointing out that they don’t know what will happen at each point of the “story” because they are not sitting down with a preconceived idea of what the story will be.

Most adventure paths and modern published adventures assume some kind of sequence of established events that must take place to see the adventure through to the conclusion.

But that’s a different thing than saying that a story has beats and is a sequence of events that unfolds from a beginning to an ending.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I find that Blades is actually a good combination in that a lit of things are determined during play, but there are also some very specific things required during character and crew creation that immediately give the PC a place in the world.

They have to select a background and a vice and a purveyor of that vice. They also need to select a friend and an enemy of their own, and then contribute to decisions about the crew and its contacts and enemies.

All of this goes a really long way to provide a really solid skeleton at the start of play, which van then be built upon during play as you describe.

I think many games could benefit from this little bit of decision making up front.
I recall from Twitter awhile back that Steven Lumpkin is working on a West Marches Dungeon Crawl version of Blades in the Dark. It's not difficult to see how it could work with loads, flashbacks, etc. I could even see the use of engagement rolls for entering a dungeon.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Except you are essentially switching from poker to bridge when you switch between TTRPGs.
Exactly, which comes back to my original point: instead of switching systems, find one that works and stay with it forever. Once you've settled on a system, you can then find the places in that system where meta-gaming becomes a problem and work to reduce it.

Poker and bridge are both competitive card games in the same way that D&D and PbtA are both TTRPGs. But when one goes into PbtA trying to play it like D&D, then there will be a disconnect. This is because not only the differences in rules, but also differences in the meta-games between them. I have often found that one of the biggest hurdles for players switching between TTRPGs isn't just the differences of rules but also the differences in the meta-games. This is one reason why I find taking long-time players of D&D and having them play other games is fascinating, because you can see how much the meta-game surrounding D&D informs their decision-making in other games.
Interesting, as one would think that simply playing a character would be much the same in any RPG: you inhabit its thought processes as far as you can and - bound (or not!) by the constraints of the setting - just have it try to do what it would try to do, say what it would say, and think what it would think.

The mechanics at the table would be different, of course - different dice, different terminology, etc. - but the end result of playing a character and interacting with the setting and-or other characters within it would be fairly similar.

Funny coincidence. I'm also talking about an RPG, but in which the G stands for Game. Do you think we might be talking about the same thing? Let's find out. What does the P stand for in your RPG? In mine, it stands for Playing.
Yes, hyphenated after Role. :)

It amazes me how many people forget that the G in RPG stands for "game," a game with rules, mechanics, and procedures.
Perhaps nto so much 'forget' as 'try to tone down where possible'. Yes there's rules and mechanics and procedures, but the less they interfere with my actual role-playing the better. This is part of why I don't like hard-coded mechanical resolution to social encounters - why bother role-playing in character if the dice are going to make the decision anyway?

(A game that people take way too seriously for how ridiculously low the stakes of play actually are.)
Agreed! :)

The presence of an R in RPG does not somehow negate the presence of a G in RPG, particularly since the "RP" is an adjective that modifies or describes the nominal "G." An RPG is categorically always a Game. And where there's a game, there's always a meta-game. Meta-gaming involves the method of play surrounding the rules of the game that are not formally part of the rules of play. Sorry, meta-game deniers out there, but the presence of an R does not change that meta-gaming is an inherent part of play. It may be banal to point this out, but different games have different rules or otherwise they would be the same game. So differences in rules produce differences in meta-games. Some games may have more similar meta-games than others, but meta-gaming nevertheless is still a natural, if not fundamental, part of play.
I suspect you're defining 'meta-game' far more broadly than I. I don't see the rules that govern play as being part of the meta-game in and of themselves; though a player intentionally trying to twist those rules in ways the character couldn't/wouldn't know about so as to gain an advantage for a PC is very much meta-gaming.

The same definitely holds true for a TTRPG. It is not somehow exceptional from other games in this regard simply because "R" stands for "role." Going from D&D to other games, such as Savage Worlds, Dungeon World, Forbidden Lands, Blades in the Dark, Fate, etc., entails players engaging different mechanics that engender different meta-games. There are even differences between editions of D&D that impact the meta-game (e.g., skill checks, rest and HP/spell recovery, concentration, Vancian vs. Neo-Vancian casting, multiclassing, hit points, grid play, distance rules, falling damage, etc.). The prevalent idea of needing a healer for the party forms part of the meta-game. And the player's knowledge of these rules most definitely impacts their roleplaying decisions as a character. While one can argue that these may represent aspects that a character could also know in-universe, let's not pretend that these do not also represent outside knowledge that inform the decision-making players make for their characters.
I guess my stance is that those 'rules' that the character would know about - at least vaguely - within the fiction can be considered as part of the fiction, and therefore part of play.

However, to me it's incumbent on the players to actively divorce their in-character thinking from any rules or procedures or knowledge the character doesn't know about. And yes this can sometimes mean running your character into dangers that you-the-player know full well how to avoid; your chaaracter doesn't have that knowledge, and that level of knowledge takes precedence.

Put another way: the character still has to be able to learn by trial and error even if the player has already gone through that process, perhaps numerous times.

It's not exactly rocket science why the characters of experienced players are likelier to have this in-universe knowledge than the characters of first time players: i.e., experienced players have a greater grasp of the meta-game.
Obviously the players are going to know and learn stuff as they go along, particularly when it comes to common in-setting tropes and standards e.g. green dragons breathe deadly gas. The problem arises when they use that knowledge to inform their play instead of the lesser knowledge their characters would have (e.g. when long-time players start a new campaign at 1st level).
 

Campbell

Legend
But any extrapolation about sitting down with players, etc. is null and void. You are not telling a story. You are having random encounters. If they happen to go together thematically. Great. If not, great. But that is all it is - random encounters.

No protagonists. No antagonists. No real conflict. No exposition. No rising action. No climax. No resolution = random encounters made up on a whim.
There is nothing random about the way I approach running games. Scenarios are designed with the specific main characters (PCs) in minds to demand a response from the players. I just do not get to have a say in what that response will be or how it goes. This is an ongoing process.

It's a pretty simple formula. The players provide protagonism because it is their job to play the protagonists with integrity. It is my job to portray the setting with integrity and provide honest antagonism. We all pay attention to things like pacing, involving other players in the action, and being fans of each other.

This is the kind of stuff I am talking about:

Monsterhearts said:
Keep the story feral.
The conversation that you have with the other players and with the rules create a story that couldn’t have existed in your head alone.
As you play, you might feel an impulse to domesticate that story. You form an awesome plan for exactly what could happen next, and where the story could go. In your head, it’s spectacular.

All you’d need to do is dictate what the other players should do, ignore the dice once or twice, and force your idea into existence. In short: you’d have to take control.

The game loses its magic when any one player attempts to take control of the story. It becomes small enough to fit inside one person’s head. The other players turn into audience members instead of participants. Nobody’s experience is enriched when one person turns the collective conversation into their own private story.

So avoid this impulse. Let the story’s messy, chaotic momentum guide it forward. In any given moment, focus on reacting to the other players. Allow others to foil your plans, or improve upon them. Trust that good story emerges from wildness. Play to find out what happens next. Let yourself be surprised.
No skin off my back if you want to run games where you come up with a story ahead of time to tell to players. That's exactly what most players of mainstream games expect. It's a fine way to play.

That does not mean that's only way to produce story in the game. I would argue it's not the best way because it robs the game of meaningful protagonism and tension unless the PCs are not the main characters of the story. I think that's a discussion worth having.
 
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Campbell

Legend
Getting back to main thread my approach to setting design for a more story/character focused game (unless the game dictates otherwise like in Apocalypse World or Blades in the Dark) is what I would call constellation design. Basically I will create just enough of the setting and initial scenario for players to make characters. As players are making characters I ask questions about how the characters are connected to each other, the setting, and the initial scenario. I look for ways for characters to be connected to same thing in different ways.

I will then build out a set of relationship maps about these different connections. They become the focus of my prep so I can call on them later. This builds over time as new connections emerge, old ones fade, and existing ones change. They become the focus of my scene framing.
 


Aldarc

Legend
Exactly, which comes back to my original point: instead of switching systems, find one that works and stay with it forever. Once you've settled on a system, you can then find the places in that system where meta-gaming becomes a problem and work to reduce it.
Again, you are constructing a non-existent problem for the sake of creating a nonsensical non-solution: i.e., "don't switch systems."

My point about switching from bridge to poker is to illustrate that playing different games can highlight the differences between the meta-games. One can learn more about the meta-game your game cultivates by playing other games. This is because we sometimes don't realize the extent to which the meta-game informs our decision-making in play until we play other games. "Don't switch systems" misses the point entirely. Completely. Totally. Wholly. So to use another example, if someone said "You can learn a lot about your own cultural biases and presumptions by visiting other nations or countries," your whole answer is tantamount to "then the solution is to not visit other countries." Solution to what? Actually learning what your cultural biases are? It comes across as an appeal to remaining ignorant. I don't know. Maybe you actually believe this is a good thing. Maybe you would argue that people should not learn what their cultural biases are or that they should not visit other countries.

Now, if you repeat this whole "don't switch systems" nonsense if I bring up poker and bridge again, then I will know by this point that you aren't listening because at this point I think that I have made my point abundantly clear.

Interesting, as one would think that simply playing a character would be much the same in any RPG: you inhabit its thought processes as far as you can and - bound (or not!) by the constraints of the setting - just have it try to do what it would try to do, say what it would say, and think what it would think.

The mechanics at the table would be different, of course - different dice, different terminology, etc. - but the end result of playing a character and interacting with the setting and-or other characters within it would be fairly similar.
Sure, but this ignores how mechanics and rules will impact that roleplaying experience. Your strategies for "managing the best you can with the cards that you are dealt" will vary considerably based upon what card game we happen to be playing. How one goes about inhabiting or playing a role will likewise vary based upon game systems. And your assumptions going into a game will vary. How one inhabits a role will vary between playing The Sims and playing Grand Theft Auto because the game cultivates different play experiences and expectations. This is also true for various TTRPGs. System matters and the mechanics will impact the process of roleplaying a character. If system doesn't matter for this process, then you playing D&D would hardly be necessary, but you presumably keep to your modified 1e for a particular reason that is conducive to the particular approach to roleplaying that you prefer.

Perhaps nto so much 'forget' as 'try to tone down where possible'. Yes there's rules and mechanics and procedures, but the less they interfere with my actual role-playing the better.
If my main interest was in method acting a particular role over playing a game, I'm not sure that I would choose what at its heart is a tactical skirmish game for that, but, rather, I would join a community theater troupe. But keep in mind that what you see as "interference," others will see as prompts, triggers, and ques that enrich the roleplay experience.

This is part of why I don't like hard-coded mechanical resolution to social encounters - why bother role-playing in character if the dice are going to make the decision anyway?
Why bother role-playing in character if the dice are going to make the decision anyway for exploration and combat encounters? IMHO, social encounters are as much of an obstacle as exploration and/or combat ones. Why should social encounters be any different when it comes to roleplaying or use of dice? Do you honestly think that people don't roleplay social encounters when there are dice resolution mechanics in place to support them?

I suspect you're defining 'meta-game' far more broadly than I. I don't see the rules that govern play as being part of the meta-game in and of themselves; though a player intentionally trying to twist those rules in ways the character couldn't/wouldn't know about so as to gain an advantage for a PC is very much meta-gaming.
I am defining meta-gaming as per its use in how it applies to and is understood in games and sports, of which TTRPGs are categorically a part. This is how I use the term. However, I am not arguing that "rules that govern play as being part of the meta-game in and of themselves," but, rather, that the meta-game exists alongside the rules. Bluffing, for example, is not part of the rules-as-written for poker, but it is part of poker's meta-game. The idea that D&D would or should not have a meta-game that has formed around its rules is absurd. Meta-gaming (as defined above) is inextricably linked to how games are naturally played: It's not something that one should or needs to reduce. It simply is. A game without a meta-game isn't a game at all. It becomes a RPT (roleplaying theater) rather than a RPG (roleplaying game).

Your concern above again gets to what I see as the heart of your problem. The fight against meta-gaming as a principle stems from a misdiagnosis of the root problem. As I mentioned before, the core problem IMHO is not with the meta-gaming that surrounds the "G in RPG," but, rather, with how players perform the "R in RPG." It's less that the players are meta-gaming, but, rather, that they aren't following your preferred meta-game when it comes to playing the Role.

I guess my stance is that those 'rules' that the character would know about - at least vaguely - within the fiction can be considered as part of the fiction, and therefore part of play.
It's still part of the meta-game. Just to be clear here: All you are doing here is distinguishing between "acceptable meta-gaming" and "unacceptable meta-gaming."

Put another way: the character still has to be able to learn by trial and error even if the player has already gone through that process, perhaps numerous times.
Other people have demonstrated to you repeatedly in past discussions why this sort of going-through-the-motions play is ridiculously farcical (and also meta-gaming), but if you don't get that yet, I suspect that pursuing this line of discussion further is undoubtedly fruitless for both of us.
 
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Hussar

Legend
Just once, I would love for people to post (and I mean this in the most observant of ways) their sessions that they believe does not follow A to B to C. But I get what you are saying about prepping. Sometimes only the next is needed. But, to say you do not have a grip on the world, or the C, D, E, F, etc. is absurd. You are the DM, and probably a good one, so you do have an idea.
/snip
Well, to give an easy example - I gave my PC's three treasure maps. The maps were completely unrelated to each other and to the main point of the game. Three (largely) self contained adventures that the players could choose to do or not. The players chose not to do them. I had no control over that, nor could I have predicted that.

Were there a couple of adventures in the campaign that were going to happen? Sure, I was running Ghosts of Saltmarsh, so, the Saltmarsh adventures were going to happen. But, the other ones? Or the party going off on its own and forging a new direction? Entirely possible.

My current campaign is very sandboxy and I'm actually having a bit of a time getting everyone pointed in somewhat the same direction as they keep glomming onto everything and running with it. Tons of fun, but, I honestly cannot tell you where or what they will be doing three sessions from now.
 

Just once, I would love for people to post (and I mean this in the most observant of ways) their sessions that they believe does not follow A to B to C. But I get what you are saying about prepping. Sometimes only the next is needed. But, to say you do not have a grip on the world, or the C, D, E, F, etc. is absurd. You are the DM, and probably a good one, so you do have an idea.
I know that you were addressing @Ovinomancer and that you’re mostly talking about D&D, but looking at other games in this instance can help illustrate how this can be done.

In a past Blades in the Dark game, my players were a group of Hawkers, and they were peddling a top quality drug called Third Eye. They operated in Nightmarket, a district of the city where much of the commerce and trade takes place, and which is going through an infusion of “new money” and a bit of gentrification (this is all based on details offered in the book, but then expanded upon for our version of the city).

I set up an initial situation for them....that two gangs were vying for control of Nightmarket; one was the current top gang and the second saw the district as a source of income to fund their gang war in another part of the city.

Once that initial set up was established, along with the details of character and crew creation, the Crew already has some existing relationships, both good and bad. The players contribute significantly to those details, with the GM offering some suggestions or possible ideas here and there.

Once that’s all set, the game world then becomes incredibly reactive. The PCs do something, and the setting reacts. Perhaps they piss off a rival gang. Perhaps they come to the attention of a powerful faction. Perhaps they forge an alliance with another gang to wipe out a third.

With each session, the direction the game takes is more and more in the players’ hands. They need fewer direct prompts from the GM of the sort that exist in D&D; “the local mayor has heard of your deeds in the region, and he requests you meet him at his manor....” or “there among the treasure trove you see a parchment that when unfurled shows you a map of the valley beyond the mountains, with a Silver Spire indicated....”

Instead the players decide what a given session is going to be about; “I’m tired of these Red Sashes....let’s hit them where it’ll hurt the most, let’s take over their luxury den...” or “the Grinders are too dangerous to trust, but also too tough for us to take them out at this point. But maybe that ghost we met last session would help us against them....”

So it’s not that the game doesn’t progress from A to B to C and so on....it’s just that once A and B are kind of established, its the players that are determining what C is and what D is and so on.

It’s just a different approach. It can be adopted to other games, though, at least to some extent. This approach has very much influenced how I run my 5E game. I have setting elements I’ve crafted, and I have those elements react to what the PCs do in order to help move the game along and prompt the players to decide what’s next.

The result is, for me, that the game is the story of the characters. It’s their journey specifically, rather than “the story of the war against evil overlord, featuring the PCs”.
 

COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game

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