log in or register to remove this ad

 

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


log in or register to remove this ad



Scott Christian

Adventurer
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:
Well, I have said it twice in this post, but I will say it again: Other games can produce story in which the objectives are unknown. Your examples are great at demonstrating this. I have never argued about other games. I wrote that earlier, but it must have been forgotten. I am speaking about D&D (5e).
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.
I thought I did define tell a story: the elements of a plot are present. This of course includes character growth (or demise ;) ). And again, I think your Wuthering Heights is a great example. But again, I am talking about D&D, specifically 5e.
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.
Sorry, my bad. I meant video links. My friends and I have had this discussion many times about numerous factors in D&D, be it DM's saying they get through six combats in four hours along with exploration and roleplay, or DM's saying they never follow a story and that the players are the ones that lead everywhere. I said this earlier, I have yet to ever see that happen on video. The links you post sound awesome. The game sounds great. But, just please agree with me that writing a recap is much different than watching it play out.
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.
So you prepped the setting. I assume you know who some of the NPC's are considering there is a kid and the PC's were told the rumor by someone. You have set up antagonists. I assume you have an idea of where they are or at least a chart to randomize where they are. And you may not have an end point right now, but if your players actively pursue the story hook and in the end want to confront the vampire, you will know the one of two endings that might happen, they live or die. (Of course there are variables like the vampire escapes, a cult leader sabotages them, etc.)
The fact that they can go alternative routes, such as becoming grave robbers or join the vampire or whatever is no different than any other AP.
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.
Please see the post above about other games. Like you said, D&D has prep baked in. This is my point. You may not have any idea what your B, C or D will look like until the PC's make choices. But, that is no different than any AP. Tell me, in Curse of Strahd, if your players chose to become servants of the vampire lord, would you stop them? Probably not. But you could still use much of the book. If they decided to betray Strahd and try to rule a piece of the Shadowfell, would you stop them? Probably not. But you could still use much of the book - even though it is not written in the book.
My point is very clear, DM's claiming their story is not pre-fabricated are still doing the same things as DM's running AP's. The DM may believe that they have a sea of choices or a tree of paths, but so do DM's that run AP's. And that supports that if you are playing 5e, you are telling a collaborative story; even if the ending is not clear.

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.
My bad. Sorry I got you confused with another poster.
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.
Again, none of that is different than a DM running an AP. There are variables to the any D&D story because there are dice. I said this earlier: Any experienced and good DM utilizes the same thing you are, even when running an AP. If a player in an AP campaign fails or succeeds on critical skill challenges, it established the story's fiction, and any descent DM can utilize it later. Just because an AP has prewritten encounters does not negate the fact that player choices and failures/successes establishes fiction for the DM to use.
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).
No. My argument was and always has been about the original topic of this thread: character connection to the plot is important because you need character motive. And if you have character motive, then you have a story. And stories in D&D follow a plot that is of the DM's design. They follow an A to B to C. The argument about an AP being A to B to C and other DM's saying they don't do that is, imho, them not looking at what they are actually doing. They are following a plot, even if they are prepping it weekly. Unless of course they are just doing random encounters or a dungeon crawl with no motive.
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:
That is all good stuff.
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.
I get where you are coming from. But a DM running an AP doesn't have say in their players' choices either. They can skip huge swaths of the AP, they can die, they can become villains, etc. I spoke about this in a different thread, A DM's job is to prep. An AP takes a lot of time to prep for this exact reason. Fortunately some of prep is done because the AP is a book that primarily discusses the setting of a story and events that will occur. If the DM is being true to their world, these events will happen regardless of the players' choices, and thus effect the setting for good or bad.
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.
Side quests are great. Players sometimes chase them and sometimes they leave it alone. If they chase them, that's just added steps to the A to B to C. And it might have an impact on one of those events. If the PC finds a wand of teleportation and then later, in the "C" event is trapped in a tomb, they can get out.
A DM running an AP cannot predict what the players will do. But one thing is assured, the DM will design the plot and the players will interact with that plot. And if it is a story it will be A to B to C.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
So you prepped the setting. I assume you know who some of the NPC's are considering there is a kid and the PC's were told the rumor by someone. You have set up antagonists. I assume you have an idea of where they are or at least a chart to randomize where they are. And you may not have an end point right now, but if your players actively pursue the story hook and in the end want to confront the vampire, you will know the one of two endings that might happen, they live or die. (Of course there are variables like the vampire escapes, a cult leader sabotages them, etc.)
The fact that they can go alternative routes, such as becoming grave robbers or join the vampire or whatever is no different than any other AP.
I just don't understand how you can look at a branching narrative like that, where there aren't set sign posts, no pre scripted scenes, there's no narrative structure that players have to follow to have the correct storyline unfurl before them, and insist that it's an A must go to B must go to C must finish at D storyline.

How exactly are storylines, that either the players or random chance come up with and lead me as the GM down, predetermined paths created by me?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@Scott Christian - please clarify something for me:

When you're talking about how things always go A-to-B-to-C, from which point of view are you speaking:

1. From ahead of time, where the DM has plotted out that the story will go from A to B to C before play begins (i.e. a typical approach to a hard-line AP)
2. From after the fact, looking back on a campaign that in hindsight went A to B to C whether or not that progression was pre-planned by the DM.

All the arguments you're getting are assuming you're speaking as 1. above, but I'm starting to wonder if you're speaking as 2. 2 is inevitable: looking at any campaign in hindsight makes it easy to tie the story together and see the connections, whether they were pre-planned or not, and so there's little if any point talking about it. (looking at a campaign in hindsight and failing to find any connecting story at all would be rare indeed, I think)

It's 1. that matters: does the DM plot this stuff out ahead of time and if yes, how willing is she to deviate from that plot as the campaign develops through play and maybe goes in different and-or unforeseen directions?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Well, I have said it twice in this post, but I will say it again: Other games can produce story in which the objectives are unknown. Your examples are great at demonstrating this. I have never argued about other games. I wrote that earlier, but it must have been forgotten. I am speaking about D&D (5e).

I thought I did define tell a story: the elements of a plot are present. This of course includes character growth (or demise ;) ). And again, I think your Wuthering Heights is a great example. But again, I am talking about D&D, specifically 5e.

Sorry, my bad. I meant video links. My friends and I have had this discussion many times about numerous factors in D&D, be it DM's saying they get through six combats in four hours along with exploration and roleplay, or DM's saying they never follow a story and that the players are the ones that lead everywhere. I said this earlier, I have yet to ever see that happen on video. The links you post sound awesome. The game sounds great. But, just please agree with me that writing a recap is much different than watching it play out.

So you prepped the setting. I assume you know who some of the NPC's are considering there is a kid and the PC's were told the rumor by someone. You have set up antagonists. I assume you have an idea of where they are or at least a chart to randomize where they are. And you may not have an end point right now, but if your players actively pursue the story hook and in the end want to confront the vampire, you will know the one of two endings that might happen, they live or die. (Of course there are variables like the vampire escapes, a cult leader sabotages them, etc.)
The fact that they can go alternative routes, such as becoming grave robbers or join the vampire or whatever is no different than any other AP.

Please see the post above about other games. Like you said, D&D has prep baked in. This is my point. You may not have any idea what your B, C or D will look like until the PC's make choices. But, that is no different than any AP. Tell me, in Curse of Strahd, if your players chose to become servants of the vampire lord, would you stop them? Probably not. But you could still use much of the book. If they decided to betray Strahd and try to rule a piece of the Shadowfell, would you stop them? Probably not. But you could still use much of the book - even though it is not written in the book.
My point is very clear, DM's claiming their story is not pre-fabricated are still doing the same things as DM's running AP's. The DM may believe that they have a sea of choices or a tree of paths, but so do DM's that run AP's. And that supports that if you are playing 5e, you are telling a collaborative story; even if the ending is not clear.


My bad. Sorry I got you confused with another poster.

Again, none of that is different than a DM running an AP. There are variables to the any D&D story because there are dice. I said this earlier: Any experienced and good DM utilizes the same thing you are, even when running an AP. If a player in an AP campaign fails or succeeds on critical skill challenges, it established the story's fiction, and any descent DM can utilize it later. Just because an AP has prewritten encounters does not negate the fact that player choices and failures/successes establishes fiction for the DM to use.

No. My argument was and always has been about the original topic of this thread: character connection to the plot is important because you need character motive. And if you have character motive, then you have a story. And stories in D&D follow a plot that is of the DM's design. They follow an A to B to C. The argument about an AP being A to B to C and other DM's saying they don't do that is, imho, them not looking at what they are actually doing. They are following a plot, even if they are prepping it weekly. Unless of course they are just doing random encounters or a dungeon crawl with no motive.

That is all good stuff.

I get where you are coming from. But a DM running an AP doesn't have say in their players' choices either. They can skip huge swaths of the AP, they can die, they can become villains, etc. I spoke about this in a different thread, A DM's job is to prep. An AP takes a lot of time to prep for this exact reason. Fortunately some of prep is done because the AP is a book that primarily discusses the setting of a story and events that will occur. If the DM is being true to their world, these events will happen regardless of the players' choices, and thus effect the setting for good or bad.

Side quests are great. Players sometimes chase them and sometimes they leave it alone. If they chase them, that's just added steps to the A to B to C. And it might have an impact on one of those events. If the PC finds a wand of teleportation and then later, in the "C" event is trapped in a tomb, they can get out.
A DM running an AP cannot predict what the players will do. But one thing is assured, the DM will design the plot and the players will interact with that plot. And if it is a story it will be A to B to C.
Um, this is all very interesting, but you're telling me I have a plot in my 5e game that my players are playing through? I'm curious, can you tell me what it is? I'd love to know.

Again, my skill challenge structure blows this out of the water. I suggest you read it again, and, rather than insisting that you have the one way it works, consider how it might work in a different way and try, very hard, to imagine out that would work. Here's the rub of how a skill challenge works, in my game: I present a challenge to their goal, they tell me how they solve it, and dice are rolled. If a success, the PCs solve it how they say. If a failure, I add pain points. For example, in a skill challenge earlier in my game, two PCs were trying to gather information on one of the PC's nemesis. They had heard that the nemesis had been working in a certain area of the city and so went to find out. They first decided to approach a business in the area that they thought would be likely to supply the nemesis, and asked there. I presented an employee who might know something, but was being cagey. They used intimidation to force the issue and have the employee tell where the nemesis was. They succeeded, which meant that they got one step closer (a single success doesn't win, but moves you in the right direction) -- in this case being pointed at another business owner who had handled most of the work, this guy just handling some subcontract stuff. So, they went to track him down.

From my perspective, the initial business owner didn't exist in my notes or prep until they decided on this approach -- it made sense that one would exist, so one did. The second business owner certainly didn't exist until they tried it. And, in that attempt, the fact that he was huge and scary (Sigil) didn't happen until they failed the roll to find him, meaning that he was now dangerous. And, the fact that he actually turned out to have a huge heart and loved his neighborhood didn't happen until one of the PCs made a successful Intuition roll when trying to figure out what the scary business owner's Bond was. And, that he supplied food until just last week, when the nemesis packed up shop wasn't prepped until they made the third failure in this chain, resulting in a loss condition for the overall goal of finding the nemesis in the city. None of this was prepped, all of it occurred immediately in play, and it used 5e rules to the hilt, with just the addition of the overall skill challenge framework I like to use for complex tasks. This one, in play, example changed a good bit about what has happened in the campaign, because dealing with the nemesis was delayed for other considerations.

If, again, you're just saying that a D&D GM presents things that are prepped, that's trivially true. Your argument would seem to function so long as I used the Monster Manual, for instance. Using prepped pieces -- foes, locations, setting -- does not mean plot goes from A to B to C. Trying to imply that 5e requires this, especially for the OP topic of having PCs connected to the setting, is a non-starter.
 

pemerton

Legend
There are a lot of RPGs out there, so nearly any generalisation will probably founder on some counter-example.

Nevertheless, let's push on!

A typical RPG session consists - in the fiction - of a series of events that occur to one or more characters, and - at the table - of a conversation between participants.

Some of that conversation is "free" or "unstructured" - perhaps players are making a plan, or idly having their PCs interact, or engaging a mechanic that allows for "automatic" changes to the PC sheet like swapping money for gear, or rememorising spells, or reducing penalties from injuries, etc. The GM might participate in these conversations by offering reminders, confirming certain understandings of how a particular piece of equipment functions, clarifying the amount of in-fiction time that passes, etc. The GM's role here is a mix of facilitator, chairperson and coordinator of what counts as "true-in-the-fiction".

There are various ways that the GM can exercise control over this phase of play. One way is by drawing upon established, pre-authored elements of the fiction - "the setting", including the trajectory of in-fiction events within the setting (the GM narrating "plot hooks" is one example). This particular way of exercising control is likely to loom relatively large in Adventure Path RPGing.

The other sort of conversation that takes place during RPGing - and in my view it's the more exciting part - is the bit where the GM describes some challenge or obstacle or opportunity which prompts the players to declare actions for their PCs. This typically involves the GM presenting some event or situation in the fiction which is (from the point of view of the PCs) immediate and hence unavoidable. (Maybe the PCs can extricate themselves from the situation, but there's no escaping that, in the fiction, there is some situation from which extrication may be required.)

Resolving these situations will generate new fiction.

In Adventure Path play, many of these challenges and obstacles and opportunities are pre-scripted. That means that the new fiction that results from resolving them has to be kept within constrained boundaries. Otherwise the Adventure Path will not work, as the fiction that is created by resolution will depart from and/or contradict the pre-scripting. An illustration, which I think I've read in more than one DMG: if the PCs kill the evil leader, a lieutenant takes over and the trajectory of the fiction continues largely undisturbed. (Until the final pre-scripted resolution, of course, where defeating the leader brings the bad guys' evil scheme to an end.)

To reliably get "story" out of RPGing without pre-scripting, certain techniques need to be used in generating the new fiction that flows from resolution. The most basic ones that I'm familiar with are on successes, the PCs (and hence players) get what they want and on failures, bad things happen that reinforce the pressure that the PCs were already under. These are also constraints on the new fiction, but pretty different from the sort an AP relies on.

Two recurrent weaknesses in the design of some RPGs (at least in my experience) are (i) they permit situations to arise which don't have a system for determining success or failure, and (ii) they don't provide very much support for establishing bad things that reinforce the pressure that the PCs were already under other than physical harm to the PCs. For an RPG that lacks these things, Adventure Paths do offer an alternative way for getting story in your RPGing, if you don't mind the constraints on new fiction that they impose.
 

Hussar

Legend
Side quests are great. Players sometimes chase them and sometimes they leave it alone. If they chase them, that's just added steps to the A to B to C. And it might have an impact on one of those events. If the PC finds a wand of teleportation and then later, in the "C" event is trapped in a tomb, they can get out.
A DM running an AP cannot predict what the players will do. But one thing is assured, the DM will design the plot and the players will interact with that plot. And if it is a story it will be A to B to C.
Sorry, those weren't "side quests". Those were the main campaign. Or, to put it another way, all there was was "side quests" since none of the adventures are particularly linked (other than the three Saltmarsh adventures) by anything other than geography.

There was no "plot". And that's the point. AP's have a plot. They are linear because you will always be moving forward on the plot and, while there is some freedom and wiggle room (your example of Strahd is a good one since that module is about as sandbox as it gets) but, by and large, it's going to progress in a very predictable way.

A non-linear campaign doesn't. There is no end goal. There is no over-arching plot driving play. We aren't battling giants to collect conch shells to allow us to teleport to the end adventure. We aren't disrupting rituals so that our final encounter with Tiamat will be do able.

Let's be honest here, for the majority of tables, meeting and defeating Strahd will be the final encounter of the campaign. (Or very close to it). It would be a pretty rare group that will immediately head to Strahd's castle and defeat Strahd. They might do that and die - most likely. The general form of anyone playing Ravenloft will be - arrive in Barovia, ponce around Barovia for a while gaining enough levels/power - challenge Strahd. It's a fairly easy to predict line.

I honestly cannot tell you what will happen the session after next in my campaign. I truly do not know. I have a number of smallish adventures scattered around, but, the players have already ignored that once in establishing a tavern. It's entirely possible they will go off in some other direction that I have no idea. That's the point of sandbox campaigns. You cannot predict with any degree of accuracy, what your PC's will do.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
Sorry, those weren't "side quests". Those were the main campaign. Or, to put it another way, all there was was "side quests" since none of the adventures are particularly linked (other than the three Saltmarsh adventures) by anything other than geography.

There was no "plot". And that's the point. AP's have a plot. They are linear because you will always be moving forward on the plot and, while there is some freedom and wiggle room (your example of Strahd is a good one since that module is about as sandbox as it gets) but, by and large, it's going to progress in a very predictable way.

A non-linear campaign doesn't. There is no end goal. There is no over-arching plot driving play. We aren't battling giants to collect conch shells to allow us to teleport to the end adventure. We aren't disrupting rituals so that our final encounter with Tiamat will be do able.

Let's be honest here, for the majority of tables, meeting and defeating Strahd will be the final encounter of the campaign. (Or very close to it). It would be a pretty rare group that will immediately head to Strahd's castle and defeat Strahd. They might do that and die - most likely. The general form of anyone playing Ravenloft will be - arrive in Barovia, ponce around Barovia for a while gaining enough levels/power - challenge Strahd. It's a fairly easy to predict line.

I honestly cannot tell you what will happen the session after next in my campaign. I truly do not know. I have a number of smallish adventures scattered around, but, the players have already ignored that once in establishing a tavern. It's entirely possible they will go off in some other direction that I have no idea. That's the point of sandbox campaigns. You cannot predict with any degree of accuracy, what your PC's will do.
So this is fine. I definitely would not disagree with you. In your words: You do not have a plot. Hence, you have a series of random encounters. Which is exactly what I said in my prior post. People can play all they want and have just random encounters. There is nothing wrong with that. I've done it. It's fun. But it also means that the DM is not looking at character motives either. Which was the question the OP posted. And one I said, characters must have a motive. The DM attaches to it. Thus, plot ensues: A to B to C. Not always in that order. But the plot diagram exists.
In your case, it doesn't. And that's cool.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
An example of the former would be taking vengeance on the murderer of your PC's parents. An example of the latter would be a bounty hunter PC choosing to track down the same murderer but lacking any personal connection, at least initially.

The former makes for a more emotionally engaging story. The latter potentially gives the players more freedom, assuming it's a sandbox containing many possible adventures.
For me it depends on the character. I enjoy both a lot.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
I just don't understand how you can look at a branching narrative like that, where there aren't set sign posts, no pre scripted scenes, there's no narrative structure that players have to follow to have the correct storyline unfurl before them, and insist that it's an A must go to B must go to C must finish at D storyline.

How exactly are storylines, that either the players or random chance come up with and lead me as the GM down, predetermined paths created by me?
First, as I have said a lot: A to B to C can happen out of order. Stories follow a plot diagram is the point of A to B to C. Now that that is out of the way. ;)

So if you do not prep anything in advance, then you are not following the character's motives. Because at some point during play they are bound to expand on the motives. They are bound to try and follow them. But if you don't plot that, fine. You have exactly what I said earlier in this thread - a bunch of random encounters.

I also said there is nothing wrong with that. It's fun. It can be a lot of fun. But it doesn't follow a plot, hence no A to B to C. They are just made up on the spot and determined by a roll or an action. That's cool.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
@Scott Christian - please clarify something for me:

When you're talking about how things always go A-to-B-to-C, from which point of view are you speaking:

1. From ahead of time, where the DM has plotted out that the story will go from A to B to C before play begins (i.e. a typical approach to a hard-line AP)
2. From after the fact, looking back on a campaign that in hindsight went A to B to C whether or not that progression was pre-planned by the DM.

All the arguments you're getting are assuming you're speaking as 1. above, but I'm starting to wonder if you're speaking as 2. 2 is inevitable: looking at any campaign in hindsight makes it easy to tie the story together and see the connections, whether they were pre-planned or not, and so there's little if any point talking about it. (looking at a campaign in hindsight and failing to find any connecting story at all would be rare indeed, I think)

It's 1. that matters: does the DM plot this stuff out ahead of time and if yes, how willing is she to deviate from that plot as the campaign develops through play and maybe goes in different and-or unforeseen directions?
I know this is going to be a cop-out answer, but I see it in between. I do not view AP's as 1. Not in the slightest. They are a setting, with dozens of NPC's and villains, events that will happen no matter what the PC's do, and flavor (culture, ecosystem, magic items, etc.). I understand what you are saying about number 2. I just feel that is in the AP's if the DM does their job: preps, allows the players to do what they want, and tries to intertwine elements of the AP to what they are doing.
A DM that does zero prep for a session, that just makes it up off the top of their head, is really just doing levelled (and sometimes not levelled) random encounters. But my guess is, most DM's, even ones that say they do, do not do that. They have their setting, which they know. They have locations the players can reach. They have an antagonist. They have inciting incidents to start the story. They even have (in their head) a possibility of conclusions at least for a session or two. Now do players surprise us? Yup. That's part of the fun. But if a DM has a campaign that has lasted a few months, and that DM can't predict how their players are going to react, then they are not paying attention.
So do you see what I mean about it being both. Just because the DM didn't write a hundred pages on the next two sessions doesn't mean they don't know. And if they are trying to integrate their character's motives into the session (the topic of this thread), then they will have an idea how to work with that motive to create a story.
If they don't do any of that (A to B to C), then they are just using a random encounter table.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
First, as I have said a lot: A to B to C can happen out of order. Stories follow a plot diagram is the point of A to B to C. Now that that is out of the way. ;)

So if you do not prep anything in advance, then you are not following the character's motives. Because at some point during play they are bound to expand on the motives. They are bound to try and follow them. But if you don't plot that, fine. You have exactly what I said earlier in this thread - a bunch of random encounters.

I also said there is nothing wrong with that. It's fun. It can be a lot of fun. But it doesn't follow a plot, hence no A to B to C. They are just made up on the spot and determined by a roll or an action. That's cool.
I do not follow a plot AND my game is not a series of random encounters. This is the thing you're failing to grasp as a category. I did, too, for a long time. It's a hard conceptual leap, especially if you have no exposure to it. Again, I'd suggest playing other games that do this kind of play well, because it will expose you to the possibilities in 5e.
 

pemerton

Legend
People can play all they want and have just random encounters. There is nothing wrong with that. I've done it. It's fun. But it also means that the DM is not looking at character motives either. Which was the question the OP posted. And one I said, characters must have a motive. The DM attaches to it. Thus, plot ensues: A to B to C. Not always in that order. But the plot diagram exists.
if you do not prep anything in advance, then you are not following the character's motives. Because at some point during play they are bound to expand on the motives. They are bound to try and follow them. But if you don't plot that, fine. You have exactly what I said earlier in this thread - a bunch of random encounters.
I can't speak for @Hussar or @Nytmare as far as their games are concerned. But I can speak to your general claim, which - as I understand it - is that the alternative to random encounters is material prepared in advance to respond to declared actions that express PC motives.

That general claim is false. It is possible to respond to such declared actions without preparing material - and, in particular, without preparing plot - in advance. There are fairly well-known techniques for doing so.

A DM that does zero prep for a session, that just makes it up off the top of their head, is really just doing levelled (and sometimes not levelled) random encounters.
This claim is false. Here is an actual play example from 4e D&D play. I can't imagine 5e is so radically different as to make this sort of thing impossible.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
Um, this is all very interesting, but you're telling me I have a plot in my 5e game that my players are playing through? I'm curious, can you tell me what it is? I'd love to know.
Maybe you don't have one?
Again, my skill challenge structure blows this out of the water. I suggest you read it again, and, rather than insisting that you have the one way it works, consider how it might work in a different way and try, very hard, to imagine out that would work. Here's the rub of how a skill challenge works, in my game: I present a challenge to their goal, they tell me how they solve it, and dice are rolled. If a success, the PCs solve it how they say. If a failure, I add pain points. For example, in a skill challenge earlier in my game, two PCs were trying to gather information on one of the PC's nemesis. They had heard that the nemesis had been working in a certain area of the city and so went to find out. They first decided to approach a business in the area that they thought would be likely to supply the nemesis, and asked there. I presented an employee who might know something, but was being cagey. They used intimidation to force the issue and have the employee tell where the nemesis was. They succeeded, which meant that they got one step closer (a single success doesn't win, but moves you in the right direction) -- in this case being pointed at another business owner who had handled most of the work, this guy just handling some subcontract stuff. So, they went to track him down.

From my perspective, the initial business owner didn't exist in my notes or prep until they decided on this approach -- it made sense that one would exist, so one did. The second business owner certainly didn't exist until they tried it. And, in that attempt, the fact that he was huge and scary (Sigil) didn't happen until they failed the roll to find him, meaning that he was now dangerous. And, the fact that he actually turned out to have a huge heart and loved his neighborhood didn't happen until one of the PCs made a successful Intuition roll when trying to figure out what the scary business owner's Bond was. And, that he supplied food until just last week, when the nemesis packed up shop wasn't prepped until they made the third failure in this chain, resulting in a loss condition for the overall goal of finding the nemesis in the city. None of this was prepped, all of it occurred immediately in play, and it used 5e rules to the hilt, with just the addition of the overall skill challenge framework I like to use for complex tasks. This one, in play, example changed a good bit about what has happened in the campaign, because dealing with the nemesis was delayed for other considerations.
As stated earlier, I am discussing D&D, 5e specifically. I do not know what "pain points" are. That sounds like a house-rule. Your multiple skill check rules also sound like an alternate version. That said, it also sounds like a fun session. But, the same exact situation could have happened with an any AP. And when this happened, did you not plot in your head what the nemesis might do? Or is going to be purely random? A roll of the die? If it's the latter, I'd love to see the charts. Do you roll random location? Random number of people around the scene? Random weather? Random time of day? Random whether the nemesis has a weapon on them? Or do you have an idea? Just because you didn't write it down doesn't mean you didn't plot ahead.
My point is, it is no different than any other session of D&D that would use an AP. Benign NPC's turn hostile all the time due to character actions or failed skill checks. Just because you added extra rules doesn't change that. Not everything can be plotted out. Players surprise us. But, to say you have no idea what the nemesis is now doing and how he might "possibly" appear in the future means you're just rolling random encounters. Which, for the tenth time this thread is legit. It is fun. But, many players sit down to D&D for a story.
If, again, you're just saying that a D&D GM presents things that are prepped, that's trivially true. Your argument would seem to function so long as I used the Monster Manual, for instance. Using prepped pieces -- foes, locations, setting -- does not mean plot goes from A to B to C. Trying to imply that 5e requires this, especially for the OP topic of having PCs connected to the setting, is a non-starter.
I have stated this many times in these posts. A to B to C happens. Sometimes it happens out of order, even in AP's. But if a DM is taking character motive into consideration, I bet they have an idea where B is, and C and D. It may not happen that way, but they have an idea.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
I have stated this many times in these posts. A to B to C happens. Sometimes it happens out of order, even in AP's. But if a DM is taking character motive into consideration, I bet they have an idea where B is, and C and D. It may not happen that way, but they have an idea.
You need to pick a place for where you want your goal post to be.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Maybe you don't have one?

As stated earlier, I am discussing D&D, 5e specifically. I do not know what "pain points" are.
It's a generic term form outside of gaming to mean places in a process or life that cause friction and are difficult.
That sounds like a house-rule. Your multiple skill check rules also sound like an alternate version. That said, it also sounds like a fun session. But, the same exact situation could have happened with an any AP. And when this happened, did you not plot in your head what the nemesis might do? Or is going to be purely random? A roll of the die? If it's the latter, I'd love to see the charts. Do you roll random location? Random number of people around the scene? Random weather? Random time of day? Random whether the nemesis has a weapon on them? Or do you have an idea? Just because you didn't write it down doesn't mean you didn't plot ahead.
Ah, I see the argument. It's the "but you could have scripted the exact same thing (in an infinite universe of scripts)." The parenthetical is the part that's often left unspoken. That a thing can happen does not mean it must or should happen, and the idea that a game that is created in the moment could have been scripted, given the perfect attempt in a sea of infinites, is not a strong or even useful argument. You've essentially leveraged randomness in your argument that randomness doesn't fully exist.

For your questions -- no I did not plot what the nemesis might do. I played the game to find out what the nemesis would do. It was not purely random, it depended entirely on what the players declared as PC actions and what the results of those actions were. The available set of outcomes was therefore much more tied into PC desires (they drove the script, so to speak) and more varied in possibility than any scripting could have been. There are no charts. I do not roll random locations, if a new location is needed, it will be pretty well defined from the preceding fiction. The number of other people around, if relevent (and I can't see how it was here) is dependent on the fiction established and the actions declared. Same for time of day -- I mean, why would I need to determine this randomly, my players are probably going to tell me when they're doing a thing, if it matters. The nemesis didn't feature here -- to be perfectly frank, even at this point in the campaign (about 25 sessions later with more interaction with the nemesis' organization) I still don't really know who or what the nemesis is. The character background was a name and the destruction of their clan, no other details. In play, the nemesis has become a rival in another player set goal, so that's the level of interaction. The only thing I know is that the nemesis is powerful, has a competent organization answering to them, and is interested in the same goal as the PCs. I'll know more as the game goes on. I've even asked the player if they want to flesh out the nemesis more, and they're having fun right now and have decided they're not sure either. It seems we'll both find out.

My point is, it is no different than any other session of D&D that would use an AP. Benign NPC's turn hostile all the time due to character actions or failed skill checks. Just because you added extra rules doesn't change that. Not everything can be plotted out. Players surprise us. But, to say you have no idea what the nemesis is now doing and how he might "possibly" appear in the future means you're just rolling random encounters. Which, for the tenth time this thread is legit. It is fun. But, many players sit down to D&D for a story.
Again, this is a failure of understanding on your part. I had that same failure, for a long time. I completely bounced off of Burning Wheel in the aughts because I could not grasp how the game was telling me to run it -- I was stuck in the idea things were prepared or planned for by the GM (at least at the outline level) or were randomly determined, so when the rules were suggesting that the player gets what they want on a success, I couldn't reconcile it. Turns out, you have to toss the idea that the GM is proactive at all and that things follow the fiction in play. It's not an easy switch, especially for people that only have D&D or D&D style GM approach games (there's a number of them) as experience, because it absolutely doesn't run the traditional ways. In my 5e game, I run a hybrid -- some things I prep and plot (loosely, always willing to abandon), but a lot of things I leave up to the fiction to determine in play. This is neither pre-plotted by me nor is it random. It's driven by the players.

I have stated this many times in these posts. A to B to C happens. Sometimes it happens out of order, even in AP's. But if a DM is taking character motive into consideration, I bet they have an idea where B is, and C and D. It may not happen that way, but they have an idea.
At the end of my current campaign, we will be able to look back and see a full story, with ups and downs, and strong beats. Right now, I have no idea what that story will be, and can only tell you what's happened. I really don't know what comes next, and am looking forward to finding out (we're doing a rotation with Blades right now, so D&D is on temp hold). What I can tell you is that the game has focused almost entirely on PC motives and desires. Everything that's happened has been tied to those, because the players are the ones telling me what happens next. I react.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I know this is going to be a cop-out answer, but I see it in between. I do not view AP's as 1. Not in the slightest. They are a setting, with dozens of NPC's and villains, events that will happen no matter what the PC's do, and flavor (culture, ecosystem, magic items, etc.).
Most APs don't work very well if the players/PCs decide not to get on the train, as they're usually rather railroad-y. And this works fine at times, don't get me wrong, but if the players are the sort to whom railroads are bad things then a hard-line AP probably isn't the best place to put them. :)

A DM that does zero prep for a session, that just makes it up off the top of their head, is really just doing levelled (and sometimes not levelled) random encounters. But my guess is, most DM's, even ones that say they do, do not do that. They have their setting, which they know. They have locations the players can reach. They have an antagonist. They have inciting incidents to start the story. They even have (in their head) a possibility of conclusions at least for a session or two. Now do players surprise us? Yup. That's part of the fun. But if a DM has a campaign that has lasted a few months, and that DM can't predict how their players are going to react, then they are not paying attention.
Sure, but what of it? Even though a DM can more or less predict how the players/PCs will react to something, if the DM intentionally doesn't use that prediction to inform what comes next in the game and instead presents it neutrally, does it matter?

So do you see what I mean about it being both. Just because the DM didn't write a hundred pages on the next two sessions doesn't mean they don't know. And if they are trying to integrate their character's motives into the session (the topic of this thread), then they will have an idea how to work with that motive to create a story.
If they don't do any of that (A to B to C), then they are just using a random encounter table.
First off, even a random encounter table, when looked at in hindsight, will inevitably generate an A to B to C story of some sort. This is why talking about what's seen in hindsight is pointless.

But ahead of time and-or during the run of play, there's a rather massive amount of middle ground between 'the DM creates the story' and 'a random encounter table', most of which involves the players taking over and driving the story - in effect, forcing the DM to react to what they do rather than the more common situation where the players/PCs react to what the DM throws at them.

This can be as simple as the players/PCs deciding to turn their nose up at whatever hooks-foreshadowing-bread crumbs they've seen and instead going off and doing something unexpected - e.g. out of the blue they decide "Hell, we're fed up with working for this pair of ungrateful monarchs - we're going to buy a ship, hire a crew, and sail off into the sunset. Mr. DM, as we're in a harbour town we look to see if there's any ships for sale or, as a plan B, charter."

And yes, when looked at two years later in hindsight the party's decision to jump on a boat and sail away by default becomes 'B' to whatever 'A' just preceded it (with 'C' of course being whatever happens once they get to wherever they end up); but that has nothing whatsoever to do with either DM pre-planning or DM-placed random encounters. The players/party put themselves on that ship and forced the DM to react to their doing so.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
In PbtA games you have some minimal scritping in the form of Fronts that give you some direction in terms of resolution. You dont have that in D&D but you can certainly run the game in the same way. I actually write PbtA style fronts for my 5E games because it works so well. I vastly prefer it to prepping a whole adventure path style game, and it generates just as much interesting action and plot, for given values of those two words.
 

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

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top