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

pemerton

Legend
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.
To me, this goes back to the issue of time. At what point in time are we performing our analysis of play and the products of play?

After the event, any even halfway-successful RPG session produced a fiction that consists of a series of (in-fiction) events. And in the real world there were various moments of play that occurred that are at least loosely correlated with those in-fiction events.

But the previous paragraph doesn't get us any further than a RPG was played. It doesn't tell us how the fiction was created, nor what the moments of play consisted in (eg who got to make what decisions subject to what constraints?). It is the answers to those questions - how?, what? - that determine the actual play experience, as a participant in a process that begins at (say) 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon and finishes around 6.

Adventure Path play yields one range of answers to the how and what questions - a huge part of the how answer is We (or perhaps I, the GM) read it from the book, and inevitably therefore a significant part of the what answer is The GM decided what happened and told everyone else.

This is very different from answers like the fiction was created by allowing the winner of an opposed check to establish the outcome and play consisted in rolling dice to see who wins and hence whose desire for the fiction gets realised. This latter doesn't become a version of the former simply because the GM, in narrating a consequence or in framing a fictional context the leads to an opposed check, had regard to an evinced PC motivation.
 

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Scott Christian

Adventurer
Again, this is a failure of understanding on your part.
In fairness, maybe that's true. I am open to it. I just feel like I am not wrong in this case.
Now to be fully fair, I am also a fan of people believing they do one thing, but are actually doing another. There are several writers out there that insist they do not know where the story is going to take them. That they start to write and the "characters take over." There are many authors that refute this. I am in the middle: I think the emotion may take over, but do not believe for a second the majority of the story wasn't thought about, and in a way, plotted ahead of time. This could have been the night before the writing session or a year before. It could have been stored in short term memory or written on a hundred page outline sheet. But, in the end, the writer, if they are trying to tell a story (with character arcs, full plot, etc.) is choosing how to place their A to B to C.

But as I stated earlier, I am open to the possibility of being wrong. This is why I ask for videos of play to see what people mean by "fill in the blank."

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?
Great question. I don't think it matters except to the actual playability of the story.

We have all seen what happens when a writer decides to not use a script - Game of Thrones. The reason everyone was so upset at the last season because they didn't pay attention to character motive or use the prediction. Instead they pushed for a closure. This failure created a break in characters. This failure created an even bigger break in the setting. This failure created a break in the story for a majority of its viewers. To me, this was like a DM deciding to be on the railroad or multi-path or sandbox, and then switching to a random encounter.

But I will concede. Maybe, without any prep of how an NPC or villain might act based off their culture, past, or prep from the DM. Without any prep to where the players may end up, be it dungeon, forest, or tower. And without any prep as to how any of that will play out, and how that might effect the area around it, the NPC, players or villains. Maybe without any of that there are DM's out there that weave an enriched laden with the elements of a story. I do think it might be possible, especially after hearing about many other's experience with other game systems that try to do this.

I would love to see a video of a play session or be in a game or just once, see it a convention.

I do appreciate others for engaging. It is appreciated and opens my mind to other possibilities. I will try to remain open. Thanks.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
In fairness, maybe that's true. I am open to it. I just feel like I am not wrong in this case.
Now to be fully fair, I am also a fan of people believing they do one thing, but are actually doing another. There are several writers out there that insist they do not know where the story is going to take them. That they start to write and the "characters take over." There are many authors that refute this. I am in the middle: I think the emotion may take over, but do not believe for a second the majority of the story wasn't thought about, and in a way, plotted ahead of time. This could have been the night before the writing session or a year before. It could have been stored in short term memory or written on a hundred page outline sheet. But, in the end, the writer, if they are trying to tell a story (with character arcs, full plot, etc.) is choosing how to place their A to B to C.
You've almost achieved a nice little epistemological closure there. By asserting the premise that people think they do thing A but are actually confused and are instead doing thing B, you've established a way to refute, without any effort, anything that disagrees with your other assumptions. In this case, you've assumed that all stories are generated ahead of time, at least in structure, and so inevitably flow out with those pre-thought structural pieces no matter what the author or authors intend. To seal this, you assert that even if they think they do something else, the reality is that they're just confused and are pre-scripting unconsciously. That's interesting, for sure, but it's not a useful tool for analyzing games. It's a tool for assuming you already have the right answer and don't need to choose.

But as I stated earlier, I am open to the possibility of being wrong. This is why I ask for videos of play to see what people mean by "fill in the blank."
I don't recall "fill in the blank" as being used to describe my approach, and would disagree that it's a useful description. However, if you require video, look for Let's Plays from any PbtA game or Burning Wheel. These games, unlike 5e, cannot be scripted and so showcase the playstyle well. For 5e streams, it would be very difficult to find such a video as the predominant way to play is GM scripting, although I'm told Matt Mercer occasionally does it. Couldn't say, I'm not a big consumer of videos of other people playing games.

Great question. I don't think it matters except to the actual playability of the story.

We have all seen what happens when a writer decides to not use a script - Game of Thrones. The reason everyone was so upset at the last season because they didn't pay attention to character motive or use the prediction. Instead they pushed for a closure. This failure created a break in characters. This failure created an even bigger break in the setting. This failure created a break in the story for a majority of its viewers. To me, this was like a DM deciding to be on the railroad or multi-path or sandbox, and then switching to a random encounter.
I think it's a category error to judge how other media is presented in terms of RPG play approaches. Game of Thrones had many issues, show-runner fatigue being the largest reason the last few seasons failed. That and the writing team appeared to be good at adaptation of an existing story and bad at actually creating that story. Or, my pet theory, Martin had no idea how it was going to end (he appears to write on the fly rather than scripting anything but a few set pieces -- like Hodor) and so gave the show writers something that was bad. This fits with my personal theory that GRRM hates everyone, individually, and wishes ill upon you. Regardless, looking at the end of the HBO series and trying to draw parallels to GM approaches is a bad fit.

But I will concede. Maybe, without any prep of how an NPC or villain might act based off their culture, past, or prep from the DM. Without any prep to where the players may end up, be it dungeon, forest, or tower. And without any prep as to how any of that will play out, and how that might effect the area around it, the NPC, players or villains. Maybe without any of that there are DM's out there that weave an enriched laden with the elements of a story. I do think it might be possible, especially after hearing about many other's experience with other game systems that try to do this.
This seems like a goalpost slide. We've moved from "thing are prescripted in A - B - C form by the GM" to "any fiction established prior to an interaction is also prescripting in the A - B - C way." If there's an established NPC, or set genre assumptions in a game and those inform a GM's adjudication, that's not prescripting, that's not violating the established fiction of the game. If I have an NPC already established in play to have a motivation, leaning on that motivation in future interactions isn't at all prescripting in the way you've presented. If this is your argument, then you've badly presented it, and it begins to take on a trivially true nature -- established fiction should always form the baseline of ongoing fiction.

Now, that said, there is a difference between established in the GM's mind and established in the play of the game. The former does tend to lead to prescripting, because events playing out according to information only possessed by the GM takes on that forced outcome appearance. However, that is not required to play. If the GM is only using information established in play -- no secret notes, for instance -- then there's no prescripting; everyone at the table already has access to this information and can approach that NPC with that in mind. Arguing that established fiction is the same as prescripting outcomes is making your statement so broad as to be trivially meaningless.

I would love to see a video of a play session or be in a game or just once, see it a convention.
Then look to games that feature this style of play instead of trying to find the video of a D&D game that doesn't usually feature this style of play.
I do appreciate others for engaging. It is appreciated and opens my mind to other possibilities. I will try to remain open. Thanks.
One can ask for little else. Again, I offer the tool that assisted me: either assume everyone else is wrong or assume that you are wrong. If the former, done, move on. If the latter, take what they say at face value, assume it works, and then try to understand how that can be without pulling on your former assumptions. It's like being told you can reach a certain ledge in a video game, but you cannot see how that can work and so assume people are pulling your leg. You could, instead, assume that maybe they've a different perspective on the issue and it is possible -- how can that be? You ask, and they describe rocket jumping, You balk, this is clearly a stupid idea! But, if you keep the mind open, and try (expecting and accepting that it will come with some failure and difficulty), you learn rocket jumping and new paths open. You can play new levels without rocket jumping, and get good results (you did before, so clearly), but you could also play those levels with it and find interesting new things or new approaches. Best might be to blend in a bit of rocket jumping here and there.
 

pemerton

Legend
I am also a fan of people believing they do one thing, but are actually doing another. There are several writers out there that insist they do not know where the story is going to take them. That they start to write and the "characters take over." There are many authors that refute this. I am in the middle: I think the emotion may take over, but do not believe for a second the majority of the story wasn't thought about, and in a way, plotted ahead of time. This could have been the night before the writing session or a year before. It could have been stored in short term memory or written on a hundred page outline sheet. But, in the end, the writer, if they are trying to tell a story (with character arcs, full plot, etc.) is choosing how to place their A to B to C.
There are some fundamental differences between what you describe here and RPGing played using the general sort of approach I and some other posters - @Campbell, @Ovinomancer - have described:

(1) RPGing involves multiple authors (ie players and the GM).

(2) RPGing uses mechanics to allocate authority among those authors, and to set parameters for that negotiation. Here's Vincent Baker on the point:

Roleplaying is negotiated imagination. In order for any thing to be true in game, all the participants in the game (players and GMs, if you've even got such things) have to understand and assent to it. When you're roleplaying, what you're doing is a) suggesting things that might be true in the game and then b) negotiating with the other participants to determine whether they're actually true or not. . . .​
Mechanics might model the stuff of the game world, that's another topic, but they don't exist to do so. They exist to ease and constrain real-world social negotiation between the players at the table. That's their sole and crucial function.​

(3) The authorship takes place in the moment of play. But it is constrained by the mechanics - eg if a player fails a check, then what is authored must reflect the PC's failure in what they tried to attempt - and also by other system elements - eg in Burning Wheel, the GM's narration is to be established having regard to PC build elements like Beliefs and Relationships. These constraints are what produces story without any participant having to write a story in advance.

Maybe, without any prep of how an NPC or villain might act based off their culture, past, or prep from the DM. Without any prep to where the players may end up, be it dungeon, forest, or tower. And without any prep as to how any of that will play out, and how that might effect the area around it, the NPC, players or villains. Maybe without any of that there are DM's out there that weave an enriched laden with the elements of a story. I do think it might be possible, especially after hearing about many other's experience with other game systems that try to do this.
Here's Paul Czege on GM narration of NPCs:

[W]hen I'm framing scenes, and I'm in the zone, I'm turning a freakin' firehose of adversity and situation on the character. It is not an objective outgrowth of prior events. It's intentional as all get out. . . . I frame the character into the middle of conflicts I think will push and pull in ways that are interesting to me and to the player. I keep NPC personalities somewhat unfixed in my mind, allowing me to retroactively justify their behaviors in support of this. And like Scott's "Point A to Point B" model says, the outcome of the scene is not preconceived.​

In the quote, and I think in your other posts, you are focusing on pre-authored plot as key to establishing a story. But that is not the only way. As systems like BW, Apocalypse World etc illustrate - and as Czege illustrates - story can be generated by pre-establishing certain elements, like features of character and/or theme or genre, and then using a mechanical system to establish pacing and dramatic trajectory.

What I'm still unsure about is this: are you familiar with (say) Apocalypse World, or Blades in the Dark, or Burning Wheel, but don't agree with how others are characterising the play of these systems? Or are you not familiar with these systems?
 

In fairness, maybe that's true. I am open to it. I just feel like I am not wrong in this case.
Now to be fully fair, I am also a fan of people believing they do one thing, but are actually doing another. There are several writers out there that insist they do not know where the story is going to take them. That they start to write and the "characters take over." There are many authors that refute this. I am in the middle: I think the emotion may take over, but do not believe for a second the majority of the story wasn't thought about, and in a way, plotted ahead of time. This could have been the night before the writing session or a year before. It could have been stored in short term memory or written on a hundred page outline sheet. But, in the end, the writer, if they are trying to tell a story (with character arcs, full plot, etc.) is choosing how to place their A to B to C.
I think one key thing to remember here is that just about any written work that we wind up seeing has gone through at least some amount of revision and reworking and editing. A first draft is far more likely to have elements that surprise the author than the final draft.

With a RPG, we're generally only having one draft and that's crafted through play. Now, there may be elements that are predetermined by the GM....the amount of which will vary from game to game, and from group to group. I think the default assumption is always that the GM will decide all manner of things ahead of time, and that's because that's the way that D&D tends to do things, and so it's the prevailing method.

But I don't think it's necessarily better. It may be at times, and for certain things....but definitely not always.


But I will concede. Maybe, without any prep of how an NPC or villain might act based off their culture, past, or prep from the DM. Without any prep to where the players may end up, be it dungeon, forest, or tower. And without any prep as to how any of that will play out, and how that might effect the area around it, the NPC, players or villains. Maybe without any of that there are DM's out there that weave an enriched laden with the elements of a story. I do think it might be possible, especially after hearing about many other's experience with other game systems that try to do this.
I look back at how often I'd get frustrated as a DM because some villain that I'd created.....I spent time on the mechanics and even more on the backstory and motives and connections and their place in the world and so on....would be viewed by my players no differently than some random orc. Very often the amount of details we tend to come up with for NPCs is far greater than it needs to be, and not necessarily suited for their place in the ongoing story.

Leaving those elements unestablished until play means it's easier to see how the game has gone by the time of the NPC's introduction, and to then tailor things to be more suitable or meaningful. It's easier to make the details you do give to the NPC resonate with the players because they seem to matter more.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
You've almost achieved a nice little epistemological closure there. By asserting the premise that people think they do thing A but are actually confused and are instead doing thing B, you've established a way to refute, without any effort, anything that disagrees with your other assumptions. In this case, you've assumed that all stories are generated ahead of time, at least in structure, and so inevitably flow out with those pre-thought structural pieces no matter what the author or authors intend. To seal this, you assert that even if they think they do something else, the reality is that they're just confused and are pre-scripting unconsciously. That's interesting, for sure, but it's not a useful tool for analyzing games. It's a tool for assuming you already have the right answer and don't need to choose.
I would whole-heartedly disagree. I said, "I feel." Then conceded that you are correct. There is no escape hatch. I asked myself, after re-reading the thread, if this was a feeling I had or I could prove it. Turns out it was a feeling. I cannot prove feelings, especially when you and many others offered proof of the contrary. That is why I ended with "I concede".
I don't recall "fill in the blank" as being used to describe my approach, and would disagree that it's a useful description. However, if you require video, look for Let's Plays from any PbtA game or Burning Wheel. These games, unlike 5e, cannot be scripted and so showcase the playstyle well. For 5e streams, it would be very difficult to find such a video as the predominant way to play is GM scripting, although I'm told Matt Mercer occasionally does it. Couldn't say, I'm not a big consumer of videos of other people playing games.
These are the statements that make me wonder if you or others have read and understood what I wrote. I never argued other games couldn't accomplish what you say they do. In fact, I stated the opposite five times now. I say other games could create story without pre-forming A to B to C. I said it so much, that I felt like I was being patronizing. Yet the same games keep being brought up as evidence. I said this exact sentence five times: "I am talking about D&D, specifically 5e."
This seems like a goalpost slide.
No movement of goalposts. Still talking about D&D, specifically 5e. Still talking about pre-scripted encounters. And rightfully said that it could be done based on the evidence others have offered.
There are some fundamental differences between what you describe here and RPGing played using the general sort of approach I and some other posters -
I think your correct. Authoring a story and playing an RPG are two fundamentally different things. Bad analogy, it's just what came into my mind. My bad.
What I'm still unsure about is this: are you familiar with (say) Apocalypse World, or Blades in the Dark, or Burning Wheel, but don't agree with how others are characterising the play of these systems? Or are you not familiar with these systems?
I have, at the fifty or so conventions I have attended, played many "story games." They seemed extremely reliant on the group being able to elevate the story, as opposed to D&D, where two or three players can elevate the story (because many players enjoy the ride, but do not want to drive; they like the destination, but don't want to pack). They were fun and enjoyable experiences. And I apologize as I do not remember the names. If it had struck a chord with me, I would have jotted it down and bought the game. But it didn't.
Some of the systems I am familiar with are more traditional RPG's: D&D, PF, Conan, Dragon Age, The Witcher, Numenera, RoleMaster, Middle Earth, etc. None of these offers the mechanics everyone here is speaking about. Well, maybe Conan, a tiny bit.
But again, as stated earlier, I was discussing D&D.

Thanks again everyone for expanding my horizons. It is appreciated.
 

Campbell

Legend
@Scott Christian

I am not particularly interested in narrowing this discussion down to Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. This is in RPGs General. It's one of the few areas in the site where we get to talk about different games.

Indie designers often cut their teeth on developing the GM techniques they would build into their own games using more mainstream games. Ron Edwards ran long running RuneQuest and Champions games using the proto-form of what would become Sorcerer style GM techniques. A lot of the foundations of Apocalypse World came out of Vincent and Meg Baker's experiences playing Ars Magica. When Apocalypse World came out John Harper who would later go on to design Blades was initially unimpressed because he thought that was just the way you were supposed to GM.

I have successfully carried over GM techniques from games like Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, and Sorcerer into more mainstream games. Some games that have worked fairly well include :

  • Demon - The Descent
  • Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition
  • Exalted Third Edition
  • Edge of the Empire
  • Godbound
  • Legend (Mongoose RuneQuest)
  • Legend of the Five Rings Fifth Edition
  • Pathfinder Second Edition
  • Stars Without Number
  • Vampire The Requiem Second Edition
My attempts with D&D Fifth Edition did not fair well mostly because I was dealing with new players that wanted a more mainstream approach. Also the systems fight against you in a way they do not in some other mainstream games.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
@Scott Christian

I am not particularly interested in narrowing this discussion down to Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. This is in RPGs General. It's one of the few areas in the site where we get to talk about different games.

Indie designers often cut their teeth on developing the GM techniques they would build into their own games using more mainstream games. Ron Edwards ran long running RuneQuest and Champions games using the proto-form of what would become Sorcerer style GM techniques. A lot of the foundations of Apocalypse World came out of Vincent and Meg Baker's experiences playing Ars Magica. When Apocalypse World came out John Harper who would later go on to design Blades was initially unimpressed because he thought that was just the way you were supposed to GM.

I have successfully carried over GM techniques from games like Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, and Sorcerer into more mainstream games. Some games that have worked fairly well include :

  • Demon - The Descent
  • Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition
  • Exalted Third Edition
  • Edge of the Empire
  • Godbound
  • Legend (Mongoose RuneQuest)
  • Legend of the Five Rings Fifth Edition
  • Pathfinder Second Edition
  • Stars Without Number
  • Vampire The Requiem Second Edition
My attempts with D&D Fifth Edition did not fair well mostly because I was dealing with new players that wanted a more mainstream approach. Also the systems fight against you in a way they do not in some other mainstream games.
I have found the implementation of rules outside of D&D are difficult to implement as well. Even things like crit charts are hazardous.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I would whole-heartedly disagree. I said, "I feel." Then conceded that you are correct. There is no escape hatch. I asked myself, after re-reading the thread, if this was a feeling I had or I could prove it. Turns out it was a feeling. I cannot prove feelings, especially when you and many others offered proof of the contrary. That is why I ended with "I concede".
You put "I concede" in the third or forth paragraph. In your first, which this was a response to, you said that you "feel like [you are] not wrong in this case" and then tread into discussing how you "do not believe for a second" that writers can be surprised by their own writing. This was a response to me discussing how games work, so it's hard to see how your "concession," which was caveated, in a later paragraph responding to another poster was the strong statement you see to think it was.

That said, I'll let it rest.

These are the statements that make me wonder if you or others have read and understood what I wrote. I never argued other games couldn't accomplish what you say they do. In fact, I stated the opposite five times now. I say other games could create story without pre-forming A to B to C. I said it so much, that I felt like I was being patronizing. Yet the same games keep being brought up as evidence. I said this exact sentence five times: "I am talking about D&D, specifically 5e."
And I responded, almost every time, but saying I do these things in 5e. I pointed to other games because they do a better job of showcasing the approach, something I also explained as I said it and explained again in the part your responding to here. The point I've made, repeatedly, is that looking to other games can inform you of how to use the techniques in 5e. You're demanding immediate, video evidence of such, ignoring the nature of what successful streams look like and choosing to ignore that the approach can be used across systems. You seem to have locked into an argument that 5e is somehow unique or special in the way it must be run -- that no other approaches can work, even in pieces. It's an odd argument.


No movement of goalposts. Still talking about D&D, specifically 5e. Still talking about pre-scripted encounters. And rightfully said that it could be done based on the evidence others have offered.
There was a lot more said here that expanded on the initial sentence. You do seem to slide here as you move from the strong statement of your position, that 5e only supports pre-scripted components, to a much weaker statement that use of any previously established fiction is the same as prescripting plot points. This what I addressed here. Your response that you were talking about 5e doesn't address that, and adds the special pleading that 5e has qualities that require prescripting. It doesn't. I supports prescripting more that play-to-find-out, but that's a different horse altogether.

Your "concession" here is caveated entirely on the premise that you could do it, yes, but only if you don't use pre-established fiction of any kind. That an NPC having an established motivation would fall into prescripting the encounter by default. This is the goalpost slide I was talking about -- moving from prescripting meaning following plots points from A to B to C to prescripting meaning using any established fiction in adjudication of play. The latter is trivially broad such that doing anything other than unconnected play would meet this definition. This was what I was pointing out, and your concession isn't much of one as you're still insisting that 5e is somehow special in the way it works such that it either requires prescripting plot or you're just doing random stuff. Not a very encouraging concession.

I think your correct. Authoring a story and playing an RPG are two fundamentally different things. Bad analogy, it's just what came into my mind. My bad.
No problem.

I have, at the fifty or so conventions I have attended, played many "story games." They seemed extremely reliant on the group being able to elevate the story, as opposed to D&D, where two or three players can elevate the story (because many players enjoy the ride, but do not want to drive; they like the destination, but don't want to pack). They were fun and enjoyable experiences. And I apologize as I do not remember the names. If it had struck a chord with me, I would have jotted it down and bought the game. But it didn't.
Some of the systems I am familiar with are more traditional RPG's: D&D, PF, Conan, Dragon Age, The Witcher, Numenera, RoleMaster, Middle Earth, etc. None of these offers the mechanics everyone here is speaking about. Well, maybe Conan, a tiny bit.
But again, as stated earlier, I was discussing D&D.
So, okay, "story games" is a rather specific type of game and not at all what I'm talking about. Fiasco is a story game -- the players take turns telling the story with each other with very limited mechanical interactions. PbtA games, on the other hand, have clear mechanics that are to be used to resolve actions in play. The "story" part of these games is just like 5e -- it's an emergent property of play.

Now, the style of play I'm discussing does put a lot more burden on the players, but that's not because they're required to "elevate" the story but because the nature of play puts more responsibility on the players to drive play. The GM frames a situation that has some conflict, usually with something the PCs care about, and the players have to engage that. They do this by pushing for their PC's desires -- they advocate for their PC strongly -- and the mechanics then determine if they get what they want for their PCs or if the GM gets to make life more complicated. The thing here is that the GM cannot, but dint of the mechanics and that the play is driven by the PCs, anticipate or prescript outcomes. The mechanics of the game let the players direct outcomes on a success, so the GM can't plan for everything.

Contrasting this to traditional approaches, the GM is presenting a plot to the players, and their duty is to explore that plot. Here, the GM sets requirements for moving to the next scene, and the players seek it out. This can be a lot of fun, especially if the GM's plot is interesting and exciting, but it doesn't require as much of the players. The GM shoulders much more of the load of pacing and play.

My suggesting is that you don't have to play 5e in the traditional approach. You also don't have to pick one or the other -- you can blend in parts. 5e's mechanics don't do resolution in the same way as games like Blades in the Dark and that limits you in how well or how often or where you can do this (combat is a bad fit, for example), but it's not impossible or even hard. It does involve the GM letting go of the reigns and letting players drive. The simple way to do this is that you let them declare actions (make sure you require both the approach and the goal of the action), ask for ability checks for resolution, and then adhere to that resolution. By that last, I mean if they succeed then you narrate a new fictional position in which the PCs have succeeded at their goal, or moved towards it for more complex tasks. If they fail, use success at a cost to move forward with a complication, or use fail forward, where that specific approach or goal is no longer valid but the new fiction presents a new challenge or path. My rules for fail forward is that if you close the door, open a balcony window. The new path shouldn't be as easy as the old, or should lead somewhere else, making it painful to get back to the initial goal (if at all possible), but don't just say you failed and stop.


Thanks again everyone for expanding my horizons. It is appreciated.
I hope it helps and you don't just reconcile it with your previous opinions as "they play story games with random elements, and I suppose that's okay."
 

I have found the implementation of rules outside of D&D are difficult to implement as well. Even things like crit charts are hazardous.
I think it depends on the rules that are being changed, and the desired or expected effect.

For instance, my 5E group adopted the initiative method that was used in the Star Trek Adventures game by Modiphius. There's no initiative roll, instead each side in a conflict alternates, and the members of that side decide who goes on each of their turns. Each person on one side must act before someone can act again. Once everyone on each side has gone, the round is complete.

We've found this easier than tracking standard initiative, and it also has the added effect of keeping everyone engaged when it's not their turn. They're all paying attention and actively considering when it would be most advantageous to act, and so on. Instead of simply sitting back and waiting for the DM to prompt them.

It also really enhances what can be done with teamwork and planning. It allows for some different strategies than a strictly queued initiative order allows. It has a few odd effects when it comes to the timing of things that last "till the end of your next turn" and the like, but these aren't so significant, and also factors in to the decision of when a PC may go.

So for us, it works well. I'm sure there would be other groups that look at this and can rip it apart with reasons that it wouldn't work for them. It will always be the case in these kinds of matters.

That's for a specific rule. When we instead start to look at approaches of play, it's just as possible to alter things to suit a preference.

I'm a big fan of Blades in the Dark, which eschews almost all of the standard prep assumed by D&D. There are no stats for enemies, location details are sketched at start and then fleshed out in play, PCs are more able to learn information as a result of action declarations, the GM is more constrained in how they determine the "facts" of the world.

This has flavored my approach to 5E D&D in that I don't commit to a lot of prep. I tend to sketch a list of possible bullet points of what may happen in a session based on what's gone before, and not much further out. The players are driving the fiction by deciding what they want their goals to be, and these are largely based on their own ideas rather than accepting hooks that I've thrown out into the game. Not to say I don't add some hooks for them, but it's very far from the main way that play proceeds.

D&D won't work without stats, so obviously that's not something I've carried over whole cloth. But I've let go of the way I would cling to NPCs....usually "important" villains.....and instead I just let things play out as they will. I don't steer the results of action except with a mind to challenge the PCs in interesting and hopefully meaningful ways.

As a result, my 5E game plays very differently than standard D&D would. So much so that we've placed the game on hiatus during the pandemic because it simply doesn't work the way we want it to online. Online play requires far too much prep in advance to allow for the flexibility we want.
 

pemerton

Legend
Indie designers often cut their teeth on developing the GM techniques they would build into their own games using more mainstream games.

<snip>

I have successfully carried over GM techniques from games like Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, and Sorcerer into more mainstream games.
I have found the implementation of rules outside of D&D are difficult to implement as well. Even things like crit charts are hazardous.
@Campbell did not refer to mechanical systems like crit tables. He referred to GMing techniques.

I have run games that resemble Prince Valiant, or relatively light Burning Wheel, using AD&D (especially Oriental Adventures). Central to Prince Valiant play is that the characters have a clear motivation and orientation underpinned by the genre - they are knights-errant or the associates of knights-errant - and the situations the GM frames are ones that invite knights-errant to get involved - eg a NPC knight is blocking a bridge, a poor but honest peasant is downtrodden, an honourable noble is down on his luck, etc.

This is not easy to do in classic AD&D because the PCs don't have motivations built-in, and the pre-fab elements of the game don't make it easy to set up those situations either. But in Oriental Adventures the PCs typically do have motivations built-in - they have families, or are disciples of martial arts masters, etc - and the pre-fab elements are spirits who fit into a spirit hierarchy that correlates in clear ways to the earthly social situation.

When I have used this sort of approach in non-OA AD&D it was an all-thief game - and instead of ignoring the fact that thieves are thieves who have a reason and motivation to participate in the life of an urban area, we played that up. Thieve also have non-combat skills (like OA PCs) that permit the resolution of non-combat actions to turn on something other than GM fiat.

That said, there is a reason to play Prince Valiant rather than AD&D for this sort of game: AD&D's resolution system, even with those non-weapon systems incorporated, can struggle to produce finality of resolution outside of combat.

4e D&D can certainly be used to play a scene-framed game drawing on techniques set out by Ron Edwards (Sorcerer) and Luke Crane (Burning Wheel). i know because I've done it. 4e is far less gritty and far more gonzo than BW, so the experience that results is rather different - failure rates are much less, and the stakes less personal (both for player and PC). 4e does have the strength, in this context, of providing for finality in resolution out of combat as well as in combat.

Rolemaster can be used for very character-focused RPGing - again, I know because I've done it - and it has somewhat robust non-combat resolution that will often permit finality of resolution (provided the scope in in-fiction space and time is not too broad). Where RM is weak compared to a game expressly designed for scene-framed, character-driven play is that its mechanics push towards a focus on minutiae that lingers on beyond the scene (its various resource and healing systems, and its spell duration system, are the most obvious). A strength of the 4e D&D rules in the context of scene-framing techniques is that they almost always push the focus into the scene rather than away from it.

Recently I've been playing a fair bit of Classic Traveller. My rough model for how to GM it is Apocalypse World. Compared to AW's soft/hard move approach, Classic Traveller is often a bit more prescriptive in how consequences of failure are to be narrated. And a bit like using AD&D to run a Prince Valiant-like game of thematic fantasy/pseudo-mediaeval vignettes, there are a few points where Classic Traveller's rules are a bit weak - eg onworld exploration. (Though overall I would say it is a much better and more "modern" system than AD&D, although of the same vintage.)

This experience with Traveller has helped me appreciate, in a practical way (or at least I think it has) a contrast that @Campbell has drawn in the past, between scene-framing play and follow-the-fiction play. I already knew, but have a further-developed appreciation, of the distinctness but also interplay of mechanics and techniques.

I don't have the play experience with 5e D&D that would let me offer a genuinely informed opinon of what might be done within its mechanical framework. But I would be a bit surprised if it couldn't be used for the sort of game we were playing with Oriental Adventures back in the mid-to-late 80s. The Bond, Ideal and Flaw system seems like it should be able to carry the same sort of weight as class theme and family do in OA AD&D. The 5e skill system isn't quite as effective for taking the focus onto genuinely non-combat activity, but there are probably fairly easy work-arounds (eg blend History, Religion and Arcana into a single Lore skill and create a few new INT or DEX skills for the arts and crafts needed for the game).
 
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Scott Christian

Adventurer
You put "I concede" in the third or forth paragraph. In your first, which this was a response to, you said that you "feel like [you are] not wrong in this case" and then tread into discussing how you "do not believe for a second" that writers can be surprised by their own writing. This was a response to me discussing how games work, so it's hard to see how your "concession," which was caveated, in a later paragraph responding to another poster was the strong statement you see to think it was.

That said, I'll let it rest.
Sometimes one has to read and generate a view from the entirety of text rather than understanding a view from a portion of the text.
And I responded, almost every time, but saying I do these things in 5e. I pointed to other games because they do a better job of showcasing the approach, something I also explained as I said it and explained again in the part your responding to here. The point I've made, repeatedly, is that looking to other games can inform you of how to use the techniques in 5e. You're demanding immediate, video evidence of such, ignoring the nature of what successful streams look like and choosing to ignore that the approach can be used across systems. You seem to have locked into an argument that 5e is somehow unique or special in the way it must be run -- that no other approaches can work, even in pieces. It's an odd argument.
And I responded that you could do those in 5e. I responded that is might work for your table. I responded that is could produce fun play. My argument for the video is not a new one nor is it an original. People claim stuff all the time about their DM'ing approaches. People write near epistemological diatribes about game theory and how they approach DM'ing. I have played as a player with several. Most of it is well meaninged, but far from truth. It is an ideal, not daily practice. It creeps in, but does not permeate. That is why when someone says, "You don't understand. You don't have the experience I do. Your games can run like this, I do it." I simple ask for proof. Video a session. Talk as DM a little before your session about what you have prepped if anything. Give a little synopsis of the game so far. Then video your session. This way people can learn from the DM that incorporates things that are different than 90% of the tables run. You see, it is more about learning than proving. As of yet, and the ten or so videos my friends and I have askedfor on various play-styles, we've seen zero.
Again. Never said D&D was unique in the way it must be run. In this post alone, I have specifically stated two ways it can be run. I have specifically stated both can be fun. I have specifically stated I have experience with both. What you are giving of my statements is completely false. Sorry. If you would like, I will go back through these posts and pull the ten or so quotes of me specifically saying how there are different ways to play.
This seems like a goalpost slide. We've moved from "thing are prescripted in A - B - C form by the GM" to "any fiction established prior to an interaction is also prescripting in the A - B - C way." If there's an established NPC, or set genre assumptions in a game and those inform a GM's adjudication, that's not prescripting, that's not violating the established fiction of the game. If I have an NPC already established in play to have a motivation, leaning on that motivation in future interactions isn't at all prescripting in the way you've presented. If this is your argument, then you've badly presented it, and it begins to take on a trivially true nature -- established fiction should always form the baseline of ongoing fiction.

Now, that said, there is a difference between established in the GM's mind and established in the play of the game. The former does tend to lead to prescripting, because events playing out according to information only possessed by the GM takes on that forced outcome appearance. However, that is not required to play. If the GM is only using information established in play -- no secret notes, for instance -- then there's no prescripting; everyone at the table already has access to this information and can approach that NPC with that in mind. Arguing that established fiction is the same as prescripting outcomes is making your statement so broad as to be trivially meaningless.
I included your entire post this time. I will just say this:
There is no difference between having a pre-scripted adventure (like an AP), having a ten page notebook detailing a session, or a DM thinking what their players might do the night before a session and writing it in their head. I believe one creates a more fluid story if the DM's are comparable. (Notice, not more fun.) They are all pre-scripting. I have continuously said the players always do something unexpected. Said it five times in this thread. Said it is part of the fun. But that pre-scripting leads to A to B to C. Not always in order. I have said sometimes players jump to F then go back to C. Still pre-scripting unless the players do something where the DM has to make stuff up on the fly. Then it is just random encounters. That is what I have said from the beginning. Some choose to do random encounters only. Kudos. It can be fun. Others stay on the railroad. Great. Have fun. Others choose crossing roads. Excellent. Have at it.
It is all pre-scripting until it is random encounters. That was my premise. Then I changed my mind. I asked myself if what you and others have shown (about implementing other DM techniques into 5e) might change these paths. Might somehow combine the random encounter with the paths or railroad. My conclusion was, yes. It is possible. I would still like to learn how this plays out. The best way to do that would be to see an example of D&D being played with these techniques.
I hope it helps and you don't just reconcile it with your previous opinions as "they play story games with random elements, and I suppose that's okay."
See what you did there? How you used words to phrase something I never even came close to saying. How you use the words: "I suppose that's okay" as if I think their way is mediocre. Never said, so please don't imply that I did. I said the opposite. I said: random encounters can be fun! My table experiences with random encounters was great. See the difference?
It is not about reconciling, it is about learning. I don't try to win arguments. I take a position and try to learn from the other side. Look at my other posts, you will see this to be true. One thing I try hard not to do is summarize another person's feelings about the topic. It does not create a good environment.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
@Campbell did not refer to mechanical systems like crit tables. He referred to GMing techniques.
I realize that. But I often feel like GM'ing techniques spring forth due to mechanics. Just a thought. Not a hard fast truth. That was why I used crit tables. It can persuade a GM to describe a specific injury (a technique in my opinion), and it may alter healing/rest, thus allowing a GM to use a different resolution system. That's what I meant. Sorry if it was misunderstood.
For instance, my 5E group adopted the initiative method that was used in the Star Trek Adventures game by Modiphius. There's no initiative roll, instead each side in a conflict alternates, and the members of that side decide who goes on each of their turns. Each person on one side must act before someone can act again. Once everyone on each side has gone, the round is complete.
Yeah, my groups and I have played around with at least a dozen ways to do initiative. Star Trek's is good. I have used it in another system, but not with D&D. Really ought to give that one another try. Thanks for the reminder. (y)
 

Campbell

Legend
@Scott Christian

I think you are conflating prep with plot to a certain extent. In the game I am currently running (Beam Saber) I do a lot of prep, probably more than some plot oriented GM styles. I keep my prep focused on the present and past because we are playing to find out what the future will be. I prep characters, factions, sub-factions, opportunities, and the like. I do not prep arcs because we play to find out what those will be.

I think after 6 sessions we probably have around 15 named NPCs kind of orbiting the PCs all with different personal goals that in some way intersect with the player characters. I have countdown clocks for all the factions representing how close they are to achieving their present goal along with clocks for specific NPCs. This clocks just represent what is likely to happen without PC interference. I am currently in process of building a wiki to have this information readily available to the players.

Those distinctions might not be personally important to some, but they are absolutely critical to me. It's a big part of what led me on my journey to games like Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, and Dogs in the Vineyard. It was the source of my dissatisfaction with most of my early experiences on both sides of the screen.

I think one of the things we often miss in these discussions is that the things we regard as inconsequential are often vital to other people.
 
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pemerton

Legend
@Scott Christian

I think you are conflating prep with plot to a certain extent. In the game I am currently running (Beam Saber) I do a lot of prep, probably more than some plot oriented GM styles. I keep my prep focused on the present and past because we are playing to find out what the future will be. I prep characters, factions, sub-factions, opportunities, and the like. I do not prep arcs because we play to find out what those will be.

I think after 6 sessions we probably have around 15 named NPCs kind of orbiting the PCs all with different personal goals that in some way intersect with the player characters. I have countdown clocks for all the factions representing how close they are to achieving their present goal along with clocks for specific NPCs. This clocks just represent what is likely to happen without PC interference.
Here's a pair of self-quotes about my prep (i) at the start of my Classic Traveller campaign, and (ii) prior to the 4th session:

In preparation for GMing, and to give my charts a test-run, I had generated about a dozen characters of my own (and I've hung onto these as potential NPCs)

<snip account of random PC generation: Roland, Xander, Methwit, Sir Glaxon, Vincenzo, Tony>

Given that all the players had submitted to the randomness that is Traveller - and had got a pretty interesting set of characters out of it - I had to put myself through the same rigour as GM. So I rolled up a random starting world:

Class A Starport, 1000 mi D, near-vaccuum, with a pop in the 1000s, no government and law level 2 (ie everything allowed except carrying portable laser and energy weapons) - and TL 16, one of the highest possible!

So what did all that mean, and what were the PCs doing there?

I christened the world Ardour-3, and we agreed that it was a moon orbiting a gas giant, with nothing but a starport (with a casino) and a series of hotels/hostels adjoining the starport (the housing for the 6,000 inhabitants). The high tech level meant that most routine tasks were performed by robots.

<snip account of establishing PC backgrounds>

With the background in place, I then rolled for a patron on the random patron table, and got a "marine officer" result. Given the PC backgrounds, it made sense that Lieutenant Li - as I dubbed her - would be making contact with Roland.

<snip account of framing the patron encounter>

In preparation for the session I had generated a few worlds - one with a pop in the millions and a corrosive atmosphere; a high-pop but very low-tech world with a tainited atmosphere (which I had decided meant disease, given that the world lacked the technological capacity to generate pollution); and a pop 1 (ie population in the 10s) world with no government or law level with a high tech level - clearly some sort of waystation with a research outpost attached. (File with world details attached.)

Given that I had these worlds ready-to hand, and given that the players had a ship, I needed to come up with some situation from Lt Li that would put them into play: so when Roland and Vincenzo (just discharged from medical care) met up with her she told the following story - which Methwit couldn't help but overhear before joining them!

<snip accont of rest of the session>
Before the session I'd done a reasonable amount of prep.

First, I wrote up a list of established facts - that is, information that had emerged over the course of the first three sessions and so was settled truth for the campaign:

* Lt Li (the PCs' original patron, who got them involved in her bioweapons operation) had a team on Ardour-3 (the starting world for the campaign) who had flown hi-tech medical equipment to Byron (the world the PCs currently are on);

* Those NPCs lost their spaceship to the PC noble Vincenzo in a gambling game (hence Vincenzo started the game with a Type Y starship);

* Hence Li had to recruit the PCs - including one whom she knew from his time in the service, the naval enlistee Roland - to fly a further load of equipment to Byron;

* Li had recruited a bunch of NPCs (whom the PCs captured and interrogated in the previous session) at the naval base on Shelley, a world in the general vicinity of Byron;

* The PC Alissa had been in the naval hospital on Shelley (forcibly mustered out of the Marines due to failing her first term survival check by 1), but had then - about the same time that Li was travelling to Ardour-3 to meet the other PCs in the first session - found herself in a cold sleep berth in a warehouse in Byron, infected with the Enlil virus (before being found and cured by the other PCs in a previous session);

* Li was the one who had brought Alissa in a cold sleep berth from Shelley to Byron, and the other NPCs on Byron didn't know that Alissa was infected with the virus (this came out under interrogation of said NPCs);

* The operation on Byron involved experimenting on bodies (both live and dead) acquired by some NPC rogues (who were among the NPCs the PCs captured), using samples that had been brought from Enlil (the world where the virus is endemic) to Byron by another team headed by the retired merchant first officer Leila Lo (who, we had decided last session, had a backstory with Tony, a PC retired merchant third officer), and with hi-tech medical gear integrated into the cold sleep berths;

* Materials had also been taken by Leila's team from Byron to a Scout base on the world of Olyx;

* The Byron-based group (ie the NPCs the PCs had captured and interrogated) had decided to break away from Li's operation and try to set up their own independent bioweapons franchise, which was why they had taken the hi-tech gear the PCs had flown to Byron to the out-of-dome decommissioned army outpost that the PCs had assaulted in the previous session.

That's a reasonable amount of backstory for three sessions of play (at least it feels to me like it is), but it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered, like What is Li's agenda? Who is she working for? How did Alissa get infected on Shelley? Etc?

Second, therefore, I wrote a list of possibilities/conjectures, reflecting both player speculation from the previous session and some of my own ideas:

* Alissa has expertise of 4 in cutlass, whereas the ambitious Lt Li has only expertise 2 - maybe they were fencing rivals, and Li infected Alissa both to (i) get an experimental subject and (ii) get rid of an unwanted rival! She could have done that, and taken Alissa to Byron, right before she then flew on to Ardour-3 and recruited the PCs;

* How did Alissa escape from the warehouse on Byron? Most likely just carelessness and/or malfunction, with the cold sleep unit having stopped working (perhaps damaged by the corrosive atmosphere of the world);

* Is Li working for (some branch of) the Imperium? Or is one of the players correct in speculating that she is running an entirely private operation, with the Scout base on Olyx having become - in effect - her own fiefdom.

Third, I had read up on the laboratory starship St Christopher, described in the scenario Amber to Red in an early White Dwarf magazine - as written in that module it's not quite clear how it fits into the ship building rules, but I rebuilt it using those rules - it's a 490 ton custom hull starship, with a 90-ton custom small craft orbital laboratory. I decided that this was the vessel Leila Lo had used to bring samples from Enlil and to carry material to Olyx.

Fourth, and following on from that, I rolled up some NPCs to be Leila Lo's team. At least some of these had to be the NPCs who were running the warehouse in Byron's domed city, and so who had been captured when the PCs revealed the location of that warehouse to the Byron authorities. I decided that, while the PCs (in the previous session) were outside the Byron dome raiding the outpost, Leila Lo had been able to bail her arrested crew members. Altogether, including Leila Lo, I had 14 crew members who were able to fill all the positions on the St Christopher, plus had the technical expertise to have been plausible (but less than top-notch) operators of a bioweapons storage/experimentation facility. (None had very good mechanical or medical skills, which helped explain Alissa's escape.)

The final bit of prep took place on the bus I caught to my friend's house where we were playing. The St Christopher has 15 staterooms, so on the bus I rolled up a final NPC crewmember to pass the time. This ended up being a naval enlistee with skill in Ship's Boat, Communications, Vacc Suit and Forward Observer. Which gave me an idea for how to I might start the session.

The last session had ended with the PCs capturing the outpost and interrogating the NPCs. But they had been debating what to do with them. So when we started, I first clarified a few things about the what equipment the PCs had loaded onto their own and the NPCs' ATVs (this was being done by some of the PCs while the others had interrogated); and then raised the question of the fate of the NPCs.

Two of the PCs (the nobles Vincenzo and Sir Glaxon) wanted to hand the NPCs over to the authorities on Byron. Three (Methwit the spy, Roland, and maybe Alissa?) were worried that this would alert Li and her co-conspirators to the PCs' actions in thwarting the bioweapons operation, and hence (a) get them into trouble, and (b) make it harder to infiltrate further. The other PCs were indifferent. Sir Glaxon has Leader-2, and none of the others have Leader skill, so I thought that probably balanced out the numbers; and Methwit has a high social standing (A) which meant I thought the nobles didn't have too much of an advantage in that respect; and so the debate was resolved by simple opposed throws - Vincenzo's player vs Methwit's player (who also is the player of Sir Glaxon, and so was rolling against as well as for himself). The nobles won, and so it was agreed to hand the NPCs over.

I then announced that I was rolling for the day's random encounter, with a 5 or 6 indicating something. I rolled a 5, and so announced that they heard a loud blast not far from the outpost. A quick scan with the periscope and video equipment revealed that they were under fire from an orbital triple beam laser. I also explained the game's directed fire rules, which require a forward observer for this sort of thing; with corrections happening in intervals of two-minute turns. (I had used Oslem, my bus-generated naval character, as my random encounter.)

<snip descriptions of what happened next>
This preparation did not involve pre-authoring any "arcs". I had NPCs - in the first session with no motivations/context at all other than what was implicit in their stats - and some worlds. And after three sessions, the established fiction suggested some further possibilities about NPC motivations and backstory.

The shared fiction itself was established in a fashion similar to that which I quoted from Paul Czege not too far upthread.

My argument for the video is not a new one nor is it an original. People claim stuff all the time about their DM'ing approaches. People write near epistemological diatribes about game theory and how they approach DM'ing.

<snip>

I simple ask for proof. Video a session. Talk as DM a little before your session about what you have prepped if anything. Give a little synopsis of the game so far. Then video your session. This way people can learn from the DM that incorporates things that are different than 90% of the tables run.
There is zero chances of me videoing a session and uploading it. But there is 100% chance of me having written up session reports (not "story hours") which you can read at you leisure. I've quoted some bits here.

For a D&D game, consider this:

we had the first session of 4e Dark Sun.

The first half or more of the session was spent on PC building (despite my admonition to the players that they could only have 1 hour). With three players, we got 3 PCs: an eladrin bard with the virtue of cunning (with the Veiled Alliance theme); a mul battlemind gladiator (with the gladiator theme and wielding a battle axe); and a half-giant barbarian gladiator (with the wilder theme and wielding a glaive).

I came up with a list of background options - the standard stuff like a +2 bonus or a bonus language or adding a skill to the class list, plus some other stuff I took from somewhere or other (maybe some FR backgrounds from some book or article? I made this list a long time ago), plus some Dark Sun specific stuff like one wild power or the ability to cast Arcane magic as a preserver. (Otherwise, I had said that Arcane defiles by default.)

The bard's background choices were Preserver (I am treating bards as psionic - and avengers likewise - but he is a multi-class wizard with Beguiling Strands) and Sensing Eye as a wild power. The mul's background choices were Perception as a class skill and +2 to initiative. The barbarian chose Body Equilibrium, and a +2 bonus to saving throws vs Charm and Fear effects.

As the final part of PC building, and trying to channel a bit of indie spirit, I asked the players to come up with "kickers" for their PCs.

From The Forge, here is one person's definition of a kicker:

A Kicker is a term used in Sorcerer for the "event or realization that your character has experienced just before play begins."

For the player, the Kicker is what propels the character into the game, as well as the thing that hooks the player and makes him or her say, "Damn! I can't wait to play this character!"

It's also the thing that the player hopes to resolve at the end of the game. At the start of the next game with the same character, the resolution of the Kicker alters the character in some way, allowing the player to re-write the character to reflect changes.​

In my case, I was mostly focused on the first of those things: an event or realisation that the character has experienced just before play begins, which thereby propels the character into the game. The main constraint I imposed was: your kicker somehow has to locate you within Tyr in the context of the Sorcerer-King having been overthrown. The reason for this constraint was (i) I want to be able to use the 4e campaign books, and (ii) D&D relies pretty heavily on group play, and so I didn't want the PCs to be too separated spatially or temporally.

The player of the barbarian came up with something first. Paraphrasing slightly, it went like this:

I was about to cut his head of in the arena, to the adulation of the crowd, when the announcement came that the Sorcerer-King was dead, and they all looked away.​

So that answered the question that another player had asked, namely, how long since the Sorcerer-King's overthrow: it's just happened.

The other gladiator - whose name is "Twenty-nine", that being his number on the inventory of slaves owned by his master - had been mulling over (no pun intended) something about his master having been killed, and so we settled on the following:

I came back from the slave's privies, ready to receive my master's admonition to do a good job before I went out into the arena. But when I got back to the pen my master was dead. So I took the purse with 14 gp from his belt.​

(The 14 gp was the character's change after spending his starting money on gear.)

Discussion of PC backgrounds and the like had already established that the eladrin was an envoy from The Lands Within The Wind, aiming to link up with the Veiled Alliance and thereby to take steps to save his homeland from the consequences of defiling. So his kicker was

My veiled alliance contact is killed in front of me as we are about to meet.​

(A lot of death accompanying the revolution!)

With all that in place, we started the session proper. I started with the barbarian, describing him standing over his defeated foe in the arena as the cry comes through the crowd "The tyrant is dead!" - taking all attention away from his victory and the pending kill.

I then cut to the mul slave in the pens. I told him he could hear someone moving off in the corridors and cells under the stadium; and also that the sound of the crowd sounded more worked up than normal. He decided that, with his master's unexplained death in front of him, he would head to the arena gate rather than back into the warrens. The gatekeeper recognised him, and at first told him that his time hadn't yet come to enter the arena. Twenty-nine tried to talk him around - and succeeded on a Diplomacy check - and I narrated a blast of psionic energy coming from somewhere above in the stands and exploding near the gate. The gatekeeper released that the insurrection was on in a serious way, and left his post - so Twenty-nine was able to open the gate himself and enter the arena, where he could see the wild barbarian (whom he knew by reputation if not as a personal friend) standing over his defeated enemy.

The barbarian, meanwhile, followed through on his exultation in victory and killed his defeated enemy despite the lack of crowd attention. (No roll was required for this.) Members of the crowd objected, however, calling out "No more murder!" - and some jumped over the low wall down into the arena, to try and remonstrate with the gladiator. I rolled some dice and decided on 10 people. Either another roll or an arbitrary decision - I can't remember which - told me that two fell into hidden pits in the sand before they could close, but that still left the gladiator facing 8 angry people (mechanically 2nd level Human Goon minions from the MV).

Twenty-nine saw this and ran across the arena to close the 17 squares. (And at this point I think got a slight speed boost, as we hadn't yet remembered to factor in the speed penalty for scaled armour.) He used the flat of his bone axe to knock down one of the commoners (ie non-lethal reduction to zero hit points); when the barbarian then got a hit in, after taking a bit of damage himself from the NPCs, I asked him if he was using the flat of his obsidian-tipped glaive, to which the reply was "It has a flat?" One dead NPC.

Up in the stands, meanwhile, the eladrin envoy - a student of the ancient tactics of the eladrin, and visiting the arena (i) to see how the people of this land fight, and (ii) to meet up with the Veiled Alliance - saw his contact approach, giving the secret signal of recognition that the eladrin had been told to expect. Then the contact feel down dead. The eladrin used his Sensing Eye to try to inspect the body and identify an assailant, but even with a +2 bonus (for clairvoyance) the Perception check failed, and so instead he attracted the attention of a Templar who noticed his psionic sensor. He succeeded in persuading the Templar that he didn't know the dead Veiled Alliance member, but not that his interest in the matter was innocent (there was a successful check in there somewhere - Diplomacy, I think, which is +4 CHA +5 training +5 Words of Friendship and so hard for him to fail - but also a failure, maybe on another Perception attempt). So when the Templar insisted that he come with him he teleported down into the arena itself, just as the events described above were unfolding.

<snip resolution of arena combat>

At the end of the fight some quick maths showed that it was a Level 5 encounter for three PCs, so everyone earned an action point for the milestone, we spent some surges for a short rest, and ended the session there.

Two of three kickers are still unresolved, and eventually there will be two more PCs to integrate (one will be an eladrin artful dodger, who should fit in nicely into the eladrin contingent). But I felt that, for the opening of the campaign, it was suitably Dark Sun-ish: gladiators, slaves, templars, insurrection, and brutal death. The only thing missing was desert.
You can see here that there is no planning of an arc. The action is driven by GM response to player choices, and then player response to GM framing decisions, back-and-forth.

I don't see why 5e D&D couldn't be played in a somewhat similar way. It's non-combat action resolution is a bit shakier, but a particular group could probably establish some standards and expectations at their table.
 
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Legatus_Legionis

< BLAH HA Ha ha >
As a single module/adventure, then unconnected.

But as part of a huge campaign, to help keep the PC(s) interested in the story, then some form of connectivity is to the DM's advantage.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
@Scott Christian

I think you are conflating prep with plot to a certain extent. In the game I am currently running (Beam Saber) I do a lot of prep, probably more than some plot oriented GM styles. I keep my prep focused on the present and past because we are playing to find out what the future will be. I prep characters, factions, sub-factions, opportunities, and the like. I do not prep arcs because we play to find out what those will be.

I think after 6 sessions we probably have around 15 named NPCs kind of orbiting the PCs all with different personal goals that in some way intersect with the player characters. I have countdown clocks for all the factions representing how close they are to achieving their present goal along with clocks for specific NPCs. This clocks just represent what is likely to happen without PC interference. I am currently in process of building a wiki to have this information readily available to the players.

Those distinctions might not be personally important to some, but they are absolutely critical to me. It's a big part of what led me on my journey to games like Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, and Dogs in the Vineyard. It was the source of my dissatisfaction with most of my early experiences on both sides of the screen.

I think one of the things we often miss in these discussions is that the things we regard as inconsequential are often vital to other people.
Sounds like a fun game. Unfortunately, I don't think I am conflating plot and prep. I had a feeling. I tried to defend it. Then was enlightened. Here is what I said directly in the post above yours:
It is all pre-scripting until it is random encounters. That was my premise. Then I changed my mind. I asked myself if what you and others have shown (about implementing other DM techniques into 5e) might change these paths. Might somehow combine the random encounter with the paths or railroad. My conclusion was, yes. It is possible. I would still like to learn how this plays out. The best way to do that would be to see an example of D&D being played with these techniques.
Your prep and NPC's, but no prep of plot or arcs are housed in that definition above. I just didn't spell out how each person might reference their style. Hope there wasn't any confusion.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
There is zero chances of me videoing a session and uploading it. But there is 100% chance of me having written up session reports (not "story hours") which you can read at you leisure. I've quoted some bits here.
A write up occurs after the fact. I mentioned it earlier in the thread. People can weave anything they want into a write up. Not saying they are lying. They're not. But they might look at things differently if in the moment rather than reflecting. The memory, and our actions, are no where near the truth. I think we all know this just from basic psych tests.
It is the army general believing he won the battle because he did plan one then plan two, when he really only did step one and step two just happened without him knowing. But looking back he sees it did happen, so it must have been him. It is the doctor who saves a life because he used this drug, then that technique, then a different drug. His write up proves it. But in reality, the first drug had zero effect, the technique was a wash, and the third drug saved the life. This happens all the time. Everyday. Every hour. That is the reason I ask for video. Because you can see the cause and effect happen in real time.

But I get it. Some people don't want to be on video. And that is fair.
 

pemerton

Legend
A write up occurs after the fact. I mentioned it earlier in the thread. People can weave anything they want into a write up. Not saying they are lying. They're not. But they might look at things differently
What is your goal?

If it is to gather evidence of the truth of peoples' claims, then I understand why you want videos. As I said, you're not getting any from me. You will have to take my testimony at face value.

But if your goal is to learn how a certain thing can be done, and perhaps to try that thing yourself, then I don't see why you need videos. You can read the written accounts of how the thing was done. Then you can try it.

Eg I learned about the "kicker" technique from reading stuff on The Forge. I've never seen a video of it in use. But I decided to try it in my Dark Sun game (as per the post above). It worked more-or-less as promised.

I had already developed an approach to RPGing that in some ways resembled the "scene-framing" advocated by Ron Edwards, Luke Crane and others. But when I read their stuff I was able to improve my techniques. Again I didn't see any videos. But I applied what they said to my game. It worked.

I've never seen a video of @Campbell RPGing. I have RPGed with him in a fairly brief online pair of games (4e D&D, Dungeon World). I read his account of the difference between scene-framing and follow-the-fiction approaches. I then read the Apocalypse World rulebook, which sharpened my sense of the distinction. I then GMed Classic Traveller trying to apply what I had learned from reading AW. Now I believe I have a sense of the difference Campbell was pointing to. None of that required subjecting Campbell's remarks about his play, and play in general, to forensic scrutiny by way of video.
 

Scott Christian

Adventurer
What is your goal?

If it is to gather evidence of the truth of peoples' claims, then I understand why you want videos. As I said, you're not getting any from me. You will have to take my testimony at face value.

But if your goal is to learn how a certain thing can be done, and perhaps to try that thing yourself, then I don't see why you need videos. You can read the written accounts of how the thing was done. Then you can try it.
The goal is to learn as you stated. And I do take your testimony at face value. But can you just acknowledge that to see something in practice is much much different than reading about it. I could read all I wanted to about a baseball pitcher's unique fastball, but until I see it in action, I might still not have a full understanding. The same is true for teaching. A teacher can talk about a technique all they want. But until another teacher sees it in use, it would be hard for them to apply. The same is true for surgery. That is why they have live viewings. The same is true for boxing, that is why they have hands-on coaches. The same is true business sales, that is why they have mentors. The same is true for mechanics. That is why they have shop bosses that demonstrate what to do ten times before letting them try it on their own.
All these people are trying to learn something. They need to be shown. This truth is even more pronounced when someone is explaining a technique that falls outside of the norm.
 

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