Experiencing the fiction in RPG play

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I don't see why one campaign should be regarded as better than lots of campaigns with different themes. Modern D&D's fast levelling doesn't particularly suit single decades long campaigns anyway.
Yeah, there's a reason why I see that as one of the WORST developments of so-called "modern" D&D design... :)

I run open sandbox campaigns like Primeval Thule where players decide PC motivation, and narrower campaigns like Red Hand of Doom where players are asked to create PCs with a particular goal. The latter approach is not wrong.
Questions re the Red Hand of Doom campaigns (not at all familiar with the game system itself):

"The particular goal" is the same for all PCs? Or each PC has to have a particular goal that may or may not agree with the goals of the other PCs?

Is the campaign open-ended, or more like a closed-ended AP? (closed-ended APs require much more buy-in by the players, including agreement to stick to the path)
 

S'mon

Legend
Questions re the Red Hand of Doom campaigns (not at all familiar with the game system itself):

"The particular goal" is the same for all PCs? Or each PC has to have a particular goal that may or may not agree with the goals of the other PCs?

Is the campaign open-ended, or more like a closed-ended AP? (closed-ended APs require much more buy-in by the players, including agreement to stick to the path)
There's a hobgoblin horde threatening to conquer Elsir Vale. The PCs need to be willing to defend the Vale, and the city of Brindol in particular. I created a Patron element to their background where they could have a noble & upright patron like Lord Kerben Jaarmath, or a sleazy patron like Lady Verasa Kaal, so the PCs don't have to be Lawful Good but they do need to be invested in fighting the Red Hand and not just fleeing to safer climes. Players of course are free to create secondary PC goals ("reunite with my adopted daughter") as long as they don't prevent the PC pursuing the primary goal. As GM I look for ways to have secondary goals mesh with the primary goal.
It's definitely a closed-ended campaign, like an AP, requiring player buy-in to the campaign goal.
Campaign blog here - FR - Red Hand of Doom
I refer to it as a mini-campaign or mega-adventure; PCs are created for the campaign and probably won't be played beyond the campaign, unless I make a sequel. I think it will be about 20 or so sessions of play covering levels 5-14 in 5e D&D (in 3e D&D it's written for 5-10 or 6-12 per interior text & back cover).
One can certainly imagine the campaign being a good setup for a dominion-level follow on high level campaign in the postwar Elsir Vale, and indeed there are a few suggestions for this in the book. But that would tend to feel a bit like playing Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli post War of the Ring, ie a bit anticlimactic.
 

S'mon

Legend
Yeah, there's a reason why I see that as one of the WORST developments of so-called "modern" D&D design... :)
It has upsides and downsides. My sandbox Primeval Thule game is level 12-14 after 9 months of weekly play, and intended to top out at 20. Some players like the fast progression, but I've also heard laments that the game was more fun when the low level PCs risked death every session. And the published adventures topped out at level 10-12, so I'm pretty much on my own now.
It does make me think wistfully about using a system like Savage Worlds where PC growth is much more lateral/breadth/skills, rather than vertical/height/raw power. But I did make a specific choice for this campaign to use the 5e recommended 2-3 sessions per level, rather than the more typical 4-5+ sessions/level of my previous campaigns, and see how it felt.
 

pemerton

Legend
We are talking here about a leisure activity, and so moralised or mandatory language (should, ought, would be wrong to, etc) is largely out of place.

Rather, it makes sense to talk about what means are well-suited to what ends. Given the hobby we are talking about, relevant means will include GM techniques, player approaches, choices of setting and theme, etc. And relevant ends must encompass the known variety of RPG play, as well as anything new that someone thinks up and is seriously engaged in.

In the play of a 4e game it makes no sense for the PCs to be fundamentally opposed to one another. The game has no tools for supporting PC vs PC conflict in any seriouos fashion; and its conflict resolution mechanics, particularly for combat, only really show their strength when the PCs are working together.

The contrast here with (say) Burning Wheel is pretty marked. I know from play experience that BW can support PCs who are opposed to one another, or who shift back-and-forth in their allegiances.

This doesn't make one system superior to the other in any objective sense. It does mean that you wouldn't try and duplicate the 4e play experience using BW, nor vice versa.

Setting is just another tool like anything else. It has no magical status, and no special role in setting priorities. If a player wants to play an X, and the GM has conceived of the setting as X-less, then the basic social situation is no different whether X is a gnome or a ninja. If the GM has conceived of the PCs as non-Xs, then likewise the basic social situation is no different whether X is an evil elf, an uncooperative loner, a serpent worshipper, or a demigod. There is no a priori rule of RPGing that says that just because X exists in the setting it is therefore fair game as a player character. This is all part of the process of setting things up.

A concrete example: the setting of Cthulhu Dark clearly contains Great Old Ones, various alien/old one races, evil cultists, etc. But none of these is fair game for being played by the players. That would be at odds with the whole genre and theme the system is meant to support.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
There's a hobgoblin horde threatening to conquer Elsir Vale. The PCs need to be willing to defend the Vale, and the city of Brindol in particular. I created a Patron element to their background where they could have a noble & upright patron like Lord Kerben Jaarmath, or a sleazy patron like Lady Verasa Kaal, so the PCs don't have to be Lawful Good but they do need to be invested in fighting the Red Hand and not just fleeing to safer climes. Players of course are free to create secondary PC goals ("reunite with my adopted daughter") as long as they don't prevent the PC pursuing the primary goal. As GM I look for ways to have secondary goals mesh with the primary goal.
Were I a player, I'd want to look a bit more broadly at possible goals: maybe my PC is in fact a Red Hand spy (this could be a blast, come to think of it!); or maybe I hold no real allegiance other than to the winning side.

It's definitely a closed-ended campaign, like an AP, requiring player buy-in to the campaign goal.
Ah, fair enough.

Campaign blog here - FR - Red Hand of Doom
I refer to it as a mini-campaign or mega-adventure; PCs are created for the campaign and probably won't be played beyond the campaign, unless I make a sequel. I think it will be about 20 or so sessions of play covering levels 5-14 in 5e D&D (in 3e D&D it's written for 5-10 or 6-12 per interior text & back cover).
One can certainly imagine the campaign being a good setup for a dominion-level follow on high level campaign in the postwar Elsir Vale, and indeed there are a few suggestions for this in the book. But that would tend to feel a bit like playing Aragorn, Legolas & Gimli post War of the Ring, ie a bit anticlimactic.
Yeah, were it me running this I'd find a way to spin the main campaign out much longer - get the PCs involved in some military engagements maybe (good excuse to bust out the Battlesystem rules!), have them do some spying or side missions, and so forth. I'd also slow down the level advancement rate such that the campaign would end when the story ran out rather than when the levels ran out; and this would leave headroom for sequels or follow-ons if all involved are keen on such.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
We are talking here about a leisure activity, and so moralised or mandatory language (should, ought, would be wrong to, etc) is largely out of place.

Rather, it makes sense to talk about what means are well-suited to what ends. Given the hobby we are talking about, relevant means will include GM techniques, player approaches, choices of setting and theme, etc. And relevant ends must encompass the known variety of RPG play, as well as anything new that someone thinks up and is seriously engaged in.

In the play of a 4e game it makes no sense for the PCs to be fundamentally opposed to one another. The game has no tools for supporting PC vs PC conflict in any seriouos fashion; and its conflict resolution mechanics, particularly for combat, only really show their strength when the PCs are working together.

The contrast here with (say) Burning Wheel is pretty marked. I know from play experience that BW can support PCs who are opposed to one another, or who shift back-and-forth in their allegiances.

This doesn't make one system superior to the other in any objective sense.
Actually, it objectively does if all other things are equal: BW is marked as superior in that it has the flexibility to handle something 4e cannot. Both systems can happily deal with co-operative play but only BW can also deal with non-co-operative play.

But, not knowing all the ins and outs of either system, I don't know if there's an area where 4e is objectively superior to BW in a similar way, which would tend to cancel out the BW advantage noted above.

It does mean that you wouldn't try and duplicate the 4e play experience using BW, nor vice versa.
True; I'd rather find (or create) one system that could equally well provide both experiences.

Setting is just another tool like anything else. It has no magical status, and no special role in setting priorities. If a player wants to play an X, and the GM has conceived of the setting as X-less, then the basic social situation is no different whether X is a gnome or a ninja. If the GM has conceived of the PCs as non-Xs, then likewise the basic social situation is no different whether X is an evil elf, an uncooperative loner, a serpent worshipper, or a demigod. There is no a priori rule of RPGing that says that just because X exists in the setting it is therefore fair game as a player character. This is all part of the process of setting things up.
There's (at least) three different things here than can in theory be restricted.

PC race is one: fair game, the DM can restrict this to suit the setting*.
PC class is another: fair game, the DM can restrict this to suit the setting*.
PC personality (or alignment, or characterization) is the third, and my position is that the DM has no right to restrict these unless that same restriction applies to all such characters in the setting. (e.g. if my PC Elf can't be evil then by extension there are no evil Elves in the setting; just like my PC Paladin has to be good because all Paladins in that setting are by definition good)

* - or, in some cases, to suit the mechanics in order to prevent 'broken' builds in some systems.

A concrete example: the setting of Cthulhu Dark clearly contains Great Old Ones, various alien/old one races, evil cultists, etc. But none of these is fair game for being played by the players. That would be at odds with the whole genre and theme the system is meant to support.
No Great Old Ones or alien races as PCs comes under PC race restrictions, which are fine. But if I want to play an otherwise-allowable PC as a hidden evil cultist (or a spy for same, or a wannabe who is still trying to gain acceptance), where's the harm? Sooner or later I either get found out or I don't, and I either succeed or I don't, or I have a change of heart, or whatever. Won't know until it all plays out...
 

S'mon

Legend
Were I a player, I'd want to look a bit more broadly at possible goals: maybe my PC is in fact a Red Hand spy (this could be a blast, come to think of it!); or maybe I hold no real allegiance other than to the winning side.
Yeah, it's not really well set up for playing Gollum; though it can handle reluctant and mercenary heroes pretty well, it really wants to make you hate the Red Hand and want to stop them.
 

Jaeger

Explorer
PC personality (or alignment, or characterization) is the third, and my position is that the DM has no right to restrict these unless that same restriction applies to all such characters in the setting. (e.g. if my PC Elf can't be evil then by extension there are no evil Elves in the setting; just like my PC Paladin has to be good because all Paladins in that setting are by definition good)
Any DM has every right to restrict whatever they want.

Many DM's do not want to deal with non-co-operative play. They find it not worth the hassle. And it is their right to cut off the potential for such shenanigans before the campaign begins.

As DM/GM is the Game MASTER. Period.

They dictate to the players. The players don't dictate to them.

If a potential player does not like such restrictions, they do not have to play and are free to find another group to game with.
 

Jaeger

Explorer
If the DM's expected to provide a living breathing world then there very much IS a story for her to tell. What you're mixing up is the difference between a) DM telling a story and b) the PCs being expected to (or forced to) engage with said story. .
Actually, here’s where you’re mixing this up:

What the DM has done by relating stories about events in the campaign setting is to aid in player immersion of the Game Setting, and to set up several Scenarios or "events" that the Players can interact with.

“Scenarios are long-term tests comprised of several tasks. They are usually explicitly stated to a player, whether through story or as formal win conditions.”

Just because the DM uses story as a means to convey information and Scenarios to PC’s as one part of his many roles in running a campaign setting for the players to interact with; that does not mean that the GM and Players are engaging in story-writing as a group.

RPG groups engage in story-writing, whether intentionally-at-the-time or just seen in hindsight.
There is no “or” you can’t have it both ways: because words have definitions.

During a game session; RPG groups are not writing a story, they are playing the game.

Story (noun)
1. An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
2. An account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something.



While RPG’s can be immersive during gameplay, By the very definition of the word, the “story” part for the RPG group will only occur as the DM or players recount events from the session or campaign, in spoken or written form.

.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Any DM has every right to restrict whatever they want.

Many DM's do not want to deal with non-co-operative play. They find it not worth the hassle. And it is their right to cut off the potential for such shenanigans before the campaign begins.

As DM/GM is the Game MASTER. Period.
Yes, and some are better at it than others: the better ones generally let the players play, and deal with whatever they get.

They dictate to the players. The players don't dictate to them.

If a potential player does not like such restrictions, they do not have to play and are free to find another group to game with.
Yep - and if enough potential players do just this then the restrictive DM ends up with no-one left at the table.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Actually, here’s where you’re mixing this up:

What the DM has done by relating stories about events in the campaign setting is to aid in player immersion of the Game Setting, and to set up several Scenarios or "events" that the Players can interact with.

“Scenarios are long-term tests comprised of several tasks. They are usually explicitly stated to a player, whether through story or as formal win conditions.”

Just because the DM uses story as a means to convey information and Scenarios to PC’s as one part of his many roles in running a campaign setting for the players to interact with; that does not mean that the GM and Players are engaging in story-writing as a group.
The DM tells a story in order to set up the - to use your term - scenario.

Then the players play through that scenario in whatever manner they see fit.

And in so doing they metaphorically* write the story...

* - and sometimes literally, if the GM and-or one or more players are taking notes even as play goes on.

There is no “or” you can’t have it both ways: because words have definitions.

During a game session; RPG groups are not writing a story, they are playing the game.

Story (noun)
1. An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
2. An account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something.


While RPG’s can be immersive during gameplay, By the very definition of the word, the “story” part for the RPG group will only occur as the DM or players recount events from the session or campaign, in spoken or written form.
...that is later recouted verbally, or put in a game log, or whatever.

The difference in an RPG is that the participants are both creating and telling the story at the same time.
 

S'mon

Legend
Yep - and if enough potential players do just this then the restrictive DM ends up with no-one left at the table.
I haven't seen any difference in popularity between my more and less restrictive campaigns.
RPG system definitely affects popularity; but new players are generally happy to play anything, only wanting to play preferred version of D&D is more a grognard (inc 3e & 4e grognard) thing; likewise for other systems.
Players definitely appreciate some freedom of action within a campaign, and some have told me they prefer the sandbox to the movie-like game ("though both are great"); but restrictions on PC creation have never been an issue.
 

Jaeger

Explorer
Traditional RPG's like D&D are Games. First and foremost. Just because a DM/GM will use story as a means to relate campaign setting information to the players does not make playing D&D a 'storytelling' experience.

The DM tells a story in order to set up the - to use your term - scenario.

Then the players play through that scenario in whatever manner they see fit.

And in so doing they metaphorically* write the story...
Moving the goal posts.

Metaphor is not part of this debate.


* - and sometimes literally, if the GM and-or one or more players are taking notes even as play goes on.
Taking notes is not literally writing a story: because words have definitions.

NOTE (noun)
1: a brief record of facts, topics, or thoughts, written down as an aid to memory
2: a short informal letter or written message.
(verb)
1: notice or pay particular attention to (something).

2: record (something) in writing.

Maybe there is someone out there who can type up an actual play report while waiting for their turn in combat, or other pauses in game play. But please note the the 'Game play' part that has to occur before someone can write a 'story' about it...


The difference in an RPG is that the participants are both creating and telling the story at the same time.
There is no "and", you can’t have it both ways: because words have definitions.

(see my previous post.)

People seem to really believe that they are "writing a story" when they are playing a game.

No, you're just using the word "story" wrong.

It is really quite straight forward. The correct definitions for words are clear.

When you have finished a night of good gaming; you did not have a great 'story' session. You had a great gaming session.


.
 

pemerton

Legend
I haven't seen any difference in popularity between my more and less restrictive campaigns.

<snip>

Players definitely appreciate some freedom of action within a campaign, and some have told me they prefer the sandbox to the movie-like game ("though both are great"); but restrictions on PC creation have never been an issue.
Curse you and your real-life experience!
 

pemerton

Legend
Any DM has every right to restrict whatever they want.

<snip>

As DM/GM is the Game MASTER. Period.

They dictate to the players. The players don't dictate to them.
This is an over-generalisation.

It's not true of all systems. (Though maybe some tables drift them.) It's not true of all tables. (Whether because of the systems they choose or the way they approach them.)

In our Classic Traveller game, it was one of the players who established, in the first session, that the starting world was a gas giant moon. In our 4e Dark Sun game, it was the same player who established that the starting moment of the campaign was the moment of the assassination of the Sorcerer King of Tyr.

During a game session; RPG groups are not writing a story, they are playing the game.

Story (noun)
1. An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
2. An account of past events in someone's life or in the evolution of something.



While RPG’s can be immersive during gameplay, By the very definition of the word, the “story” part for the RPG group will only occur as the DM or players recount events from the session or campaign, in spoken or written form.
Again, so much presecription!

Here's a definition of "story" that came up when I Googled "OED story": A plot or storyline.

That definition immediately makes us think of other properties that good stories tend to exmplify: strong theme; effective pacing, including rising action, climax and denouement; revealing the characters to us; etc.

And a RPG can be designed and/or played to produce story in this sense (for systems oriented towards such play, see eg Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, Prince Valiant). Or it may not be - it might be oriented towards something quite different, like puzzle solving or similar forms of skilled play (for systems oriented towards such play, see eg B/X D&D, Gygax's AD&D, and apparently PF 2).

Of systems with the first sort of orientation, they might lean heavily on the GM to produce such story by directing/constraining the players. Or they might be designed to produce story as a result of the interaction between a constrained set of GM choices and then the resulting player actiondeclarations for their PCs. The three systems I mentioned take this second approach.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'd rather find (or create) one system that could equally well provide both experiences.
It can't be done. Like every other game, and indeed every other human endeavour, RPG design and RPG play involves trade-offs.

A system that is designed to stongly support PC synergy (of which 4e D&D is an exemplar) is inevitably going to be poorer at PC vs PC, because one of the core features of the system is, ipso facto, not being invoked in such circumstances.

Actually, it objectively does if all other things are equal: BW is marked as superior in that it has the flexibility to handle something 4e cannot. Both systems can happily deal with co-operative play but only BW can also deal with non-co-operative play.
Have you played both systems?

BW does not provide the sort of synergy between PC abilities that 4e does. That's simply not its thing. A well-oiled 4e team during a combat feels like a fight scene from Claremont-ear X-Men: one PC sets things up for the next PC's move, with the system elements such as healing rules, positioning rules, condition infliction etc all feeding into this.

BW plays more like RQ or another BRP system. It has a few more bells and whistles, including a solid helping option, but not the sort of intricate synergies that 4e provides.

PC race is one: fair game, the DM can restrict this to suit the setting*.
PC class is another: fair game, the DM can restrict this to suit the setting*.
PC personality (or alignment, or characterization) is the third, and my position is that the DM has no right to restrict these unless that same restriction applies to all such characters in the setting. (e.g. if my PC Elf can't be evil then by extension there are no evil Elves in the setting; just like my PC Paladin has to be good because all Paladins in that setting are by definition good)
This is mere stipulation, and for many RPGers is an arbitrary one.

The notion of the DM having no right simply makes no sense here. We're not in the realm of law or justice; we're in the realm of hobby gaming. And many RPGers don't fetishise setting - they see "setting" restrictions as simply gameplay devices. And there can be good reasons to adopt the gameplay device all the PCs are friends as much as the device none of the PCs is a gnome,

No Great Old Ones or alien races as PCs comes under PC race restrictions, which are fine. But if I want to play an otherwise-allowable PC as a hidden evil cultist (or a spy for same, or a wannabe who is still trying to gain acceptance), where's the harm? Sooner or later I either get found out or I don't, and I either succeed or I don't, or I have a change of heart, or whatever. Won't know until it all plays out...
The system won't support it. (For instance, a cultist is already insane and so can't engage with the system's Insanity Die mechanics.) So the harm is that the game can't get off the ground.

It's like playing DDG Zeus in a Keep on the Borderlands game (to use a rough metaphor which uses elements you may be familiar with). That game won't get off the ground either.

This reinforces the point about fetisihing setting, and also race (which is not an objective thing in RPGIng, but simply a feature of D&D PC building taken up in other systems that ape D&D). The actual constraint derives from gameplay, including the elements of PC build and the methods of action resolution as well as more "story" or "narrative" concerns.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
In general I am fine with character level secret agendas at the table, but I am not fine with player level secret agendas at the table. I am also fine with and appreciate character conflicts, but I want us all to be working together to either create compelling fiction or complete game goals. In any game I play in or run I want such secrets to be known to all players.

I do not do note passing or secret interludes. That's just not my style man. Besides that dramatic irony when we know, but our characters do not is like killer.
 

pemerton

Legend
In general I am fine with character level secret agendas at the table, but I am not fine with player level secret agendas at the table. I am also fine with and appreciate character conflicts, but I want us all to be working together to either create compelling fiction or complete game goals. In any game I play in or run I want such secrets to be known to all players.

I do not do note passing or secret interludes. That's just not my style man. Besides that dramatic irony when we know, but our characters do not is like killer.
It's a long time since we've done secret notes/interludes - that takes me back to the old RM days when the official ethos was still ultra-simulationist!

That said, I've just remembered a counter-example, from a 4e session where the PCs were in the Mausoleum of the Raven Queen (which like all forgotten and abandoned things had ended up in The Barrens (? have I got the right name? - Oublivae's leve) on The Abyss). When it seemed that the Fighter/Cleric of Moradin might be getting ready to turn on the Raven Queen, the player of the paladin of the Raven Queen was plotting with the player of the Cleric/Ranger of the Raven Queen to try and implement a pre-emptive strike. As things turned out the Moradin-ite (once again) got talked into siding with the Raven Queen and so no strike was necessary.

I would count this as a case of the party tensions being out in the open, but the immediate plotting secret. I (as GM) didn't know it was happening until the paladin player told me at the end of the session.
 

Advertisement

Top