D&D General Fighting Law and Order

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So the GM's not even allowed to narrate what the PCs see while travelling to town unless it directly affects a player-authored concern that already exists?
You've had a reply from @Citizen Mane. I fully agree with it.

I would add: my friends and I will never run out of things to imagine, things to say to one another about the fiction we are creating together.

But we can make choices about what fiction we create, according to what principles.

The principle that is adopted by Burning Wheel is: the GM should say things about the fiction that put pressure on the player-authored Belief, Instincts etc of their PCs. The GM's goal is to thereby incite the players to declare actions for their PCs that will express, reflect on, perhaps contradict, those Beliefs. The slogan for the game is "Fight for what you believe".

If I, as GM, choose to narrate the weather, it will be because I see it as somehow contributing to my purposes in accordance with the preceding principle.

In addition: even when I am GMing Torchbearer, a game which invites the GM to take a greater hand than BW does in contributing to what is at stake, I will take try and take the result of my random weather and travel rolls and incorporate them into the fiction in ways that apply pressure to the players' goals, or speak to the dramatic needs they have chosen for their PCs.

Eg one time when the PCs were travelling through (randomly rolled) heavy rain, and (through random roll) found themselves harassed by bandits, I had those bandits be the same NPCs they were trying to find: so the opening framing of their meeting with those NPCs had the PCs finally, after trudging through the rain being harassed by enemies they couldn't quite see, coming to the bottom of a steep rise and seeing the NPCs, above them, calling out to them to turn back.

And I've already posted upthread how, when the PCs were returning to Megloss's house to try and bind the shadow spirit, I rolled up rain, incorporated that into my narration as a type of foreboding, and then - when the players were utterly defeated in their conflict with the spirit - incorporated the weather into my narration of the consequences, with a lightning bolt splitting Megloss's house in two.

In other words, when GMing Torchbearer, and incorporating the random elements that its rules call on me to generate, I always try to minimis mere colour as much as I can.

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This is why these threads are so acrimonious. The seeming line of demarcation for you (and those who hold the same priorities) is "people who value the integrity of a world." The primary issue with this framing is that its a misdiagnosis and that misdiagnosis make it impossible to communicate.

There is absolutely no way to converse about this that won't get your (and @Micah Sweet 's and others) hackles up and make you feel condescended to. But the reality is, its not you valuing the integrity of a world that (a) separates us or (b) makes these conversations fraught. I value the integrity of a world. @pemerton , @Campbell , @hawkeyefan , @AbdulAlhazred value the integrity of a world (all of which I'm certain of because I've run, and run, games for them). The valuing of the integrity of a world isn't what divides us. Its that you (and @Micah Sweet et al) have a particular brand of Simulation/Immersionist priorities whereby you guys' particular mental framing of the internal causality of an imagined world is absolutely foundational for you to play at all. Its a cognitive framing effect; causality, content generation, resolution mechanics must have a particular "fit" or the game becomes "jarring" (as I've heard it called plenty of times).

The other side of this values integrity of the world. The other side doesn't run games with worlds as grey featureless blobs. The other side just doesn't share your cognitive framework when it comes to internal causality and imagined spaces or the way that particular framing effect places particular demands and constraints upon content generation and resolution mechanics specifically and game engines generally.

Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Stonetop, Dogs in the Vineyard, Thousand Arrows, Blades in the Dark, Burning Wheel, Torchbearer, Mouse Guard, Cortex+, D&D 4e (etc) don't feature play possessed of grey featureless blobs of worlds without integrity. But they aren't Sim/Immersionist games governed by a metaplot and high resolution backstory and setting parameters that are primary (often overriding) inputs onto play. Consequently, as game engines/procedures/principles/set of techniques used to produce play, they would be "jarring" for you because they don't array themselves in line with your cognitive demands.

TLDR; its this kind of misdiagnosing of our differences that makes these conversations difficult. One side doesn't value integrity of a world while the other doesn't. One side has a particular brand of Sim/Immersionist priorities and demands a particular configuration of constraints be placed upon game engines, type/kind/frequency of content introduction, zoom, GMing techniques (etc) follow from that. The other side doesn't share those priorities or the cognitive framing (whether chicken or egg) that it entails.
Not to undermine anything said above, but its fine if people want to invert this and look at it as, say myself (I won't speak for others), where I have a priority of interacting as my character in a fairly weighty/intense way with the questions that character's nature brings to the fore. So, when I have engaged with the type of Sim/Immersionist priorities that I think predominate in @Lanefan, @Oofta, @Micah Sweet, et al's style of play, I just get bored generally speaking. I find these games to be slow, wandering, with many digressions and parts that simply don't address anything I'm looking for in the game. Often in games of this type I find that my character doesn't really relate to any of the action except in a kind of generic way. If I try to do something that is interesting, then somehow it is at cross purpose with some grand scheme that the GM thought up 6 months ago that I don't know or care about and it goes nowhere.

My point is not to complain about this form of play, its just to kind of look at it from the inverse standpoint. As there are complaints that I don't care about world integrity, I equally find that others don't care about the development of the characters and their concerns. I expect this is not accepted as a diagnosis either! However it still seems that way from my perspective.


Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
The issue with this analogy to me is that ACD who controls Sherlock and watson and everyone else knows everything he needs to know about the setting, he is functionally in the position of being both the GM of the world who knows everything there is in the setting as well as being the player who controls the actions of the protagonists, when you play as a player pemeton you don’t know everything about the setting, even if your character would know alot more than you you can’t truly speak for what they know because you don’t know what’s in the world, but the GM does
On the other hand, collaborative writing exists. I’ve had the chance to talk with George R.R. Martin and Howard Waldrop about this, and read essays and posts by others who have done it a bunch. One of the common themes is that it’s pretty common for the resulting story to end up nowhere any participant planned or even guessed at early on. One thing leads to another and another and…I’m guessing 95% of you reading this have had just that kind of experience, whatever your GMing and playing style(s) may be. Authors who game confirm that the two processes share a lot. (Obviously the two also differ in a lot of ways. No assertion of identity is intended or implied, use only as directed, etc etc.)

Talking about misdiagnosis, I think this one is also very likely fitting that term.

It is true that integrity is critically important to both "camps". It is also true that the means for maintaining that integrity is very different for both "camps". I think you might take a bit to lightly on the grey featureless blob analogy though. As far as I read it it is not a claim that the entire world is a grey featureless blob - it is the claim as I understand it that everything outside what is established trough play appear like a grey featureless blob. I do not see you, nor any of the other experienced narrativist players so far arguing against that view. Rather I have seen many statements that fuels into such an impression.
I don't think the view of the world held by players is very much different in either sort of game actually. As @Lanefan stated, there's a major city in his campaign that is, and has been for decades of actual play time, beyond the edge of what any of the PCs know. So, there's a horizon, and for starting characters I'd venture to bet that horizon is pretty much identical in a typical trad D&D game as it is in a Dungeon World game I'd run. Think about it this way, if you whip out B2 and run it, ALL that the PCs are going to know much about is a keep and some caves! And they have to explore both of those locations to even get that much. Sure, hypothetically the characters came from 'somewhere' but its not a place that has any impact on play. At best it will be developed much later if the players and GM end up moving the action back into 'civilized lands'.

In my DW game, there is going to be canonically established by the end of session 1 4 or 5 PCs with SOME degree of backstory (probably not a ton, but it varies), some sort of location at which adventure/action is taking place, and some sort of location which serves as a steading (base of operations). How is this different from standard trad play in ANY way shape or form? It isn't. There's no blinkin' "grey blob" AT ALL, wipe it from your mind! As a player I know what my character has seen and heard, and MAYBE a bit more if there's something that has been discussed OC with the GM. As in the 'B2 Case' above, my character may be presumed to know a bunch of other stuff that has not yet been relevant in play, and might never come up.
The strongest counter statement I have seen is that this holds true for traditional D&D as well. Noone is running D&D with a fully fleshed out world, with every details ever to come into play established by the DM before the first session. As such I think the real "diagnosis" here rather might be a question about quantity rather than quality.
There's no argument about EITHER quantity NOR quality! Me, the GM, and my buds are fully qualified to develop as high a quality material as anyone on this forum, no problem. Nor is it in any way likely that some vast quantity of stockpiled lore has amazingly become so relevant to play in 1 or 2 sessions that it has all become known to the PCs. If we're talking 50 sessions into a campaign, well we've had 50 sessions of fleshing stuff out, we're not one bit behind the trad GM's 50 sessions of exposition! Its simply an argument that has no legs and will never run, exactly as @Manbearcat explained in his post!
In a D&D setting it is enough that one participant is thinking about something on their own to make it make it something "real" in the fiction. This process is extremely more efficient than the process of going trough the procedures required in a narrative game to bring something into the shared fiction. The established shared fiction is having a similar volume, but D&D is having the GM-vision that also make a claim to a level of "reality" in the fiction, which you don't really have in a more pure narrative game. And at least early in the game this GM-vision tend to vastly outsize the shared fiction in volume.
I think both of these propositions are highly speculative and quite fraught AT BEST. I don't agree with there being any meaning to the concept of "real in the fiction" and certainly don't agree that things which have never been shared can be described that way. As you state here yourself, the experienced fiction within each game should be the same. Nor do I accept any notion that there is some sort of 'efficiency' that is acquired by having someone pre-author some/all of what is presented. How does that change anything? In my extensive experience there's no real difference in the rate of fiction presentation between styles.
As such, one way of reading it is like on one dimension playing a narrative game feels like standing in an enclosed elevator (at least early on) compared to sitting in a living room. Both are limited, enclosed spaces, but the feel is different. One is having all the space you feel you need, the other is a place you want to get out of as soon as possible.
I can't say what the 'feel' is for anyone else. I can certainly imagine that FOR THE GM trad play is a different experience WRT the fiction, sure. I know this for a fact, having been a trad GM for most of 20 years! For the players, I actually argue that the narrativist fiction is much more immediate and engaging and is presented in a way which makes it immediately relevant such that you are rather unlikely not to absorb it! Everywhere you look, there's 'stuff' and that stuff is probably interesting to you, or at least backdrop for interesting stuff.

And this is all not even discussing the fact that MANY narrativist games are not particularly light on established setting. In fact, as authors have gained experience with the techniques it is now rather less common to have narrativist systems which are entirely Zero Myth clean rooms like Dungeon World and Apocalypse World are. You have now games like Stonetop, which gives you a pretty good outline of a bronze-age fantasy village and maps that designate everything within several weeks journey in at least rough outline. Or Blades in the Dark, which has detailed street maps of all of Doskvol, rules and breakdowns for all the sections of town, extensive lists of organizations and NPCs, and a reasonable outline of what other areas of the world look like (these are fairly sketchy, but do indicate the general lay of the land). In fact the detail on Doskvol is at the same detail level as many of the more detailed "city guide" products that have blessed everyone's shelves for the past 45 years or so.

Thus, even if the idea had legs WRT zero myth play, that sort of play is rapidly becoming the exception out there. Granted, more extensively documented milieus demand more finesse in terms of describing how narrative play will fit into them, but its a challenge which has been met more than adequately by a number of products at this point.

This is a good example of why detailed game play examples are very helpful.

Any comment I make, will quickly be met with "Oh there are a bunch of secret rules, styles, things we do, and such " that were not mentioned.

But...ok, so now..."suddenly" Blades has the GM making up a TON of stuff at the start of the game. So EXACTLY like a traditional game. A GM HAD to do a TON of work making up the whole setting. Though sure a player can make a random comment, and then leave the GM to do 99.9% of the work.
I'm not sure what the 'ton' was that the GM had to make up. In this case the players wrote their characters, chose a crew type (lets say Assassins), named their 'home turf' (one of the sections of the city), named another section that is dangerous to them, designated another gang that they're friends with, and one they're having problems with, and that's about it as I recall it. The physical details of the gang's 'lair' does have to be worked out, where in their home area it is, and a description of it. A lot of places are described in Doskvol, so its fairly easy to pick one and say "Oh, we're holed up in the basement of the old bakery on Fish Head Lane", the area around it is our starting turf! So far the GM hasn't really made up anything, though they may well have made suggestions.

From there IIRC the game starts off with an event, an entanglement check or something like that which provides some kind of kickoff situation. This is a dice roll! Now, the result is going to be something general, and in my example I supposed it was a "cops beat up a crew member" event. This is a standard event that happens pretty often, though it isn't always cops (Blue Shirts in Doskvol). So the GM will now start actually inventing something, some details of this interrogation. I then hypothesized one of the players has a cop as a friend or contact (something you can start with, one friend, one rival). Yes, after that the GM will have to supply some details, like the cop friend letting the crew know that their rivals were behind one of them getting beat up. After that another PC in info gathering phase rounds up a minor member of the rival gang and interrogates him, getting the location of a stash. This is all stock stuff, the GM doesn't even have to set difficulties here, these are 'fortune rolls' (unless a character decides to do something really complicated and dangerous, then it might get played out a bit like a mini score). Anyway, the GM will definitely make up the location of the stash, what is guarding it, etc. So they have a good bit to do, but you can see how all the people in the game are kind of putting the story together as a whole.
Well, aGM has "no reason" to "want one story over another"....and YET they do. So, this is just as common in Blades as it is in D&D. A GM "wants" a Railroad thing to happen...so they do. JUST like in D&D. The GM still has absolute power. All they really need do is hide behind the "rules" (aka, like I said up thread....the GM just needs to say something like "by the Fiction and the players will fall for that).
I think you are projecting! The GMs whom I play with, and myself, want no such thing. Yes, in the old days, when I was engineering all the events and story and locations and whatnot, then I was motivated to push all the action into a certain course so that it would flow through the path that I had imagined. We don't play that way, and we don't have this motivation. Its hard to believe, but it is true. I do believe you when you say this though, I suspect it is at least SOMEWHAT true for every trad GM.

I think you'd have fun getting into one of these games. I mean, maybe its not your normal cup of tea and you might not want to run such a game, but I think it would be a unique experience that is different from your average play.


To be fair, you mistyped “PC” when you meant “player” (as in, “the PCs describe the tower,” and when he asked if you meant “player” you said you did indeed mean “PC.”
That's how it seemed to me, yes.

I think you never did get a good answer to your questions about the accepted limits on GM’s description — an answer I’m eager to hear.
See my various replies about the tower, the fields, the beggars, etc: the GM should be framing so as to put pressure on the player-authored PC elements that establish those PCs' dramatic needs. In various posts I've also called these the player-evinced concerns for their PC: Beliefs, Instincts, Relationships and the like.

If the GM, in the course of framing, contradicts established fiction, that's an error. If anyone picks it up, then the GM needs to wind back and correct.

If the GM, in the course of framing, fails to achieve what I've set out in my first para, then - as I've posted upthread, and have given examples of from actual play - the players should be using the tools the game gives them to make things more interesting to them: Circles, Wises, Scavenging and the like.


This was what kicked off my exchange with pemerton:

A question here is - if the evil overlord is somehow tied to a character's belief, would it be acceptable to use the potential connection between the overlord outlined here as a justification for framing a scene with the beggars? In that case the same could be said for the passing mention of abandoned farms. Indeed failing to mention the abandoned farms upon traveling to the town might be an issue if the players actually latch on to the beggar - evil overlord connection. In this case the presence or not of abandoned farms might suddenly be important, and it might become somewhat strange that that this wasn't mentioned when first passing by.
To me you seem to be coming at this backwards: you seem to be asking something like When and to what extent is it consistent with the principles of Burning Wheel for a BW GM to use "trad" techniques like extensive prep, imagining explanations for setting elements behind the scenes without revealing them to the players, etc?

But the answer to that question is completely uninteresting, being something like "Not too much, but it kinda depends."

Whereas, if I as a BW GM wanted to frame a scene with beggars, and connect them to the evil overlord, I would make that explicit. Or to put it another way, if I've got a point in framing that scene then I want to make that point, not keep it hidden. So maybe I tell the players, "There is a crowd of beggars about the city gates. Some of them look like they've been beaten. You can hear others wailing plaintively, about their cruel treatment at the hands of <evil overlord>."

Or maybe I have a beggar approach a PC - "I've been driven off my farm by <evil overlord> - can you spare me some coin?", and (assuming that this bears upon the PC's Belief) I might even start a Duel of Wits!

These are the sorts of techniques that BW encourages. To ask how far you can depart from these techniques, with flat scene-framing, a failure to reveal what you (the GM) are hoping to put at stake, etc, and still have the game work, strikes me as an odd question. It seems like the answer will depend on how happy your players are to depart from the key precepts of the game.


I still don't see how your job as GM isn't just to do whatever the players want if you're not even allow to include a scene unless it directly pertains to the PCs beliefs.
Upthread I distinguished two things players want, in a RPG.

*They want their PCs to do well, achieve their goals etc. (At least this is pretty common.)

*They want the game to be interesting.

Burning Wheel gives players the job of looking after the first of these. The GM's job is to make it relatively hard and demanding for the players to do this, by framing them into adversity and narrating hard consequences when they fail. (I've provided multiple examples of that in this thread.)

Burning Wheel gives everyone at the table the job of doing the second thing. The players' role is to author characters, and Beliefs, Instincts etc for those characters, that they are willing to play hard. The GMs's role is to frame scenes and narrate consequences that speak to those player-authored elements, put pressure on them, force the players to reflect on and perhaps change them, etc.

THAT'S THE POINT OF THE GAME. If you as GM want to do something else, like present your worldbuiding to your players for their and your enjoyment, then BW is not the RPG for you.
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I kinda feel that in these kinds of games, the characters  do exist in a vacuum.
Have you read this?
At the start of the session, Thurgon had the following four Beliefs - The Lord of Battle will lead me to glory; I am a Knight of the Iron Tower, and by devotion and example I will lead the righteous to glorious victory; Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more!; Aramina will need my protection - and three Instincts - When entering battle, always speak a prayer to the Lord of Battle; If an innocent is threatened, interpose myself; When camping, always ensure that the campfire is burning.

Aramina's had three Beliefs - I'm not going to finish my career with no spellbooks and an empty purse! - next, some coins!; I don't need Thurgon's pity; If in doubt, burn it! and three instincts - Never catch the glance or gaze of a stranger; Always wear my cloak; Always Assess before casting a spell.


This was heading into the neighbourhood of Auxol, and so Thurgon kept his eye out for friends and family. The Circles check (base 3 dice +1 for an Affiliation with the nobility and another +1 for an Affiliation with his family) succeeded again, and the two characters came upon Thurgon's older brother Rufus driving a horse and cart. (Thurgon has a Relationship with his mother Xanthippe but no other family members; hence the Circles check to meet his brother.)

There was a reunion between Rufus and Thurgon. But (as described by the GM) it was clear to Thurgon that Rufus was not who he had been, but seemed cowed - as Rufus explained when Thurgon asked after Auxol, he (Rufus) was on his way to collect wine for the master. Rufus mentioned that Thurgon's younger son had married not long ago - a bit of lore (like Rufus hmself) taken from the background I'd prepared for Thurgon as part of PC gen - and had headed south in search of glory (that was something new the GM introduced). I mentioned that Aramina was not meeting Rufus's gaze, and the GM picked up on this - Rufus asked Thurgon who this woman was who wouldn't look at him from beneath the hood of her cloak - was she a witch? Thurgon answered that she travelled with him and mended his armour. Then I switched to Aramina, and she looked Rufus directly in the eye and told him what she thought of him - "Thurgon has trained and is now seeking glory on his errantry, and his younger brother has gone too to seek glory, but your, Rufus . . ." I told the GM that I wanted to check Ugly Truth for Aramina, to cause a Steel check on Rufus's part. The GM decided that Rufus has Will 3, and then we quickly calculated his Steel which also came out at 3. My Ugly Truth check was a success, and the Steel check failed. Rufus looked at Aramina, shamed but unable to respond. Switching back to Thurgon, I tried to break Rufus out of it with a Command check: he should pull himself together and join in restoring Auxol to its former glory. But the check failed, and Rufus, broken, explained that he had to go and get the wine. Switching back to Aramina, I had a last go - she tried for untrained Command, saying that if he wasn't going to join with Thurgon he might at least give us some coin so that we might spend the night at an inn rather than camping. This was Will 5, with an advantage die for having cowed him the first time, against a double obstacle penalty for untrained (ie 6) +1 penalty because Rufus was very set in his way. It failed. and so Rufus rode on and now has animosity towards Aramina. As the GM said, she better not have her back to him while he has a knife ready to hand.

The characters continued on, and soon arrived at Auxol,. The GM narrated the estate still being worked, but looking somewhat run-down compared to Thrugon's memories of it. An old, bowed woman greeted us - Xanthippe, looking much more than her 61 years. She welcomed Thurgon back, but chided him for having been away. And asked him not to leave again. The GM was getting ready to force a Duel of Wits on the point - ie that Thurgon should not leave again - when I tried a different approach. I'd already made a point of Thurgon having his arms on clear display as he rode through the countryside and the estate; now he raised his mace and shield to the heavens, and called on the Lord of Battle to bring strength back to his mother so that Auxol might be restored to its former greatness. This was a prayer for a Minor Miracle, obstacle 5. Thurgon has Faith 5 and I burned his last point of Persona to take it to 6 dice (the significance of this being that, without 1 Persona, you can't stop the effect of a mortal wound should one be suffered). With 6s being open-ended (ie auto-rolls), the expected success rate is 3/5, so that's 3.6 successes there. And I had a Fate point to reroll one failure, for an overall expected 4-ish successes. Against an obstacle of 5.

As it turned out, I finished up with 7 successes. So a beam of light shot down from the sky, and Xanthippe straightened up and greeted Thurgon again, but this time with vigour and readiness to restore Auxol. The GM accepted my proposition that this played out Thurgon's Belief that Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more! (earning a Persona point). His new Belief is Xanthippe and I will liberate Auxol. He picked up a second Persona point for Embodiment ("Your roleplay (a performance or a decision) captures the mood of the table and drives the story onward").

Turning back to Aramina, I decided that this made an impact on her too: up until now she had been cynical and slightly bitter, but now she was genuinely inspired and determined: instead of never meeting the gaze of a stranger, her Instinct is to look strangers in the eyes and Assess. And rather than I don't need Thurgon's pity, her Belief is Thurgon and I will liberate Auxol. This earned a Persona point for Mouldbreaker ("If a situation brings your Beliefs, Instincts and Traits into conflict with a decision your PC must make, you play out your inner turmoil as you dramatically play against a Belief in a believable and engaging manner").
Where's the vacuum?


This is why these threads are so acrimonious. The seeming line of demarcation for you (and those who hold the same priorities) is "people who value the integrity of a world." The primary issue with this framing is that its a misdiagnosis and that misdiagnosis make it impossible to communicate.


I value the integrity of a world. @pemerton , @Campbell , @hawkeyefan , @AbdulAlhazred value the integrity of a world (all of which I'm certain of because I've run, and run, games for them). The valuing of the integrity of a world isn't what divides us
Just to add to this - with which I completely agree - I would invite anyone to read any of my actual play posts, of which there are literally dozens on these boards.

They cover 4e D&D, AD&D, Burning Wheel, Torchbearer, Prince Valiant, Classic Traveller, MHRP and Cortex+ Heroic, Wuthering Heights, Cthulhu Dark, and In A Wicked Age.

If you read some of them, and then want to explain to me how there is no integrity in the gameworld, or in what way you think the fiction is shallow or incoherent, I'm ready to hear that. But if you're going to ignore everything I've ever posted, and argue that my fiction must be shallow an incoherent with a gameworld lacking in integrity, by ostesible deduction from first principles in relation to RPGs you've never played, I'm not going to take you seriously.

If you are saying that your preference, in RPGing, is to learn things about the fiction that you know were already authored mostly independent of play, by the GM writing it up in advance, then I believe you! But that preference doesn't entail anything about the nature of the fiction or the gameworld in other people's RPGing.

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