How far is too far when describing what a PC senses and feels?

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
I don't think it's dismissive to call it what it is: A game for an audience broader than the table at which it is played. That absolutely necessitates that they do things that groups without the audience don't do because the priorities are different. Constraining choice in the manner he does definitely fits with the format.
I actually think their primary audience is each other as it should be in D&D. Those of us on the outside are gravy.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I dunno that seems a bit overboard, the DM has not imposed the frightened condition, they’ve simply informed the players that their characters are challenged by the scary circumstances. Bravery is continuing on despite being scared, so the players are under no obligation to run away or act frightened. They can simply describe their characters actions to overcome this mental obstacle.

“My PC thinks of the poor lost NPC that disappeared in these spooky woods and steels themself against what horrors lurk within.”

I dunno, it doesn’t seem over playing the DMs hand?
It's all in how you do it. "A terrifying monster..." is different than saying "You are terrified by the monster..." in my view. The latter is the DM overstepping his or her role, barring some kind of mechanical exception. Being terrified now effectively constrains the options to things you can do while terrified and agreeable players will tend to play into it. It's a sneaky (though sometimes unintentional) DM trick to make a reasonable offer in context in order to influence the outcome of the situation through the characters by setting up parameters in which the players will portray the characters.

DMs who often employ this sort of tactic will do so for a couple of reasons in my experience: (1) They are running an event-based adventure and they need to influence character behavior enough to make sure the appropriate plot points are hit; or (2) The players are quite passive and usually offer up very little in the way of describing what they want to do and so the DM feels the need to fill in the blanks.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I actually think their primary audience is each other as it should be in D&D. Those of us on the outside are gravy.
You can't say your primary audience is each other and run ads, sorry.

For the record, I don't care for Critical Role, but I'm just saying what I observe it to be, not attacking or criticizing it. Please don't feel the need to defend it on my account.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
It's all in how you do it. "A terrifying monster..." is different than saying "You are terrified by the monster..." in my view. The latter is the DM overstepping his or her role, barring some kind of mechanical exception. Being terrified now effectively constrains the options to things you can do while terrified and agreeable players will tend to play into it. It's a sneaky (though sometimes unintentional) DM trick to make a reasonable offer in context in order to influence the outcome of the situation through the characters by setting up parameters in which the players will portray the characters.
Of course, but I don’t anyone here has proposed telling players their characters are terrified? I, for one, am not interested in taking it that far.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Of course, but I don’t anyone here has proposed telling players their characters are terrified? I, for one, am not interested in taking it that far.
I don't recall every word that was said here, but certainly DMs have done that or things similar to it. Even the "autonomic response" line given by some in this thread reads like post-hoc justification to me. All this can just be avoided. There are other ways to set tone and mood without resorting to establishing or describing what the characters are doing, thinking, or saying.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I often see this response to Critical Role and I think it’s mistaken. This group was playing for a couple of years before the stream began. It was absolutely not created with live streaming in mind.
Umm...

It also looks to me like a very well-run 3e or Pathfinder game, which the first campaign was at first. They changed systems when they decided to stream the game, but Matt retained the DMing style he had been employing the whole time.
I know, and I acknowledged that. There are also, buried somewhere on YouTube and Twitter, a few clips from the Critical Role crew's game before they made the switch to streaming it, and it looks very different. Far less polished, far less performative, far more like what private D&D games normally look like in my experience, albeit one with a fantastic DM and a set of players who are very skilled actors.

Do they emphasize their social interactions? Sure, but we do have to stop dismissing as some kind of performance art that occasionally rolls D&D dice. I think Matt is a masterful DM in his ongoing ability to excite and challenge this larger group of talented players. Do i disagree with some of his choices? Sure. But I would give my eyeteeth for chance to play at his table! :)
It is performance art, but that is not a dismissal. Quite the contrary, I greatly appreciate performance art as a professional performer myself. I'm not trying to diminish Critical role by calling it performance art, just too acknowledge that a streaming game has different concerns than a private game, and might demand a different approach. Or at least, it should. You can often tell when a streamed game is not taking its nature as performance into account, and it tends to result in a lesser-quality stream.

Also, in case it wasn't clear, I do think Matt Mercer is an excellent DM, even if I don't agree with all of his choices. He is also an excellent performer. Critical Role blends those skills beautifully.
 

Unwise

Adventurer
Firstly, I think tables need to remember that we are all in this together. I always find it odd when people try to protect their patch of turf to this extent.

As both a player and GM I think it is fine to say what involuntary emotions or even thoughts they have. E.g. "The smell of the lovely pine forest conjures up images of home" or "You feel utter despair as the Witch King's visage drains you of the last announce of hope". Invasive thoughts, they are just part of a vivid description.

I don't think that many GMs would present PCs with non-invasive thoughts e.g. "you really like Bob and want to protect him", but I would think it is OK to say "despite your best efforts, when Bob flashes you that scoundel's smile, it is hard to say mad at him". Once again, that is an invasive thought that they are free to ignore as they choose. The point of it is not to limit their actions, but to give a vivid description.
 

Harzel

Explorer
Not entirely sure what you intended here. It is obviously true that their original game was not conceived with live streaming in mind. OTOH, is the cast somehow unaware that they are now doing a live stream? I think not. I also doubt that [MENTION=6801558]robus[/MENTION] was confused about either of these.

I know, and I acknowledged that. There are also, buried somewhere on YouTube and Twitter, a few clips from the Critical Role crew's game before they made the switch to streaming it, and it looks very different. Far less polished, far less performative, far more like what private D&D games normally look like in my experience, albeit one with a fantastic DM and a set of players who are very skilled actors.

It is performance art, but that is not a dismissal. Quite the contrary, I greatly appreciate performance art as a professional performer myself. I'm not trying to diminish Critical role by calling it performance art,
Yes, clearly different - the question is to what the various differences are attributable. The problem that I have with many comments made about CR is the frequent certainty expressed about the performative (and other) aspects of their game being solely or mainly due to the fact that they are live streaming it, as opposed to them being a bunch of actors entertaining themselves while becoming more familiar with the game and more engaged in a very regular playing schedule.

I think in order to judge this reasonably one really has to have watched most or all of the series, at least Campaign 1, to see the evolution - their game certainly did not take its current form in the first streamed episode. Also, there are additional sources that may (or, depending on one's evaluation, may not) be revelatory of the cast's attitude and approach. These include Talks Machina and the panels that the cast does at cons. And if one wants to dig further, there are Between the Sheets, the Fireside Chats, the Critmas videos (including one featuring Matt and Marisha shuffling around at home in pajamas), and a few soliloquies by Matt, Taliesin, and maybe Liam, also. It could be claimed that all those are simply extensions of their performance, and I can't disprove that, but it does not seem like the simplest or most likely description.

Anyway, there are clearly things that have to do with the stream - production values have become much better and they wouldn't be doing general announcements or sponsor bits in a home game. The central question of the extent to which having an external audience causes them to play differently than they would in a home game with similar experience and a similar schedule is IMO a bit murkier. The fact that they are actors is often cited as an argument that it is inevitable that they would play to the audience, and it seems likely that there is some of that effect. However, as actors I would think that they would also have a greater facility at putting aside the existence of the audience if they wished to, and my fairly strong impression, on the basis of having seen a fair number of the sources mentioned above, is that they do, in some sense, want to.

More precisely, it seems to me that they conceive of the audience in a different way than one would the audience for a play, or a comedy routine, or some other kind of produced show. It's much more personal, sort of as if they had invited a (now rather large) number of acquaintances into their living room to enjoy whatever shenanigans happened to transpire. The cast is just as likely to fawn over fans as the other way around (at least until it exhausts them), and on the other side of the coin they react with some indignation to critiques of their game from fans. They (Matt usually more diplomatically, and Liam less so) have made it clear on a number of occasions that they have zero interest in altering their game to suit audience tastes. In short, there's certainly the occasional flourish directed at the stream audience, but only as it strikes their fancy, not as an obligation.

just too acknowledge that a streaming game has different concerns than a private game, and might demand a different approach. Or at least, it should. You can often tell when a streamed game is not taking its nature as performance into account, and it tends to result in a lesser-quality stream.
Indeed, and if polished-performance-for-audience were really at the top of their priority list, there would be a lot less cross-talk and fewer one-on-one conversations in parallel with Matt's narration or interaction with another player.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Not entirely sure what you intended here. It is obviously true that their original game was not conceived with live streaming in mind. OTOH, is the cast somehow unaware that they are now doing a live stream? I think not. I also doubt that [MENTION=6801558]robus[/MENTION] was confused about either of these.



Yes, clearly different - the question is to what the various differences are attributable. The problem that I have with many comments made about CR is the frequent certainty expressed about the performative (and other) aspects of their game being solely or mainly due to the fact that they are live streaming it, as opposed to them being a bunch of actors entertaining themselves while becoming more familiar with the game and more engaged in a very regular playing schedule.

I think in order to judge this reasonably one really has to have watched most or all of the series, at least Campaign 1, to see the evolution - their game certainly did not take its current form in the first streamed episode. Also, there are additional sources that may (or, depending on one's evaluation, may not) be revelatory of the cast's attitude and approach. These include Talks Machina and the panels that the cast does at cons. And if one wants to dig further, there are Between the Sheets, the Fireside Chats, the Critmas videos (including one featuring Matt and Marisha shuffling around at home in pajamas), and a few soliloquies by Matt, Taliesin, and maybe Liam, also. It could be claimed that all those are simply extensions of their performance, and I can't disprove that, but it does not seem like the simplest or most likely description.

Anyway, there are clearly things that have to do with the stream - production values have become much better and they wouldn't be doing general announcements or sponsor bits in a home game. The central question of the extent to which having an external audience causes them to play differently than they would in a home game with similar experience and a similar schedule is IMO a bit murkier. The fact that they are actors is often cited as an argument that it is inevitable that they would play to the audience, and it seems likely that there is some of that effect. However, as actors I would think that they would also have a greater facility at putting aside the existence of the audience if they wished to, and my fairly strong impression, on the basis of having seen a fair number of the sources mentioned above, is that they do, in some sense, want to.

More precisely, it seems to me that they conceive of the audience in a different way than one would the audience for a play, or a comedy routine, or some other kind of produced show. It's much more personal, sort of as if they had invited a (now rather large) number of acquaintances into their living room to enjoy whatever shenanigans happened to transpire. The cast is just as likely to fawn over fans as the other way around (at least until it exhausts them), and on the other side of the coin they react with some indignation to critiques of their game from fans. They (Matt usually more diplomatically, and Liam less so) have made it clear on a number of occasions that they have zero interest in altering their game to suit audience tastes. In short, there's certainly the occasional flourish directed at the stream audience, but only as it strikes their fancy, not as an obligation.



Indeed, and if polished-performance-for-audience were really at the top of their priority list, there would be a lot less cross-talk and fewer one-on-one conversations in parallel with Matt's narration or interaction with another player.
I don’t know what point you think I’m making that any of this is supposed to refute. I don’t think they alter their play style to suit the audience’s tastes. I certainly don’t think the fact that they do the game for an audience makes it in any way less authentic. All I’m saying is, some of Matt’s DMing choices that I would not care for in a private game work very well in the context of a streamed game. Whether he would make those same choices in a private game or not is completely incidental to my point.
 

Hussar

Legend
Firstly, I think tables need to remember that we are all in this together. I always find it odd when people try to protect their patch of turf to this extent.

As both a player and GM I think it is fine to say what involuntary emotions or even thoughts they have. E.g. "The smell of the lovely pine forest conjures up images of home" or "You feel utter despair as the Witch King's visage drains you of the last announce of hope". Invasive thoughts, they are just part of a vivid description.

I don't think that many GMs would present PCs with non-invasive thoughts e.g. "you really like Bob and want to protect him", but I would think it is OK to say "despite your best efforts, when Bob flashes you that scoundel's smile, it is hard to say mad at him". Once again, that is an invasive thought that they are free to ignore as they choose. The point of it is not to limit their actions, but to give a vivid description.
This and similar posts are full of win AFAIC.

Yes, I understand that there is a breed of player who are so distrustful of their DM that any, even appearance of, attempt by the DM to impart any sort of narrative control over the PC is seen as a very bad thing.

I don't distrust my DM that much and I hope that my players don't distrust me that much. When I say, "You are terrified by that horrible monster from beyond the depths" they know that this has no mechanical implication and that I'm simply setting the mood. They can then respond with "Yup, that's a really scary critter, I'm going to do X" or "I steel myself against the fear and push on, like the hero I am."

IOW, the performance of the game is equally important to me as the game itself. So, adding in these sorts of improv theater basics are just part and parcel of the performance.

I do think that this issue gets blown way, WAY out of proportion on the forums and that if we were to actually take audio recordings of everyone's games, you'd find examples of the DM intruding upon the PC at nearly all tables. But, hey, maybe I'm wrong. I do know that at my table, no one is going to object this this level of fairly non-intrusive narration by the DM.
 

Imaculata

Adventurer
I take no issue with a DM narrating the thoughts of his PC's, as long as it is part of the descriptive process, and the DM is not playing the players' characters for them. So, saying a smell in the room reminds them of something is perfectly fine. Saying that the PC trusts the npc, is where I draw the line.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Yes, I understand that there is a breed of player who are so distrustful of their DM that any, even appearance of, attempt by the DM to impart any sort of narrative control over the PC is seen as a very bad thing.

I don't distrust my DM that much and I hope that my players don't distrust me that much.
This makes me happy. I'm glad your gaming is in a much better place than it was in the past. It always seemed like you were one of the ones that felt you'd been burned bad.

I do think that this issue gets blown way, WAY out of proportion on the forums...
Don't they all?

and that if we were to actually take audio recordings of everyone's games, you'd find examples of the DM intruding upon the PC at nearly all tables. But, hey, maybe I'm wrong. I do know that at my table, no one is going to object this this level of fairly non-intrusive narration by the DM.
Perhaps. But if I do it in a session, I mentally flag it as an area that I can improve on as a DM. I don't think I've ever run a perfect session. Every session I can think of 6 or 12 things that I wish I had done better, even when I think the session went well and everyone seemed to have a good time. So, as a DM I object to the intrusion on the player's domain even if they don't, because I believe I can do better.

Yes, emotional responses - especially fear - are not always something people can control. But it's not for me as a DM to decide that for the player. The player should be the one deciding and narrating that their character's feelings and behavior as they feel best fits the character. The DM has extraordinary powers to script the world to suit his tastes. The least the DM can do is leave his hands off the player's character.

Yes, it is a small error and a small intrusion, but it still matters. Even if no one objects, it still matters. First, it matters because it is a breach of trust, since the DM is not trusting the player to play his character in an interesting fashion. This leads to players who tend to be passive, rather than active participants in the play. All good DMs seek to entertain their players. But it's a breakthrough in the understanding of a player when they realize that it is there job to entertain each other and the DM, and that they can employ many of the same techniques that the DM employs. Secondly, it is a breach of confidence, since you as the DM are not trusting yourself to be able to do the harder work of showing rather than copping out and just telling. Thirdly, it is a failure of the DMing art, since it is perfectly possible to leave a player anxious and worried regarding the outcome of an encounter and so engage the player directly. It's perfectly possible to describe a spooky environment in such a way that the player begins to feel faint palpitations and stress, often eliciting comments like, "I've got a bad feeling about this." and so forth. You don't need to tell the player something is frightening, and to do so is like telling the player something is funny. Saying something is frightening or funny is never as fully satisfying as the thing being frightening or funny.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
Nah. I get too much pushback. It's probably fine with a bunch of actors and mature adults. But I don't have those things at my table.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Yes, it is a small error and a small intrusion, but it still matters. Even if no one objects, it still matters. First, it matters because it is a breach of trust, since the DM is not trusting the player to play his character in an interesting fashion. This leads to players who tend to be passive, rather than active participants in the play. All good DMs seek to entertain their players. But it's a breakthrough in the understanding of a player when they realize that it is there job to entertain each other and the DM, and that they can employ many of the same techniques that the DM employs. Secondly, it is a breach of confidence, since you as the DM are not trusting yourself to be able to do the harder work of showing rather than copping out and just telling. Thirdly, it is a failure of the DMing art, since it is perfectly possible to leave a player anxious and worried regarding the outcome of an encounter and so engage the player directly. It's perfectly possible to describe a spooky environment in such a way that the player begins to feel faint palpitations and stress, often eliciting comments like, "I've got a bad feeling about this." and so forth. You don't need to tell the player something is frightening, and to do so is like telling the player something is funny. Saying something is frightening or funny is never as fully satisfying as the thing being frightening or funny.
I am happy to say that for many tables (including my own)... no, indeed, none of what you say here DOES matter. "Breach of trust"? "Breach of confidence"? "Failure of the DMing art"? Sorry... but I don't put NEARLY the same amount of import on this game as you seem to, and neither do my players.

If I "breach their trust", it's because I've done something truly bad outside of the game to them personally as people. Not because I've narrated "The slimy monster with the six thousand eyes and mouths makes your stomach turn and the smell wafting off of it makes you want to throw up."

From what you've said, you appear to me to have much higher stakes in how you play your D&D. Which is fine... to each their own. But just know some of the rest of us believe that this is indeed "merely a game" and don't treat how it's played so intensely. And there ain't nuttin' wrong with that way either. ;)
 

Celebrim

Legend
From what you've said, you appear to me to have much higher stakes in how you play your D&D.
I don't know that I have higher stakes, but I have higher aims.

One thing you'll hear me repeatedly emphasize on the forums is that though role-playing is merely a game and it's purpose is merely leisure and entertainment, yet at the same time it is also an art form. The stakes are everyone enjoys the game or not, and if everyone enjoys the game you've succeeded.

But that is a low aim, and we ought to be - we the sort of participants in the hobby that care enough about it to be posting in the forums on EnWorld 1000's of times, designing our own systems and games, and often as not on these boards publishing them for the enjoyment of others - aiming higher. Just as a movie maker or a novelist aims to create great work within the constraints of their budget and genre, so we too ought to be aiming to create great work. That isn't to say that I think you at all times need to be aiming to create the roleplaying equivalent of an Oscar nominee or the great American novel, but whatever it is you create, you ought to do it well.

Which is fine... to each their own. But just know some of the rest of us believe that this is indeed "merely a game" and don't treat how it's played so intensely. And there ain't nuttin' wrong with that way either. ;)
I didn't say that there was. But my aims are to grow the hobby both in ubiquity and acceptance, and also in its maturity as an art form. That's why I bother writing things at EnWorld, because I think the hobby matters and can be beautiful.
 

FXR

Explorer
Something I’ve not delved into much, but I see Matt Mercer do quite often, is describing the internal state of a PC, even up to recalling memories and having thoughts...

For example, when encountering some scary creature he might suggest that the PCs feel a sense of dread and a cold pit in their stomach. When encountering an intimidating NPC he might describe a PCs throat going dry. When entering some familiar location he might describe a PC having a memory of some past experience. He’s even gone so far as to suggest what a character thinks! That last one seems like a step too far for most tables but his players trust that these moves are all in aid of building an engaging and memorable story (which is reliably the case).

So, where do you draw the line? Do you describe autonomic reactions the PCs might feel? Sweat, hairs rising, bile in the throat? Do you provide memories that the player didn’t suggest they try and recall? Do you describe what PCs think about a situation?

My guidelines are the following:

i) I never contradict something which was written in the character's background, but I can freely add something to it. For instance, if Manuel the Minotaur was borned and raised in Neverwinter and never left it, until the Campaign started, I'm not gonna add that he went on a pilgrimage to the Moonsea, but I can state that the bandit he just fought in the forest looks like Ben the Shoemaker, who was his grumpy neighbor when he grew up. Just the same, I can add that, on certain trip, he remembers that when he was young, he caught a fever and his hands felt like two balloons.

ii) I describe autonomic reactions, but I tried not to go the lazy way and actual describe what causes this reaction. It is also very clear that this description in no way prevent a player from choosing how his character acts. Exemple: "Looking at the strange idol with green glowing eyes, you feel a wave of dread coming over you", doesn't prohibit the player from smashing the idol to pieces, trying to pick the precious stones that are inserted in it or leaving the room. If I want to a character to act in a certain way, there has to be failed saving throw involved.
 
I just use appropriate metaphors and let the players determine how they feel.

For instance, they were walking down a cave with vines hanging. One of them felt something drip on their shoulder and I described a dead Grimlock suspended at the ceiling by the vines. He was strangled to death and blood was dripping from his mouth. It was to foreshadow the encounter that was around the next corner.

They made a perception check and I described a sound of something moving. It was like,

"a whisper that sounds like dead leaves rustling. Dead leaves rustling through a graveyard..."

I didn't need to tell them how their characters felt. They were afraid.


Other than that, I might suggest a mood or energy about a place/NPC. "foreboding, abandoned, lively" and that usually cues the players.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
"a whisper that sounds like dead leaves rustling. Dead leaves rustling through a graveyard..."

I didn't need to tell them how their characters felt. They were afraid.
Yes. This is exactly what I meant earlier when I said I'd rather the players themselves feel their hair stand on end, rather than tell them that their characters' hair stands on end. (This is exactly my definition of 'immersion': it's not play-acting your character with whatever your notion of fidelity is; it's feeling the emotions your character is supposedly feeling.)
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
Depends on the player. Most of my experienced players prefer to do that part for themselves, but when I'm working with newer players who seem more hesitant to roleplay, I fill in more of the gaps to make the fiction more vivid and give them an idea of how to work with the story. I usually add a qualifier like "maybe," though, to give the player a chance to offer a different interpretation.

As an example, I recently ran an adventure where only the druid succeeded on a roll to figure out how some clockwork creatures were coordinated. I told the player, "You look at how they're working together, and maybe it reminds you of bees or ants: the little ones are drones, and they're being overseen by that large one clinging to the ceiling."
 

Hussar

Legend
It's hilarious.

I've been told on these boards a thousand times to trust the DM. That the DM deserves my implicit trust all the time.

Yet, when the rubber meets the road, suddenly it's, OH HELL NO. Dirty DM, get your fingers off my character. I could understand if a DM is suddenly rewriting a character's background, but, "You feel X" or "You character believes Y" is too much? Seriously?

Funny how things actually roll around. All this time I've gotten flak for not trusting the DM, yet, apparently, very few folks in this thread actually do have the trust in their DM to allow the DM to make pretty minor, fleeting declarations about their characters.

I love the taste of irony in the morning.
 

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