D&D General How much control do DMs need?

soviet

Hero
So Bob goes of to infiltrate the Acme warehouse. He's going on his own, he really wants those new Acme Rocket Powered Roller Skates. While we're resolving his infiltration, what is everyone else doing? Sometimes it's fun to watch others play through something, which is why I no longer send people off to play pool when we split the party. Other times? It just gets boring if it goes on for too long. Also depends on the group and what individuals enjoy. Some will enjoy the show, others won't. I have to balance based on what people actually care about, not what I think they should care about.
Fair enough. I'm not trying to convince you to do it more often; I can see how in a group where the players don't care about each other's characters and half the characters don't have goals, splitting the group up too often could be a recipe for boredom.

What I'm saying is that in a group that does care about each other's characters, and where the characters do all have goals, splitting the party and cutting between scenes can be a very effective technique.

I would say that if people can go away and have a game of pool while the other scene is going on, that GM is not cutting between scenes quickly enough. I normally progress each scene towards a dice roll - a stealth check, a persuasion check, etc - and then switch back. It should be quick cuts like in a movie or TV show.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Yeah there's definitely some confusion going on and I think it's because you use pre-prep as synonymous with D&D prep... I don't. When you say a game doesn't rely on pre-prep... my assumption (and I think a few other posters in this thread as well) isn't... well it doesn't have the exact type and same categories of prep as D&D... That's pretty much self-evident since it's not D&D. We are assuming you are saying there's no to very little pre-prep for this game.
I would put it this way. I would be PERFECTLY comfortable sitting down with 5 complete strangers, some dice, paper, pencil, and some copies of Dungeon World and the playbooks, and just PLAY. Now, we will have to do some 'session 0' to get that game booted up, figure out bonds between PCs, etc. I'll have to ask some questions in order to come up with the parameters for the initial 'steading' (base for the PCs) although that may not be needed immediately. Fronts and whatnot can be winged to a certain extent, and in any case aren't urgently needed in the first couple hours of play. Basically, if I can get enough of an idea of what sort of goals and needs at least one or two of the PCs have right off, I can frame a starting scene. Its probably going to be something like a hard move where some threat is right in their faces to kick things off. I mean, lets see what these would-be-heroes are made of!

And to a large extent that's it. Yeah, DW says draw maps, leave blanks and make fronts and whatnot, but even that stuff I can yank out of thin air on the fly with a lot of confidence! In fact I've found that the quality of my 'yanked out of thin air' is usually BETTER than something I consciously think through beforehand. That sort of prep, which I definitely did in my D&D GM days, was really fairly stale stuff. I mean I'd come up with nasty traps, mean monsters, whatever, but it was just warmed-over bog-standard fantasy tropes. I'm no genius. OTOH when I literally close my eyes at the table and just start spinning, stream of consciousness, that's more interesting! Its still not prize-winning stuff, but with a few enthusiastic players to draw threads from and bounce back and forth with, we can at least do something WE haven't done before 100 times.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
None of this addresses the actual issue, which is that GM is describing what is happening in several different locations at once, leading to a lot of real time waiting. Also, if like you say in the characters spend majority of time apart, it raises the question how this even is group activity, why not just run several solo campaigns and ease the scheduling issues? IMHO RPGs are best when the characters can react to situations together as group, and interact with each other. This doesn't mean that you can never split the party, but it is quite understandable why the common advice is to minimise it.

I find the idea that when I’m not involved in the game, what am I even doing there to be very strange. Most games involve some amount of waiting, from sports to board games to RPGs. Hopefully, I care enough about what’s happening when I’m not directly involved that it’s not such a burden.

What the players care about is up to the players. There is no one true way.

No one is trying to tell you there’s one true way. Stop with that.

The game handles split parties just fine. There will be an issue if one person or subgroup are playing a game while everyone else is just a passive observer.

If there’s an issue, then the game doesn’t handle it just fine.

You can switch the spotlight between the groups which is what I do when the party splits but that has little or nothing to do with game rules. It's just generally easier to not have to switch back and forth for both the DM and group.

It absolutely has to do with the game rules. It’s already been touched on here by @soviet mostly, but D&D lends itself to combat and combat is where the game moves the slowest. Initiative and turns and all the back and forth of combat makes it trickier to switch to another character doing something else. Just the idea that time works differently for those in combat compared to those not in combat creates an obstacle to handling a combat and a non-combat scene simultaneously.

There’s a reason you say it’s easier not to have to switch back and forth.
 

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
I love what you have to say. OTOH I do think you're, probably deliberately, expressing an extreme view. Unfortunately (or maybe not unfortunately depending on what your goals are) there's a lot of people here who simply take you literally. I do think it would be interesting to take your thoughts to the table and explore the limits of where you're going.
Overall I'm going to disengage from this thread. I have a proof of concept game that exploded into a giant art project to work on.

But yeah, I tend to resolve to hyperbole. I find it easier to think in extremes, it gives me ways to talk about things with burning passion rather than detached clinicality.
 

Ok so Agon prep...

Island Concept: A name & description : My assumption is used to create specific areas on the island as well as to generate consistent description throughout play.

Signs of the Gods: Select 2 or 3 gods who might have interest on the island and decide on their desires as well as what signs the would use to convey their desires. the leader of the heroes can interpret these signs as concrete actions to gain divine favor.

Design NPC's/monsters: Create 3-5 npc's and/or monsters that embody the overall concept of the island. They should want something concrete that conflicts with those who oppose them. A singular desire with 2-3 qualities. They serve as allies and opponents to the PC's

Create Strife & Trials: ( The core trouble that keeps the island in a state of woe) as well as 3-4 trials (conflicts) that address it's symptoms. This prep serves to create challenges for the PC's and lead to the climactic trial to end the Strife.

Create Mysteries: Highlight a few questions that the trials may raise for the characters that the Strife player (akin to the DM) can answer. These serve as things for the players to discover, thought the answer is a strong hypothesis for the Strife Player. Honestly I think Agon kind of drops the ball in explaining how these mysteries are resolved. on the one hand it suggests they are questions... but on the other hand no procedure for determining their answer is given, and it is implied that ultimately it is decided by the Strife player at some point during play.

Special Rewards: A unique and remarkable reward the heroes might gain from helping the people, defying the gods, overcoming challenges or uncovering mysteries. This serves as a reward, pretty self-explanatory.


So to tell you how I see commonalities in D&D prep... let's look at a basic 5 room dungeon....

Concept: The dungeon will have a general concept that serves the same purpose as that above. In latter editions of D&D the description of the individual rooms might be detailed but it could also be sparse to non-existent in the OSR style.
I don't think it does. The concept of the dungeon might be something like "Old gatehouse being used by the local goblin tribe as a secure lair." This serves the purpose of guiding the expectations of the GM and players in terms of its layout and likely general content. The island concept in Agon is, if I understand the game correctly, a thematic thing, like "a place where kin strife has lead to an endless cycle of revenge" or something like that (@pemerton may quibble with this, I'm not sure what the Agon designers have said in terms of a really good island concept).
Signs of the Gods: This prep is unique to Agon play and unnecessary for D&D play due to it's theme... though it could be something interesting to add to D&D campaigns of a certain type. Interpret the signs of the gods and receive inspiration.
Which shows the great differences between these games. Agon is about the PC's relationships with these gods and what they represent (and I assume that also represents their self-conceptions to a degree at least). D&D is about loot and XP. There COULD be maps and such to give clues about the nature of treasure in the dungeon, etc. but it won't bear on the nature of the characters, that's already decided!
Design NPC's/monsters - In general the same purpose as D&D... allies and/or opposition. In the confined space of a 5 room dungeon you'd probably create a similar number though they'd be more detailed (stat blocks for monsters/but not necessarily for NPC's) due to different systems.
There might be SOME similarities, but the 'landscape' being populated is pretty different. "A grieving mother bent on revenge for the death of her son" is probably not a whole lot like "a goblin burglar who hopes to get a chance to steal some of the party's treasure by pretending to ally with them." (and that later is about at the upper limit of what I've seen in classic D&D for that sort of an NPC).
Strife and Trials: While Strife isn't something that would need to be prepped for D&D... many do in the form of the climactic battle. This ultimately serves the same purpose as combat, traps, skill challenges, hazards, etc. as D&D. Though usually at a much lower level of granularity than D&D.
Well, in some very high level sense, yes. That is both systems require some sort of dramatic opposition in order to make something interesting happen. In the case of the dungeon it would be pretty blah to just have treasure lying around and no danger to overcome. In the case of Agon the strife and trials are, IMHO, the 'meat' on the bones of the story. Someone has to convince the kin to stop strifing with each other and make peace, and this is going to require achieving a number of goals set by the GM. Also, POTENTIALLY at least, this might be somewhat dynamic. That is, play might reveal some different and unanticipated narrative that might change the trials to a degree (again, not actually familiar with the Agon rules and how or if that is handled/envisaged).
Mysteries: Knowledge that the PC's don't have that must be discovered through play... both systems have this. Answer is determined by the DM/Strife player and neither are particularly specific about when the truth of these mysteries has to be determined.
Well, D&D is VERY specific about how and when things are determined! When I search for secret doors, a certain die is rolled (d6 IIRC in basic D&D, though I'm sure that is not always the case) and if certain numbers come up, and if the GM placed a secret door in that location, then the GM MUST SAY "you find the secret door." And if there isn't one, then he must say "you find nothing." Now, it sounds like in Agon a mystery might be something like "who is responsible for the death of Marco?" It sounds like the GM will have the answer to this secret and simply reveal it when its dramatically relevant (IE as part of some scene where the PCs attempt to resolve whatever strife this death is causing). Honestly, it may even be more different than that, as in many narrative type systems these sorts of things are not given specific answers until someone takes actions that would reveal such an answer, but I am not 100% sure how Agon handles that.
Special Rewards: Exists in both systems... are determined by the DM/Strife player. Very little difference except D&D provides more examples and lists one can choose from.
I expect that the nature of the rewards in a game like Agon is pretty different. D&D rewards are canonically XP, loot (which in many versions of D&D also determines XP, making loot THE goal), and possibly intangibles like alliances and such (though these are typically not really prepped beforehand, but usually arise out of RP during play). I have little idea what the rewards are in Agon, but my guess is they are more along the lines of favor with certain gods, maybe some sort of XP or other currency, etc. Wealth or some sort of magic might also be options, I don't know. I would agree that there is SOME overlap, rewards is rewards it's kind on the label! However I expect the main goals in Agon revolve around the actual playing through of the issues on the islands and how that process is reflected in changes to the internal life of the character. No such internal life is either assumed or required to even exist in D&D, you can happily play in pure pawn stance.
I honestly don't see the prep for the two games as having this vast gulf of difference outside of their mechanics being different. I guess the island is more nebulous as far as its physicality but you're doing similar prep and just not assigning it a location in Agon... though to be fair there are methodologies in D&D where location is kept vague until actual play takes place like point crawl and random dungeons. I'd be interested to hear your take on it though.
There are parallels, undoubtedly. I think, however, it is in the differences that we find the heart of each game, not the similarities. Again I am not familiar enough in detail with Agon to know exactly how the mechanics of the game, and its process of play, mesh with the prep and how it contrasts in all respects with classic D&D, but given what I know about narrative systems that are said to be in the same general family, I think the play experience and how the prep manifests, will be quite different. As I said a while back, a horse cart and a porche are both vehicles, and can do some of the same 'stuff', but you can only take that similarity so far. If you try to drive your porche through a plowed field, you will find out real quick it ain't no horse cart!
 

Oofta

Legend
I find the idea that when I’m not involved in the game, what am I even doing there to be very strange. Most games involve some amount of waiting, from sports to board games to RPGs. Hopefully, I care enough about what’s happening when I’m not directly involved that it’s not such a burden.



No one is trying to tell you there’s one true way. Stop with that.

Really? No one is repeatedly stating exactly the same thing without caveat? Could have fooled me.

If there’s an issue, then the game doesn’t handle it just fine.



It absolutely has to do with the game rules. It’s already been touched on here by @soviet mostly, but D&D lends itself to combat and combat is where the game moves the slowest. Initiative and turns and all the back and forth of combat makes it trickier to switch to another character doing something else. Just the idea that time works differently for those in combat compared to those not in combat creates an obstacle to handling a combat and a non-combat scene simultaneously.

There’s a reason you say it’s easier not to have to switch back and forth.

I can't imagine how you would not have to switch back and forth in any game. The time spent on one individual or group subset may change, but that just depends on what scenario you're doing. Most of the time when I have a split party it's not combat. Occasionally one group is involved in combat another is not. Other times both are in different combats, in which case we just go by player turns and the gameplay itself is essentially the same. The game rules have nothing to do with how to balance that. Unless of course there's some secret sauce where group A can contribute while group B is undergoing a task, there will always be people in on the action and people observing.

D&D is a game designed so that some PCs complement others, so it can be a very bad idea to split the party. Doesn't mean it doesn't work, I've done it many times over the years.
 


Enrahim2

Adventurer
Within the action economy there is no rule about the passage of time, or the covering of distance.
Cool! I can see that this is a design tradeoff a game might take to improve split group experience. If you are accepting as a premise of your game that there will be significant amount of time where there are situations where a player cannot actively affect happens in the now, then falling back on the tried and true one turn each with equal parts action on each turn game concept seem like something most would be willing to accept (after all combat in D&D 5ed doesn't allow for much interaction on a different player's turn even if your character is present).

As long as characters are known to certanly not be interacting in any of the relevant timescales, dissolving synchronise of time over distance is quite safe, as there will likely be oportunities to resynchronize (traveler appear to be a great example of this due to the wastness of space.

The big challenge with this I can see arises if we are in a situation where there are some established observationability between the characters, allong with a likelihood that they will interact.

For instance A and B is close to a safe camp when they observes an enemy raiding party. A decides to investigate further while B go to camp. Turn go back and forth with A doing various fast paced prodding and distractions of the raiding party, while B do some obviously more time consuming shopping activity. Then suddenly A decides to lead the enemy straight to the safe camp. This would clearly cause trouble with consistency with Bs action, in particular if the outcome would be that the raiders destroy the camp.

Do the games that allow for flexible turn timescale across distance have a good solution to the above kind of scenarios? I can imagine that the problems would be a lot less common in games with larger default scales of time and distance like traveler's astronomic scale. With the timescale of "baseline" D&D these kind of issues seem very likely to crop up. Hence it seem inadvisable to deviate from synchronous time unless at the time operating on a different scale.

As such I am still not certain these games are indeed solving a problem that is hard to solve in D&D. While they might have explicit guidelines on how to handle split party, that appear to possibly be handled on timescales that matches downtime scale in typical D&D nomenclature. Splitting the party is indeed an unproblematic norm also in D&D during "downtime" (Which for some groups can include full sessions of rich play). What would indeed be highly interesting would be if they manage the situation with split party that indeed often cause trouble in D&D: Where the distance is significant enough that they can't immediately interact or communicate with each other, but short enough that at least ripple effects of one character's decissions are likely to be seen in short notice by the other character?
 

Imaro

Legend
I don't think it does. The concept of the dungeon might be something like "Old gatehouse being used by the local goblin tribe as a secure lair." This serves the purpose of guiding the expectations of the GM and players in terms of its layout and likely general content. The island concept in Agon is, if I understand the game correctly, a thematic thing, like "a place where kin strife has lead to an endless cycle of revenge" or something like that (@pemerton may quibble with this, I'm not sure what the Agon designers have said in terms of a really good island concept).

Which shows the great differences between these games. Agon is about the PC's relationships with these gods and what they represent (and I assume that also represents their self-conceptions to a degree at least). D&D is about loot and XP. There COULD be maps and such to give clues about the nature of treasure in the dungeon, etc. but it won't bear on the nature of the characters, that's already decided!

There might be SOME similarities, but the 'landscape' being populated is pretty different. "A grieving mother bent on revenge for the death of her son" is probably not a whole lot like "a goblin burglar who hopes to get a chance to steal some of the party's treasure by pretending to ally with them." (and that later is about at the upper limit of what I've seen in classic D&D for that sort of an NPC).

Well, in some very high level sense, yes. That is both systems require some sort of dramatic opposition in order to make something interesting happen. In the case of the dungeon it would be pretty blah to just have treasure lying around and no danger to overcome. In the case of Agon the strife and trials are, IMHO, the 'meat' on the bones of the story. Someone has to convince the kin to stop strifing with each other and make peace, and this is going to require achieving a number of goals set by the GM. Also, POTENTIALLY at least, this might be somewhat dynamic. That is, play might reveal some different and unanticipated narrative that might change the trials to a degree (again, not actually familiar with the Agon rules and how or if that is handled/envisaged).

Well, D&D is VERY specific about how and when things are determined! When I search for secret doors, a certain die is rolled (d6 IIRC in basic D&D, though I'm sure that is not always the case) and if certain numbers come up, and if the GM placed a secret door in that location, then the GM MUST SAY "you find the secret door." And if there isn't one, then he must say "you find nothing." Now, it sounds like in Agon a mystery might be something like "who is responsible for the death of Marco?" It sounds like the GM will have the answer to this secret and simply reveal it when its dramatically relevant (IE as part of some scene where the PCs attempt to resolve whatever strife this death is causing). Honestly, it may even be more different than that, as in many narrative type systems these sorts of things are not given specific answers until someone takes actions that would reveal such an answer, but I am not 100% sure how Agon handles that.

I expect that the nature of the rewards in a game like Agon is pretty different. D&D rewards are canonically XP, loot (which in many versions of D&D also determines XP, making loot THE goal), and possibly intangibles like alliances and such (though these are typically not really prepped beforehand, but usually arise out of RP during play). I have little idea what the rewards are in Agon, but my guess is they are more along the lines of favor with certain gods, maybe some sort of XP or other currency, etc. Wealth or some sort of magic might also be options, I don't know. I would agree that there is SOME overlap, rewards is rewards it's kind on the label! However I expect the main goals in Agon revolve around the actual playing through of the issues on the islands and how that process is reflected in changes to the internal life of the character. No such internal life is either assumed or required to even exist in D&D, you can happily play in pure pawn stance.

There are parallels, undoubtedly. I think, however, it is in the differences that we find the heart of each game, not the similarities. Again I am not familiar enough in detail with Agon to know exactly how the mechanics of the game, and its process of play, mesh with the prep and how it contrasts in all respects with classic D&D, but given what I know about narrative systems that are said to be in the same general family, I think the play experience and how the prep manifests, will be quite different. As I said a while back, a horse cart and a porche are both vehicles, and can do some of the same 'stuff', but you can only take that similarity so far. If you try to drive your porche through a plowed field, you will find out real quick it ain't no horse cart!

I don't really have time to post this weekend but just wanted to say thanks for a balanced (in both tone and consideration of sides post) ill try to follow up with my thoughts when I get a chance unless the thread has just totally moved on.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This is definitely true. I have a mental golfbag of games at this point, and I choose the game to suit the kind of campaign I want. I have MERP/Rolemaster for when I want to do gritty sim, I have WFRP for when I want to do something also sim but a bit lighter and more comical/tragic, I have Other Worlds (obligatory plug) for when I want to do something on the storygame axis, and I have AD&D 2e or red box basic for when I want to do actual D&D.
Question is: what if you want to do (or leave open the potential to do, should the winds blow that way) a whole lot of things - gritty sim, light sim, tragedy, slapstick, high (melo)drama, dungeon crawling, political/courtly intrigue, murderhoboing, etc. - at some point all within the same campaign?

Such a campaign requires a single system, flexible enough to more or less seamlessly handle all these elements.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top