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Introducing Complications Without Forcing Players to Play the "Mother May I?" Game

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
If there's no mechanical/rules-based method to resolve the presented complications, then the end result is nothing more than "direct social negotiation." If there's no way for the game mechanics to enter into the resolution process of the stated complications, than gameplay devolves to little more than the GM answering a series of questions: "Do I like this idea? Does it sound fun in context of the game? From a coherence and plausibility standpoint, will implementing this idea transform the fiction into an acceptable result state? Will the other players also find that result state acceptable?"
I think this doesn't quite capture what it is like in practice. I feel like people use Mother-May-I as a bit of a rhetorical bludgeon to argue against a play style. To me, at the table this does not feel like a social negotiation at all. Because the players are not sitting there advocating for a particular outcome. They are trying to do things in the setting through their characters. The game begins with a simple question: what do you do? The players say what they want to do, and the GM simply decides, given what information is available to him or her concerning the location, NPCs, involved, etc what the natural outcome of that might be. But mother may I suggests the players are sitting there asking if they can do something until the GM says yes. It isn't this binary or pre-planned. And it isn't as if mechanics never come into. If the players try something and that leads to a battle for example, the mechanics get involved. If the players try something and the GM decides it requires the use a particular skill, the mechanics get involved. What this sort of game doesn't typically have are mechanics for handling GM rulings and judgements. In my mind this is generally a good thing. It is not needed in every system. But for me the advantage RPGs have always had over other types of games (including computer games) is you have a human there who can consider any requested action and think through what might actually occur as a result, which creates this sense of being in a real place. That said, many things can inform a GMs rulings and judgements, including genre physics.
 

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innerdude

Adventurer
I agree, [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION], that it's probably less of a black-and-white binary than the issue is often presented.

There's a definite middle ground between "No, you can't do anything that doesn't directly play into what I've pre-scripted ahead of time" and saying yes to every player request with reckless disregard to how it alters the (in- and out-of-fiction) game state.

It's about having the flexibility to let players advocate for their characters' agendas while simultaneously generating appropriate challenges that allow both players and GM to find satisfaction in "learning how things are going to turn out."

This thread has been highly clarifying for me in several regards. [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s advice to connect (as much as possible) the challenges to the players' available resources and avenues for mechanical resolution is an excellent suggestion.

Two, I need to remember that as much as possible, challenges should address characters' goals and dramatic needs. You can have interesting gameplay in spurts with well-crafted, "gamist" challenges to overcome, but in my experience the most memorable, exciting RPG sessions connect the gameplay to dramatic stakes.

Three, I do need to remind myself that occasionally it IS okay as a GM to respond judiciously with a hard "No." Or if not a hard "No," with a "Well, that's probably possible, but here's the five or six major obstacles you'd have to address before you'd even have a hope of achieving that desire."
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I agree, [MENTION=85555]Bedrockgames[/MENTION], that it's probably less of a black-and-white binary than the issue is often presented.

There's a definite middle ground between "No, you can't do anything that doesn't directly play into what I've pre-scripted ahead of time" and saying yes to every player request with reckless disregard to how it alters the (in- and out-of-fiction) game state.

It's about having the flexibility to let players advocate for their characters' agendas while simultaneously generating appropriate challenges that allow both players and GM to find satisfaction in "learning how things are going to turn out."

This thread has been highly clarifying for me in several regards. [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s advice to connect (as much as possible) the challenges to the players' available resources and avenues for mechanical resolution is an excellent suggestion.

Two, I need to remember that as much as possible, challenges should address characters' goals and dramatic needs. You can have interesting gameplay in spurts with well-crafted, "gamist" challenges to overcome, but in my experience the most memorable, exciting RPG sessions connect the gameplay to dramatic stakes.

Three, I do need to remind myself that occasionally it IS okay as a GM to respond judiciously with a hard "No." Or if not a hard "No," with a "Well, that's probably possible, but here's the five or six major obstacles you'd have to address before you'd even have a hope of achieving that desire."
I think it depends on what you are after. If you are after the things pemerton wants, and it sounds like you might be, what you say is true. But I run a lot of sessions that are what I like to call Drama and Sandbox. Appropriate challenges and feeding into the players available resources or dramatic needs. Drama happens out of the chemistry of NPCs, PCs and stuff going on. But there isn't an set rhythm to it or an expectation that every thing that arises in the campaign has to intersect with player character's dramatic desires. Dramatic things happen. I am not afraid to deploy some drama (and I even have tables that occasionally call for things like twists or fated encounters). But the more traditional approach to play is still preserved (narrative tools are not given to the players for example). I find this approach is very rewarding for long term play and doesn't descend into the caricature of the style (mother may I). Obviously this might not be a good fit for your goals. I just think it is worth remembering not everything thinks in the terms that you and Pemerton appear to be (and not everyone embraces the concepts of G N S in their approaches to play---Since Gamism came up). There are plenty of rewarding approaches to complications that don't abide by the stuff laid out by Pemerton.

One thing I am sensing here is the sense of time scale appears to be broader on your end than mine. I could be wrong, but in your example it looks like a player asks do achieve something and you are able to insert 6 obstacles. I don't know what that something is. But generally I find my players take each step in the task they are trying to perform. For example they don't respond to "What do you do?" by saying "I take over Bone Breaking Sect", rather they take the immediate step toward that goal "I go down the street to Lofty Silkworm Teahouse and look for people who might be part of Bone Breaking Sect". We tend to take things in rather small steps. I may be misreading your posts. But that could also be a factor in the different approaches working or not.
 

pemerton

Legend
they take the immediate step toward that goal "I go down the street to Lofty Silkworm Teahouse and look for people who might be part of Bone Breaking Sect".
This is an interesting example.

In B/X or Gygax's AD&D, this is Mother May I - there is no rule for resolving this beyond the GM's decision about whether or not sect members may be found at the Teahouse.

In Oriental Adventures there is a mechanic for this, available through the otherwise rather weak yakuza class. In Classic Traveller, this can be done via the Streetwise skill. Neither offers any guidance for how to establish or handle consequences of failure.

In Burning Wheel there is a mechanic for this (Circles and -Wises checks) and also a clear procedure for establishing and handling consequences.

If a group doesn't want Mother May I, but does want hunting down sect members to be part of play, then it makes sense to choose a system that will facilitate this. (As [MENTION=99817]chaochou[/MENTION] suggested in his post.)
 

pemerton

Legend
I just think it is worth remembering not everything thinks in the terms that you and Pemerton appear to be
Not really.

When I go online looking for a mud cake recipe, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like chocolate or cakes. When I post asking for advice on how to stat up Godzilla in 4e, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like 4e and others find Godzilla silly.

And when [MENTION=85870]innerdude[/MENTION] asks for advice to solve a problem he (? I think) is experiencing in his game, and fairly clearly sets out the parameters for a useful solution, I don't see who he needs to keep in mind that other people don't have that problem or would reject his parameters.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Not really.

When I go online looking for a mud cake recipe, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like chocolate or cakes. When I post asking for advice on how to stat up Godzilla in 4e, I don't need to keep in mind that some people don't like 4e and others find Godzilla silly.

And when [MENTION=85870]innerdude[/MENTION] asks for advice to solve a problem he (? I think) is experiencing in his game, and fairly clearly sets out the parameters for a useful solution, I don't see who he needs to keep in mind that other people don't have that problem or would reject his parameters.
I disagree Pemerton. It is a general conversation where assertions are being made about different approaches. I was responding to generalizations he started making about the merits of the approaches being presented. When people are talking about different styles, if your style comes up and is cast in a negative light or presented as lower quality than another, your going to want to weigh in. I don't think it was particularly antagonistic the way I did it. I was just pointing out some of the subjective differences. But if you see no value in my posts, your free to ignore them. You and I have very rarely seen eye-to-eye on these matters. I don't imagine we will start doing so today.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
This is an interesting example.

In B/X or Gygax's AD&D, this is Mother May I - there is no rule for resolving this beyond the GM's decision about whether or not sect members may be found at the Teahouse.
Pemerton, this isn't mother may I. Just because there is no rule for resolving it, doesn't mean it is mother may I. Mother May I suggests a negative social negotiation with the GM, where the players keep asking until they hit the right note the GM is looking for. In the situation I am talking about, the players say they go to the Tea House and the GM either makes a decision about whether the Bone Breaking Sect would be present or draws on some kind of tool (like a random table, asking the players to make a roll, etc). It isn't about whether the GM has decided in advance that they are there, or about the GM putting them there because it helps get to where he wants by the end of the night. The GM is the mechanic.

And if your definition of mother may I is "there is no mechanic", I think really the term is just being used as a rhetorical device to promote a particular style of play or game system. If you don't like games that lack such mechanics, that is fine. But dismissing them as mother may I, is a bit childish in my opinion.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
If a group doesn't want Mother May I, but does want hunting down sect members to be part of play, then it makes sense to choose a system that will facilitate this. (As [MENTION=99817]chaochou[/MENTION] suggested in his post.)
I am all for people finding a system that works for them. I just think mother may I is being used a bit sneakily here to suggest that your preferred approach is the better one for most people (because very few folks are going to see a term like Mother May I and say "I want that"). And your use of the term is rather expansive. That said, it does sound like Innerdude wants the kind of system you are pushing for, which I think he should pursue if that is the case. But I think people following the thread should be wary of some of the terms and arguments being deployed here.
 

Numidius

Explorer
I'm following with growing interest.

"The Gm is the Mechanic" sounds so true, but also so double edged a weapon.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
This is an interesting example.

In B/X or Gygax's AD&D, this is Mother May I - there is no rule for resolving this beyond the GM's decision about whether or not sect members may be found at the Teahouse.

In Oriental Adventures there is a mechanic for this, available through the otherwise rather weak yakuza class. In Classic Traveller, this can be done via the Streetwise skill. Neither offers any guidance for how to establish or handle consequences of failure.

In Burning Wheel there is a mechanic for this (Circles and -Wises checks) and also a clear procedure for establishing and handling consequences.

If a group doesn't want Mother May I, but does want hunting down sect members to be part of play, then it makes sense to choose a system that will facilitate this. (As [MENTION=99817]chaochou[/MENTION] suggested in his post.)
The issue is, if you are using mother may I to describe a method of play where the GM decides whether the sect members are at the tea house, without necessarily using a mechanic, then I think the term is little more than an insult rather than a useful gaming label. At best it is being used a very rough analogy that, like I said previously, doesn't really reflect what it feels like to play in such a campaign. It describes more of a worst case scenario by invoking a children's game. Sort of like the term magic tea party.

In the games I run, there are mechanics I may call on in that situation, but I don't have to. I would be the one who makes the call about whether they are specifically at the tea house or if they are even present in the city. But I am free to allow players to make a City Survival Roll or something to see if they run into trouble going from district to district. I don't think not using the mechanics makes the game feel like mother may I at all. If anything, when done well, it frees the Gm to respond with situations that feel plausible and appropriate.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I'm following with growing interest.

"The Gm is the Mechanic" sounds so true, but also so double edged a weapon.
It is an approach. It isn't for everyone. And every approach has its up and downsides. However, the problem I am seeing here is the downsides are too often being presented as worst case caricatures. I am under no illusion that 'GM as mechanic' is a good fit for everyone. But it is a good fit for some people, myself included. To me, the GM as mechanic is the thing that really separates RPGs from other mediums, it is what gives the game the flexibility to create a sense of a real world where you can try just about anything. You don't really have that in a video game, a board game or a movie. In a video game you are at the mercy of the computer's creative limits. In an RPG, if you ask for more details about a location, or ask to do something really unusual, I can think it through and make a judgement about how to determine what the details are and/or what happens when you try to perform the unusual action. This is a strength of the medium that I think there is value in leaning on.
 

Numidius

Explorer
I agree fully about that.

Anyway IME it's easy as a Gm to fall into "The dark side" or for players to became lazy, truly beginning every declaration with "May I...", because of the big asymmetrical definition of roles at the table, in classic rpg style.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I agree fully about that.

Anyway IME it's easy as a Gm to fall into "The dark side" or for players to became lazy, truly beginning every declaration with "May I...", because of the big asymmetrical definition of roles at the table, in classic rpg style.
My experience is this happened more frequently when I was young, but as I got older, people weren't there for that kind of play and it just didn't happen as much. I think a lot of this is less to do with system, and more to do with people having been younger, the hobby having been younger, when they used some of these systems. Back in the early 2000s, I had somewhat of a snooty view toward the classic systems, and it wasn't until I played them again, older and wiser, that I realized they had something to offer that I wasn't getting from the more comprehensive systems at the time. And picking them up again, I didn't experience as much of the negatives as I had remembered. I also found some of the recent innovations or rules developments were hindering the kind of play experience I wanted. For ages I thought I wasn't getting the play experience I had remembered having before, because I was older, and just being nostalgic. But shifting more to a GM as Mechanic approach really helped bring back some of that atmosphere.
 

Numidius

Explorer
In my case is quite the opposite.
As we grew older, I found my friends and people around getting more and more rigid as Gms, and lazy as Players.

Your words define you as a sage Master; equanimous, if you prefer.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
In my case is quite the opposite.
As we grew older, I found my friends and people around getting more and more rigid as Gms, and lazy as Players.

Your words define you as a sage Master; equanimous, if you prefer.
I saw groups that were more rigid, but they seemed to enjoy what they were doing, so it is all fair. Generally I have played with pretty mixed groups and with people whose company I enjoy. It isn’t perfect and it isn’t like we don’t have lulls or conflict, but the mother may I thing never really seems to be an issue. I will say,I generally like to play with enthusiastic gamers who are there with a bit of optimism. I think mindset can make a very big difference. Also one of our GMs died (really our main GM) rather suddenly a few years ago and that really helped put a rest to the petty nitpicking that might otherwise have cropped (just put things in perspective for us and made us more appreciative).
 
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Numidius

Explorer
A brief thought on the mechanical side of things: when back in the day we switched from Warhammer 1e to 2e, some character stats were completely missing in the new edition.
Dexterity, Leadership and Coolness had been canceled, and the areas of play they fostered, all of a sudden became almost an inconvenience for the Gm to rule out every time... in Mother May I territory on the Players side.
Not to mention the nearly impossibility to have a decent Dwarf Pc ;)
 

pemerton

Legend
Pemerton, this isn't mother may I. Just because there is no rule for resolving it, doesn't mean it is mother may I.
The issue is, if you are using mother may I to describe a method of play where the GM decides whether the sect members are at the tea house, without necessarily using a mechanic, then I think the term is little more than an insult rather than a useful gaming label. At best it is being used a very rough analogy that, like I said previously, doesn't really reflect what it feels like to play in such a campaign.

<snip>

In the games I run, there are mechanics I may call on in that situation, but I don't have to. I would be the one who makes the call about whether they are specifically at the tea house or if they are even present in the city.
In a thread I started a year or two ago, I described this as play where the player goal is to learn the content of the GM's notes. And people got angry about that description too. My experience is that people who play GM-driven games are very easily upset by attempts to describe the actual processes they use.

In this particular sect-in-teahouse example, assuming that the system is more like Gygax's AD&D than the other ones I mentioned, whether or not the player's attempt to find sect members in the teahouse succeeds depends primarily on a decision taken unilaterraly by the GM. So the player's action declaration is, essentialy, GM, will you please decide that there are some sect members in the teahouse for me to make contact with/spy on/whatever it is the player hopes his/her PC will do.

In suggesting that this is an example of Mother May I, I believe that I'm correctly following the usage suggested in the thread title and the OP.

I think people following the thread should be wary of some of the terms and arguments being deployed here.
Wary? Of what - the indie ninjas suddenly jumping into their basements and starting to GM their games?

You are adding a whole layer of threat and drama to this thread that doesn't make any sense to me.
 

pemerton

Legend
My opinion, based on observations of play groups back when I was a club player, and based on reading RPG forums in more recent times, is that many RPGers enjoy and prefer a game where a significant amount of the action consists in (i) making moves that trigger the GM to tell the players stuff that s/he has decided about the gameworld, and (ii) having the GM tell them that stuff.

But the title of this thread is 'Introducing Complications Without Forcing Players to Play the "Mother May I?" Game'. I think that title makes it unambiguous that the OP has different preferences and is looking for advice that speaks to those (different) preferences.

I don't see why that is any sort of big deal. No one is being tricked or trapped.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
In a thread I started a year or two ago, I described this as play where the player goal is to learn the content of the GM's notes. And people got angry about that description too. My experience is that people who play GM-driven games are very easily upset by attempts to describe the actual processes they use.

In this particular sect-in-teahouse example, assuming that the system is more like Gygax's AD&D than the other ones I mentioned, whether or not the player's attempt to find sect members in the teahouse succeeds depends primarily on a decision taken unilaterraly by the GM. So the player's action declaration is, essentialy, GM, will you please decide that there are some sect members in the teahouse for me to make contact with/spy on/whatever it is the player hopes his/her PC will do.

In suggesting that this is an example of Mother May I, I believe that I'm correctly following the usage suggested in the thread title and the OP.

Wary? Of what - the indie ninjas suddenly jumping into their basements and starting to GM their games?

You are adding a whole layer of threat and drama to this thread that doesn't make any sense to me.
It is no more mother may I than real life is mother may I. The players are going to a specific place looking for something. It isn’t binary. Anything could be there, including other leads. The GMisnt playing mother may I, the GM is serving as the mechanic to determine the outcome. Calling that mother may I is like calling the use of Survival skill in that case ‘Magic 8 ball’. It is s very weak analogy.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
In suggesting that this is an example of Mother May I, I believe that I'm correctly following the usage suggested in the thread title and the OP.

Wary? Of what - the indie ninjas suddenly jumping into their basements and starting to GM their games?

You are adding a whole layer of threat and drama to this thread that doesn't make any sense to me.
I don’t think I am bringing drama. I am disagreeing with you and pointing out the questionable terminology. I think people should be wary of any rhetoric in acdiscussion that is designed to convince by evoking an emotional reaction (in this case using a term to suggest a style of play is like a child’s game). Note I didn’t find the OPs use of the term as questionable as your’s because he seemed to be using it to describe a worst case scenario, where the play does devolve to a state remisceht if mother may I. The difference is you equate any situation where the GM makes the call as mother may I. I think it is fair, if a whole style of play or cluster of games are being assigned a label like that, for people to wonder why such a loaded term is being used.
 

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