Judgement calls vs "railroading"

pemerton

Legend
I never said I didn't prep. There was plenty of time for me to prepare for the pirate excursion while they traveled from Baldur's Gate to the Nelanther Isles.
OK, so how did that bit of the game work? If it wasn't dealing with your old prepped material (the "2nd hole") and wasn't dealing with your new prepped material (which did while they were en route), how was the fiction for those moments of gaming created?
 

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Sadras

Legend
Relating this back to @Xetheral's posts: I don't see how this is very immersive. It seems quite unimmersive to me, as my sense of "being there" is constantly disrupted by this 20-questions-style back-and-forth with the GM to establish basic details which would be immediately known by my PC.

Adding in a constraint of "relevance" only compounds the issue, particularly in an environment where players are discouraged from explaining what their motivations or intentions are for their PCs, and where the GM is keeping secret from the players what s/he thinks is at stake in the situation, and hence there is no real clarity at the table as to what may or may not be relevant.

Okay so I attempted to allow players to have more of an input in the adventure by introducing Plot Points which would allow players to introduce interesting story elements and this is what played out...

PCs met up with an underworld boss requesting they retrieve an item of his (a genie within a lamp which they had recently set free), they declined;
He obtained revenge by hurting those within his organisation who had betrayed him by assisting the PCs. A box with fingers was delivered anonymously to the PCs rooms. The 'betrayers' were nowhere to be found;
PCs met up with the underworld boss again to confront him about the above - he denied any involvement in the box with the fingers or the disappearance of his employees.
One of the players (25+ years of rpging) decided he wanted to use his Plot Point to have fingers drop out of underworld boss's pocket. Everyone else groaned at the table at the desired use of the Plot Point. Needless to say, the table disallowed it and I removed Plot Points to avoid such situations in the future.

Is this player the exception to the rule. I don't believe so. But allowing that player that much freedom in the narration would have been detrimental to my table. So the proponents of 'no myth', 'player driven stories' or 'shared narration' need to realise that not all tables are equipped to deal with this style of play and truthfully not all players want that.
I have another player who gives me a few lines on his backstory but prefers the GM do the rest of the work in bringing it out through the campaign.
My remaining three players would actually be perfectly fine at any table (sandbox or player driven), but I suspect two of them prefer the DM as the primary narrator of the story.

I believe many of you are forgetting the mix of players at the table and perhaps what they would prefer or what they are best suited for.
 
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pemerton

Legend
Warning, long post incoming!

If the PCs frequent a certain inn, then I know I personally wouldn't mind a player establishing a minor detail like where the coats get hung. Or even something a bit more substantial.

<snip>

If your GM is reasonable, then they'll likely let you establish coathooks in the local inn. They may kind of expect to be asked "I hang my drenching cloak beside the door...oh, is that what they do here, or some other way of hanging coats?" and the GM would likely just agree and ask you to continue.

I don't think that a bit of confirmation on the DM's part is all that disorienting to the player that it would carry over to their role playing.

<snip>

I feel like having the game world feel more lived in, more dynamic would be more supported by planning ahead a bit rather than allowing everything to be established on the fly.
I've highlighted one sentence in this post, because it illustrates what, in my view, tends to undermine immersion: if I'm meant to experience the fiction in the same way (whatever exactly that means) as my character, then why am I having to ask how coats are hung. Wouldn't I (as my PC) know that?

Would it disorient the player and disrupt his/her roleplaying? Well, it won't stop performance, I guess. Actors are (I assume) used to being told about what the norms are that their characters are used to, as part of helping them understand how to play their characters, how to react to things, etc.

But [MENTION=6802765]Xetheral[/MENTION] didn't talk about roleplaying in that sense - the word used was immersion. And I personally think that that sort of GM mediation is an obstacle to immersion. As I said, I feel it makes the character feel like an alien.

And I don't see how GM prep really deals with this issue. GM prep doesn't make the world more "lived in" from the point of view of the player experience of "inhabiting" the PC.

But what if the player says "I hand my drenched coat to...my long lost brother who is standing beside the door!?!?!" Cue the dramatic music.

<snip>

I think most games likely allow at least a little input into NPCs by players...supporting cast and family and the like are something I always try to use in my games. Typically, I let the players decide the basics, and then I may take it from there.

I feel like this is something that the GM has to mitigate to some extent. The example I gave above of the long lost brother showing up out of the blue...that was mostly a joke, but if the players are free to introduce such concepts in play, then what's to stop them?
Why does the player need to be stopped? That is, what is the issue here?

In 4e, the system offers no mechanic for handling this. The advice is simply to "say 'yes'", and this is different from "say 'yes' or roll the dice": the latter is a principle about resolving action declarations, whereas the 4e advice is about player introduction of fictional content. In my 4e game it hasn't come up very often, but one episode I remember is that of a player declaring that his PC gives the secret signal of his cult to the captain of a band of elves with whom the PCs had met up. I took a "yes, but" approach: I thought it might be a bit strong to have the elven captain as an ally, so declared that the captain seemed not to recognise the symbol; but that a bit later, the lieutenant approached the PC and indicated that he had noticed the signal, and then went on to offer cult-related assistance.

In BW and Cortex/MHRP - the other two systems I'm GMing at the moment - the player's declaration that the PC's brother is there is an action declaration. In MHRP it requires spending a "plot point" (a type of player resource that is a central component of that game's resolution economy) to create a "resource", which is (in effect) a species of buff with fiction attached. In the absence of spending the point, at best the player is trying to add some colour to the scene, but can't actually get help from the brother.

In BW either the player is calling on a relationship (which is a type of resource - not entirely unlike a AD&D henchman - established as part of PC building) or is making a Circles check. For the latter, the GM can "say 'yes'" rather than calling for a roll of the dice, if there is nothing at stake; otherwise (as with any other action declaration) a DC is set and the check is resolved. If it fails, the most natural response to the example you gave would be something like "Your brother takes your coat from you, and snarls 'I'll keep this as a downpayment for all that you owe me . . .'" - ie the situation has become one in which the PC has to deal with the enmity of his/her brother.

I suppose the argument could be made that since nothing is predetermined by the GM, then no plans are being spoiled...the story that emerges is simply what happens.

My argument against that would be that story takes craft. A revenge story isn't made better or more pure if the protagonist sets out on what he expects to be a long, arduous journey....only to find his nemesis before he takes five steps.
Well, there are (at least) three things here.

First, if the player wants to play a revenge story of his/her PC against the PC's brother, will s/he immediately narrate an encounter with the brother? To some extent, we have to trust that the players will push the fiction in the directions that speak to what they want out of the game. (I think this connects to some of the ideas [MENTION=16586]Campbell[/MENTION] has been talking about, but I don't know whether he would exactly agree with what I've said here - I hope he might post about that.)

Second, I think there is an issue here that is not about GM predetermination but rather about responsibility for framing conflicts. The so-called "Czege principle" posits, as an empirical conjecture, that "it's not exciting to play a roleplaying game if the rules require one player to both introduce and resolve a conflict." In other words, the tension/drama/excitement of play can be better served by the mechanics, and/or the GM, in various ways, mediating the introduction into the shared fiction of the nemesis against whom revenge is sort. For instance, the appearance of the nemesis might be the result of a successful check (eg the player delcares a tracking check, and succeeds, and now the PC comes over a ridge to see his/her nemesis camped on the hillside below), or of a failed check (eg the player fails a Circles check, and instead of meeting his/her contact in the alley finds his/her nemesis there, standing over the dead body of the contact, with a loaded crossbow pointed in the PC's direction and saying "So, at last we meet . . . "), or simply framing ("You see your nemesis through the crowd: vice versa also, and having noticed you the nemesis starts to hurry off. What do you do?").

These sorts of things would be instances of the player providing the hooks for play, including the existence (in the shared fiction) of the salient story elements (namely, the nemesis; and the PC's desire for revenge), but not actually him-/herself deciding unilaterally when the conflict occurs.

Third, I think there is a high degree of tension between the proposition that "story takes craft" - implying that pre-authorship is therefore desirable - and the proposition that "in a RPG the players make choices that matter". Because if the latter proposition is true, then what has happened to the former? What is left of the GM's carefully crafting, if the players are allowed to make meaningful choices?

To the extent that "story takes craft", I therefore prefer to approach RPGing from a perspective that takes as a premise that all the parties at the table will be contributing to the crafting (eg by creating PCs who are driven, in some sense, by dramatic needs). I also prefer mechanics and procedures that tend, by their very nature, to yield story as an outcome of their use. The 4e combat mechanics are a very clear illustration of this: when used in conjunction with the encounter building guidelines they produce, "automatically" as it were, combat encounters which have dramatic pacing: the PCs are pushed hard (monsters and NPCs have higher default damage and higher default hp), and put on the ropes, but then - if played well by their players - are able to rally (PCs have a depth of healing resources that monsters and NPCs lack), pull out all the stops (PCs have a depth of non-at-will resources that monsters and NPCs lack) and thereby turn the tide, ultimately achieving victory.

4e skill challenges require more skillful GMing to achieve the same dramatic pacing, but they can be used in a similar way.

MHRP/Cortext establishes story through the way dice pools are built (because they are built up out of dice that literally represent elements of the fiction), and every outcome has some literal meaning in the fiction (ie is not just a mechanical notation such as hp depletion). And the rice and fall of the doom pool (the GM's resource pool) conveys directly the sense of dread or the "room to breathe" for the PCs. Of the three games I GM, I think it is the "lightest"/least serious in the sort of story that it supports.

Whereas BW is the most "heavy" or grim in this respect. It's system guarantees that failure will be frequent, and it relies upon its principles for the narration of these failures to do deliver story (as things improve for the PCs, but then turn against them - and because of the basic GMing principles, this is all speaking to the PCs' dramatic concerns).

pemerton said:
A question: when you are GMing a game, and a player fails a check, what do you do? If they can fail the check yet still get what they wanted, then what was the point of the check?
I describe the direct consequences of failing the task that the check was modeling. I stick as closely as possible to consequences that would be expected in the real world, so that players can rely on their real-world experience to accurately judge the stakes of their actions in advance. When the game world predictably responds to actions analagously to the real world, this contributes to verisimilitude.

The players aren't going to get what they want as a result of a failed check, but the failed check usually doesn't preclude them getting what they want via other means or more effort. For some checks, that won't always be possible. Failure on a check to catch a falling vase, for example, is likely to frustrate the players' intent in catching it, but only as a direct consequence of that failure when the vase, forseeably, shatters.

The point of the check was to determine, in a case where there was doubt about the outcome, whether the action in question succeeded or failed.
My approach is generally the same, but with a twist. I am not big on intent, but I still want to know what has changed. I am big on every action being consequential, regardless of the result. Nothing ever stays the same. There is always risk and change involved. The fiction is dynamic.
This is a response to Campbell and [MENTION=6802765]Xetheral[/MENTION] (I'm tagging in case the embedded quote doesn't trigger a notification).

For me, the importance of intent - in 4e skill challenges, and almost all BW resolution (it has some rather intricate sub-systems, especially its melee combat sub-system, that make intent less important than task for certain action declarations) - follows from what I just wrote in reply to [MENTION=6785785]hawkeyefan[/MENTION]. It is the narration of success and failure in terms of intent that delivers the rise and fall that is part of a story.

I find that focusing on task alone doesn't do that job (unless task is so expansively characterised as to include intent also). To give one example: in my 4e game, the players succeeded at a skill challenge that involved having dinner with the baron (at his invitation) in the company of his advisor (whom they knew to be an evil necromancer; and who himself knew that they knew; but who did not want to be revealed to the baron, and whom they did not really want to reveal less that embarrass the baron and/or turn the baron against them) while keeping secret from the advisor that the magical tapestry he had spent years searching for was, in fact, in the dwarven PC's herald's backpack about 15 feet from the dining table. (Details here.)

Focusing on intent was key to my GMing of this, modulating the consequences of success - which, by the rules of the game, must bring the players closer to what they (as their PCs) want - with maintaining pressure via framing so that the situation is still "alive" and hence the players have a reason to keep declaring actions for their PCs.

The final resolution of the skill challenge involved the 10 CHAR dwarf fighter/cleric making a social check against the advisor, calling him not by his courtly name but by the name used among the goblin and hobgoblin armies he was secretly commanding, and thereby trying to goad him into revealing himself to the baron. The check initially failed, but then another player spent a resource (an action point) to (in the fiction) add another taunt, and thereby (in the mechanics) add a bonus to the dwarf player's check that turned the failure into a success.

That was the end of that session; in the next session, we opened with the taunted advisor turning on the PCs. I declared some action for him, or said something about the situation - I can't now remember what - but then one of the players reminded me: We succeeded in the skill challenge, with the goal of having the evil advisor reveal himself. The player's point was that I, as GM, would be dishonouring that success by now allowing some action or element of framing that tended to allow the advisor to try and conceal his evil or make the PCs look like the bad guys. The success doesn't just result in the advisor doing something (in this case, being goaded into attacking the PCs); it also establishes a "meaning" or a context, within the fiction, for that "something" - namely, the advisor is revealing himself as an evil traitor to the baron.

I've given examples upthread already of failures producing story through a focus on intent (eg the discovery of the black arrows; finding the fouled waterhole) so I won't elaborate anymore on that.

A large part of my fun in running the game comes from playing off the other players and not knowing what course they will take. I want to approach the game with a spirit of curiosity. My prep tends to be focused on thinking up threats and challenges to what the players' characters believe about themselves.
I would say that this is all true for me also, at least for 4e and BW.

For Cortex/MHRP I feel I'm still on more of a learning curve, including learning exactly what prep (if any) might be useful. NPCs/creatures are very easy to create on the fly, plus I have books full of "datafiles", so that particular aspect of prep (which looms larger in BW and 4e, both of which like a degree of mechanical heft to the threats/challenges) isn't so important.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
OK, so how did that bit of the game work? If it wasn't dealing with your old prepped material (the "2nd hole") and wasn't dealing with your new prepped material (which did while they were en route), how was the fiction for those moments of gaming created?
I can improvise fairly well. Even when I prep, my limited time often only allows me to create a bare bones outline of things. The details are usually improvised. That wasn't the case when I had many hours to prepare, but those days are long gone. If the players throw me a curve, I can usually improvise for the rest of the evening and then do some prep work before the next game. Occasionally, they throw the curve so hard that I let them know that I need time to prep some things and we stop the game until the following week.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Warning, long post incoming!

I've highlighted one sentence in this post, because it illustrates what, in my view, tends to undermine immersion: if I'm meant to experience the fiction in the same way (whatever exactly that means) as my character, then why am I having to ask how coats are hung. Wouldn't I (as my PC) know that?

If it was an inn your character was familiar with, sure. I would expect the GM to let you make that call, unless there was some compelling reason not to (perhaps the map of the inn would not support such a placement?)

If it was an inn you were not familiar with, then your character would have to look around to see where coats are hung....the equivalent of saying to the GM "I look around to see where the coats are hung..." and having the GM say "on hooks by the door." Now, many GMs may be fine with a player determining a rather mundane detail like the coathooks because they likely wouldn't impact play. That may be different for elements of play that might impact the game more.

Would it disorient the player and disrupt his/her roleplaying? Well, it won't stop performance, I guess. Actors are (I assume) used to being told about what the norms are that their characters are used to, as part of helping them understand how to play their characters, how to react to things, etc.

But [MENTION=6802765]Xetheral[/MENTION] didn't talk about roleplaying in that sense - the word used was immersion. And I personally think that that sort of GM mediation is an obstacle to immersion. As I said, I feel it makes the character feel like an alien.

Well I was looking at immersion as an element serving role-playing....the more immersed you are, the easier to adopt the role, yes? So in this case I don't really see a problem with conflating the two. I don't see an instance of a player asking a GM "where are the coathooks?" to be any worse than an actual person having to look around a room for coathooks when they walk into a room for the first time. If a character walked into an inn and then went to hang his cloak on a coathook by the door....only to find no coathooks, I would not expect such a panic that made them question their place in the world. Same with a player having to ask the GM to confirm such a detail. It's a minor blip in the grand scheme.


And I don't see how GM prep really deals with this issue. GM prep doesn't make the world more "lived in" from the point of view of the player experience of "inhabiting" the PC.

In the sense that more prep creates a more dynamic rather than static environment. Situations and locations and interactions exist prior to PC involvement, and continue after PC involvement. This would create verisimilitude, which I think would support immersion.

Now, improv and deciding on the fly are necessities even in games with a lot of GM prep...it's the nature of the beast. But I think that the clearer the picture of the world ahead of time, the easier it is to handle those times when details are needed on the fly. If the players unexpectedly jump aboard a ship as it leaves port, if the GM knows many places where the ship may be going, it will be easier for him to decide where the ship will be going, and why, and who may be aboard, and other details that may be influenced by the elements of the fictional world.

Why does the player need to be stopped? That is, what is the issue here?

It's not necessarily that the player NEEDS to be stopped....but what if it seems better if he was? Let's say the player came up with an idea for some rivalry with his PC's brother. The PC and his brother do not get along, ad have a longstanding enmity. This is decided at character generation. So the GM takes this into consideration, and comes up with some ways to bring the brother into the campaign.

Now, the player simply decides that his brother is there before him; maybe the player feels an immediate confrontation may be exciting. And that's possible. But the GM may have had another idea that he thinks will be better, but it has to take place further into the campaign. This is where, in a game like mine, the DM has to make a judgement call, and has to decide which of the two approaches would be better/more dramatic/more exciting/etc. and make the call.

This is why I prefer to allow the players to have input in the fiction at certain points, but not at any and all decision points within the game. This also ties into my mentioning of craft.

In 4e, the system offers no mechanic for handling this. The advice is simply to "say 'yes'", and this is different from "say 'yes' or roll the dice": the latter is a principle about resolving action declarations, whereas the 4e advice is about player introduction of fictional content. In my 4e game it hasn't come up very often, but one episode I remember is that of a player declaring that his PC gives the secret signal of his cult to the captain of a band of elves with whom the PCs had met up. I took a "yes, but" approach: I thought it might be a bit strong to have the elven captain as an ally, so declared that the captain seemed not to recognise the symbol; but that a bit later, the lieutenant approached the PC and indicated that he had noticed the signal, and then went on to offer cult-related assistance.

In BW and Cortex/MHRP - the other two systems I'm GMing at the moment - the player's declaration that the PC's brother is there is an action declaration. In MHRP it requires spending a "plot point" (a type of player resource that is a central component of that game's resolution economy) to create a "resource", which is (in effect) a species of buff with fiction attached. In the absence of spending the point, at best the player is trying to add some colour to the scene, but can't actually get help from the brother.

In BW either the player is calling on a relationship (which is a type of resource - not entirely unlike a AD&D henchman - established as part of PC building) or is making a Circles check. For the latter, the GM can "say 'yes'" rather than calling for a roll of the dice, if there is nothing at stake; otherwise (as with any other action declaration) a DC is set and the check is resolved. If it fails, the most natural response to the example you gave would be something like "Your brother takes your coat from you, and snarls 'I'll keep this as a downpayment for all that you owe me . . .'" - ie the situation has become one in which the PC has to deal with the enmity of his/her brother.

This is kind of why I feel GM judgment is the best "mechanic" for handling these kinds of elements...especially since each of the mechanics you mention above still require some level of GM judgment anyway. Now, I can understand the element of giving the player a resource to spend to influence the fiction...especially depending on the setting. Such a mechanic seems designed with a super-heroic setting in mind. The hero finds himself in a death trap, and spends a plot point to determine that there is a rafter hanging over the pit, and he has one bat-rope tucked away in his boot. That kind of thing.

But to try and influence something such as a newly introduced NPC's secret affiliation? I prefer that to remain within the GM's purview....which seems to be a view you share based on how you handled that scene. Obviously, this will vary depending on the scene or circumstances in question.

Well, there are (at least) three things here.

First, if the player wants to play a revenge story of his/her PC against the PC's brother, will s/he immediately narrate an encounter with the brother? To some extent, we have to trust that the players will push the fiction in the directions that speak to what they want out of the game. (I think this connects to some of the ideas [MENTION=16586]Campbell[/MENTION] has been talking about, but I don't know whether he would exactly agree with what I've said here - I hope he might post about that.)

Sure. It would seem kind of odd that a player who wants the search for his rival be a part of the game to force a confrontation off the bat...but I am sure we can come up with reasons where that may happen. But here you talk about having trust in the players....which I think is a good thing, but which I think also applies to the GM. Trusting the players to introduce the fiction they want in a way that seems dynamic and interesting does not sound all that different from a more GM oriented style.....the players have to trust that the GM will incorporate their wants for the game, and the desires established for their characters, in a way that will be dynamic and interesting.


Second, I think there is an issue here that is not about GM predetermination but rather about responsibility for framing conflicts. The so-called "Czege principle" posits, as an empirical conjecture, that "it's not exciting to play a roleplaying game if the rules require one player to both introduce and resolve a conflict." In other words, the tension/drama/excitement of play can be better served by the mechanics, and/or the GM, in various ways, mediating the introduction into the shared fiction of the nemesis against whom revenge is sort. For instance, the appearance of the nemesis might be the result of a successful check (eg the player delcares a tracking check, and succeeds, and now the PC comes over a ridge to see his/her nemesis camped on the hillside below), or of a failed check (eg the player fails a Circles check, and instead of meeting his/her contact in the alley finds his/her nemesis there, standing over the dead body of the contact, with a loaded crossbow pointed in the PC's direction and saying "So, at last we meet . . . "), or simply framing ("You see your nemesis through the crowd: vice versa also, and having noticed you the nemesis starts to hurry off. What do you do?").

These sorts of things would be instances of the player providing the hooks for play, including the existence (in the shared fiction) of the salient story elements (namely, the nemesis; and the PC's desire for revenge), but not actually him-/herself deciding unilaterally when the conflict occurs.

Sure, I agree. I think that is really exactly what I am advocating. It's just that, in my game, a lot of these elements are decided up front in some way. We do add many elements as we go, usually when a player says to me some new idea or character element that he wants to explore, whether it's something brand new, or something that has emerged through play.


Third, I think there is a high degree of tension between the proposition that "story takes craft" - implying that pre-authorship is therefore desirable - and the proposition that "in a RPG the players make choices that matter". Because if the latter proposition is true, then what has happened to the former? What is left of the GM's carefully crafting, if the players are allowed to make meaningful choices?

I don't think that pre-authorship must be better...certainly there are on the spot decisions that I or my players have made that have been some of the best things in our game. But in general, I think that more often than not, a thought out story will be better than one created on the fly. So for me, when I say craft, what I mean is the GM's ability to view the options at hand, and decide the best for the game, whether that's a pre-authored element he had come up with, or some crazy tangent introduced due to player action.

So let's say that the GM is weighing some inspiring moment by the players that leads the story in an unexpected way, versus the story he already had in mind which had a long term payoff that he expected to be a truly exciting moment. The GM has to decide which will actually be better for the game and story. In those moments, I try to be as impartial as possible and do what I think will be the most fun. And despite my predisposition toward pre-authored elements, I still often will let the inspiring moment carry the events.

This is why I advocate an approach that does not force me down one road because of "principles". Some folks would always go with the player introduced content, others would always go with the GM introduced content. I can see a case for either....so I decide based on the actual instance in question.

To the extent that "story takes craft", I therefore prefer to approach RPGing from a perspective that takes as a premise that all the parties at the table will be contributing to the crafting (eg by creating PCs who are driven, in some sense, by dramatic needs). I also prefer mechanics and procedures that tend, by their very nature, to yield story as an outcome of their use. The 4e combat mechanics are a very clear illustration of this: when used in conjunction with the encounter building guidelines they produce, "automatically" as it were, combat encounters which have dramatic pacing: the PCs are pushed hard (monsters and NPCs have higher default damage and higher default hp), and put on the ropes, but then - if played well by their players - are able to rally (PCs have a depth of healing resources that monsters and NPCs lack), pull out all the stops (PCs have a depth of non-at-will resources that monsters and NPCs lack) and thereby turn the tide, ultimately achieving victory.

Sure, some games have mechanics in place that help establish certain game elements automatically, as you say. I can understand that. to kind of use your example of 4E combat....other combats in other systems can also be made to be dramatic. They may require more effort on the part of the GM rather than the rules, though. I believe that's the point you are making, correct? So games that have similarly designed rules for the story building element of the game may take some of the burden off of the GM, and create a recognized and more uniform approach to that aspect of the game. That's kind of what I am getting out of your example. And I wouldn't disagree.

As I've said, I don't think that having many elements that are pre-authored by the GM means that the players cannot also drive the story of the game. I think it's really just a question of how it comes about. For me, I find collaboration with the players at the start of the game and throughout to be the biggest factor. In the 5E system, I don't think there are many mechanical expressions to enforce this approach....but I prefer a looser system in that regard.
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
PCs met up with the underworld boss again to confront him about the above - he denied any involvement in the box with the fingers or the disappearance of his employees.
One of the players (25+ years of rpging) decided he wanted to use his Plot Point to have fingers drop out of underworld boss's pocket. Everyone else groaned at the table at the desired use of the Plot Point. Needless to say, the table disallowed it and I removed Plot Points to avoid such situations in the future.
Not too surprising - either that a 25-year veteran of traditional TTRPGs would pull a gaff like that, nor that the table's reaction was to toss the mechanic rather than try to master it. You spring a new idea in an otherwise comfortable and familiar environment, and the most likely consequences are going to be clumsily leveraging the idea within the priorities of the existing paradigm and/or rejecting it outright.

I've tried these kinds of techniques and been in games that used them, and they can work, if the players are up for it, or if the DM does a good enough job introducing and mediating the new mechanic. Neither most eds of D&D nor long-time D&Ders are exactly the ideal candidates for such an introduction, though, so I'm not sure how relevant it is in a 5e forum...
 

tomBitonti

Adventurer
The question about doors and hanging cloaks on pegs seems to be diverting from the real issues here.

What is important is whether the PCs have a pre-arranged signal, whether the players want the signal to be discreet, and whether the environment creates a hurdle to using the signal as planned.

What would matter is whether the PCs are familiar with the locale, how good they are at being discreet, and how closely and well they are being watched.

Then:

Player: I want to signal to someone at the inn that (variously) I have arrived or we are proceeding as planned or abort the operation!.

GM: As you approach the inn, you notice the Sheriff and two deputies lurking inside. You don't know how, but they seem to be on to your plan, or at least aware of your presence. You can continue to attempt to deliver the message, but the Sheriff will almost certainly notice you and detain you if you simply walk into the inn. (The inn had been under observation, and a spy overheard the PCs plan to meet there later in the week, although, the spy was not able to hear all of the details of the plan.)

The details of how the signal is delivered don't seem to me to be particularly relevant. The issue how the GM intrudes on the PCs when the attempt to deliver their signal. Does the GM evaluate the plan relative to the difficulty and particulars of the environment, then allow dice to decide the outcome, or does the GM declare (or virtually declare by make the task very unlikely to succeed) that the plan fails? The difference is whether challenges to the plan are inherent in the scene (say, the players are particularly bad at this sort of activity, or the inn is very busy because the day the players selected was a busy holiday), or inherent in the system (the GM spends resources to create challenges at suitably dramatic story points), or are arbitrary (the GM wants a particular outcome and clumsily imposes it).

Thx!
TomB
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Not too surprising - either that a 25-year veteran of traditional TTRPGs would pull a gaff like that, nor that the table's reaction was to toss the mechanic rather than try to master it. You spring a new idea in an otherwise comfortable and familiar environment, and the most likely consequences are going to be clumsily leveraging the idea within the priorities of the existing paradigm and/or rejecting it outright.

I've tried these kinds of techniques and been in games that used them, and they can work, if the players are up for it, or if the DM does a good enough job introducing and mediating the new mechanic. Neither most eds of D&D nor long-time D&Ders are exactly the ideal candidates for such an introduction, though, so I'm not sure how relevant it is in a 5e forum...

Well, the thread got moved to the RPG General Discussion forum....but yeah, it started in the 5E forums, so that was how I was approaching it.

I think you're right in that player buy-in is absolutely required to allow for the kind of focus shift such a playstyle would require on an old school D&D group. It's such a change from the established norms.

The question about doors and hanging cloaks on pegs seems to be diverting from the real issues here.

What is important is whether the PCs have a pre-arranged signal, whether the players want the signal to be discreet, and whether the environment creates a hurdle to using the signal as planned.

What would matter is whether the PCs are familiar with the locale, how good they are at being discreet, and how closely and well they are being watched.

Then:

Player: I want to signal to someone at the inn that (variously) I have arrived or we are proceeding as planned or abort the operation!.

GM: As you approach the inn, you notice the Sheriff and two deputies lurking inside. You don't know how, but they seem to be on to your plan, or at least aware of your presence. You can continue to attempt to deliver the message, but the Sheriff will almost certainly notice you and detain you if you simply walk into the inn. (The inn had been under observation, and a spy overheard the PCs plan to meet there later in the week, although, the spy was not able to hear all of the details of the plan.)

The details of how the signal is delivered don't seem to me to be particularly relevant. The issue how the GM intrudes on the PCs when the attempt to deliver their signal. Does the GM evaluate the plan relative to the difficulty and particulars of the environment, then allow dice to decide the outcome, or does the GM declare (or virtually declare by make the task very unlikely to succeed) that the plan fails? The difference is whether challenges to the plan are inherent in the scene (say, the players are particularly bad at this sort of activity, or the inn is very busy because the day the players selected was a busy holiday), or inherent in the system (the GM spends resources to create challenges at suitably dramatic story points), or are arbitrary (the GM wants a particular outcome and clumsily imposes it).

Thx!
TomB

My fault for treating the signal from the original example as the important point. But I do see it as relevant because in the example, there is a specific action OTHER than the delivery of the coded message that is called out. If the player says "I send a signal to any potential guild members...." or what have you, that's one thing. If the player wants to simultaneously author some specific in-world element AND establish that element as the signal, that's something else. Now, that element being something as mundane as coathooks, no big deal. But I would imagine there could be examples given that could lead to issues.

But I agree entirely with your approach.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To give one example: in my 4e game, the players succeeded at a skill challenge that involved having dinner with the baron (at his invitation) in the company of his advisor (whom they knew to be an evil necromancer; and who himself knew that they knew; but who did not want to be revealed to the baron, and whom they did not really want to reveal less that embarrass the baron and/or turn the baron against them) while keeping secret from the advisor that the magical tapestry he had spent years searching for was, in fact, in the dwarven PC's herald's backpack about 15 feet from the dining table. (Details here.)

Focusing on intent was key to my GMing of this, modulating the consequences of success - which, by the rules of the game, must bring the players closer to what they (as their PCs) want - with maintaining pressure via framing so that the situation is still "alive" and hence the players have a reason to keep declaring actions for their PCs.

The final resolution of the skill challenge involved the 10 CHAR dwarf fighter/cleric making a social check against the advisor, calling him not by his courtly name but by the name used among the goblin and hobgoblin armies he was secretly commanding, and thereby trying to goad him into revealing himself to the baron. The check initially failed, but then another player spent a resource (an action point) to (in the fiction) add another taunt, and thereby (in the mechanics) add a bonus to the dwarf player's check that turned the failure into a success.

That was the end of that session; in the next session, we opened with the taunted advisor turning on the PCs. I declared some action for him, or said something about the situation - I can't now remember what -
So far this all sounds like some good times. But then it runs hard on the rocks...
but then one of the players reminded me: We succeeded in the skill challenge, with the goal of having the evil advisor reveal himself. The player's point was that I, as GM, would be dishonouring that success by now allowing some action or element of framing that tended to allow the advisor to try and conceal his evil or make the PCs look like the bad guys. The success doesn't just result in the advisor doing something (in this case, being goaded into attacking the PCs); it also establishes a "meaning" or a context, within the fiction, for that "something" - namely, the advisor is revealing himself as an evil traitor to the baron.
...right here.

The dice shouldn't force you into anything specific, and if they do I put that down to a system flaw as dice really have no place here. Instead, just as the players are (I hope!) having their PCs do what they'd naturally do, so should you as DM have the ability to put yourself in the head of that advisor and have him react as he'd naturally react; dice be damned. If the advisor's natural in-character reaction would be to try and turn the blame back on to the PCs then the dice shouldn't prevent this; also you as DM will have to put yourself into the head of the baron and determine what his reaction might be to all this.

More broadly, this is an example where allowing dice to dictate what happens in a straight role-playing situation is poor design.

And flip it around for a moment: how often are the players thusly forced into having their PC react in a way determined by dice rather than natural RP? If never, then the same should apply to NPCs.

Lanefan
 

Tony Vargas

Legend
Well, the thread got moved to the RPG General Discussion forum....but yeah, it started in the 5E forums, so that was how I was approaching it.
Ah, so it has. That's good.

For me, the importance of intent - in 4e skill challenges, and almost all BW resolution - ... is the narration of success and failure in terms of intent that delivers the rise and fall that is part of a story.

To give one example: in my 4e game, the players succeeded at a skill challenge that involved having dinner with the baron (at his invitation) in the company of his advisor (whom they knew to be an evil necromancer; and who himself knew that they knew; but who did not want to be revealed to the baron, and whom they did not really want to reveal less that embarrass the baron and/or turn the baron against them) while keeping secret from the advisor that the magical tapestry he had spent years searching for was, in fact, in the dwarven PC's herald's backpack about 15 feet from the dining table.

The final resolution of the skill challenge involved the 10 CHAR dwarf fighter/cleric making a social check against the advisor, calling him not by his courtly name but by the name used among the goblin and hobgoblin armies he was secretly commanding, and thereby trying to goad him into revealing himself to the baron.
That underlined attempt seems at odds with the above bolded part of the intent of the challenge.
 

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