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Legends and Lore: Out of Bounds

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
The new Legends and Lore by Monte Cook is up:
Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Out of Bounds)

Personally I think it's essential for the GM to have some solution for the challenges they present to the players. I think when the solution is a straight skill check against a TN, the game loses the necessity for creativity and becomes boring. But I've also played in games where the GM expects the PCs to come up with a solution for a challenge and the game stalls because the players have a hard time figuring out how to overcome the challenge and the GM has no idea how to get them around it. That usually leads to a long bout of frustration and then the GM unsatisfyingly handwaving the party through.

Ideally I like for the GM to have an idea of how the party could overcome the challenge but be open to solutions that the players come up with too. It rewards player creativity but has a failsafe so the game won't hit a roadblock.

Thoughts?
 

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delericho

Legend
Another deeply unsatisfying column, I'm afraid. It seemed interesting enough, it seemed to be going somewhere, and then... it just stopped. I was left thinking, "yes, and...?"

FWIW, I agree with the OP: the DM should have at least one solution in mind for his challenges, without being slavishly bound to it. Otherwise, what happens if the players can't figure something out?

As for "Legends & Lore"... if this is leading up to 5e, then wake me when it's time. If these aren't leading up to 5e, then when are they going to announce the products that will reflect this new thinking? What was so fascinating about the old Design & Development column was that those were directly pointing towards new adventures such as "Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde", and while the resulting products had distinctly mixed reviews, the fact that there was a clear end-point made the columns delightfully concrete. These columns lack that, and feel like just a lot of words that signify nothing.
 

Hussar

Legend
If you want a game where player ingenuity overcomes challenges, then you have to allow the players to actually dictate whether or not their ingenuity overcomes said challenges. Otherwise, it becomes a game of trying to play the DM. "Well, I know Bob would never put something in here without a lever or something in place, so let's search for that."

If, OTOH, you want the players to be truly capable of overcoming a challenge solely through their own ideas, then the players have to have the abilty to say that their ideas defeat the challenge.

I'm thinking that most people's ears would fall off if they instituted this sort of thing in D&D.

And, I know that I'd never play a version of D&D which revolves around Mother May I ever again.

I answered 5 on the poll, although, to be fair, it should be something like 4.9 since there's always exceptions to the rule. But, I want the rule to be there. Unless there is something specific about a situation as to why I can't solve the challenge through the resources on my character sheet, I want to be able to solve any challenge in the game through the application of the resources my character has.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I'm not totally clear on what he means, here.

A red dragon immune to fire can still be killed by ice and swords and such. Those are all character abilities (attack rolls and lightning bolts!).

An invisible force-field can still be solved with player abilities: various divinations to figure out the ways around it, or Dispel Magic or Disjunction can get rid of it, and those are all character abilities.

Even straight skill checks -- Wisdom checks to notice the solution, Intelligence checks to figure out the solution, Strength checks to beat in the walls, etc. -- are character abilities the characters can use to solve the problems in front of them.

Character abilities are the ways the characters interact with the world they are in.

I know when I played 3e, I didn't worry about figuring out how the party could overcome the challenges I placed in front of them. I knew they had ways to do it -- they had ingenuity, and the abilities they had were multi-purpose tools rather than narrowly defined effects, and I had the "say yes" improv mantra, and that worked really well.

I know that was lost in 4e, but that's a feature of the abilities changing from general purpose tools to narrowly defined effects. Like Chris Perkins says, you can't put darkfire on a door, 'cuz it's not a creature, right? :p

But the solutions the party found in 3e weren't "outside" of a character's abilities, they were part of them. Perhaps used in a more creative way, but still part and parcel of a character's capacity for action.

Perhaps that's the more useful takeaway, here: the difference between an effect-based abilities system where what the ability does is narrowly defined, and a cause-based abilities system, where what the ability is is defined, and what it does is up to DM and player ingenuity. It's the difference between saying "Fireball deals 4d6 damage to creatures in a 4 by 4 cube within 10 squares of the caster" and saying "Fireball creates an explosion of fire. This deals..." etc.

Because I don't see how the players are going to accomplish anything, if not through their characters' abilities in some respect.
 
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delericho

Legend
If you want a game where player ingenuity overcomes challenges, then you have to allow the players to actually dictate whether or not their ingenuity overcomes said challenges. Otherwise, it becomes a game of trying to play the DM.

Yep.

And, I know that I'd never play a version of D&D which revolves around Mother May I ever again.

Again, I agree, with one caveat.

If there is a pendulum between "player power" and "DM power", then I am inclined to think it has now swung a little too far towards "player power", and I would like to see that redressed somewhat. But I'm certainly not advocating a move (back) to a mentality of "the DM is god"!

I answered 5 on the poll, although, to be fair, it should be something like 4.9 since there's always exceptions to the rule. But, I want the rule to be there. Unless there is something specific about a situation as to why I can't solve the challenge through the resources on my character sheet, I want to be able to solve any challenge in the game through the application of the resources my character has.

I don't vote in their polls. :)

Where I disagree with you here is the "solve any challenge in the game through the application of the resources my character has" bit. I think it's acceptably, maybe even better, if sometimes (even "quite often"), the required resources aren't immediately on the character sheet, but are found elsewhere in the adventure. Also, if PCs are required to choose what to take with them (either directly in the form of their equipment, or indirectly via power choices), then I think it's equally fine if that leaves them less able to handle some challenges than others - they'll have an easier time elsewhere to compensate. (Although I suspect "less able", as opposed to "unable", is the important part.)

Oh, and "able to solve" of course doesn't mean "able to easily solve". I'm inclined to think that if the PCs just dive right in and throw dice, assuming average rolls, they should probably fail the adventure (however you define 'fail'). If they're smart or they're lucky, they should succeed at cost. And if they're smart and lucky, they should succeed quite easily. But that's an adventure design issue - it's all about setting an appropriate level of difficulty.
 

FireLance

Legend
My view is can be summed up as follows:

1. It must always, always, always be possible (I would go as far as to say probable - at least even odds) to overcome a challenge using the PCs' powers and abilities.

2. However, the most straightforward application of the PCs' powers and abilities should seldom be the best approach. Player creativity, ingenuity and out of the box thinking should be the factor that changes the success rate from 50% (or so) to 95% (or even higher).

In my view, the poll question only presents half of the ideal situation (almost as it it were intended to persuade you of the desirability of that half instead of seeking feedback). Yes, the best solution should always contain some element that is outside of the rules. However, there must always be at least one solution within the rules that allows the players a fair degree of success.
 

LurkAway

First Post
Isn't the implication analagous to having a "Page 42" that is more pervasive, and that game design could factor in more for "Page 42", and maybe even encourage its use, instead of keeping it mostly harmless or leaving it on the sidelines to gather dust?

The title is "out of bounds" which I think is a more diplomatic alternative to "out of the box thinking". Telling someone to think 'out of the box' may imply that they're deficient in creativitity or open-mindedness. 'Out of bounds' imples, to me, that there's nothing wrong with playing in the box because it is a controlled environment (thanks to rules support), but there are also joys to be had off the beaten path (as long as someone has the forethought to give you some guidance).

Even Rules of Three acknowledged that 4E might penalize those who tried to wander off the beaten path (in the case of inflexibility of class roles). Conversely, role-playing a blacksmithing career IS allowed to occur out of bounds. I think Monte is simply revisiting where/how/why to draw the lines.
 
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KidSnide

Adventurer
1. It must always, always, always be possible (I would go as far as to say probable - at least even odds) to overcome a challenge using the PCs' powers and abilities.

I disagree with this pretty strongly.

First, I don't think there's a problem with having a challenge in the gameworld that the PCs have no realistic chance of solving. For example, returning Athas to a world of life and greenery is a perfectly good character motivation, but I see no reason why such a task should be solvable at all, not to mention solvable with character abilities.

Second, there are tons of fun challenges that aren't amenable to character abilities. I think the plot to the latest Clash of the Titans is a perfectly plausible epic adventure. The whole point is that there's a monster that isn't realistically defeatably by even the most badass heroes. Instead, the PCs need to identify, find and acquire another element of epic magic in the world in order to defeat the otherwise unkillable monster. Obviously, the movie featured one particular solution, but it's a big mythical world out there -- who's to say there weren't others?

Lastly, and most importantly, one of the primary joys of table-top gaming is seeing a situation where you have no idea what to do and then finding a way to advance the situation, hopefully for the better. If you check out the most popular story hours on this site, they are replete with challenges that require player thinking as much as character abilities. (Imagine all your PCs wake up with no memories as citizens of a city in a bottle.)

I've played games where it feels like you're just trying to guess what the GM (or module writer) is thinking, and I agree that it can suck. And I also agree that using your character abilities to kick ass and be awesome is a ton of fun. But I wouldn't want to play in a version of D&D where character abilities are the limit of what your character can do, or where player ingenuity doesn't play an essential role in the game.

-KS
 

Crazy Jerome

First Post
I think that any problem that is required to advance the game to where the group wants it to go (whatever that means for the group)--should be readily solvable by character abilities. But outside of that sop to keeping the game moving and fun, anything goes.

Heck, one of my favorite ways to show the players that their choices matter is to give them several time-sensitive problems at once. They know there is no way they can solve them all. So creativity comes in deciding which problems are the most important to them, how many they can go after without too much dilution of effort, and if there is any way to delay a few of them and/or deal with the after effects. By definition, the bigger problem of, "we want to do all of these things," is impossible, even though no part of it necessarily is.
 

vagabundo

Explorer
My view is can be summed up as follows:

1. It must always, always, always be possible (I would go as far as to say probable - at least even odds) to overcome a challenge using the PCs' powers and abilities.


I'd add that it does not always have to be obvious that these abilities will overcome a challenge or even that those abilities be in the current party at the time (maybe they can procure a ritual to overcome a challenge).

One thing that should be in the module is information about the nature of the challenge and what can be gleaned by the PC using their skills. At least then if there is a non standard solution the DM can make a fair rule using the in game logic; so having an invisible force field is fine if there is an explanation about the nature of the force field.
 

Mengu

First Post
This article might apply to 4e, or 3e, or pretty much any rpg. DM presents problems, players find solutions. I don't see 4e as a system that does anything different in this regard. Seemingly impossible obstacles and fights, are all part of the game. You figure out a way to deal with it. Players are not, and have never been restricted to only actions on their character sheet.

The DM does have to be accommodating. For instance the player might say, "I want to jump down from the balcony, on top of the guard, and take him down." If the DM says, "no sorry, you don't have a 'jump from the balcony on top of the guard' power, you have to use your tide of iron or cleave," you're pretty much dead in the water.

On a side note, this sentence in the article made me blink: "You make sure that no choices are bad choices." 4e is so far from this paradigm, it would be humorous if it wasn't sad.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
For me... like everything, my thoughts are all towards moderation. It's more fun for me if every situation is different and the methods for getting past challenges is as varied as the challenges themselves. Sometimes a hard-coded single solution that the DM knows and which the players have to figure out is good (most 'puzzles' would fall into this category.) Sometimes, the DM creates a scenario which a direction the players want to go in and the DM has some broad strokes planned out to help facilitate the player's journey along (most skill challenges would be like this.) And sometimes the DM can throw out a scenario where he has nothing in mind for a solution, because (assuming he is well-aware of the ingenuity of his players)... the players methodically trying to work out a solution ends up being cooler and more creative than he would have come up with, and thus once they start down a path, the DM can then go into 'Yes, And' mode and walk with them, pointing things out and throwing obstacles in the path based upon his own ideas of logic, the reality of the world, and what is on the other side of the challenge and how that would influence the steps the party is taking.

Needless to say... all three situations require a strong DM who knows when to give and take with the players-- giving hints or holding back info-- in order to keep frustration to a minimum but also giving a real sense of accomplishment when finally completed. By varying these scenarios up... it keeps the players and DM interested and entertained for the same reason why you change up the numbers and roles of monsters in combat encounters. You don't want to run 5 encounters in a row that consist of nothing but 2 Elite Lurkers... and by the same token, you don't want every puzzle or challenge to be solvable by a Level 3 Skill Challenge.
 


the Jester

Legend
My view is can be summed up as follows:

1. It must always, always, always be possible (I would go as far as to say probable - at least even odds) to overcome a challenge using the PCs' powers and abilities.

That's fine for certain playstyles, but absolutely off the table in a good sandbox.
 

Doctor Proctor

First Post
I disagree with this pretty strongly.

First, I don't think there's a problem with having a challenge in the gameworld that the PCs have no realistic chance of solving. For example, returning Athas to a world of life and greenery is a perfectly good character motivation, but I see no reason why such a task should be solvable at all, not to mention solvable with character abilities.

I think most everyone here is talking about challenges that are current and in front of the players. Returning Athas to greenery is not a challenge in that respect, just like saying "I want to advance the technology of the area and unlock nuclear power" in Eberron isn't really a current challenge. We're talking about things like the invisible wall, that are presently in front of players and need to be dealt with right now.

Second, there are tons of fun challenges that aren't amenable to character abilities. I think the plot to the latest Clash of the Titans is a perfectly plausible epic adventure. The whole point is that there's a monster that isn't realistically defeatably by even the most badass heroes. Instead, the PCs need to identify, find and acquire another element of epic magic in the world in order to defeat the otherwise unkillable monster. Obviously, the movie featured one particular solution, but it's a big mythical world out there -- who's to say there weren't others?

Actually, you could completely do this via character abilities...

Roll knowledge check to see what sorts of creatures could aid in defeating the Kraken. Success! Medusa's gaze can turn anything to stone!

Receive Magic Items/Divine Boons (depending on if we're a low magic campaign or not)

Use a ritual to find the location of Medusa.

Skill Challenge - Use Stealth, Acrobatics and Athletics to get close to Medusa. Failure! She's detected you, roll initiative!

Use a combination of various powers and abilities, including some magic item dailies, to defeat Medusa and take her head (which is a Story Item per MME).

Use the story item to defeat the Kraken! Gain 10,000XP!

Lastly, and most importantly, one of the primary joys of table-top gaming is seeing a situation where you have no idea what to do and then finding a way to advance the situation, hopefully for the better. If you check out the most popular story hours on this site, they are replete with challenges that require player thinking as much as character abilities. (Imagine all your PCs wake up with no memories as citizens of a city in a bottle.)

I've played games where it feels like you're just trying to guess what the GM (or module writer) is thinking, and I agree that it can suck. And I also agree that using your character abilities to kick ass and be awesome is a ton of fun. But I wouldn't want to play in a version of D&D where character abilities are the limit of what your character can do, or where player ingenuity doesn't play an essential role in the game.

-KS

You mention how games that break down into "Guess what the GM is thinking!" kinda suck, when that sort of situation is only created in an environment where the PC's can't solve things using their character sheets. Things like Story Items, needing the help of NPC's or the favor of the gods? These are ultimately still based in a character's sheet. Knowledge checks can reveal information about the Story Item you need, social skills can help you to enlist the aid of an NPC, and accomplishing quests (using your abilities) or using rituals can get you favor from the gods and other powerful beings.

It just takes creative adventure design to bring those things out and get the players to engage more than just "So what's the skill challenge?"... Ultimately though, when you go "Out of Bounds" it's going to cause problems though, because the PC's don't have a map anymore. That's when you're in danger of the guessing game.
 

Dice4Hire

First Post
I think all challenge should be solvable, but I see no reason they should be solvable right now with the resources the player's currently have. Maybe they need to get a scroll of a spell, or find out (research) a tidbit of information, forget some item like a key.

To me, those are all viable methods of playing.

In addition, I guess I am old school enough that I want player input to the challenge. I frequently put stuff that can be seen if the player posts looking there, instead of a general "I look at the room. Spot +4" One peeve I have with recent D&D editions.

Saying every challenge should be solvable right now with the resources the characters currently have with 50% or higher probablilty is not exactly how I would run it.
 

For me, I think the thing I would like to be in my player's heads is: "The DM has given us no guarantee that there is an immediate solution (or even long-term solution) to this situation. This situation "could" be unsolvable."
In other words, there is not necessarily a key for every lock. There is mystery here and the requirement that the players invest themselves in the world and situations created.

I suppose in terms of an even bigger picture, what I would like to see driven out of the game is a certain unwarranted level of player entitlement that is almost hard-coded into the game. I don't want players to feel that there is a guaranteed solution to every problem. I don't want them to feel that their pre-determined "treasure packet" is just around the corner (and if not that corner then definitely the next one). I would like to see the game shift away from the spoon-fed wealth and expectations of the last two editions. I would like to see the game built on a foundation where success and rewards are "achieved" rather than pre-determined and evenly distributed by the DM.

Best Regards
Herremann the Wise
 

Hussar

Legend
The problem with "The DM has given us no guarantee that there is an immediate solution (or even long-term solution) to this situation. This situation "could" be unsolvable." is that the player never knows which situation it really is.

So, we spend hours and hours and hours going down the check list of possible solutions, each one failing because there is no solution possible.

To me, this just leads to very frustrating experiences and seriously bad feelings at the table.

Now, if you tell me, after a couple of tries, flat out, there is no solution to this, you need to do something else, I guess that would be fine, but, whatever the DM does, don't let the PC's screw around for hours trying to solve something with no solution.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
KidSnide said:
First, I don't think there's a problem with having a challenge in the gameworld that the PCs have no realistic chance of solving. For example, returning Athas to a world of life and greenery is a perfectly good character motivation, but I see no reason why such a task should be solvable at all, not to mention solvable with character abilities.

I see one great reason why such a task should be solvable: to end the campaign.

If you go into a Dark Sun game knowing there's a finite limit on the time you spend in there, I see no problem at all with having the players accomplish "the impossible" by the time the campaign ends. They should be able and allowed to wreck the setting.

I don't see how, if it is something that the characters can accomplish, it's not something that is part of the character's abilities. There might be no Restore Athas spell, but if some epic-level endgame artifact enables the PC's to wish upon Rikus's Spear that all of Athas is returned to greenery, it's still part of the character's abilities. It might not be a trustworthy and reliable and repeatable character ability -- a one-off thing -- but it's certainly not player ability that restores Athas.

Second, there are tons of fun challenges that aren't amenable to character abilities. I think the plot to the latest Clash of the Titans is a perfectly plausible epic adventure. The whole point is that there's a monster that isn't realistically defeatably by even the most badass heroes. Instead, the PCs need to identify, find and acquire another element of epic magic in the world in order to defeat the otherwise unkillable monster. Obviously, the movie featured one particular solution, but it's a big mythical world out there -- who's to say there weren't others?

This is the basic Slay A Monster plotline from any horror or action movie, and it's directly amenable to character abilities: researching the artifact (discovery), journeying to the land where it lies (exploration), prying it from the jaws of monsters (combat), and finally convincing its guardian to hand it to you (interaction), so that you can use it to kill the monster (e.g.: use it as a character ability).

I don't understand how that's separate from character ability. It's not the players who overcome the challenges before them to gain the item and slay the beast, it's the characters.

Lastly, and most importantly, one of the primary joys of table-top gaming is seeing a situation where you have no idea what to do and then finding a way to advance the situation, hopefully for the better. If you check out the most popular story hours on this site, they are replete with challenges that require player thinking as much as character abilities. (Imagine all your PCs wake up with no memories as citizens of a city in a bottle.)

Sure, but the players are thinking about how to use their characters' abilities. If you see a fireproof dragon in front of you, you might use your character's ice abilities to kill it. If you see an impenetrable force field in front of you, you might use your character's exploration abilities to jump over it, burrow under it, or chisel through the walls around it, or their discovery abilities to analyze its magic and dispel it, or their social abilities to contact the wizard who made it and get him to remove it. The solution still lies within character abilities. Players are choosing how to apply those abilities, but the test isn't about the player's abilities any more than combat is a test of my buddy Frank's ability to accurately hit things with a sword.
 

LostSoul

Adventurer
Now, if you tell me, after a couple of tries, flat out, there is no solution to this, you need to do something else, I guess that would be fine, but, whatever the DM does, don't let the PC's screw around for hours trying to solve something with no solution.

One way to deal with this is to have multiple options for the PCs at any one time; you can let the players control the pacing of the game and decide what they want to do. If they want to spend hours, that's their choice.

If you start tracking their decision-making in real-time, you can spice it up with wandering monster checks. That would probably need to be a rule, though, so the players can make informed decisions.

I think there are better games than D&D to do the "problems that always have solutions" thing. Trail of Cthulhu jumps to mind.
 

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