Map-and-key RPGing contrasted with alternatives

niklinna

satisfied?
He's probably missing a trick for a future game. His applecart upset, Joe Sr. turns to the bottle, his lucrative business selling luscious apples from here and yon dwindling into selling low quality homemade cider made from the noxious crabapples that grow in the nearby swamps to hobos in exchange for rat-loin pies. Little Joey, haunted by his father's eventual death (choked on rat-gristle), becomes a master assassin and stalks the PCs, one by one.
Assisted by a mysterious cabbage vendor....
 

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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
To kind of proceed from where @Manbearcat left off, there are some pretty typical ways that Map & Key dungeon crawling can break down. The most common case is where the players end up 'pixel bitching' the environment. This is often a result of the GM who mistakenly believes that 'skilled play' demands a mercilessly unforgiving environment in which the players rapidly assume a defensive posture of exhaustively examining every rock, flagstone, patch of moss, etc. It can be avoided by logically placing the dangers in areas where they most make sense (IE you generally put traps at doors or choke points) and perhaps giving some clues or indications without the players need to intervene.

An example of this was how used to play back in the early days in low level play. Really early on myself and a couple other players developed a routine which we called "Sniff and Listen." At first this was just applied at doors, and literally consisted of listening and smelling and looking for traps. Later, as GMs insisted on punishing us with ear seekers and such nonsense, and trying to make nastier less obvious traps it was actually written down and became an elaborate procedure. It also got versions that applied to other situations besides doors. So at the start of a new game with a new GM we would HAND THE GM a couple page explanation of what the term Sniff and Listen entailed, including all the different safeguards, devices, and whatnot that would be used. Needless to say many DMs were fairly displeased by this development.
That's an interesting comparison. In a way, there is a relationship between the Keyed Map dungeon crawl and the "skilled play" (aka sniff and listen/pixel audit) methods. Both involve a predefined setting or determination of what is there and it's up to the players to navigate that predefined location whether it's a dungeon or a trapped door or a searchable room. That's pretty much D&D and dungeon crawling at the beginning.

The development of task rolls or tests to accomplish these things, whether searching for traps, looting rooms, or even navigating mazes or racing the enemy to the wizard's tower came later, in various stages, to streamline play or model the PCs rather than the players' skills or ability to negotiate with the DM or, in more recent games, provide an avenue for players to narrate the outcome rather than rely on a DM-accessed key.

And, obviously, we still see tension between gamers who prefer one over the other. I wouldn't at all be surprised if some of the more adamant adherents of one type (keyed map over more abstract tests) tend to be the more adamant adherents of the other (skilled play over more abstract tests).
 

That's an interesting comparison. In a way, there is a relationship between the Keyed Map dungeon crawl and the "skilled play" (aka sniff and listen/pixel audit) methods. Both involve a predefined setting or determination of what is there and it's up to the players to navigate that predefined location whether it's a dungeon or a trapped door or a searchable room. That's pretty much D&D and dungeon crawling at the beginning.
Yeah, lets see... In Dungeon World a trap would be a hard move, possibly the GM might reason "well, Discern Realities already indicated traps as a likely hazard. Now the party seems to be just traipsing down this hallway, handed to me on a silver platter, BAM!" At that point the player might describe their Defy Danger as "I attempt to carefully note any tripwires, pressure plates, or similar triggers." That would probably invoke a +WIS check, the Thief might well instead describe dodging the consequences +DEX. So, you certainly CAN get a narrative that reads "and the Thief spotted the trap before setting it off!" I might even let them use Trap Expert instead of Defy Danger even though they technically didn't explicitly trigger that move.

In the case of, say, TB2, well its actually pretty D&D-esque in general shape. The GM created a trap as one of the obstacles, how it will manifest is a bit dependent on the fiction to that point, but somewhat like DW, the character could be just moving along, and the GM might say something like "You feel a bit of pressure on your left foot as you start to pick it up." OK, given whatever character attributes this PC has they will have to form a dice pool to deal with that fiction consistently. Or the GM might simply say "you note the presence of a wire crossing the path."
The development of task rolls or tests to accomplish these things, whether searching for traps, looting rooms, or even navigating mazes or racing the enemy to the wizard's tower came later, in various stages, to streamline play or model the PCs rather than the players' skills or ability to negotiate with the DM or, in more recent games, provide an avenue for players to narrate the outcome rather than rely on a DM-accessed key.
Right, so the first problem was with traps and locks and such, where the GM is certainly not expert enough, nor unbiased enough, to judge the outcome of a run-in with a trap, or a lock picking attempt. Thus the thief was endowed with 'skills' that would abstract away the actual "did I set it off" etc. This is essentially the same role that attack rolls play in combat. It does, kind of, work, actually not too badly for something like a trap. The DMG even indicates a kind of 'level of success' determination heuristic (IE you may set it off, you may just fail to disarm it, or you may succeed in disarming it). At the time Greyhawk was published there were maybe 2 RPGs on the market, so its not surprising this model was used.

Modern games like PbtAs certainly have seriously changed things, but there was a kind of evolutionary sequence.
First was Greyhawk, pure success/fail
Second were games that allowed some resource to be spent to improve the odds (or succeed outright)
Third were ideas like 'fail forward' and 'retained results' (IE as long as you keep doing it, don't roll again)
Finally we get to intent and/or 'if you do it, you do it' kind of setups, usually with levels of success, etc.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
That's an interesting comparison. In a way, there is a relationship between the Keyed Map dungeon crawl and the "skilled play" (aka sniff and listen/pixel audit) methods. Both involve a predefined setting or determination of what is there and it's up to the players to navigate that predefined location whether it's a dungeon or a trapped door or a searchable room. That's pretty much D&D and dungeon crawling at the beginning.

The development of task rolls or tests to accomplish these things, whether searching for traps, looting rooms, or even navigating mazes or racing the enemy to the wizard's tower came later, in various stages, to streamline play or model the PCs rather than the players' skills or ability to negotiate with the DM or, in more recent games, provide an avenue for players to narrate the outcome rather than rely on a DM-accessed key.

And, obviously, we still see tension between gamers who prefer one over the other. I wouldn't at all be surprised if some of the more adamant adherents of one type (keyed map over more abstract tests) tend to be the more adamant adherents of the other (skilled play over more abstract tests).
To which I would reply that it's perfectly possible to do 'skilled play' in very much the old school manner without anything like a fully keyed dungeon. That said, some players can only handle a game space where they are completely sure that everything is pre-written. I don't have the time or inclination to spend that much time oon prep anymore, but if that's someone's thing, then cool.
 

Pedantic

Legend
And, obviously, we still see tension between gamers who prefer one over the other. I wouldn't at all be surprised if some of the more adamant adherents of one type (keyed map over more abstract tests) tend to be the more adamant adherents of the other (skilled play over more abstract tests).
I would say the game I would really like to play crosses that stream. Strongly defined rules for player actions, and a strongly defined setting to use them on.
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Here's a scenario: the heroes are fighting a boss, and the boss is trying to maneuver to lure a PC over a pit trap. The GM has asks for a roll (for whatever contested resolution mechanic is applicable) and the player of that PC loses the roll. Instead of forcing the player to move to the location of the trap, the GM moves the trap to the player.

Fair?
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
So dramatic! Alas, Joe wasn't due on that corner until 2:15 PM, and the PC was running through at 2:05. Now little Joey will grow up to be an apple-seller like his dad and probably marry young Marta across the street. Their torrid romance will be the stuff of legends, but the PCs will unfortunately never hear about it.

I mean, there is some irony to being so wedded to your world-building that you kill off the PCs rather than compromise the integrity of that world, and thus they never get to experience it.
 

pemerton

Legend
Here's a scenario: the heroes are fighting a boss, and the boss is trying to maneuver to lure a PC over a pit trap. The GM has asks for a roll (for whatever contested resolution mechanic is applicable) and the player of that PC loses the roll. Instead of forcing the player to move to the location of the trap, the GM moves the trap to the player.

Fair?
I think it depends on the broader resolution framework.

In a skill challenge I ran in 4e, I narrated a failure from the fighter's player as meaning that the Pact Hag had succeeded in leading the fighter to stand over the pit - she then pulled the cord and he fell into it. That is a harder move than would be typical in D&D, but in a system in which the GM doesn't roll (and so can't impose a push or slide effect on the PC) and in which (unlike 4e combat) the player is never required to move their PC on a "gameboard", it was the only way to make that pretty classic trope work.

If the resolution is happening on a 4e-stye grid (eg during a combat, which is what I take your scenario to be) then I think there is an expectation that the GM will keep the map-and-key constant (even if bits of it are hidden from the players initially), and that there are other devices for emulating the boss manoeuvring the PC over the pit (eg forced movement). In 4e, on the player side this is the stuff of powers like Footwork Lure.

In a system that doesn't use map-and-key resolution in combat, then positioning (and hence luring over a pit) will be determined in different ways. Whether it's fair for the GM to just reveal a hitherto-hidden pit will also be different across systems - in Burning Wheel Fight!, for instance (I'm thinking here of the Revised approach; I don't know the Gold approach as well), a successful positioning test at the top of the volley would allow the enemy to manoeuvre the PC into position, but I think the player should get to roll Natural Defences (Speed) to avoid falling into the pit: the GM should set an obstacle, say Ob 3 to avoid falling in, and a +2Ob or +1 Ob penalty for loss of balance for each margin of success below 6 with the penalty reducing by 1 Ob per volley until the PC regains their balance.

In Prince Valiant it might be a contest of Agility + Brawn, perhaps with an advantage for positioning if applicable.

I'm sure there are many other possible approaches too.
 


soviet

Hero
I think it depends on the broader resolution framework.

In a skill challenge I ran in 4e, I narrated a failure from the fighter's player as meaning that the Pact Hag had succeeded in leading the fighter to stand over the pit - she then pulled the cord and he fell into it. That is a harder move than would be typical in D&D, but in a system in which the GM doesn't roll (and so can't impose a push or slide effect on the PC) and in which (unlike 4e combat) the player is never required to move their PC on a "gameboard", it was the only way to make that pretty classic trope work.

If the resolution is happening on a 4e-stye grid (eg during a combat, which is what I take your scenario to be) then I think there is an expectation that the GM will keep the map-and-key constant (even if bits of it are hidden from the players initially), and that there are other devices for emulating the boss manoeuvring the PC over the pit (eg forced movement). In 4e, on the player side this is the stuff of powers like Footwork Lure.

In a system that doesn't use map-and-key resolution in combat, then positioning (and hence luring over a pit) will be determined in different ways. Whether it's fair for the GM to just reveal a hitherto-hidden pit will also be different across systems - in Burning Wheel Fight!, for instance (I'm thinking here of the Revised approach; I don't know the Gold approach as well), a successful positioning test at the top of the volley would allow the enemy to manoeuvre the PC into position, but I think the player should get to roll Natural Defences (Speed) to avoid falling into the pit: the GM should set an obstacle, say Ob 3 to avoid falling in, and a +2Ob or +1 Ob penalty for loss of balance for each margin of success below 6 with the penalty reducing by 1 Ob per volley until the PC regains their balance.

In Prince Valiant it might be a contest of Agility + Brawn, perhaps with an advantage for positioning if applicable.

I'm sure there are many other possible approaches too.
Agreed. I think broadly speaking the more abstract your representation of the environment is, the more freedom the GM has to move the trap to the PC. If we don't really know precisely where the PC is standing, then it's harder to say that the player has made any sort of choice that is now being negated.
 

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