Of Mooks, Plot Armor, and ttRPGs

Having taken the night to cool off, this is my last word on the topic.

@bloodtide First I wish to say that in my posts to you, I used some language that was belittling. The "call me crazy" line, in particular. For that I apologize. I will edit my posts if you wish me to do so.

That said:
It is odd how you take every word I type directed at you. Again, if I was to make a comment about you, I'd use your name.
This sort of transparent redirection ploy isn't fooling anyone, sir. Or in more colloquial language, don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining.

You portrayed me as a spineless wimp. I know it, you know it, anyone reading your post knows it. No, you didn't use my name. But your intent was very clear.

Stop trying to gaslight me and talk to me with a minimum of respect as another adult human being. Or stop talking to me altogether. Your choice.
 

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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
The posters I see talking most often about Stonetop are @Manbearcat and @hawkeyefan. Neither is a proponent of "narrative mechanics-filled" games - I'm not 100% sure what a "narrative mechanic" is in this context, but I take it to mean something like "spend a point to make X true of the fiction" and the PbtA games that Manbearcat and hawkeyefan talk about typically do not have such mechanics.

The descriptions of the mechanics in Stonetop are very similar to those in Gygax's DMG: roll some dice, add some numbers, to get the result.

The difference from AD&D consists in the principles that govern the GM's statements about what happens next.

Yet I feel we have had this same conversation dozens of times, your misunderstandings have been corrected then, and still here we are again!

The core of the difference between AD&D and Stonetop is not mechanical. It's about the principles that the GM follows.

If you try to apply the Stonetop principles to GMing AD&D, you'll quickly run into problems with some of its mechanics - they don't fit with the principles. The reverse is also true: if you try to apply AD&D principles to Stonetop, you'll quickly run into problems with some of its mechanics. In fact I've read posts about this very sort of issue on these boards - eg a GM who applied AD&D principles concerning GM authority over, and flowing from, secret backstory to adjudicate the DW move Discern Realities which then meant that they had no hard moves to make when their PCs failed Discern Realities checks.

But in both cases its the principles that are primary, and that create these constraints. And there are some RPGs in which a given set of mechanics can be toggled between principles: I've often posted that I GM Classic Traveller using a version of AW/DW/Stonetop principles. Cthulhu Dark is another example: it is written to be GMed using principles very similar to AD&D ones, but when I GM it I use principles very similar to Burning Wheel ones.

I am not asserting that there are no RPGs with interesting mechanical differences. Nor that some of those mechanical differences in themselves produce profound differences of play experience (compare eg AD&D, or Rolemaster, or Burning Wheel - on the one hand - to Marvel Heroic RP - on the other). But I don't regard Stonetop vs AD&D, or Burning Wheel vs AD&D, or even Cthulhu Dark vs AD&D, as examples of this. (Except perhaps in their lack of an AD&D-style spell system - but this actually means that they have fewer "narrative mechanics" than AD&D, given the way AD&D spells work!)

By this measure, every RPG I've played since I was about 15 is simulationist. Which would make the term functionally useless.

What distinguishes Rolemaster from Burning Wheel is nothing to do with the "reality" of the setting. Certainly not its depth.

What distinguishes them is the principles that govern how what happens next is decided.
Well, then I have to say it's the principles that govern these games that I don't care for. Happy yo be corrected, but it doesn't really change anything for me.

Oh, and still loving how people continue to take every opportunity to claim simulation doesn't exist.
 


Aldarc

Legend
Oh, and still loving how people continue to take every opportunity to claim simulation doesn't exist.
I don't think that @pemerton is claiming that simulationism doesn't exist. From what I gather, the point being made here is that the definition or sense of what constitutes "simulationism" that was provided prior is so open or broad that it's not particularly distinct from other forms of play. The point therein is to move the definition to a more meaningful, distinctive, and useable definition rather than deny its existence.
 

But why? Why is a goblin always weak, but an elf could be anything? Why can't a goblin be powerful? Exactly how do you decide the power of each creature? You can't use the rules, so, what are you using?
Why does gravity work in D&D but guns don't (yes we can vary these but in general). We need some sort of basic agreed nature of the fiction or else play becomes impossible. This is the basic function of genre. In D&D's genre/setting assumptions goblin is a weak low-level monster. Subverting that is fine, but usually it's best to signal it somehow.
Again, this is a common way for new players to get into trouble in my game. They would runs into the room and ignore the goblins. Oh, what, each goblin is a 5th level ice barbarian...well they players "never thought" that could "ever happen".
Yes, gotcha! Haha. I can see it as an amusing incident. But if you simply deny everyone any way to rely on knowledge and experience of the world/genre the typical result is turtling and pixel bitching behavior.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Why does gravity work in D&D but guns don't (yes we can vary these but in general). We need some sort of basic agreed nature of the fiction or else play becomes impossible. This is the basic function of genre. In D&D's genre/setting assumptions goblin is a weak low-level monster. Subverting that is fine, but usually it's best to signal it somehow.

Yes, gotcha! Haha. I can see it as an amusing incident. But if you simply deny everyone any way to rely on knowledge and experience of the world/genre the typical result is turtling and pixel bitching behavior.
Which, if it makes sense that the characters would do such, is 100% fine.

The trick, of course, is to not overdo the unexpected - have things work predictably most of the time, but not all of the time.
 

Well, then I have to say it's the principles that govern these games that I don't care for. Happy yo be corrected, but it doesn't really change anything for me.

Oh, and still loving how people continue to take every opportunity to claim simulation doesn't exist.
I feel bound to respond that I don't think other posters have asserted that <bows>. That being said I would like to be more clear. I think a more useful position would distinguish clearly between light process sim (I wonder if sim is the best term but not wanting to get too deep in that swamp) and 'world sim' which I am personally deeply skeptical about.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think a more useful position would distinguish clearly between light process sim (I wonder if sim is the best term but not wanting to get too deep in that swamp) and 'world sim' which I am personally deeply skeptical about.
Rolemaster does not really purport to simulate a world. It is purist-for-system in the sense of the Right to Dream essay. Here's how these games are described:

These games' five-element structure is consistent: System + Color thereof, Setting, then Character + Situation. I'm trying to think of one which switches the role of character before setting, which might include some some superhero games. It might seem odd that Color is placed so high in priority, but consider the engineering-text model for the game text of GURPS - this is, actually, Color for System. . . .

Purist-for-System designs tend to model the same things: differences among scales, situational modifiers, kinetics of all kinds, and so forth.​

I think that Rolemaster might be another game that puts Character ahead of Setting.

The significance of this description becomes clearer when we see how "High Concept" or "genre" simulation is described:

At first glance, these games might look like additions to or specifications of the Purist for System design, mainly through plugging in a fixed Setting. However, I think that impression isn't accurate, and that the five elements are very differently related. The formula starts with one of Character, Situation, or Setting, with lots of Color, then the other two (Character, Situation, or Setting, whichever weren't in first place), with System being last in priority.​

In other words, a system like RM or RQ - and also at least some approaches to Classic Traveller - prioritises system, a mechanical process of resolution which itself establishes colour and "theme" in the sense of focusing on those issues of scale, kinetics etc that are mentioned. The goal isn't to model a world: it's to make certain elements of the fiction salient, and to then have a mechanical resolution process that can take those as inputs and generate appropriate outputs. If the system breaks down when the parameters are varied even within reasonable limits, or if it needs intervention from a human operator to ensure that results "make sense", then the game is not doing what it is mean to do.

Whereas high concept/genre sim is quite different: the point of the PC build rules, for instance, isn't to produce mechanical elements of character that feed into a resolution engine: it's to produce characters with clear (and often colourful) descriptors which can then be fed into setting and/or situation. And there is a significant expectation of human operator intervention to make sure that those descriptors and that colour are respected in the outcomes of play. Every CoC or D&D module that has advice to the GM on what to do if the players miss a necessary clue, or every bit of advice about not rolling the dice and just going with what "makes sense" for the character, is something that would be out of place in purist-for-system play but is part and parcel of high concept sim play.

This is how we can tell that, within this taxonomical framework, 5e D&D is essentially a high concept/genre sim game. The closest D&D gets to being purist-for-system is if played in a type of AD&D style that differs from Gygax's own "skilled" play and focuses more on letting the system do its own thing for its own sake. The known problems with this are that AC, hit points, saving throws and even spell slots don't make much sense when looked at through this lens - they're hard to take seriously as "models" of anything in the fiction - and so the natural drifts towards vitality + wound points, armour as damage reduction, all take place, and we end up in the same general terrain as RM, RQ, C&S etc. I'm sure you're familiar with that drift because you were there the first time it happened in the late 70s/early 80s and have no doubt seen versions of it (even, on these boards, @Lanefan's versions) played out again and again and again.
 
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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Why does gravity work in D&D but guns don't (yes we can vary these but in general). We need some sort of basic agreed nature of the fiction or else play becomes impossible. This is the basic function of genre. In D&D's genre/setting assumptions goblin is a weak low-level monster. Subverting that is fine, but usually it's best to signal it somehow.

Yes, gotcha! Haha. I can see it as an amusing incident. But if you simply deny everyone any way to rely on knowledge and experience of the world/genre the typical result is turtling and pixel bitching behavior.
Guns don't work on general in D&D? Where is that written?
 

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