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D&D General On Skilled Play: D&D as a Game

What player goal is this helping to achieve? What would unskilled play that results in failure look like here?

Assuming there is a goal and a failure state - what player goals does using your resources here prevent you or lower your chances of achieving (later)? You see, I'm really afraid this procedure comes back around to being a somewhat less overt way of having a player choose between competing goals.
Well, the example was invoking a 'Discern Realities' move at a strategic juncture in order to obtain a 'hold' which can be expended later. So 'hold' in DW is a resource you can acquire which you can then spend on a later check to obtain some advantage (actually I think technically, depending on the source of the hold it is pretty generic, it could even act as a plot point, or almost anything, though usually it is used to give out +1 Forward). Anyway, unskilled play would simply be forgoing the opportunity (because it isn't recognized, or simply through a lack of interest I suppose, or maybe 'my character is not that attentive, or something').

Discern Realities itself forces the GM to tell you about the situation and allows you to compel an answer to 1 or 3 questions from a list about what you see. One of the questions you can ask requires that the GM tell what is useful to you, and then gives you a 'hold' to use later to grant +1 Forward when engaging that element. So, assuming you roll well enough, if you are clever (skilled) enough you could invoke a 'what here is useful to me' in such a way that it would give advantage downstream in the narrative (and the GM should go along with this, he's a fan of the characters).
 

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A tangent, that was prompted by @AbdulAlhazred upthread: this is from the Dig spell (PHB p 76):

Any creature at the edge (1’) of such a pit uses its dexterity score as a saving throw to avoid falling into the hole, with a score equal to or less than the dexterity meaning that a fall was avoided. Any creature moving rapidly towards a pit area will fall in unless it saves versus magic. Any creature caught in the center of a pit just dug will always fall in.​

This is bonkers. Or at least weird. It's clear that running towards a pit is meant to be more dangerous than just standing near one. But there's going to be quite a range of characters for whom saving vs Magic is easer than saving vs Dexterity - eg a 10th level Cleric saves vs Magic on an 11 which is easier than rolling a Dexterity save if the ability score is 9 or less. And given that Dig is a 4th level spell, so a caster will be a 7th level or higher MU, it's not out of the question that a 10th level Cleric will be targeted.

And why the use of Dexterity at all, as opposed to a Magic save with, say, a +2 or +4 bonus?

It's poorly conceived.
LOL, and thus you certainly validate my contention that classic D&D is not a game which was really designed according to any sort of principles at all. It is just a giant hill of rules created on the fly during play, and you are NOT EXPECTED to take it as anything but the merest advice "this is how I, Gary did it on December 28th of 1974 when Rob Kuntz's character was caught in a Dig spell cast by Tenser." Of course this was inadequate for general play, especially after Gary took it upon himself to decree that AD&D was 'canonical' and you needed to follow it to the letter in (at least) organized play (though he implies you should really do it his way always). The release of D&D 3rd Edition was a VAST and monumental step forward simply by creating a game where rational and practical approaches to the rules were expected (despite its myriad and pretty obvious flaws in many other respects).
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Thanks for the elaboration. Though I still don't know what goal the player is trying to achieve.
Well, the example was invoking a 'Discern Realities' move at a strategic juncture in order to obtain a 'hold' which can be expended later. So 'hold' in DW is a resource you can acquire which you can then spend on a later check to obtain some advantage (actually I think technically, depending on the source of the hold it is pretty generic, it could even act as a plot point, or almost anything, though usually it is used to give out +1 Forward). Anyway, unskilled play would simply be forgoing the opportunity (because it isn't recognized, or simply through a lack of interest I suppose, or maybe 'my character is not that attentive, or something').
Or could the player be 'saving' the Discern Realities move for a different opportunity or had already used it earlier on a better opportunity? Or perhaps they picked a move they thought would be better? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't.

That is, to demonstrate skilled play it's not enough to show a player could have done something to gain an advantage on one action without understanding if there were tradeoffs to him doing so and how those tradeoffs weigh against each other and in relation to his goals.

Discern Realities itself forces the GM to tell you about the situation and allows you to compel an answer to 1 or 3 questions from a list about what you see. One of the questions you can ask requires that the GM tell what is useful to you, and then gives you a 'hold' to use later to grant +1 Forward when engaging that element. So, assuming you roll well enough, if you are clever (skilled) enough you could invoke a 'what here is useful to me' in such a way that it would give advantage downstream in the narrative (and the GM should go along with this, he's a fan of the characters).
But presumably you could have done that at any point and gained similar benefits? You aren't explaining why the timing on the ability is important to completing your goals - only that it provides some advantage to you when you use the ability, which is not in dispute.
 
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pemerton

Legend
This whole post makes me realize we are talking about THREE stances here!
I will only try and engage with two of them.

The GAMIST player is simply making moves with his character in 'pawn stance' where his goals are @Manbearcat's 'win cons' for the particular game being played. Maybe you are implying your 'spreadsheet expert' (we all have one) friend plays this way, at least primarily. This is the stance which is most rewarded in GSP, presumably. Even alignment penalties being mostly a minor additional constraint abstractly based on 'character' (but so abstract it rarely produces really strong constraints). Samwise in this stance obtains the ring from Frodo's corpse, goes back to the shire (enstaving Saruman on his way) and rules it as a dread king.

The DRAMATIST is playing his character in '1st person', that is inhabiting the PC's mental and emotional state and deciding her actions based on that understanding/empathy. This seems to conform to what you claim to be doing with your BW character. You've already noted that BW supplies some mechanical rewards for this, although your gamist stance friend seems to be managing to reap at least as much, maybe more (my understanding of the details of the BW rules is a bit crude). This Samwise stands by his master's 'corpse', come what may.
These will be some disjointed thoughts:

(1) If the optimisation incentives are set up properly, Samwise will still try to destroy the ring. For instance, in our play yesterday of The Green Knight one of the PCs purchased the Engraved Mace from the bandits (via a Persuasion check) after the bandits had been persuaded to renounce their banditry (via an Intimidation check) rather than just take it from them, in order to avoid Dishonour. In the system Dishonour is (roughly) damage but also serves as a target number: the higher your Dishonour the harder Honourable actions and the easier Dishonourable ones, but you lose if your Dishonour reaches 20. And so for the first three Encounters my players adopted a keep Dishonour as low as possible strategy while favouring Honourable actions (which further reinforce that strategy via various other aspects of the resolution system).

Hence, in a system designed to achieve it, there need be no move from optimised play to expedient PCs. But this is probably going to require some sort of metagame/thematic feedback loop (like the one in The Green Knight) to work. If all your resolution is confined to granular extrapolation of the fiction, and you have no personality/thematic constraints stronger than alignment with few or no teeth, then expedience will rule the day (as is notorious in D&D play - hence "murder hobos", Knights of the Dinner Table, etc).

(2) The above consideration means that my spreadsheet expert doesn't always play expedient characters. They often incline somewhat in that direction, but not always and even when they do not that extremely. (Certainly no worse tha Han Solo in Star Wars.) And he sometimes moves into the "inhabitation" decision space - eg yesterday in the final encounter the players split on their strategy in the final Encounter, with one adopting a Dishonour strategy (so as to get what he wanted by the end of the Encounter but without losing by reaching 20 Dishonour). There was no optimisation-based reason for the spreadsheet player to take issue with this, but he objected to it in his capacity as the conscience of his PC, and hence made decisions that hindered the other players strategy and ended up contributing to that other player losing the final Encounter.

To use terminology from The Forge, much of the play was in Author stance (which facilitated essential cooperation) but at that crucial moment, when the need for cooperation had passed, both players shifted to Actor stance with the result that one hindered the other and caused him to lose. In classic D&D that would suck big time; but The Green Knight plays as a one-shot and so a bit of blood opera or similar at the moment of climax is acceptable and doesn't spoil the game for the players. (We can see here that win conditions also intersect with replay expectations to shape the parameters for what is acceptable play of a system.)

(3) When playing BW my spreadsheet friend certainly loves a bit of Author stance, so as to get the checks he needs to improve his PC. He sometimes inhabits his PC and thereby earns artha ("fate points") but sometimes he earns that by (more-or-less) running through a checklist of his Beliefs, Instincts etc (think roughly Alignment and Bonds in DW) and making sure he's ticked off enough of each for the session to earn his artha.

My approach is very close to Actor stance all the way. (I'm sure there are moments of Author stance, but not too much. I get enough of that when I GM!) I don't really need to go through my checklist to make sure I get my artha - I just play my character as characterised by his Beliefs, Instincts etc and my artha falls out. So I do as well or better than him on the artha front. But my character doesn't mechanically improve very quickly, because I'm not really setting out to make the checks I'll need to get improvement; I tend to just make the checks that the situation demands, and see what falls out of that. But as I've posted, BW has other elements to the system - particularly around consequence narration and subsequent framing - which mean that that sort of "indifference" to technically optimal play won't hose me. The contrast with classic D&D is in my view pretty marked.

In the Samwise context, it's not just standing by Frodo's corpse come what may. Because that sounds pretty static. The GM should be narrating scenes that generate dynamism - eg Samwise has a Belief about protecting Frodo and also a Belief about seeing the mission through, and now they can't both be realised, and in deciding which one to honour within the parameters of the GM-established scene (we know how Sam did it in the book, though he came to regret it not much later) he earns Mouldbreaker artha (ie artha for dramatically roleplaying out the clash between your Beliefs and/or Instincts).

What's key for me and hence what I'm resting my distinctions on, is between (i) adopting a "bird's eye" view of all the parameters that create the decision-space for declaring an action for Sam (including which move has the best mechanical chance of success, which one will earn the most artha which will buff moves down the track, etc), and (ii) inhabiting Sam as a character, making a decision on basis, and letting the mechanical consequences fall where they may. Not all RPGs really allow for (ii) as a viable approach, at least without a lot of GM fudging and manipulation of the fiction, but I think BW is one and I suspect (though can't claim to know) that DW might be another. Prince Valiant is one too.

Currently, I am playing a Paladin in Dungeon World. I have two healing actions available to me, Lay on Hands (which keys off CHA (+2 bonus) and the 7-9 complication transfers the damage or disease to me) and Cure Light Wounds via Cleric MC Advanced Move (which keys off WIS (+ 1 bonus due to ongoing debility and the 7-9 complication is either (i) lose spell subsequently to this Casting, (ii) take -1 ongoing to Cast a Spell or (iii) draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot). Both heal the same amount of damage.

I am at the ranch of my aspiring protege, whom I hope to recruit to my faith as a Jean d'Arc figure from prophecy. We prepare for an assault on the ranch by dishonest and powerful competitors. Meanwhile, her mother suffers from consumption and will die soon if not treated. I consider my two healing options. Cure Light Wounds carries less overt risk (I will suffer HP damage and another debility if I roll 7-9 and transfer the disease to me via Lay on Hands), right before a big fight. But taking that risk of greater personal harm might sway my potential padawan to believe in me and my cause. Instead I use Lay on Hands. I roll 10+ and the NPC eventually is recruited to my cause, thematically. Skilled Play?

In our most recent session, all three of us (my Paladin, my wife's Wizard, and my protege NPC) suffered significant damage in a BBEG type fight against an extra planar entity. Our next step was to take a downtime move, which would afford some healing (among other possible action choices), before proceeding through the planar portal to the Feywild in hope of recruiting the wicked eladrin once in service to the Prince of Frost as soldiers in our war against our nemesis, that very same Prince. During downtime, when nothing is narratively at stake, I use Cure Light Wounds as my healing move because nothing is narratively at stake and the risks to me are lesser in these circumstances. Skilled Play?
You're using "skilled play" as a descriptor of moments of play, rather than as a descriptor for an agenda of play. Which obviously is perfectly permissible!, but I just wanted to make the difference from my own usage in my posts in this thread clear to anyone reading along.

What you are drawing my attention to is that DW, a bit like D&D (unsurprisingly) has multiple mechanical pathways to much the same in-fiction state of affairs. This is a contrast (not necessarily a super-sharp one, but certainly of degree) with BW and Prince Valiant. I think this does tend to open up more room for optimisation-type reasoning, which certainly seems to be governing your downtime decision, and obviously is a factor in your ranch decision.

Because of the dominance of optimisation considerations in the downtime case I don't see any need to push the inquiry further. (If I've missed something, though, tell me!). But with the ranch example I am very curious: as you character, what is going through your mind in deciding which sort of healing to use?
 

pemerton

Legend
classic D&D is not a game which was really designed according to any sort of principles at all. It is just a giant hill of rules created on the fly during play, and you are NOT EXPECTED to take it as anything but the merest advice "this is how I, Gary did it on December 28th of 1974 when Rob Kuntz's character was caught in a Dig spell cast by Tenser." Of course this was inadequate for general play, especially after Gary took it upon himself to decree that AD&D was 'canonical' and you needed to follow it to the letter in (at least) organized play (though he implies you should really do it his way always). The release of D&D 3rd Edition was a VAST and monumental step forward simply by creating a game where rational and practical approaches to the rules were expected (despite its myriad and pretty obvious flaws in many other respects).
One consequence of the "canonical" ethos, which I really think has held back D&D (not commercially, but in my view from a "creative" perspective) is that so much adjudication that was an output of Gygax et al's process of play gets presented as input for everyone else's play. So we get a version of what Ron Edwards (in a slightly different context) calls "karaoke RPGing".

While 3E systematised, it also doubled down on the idea of rules and rulings as input.

One thing I like about 4e D&D and BW and Prince Valiant - otherwise very different systems! - is that they tend to eschew karaoke. There are systematised mechanics, and there are examples provided of how those mechanics might be operationalised, but the game participants are invited and expected to bring their own creativity to bear in answering questions like how stealthy, really, is a high level thief when trying to sneak past Heimdall or what approach might I use to avoid falling into that pit that just magically appeared a yard or two in front of me as I flee from the frost giants? I don't know DW as well as the other systems I mentioned, but it seems to also eschew karaoke.
 

Thanks for the elaboration. Though I still don't know what goal the player is trying to achieve.

Or could the player be 'saving' the Discern Realities move for a different opportunity or had already used it earlier on a better opportunity? Or perhaps they picked a move they thought would be better? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't.
Not in the case of that particular move, it is a 'generic' move of DW and, assuming fictional appropriateness could be invoked at pretty much any point. So the skill would be developing the fictional position to make a consequential DR check, and then linking whatever was revealed to the situation at hand when you need the hold (or at least having a good feel for 'asking the right question' so that the hold WOULD be appropriate at the desired juncture).

Now, other moves might fall more into the 'use this resource wisely because it is expendable', like casting a spell in DW frequently makes it unavailable for later use, so use it wisely.
That is, to demonstrate skilled play it's not enough to show a player could have done something to gain an advantage on one action without understanding if there were tradeoffs to him doing so and how those tradeoffs weigh against each other and in relation to his goals.


But presumably you could have done that at any point and gained similar benefits? You aren't explaining why the timing on the ability is important to completing your goals - only that it provides some advantage to you when you use the ability, which is not in dispute.
The skill is in that if you ask a question about X with DR, you can gain hold WRT X later on. You better be skillful in picking what X is. I suppose you could TRY to 'SPAM' DR all over the place, OTOH the GM is the one who actually decides if a specific move has been invoked. The player simply states the PC's actions (IE I am carefully examining this location/situation, what do I see?). So if the GM felt that the player was trying to simply play to acquire hold, she might simply 'answer the question' and not validate it as a formal move. This does get into the realm of 'bad faith play' at some point. I think this is a gray area with DW to an extent, are you playing aggressively, or are you kind of exploiting the rules in a way that isn't really intended? It is not a question that can be answered except at the table, really.

Also the GM would have other options, like telling the player his PC is now Spouting Lore. This might still be advantageous, but it has a different connotation in the fiction. Technically he could even bend the whole thing back on the players and ask THEM questions (which are somewhat non-binding, but should be generally respected). Any of these could be equally good for the player, but the point is its all a bit of interplay. This is, AFAICT, very similar to the situation in a FitD based game.
 

I will only try and engage with two of them.


These will be some disjointed thoughts:

(1) If the optimisation incentives are set up properly, Samwise will still try to destroy the ring. For instance, in our play yesterday of The Green Knight one of the PCs purchased the Engraved Mace from the bandits (via a Persuasion check) after the bandits had been persuaded to renounce their banditry (via an Intimidation check) rather than just take it from them, in order to avoid Dishonour. In the system Dishonour is (roughly) damage but also serves as a target number: the higher your Dishonour the harder Honourable actions and the easier Dishonourable ones, but you lose if your Dishonour reaches 20. And so for the first three Encounters my players adopted a keep Dishonour as low as possible strategy while favouring Honourable actions (which further reinforce that strategy via various other aspects of the resolution system).

Hence, in a system designed to achieve it, there need be no move from optimised play to expedient PCs. But this is probably going to require some sort of metagame/thematic feedback loop (like the one in The Green Knight) to work. If all your resolution is confined to granular extrapolation of the fiction, and you have no personality/thematic constraints stronger than alignment with few or no teeth, then expedience will rule the day (as is notorious in D&D play - hence "murder hobos", Knights of the Dinner Table, etc).
Right, I didn't delve into that. You could cover in terms of what @Manbearcat calls 'win cons', which I guess is pretty much exactly what you're saying. If my hypothetical 'Middle Earth' game's win cons were "Defeat Sauron Completely" then, consistent with the fiction, the ONLY win is achieved by going to the Samath Naur and casting it in. Thus Sam's action of becoming a 'Dark Hobbit Lord' would be merely delaying defeat, at best.
(2) The above consideration means that my spreadsheet expert doesn't always play expedient characters. They often incline somewhat in that direction, but not always and even when they do not that extremely. (Certainly no worse tha Han Solo in Star Wars.) And he sometimes moves into the "inhabitation" decision space - eg yesterday in the final encounter the players split on their strategy in the final Encounter, with one adopting a Dishonour strategy (so as to get what he wanted by the end of the Encounter but without losing by reaching 20 Dishonour). There was no optimisation-based reason for the spreadsheet player to take issue with this, but he objected to it in his capacity as the conscience of his PC, and hence made decisions that hindered the other players strategy and ended up contributing to that other player losing the final Encounter.

To use terminology from The Forge, much of the play was in Author stance (which facilitated essential cooperation) but at that crucial moment, when the need for cooperation had passed, both players shifted to Actor stance with the result that one hindered the other and caused him to lose. In classic D&D that would suck big time; but The Green Knight plays as a one-shot and so a bit of blood opera or similar at the moment of climax is acceptable and doesn't spoil the game for the players. (We can see here that win conditions also intersect with replay expectations to shape the parameters for what is acceptable play of a system.)
Definitely. :)
(3) When playing BW my spreadsheet friend certainly loves a bit of Author stance, so as to get the checks he needs to improve his PC. He sometimes inhabits his PC and thereby earns artha ("fate points") but sometimes he earns that by (more-or-less) running through a checklist of his Beliefs, Instincts etc (think roughly Alignment and Bonds in DW) and making sure he's ticked off enough of each for the session to earn his artha.

My approach is very close to Actor stance all the way. (I'm sure there are moments of Author stance, but not too much. I get enough of that when I GM!) I don't really need to go through my checklist to make sure I get my artha - I just play my character as characterised by his Beliefs, Instincts etc and my artha falls out. So I do as well or better than him on the artha front. But my character doesn't mechanically improve very quickly, because I'm not really setting out to make the checks I'll need to get improvement; I tend to just make the checks that the situation demands, and see what falls out of that. But as I've posted, BW has other elements to the system - particularly around consequence narration and subsequent framing - which mean that that sort of "indifference" to technically optimal play won't hose me. The contrast with classic D&D is in my view pretty marked.

In the Samwise context, it's not just standing by Frodo's corpse come what may. Because that sounds pretty static. The GM should be narrating scenes that generate dynamism - eg Samwise has a Belief about protecting Frodo and also a Belief about seeing the mission through, and now they can't both be realised, and in deciding which one to honour within the parameters of the GM-established scene (we know how Sam did it in the book, though he came to regret it not much later) he earns Mouldbreaker artha (ie artha for dramatically roleplaying out the clash between your Beliefs and/or Instincts).
Right, Sam certainly was acting on a belief, though we can speculate on the degree to which the author 'put his thumb upon the balance'. Given that these are not real people, we cannot really measure that, and the same with PCs. Of course in BW you have a set of mechanically defined and precise beliefs to leverage. I was wondering if you could make a game where you had a sort of choice, to increase your 'concordance with fate' essentially, or to serve your more material interests. You could ALMOST create a game like that with D&D, but Alignment would have to be rewritten.
What's key for me and hence what I'm resting my distinctions on, is between (i) adopting a "bird's eye" view of all the parameters that create the decision-space for declaring an action for Sam (including which move has the best mechanical chance of success, which one will earn the most artha which will buff moves down the track, etc), and (ii) inhabiting Sam as a character, making a decision on basis, and letting the mechanical consequences fall where they may. Not all RPGs really allow for (ii) as a viable approach, at least without a lot of GM fudging and manipulation of the fiction, but I think BW is one and I suspect (though can't claim to know) that DW might be another. Prince Valiant is one too.


You're using "skilled play" as a descriptor of moments of play, rather than as a descriptor for an agenda of play. Which obviously is perfectly permissible!, but I just wanted to make the difference from my own usage in my posts in this thread clear to anyone reading along.
Yeah, though I think they can be coherent with each other. Obviously some of my three approaches are more relevant for some games than for others. As-written classic D&D seems to only really cater to 'gamist', though it allows for a bit of the others (and maybe the Paladin demands a 'dramatist' stance, which causes lots of havoc in play).
What you are drawing my attention to is that DW, a bit like D&D (unsurprisingly) has multiple mechanical pathways to much the same in-fiction state of affairs. This is a contrast (not necessarily a super-sharp one, but certainly of degree) with BW and Prince Valiant. I think this does tend to open up more room for optimisation-type reasoning, which certainly seems to be governing your downtime decision, and obviously is a factor in your ranch decision.

Because of the dominance of optimisation considerations in the downtime case I don't see any need to push the inquiry further. (If I've missed something, though, tell me!). But with the ranch example I am very curious: as you character, what is going through your mind in deciding which sort of healing to use?
This sounds pretty much right, yes.
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Not in the case of that particular move, it is a 'generic' move of DW and, assuming fictional appropriateness could be invoked at pretty much any point. So the skill would be developing the fictional position to make a consequential DR check, and then linking whatever was revealed to the situation at hand when you need the hold (or at least having a good feel for 'asking the right question' so that the hold WOULD be appropriate at the desired juncture).

Now, other moves might fall more into the 'use this resource wisely because it is expendable', like casting a spell in DW frequently makes it unavailable for later use, so use it wisely.

The skill is in that if you ask a question about X with DR, you can gain hold WRT X later on. You better be skillful in picking what X is. I suppose you could TRY to 'SPAM' DR all over the place, OTOH the GM is the one who actually decides if a specific move has been invoked. The player simply states the PC's actions (IE I am carefully examining this location/situation, what do I see?). So if the GM felt that the player was trying to simply play to acquire hold, she might simply 'answer the question' and not validate it as a formal move. This does get into the realm of 'bad faith play' at some point. I think this is a gray area with DW to an extent, are you playing aggressively, or are you kind of exploiting the rules in a way that isn't really intended? It is not a question that can be answered except at the table, really.

Also the GM would have other options, like telling the player his PC is now Spouting Lore. This might still be advantageous, but it has a different connotation in the fiction. Technically he could even bend the whole thing back on the players and ask THEM questions (which are somewhat non-binding, but should be generally respected). Any of these could be equally good for the player, but the point is its all a bit of interplay. This is, AFAICT, very similar to the situation in a FitD based game.
This makes the play sound more like gaming the DM. You have to be able to anticipate how the dm will react to get any progress. which I think is definitely a type of skill in skilled play in many situations. Im just not sure how that relates to achieving or failing your goals in DW.

I mean is it unskilled play if the dm doesn’t determine your particular actions warrant a beneficial move to you? Are you going to fail to achieve your goal if that happens?
 

pemerton

Legend
Obviously some of my three approaches are more relevant for some games than for others. As-written classic D&D seems to only really cater to 'gamist', though it allows for a bit of the others (and maybe the Paladin demands a 'dramatist' stance, which causes lots of havoc in play).
Right. There's an argument that the paladin commits an evil act and hences forfeits paladinhood as soon as s/he enters into the dungeon in pursuit of loot rather than goes off to do something useful or at least noble! Once we make the compromise to deem that non-evil, incoherence abounds (and alignment disputes explode); but equally if the player sticks to his/her guns then as you say havoc ensues.

As well as paladins I think druids, monks and thieves/assassins can bring this sort of havoc into classic D&D play - all have these inbuilt alternative agendas which, if pursued, quickly derail the game.

Another case of Gygax et al not really having thought it through in any systematic way. As far as paladins are concerned, it was Greg Stafford who really worked out how to create RPGs where this archetype is playable on its own terms.
 

darkbard

Hero
You're using "skilled play" as a descriptor of moments of play, rather than as a descriptor for an agenda of play. Which obviously is perfectly permissible!, but I just wanted to make the difference from my own usage in my posts in this thread clear to anyone reading along.

[...]

But with the ranch example I am very curious: as you character, what is going through your mind in deciding which sort of healing to use?

I agree that in that post I am using SP as a descriptor for moments of play rather than overall play agenda. This is at least part of the reason why I wish to disambiguate SP (which allows for analysis of granular moments, often but not always in relation to larger play agendas) from GSP (and here I think we agree that it necessitates ruthless pawn play agenda). Like you, I have very little interest in the latter, though I think the more generic term SP offers an opportunity to analyze gameplay contextually across different systems, principles, and agendas.

I'm not sure if you saw an earlier post of mine (it may have been in another, related thread) wherein I stated that "inhabiting" my character is not a particularly high priority for me. By this, I mean, at least for me personally, I don't try to literally be my PC in the moment (which I think is impossible) but rather imagine what my PC would think, feel, do if they were real and as I imagine them to be. With this in mind, I imagined that Alastor the Paladin of Memna (goddess ot Truth and/in Emotion) would hope that his risk of sacrifice, by attempting the "riskier" healing move (ie, assuming damage and further debility, the latter of these really the crux of it) rather than simply losing access to the ability for subsequent use, would carry greater emotional weight in his appeal to Rose to "activate" her as the promised Thorn of Memna. As a player, my thought process was that by skillfully choosing to put more at stake, the reward would move me closer to my PC's desired fictional outcome. Bringing these two perspectives as closely into alignment as possible is what I have meant by thematic or narrative SP.
 

darkbard

Hero
Further to my post immediately above: none of what I think happened (in the scene, at the table) would qualify as GSP as this NPC that needs healing (the widowed rancher) and the status of NPC Rose (daughter whom I hope to invest with thematic relevance) will likely not affect the ensuing scene, a confrontation with crooked, more powerful neighbors AND choosing Lay on Hands is undoubtedly the riskier move (wrt overall play agenda).
 

My post earlier in the thread more or less distills to the idea of skilled play existing only in an environment where its parameters are defined, whether by system (as Story Now) or player desires, or the adventure's own structure, GSP is an example of how it was understood (basically, being ruthless, cautious, perceptive, and clever) in Classic and OSR play.

Where things get 'cute' is that some kinds of play could be worthy of being Skilled Play in their own right, but the game structures (and player/GM attitudes) that reward them are exclusive with those other styles of play feed off of. If Skilled Play in the context of the game you are currently playing is understood to prioritize that cleverness, ruthlessness, perception, and caution, then the game structures and attitudes that produce that experience are probably exclusive with ones that would reward blindly charging ahead, or always fighting honorably or something-- in this context, having a character concept that does those things at odds with GSP and executing on it, is unskilled play regardless of how skilled it would be in its own concept.

But even more interesting is that different styles aren't always incompatible, and players often adapt strategies to combine multiple sets of seemingly exclusive parameters they enjoy. Part of how they might do this is by siloing their differing expectations where necessary into different areas of game play, take more modern incarnations of DND-- perhaps they fight encounters and design character builds to make decisions that only prioritize victory (with a dash of customization, since some games offer so many options and really good doesn't have to be the enemy of 'the best') against the presented challenges, but are happy to read other moments of game play as cutscenes and make seemingly 'bad' decisions to further a character personality or overall story, happily treating the hot water their actions land them in as the next level of the video game after the cutscene finishes.

Other times, the games themselves can leverage structures differently to finesse together multiple styles, if we accept that GSP and... MSP? (Modern Skilled Play, in reference to 3.5e and 4e style optimization) are distinct, its still true that Pathfinder 2e creates an environment where character builds are important, but not so much as to invalidate a need for cautious, perceptive, clever play because the encounters remain dangerous to any character, its easy to pit them against something they can't handle if the GM likes (if telegraphed properly, virtually demanding OSR style playing around the monsters.) Its systems and character building are designed in such a way that they've finessed the two playstyles together. Similarly, house rules can often be enough to include or exclude styles entirely.

Different groups have different thresholds for mixing them too, some players couldn't care less about the cognitive dissonance of blasting people away left and right in ye olde bog standard DND encounter, but then have no issues agonizing about the immorality of an assassination that seems necessary for the greater good in a story driven scene. Other players can't bridge that gap and need the thematic cohesion of their roleplaying pervading every decision their character makes.
 

This makes the play sound more like gaming the DM. You have to be able to anticipate how the dm will react to get any progress. which I think is definitely a type of skill in skilled play in many situations. Im just not sure how that relates to achieving or failing your goals in DW.

I mean is it unskilled play if the dm doesn’t determine your particular actions warrant a beneficial move to you? Are you going to fail to achieve your goal if that happens?
Well, I think this is where you kind of have to do the paradigm shift. The GM is not out to thwart the players. I mean, that isn't REALLY true in GSP either, but its much less true here in a sense. So, the GM is going to think "I WANT the dwarf to do this clever thing and get this hold, because that will be an excellent 'horn' for my next dilemma!" That is it can certainly sharpen one of the horns, like "ouch! Do I take advantage of my hold, or do I uphold my bond to the halfling?" Guess what? The GM's job DEFINITELY is to make that problem appear for the dwarf! The skilled play will help them all. It can be kind of a tough job to get DW to 'burn' if all the players are really not going to engage with this problems too. But usually you can start with classic D&D tropes and bootstrap from there:

So, maybe you have some players who want to play B/X style crawl narrative basically. They might create characters with stated goals like 'get rich', 'find out what happened to my father in the dungeon', or 'find the holy sword of Gorgonzola!' (this guy is The Paladin, he's trouble, lol). Their alignments and bonds are probably all over the place, but they still work. Through some questions you all cook up a B1-esque scenario, there's a dungeon maze, they want to delve in it. OK, well, the GM isn't going to make up a map with all the rooms and corridors. He's going to make up some areas, maybe some ideas for interesting encounters, and maybe build an adventure front to be an initial obstacle.

The PCs are going to head into this thing, and the GM will say something about coming to a T intersection, describe left and right, and ask the great question, which way do you go? Now maybe the halfling thief creeps ahead to the right, the dwarf notices he's about to step on some unstable stonework, and he manages to fulfill his bond to the halfling (by saving his arse)! We're off to the races. It will take a while to build this into something thrilling, but pretty soon their going to start finding maps, clues, a brewing threat to the town, etc. and they SHOULD learn to use their moves and get clever, right? Maybe not. Maybe they're the sort of players that just reflect everything back on the GM and remain noncommital at all times... Meh, those guys might be better off in the real B1...
 

Where things get 'cute' is that some kinds of play could be worthy of being Skilled Play in their own right, but the game structures (and player/GM attitudes) that reward them are exclusive with those other styles of play feed off of. If Skilled Play in the context of the game you are currently playing is understood to prioritize that cleverness, ruthlessness, perception, and caution, then the game structures and attitudes that produce that experience are probably exclusive with ones that would reward blindly charging ahead, or always fighting honorably or something-- in this context, having a character concept that does those things at odds with GSP and executing on it, is unskilled play regardless of how skilled it would be in its own concept.
And you have now achieved as good a definition of why Paladins don't work in classic D&D as has ever been written, my friend! lol. You really CANNOT BE playing in a skilled fashion in a classic GSP-style game and playing a character so constricted by its value system. I mean, think about it, this is a character who cannot work with thieves or any other non-good compatriot (IIRC you can work with non-evils and non-lawfuls on a one-time basis only). They cannot simply withdraw from or avoid an encounter, particularly with bad guys, can't really even trade the good of one off for that of many, except in accordance with law, etc. How in the world can you play that character in a Gygax-dungeon? It is literally impossible. I mean, I'll let @pemerton's "it is evil to loot the dungeon when you could be directly doing good" slide for the moment. How do you even allow a split of treasure when there are starving people who need the money? If you can do that, what is the limit of what you are allowed to rationalize? I guess you COULD answer "whatever won't change your alignment" but that would seem to make the whole thing toothless.
 

pemerton

Legend
And you have now achieved as good a definition of why Paladins don't work in classic D&D as has ever been written, my friend! lol. You really CANNOT BE playing in a skilled fashion in a classic GSP-style game and playing a character so constricted by its value system. I mean, think about it, this is a character who cannot work with thieves or any other non-good compatriot (IIRC you can work with non-evils and non-lawfuls on a one-time basis only).
The rule (PHB p 24) is "they will associate only with characters and creatures of good alignment; paladins can join a company of adventurers which contains non-evil neutrals only on a single expedition basis, and only if some end which will further the cause of lawful good is purposed." So a NG thief is OK, and the PHB permitted this (p 27 expressly calls it out as a possibility, although also describes it as "rare"); although UA then changed the alignment requirement for thieves from any neutral or evil to any non-good, creating the literal impossibility that you have diagnosed in your post.

different styles aren't always incompatible, and players often adapt strategies to combine multiple sets of seemingly exclusive parameters they enjoy. Part of how they might do this is by siloing their differing expectations where necessary into different areas of game play, take more modern incarnations of DND-- perhaps they fight encounters and design character builds to make decisions that only prioritize victory (with a dash of customization, since some games offer so many options and really good doesn't have to be the enemy of 'the best') against the presented challenges, but are happy to read other moments of game play as cutscenes and make seemingly 'bad' decisions to further a character personality or overall story, happily treating the hot water their actions land them in as the next level of the video game after the cutscene finishes.

<snip>

Different groups have different thresholds for mixing them too, some players couldn't care less about the cognitive dissonance of blasting people away left and right in ye olde bog standard DND encounter, but then have no issues agonizing about the immorality of an assassination that seems necessary for the greater good in a story driven scene.
I think that what you describe here is probably pretty common. Even typical for D&D play since some time in the 1980s.

That said,
Other players can't bridge that gap and need the thematic cohesion of their roleplaying pervading every decision their character makes.
I'm one of these "other players".

A friend of mine, who was part of my group for a long time before he moved permanently to the US, toggled between outlooks depending on the system. In our RM games he was serious, and played his character as his character while also keeping an eye on the "bigger picture" of the overall player position (RM wishes it was Burning Wheel such that the overall position would largely take care of itself without the need for active "force" by any participant; but it's not.)

But when we played D&D, he would let himself relax. And if someone complained that he wasn't playing seriously enough, his defence was "It's only D&D!"
 

pemerton

Legend
I'll let @pemerton's "it is evil to loot the dungeon when you could be directly doing good" slide for the moment. How do you even allow a split of treasure when there are starving people who need the money? If you can do that, what is the limit of what you are allowed to rationalize? I guess you COULD answer "whatever won't change your alignment" but that would seem to make the whole thing toothless.
Thus we witness the fundamental incoherence of every full-blooded defence of the D&D alignment system ever!
 

pemerton

Legend
Further to my post immediately above: none of what I think happened (in the scene, at the table) would qualify as GSP as this NPC that needs healing (the widowed rancher) and the status of NPC Rose (daughter whom I hope to invest with thematic relevance) will likely not affect the ensuing scene, a confrontation with crooked, more powerful neighbors AND choosing Lay on Hands is undoubtedly the riskier move (wrt overall play agenda).
That is clear.

I think the more generic term SP offers an opportunity to analyze gameplay contextually across different systems, principles, and agendas.

I'm not sure if you saw an earlier post of mine (it may have been in another, related thread) wherein I stated that "inhabiting" my character is not a particularly high priority for me. By this, I mean, at least for me personally, I don't try to literally be my PC in the moment (which I think is impossible) but rather imagine what my PC would think, feel, do if they were real and as I imagine them to be. With this in mind, I imagined that Alastor the Paladin of Memna (goddess ot Truth and/in Emotion) would hope that his risk of sacrifice, by attempting the "riskier" healing move (ie, assuming damage and further debility, the latter of these really the crux of it) rather than simply losing access to the ability for subsequent use, would carry greater emotional weight in his appeal to Rose to "activate" her as the promised Thorn of Memna. As a player, my thought process was that by skillfully choosing to put more at stake, the reward would move me closer to my PC's desired fictional outcome. Bringing these two perspectives as closely into alignment as possible is what I have meant by thematic or narrative SP.
I agree that it is impossible to be my PC - on Kripkean grounds if no other!

Because we're talking about mental processes, and they're processes of imagination, it is very hard (for me at least) to be confident about where differences of words correspond to differences of approach, and even when the use of the same words can nevertheless elide differences of approach.

That said, I tentatively assert that there is a difference between (i) imagining what a person would think, do and feel - which is sometimes how I play NPCs as a GM - and (ii) imaginatively projecting myself into the situation of another person, such as my PC, and deciding "as" them - which is not something I would normally (ever?) do as a GM, but is what I try and do as a player. Relating this to theme/commitments/emotions - on the (i) approach as I'm conceiving of it, these figure as parameters or considerations I have to have regard to in trying to formulate an accurate imaginary conception; on the (ii) approach these have to be "internalised" in a certain fashion so that I act on the emotion as a "decision rule", just as my PC would were s/he real.

I would also tentatively compare (i) and (ii) to "external" and "internal" approaches to making sense of social norms, as those notions are used in some interpretive/hermeneutical approaches to social explanation. The comparison is not perfect for any number of both obvious and subtle reasons, but given the challenges of communication and explanation here I hope it does some work.
 

That is clear.


I agree that it is impossible to be my PC - on Kripkean grounds if no other!

Because we're talking about mental processes, and they're processes of imagination, it is very hard (for me at least) to be confident about where differences of words correspond to differences of approach, and even when the use of the same words can nevertheless elide differences of approach.

That said, I tentatively assert that there is a difference between (i) imagining what a person would think, do and feel - which is sometimes how I play NPCs as a GM - and (ii) imaginatively projecting myself into the situation of another person, such as my PC, and deciding "as" them - which is not something I would normally (ever?) do as a GM, but is what I try and do as a player. Relating this to theme/commitments/emotions - on the (i) approach as I'm conceiving of it, these figure as parameters or considerations I have to have regard to in trying to formulate an accurate imaginary conception; on the (ii) approach these have to be "internalised" in a certain fashion so that I act on the emotion as a "decision rule", just as my PC would were s/he real.

I would also tentatively compare (i) and (ii) to "external" and "internal" approaches to making sense of social norms, as those notions are used in some interpretive/hermeneutical approaches to social explanation. The comparison is not perfect for any number of both obvious and subtle reasons, but given the challenges of communication and explanation here I hope it does some work.
Gosh I'm glad I have to go do actual work now, or you'd have lost me for hours reading through rat mazes of philosophical conjecture. lol.
 


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