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

darkbard

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).
 

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The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
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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