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Players choose what their PCs do . . .

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Not quite, in my view.

When the roll shows 'success' the GM is bound by that to narrate a successul outcome...of some sort. This successful outcome doesn't (or at least IMO shouldn't) necessarily have to directly match what the player had in mind* as long as the narration reflects an overall success for the PC.

My example above, though not the best, tries to show this: the search doesn't find the incriminating financial records the PC was looking for but does find something else that's every bit as incriminating: the Southtor seal, which no loyal noble would normally have anything to do with. Specific goal of finding financial records: not met. Overall goal of finding incriminating evidence agains tthe Duke: met in spades.

* - though most often it will anyway, as much of the time the success-failure outcomes of a given action are fairly obvious.

This gets back to our old argument regarding what 'failure' represents; here you'd have a failure just become a different type of success, which isn't a failure at all.
This goes right back to the OP where the question was about the difference between what your character does, as in proposes an action that the DM then determines the result of, or what you character does, as in you get to say the action and the outcome. This is firmly in that former group, the thin declaration, whereby the player is essentially asking the GM to do something nice if they succeed at the mechanic (that the GM likely picks, and sets the parameters of).

to go back to your earlier example, you swapped out papers showing guilt for a seal that may show guilt. Assuming that the result of the find aren't already in the GM's notes and the GM decides this at the moment, this is a weakening of the play the player does -- the GM is reducing the level of success to something that the player wasn't asking for. Yet, it's presented as a good because it doesn't fetter the GM from softening outcomes like this and fettering the GM is... bad, I guess. It's also presented as if the softening of outcome is a good as well -- that's it's cool to reduce the asked for success because the GM wants it that way. This thinking, to me, goes hand in hand with structured GM stories that the players play through -- the GM is acting this way to protect their idea of what should happen rather than playing to find out. It's a valid way to play, obviously, and popular, also obviously, but it really puts the entire load on the GM to run in a principled enough manner to keep players. Judging by the many threads, this may not be the most common outcome.
 

chaochou

Adventurer
The most interesting thing for me at the moment - obviously I can't speak for others - is what are the necessary conditions for a genuine challenge to character concept? This is what @Ovinomancer and I have disagreed about - I believe without undue acrimony! I would be very interested to hear what @Campbell, @chaochou and/or @Aldarc thinks about it, should they care to weigh in.
You want each player to have created for their character a number of clearly defined relationships, beliefs, allegiances, dependencies and responsibilities. The creation of these should, of itself, create the arena for the game's action. The 'world' is a backdrop, the crucible in which the players' creations spark into life.

Then you set the character's individual drives in opposition to each other, such that it's not possible to maintain or improve one element without cost or harm to another. You can also take each character's relationships, attitudes, allegiances, dependencies and responsibilities and set them in fractured alignment or semi-opposition of those of the other characters, to create a shifting, fluid situation of alliances and betrayals, ugly compromises, faustian pacts and devil's bargains.

Mechanically, the game has to support challenges which require clear, evident and binding stakes, the loss of which (by definition) force a reappraisal of relationships, attitudes, allegiances, dependencies or responsibilities in the event of failure.

Values for these things, or points of their own humanity, bits of their soul, closeness to their ancestors - all these are very useful as currency for challenges. They act as a focus, and a catalyst for the creativity of the player to reappraise the character. And they allow other players to recognise, appreciate and enjoy the development of characters which are not their own.

Finally, I think a genuine challenge to the character is completely seperate from one which challenges the player. That's a red herring, a totally false equivalence. Ideally, the player is comfortable, relaxed and relishing the process of authoring the character as it burns, and the creativity it affords them.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
@Hussar, @Lanefan - if narrowing of possible resolutions = the GM being bound by the results of checks, than sure, any system other than "GM decides" will have that consequence.

But unless the dice are rigged then fails are possible, in which case fail scenarios are possible resolutions, and there is no narrowing of the range of possible resolution.
You are looking before the dice were ever rolled and saying see this system covers all possible resolutions.
The rest of us are looking at it after the dice are already rolled - and at that moment the range of possible resolutions are restricted.
But even in this belabored exchange, the more important point seems forgotten - that the GM typically has the power to call for a check or not call for a check and if he has that power then nothing is permitted that the GM doesn't permit. Do some systems avoid giving the GM that level of control? I'm sure some exist - but to what detriment?

But most importantly, the dice add nothing to my character conception (because as noted, every conceivable character possible in a dice based game is also possible without the dice), nor are they some divine tool which unlock the ability to challenge a PC (as if PC's cannot be challenged without dice or out of game randomization tools). In fact one might ask, how can something we do in this world cause any challenge to a PC in a fictional world? It seems far fetched to think that rolling dice in this world is the only way to challenge a PC in the fictional world no? Or are challenges not real in our world? Do we only misperceive them as challegnes when in fact they aren't because there's no god ordained dice roller for our universe? Rant over!

I mean it may even be fun to roll dice and they likely can be used to enhance the game part of an RPG, but all roleplay can be had without them. In fact it should be obvious that dice and roleplaying are at odds - imagine a game that only ever used dice to determine everything about your character and everything they do and everything they think etc. There is no room left to roleplay in that scenario. That should make it obvious that the more you use the dice to determine the less room you have to roleplay. Likewise the more the GM determines for you the less room you have to roleplay.

It seems to me these are obvious truths, or at least should be so.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
What are the necessary conditions for a genuine challenge to character concept? This is what @Ovinomancer and I have disagreed about - I believe without undue acrimony! I would be very interested to hear what @Campbell, @chaochou and/or @Aldarc thinks about it, should they care to weigh in. (Of course it's their prerogative not to.) My own views on this are heavily influenced by a certain conception of GM role in terms of framing scenes that put players under pressure by putting things that matter to the PC at stake. I don't know Exalted at all except from Campbell's accounts in this and other threads; and my experience with PbtA games is fairly limited, although I know the rule sets for DW and AW fairly well.
I personally do not really care. I am not really interested in testing characters. I'm more interested in character exploration. Sometimes that means putting them through the crucible, but sometimes it does not. My own litmus test is if a scene will tell us something meaningful about a character. What's required is for everyone (GM included) to play with integrity and not put their creative vision above the shared narrative. I think it helps to have mechanics that help get us into the right head space for our characters. Here I prioritize emotional immersion over intellectual immersion. It also helps to have mechanics that have something to say because it helps ground us in the right mood and makes it easier for the tension to feel real in the moment.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
You are looking before the dice were ever rolled and saying see this system covers all possible resolutions.
The rest of us are looking at it after the dice are already rolled - and at that moment the range of possible resolutions are restricted.
But even in this belabored exchange, the more important point seems forgotten - that the GM typically has the power to call for a check or not call for a check and if he has that power then nothing is permitted that the GM doesn't permit. Do some systems avoid giving the GM that level of control? I'm sure some exist - but to what detriment?
Wait, you're asking what detriment exists if you don't gate everything through the GM's approval?

I'm going to need to sit down awhile on that one. I mean... but... really?

But most importantly, the dice add nothing to my character conception (because as noted, every conceivable character possible in a dice based game is also possible without the dice), nor are they some divine tool which unlock the ability to challenge a PC (as if PC's cannot be challenged without dice or out of game randomization tools). In fact one might ask, how can something we do in this world cause any challenge to a PC in a fictional world? It seems far fetched to think that rolling dice in this world is the only way to challenge a PC in the fictional world no? Or are challenges not real in our world? Do we only misperceive them as challegnes when in fact they aren't because there's no god ordained dice roller for our universe? Rant over!

I mean it may even be fun to roll dice and they likely can be used to enhance the game part of an RPG, but all roleplay can be had without them. In fact it should be obvious that dice and roleplaying are at odds - imagine a game that only ever used dice to determine everything about your character and everything they do and everything they think etc. There is no room left to roleplay in that scenario. That should make it obvious that the more you use the dice to determine the less room you have to roleplay. Likewise the more the GM determines for you the less room you have to roleplay.

It seems to me these are obvious truths, or at least should be so.
This is, well, a bit philosophically confused. I'll let [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] bring the big words, but you're doing a decent job pointing out that what happens in game is a fiction and therefore different from what happens in the real world. You break up a bit when you assume that roleplaying a character has anything like the fidelity of being a Real Boy or that the roleplaying game can present a world as rich and uncertain as the real world. The mechanics don't exist because dice are cool (but, you know, they are) but because of that lack of fidelity. The game is a model of a world (fantastical, even) and, as such, it cannot be true to the real world. Further, we are each our own island -- no man can know another and all that. So, assuming that you, a person, can perfectly render a fictional character that is not you with any real fidelity is a bit silly-sounding. We do our best, but for those cases where it's murky because of the lack of fidelity there are mechanics.

Otherwise, there's absolutely no need for any social mechanics in D&D -- no persuasion, no deception, no insight, heck, no Charm Person saving throws! All of these things can be roleplayed, right, and roleplaying without dice is as faithful a rendering as possible because it uses the human decision machine, which never has a bias or agenda other than that of roleplaying the character to the fullest! Ok, bit of snark there, but I really find this argument absolutely silly -- it's an attempt to lionize free-form roleplaying as the best form of role-playing. And it's cool to do so, and all, but you've just said that kids playing cops-and-robbers are peak roleplayers because it's freeform.

And, all of that said, perhaps a player wishes to NOT be the sole arbiter and knower of their character, but might want to be occasionally surprised by this thing they're playing because that spurs them to even more imaginative levels by trying to reconcile the before and after of a change. I know, heresy -- character concepts spring forth from the head of the slain GM fully formed and perfect.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
I personally do not really care. I am not really interested in testing characters. I'm more interested in character exploration. Sometimes that means putting them through the crucible, but sometimes it does not. My own litmus test is if a scene will tell us something meaningful about a character. What's required is for everyone (GM included) to play with integrity and not put their creative vision above the shared narrative. I think it helps to have mechanics that help get us into the right head space for our characters. Here I prioritize emotional immersion over intellectual immersion. It also helps to have mechanics that have something to say because it helps ground us in the right mood and makes it easier for the tension to feel real in the moment.
I agree with this. How a player makes a choice for the character can tell us something about that character without a challenge. I've said this before -- choices are still good play, they just aren't challenges. There's lots of tools in the box to get character out, but the nature of message boards is the hyper-focus on a point of disagreement until it looks like the whole point to begin with.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I would hope this would be obvious, but a system which in no way constrains GM narration is offering nothing of value. It says nothing. Provides nothing. It has no teeth. If a die roll does not constrain GM narration what is the point except empty ritual?
 

Hussar

Legend
I would hope this would be obvious, but a system which in no way constrains GM narration is offering nothing of value. It says nothing. Provides nothing. It has no teeth. If a die roll does not constrain GM narration what is the point except empty ritual?
But, no one is saying that.

No one is saying that you can change a success into a failure. What is being talked about is that if the Player defines success, then the GM cannot. Which is a constraint on the game that some of us don't want.

OTOH, it appears that Pemerton want's failure to always be some sort of success (fail forward) at all times. Which again, is a restriction on the game that not all of us want. Sometimes a failure is just that - a failure. It's not required that the game forces the GM to always narrate in a certain fashion.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
I'm not sure about incentives.
Can you explain more what you mean about not being sure about incentives? Not sure about incentives interfacing with the decision-tree in a moment of thematic choice? Incentives that push back against the impetus to establish a win condition for a scene/arc or create extra obstacles to that win condition in exchange for advancement? Something else?

When I read the Strike(!) I think of "intent and task" and failure narration in BW. Or the example from AW that I posted upthread. If the check fails, the GM is entitled to narrate the failure by imposing a new and unwanted description of the PC's action. But I don't think in any of the systems this could go as far as you've fallen in love with the maiden unless that was the mere capstone to already-established fiction. More like your eye is caught by the maiden's wink, and you fail to notice . . .

When I read the DitV I think of the examples I've posted upthread about the paladin and Nightcrawler. At least as I recall it, there is no mechanic in DitV for making it true that (say) a PC loves another PC or an NPC. But it is quite possible to produce outcomes that the player didn't choose and that reveal the character as falling under a new unexpected description (eg I'm a killer). And these then provoke choice, reflection, crisis etc on the part of the PC as mediated through the player.
Paragraph 1 Response:

That makes sense as Strike (!) is basically a mash-up of Burning Wheel (mostly Mouse Guard), D&D 4e, and Apocalypse World.

Making a PC outright "Lovestruck" (a Condition that must be resolved) in Strike (!) as a Twist without any prior setup would almost surely run afoul of GM authority. However, if a prior Conflict led to a Complication for a PC being captivated by an NPC, a Twist With a Cost result on another related Conflict could easily have the result be a "Lovestruck" Condition.

Paragraph 2 Response:

Regarding Dogs and romantic love, its something that isn't very often a thematic focus (due to Dogs being teen/early 20s virgins devoted to and trained for being priests/justicars of The Faith). Here is a quick excerpt of the only time it was relevant to a game I ran.

A PC from a troubled background had no family. Due to this, a young girl named Tess Olsen made his coat for him. Secretly, he was smitten by her and she by him. In character creation, he had the (complicating at 2d4) Relationship with her; "When my service is done, I'm going to marry Tess Olsen."

The game featured multiple conflicts that were just him reading her received letters while he was on the road, me playing her desperation and his lovesickness and him playing his resolve and sense of duty. My plays were basically him reading lines of the letter. His plays were his reflections/visceral reactions after reading a sentence or two.

The Fallout effects of these conflicts were usually under 8 (being only d4 early on and you sum the two highest) so just short term effects, typically just subtracting 1 from the PC's Acuity or Heart for the next conflict (but which fed back into these future conflicts...and then Reflection on the ride to the next town and attendant PC change).

However, the Relationship dice and size with her increased over time, and eventually led to an "Itchy Trigger-finger" Trait d6 and higher Fallout with an 8+ result in one of those "Letter Conflicts" which changed their relationship permanently. Eventually, he killed a man (an Idolater from the East who was soft-peddling paganism) in the street and it was related to that new Trait and short-term Fallout damage to his stats (forcing him to Escalate to guns).

The PC retired after that, disappearing during the night's camp, with a letter of regret left behind to his companions and a letter that he wished for them to give to Tess.
 
I prioritize emotional immersion over intellectual immersion.
I agree with this. I use the phrase inhabitation of the character to try and convey this idea.

I think a genuine challenge to the character is completely seperate from one which challenges the player. That's a red herring, a totally false equivalence. Ideally, the player is comfortable, relaxed and relishing the process of authoring the character as it burns, and the creativity it affords them.
I think, though, that some systems can be more demanding on the players than others, and challenging in that sense. To give examples: Prince Valiant and MHRP tend to be relatively light-hearted in the situations they throw up; whereas Burning Wheel (and I suspect Apocalypse World) can be much "heavier"/"deeper" (I'm not sure what the right word is).

Both are fun, but the latter is more likely to leave a participant feeling drained than is the former.
 
it appears that Pemerton want's failure to always be some sort of success (fail forward) at all times.
I have neither said nor implied this.

All I said was that [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION]'s example, in which the PC doesn't achieve what the player hoped for, is not a success and hence might be a feasible failure narration.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I have neither said nor implied this.

All I said was that [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION]'s example, in which the PC doesn't achieve what the player hoped for, is not a success and hence might be a feasible failure narration.
Er...in my example the PC does achieve what she hoped for: she found incriminating evidence against the Duke.

That the evidence didn't take the exact form specified in the action declaration doesn't reduce the success, or turn it into a failure - and that's just my point: a roll of success gives success, but the GM should have some latitude to narrate what form that success takes if something workable other than the player's direct intent suggests itself: sometimes success can take many forms. Ditto for a failure; the GM should have some latitude to narrate what form that failure takes other than just saying 'no'.

However, if a GM turns a success into a failure* or a failure into a success* with her narration she's not respecting the die roll.

* - a both-ways-at-once example would be in the search-the-drawer scenario the GM (on either a success or failure roll) narrates finding some love letters implying the Duke is having an affair; and whether I-as-GM already know those are there to be found or not I'd usually call for a second roll anyway in a situation like this: "While searching, do you happen to stumble onto anything else of interest?".
 
the GM should have some latitude to narrate what form that success takes if something workable other than the player's direct intent suggests itself
Why?

You are looking before the dice were ever rolled and saying see this system covers all possible resolutions.
The rest of us are looking at it after the dice are already rolled - and at that moment the range of possible resolutions are restricted.
In a relatively traditional RPG a GM gets to establish a lot of fiction: much of the setting; many of the NPCs; the framing of many situations; the narration of failures; maybe other stuff too that I'm not thinking of at present.

What is the function of successful checks if the GM also gets to establish what happens there too?

in my example the PC does achieve what she hoped for: she found incriminating evidence against the Duke.

That the evidence didn't take the exact form specified in the action declaration doesn't reduce the success
I was just responding to what you posted:

Player: I carefully open the desk drawer and, disturbing as little as I can, search for any financial records that might help prove the Duke is receiving payments from Southtor (an enemy state). (GM nods; player rolls well into the success range)
GM: Well, there don't appear to be any financial records or ledgers here at all

In what you posted, the player declares an intent for his PC to find financial records containing information in the desk drawer. The GM narrates that the PC fails to find any such thing. I don't see how that counts as a success.

If the action declaration had been I search the drawer for something that might incriminate the Duke then obviously we'd be having a different conversation.

the GM typically has the power to call for a check or not call for a check and if he has that power then nothing is permitted that the GM doesn't permit. Do some systems avoid giving the GM that level of control? I'm sure some exist - but to what detriment?
In some RPG systems certain actions declared by players automatically trigger checks. Insofar as players can declare those actions, they can thereby trigger the checks. Examples would include Classic Traveller, Rolemaster and PbtA games.

In some RPG systems the GM can say "yes" to an action declaration but otherwise - assuming that the action declaration isn't of something that violates the logic of the system or the genre r the fictional positioning - is obliged to call for a check. Examples include Burning Wheel and Marvel Heroic RP/Cortex+ Heroic.

I don't know of any RPG system in which the GM has the power to refuse to countenance an action declaration, although the declaration violates neither system nor genre nor fictional positioning, by both refusing to say "yes" and refusing to permit a check. In such a system, what is the function of the players?

how can something we do in this world cause any challenge to a PC in a fictional world? It seems far fetched to think that rolling dice in this world is the only way to challenge a PC in the fictional world no? Or are challenges not real in our world? Do we only misperceive them as challegnes when in fact they aren't because there's no god ordained dice roller for our universe?

<snip>

it may even be fun to roll dice and they likely can be used to enhance the game part of an RPG, but all roleplay can be had without them. In fact it should be obvious that dice and roleplaying are at odds - imagine a game that only ever used dice to determine everything about your character and everything they do and everything they think etc. There is no room left to roleplay in that scenario.
The PCs in a RPG don't really exist. They are elements in a fiction. That fiction is authored. Therefore whether or not the PCs are challenged is a result of authorship decisions taken in the real world. This is a significant difference from actual people in our actual world, who - subject to some theological speculation that I'll put to one side - are not authored entities "living" within an authored world.

Of course those authorship decisions which give rise to the fiction aren't typically part of the fiction. (Over the Edge is one RPG which is an exception to this - it allows for breaking the 4th wall. Maybe there are others too that I'm not familiar with.) So if we are talking about the imagined in-fiction causation then they don't figure. But if we're talking about what actually causes the fiction to have the content that it does, then we can't do that except by referring to those authorship decisions.

Which brings us to the role of mechanics. I can't do any better on this than to quote Vincent Baker:

Roleplaying is negotiated imagination. In order for any thing to be true in game, all the participants in the game (players and GMs, if you've even got such things) have to understand and assent to it. When you're roleplaying, what you're doing is a) suggesting things that might be true in the game and then b) negotiating with the other participants to determine whether they're actually true or not. . . .

Mechanics might model the stuff of the game world, that's another topic, but they don't exist to do so. They exist to ease and constrain real-world social negotiation between the players at the table. That's their sole and crucial function.​

If the GM suggests that, as a result of the maiden winking, my PC is in love with her; and if I suggest that this is not so; then we have a disagrement as to what is actually true in the fiction. How do we resolve it? Via system. One possible system is the GM is always right. Another possible system is the player is always right. A third possible system is they toss for it. Rolling dice (be it a saving throw rolled by the player, a wink test rolled by the GM, or something else) is a more sophisticated version of that third possibility.

That's all. It neither increases nor reduces the amount of shared imagination taking place, and hence the amount of roleplaying. It does reduce the player's authorship authority compared to the second possible system. But even if one takes a fairly narrow definition of roleplaying that can hardly be relevant: actors play roles and typically they don't author the characters they are playing.

And for the curious who can't be bothered to follow the link, here is the whole of the Vincent Baker quote without ellision:

[sblock]Roleplaying is negotiated imagination. In order for any thing to be true in game, all the participants in the game (players and GMs, if you've even got such things) have to understand and assent to it. When you're roleplaying, what you're doing is a) suggesting things that might be true in the game and then b) negotiating with the other participants to determine whether they're actually true or not.

So you're sitting at the table and one player says, "[let's imagine that] an orc jumps out of the underbrush!"

What has to happen before the group agrees that, indeed, an orc jumps out of the underbrush?

1. Sometimes, not much at all. The right participant said it, at an appropriate moment, and everybody else just incorporates it smoothly into their imaginary picture of the situation. "An orc! Yikes! Battlestations!" This is how it usually is for participants with high ownership of whatever they're talking about: GMs describing the weather or the noncombat actions of NPCs, players saying what their characters are wearing or thinking.

2. Sometimes, a little bit more. "Really? An orc?" "Yeppers." "Huh, an orc. Well, okay." Sometimes the suggesting participant has to defend the suggestion: "Really, an orc this far into Elfland?" "Yeah, cuz this thing about her tribe..." "Okay, I guess that makes sense."

3. Sometimes, mechanics. "An orc? Only if you make your having-an-orc-show-up roll. Throw down!" "Rawk! 57!" "Dude, orc it is!" The thing to notice here is that the mechanics serve the exact same purpose as the explanation about this thing about her tribe in point 2, which is to establish your credibility wrt the orc in question.

4. And sometimes, lots of mechanics and negotiation. Debate the likelihood of a lone orc in the underbrush way out here, make a having-an-orc-show-up roll, a having-an-orc-hide-in-the-underbrush roll, a having-the-orc-jump-out roll, argue about the modifiers for each of the rolls, get into a philosophical thing about the rules' modeling of orc-jump-out likelihood... all to establish one little thing. Wave a stick in a game store and every game you knock of the shelves will have a combat system that works like this.

(Plenty of suggestions at the game table don't get picked up by the group, or get revised and modified by the group before being accepted, all with the same range of time and attention spent negotiating.)

So look, you! Mechanics might model the stuff of the game world, that's another topic, but they don't exist to do so. They exist to ease and constrain real-world social negotiation between the players at the table. That's their sole and crucial function.[/sblock]
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Finally, I think a genuine challenge to the character is completely seperate from one which challenges the player. That's a red herring, a totally false equivalence. Ideally, the player is comfortable, relaxed and relishing the process of authoring the character as it burns, and the creativity it affords them.
I was curious about this last paragraph, as I'm not sure I fully understand this. Or maybe I do, and I disagree? Either way, I was hoping you could explain it.

So, various TTRPGs and other RPGs have a closer identification of the player and the character; some might say that this can be either an artifact of the system, or an artifact of the style that one uses the system. Regardless, there is an emotional connection to, and identification with, the character and the fiction of the RPG.

In such a circumstance, I would say that the player is not similar to the author of the character within the fiction (in other words, solely making authorial choices from an omniscient remove) but is more similar to ... well, for lack of a better analogy right now, a method actor who has been given a role and is attempting to make decisions based on their knowledge of the role.

So I think that your point can be correct for some games, and in some circumstances; the easiest example would be a bog-standard D&D combat, which challenges the character (in terms of resources and abilities) and can challenge the player (in terms of strategy) but those two "challenges" are kept distinct.

On the other hand, there will be circumstances where a genuine challenge, say, a moral dilemma or the RPG-equivalent of a "Sophie's Choice" occurs, and if there is strong player/character identification, then the player will be distinctly uncomfortable.

I would say that, in fact, this is one of the strengths of that style of RPGing.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I say, slightly in jest, "I search the Duke's desk for a huge ancient red dragon...."

Less in jest, I ask - what are we more interested in seeing - the players getting exactly what they ask for, or the players getting what they overall want? Because they are not omniscient, and what they ask for may not actually be what they wanted, needed, or could best use.

There is a demonstrable effect in the software industry which generalizes - when you ask someone what their problem is, what they are more likely to tell you is not the problem, but their preferred solution. That solution is generally either 1) the most common solution to similar problems or 2) the first solution that came to them when they had the problem, that's been rattling around in their head, so that their thinking is in a bit of a rut. Neither case is innovative, nor necessarily a *good* solution to the problem at hand.

This is an important part about asking for the player's intent. It isn't usually about asking for the players *detailed* goal, but for their *general* goal. Do you want detailed financial paperwork with which to confront the Duke, or will any incriminating evidence do, such that you could pick the most interesting or effective evidence?
 
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Ovinomancer

Explorer
I say, slightly in jest, "I search the Duke's desk for a huge ancient red dragon...."

Less in jest, I ask - what are we more interested in seeing - the players getting exactly what they ask for, or the players getting what they overall want? Because they are not omniscient, and what they ask for may not actually be what they wanted, needed, or could best use.

There is a demonstrable effect in the software industry which generalizes - when you ask someone what their problem is, what they are more likely to tell you is not the problem, but their preferred solution. That solution is generally either 1) the most common solution to similar problems or 2) the first solution that came to them when they had the problem, that's been rattling around in their head, so that their thinking is in a bit of a rut. Neither case is innovative, nor necessarily a *good* solution to the problem at hand.

This is an important part about asking for the player's intent. It isn't usually about asking for the players *detailed* goal, but for their *general* goal. Do you want detailed financial paperwork with which to confront the Duke, or will any incriminating evidence do, such that you could pick the most interesting or effective evidence?
Counter-point: there's nothing preventing the asked for solution from being THE solution in the fiction. This is an important distiction from the real world. In fiction, the solution is whatever we agree it is. The real world, sadly, doesn't work this way. As an engineer working with customer requirements, and the usually horrible state those are in, I see this all the time. I have little interest dragging it into my games.

Then, from there, we need to determine how we arrive at that agreement. Bob Says is a method, as is the player says, or we can use some form of mechanic. This is the large point [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] is making.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
For any number of reasons, some that you might like and some you might not:

- to introduce new or unexpected elements to the fiction (whether pre-authored or generated on the fly)
- to give the players (as their PCs) something new or different to think about; or to get them thinking a bit more outside the box
- to, in the specific example given, point out there's more than one way to achieve the same ends

In what you posted, the player declares an intent for his PC to find financial records containing information in the desk drawer. The GM narrates that the PC fails to find any such thing. I don't see how that counts as a success.
It counts as a success if you leave on the rest of the GM's narration which you conveniently snipped off, where incriminating evidence is found only in a different form than the player had in mind.

Otherwise the GM is very limited in what she can reply with: either yes, you find papers of the sort you're looking for (on success), or no you don't (on failure). The GM can't introduce the seal or other incriminating evidence here on a failed roll as to do so would turn a failure into a success and thus disrespect the roll.

If the action declaration had been I search the drawer for something that might incriminate the Duke then obviously we'd be having a different conversation.
Where I simply look at the bigger goal (to incriminate the Duke) stated in the original declaration and base the success-fail narraton on that. The specifics - papers vs seal - aren't much more than window dressing.

In some RPG systems certain actions declared by players automatically trigger checks. Insofar as players can declare those actions, they can thereby trigger the checks. Examples would include Classic Traveller, Rolemaster and PbtA games.

In some RPG systems the GM can say "yes" to an action declaration but otherwise - assuming that the action declaration isn't of something that violates the logic of the system or the genre r the fictional positioning - is obliged to call for a check. Examples include Burning Wheel and Marvel Heroic RP/Cortex+ Heroic.
And irrespective of all of this, pretty much any action declaration by a player has to generate a response of some sort, almost always from the GM but occasionally from another player instead e.g. if the action declaration is "As Falstaffe has just been disarmed I try to pass him my spare mace while parrying against my own foe this round" the response would likely come - at some point - from Falstaffe's player.

I don't know of any RPG system in which the GM has the power to refuse to countenance an action declaration, although the declaration violates neither system nor genre nor fictional positioning, by both refusing to say "yes" and refusing to permit a check. In such a system, what is the function of the players?
Easy counter-example here: instead of passing disarmed Falstaffe my spare mace my action declaration instead is "Aha! Falstaffe is disarmed - now's my chance: I run him through while he's distracted searching for his sword". Some GMs (who are not me) would smack this one down in a hurry...
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Counter-point: there's nothing preventing the asked for solution from being THE solution in the fiction.
Quite right, and most often it will be.

My point is simply to say that there's no good reason that it always has to be, hence my example of looking for one thing in the Duke's desk and finding another.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Quite right, and most often it will be.

My point is simply to say that there's no good reason that it always has to be, hence my example of looking for one thing in the Duke's desk and finding another.
Yes, there is good reason -- to allow the player control over what happens on a success. You may have a different preference, and that's fine, but there is a very good reason. Coming from the D&D mindset, I can easily understand how this doesn't seem workable, but this is based on the thinking that it's the GM's story being uncovered by play. Even in the sandbox play revolves around discovering the GM's built world. So, in this, giving player's reign over what success neans doesnt work because outcomes must match the GM's prepared ideas (or, at least, be compatible with them for some spontenaety).

However, in a system where the player has authority over what success neabs, there are no such GM notes, or they are very malleable and shallow. Play determines where things go. To balance this, GM's have more control over PCs on a failure; control that is anathema to the weak player authority typified by D&D.

Again, I run 5e, 99% by the book. I have a few bolt-ons (mostly downtime tweaks) but they are very minor. I understand how 5e works -- that it is premised on thin action declarations, and so don't break the PC wall. I also exercise the No to some PC actions. This is how that system works, and so I don't fight it. Play is about overcoming external dangers while having opportunities to decide who your character is. But, I do not directly challenge the PC because 5e lacks any way to do this.

When I run BitD, though, who your PC is is as much at stake as the score. I push hard on PCs. Still mostly choices by players, but the occasional challenge makes for surprises all around the table.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Counter-point: there's nothing preventing the asked for solution from being THE solution in the fiction.
Broadly, that would depend upon what other parts of the fiction have already been determined. Sometimes what the players ask for can become THE solution, and sometimes that would not be consistent with things already set in place. I am often for not determining details unless/until you need them, specifically so you can flex for such things, but even if you only set any given detail at the moment it comes up, you eventually have a canon in which the past restricts what will plausibly reach the player's desired end.

So, like, you want to incriminate the Duke. You look for evidence of crooked finances. You have forgotten that we have already determined that the Exchequer is in the Duke's pocket. You can find the evidence of crooked finances, but they will not effectively incriminate the Duke! That's a success on a very specific task, but a failure on the general intent.

Then, from there, we need to determine how we arrive at that agreement. Bob Says is a method, as is the player says, or we can use some form of mechanic. This is the large point [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] is making.
Yes. And pemerton *asked* why a GM should have a bit of latitude in narrating results. I am giving one class of reason - because sometimes what the player asks for, and what the player wants to achieve, are not well-aligned.

I mean, if you have been working with engineering requests, you should understand the point of over-specifying: "I want a thing that accomplishes X, and I want that thing to be precisely Y," is a requirement that is often very difficult to fulfill. If we aren't in antagonistic stance between player and GM, then the GM is there in large part to help the player realize their cool stuff. Over-specifying limits the GM's ability to help.

Just as a customer is often well-served to allow an engineer or UX designer to figure out *how* a goal is reached, a player is often well-served to allow the GM to guide the specifics a bit.
 
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