• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

Players choose what their PCs do . . .

Elfcrusher

Explorer
Or you could define roleplay the proper way as I have done and then analyze the mechanics in question as I have been doing to determine if they are roleplaying mechanics or not - which is really the only proper way to have a debate about such things in the first place.
But if nobody agrees with your definition....?
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
They are role playing mechanics - the games just model that a person's impulse responses may not match their ideals. The reason the players are removed from the PC response is because there are defined mechanics that are checked to determine behaviour in certain circumstances. "I'd never steal money!" "Well, there's a bag of unattended money in front of you..." "I shouldn't have taken the $30,000! Now what do I do!!?!?"

Champions/Hero System has a related set of mechanics where the player defines specific personality issues for a PC and is constrained to play within them. The more extreme the reaction, the less player control can be exercised when they are triggered.

Players need not have complete control of their PC on a role playing game. Indeed, if there are any mechanical systems for social interaction or strong emotion then almost by definition the players cannot have complete control.
Good post.

I think one of the big problems we have in this sort of discussion relates to your first paragraph.

There is a common refrain shared by a lot of TTRPG players that people (in this case their PCs) possess a level of cognitive continuity and coherency, or a lack of disunity among the various mental states and hardware that we all inhabit/deploy simultaneously, the sum of which means that every action that a person takes is some kind of expression of perception bias-less, maximal agency and coalitional consensus (amidst the various "selves"). Anything that falls short of that isn't immersive or unrealistic or something of the sort.

Modern cognitive and neuroscience very much disagrees with this.

One part of you being beholden to another (possibly unknown at the time of the decision-point) part (or parts...which in turn may be beholden to an externality) is pretty much par for the course in human experience.
 

Elfcrusher

Explorer
They are welcome to propose one.
Ok. Fun game.

Here's my first attempt:

A roleplaying game is a game with the following characteristics:
- The "tokens" controlled by players represent characters that are defined by a composite of qualitative and quantitative descriptors.
- Instead of choosing from a prescribed list of legal moves, players engage in free-form play, describing their interactions with an environment.
- The rules help one or more participants adjudicate in the case of ambiguity.

EDIT: Bear in mind I'm trying to define the kind of "roleplaying games" we are talking about here. I'm not including something you might do in group therapy, in the privacy of your bedroom (or perhaps not your bedroom but a by-the-hour hotel room), or other activities which happen to carry the same appellation.
 
Last edited:

hawkeyefan

Explorer
A game in which the participants take on the roles of characters in a shared fiction.

Seems pretty straightforward.

I don’t see how the question of who decides how an action is resolved really affects the above. Different systems will have different ways of doing that to appeal to different play experiences and/or achieve different play goals. Doesn’t change the fact that the participants are taking on the role of characters in the shared fiction.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
Ok. Fun game.

Here's my first attempt:

A roleplaying game is a game with the following characteristics:
- The "tokens" controlled by players represent characters that are defined by a composite of qualitative and quantitative descriptors.
- Instead of choosing from a prescribed list of legal moves, players engage in free-form play, describing their interactions with an environment.
- The rules help one or more participants adjudicate in the case of ambiguity.

EDIT: Bear in mind I'm trying to define the kind of "roleplaying games" we are talking about here. I'm not including something you might do in group therapy, in the privacy of your bedroom (or perhaps not your bedroom but a by-the-hour hotel room), or other activities which happen to carry the same appellation.
That's a subtle shift in the initial request - define roleplaying vs define roleplaying game as you did - but I'll go along.

There's one clause that seems a bit ambiguous to me "describing their interactions with an environment." It seems that could refer to the player describing the action and the outcome or just the action or even just the outcome. Did you have something more specific in mind here?

But even with without knowing the answer to that I'd like to point out one conclusion your definition leads to that I think you will find surprising. If players are the ones describing their interactions with an environment then would a game where the DM describes a players interactions with the environment not be considered a roleplaying game by your proposed definition? What about a game where most interactions with an environment are described by a player but some are described by the DM?
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
A game in which the participants take on the roles of characters in a shared fiction.

Seems pretty straightforward.

I don’t see how the question of who decides how an action is resolved really affects the above. Different systems will have different ways of doing that to appeal to different play experiences and/or achieve different play goals. Doesn’t change the fact that the participants are taking on the role of characters in the shared fiction.
How exactly does one take on the role of a character in a shared fiction?

Is the answer that they choose what their PC does?
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
How exactly does one take on the role of a character in a shared fiction?

Is the answer that they choose what their PC does?
I would expect that the answer will vary. I feel that RPG is a category of game, not one game. So there would be any number of ways to play one.

I mean, even within a very traditional RPG like D&D, you have people roleplaying in different ways and with different rules applied. I don’t think that anyone would claim that the DM isn’t roleplaying because the characters he plays are more subject to the actions of the PCs.

Role playing is as basic and simple as the two words imply. Playing a role.
 

FrogReaver

Explorer
I would expect that the answer will vary. I feel that RPG is a category of game, not one game. So there would be any number of ways to play one.
But surely there aren't many different ways to take on a role of a character in a shared fiction? Are you incapable of even attempting to define what taking on the role of a character means? If so I'd say that you've not really provided much of a definition at all, as it can mean whatever the reader actually wants it to mean, based on however the reader interprets "take on the role of a character".

I mean, even within a very traditional RPG like D&D, you have people roleplaying in different ways and with different rules applied. I don’t think that anyone would claim that the DM isn’t roleplaying because the characters he plays are more subject to the actions of the PCs.
There are times a DM is roleplaying an NPC. Pretty much anytime he is having an NPC interact with the PC's would be a time he could be considered to be roleplaying. A large portion of his job isn't just controlling NPC interactions with PC's though. It's also creating the setting/world etc. That part isn't roleplay.

Role playing is as basic and simple as the two words imply. Playing a role.
The Chess is a roleplaying game! No? Then maybe it's not quite as simple as playing a role...
 
[MENTION=6785785]hawkeyefan[/MENTION] - there's more than one thing going on in your post but I thought I'd start with this one, as it speaks directly to the OP:

In a way, it's not about "What do you do?" although I ask that question all the time in my game. It's really about "What do you hope to accomplish?"
The OP, following in the lead of Donald Davidson, is really asserting that "do" and "accomplish" are synonyms.

So opening the safe is something that the PC does. And finding X in the safe (or not, as the case may be) is also something that the PC does. And nimbly moving his/her fingers while listening to the fall of the tumblers is also something that the PC does. And these are all the same thing, although under different descriptions - just as moving my finger, flicking on the light switch, illuminating the room and alerting the prowler that I've come home are all descriptions - different descriptions - of the one action.

Building on this point, the OP is asking about who, at the table, gets to decide what descriptions are true and is pushing for answers to this - which of course might be different for different systems, different contexts of play, different preferences, etc - which go beyond the player decides what the PC does. Because once we recognise that what the PC does is something amenable to multiple descriptions, at varying levels of "thinness"/"thickness", some of which are intended and some of which - like the alerting of the prowler - might be inadvertent - then we can see that it doesn't take us very far to say that someone gets to decide what the PC does. Because we need to know what sorts of descriptions is that person entitled to make true.

If the PCs are already looking for something specific....let's say they've broken into a place for the specific purpose of finding a map....then that's potentially going to influence how they declare actions. "I want to see if the map is in this safe" is more specific than "Let's see what's in this safe". A given method may or may not work for both these instances. Rolling and consulting a table may not help when something specific is sought, for example.
One issue this raises is - what is the connection between player desire about the outcome of an action, PC hope/intention in performing an action (which may be the same as what the player desires, but perhaps not always), and true descriptions of the action?

In fairly traditional D&D action declarations which have no very rich intention behind them - say, I open the safe to see what's inside it - are fairly common. And the GM has a correspondingly very extensive licence to settle true descriptions of those actions- You open the safe and see nothing, or maybe You open the safe only to realise it's a gateway - your mind is blasted as you look on the face of Demogorgon at the other end of the interplaner portal!" Of course there are various principles that are expected to govern the formulation of those descriptions - including (say) fidelity to pre-written notes; cognisance of both PC level and dungeon level; not adopting such a "gotcha" appoach that skilled play becomes impossible, etc. But player desire and PC intention don't play a huge role.

Conversely, in BW an action declaration without some fairly rich specification of an intention or a hope isn't really well-formed. Which then has a big effect on how true descriptions are established: if the check succeeds, then we know that, in the fiction, there is a true description of the action which is the PC getting what s/he wanted. The rule book even describes this as "sacrosanct".

Does the above help make clearer what I'm trying to get at and ask about in the OP?

When you say "richer, wider, consequence-laden descriptions of what the PCs do..." are you just speaking to results of an action? Because I don't think establishing the result falls into the same bucket as descriptions of what the PC's do.
Hopefully the earlier parts of this post help with this. When I turn on a light switch with the result that I illuminate a room and alert a prowler - with the motion of the switch itself being a result of moving my finger - these are all the same thing that I do], albeit described differently.

Of course in a RPG system you might impose a rule that (say) the players can make true such-and-such sorts of descriptions (eg descriptions about PC bodily movements) and the GM can make true such-and-such other descriptions (eg of what they see when the look somewhere) and maybe use random tables for something else, and make some authority subject to some mechanical checks, etc - but that is a decision about who gets to establish what descriptions as true. The point of the OP is that you can't get to it just by contrasting (so-called) actions with (so-called) results. That contrast is downstream of, not upstream of, a decision about who gets to establish what descriptions as true.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
But surely there aren't many different ways to take on a role of a character in a shared fiction? Are you incapable of even attempting to define what taking on the role of a character means? If so I'd say that you've not really provided much of a definition at all, as it can mean whatever the reader actually wants it to mean, based on however the reader interprets "take on the role of a character".
Yup. It will indeed mean different things to different people.

For me, taking on a role most often means a role in a story....a persona, a specific character...and I play the game essentially advocating for that character within the story.


There are times a DM is roleplaying an NPC. Pretty much anytime he is having an NPC interact with the PC's would be a time he could be considered to be roleplaying. A large portion of his job isn't just controlling NPC interactions with PC's though. It's also creating the setting/world etc. That part isn't roleplay.
I would say even that is debatable, but let’s not even worry about the GM’s other roles (whoa) in the game.

You claimed that true roleplaying doesn’t allow for the player to determine how anyone reacts to them, or for the GM to determine how a PC reacts. My point is that reactions of characters are different for players and GMs. The rules work differently for PCs than they do for NPCs (or, they very often do, I should say). And some of those ways clearly break this rule you’ve come up with. Something as simple as a surprise roll means the PC is surprised....no choice. Spells and saving throws and similar mechanics. Some games allow for social actions to influence others.

Sometimes the actions or reactions of characters are beyond the control of the player or GM. If my character fails a saving throw when a dragon lands next to him, are you going to say that I’m not roleplaying when I have him throw down his sword and run? Am I not playing the role of someone in the fiction by doing so? If I insist that I attack the dragon, is the GM somehow in the wrong to say “no, you cannot attack....you have to freeze in terror or flee”?

Other games also break this rule of yours. It doesn’t make them any less roleplaying games than any other.

And while I think your rule is a perfectly fine approach to roleplaying games, I think that’s all it is...an approach, not a definition.

The Chess is a roleplaying game! No? Then maybe it's not quite as simple as playing a role...
I do think role playing is that simple. If I sit down to play chess with you, and every turn I have my King issue orders to the piece I move, and then I have that piece respond in kind...I’m roleplaying. But since chess doesn’t require that in order to function, I’m not playing a roleplaying game.
 
There's a problem with the example "I wink at the maiden and soften her heart" that I think has thus far been overlooked here, which is this:

Flip it around. If the GM says to you "The maiden winks at you and softens your heart" without invoking any game mechanics there'd be (justifiable) cries of bloody blue murder: the GM is dictating the PC's reaction to the wink.

So why isn't the GM given the same agency over how her NPCs react to the PCs' actions?
That depends heavily on the system.

In Apocalypse World, to give one example, the resolution of "social" checks is defined differently when the target is a PC or a NPC - players have more capacity to generate true descriptions pertaining to NPC attitudes than to the attitudes of PCs who aren't theirs. And the GM is expected to treat NPCs as expendable in a way that PCs are not.

In Marvel Heroic RP/Cortex+ Heroic, the system is fully symmetrical as between players, GMs, PCs and NPCs.

In Traveller, there is a rule for making it true that a NPC freezes a PC's heart (morale checks that apply equally to PCs and NPCs) but not that s/he melts a PC's heart (reaction checks are used for NPCs but not PCs).

Etc.

See Magic
Well, magic is imaginary. Whereas in this thread I was hoping we could talk about the actualities of how RPGing can work.

We all know that D&D is a game in which the GM can produce true descriptions of NPC actions like The wizard weaves a spell about you - make a save - <player rolls poorly> - the hostility you were feeling melts away, as you recognise the wizard as an old friend. The fact that, in the fiction, this is the casting of a spell is part of the aesthetic of the game. But that doesn't illuminate how the process works at the table - eg how often per session is the GM allowed to do this? (Answer for D&D: as often as s/he likes, given largely unconstrained power to introduce magic-using NPCs into the situation)

In the Prince Valiant RPG, the GM can do something similar by using a Special Effect such as Incite Lust ("This Special Effect makes one character’s primary thoughts turn to lust for another character"). As the rules say (p 43),

When possible, the Storyteller should use coin throws [=checks] to impose his will on the Adventurers. . . . But a Special Effect gives the Storyteller an event that occurs without fail. This can help him control the story without being too dictatorial.​

The rules also advise (pp 43-44) that "Usually no more than three characters with Special Effects, or one character with three Special Effects, should be used [per scenario], so as to let the players retain some control."

The fact that a Special Effect in Prince Valiant need not be connected to the use of magic in the fiction changes the aesthetic of the game, but is largely irrelevant to considering how the GM-side mechanics of that game and D&D work.
 
Last edited:
GMs describing player actions/reactions and Players describing things outside their characters are 100% perfectly legit RP.

Just in a different style.
Part of the point of the OP is that the bit that I've bolded happens ubiquitously in RPGing. Including bog-standard D&D.

Eg the player declares I hurl a flask of oil at the mummy. Checks are then made (depending on system and table conventions, these might include throwing checks, saving throws, damage rolls, etc). The GM narrates, as the upshot Cool! You set the mummy alight - its dry rags and embalming oils are burning furiously.

Eg the player declares I search for secret doors. Checks are then made (depending on system and table conventions, these might include perception checks, a sui generis secret-door-finding mechanic, an ad hoc roll, etc). The GM narrates, as the upshot As you run your finger along the architrave you feel a small but regularly-shaped bump. It's probably a button. And your rapping of the wall has suggested a hollow space behind it.

Surely these examples, and dozens or hundreds like them, aren't controversial!

Player's describing player actions is roleplaying. Thus when a GM describes player actions that is not roleplaying. Just like above where brown is not white.
I just gave two examples, both extremely straightforward and either of which could come from a D&D table c 1975, in which the GM describes PC actions.

That's a ubiquitous part of RPGing. What the OP is asking about is really the contexts in which and extent to which players get to describe PC actions, and also about enablers for that (eg successful checks).

Consider a brown dog. Brown is a specific color. White is a different specific color. Would you also accuse me of defining the brown dog as not white as if that is something to be frowned upon?
This is a particularly odd example because the world probably contains many off-white dogs whom some think of as basically white while others think of them as some light or quasi- shade of brown.

And that's before we get to cases like brown dogs that have rolled in chalk or white dogs that have rolled in mud (or worse).
 
Last edited:
A roleplaying game is a game with the following characteristics:
- The "tokens" controlled by players represent characters that are defined by a composite of qualitative and quantitative descriptors.
- Instead of choosing from a prescribed list of legal moves, players engage in free-form play, describing their interactions with an environment.
- The rules help one or more participants adjudicate in the case of ambiguity.
A game in which the participants take on the roles of characters in a shared fiction.
I think that there are two things that are central to RPGs and distinguish them from games in the same general neighbourhood such as shared storytelling games, wargames and the like, all of which tend to involve a shared fiction:

* In a RPG, most if not all of the participants engage the game primarily through a particular person within the shared fiction - their moves primarily consist of descriptions of things that their corresponding person does or attempts to do in the fiction;

* In a RPG, the fiction matters to resolution of moves.​

The second point is what distinguishes a RPG from a boardgame and at least some wargaming. The first point is what distinguishes RPGing from most wargaming, and I think is a more precise take on what [MENTION=6785785]hawkeyefan[/MENTION] means by "taking on the roles of characters". Also note that, by my account of RPGing, players in a single-figure wargame where the fiction matters to resolution are playing a RPG - which I think is the right outcome, given that that's pretty much a description of the basics of Arneson's Blackmoor game as I understand it.

The issue of whether the moves are "free-form" or prescribed is, I think, secondary. Much more important, I think, is that the fiction matters to resolution.

The way in which fiction matters to resolution - do we imagine in-fiction causal processes, do we use the fiction as a constraint on permissible framing and outcome narration, etc - varies across RPGs. The early ones tend to focus on in-fiction causal processes because of the wargaming inheritance but there are pretty early systems (T&T, Classic Traveller) which dispense with that in at least some respects and obviously there are contemporary systems (eg Apocalypse World) in which in-fiction causal processes are almost irrelevant to determining how the fiction matters to the resolution of player-declared moves.

What nature and scope of descriptions of actions that the character-playing participants can establish, and by what methods, is of course the topic of this thread.

Players need not have complete control of their PC on a role playing game. Indeed, if there are any mechanical systems for social interaction or strong emotion then almost by definition the players cannot have complete control.
Just to try to bring the discussion back on topic, I'll reiterate what I posted not far upthread: I think it's obvious that the referee/GM participant in a RPG (to the extent that the game has such a person) typically has quite a wide degree of power to establish descriptions of PC actions as part of the resolution process, and not confined to the social/emotional sphere of the life of those characters.

Of course the details of that - eg does it depend on a player failing a check (yes, typically, for BW; no for AD&D when a PC searches for a secret door) - will reflect the details of what character-playing participants can do in respect of establishing descriptions (assuming the game rules are coherent in this respect - it's not unheard of for RPGs to have incoherent rules in this respect because the full implications of being a fiction-establishing game hadn't been thought through).
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Roleplaying is simply taking on an imaginary role in a shared fiction. There are a number of ways of doing this, including acting, therapy, and playing games.

A roleplaying gane is one where the players roleplay a character(s) in the game and where the player is expected to advocate for their character.

None of this is impacted by a GM being able to declare actions for a PC in some situations, especially if the action declaration is due to a failed attempt at action by the player.

This varues by game. In 5e, the expectation is that players have absolute authority to declare thin actions, except in specific cases, usually magic. But, in other games, where players often have much more control over the scene in general, this is countered by tge GM having control of PC actions in failure conditions. This does not reduce the roleplaying in these games.
 

Aldarc

Adventurer
By not adopting a precise meaning you can never prove anything. There's no real debate going on until ya'll either adopt a definition or agree to debate about what the proper definition should be.
People spend their entires lives using imprecise definitions to prove things, including nearly the entire enterprise of academia. If academia has taught me anything so far, it's that useful definitions are hardly as precise (or meaningful) as people often like to imagine them being, especially when it involves people arguing on the internet. It's usually about finding serviceable, sufficient, and workable definitions that broadly describe (and not dogmatically prescribe) phenomenon. Meanwhile, the entire field of cognitive linguistics would be quick to point out that "meaning" is far from precise, with the field as a whole favoring (what they generally refer to as) "encyclopedic semantics" over "lexical semantics." In other words, the meaning of a thing (word, concept, etc.) is less dependent on lexical definitions, but, rather, on the larger body of knowledge, experiences, cultural/historical associations, and its various related, connected concepts.

If they really don't know what roleplaying means by now then they ought to.
I kinda think that you're "Saelorning" on this issue right now. If you are arguing something that causes the likes of Pemerton, Tony Vargas, Elfcrusher, Maxperson, Ovinomancer, and hawkeyefan to collectively unite in their disagreement with you, then you have to wonder how badly you screwed up if the Justice League and the Legion of Doom have teamed-up against you. (I'll let them fight it out who belongs to which team in this scenario. It doesn't matter.)

Of course one is roleplaying while the other isn't. That you can't bear to actually let a definition speak for itself is the very problem I'm here trying to solve.
How does presuming a correct definition (essentially begging the question) in the face of multiple forms of counter evidence solve anything, especially when most people here seem to disagree with it? If anything, your attempt to impose your restricted notion of a "roleplaying mechanic" appears to have instead propagated more problems that it solved. :erm:

So do you adjust your definition with the evidence or do you go Seymour Skinner on us by rejecting your own possibility for error and declaring that everyone else must be wrong? ;)

I understand why such is being done. It's because we don't trust players to actually roleplay their PC's. That's fine. But we don't need to act like a mechanic created solely to remove a player's ability to roleplay their PC is actually a roleplaying mechanic...
I think that it has more to do with the growing recognition among even roleplayers that human beings are irrational, biological creatures who are psychologically pushed and pulled in ways beyond even what they can rationally act upon. Roleplaying games are also about emulating certain facets of the human experience, including such things. As [MENTION=23935]Nagol[/MENTION] said, our impulses and our ideals do not necessarily match. The roleplaying is not necessarily about choosing whether or not we have these impulses but what we do when faced with them.
 
Last edited:
In 5e, the expectation is that players have absolute authority to declare thin actions, except in specific cases, usually magic.
Even here I think there are some interesting exceptions (or maybe they're borderline cases).

Eg the search example: suppose the GM has narrated a wall that has a ledge towards its top that is too high for the PCs to visually inspect even when they stand on tippy-toes, but that they can reach with outstretched arms. A player narrates I reach up high and run my fingers along the ledge. The GM replies You run your fingers along the ledge and feel several bumps - one of them depresses as you brush your fingers over it - make a DEX saving throw!. The player makes the roll, and succeeds. The GM continues You pull your hand away as a blade springs up from inside the ledge! If you'd been slower it might have pierced your hand.

That might be good play or bad play, depending on everything from table preferences to larger context in which the episode is located to the dramatic tone of the GM's narration. But as far as the content of the narration is concerned, I don't think it's that remarkable from a D&D perspective.

Even though in giving this example I'm contradicting what you said, that's not my real point - I don't think you were trying to state a general law which I've now punctured with my one counterexample!

I'm more trying to point out that a lot of actual RPGing practice departs from some fairly common descriptions that are given of how it works - even in descriptions found in widely-read rulebooks! Rather than the sort of high-level normative definition-and-description advocacy that we're seeing from some posters, the idea of this thread is to try to hone in on the actualities of play and have a look at what's going on and why.

For instance, I think D&D permits the sort of example I just gave, but is less permissive to the GM when - in the fiction - what is going on is not inspecting an architectural feature but trying to understand a social situation. Is that just legacy? Does it tell us something about the game's focus?

We could compare that to the "perception" moves in Apocalypse World (p 87 of the rulebook):

READ A SITCH
When you read a charged situation, roll+sharp. On a hit, you can ask the MC questions. Whenever you act on one of the MC’s answers, take +1. On a 10+, ask 3. On a 7–9, ask 1:

• where’s my best escape route / way in / way past?
• which enemy is most vulnerable to me?
• which enemy is the biggest threat?
• what should I be on the lookout for?
• what’s my enemy’s true position?
• who’s in control here?

READ A PERSON
When you read a person in a charged interaction, roll+sharp. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. While you’re interacting with them, spend your hold to ask their player questions, 1 for 1:

• is your character telling the truth?
• what’s your character really feeling?
• what does your character intend to do?
• what does your character wish I’d do?
• how could I get your character to __?​

There's a higher degree of symmetry here than in D&D, I think, although it's not strict symmetry. And if the player succeeds on a check, the MC (= GM, for non-AW players who are following along) has less licence, I think, than in the D&D case, to describe the PC's actions (say in terms of moving his/her fingers, feeling things with them, pulling away just in time).

Whereas on a failed check (= 6 or less, for non-AW players), the MC has much closer to carte blanche. Here's an example from the AW rulebook (pp 155-56):

“I read the situation. What’s my best escape route?” She rolls+sharp and . . . misses. “Oh no,” she says.

I can make as hard and direct a move as I like. . . .

“You’re looking out your (barred, 4th-story) window as though it were an escape route,” I say, “and they don’t chop your door all the way down, just through the top hinge, and then they lean on it to make a 6-inch space. The door’s creaking and snapping at the bottom hinge. And they put a grenade through like this—” I hold up my fist for the grenade and slap it with my other hand, like whacking a croquet ball.

“I dive for—”

Sorry, I’m still making my hard move. . . .

“Nope. They cooked it off and it goes off practically at your feet. Let’s see … 4-harm area messy, a grenade. You have armor?”​

I think a lot of D&D players would find this goes too far - the MC establishes what it is that the PC is looking at (her window), what she's thinking (that it might be an escape route), and then blocks an attempt to declare a dive for cover (which in D&D might be a saving throw if the action economy doesn't permit doing it as a DEX/Acro check or similar).

Not that you need to be told, but just to make it clear to readers of this post: this contrast between D&D and AW is an attempt to illustrate different ways in which true descriptions of PC actions can be established in RPGs.
 

Ovinomancer

Explorer
Even here I think there are some interesting exceptions (or maybe they're borderline cases).

Eg the search example: suppose the GM has narrated a wall that has a ledge towards its top that is too high for the PCs to visually inspect even when they stand on tippy-toes, but that they can reach with outstretched arms. A player narrates I reach up high and run my fingers along the ledge. The GM replies You run your fingers along the ledge and feel several bumps - one of them depresses as you brush your fingers over it - make a DEX saving throw!. The player makes the roll, and succeeds. The GM continues You pull your hand away as a blade springs up from inside the ledge! If you'd been slower it might have pierced your hand.

That might be good play or bad play, depending on everything from table preferences to larger context in which the episode is located to the dramatic tone of the GM's narration. But as far as the content of the narration is concerned, I don't think it's that remarkable from a D&D perspective.

Even though in giving this example I'm contradicting what you said, that's not my real point - I don't think you were trying to state a general law which I've now punctured with my one counterexample!

I'm more trying to point out that a lot of actual RPGing practice departs from some fairly common descriptions that are given of how it works - even in descriptions found in widely-read rulebooks! Rather than the sort of high-level normative definition-and-description advocacy that we're seeing from some posters, the idea of this thread is to try to hone in on the actualities of play and have a look at what's going on and why.

For instance, I think D&D permits the sort of example I just gave, but is less permissive to the GM when - in the fiction - what is going on is not inspecting an architectural feature but trying to understand a social situation. Is that just legacy? Does it tell us something about the game's focus?

We could compare that to the "perception" moves in Apocalypse World (p 87 of the rulebook):

READ A SITCH
When you read a charged situation, roll+sharp. On a hit, you can ask the MC questions. Whenever you act on one of the MC’s answers, take +1. On a 10+, ask 3. On a 7–9, ask 1:

• where’s my best escape route / way in / way past?
• which enemy is most vulnerable to me?
• which enemy is the biggest threat?
• what should I be on the lookout for?
• what’s my enemy’s true position?
• who’s in control here?

READ A PERSON
When you read a person in a charged interaction, roll+sharp. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. While you’re interacting with them, spend your hold to ask their player questions, 1 for 1:

• is your character telling the truth?
• what’s your character really feeling?
• what does your character intend to do?
• what does your character wish I’d do?
• how could I get your character to __?​

There's a higher degree of symmetry here than in D&D, I think, although it's not strict symmetry. And if the player succeeds on a check, the MC (= GM, for non-AW players who are following along) has less licence, I think, than in the D&D case, to describe the PC's actions (say in terms of moving his/her fingers, feeling things with them, pulling away just in time).

Whereas on a failed check (= 6 or less, for non-AW players), the MC has much closer to carte blanche. Here's an example from the AW rulebook (pp 155-56):

“I read the situation. What’s my best escape route?” She rolls+sharp and . . . misses. “Oh no,” she says.

I can make as hard and direct a move as I like. . . .

“You’re looking out your (barred, 4th-story) window as though it were an escape route,” I say, “and they don’t chop your door all the way down, just through the top hinge, and then they lean on it to make a 6-inch space. The door’s creaking and snapping at the bottom hinge. And they put a grenade through like this—” I hold up my fist for the grenade and slap it with my other hand, like whacking a croquet ball.

“I dive for—”

Sorry, I’m still making my hard move. . . .

“Nope. They cooked it off and it goes off practically at your feet. Let’s see … 4-harm area messy, a grenade. You have armor?”​

I think a lot of D&D players would find this goes too far - the MC establishes what it is that the PC is looking at (her window), what she's thinking (that it might be an escape route), and then blocks an attempt to declare a dive for cover (which in D&D might be a saving throw if the action economy doesn't permit doing it as a DEX/Acro check or similar).

Not that you need to be told, but just to make it clear to readers of this post: this contrast between D&D and AW is an attempt to illustrate different ways in which true descriptions of PC actions can be established in RPGs.
We're not in disagreement at all. I said that in 5e players have authority to make their own thin declarations, except in some specific circumstances. While my preference wouldn't be what you presented, it's not an uncommon example of play.

And, your AW example is dead on what I've been saying about DM directing PC action on a failure in some games.

So, nope, not much, if any, disagreement here at all.
 

Advertisement

Top