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D&D General Railroads, Illusionism, and Participationism

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So, here's an idea: I have specific design elements of a game I've written, which is intended to be focused on the PCs and their story, and thus other concerns are less central, like any kind of 'plots' and whatnot devised by the GM. As I'm a fairly old school guy I am not actually going crazy with this. As I've said before its an exploration of design ala the direction taken by D&D 4e and subsequently abandoned by WotC. So, what are specific design elements, and why do they exist and how do they relate to topics discussed here (because these are primary topics of interest for this kind of game design, IMHO)?
4e had its strengths, no doubt. This was one of them.
The premise of the game is heroic, legendary, and mythic adventures, so this is all about characters who are Big Damned Heroes, and they might even become legends that are remembered for centuries (greatest swordsman of the 3rd Age), or myths (greatest swordsman ever, slew the baddest monsters in the universe). I envisage this as almost entirely a Story Now kind of play.
Very cool. Are they starting out at a high level?
So, player characters have traits which get them immediately wrapped up in things, strengths, weaknesses, goals, bonds (who they know, etc), and some degree of background, plus a calling and a species, and then possibly some build choices within their calling. Tags provide 'hooks' too, so the fact that something is an 'enchantment' can be leveraged somewhere by someone to make something interesting hinge on it. Otherwise, we're pretty much in D&D-like territory, albeit closer to 4e than other versions. The focus on these traits however is higher than things like ability scores, which are going to more inform approach.
I like everything about this, especially as it relates to heroic campaigns.
So that's the next thing, approach, characters have knacks, not skills exactly, but problem solving tool sets which they use. Your character might have a knack for being deceptive, or athletic, or collecting obscure information, and that's going to govern their approach to tasks. This additionally reinforces characterization, the mechanics are there mostly to help you DRAW A PICTURE of what the character is.

You can invoke Fate, this means mentioning some attribute of your character, whether personality or otherwise, and downgrading your relation to Fate from positive to negative, and then altering or introducing some factor into the narrative related to the mentioned attribute (presumably this is favorable to at least the player's agenda, if not that of the character). You can alternatively allow the GM to do the altering, in which case your Fate moves from negative to positive. This is a bit like the 5e 'Inspiration' mechanic, but done right. The purpose is to basically give the player an option to pick up a bit of the GM's authority momentarily. While it probably isn't needed in a principled Story Game play, it won't hurt either. Fate can be reset at the start of each session, use it!
Fate sounds really cool. It reminds me a little bit of Joss in the Gygax game Dangerous Journeys, at least the way we used it, which was specifically for narrative and mechanical purposes.
In terms of actual play, given the orientation towards task-based action mechanics ala 4e, vs the kind of style used in a game like DW, there's a necessity to set the values of actions. That is, the players need to know how a given check they wish to invoke is advancing them towards a stated goal. So that works by the application of a couple of mechanisms. First players state goals, you could call this a 'quest' mechanism, probably a good name for it. These are resolved by challenges, which are pretty much (roughly speaking) like 4e SCs. If you succeed or fail in enough checks, then the results of the quest are decided. There are no checks outside of these challenges, flat out. If anything is at stake, then a challenge exists, and it resolves some sort of quest, though it could be pretty minor in some cases. Checks themselves are initiated by players stating actions, and the GM determining which knack (or maybe it is a tool or some knowledge) governs the check. Players can expend power points to increase the potency of the result, and they can also use practices to alter the governing element checked against if they want (so you could use a ritual to change a climb check into an arcana check to summon a mount so you can fly instead).

The point of the above is pretty simple, the players are always measuring the outcomes, not the GM. It is up to the GM to decide the NARRATIVE RESULT of a check, and of the outcome of a challenge, but the players are in charge of what they want to do, and of their intent, which they also state when they make a check. If they are succeeding on checks, they are pretty much deciding how the scene plays out, but then the GM gets to posit the next element of the challenge, so it should play as give and take.
This sounds like a really cool mechanic/playstyle to promote the creativity of the player's options. I imagine you will get a lot of creative ideas since they won't be always bound with daily and encounter powers.
As you can see, there's not that much scope for prewritten stuff here. The GM could frame scenes in terms of what he wants to see happen, but even then a party of 5 players has Fate x 5 per session... I've also expressed guidelines about playing to see what happens, which really should be sufficient, but again, it never hurts to let the players reinforce that admonition...

So, design principles in service of a particular type of play. I make no claim to be talented at this, lol.
This sounds like it already has talent in it. :)
Good luck. Sounds like you all will have a blast.
 

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Then honestly I give up any attempt to understand what "Force" means. My every effort has failed.
It's probably best to give up, since the letters stay the same, but the meaning varies from person to person.

For the record, I think it simply means anytime a DM runs an adventure in D&D, but not when they run it in some other games. ;)
 


It's probably best to give up, since the letters stay the same, but the meaning varies from person to person.

For the record, I think it simply means anytime a DM runs an adventure in D&D, but not when they run it in some other games. ;)

Check out my post 2389 (and this is still NOWHERE NEAR the length of @innerdude 's epic Dissociated Mechanics and "The Door, the <whatever it was>, and the <whatever it was>" thread of yore!) for 3 instances (tactical, strategic, thematic) of what Force would look like in Dungeon World.

I would hope that should do work in terms of explanatory power of the phenomenon.
 

I do think that's a bit too disingenuous and not a fair take on the meaning of 'force.'
I am teasing. Sorry if it came across as mean. I do, and I mean this, in all sincerity, appreciate all of you for taking the time to explain your views and being patient with someone like me. In the end, I think my mind has opened up to a new train of thought, and that I am thankful for.
 

pemerton

Legend
The characters in my party have these as their motives (some shared, some individual):
  • Learn about my family history and what this leads to (two characters not related by blood both have this motive)
  • Sate deep personal curiosity about the world and its cultures, fauna, and locations (also shared by two characters)
  • Uncover the true secrets of spirits and the various traditions of magic
Taken at face value, these seem like invitations to the GM to author and reveal backstory - about families, cultures, fauna, locations, spirits and magic.

They don't seem to impose much constraint on the GM.

  • Liberate the oppressed, particularly those beholden by magic
  • Go forth and destroy darkness wherever it takes root (shared by multiple characters)
  • Help anyone who cannot help themselves (shared by all: the party is basically all Good)
These seem like rather generic motivations. They don't seem to impose much constraint on the GM: a very wide range of pre-authored situations and scenarios for FRPGing involve liberating and helping those who are suffering, perhaps by destroying darkness.

There's also nothing here, nor in the previous bundle, that puts any pressure on the GM - nothing like (eg) my family, being honourable, would never be oppressors! or the spirits at their heart are liberators of those they touch. (Those are just two things I made up now that generate potential conflict or pressure between some of the topics in the first bundle and some of the goals in the second.)

  • Explore the possibilities of my personal art and find new students (shared by multiple characters)
  • Earn the loyalty of my clan and found my own nation (a player on hiatus)
  • Protect the interests of my liege-lady, wherever my travels take me
These seem potentially more constraining, but it's a bit hard to tell without more detail - what does it take (eg) to earn the loyalty of the clan, to remain loyal to the liege-lady, to attract a loyal student? If the GM is just authoring all this as they go along, then the these motivations would mostly seem like devices that give the player a reason to have their PC do what the GM is implicitly suggesting.

On the other hand, if the liege-lady is trying to oppress others via her dark magic, or the clan is at war with the spirits, or the only prospective students are children of the darkness, that could shake things up a bit!

Here are Thurgon and Aramina's goals and related build elements (Beliefs, Instincts, Relationships, and in Thurgon's case Reputations and Affiliations):

Thurgon's Beliefs
*The Lord of Battle will lead me to glory
*I am a Knight of the Iron Tower: by devotion and example I will lead the righteous to glorious victory
*Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more!
*Aramina will need my protection

Thurgon's Instincts
*When entering battle, always speak a prayer to the Lord of Battle
*If an innocent is threatened, interpose myself
*When camping, always ensure that the campfire is burning

Thurgon's Relationships
Xanthippe (Mother, on family estate (Auxol))
Aramina (sorceress companion)

Thurgon's Reputations & Affiliations
+1D rep last Knight of the Iron Tower
+1D aff von Pfizer family
+1D aff Order of the Iron Tower
+1D aff nobility

Aramina's Beliefs
I'm not going to finish my career with no spellbooks and an empty purse!
I don't need Thurgon's pity
If in doubt, burn it!

Aramina's Instincts
Never catch the glance or gaze of a stranger
Always wear my cloak
Always Assess before casting a spell

Aramina's Relationships
Thurgon (knight companion)​

By no means are these the most evocative or powerful PC builds imaginable! But they do contain a degree of specificity which channels the action in a certain direction:

  • the tension between pursuing glory and looking after family, which opens the door to such unwelcome truths as that Evard was Thurgon's mother's father;
  • tension between pursing glory as a member of an order, yet being the last member of a (failed?) order - which invites various sorts of unwelcome truths to be revealed, and also manifests in meeting members of that order via Circles built on the relevant Reputation and Affiliation;
  • tension between pursuing glory and more homey things like campfires and cloaks (the GM hasn't really lent into that one yet, though I remind him from time to time);
  • conflict between Thurgon and Aramina over the nature of their relationship;
  • strangers who are affronted by someone who won't look them in the eye.

I would expect Bonds and Alignment in DW to often tend towards similar sorts of possibilities of tension or conflict.
 

pemerton

Legend
To use a different example to try and illustrate the same point, here are two different ways that FRPGing might produce a LotR-ish story:

(1) Two players create PC whose goals are "Learn more about my mysterious ancestry, and resolve anything left unresolved by my ancestors". The GM writes a story about a Hobbit who inherits a mysterious and powerful ring from his uncle, and a Ranger whose destiny is to be restored to the kingship of the reunited kingdoms.

(2) One player creates a Hobbit PC whose goal is "To learn the mystery of my uncle's mysterious ring, and undo any evil associated with it." Another creates a Ranger PC whose goal is "To reunite the kingdoms that my ancestors sundered, and to be restored as rightful king of these lands."

Both (1) and (2) might produce LotR-ish stories at the end of the campaign. But the process would be quite different. In the first case, that would be the result of GM authorial decisions. In the second case, that would follow from the players' choices about their PCs' backstories and goals, which the GM then had to respond to and build upon.
 

Striving for brevity where possible.

I've got in mind posts like these:
Not sure why on that first thing. E.g. I did exactly that with "this is a slave market," despite no prep about that. That the ancient genies enslaved mortals is a long-established fact, but I don't see how this differs from the dwarf-forge example (where rumors of old things hidden out there were already established.) Don't get the second either. Why should a DR roll give literally all possible information no matter what? The examples of play explicitly flow from how the characters do their discerning. I feel like you've taken this as an incredibly strident "I'll make sure they stay ignorant no matter what" when all I meant was "even a full success doesn't necessarily grant them omniscience." Which kinda characterizes how I've felt about a lot of this stuff, where rather mild statements are read as utterly binding universal principles.

The third is, again, a matter of "it feels wrong for a successful roll to MAKE a specific person guilty." Now, if they made the discovery because they observed a smoking-gun clue, then sure, absolutely they would learn that thing. But if it's literally just looking over some evidence, it feels really, really, really, REALLY wrong for "I'm looking for proof of the Countess' guilt, checking her vanity for any suspicious substances, checking the clothes in her wardrobe for stains..." (aka, doing DR stuff) to then ask, "What here is useful or valuable to me?" and as a result MAKE the Countess the person who was always guilty, simply because that's where the player chose to look. That doesn't mean it's flat-out NOT possible for DR to reveal guilt--it totally is. But it has to reveal guilt that is actually there. It can't spontaneously create guilt.

That impression is reinforced by posts that suggest confusion about how these moves work:
I had been working off a mistaken understanding of what "player authorship" meant, given how much stress several posters kept putting on "player authorship" when what was actually meant was (as I would phrase it) "players prompting DM authorship."

Neither Spout Lore nor Discern Realities requires the player to invent solutions to mysteries or author the existence of Forges. But they can require the GM to narrate backstory in accordance with the constraints imposed by the moves and the broader principles.
I'm fine with doing this, and do it regularly. Again, the heavy stress on "player authorship" is what threw me.

Some of what you have said in your posts, for instance about using a NPC to send the PC to "important" places, suggests that your play is focused on GM-established "quests"/"adventures" rather than playing-to-find-out.
This is...difficult. It's why I keep saying "okay so...does that mean literally all prep is Force?" Because, frex, the murder caper at the masquerade ball. When the players went to Jinnistan (which I hope you will grant was players prompting for opportunities, in this case to help friends of theirs in need and to gain political clout), I had no specific plans for a murder thing. But as they met with their original target, Sultan Kavur, it occurred to me that my genies are tricksy and manipulative, and it'd be cool to pull a scheme without that scheme hurting the PCs. So I improvised a "here, go help my brother and then ask to attend this party" thing as a way to show off that conniving streak.

As above, this feels like mountains from molehills. Kafer-Naum was one such "important place" the players went to after consulting an NPC (IIRC, Shen) to find out more about the two cultic factions. It wasn't breadcrumbs due to exhausting local quests, it was a response to players seeking to address a threat. The reason could've been almost anything, e.g. the Druid wanting to check out spirits there, or the Bard wanting to say hi to his Temple Knight brother (something the player wrote as part of his backstory). The Ranger even sought out Kafer-Naum after returning from his first hiatus due to having found faith (a huge surprise, as the player is a committed atheist).

As a GM, I would expect that a player would take the lead in establishing the sort of information you describe, such as details of their PC's religion or cultural practices
Okay. We did that during Session 0. The players drafted the following origins (excluding some now-absent players): Bard immigrated to Al-Rakkah as a child from some other city and dabbled in Safiqi priest training but (like many formalities) it didn't stick, Bard is just now coming back to the city after years living among the nomads; Ranger is a prominent heir of a nomad clan partly integrated into Al-Rakkah, and he's not so keen on that integration; Druid is the second son of a different tribe's chief, with dad and brother also druids, but after dad died brother became a bit dictatorial so the PC tried to challenge his brother for leadership and got kicked out; (ex-player) Barbarian was from lands far to the East, so we worked out some info about his culture and why he was so far away. Etc.

Being a Druid, in this culture, means being a Kahina (Druids and Shamans being two sides of the same coin), trained in certain traditions. We talked at length before, during, and after Session 0 about things this implies. Likewise for belonging to the nomad tribes, or having Safiqi or Wazir (wizard) training. We built parts of the setting together. I didn't bother perfectly nailing down every tenet of Safiqi faith, for example, but given that the Bard player enthusiastically embraced being a casual practitioner (and partly-trained clergy), that has certain consequences.

If the player invents everything from whole cloth, well, that may be alright. But it's also quite possible for there to be abusive uses of such freedom, the "well my backstory says..." thing. I'm sure you've read the hilarious CoC story about Old Man Henderson, for example. But if the player knowingly ties their character to something another player (including the DM) added to the world, they'd better be ready for moments where they'll hear "you would know X."

I don't understand what you mean by players inventing this stuff unmoored from any fictional tethers an invented for the players' benefit. I think there are at least three ways I don't understand this: (i) What fiction would a player's material be untethered from? Do you mean fiction pre-authored by the GM? (ii) If play is taking place in some pre-established setting, why wouldn't the players have access to the relevant material and be the ones who lead the extrapolation of that material to apply to their PCs? (iii) How does it benefit a player that funerals involve the colour white rather than blue?
i) The GM or other players. Surely you've had games where two players collaborate on a shared backstory element, like attending the same school, growing up as best friends, or being family members? That inherently induces moments where someone else can invent backstory your character would know, but that you didn't generate yourself.
ii) Who said everything is 100% pre-established? I literally said it wasn't such, that some things are intentionally left vague or not explored because perfectly nailing down literally everything would be tedious.
iii) That....wasn't the point. I was just giving an example of "if you grew up in <this culture> you would know <random but relevant fact>." But if you need it to benefit the player, perhaps they decide to blend into a funeral procession and thus need to get some white duds stat.

Things being unmoored from fictional tethers is just...if the player says they're from the Shield Dwarf clan, that creates tethers. Either I as DM am allowed to build new stuff about the Shield Dwarf clan, or I'm not. If I'm not, the player now has carte blanche to make the Shield Dwarf clan whatever they want, whenever they want, which sounds hella abusive to me. If I am allowed, then necessarily things I invent after the game starts can't be something the player knows to begin with, so I have to tell them. If I'm allowed to do so, but am absolutely forbidden to tell the player any of this, then they can invent whatever they like no matter how it might contradict past experience in play, hence, unmoored.

As I've said, this isn't clear to me. For instance, your reply to @Nephis - You had a foundation for there to be hidden things, you had resources you could employ (the books) to reveal information, it was the DM creating a neat opportunity at your prompting rather than you giving yourself an opportunity - doesn't seem to demonstrate a clear understanding of how Spout Lore works, nor the function of asking questions and building on the answers.
I'm...not sure what my confusion is supposed to be, so...I can't really respond to this.

Drawing a map and writing a setting history may be compatible with playing to fin out, or it may not be. How is the map being used as an input into framing and into action resolution? How does the setting history relate to the player's orientation of their PCs towards the situations they find themselves in.
My players have responded positively to maps so I'm trying to use them. A player had also given feedback from some random-gen stuff we did a while back, saying he felt there was no tension nor merit to the choices to navigate around, when he knew that whatever we generated would be in whatever direction they travelled. So, with this map, it's...pretty damn abstract (a big circle with loose blob neighborhoods marked on it). It gives loose descriptions like "Palace District" or "Hydroponic Gardens," so that (to address the above feedback) there truly is a real difference between going north vs south or the like, but only at a very high conceptual level. The characters have only gotten a loose idea of what's present in the city, so "their" map identifies all neighborhoods adjacent to one they've been to. Play may reveal new information (like that the right-at-the-gates market square they started in was actually a slave market) or cast new light or a variety of other things, but the map exists so that there actually is a fact of the matter about the result of travelling in various directions. Again, this is like the "murder caper" thing: if there is no fact of the matter about who's guilty, there's no merit in discovering guilt, because it'll be either whoever the players decide is so, or whoever the dice-whims point to. If there is no fact of the matter about where things are located, then there's no merit in choosing north vs south, because things will appear in either the illusionism-based order the DM wants, or whatever the dice happen to produce.

If the GM goes on to describe nothing of consequence or something entirely unrelated it is either because (a) Force via incompetence (the GM just doesn't suss out what is happening here, doesn't clarify, or they just don't know what they should be doing with DR outcomes), (b) Force via prescriptive backstory which shuts down the prospects of wooing this witness (that shouldn't be a thing in DW), or (c) Force because the GM just wants the "find a witness" situation to drag on and fill more play time.
Yeah, I don't do any of these. Always give the benefit of the doubt on moves. Rule of Cool works wonders, but even without that, it's gotta be REAL out there for me to shut down a good-faith action. I don't drag stuff out, but may exploit 6-s or 7-9s to build tension. Even full success can build tension though, e.g. 10+ Parley still requires making a promise first, and 7-9 "concrete assurance, right now" is especially juicy.

The GM is subordinating the player's tactical move (they're affecting the orientation of things in the imagined space to deploy their auto-1 Hold to intercede) and in its stead supplanting it with an alternative fiction
I'd never deny actions this way, and picking nits (or pixel-b****ing) is rude. Often I swing the other way, giving the player more than expected. It's cheating to take away success earned under rules I agreed to play by. I may work out changes for future stuff, but that's a separate issue. (E.g. I gave a player a sword enchantment that was too powerful, so we slightly toned it down, together.)

At End of Session, the Paladin's player SHOULD be able to tick their "Alignment xp box" (because they fulfilled it. If they haven't, the GM has intentionally deployed Force or incompetently shut down the player's thematic interests by (OOPS) supplanting it with alternative framing that renders "Endanger yourself to protect those weaker than you" not in-play.
This, however...could be a thing. I take expansive views of alignment, but it doesn't trigger consistently every session. Probably more than half the time. If it's supposed to be every time...then yeah, I'm using Force by incompetence. That's disheartening to admit, but honestly I expect some incompetence on my part.
 

@EzekielRaiden , I’m talking about the Paladin in the scene depicted in the tutorial I constructed above. That particular hypothetical Paladin in that hypothetical scene should be able to tick their Alignment xp.

On the question of situation framing to address a player’s evinced dramatic needs, I would say that if individual players aren’t resolving a Bond/fulfilling Alignment at a high clip (probably 2 Alignments per 3 sessions and nearly 1 Bond per session), then something has gone awry either in GM situation framing or in aggressive thematic protagonism on the player-side (or both).

If that clip isn’t happening then play isn’t sufficiently orbiting those dramatic needs or the players need to work on either (a) making more potent Bonds and Alignment statements or (b) their aggression in pursuing them.

Alternatively, things are working as group intends and play has just been drifted to one degree or another from default system priorities (which are very much about player protagonism by way of play being relentlessly captured by Alignment and Bonds like BW family of games, Shadow of Yesterday, Lady Blackbird, and HX in AW as these are inspired by those systems).
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
That's disheartening to admit, but honestly I expect some incompetence on my part.
I haven't seen anything you've posted that indicates incompetence. You're running a game the people around the table--even and especially you--are enjoying. To me that indicates competence, not its opposite; it's more important than theory, or published rules or principles, IMO. Don't beat yourself up over ... failure to communicate, here.
 

I haven't seen anything you've posted that indicates incompetence. You're running a game the people around the table--even and especially you--are enjoying. To me that indicates competence, not its opposite; it's more important than theory, or published rules or principles, IMO. Don't beat yourself up over ... failure to communicate, here.

Yeah, honestly there's a place for "We're playing for his extremely specific experience and the ethic behind it", but I doubt seriously the vast majority of people have a set of desires that fits that tidily; so in practice when you're using the tools at hand to produce the result you and your players like, whether the process is entirely coherent in how its being done is, at the end of the day, distinctly secondary.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To use a different example to try and illustrate the same point, here are two different ways that FRPGing might produce a LotR-ish story:

(1) Two players create PC whose goals are "Learn more about my mysterious ancestry, and resolve anything left unresolved by my ancestors". The GM writes a story about a Hobbit who inherits a mysterious and powerful ring from his uncle, and a Ranger whose destiny is to be restored to the kingship of the reunited kingdoms.

(2) One player creates a Hobbit PC whose goal is "To learn the mystery of my uncle's mysterious ring, and undo any evil associated with it." Another creates a Ranger PC whose goal is "To reunite the kingdoms that my ancestors sundered, and to be restored as rightful king of these lands."

Both (1) and (2) might produce LotR-ish stories at the end of the campaign. But the process would be quite different. In the first case, that would be the result of GM authorial decisions. In the second case, that would follow from the players' choices about their PCs' backstories and goals, which the GM then had to respond to and build upon.
Reading this leads me to a question: many of your play reports (at least the ones I remember) seem to be about parties in which there's only a very few - often just two or three - PCs. The LotR Fellowship numbered nine, until one died and the rest split into several groups.

D&D - particularly the very early editions - can handle a party of nine no problem. I'm wondering how well this would work in your type of system?
 

pemerton

Legend
Reading this leads me to a question: many of your play reports (at least the ones I remember) seem to be about parties in which there's only a very few - often just two or three - PCs. The LotR Fellowship numbered nine, until one died and the rest split into several groups.

D&D - particularly the very early editions - can handle a party of nine no problem. I'm wondering how well this would work in your type of system?
Party size, or table size?

In my BW game where I play Thurgon I'm the sole player. I have two characters - Thurgon and Aramina. Under the build rules Thurgon is the main character (5 lifepaths: Born Noble, Page, Squire, Religious Acoloyte, Knight of a Holy Military Order) and Aramina the sidekick/companion (3 lifepaths: City Born, Neophyte, Sorcerer). In play, I move between them although if they come into conflict I am Thurgon and my GM plays Aramina.

In my Prince Valiant game there are three or four players depending on who turns up, and currently the party consists of 3 knights, the wife of one of those knights, a warband of around 30 soldiers, and a couple of hunters who are also members of the entourage.

In our Classic Traveller game there are five player positions, although I don't recall if we've ever had all five players at the table at the same time. (We have a default protocol for who controls which positions depending on who turns up.) The smallest position is two characters, the largest about a dozen. In each position there's an informal but fairly clear understanding of which character(s) are main PCs, which are important hangers-on that the player has a say one, and which are mere entourage: and also which are fair game for the GM to use for my own nefarious purposes "behind the scenes" (normally that would be certain "ambiguous" hangers-on).

It's no surprise that our Traveller game doesn't involve as much emotional intensity in the situations and resolutions as the two-person BW game. And the causation there runs in both directions: BW encourages emotional intensity and intimacy, and thus works well for small numbers of participants. Traveller doesn't really encourage emotional intensity or intimacy, but does involve travelling from world to world collecting starship crew, hangers on, specialist assistants, etc. So the size of the (fictional) group grows, and the game can largely handle this.

I don't think I would want to GM a table with nine players. I've done it - back when my Rolemaster campaign was part of a club scene and so had somewhat random recruits - but I think it's not very ideal. These days I would say two or three players is my preferred number: it allows for a bit of conflict and rivalry but there's not too much pressure on who has the focus now.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@Lanefan

I personally have a fairly strong preference for a group with no more than 4 or 5 people (including the GM). Some of that is personal. I'm a fairly introverted person and I start to grow uncomfortable in large social gatherings. I want to develop fairly deep connections with the people I am spending so much of my time with. A large part of it is gaming related. I want to be able to be a fan of all the players characters, be into what they are all about. That becomes draining when there are like more than 4. A lot of the stuff I'm into as both a GM and a player feels self indulgent in more sizeable groups. Having a lengthy scene with a single character and an NPC or letting two players have a scene (that everyone is into) where they really delve into their differences becomes less and less tenable as group size expands.

The last session of our Infinity game featured a pretty personal loss for my character. His best friend (who had complicated feelings for) was killed in an attack by The Combined Armies. We had time to process that loss as a group together in a way that would have been difficult in a larger group. Another player character got to show the shell shock they went through because this was not the first time they encountered The Combined Armies. The final player character dealt with some personal issues with their significant other taking risks that show no regard for their own life. We all got to play out what ended up being a very charged and personal session in large part because the small size of the group let us really build personal connections to each of the characters, develop a context that makes these moments more personal, and like helped us to be alright occupying space in the game for longer.
 
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I don't think I would want to GM a table with nine players. I've done it - back when my Rolemaster campaign was part of a club scene and so had somewhat random recruits - but I think it's not very ideal. These days I would say two or three players is my preferred number: it allows for a bit of conflict and rivalry but there's not too much pressure on who has the focus now.
I think this is one area we have been overlooking. It is very easy to let players be in the driver seat, so to speak, when there are two or three. Almost all the tables I have run, in forever, have been 5 to 8. Things are much murkier when you have eight people. Good discussion.
 

I generally feel that 3-5 players + the GM is ideal. (My current game has four players and me as GM.) in larger group there obviously will be less time to focus on any one character, but then again I also want to have a decent number of players that there is a lot of character interaction. Having interesting group dynamic requires, well, having a group!

And it's not like we needed any more evidence that me and @pemerton have very different ways to approach character immersion, but personally as a player I would never play several characters at once if immersion was the goal. (And isn't it always?) I would find that highly disruptive for that. It certainly is interesting that it is not so for everyone.
 
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Certainly for Dungeon World, a large party becomes difficult. IMO, 5 + GM is an upper bound, but you do start to feel the party size at that point. 3 + GM is great from a story angle, but can feel limiting from an actions angle. 4 + GM seems like a sweet spot, neither unwieldy nor cramped. If our Ranger comes back we'll have 5, but with years of play behind us, that shouldn't cause any problems, the stories are well-established.
 

pemerton

Legend
Why should a DR roll give literally all possible information no matter what?
A Discern Reality roll - if successful - allows the player to ask questions and get answers. This establishes parameters for the situation, and allows the player to take +1 forward when acting on those established parameters.

But there is no "all information" to reveal or conceal - the point of Discern Realities, as I understand it (or of the Read moves in AW), is to do just as I've described: to permit establishing parameters, which either grant an augment (Read a Sitch, similar to Discern Realities in that respect) or establishes fictional positioning for other character-influencing moves (Read a Person). That's why, upthread in the post you're replying to, I said that "The impression that I take away from these posts -leaving out information, not comfortable with having something like <whatever> come out in this way - is that you have pre-authored backstory, and are using that to adjudicate the way you do or don't parcel out information to the players." I still have that impression, because it's my only way of making sense of "all possible information": you have some information, parcelled away somewhere (I assume in your GM notes), that you are revealing to the players. But if that's the case, I don't get how you are fitting that into the DW processes of play.

"it feels wrong for a successful roll to MAKE a specific person guilty." Now, if they made the discovery because they observed a smoking-gun clue, then sure, absolutely they would learn that thing. But if it's literally just looking over some evidence, it feels really, really, really, REALLY wrong for "I'm looking for proof of the Countess' guilt, checking her vanity for any suspicious substances, checking the clothes in her wardrobe for stains..." (aka, doing DR stuff) to then ask, "What here is useful or valuable to me?" and as a result MAKE the Countess the person who was always guilty, simply because that's where the player chose to look. That doesn't mean it's flat-out NOT possible for DR to reveal guilt--it totally is. But it has to reveal guilt that is actually there. It can't spontaneously create guilt.
This reinforces my impression that I've referred to above - I can't make sense of guilt that is actually there as meaning anything other than pre-authored GM notes that record that the Countess (or whomever) is guilty. And I still don't know how you're fitting this into the DW processes of play.

I also don't understand what you're talking about here with Discern Realities. There's no question Who here is guilty?. But if the PC is searching the Countess's wardrobe looking for evidence - ie is closely studying a situation or person - and the player succeeds on their Discern Realities roll, and asks what here is useful or valuable to me? the GM has to provide an answer. And obviously its utility/value must be relative to the player's goal for their PC. There is no provision, in the rules, for the GM to squib just because they didn't want there to be anything useful or valuable that was connected to the Countess. Whether the useful/valuable thing would be proof of the Countess's guilt, or something else, would be pretty contingent - in all the ways that were discussed upthread about the Dwarven forge - but obviously proof of the Countess's guilt is low-hanging fruit here.

(Also, and referring back to @Campbell's post upthread: this is a place where DW drifts closer to intent-and-task than AW does. In AW there is no "what's useful or valuable" question on either of the Read move question lists.)

pemerton said:
Some of what you have said in your posts, for instance about using a NPC to send the PC to "important" places, suggests that your play is focused on GM-established "quests"/"adventures" rather than playing-to-find-out.
This is...difficult. It's why I keep saying "okay so...does that mean literally all prep is Force?"

<snip>

As above, this feels like mountains from molehills. Kafer-Naum was one such "important place" the players went to after consulting an NPC (IIRC, Shen) to find out more about the two cultic factions. It wasn't breadcrumbs due to exhausting local quests, it was a response to players seeking to address a threat.
What are mountains and what are molehills I don't know. My overall impression of your play from your posts is that there is a lot of GM pre-authored backstory, which shapes the scope of feasible actions for the players to declare, and that determines what happens when they declare those actions. What you say here about finding out about factions and seeking to address a threat reinforces that impression.

But on prep: prep can't be force, nor not-force. Preparation means imagining stuff and writing it down, right. And force describes a certain range of ways of authoring/establishing shared fiction during play. So to equate them would be a type of category error.

What is the role of prep? In many otherwise different approaches to RPGing, it supports scene-framing: the GM has made notes about a person, or a place, or an event, and draws on those notes to frame a new scene. Sometimes scene-framing can be an exercise of force, most obviously if the GM frames a scene without regard to the outcomes of previously declared-and-resolved actions (my go to eg for that, in this thread, is the invention of the second stringer to keep the "big bad thread" going in the pre-planned fashion even if the PCs kill the "BBEG"). But there's no particular reason why it needs to be, or should tend to be.

Of course, if you as GM come up with an idea for a cool scene, and then the resolution of declared actions precludes framing that scene, your prep has to that extent been wasted! That can be a good reason, if you're a force-eschewing GM, not to prep too much.

Another role played by prep is to resolve declared actions. But this is very system-dependent. In D&D, the canonical way of resolving the action I walk that way is to consult a map, a movement rate, and a key, and then to (i) tell the player where the PC gets to and how long it takes, and (ii) to frame a new scene that is read off and/or extrapolated from the key. The same is true for the action I look over there/at this thing/around this place. So when GMing D&D, adjudicating in this fashion isn't force per se - but if the GM starts rewriting the map and key on the fly to manipulate the fiction and outcomes (eg a certain sort of "quantum ogre" or "quantum clue") then that would be force.

But in DW, as I understand it, what I've just described is not a canonical way of resolving either of those action declarations. Hence prep does not feed into action resolution in the same way as it does in D&D. It provides a source of GM moves, but the rules for the GM making moves are not sensitive to where the PCs are on the imagined map, nor what they are looking at in the imagined world. This is why I am a bit lost in some of your accounts of your play.

My players have responded positively to maps so I'm trying to use them. A player had also given feedback from some random-gen stuff we did a while back, saying he felt there was no tension nor merit to the choices to navigate around, when he knew that whatever we generated would be in whatever direction they travelled.

<snip>

there truly is a real difference between going north vs south or the like

<snip>

If there is no fact of the matter about where things are located, then there's no merit in choosing north vs south, because things will appear in either the illusionism-based order the DM wants, or whatever the dice happen to produce.
Going north vs going south seems like an issue of colour. Wouldn't the difference between going north and going south reflect that colour? Eg (assuming a northern hemispheric setting, and assuming large scale travel) wouldn't going north tend to result in obstacles and outcomes like snow, and tundras, and polar bears? While going south would tend to result in obstacles and outcomes like high temperatures, and dense rainforests, and jaguars?

Or making it more local, and thinking of my own BW play: travelling through the undercity of Hardby produces obstacles and outcomes like cultists lairs and getting lost in the sewers; travelling through the hills to the east of Hardby produces obstacles and outcomes like box canyons and ambushers attacking from the high ground on either side of you.

Obviously, though, this is very different from map-and-key resolution. The GM doesn't frame a scene in which the PCs get ambushed, or meet a polar bear, because the PCs went to this place, where the GM's notes say polar bear or box canyon ambush. It's because (i) the process of play called for the GM to make a move, and (ii) the GM, in making that move, said what honesty and the fiction demanded (which includes the fact that the PCs have travelled north, or are travelling through the hills to the east of Hardby).

There is no illusionism here. But in describing it in those terms, and in suggesting that you use map-and-key resolution, you are further reinforcing my impressions of some departures from what I would regard as standard by-the-book DW processes of play.

if the player says they're from the Shield Dwarf clan, that creates tethers. Either I as DM am allowed to build new stuff about the Shield Dwarf clan, or I'm not. If I'm not, the player now has carte blanche to make the Shield Dwarf clan whatever they want, whenever they want, which sounds hella abusive to me. If I am allowed, then necessarily things I invent after the game starts can't be something the player knows to begin with, so I have to tell them. If I'm allowed to do so, but am absolutely forbidden to tell the player any of this, then they can invent whatever they like no matter how it might contradict past experience in play, hence, unmoored
I think there's miscommunication or cross-purposes here. And I'm still puzzled.

I posted (#2273) that "nothing makes me feel more alienated from the setting - and hence conscious of its "artificiality" - than needing the GM to tell me the fundamentals of what my character knows and feels and experiences." You replied #2365) that "If it's not possible to tell you 'your character would already know this,' that seems to cut off an enormous amount of interesting stories that depend on, for example, having a cultural background in the setting. It's not really possible to establish absolutely every cultural value a character might pick up over time . . . I'm confused how you manage to have characters that adventure in locations where their cultural background is relevant without either (a) just letting the player write that culture all by themselves, which falls into many of the issues I had had with my mistaken understanding of the dwarf forge (that is, unmoored from any fictional tethers and invented by the player for the players' benefit)"

My response (#2381) was that "I would expect that a player would take the lead in establishing the sort of information you describe" and that "I don't understand what you mean by players inventing this stuff unmoored from any fictional tethers an invented for the players' benefit." Both these things remain true. Yes, expecting the player to take the lead grants them largely carte blanche to (eg) establish information about the Shield Dwarf clan. I don't see what the problem is. Which is to say, I don't get what the risk of abuse is that you assert is there ("which sounds hella abusive to me"). (Contradicting past fiction is a red herring, as far as I can see. Everyone knows that past fiction is constraining on everyone else. A player telling us what colour Shield Dwarf clan members like to wear is no different, in this respect, from a player telling us whether or not their PC has a kid sister. Once it's established, it's established)

When you refer to you, as GM, building new stuff about the Shield Dwarf clan, what GM move do you have in mind? Of course a DW GM is, from time to time, going to reveal unwelcome truths and/or show signs of an approaching threat (in AW terminology: announce future or offscreen badness). But are you saying that you would want to tell a player that (eg) an unwelcome truth is that they actually endorse human sacrifice (because that's a cultural value you're wanting to specify as GM)? I don't think that's standard for DW (or AW).

If we're imagining the PCs having to attend a Shield Dwarf funeral, and for whatever reason the GM has to make a soft move in response (I don't think there would normally be a hard move here, as there is no attend a funeral move that could generate a 6 or down result), and we don't yet know what Shield Dwarves wear to funerals, then couldn't the GM just ask the player? If the player says "white" then the soft move is "all you white duds are stained with mud <or soot, or . . .>, from that episode back in the <whatever>". I don't see what is at stake here as between GM and player authoring of the cultural details.

If you're saying that you would want to build up a Shield Dwarf clan front that is full of cultural details that are not known to the player, that's the sort of thing I would find alienating as a player. I don't see why players of Shield Dwarves should be alienated from their PC's self-understanding in a way that players of "ordinary" humans and others are not.

I guess I'm having trouble fitting your use of abusive and GM building stuff into the AW/DW process of play. I can't work out what it is that you have in mind.

We built parts of the setting together. I didn't bother perfectly nailing down every tenet of Safiqi faith, for example, but given that the Bard player enthusiastically embraced being a casual practitioner (and partly-trained clergy), that has certain consequences.

If the player invents everything from whole cloth, well, that may be alright. But it's also quite possible for there to be abusive uses of such freedom, the "well my backstory says..." thing.
I'm still lost.

As I posted, I would expect the Bard player to take primary responsibility for establishing the details of a religion that their PC is an adherent of. In DW, if I as GM wanted to trade on those details, then I would ask the player when it comes up (ask questions and use the answers).

And I still don't know what you have in mind that is abusive. There's no player move in DW that is triggered by if your backstory says . . ..
 

pemerton

Legend
as a player I would never play several characters at once if immersion was the goal. (And isn't it always?) I would find that highly disruptive for that.
Inhabitation of character is (it seems to me) a type of imaginative projection, and a concomitant internalisation of certain concerns, emotions, etc that have external origins (ie someone has written a story about them).

It's a state that is cultivated by conjuring up, in imagination, that suite of mental states; and focusing on what is imagined. It can be assisted and reinforced by what other participants in the social context are doing: eg are they describing things that make those states salient, that invite you to respond from their persepctive, etc. @Campbell can probably talk about this more coherently than I can! - but in the context of my RPGing, I don't think this state is one that takes hours or even 10s of minutes to enter into or to exit.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I generally feel that 3-5 players + the GM is ideal. (My current game has four players and me as GM.) in larger group there obviously will be less time to focus on any one character, but then again I also want to have a decent number of players that there is a lot of character interaction. Having interesting group dynamic requires, well, having a group!

And it's not like we needed any more evidence that me and @pemerton have very different ways to approach character immersion, but personally as a player I would never play several characters at once if immersion was the goal. (And isn't it always?) I would find that highly disruptive for that. It certainly is interesting that it is not so for everyone.
This implies that the GM can never enjoy immersion.
 

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