D&D General Railroads, Illusionism, and Participationism

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It's not one sided like that, though. The players are also drawing things that force the DM to adjust his drawing, so it's a shared drawing experience.

Example. DM draws an ogre, thinking that there will be a fight. Players see the ogre drawing and the party illusionist casts a spell drawing himself as an ogress and begins to speak to the ogre. Now the DM and player jointly draw an ogre interaction instead of a fight.

That's how Story Before goes. It's a joint art project, even though the DM has backstory. Unless the DM forces the backstory(or parts of the back story) to happen no matter what the players try and do, there is no force or railroading going on.

Well done Story Before features a lot of things that ham-fisted Story Before does not (my response to prabe which I C/P above about railroading vs not in Story Before attempts to capture that).

Also, there are a lot of folks (I sense you're one of them...ER is clearly another) which have some kind of synthesis of Story Before and Story Now happening simultaneously.

But in the above analogy (for explanatory power I'm examining at the zoomed out concept level), I'm just trying to cite a particular instance of play for both Story Now and Story Before, not the entire composite of play (eg from Session 1 all the way to Session Donezo).

For that (one unit of play), it basically looks like this formulation:

STORY BEFORE (as Pictionary)

Unrevealed backstory > GM draws picture > player's make inferences/solves > players either solve or they don't based on a composite of (a) GM skill in drawing and (b) player skill in inferring and integrating

(In Story Before play, backstory now revealed can then be relevant to subsequent player moves or GM situation framing...or we can move on to a new section of play where play moves to a new suite of unrevealed backstory and rinse/repeat above)

STORY NOW (as Telephone)

Inciting thing > filtered through snowballing procedure (for Telephone that is a chain of whispering and listening) > evolved and established thing

(
In Story Now play, this evolved and established thing can be any/all of character/setting/situation...we learned about Bob, we learned about Bob's hometown, we learned about the clustereff relating to Bob's brother and how that fallout is haunting us presently)
 

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Are those laws openly known to the whole table and the player forgot them? Sure. Are they not known to the player? No, you have a conflict. Is the setting so dense that it's easy to not know these kinds of details? You, again, have a conflict.
What does it mean to be 'openly known'? Is it openly known how inheritance of 9th century English noble titles work? I mean it is knowable, but do the players actually know it? Also, why it matters if the players in theory knew the thing and just forgot, didn't know it in the first place, or couldn't even have known? In all of the cases they don't actually have the information available when making the decisions unless someone provides it to them.
 

niklinna

Legend
I know the games you speak of and I understand what you say just fine. It just seems to be rather removed from the actual thing I'm talking about. I am not really talking about 'secret backstory' in a sense that it is something the play endeavours to uncover, I'm merely talking about basic information about the setting. Can the GM say: "No, that action declaration makes no sense, as laws pertaining inheritance of noble titles doesn't work like that in this country"?

Well the GM can say it, but then it likely won't really be either Story Now or No-Myth play (which, again, is fine if you're having fun). The goals of the two styles are fundamentally in conflict. Which can be negotiated and maneuvered between, if you're aware of the conflict and of particular instances as they arise in play.

And as @Ovinomancer said, there's a big difference between:

"No, that action declaration makes no sense, as laws pertaining inheritance of noble titles doesn't work like that in this country, and you learned that two sessions ago."

and

"No, that action declaration makes no sense], as laws pertaining inheritance of noble titles doesn't work like that in this country, a fact I made up without revealing (whether earlier on on the fly) and you don't get to assert facts about the world (at least not right now)".

Which, again, is fine if you're all having fun. But it still isn't either Story Now or No-Myth play, and if you want to try to mix the two, again, you need to be very clear about when the GM gets to shut the players down (and possibly vice-versa).
 
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Well the GM can say it, but then it won't really be either Story Now or No-Myth play (which, again, is fine if you're having fun). The goals of the two styles are fundamentally in conflict. Which can be negotiated and maneuvered between, if you're aware of the conflict and of particular instances as they arise in play.

And as @Ovinomancer said, there's a big difference between:



and



Which, again, is fine if you're all having fun. But it still isn't either Story Now or No-Myth play, and if you want to try to mix the two, again, you need to be very clear about when the GM gets to shut the players down (and possibly vice-versa).
So you're basically saying that you cannot play Story Now in an established setting. Which to me seems perfectly coherent, but I don't think that's how everybody sees things.
 

niklinna

Legend
So you're basically saying that you cannot play Story Now in an established setting. Which to me seems perfectly coherent, but I don't think that's how everybody sees things.
I said there's a fundamental conflict, and I also said you can mix them (as some people on this thread have described doing), but you need to be clear about it. You can have Story Now play occurring within an established setting (that is, established by the author/GM), but at some point Story Now—which is about creating the setting as you go—will bump up against contradictory facts that haven't been previously introduced in play. And then you have to switch modes, as it were, or at least make it clear to the players that this is where the bounds are. The GM could even do that before play starts in whatever setting description they provide.

It's not about what's allowed, or that things can't be done, full stop. It's about recognizing which mode you're in, from moment to moment. If you are mixing and matching, it's an additional cognitive load to switch modes. Some people don't enjoy switching modes in a single game/campaign, some do. But the modes of play are distinct.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
What does it mean to be 'openly known'? Is it openly known how inheritance of 9th century English noble titles work? I mean it is knowable, but do the players actually know it? Also, why it matters if the players in theory knew the thing and just forgot, didn't know it in the first place, or couldn't even have known? In all of the cases they don't actually have the information available when making the decisions unless someone provides it to them.
If one of the important things in your game is fidelity to fiddly bits of setting detail, including looking up 9th century English title law, then it's perhaps best that you select a system that engages here rather than one that does not. I would say that if the setting is as important a character as your question makes it out to be, a game that focuses on the dramatic needs of characters foremost would be a poor fit. To use one of my go to statements, it looks like you want to play Risk so don't set up a Monopoly game.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So you're basically saying that you cannot play Story Now in an established setting. Which to me seems perfectly coherent, but I don't think that's how everybody sees things.
No. Totally incorrect. If you want to prioritize a setting that has deep details (or look up 9th century legal systems), then it's likely that you're intending the setting to be very important in play. If so, you should probably select a system that doesn't fight this. On the other hand, if you want to run a game in a setting where the focus is on what the characters' dramatic needs are, you absolutely can.
 

No. Totally incorrect. If you want to prioritize a setting that has deep details (or look up 9th century legal systems), then it's likely that you're intending the setting to be very important in play. If so, you should probably select a system that doesn't fight this. On the other hand, if you want to run a game in a setting where the focus is on what the characters' dramatic needs are, you absolutely can.
This is wishy washy. Either the external setting details can be used to limit action declarations or they can't. And if they can't, an established setting cannot be used in any meaningful sense, as it cannot be binding.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This is wishy washy. Either the external setting details can be used to limit action declarations or they can't. And if they can't, an established setting cannot be used in any meaningful sense, as it cannot be binding.
Is finding traps in 5e a WIS(perception) check or a INT(investigation) check or is it just something the GM provides if the right actions are taken?

There has to be only one answer.
 

niklinna

Legend
No. Totally incorrect. If you want to prioritize a setting that has deep details (or look up 9th century legal systems), then it's likely that you're intending the setting to be very important in play. If so, you should probably select a system that doesn't fight this. On the other hand, if you want to run a game in a setting where the focus is on what the characters' dramatic needs are, you absolutely can.
This is wishy washy. Either the external setting details can be used to limit action declarations or they can't. And if they can't, an established setting cannot be used in any meaningful sense, as it cannot be binding.
Is finding traps in 5e a WIS(perception) check or a INT(investigation) check or is it just something the GM provides if the right actions are taken?

There has to be only one answer.
What is it on some of these threads with the absolutes? 😉

I just said a few posts above that a group can mix the use of external setting details to limit action/fact declarations with Story-Now play—as long as they're clear about the bounds and the mode-switching. But it's extra work! @Ovinomancer's point was that you'll be better served by a system that meshes with your goals for play, so you have less work to make it, er, work.

As for finding traps in 5e, while I do detect sarcasm, I'll take the straight reading and say no, there doesn't have to be only one answer. It can depend on context. Some traps are simple but subtle, some are devious and complex. Or, the check could allow for whichever the character is better in. Or, the GM could decide based on the actions the player describes doing to search for traps, which check to roll for, or maybe the actions are just what's needed to reveal the trap without a die roll at all. Hm, that's starting to sound pretty old-school, I'd better stop there!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well done Story Before features a lot of things that ham-fisted Story Before does not (my response to prabe which I C/P above about railroading vs not in Story Before attempts to capture that).

Also, there are a lot of folks (I sense you're one of them...ER is clearly another) which have some kind of synthesis of Story Before and Story Now happening simultaneously.

But in the above analogy (for explanatory power I'm examining at the zoomed out concept level), I'm just trying to cite a particular instance of play for both Story Now and Story Before, not the entire composite of play (eg from Session 1 all the way to Session Donezo).

For that (one unit of play), it basically looks like this formulation:

STORY BEFORE (as Pictionary)

Unrevealed backstory > GM draws picture > player's make inferences/solves > players either solve or they don't based on a composite of (a) GM skill in drawing and (b) player skill in inferring and integrating

(In Story Before play, backstory now revealed can then be relevant to subsequent player moves or GM situation framing...or we can move on to a new section of play where play moves to a new suite of unrevealed backstory and rinse/repeat above)

STORY NOW (as Telephone)

Inciting thing > filtered through snowballing procedure (for Telephone that is a chain of whispering and listening) > evolved and established thing

(
In Story Now play, this evolved and established thing can be any/all of character/setting/situation...we learned about Bob, we learned about Bob's hometown, we learned about the clustereff relating to Bob's brother and how that fallout is haunting us presently)
Since I began playing in 1983, the vast majority of DMs have been some degree of the synthesis of the two methods. I have encountered very few of the "Story Before as pictionary" that you describe, and those have been railroad DMs.

I think that most traditional play, at least after the game evolved past being primarily dungeon exploration(basic D&D), has been that blend of the two methods.

That's where I think the disconnect comes in and most of the disagreement with the portrayal of the traditional DM comes in. You guys are describing it in the context of a railroad(Story Before as Pictionary) and we're like, "But wait. That's not how it plays out." :)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
What is it on some of these threads with the absolutes? 😉

I just said a few posts above that a group can mix the use of external setting details to limit action/fact declarations with Story-Now play—as long as they're clear about the bounds and the mode-switching. But it's extra work! @Ovinomancer's point was that you'll be better served by a system that meshes with your goals for play, so you have less work to make it, er, work.

As for finding traps in 5e, while I do detect sarcasm, I'll take the straight reading and say no, there doesn't have to be only one answer. It can depend on context. Some traps are simple but subtle, some are devious and complex. Or, the check could allow for whichever the character is better in. Or, the GM could decide based on the actions the player describes doing to search for traps, which check to roll for, or maybe the actions are just what's needed to reveal the trap without a die roll at all. Hm, that's starting to sound pretty old-school, I'd better stop there!
This is the correct answer: there is no "correct" answer. Can setting details constrain action declarations in Story Now games? Absolutely, provided they are already in the fiction (not secret). However, Story Now games are about the characters' dramatic needs, and focus is upon them. If your setting is detailed enough that you're looking up legal systems to find out if an action declaration is allowable, then I'd say that your focus isn't actually on the characters' dramatic needs but rather on setting fidelity. These are now in conflict. If you think that your setting details are going to cause a conflict, then you should consider a different system if you want to prioritize setting.

As I said, it's like wanting to play Risk but getting Monopoly out. You should play the game that's doing what you want, not the game that's going to offer resistance and pain points because you want to invade Park Place from Australia.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Is finding traps in 5e a WIS(perception) check or a INT(investigation) check or is it just something the GM provides if the right actions are taken?

There has to be only one answer.
The ideal "one answer":

None of the above: all traps will be found the hard way, by setting them off unawares and suffering the consequences.

:)
 

Aldarc

Legend
@Manbearcat I don't feel that what you say actually answers the question I'm trying to ask, but at this point I just give up. 🤷
I can give your questions a stab.

But certainly what matters there what the focus of the game is? Like sure, if the focus was actually on exploring the setting then it would be rather limiting to have a preauthored setting, but if the focus is on something else then it matters less.
I don't know. It depends on what we mean by "exploring the setting." One could, for example, explore the setting of Eberron or Forgotten Realms, and they are definitely pre-authored.

But there is also the interesting issue of games like Blades in the Dark and Stonetop (a Dungeon World hack). These are games that people are citing for being centered around the protagonism of its player characters, but at the same time, PCs in these games frame the actions of the PCs with setting elements: i.e., a Duskvol gang (BitD) and the village (ST). Characters can come and go - through death or retirement - but the game as a unifying activity for players centers around their respective framing element that exists as part of the setting.

This is wishy washy. Either the external setting details can be used to limit action declarations or they can't. And if they can't, an established setting cannot be used in any meaningful sense, as it cannot be binding.
I don't necessarily think that this is "wishy washy," but (1) it may help to not think about Story Now, and (2) I think that we need to adopt a pragmatic approach to how established settings are used regardless of whether we are adopting a Story Now, Story Before, or No Story Until You Finish Your Vegetables approach to our games.

We can use Forgotten Realms for our D&D games - though I personally don't know why one would - and hew our group's game closely to the canonical lore as humanly possible, but then we also have to be cognizant and deliberate about how our characters' actions may rub against those elements. Alternatively, we can change that canonical lore to suit the purposes of our group. If we do the latter, how binding then is the lore of that established setting?

There are also D&D settings that were intentionally drawn in a more sketched-out format with blanks that the GM/group can fill in through play (e.g., Nentir Vale). The Nentir Vale stresses its World Axis/PoL themes and mythic backdrop, but a lot of the setting details are scarce, minimalistic, woefully incomplete, or even somewhat contradictory and built on conjecture.

Forgotten Realms and Nentir Vale are possibly at opposite ends of the "high myth" and "low myth" spectrum when it comes to official D&D settings. One setting, IMHO, provides more space for characters to dance without stepping on the established lore's toes, so to speak, than the other. But at the same time, the lore for both settings is mutable to the needs of the table and any PC action declarations therein.

Acknowledging this pragmatic reality of how setting are used does not require engaging in the issue of Story Now. But at the same time, from what I can tell, Story Now tends to thrive in certain settings better than others.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I'm talking about people saying that the GM providing such details as cultural customs of the setting is divergent play.
The topic of cultural customs arose in a discussion between me and @EzekielRaiden. I described that I find the GM telling me these sorts of fundamentals about what my PC knows or thinks or feels alienating from my character. And I mentioned that, when I GM, I expect players to provide details of their PC's religious practices, distinctive customs etc (that is to say, I treat them as I myself prefer to be treated). Examples follow.

So you're basically saying that you cannot play Story Now in an established setting. Which to me seems perfectly coherent, but I don't think that's how everybody sees things.
Why would anyone (including @niklinna or @Ovinomancer) say that? Given both (I think - certainly one of them) play BitD, and given both have probably read at least some of my posts about playing Prince Valiant using maps (from Pendragon and from a reference book) and playing Burning Wheel using Greyhawk and playing 4e D&D using the default setting presented in the books.

I am not really talking about 'secret backstory' in a sense that it is something the play endeavours to uncover, I'm merely talking about basic information about the setting. Can the GM say: "No, that action declaration makes no sense, as laws pertaining inheritance of noble titles doesn't work like that in this country"?
I think that @Ovinomancer and @hawkeyefan have already answered this:

It’s hard to imagine this actually being something that’s established in much detail for a setting, beyond some broad elements like “titles are hereditary” or the like. So in the absence of those specifics, most likely the group would talk it out.

<snip>

If the action runs counter to details already established, then you’d explain that and offer the player a chance to approach another way. If it didn’t contradict anything that’s been established, then letting it stand is certainly something that should be considered. You’d have to have a compelling reason to not allow something like this, and by compelljng I mean something beyond “because I already had an idea in my head” or ”because the GM typically decodes this kind of stuff”.
I would say that the more emulation you're going for, the less room for play exists.
"backstory is fine, but be careful it's not a) secret and b) so dense it might as well be secret. This damages Story Now play because it leads to GM directed play."
If one of the important things in your game is fidelity to fiddly bits of setting detail, including looking up 9th century English title law, then it's perhaps best that you select a system that engages here rather than one that does not.
Are those laws openly known to the whole table and the player forgot them? Sure. Are they not known to the player? No, you have a conflict. Is the setting so dense that it's easy to not know these kinds of details? You, again, have a conflict.
40K is a fairly dense lore set, and it's often conflicting, and there's lots out there that isn't exactly cannon, but, yeah, if you've put it out there clearly then that's introduced into the fiction. Action declarations are very clearly constrained by the fiction.

I'd be careful about dialing in particulars in dark corners of lore. The important bits (to me) of a setting are it's feel, not necessarily all the details. In an obscure case of something like Salic law, I'd be much more likely to ignore the setting if the situation was working just fine. Blocking good play because it conflicts with small setting details would be something I'd avoid.
These are (1) perfectly coherent answers, and (2) accurate accounts at least of my own experience of using established setting in "story now" play. Again, examples follow.

But before going to the examples, I want to expand on @Aldarc's remark (just upthread) that "from what I can tell, Story Now tends to thrive in certain settings better than others." In the real world, all human conduct (or so much of it that it may as well be all) is framed/shaped by facts of culture, geography, history, technology, etc: decisions about where to go and how to get there, what to do when I feel hungry, how to spend my leisure time, what to say to people, what I expect will happen to my children when I die, etc, etc. So in the context of an imagined person in an imagined world, it is - in principle - always possible to say that a person from this place, given this and this and this element of their culture, would respond to this situation in such-and-such a way rather than this other way. But crucial to "story now" RPGing is (among other things) that players author their PCs' action declarations for themselves. Hence we have to read at least some elements of PCs' culture off those declarations. Hence - as @Ovinomancer has said and @Aldarc and @hawkeyefan have implied - we either don't use a setting that has established all those fiddly details, or we ignore them.

That's a complete answer to the question how does "story now" RPGing use an established setting. It tends to imply that someone who love RPGing in a richly detailed setting, with a very high degree of emulation and fidelity to all the details, is probably not going to want to play "story now" - or, at least, that they are going to want to internalise all that detail before they start playing. Because "story now" is not consistent with the sort of GM-policing of action declarations that may tend to flow from the GM being the custodian of setting integrity.

I would really like to hear genuine views on how people see running Story Now in an established setting.
I've posted multiple examples of this in this very thread! What is unclear about them?

I've told you how we do things in Prince Valiant: the maps are public property. In our game, the PCs started a religious military order. As a matter of history they're about 300 years too early, but does anyone care? They also joust on horseback, which is also hundreds of years too early. Their order does not require its members to be chaste - all three PC knights are married. This is probably more plausible in 7th or 8th century Britain than in the actual historical period of religious military orders, but in any event the ultimate determinant is that this is where the players have taken the game. Maybe if they ever find themselves in Rome they can have an argument with the Pope about it: the game has the mechanical tools to resolve such an occasion, were it to occur.

I've told you how we did it in Burning Wheel: again, the maps are public property, one of the players had been doing some Googling and knew about Suel nomads in the Bright Desert, and we resolved the Circles check.

In my 4e game one of the players invented the details of Dwarven coming-of-age practices; another player invented a sacked city from which his PC was a refugee (the same player who would invent details of how magic and metaphysics worked, as part of his action declarations around Arcana and Religion checks); another player, playing a devotee of the Raven Queen, declared from the very start of the campaign that his PC practised sleeping standing up, because only the dead should lie down. I know that there are books - eg Divine Power - that have little sidebars that describe various religiously-inspired folk customs, including one involving the Raven Queen. But I don't think any of my players have ever read those, and so they are not part of our game: why would it matter to our table that James Wyatt (or whomever) thought up such-and-such a thing about the Raven Queen, if one of use has thought up this other thing and that is part of our shared fiction?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
The topic of cultural customs arose in a discussion between me and @EzekielRaiden. I described that I find the GM telling me these sorts of fundamentals about what my PC knows or thinks or feels alienating from my character. And I mentioned that, when I GM, I expect players to provide details of their PC's religious practices, distinctive customs etc (that is to say, I treat them as I myself prefer to be treated).
I have gotten the impression that @EzekielRaiden works out these details at their table, by agreement with the other people at that table. My point is that it doesn't seem as unilateral as you can be read as implying (or, honestly, as I am at the tables I run).
 

That's a complete answer to the question how does "story now" RPGing use an established setting. It tends to imply that someone who love RPGing in a richly detailed setting, with a very high degree of emulation and fidelity to all the details, is probably not going to want to play "story now" - or, at least, that they are going to want to internalise all that detail before they start playing. Because "story now" is not consistent with the sort of GM-policing of action declarations that may tend to flow from the GM being the custodian of setting integrity.
Yeah, this is probably the case. I really like world building aspects of RPGs, so such things are rather important to me.

I've told you how we do things in Prince Valiant: the maps are public property. In our game, the PCs started a religious military order. As a matter of history they're about 300 years too early, but does anyone care? They also joust on horseback, which is also hundreds of years too early. Their order does not require its members to be chaste - all three PC knights are married. This is probably more plausible in 7th or 8th century Britain than in the actual historical period of religious military orders, but in any event the ultimate determinant is that this is where the players have taken the game. Maybe if they ever find themselves in Rome they can have an argument with the Pope about it: the game has the mechanical tools to resolve such an occasion, were it to occur.
I think this pretty well clarifies what confusion I had about your position. You don't care about historical accuracy. Which is perfectly fine, Hollywood doesn't either. And as long as all the participants are roughly on the same page on the amount of care or lack thereof of for such matters it is not an issue at all. Though it probably might require some sessions zero calibration to make sure that this happens.


In any case, one of the reasons I what I originally started to talk about this was to contrast the world building aspects with... how would I put it 'story content.' I.e. events, NPCs, specific locations motivations etc. Because I really have no huge issue with those being no-mythed. I'm fine with it being determined during the play whether the baroness is the murderer, I would be far less fine it being determined during the play how nobility in general works in the setting or what's the high society fashion like.

And I don't think this is particularly weird distinction to make. Like if there's a detective show set in the real world the show's writers can invent all sort of criminals and suspects and locations and events and motivations. But one would still expect the general facts about real world to apply.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I can give your questions a stab.


I don't know. It depends on what we mean by "exploring the setting." One could, for example, explore the setting of Eberron or Forgotten Realms, and they are definitely pre-authored.

But there is also the interesting issue of games like Blades in the Dark and Stonetop (a Dungeon World hack). These are games that people are citing for being centered around the protagonism of its player characters, but at the same time, PCs in these games frame the actions of the PCs with setting elements: i.e., a Duskvol gang (BitD) and the village (ST). Characters can come and go - through death or retirement - but the game as a unifying activity for players centers around their respective framing element that exists as part of the setting.
I'm going to pick a nit, here. Yes, Blades uses the Crew as kind of an anchoring device, but it's still the characters that matter. If you swap a character, you get a different game. We're experiencing that right now in our Blades game as one of the PCs is doing a long (years) stint in prison and so the player of that PC has brought one of the Crew's cohorts up to PC and is playing her. Both characters are Cutters (playbook), but they're not only different in skills and playbook advances, but also in motivations and backgrounds. This has, in the single loop we're playing right now, already showed itself in play despite the fact that the other two PCs (mine included) are driving the score this loop (really, we're kinda stuck dealing with some problems we got ourselves into for the next loop as well). The Crew is, indeed, an anchoring device but it's still the PC's -- their goals and details -- that drive the play. I'm excited to find out where and what the new conflicts are with the new PC once we get clear of the immediately pressing matters.
 

This is a bit old now, but in response to some earlier stuff: I absolutely will cop to running a very "softball" kind of game. Some of that is due to my players (as noted, this is a leisure activity to get away from RL anxieties and such), but a lot of it is on me, I'm a big ol' softie in general. I've never been able to grok the whole "killer DM" thing. For me, the fun is when a player agonizes over a moral choice or has a mental BSOD because of a shift in behavior.

As a lovely example of the latter: before he went on hiatus again, the Ranger met back up with his (justifiably hated) super-rich merchant maternal grandfather, Barthraim al-Rajaud--against his better judgment, the Ranger was turning to him to check up on the motives of a strange new cult that had popped up, because while the Ranger wouldn't trust Barthraim in general, but trusting the man to look out for his own interests is a sure bet. As the result of a partial success and certain choices, though, I was left with a golden opportunity--due to past events, Barthraim had almost lost his beloved granddaughter, and the Ranger had saved her. He could've gone super selfish, but in that moment, it was much more interesting to instead go for an epiphany, where he's realized some of the error of his ways and wants to change. The Ranger had to deal with the fact that his hated grandfather implicitly apologized for his naughty word behavior and now kinda wants the Ranger's approval, prompting the player to have to choose whether to further their rivalry or capitalize on it--something that would actually make the grandfather more like him, and make him more like his grandfather in the exact same moment. That's gonna be the seed for all sorts of fun stuff down the line, should the player return from hiatus.

Also, I think this is probably the most I've ever been mentioned in any thread, ever! I feel so honored :p I don't have a lot to say about the references, though, so unless someone is hungry for a reply I'll probably just...not.

One thing I will give a response to though is the "wearing white at funerals" thing. That wasn't meant to be specifically important per se--just meant as a possible cultural detail that could become relevant at some point, but is exactly the kind of easily-overlooked detail that everyone in-setting would know (if you've lived in a country for any meaningful length of time, you'll know what a funeral looks like), but which is unlikely to get explicitly nailed down in advance.

As an example of something that actually was important of this nature, the typical hair, eye, and skin colors of different types of genies. We haven't really nailed down much of anything about them. But after the party Bard did a thing (basically absorbing the devilish power that had been granted to the Riddle-Makers, whom he sees as "his people" now, and in place of that power binding them to a benevolent spirit of history and tradition called Mudaris), the world's first (or at least first known in this region) Aasimar were created--going with the traditional "literal metallic-colored hair," golden or bronze skin, glowing or vivid eyes, etc. This would make them stand out a LOT if they tried to return to the mortal world, so the Bard was eager to find some way to make that happen.

This prompted me to say, "Well, if you could get them official immigration papers from Jinnistan, they could easily pass themselves off as mortal earth genies due to similarities of appearance. But that would mean you'd need to court a Jinnistani noble..." Which is what led to them getting embroiled in the schemes of the sultans of Mount Matahat and ultimately the murder mystery. But this hinged on the in general relatively incidental but in context extremely important fact that aasimar and earth genies share hair, eye, and skin color trends. This is exactly that sort of "your character would know" situation I'm talking about, where it's a fact that basically every non-foreigner would know (since mortal genies make up a small but meaningful minority in the region), but which almost certainly would not be considered for explicit description even during a lengthy engagement between DM and player about character background and common knowledge.

As a different example, I worked with the Ranger player to develop what specific branch of the Safiqi faith he adopted. It's long established that the One is worshipped as a singular entity that expresses a near-infinite variety of identities or "facets," such as the Stalwart Soldier (popular among guardsmen/soldiers, parents, and mercenaries), the Soothing Flame (often favored by chirurgeons, magical healers, and some alchemists), or the Unknown Knower (popular among academics, Waziri mages, and anyone who benefits from stealth). None of these appealed to him, however, so we worked out a different facet, which he called the Resolute Seeker: where the Stalwart Soldier represents the "guard the home and hearth" aspects of the One, the Resolute Seeker represents the drive to eliminate evil at the source, to explore the unknown, and to bring light and hope into the darkness, popular among the Asiad al-Khafyun (essentially the priestly "internal police" who hunt down other priests that abuse their powers), explorers, adventurers, and anyone who dedicates themselves to defeating specific enemies. The standing statement that there are infinitely many facets (and some of them may have been forgotten by people of the present day) gives the player the freedom to establish something they like, but both my own setting info and things established during play provide certain constraints on where that can go.

Essentially, backstory is one input. Sometimes that input is ignored if it either isn't relevant, or would excessively limit cool stuff invented by the player, I'm willing to be pretty flexible--it depends on the severity, more or less. Player input is always a prized input and should only be deflected or overruled in genuinely dire circumstances, simply because I want so badly to support whatever my players are enthusiastic about. Neither thing is perfectly, absolutely determinative, and if there's ever a concern, I talk it out with my players, always striving to favor doubt-benefits and player enthusiasm whenever I can get even a paper-thin excuse to do so. The only thing truly determinative is what the player(s) and I agree to do, which will necessarily vary, but since "the rules of Dungeon World" are part of what I have agreed to do, I stick by those unless the players advocate otherwise.

Inciting thing > filtered through snowballing procedure (for Telephone that is a chain of whispering and listening) > evolved and established thing
I'm curious here. As I had seen it, "Inciting thing" is what I was doing, with things evolving from there. Perhaps my issue is that I am fine with a mix of both hyper-minimal and less-minimal "inciting things"? I have some Story Before, but I LOVE it when my players give Story Now. E.g. the aforementioned grandfather was a backstory element established by the player (who made a completely not-gross origin story for a half-orc character to still have family problems and difficulties with his two lineages), to whom I added only relatively incidental details (e.g. being a super-rich merchant, he sits on the Brass Ring, the officially unofficial advisory council to the Sultana) . Apart from small things like that, or inventing other relatives (like the aforementioned granddaughter), I have otherwise have either followed the player's lead or, as with the "he should have an epiphany" thing, gone with logical and reasonably well-justified directions that add drama or tension (or comedy, we're far from 100% serious!)

With something like the murder-whodunnit, I felt the most dramatic thing was that there needed to be a particular killer in advance, that the players could either discover or not based on their actions. With something like the Ranger's grandfather, him having complex and tricksy motivations was almost a given, so a sudden (and, Dolyistically, unplanned) reveal of earnest desire to change was the most dramatic and interesting thing that could occur there. How would the player respond? Where would the story evolve from there? I was full of anticipation just as much as they were.
 

We obviously see this very differently. That's fine. The GM role will differ from game to game.

A GM certainly needs to do more compartmentalization (scene framing/rules adjudication/playing the setting) than a typical player needs to do, but I want them to be immersed in the fictional situation and the characters they are responsible for. For me it's important that they are playing NPCs based entirely on their motivations and the fictional situation with as little contrivance as possible. I want those moments when I'm having a tense conversation with an NPC to be as real as possible.

This is also one of those cases where "Immersion" serves to confuse rather than inform the statement; I'm perfectly capable of being only-IC without being immersed. The latter is a much deeper experience than simply making all decisions from in character POV.
 

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