D&D General Railroads, Illusionism, and Participationism

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Because whilst in trad/neo-trad players rarely formally establish much setting details (except perhaps during character creation,) this doesn't still mean it is some fixed map and key. The GM informally takes cues from player actions/other input and lets that affect the reality they craft.
NeoTrad GMs may very well have little or no input into the setting details. This is because Neotrad can very much be about a cannon setting where the GM is not expected to do more than add occasional color. Thing Living Forgotten Realms from back in 3.x. Strong rules assumptions (ie, the GM is expected to follow the rules as much as the players) and strong setting assumptions (the GM is expected to not deviate from cannon and has limited ability to author new details) where play reports are submitted and any cannon changes come from an authorized source. This is one form of NeoTrad. Very similar to OC play.
 

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NeoTrad GMs may very well have little or no input into the setting details. This is because Neotrad can very much be about a cannon setting where the GM is not expected to do more than add occasional color. Thing Living Forgotten Realms from back in 3.x. Strong rules assumptions (ie, the GM is expected to follow the rules as much as the players) and strong setting assumptions (the GM is expected to not deviate from cannon and has limited ability to author new details) where play reports are submitted and any cannon changes come from an authorized source. This is one form of NeoTrad. Very similar to OC play.
Yeah, probably. The definition of neo-trad seemed to cobble several barely connected things together, so I'm a tad confused about it. Is Critical Role just normal trad then? It focuses on characters a lot and their backgrounds heavily feature in the adventure content, but it still put there by the GM.
 

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." :)

Gotcha.

So let me be clear for everyone conversing and everyone reading along.

When I'm talking about Story Before and comparing it to Pictionary, I'm not talking about any person's specific play (eg Maxperson's). I couldn't say what is happening at your table (or CL's or SC's). It sounds to me that you guys tables experience significant drift in the course of play. I can't tell when/how/why that happens (I can tell if I'm beholding the game or reading robust play excerpts...but not through just conversation) in the course of your play, but that appears to be the play that you guys are representing.

When I talk about Story Before and compare it to Pictionary, I'm talking about my own RC Hexcrawls and my own Moldvay Dungeon Crawls. Outside of Reaction Rolls, Morale, and Wandering Monsters "hitting" (which have an element of procedural Story Now to them), those games are 100 % Story Before kindred to Pictionary:

1) I pregenerate a ton of map and key and themed (not themed as it pertains to the PC...generically themed w/ D&D's tropes) content.

2) I (effectively), to borrow PBtA parlance, make (hopefully) deft soft moves to telegraph threats/downstream content inherent to (1) in order to (a) pique interest/provoke and (b) flag elements of danger (type, scale, nature, etc).

3) Players explore it using the rules and procedures of play to draw inferences, deploy guile and gambits, solve puzzles and defeat obstacles; play skillfully (or fail to do so and suffer the consequences).

4) Rinse/repeat 2 and 3 until all aspects of play are resolved (with the game coming to an end).


So this isn't a value judgement. I'm just describing a healthy phenomenon (in particular, the majority of my D&D play...all of it, in fact from 1984 until late 90s) inherent to D&D play. Pictionary isn't doing negative connotation work here. In fact, IMO, to call something Pictionary - eg a very well put together game - is to call it a well put together game!
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I liked your whole post, but this in particular struck me.

It reminded me of the discussion, years ago, of the chamberlain blocking the PCs' access to the king. Much of the discussion in that 8 year old thread seems to echo this one, even down to some of the participants (eg me, @Manbearcat, @Cadence).

There are some posts on this page - north and south of post 470 - where I respond to some posters who assert that nothing can change in the shared fiction unless the GM makes or authorises that change. I think that continues to be a widespread view on these boards, and probably among RPGers more broadly. It marks an obvious contrast with a RPG like DW!

I also found these posts on page 25, which still seem to resonate to me (replace "3E/PF" with "5e"):
Those old posts of yours were a real joy to read. Can we get the old pemerton back - because nothing I’ve read recently comes close to posts like those.
 
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Gotcha.

So let me be clear for everyone conversing and everyone reading along.

When I'm talking about Story Before and comparing it to Pictionary, I'm not talking about any person's specific play (eg Maxperson's). I couldn't say what is happening at your table (or CL's or SC's). It sounds to me that you guys tables experience significant drift in the course of play. I can't tell when/how/why that happens (I can tell if I'm beholding the game or reading robust play excerpts...but not through just conversation) in the course of your play, but that appears to be the play that you guys are representing.

When I talk about Story Before and compare it to Pictionary, I'm talking about my own RC Hexcrawls and my own Moldvay Dungeon Crawls. Outside of Reaction Rolls, Morale, and Wandering Monsters "hitting" (which have an element of procedural Story Now to them), those games are 100 % Story Before kindred to Pictionary:

1) I pregenerate a ton of map and key and themed (not themed as it pertains to the PC...generically themed w/ D&D's tropes) content.

2) I (effectively), to borrow PBtA parlance, make (hopefully) deft soft moves to telegraph threats/downstream content inherent to (1) in order to (a) pique interest/provoke and (b) flag elements of danger (type, scale, nature, etc).

3) Players explore it using the rules and procedures of play to draw inferences, deploy guile and gambits, solve puzzles and defeat obstacles; play skillfully (or fail to do so and suffer the consequences).

4) Rinse/repeat 2 and 3 until all aspects of play are resolved (with the game coming to an end).


So this isn't a value judgement. I'm just describing a healthy phenomenon (in particular, the majority of my D&D play...all of it, in fact from 1984 until late 90s) inherent to D&D play. Pictionary isn't doing negative connotation work here. In fact, IMO, to call something Pictionary - eg a very well put together game - is to call it a well put together game!
Right. It's just that your binary distinction omits how (I'd wager) most people actually play. Most people don't play gygaxian map and key dungeon/hex crawls anymore (and haven't for decades) nor do they play Story Now indie games. So it's not super helpful.
 
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Right. It's just that your binary distinction omits how (I'd wager) most people actually play. Most people don't play gygaxian map and key dungeon/hex crawls anymore (and haven't for decades) nor do they play Story Now indie games. So it's not super helpful.

I mean... "its not super helpful" is one person's opinion.

I find it enormously helpful for my own play. And I'm certain lots of other people find it enormously helpful (I know because they tell me it is!)!

I don't know why we're so concerned with "most people" or "market share" or anything like this. This exact preoccupation is a very odd phenomena that appears to have captured TTRPGing unlike most other hobbies. An easy example is Gearheads don't invoke things like "most people want MPG and cargospace in their vehicles so why are we concerned about torque and power to weight ratio and immediacy of input responsiveness." NFL film nerds don't carry on about "well, most offenses overwhelming % of plays run feature some hybrid of Air Coryell and West Coast passing concepts so why are we concerned about minority stuff like the intricacies of Duo vs Inside Zone run blocking and Jet Action + Screen game off of Jet Action" and the like!

Maybe there are other hobbies out there where those most invested in the thing are all "this isn't helpful because it doesn't capture majority share and that is the only thing that should be of interest/discussed (with the implied rider assertion of "and this is the way it will always be!...(especially if we don't ever discuss alternatives!)", but I don't know them.

And, needless to say, I don't find the refrain compelling in the slightest. Its certainly not going to compel me to stop talking about games (and my play) in the way I do (just like if Gearheads or NFL Film nerds came into my conversations about supercars or film and tried to tell me there is no worth to the conversation because x, y, z)!
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
It can be tough to distinguish between Traditional and Neotraditional play without a better view of the GM's decision making process or any of the setup process. A stream like Critical Role gives very little real insight because we have no real idea how the character specific setting details are decided on or negotiated because we don't see any of the setup for play or ongoing discussions between games where much of this stuff usually gets hashed out in Neotraditional play.

D&D 5e also has little in the way of formal tools (although background features help) for Neotraditional play in the way that FATE, most Modiphius games or a typical World of Darkness game would.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yeah, probably. The definition of neo-trad seemed to cobble several barely connected things together, so I'm a tad confused about it. Is Critical Role just normal trad then? It focuses on characters a lot and their backgrounds heavily feature in the adventure content, but it still put there by the GM.
In my opinion it's very much Trad. Neotrad is actually fairly coherent as a concept space, it's just not one people have considered before. It's usually characterized by strong rules and setting assumptions binding the GM. It's an outgrowth of OC play. I had trouble with it as well, took some extra reading to lock it in conceptually. I was lumping it in with Trad, but Trad play features GM setting control and GM rules control and aims more at the GM providing a story than characters interacting with the setting. Again, it's about where authorities and constraints lie. The GM doesn't have the same authority over the rules or setting in Neotrad as in Trad -- the constraints are much, much tighter. The other difference is that play in Neotrad often focuses on the story the players want to explore. This differs from Story Now because play is still very much backstory framed (as opposed to situation framed) and the players are expected to navigate the setting to achieve what they want. Really this is more about the GM not having a plotline at all. A good bit of supposed Sandbox play incorporates Neotrad ideals, but are often still run in a much more Trad manner. I believe that there's a reasonable amount of drift here -- Trad to Neotrad is actually more of a spectrum than some of the others.
 

I mean... "its not super helpful" is one person's opinion.

I find it enormously helpful for my own play. And I'm certain lots of other people find it enormously helpful (I know because they tell me it is!)!

I don't know why we're so concerned with "most people" or "market share" or anything like this. This exact preoccupation is a very odd phenomena that appears to have captured TTRPGing unlike most other hobbies. An easy example is Gearheads don't invoke things like "most people want MPG and cargospace in their vehicles so why are we concerned about torque and power to weight ratio and immediacy of input responsiveness." NFL film nerds don't carry on about "well, most offenses overwhelming % of plays run feature some hybrid of Air Coryell and West Coast passing concepts so why are we concerned about minority stuff like the intricacies of Duo vs Inside Zone run blocking and Jet Action + Screen game off of Jet Action" and the like!

Maybe there are other hobbies out there where those most invested in the thing are all "this isn't helpful because it doesn't capture majority share and that is the only thing that should be of interest/discussed (with the implied rider assertion of "and this is the way it will always be!...(especially if we don't ever discuss alternatives!)", but I don't know them.

And, needless to say, I don't find the refrain compelling in the slightest. Its certainly not going to compel me to stop talking about games (and my play) in the way I do (just like if Gearheads or NFL Film nerds came into my conversations about supercars or film and tried to tell me there is no worth to the conversation because x, y, z)!
I just don't think dividing things into binary red or blue is super helpful if most people are interested in some shade of purple. And I think that's where most of the pushback in these threads is coming from. And yeah, I'm sure your approach appeals to the people who are already solidly in the blue corner. But if you want to discuss these things on general message board (on D&D section, no less) then it might be good idea to acknowledge how a large section of readership of such boards actually plays.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Right. It's just that your binary distinction omits how (I'd wager) most people actually play. Most people don't play gygaxian map and key dungeon/hex crawls anymore (and haven't for decades) nor do they play Story Now indie games. So it's not super helpful.
I think that you've missed the point. The play @Manbearcat is describing using his own play is the same kind of backstory-framed play that features in many approaches to play. The idea being the GM is describing a scene that they players have to navigate and "solve." Solve is in quotes because there doesn't have to be a particular solution, but rather one that moves the game forward in some way. This is the process -- the GM has the picture of the fiction and relates it to the players, who try and understand it and navigate it. This mode of play describes the map-and-key AND the Trad GM pushing story AND the Neotrad GM playing the setting. It's not limited to map-and-key. It, quite nicely, describes the play I'm doing in both all of my D&D experience (I ran 4e Trad) and in the Aliens game I'm running. It also describes a lot of the other gaming I did -- Paranoia, Vampire, 7th Sea, etc. It doesn't describe how Story Now works, and this departure is one of the stumbling blocks for understanding.
 

In my opinion it's very much Trad. Neotrad is actually fairly coherent as a concept space, it's just not one people have considered before. It's usually characterized by strong rules and setting assumptions binding the GM. It's an outgrowth of OC play. I had trouble with it as well, took some extra reading to lock it in conceptually. I was lumping it in with Trad, but Trad play features GM setting control and GM rules control and aims more at the GM providing a story than characters interacting with the setting. Again, it's about where authorities and constraints lie. The GM doesn't have the same authority over the rules or setting in Neotrad as in Trad -- the constraints are much, much tighter. The other difference is that play in Neotrad often focuses on the story the players want to explore. This differs from Story Now because play is still very much backstory framed (as opposed to situation framed) and the players are expected to navigate the setting to achieve what they want. Really this is more about the GM not having a plotline at all. A good bit of supposed Sandbox play incorporates Neotrad ideals, but are often still run in a much more Trad manner. I believe that there's a reasonable amount of drift here -- Trad to Neotrad is actually more of a spectrum than some of the others.
Right. That makes sense. And I feel Critical Role and games similar to it have some strong neotread flavour in the sense that they focus on characters and their stories a lot, but are still trad in sense that the authority is still solidly on the GM's hands.
 

But if you want to discuss these things on general message board (on D&D section, no less) then it might be good idea to acknowledge how a large section of readership of such boards actually plays.

On the bolded part:

There is nothing more D&D than a Moldvay Basic Dungeon Crawl.

There is nothing more D&D than an RC Hexcrawl.

These are seminal D&D works and playstyles. I don't understand how you come to the conclusion that discussing D&D as Pictionary (eg the two ways I have most played D&D in my life and are not "boutique D&D" in the slightest) is somehow a problem for D&D section message-boarding?

On the italicized part:

Why?

Why is that a good idea?

I'm genuinely curious why you think some form of deference to or acknowledgement of "modern majority share D&D" as a preamble to deeper discussion (like discussing RC Hexcrawl or Moldvay Basic D&D as kindred to Pictionary) is even in the slightest bit important?

Why?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Right. It's just that your binary distinction omits how (I'd wager) most people actually play. Most people don't play gygaxian map and key dungeon/hex crawls anymore (and haven't for decades) nor do they play Story Now indie games. So it's not super helpful.
I think we really need to elaborate on what actual map and key play and what it looks like in the real world.

1. In the most idealized form of map and key play the DM creates all the backstory before the game and the players simply interact with that backstory while the DM acts as an impartial judge when it comes to deciding the effects of anything the players decide to do. (This would most closely resemble a classic dungeon crawl or megadungeon scenario). The DM may or may not take player input when establishing the before the game backstory. Typically, the player input on before play backstory is fairly minimal though.

2. However, in real world players tend to try to stray outside the before play crafted backstory box. This leads the DM to have to improvise. He typically does so in one of the following ways: (2a) the DM improvises content to steer/push the players back into the before play crafted backstory or (2b) the DM improvises content that allows the players to explore interesting things outside the before play crafted backstory. 2a vs 2b is essentially the difference in adventure path play vs living sandbox play.

3. When 2b occurs within a session of play - after that session of play the DM will then craft backstory, let's call this post session crafted backstory. The important thing about post play crafted backstory is that the DM can take player in game comments and actions (both in and out of character) and use that to create after session backstory that aligns with the players indirectly stated preferences. A very good DM may even be able to accomplish some of this in 2 when he's improvising interesting content for the player but not all DM's think fast enough to produce such improv scenarios.

The primary takeaway I hope everyone comes away from this analysis with is that even idealized map and key games leave open and often even encourages the DM to shape play into something more player driven via allowing the players to go and do things outside the before the game backstory via the process outlined above 1->2b->3. This is why talking about D&D play as if it's simply idealized map and key is so confusing to many modern D&D players - because idealized map and key play doesn't leave any room for player input into the map and key whereas generating backstory between sessions does leave room for exactly that.
 
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On the bolded part:

There is nothing more D&D than a Moldvay Basic Dungeon Crawl.

There is nothing more D&D than an RC Hexcrawl.

These are seminal D&D works and playstyles. I don't understand how you come to the conclusion that discussing D&D as Pictionary (eg the two ways I have most played D&D in my life and are not "boutique D&D" in the slightest).
As much as I like the 80s, it's not the 80s anymore.

On the italicized part:

Why?

Why is that a good idea?

I'm genuinely curious why you think some form of deference to or acknowledgement of "modern majority share D&D" as a preamble to deeper discussion (like discussing RC Hexcrawl or Moldvay Basic D&D as kindred to Pictionary) is even in the slightest bit important?

Why?
OK. Don't then. If you don't want your contributions to be relevant then that's your choice. 🤷
 
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As much as I like 80s, it's not 80s anymore.


OK. Don't then. If you don't want your contributions to be relevant then that's your choice. 🤷

I mean lol...seriously Crimson Longinus of the internets.

That is your response. Is your friendly (lol?) public service announcement above indicative of a "relevant contribution?"

Here is a public service announcement for you: People see <shrug> emoji and "just sayin' ", and they don't think "definitely not douchey!" So, my advice to you for your contributions to be relevant would be to drop the shrug emojis! Particularly after sarcastic remarks!

Lucky for everyone at ENWorld, you don't get a vote on whose words are relevant and whose are not. I'm quite confident that my contributions over the years meet the standard of "relevant" despite not genuflecting in quite the way you would like me to (for whatever reason)!

And the 80s have a hell of a lot of purchase in all manner of culture, D&D included, in our world thank-you-very-much!


EDIT - And to be clear (because you didn't answer my question). You feel that if I don't genuflect sufficiently to your liking in an acknowledging preamble of some kind, that the ENWorld userbase will consider my contributions irrelevant. Why_is_that? Why is genuflecting to majority share D&D before I talk about my "old-ass 80s D&D" or my "newfangled ivory tower RPGing" the prerequisite for "relevant contributions?" How does that work? Draw me a map.

@Cadence , you xped this so I assume you agree? Could you elaborate on that? Could maybe @FrogReaver elaborate on that? Why must I submit a sufficiently ackowledging preamble to the hegemony of modern majority share D&D before my contributions should be considered relevant?
 
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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think the ways in which a significant chunk of those of us who enjoy OSR games choose to orient themselves towards D&D-like games should absolutely be relevant to a discussion with D&D General tag. As is Pathfinder Second Edition's attempt to merge more classic modes of play with more modern ones. Did Fifth Edition become the only edition of the game while I was sleeping last night?

Damn. I guess I should throw away Pathfinder Second Edition, World Without Number, The Nightmares Underneath, Moldvay B/X and Electric Bastionland. I guess we don't count anymore guys.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I mean lol...seriously Crimson Longinus of the internets.

That is your response. Is your friendly (lol?) public service announcement above indicative of a "relevant contribution?"

Here is a public service announcement for you: People see <shrug> emoji and "just sayin' ", and they don't think "definitely not douchey!" So, my advice to you for your contributions to be relevant would be to drop the shrug emojis! Particularly after sarcastic remarks!

Lucky for everyone at ENWorld, you don't get a vote on whose words are relevant and whose are not. I'm quite confident that my contributions over the years meet the standard of "relevant" despite not genuflecting in quite the way you would like me to (for whatever reason)!

And the 80s have a hell of a lot of purchase in all manner of culture, D&D included, in our world thank-you-very-much!


EDIT - And to be clear (because you didn't answer my question). You feel that if I don't genuflect sufficiently to your liking in an acknowledging preamble of some kind, that the ENWorld userbase will consider my contributions irrelevant. Why_is_that? Why is genuflecting to majority share D&D before I talk about my "old-ass 80s D&D" or my "newfangled ivory tower RPGing" the prerequisite for "relevant contributions?" How does that work? Draw me a map.

@Cadence , you xped this so I assume you agree? Could you elaborate on that? Could maybe @FrogReaver elaborate on that? Why must I submit a sufficiently ackowledging preamble to the hegemony of modern majority share D&D before my contributions should be considered relevant?
Is it a relevant point that your descriptions of d&d play are based on a fringe segment of modern d&d play? Or would it be if the premise were true?
 


Is it a relevant point that your descriptions of d&d play are based on a fringe segment of modern d&d play? Or would it be if the premise were true?

I know this is rich coming from me (fully cop to it)...but I can't parse your sentences (or how they relate to my question).

And after the "can't parse it", I don't see how a rhetorical question (regardless of what you're saying) answers my question.

I'll pose my question again. If anyone could answer it clearly and without a rhetorical question, I would appreciate it.

Why must I submit a sufficiently acknowledging/deferential preamble to the hegemony of modern majority share D&D before my contributions (on old school D&D or Story Now D&D or Storyteller Imperative or Skilled Play or competing play priorities or Force or whatever) should be considered relevant?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I cannot speak for most players. I'm not sure why anyone would want me to try to speak for anyone except myself. All I can talk about from an informed perspective are the games I have played in and the games I have run. That's all any of us can reliably speak to.

Like am I supposed to in my own posts argue the points I think some mythical stereotypical gamer would make? How do I do that in any sort of accurate way when I don't hold those preferences or views myself? How do I avoid making a gross error in my depiction of this mythical gamer? Am I supposed to make other people's points for them? Argue with myself?
 
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