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Realistic Consequences vs Gameplay

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
@Manbearcat, I'm enjoying the Dungeon World crypto-cheerleading in your post above. I also agree completely. The flimsy nature of the non-combat action mechanics in D&D are certainly a barrier to realizing certain styles of gameplay, at least in my experience. I'm always striking a balance between hacking 5E to suit my desires, and not just turning it into another game (like DW, or Blades, or, or, or).
 

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MGibster

Hero
Good post and thanks for the context.

Again, this goes back to “if all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.”
Both times I ran Curse of Strahd I told the players beforehand they should make an effort to speak to NPCs and creatures they wouldn't normally be inclined to speak to in other campaigns. I also made it clear they could run into encounters they were not leveled to deal with so they should tread lightly.
 


Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
You shouldn't. But... where are you supposed to learn how not to?
That is a fair point. Some of the material in the core books kind of suggests that the game should be run like that, but it's not terribly specific. The module certainly could have contained a broader range of options.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
If D&D had robust, player-facing mechanics that allowed players to make informed decision-points, engage noncombat action resolution mechanics with teeth, and feel the weight of those decisions/actions and their mechanical output (including quantitative gain and fallout) within a complex faction game inside a sandbox setting, “resort to violence and engage the combat mechanics” wouldn’t be as commonplace.
Which is why in D&D (non-4E) games, I almost always play a spellcaster; that's the only way to ensure I have access to a formalized power structure that isn't contingent on negotiation.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Good post and thanks for the context.

Again, this goes back to “if all you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.”

If D&D had robust, player-facing mechanics that allowed players to make informed decision-points, engage noncombat action resolution mechanics with teeth, and feel the weight of those decisions/actions and their mechanical output (including quantitative gain and fallout) within a complex faction game inside a sandbox setting, “resort to violence and engage the combat mechanics” wouldn’t be as commonplace.

Or we can just keep blaming players (when the reality is, this “always degenerate to violence” paradigm doesn’t happen in games that feature the above tech/ethos).
The text box in these modules is just the default state of things. It can still be changed by the players/PCs. If the players don't bother to do anything and just attack, yes the town will support the ruler. Same if the DM literally cant think outside of the text box. If you have players who come up with ways to change the minds of the townsfolk and work at it, and a halfway competent DM, you aren't going to be limited to just the narrow path the module lays out.

It looks like you only have a hammer if the players choose to look at it that way. If they bother to check their mental backpacks, they will find other tools waiting there to be used.
 


Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That is a fair point. Some of the material in the core books kind of suggests that the game should be run like that, but it's not terribly specific. The module certainly could have contained a broader range of options.
Or just a paragraph in the front telling the DM that it's okay to change things to fit the situation and not feel bound to follow the text to the letter.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Forcing players to choose between two unpalatable options is fine, especially at the outset. It often results in pretty good roleplaying and some deep thought. Consequences that matter, right? If they decide they want to fight, that's awesome, I'd probably pick that option, but you need a plan in place. If you just rush in tromping about in your big boots, you're decidedly less likely to get what you want.

The scripted responses in the module are a tool, not an inevitability. Actions on the part of the PCs can and should change the fiction state, and it's on the DM to work that out. It would be nice if the writing supported what that might look like, but it's not exactly rocket science. You shouldn't treat the module like a straight jacket.
Actually, I kinda think presenting multiple bad options as decided by the GM without player choices leading into them as not really consequences that matter -- if your option is choose this consequence or that one and you didn't get a say in being in that spot to begin with, it's not much of a consequence so much as the GM fiat enforcing a situation.

Now, I get what you're aiming at, I think, which is that hard choices are okay, and I agree. I don't think the presentation of Vallaki is a reasonable hard choice, though, as there's no way through the written material that achieves any good outcome and most result in the town turning against you. And, as you say, the fact that it's written this way in the module is not a requirement for a GM to run it that way, but that expects not the usual level of customization necessary but that you will wholly rewrite something that a professional presented. That's a high hurdle. Granted, I pretty much read anything pre-written by someone else and gut it, taking only the bits I like, but I've got that experience. The point of a module is that these things are supposedly written by a professional and present a reasonable situation.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Hard choices are fine, but there are going to be players who reject (or at least resent) what seem like no-win situations. If they aren't presented with any good options they'll try something else. I have a strong preference for presenting choice between competing goods; choosing the greater good feels more explicitly heroic than choosing the lesser evil. It feels to me more like choosing how you'll win, where choosing the lesser evil feels like choosing how to lose.
 

I can tell you as the DM of this group that there was definitely a good option for the party - they could side with the wereravens or even just overthrow the Burgomaster on their own. The problem came with when they went in without a plan, one bored player forced the hands of the rest of the party not looking for combat, and did not work in unity at all.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I can tell you as the DM of this group that there was definitely a good option for the party - they could side with the wereravens or even just overthrow the Burgomaster on their own. The problem came with when they went in without a plan, one bored player forced the hands of the rest of the party not looking for combat, and did not work in unity at all.
Fair enough. Sounds as though you at least have a handle on the personalities, here. Ravenloft has a reputation for no-win situations, for as long as I've known about it (early nineties, IIRC), and has never appealed to me.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I can tell you as the DM of this group that there was definitely a good option for the party - they could side with the wereravens or even just overthrow the Burgomaster on their own. The problem came with when they went in without a plan, one bored player forced the hands of the rest of the party not looking for combat, and did not work in unity at all.
The question being: did the players know this as well?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Let me take the sting out of that. I've found, over many years, myself surprised that something I thought was obvious to the players wasn't. It's part of why I've moved towards extreme oversharing of anything important in my games. I beat it like a drum. Because, I found that even if I give my notes to players, they'll still likely miss things I think are obvious. And, even with the notes, they're guaranteed to screw up by the numbers. Largely, finding out how the players are going to go awry this time is a big part of why I still GM.
 

Let me take the sting out of that. I've found, over many years, myself surprised that something I thought was obvious to the players wasn't. It's part of why I've moved towards extreme oversharing of anything important in my games. I beat it like a drum. Because, I found that even if I give my notes to players, they'll still likely miss things I think are obvious. And, even with the notes, they're guaranteed to screw up by the numbers. Largely, finding out how the players are going to go awry this time is a big part of why I still GM.
I don't know how much of my statements to the group were lost potentially because of a shift to online play. And maybe some players feel a disconnect playing with only voice and on a computer rather than at a F2F game. And clearly there are other things going on around the world that may affect the players. I'm trying to keep all this in mind going forward.
I'm trying to not view this as a ruined situation, but rather as an opportunity for them to reassess and get on track with their party goals - and that doesn't matter what the adventure's text says or my idea of plot is. I just want the consequences of their actions to have ramifications and I don't want to coddle them if they make rash decisions.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
@Ovinomancer - I would never offer a pair of unpalatable choices if the players hadn't done somewhat to put themselves in a position where that's what follows from the fiction. I'm very PbtA when it comes to outcomes flowing from player choices, and that choice is in the nature of a soft fail state of some sort, to abstract it slightly from the specific example at hand. I'd agree that the module itself has some design issues in that regard and that the DM could reasonably have expected the writer to provide him with a more engaging decision tree with a few more branches.

I'll second your subsequent post about what you, as the writer/designer, feel is obvious turning out to be no so obvious. That happens all the time to everyone I think, at least people who write their own material. I know it happens to me. Over explaining and notes are both good ideas.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Now, I get what you're aiming at, I think, which is that hard choices are okay, and I agree. I don't think the presentation of Vallaki is a reasonable hard choice, though, as there's no way through the written material that achieves any good outcome and most result in the town turning against you.
In principle I don't mind this: the module is trying to steer the PCs into a worse situation than they had before by in effect sailing them into a hole from which any way out ends up increasing the overall challenge they have to face.

In hindsight, when debriefing after the adventure, the PCs might come to realize that maybe they'd have been better off never going to that town in the first place. In that regard, the town becomes analagous to a great big multi-faceted trap, which is really cool! :)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
In principle I don't mind this: the module is trying to steer the PCs into a worse situation than they had before by in effect sailing them into a hole from which any way out ends up increasing the overall challenge they have to face.

In hindsight, when debriefing after the adventure, the PCs might come to realize that maybe they'd have been better off never going to that town in the first place. In that regard, the town becomes analagous to a great big multi-faceted trap, which is really cool! :)
We have different ideas of cool. Unavoidable traps with nothing but bad outcomes don't make my list.
 

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