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Realistic Consequences vs Gameplay

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think that many in this thread are too focused on "what's realistic" (read: what's likely) as opposed to "what's interesting".
Well, a great many people will say that, eventually, there's a point at which the PCs die, even if that is uninteresting. It isn't like the OP had the PCs killed instantly. How many boats do you send them before the flood overtakes them?

But generally speaking, I have to go with what's real....the people playing the game. My decision has to take that into more consideration than the fiction. Especially since with fiction, you can come up with any number of outcomes that could be considered "realistic".
Is having PCs die inherently uninteresting?

There's been a lot of talk here about relying on mechanical resolution. Sometimes mechanical systems make it so a character dies. Proponents of strictly holding to system will argue that result is not inherently more or less interesting than any other result.
 

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That's a thoughtful post, and not at all an unreasonable end-position. In the abstract, I'm even inclined to endorse it ... right up until doing so as a GM would break my suspension of disbelief--once that breaks, I can't GM in the campaign. Others may draw that line differently, or not need to draw it at all, but it's a line that exists for me, and it's clear to me inside my head when I'm near it. I think something like that may be at the heart of why people are reacting at such variance, here: some people have an easier time with willing suspension of disbelief than others, and it's more important to some people than others.
Sure, I think you're very much right that there will be different tipping points for different people.

But I think part of it is weighing what options are possible, and then comparing them to kind of determine what's most probable. So we may have a range of possibilities.....some maybe more likely within the fiction than others.

I think many are treating "most probable" as "certain", and viewing anything less possible as "unrealistic", and I don't think that's the best way to proceed. I think the threshold has to be flexible enough to allow reasonable results that will also be fun or engaging to play. Obviously, in the OP, things kind of fell apart to at least some extent.....and I think that's because there was a little too much focus on fidelity to the fiction rather than to the experience of playing.

Also, in talking about this in terms of probability and so on.....doesn't that seem to lend itself to a dice roll? Maybe on a 4-6, the mayor calls for their arrest, but on a 3 he only warns them they will be arrested if they continue, and so on. So many elements of the game (and many other games) that it seems odd to just toss that kind of thing out the window. Again, I don't think mechanical resolution is necessary in order to acheive a favorable play experience.....but I think that it certainly could help in some cases, and why some folks are advocating for it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think many are treating "most probable" as "certain", and viewing anything less possible as "unrealistic", and I don't think that's the best way to proceed. I think the threshold has to be flexible enough to allow reasonable results that will also be fun or engaging to play.
So, similar to the question I asked above, but approached differently.

If you were playing D&D, and the players took on a fight - the strength of which was well-telegraphed and in which they made some real tactical blunders and come close to losing some PCs... do you regularly consider deus ex machina solutions so no PCs die? Or do you let soe PCs die, and and let the remaining PCs work how they want to deal with that in-story?

If you don't generaly work to save PCs, why is a combat encounter any different from a high-stakes socio-political encounter?
 

Well, a great many people will say that, eventually, there's a point at which the PCs die, even if that is uninteresting. It isn't like the OP had the PCs killed instantly. How many boats do you send them before the flood overtakes them?
I don't know....it's a bit unclear exactly how it went down. I do think he gave them options, yes, and some were flat out declined....so I don't blame him in that regard. But we don't know exactly all the steps that were taken, and what rolls were successful and what ones failed to end with things as they were.

But, I'm taking the OP at his word that there was something unsatisfying about how this all played out.

Is having PCs die inherently uninteresting?

There's been a lot of talk here about relying on mechanical resolution. Sometimes mechanical systems make it so a character dies. Proponents of strictly holding to system will argue that result is not inherently more or less interesting than any other result.
My point with the comment you quoted was that if I have to choose between fidelity to the fiction, and service to the social act of playing a game....I have to go with the game since the players and their enjoyment are real. I am not going to choose something that seems a "realistic" outcome in the fiction, if it paints me into a corner that will create an unfun experience for the player(s).

And I don't think that the call for mechanics is about preventing unwanted consequences. It's more about creating a process for how things occur in the fiction where there is doubt about the outcome. I'm not someone who wants to eradicate GM judgment in the game....but I more prefer where a GM's judgment is about establishing a DC and then calling for a roll rather than just deciding the outcome by fiat.

This way, if we find that the game has come to a state where we're all going "wow how did it come to this", the answer isn't going to be "it was all Bob's fault."
 

So, similar to the question I asked above, but approached differently.

If you were playing D&D, and the players took on a fight - the strength of which was well-telegraphed and in which they made some real tactical blunders and come close to losing some PCs... do you regularly consider deus ex machina solutions so no PCs die? Or do you let soe PCs die, and and let the remaining PCs work how they want to deal with that in-story?

If you don't generaly work to save PCs, why is a combat encounter any different from a high-stakes socio-political encounter?
I love consequences for PCs. You seem to think that I've somehow advocated for PCs never dying. Or never facing negative consequences. I haven't.

What I'm addressing is the fact that the play described in the OP got to a point where it was not enjoyable to the group. I'm not saying it was bad or awful or anything like that....I wasn't there, and so my opinion is limited to what has been shared with me. I'm just going off the dissatisfaction of different kinds expressed in the OP and in his follow up comments.

If players make decisions that get them into bad situations, and incur bad consequences....that's absolutely fine with me. I tend to not want to simply decide those things myself. I want them to be clear outcomes from player choices and game mechanics, with my judgment usually limited to application of the mechanics more than the outcome.

So your example of how combat comes to the end results it comes to by use of dice is kind of making my point. I think social encounters would be better served where equivalent mechanics are applied. Or at the very least, are available to consider.

I think there are times where I would flat out decide something by fiat and stick to it.....but I'd like those times to be few and far between. And I'll add that this is all my preference, not a call for this to always be the case for everyone.
 

Retreater

Legend
So with the pandemic I've recently discovered the challenges of playing D&D without relying on the published materials. My 5E campaign is largely homebrew, and although I use existing concepts and elements, I'm not running straight through any of the published books. So I know how challenging it can be to not have the proper materials to play in the way to which you've grown accustomed.

So my question for you is do you have Curse of Strahd on Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds? If so, don't you have all the sites in Barovia to run the game? Barovia is a finite area.

I'm just curious in what way you were worried about them going off on their own.
Yes. I have it on Roll20. And I have all the maps and characters associated with the adventure. But I don't have "extra stuff," so if they want to befriend other groups that aren't in the adventure I'll have to create them and their maps (which is a little more work because of online play and I can't do it at the drop of a hat). Online play on a VTT (especially with the group needing tokens and maps for every location) isn't conducive to improv.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes. I have it on Roll20. And I have all the maps and characters associated with the adventure. But I don't have "extra stuff," so if they want to befriend other groups that aren't in the adventure I'll have to create them and their maps (which is a little more work because of online play and I can't do it at the drop of a hat). Online play on a VTT (especially with the group needing tokens and maps for every location) isn't conducive to improv.
What I do is have generic maps for the terrains that may be encountered on a separate page as well as "splash pages" which contain evocative art appropriate to the adventure. If there's no combat, then I use the splash pages. Handouts are also good for this - throw an image in the handout then some flavor text in the text box.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Liar lair lair pants on fire. I read it cover to cover during the second week of the lockdown. Yes I was bored.
I read it cover to cover the day after I bought it. Mostly to see what had changed, and what was and was not allowed in DDAL within it, because I was, at the time, paid to GM.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
When we choose how the the rest of the world responds to a character's actions as GMs we are making a judgement call and should own that judgement call. What principles inform that judgement is going to depend on the GM and the game. I have a certain amount of sympathy for that judgement to only be decided in relation to the fiction. I have less sympathy towards the idea that it should be guided by a GM's idea for what makes the best story or to pull things in a certain direction. That's like just my damage man.

Personally if the game is focused on the characters I tend to add should be interesting to the players (not the characters). That can mean possibly death if it fits, that they are in a spot, or that they need to seek other avenues. I do not know how I personally would have treated this. Fifth Edition does not have real strong guidance on what the GM's principles should be.

What I cannot get behind at all is that the players need to be punished so they start playing in a different more agreeable way. I am all for consequences for the character, but play should continue to be fun for all the players. If there is a difference in play styles that cannot be dealt with than conversations need to be had. That does not make the play wrong or bad, just ill suited to that particular game.
 

MGibster

Hero
What I cannot get behind at all is that the players need to be punished so they start playing in a different more agreeable way. I am all for consequences for the character, but play should continue to be fun for all the players. If there is a difference in play styles that cannot be dealt with than conversations need to be had. That does not make the play wrong or bad, just ill suited to that particular game.
I agree, players shouldn't be punished in the hopes that they'll modify their play style. The best course of action is to hold a conversation and figure out where to proceed from there.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I agree, players shouldn't be punished in the hopes that they'll modify their play style. The best course of action is to hold a conversation and figure out where to proceed from there.
I agree. I think there's some disagreement whether having the Mad Tyrant behave "realistically" (where that's defined as "executing the PCs") is punishing the players, aside from any other axis to measure it as good GMing. I think it can be, but I don't think it must be.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I love consequences for PCs. You seem to think that I've somehow advocated for PCs never dying. Or never facing negative consequences. I haven't.
Don't worry so much about what I seem to think, because you have missed the mark terribly there.

I asked some questions, that lead each other into each other pretty logically - the point was simply to consider social situations vs. combat situations, and let people determine how they felt about whether they are all just challenges, or they are somehow fundamentally different.

What I'm addressing is the fact that the play described in the OP got to a point where it was not enjoyable to the group.
Yep. And much of the early part of the thread already recognized that, and counseled talking to them about it, and expectations, and such.

If players make decisions that get them into bad situations, and incur bad consequences....that's absolutely fine with me. I tend to not want to simply decide those things myself. I want them to be clear outcomes from player choices and game mechanics, with my judgment usually limited to application of the mechanics more than the outcome.
As already noted, the typical mechanical systems don't give you explicit events that result. They only tell you whether the players succeed or fail (perhaps with degrees). The GM has to figure out what that means in the context of the narrative. So, as a GM, you're deciding consequences anyway.

And, with respect to the desire for mechanics - while I understand the point in general, for this example it is not clearly relevant. As has been noted already, mechanical systems typically have the clause, "don't bother using the mechanics if success or failure is clear to you, the GM". The GM already ruled that the failure was clear.

IF the game had relevant mechanics, it would have been reasonable for the GM to not invoke them, and just jump to consequences. That's why I think the "...but, mechanics!" is a bit of a misdirection.

That leaves us with the more general question of "When and how do we pull PC's bacon out of the fire?"
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To go back to the trap example; let's say a PC searches the door (or whatever) and triggers a trap, and the DM decides, "there's no reasonable way you can avoid what happens.....your PC is dead."
And if the DM is running a module in which it clearly states that triggering the trap results in a no-save death (e.g. a 10'-cube chunk of roof falls on the PC who is in a 10x10' room), then what?

I think many would argue that, under some "DM has final word" type of caveat, that this is well within what can happen at the table. But I know many folks, even those who might say that yes the DM can decide such, would be very annoyed if this is how it was handled at the table.
True. I'm merely trying to find a basis for comparison here, to put the trap and the kill-the-king on the same footing.

If I put it as each event results in save-or-die rather than just die, are we closer?

I don't think that social interactions need mechanics for every little thing or anything like that.....but if PC execution is being put forth as a possible result, then I think having rules that allow for a clear process of how we end with that result is preferable to relying almost purely on DM whim.
I disagree (with a caveat, see below); in that the DM has to be allowed to play her NPCs in a manner consistent with who and what they are - just like players have to be similarly allowed to play their PCs.

Here, the guy already has a reputation of being "the mad tyrant" and - one hopes - has already shown signs of living up to that reputation while the PCs have been in town. They know what they're up against; and if they choose to attack him anyway and fail, their fate is no longer their own.

The caveat: if the PCs had never heard of this guy before first meeting him and thus didn't know his reputation etc. one of two things would happen: if the PCs talked with him at all I'd make sure it was obvious he was both competely unstable and prone to fits of violence; if they attacked him on first sight only then would I resort to dice.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
"Does the ruling present interesting ways to move the fiction forward?" is a great question to keep in mind anytime a GM has to narrate a consequence or judgment of this type.

This is why in my posts, I've been looking at the actions of all those involved, rather than just the player who decided to have his character start the whole confrontation. I think that many in this thread are too focused on "what's realistic" (read: what's likely) as opposed to "what's interesting". Ideally, there'd be a venn diagram overlap where these two things are both true. If so, great.

But if not....which do you choose? I think that's part of the actual question here....faith to the fiction versus faith to the fact that people are playing a game. I don't think there's one answer....or maybe the answer can vary depending on circumstances.
Good question, and probably to no surprise I'd lean - often fairly strongly - toward "faith to the fiction".

In a long sprawling campaign like what I run, internal consistency becomes far more important than in a one-shot or even a hard-line AP; which means sacrificing that long-term internal consistency for the sake of a here-and-now moment in the story isn't something I'm going to want to do very often.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
My point with the comment you quoted was that if I have to choose between fidelity to the fiction, and service to the social act of playing a game....I have to go with the game since the players and their enjoyment are real. I am not going to choose something that seems a "realistic" outcome in the fiction, if it paints me into a corner that will create an unfun experience for the player(s).

And I don't think that the call for mechanics is about preventing unwanted consequences. It's more about creating a process for how things occur in the fiction where there is doubt about the outcome. I'm not someone who wants to eradicate GM judgment in the game....but I more prefer where a GM's judgment is about establishing a DC and then calling for a roll rather than just deciding the outcome by fiat.

This way, if we find that the game has come to a state where we're all going "wow how did it come to this", the answer isn't going to be "it was all Bob's fault."
This all just sounds like the role of the mechanics is simply to cover the DM's butt if things go wrong.....
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That leaves us with the more general question of "When and how do we pull PC's bacon out of the fire?"
Or, perhaps, how much leeway do we give them to pull their own bacon out of the fire? (if they're not keen on saving themselves, I'm far less encouraged to help them out)
 

Don't worry so much about what I seem to think, because you have missed the mark terribly there.
If so, then my apologies. However, you seem to be missing a lot of the context for my comments, and leaving relevant parts un-quoted in your replies.

I asked some questions, that lead each other into each other pretty logically - the point was simply to consider social situations vs. combat situations, and let people determine how they felt about whether they are all just challenges, or they are somehow fundamentally different.

Yep. And much of the early part of the thread already recognized that, and counseled talking to them about it, and expectations, and such.

As already noted, the typical mechanical systems don't give you explicit events that result. They only tell you whether the players succeed or fail (perhaps with degrees). The GM has to figure out what that means in the context of the narrative. So, as a GM, you're deciding consequences anyway.

And, with respect to the desire for mechanics - while I understand the point in general, for this example it is not clearly relevant. As has been noted already, mechanical systems typically have the clause, "don't bother using the mechanics if success or failure is clear to you, the GM". The GM already ruled that the failure was clear.

IF the game had relevant mechanics, it would have been reasonable for the GM to not invoke them, and just jump to consequences. That's why I think the "...but, mechanics!" is a bit of a misdirection.

That leaves us with the more general question of "When and how do we pull PC's bacon out of the fire?"
I don't think that's the question I am discussing at all. I think that question will largely vary from group to group, and all players and GMs should try and get a good feel for what will work for them and then proceed accordingly.

My point is more about how to try and prevent play from getting to a point where it has become not fun for any or all participants. My advocacy for considering mechanical resolution is related to how I believe it can help prevent this. And yes, I think some kind of system that allows for degrees of success and failure is preferable. Even just having that as a framework to lean on can very much help a GM with determining specifics for consequences.

Of course it's not perfect. And of course things could work out just fine if the DM is simply deciding everything by whim all along. But in this instance, there was some feeling of dissatisfaction with the result. As I replied to your other post to me, it's hard to say exactly what happened here. We know the gist, but we don't know what rolls were made, and if they succeeded, or what the results were. How many persuasion checks were needed and how many were failed, and so on.

Of course there is a point where you have to say that everything has been tried, and therefore the PCs fail or die or whatever negative consequence may have been at risk. I don't think that's in doubt. In this instance, despite all the suggestion from posters to execute the PCs, the OP didn't go that route. So it seems he felt that there was something to salvage here?
 

pemerton

Legend
Simply being human does not mean that there is always some small chance success. If the DM thinks that it makes more sense that there is no chance, then there is no chance. Other rules in the game are not relevant to that decision as such a decision is based on the DM's knowledge of the NPC.
I think the following, on p 2 of the Basic PDF, is relevant.:

Together, the DM and the players create an exciting story of bold adventurers who confront deadly perils. Sometimes an adventurer might come to a grisly end, torn apart by ferocious monsters or done in by a nefarious villain. Even so, the other adventurers can search for powerful magic to revive their fallen comrade or the player might choose to create a new character to carry on. The group might fail to complete an adventure successfully, but if everyone had a good time and created a memorable story, they all win.​

I've bolded a couple of words that I think are especially salient. It is everyone together who create a memorable and exciting story. It seems to me that that is highly relevant to a GM wondering what decision to make about what is and is not possible in relation to action resolution.

I further think that a GM who never permits a CHA check at any moment of crisis or confrontation, because s/he has always already pre-decided how an NPC might react, is not playing the game in the spirit that the Basic PDF presents.

To be honest I'm suprised that it's controversial to say these things. In AD&D it is well-known that there are better and worse ways to use the discretions that system confers on a GM. Eg there are better and worse approaches to dungeon design, better and worse ways to adjudicate action declarations, better and worse ways to award XP, etc. This is why we have notions like "killer dungeon" and "Monty Haul GM". It's true that both boundaries and particular examples might be controversial from time-to-time, but the general idea of standards of skill and quality is not disputed as far as I know.

I can't comment on 3E as I don't know it well enough, but 4e clearly establishes standards for better or worse GMing. The idea that it is not possible to apply any sort of standards or critical analysis to 5e GMing strikes me as very odd.

It may not be what you want to hear, but the DM can make the decision as to the uncertainty of the outcome or the existence of a meaningful consequence for failure by whatever means he or she wants. There is no roll except by the DM's leave. Different DMs will make different calls here and none would be wrong. Some calls may result in the group failing to achieve the goals of play - that is, everyone having a good time and creating an exciting, memorable story by playing - but we don't know that this is the case here.
I'm not sure what you think the force of the bolded can is here. Maybe there's some GM somewhere who makes those decisions based on a coin-toss. I don't think anyone would advocate that as good GMing, thoiugh. In this thread I'm not asserting that any rule was broken. I'm asserting that the system has ways to resolve the sort of action described in the OP, and that gameplay is likely to be better - more fun, more dynamic, with more player satisfaction - if those resolution mechanics are used.

As far as this particular case, given that - per the OP - the upshot was one player apologising to the GM for "ruining the campaign." I'm going to conjecture that everyone did not have a good time creating an exciting and memorable story.

Wrong? Maybe not, but better or worse? Sure, some of those DM calls will be better or worse, for a host of potential different reason. A lot depends on meeting the table expectations, maybe more than any particular opinion on example X or Y. If the DM makes a call that is in keeping with how play normally proceeds at the table he plays with, and is one that makes sense in terms of the pre-existing fictional context (i.e follows from the fiction) then it's probably a fine call, whether I personally agree with it or not. However, when the DM or the players depart from the table conventions things quickly start to unwind.

In pretty much every case the first litmus test I would use would be the question Does the ruling present interesting ways to move the fiction forward? If the answer is yes then the goals of play you list are probably being met. This does depend on the players buying in of course. One of things I don't really get about the situation in the OP is that several narrative lifelines were thrown to the PCs, with very little interest taken in them. That indexes a potential case of bad faith play, although without more specifics it is, as you say, hard to tell.
I am posting about what makes for better or worse GMing.

In this context I don't see any evidence for "bad faith" play - as I already posted upthread, if RPGing was full of people who turn up so they can flip over the table, that would be a sign of something pretty sad about the hobby. To me it seems like a player was frustrated and/or bored with the unfolding situation - perhaps in part because the fiction was not moving forward in a way that was interesting to him (? I think I saw that pronoun used). The player took a step to try and move things forward - "you're crazy and don't deserve leadership here" - which by all accounts of this module seems to be true, and uncontroversially true. The GM then escalated it to violence by having the NPC call for the guards, who turned up and sought to arrest the PCs.

I think this is the decision point that invites inquiry as to whether the GM made the best decision that was available. Reiterating that the GM didn't break any rule - as @iserith and @Maxperson are doing - doesn't seem to me to take that inquiry very far forward. Given that a player ended up apologising for "ruining the campaign", I think it's fair to infer that the ensuing episode of play was not experienced as satisfactory. I don't think that dissatisfaction is going to be resolved by just reiterating that the rules give a lot of discretion to the GM.

It appears you are more or less restating what I said after the word "wrong" in my last post.
And what you said didn't seem to add anything to what I had already posted in the thread. You quoted me saying "the GM is not - as best I can tell - expected to make that decision arbitrarily, or without having regard to the rest of the rules which (among other things) tell us what ability scores represent and what ability checks are for. . . . I don't see that it is good GMing to decide that a task is impossible when there is no reason in genre or logic for it to be so, and when - as appeared to happen in this case - it will create a less-than-satsifactory experience to so decide." Which bit of that do you disagree with? Clearly not the stuff on the right of the ellipsis, given that you have simply gone on to repeat it. The stuff on the left side? You think the GM is not meant to have regard to the rest of the rules, including what ability scores represent, in making decisions about whether or not a check should be called for?

For example, I don't care how good a talker your PC is, you are not going to have a roll to persuade the merchant you just met to give you the contents of his store and warehouse for free. There is no other rule that has any bearing on that. It simply makes more sense that you have no chance to achieve such a nonsensical result, so you get no roll.
This is the sort of example I regard as compleltey unhelpful to discussion. Because it is not an example from actual play. It is not an example of an actual moment of conflict in an ongoing game where the players sincerely declare actions for their PCs.

The last time something like what you describe actually came up in play for me, the situation was that the PCs (in a Traveller game) had taken a NPC and her ship and crew captive. The situation was tense and the PCs' control of it not total. The agreement reached was to gamble for ownership of the NPC's ship - the noble PC (a skilled gambler) against the ship owner (also a gambler). The player wond the dice-off, which is to say that the PC won the game, and title to the ship was handed over. The NPC now serves as a senior member of the crew on her former ship, with some other NPCs who were crew members under her command as well as other PCs.

Action resolution is how a game goes forward.
 

pemerton

Legend
That's a thoughtful post, and not at all an unreasonable end-position. In the abstract, I'm even inclined to endorse it ... right up until doing so as a GM would break my suspension of disbelief--once that breaks, I can't GM in the campaign. Others may draw that line differently, or not need to draw it at all, but it's a line that exists for me, and it's clear to me inside my head when I'm near it. I think something like that may be at the heart of why people are reacting at such variance, here: some people have an easier time with willing suspension of disbelief than others, and it's more important to some people than others.
My take on this is that players have to change their conceptions of their PCs all the time - eg I might conceive of my bold warrior as indomitable, but if I fail my save against a dragon's frightful presence, it turns out I'm not as inomitable as I thought!

Given how much more peripheral to the GM any given NPC is, compared to the PC as the core of the players' engagement with the fiction and experience of the game, I would expect a GM to be able to handle similar sorts of things.
 


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