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Realistic Consequences vs Gameplay

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It's less about self-censoring and more about not sabotaging the agreed upon plan. If there is a need to alter course, the players can have a quick side bar to discuss.

We agree to it in advance. Hence, if someone thinks a negotiation won't be fun, they have an opportunity to express that. It's a group decision and they are part of that decision.
No.

They were part of that decision at the time it was made - assuming that such agreement was in truth - but that doesn't necessarily bind a character who's not known for keeping his-her word or has a history of taking unilateral and-or unpredictable actions.

Unilateral action is always in play, and no matter how much you might hope it doesn't happen there's going to be times that it will.

Just tonight, we staged an ambush for someone we thought was a murderer. But when he arrived, he behaved unexpectedly and we, through pantomiming, agreed that someone should approach him and talk to him. As my character is the least threatening, I was elected. So I had a 10 minute conversation while the other players watched. Once I was satisfied that an ambush wasn't necessary, I waved them out to join. I've similarly waited patiently while other players have done scenes that I wasn't a part of.
That's all cool, but if someone decided to attack the guy anyway then so be it: the guy gets attacked. You talker-types are just the distraction. :)

I don't think it's boring at all
As a player, often it isn't...but sometimes a character's boredom threshold can be considerably less than its player's.
and moreover it's simply good table manners IMO. Players shouldn't typically make unilateral decisions that impact the entire group.
Here it's largely just par for the course.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So why did the player declare them, if they knew they were impossible?
Because the player could.

There's nothing ever stopping a player from declaring an impossible action should said player so desire.

But a so-called action declaration is only ever in fact a declaration of attempt. There's many things - including the whole impossibility bit - preventing that action from succeeding.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It's happened a few times where the group effectively "fires" a PC. "Thanks for your efforts, but we feel your tactics/priorities are incompatible with the group. Now that we are back in civilization, here is your balance owing. We hope you have success with your future endeavours."
All cool here!

If I am unwilling to run a side campaign then the player has two choices: create a PC the other players will cooperate with or leave the campaign
Still cool to here!

Either way, the PC is now a NPC.
No. Not cool at all.

Even if the PC is no longer part of an adventuring party it still 100% belongs to its player, and IMO you need that player's permission to do anythng with it. Also, at some point if that player so desires, that PC could be brought out of retirement and back into a probably-different active party (I've done this many times both as player and DM).

If the group has fractured into large factions that refuse to cooperate, I instead give the player-group a choice: fix it (through retirement or healing the divide, I don't care which) or end the campaign.
Also not cool, but this is more a question of DM style. I'm very much a let-'em-fight DM, and if the party fractures into discordant groups I'll gladly run both if I can, either on different nights of the week or alternately week-to-week or whatever.

A retired PC is still part of the world and continues to exist.
Cool!

All characters not controlled by a player are NPC.
But a PC is always owned (and thus controlled) by its player, so here we divide.

Unless the PC dies, (and sometimes even then), a retired PC is a NPC.
Were I a player in your game you'd be able to hear my arguments from Mars on this one.

My retired PC is still my PC. Period. No debate. End of story.

You-as-DM can't do anything with it without my say-so, and though most of the time that likely won't be a problem I still expect to a) know in advance if you're doing something with it and b) have a binding right to either have input into it if it makes sense for the character or outright veto it if it's not something the character would do.

Occasionally, the NPC has privileged abilities, knowledge, or resources the other PCs still require and so the NPC is around.
Having a retired PC around just to ask questions of or gain info from isn't a problem, as usually you-as-DM would know whether said PC would willingly give the info or not.

But what happens if, say, the party boot my PC out and I leave the game, then six months later come back and try to recruit my old PC because they need its skill set in the party? If as you posit it's now an NPC it becomes your decision alone whether it rejoins, where for me not only is it my decision whether my PC rejoins but if it does that means I-as-player am also back in the game.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
No.

They were part of that decision at the time it was made - assuming that such agreement was in truth - but that doesn't necessarily bind a character who's not known for keeping his-her word or has a history of taking unilateral and-or unpredictable actions.

Unilateral action is always in play, and no matter how much you might hope it doesn't happen there's going to be times that it will.

That's all cool, but if someone decided to attack the guy anyway then so be it: the guy gets attacked. You talker-types are just the distraction. :)

As a player, often it isn't...but sometimes a character's boredom threshold can be considerably less than its player's.
Here it's largely just par for the course.
Yeah, we generally don't run the types of characters that can't be trusted by the party, as it puts a serious strain on the credulity of why the characters are even tolerating this person in their group. Obviously, it's simply because that character is a PC, but that's based entirely on meta information, not on what the PCs would actually do. So we don't really do that these days. The PC can be untrustworthy towards people outside a party, but they don't violate the party's trust.

That's not to say that a player can't play a loose cannon. But there will be a quick side bar between the players to discuss the action, if there are objections, and if it's decided that the talking players are still negotiating, then the hothead might start to lunge forward but one of the other PCs catches the hothead's eye and they stop themselves for the time being. Other times the players might agree that the negotiation is going nowhere and let the hothead do his thing. Some of the characters might be displeased with the hothead's actions but the players are on board, and that's what's important. The character behaves like a hothead but the player respects the wishes of the group. As I see it, it's simply a matter of being respectful of the enjoyment of everyone else at the table.

It's fine if your way works for you at your table (I'm not looking to suggest otherwise). However, we've found that doing it our way results in far greater fun for everyone at the table.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
All cool here!

Still cool to here!

No. Not cool at all.

Even if the PC is no longer part of an adventuring party it still 100% belongs to its player, and IMO you need that player's permission to do anythng with it. Also, at some point if that player so desires, that PC could be brought out of retirement and back into a probably-different active party (I've done this many times both as player and DM).

Also not cool, but this is more a question of DM style. I'm very much a let-'em-fight DM, and if the party fractures into discordant groups I'll gladly run both if I can, either on different nights of the week or alternately week-to-week or whatever.

Cool!

But a PC is always owned (and thus controlled) by its player, so here we divide.

Were I a player in your game you'd be able to hear my arguments from Mars on this one.

My retired PC is still my PC. Period. No debate. End of story.

You-as-DM can't do anything with it without my say-so, and though most of the time that likely won't be a problem I still expect to a) know in advance if you're doing something with it and b) have a binding right to either have input into it if it makes sense for the character or outright veto it if it's not something the character would do.

Having a retired PC around just to ask questions of or gain info from isn't a problem, as usually you-as-DM would know whether said PC would willingly give the info or not.

But what happens if, say, the party boot my PC out and I leave the game, then six months later come back and try to recruit my old PC because they need its skill set in the party? If as you posit it's now an NPC it becomes your decision alone whether it rejoins, where for me not only is it my decision whether my PC rejoins but if it does that means I-as-player am also back in the game.
The PC is part of the shared world. The PC is being retired by the player. Therefore someone else (namely the DM) needs to operate the character. Can the player decide to reprise his ownership? Maybe, depending on the reason for retirement. Can the player use the PC in a different campaign? Sure! But the currently operating campaign exists with that character in it. The world is not altered by the player taking a different PC.

I as DM control the freaking universe outside the purview of the PC(s) directly under the players' control. If you retire your control over a PC voluntarily or involuntarily, that character now belongs to me. Most of the time there won't be conflict because I have no vested interest in controlling one particular NPC over another and in fact have a minor vested interest in reducing the spotlight on a former PC. Sometimes, crap happens though and a particular NPC is best suited to a situation. If that happens to be a former PC, OK. I'll try to portray the character sensibly and within its established history and characterization as I would any other character. The former player may or may not be invited to provide input as I deem appropriate. The NPC may or may not be eligible to be promoted back to PC status depending on their new role in the campaign.

If the players come back a few months later to recruit a former PC, assuming it is available and still appropriate for PC status, the player will be faced with a choice: which PC does the player wish to control? The new PC or the old PC. Pick one. The other is a NPC.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Which defeats the whole point, if I as both player and character don't want to sit through it and would rather stir the pot a little.
I think it's easier for you, because your group has been together for decades with slow turnover, IIRC. I'm GMing one table that's been together for about two years and another that's been together for like nine months. I'm not sure either group know each other well enough to play the way you describe.

It's also plausible-shading-to-probable that I'm both more easily bothered by having my own fun stepped on and more careful not to step on the fun of others. Which (really!) isn't a negative judgment.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Here's how a different RPG might resolve the confrontation between PC and mad tyrant, at the point where the former insults the latter:

Make opposed checks (on Presence, Charisma, Will - whatever is the appropriate attribute in the system). Maybe the tyrant gets a buff for being confident in his domain. Maybe the PC gets a buff for beig resolute in his/her righteousness and being in the company of more than one strong friend.

If the player's roll beats the GM's roll, the tyrant yields. Perhaps the degree of failure determines the degree of yielding - from nervously laughing it off to outright capitulation.

If the GM beats the player's roll, the tyrant doesn't yield. Maybe on a narrow success the tyrant simply laughts off the insult, while on a very large success he demands the PC's head as payment.

Systems that work like this include Prince Valiant, HeroWars/Quest, and Burning Wheel (though rather than opposed checks it uses the tyrant's will score to set a static DC). As well as simple opposed checks these systems all include an option for complex resolution (eg Duel of Wits in BW) to allows for resolution of a more extended debate.

It's also possible to have social resolution in the form of players-roll-all-the-dice: Apocalypse World and Dungeon World have this (simple resolution) and so does 4e D&D (mostly complex resolution via the skill challenge frameworl).

A 5e referee is working in the 5e framework. S/he isn't bound by, or even expected to be familiar with, these other systems. But these systems have come about for a reason: they offer various responses to a recurrent area of difficulty in RPGing. The 5e GM might therefore want at least to be aware that there can be recurrent areas of difficulty, and that there are ways of handling them other than simply fiat extrapolation from the GM's unrevealed "knowledge" of the NPC.
So, yes, there are roughly as many ways to handle this as there are systems in which to handle it. It seems plausible to me that any resolution system could land on the OP's outcome, the same way the application of 5E's did. What then?

Also, what does "yield" mean for an insulted tyrant? Specifically, an insult questioning his fitness to rule? From the OP, it sounds to me as though he did yield in part, allowing the PCs who didn't attack him to leave in peace. There's been a lot of ... presumption, I think, that the whole outcome was GM Fiat, and I don't believe that to be the case (other than deciding what the tyrant wouldn't give up, which seems like the GM doing the "playing the NPC" part of the job).
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
It would be interesting to know more about what this looked like, and how it was being conveyed to the players. And to what extent is was in the mind of the GM.
And (calling back to what others have said about the published adventure) to what extent the PCs knew going in that he was a villain (which I'm taking to mean someone the PCs are expected by the writer/s to at least want to take down). Defeating a villain by talking with him is ... atypical for D&D (though not strictly impossible).


The GM's job is to frame scenes - what page 3 of the Basic PDF calls "describ[ing] the environment" and "presenting the basic scope of options that present themselves". That involves establishing a shared fiction: the GM obviously takes the lead in framing, but nothing suggests that his/her mental image of the situation is primary. It is a shared fiction. Certainly nothing suggests that the GM's mental image is more important than, or should operate as a constraint upon, the shared fiction.
Since the DM in 5E has specific authority to determine when an outcome is in doubt, I'd say the DM's mental image serves as a pretty firm constraint on the shared fiction. Sure, there are other systems where the GM has less authority in that regard, but the OP isn't playing any of those (I don't think) so I'm not sure they're super-relevant..


But if the GM's mental image of the NPC is that s/he is unable to be cowed, while all the players know is that (i) the NPC is mad and angry, and (ii) the NPC seems no stronger than any one of their PCs, then why would they expect that the NPC can't be cowed? Where does that come from? From my own play experience, my reading of modules and my reading of threads I believe there is a tendency for GM's to treat ideas and images that only they have access to as constraints on the shared fiction. Or to go back to your language of "suspending disbelief", there is a tendency for GMs to treat as part of the established fiction, and hence part of the constraint on their own suspension of disbelief, stuff that has not emerged in play, is not part of the shared fiction, and will not necessarily be uncontroversial when revealed to the players.
So, responding to things here, not in the order you pose them.

I guess I need an example of what you mean in the italicized phrases. The world of the game is more than what the players or characters know. I know my homebrew setting has secrets the players don't know about--far as I know, they don't even know the questions; some of those might at some point effect play, and I suppose it's possible a player might object to [newly-established fact that hasn't been contradicted in play]--is that the sort of thing you mean?

Not all the GM's playtime happens at the table. I'd argue that if the GM is doing prep work, that's a form of play, and anything the GM has prepped has emerged in play. Reading a published adventure before running it is a form of prep--and any descriptions therein I'd be inclined to consider pretty well-fixed, in the sense that I consider fiction to have both objective (what happens) and subjective (what the characters experience) levels. If the GM in the process of making the game-world decides that the world itself is gradually awakening to consciousness, that seems like a fact of the world--and it might serve as a constraint on (or instigator of) what happens in a campaign, even if the players or characters never know it (and for all I know the players might find it aesthetically repugnant).

As to a specific NPC and that NPC's reactions ... If the GM has prepped that NPC as having certain attitudes or certain likely behaviors, it seems to me as though that's probably where the NPC starts and what the NPC probably does. If the NPC has (in Fate-speak) Aspect-like characteristics (Trait, Bond, Flaw in 5E), those are on the NPC's character sheet--they're part of the character, which has a sort of objective existence in the setting. Maybe it's possible for the PCs to find out about those characteristics--either through experiencing the setting or through a social encounter with the NPC (Fate has a mechanic to learn an NPC's aspects; I think 5E allows WIS(Insight) to learn Traits/Bonds/Flaws). If they don't learn about them, though, they still exist, and they'll still shape the NPC's behavior.

When I talk about "suspension of disbelief" (or specifically when I mentioned things happening to break mine, as a GM), I was talking about having the world not be consistent. Part of the reason I strongly prefer to run games where the players/PCs don't have authority to (re-)write the world is because I find that having so many authorial viewpoints leads to an inconsistent world (and to my suspension of disbelief collapsing). It's not a radically different experience from reading a novel where the world is inconsistent. Or writing such a novel: my experience from when I was trying to write fiction was that if I couldn't suspend disbelief in the story I was writing, I couldn't write it, and I think my feelings about GMing in this regard are consistent with (and probably shaped by) that.


The GM knowing the NPC better than the players is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about: the GM applying his/her mental conception, which is not part of the shared fiction, as a constraint on that fiction.

You can't get this particular approach to GMing, and to resolution, out of the far more basic proposition that the GM is responsible for framing scenes. Or even that the GM is responsible for ensuring that the fiction remains consistent and "realistic".
If the GM has the NPC's character sheet (or statblock, or whatever the game calls it) it seems to me that the GM self-evidently does know the NPC better than the players. There are of course game systems that let the players edit NPCs' character sheets (or other parts of the world), but what they don't edit the GM still knows--and if the players don't find that out somehow, they don't know it.
 

So, yes, there are roughly as many ways to handle this as there are systems in which to handle it. It seems plausible to me that any resolution system could land on the OP's outcome, the same way the application of 5E's did. What then?

Also, what does "yield" mean for an insulted tyrant? Specifically, an insult questioning his fitness to rule? From the OP, it sounds to me as though he did yield in part, allowing the PCs who didn't attack him to leave in peace. There's been a lot of ... presumption, I think, that the whole outcome was GM Fiat, and I don't believe that to be the case (other than deciding what the tyrant wouldn't give up, which seems like the GM doing the "playing the NPC" part of the job).
Not trying to answer for @pemerton...I’m curious to hear his response. But I think this is a good question.

I don’t think that the situation in the OP was arrived at purely by GM fiat. I do think mechanics were deployed at times and that those helped shape the results. But it’s not entirely clear what mechanics, when, how often, and what results.

I also think that there were likely many points that were decided by GM fiat of some kind. And possibly some lack of clarity about possible consequences. It’s hard to say.

For instance, when the one PC insults the burgomaster and the burgomaster responds by calling “Guards!”, was any kind of check used? Did they DM simply decide “okay he’s not gonna tolerate that, he’s gonna call for his guards”. Additionally, when the burgomaster yelled “Guards!” did the DM offer any additional information to the players? Was it “Guards! Escort these ruffians from my hall”? Or was it “Guards! Kill these outlanders!”?

If it’s a case of no mechanics being deployed to determine the Burgomaster’s reaction, and then either an unclear threat (“Guards!” without any further cues) or an overt threat (“Guards, kill them!”) then I think that the DM has largely created the resulting situation by fiat. He decided how the BM reacted, he indicated a threat to the PCs, they responded.

Now, if that is the case, I don’t think that’s really a problem in and of itself. I’m sure many tables would consider all this well within expectations. But if this end result is dissatisfying in some way to the participants, which seems to be the case, then we need to look at the points where things may have gone differently.

So what if the one PCs insult was attached to an Intimidation check? The DM could set the DC for that and then call for a roll. On a success, maybe the BM doesn’t just start calling for the guards. Maybe he gets angry....but realizes these are capable outsiders, and perhaps he should try and keep a cool head. Maybe the insult actually gives a bonus to the other PCs’ attempts at negotiation. Maybe the DC is lower for their next check, or they gain Advantage on the roll.

On this way, maybe the bored PC feels he’s contributed in a meaningful way, and is a little less bored as a result. This seems to be one way to handle things that hasn’t even been considered in the discussion. A positive result to the insult.

Let’s say the Intimidation check fails. Maybe the burgomaster raises an eyebrow at the PC. Maybe some guards enter the room or advance in some other way...but the BM raises a hand for them to stop. “Mind your tongue, outlander, or I’ll have my men rip it out.”

This becomes a clear indication that things are about to escalate. It’s not vague. The PC can now press his approach and face the consequences, or he can back down and let the negotiations continue, or try some other approach. Alternatively, or additionally, maybe the insult makes the negotiation harder; the DC goes up or they get disadvantage on the next check.

I think very often the GM can get very attached to an idea of the “way things are”, and can become resistant to allowing change. I know this used to be true for me, especially with certain “darling” NPCs of mine. I’d be very reluctant to allow any input other than my own to affect them. Now, I don’t think the Burgomaster of Vallaki is anyone’s darling NPC. I think he exists as a foil to the PCs, but not an incredibly meaningful one. Allowing the PCs to influence him seems well within what we should expect from the game. He’s certainly not meant to be some insurmountable obstacle. By contrast, Count Strahd would be a NPC that I’d consider far more difficult to sway in such a way.

I mean, isn’t the whole point of playing to see how the PCs impact the world and how they are impacted by it? So I thibk it’s a good idea to either allow game mechanics for a chance at that, or to take it strongly into consideration when deciding anything by fiat.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
When it comes to CHA, and social interaction, parallel considerations apply. Is the GM being true to the fiction in having the tyrant be unflabble by opposition? Or is s/he deeming, in effect, that the PCs lack the sort of capacity to exercise influence that one might expect in fantasy heroes? Or even, is s/he just deciding - by fiat - how this particular bit of the fiction is to unfold, without regard to what the players want for their PCs?

The rules may not tell us what is the best approach here, but that doesn't mean it's pointless to talk about better and worse approaches. And as I've posted upthread, the Basic PDF even sets out some relevant principles - in particular, the plural contributions to the shared fiction and the goal of a memorable and exciting story. GM fiat that is grounded in desires for outcomes rather than fidelity to the fiction seems to contradict at least the first of those principels.
I don't see any contradictions. The DM decides if there's a check by way of two criteria. If he or she decides there's a check because the PCs are trying to influence an NPC, then it's a Charisma check. All choices made by the DM and players are judged against the goals of play. But each group's idea of fun, exciting, and memorable vary at least somewhat. The principles you keep alluding to don't really say one way or another how the DM should specifically rule in this circumstance. You, as DM, might really believe that a Charisma check would have turned this whole thing around. Other DMs might think otherwise, given the context.

Aragorn in your example fails to jump the distance by the way, no roll, if his Strength is less than 20. If some special circumstance were present, he might get a check to jump an unusually long distance.
 

pemerton

Legend
@prabe, @hawkeyefan

On the issue of mechanics and "yielding" in this particular context I don't know that I have all that much more to add.

The claim that "any resolution system could land on the OP's outcome, the same way the application of 5E's did" seems false to me. Prince Valiant won't, because one feature of its system for establishing consequences is that PC death should rarely be in issue. So executions are off the table. In my Prince Valiant game, when the PCs found themselves at odds with an evil and treacherous NPC, the NPC called for a joust to prove his innocence. He won, and hence the PCs rode on, later to hear news that the older brother of the NPC in question had mysterioulsy died, leaving the NPC the undisputed ruler of Fort Seahawk.

In Burning Wheel the stakes should generally be made explicit if they are not already implicit. In our game, when the PCs acccused the evil cleric in the Keep on the Borderlands of being such, the result was a duel of honour which (again) the PC (played by the same player) lost. In a scenario closer to the OP's one, the introduction of the guards, and the consequences thereof, would be handled very differently from what is described - BW invites and requires the GM to be far more thoughtful about framing than seems to have been the case in the OP.

In the 5e context I would think some of these ideas could equally be applied - hawkeyefan has sketched out a good range of possibilities already, both just upthread and earlier in the thread also.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
@pemerton

Yes, @hawkeyefan described several ways the scene could have been handled differently. I believe he has some experience with the adventure in question, so his points are well worth considering in this specific instance. I think some of them are looking to solve what's clearly an out-of-game problem (different preferences/expectations for play) in-game, which I think is ... not the best approach, but if you're determined not to break the fourth wall here they'll serve--though I think there's still a discussion necessary, after the scene or after the session. I think his points about DM Fiat mattering less than people having fun, and the sorts of considerations that should come into play before deploying DM Fiat in this instance are important and valid.

I disagree about the situation being impossible in other resolution systems, though. I'll grant that it would probably violate the expectations of play that in Prince Valiant the PCs should be arrested and in a prison with their executions scheduled for the next day, but that doesn't in itself seem contradictory to your description of its approach to PC death--the expectation I'd think would be that there'd be a way to arrange their escape. It doesn't seem out of the mechanics' range, but I'll grant that you know the system approximately infinitely better than I do. I don't know Burning Wheel any better than Prince Valiant, but again it seems plausible (not likely--plausible) that the mechanics could lead to a situation not radically different from this, with the GM being thoughtful about the NPC and about framing, and with the stakes being explicit. I figure there are different paths to roughly the same place.

As to "yielding" and the effects of checks on the NPC: Those in this thread who know the adventure have described the tyrant in question as weak. It seems to me that a weak despot would be more likely to react poorly to being insulted, more likely to resort to executions and other strong-arm tactics than a strong one, and that those in fact might be his failure states (he loses his composure) rather than his success states. Of course, it's possible that my tendency to think backward is leading me astray here--and of course, he may be written differently in the adventure.
 

pemerton

Legend
Aragorn in your example fails to jump the distance by the way, no roll, if his Strength is less than 20. If some special circumstance were present, he might get a check to jump an unusually long distance.
The search function is not turning up the thread for me, but some time in 2018 (I think it was) there was an extensive thread about this very issue in which I believe you participated. Your reading of those rules is not the only one. In particular, some people - including regular 5e players - think that the reference under the Athletics skill entry (Basic PDF p 59) to "try[ing] to jump an unusually long distance" establishes a framework within which attempts to jump further than a PC's STR score might be resolved; and that the statement under the Movement heading (Basic PDF p 64) that "Your Strength determines how far you can jump" should be taken to be qualified with an adverb such as "usually" or "with certainty".
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@prabe @billd91 @Fanaelialae

I personally find that level of group coordination extraordinary. I do not think it should be taken as a given.

For my part a good deal of how I learned to run games is focused on getting players to play their characters as individuals. If a character is present on the scene during a social interaction I would expect that they would be actively involved in the negotiations. If they were not NPCs would bring that up. I might also ask them questions about how they see things.

Now if they are like not in the scene because they are doing other things or are on the other side of the room that's one thing. If they interrupt when I am specifically addressing someone else that's another. If your character is physically present you are in the scene.

Of course at the end of the day a lot of this confusion comes from the lack of instruction provided to players and GMs by the game. There is no meaningful sense of where your priorities ought to be so unless that is resolved by group explicitly you are apt to run into mismatched play priorities.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I can't (and won't try to) speak for the other two, but I'd find the behavior of the player whose character insulted the tyrant while I was negotiating with him to be literally infuriating. You're not only keeping my character from achieving the goal of the negotiation now, you're keeping my character from ever achieving that goal with this NPC. It has vibes of PvP to me--and I utterly detest PvP.
 

pemerton

Legend
I disagree about the situation being impossible in other resolution systems
Besides my own experience, there is the experience of others. Who has had the sort of thing described in the OP happen in Prince Valiant, or Burning Wheel, or Dungeon World? That is - to be clear about the sort of thing described - who has had a session result in a player apologising for "ruining the campaign" because a confrontation between PCs and a ruler led to PCs being escorted out by guards to be executed with the GM seeing no way out but either "reward[ing] murder-hoboism and let[ting] them escape with a deus ex machina?

I'm spelling this out to make it clear that - as I read it - the problem in the OP is not the fiction. RPGing can support an incredibly varied range of fictions, including imprisonment and escape. (It happens quite often in my games, including the last session I ran - a Wuthering Heights one-off.) The problem - as best I can tell - was the process whereby the fiction was produced., this process including both framing and resolution.

In my BW campaign two PCs ended up imprisoned after a confrontation with city guards while leaving the scene of a murder carrying a severed head and some vessels filled with the victim's blood. But this did not ruin the campaign. And the game was ble to continue without rewarding "murder-hoboism" and without "deus ex machina". This is because BW has robust systems and frameworks, on both GM and player side, for resolving a whole host of action declarations - not only the ones which were attempted (and failed) to placate the guards, but such ones as "I wait to see if anyone visits me in prison" (Circles check) - and for establishing the framing of scenes (eg the design and play of BW pracically guarantees that there will be some sort of nemesis who wants to come and gloat over the imprisoned PC, or some sort of ally who will want to come and help him/her escape).

In the OP we are told that "they were given several opportunities to escape the stocks, but the would-be assassin failed and the instigator said he would rather die than let this corrupt man stay in power." @hawkeyefan, having knowledge of the module, may be able to conjecture what those opportunities were likely to have been. I infer - from the players' responses, and treating those as sincere - that these opportunities involved some sort of compromise with or concession to the tyrant. More generally, and in line with the reference to deus ex machina, it seems like the only way out of the failed attempt to defy and/or kill the mad tyrant was to follow the GM's lead.

This problem is not going to arise in systems which encourage the GM to follow the players' lead.

I'll grant that it would probably violate the expectations of play that in Prince Valiant the PCs should be arrested and in a prison with their executions scheduled for the next day, but that doesn't in itself seem contradictory to your description of its approach to PC death--the expectation I'd think would be that there'd be a way to arrange their escape.
The language of "arrangement" to me resonates strongly with "giving opportunities" and "deus ex machina".

Prince Valiant has a different mechanical framework from BW, but one option for a player in possession of a Storyteller Certificate is to Find and Escape Route or Escape Bonds. From p 45 of my imprint:

FIND ESCAPE ROUTE
Whether locked in the dank donjon prison, upstairs in a chamber inside a burning castle, or in the hold of a sinking ship with the hatches battened, this Special Effect will allow one character to find a way out. In the donjon he might discover that the wretch who brings slop owes him a favor; in the castle a hidden passage behind curtains might be found; among the dunes a deep wadi might conceal a rapid escape; a section of rotten planking might provide escape from a ship.

ESCAPE BONDS
Whenever immobilized with rope, chains, manacles, or other devices, a character can escape with this Special Effect. Maybe a rat comes and chews the bloody thongs, as happens to Val in one dramatic sequence, or a jagged edge of stone lies nearby, or a tool is smuggled in, or the lock proves to be broken.

If the escaping character has companions in adversity, he may be able to free them once free himself. But Escape Bonds does not permit a whole group of characters to miraculously free themselves at the same instant.

There are also options based around action resolution: even without a special effect a player might have his/her PC make a Fellowship check to befriend the slop-delivering wretch. Or with a Presence check have Prince Edward turn up and reveal the PC's "noble heritage" which warrrants him/her being freed. (I'm thinking of the resolution of the stocks scene in the film A Knight's Tale.)

The orientation of the system is towards player proactivity rather than dependence on following the GM's lead.

As to "yielding" and the effects of checks on the NPC: Those in this thread who know the adventure have described the tyrant in question as weak. It seems to me that a weak despot would be more likely to react poorly to being insulted, more likely to resort to executions and other strong-arm tactics than a strong one
An alternative thought is that a weak despot might yield to those who are obviously stronger than him.

This goes back to my thought that sometimes "realistic" = what the GM has in mind.

In my experience a more flexible appoach to establishing consequences and NPC behavious not only helps avoid the problems in the OP, it also produces more interesting, fleshed out and hence "realistic" NPCs. This came out in a discussion a couple of years ago about my Classic Traveller game, when @chaochou posted some thoughts about how a group of PCs might try and capture a military ship, including some respones to the suggestion that it was "unrealistic" for his plan to work:

If I was going to try and get aboard the cruiser it wouldn't be through violence, and probably not stealth either.

I'd be looking to broadcast a distress signal and claim to have a life support malfunction and multiple system failures - throw the ship into a slow awkward spin to make it look convincing. Something to get you on board the target ship with a credible reason to be there and as little suspicion as possible.
Actually the Captain was once in an emergency situation himself as a young boy and vividly remembers his own rescue. He may be researching bio-weapons, but he'll take a distress call seriously. There's no honour amongst thieves though, and three or four of the other senior crew lost patience the last time they went out to a distress beacon. This one could easily push them over the edge.
The remarks about the NPC captain were part of an explanation as to why a distress signal broadcast by the PCs might be picked up even though doing so would not be "rational" or "realistic" for the NPCs.
 

pemerton

Legend
I can't (and won't try to) speak for the other two, but I'd find the behavior of the player whose character insulted the tyrant while I was negotiating with him to be literally infuriating. You're not only keeping my character from achieving the goal of the negotiation now, you're keeping my character from ever achieving that goal with this NPC. It has vibes of PvP to me--and I utterly detest PvP.
I don't feel the force of that ever. A fortiori I don't feel its bolded force.

Why does PC A insulting a NPC prevent PC B from ever achiving B's goal with that NPC?

In our Cortex+ Heroic vikings game, the fact that one PC (the skinchanging trickster) failed in his atempt to sell a giant chieftain his own ox after stealing it from the barn (the chieftain recognised the ox and tried to eat the offending PC) didn't stop another PC (the level-headed warthane) from first persuading a giant shaman of the importance of his mission and with the shaman's help then persuading the chieftain himself to offer help rather than eat the PCs.

I could probably think of other actual play examples, but that's the first one that came to mind.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Besides my own experience, there is the experience of others. Who has had the sort of thing described in the OP happen in Prince Valiant, or Burning Wheel, or Dungeon World? That is - to be clear about the sort of thing described - who has had a session result in a player apologising for "ruining the campaign" because a confrontation between PCs and a ruler led to PCs being escorted out by guards to be executed with the GM seeing no way out but either "reward[ing] murder-hoboism and let[ting] them escape with a deus ex machina?
I wasn't saying it was likely. I was saying it was plausible. I was kinda hoping you'd think about (and explain--thanks for doing that) how the situation could be handled if it arose in those other games.

The language of "arrangement" to me resonates strongly with "giving opportunities" and "deus ex machina".
I can see how you might understand it that way, but my intended meaning was that the game/fiction would allow for the characters (or the rest of the party) to arrange their escape--as you proceed to demonstrate. I'm not surprised that PbtA games have such mechanics, as well, given how they seem to be focused around complications--and being captured seems as though it could be a complication.

Prince Valiant has a different mechanical framework from BW, but one option for a player in possession of a Storyteller Certificate is to Find and Escape Route or Escape Bonds. From p 45 of my imprint:

An alternative thought is that a weak despot might yield to those who are obviously stronger than him.

This goes back to my thought that sometimes "realistic" = what the GM has in mind.
Well, yes, that's apparently the more common thought. I admitted that I have a tendency to think backward and end up in strange places. I've had a player tell me point-blank he didn't ever want to play in a dungeon-crawl if I ever wrote one, specifically because I think so strangely. (NARRATOR: He's playing in a dungeon-crawl that I wrote. He has described it as "nightmare-fuel.")

As to what the GM has in mind: Maybe it's how the GM prepped the character. A GM might prep the character as reacting to insults by cowering in the corner and crying for his mommy. A GM might prep the character as reacting to the insults by havng the offending characters imprisoned or exiled. A GM might prep the character in any number of ways, and could then have that character behave according to its nature, as prepped. If the PCs know about the character's nature, they can behave accordingly; it seems from the OP that they at least had the opportunity to learn about the NPC's nature, and behaved the way they did anyway.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Aragorn in your example fails to jump the distance by the way, no roll, if his Strength is less than 20. If some special circumstance were present, he might get a check to jump an unusually long distance.
That's not entirely accurate. Strength(Athletics) allows PCs to try and jump an unusually long distance. It doesn't give how far and with what DCs, so one DM might be like for every 5 you get on the check, you go 1 extra foot, and another might be for each number higher than 15 you roll, you go 1 extra foot or a number of other methods.

You get to go your strength distance with no roll(certain). X extra feet possibly, depending on the roll and DM method(uncertain). And no roll if the distance is simply not possible with Strength + max X(certain).
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I don't feel the force of that ever. A fortiori I don't feel its bolded force.

Why does PC A insulting a NPC prevent PC B from ever achiving B's goal with that NPC?
Because I expect the insulted character to remember that insult, and I probably used all of PC B's good mojo not getting roped into PC A's idiocy? Because I expect goals passed up or missed not to be available again via the same path? It's clear we have pretty wildly different expectations of play in most cases, in terms of the fiction and in terms of the rules of the game and in terms of player behavior around the table.

In our Cortex+ Heroic vikings game, the fact that one PC (the skinchanging trickster) failed in his atempt to sell a giant chieftain his own ox after stealing it from the barn (the chieftain recognised the ox and tried to eat the offending PC) didn't stop another PC (the level-headed warthane) from first persuading a giant shaman of the importance of his mission and with the shaman's help then persuading the chieftain himself to offer help rather than eat the PCs.
So your trickster's actions weren't able to derail the warthane's actions that had already happened. Makes sense to me. I dunno if I'd have stepped in so readily as the warthane, though. Maybe the giant chieftain only needs to eat the one PC (the idiot trickster, in this case) and after that he'll be more willing to deal with the other PCs who had nothing to do with the idiocy.
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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