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Realistic Consequences vs Gameplay

EDIT - Basically the antithesis of the George Lakoff Strict Father model of GMing that I see so often; "Its your game and if you spare the rod you'll spoil the child and you'll never condition your players into 'playing appropriately'...oh and beware of games that are too player-facing because its nothing but rod-sparing and child-spoiling!"

There is a spectrum of diverse GMing ethoi, for sure, but it seems like the one that I see advocated for most vociferously is the model above. I don't agree with that approach (to say the least) and I don't think its good for the hobby for it to be the standard-bearer.
Yeah, I agree. There was a lot of that early in the thread in response to the OP, and that’s probably what got me so involved in this discussion to begin with. “Punishing players” and correcting behavior, and so on.

There is of course a social aspect to the game, and I think conversations about all that are key. Any problem that’s not really game related should be addressed with a conversation.

Anything else that’s seen as problematic....well, I think you have to look at why it’s being considered problematic first, and then consider how to handle it.

You mentioned how the declaration of the insult in the OP may have been a valid action declaration...I absolutely agree that it could have been. It’s also possible that the player was simply bored and wanted to provoke a confrontation. Now, if that’s the case, I think it’s up to the GM and players to look at the reasons this happened. Could it be a problem player? Possibly. Could there be other reasons? Absolutely.

A lot of times, it seems to me that when a player decides to do something other than what’s expected, it’s seen as problematic play. It’s too broadly applied.
 

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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I really enjoy sandbox play sometimes. The Sine Nomine games that embrace that style of play (Stars Without number, Godbound, Wolves of God) are some of my favorite games. I am a player in a Freebooters on the Frontier game that will be moving over to a West Marches style game.

I think you can absolutely have games that are about playing to find out what happens with prep that constrains play. It just requires a phenomenal amount of discipline in both preparation and play. The second your prep becomes about sharing your content rather than creating an environment for the other players to play in I think you are stepping over what I consider to be a pretty important line. Embedding mysteries that players can look into if they want is fine. Creating a mystery that players are expected to solve is over the line for playing to find out what happens. It may be a fine example of playing to find out how it happens or if it happens.

Generally speaking if you have a strong indication of what a player will do based on your prep I think you either need to work on your scenario designs or look into unspoken biases in play. Many players will reflexively follow a GM's lead without even thinking about it. This is something I think we all need to work on. Especially in lengthy games it can be all to easy to fall into familiar patterns.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Generally speaking if you have a strong indication of what a player will do based on your prep I think you either need to work on your scenario designs or look into unspoken biases in play. Many players will reflexively follow a GM's lead without even thinking about it. This is something I think we all need to work on. Especially in lengthy games it can be all to easy to fall into familiar patterns.
I don't entirely agree with this (though the rest of the post is spot-on, from what I can tell). I'm DMing one table with six players and one with five; there are three players in common. Two of them I've been gaming with for more than fifteen years, as both a player and as a DM, and one of them is my wife (whom I've been gaming with for even longer, and know even better). I can usually guess how both tables will react to situations, but if/when I'm wrong then I'm wrong and things go a direction I didn't have prepped--no big deal.

I'm also not entirely clear on your distinction in re: mysteries. I kinda accidentally ended up DMing one, but it was because play evolved that way, so I had to work out what had really happened and why--but I did so after the PCs had already demonstrated they were going to look into it and try to solve it.
 

I really enjoy sandbox play sometimes. The Sine Nomine games that embrace that style of play (Stars Without number, Godbound, Wolves of God) are some of my favorite games. I am a player in a Freebooters on the Frontier game that will be moving over to a West Marches style game.

I think you can absolutely have games that are about playing to find out what happens with prep that constrains play. It just requires a phenomenal amount of discipline in both preparation and play. The second your prep becomes about sharing your content rather than creating an environment for the other players to play in I think you are stepping over what I consider to be a pretty important line. Embedding mysteries that players can look into if they want is fine. Creating a mystery that players are expected to solve is over the line for playing to find out what happens. It may be a fine example of playing to find out how it happens or if it happens.

Generally speaking if you have a strong indication of what a player will do based on your prep I think you either need to work on your scenario designs or look into unspoken biases in play. Many players will reflexively follow a GM's lead without even thinking about it. This is something I think we all need to work on. Especially in lengthy games it can be all to easy to fall into familiar patterns.
So I'm currently running a Blades in the Dark campaign using the Flame Without Shadow playtest material. The PCs are playing an Inspector and Bluecoats who have a mandate to deal with a drug epidemic that's come up in Nightmarket.

I know who the "bad guys" are because it was a PC crew from a prior campaign. But exactly who is behind them, and which factions have a vested interest in how things go....whether they want the Mandate to succeed or fail.....all of that is kind of unknown to me. I'm introducing elements and factions and things are happening, and I'm not quite sure why.

But as it happens, as elements are introduced and then expanded upon, I'm finding that they reconcile themselves. The lack of predetermined motives and actions and agendas by many of the NPCs (not all, some have very clear motives and goals) means that nothing is being contradicted. Everything is established in play, with only the basic framework of setting and factions before hand.

It's really interesting to watch.
 

darkbard

Explorer
I know who the "bad guys" are because it was a PC crew from a prior campaign. But exactly who is behind them, and which factions have a vested interest in how things go....whether they want the Mandate to succeed or fail.....all of that is kind of unknown to me. I'm introducing elements and factions and things are happening, and I'm not quite sure why.

But as it happens, as elements are introduced and then expanded upon, I'm finding that they reconcile themselves. The lack of predetermined motives and actions and agendas by many of the NPCs (not all, some have very clear motives and goals) means that nothing is being contradicted. Everything is established in play, with only the basic framework of setting and factions before hand.
This may be more work than you're willing to do, but I think it might be useful if you can flesh this out with a specific example or two: what was happening in a scene when you introduced a new element, how that new element became integrated, consistent, and reconciled with other elements already established, and so on.

On another note, I've basically been away from EN World for the past eight or nine months, checking in only once every few weeks or so, but catching up in this thread has been one of the better parts of the past week. Thanks, participants, for a lively and enlivening discussion and analysis!
 

This may be more work than you're willing to do, but I think it might be useful if you can flesh this out with a specific example or two: what was happening in a scene when you introduced a new element, how that new element became integrated, consistent, and reconciled with other elements already established, and so on.

On another note, I've basically been away from EN World for the past eight or nine months, checking in only once every few weeks or so, but catching up in this thread has been one of the better parts of the past week. Thanks, participants, for a lively and enlivening discussion and analysis!
Welcome back.

The example that jumps out at me happened pretty early in the campaign. So as I mentioned, the PCs are police in a special unit that’s been assembled to deal with a specific gang, the Steel Syndicate, who has been flooding the streets of Nightmarket with a supernatural drug called Third Eye. The Steel Syndicate is actually the gang the players created and played in our first campaign.

Early on, after their third Operation (equivalent of a Score in Blades proper), I rolled for entanglements during the Fowntime phase. The result I got was that someone makes a move against a friend or ally. At this point, they hadn’t made enough progress to even be on the Syndicate’s radar, so it didn’t make sense to have someone from the Syndicate make a move on them. So instead I had an anonymous guy make a threat on one of the PC’s family. He was outside the PC’s house and said “Must be nice to have a family. A man should be careful to make sure nothing happens to them.” (Straight out of “Untouchables” if you’re familiar). Then he ran off.

So I had no idea who this guy was working for, other than it wasn’t the Syndicate. All I knew was that some other faction was already taking an interest in the unit.

So the player decided he’d have his PC spend some downtime devoted to finding this guy. The PC started questioning people and asking around and roughing people up to get them to talk. After a few downtime phases, he filled the clock that indicated he had located the guy.

In the interim, the PCs had a separate encounter that put them at odds with a gang called the Dimmer Sisters. This was an idea for an operation that the players came up with. The Dimmer Sisters are like a coven of witches that are involved in all kinds of magical crime and the like. So when it came time for the PCs to confront the mysterious guy, it made sense to have him working for the Dimmer Sisters. They nabbed him and got him to talk. So now they realize that they didn’t just have a run in with the Dimmer Sisters....the witches are actively involved in the situation. Which, given that the drug Third Eye is supernatural, dovetails very nicely.

When I introduced the guy threatening the PC’s family, I didn’t even know the Dimmer Sisters would ever come into play.

If I had had to decide that ahead of time, I would have likely picked another gang or faction, which would potentially steer things a different way. Instead, it kind of slid into something else that came along....something else the players brought to the game...and fit very nicely.
 


Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@prabe

I was mostly speaking to the additional discipline required to run preparation heavy games if your goal is to play to find out what happens.

There are all sorts of constraints you need to impose on yourself:
  1. You have to be willing to let a vast amount of material go unused.
  2. You need to avoid investment in your prep.
  3. Prep should be done in a purposeful way. You are a facilitator - not the main attraction.
  4. Most importantly you have to fight against a whole host of unconscious biases that pervade the minds of players and GMs, particularly ones that have been part of the hobby for a long time.
When I am running a game my first priority is to be what John Harper calls a curious explorer of the fiction. A large part of that involves fighting against making assumptions or setting unconscious expectations of what actions the other players will declare for their characters. Another part involves using techniques that will help players focus on the situation and away from trying to find out what I want them to do. These techniques vary based on the type of game.

If I start considering how the environment will respond based on what players may or may not do then I am opening up avenues for cognitive biases to step in. It also means (particularly in social scenes) that I am not really being a curious explorer of the fiction and really considering what a given NPC would do
right here right now.

Right now I am preparing for the first session / session 0 of a Lancer game. It is easy for me to get carried away creating rich inner lives for NPCs, elaborate factions, and world building. That would not serve my game well. I need to keep it purposeful and focused. Prep serves play. Not the other way around.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
My previous post is focused on if you place a very high premium on playing to find out what happens. It is the prevailing focus of my play, but it does not have to be yours. It is not intrinsically good.

It comes with many risks. The feral story is more apt to risk our creative connections to our characters. The discipline required might require effort you are not willing to exert. Setting exploration for its own sake might be important to you. Some players prefer a certain level of GM guidance.

The things I look for in roleplaying games are somewhat specific. While I am not entirely crazy with his analysis in terms of Robin Laws' player types I tend to score highly as a Method Actor and Tactician. I come from a theater background and used to be an avid LARP participant. That sense of being in the situation is critical to me on both sides of the screen. I also have very little interest in setting exploration for its own sake.

Here is my Gamer Motivation Profile:


I am guessing that I very unusual in having very little regard for the Discovery component and almost no regard for the Completion or Power Components. I would also guess that having such a high regard for the Mastery Components (Challenge and Strategy) is somewhat outside of mainstream play culture.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I absolutely 100 % agree. But I'm not sure that I agree in the exact way that you intended it, so maybe you can confirm either way.

Unforeseen consequences as an outgrowth of action resolution is one of the beating hearts of keeping conflicts dynamic and interesting. Here are all the moving parts:

1) The consequences (presuming failure here) needs to address what the thematic stakes were about in the conflict. Do you recall a long, long time ago when we (I'm almost certain you were involved in that conversation) my 4e play excerpt where the PCs were on horseback sprinting across the badlands trying to get to the forest to lose the army of bad guys on their tail (after they just stole an idol from their temple to bring back to the forest's Shaman to lift a curse)? They failed a navigation check (it was Nature if I recall) and it was the 2nd failure of their Skill Challenge to "escape the pursuit by making it to the forest." I navigated them getting lost and cresting a rise and narrowly stopping their horses before falling into a large gorge (with the forest in view on the other side).
Offhand I don't remember this example, sorry. But I get the gist.

"Unforeseen consequences" that set them back in their goal and created a new obstacle to overcome (as the scene's conflict mechanics said things were still in the balance).
From the players' point of view the consequence of the gorge is unforeseen. It matters not whether the GM had the gorge on her map all along or made it up on the fly (in badlands a sudden gorge makes perfect sense either way).

2) Unforeseen should mean all participants.
No, just the players. Ideally the GM has already thought of a bunch of possible outcomes and thus won't be caught off guard.

The more the GM contrives to preconceive a outcomes, the following happens:

a) The GM's precious, prepared material will have a tendency to limit the dynamism of play. There is situational context and ebb and flow and momentum and player intent that will emerge during play that will not be regarded in the GM's preconception of events before play ever began.

b) The GM won't get to "play to find out."

c) The game will be increasingly apt to be seduced toward GM Force in any singular moment of play and possibly have a tendency toward erecting a railroad for the long haul.
First off, there's a difference between a GM having a preconceived outcome and directing play towards it and a GM having a bunch of possible outcomes in mind (or in notes) and putting these in play as the situation suggests. That said:

a) sounds like something @pemerton, who IMO has a rather strong and consistent anti-GM bias, would post.

b) if the GM's only just now finding out what's going on, she's floundering. The GM should IMO always be a few steps ahead. In your chase example this would include having a half-decent map of the area done ahead of time so I could see what was where, and track the PCs' progress. (and the PCs would probably have learned some of what was where on their initial trip from the forest to the temple, if one was made, though when hotly pursued later they could still get lost as hell and find a gorge they didn't expect)

That's what prepping more than you need is for: reducing the chance of having to hit player-thrown curveballs and-or having to wing it, which IME often (as in, always!) leads to consistency issues when I don't remember some relevant detail I said an hour ago, can't write and talk at the same time, and don't want to grind everything to a halt every two minutes while I make notes on what I just said. Not saying I can't wing it, but I prefer not to* if possible.

c) I don't hold the same strident objection to GM Force that some here seem to. It has its place, particularly on nights (and they do happen) when the players are in story-consumption mode. Even a full-on railroad has its place now and then, though I prefer to keep these occasions to a minimum.

* - the exception is something like a dream or alternate-reality scenario or adventure where consistency doesn't necessarily matter anyway. I'm happy to wing those. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Sorry for not getting to this one sooner...
When you say the above, I immediately think "this person has little to no experience as a martial actor in physical sports or combat."

I can't recall, but i think you...may be...Canadian (?) so you have some experience with hockey?
Watching it, yes. Closest I got to playing it was several seasons of (very!) amateur broomball - similar-ish game played on the same rink but without skates.

Here is the thing. I'm 42. I have been a grappler since I was 12 (so 30 years) from wrestling to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I have been in a ridiculous number of physical, violent confrontations in my life.

What happens at the subconscious level of a very experienced, very trained physical combatant/athlete is ALL numbers. All of it. Spatial Geometry, trajectories, relative velocities, angles of intercept, potential force and how my body should move to diffuse some of it, arcs, etc. Elite athletes have complex models of moving objects in space (including themselves; proprioception) and perform complex computations (subconsciously) in milliseconds that have amazing predictive capacity relative to a layperson.

An expert Warrior who has been exchanging blows in sparring, against target dummies with armor, real creatures in the wild with natural armor. They would have an intrinsic understanding (with just a glimpse) of the density and resilience to blows of a dragon's scale that would be well beyond the pale of your average town guard, and profoundly beyond that of a villager. They would process its agility, speed, and its ability (or not) to produce angles extremely quickly and with amazing accuracy.
Which is reflected - perhaps not well, but hey - in your character's increasing skill with weapons, ability to hit, and so forth.

If you merely inform with the sort of abstract, flowery prose that any noncombatant could grok to the same level ("The dragon's scales shimmer like steel as your torchlight cascades across it. Its mighty lungs expand and contract as it sleeps, the sound of its overlapping armored plates grating subtly against each other, creating an eerie sound. Not a single scale that you can see bears a scar of battle...though surely this Ancient Wyrm has been tested by other dragons and adventurers alike.") and model just as well ("These scales are really hard!") an elite combatant...

...well, if I'm sitting at that table, I don't feel remotely sufficiently informed with respect to the resolution of the mental model that I, while attempting to inhabit my elite Fighter, should have. I would feel completely disconnected.
Two issues here - maybe more, but two leap to mind:

First, if I tell you up front what its AC is then I've also told the whole table, including all the less-able combatants who otherwise wouldn't have a clue. I've given them information they shouldn't know.

Second, in the case of a more common creature - say Orcs in plate mail - if I tell you this one's AC is 2 (or 18 if you insist on counting up :) ) then tell you the next one's AC is 0 (or 20) yet the next one has no more dexterity going for it than the last one, that's an instant red flag to you-all-as-players that this one's got magic defenses on it; again info that neither characters nor players wouldn't and shouldn't know yet.

As for the mental modelling, that's subsumed in your Fighter's ability to swing for the cracks between the scales, wait for openings, and so forth which is taken into account mechanically by your increasing (to use the 3e term) BAB as you gain levels and experience. Increasing hit points kind of - badly - sorts out your increasing ability to dodge what would otherwise be fatal or near-fatal blows.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
A lot of times, it seems to me that when a player decides to do something other than what’s expected, it’s seen as problematic play. It’s too broadly applied.
I 100% agree with this.

I'll even go a step further: some people (both as players and GMs) seem to have a definition of 'problematic play' that doesn't leave much non-problematic room between the ditches.
 

pemerton

Legend
a) sounds like something @pemerton, who IMO has a rather strong and consistent anti-GM bias, would post.
Over the past 30 years I have GMed 100s and 100s of hours of play (a rough estimate makes me think over 3000) and have played maybe a few hundered hours at most. That's a 10:1 ratio of time spent GMing.

So unless you think I'm self-hating, I don't know why you would say I have an "anti-GM bias". There are certain approaches to GMing that I don't like, but I manage to reconcile that dislike with my own GMing by not using them!

b) if the GM's only just now finding out what's going on, she's floundering.
I frequently find out what is going on "only just now" but only occasinally flounder as a GM. So this claim is not true.

I know who the "bad guys" are because it was a PC crew from a prior campaign. But exactly who is behind them, and which factions have a vested interest in how things go....whether they want the Mandate to succeed or fail.....all of that is kind of unknown to me. I'm introducing elements and factions and things are happening, and I'm not quite sure why.

But as it happens, as elements are introduced and then expanded upon, I'm finding that they reconcile themselves. The lack of predetermined motives and actions and agendas by many of the NPCs (not all, some have very clear motives and goals) means that nothing is being contradicted. Everything is established in play, with only the basic framework of setting and factions before hand.

It's really interesting to watch.
I think it might be useful if you can flesh this out with a specific example or two: what was happening in a scene when you introduced a new element, how that new element became integrated, consistent, and reconciled with other elements already established, and so on.
Not hawkeyefan, but here are a couple of examples of my own, from Classic Traveller play:

With the background in place [ie randmoly generated PCs and starting world], I then rolled for a patron on the random patron table, and got a "marine officer" result. Given the PC backgrounds, it made sense that Lieutenant Li - as I dubbed her - would be making contact with Roland [who had served in the Imperial Navy]. The first thing I told the players was that a Scout ship had landed at the starport, although there it has no Scout base and there is no apparent need to do any survey work in the system; and that the principal passenger seemed to be an officer of the Imperial Marines. I then explained that, while doing the rounds at the hospital, Roland received a message from his old comrade Li inviting him to meet her at the casino, and to feel free to bring along any friends he might have in the place.

In preparation for the session I had generated a few worlds - one with a pop in the millions and a corrosive atmosphere; a high-pop but very low-tech world with a tainited atmosphere (which I had decided meant disease, given that the world lacked the technological capacity to generate pollution); and a pop 1 (ie population in the 10s) world with no government or law level with a high tech level - clearly some sort of waystation with a research outpost attached.

Given that I had these worlds ready-to hand, and given that the players had a ship [ie the noble PC VIncenzo's starting yacht], I needed to come up with some situation from Lt Li that would put them into play: so when Roland and Vincenzo (just discharged from medical care) met up with her she told the following story - which Methwit [the diplomat/spy PC] couldn't help but overhear before joining them!

Lt Li wondered whether Vincenzo would be able to take 3 tons of cargo to Byron for her. (With his excellent education, Roland knew that Byron was a planet with a large (pop in the millions) city under a series of domes, but without the technical capabilities to maintain the domes into the long term.) When the PCs arrived on Byron contact would be made by those expecting the goods. And payment would be 100,000 for the master of the ship, plus 10,000 for each other crew member.

Some quick maths confirmed that 100,000 would more than cover the fuel costs of the trip, and so Vincenzo (taking advice from Roland - he knows nothing about running a ship) agreed to the request.

Methwit thought all this sounded a bit odd - why would a high-class (Soc A) marine lieutenant be smuggling goods into a dead-end world like Byron - and so asked Li back to his hotel room to talk further. With his Liaison-1 and Carousing-1 and a good reaction roll she agreed, and with his Interrogation-1 he was able to obtain some additional information (although he did have to share some details about his own background to persuade her to share).

The real situation, she explained, was that Byron was itself just a stop-over point. The real action was on another world - Enlil - which is technologically backwards and has a disease-ridden atmosphere to which there is no resistance or immunity other than in Enlil's native population. So the goods to be shipped from Ardour-3 were high-tech medical gear for extracting and concentrating pathogens from the atmosphere on Enlil, to be shipped back to support a secret bio-weapons program. The reason a new team was needed for this mission was because Vincenzo had won the yacht from the original team - who were being dealt with "appropriately" for their incompetence in disrupting the operation.

(I had been planning to leave the real backstory to the mission pretty loose, to be fleshed out as needed - including the possibility that Li was actually going to betray the PCs in some fashion - but the move from Methwit's player forced my hand, and I had to come up with some more plausible backstory to explain the otherwise absurd situation I'd come up with. And it had to relate to the worlds I'd come up with in my prep.)
Before the session I'd done a reasonable amount of prep.

First, I wrote up a list of established facts - that is, information that had emerged over the course of the first three sessions and so was settled truth for the campaign:

* Lt Li (the PCs' original patron, who got them involved in her bioweapons operation) had a team on Ardour-3 (the starting world for the campaign) who had flown hi-tech medical equipment to Byron (the world the PCs currently are on);

* Those NPCs lost their spaceship to the PC noble Vincenzo in a gambling game (hence Vincenzo started the game with a Type Y starship);

* Hence Li had to recruit the PCs - including one whom she knew from his time in the service, the naval enlistee Roland - to fly a further load of equipment to Byron;

* Li had recruited a bunch of NPCs (whom the PCs captured and interrogated in the previous session) at the naval base on Shelley, a world in the general vicinity of Byron;

* The PC Alissa had been in the naval hospital on Shelley (forcibly mustered out of the Marines due to failing her first term survival check by 1), but had then - about the same time that Li was travelling to Ardour-3 to meet the other PCs in the first session - found herself in a cold sleep berth in a warehouse in Byron, infected with the Enlil virus (before being found and cured by the other PCs in a previous session);

* Li was the one who had brought Alissa in a cold sleep berth from Shelley to Byron, and the other NPCs on Byron didn't know that Alissa was infected with the virus (this came out under interrogation of said NPCs);

* The operation on Byron involved experimenting on bodies (both live and dead) acquired by some NPC rogues (who were among the NPCs the PCs captured), using samples that had been brought from Enlil (the world where the virus is endemic) to Byron by another team headed by the retired merchant first officer Leila Lo (who, we had decided last session, had a backstory with Tony, a PC retired merchant third officer), and with hi-tech medical gear integrated into the cold sleep berths;

* Materials had also been taken by Leila's team from Byron to a Scout base on the world of Olyx;

* The Byron-based group (ie the NPCs the PCs had captured and interrogated) had decided to break away from Li's operation and try to set up their own independent bioweapons franchise, which was why they had taken the hi-tech gear the PCs had flown to Byron to the out-of-dome decommissioned army outpost that the PCs had assaulted in the previous session.

That's a reasonable amount of backstory for three sessions of play (at least it feels to me like it is), but it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered, like What is Li's agenda? Who is she working for? How did Alissa get infected on Shelley? Etc?

Second, therefore, I wrote a list of possibilities/conjectures, reflecting both player speculation from the previous session and some of my own ideas:

* Alissa has expertise of 4 in cutlass, whereas the ambitious Lt Li has only expertise 2 - maybe they were fencing rivals, and Li infected Alissa both to (i) get an experimental subject and (ii) get rid of an unwanted rival! She could have done that, and taken Alissa to Byron, right before she then flew on to Ardour-3 and recruited the PCs;

* How did Alissa escape from the warehouse on Byron? Most likely just carelessness and/or malfunction, with the cold sleep unit having stopped working (perhaps damaged by the corrosive atmosphere of the world);

* Is Li working for (some branch of) the Imperium? Or is one of the players correct in speculating that she is running an entirely private operation, with the Scout base on Olyx having become - in effect - her own fiefdom.

Third, I had read up on the laboratory starship St Christopher, described in the scenario Amber to Red in an early White Dwarf magazine - as written in that module it's not quite clear how it fits into the ship building rules, but I rebuilt it using those rules - it's a 490 ton custom hull starship, with a 90-ton custom small craft orbital laboratory. I decided that this was the vessel Leila Lo had used to bring samples from Enlil and to carry material to Olyx.

Fourth, and following on from that, I rolled up some NPCs to be Leila Lo's team. At least some of these had to be the NPCs who were running the warehouse in Byron's domed city, and so who had been captured when the PCs revealed the location of that warehouse to the Byron authorities. I decided that, while the PCs (in the previous session) were outside the Byron dome raiding the outpost, Leila Lo had been able to bail her arrested crew members. Altogether, including Leila Lo, I had 14 crew members who were able to fill all the positions on the St Christopher, plus had the technical expertise to have been plausible (but less than top-notch) operators of a bioweapons storage/experimentation facility. (None had very good mechanical or medical skills, which helped explain Alissa's escape.)

The final bit of prep took place on the bus I caught to my friend's house where we were playing. The St Christopher has 15 staterooms, so on the bus I rolled up a final NPC crewmember to pass the time. This ended up being a naval enlistee with skill in Ship's Boat, Communications, Vacc Suit and Forward Observer. Which gave me an idea for how to I might start the session.

The last session had ended with the PCs capturing the outpost and interrogating the NPCs. But they had been debating what to do with them. So when we started, I first clarified a few things about the what equipment the PCs had loaded onto their own and the NPCs' ATVs (this was being done by some of the PCs while the others had interrogated); and then raised the question of the fate of the NPCs.

Two of the PCs (the nobles Vincenzo and Sir Glaxon) wanted to hand the NPCs over to the authorities on Byron. Three (Methwit the spy, Roland, and maybe Alissa?) were worried that this would alert Li and her co-conspirators to the PCs' actions in thwarting the bioweapons operation, and hence (a) get them into trouble, and (b) make it harder to infiltrate further. The other PCs were indifferent. Sir Glaxon has Leader-2, and none of the others have Leader skill, so I thought that probably balanced out the numbers; and Methwit has a high social standing (A) which meant I thought the nobles didn't have too much of an advantage in that respect; and so the debate was resolved by simple opposed throws - Vincenzo's player vs Methwit's player (who also is the player of Sir Glaxon, and so was rolling against as well as for himself). The nobles won, and so it was agreed to hand the NPCs over.

I then announced that I was rolling for the day's random encounter, with a 5 or 6 indicating something. I rolled a 5, and so announced that they heard a loud blast not far from the outpost. A quick scan with the periscope and video equipment revealed that they were under fire from an orbital triple beam laser. I also explained the game's directed fire rules, which require a forward observer for this sort of thing; with corrections happening in intervals of two-minute turns. (I had used Oslem, my bus-generated naval character, as my random encounter.)

This had the expected effect of triggering a degree of panic and mass exodus for the ATVs. I got the players to write up a list of who was on which vehicle, and then they headed off, trying to avoid being blown up by the starship firing on them. Max Attack - who has ATV skill (ie applicable to both wheeled and tracked vehicles) - drove the NPCs' ATV (which is tracked), while Methwit (who has wheeled vehicle skill) drove the PCs' (wheeled) ATV.

<snip account of the ATV escape>

When it came time to re-enter the dome, the players debated a bit what story they should tell. In the end they decided to go with the story that they were undercover Imperial operatives - with Max Attack as their local contact - who had been sent to uncover the bioweapons operations. Methwit forged some Imperial documents to this effect, and a successful Admin check meant that their story was accepted without the papers being scrutinised too closely. They forfeited their prisoners, the NPCs' ATV, and the NPCs' firearms, except for a laser rifle which Alissa retained for her personal use!

<snip>

The players then decided that they wanted to find a new patron, so they hung out at the Travellers' Aid Society (both Roland and Sir Glaxon are members) and made a roll (with the +1 for Methwit's Carousing-1, they needed 4 or better on 1D). The roll succeeded, and then I let them make the roll on the random patron chart to see what sort of patron they encountered. They rolled a diplomat, and after the initial interaction got a good enough reaction roll to be offered the mission.

The diplomat approached them on the basis that they were agents of the Planetary Rescue Systems Inspectorate, which is an Imperial agency introduced in the old White Dwarf adventure The Sable Rose affair, and which I had determined was part of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service. (My one-and-a-half page write up of the Scouts, which I did after our first session when I thought it might come in handy, incorporates ideas from Andy Slack's old Traveller article on the Scouts, plus some of what is in Book 6 on the Scouts, plus other stuff like the PRSI.) It was left ambiguous whether he really thinks this is the case, or is instead playing along with the cover story the PCs gave to the Byron authorities.

As I explained to the players - but the characters Methwit and Roland already knew this - the PRSI is an inspectorate responsible for inspecting and making recommendations on measures taken by planetary governments in finding and aiding survivors of crash landings, and thus has a more general information-gathering and oversight role in relation to planetary systems monitoring of take-offs and landings, entry and exit of crewmembers, etc. It is also a cover for various covert intelligence squads.

The patron diplomat - who presented himself as a civilian Imperial agent - explained that there were concerns about whether a number of Naval, Marine and Scout personnel had gone missing on Olyx. In respect of some of these personnel, and also some Scout vessels associated with them, there were irregularities in records being maintained by the various bureaucracies (including the Scout's Detached Duty Office). This, as he explained, generated concerns about whether Olyx was properly monitoring the arrival and departure of vessels and personnel to its Scout base, so that - if required - planetary rescue functions might be properly performed. Hence the need for a PRSI team to make an inspection, and the PCs were clearly the team for the job!

The players didn't really indicate what their PCs guesses were as to exactly how much this NPC knew about Lt Li's bioweapons program and scheming in relation to Olyx, but I think they recognised that the description of the mission had a strong euphemistic aspect to it. This was probably confirmed when the NPC inquired whether or not their starship had weaponry fitted, and - when they answered that it didn't - he then arranged for a twin pulse laser turret to be shipped to Byron and fitted to Vincenzo's yacht. The turret, plus the software necessary to operate it (both the Target and the Gunner Interact programs), cost Cr 3.5 million (1.5 m for the hardware, 2 m for the software - computing in the Traveller universe is very expensive and not very efficient) - but we all agree that that, plus a Cr 490,000 payment, bringing the total to MCr 3.99 - was still cheaper than risking an Imperial Scout ship being shot down over Olyx, and hence made some sense within the context of the fiction (while also constituting the throwing of some buffs by the GM to the players!).

<snip>

The 490,000 on top of the money for weaponry was 400,000 to help Vincenzo meet mortgage payments on his ship (a bit more than 200,000 per month, and the escapades so far plus waiting for the arrival and fitting of the turret took the overall period of his ownership to the third month, which he hasn't paid yet); and 10,000 per head for 9 members of the team. The ninth member - in addition to the 8 PCs - was the NPC Zeno Doxa, a computer expert whom the PCs had captured in the outpost, and whom they now helped successfully defend against his initial charges to be released on bail. Computer skill was the one area of expertise that the PCs didn't fill, and they thought that they would need someone with that skill to hack the computer systems should they manage to land on Olyx.

Zeno also passed on an interesting bit of information to Roland, in an effort to ingratiate himself into the group - when studying subjects from Enlil in the cold berth equipment that was part of the bioweapons experiments, he had discovered that their DNA was not fully human. This was exciting to Roland, because his main goal in travelling the universe is to learn about alien artefacts and activities. And Enlil is on the way to Olyx.

The session ended with everyone reconciling their finances after gear purchases and training and upkeep costs, and the party ready to take off for Olyx.

I'm also not entirely clear on your distinction in re: mysteries. I kinda accidentally ended up DMing one, but it was because play evolved that way, so I had to work out what had really happened and why--but I did so after the PCs had already demonstrated they were going to look into it and try to solve it.
I'm not @Campbell either, and as he has already posted in this thread we have some differences in our approaches to RPGing.

But the two extracts I've just posted show how I have run a mystery in the context of a game that is relatively low on setting prep and very low on "plot" prep. The two extracts are of the 1st and 4th sessions of that campaign. In the sixth session the PCs arrived at Olyx and in the seventh session they destroyed the bioweapons installation there; and although Vincenzo's yacht was rendered inoperable in the course of this the PCs were able to capture and take command of the St Christopher by way of a cunning infiltration, and then Vincenzo won it from Leila Lo in a game of chance.

Neither I nor the players know the answers to all the questions raised by the bioweapons conspiracy. I have some off-screen ideas about who else in the Marines was connected to Lt Li, but these have never come to light in play. No one knows where the funding was coming from.

So I don't think that a GM has to work out what really happened and why.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
So I don't think that a GM has to work out what really happened and why.
No, it's probably not absolutely necessary, and there almost certainly are ways to GM it so the results of action-resolutions determine the facts of the case (I'm thinking of something similar to your example of play from Burning Wheel, where the player said he was trying to determine that an item had specific properties, instead of trying to determine what those properties were). I'm really not a big fan of mystery adventures in TRPGs, for a variety of reasons, but this arc kinda fell out of working out the reasons behind an NPC hiring the PCs to accompany him to his hometown, combined with learning from a trustworthy oracle that the NPC is not a murderer; I guess that's a long way of saying I felt I had to, because I find it easier to be consistent that way. Horses for courses, I figure.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
A lot of times, it seems to me that when a player decides to do something other than what’s expected, it’s seen as problematic play. It’s too broadly applied.
I don't get this. I understand what you are saying, but I don't get DMs that do that. I very much look forward to when they do something other than what I expect. It keeps me on my toes and makes the game much more interesting.
 

I don't get this. I understand what you are saying, but I don't get DMs that do that. I very much look forward to when they do something other than what I expect. It keeps me on my toes and makes the game much more interesting.
I think in most cases, it’s because the GM has invested prep in a specific story idea or path and expects some level of buy in from the players.

This can sometimes be as simple as talking to a NPC that the GM was expecting the party to fight, or vice versa. Or it can be more broad where the GM is fine with them dealing with the NPC however they like....but expects them to continue pursuing the evil cult.

I don’t think it’s an inherently bad thing in and of itself, but I think that there are ways to get players invested in the game that make buy in lore natural, and I think there are ways to introduce potential story ideas without expecting the PCs to engage with them in a specific way.

I think the more specific the GM’s prep, the more likely this happens. “The blade itself inspires violence.”
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think in most cases, it’s because the GM has invested prep in a specific story idea or path and expects some level of buy in from the players.
Some level of buy-in from the players isn't that unreasonable a request. One assumes there's already buy-in to the setting, game system, and so forth otherwise those players (most likely) wouldn't be at that table, and it's not a big jump from there to hope for some buy-in to a story idea even if it ends up going somewhere unintended later on.

That said, asking for total buy-in is overkill - unless you're running an agreed-on AP, of course.

I don’t think it’s an inherently bad thing in and of itself, but I think that there are ways to get players invested in the game that make buy in lore natural
Agreed, however IMO most of these would revolve around a) a detailed setting and b) exploration of same, both of which are things some here seem to eschew.

and I think there are ways to introduce potential story ideas without expecting the PCs to engage with them in a specific way.
The hope is that the players will engage with (at least one of) them at all. I think a GM who introduces several potential story ideas (or hooks to different adventures) and sees if anything catches on is in a better spot than a GM who only has one story idea (or adventure sequence) for that campaign.

I think the more specific the GM’s prep, the more likely this happens. “The blade itself inspires violence.”
I disagree. As long as the GM is willing to acknowledge that some of the prep either won't be used or will have to be shelved for some later date, you're good to rock.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I was running a game last week in which half of the party handled a tense diplomatic situation very poorly. Going into the meeting, they knew the ruler was unstable and severely punished any dissent in his land - having heard from various NPCs and seeing it firsthand.
The party got a private audience with the ruler and things were moving friendly enough, when a player (probably bored with the negotiations and playing the "but I have a low Charisma card") decided to trump the party's hand and yell out something to the effect of "you're crazy and don't deserve leadership here." For this affront, the ruler yelled for his guards to come and arrest that character. In response, another party member tried (and failed) to grapple the ruler and put a knife to his throat to take him as a hostage.
The other two characters left the room and proclaimed their innocence. With some good roleplay (and great dice rolls) they were able to convince the ruler and his guards that they had no part of the attack and were allowed to leave.
The two other characters (the would-be assassin and the instigator) were taken to the public stocks to await trial that could end in execution (or at the very least, expulsion from the land).
That night 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.
What's a DM to do? Let it play out how it would in reality (execution) or break verisimilitude and reward murder-hoboism and let them escape with a deus ex machina? Meanwhile the players not involved in the coup attempt are being punished as the spotlight focuses on the two scoundrels - since their characters aren't wanting to be involved with the escape attempts.
I did speak to the players after the game. The instigator apologized for "ruining the campaign." (Even though I tried to tell him that the campaign hadn't been ruined, merely that he has made the characters' situation more difficult and there would be consequences.)
I had something similar come up. The ruler had their tongues removed in such fashion that it would take an extremely expensive and rare restore them.

And the players had to live with their maimed PCs.

The players brought it on themselves. If they don't like the consequences, they can stop running their PCs like children.

To be fair, I make sure that players in my campaigns understand that the people in power actually have power, and can use it freely.
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I had something similar come up. The ruler had their tongues removed in such fashion that it would take an extremely expensive and rare restore them.

And the players had to live with their maimed PCs.

The players brought it on themselves. If they don't like the consequences, they can stop running their PCs like children.

To be fair, I make sure that players in my campaigns understand that the people in power actually have power, and can use it freely.
I am fully against overly punitive consequences like this.
 

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