log in or register to remove this ad

 

Realistic Consequences vs Gameplay

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Why are you talking about the character? I'm talking about whether or not the player has agency in respect of the shared fiction. If you're saying No they don't and that's fine, well OK. But can we at least get the analysis clear?
Because the character is the means through which the player shapes or changes--or whatever verb you care to use--the story. Changing the story some other way doesn't feel to me like agency--it feels like some sort of authorship or narrative authority.

Here's the action declaration: I look in the box for the Crown of Revel. Here's the role of the GM: To narrate what happens if the check fails. And to provide framing more generally.

It's not mysterious.
And it's clear that you and @Lanefan would interpret and resolve this declaration differently. You would interpret it as stating what the PC hopes to find and resolve it that if the check succeeds, they find it. @Lanefan would interpret it as a check to open the box, and the "for the Crown of Revel" is why; if the check succeeds the box is opened, but the Crown of Revel is only there if it would be there. I'd probably interpret it roughly the same way @Lanefan would, though I suspect I'd be more generous about whether they'd find the Crown of Revel--If they're in the right room it's certain; if they're in the right building, it's possible--but I'm less about the granular details than he is. I don't think either of you is wrong, here.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Well, not all aspects of the setting, at least not in all games. Apocalypse World, for instance, encourages the GM to look to the players for setting detail on a regular basis. Not crowns in boxes maybe, but setting details all the same. I do the same in most games, including D&D. It gives me a chance to play off player ideas for stuff.

The crown in the example above is something a little different, a hidden detail might be the right word, and different games lean into prep and hidden detail to very different degrees. D&D leans into it heavily, while Apocalypse World does not. That said, in neither case does a player get to dictate the location of the crown. Some games might support that particular kind of narrative authority for a player, but not the games we've been talking about so far. Sometimes I don't know the exact location of the crown-in-a-box either. I might know that it's at the Dukes summer house, and I might know that it's probably still sealed inside the box that prevents people from divining it's location, but I might not know exactly where. I might use a particularly good search roll, or even a failure of some kind to introduce the box at an appropriately dramatic moment. I usually have a fall back position though. Like, if nothing else happens, the box can be found in the armoire in the Duke's bedroom. That's assuming that the crown is something the party was searching for in the first place, of course. I know some people will cry illusionism here, but it's really not.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I've numbered these for reference.

1 - There are a number of instances in the play examples that at least look like refusing to honor success on the rolls, and if those are the examples in the book I have to presume a GM might think it was OK to not honor success or even worse (and this also shows up in the play examples) punish a character for succeeding.

2 - Many of the GM moves seem based as much around GM whim as around any sort of actual consequential or causal logic, and the idea that you're always supposed to be setting up at least the possibility of a harder move seems to contradict the idea of the GM not-planning, and Playing to Find Out What Happens--at least to contradict that as much as a GM having an idea of what's (probably, based on knowing how these players are playing their characters) going to happen in a given session or story arc.

Lets discuss one example of each of these from Apocalypse World. I have a pretty strong guess as to what is happening here (it likely has to do with discretizing component parts and examining them in isolation rather than integration of the whole), but lets dig into it to be sure.

If you would, cite a page for both 1 and 2 that provoked you toward this takeaway and then share the machinery of the provocation.
I assume you're talking about the example of Marie the brainer. What do you see as "success not being honoured"?

And what do you see as "whim"?
It'll be far easier for me to reply to both these at once, so ... that's what I'm doing. This isn't an attack (or even really a defense) but I notice and find it interesting that you both picked up on the same two things. In a way, I'm glad, because it makes it easier to respond to both of you at once, both logisitically and psychologically. @Manbearcat I honestly do not understand what you mean by "machinery of provocation" in this context, but I'll try to explain my reasoning and if that's not what you're looking for we can figure out what words will convey what you want to me?

Yes, the primary example of not honoring success is, as @pemerton deduced, the play example of Marie the Brainer, from the section "Rules of Play: Moves Snowball" which my pdf shows as being page 152 of the MC's Playbook (from the 1E stuff available for free, the file says it's 1E-1up). What I see as "success not being honored" is that the PC managed a full hit--a 10 on the roll--and didn't even get part of the result they were looking for. There's the description of when the same character sends people out to bring back Joe's Girl and they break her in the bringing back, but there's no action resolution described there, just the GM being a dick. Heck, you could argue it's a principle of the game--Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards; if success isn't always going to succeed, where's the agency?

An example of GM move demonstrating planning? "Announce future badness." (I'm looking at "Your Moves" on page 116 of the same pdf.) If it's going to be bad in the future you're kinda saying there's nothing the PCs can do about it. I'm not saying it's bad, and I'm not saying there's more Force in it than there is in, say, D&D 5E; I'm saying it's the same.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
A couple things :

Apocalypse World does not utilize intent. When you do something that triggers the move it happens. The rules tell us what happens. They do not tell us if you achieved your intent.

Much like go aggro which it is based on direct-brain whisper projection represents a threat to do violence when your character is fully committed to do so. On a 10+ the person you are threatening gets a split second to either give in or force your hand and suck it up (meaning violence happens). In this Marie is saying follow me with an implied or else. They choose the else. That is what success means in this instance.

The reason you announce future badness is so players have an opportunity to do something about it. The MC in Apocalypse World is basically sparring with the players. You make threats and follow through based on the fiction when things do not go their way. You should have a pretty good idea about the sort of consequences that are possible. Now the GM does have the latitude to certain things about the way things go down when you roll a 6-. It's not really a game about micro-fiction. We kind of just hit the highlights.

If you look at the MC moves and assume an MC is just using them as their whims dictate I can see how you could draw the conclusion that it is a game that is highly susceptible to GM Force. Doing that is literally against the rules though. The game provides the GM/MC with tremendous latitude, but only to do certain things. Your agenda, the things you always say, and your principles are meant to be binding. They are like rules.

I do agree that games that resolve player intent (Burning Wheel, Blades in the Dark) rather than tell you what happens (Apocalypse World, D&D spells/combat) have a higher amount of player agency over the shared fiction. I have a fairly strong preference for games that tells you what happens despite this. In a future post I will go into why.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Apocalypse World does not utilize intent. When you do something that triggers the move it happens. The rules tell us what happens. They do not tell us if you achieved your intent.
That's an interesting distinction. I've always figured that what you were trying to accomplish matters, and should have some bearing on adjudication.

Much like go aggro which it is based on direct-brain whisper projection represents a threat to do violence when your character is fully committed to do so. On a 10+ the person you are threatening gets a split second to either give in or force your hand and suck it up (meaning violence happens). In this Marie is saying follow me with an implied or else. They choose the else. That is what success means in this instance.

If you look at the MC moves and assume an MC is just using them as their whims dictate I can see how you could draw the conclusion that it is a game that is highly susceptible to GM Force. Doing that is literally against the rules though. The game provides the GM/MC with tremendous latitude, but only to do certain things. Your agenda, the things you always say, and your principles are meant to be binding. They are like rules.
Fair enough. In the case of Marie the Brainer it still looks like "gotcha" play and the DM being a dick. (The former of which is specifically called out as against the GM's Agenda.) I realize it's an example of play, but there's no real indication of why Isle would choose "the else" in this instance, and it doesn't seem as though Marie's player felt there was any reason to expect it.

Apocalypse World makes a big deal of its agenda and its principles and it says it tightly constrains the GM, but reading it from the outside, more than little skeptically, none of those things seems to be more than a suggestion. The Agenda, for instance, is pretty much the GM's job in any game, any campaign, and many of the Principles aren't bad advice, either. However, the Principles include "Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards" which sounds to me an awful lot like the opposite of allowing the players/characters to have agency. (Maybe because "intermittent" is such a bad word in my previous line of work.) In the breakdown of "Sometimes, disclaim decision-making" there are suggestions for what amount to rationalizing your decisions, which is kinda the opposite of not-deciding.

I know from having had these sorts of discussions about other games that an outsider (defined as someone who doesn't like and/or play the game in question) pointing out that the game doesn't look all that different from other games, looking at the rules, rarely goes over well. It rarely works out well when these sorts of opinions come from someone who's played the game, either. I'm genuinely not trying to convince anyone that their experiences are wrong--if in your experience Apocalypse World never involves GM Force, I absolutely do not doubt you--I'm just attempting to answer the questions of what I saw that looked the way they did.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@prabe

There were several people who remarked that the way Apocalypse World instructed you to run the game was not novel - that they had been doing so all along. In the context of roleplaying game design I think it was fairly novel to see it enumerated in text. The agenda and principles it lays out are almost directly opposed to established wisdom enumerated in games like AD&D Second Edition, Vampire - The Masquerade, Legend of the Five Rings, et al. What little direction Fifth Edition provides does not point to that type of agenda. It is not the agenda of Burning Wheel. It is not the agenda of B/X.

Here's what Apocalypse World has to say about how to read it's text:
Apocalypse World Second Edition said:
That’s you, the MC, Apocalypse World’s GM.

There are a million ways to GM games; Apocalypse World calls for one way in particular. This chapter is it. Follow these as rules. The whole rest of the
game is built upon this.
It's pretty explicit that it is offering instruction rather than advice. Some people will always assume that they know how to play and run roleplaying games and pretty much ignore the text. I am pretty much not interesting in playing any game with that sort of person. Besides if instruction on how to play the game is taken as mere guidelines we might as well give up on game design as it pertains to roleplaying games. In that case we are all pretty much playing one game with different coats of paint. I find that beyond boring.

I think what these enumerated agenda, principles, et al. do is set expectations for play. If I am a player in an Apocalypse World game and I think the GM is not acting being a fan of the player's characters during or after the session it is socially acceptable to bring that up. A year or so ago I was in a Blades in the Dark game that I initially enjoyed, but could tell based on the way the GM was adjudicating consequences that and setting position/effect that they were pulling for certain outcomes mostly to deliver a level of power fantasy for the other players. I was able to have a fruitful discussion about play expectations. Ultimately that GM opted to let everyone know they were basically hacking the game and I stepped out.

That's the other thing. When the machinery of play is transparent it becomes really easy to tell when GM Force is being applied. Because there is no hidden layer of rules that players are not privy too there is nothing to hide behind. Any game that has a meaningful GM role is going to provide them with enough latitude to exert pressure towards certain outcomes if they run a game without discipline. Stripping away that obfuscating layer makes it hard to apply GM Force in an artful (deceptive) manner.

The final thing is that the rules will fight you when you try. The ability of a player in Apocalypse World to get real actionable information about what is going on in the fiction can not be overstated. You have no ability to change target numbers or fudge dice. You are bound by player moves.

So the most common issue I see in Powered by the Apocalypse games are GMs being too soft. A common refrain at our tables is "That was your hard move?"

Note: Not trying to convince you it is the game for you. I expect it is most likely not.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
@Campbell I agree it is almost certainly not a game for me. As with BitD, my first reaction was to figure out how I could get a character killed quickly, which is probably about rejecting one or more premise (setting or something in the mechanics). I know myself well enough not to play the game when I get those kinds of messages from the depths.

I'm less disappointed about AW than about BitD. I really, really wanted--and kinda expected--to like BitD; I had no such expectations of AW, but I was curious. I suspect it's connected to some contrariness at my core: I really want to immerse in the character and engage with the setting and the story, and the harder a TRPG works to make me do those things, the harder I resist.

While I don't disagree that TRPGs have real differences, I also believe they have real similarities. They might have different priorities, but overall I think they have similar goals. I don't think that means the games are boring.

I really don't know where my approach to GMing comes from, other than trying to run games I'd kill to be a player in. That's not super-helpful, because I don't really know how, when, or where I developed my preferences as a player, either, because--as you point out--it's really not the way most of the games I would have played or read as a newer gamer would have played.
 
Last edited:

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It's pretty explicit that it is offering instruction rather than advice. Some people will always assume that they know how to play and run roleplaying games and pretty much ignore the text. I am pretty much not interesting in playing any game with that sort of person. Besides if instruction on how to play the game is taken as mere guidelines we might as well give up on game design as it pertains to roleplaying games. In that case we are all pretty much playing one game with different coats of paint. I find that beyond boring.
All RPG rules are, in the end, only guidelines until and unless a) houserules and b) GM rulings are banned somehow.

That's the other thing. When the machinery of play is transparent it becomes really easy to tell when GM Force is being applied. Because there is no hidden layer of rules that players are not privy too there is nothing to hide behind.
The problem there is that if the machinery is that transparent (which is the wrong term, better would be "out in the open") it's also always in my face - as a player I can't ignore it and hope it goes away.

Any game that has a meaningful GM role is going to provide them with enough latitude to exert pressure towards certain outcomes if they run a game without discipline. Stripping away that obfuscating layer makes it hard to apply GM Force in an artful (deceptive) manner.
Nothing wrong with some artfully-applied GM force here and there in any game.

Sometimes the GM actually does know what she's doing, and uses Force to gently direct things to what is untimately a more interesting and better game. It's when GMs do it badly that things go wrong, and I suspect some people's views are clouded by one too many bad experiences in this regard.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Let me share the last scene from my Blades game this last weekend (I ended up running Blades due to a last minute on-call from one of my players). First, a brief setup -- the PCs were burgling an apartment to steal an engagement ring so they could gain a loyal fence. The fence had sold the ring, then found out it was the ring of a gang's leaders mother, and so was in a bad spot he couldn't get out of. Turns out he sold the ring to the nephew of a rival gang and he had given it to his fiance. The play was to get the fence out of trouble so he'd owe the Crew, and also to stoke up the war between these two rival gangs. So, the launched their burglary with disguises to look like the rival gang, in case they were spotted.

At the end of the caper, two of the PCs were rapidly exiting the apartment via the fire escape because someone was entering the apartment. There were a few of the rival gang around (the nephew was actually in the building checking out the apartment on a lower floor -- I thought maybe because he wanted to live close to the girl's parents, but it never came up, so I don't really know why - hold on lightly and all). The PCs got a partial success on their Prowl to escape detection, and so made it to the alley below before the alarm was raised. One gang member was chasing down the fire escape and another was at the mouth of the alley. The PCs decided to leg it, and declared that they would split up, so no group led check. One PC made a success with complication, and managed to escape with a twisted ankle (harm 1). The other PC... much more exciting.

So, to play. The player has declared that they're legging it. Since the gang members are fairly distant to start, I marked the position as Risky (default) with Standard outcome (again, default). The player rolled Finesse, and bombed it. Like critical failure bombed it. So, I narrated that no matter how hard they tried, they couldn't shake this guy -- he must run every day or something -- and, after a few minutes, the ganger had closed the distance to almost grab range and had pulled his long knife. This was my 'soft' move -- I escalated the danger and placed the PC in a 'do something about this now or else' situation. The player then marked equipment for an alchemist bandolier (the PC is a saboteur), and tried to have their PC throw acid in the ganger's face (the PC is also Not Nice), Pushing for an extra die. I marked the position as Desperate (you're throwing acid in the face of a guy trying to stab you sounds kinda desperate to me) with Great Effect (landing acid in the face is a sure way to stop someone). The player rolled, and failed again. Since I had already made the 'soft' move, I paid it off. The ganger, a trained fencer, deftly ducked the acid and slashed his blade down the PC's extended throwing arm! Harm 2, deep laceration to the right arm. The PC decided to resist, and rolled Insight, say that the ganger telegraphed the slash so the PC was able to pull back at the last minute. They rolled resistance, and got a 6, meaning no cost in Stress to modify this outcome. I downgraded the Harm 2 to Harm 1, shallow gash to right arm, and narrated the PC seeing the move at the last minute, yanking back and causing the acid to fly wide but saving their arm! Regardless, the situation was largely similar, but I reframed that the interaction had opened the distance a bit, so the player decided to have the PC run again.

This time, though, the player changed tactics. Instead of a foot race, which because of established fiction that the ganger was an excellent runner (he'd already run the PC down once), the player declared they were going to lead the chase into a crowded area, like a market. The player suggested Survey, and I marked it as Risky, Standard (again, back to default). [Sidenote: if the PC had tried to outrun the ganger again, I would have set the outcome as limited -- you might open the distance a bit against a good runner (the PC wasn't established as athletic), but not much and not for long.] The player rolled, and nailed it -- full success. So, I narrated that they had burst into the main market for the neighborhood, and the ganger had followed but had to quickly conceal the knife, letting the PC slip a bit further ahead. The player then had a stroke of genius (and some good luck), and declared that their character was now going to do the 'lift new clothes while walking through a market and change outfits to blend in' move, classic in so many spy movies. Again, we set Position as Risky, but I really like this idea and thought it would work really well, so I set Effect as Great. The player rolled Finesse and got another outright success! I narrated that the PC deftly slipped through the market, shedding their rival gang disguise and picking up a few items to replace it, so that, finally, they stood gazing at a table of goods while the chasing ganger walked right past them. The PC then made their way, without further incident, back to the hideout.

At the end of the session, the player of the saboteur (the PC in the above) exclaimed, "I f-----g love this game! I was sweating the whole time, wondering what the hell I was going to do next!" A better compliment could not have been paid to a GM.
 

All RPG rules are, in the end, only guidelines until and unless a) houserules and b) GM rulings are banned somehow.
I suppose this is true in the mos literal sense that yes, ultimately, none of us have to play any game exactly as described in the book. However, I think that all of us would likely agree that certain rules or practices are more concrete than others.

When you look at a game that offers specific principles for both players and GMs, these are meant to be more than suggestions. These are intended to be something considered at all times by the respective party.

The problem there is that if the machinery is that transparent (which is the wrong term, better would be "out in the open") it's also always in my face - as a player I can't ignore it and hope it goes away.
Games have mechanics. These should not send participants running for the hills crying about verisimilitude.

There's a case to be made for withholding some game mechanics at times......maybe exactly how difficult a task may be is unknown to the person attempting it, and so the DC that the GM sets for the task is not announced to the players. I can understand the appeal of that, even if I don't generally follow that practice.

Now....there is also a case for sharing all of the mechanical details of a game because it makes the chances and stakes known. There are no unknown rules that the GM can hide behind, as @Campbell explained.

For me, looking at these two approaches, I see both are perfectly valid. I prefer to share more to keep the game more clear for all involved, even if it's at the cost of some immersion or verisimilitude (such loss is minimal, in my experience, but opinions vary).

Nothing wrong with some artfully-applied GM force here and there in any game.

Sometimes the GM actually does know what she's doing, and uses Force to gently direct things to what is ultimately a more interesting and better game. It's when GMs do it badly that things go wrong, and I suspect some people's views are clouded by one too many bad experiences in this regard.
I wouldn't say that GM Force is never good, or can never be used effectively....so in that we agree. However, I believe the means in which the GM is able to apply force matter. What limits are in place, what principles guide the use, and so on?

To say "a GM may use Force if it leads to a more interesting and better game" is very broad. It's hard to quantify, and also what is "more interesting" and "better" is subjective.

This is why it helps when there are principles in place that limit how a GM can apply Force, and how they can exercise their other authority within the game.
 

At the end of the session, the player of the saboteur (the PC in the above) exclaimed, "I f-----g love this game! I was sweating the whole time, wondering what the hell I was going to do next!" A better compliment could not have been paid to a GM.
This is something that's said a lot by my group of Blades players. They really like the way it flows and how unpredictable it all is. That's awesome to hear.
 

@Ovinomancer

That is a pretty sterling play example of Blades executed well.

It'll be far easier for me to reply to both these at once, so ... that's what I'm doing. This isn't an attack (or even really a defense) but I notice and find it interesting that you both picked up on the same two things. In a way, I'm glad, because it makes it easier to respond to both of you at once, both logistically and psychologically. @Manbearcat I honestly do not understand what you mean by "machinery of provocation" in this context, but I'll try to explain my reasoning and if that's not what you're looking for we can figure out what words will convey what you want to me?

Yes, the primary example of not honoring success is, as @pemerton deduced, the play example of Marie the Brainer, from the section "Rules of Play: Moves Snowball" which my pdf shows as being page 152 of the MC's Playbook (from the 1E stuff available for free, the file says it's 1E-1up). What I see as "success not being honored" is that the PC managed a full hit--a 10 on the roll--and didn't even get part of the result they were looking for. There's the description of when the same character sends people out to bring back Joe's Girl and they break her in the bringing back, but there's no action resolution described there, just the GM being a dick. Heck, you could argue it's a principle of the game--Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards; if success isn't always going to succeed, where's the agency?

An example of GM move demonstrating planning? "Announce future badness." (I'm looking at "Your Moves" on page 116 of the same pdf.) If it's going to be bad in the future you're kinda saying there's nothing the PCs can do about it. I'm not saying it's bad, and I'm not saying there's more Force in it than there is in, say, D&D 5E; I'm saying it's the same.
By "machinery of provocation" I just meant something like "describe what bothers you but in extreme detail." Alright, let me break down the play excerpt from a GMing perspective.

1) He's framing the scene initially and notice how he "asks a provocative question (and uses/builds on the answer)"; "is the situation charged?" The player responds "it is now." This is a principle of PBtA games. The GM frames the scenes, but you need to either be (a) soliciting players for input and using it (especially against them when you need to make a move) and/or (b) disclaiming decision-making to the dice with a lot of regularity.

2) The misdirect-principle guided move "Put Someone in a Spot" or "Tell The the Possible Consequences and Ask" as a result of the 7-9 result on "read a sitch" is straight-forward. Its the same thing I've talked about in terms of running 4e Skill Challenges and Blades' Scores and Torchbearer Twists. You need to Change the Situation (with either new obstacles or an escalation to an existing situation) when action resolution occurs, but the way the situation changes won't alway stem causally from the actual action taken within the fiction. This actually hooks directly into my invocation of the Captain of the Guard earlier if the PC rolled a successful Intimidate check in the lead post's conflict. Its a classic misdirect! In the AW example, the Player Character Read(ing) a Sitch (and getting a 7-9 result required a complication) didn't actually make Isle's brother (a) a young boy and (b) non-violent. Neither did the PC (through a successful Intimidate) make the Captain of the Guard a sympathetic ear in the parley with the Burgomeister. In both cases, that is the fiction (that hasn't been pre-established) emerging organically as a result of proper GMing meeting the outcome of the resolution mechanics! In the AW case:

a) The GM has to make a soft move to complicate things because of the 7-9 result.

b) Obviously, Mills (the brother) becomes a complication to this because he's both a child and at least non-violent (if not delicate). Serious violence will endanger the kid and we'll learn something about the character if she goes with that approach and her life is now complicated if she doesn't want to hurt a child.

c) The misdirect (again, as above) principle just means that the situation is changing adversely, but not as a direct causal byproduct (in the fiction of Apocalypse World) of Read(ing) a Sitch. Its a byproduct of principled GMing (according to AW). Yes, its meta. Damn good meta. That's the point.

3) I think you're not understanding the mechanical implications of the Brainer Move; Direct-brain whisper projection. The GM has a choice to make; (i) go with it (in this case the "Charm" effect) or (ii) force your hand and take Harm. There will be cases when the better call is (i) and cases when the better call is (ii). Whichever one is better will depend upon the established fiction (Isles may very well be an established hard-ass and an important figure - I mean the PC is after her afterall), making the characters lives not boring, and the game's principles.

He asks "loud or not" (as he must after he chooses option ii). PC says no. Alright, the NPC has taken harm by resisting a Brainer who has directly interfaced with the NPC's brain! Something has to happen as an output. The "loud" keyword here basically means the situation escalates NOW and the other two NPCs are aware of the problem. However, the GM has to make a soft move to reframe the conflict but they can't do it in way that would dishonor the success and the PC's decision on "not loud" which means that the situation can't immediately escalate. So, deftly, he makes a soft move (as you have to do constantly when you're framing and reframing conflict in the game); "Activate their stuff's downsides" and/or "Tell Them the Possible Consequences and Ask." In this case, she's in a bit of a stupor with blood coming out of her ears. The other two NPCs won't immediately notice (she's just in a a pondering stupor), react, and escalate the situation, but the PC is now face with a decision-point on how to proceed because that escalation is coming if she doesn't.

With a diminished Isle (Harm 1), but a complicated situation, she decides to exit stage left and regroup with her Gang.




That is enough for now.

What about that either bothers you and/or doesn't make sense in your reading of AW?

EDIT FOR CLARITY
 
Last edited:

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@Lanefan

My stance is that roleplaying games just are not fundamentally special. I treat the rules in a roleplaying game exactly the same as a board game. We can all agree to change the rules, but unless that agreement is made the expectation is that we are playing the game by those rules including how it defines the GM and player roles. Some games provide a certain degree of latitude to the GM, but constrain how they are intended to use that latitude. Other games provide less latitude. Some provide a great deal of unconstrained latitude. Regardless I believe in following the direction the game provides you.

The entire point of game design is to get us to do things we would otherwise not do - to allow us to have experiences we would otherwise not get to have. If we are not constrained by the game we are not really playing a game. You are certainly not refereeing a game if you are not following the instruction it provides for how to referee it.

Generally if I am sitting down to play a roleplaying game where story is an important component (i.e. not a dungeon crawling game focused on skilled play) I am looking for an environment where everyone (including the GM) experiences the story together. I am looking for creative collaborators - not someone who will place their vision of how things should go above what we are all doing together. I do not care how artfully it is done. It ruins the alchemy for me. What's happening at the table (or recently across Discord) is like so much more important to me than the final result. Those creative relationships are worth nurturing.

For me meaningful tension is a huge part of why I play roleplaying games. For me that tension does not feel real if I even suspect a man behind the curtain. I just cannot really put my energy into a character if we are not all playing to find out what happens. I can enjoy it, but I just cannot expend meaningful emotional energy on the game. I will not put myself out there if relationships are not equitable.

That's pretty much true of the Fifth Edition game I am a player in. I take my story cues, casually enjoy it, try not to push too hard either mechanically or in the fiction, and enjoy the company of my friends. I do not really have a meaningful creative connection to my character, other player's characters or the setting. The GM is skilled at that style of play. I just am not able to invest myself into the situation.
 
Last edited:

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Games have mechanics. These should not send participants running for the hills crying about verisimilitude.

There's a case to be made for withholding some game mechanics at times......maybe exactly how difficult a task may be is unknown to the person attempting it, and so the DC that the GM sets for the task is not announced to the players. I can understand the appeal of that, even if I don't generally follow that practice.

Now....there is also a case for sharing all of the mechanical details of a game because it makes the chances and stakes known. There are no unknown rules that the GM can hide behind, as @Campbell explained.
Problem there is that the players instantly acquire metagame knowledge which the PCs in the fiction do not have; and this meta-knowledge is inevitably going to affect what those players have their PCs do (or try to do).

I wouldn't say that GM Force is never good, or can never be used effectively....so in that we agree. However, I believe the means in which the GM is able to apply force matter. What limits are in place, what principles guide the use, and so on?

To say "a GM may use Force if it leads to a more interesting and better game" is very broad. It's hard to quantify, and also what is "more interesting" and "better" is subjective.
Yeah, it's a know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing from both sides of the screen but I think there's relatively broad agreement on what makes a session better or worse, mostly revolving around level of player engagement.

Ovinomancer's BitD session, for example, sounds like it was a blast without any force needed at all.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Thanks for the detailed reply. I trust you didn't take it as even an implied attack. I'm well aware there's something in my brain that reacts badly to this type of game, and I think I may be getting to understanding what it is. Dunno if I'm looking to change it, exactly; understanding it might be good enough.

By "machinery of provocation" I just meant something like "describe what bothers you but in extreme detail." Alright, let me break down the play excerpt from a GMing perspective.
Seems as though my understanding was pretty close, but I may not have given you enough detail before, at least based on the relative amounts of text. ;-) I'll try to do better.

1) He's framing the scene initially and notice how he "asks a provocative question (and uses/builds on the answer)"; "is the situation charged?" The player responds "it is now." This is a principle of PBtA games. The GM frames the scenes, but you need to either be (a) soliciting players for input and using it (especially against them when you need to make a move) and/or (b) disclaiming decision-making to the dice with a lot of regularity.
Yeah. I'm with you so far. It's pretty straightforward.

2) The misdirect-principle guided move "Put Someone in a Spot" or "Tell The the Possible Consequences and Ask" as a result of the 7-9 result on "read a sitch" is straight-forward. Its the same thing I've talked about in terms of running 4e Skill Challenges and Blades' Scores and Torchbearer Twists. You need to Change the Situation (with either new obstacles or an escalation to an existing situation) when action resolution occurs, but the way the situation changes won't alway stem causally from the actual action taken within the fiction. This actually hooks directly into my invocation of the Captain of the Guard earlier if the PC rolled a successful Intimidate check in the lead post's conflict. Its a classic misdirect! In the AW example, the Player Character Read(ing) a Sitch (and getting a 7-9 result required a complication) didn't actually make Isle's brother (a) a young boy and (b) non-violent. Neither did the PC (through a successful Intimidate) make the Captain of the Guard a sympathetic ear in the parley with the Burgomeister. In both cases, that is the fiction (that hasn't been pre-established) emerging organically as a result of proper GMing meeting the outcome of the resolution mechanics! In the AW case:
And here's where I come to understand (or at least where I come to be able to put into words) my problem with/thinking of games written from or for this POV. There is (or at least can be) a severance of cause and effect, action and result, that feels to me more like a weakening of agency than a strengthening of it. In the case of Isle's brother, that's just filling in details as needed, nothing special.

a) The GM has to make a soft move to complicate things because of the 7-9 result.

b) Obviously, Mills (the brother) becomes a complication to this because he's both a child and at least non-violent (if not delicate). Serious violence will endanger the kid and we'll learn something about the character if she goes with that approach and her life is now complicated if she doesn't want to hurt a child.

c) The misdirect (again, as above) principle just means that the situation is changing adversely, but not as a direct causal byproduct (in the fiction of Apocalypse World) of Read(ing) a Sitch. Its a byproduct of principled GMing (according to AW). Yes, its meta. Damn good meta. That's the point.
Yes, it's meta, and yes, it's the point; I'm not convinced it's actually good meta, though. By misdirecting so thoroughly and so often, by breaking the lines of cause and effect, action and result, you lessen the ability of the character to actually control or choose how they affect the story, which reduces their agency. If attempting A to cause B results in theta, how is a character to understand the world and maybe change it?

3) I think you're not understanding the mechanical implications of the Brainer Move; Direct-brain whisper projection. The GM has a choice to make; (i) go with it (in this case the "Charm" effect) or (ii) force your hand and take Harm. There will be cases when the better call is (i) and cases when the better call is (ii). Whichever one is better will depend upon the established fiction (Isles may very well be an established hard-ass and an important figure - I mean the PC is after her afterall), making the characters lives not boring, and the game's principles.
Indeed. I was figuring it was an ability that was actually useful, and that it worked the way the player in the example expected it to. Apparently I was wrong pretty much all around. Maybe there's a reason in the fiction for Isle to take the harm--that's half of enough to kill her--rather than following, but Marie's player seems kinda blindsided by it so I'm not sure it's established; and if it's not established it kinda looks like the GM being a dick.

Also, this:
The GM has a choice to make; (i) go with it (in this case the "Charm" effect) or (ii) force your hand and take Harm. There will be cases when the better call is (i) and cases when the better call is (ii). Whichever one is better will depend upon the established fiction (Isles may very well be an established hard-ass and an important figure - I mean the PC is after her afterall), making the characters lives not boring, and the game's principles.
is basically the GM making a decision because he thinks it'll make for a better moment, which isn't all that radically different from making a decision because it'll make a better story--the time scale is the only difference I see.

What about that either bothers you and/or doesn't make sense in your reading of AW?
Actually, it all makes sense, per my reading of AW, and I think that's connected to what bothers me. AW doesn't seem to be a game about stories so much as it is about moments, and it's always looking for the better moment. It's playing in the now (is that from the rules or this discussion?) which makes for lots of fun around the table but doesn't seem as though it's doing more than scratching the various surfaces around it. I think severing cause/effect and action/result works well for making moments, and poorly for making actual coherent narratives happening in actual coherent worlds featuring actual coherent characters.

I think the difference in focus--moments over stories--is at the root of my distaste for AW and BitD. I have nothing against great moments, but I think they're made better if they're actually rooted in the fiction, if they have context, if there's more of a direct connection between cause and effect or action and result. Neither stories nor moments need to be driven by GM Force, but neither is automatically free of it either (and as is often made clear, GM Force isn't automatically Bad GMing--that depends on more than just the GM).
 
Last edited:

pemerton

Legend
The GM sets the scene - which includes the box and its contents (if any) - ahead of time.
Says whom?

Are you able to understand that there are different ways of playing RPGs? I don't understand why you present your own approach as having universal normative force.

Think of the box and its contents (if any) as analagous to a stage prop, with the only difference being that the scene-setter has no way of knowing in advance how or even if this prop will be interacted with by the actors (players, through their PCs).

<snip>

The role of the GM is to narrate what happens in terms of what the PCs perceive. If the box can easily be opened the GM narrates what's inside based on what she already knows is (or isn't) there. If the box can't easily be opened there's a check to see if the PC can open it; on success (or on the box being broken, possibly) the GM narrates what's inside, and on failure the GM narrates that the box remains closed (or, perhaps, has been broken).
Who has agency over the fiction in a play? Not the actors. In the case of a prop. either the director, the producer or the playwright, depending on the detais of the production.

So can you not see that, if a RPG is approached the way that you describe, the players are not exercising agency in respect of the content of the fiction?

Whether or not one has a certain preference, isn't the analysis crystal clear?

stuff has to be done at the table in order for this to happen, but that stuff IMO should revolve around getting the player's imagination of the setting and scene and the character's perception of it into as close to complete agreement as possible.
But aren't you simply saying here that you prefer a game in which the players do not have agency in respect of certain aspects of the shared fiction? Such as the contents of boxes that their PCs open.

As you say, it's not mysterious. The GM controls all aspects of the setting, including the props - and their locations
Are you really saying that you are unable to comprehend that there are other approaches?

This is a bit like having a conversation about which side of a car the steering wheel is on, and which sort of turn yields an obligtion to give way, and having someone respond to an Australian that, yes, I understand, the steering wheel is on the left and one yields when turning lefft. As if they are literally unable to comprehend that there are parts of the world that have different having different traffic conventions than those that prevail in North America.

Here, again, is your post to which I replied:

Lanefan said:
What the box contains is not part of any action resolution. Instead, it falls under GM narration. Which means declaring "I (try to) open the box in hopes the Crown of Revel is inside" still only has the same three outcomes: open box, closed box, or broken box. That the player mentions the Crown of Revel doesn't change whether the Crown is inside or not...unless you want to take control over the setting away from the GM, in which case why bother having a GM other than as meeting facilitator and (usually IMO) host.
Are literally unable to comperehend that there are approaches to RPGing in which the action resolutoin I look in the box fro the Crown of Revel is determined by a check, with success meaning that the PC finds the Crown in the box when s/he looks, and failure meaning that the GM narrates something different from that which is in some fashion adverse to the PC?

And it's clear that you and @Lanefan would interpret and resolve this declaration differently.

<snip>

I'd probably interpret it roughly the same way @Lanefan would
I'm not confused about how Lanefan approaches RPGing. I'm puzzle that he seems unable even to comprehend that others do it differently. And that those differences reflect - in part - different distributions of agency over the content of the shared fiction.

Because the character is the means through which the player shapes or changes--or whatever verb you care to use--the story. Changing the story some other way doesn't feel to me like agency--it feels like some sort of authorship or narrative authority.
Given that, in this context, agency over the shared fiction and authority in respect of the shared fiction or authorship of the shared fiction are all synonyms, I don't understand your contrast.

That the latter two are synonyms (in this context) is evident in the fact that author and authority are cognate words. As far as the first is concerned - if the players can't, via the procedures of game play, bring it about that the shared fiction is or contains (say) X rather than (say) Y, they manifestly are not exercising agency in respect of it.

When @chaochou (who introduced this discussion of agency some way upthread) and I (who have always been crystal clear that I am followin chaochou's usage) talk about agency over the fiction, we are not talking about the power to oblige the GM to reveal what s/he has already written. We are talking about the power to have the content of the fiction follow one's desires in respect of it.

The contrast emerges pretty clearly in the OP's situation. The player, in that situation, clearly had the power to trigger the GM to reveal the GM's prior conception of the burgomaster - this is in fact exactly what happened when the insult by the PC led the GM to narrate the burgomaster's response. But pretty clearly the player was not exercising agency over the content of the shared fiction: it seems pretty clear that the player wanted the shared fiction to contain a burgomaster who was cowed or chastised or rebuked, or in some other, roughtly similar way put back into his box by the PC's harsh remark. But the player had no chance to bring this about. Which is to say, the player was not exercising agency over the shard fiction.

As I have said to Lanefan, one may or may nor prefer a game in which players exercise this sort of agency. But I am not talking here about preferences. I am simply analysing the way that game play unfolds. @Campbell has, upthread, set out an account of one approach to play in which one does not want players to exercise agency over the content of a box - namely, OSR-ish/"skilled play" RPGing in which part of the point of play is to figure out what the GM has decided is in the box, or - if one wants to find the Crown of Revel - where the GM has written, ahead of time, that it is hidden.

Likewise there may be approaches to play in which part of the point of play is to figure out whether or not the GM has decided, ahead of time, that the burogmaster will call the guards in response to any insult. I'm not sure if anyone in this thread has clearly articulated what such an approach would be - the obvious one that comes to my mind is an approach to play in which the players' goal is to experience the gameworld and the various components of that fiction as the GM conceives of them.

But one can't talk coherently about these various approaches to play without actually first noting what jobs, and what sorts of agency, they give to various participants.

For instance, suppose one wanted to write an instruction manual for RPGing that woiuld help produce situations like that described in the OP. That manual would have to tell the GM something like you decide how the burgomaster reacts to insults, and you narrate consequences by following the implications of that decision. If the manual said when PCs interact with the burgomaster, they get to have an influenced over how the story unfolds it would be unhelpful at best, and misleading at worst.
 
Last edited:

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
@pemerton

For more character focused games I am a pretty big fan of what John Harper calls the line in Apocalypse World. Basically when called upon either by the GM or the rules players get to have a say about things their characters may have experienced. They do not get to have a say over things their character would have no way of knowing.

What's in the box is over the line.
Why do you hate Plover is under the line.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I'm not confused about how Lanefan approaches RPGing. I'm puzzle that he seems unable even to comprehend that others do it differently. And that those differences reflect - in part - different distributions of agency over the content of the shared fiction.
I didn't mean any offense; there have been instances upthread where clarification from outside has seemed helpful, and I was endeavoring to help. You are free to be puzzled by @Lanefan and I will not try to explain y'all to each other further, but I hope you understand that I do comprehend that others play differently, and I think I even understand some of why (beyond mere matters of taste), and I am genuinely happy that others play differently than I do.

Given that, in this context, agency over the shared fiction and authority in respect of the shared fiction or authorship of the shared fiction are all synonyms, I don't understand your contrast.
Did you note that I said that changing the story directly doesn't feel like agency? That's because agency is over the character's actions and thoughts and responses and emotions. Authorship or narrative authority is about writing or re-writing the fiction more directly. Your character opening the box because you (and the character) expect to find the Crown of Revel inside is agency; your character opening the box and finding the Crown of Revel inside because you the player made a relevant check is re/writing the fiction to place the Crown of Revel inside the box--that's authorship/narrative authority. Please note: I'm not saying either way is wrong or bad. I have a preference, yes, but I'm not attempting to imply any judgment here.

Now, the character might--should, really--shape the story or world through their actions, and their actions should be the result of their responses to previous events. That's still not the same thing as authorship/narrative authority, though, because it's the character's actions and decisions that are changing the world in the fiction.

Yes, I have a preference for authorship/narrative authority to lie mostly in my head as the GM, but that's because I find it easier to keep the facts/stories/world straight if I made all (or at least most) of it. I find that as a GM the world gets murky and less coherent (for me, in my head) as more people author it. I'm probably most comfortable as a player with a similar distribution of narrative authority, probably for mostly-similar reasons (plus a belief that the players have mostly-complete authority over their characters) but I'm willing to step out of my comfort zone as a player if the situation is right for it.

The contrast emerges pretty clearly in the OP's situation. The player, in that situation, clearly had the power to trigger the GM to reveal the GM's prior conception of the burgomaster - this is in fact exactly what happened when the insult by the PC led the GM to narrate the burgomaster's response. But pretty clearly the player was not exercising agency over the content of the shared fiction: it seems pretty clear that the player wanted the shared fiction to contain a burgomaster who was cowed or chastised or rebuked, or in some other, roughtly similar way put back into his box by the PC's harsh remark. But the player had no chance to bring this about. Which is to say, the player was not exercising agency over the shard fiction.
I believe many of us were interpreting that outburst differently than that, and the state of the fiction sure did change after that remark, so there seems to at least be a case for agency. "Agency" doesn't mean always getting what you want. I believe it has to contain the possibility of making mistakes--such as perhaps insulting an overly-sensitive BurgerMaster. It's clear to me that you disagree with some or all of that, and I really don't care to re-argue it.

Likewise there may be approaches to play in which part of the point of play is to figure out whether or not the GM has decided, ahead of time, that the burogmaster will call the guards in response to any insult. I'm not sure if anyone in this thread has clearly articulated what such an approach would be - the obvious one that comes to my mind is an approach to play in which the players' goal is to experience the gameworld and the various components of that fiction as the GM conceives of them.
If we take the OP at his word that there was ample information made available to the characters/players about the BurgerMaster's hypersensitivity and general instability, and if one is open to the idea that "agency" includes the ability to make mistakes, then I don't see the incoherence here that you seem to. OTOH, I do think you've managed to describe Adventure Path style gaming pretty well: It's not a style of gaming that seems interested in character agency.
 

Problem there is that the players instantly acquire metagame knowledge which the PCs in the fiction do not have; and this meta-knowledge is inevitably going to affect what those players have their PCs do (or try to do).
Well, they may acquire some metagame knowledge....it depends on the circumstances. Whether that's a problem or not depends on the participants. You would likely consider it a problem. I would most likely not.

For me, the benefit of rules transparency on play far outweighs any drawback of players having some metagame knowledge.

Yeah, it's a know-it-when-you-see-it kind of thing from both sides of the screen but I think there's relatively broad agreement on what makes a session better or worse, mostly revolving around level of player engagement.

Ovinomancer's BitD session, for example, sounds like it was a blast without any force needed at all.
Having engaged players may be the only aspect of a game that I might agree is broadly agreed upon. How they are engaged and what they are doing and all the other elements that make a game better or worse.....well, this thread alone gives a strong sense to me that there's a lot of variety in that regard.

I agree that @Ovinomancer 's game sounds like it was a lot of fun, and it seems the participants thought so, too. And yet, Blades is a game where the mechanics are almost always known to the players. Any time the player declares an action for their PC, the GM will provide them with their Position (how risky the action is given the circumstances) and the Effect (the strength/scope/size of the outcome of the action). So before dice are rolled, a player knows how risky the action is and what will happen if successful, and based on their PC stats, they know their chances of success. None of this is ever hidden from the player, and once it's stated out loud, the player can then decide to proceed and make their roll, or they can pursue another action.

No Force is possible in this regard, precisely because of the way the game works.

Now, could a GM try to force a particular outcome through their role of determining the consequences on a failure or a partial success? Yes, that is possible to some extent. I think @Campbell offered an example that he found dissatisfying, but it seems that GM was adjudicating things more in favor of the PCs. If a GM tried to force things in some negative way for the PCs, I think it would be obvious. Also, the players have the ability through PC resource to override the GM's ruling on a consequence......so they could literally overturn that decision. In such an instance, the main issue would be the potentially unnecessary use of Stress to resist the consequence.

I think GM Force mostly comes up in Blades as part of the initial set up and in certain parts of the game where the GM may craft situations for the PCs to address (whether as a Score or as an Entanglement). However, these instances where the GM is introducing content of his own choosing, there are still some strong principles that are meant to be followed.
 

pemerton

Legend
Yes, the primary example of not honoring success is, as @pemerton deduced, the play example of Marie the Brainer, from the section "Rules of Play: Moves Snowball" which my pdf shows as being page 152 of the MC's Playbook (from the 1E stuff available for free, the file says it's 1E-1up). What I see as "success not being honored" is that the PC managed a full hit--a 10 on the roll--and didn't even get part of the result they were looking for.
I'm really just echoing @Campbell here, but I don't get this.

Here's the 10+ result foe go aggro: they have to choose: force your hand and suck it up, or cave and do what you want.

The 10+ result doesn't guarantee that the player's desire is realised. It only lets the player put the other participant (GM if the move is made against a NPC; player if the move is made against another PC) to a choice.

If the player's desire is not to influence the other character but rather to remove the other character as an obstacle to his/her PC's actions then the choice made by the other participant may not matter (eg in the example of play Isle is out of the action bleeding through her ears). If the player's desire is to have the other character do something s/he wants the game simply doesn't give the player that degree of agency via the go aggro move. The player would have to seduce/manipulate instead, which has the following 10+ result when used vs NPCs: they ask you to promise something first, and do it if you promise. . . whether you keep the promise is up to you, later.

It's possible for the player of a brainer to gain the psychic ability to seduce someone, but this doesn't remove the need to make the promise in order to get the response: Unnatural lust transfixion: when you try to seduce someone, roll+weird instead of roll+hot.

But Marie's player chose the following power for his/her brainer:

Direct-brain whisper projection: you can roll+weird to get the effects of going aggro, without going aggro. Your victim has to be able to see you, but you don’t have to interact. If your victim forces your hand, your mind counts as a weapon (1-harm ap close loud-optional).​

Notice how it even spells out that the other participant can force your hand?

When it is the MC who is the other participant who gets to make the decision, then as @Campbell has said s/he is obliged to follow the relevant principles and to stick to his/her agenda. That is to say, the MC's agency is constrained. But the game rules make it clear that, at this point, it is the MC who has agency in respect of the shared fiction. All the player can do is put the other participant to the choice. The game even spells this out (p 109):

The players’ job is to say what their characters say and undertake to do, first and exclusively; to say what their characters think, feel and remember, also exclusively; and to answer your questions about their characters’ lives and surroundings. Your job as MC is to say everything else: everything about the world, and what everyone in the whole damned world says and does except the players’ characters.​

This is a very clear description of who has what sort of agency in respect of the shared fiction.

There's the description of when the same character sends people out to bring back Joe's Girl and they break her in the bringing back, but there's no action resolution described there, just the GM being a dick. Heck, you could argue it's a principle of the game--Respond with fuckery and intermittent rewards; if success isn't always going to succeed, where's the agency?
Here's the full text from p 113:

Marie makes it super clear to Roark that she doesn’t care who he kills, but he’s to bring Joe’s Girl (an NPC) back to her alive. For “questioning” or “examination” or something — Marie wants access to Joe’s Girl’s living brain. So Roark goes out, murders a batch of people, and comes back with Joe’s Girl alive. Here’s where I f*** around, though: he’s beaten the **** out of her.
Marie has access to her brain (because always give the characters what they work for) but she’s in a coma, her back is broken, her face is smashed in. Joe’s Girl is alive for now, but ruined for good. I gave Marie what she worked for, but not really what she hoped for. See it? Throw curves. Put your bloody fingerprints all over everything you touch.​

That's an example that illustrates how the game distributes agency. Marie's player is able to establish a fiction in which Roark brings back Joe's Girl, brain intact. The MC is able to establish that all that's left of Joe's Girl is her brain.

The game has ways to allow Marie's player to produce different outcomes for Joe's Girl - we don't know what action resolution occurred to produce that particular hypothetical episode of play, but obviously both Going Aggro and Seducing/Manipulate create ways for Roark to agree to bring Joe's Girl back alive and unharmed. But the game still tells the MC to put his/her "bloody fingerprints" on whatever happens then - eg maybe when Roark comes back with Joe's Girl the whole of the rival steading's gang is right behind him.

The underlying idea is that the GM is always entitled and indeed oblifged to introduce adversity into the situation. That's what makes the game progress. In the case of Joe's Girl beaten to a pulp - if Marie wants her back and healthy s/he needs to find an angel, or an angel-kit, or a savvyhead with the right sort of workspace, or whatever.

An example of GM move demonstrating planning? "Announce future badness." (I'm looking at "Your Moves" on page 116 of the same pdf.) If it's going to be bad in the future you're kinda saying there's nothing the PCs can do about it.
No. The whole point of announcing future badness (in Dungeon World this is called revealing an unwelcome truth) is to enable the players, via their PCs, to do something about it.

Consider, for instance, the example I just posted: Roark turns up with Joe's Girl alive and unharmed, but the rival hardhold's gang is right behind him. That's annoucning future badness. And the game progresses in virtue of the players responding. In my particular example, there are all sorts of things they might do - from all piling into the Driver's tank and fleeing the scene, to mustering their own gang to go out and fight, to trying to persuade the rival gang leader to back off, to . . . etc etc etc.

I'm not saying there's more Force in it than there is in, say, D&D 5E; I'm saying it's the same.
I see very few accounts of 5e D&D play taking place as transparently as AW. To go back to the OP situation, I also don't see that 5e D&D has anything like go aggro or seduce/manipulate that allows a player to put those sorts of constraints on a GM's narration of what a NPC does. I really find the whole comparison a bit odd.

There were several people who remarked that the way Apocalypse World instructed you to run the game was not novel - that they had been doing so all along. In the context of roleplaying game design I think it was fairly novel to see it enumerated in text. The agenda and principles it lays out are almost directly opposed to established wisdom enumerated in games like AD&D Second Edition, Vampire - The Masquerade, Legend of the Five Rings, et al. What little direction Fifth Edition provides does not point to that type of agenda. It is not the agenda of Burning Wheel. It is not the agenda of B/X.
Right.

I can't think of many RPGs text that are contemporaneous with or earlier than AW that are as crystal clear on how-to-play. Moldvay Basic comes close but is not as clear: you have to also read Gygax's AD&D to get the full picture of the "skilled play" idea. But Gygax's AD&D doesn't have the same level as procedural advice for the GM as Moldvay Basic does.

Burning Wheel Revised/Gold is very clear, but to get as clear as AW you have to supplement it with the Adventure Burner/Codex.

Maelstrom Stoyrtelling is pretty clear - close to being as clear as AW - but I think few posters on this board know it. Prince Valiant is clearer than the 5e D&D PDF but not as clear as AW (Ron Edwards notes this about Prince Valiant in his "story now" essay).

As far as the play experience and agency are concerned, what is striking about AW - to me, at least - is how it reconciles a very traditional allocation of agency to the participants with a player-driven game. One important way it does this is precisely via moves like go aggro or read a situation which force the GM to make decisions, here-and-now, about elements of the fiction, like whether or not the NPC yields to the PCs' threats or what the best escape route is. The player can lock the GM in, and then act on that subsequent fiction.

Of classic games, I think Classic Traveller comes closest to this sort of structure, though it's rules text is much less clear about it and you have to do some extrapolating (from such varied bits of text as the rules for vacc suit skill, the rules for ship's boat skill which set out an evasion sub-system, the rules for law-level, admin skill and bribery skill which tell you how to get out of a spot with police and other officials, etc). It's utterly absent from classic D&D - which is about skilled play against the background of the GM's prior prep, not about locking the GM in in the moment of play - and it's utterly absent from AD&D 2nd ed and most late-80s/90s games, which don't contemplate at all that the GM might be locked in by the players.

By misdirecting so thoroughly and so often, by breaking the lines of cause and effect, action and result, you lessen the ability of the character to actually control or choose how they affect the story, which reduces their agency. If attempting A to cause B results in theta, how is a character to understand the world and maybe change it?
Why are we talking about the character here?

Causation in AW (the fictional place) is no different from causation in the real world, with the provisos that (i) there is a psychic maelstrom that can affect things in the "real" world, and (ii) the people of the world are rather cynical and harsh.

Characters change that world by acting on it.

But when we're talking about RPGing, and agency, we are talking about players in the (really) real world - sitting at a table or talking to one another over Zoom or whatever. How do players in AW change the fiction? By declaring moves for their PCs and rolling high. Sometimes high rolls allow them to say what happens next - see eg a good roll on Seduce/Manipulate where the other participant is the MC controlling a NPC. Sometimes high rolls allow them to force another participant to make a binding choice - see eg Go Aggro, or Seduce Manipulate where the other participant is a player controlling a PC, or Read a Situation.

The obvious difference from 5e D&D, and again pointing back to the OP, is that the D&D player has no way to make the GM make a binding choice, and reveal it and stick to it. The player can't oblige the GM to reveal truths about the burgomaster's feelings and intentions (ie there's no analogue to Read a Person). The player can't oblige the GM to make a choce for the burgomaster of either relenting in the fact of the PC's desire or sucking up harm (ie there's no analogue to Go Aggro). In the OP's example the player clearly didn't know what the burgomaster was thinking or feeling and had no way beyond GM discretion of learning that; and the OP clearly was not able to force the GM to a choice in respect of the burgomaster's conduct - the burgomaster got to call the guards without suffering any harm from the attempt to threaten his life.

Completely different procedures of play.
 
Last edited:

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top