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D&D 5E Respect Mah Authoritah: Thoughts on DM and Player Authority in 5e

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I pay attention to pacing a lot, but pacing definitely is a part of presentation.
I absolutely pay attention to pacing when I run 5e. I don't care about pacing at all when I run Blades in the Dark.

I absolutely think it's my job as GM to manage pacing in 5e. I don't care about pacing at all when I run Blades in the Dark.

I absolutely use Force and Illusionism to manage pacing in 5e. I don't care about pacing at all when I run Blades in the Dark.

Pacing is function of the kind of game you're running. It is not universal. Other games operate in ways that pacing is just not a concern. So, yes, if you're just used to running D&D, then you're very used to paying attention to pacing. Even here, though, there's differences of opinion about if it's a thing. If I'm not mistaken, @Lanefan doesn't care about pacing either -- this is a feature, not a bug, of his approach to play.
 

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To whom is the thing being paced, being presented? I think the point is that if something is being presented to you, you are not an active participant. In the same way, if someone entertains you, you aren't the one doing it (grammatically, you're the object not the subject).
Only way for GM to not present anything to the players is to be silent. I don’t think that’s gonna work. So as functioning of the game requires GM to present things, I find it bizarre that it is somehow controversial that they should aim to do it well!
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Only way for GM to not present anything to the players is to be silent. I don’t think that’s gonna work. So as functioning of the game requires GM to present things, I find it bizarre that it is somehow controversial that they should aim to do it well!
This is weird pea-swap. Pacing means the GM presents things to the players? That's a non-standard definition.
 

I absolutely pay attention to pacing when I run 5e. I don't care about pacing at all when I run Blades in the Dark.

I absolutely think it's my job as GM to manage pacing in 5e. I don't care about pacing at all when I run Blades in the Dark.

I absolutely use Force and Illusionism to manage pacing in 5e. I don't care about pacing at all when I run Blades in the Dark.

Pacing is function of the kind of game you're running. It is not universal. Other games operate in ways that pacing is just not a concern. So, yes, if you're just used to running D&D, then you're very used to paying attention to pacing. Even here, though, there's differences of opinion about if it's a thing. If I'm not mistaken, @Lanefan doesn't care about pacing either -- this is a feature, not a bug, of his approach to play.
Scroll to top of the page. What does it say? Is this general or D&D section? Please understand and respect the context. Stop trying to sell the steaks to the vegans who are discussing how to best utilise the lima beans! It is not relevant and makes it seem that you’re evangelising.
 





FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
The main difference between a platonic living sandbox and a platonic Story Now game is that in a platonic Story Now game literally everything you do as a GM is centered on creating and resolving an on screen situation that is directly relevant to the narrative trajectory of the player characters based on their dramatic needs. The fallout to the setting is based entirely on the narrative logic of what has just occurred rather than causal reasoning of its attendant ramifications on the setting. You are trying to make the fallout of what happens in each scene as meaningful as possible.

In a platonic living sandbox pretty much the inverse is true. What the player characters seek out to do is just one small piece of the living sandbox. One of many inputs. Causal rather than narrative logic wins the day. We base fallout not on reflecting the narrative weight of player decisions and conflicts, but on reasoning based on the fiction what the fallout should be.
I think this is an excellent starting point.

That said I think for living sandbox play you need to also be able to describe the game from the players perspective and not just the GM's. That's where it really gets interesting. The players drive play in two ways, 1) their actions serve to alter the fiction within the game 2) their decisions also impact the immediate focus of the game (and not just in a - let's pick an option from a list sort of way).

So while the GM is definitely doing more outside the immediate context than story now GM's and focusing on causal relationships to a large degree, the players do drive the game as from their perspective the game revolves around them and their goals and they have the power to keep it centered there. The game structure isn't structured for narrative/dramatic focus+pacing the same way that a story now game is. I agree there. But that doesn't mean the players aren't driving the game toward their goals and keeping the focus of the game on those things - it's just done in a more causal and less narrative/dramatic way.

No game is really going to fit either platonic ideal though. The specific arrangement of priorities, techniques and the tradeoffs that entail are going to differ from game to game. Blades in the Dark in particular while not being a living sandbox game does utilize a number of techniques that make it closer to living sandbox play than say Sorcerer would be. It still utilizes those techniques in ways that are fundamentally different than say Stars Without Number.
Agreed
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
And is D&D that sort of a game? Furthermore, that you don’t fully control pacing doesn’t mean that it is not part of presentation when you do.
I think in D&D the DM decides how much they care about pacing.

I think in a game where the players or the dice control more than a little of the pacing, the GM can't really care about the pacing, because they have so little control of it. A carefully paced fragment will ... clash (like plaid with plaid) with the rest of the game.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
And is D&D that sort of a game? Furthermore, that you don’t fully control pacing doesn’t mean that it is not part of presentation when you do.
It certainly can be. Take a Classic dungeon crawl, B/X style. Pacing is not a concern of the GM. Even in a hexcrawl sandbox, pacing can be something the GM ignores. Pacing really only shows up as a concern in Trad or Neotrad approaches where there is a plot to pace.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think this is an excellent starting point.

That said I think for living sandbox play you need to also be able to describe the game from the players perspective and not just the GM's. That's where it really gets interesting. The players drive play in two ways, 1) their actions serve to alter the fiction within the game 2) their decisions also impact the immediate focus of the game (and not just in a - let's pick an option from a list sort of way).

So while the GM is definitely doing more outside the immediate context than story now GM's and focusing on causal relationships to a large degree, the players do drive the game as from their perspective the game revolves around them and their goals and they have the power to keep it centered there. The game structure isn't structured for narrative/dramatic focus+pacing the same way that a story now game is. I agree there. But that doesn't mean the players aren't driving the game toward their goals and keeping the focus of the game on those things - it's just done in a more causal and less narrative/dramatic way.


Agreed
It's very important to look at how that operates though. In sandbox play, the players have some control over what the GM presents them, but it's still very much the GM's job to imagine this and to create it. I might be able to choose to engage Faction A, but the GM is going to be the one that decides what Faction A can provide and what needs to be done to get that. This is then related to the player who, again, can choose to engage these points the GM has provided however they want (including abandoning them).

In a Story Now game, the GM is not determining these things ahead of time. Instead, the GM frames a situation where the player's wants are on the line and Faction A is involved. Play then proceeds, and the specific actions and results will then build out what Faction A can do and what is necessary to get that. Faction A may turn out to be entirely opposed, and an obstacle that has to be dealt with, or they may turn out to be the very allies needed. Or something else entirely. We cannot know until play is done, because this will be built out in play.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
So when it comes to traditional roleplaying games I tend to assume a much more fixed orientation towards backstory because I am regularly called upon to make the sort of strategic and tactical decisions where my ability to investigate the fiction and reason about it should have a demonstrable impact. If I'm managing spell slots, various currencies, inventory, special abilities, etc. I want it to matter. This is one of the things that more traditional games excel at. It's a big part of why I sometimes play and run games like D&D 5e, Pathfinder Second Edition, Infinity and Exalted Third Edition. I love playing that strategic decision making / fictional positioning / causal reasoning game on both sides of the screen.

In games where players can fail or succeed based on potentially unknown factors having those factors be decided on ahead of time and meaningfully knowable is important to me. Basically please don't give me a bunch of tools for and prompt me to make decisions that ultimately do not matter.

When I run traditional games I tend to have a very light touch when it comes to pacing. If anything I tend to try to slow things down to get players to really consider the impact of their characters' actions. I want to walk, not run towards conflict when playing a more traditional game. It's why I am generally making the choice to play or run one. I'm generally looking for something that feels somewhat more organic.

Stalling does happen from time to time, generally because players and/or characters are torn about what to do next. I generally try to resolve this by providing a high information environment and effective situation framing. If that fails I will use more aggressive scene framing or directly address the players. A lot of times I will take a 5-10 minute break (just for me) and require a solid decision from the group when I get back. I would generally rather get a bit meta than to resort to force. That's generally my preference as a player too.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I think in D&D the DM decides how much they care about pacing.

I think in a game where the players or the dice control more than a little of the pacing, the GM can't really care about the pacing, because they have so little control of it. A carefully paced fragment will ... clash (like plaid with plaid) with the rest of the game.
I think in D&D the DM decides how much they care about pacing.

I think in a game where the players or the dice control more than a little of the pacing, the GM can't really care about the pacing, because they have so little control of it. A carefully paced fragment will ... clash (like plaid with plaid) with the rest of the game.
When the tenets of the game you are playing requires ‘fast pacing’, ‘direct to the action’ type play then the GM is restrained in their ability to control pacing.

but I’m not convinced that’s because story now in general requires that kind of pacing inherently. Drama often needs buildup and if all you ever do is cut to the action you can miss much of that buildup which works well for drama in other spaces.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
When the tenets of the game you are playing requires ‘fast pacing’, ‘direct to the action’ type play then the GM is restrained in their ability to control pacing.

but I’m not convinced that’s because story now in general requires that kind of pacing inherently. Drama often needs buildup and if all you ever do is cut to the action you can miss much of that buildup which works well for drama in other spaces.
Pacing isn't really a concern for Story Now. This can be a benefit -- you don't have to worry about it -- and a downside -- of you want a certain pacing, there's no way to do this. Story Now games don't do pacing because the game happens as the game happens and it's not predictable.
 

I think in D&D the DM decides how much they care about pacing.

I think in a game where the players or the dice control more than a little of the pacing, the GM can't really care about the pacing, because they have so little control of it. A carefully paced fragment will ... clash (like plaid with plaid) with the rest of the game.

When I GM 5e, I tend to let the players kind of dictate the pacing, but if things begin to lag for some reason, I look at it as my job to get things moving again.

The group of peopleI play 5e with have a lot in common when it comes to how they play, but there are also some differences. So there may be a time where one player expects for a scene to be played out, while other players are fine if it’s just narrated and we move on. I have to find the balance where the one player’s desire to play things out is met, but not at the cost of the other players’ attention.

So I definitely get involved in the pacing, but I wouldn’t say I control it.

With other games, it can really vary. @Ovinomancer says he’s not worried about the pacing when he GMs Blades in the Dark, and I get why, but I’d say my rake is a bit different. I am concerned with pacing in that I want to make sure each phase of play has sufficient time. To me, this pacing is more about logistics of the time we have than it is about building drama and the like. More practical than dramatic, I suppose.

To bring this back to play stalling, I think D&D is more prone to this because of the way the game works. The GMs notes/module/adventure is there and there are ways in which it can/should/may be interacted with, and sometimes the players lose track of that, or can’t figure it out. The same isn’t true for Blades because the players have chosen the Score, what kind of plan they’re executing, and the detail of how that plan connects to the Score. They can’t really lose track of that.



Aside: I think this is a big part of the obstacle when discussing and comparing different games. We take an example from one game (like @Manbearcat ’s lake/kraken scene for 4e) and we try to transplant that scene to another game. But that often fails because the games function so differently that the entire scene/encounter would need to be redesigned entirely.

It seems to me somewhat like an adaptation from one media to another. Taking a scene from a book and trying to portray it on film probably can’t be done perfectly. You’re going to have to make changes to suit the new medium.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
With other games, it can really vary. @Ovinomancer says he’s not worried about the pacing when he GMs Blades in the Dark, and I get why, but I’d say my rake is a bit different. I am concerned with pacing in that I want to make sure each phase of play has sufficient time. To me, this pacing is more about logistics of the time we have than it is about building drama and the like. More practical than dramatic, I suppose.
Hmm. I see what you're saying here, but I think these are two very different things. One is a meta-concern about the overall time of the session and makes sure play fits within it. I've found it difficult to make these calls, though, because there are no tools in Blades to manage pacing like this, so it's usually at the meta level. "Hey, guys, we need to move along to find the score tonight. What do you think?" kind of thing. Trying to do this with GM Force is, to me, obvious as both a player and a GM, and a clear outside push on the game. It's not, in any way, organic to the play.

Meanwhile, pacing when I'm playing D&D is all about managing story beats and controlling rising/falling action around a climax. This just isn't a consideration in Blades, even when I might be thinking about the overall play time and ensuring we get a cycle in.

Also, how dare you, you apostate! You cannot question the glorious religion of Story Now, or have a differing opinion! Do you not know how evangelizing works?!?! Report for punishment, immediately!
 

Hmm. I see what you're saying here, but I think these are two very different things. One is a meta-concern about the overall time of the session and makes sure play fits within it. I've found it difficult to make these calls, though, because there are no tools in Blades to manage pacing like this, so it's usually at the meta level. "Hey, guys, we need to move along to find the score tonight. What do you think?" kind of thing. Trying to do this with GM Force is, to me, obvious as both a player and a GM, and a clear outside push on the game. It's not, in any way, organic to the play.
Meanwhile, pacing when I'm playing D&D is all about managing story beats and controlling rising/falling action around a climax. This just isn't a consideration in Blades, even when I might be thinking about the overall play time and ensuring we get a cycle in.

Yeah, I tend to agree. Different kinds of pacing.

How does resource management come into it, though? I think this is something present in both games. Do you find that element being something you consider as a GM? Is it the same for each game or different?


Also, how dare you, you apostate! You cannot question the glorious religion of Story Now, or have a differing opinion! Do you not know how evangelizing works?!?! Report for punishment, immediately!

I decline your offer.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Yeah, I tend to agree. Different kinds of pacing.

How does resource management come into it, though? I think this is something present in both games. Do you find that element being something you consider as a GM? Is it the same for each game or different?
In Blades? As a GM, not a bit. Don't care. As a player, I'm keenly aware, but I don't expect the game to care or the GM.

In D&D? Depends. I've run games where it's the player's responsibility to manage resources, so I don't care. I'm going to present what they find according to their action declarations without concern for how many resources they have left. This is when I'm running in more Classic/OSR modes -- my balance pass was during prep, after that, it's not my call. This is very much a case where I'm not managing pacing as a GM, and runs the risk of stalling out.

If I'm running an AP, or something where I'm actively working with pacing, then PC resources are very much on my mind. I need to make sure I push hard enough to strain them, but then allow the pace to fall so rests can happen and resources are recharged before starting the cycle again. So, yeah, when I'm running D&D in this mode, resources are very much on my mind.
I decline your offer.
We'll see about that when the correction team arrives. Burn the Heretic! Purge the Unclean! Suffer not the Witch to Live!
 

I neither expect nor want, in a scene like this, any sort of guarantee that whatever I do to begin with will be the right thing; as I've no way of knowing what the "right thing" is until I've had a chance for some trial and error. Hey, maybe I get lucky and get it right the first time. Maybe not, and eventually all that's left are some rowboat splinters and a stuffed doll floating on the lake. Them's the breaks.

But assuming I've any system mastery at all, giving me all the mechanics pretty much tells me the answer "Here's the optimal solution!" before I've even had a chance to ask the question. I find no fun in that.

"I've no way of knowing what the right thing is until..." becomes very problematic.

If you're a master archer who has slain dozens of creatures in your life by arrows through eyeballs or severing arms at the elbow because of perfectly placed shot + exit velocity + genre tropes...it would seem that the character in the fiction should have developed a model of the world that spits out the following:

"I can put an arrow through that appendage (tentacle) and split it in two...just like I did the other day when I 'disarmed' that swordsman by taking his forearm off at the elbow. The girl needs help...hopefully my aim is similarly true."

You know what doesn't work and is completely metagaming?

"Well, I have no idea if the HP of this tentacle are either (a) shared with the huge HP pool of the monster at large and therefore can't be severed or (b) a 10-12 HP creature where I could fail to sever it an unreasonable % of the time, or (c) 1 HP that I can reliably sever. Screw it and screw the little girl. Faceroll shooting the kraken."

4e makes it extremely easy to align physiology and genre tropes.

* Big monsters with tentacles (et al) have their tentacles (et al) modeled as 1 HP Minions.

* Summoned mooks/lackeys are 1 HP Minions.

* Any horde of mooks are modeled as Swarms (where AoE is the damage du jour as you cleave through them or rain fire down on them, felling them en masse).


Now the cognitive space of the character and the player are always aligned in terms of both the physiology being modeled and the genre tropes being modelled. There is no spending action economy/wasting a round (or more) trying to (strangely...and its very strange to me that you specifically would be good with this little metagame minigame that has to take place at the beginning of each combat) poke/prod/model the ever-changing physiology puzzle of the world and whether typical fantasy genre tropes are going to be online for this combat or arbitrarily turned off this combat...meanwhile, little girls on boats that you would like to rescue are getting dirt-napped at a 50/50 clip because you've got to play your physiology/genre trope feel-out minigame at the beginning of each combat in order to inform subsequent decision-points (the meaningful ones...because that early physiology/trope feel out minigame is just hoop-jumping for a player and worse than that for a seasoned warrior actually of the world in question)!
 

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