Stakes and consequences in action resolution

pemerton

Legend
This thread is a spin-off of the DC to tell that a NPC is telling the truth thread.

It starts with some context, sblocked for length, and then a question:

[sblock]
for certain character that type of analysis is perfectly fine. Heck, I do it as a player myself. But not everyone wants to play that way. Sometimes players want to be caught off guard instead of making a cost-beenfit analysis for every roll of the dice.

<snip>

to me, if you say you tell the player the consequences of their actions, so they can make a more informed decision and not get caught off-guard by knowledge they didn't have (ala Hitchcock) then that means to me that when they are about to jump over the pit you tell them that if they fail they will fall on the hidden spikes coated with poison in the bottom of the pit.

<snip>

After all, knowing there are spikes and poison below is the same as knowing there is a bomb under the table, and when the players go to roll, they know exactly what the stakes are. But to me, that is revealing far more about the scenario than they have any reasonable way of knowing, without them having tested things out.

<snip>

If my players want to be cautious and look for answers, to investigate and try and piece together clues about their surroundings, then they are more than welcome to.

<snip>

However, I'm not going to force that mind set on them and I'm not going to assume they would be happier analysising everything. If they do not ask questions and just charge forward, then I assume their character is not asking questions and is just charging forward.
I can only speak for myself.

To me, you are the one who is making "analysis" a focus of play, by requiring "testing things out" in order to establish what is at stake in the play of the game.

My approach is the opposite: the players choices about PC build, thematic and goal orientation, etc, establish what is at stake, and then I as GM build that into the ingame situation. A player can choose to play his/her PC as analytic, or reckless, but either way the player knows that his/her interests/thematic concerns will be at stake in the game. They don't have to choose between playing an "analytic" PC or alternatively guessing what the GM might have in mind.
[/sblock]
You are going to have to explain this to me. How is not telling the players the immediate consequences of their actions making analysis a focus of play and making them choose between being analytic and guessing what I have in mind?

If a player wants to take time to study a situation, they can make that choice. IF they do not, they can make that choice. I'm not making anything a focus, I'm simply running the game and letting them make the decisions they want to make.
The first sentence of your second paragraph in the last quote is the answer to the second question (making them choose between being analytic and guessing what I have in mind) in your first paragraph.

That is: when you run the game without telling the players the immediate consequences of their actions then their decisionmaking options are, basically, two: they can play their characters analytically, studying the situation to try and ascertain what is at stake; or they can play their characters non-analytically, perhaps even recklessly, in which case they don't know what is at stake in the situation except by guessing what you, the GM have in mind in your framing of the situation.

In suggesting that this makes analysis a focus of play, I am adding in an additional conjecture: namely, that at least from time-to-time the players want to know what is at stake in a situation, whether for the basic reason that they don't want their PCs to die, or sometimes for more complex reasons that reflect the current circumstances of the fiction (eg they want to know whether they should smash the vessels of magical fluid to stop those from powering the enchanted widget that is sustaining the eldritch field that feeds the ritual-of-whateverness). In such circumstances, the players come under pressure to analyse, because a non-analytic/reckless approach (eg "I run up to the vessels with my battle axe and smash them all!") runs the risk of producing an adverse consequence relative to these important player (and PC) goals in the scenario.

If my additional conjecture is false then my suggestion that analysis becomes a focus of play is also false; but at least for many D&D games run broadly in the style you're describing the conjecture is true, I think, even if it's not true in your game.

Notice also that, in the example of the player of the reckless PC who declares I run up to the vessels with my battle axe and smash them all, the player can succeed in the action declaration (ie all the vessels of magical fluid are smashed) and yet fail in his/her goal, of depowering the enchanted widget and thereby stopping the ritual, because the GM has actually already decided (in his/her dungeon notes, say, or it's in the module text) that the magical fluid actually dampens the power of the eldritch field, and smashing them generates a magical power surge that bring the ritual immediately to fruition. So the player who chooses not have his/her PC study the situation and instead simply to act is in many ways hostage to the GM's prior decision-making about the nature of the situation. S/he isn't making any sort of informed or deliberate contribution to the overall state of the fiction.

Vincent Baker (probably best known for designing DitV and Apocalypse World, which is the progenitor of PbtA RPGs), has talked about this also (and has influenced my thinking about it): the quote is in sblocks for length.

[sblock]Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution
In task resolution, what's at stake is the task itself. "I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!" What's at stake is: do you crack the safe?

In conflict resolution, what's at stake is why you're doing the task. "I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!" What's at stake is: do you get the dirt on the supervillain?

Which is important to the resolution rules: opening the safe, or getting the dirt? That's how you tell whether it's task resolution or conflict resolution.

Task resolution is succeed/fail. Conflict resolution is win/lose. You can succeed but lose, fail but win.

In conventional rpgs, success=winning and failure=losing only provided the GM constantly maintains that relationship - by (eg) making the safe contain the relevant piece of information after you've cracked it. It's possible and common for a GM to break the relationship instead, turning a string of successes into a loss, or a failure at a key moment into a win anyway.

Let's assume that we haven't yet established what's in the safe.

"I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!"
It's task resolution. Roll: Success!
"You crack the safe, but there's no dirt in there, just a bunch of in-order papers."

"I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain!"
It's task resolution. Roll: Failure!
"The safe's too tough, but as you're turning away from it, you see a piece of paper in the wastebasket..."

(Those examples show how, using task resolution, the GM can break success=winning, failure=losing.)

That's, if you ask me, the big problem with task resolution: whether you succeed or fail, the GM's the one who actually resolves the conflict. The dice don't, the rules don't; you're depending on the GM's mood and your relationship and all those unreliable social things the rules are supposed to even out.

Task resolution, in short, puts the GM in a position of priviledged authorship. Task resolution will undermine your collaboration.[/sblock]

Speaking for myself, I prefer a game which does not generate this particular sort of pressure to play an "analytic" character, or to study situations in order to ascertain what is at stake in them, and hence what potential consequences might flow from succeeding or failing at the task.

This requires that players be able to ascertain stakes or consequences in advance of declaring actions for their PCs. (That is, in advance of studying/analysing the situation.) This means that what is at stake, and what consequences are apt to flow from engaging the situation one way or another, need to be signalled by the GM in his/her framing narration. In my own experience, the easiest and most engaging way to do that is by framing the situation in a way that clearly connects to already established goals/themes/concerns/interests of the player.

I'll give a fairly banal example from the session of Cthulhu Dark that I GMed on the weekend:

One of the players had chosen, as his PC's occupation, butler. All my knowledge of bulters comes from having read Remains of the Day many years ago, and I remember the polish on the silverware being very important. So when that PC met another butler he was friends with, the NPC butler started explaining a new technique he had for making his silverware shine, which his master had introduced him to and which involved a special fluid and a galvanic current. The NPC also explained that, as per his master's instructions, the used fluid was retained and decanted into dedicated canisters. When a fire broke out, the NPC asked the PC to help him move the fluied - canisters, plus the current (open-topped) cleaning vessel - to safety. The player made his check, and didn't do terribly well, and this was narrated as him spilling some of the fluid from the open-topped vessel. Some events that followed on this, driven by the other player's play of his PC, led to the rest of that batch of fluid being spilled on that second PC's clothes.​

At no point in the narration or resolution of the situation did I (as GM) tell the player of the butler what the properties of the fluid were, or what the consequences would be of spilling it. In fact I couldn't do that because I didn't know myself yet!

But it's as clear to the player as it is to me that the fluid is significant - it's very obviously been brought into the shared fiction, and made a focus of play, because the player is playing a butler and hence has an interest in the treatment of silverware. Because everyone at the table knows that we're playing a Cthulhu game set c 1900, it's also obvious that a device involving a strange fluid and galvanically powered is sinister. Hence there's no ambiguity that spilling the fluid is a bad thing, although what the exact badness is is yet to be established.

Another element of the situation that is clear to the player, because of the way it speaks to the context established by the player's choice of PC occupation, is the relationship of the NPC butler to the master who provides the fluid and retains it once it has been used. Because the player has chosen to play a butler, it's already established in the context of the game that loyal service is, in itself, a good thing rather than a bad thing. But because we all know it's a Cthulhu game, it's also clear that doing the right thing might lead to unhappy rather than happy consequences. So without any need for me as GM to explain it, the situation establishes the possibility that the NPC butler is a victim of manipulation by a sinister master as well as the (near-)certainty that the master himself as a sinister figure. So spilling the fluid clearly has the potential to create conflict with that figure, and the "badness" that results (as per the previous paragraph) will in some fashion be related to whatever his sinister plans are.

As I said, there's nothing very special about this example: I have used it simply because it's recent and so is easy for me to recall. But hopefully it shows what I mean when I say that I prefer an approch which establishes what is at stake in a situation, and hence implicitly establishes consequences of failure without the players needing to declare actions for their PCs that invovle studying or analysing the situation. And it does this by drawing on shared understandings between player and GM as to what is significant for the players in their play of their PCs, given their build choices, evinced thematic concerns, genre expectations, etc.

I've used this sort of approach in GMing AD&D, and 4e D&D, and I think it could probably be applied in 5e D&D also if one were so inclined.
 
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Manbearcat

Adventurer
Attaching this here from the original 5e thread due to relevance. I’ll habe further thoughts after I read the OP and have a minute.

"Meaningful Consequence"

My take on this will always append "upon the gamestate" to that. Because they don't spell it out in the section on Using Ability Scores, here is the likely best reference point for what the designers meant by "meaningful consequences."

DMG p 27

In constructing a narrative, beware of "false action," or action for its own sake. False action doesn't move a story forward, engage characters, or cause them to change. Many action movies suffer from false action, in which car chases, gunfights, and explosions abound but do little more than inconvenience the characters and eventually bore the audience with their repetition and dearth of meaningful stakes.
I think this is a good working definition that is cribbed from many-a-modern-game.

If the gamestate isn't changed in some appreciable way (if the arrangement of the fiction and the actual table time we spend conversing and rolling dice barely notices a blip on its collective radar screen), "false action" and "consequences without meaning" are what has just transpired.

Whether you think "false action" or "consequences without meaning" have some kind of other utility (I get that some people find these instances of play "immersion enhancing" or something to that effect) is another matter (a gamestate neutral matter).
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I've used this sort of approach in GMing AD&D, and 4e D&D, and I think it could probably be applied in 5e D&D also if one were so inclined.
Snipped all but this last as I only have comment here.

5e actually fights back as a system if you try to fully embrace this. The resolution mechanics in 5e differ from both AD&D (which had none asude from 'roll under stat') and 4e (which used the system such that expected chance for success/failure remained pretty static). 5e's bounded accuracy and largely defined DC structure (easy/medium/hard/etc) against increasing bonuses means that success/failure resolution works well for tasks, but isn't well suited for conflicts.

That said, awareness of this can lead to GM principles to keep task->conflict tightly coupled and avoid the success at one but failure at the other. I find using the goal and approach nethid works well to help keep this coupling intact. This lets me use the 5e task resolution systems to couple into overall conflict resolution.

Trying to use 5e's task focused mechanics to do conflict resolution leads to disappointing results. Just the ad/disad mechanics fight against doing this by making success/failure less probable. I've found this doesn't do satisfactory conflict resolution, which really needs more balanced success/failure chances to function well.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Speaking for myself, I prefer a game which does not generate this particular sort of pressure to play an "analytic" character, or to study situations in order to ascertain what is at stake in them, and hence what potential consequences might flow from succeeding or failing at the task.
Okay. But, do you see how this may look to others - that by disconnecting task resolution from conflict resolution, for many people this will feel like a loss of cause and effect within the game world?

Some will also see this as the Inspector Clouseau approach to gaming - I can bumble along having no idea what's going on or what I am doing, but save the day, regardless. That is surely a kind of game some will find fun, but to many it will seem absurdist.

In addition, this approach does come with a cost - it turns a scene where the player tries to do something awesome, and ends up looking dumb. I spend a lot of resources to make sure I crack that safe, for nothing. But then, I turn around, and the paper I wanted was right there all the time! The resulting fiction is not about a great thief and safecracker - it is a fiction about a person who spends effort but only gets what they want by dumb luck.

This can lead to another kind or analytic play - When the GM asks wy I am doing a thing, what do I include? "I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain! *AND* to not look like an idiot in the process?"


At no point in the narration or resolution of the situation did I (as GM) tell the player of the butler what the properties of the fluid were, or what the consequences would be of spilling it. In fact I couldn't do that because I didn't know myself yet!
And, I think many readers will say, "Yes, then in actuality, the player did *NOT* know the real stakes." When we set stakes, we know exactly what it is we stand to lose. If I don't want to lose the stakes, I don't bet. While the player knows the fluid is significant, they don't know in what manner, or what spilling it really means - they do *not* know what there is to lose here. Will the stuff make them grow tentacles? Will the scent of it lead amorous fish men to them? Nobody knows! That's hardly a solid example of knowing what the final cost of failure will be, and does not tell them how much of their resources they should spend on success (which is a very real part of knowing stakes ahead of time).

While you are demonstrating the techniques, I am not sure you're demonstrating that this actually gives the player any more control.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Okay. But, do you see how this may look to others - that by disconnecting task resolution from conflict resolution, for many people this will feel like a loss of cause and effect within the game world?

Some will also see this as the Inspector Clouseau approach to gaming - I can bumble along having no idea what's going on or what I am doing, but save the day, regardless. That is surely a kind of game some will find fun, but to many it will seem absurdist.

In addition, this approach does come with a cost - it turns a scene where the player tries to do something awesome, and ends up looking dumb. I spend a lot of resources to make sure I crack that safe, for nothing. But then, I turn around, and the paper I wanted was right there all the time! The resulting fiction is not about a great thief and safecracker - it is a fiction about a person who spends effort but only gets what they want by dumb luck.

This can lead to another kind or analytic play - When the GM asks wy I am doing a thing, what do I include? "I crack the safe!" "Why?" "Hopefully to get the dirt on the supervillain! *AND* to not look like an idiot in the process?"
You're attacking the example of how things can go wrong, not what [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] is advocating.

And, I think many readers will say, "Yes, then in actuality, the player did *NOT* know the real stakes." When we set stakes, we know exactly what it is we stand to lose. If I don't want to lose the stakes, I don't bet. While the player knows the fluid is significant, they don't know in what manner, or what spilling it really means - they do *not* know what there is to lose here. Will the stuff make them grow tentacles? Will the scent of it lead amorous fish men to them? Nobody knows! That's hardly a solid example of knowing what the final cost of failure will be, and does not tell them how much of their resources they should spend on success (which is a very real part of knowing stakes ahead of time).

While you are demonstrating the techniques, I am not sure you're demonstrating that this actually gives the player any more control.
Well, this is like saying that dealing successfully with the trap on the door to the bbeg lair isn't resolving the bbeg. It's asking for too much horse for the cart.

Knowing the liquid is important is plenty sufficient to knowing you don't want to spill it. In the style of play [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] is advocating, the effects of the liquid really depend on more play establishing those effects. Having it spilled on you just opens up future play possibilities involving that aspect. Recall that the established state of the liquid is that it us important to the master and that it may be sinister. Whether it makes you sprout tentacles later will be up to later play establishing this -- it's not currently determined. As such, there's no final consequence to be revealed, so pemerton's play has exactly as much horse as it needs to pull its cart. Calls for more are misassuming the needs in play.

This style is very different from traditional play as evinced by D&D (4e notwithstanding). It's easy to make incorrect assumptions based on prior experience where the GM has preplanned things like the nature and effect of the liquid. This isn't yet established in play, though, so the exact nature of the liquid will be established in later play according to the mechanics of play.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You're attacking the example of how things can go wrong, not what [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] is advocating.
Then I misunderstood the purpose of the quote, and I am not sure why it was included. Hopefully, he'll elucidate for me.

Well, this is like saying that dealing successfully with the trap on the door to the bbeg lair isn't resolving the bbeg. It's asking for too much horse for the cart.
I don't think so. To claim you let the players know the stakes, and then layer consequences on them later that weren't part of the proposal, is not fair. That's like, "You lost a hand of poker an hour ago. Now, give me $100 more."

Knowing the liquid is important is plenty sufficient to knowing you don't want to spill it.
No, it isn't. There's any number of times when a thing is important because it is a critical resource of the BBEG, that ultimately the PCs want to destroy. Maybe spilling it on the floor, ruining it, is exactly what the PCs want. At this stage, they don't know. Heck, the GM didn't know. How on Earth can you claim to be honestly informing the players of the stakes if you don't know them yourself?

Note - I actually know what the answer to this question should be, as I've used this method before many times myself. I disagree with pemerton that relying on the assumptions of genre is the proper way to use this*, largely because it relies on everyone being on the same page without actually communicating about it, which is not reliable. "Everyone knows," is a way to ensure some people don't get the memo, as it is an excuse to not communicate with the players.

The proper answer is that, when the player decides to help move the goo, the GM says (for example, in FATE language)), "If you fail, you are apt to spill some of the liquid on the floor, or on yourself. This will not kill you directly, but may result in a mild consequence for your character or a similarly sized aspect on a scene." Since supposedly everyone knows it is important, there's no reason to avoid explicitly saying so. Putting a bound on how much impact it may have is setting the stakes. Now, the players actually have some idea of how big an issue they are looking at, and can choose their investment in avoiding it appropriately.

This is *part of how* the function and importance of the goo is created in play.




*Or at least it is not a good way to explain this. When describing a process to people who don't use it, you need to include all the formal steps, and then note which ones you later learn to elide over. I suspect pemerton's group has some internal unspoken agreements, because they are familiar with him, and they elide over the formal step because they have trust. But that doesn't apply to the folks reading the thread - they don't necessarily trust pemerton, or the process he's describing.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If the gamestate isn't changed in some appreciable way (if the arrangement of the fiction and the actual table time we spend conversing and rolling dice barely notices a blip on its collective radar screen), "false action" and "consequences without meaning" are what has just transpired.

Whether you think "false action" or "consequences without meaning" have some kind of other utility (I get that some people find these instances of play "immersion enhancing" or something to that effect) is another matter (a gamestate neutral matter).
"False action" potentially has a couple of very significant utilities:

For the characters: use and erosion of resources (ammunition, spells, health) in systems where resources matter and-or are not easily replenished. Not gamestate neutral.

For the GM: distraction and obfuscation of what is really going on - i.e. red herrings thrown in such that the PCs have to determine what matters from what doesn't. Maybe gamestate neutral.

For all: even if the action is "false" the characters still gain xp and sometimes loot from it. Not gamestate neutral.

Wandering monsters are almost always an example of false action as defined here.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
"False action" potentially has a couple of very significant utilities:

For the characters: use and erosion of resources (ammunition, spells, health) in systems where resources matter and-or are not easily replenished. Not gamestate neutral.

For the GM: distraction and obfuscation of what is really going on - i.e. red herrings thrown in such that the PCs have to determine what matters from what doesn't. Maybe gamestate neutral.

For all: even if the action is "false" the characters still gain xp and sometimes loot from it. Not gamestate neutral.

Wandering monsters are almost always an example of false action as defined here.
Good post Lanefan.

I'll try to get a reply up afterwhile.
 

pemerton

Legend
5e actually fights back as a system if you try to fully embrace this. The resolution mechanics in 5e differ from both AD&D (which had none asude from 'roll under stat') and 4e (which used the system such that expected chance for success/failure remained pretty static). 5e's bounded accuracy and largely defined DC structure (easy/medium/hard/etc) against increasing bonuses means that success/failure resolution works well for tasks, but isn't well suited for conflicts.

That said, awareness of this can lead to GM principles to keep task->conflict tightly coupled and avoid the success at one but failure at the other.

<snip>

Just the ad/disad mechanics fight against doing this by making success/failure less probable.
Thanks - this is a useful contribution and deals with something that I've been curious about, but on which it's hard to find clear commentary, namely, the effect of the 5e DC rules.

The only thing that really caught me by surprise was the comment about the advantage/disadvantage mechanic. I would have thought this has something of a flattening effect.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Then I misunderstood the purpose of the quote, and I am not sure why it was included. Hopefully, he'll elucidate for me.
I'm sure he will, but it seems obvious that the inclusion of the quote was to establish that separating task from conflict resolution leads to issues. You make this same point in your post, so surely you also had this reason?



I don't think so. To claim you let the players know the stakes, and then layer consequences on them later that weren't part of the proposal, is not fair. That's like, "You lost a hand of poker an hour ago. Now, give me $100 more."
That's another misapprehension. The setting up of new possibilities in the fiction, in this case losing a hand of poker, may lead to future contests that leverage that lost hand, with clearly flowing consequences that both reach back to that lost hand and reflect the current contest. It builds, it doesn't recur.



No, it isn't. There's any number of times when a thing is important because it is a critical resource of the BBEG, that ultimately the PCs want to destroy. Maybe spilling it on the floor, ruining it, is exactly what the PCs want. At this stage, they don't know. Heck, the GM didn't know. How on Earth can you claim to be honestly informing the players of the stakes if you don't know them yourself?
That would be cool, and the players would be free to establish a new contest such that the loss of the liquid is a blow to the BBEG. The consequence to that failure, though, may be that the liquid actually represented a weakness that could have been exploited, but is now lost and puddling on the ground. Again, the consequence states build, they don't recur or have pre-set effects. You still seem to be laboring under the assumption that the GM should already have all consequences mapped out ahead of time, when this style of play actively fights against this kind of planning.


Note - I actually know what the answer to this question should be, as I've used this method before many times myself. I disagree with pemerton that relying on the assumptions of genre is the proper way to use this*, largely because it relies on everyone being on the same page without actually communicating about it, which is not reliable. "Everyone knows," is a way to ensure some people don't get the memo, as it is an excuse to not communicate with the players.

The proper answer is that, when the player decides to help move the goo, the GM says (for example, in FATE language)), "If you fail, you are apt to spill some of the liquid on the floor, or on yourself. This will not kill you directly, but may result in a mild consequence for your character or a similarly sized aspect on a scene." Since supposedly everyone knows it is important, there's no reason to avoid explicitly saying so. Putting a bound on how much impact it may have is setting the stakes. Now, the players actually have some idea of how big an issue they are looking at, and can choose their investment in avoiding it appropriately.

This is *part of how* the function and importance of the goo is created in play.
It's fine to prefer more explicit stake setting, but I disagree that this is the "proper" answer. It's your preference, and likely works best at your table, but that's far from universal.

However, in your preferred presentation, it appears that you have not really established stakes past what [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] did, but you critizied him for not being any more explicit in long reaching consequences. Having a bit of familiarity with [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s style, I'd wager that he was leaving the exact nature of the consequences open for the immediately following play where the players then react to the spilled liquid and try to establish new fiction in their favor. This is akin to making a "soft" move of establishing a danger and then letting the following play address that, with a success mitigating and a failure paying off in a "hard" move related to that now established danger. As I said previously, and which you elected to snip here, you were asking for too much horse for the particular cart in question.

Also, it's fairly bad form to not only quote selectively, but to snip sentences such that a single sentence is presented and dissected absent it's surrounding context. I'd rather not feel like I have to repeat myself because you're showing you might have disregarded or missed that context.


*Or at least it is not a good way to explain this. When describing a process to people who don't use it, you need to include all the formal steps, and then note which ones you later learn to elide over. I suspect pemerton's group has some internal unspoken agreements, because they are familiar with him, and they elide over the formal step because they have trust. But that doesn't apply to the folks reading the thread - they don't necessarily trust pemerton, or the process he's describing.
This is more fair, but, again, I think [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] adequately lampshaded this by his explicit explanation of how the genre logic and tropes explained the inherent consequences to his players. That you disagree and he shouldn't have used an actual play example and explained how things worked within it but should instead have used a different example with imbedded step by step thinking is, of course, a valid preference.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Thanks - this is a useful contribution and deals with something that I've been curious about, but on which it's hard to find clear commentary, namely, the effect of the 5e DC rules.

The only thing that really caught me by surprise was the comment about the advantage/disadvantage mechanic. I would have thought this has something of a flattening effect.
I'm not sure what you mean by a flattening effect, but the way ad/disad works is that if you already have a decent chance of success, it makes that chance much better (advantage) or if you already had a small chance, it makes that chance even less likely (disadvantage). The converse might tend to "flatten" as a good chance of success is moved to a moderate chance with disadvantage and vice versa, but the prior cases are the more common (especially as it's often a player initiated resource or a team initiated one). In other words, it usually makes the likely outcome even more likely, which cuts against a resolution system that really needs reasonable chances of success or failure to do it's thing (the snowball).

I think this also touches on another corollary to your posts, that task -> conflict resolution, when well coupled, doesn't imply that a successful task resolution means a successful conflict resolution. Instead, a successful task should always be coupled to an advancement towards a successful conflict resolution, and vice versa, but not exactly one for one. The Baker quote and your example don't explicitly make this point, although it is lurking in the shadows, so to speak, especially in your play example. I wanted to bring it out more clearly.
 

pemerton

Legend
In addition, this approach does come with a cost - it turns a scene where the player tries to do something awesome, and ends up looking dumb. I spend a lot of resources to make sure I crack that safe, for nothing. But then, I turn around, and the paper I wanted was right there all the time! The resulting fiction is not about a great thief and safecracker - it is a fiction about a person who spends effort but only gets what they want by dumb luck.
I think you need to re-read the quote from Vincent Baker: he's putting forward that example as an example of why he doesn't like task resolution. And I'm saying that I, personally and speaking only for myself, agree with thim.

I should add - the example he gives, where the PC fails at the task to gain information but the GM feed in success anyway - is one that I have seen in more than one published adventure module. It's very common for those modules to have "backup" options for if the players fail to take, or to succeed, at the steps needed to get the requisite information.

Like Vincent Baker, I find this to be bad RPGing because it undermines the sense of stakes and consequences. And to borrow [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION]'s terminology, it introduces "false action" - in this case, false failure.

There's any number of times when a thing is important because it is a critical resource of the BBEG, that ultimately the PCs want to destroy. Maybe spilling it on the floor, ruining it, is exactly what the PCs want. At this stage, they don't know. Heck, the GM didn't know. How on Earth can you claim to be honestly informing the players of the stakes if you don't know them yourself?
Well, for the reasons that I gave in my post, it was clear in the context of play that spilling the fluid was a bad thing. For the GM to turn that around would be tantamount to cheating, or at least very poor play.

I'm not a Dungeon World GM and have only a bit of play experience with that system, but I can describe what resulted from the fluid spill using some DW terminology:

* I was thinking offscreen, that is, keeping in mind the spill of the fluid for future adverse revelation;

* I took something from the characters, that is, used the spill of the fluid on the second PC's clothes as the basis, in the fiction, for his clothes being taken away (while he was treated for a broken leg) which meant that he lost the document he'd taken and hidden in his coat pocket;

* When the offscreen came back onscreen, I revealed an unwelcome truth, as the butler PC eventually found his master, having been moved to a clinic from a basement room in the house where the spill happened, with a burn on his face and head which (i) obviously to all had been caused by the spilled fluid, and (ii) confirmed (when put together with other bits of context) that he was a were-hyena.​

These all honour the player's (and PC's) failure and conform to the player's understanding of what was at stake in the situation, and what the consequences would be of mishandling the fluid.

The proper answer is that, when the player decides to help move the goo, the GM says (for example, in FATE language)), "If you fail, you are apt to spill some of the liquid on the floor, or on yourself. This will not kill you directly, but may result in a mild consequence for your character or a similarly sized aspect on a scene." Since supposedly everyone knows it is important, there's no reason to avoid explicitly saying so.
Here's what I posted about this on the thread that this one is descended from:

I think it's important for consequences to be clear - and I don't think of this through the lens of character knowledge but player knowledge - because the player needs to have a sense of what sort of resources to throw at the check (which depending on system and circumstances could be anything from fate/inspiration points, to equipment, to spells and potions, to . . .). Luke Crane says the following about making consequences clear (BW Gold, p 32):

When a player sets out a task for his character and states his intent, it is the GM’s job to inform him of the consequences of failure before the dice are rolled.

"If you fail this…" should often be heard at the table. Let the players know the consequences of their actions. Failure is not the end of the line, but it is complication that pushes the story in another direction.

Once that is said, everyone knows what's at stake and play can continue smoothly no matter what the result of the roll is.​

However, in his subsequently-published book of GMing advice (The Adventure Burner) Crane says that, in his own game, rather than stating the consequences expressly he often relies on context - of the fiction, of the mood at the table, etc - to make them implicit. When I'm GMing, I alternate between express and implicit consequences depending on inclination and whim. But again, for me this has a different motivation from that which 5ekyu states. I'm not worried about player vs character knowledge, and so even if consequence is implicit it will be implicit to the player as well as the GM - there won't be "hidden" bits of the fiction that suddenly emerge into the action on the basis of a failure. It's about pacing and narrative continuity and not weakening emotional intensity with needless explanation.
In the example of play that I provided in the OP, the immediate stakes were clear - getting the fluid out of the house threatened by fire - and the consequences implicit.
 
The only thing that really caught me by surprise was the comment about the advantage/disadvantage mechanic. I would have thought this has something of a flattening effect.
I'm not sure what you mean: Adv/Dis has more of an impact the closer the original check was to 50/50.

something that I've been curious about, but on which it's hard to find clear commentary, namely, the effect of the 5e DC rules.
You mean 'Bounded Accuracy?' Or the nominal easy/hard/etc guidelines?

Based on some other threads, one effect may be to encourage the DM to rule automatic success/failure fairly often - or at least, give players an incentive to find action-declarations that yield a narrated success in preference to a check?
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think you need to re-read the quote from Vincent Baker: he's putting forward that example as an example of why he doesn't like task resolution. And I'm saying that I, personally and speaking only for myself, agree with thim.
Okay, I see the point. And, I know what is missing (if not from the original, from your presentation): What do you do instead? That segment is titled "Task resolution vs conflict resolution," but what you gave only goes into how task resolution is bad. It doesn't give the contrast - there is no "versus". Give us the same scene of the person going into the room with the safe, done as conflict resolution, and it might be useful.


Well, for the reasons that I gave in my post, it was clear in the context of play that spilling the fluid was a bad thing. For the GM to turn that around would be tantamount to cheating, or at least very poor play.
Is "bad" a jargon word with the game? If not, "that is a bad thing" is not sufficient to understand stakes. Burning my supper is a bad thing. Coming down with leprosy is a bad thing. "Bad" does not elucidate concrete stakes. In normal use, the word is broad and vague. We are not in the context of play, so reference to it means nothing to us.

Or, is it a game in which *all* conflicts share the same possible consequences?

I'm not a Dungeon World GM and have only a bit of play experience with that system, but I can describe what resulted from the fluid spill using some DW terminology
I don't know the game, so I cannot speak to it. In this game, is there a ranking, where "bad" = I Take something from you and Reveal an unwelcome truth? Is there some clear statement of how "bad" translates to those consequences?

This is the really big thing - when you are trying to describe things to people who don't understand it, saying, "Well, my players understood it" does squat-all to get people here to understand what happened.

In the example of play that I provided in the OP, the immediate stakes were clear - getting the fluid out of the house threatened by fire - and the consequences implicit.
Why did you think an example with a large portion of the method "implicit" was a good one for trying to get others to understand? The thing that was implicit was, in fact, *central to understanding what you were doing*.
 
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Chaosmancer

Villager
So the player who chooses not have his/her PC study the situation and instead simply to act is in many ways hostage to the GM's prior decision-making about the nature of the situation. S/he isn't making any sort of informed or deliberate contribution to the overall state of the fiction.
There is a lot here, so forgive me if I'm missing some parts. But I don't see how this making your point that it is better for the DM or GM to tell you the consequences of your actions.

Looking at this for example, if the player chooses to rush forward and smash the liquid containers, in the example you gave, bad things happen because the liquid was a retardent for the reaction.

If the DM stops the player, and tells them the consequences, there are two options for that.

1) Vague: You tell them that breaking the glass might have negative consequences because of the arcane nature of the machinery and their limited understanding of it.

This likely does not tell the player anything they did not already know. Smashing a magic machine is a tactic generally employed by characters who are limited in their ability to solve the problem in other ways. It is taken as a risk, and they know it is a risk, so they will have gained no new information from your vague consequence. They will likely take the same action with the same result.

2) Specific: You tell them the liquid is acting as a magical retardent and that smashing it will send the machine into a meltdown.

Well, now they know something they didn't know before. It has prevented them from being at the mercy of the DMs notes or whims, by instead opting to simply tell them how the machine works and gives them a fairly obvious route to shutting it down (getting more of that fluid, to slow the reaction to standstill). Since you didn't tell them this information before they took an action, it wasn't something you thought they should know immediately. However, in telling them this you have given them the information they might have obtained by analyzing the machine for the cost of no action except the declared intent to smash it, which would have had negative consequences.

So, instead of smashing it, the DM stops their character and says "No, you can see smashing it is a bad plan, and your analysis tells you why it is a bad plan". But the player didn't say their character analyzed the machine, they said their character smashed the machine.

Vincent Baker (probably best known for designing DitV and Apocalypse World, which is the progenitor of PbtA RPGs), has talked about this also (and has influenced my thinking about it)

Speaking for myself, I prefer a game which does not generate this particular sort of pressure to play an "analytic" character, or to study situations in order to ascertain what is at stake in them, and hence what potential consequences might flow from succeeding or failing at the task.
Honestly, this bit from Mr. Baker is very interesting, but I fail to see how it applies to telling someone the consequences of their actions.

Task resolution -> Do you tell the player consequences for failure to break the safe

Conflict resolution -> Do you tell the player the consequences for failure to break the safe


Now, we can talk about these two types of resolutions, but neither one requires me to tell the players more information than the other. In fact, I do quite like utilizing Conflict resolution at times. I might know that the players are looking for dirt, and that it would make sense they could find some. Maybe I know that the evidence is in the desk, but they ask about a safe. A safe is also a fine place, and if they can successfully break in they might find something useful, it is about whether their intent makes sense within the goal.

But, also, task resolution has its place. IF I have set up a puzzle with multiple types of clues, and they choose to target a red herring, they are likely going to get that red herring. The enemy is trying to throw them off the trail, and sometimes they are going to stumble into those, it adds a small scent of realism to the game if they can look and find something that isn't useful, winning leading to a failure. But, this is a very specific type of campaign and style that I would be using.

I'll give a fairly banal example from the session of Cthulhu Dark that I GMed on the weekend:
It is a fun little example, but at what point did you tell the butler character the consequences for a failed roll before they made the attempt?

That is what my posts were about, and that seems to be something you are only glancing over and makes no appearance in this example.

Yes, the player's decisions had consequences that wouldn't have existed without the character, and the player could make many assumptions based off the game, the genre, and their own observations, but when the Butler was loading the canister, before they made their roll, did you tell them that if they failed they would spill the mysterious fluid all over their character? If you had not told them that, would it have changed any of the rest of your example.



And, I think many readers will say, "Yes, then in actuality, the player did *NOT* know the real stakes." When we set stakes, we know exactly what it is we stand to lose. If I don't want to lose the stakes, I don't bet. While the player knows the fluid is significant, they don't know in what manner, or what spilling it really means - they do *not* know what there is to lose here. Will the stuff make them grow tentacles? Will the scent of it lead amorous fish men to them? Nobody knows! That's hardly a solid example of knowing what the final cost of failure will be, and does not tell them how much of their resources they should spend on success (which is a very real part of knowing stakes ahead of time).

While you are demonstrating the techniques, I am not sure you're demonstrating that this actually gives the player any more control.

I agree with this. If we are talking about the player knowing so they can make an informed decision, then they must know not have assumptions based of their knowledge. They might know that the liquid is dangerous, but they do not know what the consequences for failure were, they can only assume it was bad.



Knowing the liquid is important is plenty sufficient to knowing you don't want to spill it. In the style of play [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] is advocating, the effects of the liquid really depend on more play establishing those effects. Having it spilled on you just opens up future play possibilities involving that aspect. Recall that the established state of the liquid is that it us important to the master and that it may be sinister. Whether it makes you sprout tentacles later will be up to later play establishing this -- it's not currently determined. As such, there's no final consequence to be revealed, so pemerton's play has exactly as much horse as it needs to pull its cart. Calls for more are misassuming the needs in play.

This style is very different from traditional play as evinced by D&D (4e notwithstanding). It's easy to make incorrect assumptions based on prior experience where the GM has preplanned things like the nature and effect of the liquid. This isn't yet established in play, though, so the exact nature of the liquid will be established in later play according to the mechanics of play.
Then the player does not know the real stakes.

The entire point I've been told is that we have to tell the player the consequences of their actions, or otherwise they cannot make an informed decision about the fate of their character.

"This is important, failing is bad" is not what I have taken that to mean. Of course failing is bad. Of course the liquid is important. But there is a big difference between it being important because it was a clue to the monster involved in the plot, and it being important and melting the player to bone killing them instantly.

The player is not making an informed decision unless they know what the consequences are(according to the position I have been told pemerton and I assume you are taking), but you are saying that even the DM doesn't know the consequences... so nobody is informed enough by the standards my quotes were responding to in the original thread.





Or reading the next few posts, is knowing the consequeces for an action are simply bad, and that failure will have an effect on the game, all you were going for? Because if that is the case, then I see no reason to tell the players this before every single roll, which was what I was arguing against in the original thread. Telling the player the consequences for their actions is meaningless, the roll can continue either way, because they are not being told anything that would change their actions.

And if they are being told something that is changing their actions, why?
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
I've brought it up before, but there's a game called Capes that focuses solely on Conflict Resolution, and it taught me more about it than all the discussions ever could.

Firstly, just to get it out of the way, I hate Vincent's oft-quoted example. Because, asking "Why?" makes no sense outside of the context of the Conflicts and how they determined. Don't ask "Why?", instead ask "Which Conflict are you trying to resolve?"

So, were I to try and implement a Universal Conflict Resolution system in D&D/5e, I would put the following on my "to do" list:
0) A "scene-framing" moment of play, for the GM to introduce a new scene and the Basic Conflicts to be resolved in the scene.
1) A countdown or tracking mechanism for Conflicts (ICRPG does something like this for a lightish D&D system), that determines when a Conflict is resolved.
a) This includes the "Not Yet" rule: if a Conflict has not mechanically been resolved (won?), you cannot narrate an event that would effectively resolve it.
2) A mechanism for players to introduce new Conflicts.
3) Rules/advice for what makes for a good Conflict Definition.

Big Problems:
1) This doesn't play super nice with the quasi-simulation skill system.
2) D&D combat is already (in some ways) a very complicated Conflict Resolution system (its only resolving the one event over and over again...but...) and making the two systems mesh might be problematic. For example, in a Capes fight scene, it would be totally legit to put out an Event(type of Conflict) named "Somebody puts out an eye." The players would then compete through play for control of that event, and eventually someone would have the privilege of narrating just who and how somebody lost their eye. I'm not sure how you work something like that alongside the D&D combat system. If you drop the combat system....are you still playing D&D?
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm not sure what you mean: Adv/Dis has more of an impact the closer the original check was to 50/50.
I'm not sure what you mean by a flattening effect, but the way ad/disad works is that if you already have a decent chance of success, it makes that chance much better (advantage) or if you already had a small chance, it makes that chance even less likely (disadvantage). The converse might tend to "flatten" as a good chance of success is moved to a moderate chance with disadvantage and vice versa, but the prior cases are the more common (especially as it's often a player initiated resource or a team initiated one). In other words, it usually makes the likely outcome even more likely, which cuts against a resolution system that really needs reasonable chances of success or failure to do it's thing (the snowball).
I was thinking more about advantage than disadvantage, so I'll stick to that.

What I had in mind is that if my chance of success is 1 in 20, then advantage nearly doubles that (39/400 is near enough to 1 in 10); while if my chance is already good, then advantage doesn't increase it as much (eg if its 50/50 it goes to 3 in 4, which is only 50% more likely; if its 4 in 5 then it goes to 24/25, which is only 20% more likely).

But if I'm following properly, the general experience is that doubling a small chance doesn't, in practice, make much difference (eg because those checks don't come up often enough for the doubling to show through) while the more modest increase in to big chances does make a difference (eg because those checks come up a fair bit and already weren't too likely to fail and now are even less likely).

You mean 'Bounded Accuracy?' Or the nominal easy/hard/etc guidelines?
The two in combination, I think, because its the relationship between bonuses and DCs that determines the prospects of success, which matter to the viability of conflict resolution for the reasons [MENTION=16814]Ovinomancer[/MENTION] has given.

Thinking through some more maths:

Suppose a DC of 15 and a bonus of +1. Then the chance of success is 7 in 20, but with advantage is 231/400, or about 11.5 in 20. The latter sort of odds is enough to support conflict resolution in Burning Wheel, but the result is that the players (and their PCs) do fail a lot and hence the play experience can be pretty demanding on them. And demanding on the GM too, because it puts a lot of pressure on the GM to effectively narrate failures.

I think D&D (and I include 4e here) has never provided a lot of support to the GM in narrating failure effectively. I don't have a good sense of how much better 5e might be in this respect, but if the general tendency in play is to incline towards making checks with significantly better than 50/50 odds then maybe it doesn't come up too much?

I think this also touches on another corollary to your posts, that task -> conflict resolution, when well coupled, doesn't imply that a successful task resolution means a successful conflict resolution. Instead, a successful task should always be coupled to an advancement towards a successful conflict resolution, and vice versa, but not exactly one for one. The Baker quote and your example don't explicitly make this point, although it is lurking in the shadows, so to speak, especially in your play example. I wanted to bring it out more clearly.
Can you elaborate? You may have noticed something in my play example that I missed.
 

pemerton

Legend
Just picking up on a few bits of your interesting post:

a) This includes the "Not Yet" rule: if a Conflict has not mechanically been resolved (won?), you cannot narrate an event that would effectively resolve it.

<snip>

1) This doesn't play super nice with the quasi-simulation skill system.
2) D&D combat is already (in some ways) a very complicated Conflict Resolution system (its only resolving the one event over and over again...but...) and making the two systems mesh might be problematic.
The most developed non-combat resolution system for D&D that I'm aware of is the skill challenge in 4e. It needs your (a) but no rulebook directly states it. A GM needs either to bring that from outside (normally by experience with another game with better-stated rules), or intuit it, or else complain that skill challenges are broken because we have to keep rolling the dice even though the conflict is resolved!

I'm not sure about your (1). In 4e the standard solution is to just ignore all the quasi-simulationist stuff in the PHB skills chapter (which is mostly dropped in Essentials, for good reason). I'm not sure that 5e skills are really even quasi-simulatoinist, though I'm not the best qualified to comment. I think the issue is less about quasi-simulation and more about setting appropriate expectations for players and GMs: eg having a good Investigation skill means (something like) when a conflict involves investigating stuff, than I'm more likely to succeed at that conflict than others. This will cause a lot of players to go ballistic but for culture/expectation reasons rather than narrowly mechanical reasons.

Your (2) is a recurring issue in 4e play, although most of us who care have developed various sorts of workarounds/coping mechanisms. It's an issue even in a system that one might expect to be tighter than 4e, like BW: eg the rules for BW set out both an action economy and a correlation of that action economy to ingame fictional passage of time for it's ranged skirmish conflict resolution system and its melee combat conflict resolution system. The ingame time is different for each (a roughly 10:1 ratio), but the GM is encouraged, when adjudicating the two side-by-side, to ignore this and run them more-or-less back-and-forth. It's a smaller thing than the 4e issues, but is still a blemish rather than a virtue.
 

pemerton

Legend
Why did you think an example with a large portion of the method "implicit" was a good one for trying to get others to understand? The thing that was implicit was, in fact, *central to understanding what you were doing*.
I can only work with what I've got!

Is "bad" a jargon word with the game?
I was hoping that people's general familiarity with the Cthulhu genre would do some work in parsing the example. So whether fluid spilled down a grate is going to awaken Deep Ones in the sewers, or send the inhabitants of the house insane by contaminating their water supply, or something else appropriately Cthulhu-esque is an open question, but we can all see - I hope - that these are the sorts of bad things that happen in a Cthulhu RPG.
 

pemerton

Legend
There is a lot here, so forgive me if I'm missing some parts. But I don't see how this making your point that it is better for the DM or GM to tell you the consequences of your actions.

<snip>

This likely does not tell the player anything they did not already know.

<snip>

The entire point I've been told is that we have to tell the player the consequences of their actions, or otherwise they cannot make an informed decision about the fate of their character.

"This is important, failing is bad" is not what I have taken that to mean.

<snip>

Or reading the next few posts, is knowing the consequences for an action are simply bad, and that failure will have an effect on the game, all you were going for? Because if that is the case, then I see no reason to tell the players this before every single roll, which was what I was arguing against in the original thread.
I've honed in on these bits of your post because I think they might be the best place to start.

I personally think the issue of telling - if that means explicitly stating as a precursor to the roll - is a bit of a red herring, because in RPG play, especially among participants who are used to playing together, there are many ways to convey information and establish expectations other than explicit telling.

But I think reducing what is conveyed to [/I]consequences for an action are simply bad[/i] is not correct. And that's really what I see as the focus of the discussion. It's not irrelevant - [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] canvassed, upthread, that a consequence of spilling might be good (eg if it stops the BBEG getting the fluid) and that's a possibility that is excluded in the context of my play example - but it's too simplistic. What's the nature of the badness? Who is implicated? What sorts of things might be required to effectively respond to it?

I've played games in which the answers to those questions are known only to the GM, and the players can't act on them except by way of either (i) guesswork, or (ii) declaring actions that will get the GM to release the answers, or bits of them (which is the analysis/study I referred to in my OP). Whereas in my example, the player knows the parameters of the answers to those questions without having to guess and without having to engage in further action declarations. The player knows that the badness will pertain to something that the player has put forward as significant in the game (in virtue of his PC build) - the master/servant relationship, the propriety of butlering, or something in that neighbourhood. Given the master/servant relationships established in play - the PC's own, and that between the NPC butler and the NPC master, the latter of whom is ultimately in charge of the mysterious fluid - the player knows what elements of the shared fiction have to be focused on in order to uncover and possibly resolve or at least respond to the bad thing.

One way to describe the approach, at a fairly high level of generalisation, is that by choosing to play a butler and then by following that up with a choice to help his butler friend do his duty by looking after the fluid, the player has placed a constraint on what I, as GM, am entitled to establish as consequences of failing in the context of that second choice. So the player knows the general parameters for consequences because he set them. So they can't be something known only to the GM!

Once we step down from that high level of generalisation we can add another gloss: the GM is allowed to push the player on what it means to be a butler, and what counts as doing the right thing as a butler. And one way of doing that is through the narration of consequences. I regard this as just about the highest-risk aspect of the approach I'm describing: because if you don't push at all then the player may never feel challenged and things can be too "pat"; but if you push too hard or misjudge what the player will regard as fair provocation (as opposed to just overriding their concept) then the whole edifice can fall over, with unhappy consequences for trust and other feelings. That's why I regard the back-and-forth between player and GM as super-important, even among people who know one another (because we might know one another well, but have we ever discussed butlering before?). And that back-and-forth itself helps warm the player up for what might be coming downstream, as well as providing the GM with the stepping stones for more dramatic or hard-hitting consequences downstream, and so it both telegraphs and lays the ground for surprise - which might seem paradoxical, but hopefully I've succeeded in explaining why it's not.

For some RPGers all of the above might seem obvious, and straightforward or even oversimplified.

But my own experiences, both of play and of posting, make it clear to me that it's quite a different approach from that which many RPGers use. Just to give one example: I've read many posters saying that they design adventures before the players generate their PCs; whereas the approach I'm describing makes that literally impossible.
 

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