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D&D General Story Now, Skilled Play, and Elephants

pemerton

Legend
I really don’t understand what is happening in these threads. I seriously do not.

This is so much more simple than it’s being made to be.

1) Are you trying to achieve x? Yes?

* Did this current move made take your closer to your objective? Would an alternative move made have yielded a less effective result (incorporating all possible outcomes up to and including calamity)?

* Did a prior move or a prior sequence of moves set up this current move? Would an alternative move or sequence of moves have put you in a less favorable position to either (a) make this current move or (b) make an alternative current move that is as good or better than this one.


2) Rinse/repeat (forward and backward in time across all possible moves made and their alternatives).

3) Evaluate on all timescales relative to the game at hand (eg, if a game requires you to play skillfully across multiple, integrated loops, then it’s necessary but not sufficient to play skillfully in one of those multiple loops…particularly if the play in one loop doesn’t, but should, synergize with/amplify the play in another loop).

4) Does the system engender thematic coherency or is thematic coherency a fundamentally competing priority across some relevant loops of play (eg if you have 3 concurrent loops of play that all must be managed, is thematically coherent play useful/integrated with skilled play in loop A, irrelevant in loop B, and adverse to in loop C).


That looks like that parameterizes the whole model for me. I don’t know what I’m missing.
I doubt you're missing it, but it seems to be missing from your model:

Do I lose the game if I don't achieve the objectives at which I was aiming via my moves?

In Classic D&D, and The Green Knight, the answer is yes. In Burning Wheel, most of the time the answer is no.

Those different answers mean that the whole dynamic of the game, and the way we can approach it as players, changes.
 

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Campbell

Legend
When it comes to skilled play (of the fiction) I think I am mostly okay with elevating that type of player skill over other types of skill because RPGs are at heart games played in a shared fiction. If there is any core skill that applies across all RPGs it is reasoning about the fiction and making moves based on that reasoning. At heart the medium is an extension of historical war gaming which likewise highly valued the players' ability to reason about the scenario. I think we pretty much lose the essence of the medium when the details of the fiction become less important to play.
 

pemerton

Legend
Something that has provoked argument in game studies is that players often play a given game in different ways. This takes two forms. In one form, the players all on surface join the same game, but each with different ideas of how they will play (including different ideas of what is permissible). One of the more marked cases is the player who participates without knowing the rules.
On what basis is it being said that these players are playing the same game? To put it another way, what are the individuation criteria for games that underpin these claims?

I mean, consider a game of 500. I might be sitting down to practice a new set of bidding conventions with my partner, and see if I can count all the offsuit that gets played; while someone else might be sitting down to while away half-an-hour and see if they can win a few tricks.

I can say from real experience that this will produce a social mismatch: the "casual" player is apt to feel a bit cruelled; and the play is apt to be dominated by me and my partner. But in a purely formal sense the game will work: hands will be dealt, auctions undertaken, tricks played, scores tallied, games won.

And that's because even the "casual" player will still uphold the basic expectations of play: sincerely trying to win the auction so as to play a winning hand; sincerely trying to win tricks; etc. Only if the "casual" player gives up and starts playing randomly or destructively are we into the "griefer" territory. But that possibility doesn't tell us anything very interesting about five hundred as a game; it does tell us something about the limits of human tolerance for others wrecking their leisure time.
I feel like the example of griefing in MMOs might represent a challenge to that. Perforce - as it is enforced programmatically - the players are playing the same mechanics. Their objectives, rewards and principles of play diverge. What do you think?
players vary within cohorts as well as across them. The cheater is a notorious example.
These - griefers, and cheaters - are degenerate cases. (1) They're not approaches to play that universalise; they depend upon there being other game participants who are playing sincerely. (2) They are not sincere attempts at playing the game. They're more subtle versions of accidentally-on-purpose knocking over the board if you're losing a game of chess. If we're studying the psychology of those who participate in games, and the sociology of gaming circles, then they're interesting case studies. But if we're asking about the play of games from a broadly critical perspective (which takes as a given the normative underpinnings of the shared human activity of playing a game together) then I don't think they're relevant. I mean, I don't think it's a meaningful musicological critique of the length of a Wagnerian opera that the longer the music goes, the more likely someone in the theatre is to cough or fart.

My current view on games is to think about them as tools. Just as most people know the use of a hammer, and will use it to drive in nails, it is possible to use a hammer in other ways. A hammer might come with instructions for use, and that will help produce conformity (without guaranteeing it).

Unfortunately, RPGs are rather more fuzzy than hammers. Whereas the properties of matter offer a graspable object that persists in its form whatever we think of it - for hammers - with games players have a role in determining properties. A great example is "Opponent loses next turn" (the original text of Time Walk) which some players grasped and enacted as instant victory.
But I don't think any of the MtG players - perhaps beyond the first naive interpreters - was sincere. It's just a case of a poorly expressed rule.

People can do what they like with a D&D book. Maybe they use it as a coaster - that doesn't tell us much about RPGing, though. Maybe they use the list of weapons and monsters to inspire their free imagination play (I've certainly heard of that happening) - that doess't tell us much about D&D play, I don't think, but might be useful information for the marketing team at WotC. Maybe they use the rules for stat generation and classes to create characters, and then free roleplay a game of strolling through fairs, running taverns, etc. I think plenty of that happens too, and goes under the label D&D, but it can hardly tell us anything distinctive about D&D as a game given that exactly the same thing could be done using RQ, RM, C&S, T&T, Fantasy HERO, etc, etc.

When I talk about Gygaxian skilled play, or DL/2nd ed AD&D play, I'm not making an empirical generalisation about how those rulebooks and their contents were incorporated into RPGers' game play. I'm talking about concrete traditions of play that are characterised by certain tolerably clear conceptions of what the goals of play are, what the appropriate principles and techniques are, how action resolution and PC development factor into that, etc.

What I am seeing increasingly with younger players is a willingness to make the game serve them. They don't take the goals laid out by game designers as carven in stone. I believe that will be the pattern for the future.

We have strong-minded people on these boards who are able to put forward their informed preferences very confidently. Asserting a preference or belief won't make it true for all players. I don't seek that kind of understanding of games. I seek an inclusive understanding, that gives consideration to how each player chooses to play... not how I expect them to play. In almost every session of play that I observe, I see differences in understanding of what they are doing between the players. Most manage these differences to successfully fulfil the social contract - stay within the magic circle - yet these differences are palpably present.
I don't know what your point is. Are the "younger players" you refer to strong-minded people who are able to put forward their informed preferences very confidently? Or do they contrast with them? I couldn't tell from your post.

And I also don't understand what you take to be the connection between being a strong-minded person able to put forward informed preferences very confidently and seeking an understanding of games. In philosophy, I'm a reasonably strong-minded person. I have opinions on many issues across epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind and language, and moral and political philosophy, and I can put those forward fairly confidently. I can also understand a range of views in those fields, including ones I disagree with. I frequently supervise research students whose views differ from mine, and who cite my work in their work so as to disagree with it.

When @Campbell says that he prefers gaming with a shared purpose he is not denying an "inclusive understanding" that "gives consideration to how each player choose to play" rather than "how [he] expect<s> them to play". He is stating a preference. In fact the basis for that preference seems to be that he has, in fact ,noticed and participated in groups in which that purpose is absent and has not enjoyed it! He could hardly have reached that conclusion if he hadn't first recognised the underlying facts.

But in any event, it tells us little or nothing about Gygaxian skilled play that some players ostensibly playing in that style are there not because they want to beat the dungeon with the rest of the group, but because they really enjoy imagining being a powerful warrior who cleaves Orcs like Boromir did. I think that player would probably have a better time, all things being equal, playing Burning Wheel or Prince Valiant or even maybe RuneQuest than doing a run through White Plume Mountain, but ultimately that's that player's problem, not mine.
 
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pemerton

Legend
When it comes to skilled play (of the fiction) I think I am mostly okay with elevating that type of player skill over other types of skill because RPGs are at heart games played in a shared fiction. If there is any core skill that applies across all RPGs it is reasoning about the fiction and making moves based on that reasoning. At heart the medium is an extension of historical war gaming which likewise highly valued the players' ability to reason about the scenario. I think we pretty much lose the essence of the medium when the details of the fiction become less important to play.
Right: so build optimisation in a game with many moving parts (eg D&D 3E and 4e) might require a certain sort of skill, but isn't the sort that we're super-interested in for RPGing purposes.

Likewise my friend who used his skills with spreadsheets and linear programming to calculate various optimal allocations of Rolemaster combat ability to various purposes (first strike, attack, defence, etc).

What about the following (again taken from The Green Knight)?

Based on seeing how my kids got hosed, and my regular group did well, I think there are four main skills:

(1) Identifying appropriate Honourable actions that can (i) advance your goals in the encounter, while (ii) keeping your Dishonour under control;

(2) Using character special abilities effectively to manage the fallout, for Dishonour, from action resolution;

(3) Establishing goals for the encounter which will result in a good payoff of Honour/Dishonour at the end of it, which requires a sense of the trope and genre as well as reading the cues to these in the details the GM announces;

(4) Identifying actions that will allow moving from observed cues to more detailed information about the encounter, while also having some other characters doing things to move the action forward (because each encounter is on a clock, there's never time to waste) - this feeds back into (1).​

(2) is technical game play that (if I've followed you properly we agree is not distinctive for RPGing.

(1), (3) and (4) are all about play of the fiction. But pretty different from Ggyaxianism, I think. How would you think about them?
 

Campbell

Legend
@pemerton

Definitely. You see similar elements in most of Vincent Baker's designs (thinking mostly of Apocalypse World and Dogs in the Vineyard here) where the rules of the game force you to address the fiction.

Another stellar example is Exalted Third Edition's social influence system. In order to convince a character to do something you have to target one of their intimacies (defined stuff they care about). It's something of a shell game where knowing more about a given character can give you power over them. In order to find this stuff out though you have to make moves within the fiction that reveal it. There are layered systems and special moves to master, but they constantly call you back to the fiction.

Blades in the Dark is another game that deeply cares about skilled play (of the fiction) that looks quite different from OSR play. Damn near every moment of play is about negotiating fictional positioning and considering the risks you are taking operationalized in position and effect. There almost no real defined mechanical impacts. It's all about the fiction. One of the players in John Harper's stream was often accused by viewers of being a rules lawyer, but really was a fictional positioning lawyer in that he (InControl) was constanly seeking detailed information about the fiction to play off of.
 

I doubt you're missing it, but it seems to be missing from your model:

Do I lose the game if I don't achieve the objectives at which I was aiming via my moves?

In Classic D&D, and The Green Knight, the answer is yes. In Burning Wheel, most of the time the answer is no.

Those different answers mean that the whole dynamic of the game, and the way we can approach it as players, changes.

What if I subbed out your italicized for the below:

Do I lose the sought integrity of play or the trajectory of play if I don't achieve the objectives at which I was aiming via my moves (which may rightly snowball into "I lose the game")? Eg I've just lost my dear relationship/companion, this precious asset, my conception of self and place in this world, my philosophical anchoring, my legacy has been dethreaded, my sword arm (etc).

That is a throttling back of your statement a smidge to the gamestate nearing the event horizon of Loss Con.

Yay? Nay?
 

We're agreed on this.


I'm not a huge fan of the quotes as jargon - I don't mind them as scare quotes - but I do think that Gygaxian "skilled play" is a special case that there is benefit in recognising as a special case.

There are two reasons I think this.

(1) It has had such a big influence on the hobby - it cast such a shadow, especially but not only on D&D play - that I think we have to recognise that and start our analysis with an awareness of that.

To put the same point slightly differently: RPGs have inherited an obsession with geography, architecture, maps and the like; and have inherited assumptions about how combat should be resolved via a distinctive minigame in which fictional positioning plays perhaps a modest, even significant but never determinative role; and we can't understand the obsession and the assumption except by reference to how Gygaxian skilled play works, and the premises it rests on.

In thirty years time maybe this first reason of mine will have evaporated; but I just don't think it has yet. I just find myself in too many threads where discovering a secret door is taken to self-evidently be a different way of extrapolating the fiction from killing on Orc with a sword blow, hence warranting a completely different approach to framing and to action resolution.

(2) This second reason relates to the discussion @Manbearcat and I were having in the other thread, and picks up on your leveraging of the system to achieve player goals within the scope of the game.

I think that skilled play is primarily a matter of agenda - what are we all doing when we sit down to play this RPG - rather than actual moments of play. Thus I think it makes sense to say that my play of this "skilled play" game was unskilled - that's why I lost! And because of this, I think it makes sense to contrast RPGs in which players will lose if they don't play with skill (classic D&D is an example; so is my new favourite example, The Green Knight) and RPGs of which this is not true (Burning Wheel was my example in the other thread; others include Prince Valiant and Cthulhu Dark, neither of which actually has much room for leveraging the system in any event beyond declaring actions).

I can sit down to play Burning Wheel where my agenda is inhabiting my character and have a great time. The game will work. Checks will be framed and resolved. Some will be successes; some, perhaps more, will be failures. My character will be twisted and turned and perhaps tortured. This is the game doing the thing it's meant to do.

If I sit down to a game of classic D&D and try and play it like that, it will be a total disaster (unless the GM fudges and/or manipulates a lot of the fiction, in which case we're out of classic D&D and into DL/2nd ed AD&D territory).

*************************************************************

Now here's an interesting question that arises from my (2) and tries to step out of the shadow of my (1). What might RPGs where the agenda is and has to be "skilled play" look like, if they don't look like Gygaxian D&D? I don't know Gamma World to know how different, if at all, it is from Gygax. T&T is more random but in many respects is pretty similar.

The Green Knight is completely different. For me (and this is almost certainly a fact about me, not anything about the state of the RPG hobby) it's been a real eye-opener to see that a "skilled play" game can be so radically different from Gygaxian play, and also very different from something like Burning Wheel played from a (not essential, but possible) skilled play perspective.

I'm just going to rattle some thoughts out there (everyone is safe from my typical bullet-point massacre so have no fear):

(As you know) I agree with you that skilled play is a matter of agenda. When you're designing a game (and certainly playing it) you need to know the first principles that underwrite the design and the play of the game (here I'm not talking about the principles that undergird individual moves made by participants...I'm talking about the founding document/mission statement/the substrate etc upon which a gaming edifice is erected).

However, while the moments of play are fundamentally informed by those 1st principles (that agenda), the entire structure should work as a feedback loop, continuously responsive to and integrated with what came before it (and what it will feed into). The entire loop of play is made up of moments, entangled and integrated with each other (the preceding moments and the moments these moments feed into) and the throughline of agenda.

Finally, forget whether one feels that the trajectory of a by-the-book DW game is informed by (at least in part) a skilled play agenda. I am certain that Torchbearer, Blades in the Dark, and my 4e games are "challenge-based games where gamestate and PC trajectory is inextricably wedded to theme and premise." Despite my Forge support on the bulk of its analysis and hypotheses, this is where I diverge from Forge Incoherency Hypothesis (Gamism and Narrativism can be functionally married). Step on Up and Story Now agendas cannot be disentangled from one another in the cases of these games. To attempt to do so and then accurately describe the play of these games leaves you in a wasteland of insufficient language (which feeds back into a problem of information deficit when future folks try to duplicate what these designs coherently achieved).

Pulling this all together, I look at this similarly to the way you used to depict a Paladin At-Will in 4e.

Valiant Strike - Paladin Attack 1​

You attack a foe, gaining strength from your conviction as the odds against you rise.

At-WillDivine, Weapon
Standard Action
Melee weapon
Target: One creature
Attack: Strength vs. AC. You gain a bonus to the attack roll equal to the number of enemies adjacent to you.
Hit: 1[W] + Strength modifier damage.


I'm valiant (the agenda is to make a valiant paladin) because I stand before many foes.

My conviction gains strength as the odds stand against me (the theme of the power).

The mechanics say so...therefore I'm incentivized to play boldly with thematic coherency (the feedback loop).


The agenda informs moments of play and each moment of play is responsive to and integrated with what came before it and will feed into the next...creating a loop.

You can have all the agenda in the world that you want, but the design has to work at the "moments of play level" so that the feedback loop is coherent and functional. Yet another thought: this is why I fought so hard in 5e's playtest to have its encounter budgeting informed at the encounter level...NOT at the Adventuring Day level. Because I knew the impact that would be wrought at the "moments of play level" and the feedback loop it would engender. And folks argued with me like crazy back then about this. And sure enough, a massive contingent (including many that argued against me 8-9 years ago) have spent the last 5 years decrying various aspects of CR/Encounter Budget/disparate PC ability rationing and how sensitive the game is to Short Rest/Long Rest dynamics.

This is a perfect example of a sort of rudderless or incomprehensible agenda (when it comes to intraparty balance and party : Team Monster balance at the most fundamental site of conflict in D&D; the combat) wedded to a somewhat rudderless appeal to traditional and familiar Adventuring Day design (traditional and familiar for traditional and familiar leading to traditional and familiar for more traditional and familiar). Alternatively, they could have encoded this design with a clear, rudder...ful(?) agenda and then designed at the Encounter Level. As yet another alternative, they could have just said "you know what...lets balance at the Encounter Level and work up from there" and that would have inevitably led like an implacable divining rod to only one agenda; intraparty balance and Team PC : Team Monster balance at the encounter level for intuitive results for the GM (this is GM-side tech...not player) so they can more easily build dynamic, interesting, diverse combats with relatively predictable, desirable, climactic results for the designer/GM (so if you're designing a combat that is supposed to have all kinds of movement, terrain interaction, hazard navigation, forcing artillery out of fixed positions, a powerful leader who is protected by all the prior + other things like guardians with synergized movesets...and all of this should build and lead to a feeling of "you're absolutely fighting for your life so if you don't push the accelerator to the floor and skillfully marshal every_possible_resource...you're toast").

So I don't see how functional design and analysis can persist without examination at both the agenda level and the more intricate "moments of play" level (+ the intricate design that informs the granular aspects of those moments of play).




That is a mangled pile of words. Hopefully they're comprehensible (even if you disagree).
 
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pemerton

Legend
pemerton's italics said:
Do I lose the game if I don't achieve the objectives at which I was aiming via my moves?
What if I subbed out your italicized for the below:

Do I lose the sought integrity of play or the trajectory of play if I don't achieve the objectives at which I was aiming via my moves (which may rightly snowball into "I lose the game")? Eg I've just lost my dear relationship/companion, this precious asset, my conception of self and place in this world, my philosophical anchoring, my legacy has been dethreaded, my sword arm (etc).

That is a throttling back of your statement a smidge to the gamestate nearing the event horizon of Loss Con.

Yay? Nay?
There's a lot packed into your suggested alternative.

I'm going to stick to BW as my example. I hope that's OK.

Action failure might cause loss of a relationship or companion. Certainly might cause loss of an asset - that's a standard "go to" consequence for failure. Certainly injury to a sword-arm, though the game is light on permanent debuffs to skills (it does have permanent debuffs to stats, but these don't feed through to already-established skills). Maiming could be a consequence in some circumstances, though.

It's harder for the game to force a change in conception of self or philosophy - the player would have to make this choice based on what has been revealed. But unhappy truths can certainly be revealed, which can generate increasing cognitive dissonance between established fiction and those conceptions, and perhaps that's exactly what you have in mind.

I expect BW play to generate those consequences. When they're happening, on the one hand I can't say I relish it - my character is being put through the wringer! - but on the other hand it's part of the point of play. So I don't see it as a loss condition in the way that going into Moldvay's dungeon, putzing around, losing some hp to a random encounter with some fire beetles, and then leaving with basically no treasure and hence no XP would be.

@pemerton

Definitely. You see similar elements in most of Vincent Baker's designs (thinking mostly of Apocalypse World and Dogs in the Vineyard here) where the rules of the game force you to address the fiction.
Turning again to BW - the contrast I would draw between it and the Green Knight is that the Green Knight really requires author stance: if you go in just in actor stance I think your prospects of winning are pretty low. (Like playing a reckless Conan-esque type of character in a 1st level classic D&D game.)

Whereas I think BW can be played in actor stance. (It doesn't have to be.) So you have to address the fiction, but you don't have to think - in author stance - about leveraging the fiction in the specific sorts of game-winning ways that The Green Knight forces onto you.

Now having said that, I reckon I could enjoy playing (as opposed to GMing) the Green Knight in a way that I don't enjoy classic dungeoneering so much, because the skills it calls on are pretty different and it wouldn't test my patience in the way Gygaxian skilled play (and a lot of other technically skilful game play) does.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm just going to rattle some thoughts out there (everyone is safe from my typical bullet-point massacre so have no fear)

<snip>

That is a mangled pile of words. Hopefully they're comprehensible (even if you disagree).
I'm going to leave the long rest stuff alone, except to say this (which I think is going to end up being a little longer than I planned):

I regard "adventuring day" balance as an almost inevitable recipe for railroading, because it demands - in its very definition! - that multiple encounters must take place in order to establish balance. And this requires the GM to force those encounters.

Now, one might say, wasn't I in another recent thread recently talking about GM control over pacing in 4e D&D? Yes I was, but that is different in two respects: (i) it's about pacing, not balance, and so the GM losing control of the reins won't lead to any fundamental breakage in the game; (ii) precisely because 4e is balanced over the encounter, the players have no "skilled play" stake in how the GM manages that pacing. If the players have all been hording their dailies and surges and then the GM declares nothing more happens until we rest, no one in particular has been hosed, and at worst we get a sort of table-wide let down feeling that lets the GM know to manage the pacing and the player expectations better next time.

Whereas in the 5e model, precisely because of how it is fundamental to intraparty balance, a GM has to be managing this the whole time.

Now there is an exception: the GM doesn't always force encounters but only threatens to do so, such that the players have to play as if their will 6 to 8 of them even if there end up not being that many. But this is nearly as sucky as the railroad approach, because (a) for the threat to be credible the GM has to actually sometimes follow through, which takes us back to the railroad, and (b) when the GM doesn't follow through then we have encounters where the players don't cut loose, and as it turns out this is for no good reason, and so the upshot of the balance rules is to produce a play experience where the most interesting mechanical features of the PCs don't actually see play.

It's approach to balancing is probably the number one reason why I have zero interest in playing 5e D&D. (Even less, I think, than playing classic D&D.)

(As you know) I agree with you that skilled play is a matter of agenda.

<snip>

However, while the moments of play are fundamentally informed by those 1st principles (that agenda), the entire structure should work as a feedback loop, continuously responsive to and integrated with what came before it (and what it will feed into). The entire loop of play is made up of moments, entangled and integrated with each other (the preceding moments and the moments these moments feed into) and the throughline of agenda.

<snip elaboration, including Paladin 1st level at will Valiant Strike>

The agenda informs moments of play and each moment of play is responsive to and integrated with what came before it and will feed into the next...creating a loop.

You can have all the agenda in the world that you want, but the design has to work at the "moments of play level" so that the feedback loop is coherent and functional.
I think this is all true.

But there are different ways of establishing the feedback loop. 4e D&D does it, for combat, very significantly on the player side (as per your example of Valiant Strike). In this sense 4e D&D combat requires a type of technical skill, or at least attention to detail, that is not required in (say) Cthulhu Dark. I would assert that it can still be done with a good degree of author stance, but that might be a contingent fact about me (ie I think I'm pretty good at reading a 4e PC sheet and power list and identifying what that tells me about who I (as the PC) am and what I can and will do). If I read my sheet properly, then when I make a decision as a paladin player because I'm valiant the game will support me.

But when - as sometimes I have to, I think, in 4e combat - I look at the sheet and think I need to do this now and then I retrofit on my PC's motivation - ie classic author stance! - then my character still plays the same. And so toggling between actor and author stance produces no "gaps" or incoherence in the fiction. This is part of the strength of 4e's design (in my view) and part of what supports a feedback loop of the sort you describe. The player never has to just say "Bugger it, I'm giving up on my characterisation to save the party from this fiasco" and nor does s/he have to say "OK, everyone, I'm playing my character as I conceive it and now the GM has to use force to bail us out."

Now what about Burning Wheel? It doesn't have character powers in the 4e D&D sense - the closest it comes is that certain abilities (Sorcery and Faith are the main ones) enable access to a finite (and typically fairly low) number of discrete effects if a successful check is made. So my guy being valiant isn't about having a power that will underpin and give expression to that; it's about having a Belief about that, which will produce downstream payoff in the form of fate points.

So what keeps me "safe" in the meantime, as I declare my valiant actions, is primarily happening on the GM side, with the rules around failures and consequence narration. This is very different from the 4e model of combat (though quite close to the 4e skill challenge model); and is integral to generating the feedback loop.

Prince Valiant is much closer to BW than 4e D&D combat in nearly all respects, including this one; and compared to BW it is even less likely to generate consequences that dramatically impede further action declarations (especially from combat); and again this is pretty key to generating the feedback loop whereby players will have their PCs pursue the deeds of errantry that are meant to be central to play.

I think these differences in BW and Prince Valiant are highly relevant to my assertion that these don't have to be played with an eye on technically skilful play in the same way as some other systems.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
Oh, for sure, there's a skill in telling stories. This isn't what's meant by skilled play, and, if you stop a moment and consider it, you might think that having the GM tell you a story well is not at all the same thing as playing a game. The GM can exhibit great skill at their storytelling, but this, necessarily, removes the ability of the players to make skilled play choices -- because the actual input to the GM decision making process is not the players' actions, but rather the GM's story.
I lean more toward agreement with what you say here, than disagreement. I have in mind some concerns regarding handicapping and challenge. And I am wondering if where you say "telling stories" that might extend to any time the DM decides what happens (rather than applying the outcome of game mechanics and parameters as written).

So, would you agree that a kind of extemporizing similar to and perhaps even part of telling RP stories extends to wherever the DM decides what happens next? Perhaps thinking of the following examples
  1. DM overrides their rolls for a random encounter to choose a different, higher CR encounter
  2. DM decides the trolls attack Agatha's mage and not Beatrice's fighter
  3. DM decides to have the Count - an NPC - up the stakes in the negotiation by demanding a hostage
  4. DM adds two strong foes to the hunt for the escaping characters, increasing the challenge (and consider the case where in parallel world B, the DM decides to reduce the number of foes by two, reducing the challenge)
  5. DM decides the guards don't need to roll to notice the sneaking rogue (and consider the case where in parallel world B, the DM decides the guards must roll to notice the sneaking rogue)
Maybe that will do. I have thought most about 5e. It might be that similar examples can be easily found for games like DW. Should all of the above be excluded - obviate perhaps - from what is meant by skillful play?
 
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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
When it comes to skilled play (of the fiction) I think I am mostly okay with elevating that type of player skill over other types of skill because RPGs are at heart games played in a shared fiction. If there is any core skill that applies across all RPGs it is reasoning about the fiction and making moves based on that reasoning. At heart the medium is an extension of historical war gaming which likewise highly valued the players' ability to reason about the scenario. I think we pretty much lose the essence of the medium when the details of the fiction become less important to play.
When you bracket "of the fiction" in connection with skilled play, do you mean the shared imaginary world in which game action takes place? And do you have in mind players making choices and DM extemporising outside of, or in ways that might even have a determining role upon the outcome of, the designed game mechanics that are represented in RAW? I am wondering if you feel that the telling stories part of RPG can be skillful?

You spoke above of the virtue of greater concord among the players. On my mind in this thread is that this is more a matter of what others have called agendas, principles and techniques, than it is of mechanical game RAW. I think some of those agendas, principles and techniques are represented in the written material, and some are brought in by players.

If we believe that a suite of agendas-principles-techniques are effective in producing cohesion among a cohort of players playing a game, then it seems to me that we must believe that an alternative suite will lead to a different cohort playing that game in a different way from the first group. Thus we believe that one game can be played in different ways depending on suite chosen, unless we have a suitability-thesis that stipulates that a game-artifact will be more suitable for some suites over others. An issue here is that the interpreted parts of the game-artifact are usually crucial (the rules!) and there is ample evidence of players grasping, enacting and upholding rules in different ways. So one problem to resolve is whether a stable identity can be assigned to game-artifact? Or possibly a stable-enough-identity (although I am suspicious any time it is proposed that some features of a thing be overlooked, as science has shown repeatedly that glossed-over features can turn out to have significant ramifications).
 


clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
I expect BW play to generate those consequences. When they're happening, on the one hand I can't say I relish it - my character is being put through the wringer! - but on the other hand it's part of the point of play. So I don't see it as a loss condition in the way that going into Moldvay's dungeon, putzing around, losing some hp to a random encounter with some fire beetles, and then leaving with basically no treasure and hence no XP would be.
If the definition of skill is given meaning (only) within a given game design with a known agenda that is oriented to by players, then can one at that point conflate "skilled play" with skilled play because the only possible definition for skillful play is going to be one where Gygaxian Skilled Play and skilled play means the same thing?

Yes, I know @Manbearcat and possibly @Ovinomancer have made this point. I am wondering what you think?
 

pemerton

Legend
If the definition of skill is given meaning (only) within a given game design with a known agenda that is oriented to by players, then can one at that point conflate "skilled play" with skilled play because the only possible definition for skillful play is going to be one where Gygaxian Skilled Play and skilled play means the same thing?

Yes, I know @Manbearcat and possibly @Ovinomancer have made this point. I am wondering what you think?
I don't quite know what you mean by a given game design. I think everyone agrees that whatever counts as skilled play will be relative to how the game plays - its mechanics, it processes of play, etc.

I've already made multiple posts in this thread that identify a non-Gygaxian game that demands skilled play. The Green Knight is not a remotely Gygaxian game, but is one where the loss condition is clear (reach 20 Dishonour before completing the scenario) and where skilled play, with a high degree of author stance (in the Forge sense of that phrase), is necessary to avoid that loss condition.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
I don't quite know what you mean by a given game design. I think everyone agrees that whatever counts as skilled play will be relative to how the game plays - its mechanics, it processes of play, etc.

I've already made multiple posts in this thread that identify a non-Gygaxian game that demands skilled play. The Green Knight is not a remotely Gygaxian game, but is one where the loss condition is clear (reach 20 Dishonour before completing the scenario) and where skilled play, with a high degree of author stance (in the Forge sense of that phrase), is necessary to avoid that loss condition.
EDIT We might be talking past one another. We agree that there can be skilled play in non-Gygaxian games. And I am suggesting that we can form a construct for skill within each context. I think you are agreeing with that when you say "whatever counts as skilled play" right?

I then suggest that said contexts comprise -
  • game as artifact (the written rules and guidance, any components) typically it is reasonable to call this the game as designed (the given game design... this specific game, as designed)
  • agenda/principles/techniques that may have informed the design
  • agenda/principles/techniques that players orient to in playing the game (per @Campbell sharing orientation)
Often elements of agenda/principles/techniques are expressed in the game as artifact in the form of statements as to how to use the other parts of the game. Which obviously envisions that those parts could be used in different ways. Often players bring with them agenda+principles+techniques to the game which might be the same as, modifying to, overwriting or additional to those expressed in the game. The skill construct has meaning within a context and might not span other contexts. Although we should be (and are) able to find useful commonalities. (These ideas are not conflicting.)

[EDITED As often happens the way you wrote your post felt on surface like disagreement, when after rereading it twice I see it was agreement. Or if not I am sure you will clarify :)]
 
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I am burningly curious to know if @Ovinomancer agrees with that?!

Given the context of all you have seen me wrote on this subject, what is it that you believe I am saying here that you think @Ovinomancer would disagree with?

So far as I can tell, he and I and @darkbard (to speak to commenters in these threads) are pretty much 100 % in agreement surrounding skilled play and surrounding all of the entangled issues in these threads.

Curiously, it’s @pemerton and @Campbell and @AbdulAlhazred where the daylight exists between my position and theirs (which is fascinating as I consider a Monty Python sketch in my head of all of the interlocutors we collectively disagreed with over the years on so many things, swilling their cup of wine in one hand while twirling their evil mustachios with the other and throwing their heads back to the sky in raucous, villainous laughter!).
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
Given the context of all you have seen me wrote on this subject, what is it that you believe I am saying here that you think @Ovinomancer would disagree with?
You perhaps describe a separation between "first principles that underwrite the design and the play of the game" and "principles that undergird individual moves made by the participants". You clarify (and maybe I am reading this incorrectly) that when it comes to agenda you are "talking about the founding document/mission statement... upon which a gaming edifice is erected".

I don't know if he believes a player needs to know (or be signed up to) the agenda in order to play skillfully. If not, then perhaps he would not agree that skilled play is a matter of agenda. At least not solely. Maybe you didn't mean solely?

Curiously, it’s @pemerton and @Campbell and @AbdulAlhazred where the daylight exists between my position and theirs (which is fascinating as I consider a Monty Python sketch in my head of all of the interlocutors we collectively disagreed with over the years on so many things, swilling their cup of wine in one hand while twirling their evil mustachios with the other and throwing their heads back to the sky in raucous, villainous laughter!).

And do you agree that it was fair in my previous post to suppose that you had in fact stated the point
the definition of skill is given meaning (only) within a given game design with a known agenda that is oriented to by players, then can one at that point conflate "skilled play" with skilled play because the only possible definition for skillful play is going to be one where Gygaxian Skilled Play and skilled play means the same thing

Your comment on ambiguating, for example? I ask because if so it would seem that I am leaning toward your views more than @pemerton's, but who knows really given the capacity we all seem to have for grasping a meaning opposite a poster's intent! (I can hear a Pythonian "I don't" pipe up in the background.)
 

These - griefers, and cheaters - are degenerate cases. (1) They're not approaches to play that universalise; they depend upon there being other game participants who are playing sincerely. (2) They are not sincere attempts at playing the game. They're more subtle versions of accidentally-on-purpose knocking over the board if you're losing a game of chess. If we're studying the psychology of those who participate in games, and the sociology of gaming circles, then they're interesting case studies. But if we're asking about the play of games from a broadly critical perspective (which takes as a given the normative underpinnings of the shared human activity of playing a game together) then I don't think they're relevant. I mean, I don't think it's a meaningful musicological critique of the length of a Wagnerian opera that the longer the music goes, the more likely someone in the theatre is to cough or fart.
There is an interesting tangent here on cheating in tabletop RPGs and it being a significantly different case than cheating in card games. There are, for example, RPGs that actively tell the GM to fudge the rolls which is in my experience universally a sign of the game rules not doing what is intended. And there are cases where the rolls get discarded because there is a massive mismatch between what the players (including the DM) want to do (in such cases normally tell engaging stories with friends, moderated by the rules) and what the rules present them with (instant death out of nowhere).
 

You perhaps describe a separation between "first principles that underwrite the design and the play of the game" and "principles that undergird individual moves made by the participants". You clarify (and maybe I am reading this incorrectly) that when it comes to agenda you are "talking about the founding document/mission statement... upon which a gaming edifice is erected".

I don't know if he believes a player needs to know (or be signed up to) the agenda in order to play skillfully. If not, then perhaps he would not agree that skilled play is a matter of agenda. At least not solely. Maybe you didn't mean solely?



And do you agree that it was fair in my previous post to suppose that you had in fact stated the point


Your comment on ambiguating, for example? I ask because if so it would seem that I am leaning toward your views more than @pemerton's, but who knows really given the capacity we all seem to have for grasping a meaning opposite a poster's intent! (I can hear a Pythonian "I don't" pipe up in the background.)

I meant the type of skilled play will be a byproduct of the creative agenda the game is devised around (therefore inextricably wedded to it).

However, if you’ll note in one of my last posts, I also hold that you can focus on certain aspects of design (the balancing play at the Encounter/Scene level vs balancing it at the Adventuring Day level) and the design decision will inevitably build to different Creative Agendas (top down vs bottom up design). Ideally you’re doing both (you have a guiding mission statement/agenda and then you’re building out systems and integrating under that foundational premise) to avoid incoherency creep, but at a singular aspect of system level, your prospective agenda will invariably winnow based on such a design decision even if you haven’t thought of a foundational premise beforehand (but you do so to avoid incoherency when you’re building out each aspect of system and integrating/layering them).

When concrete agenda/foundational premise doesn’t exist at the beginning of design (to guide all subsequent design on doesn’t exist when your building out aspects of system and integrating/layering them,), your rudderless design will leave you apt to get lost on a sea of incoherency (yes I just engaged full snob mode and wrote that)…which leads to competing play priorities embedded in your moments of play…which leads to GM Force being the solution to those moments of play…which damages the competitive integrity of play…which undermines skilled play as a priority (see how I skillfully circled back to my prior post about Long Rest recharge vs anticlimax?! SKILLED PLAY IN FORUMING!).
 

pemerton

Legend
I am wondering if where you say "telling stories" that might extend to any time the DM decides what happens (rather than applying the outcome of game mechanics and parameters as written).

So, would you agree that a kind of extemporizing similar to and perhaps even part of telling RP stories extends to wherever the DM decides what happens next? Perhaps thinking of the following examples
  1. DM overrides their rolls for a random encounter to choose a different, higher CR encounter
  2. DM decides the trolls attack Agatha's mage and not Beatrice's fighter
  3. DM decides to have the Count - an NPC - up the stakes in the negotiation by demanding a hostage
  4. DM adds two strong foes to the hunt for the escaping characters, increasing the challenge (and consider the case where in parallel world B, the DM decides to reduce the number of foes by two, reducing the challenge)
  5. DM decides the guards don't need to roll to notice the sneaking rogue (and consider the case where in parallel world B, the DM decides the guards must roll to notice the sneaking rogue)
Maybe that will do. I have thought most about 5e. It might be that similar examples can be easily found for games like DW. Should all of the above be excluded - obviate perhaps - from what is meant by skillful play?
1. is scene-framing/presenting a challenge. This wouldn't normally count as the GM "telling a story". Even Gygax suggests this is permissible - in his discussion of fudging a roll to detect a secret door "that leads to a complex of monsters and treasures that will be especially entertaining." (DMG p 110) While I think that this pushes against the overaching logic of Gygaxian play - given the players a leg-up in finding a good bit of the dungeon - I think it fells well short of "telling a story".

2. is very localised framing. In AD&D it goes against the default rule of random determination of melee targets. In 4e, on the other hand, it's part of the GM's job to do exactly that sort of thing (4e PHB p 8): "The Dungeon Master controls the monsters and villains the player characters battle against, choosing their actions and rolling dice for their attacks." It's part of how the GM keeps the pressure up to the players.

3. is imposing a limited failure or additional requirements of fictional positioning on a player's check. Unless it is a consequence of a failed check or similar on the player's part, it seems like GM force to me. It may or may not contribute to the telling of a story.

4. depends on how the escape rules for the system work. In the systems I prefer it would be a scene framed on its own terms, and so the GM is at liberty to frame it as s/he thinks is appropriate (eg 4e PHB p 8: "The DM sets the pace of the story and presents the various challenges and encounters the players must overcome.").

5. appears to be the GM deciding that a player's action declaration fails automatically, and not just on the basis of fiction that the GM has already established though is keeping secret from the players (as is standard in map-and-key play). It's hard for me to think of a context where this doesn't constitute force. This seems like the work of a GM who wants to tell a story.

When you bracket "of the fiction" in connection with skilled play, do you mean the shared imaginary world in which game action takes place? And do you have in mind players making choices and DM extemporising outside of, or in ways that might even have a determining role upon the outcome of, the designed game mechanics that are represented in RAW? I am wondering if you feel that the telling stories part of RPG can be skillful?
Obviously I'm not @Campbell, but I've read a lot of his posts over the years.

Campbell is not positing the fiction as contrasting with the game mechanics presented in the rules. I think he largely agrees with the following remark made by Vincent Baker about the relationship between mechanics and fiction:

Roleplaying is negotiated imagination. In order for any thing to be true in game, all the participants in the game (players and GMs, if you've even got such things) have to understand and assent to it. When you're roleplaying, what you're doing is a) suggesting things that might be true in the game and then b) negotiating with the other participants to determine whether they're actually true or not. . . .

So look, you! Mechanics might model the stuff of the game world, that's another topic, but they don't exist to do so. They exist to ease and constrain real-world social negotiation between the players at the table. That's their sole and crucial function.​

If we believe that a suite of agendas-principles-techniques are effective in producing cohesion among a cohort of players playing a game, then it seems to me that we must believe that an alternative suite will lead to a different cohort playing that game in a different way from the first group. Thus we believe that one game can be played in different ways depending on suite chosen, unless we have a suitability-thesis that stipulates that a game-artifact will be more suitable for some suites over others.
Or unless we take the view that adopting a different suite of agendas-principles-techniques makes it a different game.
 

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