log in or register to remove this ad

 

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

pemerton

Legend
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!).
I think it's a sign of intellectual and emotional good health that people can agree on some things, and yet look at some other things in a different way!

But I've always wondered whether my preference for actor stance and inhabitation of character would one day affect the way I look at RPGs more generally. Apparently that day has come!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

I think it's a sign of intellectual and emotional good health that people can agree on some things, and yet look at some other things in a different way!

But I've always wondered whether my preference for actor stance and inhabitation of character would one day affect the way I look at RPGs more generally. Apparently that day has come!

Absolutely! Ironically, I think I even said something recently to you and Campbell like "hey guys, if the opportunity to disagree with me arises, please aggressively take it!"

The only thing I wasn't expecting was for you guys to be so wrong! :p

More seriously though, it is quite interesting (your take here about actor stance and inhabitation affecting the way you look at RPGs more generally). Do you feel your position on this has changed over the course of the last few years after being informed by more recent play (Wuthering Heights, Traveler, Prince Valiant, The Green...Knight?), reading but not playing AW, and related ponderings?

Related, do you feel like your thoughts on your 4e play, and 4e play generally, have drifted (eg would you now bin it into Neotrad vs Gamist/Narrativist integrated hybrid)?
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
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).
I have come to agree with this. And I'd like to go a little bit more into "inextricably" and how that might relate to the portability of skill constructs (or parts thereof).

Say we take inextricably as sincerely as we possibly can. So that skilled play really is a matter of agenda (solely) and skill constructs are not portable. I cannot say from outside an agenda that play done by that agenda is or is not skillful. I can only make such a judgement when I am willing to embrace the agenda. So if the agenda were "tell stories" then that determines the skill construct for that context. This is where I imagine @Ovinomancer might be opposed, because I think he might say that a "tell stories" agenda is one that can't have a skill construct... skill doesn't apply to telling stories.

Alternatively, we can have a notion of portability. Then we seem to be saying that in a skill construct, there will be skill concepts that have meaning only within the context, but there will also be skill concepts that have meaning across contexts. So now we have said that skill is not inextricably wedded to agenda. I think @Ovinomancer must think something like this: that skill concepts are portable (including rejecting some concepts as not skillful).

Hence, burningly curious.

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).
Perhaps where we might find a continued bone of contention, is that I see TTRPGs as rather malleable. I don't think the rules hard-force the play. Given I don't think that, I expect that multiple agendas can employ the same game-as-artifact.

I have this thought that games might be best seen as tools (this is in contrast to other definitions, which are easy enough to find). As with tools, they will be better suited for some things - banging in nails perhaps - but you can always hit someone over the head with one.

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!).
I hadn't thought about the rudderlessness like this before. On one hand I agree with it. On the other hand if you have a rudder-audience mismatch then your design won't succeed anyway. Well, it can succeed on its own terms - as a piece of craftsmanship - but not in terms of being very widely embraced and enjoyed.

One can approach design audience-first (this is the usual mode in commercial design) and develop the creative agenda with that audience in mind. Additionally, creative agendas tend to be layered. Many designers have an intuitive or philosophical agenda, and layered on that for a specific design might be a creative agenda. We are oversimplifying when we use the word "agenda," but I imagine you know that.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
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.
Perhaps I draw less distinction between DM making something true, and DM telling story, than you might. I think that any time a DM chooses an outcome, they are doing the same thing in the moment whether or not that choice is spontaneous or aligns with some end they have in mind. The difference might be felt in frequency and degree, but not in essence.

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.​
One way I often see groups using the rules is to circumvent negotiation. I think of it as exercising fiat over the narrative. The cleric can by fiat say - zombies have a chance of fleeing - and in this they do not need to negotiate. It is a fact about the world model that they can make that true. Of course, if by negotiate one includes dictate, then I am that far on board.

Where I am not on board is that mechanics don't exist to model the stuff of the game world. I think Baker is speaking from his own priorities and ignoring the many game designers and players who are interested in fabricating a world they can explore.

Or unless we take the view that adopting a different suite of agendas-principles-techniques makes it a different game.
That is what I said, yes :)
 

I have come to agree with this. And I'd like to go a little bit more into "inextricably" and how that might relate to the portability of skill constructs (or parts thereof).

Say we take inextricably as sincerely as we possibly can. So that skilled play really is a matter of agenda (solely) and skill constructs are not portable. I cannot say from outside an agenda that play done by that agenda is or is not skillful. I can only make such a judgement when I am willing to embrace the agenda. So if the agenda were "tell stories" then that determines the skill construct for that context. This is where I imagine @Ovinomancer might be opposed, because I think he might say that a "tell stories" agenda is one that can't have a skill construct... skill doesn't apply to telling stories.

Alternatively, we can have a notion of portability. Then we seem to be saying that in a skill construct, there will be skill concepts that have meaning only within the context, but there will also be skill concepts that have meaning across contexts. So now we have said that skill is not inextricably wedded to agenda. I think @Ovinomancer must think something like this: that skill concepts are portable (including rejecting some concepts as not skillful).

Hence, burningly curious.


Perhaps where we might find a continued bone of contention, is that I see TTRPGs as rather malleable. I don't think the rules hard-force the play. Given I don't think that, I expect that multiple agendas can employ the same game-as-artifact.

I have this thought that games might be best seen as tools (this is in contrast to other definitions, which are easy enough to find). As with tools, they will be better suited for some things - banging in nails perhaps - but you can always hit someone over the head with one.


I hadn't thought about the rudderlessness like this before. On one hand I agree with it. On the other hand if you have a rudder-audience mismatch then your design won't succeed anyway. Well, it can succeed on its own terms - as a piece of craftsmanship - but not in terms of being very widely embraced and enjoyed.

One can approach design audience-first (this is the usual mode in commercial design) and develop the creative agenda with that audience in mind. Additionally, creative agendas tend to be layered. Many designers have an intuitive or philosophical agenda, and layered on that for a specific design might be a creative agenda. We are oversimplifying when we use the word "agenda," but I imagine you know that.

1) There are things in this post I agree with and things I don't agree with (which should be clear enough which those are given all the exchanges we've had). HOWEVER...I just want to say that I feel like this is your best and most clear offering to date of all of your posts. This is an extremely good post. Bravo (snobby head nod with wine glass raised)!

2) Only thing I want to pull out from this is the bottom bit because I don't know if I've addressed this directly at any time before:

I hadn't thought about the rudderlessness like this before. On one hand I agree with it. On the other hand if you have a rudder-audience mismatch then your design won't succeed anyway. Well, it can succeed on its own terms - as a piece of craftsmanship - but not in terms of being very widely embraced and enjoyed.

I don't agree with this. The reason why I don't agree with this is because my tastes in TTRPGing are CLEARLY niche. So far as I can tell, the overwhelming % of present TTRPG players are quite happy to (a) be told a good/riveting/interesting story by the GM while they only have fleeting and/or relatively impotent input (compared with other games) on play trajectory (their play is BIG on characterization and pantomime but low on actual volition), (b) be steeped in setting tourism of some variety (particularly if they are attached to a particular setting, its tropes, its NPCs - eg FR), and (c) they're very happy for the deft application of Illusionism (covert GM Force) in order to "keep the story online" (competitive integrity of gamestate trajectory and skilled play be damned)! Rudderless design fundamentally aids this play paradigm.

The Forge calls these player archetypes "Participationists" and the play "Participationism." Its one of the Forges best offerings in my opinion. And my sense is that the gaming world at large is a vast majority of these players. Consequently, it appears that "aversion to Force (and resultant subversion of the competitive integrity of the throughline of the gamestate)" is not a factor in a game "being very widely embraced and enjoyed!"
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I'm not sure how you see circumvent and constrain as markedly different. We aren't speaking at the level of individual actions, but rather the role of mechanics generally. In that sense Baker is spot on. To take your example, turning undead is a place where negotiation is constrained because of the mechanic.
 

pemerton

Legend
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).
This relates directly to my quote just upthread from Vincent Baker. Fudging or ignoring rolls is retreating from the mechanical process for establishing who gets to establish the fiction, to direct social negotiation.

Part of the reason for keeping it secret is that it smooths the social process if there is a fig leaf for everyone to hide behind!
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In the early days of RPGing the rules were not complete. This is because (i) assumptions were made about the expectations that would be brought to the game, and/or (ii) the designers simply didn't notice all the rules they were using, and/or (iii) they didn't know how to reduce those rules to writing. And a further important (iv) was that there were received expectations about how to state the role of the referee (received from wargaming and from D&D).

Amen to this. And it isn't really a dig at the authors - in the early days of RPGs... it was early. There was no established experience of how to do this well to draw upon.

What is missing in Traveller is a statement of the overall goal of play ...

So, most years, there's a house con I go to, in which one of the semi-stated goals is to give folks a chance to get a taste of new and different games. In this scenario, the players don't generally have a chance to read the rulebooks, so the GMs give a rules precis.

One GM started adding a statement of "How to find the fun in this game" to his pre-game briefings. And I'll be darned if I don't think most games, even today, could do with some more consideration of this in their introductions.
 

Since I have been in this hobby, there have always been players who were disatisfied with the current mainstream D&D and looked to alternative approaches, and players who, though they may like D&D, also wanted to experience other systems (for about the first fifteen years of play for me the latter was the norm among the people I gamed with). I don't think you need a deep explanation for why people want to seek alternatives like story now and skilled play. I haven't played the WOTC D&D since the first few months of 4e (not regularly anyways). I also don't play video games at all.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
This is where I imagine @Ovinomancer might be opposed, because I think he might say that a "tell stories" agenda is one that can't have a skill construct... skill doesn't apply to telling stories.

At which point every professional author, actor, director, and other form of professional story-teller slowly turn, and give anyone saying that the hairy eyeball. Any time you require human discretionary input to achieve a desired result, there can be skill in providing that input. What that skill looks like will depend on the process and input required, but a person can be skilled at it.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
(b) be steeped in setting tourism of some variety (particularly if they are attached to a particular setting, its tropes, its NPCs - eg FR)...
...Rudderless design fundamentally aids this play paradigm.
My word, now this is fighting talk! My tastes are immersionist. Your comment made me feel a little like you picture we immersionists gladly swilling from the trough of inferior game design. Certainly we cannot be said to have tastes worth elevating. Right?

Bah! I think my tastes are perfectly valid, elevated, and demanding. Few indeed are the game materials that support it. Griffin Mountain for RQ would be one shining example. Masks of Nyarlathotep for CoC also.

The Forge calls these player archetypes "Participationists" and the play "Participationism." Its one of the Forges best offerings in my opinion. And my sense is that the gaming world at large is a vast majority of these players. Consequently, it appears that "aversion to Force (and resultant subversion of the competitive integrity of the throughline of the gamestate)" is not a factor in a game "being very widely embraced and enjoyed!"
Another possibility is that the big-tent games make room for players to enter with their preferred agenda? Or near enough that the compromises in order to join a thriving community feels worthwhile. Maybe that was what I was trying to say to @Campbell earlier: people are able to moderate their demands so as to enjoy one another's company in play, even if they come with different agendas. The spotlight can move about the tent.

That's certainly what I find with my regular gaming groups. Player A is all about RP, player B is more interested in G, but they enjoy playing together. I sometimes see player B tremendously enjoying player A's RP. A homogeneity-thesis* guides us to look for fellows like ourselves. A heterogeneity-thesis* guides us to see value and delight in our differences.

EDIT So if you can set aside the snobbery, then perhaps you end up agreeing with the way I put it?



*NB: I don't mean to refer to any pre-existing theses with these labels, they're just for the sake of this discussion... to get across an idea.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
At which point every professional author, actor, director, and other form of professional story-teller slowly turn, and give anyone saying that the hairy eyeball. Any time you require human discretionary input to achieve a desired result, there can be skill in providing that input. What that skill looks like will depend on the process and input required, but a person can be skilled at it.
I would agree with that, but please don't let my words tar @Ovinomancer. I might well have misstated or oversimplified their views. For one thing, they might only be speaking in the sense of gamist skill.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Amen to this. And it isn't really a dig at the authors - in the early days of RPGs... it was early. There was no established experience of how to do this well to draw upon.

That's true, but also not the reason (or not the sole reason) for the confluence of written and unwritten rules (or, as some might say, rules and norms) in early D&D.

D&D came from a very insular, small, and most importantly ... hobbyist community (wargaming, adult who still gamed). There was a lot of collaboration, borrowing, and DIY involved. Early D&D (and RPGs in general) assumed a base level of knowledge and familiarity.

In a way, we can compare this to the "rules" in a cookbook. If you are not familiar with cooking at all, some cookbooks can seem intimidating or like they're skipping necessary steps. What does it mean to "boil water." How do you know if butter is browned? When it says to saute the vegetables, what does that mean? And so on. Most cookbooks assume some level of basic cooking knowledge (luckily, we have the internet now to answer most of those questions).

It was the same with early TTRPGs. They were games written by an intense group of hobbyists, originally for an other hobbyists, with the assumption that you would both be able to understand the background of this material, but that you would also be altering the rules as needed (DIY).

The irony is that the complaints some people had later (and the infamous "Dungeons and Beavers" column by Gygax) was not because of any need for actual rules standardization was desired in the overall community- far from it. Instead, if you contrast what was said earlier (with the explicit statements that the rules were not the end-all, be-all!) and the evolution of TSR along with the lawsuits, you see that the so-called rules standardization was simply about ensuring all the money stayed with TSR. It wasn't that there was something magical about RAW; instead, it was about keeping tables from making their own rules, and more importantly, keeping 3PP from devising rules that people would buy.

It's not the story of game design. It's the story of capitalism.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It was the same with early TTRPGs. They were games written by an intense group of hobbyists, originally for an other hobbyists, with the assumption that you would both be able to understand the background of this material, but that you would also be altering the rules as needed (DIY).

So, I agree wholeheartedly with your description. But I still classify this as not knowing how to write such a text - this is at the very basis of not knowing what ought to be in the book when considering broader publication.

What does it mean to "boil water." How do you know if butter is browned? When it says to saute the vegetables, what does that mean? And so on. Most cookbooks assume some level of basic cooking knowledge (luckily, we have the internet now to answer most of those questions).

Cooking is a great analogy, especially because we can compare and contrast various cooking instructions. There's a lot of cooking instruction out there that is bad. Remember, just because it is in a published book, doesn't mean it is a good example. There's a large body of work out there written without even testing the recipe to see if it produces the desired results! Martha Stewart cookbooks, for example, have been notorious for this.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
TFW your mentions are all about other people using you as a proxy for there own argument instead of addressing your points which either already answer the question being asked or directly refute it. Like where I said that there's absolutely skill in telling stories, and mention examples of such, but say that the goal of telling good stories cuts against skilled play only to be mentioned as someone that thinks that telling stories doesn't involve skill.

@clearstream -- you jump so quickly between word uses that your arguments end up largely as confusing gibberish. Skilled play is not skill, even though they share the word skill. Skill at making baskets is not skilled play in an RPG. The error you're making here is that you're putting telling a story as a goal, noting it takes skill, and then saying that this is skilled play. At no point do you look to see if it matches the given definitions of leveraging the system to achieve player goals within the scope of the game. If I'm just enforcing my story, even skillfully, I'm not leveraging the system to achieve player goals within the scope of the game. Thus, while this is a demonstration of skill, it's not skilled play.

And, for the record, I very much appreciate how stories are told. I'm a student of telling stories in many mediums. It's a craft. I endeavor to do my best and apply my learned skill when I run 5e, because my goal there is usually to deliver an entertaining story. I can, without much hubris, say that I am fairly skilled at doing this well, even at the necessary steps of hiding the Force necessary (or making it fun). I have not problem acknowledging that I am skillful here, but that I am not supporting skilled play in my game. Skilled play is not a catch-all that contains all efforts, it's a specific approach to games that delivers. Other approaches exist, and can also show skill in their application. There's a reason my definition of skilled play does not rely on the word skill at all.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So, I agree wholeheartedly with your description. But I still classify this as not knowing how to write such a text - this is at the very basis of not knowing what ought to be in the book when considering broader publication.


Cooking is a great analogy, especially because we can compare and contrast various cooking instructions. There's a lot of cooking instruction out there that is bad. Remember, just because it is in a published book, doesn't mean it is a good example. There's a large body of work out there written without even testing the recipe to see if it produces the desired results! Martha Stewart cookbooks, for example, have been notorious for this.

There was a person I once knew (a UI Engineer) who had this poster up, with these incredibly detailed, step-by-step instructions about the process of sharpening a pencil. It was illustrated and had, like, 20 different steps to it.

I always thought it was a hilarious and ironic joke; one day I mentioned my appreciation of it to him, and he told me that I had it all wrong. It wasn't a joke at all. Instead, he had it up so that he was always reminded that even the simplest things in the world that you take for granted always have a number of discrete steps that need to be explained, and that people assume that they don't need to be explained.

Much like the sharpened pencil, there's a point to that, which I'm sure I missed. :)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
RE: skilled play being an agenda

I think this is a chicken-egg situation. Is skilled play detectable in moments of play -- I think yes. Is it detectable holistically -- I think yes. Which causes which? Don't know. Skilled play is an agenda, but I'm not quite willing to say which direction that flows.
 

RE: skilled play being an agenda

I think this is a chicken-egg situation. Is skilled play detectable in moments of play -- I think yes. Is it detectable holistically -- I think yes. Which causes which? Don't know. Skilled play is an agenda, but I'm not quite willing to say which direction that flows.

This is a good post and expresses much of where I sit (your last two posts are there actually).

I think the only amendment I would put for myself personally (and I tried to capture that in one of my posts not long upthread) is that I think its a reinforcing loop that cannot be disentangled (so you could look at it as flowing to and from both things - agenda and moments).
 

My word, now this is fighting talk! My tastes are immersionist. Your comment made me feel a little like you picture we immersionists gladly swilling from the trough of inferior game design. Certainly we cannot be said to have tastes worth elevating. Right?

Bah! I think my tastes are perfectly valid, elevated, and demanding. Few indeed are the game materials that support it. Griffin Mountain for RQ would be one shining example. Masks of Nyarlathotep for CoC also.


Another possibility is that the big-tent games make room for players to enter with their preferred agenda? Or near enough that the compromises in order to join a thriving community feels worthwhile. Maybe that was what I was trying to say to @Campbell earlier: people are able to moderate their demands so as to enjoy one another's company in play, even if they come with different agendas. The spotlight can move about the tent.

That's certainly what I find with my regular gaming groups. Player A is all about RP, player B is more interested in G, but they enjoy playing together. I sometimes see player B tremendously enjoying player A's RP. A homogeneity-thesis* guides us to look for fellows like ourselves. A heterogeneity-thesis* guides us to see value and delight in our differences.

EDIT So if you can set aside the snobbery, then perhaps you end up agreeing with the way I put it?



*NB: I don't mean to refer to any pre-existing theses with these labels, they're just for the sake of this discussion... to get across an idea.

Addressing your top paragraph primarily here:

To be clear, I don't remotely hold the position that your tastes (or the tastes of Participationist players who make up a massive cross-section of TTRPG space) are to be sneered at.

My offering is not and was not pejorative. Like it always is when I offer it, its descriptive, as in:

If I were designing a game to cater to this apex play priority (and/or adjacent play priorities that typically accrete to it), this is how I would design that game.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top