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

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
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.
It sounds like you are working from an unstated gamist agenda.

@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.
I have pointed to the thread that coined the label. In that thread, I (and others) raised a concern with the word choice. The OP of that thread had understood that there was likely a need to disambiguate right from the outset. If you have an issue with the label, please take it up with those who coined it.

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.
With a gamist agenda, that may well be true. It won't be true in all contexts. The error you are making is excluding telling a story from proper RPG play. Or to put it another way, you are presenting one skill-construct as being the only possible skill-construct in RPG. I disagree with that view.
 

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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
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.
I know. I had hoped to convey that I knew. Evidently that attempt failed :(

I simply wanted to call out that I don't believe rudderless design aids an immersion-play paradigm.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Skilled play is not a catch-all that contains all efforts, it's a specific approach to games that delivers.

So, broadly, skilled play is leveraging the mechanic to support player goals, right?

Why cannot game mechanics be leveraged to support the player goal of story? I can see how it can be difficult for a player to leverage the mechanics of D&D for story. But Fate, or Cortex, or PbtA games all seem primed and designed for skilled story play.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
So, broadly, skilled play is leveraging the mechanic to support player goals, right?

Why cannot game mechanics be leveraged to support the player goal of story? I can see how it can be difficult for a player to leverage the mechanics of D&D for story. But Fate, or Cortex, or PbtA games all seem primed and designed for skilled story play.
The view I have reached is that in each context of play there can be a skill-construct. "Skilled play" (note the quotes, not my label) is probably better termed "Gygaxian skilled play" and refers to the skill-construct in the B/X and similar context of play. Agenda, principles and techniques orient player use of game-as-artifact. So the context is all those elements (and might not be derivable from game-as-artifact alone).

A skill-construct only has meaning within that context, so that in a story-interested context, skilled story play is possible even though story play would not be skillful in other contexts. Skill-constructs can share features, but just because they do so doesn't mean that it is right to suppose one can say everything about what is skillful within a construct based only on those features.
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So, broadly, skilled play is leveraging the mechanic to support player goals, right?

Why cannot game mechanics be leveraged to support the player goal of story? I can see how it can be difficult for a player to leverage the mechanics of D&D for story. But Fate, or Cortex, or PbtA games all seem primed and designed for skilled story play.
The inversion of input to output. If the output of the process is an input to the decision making, then you're not really leveraging the system. The system can very much allow for this, encourage it even, but this fundamentally disables the ability to leverage the system to achieve a goal. The system isn't being leveraged, here -- I'm not applying it to my problem in any way -- because the system just says "sure, make up a cool story beat right here and do that."

The general argument having been addressed here, I don't think that the games you've listed actually do this. In Fate, skilled play is about bringing your aspects to bear for success and good use of your Fate points (spend them willy-nilly, refuse complications to regain them, or just don't use them and you'll have issues with the system). The GM just outright deciding what happens next, even if it makes for a great story, isn't leveraging these system tools at all -- it's just the GM doing the thing.

Similarly, in Cortex, the Doom Pool is a player facing mechanic and can be (and must be) managed for skilled play. The GM has to decide how to use it, and has leeway, but cannot just "tell a story" and ignore it. It's a constraining mechanic available to the players for manipulation. As such, Cortex doesn't fall into the using the mechanics to tell a story bucket, either.

And, as for PbtA games, well, I also disagree. Skillful play here is very much constraining the GM's ability to tell you a story. It's a tad anathema to the system, even.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It sounds like you are working from an unstated gamist agenda.
I have no idea what you mean with this. I mean, I know what this means according to the Forge, and that's laughable, so however you're using it is just completely opaque to me. If you're going to tell me what it is I think, I'd appreciate if you could do so clearly. Actually, I'd appreciate it done not at all. I mean, I just got done saying that I'm not skilled play at all in my 5e games (or rather, I toggle, but the overgame is not at all about skilled play) and that I very much value the system because I can use it to tell a good story. What's gamist about this at all?
I have pointed to the thread that coined the label. In that thread, I (and others) raised a concern with the word choice. The OP of that thread had understood that there was likely a need to disambiguate right from the outset. If you have an issue with the label, please take it up with those who coined it.
You mean the quoted "skilled play?" Because you I didn't use quotes at all, and haven't, and am not referencing whatever thread you're talking about. You're the one that introduces concepts from other threads and then expects everyone to automatically know what's going on in those other conversations. Here's the thing, though, if you're bringing it in, you're responsible for it -- you can just punt it to someone else that used it elsewhere because you're the one using it here. And, again, my point had absolutely nothing to do with you doing this, I'm talking as used in this thread.
With a gamist agenda, that may well be true. It won't be true in all contexts. The error you are making is excluding telling a story from proper RPG play. Or to put it another way, you are presenting one skill-construct as being the only possible skill-construct in RPG. I disagree with that view.
Cool, I have no idea if it's true with a gamist agenda because I don't know what you mean by that and it doesn't appear to apply to me in any way. It looks like a label used to bin a person into an ignorable box rather than actually address the content of their argument.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
The view I have reached is that in each context of play there can be a skill-construct. "Skilled play" (note the quotes, not my label) is probably better termed "Gygaxian skilled play" and refers to the skill-construct in the B/X and similar context of play.

Given that I've advocated for that terminology myself, I'm with you there.

Agenda, principles and techniques orient player use of game-as-artifact. So the context is all those elements (and might not be derivable from game-as-artifact alone).

Okay. I tend to eschew a lot of the jargon you folks seem to enjoy, but I an reasonably certain that if we unpacked it, we'd find we agreement, such that I don't feel a need to unpack and make sure.

A skill-construct only has meaning within that context, so that in a story-interested context, skilled story play is possible even though story play would not be skillful in other contexts.

Fair. I think we'd find a practical issue in considering the context to be a clear-cut ,known, single-valued thing, but that's an aside.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
And, as for PbtA games, well, I also disagree. Skillful play here is very much constraining the GM's ability to tell you a story. It's a tad anathema to the system, even.

So... I'm bypassing the rest, because the most meaningful thing may be here - you consider story-based play to be "allow the GM to tell you a story"?

Because I very much don't. And if we disagree on that point, this becomes the central bit.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
So... I'm bypassing the rest, because the most meaningful thing may be here - you consider story-based play to be "allow the GM to tell you a story"?

Because I very much don't. And if we disagree on that point, this becomes the central bit.
Okay, Umbran. Usually, if one detects an error in understanding in how one meant a term to be understood, then one could look back and see if they explained it or left it open to interpretation. As this is the case here, the correct solution isn't to berate the other poster for not guessing what you meant, but to take a moment and actually explain what you meant. I'll help:

@Umbran, what do you mean by "story-based play," and how did I miss the mark with my overview statement that the outcome of the process being the only defining input into the decision process makes skilled play moot?
 

Campbell

Legend
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)?

Speaking personally my thoughts on hybrid games is that they alleviate the tension between thematic and challenge oriented play somewhat, but I still am deeply aware of the internal tension I have between playing a game well and playing with integrity. It's possible I am smuggling in some of my own Nordic LARP sensibilities unconsciously. After all my interest in Story Now gaming is mostly driven by a desire to achieve bleed of those intense emotional moments that come from strong framing / scenario design.

I would say most of what I'm looking for (when not embracing my Step On Up drives) is Story Now in the Streets and Right to Dream in the Sheets. It's probably why I like games like Vampire 5th Edition, Exalted Third Edition, Infinity, Conan 2d20 and FFG Legend of the Five Rings as much as I like Apocalypse World, Masks, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Sorcerer. I get much of the same payoff. Exploration of character for it's own sake is deeply important to me in a way I'm willing to guess is less important to you.
 

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.

How early are we talking? It had pretty thoroughly burst out of wargaming-alone into SF fandom by 1975.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As this is the case here, the correct solution isn't to berate the other poster for not guessing what you meant, but to take a moment and actually explain what you meant.

Berate? I am sorry, but you have completely misconstrued my intent.

I'm noting what may be an important bit, and asking a question - is this what you mean? That is all that's going on here. I'm sorry if it came across as anything else.

Okay, Umbran. Usually, if one detects an error in understanding in how one meant a term to be understood, then one could look back and see if they explained it or left it open to interpretation.

So, with all respect, you and pemerton use a highly academic style with your own set of terminology. It serves as a bit of a barrier to anyone trying to find if you've answered one particular question in pages and pages of posts. In the past, I've found it difficult to ascertain if a given question has been answered, and often difficult to tell what your answer even is.

Thus, I have learned to ask. It is far, far better than assuming I've found and understood the answer.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
How early are we talking? It had pretty thoroughly burst out of wargaming-alone into SF fandom by 1975.

The general assumed cohort of playing was that of the creators (Gygax and Arneson) and of the associated groups (Lake Geneva, Minn/St. Paul).

I am describing the attitude shift of Gygax as more particularly evidence in his shifting attitudes toward 3PP and the variant rules.

Compare the following passages:
We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing.

I desire variance in interpretation and, as long as I am editor of the TSR line and its magazine, I will do my utmost to see that there is as little trend towards standardization as possible. Each campaign should be a "variant", and there is no "official interpretation" from me or anyone else. If a game of "Dungeons and Beavers" suits a group, all I say is more power to them, for every fine referee runs his own variant of D&D anyway. ... Please inform Ted that I too subscribe to the slogan "D&D is too important to leave to Gary Gygax." Gosh and golly! Whoever said anything else. However, pal, best remember that it is far too good to leave to you or any other individual or little group either! It now belongs to the thousands of players enjoying it worldwide, most of whom will probably never hear of you or your opinions unless you get them into THE STRATEGIC REVIEW.


Those two quotes are from 1975 (A&E) and Dungeons & Dragons v3 (Underworld & Wilderness Adventures) in 1974. (Dungeons and Beavers is the Warlock game played at CalTech ... the Beaver is the mascot).

Now look at the shift in tone ...

Authoring these works means that, in a way, I have set myself up as final arbiter of fantasy role playing in the minds of the majority of D&D adventurers. Well, so be it, I rationalized. Who better than the individual responsible for it all as creator of the ”Fantasy Supplement” in CHAINMAIL, the progenitor of D&D; and as the first proponent of fantasy gaming and a principal in TSR, the company one thinks of when fantasy games are mentioned, the credit and blame rests ultimately here. Some last authority must be established for a very good reason.
PHB 1978

ADVANCED D&D is more than a framework around which individual DMs construct their respective milieux, it is above all a set of boundaries for all of the "worlds" devised by referees everywhere. These boundaries are broad and spacious, and there are numerous areas where they are so vague and amorphous as to make them nearly nonexistent, but they are there nonetheless. Dictums are given for the sake of the game only, for if ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is to survive and grow, it must have some degree of uniformity, a familiarity of method and procedure from campaign to campaign within the whole.
DMG 1979

Not to mention the whole Vacuous Grimoire / Arduin business. Simply put, there was a dramatic switch as Gygax went from the standard hobbyist/collaboration mode (which also included sales) to a purely business model and policing his project.

All of which is to say that, like many things that go from hobby to business, one of the first steps is to exclude the hobbyists be engaging in a process of standardization.


Hope that answers your questions.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Berate? I am sorry, but you have completely misconstrued my intent.

I'm noting what may be an important bit, and asking a question - is this what you mean? That is all that's going on here. I'm sorry if it came across as anything else.



So, with all respect, you and pemerton use a highly academic style with your own set of terminology. It serves as a bit of a barrier to anyone trying to find if you've answered one particular question in pages and pages of posts. In the past, I've found it difficult to ascertain if a given question has been answered, and often difficult to tell what your answer even is.

Thus, I have learned to ask. It is far, far better than assuming I've found and understood the answer.
With all due respect , Umbran, can we stop pretending there's any actual respect when you deploy this chestnut? You deploy this one in response to me quite often, and then go on to show little respect because I asked for clarification of your question and gave a provisional response. Yet, here you are offering "respect" while saying I'm too "academic" for posters (man, talk about low expectations), and acting as if I didn't respond to your question.
 

The general assumed cohort of playing was that of the creators (Gygax and Arneson) and of the associated groups (Lake Geneva, Minn/St. Paul).

....

Hope that answers your questions.

Sort-of. I'm just noting that there's a tendency to assume a more coherent group culture for D&D far later than was true; a quick read of those early issues of A&E will show how much variance was already emerging even at that time.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Sort-of. I'm just noting that there's a tendency to assume a more coherent group culture for D&D far later than was true; a quick read of those early issues of A&E will show how much variance was already emerging even at that time.

I think that there was (and continued to be) a large amount of variance.

I also think that the natural path of capitalism is to attempt to restrain the variance that is created by consumers (or by hobbyists creating additional product) in order to funnel authority to a single point- the corporate entity that can mine that authority for profits.

See also, The Entire Universe of IP, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the House of Mouse.
 

ECMO3

Explorer
Recently I have noticed an interest in OSR and "skilled play" and story-now on these forums. I feel there is a significance to these matters, and it might be due to an elephant in the room: computer RPGs.

Game Developers are better at Story-Before
If we think about story-before - a pre-scripted story - then teams of game developers can out-build lone-DMs. For one thing, we can hire professional writers. We can give them voice-actors, sound effects, and visuals. The story can be tested - is this the right pace, does this tension work here?

What we cannot do so easily (yet) is have the story author itself on the fly. Yes, we can think of a few branches, but we can't accommodate simply whatever the players think of. PnP RPG can still fill this niche - free from natural predators - by pursuing story-now.

Computers are better at Mechanics
If we think about rules, computers can both enforce them and take care of them - do any bookkeeping - far more reliably than a DM. There are videogame mechanics that would be senseless to even attempt in a PnP RPG. And simple, oft-repeated mechanics can be enhanced with visual and audio effects. One could write a book on great, good and bad implementations of mechanics in videogames! The thing is, these mechanics are increasingly gathered into libraries, so that as we go along, more and more game developers can just use the great ones, in their best instantiation. For example via Unity or Unreal.

What games cannot do is on-the-fly arbitration of anything players might think of. This isn't cut and dried. Within a defined physics system, computers are increasingly coping with anything players can think of to do within that system. Valheim is an example. Minecraft, obviously.

So the idea of detailed moves in the fiction as a preferred mode - "skilled play" - arbitrated on-the-fly by a DM, is something PnP RPG still owns. If you can't win the accurately implemented elegant mechanics race, you still can win the do-whatever-we-can-think-of race. For now.

Thus a Hypothesis
So that's the hypothesis: that the unremarked pressure guiding PnP RPGers toward story-now and "skilled play" is survival instinct. Fear. Or a better way to put it, group-think toward our viable niches. Does that belittle those concepts? For me, not at all. Rather they might point to what I see as crucial questions for PnP RPG - what burning problems do we uniquely solve for players? Or put another way - what differentiable experiences can we offer players (differentiated from computer RPGs, of course)?

And 6e?
Potentially - 5e design is conflicted. The designers wanted to support that which is unique to PnP RPG, which they had a sense for. While we players still wanted - and want - good rules for expressing and navigating our worlds. A secondary hypothesis - more personal than popular - is that the future for games will be immersion (or simulation, in GNS parlance) all the way down.

The game rules that most need to be advanced in 6e, under this view, are ability use and skills. 3e and 5e rules have both been clunky in dealing with simple and common exploration moves, such as climbing a mountain. You can "skilled play" it (smooth talk your DM into concessions, to put it controversially), but what would be great would be just enough support in the rules that player choices - as interpreted by a DM - translated smoothly and convincingly into mechanical game flows and resolutions.

4e looked at this, but didn't hit the nail quite on the head. One needs to ask - is an exploration turn structure needed - and question of that ilk. If the future for PnP RPG must be about what we as small groups of humans can do, then we need better rules in 6e. And those are not combat rules - 5e combat rules are strong - 6e needs to offer more in the exploration and social pillars. Parts of play that 5e shied away from, and then returned to rather reluctantly, when what was needed was vigorous and sincere design attention from the start.
I think most of the people who use the term "skilled play" are more metagamers and are not actually very skilled at playing RPGs.

I think truely skilled players need very few rules, the "skill" is in the creativity, not in the rules IMO.

I think skilled players can do whatever they want and need in terms of exploration and social pillars well within the confines of 5E. I think the rules are needed for those who want these in the story but lack the skill to do it without them.

I think 3E had way too many rules and those dragged the game down, further the ever-inclining skill system was difficult to manage in exploration and conversation settings. 4E was worse and awful in every respect. 5E is just about ideal IMO with a solid framework in the skills but not too many rules on how to apply it.

We have rules on a few things - perception and stealth most notably. But for the most part it is entirely interpretation with the DM able to make decisions on what constitutes a persuasion check or how hard it is to climb up that rope.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
My interest in skilled play as an agenda arises in the following fashion: there are some RPGs that won't work properly, as in, will deliver unhappy play experiences, if not approached in the spirit of - which is to say, with an orientation towards - playing with technical skill.

What the technical skill is may vary from game to game. The Gygaxian skills of patient, imaginative engagement with architecture and geography are the best known, I think. As I've been blathering on about a bit, I've recently discovered an obscure RPG - The Green Knight - that rests on a very different set of skills. (There's an argument that they're less technical than some gameplaying skills; but they still demand adopting author rather than actor stance at some crucial moments.)

Because these RPGs put demands on the participants - referee/GM and players - that are different from what I'm typically looking for, it serves my interests as a RPGer to be able to identify and discuss them as a discrete category of game.

Why does The Green Knight demand technical skill in a way that Prince Valiant does not? A character in Prince Valiant who acts dishonourably is fair game for the GM in terms of scene-framing, and may even suffer debuffs in action resolution. But the player is fully able to keep playing, and the rules for the award of Fame (the system's analogue of XP) even discuss how dastardly as well as chivalrous acts can earn Fame as long as they are publicly known and hence generate notoriety.

Whereas a character in The Green Knight who commits dishonourable acts will soon end up with 20 Dishonour and lose the game. This is what happened to my girls when the played - they only made it through two encounters but couldn't go on. Whereas my other group were able to progress handily - some of that was because they had three rather than two PCs (which makes the maths of the game a bit easier) but mostly it was because of their skill as gameplayers and RPGers which meant they were able to quickly get a good grasp on the way the fiction and system interacted and thereby manage their Dishonour quite comfortably.

The loss conditions in classic D&D aren't quite as stark as The Green Knight - as well as the clear-cut zero hit points, there is the slighly more amorphous having a largely boring time in the dungeon and leaving with little or no treasure. But they're real nevertheless. Whereas Prince Valiant simply doesn't have loss conditions like this.
 

pemerton

Legend
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.

<snip>

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.
I don't 100% know what you mean by "immersionist". Part of the difference in orientation between me and @Manbearcat (and some others) in these threads is because I am an immersionist - in the sense that, as I have posted, I prefer to inhabit my character and make decisions in accordance with my PCs drives and commitments (rather than taking an author-stance "god's eye view" of those drives and commitments and treating them as parameters in decision-making).

Being able to do that in a game depends very much upon strong game design. Classic D&D is terrible for it, because if you don't adopt author stance and think about technical optimisation of decision-making you'll quicly end up dead at the bottom of a 10' pit! (I know some RPGers try to square this circle by imagining their PC has precisely the drives and commitments of a Gygaxian dungeon-delver who took Monster Manual classes as a child; I personally find that to be such an artificial fig leaf that I'm not interested in it.)

4e D&D is pretty good for it, because - as per my reply to @Manbearcat about this not too far upthread - when you move into author stance in 4e D&D the design of character abilities and how they relate to the default suite of challenges generally brings you back into thematic conformity with your PC as played in actor stance. So the shifting between stances doesn't cause any dissonance in the inhabitation of the character.

The most intense RPG that I know for this sort of play is Burning Wheel. I've already posted enough about that in this and other recent threads that I probably don't need to repeat it.

Just as this requires strong game design, it also has nothing to do with "big tent" games. Nor with spotlight balance - which I take you to be advocating in your post. I'm with @Campbell on this.
 

I think most of the people who use the term "skilled play" are more metagamers and are not actually very skilled at playing RPGs.

I think truely skilled players need very few rules, the "skill" is in the creativity, not in the rules IMO.

And in mine, that's primarily skill in playing the GM, not the game.
 

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