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

pemerton

Legend
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.
I think @Ovinomancer's thought is, roughly, this:

Skill in RPGing, on the player side, is about getting the fiction that you want by using the game system. If the game system, on the player side, is simply "tell a story", then I think there's an open question whether we're playing a game. (The word game is of course very capacious, and so one doesn't want to be overly prescriptive; on the other hand, I think it's worth maintaining the distinction between RPG and shared/cooperative storytelling game.)

And if the fiction that comes about - what happens next - is the result of the GM telling a story, then the players really didn't bring that fiction about. And even moreso, they didn't bring it about by using the game system. (Following on from the parenthetical remarks in the previous paragraph, the word system is also very capacious but it's not clear that a game of prompt the storyteller to tell the story you want him/her to tell is really a RPGing system.)

@Ovinomancer will no doubt correct me if I've gone too far off target!

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.
I think many GMs whose main or sole experience is GMing contemporary D&D and similar games - which put very few constraints on GM framing, GM consequence narration, and GM manipulation of the current fiction (and which some RPGers even think permit the GM to fudge rolls or target numbers within action resolution) - would find GMing Cortex+ Heroic a very interesting change of pace!
 
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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
I think @Ovinomancer's thought is, roughly, this:

Skill in RPGing, on the player side, is about getting the fiction that you want by using the game system. If the game system, on the player side, is simply "tell a story", then I think there's an open question whether we're playing a game. (The word game is of course very capacious, and so one doesn't want to be overly prescriptive; on the other hand, I think it's worth maintaining the distinction between RPG and shared/cooperative storytelling game.)

And if the fiction that comes about - what happens next - is the result of the GM telling a story, then the players really didn't bring that fiction about. And even moreso, they didn't bring it about by using the game system. (Following on from the parenthetical remarks in the previous paragraph, the word system is also very capacious but it's not clear that a game of prompt the storyteller to tell the story you want him/her to tell is really a RPGing system.)

@Ovinomancer will no doubt correct me if I've gone too far off target!

I think many GMs whose main or sole experience is GMing contemporary D&D and similar games - which put very few constraints on GM framing, GM consequence narration, and GM manipulation of the current fiction (and which some RPGers even think permit the GM to fudge rolls or target numbers within action resolution) - would find GMing Cortex+ Heroic a very interesting change of pace!
Yes, I understand that. It is what I meant by gamist. I was not using gamist in the Forge sense, although in hindsight I see that was dumb of me. I mean gamey, game-like, using the game system, arising from the game system. There are lots of ways to put it and we could quibble details.

A major rift in views is that I am pedantic on what outcomes a system formally prescribes (I rolled a damage dice, I got 5, I decrement your HP by 5) and what a DM decides (the troll attacks Jacky instead of Paula). I don't differentiate between big acts of deciding and small acts of deciding: it's all deciding. I don't care if the DM has a story in mind, or decides on the spot, it is still authoring or narrating.

Therefore were I to reject the possibility of skill on the basis of such deciding, there would be little of skill left in RPG. But I think (and observe!) that we can play RPG skillfully. I thus must either abandon the above position on deciding, or say instead that deciding can be done skillfully, can evoke skill, can elevate skill. Deciding can be skillful and can create opportunities for skill. Seeing as I believe all those things, for me my view is consistent.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
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.
As I explained to @Manbearcat the sole point I wanted to make in that post is that immersion requires well-ruddered design. I wanted to say that because it seemed on surface like his post had immersion benefiting from rudderless design. I rambled somewhat, for the rest. Please ignore it.
 


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.
As someone who runs a regular DW game, I agree--and I think practical demonstration is in order.

I've run a weekly Arabian Nights flavored Dungeon World game for about three years. (It still feels weird that it's been that long.) We tend to be not super strict about following the "correct" play of DW--that is, players sometimes think in terms of moves rather than in terms of fiction, and I don't admonish them for doing so--but by and large we try to keep focused on what's happening, the "...what do you do?" question, etc.

As GM, I am not at absolute liberty to establish whatever story I want. I have an awful lot of leeway for anything that hasn't been touched on yet, of which there is plenty. But there are several moves, both generic and specific, that constrain what I'm allowed to do, and there are under-the-hood things that constrain my behavior further. These things are not the Agendas or Principles that the book defines for me; these are actual rules which set the terms of my behavior as a GM. I'll give three examples: the Discern Realities move (effectively Perception rolls from D&D), the Bardic Lore move from the Bard class, and the distinction between Soft and Hard moves and when I'm allowed to use each in response to player actions.

Discern Realities is what the characters are doing when they make a focused, discrete effort to obtain more information about the world around them. As DW says, "you have to do it to do it": they shouldn't just declare "I'm discerning realities," instead the player should say, "I see the dresser. Does it have any disturbed dust on it? Are there any drawer handles that look shiny? How about the floor, does it look scraped like something's been moved a lot?" or something similar. Such questions mean the character is actually examining the world, and that triggers the following move.
When you closely study a situation or person, roll+Wis. ✴On a 10+, ask the GM 3 questions from the list below. ✴On a 7–9, ask 1.
Either way, take +1 forward when acting on the answers.
  • What happened here recently?
  • What is about to happen?
  • What should I be on the lookout for?
  • What here is useful or valuable to me?
  • Who’s really in control here?
  • What here is not what it appears to be?
As part of the GM side of these rules, I must answer these questions truthfully. I'm not allowed to lie--unless the roll is a miss, but I don't lie then either, I do something else (which I'll explain later). Now, just because I can't speak untruthful things, doesn't mean I can't leave out information if the characters wouldn't have any reason to perceive it, so I can still maintain some mysteries. But my freedom to act as a storyteller is expressly limited by these questions, and the rules expressly direct me to invent answers, where necessary, to make the result of partial (7-9) or full (10+) success interesting. That is a practical application of the Principles and Agendas, but not actually either of those things directly.

Now, compare this to the Bardic Lore class move:
Choose an area of expertise:
  • Spells and Magicks
  • The Dead and Undead
  • Grand Histories of the Known World
  • A Bestiary of Creatures Unusual
  • The Planar Spheres
  • Legends of Heroes Past
  • Gods and Their Servants
When you first encounter an important creature, location, or item (your call) covered by your bardic lore you can ask the GM any one question about it; the GM will answer truthfully. The GM may then ask you what tale, song, or legend you heard that information in.
Note, again, that I am constrained to answer truthfully, but this time it can be ANY question. Of course, the player is also constrained in two ways, the first being the nature of the entity (it must be in their area of expertise) and that it be their first time encountering it, the second that I, as GM, am then empowered to ask where the Bard learned this from, and the player must thus answer me truthfully. Thus, even though both of us are "inventing story," neither of us does so with free rein. We are constrained by what the rules permit us to do. This then leads to the possibility of, for example, developing the skill of "asking good questions," and the skill of "improvising explanations." The rules shape what we're allowed to make up stories about--both the players and the GM.

Finally, the distinction between "hard" and "soft" moves. To start, the GM making a move is structured in the "move" format:
When to Make a Move
You make a move:
  • When everyone looks to you to find out what happens
  • When the players give you a golden opportunity
  • When they roll a 6-
Generally when the players are just looking at you to find out what happens you make a soft move, otherwise you make a hard move.
A "hard" move is one with immediate consequences; a "soft" move is one without immediate consequences. So, for example, dealing damage to a character is definitionally a hard move, because that's a direct effect that will require effort or resources to overcome. The soft-move equivalent of dealing damage is to threaten a character with something: a trap springs, a monster swipes, the Duke stands to speak, etc. There are a variety of GM move concepts, such as "reveal an unwelcome truth" or "offer an opportunity, with or without cost." Notably, as GM, I am not allowed to simply inflict hard moves whenever I like--there must always be some trigger in the fiction for them, which generally (read: almost always) means the players either give me a golden opportunity (e.g. by ignoring a soft move I've already made) or, more commonly, by rolling poorly. I can, however, choose to use a soft move instead of a hard one if that makes more sense. My ability to weave a fiction--to tell a story--is heavily restricted by NOT being allowed to fling out whatever consequences I like.

As a practical example of a hard move, I offer my solution to the "problem" of missed Discern Realities rolls. See...Discern Realities doesn't give you a good notion of what "failure" should mean, particularly since Dungeon World is fail-forward in its philosophy. The first DW game I played in, another player (gently) exploited this loophole for some (effectively) free XP. And I couldn't blame him, but it did make me wonder what I should do to forestall this while dodging the stereotypical problems of Perception-type rolls. And then it hit me...I just needed to make a hard version of the "reveal an unwelcome truth" move. So, whenever the party rolls badly on Discern Realities, I tell them they MUST ask me one of the questions....but they'll get an answer they won't like. It will be completely true, but it will reveal that the problem is more dire than they expected, or that something troubling is going on, etc. This is generally a hard move because its consequences are immediate (they learn a true but bad thing right now), but it could be a soft move if the party can still forestall the problem (e.g. "the cultists are almost finished with their summoning ritual--you're almost out of time!")

Within this rules framework, our goal is still always to generate "the fiction" to our enjoyment--to tell a story. But that story is mediated through a set of rules that, in some cases, rigidly determine what things the players are allowed to do, and what things I as DM am allowed to do. Sometimes, I'm forbidden to do things (like making hard moves when the players haven't missed a roll nor given me a golden opportunity), sometimes I'm required to do things (like truthfully answer questions, or give a piece of information that is interesting and useful, etc.) Because there are these few but bright lines, it seems to me that there can quite easily be a sense of "skilled play," of leveraging the things you can (and can't!) do to achieve certain mechanical ends, even though those ends always and intentionally flow back into the story-telling experience that is the focus of play.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
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.
It's worth noting that people have different ways of measuring or even identifying skill in RPGs. You put forward one idea of what skill is. Others will put forth other ideas. It turns out both are right.

By analogy, if someone said when I play Chess the way I control the middle board and open space is very skillful, and someone replied to them that, that is not skillful, because in Tiddlywinks it is all about action in the wrist (I'm making this up, I have no idea of what comprises skill in Tiddlywinks!) then they are each talking to their game context. Both may be right.

Where they could have views that genuinely conflict is if they were both speaking of exactly Chess and presenting competing skill-constructs for it. So you'd need to know your RPG was the same RPG as a person agreeing or disagreeing with you.
 

As I explained to @Manbearcat the sole point I wanted to make in that post is that immersion requires well-ruddered design. I wanted to say that because it seemed on surface like his post had immersion benefiting from rudderless design. I rambled somewhat, for the rest. Please ignore it.

Just to clarify, what I was stating is the following (and I’ll add a 3rd point about immersion):

1) Participationism is aided by rudderless design.

2) GM Force is aided by rudderless design.

1 & 2a) Participationism and GM Force have a synergistic relationship.

3) I hold (same as ever) is that there is very little design that is “anti-immersion” (at the population level). It’s likely that design that actively punishes doing anything but Pawn Stance. Virtually every time someone says “I find the game/this design ‘jarring to my immersion’,” they’re offering a distinct autobiographical fact about themselves - a personal cognitive orientation peccadillo…not something inherent to the game/design (again, at the population level). Further, the door also swings the other direction in the same way (but I feel when it comes to “habitation enhancement”, I feel that certain, intentful, effective design captures more people because it hooks into the way humans process the world and the way the endocrine system activates).


An easy example of this is the following:

A HUGE number of people complained about Defender control mechanics in 4e being “jarring to their immersion.”

Everytime I hear that, I instinctively transliterate it to “I am neither a martial artist nor someone who has been personally steeped in the play pfsquad-based contact sports - a la Basketball or Hockey or American Football.” That is because those 4e Defender mechanics extraordinarily mimic the OODA Loop (the cognitive workspace) one inhabits in a physical fight and in squad-based contact sports.

So they’ve surely internalized an OODA Loop (cognitive workspace) for these things by inference and extrapolation of some vicarious experience (likely within the scope of media consumption).

As I say often on here, neurological diversity is almost surely the most profound and fundamental feature of human diversity. People develop all kinds of distinct strategies and rituals for information and emotion experiencing/processing. As a result, I don’t see any point in people ever making testimonials about immersion. It’s a very personal thing. I mean I’m very interested to hear about it, because I’m interested in people (particularly the people I’m already interested in), but that is where it begins and ends for me (meaning I’m going to glean very little information inherent to design at the population level).
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
3) I hold (same as ever) is that there is very little design that is “anti-immersion” (at the population level).
I am not sure what you mean by "at the population level", but as to more or less pro or anti immersion design. I reflect on Griffin Mountain compared with say Out of the Abyss. The latter takes a situation that could be represented highly immersively and - as written - tramples over immersion with hob-nailed boots. That whole Alice In Wonderland shtick. Griffin Mountain on the other hand presents people, places and facts in a neutral way that allows a group to properly explore the imagined world. It is light touch, primarily presenting history (or archaeology or anthropology) rather than story. We can of course use it to tell stories.

The approach of the designers in OOTA is very opposite. Very anti-immersive. For example the determination to get the characters to Gauntlgrym. As written it is very against showing what is there and letting things play out as they may. It takes work to overcome its purpose. Of course, it is rich material and a fascinating scenario, just handled anti-immersively. Likely most written D&D modules are in that category.

It’s likely that design that actively punishes doing anything but Pawn Stance. Virtually every time someone says “I find the game/this design ‘jarring to my immersion’,” they’re offering a distinct autobiographical fact about themselves - a personal cognitive orientation peccadillo…not something inherent to the game/design (again, at the population level). Further, the door also swings the other direction in the same way (but I feel when it comes to “habitation enhancement”, I feel that certain, intentful, effective design captures more people because it hooks into the way humans process the world and the way the endocrine system activates).
I admit that immersion is not yet as well understood as one would like. Possibly, in part that is because immersionists are interested in seeing what is there - drinking in rather than shouting out. And possibly also for what you seem to be touching on, which is that people are trained toward or inclined to certain things. Maybe humans just like more to see or impose pattern, story. And yes, the word is used in different ways and one persons "jarring to my immersion" pronouncement might really mean some other kind of jarring. The word most often seems to be ambiguated with inhabiting a character, where in my view the most sincere immersion inhabits the world.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I admit that immersion is not yet as well understood as one would like. Possibly, in part that is because immersionists are interested in seeing what is there - drinking in rather than shouting out. And possibly also for what you seem to be touching on, which is that people are trained toward or inclined to certain things. Maybe humans just like more to see or impose pattern, story. And yes, the word is used in different ways and one persons "jarring to my immersion" pronouncement might really mean some other kind of jarring. The word most often seems to be ambiguated with inhabiting a character, where in my view the most sincere immersion inhabits the world.

I always think that the issue of immersion is interesting- and when you approach it from a general (as in, non-jargon-y, non-specific to TTRPG) perspective, there are a few ideas that often emerge.

"Immersion" as a concept is prized in many forms of fiction, although not always called that - for example, you might seem people use the term "willing suspension of disbelief." And it is definitely true that the media shapes the immersion; the immersion of a book, a film, or a play will be different, as well as cultural expectations (kabuki as opposed to opera).

Without going too far into the weeds, I often think about the role of Foley in a film. Foley artists are the people that create the sound for the film in post-production. Anyway, it is a truism that "real" sounds will often seem more fake, and will break immersion (suspension of disbelief) more than fake sounds. The hyperrealistic sound of cellophane, for example, is "more real" than recording the sound of fire to the extent that recording a real fire sound would seem unrealistic. Not to mention the sounds of combat- the actual sound of a punch is nothing compared to either the "normal" Foley or to the outsized 70s-era Hong Kong "kill an elephant" effects.

We see this creep into other areas as well; businesses are known to make fake sounds for their product to create the feel that consumers want- from car manufacturers adding "vroom vroom" sounds to the engines, to vacuum manufacturers making their vacuums excessively loud because loud vacuums "work better."

Which gets back to the original point; immersion is both attainable, and idiosyncratic. What feels immersive to one person does not always to another person. A doctor watching a medical show might notice the incorrect medical issues, or the number of times "rare cases" come up, while a layperson might feel immersed in the fiction. But it is also generally possible to look at immersion holistically, and those techniques that work for most people, most of the time.

IMO, YMMV, etc.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
I always think that the issue of immersion is interesting- and when you approach it from a general (as in, non-jargon-y, non-specific to TTRPG) perspective, there are a few ideas that often emerge.

"Immersion" as a concept is prized in many forms of fiction, although not always called that - for example, you might seem people use the term "willing suspension of disbelief." And it is definitely true that the media shapes the immersion; the immersion of a book, a film, or a play will be different, as well as cultural expectations (kabuki as opposed to opera).

Without going too far into the weeds, I often think about the role of Foley in a film. Foley artists are the people that create the sound for the film in post-production. Anyway, it is a truism that "real" sounds will often seem more fake, and will break immersion (suspension of disbelief) more than fake sounds. The hyperrealistic sound of cellophane, for example, is "more real" than recording the sound of fire to the extent that recording a real fire sound would seem unrealistic. Not to mention the sounds of combat- the actual sound of a punch is nothing compared to either the "normal" Foley or to the outsized 70s-era Hong Kong "kill an elephant" effects.

We see this creep into other areas as well; businesses are known to make fake sounds for their product to create the feel that consumers want- from car manufacturers adding "vroom vroom" sounds to the engines, to vacuum manufacturers making their vacuums excessively loud because loud vacuums "work better."

Which gets back to the original point; immersion is both attainable, and idiosyncratic. What feels immersive to one person does not always to another person. A doctor watching a medical show might notice the incorrect medical issues, or the number of times "rare cases" come up, while a layperson might feel immersed in the fiction. But it is also generally possible to look at immersion holistically, and those techniques that work for most people, most of the time.

IMO, YMMV, etc.
I don't feel ready yet to abandon or deny the possibility of a consistent and effective picture of immersion (a word that I would need to narrow to a specific set of concerns before I could even get started). MMDV :)
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I don't feel ready yet to abandon or deny the possibility of a consistent and effective picture of immersion (a word that I would need to narrow to a specific set of concerns before I could even get started). MMDV :)

"But it is also generally possible to look at immersion holistically, and those techniques that work for most people, most of the time."

I don't think I was asking you to. ;)

(To not hide the ball and be more specific- immersion is very different from realism. People often mistake the two, and will complain about how something isn't realistic and therefore not immersive. But immersion is akin to the willing suspension of disbelief, not to modeling something realistically. Moreover, an immersive experience often requires a lack of realism- sounds that are not real, jumps in time in order to go over "the boring bits," and so on. As such, there are known techniques that work for most people. Unfortunately, conversations often get sidetracked by the individual experience, which can always vary.)
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
(To not hide the ball and be more specific- immersion is very different from realism. People often mistake the two, and will complain about how something isn't realistic and therefore not immersive. But immersion is akin to the willing suspension of disbelief, not to modeling something realistically.
I agree with that. High value is put on consistency. (If something works this way in one place, it should work that way in every place it applies.)

Game rules need to be sincerely grasped and worked through as to what they entail across the world as a whole. For example, 5e rests. Seeing as ordinary folk don't need to refresh abilities, and some characters don't really benefit much from long rests, if taken sincerely one is forced to envision a very fragmented pattern of work and rest in the game world. That is very different from our world, where things are fairly synched up.

But then rests themselves aren't designed with what they look like in world very much in mind, I think. It's a subtle dissonance.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Skill in RPGing, on the player side, is about getting the fiction that you want by using the game system. If the game system, on the player side, is simply "tell a story", then I think there's an open question whether we're playing a game.

Except, of course, the system on the player side is never simply "tell a story". It is "you may propose a change in the fiction, within some parameters, possibly using some resources and/or having some risk of failing to get what you want" - which is a pretty typical game thing.

(The word game is of course very capacious, and so one doesn't want to be overly prescriptive; on the other hand, I think it's worth maintaining the distinction between RPG and shared/cooperative storytelling game.)

One of the unfortunate things that seems to have come out of a lot of RPG theorizing, is that you can think about role in the internalized/immersion sense ("Inhabiting the mind of my character, what is my next action?") or the tactical sense ("I am the tank in this party, my role in a fight is to soak up hits, so what is the optimal tactical choice for me here?") and folks say you are playing a role-playing game. But, if you think about role in terms of role in the fiction ("I am the Reluctant Hero, what is the best story development for me here?") and choose gameplay accordingly, you are suddenly not playing a role playing game, you are playing a storytelling game.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Except, of course, the system on the player side is never simply "tell a story". It is "you may propose a change in the fiction, within some parameters, possibly using some resources and/or having some risk of failing to get what you want" - which is a pretty typical game thing.



One of the unfortunate things that seems to have come out of a lot of RPG theorizing, is that you can think about role in the internalized/immersion sense ("Inhabiting the mind of my character, what is my next action?") or the tactical sense ("I am the tank in this party, my role in a fight is to soak up hits, so what is the optimal tactical choice for me here?") and folks say you are playing a role-playing game. But, if you think about role in terms of role in the fiction ("I am the Reluctant Hero, what is the best story development for me here?") and choose gameplay accordingly, you are suddenly not playing a role playing game, you are playing a storytelling game.
What? That's not at all what I see. We started with the first two being the norm -- tables ran as wargames and as character games. Roles fell in there as well. There's nothing new here, except maybe you're now exposed to groups that don't decry other modes of play as not-RPGs. And, no one of any sense would call actually playing a role, like your Reluctant Hero, as not roleplaying or regulating that to a storygame. Storygames are games were you tell stories, usually with some form of conch-passing or vying for narrative control in a given moment. Games like Fiasco, where each scene is just the participants improving a scene that fits the theme as they want to, and the game part is the bits where you generate the theme, where the other players score the scenes after being played, where the twist happens, and at the end, when you spend your accumulated score to see how you get to narrate your character's denouement. And Fiasco is still, very solidly, a role-playing game!

If anything, it's people looking at systems that aren't GM mediated resolutions, that allow any player authority over the outcome space, that get handily labeled as storygames and 'not real RPGs.' I've seen that, had it directed at me, numerous times on these boards. I have never once seen an argument that says playing your character is an RPG, but playing your character in the role of a Reluctant Hero is a storygame and not an RPG. Do you have such an incident? I'd like to weigh in.
 

pemerton

Legend
A major rift in views is that I am pedantic on what outcomes a system formally prescribes (I rolled a damage dice, I got 5, I decrement your HP by 5) and what a DM decides (the troll attacks Jacky instead of Paula). I don't differentiate between big acts of deciding and small acts of deciding: it's all deciding. I don't care if the DM has a story in mind, or decides on the spot, it is still authoring or narrating.

Therefore were I to reject the possibility of skill on the basis of such deciding, there would be little of skill left in RPG. But I think (and observe!) that we can play RPG skillfully. I thus must either abandon the above position on deciding, or say instead that deciding can be done skillfully, can evoke skill, can elevate skill. Deciding can be skillful and can create opportunities for skill. Seeing as I believe all those things, for me my view is consistent.
I'm not sure it's helpful to frame a discussion of skilled play in terms of artful GMing, at least until a bit more has been said about the asymmetry of participant roles in a RPG. Here's one way into that, presented under the heading "Doing Away with the GM":

You need to have a system by which scenes start and stop. The rawest solution is to do it by group consensus: anybody moved to can suggest a scene or suggest that a scene be over, and it's up to the group to act on the suggestion or not. You don't need a final authority beyond the players' collective will.

You need to have a system whereby narration becomes in-game truth. That is, when somebody suggests something to happen or something to be so, does it or doesn't it? Is it or isn't it? Again the rawest solution is group consensus, with suggestions made by whoever's moved and then taken up or let fall according to the group's interest.

You need to have orchestrated conflict, and there's the tricky bit. GMs are very good at orchestrating conflict, and it's hard to see a rawer solution. . . . In our co-GMed Ars Magica game, each of us is responsible for orchestrating conflict for the others, which works but isn't radical wrt GM doage-away-with. It amounts to when Emily's character's conflicts climax explosively and set off Meg's character's conflicts, which also climax explosively, in a great kickin' season finale last autumn, I'm the GM. GM-swapping, in other words, isn't the same as GM-sharing.​

A GM may artfully frame scenes and manage the pacing within and between them. The GM may artfully manage the process whereby suggested fiction becomes established fiction - a lot of this is about action resolution, but not all of it: sometimes its just adding colour to a scene (eg the GM frames a situation, resolution is moving along, and then the player asks of a NPC "Is she tall or short?" and the GM stipulates an answer to the question). The GM may artfully orchestrate conflict (as in your example of deciding which player's PC comes under pressure in a fight scene).

But noticing this doesn't take us any closer to analysing skilled play, I don't think. That is about how players constrain the shaping and pacing of scenes (see eg @Manbearcat's thread about skilled play earning a long rest); how players oblige the GM to make X rather than Y part of the fiction (eg in my Green Knight game, the PCs were able to shed Dishonour points at the end of Encounters by having made choices that established this rather than this other outcome of the situation); and often the previous two things will be fallout of how the players respond to conflict. (Not always, I think - a lot of dungeon crawling might rely on relatively low-conflict scenes, like the gelatinous-cube-in-a-pit trap discussed in the recent "fair trap" thread - but often.)

Certain approaches to how GM's frame scenes, establish fiction and orchestrate conflict are not really compatible with skil;ed play, because they make it hard for players to constrain and oblige, and they tend to make the fall out from conflict independent of the choices the players make when responding to it. Roughly speaking, these are the approaches that @Ovinomancer has called "Force" not too far upthread; and these are the approaches that @Manbearcat has called "participationism" or (perhaps a bit less neutrally) "rudderless system setting tourism".

So I don't think there is any rift. I think that Ovinomancer and Manbearcat (and most other posters in this thread) are well aware that RPGing requires people to make suggestions about the fiction, and requires a process to make these "true" (ie part of the shared fiction) - I don't think anyone dissented from Vincent Baker's remarks to this effect upthread. The point they are making is that not all GM-side processes of this sort are consistent with the exercise of skill on the player side.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Umbran, I don't think I really have anything to add to what @Ovinomancer said (I don't know Fiasco except by general reputation and defer to him in his account of it).

In my post just upthread I mentioned dungeon crawling as a candidate for a mode of play which is rich in scenes, and in action resolution, but may often be quite low conflict. I think a game in which a player sets out to play The Reluctant Hero and it is understood that the processes and outcomes of play will uphold that character conception may well also end up being fairly low conflict - I don't know Fate well enough to know how it deals with this, but I think it's interesting that in MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic the Milestones are set up so as to preserve the significance of conflict by offering two very contrasting pathways for the hero.

My understanding of "Neo Trad" play as it has been discussed a bit in some of these recent threads is that it is oriented towards this lower conflict, preserve-the-pre-established-conception-of-the-PC play.
 

I feel like two different concepts are being boxed together under skilled play here. I see skilled play as more about play against the environment, the scenario, the puzzles, etc during the game session. It is stuff like figuring out how to get around traps, how to negotiate with potentially lethal monsters, not stepping on the bricks that explode you to atoms. Whereas stuff dealing with player skill on the character creation side, on the leveling up side, and on the understanding how to maximize your success in the system side, as more in the realm of optimization, system mastery, etc. If I had to divide it sharply I would say Skilled Play versus System Mastery (one can involve the other: you can use system mastery in your skilled play, but they don't necessarily criss cross, and some skilled play would actively avoid system mastery as meta and not being rooted in your character's shoes)
 

"But it is also generally possible to look at immersion holistically, and those techniques that work for most people, most of the time."

I don't think I was asking you to. ;)

(To not hide the ball and be more specific- immersion is very different from realism. People often mistake the two, and will complain about how something isn't realistic and therefore not immersive. But immersion is akin to the willing suspension of disbelief, not to modeling something realistically. Moreover, an immersive experience often requires a lack of realism- sounds that are not real, jumps in time in order to go over "the boring bits," and so on. As such, there are known techniques that work for most people. Unfortunately, conversations often get sidetracked by the individual experience, which can always vary.)

The people I've seen object to unrealistic elements in regard to immersion in the past have usually been mostly objecting to elements that are fourth-wall issues in one way or another.

The example I saw many years ago was a number of people had problems with highly genre-convention-centric genres because if they immersed properly, they wouldn't play the character appropriate to the genre. When suggesting this meant they needed to construct a model of a character who accepted the genre conventions implicitly (because you can't have a genre convention accepted explicitly, or its not a convention, its a setting conceit), the response was that would require them to engage with a character who felt insane. They were just not capable of firewalling off the convention elements while still being able to engage with the character on the level they wanted to.

As an example, people playing most superhero games kind of take it as a given that some things are just "as they are" and don't push on them; on an metagame level they just accept that they need to ignore that, and they aren't so deep into the character that the above problems come up, or they're good enough at firewalling that they can simply bypass the elements that would cause problems. If none of that is true than they end up trying to deal with elements of the world that no one either acknowledges are true, or that they don't consider relevant, and the character either starts acting really bizarre by the standards of the setting, or actively sabotages the game by doing things its tacitly accepted they won't do.
 

I If I had to divide it sharply I would say Skilled Play versus System Mastery (one can involve the other: you can use system mastery in your skilled play, but they don't necessarily criss cross, and some skilled play would actively avoid system mastery as meta and not being rooted in your character's shoes)

As I noted earlier, however, "skilled play" that operates outside of the system can frequently come across as more about social gamesmanship (i.e. presenting things in a way the GM will find credible and allow to succeed) than it is about being in the character's shoes, too. The assumption the GM will be a genuinely neutral arbiter doesn't seem to stand up to extended experience in the wild.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
As I noted earlier, however, "skilled play" that operates outside of the system can frequently come across as more about social gamesmanship (i.e. presenting things in a way the GM will find credible and allow to succeed) than it is about being in the character's shoes, too. The assumption the GM will be a genuinely neutral arbiter doesn't seem to stand up to extended experience in the wild.
It seems there's maybe a difference between "social gamesmanship" and "getting on the same page." Sorting through some arbitrarily large number of options and choosing one because you believe it'll appeal to the GM seems like the former; getting into a mindspace where the first thing you think of to do makes sense to you for your character to do it, and it appeals to the GM, seems more like the latter.

I dunno if that makes sense outside of my head, but your post got me thinking about it.
 

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