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

Absolutely. We have - roll dice for each decision - as a rational exit from the dilemma that I outlined.


We're likely to find some clear water between our views here, as for me all TTRPG worlds have a vast number (literally infinite) unconstrained variables even if they are not realistically detailed. It might not be worth our debating that, but just accepting that we have differing views.*


From descriptions of play and watching videos, I can see that DW is revealing in the way it manages and is successful with - roll for each decision. In terms of unconstrained variables, it relocates them (e.g. to 6s or less) and declares boundaries to the decision space (so that it is vast, but less vastly diverse - I recommend reading Borges Library of Babel to grok that).**

Still, one can see that whereas in an example a wand bounced down a shaft, there were a million (again, genuinely infinite) things that could have happened to that wand: the precise outcome wasn't defined and wasn't rolled for. Most choices might have amounted to different flavours of the same thing - e.g. 'I can't use the wand', or, 'I can use the wand if'. But then, there are so many ways that "if" could have gone - if I wait, if I do X, if I pay Y, if I roll and succeed at Z, etc - and the knock-ons from there.... a vast cascade.


* So I am saying that the intent of - "reduce the number of variables, by reducing the realism of the fiction and stepping up the number of recognisable tropes/conventions/stereotypes" - rationally only changes one kind of infinity into another kind of infinity. That is true unless you reduce to a stochastic or deterministic mechanic with properly bounded inputs, functions, and outputs. The second infinity is more useful (see below), but one thing it is absolutely not doing is removing DM-fiat. Only refining and relocating it. That is worth doing, but it is not the same as removing DM-fiat. Rather, we are making statements about better and worse kinds of fiat for given purposes... and there is nothing wrong with that! It is helpful to do.

** Making a space less vastly diverse is extremely valuable. It becomes a helpful subset of infinity (albeit also infinite). Say we have a principle - choose only numbers divisible by 7. There are an infinite number of them, but still fewer than there are numbers overall, and if what we care about is divisibility by 7, then we have done something useful. The picture is not quite so clear with TTRPG principles of course, as we see in debates as to what principles going by the same name include and exclude.


EDITED My view is more open than was captured in my words. Also, removed some text that might not have helped my explanation.
Well, given that there are, as you say, infinite potential variables in an RPG (lets not debate whether this is a universal truth about RPGs or not) then what purpose do the choices of framing by the GM in a game similar to DW really accomplish then? Lets look to the obvious place, which is the stated agenda of the game! Now, that will differ from game to game, so we cannot really make generalized statements about it, except to say that presumably good GMing serves that agenda, and bad GMing does not. There may also be other criteria we want to measure as well. So, I don't care about infinities in that sense.

When I talk about infinities, I think what I'm talking about is how infinite amounts of indeterminate implicit state of the game world undermines any possible attempt to generate arguments about what "logically would happen next." Take the 'bribe the guard' scenario. There is literally no way for a player to know what might come about if he approaches a guard and tries to bribe him. Maybe the GM has some notes which amount to stating a result of such an attempt (presumably it is foreseeable). Maybe it is just stated in terms of probabilities, modulated by some character trait or varying depending on easily classified game state such as the PC's approach, his race, social class, appearance, size of bribe, etc. This is fine, but it also may be that all this is sort of eyeballed on the fly. That's OK too, but the player really cannot judge, except by simply querying the GM's imagined world state. If he is going to simply work from what is likely to succeed he will soon run into problems. Maybe his PC is a dwarf and all the guards hate dwarves, how would anyone know? Even the GM may not know, so how are tactics even possible here?

This is all why I have long favored approaches similar to DW. You have stated explicit agenda and derived principles, coupled with a system which generates story outcomes based on that, or at least suggests to the GM when and how elements might be introduced to the game and mechanisms for doing so, pacing, etc. Clear agenda, everyone knows what game they are playing, and clear process which supports that agenda. Sure, there are 'infinities' and plenty of GM 'fiat' in DW. But like the example @Manbearcat posted that you paraphrased above, the GM is simply applying his process there. The Wizard rolls a failure/consequence, and he puts stress on the situation by having a complication, the wand shoots out of her hand. Now she goes after it. The player here articulates an in-fiction tactical reason for that move, but it also serves the game by upping the ante. All her cards are now on the table, character death is plainly being wagered at this point. It is consistently in-character also, which is another requirement besides plot-wise fictional consistency. This ticks all the boxes of DW.
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
What I mean is that some people read the same words, and understand them to mean a different thing. We see that again and again confirmed on these boards, in discussions over what rules are, and what principles are. It's not just that group A are right and group B know that group A are right, but choose to do something different anyway (which of course happens), but also that group A are right - given their reading - and group B are right - given their reading. They are working to differing defaults derived from differing interpretations of the same game-artifacts
This is assuming that what we're talking about is reasonably subject to this kind of polyvalent reading. Are you saying that B/X can reasonably be read to index something other than fair and impartial adjudication as the baseline for DM play?
 

Oh, fully agreed on the "whose side is the GM on" stuff. "Be a fan of the characters" is a Principle, after all, but again I see those as being more not-quite-rules but more-than-guidance "best practices." That is, less strident than proper rules, but way more strident than "suggestions" or "guidelines." Whereas the stuff about answering a question honestly or giving interesting and useful info really is a rule, where you really, really shouldn't break it unless there's an exceptionally good reason to do so, which should be a rare and noteworthy event. "Be a fan of the characters" should shape your behavior without defining it, while "answer honestly" and "the GM may ask what tale, song, or legend you heard this in. Tell them, now," should define your behavior unless doing so would be genuinely unacceptable.
Sure, 'be a fan of the characters' doesn't mandate specific concrete actions by the GM. It isn't 'mechanics', but I would call it a 'rule of play' in a sense. You would NEVER violate it, though its implementation might potentially be a little indirect. 'Tell the Truth' is a stricture on the FICTION though, not so much on the GM directly. It is MORE of a mechanical piece of the rules in that it applies at a specific point in the resolution of a check. However, all it really means is that whatever the GM says next is considered binding fiction. The GM shall not say "The Great Dragon is dead" and then it turns out that The Great Dragon is alive and well! Even shading that by later revealing that The Great Dragon is now a Spirit Dragon might be pushing things, though we'd need more context. Still, given the infinite possibilities that can exist in a Story Now world, binding fiction is more a way of generating guideposts or 'hooks' to be relied on later, or things that a player can leverage to guide the fiction than they are hard constraints. The Great Dragon may be dead, but The Son of The Great Dragon needn't be. There should just be some meaningful distinction between them, maybe the son lacks the father's Earthquake power!
Yeah, that's what I meant. The quote is, I admit, very purely adversarial, given the man was writing about how to win wars. The principle behind it, however, can be applied to anything where logistical skill and the wisdom of choosing the right objectives when having finite time and finite resources. The adversarial nature of war is what induces these finite limits for Sun Tzu; in something like business, it's applied by a mix of adversarial (competition) and environmental/procedural effects (resource availability, taxes, shipping, etc.); in something like novel writing, it's applied by publishers, editors, deadlines, prior work, and your personal financial needs; etc.

Interesting that you draw a distinction between "the experience of the players" and "whatever is going on with the characters." While I agree the two can never be identical, it seems to me that DW does its utmost to map the player experiences 1:1 with the characters' situations. That is, anything the players experience should either be rooted in or directly lead to some component of the characters' situations, and no part of the character's situation should fail to be the ground or product of the players' experiences. Do you disagree?
I'm not sure. I mean, I think that you're stating a reasonable thesis that is at least generally consistent with what I understand of playing DW. The focus of the game play is on the players. They experience a lot of that through identification with their characters. If they are not so identifying then the whole Story focus of the game should kind of fall flat. You would surely not have a good DW game where the PCs were called 'Bob 2' and 'Elf Ranger' and all they did was try to find more lootz without any sense of why they do that, who they relate to, etc. I mean, HOPEFULLY DW would not provoke that sort of play if it is used reasonably well.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Here's a quick example of actual play in Blades, where I can discuss exactly what I expected from the player side and how I could clearly track what the GM was doing when making decisions.

The score involved ending a war with another gang, by ending the gang. We had determined that they were holed up in a well fortified location, with the entrances booby-trapped and covered by prepared firing positions. Any direct assault was out the window (we, in play, repeated botched gather info checks, so things kept stacking against our interests). However, one solid success sequence during info gathering identified a weakness -- a weekly supply shipment. However, it also showed they had supplies delivered and then brought them in themselves. This set up the score -- my character would join the shipment crew (we had this pull) and try to finagle getting into the establishment to plant a bomb, which would disable the lower floor defenses and guards and allow a rush by the other, more martially oriented characters. This led to the engagement roll, which we got a 5 on, so the initial scene was going to be Risky in position.

With this, the GM framed the scene at the door to the establishment (a bar, currently closed), with the target gang ordering us to drop off the supplies outside. They were wary and watching, so anything done here could clearly spiral (hence Risky). I made a move to settle things by saying I had brought some good Skovland whiskey to these fine Skovland patriots (the gang is ex-Skovlander rebels, mostly, for those familiar with the setting, it's Ulf Ironborn's crew). I got a success. Here's where I'm going to talk about mechanics. For this role, I was leaning on my playbook as a Slide because it means I have excellent disguise abilities, with fine tools for this -- this ups my tier level for disguise attempts. Further, I am Skovlander, so I could easily affect the accent/manner/custom here. This meant the GM was obliged to consider this, and he did. The position was still Risky, but my leveraging of my playbook and my background meant that I received a bump to effect. Had the GM ignored these things, and left Effect at Standard, then he would have been clearly ignoring the system mechanics for tier and for potency and a number of the principles of the game. This is very clear in play. The GM here is good, so great Effect was on the table, and that meant my success should move towards my goal of getting inside the establishment to plant a bomb was achieved, or greatly advanced. As the GM had not established that this task was more difficult (no clock was put forth in framing to overcome), this was a direct success. Had the GM tried to waffle here, and start a clock that this action didn't fill, then this would have been obvious in play and a violation of the established processes of play (and principles). So, we moved the action to inside the bar. The situation wasn't resolved -- I still had actions to perform to accomplish the intent (plant the bomb, get out, set off the bomb), but the initial obstacle was completed. So, now the GM frames a new obstacle inside the bar -- I'm in and without suspicion (well, without more suspicion that would be normal). He frames a new wrinkle that there's a potential innocent -- a bar maid -- still here. Whether or not she's in with Ulf's crew or a hostage is unclear, and this is an obstacle that asks my character a direct question -- do I care? It's a nifty way to be a fan of the character by asking this kind of question, and presenting that there's a wrinkle we didn't expect and that could be a problem, because she's working where I wanted to plant the bomb.

Play continued from here, but this should be sufficient to illustrate that a system with clear procedures and principles serves to deliver play that is constrained by the system in a coherent way, but still allows for the play of the game to be unpredictable -- that GM and player input can result in wildly different outcomes while still being entirely within and guided by the system of play.
 

Umbran, your post is coming across to me as more adversarial than it needs to be, and it does feel like you are trying to escalate things more than I intended, and I am sorry if that wasn't clear in my own post. And maybe you may not feel that you are, and it's just how I am reading your post, but I want to be clear either way on that point. I have no intention of going toe-to-toe with a mod.

I am not proposing "ivory tower" discussions or suggesting that we divorce discussion from real world practice. I merely indicated my preference for discussing systems in terms of healthy, good faith play and their design principles. A lot of @pemerton or @Manbearcat's play reports are interesting to read, for me at least, because they do showcase in practice good faith play of their respective games and associated principles.

It feels to me like a bit of a truism to suggest that people are able to do with a game whatever they wish and that the system can't do anything to enforce it. I'm not sure if this has been under question. Bad faith play can obviously happen. Humans can also be dicks to each other in games. It's your table. But that is also part of the reason why I prefer talking about the system and its principles. Not because it's ivory tower or a spherical cow in a vacuum, but because we have the system and its principles is really the only shared point of data or frame of reference that we can discuss together as our people situation is not the same. That added complexity throws a potential wrench in a lot of things.

An appeal to human element of adversarial relationships and bad faith is not always an argument in favor of actual practice. In my experience, here it can quite nebulous and as much of a white room discussion of hypothetical bad faith play. Part of my own reticence for such white room talk of adversarial relationships or bad faith play stems from unproductive discussions that I had about Fate here with some posters.

I hope that clarifies my point.
To me at least, the point would be more that it might be MOST VALUABLE, or at least reasonably valuable, to talk about how things go wrong and how game design can be improved in such a way to mitigate that likelihood. This requires analysis, game theory, and actual experience/experiment to get right. Some of that will be analysis of failure modes and probably recounting of experience with failed play or at least instances of play where it may be possible to point out areas open for improvement. I am not hostile to the idea that endlessly thrashing over perceived weaknesses in various types of RPG design in a hypothetical sense as a rhetorical technique is worth much though. So I wouldn't say we clearly disagree. Still, that isn't what IMHO @Umbran is talking about here.
 

What I mean is that some people read the same words, and understand them to mean a different thing. We see that again and again confirmed on these boards, in discussions over what rules are, and what principles are. It's not just that group A are right and group B know that group A are right, but choose to do something different anyway (which of course happens), but also that group A are right - given their reading - and group B are right - given their reading. They are working to differing defaults derived from differing interpretations of the same game-artifacts
Which, IMHO, if I put my game designer hat on then I wonder if the game has explicated itself very well. Surely the designer intended something. It might be A, B, or something entirely different (C). If it was C, then clearly something was missed. If it was A or B then clearly that was insufficiently well communicated (I suppose there's always THAT GUY who misinterprets ANYTHING, but...).
 

This is assuming that what we're talking about is reasonably subject to this kind of polyvalent reading. Are you saying that B/X can reasonably be read to index something other than fair and impartial adjudication as the baseline for DM play?
No, but there is another type of failure mode here. You can dictate in your game rules that the GM shall decide if the character hit his enemy by observing whether or not the next pig which flies by the game table is going north or south. This rule plainly cannot be implemented. This is obviously a reductio as an example, but the idea of an impartial referee in B/X is, IMHO, something like this. You simply cannot run a game without making considerations in favor of the players and the PCs in order to create a viable overall game process. I mean, you certainly CAN be fairly impartial in a given moment, but in terms of the greater context of play of B/X that won't lead ultimately to a viable experience. GMs who are actually successful at running campaigns under this rule set pretty soon run into the issues. They are rather well-known at this point too!
Furthermore, many posters on this forum have advocated for a sort of play in which the fiction produced by the referee is in some sense deemed by them to itself be 'impartial'. This is often expressed in terms of "I run a sandbox." I can recall a discussion I had once with a poster (one that I have not seen posting in a number of years) in which that poster literally stated outright that his houseruled D&D was ALL ENCOMPASSING and that it lead to perfect neutral arbitration, could resolve ANY situation 'realistically', etc. lol. I only bring this up as a sort of anecdote about where people sometimes go in their thought processes on this sort of thing. IMHO that person was 'out to lunch'. They had so sublimated the necessary partiality of the GM which drives the story in classic D&D that they literally could not see that it even existed or even COULD exist in their game!
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
No, but there is another type of failure mode here. You can dictate in your game rules that the GM shall decide if the character hit his enemy by observing whether or not the next pig which flies by the game table is going north or south. This rule plainly cannot be implemented. This is obviously a reductio as an example, but the idea of an impartial referee in B/X is, IMHO, something like this. You simply cannot run a game without making considerations in favor of the players and the PCs in order to create a viable overall game process. I mean, you certainly CAN be fairly impartial in a given moment, but in terms of the greater context of play of B/X that won't lead ultimately to a viable experience. GMs who are actually successful at running campaigns under this rule set pretty soon run into the issues. They are rather well-known at this point too!
Furthermore, many posters on this forum have advocated for a sort of play in which the fiction produced by the referee is in some sense deemed by them to itself be 'impartial'. This is often expressed in terms of "I run a sandbox." I can recall a discussion I had once with a poster (one that I have not seen posting in a number of years) in which that poster literally stated outright that his houseruled D&D was ALL ENCOMPASSING and that it lead to perfect neutral arbitration, could resolve ANY situation 'realistically', etc. lol. I only bring this up as a sort of anecdote about where people sometimes go in their thought processes on this sort of thing. IMHO that person was 'out to lunch'. They had so sublimated the necessary partiality of the GM which drives the story in classic D&D that they literally could not see that it even existed or even COULD exist in their game!
So your saying it's impossible to viably DM (read adjudicate) B/X play in an impartial way? Seriously?!
 


I believe some DMs grasp the given principle in the same way, and choose to fly their own way. Others grasp the principle in a different way, and fly that way: for them it is other DMs that are flying their own way. And this difference impacts on their participation in the discourse.
And when it comes to the title of this thread well I've seen a horse fly, I've seen a house fly, I've even seen a green fly. But I ain't never seen an elephant fly.
 

Actual play of any game is messy. That's why transparency and group facing procedures are so useful. They help keep us accountable to one another.

I suspect you do mean any game here, but I want to put an exclamation on this and say the same thing works for all games outside of the TTRPG sphere. Humans are a part of both TTRPGs and ball sports. My guess is that many would say that TTRPGs are more sensitive to adjudication of edge cases than basketball. No_way_no_how. Any particularly session of basketball play features (a) a higher rate of rules disputes around particular edge cases and (b) the play of the game (and potential social fallout) is much more sensitive to these disputes. Because of that reality (ball sports being so sensitive to adjudication of edge cases), at the long-standing game at the court where I play ball, we have encoded (and we honor) specific procedures for resolving:

  • Kicked ball.
  • Out of bounds disputes.
  • 3 Point Line (was their foot on it) disputes.
  • Block/Charge (almost everything is "play through" unless its utterly egregious one way or the other and the whole court is in consensus).
  • Travelling.

Our basketball games proceed just fine despite the reality that WAAAAAAAAAAAAAY more disputes come up in a single game of basketball that I play than in any given TTRPG sessions I run. Honestly, its probably a 200:1, basketball dispute (around only these 5 things): TTRPG dispute ratio! We average maybe 8 per ball session (which is roughly the equivalent of a TTRPG session in terms of time). Running TTRPGs, I've probably averaged 4 consequential rules/edge case disputes a year (that is with averaging running 2.5 games a week for years)?

And overwhelmingly its because we've encoded measures to deal with disputes; social credibility being on the line (don't be "that guy" or you're going to constantly catch social fallout) + shoot a 3 to resolve it + honor the call and you get next call.
 
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Numidius

Explorer
@AbdulAlhazred asserted a disjunction: GM fiat or roll the dice.

He also stipulated certain conditions as underpinning the disjunction: a realistically detailed world, with unconstrained variables, such that solving it as a puzzle is impossible.

If we reduce the number of variables, by reducing the realism of the fiction and stepping up the number of recognisable tropes/conventions/stereotypes, then GM decision-making won't have to obviate player decision-making. This is how Gygaxian skilled play works. It's also how The Green Knight works, although the latter system reaches for a quite different set of tropes, conventions and stereotypes and so sets up the problem-solving in a different way.
Now is crystal clear. Also @AbdulAlhazred thank you.

I guess that's why I organically push the game towards a more dramatic mode, starting with the npc/monster I bring to the table (the pc don't have much as background kickers or anything) trying to foster hard choices, or at least the notion that their actions will shift the instable balance in the scenario.

What I find useful in terms of gm exposition, or content introduction (even regarding past events and their long gone protagonists, philosophical issues about neutrality, hints of the planes outside prime material) , are the critical rolls (20s, 1s) when casting spells.
Spells, no more as-written moments of player-fiat (as you always point out), are opportunities for the whole table to play to find out what happens and an exercise in improvised adjudication.
 

Here's a quick example of actual play in Blades, where I can discuss exactly what I expected from the player side and how I could clearly track what the GM was doing when making decisions.

The score involved ending a war with another gang, by ending the gang. We had determined that they were holed up in a well fortified location, with the entrances booby-trapped and covered by prepared firing positions. Any direct assault was out the window (we, in play, repeated botched gather info checks, so things kept stacking against our interests). However, one solid success sequence during info gathering identified a weakness -- a weekly supply shipment. However, it also showed they had supplies delivered and then brought them in themselves. This set up the score -- my character would join the shipment crew (we had this pull) and try to finagle getting into the establishment to plant a bomb, which would disable the lower floor defenses and guards and allow a rush by the other, more martially oriented characters. This led to the engagement roll, which we got a 5 on, so the initial scene was going to be Risky in position.

With this, the GM framed the scene at the door to the establishment (a bar, currently closed), with the target gang ordering us to drop off the supplies outside. They were wary and watching, so anything done here could clearly spiral (hence Risky). I made a move to settle things by saying I had brought some good Skovland whiskey to these fine Skovland patriots (the gang is ex-Skovlander rebels, mostly, for those familiar with the setting, it's Ulf Ironborn's crew). I got a success. Here's where I'm going to talk about mechanics. For this role, I was leaning on my playbook as a Slide because it means I have excellent disguise abilities, with fine tools for this -- this ups my tier level for disguise attempts. Further, I am Skovlander, so I could easily affect the accent/manner/custom here. This meant the GM was obliged to consider this, and he did. The position was still Risky, but my leveraging of my playbook and my background meant that I received a bump to effect. Had the GM ignored these things, and left Effect at Standard, then he would have been clearly ignoring the system mechanics for tier and for potency and a number of the principles of the game. This is very clear in play. The GM here is good, so great Effect was on the table, and that meant my success should move towards my goal of getting inside the establishment to plant a bomb was achieved, or greatly advanced. As the GM had not established that this task was more difficult (no clock was put forth in framing to overcome), this was a direct success. Had the GM tried to waffle here, and start a clock that this action didn't fill, then this would have been obvious in play and a violation of the established processes of play (and principles). So, we moved the action to inside the bar. The situation wasn't resolved -- I still had actions to perform to accomplish the intent (plant the bomb, get out, set off the bomb), but the initial obstacle was completed. So, now the GM frames a new obstacle inside the bar -- I'm in and without suspicion (well, without more suspicion that would be normal). He frames a new wrinkle that there's a potential innocent -- a bar maid -- still here. Whether or not she's in with Ulf's crew or a hostage is unclear, and this is an obstacle that asks my character a direct question -- do I care? It's a nifty way to be a fan of the character by asking this kind of question, and presenting that there's a wrinkle we didn't expect and that could be a problem, because she's working where I wanted to plant the bomb.

Play continued from here, but this should be sufficient to illustrate that a system with clear procedures and principles serves to deliver play that is constrained by the system in a coherent way, but still allows for the play of the game to be unpredictable -- that GM and player input can result in wildly different outcomes while still being entirely within and guided by the system of play.

And consider the Flashback that Tita's player + Risk's player did once you set the bomb off and got a 4/5 result on the Desperate Position/Great Effect move (the move being toss the whiskey bottle w/ the refined/enriched electroplasmic vial - bomb - to one of the tweaker Skovs in the tavern as you and the hostage barmaid duck behind the bar):

"Can I check 2 Loadout boxes for Special Armor vs a physical complication and we rig it to the bottom of the whiskey crate that Mister takes into the tavern?"

This is as complicated of a Flashback as it gets in Blades. We settle on:

  • Yes (of course)
  • 2 Stress (this is a complex and complicated affair with big advantage)
  • 2 Loadout Boxes checked for Tita
  • Risk Tinker Action Roll to make it happen

Net result is:

1) Mister (Ovinomancer's character) has a Special Armor box to spend on this detonation.

2) He has to pick himself or the girl to protect. He actually picks the girl with the armored crate and eats the blast himself. Which is very interesting because it says something about his character's instinctive urge to protect that has yet to be tested/revealed in play.

3) So now Ovinomancer has to decide if he wants to Resist 3 Harm (Desperate Position 4/5 result = 3 Harm). He does. We throttle it back to 1 Harm (from a horrific clavicle wound to just a sternum bruise).

4) HOWEVER...his Resistance Roll goes VERY south. He takes a BOATLOAD of Stress and Stresses out of the scene. This will earn him a Trauma (4 and your character is toast). Ovinomancer resolves this (I always let my players resolve this stuff) as he rushes out of the tavern with the young girl under his arm and the two of them stagger out of the utterly exploderated bottom floor of the tavern (the leader and his 2nd is in the attic apt upstairs) and into the nearby canal. She pulls his barely conscious form out of the water to safety (this will have downstream Faction consequences and this girl may now become a relevant part of our play...maybe she'll join the Crew).

5) So 1 Harm to Mister later and Mister stressed out of the scene with a Trauma accrued (this will either be Reckless or Cold...he's mulling that over...regardless its a new thematic xp trigger for the character). HOWEVER, the fortified tavern is (a) now vulnerable to siege and (b) the 3 members of Ulf's Crew on the bottom floor are painting the walls...and the floorboards...and the ceiling joists...and the cobwebs...





This is an interesting scene for people to ponder.

Was this:

1) Skilled (Challenge-based) Play
2) Thematic/Premise/Narrativist Play
3) Threading the needle between both
 
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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
This is assuming that what we're talking about is reasonably subject to this kind of polyvalent reading. Are you saying that B/X can reasonably be read to index something other than fair and impartial adjudication as the baseline for DM play?
For me, looking at it now, your view is right on that. I find the text in the B/X rule books extremely clear in guiding a DM toward fairness and impartiality.

There is in many places encouragement to offering a challenge. Speculatively, some DMs may conflate impartially offering a challenge with supplying an adversary. I am thinking of text such as this from a basic module - "this dungeon Is less deadly and more forgiving than one designed to test experienced players" - which implies that one designs a more deadly, less forgiving dungeon for experienced players.

There is a literal sense in which every B/X DM is adversarial... in that they are the adversary. No monster attacks, no fireball is cast with PCs at ground zero, but that the DM has that monster attack, or chooses the spell and its target. At the same time, I imagine many DMs just took it that since it was a game, and traditionally games had sides, they would be on one side and their players on the other.

I remember my first few sessions DMing, for my brothers. The feeling I recollect most strongly now was one of exploring alongside them - revealing the dungeon through their eyes. That was enchanting. I don't recall thinking about being fair or impartial, nor adversarial for that matter.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Which, IMHO, if I put my game designer hat on then I wonder if the game has explicated itself very well. Surely the designer intended something. It might be A, B, or something entirely different (C). If it was C, then clearly something was missed. If it was A or B then clearly that was insufficiently well communicated (I suppose there's always THAT GUY who misinterprets ANYTHING, but...).
Given the hundreds of pages of rules disputes, and exchanges on the meaning and application of principles, designers must be much worse at their job than I had formerly supposed ;)
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
For me, looking at it now, your view is right on that. I find the text in the B/X rule books extremely clear in guiding a DM toward fairness and impartiality.

There is in many places encouragement to offering a challenge. Speculatively, some DMs may conflate impartially offering a challenge with supplying an adversary. I am thinking of text such as this from a basic module - "this dungeon Is less deadly and more forgiving than one designed to test experienced players" - which implies that one designs a more deadly, less forgiving dungeon for experienced players.

There is a literal sense in which every B/X DM is adversarial... in that they are the adversary. No monster attacks, no fireball is cast with PCs at ground zero, but that the DM has that monster attack, or chooses the spell and its target. At the same time, I imagine many DMs just took it that since it was a game, and traditionally games had sides, they would be on one side and their players on the other.

I remember my first few sessions DMing, for my brothers. The feeling I recollect most strongly now was one of exploring alongside them - revealing the dungeon through their eyes. That was enchanting. I don't recall thinking about being fair or impartial, nor adversarial for that matter.
See, I think playing the adversaries in the game (monsters etc) honestly and impartially is something very different from taking an adversarial stance against the PCs/players. I don't think there are actually that many DMs who take an actual adversarial stance, which is to say that they are somehow trying to 'win' some sort of contest against the players. That is what I was talking about though.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
And consider the Flashback that Tita's player + Risk's player did once you set the bomb off and got a 4/5 result on the Desperate Position/Great Effect move (the move being toss the whiskey bottle w/ the refined/enriched electroplasmic vial - bomb - to one of the tweaker Skovs in the tavern as you and the hostage barmaid duck behind the bar):

"Can I check 2 Loadout boxes for Special Armor vs a physical complication and we rig it to the bottom of the whiskey crate that Mister takes into the tavern?"

This is as complicated of a Flashback as it gets in Blades. We settle on:

  • Yes (of course)
  • 2 Stress (this is a complex and complicated affair with big advantage)
  • 2 Loadout Boxes checked for Tita
  • Risk Tinker Action Roll to make it happen

Net result is:

1) Mister (Ovinomancer's character) has a Special Armor box to spend on this detonation.

2) He has to pick himself or the girl to protect. He actually picks the girl with the armored crate and eats the blast himself. Which is very interesting because it says something about his character's instinctive urge to protect that has yet to be tested/revealed in play.

3) So now Ovinomancer has to decide if he wants to Resist 3 Harm (Desperate Position 4/5 result = 3 Harm). He does. We throttle it back to 1 Harm (from a horrific clavicle wound to just a sternum bruise).

4) HOWEVER...his Resistance Roll goes VERY south. He takes a BOATLOAD of Stress and Stresses out of the scene. This will earn him a Trauma (4 and your character is toast). Ovinomancer resolves this (I always let my players resolve this stuff) as he rushes out of the tavern with the young girl under his arm and the two of them stagger out of the utterly exploderated bottom floor of the tavern (the leader and his 2nd is in the attic apt upstairs) and into the nearby canal. She pulls his barely conscious form out of the water to safety (this will have downstream Faction consequences and this girl may now become a relevant part of our play...maybe she'll join the Crew).

5) So 1 Harm to Mister later and Mister stressed out of the scene with a Trauma accrued (this will either be Reckless or Cold...he's mulling that over...regardless its a new thematic xp trigger for the character). HOWEVER, the fortified tavern is (a) now vulnerable to siege and (b) the 3 members of Ulf's Crew on the bottom floor are painting the walls...and the floorboards...and the ceiling joists...and the cobwebs...





This is an interesting scene for people to ponder.

Was this:

1) Skilled (Challenge-based) Play
2) Thematic/Premise/Narrativist Play
3) Threading the needle between both
My answer -- both/neither/sometimes. My choice to toss the bomb doesn't look very skilled to me -- it was a high risk action with a high chance of complication/failure. It wasn't a good bet. It was, though, very thematic for my character, and had been lurking for some time (saving Martha, the unwillingness to deal with the Lost fanatic, etc). But I certainly didn't leverage the system to accomplish goals, I threw a hail mary. When I didn't have to, because this escalation wasn't necessary, at all, to finishing the mission.

But, that said, the immediate response of the other players was to leverage the system, hard, to buy the kind of mitigation of risk that makes the above action make a good bit of sense -- right up until I spent it thematically again. Now, I did think I had a reasonable ability to resist the consequence -- I did have 3 dice. But, even then, I figured I'd be pretty badly hurt anyway (it was a nasty little bomb after all, and at close range).

So, it's both/neither/sometimes for my answer. There absolutely was skilled play in there. But there was also not skilled play (mostly me, really). The rest of the session stuck well to skilled play -- the other players did a great job working together to defeat Ulf (who was surprisingly hard, due to bad dice luck).
 

Given the hundreds of pages of rules disputes, and exchanges on the meaning and application of principles, designers must be much worse at their job than I had formerly supposed ;)

It really depends on the game.

As I mentioned above in the Blades Flashback: this is the most complicated edge case interaction you’ll see in the game.

Yet myself and the 3 players trivially resolved it in a matter of moments. It was very akin to resolving a p42 Stunt in 4e. When the action resolution mechanics are encoded, robust, and well-integrated and the principles that undergird play explicit…it’s not particularly difficult to resolve even the most complex edge cases (with multiple rules interactions).

If the resolution mechanics aren’t any/all of those 3 things mentioned and/or the principles that inform play aren’t explicit and coherent (meaning they play nice with everything else in the system and promote expectant play)…well, that stuff becomes more fraught.

Fraught in the way my Long Rest recharge instance of play becomes fraught as competing play priorities collide.

In the example above there was absolutely no tension between play priorities in either the process of resolving the Flashback nor in the outcome upon the gamestate and the fiction that the Flashback yielded.

There was no sacrifice of competitive integrity or skillful play or theme/drama/premise. In my opinion, that needle was clearly threaded (and trivially so).
 

My answer -- both/neither/sometimes. My choice to toss the bomb doesn't look very skilled to me -- it was a high risk action with a high chance of complication/failure. It wasn't a good bet. It was, though, very thematic for my character, and had been lurking for some time (saving Martha, the unwillingness to deal with the Lost fanatic, etc). But I certainly didn't leverage the system to accomplish goals, I threw a hail mary. When I didn't have to, because this escalation wasn't necessary, at all, to finishing the mission.

But, that said, the immediate response of the other players was to leverage the system, hard, to buy the kind of mitigation of risk that makes the above action make a good bit of sense -- right up until I spent it thematically again. Now, I did think I had a reasonable ability to resist the consequence -- I did have 3 dice. But, even then, I figured I'd be pretty badly hurt anyway (it was a nasty little bomb after all, and at close range).

So, it's both/neither/sometimes for my answer. There absolutely was skilled play in there. But there was also not skilled play (mostly me, really). The rest of the session stuck well to skilled play -- the other players did a great job working together to defeat Ulf (who was surprisingly hard, due to bad dice luck).

You're the player here, so you get the final word on this (meaning, folks should put more weight to your words on this than my own).

However, from an outsiders (meaning "I'm not inhabiting the space of the 3 of you trying to overcome this brutally dangerous, impregnable fortress with a massive level of volatility involved...including itchy-trigger finger tweakers, a Master class sniper, and bomb-rigged doors"), these are my thoughts, for what its worth:

1) You adhered beautifully to Player Best Practices in Blades. Literally to all of them.

2) You guys worked together to martial resources in that moment (including the Flashback) to mitigate some of the fallout.

3) SEVERAL awesome things happened as a result...one of which was GAMESTATE IMPREGNABLE FORTRESS changed to GAMESTATE PREGNABLE FORTRESS + TEAM BAD GUY NUMBERS REDUCED BY 3 in exchange for 1/3 PCs.

4) You marshalled resources very well to try to "keep yourself in the fight" after the Desperate 4/5 Complication. It was a more than reasonable gamble. Sometimes, the odds don't work out and 3d6 turns against you. Like a Texas Hold Em player making "the right big move" but eating a "bad beat" on the River card....stuff happens.


You made a huge move, certainly readable as "worthwhile" in multiple interpretations of "worthwhile"...your opponent just caught a flier on the River and you ate a "bad beat." It happens.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
See, I think playing the adversaries in the game (monsters etc) honestly and impartially is something very different from taking an adversarial stance against the PCs/players. I don't think there are actually that many DMs who take an actual adversarial stance, which is to say that they are somehow trying to 'win' some sort of contest against the players. That is what I was talking about though.
Definitely. I wonder if posters who feel it does encourage an adversarial stance are thinking of the DM "winning", or maybe just offering an uncompromising challenge?
 

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