log in or register to remove this ad

 

Suspense in RPGs

pemerton

Legend
Negotiation will only realistically happen when a) one side knows it cannot win and tries negotiation as a plan B, or b) both sides realize the cost of continuing (or starting) battle will be too high.
Or when one or both sides regard negotiation as demanded by honour or morality or custom. Or when one or both sides think they are better talkers than fighters. Or when one or both sides believe negotiation is more likely to deliver desirable results.

Aragorn negotiates with Sauron's armies, once Sauron has been defeated, because that is what will serve Gondor's interests, and what is fitting for an honourable king who rules justly rather than by force and terror.

Combat, which is very, very usually lethal for someone involved it (NPCs mainly of course unless you are playing Paranoia) is dull if the players understand that their PCs cannot die.
It's pretty standard for a player in Burning Wheel to keep at least 1 persona point in reserve to ensure that his/her PC won't die if a mortal wound is suffered. This doesn't make combat dull.

In RPGs like BW, RM and RQ, it is also quite common for combat to end with one participant alive but hors de combat due to wounds suffered.

So a PC being unable to die is not tantamount to a PC being unable to lose.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Caliburn101

Explorer
It's pretty standard for a player in Burning Wheel to keep at least 1 persona point in reserve to ensure that his/her PC won't die if a mortal wound is suffered. This doesn't make combat dull.

In RPGs like BW, RM and RQ, it is also quite common for combat to end with one participant alive but hors de combat due to wounds suffered.

So a PC being unable to die is not tantamount to a PC being unable to lose.

I never said it was. I also never said that death should occur regularly - encounters the PCs should win, or survive should be the norm for a campaign game.

But that was not what the thread or my posts are about - it's 'chance of' vs 'no chance of' and the players understanding there is no chance of PC death that makes combat, where killing is so frequently the point, dull.

As I have said, sit down at any rpg table and killing the enemy is in the vast majority of cases, the point of combat. This is what happens - it just usually happens to the bad guys.

Where it isn't the point, or doesn't happen is a much rarer occurrence, and everyone here, as much as one accepts that all other forms of challenge can be dramatic in their own way, knows that's what happens most of the time.

D&D is the most popular game, even though this thread isn't just about D&D, and I defy anyone to claim that combat in D&D doesn't end in death, with no chance whatsoever of PCs being killed.

As for d100 RQ - I've played every version, and it is and always has been far more lethal than D&D in terms of getting killed.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
D&D is a just a current example, since you were wanting to focus on what's generally going on out there, and it's by far the most popular game, people are generally sitting down and having RPG combats in D&D. Rather a lot of them, based on the exp it takes to level up, and even a non-trivial chance of death in each combat mounts quickly.

(Besides, when I used Champions! as an example, you cried 'corner case.' Sorry, it was a /really/ popular game in my area in the 80s & 90s.)

That's just it, chance of failure, alone, doesn't produce suspense (it might only produce frustration, or just end the 'story' in an unsatisfying, un-suspensful way), and 'certainty' (whether via system bias or genre convention) of success doesn't eliminate it, because suspense can still exist in getting to that success & in the prices paid to get there.

I never claimed otherwise.

But death is the aimed-at end point of most combats. Most challenges in a game like D&D as you want to focus on that (I have previously been told by a respondent that it isn't the only game btw) are combat based, ergo death it is the most common risk of failure factor.

I haven't at any point said that other forms of failure or other forms of challenge are dull, and I am being told repeatedly that I have somehow stated it, so let's not revisit this misconception.

Champions, and in fact all superhero roleplay games are not mainstream examples to use due to relative rarity of people playing them, and style of game further cuts that down. Some will play it more cartoonish, with no appreciable risk of death, and some won't.

So a superhero game without any chance of PC death is a corner case when we look at the wide sweep of rpgs and rank the most popular. This may have been different in the 1980s, although I didn't personally witness that, but I was by default talking about the present.

On your point about failure 'might only produce frustration etc.' I challenge think about this. Imagine a game (or actually run it) where there are no dice rolls and thus every chance of failure a dice roll represents is therefore always a success, or always a failure (those are your two choices if you take chance of failure out of the equation) and tell me if you really think that makes for a satisfying experience?

Chance of failure is central to rpgs, and the very, very few who I recall tries to use a non-random based resolution methodology have never been popular.
 


pemerton

Legend
Classic D&D has many action declarations that are auto-successes - eg I cast Transmute Muck to Rock, assuming the character is a magic user of sufficient level who has memorised that spell.

But a lot of people describe that as "creative casting", not "dull".
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
For me, if you are playing a traditional swords and sorcery style game, then death is definitely one of the stakes. I mean how would the character if he really existed feel about it? He'd be worried about death a lot I think. For me that says it all because I want player character unity to the degree I can get it.

Now, on the flip side, there are a whole lot of things in life worth pursuing besides the avoidance of death. In fact a few are worth risking death. I know if someone were threatening my loved ones I would assuredly risk my life to save them. So it seems crazy to say the only stake is death. The stakes for me are identical to the stakes that actual character would have if he really existed in such a fantasy world. At least that is the goal.

And death only really means the end of your character during the first five or six levels. After that, you will pay and perhaps your character will suffer but the party will find a way to get you raised.

I want my games to be about good play. Good preparation, good strategy, and good tactics are all important to success. I want parties that exhibit such characteristics to survive more often and those that don't to survive less often.

I really don't see the argument here between everyone. Most games have death as a possibility. Most games also have a lot of other stakes besides death.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Classic D&D has many action declarations that are auto-successes - eg I cast Transmute Muck to Rock, assuming the character is a magic user of sufficient level who has memorised that spell.

But a lot of people describe that as "creative casting", not "dull".
Muck to Rock? :)

In a safe situation where the caster has time and a clear view, yeah, that's pretty much an auto-success. But in any situation where the caster is under any sort of duress there's the risk of interruption (a bigger issue in early D&D than in the recent versions) and, at least if I'm the DM, a roll to aim or place the spell where you want it to go; so no guaranteed success at all.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Classic D&D has many action declarations that are auto-successes - eg I cast Transmute Muck to Rock, assuming the character is a magic user of sufficient level who has memorised that spell.

But a lot of people describe that as "creative casting", not "dull".

The creativity or dullness depends on why and where you're casting that transmute rock to mud spell. The fact that, barring interruption, it successfully turns rock into mud without an additional die roll strikes me as being far less important.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
Y'know, I'm starting to think you never claimed anything.

It would appear (although I am not 100% clear on how) you have assumed too much about what I have said, and worked from that assumption rather than the actual statements. If that's down to a lack of clarity on my part, then that's on me, but having had a quick review of my responses, I honestly don't see where I claimed what you imply I did.

By all means point it out if I have missed it, or if you would prefer, we can leave the discussion here.
 
Last edited:

Caliburn101

Explorer
Classic D&D has many action declarations that are auto-successes - eg I cast Transmute Muck to Rock, assuming the character is a magic user of sufficient level who has memorised that spell.

But a lot of people describe that as "creative casting", not "dull".

Actions, sure, but not many of of them are without risk to carry out in combat (casting spells has a range and so do your enemies ranged weapons and spells that casting the spell may have put you within). Nor does using a spell which is automatically successful (in most cases) mean you cannot lose and suffer some kind of loss.

I don't think therefore that the comparison is a robust one.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
For me, if you are playing a traditional swords and sorcery style game, then death is definitely one of the stakes. I mean how would the character if he really existed feel about it? He'd be worried about death a lot I think. For me that says it all because I want player character unity to the degree I can get it.

Now, on the flip side, there are a whole lot of things in life worth pursuing besides the avoidance of death. In fact a few are worth risking death. I know if someone were threatening my loved ones I would assuredly risk my life to save them. So it seems crazy to say the only stake is death. The stakes for me are identical to the stakes that actual character would have if he really existed in such a fantasy world. At least that is the goal.

And death only really means the end of your character during the first five or six levels. After that, you will pay and perhaps your character will suffer but the party will find a way to get you raised.

I want my games to be about good play. Good preparation, good strategy, and good tactics are all important to success. I want parties that exhibit such characteristics to survive more often and those that don't to survive less often.

I really don't see the argument here between everyone. Most games have death as a possibility. Most games also have a lot of other stakes besides death.

Yes, there isn't actually a real argument here. I think it is the general experience of rpg'ers that combat in rpgs is most frequently 'to the death'; that without the risk of death for PCs in such combats it would be a relatively dull affair, and on the flipside, that all kinds of other challenges can of course be suspenseful and entertaining. Nobody actually said otherwise, but some contributors to the thread conflated the two into a 'you cannot have both' 'either/or' argument.
 

Nytmare

David Jose
On your point about failure 'might only produce frustration etc.' I challenge think about this. Imagine a game (or actually run it) where there are no dice rolls and thus every chance of failure a dice roll represents is therefore always a success, or always a failure (those are your two choices if you take chance of failure out of the equation) and tell me if you really think that makes for a satisfying experience?

I play in games like this quite frequently nowadays and they're incredibly satisfying. Check out The Quiet Year (https://buriedwithoutceremony.com/the-quiet-year) if you're interested in one of them.

Primarily I'd point out that they very rarely work along binary choices of success or failure, they usually push you to choose something along the spectrum of fail but learn something to succeed but it costs you.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
D&D is a just a current example, since you were wanting to focus on what's generally going on out there, and it's by far the most popular game, people are generally sitting down and having RPG combats in D&D. Rather a lot of them, based on the exp it takes to level up, and even a non-trivial chance of death in each combat mounts quickly.

(Besides, when I used Champions! as an example, you cried 'corner case.' Sorry, it was a /really/ popular game in my area in the 80s & 90s.)

That's just it, chance of failure, alone, doesn't produce suspense (it might only produce frustration, or just end the 'story' in an unsatisfying, un-suspensful way), and 'certainty' (whether via system bias or genre convention) of success doesn't eliminate it, because suspense can still exist in getting to that success & in the prices paid to get there.

I've been letting this topic rattle around in my head for a while as I've been distracted by other things.

Stakes don't necessarily provide suspense. If I immediately claim my character would rather die than allow the villain to succeed and jump into the infernal machine to stop it with my corpse, there is no suspense.

Chance of failure doesn't necessarily provide suspense. There isn't much suspense if I declare I'm throwing a smoke grenade through a window even if there is a chance I can roll poorly enough that it bounces off the glass and lands at my feet.

What seems to provide suspense in my experience are situations where (a) the result is unknown, (b) the stakes can escalate as one or more sides vies for a preferred outcome, and (c) there is some uncertainty in how the participants will respond to the changing stakes.

Charging someone $1 million dollars for a painting doesn't generate suspense. Having someone wager $1 million dollars against the ownership of the painting on a single roll of the dice doesn't generate suspense. Holding an auction where the participants each have about $1 million dollars of cash and cash equivalents to their name can generate suspense -- if at least two participants are interested enough in owning the painting.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
What seems to provide suspense in my experience are situations where (a) the result is unknown, (b) the stakes can escalate as one or more sides vies for a preferred outcome, and (c) there is some uncertainty in how the participants will respond to the changing stakes.
I believe facing an enemy you don't know how you are going to defeat can generate suspense. I believe if the group begins to spiral down with some characters nearing death, that creates suspense. I believe approaching a battle with the final big bad guy can be suspenseful.

Having someone wager $1 million dollars against the ownership of the painting on a single roll of the dice doesn't generate suspense.
Really?? Unless I was a billionaire, this would be very suspenseful. If in a game it would be if the PCs are risking all of their resources.


Holding an auction where the participants each have about $1 million dollars of cash and cash equivalents to their name can generate suspense -- if at least two participants are interested enough in owning the painting.
Sure.

Risk of failure in some way can be suspenseful. Death is failure. Other things can be failure too. If you have a goal and don't achieve that goal that is a form of failure.
 

Nagol

Unimportant
I believe facing an enemy you don't know how you are going to defeat can generate suspense. I believe if the group begins to spiral down with some characters nearing death, that creates suspense. I believe approaching a battle with the final big bad guy can be suspenseful.

Facing an enemy with an unknown weakness hits points a and c, at least. B is likely if the group takes casualties before discovering a method to success or changing response (i.e. running away). The combat with losses hits a, b, and c. BBEG battles can be suspenseful. They can also just be slogs or anticlimactic. It depends a lot on how the preparation and battle go.

Really?? Unless I was a billionaire, this would be very suspenseful. If in a game it would be if the PCs are risking all of their resources.

When it has happened near me, it's typically been "Yep we'll take that bet!" <dice roll> followed by one of { "Yay!", "Boo!" }. Alternatively, the offer is turned down.

Sure.

Risk of failure in some way can be suspenseful. Death is failure. Other things can be failure too. If you have a goal and don't achieve that goal that is a form of failure.

It not just a risk of failure: trying to pick a lock runs a risk of failure, but is rarely suspenseful in and of itself. Part of suspense comes from the "what happens if" questions attached to failure. What happens if we misjudged how cowardly he is and he does stay on track? What happens if this gambit fails? What happens if we fall here? What happens if we bail out and the BBEG gets his prize?

If the answer is "We move on" or a shrug then there is no suspense.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
It not just a risk of failure: trying to pick a lock runs a risk of failure, but is rarely suspenseful in and of itself. Part of suspense comes from the "what happens if" questions attached to failure. What happens if we misjudged how cowardly he is and he does stay on track? What happens if this gambit fails? What happens if we fall here? What happens if we bail out and the BBEG gets his prize?
Sure you want to make the stakes as interesting as possible. I think the suspense is on the risk of the big goal. So sure most groups assume if they can't pick the lock they will find another way. It's a minor roadblock so there is minor suspense. So the two competing sources of suspense in my games is survival and original goal achievement. The original goal is the point of the adventure. Those sorts of points can be anything that motivates real human beings. Avarice, revenge, love, renown, etc.. I think in most of my campaigns my players have a long term strategic goal of advancing and become more proficient in their chosen profession (class).

If the answer is "We move on" or a shrug then there is no suspense.
Have you ever been on a sports team? After a lose you move on because you can't change the outcome. Until you knew it was a loss a lot of suspense could have been happening.

So if you are raiding a lost tomb for an ancient treasure, you really want that treasure but if in the end it slips away that doesn't make the journey unsuspenseful.
 

Aenghus

Explorer
I find suspense is highly personal and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. Fairly often referees get this wrong and their attempts to create suspense can fall flat for some or all of their players. What players care about in games varies hugely, which is one of the reasons DMing for random people is difficult.

Primarily unless the players want suspense in their game, attempting to create it may be a lot more difficult. Players who are primarily target or objective driven, whether that's hack and slash, loot, spotlight grabbing etc may not want suspense because suspense is often about the unknown and unknown variables increase the chance of failure. Players who want to succeed in game probably try to minimise the number of unknowns in the game and reduce suspense.

If you find this badwrongfun, well, not everyone wants suspense as a major component of their game just like not everyone wants drama, or PC death.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
I play in games like this quite frequently nowadays and they're incredibly satisfying. Check out The Quiet Year (https://buriedwithoutceremony.com/the-quiet-year) if you're interested in one of them.

Primarily I'd point out that they very rarely work along binary choices of success or failure, they usually push you to choose something along the spectrum of fail but learn something to succeed but it costs you.

Do you have any evidence of it's relative popularity, or is it niche to the point other such games have been? I remember playing one rpg without dice (Amber) which was ok - if it was a little like a long, long LARP session with no action scenes, and another was a tabletop board game. The tabletop boardgame (the original Civilisation) was rather more engaging in my opinion despite having battles in it.

As I argued, I think it is clear that exceptions really do not prove the rule - whether they are interesting examples or not. Randomisation next to a chance of success and failure is overwhelmingly mainstream and here to stay, especially in combat. Ask any casino craps table operator why human psychology will always make that the go-to game mechanic and they can give you a pretty straight answer.

We love gambling, and the chance of losing everything excites a primitive part of humanity's brain.

There is no choice based system that can provide that, and indeed, if no dice are used, they cannot throw up an extreme result that throws the plot and narrative in a surprising and unanticipated direction.

To cite some populist sources of the excitement to be had with such normal mechanics, both the Matthew Mercer and Joe Manganiello have publically stated that the dice providing such surprises is one of the great attractions of D&D for them.

I have to agree with them.
 
Last edited:

Nytmare

David Jose
Do you have any evidence of it's relative popularity, or is it niche to the point other such games have been? I remember playing one rpg without dice (Amber) which was ok - if it was a little like a long, long LARP session with no action scenes, and another was a tabletop board game. The tabletop boardgame (the original Civilisation) was rather more engaging in my opinion despite having battles in it.

You said that a game with no dice rolls would be a game in which, and I quote:

every chance of failure a dice roll represents is therefore always a success, or always a failure (those are your two choices if you take chance of failure out of the equation) and tell me if you really think that makes for a satisfying experience?

I explained that not only could I imagine such a game, but that I frequently play them. I also explained that such a game would not be limited to results that were "always a success or always a failure" because they don't.

Why is the goalpost now being moved to whether or not it's as popular as D&D? And how is it that the fact that games like this exist is not acceptable proof that there are games like that that exist?

An RPG doesn't have to be an exercise in risk and reward, and "extreme results" that throw the plot into surprising and unexpected directions can just as easily be generated by other players making surprising and unexpected choices as they could be by rolling a die.
 

Caliburn101

Explorer
You said that a game with no dice rolls would be a game in which, and I quote:



I explained that not only could I imagine such a game, but that I frequently play them. I also explained that such a game would not be limited to results that were "always a success or always a failure" because they don't.

Why is the goalpost now being moved to whether or not it's as popular as D&D? And how is it that the fact that games like this exist is not acceptable proof that there are games like that that exist?

An RPG doesn't have to be an exercise in risk and reward, and "extreme results" that throw the plot into surprising and unexpected directions can just as easily be generated by other players making surprising and unexpected choices as they could be by rolling a die.

So you don't agree with them, or me, or the vast numbers who play dice-based games because diceless choice games lack suspense, as the end is never really in doubt as the players choose, and of course every player who chooses can NEVER fail to know in advance what is going to happen.

A players turn is their main chance to act, or influence, to move, etc.

Knowing everything that is going to happen as a result of your own character's actions in advance ironically means that it is other players turns which end up being more suspenseful.

That's why relative popularity is absolutely relevant. Because it has been tried before and most people don't want to play it. It takes one of the central aspects of the fun away for them.

Of course you can personally like that - no problem there, but the vast majority of people don't...

… or that is what they would actually be playing, and diceless games would rule the roost.

Lastly, the bit I highlighted in bold about "Results". Every action taken by a PC is because their player wants to do something. Pick up a sword, open a lock, chat up the barman, spot the thief, heal the innocent, win the horserace, walk over the rickety bridge safely... need I go on?

What aspect of the game you are talking about here has choices which don't have either a chance of success or failure as a result?

Please give some examples - and please make them examples that cannot happen just as well in a dice-based mainstream rpg… like "my PC gets out of bed", or "my PC holds he breath for 5 seconds..."
 
Last edited:

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top