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System matters and free kriegsspiel

And now instead of the referee neutrally adjudicating the fiction, we've got the GM's adjudication establishing the fiction!

And that is the crux, isn’t it?

Neutrality of refereeing is rendered out of existence in such a scenario.

When you have codification of action resolution process, you’re building from the middle out (what does OBS4 mean? What Position and Effect be for this situation? Here are the spread of results for all moves). You don’t have to be peerless/unchallengeable when establishing obstacles. Here are the action resolution mechanics < move backward from them to framing obstacles/situation > move forward to action and consequence.

When you’re building and iterating the resolution method in real time for each obstacle/situation, you’re starting at the the beginning. What is phenomenon we’re modeling (obstacle/situation) > build resolution scheme that manages appropriately integrating all the parameters of the model > hopefully you’re a peerless expert and now we move on to action and consequence.

Of course if you’re not a peerless expert or the “high-trust” dynamic at the table is wobbly or outright compromised due to an abundance of (often high ego) experts in related fields, before action and consequence, you would have to append:

* change situation to be possessed of worse or better framing based on the potency of the dispute of your action resolution model (you lose neutrality of GMing here!).

* defer to received input or vehemence from table experts who are disputing your model (the “high trust” parameter is gone!).


The selection pressures that would lead to table dysfunction are significant. The functional table had to have been the very rare breed.
 

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pemerton

Legend
When you have codification of action resolution process, you’re building from the middle out (what does OBS4 mean? What Position and Effect be for this situation? Here are the spread of results for all moves). You don’t have to be peerless/unchallengeable when establishing obstacles. Here are the action resolution mechanics < move backward from them to framing obstacles/situation > move forward to action and consequence.

When you’re building and iterating the resolution method in real time for each obstacle/situation, you’re starting at the the beginning. What is phenomenon we’re modeling (obstacle/situation) > build resolution scheme that manages appropriately integrating all the parameters of the model > hopefully you’re a peerless expert and now we move on to action and consequence.
I think this is at the more brutal end of characterisations of the GM function in an "objective"/"realistic" game!

I think that a free kriegsspiel-style unmediated adjudication of fictional positioning puts the greatest degree of pressure on GM expertise. This comes up in Moldvay Basic, with the instructions to the GM to adjudicate fairly (= neutrally, realistically) and to assign appropriate success chances. It's when the situation gets more complicated than the dungeon basics that the idea of the all-knowing GM adjudicating the fictional positioning really starts to break down.

But if we pul back from adjudication of fictional positioning to setting an objective obstacle - as per Burning Wheel, Rolemaster, Classic Traveller, etc - I think the situation is not quite as dire. Especially when - as in all those systems - there are extensive charts of obstacles to work with and extrapolate from.

And departing from absolute GM authority to a degree of consensus around obstacles also helps make things work smoothly - and that sort of consensual approach works much better when it is obstacles, rather than results, that are being discussed as objects of consensus.

Of course if you’re not a peerless expert or the “high-trust” dynamic at the table is wobbly or outright compromised due to an abundance of (often high ego) experts in related fields, before action and consequence, you would have to append:

* change situation to be possessed of worse or better framing based on the potency of the dispute of your action resolution model (you lose neutrality of GMing here!).

* defer to received input or vehemence from table experts who are disputing your model (the “high trust” parameter is gone!).


The selection pressures that would lead to table dysfunction are significant. The functional table had to have been the very rare breed.
Following on from above: the second option, if consensus rather than deferral/dispute, makes functionality more feasible. I've pulled it off enough (RM, BW, Classic Traveller) that I don't think it can be that rare in principle. But it does mean dropping the irritating "trust" mantra and rather bringing the table into the process.
 


pemerton

Legend
That is accurate. Seeing as the DM is the source of truth about the game world, players are forced to trust them. The DM is the accurate authority on their world, and that is not a matter of realism. In cases where their world is based on another person's fiction - say if one were to DM a campaign set in EarthSea - then it is their EarthSea. Not Le Guin's.


I believe you overstate the prep requirement (or maybe more accurately, those you cite do). A crucial skill to DM this style of play is your ability to develop your world rapidly on the fly in whatever direction your play takes you.
I think there's a real tension - or maybe just outright confusion? - in equating the sort of GM narration you are describing here with free kriegsspiel.

The sort of experience you're describing seems similar (not necessarily identical) to the sort of GM-as-tale-spinner approach that Lewis Pulsipher described, but wasn't enthusiastic about, back in the late 70s/early 80s. As you explain, the immediacy and integrity of the GM's presentation of their world-concept is crucial to this.

It doesn't seem to have very much in common with free kriegsspiel, though, which is not about integrity of a world-conception but rather about expertise and an ability to apply it to generate realistic outcomes. The measure of referee skill here is not integrity of the concept but accuracy relative to the real world.

So how are the two being conflated?
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
I think there's a real tension - or maybe just outright confusion? - in equating the sort of GM narration you are describing here with free kriegsspiel.
One could differentiate between historical FK and so-called "FK" RPG. I'd call the latter appellation confusing, but then I didn't assign it. Perhaps the most generous position to take is that proponents of FK RPG have in mind something, that reminds them of or draws inspiration from FK.

The sort of experience you're describing seems similar (not necessarily identical) to the sort of GM-as-tale-spinner approach that Lewis Pulsipher described, but wasn't enthusiastic about, back in the late 70s/early 80s. As you explain, the immediacy and integrity of the GM's presentation of their world-concept is crucial to this.

It doesn't seem to have very much in common with free kriegsspiel, though, which is not about integrity of a world-conception but rather about expertise and an ability to apply it to generate realistic outcomes. The measure of referee skill here is not integrity of the concept but accuracy relative to the real world.
I agree with you. It doesn't have much in common at all. Not even the things its proponents seem to think are in common. Coming at this ontologically, what are the commonalities between games targeted as "FK"?

So how are the two being conflated?
Consider the promotion of DM as living embodiment of the rules in FK RPG discourse. In historical FK, the umpire was an expert in real world battles and the goal was to teach junior officers something about real world battle. I don't know if there are any proofs beyond conjecture that said expertise lead to realism, but I can speculate from playing wargames like De Bellis Multitudinus - which is a work of applied scholarship - that their expertise gave them at least a shot at realism.

Setting aside how well a DM knows the air speed of an unladen swallow in this world, to step into an imagined world changes what is real. How fast can a dragon fly? What is the "realistic" answer to that? Given that the DM stands as expert in their world, if dragons fly at lightspeed, then that is what is real (in their world.) A rule in Cthulhu Dark is that if you fight any mythos creatures you will die. In my friend's Mayfly rules-light game, an orc lives each day as their first and last day of existence. Are either of those about realism? Or are they about establishing what is real?

So that is the commonality - FK super-DM (FKR as one proponent puts it) gets to say what is real.

Can we imagine a rules-light game that is at least as "free" and "realistic" as any other putatively FK game, but that distributes the DM's authority? Perhaps one player is a real life expert in physical contact sports and medieval reenactment combat, and they call the shots on combat. Another is a real life zoologist, and they decide how creatures behave. Is that game going to be less realistic? In the past we ran large scale wargaming sessions over a few days with multiple referees. I can conjecture that their combined wisdom and ability to consult with one another produced a more realistic result. Where is the evidence that sole-judgment leads to more realistic as real-world simulation (which I take to be the intent in historical FK) over distributed judgement? Or even that a set of rules such as DBM wouldn't produce a better result?

The point is, realism is not at issue. Only what is real, is.
 
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How fast can a dragon fly? What is the "realistic" answer to that? Given that the DM stands as expert in their world, if dragons fly at lightspeed, then that is what is real (in their world.)

What's the best way to answer this question in an rpg system? That is, is the role of the dm/rules in a roleplay game ever analogous to the role of umpire and rules in a kriegspiel wargame (free or not)? If not, then it would seem like your criticism of the realism of dragon flight extends to the trad approach.

In 5e, dragon flight 80' a round. Is that realistic? Is it valid in a gameist sort of way? Why does the fact that it's written in a book make it a better answer than the gm coming up with the answer, even at the table? I think the answer is that if you are playing 5e, you expect the rules to reference things in a way that somewhat guides or even constrains the ability of the dm to make those sort of rulings. Even if the dm is making it up as they go, there's an illusion that everything refers back to a pre-written stat block.

Similar for establishing the fiction. The fiction must be established one way or another; what means to doing so are appropriate? Should the dm prepare everything ahead of time, and does that prep make the establishment of the fiction at the table more legitimate (and if so, why?)? I think for all the emphasis put on dm trust in fkr, the more likely answer to any fiction-establishing elements would be more like, gm proposes, table confers, gm decides. High trust assumes that that conversation is not adversarial, and further that a non-adversarial social relationship among players and gm cannot be guaranteed by a set of rules or procedures.
 

John Dallman

Adventurer
This discussion suggests a different play structure to me, with three parties to a game:

The adversary GM, who's responsible for the NPCs, their plans and actions, and their contributions to the fiction.

The umpire, who rules on the successes of actions.

A number of players, with one or more characters each. Their part is fairly traditional.

Obviously, splitting up the traditional tasks of the GM like this will change things, and experiments would be required to find out if it works, and to refine the details. I'd be prepared to give this a try, although I'd prefer to do it face-to-face. My previous experiment with structure was having three players share control of a single character: I used Amber Diceless Roleplaying, so as to have a durable and capable protagonist. The results were interesting, although I have only run it once, for about five sessions.
 

pemerton

Legend
What's the best way to answer this question in an rpg system? That is, is the role of the dm/rules in a roleplay game ever analogous to the role of umpire and rules in a kriegspiel wargame (free or not)? If not, then it would seem like your criticism of the realism of dragon flight extends to the trad approach.

In 5e, dragon flight 80' a round. Is that realistic? Is it valid in a gameist sort of way? Why does the fact that it's written in a book make it a better answer than the gm coming up with the answer, even at the table? I think the answer is that if you are playing 5e, you expect the rules to reference things in a way that somewhat guides or even constrains the ability of the dm to make those sort of rulings. Even if the dm is making it up as they go, there's an illusion that everything refers back to a pre-written stat block.

Similar for establishing the fiction. The fiction must be established one way or another; what means to doing so are appropriate? Should the dm prepare everything ahead of time, and does that prep make the establishment of the fiction at the table more legitimate (and if so, why?)? I think for all the emphasis put on dm trust in fkr, the more likely answer to any fiction-establishing elements would be more like, gm proposes, table confers, gm decides. High trust assumes that that conversation is not adversarial, and further that a non-adversarial social relationship among players and gm cannot be guaranteed by a set of rules or procedures.
I see the role of a book like the MM as being a substitute for personal prep. It substitutes for prep of the backstory, by providing a default one. (And in the context of D&D, despite the changes over the year, there is a clear trajectory from Gygax's MM with its devils and demons and mysterious underground drow and militaristic hobgoblins through to the 4e MM with its devils and demons and underdark-dwelling drow and militaristic hobgoblins; I can't comment on the 5e MM.)

It also answers mechanical questions.

I know - from hearsay, not experience - that there are D&D tables which put a high premium on the GM adhering to the mechanical details of the MM. I personally haven't had that experience; as a GM in D&D and RM (the two systems I've used which have extensive published "bestiaries") I've always adapted what the rulebooks hand me to serve my purposes when I want to.

But in the context of D&D (or RM) there are some other considerations that come into play, too. Movement rates often matter in combat resolution, and for that reason have to be kept within certain bounds that aren't necessarily "realistic" - eg in AD&D the default human movement rate is 12" and really fast flyers go up to 48" (eg a giant eagle' even an air elemental is only 36"). Now in real life an eagle can comfortably fly at 50+ mph (as per the ever-handy wikipedia; I remember 20+ years ago tackling this question during a session - when a PC changed shape into a goose and wanted to fly from A to B - by pulling an encyclopaedia from someone's shelf). Which is quite a bit more than 4 times human walking speed.

But do we want shapechangers, familiars etc to be able to move so fast? And how about the time to stop and start, which is a factor in a lot of D&D combat movement? For a range of both balance and common-sense reasons, we compromise! I would expect the authors/designers of a MM to have regard to these sorts of concerns in settling on their movement rates; and as a referee doing my own designing I would pay attention to what they have done in that respect. (A side remark: 4e D&D tried to tackle this issue, in part at least, with the concept of overland flight speed, but that didn't really survive beyond the first MM and was never systematically operationalised. Not every design innovation is a success!)

Now here's another example, more recent: in my Classic Traveller game the PCs had called in support from the air force of the world they were on (one of the PCs was an ex-army colonel and had good connections with the world's military). It was already established that the world's atmosphere was toxic and corrosive, and that had led me to the view that the airforce would be prop-based rather than jet-based (because (i) it wasn't clear that the atmosphere would support combustion as a jet needs it, and (ii) I thought the corrosive atmosphere would damage the jets more seriously than propellers). So I explained this to the players, and they agreed that made sense. And then I suggested a flight speed for the air force planes as around 300 kph, and no one dissented from that (including the military history buff). But a subsequent Google revealed that to be woefully slow: even the passenger Fokker Friendship I flew on in the 1980s has a speed of around 500 kph. And given that this is a game of science fiction adventure in the far future (the sub-heading on my Traveller rulebooks), realism matters!

Because I don't use map-and-key resolution, my error with the flight speed didn't matter - it was just some colour to give content and context to a framing/pacing decision. But in a map-and-key game, where the fate of the PCs might depend on how long the air force planes took to arrive, it would be more serious. I wouldn't blame the players for being irritated by it.
 

I see the role of a book like the MM as being a substitute for personal prep. It substitutes for prep of the backstory, by providing a default one. (And in the context of D&D, despite the changes over the year, there is a clear trajectory from Gygax's MM with its devils and demons and mysterious underground drow and militaristic hobgoblins through to the 4e MM with its devils and demons and underdark-dwelling drow and militaristic hobgoblins; I can't comment on the 5e MM.)

It also answers mechanical questions.

I know - from hearsay, not experience - that there are D&D tables which put a high premium on the GM adhering to the mechanical details of the MM. I personally haven't had that experience; as a GM in D&D and RM (the two systems I've used which have extensive published "bestiaries") I've always adapted what the rulebooks hand me to serve my purposes when I want to.
t.
I can affirm that, in the early 80's to early 90's, I had players who would get upset if one changed the details of a monster (including descriptive text)... but had no issue with homebrewed monsters. So I reskinned several MM entries... Said players also tended to be rules lawyers, and munchkins type players. My solution in the 90's was to run games other than D&D...
 

pemerton

Legend
I can affirm that, in the early 80's to early 90's, I had players who would get upset if one changed the details of a monster (including descriptive text)... but had no issue with homebrewed monsters. So I reskinned several MM entries... Said players also tended to be rules lawyers, and munchkins type players. My solution in the 90's was to run games other than D&D...
My first exposure to "animal encounters" was Classic Traveller, and then I had played The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (and maybe some more FFGs - my memory of my childhood has faded!) before being getting Moldvay Basic in 1982. Not long after, I was exposed to White Dwarf with custom monsters.

So I don't think I ever had a strong sense of the MM as "canon" as opposed to here's some stuff that we think is good and fits our vision of the D&D setting.
 

My first exposure to "animal encounters" was Classic Traveller, and then I had played The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (and maybe some more FFGs - my memory of my childhood has faded!) before being getting Moldvay Basic in 1982. Not long after, I was exposed to White Dwarf with custom monsters.

So I don't think I ever had a strong sense of the MM as "canon" as opposed to here's some stuff that we think is good and fits our vision of the D&D setting.
I went the other direction -- Moldvay-Cook to Traveller. (With a brief stop at Star Frontiers between)... and from there, a large variety of others.
And, as we've noted before, to the 1982 TTB and US 1981 LBB editions ... I've always seen the monster lists as non-canon for any worlds other than Mystara and Oerth (D&D Known World and Greyhawk). Until the 90's, I didn't use the settings - and I only started to use them due to running games in the Retail Play program.

I see Kriegsspiel as a vital step towards RPGs, and FK as the next.
  • Kriegsspiel
    • scenarios as separate from the game itself (itself an outgrowth of ideas present in training for chess by playing problems)
    • hidden information - what pass for wargames in the mid-19th century - chess and it's variants and analogs, hnaftafl, and the various Prussian boardgames - were mostly perfect information; some of the scenarios were not.
    • Genuine representation of capability - most of the other games of the era were, not unlike Feudal, more like multiple-piece-move chess variant.
  • Frei Kriegsspiel
    • Actions outside the list
    • Referee determined modifiers in addition to or in replacement of rules-listed ones based upon the situation as described
    • hidden movement
      • first uses of three-board play (side A's view, Side B's view, and the Referee's view)
    • Occasionally, settings other than historical or present. (what settings weren't mentioned in the article I read).
All of these are key elements of several 1960's wargames - not all in the same game... not even to Braunstein, which is FK influenced....
Braunstein III had hidden information, capability representation, actions outside the list (printing flyers and hiring a helicopter), referee modifiers, off-board movement (the helicopter)... but it had most. In D&D, we add the missing ones, and add the potential for all players on one side, with the Referee running a wide range of adversaries.

Without Kriefsspiel, we don't get most of the 1960's wargames.
Without FK, we don't get the referee free to expand the actions and modifiers lists on the fly.
In both cases, the exact game isn't the important item, it's that a game with those qualities is pretty close to essential to get to something that looks D&Dish.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
What's the best way to answer this question in an rpg system? That is, is the role of the dm/rules in a roleplay game ever analogous to the role of umpire and rules in a kriegspiel wargame (free or not)? If not, then it would seem like your criticism of the realism of dragon flight extends to the trad approach.
Your question has many interesting aspects. I considered answers along a few lines, and ended up feeling it does more work let stand.

I think for all the emphasis put on dm trust in fkr, the more likely answer to any fiction-establishing elements would be more like, gm proposes, table confers, gm decides. High trust assumes that that conversation is not adversarial, and further that a non-adversarial social relationship among players and gm cannot be guaranteed by a set of rules or procedures.
I had an idea about why some associate trust with what they dub FK RPG. I believe the mode relies on and benefits from enhanced suspension of disbelief. Under this thesis, the group conspiracy - everyone playing along with decisions - is core to its advantages. I don't personally think of heightened SOD as a matter of more trust, but I can see how they might feel conflated.

Where players are uncertain about going along with it, a mutually accepted reference point could be useful. Right? If we were to agree on that, then kind of opposite to the concern you outline, we could expect a set of rules or procedures to be helpful. That need not lessen the amount or value of trust, but perhaps it does lower the bar for that required?

It could turn out that those associating FK with trust are casting light on one of the useful jobs done by sets of rules or procedures for a group. When a group of strangers are brought together for play that is permitted to be adversarial, trust between them can be supported by prior agreement to an objective set of rules. I recommend reading official tournament rules for games like Chess (FIDE) or Magic the Gathering to get a sense of that. If you also contemplate the few hundred pages of precise MtG rules you can see the effort needed to banish reliance upon ongoing consensus during play, given that fundamental agreement - to follow the rules - can be secured. I think here too, of neo-trad.

With historical FK, the military structure does that same work. "Yes sir!" "A dragon flies as fast as it likes, if you say so, sir!"
 
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pemerton

Legend
I see Kriegsspiel as a vital step towards RPGs, and FK as the next.

<snip>

Without Kriefsspiel, we don't get most of the 1960's wargames.
Without FK, we don't get the referee free to expand the actions and modifiers lists on the fly.
In both cases, the exact game isn't the important item, it's that a game with those qualities is pretty close to essential to get to something that looks D&Dish.
Agreed: my default description of a RPG is that fiction matters to resolution (like some wargames including free kriegsspiel) and that the default player role is a single character located within the fictional situation so that the player moves are given that I'm here, what can I do?

But just as significant as the derivation of RPGing from wargaming including free kriegsspiel, I think, is the development of RPGing to treat the fiction as having not just representational significance (as it does in wargaming) but thematic and "story" significance. And the range of approaches and techniques that have been developed to support this.
 


Agreed: my default description of a RPG is that fiction matters to resolution (like some wargames including free kriegsspiel) and that the default player role is a single character located within the fictional situation so that the player moves are given that I'm here, what can I do?

But just as significant as the derivation of RPGing from wargaming including free kriegsspiel, I think, is the development of RPGing to treat the fiction as having not just representational significance (as it does in wargaming) but thematic and "story" significance. And the range of approaches and techniques that have been developed to support this.
That's a step that, fundamentally, cannot happen until one exits the clade of consim wargaames. For many, that's an undersirable step, as well.

The alternatives range all the way to "let the story evolve from the gamestate"... no different from character scale minis games save the on-table representation or lack thereof... through totally "no rules apply except for these few" of AW and its closest derivatives. I tend to be near the middle of that range most of the time - Using rules to create flavor and texture to the play, and a story arising from a mixture of player, GM, and mechanical inputs... I find pure roleplay exhausting and decidedly unfun. Much as I find entirely dice play to be
 

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