The GM is Not There to Entertain You

pemerton

Legend
Riffing on @Mannahnin's posts.

I think we can be pretty confident of the following: if having a PC build a castle in classic D&D required the players to write down every instruction to the engineers and mason, or describe where and how every brick is laid, fewer campaigns would involve building castles than they actually have done.

In the same context, when the GM makes a single Loyalty throw for the engineers, to see if they do their job properly, that is not taking away player agency just because the player doesn't get a throw to check if they persuade the engineer, or catch them goofing off, every time. Weeks or months of interaction is being bundled up into a single throw to make the ingame activity viable as an object of resolution at the table.

There is nothing magic about the interpersonal altercations that might result in capture that distinguishes them from the interpersonal dealings that might result in an engineer doing a better or worse job at building a castle. We can set the degree of resolution however we like, at whatever will make the game fun and interesting.

The same when it comes to consequences. Being captured need not, in itself, be a more or less irrevocable outcome than having a castle that is liable to fall down around you because of its shoddy construction. We can choose what method(s) we use to resolve attempt by the players to have their PCs reverse or overcome these sorts of adverse consequences. We're not obliged, just because we're RPGing, to treat capture and escape just the same as D&D did 40+ years ago.
 

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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Fun matters?
It's not an objective thing. It's entirely subjective. Something you find fun I might find tedious to the point of falling asleep. That's why you set expectations when you form a group.
I want them to have fun, and for losses and setbacks for them in the game not to suck too much time and joy out of the session?
Losses and setbacks aren't fun, so just remove them. Saves time and increases joy.

For me, I'm more interested in seeing what the players do. How they deal with losses and setbacks. That's the interesting part. If it takes the whole session for them to finally stop pounding their head against a brick wall, that's their choice to make, not mine. I set up the situations, it's up to the players to engage, ignore, or deal with them however they see fit. It's not my place to decide for them where they go, what they do, or how they handle obstacles.
We have a common scenario from fantasy and dramatic fiction. One that players can be expected to occasionally get into through their choices. One game makes playing that scenario out lengthy and un-fun, and makes subsequent game scenes more difficult and less fun to play out. A different game lets the scenario play out quickly and more enjoyably, and doesn't hinder following scenes the same way.
Again with the assumption that fun is somehow objective. It's still not.

Besides, it's the players' choice to pound their head against a wall. If that's what they find fun, or at least find more bearable than the alternative, it's up to them to choose. Because player agency matters. Like a lot. It's literally the only reason to have players at the table. Otherwise the referee can just write a story.
It seems to me like there's something to that second game. Maybe it would be a fun one to play, and does this particular thing better, even if I love the first game.
Sure. Lots of games out there. Knock yourself out.
I'm not sure that I grant your premise. I'm not sure they really WOULD rather waste hours in a losing fight, or would make that choice if they realized that's what it would entail. I think that situation sucks all around.
I've been doing this almost 40 years and I've never seen a group willingly get captured. I've seen a lot of referees try to force the issue and the resultant TPK pissed everyone off. Because most players would rather their characters die than lose agency.
I don't think it's giving up agency to non-lethally lose a fight or confrontation once in a while, if you CHOSE to get into that fight or confrontation, and either misjudged your opposition or rolled so badly that you lost.
Because you're the referee, not the player. You have an infinite supply of characters to play. In most games, your players will only have one at a time. If their one character loses agency...that player now doesn't get to play the game. Until you give them back control of their character. But, often, in capture scenarios referees will steal their agency...steal all their gear...then lock them in a cell. So they go from being powerful characters with agency...to weak characters with none. It's fine for you as the referee, because you haven't lost agency. Give that trick a try at a table with real players and see how it goes. Ask them what they think.
I certainly do try to avoid forcing any loss of agency. Part of honoring player agency is letting them get themselves into a bad situation and lose once in a while. If we can have non-TPK losses, that seems like an improvement to the game. More fun for everyone involved.
Sure. So don't take away their agency by capturing them. If they'd rather die than get captured, honor that. A TPK isn't a campaign killer. You just have to get creative. Resurrection. Animate Dead. Necromancers. Fighting your way out of hell.
I've certainly seen advice in OSR circles that you don't always have to kill the PCs- having bad guys take them prisoner can be fun. But D&D doesn't offer a lot of mechanical support for that.
Non-lethal damage has been clunky over the years, but it's almost always present. The part that's not supported is skipping over the fight and going straight to the capture. You could always ambush them in their sleep. Attack them in bed. Or any number of other nasty things. Might go over a bit better than an hours' long fight they can't hope to win. I doubt it very much though.
I'm not. I don't think I'm trying to replicate every aspect of stories either.

This particular example Campbell gave just happens to have struck on something which my decades of experience with D&D have shown to be a weakness of the system, and engaged my curiosity about how a different game might handle it better.
But that's the rub. RPGs are not fiction. They don't need to handle fictional situations that go against the basic premise of the game. I don't think it's a weakness in the system. I think it's a feature of players understanding what role-playing games are. These are games of power fantasy. An exercise in imagination and creativity and a chance to be cooler and more powerful than you are in the real world. Most times at least, some of us play horror games. This particular fictional situation is a denial of that. It stops the game from being what it is. It stops the players from getting to play their power fantasy. They'd rather go down swinging than give that up. That's a feature, not a bug.
But I would like my games to be better able to handle common fictional situations and interactions.
The secret is lighter rules and players who accept that. In a game like Fate you can just hand out fate points at the start and say, "you all wake up in a cell." The players still groan, but at least they get the fate point and you didn't waste their time with a fight. You could do the same with Inspiration in 5E, though players still being players are likely to be pissed.
 
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aramis erak

Legend
I think you might have lost track of who was saying what.

Lanefan was saying that if the referee leaves the game ceases to exist. I agreed with that.

Blue seems to think that the referee isn't that important and that if any one of the players leaves then the game ceases to exist. Likely he means "in the exact same way as it did before that player left". But left that part unsaid for some reason. But that's flat out not true.

If a player leaves, the band plays on. If the referee leaves, the game's over.

Players are not on par with referees in their importance to the continuation of the game. We really need to stop pretending they are. Without the one referee there's no game. Without 1-40 players there's no game. The referee to player population ratio is still something like 1:20 or higher. Which is why you have paid referees as a thing now. So many players desperate to play that they'll pay for the pleasure.
Not all games have a GM.

My daughter took over GMing my L5R campaign. Same players save two: her and I. Same characters, again, sans hers and plus mine. Same themes, same ongoing plots... Same campaign all around, and everyone at table agreed it was.

GM change doesn't axiomatically create a new campaign. If can, and often does... but there are lots of situations where the GM departing isn't an end.

My steady group of AL players finished Hoard under Spencer when I had to leave state. He kept the same core 6, and took over where I left off (and we consulted a bit about it). He continued certain thematic "leanings" I'd been using.
 



overgeeked

B/X Known World
Hardly - it's the most clear and factual refutation to your absurd assertion that the GM is the sole element of game.

The other cases being examples of GM change also not doing what you claim.
In a conversation centered on two games / families of games that both / all use referees as the main driver of the games in question, it's irrelevant.

D&D, referee's clearly in charge.

Powered by the Apocalypse, referee's clearly in charge.

"Not all games have referees."

Again, technically correct but utterly irrelevant.

Chess doesn't have a referee either, but it's not a relevant point to the discussion.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I think this is to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a rule, players never want to lose any given encounter or situation. Some may be philosophical and open to losing sometimes in general, but in the moment it almost always smarts.

Yes, but in terms of that how many of them want to do so until they've done absolutely everything they could? On a parallel case, there are a large number of people who don't want to flee an encounter they're losing, and for some of the same reasons; because most game systems make it so they lose one degree or another of control when trying to do so.

I think that if occasionally losing were more often a setback rather than a death sentence, players might not loathe it so much.

As I've said, it gets a pretty negative response in superhero games, where its pretty much never a death sentence.

I certainly try to avoid using the trope much in D&D, even when the players are steering themselves toward it, precisely because of how negatively it tends to play out. This heightens my curiosity about the possibility of another game handling it better.

I just find it really unlikely most people are going to find their character ending up in that situation with just one roll particularly loveable. Admittedly, people playing PbtA games are used to a lot of things resolving on one roll that otherwise take a series, but that's also one of the things that turns some people off to it, and this is going to be a particular sticky point for many.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
You can also argue that in D&D (and quite a few other systems), nearly all combats are to the death for the NPCs. So many creatures just fight and fight til they die, instead of fleeing or surrending. It sets a precedent for the players, that those other options aren't viable.

There's absolutely something to that; I've mentioned before that most games have absolutely terrible mechanics for retreating if they have any distinct at all, so doing so often makes a bad situation worse. On the other hand, a lot of things people fight in D&D are, pretty bluntly, fates worth than death by internal logic to surrender to; predatory undead, extradimensional abominations, and hellborn fiends do not seem a good idea, and some traditional depictions of various humanoid and quasi-humanoid races are not a vast improvement.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Players generally don't want their characters to die, either. Doesn't mean it ain't gonna happen.

Depending on the genre and setting, it very much can be something that isn't going to happen, and not everybody considers the players wishes on either irrelevant.

Players are generally resistant to any bad things happening to their characters, of which capture is but one. No problem here.

I think you're being vastly more blithe here than is warranted. I very much mentioned that a lot of players find death for their characters less unpleasant than capture. There's "bad" and "bad".

Their characters, their choice.

Which is why I say the matter at hand plays badly with them, because other than a single decision and die roll, it isn't their choice.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Apocalypse World clearly does not have a referee. It has a Master of Ceremonies who is instructed to do everything in service to the listed agenda and no other, to always say what the rules demand, to always say what honesty demands, to always say what their prep demands, and to always say what their principles demand. Like any other game rules, the group may choose to ignore them, but I would advise against it. The entire game hinges on its GM procedures. If you take what the game permits GMs to do but ignore what it requires GMs to do chances are you will have a terrible power dynamic at the table.

The game clearly defines its GM role. Just as D&D clearly defines its GM role. D&D does not get to define how GMs function in other games. The designer of the game gets to define it.

Addendum: Powered by the Apocalypse is not a game or system. It's a design language. Each game still defines how it works.
 
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Thomas Shey

Legend
Blue's not the only one. I flat out reject the axiom of "One person leaves it's no longer the same game."

But Same GM, same Setting, same rules: May or may not be the same game. Depends upon the characters and the story continuity.

In fact, I'll argue that once you get away from pretty freeform sandbox type things, it doesn't take many players and/or characters to change to complexion of most campaigns significantly, sometimes to the degree there's no longer any point in continuing. Not all campaigns have characters that are just interchangeable cogs.

I make it clear to most of my players that, if you aren't there, your character still is and gets used with or without you.

To a limited degree, so do I; but even among the people I play with there's a difference between that and "your PC belongs to the group as a whole". And there are absolutely people, and its not uncommon, that would find even my "If you miss a session sometimes someone else will just play your character" absolutely unacceptable.


So, no, characters aren't personal property in the same way as dice, nor as book characters: your ownership only matters while you are present. And, for regulars, who gets to play your character when you're absent if it's prearranged.

Also, in some games, given the way the character creation works, you don't even have full control over the nature... Spirit of the Century being the clearest. 2 of your 5 aspects are created by other players.

I think the difference there, as with a lot of things, is people buying in up-front on that (same thing with things like the Shadow in Wraith). That sets expectations. But that doesn't mean one can reasonably expect everyone to be okay with such things, and taking it as a given they will is not a good plan.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Riffing on @Mannahnin's posts.

I think we can be pretty confident of the following: if having a PC build a castle in classic D&D required the players to write down every instruction to the engineers and mason, or describe where and how every brick is laid, fewer campaigns would involve building castles than they actually have done.

In the same context, when the GM makes a single Loyalty throw for the engineers, to see if they do their job properly, that is not taking away player agency just because the player doesn't get a throw to check if they persuade the engineer, or catch them goofing off, every time. Weeks or months of interaction is being bundled up into a single throw to make the ingame activity viable as an object of resolution at the table.

There is nothing magic about the interpersonal altercations that might result in capture that distinguishes them from the interpersonal dealings that might result in an engineer doing a better or worse job at building a castle. We can set the degree of resolution however we like, at whatever will make the game fun and interesting.

The same when it comes to consequences. Being captured need not, in itself, be a more or less irrevocable outcome than having a castle that is liable to fall down around you because of its shoddy construction. We can choose what method(s) we use to resolve attempt by the players to have their PCs reverse or overcome these sorts of adverse consequences. We're not obliged, just because we're RPGing, to treat capture and escape just the same as D&D did 40+ years ago.

I suspect the same people I'm referring to would react badly to that degree of outcome for a single roll in the castle situation, too. Pace-of-resolution matters to a great number of people.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
In a conversation centered on two games / families of games that both / all use referees as the main driver of the games in question, it's irrelevant.

D&D, referee's clearly in charge.

Powered by the Apocalypse, referee's clearly in charge.

"Not all games have referees."

Again, technically correct but utterly irrelevant.

Chess doesn't have a referee either, but it's not a relevant point to the discussion.

I felt it was relevant. Just the existence of an RPG without a GM makes it clear that the game need not revolve around the GM.

Then even more relevant were the other examples where the GM changed and the game kept going. Those were great.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Not all games have a GM.

My daughter took over GMing my L5R campaign. Same players save two: her and I. Same characters, again, sans hers and plus mine. Same themes, same ongoing plots... Same campaign all around, and everyone at table agreed it was.

GM change doesn't axiomatically create a new campaign. If can, and often does... but there are lots of situations where the GM departing isn't an end.

My steady group of AL players finished Hoard under Spencer when I had to leave state. He kept the same core 6, and took over where I left off (and we consulted a bit about it). He continued certain thematic "leanings" I'd been using.

The usual issue here is whether the rest-state can be conveyed to the new GM adequately, and that can turn on a lot of things. My wife ran a sequel to a superhero campaign at one point; same setting, similar setup/group rationale, many of the same villains. She had access to the same setting material I did, and handing over the villain write-ups for the ones she wanted to reuse did the rest.

The assumptions in this discussion on the part of people denying this is functional seem to be about setting/situations that only the GM knows and therefor only they are going to be able to continue with. That's certainly a thing (sometimes the GM doesn't even have all of it on paper), but the Fragged Empire game I'm running could be picked up by someone else and they'd be able to continue it, perhaps not quite in the direction I'm going. It'd just require someone to have been in the campaign and paid attention or got a good thorough briefing by someone who was.

I can't imagine but its easier with campaign structures where you heavily roll-as-you-go, though those (mostly) aren't my cuppa.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Speaking personally, I have pretty much zero interest in power fantasy. I do not want the lives of any of the characters I play. That would be entirely too messy.

I play and run traditional roleplaying games to engage in collaborative storytelling, express myself creatively through the design and play of my character and to revel in the setting (particularly the other characters and NPCs).

I play OSR games to overcome challenges and gain mastery over the game through understanding of the meta and lateral thinking skills.

I play and run Story Now games to experience visceral emotional experiences, take creative risks, and see what sort of narrative emerges through uncurated play.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think you might have lost track of who was saying what.

Lanefan was saying that if the referee leaves the game ceases to exist. I agreed with that.

Blue seems to think that the referee isn't that important and that if any one of the players leaves then the game ceases to exist. Likely he means "in the exact same way as it did before that player left". But left that part unsaid for some reason. But that's flat out not true.

If a player leaves, the band plays on. If the referee leaves, the game's over.

Players are not on par with referees in their importance to the continuation of the game.
With the sole exception being situations where there is only one player in the game. In these cases, if that one player leaves the game (probably) ends.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think you're being vastly more blithe here than is warranted. I very much mentioned that a lot of players find death for their characters less unpleasant than capture. There's "bad" and "bad".
Capture, death, level drain, limb loss, expensive-possession destruction or theft, loss of honour or reputation, sudden and debilitating aging, domination or mind control - all of these are things that PCs (and, by extension, players) are going to actively try to have their PCs avoid suffering while at the same time in many cases doing their best to inflict (some or all of) these same things onto their enemies.

What's less or more bad doesn't matter, as the definition of "less" and "more" may and will vary widely from player to player. Ideally IMO a GM makes sure all of these arise at some point during a campaign; if nothing else doing so provides variance from death being the only real loss condition, which seems to have become the case with modern D&D.
Which is why I say the matter at hand plays badly with them, because other than a single decision and die roll, it isn't their choice.
On this I agree; IMO a more granular resolution is called for here, in whatever form that may take.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Capture, death, level drain, limb loss, expensive-possession destruction or theft, loss of honour or reputation, sudden and debilitating aging, domination or mind control - all of these are things that PCs (and, by extension, players) are going to actively try to have their PCs avoid suffering while at the same time in many cases doing their best to inflict (some or all of) these same things onto their enemies.

And I repeat, that doesn't mean they're all the same and players are required to accept all of them as the price of playing.


What's less or more bad doesn't matter, as the definition of "less" and "more" may and will vary widely from player to player.

And that's why you pay attention to the overall trend of a group of players and don't just assume everyone will be good with all of them. Otherwise you're just deciding its all about you and what they want is irrelevant.

On this I agree; IMO a more granular resolution is called for here, in whatever form that may take.

"Required" is a strong word, but its absolutely what a lot of players expect.
 

innerdude

Legend
I'm kind of sort of only "drive by thread-skimming", but PC capture is universally unfun.

Had a GM who did it twice, once running 3.5, once running GURPS. Both times we banged our heads against the wall for 90 minutes or so, trying to read his mind about how we were going to get out.

If it follows from general principles of play, I don't mind at all. Mind controlled as the result of an NPC casting a Domination spell and I fail my save? No problem. Compelled to act by a vow / background that's part of my character, and the principles of the system demand my character to act? (This is Ironsworn's bread and butter, by the way.) Almost always okay, as long as it's not someone abusing the "Lawful Stupid" or "Chaotic Doofus" character traits.

Unilateral imposition of a GM declaration of "You're captured" with no option for the PCs to declare their own actions?

"Okay. So can we skip to the part where the PCs get out, or should I go home now?"
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
I can't quite go that far about characters.

But I think it's entirely true of our story. And while I always want to respect player agency with their characters, that means respecting their decisions, not always making the outcomes of those decisions what they were hoping for.
What character (any character, PC, NPC, or whatever else) can or cannot do is absolutely influenced by things outside of the character and outside of the player because, well, there are other participants. Unless it's a solo game, but then this whole discussion doesn't apply anyway.

In most games, you can't really say "lol I take a dump on the table", even if it's something that your character would do and it's something you want your character to do (damn, this gets complicated). You have to put your desires aside for the needs of the collective. You get to exercise control over your character's actions/feelings/whatever only as long as it serves the game.

I don't mind someone (or something — like, say, the rules) else assuming control through aggressive framing (e.g: You're at home, drinking yourself to death like you do every single day, when you hear commotion outside. What ya gonna do?), describing the outcome of an action (You try to squeeze the trigger... And you can't. You're not that heartless.) or whatever else, as I don't expect to have it all the time.

What I see as violation of agency is when you're given a choice, but then it gets ignored. That I hate with burning passion.
 

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