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What counts as a detailed enough, permissible action declaration?

pemerton

Legend
This thread is part of the family of recent "skilled play" and related threads.

It's an invitation to talk about permissible action declarations, and how different sorts of approaches - especially in respect of details required - feed into the RPG experience.

Here's one starting point for thinking about the question:

Here's a quick resolution mechanism.

1. We each say what our characters are trying to accomplish. For instance: "My character's trying to get away." "My character's trying to shoot yours."

2. We roll dice or draw cards against one another to see which character or characters accomplish what they're trying to accomplish. For instance: "Oh no! My character doesn't get away." "Hooray! My character shoots yours."


What must we establish before we roll? What our characters intend to accomplish.

What does the roll decide? Whether our characters indeed accomplish what they intend.

What do the rules never, ever, ever require us to say? The details of our characters' actual actions. It's like one minute both our characters are poised to act, and the next minute my character's stuck in the room and your character's shot her, but we never see my character scrambling to open the window and we never hear your character's gun go off.​

In systems that require the player to declare a "task" - ie what the character actually does - how detailed ought that to be? And what difference does it make in varying that detail? A lot of OSR-ish inclined RPGers don't think the declaration I search the room and its content is detailed enough. But I think it would be pretty typical, even in OSR-ish play, for a player (of a ranger, say) to say I search the woods for tracks without having to comment on individual trees let alone individual blades of grass, and without differentiating various ways a creature might leave a trail.

In the RPG session I GMed on Sunday one action declaration was I speak to the hunter about the spiritual merits of not eating meat - except fish on Friday, which scripture permits; the check was successful, and so in the fiction the NPC was persuaded to vegetarianism. A follow up action by another player was to teach the (ex-)hunter about living of the leaves and fruit, in exchange for reliving him of his heavy crossbow which he will no longer need - again this succeeded, and so one action declaration established (presumably) an extensive period of teaching and demonstration. At another point, an action declaration was I shoot a magically flaming crossbow bolt at the spectral warrior. This was a moment of the fiction. One effect of this variation in the fictional scope of action declarations is a literal cinematic feel, as the action zooms in and then zooms out again.

But we certainly never learned every word spoken between the PCs and the hunter.
 

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I mean, it seems like the hunter there was a very suggestible individual, because you're bordering on "social skills as mind-control" with what you're describing there. People can be persuaded to new viewpoints, sure, but unless they're highly suggestible and/or already looking for a massive life-change (and just not sure what), it usually takes a number of conversations over days or weeks with them having time to consider the ideas for themselves.

So unless your characters were known for their extreme persuasiveness and frequently made the arguments you described re: vegetarianism etc., as a DM I'd need to hear a lot more detail on your precise tack, and unless the Hunter was keen to be persuaded (i.e. maybe he's just undergone a tragedy or crisis of faith, and seeks a change) or was just incredibly suggestible, I simply wouldn't have allowed that. A success would have him seriously considering the idea, not swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.

In some RPGs of course the fact that the roll did succeed would imply the hunter was seeking change or highly suggestible and it would be, depending on the RPG, up to the players and/or DM to say that. But in many, perhaps most, it would simply not work unless the DM had already decided that.

Equally with the follow-up re: "living of the leaves and the fruit", I think that unless the PC in question frequently used this tack, and/or was of a background which would strongly indicate he knew this sort of line, I would want to hear some more details on this.

In general I think what your description of the process is missing is the back-and-forth between the players and the DM - I often find myself asking for more detail on certain actions - like "I jump over the gap", I'd probably ask if they did a standing or running jump, for example.

Re: your OSR example with searching, I think the issue there is a little more about tradition than anything else. Traditionally, old-skool RPGs like early D&D and a lot of OSR games which ape it simply haven't had a roll-able "search" mechanism. Hence the demand for descriptions of how people search, which of course can turn into the dreaded "pixel-hunt", but can also be enjoyable if the players do hit on just the right thing to search. Personally I tend to ask for more details simply because a good description can short-circuit the need for a roll (as long as it's remotely justifiable that the character would do what was described - but with searching that's almost always going to be fine). Whereas with Tracking, it's typically a specific ability that the character possesses, with an actual mechanism for rolling, hence people tend to demand less detail. Also, let's be real - 99% of D&D players and DMs don't know anything at all about tracking specifics. They only have the vaguest notion about foot/hoof/paw-prints and broken twigs and the like, so asking for more detail doesn't help anyone - at best a player could totally naughty word the DM because the DM has no idea.
 

R_J_K75

Hero
Any declaration by a player that describes their intent with the required actions (standard, move, bonus, etc) that doesnt require clarification by the DM/GM would be the optimal circumstance. Nothing irritates me more than to hear a player say, "what can I do"?
 

pemerton

Legend
Any declaration by a player that describes their intent with the required actions (standard, move, bonus, etc) that doesnt require clarification by the DM/GM would be the optimal circumstance.
OK, but doesn't this shift the burden back onto requires? When does a GM reasonably require more information?
 

pemerton

Legend
I mean, it seems like the hunter there was a very suggestible individual, because you're bordering on "social skills as mind-control" with what you're describing there. People can be persuaded to new viewpoints, sure, but unless they're highly suggestible and/or already looking for a massive life-change (and just not sure what), it usually takes a number of conversations over days or weeks with them having time to consider the ideas for themselves.

So unless your characters were known for their extreme persuasiveness and frequently made the arguments you described re: vegetarianism etc., as a DM I'd need to hear a lot more detail on your precise tack, and unless the Hunter was keen to be persuaded (i.e. maybe he's just undergone a tragedy or crisis of faith, and seeks a change) or was just incredibly suggestible, I simply wouldn't have allowed that. A success would have him seriously considering the idea, not swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.

In some RPGs of course the fact that the roll did succeed would imply the hunter was seeking change or highly suggestible and it would be, depending on the RPG, up to the players and/or DM to say that. But in many, perhaps most, it would simply not work unless the DM had already decided that.
I think there are three considerations here.

First, given the whole premise of the play of the game I described - we were playing The Green Knight - everyone can take it for granted that the encounter is dealing with some sort of moment of crisis for everyone involved. In that sense it's not much like an AD&D-style "random encounter" with a hunter.

Second, given the way the resolution system works each action has to have the possibility of making a big difference to the situation. There's no scope for a lot of back-and-forth. (This is consistent with and helps underpin the first point.)

Third, I think there is a significant genre aspect to this. Mediaeval-style romance (at least as I think of it, and apparently my players also) is full of sudden and spontaneous conversions, or fallings into or out of love, or swearing or renunciations of loyalties. So that Jeremiah the jolly bard from Jerusalem should persuade the hunter of a magical fox that he ought to renounce his hunt and give up eating meat doesn't seem a poor fit.

Equally with the follow-up re: "living of the leaves and the fruit", I think that unless the PC in question frequently used this tack, and/or was of a background which would strongly indicate he knew this sort of line, I would want to hear some more details on this.
I'm not sure what you're getting at here?
 
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I think there are three considerations here.

First, given the whole premise of the play of the game I described - we were playing The Green Knight - everyone can take it for granted that the encounter is dealing with some sort of moment of crisis for everyone involved. In that sense it's not much like an AD&D-style "random encounter" with a hunter.

Second, given the way the resolution system works each action has to have the possibility of making a big difference to the situation. There's no scope for a lot of back-and-forth. (This is consistent with and helps underpin the first point.)

Third, I think there is a significant genre aspect to this. Mediaeval-style romance (at least as I think of it, and apparently my players also) is full of sudden and spontaneous conversions, or fallings into or out of love, or swearing or renunciations of loyalties. So that Jeremiah the jolly bard from Jerusalem should persuade the hunter of a magical fox that he ought to renounce his hunt and give up eating meat doesn't seem a poor fit.


I'm not sure what you're getting at here?
Ahhh Green Knight, yeah that all makes sense in that context and actually that kind of makes me want to play it! Agree completely re: swift conversions etc. ("road to Damascus" and so on).

Might not be the ideal example for this discussion because in those cases I'd expect more description for such a big play in other RPGs, but yeah with Green Knight this sounds like what it's all about - so I suppose this also points to different RPGs and different situations perhaps seeming to warrant different levels of description.

I think three things that tend to factor into detailed enough are:

1) Is this a thing people actually know about? Things like tracking, hacking, arcana, stealth and so on aren't things most people IRL have any real experience of (or even could, in some cases), so you're not likely to get the same kind of in-depth description you might for other things.

2) Does the game have extremely detailed systems for this? Generally the more detailed the systems the game has for something, the less that seems to be required for a "detailed enough" action declaration.

3) Is it a physical skill, like climbing or swimming? In general these seem to, for no entirely clear reason, get a "free pass" on "detailed enough".

This has the defacto result of meaning where something is considered "everyday" and where the game doesn't have a detailed system, DMs often want extreme detail, but where something is unusual or physical, they don't require much at all. In D&D, for example, this hits social skills hard - they're considered everyday, somewhat inaccurately (I suspect very few people who play D&D are actually particularly persuasive or intimidating - and indeed if it is a skill, it implies it isn't "everyday"), and the rules are extremely vague and have almost no guidelines (which is extremely anachronistic and unhelpful, design-wise), so a lot of DMs want extremely detailed description.

So I think points to another issue - if a game has strong guidance as to how stuff works, then you're not likely to feel the need to demand particularly in-depth descriptions of stuff. You might contrast the Parley action in Dungeon World with D&D's social skills - with Parley, the requirements and outcomes are well-defined. With Parley you must have leverage. Period. Do not pass go. If you don't have some kind of leverage, you don't roll Parley.

It's summed up this way:

"When you have leverage on a GM Character and manipulate them, roll+Cha. Leverage is something they need or want.
  • On a 10+, they do what you ask if you first promise what they ask of you.
  • On a 7–9, they will do what you ask, but need some concrete assurance of your promise, right now."
This covers an a multitude of situations (persuasion, intimidation, etc.), has clear guidelines, and clear outcomes.

Thus in DW the only time you'd need a detailed description would be if the leverage was kind of hard to convey/complex/indirect.
 

pemerton

Legend
It requires the DM/GM to pay attention then adjudicate the series of actions the player is doing.
They shouldnt need more information if the player describes what they are planning to do correctly.
But what counts as a correct description?

Even in D&D 5e it seems that there might be interesting things to say about this. For instance, is I climb the mountain sufficient to permit a STR (Athletics) check to be made to determine whether the player's PC makes it to the top?
 

R_J_K75

Hero
But what counts as a correct description?

Even in D&D 5e it seems that there might be interesting things to say about this. For instance, is I climb the mountain sufficient to permit a STR (Athletics) check to be made to determine whether the player's PC makes it to the top?
And what would the internet be without argument? Seems you didnt take into consideration my OP where I specifically said that the player includes the skills they plan to do in their declaration, which is the optimal scenario.
 

pemerton

Legend
Ahhh Green Knight, yeah that all makes sense in that context and actually that kind of makes me want to play it! Agree completely re: swift conversions etc. ("road to Damascus" and so on).

Might not be the ideal example for this discussion because in those cases I'd expect more description for such a big play in other RPGs, but yeah with Green Knight this sounds like what it's all about - so I suppose this also points to different RPGs and different situations perhaps seeming to warrant different levels of description.
That last sentence (after the dash) is exactly the rationale for this thread.

As well as interesting general conjectures like the ones in your post about what motivates GM and so on, we can look at patterns across different sorts of RPGs.

Eg if the penalty for failing a climbing check is falling, that suggests more granularity/detail in description - or at least more of a move-by-move focus - than if the penalty is you don't get to the top in time to do everything you were hoping to do.
 

pemerton

Legend
And what would the internet be without argument? Seems you didnt take into consideration my OP where I specifically said that the player includes the skills they plan to do in their declaration, which is the optimal scenario.
Not arguing - just not really sure what you're getting at. Eg is it sufficient, in 5e D&D, for a player to say I persuade the Hunter to adopt vegetarianism and then ask for a CHA (Persuasion) check? That describes an intent. But would the GM require clarification?
 

And what would the internet be without argument? Seems you didnt take into consideration my OP where I specifically said that the player includes the skills they plan to do in their declaration, which is the optimal scenario.
I think the problem with what you're saying is that you're describing an entirely "modern D&D"-centric paradigm of action declaration.

A vast number of RPGs, include, at times, D&D, don't want players do be saying "I use my Action to roll Intimidate", as you seem to be suggesting is "ideal", they want the player to say what the character does and then the DM tells them what to roll. As this is the TTRPG forum not the D&D forum, I think that's particularly relevant.

However it does feed into what Pemerton is asking about - in 4E D&D, for example, in combat, whilst description was actively encouraged in the text (and bizarrely my players really went for it in a way they've not in other editions), it was generally not needed. You could select which ability you were using, and say who you were using it on, and that was certainly "detailed enough" to be permissible. Out of combat, 4E had pretty vague rules, so you tended to need to describe a bit more (like most editions of D&D). In 5E you have a somewhat similar paradigm, albeit less pronounced.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
They shouldnt need more information if the player describes what they are planning to do correctly.

Yes, but then what is "correctly"?

I think, unfortunately for the discussion, that this is going to be highly context dependent. You can think of resolution as a process, but it is a different process for each system and playstyle, each requiring different inputs.

Gygaxian-style room searches will call for different input from the player than, say, Star Trek scanning for a life form....
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Well, all I have here is my approach to GMing and adjudication. Regardless of the game, what I expect from my players is a non-mechanical explanation of what they want to accomplish, in as much detail as they can muster. It's my job to mechanize that and return a request for a roll, or not, and to decide what mechanic is appropriate. The reason I encourage detail is that it gives me handles to decide about difficulty, and I tend to reward specific and cogent action declarations. Essentially, the more reasonable and planned it sounds, the more likely I am to not bump the difficulty, or lower it, or not call for a roll, or whatever. The reason for that is that I like to reward player creativity and engagement with the diegetic frame (more than punish a lack of same).
 

pemerton

Legend
When the player's intention and approach are unclear.
But can we say more about what is required for a sufficiently clear approach?

Eg is I explain the scriptural reasons in favour of vegetarianism sufficiently clear? Is I search the room carefully sufficiently clear?

What I'm hoping for in the thread is a consideration of how and why different games, and/or different GMs, and/or different sorts of action declarations, look for different degrees of detail.
 

pemerton

Legend
Yes, but then what is "correctly"?

I think, unfortunately for the discussion, that this is going to be highly context dependent. You can think of resolution as a process, but it is a different process for each system and playstyle, each requiring different inputs.

Gygaxian-style room searches will call for different input from the player than, say, Star Trek scanning for a life form....
That is not unfortunate for the discussion. That's the whole point of the discussion! What is different about Gygaxian D&D vs Star Trek that yields the difference? Different resolution processes? Different salient fiction? Something else?
 

pemerton

Legend
Well, all I have here is my approach to GMing and adjudication. Regardless of the game, what I expect from my players is a non-mechanical explanation of what they want to accomplish, in as much detail as they can muster. It's my job to mechanize that and return a request for a roll, or not, and to decide what mechanic is appropriate. The reason I encourage detail is that it gives me handles to decide about difficulty, and I tend to reward specific and cogent action declarations. Essentially, the more reasonable and planned it sounds, the more likely I am to not bump the difficulty, or lower it, or not call for a roll, or whatever. The reason for that is that I like to reward player creativity and engagement with the diegetic frame (more than punish a lack of same).
Would your approach change in a system where the GM doesn't have to set the difficulty by consideration of the fiction?(Systems like this include Apocalypse World, Cortex+ Heroic, HeroQuest revised, The Green Knight, and to a significant extent D&D 4e skill challenges,)

Within your approach, is I speak to the hunter about the virtues of vegetarianism, with the intention of having him renounce the eating of meat a sufficiently detailed declaration? Ever? Sometimes?
 

When a player says they make their escape, then at the very least I'd ask them HOW they make their escape. Do they run away? Do they leap out of the window?

For social challenges, it seems boring to me to skip the actual conversation in its entirety. The player doesn't need to be a skilled actor, but I would hope for at least an attempt at words.

Then based on the words, I decide if a roll is needed. Not the exact words, but the general gist of what the player is saying. We can pretend that the character is better with the words than the player is.
 
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