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What Games do you think are Neotrad?

Thomas Shey

I suspect there's also a lot of cases where even heavily neotrad inclined players just don't care if the situation is trivial; I doubt even most of them feel the need to micromanage actions that have no real impact on or say anything about the character.

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I'm not sure where silver weapons come into it.

I'm talking about a system like AD&D, that has - for instance - a price list for animals that will almost never come into play. Or Rolemaster, that has - as part of PC gen - rules for generating hand, foot and head size. These systems have rules that do not satisfy the "Chekhov's gun for mechanics" principle - it is not implicit in the system that these rules will be used, and it is certainly not implicit that they will be used regularly.

They are there to serve other purposes - roughly, a sense of "completeness" that is part of a certain simulationist ethos in RPG design.
Right, something like the equipment costs in AD&D takes effect basically once, at level 1 when you roll up your PC. You get some random amount of gold and part of the 'survive level 1' filter is to allocate your gold pieces intelligently in order to end up with a good enough AC and the optimum equipment to survive whatever the apparent challenge is. Then maybe you play a bit of a resource game for the first couple of adventures where your supplies might 'run out', or if you get a bit lucky you might hire a few minions to up your survival odds. Given that the GM MUST deliver several 1000 GP if the party is to advance (if you play by the stock rules) then by level 2 or so everyone will be in plate armor, decked with shields, helmets, auxiliary missile weapons, healing potions, etc. as required. IME at that point mundane equipment was relegated to a sort of irrelevant zone on your character sheet where it was just assumed you restocked anything you actually bothered to use up in play without needing to actually go through the motions.

But, like most trad sim subsystems it would potentially raise its head periodically. The GM could, in the midst of some epic journey or something, suddenly spring 'Wilderness Survival Guide' on the party and insist on punishing them for not packing 4 large tents, firewood, rain gear, etc. There was also kind of a latent almost TB2-like survival game that COULD theoretically be enacted with rules like that, if the GM wanted to completely rework money and XP (2e does this, but oddly also elides most of the survival type rules). It isn't a very functional subsystem though, clearly more suited to use as a casual GM gotcha mechanism as opposed to a real hard sub-game.

The only game I remember playing any of that actually has serious survivalist sim rules is Aftermath. That was not really a particularly fun game though IME.

I would say, in terms of Neo-Trad games, you would be unlikely to see these sorts of subsystems deployed. It would be a lot more likely to see more abstract ones along the lines of BitD's loadout system.

@Manbearcat I actually liked the way BitD kind of veers neo-tradish towards the end. I think you COULD push back on that, but it would necessitate kind of just going beyond the formal resolution system. Still, the characters get pretty distinctive and well-defined at a certain point such that some element of character-as-envisaged driving of play is bound to manifest. Certainly in our game when we did the "ride off into the sunset" piece at the end it was reaching a point where it would have been hard to continue play in an interesting way, but those last adventures were still quite fun! 4e is interesting in that it has more scalable mechanics that let the GM continue to run things right up into a pretty gonzo epic tier of play, the FitD engine definitely 'tops out' before it gets that far. I'm not sure if there is really a dice pool system that can handle that full range.

Notice, though, how many of the "boxes" 4e D&D ticks:

*Asymmetric gameplay (GM doesn't roll in skill challenges; GM doesn't use PC-build rules to create combat antagonists);​
*Clear agency for the PCs, at least sometimes (I'm a Dwarf so I fight giants; I'm a devotee of the Raven Queen so I fight undead and Orcus; etc);​
*Chekhov's gun mechanics (getting rid of much of the mechanical cruft of earlier versions of D&D);​
*Bounded bookkeeping (fewer lists to be reference in play (cf during build/prep), monster builds on a standard template, etc);​
*No rule zero.​

I think some of the more trad RPGs do have both build and resolution rules that favour GM-driven play in virtue of GM-driven prep (especially the need for map and key resolution in so many RPGs). So even when the mindset is there, the execution is harder - similarly, and as mentioned in another current thread, my group was trying for something like "story now" with Rolemaster, but there are features of RM that don't help and indeed actively hinder.
Oh, definitely. I mean, you can also do something approaching N-T or even a type of Narr play using 2e, we were evolving our play in that direction towards the late '90s when we finally just wound down our AD&D games (IIRC myself and the other main 2e GM, Mike, went on an M:tG binge for several years and D&D just sort of flamed out).

But, as you say, it is not because of anything much the system does for you! It is simply by dint of playing a different game almost. Like at the end of my 2e GMing there was NO prep anymore. I had a lot of milieu from past decades, but I didn't write adventures anymore. The players did stuff like come up with a quest to overthrow the Great Druid because <reasons>. The reasons were a mix of player supplied stuff, character background/history, and some elements that I pulled out of my grab bag of backstory (reminds me a lot of DW Fronts!).

Things got pretty transparent as well. The players decided they wanted to overthrow some baron or other that was sketchy, and there was a whole elaborate scenario of sussing out that there was an evil wizard pulling the strings, and etc. and then a bunch of "well, what if we do X?" and "Yes, you can do X, but it will be pretty risky, because Y could happen, or maybe something else..." IIRC the players finally did the old 'captured prisoners' ploy. Like "If you give up all your equipment you can get almost inside melee range of the evil wizard." We played pretty fast and loose with the rules by then.


Yet purist-for-system engines are built around it!
The distinction I (and I think @pawsplay , but I don't want to put words in their mouth) have been trying to make is between functional and superfluous detail. The Riddle of Steel is a game about driven people staking it all on vicious sword fights, and it has detailed and bloody rules for fighting with swords. Those crunchy fighting rules might be good or bad, but they're not there out of some obsession with completeness. OK, the game probably didn't need you to enter your character's height and weight, but that's the kind of colour that was de rigour at the time.

I've had a thought swirling in my head about a trad/neotrad difference that I think might fit here, that popped up in an episode of Worlds Beyond Number. There's all kinds of improv stuff going on there at an extra system layer in general, but one thing in particular stood out, that I think might be normative. Brennan, the GM, elides the occasional decision about what the characters do. He'll pick up after establishing "while you're walking toward the mountain" without actually having a player establish they are walking to the mountain.

I think this is a significant difference, because that's generally not acceptable in trad. You can't declare actions as the GM for the PCs at all, barring extremes like actual mind control. However, I don't think it's actually a problem in neo-trad, so long as it's done with respect to the character's established arc and traits in a neo-trad game. When it happens in WBN, it's nearly always followed by a prompt for the player to elucidate on what their character feels or experiences in the proposed situation, or a choice for them to make.
Interestingly, the Apocalypse World rulebook has examples of play that do the same thing.

This is what I wrote for reference (your "this" in the first sentence):

* Its very important to me that system have a robust and immutable "say" that cannot (and will not) be subverted by either player-side or GM-side railroading or Force.

I'm not 100 % certain what your implication here is, but if you're saying that games that feature Force to move the gamestate/fiction forward aren't RPGing...well, then the majority of play out there in the wild since the late 80s wouldn't constitute RPGing.
I should have been more precise previously. I don't mean that any force means you're not playing an RPG any more; I mean that all force means you're not playing anymore. I've sat through sessions like that, and let me tell you, I wasn't playing. So, in a situation where the system doesn't have some kind of reliable say, no, there is no game anymore. I don't think all trad play is 'fake' play, but really bad and dysfunctional trad collapses into pure fiat without even players' authority over their characters being respected.

Agreed. Some games do this. Blades in the Dark is definitely not one of them (a quick look at Player's Best Practices reveals a player orientation that is diametrically opposed to Neotrad; Build Your Character Through Play among plenty of others). I'm not clear on what you have in mind here. I mean, Tier 0 to Tier 2, orthodox Blades in the Dark play (where the GM is using system to put pressure on the Crew as they are supposed to) is about as anathema to OC as it gets. Stuff going morbidly wrong for Character/Crew during that time is everywhere. The trick is for them to skillfully manage the game of "spinning plates", endure/"right the ship"/"get back off the canvas"...if they can. Tier 3 its still there in that same sweet spot of play, but towards the end it gets wobbly.

Now Tier 4 and 5? At that point, we get a sort of play like I mention above; the system's loop which is intended to put relentless pressure on players and impose continuous suites of hard choices gets overwhelmed by the PC/Crew build dynamics (especially in concert with Gang Scale and Cohorts). So I would say, Tier 4 and Tier 5 Blades in the Dark definitely tilts toward a Neotrad dynamic (which is why I've said before that I feel like Blades needs a My Life With Master endgame before Tier 4/5).
One criticism I've heard about BitD is that players can use stress to pick-and-choose the sort of consequences their characters suffer, preventing the resolution system from offering decisive outcomes. I'm yet to play BitD, so I can't comment on how accurate this is. I think it's an example of how the specifics of a system in play are more important than how people choose to categorise it.

As @pemerton mentions in response to you, in Forge terms, Neotrad is definitely High Concept Simulationism (HCS). However, the novel feature of Neotrad (as it pertains to HCS) is that ubiquitous Player Fiat or even Player-side Railroading or Quid Pro Quo between players and GM.

Last thought on the matter, the interesting thing about D&D 4e and one of the primary reasons it got so much hate (and love from me!) is because it elegantly toggles between Neotrad and (along with Blades in the Dark, Torchbearer, and certain PBtA games where the GM is aggressive and knows where/how to apply pressure; like DW) a Story Now + Gamism hybrid (that delivers on both). The dial is trivially:

* If you want Story Now + Gamism, then up the Encounter Budgets and difficulty in battlefield arrays/rosters and hard choices in terms of nested Skill Challenges for combats. If you want Neotrad, do the inverse.

* If you want Story Now + Gamism, while still following Fail Forward's constraints, when players suffer Skill Challenge micro-failures or macro-failures, "make as hard a move as you like (to borrow Vincent's AW language)" should tilt toward punishing/hard choices. If you want Neotrad, do the inverse.

The first approach generates dynamic evolution of character, story, setting, follow-on conflicts. The latter approach ensures that player preconception of character and attendant arc "stays online."
To reiterate: I'm yet to see any evidence that neotrad is a single, coherent playstyle, let alone something that fits neatly into one of the old 'agenda' buckets. I am once again asking that people look to the specifics of what players and groups enjoy and are trying to achieve.


One criticism I've heard about BitD is that players can use stress to pick-and-choose the sort of consequences their characters suffer, preventing the resolution system from offering decisive outcomes. I'm yet to play BitD, so I can't comment on how accurate this is. I think it's an example of how the specifics of a system in play are more important than how people choose to categorise it.
Technically, this observation is correct ... to a point. But making a Resistance Roll is (usually) not consequence-free fiat, especially at lower Tiers; it is still engaging with System. You roll to see how much (or, rarely, if) Stress is accrued, and Stress is a limited resource that ties in to Trauma; if you Stress out of a scene (totally possible even with a currently low current Stress total and a large dice pool), you gain a Trauma, no questions asked, and your PC is changed (and will need to be retired completely once you mark your 4th Trauma).

And Resistance doesn't automatically negate a given consequence. Per the SRD, "
Usually, a resistance roll reduces the severity of a consequence. If you’re going to suffer fatal harm, for example, a resistance roll would reduce the harm to severe, instead. Or if you got a complication when you were sneaking into the manor house, and the GM was going to mark three ticks on the “Alert” clock, she’d only mark two (or maybe one) if you resisted the complication.

You may only roll against a given consequence once.

The GM also has the option to rule that your character completely avoids the consequence. For instance, maybe you’re in a sword fight and the consequence is getting disarmed. When you resist, the GM says that you avoid that consequence completely: you keep hold of your weapon.

By adjusting which consequences are reduced vs. which are avoided, the GM establishes the overall tone of your game. For a more daring game, most consequences will be avoided. For a grittier game, most consequences will only be reduced with resistance.

The GM may also threaten several consequences at once, then the player may choose which ones to resist (and make rolls for each)."

It is absolutely a way for players to avoid, or at least mitigate, consequences for their PCs, but it's still System, and quite risky to invoke too frequently!

One criticism I've heard about BitD is that players can use stress to pick-and-choose the sort of consequences their characters suffer, preventing the resolution system from offering decisive outcomes. I'm yet to play BitD, so I can't comment on how accurate this is. I think it's an example of how the specifics of a system in play are more important than how people choose to categorise it.
Well, you become tough, but yes, you can choose whether or not to resist any given consequence. You can even resist on behalf of other characters (and thus have a choice not to do so). MOST of the time you are going to be resisting Harm, and it RARELY makes sense NOT to resist it, at least assuming you have some stress left to manage, as harm degrades effect, and stacks pretty quickly! Honestly I would say that it is pretty rare to resist 'narrative' type consequences. Instead you might use Devil's Bargain to avoid them, or possibly some special armor use case granted by equipment or a special ability.

Also, in the case of harm, resist generally just reduces the harm by one bracket, so you are still getting hit, and probably need to burn Armor. My character was stupidly tough at Tier 5. He had a couple ways to increase his load, so he was pretty much ALWAYS tanking around in full armor, plus he had a special ability to invoke special armor (you can't 'equip' special armor, it is only granted as an ability/asset). However, with all that, my main claim to fame was stuff like "Not to be Trifled With" which let me push (expend a stress) in order to perform a superhuman physical feat, or eliminate the scale difference between himself and a group of enemies. He also has 3 pips of Command and "Savage" which lets him gain ANOTHER die on Command whenever the enemy is frightened by his show of physical violence (basically always unless they are seriously boss). I can also expend Special Armor to Push, so in effect I get a 'free' "Not to be Trifled With" in any situation where I expect to kick ass and not need 3 armor.

So, at least for Takeo, it isn't so much being able to pick and choose which consequences to accept, it is just being so sheer badass that very few people can stand long enough to deliver serious consequences! Of course if the scene was a complex negotiation, then all his 'stuff' is a bit less useful and basically he's going to resist better due to more pips than a lower tier PC, but that's about it. He can certainly look intimidating standing behind Tal Rajan with his arms crossed!


Mod Squad
Staff member
I suspect there's also a lot of cases where even heavily neotrad inclined players just don't care if the situation is trivial; I doubt even most of them feel the need to micromanage actions that have no real impact on or say anything about the character.

Agreed. Sometimes in discussion we forget that real-world implementation is not always going to follow the letter of the law, and that failure will not actually make the players stand up and scream, "Foul! J'accuse!"

While technically it may not be the GM's purview to form a transition in that way, in practice it can still move things along.

aramis erak

So what aspects of 3E make it neo-trad as opposed to simply trad?
3.e is in between trad and neotrad... mechanically.

Accepting neotrad as elucidated at What does it take to be a “neotrad” role-playing game?

for D&D 3e
It allows build what you want via an optional rule (array/point build)
It has wide GM support...
It cannot be scored on Shared Party Gen; it neither rewards it no suggests against it.

Otherwise, it fails the other conditions: Asymmetry, CHeckov's Gun, Clear Agency, Bounded Bookkeeping; it has a rule 0.

Year Zero games do a bit more - but still don't get there.
Most have some asymmetry, but not full asymmetry (NPC rolls only made when players are their targets.)
all have generate the character you want (within limits)
A few have party restrictions by group gen (MYZ itself) and gear by party (T2K 4); several have shared items ships or bases.
Each has a built in campaign conceit, or more...
They lack bounded bookkeeping, and don't quite have clear agency...
And they don't have Chekov's Gun.

And they both certainly lack the avoidance of death/dismemberment/mutilation of PCs that others claim as a neotrad value.

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