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What is the point of GM's notes?


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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You don't think that it is easier/harder to spot and create an alternative to ones own writing versus another person's?
Which do you want me to answer? I'm not sure which you think I shouldn't think with this rhetorical question.

But, no, I don't think this is a good question at all.

Having to change things doesn't necessarily teach you anything -- it's the ability to recognize that it needs change, why it needs change, and how it needs change that's the important skill set. Presumably, this is already an input to your own design efforts, so the comparison here is flawed.
I get that one of the skills a GM needs is assessment. And the use of that ability, when applied before play, is to write an alternative. The use of that ability during play, often forces different tools to be used.
How does this support your argument that AP play will always improve GMing skills?
Maybe it is just me, but I have never seen a GM write an encounter, then change it before hand, unless the context absolutely warranted it. (Such as the wizard started a huge forest fire, so now the area they were going is burning or burnt.) But, I have seen a hundred GMs change encounters or scenes that other people have written.
I'm not certain that you could notice this, in a game, so the observation seems very flawed. How would you tell if a GM altered an encounter of their own design at some point prior to presenting it? I mean, heck, in the context of this very thread, there are entire play styles that don't prep at all and yet achieve strong setting engagement. This argument doesn't even make sense for a game like Blades in the Dark. I'm not really sure it makes more sense for D&D, though.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
You don't think that it is easier/harder to spot and create an alternative to ones own writing versus another person's?
I think that if one is working up adventures specifically for the party one's GMing for, one is less likely to have to alter them to fit the context they're going into, before the session. This is the sort of alteration that seems most-common in published adventures.

I agree with @Fenris-77 that roughly any decent GM should be able to edit an encounter on the fly, whether it's from a published product or scribbled notes.
I get that one of the skills a GM needs is assessment. And the use of that ability, when applied before play, is to write an alternative. The use of that ability during play, often forces different tools to be used.
I agree that there's a difference between recognizing that an encounter is wrong beforehand, and doing so during play. I don't agree that homebrew GMs don't change things between the page and the table.
Maybe it is just me, but I have never seen a GM write an encounter, then change it before hand, unless the context absolutely warranted it. (Such as the wizard started a huge forest fire, so now the area they were going is burning or burnt.) But, I have seen a hundred GMs change encounters or scenes that other people have written.
I've edited encounters on the fly in my 5E games, and between sessions; I'm running entirely homebrew adventures. Heck, if something comes up that's not an encounter that makes more sense than my notes, I'll change it (if it's not inconsistent with prior events, of course).
 

Having to change things doesn't necessarily teach you anything -- it's the ability to recognize that it needs change, why it needs change, and how it needs change that's the important skill set. Presumably, this is already an input to your own design efforts, so the comparison here is flawed.
The comparison isn't flawed. It is asking, which you answered in your statement, which item, your own design or another's, would be easier to find a flaw. And the answer is another's. The implication that you feel you have already corrected your own designs (Presumably, this is already an input to your own design efforts) shows that you have fewer errors in your own designs. Therefore, fewer tools on the toolbelt need to be used. And in the end, fewer skills practiced (or needed on the fly) because things are already smoothed over.
How does this support your argument that AP play will always improve GMing skills?
I wrote two very specific examples. Examples that would be less likely to surface were one to play through something they created. These examples demonstrated skills that might be used and practiced, even to a well seasoned GM.
I'm not certain that you could notice this, in a game, so the observation seems very flawed. How would you tell if a GM altered an encounter of their own design at some point prior to presenting it? I mean, heck, in the context of this very thread, there are entire play styles that don't prep at all and yet achieve strong setting engagement. This argument doesn't even make sense for a game like Blades in the Dark. I'm not really sure it makes more sense for D&D, though.
To be fair, maybe for a lot of tables they would not notice it. But almost every GM I play with, we talk shop. We discuss what the original plan was, what the original encounter was, how things were altered, where it came from, alternatives they had in mind but didn't use, etc. I don't know, but for me that is kind of fun. But, you are right. I do not think most players would really know.
 

I agree that there's a difference between recognizing that an encounter is wrong beforehand, and doing so during play. I don't agree that homebrew GMs don't change things between the page and the table.
Fair enough, and thinking about specific examples, I believe you are correct. I do think the number of changes might be higher with APs than homebrew though. But, I am open to being wrong.
I've edited encounters on the fly in my 5E games, and between sessions; I'm running entirely homebrew adventures. Heck, if something comes up that's not an encounter that makes more sense than my notes, I'll change it (if it's not inconsistent with prior events, of course).
This goes into a GM style more than anything. Some GMs can do that well, others can't. The ones that can't either recognize it, or continue down a path that is not following their strength. At least, that has been my experience.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The comparison isn't flawed. It is asking, which you answered in your statement, which item, your own design or another's, would be easier to find a flaw. And the answer is another's. The implication that you feel you have already corrected your own designs (Presumably, this is already an input to your own design efforts) shows that you have fewer errors in your own designs. Therefore, fewer tools on the toolbelt need to be used. And in the end, fewer skills practiced (or needed on the fly) because things are already smoothed over.
I'm still at the point that you're strongly recommending GMs learn from APs because they're more likely to find flaws in the AP.

That aside, your argument is still pretty flawed. The skills needed to prevent flaws are the same ones you're recommending people learn. You use more tools if you're ahead of the curve, not less.
I wrote two very specific examples. Examples that would be less likely to surface were one to play through something they created. These examples demonstrated skills that might be used and practiced, even to a well seasoned GM.
The skills were used and practiced -- in the encounter design. You're discounting good design work on the one hand, and then saying that doing good design work when fixing bad designs is how you use and practice good GMing. You can't have it both ways -- either design is important or it is not. Why you engage in that design work doesn't increase the skill involved.
To be fair, maybe for a lot of tables they would not notice it. But almost every GM I play with, we talk shop. We discuss what the original plan was, what the original encounter was, how things were altered, where it came from, alternatives they had in mind but didn't use, etc. I don't know, but for me that is kind of fun. But, you are right. I do not think most players would really know.
Right, the only way you'd know is if the GM tells you. Even if you ask, the changes aren't necessarily going to come up. When I do a design, it's often an iterative process, where I try things until I find the right setup. Often, though, I can short circuit this because I've done it before and have a handy set of guidelines I can use to quickly create an exciting scene. This means little change is needed, but not because I'm not practicing my skills but because I've already done that practice, and I'm using the results to not have to do so much work. Your argument boils down to suggesting that poor AP design that requires fixing because it wasn't well designed to begin with is more valuable for teaching good GMing than the long practice and lessons learned that go into a GM's own designs. And your metric is just changes. This is a flawed approach -- you're discarding the very thing you're claiming to build up -- good GMing skills!
 

pemerton

Legend
I find play reports even for my games are turned into a more story like form so it is hard to judge without actually watching.
If you look at my actual play posts you will see that they are not "stories". They are recounts, as best I can recall after the event, of how the session unfolded.

you seem hell bent on defining exactly why I don't like something and denying the reasons I give.
This is odd. Because when I invited you to engage with actual play posts you said that you won't. So how do you know you would find those games trite/shallow? Which you seem hell bent on asserting!

What I read when I see you saying the setting is trite is simply that Emerikol doesn't enjoy a setting that he has to contribute to. I don't know quite how you fit that preference with the fact that you probably name your own PC (a very "dissociated" player move) and probably sometimes start your PC with an equipment list without actually playing out the acquisition of that equipment. But everyone has their idiosyncrasies.

I think people like me are at heart explorers. They want to learn about a new world and explore it. It's a big motivation. They also want to achieve something by dint of their skill as players. So they feel they "earned" their PC's greatness.

Gygax speaks to this a lot in the 1e DMG.
I have posted about this approach to play probably more than anyone else on these boards. I call it playing to find out what is in the GM's notes. The play process consists in the player's making moves with their PCs which oblige the GM to provide the players with information from the GM's notes: this is how the players "learn about a new world" (information) by "exploring it" (making moves that trigger the GM to provide that information).

In my own experience - of reading setting material and reading accounts of this sort of play and occasionally seeing it in action - the worlds themselves are rarely very deep. Sometimes they are quite detailed though.
 

pemerton

Legend
If the DM just decides that going left instead of right would be more fun and to hell with the underlying content that is a decision and it works for some people. It won't work for those who really embrace my style. In my style, failure and setbacks are more common. It feels a bit more like real life in that sense. The party knows the DM is not going to bail them out or twist things around to make it all work out.

Here is an example from years ago. Now in those days I was not nearly the world builder I am today so keep that in mind. This example is laser focused on one point. I had a group going through the Giants. There is a room where the King lives, I believe it is the frost giant G2 module, that has a secret escape door that the King would use if threatened. The party had foolishly alerted and attracted pretty much every giant in the place and they were being hunted in force. They had managed to dispatch the King though. They realized though they were going to die almost certainly but they decided to search the room to see if there was any place they could hide. They found the kings secret door and used it to escape the dungeon.

Now, if I had handwaved that escape route to enable the players to survive, I would have broke faith. They would not have enjoyed it nor would it have been a story. Now is it theoretically possible I could lie to them and try to keep it a secret? I guess so but that is a lousy way to live life. The fact they were saved by chance but chance that was real in the world made a difference.
Here, you contrast how you prefer to play RPGs with GM-driven railroads.

The stuff you say here doesn't say anything about the difference between your preferred play and "protagonistic" play of the sort @innerdude, @Manbearcat and some other posters are describing.
 

I have posted about this approach to play probably more than anyone else on these boards. I call it playing to find out what is in the GM's notes. The play process consists in the player's making moves with their PCs which oblige the GM to provide the players with information from the GM's notes: this is how the players "learn about a new world" (information) by "exploring it" (making moves that trigger the GM to provide that information).

In my own experience - of reading setting material and reading accounts of this sort of play and occasionally seeing it in action - the worlds themselves are rarely very deep. Sometimes they are quite detailed though.

My experience is when people coin a term to describe a playtstyle they dislike or don't want to engage in, their analysis of said playstyle is usually the thing that isn't very deep
 

pemerton

Legend
almost every GM I play with, we talk shop. We discuss what the original plan was, what the original encounter was, how things were altered, where it came from, alternatives they had in mind but didn't use, etc.
This seems to assume a very specific point of the GM's notes: to describe imaginary events which will occur in the fiction. AD&D 2nd ed modules are full of notes of this sort.

As @Ovinomancer said, there are other RPGs that don't use this technique at all.
 


Like the thread title asks: what is the point of GM's notes?

GM's notes can be pretty varied in their content - descriptions of imaginary places; mechanical labels and categories applied to imaginary people or imaginary phenomena; descriptions or lists of imaginary events, some of which are imagined to have already happened relative to the fiction of play and some of which are imagined as yet to happen relative that fiction.

So there may be more than one answer to this question.

Also, it's obvious that GM's notes are not essential to play a RPG. So any answer has to be more precise than just to facilitate RPG play.

(This thread was provoked by some of what I read here: D&D 5E - Do You Prefer Sandbox or Party Level Areas In Your Game World?. But I thought a new thread seemed warranted.)

There isn't a single purpose to GM notes. The purpose varies from group to group, GM to GM, style to style. They can be things set in stone, they can be starting points, they can be things expected to take a shape of their own as the campaign unfolds, they can be placeholder until the GM gets a better idea of things during play. Totally depends on what people are at the table to experience and how the GM's mind (and memory) works
 


pemerton

Legend
Bedrockgames said:
There isn't a single purpose to GM notes. The purpose varies from group to group, GM to GM, style to style.
Yes. The OP notes this. As you quoted, it says there may be more than one answer to this question.

They can be things set in stone, they can be starting points, they can be things expected to take a shape of their own as the campaign unfolds, they can be placeholder until the GM gets a better idea of things during play. Totally depends on what people are at the table to experience and how the GM's mind (and memory) works
OK. The thread is about elaborating on some of these points.
 
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Yes. The OP notes this. As you quoted, it says there may be more than one answer to this question.


OK. The thread is about elaborating on some of these points.

I was actually interested when I saw the thread, then the first post of yours I saw was you conduction the same playstyle attacks using a veneer of intellectual curiosity. You've taken your main critique of play styles you don't like and made a thread about it
 

I was actually interested when I saw the thread, then the first post of yours I saw was you conduction the same playstyle attacks using a veneer of intellectual curiosity. You've taken your main critique of play styles you don't like and made a thread about it

I don’t see how you can pull that from the neutral framing of the lead post.

And I don’t see how you can pull that from the conversation that has since been generated by multiple participants.

Personally, I’ve discussed:

* How paucity of notes opens up the play space and leads to authority distribution in a “play to find out” game like Dungeon World.

* How map & key notes in Moldvay Basic Delving constrain the play space so Skilled Play can be derived.

* How Faction Clock notes focus and propel play and aid in authority distribution (in a way that is different than Dungeon Workd) in Sandbox Play like Blades in the Dark.

* How PC build cues that focus on dramatic need are effectively “GM notes” such that they trigger the GM to make moves and frame conflicts that provoke/engage with those PC dramatic needs.


That is a lot of variety in the ways notes orient play (triggered by the lead post).
 

I don’t see how you can pull that from the neutral framing of the lead post.

And I don’t see how you can pull that from the conversation that has since been generated by multiple participants.

The lead post wasn't what I was talking about, I was talking about the first post I responded to here, where it looked like the same old "gaming to discover what's in the GMs notes" critique Pemerton always leverages at people who play things like a more traditional sandbox or living world (it is a simplistic and reductive criticism: and it is a playstyle attack disguised as inquiry IMO).
 

Personally, I’ve discussed:

* How paucity of notes opens up the play space and leads to authority distribution in a “play to find out” game like Dungeon World.

* How map & key notes in Moldvay Basic Delving constrain the play space so Skilled Play can be derived.

* How Faction Clock notes focus and propel play and aid in authority distribution (in a way that is different than Dungeon Workd) in Sandbox Play like Blades in the Dark.

* How PC build cues that focus on dramatic need are effectively “GM notes” such that they trigger the GM to make moves and frame conflicts that provoke/engage with those PC dramatic needs.


That is a lot of variety in the ways notes orient play (triggered by the lead post).

I wasn't objecting to your points about notes.
 

My experience is when people coin a term to describe a playtstyle they dislike or don't want to engage in, their analysis of said playstyle is usually the thing that isn't very deep

I've posted a lot of stuff in this thread, but I'm pretty confident this was another thing I posted about.

There are multiple forms of Adventure Path or Metaplot-driven play.

Two of those forms are, in fact, Railroads. The point of play is for it to be a Railroad. We (the cultural "we" here) would do ourselves a service if we just admitted what it is and that (a) its not a degenerate form of play in and of itself (its only degenerate if its represented as something else and/or the participants are expecting a different form of play), (b) therefore calling it a "Railroad" is not pernicious, (c) it is (in fact) desirable for a large number of players, (d) so therefore it would behoove us to talk plainly about it so GMs can improve their craft.

One of those two forms is basically a passive, theatrical experience for the players where funneled play triggers prescripted exposition dumps. In this case, GMs need to be good at (i) funneling toward that prescription, (ii) knowing when the prescripted exposition dump is triggered, and (iii) theatrically delivering the triggered exposition dump.

The second of those two forms is Adventure Path as Skilled Play (similar to Gloomhaven or a CRPG). Teams play through the AP in basically a "keep score" fashion (even if they're just "keeping score" with their expectation of self). In this form of play the GM needs to be good at (i) - (iii) above though the expectation of theatricality is comparatively muted. Less important than theatricality in exposition is (iv) the ability to deliver the puzzle/obstacle information sufficiently (revealing enough but not leading in a way that impacts Skilled Play) and (v) play "Team NPC" aggressively but fairly. (iv) and (v) become even more important if this is a tourney-esque scenario (like at a Hobby Shop) where you're going to run multiple Teams through it and they can compare and contrast their success (their "Score").


These are two discrete forms of play that are very "reveal what is in the GM's notes"-intensive.

Not all notes are like this or for this...but these two forms of play are orthodox D&D (there are other forms of D&D, but these aren't remotely deviant forms of D&D...they're everywhere).
 
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