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What is the point of GM's notes?

pemerton

Legend
I see where you're going with this, but I'm not sure you've identified something that can expand beyond the two games in your example. DW does have the kind of ability scale up of D&D through spells and advanced moves that radically alters what PCs can do, and @pemerton has amply demonstrated over the years that his 4E game, despite similar growth in PC power is structured around PC interactions with setting elements; neither requires any Setting Solitaire prep.
With regard to 4e, level is an important thing. So I did re-spec creatures/NPCs as the PCs gained levels and those potential opponents had not yet come into play.

One example is The Demon of the Red Grove: I wrote up multiple versions of these Feywild creatures, over multiple years, as the PCs gained levels and hadn't yet gone to the Feywild. I don't think this quite counts as "setting solitaire" in @Manbearcat's sense as it wasn't any sort of evolution of a "living world" - it was just making sure that when I got a chance to introduce that scenario, I would have the right tools in my "Monster Manual".

The story context of the scenario was established in a "no myth"-ish style: I can't remember all the details, but when I first thought about how Robin Laws's scenario might be adapted to 4e I don't think I had ideas about the trapped demons relationship to the Raven Queen and Lolth.

UPDATE: I just checked my 2010 notes - no mention of Lolth or the Raven Queen, just some dot points carrying over the core ideas of Laws's scenario. but some mechanical elements of the scenario statted up for high Heroic/low Paragon PCs. I ended up using this scenario for mid-Epic PCs in 2014. This is definitely prep, and definitely GM notes, but I don't think it's "setting solitaire".
 

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pemerton

Legend
what I'm trying to account for is that the PCs may be in a different story-arc than when I originally prepped. For instance, the PCs in one of the campaigns I'm DMing pretty much finished a story arc in a city, and then later came back for (mostly) unrelated reasons. Since months had passed in-world, the city needed to be a little different; the previous time they'd been in the city something had happened they hadn't done much with/about, so I took that and used it to change the city some (and let the PCs find ways to make trouble, because PCs). The city was still recognizably the same place, but it was not exactly as they'd left it.

I think that's the only way I'm likely to need to revise prep
This is not quite the opposite of what I just described, but there is a difference.

I described changing mechanical prep in a level-based game - but leaving story context/rationale loose to be settled in a "no myth"-ish fashion.

Prabe here is describing prep, and then re-prep, of story context/rationale but (it seems) not really touching the mechanical aspects of the story elements.

@prabe, I'm not sure whether or not you're describing setting solitaire. I'm not sure if @Manbearcat agrees with what I'm about to say, but for me there is a difference between (a) and (b):

(a) Authoring a setting, with timelines like in JRRT's LotR appendices, and notes about who is interacting when with whom, and adjusting this and adding to this as ingame time passes;

(b) Preparing a story/scenario/framing for play, in anticipation of its use, and then adjusting that to reflect what has actually transpired in play between initial prep and the time of use.​

You seem to be describing a version of (b). I think (a) counts as "setting solitaire" but I think (b) is more like a form of scenario prep. Of course in practice these aren't sharp divides, and in some approaches to play (b) might bleed into (a).
 

With regard to 4e, level is an important thing. So I did re-spec creatures/NPCs as the PCs gained levels and those potential opponents had not yet come into play.

One example is The Demon of the Red Grove: I wrote up multiple versions of these Feywild creatures, over multiple years, as the PCs gained levels and hadn't yet gone to the Feywild. I don't think this quite counts as "setting solitaire" in @Manbearcat's sense as it wasn't any sort of evolution of a "living world" - it was just making sure that when I got a chance to introduce that scenario, I would have the right tools in my "Monster Manual".

The story context of the scenario was established in a "no myth"-ish style: I can't remember all the details, but when I first thought about how Robin Laws's scenario might be adapted to 4e I don't think I had ideas about the trapped demons relationship to the Raven Queen and Lolth.

UPDATE: I just checked my 2010 notes - no mention of Lolth or the Raven Queen, just some dot points carrying over the core ideas of Laws's scenario. but some mechanical elements of the scenario statted up for high Heroic/low Paragon PCs. I ended up using this scenario for mid-Epic PCs in 2014. This is definitely prep, and definitely GM notes, but I don't think it's "setting solitaire".

This is not quite the opposite of what I just described, but there is a difference.

I described changing mechanical prep in a level-based game - but leaving story context/rationale loose to be settled in a "no myth"-ish fashion.

Prabe here is describing prep, and then re-prep, of story context/rationale but (it seems) not really touching the mechanical aspects of the story elements.

@prabe, I'm not sure whether or not you're describing setting solitaire. I'm not sure if @Manbearcat agrees with what I'm about to say, but for me there is a difference between (a) and (b):

(a) Authoring a setting, with timelines like in JRRT's LotR appendices, and notes about who is interacting when with whom, and adjusting this and adding to this as ingame time passes;​
(b) Preparing a story/scenario/framing for play, in anticipation of its use, and then adjusting that to reflect what has actually transpired in play between initial prep and the time of use.​

You seem to be describing a version of (b). I think (a) counts as "setting solitaire" but I think (b) is more like a form of scenario prep. Of course in practice these aren't sharp divides, and in some approaches to play (b) might bleed into (a).

Coming home from climbing and then I’m gaming so I don’t think I’m going to get any thoughts up tonight.

I agree with these two posts (particularly the expression of (a) and (b) above) in case that furthers conversation/clarifies my thoughts in my absence.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
This is not quite the opposite of what I just described, but there is a difference.

I described changing mechanical prep in a level-based game - but leaving story context/rationale loose to be settled in a "no myth"-ish fashion.

Prabe here is describing prep, and then re-prep, of story context/rationale but (it seems) not really touching the mechanical aspects of the story elements.

@prabe, I'm not sure whether or not you're describing setting solitaire. I'm not sure if @Manbearcat agrees with what I'm about to say, but for me there is a difference between (a) and (b):

(a) Authoring a setting, with timelines like in JRRT's LotR appendices, and notes about who is interacting when with whom, and adjusting this and adding to this as ingame time passes;​
(b) Preparing a story/scenario/framing for play, in anticipation of its use, and then adjusting that to reflect what has actually transpired in play between initial prep and the time of use.​

You seem to be describing a version of (b). I think (a) counts as "setting solitaire" but I think (b) is more like a form of scenario prep. Of course in practice these aren't sharp divides, and in some approaches to play (b) might bleed into (a).
Inside my head, it doesn't feel like what y'all seem to be calling "Setting Solitaire." I have written up the setting (or at least parts of it) but I haven't bothered to write out timelines or anything--most of what I have written is ... generic enough that it's likely to fit whenever a party arrives.

What I'm trying to describe is that--aside from mechanical aspects, which I'll change if they need changing--if I have a place prepped, and the PCs either 1) go somewhere else or 2) go there twice with some in-world time between, I'll change my prep: This could be purely mechanical--like your example in the Feywild--or it could be purely narrative--there is a different situation here than I originally prepped, and maybe different opposition--or it could be a combination.

Examples from games I'm running (I don't really expect anyone to know or recognize any names, but I'll use them anyway because it's easier):

Example One
The PCs finished up what they were doing in Embernook. I looked at the likely threads they could decide to follow and wrote them up. One of those threads involved going to Auriqua to sort out why a (possibly former) servant of the Tundra Queen had killed Taman's family, so I worked out what Auriqua was like and what was going on there and who the various personages were. That wasn't where the party went, then, and when they did eventually go to Auriqua I essentially re-prepped the place (partly because other stuff had emerged in play, partly because the party was a much higher level).

Example Two
The PCs killed the Masked Ones they came across in Pelsoreen, then spent some time tracking down their headquarters, then spent some time doing other things (including tracking down Ildna, the broken servant of the Tundra Queen who'd killed Taman's family), then for good reasons decided to go back to Pelsoreen. Some months had passed in-world, so it didn't feel right to have the city be exactly the same as when they'd left, so I thought about what could have changed. Pelsoreen, until the second time the party went there, had some nasty debt-slavery in place; when the party was there the first time, some pranksters turned loose a contagion that ... messed with the signifier of that debt-slavery, with some pretty funny effects. I decided that had resulted in some changes in the government of the city that ended up vastly reducing the will to continue that debt-slavery, and wrote that up. That policy change was one of the things the party interacted with pretty directly on their second visit to Pelsoreen.

After writing those up, I think those are both more in your category b) above--though I'm not sure about my Example Two.
 

Any value you can you imagine (or not imagine...I leave this to you) for the above being true vs all 3 being the opposite during your Score (a viscious riot happens, TDS is in the middle of trying to get that pardon while you're sneaking in, TL are focusing efforts in Dunslough. Or 1 or 2 of them being true vs not being true. Or some slightly different instantiation of the above. Or something very different.


I don’t think so. Any possible value in making such a change would be based on personal opinion.

If you asked me about Haight’s time in prison and I offered some details or suggestions and you incorporated those, that might benefit in hooking my PC more strongly to the location and scenario.

Outside of a value judgement about the provocativeness or excitement of this framing vs that framing, what value would there be on our play tonight if I evolved the starting conditions for all or some of these prior offline (but now online) things from stock Blades to something different (which is an outgrowth of the process of Faction/Setting Clocks and Fortune Rolls)?

Nothing that I can think of, really, no. Anything would be subjective.

Would you know the difference (again, assuming that the evolution from their starting condition x to their new situation y has nothing to do with our play to date...which there is no reason for any of our play to have impacted Dunslough thus far...if the Barrowcleft situation resolves badly and there is food shortages throughout all of Duskvol, then yeah...but that hasn't come to pass yet)?

No, not really. I mean, I know some of the Faction clocks from the book from GMing, but even so, I don’t take that info as written in stone. So whatever the situation is as you presented it, I’d just roll with it without wondering about how it “started”. One situation you presented would be the same to me as any other.
 

pemerton

Legend
One of the things that keeps my players from abusing the five minute workday is the fact the monsters are always a lot more prepared the second time around. So pressing on has a high value because you still have the element of surprise.
This is a consideration that only makes sense against a host of background assumptions of a broadly D&D-ish nature: (i) that an important part of play is the PCs raiding hostile installations/dungeons; (ii) that an important element in the success of those raids is the availability of limited resources; (iii) that those resources recharge, but at a pace that is very different from the rate at which the action unfolds.

Other than AD&D, none of the games that I've GMed in the past 10 years shares those assumptions:

* 4e D&D (as my group played it) has only modest (i) and very little (iii);

* MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic has only modest (i), no (ii) and no (iii);

* Burning Wheel (as we play it) has no (i) so far; no (ii) in the D&D spell lot/power slot/spell point sense; and a different approach to (iii) also;

* Prince Valiant has no (i) so far (castles have been taken, but not in the D&D-ish room-to-room style), no (ii) and no (iii);

* Cthulhu Dark has none of (i) to (iii);

* The Dying Earth has no (i), and (ii) and (iii) work very differently from D&D;

* Classic Traveller has had little (i), and has no (ii) and no (iii).[/indent]

The last dungeon I ran as more than a one-shot was in Cortex+ Heroic, as I think I posted upthread. The details were all established in play by either my framing or the players' action declarations for their PCs. There is skilled play in Cortex+ Heroic, but its nothing like D&D. To give an example:

* The PCs were teleported to a deep part of the dungeon by a Crypt Thing (mechanically, I spent 2d12 from the Doom Pool to end the scene);

* The PCs started the next scene each suffering a d12 Lost in the Dungeon complication (this was a GM stipulation based on the terms on which the previous scene ended);

* Not long after that, I established a scene in a great hall in the dungeon that included Strange Runes on the Walls as a scene distinction;

* One of the players had his players decipher the runes to see if they would tell him where in the dungeon the PCs were - and they did! (Mechanically, this was a recovery action that included the scene distinction in the pool and that targeted and - with a good success - eliminated that characters Lost in the Dungeon complication.)​

Seeing ways to play the fiction like that is a skill, but it doesn't have much in common with the skill needed to beat a classic D&D dungeon. In Cortex+, if PCs retreat, or proceed, and this will affect things down the track, that is reflected through appropriate scene distinctions, complications and the like. There's no play-independent setting to keep track of.

I think the point of this post is that the impact of different approaches to prep, and its use, on the play experience is (perhaps obviously) affected by details of the system being played.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This is a consideration that only makes sense against a host of background assumptions of a broadly D&D-ish nature: (i) that an important part of play is the PCs raiding hostile installations/dungeons; (ii) that an important element in the success of those raids is the availability of limited resources; (iii) that those resources recharge, but at a pace that is very different from the rate at which the action unfolds.

Other than AD&D, none of the games that I've GMed in the past 10 years shares those assumptions:

* 4e D&D (as my group played it) has only modest (i) and very little (iii);

* MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic has only modest (i), no (ii) and no (iii);

* Burning Wheel (as we play it) has no (i) so far; no (ii) in the D&D spell lot/power slot/spell point sense; and a different approach to (iii) also;

* Prince Valiant has no (i) so far (castles have been taken, but not in the D&D-ish room-to-room style), no (ii) and no (iii);

* Cthulhu Dark has none of (i) to (iii);

* The Dying Earth has no (i), and (ii) and (iii) work very differently from D&D;

* Classic Traveller has had little (i), and has no (ii) and no (iii).[/indent]

The last dungeon I ran as more than a one-shot was in Cortex+ Heroic, as I think I posted upthread. The details were all established in play by either my framing or the players' action declarations for their PCs. There is skilled play in Cortex+ Heroic, but its nothing like D&D. To give an example:

* The PCs were teleported to a deep part of the dungeon by a Crypt Thing (mechanically, I spent 2d12 from the Doom Pool to end the scene);​
* The PCs started the next scene each suffering a d12 Lost in the Dungeon complication (this was a GM stipulation based on the terms on which the previous scene ended);​
* Not long after that, I established a scene in a great hall in the dungeon that included Strange Runes on the Walls as a scene distinction;​
* One of the players had his players decipher the runes to see if they would tell him where in the dungeon the PCs were - and they did! (Mechanically, this was a recovery action that included the scene distinction in the pool and that targeted and - with a good success - eliminated that characters Lost in the Dungeon complication.)​

Seeing ways to play the fiction like that is a skill, but it doesn't have much in common with the skill needed to beat a classic D&D dungeon. In Cortex+, if PCs retreat, or proceed, and this will affect things down the track, that is reflected through appropriate scene distinctions, complications and the like. There's no play-independent setting to keep track of.

I think the point of this post is that the impact of different approaches to prep, and its use, on the play experience is (perhaps obviously) affected by details of the system being played.
That was a very long post just to say that the 5 minute work day is very D&D centric, except for 4e which did things differently from the other editions. :p
 

AnotherGuy

Explorer
Is that correct? I'll answer (tomorrow) once you've confirmed.

Yes.

And so I have some context for answering, can you let me know what you have in mind here (Skilled Play a a priority interacting with my hypothetical)? To reiterate, this is the equivalent of Room 1 of a dungeon where new content (that has in no way, directly or indirectly, been interacted with by the PCs).

I'm imagining a sprawling series of available courses of action for the PCs against a specific off-screen time-frame for the BBEG and Co. actions. Depending on the actions taken by the PCs, they may or may not affect the off-screen actions of the BBEG and Co. and they may also extend the off-screen time-frame.

Now I fully accept a DM, may and likely does have certain degree of bias, with the said off-screen time-frame to be easily adjusted via tainted rationale as the DM sees fit.

One can use the same example above in your typical dungeon exploration to introduce a certain event which occurs at the specified time (in-game or real), with the actions of the PCs up until that point affecting in part the event or the timing of said event.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
Sorry, BIFTs frustrate me greatly. I've even tried @iserith's rule where players can, on their own, claim inspiration for invoking a BIFT (once each per session) and my players absolutely ignore it. They have no problems leveraging such things in other games, are even eager to do so, but in D&D? It's strange, sometimes, to watch them play different games, and see how much their approach changes depending on what game it is. I have a player that is absolutely balls-to-the-wall in Blades, reckless and daring, leveraging everything that system offers, but, in D&D, they are as methodical and plodding, trying to play 20 questions, afraid in every seeming moment that there's a gotcha, despite the fact that I just don't do gotchas. When we talk about it, they know there's nothing there, but it feels like that's how they should be playing. I blame prior GMs just being horrible. Amusingly (not really), if my group really wants to see this player turn that dial to 11, we just ask him to run. He's horrible with the gotchas! And, not really allowed to run for us, anymore (which he views with relief, I think).

Anyway, BIFTs are terribly instantiated in 5e, and as such, often deserve to be treated as the appendix of that system.
20 questions might be extreme but I wouldn't declare this as a bad way to game as you do. My players are super cautious. It's why game balance was never an issue for them. They never cast a spell they didn't think they had to cast. Why? It's a limited resource and the next enemy could be worse. Sometimes that was true.


Now there are plenty of times when they throw caution to the wind but most of the time they act like real people facing such challenges. Real people with great skills and powerful magic of course so they don't just stay home. They play like they don't want to die which I think is a good thing.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
It's an acronym for Bond, Ideal, Flaw, Trait. Took me a moment, too. (But I suspect it's just the way @Ovinomancer thinks about the mechanic, so I have no complaints.)
I wouldn't mind them but I do agree with many maybe even @Ovinomancer that in practice they don't often turn out that great. Most of the time it's min max time. But with the right player, it can be gold.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I think the point of this post is that the impact of different approaches to prep, and its use, on the play experience is (perhaps obviously) affected by details of the system being played.
I don't disagree. I think by now I've made it clear the style of games I prefer.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
That was a very long post just to say that the 5 minute work day is very D&D centric, except for 4e which did things differently from the other editions. :p
I would say the 5 minute work day runs through all the "children" of Gygax which includes the early editions of D&D and a bunch of offshoots since. Not all of them are OSR but many are of course. They all seem to tout the old school feel though which it seems to me must be something they think people these days yearn for.

And yes, at-will and encounter powers changed the dynamics of D&D in many ways. Not in good ways in my book but of course others mileage may vary.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
20 questions might be extreme but I wouldn't declare this as a bad way to game as you do. My players are super cautious. It's why game balance was never an issue for them. They never cast a spell they didn't think they had to cast. Why? It's a limited resource and the next enemy could be worse. Sometimes that was true.


Now there are plenty of times when they throw caution to the wind but most of the time they act like real people facing such challenges. Real people with great skills and powerful magic of course so they don't just stay home. They play like they don't want to die which I think is a good thing.
Where did I say it was bad? I said it was different. The "bad" part is being afraid of gotchas (and running them), because gotchas are an abuse of the GM's authority in the game to hide information and then punish players with the hidden information. It's icky.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I wouldn't mind them but I do agree with many maybe even @Ovinomancer that in practice they don't often turn out that great. Most of the time it's min max time. But with the right player, it can be gold.
I... how the H-E-double-hockey-sticks can you min-max BIFTs?! I really need to know because this is utterly alien to any thought I have in my head.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I... how the H-E-double-hockey-sticks can you min-max BIFTs?! I really need to know because this is utterly alien to any thought I have in my head.
Well when you take a negative trait, you often get something in return. Like advantages and disadvantages. So some players will choose a disadvantageous trait they think they can minimize the impact in the game and take an advantageous trait they think they can use to enhance their power.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Well when you take a negative trait, you often get something in return. Like advantages and disadvantages. So some players will choose a disadvantageous trait they think they can minimize the impact in the game and take an advantageous trait they think they can use to enhance their power.
LOL. No, they don't work like this at all. You're pretty far off the mark.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Well when you take a negative trait, you often get something in return. Like advantages and disadvantages. So some players will choose a disadvantageous trait they think they can minimize the impact in the game and take an advantageous trait they think they can use to enhance their power.
This is broadly possible in games like Champions where one can acquire extra character points by takind Disadvantages. Bonds, Ideals, Flaws, and Traits in D&D 5E (the acronym "BIFT") bring next to nothing mechanically to the character. A very mild incentive to role-play your character in such a way to get Inspiration (a token spendable for Advantage on a roll). The big problems are that Inspiration doesn't stack, and no one really wants to use it except in an emergency, and Advantage is stupidly easy to get other ways, and that the DM is supposed to keep track of 5 things per PC and allot Inspiration. There may also in the RAW be a limitation on how often you can get Inspiration (aside from it not stacking) but since I don't use Inspiration or BIFTs, I don't have that stuff internalized.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
LOL. No, they don't work like this at all. You're pretty far off the mark.
No. I can show you many games where they work exactly like this. I won't claim I know every game but many many games with traits, advantages, disadvantages etc... have rules for taking a bad one and getting a good one.
 

Haven't read the thread (because 72 pages is far too many posts) but for my part, my session notes are for the following:
  1. Not needing to take extra time to create a monster, scenario, or situation when the party heads in generally-expectable directions. E.g., when I know the party is heading to the Chapel of Fundamental Tacky, I can make Tacky Priests and Tacky Phlogiston Fundamentals and not waste time, and can have maps already made for the floors of the chapel, that sort of thing. Obviously this doesn't help for 100% of sessions, but it really does make a difference and my players definitely notice.
  2. Keeping track of the relationships established between NPCs. We have a lot of named NPCs in our game, so records of past NPCs and notes of how future NPCs feel about them and vice-versa is useful for maintaining a living, breathing world. It also helps for things like cosmology; I've put a lot of work into making a cosmology that is thought-out, unique, and responsive to the players' actions. With my memory less than ideal, shall we say, keeping notes helps me remember the structure during the variable gaps between times where it comes up.
  3. Producing consistent theme across different encounters. I have various factions that ploy, surge, recede, etc. as the world turns. Player choices can radically affect their plans, but that includes ignoring them for too long when the opportunity has arisen to do stuff about it. Being able to give a consistent feel/flavor to each faction helps make them distinct, despite all of them fighting "from the shadows" as it were and striving to control/conquer, and helps the players make informed choices (e.g. preparing for known strategies/powers associated with specific factions.)
I don't make hyper-detailed notes about absolutely everything. I've actually forced myself to not be hyper-ultra prepared all the time, because I know I've got a risk of locking things down too far. But having some notes, having some prep work, really is very valuable to me and my group.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
No. I can show you many games where they work exactly like this. I won't claim I know every game but many many games with traits, advantages, disadvantages etc... have rules for taking a bad one and getting a good one.
We weren't talking about those games. BIFTs refers to 5e D&D, it's not a wider discussion.
 

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