What is *worldbuilding* for?

pemerton

Legend
One of the things I find interesting about the 'typical style' (if there is such a thing) for laying this kind of stuff out, much like you're outlining here, is that it is STILL very much beholden to the archetypal dungeon room key in some respects. For instance I've rarely, make that pretty much never, seen in a product where there were fully elaborated descriptions of the relationships between things.

<snip>

We may know, as in Gary's Hommlet exactly the contents of every house, but who's going to stand together with whom? What happens when you kill Fred down the street, doesn't he have a brother? A landlord? Someone must inherit his stuff, want to find out who killed him, etc.

In some sense, I think this 'classic' type of setting design, when it comes to settlements, is entirely inadequate to the type of play that [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] seems to be espousing when he asks about the value of worldbuilding. I would say that in terms of his needs these social/cultural/economic details are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than the trivia about how many coppers are under Farmer Joe's floorboards and what the probability of finding them is (all of which can and probably should in that kind of play be made up as needed anyway).

Its not that nobody ever thinks about this stuff at all, but its weird how you get these detailed maps of buildings but only at best some incredibly vague idea of who owns them, what their allegiances are, etc.
Interesting post!

I think that in the Hommlet era alignment was meant to carry a lot of this information.

In my 4e game I've relied on religious affiliation to carry a lot of weight (it's a cosmologically-focused game). The three main settlements that have figured in the game have been Threshold/Adakmi, the duergar stronghold, and a githzerai monastery. For the latter two I basically set it up with two main groupings in each - and framed it so that the PCs may themselves have split allegiances across the two factions. For Threshold, I had a power struggle between baron and patriarch (I think that was my own idea, but maybe I got it from B10?); and then introduced some nuance into the baron situation (with the advisor, the niece who was the spitting image of the PCs' friend from the past, etc).

In my Traveller game, when the PCs assaulted the bioweapons conspiracy outpost, I wrote up the NPCs with connections between them (one ex-army guy had been a comrade of the PC army guy; another NPC was the sister of the shuttle pilot the PCs had hired; etc) - nothing very intricate, but it just added a bit of extra depth and complexity to the resolution of the situation.

In other words, I think the difference between nothing and a little bit goes a long way.

I don't have any of the classic RQ modules, but some of them must have tackled this sort of stuff.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Well, guess what non-TSR game figured most prominently in the old Ares section of Dragon? Traveller.

The idea that RQ and Traveller are "niche" games is ridiculous, unless "niche" means not D&D.
Exactly.

With the possible exception of a few years in the mid-90's when 2e was dying with no obvious replacement on the horizon, D&D (including PF) has always been the 800 lb. gorilla in the RPG world and has - despite some vainglorious attempts by various designers over the years - relegated anything and everything else to niche status at best.

Look at it another way: go down to your local FLGS and say you're starting a D&D campaign and are looking for players. You'll almost certainly get interest, followed by questions relating to edition or version, campaign specifics, houserules, and the like. But go down to your local FLGS and say you're starting a Burning Wheel campaign and are looking for players and the only question you'll hear is "Burning Wheel? Wtf is that?".

Suppose this is true - that doesn't show that they're replayable in the same way as (say) B2 is replayable - that the players can try again and thus learn (and beat) the "hidden design" (what, upthread, I called the puzzle/maze).
B2 is something of an outlier in module design, in that its dungeon bits can legitimately be approached piecemeal in a weekend-warrior kind of way. You take out the Kobold cave, then go back to town. Next trip you go after the Goblin cave, then go back. Next trip you take on the Hobgoblins, lather rinse repeat until you've bit by bit taken out all the caves and can then start putting the pieces together.

Most modules - for better or worse - aren't like this. Take G2, from the same era - it's a single-site dungeon far away from civilization and even though it can be taken on a bit at a time the party doesn't (usually) have the option to return to town and heal up-restock-recruit new PCs between each sortie. But they can keep trying until they finish, and in that trying are going to be presented with a much more intricate dungeon layout than the simple straight line of rooms/encounters so common in bad early 3rd-party d20 offerings and in official WotC 4e offerings.

It surprise me that you don't see this as Exhibit A in the case that the game is driven by the GM. All the action happened purely in the GM's imagination. The only agency exercised by the player was to force the GM to tell him-/herself a story!
Of course she did, and that's just my point - the DM has to follow the dominoes (if there are any; obviously there aren't always) in order to see if any of them are likely to impact the PCs later. In the example I gave the dominoes are certainly going to lead to the PCs hearing about the attempt on the Duke's life and possibly going to lead to complications for one or more PCs should the harlot place blame on them or (mistakenly) associate them with the conspirators.

This domino-following is one of the aspects of city adventuring that makes it harder to DM, or at least DM well, than contained-dungeon adventuring. Not all DMs are good at it; I know I'm often not.

Lanefan
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
But this clearly isn't true - you can have a game with any or all of those things without the GM writing up some fiction in advance.
Just because you can have a game without world building doesn't mean that what [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] described isn't world building. It just means that you can improv on both sides of things and play without it.
 

pemerton

Legend
To point 1, news takes time to travel, depending on setting trappings. The Imperium is limited by required physical transport jumps each taking weeks of time. News from the other side will take months to reach the military and even longer to reach the civilian population.

To point 2, there's exciting things happening everywhere. Players with PCs based in the Spinward Marches make the choice that exciting things happening near the Zhodani border are more interesting than exciting things happening near Hiver space. When something newsworthy happens near Hiver Space and the news travels widely enough that the PCs can discover it, the players now have new information to base next choices upon. Are enough exciting things happening here to hold their attention or is what is happening way over there interesting enough and seems to have enough staying power to warrant the trek to the other side?
Again, tihs strikes me as exhibiting the degree of GM control over shared content.

It's the GM who has decided that event X happens in Place A rather than Place B, hence that when the PCs who are in Place B learn of it (which equals when the GM tells it to them) it has already (within the context of the fiction) occurred, such that the player's capacity to affect its immediate context - given the setting conventions - is very limited.

It may be that exciting events (again, mostly = stuff that the GM is telling to the players) is happening in Place B, where the fictional positioning of the PCs enables them to make immediate action declarations that affects that stuff. But this exciting stuff is also stuff that was written by the GM.

The players are choosing which bit of the GM's fiction to focus on. If they choose A, there is then an extended process (at least if the travel is being resolved using the standard mechanics) for actually shtifting the field of action from A to B (in the fiction, this is the interstellar travel across the Imperium), where most of the activity on the way will be determined by the GM. (Either directly, or on the back of random encounter rolls.)

The authorial hand of the GM seems to loom very large.

in starting this thread, you're not merely saying that you're not interested in the comedians - you're declaring that you can't see how anyone might find them appealin
No I'm not. The question in the thread isn't rhetorical. And some posters have answered it - to reiterate some of those answers:

* Worldbuilding - designing a setting - is a worthwhile artistic and/or intellectual pursuit in itself, that bring pleasure/satisfaction to the GM who engages in it;

* The game can't proceed without setting, and one way to get it is for the GM to write it in advance;

* Some players don't want to write setting, and so the only way to get it is for the GM to write it, and this is easier done in advance;

* Some players want to know that the GM wrote up all the fiction in advance, because that supports their immersion.​

And the OP itself offered one answer - to confront the players with a maze/puzzle (the dungeon) to beat.

The OP also suggested that, as the setting becomes a "living, breathing world" which exists mostly in the mind and notes of the GM, rather than maps and room keys that are - through various, mostly conventionally-established moves - cognitivtely accessible to the players, the maze/puzzle rationale tends to be lost. I think [MENTION=23935]Nagol[/MENTION] doesn't agree with this, which is what our discussion in the thread is currently about (though it's moved on a bit from my starting maze/puzzle way of framing the matter).

By declaring that playstyles other than purely player-driven content amount to "being told a story by the GM" you very much are saying that other playstyles aren't viable as a co-operative play experience.
I haven't delared that those playstyles are "being told a story by a GM". I have asserted that certain aspects of play, which are often presented in metaphorical terms ("the player explore the setting") or in in-fiction terms ("the PCs travel from A to B") actually - when we analyse them as the play of a game among actual people sitting around a table - consist of the players triggering the GM reading them stutf.

This is how a typical CoC scenario works, for instance, and most of the Planescape modules I can think of (Infinite Staircase; Dead Gods). It's how the Alexandrian's "node based design" and "three clue rule" work. The GM frames a starting situation, tells the players some stuff about it then the players say "OK, we go to [such-and-such a place]" and that leads the GM to read them more stuff (descriptions of such-and-such a place). And then with that extra information to hand, the players declare "OK, we go and talk to so-and-so" - and then the GM reads them some more stuff, and so on.

The players are making choices that determine the sequence in which the GM reads them the stuff, and determines the precise details. (Eg maybe if the players don't ask a certain question, the NPC doesn't tell them a certain thing.) But all the significant content is being narrated by the GM. And if the players declare a move that the GM didn't anticipate in his/her notes - eg they ask a neighbour what s/he has seen going on next door - then either the GM makes up some more stuff, or the GM doesn't dispense any significant information ("Sorry, I work shifts and only come home to sleep, so I haven't noticed anything").

In my experience, with a GM who is skilled in vibrant descriptions and characterisation, and if the stuff in the notes isn't obvious - so there's interest and/or amusement in learning it - then this can be fun. I've played in convention games that are like this. Personally, though, I prefer it if the style I've described is used to set up the framing of the "big finish" - and so, in a sense, really serves as an extended framing process for the real scene of the game - and then the "big finish" is all about the players making substantive choices. CoC games don't work for this, because the "big finish" is nearly always just "Do or don't we have what we need to stop the cultists". But I've had good experiences in Stormbringer one-shots where, at the moment of crunch, the final action declarations aren't just about "how well can we put the clues together to defeat the culties" but more like "OK, so now we know that what's really going on here is a cult ritual, the question is - do we stop it, or do we join it!" If the scenario designers have done a good job, then different PCs should either start with, or (even better) develop over the course of the "exploration" phase of play, reasons to stop the cultists or join them that are in conflict with one another.

(It's hard to set up a convention game with two such moments of crunch, because the fallout from the big finish isn't predicable at the outset, yet a convention game depends on being able to start each session at a pre-established point.)

I personally don't enjoy a whole campaign which has the general form I've described - the players declare actions for their PCs which are primarily about triggering narration from the GM and then putting those pieces together to stop the ritual/find the McGuffin/etc. The one time I played an extended campaign having this sort of character, the real action of play was in the interaction between the PCs. (I get somewhat of a similar vibe from [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION]'s accounts of actual play.) The GM's narration was really just a backdrop for this. But I don't count this as an example of strong player agency in a GM setting-driven game, as it was completely orthogonal from the GM's setting. (Eg we had fragments of a prophecy, and we spent a lot of time debating them, imagining how we could read various PCs into various roles outlined in the prophecy, etc. I assume that the GM had some conception, in his mind, of what the prophecy meant and how the events of play related to it, but they were absolutely irrelevant to what we players were talking about. We could have done our stuff just as easily if the GM had simply handed us three random prophecies downloaded from a Google search.)

Clearly, you don't trust that players have any form of agency in any game that has substantive GM backstory and adjudication. You're denying that they do all over the place here and in your response to Lanefan. And you don't really seem to trust us when we say that player do have agency in the games we're running in which we do make use of substantial backstory and adjudication. Your response to MarkB here is fairly dripping with it. "you think it is" makes it very clear that you don't believe him or think it's true. It's like you're calling him out but acknowledge he's not technically lying because he seems to believe it's true.
We're doing analysis here. Trying to dig down into the processes of play is not "calling someone out". I don't think [MENTION=40176]MarkB[/MENTION] is lying. I do think that the suggestion that I don't trust GMs is (i) false, and (ii) irrelevant - as if the only reason someone would play DungeonWorld rather than 2nd ed AD&D is because they don't trust GMs!

But anyway, on to the issue of agency:

Here is one of my assertions - if the GM is entitled, at any point in the process of resolution to (i) secretly author backstory, or (ii) secrety rewrite backstory, and (iii) to use that secret backstory as if it was part of the fictional positioning so as to (iv) automatically declare an action declaration unsuccessful ("No, the map's not in the study") - then I assert that every action declaration is simply a suggestion to the GM as to how the fiction might go. The GM - by deciding how to handle (i) to (iv) above - is actually making the decision as to what the shared fiction shall be.

(Perhaps in your game the GM doesn't enjoy any such entitlement. OK, fine. Then in making the above assertion I'm not saying anything about your game. But clearly there are some games in which the above entitlement is enjoyed by the GM.)

Here is my other main assertion - if the GM is entitled to uniatereally and secret establish elements of the shared fiction, which therefore become part of the fictional positioning for action declaration although the players may not know about it, then there is the potential for players to lose agency. In this thread I have explained in detail how I think that classic dungeoncrawling avoids this problem: (i) in that approach to player agency is not about "story" but about winning; and (ii) the players have the capacity to learn the secret backstory through their direct engagement with the game without being dependent upon the GM's preconceptions as to what is salient, how elements of the backstory relate, etc - this is because the backstory is very simple and stylised (dungeon maps and rooms, with strong play conventions around these), because there is fiat detection magic, because there is the possibility of repeat attempts at the same dungeon (this is an obvious presupposition of Gygax's advice in his PHB), etc.

I have explained why the "living, breathing world" appears to create problems for (ii) just above: the backstory is not simple and stylised and governed by robust play conventions, but is rich and verisimilitudinous and opaque to the players (look at [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION]'s example not far upthread - the players get involved in a minor street altercation and all these ramifications follow of which they had no knowledge and over which they had no practical control); exposition of information is extremeley dependent on GM opinions as to what is salient (the GM tells you the weapon the NPC carries but not how his/her shirt is tailored; the GM describes the desk in the study but not the paper clips or map pins sitting on it, nor their absence - in real life the degree and nature of clutter on a desk is one of the first things that gives you some clue as to what activity takes place at or near it; etc).

There has been quite a bit of reference, in this thread, to the PCs exploring or discovering the world. Given that the world is a fiction that exists only in the GM's notes, that can only mean that: the players declare actions for their PCs which trigger the GM reading some notes. Typically, the GM has control over which bits of the notes get read (eg suppose the players declare that their PCs break into the NPC's study and rifle through her books and papers: in a GM backstory-driven game it is the GM who will decide what the players learn about the shared fiction as a result of that action). How can it be otherwise in a game in which it is the GM who authors the backstory, and does so in advance of play? I don't regard having the power, as a player, to oblige the GM to read you bits of his/her notes which s/he gets to choose is having much agency. The contrast with dungeoneering is clear here: when a player has his/her PC use a Wand of Metal and Mineral Detection and obliges the GM to inform him/her of stuff in the dungeon neighbourhood, that is all stuff within the player's immediate field of action. It is part of the player unravelling the puzzle of the dungeon and getting ready to make a winning move (ie looting the detected treasure). If the player learns that there's not treasure nearby, that's also helpful: it helps the player work out where more profitable moves might be made. (Like turning over an unhelpful tile in Forbidden Desert - you'd rather get a helpful one, but still you've learned something that helps you make your next move.)

But triggering the GM to read you stuff which correlates to what, in the fiction, some NPC has in her books and papers, is not increasing agency in the same way. Whether or not it pertains to the current field of action is entirely up to the GM. How it might be made use of may well be up to the GM too (eg the players learn that the NPC has a cousin in a town across country who once saw someone with the widget - now they have to make the game moves that will bring it about that their PCs are in the town and talking to the cousin; or will have to find the cousin in the phonebook - and it will be up to the GM whether or not the cousin has a slient number, or has changed his/her name, or whatever; etc).

Here's a third assertion: to kick it off, let's suppose that the map that the players are hoping their PCs will find is known to be etched on a metal plate. And let's consider the following exercise of player agency: the players decide to have their PCs set fire to the house with the study in it, and then to impersonate fire fighters and thereby recover the metal map from the burning house (or maybe from it's ashes).

And let's suppose that this forces the GM to narrate fiction independently of his/her notes - s/he didn't anticipate this, and has no challenges made up aroudn dealing with the fire brigade, searching the ahses of the house, etc.

OK then - I don't regard it as an explanation of how a strong role for GM backstory supports or fosters player agency if the putative example of agency involves departure from or disregard of the backstory. And frankly, if the players are allowed to circumvent the mystery of the map in the breadbin by declaring the action of burning the house to the ground, then why not allow them to circumvent it by declaring the action of looking for the map in the study?

So those are my assertions. You think they're wrong. And you have a lot of relevant actual play experience. So why not write up a little play account that exhibits the agency and shows me what I've missed?
 

pemerton

Legend
I would dispute though that my style has grown unpopular or is fading away.
I don't think it is. I think Gygaxian dungeon crawling, though - of the sort that he talks about in his advice on Successful Adventuring in his PHB - is much less common (at least in proportionate terms) than it was c 1977.

Maybe I'm reading you wrong but it almost seems as if you are "evangelizing" your playstyle
Well, this thread started with the question "What is worldbuilding for (given that we're not doing Gygaxian dungeoneering)?"

The issue of "no myth"-type play only came up because some people said RPGing needs setting and hence RPGing needs worldbuilding in advance of play. The first is true; the second, though isn't - because there are well-established RPGing methods that generate setting in other ways.

In a D&D game using the style I prefer, the player is limited to what his character can do. So he has agency equivalent to what his character would have if such a fictional world really existed.
This was discussed in quite a bit of detail upthread.

I think it is ultimately an uhelpful metaphor.

In the real world, if I want to pick up a rock and throw it, that depends on (i) whether there are any rocks nearby, and (ii) a range of mechanical forces at work in my body, in my hand-rock interaction, in the motion of the rock through the air, etc.

If I am RPGing, and I declare "My guy picks up a rock and throws it", whether or not that action declaration is successful depends on (iii) whether, in the shared ficiton, it is accepted that my PC is close to some rock, and (iv) what the action resolution mechanics say about picking up and throwing nearby rocks.

The issues of agency that have come to the fore in this thread are about (iii) and (iv): who gets to decide whether or not it is true, in the shared fiction, that the PC is near a rock, and (iv) how is action resolution adjudicated.

My contention is that if (iii) is primariy determined by the GM, either ahead of time (in writing his/her notes) or on the spot prior to any action resolution mechanics being invoked, then the GM has a high degree of agency in the game and the players correspondingly less. (Agency isn't always zero sum, but in this context the GM's unilateral power does indicate a reduced degree of power on the part of the players.)

This is also the context for my remarks about the GM reading to the players from his/her notes: if a player says "I look for a rock", then in a GM-pre-authored backstory game that is a trigger for the GM to tell the player something. In my view, triggering the GM to tell you something isn't exercising a high degree of agency over the shared fiction.

Now in some RPG styles player agency over the shared fiction is not a pre-eminent consideration. Eg in Gygaxian dungeoneering, the goal of play is to beat the dungeon, not to express your character by throwing rocks. And so the whole point of play is to learn what is in the GM's notes (ie what the dungeon looks like, where the monsters are, what their treasures are) so you can beat the dungeon by getting the treasure and (often) killing the monsters. In that sort of game, player agency is not about shaping the shared ficiton in any general sense, but about being able to put together the information gained so as to be able to come up with winning plays. To work, it depends on strong play conventions (ie what winning consists in, namely, earning XP; conventions around dungeon design, such as that it is typically if not always feasible to pick the dungeon off room by room; etc).

I think that more contmporary play departs from those play conventions in various ways I've described in the OP and more recently just upthread. So I think the Gygaxian version of player agency probably has less relevance in much contemporary play.

There's clearly a style of play that is quite popular (a lot of people seem to like The Alexandrian on "node based design" and the "three clue rule", for instance) but that - as far as I can tell - involves very little player agency over the shared fiction. My inference from that is that player agency over the shared fiction is not high on a lot of RPGers priorities. They prefer to be told stuff by the GM (normally this is described as "exploration" and "clues") and then put it together to work out the solution (eg who was the murderer? where are the cultists going to hold their ritual? what is the cure that will wake the sleeping prince? where is the McGuffin hidden? etc).

My post not far upthread of this one elaborates on these ideas.
 

pemerton

Legend
if the players find their characters under suspicion, they are free to come up with creative options other than "someone goes to jail for this" - bribing or threatening witnesses, tampering with evidence, causing the police's case to fall apart.
Let's just focus on bribing witnesses.

I know of two main ways to resolve this.

One is: the GM has notes on the witness. (Either literal or notional, in his/her head.) When the players declare their PCs attempt to bribe the witness, the GM relies upon his/her notes to determine a likely response. Perhaps the GM sets a different price - "I'll lie for you, but only if you go and bring me the [XYZ]".

The other is: the GM has some generic rules for the difficulty of bribing people. The players establish their attempt to bribe the witness, and then a check is made. If it succeeds, the witness is bribed; if it fails, the GM decides the consequence - maybe the witness is outraged, maybe the witness asks for a higher price - "I'll lie for you, but only if you go and bring me the [XYZ]".

Classic Traveller is a variant on the second: first a reaction check is made, and a hostile reaction means that no bribery is possible. If the reaction is neutral or favourable, then the bribery check is made based on the difficulty set in accordance with the rules.

On the second approach, the GM is typically going to have to introduce some connecting backstory to help reconcile what is already established in the fiction and the outcome of the check - this can be anything from a cursory "Her eyes light up at your mention of money - she'll lie for you no worries!" to something more elaborate to give context and consequences to a failure (eg the NPC declaims her backstory about her parent who was an incorruptible official and was murdered for it, and that's why she won't take the PCs' dirty money).

I can see the player agency over the content of the shared ficiton in the second method: the players want there to be a bribable NPC, and on a successful check they get what they want.

I have more trouble seeing it in the first method: the players want there to be a bribable NPC, and the GM gets to decide whether or not there is one.

There's also scope to consider how the [XYZ] of the higher price is established - eg in Burning Wheel it would be obligatory for the referee to make that something that the will bring the player either into self-conflict or conflict with another player and that player's PC (so when one of the PCs in my game was dominated by a naga, the task set by the naga was to bring it the mage Joachim so that his blood might be spilled in sacrifice to the spirits; Joachim being the brother of another PC who was trying to save him from possession by a balrog). In some other games XYZ would be something decided by the GM in accordance with his/her priorities and views about the gameworld, rather than by following a player-established cue. That's also relevant to considering the degree of player agency.

EDIT: I've only discussed how a player might make it true, in the fiction, that his/her PC has successfully bribed a witness to lie for him/her. I haven't even got onto the issue of how this might factor into the likelihood of the PC being arrested or convicted.

If that is all resolved via method 1 above, then again I have trouble seeing much player agency.

The only edition of D&D I can think of that really has robust mechanics for resolving a trial is 4e (via the skill challenge rules). Bribing a witness would then be a particular action within the context of that challenge.

In AD&D you might try and resolve it using the reaction/loyalty rules (with the judge as the NPC whose reaction is being checked), with a successful bribing of a witness generating a favourable modifier (or at least the absence of a negative one for someone telling the judge that the PC is a bad person).
 
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pemerton

Legend
pemerton said:
It surprise me that you don't see this as Exhibit A in the case that the game is driven by the GM. All the action happened purely in the GM's imagination. The only agency exercised by the player was to force the GM to tell him-/herself a story!
Of course she did, and that's just my point - the DM has to follow the dominoes (if there are any; obviously there aren't always) in order to see if any of them are likely to impact the PCs later. In the example I gave the dominoes are certainly going to lead to the PCs hearing about the attempt on the Duke's life and possibly going to lead to complications for one or more PCs should the harlot place blame on them or (mistakenly) associate them with the conspirators.

This domino-following is one of the aspects of city adventuring that makes it harder to DM, or at least DM well, than contained-dungeon adventuring. Not all DMs are good at it; I know I'm often not.
Well, I know (from experience) that there are other ways to referee city adventuring that don't depend on the sort of GMing you describe here.

But in any event, I take it that you accept my point: that what you describe is an instance of a game driven by the GM. The content of the shared fiction is being determined by the GM telling herself a story. What the players are providing are some inputs that - from their point of view - are almost completely random (eg in your example, the players had no meaningful cognitive access to the fact that the scuffle in the street was part of a story the GM was telling herself about a plot against the Duke).
 

Emerikol

Villager
I think Pemerton that we are all arguing because we define agency differently. I agree 100% that player agency over the "shared fiction" or the "campaign setting" is low in my style of game. The player can choose to affect it though by making choices which really do impact the setting. In your bribe example above, I'd have defined the NPC well enough to make a fair roll on their chances to get what they want. It would be unsatisfying for someone like me to just say the guy accepts my bribe. The pc's though could at that moment choose to kill the guy and assuming they can it happens. The world changes. That guy is dead now.

I think dungeons while maybe not strictly Gygaxian as you claim (though I think your idea of Gygaxian dungeons is a bit of a strawman anyway) are still being played today in a skill based way. The group cooperatively tries to beat the dungeon. And I'm using dungeon here to represent any adventure the players choose to take up in the sandbox. I think though Gygax himself would say that if players leave the dungeon that they should not have an expectation that the dungeon is static and does not change as a result of their first foray. I also am not aware that it is a room by room game. I'm sure inexperienced players do all sorts of bad things but that is not a criticism of the style. My monsters are not dumb (unless of course they are in the world) and will rally to the sounds of battle and/or flee when they feel the situation is desperate.

In an attempt to be fair, I usually determine action plans for the monsters ahead of time to prevent me being influenced by how the game is going for the PC's. So if my action plans put the monsters in a bad way because the PC's are smart they are rewarded. I don't change the plan out from under their feet.
 

Emerikol

Villager
One other thought that is a bit off the track of the previous post. Our two styles seem so radically different that it's almost like claiming monopoly and squad leader are similar because they are both played on a board with pieces.

If we assume all styles where the players are having fun are valid styles, what are ways we can help identify games we like or don't like. I've gone to games where the DM didn't really have the sort of game I was looking for and in the end it was a waste of everyone's time.

How many styles do you think there are in gaming? I'd call the Pathfinder Adventure Path style something that is not like my style though the similarities of dungeon activities it might be closer than your style. I really do want my players to be able to do what they want within the sandbox. Adventure paths are too railroady to me. On the other hand your way is too much in another direction that is unsatisfying.
 

Emerikol

Villager
Well, I know (from experience) that there are other ways to referee city adventuring that don't depend on the sort of GMing you describe here.

But in any event, I take it that you accept my point: that what you describe is an instance of a game driven by the GM. The content of the shared fiction is being determined by the GM telling herself a story. What the players are providing are some inputs that - from their point of view - are almost completely random (eg in your example, the players had no meaningful cognitive access to the fact that the scuffle in the street was part of a story the GM was telling herself about a plot against the Duke).
Some might call this a living world. I have a calendar of significant events that are occuring in the sandbox. Those events keep on happening unless the PC's do something to turn over the cart. For my players that is verisimilitude. They want the feeling that the world is living around them and that they are living in it.

You use terms, and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you don't mean to be disparaging, that are disparaging. We see the job of DM as running the NPCs in the world. You don't I realize but it doesn't leave the players out. It sets the backdrop against which the players act. If someone assassinates the Duke as planned on my calendar, the PC's can follow up or not. I try to avoid railroading the PCs into the plot unless they want to dive in or are hopeless entangled in it already which usually means they are into it.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I don't think it is. I think Gygaxian dungeon crawling, though - of the sort that he talks about in his advice on Successful Adventuring in his PHB - is much less common (at least in proportionate terms) than it was c 1977.

Well, this thread started with the question "What is worldbuilding for (given that we're not doing Gygaxian dungeoneering)?"
World building isn't dungeon crawling, though. World building is building the entire world(or enough of it for an entire setting) as a backdrop for the PCs to adventure in. They get to explore it, interact with it, add to it within the framework of the world and game rules, and create a mutual story with the DM via those things. That's what world building is and is for.
 

MarkB

Hero
Let's just focus on bribing witnesses.

I know of two main ways to resolve this.

One is: the GM has notes on the witness. (Either literal or notional, in his/her head.) When the players declare their PCs attempt to bribe the witness, the GM relies upon his/her notes to determine a likely response. Perhaps the GM sets a different price - "I'll lie for you, but only if you go and bring me the [XYZ]".

The other is: the GM has some generic rules for the difficulty of bribing people. The players establish their attempt to bribe the witness, and then a check is made. If it succeeds, the witness is bribed; if it fails, the GM decides the consequence - maybe the witness is outraged, maybe the witness asks for a higher price - "I'll lie for you, but only if you go and bring me the [XYZ]".

Classic Traveller is a variant on the second: first a reaction check is made, and a hostile reaction means that no bribery is possible. If the reaction is neutral or favourable, then the bribery check is made based on the difficulty set in accordance with the rules.

On the second approach, the GM is typically going to have to introduce some connecting backstory to help reconcile what is already established in the fiction and the outcome of the check - this can be anything from a cursory "Her eyes light up at your mention of money - she'll lie for you no worries!" to something more elaborate to give context and consequences to a failure (eg the NPC declaims her backstory about her parent who was an incorruptible official and was murdered for it, and that's why she won't take the PCs' dirty money).

I can see the player agency over the content of the shared ficiton in the second method: the players want there to be a bribable NPC, and on a successful check they get what they want.

I have more trouble seeing it in the first method: the players want there to be a bribable NPC, and the GM gets to decide whether or not there is one.
What about the other option: That the character wants there to be a bribeable NPC, and the player, exploring the world from the viewpoint of the character, wants to find out whether there is one.

Finding out that there isn't may complicate the PCs' current situation, but it tells the players more about the setting, and further down the line they may find a good use for an NPC that's reliably incorruptible.

To me, playing a specific character rather than the world around them, finding out that the course of action that character is currently exploring turns out to be ineffective doesn't affect my agency. The only thing that affects my agency is being told that my character can't make the attempt.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think the notion of trust is a red herring.

What stands out to me in your post is you just do not want to play in a game where someone other than the dice decides what you can do. Now, in the context of RPGing, "someone other than the dice decides what you can do" means the GM tells you some fiction that s/he made up. And you are correct that, when I RPG, I don't want the GM just to tell me some fiction that s/he made up. But that has nothing to do with trust.

It's like when I go to the pictures, I don't want a stand-up comedian to come out to the front of the theatre and start telling jokes. If I wanted that, I'd buy tickets to a comedy show, not a movie. That's got nothing to do with trust, and everything to do with the desired leisure-time experience.

The notion of trust is particularly odd in a context where I am predominantly a GM. Are you suggesting I don't trust myself to tell my friend's entertaining stories, so that my preferred GMing style is a sign of self-doutbt? The more prosaic explanation is that "Hey, let's get together to do some RPGing" is not the same as "Hey, let's get together so I can tell you a story."

That's not to say that the GM is unimportant in my preferred approach. The GM manages the bulk of scene-framing and big chunks of consequence narration, plus is the default supplier of whatever generic backstory is needed to move things along. (Robin Law, in Hamlet's Hit Points, calls this "laying pipe" - I think the term is from screen writing. Christopher Kubasik, in his Interactive Tookit essays, called the GM the "Fifth Business" - a term from opera, I gather - because of the GM's role in facilitating the unfolding of the plot by managing all this stuff.)

But that's not the same as deciding what a player's PC can or can't do; which is to say, is not the same as deciding whether or not a players' desire about the content of the fiction gets to come true or not. That's what I see the rules as being for!
I get that preference, but you seem to couch your arguments from a position where the DM is uses secret knowledge and fiat in ways that benefit the DM's ideas over the players. When you couch your arguments like that, it's easy to assume that the crux of your problem is worrying that the DM will be unfair in his adjudication of your stated actions. That's where I was coming from with that.

As for you being the GM, that's not counterindicative at all of having trust issues about the GM being unfair.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Well, first, there's no use of secret backstory there - the GM has made a decision already about framing. That is to say, when the scene is framed - which in this case consists in, or at least overlaps with, placing the map down on the table, the players can see (from the map) that there's no couch. (Unless invisible furniture is a possiblity. I'm putting that to one side for ease of exposition.)
I disagree that there's no secret backstory. When that map hits the table, it resolves a number of things immediately that, prior to that, only the DM knew. If the player declares they open the door to see what's behind it, and you drop down that encounter map, that's secret backstory the DM is telling to the players because they prompted him to reveal it (to phrase it like you do).

If the player declares that their opening the door to the study (they're announcing they think it's a study, this isn't established yet) and that the door will open on the long axis of the room, but your map has the doors on the short axis... The reason this doesn't catch is because you have a blind spot to the kinds of prep that you feel are allowable because the system requires some pre-game prep, so it's not even noticed at the table -- it's how that is done. Encounter time gets encounter map. It's only when you're shifting to a different detail, one that might be prepped but can be played unprepped, that you're it catches your attention. But this is really a difference in degree -- the map of the study isn't really different than a "map" of the desk drawer in the study. It's only different in scale, not in kind. And, at a certain resolution, you stop accepting that prep is just prep and suddenly it becomes secret DM knowledge. I don't think you can actually define a line or even a real distinction as to what point prep crosses that line.

For further instance, you've previously denied that you engaged in prep in your Marvel game, despite prepping quite a bit. Maybe that prep was fast, but it doesn't change the impact on the game -- essentially you built an encounter map of Washington, DC, and then just moved around that map. And, yes, that was in the open, but as much as an encounter map is in the open once it's introduced into play (and encounter maps may still include many hidden things, like invisible or hiding foes, or traps, etc.).

Now, what's the context for the player wanting his/her PC to interact with a couch?

If the whole logic of the current trajectory of play is to find some particular couch (or any old couch), then authoring the map with out a couch is like stipulating that the map is in the breadbin and not in the study, and telling the players as much. The GM is saying (in effect), "OK, everyone, this scene does not have the big reveal."

That seems to me really to be a pacing decision. Whether it's a good one or a bad one depends entirely on context. And if a player looks around for clues to the couch - "There's an armchair on the map - is it of a style that is famous for coming in matching sets with couches?" - then previous considerations around the map apply. A GM who makes a deliberate decision to delay the big reveal, and then simply refuses to entertain action declarations that might generate momentum/foreshadowing etc seems to me - in the abstract - to be making poor calls. But it's not an instance of relying on secret backstory to adjudicate action declarations. Everyone can see the map on the table, and if there's no furniture on it well there's no furniture on it! (I think this point also responds to your discussion with [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION] and [MENTION=2656]Aenghus[/MENTION].)

If the player wants a couch for some more prosaic reason eg because, for whatever reason, s/he wants his/her PC to be able to gain elevation, or to take cover, then the situation is different. Burning Wheel (which doesn't use encounter maps in the D&D/miniatures style) favours "say 'yes'" to this - a player who wants an advantage die, and can set out a plausible context for one, is entitled to it. (There are other reasons in BW, to do with its advancement rules, that mean players don't always scrounge for every die they might be entitled to.)

Cortex+ Heroic makes this an issue of action resolution - the player is trying to establish a Couch For Me To Stand On asset, with the Doom Pool as opposition. If the GM has established that the room is sparsely furnished - eg by way of a Sparsely Furnished Room descriptor - then that can appear in the Doom Pool as part of the opposed roll.

In D&D I think the default approach is that this is up to the GM. D&D is (among other things) a game of resource management. If a player wants an advantage, the GM is entitled, I think - as a convention of D&D play - to say "Find it yourself out of the stuff on your PC sheet plus what I've already given you in my framing." Equally, a GM is entilted to be more generous - "Yes, there's a stool next to the bed that I didn't mark on the map - it will give you about 18" of extra height".

In OGL Conan, one of the resources on a PC sheet can be a fate point, which can be deployed to change the framing. This is direct player authorship which - to very loosely paraphrase the fate point rules - might be used to get some furniture to give you a height advantage, but can't be used to stipulate that the couch you are searching for is in the room.

And again to respond to your discussion with [MENTION=1282]darkbard[/MENTION] and [MENTION=2656]Aenghus[/MENTION] - none of the above involves relying on pre-authored backstory as a secret element of framing/fictional positioning that feeds into the adjudication of action resolutions. If the encounter map has no couch on it, that's not secret. If the player says (speaking as his/her PC) "I jump up onto the couch", the GM (assuming D&D or another RPG with similar rules and conventions) would be correct to say "But there is no couch." That sort of GMing - ie refusing a player suggestion/request for some minor advantage in the situation - may or may not be too viking-helmeted, depending on the particular group. But the GM is not relying on secret backstory. The player can see from the map that the encounter has been framed without couches present.
The map of the study is secret right up until a player action declaration introduces it by opening the door to the study. Similarly, the map not being present in the study is secret right up until it's introduced in response to a player declaration. You're claiming these are different things (and all of your discussion on couches is interesting, but avoids the point of the question with it's digressions into games that eschew such prep as encounter maps), but they aren't. It may be a matter of scale (degree) but not kind.

To whit, if it is okay to create a map of the study prior to play for the purpose of an encounter, and it is okay to determine that couches play no part in that map, then why is it different to do the same for a map?

Well, I set out a number of principles that I think are relevant - knowability within the scene, which includes salience, and impactfulness of the secret element. As I also said, context is everything when it comes to satisfying those principles, but I think the discussion of the map example with [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] and others helps show why there are many contexts for the map example where they would not be satisfied (especially the third, which is what triggered my digression to Gumshoe).
Let's address this. An invisible enemy can be knowable in the scene via clues or skill usage, and so can a map. An invisible enemy can be very salient. So can a map. An invisible enemy can be very impactful. So can a map.

These things you're saying may be different in context can be exactly the same as well. And yet, I'm absolutely certain that you're okay with an invisible enemy being in a fight as part of DM notes on the encounter, but you're not okay with a DM's notes discussing the existence of a map. I haven't yet seen you address this difference to any degree.

And that's important because the crux of the discussion is based on what secret notes do. For you, secret notes are good for encounter prep - and the secret is revealed when that encounter happens due to player declarations -- possibly in ways that surprise or disappoint the players. But they aren't good for things like a map being present in a specific room because a player asked after than map in that room. I still don't see a concrete difference between these two things. I understand a position where you want as much of the game as possible to revolve around player declarations and mechanical resolutions of the same, but you also allow this isn't feasible for everything in those games that do require preparation due to mechanical weightiness. So, you already are just fine with a spectrum of results, but still shy away from the far end. And that's perfectly fine -- understand I'm not trying to negate or refute your playstyle at all. I'm asking these questions because you seem to not see this spectrum but instead see a hard line where things become secret backstory and not to your liking. I'm hoping that you can actually define that, because, so far, your arguments about secret backstory really do seem vague and dissociated. Constantly referring to other games where prep isn't a thing to show how those games would handle a question that's based on a prepped map isn't really germane, though. I know there are games that work that way, and I didn't ask about those. I asked about how the amount of prep you're okay with differs in kind from the prep you seem to dislike. Referring to games without prep or that don't prep to the detail of an encounter map don't explore that question at all.

This is a bit puzzling.

All action declaration has to include some sort of outcome, either expressly or implicitly: I attack the orc (hoping to defeat it). I lookf for secret doors. Etc.

When the action declaration is nothing more than a request for the GM to provide more framing - "I look around the room - what do I see?" - then different games take different approaches. As I've said, that is fairly common in my 4e game ("I cast Object Reading while picking up the book - what do I see?") On the other hand, in BW it's borderline degenerate.

One reason for the difference is that BW is meant to be a harder-driving game than 4e. Another reason is that BW has mechanics in service of this - it has very few player-side fiat abilities, which means that there always needs to be some implicit consequence for failure, which means that there always have to be stakes, and a request simply for more GM exposition doesn't establish any stakes.
So, then, you're okay with action declarations that involve the DM telling more story, so long as the DM didn't write any of that story down beforehand? What if the question is an augury about the study, and your encounter map and notes indicate a dangerous encounter awaits there -- how do you not refer to your notes then?

Again, this seems to only be an issue if the player makes a declaration that is negated by the fictional positioning that is still secret from that player. But, even there, there are exceptions -- invisible or hiding opponents, auguries on prepped material, etc. -- that imply that there are some such things you're fine with but not others. I still don't understand where that line is for you. And it's a challenge to answer the question in the OP against the backdrop of unclear and vague definitions.

Yes.

This is completely routine in all RPGing.

The player (speaking as his/her PC) says "I want to kill the orc." Currently, it is established that the orc is alive, that the PC is in the vicinity of the orc, and that the PC has some means (eg a loaded crossbow) that is apt to kill the orc.

The GM says, "OK - make an attack roll". The player rolls to hit, rolls for damage, the GM deducts the damage number from the orc's hit point number, that latter number drops to zero or less, and the GM declares "OK, the orc's dead!

At the start of that resolution process, the fiction was live orc near PC. Now it's dead orc near PC. (Plus, perhaps, one less bolt in PC's quiver, if the game has ammo tracking. Maybe other stuff too.)

Or, the player (speaking as his/her PC) says "I want to ask around town, at the usual inns and stuff, if anyone has seen that bandit who ran off before we could capture her around the place." The GM calls for a Streetwise or Gather Information or similar check, and depending on the result narrates some stuff. At the start of that resolution process, the fiction was PC in town; town has inns and similar places where information might be obtained; a bandit escaped and may have come to town; people may have seen her and be willing to speak about it; those people might be at the inss and like places, or have spoken to people who are there and are willing to pass on what they heard. At the end of the resolution process, there may be something additional like Jake the farmer saw the bandit near his haystack, and told the innkeeper about it when he came into town to sell some eggs.

In a typical moment of D&D play, the parameters of the orc example are tighter than those of the rumour example. The framing fiction in the rumour example is much more implicit. But both are, at heart, the player using action resolution to change the state of the fiction: from live orc to dead orc; from ignorant PC to knowledgable PC.

Neither involves the player outright authoring the fiction (contrast the player, in writing PC backstory, talking about his PC's ruined tower, abandoned mace, etc - that's outright authorship): the player expresses a desire about the state of the fiction, and the action resolution rules then determine whether or not that desire becomes true. In conventional D&D play, I think the GM is expected to exercise a fairly strong mediating role in narrating the outcome even on a successful check (eg the GM probably decides whether or not the crossbow bolt shot the orc in the head or the chest). In BW, by contrast, the GM is permitted only to add embellishments (so if the player says, "I shoot the orc in the head", and the dice deliver a success, well that's what happened).

The player asking "Is the map in the study" and then - on a good roll - fiding it there is strictly analogous to the player "introducing" (by way of successful action resolution) that the orc is dead.
I think there's a hugely important difference: the orc is established in the scene, the map's presence in the scene is being introduced by the player. The orc is manipulated, the map is created.

Now, if it's controversial that RPGing should include players expressing desires as to the content of the fiction, which then become true if action resolution works out a certain way - well, we're back at what I talked about with [MENTION=59082]Mercurius[/MENTION], namely, player action declarations as, at best, suggestions to the GM as to possible narrations of furure states of the fiction.
I think this is so for all games that have a GM, and many that don't (like Fiasco). If the player asks for a map in the study and succeeds, that's a suggestion to the GM as to possible narrations -- either the DM says yes, that's exactly how it happens, or he narrates the success in a way that advances the scene. If the player's check fails, then that's back to the GM as a suggestion on how to narrate that: a flat failure, denying the player's intent, a middle ground where the map exists but there's a complication, or even to escalate the scene -- as you look for the map, a demon appears stating that you will never see that map because you will be dead! In that last, the map may still be found if the escalation is dealt with.

So, in all cases, as I understand it, all player action declarations are, at best, suggestions to the GM as to possible narrations of future states of the fiction.

Well, this takes me back to the two contrasting cases, both of Circles checks that I've seen occur in BW play:

(1) "Jabal the Red is leader of my cabal. I reach out to him to see if he can help us." That is direct authorship of fiction - the cabal is led by Jabal the Red. Then there is a statement of desire - the player wants the fiction to include Jabal helps the PC who has reached out to him.

(2) "I wonder if any knights of my order are living around here. As we travel, I keep an eye out for any signs of them." That is a statement of desire - the player wants the fiction to include As I travel through this area, I see signs of the presence of knights of my order. But there is no direct authorship of fiction.​

There are (at least) two sorts of no map yet established as existing or salient in the context of play example.

The first: the player says "There's a map. We're going to find it. Is it in the study?" That is like (1) just above. In D&D it would be highly atypical, I think. (Contrast Circles in BW, which expressly permits a player to specify that sort of stuff about friends and contacts, should s/he want to.)

The second: the player says "A map would really help us. Are there any maps in the study?" That is like my (2) above, or like the Streetwise rumour-gathering example a bit further above. RPG players are always hoping to find stuff for their PCs, that is, to change the state of the fiction in some desired fashion. It's no different in resolution structure from the orc example.

Well, I've been assuming the latter. Ie it's established that the PCs are hunting for the map. (Perhaps the map doesn't really exist - it's like the gold at the end of the rainbow - but at a minimum that hasn't been estabished yet, and the players have reason to think their PCs have some hope of finding it.)

But the examples of (2) above, and of gathering rumours, show thats it's not radically different that it has or hasn't been established. Just as in the rumour example the main thing is not that the GM has already said "There are rumours", but rather than it's implicit in the situation that there may be helpful rumours; so likewise in (2) above it's implicit in the situation that there may be knights of the order about (the adventure isn't happening on the 3rd layer of Carceri) and in the analogous map example, it's implicit in the situation that the study might have maps in it.

This is the difference from the possible existence of beam weaponry in the duke's toilet, which is not implicit in the situation.
The problem with implicit is that it differs between people's understanding of the situation. Basing your definition of 'okay declarations' as being implicit to the scene runs into the issue of being implicit to whom's interpretation of that scene.

And, this is a point for secret backstory -- if run fairly, it's not implied, it is or isn't. A map isn't implied in the study, it is or isn't in the study. This kind of framing doesn't require implicit understanding of what might be acceptable to do here. A good group can navigate this implicit landscape pretty well, but then a good group can navigate secret backstory pretty well. A game played well is player well and enjoyable, no matter the conventions in use by the players.

Here's one way: say "yes", which means (when they are hoping for no invisible person) assuring them taht there is no invisible person.
And if you misunderstood the player and the really did want there to be an invisible opponent (it's happened before in my games)? Given I actually intended the question to be a player asking for an invisible enemy to be present, this isn't conjecture to throw off your answer.

Here's another: invite a check, and if it is not very good say "None that you can see." This is standard GM taunting. In Cortex+ Heroic, th GM has to spend resources (ie Doom Pool dice) to introduce new elements into an alread-framed encounter/situation. Not so in 4e, and so that sort of taunting (ie leaving it open whether or not new elements are going to be introudced that are adverse to the PCs) I regard as legitimate. In more prosaic terms, it factors into resource management in the scope of an encounter (eg one of my players likes to try and hold back one big gun because he thinks I always have something else up my sleeve and he wants not to be caught short by it).
And, again, you respond with "this system over here that addresses this kind of thing does it this way". It's interesting that you answer questions from the point of view of whichever system provides you the most pat answer.

How would you do this in 4e, as that was the context of that question. It's even explicit in the portion you quoted.

Here's two more, one where the player didn't want to see something (but was going to be excited if he did), and one where he did want to:
Your first example is... well, to be blunt, it rings all kinds of alarm bells for me. It's a gotcha, to begin with, with you as DM describing a chasm and then prompting the players for action declarations for how they would cross it. While not directly declaring player actions for them, that's strongly leading into your hidden beholder. And that beholder was hidden, I'm assuming, because you did not describe it in the initial framing, and, in fact, only showed it as the players were declaring their prompted actions to cross the chasm. So, there's secret backstory being introduced to complicate player actions without their ability to detect or know about it. I thought that's what you've been saying isn't a good thing?

Secondly in that first encounter, it seems to me you perverted the intent of a successful check by a player. The player was suspicious that a stalagmite might be a roper and didn't want to be caught by it so took the time to see if they could determine if the stalagmite was a roper. They succeeded, and, in response, you added a roper. So, a player succeeds in a check to avoid danger, and you reward that by adding danger and then declaring this is good because you let the player see the newly added danger?! It would seem to me that adding a complication to a successful check is not what you're supposed to do. As a further aside, 4e encounter math wasn't very forgiving, so adding another threat of similar level to the party was a major change to that encounter, and not something I'd be comfortable doing even on a failed check, much less a successful one. This is one of the reasons games like D&D usually need encounter prep.

In the second example, how is the duergar not secret DM knowledge in that situation?

It's not about being able to show it to be a good thing. But you might say a sentence or two about why you find it good or fun, in RPGing, for the GM to trick you into thinking stuff was preauthored that really wasn't.
The better way to phrase that question would be to ask what people like about prep, not ask why prep is a good thing. Examples:

"Why is the existence of Burning Wheel a good thing?" vs "What is it you like about Burning Wheel?" There are implicit things in there.
 

innerdude

Adventurer
What about the other option: That the character wants there to be a bribeable NPC, and the player, exploring the world from the viewpoint of the character, wants to find out whether there is one.
@pemerton's point still stands, though---the character's ability to find out if there's a bribeable NPC solely depends on the GM's discretion regardless. If the GM decides before hand (i.e., pre-authors the situational backstory) that no bribery is possible, the only difference between the GM just saying outright, "No, there are no bribeable NPCs," and letting the players attempt to make umpteen bribe checks and responding, "Nope, none of the NPCs will respond to your bribe attempts," is that in the second instance, the players have wasted time, effort, and momentum in attempting to do something the GM knew wasn't possible to begin with.

Which is frankly worse, in my opinion, than just stating up front, "No, there are no bribeable NPCs."

The problem, of course, is that after so many times of the GM saying, "No, you can't do that, because worldbuilding continuity reasons," most players start to tune out. Truthfully I think @pemerton's location on the Secret Backstory-to-Worldbuilding continuum is way to the left of mine, but at this level of specificity I don't think he's wrong in saying that the pre-authored backstory is limiting player agency.

Now, from certain perspectives (I'm pretty sure [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION]'s would be one), there's nothing wrong with forcing the players to go through the exercise anyway, because it's just agreed as a group that there's something materially important about maintaining fictional continuity and fidelity, and forcing the characters (through the players' action declarations) to find that information out for themselves.

I personally have abandoned this perspective and found it to be entirely liberating as a GM.
 
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Lylandra

Explorer
The problem, of course, is that after so many times of the GM saying, "No, you can't do that, because worldbuilding continuity reasons," most players start to tune out. Truthfully I think @pemerton's location on the Secret Backstory-to-Worldbuilding continuum is way to the left of mine, but at this level of specificity I don't think he's wrong.
But this is only a problem if the players don't know enough about the world before investing in the campaign. For example, I could make a world where all the gods died and my campaign resolved around this premise. Now that'd be a problem for a player who just came with a devout divine-driven cleric character, because obviously there wouldn't be a direct source for his powers.

For myself, I would have close to zero interest in a campaign without a consequential, logical, living world. One-shots? Sure. But no campaign.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
@pemerton's point still stands, though---the character's ability to find out if there's a bribeable NPC solely depends on the GM's discretion regardless. If the GM decides before hand (i.e., pre-authors the situational backstory) that no bribery is possible, the only difference between the GM just saying outright, "No, there are no bribeable NPCs," and letting the players attempt to make umpteen bribe checks and responding, "Nope, none of the NPCs will respond to your bribe attempts," is that in the second instance, the players have wasted time, effort, and momentum in attempting to do something the GM knew wasn't possible to begin with.

Which is frankly worse, in my opinion, than just stating up front, "No, there are no bribeable NPCs."

The problem, of course, is that after so many times of the GM saying, "No, you can't do that, because worldbuilding continuity reasons," most players start to tune out. Truthfully I think @pemerton's location on the Secret Backstory-to-Worldbuilding continuum is way to the left of mine, but at this level of specificity I don't think he's wrong.
Definitely. I think that's an expectation divergence between the players and the GM, and that's a problem in any game. This example only works in secret backstory ganes, though, so there is that.

It does occur to me that the bribing officials in Traveller is a bit of a red herring. The fix is in there as well, because that rule is built in because there's a omnipresent corrupt bureaucracy that player characters will often have need to engage as part of play. So the bribing rule is only in that context against that much larger enforced setting and operates as a mechanical relief valve on that constraint. Fiat rules that deal with fiat setting restrictions aren't necessarily the best examples of things that increase agency. They preserve agency against setting constraints, but don't increase it.

I think the same about Blades' use of heat, as brought up by [MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION]. It's there not as an example of a rule that increases agency, but actually to limit it to make other setting and mechanical pressures relevant.
 

innerdude

Adventurer
. . . at a certain resolution, you stop accepting that prep is just prep and suddenly it becomes secret DM knowledge. I don't think you can actually define a line or even a real distinction as to what point prep crosses that line.
This is actually a fairly salient point. Even if you accept some of [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s postulates---and I'm not saying that anyone has to---as a GM, I'd still want to have some practical line of demarcation that tells me when I've strayed from simple "world building" into "hard-coded pre-authoring."

The only real thing I've come up with so far is a simple question:

Does absence of knowledge for this fictional element materially hinder players' ability to make rational, constructive choices for their characters?

If the answer to that question is ever "yes," that would be a solid indicator to me to strongly reconsider its place in the fiction, or to make the existence of that fictional element entirely mutable.
 

MarkB

Hero
@pemerton's point still stands, though---the character's ability to find out if there's a bribeable NPC solely depends on the GM's discretion regardless. If the GM decides before hand (i.e., pre-authors the situational backstory) that no bribery is possible, the only difference between the GM just saying outright, "No, there are no bribeable NPCs," and letting the players attempt to make umpteen bribe checks and responding, "Nope, none of the NPCs will respond to your bribe attempts," is that in the second instance, the players have wasted time, effort, and momentum in attempting to do something the GM knew wasn't possible to begin with.

Which is frankly worse, in my opinion, than just stating up front, "No, there are no bribeable NPCs."
I agree that playing it out if there's no possibility of success is pointless.

But my desired action was to find out whether there are any bribeable NPCs. If the DM immediately says "after some investigation, you find that there are no bribeable NPCs", then he hasn't denied my action - he's completed it, and left me with the information I was looking for.

Of course, if the DM lets me play out the enquiry and find out that it's a non-starter, but in the course of the attempt gives me the opportunity to pick up some leads and connections that grant me a better understanding of the situation and open up new options, that might be even better.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This is actually a fairly salient point. Even if you accept some of [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s postulates---and I'm not saying that anyone has to---as a GM, I'd still want to have some practical line of demarcation that tells me when I've strayed from simple "world building" into "hard-coded pre-authoring."

The only real thing I've come up with so far is a simple question:

Does absence of knowledge for this fictional element materially hinder players' ability to make rational, constructive choices for their characters?

If the answer to that question is ever "yes," that would be a solid indicator to me to strongly reconsider its place in the fiction, or to make the existence of that fictional element entirely mutable.
That's a touch hazy, though, as presence or absence of a map in the study doesn't necessarily impair the player's ability to make meaningful decisions about looking for it. Failure can be meaningful.

For example, I only engage mechanics if the outcome is both uncertain and there's a meaningful consequence of failure. That consequence can be as disengaged from the action as adding time to a wandering monster check or ritual to as direct as the trap going of in the PC's face. But I do also narrate automatic failure if a declaration doesn't work for the fictional positioning and my special secret notes. If that happens too often, though, I take a beat to consider what's causing the difference of expectation and adjust.
 

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