What is *worldbuilding* for?

pemerton

Legend
I think the proliferation of Marvel universe movies is a glimpse into this mindset---the de rigeur line of thinking that the players are going to be the earth-shatterers, the apocalypse-makers for their game worlds. They're going to be the ones holding the "Tri-Force" at the end of the game and deciding the fate of the world. And if the story doesn't manage to TAKE their characters into that "superhero" space, that the "story" behind the gameplay is a waste.

And truthfully, I don't know that any RPG is up to the task of making that kind of storyline possible without a tremendous amount of GM force in the background.
I'm not all that across the MCU, but if the idea is that the PCs become the world-shattering/saving heroes who hold the fateful artefact under their control - well, I think that 4e does this more-or-less out of the box.

(It'll take you more than 20 levels of play to get there, and the published modules won't help - you'll have to use the advice and the material published in the core books and supplements - but it'll do it!)

And for a game that let's you take this approach from the start (no zero-to-hero) there's Marvel Heroic RP - the Annihiliation Wars supplement was exactly this (if I've got you right).
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION], I agree with your comments about the gulf between what Gygax describes in those opening remarks, and the reality of play. I've often said the same thing in relation to the Foreword to Moldvay Basic.

I literally cannot, in my mode of play, internalize 'abuse' as a concept. It just doesn't make sense.
Ah, see, in our way of playing there's no 'advantage' for them to bend it to. RPGs don't have winners and losers. There's no points to be scored, no conflict between the participants in their roles at the table. The very notion that I'm 'giving up advantage' to the players doesn't exist in that model, its not like that. I mean, we CAN enter into something like that mode with say 4e's tactical play where I can as DM run a bunch of monsters and the rules are ALMOST completely objective (and I could spell out with terrain powers and such many of the grey areas). Then we could play a 'no holds barred' sort of tactical wargame-like combat scenario. There can even be some skill uses and whatnot that are handled using related rules (the combat uses of skills for instance) and 'page 42' also helps, though it does rely on some DM judgment.

I could even have a bit of a surprise for the players in terms of maybe an encounter is suddenly stronger than they expected or different in some way. That would probably in response to some expressed but not (by meta-game procedures we use) brought explicitly into play by a player. So, there CAN be a sort of 'secret'.
I can relate to all this very easily!

As far as "abuse" is concerned, I rely mostly on the game rules to handle that. Eg let's agree that a +5 sword at 1st level is abusive in D&D - well, the 4e rules (which is the version of D&D that I run campaigns in) preculde 1st level characters having +5 swores. Of course any table is free to depart from that, but presumably they know it won't be abusive.

Obviously a list-based game like 4e allows for highy optimised or even degenerate combos - we have no real trouble handling that through a mixture of player self-limiatation and gentelmen's agreements.

As far as the fiction is concerned, I'm not sure the concept of "abuse" really bites: if it fits the fictional positioning, and can be framed in terms of genre + rules, then let's do it and see what happens! It's not like we're going to run out of story - or, if we do, then we know the game's done.

Only to the extent that the players desire that. If they want a scene of glorious triumph for their characters, then they'll probably get that too.
This I relate to a bit less! I'm less inclined to "say 'yes"" to a glorious triumph - I'll at least make them roll!

So the players can author their own surprises?

Isn't that kind of like wrapping your own birthday present?
By 'abuse' (as in abuse of the play-style or system) I mean it'd be very open to players making things far too easy on their PCs and, in effect, Monty Hauling the campaign. Without meaningful opposition they could (and many IME probably would, given the chance) turn a high-risk high-reward game into a low-or-no-risk high-reward game; and providing this meaningful opposition and risk in the form of the game world and its occupants is in part what the DM is there for.
I can't speak for the details of how [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION]'s game works, but clearly it's not utterly different from mine.

In my own case, the players establish - with more or less detail, depending on the system, the player and the mood - what it is they care about in the game. (Eg one of our Traveller PCs is travelling the galaxy hoping to find signs of alien activity.)

It's the GM's job to feed that into the framing of scenes ("going where the action is"), which lets the player pursue it; and to have regard to it in the framing of consequences of failure. The only "Monty Hauling" here is that the player (subject to the fact that there are multiple players, and so that player's PC may not always be to the fore) has something of a guarantee that his/her thing will be an aspect of play most of the time.

The player of the invoker/wizard in my 4e game established, early on in the campaign as part of the narration of a resurrection episode, that his PC had been sent back into the world to find an artefact of great value to Erathis. As GM, I embellished this by having the original sceptre that he recovered turn out to be the first part of the Rod of Seven Parts. Later on, [urlo=http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?324018-Wizard-PC-dies-returns-as-Invoker]in another resurrection episode[/url], the player decided that his PC was really an immortal deva who had been reborn as a human for one of his lives.

When this PC was looking for the next (5th, I think) bit of the Rod of Seven Parts - - , and located it in a duergar stronghold, the players ultimately failed to save the stronghold (after brining Pazuzu's wrath to bear upon it). As a result, the Rod fragment ended up being eaten by a purple worm - the PCs were eventually able to extract it after some brutal surgery!

That's a fairly typical example of play in one of my games - I hope the general structural resemblance to the "looking for an alien artefact on sale in a market" Traveller episode that I've mentioned upthread is clear enough.

The action resolution difficulties are the same as they would be in any other relatively demanding upper paragon 4e game. But it's not a random encounter in pursuit of a McGuffin - the whole situation is framed around this key dramatic need of this PC. (And other aspects of the situation speak to other PCs and their players: eg the PC who opened the door to Pazuzu's problematic relationship with chaotic forces; the tiefling paladin who sees, in the failure of the duergar's devil worship, echoes of his own people's fall.)
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=6785785]hawkeyefan[/MENTION], what you describe doesn't sound wildly different from the Traveller ambergris episode I described upthread.

Where we may differ in approach (or not) is the following:

(1) Tthe extent to which the player-chosen backstory elements (eg ties to the Shades) provide the material for the challenges of play. The more this stuff is "going where the action is", the closer we are.

(2) The extent to which player concenrs (as evinced through PC motivations) have a thematic/value-type dimension to them rather than a purely utilitarian/efficiency aspect. The more of the former, the easier to force the players into choices where there is no optimal solution (as opposed to simply a cost-benefit calculation to be made). From what you posted, I didn't work out whether or not the PC has loyalty to the Shades.

(3) The method of resolution of the intrigue. That could be more like the "solve the GM's puzzle" or more like my own preferred approach of "frame a check, and then resolve it".
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Just pulling out a few bits here as it's late...
The second part, about 'riskiness', I dismiss out of hand. Risk doesn't exist in D&D.
Risk to the player? No. Risk to the PC? Most certainly yes.
You play a character, the GM determines what dangers exist. He can threaten, and indeed carry through on, killing any PC regardless of statistics, and he can do it without using any fiat simply by what he places in the challenges that the character faces. Risk is thus an illusion, or at least it is simply an agreement between the GM and the player as to what sort of game is being played at the table. Thus it is entirely orthogonal to what rules set is being used. If risk of character death (wagered on player skill and luck with the dice in most games) is an element of a particular scenario, then so it is. Even then DMs have traditionally (even 4e has Rule 0) absolute fiat power that ultimately decides life and death.
Keep in mind there's many risks to a PC other than just death. The presence or absence of these is ultimately up to the DM, but without any of them the game would soon get kinda dull.

I think in terms of (a) they took the mass of disfunctional 2e kits and supplements and rationalized it into a set of workable character options, which was good to some degree. On (b) I think there was a huge pent-up demand for a new set of core books, since 2e was over 10 years old at that point. 3e was thus a pretty good bet, they could have sold almost anything to people that hadn't had a new product in 5 years aside from a few things left over from TSR's pipeline. I'd note that, while 3e was pretty popular it doesn't seem to have ever reached the levels of 1e (nothing since has) and it quickly faded, so quickly that 4 years later they had to roll out 3.5e to keep selling books.
3e didn't get to 1e levels but it beat the tar out of what 2e's release managed.

And as for 3.5, yes they wanted to keep their sales up but I suspect we might never have seen it as a full sub-edition if 3.0 didn't have so many holes and broken bits in it.

I think 3e has its good points in a sense, but I'm not real convinced it was all that incredible a product. There are certainly plenty of grounds upon which to criticize the particular design choices it made.
Yeah, in hindsight this about sums up my view of it as well.

This might all be true if you assume that antagonism must involve different game participants taking each side. However, because the antagonism is at the CHARACTER level, the participants are free to make decisions about any or all sides in the conflict, THEY aren't on any side, inherently, because they aren't part of the narrative.
If they're playing their characters in character they're on the same side as their characters. The antagonism is at the character level but it's played out at the player level; and good players can keep their character antagonism separate from whatever they feel about the real people sitting with them.

You may hear [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] that way at times, but I think, at worst, he's just got strong preferences of his own.
True that; but it comes across as evangelising sometimes which will always get a strong pushback from here. I don't like evangelists, of any kind. :)

Anyway, not that we're fighting, this is a fun conversation,
Thanks! And, agreed. :)

Yeah, I meant 'grown up like weeds' more than 'as in more mature' in some fashion. I think we can safely say that playing ANY kind of RPG is often seen by the world as childish, lol. I actually think Gygaxian D&D is a very clever and surprisingly 'mature' game in terms of the evolution of its forms. Its restricted enough that it got there in a relatively short period of 5-6 years, but Gary himself was quite good at welding together game elements to do what he wanted. OD&D is messy, but once you mix in Greyhawk it is a pretty tight dungeon crawl game. The higher level/other elements are a bit 'out there', but it does dungeons really well. Heck, Mentzer is really just a distillation of that one part of OD&D.
I've never played true 0e D&D. I started with 1e and pretty much stayed there, other than a sojourn into 3e for a while.

Again though, I think this concern is only cogent in terms of a sort of Gygaxian-like type of game where treasure and advancement is the main goal and the GM's main function is to act as the opposition standing in the way of that goal. Once that paradigm is discarded, then the concern is no longer present. There may of course be OTHER concerns which are equally significant in say [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s game, which he's got to address in whatever ways you address those.
Even if advancement and treasure are irrelevant or nearly nonexistent a primary goal is still going to be one or more of [story completion, mission accomplishment, just getting the job done, mystery solved, villagers rescued, etc.] ; and something's got to get in the way of that goal to provide some opposition. And if that opposing "something" is being provided or authored by the players it'd be a simple thing for them to make it a little - or a lot - easier to overcome than it might have been had it been provided by a DM, as players aren't likely to want to put their characters at risk if they don't have to.

Lanefan
 

pemerton

Legend
Let me break it down for you.

The entirety of an RPG revolves around generating a shared fiction. That fiction is established in three ways:

  1. A player declares an action and/or rolls some dice, and the GM tells them some stuff they made up two days ago.
  2. A player declares an action and/or rolls some dice, and the GM tells them some stuff they made up on the spot.
  3. A player declares an action and/or rolls some dice, and the player tells the GM some stuff the player made up on the spot.

Personally, I don't see any functional difference between the three, while your contention seems to be that options 2 and 3 are acceptable, but option 1 is not.
Well, options (2) and (3) aren't really very good descriptions of how I prefer to play a RPG.

There are games that work like that - roll to assign narration rights, then narrate - but I've never played them, and I would think of them as borderline cases of RPGs.

Here is my preferred method - it is implicit in Eero Tuovinene's account of the "standard narrativistic model" and many RPGs use it in some form or other (eg Burning Wheel, Cortex+ Heroic, 4e skill challenges, HeroQuest revised):

Step (1): The GM frames a scene/situation - the material for this is drawn from established fiction (at the start of play, this will be PC backstory/motivation plus general thematic/genre elements of the game);

Step (2): The player declares an action for his/her PC that bears upon the framed scene/situation - if the GM has done his/her job properly at (1), the scene/situation will provoke the player to a choice;

Step (3a): If the GM doesn't want to apply further pressure (eg because the player has already relented; or because there's no other direction for things that seems salient) then the GM says "yes" and the player's action declaration succeeds;

Step (3b): Otherwise, the GM frames a check in accordance with the system rules, and the player rolls the dice;

Step (4): If the player succeeds on the check, the player's intention for the action declaration is achieved (ie the fictional situation unfolds as the PC hoped things would); otherwise the GM narrates consequences that are adverse to the PC, having regard to what was at stake in the framing, the intention of the action declaration, etc;

Step (5): return to step (1) - the processes above mean that the newly framed situation should continue to speak to the players and provoke action declarations for their PCs.​

The main "risk" in this sort of game is that the GM narration (at (1), or at (4) in the event of failure) will fail to engage the players and provoke them to declare actions for their PCs. If that happens, the situation falls flat and the game loses momentum. In practice, if this happens I feed more elements into the framing trying to get the fire re-lit. It doesn't happen all that often.

The difference from your (2) and (3) is that you make no reference to framing or action declarations in your account of those approaches - they really are presented by you as dicing for narration rights.

What do I think the functional differences are?

Here's one, between (i) your (2) and (3) and (ii) my preferred method: As I already said, I personally see dicing for narration rights as a borderline case of RPGing, because it's far less clear in what sense the player is playing his/her PC. Whereas in the method that I prefer, the player is clearly and unequivocally playing his/her PC, making action delcarations that engage with the situation that has been framed by the GM.

Here's another, between your (i) and both (ii) your (2) and (3) and (iii) my preferred method: method (1) means that the shared fiction is a story told by the GM, already written. (2) and (3) mean that the shared fiction is something narrated on the spur of the moment, in a shared storytelling enterprise among friends. My preferred method means that the shared fiction is also established on the spur of the moment, but not as shared storytelling but rather by resolving action declarations that are driven by the way a scene framed by one participant grabs the (imagined, and "inhabited") motivations of the "avatar" or vehicle of another participant.

My method pyshes towards an ideal that, at every moment of play, the shared fiction that is being established speaks to what the participants in the game have, together, established as the stakes of the unfolding story. Initially it is the players who contribute more of that, but as the GM frames in relation to it, and narrates consequences, the shared fiction takes on elements that the players didn't anticipate, and they find themselves having to confront - in their play of their PCs - challenges to their values/concerns/goals that they didn't anticipate arising.

In my Traveller game, the player of a PC decided that that PC was travelling the galaxy to find evidence of alien life and civilisation. I'm the one, as GM, who presented his first hint, in play, of alien life as being on a planet that also happens to be the home of a source virus for a bioweapons program that other PCs are concerned about. It's the players, in turn, who decided to look for artefacts of alien origin at the tourist market on the world. And in the course of that, it was I who introduced the information that the artefact they found had been sold by the local bishopric to raise funds (and it was the random world generation that had established that the world is a religious dictatorship, and hence has significant bishoprics). Etc.

I don't play shared storytelling/narration games, so I can't say that what I've described is better than them. But I certainly think it's a fun thing. The player only has to play his/her PC, not worry about the big picture. And as long as the GM keeps framing scenes that speak to the PC's motivation/dramatic needs, story will happen without anyone having to take charge of authoring it. The contributions of fictional elements according to the distinct roles I've described in steps (1) to (4) above - the GM providing framing; the players providing starting material and action declarations; the GM providing consequences for failure - generate a story, and - relevant to this thread - a shared world, with no one having to take charge of it.

I wouldn't want to play in any game wherein only one of the above options was utilized - each of the three are best in different situations.
Well, as I've said I prefer to play in a RPG where none of them is utilised.

Folks are interpreting your opinions as "pejorative", because you say things like "the GM reading stuff from his/her notes is a significant goal of play". As if we all sat down around the table for a GM to read us a story.
What do you think (1) involves? It involves the GM reading stuff from his/her notes.

When some posters - the "folks" you refer to (although you have since dissacotiated yourself from some posters whom I would have taken to be among them, eg [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION], so I'm not 100% sure who you mean by that term) - talk about the players exploring the gameworld, what can that mean except that the players declare actions for their PCs which trigger the GM to read more stuff from his/her notes?

In a CoC-style mystery scenario, getting the GM to read you bits of his/her notes is the whole point of play: get the clue from here, find the tome there, find the cultists' ritual headquaters, etc. This is all about learning what is in the GM's notes.

It's not (or need not be) the GM reading a story: the sequence may not correspond to any particular pre-planned sequence, and there may not be any particular structure of rising action, complication, climax, etc.

You also continually use examples of bad GMing to make your point that option 1 is a bad thing.
Well, I make do with the examples I have. I don't believe that you've posted any actual play examples. (If you have, and I've missed them, I apologise - can you point me back to them?)

The example of the map came (I think) from [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] - at least, it has been established in lengthy back-and-forth with him.

The example of the plot on the Duke came from [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION].

The example of the attempt to find bribeable officials came from [MENTION=40176]MarkB[/MENTION].

Are you saying that these are all examples of bad GMing? So what does good GMing look like, in this context? What is a good use of secretly-established fictional positioning being used by a GM to establish that a player's action declaration fails, without regard to the action resolution mechanics?

A good GM will not send his players on a wild goose chase through the mansion for a map macguffin.
So what would the pre-authorship be used for?

Even the fiction that I've "pre-authored" can be impacted (or changed entirely if the situation calls for it) at any time by the players' actions - they are the heroes after all.
Can you give an example of what you mean? For instance - and I am going to give an example I am familiar with, as I don't have much to go on from your game - I have a PC in my 4e game whose goal is to reconstruct the Rod of Seven Parts. He got the first part at the start of 2nd level. The campaign is now 30th level and he and his friends are in a fight that will determine whether or not they get the 7th part; he will then have to decide whether or not he tries to assemble the whole Rod (some of his friends may object to that).

My main device for having him find the Rod has been to periodically narrate scenes in which the Rod, in its current state, feels the presence nearby of the next part. (At least one part - the second, I think - he obtained when refugees from his homeland gave him custody of the city's mayoral sceptre.) The period has been established roughly on the basis of the 4e treasure parcel system, which is to say about once every five levels (the Rod is also the character's main implement, stepping up +1 with each segment - it is the only +7 implement in the published rules as far as I'm aware).

In the fiction, the challenge of assembling the Rod includes finding its parts - the PC (we imagine) is frequently communing with the Rod to see if it can detect the next part. But at the table, that has not been a challenge at all. From the point of view of play, the challenge has been (i) what is the player (as his/her PC) prepared to risk or sacrifice in individual situations to acquire and reconstruct the Rod (eg the hunt for the Rod brought destruction down upon the PCs' duergar allies), and (ii) what consequences of assembling and wielding the Rod is he prepared to endure (eg he finds himself led into arrangements with devils that he would prefer to avoid). (This is also relevant to the discussion with [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION] and [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION] about "abuse", Monty Haul, etc - the issue of Monty Haul simply doesn't come up, as locating and acquiring the Rod is not the focus of play - it's focused on the cost and meaning of this.)

How have you handled stuff like this in your RPGing?
 
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darkbard

Explorer
Well, options (2) and (3) aren't really very good descriptions of how I prefer to play a RPG.

<snip>

How have you handled stuff like this in your RPGing?
XPs not only because I agree with what you write here but because you continue to take the time to spell out clearly, carefully, and respectfully your analysis of gameplay.
 

pemerton

Legend
XPs not only because I agree with what you write here but because you continue to take the time to spell out clearly, carefully, and respectfully your analysis of gameplay.
Thanks.

A recurrent idea in this thread has been an equation of play that does not depend upon GM pre-authored backstory with play that gives players fiat narration rights. I know that there are RPGs that do the latter - OGL Conan is one that I've mentioned already upthread, and I was looking through my copy of the Fate Core rulebook today and saw that it also has this.

But none of the games that I GM campaigns for has such a mechanic: in Cortex+ Heroic and BW everything requires a check (unless the GM "says 'yes'" - which is hardly player fiat), and in 4e there can be player fiat in combat (eg Come and Get It) but the closest that it comes in skill challenges is use of a Daily power or ritual, and that's still mediated through GM adjudication of the fictional positioning. (It almost goes without saying that Traveller has no overt player fiat narration, given it's 1977 - the closest it gets is the idea that the players work with the referee to help make sense of random world generation results.)

The undue focus on player narration rights then makes it very easy to equate player agency as I've been characterising it with not playing my PC but doing something else. This is why I am keen to keep coming back to the example of the map: if the player action declaration is "I search the study for the map we need" then the player is not doing anything but playing his/her PC. And it is the result of that action declaration, not any "director stance" exercise of some fiat narration power, that determines success or failure. That is - to spell it out even more - the player doesn't need the power to say the map is in the study; s/he just needs the power to say (as his/her PC) I look for the map in the study - and then the rules need to allow that a success on that attempt really counts as a success.

I know there are other posters in this thread who are more enthusiastic than I am about full-fledged player narration rights (eg [MENTION=82106]AbdulAlhazred[/MENTION] has them in his 4e hack, I believe; and [MENTION=99817]chaochou[/MENTION] thinks that I worry too much about the "Czege Principle" - ie that players framing their own challenges can lead to play that fizzles or is a bit insipid). And I'm sure that if I played Fate or some other game that includes them I'd be able to handle it fine.

But what I'm keen to point out, in the post just upthread and again in this one, is that player narration rights is pretty orthogonal to player agency and GM pre-authorship of setting. Because action resolution - success and things are as the PC hoped for; fail and they're adverse to the PC - can do the job instead.
 
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darkbard

Explorer
But what I'm keen to point out, in the post just upthread and again in this one, is that player narration rights is pretty orthogonal to player agency and GM pre-authorship of setting. Because action resolution - success and things are as the PC hoped for; fail and they're adverse to the PC - can do the job instead.
Right. And this is why I'm relatively stunned that you continue to receive strong (at times, even vicious) pushback for (1) advocating for action resolution in this function and (2) providing/inviting additional analysis of how action resolution can serve this function.
[MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] has already praised you for your patience in the face of this pushback (and received some harsh criticism himself in the process), but I too think you continue to engage these threads with admirable equanimity despite some posters continuing to assert that you should not approach the game with the principles you do (if you want to call what you do RPGing or playing D&D, etc.) or even that you cannot logically play the game this way, even with the reams of evidence you provide from your own games proving contrary.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
[MENTION=6785785]hawkeyefan[/MENTION], what you describe doesn't sound wildly different from the Traveller ambergris episode I described upthread.

Where we may differ in approach (or not) is the following:

(1) Tthe extent to which the player-chosen backstory elements (eg ties to the Shades) provide the material for the challenges of play. The more this stuff is "going where the action is", the closer we are.
At this point in the campaign, I had four players. Two had detailed histories for their PCs, one had a fair amount, and the fourth was a loose sketch being detailed as we went along (the fighter and ex-mercenary I mentioned earlier). Considering the amount of material I had to draw upon from what they offered, I was reasonably sure I could engage them regardless of which trade route they chose.

So the way I see it, the players were actively looking to expand their business. So any pursuit of establishing a new trade route would be going where the action is. The fact that I could use their established history to add to events, or to complicate events is preferable to me and my way of DMing.

(2) The extent to which player concenrs (as evinced through PC motivations) have a thematic/value-type dimension to them rather than a purely utilitarian/efficiency aspect. The more of the former, the easier to force the players into choices where there is no optimal solution (as opposed to simply a cost-benefit calculation to be made). From what you posted, I didn't work out whether or not the PC has loyalty to the Shades.
The desires of the PCs (and by extension the intent of the players) is very much the focus in our game. And I do like to put hard choices before them, where there’s no easy answer. I feel that’s an element of traditional storytelling that transfers well to an RPG.

So to expand...the PC with ties to the Shades...they were a bit conflicted. The Shades were responsible for the death of her family, but there was also a Shade who spared her as a child and took her in and helped her learn how to use her powers (she’s a Diviner Wizard). So she very much disliked the Empire of Shade and was angry at the idea of having to cooperate with them, but she did care for her mentor.

This created complications for the PCs because the mentor was embroiled in the intrigue that came up. A coulle of different factions within the Shade Empire were vying for dominance, and this possible trade agreement could give one faction an edge.

So I authored a lot of the internal situation involving the Shades, which I think would fall into your description of GM driven backstory or secret backstory. However, I set it up as a dynamic situation into which the PCs stroll. How it all played out was entirely up to them and what they tried to do, and the results of the rolls for any associated checks.


(3) The method of resolution of the intrigue. That could be more like the "solve the GM's puzzle" or more like my own preferred approach of "frame a check, and then resolve it".
I don’t know what you would call it based on my description above. I don’t think it is simply a case of “solving the GMs puzzle” because that implies a predetermined success condition that I did not establish, openly nor secretly. So skill/ability checks and their resolution seems closer to what I’m describing. But I don’t know that I handled that exactly as you would have as far as the checks themselves and their results. I used a good deal of judgment to decide what the results of a check would mean in the fiction.
 

Nytmare

Villager

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I'm unaware of any such text in the 1e PHB, and I can almost quote the darned thing. Beyond that, getting 2 15's out of 6 rolls of 3d6 is actually fairly unusual. You'd have to allow at least 6 or more rerolls for most players to manage that. Nobody in my experience was doing that, although the DMG methods considerably change the odds. 1 in 3 characters using method II will have 2 15s. Method III will AVERAGE 3 15s, and Method IV should produce roughly 2 sets of stats with 2 15s. I'm not sure about method 1 exactly, I don't have dice calculator I feel like playing with to get that one, but IME 2 15s using Method I is similar to Method II. Note that not all these methods let you pick WHICH stats the 15s will be in, assuming you get them. Method III was widely considered too generous, but nice for rolling up higher level PCs (which tend to be the ones with better stats if you played them out).

Again though, no hint of this exists in PHB. I think its safe to say that the DMG tells us Gygax WAS aware of the problem, and was interested in giving players something more like what they wanted. Truthfully ability scores in OD&D pre-Greyhawk were of marginal mechanical use anyway, so he probably just didn't think it was an issue back then. It was only with the advent of Greyhawk and then the codification of stat bonuses into 1e along with the 'advanced' classes that the issue really became acute. DMG helps relieve it some, but paladins were still RARE IME.
If you think no hint exists and are unaware of any such text, you need to read page 9 under Character Abilities. Unless you think Gygax was a complete ass was taunting people by giving them 3d6 and then saying, it's usually essential to have two 15's or higher BUT HAHAHHAHA!!! YOU'RE STUCK LOSERS!, then his saying that was a statement to the DMs implying that they allow players to re-roll until they got two 15's or higher. He himself was quoted saying that he ran his own games that way, coming up with alternative methods and allowing re-rolls in order for players to have sufficient stats to have a chance to survive.

Look, I played from 1975 until the end of 2e classic D&D. In the early 1e days I was in a gaming club that had 300+ members. We played D&D sometimes continuously for a week at a time with rotating DMs even. I saw plenty of it. Characters were nothing. They died left, right, center, up, down, and all around. If you made 6th level that was rare. There were some 'easy' DMs of course, but mostly nobody even bothered to name a character at level 1, or just called it by some generic name, or maybe it was a new guy and he named his character, which we thought was funny. Usually after a session or so the character's got some kind of nickname or whatever. That's just how it was back then. Maybe where you played everyone was gung-ho to RP every character fully and the DMs let them all live, I dunno.
I played from 1983 to the end of 2e and barely saw it. Since we had two very different experiences, this cannot be a game issue, or we both would have experienced the "inevitable". Rather, this is purely a player thing. Some players will act that way and others won't.
 
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RedShirtNo5.1

Villager
The undue focus on player narration rights then makes it very easy to equate player agency as I've been characterising it with not playing my PC but doing something else. This is why I am keen to keep coming back to the example of the map: if the player action declaration is "I search the study for the map we need" then the player is not doing anything but playing his/her PC. And it is the result of that action declaration, not any "director stance" exercise of some fiat narration power, that determines success or failure. That is - to spell it out even more - the player doesn't need the power to say the map is in the study; s/he just needs the power to say (as his/her PC) I look for the map in the study - and then the rules need to allow that a success on that attempt really counts as a success.
Pemerton, let me see if I can rephrase this. Unless the results are constrained by pre-existing shared fictional positioning, the results of action declaration statements by the players should be determined by a rule set that permits success (and presumably failure) and not constrained by the GM's notes. Would you say that's accurate?

Edit - "Should" indicating your preference, not some categorical statement.
 
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Emerikol

Villager
I agree with 2 and 3. Metagame controls aren't that important to me: Burning Wheel, 4e and Cortex+ Heroic all have the to a modest degree (but less than, say, OGL Conan); Classic Traveller and Rolemaster have them not at all.

This relates to your 1, 2 and 3.

2 and 3 are both (in my view) true.

1 is not true. When I play an RPG I want to play my character and control my character's actions. Being able to shape the world as I play in it is not a big deal. What is a big deal is that the outcomes of my character's actions aren't settled by the GM's pre-authored setting.

Upthread I described this second category as ones in which the PC is learning about the world rather than changing it. If these correlate to actions in which the player learns about the GM's authorship decisions rather than contributes, via action declaration and resolution, to the unfolding shared fiction then I find that unsatisfying both as GM and as player.
I think my #1 was an attempt to describe your words above. Since it's to a degree something hard for me to understand, I admit I am struggling to make it understandable to someone like myself.

Assuming there is some item that is necessary to completing a mission (something not inconceivable as a real challenge if such a fantasy world existed), that item is part of the world. The player characters have a variety of choices. Find the item, go back and seek other adventure, find another way to solve the mission. Admitted in some instances #3 is not easy or is perhaps impossible in some DM's campaigns. I tend to dislike single solution dungeons personally.

This is a style of dungeon though more than a style of play. You could run in my style and never create such a dungeon. So objecting to that style of challenge is perhaps a dungeon taste more than an overarching campaign style choice. I've rarely seen the case though where every single adventure is one of these sorts. Perhaps I just haven't seen enough. I'd consider a DM who made such adventures exclusively to be a poor DM for sure.

What I meant by "controlling" the fiction as a player character though is the ability to add to the campaign setting on the fly and as long as it doesn't dispute what is already known by the party it can stand. Perhaps with some limits agreed to ahead of time on the flavor of campaign you are running. I get the feeling that you want at least some of this ability.
 

Emerikol

Villager
I was responding to the assertion that 1e, specifically, is a game where you play your chosen hero and have heroic type adventures (which I would characterize as having at least some elements which correspond with other genre where characters are considered 'heroes', which could be Super Hero Comics, Classic Mythology, Arthurian Legend, Classic Fantasy, Modern Fantasy, etc.).
.
I think the 1e D&D approach was about becoming heroes. I never bought into the premise that 1st level or even 5th level characters where great heroes. Maybe at 5th they are local heroes like a countywide football star.

If you look at modules 7th level and above in 1e, most of them were the stuff of heroes. If you look at lower level modules, they were not. So D&D was about becoming a hero. I think that was one of it's greatest appeals. The idea of growing in power over time. In fact I consider it the fundamental conceit that put D&D on the map as a generational phenomena.

My only point though really was to dispute that the elements in discussion could not lead to a heroic game. And it seems we agree on that. So enough said.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
I openly disagreed with Lanefan about the game being “the DM’s game”.

As I said when I first jumped into this thread, I was a little hesitant to do so because usually it becomes two camps. But I am very much in the middle on this.

So it’s tough when someone mentally places me on one “side” of the debate and then decides I share the opinion of others on that side, despite not having expressed those opinions.

So, while I understand that sometimes boiling things down to sides can be convenient, it limits nuance.
Few thoughts on this:

1) I'm really not looking to establish "who is in the general consensus of those 7 points", "who agrees with a few, who disagrees with others", "who actually agrees with all 9 points." The only reason that this became an issue at all is because it somehow became contentious while the same few users who were declaring it contentious were actually agreeing with it in their other posts (and one was challenging my integrity in even outlining "the worldbuilding ethos" - which again, was almost entirely aggregation and not extrapolation on my end - in the course of that odd exchange)!

But none of that is interesting. Its obfuscatory and derails interesting conversation about the discussed subjects. You can have two people agree with the Anthropgenic Global Warming Hypothesis (say agreement on radiative heat transfer and forcing related to the properties of carbon molecules, and general agreement on positive feedbacks) while they disagree on finer points of the hypothesis (such as net albedo and the total dynamics of ocean heat uptake/transfer). But bogging down conversation with THERE IS NO CONSENSUS detracts from fine analysis on the dynamics/fundamentals of the system is neither helpful nor interesting. It just gives us biographical facts about various users (which isn't very interesting in a technical discussion).

I mean, @pemerton and I definitely have some nuanced disagreements on our play (he mentioned The Czege Principle above) such as the viability of proliferate player-authored kickers (scene-openers/framing) in the course of play. And that is fine. But we have never bothered to dispute our overlap and general consensus on GMing (even when its come up in conversations on these boards with folks "putting us into the same broad box"). It just doesn't matter that we don't agree completely on The Czege Principle or certain versions of Success With Complications. Maybe if we started a thread to focus precisely on those nuanced disagreements it might...but I suspect the involved users and total interest would be sparse on these boards (therefore we don't), whereas something like "Fail Forward" or "how setting generation impacts play (this thread)" would get a lot more action.

2) With that out of the way, how about something interesting to talk about! @chaochou and @Lanefan had an exchange about either a play excerpt or a hypothetical one above. It involved questions of:

(a) setting generation
(b) initial situation generation and related framing
(c) offscreen-part moving/move-making by the GM
(d) information (or lacktherof) and player decision-points/action declarations
(e) the evolution of the gamestate from the initial state to subsequent states.

Now this is extremely relevant to this conversation, so I took that play excerpt (or hypothetical one) and rendered it into a Dungeon World format to contrast the differences with respect to a-e above. Do you have any thoughts on this? I'll grab both and sblock them below:

[sblock]
Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
Let me try an example.

There's skullduggery going on all over the city. The place is rife with rumours and plots and spies and gossip, and into all this prance the innocent naive low-level PCs looking to spend the spoils of their first real adventure. They take a room at an inn, and go out for a night on the town. At some point things go a bit sideways - there's some yelling and pushing and screaming and the party mage ends up having to discreetly charm a local harlot in order to calm the situation down; the charm works, well, like a charm. The mage now has a new friend, adventurers-plus-new-friend go about their merry evening, and a good time is had by all. The adventurers, including the mage, pass out around sunrise whereupon the harlot wanders off.

Player side: mage charms harlot who at his invitation joins mage and friends for a night of partying before slipping away a bit after sunrise. String pulled, result obtained.

DM side: harlot is actually an agent (who, depending on developments, the party may or may not have met later in this capacity) working for the local Duke. She realized the yelling and pushing was a distraction intended to mask something else, and joined the fray in order to get herself into the scene so she could try to determine what was being masked by the distraction. She managed to notice two men sneaking into an alley that she knew led to a hidden access to the Duke's manor house, just before being charmed by the mage and taken along for a night of revels. She didn't report this - in fact, she failed to report at all - and thus the two sneaks get where they're going and none the wiser. Meanwhile other agents who really can't be spared are sent out to search for the missing one, who none too sober comes in on her own not long after sunrise. String pulled, dominoes fall.

Ramifications: next morning word gets out of an attempt on the Duke's life during the night by two unknown men.
I really don't understand what such a DM needs players for. They may as well DM for themselves.

What this reveals, probably inadvertently, is completely self-indulgent GMing. It's purely for the GMs entertainment. You admit the PCs know nothing about what's happening. And will probably never know. And if they do 'find out' all they are ever, ever going to 'find out' is what the GM had pre-decided had happened. I get more agency reading a book.

And then you add in a new layer of GM force. The mage may get arrested for treason. And if he does the players get the joys of unravelling the GMs smugly convoluted plot to clear his name.

Was this supposed to be an example of 'player agency'? Is this the GM in 'full on react mode'? I'm genuinely confused by what this example is supposed to demonstrate. But what it actually reveals is quite telling - players as powerless stooges and pawns being exploited to help spice up a GMs solo game.
So lets re-iterate this play excerpt using Dungeon World and the difference should be noticeable.

There's skullduggery going on all over the city. The place is rife with rumours and plots and spies and gossip, and into all this prance the innocent naive low-level PCs looking to spend the spoils of their first real adventure.
Ok, this might be a setup for a DW game with 3 PCs; Dashing Hero (A Lover in Every Port, Daring Devil, Plan of Action), Barbarian (Mortal Pleasures and Fame and Glory appetites), Wizard (Mystical Puppet Strings, Charm Person spell).

Skulduggery City wouldn't be a place that the GM fleshed out stem to stern before play. This may be a place that was put on the map by a player prior to play and the only bit that we know about it (and have written out) is that its a den of scoundrels from the government, to the nobles, to the watch, to the clergy, to the layfolk. That, coupled with the PC build flags is plenty to work with to come up with interesting, dangerous situations on the spot and let things snowball from there.

They take a room at an inn, and go out for a night on the town. At some point things go a bit sideways - there's some yelling and pushing and screaming
So they've entered the town. That triggers the Dashing Hero's move:

A Lover In Every Port (CHA) When you enter a town that you’ve been to before (your call), roll +CHA. On a 10+, there’s an old flame of yours who is willing to assist you somehow. On a 7-9, they’re willing to help you, for a price. On a miss, your romantic misadventures make life more complicated for the party.
Looks like a 6- and the harlot is the romantic misadventure. I would make up some story about a hooker without a heart of gold in this city to reveal an unwelcome truth. I may ask the player to fill in the blanks about what went wrong or I may make something up myself. So my current complication is the only chance they have to avoid her wrath is by sticking to this real den of horrors ward of the city. She's so well-connected that she'll hear he is in town, but she might steer clear of that place (but, of course, it amps up the danger).

Alright, so it sounds like they have Coin to spend (on hirelings/henchman, lodgings, finery, gear, prestige). So if they do indeed go to the den of horrors ward, then I make up an appropriate inn and clientele for that setting, give it an appropriate name (maybe Rock Bottom), an appropriate staff and layabouts/rabblerousers/troublemakers. The players pay their Coin and are making the Recover move and the Carouse move:

Recover
When you do nothing but rest in comfort and safety after a day of rest you recover all your HP. After three days of rest you remove one debility of your choice. If you’re under the care of a healer (magical or otherwise) you heal a debility for every two days of rest instead.

Carouse
When you return triumphant and throw a big party, spend 100 coins and roll +1 for every extra 100 coins spent. ✴On a 10+, choose 3. ✴On a 7–9, choose 1. ✴On a miss, you still choose one, but things get really out of hand (the GM will say how).

You befriend a useful NPC.
You hear rumors of an opportunity.
You gain useful information.
You are not entangled, ensorcelled, or tricked.

You can only carouse when you return triumphant. That’s what draws the crowd of revelers to surround adventurers as they celebrate their latest haul. If you don’t proclaim your success or your failure, then who would want to party with you anyway?
Sounds like a 6- on Carouse!. Players mark xp, they get one thing they want and then I make things get out of hand.

and the party mage ends up having to discreetly charm a local harlot in order to calm the situation down; the charm works, well, like a charm. The mage now has a new friend, adventurers-plus-new-friend go about their merry evening, and a good time is had by all. The adventurers, including the mage, pass out around sunrise whereupon the harlot wanders off.

Player side: mage charms harlot who at his invitation joins mage and friends for a night of partying before slipping away a bit after sunrise. String pulled, result obtained.

DM side: harlot is actually an agent (who, depending on developments, the party may or may not have met later in this capacity) working for the local Duke. She realized the yelling and pushing was a distraction intended to mask something else, and joined the fray in order to get herself into the scene so she could try to determine what was being masked by the distraction. She managed to notice two men sneaking into an alley that she knew led to a hidden access to the Duke's manor house, just before being charmed by the mage and taken along for a night of revels. She didn't report this - in fact, she failed to report at all - and thus the two sneaks get where they're going and none the wiser. Meanwhile other agents who really can't be spared are sent out to search for the missing one, who none too sober comes in on her own not long after sunrise. String pulled, dominoes fall.

Ramifications: next morning word gets out of an attempt on the Duke's life during the night by two unknown men.
This doesn't tell me much of anything about what may have happened in terms of how the content was introduced/procedurally generated. From the above, it looks like a lot of GM Force and offscreen piece-moving that in no way interacted with player knowledge or reasonably informed decision-points.

Here is something of consequence. If the players picked "you are not entangled, ensorcelled, or tricked" I would be breaking the rules to have this harlot be a double agent. So clearly, they didn't choose that in this situation. Lets say they chose to "gain useful information." Perhaps that useful generation was about a secret entrance in the alley to the Duke's manor house. Now this Duke must have been a relevant feature of play beforehand for this to be "useful information" for the players. Perhaps this Duke's manor house actually has his distillery where he makes spirits of which the formula was stolen from the Barbarian's people. And its time for some revenge!

So they get their info, but I get to introduce a major complication with a Hard move (given the 6-). So as the evening picks up, of course in comes the harlot with a temper a mile wide and a band of ruffians to beat the tar out of the Dashing Hero PC. Everyone is excited about the prospect of a fight (heck, maybe some rabblerousers fall in line behind her crew!) and its mayhem.

Looks like its time for our Wizard to make use of their Mystical Puppet Strings (folks charmed don't recall what you had them do and bear you no ill will) and Charm Person spell:

Cast a Spell (Int)
When you release a spell you’ve prepared, roll+Int.

✴ On a 10+, the spell is successfully cast and you do not forget the spell—you may cast it again later.

✴ On a 7-9, the spell is cast, but choose one:

You draw unwelcome attention or put yourself in a spot. The GM will tell you how.
The spell disturbs the fabric of reality as it is cast—take -1 ongoing to cast a spell until the next time you Prepare Spells.
After it is cast, the spell is forgotten. You cannot cast the spell again until you prepare spells.
Note that maintaining spells with ongoing effects will sometimes cause a penalty to your roll to cast a spell.
So obviously a 7-9 and the player chose to draw unwelcome attention or put themselves in a spot.

So now I go with the double agent complication. Right before she gets charmed, she nods to a pair of shadowy figures at the door who quickly slip away into the night. This would be conveyed to the PCs. It would also be conveyed that they have a good headstart and there is a boisterous crowd that is just getting quelled (the harlot is quelling them at the Wizards command I guess...maybe she is table dancing or something)...taking the harlot away may turn a potential powderkeg into a blow-up (they would have to Defy Danger Charisma). So I guess they stay put rather than pursue.

So the Barbarian and the Dashing Hero break into the manor house to smash the whiskey and steal back the formula. In the course of it, they get a 6- on a result of some appropriate move and end up leaving some incriminating information at the scene that points directly to them. They only realize it the next morning when something identifying that should be on their person is missing...or torn fine silks that match the Dashing Heroes cape/longcoat (whatever)!

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So that is how Dungeon World's play agenda/GMing ethos/action resolution and no real setting prep of any consequence/hidden backstory/offscreen moving parts by fiat can bring this situation to life. You don't have to deploy Force, you don't have to adjudicate action resolution by way of extrapolation of unknowable offscreen/unintroduced content. Stuff can just happen and you can fill in the necessary setting blanks as you go to give the players interesting decision points and thematic complications...and players can have all the necessary control over their archetypal portfolio and their decision-tree and inhabit their character's perspective and push their interests.

And GMs can play to find out what happens.[/sblock]
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
The undue focus on player narration rights then makes it very easy to equate player agency as I've been characterising it with not playing my PC but doing something else. This is why I am keen to keep coming back to the example of the map: if the player action declaration is "I search the study for the map we need" then the player is not doing anything but playing his/her PC. And it is the result of that action declaration, not any "director stance" exercise of some fiat narration power, that determines success or failure. That is - to spell it out even more - the player doesn't need the power to say the map is in the study; s/he just needs the power to say (as his/her PC) I look for the map in the study - and then the rules need to allow that a success on that attempt really counts as a success.
I think the reason this keeps coming up is due to the example itself. I admit to not recalling if there were more details when this example was first put forth, but whenever it has been brought up since, it’s boiled down to “the PCs need a map, a player searches the stoudy for the needed map, the presence of the map is determined by the success or failure of the relevant check.”

So finding the map had been positioned as a goal, and the player’s skill check determines whether the goal is achieved.

To me, the example seems too simple to really tell us much. What’s the point of making the map hidden unless a search for it can result? And should a search for the map, if intended to be a goal involving any kind f challenge, be resolved with one check? If finding the map is a goal of the party, then allowing a skill check to determine its presence does imply that the player can control obstacle resolution through action declaration.

If the character’s stated goal is to find the presence of alien life, then does he simply ask to search for signs of alien life every time he enters a room? Or are there other parameters at play not addressed in the map example?

I’d like to offer another example that perhaps will help.

A character has fallen from a cliff. This may be diring the course of battle, or it may be due to some mishap while exploring. At this point, the character’s goal is to not die.

So the player indicates that they’d like to make a check or a saving throw or whatever relevant roll the game mechanics call for the PC to avoid falling to his doom.

Would a classic GM driven game simply say “the cliff face is sheer and there is nothing to grab....you die”? Meaning the GM had determined this prior and consults his notes and that’s that? I would not expect most games to play out that way. Only the most extreme version of such a style.

I would expect that the result of the check would determine the fiction, so that a successful check indicates the presence of a root that the character manages to grab. I’d kind of expect this approach in either tyle of game. Or at least in most games using eother style.

To me, this seems a better example of a player attempting to introduce an element to the fiction through action declaration.
 
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hawkeyefan

Explorer
[MENTION=6696971]Manbearcat[/MENTION] I think your translation of Lanefan’s example to a DW framework and how it would play out there is interesting. I’m actually impressed that you could make such a direct correlation.

But I don’t know if it helps with the OP question all that much. All it says is that the results determined by Approach A can also be achieved using Approach B.

My goal in this conversation is to advocate for creative use of Secret Backstory tagged as “worldbuilding” by Permetton in the OP. Tome, the presence of such material does not necessarily prevent the GM from playing to find out.

To me, Secret Backstory is clearly usefulfor a few reasons:
- to help establish the scope of play via setting
- to help establish long term thematic elements
- to help guide the course of play when the players have not shown a desire or ability to do so

I think in the course of this comversation that Agency has been conflated with Engagement. And I don’t think that should be te case. Players can be very much engaged by any style of game, even the purest of railroads. To look atanother medium, moviegoers are passive, but movies can of course be engaging.

I think the differences between writing a novel and reading a novel are pretty apropros to the discussion. Yet I don’t think most games must correlate to one or the other, or that thise who enjoy one cannot enjoy the other.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
I think the lesson here is that you're able to describe, distill, clarify a discipline if you are a card-carrying member (and even use language that can only be described as extreme), but if you're not, then bad feelings and you're wrong.
Well, this does tend to be the default assumption whenever people feel some kind of tribal lines are being drawn. Two Eagles fans can commiserate about shared Nick Foles concerns; they're not going to accept that same critique from a Patriots fan. :)
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
- to help guide the course of play when the players have not shown a desire or ability to do so
To my mind, this is the most salient point. Player-driven play is hard, certainly much harder than a GM-driven adventure path, unless you have a group where the majority of your players are skilled and motivated role-players. (Having a critical mass of skilled, motivated players tends to motivate the others to be more creative, I've observed.)

If your group has been brought up in a tradition of ambivalently adversarial exploration focused play, player-driven play is going to seem downright alien.
 

Arilyn

Adventurer
I'm sitting moderately in the middle of things. I appreciate pemerton's style and his, and others' posts, are giving me tips on how to manage that style of game better. The idea that this style of play leads to players narrating their way out of trouble and getting what they want is obviously not true. Nobody would play that way. It seems like the nay sayers should at least give it a whirl.

On the other hand, I am not throwing away traditional GMing. If I have a cool idea for a ghost story that requires hidden back story to make the story hang together properly, I'm going to do it.

What's really becoming a pet peeve is the accusations of railroading being flung about like confetti, as well as meta-gaming. Next time my players are going to be on a train, and will be encouraged to meta-game to their heart's' content!
 

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