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D&D General Why defend railroading?

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Sure, most is probably an overstatement. Though even a non-railroad can be a railroad in the hook. For example you can have a dungeon adventure that is pure exploration but the hook is presented in a way where it pushes the players to get in the adventure itself (I don't think railroad is just about structure, it is also about the GM insisting the adventure he or she has in mind will occur, and pushing the players back 'on track'). But like I said it also boils down to execution. Though I was thinking more about modules that have paths or events. Even there I think sometimes the railroadiness is a product of how the medium needs to be structured and packaged. I've had plenty of modules that offer up an overview of likely course of events, and it is easy to read that, and think these events are supposed to happen in this order, in this way, and it is the GMs job to make sure they do so. But if you examine the text more closely it is obvious this is just one way, the most likely way, that the adventure could play out, but the GM is expected to be flexible land adapt more to choices the players make.

Speaking of hook railroads, I think there are also certain types of adventures where you almost have to have some railroad to get to them. Or at least where I think the buy in makes it justifiable. This is possibly where I would defend railroad as okay as long as the players know and are buying into it. When I run monster of the week campaigns, this is how I tend to do things. There is an adventure. The players will go to the Temple of the Phoenix Spirit, or they will end up facing the werewolf of Moondale; but once there the structure is very non-railroad. Once the adventure starts, they can approach it however they want, I usually don't have a set list of things that have to happen in any particular order, and they can engage or disengage as much as they want (running away and escaping with their lives is a perfectly fine ending to the adventure). You could argue this isn't railroad because the players are buying in (but the structure does mean they are being railroaded into each adventure effectively).
This is the one area I've seen where you and I disagree. So long as the players have a choice, an encouraged hook isn't a railroad. There has to be no choice or invalidated choice(like the quantum ogre) for there to be a railroad. I've seen players turn down a tempting hook a number of times. That's not a railroad.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think we have some difference of interpretation here. I mean, first of all, I do state that the results must comport with the agenda and principles of the GM. I think we are taking it as a given that the scene exists for SOME reason that is related to something the PCs are attempting to do. Its possible the GM designed the existence of a clue as part of a Front, but most likely it is related to something the players said, or the PCs did. The GM could certainly present the veracity of the clue as being in doubt, either as a simple observation at the time (probably more likely PCs questioning it) or later as a move of some sort. However, that would only be cool in my book if they had not already 'won' it by some successful roll.

Again, I believe this is potentially, depending on certain details, a perfectly feasible example of a 'soft move', though I don't seem to have explicated that well.

Hard, soft, you can debate endlessly exactly what is what in that dimension. The GM doesn't have 'secret fiction', but the GM DOES HAVE "things aren't established until they are established in fiction." So, no, the GM wouldn't literally write down at the time of clue discovery "This clue is false!" (probably, I guess its possible if there were immediate consequences, then it is a move). It isn't OBLIGATED to be accurate though either. When it first appears it is simply the appearance of a thing. In the same way you could introduce an illusory terrain feature.

I think we'll just have to differ a little bit on our interpretations of things. I don't think you are 'wrong', but I think the game allows for a bit more range of things than you're suggesting. Again, I said "might turn out to be inaccurate information", that isn't "this is an outright lie on the face of it." I think there's a subtle point here WRT DR. The rules say "The answers you get are always honest ones." but think about that. You DR the room, and ask "What is useful here?" and the answer is "A letter from the Trade Guild to the Duke." That doesn't mean the letter's contents are truth! It means they are useful (they will provide a +1 forward when acted upon).
I'm not certain you can elucidate what range I'm suggesting. Your response hasn't provided any counter to any of my points that lands. You've managed to insert an argument about the line between soft and hard moves, but that has nothing to do with my points at all, so it's mostly beating a straw-stuffed man. And your argument about the GM maintaining things vaguely isn't very good either. Specifically on this, your example of the letter is poor because it presents something that isn't being established in the fiction, and that's not how that's supposed to work. If you find a letter from the Trade Guild via Discern Realities option 'something useful' then it is useful in the fiction -- it's not a generic +1 asset, but instead a specific bit of useful information or detail that the player can then frame into their future actions. You shouldn't leave it as a generic +1 on future rolls, because that is not beginning and ending with the fiction. You're stepping outside the principles of play to create generic assets, which is not at all the intent of play -- nothing is generic in play.
 

Campbell

Legend
This is the one area I've seen where you and I disagree. So long as the players have a choice, an encouraged hook isn't a railroad. There has to be no choice or invalidated choice(like the quantum ogre) for there to be a railroad. I've seen players turn down a tempting hook a number of times. That's not a railroad.

If there is significant social pressure (either from the GM or the other players) to go along with the provided hooks I'm not sure if it's railroading, but it feels close enough for government work to me. That might or might not be a bad thing depending on your perspective. One of the things that really gets undersold from my perspective is the role other players have in creating an environment where you can often feel pressured to go along to get along or may themselves be engaging in a form of railroading via social imperative.
 

pemerton

Legend
I've not GMed DW, only played it a little bit. But I think it's fair game for a letter discovered via Discern Realities to be useful and yet turn out to be a forgery.

Somewhat parallel: in the BW game where I play Thurgon, while investigating Evard's Tower I (as Thurgon) discovered various letters apparently written by my mother to Evard when she was a child, and apparently addressing Evard as "Papa".

The context for this was that (i) my PC build includes a relationship with my mother (Xanthippe), (ii) my backstory notes that Xanthippe still lives on our ancestral estate (Auxol) which the family still manages but which has fallen into darkness, and (iii) one of my Beliefs at the time was Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more! (In subsequent play, Thurgon has returned to Auxol, through prayer has lifted the weariness and resignation from Xanthippe's shoulders (think Gandalf and Theoden), and now instead has the Belief that Xanthippe and I will liberate Auxol.)

Now it's definitely true that those letters existed (they no longer exist, because I (Thurgon) threw them into the campfire). But I am hoping that they might turn out to be false - to have been forged, or perhaps have some other explanation that doesn't entail that the demon-summoner Evard is my maternal grandfather. One straightforward path to that outcome would be a successful check on Letters-wise, but that would be at a pretty high obstacle given the specificity of the knowledge, and so I can't see Thurgon achieving that any time soon. But more realistic for Thurgon, given where his talents lie, would be a revelation of the truth via a prayer to the Lord of Battle.

Now I know that DW and BW aren't the same system, but I think there is enough overlap that it should be possible, in DW play, for the letter to turn out to be false, if that's the way things play out.
 

pemerton

Legend
If there is significant social pressure (either from the GM or the other players) to go along with the provided hooks I'm not sure if it's railroading, but it feels close enough for government work to me.
Adding to this - for me at least, and I'm going to guess for you also, we can draw meaningful distinctions between different bits of content, in terms of how they speak to us and how they sit in the "social pressure" dynamics.

When I think of a "hook", I think of the classic module starting point, where I as a player am expected to pick up on a bit of action or a clue that the GM presents that has no relevance to my character as I am conceiving of him/her except because I as a player know that if my character doesn't pay attention to this then there will be no game. For me, what is most marked about this content is that I have no internal or character-grounded reason to care about it.

And the same is likely to be true as we go along the adventure.

I'll contrast that with the episode of play that I mentioned just upthread, involving the letters in Evard's Tower. Now someone might want to say well, those letters are a hook too! But for me, at least, the difference goes pretty deep:

* The reason the action is even taking place in Evard's Tower is because I, playing Thurgon's sorcerer sidekick Aramina, who has a Belief about finding spellbooks, declared Isn't Evard's Tower nearby here? and then succeeded on the Great Masters-wise check. That was me - as per the instructions to BW players in the rulebook - deliberately seizing control of the fiction to push it in a direction that I wanted it to go in.

* I can't even recall now whether finding the letters was a success or a failure on Scavenging (all I can see is the record of making a Beginner's Luck Scavenging test marked on the appropriate part of my PC sheet). But the reason the GM narrated the existence of letters indicating a connection between Xanthippe (Thurgon's mother) and Thurgon is because I, Thurgon's player, put Xanthippe and her fate and the broader fate of Thurgon's family and ancestral estate front-and-centre (via the Relationship with Xanthippe; an Affiliation with the family; and the Belief about the future of the estate).

* Even the fact that there was a campfire to burn the letters in flowed from an Instinct that I wrote for Thurgon When camping, always ensure that the campfire is burning.​

The social pressure is flowing from me as player to the GM. mediated by the game rules and principles, to make all that stuff that I am the author of front-and-centre in play. It's completely different from turning up, spotting the GM's hook, and going along with it because that's today's adventure.

This is also why I am puzzled by @EzekielRaiden's suggestion that a GM who frames scenes and introduces new content in this sort of way is railroading. To me, as a player, it feels the exact opposite.
 

Campbell

Legend
@pemerton

I think there's a phenomenal difference between the expectation that we will all honor and engage with the material another player brings to the table and the sort of specific expectations that most hooks bring of a particular orientation towards the fiction or in the case of another player specific expectations of that characters' concept or story arc than something like scene framing or Burning Wheel beliefs that require engagement, but do not stipulate how you have to engage.

In our Vampire game right now the threat of a Giovanni plans to unravel the Camarilla's power base in Amsterdam are hanging over us like the Sword of Democles, but we all have a personal stake and the way we choose to engage with it is entirely up to us. My character is currently doing all he can to unravel that plan (although he might take advantage of the opportunity to clear some pieces off the board as well), but the other characters are positioning themselves in different ways. It's expected that we are going to engage with the scenario, but how we choose to engage (including the allies and enemies we choose to make) is largely up to us.

This is phenomenally different from something like an adventure path where my methods may be up to me, but my objectives are all decided by the scenario or GM.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
As best I can tell from what you've posted, your player contributions consist in suggesting setting elements which then get incorporated by you into your prep. I don't see you talking about how player preferences shape processes of action resolution or inform your scene framing.

As I posted upthread, the player of the sorcerer PC in my first BW game had established, as one of his PC's Beliefs, that I will find the magic items I need to free my brother Joachim from possession by a Balrog (I'm paraphrasing from memory, but it was very much to that effect).

So now I have the following two options in front of me:

I can start the campaign in a tavern, and write up (in my prep notes) various NPCs who might know the way to find various magic items, so that if the player declares the right actions for his PC, he might trigger me to play those NPCs in such a way that the relevant backstory is communicated, so that eventually he is in a position to declare actions for his PC which might result in his PC acquiring an angel feather.

Or I can do what I actually did, which is to start the campaign in a bazaar, where a peddler is selling curiosities of various sorts, and claims to have an angel feather for sale.

You are asserting that the second is a railroad and the former is not. I see the situation as exactly the opposite

So, here's a thing that a GM of more traditional games will trip over, and that maybe will make things clear: The player setting their Beliefs in this example is part of play.

In traditional games, that Belief would sit in the character background, which would be considered, at best, as part of a separate character generation minigame/activity that is over and done with when the players sit at the table and start action resolution. The GM in a traditional game is not expected to engage with that right out of the block - that's a campaign-goal, to be addressed in the very long run, not a call to action for the first moment of the first session of play.

Similarly, the GM of traditional games will trip over that much "action resolution" is - in fact, it is kind of a misnomer in some games, because the in-narrative action isn't actually what is getting resolved. The narrative question is getting resolved.

The points where, say, someone is looking for a clue, and the player says their intent is to find evidence that Duke Badguy was behind recent events, that is what is happening in the narrative. What is often happening in the mechanics is determining if, in fact, Duke Badguy was behind it all. In "no myth" play, the mechanics resolve the PCs question by authoring the fact, rather than by testing the character's modeled technical ability to pick locks.

It is this very thing that brings many folks to consider these more "storytelling games" than "role-playing games". Because, when what you are resolving is a question of narrative direction, rather than character action, it doesn't feel to them like playing a role. Their role is, say, a thief, not a person who molds the universe by asking whodunnit.
 

I'm not certain you can elucidate what range I'm suggesting. Your response hasn't provided any counter to any of my points that lands. You've managed to insert an argument about the line between soft and hard moves, but that has nothing to do with my points at all, so it's mostly beating a straw-stuffed man. And your argument about the GM maintaining things vaguely isn't very good either. Specifically on this, your example of the letter is poor because it presents something that isn't being established in the fiction, and that's not how that's supposed to work. If you find a letter from the Trade Guild via Discern Realities option 'something useful' then it is useful in the fiction -- it's not a generic +1 asset, but instead a specific bit of useful information or detail that the player can then frame into their future actions. You shouldn't leave it as a generic +1 on future rolls, because that is not beginning and ending with the fiction. You're stepping outside the principles of play to create generic assets, which is not at all the intent of play -- nothing is generic in play.
Sure, I didn't delve into the fiction side of that, but there's no reason why the fiction must pin down the veracity of the content of the letter, is there? I mean, it will, eventually, as we PLAY TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS, right? lol.

I mean, surely you aren't implying that nothing can ever be surprising to the players in a DW game? I will agree with you that DW is not a game where the GM is allowed to build some sort of clever railroad around interpreting every DR check in the way I described. OTOH things can turn out various ways.
 

pemerton

Legend
In our Vampire game right now the threat of a Giovanni plans to unravel the Camarilla's power base in Amsterdam are hanging over us like the Sword of Democles, but we all have a personal stake and the way we choose to engage with it is entirely up to us. My character is currently doing all he can to unravel that plan (although he might take advantage of the opportunity to clear some pieces off the board as well), but the other characters are positioning themselves in different ways. It's expected that we are going to engage with the scenario, but how we choose to engage (including the allies and enemies we choose to make) is largely up to us.
Are you able to say anything about how the GM handles the different PC motivations and actions - including eg separation in space and hence participation in different scenes? Or being in the same scene but pursuing different goals?

I think this is an aspect of GM technique that would benefit from more consideration. And I think a lack of methods for handling it is part of what makes GMs feel they have to railroad in order to keep the game manageable.
 

Campbell

Legend
Are you able to say anything about how the GM handles the different PC motivations and actions - including eg separation in space and hence participation in different scenes? Or being in the same scene but pursuing different goals?

I think this is an aspect of GM technique that would benefit from more consideration. And I think a lack of methods for handling it is part of what makes GMs feel they have to railroad in order to keep the game manageable.

Sure. Our game is primarily a social crawl so access to particular NPCs can be important for achieving our personal objectives. Each PC has personal connections that would be much more difficult to access without the cooperation of another player character. The deck is also mostly stacked against us so we often need allies. Even friendly NPCs are likely to ask for significant concessions so it's helpful to maintain those connections. There's a social currency called boons in setting and the rules that carries a lot of weight. We often end up owing each other quite a bit.

One thing that has really helped is there is an additional XP reward for bringing in the other characters to your personal objectives.

Another that I think has really helped is that Vitae/Blood can be somewhat hard to get and can make it harder to maintain control as it gets low so having other vampires to depend on when you are in rough shape is a definite plus. The risk of losing control often helps keep us together.

We also have a shared place that it is assumed we all travel back to on a regular basis to kibitz and talk shop/plans. So when things get a bit too spread out we often meet back up.

More than anything though we keep a meta channel open where we discuss plans and might say stuff like "Let's handle X tonight and Y next session." We're also really good at being fans of each other's characters. There are times when one character may have the narrative spotlight for up to 20 minutes. Sometimes I get so caught up in other characters' scenes I will ask the GM to wait on my character's scenes.

Quick programming note : the version we are playing is custom and takes a lot of mechanical inspiration from Blades in the Dark, Sorcerer and Chronicles of Darkness. A lot of the GMing techniques are drawn from Sorcerer and Blades in the Dark.
 

Al'Kelhar

Adventurer
Why defend railroading?

Because the arrival of a technology enabling the movement of large numbers of people, and more importantly, vast amounts of cargo, overland, safely and efficiently, heralded the most dramatic increase in trade since the invention of the sail, and it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that it built the modern world?

Oh, wait...
 

@pemerton Given some of the things you've just said, I'm going to describe one final thing. If this fails to pass muster, I give up; the thread is already elevating my heart rate as it is, and anything further will be wasted effort.

One of my former players played a Wizard, part of the Waziri mage order (the collegiate wizards I invented during the first group's session 0, who also run many libraries, museums, and non-magic schools in the city). Said Wizard, upon returning from a particular mission, came back to his apartment (something the player invented) to pay a big fat sum for his future rent to his landlady (whom the player invented), and check back in with his grad student (who was the price negotiated by a spontaneously-invented Waziri bureaucrat meddling in the party's affairs, but ended up being a really nice person, in response to player investigation of her backstory, which I did not prepare in advance). In inventing the grad-student off the cuff, I'd said her area of focus was golemancy, which was considered reasonably close to the PC's graduate work (incantations) for him to act as her mentor. While there, I asked if there were any goals he wanted to fulfill, because he didn't really have much to do while the others were checking up with their friends/loved ones/etc. or investigating troubling information they'd learned on their last adventure (the ad-libbed result of a failed Discern Realities roll). Player thought for a moment, then said he wanted to build a golem.

I hadn't considered the first thing about golem construction or usage, so I started asking more questions. Did he want a special-purpose one, or something programmable, or perhaps modular? (He requested more time to think, focusing on getting the basics first.) What materials did he want to use? (Wood--something that could have magic woven into it to repair itself.) Based on these answers, and based on the fact that the Waziri are notorious for having fairly specialized libraries (part of my original-group Session 0 ideas), I said he knew he could find information on the subject by visiting a particular library, the name of which I apparently forgot to write down but which I'm certain I invented on the spot. (He could also consult his grad student and have her assist him with its creation.) At the library, he met with an old woman working as the receptionist and research assistant for this particular library. She directed him to a book, printed on bark-like paper and bound in wood, written by the late, eccentric Abdelmajid al-Buzidi on the creation of golems from natural materials.

After I waxed a little poetic on various woods and their applications (coincidentally something I happen to know a little about IRL), the player settled on fine acacia wood, which grows naturally in the region where they live. (The climate is heavily inspired by Morocco, and thus prior adventures had established the existence of acacia trees, wild and cultivated citrus trees, and cork forests in various places within the region.) The player then spent some money to acquire the wood from the markets, and began cooperating with his grad student to get it shaped into a golem. At other points when the party visited the city, I further delved into how the golem construction was going, either just asking questions and letting the player decide the current status of the thing, within what I hoped were reasonable limits, or requesting a Spout Lore, Defy Danger, or other roll as needed to resolve ambiguous situations one way or another.

This is far from the only time I have done things like this. This is just a relatively neat, minimal-context example that doesn't require explaining seven different adventures and multiple ways the players directly created, or by their requests directly inspired, multiple real, enduring, incredibly important parts of the game world we play in. I've invented many parts of this game, but it absolutely, positively could not exist as it does without dozens if not hundreds of ideas contributed directly by my players, with little more than a, "Ooh, I like that" or "wow, that sounds awesome!" from me.

Sadly, this particular story also never reached a solid conclusion, as the player left the game before that could happen (disengaging from all social activity online, actually--even with family members). But several other things, such as the Bard learning from the Druid how to shapeshift into small animals (sparrows, lizards, fish, etc.), the Druid collecting interesting stones or materials for his "charm bracelet," or some of the other things I've already mentioned (the Ranger and his extended family/clan, the Battlemaster and him engaging with both current and historical traditions of martial scholarship), all arose purely out of players expressing, through the words of their characters, things they thought were interesting or worth pursuing, and which I supported as much as possible.

I'd say such things make up no less than a third of all the activities we've ever done. And even with things I have prepared (like the "Bad Guy" factions, which are Fronts in DW terms, including Grim Portents which are literally described as "your way to codify the plans and machinations of your dangers"), I go out of my way to include things my players have brought into the story as part of this, and their behavior shifts and changes directly in response to the PCs' actions and effects on the world. E.g., the Raven-Shadows are having a (completely unplanned, by them or me) civil war over whether the party Bard is their prophesied messiah or a deceiver who is just in the right places at the right times, for a variety of reasons both supported by previous concepts and driven by the player's interest in religious topics in this game. (The player was raised without any religious affiliation, so this character is a way for him to safely explore religious topics with minimal risk of giving offense or bungling a relationship, and being put on the spot for a conflict of this nature is both interesting and challenging to the player, as he has personally told me when we discussed it after the conflict became known to the character.)

If you add the stuff in the preceding paragraph to the kinds of things I described above that, then no less than half, and probably more like three-quarters or more, of the things that happen in the game happen because the players make choices and the world changes around them as a result, or because the players directly describe elements of the world that had previously not been known before they did so.

But if, after hearing all that, you still think I'm just another railroad-adjacent DM merely dictating a plot to my players whose only participation is to select which prompts they wish to follow until they see the theme-park set-piece I planned for them, then there is no hope of further conversation. I'm already teetering on the brink of thinking this entire conversation, as enlightening as it was, will have been on the net much more trouble and emotional upheaval than it was worth, sadly.
 
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pemerton

Legend
So, here's a thing that a GM of more traditional games will trip over, and that maybe will make things clear: The player setting their Beliefs in this example is part of play.
Maybe. I tend to think of it as an aspect of PC build.

In BW, a player can change their PC's Beliefs at any time, but under two constraints: (i) there are some other abilities that my be lost if a certain sort of Belief isn't held (eg a Faithful character who no longer has a Belief that express the character's Faith ceases to be Faithful); (ii) the GM is entitled to delay the process of Belief change if s/he feels it's an attempt to squib out of a conflict in the moment or that is about to emerge. That second constraint is part of why I think of it as an aspect of build.

PC Beliefs are certainly expected to be front-and-centre in play, though. The basic principle GMs are meant to abide by, in BW, is always frame scenes towards conflict that will engage one or more Beliefs. If a scene can put Beliefs at odds or under conflicting pressures, all the better!

The points where, say, someone is looking for a clue, and the player says their intent is to find evidence that Duke Badguy was behind recent events, that is what is happening in the narrative. What is often happening in the mechanics is determining if, in fact, Duke Badguy was behind it all. In "no myth" play, the mechanics resolve the PCs question by authoring the fact, rather than by testing the character's modeled technical ability to pick locks.
At least in BW, the intent you describe here is different from a PC's Belief - it is a component of action declaration. We can expect that it will typically be connected to a Belief in some fashion, though, for two reasons:

(i) Players earn fate-type points for expressing their Beliefs in play, for achieving goals expressed in their Beliefs, and for dramatically confronting and perhaps change their Beliefs. (This is comparable, in general terms, to the Marvel Heroic RP milestones, which are often expressed disjunctively in terms of playing to type or dramatically abandoning type (eg Captain America disbanding his team).)

(ii) The GM is expected simply to "say 'yes'" to any action declaration that is not addressing salient stakes, where the measure of salience is the character's Beliefs.

So because of (i) and (ii), most intents that feed into any sort of interesting or contested resolution will be Belief-connected in some fashion or other (but not necessarily Belief-affirming or Belief-reflecting).

The issue of authorship is interesting. What I think is important in BW resolution (and there are some resemblances to some instances of Asset-creation in MHRP) is that the player does not have fiat authorial power. If there is something that is stakes-laden, then the check has to be made. And only if it is successful (eg I have successfully found the incriminating letter) does the fiction take on the features the players was hoping for. If the check fails, then the GM narrates the consequences, with the major principle there being focus on the intent at least as much as on the task when determining what the failure consists in (eg in this case we could imagine that failure might be narrated as the discovery of an exonerating letter).

It is this very thing that brings many folks to consider these more "storytelling games" than "role-playing games". Because, when what you are resolving is a question of narrative direction, rather than character action, it doesn't feel to them like playing a role. Their role is, say, a thief, not a person who molds the universe by asking whodunnit.
My view on this has two components:

(1) There's no accounting for taste. People like what they like, and they dislike what they dislike, and we're talking about a leisure activity, and so that pretty much resolves the question of who should play what.

(2) When someone says that there is something in the logic of BW-type play, or inherent to this sort of RPGing, that must impede inhabitation of character, I strongly disagree. There are two reasons here, interrelated: (i) I know that I can play BW while inhabiting the character, because I do (I don't think it's the only way to play BW, but I know from experience it is a way); (ii) part of what makes that possible is the action declaration structure - in declaring I search for the incriminating letter I believe to be there, I don't have to think about anything outside of my PC's thought processes, and whether I (the player) succeed or fail on the ensuing check, what happens next is all about what my PC is experiencing (ie discovery of the incriminating letter, or a different letter or whatever else, depending on success vs failure and in the latter case how the GM chooses to narrate it).

There is no mechanism in BW, once PC build is done, for players to establish fiction outside of this process of declaring a mental state for the PC - I look for . . ., I search for . . ., I hope to meet . . ., Don't I recall that . . . ?, etc. And having those sorts of mental states is utterly compatible with being a thief. In fact I imagine thieves have these sorts of states all the time - eg I look for the way in, I search for the strongbox, I hope to meet a fence, Don't I recall that the penalty for a first offence in these parts is no worse than a day in the stocks?

To go further and explain my own tastes, I find it much more conducive to inhabitation to be able to posit these mental states and then to settle - via a check - their precise content and relationship to the (imaginary) world external to the character, then to rely on second-person narration (You see, you don't see, you recall, you know, etc) to feed me my character's mental life.
 

pemerton

Legend
@pemerton Given some of the things you've just said, I'm going to describe one final thing. If this fails to pass muster, I give up; the thread is already elevating my heart rate as it is, and anything further will be wasted effort.

<snip>

if, after hearing all that, you still think I'm just another railroad-adjacent DM merely dictating a plot to my players whose only participation is to select which prompts they wish to follow until they see the theme-park set-piece I planned for them, then there is no hope of further conversation. I'm already teetering on the brink of thinking this entire conversation, as enlightening as it was, will have been on the net much more trouble and emotional upheaval than it was worth, sadly.
EzekielRaiden, I haven't read your post yet beyond these bookends. But I wanted to reply to them separately because I encourage you to relax! That is sincerely meant, however feebly it may come across in the mode of messageboard text.

I'm a person in Australia, I'm guessing on the other side of the world from you (most ENworlders seem to be American) and we are unlikely ever to play in one another's games. You owe me nothing in relation to your play. I have posted in reply to you simply because I read some of what you posted in this thread, and it struck me as containing some claims I disagree with (about when it is appropriate for a GM to author content as part of the process of scene-framing) and that I thought sat oddly with the GMing of Dungeon World as I understand that system (based on my reading of it and AW, a modest amount of DW play, and a reasonable familiarity with Vincent Baker's aspirations as a RPG designer).'

As you probably know, my main reason for posting on ENworld is to engage in discussion with other RPGers about techniques of RPG play. My interest in design is because of its relationship to play (eg have I ever made a post about RPG illustrations? Not that I can recall. Maybe one or two at the height of the 4e furore? And also explaining once how an illustration inspired my framing of a beholder encounter). My interest in actual play reports is because they provide the raw material for discussions of play. When I prep for my own GMing, I am always thinking of elements in play - which is one of the things I love about 4e monsters, that as you're adapting or designing them they create this vivid image of events happening in play. And one flip-side, as you also probably know, is that I am not very interested in world-building for its own sake in the context of discussions of RPGing. Whatever the pleasures of worldbuilding (and I've done a little bit, though decades ago now when I had more time), insofar as it is interesting to discuss in the context of RPGing I think that is because we can talk about its contribution to play.

For me, part of posting to talk about play includes honest reflection on my own play. In my time on ENworld there have been two posters who I think have done the most to push me in that direction. One no longer posts much if at all, as far as I know - @LostSoul. The other is @Campbell. The latter, in particular, has done more than anyone else to hold my feet to the fire of fidelity to the fiction - as he and I have often discussed, I have a strong tendency towards sentimentality that can sometimes, even often, get in the way of following through as hard as I should when the opportunity arises and the fiction demands it. (Maybe this is part of why JRRT remains one of my favourite authors? He's also very sentimental.)

But while feeling the force of @Campbell's points, I've also stuck to my own course. @Campbell will correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that the PbtA design and approach to play is probably his favourite way of RPGing. Mine is BW-style scene-framing. One reason that Campbell has hesitancy about BW (and similar systems - Prince Valiant, and our indie-style 4e D&D probably both tick that "similarity" box) is that its resolution prioritises a player's goals for his/her PC (expressed via Beliefs) and his/her intention in action declaration (as I discussed just upthread with @Umbran) - it does this via its general framing principles, its intent-and-task resolution, its approach to consequence narration on a failure (which draws on both the preceding features), and its principle of "say 'yes' or roll the dice". Campbell's concern about this package is that it can elevate the conception of the character as a character over the purist fidelity to the fiction, both as established and its unfolding trajectory. And I think he's right. But I still love it, and prefer it, because of the thematic intensity I find in it. (And maybe it also fits better with my sentimentality.)

We're all ultimately free to make our own choices about how we RPG, based on our own experiences and preferences and idiosyncracies. We're here to talk to one another, and maybe to learn from one another, but we're not beholden to anyone but the other participants at our tables. I think that can be worth remembering sometimes.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I've not GMed DW, only played it a little bit. But I think it's fair game for a letter discovered via Discern Realities to be useful and yet turn out to be a forgery.

Somewhat parallel: in the BW game where I play Thurgon, while investigating Evard's Tower I (as Thurgon) discovered various letters apparently written by my mother to Evard when she was a child, and apparently addressing Evard as "Papa".

The context for this was that (i) my PC build includes a relationship with my mother (Xanthippe), (ii) my backstory notes that Xanthippe still lives on our ancestral estate (Auxol) which the family still manages but which has fallen into darkness, and (iii) one of my Beliefs at the time was Harm and infamy will befall Auxol no more! (In subsequent play, Thurgon has returned to Auxol, through prayer has lifted the weariness and resignation from Xanthippe's shoulders (think Gandalf and Theoden), and now instead has the Belief that Xanthippe and I will liberate Auxol.)

Now it's definitely true that those letters existed (they no longer exist, because I (Thurgon) threw them into the campfire). But I am hoping that they might turn out to be false - to have been forged, or perhaps have some other explanation that doesn't entail that the demon-summoner Evard is my maternal grandfather. One straightforward path to that outcome would be a successful check on Letters-wise, but that would be at a pretty high obstacle given the specificity of the knowledge, and so I can't see Thurgon achieving that any time soon. But more realistic for Thurgon, given where his talents lie, would be a revelation of the truth via a prayer to the Lord of Battle.

Now I know that DW and BW aren't the same system, but I think there is enough overlap that it should be possible, in DW play, for the letter to turn out to be false, if that's the way things play out.
Is anyone arguing differently? I don't understand your intent here. The example I started was looking for clues for the Duke's planned betrayal. A situation where the players find a clue useful for their goal and a forgery is, 9f course, possible but differs from your example where being a forgery is the useful thing.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Sure, I didn't delve into the fiction side of that, but there's no reason why the fiction must pin down the veracity of the content of the letter, is there? I mean, it will, eventually, as we PLAY TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS, right? lol.
Yes, which is what finding a clue does. We have played and we have found out. The clue impacts play here, and has fiction here. Future play may result in finding out further things, but you don't leave play vague now to accomplish this. If the players find a clue that is useful now, the ways to make it not useful later by dint of being a forgery are pretty narrow and should require staking the veracity of the clue first.
I mean, surely you aren't implying that nothing can ever be surprising to the players in a DW game? I will agree with you that DW is not a game where the GM is allowed to build some sort of clever railroad around interpreting every DR check in the way I described. OTOH things can turn out various ways.
Most surely I am not. I'm saying you cannot just set such things as GM nor can you easily reverse a useful clue into a forgery, and also that you cannot just leave a clue as a generic +1 hold in play. There's huge room for surprise in that framework.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think my intent is to close the gap between you and @AbdulAlhazred.
The gap isn't in my failure to understand how a thing can be useful as a forgery, or in how play might, in rather uncommon ways, start with a thing being a useful clue and later revealing itself to be a forgery.

My specific issues were the general statement that a GM can just make a clue a red herring, and in the claim that Discern Realities creates non- specific results., like a generic +1 forward so that the GM has room to define it later. That's not how it is supposed to work.
 

pemerton

Legend
My specific issues were the general statement that a GM can just make a clue a red herring, and in the claim that Discern Realities creates non- specific results., like a generic +1 forward so that the GM has room to define it later. That's not how it is supposed to work.
I don't think @AbdulAlhazred is saying this is likely, or even possible, in every case. I read him as saying there are some cases where this might make sense.

From my point of view it's not all that a big deal. On the other hand, it wouldn't be the first time recently that @AbdulAlhazred has disagreed with another poster in making a somewhat off-the-cuff remark about what's possible in DW play.
 

@pemerton Given some of the things you've just said, I'm going to describe one final thing. If this fails to pass muster, I give up; the thread is already elevating my heart rate as it is, and anything further will be wasted effort.

One of my former players played a Wizard, part of the Waziri mage order (the collegiate wizards I invented during the first group's session 0, who also run many libraries, museums, and non-magic schools in the city). Said Wizard, upon returning from a particular mission, came back to his apartment (something the player invented) to pay a big fat sum for his future rent to his landlady (whom the player invented), and check back in with his grad student (who was the price negotiated by a spontaneously-invented Waziri bureaucrat meddling in the party's affairs, but ended up being a really nice person, in response to player investigation of her backstory, which I did not prepare in advance). In inventing the grad-student off the cuff, I'd said her area of focus was golemancy, which was considered reasonably close to the PC's graduate work (incantations) for him to act as her mentor. While there, I asked if there were any goals he wanted to fulfill, because he didn't really have much to do while the others were checking up with their friends/loved ones/etc. or investigating troubling information they'd learned on their last adventure (the ad-libbed result of a failed Discern Realities roll). Player thought for a moment, then said he wanted to build a golem.

I hadn't considered the first thing about golem construction or usage, so I started asking more questions. Did he want a special-purpose one, or something programmable, or perhaps modular? (He requested more time to think, focusing on getting the basics first.) What materials did he want to use? (Wood--something that could have magic woven into it to repair itself.) Based on these answers, and based on the fact that the Waziri are notorious for having fairly specialized libraries (part of my original-group Session 0 ideas), I said he knew he could find information on the subject by visiting a particular library, the name of which I apparently forgot to write down but which I'm certain I invented on the spot. (He could also consult his grad student and have her assist him with its creation.) At the library, he met with an old woman working as the receptionist and research assistant for this particular library. She directed him to a book, printed on bark-like paper and bound in wood, written by the late, eccentric Abdelmajid al-Buzidi on the creation of golems from natural materials.

After I waxed a little poetic on various woods and their applications (coincidentally something I happen to know a little about IRL), the player settled on fine acacia wood, which grows naturally in the region where they live. (The climate is heavily inspired by Morocco, and thus prior adventures had established the existence of acacia trees, wild and cultivated citrus trees, and cork forests in various places within the region.) The player then spent some money to acquire the wood from the markets, and began cooperating with his grad student to get it shaped into a golem. At other points when the party visited the city, I further delved into how the golem construction was going, either just asking questions and letting the player decide the current status of the thing, within what I hoped were reasonable limits, or requesting a Spout Lore, Defy Danger, or other roll as needed to resolve ambiguous situations one way or another.

This is far from the only time I have done things like this. This is just a relatively neat, minimal-context example that doesn't require explaining seven different adventures and multiple ways the players directly created, or by their requests directly inspired, multiple real, enduring, incredibly important parts of the game world we play in. I've invented many parts of this game, but it absolutely, positively could not exist as it does without dozens if not hundreds of ideas contributed directly by my players, with little more than a, "Ooh, I like that" or "wow, that sounds awesome!" from me.

Sadly, this particular story also never reached a solid conclusion, as the player left the game before that could happen (disengaging from all social activity online, actually--even with family members). But several other things, such as the Bard learning from the Druid how to shapeshift into small animals (sparrows, lizards, fish, etc.), the Druid collecting interesting stones or materials for his "charm bracelet," or some of the other things I've already mentioned (the Ranger and his extended family/clan, the Battlemaster and him engaging with both current and historical traditions of martial scholarship), all arose purely out of players expressing, through the words of their characters, things they thought were interesting or worth pursuing, and which I supported as much as possible.

I'd say such things make up no less than a third of all the activities we've ever done. And even with things I have prepared (like the "Bad Guy" factions, which are Fronts in DW terms, including Grim Portents which are literally described as "your way to codify the plans and machinations of your dangers"), I go out of my way to include things my players have brought into the story as part of this, and their behavior shifts and changes directly in response to the PCs' actions and effects on the world. E.g., the Raven-Shadows are having a (completely unplanned, by them or me) civil war over whether the party Bard is their prophesied messiah or a deceiver who is just in the right places at the right times, for a variety of reasons both supported by previous concepts and driven by the player's interest in religious topics in this game. (The player was raised without any religious affiliation, so this character is a way for him to safely explore religious topics with minimal risk of giving offense or bungling a relationship, and being put on the spot for a conflict of this nature is both interesting and challenging to the player, as he has personally told me when we discussed it after the conflict became known to the character.)

If you add the stuff in the preceding paragraph to the kinds of things I described above that, then no less than half, and probably more like three-quarters or more, of the things that happen in the game happen because the players make choices and the world changes around them as a result, or because the players directly describe elements of the world that had previously not been known before they did so.

But if, after hearing all that, you still think I'm just another railroad-adjacent DM merely dictating a plot to my players whose only participation is to select which prompts they wish to follow until they see the theme-park set-piece I planned for them, then there is no hope of further conversation. I'm already teetering on the brink of thinking this entire conversation, as enlightening as it was, will have been on the net much more trouble and emotional upheaval than it was worth, sadly.
I think it is fair to say, based on how @Ovinomancer disagrees with some of my techniques that PbtA/DW GMing is not a perfectly specified thing, by a long shot. No doubt all of our games have shaded in one direction or another and leaned more towards GM introduced plot elements or overall direction, or less. @Manbearcat seems to object somewhat to some of the things I describe as well, and your game sounds like there's a lot of 'lounging around' by contrast to how I have typically run DW. I wouldn't venture an opinion as to how railroady or not it is, myself.

I mean, in DW, the GM is definitely supposed to put together fronts, and set up dooms to go with them. The GM is a participant in the game, and has at least the authorial power of any other participant. There's probably no avoiding the truth that GMs will color a LOT of the action with their activities. They ARE describing all the scenes! Ideally those scenes should be organic and the players should be at the levers of the game to the extent of contributing substantially to lore and world building, as well as making choices for the PCs.

In my own games of DW there is rarely much wandering around coming up with projects to do, though. It is usually much more action-oriented. The PCs may get certain down time, now and then we've even agreed that years passed between scenes of adventure and simply filled in that time briefly in narrative, introducing new NPCs, or evolving their mundane stories a bit, but we never dwelled on that kind of thing too much. In terms of table time, the vast majority is "You're in real trouble now, lets see how you get out of that!" or something.
 

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