D&D General Why Editions Don't Matter

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Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
The GM's experience of play is part and parcel of this. There are a multitude of things I would absolutely never do running D&D that I frequently do in other games because the constraints and principles introduce the specter of the unwelcome - outcomes that neither the GM or any of the players would choose on their own. Sometimes it's out of a sense of fairness, sometimes because we would have never thought of it otherwise, sometimes because it's fundamentally unfair and often because we don't want it to happen but the real possibility that it could happen is necessary for the tension of the game to be preserved.

In a D&D game I would never have the result of a PC threatening an NPC result in shifting the scene to them being interrogated because in D&D that's just unfair. The expectation would be having to play out the possible capture, but as a hard move in Apocalypse World it feels right and almost necessary. It's not my decision - it's the game and I am honoring the game's agenda.

I get emotionally invested in the player characters of any game I run. I like them as people. I want the best for them. I do not want to do bad things to them, but the risk that bad things might happen is essential to play. So I need to take my sentiment out of the equation if play is going to be functional so that things like death, broken swords, broken alliances and betrayals can be real risks without being certain.

Sometimes there's also just the matter of my fun just getting to sit in the heads of NPCs and take actions, finding out how they work out. In D&D like land there's just about no better feeling for me than running a conflict in Pathfinder Second Edition because the game prompts me when I need to make judgement calls and otherwise I just get to play. You set the scene and just like go. Context switches are much easier because they are explicit.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
From my perspective in order for a game to be about rulings over rules a GM must be principally constrained to consider only the situation at hand and their understanding of the setting. For it to be a ruling it cannot just be deciding without constraints. You cannot both be lead storyteller and referee. You must choose one or the other.

Addendum : In all of this I am not trying to say that 5e is lacking or should be changed. It's an excellent design well suited to its niche (although Numenera gives it a run for its money). I am only responding to claims I feel try to deny the fundamental unique value of other sorts of design and play processes. The flexibility claim in particular is one that really bothers me because it puts forward the implication that both the design of other games have not produced unique value and also puts forward the implication that the skillset GMs like me who have put in a lot intellectual labor to acquire could be just as easily achieved through other means. I find it deeply insulting because of the connotation that much of my last 15 years of experience as a GM have been wasted, but I am still trying to engage in good faith.
 
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The bit I've bolded seems obviously false to me. Here are my reasons (in rough order from most theoretical to most empirical):

*For participants in a game, the pressure that shapes their decision space is characterised by various parameters, including its source and methods of resisting or overcoming it. A GM with unconstrainted decision does not generate the same parameters as are generated in (for instance) the Torchbearer example I mentioned upthread, or in 4e when a skill challenge is being adjudicated, or in classic D&D when the dungeon exploration process - with its careful tracking of time, rolling for wanderers etc - is implemented.

*As a concrete example, consider the difference between playing chess in the regular way, and practising chess where the other participant is allowed to move the pieces into whatever position they like, from turn to turn, to create puzzles or traps for the practising player to grapple with. Practising in that way is not the same as playing chess. It doesn't produce the same sort of pressure. Returning to Torchbearer yesterday, the players made scripting decisions in the conflicts knowing (i) that I had locked in my scripts and (ii) that the various possible actions interact in certain ways. If I were free to change my script at any moment, and/or to change how the actions interact, they could not experience the same pressure and the same sort of decision-making experience. Likewise in the journeys: the players made decisions about how to handle their food supplies, whether or not to try and forage/hunt for more and/or eke out what they had, based on the parameters established by the travel rules. The pressure would not be the same if its source was not those rules, but the possibility of the GM deciding that they have not enough food.

*As I've often commented, I don't see the actual play example, or even hear reports of actual play, that demonstrate the same sort of pressure and experience arising in 5e play based on relatively unconstrained GM decision-making. And mostly when I hear accounts of tightly constrained decision-making by players it's in the context of combat, which in 5e D&D is based around a very tight procedure - an "artificial predefined structure" to borrow @Oofta's phrase from post 502 upthread - or in the context of debates about how to reconcile the relatively strict resource-and-recovery rules with the loose structure of 6-8 encounters per day. Given my preceding two points, I'm not surprised that I don't see these examples, because I don't think they exist. If the GM is free to introduce whatever fiction they want, based on their imagination about events happening offscreen, then the pressure on the players flows directly from the GM's imagination. That's a type of pressure. It doesn't replicate the pressure that arises from other processes of play.

I think the way I would depict the phenomenon (one that I've spoken of many times about a GM extrapolating their sense of the imagined space, which includes their unique and exclusive access to offscreen conditions and secret backstory, and freeforming a newly minted gamestate downstream of their mental modeling) a little different.

1) You have a Chess Game with the following conditions after move 3 where the players are white and the GM's setting is black:

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2) Fast forward to a future gamestate x moves into the future. From the White-side of things (players), it is unclear how many moves value x is because they aren't aware of how many moves Black has made because the board is shrouded (the GM setting action economy is unknowable, or borderline unknowable, to the players). Regardless, its several. Maybe its 12 moves into the future. Maybe its 20. Unclear. It may be possible for the players to suss out the action economy (how many moves made), but its not concrete how that might be done and to what degree it might be done. The action economy of the GM's setting moves is shrouded to a fair or large or complete degree.

3) Suddenly, the board is arrayed quite, quite differently than it was prior. During this intervening period, the board has a default setting of "shrouded" to a fair or large or complete degree. It may have been possible to somewhat demystify the intervening period and the offscreen moves made during that period, but its not concretely established how that might be done and to what degree demistyfing the intervening period is even possible or even an effective expenditure of whatever action economy you have available (and again...because you're somewhat or wholly unaware of (2) above, you can't know how your own action economy compares).

4) The gamestate that the newly arrayed board could be any of a large number of different set ups. But it just so happens that the forces deployed against White (which doesn't just include asset-advantage but also how the entire board is now arrayed) are extremely large. Black not only has a total asset-advantage (sheer numbers), an array-advantage (their Pawns beautifully defend and ensnare and their offensive pieces have many gambits available to them), but they also have more pieces of certain types than are possible (like 3 Knights and 2 Queens) along with a foreign piece which isn't even a part of the Chess ruleset on the board (like a Giant Squid equipped with an 27 RPGs) whose moveset may or may not have been able to be surveiled/inferred by White (so at the beginning of White's next move, they know little to nothing of what this new piece is capable of). Perhaps White could have sussed out to some degree details regarding this asset-advantage, this new array, this strange number of Queens and Knights, and how this "RPGs Squid" moves...perhaps not. Its unclear.





This is where the GM will typically say "my moves were legal. The players could have sussed out my shrouded action economy. The players could have sussed out all or most of the GM's offscreen moves during the shrouded period. I operationalized the most rational-actor and sensible-extrapolation-of-the-imagined-space gamestate given all of the various components of setting that I folded into my mental model. The players could and should have seen this coming. The players could have resolved my total asset-advantage and my array-advantage if only they would have played well. They could have uncovered the nature of my "not Chess piece" and how it moves.

But they didn't. They played poorly.
"

The GM feels their mental model run of all of the various aspects and collisions of an offscreen imagined space and their freeform operationalizing of this downstream gamestate were appropriate and well-played on their end.

But how much meaningful decision-making and action resolution happened from gamestate 1 to gamestate 4 on the players side? Its unclear. All you have is the fictional account of the affairs, the GM's opinion of the legitimacy of their offscreen moves (their accounting of the offscreen setting assets and offscreen setting moves that can be brought to bear to change the gamestate thusly), and how the players feel about the nature of the gamestate move from (1) to (4)...which could be any number of feelings including all the feelings from "awesome" to "this gamestate transition is completely illegitimate and deserving a board flip!"

This is why these sorts of conversations about freeform extrapolation of offscreen assets/imagined space array with attendant fictional account of what happened (rather than the nuts and bolts, gear and levers, belts and pistons, and opened books for auditing) don't go anywhere. There is little to no way to vet it in conversation (even if the GM feels 100 % certain what they put forth was absolutely legitimate in terms of operationalizing the appropriate moves and giving players the gameplay sufficient so they could make all the consequential decisions/moves possible to ensure that such a blind gamestate 1 to gamestate 4 transition doesn't manifest during play)...and players may feel that way during play or during the reveal or post-play. Which is why I'm not a fan of calling a player "bad-faith" or "poor sport" if they don't get on board with the gamestate transition from 1 to 4. It isn't a particularly low "buy-in bar" for a prospective player and for some players its an insurmountable buy-in bar.
 

Oofta

Legend
From my perspective in order for a game to be about rulings over rules a GM must be principally constrained to consider only the situation at hand and their understanding of the setting. For it to be a ruling it cannot just be deciding without constraints. You cannot both be lead storyteller and referee. You must choose one or the other.

Addendum : In all of this I am not trying to say that 5e is lacking or should be changed. I am only responding to claims I feel try to deny the fundamental unique value of other sorts of design and play processes. The flexibility claim in particular is one that really bothers me because it puts forward the implication that both the design of other games have not produced unique value and also puts forward the implication that the skillset GMs like me who have put in a lot intellectual labor to acquire could be just as easily achieved through other means. I find it deeply insulting because of the connotation that much of my last 15 years of experience as a GM have been wasted, but I am still trying to engage in good faith.
Not sure I follow the storyteller vs referee. I don't see any inherent conflict. As a storyteller I make what I hope to be a rich and engaging world, a fun sandbox for the PCs to play in. I get to give voice to those NPCs, paint pictures in people's imagination of the world around them.

As a referee I enforce the rules, trying to be fair but not judgemental. For the most part that's a combat thing, but I do rely on PC skills and abilities outside of combat as well.

I see them as different roles that can be complementary.

As far as the addendum, I make no judgment on what other people enjoy, even when I have fairly strong preferences.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
While I cannot speak
Not sure I follow the storyteller vs referee. I don't see any inherent conflict. As a storyteller I make what I hope to be a rich and engaging world, a fun sandbox for the PCs to play in. I get to give voice to those NPCs, paint pictures in people's imagination of the world around them.

As a referee I enforce the rules, trying to be fair but not judgemental. For the most part that's a combat thing, but I do rely on PC skills and abilities outside of combat as well.

I see them as different roles that can be complementary.

As far as the addendum, I make no judgment on what other people enjoy, even when I have fairly strong preferences.

My use of storyteller here is specifically related to making decisions as a referee (during play) that are influenced by what the referee thinks would make for a better story. I would also include scenario design that is built to pressure players into choosing particular goals for their characters or with a certain outcome in mind. Nothing wrong with that being anyone's jam I just do not view it as being a referee. Designing interesting settings and scenarios that provoke action is just GMing in my book.

I don't take exception with anyone's preferences. Just what I view as unfounded claims about how other games work or that they are fundamentally providing the same sort of play experience. I also hope I am not coming across as judging play preferences.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
They're also much more susceptible to misunderstanding and problems with arguments about appropriateness. Its one of those things that's probably an unalloyed good with group with a very tight understanding of what is expected from everyone, but I'm not sold that even applies to a massive minority of groups.

I did some inquiries around here about the DCs DMs would apply for attempting something the ranges were from not allowed at all.. to relatively decent at 15 (and allowed as a reaction). Its not exactly something I have confidence that 5e has helped establish at all. And assuming people really have common ideas about likelihoods of just about anything seems an error.
 
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pemerton

Legend
You imagine a chess game where one player can arrange the pieces any way he wants. Suppose he always arranges them such that his arrangement is identical to a legal move in the game of chess. To me this example supports my claim of pressure being able to be identical with a less constrained/more flexible move space.
This doesn't seem to replicate playing chess. Now I'll admit I'm not a chess player; but I'd imagine part of what playing chess involves is not only seeing the pieces arrayed at any particular time, but knowing how they got there, so as to infer the "trajectory" of play (eg what is this other player trying to do) and responding to that. I don't think playing chess is just solving puzzle after puzzle.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
So on the bit about house rules I think there's a bit of confusion that often occurs between the indie and trad communities on this score because of the way the indie community values explicit processes and talks about making changes. So within the indie community it is common practice to refer to changes as an act of game design, extension or a hack even if the adjustments made are fairly minor. But most of us view ourselves as amateur designers. I haven't met an indie GM once who doesn't have at least two-three half way finished hacks or game designs. Adjusting our individual processes as a group is incredibly common.

In addition many indie games expect play groups to do some of their own design work as part of play. Blades inventions and rituals are all play group designed. Special permissions are for unique fictional situations that require custom mechanics. In the Blades game @Manbearcat is running for us over Discord @Manbearcat designed some mechanics to deal with the Forgotten God we have summoned from across the sea. Currently we are designing some of her core features as a group.

My own in person playgroup is constantly iterating on the games we play we have a Vampire - The Requiem hack that utilizes a custom setting that combines of elements of Old World and New World of Darkness while placing some additional emphasis on the immortality / death themes. Substantial alterations were made including the use Cortex style Milestones. We also have a Cortex based Exalted hack, a PbtA based Star Wars game, some substantial adjustments to Infinity 2d20 and a Cortex based D&D like. My Stars That Bind Us (mecha horror) game started its life as reskin of Lancer (because I hated the 3d printing stuff), became a slight hack of Beam Saber (a forged in the deck mecha game) and ended its life as a Wildsea hack. We're discussing options for going back to the setting - considering elements from Cortex, Dune and Apocalypse Keys. Not sure what the design will look like yet.

Let me tell you about my hack/game is the indie version of let me tell you about my character. Replace with OSR community as needed.
 
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pemerton

Legend
many indie games expect play groups to do some of their own design work as part of play.
Two examples that I thought of straight away.

In A Wicked Age has beautifully clear procedures - it is as close to "complete" (in @gorice's sense) as any RPG I know of. Each session begins by choosing - by way of group consensus - one of four "oracles" (Blood & Sex, The Unquiet Past, A Nest of Vipers, God-Kings of War), then dealing 4 playing cards to select four of the 52 options under each oracle. Each of these is a short phrase (maybe five to twenty words) describing a person or a place or an event (or maybe more than one of those) that fits under the oracle's broad theme.

This done, the group then goes around the table, taking turns to build up a list of characters from those oracle entries - some are explicit (like if the oracle entry mentions a person) and some are implicit (like a place might imply an occupant, or an intruder, or an invader, or whatever). Then each player chooses which character will be their PC, and the rest become NPCs under the GM's control.

There is then the process of assigning character attributes. And then, if any character has a "particular strength", that has to be designed. As per the rulebook (pp 4-5),

Choose whether your character’s going to have a particular strength. If she is, choose and list it now. Choose one that already exists or name a new one – you’ll get to create it in just a minute. . . .

Particular strengths are unusual skills, magical arts, innate powers, allies, and treasures that characters can have. As you play you’ll create a variety of particular strengths for your various characters. . . .

Give the strength a name.

Describe the strength. You may be able to copy its description straight from the GM’s story sheet.

Describe the strength’s special effects: what it requires, and how it appears in action.​

There are then rules for the mechanics of building a particular strength, and a couple of examples. The last time I played this game, we had four characters with particular strengths: the PC illusionist's illusion magic, the PC courier's skill with horses, the PC warlords treasure chest, and the NPC champion's Spear of Power. As this was not part of an ongoing campaign, but was a one-off, we had to build all these from scratch. It probably took 10 minutes or so. All of them came into play during our two hour-ish session.

The other, and contrasting, example is Cthulhu Dark. This is an "incomplete" RPG. Here is the core of its action resolution procedure (pp 2-3):

To know how well you do at something, roll . . . your highest die shows how well you do. On a 1, you barely succeed. On a 6, you do brilliantly. . . .

If someone thinks it would more interesting if you failed, they describe how you might fail and roll a die. . . .

If their die rolls higher than your highest die, you fail, in the way they described. If not, you succeed as before, with your highest die showing how well you succeed.​

Why I say this is incomplete is that it doesn't tell us how to decide what follows, in the fiction, from barely succeeding or from doing brilliantly. The group has to bring this from somewhere else. I use "intent and task" when I GM this system, as that works well for the sort of no-myth approach that I prefer with Cthulhu Dark.

I'm not sure if either of these examples fits what you (@Campbell) had in mind, but as I said are the ones I thought of straight away.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
When I talk about play experience, and pressure on the players, I am not meaning the fiction and the imagined pressure on the protagonists.

Here's why: a group of people can sit down, and one of them recite a story to the others in which various pressures are experienced (in the story) by various protagonists. But that wouldn't be a play experience at all.

Instead of a single storyteller, we could imagine the story being told round-robin. That still wouldn't be a play experience.

The play experience that I'm talking about is not the experience of imagining events, but the experience of creating a shared fiction via the distinctive medium of the RPG which is (roughly, and in most cases) that one participant takes on a type of "backstory/adversity management" function, while the rest take on "protagonist" functions. What distinguishes RPGs, and hence play experiences, within this broad medium is the various procedures whereby those functions are constituted, and integrated.
I'm really confused. Why are you reiterating the same stuff to me that I already said you had persuaded me about?
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
This doesn't seem to replicate playing chess. Now I'll admit I'm not a chess player; but I'd imagine part of what playing chess involves is not only seeing the pieces arrayed at any particular time, but knowing how they got there, so as to infer the "trajectory" of play (eg what is this other player trying to do) and responding to that. I don't think playing chess is just solving puzzle after puzzle.
Player A and B play your chess' game. After each of player A's moves player B rearrages the board keeping player A's pieces exactly the same and arranging one of his own pieces to a position that he could have legally moved to if they were actually playing chess while keeping his other pieces in the same positions.

From player A's perspective what's the difference in doing that and actually playing chess - or put another way, could player A tell you if what he just played was chess or chess' (if he hadn't been told ahead of time)?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I don't evaluate player performance?*

I don’t mean like a report card. But you don’t have an idea about when someone has a good game? Or a bad one?

What determines that in your opinion?

I disagree with what you deem as central. I don't believe players need to make perfectly informed decisions. I believe the need some information and have the ability to maybe gain more information. But I don't think they need to know precisely how everything works to make a tactical decision. To me tactical decisions based on incomplete information are just another type of tactical decision (and are more like the tactical decisions you actually experience in the real world).

I didn’t say they need to be perfectly informed. I’m saying that the players need to understand how the game works. They need to know the rules and procedures.

There are unknowns in D&D combat, but folks still know how it works.
I think systems and play cultures that encourage house rules are less contsrained when it comes to implementing new house rules. I might very well be mistaken but i don't get the impression that the culture around say blades in the dark is as open to houserules as the culture around D&D.

I’d say you’re mistaken.

I'll say this, the play experiences we have of players that enjoy such systems do show they feel it benefits them when the DM has that flexibility. Not everyone has that same experience obviously, but that's a common theme you see when the benefits of such a style are talked about from the players.

Sure. Again, it depends what you want out of play. I have no problem with a GM using their judgment. That’s a necessity. Granting them total authority is not a necessity. The more authority the GM has, and the more freely they can apply it, the less the game feels stable to me as a player. I don’t equate that instability with flexibility.

I don't think being focused on story relies on overriding rules. I can't remember the last time I didn't follow the rules unless it was one of my pre-established house rules. Of course there's a lot of wiggle room in 5E for rulings and NPC behavior.

Well when the rules say you can do whatever you want, sure there’s no conflict.

In moments where story and rules actually do come into conflict… where you have to choose which takes priority… the answer to that reveals a lot about that game.

They are never going to know that they've gone three hexes so therefore they are "due" for an encounter. In the real world we evaluate risk all the time without specific pre-planned structure or knowledge that we don't gather for ourselves.

“Due” in what sense? I mean, if it’s a check of some sort, why not let them know? The dice will decide what happens, not the GM.

If you as GM just decide they’re due for an encounter, then yeah, I guess I can see how you’d not share that. It breaks the illusion, I suppose.

The rules of the game should, ideally, reinforce the fiction. So the players knowing that a random encounter check happens with X frequency doesn’t translate to the characters knowing that. It corresponds to the characters feeling like they’re pushing their luck and it’s only a matter of time until they run into trouble.

The mechanics and the fiction can interact in indirect ways like that.

As a DM I'm not doing "whatever" in the moment. I've set the stage, decided what the NPC actors are doing and then react to the PC's actions. TTRPGs are always going to have a fair amount of GM decision making, mine just doesn't have much of a predefined structure that can be gamed by the players.

The use of game in such a negative way here is baffling to me. I mean… it’s a game. Why wouldn’t players want to game?
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Do the following procedures / expectations reduce overall flexibility (and not just GM flexibility)?

1. Ask questions and build on the answers. Throughout play ask provocative questions about the player characters' past and connections to the setting. Incorporate them into your scenario design, providing additional details that highlight that player character's struggles.
2. When creating a player character any player may opt to design up to 3 NPCs that connect them to the game's setting. These characters will be useful assets in play, but will also expect favors in return. The GM is expected to feature these NPCs in at least some of the scenarios they design.
3. When player characters arrive at a location that has not been explored in play they may choose to define an NPC contact who has access to useful information but they are also embroiled in trouble. The GM decides what that trouble is. If the player defines a contact then their character has been here before. The group decides what that character's reputation is in this location.

I am not asking if you feel they would add to the game or would work well for your table. Basically does giving players permission to define some setting elements with the expectation they will be featured in a significant way make the game more or less flexible?
 
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hawkeyefan

Legend
My procedure as a DM for determining how close the evil Duke and his scary knights are to tracking down the PCs goes like this:

(First, the duke wouldn't be pursuing the PCs adversarily in the first place except in response to actions the PCs took with the knowledge that it might cause the duke (or at the very least, some powerful political figure) to come after them.)
  1. I'd start by determining how much of a priority the PCs have made themselves for the duke, considering any actions the PCs took (especially the success or failure of deliberate actions) to either increase or decrease that priority.
  2. Based on the priority the duke places on finding the PCs and his overall available resources, I'd next determine the resources he would devote to tracking the PCs.
  3. Finally, I'd determine how likely those resources would be to find the PCs in the elapsed time so far, taking into account the PCs' intervening choices (e.g. where to travel next, how high of a profile they're maintaining, etc.), especially the success or failure of PC actions intended to make it easier or harder for the duke to find them. The duke finds the PCs after the elapsed time catches up to the time required to find them, assuming the PCs are still in the area being searched at that time.
These determinations rarely give specific answers. When deciding between multiple possibilities, I consider the following factors:
  • Consistency with material already established so far in play.
  • Plausibility in the context of what the PCs know of the game setting.
  • My preference for outcomes that cause the PCs' interactions with the setting to lead to learning more about, and becoming further involved with, other actors in the setting.
  • My perception of whether having an encounter likely to lead to combat would be desirable, pacing-wise, at any particular moment, based on my read of the players' emotional state and current level of engagement.
  • My deliberate bias towards ensuring that the PCs' actions impact the course of events and/or the state of the game setting.
I'd then repeat my process (tweaking the details, as relevant) to determine whether and how much the PCs learn of the Duke's pursuit.

Please note that although I've described my process methodically (based on reflective self-analysis), in actual use my process is more of an intuitive synthesis and less of a step-by-step resolution. I've been applying this process (with hopefully increasing levels of success) to running ad-hoc informal RPGs since before I knew D&D and similar packaged games existed, and continue to apply it with every system I run. Since I have a predefined process for running games, I prefer systems that provide useful action resolution mechanics and mechanical support for desired setting elements without trying to prescribe a specific process for running my game.

I realize that you would consider the fact that I need to bring in an external process for running 5e to mean that 5e is "incomplete" by your definition. However, from my standpoint, I suspect that any system you would consider to be "complete" would (unless it was written just for me) have process rules that would conflict with my personal process, and thus would be less useful to me as a tool for running games than "incomplete" games are.

I particularly liked this excerpt from one of the articles @Malmuria linked upthread, which quoted Brendan from Necropraxis as saying:

"[Lack of codification of procedure] is a weakness because it is notoriously hard to learn how to play an RPG (which involves conversational form, conflict resolution, rules math, and many other components) from a text alone. It is a strength because it leaves the borders of potential wide open, assuming that you want to use the rules more like a toolkit than a how-to manual."​

Using that terminology, I have a very strong preference for using a game system as a toolkit, rather than as a how-to manual. So, the how-to process elements you view as necessary for a game to be "complete", I view as actively unhelpful for running my game. I'm thrilled that there are both complete and incomplete game systems out there to cater to different preferences, but as far as my own use-case goes, I personally consider "completeness" (as you define it) to be undesirable.

That’s a lot of words to say “I make it up”.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
When I talk about play experience, and pressure on the players, I am not meaning the fiction and the imagined pressure on the protagonists.

Here's why: a group of people can sit down, and one of them recite a story to the others in which various pressures are experienced (in the story) by various protagonists. But that wouldn't be a play experience at all.
That isn't relevant. That one could sit down and recite a story to others does not in any way equate to game play in which there are fictional pressures. This is apples and oranges.

In traditional game play, the DM is not "reciting a story to the others."
 


niklinna

Abstraction is a tool that streamlines gameplay.
To use a perhaps morbid analogy, the human spine is extremely flexible for a bonus object. If we were to shatter that spine, it would by definition have a larger number of options for directions it could move. However, I don't think most people would consider that an increase in "flexibility." That is the disagreement I am pointing to here. That more options can actually transform "flexibility" into "enervation," at least to some viewers, meaning that a larger number of options is not merely "pros and cons," it is straight up (subjectively) not flexibility anymore.

Because a shattered spine can bend in any direction, but can't actually support movement or action anymore, specifically because it permits (but does not support) movement in any direction. IOW, some will define "flexibility" as you have: more options, more flexible, always, no matter what. Others, like me, would define flexibility as "more supported options," meaning that an increase in options without support would not actually be "flexibility" and might even reduce it.
Looks like someone's been reading Bernstein!
 

Okay, so what does 'more supported options' mean and what does 'options without support' mean?
I'm going to use an analogy again, at least to get things started, but this one will at least be in the gaming sphere. Specifically how "open-world" games (be they single-player, ordinary multiplayer, or massively multiplayer) are designed...some well and some badly.

So, one of the selling points of many open-world games is the ability to, and I quote, "do whatever you want." This is a major thing that nearly all games in the genre will push, very hard, because it's such an unequivocally good thing, right? Freedom is always better than confinement, right? (Obviously being a bit facetious with this question.)

The problem is that a lot of games which pursue this perspective...fall short, shall we say. It is difficult to become invested in a game that gives you no reason to care about any of the things you can do. Having a central through line or clear and identifiable goals to accomplish is generally necessary in order to ground the experience and give worth and meaning to one's choices. By presenting a totally open world with no reason to do any specific things, the player will often be left floundering and is likely to wander away rather than getting invested. It requires a careful approach, or intentionally gunning for an experience like Minecraft, in order to give the experience enough starting purpose to make it worthwhile...and you may have noticed that even Minecraft added the achievement/"you made X" menu thing, which provides a guideline, a purpose, a reason to do things or seek out things.

That is very similar to the difference between supported options and simply available ones. In a game that supports choice, you have clear goals to pursue, but if you aren't interested in doing those things, the game is designed such that your tools actually do help you pursue other things instead. Lacking support is, well, much like how a lot of frustrated 5e DMs describe it: they have the power to do whatever they want, but no support in actually getting there. They can travel to any destination they can think of, but they don't know what places are worth going to, nor how to actually get there, nor what to do once they arrive.

This issue was particularly exemplified in the gaming culture of 5e that rejected the notion of providing DMs guidance. One that responded to anyone seeking advice with "you're the DM, you figure it out." It was an almost aggressively anti-advice culture of play, as though seeking advice was an error, something DMs should be taught not to do. This has softened over time, particularly with the rise of youtube DM-advice channels, but has not disappeared by any means.

Flexibility made by becoming rules-avoidant, rather than making open-ended and supportive rules, can lead to situations where you ask, "Well...what if I want to do X?" (where "do X" might be "make an evil ritual that needs to be disrupted" or "create a creature that evolves through multiple phases" or "create a legal dispute that the players need to solve") and the system's answer is...."figure it out yourself. Just make something up." That's not helpful, and likely, at least for me and folks I've interacted with in the past, to induce frustration and feelings of being adrift.

Looks like someone's been reading Bernstein!
Actually, I've never heard the first thing about him before today!

But yes, this is a useful analogy. That whole "you have to control each wheel of a car individually" vs "the rear wheels are locked forward and the front wheels can rotate horizontally but do so in sync" analogy is a really good one. Being able to point the front wheels in opposite directions is, technically, "flexibility" in the sense of "more options," but it is not supported because you do that and you're going to move nowhere. More wheel options actually leads to reduced movement, not increased.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think the chess example is not a very good one because part of playing chess skillfully is memorizing the board and remembering the exact moves that are made in the course of game to analyze it later on. If you rearrange the board at any point any chess player worth their salt will know.

That does not address the larger point that is basically impossible to know (for certain) that a given player or GM's decisions are informed by the expectations of the game without reading their mind. There's a certain level of truth to that, but for practical purposes I think it is largely irrelevant. Our actions and decision making process will always be shaped by what is expected of us, which behaviors are incentivized and the tools we have available. Such impacts tend to be felt over time. I have direct experience of this as a player and GM of indie games where people acted contrary to the spirit of the game. It took a couple of sessions but I have largely been able to suss such incidents out.

The other thing is that I almost always spend some time talking shop with the rest of my group. Those conversations tend to reveal a lot about the attitude players and GMs have towards the game.
 
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