Do you deceive your players? I do. And they love it.

edited April 2010 in Story Games
I confess. I deceived my players during my 2 year campaign. Constantly. I talked to Lenny Balsera about it and he really didn't like what I was doing, so after the end of the campaign, I told my players what I had done and they told me the couldn't tell the whole time. Then, when I teamed up with one of the players to tag-team a campaign that ran for another 1.5 years, we did it again. And the players never knew. And they loved it.

Suppose you are DMing a D&D 4e game and you want to spend time making some really cool things with a lot of detail. You know, like props that you can hand to the players, like long-ish documents, browned with age, NPCs with rich backgrounds that they discover, secret rooms containing important stuff -- that sort of thing. You don't want to make whether the players encounter these things based on skill rolls; you want to guarantee that they find these things.

But D&D and the like have skills for discovering things. Even FATE does. Should players just never take these skills? What does it mean when you make a Perception roll to search a desk? Does it mean you are guaranteed only to find things that aren't important to the story?

Do you just hang it up and throw out D&D, saying it just doesn't work and switch to a game that has specific mechanics to handle this? I don't -- especially if my players want to play D&D. I talked about some story telling techniques I use in this post on my blog before Lenny Balsera turned me on to Story Games.

I cover a few techniques I used, which I tried to give pithy names to (FAIL?): "Ball and Cups," "Well, Aren't You Clever?" and "Reality Is How You Perceive It".

Ball and Cups: when the players are searching for something, keep "moving it" until they succeed. You might let them find it in the Nth place they look, so they feel like they've done some work

Well, Aren't You Clever: throw "soft balls" at the group, calling for Perception rolls and "punishing" bad ones with minor inconveniences. When they make a really good one, reveal the important thing they were supposed to perceive

Reality Is How You Perceive It: when the players want to search for something that isn't there and the succeed, make something up and give it to them, Donjon-style


Here's my motivation for these things. When a PC majors in information-gathering skills, it means that the player wants the spotlight on their clever character. These are just ways to use some story telling techniques to highlight what that PC is good at and give them a little glory.

I know this is controversial. Some people really hate it!

I want to hear why you hate it!

If you do this, tell me how you do it!
«1

Comments

  • Posted By: wburdickI want to hear why you hate it!
    I hate it, because you're asking players to dance for your pleasure.

    Do you have important information for them? Do they want it?
    Give it to them.

    If it's crucial, get it into their hands. If you're excited about it, get it into their hands.

    If they want to accomplish something, or to find something...
    ...if it's crucial, get it into their hands.
    ...if it's interesting, let them try. Make success interesting, make failure interesting.
    ...if you don't want them to have it, because it's dumb, say so.
    ...if you don't want them to have it, or to have it yet, because of your own pre-conceived notions of story, get over yourself.

    The fun your players had probably didn't come from you jerking them around, but your techniques seem to be about that.
    Hard work doesn't need to involve dead ends.
    You can give someone what they are looking for, without it being a walk in the park for them.
  • edited April 2010
    No sir, I don't like it. And here is why.

    It is exactly the kind of "investigative" play D&D and its kin produces and I've since grown to dislike it. Illusionism is still illusionism, even if the players are fooled and convinced by the illusion. This sort of thing removes any weight from their decisions and rolls and hell, it's the sort of rule drift that ends up in freeform play. Because really, why are they even rolling perception checks if they get everything (or nothing) only at your whim? The bottom line is, you're not playing by the rules, you're making rulings. And the game has nothing to do at all with your rulings, neither do the players. You could be drawing yarrow sticks or tossing coins or spitting in a bowl. Doesn't matter at all. In fact, I could claim you ARE playing freeform, bypassing the mechanics completely, the dice are just for show. I know this is just perception and investigation, but I guess it can easily be expanded. You could do this in any system. This is the epitome of "system doesn't matter" premise, because you're actually ignoring the mechanics of the game and just doing your own thing.

    While you ARE having fun and that's great, I like my fun to be supported by the game mechanics. That's kinda the point of designing/purchasing/choosing/downloading the game in the first place, isn't it?

    Oh, and the second thing that bothers me is the "look at this cool shit I made up" bit. Yeah, I did that. A lot. I still do, a bit. But now, for me, the game is something that happens collectively at the table. Why would I spend hours on end drawing maps and populating dungeons (yeah, I know, it's fun in its own way), if then I have to spend the game maneuvering, no, railroading the players down the corridors I created so I can showcase my creative genius? Fuck that shit, pardon my french. Again, I want games that actively support my prep and don't break when a player says "Hey, mr. GM, I don't care about YOUR secret room, I want to do this shit MY dude is interested in."
  • Posted By: Mcdaldno (joepub)Posted By: wburdickI want to hear why you hate it!
    I hate it, because you're asking players to dance for your pleasure.

    Do you have important information for them? Do they want it?
    Give it to them.

    If it's crucial, get it into their hands. If you're excited about it, get it into their hands.

    If they want to accomplish something, or to find something...
    ...if it's crucial, get it into their hands.
    ...if it's interesting, let them try. Make success interesting, make failure interesting.
    ...if you don't want them to have it, because it's dumb, say so.
    ...if you don't want them to have it, or to have it yet, because of your own pre-conceived notions of story, get over yourself.

    The fun your players had probably didn't come from you jerking them around, but your techniques seem to be about that.
    Hard work doesn't need to involve dead ends.
    You can give someone what they are looking for, without it being a walk in the park for them.

    So what's your answer to my question: "What does it mean when you make a Perception roll to search a desk? Does it mean you are guaranteed only to find things that aren't important to the story?"

    From what you're writing, it sounds like either: A) "Yes, perception rolls are never really important to the story," or B) "No, I'm making things up as I go along to fit their results, maybe like in Donjon."

    B is essentially doing exactly what I do.

    Dancing for pleasure:
    Actually, it is I who dance for their pleasure -- I do a lot of work for my players. And after 3.5 years of playing in my games, they still love playing in them. I have some game logs online if you want to see them. :P

    These particular techniques I'm describing are just about perception, but that's not what my games are usually all about. This is just a way I handle disseminating information. The difference between what you would do and what I do is that instead of giving it to them and not using any game mechanics at all, I couch it in game mechanics. I think this is appropriate in a game like D&D, where Streetwise, Diplomacy, Perception, Insight, and Intimidation are skills.

    Apparently, if you had an item that was crucial to the story that could conceivably involve one of these skills, you would just blow off the mechanics and use pure narration, probably leaving the players thinking, "Sheesh, I spent time choosing these skills and thinking about how they play into my character's development and I never actually get to play out using those skills. The DM just tells me what happens..." I'm essentially just giving it to them, but I ask for skill rolls. Sometimes, the skill rolls are "legit" and the result really matters. Sometimes they are "fake." The players don't know which is which. There is a "fourth wall" and a "suspension of disbelief" there.
  • Posted By: TeataineNo sir, I don't like it. And here is why.

    It is exactly the kind of "investigative" play D&D and its kin produces and I've since grown to dislike it. Illusionism is still illusionism, even if the players are fooled and convinced by the illusion. This sort of thing removes any weight from their decisions and rolls and hell, it's the sort of rule drift that ends up in freeform play. Because really, why are they even rolling perception checks if they get everything (or nothing) only at your whim? The bottom line is, you're not playing by the rules, you're making rulings. And the game has nothing to do at all with your rulings, neither do the players. You could be drawing yarrow sticks or tossing coins or spitting in a bowl. Doesn't matter at all. In fact, I could claim you ARE playing freeform, bypassing the mechanics completely, the dice are just for show. I know this is just perception and investigation, but I guess it can easily be expanded. You could do this in any system. This is the epitome of "system doesn't matter" premise, because you're actually ignoring the mechanics of the game and just doing your own thing.

    While you ARE having fun and that's great, I like my fun to be supported by the game mechanics. That's kinda the point of designing/purchasing/choosing/downloading the game in the first place, isn't it?

    Oh, and the second thing that bothers me is the "look at this cool shit I made up" bit. Yeah, I did that. A lot. I still do, a bit. But now, for me, the game is something that happens collectively at the table. Why would I spend hours on end drawing maps and populating dungeons (yeah, I know, it's fun in its own way), if then I have to spend the game maneuvering, no, railroading the players down the corridors I created so I can showcase my creative genius? Fuck that shit, pardon my french. Again, I want games that actively support my prep and don't break when a player says "Hey, mr. GM, I don't care about YOUR secret room, I want to do this shit MY dude is interested in."
    On the contrary, the players decisions had huge weight in those campaigns, with me rewriting the story to react to what they did on the fly as they made their decisions. I don't know what you think I'm doing, but you must think that there's only one way the things I'm talking about can play out and that it's just evil.

    So if you want games that actively support your prep, you must be taking the "throw D&D out" tack. Yeah, it's all about playing a system that supports your prep. Who cares what system the players want to play.

    Just FYI, the first campaign was in Spirit of the Century and the second was in Universalis + PDQ + FATE. So, uh, the players had a lot of impact on the story, up to changing NPC motivations and totally rerouting the story line. Railroading? Ha.
  • edited April 2010
    This is something indie games have never really got to grips with. Preparation is fun, but we seem to have an ideological objection to this particular form of fun.

    It's important, I think, to separate preparation from finding clues. Preparing an antique map as a handout? Great. Preparing an antique map as a clue for your players to find? More problematic, because of the stuff you describe.

    The common solutions are:
    • Just give them it, with no roll.
    • Let them roll. They find it whether they succeed or fail, but the roll tells you whether there's a complication.
    • Let them roll, but make the rolls easy enough so that they almost certainly find it.
    • Let them roll. If they don't find it, that's fine, and you accept you might save your handout for next week.
    Certain indie games are starting to suggest that preparation can be part of the fun. Acts of Evil is one: you research different historical time periods, to add flavour to the game. Apocalypse World is another: the GM designs Fronts, which get revealed according to player dice rolls.

    Graham
  • Some hatred here too, but more at your attitude towards it. I don't understand why you're using those techniques deceptively.

    Naturally if you do background prep, moving those things to where the players can encounter them makes perfect sense. It's not deceptive to do that because until it's in play it doesn't exist. So why waste everyone's time moving the cups around when you can just give them the ball?

    I find your 'reality is how you perceive it' to be entirely unproblematic and not deceptive. They're interested, so you give them content. What's deceptive about that?

    Changing the stuff that isn't in play on the fly is in no way deceptive - my problem with what you're doing as you portray it is that you're wasting the player's time with jumping through meaningless hoops to get to the content. 'Make a skill check until you succeed so something interesting can happen' does nothing for the game.
  • First, if you don't mind and the players are enjoying it, do it. I don't see any problem with illusionism if everyone is having a good time, if you prefer illusionism to being open and metagame-y about it. You've a clue or some other cool thing. With this technique, you don't let a die roll or an arbitrary choice prevent them from encountering it. That's not to say that they can't circumvent a problem through clever play. "Making sure players find clues" is not the same as saying "players have no choices." Oh, noes, my free will is gone because my character found a book in a library without rolling" is a peculiar argument.

    Anyway, to avoid illusionism, and yet still handle this in-game rather than at a meta-game level - this is what the GUMSHOE core clue is for. If they have any skill points in the ability, give them the clue. They still get the spotlight, and you get to give them a handout. It's out in the open, but it's a "rule", which gives players comfort.
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: GrahamThis is something indie games have never really got to grips with. Preparation is fun, but we seem to have an ideological objection to this particular form of fun.

    It's important, I think, to separate preparation from finding clues. Preparing an antique map as a handout? Great. Preparing an antique map as acluefor your players to find? More problematic, because of the stuff you describe.

    The common solutions are:

    Just give them it, with no roll.
    Let them roll. They find it whether they succeed or fail, but the roll tells you whether there's a complication.
    Let them roll, but make the rolls easy enough so that they almost certainly find it.
    Let them roll. If they don't find it, that's fine, and you accept you might save your handout for next week.

    Certain indie games are starting to suggest that preparation can be part of the fun. Acts of Evil is one: you research different historical time periods, to add flavour to the game. Apocalypse World is another: the GM designs Fronts, which get revealed according to player dice rolls.

    Graham
    I like "Let them roll. They find it whether they succeed or fail, but the roll tells you whether there's a complication" a lot.

    #3 seems to be "Why Aren't You Clever" (i.e. wait until they succeed and then give them the thing they are looking for)

    #4 seems to be "Ball and Cups"

    When I'm playing, I always really appreciate it when the GM has put obvious time into preparation. It shows that they care about what they're doing and they care about the players. It's a mark of quality.

    I also like players taking part in the entire creative process, which is why I blended Universalis in with my FATE/PDQ mashup (the players loved it and it worked great). During the PDQ/FATE parts of the sessions, we played like "normal RPGers". Some of the "investigative" qualities were: Intimidator, Interrogation, Impersonator, Chicago Cab Driver, Explorer, Student of Human Nature, and Historian. The players had sunk some serious points into some of these. I wanted to be able to prepare nice goodies and also let their characters shine like the heroes they were.

    They changed the story I had laid out a lot, giving me twists I would never have thought of; which is what I wanted them to do, of course. Like when they had defeated leader of the Exalted Order of Anubis and taken the "Ear of Osiris" artifact. One of the players framed a scene at EOA, where the leadership discussed whether to let the PCs keep it or chase them down. They changed the entire 2nd half of the story. So I inserted a large blank space in my spreadsheet and started patching up the story, taking the Universalis facts into account.

    Also, I was wondering about current indie games w.r.t. preparation. You confirmed my suspicion.
  • I don't think #2 is intended as "Why Aren't You Clever" - it's giving them what they wanted and if they failed then it turns out that what they want wasn't very good for them after all - but they still got it. There's no hoops to jump through while we wait for them to roll the right number - it's something that moves the situation forward to the important stuff immediately, and there's nothing deceptive about it.

    #3 isn't deceptive in and of itself - but if they just end up rerolling a bunch of times until you can give them the information then that is - and it's pointless, too. Actually, I think #3 is generally pointless. You want them to succeed, failure means that either nothing happens or we go around in circles until the dice let us move forward, so you might as well just have let it happen.

    Can you maybe tell us how these techniques actually make the game better? I really don't understand how waiting for the players to roll a good number before the game can move forward is fun or useful. To me, it seems pointless.
  • Posted By: AikSome hatred here too, but more at your attitude towards it. I don't understand why you're using those techniques deceptively.

    Naturally if you do background prep, moving those things to where the players can encounter them makes perfect sense. It's not deceptive to do that because until it's in play it doesn't exist. So why waste everyone's time moving the cups around when you can just give them the ball?

    I find your 'reality is how you perceive it' to be entirely unproblematic and not deceptive. They're interested, so you give them content. What's deceptive about that?

    Changing the stuff that isn't in play on the fly is in no way deceptive - my problem with what you're doing as you portray it is that you're wasting the player's time with jumping through meaningless hoops to get to the content. 'Make a skill check until you succeed so something interesting can happen' does nothing for the game.
    I agree. Making a skill check that has no interesting failure at all is annoying. So "punishing bad rolls with minor inconveniences" doesn't have to be boring. The point of this technique is to give Aragorn a chance to recount the battle and track the hobbits into Fangorn forest. In the movie, you see Aragorn having trouble finding clues at first, but he quickly found a piece of rope that led him to the recounting of the struggle. This technique doesn't work well to highlight a mediocre Perception score. I would only use it if there was a character with a really high Perception, so there won't be very many failures anyway. The failures that do happen can discover unpleasant things, like a nest of snakes, for instance.

    As for "deception", OK, you caught my hyperbole. There's not a real antagonism there between me and the players. It's a collaborative effort. My idea of "deception" comes from "suspension of disbelief" in the game mechanics themselves in cases like these. When you watch a tense scene in a movie, you still know that those are actors up on the screen and no one is truly in danger. Same thing here with game mechanics. The players know that there's a story behind the session and that their characters are the stars. When they make rolls to search, they know from past experience with me that they're not just making empty rolls that will lead no where.
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: AikI don't think #2 is intended as "Why Aren't You Clever" - it's giving them what they wanted and if they failed then it turns out that what they want wasn't very good for them after all - but they still got it. There's no hoops to jump through while we wait for them to roll the right number - it's something that moves the situation forward to the important stuff immediately, and there's nothing deceptive about it.
    You're right -- I messed that up in an edit. It should have been just #3. Editing now.
    #3 isn't deceptive in and of itself - but if they just end up rerolling a bunch of times until you can give them the information then that is - and it's pointless, too. Actually, I think #3 is generally pointless. You want them to succeed, failure means that either nothing happens or we go around in circles until the dice let us move forward, so you might as well just have let it happen.

    Can you maybe tell us how these techniques actually make the game better? I really don't understand how waiting for the players to roll a good number before the game can move forward is fun or useful. To me, it seems pointless.
    see comment #11, "interesting failure"
  • edited April 2010
    I think part of the issue here is that the desriptions suggest that the GM is teasing the players, whereas from the player point of view many of these things can be exciting rather than frustrating. Frustrating the character is not the same as frustrating the player. In a game where information is important, as long as their is some kind of lead to follow, some kind of meaningful activity, then it's not a problem.

    This is pretty bad form:
    P: I search the room
    G: You don't find anything
    P: I search the room again
    G: Still nothing
    P: I search it one last time
    G: A clue!

    This is great fun:
    P: I search the room.
    G: It's pretty disgusting. It looks like this guy never threw anything out. It's almost like archaeology and after a while, you yourself covered in the remains of half-eaten jam sandwiches, dead pot plants and unemptied cat litter trays.
    P: I'm gonna need some help. I call a professional cleaner.
    G: It's gonna cost you. They turn up and laugh. It's not half as bad as some they've seen and in about 6 hours, they cleaned all the mess left things in neatly labelled boxes.
    P: I look though the one labelled "books".
    G: A clue!

    Functionally they are the same.
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: GB SteveI think part of the issue here is that the desriptions suggest that the GM is teasing the players, whereas from the player point of view many of these things can be exciting rather than frustrating. Frustrating the character is not the same as frustrating the player. In a game where information is important, as long as their is some kind of lead to follow, some kind of meaningful activity, then it's not a problem.

    This is pretty bad form:
    P: I search the room
    G: You don't find anything
    P: I search the room again
    G: Still nothing
    P: I search it one last time
    G: A clue!

    This is great fun:
    P: I search the room.
    G: It's pretty disgusting. It looks like this guy never threw anything out. It's almost like archaeology and after a while, you yourself covered in the remains of half-eaten jam sandwiches, dead pot plants and unemptied cat litter trays.
    P: I'm gonna need some help. I call a professional cleaner.
    G: It's gonna cost you. They turn up and laugh. It's not half as bad as some they've seen and in about 6 hours, they cleaned all the mess left things in neatly labelled boxes.
    P: I look though the one labelled "books".
    G: A clue!

    Functionally they are the same.
    Hey, that's a great example!

    Actually, it also reminds me of Zork!
  • Bill,

    What you're describing are some very common techniques used by GMs who play games like (various editions of) D&D. If you combine a D&D-like ruleset with, for instance, an investigative framework, you have to come up with some "solutions", and what you describe is a set of very common solutions that I would imagine most people who have GMed for any length of time have used.

    Now, you're going to get some resistance to this topic at Story Games, because I would guess a very solid proportion of the people drawn to this community are people who have grown frustrated over the years with similar techniques (and I am one of them)--that's why they're here. So, you're preaching to the wrong crowd, in a sense.

    The techniques clearly "work", at least when handled right. However, I can tell you why I don't like them: they're less fun than the alternative. For years, I didn't know there was an alternative, but now that I know some different ways to handle the same challenge ("How do I play an investigative game, and how do I prep for it, and how do I make rolls matter, all at the same time?"), I've found the alternatives much, much more fun.

    Most of the techniques, like what you call Ball and Cups, come down to a funny sort of illusion that, over the long term, creates predictable patterns in the game.

    * The players have fun when they find the clues (or whatever), but the *process* of getting there is frustrating. In the short term, you can overlook that: it was frustrating at first, but now here's the reward! Cool. But in the long term, I see players getting bored and/or frustrated more often that not: for how many years can you play out "look around for the clue, not finding it anywhere... and then, miraculously, there it is!" Do it often enough and it gets old quick.
    * The GM has less fun, too, because s/he knows exactly what's going to happen. "Players look for clue" = "They search unsuccessfully for a while, then succeed." As a GM, there's zero suspense or interest there for me. I'd much rather have the players announce actions and then let the dice surprise us all. Because, if I'm doing the Ball and Cups thing, I've already effectively decided how things will turn out, and I'm just playing the game of pretending there's some suspense involved. That means less player input into the story (if any!), and no surprise for me at all. That gets boring and tiresome for the GM, as well, over the long term.

    Overall, what it comes down to is that these methods (for me) create that feeling of:
    Posted By: wburdick
    Dancing for pleasure:
    Actually, it isIwho dance fortheirpleasure -- I do a lot of work for my players. And after 3.5 years of playing in my games, they still love playing in them. I have some game logs online if you want to see them. :P
    You see how he said that the players are dancing for your pleasure? And then you come back saying that, no, you're the one dancing for their pleasure?

    In my experience, in such games, more often than not, BOTH parties start to feel like they're dancing for the other's pleasure. And they can still have fun doing that, sure. But I prefer by far a game where no one has to feel that way at all. Because, if you've decided the players are going to get the clue once they look in the fourth room of the castle, everything up until then is "dancing for their pleasure": we all have to pretend that something meaningful and suspenseful is going on, and pretend it's uncertain, and make it seem like fun at the same time. But we're just "dancing", because we already know how it's going to turn out.

    That's my experience of the thing, anyway.
  • Just for completeness, I can answer this, even though it wasn't aimed at me:
    Posted By: wburdick
    So what's your answer to my question: "What does it mean when you make a Perception roll to search a desk? Does it mean you are guaranteed only to find things that aren't important to the story?"

    From what you're writing, it sounds like either: A) "Yes, perception rolls are never really important to the story," or B) "No, I'm making things up as I go along to fit their results, maybe like in Donjon."

    B is essentially doing exactly what I do.
    I don't think either of those are good, complete solutions. Here's how I look at it:

    Rolling the dice isn't interesting. Choices are interesting. Consequences are interesting.

    So, from that point of view, there are many different solutions to this issue. For example:

    * Make finding the clue an interesting choice, not just a random outcome. Ok, you know the Mayor's got the letter in his desk. Are you willing to break into his house, become a criminal just like those you're fighting, to get it? Make it a choice, a meaningful choice that says something about the characters or puts something on the line. "Are you going to risk getting infected with the curse by going to retrieve the scroll out of that tomb?"
    * Make consequences interesting. Maybe the question isn't "do we find the clue?" Maybe it's "what consequences are there to searching for/finding the clue?" Like, successful roll = you find the clue and get away. Unsuccessful roll = You get the clue, but you're caught red-handed as you're pulling it out of the Mayor's desk (or maybe even before you pull it out of his desk, if getting the clue isn't absolutely necessary for the game to continue).
    * etc.
  • One technique I've often used in non-GUMSHOE games is to let the all the players present roll, and have the best roll find the clue first.

    It takes care of the functional element (they need to find this clue to proceed), but also gives a reason for the players to enhance their characters' skills- getting more spotlight time.

    Another potential technique which doesn't seem to have been mentioned is to gift the clue to the characters- but the roll determines how long (in game time) it takes to find it. There's a concrete benefit to being good at clue-hunting, but no risk of wasting player time or missing vital clues.
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: Paul T.Bill,

    What you're describing are some very common techniques used by GMs who play games like (various editions of) D&D. If you combine a D&D-like ruleset with, for instance, an investigative framework, you have to come up with some "solutions", and what you describe is a set of very common solutions that I would imagine most people who have GMed for any length of time have used.

    Now, you're going to get some resistance to this topic at Story Games, because I would guess a very solid proportion of the people drawn to this community are people who have grown frustrated over the years with similar techniques (and I am one of them)--that's why they're here. So, you're preaching to the wrong crowd, in a sense.

    The techniques clearly "work", at least when handled right. However, I can tell you why I don't like them: they're less fun than the alternative. For years, I didn't know there was an alternative, but now that I know some different ways to handle the same challenge ("How do I play an investigative game, and how do I prep for it, and how do I make rolls matter, all at the same time?"), I've found the alternatives much, much more fun.

    Most of the techniques, like what you call Ball and Cups, come down to a funny sort of illusion that, over the long term, creates predictable patterns in the game.

    * The players have fun when they find the clues (or whatever), but the *process* of getting there is frustrating. In the short term, you can overlook that: it was frustrating at first, but now here's the reward! Cool. But in the long term, I see players getting bored and/or frustrated more often that not: for how many years can you play out "look around for the clue, not finding it anywhere... and then, miraculously, there it is!" Do it often enough and it gets old quick.
    * The GM has less fun, too, because s/he knows exactly what's going to happen. "Players look for clue" = "They search unsuccessfully for a while, then succeed." As a GM, there's zero suspense or interest there for me. I'd much rather have the players announce actions and then let the dice surprise us all. Because, if I'm doing the Ball and Cups thing, I've already effectively decided how things will turn out, and I'm just playing the game of pretending there's some suspense involved. That means less player input into the story (if any!), and no surprise for me at all. That gets boring and tiresome for the GM, as well, over the long term.

    Overall, what it comes down to is that these methods (for me) create that feeling of:

    Posted By: wburdick
    Dancing for pleasure:
    Actually, it isIwho dance fortheirpleasure -- I do a lot of work for my players. And after 3.5 years of playing in my games, they still love playing in them. I have some game logs online if you want to see them. :P
    You see how he said that the players are dancing for your pleasure? And then you come back saying that, no, you're the one dancing for their pleasure?

    In my experience, in such games, more often than not, BOTH parties start to feel like they're dancing for the other's pleasure. And they can still have fun doing that, sure. But I prefer by far a game where no one has to feel that way at all. Because, if you've decided the players are going to get the clue once they look in the fourth room of the castle, everything up until then is "dancing for their pleasure": we all have to pretend that something meaningful and suspenseful is going on, and pretend it's uncertain, and make it seem like fun at the same time. But we're just "dancing", because we already know how it's going to turn out.

    That's my experience of the thing, anyway.
    I can see your position, but since I started role playing in the late 70s/early 80s, I've considered GMs for D&D-like games (and FATE and PDQ when it comes down to it) to be story tellers and entertainers for the players. Graham's, "Let them roll. They find it whether they succeed or fail, but the roll tells you whether there's a complication" and GB Steve's lead-following version of roll-until-you-succeed are both pretty good, I think.

    But as far as experimenting with other systems, I'm all for that, obviously, since I combined Universalis with FATE and PDQ, although some have described that as Frankensteinian (which is kind of cool, to me) and I'm trying to make a variant of Blood Red Sands that's role-play-y, so I don't have to mash other things in with it (although having players play both their characters and the NPCs at the same time is a bit of a departure, but I think it works out to be conflict-of-interest-free).
  • Posted By: Paul T.Just for completeness, I can answer this, even though it wasn't aimed at me:

    Posted By: wburdick
    So what's your answer to my question: "What does it mean when you make a Perception roll to search a desk? Does it mean you are guaranteed only to find things that aren't important to the story?"

    From what you're writing, it sounds like either: A) "Yes, perception rolls are never really important to the story," or B) "No, I'm making things up as I go along to fit their results, maybe like in Donjon."

    B is essentially doing exactly what I do.
    I don't think either of those are good, complete solutions. Here's how I look at it:

    Rolling the dice isn't interesting. Choices are interesting. Consequences are interesting.

    So, from that point of view, there are many different solutions to this issue. For example:

    * Make finding the clue an interesting choice, not just a random outcome. Ok, you know the Mayor's got the letter in his desk. Are you willing to break into his house, become a criminal just like those you're fighting, to get it? Make it a choice, a meaningful choice that says something about the characters or puts something on the line. "Are you going to risk getting infected with the curse by going to retrieve the scroll out of that tomb?"
    * Make consequences interesting. Maybe the question isn't "do we find the clue?" Maybe it's "what consequences are there to searching for/finding the clue?" Like, successful roll = you find the clue and get away. Unsuccessful roll = You get the clue, but you're caught red-handed as you're pulling it out of the Mayor's desk (or maybe even before you pull it out of his desk, if getting the clue isn't absolutely necessary for the game to continue).
    * etc.
    I like these, but I don't see how the first allows a players to use their Investigation skill. The second one is very much like Graham's second one, which I would choose, if I had to choose one or the other, because at least the PC's Investigation skill comes into play. Luckily, I can use both of them, which I will definitely do if it comes up for me again!
  • Posted By: QueexOne technique I've often used in non-GUMSHOE games is to let the all the players present roll, and have the best roll find the clue first.

    It takes care of the functional element (they need to find this clue to proceed), but also gives a reason for the players to enhance their characters' skills- getting more spotlight time.

    Another potential technique which doesn't seem to have been mentioned is to gift the clue to the characters- but the roll determines how long (in game time) it takes to find it. There's a concrete benefit to being good at clue-hunting, but no risk of wasting player time or missing vital clues.
    I like these, especially the spot-lighting.
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: GB Steve
    This is pretty bad form:
    P: I search the room
    G: You don't find anything
    P: I search the room again
    G: Still nothing
    P: I search it one last time
    G: A clue!

    This is great fun:
    P: I search the room.
    G: It's pretty disgusting. It looks like this guy never threw anything out. It's almost like archaeology and after a while, you yourself covered in the remains of half-eaten jam sandwiches, dead pot plants and unemptied cat litter trays.
    P: I'm gonna need some help. I call a professional cleaner.
    G: It's gonna cost you. They turn up and laugh. It's not half as bad as some they've seen and in about 6 hours, they cleaned all the mess left things in neatly labelled boxes.
    P: I look though the one labelled "books".
    G: A clue!

    Functionally they are the same.
    I don't think they are the same, and for an important difference. In the second example, the first search attempt fails, and that means searching is over. P tried, failed, and now has to do something else to move forward. In the example, the 'something else' is call the cleaners, but P is no longer searching. Exploring other avenues to a goal is interesting, can reveal character, and all the stuff that Paul mentioned above.

    Neil.
  • The answer to keeping rolls in the game while also just giving out essential bits of information is a little something we started playing with about 10 years ago called conflict resolution.

    If you've set up your game so that the players must find a clue and they are searching the room for it, it's there. They're going to find it. So ask yourself: Where's the conflict in this situation? Why are we spending time focusing on this moment? Are there guards wandering the grounds or a deadly monster lurking? Is there a vicious trap?

    When a player fails a search roll, or any roll really, the answer doesn't have to be a brick wall ("no sorry, you don't find anything"). You can throw in a complication instead. The characters find the ledger just as the crime bosses' goons burst through the door, pulls the mouldering tome from under a pile of junk as the giant spiders descend from the ceiling silently on silken threads, or notice the killer trap just as they're about to pull the ancient scroll from its case.

    If you turn failures into opportunities to introduce complications and twists, you'll never have to play Three-Card Monte with your players again.

    Also, I'd like to point out that despite Graham's assertion, there have always been plenty of indie games that require some GM prep, including: Sorcerer, Nine Worlds, With Great Power, the Riddle of Steel, The Shadow of Yesterday, Conspiracy of Shadows, Burning Wheel, Burning Empires, Mouse Guard, Dogs in the Vineyard, etc.
  • Posted By: NeilPosted By: GB Steve
    This is pretty bad form:
    P: I search the room
    G: You don't find anything
    P: I search the room again
    G: Still nothing
    P: I search it one last time
    G: A clue!

    This is great fun:
    P: I search the room.
    G: It's pretty disgusting. It looks like this guy never threw anything out. It's almost like archaeology and after a while, you yourself covered in the remains of half-eaten jam sandwiches, dead pot plants and unemptied cat litter trays.
    P: I'm gonna need some help. I call a professional cleaner.
    G: It's gonna cost you. They turn up and laugh. It's not half as bad as some they've seen and in about 6 hours, they cleaned all the mess left things in neatly labelled boxes.
    P: I look though the one labelled "books".
    G: A clue!

    Functionally they are the same.
    I don't think they are the same, and for an important difference. In the second example, the first search attempt fails, and that meanssearching is over. P tried, failed, and now has to do something else to move forward. In the example, the 'something else' is call the cleaners, but P is no longer searching. Exploring other avenues to a goal is interesting, can reveal character, and all the stuff that Paul mentioned above.

    Neil.
    Good point. In my blog post, the repeated roll example I gave was of a group walking through the jungle, being told to make perception every now and then as things happened around them, not searching, which is initiated by the players and doesn't make that much sense to repeat in the same place.

    However, I think you could make a contrasting example just like GB Steve's for searching for secret doors along a corridor:

    (import example 1)

    This is great fun:
    P: I search for secret doors
    G: tapping and trying to move the rocks along the wall confirms that they are firmly in place
    P: I search further down the hall
    G: Same story here, but since you got such a good Perception roll, you noticed as you were tapping that you shook free some rock dust a little bit farther down
    P: I go to that area and check it out!
    G: one of the larger rocks has a chink out of it, creating a gap at the top
    P: I wedge my 10 foot pole in there! I knew this would come in handy!
    ...

    At any point, if the players mess up a Perception roll, something else interesting happens, like accidentally knocking on a rock along a cleaving plane and making a huge racket.
  • I'm awfully surprised nobody has mentioned that one of the reason "ball and cups" might be beneficial is that it maintains investment in the game system as the means of interacting with the fictional world on both sides. You can no more "just give" the clue to players than they can "just hit" the ogre with their magic mallets. That is to say, you can, and they can, but that's not the game.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI'm awfully surprised nobody has mentioned that one of the reason "ball and cups" might be beneficial is that it maintains investment in the game system as the means of interacting with the fictional world on both sides. You can no more "just give" the clue to players than they can "just hit" the ogre with their magic mallets. That is to say, you can, and they can, but that's not the game.
    But but... that would mean that B&C is actually a "system matters" approach?!? :D
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI'm awfully surprised nobody has mentioned that one of the reason "ball and cups" might be beneficial is that it maintains investment in the game system as the means of interacting with the fictional world on both sides. You can no more "just give" the clue to players than they can "just hit" the ogre with their magic mallets. That is to say, you can, and they can, but that's not the game.
    I disagree. There is nothing inherently wrong or ungamely about a game where the system determines who hits the ogre with their magic mallet rather than if someone does so.

    Whether that's a hack born of pragmatism or integral to the system; it's just as valid an approach.
  • Thor O: I like that. I like it a lot.

    Queex: I think JD Corely was referring to D&D-style games, which are not systems like that, not about whether a system that did that thing would be ungamely


    You guys all rock. This is just the sort of feedback I was hoping for!
  • Posted By: QueexThere is nothing inherently wrong or ungamely about a game where the system determineswhohits the ogre with their magic mallet rather thanifsomeone does so.
    Yep, I was just saying that if you've got a skill system and you've established that it's the means of interacting with the material, you should use it, unless you want to, er, dis-establish that.
  • First -- most of what I typed has already been said, but hopefully I added something worthwhile.

    Also -- I would kind of like to see a concrete example of play (in the tradition of the Forge) where you deceived your players, so we can give you some alternative ways it could be done (I think that this is always fun and eye opening as long as feelings don’t get hurt).

    Caveat -- as others have said everyone has their own preferences. Fun is fun - if you’re having fun you aren’t doing anything wrong!
    Posted By: wburdick What does it mean when you make a Perception roll to search a desk? Does it mean you are guaranteed only to find things that aren't important to the story?
    Why would they only find non-important things?

    As Thor O said: What does looking in the desk mean within the fiction of the game? What is the Conflict in searching? How could the situation be Complicated on a failed roll?.
    Posted By: wburdickBall and Cups: when the players are searching for something, keep "moving it" until they succeed. You might let them find it in the Nth place they look, so they feel like they've done some work
    Paul T and GB Steve gave good reasons why this doesn’t work for some (myself included).

    This is tied up in Burning Wheel’s “Let it Ride” mechanic for me (I don’t want to roll again for the same task).

    Personally I favor Transparency in gaming and I’d rather be told what is at stake (so to speak). In other words I like to be told: “if you make the roll you find what you are looking for, and if you fail the roll you find it but [Complication]” (or possibly nearly find it but you have to overcome another obstacle on the path, and potentially more with other failed rolls).
    Posted By: wburdickWell, Aren't You Clever: throw "soft balls" at the group, calling for Perception rolls and "punishing" bad ones with minor inconveniences. When they make a really good one, reveal the important thing they were supposed to perceive
    For me this is almost there. Why don’t they find it and get an inconvenience (Complication)? And does it have to be a “minor inconvenience”? Why can’t it be a big ‘ol Complication? (Take a gander at Mouse Guard for some examples of this technique).

    I love it when the GM tells me “if you fail this… [Complication]” - then I get to make a choice as to what I, as player and character, find important. Do I risk rolling to get what I want or possibly a nasty (but hopefully fun) Complication?
    Posted By: wburdickReality Is How You Perceive It: when the players want to search for something that isn't there and the succeed, make something up and give it to them, Donjon-style
    Sure! And I would ask the player what they are hoping to find (why are they wanting to roll the dice here?) and then base what they find on player expectations.

    To go even further: even if they don’t succeed at the roll they could find it but (Complication) there is another obstacle that has to be overcome.

    I think Luke Crane called this concept “Failing Forward” (to misquote him!).
  • Posted By: wburdickWe did it again. And the players never knew.
    This sort of skittled under the radar, but I think it's worth pointing out:

    In my opinion, the players are almost-certainly simply wrong here.

    I don't mean they're lying -- I'm sure they believe that "we never knew!" I just think they are mistaken.
  • Bill,

    How much of your players' fun relies on them not knowing that you cheat? I mean, do they know that you cheat? If they found out, would it be a big deal? Or do they know you cheat, and they're cool with that, but they just don't want to know about the specific instances of cheating?
  • Posted By: Adam DrayBill,

    How much of your players' fun relies on them not knowing that you cheat? I mean, do they know that you cheat? If they found out, would it be a big deal? Or do they know you cheat, and they're cool with that, but they just don't want to know about the specific instances of cheating?
    Roger: you really believe that? They're mistaken about what they knew? Um... OK. Well, no one can dispute a position like that, so certainly won't try.

    Adam: Good question! The short answer is that they really don't care. My group is really very much more concerned about the story and not so much about specifics of mechanics. They like the combat dice mini-games, and everything, but we were playing FATE. Aspects overshadow the dice so much that it's usually not so much about the rolls anyway.

    I don't use the things I'm talking about in my thread starter that much -- they're just in my tool box and I use them when I think they're appropriate. I just wanted to hear some feedback on them. That said, I'm not above adjusting stress boxes in mid-combat since the players don't know about them anyway (ooh, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that) -- usually only to shorten conflicts that are taking too long where everyone knows where the battle is going anyway. Or sometimes I just say "you eventually beat them". Or "they eventually beat you -- do you really want to play this out?"
  • Adam:
    By the way, I think every RPG I have says that all rules are completely at the discretion of the GM. Can a GM cheat in a game like that? To me, it's always been all about how much the players like the game sessions.
  • Do the players not know that you cheat, or do they not know how you cheat? The latter seems far more likely in my experience.

    (Never mind, that came up in a cross-post already.)

    But anyway, the question of why seems more interesting to me, all told. This is a possible way of arranging play, but the reason for why I don't do illusionism myself nowadays is that I don't construe of the fun activity of play that I want to do in those terms. Bill is describing how he approaches the task of GMing, but equally or even more important is why he's doing so - it seems that the reason is in how he considers himself the preparer and gatekeeper of the story the other players get to experience. If you do not share this understanding of the player responsibilities, the whole question of why not do illusionism doesn't even come up. In other words: it's not that I don't know how to do this, but that I don't want the type of enjoyment that can be achieved in this way.

    As an example of the the differences in type of fun, the spotlight thing: I don't even understand what "spotlight" means as a term pertaining to enjoyment of play in this context. Having it be your character that finds the clue seems like a primitive and mis-construed enjoyment that is only possible when there's nothing better to have in the game. It only seems sad to me that a player would have so little to do in a game that they would actually feel gratified by getting to roll dice and having the GM pat them on the head for rolling well. (I specifically use the word "seems" here because there probably is a different explanation aside from frustration for why somebody would be invested in getting to have their character do a cool action pose.) I'm sure that this makes perfect sense in some specific type of adventure play, perhaps something where the players have to fight for their right to participate, but it's alien to the sort of ways I've been playing this decade.

    As for why I dislike illusionism of this sort, I guess it's because I grew tired of it through the latter part of the '90s. It wasn't helping us play purposefully, and having to be the dancing bear for the group felt like a too big responsibility and too one-sided as a creative exercise; it simply wasn't worth it for me to twist myself into a pretzel for the enjoyment of a couple of passive friends when I could just as well write a short story or a novel that'd be appreciated more intensively by more people. So it didn't work for me as an artist; I needed to get a different type of kick from roleplaying, something where my enjoyment would be more than the satisfaction of getting to show off my cleverness to an appreciative but ultimately passive audience. Roleplaying started to really interest me more only when I discarded all pretension of being responsible for an amazing artistic experience and began to focus on the interactive aspect: who I play with, what do they want, what do they bring to the game and so on. Let them love the great thing we make together, not my leet skillz as a GM. Illusionism doesn't fare well in that context because the very approach is objectifying towards the players: when I lie to the players for their benefit I'm using them as tools of my show, making me the only real actor in the interaction.

    My issue is not with advance prep or mysteries as a core of adventure or any of that; I just don't like having to be the one who decides what happens, and that's what it boils down to if a bulk of the game's focus is on issues that can only really fall one way for the GM's masterplan to come to fruition. Moving the important clue from one place to another is not that different from moving a great Bang from one place to another (something that you're expected to do in many games) as a technique; the difference is in why you're doing it. In one game you're moving fictional elements behind the scenes to make sure that the wrong choice a player made has no lasting impact on the plot, while in the other you're making sure that the players get to make the important choices about the scenario. Thus, one of these techniques is directed at keeping control in the hands of the GM, while another is for making sure that the players get to make interesting choices. It's this level of intentions in the background of the techniques utilized in play that determines whether the techniques work for me.

    (All that being said - FATE sure explains a lot here. The game's all but designed for participationism. Cheating with the rules is all but par for the course in this case.)
  • For certain kinds of traditional-ish play, this is not really about task resolution OR conflict resolution. It's using the resolution mechanic as a form of pacing. Each check is an opportunity to add some color to the story of "how you found the clue".

    A lot of players really, really like exploring the color of the game. SG is full of folks who don't - who are much more into character and situation and conflict.

    I often feel kind of weird here because I love my color, and I will stand up for the notion that what Bill's describing is NOT illusionism - it's not removing agenda-relevant choices, but facilitating exploration through application of a tacit element of system: the idea that many mechanics are not there to determine IF something happens, but HOW and WHEN.
  • You can do the sort of pacing you mention, Mark - in fact, I'm exploring similar ideas in game design right now. However, I've yet to see why what Bill's told us is not illusionistic - is there some core of play in there that actually revolves around interaction? Seems to me that what the players love in Bill's game is the good story he facilely brings out. The usual suspects for interactive play, such as combat scenes, seem like an after-thought from how he describes it.

    In case somebody might get the wrong impression, I'll reiterate that it's not a technical problem I have with anything here; it's simply the fact that I don't much care for the GM's story as a focus of play. If an ability check is used to say "not yet" and the delay actually has some interesting content, and the ultimate pay-off is actually something else than the GM's story, then I don't really have any personal preference against the technique itself.

    And, of course, if somebody finds joy in playing the dancing bear, more power to them. Nothing against others having fun.

    Also, a secondary point: I believe that everybody likes Color. Different groups just need different techniques for bringing it to the fore. My own pet theory is that Color is often not a big deal with Forgista games because they presuppose joint creative interest; the most brutish games simply assume that you'll be chattering happily about the fictional details with no systematic incentive for it at all.
  • Hmm, since there have been a few comments here about me showing off my leet skillz, I guess I ought to explain that I have much more of a servant mentality towards my players than must be common for some people. So I'm talking about all of this in the context of "games like D&D".

    (I can't believe I'm about to explain this on story-games.com)

    OK, games like FATE and PDQ have specific hooks for spotlighting (aspects and foibles/negative qualities). Compels are all about spotlighting. Spotlighting makes good stories. Maybe not the kind you like to play, but we were playing SotC followed by a PDQ/FATE mashup. Is spotlighting inherently wrong -- when you're playing FATE or PDQ? Does that mean I'm taking the role of a benevolent medieval priest and patting my parishioners on the head? Gee, I thought I was, you know, GMing for FATE and PDQ.

    Folks, does it all have to be about power? Really? Isn't that petty and feeble? Maybe some people play RPGs because they're all about power. I don't need to get fake power from making up stories. I'm 43 and I play games in game stores with college students. Where's the power in that? I pity people who feel power from playing pretend. They should do... something! How about, volunteering with a soup kitchen?

    When I run D&D-like games, I usually do a ton of preparation and hard thinking to try to make the story about the PCs. Spotlighting with skill checks is one tiny, tiny way to do that. Connecting the NPCs to the histories of the PCs is another. One example: a player made his PC an orphan so that it could come up in the story later. So, I had him find out that his father was Anastasio Samosa Debayle by way of a bunch of Nicaraguan goons after him with a death warrant. Later, that character found out that he had siblings that were also being eradicated.

    FATE 2e even had mechanics to pay a fate point to deliver an uninterrupted monologue, James Bond villain-style. How's that for spot-lighting? Spirit of the Century is pulp, which is all about telling the heroes' stories. Games like this have a GM who writes or runs a story so, um, yeah, the GM is the "gatekeeper" of the story. Isn't that how people usually play games like D&D? It's how they present themselves in the rules. Check out some D&D modules if you're not sure :).
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenYou can do the sort of pacing you mention, Mark - in fact, I'm exploring similar ideas in game design right now. However, I've yet to see why what Bill's told us is not illusionistic - is there some core of play in there that actually revolves around interaction? Seems to me that what the players love in Bill's game is the good story he facilely brings out. The usual suspects for interactive play, such as combat scenes, seem like an after-thought from how he describes it.

    In case somebody might get the wrong impression, I'll reiterate that it's not a technical problem I have with anything here; it's simply the fact that I don't much care for the GM's story as a focus of play. If an ability check is used to say "not yet" and the delay actually has some interesting content, and the ultimate pay-off is actually something else than the GM's story, then I don't really have any personal preference against the technique itself.

    And, of course, if somebody finds joy in playing the dancing bear, more power to them. Nothing against others having fun.

    Also, a secondary point: I believe that everybody likes Color. Different groups just need different techniques for bringing it to the fore. My own pet theory is that Color is often not a big deal with Forgista games because they presuppose joint creative interest; the most brutish games simply assume that you'll be chattering happily about the fictional details with no systematic incentive for it at all.
    About dancing bears: If you're ever in Israel, I urge you to go to the hall of independence in Tel Aviv and hear the story told in true, Middle Eastern story-teller fashion. It may change your mind about the value of story tellers.
  • My feeling about Illusionism is that it's unnecessary. There are two ways to approach all this GM-fiat technique:

    1. You lie to your friends. They know you do it, but don't want to be reminded of the man behind the curtain. This is Participationism.
    2. You lie to your friends. They don't know you do it. This is Illusionism.

    It's not a question of deception here; it's a question of consent. Do your friends consent to the "cheating" you do? If not, why not? If it truly makes the game better, they'll consent to it, right? If it somehow cheapens play for them, they can tell you, and you can work out when it's okay to "cheat" and when it isn't.
  • You sound like you're trying to convince us of something, Bill. Would you care to elucidate - I'll be better able to understand the discussion if you tell us more about what you're trying to prove. There's nothing crucial in what you say that I feel the need to disagree with, except perhaps the implicit idea that you would need to convince us to play the same way you do. That sort of change of mind isn't going to happen by debating on a forum - insofar as I've seen, the only way to introduce people to new ways of playing is to write compelling game texts that enable and inspire them.

    Also, I've played a bit of D&D through the last decade now and then (including one multi-year campaign), and it's certainly not been about the GM's story any time I've been DMing. My favourite style of D&D is all about freely negotiated challenges, strictly impartial refereeing and joy in adversity; there is no story there, unless you count a posteori confabulation. I understand that I'm not alone in my preference for story-less D&D, so it seems a bit simplifying to claim that being the gatekeeper of the story is obviously the D&D Dungeon Master's job.
  • Posted By: Adam DrayMy feeling about Illusionism is that it's unnecessary. There are two ways to approach all this GM-fiat technique:

    1. You lie to your friends. They know you do it, but don't want to be reminded of the man behind the curtain. This is Participationism.
    2. You lie to your friends. They don't know you do it. This is Illusionism.

    It's not a question of deception here; it's a question of consent. Do your friends consent to the "cheating" you do? If not, why not? If it truly makes the game better, they'll consent to it, right? If it somehow cheapens play for them, they can tell you, and you can work out when it's okay to "cheat" and when it isn't.
    I stand by my thread title :).
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: wburdickIf you do this, tell me how you do it!
    Sure. This is a sample of a Call of Cthulhu game I ran a while back having to do with a failed "Library Use" skill check.

    The players had found out about an extremely rare book (that they, of course, needed) that was supposed to be in the local libraries archives. They rolled their Library Use skill(s) and failed.

    Rather than have them come up empty handed - I said that they discover the book is missing and has been checked out by an unidentified person.

    A Fast Talk check and the librarian told them that the person in question had made a nice charitable donation in return for being allowed to take the book for a week.

    This gave the players the option of waiting for the book to be returned or tracking down the person who checked the book out.

    In other words the Library Use check wasn't a dead end. I didn't have them roll again either. Nor did I have the book show up later at the "stories" (read: my) convienience. Instead I decided to Complicate the situation (and it only got more complicated, and in my opinion more interesting, because of the unexpected - even to me - twist in the story).
  • edited April 2010
    Your thread title says that your players love that you deceive them, not that they love the result. If that's what you actually mean, hey, that sounds Participationist to me. Then you're not really deceiving them, exactly. If they don't know that you deceive them, then they cannot love that you deceive them.

    Also: I win more than everyone else.
  • Can we get some comment by the players here?
  • Posted By: Adam DrayYour thread title says that your players love that you deceive them, not that they love the result. If that's what you actually mean, hey, that sounds Participationist to me. Then you're not really deceiving them, exactly. If they don't know that you deceive them, then they cannot love that you deceive them.

    Also:I win more than everyone else.
    Heh. I guess that's why my blog is titled with an unprovable statement?

    We have a lot of good memories of those campaigns. Like I said earlier, I didn't tell them what I was doing until the end (or close to it at least) of the first campaign. They couldn't tell when I was using these techniques and I didn't use them very much -- it's not like this characterizes my campaigns or anything. This is just one of the things I do sometimes.. I asked them a few times after that when I used them in the other campaign and they still didn't notice it. I guess if I retitled this post, I'd clarify that.
  • edited April 2010
    Jeff has a good point. It'd be interesting to know what the players think. I've played games where I've been convinced the players enjoyed my Brilliant GMing Trick. Afterwards, when I asked them, they enjoyed the game, but not the trick. So appearances can be deceptive.

    Brandon, I like your Cthulhu Book clue. So a skill success lets them half-succeed with getting the clue: or, perhaps, it puts an obstacle in the way of them getting the clue. That's another option.

    Graham
  • I'll ask them and see if they'll chime in.

    I agree about Brandon's idea -- making a failure "inconvenience" the PCs is a good idea, especially since players thrive on just this sort of inconvenience!
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: Irminsul
    In other words the Library Use check wasn't a dead end. I didn't have them roll again either. Nor did I have the book show up later at the "stories" (read: my) convienience. Instead I decided to Complicate the situation (and it only got more complicated, and in my opinion more interesting, because of the unexpected - even to me - twist in the story).

    This makes me think of Mouse Guard (haven't played BW so I don't know if it's a property of the "larger" system) and how it handles skills (the few times I've played it).

    When the players fail a roll, the game specifically instructs the GM to handle it by introducting either a complication that must be overcome (and whose resolution also resolves the first issue) or by inflicting Conditions ("Okay well you failed your scouting roll so you have to put so much work into tracking him that once you find him, you're Hungry").

    This conversation makes me want to play Mouse Guard again.

    Edit: fail a roll, not fail a role.
  • I learned long ago that as far as mysteries go, situations where the characters can keep on going back to the source are *much* more gameable than situations where the source is a one-and-done thing. For instance, a noirish scenario where an important clue comes from the deceased's on-again off-again girlfriend -- if the players don't realize the significance of the clue, or take the wrong approach with her and get her to shut down, well, they can go back and talk to her again later, and that has a good chance of both being productive in terms of the nuts and bolts of the story *and* ratcheting up the dramatic tension. But if the important clue was supposed to come from a DNA sample, and the lab tech player botched his Laboratory Use roll, you're out of luck.

    Investigations always involve two stories that are intertwined: there's the story of what actually happened -- the chain of motivations and events leading up to the murder (for instance), and immediately following it -- and the story of how it was discovered -- the investigator following the trail of evidence and clues. If you've got a traditional GM/players dynamic going on, then one of the most straightforward ways for this to work is for the GM to know the story of what actually happened in detail. So if the handouts deal with that aspect of things, then the skill checks do not determine *what* the players find out so much as *when* they find it out. (I will concede that it's possible for the investigated plot to be developed at the same time as the investigation plot, but my attempts at doing that have been less successful because it's very easy to get caught in a contradiction.)

    And as far as the dynamics around skill checks and giving the players clues -- my take on that is, if the GM is going to call for a skill roll, there should be something interesting that happens as the result of either success or failure. Sometimes, depending on the mood of the table, a flatly narrated skill check -- "You search the room, and man o man is it a mess, but you don't find anything that seems to relate" -- is sufficiently interesting because the players will treat it as a goad to try another approach. Other times, "You find nothing" is more of a frustration than a goad, and the right answer is something that says yes-but -- the characters find the clue they need, but with a complication, as suggested.
  • 'Search' rolls are for finding hidden things. If something isn't hidden, if they specifically state they are searching the correct place straight away or something like that, I see no point in making them roll the dice. That way leads forcing players to roll when they need to find a fifty foot statue in the middle of a grassy plane that's totally flat in all directions for several miles. When they're standing on its head. If the players know or can work out where to look through logic, I don't see any need to disturb the sleeping dice.

    On the other hand, Search rolls are good for allowing the players to discover excess junk that is useful, but not necessarily vital to the ongoing storyline.

    -Ash
  • Posted By: cwilburI learned long ago that as far as mysteries go, situations where the characters can keep on going back to the source are *much* more gameable than situations where the source is a one-and-done thing. For instance, a noirish scenario where an important clue comes from the deceased's on-again off-again girlfriend -- if the players don't realize the significance of the clue, or take the wrong approach with her and get her to shut down, well, they can go back and talk to her again later, and that has a good chance of both being productive in terms of the nuts and bolts of the story *and* ratcheting up the dramatic tension. But if the important clue was supposed to come from a DNA sample, and the lab tech player botched his Laboratory Use roll, you're out of luck.
    I came to the same realization, too.

    Also, from a GM's perspective, playing the deceased's on-again off-again girlfriend is a hell of a lot more fun than telling the lab tech "the sample is contaminated, and no useful conclusions can be drawn from the test." (I suspect this could be generalized as "interacting with people is always more fun than narrating to people," but maybe that's a comment for another thread.)

    The downside to this approach is that sometimes a player wants to be a lab tech. I'm totally stealing Irminsul's technique for the next time that happens: converting failure from a dead end to an obvious complication which must be overcome is fucking brilliant.
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