Character motivation in "OSR" play

edited February 2014 in Story Games
As with many a discussion started on this forum: I've been intrigued by Eero's D&D/OSR/sandbox game, as well as other similar things. I'm writing both to hear from him, but also more generally.

Eero (and others) solves the issue of balance in challengeful play by making it "player negotiated". What they mean by this, I believe, is that they create and improvise the setting and situation by asking "What does the fiction demand?". So when the players enter the room, the question is not "What is an appropriate challenge for their level?" but "What has to be here given the facts established about the situation?". If this results in challenges too hard for the PCs, it's the players' responsibility to seek challenges elsewhere.

So Eero aims for this reason (and I think for aesthetic sensibility) to keep the whole campaign world as it has been revealed fictionally plausible. Something that appeals to me, and has done so for most of my experience with roleplaying.

My question is, and this is a problem I've always had with D&D in its various forms: This kind of play hinges heavily on the PCs exploring dungeons to find loot, with a high fatality rate. How do you deal with creating characters who do this? I get the impression that this may just not be a focus of OSR-play - D&D has generally been infamous for its 2D characters, and obviously this kind of play emphasizes using your character as a tool to beat challenges.

But I just find it weirdly dissonant. You have this world, which is meant to hang together, with NPCs and monsters and locations and everything else in relationships that should allow the players to make sense of the setting they are in and explore it meaningfully. And then you have these player characters, who seem suicidal, perhaps psychotic and behave in all kinds of weird ways, like they have this constant stream of them joining the adventuring "party" and being completely willing to carry on where their predecessors left off - despite the fact that most of them died!

So, Eero and others, how do you deal with this? Do you just accept the characters kind of stick out from the rest of the setting and don't make a lot of sense? Or do you have advice for how to create characters who are willing to explore dungeons, but aren't just insane or suicidal?
«1

Comments

  • edited February 2014
    Addendum: Obviously, if I want character-motivated story-focused play, there are other games I would turn to than this kind of D&D. I have my repertoire of TSOY, etc. My point is not that I want the character's motivations to become the main driver of play, but that I want them to fit plausibly with the rest of the fictionally consistent setting, so as not to cause suspension of disbelief problems. (Why on earth do these people exist? Why does everyone else not look at them the way they might do rabid wolves?)
  • This is going to be rambling, but I figure that you'd rather have a rambling reply than no reply at all because who has the time to write well-edited prose for a web forum :D

    Regarding plausibility of the campaign world, I should say that I'm very much not one of those roleplayers who get lost in setting simulation for its own sake; the vast majority of my rpg experience (particularly of the more successful sort) has been with games where realism and consistency and other such values have been afterthoughts, an incidental consequence of other concerns.

    The same goes for this sort of D&D, sort of: I don't prioritize the credibility of the content for its own sake as you suggest, but rather simply because the type of challengeful gamist play we desire requires realistic conceits. (This distinction is to say: I don't like sit around alone in my house and daydream about the setting and how realistic it is - it's all for a purpose.) Furthermore, I don't concern myself with balance, as you say, but it's not because I find realism more important; rather, it's because "balance" is fundamentally a concept that denies player choice and player responsibility!

    Before going further, what is our creative agenda? My answer is as follows, and I believe this to have been influential in old wargaming culture long before roleplaying existed: we desire to speculate upon the conundrums of tactical and strategic thought, enjoying and celebrating the colorful cultural elements involved in our subject matter (romantic fantasy adventure often enough in rpgs, although in wargaming this was military history instead), and coming to understand our world better thereby; by doing so we come to provide mutual respect to each other for our skills in this endeavour. Thus we strive to establish interesting fictional situations, recognize the challenges involved, and triumph; not because of xp or because we get to beat on somebody else, but because by victory we prove to ourselves that our skills and understanding have, in fact, improved.

    The above paragraph has massive implications; in fact, this entire thread is basically answered for my part by the creative agenda. Consider:

    Why is balance not allowed to be a concern in the choices the referee makes? It's not because game balance is contrary to setting realism; even if it were not, as is sometimes the case, your refereeing technique would still be unhygienic if you concerned yourself with balance. The reason for this is simply that choices made for balance are choices made with an outcome of the conflict in mind: I believe that this buch of monsters is too difficult a challenge, and we can't have that, so therefore I'll make them weaker. This kind of thinking is dangerously wrong in two ways: the referee thinks that he knows how the situation will resolve (this is a mistake on his part; he does not know, or if he does, then it's not a challenge we are interested in), and he thinks that he knows best what the outcome should be. Fuck you referee, I say! Fuck you, and let me run the game if you're too chicken-shit to let us see for ourselves whether our party as it currently stands can take on three ogres and a mangy cur.

    Why is setting credibility a concern, why can't we go all "wizard did it" on anything and everything? This is also simple in the context of that creative agenda: we want to engage fictional challenges, and that we cannot have if we do not have a fictional playing field upon which to engage the challenges. Many modern gamist games attempt to provide a mechanical playing field, but for me this is no good without a compelling fictional subject matter; as I often say, I don't want to know how to slay a dragon by abusing a weird flaw in the rules, but rather I want to figure out how to slay a dragon by utilizing fictional resources, whatever they are. The mechanical reflection is secondary, and subject to change when the mechanics fail. (This is why OSR says "rulings, not rules".)

    What is the fictional subject matter of D&D? For me personally it is this: how are you to survive and prosper in the Old World (with everything that capitalization implies), and what sorts of heroic deeds will you accomplish if you are one of the haves instead of have-nots? Also, the phantasmagoria: given that this Old World is not merely the world of feudal slavery, macho mythology, misogyny and racism, but also the world of horrifying cosmologies that provide stark contrasts between Good and Evil, spawning monsters - given this, what are your means of success, and how far will they take you? How will you rise from serfdom into a free lord, how will you triumph against 20 skeletal warriors with a half dozen scared peons? This is D&D to me.
  • So I've explained what my creative agenda is, and what I view as the subject matter of challenge-oriented OSR D&D. If either statements require clarification or correction, feel free to ask. Note that this is subjective, though, so while interesting, your differing creative interest in D&D is not a counter-argument for my unique creative interest, so to speak. In any case, we should now be able to answer the question about player characters as well.

    When we play D&D with this vision of how the game should be, it's not that difficult to maintain player characters as interesting and realistic individuals. The key requirement is obviously that we want to do this (because of that creative agenda; if you think about it, you'll notice that just like the setting needs to be culturally relevant, so do the characters for us to achieve what we seek), and this desire in turn then encourages us to maintain a vast array of techniques and practices that help us in doing so. Consider these examples of what we do in practice to achieve our ideal of interesting world, interesting characters, interesting challenges, all resolved to our best ability:
    - Characters are properly developed into individuals via play; fictional positioning is a huge conceit in this, as positioning informs character nature and character nature is positioning. In practice we find excessive pre-development of characters to be unhygienic (it increases your commitment to the character to a level not concordant with the lethality of early play) and useless, so characters achieve their interesting motivations and positioning concerns over time.
    - Character motivations are not in conflict with central conceits of adventuring because of constructive coordination between the players and the referee: it is not the case that we somehow create "whatever character you wish", and then the referee brings whatever adventure he wants, and somehow magically these match; no, the key to success is to seek the creative concord: either you create a character who wants to tackle this adventure, or I bring an adventure that your character wants to tackle. It is very much unhygienic to imagine that this cooperation would be somehow one-sided; he who tells you that players are responsible for bringing characters who want to play the GM's adventure has apparently never played a sandbox campaign where important and interesting PCs determine the direction and focus of play.
    - The setting reacts to what the player characters do and what they are; it is not the case that somehow the conceits of adventure gaming override setting logic, and thus PCs are somehow exempt from e.g. laws that limit armaments and movement. If our setting is such that traditional cliches of D&D adventuring do not hold (assuredly we've been intentional in choosing such a setting), and thus "adventurers" do not exist as a social phenomenon, then it's up to the players to reinvent their characters as something that can be swallowed by the people of the setting. Be a missionary or mercenary or sheriff or whatever if you can't be an adventurer.
    - The reward system is geared towards interesting challenges, whatever they are. If the group is really excited about this war with orcs, but there are no dungeons and treasure involved, then it's time to take out the "1 civilian saved = 1 xp" alternative xp scheme; if the group wants to go explore an unknown land, perhaps "10 xp per hex travelled, 100 xp per point of interest discovered" is appropriate. Getting xp for treasure is merely a conceit of the goal-oriented reward system, so when the goals change so by necessity has to happen to the reward system as well.

    In practical play I think that we routinely achieve seamless integration between characters and setting, to whatever degree we desire, and we accomplish this by simply wanting it. Creative agenda is a wondrous thing, as long as you're passionately on the same page :D

    I suppose that my slightly wandering reply to your question is that the difficulty of having the PCs fit the setting is resolved with exactly the same means that you resolve the "balance" issue: you realize that it was your own false preconceptions about the nature of D&D that was holding you back. Once you learn to let go of the idea that PCs need to face winnable battles, you realize that balance is unnecessary; once you learn to let go of the idea that PCs have to be wandering footloose adventurers who go into dungeons for loot, you realize that there is in fact no difficulty in combining PCs and the setting.

    A couple of rules of thumb that might be useful in shaking the aforementioned preconceptions - these are all hygienic principles in my D&D play:
    - When a character no longer has a good motivation for adventuring (the player is obviously the best authority in this regard), that character retires. The player and the character are not one, and infinite xp grind is not why we play. For example, when my ranger got to 2nd level, he decided that he liked the woods of the area, and settled down; he would no longer adventure except when the going concern happened in the territory he chose for himself.
    - When a character has a passion, we go out of our way to figure out whether resolving that passion might be adventurously interesting. If the answer is yes, and the referee (or somebody who wants to referee) develops some adventure stuff, then we can play that passion. If the answer is no, the matter is resolved quickly, off-screen, with extreme abstraction. For example, when my magic-user character heard that his cult members were being harassed in their journey to his newly established monastery, he started on an epic counter-journey to Kiev so as to help the refugees reach safety at the Dacian safe haven he'd established. Consequently adventure occurred, and when we'd had our fill, we decided that the journey was done.
    - When PCs need to act in an unrealistic way for play to happen, let them, and perhaps fabulate post-facto justifications for why they're acting that way. For example, in our campaign we have an explicit principle that players are never required to make bad decisions because their characters are more ignorant than the players; however, it is considered sporting to provide an amusing explanation for how come your character knows that ghouls have a paralyzing touch when he's never met one.
  • Finally, note that while all this accomplishes what we consider a very pleasing balance between playability and realism, that balance is not the balance of a carefully orchestrated novel; new PCs are still brought in extra-causally ("Oh, lucky for us that you happened to be passing through"), PCs still work together quite effortlessly, and so on. These matters are simply necessities of reaching the good stuff, and thus we constructively assume that good in-fiction reasons for things exist, even where we don't waste time establishing them explicitly. It should be easy to understand why we do not e.g. roll at 1:100 odds at the beginning of game to find out whether the PCs have in fact ever met each other, and may therefore adventure together; although this might be more "realistic", it would not constructively bring us into a situation where we get to tackle the adventurous challenge we're looking for.

    I tend to call this principle of constructive denial in service of getting to the good stuff the "logistics phase" of play: any given session of play begins with a "logistics phase" during which we accept the most unlikely coincidences and compromises, as long as they don't undermine the scenario, and they result in everybody having characters they want to play, ready to engage the scenario. In most situations the requirements of the logistics don't really conflict that much with realistic concerns, but on occasion they do, and that's when we need to talk it out and decide case-by-case whether practicability is more important to us than integrity of the scenario. I can actually give good examples of what this looks like in practice, could be useful for understanding what I mean by the compromise between integrity and practicability:

    A while back our adventurers were robbed by highwaymen, and we tracked them down to a cave hideout in the wilderness. A fight was had at the entrance, where half of the party died, but the outlaws were forced to run inside their cave/dungeon and hide in there. In the next session we had to talk through a pretty difficult conflict between interests:
    1) On the one hand half of the party did not have characters on the scene, so obviously they should create some and join the fray. The usual campaign convention of the campaign is that players have a subjective right to introduce new characters at reasonable junctures in between active scenarios; usually this means at the beginning of a session, at the very least, and if somebody's character dies early, of course we'll do our best to fit in a new one, as long as it doesn't have immediate drastic impact on a tactical concern. (So you won't get to bring in a new character in the middle of a combat, for example, unless that makes sense for the positioning of the new character.)
    2) On the other hand, the referee was extremely leery of bringing in new characters in the middle of the on-going situation; although we had lost immediate tactical contact with the enemy, they were still within the caves, and we were still in clear tactical time-scale. The situation was especially constrained because a third party was coming to intervene at the hideout in a couple of hours, so we had limited time to assault the outlaws, if we were going to. By bringing in new characters the referee would essentially allow us to have badly needed reinforcements at a moment when the entire scenario hung in balance.

    The situation I describe above could have been resolved in favour of either principle: we could have decided that this was going to be the night's adventure, and we're not going to let somebody just sit by twiddling their thumbs, so we'd have new characters, and let's brainstorm an amusing conceit for why and how they might be coming in. However, as it happened, this adventure was something of a side-trek for us (we were actually going to Stonehell Dungeon at the time), so we agreed to negotiate with the outlaws, got them to hand over most of the stuff they stole from us, and then we continued on to an entirely new situation, enabling us to bring in whatever characters we wanted from our character stables.
  • Thanks for the reply Eero. I'm afraid I'm still not clear. I understand what you are saying, but I don't see how this resolves things yet. Let me try and explain, and I hope you will make allowances for the difficulties of forum communication.
    I suppose that my slightly wandering reply to your question is that the difficulty of having the PCs fit the setting is resolved with exactly the same means that you resolve the "balance" issue: you realize that it was your own false preconceptions about the nature of D&D that was holding you back. Once you learn to let go of the idea that PCs need to face winnable battles, you realize that balance is unnecessary; once you learn to let go of the idea that PCs have to be wandering footloose adventurers who go into dungeons for loot, you realize that there is in fact no difficulty in combining PCs and the setting.
    I get that we can have the challenges and characters we want, and that there is a dialog between those two, rather than them being created in isolation and then conflicting. And I have played D&D games with all kinds of different challenges and motivations, rather than expecting "footloose adventurers" seeking loot.

    However, part of what intrigued me about your game in particular was what I understood to be a focus on a large number of classic dungeon modules, and XP for treasure. So in your case, the challenge *is* frequently (mostly?) "get treasure from beneath the ground", I believe? And I wondered what (with that particular challenge set up) the characters looked like? How do you get characters that are willing to engage in those kind of extremely dangerous quests without being insane?

    Do you just spend lots of time (in an interactive fashion between characters and challenges over the course of long term play) listening to the kinds of motivations the players are interested in their characters having, and making sure the reason to go to your existing module dungeon is a hook related to that character? So, here I have this dungeon filled with mushroom monsters. The character is all about discovering new spells. So, I'll plant a rumour about a spellbook in the dungeon (and, indeed, there can be a spellbook there).

    Even then, it seems kind of strange to me: You want the spellbook enough to risk the kind of 50% fatality rate that seems likely on these quests? Really? I get that all of the "realism" is in service of challenges that can be explored via the fiction, so you could just roll with that discrepancy if it's necessary to get the kind of challenges you want. But I'm having trouble "constructively assum[ing] that good in-fiction reasons for things exist" in this case.
  • I see what you mean: you're asking about how individual PCs are motivated in their actions.

    First of all, at player level we're completely frank about what we're doing, we only talk things through via the fictional character experiences when we trust that everybody understands what we're really talking about. The referee may well e.g. tell the players that he's got an adventure he'd like to run, and ask, what does the hook need to be for the player characters to be intrigued. (It's not always that bald, the negotiations are a ballet of sorts, there's an art to making these discussions pleasingly rooted in fiction.) Similarly, players, when creating a new character, do it constructively, by making choices about the character's positioning and nature so as to facilitate the currently on-going campaign arc.

    What we've found in practice is that at low levels the "subject matter" I defined for D&D upthread is easily sufficient to motivate PCs in a very convenient and psychologically credible manner: given that we're already buying into this idea of the game being about dirt-poor, ambitious people in the midst of a crushing feudal system, where the only escape and hope for betterment is risky adventuring, it really isn't that much of a reach to say that a given character will most of the time be interested in going into whatever hellhole you bring them, as long as there's money involved. This is such a basic motivation that nowadays I consider it the definition of the low-level campaign arc: distinctive "low level play" continues until characters have struggled their way out of abject poverty, into some fictional position where they actually have real preferences about what they want to accomplish in the setting.

    I might rephrase the above in this way: when you start a D&D campaign of this sort, the players are immediately thrust into a challenge where their characters are poor, have no means of support, and the only means of obvious enrichment they know of are these 2-3 adventure hooks the referee has provided. Furthermore, if anybody finds that they managed to create a character who doesn't want to go adventure because they'd rather go back to the farm, well, that character's out of the campaign and the player gets to make a new one. in these conditions, is it so strange that characters are motivated to go into the dungeon?

    Once we move to the mid-levels, characters will have motivations aside from striking it rich. Note the earlier discussion of character motivations: characters who don't have adventurous motivations that match with what the referee is running can't adventure, so they go to retirement either permanently or temporarily. Thus we may assume that characters that are still in use have some interesting, adventuresome motivations.

    When you have the characters, and you know what they're about, it's really not that difficult to offer adventure locations to the players in a way that is relevant to those interests of the character. Of course you can't take any adventure module at all and have any character at all run it, it's a matter of negotiating and matching the interests of the character against the nature of the adventure. This is usually pretty easy, because you're talking it out with the players. Essentially, you can ask them whether there is anything that their character wants that would get them to go into a dangerous place to get it.

    I can't emphasize the retirement option enough in discussing how character motivations are matched against adventure hooks, as everything here truly relies on it. If it were the case that the referee had to provide an adventure for character X today, and nothing else would do, then we well might end up in an impossible situation where the character simply doesn't want to adventure under any terms that the referee finds sufficiently adventurous to be worth the bother (and the xp; it's the referee's foremost responsibility to ensure that xp is gained legitimately). Thanks to the character stable, and the retirement principle, the referee always has the option of sidelining an individual character: "Sorry Bob, it seems that your 7th level Magic-User has a boring summer this year, as he's apparently so comfortable that anything going on in the wider world isn't worth getting off his ass. Perhaps he'll spend the summer in spell research, while you create a character who has not already won everything they desire in this world."
  • It's also worthwhile to mention that you don't have to match an adventure module to character goals by thinking up a suitable hook; you can also match an adventure module to a hook when such comes up. A memorable arc of this kind in our 17th century campaign involved a PC who got married in Pempbrooktonshire, and got a carpet manufactory as a dowry. The manufactory wasn't exactly profitable, but the NPC factory manager had a plan: if they just could procure a sample of a genuine Persian carpet, it'd be worth 2000xp and a fair chance for the manufactory, once they learned the trade secrets involved. This motivated the PC in question just fine (don't ask me to justify this, you'll just have to accept that it did), but this "hook" was not particularly attached to any specific adventure - it was just something I threw out in my role as a referee because I felt like it. However, when the player indicated interest, I chose an adventure from my collection, one that involved an evil cult that'd set up shop in the midst of a city. By deciding that the cult had kidnapped the daughter of an influential merchant prince who could provide a carpet such as the PC desired, I had set the stage for an adventure motivated by the PC's own specific interests.

    All that I'm saying here boils down to this: the psychological realism you're worried about is self-correcting as long as the players are on board with the agenda, and thus negotiate the choice of adventure scenario well. If a PC magic-user thinks after a couple of ventures that "adventuring" has an inevitable fatality rate of 50%, and he didn't want that spellbook that badly anyway, then it's clearly the case that he's no longer of the stuff adventurers are made of - congratulations, the player just won the game of D&D, wherein the only way to win is to retire. Their character now makes a fine patron for others - he can pay other people to procure that spellbook for him. This can only be a problem if somebody in the discussion is a priori committed to the idea that this particular character has to join this particular adventure, or we've somehow failed. As I don't underwrite this limitation, I don't have problems with having PC motivations feel forced.

    Speaking in practical terms, I find that many players develop their characters into adventuresome and worryfree individuals insofar as they desire for the character to continue adventuring. Such a player will also usually have the character blow all their money on drink and whores, or building orphanages, so as to maintain the character's social position as a footloose and desperate adventurer. Playing in this way ensures maximum flexibility for your character, as it'll be easy to bring him into any scenario with a modest promise of wealth. Not all players are inclined in this way, which is just fine, as adventuring parties surely need leaders who tell the happy-go-lucky idiots what we're doing today.

    Finally, here's a partial list of some motivations that (particularly successful) characters had in our 100-session-long campaign a couple years back, all created by the organic process that I've described here:
    - A character was the son of a small-time craftsman, armed with ambition and self-esteem issues. He spent all his wealth on social aggrandizement, desiring to make of himself a peer of (some) realm. In practice this motivation threw him into the life of a mercenary captain who fought in the Italian unification wars for the Emperor in the hopes of distinguishing himself.
    - Another character was a cloistered monk who became a living saint in direct communion with heavenly forces. He dedicated himself to the destruction of dark forces after he saw what those forces had done to his monastery. He attracted the attentions of a powerful demonic being called Dullahan, and considered it his duty to put this creature to rest for the good of the local earldom upon which its subtle influence was manifest.
    - Yet another character was a small-time huckster and mystic who grew to manage a criminal operation in his desperation. After being caught by the law, he was (very constructively) banished to the penal colony in Weird New World for further adventures.
    - A character robbed the temple of a divine being, and suffered AIDS as a magical curse. He went to the extremes of planar travel in search of a cure, and ultimately became a practicing magician after being reborn in a new, cleansed body. However, when the horcrux of Voldemort fell into his lap, he became the pawn of the dark sorcerer.
    - A character's home town was destroyed by the Italian zombie apocalypse, leaving him destitute. He idolized the mercenary captain who fought to defend the survivors on their long trek north to Venice, and decided to become his follower.
    - A character was in the service of the Netherlandic army as a commissioned officer, so he basically only adventured where the interests of said organization coincided with an adventure to be had.
    - A character got a nigh-accidental fortune on his first adventure, and decided to finance a missionary expedition to the island of Java with the funds. It's obvious how the missionary expedition was the stuff of adventure by itself.

    You can see how these very specific concerns make it such that these characters definitely have things in their life that can motivate them to go on adventures, but that they're different for all of them, and as such you'd usually only see at most a couple of these properly successful and complex characters on each adventure. Up to you to decide whether those are insane or unrealistic; to us, while playing, these character goals and interests felt quite logical. Note that those aren't character backgrounds for chargen: all these characters started as blank slates, or with at most a simple scenario-specific agenda.
  • Thanks Eero, that's helpful and clear. So in summary it's basically: Under the auspices of the creative agenda which everyone is committed to, character motivation and challenge opportunities are negotiated through play.

    The way it works out specifically in your campaign is that low level characters are created as fairly blank slates, who are generally assumed to be adventuring because they are dirt poor and trying to escape poverty by taking risks. Characters that survive are gradually fleshed out and develop motivations (either in response to back story that gets filled in and/or in response to events that happen to them and NPCs they care about).

    These more mature motivations may or may not be sufficient for the players and GM to find any meaningful challenge that they are willing to engage in. If there is, great. If not, characters can always retire (and be involved in providing quests to new characters!). This naturally leads over time to the characters stay with the group longest having particularly strong / interesting to the player motivations.

    That's given me something to think about. Thank you again, and I'll come back if I come up with anything else related. Anyone else want to add their own thoughts?

    Ooh, one bonus question: Is the way in which your character generation process works: Roll ability scores, in order, then pick a class and a name? Or do people pick classes and then roll, and end up with hilariously inappropriate ability scores for the class? I guess what I'm asking is: Does concept entirely follow on from random generation, or do people ever bring concepts to the table, and if so, do you do anything to accommodate them in the mechanics?
  • Ooh, one bonus question: Is the way in which your character generation process works: Roll ability scores, in order, then pick a class and a name? Or do people pick classes and then roll, and end up with hilariously inappropriate ability scores for the class? I guess what I'm asking is: Does concept entirely follow on from random generation, or do people ever bring concepts to the table, and if so, do you do anything to accommodate them in the mechanics?
    Roll abilities, then pick class, and perhaps name the character (that's not technically speaking necessary at this point; the character will get a name sooner or later even if the player doesn't name him right away).

    Aside from that basic mechanical notion, though, there are other flexibilities involved in chargen. Perhaps the most important is that when I'm running my own house version of D&D, it's very much a game where Abilities are not destiny; there are no ability minima for classes, and individual Abilities don't have a 1:1 correspondence to classes like in traditional D&D. These features, in addition to the fact that Ability scores can and do change relatively quickly, mean that you don't have to let the Ability rolls determine what class you play.

    If we were to get entirely technical, the actual procedure of character generation is that either you do the "default" thing, or you come in with some wacky alternative notion of what you might be playing, in which case the chargen process is adapted to match. Remember, we're looking for mutually exciting challengeful fantasy adventure situations, so if your fun depends on getting to play a paladin, it behooves the rest of us to attempt to accomodate that.

    This flexibility has in practice meant e.g. that when a player has adopted a pre-existing NPC as their character, their abilities have been set to match with the NPC portrayal; when a player has wanted to play a noble scion, they've started with excessive amounts of wealth in comparison to an ordinary beginning character; when a player has wanted to play a "rare" character type like a kungfu monk or an elf, they've gotten to roll 1/6 to see if they may, this time around. Essentially character generation is part of the negotiations over the terms of the scenario, so anything goes as long as it doesn't trample upon the general principles.
  • Even in non-OSR/post-Red Box D&D, the "motivation to explore dungeons" always adds to the play. For the Forgotten Realms, for example, adventurers are celebrities. They get famous and ultra rich and have hot girl/boyfriends and probably develop drug problems and get on TMZ for throwing a chair through a restaurant window. By saying "I'm here to get famous and really rich", that adds so much even to just a straight up dungeon crawl, you really shouldn't forget to blurt it out whenever you're playing Forgotten Realms. "Of course I'll save your kingdom, that way everyone in your kingdom will want to name their kid after me and that 300 year old bottle of wine my hot, erratic elf girlfriend really wants for her birthday will be within my grasp"
  • Even in non-OSR/post-Red Box D&D, the "motivation to explore dungeons" always adds to the play. For the Forgotten Realms, for example, adventurers are celebrities. They get famous and ultra rich and have hot girl/boyfriends and probably develop drug problems and get on TMZ for throwing a chair through a restaurant window. By saying "I'm here to get famous and really rich", that adds so much even to just a straight up dungeon crawl, you really shouldn't forget to blurt it out whenever you're playing Forgotten Realms. "Of course I'll save your kingdom, that way everyone in your kingdom will want to name their kid after me and that 300 year old bottle of wine my hot, erratic elf girlfriend really wants for her birthday will be within my grasp"
    That actually sounds much, much more fun than more shall we say catholic interpretations of Forgotten Realms. Now that you mention it, of course FR should be played like your character's Drizz't Do'Urden (instead of DD being an annoying GM-PC).

    In general I should say that although I might sound really single-minded up there, it's just because I'm attempting to bore down into the fundamentals of why our creative chemistry has been rocking the game lately, in this instance. In actual fact this grim mud-and-shit-in-historical-Europe interpretation of D&D is far from the only one that I could see as meaningful. For instance, that "1 civilian saved = 1 xp" thing I threw out up there in passing, that's straight from my "high fantasy D&D" subrules that I'll try out at some point. Sort of like Dragonlance, except without the railroading and weird heritage dungeon looting in the midst of saving fair damsels and poor refugees.

  • I like the idea of a stable of characters, take the sting out of possible death for pc's and give them a choice for which character they want to take out adventuring at any given time. Also allows for long term affects like injuries or wizards studying or if you get into bigger layer world affecting actions like running a thieves guild or a military campaign or running a business certain characters can move out of focus while others take their place. It's definitely a different style of play than what I'm used to though where you would be attached to just one character and on a social level it made it more difficult to face the possibility of character death.

    As for motivations I think it's pretty easy to create them if you set up the world properly. I'm just preparing a Dark Sun campaign and one of the benefits of using it is the grimness of the world. Not much opportunity for characters to have a comfy life with slavery, danger and corrupt officials around every corner.
  • I think my world-building strategy is very different from Eero's (partly just since I don't use modules) but some of the same strategies are in play. I've gone all-out on getting players to name their prizes: we started with one dungeon, I let them name and draw a map of their town, and whenever a new character is introduced I ask them what their quest is, telling them that this is their big chance to be 100% right no matter what they say. Of course, most level ones die before anything they say comes into play, but the world (which has grown pretty large) is basically populated entirely from silly things people made up on the spot after rolling up a new character (or at other times when it seems best to take the player's word as fact), applied onto a randomly-generated landscape.

    I do have very strong ideas about how the world works, drawing a lot on philotomy's mythic dungeon and wild, but they are intentionally structured to allow this kind of play to be a major motivator. The other big guidelines that I use for world-building are very simple: everyone is a jerk; and the two things you want to do are in different directions. No matter who you run into, they will be a dick to you, so you'll always have something to do—and you'll inevitably end up tangled up in their stupid schemes. Transportation is key, too.

    The other things that I am really interested in are the motivation systems that are present in the rules but more submerged than the gold for xp one. Building castles is there. Carousing is important to our game for this too—and my conception of XP is pretty close to JD's Celebrity idea. And as I revise our diy rules I'm putting a lot into other bits. I'm working to make alignment (just Law-Neutral-Chaos, but with a lot of creatures given their post-good-and-evil place on that scale—so Lawful elves are pretty rare, and Chaos isn't a shortcut to Evil) pull a heavier load than I've seen, by tying it to clerics, magic swords, and this terrible cursed helm that makes you a fascist but also able to detect chaos (aka monsters) which has been pretty important. I've just done a lot of thinking about curses and magic items and the Quest and Geas effects that the players have been building up mostly through carousing. We've just gotten to the point where one of the clerics can ask questions of the gods directly which is great fuel, but all of the other high-level characters are incredibly motivated.
  • But I just find it weirdly dissonant. You have this world, which is meant to hang together, with NPCs and monsters and locations and everything else in relationships that should allow the players to make sense of the setting they are in and explore it meaningfully. And then you have these player characters, who seem suicidal, perhaps psychotic and behave in all kinds of weird ways, like they have this constant stream of them joining the adventuring "party" and being completely willing to carry on where their predecessors left off - despite the fact that most of them died!
    This whole quote assumes that the world at large is fundamentally safe. That seems at odds to the fundamental undertaking of D&D, but clearly campaigns such as Eero's find a way to make it work nonetheless.

    In my campaign, it's certainly true that adventurers face more risk than the average citizen who inhabits the same region. But the difference is one of degree, rather than one of kind.

    ---

    Eero has many other good points, all of which are orthogonal to this.

  • edited February 2014
    That actually sounds much, much more fun than more shall we say catholic interpretations of Forgotten Realms. Now that you mention it, of course FR should be played like your character's Drizz't Do'Urden (instead of DD being an annoying GM-PC).
    Yeah, exactly. Like, that's what all those Big Name Characters are for, right? To show you that your wizard should be getting with hot goddesses and your ordinary lady character should become the Most Important Sorceress In The Universe. Right?
    For instance, that "1 civilian saved = 1 xp" thing I threw out up there in passing, that's straight from my "high fantasy D&D" subrules that I'll try out at some point. Sort of like Dragonlance, except without the railroading and weird heritage dungeon looting in the midst of saving fair damsels and poor refugees.
    That's actually kind of genius and, maybe with a few tweaks, properly scales with a lot of setups. From levels 1-3 we're saving farmer joe and the village, from levels 4-10 we're saving towns or maybe The City, and above that we're saving Kingdoms and universes.

    My next dude is going to be a fighter with an indeterminate number of wives and children and oh man, it is expensive.
  • Here's my take on it, from a game I was working on for a while I called "Kroll":
    Overview

    One person is the GM. She prepares dungeons--underground labyrinths, caverns, or abandoned mines--complete with treasure, traps, and monsters. That's some dangerous shit most sane people wouldn't set foot in unless someone put a knife to their throat. Maybe not even then.

    The other players each take on the role of a so-called "adventurer": someone who willingly goes into those places. An adventurer is a person who has decided that the best way for them to make a quick buck right now is to take a deep breath, get down into that dungeon, and hope to make it out alive with whatever wealth they can find below. They probably think the loot will help them achieve something in life, too. Frankly, that's even less likely.

    The game is called Kroll because that's what you do: you "kroll" through those dungeons. It's spelled like that because most "adventurers" can't read or write too good.

    Kroll is an old-school game, where the GM decides a lot of things. The rules are tools to make her job easier, not a straightjacket.

    Adventurers

    Adventurers are not normal people. They are often desperate, deranged, or both. That doesn't mean they're necessarily bad people, though: they could be kind, naive, innocent, or merely misinformed. They could even turn out to be heroes in the end. But they're definitely not normal people. Normal, sane people don't climb into dungeons.
    During character generation, you roll a few random bits of information about your character. This positions every character on a bit of a social ladder, with most falling into the camp of "misfits, with nothing, in a great deal of trouble". For example, your character could be an escaped slave, a servant who killed his master and is now on the run, an infantry deserter, or a priest who broke his vows and was expelled from the Order. These people who nothing to lose, and are looking for money, desperately.

    At the other end of the social ladder are people in leadership positions, who are doing this... for other reasons. Examples include the son of a distant noble (maybe even a king), who has been sent out into the world in order to "prove himself", and thinks the only way to do that is to engage in some brave and stupid adventures. There's also a surveyor who is an initiate into an powerful occult organization which sends some of its members to look for bizarre undiscovered mysterious stuff.

    I see those two broad categories as being fairly believable 1st-level characters. Either you're someone who has nothing to lose, and a desperate need for some money (which you can't earn through ordinary means), or you're someone in an unusual position where you've been pushed to go engage in some strange and risky adventures. In this case, you're probably the one hiring the rest of your gang of adventurers from the first category of people, and you're the expedition leader.
  • I'm going to ask another question on the same topic, but if there is still interest in the discussion around my initial question then carry on, and maybe this one will fall by the wayside.

    I am wondering about PC motivations with regards to killing lots of things. It seems fine that a general "willing to take risks for gold/fame/[more specific goal later on]" is fine to motivate the killing of animals, and non-sapient monsters that are in between you and the loot. But I was wondering about the question of dungeons inhabited by sentient tribes - goblins, lizardmen, or just primitive humans, as in Eero's campaign.

    Now, I don't know the 1E and OSR modules very well - this is something I'm dipping my toe into. Do many of them assume that there are sentient tribes that the players will slaughter to get gold? Is this a rare or common set up? I'm not sure I or my players would be very comfortable with that if so. But I recognise that in a challenge-focused game, the opposition being sentient, intelligent creatures makes for some of the more interesting challenges. Will there be many modules that will help me to frame these kind of conflicts in ways that make them morally justifiable, or is it more commonly, "Orcs evil, therefore you should kill them and their children indiscriminately"?

    Two points before I finish: Firstly, I am not criticizing you or your enjoyment of play if you do subscribe to the killing-lots-of-orcs style of play. I know that can be a sensitive topic. I'm just saying that I don't think my group would enjoy that.

    Secondly, I know that all of my problems in this thread could be solved by just starting from "what challenges make sense for the play group" and then creating challenges from there, instead of attempting to use dungeon modules. I know, and I have run many D&D games (and other games) on that basis. But I have been specifically intrigued by Eero's game to investigate all of these great dungeon modules, which give really densely-packed challenges from lots of skilled authors. Now, what I am doing in this thread is to see if there is a way of using these kind of adventures with my play group, or whether we are doomed by being picky about subject matter not to be able to use them. Does that make sense?
  • A properly hygienic adventure module in my thinking does not commit to a course of action - that's again trespassing on player privileges, even if it's being done by the adventure author instead of the GM. This being the case, a proper adventure does not assume that you'll kill everything, but neither does it assume that you won't kill everything; it's agnostic on the matter of the how the players will relate to the material. I am personally very extreme on this point of privilege, to the extent that I allow players to adventure in empty dungeons, or guaranteed TPK dungeons, or anything else, rather than stepping beyond my powers to ensure a supposedly meaningful outcome.

    The way this question falls out in our play is that players have to choose between high-risk savagery and lower-risk diplomatic approaches, and the choice is predicated on things like what the specific goals are, what the opposition is like, what the PCs are like (are they unthinking brutes, cold-blooded racist colonials, bleeding-heart humanists or what), what the risks and rewards of the different approaches are, and so on.

    In our current Stonehell Dungeon campaign arc we're massively diplomatic and conflict-averse; not only do we have a bunch of players who enjoy realistic depictions of violence (which in practice means much, much less psychopathic behavior than your average videogame-lookalike D&D), but the dungeon is also much too big and nasty for us to survive alone; better for us if we analyze the place and inhabitants, and throw our lot in with the least bad of the bunch. Currently we're supporting the bid of a relatively open-minded morlock subchief for greater prominence in their tribe of the "open sore", in the hopes that betterment of relations over time with a strong ally will make it safer for us to actually delve deeper to the level where our actual objective resides. (The "morlocks" in question are actually descendants of criminals trapped in the underground dungeon some half a millenium back; it is totally characteristic or our playstyle and the genre for the matter of their humanity to be contentious, with characters falling on either side of the issue depending on their background and ideology.)

    Regarding using adventures written by other people, it's up to the referee to adapt the material for their own game. So if your campaign is set in e.g. Near from The Shadow of Yesterday, then of course the "goblins" encountered in the dungeon are completely different in their nature from how they'd be in say Carcosa. You can either assign whatever goblins are in your setting into the adventure, or if your goblins are so weird that the adventure doesn't make sense with goblins, then you substitute something else from your setting that does work. And if your setting simply is not compatible with what the adventure's set-up assumes, then don't use that adventure in that campaign. I don't use Vornheim, excellent as it is, in my historical Europe campaign, because it's simply too weird and stylized for the milieu to be a comfortable fit.
    Will there be many modules that will help me to frame these kind of conflicts in ways that make them morally justifiable, or is it more commonly, "Orcs evil, therefore you should kill them and their children indiscriminately"?
    It's neither, looking at how these adventure modules are. Rather, they're written in a non-committal way. The texts entirely support both viewpoints by leaving the pertinent detail to be determined by the referee.

    That being said, I would recommend that you not seek moral justification so much as moral necessity and moral depiction. We at least find that D&D is more poignant, true-to-life and generally relevant for our creative agenda when we take a starkly realistic view on who and what our player characters are. Sometimes they are people who cannot look beyond their own horizons, so they end up e.g. slaughtering potentially peaceful aborigines in their lust for jewelry. I would feel that it'd ring false, and be quite complacent (not to mention two-faced), to attempt to give moral justification to what amounts to looting. So more like historical adventure fiction from early 1900s, less like modern wish-fulfillment opiates.

    Generally, though, I'd encourage you to try the vanilla D&D setup with greedy yet basically decent adventurers embroiled in a world of mythological horror, before you abandon it. I at least find that although our PCs are hardly human paragons, they're still basically decent in their own historical context. Most dungeon adventures tend to involve exploration of the unknown, with local aborigines as an incidental foil more than actual prey; violence erupts because of xenophobic suspicions on both sides, more than because adventurers were specifically there to kill and loot. Considered as a whole, it all comes off with more of an Indiana Jones vibe than as war crime. Maybe not a cup of tea for everybody, but I'd expect that most can swallow the idea of somewhat cocky and self-righteous European adventurers prodding at things foolishly. Sometimes they encounter other human beings whom they treat well or ill, sometimes they encounter fundamentally evil beings (cannibalistic ogres, say), and most of the time they at least think themselves decent, even if we in our more enlightened state may find some fault in their religious bigotry and whatnot.

    All this of course doesn't apply if you're not doing historical fantasy like we are; a romantic high fantasy milieu can carry old school D&D like this as well, and there our characters obviously do have the right on their side to a much greater degree. However, it would be a mistake to think that such a campaign would involve avarice and looting "evil demihuman lairs" as core practices. If you want morally justified D&D, then offer morally justified adventures, rather than trying to justify rapine with some sort of awkward alignment mythology.
  • Thanks, that's helpful.
    A properly hygienic adventure module in my thinking does not commit to a course of action
    I get that. What I mean though is: If I do treat the tribal humanoids of the modules as moral creatures, and my players, being who they are, play characters who are not too bigoted and bloodthirsty, will many/most/all of the modules just collapse like a balloon? As in, will the intelligent humanoids have been positioned as the main challenge of the dungeon? And if the players just always either succeed or fail at talking their past them, then we are playing a game purely of negotiation, and never get to do any other kind of challenge? That's my concern.

    It's not that I want to "justify rapine with some sort of awkward alignment mythology", but rather I think that the fun of playing this kind of game comes from a wide range of different kind of challenges, not least strategic warfare against intelligent opposition. I am concerned that if the players have their characters act reasonably morally, enough of the challenge of the game will have been removed that we are essentially playing a different game. But I'm aware of my ignorance of D&D, and the modules out there. So are you telling me ("local aborigines as an incidental foil more than actual prey; violence erupts because of xenophobic suspicions on both sides, more than because adventurers were specifically there to kill and loot") that this isn't the case?
  • Most modules that I've read or played are just fine with goody-two-shoes player characters.

    A typical set-up is that the adventurers arrive at location because they think that there is a treasure there, or because they are attempting to retrieve something for a patron, or because an evil thing needs to be stopped and it lurks here. In all these cases it is relatively rare for the situation to actually be resolvable by rethinking your life priorities and deciding to be friends with the local goblins. I mean, you can befriend the local goblins, it's just that they very rarely are at the core of the issue: they're not the ones who have the big treasure you came here to find, they're not the ones in possession of the thing you're retrieving (or if they are, and you can get them to hand it over without a massacre, then good for you), and they're not the evil thing that's plaguing the land, generally speaking.

    At this point I've played something like 150-200 sessions of this "historical fantasy Europe" campaign of ours (first 100 as referee, then as a player), and all along we have consistently depicted the various humanoids in non-cartoonish ways. Most of them are merely human ethnicities, some are actually lower-order demonds, some are vile humans with inhuman appetites. Players react to these accordingly, and I've never found it to be a problem for adventure setups if players decide that this particular batch of humanoids they don't want to treat like animals and monsters.

    When violence happens, in our experience it's because of one of the following factors:

    1) The opposition is agressive in mindset due to cultural reasons; their first response to a chance encounter is simply to kill or be killed. This is sometimes sad, especially when human-ish creatures have been reduced to such savagery, but understandable when you remember that this tribe or clan or such might routinely live in an extreme hell-hole where the rule is kill or be killed. Player character adventurers who are weak or afraid for themselves will have no choice except to discourage such attentions by force of arms, often killing some so the others will leave them alone. This is grim, but it is also pretty natural, and I would find that a PC who is unwilling to defend themselves in such a situation is probably not cut for the life of an adventurer.

    2) The opposition sees the adventurers as prey, desiring their wealth or their flesh. In case they're intelligent, the situation might be defused by talk, perhaps a show of strength. Some player characters will desire violence nevertheless, perhaps because they desire to forcibly apprehend dangerous criminals or evil beings, thus protecting future victims less well-equipped to handle such dangers.

    3) The opposition is cosmologically evil in a fantastic sense: they are driven by inhuman appetites or irrational ideologies inimical to human life. Such proper monsters may sometimes be reasoned with, but it is rarely a good idea, for their goals are in conflict with those of most adventurers.

    4) The adventurers initiate the violence in a situation that doesn't fall in any of the above categories. This is really rare, but does occur when a PC is unscrupulous or victim to a tragic misunderstanding.

    My point in breaking it down like this is to say that even if your adventurers are goody-two-shoes, and even if your campaign setting depicts human-like things with realistic psychology and sociology, this does not mean that the adventure will be devoid of challenge. Category #1 encounters are still tricky and may descend into violence easily enough, even if the players don't want it. The other categories are almost unchanged, no matter what attitudes the players bring to the table.

    I'm sure that you can find some adventure modules out there that will be completely pointless as adventurous exercises unless the PCs are racist sociopaths, but for the vast majority of cases I've found this not to be the case. It is enough if the PCs are willing to go into the unknown; adventurous challenges will emerge even if they're like a Star Trek away team in their dealings. If they can avoid all martial dangers and navigate the dungeon with sense and sensibility, then good for them I say. More likely that they'll die to the first set-back, of course, if they aren't ready to back their social hacking strategy with force.

    Really, I think that you're likely overthinking this part of the game plan; I am very skeptical of your player base being any more conflict-averse than I am in their solutions, considering my own glorious history of social hacking as D&D problem-solving tool. Never had any trouble with that, either - fun has been had, all according to plan. As long as your players actually want to play this game (that is, they're willing to have their characters go into danger and encounter all sorts of fucked-up pressures), and it's just that they prefer peaceful solutions where possible, then I don't foresee any problems. Obviously enough if a player flips the table the first time a NPC doesn't get swayed into peaceful coexistence by their cogent arguments, then that won't work as well.
  • Oh, also, social conflict rules! In vanilla old school D&D you roll 2d6 and add charisma mod against a table at the beginning of an encounter to determine the disposition of the NPC party. (This is of course only when you don't know their disposition already.) This mechanic ensures quite fairly that sometimes parley has good chances, while other times you'll need extraordinary incentives to sway the counterparty.

    I'm just reminding about this in case you were imagining that players just get to walk over the GM by some sort of social bullying or something. If that is a concern, introducing those types of rules (according to whatever process you use in determining which rule-set you're even playing with) is more than helpful in curbing players who insist on reasonable talking as their only conflict-resolution method.
  • Great, that's really helpful to know! Possibly I am over-thinking this. But I have played in a couple of D&D games where everything was singing along merrily and then we suddenly arrived at "oh, and now we need to kill all these people for no reason. We don't want to." Now, most of that should be resolved just by having real choices and non-predetermined outcomes. I just wanted to be sure that the D&D module authors would allow me to run challenges with those kind of real choices - otherwise I would have had to fall back to creating all of the adventures from scratch myself, something I don't have time for currently. You have reassured me that this will not be necessary. Cheers!

  • The old published D&D modules tended to come down pretty solidly on the side of the characters being the good guys. At least they tended to portray the inhabitants of the dungeons as villainous. They were usually portrayed as bandits or slavers, definitely problematic in the surrounding area at least. Of course D&D didnt really give you much in the way of options on how to deal with them. They gave the combat stats for the creatures and little in the way of mechanics to deal with negotiations, that was pretty much left up to the DM to work out on his own. As Eero said they didnt assume you would go in and kill each and every creature and all the women and children and burn the place down and salt the earth so they'd never come back again but it was a pretty easy assumption to make. I think the system you set up for play can have a huge influence on this.

    If death is on the line players dont tend to go overboard crazy homicidal, or rather when you start to power up the pc's and make death unlikely they feel less ramification for their actions and treat the game world as less realistic.

    Labelling creatures or characters via alignment. If something is inherently evil by it's nature it's easy to justify killing it. If you can use a magic spell to find out that this being is inherently evil then rational it must mean that this creature will do evil acts. I'm in favour of dropping alignment entirely or at least if you want to the vast majority of things detect as neutral. Only truly villainous creatures show up as evil and only saintly things show up as good.

    The xp system. As Eero pointed out if you are only giving xp for looting and killing it makes advancement hard. Of course it's easy to swap to something different and I'm pretty sure this is one of the first things that individual groups modified when they played.
  • There was a monster OSR Actual Play on rpg.net that someone here linked to a couple of months ago, and I spent several days reading. One of the decisions the DM made fairly early on that helped the game really work was that he started awarding monster XP for *encountering* the monsters, not defeating them. The nice thing about this method is that it allows the players *complete freedom* in deciding what to do about the situation - there's no incentive to kill everything for experience. Your scout sees the drow raiding party and the PCs decide to leave them alone? They get the XP. Stumble across a group of kobolds in the dungeon and bargain with them? They get the XP. Ambushed by ghouls and run away screaming? They *still* get the XP. (Most XP was still from treasure, mind you).

    If I ever do an OSR campaign, that's one rule I will use from the outset.
  • Monster xp is generally negligible anyway in the flavours of D&D I tend to play, it's extremely unlikely for it to amount to anything of significance in comparison to the treasure xp. It's sort of a symbolic gesture, keeps the players hungry for me. Might as well give it up for just having the encounter, no reason not to. I also give monster xp for traps and such ancillary foibles.
  • If you don't want your players to fight tribal people you don't need your monsters to be tribal people.

    But your players will fight humans. They will fight the kind of tribal people that you aren't really talking about because they follow clan chieftans or jarls and have armour, and they will fight the kind that you do mean that is semi-nomadic and lacks literacy and metalworking. They will do these things. They will do other terrible things. If you are good, and they are good, they will feel kind of bad about it afterwards and sometimes try to make amends. They will owe weregild. The Clerics will argue about moral choices. Some of them may be bad people and this is not the game to judge them directly about it, but all of their actions should have consequences.
  • There was a monster OSR Actual Play on rpg.net that someone here linked to a couple of months ago, and I spent several days reading. One of the decisions the DM made fairly early on that helped the game really work was that he started awarding monster XP for *encountering* the monsters, not defeating them.
    That was me! It's here: OSR thread

    And Eero is exactly right: the XP for "encountering" monsters was so low that, generally speaking, going into a dungeon and encountering them was considered a waste of time for the group. It was too risky and cost too many resources for so little return. The treasure haul was the meaningful stuff: now that's worthwhile!

    If you read that thread, it has some good examples, by the way, of something I've seen as fairly common in OSR play: it's really not very predictable who will end up being an enemy and who will end up being a friend. Sometimes a monster in the dungeon rolls a good "reaction" roll, and becomes a friend. (Or gets Charmed and follows the group around as an ally!) Other times you run into a bunch of paladins rolling through, you get a bad "reaction" roll and a fight breaks out. I guess they're bloodthirsty paladins!

    The game style is very open that way: there's always the potential for violence but also always the potential for friendship and alliance, whether you're dealing with humans, monsters, or something else.

  • My recollection of early modules is that they didn't have that range of reactions as there were in the base game - as I remember, many/most had instructions that just said "they're hostile and attack". But maybe my timeline is off, does anyone know for sure?
  • edited February 2014
    (That might be a good point, JD! My experience with the surprising rolls mostly has been in situations where there are random encounters or, like in the linked thread, an entirely randomly-generated dungeon.)
  • edited February 2014
    I've just poured over D&D module B1In Search of the Unknown because I couldn't remember and I figure that must count as an "early module". There is no mention anywhere in the module of parlay though there are three encounter outcomes that seem to be written about as reasonable: killing the monster, driving it off and running away to stay alive when you've gotten in over your head. When the module talks about experience, it uses "monsters slain" in addition to treasure.

    I thought this paragraph was an interesting reflection of some of the conversation above, but not related to monster reactions:
    Total experience points for each adventurer would be 360
    (the g.p. equivalent of coins and gems) plus 46 (for the monsters
    killed), or 406 points each. No additional points are
    awarded for the special or magical items.
  • One thing that's unfortunate, is that modules, which most early ones (at least most TSR modules) originated as convention tournament modules with an assumption of less flexibility in play (parlay could be very different across different GMs). B1 though was written as a sample dungeon (and it was one of the earliest modules). The experience rules in Holmes Basic do indicate experience is for "monsters killed or subdued". Much D&D play was definitely influenced by modules.

    I remember our early play pre-module (we started with the 1st printing of Holmes Basic D&D which came with the Dungeon Geomorphs and Monster and Treasure Assortment rather than Module B1) included more discussion of parlay (though I'm not sure we actually used the reaction table, I don't quite remember, I do remember an attempt to parlay with a troll or some such creature). Later play definitely focused on killing the monsters and "cleaning out" the dungeon.

    Frank
  • Thanks for checking it out...my early D&D play was a jumble of whatever we could put our hands on and hide from the parents who thought it was satanic, so wasn't quite sure.
  • So, Eero and others, how do you deal with this? Do you just accept the characters kind of stick out from the rest of the setting and don't make a lot of sense? Or do you have advice for how to create characters who are willing to explore dungeons, but aren't just insane or suicidal?
    In my experience, the players make characters who are mad, adventurous or defective enough to enter monster's lairs, tombs and barrows in hopes of gold and glory. The initial motivation is survival and as they interact with other parts of the world, and they start to spend their gold, other motivations take hold. The characters start as 2D but they flesh out through play and survival and become something new.
  • edited February 2014
    When I ran Lamentations I had a fun time as ref making normal society just awful. All the good jobs were already taken. There was no such thing as a simple wholesome farmer's life, for instance; as a farmer, you'd owe punishing rents to your landlord, and could expect to spend the best years of your life in profitless labor, under the constant threat of starvation, enslavement, disease, and conscription. In the cities, the army's press gangs would compete nightly with the navy's to bludgeon the able-bodied and chain them to a cannon train or lock them in a ship's hold. The PCs fled into the wilderness and hooked up briefly with a fur-trappers' company, only to discover that as junior trappers their duties would be to bait wolverine dens with poisoned offal, in exchange for least-shares of the profits that wouldn't quite cover their room and board in the company's lodge. With 15-20 years' diligent labor and frugal living perhaps they'd be able to save enough money to pay off their accrued debt and quit the job.

    In a world like this, all the motivation you need to abandon society and undertake dangerous adventure is a spark of spirit and a hint of opportunity.
  • @lumpley > Nice piece of social commentary, I'd say.
  • ...in our campaign we have an explicit principle that players are never required to make bad decisions because their characters are more ignorant than the players; however, it is considered sporting to provide an amusing explanation for how come your character knows that ghouls have a paralyzing touch when he's never met one.
    In Eero's challenge-focused game, it totally makes sense to not separate character and player knowledge. What about player and character motivations? Do you ever get a situation where the player knows it's a bad idea to do something, but does it anyway because "that's what my character would do"? I think Eero does having read this thread, particularly session #68 where "Varaniel himself was convinced that he was questing to find a shortcut to magical power, even if we knew as players that he was subtly influenced by Voldemort's pendant and the sly Gregor".

    I think I get why one and not the other, but it would be interesting to hear someone articulate formally why one separation is beneficial and the other not in this kind of game.
  • Thing is, separating player and character knowledge can be useful as well, I don't think that motivations vs. knowledge are that different in this regard. In both cases it's a matter of technique of play, and that in turn depends on the aesthetic particulars of how the group parses the activity. If I had to provide a procedure for this, I'd say: insofar as the players are willing to commit to in-character knowledge and motivations, do so, and insofar as they aren't, don't sweat it - you can only play as deep as you're willing to go as a group. If some group is unwilling to respect the IC/OOC boundary, then they'll never have the opportunity to enjoy what that boundary brings to play, and that's all there is to it.

    In our particular case the rule is that players are not obligated to respect the IC/OOC boundary, it's just that we desire for this to occur. The separation is a natural consequence of players buying into the creative agenda: if you truly agree with the idea of facing and solving challenges from a fictional point of view, then you'll naturally desire to have the causality of your play to be genuinely fictional; you'll find that it is more satisfying to create legitimate solutions than to simply win. For a player who actually gets that creative agenda I outlined earlier, it is genuinely the better option to have their character die than to save him by relying on the artificial conveniences of the process of play.

    The important point to realize here is that despite our wishes being clear, we're not stupid about how we go about instituting the IC/OOC boundary; the traditional approach has generally been to plot, construct elaborate information-secreting procedures, and punish players to make them play correctly, but as we don't believe in this approach (rather being borderline-fanatical about egalitarian creative cooperation), it's simply not on the table. Players play in the way they find desirable and fun, and ideally this brings us to clean, purposeful execution over time. In practice it's a teetering balance, of course: players enjoy pure fictional causality when they can, but when serious stakes are at hand, it's easier and easier for individuals to choose OOC concerns over maintaining fictional logic.

    Perhaps the best single reason for handling the IC/OOC issue in this way is the same one that obligates us to leave individual choices that PCs make to the players of those characters: the player is, in this matter, the ultimately authority. The player of a given character is the one who has the keenest sense for what the PC knows or feels or thinks, and therefore they're the one who has to decide how the imperfect immersion of a tabletop rpg table, with all of its work-saving abstractions and conveniences, translates into the fiction. Of course the other players can offer suggestions and encouragement, but if the player thinks that their character wants to do this or that despite their supposed lack of knowledge, it's almost impossible for others to get in the way.

    That being said, though, the referee does have a lot of suggestion power, despite the social rule that we aren't allowed to question a player's choices regarding OOC information. For example, the referee can determine the causal order and timing of actions, which means that e.g. a player character who is outside a room where something important happens could not react to the event before somebody inside warns them, despite the player being there and hearing about the events as they unfold. The reason for why we find this type of "hard" limitation feasible is ultimately because the causality is so clearly evident that the players do not question it. In practice the player is only completely free to disregard IC/OOC boundary in situations where others cannot provide clear causal argumentation for why the character cannot act upon this information.

    Thinking about the above principles and counter-principles, I guess that an exact wording for what we do would be this: characters can only act upon knowledge and motivations they possess, but where these matters are indeterminate, we query the player of the character, who is responsible for keeping track or inventing the necessary game state to answer any questions pertaining to character information and motivation. Thus the referee can obligate a player to limit themselves to IC knowledge as the basis of their decision-making (such as in the example about reacting to events outside their perception), but only when they can show a compelling causal justification for why the character could not possibly possess this knowledge the player is reacting to.

    All of the above is to say that theoretically speaking I don't see a difference between in-character knowledge and in-character motivations, they're both the same type of concern and constraint for this sort of play. The principle about players being allowed to use OOC information that you quoted is there for fluidity of play, as a practical solution and acknowledgement of proper expertise and task allocation among the group. The same principle goes for motivations as well: players are not obligated to preserve character motivation when an OOC concern motivates them differently. The counter-example with the poor Varaniel is a good example of what happens when the game works well: we are fully committed and interested in the challenge at hand, to the extent that players left and right commit voluntarily to maintaining fictional causality. Everybody's fun would have been less if the players had refused to play along with the conceit that an individual character was being subtly influenced by dark magics; either I'd have had to take the character into referee control, or we'd have had to call off the scenario and limit ourselves to playing something involving less player responsibility.

    I probably should give a bit of practical advice, to clarify what I mean by this voluntary approach to the IC/OOC boundary: when a player character is Charmed by an opponent and I'm refereeing, the first thing I do is that I ask the player whether they're up to playing their character as charmed; I explain what the spell does, what the exact causal logic of its influence is, and then let the player decide if they feel like it'd be more legitimate for them to continue playing the character, or for me to decide the general direction of his actions while the player provides the details, or if I should take responsibility for the character entirely until the situation resolves. Most importantly for this technique, I believe what the player tells me: they say that it's cool, they can play against the party, and I'll let them. (In truth no other choice would be possible in my mind: if a GM told me that they don't believe in my honesty, we would have to have some words about creative trust.)

    Regarding practical results from this style of play, I don't want to give the impression that we'd somehow achieve perfect and logical IC/OOC distinction all the time; it's strictly a matter of player motivation and skill. (If I had to lay claim to some manner in which our approach is superior, then it's in that even when we have less than perfectly logical fictional causality, at least we don't let that harm play, we don't invent stupid authoritative tricks to gloss over it, and we consistently work to improve our play instead of letting the creative flaw fester.) Some players, like my young nephew, are less mature and perhaps have less of a grasp at the depth of our collective creative needs, so they'll fall into superficial patterns relatively easily and often. Other players, on the other hand, are razor-sharp about their motivations for play - I'm like this myself, and in consequence my characters generally speaking have a much more interesting life than the ones that are played more superficially, as collections of stats. And of course it is a given that over time the ethos of the campaign spreads and strengthens, as players learn that the referee backs their play, and that this type of game is much more fun when you let go of superficial worrying about your character's life and dedicate your attention fully to in-character survival and success.
  • edited February 2014
    That sounds a lot like my game.

    I might add one thing and one question for Eero.

    Within agreement with “the idea of facing and solving challenges from a fictional point of view” there is some shading. Some of my players want to give more or less to the world while they are doing that—resulting in some challenges being more suited to their styles. So: I have a few players who are hardcore out to win the dungeon, simply, but also some who want to cause trouble in the world among my npcs and get the party into ridiculous difficult situations that way. They feed one another indirectly, and encourage one another to push their boundaries. Right now, one of my dungeon-focussed players has gotten one of her characters separated from the party on a complicated relationship-map-but-also-exploring-a-haunted-wood thing that is a real challenge for her. I hope that it is stretching her creative abilities, but the way she is handling challenges (eventually they are almost certainly going to be too much for her and she'll need that character to be rescued, but the party has other important things to get through too) is very tellingly different than how some other players would have, and of course both are different from what I imagine when writing the scenario.

    OK a question that has been on my mind occasionally, Eero. First I want to say how close my play-style is to what you are describing: several times party members have been charmed, and I always lead them with a question, “well, you've been charmed. What do you think you would do this round?” And although the idea of twisting things to benefit the group passes through their mind visibly I've never had any trouble, because as you say we are all invested in being honest with one another.

    But there is something that I know we've lost from a more trad style. It's doppelgangers. I remember them being fun in a weird, dangerously close to not-fun way—the technique being to separate the party and have one member taken down by the doppelganger while the others are unaware, so that the creature can replace them and the player is pushed into buying in and continuing the ruse. In order to do this I remember that we used to dangle the possibility that their character might actually be totally OK in the end as a carrot—to get the players to buy into destroying the party with the knowledge that they wouldn't actually be destroying it.

    Nowadays I don't keep secrets and I don't pull players aside, and monsters don't not kill you. And every moment in the dungeon not spent actively pursuing goals ($$$) is a waste and a dangerous one. We've still had some interesting encounters with shapechangers who mirrored a player for short periods to make it really hard for the group to fight, but it's never worked long enough for one to stick with the party (because players are smarter than me when they all put their heads together).

    I guess to cut a long story short, do you see situations come up where you are asking players to work against the group interest for longer periods of time than say a few rounds, especially in a way that the others shouldn't really know about? How can I get them on board—and do you use any tools to encourage the suspension of knowledge there? Or is this a fools' errand and should I be happy with the pretty fun times we've already had with shapechangers stealing forms briefly, and stick to replacing NPCs?
  • Oh, dobbelgangers! We have a glorious history with those, thanks to Jim Raggi's excellent adventure Stranger Storm. In it Jim delivers his own version of dobbelganger, the "changeling" (basically the same critter, mostly just differences in default behaviors and the way it interacts with magic and such), and encourages you to put them in your campaign. For a sandbox referee that's pretty much going to fuck everything up seven different ways, in a most amusing manner, assuming you play the changelings as intelligently as you should. I think we got something like half a dozen sessions of play out of a single random encounter, that's how volatile an element they can be!

    Anyway, Jim has a trick that you might be interested in: when a dobbelganger accosts a character, simply say that now nobody knows which is which, and assign one of the two randomly to the player to play. He might be playing the dobbelganger, or he might be playing the genuine article. This works well in situations where the party knows that there is a dobbelganger here, and the key issue is figuring out which is which. (Of course this trick does nothing for the traditional scenario where the dobbelganger accosts somebody in the dark and replaces them without the knowledge of the other players.)

    As for your question, my answer is simply affirmative: yes, when there are good grounds for a character to work against the party, I ask them to do exactly this. I remind them of their fealty to the group as friends, and of our joint commitment to playing a fair game, and that there's nothing fair in it if he blabs the secret to the others. Then I let them do as they would; if they're not mature enough to handle it despite my explicit request, well, we'll just go on (with mild social censure, to make sure they understand that it wasn't cool); it's not the end of the world if the players get some metadata they shouldn't have. Chances are that at least some of the other players will refuse to act upon unfairly discovered information, anyway, so the unfaithful one could theoretically cause the situation to become even more difficult, as the other players lean backwards to preserve the sanctity of their character motivations. By revealing the secret the player removes the possibility that the other players might figure it out themselves legitimately.

    In my experience the vast majority of players has no trouble at least trying to keep a straight face and play according to what the scenario is. However, this absolutely requires you to arrive at the scenario legitimately. By "legitimate" I mean that the player has to agree with you that yes, fair cop, my character totally got killed by that lurking dobbelganger, and yes, I have to agree that the others don't really have a clue. If you get that buy-in, if you ask the player to say it themselves that yes, it is their duty now to pull off this hostile action against the party - how could they say no if they agree? They might fail, yes - not everybody has a good poker face - but they'll try honestly if they're at all worth your trust in the first place.
  • Hi Martin, I have one more option to throw onto the pile: given that your character will be opting into danger for profit, define them by answering the following questions:
    1) What do you hope to get out of this profit you seek?
    2) What were you doing before now, and what has just happened such that you won't or can't continue?

    Answers can range from "loves gold; bored with smithing" to reasonably fleshed-out people with relatable motives, depending on group/player taste.

    Personally, I never liked playing insane thrill-seekers who turned down perfectly fine safe options, nor victimized prisoners who basically had no other choice but to adventure. My ideal is the middle ground; there were some other options, but something about the character led them to choose adventuring as preferable.

    These have been the most robust motives, in my experience.
  • Personally, I never liked playing insane thrill-seekers who turned down perfectly fine safe options, nor victimized prisoners who basically had no other choice but to adventure. My ideal is the middle ground; there were some other options, but something about the character led them to choose adventuring as preferable.
    Thanks David. I agree with you, and in many adventure games I've played I'd think your approach there was sufficient. The problem I had with it as applied to the kind of D&D game being discussed here is quite how dangerous adventuring is. I think you have to exhausted most options before taking your life into your hands and plunging into deep caverns teeming with deadly monsters, traps, and other dangers - or you have to be a bit crazy.
  • edited February 2014
    Most of my favorite characters from really dangerous gaming have been characterized by ambition. They had big dreams, and dungeon crawling was at least a vaguely plausible way to make progress toward them. Fame, riches, redeeming the family reputation, acquiring enough connections, followers or friends via good deeds to better one's station in the world and become a lord. Or something like "chronicle monsters no one has ever seen before, publish the definitive guide to them, and retire to start a business supporting adventurers". I guess that is all a little bit crazy, but I've found it's compatible with a 3-dimensional character.

    With some sort of adventurous aspiration established, the "why can't you continue what you were doing before now?" component gives that first kick into the dungeon, and the rest flows from there.

    Although, if you're playing the kind of D&D where most first-level characters die, then never mind. :) In those cases, my groups didn't equip characters with identities until they became more survivable. Early on, each character simply had a schtick -- "the grumpy old guy", "the drinker & gambler", "the nature-lover" -- and little else. My way of thinking about it was "for now, these are the supporting characters in the story; if they ever develop into regulars, then we'll learn what makes them tick". Not that that was always true! But it was how I liked to view it.
  • That's been my experience, too. Low-level D&D characters are fairly disposable, and, although they can seem three-dimensional, fundamentally there's an agreement that they are at least *somewhat* irrational about their assessment of the risks involved in dungeon crawling. Either they're a) a little crazy, or b) they're totally overconfident, or c) they simply totally underestimate the risks involved.

    It's quite easy to display the front of a three-dimensional character while ignoring that a real person might decide to call it quits after their first or second "close call" or near brush with death - our apparently three-dimensional character, quite to the contrary, brushes that off and jumps right back in. This kind of character isn't necessarily completely unbelievable, because we're used to seeing such characters in films and stories - every Hollywood action movie hero, for example. It just takes a small leap of faith to accept that, for the necessity of the game, these people WILL decide to jump into the dungeon (or whatever dangerous situation) over and over again, however believable their motivations otherwise.
  • Sorry if this is off topic, but Eero--I would love to see a list of the modules you have found that fit well with this play style and creative agenda.
  • Sorry if this is off topic, but Eero--I would love to see a list of the modules you have found that fit well with this play style and creative agenda.
    This isn't an uncommon style of play, insofar as the OSR goes. Practically anything from LotFP works, as does Expeditious Retreat Press stuff, or almost any other OSRIC modules for that matter. Old TSR modules work beautifully, too - we've been making a merciless mockery of "Castle Caldwell" in between running Stonehell Dungeon this winter, and we spent most of last year with "Rahasia". The field of OSR publishing is really rich, and there's much more functional stuff than problematic products, when all's said and done. Anything by the usual luminaries of that scene - Dyson Logos, Zak Smith, Dragonsfoot, Geoffrey McKinney, Patrick Wetmore, that Dungeonesque guy, the guy with the Greyhawk castle reimagining... any of those and many more are making absolutely usable material all the time.

    The only publisher who's strongly associated with the OSR that I'd approach with care is Frog God Games; their output has some gems, but it's very uneven, and their output is fundamentally incompatible with what I am interested in for D&D. Much too often a given FGG adventure module is blatantly written by a 3rd edition gamer for 3rd edition procedures; a lot of their inventory is in fact revisions of early '00s d20 glut stuff that they're restatting for Swords & Wizardry. I totally don't want to give the impression that the stuff is bad, but it is not compatible with the way I play the game, not even close.

    In fact, that FGG principle is a good one in general: stay away from conversions of 3rd edition modules (there are a few other publishers who put those out), they don't harmonize at all with my style of play. I understand that the people who put these out think differently, but to me it's entirely obvious how the 3rd edition D&D adventure module fails in this kind of game in a multitude of ways.

    I have not, of course, familiarized myself with everything anybody's done for old school D&D during the last decade, so there might be other examples of problematic publications out there. In general, though, chances are that almost anything anybody's cared enough to publish is usable by myself in my refereeing, as long as it conforms to the relatively tight procedural requirements of the playstyle (that is: no plot, no setpiece scenes, content at least implies some challenging adventure).
  • First level character's initial motivations are in the text. You are a a Fighter. Fighting is what you do. You are a Thief, or a Magic-user or a Cleric. The dungeon is your wyrd.

    D&D's conception of role-playing and its inventions of character class, alignment, etc, are about essential natures of things and people, and within the game those are the first motivation that everything else springs from.
  • During a recent LotFP campaign, I asked the players questions inspired by the class descriptions (and Apocalypse World) that helped me flesh out the characters just a touch beyond Survive 1st Level:

    Cleric
    Which heresy vexes you the most?

    When did you hear your calling from your deity?

    Fighters
    What slaughter have you perpetrated that still haunts your dreams?

    When you get to hell, who do you hope is waiting for you there?

    Magic-Users
    How did you learn magic and what happened to the person, institution or otherworldly force that bestowed the ability to carry spells in your brain upon you?

    In what way are you damned for practicing magic?

    Specialist
    Tell me what your character loves about adventuring.

    What the hell led you to this life? Boredom? Greed? Idle curiosity?

    Who taught you your skills?

    Dwarf
    Every dwarven family has some terrible kinstrife feud at its heart. Tell me something about yours.

    What extraordinary happenstance caused your parents to rut and give birth to you?

    Elf
    What have you heard about your faery home, far from this muddy shit-hole of a world (possibly heard from the eldest in your Elf enclave or a wanderer you met on the road)?

    What do you hate most and love most about these humans?

    What is something you regularly do (or don’t do) that is inhuman?

  • D&D's conception of role-playing and its inventions of character class, alignment, etc, are about essential natures of things and people, and within the game those are the first motivation that everything else springs from.
    I am enlightened, you've made the whole gorramned hobby suddenly clear to me. Geez, there're so many philosphical implications I dunno where to begin. Is OSR play fundementally about the interaction of platonic concepts? Who knows?

    --

    Judd, I like the questions - they'll work wonders next time I crack out DW - but I think the vibe of OSR is that PCs "earn" characterisation through surviving and developing a narrative we extrapolate through interaction. And besides, I like to start my players off with 2-4 PCs each, so that up-front a priori characterising is just too much to manage with 8-16 personalities in play. Keeping alive, rich and in the middle of the party i.e being a PC of note - both in-game and at the table - is an ultimate reward in D&D.

    I'd be more tempted to have a Lady Blackbird-style "Refresh Scene" mechanic and use those as example questions - what I'd like is the players to take a moment during the natural 'rest' period in dungeon crawling and flesh out their characters interactions with one another. For me, the person asking the questions is just as interesting as the person answering them.

  • Judd, I like the questions - they'll work wonders next time I crack out DW - but I think the vibe of OSR is that PCs "earn" characterisation through surviving and developing a narrative we extrapolate through interaction. And besides, I like to start my players off with 2-4 PCs each, so that up-front a priori characterising is just too much to manage with 8-16 personalities in play. Keeping alive, rich and in the middle of the party i.e being a PC of note - both in-game and at the table - is an ultimate reward in D&D.

    I'd be more tempted to have a Lady Blackbird-style "Refresh Scene" mechanic and use those as example questions - what I'd like is the players to take a moment during the natural 'rest' period in dungeon crawling and flesh out their characters interactions with one another. For me, the person asking the questions is just as interesting as the person answering them.
    Right, I didn't use ask the players questions as often as I would in a game of AW or DW; this was more of something I did during moments of chargen while folks were purchasing their equipment and rolling dice. It was a LotFP game, so we weren't using a character funnel, per se.

    I like those moments where the player characters talk to one another about where they came from; it is nice when that happens but somehow with these games it feels off to encourage it in any real way.
Sign In or Register to comment.