[OSR Actual Play] Greysands Campaign - call for IRC players

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  • Mike, are you free to finish the journeys of the Silent Dusk today?

    We can gather at an opportune time (8 PM GMT?) if you are!
  • Rats! I'm up and off for the Bank Holiday weekend and won't be back until Tuesday. I meant to say last night but it slipped my mind: we'll definitely gather next week.

    I've got a few ideas if Third Party farming/wilderness encounters are welcomed? I'd be down for compiling some kind of Hex Master Compendium of Extremely Useful Charts as a DM reference tool.
  • I'm going to go out on a limb here - I don't think anyone's going to add [citation needed] when you describe an encounter.
  • Hopefully we can do something, even with Mike out.
  • I want to play something. I'll check in to see if there's a game on tonight.
  • edited May 2014
    With some fun assistance from Eero - who was relaying plot hooks from me and "setting the scene" while I prepared a bit of a scenario - I ended up starting an adventure in a hereto-unexplored area of the campaign:

    The halfling stead of Irllendom turns out to be, while fairly idyllic, near a cliff of dramatic proportions which overlooks an ancient battle site from the wizard wars. The players were offered a number of possible hooks (apparently the ancient battlefield is a good place to scavenge and then sell ancient armour, for example), and finally followed the directions on a strange old map:

    Supposedly, there is an ancient site of power, or storage house, or bunker, which was built by the war-wizards somewhere near this location for some no-longer-remembered strategic reasons. A handful of characters set out to look for it, bumped into some scavengers returning from the battlefield, and eventually found a hilltop marked with stone monoliths. A freshly deceased deer lies on the stone...

    We will attempt to resume this adventure tomorrow - joiners-on welcome - at 1600 GMT. If quorum isn't reached, there's a chance we will reconvene at 2200 GMT for a second attempt.
  • A potential game is on right now, if there are any interested parties...
  • I had an interesting moment of weakness and hygienic epiphany today. I was running Daumantas and Eero in the Newton theater and an encounter was generated by my table (the second time this encounter was rolled, and so there was history with these people) that got violent and dangerous. I was trying to decide what my NPCs were going to do and I really didn't want to kill off the party so I was hemming and hawing a little and I started to look at the character-record spreadsheet to figure out how many HP the PCs had. And I froze. Of course, I don't even need to know that -- it's better if I don't! And I just had them do their thing. And it was close. There was a point where we two sides revealed our HP and both PCs had one left and so did all three of the NPCs (one of whom had an 18 Con). And the PCs won. And it would have been a shitty win if I'd pulled my punches.

    Anyway this is probably all "duh" to you guys, but it was good for me.

    It's not that I don't normally run dangerous games -- the last F2F game I ran was a Torchbearer that ended the fifth session with a TPK. But there was something about stopping myself and taking the more purist approach of not even looking at data that was easy to (mis)use that spoke to me.
  • edited May 2014
    Yup! If you drift into that gamism/simulationism territory but you're leery of killing PCs, you need to rely on either tactical optimization or dice mojo. If you haven't optimized the scene and it's too late to do so, better open your brain and trust that the dice know what needs to happen!

    ETA: Your players are all onboard with this approach too, yes?
  • Gooddangerousfun then! Rock, as they say, on!
  • Chris, yea, it's hard to sit on your hands and keep hygiene. In the play by post game I'm running right now, I'm hoping the players take some actions that MIGHT save some of the PCs. A previous tense battle got down to three surviving PCs with the magic users FINALLY tossing burning oil to kill one creature and drive the other back so they could get out of dodge...

    Frank
  • Oh Christopher, I sensed some softness in what you were doing. Confession is good for the soul, though.

    For what it's worth, I basically just don't take a D&D GM seriously before they've killed a few PCs. We can talk about it all we like, but until I see them do it, it's all insubstantial theory - maybe their characters have just been skilled and lucky, but also maybe the GM is misusing their wide influence to undermine the supposed dangers. (The D&D GM has such a multitude of influences that it's almost impossible to get a legit game if the GM doesn't want one.) Not that I want my character to die when playing, it's just that I want a legit resolution even more. The only difference between a gauntlet by fire and a puppet theater is in whether there actually is a legitimate possibility of failure.

    I personally gambled through that entire scene, basically because I decided that losing the mule was too much of a price to the poor, utterly poor Jacob - it is his only possession, its working output is basically the only thing keeping him out of the mines. For him it is worth going all prison gang on some woodspeople trying to steal it. I pre-empted Daumantas's diplomacy attempt because I believed that surprise and tactical momentum would be more valuable than the extremely slim chance that we might bully four desperate men with just the two of us (evidently no warrior braves, us) to make them leave us alone. What with my first-round fumble, we wouldn't have had a chance if they were more prepared for violence and actually, you know, did something during the first two rounds of combat :D
  • edited May 2014
    This would probably be a great time to open up some discussion about hygiene on the Silent Dusk.

    Yes, a PC has died - but the circumstances weren't particularly enshrined in the kinds of procedure that legitimises in-game death. The way I generate adventurous content for the seahex means that the occurrence of deadly combat challenges (as opposed to more colour events, i.e. is this sea serpent a real combatant or just a tourist sight?) are largely down to my personal inclination rather than being forced into play by the system. I find myself shirking the bog of D&D combat as a DM if it's not 100% dictated by the rules.

    Very unhygienic, I feel. Any solutions or advice?
  • I agree with your self-assessment, Mike - I don't see the blood-thirst in you, and am not at all convinced of your willingness to face the nihilistic void as necessary. I've already placed a bet on the Silent Dusk getting back home simply because you've got no balls to have them sink with all hands on board :D

    If you don't like combat mechanically, don't use those rules. Instead, offer deals, for example. "Yeah, I see this giant bird situation as a minor danger for the ship as a whole, but a serious issue for some individuals. How about you all take 1d6 damage and then manage to drive it off?" That simple procedure does exactly what ordinary combat would, except much quicker. Very appropriate for a game process that focuses on strategic issues over tactical combat choreography.

    Regarding the hygiene in determining whether things are dangers or tourist sights, my general advice is to train yourself out of the habit of teleological deduction and categories associated with it: don't frame decisions for yourself in terms of what will supposedly happen. As long as you're thinking of a sea serpent in terms of whether it's a combat encounter or not, you're not being hygienic. The only things you need to know are the in-fiction circumstances and such; those you either intuit, have in your notes, or roll randomly. Once you know that the sea serpent hates surface shipping, or is hungry, or is angry, you have something to work with in determining whether it might attack a ship. If you first decide that it's a color encounter, and then retroactively justify that by deciding that it's sated, then you're doing it wrong.

    "Colour event", "tourist sighting", "combat encounter", "deadly" and so on are all terms of unhygienic teleological thinking: they're all about what you imagine might happen either immediately or later. You do not need to know the future, you merely need to know the past and the present. You need to be able to read "deadly" and think "it is widely considered deadly" instead of "it will kill the PCs if I let it". The latter is an evil and harmful thought, and the first step to fudging: once you have formed an opinion about the likely outcome, it is only a short additional step to "I do not want this to occur" and "I need to prevent this from happening".
  • edited May 2014
    Heh. I am reminded of our conversation about the etymology of the word "monster", and how the loosest possible interpretation of the word was simply "something which is warned about".
  • edited May 2014
    @Eero_Tuovinen I was poking at adapting Moldvay into a cross between Gamma World and Borderlands, and when I came up for breath, I realized almost all of the stat blocks for encounters would ruin a first-level character. Which in ways is appropriate, you don't go boar-hunting or bear-hunting alone, but I'm curious - would you change your approach if you realized the game mechanics were unfairly balanced against the players? Or is the expectation that the PCs should recognize they're playing Contra without extra lives, and behave accordingly?
  • edited May 2014
    Not convinced facing up to meaningful challenge is akin to facing the nihilistic void, but death should certainly be on the table (ship wreck, falling overboard and horrifying injury really need to be enshrined in "rules" so as to be equally consequential as death). I mean, I have the bloodlust - I've killed you twice - but you're probably on the money about whether the ship will make it home or not: the unhygienic nature of the scenario is there from the start with everything being stacked in the player's favour. I've not even made note of the ship's Hull Points (or whatever the bolt-on mechanic is called) or really considered the circumstances around its potential sinking.

    Luckily, my players are very hygienic (who said it was the DM's responsibility alone?) and they've been reframing things to be meaningful challenges for the most part, acting in a reasoned way to stop the crew tearing each other apart (social relations *are* hygienic here, I'd argue, and probably more dangerous to boot!) and take precautions against stuff that is explicitly dangerous. Combat with the pirates, had it not been avoided, would have been hygienic (the avoidance was hygienic, and in fact wouldn't have happened in unhygienic play). The Golden Pool was also hygienic (but time consuming!). But the Roc was certainly iffy territory: I knew it was going to attack the ship (reaction roll) but what exactly "attack" meant here was very much left to me. Attack until killed or the ship is sunk? Attack the crew? Attack the ship itself? Urh, these vagaries are dirty, dirty, dirty but I'll be damned if I write out every possible permutation of action a creature can have into a table. It's a learning curve.
  • Mike, when you decided the roc would attack, you could just think to yourself "why?" And then come up quickly with three answers 1) it's a freaked out bird, 2) it's hungry, 3) it's the patron protector of that island and then rolled for which one applies. Then however that result informed your play of the bird, would tend to be right. Right? I mean some of that stuff just has to be left for play-time to figure out so that it matches what's going on in the game.
  • How the Roc appeared and came to react negatively to the presence of the ship was hygienic, I feel. It's how the "play of the bird" played out that's tricky (precisely because it's what was left to be figured out during play-time) - I knew it was going to try damage the ship and threaten individual crew members (a "minor" attack on my scale) but wouldn't stay for protracted battle. A hit-and-run. It's how this play worked itself out that's troubling me: waaay too much arbitrary fiat on my part
  • Thinking very loosely about the available tools and procedures in this kind of D&D, I would think that the natural thing to do in this situation would be a reaction roll or morale check. Anything to get your hands off the Roc's steering wheel, essentially. I would guess that Eero often uses 50/50 rolls in this kind of situation, too - combined with Chris's suggestion, this could be a nice mechanical approach: "the bird is hungry/the bird wants to drive the ship away" (50/50). It's not 100% hygienic, of course, since you're coming up with the outcomes in the first place, but establishing a motivation for the bird this way would allow you to make a decision about its behaviour (ok, the ship has changed course, so it leaves/ok, the Roc nabbed a crewmember, so now she will happily fly away with her meal).

    My experience so far has been that I don't find lethality and character death to be a huge stumbling point (then again, I haven't killed a character yet, so that's still to be proven), but I do really suffer with "hygiene" when it comes to real-person-time issues. For instance, when I had the characters struggling to get past the stone slab and into what they expected to be a "dungeon", I found myself judging their attempts very much "in their favour", because I didn't want their attempts to come to nothing after an hour or more of poking around - it just seemed like a waste of the players' time. In the end, I let their plan work, conceptually, but committed to a double Strength check on the part of the warrior to see if they could carry out. I'm confident that, had the check failed, I would have left them there. However, deciding that their plan was workable at all was a slightly unhygienic moment, I feel. Perhaps next time in such a moment of hesitation I'll just roll a 50/50 or some similar procedure to help myself stay objective.
  • If anyone is interested in exploring a suspected ancient Wizard War outpost by the edge of the epic site of the Battle of Thorgul-Hamun:

    Today, GMT 1800!

    Be ready...
  • Ah! 1800! Won't even be home from work - could I drop in and spectate a little later?

    Hm, I think I came up with hygienic initial behaviour for the Roc encounter (it was hungry and grabbed a crewman) - but the detail of the Roc seizing the crow's nest (that contained the most obvious crew-snack) with the debris falling on the deck lead to the unexpected death of a PC. The point I feel that was the most unhygienic was the falling debris - totally invented on the fly by me as "the probable outcome of a giant bird snapping off your crow's nest" - was effectively a second attack by the Roc that I awarded it (awarded myself?)outside of the "rules as agreed" that turned out to kill an exciting PC. In reality, my lack of hygiene was characterised by a predetermined zeal for injury and blood! ...is this making sense?

    Let's get back to the sea, soon! Seeing as Paul has tonight, maybe tomorrow?
  • When will you be home, Mike? My experience so far has been that everyone seems to leave by the time I want to run (I tried 2200 a while back, and everyone was too tired or already in bed).

    It's also possible that I may be gone by the time you show up, in which case the Silent Dusk should most definitely sail! I may likely be free to run or play tomorrow as well.
  • Regarding "hygiene", I should clarify that I don't mean "realism" by that word, nor do I mean "rules-fidelity". Paul there suggested that a 50/50 roll might not be hygienic because it's biased by the GM electing the outcomes to begin with, while Mike suggested that his choice of having the crow's nest fall on somebody was not hygienic because it was not by the rules. I disagree with both ideas.

    Thing is, the GM is supposed to make choices and act as the conduit of the fiction. Of course Mike's treatment of the crow's nest was entirely legit - he says it himself, the reason for it was pure incidental inspiration brought about by imagining the situation. That's always a legit source of action! The same goes for condensing the infinity of possibilities into just a couple of options: the GM is supposed to be doing that as the conduit of the fictional world. There is no special virtue in the entirely imaginary goal of putting the entire setting into some engineer-built random table so you can have absolutely realistic random choices for situations.

    Hygiene is about what you are trying to do yourself, and how your motivations, both conscious and subconscious, do to your procedures and choices. Mike's choice to have the Roc take it easy on the ship was suspect to me (don't know if unhygienic or intentionally wrong-headed) because I didn't sense him being open to the chance that the Roc might just destroy the entire ship; similarly Mike's choice to make the storm that the ship chose to escape by anchoring in a bay a color encounter felt suspect. However, the choice to have the Roc break the mast and have the parts injure somebody - that was pure play in my eyes.

    (I'm commenting on this from outside the GM's head, and focusing on a single session that I happened to be observing from sort of outside it.)
    @Eero_Tuovinen I was poking at adapting Moldvay into a cross between Gamma World and Borderlands, and when I came up for breath, I realized almost all of the stat blocks for encounters would ruin a first-level character. Which in ways is appropriate, you don't go boar-hunting or bear-hunting alone, but I'm curious - would you change your approach if you realized the game mechanics were unfairly balanced against the players? Or is the expectation that the PCs should recognize they're playing Contra without extra lives, and behave accordingly?
    If the rules reflect my understanding of the setting, I don't change them. However, I might not play in that setting if I conclude that it's not gameable - that is, there are few meaningful challenges because everything is just instadeath all the time for everybody. You have to be able to perceive the interesting uncertainties and challenges to have something to actually play.

    I should say that while it is possible to make things "too difficult", my experience is that GMs generally vastly underestimate the level to which players are willing to rise. The thing is, if you've already decided that the PCs shall, by and large, live and prosper, then you've already made it impossible for the group to find out how high you can go on the difficulty before the players give up. They'll never have the chance to encounter the setting in all of its true brutality if you as GM shirk away from it. You have to be brave first, or the players never get the chance to be.

    I should note that chances are that if your setting is so lethal that the PCs can't live there, then NPCs can't, either. Maybe you're planning to adventure in some rather bizarre world, then :D
  • Oddly enough, I wasn't deliberately trying to balance things one way or another. I started by grabbing common creature-type monsters from B/X, things like bears, wolves, tigers, pythons, giant spiders and rats. They've got some HD on them! I've ended up with the distinct impression that starting characters are meant to "warm up" on humans, or demihumans like kobolds and orcs who are relatively puny compared to a pack of wolves, before going after nature's color guard.
  • Eero,

    I'm with you on the entirety of your post, there. In particular, I think the whole interplay of "the GM arbitrates challenges which are likely well above the heads and skills of the characters" and "the players have to step on up and make up for the difference between character ability and exceptional challenge" IS the heart of fun OSR play (or, at least, one of the beating hearts of the beast). That's the key, I'd say, at least from my limited experience, and the thing which makes the game compelling and exciting.

    As for hygiene, I was not trying to suggest that the GM making choices in the first place was unhygienic. Rather, I think that "choose two possible motivations and flip a coin to pick one" *could* be unhelpful to a GM who is specifically struggling to figure out just how dangerous a giant bird should be. The GM could just as easily have "the Roc wants to sink the ship/the Roc wants to eat everyone on board" come to mind as a first option. So, some additional principle or practice could be useful here. For instance, the GM could consciously come up with one option that's as mild/benign as seems reasonable and a second option that's as dangerous/serious as possible, and then flip the coin. Or commit to one or more reaction rolls or morale checks, and follow those through to their natural conclusion.

    (In my last session, I rolled for reaction when I was unsure how a monster would react to a really unusually situation, and it led to the creature first hesitating for a long time, and then attacking with abandon. This caused the players' plan to fail - they originally intended to bait the creature and crush it with a stone slab, but it so happened that it only turned murderous after the Fighter stop supporting the slab. A transcript of play might look like the GM was deliberately screwing with the players - having a monster not go for the bait, and then very conveniently attack only when the trap was disarmed - but in practice it felt just right, with no unhygienic decisions having to be made in the process (and I was making the rolls in the open as well, so the players were on the same page).

    If you have any kind of default mode for dealing with the Roc yourself, I'd love to hear it! Your approach to this kind of thing is usually well thought-out AND tested in practice, so it's always interesting to hear.
  • Veav,

    I've had a similar experience looking over the stats for natural creatures in B/X D&D. I wonder how intentional this is? On one hand, it makes sense that two or three armed men would have trouble fighting a bear; on the other, it seems odd that fairly common animals like wolves would be MORE dangerous than many frightening and monstrous mythological or otherworldly enemies.

    I would hope that the high stats might be balanced by lower morale numbers, but I don't know if that's the case.

    For example, looking at Moldvay (all details directly from the monster text):

    A "normal human" has 1-4 hit points.
    An Orc has 1-8 hit points.
    A "normal wolf" has 4-18 hit points. (A "dire wolf", which is larger and more ferocious than a normal wolf, has 5-33 hp.)
    A five-foot long lizard has 4-25 hit points.
    A spitting cobra (three feet long) has 1-8 hit points, a pit viper (five feet long) has 2-16, and a six-foot-long sea snake, despite having a bite so miniscule as to be "little more than a pinprick", has 3-24 hp.

    I'd love to hear from more experienced GMs why this is so, and whether it's just a quirk of old D&D or serves an important purpose of some kind.
  • D&D stats are often quite screwy. Part of it is that the game has never truly settled on a clear mapping of the mechanics to the setting. Some D&D sources and lineages have leveled humans as common-place, so you need to have wolves with lots of HD too to not make them pushovers; others only give levels to those who are exceptional.

    Also, purpose of monster stats: there is a conflict between perceived gameability and perceived realism.

    The outcome is that I wouldn't rely on any TSR monster manuals for stats of real creatures. For fantasy beasts they're as good a source as any, much of the time, but if you know yourself what a wolf is like, you're pretty likely to be disappointed by some nigh-random number brew from a TSR book.
    If you have any kind of default mode for dealing with the Roc yourself, I'd love to hear it! Your approach to this kind of thing is usually well thought-out AND tested in practice, so it's always interesting to hear.
    I would likely have an intuitive opinion about why it's descended low enough to be noticed in the first place; then I would just run that intent, with the assumption that the Roc is whatever I'm assuming it is - a huge bird-brained bird, a representation of some cosmic force, or whatever.

    For example, we might arbitrarily pretend that maybe it would occur to me that the Roc only descends below the clouds to feed or to nest, and therefore it's wanting to either eat some humans or use their boat for kindling or descend upon something else close by. I would likely use my usual elimination method for choosing between those alternatives - flip a coin upon each until one is affirmed. Note that the first sentence is key, the second is trivial in comparison: I first form an understanding of the Roc's sociology ("it only descends below the clouds to feed or nest"), and then I derive how it might act here, given that we know that it's descended. I can only run a monster I understand, otherwise I'm reduced to bald randomization or defaulting to analogy.
  • What we're missing here is an analysis from someone in the SCA who fights bears and wolves.
  • Now that I've gone back to work, I get home around 2030 GMT and often have chores, etc. So I'm rarely going to be up for 1800. But please do let us know how it goes!
  • Chris, check in with us when you get home! We're on now (2030 GMT) and will probably play for a bit!
  • Returning to the wolf stat problem: I'm happy to make up stats (on the fly or beforehand) for creatures that I have a good fictional grasp of - that's just the way we do everything as referees in OSR. We visualize fictionally, and then figure out a way to translate it into the mechanics with the right level of abstraction.

    So I can imagine a wolf might be a faster runner, or jump further than a human, and give it numerical differences from the PCs. So far so good. But as we have discussed in various places, hp is a highly abstracted thing - it doesn't really represent any one thing fictionally. So I am not sure how to assign hp totals to enemies.

    Here are my thoughts. As you can see I'm quite confused on this topic:

    For PCs, hp totals are assigned on two main bases: Firstly, high level characters are just more important - by dint of persevering and succeeding at the lower levels they have bought themselves limited immunity to certain kinds of danger. This is almost entirely separated from positioning. It feels more like a story-now narrative concern: This person matters to the plot so it's harder for them to die! Secondly, within the fictional positioning some characters are recognised as tougher - e.g. fighters. This is less important - only with PCs of fairly close level does the class make a bigger difference.

    Do we apply those same principles to enemies? So important NPC villains get lots of hit dice, whereas an unimportant but fictionally very tough creature - like a golem - gets low hp? Seems unlikely. It feels to me like we apply those same two principles, but much more heavily weighted towards the second. Players look at the golem and know it's going to take a pounding. What about when they look at levelled NPCs - is there anything that signals how much hp they have when PCs observe them?

    How should this all work?
  • Martin,

    This is a conversation I've been having with Eero recently. We're at a bit of a loggerhead (or whatever the expression is), although, if experience serves correctly, he will eventually convince me to come over to his point of view, and I will break like a reed under the boots of an invading giant. (I'm not sure how he does that, exactly, but it's very welcome, so no complaining here.)

    It seems to me that in D&D:

    * For PCs, HP is as you say: they mostly represent "plot immunity"/"story importance", with a pretty major nod to fictional toughness or combat experience as well (fighters and high-Constitution characters have more HP).

    * For monsters, HP seems to represent, quite reliably, fictional toughness and size. (You'd be shocked to see a dragon with 5 HP, and you'd be VERY shocked to see a rat with 60 HP, even if it was a rat that everyone was very very fond of. But you'd be even more shocked to see both of those in the same game! On a smaller scale, if you meet an Ogre wandering around with a group of Orcs, you certainly would be surprised to find out that the Orc had twice as many hit points as the Ogre, whether because he was an experienced Orc or because he happened to have the important information for the PCs to discover.)

    * For NPCs, there's some fuzzy middle-ground. Eero maintains that giving NPCs levels and HP is vital to the balancing of the game. I'm not 100% sure I agree, but I certainly see his point. (And most D&D manuals and modules certainly take this approach.)

    This makes it very hard to eyeball HPs, I agree. How many does an important princess get? What about an unimportant fire-breathing dragon? And the princess's pet rat, Snickers, who's an invaluable source of comic relief and everyone's favourite character?

    One approach I'd like to try is to consider HP as entirely corresponding to physical toughness for everyone but PCs (kind of like how it works in Dungeon World). Eero makes a good argument for this being a potential unbalancing factor in the game, but I think it may work at low levels. The problem with doing it the other way around is: if we're really playing a plot-agnostic sandbox OSR adventure, by what metric are we supposed to allocate "plot immunity" to NPCs and monsters? It seems odd to include plot immunity as a feature in a game which very specifically does NOT consider certain elements more relevant to "the plot" than others.
  • One thing I'd really like to nail down for the purpose of consistency in this IRC game, since it's so much more potentially important than other rulings, is what happens at 0 HP. It seems like we're using Death saves as 0 HP, yea or nay? (If so, is there a penalty on a success, and is death certain on a failure, or do we use Eero's "death crosses" concept?)

    It would be great to clarify that one way or another, especially for the sake of any new GMs coming on board.
  • Also: tomorrow (Thursday), more adventures! I will show up at 1900 GMT for more of the delve we continued today. This will likely continue later in the evening (perhaps around 2030 or 2100 GMT, as we have a vital player who comes home from work around then).

    If that doesn't happen, it sounds quite likely that Potemkin/Mike will be resuming the voyages of the Silent Dusk...
  • edited May 2014
    What about a hardcore D&D where hitpoints are just proportional to toughness and size for everyone - including PCs. So levelling up isn't a free ticket to increasing invulnerability - the only way you get more hitpoints is having a high constitution and tough class. Then the scale is from 1 hp to the not-long-for-this-world low constitution wizard up to 20 hp for a high constitution fighter. PCs survivability could then go up by getting better at dodging, better at not being fazed when they take an injury, and having better armour and other equipment.

    Various other RPGs over the last few decades have taken this approach I believe. I guess the questions are:
    1. Did it ever work for them?
    2. Would we lose something important about D&D?
    3. And what would have to change about D&D so that it remained fun / balanced with this approach?
  • edited May 2014
    As indicated by @Paul_T's stone slab story, whether your game is "hygienic" or not, there's no way the players will be able to tell. A hygienic move can and will be interpreted as deliberate, just as deliberate moves are often interpreted as random (especially if you've developed that old GM's habit of rolling the dice a lot for no reason at all). Therefore (it seems to me) ultimately this concern with hygienicism is strictly an internal disciplinary exercise. Like secretly deciding not to say the word "I" for 24 hours but not telling anyone. Would this be a fair assessment?

    Hope I don't sound rude but that's all I'm seeing, because otherwise it seems a little weird to be so concerned with matters of hygiene in a school of play (OSR) for which the most common definition is "rulings not rules". So, it's basically an internal disciplinary exercise, right?

    And if so, is the core appeal something to do, not with gameplay, but more with mastery of self, removing ego, i.e., dare I say "enlightment"?

    Or is there something I'm not getting?
  • To clarify, this "hygiene" thing is strictly something about how I myself perceive my own D&D practice. I'm not trying to claim that it's something others should care about, these guys are just being all disciple at me, co-opting my own way of doing things. I do not claim that you got to develop a hygienic process to play a pure game. (And if that sentence sounds strange to you, it's because you've already conflated the process technique of hygiene with the desired outcome of fair and impartial refereeing.)

    For what it's worth, I vigorously disagree with Tod's "illusion theory". It's a common conceit of traditional roleplaying that it doesn't matter how you fudge behind the screen, because the players won't be able to tell. I admit that this is strictly speaking locally possible, but it's not an absolute rule: I believe that over the long term, in general, players will be able to tell.

    How this creative dynamic works in my experience is exactly like we see it happening here in the Grey Sands campaign:
    1) Play occurs, both victories and defeats are had.
    2) Players get committed psychologically, they revel in victory and commiserate the defeat.
    3) An ethos of machismo, of pride in attainment, develops. Players realize that their victories are socially legit, just like being good in a board-game or a sport.
    4) Legitimate play becomes an important thing, because the pride of success is intimately tied with perceived legitimacy of action.
    5) The GM is under great pressure to be perceived as legitimate. The players have both a motivation to affirm legitimacy to maintain this thing they share and to seek victory, but also a motivation to test the legitimacy - this time to affirm that it is True and not an illusion.
    6) As the GM makes difficult calls in ways perceived to be fair, as horrifying nihilistic void is faced and borne by the group, as beloved characters die, the players come to trust in the GM, and the GM in the players; they can, and want to, play Real Challenge together, to have mutual pride in their achievements.

    Now, if we take a GM who thinks like Tod suggests above, that creative/social process will fail around step 5 or so; the players will, necessarily, figure it out at least on a subconscious level if the GM is not playing a fair, hard game. This Grey Sands game, for example, is in parts going through this testing; that's why e.g. I am pretty harsh about the perceived softness of Mike's process, because I want to improve the features that I perceive as quality in this type of game.

    My understanding and experience is that a GM who consistently fails to provide that harsh counter-force and antagonism that the players desire will either have his game transform into a sort of simmy story-hour, or he will have the players become unruly, ironic and chaotic as their attempts at stepping on up seriously are frustrated.

    I'd write more about the hit point thing if I didn't have places to be. It suffices to say that I find static hitpoints an entirely reasonable choice for D&D as I understand it. It takes away a big cornerstone and thus changes the nature of the game's content, but it does not change the processes. A mechanical cornerstone changes, but the constitution does not.
  • Hygiene, as I see it, are a set of rules that the GM and players follow that try to make it easier to reign in your natural desires to avoid the hard challenge. Some of these are externally observable, like rolling dice in the open - if you start hiding a die roll the players can call you on it. Others are harder for other players to call you on, and I think act more as set of internal morals - it's harder for you to pretend to yourself that you are not damaging the game's fair and impartial playing field when you have specifically listed to yourself beforehand "I will never do X" and then find yourself doing it.
    I'd write more about the hit point thing if I didn't have places to be. It suffices to say that I find static hitpoints an entirely reasonable choice for D&D as I understand it. It takes away a big cornerstone and thus changes the nature of the game's content, but it does not change the processes. A mechanical cornerstone changes, but the constitution does not.
    I guess that means that Eero thinks the answer to question 2, "Would we lose something important about D&D?", is "No". So now I'm interested in 3.

    I'm not sure you would have to change very much - play can still move through the progression of genres from the "fantasy Vietnam" of level 1 to the epic heroism of higher levels. You just need to make the players continue to receive fictional advantages that enable them to survive better. For example, magical armour that creates a force-field, healing magic, ever-improving reflexes, etc. Alternatively, you could just accept that even when the players are powerful enough to fight a dragon, that doesn't mean they can't die very easily if they aren't very careful about their exposure to risk. This is already the case even in high level play, it just becomes more pronounced.
  • edited May 2014
    To be clear: I'm not claiming that Illusionism always works, nor that players can never tell. But in this medium and plenty others, it works well enough, often enough, to induce a desired perception or emotion. Which is about as scientific as you can get, given the fuzzy nature of human psychology. The frequent claims to its ineffectiveness are not totally hermetic, is what I'm saying. That depends on the hands that wield it, and the trust they bear.

    In my longest-running and most "illusionist" campaign to date, my personal experience *as a GM* was not what you predict above. It didn't fail at step 5 and there really wasn't much before step 4 at all. My players approached my game the way you might approach a director or artisan you want to work with, someone whose reputation was already one of daily dedication to artfulness and meaning. I was a fucking freak about it. This was my ART, man. It was precisely because of their faith in me as an artist and a compassionate observer of nature (both human and nonhuman) that my players trusted me with such things as their alter-egos and submerged feelings. And yes, their characters sometimes died, but after being established through play enough to gain any sort of reputation, this never happened in a meaningless way. But that is NOT to say they never suffered defeat, conflict or torment. They suffered plenty of those things. And it wasn't really hard to ensure meaningfulness to their deaths in a world like mine, where most everything the PCs did was either legendary or politically linked to something, and either success or failure would have hugely dramatic consequences. But you might say my measure of success was Dramatic Hygiene (Aristotelian to Modern) - or maybe even Symbolic Meaning - on top of a Simulationist Sandbox. The relation between the two modes was bidirectional, and a lot of dice magick was involved. Psychic woowoo shit. Works for me. As a player I have seen a mixed bag of GM types and therefore come to realize that I'm rather unusual in this regard.

    Not arguing, just defending (I guess). Wanted to understand what you were on about, and you've made it much more clear for me.
  • I won't argue with Tod's experiences, because they're not really to the point here. I don't mean to say that they're not important experiences, just that they're not pertinent in relation to my own thoughts about hygienic refereeing in D&D. It's a different type of game, with different goals.

    Specifically, reading my thinking about what interests me in D&D right now as some sort of a guide to All Roleplaying All the Time would be serious over-reaching. The type of hygienic practice that I litter my GMing with in D&D is not useful or wanted in most any other game that I've played.
  • Just wanted to get a better definition of how y'all were using that word. I brought up my experience only it because it didn't jibe with the model you posited. But I've already derailed you too much, going back to my cave now!
  • edited May 2014

    And if so, is the core appeal something to do, not with gameplay, but more with mastery of self, removing ego, i.e., dare I say "enlightment"?
    I think I've talked wistfully about the Tao of D&D a couple of times now. If there is any "process of enlightenment" it's simply learning to cleave to the spirit of the rules as written while phasing out reliance on a text. I'm now floating, suspended in the Primordial D&D void after leaping off from B/X a few sessions ago and just trying to run that game without any props except the players and precedents in play instructing me. "Hygiene" is actually a much more precarious position, where I often feel in my player's hands rather than they in mine, unlike your Illusionist campaign.

    Illusionism is much like autocracy in my mind: quality is entirely dependent on the character of the leader.
    I am pretty harsh about the perceived softness of Mike's process, because I want to improve the features that I perceive as quality in this type of game.
    Ah, the "it's for your own good" excuse! ;) I'm pretty deadly when it's called for; you're just mad I haven't sunk the Silent Dusk yet.

    What if I'm hygienic but simply want a lower rate of violent conflict/player death in my game, perhaps dictated by the genre I'm trying to emulate?
  • edited May 2014
    My take on this:

    * The type of play we're discussing in these threads is a VERY particular and specific approach to play. It is absolutely not generally applicable to roleplaying games, or even to D&D. (Although it does seem that for many of us here it is the only type of D&D we're interested in, for various reasons - one obvious one being that we usually have better/more preferred games for other styles of play.)

    * Eero's approach is what we're all trying to learn from or emulate, to various degrees (clearly we have disagreements on some minor points here and there), since this thread emerged from another thread which was, basically, "Eero, tell us how you play D&D with your group."

    * To me, the various principles being discussed are very important and very interesting: they're what's drawing me to this style of gaming, so I want to explore them and learn as much as I can.

    * I can speak to the strength of the "hygienic" approach from the player's perspective, as well. There's a certain magic that comes from a shared understanding that, yes, *these tools we are using work*, and that we can trust them. Then there's another special thing that comes when we establish the trust in the GM: yes, this person is using these tools, and we can trust them in that regard as well.

    It's exactly as Eero describes so very well just above: when you know that the GM is willing to both let you have your victory and throw you to the wolves, in as fair and impartial and principled a way as possible, it brings into play some very interesting stakes and makes achievement and victory incredibly satisfying (while simultaneously taking the sting and disappointment out of defeat).

    That takes some work to establish. My first character in this game fell in one of Eero's adventures, under circumstances which felt somewhat unfair (or at least complex). But seeing exactly *how* he made the decisions he did and chatting about it briefly increased my trust in him a great deal; and makes me better able to enjoy the game next time we play, rather than worrying about the process itself or the GM's decision. Seeing how Eero handles those circumstances again and again, with my character and others, continually reinforces the sense of a solid, common ground on which we stand, and makes the process of play feel more meaningful. He follows his own principles (Eero's not a fellow who's all talk; he very much does as he preaches); and playing with him does give one this sense of objectivity, which, precisely as he describes, over the long term develops a very particular (and exciting) play culture.

    I've also played in OSR games (very much attempting to do the same thing) which were not as tightly principled/hygienic, and, while they were fun, you could still *feel* that something was off here and there. Maybe it's not immediately apparent, maybe you can't always point your finger at it, but it does change things, tangible things, when the game moves from hygienic to unhygienic. Eero already described it better than me - I just want to chime in to say that it's something very observable, very real.


    Edit: Really, I only have two qualms with this style of play. The first is the big one: it's very slow and time-consuming, compared to many other styles. Unfortunately, that comes with the package, although it can be improved a bit with practice. The players develop their own methodology for things (e.g. callers, standard marching order, mapping shorthands, in our game, passing information on to new players in private channels, etc.), and the game itself also develops momentum as it moves along. The second is one is just minor disagreements with some of the rules, which could be improved. (However, it seems that the hardcore crowd gets its own pleasure out of the continual hacking and re-hacking, so maybe that's a feature and not a bug!)
  • (There's a potential game on right now, if we get enough takers, for what it's worth.)
  • I'll pop by in a moment, just trying to finish this article. +1 for your post, by the way. I like your say of it.
  • What if I'm hygienic but simply want a lower rate of violent conflict/player death in my game, perhaps dictated by the genre I'm trying to emulate?
    To that I would answer that it's not hygienic in the first place to want :D

    The hygienic phrasing of that sentiment would be, for example, that "this scenario is not lethal". Or "the kind of milieu we're depicting is not lethal". Or "this scenario involves challenges other than risk to life and limb". Even "our genre generally minimizes the consequences of violence" works. Not "I want less PC death". Most definitely not "I want less PC death, except I don't tell this to the players so they'll remain suitably intimidated".

    Seriously, though, you don't need to justify yourself to me. I've provided my impression of your degree of willingness to hurt, not so much to criticize, but rather to provide a data point about what the situation looks like to me. It is useful data; as discussed above, legitimacy of conduct is largely in perception. If your refereeing seems to me such that I do not sense the blood-thirst, and I do not sense genuine danger to the Silent Dusk, then perhaps this might be the same for others as well. And without that legitimate risk any success is false glory.

    (I should clarify that I don't mind you running a less legit game in these terms; I'm no king to determine such. It is also the case that a game can be legit while removing things like the wholesale destruction of an entire ship from play; you just don't assign survival of the ship as a challenge if you're not prepared to play for it. In such a scenario the focus would presumably be on the individual well-fare and success of crew members, rather than the fate of the ship itself. Or maybe it would simply be something other than a challenge-focused adventure game; roleplaying contains multitudes.)

    The big, fat hygienic issue with not wanting PC death, though, is that a GM unwilling to face the nihilistic void is a slave to his aesthetic hopes and dreams. In the worst case this causes him to build invisible boundaries around the other players, protecting them from an honest judgement of their choices. Thus the content of play actually transforms from an even-handed struggle into puppetry. For example: when you demand players for initiative in a storm that threatens their ship, and they act upon the matter, but your threat was actually a false ritualistic declaration - what is that if not puppeteering, demanding that the players dance to your amusement? Worse yet, such a GM might end up determining the shape of their ship on nothing more than their own sense of entitlement: dance not well enough my puppets, show not enough fear, and I shall sink your ship out of spite. As you choose to not entertain the possibility of the ship sinking fairly, you have at that moment removed any storm-combating moves out of the realm of actual play, and into the realm of color narration. The least courtesy a GM can make is to make this clear to the players, so they can join in narrating, rather than dancing desperately in their false understanding of the interaction in play.
  • Again, from the player's perspective, this rings very true. I've seen you (Eero) do this a couple of times, where you told us that a certain aspect wasn't really in question here, and we could skip over it with a die-roll, or just establish a likely consequence and move on. It's nice to have that kind of thing out in the open.

    (Although I know a lot of players who would argue the opposite: that doing so violates the "fog of war" and takes them out of their characters' heads. In other words, they feel that not knowing which challenges are real and which are not is a good way to create some "unrealistic" uncertainty in the game - sure, the GM knows that the ship won't sink [just for the sake of example], but the players should still worry about it and plan accordingly, because the characters don't know that the ship is safe.)

    (I prefer the former approach, myself, in case it's not clear from my description.)

  • Would we lose something important about D&D?
    And what would have to change about D&D so that it remained fun / balanced with this approach?
    To my thinking, a fairly vital aspect of D&D's design is the idea that successful play is rewarded with investment in the character played: if you are lucky and clever enough to succeed in adventures and find treasures and all that stuff, the game rewards you by making that character more likely to survive future adventures and therefore be willing to engage with higher stakes and more dangerous situations.

    This comes about in D&D in two forms:

    * Increasing hit points
    * Improving saving throws

    While I'm not a huge fan of the standard linearly increasing, big-but-rare-jumps HP progression in D&D as-written, I think this is a fairly important principle, and fairly key to the D&D experience.

    I agree that we could play a game that's very D&D-like in terms of procedures without these things, but I think it would be pretty hard to make it feel like D&D. To me, anyway, this is a cornerstone of the Thing that is D&D. (This may be personal taste talking, of course.)

    (And I should add that my current thoughts on *my own* ideal D&D include a much slower HP progression over a much smaller range, roughly imitating the first three levels of standard D&D, but with more consistency. Like the way other abilities - say, your saving throws or your ability to hit stuff - work in the game. So I like the idea you're going for in principle here, but I still would, personally, want some improvement on the above to be a part of continuing play, to differentiate the player who sticks to one character and plays him carefully over the reckless player who creates a new PC or two each session and drives them to their death.)

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