A funny thing happened on the way to the railroad...

So, I finally had a session of my 5E game where all 4 players were present and none of them got terribly unhappy. My previously troublesome player was kept mollified, partly because it was a fairly gentle session with only a few, low-risk combats. That will change very shortly and I'm worried, a bit, about what will happen when it does. But there was one moment towards the end of the session that was incredibly interesting.

The PCs were negotiating with an NPC who had some info they needed. In the original module, he is supposed to demand that they kill some monsters for him first, and then he'll give them the info. They were about to wrap up the negotiation and go off to kill the monsters, when my sometimes-unhappy player spoke up, out of character. She said something along the lines that her character wouldn't go along with this; the PCs' mission was urgent and they needed the info **now**, and would swear to return to slay the monsters afterwards. I said, "go for it!"

Though I did call for a (successful) die roll to pull it off, the bigger takeaway for me was that she hadn't realized until then just how committed I really am to not railroading, and to making the mechanics available *to the players* to change things in the fiction they or their characters are not happy about. I think in future conversations I may try to help her understand how I can only do that sort of thing with any integrity precisely because I'm so strict about things like, e.g., who is and isn't affected by a Hold Person spell. But I'm having a little trouble figuring out how to explain the connection in a straightforward way.

It's about more than just making success feel earned, though that's related. It's something more like pushing back against the harshness of the setting. Or maybe it's just about the separation between my overall role as GM and my portrayal of any given NPC.

Thoughts, anyone?
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Comments

  • edited April 2017
    Before giving thoughts, I want more info!

    How would she know that the "intended road" was to slay the monsters first instead of getting the info first?

    Also… is this an older module, an OSR module, a WotC module or some sort of… let's call it "module from the Pathfinder culture"?
  • Old D&D module, B10: Night's Dark Terror.

    She knew what the "intended" path was because the NPC was basically like, straight up, you do what I want, and then I'll help you with your thing. Which is how it was written in the module, and I think it must have been reasonably obvious that I was saying something kind of prescripted.
  • It's usually an eye-opener for players when I say, "If you can do that to an NPC, then an NPC can do that to you." It drives home that rules-use describes the possibilities of the gameworld.

    To me, the clearer illustration of "This isn't a railroad!" is the genuinely enthusiastic "Go for it!" followed by some meaningful chance of success, whether rules-based or otherwise.
  • Matt: Oh, B10! Yeah, it's a weird mix, I really get it. So, good news for your group, it seems!

    David: A lot of people run railroads with plenty of room for player shenanigans along the way. (For example, this is common in the Pathfinder community.) So for me, that "Go for it" isn't enough.
  • edited April 2017
    Yeah, the "Go for it!" has to be followed by a meaningful chance of success at taking the game off the rails. In my experience, that's usually just the GM being impartial and saying, "Okay, good point, the NPC would accede to that," but fair die rolls are a fine option too.

    How does a player know the difference between momentary shenanigans and actual departure from the script? I think there's one level which is just the pattern revealed over lots of play, and another level which is just that moment when you wonder if you really have a choice, and then you find out whether you do or not.

    "I don't think I'll be allowed to do this. Oh, hey, I am!" dispels "railroad", I'd say.

    I can think of two other GM techniques I've used to support this:

    1) "You can try that idea if you want to. Seriously, it's totally fine. You're not seeing any reason why it's impossible."
    2) "Oh, yeah! Cool idea! Please go for it, I wanna see what happens!"
  • I don't know, but I've heard people from that culture call it "canyon railroad", so I guess it can be pretty wide as long as it leads to the predetermined final confrontation.
  • That's a fair criticism! I've seen that, too.
  • edited April 2017
    I think in future conversations I may try to help her understand how I can only do that sort of thing with any integrity precisely because I'm so strict about things like, e.g., who is and isn't affected by a Hold Person spell. But I'm having a little trouble figuring out how to explain the connection in a straightforward way.
    Is this the traditional Simulationist approach of "I enforce the rules like they're laws of physics, which means as long as you act within the rules, you're totally free because there's no rule that lets me stop you from doing what you want. The strictness that constrains your actions is the same strictness that constrains mine"?
  • edited April 2017

    Edit: Looks like miedvied edited their question, so my answer isn't quite as relevant anymore. I'll leave it nevertheless! I suppose I'm saying 'yes' to the new question.

    I'll let Matt answer, but I think it's as simple as drawing clear lines in the sand. The more the lines are clear, the more the GM can permit and adjudicate any actions the players want to undertake, and the more certain the players can be that their actions will have a legitimate chance of success.

    If you start blurring those lines, then we have to wonder what those decisions are based on, instead. Did the Hold Person spell work here because it suited the Grand Plot? Ok... but, if so, is that why it didn't work on this other opponent, because we weren't meant to defeat them?

    Clear rules (in whatever form that takes in a particular game) allow you to sidestep any of that ambiguity and let the GM act as an impartial referee of those rules. That, in turn, gives the players a fair shot at anything they want to try.

    Put another way, sticking to the line which says that "Hold Person" doesn't apply to faeries (or whatever) is, conversely, a solid and public commitment to it working on everyone else; a commitment to the idea that the GM won't suddenly have it fail when it should have worked for other, non-impartial or biased reasons.
  • Is this the traditional Simulationist approach of "I enforce the rules like they're laws of physics, which means as long as you act within the rules, you're totally free because there's no rule that lets me stop you from doing what you want. The strictness that constrains your actions is the same strictness that constrains mine"?
    Yes, essentially, though it's a bit tricky because social stuff is always a bit... off from other things; witness the 82 million threads on this forum alone discussing what is the actual best way to handle social conflict in a game.

    I guess if I had to put it into a rule it would be something along the lines of, as long as you have something the NPC genuinely wants, then negotiation—i.e., use of social skills like Persuasion—is possible unless they're already outright hostile. And even then... I mean, you can't very well kill someone into performing a task for you.
  • Not sure if I've stated this enough but I thought you did a really good job, Matt!
  • This topic took on new significance for me yesterday because one of my players asked me "But what is really the difference between the way you're running games vs a railroad?"

    Ouch.

    Some of the readymade campaigns I run, like Curse of Strahd which was overall a great experience for the group, have sort of a between-the-lines idea of how things will go. And my players were so far off from that preconceived idea. But since their weird ideas get support and no resistance for me, they don't notice that the ideas are weird. For them, it's indistinguishable from following along, since whatever they do, it works. Sometimes there's weird things in the book, too. "If the players burn down this house, it reforms after three days" kind of thing. Those sort of spells are indistinguishable from GM force [James, I'm using "GM force" in this context to mean when the GM:s override the players intent or action], from their side of the screen.

    One of the examples he said was "Sure, we can go to Baba Lysaga early, but then we just die". In practice, they probably went there a lot LATER than the book suggests but they died brutally so for them it seems like "we went there too early".

    Also, I had placed Deep Carbon Observatory somewhere on that hexmap (there's actually a place where there's a perfect fit for it, a river of the right length and a waterfall). I wrote about that experience here but in short: the first part is a series of events (triggered by the character's actions, but that's not super clear), the second part is a linear river trek, and, worst of all... it all starts with a very Big and Obvious Event. The fact that the players, the way I conveyed it, arrived just when this had happened, well, that's just pure quantum, though quantum chronologically instead of quantum spatially, and I really regret it. It was a hard lesson, it really eroded a lot of the buy-in that took me years to build up.


    OTOH, time is really hard. Another example he mentioned that felt like a railroad was that time the robber bandits burned down the city in my Glitchword campaign. That time, I had tried to do the opposite. It wasn't a triggered event at all, I had noted in the calendar the day the robbers would strike and the players (albeit the players former characters, after one of several TPK:s) had gotten information about that raid.

    So, future timeline planned things: railroad.

    The great Big and Obvious Event just happened to occur as the party entered the village: even more railroad.

    What to do, what to do?
  • That sounds difficult, and also gets back to my "only run games for GMs" idea. Seriously, does this guy actually have any insight into how roleplaying games work generally and your methodology specifically? It doesn't sound like you did anything really wrong, except perhaps introducing DCO via some slightly clumsy framing... but anyone who GMs knows, hey, sometimes these things happen. Doesn't make you a railroader writ large.

    I guess one way of phrasing my objection to the way many "only player" types view things is that they don't want to accept the tradeoffs inherent in *any* schema. They're like mathematicians who won't accept the Incompleteness Theorem, or visitors to Oz who refuse to look behind the curtain or even acknowledge the existence of the curtain. They often don't have a fully adult view of RPGs, quite frankly.

    When I'm in a player role in a traditionally-GM'd game, I can accept the tradeoffs of whatever mode the GM is running in, *as long as* there is real player agency of some appropriate sort. In fact, for all my pickiness, I'm often the one defending the GM in many scenarios, either directly by calling for us all to be accepting of bad die rolls, etc., or more subtly, e.g., by going after an obvious plot hook whole hog.
  • edited April 2017
    That sounds difficult, and also gets back to my "only run games for GMs" idea. Seriously, does this guy actually have any insight into how roleplaying games work generally and your methodology specifically?
    No, it doesn't seem like it. It's been hard talking RPG theory with him. He doesn't really see the "night and day" differences between railroading & sandboxing that I do.

    In his defense:
    • He didn't bring it up as any form of complaint, more as sort of banter, as challenging me to clarify my philosophy for him
    • He is pushing for me to start up the group again and he is eager to get going with a new campaign run by me (including acquiescing to the more Hillfolky ideas I've been pondering)
    • Before we met, he had spent plenty of time on both sides of the screen, so he would fall through the "for GM:s"-sieve. But, he isn't nearly as much as a theory wonk as I am.
    I'm often the one defending the GM in many scenarios, either directly by calling for us all to be accepting of bad die rolls, etc., or more subtly, e.g., by going after an obvious plot hook whole hog.
    I guess he is defending the GM:s I'm ranting against when I'm arguing so fervently for my style, more than he is complaining about my style.
  • edited April 2017
    The best "solution" I've seen to this kind of problem or misunderstanding, in my experience, is simply to speak openly and plainly about it at the table. Particularly with a standing group and a long-term game, it's a very "available" solution (much harder in a one-shot with strangers).

    For instance, a simple comment like, "Hey, wow, this module expected you guys to show up here much earlier!", or showing your calendar of events after the session, communicates a lot more than any amount of discussing theory will.

    When they're at a crossroads, and trying to decide which way to go, you might say, "Hey, a reminder: this module/my prep already lists what is at each location, and this random table I use informs what happens at unprepped locations in this part of the world. You could easily wander into something well beyond your weight class - this isn't like the starting location where this campaign began. Good luck!"

    If that kind of talk happens fairly often at your table, it doesn't take long for everyone to catch on and understand how the game works (at which point you can dial back that kind of discussion, if it feels distracting or isn't aesthetically in line with the way the group prefers to game).
  • But I've done a lot of work with Transparency of Method and hypermedialization already. A couple of mistakes, like that DCO opening bang, can really erode a lot of hard effort.
  • I can't imagine what kind of player wouldn't "get the picture" if you consistently kept "showing your work" and explaining what you're doing and how (and why).

    I'm not familiar with the "DCO" situation, but surely showing them the module (it can be fun to play it in "dramatic irony" mode, explaining what you think of the module even as you're playing it) or your prep - i.e. demonstrating how you came to that particular conclusion or event, and celebrating it with them - would do the trick?
  • edited April 2017
    I did do those things. Well, obv not while playing, but we talk about the modules during dinner etc. I like it because it reminds me that their dislike isn't of me but of the modules. Any like that'll show up, that's all me of course ;)

    Their criticism I find completely legitimate. Why did I choose to put, smack dab in the sandbox, a module that assumes that Event X has happened about half an hour before the players arrive. It's the quantum ogre of time instead of space. It was a big mistake on my part. I explained to them exactly how it came that Event X happened when it did (in "dice" terms—"because when you went to that village, this module started, Deep Carbon Observatory, it's getting pretty good reviews".)



    A solution could've been to make four versions of the opening village.

    • One before Event X, whether days or hours before
    • One (i.e. the current version) pretty much directly after Event X, let's say that version is good for up to two hours
    • One for a little later, say up to 12 hours after Event X
    • One for way later

    (The first of these four would be the big challenge. The other three is probably pretty easy to extrapolate for those who've read DCO, but, I'd still want to do that extrapolation ahead of time.)

    Then put Event X on a timer. When it happens (if not prevented by the players, but that's very unlikely, but would of course be cool if they happened to find the place where Event X occurs and can stop it), when it happens let's say the ravens of Barovia get really upset and flock there. And a loud noise is heard. I'd decide in terms of hexes (I think Barovia uses really tiny hexes instead of 6-mile hexes) for how far it's heard and for how far the ravens are seen.

    Now, it'd be "railroady" to have the ravens be such an obvious signpost, but it would be more realistic than "Why the heck did Event X happen just before we got here?"

    Another solution would be to have Event X be something that the players could accidentally cause, with some trap or something somewhere in Barovia.
  • I was quite specifically referring to talking about during the game! That sticks with you in a very different way than discussing it after the fact.

    When I played D&D with Eero, he did this a whole lot, and I really liked the dynamic it created. I felt comfortable at the "table" (it was online), and it built a great deal of trust in a game which really needed it (we had several painful TPKs, among other things).

    It is, admittedly, an odd thing to do at many "typical" game tables, but the payoff is surprisingly powerful.
  • Paul, talking about it during is not something that has never happened, it's just not the most common way to do it for us and I'm kinda glad for that. But, it wouldn't have made this less of a mistake. Blorb was compromised!
  • Yeah, I should definitely continually look for opportunities to point out when the players have real freedom of choice in how to deal with something (which is often). Talking about the module hasn't really worked, though--they don't seem interested.
  • edited April 2017
    Sandra, to be fair, I'm probably the biggest RPG theory wonk in my group, and your degree of wonkiness is orders of magnitude greater than mine; you probably shouldn't expect to encounter many people who share your degree of knowledge here. ;)

    But to go back to this:
    I think in future conversations I may try to help her understand how I can only do that sort of thing with any integrity precisely because I'm so strict about things like, e.g., who is and isn't affected by a Hold Person spell. But I'm having a little trouble figuring out how to explain the connection in a straightforward way.
    If you need a sounding board, I volunteer, because I have no idea what connection there is between "I am not running a railroad" and "I need to adhere precisely to the rules with regard to Hold Person." These things may not be as tightly coupled as you think?
  • Airk,

    Did my post ABOVE help in that respect at all?
  • Yes and no; On the one hand, I can see the theoretical need to avoid second guessing oneself/being second guessed by the players, but on the other hand, I don't honestly think that enforcing fiddly little rules like Hold Person are where those sorts of disputes are most likely to occur.

    To put it another way, I can understand how enforcing Hold Person contributes to a sense of "GM impartiality" but I feel like that is dwarfed by all the other stuff the GM does.
  • Oh, yes. I agree with that. It's a pretty poor example, as far as this kind of thing goes, but I think that the *principles behind the decision* are exactly what's necessary in this case to create the kind of game where the GM is an impartial arbiter of outcomes. Matt's putting his foot down and saying, "In my game, the rules matter; they're not my plaything. I will enforce them as rigorously as I can, whether for or against your interests."
  • Yes, that's it exactly, Paul—thanks. A big part of "the rules aren't my plaything" is related to "Let It Ride" from Burning Wheel. Especially when it comes to social stuff, it's **really super important** that the players know they can rely on the results of their die rolls to matter. In the example at hand, the NPC isn't going to later yell at the PCs or accuse them of betraying him just because they went and dealt with their stuff before dealing with his stuff, as long as they follow through on their end of the bargain.

    And if *I'm* bound by the rules in *that* way, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask my *players* to be bound by the rules as well.
  • edited April 2017
    Yes, that's it exactly, Paul—thanks. A big part of "the rules aren't my plaything" is related to "Let It Ride" from Burning Wheel. Especially when it comes to social stuff, it's **really super important** that the players know they can rely on the results of their die rolls to matter. In the example at hand, the NPC isn't going to later yell at the PCs or accuse them of betraying him just because they went and dealt with their stuff before dealing with his stuff, as long as they follow through on their end of the bargain.
    I totally understand THIS feeling, but I still have a tough time connecting it to the Hold Person debate. Especially considering that technically speaking, "Let It Ride" isn't even a rule of the game you are playing.

    It's like saying "Enforcing the laws about jaywalking helps me assure people that the judge in their lawsuit is trustworthy." Like, technically, it's possible because both of these things related to the judiciary process, but one is so trivial and connected to almost nothing else that I have a hard time believing that it really has any real credibility as a proof of the other. You can be the worst railroading jerky GM ever and still enforce a rigid reading of the rules regarding Hold Person.

    So I guess what I'm getting at (sorry, my thoughts are evolving as I type this) is: Maybe enforcing the Hold Person rules flows from your desire to be an impartial adjudicator of the rules, but to me it is utterly useless as an indicator of your desire to be an impartial adjudicator.

    Maybe there are folks in your group who feel similarly, and find these issues disconnected.
  • Sandra, to be fair, I'm probably the biggest RPG theory wonk in my group, and your degree of wonkiness is orders of magnitude greater than mine; you probably shouldn't expect to encounter many people who share your degree of knowledge here. ;)
    OMG this means so much to me Airk♥
  • One of the things about the way my brain works is that I almost instantly see the implications / ramifications of any decision I make within a constrained framework like a game. It is for that reason I disagree the Hold Person thing was trivial at all. If you can use a 2nd-level spell to mimic what is supposed to be a 4th level spell effect (Hold Monster), that has *all sorts* of knock-on effects.

    But here's the thing. At the moment when that issue arose, the PCs were getting their asses handed to them. So it would have been exactly the *worst* time, as far as impartiality goes, to bend the rules.

    If the PCs had been doing fine and were likely to win the fight with minimal risk of serious harm one way or the other, then momentarily suspending the way Hold Person is supposed to work, perhaps with a warning that this is a one-time thing, would probably have been fine.

    But "I rigidly enforce the rules, except when you are in genuine danger" is not a game I'm interested in playing.
  • I'm the same way when it comes to ripple effects like that (though I accidentally forgot that 'Humanoid' is a game tag and not natural language describing anyone with arms and legs). Without knowing how the communication around thebcall was handled, you did the right call re: the rule itself.
  • edited April 2017
    Yeah, see from my point of view, this is weird because it bloody well seems like the spell ought to work in this context, and doesn't because of some goofy game terminology stuff.

    Also, it's not a "we changed the rules because you were in danger" effect if it's a ruling ("Hold person works on humanoid fey, because they are persons" - which does not in any way duplicate the effect of a higher level spell) rather than a one off "Uhh... I guess you guys are in trouble so the spell works!" effect, which I can totally see the problems with.

    I think it is uncharitable to view this as the players wanting you to rule in their favor, as opposed to wanting you to make a ruling so the game conforms to their idea of what a "person" is.
  • Then put Event X on a timer. When it happens (if not prevented by the players, but that's very unlikely, but would of course be cool if they happened to find the place where Event X occurs and can stop it), when it happens let's say the ravens of Barovia get really upset and flock there. And a loud noise is heard. I'd decide in terms of hexes (I think Barovia uses really tiny hexes instead of 6-mile hexes) for how far it's heard and for how far the ravens are seen.

    Now, it'd be "railroady" to have the ravens be such an obvious signpost, but it would be more realistic than "Why the heck did Event X happen just before we got here?"
    I don't think there's anything railroady about it. You're just communicating to the players an event happening in the game world. Unless you tell them "you either bite the adventure hook I just provided or there's no gaming session today" than it's not railroading. Your players could just say "fuck it, my character is not interested" and move on, right? I'm assuming that's the case since you're playing a sandbox. The event is more like a Bang really, except that Bangs force a "meaningful" reaction from the PCs, which is not the case here, since your players could ignore it.

    The real question is that the event is just to conveniently placed (Oh, it just happened right now! You guys interested?). If it too jarring it may bring down the suspension of disbelief.
  • @Airk; I'm OK with the ruling. The goddess Mystra has decreed that for the purposes of Hold Person, fey aren't persons. She is the one that makes magic work, after all, so she gets the final say.

    @Peter: You've convinced me that the ravens flocking there when Event X happened would've been a fine solution.
  • Yeah, I don't have a problem hanging onto events and using them as Bangs, as long as there's some hygiene around it.

    It's one thing to plan, "When the players get to this town, this happens."
    It's another thing to plan, "When the players get to ANY town, this happens."

    Another way to handle it is to make the raven flocking less of a one-time thing and more of a constant thing that lasts two weeks, slowly building up. That gives the players a lot of time to "discover" the event and decide if they want to pursue it or not.
  • Event X that has has happened shortly before the party arrives to DCO's starting village isn't your standard "A drunk old man stumbles around with a treasure map", it's a bigger thing. And, if the ravens can predict it, they're supernatural.
  • @Airk; I'm OK with the ruling. The goddess Mystra has decreed that for the purposes of Hold Person, fey aren't persons. She is the one that makes magic work, after all, so she gets the final say.
    This doesn't actually feel any less arbitrary to me. Though it does make an interesting statement about the world that might come back to bite you later. ;)

    In any event, I'm just offering a potential alternative viewpoint to the idea that the players wanted him to bend the rules because it was in their favor.
  • Yeah, your perspective makes sense too.
  • It's one thing to plan, "When the players get to this town, this happens."
    It's another thing to plan, "When the players get to ANY town, this happens."
    This distinction has always confused me. Would you mind elaborating?

    I mean, in specific contexts, like the players expecting the event in question, or maybe plausibly having some say in it, then yeah, huge difference. But outside of that? I dunno. If my character witnesses some sort of happening from out of the blue, I don't really care about the GM's process for cuing that up.
  • The main issue I can see is:

    Do the players' choices about where to go matter? In a sandbox, that can be a big deal.
  • edited April 2017
    The main issue I can see is:

    Do the players' choices about where to go matter? In a sandbox, that can be a big deal.
    The obvious answer is:

    For some things yes, for some things no.

    If you've got a big setpiece planned, it's probably pretty reasonable to make it happen when the PCs hit a relatively broad trigger condition like "Town of over 1000 people" but lots of other stuff (that may bear upon how that setpiece goes down) is going to be different if they're in the frontier dwarven mining town of RockaRock or the ethereal high elven citadel of Valineer.

    Nowhere is it written that player choice is the only thing that matters.
  • (That's why I specified "in a sandbox". It's quite context-dependent.)
  • I thought my answer fit a sandbox pretty well? But honestly, Sandbox is a term that people seem to define as anything between "completely directionless hexcrawl pixel bitching exercise" and "game where the players choose which plot hook to follow" so hasn't had a long and illustrious career as a useful descriptor for me.
  • Interesting! For me, at either end of that spectrum you've just outlined, the basic expectation is that *the players choose what material to engage with*, and the way they do it is by *choosing where their characters go*.

    I'm not entirely sure what else "sandbox" could mean, ultimately.

    If the GM is throwing down a big setpiece "when the PCs hit a relatively broad trigger condition like 'Town of over 1000 people'", then I'm not sure why we're pretending that the players choosing where to go matters. If I were playing in that game and I found that the GM was doing that, I might still have fun, but I would disappointed to learn that I'd been misled on the structure of the game. Didn't we spend time, at some point, debating whether to go to Town A or Town B? Planning for the trip, gathering supplies? Facing random encounters to get there? Well, why did we bother if we were going to encounter the same material either way?

  • I think the players choices of where to go in a sandbox are important (or not) based on the knowledge informing those choices.

    Anything they have no prior knowledge of seems equally viable anywhere, to me.
  • Isn't this sorta Quantum Ogre basics? In the idiom:
    • It's OK to have random tables of content and blank spaces where that content should randomly go, and as soon as (or preferably way earlier) the players start to find out info about that blank space, fill it in randomly
    • It's OK to take unused things the players never even heard of from the last campaign and place in the next campaigns sandbox (if it fits)
    • But, it's off-idiom to have content and place it non-randomly in front of the players after they've made a decision where to go.

    Examples of things being off-idiom in this way:
    • You make a drunk old NPC stumbling around with treasure map, and decide he'll be in the next town the PCs visit, whichever it is
    • You create an ogre and decide he'll be in the room the PCs visit first, whichever it is
    • You create a big event and decide it'll have stricken moments before the players entered a particular town, whenever it is

  • edited April 2017
    Having ogres and random treasure guys and even huge events on the random table is a more in-idiom solution.
  • edited April 2017
    I think what Dave is saying is *technically* correct, but against the spirit of the thing. It's "unhygienic", in Eero's idiom. Don't make a habit of it, in other words - it goes against the basic conceit behind the game we're playing.

    (I'm agreeing with Sandra.)
  • Anything they have no prior knowledge of seems equally viable anywhere, to me.
    My "mirror story" falsifies that hypothesis, I think.

    Scenario one:
    We find a covered mirror. The DM's idea at this point was that it's just a scrying mirror set to look into the lich's bath chambers. We are afraid of it. We strap the still-covered mirror to our cart. When bulliwugs attack us, we remove the cloth. DM thinks "ok that's a cool idea", and says "The first bulliwug to look into the mirror -- for that covered surface was indeed a mirror -- disappear with the pop of a burst soap bubble, and the mirror cracks."

    Scenario two:
    We find a covered mirror. The DM has in writing before we even react to the mirror the dangerous trap effect that will befall whoever first looks into the mirror. We are afraid of it. We strap the still-covered mirror to our cart. When bulliwugs attack us, we remove the cloth. DM sticks to the recorded rules for the mirror, and says "The first bulliwug to look into the mirror -- for that covered surface was indeed a mirror -- disappear with the pop of a burst soap bubble, and the mirror cracks."

    The first one is Not Cool, the second one is So Awesome.
  • edited April 2017
    Yeah, that's basically it. If the players have no knowledge, they're acting on luck - gambling. But gambling can still be rewarding, and gaming is rarely really 0% knowledge (in a well set-up sandbox, anyway); there's usually at least some hint of things to come.

    Gambling is still a very different kind of fun than "GM decides what they wanted in the first place, regardless of player choice".

    It's different fun for the players, yes. It's *really* different fun for the GM, though!
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