Paul's blorby Traveller misery

Me and Paul had a very sprawling discussion in PMs and I wanted to turn it into a public thread and he said go ahead and I wanted to start with a very specific subset of our very sprawling thread:

Paul, please give some more examples on how you've been dissatisfied with blorby play. That traveller campaign (from famous "ice moon" story) or other times. Much appreciated.

Comments

  • A definition of "blorby" might be in order...at least for me.
  • In Sandboxblorb, players want the games shared imagined space to be consistent and tangible and feel real; real even if magic makes the chairs float or the beholders shoot eye lasers. Precommitment to some of the facts is a common technique, both concrete like “The statuette in the second desk drawer from the top” and generational like “Roll on this table every time a player searches a strangers pockets to see what they find”. The core technique is “Stick to the truth”.
    For example of blorb vs nitfol, see:
    Four mirror scenarios and two groups
  • Oh! I didn't recognize the terms without the first, English half...

    So, despite a fear of sounding completely ignorant...are the second, non-english half of your terms from another language, or are they just made-up additions because just calling it "sandbox" leads to never-ending arguments over people's personal definition of "what sandbox actually means"?
  • I haven't heard the "ice moon" story, but from what I gathered it sounds kind of like the "Brutal Raptor Death" story @2097 posted about a while ago. It's honestly not an aspect of this style I've had to deal with much, but I'm sure if keep playing blorby games it's going to come up.

    I read this blog post recently by someone who has had enough bad experiences with surprise rounds for monsters that he changed his blorb so that they never deal damage during their free round. They make a point about death as a consequence of an informed action being a lot more palatable than a death that seemingly happens randomly.

    The only time I ever played as a character in a D&D game (not a very blorby one) I was a thief and we were exploring a tower we knew had a dragon in it. At some point I opened a featureless wooden door and got turned into a pile of ash by the dragon who was apparently just waiting for us to open the door. I was actually pretty alright with that, it would have felt better if there had been some indication the dragon was near like a smell or change in air temperature or something, but I went into the tower knowing there was a dragon in there so...

    The problem for me is sometimes it's cool finding out after you've gone into the tower that there's a dragon in there. It's part of what makes the exploration exciting. More information makes the players decisions are more meaningful (choosing between three identical doors doesn't feel like a real choice to me, I know it does for some folks), but on the other hand to much information ahead of time can kill the excitement. I don't have any answers, just bringing up a problem I have. It's actually a problem I have with even nitfol/neo-trad games sometimes, just less often.

    The other reason I sometimes struggle with blorbs is that I run a lot of one shots. I really like the variable pacing of blorbs but it becomes a problem if you're working with limited time. If you take a large enough sample size the exciting sections balance out the slower sections and the variance there is really cool. But if you only play for 3 hours it's kind of the luck of the draw.
  • Yeah, I can never remember Sandra's RISS terms, either (although after using the word “blorb” so much here, maybe I’ll remember one!). It also has the disadvantage of being super opaque to new readers, as we’re seeing here... but anyway:

    The pacing issue is very real. That’s an excellent observation!

    The dragon behind the door thing.... there are many different attitudes and solutions to that one. When I play or run games like these, I like it to be really clear whether “death traps without warning” are a part of play or not, before we start. I’m ok with either; but it’s nice to know what to expect.

    Same goes for the “surprise round” issue - different pressures and different incentives, and some are really not obvious ones or ones you’d think of immediately. For example, how long and involved was the character creation process? If your game requires hours of work to create a character, you’ll have a very different attitude to this than if you can roll one up in five minutes.

    I’ll have to go find the ice moon story and get back to this!
  • edited May 24
    It would make me really happy if you’d add a RISS category between sandbox and impro. Call it vanilla impro. People who pretend to be in the dungeon and don’t change the mirror, and do this to get a good story.

    I think that would shed light more light on what’s happening in both the impro and sandbox categories. At the moment there is a dichotomy between story V fidelity that’s really weird to me.
  • It would make me really happy if you’d add a RISS category between sandbox and impro. Call it vanilla impro. People who pretend to be in the dungeon and don’t change the mirror, and do this to get a good story.

    I think that would shed light more light on what’s happening in both the impro and sandbox categories. At the moment there is a dichotomy between story V fidelity that’s really weird to me.
    I feel like I get what you are saying?

    I don't think there's a dichotomy between story V fidelity, but I do think there's one between narrative beats V fidelity. Like if you're committed to generating certain parts of the game randomly there can be a lot of anticlimax, or it might not fit hero's journey or whatever if that's what you are going for.

    But I agree blorby-ness does still produce fiction (which like, I'm pretty sure is a story), it just has a different flavor to it. It reminds me more of dramatic reenactment of an explorer's journals or a ship's log than a shakespearian play or something.

    At the same time I think for me even when I'm shooting for one extreme or the other it's somewhere in between those two. I notice discussion of theory stuff does tends to hew to the extremes maybe because it's easier to talk about that way.
  • Same goes for the “surprise round” issue - different pressures and different incentives, and some are really not obvious ones or ones you’d think of immediately. For example, how long and involved was the character creation process? If your game requires hours of work to create a character, you’ll have a very different attitude to this than if you can roll one up in five minutes.
    I see that brought up a lot. The idea that a long character creation process makes character death more painful, and it makes a lot of logical sense. But for the record I'm not sure I buy it completely. The character I mentioned that was killed by the dragon took me a while to make (5e) and had a pretty complex back story I gave him for no real reason. When he died though I was actually pretty excited about the idea of rolling up a new character, maybe because there were so many options that I hadn't gotten to try out yet? Just another POV.

    I'm curious about your experience with Traveller though. The character creation process on that one is definitely a doozie. Does that have anything to do with your perspective?
  • Well, the character creation issue isn't really all that central to this thread - I was just throwing out an example of how minor seemingly-unrelated details can affect the balance of all these factors. I think it's fairly hard to argue against that (would you still have been excited once there were no longer "so many options" you "hadn't gotten to try out yet"? I doubt it...), but no point debating that here, I think. (Could be a new thread if you really want, I suppose! Maybe some other people will have new and different perspectives.)

    Our game (a long, ongoing campaign that stretched over several years) was a GURPS Traveller game, with all the bells and whistles. I've never made a straight-up Traveller character, but ours were two sheets full of dense, tiny font stats and skills and details - would be almost impossible to recreate, and a ton of work.

    We'd never had any character deaths, and toying with life and death wasn't really ever a part of the game (not that I can recall, anyway - and if it had been, I'd think there would have been a few by that point!).
    People who pretend to be in the dungeon and don’t change the mirror, and do this to get a good story.
    This is actually pretty interesting - it's sort of how Sandra (2097) got into this discussion in the first place. :)

    May I ask what you consider "a good story", and what factors, in that setup, help you get there?

    (I would never argue that this is impossible, of course - just curious of the significant parameters for you, personally.)
  • So, despite a fear of sounding completely ignorant...are the second, non-english half of your terms from another language, or are they just made-up additions because just calling it "sandbox" leads to never-ending arguments over people's personal definition of "what sandbox actually means"?
    Great & much appreciated question!!
    It's 100% the latter. Someone might call Svart av kval, vit av lust a "sandbox" game like Rickard did the other day but blorb is meant to be more strictly defined.

    (They are spell names from the 1983 video game Enchanter—at the time RISS was the most debated, I had just gotten a t-shirt with these spell names).
  • It also has the disadvantage of being super opaque to new readers, as we’re seeing here...
    Well, you've brought it upon yourselves for saying "well actually, a sandbox in this context means such and such, and 'railroading' is actually a super pejorative term we prefer rollercoasting, and…" etc etc. You guys should learn the word "blorb" at the very least. I just started a new thread where I used two of these terms (I started the thread before having read this one) but I at least had a quick explanation the terms in the post.
  • It would make me really happy if you’d add a RISS category between sandbox and impro. Call it vanilla impro. People who pretend to be in the dungeon and don’t change the mirror, and do this to get a good story.
    Maybe I should make an official poster for the RISS kumbaya of FRIENDSHIP:

    official poster for the RISS kumbaya of FRIENDSHIP
    I think that would shed light more light on what’s happening in both the impro and sandbox categories. At the moment there is a dichotomy between story V fidelity that’s really weird to me.
    One dichotomy is between compromising fidelity vs not compromising fidelity.
    The other dichotomy is between compromising story vs not compromising story.

    Or as the official diagram of the official RISS Hatred Parade of Eternal Enmity has it:

    the official diagram of the official RISS Hatred Parade of Eternal Enmity

    One option if you want to combine these is to become OK with clunky reality occasionally coming in the way of human emotion. I.e. not changing the mirror. This is my preference.

    It's funny you should bring this topic up, Alexander; I wrote about it in more detail in this thread that I started before reading this thread (the reason I started it before reading all the new comments on here was because it started as a reply to someone in PM but I wanted to make a thread of it instead).


  • This is actually pretty interesting - it's sort of how Sandra (2097) got into this discussion in the first place. :)

    May I ask what you consider "a good story", and what factors, in that setup, help you get there?

    (I would never argue that this is impossible, of course - just curious of the significant parameters for you, personally.)
    So this is a really truncated and quickly written overview.

    THE WAY I’D PREP

    As GM I’d say something like ‘there’s this big dungeon that’s just been discovered’

    As I player I’d create a character who really wants something (from the dungeon in this case), and has a set of beliefs about how the world works. I then play them with integrity to their personality as it develops, and am interested in how that works out for them.

    Then as a GM I’d look at the stuff the characters want from the dungeon and I’d also look at their beliefs about how the world works. Then I’d create a dungeon and it’s denizens, some of which ‘might’ challenge those beliefs.

    Then we’d play it out and see what happens.

    WHAT A STORY IS

    For character driven rpg play, the following will probably serve.

    In the abstract the primary thing we’re looking at is how a set of character beliefs/values fare in the world. The secondary thing is how/if those beliefs/values change in response to the ongoing situation.

    PLAY PRETEND

    I like making all choices about what my character would do from an ‘identification’ stance. Sometimes it’s called immersion or actor stance. The main thing is, I never make choices based on ‘what’s interesting’ ‘what’s dramatic’ ‘what’s good for the story’ ‘what I, the player, think is strategically sound’.

    REWARD/AGENDA

    My reward cycle is as follows. This is a really forced example because I’d be going through multiple cycles per session. This is really for illustration purposes only.

    You can also assume that I, Alex, am playing Max the thief.

    SIS: Max the thief is going down into the dungeon with his fellow party members. Max needs gold to help the orphanage but he’s also a coward.

    Agenda: Alex really fucking hopes that Max gets that gold to save the kids. It’s a dungeon and it’s dangerous so maybe something will cause Max to flip out. I really hope that doesn’t happen.

    SIS: In the depths of the dungeon a large creature jumps out

    Agenda: All the same stuff as before but heightened.

    SIS: Max screams in terror, throws his lantern on the floor and runs.

    Agenda: Alex feels disappointment and frustration at Max. Along with a resolution in the tension.

    SIS: Max is at the village, it’s been a week and his party are not coming back. He let his friends die and the orphanage is doomed. Max stumbles into the bar and orders some hard liquor. He sits staring into space, broken inside.

    Agenda: Alex feels sad for max, anger at max. Recognises something significant about the human condition has been portrayed. Alex is sad and angry but satisfied.
  • @AlexanderWhite that is fucking awesome♥
  • Taschenlampenfallerlasser is the best♥

    As DM & designer, I want to create a dungeon were players are allowed to pretty much play themselves, or an idealized & braver version of themselves, & apply their best brain to the puzzles or combat situations situations, or really do a "character" such as Max the thief or @JonatanK 's legendary "Joanne".
  • I've been trying to figure out where to start with this question and this topic, and gradually putting it off as more urgent topics come up.

    Maybe it would make most sense to place it in historical perspective, and then ask Sandra to ask more specific questions about what she's curious about.

    When I started roleplaying (as a small kid), I was introduced to D&D via a very "old school" approach. I even participated in a sort of an OSR-style convention/tournament (obviously, it wasn't called "OSR" at the time, though). In addition to that, my parents bought me Heroquest (the boardgame), and some of my first attempts to get into RPG territory were really adventurous, uh, adventures written for that game. I brought in new monsters and all kinds of wild ideas: the one I remember most had a time travel device, and two versions of the board (for the current/past and the future), along with a robot that was pre-programmed and moved around a room, shooting lasers. The players had to figure out the pattern so they could get by (or risk getting shot, anyway). It was, in retrospect, surprisingly successful!

    Then I started running D&D for my group of friends. (It was a dramatic and formative thing for me, allowing me to become much more assertive, social, and confident. I'd never been a "leader" in the friend group before, being, rather, an outsider who'd just joined in, but running a game meant I had a far more central role.)

    We were all reading dramatic fantasy literature at the time - Tolkien, Wheel of Time, Brooks, etc - so we naturally decided we wanted things to be more weighty, more epic, and more connected. Just killing a giant spider and collecting gold was, pretty soon, no longer so interesting. We wanted to save the world and become heroes!

    Not having any idea how to really do that, our games naturally drifted into a more railroady, GM-as-storyteller model. They were fun, though, and we had a great time.

    It wasn't until I got to University that I ran into more experienced gamers who could spot the "invisible rails". I was good at hiding them from my old friends (when we were all children), but suddenly I was gaming with adults, some with decades of experience gaming, and we started trying to improve our gaming.

    In this stage, there were basically two important goals that we wanted to achieve:

    1. To have exciting, eventful gaming that was consistently fun.
    2. To avoid railroading, to preserve player agency, while doing it.

    To this end, we turned to smart, open-ended adventure design and highly Simulationist mechanics (in the Threefold sense; rules which "simulate" events in the fictional world and try to represent them as consistently and as faithfully as possible).

    I spent time at the rules-heavy end of the spectrum (for a while I used GURPS Gulliver rules, which took the GURPS ruleset and adjusted the math so it worked to simulate real-world physics at any scale - some pretty intense stuff). I remember using a scatter chart to simulate aiming at a target, for example: we would draw what or whoever you were shooting at, then you would pick your target point and roll. A critical success would get you your ideal target (you could shoot someone in the eye, for instance); for anything worse, each point would mean deviation from that target by a distance determined by the accuracy of the weapon. With a precise weapon, maybe a 7 would mean you're 3 cm off (on the drawing), and then we'd just randomly determine the direction and see what you hit.

    Very "realistic"! Aiming at the head is far less safe than aiming at the torso, and you could try to shoot someone's gun out of their hand, but now you'll need to roll really well or you might miss altogether!

    Exciting stuff. However, much to our surprise, even though it was a lot of work, it didn't improve the quality of our games all that much. Certainly a case of diminishing returns, and there were always times when the dice and the math didn't quite give us the "right" results.

    (I remember when the main GURPS game switched over to the new hit location chart - we weren't using my ridiculous "pick a target and roll" method there - and, because the roll was made on 3d6, bell curve math meant that one of the most common hit locations would be the "groin". Our sniper shot four or five people in the groin before we decided that it was getting a bit silly. :P )
  • I realized at that point that was wanted wasn't necessarily an objective level of detail, but just outcomes that feel right/real, and such deterministic mechanics always had some kind of breaking point where they generated the wrong results. (Except for my aiming chart system, which was obvious highly superior! Haha.)

    I started experimenting with rules-light games, and ended up settling on a house-ruled version of Fudge, which suited my aims really well. At this point, there were two games running side by side (alternating weeks):

    There was the GURPS Traveller game, which ran pretty much by-the-book. (The players knew the rules very well, and we stuck to them quite rigorously. It worked pretty well.)

    And then there was my Fudge game, which was looser mechanically, but I ran in a really principled fashion, by committing to possible outcomes before dice were rolled, some simpler but still rigorous rules, and very thorough prep. (For an example, the campaign took place in a relatively closed environment, which I populated with about 200 or so characters, each given a name before we even started the game, and tracked them on a big spreadsheet. I had detailed maps, too, and so forth.)

    What both games had in common was that we were committed to solid prep and reliable resolution methods (well, they were also the same group of players, just different GMs). In Sandra's terms, it was very good "blorb".

    The games were reasonably fun (the players were all creative, fun, smart people, and good roleplayers), but always just a little frustrating for everyone involved. We'd have great moments and great sessions here and there, and aimless, frustrated gaming much of the rest of the time.

    No matter how good the resolution mechanics were, they didn't give the players a way to contribute directly to the narrative, and our commitment to "blorbiness" and non-railroady methods meant that sometimes it was not at all clear what the players were "supposed to do".

    Much of the "skill" of being a good player in this style became the ability to do crazy stuff while remaining in-character. Blowing stuff up, trying crazy stunts, scheming, creating drama: all good stuff. Gradually, all our characters became total psychos, unhinged, schizophrenic, manic, deluded, tempermental... because that would give us more fun games.

    It didn't help that we were coming from a GURPS background, where taking "mental disadvantages" in character creation was usually your best move!

    What I realized in retrospect was that the GM still has so much power over events that the GM is largely responsible for what kinds of stories get created in this form of play. Either the GM takes her hands entirely off the "steering wheel", in which case the players flounder about and end up trying to blow things up out of boredom, or she starts, however subtly, guiding the game towards interesting developments.

    We didn't have a goal, a method, or a sense of how to get what we after. We had all the details right: player authority and agency, good player and GM skills, solid prep, solid rules and resolution, good "blorb" principles, and great creative ideas about settings, NPCs, enemies, plots, and so on. But that wasn't enough to get good gaming reliably.

    We also noticed that our one-shots were pretty much always good - even great! - but somehow the long-term game tended to flounder. In retrospect, it's because for the one-shots we all brought our dramatic game forward, and prepared motivated characters, tense, conflicted situations, all primed and ready to blow. There was story fodder there, or some kind of adventure/goal, or interpersonal conflicts and drama, or all of the above.

    But as soon as those situations were resolved, we had no way to create new situations; either the GM or the players would have to, essentially, "break" the principles they were operating under and "sabotage" the game in order to get it running again.

    This culminated, for me, in the "ice moon story" (description linked above, in an earlier post); a frustrating evening where we spent several hours (!!!) yelling at each other and all went home fuming... and yet no one wanted to change anything, and no one seemed to see that it was precisely what we were doing that was creating this kind of mis-adventure.

    My campaign was a lot more consistently fun, but it was because I was constantly undermining my own attempts at objective resolution and "playing the world" by bringing in new, dramatic events. I did little enough of it to be confident I wasn't "railroading" anyone, but enough to keep the game rolling.

    Ultimately, it was a lot of work and unrewarding: all the same stuff traditional GMs complain about, where the players just don't seem as "into it" as they are, and "why, oh, why don't my players just care more?!?!?"
  • Wow! Very valuable lessons thank you Paul!
  • So what I want is something like a Hillfolk layer of bonds and conflicted relationships between the player characters. Or a porte-monstre-trésor setup.
  • A very interesting recap of (the beginning of) your role playing history. What happened next?
  • What happened next? I discovered the Forge and the idea that we can think of roleplaying more broadly. Throw away assumptions and start opening up design.

    For example, I remember asking some of my gamer friends:

    “Could we design an RPG where railroading wouldn’t happen? Where the GM couldn’t railroad the players, for example?”

    They thought it over and all replied “no, that’s impossible.”

    How about a game that can be played without any prep? Same: absolutely not.

    So, that was one piece. I designed a couple of (quite different) GMless games even before I’d really seen anything the Forge folks had done (a sort of parallel evolution) and was pleasantly surprised at how much fun they were. Wow! Exciting stuff.

    Once you realize that roleplaying is a conversation, that we’re negotiating fictional events, the Lumpley Principle (which should perhaps be called the Care Boss principle), and similar things, it’s like taking the Red Pill in the Matrix.

    The others piece was the idea of Creative Agenda.

    I occasionally have mixed feelings about the three CA modes identified at the Forge (sometimes they are crazy useful and sometimes they are very limiting), but I find that the idea of having a clear creative focus for any gaming endeavour revolutionized my gaming completely. I’ve never looked back, although Silmenume’s posts about his game are giving me ideas about experimenting with more... obfuscated... techniques.)
  • Oh, another thing:

    When I was running my games at that time, I found that I could be “objective” and “blorby” enough that I’d be surprised by the outcomes of short term events and developments: genuinely anything plausible could happen in the game.

    However, over the long term the gentle hand of the GM was felt more and more. Because I was in charge of all the resolutions, over the long term play looked very predictable. I wasn’t surprised by the long-term developments of the game at all.

    This is partially the subtle influence of the GM in even impartial resolution over time, but, more importantly, it’s because the traditional format of our rules (as the “physics of the game world”) doesn’t give the players true, direct input into the story and its direction.

    When I transitioned to more player-empowering mechanics and game formats, I started being just as excited and surprised by what was happening as if I was an audience member - the thrill of “turning the page”, instead of just feeling like a manager of a curated experience for others to enjoy. I could really have fun GMing for the first time, as a genuine and equal participant. (And much more fun as a player, too; for a long time before that I started thinking that maybe I only liked GMing games, not playing them, because being a player in a traditional game usually wouldn’t give me much of a creative outlet at all, leaving me feeling fairly powerless and unengaged.)
  • I can so very much relate to everything in that last post, Paul_T.
  • Thank you @Paul_T
  • Yes, thank you for sharing this experience, much apprec♥
  • edited May 30
    However, over the long term the gentle hand of the GM was felt more and more. Because I was in charge of all the resolutions, over the long term play looked very predictable. I wasn’t surprised by the long-term developments of the game at all.
    I've had the opposite experience (uh, that is, in my experience both long and short term outcomes have been unpredictable) but otoh I'm only five years in since I started DMing. (Not counting my two "wasted decades" of vanilla narr.)

  • So, what you think makes that difference? I have my own thoughts, but it might be more interesting to hear yours first. :)
  • Prepping widely and lightly.

    One of my biggest counter examples was Abu Mee’ma Khiry al-Masuli an NPC from our first al-Qadim campaign. He was three sentences of prep "Use Kenku stats. Thief casing the business. Abu is cursed with blindness in his left eye." I though the players would get invested in the business mentioned in that middle sentence but they ended up also trying to rob it and then later finding Abu and then meeting up with him and then him really growing through other things that happened gloracularly such as him winning the lottery (from a random event in a book by [OSR asshole #4]), him getting a fear spell but then running into the one faction that he had already been brainwashed by etc through multiple rolls of Usamigaras on the encounter table in The Lost City etc etc.

    Also having the porte-monstre-trésor structure there are so many obstacles that the players can fuck up. The entire fifth level of our current dungeon is covered floor to ceiling in telepathic slime :bawling: I honestly wonder how they're gonna get out of it
  • Also when characters die and the new character is really different that does have a big impact
  • I'd say that "prepping widely and lightly" was almost certainly the case for the Traveller game, and *definitely* the case for my own Fudge campaign. It didn't address the issues for us.

    One of my biggest counter examples was Abu Mee’ma Khiry al-Masuli an NPC from our first al-Qadim campaign. He was three sentences of prep "Use Kenku stats. Thief casing the business. Abu is cursed with blindness in his left eye." I though the players would get invested in the business mentioned in that middle sentence but they ended up also trying to rob it and then later finding Abu and then meeting up with him and then him really growing through other things that happened gloracularly such as him winning the lottery (from a random event in a book by [OSR asshole #4]), him getting a fear spell but then running into the one faction that he had already been brainwashed by etc through multiple rolls of Usamigaras on the encounter table in The Lost City etc etc.

    Also having the porte-monstre-trésor structure there are so many obstacles that the players can fuck up. The entire fifth level of our current dungeon is covered floor to ceiling in telepathic slime :bawling: I honestly wonder how they're gonna get out of it
    What I'm seeing in your examples is the use of a lot random tables/resolution to create new material (first paragraph), while being embedded in a context where things are interconnected and they *matter* to the overall picture. We had this in both games, in spades.

    The other is a clear sense of goals, obstacles, and challenge/reward (second paragraph). "I honestly wonder how they're gonna get out of it" is a pretty clear distillation of a "challenge-oriented" playstyle: we're playing to see the players do clever, creative, or lucky stuff, and the fun is finding out whether they can pull it off or not.
  • In this instance yes, that specific tension is challenge-oriented
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