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

2

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  • edited April 2017
    I find this whole discussion weirdly reductive and absolutist.

    The presence of a big setpiece that the characters will encounter wherever they go (Hell, maybe that big setpiece is "the sky turns dark and dragons fly out of the sun") is in no way indicative that the players' choices don't matter. They just don't matter for that one item. And sometimes, even in real life, your choices don't matter.

    There might be dwarven politics in the dwarven town, and lost ruins near the human frontier settlement, and a dark ritual happening under the elven citadel, and the players' choices sure as heck matter for those, to say nothing of the fact that Dwarftown sells Mithril Armor, humanville is in the middle of a gold rush, and Elfadel has a magic item shoppe. And the fact that the players are still wanted for murder in Elfland, viewed with suspicion by the dwarves, and hailed as saviors by humans. But somehow the fact that the GM has An Event that they want to do invalidates player choice? Sorry, but no, that makes no sense to me.

    Also, Sandra, I know we've had this argument before, but for me, those two things are absolutely completely identical. I have no belief in the Sanctity of Prep (and if you have to believe in something for it to be true, I am skeptical of its value). If anything, I am anti-prep, because essentially you got lucky that the thing you did with the mirror was fun and cool and it could have been boring and forgettable, but you get to trot it out as an example of how awesome prep is only because it worked out that time. It certainly "falsifies" no hypothesis in my mind. At best it is a contrary opinion - it has no value to me as "proof" of anything except your taste.
  • Airk,

    All of this, ultimately, is purely about "taste".

    We're discussing a specific style of gaming for a specific group (well, two groups, I suppose). It's not intended to apply to all gaming everywhere. (Most of my gaming is no-prep, as well, and I like it that way.)
  • edited April 2017
    I have spent the past three months watching Penn and Teller's "Fool Us" show on youtube and a few tutorials for magic tricks, and ended up knowing more than I wanted and kinda ruining stage magic for me. Of course, it's not like I can always follow sleight of hand tricks or not fall for a misdirection but after watching it I kinda get what happened.

    However, learning how the trick is done opens a whole world of wonders about the process in the human mind, how our brains are the ones actually playing the trick on us. The important thing to remember however, is that for this to properly work, we all must agree that the whole thing is a show, an exchange where both sides invest their trust, disbelieve is suspended, information and misdirection will exchange places without a warning nor an explanation and emotional reactions of surprise, puzzlement, joy and laughter are expected and most welcome.

    Of course there are gross acts, uncomfortable situations, lots of cheating, the magician is fooling people and may or may not feel superior to their audience for doing so, and a looong unjustifiable etc.

    And then, there are RPGs. Which are a different media, situation and exchange.
    Here we are adhering to a different ruleset and its way too easy for newcomers and even veterans to see stage magic and DMing as the same thing. It isn't.

    Some principles are the same, some things can be done in a similar way, there will be players that will enjoy the show and even ask how it's done but won't be happy at all when they find out. There will be players that will feel legitimately cheated, disappointed at the GM for being so awfully egocentric and controlling, for taking away the relevance of their choices from them. For being "protected" from the setting and/or being put on a hopeless situation despite what logic, the system, the setting or common sense dictates.

    I kinda understand why some people could go for illusionism (been there myself), but we have to be aware that while it could be excellent as a show, it makes a very poor game.
  • edited April 2017
    I've seen all the episodes of Fool Us too, sure. (BTW I actually liked Alison as host very much, I can't believe the flak she got. She was charming in that role.) The phrase "GM force" game from magic vocabulary, too. The "three of clubs" ogre :p

    Airk, I specifically wrote "in-idiom" and "off-idiom" instead of right or wrong. It's relevant to my group's rules and Deliverator's group's rules.
    but you get to trot it out as an example of how awesome prep is only because it worked out that time.
    Isn't it kinda cruel to call it "trot it out"? I refer to it often, yes, because it's a shorthand for what for me was a very transformative moment of play. It's one of those things I will remember for the rest of my life and there had been nothing like it before it and many things like it after it.

    OK, let's compare scenario one to a third scenario:
    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 three:
    We find a covered mirror. The DM has it in writing before we even react to the mirror 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 sticks to the recorded rules for the mirror, and says "The bulliwugs look into the mirror and laugh at the bathing lich, but then turns their attention back to you. For the the first round against them, you have advantage on defense and attacks until they regain their composure."

    Again, the first one is Not Cool and the third is So Awesome.


    Because what I want to do is to go to the dungeon. I don't want "Hey, wanna hear what a really cool dungeon trip would've sounded like? They would have such luck with their choices, they would be so clever with their mirrors", I want to make my own real trip there. Let me be clever or let me be wrong.

    Here are two other scenarios:

    Common background to scenario four, five and six:

    A troubled kid who skips school, has problems with tests and learning, instead gets into street fights. The teacher gives her a test for laterally smart kids, she takes the test, the teacher comes back and says you got 87% that's a new world record, you're going to a summer school for the smartest sideways thinkers.

    Scenario four:
    The test is real and the kid does her best and manages to succeed and has a good life at the summer school.

    Scenario five:
    The teacher says to her before the test starts "BTW whatever you answer, we'll just send in an 87% score, little buddy, so you'll get into that summer school that'll be really good for you" and then looks at the answers, think "Oh, honey... well... they're OK I guess" and sends in that 87% anyway.

    Or scenario six, same as scenario five but the teacher never tells her and lets her believe it's scenario four. I'm not really interested in talking about the difference between scenario five and six today, that's a social contract issue and I think we're all on the same page there.

    What I do care about in this context is the difference between scenario four and five. I wanted to take that test. For real. Let me try my hand at these cold tombs and these trapped mirrors.


    It's like if we're playing Magic and you have a winning streak. Don't just then pretend to have a lands shortage just to give me a win even though you do have lands on your hand. I don't want to pretend to play the game. I want to play the game.

    When we're roleplaying we're pretending that we're in the dungeon. I don't want to then pretend to pretend that we're in the dungeon. I just don't.

    I used a very cruel metaphor for this on the other forum the other day, but you called my precious mirror story something I "trot out" so here goes: It's like a little kid who don't have a quarter for the Donkey Kong machine, but tries to push the stick and press the buttons in time with the demo screen anyway.


    It's off idiom.

    Now, every game isn't about that. So many activities where the common denominator is "We sit at a table and say stuff" is called roleplaying, and another common (but not universal) denominator is that people are primarily portraying one person, one role, but that's where it ends.

    I went to an impro show yesterday, they were entertaining a crowd with their impro theatre antics. In that context, they wouldn't give a damn when the mirror was prepped. Caring about it would've been off their idiom where instead flexibility of what's building on each other's actions is valued, as is creating a cool and entertaining story.

    I mean I don't participate in an impro session and say "No, stop, I actually had an other truth in mind about what was in that box". If I hand you an imaginary box on an impro stage, I don't retain the right to stick to my idea about what's in that box. The rules of impro are different from the rules of our style of sandbox play.

    And sure, some times you can mix things from two idioms synergistically. But if you mix away the core value of an artform, you're no longer doing it. Steve Paxton, a choreographer, once said:
    If you're dancing physics, you're dancing contact. If you're dancing chemistry, you're doing something else.
    It's the same here. This sort of stuff is a core value of this game play idiom (By "idiom", I don't mean thematic genre like "dungeon fantasy" because there are impro-based dungeon fantasy themed games, too, like Dreisbach's "Donjon" game, I mean the particular "gloracle" ethos that we favor, whether it be in the underdark or in a space sector or in the dark cyber future) for a reason. You don't have to play in this idiom. But this idiom is about ONE thing. One thing. And it's this gloracle ethos. Remove it, and you're doing something else -- which may be what you want, and that's fine, but we want to do it this way. And we have a reason to do so. It's core to our art form. Like you don't call something drum & bass if you remove the bass and you remove the drums and just stick an old dented trumpet and some french horns in there. You call it rhythmic brass and that's cool too but it's not gonna fly on a "greatest hits of drum & bass"-collection.

    Side note: seeing professional impro comedy made me feel really good about what we're doing as roleplayers (all styles), that particular troupe was not better at impro comedy what even a bunch of Fiasco beginners can do. But they were also great singers and musicians, that made up for a lot.



    Two ways of invalidating the player's choices
    In the impro idiom, the DM is right to hold her ideas about the mirror's effects (if any) very lightly, and to stay open for a cool restatement of the mirror's effect that builds on the players actions. To insist that the mirror is just a scrying scroll to the lich's bathroom even when the players are trying to use it as a weapon would be to "block" the player's creative input to the scene and to invalidate them.


    In the sandbox idiom, the DM is right to stick to a particular effect, and to try to referee it consistently and "physically" no matter what the players do. To change the mirror's effect in order to try to match the players expectations would be to negate the risk they took, to zero-out the gamble they took, and to block their choices made in order to navigate a treacherous environment and to invalidate them.


    Johnstone is great. But we are doing something else.
  • edited April 2017
    Now back to olive branches. I'd rather have you as a friend than as a foe Airk. ← Edit: that isn't meant as threat. I'm pretty useless when it comes to foes. It's just that I'd rather we work together and share ideas than constantly butt heads. We think differently and that can become something cool.
  • I kinda lose it when it comes to the mirror story
  • if you have to believe in something for it to be true, I am skeptical of its value
    I have another perspective on that. A lot of great art was created out of a belief. Mondrian believed in the constraints of neoplasticism and created his beautiful works from that. Steele and Sussman believed in lexical scoping and created their beautiful language "Scheme" from that. And when I go to the dungeon I believe in the dungeon.

  • edited April 2017
    I don't think this is just a "matter of taste"; It's a matter of whether something invalidates someone's choices or not. And it seems like I am constantly being told that this does as if it were some sort of objective truth, which is frustrating, because it makes it extremely difficult to even defend my position.

    The problem, from my perspective, with all the examples, and what should be obvious after all the comparisons to magic shows but somehow isn't, is this:

    It's never real. It can't be. "Prep" is just improvisation the day before. I honestly feel like your Mirror example, Sandra, is a red herring; You don't improvise an item when it's used, you improvise it when it's introduced. Which means that your undesirable scenario is one that never actually occurs. I suppose that someone out there might be able to introduce a mirror without deciding if it's magic, and able to decide that it's magic but not what it does, but even if someone can do that, it's simplicity itself not to.

    Everyone always has to pretend that it's real. You can write all the rules you want to, but even then, the GM isn't ignorant of the party. I read an article followed by a ton of argument just the other day about the idea of using passive perception to detect traps/ambushes, and one of the major objections was "But that means that the GM is basically just deciding whether the PCs encounter that trap or not, because the GM obviously knows what everyone's passive perception is" and it's true. Even if the GM is doing prep in advance, he knows what the PCs can do. So unless he's running a module created by someone else, there is always - whether there is "prep" or some hypothetical "improv that very second" - either going to be the GM deciding something based on the players... or the GM deciding something while consciously "not" taking that into account.

    I know that everyone knows this, and understands that impartiality is a goal and not an absolute... so why is it so hard to acknowledge that really, it's not prep that is doing this, but just making sure that things are established before they are relevant?

    Why does the GM change his "initial idea" in your mirror example? Is it just because you are trying to come up with an example of badwrong behavior? Because there's no reason that prep prevents him from doing this. More mirror examples:

    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 sticks to his already established idea for the mirror, and says "The bulliwugs look into the mirror and laugh at the bathing lich, but then turns their attention back to you. For the the first round against them, you have advantage on defense and attacks until they regain their composure."

    Scenario two:
    We find a covered mirror. The DM has it in writing before we even react to the mirror 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 sticks to the recorded rules for the mirror, and says "The bulliwugs look into the mirror and laugh at the bathing lich, but then turns their attention back to you. For the the first round against them, you have advantage on defense and attacks until they regain their composure."

    Scenario three:
    We find a covered mirror. The DM has it in writing before we even react to the mirror 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", (because prep doesn't stop him from doing this) 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 four:
    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."

    To me, all of these scenarios are 100% plausible - the GM can do whatever he wants, regardless of whether he thought of the idea one minute ago or one year ago. Prep is not binding unless you want it to be. And if you want it to be, the idea you had 30 seconds ago can be binding, even if you didn't write it down. Prep changes nothing here. What matters is the GMs desire to not change stuff to suit the players.

    And now that we've gone off on all this again, I feel obliged to point out that even in the "bad" scenarios here, player choice still matters. If you hadn't brought the mirror with you, the bullywug encounter would have gone very differently in all four scenarios.
  • edited April 2017
    I find this all super fascinating and directly relevant to my play. (Which, for the record, is probably more similar to Sandra's than Airk's.) I'm glad this discussion is happening!

    I'm getting the feeling that this boils down to issues of not just preference but social contract.

    Specifically, concerning expectations around:

    1) When the GM is allowed to commit to the Truth of fictional elements!
    2) When the GM is allowed to violate those commitments!

    When we violate these expectations, the game feels cheap or railroaded—or, from the other direction, static, full of missed dramatic opportunities, like clicking around trying to find the right pixel in Myst. When we fail to properly set and communicate these expectations, we can't even know when we're making the game feel cheap and railroaded!

    Try considering the various versions of the Mirror Story under that framework.

    *

    Here are a few versions of this bit of social contract.

    Version One: Sandbox
    - GM commitments are binding as soon as they are made, during prep or play, even if not communicated to any player.
    - Stated facts in prep take highest precedence...
    - Then random tables established in prep that apply to the sitch...
    - Then what the established fiction demands...
    - And lastly the GM's spur-of-the-moment ideas.

    A weakness here is that the players do not know what the GM has committed to in prep. This can make it seem like the GM is violating the social contract even when they are obeying it in letter and spirit!

    Version Two: Improv
    - GM commitments can be erased at any point up until they have been communicated to some player, no harm no foul.
    - Prep has no special priority over spur-of-the-moment ideas, or what the fiction demands, or what drama demands.
  • edited April 2017
    Edit: I didn't see the 2nd page of posts! I'll let this one stand for now, but may need to revise for being 10 posts behind!

    Well, look, I'm not gonna tell my players, "No, no, I never make anything up for your convenience!" and then go make stuff up for their convenience. But I totally will tell them, "My goal is to make the setting seem real, and I can tell you about how I do that if you want, but it might be more fun if I don't," and get buy-in to that and then go make stuff up for their convenience.

    I don't think the convenience-based invention is inherently a problem.

    If I do that all the time, with zero counter-signalling -- zero instances of a revelation being totally inconvenient, or a non-sequitur, or whatever -- then yeah, the gameworld will begin to feel rigged. A consistent pattern makes the contrivance more visible.

    There are plenty of other things that also make the contrivance more visible. I'm against them all!

    I think throwing my plot hook NPC wherever the PCs go next is pretty invisible, though. So, if it isn't violating our social contract, I don't see where the problem would be.
  • I think Jeph is right that it's an issue at the level of social contract and principles. FWIW, I also personally come down somewhere near David and Airk in terms of the sanctity of prep.
  • Airk, over the last six months or so, I've come around to the idea of the DM coming up with the mirror later than "ideal" (before campaign start). I should've updated you guys on that. It still feels a little weird to me, but I can't argue as strongly for it (I have some arguments, but it becomes an extremist position).

    But, she can't change her mind after the players react to it. When it's time to come up with "what's in the room", that's when the mirror's rules is recorded (or mentally noted, but adhered to).

    So with this new, more lenient ethos, scenario A1 and scenario A2 (A for Airk since you started over my numbering) become similar to each other, and scenario A3 and A4 become similar to each other.

    I chose my scenarios to precisely illustrate the off-idiom behavior, yes.
    A3 and A4 goes against the premise of the game as we want to do it. You do you, but we want to do this, and discuss it with each other and get advice from each other.

    Why are A3 and A4 'badwrong'? Or, as you also (better put it) sidesteps from the desire to uphold the unattainable ideal? (All of us sandbox GMs have made such sidesteps, I'd think, but we consider them mistakes. But that's why it's an ideal, we use it to guide us to do it as right as possible.)

    Because it's not just about the bulliwug scene. It's about the scene where we first start interacting with the mirror. The choices we made there, the care we were taking as we carefully looked in the room, took our time to look, hit every floor tile (risking attracting skeletons from the noise, but avoiding pit traps), explicitly said "I'm looking in the other direction when I put my hand under the cloth and touch the surface, what does it feel like?", the reason we made those choices weren't to entertain the "listeners at home" but to experience making choices with consequence, in the safe environment of play.

    If we treat the mirror as a trap weapon, but it turns out to just be a scrying mirror, then we chose poorly. If we treat the mirror as something cool to look at, but get zapped into amber hell, then we chose poorly. Being able to choose right or wrong is what we want out of play. If we can't ever "choose" in that manner, if the outcomes of our actions instead are what would sound like an entertaining story, whether it's amazing successes or ironies of fate, then our choices are invalidated. And that's why it's badwrong. We want to make real choices.


    I don't go to an impro workshop and go like this:

    S: Hi!
    A: Hi, have you heard about my uncle?
    S: No, you don't have an uncle. I'm Dracula
    A: Ok… I've come to visit your castle, Dracula, because I wanted to sell insurance to you!
    S: No, you don't. And I'm not that Dracula, I'm another Dracula, a Frankenstein Dracuna with the powers of both Frankenstein and Dracula. A Dracula that don't understand your language so it's just gibberish to you.
    A. Ok… [switches to narrator voice, to the audience] Just as I had hoped, the Frankie-Drac was playing right into my con. Since she doesn't speak English she won't be alerted to my scheme at the upcoming art show.
    S. No. There's no art show scheduled in Barovia for at least seven months.

    Etc Etc. That would be badwrong in that idiom. But in the sandbox idiom, I'm just staying true to my prep about the properties of the Frankie-Drac and the art scene in Barovia.

    Here's another analogy. I don't go to a chess tournament and start playing misère chess / antichess with every opponent. First of all, some moves would violate chess rules (such as leaving the king in chess). Second of all, it would invalidate all the hard work the opponents hade made studying for the tournament.


    There are games, valid and fun and serious games, where the stated goal of play is to sound entertaining to the "listeners at home" (i.e. ourselves). In such play, adapting the mirror's effect to the players is validating their choices made to sound entertaining, their choices to strap it on the wagon because it sounds goofy or clever or resourceful. And creating an appropriate response to that choice, whether it rewards them with a powerful weapon, or becomes a punchline with an ironically ineffective lich bathroom viewer, is building on their narrative ideas in a constructive way. Those games are valid here on S-G but suitable for other threads.

    Because we have another goal with our play for this particular game.

    If I'm your art teacher and ask for a b/w inked line drawing of a vase of lilies, and you hand in a figure/ground relationship of the statue of liberty in red wash on light purple paper, I'm going to give you a failing grade. Even if your picture looks better than any of the lily-drawings. Even though it breaks my heart.
  • And every chess player makes the occasional losing move by mistake (sometimes a lot of them) and every impro actor has gone against the format and destroyed a scene from time to time. They're ideals, but right now we're talking about ideals and how to get closer to them.

    If you want to argue for another goal of play that's fine by me. (In another thread maybe?)
    But respect that our current goal of play is our current goal of play.
  • Like the game twenty questions can be played in two ways, both fun.
    One, you have an answer in mind and answer truthfully yes or no.
    The other, you hold your answer, or various ideas about answers, lightly, and keep altering your idea of the possible answer with the goal of prolonging play as long as possible, without contradictions, until there's only one possible answer and it has to be it.

    Now, it can be harmlessly mischievous to do the second in the context where the first is expected, but I've never done so -- when I play 20 questions in the normal way, the fun is in the agony and joy of them getting closer or farther from what I had in mind.
  • A highly specific set piece that occurs when a town reaches a certain size does not match with my conception of holding on lightly at all. There are more idioms at play here than simply a prep idiom and an improv idiom. It is also a matter of types of prep and types of improv.

    I do not mean to make this too contentious. Airk, I generally agree with the idea that writing something down does not make it more meaningfully real. However, I am also really big on players making meaningful decisions and following the established fiction. Part of the reason I usually tend to use a more improv oriented approach is precisely because I want to really consider things, rather than force play down particular avenues.

    Beyond the barest of details I generally do not trust that prep will lead me down a road where things in the game happen organically, rather than through contrivance. I feel like contrivances will start to seep in despite the best of intentions and I will play to my prep, rather than the situation at hand. The temptation to grab the story by the hand is too great when I am not in the midst of play. Prep breeds investment.
  • That's all based on the way my specific brain works by the way.
  • You're right, Jonathan, but when there's an interesting and fruitful discussion about the nuances and variation of prep idioms, it's frustrating when someone with a completely opposite goal — improv idiom — enters the fray and argues completely through that lens.

    This discussion also made me recognize something in an off-forum discussion I've been having over mail with one of my best friends. She's running a game in the "Stories are interesting" overlap part of GDNS official, canonical theory and instead of helping her, I hindered her by just criticizing those corners (in favor of sandbox play) instead of looking at the strengths of those corners and how to do them better.

    I was doing to her what I perceived Airk to be doing to me, but from the other direction. We're not so different, after all, we humans.♥
  • I think throwing my plot hook NPC wherever the PCs go next is pretty invisible, though. So, if it isn't violating our social contract, I don't see where the problem would be.
    I think there's still a fundamental problem here, as even though the contrivance may be invisible to the players, it's completely visible to you. It's like the Ring of Gyges thought experiment. You can still see what you're doing, even if other people can't.

    This question about how visible it is to the players sort of forgets about the GM, right? It's all visible on your side of the screen. So if that kind of contrivance doesn't sit well with you, then it doesn't matter how unlikely it is it'll be found out - you already know it. I think the test for me would be: if the players find out this is what I did, will it spoil what happened? This is to do with social contract, yeah, but I don't think social contract is only broken when they find out about it.

    I see how making this contrivance is useful - it cuts down on prep. It guarantees that all your work will be seen. But this is undesirable to me for a couple of reasons. The first is that most stories are about the protagonists. You need protagonists for people to go along with the story. George R. R. Martin wanted people to read about his world, but in order to do that he needed to write 50,000 protagonists to take the reader through it. In a roleplaying game, it's pretty clear to me that the PCs are the protagonists. That's why players only play one of them, while you play the entire supporting cast. Putting your Plot Hook in front of the PCs no matter which way they turn makes the story about your plot, not about the protagonists. Because you're deciding for them what their story will be, and protagonists - good protagonists, at least - have agency. They make their story for themselves.

    The second reason it's undesirable for me is because I like to play to find out. I think most people do. If I wanted to show people my wonderful inviolate plot, I'd write a book. It's not playing to find out if you drop your Plot Hook in front of the players in the way Deep Carbon Observatory does it, because now you're only going to find out things you already know about your plot. Here's how I would use Deep Carbon Observatory: when the PCs get to town, I roll a d6. If it's a 1 (or whatever), then the Plot Hook is in progress. Any other number, and the PCs get to explore the setting of Deep Carbon Observatory before all hell breaks loose, and then I get to find things out about that setting by stretching the prep. My understanding of the world is deeper, and when all hell finally breaks loose we're a bit more invested.

    So I think in roleplaying we're doing these two things, and for me they lie at the core of the improv/prep divide: making stuff up or finding stuff out. And I think the second is predicated on the first. And I think that we only make stuff up so that we can find stuff out - the second one is where the magic happens. When you prep you're doing a lot of making stuff up and, hopefully, a little bit of finding stuff out. In the case of the mirror example, if 2097 had made it up that it was scrying mirror into a lich's bathroom, then to improv that it was actually another thing would be to make stuff up again. Why do that? She'd already made something up. If she sticks to what she's made up, however, then she gets to find out what happens when the thing she's made up is used.

    There's no inherent sanctity in prep, sure. But I think it's a waste of time to make stuff up only to make up something else totally different and incompatible later. Because what we make up isn't important or interesting, least of all to ourselves. But what we find out is pretty much always gold.

    This is not to say prep is better than improv. But I've done a bunch of improv, and you notice that freeform scenes get better as they go along, if they get better at all (we're making the prep together so we can find stuff out later) whereas theatresports games start out really fun (the rules of the game is the prep, and the playing of it is the finding out). Improv is the same thing as prep, we just do it together in the live so it's faster and we get to finding things out sooner.

    The crux of it: why prep beforehand only to prep again in the moment? The joy is in the execution, not the set up.
  • I think that's a great breakdown of why the mirror example is bad play. Remove those specifics, though, and I think that argument dissolves. Dropping a plot hook in front of the PCs, wherever they go, is fine as long as (a) the GM isn't just undoing or overwriting prior prep, and (b) the PCs get to choose that they do with that plot hook. The "drop it in wherever" part is not the problem, IMO.

    As for the GM doing things that don't sit well with the GM, I wouldn't advocate that. If you feel weird or guilty or like you're playing wrong by plopping stuff into the fiction for convenience's sake, then don't do that. My personal comfort zone with this looks more like flexible prep than ad lib. I don't decide that the plot hook is in front of you right as you encounter it. But I also don't always decide what town it's in before you choose what town to go to. Perhaps I should also clarify that by "plot hook" I just mean one interesting thing the players might do, not the interesting thing they must do. I guess "adventure hook" is actually a better term.
  • Great post, @Andye.

    I've played approximately a million bajillion hours of high-improv indie RPGs; if I hadn't, I probably wouldn't be here on this site. There are lots of games—great games, innovative games, revolutionary games—where the exact function of a mysterious artifact is undetermined until someone earns the narration rights to define it. Or where you do a mix of preparing things and improvising them—this is essentially the Dungeon World dictum to "draw maps; leave blanks." I like games like that a whole lot!! In fact, my very favorite game in the whole world, Burning Wheel, is like that—the GM can prep things, but the players have a fair amount of power to author facts.

    And actually, as it happens, even in 5E I will always do some amount of AW-style asking of questions when it pertains to things from the PCs' personal backgrounds and the like. But I've found that the overall best approach to running 5E is a more strict and prep-focused one. It makes the challenge and the danger much more acute.
  • I'm with you with the mirror story, Andye.
    When it comes to DCO… have you read it? What you're suggesting isn't as easy as it sounds. The 2-6 would require a bit of work, and the 1 would still sound implausible.
  • I agree with David; I don't really think that having something _happen_ to the PCs regardless of where they go is in any way invalidating their choices unless they A) Knew about it in advance and B) Took specific action to avoid it. It's when you stop paying attention to what they PCs do in _response_ that you start invalidating choices.

    And of course, I don't think anyone here would argue that the GM should indulge in behavior that makes them uncomfortable, but that seems like a somewhat obvious point to make, since the primary reason I can think of that a GM would do any of this stuff is because it makes them more comfortable.

    I also agree with Andye that it seems like nonsense to make something up only to overwrite it by making something else up later. Which is part of why I've been so baffled by all the pushback on the mirror example - overwriting even your own "mental prep" seems like a completely counterintuitive thing to do, because it seems to run contrary to the goal here. Prep is just improv done in advance. Improv is just prep done in the moment. Maybe one of them is EASIER for you than the other, in which case you might want to use more of that one, but neither one grants any inherent value in its own right, and neither one should be disregarded in favor of making up something new except in the traditional creative sense of allowing players to do things within the fiction - "A scrying mirror into the Lich's bathroom? That seems pretty useless. Can I perform a ritual to direct the mirror's scrying somewhere else?" You probably didn't prep for that, because you can't prep for every possibility, so you have to make something up, but you're not overwriting previous creation.

    I remain confused by by 2097. Of course your decisions matter starting with when you start interacting with the mirror... unless of course you make decisions where it doesn't actually matter what the mirror is at that point... like a lot of the stuff you are describing. A scrying mirror probably doesn't feel any different from a Mirror of Soul Eating or a perfectly normal mirror. Maybe a mirror that's actually a portal to the Plane of Fire might feel different, but if so good luck covering it with a tarp. ;P No, it's not just about the bullywug scene... but the bullywug scene was the first scene in which your decisions about the mirror actually matter, regardless of what has or hasn't been decided about it, so that is the first scene where it's even possible for your choices regarding it to matter.

    So close and yet so far.
  • You're right, Jonathan, but when there's an interesting and fruitful discussion about the nuances and variation of prep idioms, it's frustrating when someone with a completely opposite goal — improv idiom — enters the fray and argues completely through that lens.

    This discussion also made me recognize something in an off-forum discussion I've been having over mail with one of my best friends. She's running a game in the "Stories are interesting" overlap part of GDNS official, canonical theory and instead of helping her, I hindered her by just criticizing those corners (in favor of sandbox play) instead of looking at the strengths of those corners and how to do them better.

    I was doing to her what I perceived Airk to be doing to me, but from the other direction. We're not so different, after all, we humans.♥
    You make a compelling point here. There's no way I would run D&D 5e as if it were Apocalypse World or even Dungeon World. I am not a big fan of encultured systems. I do not take tricks in all my card games.

  • To clarify somewhat, I don't have any gripes with sandbox games except that:

    A) I find the term to be problematically vague, because in my brain it's closely linked to the hexcrawl, but everytime someone defines it at me they define it as something like "Any game where the players choose 'where' to go."
    and
    B) I was getting a strong "this is the only way player decisions matter" vibe earlier, which has nothing to do with sandbox, which is what I was trying to prove, in spite of getting massively sidetracked.
  • edited April 2017
    Interesting discussion!

    I tried to make this point earlier, but it seems to have gotten lost. I'll restate:

    * The concept of "prep", for an RPG, is a bit of an illusion. There's no difference in play - to the game - if something is decided upon two weeks earlier or improvised in the moment. There's no difference if it's written down or if it's simply an idea floating in someone's mind.

    Furthermore, I hope everyone agrees that it's simply impossible to prep *everything* for a game (at least for an RPG with a shared imagined fiction!).

    Where it becomes drastically different is in terms of the player's commitment to the idea. Once an idea is set in stone, how committed are we to honouring it?

    In the style of play we're discussing here, there is a strong argument to be made for an approach to play where prior "prep" is sacrosanct. It doesn't matter if it's settled on the spot with a random roll or decided two seconds before-the-fact; once it's established, it's written in stone. This isn't necessary for such gaming, but it has some nice features we can exploit in our game. (One of those is a greater sense of achievement and reward when obstacles are overcome or a clever plan comes together. Another is the sense that minor details - like whether you cover the mirror with a tarp or risk touching it with bare skin - really matter, and aren't just posturing or play-acting. If we want those things to feel like they matter, this is one way to do that.)

    * Another important question is: "Was this material prepped before the players had to make significant choices considering it, or after?"

    Ideally, in this style of play, the "prep" is done before the players make any significant decisions. (For instance, I will sometimes say, "Wait! Don't finish that sentence. I need to determine whether this might be dangerous/cursed/whatever. I'm going to roll on this random table... ok, now go ahead and tell what you're doing.")

    So, the factors are our level of commitment to the fictional material, and the timing of the decisions made - the decision to establish the nature of the material should be made (ideally) before the decisions about how to interact with it. (When that's impossible, clever GMs can still find ways of "faking" that, like the use of random tables or other tricks to establish partial "remove" from the events of play. For instance, consider a thought experiment where I have a buddy, and when something isn't certain, I call him up mid-game and ask him, "Hey, so tell me about this mysterious chest. What's inside?" He's making up its contents AFTER the players have decided to, say, pry it open with a crowbar, but he doesn't know they are doing this, so his decision is effectively uncaused by their actions. This "fakes" an interaction where the "prep" was done before the actions were chosen.)

    * In the case of dropping an incident into a spot on the map based on player actions, sure, from the players' perspective it might be entirely invisible, if done well. However, the issue then becomes what game the GM is playing. Is the GM interested in providing a play experience for the players which appears a certain way (the "magic trick" referenced earlier), or is the GM looking to share in the enjoyment of the magic trick herself?

    The latter is an entirely different kind of fun for the GM, and it requires a certain disciplined approach and mindset. It's a trick, as well - in this case, a trick the GM plays on herself. But it's an effective one, and it can be carried out consistently. It allows her to be a participant in the excitement of exploration.

    I understand the appeal of this - it's the excitement of surprise and discovery, like a larger-scale version of a tense die roll. If I'm dropping an event into whatever place the PCs visit next, I'm not likely to be surprised. If I prep 10 different locations, and then ask the PCs which ones they go to and in which order, the outcome of play is much less predictable to me. (For instance, if the players level up between Location 3 and Location 5, and pick up a powerful explosive in Location 4, the experience of exploring Location 5 is going to be completely different than if they had started there.)

    * And, yes, there's a continuum at work here. No game is 100% "hygienic" in this sense. Throwing a module into a spot on the map doesn't suddenly turn it into another kind of game. It can still be a "sandbox", just slightly less "objective" than the one at the next table over (but, maybe more so than the one two tables over, where the GM also rewrites the treasure in the dungeon between sessions based on how things went).

    I think the desire to get close to one end of the spectrum is a laudable one, much like any other thing we might strive for in gaming.
  • edited April 2017
    but the bullywug scene was the first scene [...] where it's even possible for your choices regarding it to matter.
    That's when the card was turned face up. That's not when the bets were placed. You don't select your card after seeing the opponents bet. That invalidates their choice.
  • I'm feeling kinda confuse.

    Sometimes I get to understand things better when I write them and even better when I've got to explain them, so I'm hoping writing this post will help me a little. I'm hoping even harder that I might find something to contribute to the discussion in this mess. Let's go:

    Ok, I understand that everything is just idioms and there isn't a "right one". (Reading the RISS thread help me a lot there, thanks Sandra!) Then there are things that seem incompatible in each idiom that are prone to generate never ending arguments whenever people who talk passionately in each idiom meet. Things like "that's BadWrongFun" will be said about each incompatible point.

    But the idioms paradigm seems a bit incomplete without the concept of dialects (let me use this to guide my point, you can change it later), as a particular way of using an idiom or better, a mix or them. I mean, the RISS doesn't seem to include our particular idiom, or more precisely explain why the practice, techniques, and goals of the groups I've seen/played with manage to work together. We're definitely not using a new idiom, but a mix of the ones listed, and manage to do it in a way that doesn't create the incompatibilities mentioned.

    For example, I do use rails... in certain parts of a sandbox. We play with spikes. I do prep and change it later if the player's ideas look more interesting/awesome than mine. I use quantum ogres here and there. Some times the encounters are prepped with accurate balance, then a couple of players miss the session and the rest either adapt or rocks fall and half of the monsters die before the battle. I never fudge dice. Unless it's damage dice and it's not going to be fun for anybody. Next they face a lvl 5 wizard able to TPK them because it was there prepped in the sandbox.

    How the heck does this work? timing, smoke and mirrors, being outspoken and communicative... sometimes even about misdirection and railroading. I remain true to my prep, except when I forget it and improvise or the players have a better idea, as I mentioned above. But afterwards, things are written on stone. The moment they know an ogre is there, it's impossible for it to be anywhere else. Their choices matter, but in the sense that yes, there's an actual choice, things could go differently even if it means the ogre will appear later in the session or three levels after. And of course, their choices matter because once they have chosen, consequences ensue for good or bad, but mostly, for their fun. Their fun meaning player's fun, because mine comes after that.*

    Maybe I don't know why it works and that's what feels confusing about this paradigm.


    *I should probably point that I may have some deep mental issues in regards of respecting /understanding other people. I'm terrified of making enemies or even antagonize too much... and then I get pissed off when somebody misreads me and takes whatever I do to reconcile in the opposite way. Figures. However this has made me specially sensitive to my group's mood to the point that even in a bad day I realize if I'm ruining their fun or not and take action to prevent things going worse. Though it's hard to do so while respecting their own choices and viewpoint, I usually manage.
  • WM, throwing the other play styles (sometimes more than) a couple of bones is a hallmark for Rails play and the way you describe it, it seems like that's what you're doing. Classic, functional, 90:s style, Rails play. Congrats, I never got it working, and then I found something that was more my thing.

    Dialects is a good addition to the theory, sure.
  • edited April 2017
    WM, throwing the other play styles (sometimes more than) a couple of bones is a hallmark for Rails play and the way you describe it, it seems like that's what you're doing. Classic, functional, 90:s style, Rails play. Congrats, I never got it working, and then I found something that was more my thing.

    Dialects is a good addition to the theory, sure.
    Uhh, not exactly, the main frame is more of a sandbox and the rails appear right after the players decide to go somewhere. I mean, at the end of the session I ask the players "Ok, based on what happened today, where do you want to go next?". And then I prep after whatever they say. On the prep I consider what the different fronts in the setting are doing, their agenda as well as their reaction to whatever the PCs did on the last session.

    And to top this, 70% of the material used was created by the players either on the first session, carefully searching for flags on their character sheets, mountwitching or stealing their ideas. 28% comes from connecting the dots and filling the blanks with random tables and whatever makes sense according to the setting. Only 2% is my personal ideas, which mostly comes down to, well, in-game jokes and colour.

    So it's more like trowing bones to rails, actually. Glad of being of any help, and thanks, I feel less confused!
  • That's what I was getting at when I said this whole thing is a continuum.

    I wouldn't categorize WM's play as "Rails" in your "RISS" model, Sandra. It's definitely a "sandbox" in the sense that there are different locations and the players decide where to go to face danger.

    However, it doesn't take the hardcore stance you do about being faithful to the prep and the "reality of the dungeon". It is more about creating fun encounters and enjoying the game.

    In Big Model terms, it's "Right to Dream" instead of "Step On Up", but both use the frame of sandbox dungeon crawling/adventuring to structure play.
  • Paul, that magic trick analogy sums it up perfectly. I think if a GM is pulling invisible strings then they're working more in performance or entertainment than in play. Using Sandra's RISS terminology, the first two sound like Rails to me, while play is the whole point of a Sandbox. Quantum ogres are off-idiom – that's Rails gaming, whether the players can see the rails or not.

    I'm getting confused though, because I know there's a difference and a connection between the Plot Hook NPC and the Mirror of Uncertain Qualities, but I'm not sure what that difference or connection is... they're both things where you've prepped some, but not all, of the facts about those things.

  • the primary reason I can think of that a GM would do any of this stuff is because it makes them more comfortable.
    What I really meant to say was that, if some GM is damaging their own fun sense of the gameworld as a solid entity, then hopefully they'd catch that and stop. Cuz they might not! We're all susceptible to bad habits.
  • edited April 2017

    That's when the card was turned face up. That's not when the bets were placed. You don't select your card after seeing the opponents bet. That invalidates their choice.
    Uh, yes, that was my point. The Bullywug scene was when the cards were flipped. But up until that point, you were still free to adjust your bet. :P

    Anyway, I largely agree Paul - especially about the idea of "Comittment" which is something I've been arguing for a while.

    The one that confuses me though is why having a setpiece event is necessarily the GM "playing to entertain the players" instead of "playing to find out." Example time:

    The GM has an "event" in mind. An eclipse will happen, and fire will fall from the sky. There are lots of ways the GM could choose the timing of this event. But from my perspective, ALL of them are about "How will the players deal with this event?" - i.e. "Playing to find out" and NOT about "Oh, my event is so cool, I'm going to force the players to deal with it" i.e. "Performance."

    If you assume that all events that are "forced" to happen by the GM are for "performance" then you essentially eliminate the possibility of the world functioning outside of the PCs. So obviously you HAVE to be able to have these sorts of events - this is back to the Observatory thing that Sandra had. Unless you are prepared to dispense with things happening without the PCs causing them/being there for them, you have to accept that sometimes things happen without the PCs intervention. And once you accept that, it's not really a big stretch to feel that the "why" things happen isn't really super important as long as it fits plausibly into the world. There are LOTS of reasons there could be an eclipse and a rain of fire. As long as the reasoning remains consistent afterwards, it doesn't fundamentally matter which one you choose.

    There is nothing "dirty" or "player choice invalidating" about this. All of this works perfectly fine in a sandbox game. Or rather, as fine as any other approach, because as Sandra has demonstrated, even if you do things completely "by the book" and write everything down in advance, it can still end up seeming contrived even though it completely wasn't. Indeed, much like with randomness, sometimes the best way to not have something SEEM contrived is to MAKE IT contrived.

    So it comes back to what the GM wants to do for themselves. Not "for the game" or "for the players" but for themselves. Do they want to see how the players deal with a specific event? (Which, to me, is playing to find out) If so, they may want to contrive it so that the players are actually around when it happens. Do they want to avoid writing up tons of prep for stuff the players will never interact with? Maybe still a good idea to hold on loosely with regard to trigger events. If the GM doesn't care what the players do (which to me is sortof the opposite of the curiosity inherent in playing to find out) or has so much content in mind that they don't mind if a tree falls in the forest and no one ever knows, then using another method of triggering things might make them happier. Who knows, maybe it's really interesting to them to know whether the PCs are around to deal with a thing or not. That's not an interesting question for me, but it could be for someone else, so they should arrange things that way. But they shouldn't pretend this is for the benefit of the players or even the world.
    What I really meant to say was that, if some GM is damaging their own fun sense of the gameworld as a solid entity, then hopefully they'd catch that and stop. Cuz they might not! We're all susceptible to bad habits.
    I agree, though I've always found that sitting down and creating stuff and writing it down destroys my sense of the game world as a solid entity, because I am creating stuff right then. Like, literally, sitting down and writing "The town Frogmort has a population of 1200 people...." has just demonstrated to me that Frogmort is not real, because I just made up something about it and wrote it down. =/
  • Uh, yes, that was my point. The Bullywug scene was when the cards were flipped. But up until that point, you were still free to adjust your bet. :P
    How would the players adjust their bet? The players have already expended resources and risk in order to get the mirror on their cart. They can't get that back.

  • edited April 2017

    How would the players adjust their bet? The players have already expended resources and risk in order to get the mirror on their cart. They can't get that back.
    I think our analogy is getting confused here because we are talking about different types of card games. :P

    Anyway, what "resources" have they expended by putting a mirror on a cart? And how would those resources be different if the circumstances were different?

    That effort makes no difference until something happens to make it matter. Maybe that something is something forcing them to consider leaving the cart behind. Maybe that something is a fireball burning the tarp off the mirror. Or maybe that something is the players showing the mirror to a monster. But until the fact that they have or don't have the mirror becomes relevant - in your example, at the Bullywug encounter - it's not.
  • They've expended turns and noise.
    And, they've declined an opportunity to look at something that could've been valuable info for them.
  • They've expended turns and noise.
    Do these actually have a cost?

    And, they've declined an opportunity to look at something that could've been valuable info for them.
    I think this is very much pushing the idea of "expending" anything, because they haven't declined, they have postponed.
  • edited April 2017
    Part of the thing causing confusion here is that beside the RISS discussion (where everything is quite clear, actually) there seems to be a background discussion about the internal procedures in the mind of the GM regarding how the fiction is created, how fair is that method and if fairness actually means more/less fun, or even if it's actually needed.

    I'm currently divided about both sides. "being fair to your prep" feels incomplete because I'm usually a "I want the best story on the table, regardless of who brings it" kinda guy, and I'm good at adapting to the situation. And covering my tracks.

    But then "it doesn't matter if you or someone else thought it and if they did it a week ago or right on the spot as long as it's fun" has a hidden implication. I mean, besides what the "taking away player's choice" argument seems to imply. The hidden implication is that it gives the GM full fiat in a way that goes back to the obscure ages of roleplaying, 1984 (the novel) style. It means that only the GM is the ultimate judge of what is fun and what isn't. There are more hidden dangers here, and that's what it's really dangerous about happily defending and enforcing this.

    This is what "taking away player's choice" is truly about in the deeper sense. It's not about if the players choose to take path A and find the same quantum ogre prepped for path B. It means that players get to combat because the GM thinks fighting the ogre would be fun, when perhaps players are trying to avoid the combat to have more exploration scenes, which now have been cheated away from them. And this is a nice example, worse things can ensue.
  • Do [turns and noise] actually have a cost?
    Yes, we were playing Labyrinth Lord AEC. Those things are precious resources there. Maybe the fact that turns and noise are costs was the missing puzzle piece in our communication snag? Hopeful.

    They've also, you know, invested creative effort into it. Which is precisely why listening to their creative effort (and hold off on setting the mirror's effect) would be validating in the impro idiom, but, since their creative effort in the sandbox idiom is predicated on the consistency of the setting, that very same holding-off is invalidating their efforts there. Paradoxically enough.
    I think this is very much pushing the idea of "expending" anything, because they haven't declined, they have postponed.
    But the information could've been timely. Remember, they were leaving the dungeon for the day to rest up in the nearby town for a while, when the bulliwugs arrived. Part of what made the mirror story cool was that it was so much later.
  • @WM, what's your take on Four mirror scenarios and two groups? There, I go deeper into the corners of the GM's heart.
  • The simple right answer for my group would be... all of the above. HtH, DtD would be the norm. HtD only if it's funnier that way. DtH would happen in the case it would turn things into a stupid TPK, like bullywugs managing to turn the mirror against the PCs and them overreacting and doing something suicidal. Of course, I could take steps to reduce the lethality of the situation without letting the players know.

    Without letting the players know. this is where I'm divided. I'm trying my best to be as much open as I can, my players know that I use random tables here and there, that I might steal their ideas, they enjoy mountainwitching and other dirty hippie impro tricks. But here and there, my own prep or other wild thing appearing causes me problems. I can suddenly foresee everything going to hell in the next 40 minutes of play. Not in a funny way. And it's obviously not player choice; who would chose a random a TPK?

    It's not like my players enjoy being cheated out of the mechanics. I'm the same, I want to know that the damage I did matters somehow, that I actually did some damage at all. But all DMs make mistakes. Perhaps the encounter wasn't well balanced, perhaps an item or a monster ability is making it way too hard or too boring (I'm okay if its 'too easy', that's what items should do when well used) in a way that couldn't be predicted in the prep.

    Some times the problem may come from the player's side, or from a miscommunication. Perhaps a player choice has cut their only way of escape from a hard encounter, right when they are too weak and could only fight a minor encounter. They could have run, but now due to their choice, they can't.

    I'd probably avoid going so far away from pure sandbox if we were playing a full OSR one-shot, but coming from rail traditions, TPK trauma, and playing a campaign, my group and me aren't used to un-epic, inconsequential character death. Heroes are supposed to die in a blaze of glory. Sometimes, monsters too.

    But well, it's just our dialect, so nothing new for the RISS here.
  • edited April 2017
    And it's obviously not player choice; who would chose a random a TPK?
    We would choose to risk a random TPK. If the negative outcome is taken away from us, our initial choice of taking that risk turns into a meaningless mockery of "choice".
  • edited April 2017
    I agree, though I've always found that sitting down and creating stuff and writing it down destroys my sense of the game world as a solid entity, because I am creating stuff right then. Like, literally, sitting down and writing "The town Frogmort has a population of 1200 people...." has just demonstrated to me that Frogmort is not real, because I just made up something about it and wrote it down. =/
    My experience is:
    1) If Frogmort has 1200 people and is located where it is and has the name that it has because, uh, I just felt like it, or I needed some or all of those things for some purpose of my own, then, yeah, it doesn't feel very "real".
    2) On the other hand, if I look at the map and ask myself, "What would be here?" and the answer is, "A town of 1000-1500 people, with a name derived from its local fauna," then it does feel very "real".
  • edited April 2017
    I understand. We like risks too, but what if you know the outcome is going to be bad, not just at fiction-level, but on the real world level? I mean, we do risk having bad outcomes, but why risk boredom and frustration? Anyway, it's once every blue moon.
  • edited April 2017
    Yes, on the world level too. What we risk is our ability to keep using a character -- a collection of stats, traits, memories, moments. That's a real-world loss. And we choose to risk it.
    image
  • yes, we risk that too, but by boredom and frustration I didn't mean chick tract drama, I mean:

    I hit the (X monster which the PCs doesn't know has 300 HP) for the 14th time! 8 damage! And I friggin hope it dies now because I'm out of arrows and they are all sticking on it's spiky poisoned back!

    NOTES:
    -by the 8 turn GMing this, I'll be totally bored out of my mind. I hate long battles as they feel completely frustrating
    -It's an extreme example, but I'm referring to an unusual situation. Most probably one where either I messed up using a monster way above the party level, or where players misunderstood a wyrm for a juvenile dragon thinking I was presenting them a balanced encounter instead of a social one, etc.

    Anyway, please, bear with me, it's a irregular conjugation rarely used on our dialect.
  • edited April 2017
    Perhaps: for the same reason that my local sportsteam was allowed to suffer a boring and frustrating 7-0 shutout tpk in the hopeful exciting fun final series of games cathartic climax adventure module they played earlier this week. Lots of games have this possibility! And the next one, just last night, was an exciting overtime tied-score adventure module where the party beat the final boss at the last possible second that was not boring or frustrating at all!
  • I can share my experience:

    The only concept which has allowed me to cut through the awkward dilemmas and tough choices you two (2097 and WarriorMonk) are hashing through right now is the idea of "Creative Agenda".

    Talking about Techniques only gets you so far, because sometimes a Technique is wonderful, but that doesn't tell you *when* to use the Technique and when it's OK to gloss over and do something "unidiomatic" (to use Sandra's nice term).

    Have a solid grasp of what the group is going for, creatively, is the one way to cut through all that by recognizing the point behind those maneuvers.
  • edited April 2017
    Paul: That was what I was going for in the Four Mirror Stories. What's the core value, derived from goal-of-play, that will guide how to make that call?

    WM: I use a soroban for monster HP and it's out in the open. The players aren't 100% able to sight-read soroban digits but they know that it's ticking slowly down and they can see that it still has left an order of magnitude higher than simple bugbears and owlbears. In my view, HP also serves as sort of a "threat level" indicator.
  • edited April 2017
    I'm curious about the relationship between CA type / specific CA / idiom / bundle of techniques here. I've been reading "idiom" as "bundle of techniques aimed at supporting a type of creative agenda". Is that how you see it too? If so, then some of my exceptions and caveats could be boiled down to, "There are other techniques that can work just as well for pursuing that sort of creative agenda, so distinguishing between them is more about preference than necessity."

    That said, familiarity with a bundle of techniques (i.e. idiom) might dispose a group who wants/expects one technique in that bundle to want/expect some or all of the others too. If we're all playing in a style we're used to, deviations from that style may be unwelcome -- probably best to explicitly address them and check. No matter how constructive I find my off-idiom techniques, I should probably run 'em by any group that's steeped in that idiom. Or where one or more players are, I guess. If that's even a thing. I'm not sure whether I've ever encountered friction with a truly shared, defined, established idiom; more often it's simply been friction with "the way my last GM did things."
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