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games 'in play'?

Started by dsellars, May 05, 2006, 04:05:20 PM

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This query of mine has basically come about by reading this thread (a few times through now) here:

It basically revolves around the following paragraphs, written by Ron.:

QuoteFirst scene: meeting the lord's son, the impetuous and rather pushy young Hathic; and Hathic's trouble-making, smarmy friend Eladd who seems to run things. All sorts of Diplomacy vs. Innuendo rolling commenced. The following scene with the confused, sleepy old lord put the characters into a fun position, as they tried to match their Diplomacy and other skills to the various Innuendos, Bluffs, and Sense Motives going on.

QuoteThey found out about Eladd's treachery through their own efforts. They found out about Old Beezah through their efforts. They won her respect and found out about Raetha through their own efforts. I had prepped all this information, yes. But I do not bestow it and I do not withhold it. They win it, you see, just as they might win fights. But don't mistake me, as I'm certain 99"% of those reading this will. The information is not treasure, but as actually the opponent, in the form of the NPCs who benefit from it where it is. You win the information, like you win a fight. It's not the prize. It's the arena, and the foe.

Now firstly I'll put my cards on the table.  I'm not sure what type of play I am after (G,N or S) and I don't understand pure N talk that goes on.  But, I do think that the game described here sounds damn Fun!  So I want to tray and re-create some of that feeling of fun.  It's diffibult for me to post actual examples of play at the moment as I don't have much experience trying this type of game and we are still just getting used to the online medium we are using.

In the above example is play basically running like this?

Player A: I want to talk to Bob and try and find out about Fred's past
GM: Bob is being quite defensive about Fred and tries to steer you of course an avoid the question.
GM: Roll Diplomacy vs their Innuendo
<both roll> player wins
GM: right in the cut and thurst of the converstaion you found out that Fred used to be....
Player A: Now I want to do....

and does play then continue like this as the player(s) persue ther lines of enquiry?

the next bit I am hazey about is

QuoteYou win the information, like you win a fight. It's not the prize. It's the arena, and the foe

Any chance you could expand on what you mean here? examples or something?  I think I am definalty in the 99%.

Thank you in advance,


Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Your dialogue represents what goes on pretty well, although there may be several back-and-forths before the roll.

Also, some or all of our dialogue may be in-character, right up to the roll itself. Here's if it's all such.

(As with your example, Bob and Fred are characters, which is PC or NPC doesn't matter; I'm picking arbitrarily)

- Player with unnamed character: "Hey Bob, don't you think it's time you told us about Fred's past? Weren't you guys in college together around that time?"
- Me, playing Fred: "Look! A monkey!"
- Someone, me in this case because Dan and Chris aren't yet hip to the skill system enough to seize dice and call for rolls, then says "Diplomacy vs. Innuendo! Roll!"

I'd like to emphasize that sometimes, my GM-mind is going, "All right, I wanna get a roll going," and I start pushing NPC actions and statements on them. Other times, we're just interacting with the characters, and wham, it's suddenly obvious that a roll is called for. So the degree of pre-roll planning-for-roll varies tremendously.

Does that help?

Also, Dan, I would in fact appreciate it if you were to post a little bit of actual play of your own, perhaps from days past, to describe how you ran or participated in dialogue scenes full of consequential conflict.

Best, Ron


Thanks Ron,

Yeah that does help.  It's pretty much how I was thinking.  I hadn't picked up on the in character part I was wondering if that was somthing that you should strive for or not (I have changed my mind a few times) - sometimes it's difficult if you have a player that is not that much of a faster talker trying to play a character that is really quick of the draw and witty (it is fantasy people want to be somthing they are not...).  Also vice versa.

As to my actual play it's been (from what I remember a while ago) more stunbling around in-character and definatly not a much rolling as implied here.  more one roll against the equivelant Fellowship characteristic or skill for the whole conversation (not opposed) - or none at all. 

I may be remembering thing a little hazy and doing the people I was playing with a dissservice here, but somthing did strike me as different in what you described.  May be it's just a different attitude to it.

More recently we were playing the other night (this wa a vary basic situation fo us to get used to the rule sna the pacing online) and the PC's charged out of the bush cos they heard noises, only to find a cart stuck in the mud.  Once they realised that it wasn't eh enemy they decide to try and help.  I then had then roll agains Fellowship to see how the wagon master reacted to them, did he believe they were really going to help or did he think they were bandits..

We should be playing a little more regualary now so hopefully I'll have better example to draw up on in future, that is directly relevent to my questions.  I havn't been dissatissfied with my Roleplay experience so far (apart from frequencey :) ) but now I am GMing I want o craete the most fun I can for my players, and reading things here does make me think "wow that's cool!"

I think from writing this the thing that struck me was doing opposed skills and having the NPC's have agendas, rather than just being things that dole out info if you pass a roll.  make sense?

I'm still not sure not he distinction between the information being the arena and it being the treasure.

Thanks again,


Ron Edwards

Hi Dan,

Two things!

1. Regarding in-character speech, I have become convinced, over years, that this makes most sense as an optional, unplanned add-on to the role-playing experience. In other words, do it when you do it, don't work to do it if you aren't doing it. In my Big Model, it's a detail of the Ephemera level, not a Technique or (especially) not fundamental to Exploration. Also, as a related point, it's perfectly OK for one person to be speaking in-character in the same scene with others who are not.

Now, if we were talking about "Ron's preferences" as a minor thing, that would just be a statement of preference. But I am suggesting that my point about is more than a preference - it's a highly useful principle that can negate the possibility of many, many problems at the role-playing table, most of them historical.

And finally, some games have interesting and functional rules about in-character speech, and when those rules are well-designed and constructive, they would obviously refine the principle into more formal shape. A good example is Puppetland, and there are others. So I'm not presenting that point to override the rules of such games - not at all! I'm presenting them to replace many of the uncritical and unproductive assumptions that seem to have crept into the hobby over the decades about "say it in character!" no matter what. As well as to replace a nasty, reactive tendency on some people's parts to stomp on others' in-character speech as a form of control.

I will post my #2 point shortly.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Back again.

2. There is a potential problem with your rolling to see how the farmer reacts to the characters appearing. The problem is that you and the players might find yourselves stuck - if you don't know what to do if they fail, and they don't know either. They might think that means they're supposed to attack him, for instance. Or even worse, if you as GM fail to provide anything interesting if they succeed (information, friendship, opportunity to meet someone,etc). In that case, after a few such encounters, they'll ignore them and just wait for you to attack them with stuff.

In my experience, that latter issue (boring success) is actually a pretty poisonous affair. I've been a player many times in which we roll some social roll successfully, and the GM proceeds to display his Renaissance Faire skillz for twenty minutes or more, acting out the character's accents and provincial little world-view as we sit and listen, wondering if there's some clue in here for some upcoming danger, but really just getting irritated.

So here are two ways to say the one thing which is crucial for your choices about rolls, as a GM. The first way is my favored way:

When a conflict of interest is present among the characters, always roll the dice.

When no such conflict of interest is present, then never roll the dice.

The second way to say it is Vincent's paraphrase:

Say "yes" or roll the dice.

I like my way to say it because it focuses on the fictional characters and avoids the common mistake of thinking that we roll dice to resolve disagreements among the real people. A lot of folks have misunderstood Vincent about that.

However, my way confuses people who don't understand what "conflict" means, which is a problem especially for people who've role-played a lot. If the peasant is just cranky, that's not a conflict of interest. If the peasant plans to ambush the characters with his friends later that night, or if he's gathering information for the hostile local lord, then there is a conflict of interest. Or if the peasant is OK, but a party member tries to rob him as the rest help him, then that's a conflict of interest.

I'll thank other folks, reading this, not to post anything about stakes. The uncritical use of "stakes" as a term has been a real problem in the past few months. Dan doesn't need further hassle at this point.

Dan, before we talk about consequences of rolls, do my two points make sense so far?

Best, Ron


Hello Ron,

Thanks alot for your replies, sorry I havn't replied before now but I've been away over the weekend and wanted chance to re-read your replies this morning.

Addressing your 2 points.

1:  What I think you are saying is don't worry about in-character conversations.  If people do it fine but don't force the point.  What ever players are comfortable with and how the situation goes?

2: I think I've seen a couple of different points in your reply so I'll put them into my words to see if I got what your saying correctly.   

first paragraph.  make sure there are definate pass/fail criteria from a roll?  second paragraph. there is a danger that if the players don't get somthing poitive out tof a roll then they will be conditioned not to want to be involved in future.

When a conflict of interest is present among the characters, always roll the dice.

When no such conflict of interest is present, then never roll the dice.

By conflict I understand you mean that they have an agenda clash? they want things that are opposed.  So basically regarding rolling, I think you are saying if there is a clash of agenda then roll, if not don't and play it out but assume the conversation goes a the way the playes want it to. 

So in my example they basically had the same agenda, the players wanted to help the stcuk cart driver.  But if they had a plan where they wanted to gain his trust then rob him later there is a conficlt of interest and they should roll?

I can see that some encounters might be difficult to judge.  But I think I undersatnd what you are saying so far.


Ron Edwards

Hi Dan,

About the in-character dialogue, my answer is "yes," except that your phasing overlooks the fact that the GM is a player too, and does well to follow exactly the same principle as the rest of the group. Say I'm GMing some scene, and all of a sudden I find myself delivering Beezah's dialogue and using voice-intonations that seem right for her. Do I fight it? No, why should I - it's fun. Do I try to do it when I don't feel like it? No, because that's boring and we all know damn well it's lame to watch and listen to. So it's the same for me (or you) as GM as for anyone else there.

About the conflict resolution, let's go step by step.

Your paraphrases aren't spot-on accurate, although they're not grossly wrong or saying anything awful or troublesome either. But that's all right. Perhaps we can say "good enough for government work" and go through the way you've broken the points down.

1. Yes, by conflict I mean "agenda clash" as you used the words, in reference to the fictional characters and what they want at the moment. However, be careful, because "agenda clash" has a specific jargon meaning here at the Forge in reference to real people and what they want, so let's be absolutely clear that that's not what we're talking about.

2. Your farmer/cart statement is pretty good. Don't forget, however, that you're playing the farmer and whomever he knows or has an interest in the situation, so the players' approach isn't just floating there in isolation.

It may look a little hard or iffy from this end of the pool, at the moment. Trust me - it's not. It's actually so much easier than decreeing "how hard to climb is this cliff" all the time, that you're going to be astounded.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Whoops, forgot - see also my recent comments in [Sorcerer] Charnel Gods - the Irthan Epoch.

Best, Ron


Thanks again Ron,

I was thinking of the GM behaving the same way with regatrd to incharacter dialog.  Although i have written it from players point of view.

Sorry about mixing up terminology but I think I see what you are meaning.

I read your posts on the link you supplied and I thound then very interesting.  Especially the log example.

QuoteDan, before we talk about consequences of rolls, do my two points make sense so far?

I think that I understand where you are commig from with setting to conflict up and only rolling when there is a conflict there.  However I am still a perplexed by the following quote.  (I hope that I've not misunderstood if you have already covered this point.) 

QuoteYou win the information, like you win a fight. It's not the prize. It's the arena, and the foe.


Ron Edwards

Hi Dan,

I don't think dissecting that particular quote is really a big deal at this point, considering how much we've worked through already. Let's leave it for another time, perhaps based on a later discussion based on actual play of yours, if you want to put some of the points we've already discussed into practice.

Best, Ron


That's cool.

Thanks for going through this with me I have got alot out of the discussion.