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Title: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 12, 2009, 12:08:51 AM


Just one more AP post (hopefully with more AP), since I seem to have a great deal of trouble falling asleep tonight….

Again, regarding AD&D and the “old school” insights of James Meliszewski…there’s this wonderful entry on his Grognardia blog that paraphrases the mindset of old school D&D games with contemporary RPGs (specifically “New D&D”):

Quote
The crux of it, though, is this: challenge the player, not the character's stats. That's probably the single most important difference between old school and contemporary roleplaying games. I think that it's at the root of why most old schoolers have an instinctive hatred of skill systems in RPGs. Skill systems often imply not just what your character can do but also what he knows. That creates both a powerful separation between player and character knowledge but also creates the expectation that a character's knowledge ought to be able to give the player the solutions needed to solve in-game puzzles, tricks, traps, etc.

Wow…for me, this really opened my eyes to the differences between past D&D games and ones I’ve played in recent years.

Case in point: old school adventure modules like…well pretty much any module pre-1983...is filled with tricks and traps that will kill characters dead without planning, caution, and or forethought.  Many folks have run (or run through) the Tomb of Horrors, and have war stories regarding it (I DM’d that module at least 4 times and I don’t remember any group “winning”).  But how about the Hidden Shrine of Tamochan?  Or White Plume Mountain?  Or Dwellers of the Forbidden City?  Talk about gamism at its most primal…players would talk and brag about the adventures they “survived” and or “defeated”…that’s what instilled such a love of the game in players.

My own group switch-hit between two DMs (I was one) and we used these adventure modules as dastardly inspiration for our own fiendish dungeons.  I clearly remember one my friend designed, based on a magic contest or tournament that required the characters to navigate a straight up labyrinth looking for some prize trophy…basically, now that I think of it, it was extremely similar to the Harry Potter Tri-Wizard Cup, if the whole thing had taken place in a hedge maze…and if Harry Potter had been around in 1986!  But I still remember coming up on dead ends with these statues that would ask riddles (in rhyming couplets!) that needed answers to proceed…what a bitch!  I mean: check out Trail of Cthulhu or Mutant City Blues whole philosophy about giving the players the clues they need to proceed (a philosophy I agree with FOR THOSE GAMES).  In D&D 4 you probably would need to make a Knowledge skill roll or some such shit.

No, in the old days it was…how the fuck smart are you, punk?  And if you couldn’t figure out a riddle or a puzzle, or map your way out of a maze, then who cares what kind of magic sword you were swinging? 

Ha! I remember a deadly maze I designed where the badass fighter got cornered in a dead end by a black pudding…she escaped using a potion of gaseous form, but all her gear got cooked!

Back then, you could have rope bridges over lava or bottomless pits, and someone in the party was always carrying a ten foot pole (and that poor sucker was always walking point!).  Sure, the game could be whimsical…but it sure did provide some great challenges for one’s inner gamist.  Hell, even a small dragon was going to cook most player characters, save or no save…there were real reasons to try to talk your way out of some encounters!

Ahhh…the good ol’ days.
: )


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 12, 2009, 02:27:12 AM
I think the need to generate material to actually play within plus the practical ramification that dead PCs might mean a significant portion of that material doesn't gets used or seen (and all the heart and effort in it essentially get discarded) was a conflict of interest against gamist play that was set to boil over, and eventually did so at a global level ("OMG, it's about the story!"). Or something else and I don't know what the hell happened? Anyway, that problems still there and in addition a culture where people make a dex guy (or similar) simply so he can be a guy who jumps over or dodges around things - not in the cause of winning, not as an attempted winning stratagem, but simply to depict a dex guy. Even if you solve the problem, there isn't a culture that's looking for a solution to it.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on May 12, 2009, 04:22:08 AM
Hi Jonathan,

Good point, one that always strikes me, too, when reading all those “old school” manifestos of lately. Not so much because I played all those modules back in the day (I didn’t), but because I actually feel much the same way about story-oriented role-playing.

I sometimes have a feeling that in building all these nifty rules that facilitate and shape distributed authoring and conflict and significant choices(tm), some “modern” games are doing the same to human/moral challenges that “modern” trad games do to tactical/strategic challenges. You go through the motions, following the lead of the game system, but actually the system does it all for you, many choices are obvious and/or empty, you don’t really make the game your own, not the way you used to in the “old days”.

What I’m seeing from over here among the trad games in the US is a bunch of very well designed games that work in both directions, D&D 4E being the most prominent one of the “new school” and others like Savage Worlds or Labyrinth Lord presenting an “old school” that’s stronger and better than ever. I think what I would like to see, and maybe help create, are the Savage Worlds and Labyrinth Lord of story-oriented role-playing.

- Frank


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 12, 2009, 07:09:09 AM

Callan wrote:
Quote
I think the need to generate material to actually play within plus the practical ramification that dead PCs might mean a significant portion of that material doesn't gets used or seen (and all the heart and effort in it essentially get discarded) was a conflict of interest against gamist play that was set to boil over,


Well, one of the things I’ve realized from Mr. Maszewski’s blog (fairly well researched it seems to me) is the preponderance of the “mega-dungeon” as the central campaign piece to these earlier gaming groups…a dungeon (like “Blackmoor” or “Castle Greyhawk”) that could never be completely cleaned out and which would be constantly revisited by the player characters during the course of the campaign.

Actually, reminds me a bit of the background for Dragon Fire Castle if anyone’s familiar with the old Dungeon Quest board game.

Anyway, I can certainly say that when I created “dungeon adventures” back in the day, I put my coolest encounters/traps at “bottle neck” points which makes certain characters will encounter them if they are going to “complete” or “beat” the objective of the dungeon.  I believe this is inherent in old school game design…some encounters are neat may be circumvented, some cannot.  I recall specifically the Hidden Shrine of Tamochan…there is a vampire encounter (probably the strongest monster in the dungeon) that plays no central part to the adventure objective (i.e. “finding a way out before poison gas kills you”) and which can be completely bypassed without any repercussions in the game. On the other hand, some of the cooler traps/puzzles (the animated “ball game” the imprisoned quetzacoatl) require the players (note: PLAYERS, not characters) to solve them in order to progress…they cannot be avoided in game play.

Sure there are completionist-types who may want to poke and pry into every nook and cranny and pull out every last copper piece, but I don’t remember ever having those types of players.  As long as they were receiving rewards (i.e. a steady stream of treasure for challenges solved), they were content to move onto the next objective adventure.  Actually, I believe completionist behavior comes directly from video games (where there is only a finite amount of play available, one wants to squeeze as much gameplay/content as possible from the experience), but I could be mistaken.

Frank wrote:
Quote
I sometimes have a feeling that in building all these nifty rules that facilitate and shape distributed authoring and conflict and significant choices(tm), some “modern” games are doing the same to human/moral challenges that “modern” trad games do to tactical/strategic challenges. You go through the motions, following the lead of the game system, but actually the system does it all for you, many choices are obvious and/or empty, you don’t really make the game your own, not the way you used to in the “old days”.


You know, even in Story Now-type games (perhaps in all games that facilitate “story now”) it’s the same deal…challenge the player, not the character.  In this case, you’re challenging the player to address premise…either during character creation, in game play, or (preferably) both.  I think that games that give a system for this and provides direction in how to use that system is still keeping with the “old school” spirit, but the challenge (which leads to intense role-playing experience) must be to the player or yes, as you say, your “choices are empty;” you are going through the motions of creating story and addressing premise but getting none of the “juice.”

Hmmm…back to the subject at hand: just to give another AP example, I remember my old Stormbringer (1st Edition) games I used to run.  We used to love this game, and its inherent craziness…how one person could be playing a Young Kingdoms farmer while another had a Pan Tangian sorcerer with full on daemon equipment, yet either could get felled by a critical hit or falling off a cliff with an unlucky role. However, none of these games ever lasted more than one or two sessions, as there was nothing to it to sustain interest in a long term campaign…characters were completely random and with the Chaosium skill system, most of your challenge was trying to find the right skill for a task (i.e. playing your stat block against the game). 

Contrast this with a Basic D&D game wherein I penned a castle under siege and directed the players to find a way to break in and sabotage the defenders fortifications. How were the players going to do this?  I had no idea (honestly, I hadn’t really thought that much ahead…I just drew a cool map with some encounters).  The players simply had to come up with plausible ways to do this and I said “ok.”

I suppose that some might say any stat/skill-based game could be played the same…or the complaint could be made that when DM fiat has to come into play the game is too “incomplete” or is ripe for abuse by breakdowns in social contract.  Personally, I think this misses the point.  The SPIRIT of the game which I think is implicit in the language of the design is to challenge the players…and with a sparse set of rules (you’ve got armor class, hit points, saving throws…now go!) it IS the players that get challenged. A poison arrow that has a chance to KILL you is a lot scarier to deal with then one that causes “D6 damage to Strength,” and encourages a different kind of behavior because of it.  Games that only challenge the stat block of a character simply become games of resource management…and if I wanted to do THAT I’d be playing one of those German style board games.
: )



Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Caldis on May 12, 2009, 09:29:26 AM

My experience with those old modules was markedly different.  When we played we very rarely found the modules to be challenging.   I dont know if it was a comprehension problem on my part as a young teen reading these modules and running them for my friends but I never got that impression of how to run the game.  Of course I was big into Tolkien and fantasy novels in general so that influence affected me, how do you get play like those fantasy novels if you are trying to challenge the player and risk the characters death at every turn? 

So when I ran games they werent really challenges, they seemed like challenges that threatened the characters but they didnt really.  With the general power creep that happened in Ad&d products (and it was there in dragon magazine at least long before 83) it became easier and easier to have situations that seemed dangerous but really werent.  The death at -10 hp rule was a big one and that came in the DMG, characters could be bashed around and knocked unconcious but it never really hampered the game.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 12, 2009, 12:43:38 PM

Hmmm…while I remember seeing the Hobbit animated film probably BEFORE I picked up my 1st D&D set, I had neither read the Lord of the Rings, nor knew its story.  But check out how the Hobbit informs game play:

-   You have basically a one-off adventure (sure there are a bunch of wilderness encounters along the way, but there’s only one campaign objective)
-   More than half the characters die, including at least one of the main ones (i.e. Thorin)

Nothing about the story indicates players have a particular right to survive and see the “story” to completion.

Of course, rolling up characters was pretty quick in the old days, and survivability wasn’t a big deal until a character had some XP under his or her belt…and by the time a character had developed a history and “personality” they generally had more options (e.g. raising the dead) for increasing character survivability.  But I digress…I’m pretty much in agreement with the Mr. Meliszewski that old D&D wasn’t designed to play out huge story arcs or metaplots (like the Lord o the Rings or even Dragon Lance…though the latter DID inform play when I was younger).  Without a need for metaplot or “epic storytelling” the dungeon environment can be used to challenge the players who, inevitably, will use their favorite characters. 

The only time players of my old campaigns worried about story arcs and metaplot was AFTER retiring from standard dungeon delving (i.e. as part of high level, “end game” play).  Then there’d be intrigue and machinations between domain holders and rival rulers.  Again, this was still a challenge to players rather than characters, though one may accuse our campaigns of suffering from narrative agenda drift.





Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Caldis on May 12, 2009, 01:35:28 PM
Hmmm…while I remember seeing the Hobbit animated film probably BEFORE I picked up my 1st D&D set, I had neither read the Lord of the Rings, nor knew its story.  But check out how the Hobbit informs game play:

-   You have basically a one-off adventure (sure there are a bunch of wilderness encounters along the way, but there’s only one campaign objective)
-   More than half the characters die, including at least one of the main ones (i.e. Thorin)

Nothing about the story indicates players have a particular right to survive and see the “story” to completion.

Again different perspective.  All the characters survive until the very end where some end up dieing in dramatically appropriate fashion after they do the right thing and come out of the mountain to help battle the goblins.  Along the way the main character pc finds a magic item just lieing around that helps him survive and makes his further adventures possible, the characters are rescued by an npc if they screw up (the Trolls) or are in over their heads (the eagles rescuing them from goblins).  There's not a lot there to suggest they should pay for their mistakes.

I guess my point is that the "old school" style of play wasnt universal and from what I remember of the books not really indicated as the default style of play.  Many people I gamed with and talk to had a different version and it was closer to what 2nd edition D&D drifted towards although what I think I was always looking for was something that supported narrativism in the vein of Tolkien/fantasy adventure rather than the gamism that "old school" style play supported or the simulationism that we managed to drift the D&D system to.



Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on May 12, 2009, 01:42:07 PM
Quick correction: I actually mixed the trad games up there, Labyrinth Lord is an OD&D retro-clone and not a new design, what I meant was Castles & Crusades. Whatever, you get what I mean.

- Frank


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 12, 2009, 02:47:11 PM
Quote from: Callan
I think the need to generate material to actually play within plus the practical ramification that dead PCs might mean a significant portion of that material doesn't gets used or seen (and all the heart and effort in it essentially get discarded) was a conflict of interest against gamist play that was set to boil over,


Well, one of the things I’ve realized from Mr. Maszewski’s blog (fairly well researched it seems to me) is the preponderance of the “mega-dungeon” as the central campaign piece to these earlier gaming groups…a dungeon (like “Blackmoor” or “Castle Greyhawk”) that could never be completely cleaned out and which would be constantly revisited by the player characters during the course of the campaign.

Actually, reminds me a bit of the background for Dragon Fire Castle if anyone’s familiar with the old Dungeon Quest board game.

Anyway, I can certainly say that when I created “dungeon adventures” back in the day, I put my coolest encounters/traps at “bottle neck” points which makes certain characters will encounter them if they are going to “complete” or “beat” the objective of the dungeon.  I believe this is inherent in old school game design…some encounters are neat may be circumvented, some cannot.  I recall specifically the Hidden Shrine of Tamochan…there is a vampire encounter (probably the strongest monster in the dungeon) that plays no central part to the adventure objective (i.e. “finding a way out before poison gas kills you”) and which can be completely bypassed without any repercussions in the game. On the other hand, some of the cooler traps/puzzles (the animated “ball game” the imprisoned quetzacoatl) require the players (note: PLAYERS, not characters) to solve them in order to progress…they cannot be avoided in game play.
The root problem isn't so much funneling play toward content once play is underway. The problem is the group gets killed in the first corridor/misses alot of material and doesn't play again. Or they decline to play at all. These are valid gamist outcomes. But they clash with having prepped all that material - without play, it's like a canvas half painted and uncompleted. Atleast if you write short fiction but no one reads it, you can say you did finish writing some short fiction. With the dungeon material, you can't say to yourself you've completed anything - it sort of sits in limbo. Add on top of it the heart and effort often use and it's a major clash with gamist priorities. Bottlenecks and forced challenges work to show material only if someone is playing at all.

So that hasn't solve the problem, except perhaps in the commercial area, ie modules were sold - the writer being paid for his work regardless of whether it was played, and the group being able to write off an expense should they wish not to play it.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 12, 2009, 06:46:45 PM

Callan:

Ahh...I see your point.

Yes, I guess for the thing to work, you have to have players willing to play the game, and the challenge presented has to be commensurate to the players' ability (note: PLAYERs' ability, not characters).  Certainly, I can recall players that would horribly fail/die no matter how many what cool magic items they or exaggerated ability scores they possessed...for the most part, though, the challenge was just about right, perhaps because my friends and I were all within about the same age, from the same socio-economic background, and educated in the same type of schools...we had a certain pool of (real world) experience to draw upon, so it was a fairly even playing field with regard to player ability.

Still, while you'd need to gage the abilities of your players (perhaps with a warm-up adventure or two), and gradually scale up your challenges (certainly many of the old adventure modules with connecting threads did this).

But if your players are just going to throw up their hands and leave, or if they are looking for a different style of gameplay, well then "old school" D&D is NOT necessarily the right game for them.

Still, I really do think it's a worthwhile notion to keep in mind with regard to game design...do you want your game to challenge the player or the character?  Does your system appear to (inherently) skew towards one or the other?  Or to put it another way: do you need to do a lot of EXTRA work to facilitate one form of play?  With the original D&D game, I think that the same amount of work gets used whether you're challenging the player OR the character (whether you're stocking an adventure with a devious trap or a devious monster makes no nevermind).  On the other hand, I think it is much harder to craft a D&D3 adventure that challenges players and not just their character stats...and you have to really work hard if you want to find non-rule breaking ways to pull off certain effects.





 


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: contracycle on May 12, 2009, 08:54:28 PM
So that hasn't solve the problem, except perhaps in the commercial area, ie modules were sold - the writer being paid for his work regardless of whether it was played, and the group being able to write off an expense should they wish not to play it.

Thats not a terrible solution though, modules - parting with a few bucks is very different from spending hours with the graph paper and filling notebooks with details, and much morte accessible.  The inability to play and continue is much less onerous if its "only money" rather than personal investment that is lost.  Sometimes we sit through a movie we don't, or get a computer game we can't comnplete, and for the most part we just treat that as unfortunate outcomes, and fire up the next one.  It's the combination of personal creation and wasted material that was explosive; if that creation is impersonal and external, it's much more palatable.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 13, 2009, 06:55:53 AM

You know, thinking back on those old games, even our personal dungeons/creations were impersonal. That is to say, we (well, me for sure) had no emotional investment in what I had created.  For example, the biggest, baddest dungeon I designed…a sprawling double or triple digit encounter scenario featuring a twice- or thrice- powerful beholder as the big bad…was only ever used once and the was never completed.  The party suffered too many losses early on and then we never got around to returning to the dungeon at a later date.  The group just got preoccupied with other dungeons to explore.

Did I feel me investment of time and energy had been wasted? No.  The adventure simply got filed along with my other adventure modules to be played at a later date…presumably with the same players, perhaps with the same characters though maybe not.  Adventures, especially purchased modules, were easily and often recycled for repeat play. If the Tomb of Horrors had never been conquered in a particular game world, then it sat there like a blight on the land…perhaps ignored or avoided, but still available for adventure.  This is one of the great things about the “locale based” adventure…and one of the fun things about old school D&D.  Your “party” is basically a group of looter/merc types looking for their next score.  This aspect of game play is definitely informed by Howard’s Conan stories, even as the party of strange classes/races is informed by Lord of the Rings.

No, I perhaps misspoke when I was talking about “bottle-necks”…I never used them myself in adventures, though several old school modules did (the throne room in Tomb, the riddling sphinx in White Plume Mountain, the gateway to the Abyss in Vault of the Drow). I was just tossing the idea out as a stop-loss to save on...uh…”emotional investment.”  But really, the original game was NOT to be played with a lot of emotional attachment.  I mean your characters DIED (at least they did in my campaigns).  A resurrection spell was used as another gamist measure to try and “win” the game (a more powerful and useful version than “raise dead”)…it was not specifically designed to save a beloved character (though I know even we gamist-types used it for this).  Characters were cheap (time-wise) to make, back them…it didn’t take hours to select skills and feats and class options and back story.

Anyway…challenging the players, IMO, gives you much more bang for your buck as far as intense entertainment.  I think it showcases what a table-top RPG can do (as opposed to a video game).  Old school D&D was encouraging and (by example) masterful of this style of game play.  And it attracted a lot of players to it that didn’t simply “give up” when a paper avatar went down with a poison needle in his neck.




Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 13, 2009, 09:19:12 AM
Hrm, but isn't the stat block the method through which one challenges the player? I guess, for me at least, I like skill lists and character-based challenges. I'm still the one using the pieces I have to solve the puzzles, after all.

And I say that because I don't like being relied on myself to come up with solutions that my character would know even if I, the player, am clueless or unskilled. Such as my guiding example: the social arena. I'm no smooth-tongued diplomat, but if I run a character that is? Then they better BE, regardless of my personal ability or performance (I'm not LARPing, fer chrisakes).

I've been burned in the kind of games you mention when my high CHA character fails because I stutter and bumble, which I found incredibly distasteful. In some cases to the point where I don't even feel like playing any longer because my character wouldn't stutter, or my character WOULD know what to do even though I don't (that's why I took those skills, after all).

My question always has been: why should my character's success depend on player skill at some task?

Seriously, I'm not asked to actually learn orcish in order to have my character know orcish, and if I manage to solve a piece of the dungeon puzzle because my character has the key to it (knows orcish, or has an 18 intellect, or is a puzzle-master, etc), I don't see that as not challenging me. I'm winning through the use of an optimal character build for the situation, which is itself a challenge: "Oh yeah? Let's see how THIS works in your grimy dungeon!"

Because what's the point of "Intelligence" or "Charisma" or whatnot, if all such really is are stats for "extra languages" or "spell power" and "number of henchmen"? Why not just call it that, then, and avoid the whole illusion of it being something it isn't? If "Intelligence" doesn't really mean how smart your character is?

Note I say all this coming from an old school background: I loved and played the heck out of old D&D and AD&D. I still love OD&D, dungeon crawls, pure Pawn-stance Gamism. So I really wonder if this is "the difference" because I'm not attracted to what you're saying at all, yet love the same old stuff. I'm guessing I'm the flip-side of the old school that James is presenting, and I--well, I'm surprised to admit--I guess I find it slightly distasteful(?) that he's presenting his version of old school play as THE way we did it or thought about it back-in-the-day.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 13, 2009, 10:55:01 AM

Heh…don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying JM’s blog is THE way to play.  I’m just saying I think some of his observations are right on…and I don’t think he’s presenting something as THE way to play (his whole Dwimmermount campaign is an “experiment in organic rules evolution,” after all).
: )

Still, I think that some of your concerns are un-founded. For example, all the old school versions I played had NPC “Reaction” tables that were modified by a character’s CHA value.  If you wanted to interact with an NPC (as opposed to charging, sword drawn), you’d roll the dice and hopefully your suave-tongued character would talk his way out of a bad situation.  Depending on your DM, you might receive a bonus to this roll depending on how you phrase your negotiation (backed up with armed might or convincingly with bribe in hand)…all without requiring you to put on a performance or use a fake accent.

When I say challenge the player, I’m talking intellectual challenge…I mean, it’s an intellectual game right? Hitting monsters isn’t based on your ability to do push-ups and a bard’s charming ability isn’t based on YOUR ability to sing!

Yes, any action that requires a random roll is going to based on some “stat” of your character (one of the reasons characters have stats…to determine game world capabilities)…I suppose the “fleshing out” of characters with extensive skill lists could be seen as a way to reduce negative reaction to DM fiat (“I have craft boat at Rank 12…I should definitely be able to build a raft out of these giant mushroom stalks!!”), but it also has an unfortunate tendency to become a crutch that waters down the game play, IMO…at least with regard to “challenging the player.”

I guess my point (as relates to the Forge) is that from a design standpoint, I think it is an interesting design choice and one that doesn’t get enough consideration in 21st century game design.  I remember getting a copy of Dragon Quest (the RPG) and thinking it was cool that there was no “Intelligence” stat…I assumed that characters were simply as smart as their players, which fit with my perspective of RP’ing at the time.  But looking back at as an adult, I can’t help but think D&D modeled things just fine with its limited attribute list.  I know plenty of “Intelligent” people that are not particularly clever or quick-witted…some that aren’t even well educated, and certainly ones that don’t speak well.  Likewise, I know people that are charismatic and very likeable without being able to write a speech, improve a rhyme, or form a logical argument.

Limiting the amount of info on a character sheet PLUS adding challenge forces players to come up with creative solutions.  They WILL find a way to use that 10’ pole or that sack of iron spikes, necessity being the mother of invention and all.  As long as there is an understanding between the folks at the table (i.e. players are going to be challenged, DM should allow leeway for creativity), I think great fun can be had by all.

You can stat up your character to the Nth degree, but I’m not sure it’s going to improve the “fun” quotient. Or to be perfectly blunt, I’ve found in my DND3+ games that it doesn’t. 



Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: JoyWriter on May 13, 2009, 11:45:46 AM
Do you think there is any way to make rules for this stuff? As in GM prep aids that help them to build internal logic to their dungeons so that people can work out puzzles from each other, or flag systems so that GMs can see what kind of puzzles they like defeating? See to me that sounds like a perfect use for the mental stats! Or something close to them. So if my character has high tactics rating, then put in more grid combat, if he has a high linguistics or literary-ness or whatever, give him more word puzzles. If you allow players to choose say 3 of these and rank them, then you can use them as a way of keeping track of GM loads. I'm not sure which is harder, lots of players who are good at the same stuff, or who are good at everything. But perhaps there are methods that could be used to make a GM who is good at dealing with one better at another.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 13, 2009, 03:32:32 PM
Hi Landon,

I think I'm being indistinct when I talk about emotional investment. I'll put it this way - I myself think it's a bad thing to spend time and effort on something, only for it to be discarded. Perhaps if your mega dungeon had poofed and turned to ash, it would have had more emotional effect - while filing it away gave the (as it turned out), illusion that it'd get used again? As you say, you didn't use it again and its pretty clear you never will. But regardless, I think it's a practical life concern - you don't put effort into things that you then effectively discard.

And I mean jeez, you've never lost a post on the forge or some other forum, and growled at the server? Discarding a dungeon isn't much different.

I think it's a practical problem that needs to be solved, somehow. Off the cuff, rough ideas coming to mind is a board game structure that can be played instantly and if the GM is struck with inspiration during play, adding stuff thats off the boardgame path and into the imaginative. Once he runs out of inspiration, slip back onto the board game. That's a rough idea, to start with.


Hi Gareth,

I don't think modules are a terrible solution, either. But I've never seen an RPG that said it worked strictly from modules only? That gives the impression even the ones with modules you can functionally make material to play from. And by functionally I mean not go against the idea of 'if you put time and effort into something, discarding it is bad'.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: contracycle on May 13, 2009, 10:20:54 PM
Oh sure, no game has ever relied totally on modules, and I don't think it would be practical to do so exclusively.  But D&D had, and I believe still does, whole series of linked modules, which ran on from one another.  If you worked your way through the lot of them, there would be a substantial amount of play available.  Running through most of the Giants/Drow/Slavers/Elemental Evil line of modules kept us happy for actual years - most of my highschool gaming.  And really the only reason I wrote stuff myself was because I couldn't get them easily or cheaply, and that was more a function of the local exchange rate than anything else.  Frankly in terms of start-to-finish playing, that was some of the best stuff we ever did, and I find it frustrating that the general climate is now to regard module play as inherently unsatisfactory or impractical.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Daniel B on May 14, 2009, 01:32:03 AM
Do you think there is any way to make rules for this stuff? As in GM prep aids that help them to build internal logic to their dungeons so that people can work out puzzles from each other, or flag systems so that GMs can see what kind of puzzles they like defeating?

I started coming up with a possible "prep aid" for this when reaching the same conclusion as the OP: i.e. characters are just pieces of paper, and the real goal should be to engage the players. I did some research on puzzles and eventually found this article by Ron Gilbert (http://grumpygamer.com/2152210) (who was the guy behind the first few The Secret of Monkey Island computer adventure games.) I've chosen it as my puzzle-bible. I wasn't content to just have a The GM Should Design Puzzles Like This chapter in the manual, because I believe such chapters are just another way of saying "we couldn't figure out how to fit it into the game, so you'll have to do it". However, I desperately wanted to find a way to imbue my tabletop RPG with the design concepts presented in the article.

So I began with the following question: how does a GM determine the placement and behaviour of puzzles, as well as monsters and NPCs? The answer is that it depends upon context since, for example, a monster designed as part of a puzzle has a different meaning than a monster that doubles as a major obstacle in a dungeon, which too has a much different meaning that a monster doubling as a major NPC in the quest. In other words, you can't understand their appropriateness in any given place until you understand the dungeon itself. By extending this logic, you can’t understand the dungeon until you understand it’s place in the quest.

So why not design things this way? It occurred to me that quest and puzzle design concepts could be encapsulated into a collection of descriptions and possibly statistics, based on the nature of the quest. It next occurred to me that collection of descriptions and possibly statistics is simply another way to say character. I thought maybe I could imbue the puzzle design concepts into a "meta-character", a sort of narrator-ish thing that doesn't exist in the game world but influences it in a similar way that the GM does (though it's NOT a GM avatar; I'll repeat in saying that it has no actual in-game existence).

One could encapsulate content into several independent "quepie dolls" (as I've been calling them), each with it's own flavour and which hints at the ratio of combat-to-social-to-puzzles it contains so that the players can choose their own destiny instead of being railroaded into it. Furthermore, these don't have to be fleshed out entirely, but instead just given a little bit of personality until the players actively pursue one quest. By organizing things top-down like this, monsters, NPCs and puzzles start to fall into place and it becomes a lot easier to develop inter-relationships (which may help or hinder the PCs, or completely take them by surprise.) Furthermore, each doll starts to gain it's own quasi-personality, in exactly the same way that settings or events in a novel have a feel and taste to them. The "Quest to kill the Fire-dragon Lord" might have a violent feeling, generally. It's QP doll would put a lot of fiery dungeons and lava pits into the game and control them in the same way a GM would traditionally do it.



Here's what I've got so far for quepie doll structure, though it's been left undeveloped as I'm currently working on more core issues for our system at the moment. It's also OUT OF DATE, as I've seriously done some rethinking on rewards and character death. (However, I intend to fully flesh this out later.) Yes, despite my claims that it should have statistics in it, there aren't any yet. I'm getting around to that.

QPC (Quest Personification Character, or QP doll) Character Sheet
  • Context: the non quest-specific details, which are decided by the GM outside the quepie doll, and over which the doll has no control. What land/world is it set in? What’s the mood of the campaign? (e.g. fantasy-adventure, horror, western, etc.)
  • Main Characters and their Abilities: important PCs and NPCs. The PCs are obviously main characters but it’s important to be aware of their abilities so that the subgoals can be defined appropriately.
  • Main Goal: the ultimate purpose of the quest. The PCs should virtually always be aware of this goal when they begin the quest, although sometimes people lie.
  • Hooks: How the PCs learn about the quest, and what may motivate them to follow it.
  • Subgoals: the players must accomplish the ultimate goal by completing a series of smaller goals. These subgoals must be clearly connected to the main goal or the PCs will have no reason to pursue it. The subgoals (or at least the next few) should be obvious to the players, to maintain their motivation to continue. Obvious progress towards the main goal should be made whenever a subgoal is completed. The subgoals should probably not be entirely linear (e.g. you must reach A to open B, you must reach B to open C, etc.), because this makes for a boring story, although small linear subsets are fine. Subgoals have the following attributes:
    • Puzzles: Each subgoal may include puzzles that need to be solved, in order to achieve the subgoal
    • Challenges: Unlike puzzles, the challenges aren’t meant to be solved, really. Instead, they are just obstructions placed into the PCs’ path to stretch their abilities and make their lives just a tad more difficult but entertaining. Note the puzzles must never be used as obstructions; for example, figuring out that the pattern on the gem is actually the path through a maze is a hollow victory if there’s only regular +2 sword at the end of the maze and the sword is not important to the story
    • NPCs: Each subgoal will have a set of NPCs that are important along the players’ path to completing the subgoal. These may be long-running important NPCs, the same characters from other subgoals, or NPCs that are new altogether
    • Monsters: The monsters may technically be a category of “Challenge”. They make the PCs lives’ difficult and make sure the rewards are really earned. However, they are more flexible in that they CAN also take on the role of other NPCs. There may be a “meta-challenge” introduced by the monster, in that it can be more important to the story if the players don’t outright kill it. (However, hints should be given.) Furthermore, unlike D&D, monsters do not automatically grant treasure, since reward-granting is under the purview of the quest or subquest
    • Rewards: Rewards should be small and granted incrementally, during the players’ progress towards the subgoal. A given reward may be as simple as opening up a previously unexplored area in the game or revealing interesting information about the quest or game world
  • Subgoal Skeleton: the structure of the subgoals on the path towards the main goal. The PCs should not be forced down any one path towards a solution (i.e. railroaded). Instead, there should be a variety of ways that the main goal can be accomplished, and the players should be able to choose their own path towards it, or abandon it altogether. A DM can build a subgoal skeleton to try and anticipate those paths



Daniel


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: AzaLiN on May 19, 2009, 10:15:57 PM
Player skill is good- imagine playing half-life with auto aim, a dice rolling method to solve puzzles, and way points to guide you through the mazes. Leveling up your auto aim and puzzle solving-

ok stop. that was painful!

What about real life boxing, you against your buddy... except where your to-hit is determined by a dice roll, and your dodging is represented by your AC.

stop again! ouch!

Not to forget that having to actually aim in a table top RPG would also be excruciating...

thus:

=====================================

A few years ago when we played roleplaying games we decided that the intelligence and charisma attributes a)replaced actual roleplaying, or b) tried to either force somebody to play a dumber character than themselves (lame), or a smarter one (impossible- gonna give the players clues or something? can you say 'railroading'?), or c) were extremely vague in implementation.

So we eliminated those attributes completely. Same thing for many skills. In the end, we mostly just had combat and magic mechanics left, and, frankly, I sort of liked it that way.

In a system I built up 2 years ago, again, those attributes/skills were completely absent, except for certain ones that roleplaying didn't represent properly, like determining whether a lie was delivered believably or not, or whether a character could spot the lie, since we were interacting with each other and everybody already knew whether it was a lie or not, especially the DM, and thus bypassing a great deal of player-player lying (entertaining, but weird too. too many notes/out of room discourses) and confusion/ pretending to not know/ trying to guess whether it was a lie while knowing what it actually was.

Basically, dice rolling only came in in situations that couldn't be handled well by... well, roleplaying.

In 4e, we've been using a lot more skills, especially conversation skills. In a way, I like them, but in a way, I strongly dislike them- I'd like to retool them to something closer to our old methods.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 20, 2009, 12:42:19 AM
I remember I think it was 2e D&D, saying if a player learnt a new skill in real life, they could bring it into the game - as if this was wonderful. It struck me as really bogus at the time - because in real life they learnt some skill, they get a range of new resources/opportunities in the game. Skillfully using resources and getting resources because of a real life skill you happen to have, are very different.

Don't get me wrong - if you want to have a minigame like throwing darts in RL to determine a hit, that's cool. But just because you have a RL skill, you just get X or Y? Actually I suppose I'm okay if a skill is demonstrated at play - but if someone just talks the talk about a skill and gets something without walking some walk, it's bullshit!


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: JoyWriter on May 20, 2009, 09:40:18 AM
Oh I realised I neglected something important in my first description of mental stats; if all the players have no ability in a certain field, (or below a certain threshold) then that is a signal not to include such puzzles in the game. They can still be parts of the fiction, but if Conan and family happen upon a literary trap, well it's as good as a wall to them! Like any other locked door it can have a key to resolve it, but this is resolutely not played out as a language puzzle for the players. The GM should think about this just like putting any set of locked doors in front of players, i.e. it's not fun if you do it too much!

@Shallow Thoughts, I will get back to you on that internal logic thing soon, much thanks for the link!


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: FredGarber on May 20, 2009, 12:13:42 PM
I'm have the exact opposite viewpoint of this thread, I think.
One of the reasons why I've tried to get AWAY from Challenging the Player is that it lead in my groups, to a "Player Vs GM" mentality. 
Invariably, that mentality lead to hurt feelings and frustrations, where I felt punished for revealing that I was smarter or more social than the average player
(or worse, that I was more socially adept than the GM).

I liked it when the GM challenge was based on my Stat Block, because then I could concentrate on my Immersion, and let my Effectiveness handle the Challenge.  I could role-play the character during the combat, instead of having my Effectiveness depend upon whether or not the GM found me clever, funny or convincing enough (let alone strong enough or skilled enough) to get through the challenge.

D&D (from 1E to 4E) is not a system I enjoy at all anymore though, so take this comment with that in mind.
-Fred


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Vulpinoid on May 20, 2009, 09:31:17 PM
What is the game about?

Challenging a players cognitive functions?..challenging their morality?..challenging their physical ability?

Most decent games that I've encountered offer one sort of challenge to the players [via descriptive devices], then offer another sort of challenge to the characters [via the stat block]?

This could be read to say...

Some good game toolkits [D&D, White Wolf's Storyteller System, GURPS] provide options to create scenarios in which one type of challenge can be offered to the players while another type of challenge is presented to the characters.

Some specifically tailored games provide narrow settings with very specific challenges for their players and their characters.

But personally, Ive found some of my favourite gaming sessions have simply been the ones that have engaged both of these levels of play. Sessions that have involved challenging only the player OR the character feel like they're missing something.

Just my ideas on the topic...

V


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 21, 2009, 12:11:28 AM

Fred wrote:

Quote
I'm have the exact opposite viewpoint of this thread, I think.
One of the reasons why I've tried to get AWAY from Challenging the Player is that it lead in my groups, to a "Player Vs GM" mentality. 
Invariably, that mentality lead to hurt feelings and frustrations, where I felt punished for revealing that I was smarter or more social than the average player
(or worse, that I was more socially adept than the GM).


I understand the pitfalls of the "player vs. GM" play-style...I remember in middle school, I was picked up and held upside down by a player who did not like a particular ruling I made as a DM (though for the life of me, I can't remember what the ruling was...and to be fair, it may have just been me being an ass!).  But I'm not sure it is "invariable" that challenging game play will lead to hurt feelings and frustrations...that kind of emotion varies depending on player temperament and the treatment of failure (e.g. how much gloating or ridicule goes on in "wins" vs. "losses").  In practice, I've found that with adequate buy-in to what's "at stake" in the game, players can handle "loss" in a mature fashion.  By "players," I also include the DM-type person.

But, you know, wiser heads than me have raised all sorts of issues that exist in game systems where one player (i.e. the DM) has so much power over the SIS, or when other breakdowns occur within the social contract of a gaming group.  To me, it would appear these dangers exist in every version of D&D, though, "stat heavy" or not.

Fred also wrote:
Quote
I liked it when the GM challenge was based on my Stat Block, because then I could concentrate on my Immersion, and let my Effectiveness handle the Challenge.  I could role-play the character during the combat, instead of having my Effectiveness depend upon whether or not the GM found me clever, funny or convincing enough (let alone strong enough or skilled enough) to get through the challenge.


Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
: )
 


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 21, 2009, 01:14:35 AM
Hi Michael,

Strangely I kind of agree in terms of two levels of challenge, except I'd be agreeing the two levels would both be challenging at the cerebral(and/or physical level) AND the moral level - really everything challenging the player. One would be dominant and the other challenge more of a side serving. But both aimed at players. Strangely I'd agree in a strange paralel sort of way that only having one or the other would seem to be missing something. Odd, aye?


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Daniel B on May 21, 2009, 01:45:49 PM
Sounds like a juicy, delicious debate we have goin' on here. X-D


Here's my point of view: it's impossible to challenge a stat-block. A challenge is defined as a simple contest, but the word "contest" implies there is some give-and-take. A stat block is a set of statistics that does nothing on it's own; it's a sheet of paper. Even if the stat-block is run by a computer, the computer is simply following instructions which I'd hesitate to say constitutes a challenge. (That said, I think a game of chess versus a computer opponent is still a round-about challenge, because you're pitting your mind against the programmer's ability to build a program capable of dealing with all possibilities; I would argue this is also true for computer RPG quests, for a similar reason, but that's another thread)

So, putting aside GM-versus-players for a moment, if a stat-block battle actually translates to a challenge between players, how is this so? Well, you're giving players a set of "weapons" or "tools" to use, those tools being the stat blocks themselves. It is up to the players to make good decisions in bringing the stats together, and make more good decisions during combat, in order to succeed. In a way, you could say a 60-card deck composed of cards from a finite pool is a stat-block since, let's face it, each card is just a collection of stats, but no one would say that Magic the Gathering is a game of competition between "stat-blocks". (Err... come to think of it, some people do, but I think the elite champions would argue that deck design is a skill that not something anyone can do, and therefore qualifies as a genuine competition.)

Next question, if RPG battles are always player-vs-player, how is it that some games feel like they're strictly stat-block vs stat-block? In my opinion, this comes about by reducing player input and minimizing the tools available to construct the stat-block pre-combat, or at least by minimizing the number of ways you can build the stat block and be successful. It gets to a point such that a computer very nearly could run the character and still be reasonably successful, or downright kick-ass if the program was optimized. This, unfortunately, limits the options for not just the GM, but the PCs as well, because anything less than a min-maxed character will not do well. "I built this character and the GM can't screw me," when in fact the player didn't so much as build the character as lay down to the will of the system.

(Side note: I wonder how well a computer would do playing Magic TG? Surely, Magic has far more combo-holes, and so a program capable of defeating a Magic champion would be easier to build than a program capable of defeating a chess champion.)

FredGarber, as LandonSuffered pointed out, that "player-vs-GM" ugly style of play can come about in any game with a GM, so it sounds like you've just had a bad set of GMs. In my time as GM, I have tried very hard to accept the consequences of the world as much as the players do, so that the players really do feel like it's the world itself responding to them. As a GM, accepting consequences in this way is absolutely vital because it implicitly shows the players that the world is separate from you, and that the WORLD has power over the GM, and not the other way around. By separating yourself from the world, it creates the illusion that the world is real, which injects the threat of consequence into the game. With genuine consequence (for both players AND the GM), the challenges and risks become far more visceral.

In order to be able to accept consequences, you first have to be able to admit when you make mistakes as a GM. Certainly, this is the most difficult part of GMing, but such mistakes are fairly difficult to hide from players and they're a bit embarrassing. However, hiding the mistake does no one any good, especially since players can usually tell. When the evil genius who is clearly being set up as a long-term character suddenly gets taken out by a PC's stray bullet just as the genius is teleporting away, it's a pretty see-through argument when the GM says
Quote
Err.. OH! And the REAL evil genius, three-feet away, cackles as he says 'HAHA, my clone/illusion/disguised-buddy trick WORKED!' 

A good GM will not do this, but instead just say
Quote
Wow, (player A), very, very nice shot. Downright unlikely! With a blood-curdling shriek, the evil genius looks in horror at his wound, realizing all his plans were for naught. He collapses in a gory heap.

Obviously, for the players this is a hollow victory. They feel like they won, but not in that satisfyingly crunchy way. However, it's okay for this to happen once in a while. By broadcasting to the players that you're holding true to the consequences forced upon you by the world and the rules, you develop trust with them. They'll no longer think "I have to play this way to prevent the GM from screwing me," and start thinking "I have to play this way to survive in the world," which is precisely the frame of mind you want the players to be in. As you get good at it, you'll make these mistakes far less frequently and they'll less likely be catastrophic when they happen. Furthermore, the rest of the time you'll secretly be thinking stuff like "Yup, players, that is generally where I expected you to go," or "Wow, players, that's a complete surprise to me, but I'd love to see how it turns out."

That latter case is by far the most fun. Some of my best memories of games I've GMed are from games where the players took a turn I didn't expect. Check out this Case In Point (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=28040.0)

Daniel

(PS, how the heck do you do those smileys? I haven't bothered to figure that out yet)


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 21, 2009, 03:40:37 PM
Just for clarity, I wasn't debating with Michael, just illustrating a different way of doing things that none the less shared certain qualities. I'd sort of assumed Michael meant somthing by challenging the character and indeed I had penciled in that he meant something like the integrity of an idea challenging the integrity of another idea. Kind of like having Batman vs Hulk - it's idea vs idea (meme vs meme?). I was thinking he mean something like gamism or nar, with something kind of like a sim spine to it, otherwise something feels like it's missing. While I refered to gamism with a nar spine, or nar with a gamist spine, or otherwise it felt like something is missing. Some paralels there, which are interesting and a bit feel good - unless I didn't understand Michael at all. Michael?

Quote
As a GM, accepting consequences in this way is absolutely vital because it implicitly shows the players that the world is separate from you, and that the WORLD has power over the GM, and not the other way around.
I feel like someone who is anal about safety in the workplace and has to comment when they see a 'mangler'.

The functional and safe operation as I see it, is that the GM simply works off his reactions to prior narrated material. These are his imaginative reflexes. The same sorts of imaginative reflexes that actually create dreams while sleeping. The world doesn't have power over him - he just tries to work true to reflex. This isn't such a big deal except where the GM pushes to ignore pre agreed rules because the 'world' is in charge.

The mangler as I see it is that the 'world' is seen as a shared object in the group. But a persons own imaginative reflexes are his own - they don't nescessarily match anyone elses. But with the perception it's a shared world, if the GM's imaginative reflex goes against someone elses imaginative reflex, the GM gets told he is cheating. Or the GM tells the player they are cheating. Or being a jerk, or a number of things. They get socially sanctioned for their natural, artistic creativeness/reflexes. I think I'm almost heading towards Ron Edward style brain damage, in saying what that can do to a developing mind. Peh, even an adult mind, given time.

The safe operation, as I see it, is that the GM simply expresses things exactly as he sees it (staying within pre agreed rules - and if those rules are percieved as even slightly ambiguous by anyone, everyone is sympathetic towards everyone else on what staying within those rules means). The vulnerability everyone else faces is that no one is actually capable of policing the GM - you just have to trust him to go with his reflexive imagination rather than rig everything. That trust might seem a doddle to forge people, but if you look at the D&D 'What's a DM to do' forums you find the regular recomendation that if the players are doing something you don't like, hit 'em with monsters till they learn not to do it.

Anal safety advocate, over and out! :p


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Vulpinoid on May 21, 2009, 05:06:40 PM
...The apocalypse is truly nigh, Callan and I seem to actually agree on something...

Hmm...reading through this last couple of posts has made me rethink some of my earlier assumptions.

This is never a bad thing.

If anyone's been watching the development of Vincent Baker's clouds and boxes theory, this might make a bit more sense.

My first set of assumptions were very simplified.

  • Characters are challenged through the stat box.
  • Challenges to the character's stat box are typically resolved by the comparison of a stat to a difficulty (or another character's stat), with some kind of randomiser user as a filter.
  • Success from a character sense result from situations where a character's stat plus random filter overcomes the number it is compared to.
  • Players are challenged by methods not involving the stat box.
  • A challenge to a player often involves morality, or the types of abstract thought process that dice and numbers handle poorly.
  • Success from a player sense depends on what the game was trying to achieve and how successfully this was resolved.
It makes me think of the saying that appears around here every couple of months...

A game isn't about the the aspects covered by the rules. A game is about the aspects that players have to make up for themselves to fill in the gaps.

This has been restated in a few different forms, but that's the general idea. I haven't actually had the chance to play Dogs in the Vineyard, but from what I'm aware it's a game that really delves into questions of faith and morality, but it leaves the answers to these questions purely in the hands of the players rather than including any kind of "Faith" statistic.

The questions of what the character can do are defined by the stat block, the questions of "why" are answered by the players in the context of the narrative.

It's still a very trite way of looking at things, so I'll expand my assumptions.

  • Characters are challenged through the stat box.
  • Challenges to the character's stat box are typically resolved by the comparison of a stat to a difficulty (or another character's stat), with some kind of randomiser user as a filter.
  • Success from a character sense result from situations where a character's stat plus random filter overcomes the number it is compared to.
  • Players are challenged by methods not involving the stat box. Challenges to players don't directly involve the stat box.
  • A challenge to a player often involves morality, or the types of abstract thought process that dice and numbers handle poorly.
  • Success from a player sense depends on what the game was trying to achieve and how successfully this was resolved. (eg. a game intending to tell a good story can still be considered a victory if all the characters died in a dramatic fashion that really got the players thinking...)
  • Players are typically capable of manipulating the stat box through XP, meta-game currency and actively narrating their actions to maximise the potential of their stats.
  • The stat box can often apply restrictions to the actions and thought processes of a character. A player's actions within the narrative need to be limited according to these filters.
  • Challenges can come in one of four forms:
    1. Challenges purely involving the character/stat box. (eg. GM picks a stat, player rolls a die, compare result to target number)
    2. Challenges where the player's actions are filtered through the stat box. (eg. Player manipulates the narrative, picks the best stat for the job, rolls a die, then compares to target number)
    3. Challenges where the player's mind is tested through the context of the character. (eg. Character gets into a morally challenging situation and the stat box indicates that the character has an aversion to one of the outcomes, the player must choose another outcome that works within the story)
    4. Challenges purely involving the player (eg. Event unfolds leaving a question that simply isn't covered by the rules, the GM asks the player "What do you do?")

Suddenly there's a spectrum of challenges from those purely involving characters to those purely involving players.

Quote
Wow, (player A), very, very nice shot. Downright unlikely! With a blood-curdling shriek, the evil genius looks in horror at his wound, realizing all his plans were for naught. He collapses in a gory heap.

Obviously, for the players this is a hollow victory. They feel like they won, but not in that satisfyingly crunchy way. However, it's okay for this to happen once in a while.

Is this a hollow victory? Yes. Is it completely hollow? It depends a bit further on the context.

If a game system allows anyone to attempt anything (even the impossible becomes possible through highly exaggerated target numbers), then an average Joe off the street might be able to pick up a crossbow and kill a dragon outright with a shot through the eye and straight into the brain cavity. Highly unlikely, and there was no skill involved on the part of the character's player, just some damned lucky dice rolling.

Imagine a different system. One which specifically precludes certain events from happening, but allows a player to pick the right combination of skills/abilities to pull a fantastic situation from the realms of the impossible to the highly improbable. Suddenly the player gets a little sense of pride that their character build allowed the situation to be overcome, even if it was mostly through sheer luck.

One player adjusts their character's stat box in a way to help them confront issues that the player is interested in. Another player adjusts their character's stat box to help the team confront a specific type of issue because it's an obvious weak spot in the group. Both are manipulating the probabilities and helping to confront challenges that haven't even been posed yet.

The characters aren't the players, but they aren't completely divorced from one another either. Both have an impact on one another, through play styles, narratives and probabilities. Responsibility is shared between the two.

How many players do you know who have sworn at their character for failing a die roll? The player doesn't claim any responsibility for the actions because it wasn't actually the player performing the action. Then in a later session, the same player claims full responsibility for the natural 20 super-critical hit that killed the dragon. If the responsibility is spread between the character and the player, then a player can separate themselves from the bad while embracing with the success.

If the player and the character are completely separate, you might as well go and watch a movie.

If the player and the character are one, then why are you rolling dice? Just do it.

Different games play with this degree of separation at different levels. Different games offer challenges to players and characters with different amounts of bias between the two extremes. In like of this, I'd say that most traditional games focus more on challenges to the stat-block and the character, while many of the new generation of games have less complex rules and thus focus on issues that resonate more strongly with the players.

Many games don't know where their challenges are actually aimed (at the players, at the characters, or somewhere between), hence this issues of conflicting creative agendas, drift, inability to identify a game's true goals...etc.

I still think I'm missing something in my definitions, but I'm starting to ramble.

So I'll leave it here for the moment.

V   
 


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 21, 2009, 08:52:27 PM

ShallowThoughts wrote:

Quote
So, putting aside GM-versus-players for a moment, if a stat-block battle actually translates to a challenge between players, how is this so? Well, you're giving players a set of "weapons" or "tools" to use, those tools being the stat blocks themselves. It is up to the players to make good decisions in bringing the stats together, and make more good decisions during combat, in order to succeed. In a way, you could say a 60-card deck composed of cards from a finite pool is a stat-block since, let's face it, each card is just a collection of stats, but no one would say that Magic the Gathering is a game of competition between "stat-blocks". (Err... come to think of it, some people do, but I think the elite champions would argue that deck design is a skill that not something anyone can do, and therefore qualifies as a genuine competition.)

Daniel: this is exactly what I'm talking about.

If the challenge to a player is "how do you build the best possible character" before play...you know, like trying to build a 60 card Magic deck before a tournament?...then the main thing being challenged IN play is the "stat block" of the character.  In other words, the challenge moves from "how do I overcome this challenging dungeon/adventure?" to "how do I design the best possible character to meet the challenges of the dungeon/adventure?"

Look at your recent post (the "funny little anecdote") where you wrote:

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I was getting a bit tired of the PCs winning combat flawlessly, as in, barely over a couple of rounds and with few to no injuries. Maybe the PC's had min-maxed enough to throw off the CR's or something.


It would appear your players are expert at creating great decks...er, stat blocks...er, characters.  That's great...it allows them to blaze through a dangerous dungeon like superheroes with their pants on fire. Um..."kewl."

But for me, I prefer a different style of game play. Um...that was kind of the point of my whole original post.  Gamist creative agendas can be facilitated in different ways.  Challenging players to create the best possible character BEFORE play (and this includes planning and scheduling how one chooses feats and skills, all of which occurs between play sessions, not during) is one way to satisfy a creative agenda.  In my opinion this is pretty watered down compared to stepping up to challenge IN play. I'm pretty sure I've explained why I feel this way in previous posts on this thread.

I guess I wasn't clear before on what I meant by challenging the player and not the stat block.  Sure, a player creates that stat block, and that's a "challenge" in and of itself.  But once you've satisfied that challenge (picking feats, distributing points to skills, picking the classes/prestige classes, selecting spells, choosing equipment), all that gets challenged IN PLAY is that bundle of choices you made (i.e. the "stat block," that collection of all those choices). I prefer challenging the player IN PLAY.  Hopefully, this is clearer now.





Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Daniel B on May 21, 2009, 10:45:25 PM
Actually Jonathan, I didn't intend that to be a counter, and in fact totally agree with you. I guess I've GMed too many games that eventually turned gamist despite their promising beginnings. But I see your point. And although it all reduces to player challenges, I have come to agree that calling it a stat-block challenge is a good way of talking about preplay-generation competitions. (I'll shut up now.)


The mangler as I see it is that the 'world' is seen as a shared object in the group.

Oh?  X-)

I'm going to hideously misquote you .. apologies in advance.
The mangler as I see it is that the CHARACTER is seen as a shared object in the group. But a persons own imaginative reflexes are his own - they don't nescessarily match anyone elses. But with the perception it's a shared CHARACTER, if the PLAYER's imaginative reflex goes against someone elses imaginative reflex, the PLAYER gets told he is cheating. Or the PLAYER tells the GM they are cheating. Or being a jerk, or a number of things. They get socially sanctioned for their natural, artistic creativeness/reflexes.

This is way off-topic but I couldn't resist. The world is no less shared than are the characters, and clearly the characters MUST be shared. The GM that asserts absolute authority over "his" world generates turtle-players.

Daniel


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: contracycle on May 22, 2009, 01:05:37 AM
Here's my point of view: it's impossible to challenge a stat-block.

I disagree.  The bit I think you are missing is that the stat block can be so weighty, so significant, that player decisions matter very little.  If you do something that gains a +1 in D&D, this only a 5% change in the odds, almost all of which are determined pre-play.  Even with an active player making decisions, the sheer mass of the system calculations takes much of the outcome out of the players hands.

Many other systems are not so weighty, have more decisive and less attritional exchanges, and are more sympathetic to situational modifiers, which allows in-game events, player description and decision, to be much more significant.  That, IMO, really can be a challenge to the player in a way in which two stat blocks whittling each other down can not.

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I guess I've GMed too many games that eventually turned gamist despite their promising beginnings.

And that's a Bad Thing, is it?


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: otspiii on May 22, 2009, 08:55:16 AM
This is actually something I've been struggling with, myself.  A problem I've had with a lot of my RP experiences is that the challenge is all at the start, during character creation.  Game-play turns into me watching the stat-robot I created make it's way through the challenge the GM has created.  Success or failure becomes a die roll, not a choice backed up by a die roll.  Obviously this isn't how the whole session goes, usually, but it can be a problem with the stat-heavy bits, like combat.  Non-magical fighters are especially vulnerable to this, as a lot of the time combat just turns into parking your character next to your opponent and seeing who runs out of HP first.  Even worse, these combats can take hours to resolve under some systems, during which the players really don't have any meaningful input.

I've come up with a few ways around this, but they're all risky in their own ways.  Giving the players multiple 'balanced' options can bring more of the challenge to the gameplay, rather than the character creation.  I think this is what 4th ed D&D is all about, and I think it succeeds fairly well.  The danger to this is that it only adds a bit of extra player-challenge.  A lot of the time the best choice is still obvious, and the player's input goes from strategy to 'not picking the obviously inferior choice'.

Re-enforcing cleverness with stat bonuses can work, but is tricky.  Let's say a character has a +6 to persuasion.  Giving the character another +2 on top of that +6 if the player himself gives a persuasive argument brings the strategic wiggle room into the present fairly well, but it's really difficult keeping this sort of judgment from being arbitrary.  Accusations of GM favoritism and other inter-player problems flow easy from this solution.  Over long periods of time, especially, it can be hard to be consistent with player rewards.

The type of 'old school' puzzle you guys have been talking about is another solution, where the challenge is a riddle or non-stat-based trap or even a physical puzzle to put together.  I feel like this solution, done badly, can be super dangerous.  Gameplay can easily degenerate into games of "read the GM's mind to figure out the solution to this puzzle he decided on or watch your character die".  I've heard horror story after horror story of games just completely derailed due to the players not being able to figure out a 'clever' riddle or puzzle.

The way I usually run my games is actually somewhat like Vulpinoid said earlier.  Throw some moral or non-stat-based strategic choices at the players, then make them back up their choice with some stat-rolling.  If they fail the stat-rolling it doesn't negate their choice, it just accentuates the potential negatives their choice entails.  The danger of this method is when the choices take 5 minutes and the rolling takes 3 hours.  The more stat-heavy the game is the grimmer this method works out to be.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: AzaLiN on May 22, 2009, 11:16:33 AM
I agree a lot with Otspiii here: I want the challenge to occur during play. Otherwise, actual game-play is lacking one of the most important elements, and becomes more of a testing ground in a battle-of-the-builds scenario- suitable for MTG, but not for most RPGs.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 22, 2009, 12:10:45 PM
Heh…don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying JM’s blog is THE way to play.  I’m just saying I think some of his observations are right on…and I don’t think he’s presenting something as THE way to play...

That may be, I was just responding to the quotes provided which come off (to me) as sounding like "Back in the old days, we ALL did it THIS way..." And I distrust his observations on those grounds, though I think there is something to them in terms of reporting a particular style of game you've identified here as "player challenge", which I recall received a great deal of air time back in the day. However...

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When I say challenge the player, I’m talking intellectual challenge…I mean, it’s an intellectual game right? Hitting monsters isn’t based on your ability to do push-ups and a bard’s charming ability isn’t based on YOUR ability to sing!

That's the question, though, isn't it? Is it really an intellectual game? Why is my character's puzzle-solving ability dependent on my puzzle-solving ability?

Truth-be-told, I hated puzzle-solving in our OD&D games. Every game I can recall that had any aspect of puzzle-solving to it, either as a player or as a GM, failed miserably, either in grumbled frustration or even where we lost players (I was rather quickly cured of trying to "intellectually challenge the players with cunning stuff" because it kept seriously back-firing in our groups. No one wanted it, no one enjoyed it particularly much).

Which has led me to think that what we're looking at here is a GNS sort-of thing: a different strokes situation. Yes, some people liked the puzzle aspect, the intellectual aspect of figuring out what you could do with that ten-foot pole and a few iron spikes. But some people didn't, and were there to role-play -- damn the puzzles, damn the combats, damn it all -- it wasn't about whether you could "think" your way cleverly through the dungeon, it was about "playing make-believe".

It seems we're looking at the different ways in which different groups used, abandoned, or otherwise altered the rules to provide for differing ways to play and achieve various goals. Historically, I'm thinking the style you're talking about is firmly a descendant of the war-gaming ancestor of RPGs -- which is all about the personal, intellectual challenge to the player, pushing little men around on a board, making tactical decisions, trying to figure out how to win the engagement.

Later, people said "Hey, let's pretend we are these minis running about and have personalities and everything" -- ie: role-playing the invented characters, because that was what they wanted out of the game, and changing its nature significantly from its war-gaming roots (there was significant flak spewed over this as I recall, with war-gamers calling role-players various icky names for polluting their hobby with nonsense and playing pretend when the point was pushing armies around and either beating the other guy or just seeing how things turned out on the board).

To me, it seems you want more of a war-game feel than an RP feel to play: sure, there are some stats, but they don't matter as much as the tactics the player is using in the engagement.

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You can stat up your character to the Nth degree, but I’m not sure it’s going to improve the “fun” quotient. Or to be perfectly blunt, I’ve found in my DND3+ games that it doesn’t.

See, now, I've had exactly the opposite experience. While there is such a thing as too much detail, too little detail reduces the fun quotient, leads to arguments, and lets DMs run wild with fiat. And it did.

Meaning the "fun" quotient you bring up is definitely a GNS issue: what part of the game do you find the most enjoyable. What are you sitting at the table to do? Clearly, you found that personal challenge bit the most enjoyable part.

So we have situations where Int or Wis or similar intellectual/social scores and associated challenges were discarded or devalued so the situational content could be dealt with by the player rather than the character, while in other groups, those scores were emphasized with added rules to fairly adjudicate those situations so people could get through them and into doing what they wanted to do with play (some loose kind of story creation, level grinding and looting, or whatnot), etc.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Daniel B on May 22, 2009, 12:42:08 PM
Here's my point of view: it's impossible to challenge a stat-block.

I disagree.  The bit I think you are missing is that the stat block can be so weighty, so significant, that player decisions matter very little. 
<snip>

Hmm, true

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I guess I've GMed too many games that eventually turned gamist despite their promising beginnings.

And that's a Bad Thing, is it?

Not in principle. But when "gamist" = "the stat block can be so weighty, so significant, that player decisions matter very little", then most definitely yes.


On another note, I think part of the problem is that the same set of rules becomes different games for different people. (What's that called? Ephemera?) For some, it's a stat-block-sport, for others it's something entirely different.

Dan


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 22, 2009, 03:41:39 PM
As far as I can tell this whole stat block/build the deck in advance is basically gamisms equivalent to narrativisms 'story before'. All the step on up happens before the game actually occurs.

In terms of hideous, unsolvable riddles and puzzles, the problem typically is that play just stalls rather than the players losing or losing after X amount of real time if they can't solve it. Usually this occurs because the book didn't tell a new GM he'd have to set this up - and the new GM frankly isn't in the design mindset (lucky them) or roleplay is being treated merely as a social lubricant (like drinking coffee or booze together, play is used as a similar thing to 'sip') and the activity supposedly must go on in the name of the social activity, and yet its uncomfortable and unpleasant to do so. Gamism needs to be able to lose - not just sit in unpleasant limbo while people don't get a puzzle. But when it's punted to the social lubricant level of coffee or booze - well, theres no room for the idea of 'losing' when it comes to drinking coffee. So in that case gamisms been punted to a place that just can't socially support losing.

Quote from: ShallowThoughts
This is way off-topic but I couldn't resist. The world is no less shared than are the characters, and clearly the characters MUST be shared. The GM that asserts absolute authority over "his" world generates turtle-players.
Who's particular imaginative reflexes are tapped can be up for grabs as determined by a ruleset (universalis seems to offer that). But really, if I had described it that the person in question had to cut himself with a knife to facilitate the notion the world is shared, I don't think either of us would consider it still a good idea in order to avoid turtling. When I talk about someone tapping their deep, imaginative reflexes, the stuff that their dreams are made of, but then being socially burned because what they produced is 'wrong', over and over, simply because it doesn't match someone elses imaginative reflexes, I'm talking about cutting something a bit more important than mere skin.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 22, 2009, 04:44:15 PM
There is a lot of discussion of this "stat block" = "deck building" thing -- where the stat block takes over and nearly no player decisions are required -- and I'm just wondering if anyone has any actual play examples from their own games where this occurred, the circumstances, etc. I've never experienced such a thing or can think of an event I might describe as being similar to it.

I also ask because I play a lot of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, another CCG, and even after building, there's a very significant amount of strategy, choice, and table-reading that goes into playing. Even back when I played Magic, I don't recall any examples of just sitting back and letting the deck do whatever. There was always trying to do something with your deck, using the hand you had, knowing how your deck worked, responding to the plays on the table with the cards available and strategizing. It isn't at all as...mechanical/robotic as what is being presented here.

So I'm asking because I really and seriously have to wonder if this is an invented bugaboo being chased and feared rather than a real thing that regularly happens around a table? Examples from actual play, please?


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 22, 2009, 05:48:08 PM
Tons of times? There have been plenty of games I've been in where it's just unloading into the other side, roll after roll?

I'm sure I'm going to get t-boned by 'But you didn't see the other options!'. And then I'd get into whether I didn't see them, or they didn't exist. As much as the other two agendas like to make new rules on the fly, it's not exactly gamist to invent resources/options for yourself. Well, not for free, anyway. Anyway, I'm just reflexively cringing at a perceived t-bone that may not be about to occur.

And it depends what you mean by 'trying to do something' with a CCG deck? You can try really hard to control the outcome of a match, even when you have very little capacity to do so during play and most of your capacity to do so was before play even began. I guess if you don't plan the deck much and do most of your thinking in game, then it's playing in the moment. But really if its part of the design that your strongest influence on winning comes from pre game planning, then it's a game that supports 'game before' or however you might put it.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: contracycle on May 22, 2009, 07:17:07 PM
My ol highschool game had a series of disputes which eventually resulted in D&D being abandoned in favour of a homebrew system.  There were two major issues, the first being the inability to punch someone in the head and knock them unonscious, the second being the inability to fatally stab someone with a single blow, short of being one of the classes that get backstab as an ability.

The former arose mostly in fistfights in bars and the like, and was not too serious, becuase the whittling of HP is not totally unlike the duration of a boxing match.  But it was also the case that high level characters had so many HP, and the unarmed damage was so low, that this would take forever.  Furthermore, resorting to cliches like smacking people with bottles or chairs made little difference.  You couldn't, really, do anything except roll dice again and again.

The second arose from the perfectly understanadable perception on the part of the players that if you totally ambushed someone, especially if they were unarmoured, its not unreasonable to think that you could just cut them down.  But D&D says no; armour only changes the likelihood of a hit, and damage remains fixed.  If the target has enough HP to survive the blow, it doesn't matter under what circumstances it was delivered.  This arose in a couple of cases, and resulted in unpleasant arguments.

Both of these problems got solved by moving to a system which was less attritional, and in which armour reduced damage, and that made for much better play in terms of setting up, engaging with a tactical problem, and being able to enjoy the challange presented.

ShallowThoughts wrote:
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Not in principle. But when "gamist" = "the stat block can be so weighty, so significant, that player decisions matter very little", then most definitely yes.

But I don't think that's particularly "gamist" at all.  I agree with Callan that its like story before; at best, it's a KIND of gamism, and I'm not averse to spending a fair bit of time on character buillds, and have even been known to defend min-maxing.  But I certainly don't think that when it becomes the dominant factor, it means you are getting gamism at the table.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 22, 2009, 09:56:45 PM

Raven: congrats on your placement in the EO art challenge, by the way…that was a cool pic!

We may have to agree to disagree on this point.  You don’t like mental challenges (for the record, I’m not talking about “puzzles” specifically…I’m talking about the ability…hell, the necessity!...of learning to improvise in order to overcome challenges), and I don’t like being constrained by limited skills and feats.  You want rules that “fairly adjudicate” Intelligence and Wisdom…I just can’t help but say, “gaaaah!!”

I KNOW there can be issues when things are left to DM fiat, yeah…it’s always possible to have a crooked umpire when you’re playing a game.  But failing to play by the spirit of the rules, is…well, against the spirit of the rules.  And DM fiat can play a part it even the highest statted games (doesn’t the DM get to assign situational bonuses and penalties in D20?). 

Okay, you asked:

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There is a lot of discussion of this "stat block" = "deck building" thing -- where the stat block takes over and nearly no player decisions are required -- and I'm just wondering if anyone has any actual play examples from their own games where this occurred, the circumstances, etc. I've never experienced such a thing or can think of an event I might describe as being similar to it… So I'm asking because I really and seriously have to wonder if this is an invented bugaboo being chased and feared rather than a real thing that regularly happens around a table? Examples from actual play, please?

Um, I’ll give you a two different AP examples, both from D&D3:

1st As A DM: Players were asked to create an 8th level character (or thereabouts) for a dungeon adventure, using the standard building rules for creating an advanced character in the DMG (including gear allowed).  One guy shows up with some fighter or fighter-ranger wielding double two-handed +1 falchions of sharpness with his feats chosen to allow him to crit on a…what, a 12+ roll, I think?  Simple min-maxing, sure…did his min-maxing inform how his play would occur in the adventure? Sure it did.  Was he limited in how he could play based on his character choices? Sure he was.   But he made the best “stat-block” he could…he found his challenge, PRIOR to game play. His character was useless in the adventure except in melee combat where he utterly trounced.

2nd As a Player:
  I created a mid-level level wizard (I don’t remember now…somewhere between 5th and 8th level) to play in someone’s adventure. I based his character and spell selection off of Gandalf from LotR.  I tried to make him a bit of a utilitarian, kind of advisor-type.  Our party couldn’t even get into the damn dungeon!  Why not?  Because you needed to have access to the fly spell to get in.  It was assumed that any mid-level wizard would have the spell (or levitation), because it is so "useful" and "utilitarian." I didn’t even carry it in my spell book.  The entire party failed, because the one magic-user (me) failed at the “stat block” creation level. The DM didn’t offer any alternatives…he looked over my character sheet and asked something like, “why is your guy so sucky?” There was another adventure like this where we didn’t have the ability to build a raft…because no one had enough “craft boat” skill (or whatever the fuck it’s called).

Raven wrote:
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To me, it seems you want more of a war-game feel than an RP feel to play: sure, there are some stats, but they don't matter as much as the tactics the player is using in the engagement.

To this I say: what the fuck?  D&D facilitates a gamist agenda (well, except maybe AD&D2, though 2.5 was definitely beginning the stat-block building exercise).  But I never even used miniatures prior to needing to count 5’ steps and full-attack actions and flanking and blah-blah-blah.

I do enjoy the occasional game of WH40K, but when I play that I want people spot on about the rules (ranges, line of sight, base-to-base, etc.). Wargaming is NOT about improvising…wargaming is about using tactics with the resources at your disposal. 

An RPG of the old school variety can be plenty gamist, but it’s a lot more open-ended than a war game. And I’m not saying, “oh it has more options,” ‘cause that ain’t it.  I’m saying you can choose to wine and dine your opponent or fight ‘em or run away (is there a “run away” skill in D&D4?  Maybe there’s a feat…). You can bait and bribe cheap monsters with food or reassure, you can create your own pit traps…the difference, though between the old school and new school is: do you need to make a “craft traps roll” to dig that pit?  And one question I have is: does a player think to TRY to dig a pit if they don’t have the requisite digging skill on their character sheet?

Contracycle: I echo your final sentiment.






Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: AzaLiN on May 22, 2009, 10:16:33 PM
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There is a lot of discussion of this "stat block" = "deck building" thing -- where the stat block takes over and nearly no player decisions are required -- and I'm just wondering if anyone has any actual play examples from their own games where this occurred, the circumstances, etc. I've never experienced such a thing or can think of an event I might describe as being similar to it.

I guess our MTG experiences are different. In my experience, our entire group, and several players outside of it, play at a certain basic level of competence that, luckily, allows us to play competitively with strangers as well. We've played for years- We can all hold our own in tournaments, and with a strong enough deck, WIN. See, that's the difference though: how well we do in our higher-level competitions depends entirely on how strong our deck is against that opponent/opponents in general. It's like playing certain card games- your playing skill 'maxes out' somewhat early, and victory or defeat falls on other factors- in MTG, that would be luck and the occasional good guess.

Its not that player decisions are trivial- if you play poorly, even Tooth and Nail will lose- I've beaten it- its just that player decisions play a minor role very quickly because they mostly involve a small set of tactics and not making what you begin to recognize as blunders. Good play takes you only so far- it takes a build/stat block thats strong enough in the first place to win at all.

In Warhammer: Battle March, the computer version, the winner is 95% the person with the most appropriate army to counter the enemy's army; elves with a light mage and a giant will simply squish almost every orc player there is because of gameplay balance issues. Bring the wrong army to the field, and its not even worth fighting- if i have the right troops for it, and i see what the enemy has, all tension just floats away because i've won... or lost, as the case may be, even though i might put up a decent fight. The table top is quite similar to this as well, though i have less experience with it.

Notice that in 4e, a smoke bomb costs thousands of gold pieces (If i'm mistaken, PLEASE TELL ME THE ITEM'S NAME AND WHAT BOOK ITS IN! I WANT IT); that's about as blatant as you get for making stat block the determining factor. Tactics or no tactics, if the minotaur plays even half competently, he's going to split the orc's head open 99 times out of 100. There's even a character builder program that people spend money and hours of their time on- and when my rogue spars with my fighter, its not tactics during the fight that wins, since they both make the basically good choices- its the character build, followed by the dice that does it.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 22, 2009, 10:49:47 PM
b]Raven[/b]: congrats on your placement in the EO art challenge, by the way…that was a cool pic!

Thanks, man! I don't know if you've seen the big version yet, but it looks a hundred times better at full size. Can't wait to see it on the cover.

Also, thanks for the AP examples, but I think they added to my confusion.

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To this I say: what the fuck?

OK: Huh?

I think we're completely talking past one another, or using utterly different languages, given you seem to think I'm saying something about using minis and straight-edge rulers and playing WH40K...but then go on to describe exactly what I'm talking about when I say "war-game feel".

I'm also looking at the examples everyone has provided and find myself saying either, "Seems like an issue of bad mechanics (or GMs), not stat blocks" or "Huh? What does that have to do with stat-blocks supposedly running the show?"

So, really, not sure what to say. That's a significant road-block both ways, it seems.

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And one question I have is: does a player think to TRY to dig a pit if they don’t have the requisite digging skill on their character sheet?

Ok, like here: why wouldn't they?

It's ideas/questions like that which make me keep thinking this is a bugaboo, because from my perspective that's just a weird question. Sure, you wouldn't get a bonus to making the pit trap work because you're not trained in creating that sort of thing, but any idiot can dig a pit, throw some sticks and leaves over it, and hope their enemy falls into it.

But then, from my perspective, I would think it silly to assume that Fredrick the wizard who has spent his entire life reading musty books in a tower can set up a trap as well as Artie the thief, who has spent his entire life around traps, or Tom the mercenary "who has done this before". Which makes skills (of some sort, whether concrete lists like in D&D or descriptor-based assumptions like in Sorcerer) important to distinguishing the abilities and competence of a player-chosen character.

Same thing for building a raft (it actually isn't very easy to make a serviceable raft that won't sink, unless you know what the heck you're doing) -- but this is getting into well-traveled territory about tailoring games to the characters chosen by the players, not making assumptions as a GM about what characters "should" be like or just running them through any old thing. Flags, "Say yes or roll the dice", and etc.

And I'm not trying to say that as a counter, I'm trying to...explain why what you're saying sounds weird (to me) or, I suppose, surreal. As, I imagine, what I'm saying sounds to you.

Right now it seems like "freeforming vs. boardgame", which doesn't seem right at all from either side, as clearly you aren't really talking about freeforming it, and I know I'm not talking about just playing things like a boardgame (or bad CCG).

So I'm going to back out and listen a little more and see if I can make sense of your idea.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: contracycle on May 23, 2009, 08:12:14 AM
Well, the bit I think you are missing is the weight issue I mentioned above.  It's not that the existence of stats of some kind is problematic, it is that when stats are so bulky and pervasive that they effectively supercede decisionmaking, then they become problematic.

Another problem we encountered from D&D was the issue of surprise.  In a surprise attack, you could get a free round of attacks, and then roll for initiative normally.  So far so reasonable.  However, with the attritional model in place, at moderate to high levels a single round of attacks just wasn't enough to make a difference.  If your opposition was decent match for you, they would either be of such a high level that your attacks couldn't drop them that fast, or there would be such a large number of inferior level opponents that dropping a few was of little import.  Either way, the surprise attack mattered little, and the issue would be decided by the usual combat grind. So, not unreasonably, the players stopped trying to stage surprise attacks, and made little effort to guard against them - they made so little difference they were barely worth worrying about at all.

At that point stats were not faciliting enjoyable play, they were impeding it; the characters had become the "stats robot" mentrioned up-thread, and very little the players did, very few decisions they made, would have much effect on whether or not they succeeded or failed.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 23, 2009, 09:24:03 AM
To me, Gareth, that is completely a "mechanics" issue, and has nothing to do with the stat-block. I agree with you that is a problem, I just don't see it as a "stat block weight" problem, because I don't see how that is about stats (except for HPs) and not broken rules.

Except I'm going to think about your last line, because that makes sense. Though...again, I'm not seeing how that maps to skills and feats and ability scores ala a "stat block", things which don't have the level creep problem of hit points and combat (making skill checks doesn't or shouldn't become more difficult as your level rises) and which it seemed the thread was initially talking about.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 23, 2009, 05:08:52 PM
Greyorm, I think the 'RP feel' vs 'wargame feel' was polarising things. The activity is roleplay - to say something has a roleplay feel seems to indicate it more about the activity than something that is not described as having a roleplay feel. Perhaps if what you call a 'RP feel' you called a 'Diplomacy feel' then it's be more equal to a 'Wargame feel', rather than one seeming to be more about the activity than the other.

In terms of stat blocks, I had assumed everyone has been talking about mechanics when refering to a stat block - it's a bunch of mechanical stats. Gareths not mistakenly talking about another issue that's to do with mechanics - this stat block issue is mechanics. The issue is about broken rules, or atleast if your design goal is to do gamism now (rather than gamism before) they are broken rules. Were not just talking about the 'feel' of the game, were talking about what it actually, mechanically is. What it feels like because of what it literally is in this world, rather than a feeling which is based on an imaginary world.

Or alternatively, I don't know why your sidelinging this as a "mechanics issue" when it's been one from the start (as far as I can tell), and the above is me trying to grope for some reason for that?


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 23, 2009, 09:25:30 PM
Since I'm being asked directly, I'll answer. To me, this is indicative of part of the problem: clearly, we're speaking different languages, because (though I'll agree I see how the terms I used could be taken to be polarizing) I just don't agree that what you're saying the thread started as and what it is now is what it always has been about.

Quite honestly, "stat block" and "the rules mechanics" are two very, very clear and distinct things for me. Nowhere in a stat block does it say "roll a d20 plus modifiers and compare to AC" or "now subtract the results of your d8 from the HP". They are quite clearly to me "tools you have" (things in your stat block) and "things you do with the tools" (actions to which mechanics are applied).

I have been approaching this from the standpoint that the thread began with complaints about character detailing rules (such as skills, feats, or otherwise) creating a state of "gamism before" where play is pre-ordained and no choices are made in play because the options are set--now you just push buttons--contrasted with how we supposedly did it in the old days when characters didn't have feats or skills or big blocks of stuff on their sheet, and it was loose, and freeform, and open-ended.

But the only example I've seen thus far showcasing how things get futzed up because of character stats has been one of: hit points making the combat portion of the game into one of attrition.

How does a problem with the mechanics of combat making hit points cause breakdowns in player choice at high levels support or bring one to conclude that the problem is that skills, feats, and various other character stat bits cause gamism before?

This seems to me to be two very separate issues being confounded as a single issue. Or at least a number of very different issues being discussed under the heading of one single issue. Because right now I'm seeing: the stat block problem (ie: character detail) = gamism before problem = problematic rules issues. Based on some very flimsy and tenuous connections that aren't necessarily true.

It seems to me--given the thread beginning with the claim that "hey, in the old days we didn't have all these details on the sheet...I think they are the source of this problem I'm looking at"--the claim is being made that "skills/character detailing = broken mechanics/gamism before", when I'm looking and seeing "broken mechanics = gamism before" and nothing to do with the inclusion of skills or character detailing/power boundaries/expressed options and limits/etc. at all.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 23, 2009, 11:28:11 PM
Well, if character skills, power bounderies etc are chosen by a player before gameplay, and they are more significant in determining whether you win or lose than in game choices, then that is how character skills, power bounderies, etc etc strongly facilitate gamism before rather than gamism now. Because the player is choosing them before gameplay begins and they matter the most in terms of whether you win.

Though if the character skills, etc, didn't mean much towards the result of play, then it's true, they wouldn't matter much in determining whether it's a gamism before or gamism now game. I'll grant that.

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Quite honestly, "stat block" and "the rules mechanics" are two very, very clear and distinct things for me. Nowhere in a stat block does it say "roll a d20 plus modifiers and compare to AC" or "now subtract the results of your d8 from the HP". They are quite clearly to me "tools you have" (things in your stat block) and "things you do with the tools" (actions to which mechanics are applied).
I think your seeing more choice involved than there is? If I give you three options, one gives you fifty bucks and the other two give you one and two bucks respectively, do you have three options? No, it's an illusion of choice. Combat in D&D and other RPGs usually broke down to one superior choice - and thus there was no choice. You didn't have tools that you could choose to use, you were just playing out a statistical simulation where all the important choices were already made. There's not much point in distinguishing 'tools you have' and 'things you can do' when you have no choice about either. It's better to see it as the stat block vs stat block that it actually is.

I'm thinking either you always gameplay where what was the optimal choice was largely uncertain rather than a forgone conclusion, or you only thought you did. That's a hard thing to ponder.

Also, anyone remember progress quest (http://www.progressquest.com/)?


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: contracycle on May 23, 2009, 11:29:52 PM
I don't disagree that this is, at root, a mechanical issue, but you asked for examples of how the system, whether or not we refer to it as a "stat block", can disemplower the player.  Yes, I would agree that much of the problem is was implicit from the beginning, and I'm not entirely convinced that reverting to an earlier version would make the problem go away.

The question you asked, though, was not phrased as a contrast between mechanics and bloat of those mechanics; rather, you drew the comparison with a CCG and argued that however pre-designed the deck  was it did not deny player decision in play.  Thus, I was trying to illustrate ways in which the system can indeed deny such decision.

Has the subsequent bloat over the years made the problem worse?  I suspect so, especially when I see an example given of a starting character appearing with swords "of sharpness" - and, two of them no less.  The response to the problem that the system over-determines character action seems to have been to slather on yet another layer of determination.

The question of skills and stuff is less system specific, and I agree with the general point that if there is a "pit digging" skill in the rules, then by implication anyone without that skill trying to dig a pit would accrue some sort of unskilled penalty - however silly we may feel that is.  And therefore, it does tend to have a chilling effect on the kind of things players attempt to do.  You have pointed out that in the absence of skills there was a lot of GM fiat in play, and I agree with this too; I have no response to that except some sort of cheesy old "happy medium".


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 24, 2009, 09:34:28 AM
Well, if character skills, power bounderies etc are chosen by a player before gameplay, and they are more significant in determining whether you win or lose than in game choices, then that is how character skills, power bounderies, etc etc strongly facilitate gamism before rather than gamism now.

Completely agreed.

But here's my problem with the thread discussion: aren't ability scores and classes already a power boundary? Thus where does it end...at complete freeforming? I know you wouldn't claim that. Yet we can't just say "creating boundaries is bad" or "fewer boundaries are better". How few? What's the litmus test? Etc?

So how can it be a "back in the old days" vs. "in our games today" issue--as per the idea it seems the thread started with--when we're talking about something that has always been because of the fundamental design of the games in question?

Consider: high level gameplay in old D&D, or in similar combat systems, has always been about attrition. I don't think detail-creep has made this either any worse or any better.

That's what I'm trying to figure out.

I guess what I'm trying to get across is that I'm looking for acknowledgment that "you know, this isn't really about the old days versus today", or an argument that supports the original contention of "it is about the old days versus today" that accounts for the above.

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You didn't have tools that you could choose to use, you were just playing out a statistical simulation where all the important choices were already made. There's not much point in distinguishing 'tools you have' and 'things you can do' when you have no choice about either. It's better to see it as the stat block vs stat block that it actually is.

Complete disagreement with that characterization and conclusion. Might as well throw the baby out with the bathwater because the water is dirty and the baby is in it? Tools are still separate from mechanics, even if in play they are part of a statistical simulation created by both.

The problem, as someone noted up-thread, seems to be that this happens at higher levels. At lower levels, all sorts of tricksy things come into play for use by players in defeating their opponents. At lower levels, it isn't just an attrition game, and tactics (surprise, traps, minor combat bonuses, etc) matter in play, even if one is a dual-sword wielding combat powerhouse.

It seems: the nature of the stat block changes as the stat block passes a certain power-threshold in relation to the mechanics.

I don't disagree that this is, at root, a mechanical issue, but you asked for examples of how the system, whether or not we refer to it as a "stat block", can disemplower the player.  Yes, I would agree that much of the problem is was implicit from the beginning, and I'm not entirely convinced that reverting to an earlier version would make the problem go away.

Ok, I'm with you there, and I certainly agree about the last line.

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The question you asked, though, was not phrased as a contrast between mechanics and bloat of those mechanics; rather, you drew the comparison with a CCG and argued that however pre-designed the deck  was it did not deny player decision in play.  Thus, I was trying to illustrate ways in which the system can indeed deny such decision.

Ok, understood.

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And therefore, it does tend to have a chilling effect on the kind of things players attempt to do.

Well, that is one of the statements I disagree with based on personal observation of play over the years--though dependent on system design--but I do agree with this:

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You have pointed out that in the absence of skills there was a lot of GM fiat in play, and I agree with this too; I have no response to that except some sort of cheesy old "happy medium".


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 24, 2009, 12:05:07 PM
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Yet we can't just say "creating boundaries is bad"

Well, we can. Specifically we can say players deciding boundaries in advance of play, is bad for facilitating gamism now.

I think there's a bit of a blur here where your talking about putting in boundaries at all, but then using that as a support for the idea of players deciding boundaries. Presetting boundaries as a designer and players choosing boundaries (from a preset list) are quite different. I think obviously designers preset boundaries - but that doesn't say anything about players needing to decide any.

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So how can it be a "back in the old days" vs. "in our games today" issue
I don't know? Is it? I thought that was just hyperbole and just a way in which Jonathan was making his approach distinct? I mean, were looking at practical, get it to the game table tomorrow issues - the historical order of things just don't matter in terms of that. Atleast for myself I'm not interested in history for this thread (and wont be revising my memory of history based on this thread, if that's a concern)

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Complete disagreement with that characterization and conclusion. Might as well throw the baby out with the bathwater because the water is dirty and the baby is in it? Tools are still separate from mechanics, even if in play they are part of a statistical simulation created by both.
Well, I gave my reasoning for it but you've repeated your position without entering into those reasons.
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The problem, as someone noted up-thread, seems to be that this happens at higher levels. At lower levels, all sorts of tricksy things come into play for use by players in defeating their opponents. At lower levels, it isn't just an attrition game, and tactics (surprise, traps, minor combat bonuses, etc) matter in play, even if one is a dual-sword wielding combat powerhouse.
I think this may be veering off - your saying the problem is an attrition game, then saying it doesn't apply at low levels. I think we need to keep looking at player choices prior to play (if any) and player choices in play (if any) and which are more important toward winning.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Daniel B on May 24, 2009, 12:54:32 PM

Also, anyone remember progress quest (http://www.progressquest.com/)?


8-O

I just looked...  stat-block challenge incarnate.

.. must .. resist .. unreasonable urge .. to play ... aaaaargh!! ...


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 24, 2009, 05:11:17 PM
I have a level 64 enchanted motocycle mu-fu monk called Revalicious (http://www.progressquest.com/pemptus.php?name=revalicious). Her motto is "I will have revenge - then revenge+1...+2...+3..."...let me tell you about my character...

Noooo! But yeah, I'd also use that as the defintion of an absolute stat block challenge. And indeed it was made to parody mmorpg play, which appear to give choice but as with my 'always the same optimal choice' example from above, there really isn't a choice.

Jonathan, does progress quest sound a good example of an absolute stat block challenge? Apart from the automation, I mean, rather than people having to roll and add up manually to do the same thing.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 24, 2009, 06:11:12 PM

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So how can it be a "back in the old days" vs. "in our games today" issue
I don't know? Is it? I thought that was just hyperbole and just a way in which Jonathan was making his approach distinct? I mean, were looking at practical, get it to the game table tomorrow issues - the historical order of things just don't matter in terms of that. Atleast for myself I'm not interested in history for this thread (and wont be revising my memory of history based on this thread, if that's a concern)

Um…maybe I should say something or two here about the point of my thread, since we’re starting to get all crazy and stuff.  I’ve been down at the Seattle Folk Life Festival enjoying the sun and caring for an over-excited (and barfing) dog…sorry I haven’t had a chance to respond sooner.

In reading my initial post, it appears I had two main points:

1)   Recent readings of some of the Old School Renaissance forums (Grognardia, Odeforblackdougal, etc.) as well as threads on other “old school” forums has reminded me of an important difference between old D&D and more recent versions: what I called (perhaps in rather inflammatory fashion): "challenge the player, not the stat block."

2)   I enjoy that particular type of gamist play, and remembering it makes me want to get into an old school-type D&D game.

Now over the course of this thread, one could infer from my postings that I have a rather negative perspective of D20 D&D.  This is accurate.  There are a lot of things I initially liked about the game when it came out, but after actually playing the game (on multiple occasions) I have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work for me (i.e. it fails to satisfy) on a VARIETY OF DIFFERENT LEVELS…so much so that I’ve stopped playing it all together. AND I thought it may have soured me to D&D (the game) completely.

However, some of those things that I dislike about D20 I found difficult to articulate…until I found someone nailing it down for me in an old school blog.  And that’s the whole “challenge the player-thing."  

SO: great, now what? Here’s what:

a)   If I’m playing a game that is going to challenge me at all, (i.e. satisfy a gamist agenda), I want to be challenged IN PLAY.  Not before play. Period.  

b)   Old School games set a foundation for allowing players (not their characters…i.e. the numbers on the paper) to be challenged in play.  They do this in several ways but the two main ways are: fewer mechanic choices prior to play (random attributes, a limited equipment selection, no skills/feats/mixing classes during advancement, etc.), AND fewer rules stipulations during play (e.g. no skills, feats, monster “types,” limitations on magic, etc.) necessitating more improvisation, clever thinking, and innovation.  There are other ways Old School games do this, too (morale and reaction rules, for example), but these are secondary in my mind to the others.

c)   D20 games fail to provide the same sort of in play challenge by dint of too much definition (for lack of a better word to describe the intersection of extensive rules with extensive options).  For the most part, the game is “create the coolest character” prior to actual play.

Raven:  I’m not sure exactly what you mean when you write:

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again, I'm not seeing how that maps to skills and feats and ability scores ala a "stat block", things which don't have the level creep problem of hit points and combat (making skill checks doesn't or shouldn't become more difficult as your level rises) and which it seemed the thread was initially talking about.

(emphasis mine)

You must be playing a different version of D20 from myself…traps have challenge levels just like encounters, and difficulty ratings geared to what is approximately available to a character of a given level.  If I play a 10th level Rogue, I’m going to have a Find Traps skill of 13, plus or minus my appropriate attribute bonus and any additional feat/magic bonuses, assuming I have optimized my character for his “standard role.”  Any traps encountered on an adventure will be around DC 25, give or take 2 or 3 up/down depending on whether it is a “hard” or “easy” trap.  

All challenges in D20 are scaled this way!  From Spell saves and Dragon Breath to jumping or climbing!  Adventures are scaled based on character optimization.

Look at the pre-gen characters in D20 modules that have pre-gen characters…they are optimized for their standard roles.   What does this mean?  Well, assuming you “optimized” you’ve got about a 50-50 chance (give or take) to accomplish most tasks you encounter.  If you FAILED to optimize your character, you’ll be hard pressed to succeed in a D20 adventure (i.e. your “stat block” will be “losing” challenges).  If you min-maxed your character, you’ll be blowing through some challenges…and possibly failing miserably at others.

In the end, D20 (I assume version 4 as well, which seems even more like a "scaling video game” a la World of Warcraft to my eyes) is a game of meeting a challenge prior to game play (i.e. in between sessions or before the first adventure), and resource management (hit points, spells, limited use abilities, equipment) DURING game play.  

And in MY opinion that sucks.

But to each his or her own.  For me, I’m happy that I see there’s still a way to play D&D that’s fun and cool in a “gamist” way (for when I take a break from all these “Story Now” games I’ve been buying lately); I’d forgotten what Old School play was really like.  I am sorry WOTC/Hasbro has so royally f’d a good thing, and continue to do so by acquiring greater portions of RPG market share…but that’s NOT the point of this post.

Hey…and if anyone’s wondering what I hope to get out of this thread…not a blessed thing.  I posted to AP because I was reminded of some Actual Play from the past, and how it relates to game design, and so I posted it here ‘cause I guess I just wanted to share and maybe plug those Old School web sites for folks looking for something cool and kind of fun.

Oh…and by the way:  if you’ve had problems with “DM fiat” in the past, that’s a non-issue, in my opinion.  At some point, every game that has a GM will have a GM fiat at some point (even D20), and when it comes up, you’ve got to hope your GM plays fair.  If not, institute some sort of democracy-voting house rules or find a better GM.

And if you have a problem with creative problem solving in game…well, all I can say is that the mind is a muscle, and you might want to exercise it with some of these old school games. It WILL get stronger.

: )



Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 24, 2009, 06:17:33 PM

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Jonathan, does progress quest sound a good example of an absolute stat block challenge? Apart from the automation, I mean, rather than people having to roll and add up manually to do the same thing.

Sorry, Callan…cross-post (or I would have responded in the prior entry).

I’m not familiar with Progress Quest and I have no desire to download it if it IS a measure of stat block challenge (I don’t play Mafia on facebook, either).  But why try to “out-video-game a video game” with an RPG?  That’s a retarded waste of time.

I guess people want to do SOMEthing with those D20 books they spent money on.  Hey, at least they have pretty pictures and nice paper.  : )




Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Caldis on May 24, 2009, 08:29:43 PM
1)   Recent readings of some of the Old School Renaissance forums (Grognardia, Odeforblackdougal, etc.) as well as threads on other “old school” forums has reminded me of an important difference between old D&D and more recent versions: what I called (perhaps in rather inflammatory fashion): "challenge the player, not the stat block."

I'll just reiterate what I said earlier.  This isnt a difference in old D&D versus new D&D even though much of the talk about old school would have you believe it is.  This is an agenda clash because while many of the people who played D&D back in the old school time did play in that fashion many did not.  Stat blocks are irrelevant, if the game is about challenging the player then it is gamist if the game isnt about challenging the player then it's something else, there's no such thing as gamism before.  Stat blocks can be a resource the player can use to meet the challenges but its still the players challenge to try and utilize them effectively.  Or they can be used as descriptors of the world and we realize that a character with skill y should be able to handle challenge x in such a fashion, it's no longer in the players hand it's how the world works.

More detailed systems do provide more grounds for those trying to model a world to work with but it is still possible to challenge the player rather than the stats in such a system.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: greyorm on May 24, 2009, 09:26:20 PM
Well, we can. Specifically we can say players deciding boundaries in advance of play, is bad for facilitating gamism now.

"Fighter" is a boundary. "Wizard" is a boundary. Would I assume correctly you would say that is a design boundary rather than a player boundary? (IMO, that would be splitting some pretty fine theoretical hairs and I don't think (or see) there's a good line between them. Would you be willing to give a dictionary-style definition of a design-created boundary and a player-created boundary and the difference between them? Perhaps list some of each category?)

But let's say I decide my character is a war-priest who doesn't have access to healing spells. Or a one-handed thief who has penalties to picking locks. Maybe he's a clever merchant so I give him a bunch of high social skills. Or a cruel wizard with a thing for cooking weird foods. Are those player-created boundaries? Are the randomized stats a player-created randomized boundary per unique character (they seem to be)?

If so, I can't do any of that or it's "gamism before" because I'm deciding on boundaries before play, whether mechanical or presentational. And where would the challenge be if I don't set character boundaries before play? Are we going to freeform it and now my character can do anything/everything? What you are suggesting would be, to me, completely inimical to fun, to the challenge of gamism: utilizing the set of tools at one's disposal to overcome a particular challenge or set of challenges.

(It would seem instead to me, the fewer tools with which to solve a puzzle, the greater the challenge. The more boundaries you have, the more thinking is required. Which is what makes challenges fun.)

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Well, I gave my reasoning for it but you've repeated your position without entering into those reasons.

Is it my turn to say "what the fuck?" There were words after the statement that I disagreed with you, the part where I explained why I thought your reasoning was erroneous.

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I think this may be veering off - your saying the problem is an attrition game, then saying it doesn't apply at low levels. I think we need to keep looking at player choices prior to play (if any) and player choices in play (if any) and which are more important toward winning.

But let me try one last time to be clear about my point with attrition: someone else pointed out "attrition" is an example of the "gamism before" problem--the system making choices for the player--specifically, how it prevents game choices like making surprise checks. To which I noted that particular issue isn't a problem in low-level play and suggested there may be mechanical break-points where play moves from "gamism now" to "gamism before".

Exactly what you've said we should be doing: looking at player choices and which are important to stepping up to challenges in play.

Also note: I'm responding to the arguments others are putting forth. I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't try to change goalposts and say "well, that isn't actually important" when I ask a question about or make a contrary observation regarding the nature of those arguments. But that does clear at least one thing up: having read J's response above, all I can say at this point is you and he are presenting two different arguments.

That is really making for a messy thread, and trying to discuss those two arguments has done nothing but created confusion, as I respond to points in one argument, and have those points judged in the other argument. Maybe once these arguments are separated out, I'd discuss them further, but right now it is proving quite aggravating to juggle two very separate discussions.

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And if you have a problem with creative problem solving in game…well, all I can say is that the mind is a muscle, and you might want to exercise it with some of these old school games. It WILL get stronger.

...and given this kind of patronizing tone throughout--about old school games requiring more challenge and creativity, and the new school games somehow requiring less creativity--and going so far at this point to call me stupid without coming out and saying it. Honestly, wow. Not classy, J. Just not.

I'd honestly love to discuss the idea that fewer character detail choices before play and greater rule stipulations reduce creative choices and improvisation by the players (an idea I strongly disagree with based on my own experiences in play, but that I'd like to make sense of), because in two-and-a-half decades of play I haven't experienced at all the claimed lack of creative challenge or "gamism before" in new school versus old school games, having played both old school and new school games regularly (heck, I just finished a true old school D&D game with the kids, and am currently playing in new school 3E and CoC 6th games).

But I'm not keen on discussing anything when that twenty-plus years of gaming experiences are ignored and rudely dismissed when it doesn't fit into the scheme of someone else's new, untested, revealed pet theory proving how their favoritest game ever is really the betterest game ever. Forget it, guys, this swing towards a bullshit attitude of "edition wars" is not worth continued time. Seen way to much of that garbage in my time. I apologize, but feel free to carry on without me for this one until such time as that particular miasma clears.


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: LandonSuffered on May 24, 2009, 11:05:08 PM

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And if you have a problem with creative problem solving in game…well, all I can say is that the mind is a muscle, and you might want to exercise it with some of these old school games. It WILL get stronger.

...and given this kind of patronizing tone throughout--about old school games requiring more challenge and creativity, and the new school games somehow requiring less creativity--and going so far at this point to call me stupid without coming out and saying it. Honestly, wow. Not classy, J. Just not.

Sorry, if I gave offense...that was not aimed at you in particular, Raven (more than one person commenting on this thread has stated they "don't like riddles/puzzles.").

I would like to say for the record, that one of the things that initially drew me to D20 D&D was the creative potential inherent in the character creation process.  I had a Dwarf Rogue/Duelist, a Wild Elf Barbarian, a Halfling Paladin, and a Gnomish Fighter...all cool characters that were "outside the box" and very neat.  But the game play itself...well, it didn't feel nearly as tasty, once the game was underway.

That duelist particulary...I had to work that guy from 1st level on up to have a swashbuckling dwarf, and I made great use of Tumble and Bluff (for feints, etc.).  But it was boring and mechanical after awhile...the fun was in plotting the class, feat, and skill selection, NOT in actually using the classes, feats, and skills.  Again, challenge prior to play, not in play.

Oh, well...I stated what the point of my post was, and it was not supposed to devolve into "edition wars," but I see that it has and I bear full responsibility for that...I used what I don't like about one game to illustrate what I do like about a different one.  I was rather hoping this thread could turn into a discussion about WAYS to challenge players in play (with examples from other readers Actual Play history), or even ways to incorporate player challenge into game design (since I see the Forge as a place to discuss design and theory).  But I suppose it would be easier to start a new thread on that particular topic then to continue on this one where there's been four pages of argument.









Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Callan S. on May 25, 2009, 01:30:42 AM
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I was rather hoping this thread could turn into a discussion about WAYS to challenge players in play (with examples from other readers Actual Play history), or even ways to incorporate player challenge into game design
I've tried out rolling a d12 not only for its number, but to try and hit a small cardboard target. And, so embaressing, I think I put some miss chance on the roll - imagine hitting the target and being told you missed! So silly. But outside of that, that was fun.

Also another time rather than the player, as GM I determined monsters on the map, then I had to throw a dice (always throwing them, aren't I?) into a bowl from a distance, otherwise the designated monster didn't show up. Kind of challenging the player semi directly with my own throwing skill, there :)

In terms of narrations that might win - I'm skeptical about always thinking people are syncronised imaginatively enough to do that. I mean, did the guy make the wrong move, or do both player and GM simply think in different ways? (and isn't it good for us to think differently, to begin with - thus something we aught to expect given we think it's good?) So I always think you should get some bonus for just trying a narration, because the mutual thinking that it would have made it work, might not be there in that particular instance. Though this always seems to be tricky ground to talk about - people always seem to think of, what appears to me to be non mutual thought, as an error on the part of the other.

If you start a new thread, I might cut and paste this over, if that's okay?


Title: Re: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 25, 2009, 07:39:42 AM
This might surprise everyone, but I think it's been a pretty good thread. I do think everyone who contributed should look back and see how or whether he misinterpreted or reacted strongly to what someone else posted, and remember that no one initially responds rationally as soon as the words "old school play" or "original D&D" or anything similar. The key is not to go with one's initial reaction in responding, nor even with the second reaction which typically rationalizes the emotions as arising from some tone or implication in the post.

Let's close it here and head for the new thread when it starts, started by whoever wants. Callan, I'm sure your final post will do well there, or if you want, let that even be the new thread-start if that makes sense for what you want.

Best, Ron