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Title: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 11, 2011, 07:56:19 AM
Fruitful, fruitful lies.

Let's see. It's our first real session, after a session of character creation and a bit of fumbling. I'm GMing. Meg's playing Van Joost, a dwarf. Sam's playing Brother Leobald, a cleric. Rob's playing Leike, a halfling. And Eppy's playing Brom, a magic user.

Our heroes land at a tiny stockade colony on the shore of the New World. I take my lead from Vance and provide them with more hooks and clues than they can possibly use, and some pretty good reasons to depart and/or overthrow the place. A vampire who visits the children's bunkhouse. The cursed pelt of the Wne Gikw Wakw. The colony fathers, who insist upon a policy of good order and, in return for an honest day's grueling labor, offer a generous least-share of the colony's annual increase, plus a cot in the men's bunkhouse and twice daily meals of boiled grain-kernels and salted rabe. The Warranawankong, who gather at night up the beach, where they toast crustaceans and mollusks and drink fermented tree sap and sing. Lost Vikano-dwarfish gold. The trappers' camp. Matthew Luke and Phillip, the three Mioonkhtuck who were "elected" by their people to convert to Christianity and join the colony to see if that life has anything better to offer than their own.

Now with Phillip to lead them they've departed the compound, following Brother Leobald on his utter fool's mission to spread the Word of Our Lord to the Rechgawawanc, who share their forest home with cannibal giants. It was a toss-up between them and the Mioonkhtuck, who, in the words of Phillip, "lead peaceful though benighted lives, and only rarely eat the brains of our enemies."

So that's a world of fun.

But the lies:

Before we started, I had a whole different vision for how the game would go. I expected and wanted something weird-horror-historical, straight up, with the sort of consistent moral underpinning that'd make it horror, you know? Where it's not just the players who judge whether letting a vampire eat your children is a moral failing, it's me, and it's the game world's conceptual structure (or something, I'm just making this up). Where a vampire is by nature a creature of moral failing, like it would be in Dogs in the Vineyard. I wanted a more adult, bloodier and scarier, more perilous version of my game Storming the Wizard's Tower, for those of you who know that game.

I believed - and still believe! - that this expectation of mine was well-warranted by the game's GMing text.

But then we sat down to make characters, and ... I dunno. I remarked to Eppy toward the end of character creation that I hadn't expected all this implicit Vance. I regarded it as a big problem, a betrayal, a complete undermining of my prepped enthusiasm. Where I thought and believed that the game's GMing text had oriented me to its rules, it hadn't. It had put me in tension with them instead! They weren't going to give me what I'd hoped for, at all, and the only way for me to reconcile my expectations with the reality of the rules was to go all frickin' Vance with it. The moral underpinning has to go out the window, to be replaced by an ironic and cynical relativism antithetical to straight-up gritty weird historical horror. I was discouraged and pretty mad.

If you ask me to point to the particular betrayal in the rules, that I noticed during character creation and pegged as "implicit Vance," I won't be able to do it. I just remember that slow uncomfortable realization that I'd signed up for something I hadn't signed up for. Maybe I'd still get to have my child-eating vampire or whatever, but I sure wouldn't get my precious system-supported, setting-supported moral outrage.

Then I remembered how much I love Vance, of course, and how much I'd enjoy trying to channel him, and just how much fun his ironic, cynical relativism is. So now it's great.

Anyway, I think that's pretty interesting. When I played Moldvay D&D a few years ago, I could just fill in its spaces with what I wanted to do, but somehow the mis-orientation of Lamentation's GMing text to its actual rules left me with only the one fruitful way to go.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Judd on October 11, 2011, 11:57:42 AM
Vincent, could you explain how the system supports moral outrage?

Its surprising that you mention being surprised by the Vance in this game because lately it has occurred to me that I enjoy dungeon crawling in a D&D style more when the Tolkien inspirations are dialed WAY down and the weirder elements of Leiber and Vance are dialed way, way up.  When I've mentioned this to friends online, they've pointed me at LotFP and I was planning on picking it up when I had a few bucks.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 11, 2011, 12:29:33 PM
That's an interesting reaction to the text. I think it's illustrative that when I read the GMing text in LotFP, I came to it from a heavily opinionated gamist perspective, expecting the text to either fail or redeem as a treatment on how to reconsile player freedom, GM preparation and the sort of drastic consequences (party death) that D&D is known for. I was reading it in the context of D&D and my own research on refereed adventure gamism, with the outcome that I didn't get any moral underpinnings from it at all - there was some noise about horror in the arrangement, but it all seemed to me just some arbitrary aesthetics that by itself has no bearing upon the procedures of old school D&D at all. In fact, for me the most important bits of the GMing instructions were the spots where the aesthetic procedures conflict against traditional D&D materials: when Jim writes about how greenskins need to be replaced with human aboriginals and how there should be no such things as generic magic items, those are the important principles that latch onto the changes he made to the rules to produce the LotFP-style grim and true-to-life D&D.

Insofar as it matters, I agree with Jim wholeheartedly about the aesthetic direction he's attempting in there for D&D: he's creating a D&D that does not involve mechanical inflation as the systemic basis, and trying to remove the stylistic conventions from stakes and consequences encountered by the player characters, enabling a more natural flow of events without all the cruft that's built up on D&D fantasy, distancing it from its literary antecendents. The "weird fantasy" program is, I understand, primarily his way of deciphering these structural goals of setting up the game - as is often the case with roleplaying gamers, he's discussing literary style as a shorthand for actual play-impacting procedures. It's sort of the same thing you get with the various official D&D campaign settings, where it's implicitly expected that swapping orcs for vampires in Ravenloft will make the players play with more moral gravity.

The game you describe, by the way, seems to be Dread - it does that moral-center-lies-with-the-GM thing just about perfectly, I find. Looking the LotFP text over now I do see the spots you mean, stuff about imposing gravitas upon the players. I have to admit that I just about ignored all that when reading the book for my own purposes, being as how I was so deep into my own discourse upon D&D's nature at the moment - it was easy to pin-point the bits that would be irrelevant to how I understand D&D, that were only there to fulfill the traditional requirements of what you should write about when writing GMing texts. I was reading with the conviction that I had a funnily-named D&D text in my hands, so interpreted my reading in that light.

But yeah, I agree with your ultimate conclusion - there's no moral underpinning to LotFP, and the horror thing is just aesthetic color on what is essentially a brutally challenge-oriented fine-tuning of Mentzer D&D. The horror is not entirely insignificant in that it impacts the nature of the situations the player characters end up in, but that's not theme at all, it's just campaign logistics: instead of having monster-slaying be a routine occupation in the setting, it's "horror", meaning that nobody in the setting does it except the player characters, who go to the dark places and experience the horror others won't acknowledge. The horror thing has more to do with how you frame your challenge set-ups within the campaign setting than with anything thematic and personally meaningful for anybody.

I've read about other people coming to the game with the expectation that it'd be a horror game of some sort, and it is a fair assumption based on much of the marketing - the back cover text, particularly, which Jim wrote in the traditional RPG author bullshit mode, insofar as I understand, but also the illustrations and such. While people coming to the game with the expectation that it's part of the on-going D&D discussion don't seem to get confused with it, it would probably have been better overall to have the text be more clear about how all that fluff is still for the purpose of coloring an amoral universe where scruples are something your character gets the luxury of by first being a success. Old school D&D, in other words, just with an aesthetic program and a chip on its shoulder about character advancement.

--

Regarding your campaign, an unrelated question occurs to me out of curiousity: how comfortable are you with the demihuman PC races as a part of your setting? I'm asking because it's a prominent place where Jim was rather light-handed in revising Mentzer; considering his aesthetic program, I'd have scuttled the lot myself, and other people (Jim included) have said as much. It's not impossible to do the demihuman thing without being awfully cheesy, I think (see my recent favourite Anomalous Subsurface Environment (http://henchmanabuse.blogspot.com/2011/06/dungeon-module-ase1-is-for-sale.html) for an example), but at least for me it takes some active work to visualize how my setting needs to be to handle these forehead-swap aliens walking about.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 11, 2011, 03:21:02 PM
Hey, Judd, Eero, if I say this following, are you both with me? I expect so:

Moral questions and answers can create fun tactical texture in Step On Up play the same way that tactical questions and answers can create fun moral texture in Story Now play.

An example of the latter: does being able to seize the throne make you a better king? An example of the former: does being a good king make you better able to seize the throne?

For Lamentations of the Flame Princess, I'm all about moral questions and answers creating fun tactical texture in Step On Up play. That's unchanged, that was always my plan.

I was expecting it to go one particular way: I'd create a horror, meaning a moral outrage dressed up in gaudy gory imagery, and the PCs' righteousness, or compromise, or fear, or desperation would create fun tactical texture. Their response to the horror is would be up to them, of course, but fundamentally they'd identify it as a moral outrage, right? Because it would be one.

It turns out it's going a different way: instead, I create a system of cowardly, self-serving banalities dressed up in gaudy gory imagery, and the PCs' indifference to it or engagement with it - again, totally up to them - creates fun tactical texture. I present the child-killing vampire and they shrug and go off with Phillip and Brother Leobald, and they're not allowing a moral outrage to stand, the way the would be in the game I imagined. They're simply affirming the immutable nature of the world, which is that generally one selfish creature is able to assert itself upon another, to the detriment of the latter.

I don't know if this is making sense! I don't know if it's making sense at all.

I'll come back and answer about the demihuman races, though. That'll be more concrete.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Callan S. on October 11, 2011, 04:17:16 PM
Quote
where scruples are something your character gets the luxury of by first being a success.
In something like riddle of steel, you have the spiritual attributes. I imagine in LOTFP you can accumulate money, the better weapons and armour and perhaps even magic.

So it's possible to read that progression as an empowerment like spiritual attributes empower whatever character principles. To read it that the gold you took after killing is also an out of game nod of encouragement towards play that questions that killing.

But it's also possible to read it as you might read chess. I'm thinking of a player in some D&D 4E encounters I've played in who actually says he sets out to make a broken ranger (and by gosh, it outputs some high damage numbers!). Such a thing always strikes me as being like a scar upon the fictional landscape. Not so much because I give a shit whether it's just played like chess, but presumably the player is attracted by the fiction to some degree. So he's attracted to the fiction, but he makes things within it that are devoid of fiction - thus creating a scar against, apparently, his very own pursuit. I can almost imagine this scar simply traveling about the sense of bad and even good things in the game world, moral outrages, whatever, and tearing them all to dust and tinder as a set of numbers pursues the accumulation of more numbers, making one long scar through it all. Kind of an avatar of nihilism. Great damage output, though. ;)

I'd consider whether LOTFP can just as easily slip into the latter, for any given player, due to mechanical structure, and also due to mechanical structure, that'll just seem to be how you play to that player. There wont be any moral texture to it all from the perspective they are mechanically sat in by the rules, even if you try real hard as a GM or even as fellow player. Just numbers, some higher, some lower, some ambiguous.

Quote
but at least for me it takes some active work to visualize how my setting needs to be to handle these forehead-swap aliens walking about.
Perhaps fly the idea at the game table of humans as also being demihumans themselves? No one gets to be the one, definite, true race, even though every race thinks they are.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 11, 2011, 05:12:07 PM
Conveniently, nobody chose to play an elf, so THAT's good. I can say "sure, you've heard stories about elves," and leave it at that. When somebody decides to play an elf we can figure it out then, or maybe I'll decide to bring one in as an encounter sometime.

Some number of generations ago there was a dwarfish diaspora across Northern Europe. I suppose that the original dwarfish kingdom was under the mountains somewhere; why they all abandoned it, I haven't considered. Now dwarfs are integrated into human society, more or less, keeping their own ancestral customs and adopting local customs in the mix that seems best to them case by case. Thus our heroes can come upon a 500-year-old Vikano-dwarfish bedstead ornament of cast gold in the New World. Meg plays Van Joost as practical and worldly.

Halflings live apart from humans and dwarfs in their little aboriginal pastoral villages, under sod roofs and in the roots of giant trees, in remote places throughout Europe. They've been here longer than anybody except maybe the elves, but we don't know about the elves. Rob plays Leike as wide-eyed.

There's no such thing as species in this world (as our heroes will learn most concretely if they go hang out with the Warranawankong, but shh don't tell them) so it's not saying much to say that humans, halflings, dwarfs and probably elves are all ultimately the same kind of critter.

So I'm finding the demihumans fun and nonproblematic!

Callan, your thing about a chesslike approach to play may or may not apply to Lamentations sometimes, I don't know, but it's off the mark for this game.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 11, 2011, 06:13:31 PM
The bit about moral basis being a part of the tactical landscape makes sense to me. When we've been playing D&D lately, the moral core of the activity has sometimes been part of the goals ("Can I make it in this fucked-up world without descending into iniquity?"), sometimes part of the means ("Wow, look at how much easier it is for me to get the gold by being nice once in a while!"), sometimes a part of the consequences ("Hey, who knew I'd get in trouble by being an asshole.") and so forth. In a sense being a paladin is its own reward, because it's the iron man mode of play in my conception of the game: your choice of playing the heroic type is not rewarded in any way by the game, except in that you can say that you've hacked with the best of 'em, and you're good enough to make it look good, too.

D&D (and LotFP, being as how it has that same die-for-your-stupidity-and-money-is-its-own-reward thing to it) truly is an utterly cynical world, I recognize that unwillingness on the part of the players to play the hero; it's not encouraged by anything in the system, and it can so easily become an unneeded difficulty that it's no surprise the players will most of the time gladly play immoral opportunists. Their characters will still do the right thing when presented with the easy opportunity, but the gravity of the risks in baldly refereed D&D is enormous; it's one of the few games where I've ever seen a player balk at doing the heroic thing when given the chance, when the same player will always take that option in your average narrativist game. The combination of random mechanics leading to random death for the brave ones and an uncaring universe does that. The long-term consequence seems to be that the characters who choose the high road are vivid exceptions (or quickly dying naive ballast), and when the characters achieve heroism the GM doesn't keep back from celebrating it - the one time in ten sessions when the characters actually manage to help somebody, they better be able to enjoy it in terms of fictional color and positioning.

It's pretty easy to sympathize with the 2nd edition D&D developers who wanted to make the game more clearly support underlying morality in how it was played. It might not be far-fetched to interpret the softer and nicer GMing approaches with this need for moral validation; there's a lot more room for vicarious chivalry in a game where the GM actually acknowledges it and plays fast and loose with the rules to make sure the errant knight actually gets, if not the girl, at least an honorable death. The OSR stuff I've been considering lately is quite opposite in this regard, the GM in most of that will never give an inch - you live or you die by the dice and your decisions, and the only chivalry in this world is the one you bring to it yourself. In that sort of context player characters almost have to be neutral opportunists to begin with, and the players have to downplay moral absolutism; to do otherwise would be to constantly focus on how mediocre, powerless and mean our own characters are. We've only gotten some characters to third level, but I can already see how the players loosen up and are willing to have their characters take more moral stances when they start feeling like they're a force to be reckoned with - a third-level character in my campaign has enough freedom and security to afford chivalry, one might say.

I think that reading Ravenloft material from the 2nd edition era might be an interesting counterpoint to your campaign experience. There's a lot of different and diffuse ideas in there, and a lot of it is blatantly dramatic in nature, but often you can see it sort of attempt to get to the place where moral absolutism becomes a tactical concern. It's a difficult conundrum, as you can't really convince a player to put his character (and interest to play) on the line with moral constraints unless you also back him up by guaranteeing him some respect and support for that choice; how to do that without going over the line and starting to ensure that the good guys win all the time?


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Judd on October 12, 2011, 01:45:40 AM
Vincent, you lost me but that is fine.  I'll watch the thread, marinate and ask questions later.

Thanks.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: James_Nostack on October 12, 2011, 06:03:38 AM
Hi Vincent,

I'll broadly agree with Eero.  In the OSR, Lamentations has cred as a nice hack of Moldvay/Cook, but I don't think anyone regards its "spoooooooky" stuff as much more than flavor text. 

D&D does not easily lend itself to moralistic horror stories.  The rules of the game directly reward getting rich and, if necessary, killing whoever gets in your way.  As an emergent property it encourages operating from a position of overwhelming tactical advantage.  These are shitty moral values if taken seriously: in the real world, they would be the values of a psychopath.  Therefore Vance's sense of irony as a method of detachment.

What D&D does do fairly well is "lousy human beings get devoured one by one as they panic, and serves them right" type horror stories.  If you present a creepy room in a dungeon, and the players sense the danger but can't bring themselves to leave it alone, then there is at least a sense of dread.  Maybe if you establish that all of the characters are scumbags, that might provide a moral framework for the carnage that follows...?


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 12, 2011, 06:49:02 AM
Hi Vincent,

As an intellectual issue, I am having a little trouble with the term "lies." I want to let that statement sit quiet for now, maybe to be addressed later.

The crux point for your experience seems to me to have been right at substantive character creation. You had a vision, or an aesthetic, or whatever we want to call it, in your head; character creation occurred, and you found that vision to be inconsistent with the raw tools-of-the-trade, i.e., the characters and their evident purpose at the player-use level.

I think you can probably see how my old, incomplete Color-first project is implicated here. That project sought to examine how goals of play and rewards of play were given shape through character creation, and what information was necessary - and differed - from game to game regarding that exact process.

Therefore I really, really would like to know about the following.

1. What precise information were the players working with regarding "what this game is about"?

2. What steps did they go through to make their characters, in terms of both (i) the literal step-by-step instructions and (ii) socially, the extent to which it was overseen by you?

3. What exactly were the characters as they emerged, i.e., what and who were they, right there on paper?

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 12, 2011, 07:31:41 AM
James (and Eero):

Huh, well.

In Lamentations' GMing text, I see very definite statements about horror and the weird, including strong systemic support (like not including monster writeups), and I see no emphasis on dungeon crawling at all. So I'm running it as a horror-and-the-weird game, with few or no dungeons. So far it's perfectly suited, as I expected! All that's surprised me is how insistently it's brought the Vance out in me and my NPCs.

Now, that's in me and my NPCs, not in the players or their PCs. I don't know how to say this strongly enough. There's no sign yet of the PCs being psychopaths or scumbags, and maybe one or another of them will turn out to be, individually, but I really don't see any systemic pressure toward it in the game. Unlike my NPCs, I expect the PCs to, mostly, have real compassion and a sound sense of justice.

Most concretely, they don't get XP for treasure they've gained by criminal enterprise, only by adventuring. This is such a clear statement! It gives the PCs this impulse away from the lazy self-interest that, lacking it, nature and I give every NPC in the world.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 12, 2011, 09:01:42 AM
Ron:

Yes.

1. Who knows! Maybe half of them had read the game individually and brought their own conclusions about it with them. I said "I have this historical weird horror game I've been wanting to design, see if Lamentations does it so I don't have to, yeah?" I also said "don't expect dungeons," and pointed out the picture in the book of the PCs talking to the farmers where we the audience can see a disemboweled body hanging in the barn.

2 & 3. We met to create characters and made them out loud, in public. The step-by-step is quick: roll some stats, choose a class, derive some derived stats, buy your crap. I brought a name list. I said "if magic has been a big part of your life before now, choose chaotic alignment; if you're a priest or nobility, choose lawful alignment; otherwise, choose neutral."

I oversaw lightly. At this point, I believed that I was well-oriented to the rules, and that the process of character creation would put the players in the same orientation - that's how I design my own games, after all! So as character creation proceeded, and the players asked questions that I didn't expect them to care about and began to form shared backstory that I didn't expect them to want, I was surprised. I free-associated halflings' place in the world for Rob, and deferred to Meg about dwarfs' place in the world; that was fine. I blinked dumbly at Eppy when he said that his character was a bearded lady magic user who'd been kept locked up in a tower by her father, also a wizard, until quite recently. That was ALL wrong, but I'd clearly already pre-allowed it. If I was going to impose limits on character creation, I should have thought them through in advance and said them up front.

Then there was this funny piece where Evan said "my guy's a sailor!" and as a group they decided they had a ship, but I was like "have you looked up how much a ship costs? It's in there," so Evan decided that he was a shipwrecked sailor who'd just washed up on the beach and at the same time everyone else decided that they'd all just signed on a ship, which left Evan frowning and scratching his head. Ultimately, with some fumbling around about the voyage, I just grabbed it and said that they were arriving at the New World on this miserable little ship, and they could suck it up. The New World it is.

Oh, this is significant! I'd envisioned characters who were down and out, kind of desperate, hungry, but the game gave them money and weapons and allowed them (by pure default) to create their own non-desperate starting circumstances.

3. Briefly:

Meg's dwarf Van Joost. He's rich and has kind of a lot of crap, because Meg rolled high for starting cash and dwarfs enjoy encumbrance advantages. Meg plays him like I say practical and worldly, with an agreeable but firm personality.

Sam's cleric Brother Leobald. He's an older man who's come to the new world to preach God's word and stamp out sin - he's let on that he's seeking truly unusual sins to stamp out, the usual kind don't do it for him anymore. As a cleric he gets to cast only one spell a day, and he has to choose it in advance, but he can choose from all the cleric spells.

Eppy's magic user Brom. She's a bearded young woman passing for a man, quite tall and robust, with chain mail and a sword and one spell a day. (Eppy: "I rolled perfect stats for a fighter, so I'm making a magic user. It makes for a poor magic user, but it's the only way one can survive level 1!" I don't know if he's right about that. He might be.) She also gets to cast only one spell a day, chosen in advance, but Eppy had to roll to see which 3 spells she could choose from each day. He was happy to get sleep and charm, and I forget the third.

Rob's halfling Leike. She's a teenager, but so small physically that I've decided that my NPCs will take her for a child. Halflings are good at bushcraft and stealth and stuff. Rob made up a backstory about how she's been driven from her home because she has a disease that only halflings get, but I'm ignoring it. If they meet more halflings I'll have to decide what I think about it, but they probably won't.

Even created a specialist sailor whose name and details I don't recall, and dropped out before the first session. He dropped out for grad school reasons that aren't suspicious, but I wouldn't care if they were. We're joking that I have a pool going for who drops out of the game in which order and how soon, and we're a little surprised that Evan dropped out before Rob did, but it's not all the way a joke. The truth is that I'm playing this game entirely for my own entertainment, so no questions asked and no hard feelings for anybody who ditches for any reason.

I can't have answered your questions all the way. Help me out?

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Callan S. on October 12, 2011, 02:37:06 PM
Quote
Callan, your thing about a chesslike approach to play may or may not apply to Lamentations sometimes, I don't know, but it's off the mark for this game.
I suppose I'm looking at psychology upon contact with whatever rules/structure/material is there, given the noted dissonance between GM text and rules/structure. Given that the two examples I gave are wildly different and yet would feel perfectly normal and "How you play" to the individual, the whole Vance style of play may just as much be another wild tangent as well, and yet, just as much as with the others, feel perfectly normal, the status quo and "How you play".


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: James_Nostack on October 12, 2011, 07:29:02 PM
Hi Vincent, I may have misread you before so I'm just checking to see if I've got this right:

So the problem is that char-gen let you down as a DM because the process didn't really orient the players to the type of Weird Horror stuff you had in mind?  Like, their questions and ways they built their characters didn't take the moral dimension of Weird Horror role-playing sufficiently into account . . . and when you realized they were oriented all wrong, it was an "Aw, fuck it, let's just do Vance" type of moment?

Looking over the Lamentations of the Flame Princess character-creation rules, it looks almost exactly like D&D, except that there's a bit of flavor text associated with each class.  Did the players get to read that flavor text?  The stuff for the Fighter and Magic-User in particular at least hint at what the game is going for, atmospherically.  But without that, it just looks like the creation rules would lead to a standard D&D sandbox with a creepy atmosphere, a custom Thief class, and some easy-to-use encumbrance rules.  Getting Weird Horror would probably require a stronger hand from the DM.

Have you read Death Frost Doom?  I haven't, but it's widely regarded as one of Raggi's better efforts and an example of what he was hoping Lamentations of the Flame Princess would lead to.



Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 13, 2011, 05:05:31 AM
Callan: Maybe, but what other people might find normal isn't on point.

James: Ah, good! No, not quite that, but close.

Character creation, not my pre-play musing, is the real start of the game. Character creation revealed to me that my pre-play musing was just musing, that I was the one oriented all wrong. I grasped at the time, and then it because quite clear over the next couple of days, that what was missing from my orientation was the Vance.

There's no "aw, fuck it, let's just..." for me trying to do Vance. This game so far is some of the best situation creation I've ever done!

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 13, 2011, 08:43:43 AM
Hi Vincent,

The discussion may have proceeded past the point where my comments are relevant, but I'll dissect out the issues I had in mind when I posted.

Let's list the possible input into the preparation-into-play step of role-playing. I wish we had a name for this step - it's the moment when genuine committed imagined input is entering the dialogue, but before "the fiction" has started. It's rarely formalized in rulebooks, but as far as I can tell, it's the single most determinant moment of how well play will proceed. Exactly how it relates to character creation is terra incognita, at present.

Inputs:

A - The person who's "running things," often associated with the tasks of GMing and hence "the GM," as he or she relates to the instructions for play. Note, rarely the instructions for preparation; as I see it, instructions for preparation are rarely read and typically poorly read when they are. Nor is character creation widely understood as itself a significant portion of preparation.

B - Everyone else, receiving instruction from that person. This is not the same as their reading of the instructions, mainly because they hardly ever do, and even if they do, preferring to defer their understanding until the person above presents their version of it.

C - Simultaneously, everyone else (same people as above), internally interacting with actual instructions as received in any way. This is different from the above because they receive those instructions and internally interpret them distinctively relative to whatever expectations and desires they're bringing to the table at the moment. Those expectations and desires are deeply entwined with, perhaps even mainly determined by, experiences with similar games, with "similar" being any perceived identity regardless of actual content. This whole effect is exponentially more important whenever the words "D&D" are involved in any way, as they are here.

It should be clear that unless the group as a whole, not simply one person as director or leader, buys into shared Color as the fundamental starting ground state, that things can go extremely awry extremely silently.

Let's see what happened in your case and how what actually happened differs sharply from your own account of it in your first post.

1. You developed a strong Color orientation through the presentation and pictures of the text, "strong" meaning relevant toward the goals of play and a corresponding image of what starting characters would look like. Apparently this did not come from the rules, but from the descriptive prose and pictures.

2. You began interacting with the players as you described: (i) not summarizing your interpretation of the Color, but (ii) expecting them to arrive at it both through their own readings in some cases, through your name list, and through your presentation of a picture. Perhaps you expected the phrase "no dungeons" to play the role of (i), but I think it turned out to be a non-informative statement.

3. You all conducted character creation. Here, I have to bust out some very specific things, some of which strike me as doomed (in terms of generating a shared Color foundation).

i) You said "the rules" influenced the players to come up with something different from what you had in mind, but I don't think it was the rules except in a minor sense. I think what they had in mind, individually, comes from my C, above. The stated rules were consistent enough with what they had in mind to be folded directly into those expectations and desires. And what those expectations and desires were, as far as I can tell, never received any air time - especially not at the moment they should have, in a dedicated talking-space just prior to the first formal steps of character creation.

ii) You seem to have played zero role in contributing to character creation decisions. Perhaps this is an artifact of talking about Apocalypse World all the time, in which the need to do so is absent because the possible characters are locked down so tightly. For some reason, though, you're explicitly calling out the book as responsible for the fact that you treated your own role at this time as merely "catcher," i.e., they say it, so I guess that's what I'll GM. In other words, the words, "Eppy, that character is totally out of bounds given what I conceived and anticipated in playing with you," never left your lips. I can't see how the book can be responsible for that.

iii) Is it possible that certain OSR standards for being "Gygaxian," in terms of the exact steps of character creation, are indeed a problem, insofar as they serve as an irresistible template for people's C and therefore override any other means of generating a shared Color standard? This experience cannot answer that, as the group didn't do anything to work toward such a standard.

So that's probably enough for discussing at the moment, although I do have some more thoughts kicking around in my head about it.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 13, 2011, 10:00:23 AM
Oh yeah, one more point that really struck me.

Putting aside the lies issue, and identifying what you're describing simply as a discrepancy between your personal imagery (relevant for play, not mere Color) and that of the other people, how in the world can anyone describe it as fruitful?

Flat fact: you sat down to "play this game" and you didn't get to do it. You had to play another game. The fact that you found the other game to be a viable alternative with virtues of its own is not relevant. I'm looking at the first two sentences of this paragraph - why or how can you consider this a fruitful phenomenon? To me, it's a mega-fail.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 13, 2011, 11:07:51 AM
Oh.

That's a break point, yeah, but I'm on the other side of it. I don't think that the game I didn't get to play is the real or interesting game. I surely don't need a thread about it.

I don't have any objection to anything you said! You've described the creative abortion of that game perfectly well.

But the reason I say "fruitful" is because I'm looking back from the point of view of the real game I'm actually playing and enjoying! If there's any earthly reason to examine my expectations before play, or our creatively difficult* character creation session, it's from this point of view, not the other.

* "Extremely awry, extremely silently," yes.

So the story of the game I'm actually playing is, I went away discouraged, thwarted, but then I got one of those subtle-but-thorough changes in perspective, and it brought the shared color we did have into place as a (potential) foundation, while also showing me how to create really hot situations with little effort. This is exciting! This is what I'm here to talk about.

Here's a thing I can maybe say. That moment you wish had a name? At the very beginning of the first real session, I said some concrete color things about longboats coming out to meet the ship, and the furs they were carrying, and how they traded the fur for the passengers to take to the beach. Then I opened the live fiction with the characters stepping off the longboats into thigh-deep water and wading to shore - but I think that moment of setup was significant beyond simple framing. If nothing else, I stepped forward with my own confidence in our ability to create, share and commit.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: David Berg on October 13, 2011, 11:32:24 PM
Are you sticking to your original contention of "the GM text gave me good reason to expect Weird Historical Horror" or not?

If so, perhaps an instruction, "GM, guide char-gen with what you've learned here, as the char-gen rules are mute on it," is what's missing?

I've been curious about this game for a while, with a mixture of hope that the GM text would provide vital tools and dread that it'd be irrelevant.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: C. Edwards on October 13, 2011, 11:55:48 PM
I've always felt that the unforgiving and hostile universe presented through the older versions of the D&D rules really highlight and lend gravity to any attempted acts of heroism as well as create a wonderful environment for moral drama. As in the real world, minimizing risk, maximizing profit,  and accruing power and influence seem to be the most logical goals. But we're not purely creatures of logic. So even the most hardened mercenary/logical player can find their passions inflamed by some situation in the game. I imagine that the focus on color/situations of weird horror in LotFP will really benefit that aspect of play to a much greater degree than an average dungeon crawl.

Unforgiving, hostile universe as the ultimate fruitful void.

High level play tends to alter that as PC's start to resemble mythical heroes more than human beings.

Rampant character mortality is definitely not for everyone though, and I would guess that the next person to drop out will be the player of the first character that dies.

Out of curiosity, Vincent, I get the impression that old school D&D wasn't a formative part of your rpg experiences?


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 14, 2011, 07:08:29 AM
Hi Vincent,

I'm not intellectually satisfied with your responses to one of the issues I've mentioned.

It is this: you cannot reasonably claim that because you shifted to "plan B," and that plan B was in fact enjoyable for you, that the circumstances of the plans A/B disconnect were somehow productive.

This is why I talked about dissecting out the issues. One issue is what the source of the disconnect was. You initially talked about this in terms of rules and text, but the discussion has at least opened that up a little bit. Here, I'm talking about another issue: the difference between (i) a creative disconnect which generates fruitful tension, resulting in a uniquely positive outcome (very Hegelian); vs. (ii) a creative disconnect which was simply intractable, forcing either breakdown or for one "side" wholly to abandon its current priorities.

Based on your account, (ii) is clearly what happened. It is not relevant whatsoever to describe how much fun the ultimate application/play was for you. That's wonderful, it's great, it's jolly, but it does not change the straightforward observation that (i) did not happen, and I am beginning to think you're dodging this realization, perhaps even to yourself.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 14, 2011, 07:17:20 AM
David: I'm sticking to my contention that my reading gritty, weird historical horror in the GMing text wasn't poor reading. It might have been naive - I'm willing to suppose that people with more D&D experience might already have known to bring Vance into their reading - but it was an honest, otherwise astute face-value read.

I probably could have figured out how to change character creation to get the much poorer game I'd pre-imagined, if I'd known and been willing to put in that design work. That would have been a shame.

I don't think a simple instruction would do, no, and in fact that instruction might already be in the text. Simple instructions aren't game design.

But most importantly, again: that would have been a shame. What I really got is much better than what I'd pre-imagined.

C: You're right! I played D&D for (effectively) the first time in 2008.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 14, 2011, 10:43:11 AM
Ron: I don't know about Hegel, but I can't figure out why (ii) is clear to you. Tell me what (i) might have looked like here?

For my part, I don't see plan A as a whole plan. It didn't have any players in it, just me and my own daydreaming. I was imagining what Lamentations play would be like the way sometimes people imagine what Sorcerer play will be like, and then come the moment, they're like, HOLY FUCK. I was imagining all wrong about this game. I don't know if I want this after all. Unless ... unless ... yes! HOLY FUCK.

In my daydreams about the game, I was in charge of the moral boundaries of the PCs' actions. I was in charge of deciding what's grotesque in our game and what's beautiful. In reality, so it turns out, I'm just - holy fuck - not in charge of that. That's the difference between plan A and plan B. I could have ditched out over it, but instead I'm embracing it and going forward enthusiastically. Is that the same as abandoning plan A and my own vision for the game? I don't think it is. I think it's my vision coming into startling, challenging, fruitful contact with the reality of the game.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: contracycle on October 14, 2011, 03:50:48 PM
Hmm, well,in terms of the negation of the negation, I'd suggest something else.  If the players had come up with a different idea of what is qrotesque and what is beautiful, then although it would have been different from your presumptions, it would still have operated in the same frame.  But instead, the jettisoned the very idea of the beautiful vs. grotesque completely in favour of a knowing, detached cynicism.  So the contradiction between you and the players didn't result in a refinement or negotiation or evolution or sharing of ideas about what you had originally envisioned, but the need to completely ditch all that stuff and find something new.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: C. Edwards on October 14, 2011, 04:31:41 PM
C: You're right! I played D&D for (effectively) the first time in 2008.

That's cool. It's always nice to see how someone not steeped in a certain type of game or style of play approaches it.

In my daydreams about the game, I was in charge of the moral boundaries of the PCs' actions. I was in charge of deciding what's grotesque in our game and what's beautiful. In reality, so it turns out, I'm just - holy fuck - not in charge of that.

I keep considering this because I'm not seeing how you ever could be in charge of those things. You can present your vision of the game world and that, combined with what the players may know about the system being used, will help shape how the PCs view that world and act within it. So I'm thinking that I'm not actually understanding what you mean.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: C. Edwards on October 14, 2011, 04:45:32 PM
But instead, they jettisoned the very idea of the beautiful vs. grotesque completely in favour of a knowing, detached cynicism.  So the contradiction between you and the players didn't result in a refinement or negotiation or evolution or sharing of ideas about what you had originally envisioned, but the need to completely ditch all that stuff and find something new.

I'm not so sure about that. I mean sure, they seem to be starting off cautiously, detached and cynical even. But as play proceeds, emotional investment builds, and new situations and crisis present themselves it becomes "okay, what about NOW!". Maybe the detached cynicism is reinforced, maybe it isn't. It seems to me that the whole point is that the players get to decide what their characters find beautiful or precious enough try and save when faced with blood-drenched, life-stealing horror. Some days you scramble away in a desperate attempt to save your own skin, other days something possesses you and you can't stand to leave another innocent person behind to face the darkness alone.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: David Berg on October 14, 2011, 05:42:41 PM
I don't think a simple instruction would do, no, and in fact that instruction might already be in the text. Simple instructions aren't game design.
Gotcha.  I didn't know whether or not there might be something in the design that would work in tandem with such an instruction to produce what you were going for.  I'll be curious to hear your eventual takeaways on the synergy between LotFP's rules and GM text.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 17, 2011, 07:07:49 AM
Hey so "grotesque and beautiful" is really doing it for me:

I thought I would be in charge of what's grotesque and what's beautiful, and what it means, in the game.

I thought that the PCs would be neutral in grotesque/beautiful terms, vulnerable to both the grotesquerie and the beauty that it'd be my job to introduce.

But Eppy created a character who is provocative in grotesque/beautiful terms, thereby making himself an active participant in the grotesque/beautiful game I thought I'd be playing by myself.

The game's rules backed Eppy (by default, but nevertheless): they made his provocative character just as competent and self-possessed as all the others, without warning Eppy that by crossing out of grotesque/beautiful neutrality he was crossing into MY territory.

His character wasn't and isn't a problem herself, but she revealed that Eppy wants to play the grotesque/beautiful game with me.

Is THAT a problem? Well, I hadn't expected it. I was startled!

Everybody with me now? More or less?

My choice at that moment was to (a) explicitly cut Eppy out of participation in the grotesque/beautiful game, forcing him to reimagine his rules-affirmed non-problematic character, to protect the play dynamic I'd imagined for myself in my private head; or (b) accept Eppy as a participant, accept that hey, we're playing the grotesque/beautiful game together, I'm not playing it by myself, and figure out what that'd mean for the play dynamic, and especially for my own prep going forward.

In the moment, I chose (b), but without having any clear idea what it would mean. I wasn't confident that anything could reconcile my vision with the reality of the game. I had this immediate hint about Vance, but it took me a couple of days to figure out that oh, Vance is what reconciles them. If I prep like I were Vance, instead of prepping like it were Dogs in the Vineyard, I'll still be introducing a ton of grotesque and a (smaller) ton of beauty, just as I hoped, but everyone will get to play the game with me.

Which is exactly what happened!

What I find most provocative, though, is this: in retrospect, of course Lamentations of the frickin' Flame Princess would want a solid dose of Vance. Of course it would! The fact that I arrived at Vance mid-setup instead of setting out with Vance in mind suggests to me that Lamentations' game design is a deeper, stronger channel than I took it for.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: JimLotFP on October 17, 2011, 07:41:33 AM
Can you define what exactly you mean when you say Vance?


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 17, 2011, 08:38:58 AM
Maybe. I can try.

By "Vance" I mean selfish NPCs who put their own personal comfort and convenience at the center of the moral world, and a moral world that doesn't systematically contradict them. That, in fact, doesn't have a moral center at all, but allows all interactions to run their course without comment.

So for an example, imagine a vampire-hag who comes into the children's bunkhouse at the new moon. Imagine the PCs waiting there to confront her, and unshuttering their lanterns when they hear her feeding.

In a straight-up horror game, I have her look up at them, mouth dripping gore, eyes scorching, hissing, full of hunger and hate and revealing something more deeply rotten in the world than just herself. She's caught out in her evil, so maybe she attacks, or flees, or laughs, or puts their lights out with her power, or changes form, or something, right?

In a Vance-esque game, I have her look up at them, mouth dripping gore, eyes scorching, and she hisses "put out your lights! They disturb my doings and I find your scrutiny offensive."

Her relationship with the moral world is different, and thus, the way I think of her and handle her as GM is different. Does this make sense at all? I'm really not confident that I can explain it.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 17, 2011, 08:49:15 AM
Minor point: Vincent, maybe Eyes of the Overworld is the best reference phrase. Vance wrote a lot of stuff, after all. That's how I've been interpreting your "Vance" phrasing, so let me know if I'm reading you correctly.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on October 17, 2011, 10:15:13 AM
Yes! What I've been reading is Lyonesse, with Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel's Saga as immediate backup.

There are long stretches in Lyonesse that are a lot like long stretches in the Cugel stories, with the difference being that Aillas of Lyonesse has compassion and a genuine sense of justice, and Cugel doesn't. I'm prepared for the PCs to go either way (or any other way of their own). I'm not depending on the players to play their characters the way I'm playing my NPCs.

-Vincent


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: rabindranath72 on October 25, 2011, 03:12:19 AM
Thanks for sharing your experiences, Vincent.
I think what's most illuminating here (for me, at least) is seeing how a game designer/player not "used to D&D" approaches the core mechanical elements of D&D, and tries to frame them.
It's quite possible, as I see it, that the disconnect between the weird horror tropes described in the game, and the game mechanics themselves (character creation in particular) could have been correctly interpreted only by someone who had already been exposed to the D&D semantics.
If Vincent had already been familiar with "old" versions of D&D, he would have recognised the GM text as, to use a computer science technical term, "syntactic sugar." All the basic tropes of LotFPRPG can be found, mutatis mutandis, in, say, the Mentzer edited D&D. The latter featuring however more explicit Vancian references just by virtue of the game mechanics which reward acquisition of treasure/magic items, exploring and (collaterally) killing stuff.
In this respect, LotFPRPG references to weird horror tropes act as "noise" which the GM NEEDS to know how to filter prior to play, either to use it, or discard.

Cheers,
Antonio


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Abkajud on October 26, 2011, 12:39:59 PM
Wow, this is a great discussion!
Eero, I was really pleased when you shared this bit, way back on page 1:
Quote
D&D (and LotFP, being as how it has that same die-for-your-stupidity-and-money-is-its-own-reward thing to it) truly is an utterly cynical world, I recognize that unwillingness on the part of the players to play the hero; it's not encouraged by anything in the system, and it can so easily become an unneeded difficulty that it's no surprise the players will most of the time gladly play immoral opportunists. Their characters will still do the right thing when presented with the easy opportunity, but the gravity of the risks in baldly refereed D&D is enormous; it's one of the few games where I've ever seen a player balk at doing the heroic thing when given the chance, when the same player will always take that option in your average narrativist game. The combination of random mechanics leading to random death for the brave ones and an uncaring universe does that.

^ This is the world I stepped into the first time I played a roleplaying game. It was a homebrew "freeform" game called "Quest" that ripped off Warcraft 2, Final Fantasy 3, and Chrono Trigger pretty blatantly, with the races of Warcraft and the classes and special abilities of FF3 and CT. Anyway, the big, strange new thing was that, somehow, my 11year-old GM managed to nail this cynical, horrid D&D-world perfectly. But he didn't do it through a set of merciless rules - - he ruled how all of our actions would turn out, based on our descriptions.
He created this world dripping with despair through a few simple techniques:
- he portrayed all NPCs as rude and hateful towards the PCs.
- he portrayed everyone as incredibly cynical, laughing scornfully at people who try to do the right thing
- he took our words in the most literal manner possible, like a Devil's Bargain, and would deliberately stop listening the moment he arrived at a response/ruling that he thought would be amusing.

In short, I hated his guts. Our characters were terrible at everything, what we did made no difference, and no one liked our characters. Clearly this was a one-sided form of escapism, and either he had a lot of emotional baggage for a 12yo, was some sort of sadist, or secretly didn't like any of us. Except the elf-mage. That guy got to shine while we toiled in the dust.
So, in any case, upon actually playing old Dungeons and Dragons, 1976ish style, well into the OSR, I was in love. Since the dice were calling the shots and the DM was trustworthy enough to hear our plans and ideas in a reasonable light (he was a bit sadistic, but not so much that it wasn't fun), any time we had a spectacular failure it was hilarious, or at least amusing and engaging.

When I was in 5th grade, playing Quest, getting zonked or taken too literally or whatever was a huge pain in the ass, and it felt personal. Intended. Honestly, it had to be - there was no mediation whatsoever between the GM's ideas and what would happen in play.

Playing Keep on the Borderlands at the age of 27, by contrast, was amazing. The characters were iconic - my thief, named something like Garrett Lampblack, was chaotic-aligned, and lawful people could feel it on him and know not to trust him. The castellan was old, bent, and wary of us wandering vagrant adventurers. The goblins were fierce, and cruel, and merciless.
The warriors charged a few goblin spearmen in the dark, and were cut down in seconds. My thief survived on rats and cactus fruit (or something) in the goblin-valley, long enough for the other players to roll up a couple of elves and come looking for me. It was great! Knowing that I could trust the DM (Adam Dray, as it happens), but not those scheming dice, made things feel like actual fun, and lots of it. I equally enjoy running OSR games for the same reasons: there's that "I feel 12 years old and full of wonder" effect that they have on me. It's great.

-- Zac


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 26, 2011, 02:38:08 PM
Yes, my experience from the GM side of the table is along those same lines. The players in an immoral, cynical game like this need to be able to trust the GM, even as the dice will betray them again and again. At our table we have a very clear creative agenda now that we're approaching the 40th session: we all want to see how the game develops as characters are played to higher levels of challenge and we get to explore the world of D&D deeper, always moving organically and according to the methodology, not the content and preconceptions laid out in the literature. In this creative context everybody realizes that I as GM and the arbiter of challenges am very much on the same side as the players, insofar as my being audience for their exploits goes: I want to see them succeed, figure out the solutions to low-level D&D and move on to new challenges. This interest on my part just happens to be completely detached from my responsibility as a co-player, this responsibility being to provide an objective and real resistance that proves the skills of the players and certifies them worthy of getting to 2nd level one of these days. I find that D&D would likely be completely unplayable for us socially if there didn't exist a trust in the GM's ability to be fair even as he is fully invested in enjoying the antics of the adventurers: we all need to be able to trust that I'll let the ogres kill their party when they stumble upon them, and also that I won't put the ogres in there just to get the PCs killed.

(Of course the notion of "objective resistance" and "appropriate level of challenge" is all about constructive denial. The paradigm of our campaign is consistent, and it's challenging as hell, and that's enough to make us feel that the accomplishments are real and objective even as we know in the abstract that in the next town over there probably is some GM who lets you get to 2nd level without having to learn the skills and earn the treasure.)


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: David Berg on October 26, 2011, 04:15:04 PM
I want to see them succeed, figure out the solutions to low-level D&D and move on to new challenges. This interest on my part just happens to be completely detached from my responsibility as a co-player, this responsibility being to provide an objective and real resistance that proves the skills of the players and certifies them worthy of getting to 2nd level one of these days.

My D&D experience has been that the solutions to low-level D&D and the skills players must prove depend largely on the DM.  Your phrasing implies that your experiences have been different.  If you'd be willing to explain what solutions and skill requirements you see baked into the system, I'd love to hear it!


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on October 26, 2011, 05:54:59 PM
"Depend on the GM" - I like that, maybe it is that way? Campaign-specific, I mean. I don't have any particular gripe against the idea off-hand, it seems that the game works just fine even if the landscape of the challenge is largely dependant on the specific GM, campaign and the group playing. In fact, it seems obvious that there is a major subjective aspect in this, considering how differently different groups play, even when we limit our consideration to the hardcore old school that accords with my own thinking about how the reward cycle of the game operates. I can totally see how with one GM the most important skill could be skirmish tactics, with another spinning cool stuff to make the GM happy and with third strategic data evaluation.

Regardless, even if there are substantial differences, there also might be a shared base conundrum that all these different GMs with their different imaginations approach. We might say, simplifying for the sake of the argument, that all low-level old school sandbox D&D games are variations on the same basic challenges:
  • Evaluate data to gain information on the available missions in general and on a specific chosen mission in particular. Data evaluation is the skill of listening, retaining significant details and correctly judging which of the details floating over the table through the game are important. It requires concentration and understanding of the milieu the game operates in. Literary skills are often invaluable, as cultural depth on the part of the player often helps him perceive nuances and formulate narratives, speculative models of what might be going on in the scenario. Mapping is probably the most basic example here, you can fuck that up in a way that kills the party, too.
  • Leadership to set mission objectives and create plans towards achieving them. Here in the armchair it seems utterly obvious what the players are trying to do in D&D, but it's surprisingly easy to get confused without good leadership, resulting in unfocused play and insufficient preparation. For example, our crew has spent quite a few sessions chasing red herrings in the hills instead of focusing on a single dungeon, and they've managed to enter dungeons unprepared both mentally and materially, all because the particular player-base present happens to fail in setting up functional party leadership.
  • Strategy is choosing the correct tools for the challenges at hand. Knowing the different options you have in a fantasy milieu requires play experience, imagination and/or a literary background of some sort. being able to gauge the situation and choose the correct approach is only possible if you have both options and solid intelligence about what you're facing as the challenge. At its most basic strategy is the question of whether to back down or push forward, but there are limitless variations with different challenges.
  • Tactics in old school D&D are about familiarity with the setting, real experience with the game and bold, smart risk-taking. D&D is a gambling game to a degree, you never get anywhere until you accept that the trick is not to eliminate danger, but to rather optimize the risk/reward ratio. Players bad at tactics will waste their actions in combat or even flee the field of battle unilaterally; even when they're being useful, they will often give the bare minimum participation, not attempting to push the envelope by utilizing fictional positioning and whatnot to increase their chances.

My current theory of how old school D&D should work is that the above qualities, which I consider omnipresent in D&D by the virtue of its nature, should be what is being tested by the play process. Good GMing is when you allow the players to succeed or fail on the basis of their capabilities. I'm inclined to think that this isn't true of just my own campaign, but I do admit that there are plenty of ways to play the game that move things around or outright eliminate some of the aspects of the free sandbox as we play it. For example, if your campaign is a string of dungeon locales where the characters don't get to choose their goals, that'll strip many layers of player skill from the equation, focusing the game on others.

Going into the ephemera of how the above values substantiate in actual play, it seems that even if many of the details in my campaign are specific to me, the topics and the skills involved are often very generic. For example, even having players aware of the issue of purchasing plate mail and the specific mechanical effects therein in a specific campaign is an important skill. The same goes for players utilizing shield walls or fire-based weapons in the dungeon environment. Managing lightning, scouting, orderly retreats... all of these matters might differ in detail of execution between campaigns, but I would think that merely being aware of the existence of these issues in a dungeon expedition or other adventure is all about player skill and experience. Once the player - or ideally the entire party - has mastered these matters by experience, learning to turn their own individual qualities to the task of mastering D&D, I would imagine that they would find their skills transferrable between any GMs running this specific brand of old school, wargamey, richly textured D&D. I mean, I'm absolutely certain that most GMs will let you have effective fire-based hand-grenades for less hassle and expense than I do, and the effects of such will probably be much more impressive in other people's games, but these are mere details easily learned about and acknowledged by the experienced player; he will still know how to organize a successful expedition and how to react to crisis situations, and what works tactically in a fight, and those skills will surely bring him through at any table, won't they?

I know that I'm asking too much with the following, but it's the hygienic principle I run my own game on: insofar as D&D is a game of skill, experience points are the certification system for player skill. For this reason there are no pacing rules for how quickly characters "should" advance; once you've proved that you can reliably get the treasure out of the dungeon, this proof-of-work in the form of experience points will take you to second level, enabling you to take on more dangerous challenges. If you've already taken one character to second level, you should be able to do it again in a fraction of the time, assuming that the game is truly about skill and not about dancing to the enjoyment of an arbitrary GM.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: James_Nostack on October 26, 2011, 06:39:12 PM
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we all need to be able to trust that I'll let the ogres kill their party when they stumble upon them, and also that I won't put the ogres in there just to get the PCs killed.

Very nicely phrased.  I like that a lot.

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"Depend on the GM" - I like that, maybe it is that way? Campaign-specific, I mean. I don't have any particular gripe against the idea off-hand, it seems that the game works just fine even if the landscape of the challenge is largely dependant on the specific GM, campaign and the group playing. In fact, it seems obvious that there is a major subjective aspect in this, considering how differently different groups play, even when we limit our consideration to the hardcore old school that accords with my own thinking about how the reward cycle of the game operates. I can totally see how with one GM the most important skill could be skirmish tactics, with another spinning cool stuff to make the GM happy and with third strategic data evaluation.

Our gang (http://redbox.wikidot.com/) features two DM's running two campaigns that are very far apart in "tone."  One DM is pretty laid back, comfortable improvising with goofy old random charts from the 1970's, and when in doubt gives you coil after coil of rope with which to hang yourself.  The other DM is much more adversarial but also more concerned with internal setting-logic.  Observing the play cultures in each campaign over the last three years has been extremely illuminating.  I would never say that "System doesn't matter," but holy hell the GM certainly does.  Wow.

So I would add a fifth skill to Eero's list:
* Interpersonal Intelligence to suss out and remember what styles of play are the most adaptive to this environment, treating the DM as a fellow player instead of simply the "server" for the world.  This includes stuff like managing placement of miniatures, how important it is to keep a good map, how far you can bully NPC's before they take action, etc.  The first DM encourages a very risky style of play which works very well--up to a point, at which time all hell breaks loose (sometimes literally; you would be surprised what's on those Arduin charts).  The second DM necessitates a cautious approach, almost "mother may I?" in character.  But they're still recognizably playing with almost the exact same rules.  Every attempt to overcome a fictional obstacle is going to involve some interaction with the DM as a co-participant, so who's in that chair matters a hell of a lot.

But Eero, that's a really good breakdown of fundamental skills.  Kudos.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: David Berg on October 27, 2011, 02:07:55 AM
Thanks, Eero.  Sounds like we've actually had pretty similar experiences.  XP defines the ends, and the means to get there are very contingent on the particular group.  I have plenty of thoughts about this, but I can no longer tell what's on topic for this thread so I'll restrain myself for now.


Title: Re: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies
Post by: lumpley on November 03, 2011, 03:54:19 PM
David, that sounds perfect for an actual play thread of your own.

I finally managed to communicate in person to someone* what I meant about Lamentations of the Flame Princess when I started this thread. It took some doing! It took two full notebook pages of drawings and a solid hour of intense talking. But we were making due with my comrade's limited English and my absolute zero Italian, so I have hope that I can maybe accomplish it online too.

Not tonight! Soon.

-Vincent

*Someone other than Ben and Eppy, that is. Evidently, those guys can read my mind.