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Author Topic: Challenge the Player, not the Stat Block (D&D)  (Read 6828 times)
Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #15 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'.
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contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #16 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.
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #17 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 (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
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AzaLiN
Member

Posts: 44


« Reply #18 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.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #19 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!
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #20 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!
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FredGarber
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Posts: 95


« Reply #21 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
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Vulpinoid
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« Reply #22 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
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A.K.A. Michael Wenman
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LandonSuffered
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #23 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.
: )
 
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Jonathan
Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #24 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?
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #25 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

Daniel

(PS, how the heck do you do those smileys? I haven't bothered to figure that out yet)
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Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Callan S.
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« Reply #26 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
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Vulpinoid
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« Reply #27 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   
 
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A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.
LandonSuffered
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #28 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:

Quote
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.



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Jonathan
Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #29 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
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Arthur: "It's times like these that make me wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was little."
Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
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