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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 32 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [d&d4e] Puzzles in RPGs  (Read 13528 times)
Callan S.
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« Reply #45 on: September 23, 2009, 04:00:08 PM »

Hi Misha,

Quote
I think it's because the gamist strength of roleplaying games is that they present more complicated situations than board games/puzzle books can.
Well, let's test whether they do present more complicated situations.

To get the solution I did, I had to sit down for some time and think about it (and I did look at the goose and fox puzzle, which is similar, so it would perhaps have been harder without that).
Now looking at the RPG.net thread, you have people...knocking the gnolls out. Or tying them to a tree. Did they have to scratch their heads for these solutions? Was it hard to think of? Even a more complicated one, like using cone of cold to make an ice bridge, does that require much thinking? And as you say yourself, that'd be innefficient anyway, using a daily when you could tie them to a tree or knock them out.

With the bitterest gamer, it's noted that naturally flowing fiction rarely delivers challenge. What hasn't really been looked at is how the idea of fiction, even if a challenge is presented, erodes the challenge level way, way down. I think you'll find RPG's actually present LESS complicated situations than board games/puzzle books - perhaps giving the illusion of more complexity, but when push comes to shove, the thinking involved is lower.

But keep in mind the model I said before : Try an in the box solution first for the most points. If you can't manage it, admit it and then go for the fiction/outside the box method, for not as much points, but points all the same. Less points, because it's simply not as hard - thinking of tying them to a tree does not involve a mental work out at all. Most of us would just be repeating past games in doing that, even, which involves no thought.

Quote
There's just something painful about having an effective and easy option hanging within reach,
Well, I'm talking in terms of designing and about not making that option be within reach at all (for the initial in the box attempt). It's a bit hard to talk about design when you've already decided it will be within reach and have closed the case on considering the alternative.

Currently, in terms of self improvement, it looks like someone who's on the bench press and has the option of 10kg weights or 1kg weights and is saying "But it's painful to not take the effective and easy option" and I would say yes, no pain no gain! So I'm saying sever your damn option to have 1kg weights from the design! :) Well actually I'm being pretty soft still - you are forced to try 10kg, and if you can't, you admit it and then you go onto the 1kg weight. You might argue it's more than 1kg, but honestly, if you can't do the 10kg weight, it's definately less than 10kg, that's for sure!

Can we talk about severing that option that you say is within reach? I can't make you obviously, but at the same time you don't have a line of arguement in saying it's always within reach - that's just your design choice to keep it in reach and not how it has to be (as if it were as fixed as the laws of physics or something).


Hi Fred,

Really chrono thought he'd stuffed up and had no fixed solution - really I'm humbly suggesting that works as a solution. If he decides to adopt it as the fixed answer, then I'm right. If not, then I'm not right. That will determine who, if anyone, is bending the rules, rather than you or I deciding it/arguing it. And really I haven't won in the proper sense, let me disclaim - the solution aught to have been set prior to me trying to figure it out. Making up a solution then getting the designer/GM to okay it - where's the challenge there, eh? Your right, it's just alot of making stuff up and bending words. If your workplace is politics, better to stay at work then. :)
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otspiii
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« Reply #46 on: September 23, 2009, 06:04:40 PM »

Relating to the gnoll problem, you have some interesting points, but I still don't think it's well suited for inclusion in an RPG session.  Difficulty isn't the issue; it's more that it a) has to be forced, somewhat unnaturally, into the fiction and b) it requires an extremely different approach than the expected line of play.

In response to a), it's not that the puzzle isn't fun or challenging, but by putting it into the RPG you suddenly mutate either the rules of the RP world or the puzzle itself.  Either you have the option of the easy way out hanging over you or you just completely change the rules of the game temporarily while the puzzle's in effect.  Either way it just doesn't flow well with the game.  If the players enjoy that kind of puzzle in general they'll probably enjoy it, but the artificial changes you have to hack into the system to make it work leave that compromise of system just hanging over them as they do so.  They might enjoy the puzzle, but will they enjoy it more than if they were just doing it outside of the context of the game?  I don't really buy the idea of the gamist as a Platonic ideal, with no attachment to the setting or the story.  By virtue of the fact that they're playing a RPG rather than a board game or filling out a puzzle book they obviously find the fiction to be important on some level, even if not a large one.

It's true that situations generally aren't as 'hard' as puzzles; there's no one 'right answer' to them, although there very much are 'wrong answers'.  They're about gathering information and trying to figure out what path of action grants the maximum reward for the minimum risk..  When I said that they're more complex I meant that there are countless variables that have to be considered when deciding how to respond to them.  Even so, a well-made computer program could solve the gnoll problem, while even very basic situations would be incomprehensible to it.  The thing is, the human brain is all about dealing with this type of complexity, so it seems easier to us.  Situations are all about dealing with and minimizing uncertainty and once you've done everything you can to minimize the risk taking the leap into the unknown.  It's not hard in the way that that a logic puzzle or lifting weights is, but it's still exhilarating in its own way.

Which brings me to b).  That process of minimizing uncertainty and then surrendering to chance is the basic form of RPGs.  It's what people are expecting, so you can be pretty sure that everyone present will enjoy it.  Changing the type of challenge isn't bad by itself, but it's not something you should do without knowing your audience and being certain they'll be for it.  It's similar to if you decided that the number of push-ups you can do in a minute will determine how much damage an attack does; if one of the players hates doing push-ups it's going to be a game-breaker for them.  Even if the player enjoys push-ups there's a chance they'll dislike it due to being in a roleplaying mindset rather than an exercise one.  Offering the 'less XP if you just knock them out'  option lessens this to an extent, but it just makes issue a) worse, and I still feel like a well-run RPG should offer XP and other rewards for the players engaging in activities that they enjoy.  Otherwise you just end up with the dilemma of "Well, I can either not have fun or I can be ineffective," which really isn't fun for anyone.

But hey, if you know the players and know they love computational puzzles, then you should absolutely toss stuff like the gnoll puzzle in.  Issue b) is really more of a social contract thing than anything else, I think.  I've just heard a lot of people frustrated because "I came here to roleplay, not solve riddles all night."

The gnoll example is a little weird for this discussion, because it completely ignored cheap-ways-out when it was designed, so of course the basic out-of-box solutions are going to be simple and unsatisfying.  The blood example from earlier on in the thread is a better example, where the party had to weigh the risk of each being weakened by splitting the blood between each of them with the risk of a blood substitute not being accepted with the moral risk of sacrificing a hireling with the risk of hunting down a monster to use the blood of with the risk of sacrificing one of their own to let the party advance (okay, I'm not sure if every one of these options were present during this specific example since I don't have details, but the point remains valid).  There's always the risk that a situation like this will have a no-brain easy solution that the GM just didn't consider, but skilled design can considerable lower this risk.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #47 on: September 23, 2009, 08:34:15 PM »

Misha, this is, as I'd expect, going into fiction first territory.
Quote
suddenly mutate either the rules of the RP world or the puzzle itself.
Rules of the RP world, you say? And who determines these rules? A council of elders somewhere? May I meet them, person to person? Of course, there isn't any such council and yet your very certain, I'm sure, that such rules exist, like just about every other gamer I've ever spoken with.

You modify your own physical behaviour to match these rules, and yet...can you even name the origin of these rules of the RP world you speak of? Who invented them? Where did they come from? And yet your changing your own lifes course to follow rules that you don't even know the origin of? Whatever it is that twitches and turns those rules, eventually determines atleast part of your own lifes direction - yet you don't know what it is that twitches and turns those rules (and in doing so, twitches and turns you as a human being)? And you'd advise me to adhere to rules you couldn't name the origin of, as well? That I must craft with these rules firmly in mind?

That's religion.

I know I'm not getting onto your other points, but they are smaller circles inside the largest circle that are these 'rules of the RP world' you talk about. We couldn't find any common ground on the smaller circles because of the big difference of your largest circle. Or maybe I'm wrong and you can describe the origin down to an individual - but even then, that will have been your choice to be loyal to that guys plan (or if it's your own plan, loyal to your own), which isn't an arguement by itself for me to follow his/your 'rules of the RP world'. I simply don't operate with some 'rules of the RP world' hovering over my shoulder.

Sorry to get all Richard Dawkins in your thread, AzaLiN. :( I'm trying to cut off as early as possible.
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otspiii
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« Reply #48 on: September 24, 2009, 09:41:54 AM »

You're making some weird assumptions about where I'm coming from.  The rules aren't religion, they're an agreement the players make with the GM about how conflict is resolved/etc.  The Council of Wizards won't pepper your house with lightening bolts if you break 'the rules', but the game does start creeping into Calvinball-type territory.  It's not the end of the world, but it does seem distasteful to me, like using a lens-flare in photoshop.  Don't do it unless it's really appropriate for the setting/audience.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #49 on: September 24, 2009, 02:01:42 PM »

Can you or your GM write down all the rules of the RP world you mentioned, Misha? If not, then your following rules/altering your real life behaviour to follow the directions of an unknown origin. Also in terms of any rules that are printed, you only use them if the fiction seems to call upon their use, right? Your talking fiction comes first. I'm talking rules come first - start with rules and fiction only happens if the rules prompt fiction to be made and fiction only decides things if those same rules grant it a capacity to decide something. Fiction first vs rules first is probably an even bigger divide than that found between nar vs sim creative agendas, and such like. Regardless of my feelings on whether somethings a religion, I have a very different approach but you started this arguement as if I have your approach, but I'm doing it wrong/not meeting the requirements of your approach. I think I've pointed out some things but I'm taking up space, so I'll leave it at saying there is a large divide between our mutual approaches.
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otspiii
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« Reply #50 on: September 25, 2009, 08:02:44 AM »

Oh, oops, you were talking about the 'rules of the world' as opposed to the 'rules of the system'?  What I meant was that it was awkward just going 'by the way, combat doesn't work here, you're going to have to resolve this scene as a puzzle' without any justification from the fiction.  If you mean more like 'by the way, the gnolls are going to cooperate with you/not murder you if you're on the boat and they aren't', then go buck wild as long as you're not being contradictory with what you've already established.  I still think it's awkward forcing the party to shut off the intuitive part of their problem solving minds and relying completely on computational problem solving when intuitive problem solving is the one thing RPGs do better than anything else, but as long as you're not flippantly contradicting 'rules of the world' you've already established in play, then yeah, do what you want.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #51 on: September 25, 2009, 05:07:52 PM »

What would you do if it did flippantly contradict the 'rules of the world'? Reject the challenge? Because new material fitting into the game world actually has first priority, ahead of consideration of the challenge?
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otspiii
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« Reply #52 on: September 25, 2009, 07:38:18 PM »

I wouldn't straight up reject it as a player, but I would find it obnoxious.  It'd be like if a character in a movie's identity changed for a scene without reason or explanation, like if there was a scene in Conan where Conan inexplicably strides in wearing a robe and wizard hat and just throws fireballs at his enemies rather than using a sword, and then after that scene it was never done/referenced again.  Fluid identity/setting can work well as a technique (Exit the King makes fantastic use of it, for example), but it's not something you can use unless the entirety of the game is built to facilitate/benefit from it.  Compromising the consistency of the fiction or 'rules of the world' or whatever isn't the end of the world, but I wouldn't do it flippantly.  I'd either do it for a crowd of players who are expecting it and agreed to it, or I'd build the entire campaign in a way that takes full advantage of the newfound fluidity.  Doing it out of the blue without a plan would just feel sloppy to me.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #53 on: September 26, 2009, 01:26:23 AM »

Well, there's another thing you apparently have to obey, coming up
Quote
but it's not something you can use unless the entirety of the game...
Again, where is the council of elders who decided it's not something you can use? This is what fiction first seems to do - it seems to simply generate what you can and can't do out of thin air. It's never attributable to a person, it's always just 'how things are'.

But I'm getting into all that again. I'll put it this way - if with a particular product, the instructions have not told the person to imagine stuff (which is clear from just reading it - and by clear I mean it has given no instruction to do imagine things) and yet they insist on imagining things and then when the next rules 'flippantly contradict the rules of the game world' they call it obnoxious, the problem was this person wasn't following the rules.
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otspiii
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« Reply #54 on: September 26, 2009, 08:26:02 AM »

Again, where is the council of elders who decided it's not something you can use? This is what fiction first seems to do - it seems to simply generate what you can and can't do out of thin air. It's never attributable to a person, it's always just 'how things are'.

But I'm getting into all that again. I'll put it this way - if with a particular product, the instructions have not told the person to imagine stuff (which is clear from just reading it - and by clear I mean it has given no instruction to do imagine things) and yet they insist on imagining things and then when the next rules 'flippantly contradict the rules of the game world' they call it obnoxious, the problem was this person wasn't following the rules.

What I mean is that the parts of the game it weakens, such as the ability to use past information to plan ahead (important to some flavors of gamist play), immersion (I don't think it's the be-all end-all of roleplaying like some players, but it's not something I'd toss away without a reason), and so on will usually detract from the enjoyment of the players more than whatever the benefits you're getting out of it unless it's a natural conclusion of whatever style of game you're running.

The 'unless the entirety of the game' bit is kind of related to my general GMing philosophy, that you should try to make every part of the game support every other part of the game.  Have an experience in mind and give the players a world and opportunities that provides that experience.  If the players aren't flowing well with what you had in mind you should try to match their tone, but once you've worked out an experience with them that works try to make sure everything you do enhances that experience rather than distracts from it.  Err, this explanation is a little vague and probably doesn't communicate what I mean very well, but getting into it for real would be a pretty dire derail.
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DWeird
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« Reply #55 on: September 26, 2009, 09:09:10 AM »

OK, so if I get Callan right, what's good about the boxed gnoll puzzle is because you CAN attribute it to a single person - the GM who challenges his players to solve it.

Now, while still in Callan's point of view (not putting words in your mouth here, but trying to develop the chain of thought I glimpsed and see if it makes any sense to you), I'd have the following issue: game text trumps GM any time. My character's ability to knock out gnolls is based on skills, items and spells I have. These are based on challenges I faced and choices I made during chargen. These are based on the rules that are provided in the game text.

So what is the GM doing when he's saying "solve this puzzle without using these other tools you have"? He's either:

A) being an asshole who's removing pre-defined segments of the game that have higher authority than his decree (the series of game text applications that lead to my character's current gnoll-knocking abilities) on an unjustified whim. It's roughly equal to a player declaring that "we won't be using hotels in this game" after I've developed half the board into those.

B) issuing a challenge that I can either take or leave. "Well, I see you've developed half the board into hotels... How about, for a more interesting game, you don't use them, eh?" It's perfectly valid for me to say "screw you, you already lost!", take the boring hour it takes to reduce him to bankcrupcy, and be over with it. I don't become less of a player because I turned down a challenge that did not have any basis in the original rules, that we did not agree on in advance, and did not have any precedent in our prior play.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I'm being a good sport in turning down the challenge, nor does it mean that Monopoly without the hotels wouldn't have made that particular game more interesting. But a good sport =/= a good player. As far as I can gather, gamism is primarily about being a good player - solving challenges to the best result with least effort wasted, and not being a good sport - solving challenges in a pleasing, aesthetical and ethical way.

So if a GM is presenting a challenge that removes options that I had present before, it's equal to him saying "you're too good a player. How about a handicap to our strengths on the same level?".


God knows what any of this has to do with puzzles, though.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #56 on: September 26, 2009, 02:36:09 PM »

Misha, if the designer decides to use past information or immersion, then those things are a concern. If/where he doesn't, they aren't. It's not a matter of fact that the designer is forced to have those things all through his design, if at all. And I'm saying that as a fact of the situation, like the laws of physics, rather than a right a designer has. Indeed a designer is stuck in that position, physically. We could enshrine that as a right, but whether we do, designers are stuck there either way.


Hi DWeird,

Do you think there can be gaps in a games procedure, where what to do next and who has higher authority have been left blank?

If you don't, well, everything I've said stems from dealing with such gaps in traditional RPG's. If you do think such a gap can exist, what is your policy in dealing with such a situation as it arrises, or even dealing with such gaps in the text before any game session?

Also, if you take it those gaps can exist, is someone who says game text trumps the GM, when there is a gap on that procedure, actually being A themselves? Since no one is in a higher authority position because of that gap, but that person is acting like they are?


Azalin, this seems to be getting out into the larger circle/infrastructure of the game (in terms of the big model, were looking toward the outer enclosing circles). I think it's relevant, but relevant like if you'd brought up a fuel injection system for a car, and were talking about the chasis that holds it together and I'm talking about using one that isn't rusted through.
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otspiii
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« Reply #57 on: September 27, 2009, 08:26:40 AM »

Callan, I'm trying to figure out where the disconnect in our two lines of thought are.  I'm not talking about what you theoretically could do as a designer, and I'm not talking about designing a campaign from scratch (as I've said a few times so far, I do think that it would be possible to build a game that benefits from rather than is hurt by disregarding pre-established 'rules of the world').  What I'm talking about is expected player enjoyment in a game that isn't specifically built to accommodate disregarding pre-established 'rules of the world'.  When I say 'you shouldn't do this' I'm operating with the assumption that player enjoyment is at the top of list of goals as a designer and what I really mean is 'more often than not it will detract from player enjoyment if you do this'.

I'm also operating under a few assumptions about the game these puzzles are being inserted into.  First, I'm assuming that it isn't explicitly built to work with breaks in the 'rules of the world'; that the system doesn't encourage it; that you haven't discussed it and gotten the thumbs up from your players for doing it.  Second, I'm assuming that you aren't already positive that the players will enjoy it; if you know that your players all just absolutely love doing boat puzzles during an RPG then you should throw them in.  In the context of this thread, though, if there wasn't uncertainty over what types of puzzles a player would enjoy this thread would not have been posted.  My point isn't, as I've said a few times, that you should never do it at all period ever.  My point is that unless you have good strong reasons to expect that everyone at the table will love it when you shatter 'the rules of the world', they probably won't.  If player enjoyment is not something on the table right now then I totally concede to all of your points, but how could it not be?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #58 on: September 27, 2009, 03:28:16 PM »

Quote
What I'm talking about is expected player enjoyment in a game that isn't specifically built to accommodate disregarding pre-established 'rules of the world'.
How do you know it isn't specifically built to accommodate disregarding pre-established 'rules of the world'? By that I mean, beyond hearing your assertion on the matter, what could another person look at themselves to indipendently confirm that?

In terms of expected player enjoyment, if they expect something which is merely assertion and not actually supported by the game texts, they are simply bringing baggage to the table. It's possible for anyone to come to any game, even a card game or board game, with some sort of assertion which isn't part of the activity at all. How are you discriminating between assertions, or could I come to a game with you and say this game isn't specifically built to accomidate us not wearing funny hats? Seems absurd? So how is the assertion (it isn't specifically built to accomidate disregarding pre-established 'rules of the world') proven to be any less absurd?
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otspiii
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« Reply #59 on: September 27, 2009, 09:50:56 PM »

How do you know it isn't specifically built to accommodate disregarding pre-established 'rules of the world'? By that I mean, beyond hearing your assertion on the matter, what could another person look at themselves to indipendently confirm that?

How do I know what isn't?  Specific to this thread, D&D4th ed absolutely isn't built for it.  D&D1st ed has intentional gaps in the rules that actively does facilitate building the rules for each engagement largely from scratch, although I still wouldn't use the boat puzzle for the intuitive/computational reasons I stated before.  Not specific to this thread. . .it's a case by case basis, and there's no easy instruction I could give to determine if a game text is appropriate or not.  That's a topic way bigger than this thread.  Basically, though, the more a system is about having the mechanics to handle any situation, the less suited it is for cutting out those mechanics at times.  The more surreal and nebulous the setting is the better suited it'd be for warping the 'rules of the world' at times.  The less competitive and serious the encouraged mood is the more open it is to warping the 'rules of the world'.  Of course, it's a lot more subtle than that in practice.

In terms of expected player enjoyment, if they expect something which is merely assertion and not actually supported by the game texts, they are simply bringing baggage to the table. It's possible for anyone to come to any game, even a card game or board game, with some sort of assertion which isn't part of the activity at all. How are you discriminating between assertions, or could I come to a game with you and say this game isn't specifically built to accomidate us not wearing funny hats? Seems absurd? So how is the assertion (it isn't specifically built to accomidate disregarding pre-established 'rules of the world') proven to be any less absurd?

You don't think players should come with expectations and assertions?  I don't think that ridding yourself of expectations is nearly as important as just making sure your expectations line up with those of the other players.  The system sets the general type of play that happens, but there's still a lot of wiggle-room for personal GM-styles.  These assertions become ugly when haven't been discussed and they start conflict between players.  If assumptions haven't been negotiated pre-game it is important not to assume that your assertions are exactly how the game is going to be played and any other method is wrong, but I think the assertion that 'the way in which the game is run should work with, or at least not against, the game-system' is a fair and common one.  I see the boat puzzle as working against the D&D4th ed system.

Saying that a system 'isn't built to not accommodate' something that is generally not assumed to be a part of roleplaying is kind of meaningless, since the amount of stuff you do do in a game is limited by time and energy, while the amount of stuff you don't do is infinite.  It's not that hard to determine if a system is built in a way to accommodate funny hats, though.

Funny hats. . .are the specific hats appropriate to game being run?  I don't think I'd enjoy being forced to wear a 'funny hat' all game session, but if they were somehow appropriate to the characters the other players and I were playing this would be mitigated in some ways.  I do think that being forced to wear a propeller beanie in a game of serious political intrigue or supernatural horror would detract from the mood of the game, but I wouldn't mind/would potentially enjoy wearing a plush spiked helmet while playing a barbarian in a goofy-themed game because it'd be reinforcing my self-image as a barbarian.  I'd still react against it partially if it was sprung and forced on me without being discussed before hand, though.

How are funny hats different from consistency?  Roleplaying games are usually built in a way that consistency makes the game more enjoyable for the vast majority of players.  I can't point to a specific rule in a specific system that does this, but actual play experience has taught me that there is an extremely strong correlation, and presumably causation, between consistency and player enjoyment.  It's something players expect, and as much as you might ask 'but should they expect it?', breaking that expectation without prior warning is going to both weaken the gameplay experience due to the games being designed with the assumption that they'll be run in a style using consistency and due to the fact that you'll be shattering their expectations. 

As I see it, when you run a game for people you need to be at least vaguely aware of what their expectations are.  If you don't know what they are you should talk to them to find them out.  If their expectations don't match up with the game you want to run it doesn't mean you can't run it, but it does mean you need to work with them to make sure their new expectations line up with the game you're running.  That said, it's of course always possible to actually use breaking expectations mid-game to your advantage; this is something that can work really well in getting people into the mood for a horror game, for example, but it has to be done for a specific effect if you want the players to enjoy it.  Breaking from what your players are expecting just for the hell of it does a lot more harm that it does good.

This is bleeding into the much much much larger topic of 'what techniques work best to help establish what styles of play'.  If you want me to spell out for you exactly how to determine which styles of play (and oh my god they are infinite) a specific technique, such as 'breaking world-rule consistency', or even just 'consistency', is helpful or harmful to you are going to be disappointed.  The topic is just far too vast to break down via forum-post, and is much more of an art-form than a science.  I do believe that consistency is, by default, a good thing, though, and that it should only be broken when you have a plan, and never just flippantly.  Doing so will, far more often than not, lessen the enjoyment of the players, and is therefore undesirable on a practical, rather than theoretical, level.  A creative designer with a broad vision could undoubtedly turn it into a positive thing, but I recommend against doing it in a casual 4th edition D&D game with friends who aren't pre-established puzzle addicts.
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