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Author Topic: [D&D] Hot elves, morality, and the missing initiative roll  (Read 12830 times)
Callan S.
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« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2010, 09:35:33 PM »

I'm pretty sure John didn't do so by sheer personal power - he used a series of tools and techniques (often housed within rules) and I think he's asking for more rules on the matter because he knows that's how it worked.
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Daniel B
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Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2010, 07:07:38 PM »

Here is a more refined version of what I’m talking about when I say I want the rules to help me resolve dilemmas.  Give moral dilemmas a sort of stat line like monsters. They would have a Severity, Scope, and Persistence score.  Then there is a table which gives creative bits to work with. One entry may be “a disgruntled swordsman; a bloody necklace; and a broken, wasted dream.”  So in a high Severity, Scope, Perisistence resolution this could become a high-level warrior, clutching the last memory of his wife who was murdered as a direct result of the PC’s misdeed, who is going to remain a thorn in the side of the PC for a while.  In a low Severity, Scope, and Perisistence resolution it could be an 80-year old beggar who gave up his adventuring ways too early who is jealous of the PC’s status and who interferes with him in some personal way, perhaps calling the local guard on him accusing him of stealing a necklace.

Oooooy, this goes strongly against my GM instincts. The fact that genuine moral dilemmas can't be statted is part-and-parcel of what makes them juicy! For the people to whom stats matter more than moral content, the Severity, Scope, and Persistence numbers will be just more numbers, and won't make them feel anything. (In fact, it would probably cause the reverse effect!) For the people that care about the morality of the Lizardfolk situation, the numbers won't make any difference to their own emotional response. I don't care what "Severity" number the book assigns to killing a baby .. it's high in my book! That's an extreme example, but you get my point I hope?


The table provides the seed content to aid my creativity, the stat line for the dilemma itself provides the parameters for the resolution to help give my creative decision regarding its interpretation some boundaries that everyone playing understands BEFORE the action is undertaken (this is the part that is vital to making this part of “the game” and not just “OK, John is doing his own thing now, when are we getting back to the adventure?”)

Then, the players would be all like, “OK, setting lizardfolk children afire, what are the stats on something like that?”  And I’d go, well, Severity is pretty high because it’s wrong, but Scope and Persistance could be low because it’s a remote area and they are Chaotic after all.  Then they go “OK, great, the treasure’s worth it!  Burn ‘em!”  And I get to roll on the table and they look forward to the resolution because now it’s an actual part of the game and not just the DM imposing his own unpredictable sense of justice on their character’s actions while detracting from the “real game” of exploring the world and problem solving. 

This gives those who are not interested in moral dilemmas a way to engage them through resource management and it allows those who do like to engage them to be confident that their choices will be reflected in the game.

And then you make the table work out somehow so that the outcomes aren’t always purely negative so that "doing bad things" isn't always equivalent to "bad tactics", and you have yourself a new way to completely engage the players in activities traditionally relegated to “oh, that’s just role-playing and DM judgment.”  Now decisions made outside of combat and skill check type situations involve rolling dice to determine in part what is imagined next, just like decisions made during combat involve rolling dice to determine in part what is allowed to be imagined next.

To further explain, I think what you're effectively trying to do is make people engage in morally sticky situations, but by putting it in the rulebook to give it that level of authority which even the GM traditionally must respect most of the time (despite "rule zero") as well as giving it some sort of rules structure so that the GM is not at a loss to handle it. (If you're trying to engage the players in emotional content through resource management .. well .. that's like trying to include a video-game obsessed child in active sports by giving him a Soccer video game!)

You didn't impose your "own unpredictable sense of justice on their character’s actions". The adventure came with the stats of Lizardfolk mothers and children included. The players set the fire. One player made it worse. The players themselves all judged the morality of the situation, without the question being imposed upon them. This is where I think the magic comes from, and what boosted your adventure from a run-of-the-mill dungeon-crawl to a memorable one that they'll think back on in the future.

I'm not claiming that some sort of support from the rulebook wouldn't be helpful; I just don't think it could come in the form you're suggesting. How about a "burning sandbox" approach? (where by "burning sandbox", I mean that the PCs have the same freedom as in D&D, but their environment is set up to be a lot more emotionally incendiary, and likely to burn them, or at least cause unexpected emotional fallout. It's just a suggestion!)

Would your experience ever have occurred if the "lizardfolk mothers in a fire" result were listed in a table? Even worse, if the players had access to that table?

Dan B
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Ford: "Why? What did she tell you?"
Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Callan S.
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« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2010, 09:03:09 PM »

Hi John,

Opposite to Daniel assuring you you didn't impose anything, I'm thinking you want to, to some extent, impose your sense of justice. BUT within a set of rules, rather than just doing things that nobody has consented to. That way they know your just working the rules system rather than getting in the way of a familiar and fun set of rules. Am I understanding you to any degree?
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #18 on: February 08, 2010, 04:43:07 AM »

I agree with the view that the Lizardman situation pretty much played out well enough as is, but I sympathise with the idea of there being some sort of systematic prompt for this sort of thing.  In all probability, this incident was invented not to create a moral problem, but to create a tactical one.  Of course, the tactical problem implies a moral issue, but thats probably not the reason it was introduced.  Similarly, I agree that the hot elf can be reintegrated in any number of ways that makes the player's invention of her relevent, and thus give her a bit more presence than a run-of-the-mill NPC.

But, I would probably have blanked out on the hot elfs possibilities, just as I would probably not develop the lizardman scenario any further.  At best, what I might do is stage some sort of revenge attack on the party by outraged lizardmen, but without revealing to the players why this happened it will be experienced with no more significance than a random encounter.  If you GM in a framework of What Would Happen, as I do, and even I suspect if you do so in terms of challenge, these alternate and more dramatically interesting ideas don't necessarily occur to you.

I'm not too keen on the systems so far proposed, as I'm not convinced they're really appropriate for the reasons others have mentioned.  But as the OP suggests, having some sort of prompt for this sort of thing would be useful, would be more likely to prompt an idea than my relatively dry and mechanistic habits of thought.  Maybe, in my revenge attack, I would include some sort of clue indicating what motivated it, but that will still rely on the players being perceptive, lucky and interested enough to notice the clue and realise the relation.  Whereas if I borrowed something from the much-maligned 3-act play structure principle of "get them into trouble, get them into more trouble, get them out", I would probably end up with something meatier and more engaging.  But it is not intuitively obvious to me how I would actually do that, or structure it so that the players were aware of it.

I don't think that any of this sort of intervention goes against the general grain of my/our play style.  Even working within the framework of What Would Happen, sooner or later you need to select between different possible things that could happen.  Selecting for the more interesting and engaging option does not necessarily undermine the general practice; it certainly could happen that the hot elf goes on her way and is never seen again, but it would be less interesting than if she returned in some way.  Thus. this is not significantly about moral choices or anything ofd that nature, it's really a sort of sense of the suitably dramatic.
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athornton
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Posts: 5


« Reply #19 on: February 08, 2010, 08:10:39 PM »

Oh, maybe I see something here I didn't before.

We can all name systems in which the mechanics are designed to push the players into situations where there's a lot, emotionally, at stake, and reward putting it on the line.  Vincent Baker is one of my favorite designers for games like this: Dogs in the Vineyard seems like it could be used to play this sort of moral conflict with a lot of mechanical support (so could Poison'd).

But....can you do this, and still be playing D&D?  That I don't know about.  That is, is there a way to keep the things that make D&D D&D (and what would those be?  Six stats with a range of 3-18?  Classes and levels?  d20, roll high, to hit?  Saving throws?) and still provide mechanical support for moral (as opposed to tactical) conflict?

Hackmaster introduced the Alignment Audit, and just like the rest of 4th edition Hackmaster it was a joke on one level, the sort of crazy over-the-top crunch that you'd add to AD&D if you were an obsessive-compulsive chart-maddened designer on a meth binge (I mean, really, the thing used vector algebra to figure out what happened to your alignment), but on another level it was sort of eerily compelling.  I took it as a parable of why Gygaxian Alignment doesn't work if your players are optimizing the gamist rather than the narrativist elements of play, but it could as easily be a pointer towards "look, if you're going to try to take alignment seriously, here's what you're going to have to do."  As an aside, Hackmaster 4th is really very interesting to read as a deconstruction of late-1st and 2d edition AD&D.

I thought I had a point when I started this post; now I'm not so sure.  I guess my point, if any, is "can D&D be made to do this?  Or once you've bent it to be able to do that, is it no longer D&D anymore?"  I think that's going to be a very subjective call, since I don't think there's going to be any real way to come up with an unproblematic consensus on what Essential D&D is.
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JoyWriter
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Posts: 500

also known as Josh W


« Reply #20 on: February 10, 2010, 06:53:11 AM »

I can understand that moral puzzle angle, I actually think it's a more healthy way to approach moral situation; where if you see a trade-off you try and subvert it so you can get both sides, or avoid both dangers as much as possible. All too many moral dilemmas that people pose presuppose no compromise solution, which I think is a pretty dangerous thing to teach people. But this bit is more important:

The table provides the seed content to aid my creativity, the stat line for the dilemma itself provides the parameters for the resolution to help give my creative decision regarding its interpretation some boundaries that everyone playing understands BEFORE the action is undertaken (this is the part that is vital to making this part of “the game” and not just “OK, John is doing his own thing now, when are we getting back to the adventure?”)

I've said this before in more words, but I think active choices include prediction (passive agreement is going along with what already happened, actively choosing a future event means seeing a bit of it before it happens). In that sense getting players to agree to unknown stuff is a trade-off between unpredictability and predictability, and putting bounds on things. So I totally agree with you in that sense, but I think there are two ways to do this; one is getting the rules to be the boundary, another is making yourself more consistent so that you can form those boundaries:

The distinction doesn't have to be between pre-written random tables vs arbitrary changeable GM, if you make structures that allow you to be more consistent. For example, you could explain that you are going to take a certain set of principles and use them to make stuff happen, and people could agree to that, but if you're anything like me, 2 hours in when getting tired, and trying to make sure everyone is having a chance to contribute, you might break those rules. You can wait for that to happen and then allow players to call you up on those rules, pulling back, or you can set up systems to take over the more automatic "state tracking" stuff you were doing and focus on making sure you keep that, with reminders to keep you on track.

In other words, people will be willing to trust you to be a portion of the game's rules if you are principled and trustworthy (well, they'll trust you if you're much less than that if the game isn't very important), so you don't need to worry about being seen to act as the "avatar of the rules" especially as you yourself will be writing those rules! To a certain extent, people are already trusting you in just that way with all the hacks you're doing.

I think there is massive value to random tables in causing cool stuff to happen, but in my experience they are valuable because they force you to react to something different, act as a prompt if you're getting into a rut. They don't back you up much in your decisions. Now having said all that there is one way I can think of using randomisation, and that's for producing unexpected connectivity: Depending on the person, it can be very easy to focus almost all of your attention on the thing in front of you, the specific event and the players. (It may even be required by the system you use or the density of colour vs the pacing etc.) So when it gets all head-underwater, it's useful sometimes to add in different themes or relationships that you might not have expected.

Now that's probably still not very clear, but basically what I'm talking about is creating a list for yourself of interesting background groups/conflicts on one side, and themes on the other. So every now and again you can force-ably link things into "the plot" rolling on this table you've made of about 10 broad setting themes (either in the form of group agendas, issues or conflicts), which are there to cross-cut stuff and gain depth from each particular application. This kind of thing will often shift dramatically who and why the big bad is, and add the possibility of any scene being "important" according to one criteria.

As for ways to populate this random table, you can pull ideas from books you read, or even poems (a surprisingly dense source of themes if you pick the right kinds of collections), particularly ones you have a bit of a handle on but wouldn't know where to start; applying them to the situations that come up will give you a place to start!

But back to principles and why they can be more effective; with those examples I gave in the first post I tried to add to each consequence a pattern behind it that is consistent enough to be understood; not merely saying "the gods'll smite ya" but turning it into a general thing that happens, including to characters that are not the PCs.

So putting those two together, you might have the theme of "children" come up randomly, but then the moral feedback system that engages is the same one that has always been operating. In terms of your table/stats, the content that you start with is defined by the table (or you if you come up with stuff), but it's severity is not marked on a single table, but according to it's correspondence to certain patterns. In terms of old-school intuitions it's more like trap trigger conditions.

You can make it so you get away with even the most dodgy acts if you do it out in the wilds, or you can use the same random connectivity approach to say that perhaps this secluded spot is actually visited by a set of druids every winter, so they'll find all the burnt bodies and have an idea what happened. That can be done by the same approach; table of travel/trade situations, and rolling to see if any apply, then attaching the "other end" of the connection either to the nearest or most logical town, or just randomly selecting one.

Loads of possibilities!

I wish there were a way for the players to generate these situations, though.  They can direct so much of the action and make the game their own through choosing where to explore in the game world, whether to settle down or lead a bandit horde or serve the Goddess of Goodness and Light (at least when you play D&D in an open-ended setting-based way.)  But they can’t force these sorts of dilemmas themselves, because they require DM and other-player buy-in.  They could possible create them in the way the player created the hot elf, but it seems to me it needs a bit more support than that.

You've hit on something super-interesting there, when players take on GM-like roles, contributing stuff because they think it will do a cool thing to the story, rather than because they are all hunkered down in their characters psyche. I see it a lot in new roleplayers who are already practised at using their imaginations collaboratively, and there are quite a few games that focus on it as the primary focus of play (Universalis comes to mind immediately).

Looking back it seems the "hot elf" actually already did require player buy in, and he didn't really get much of it! Player-supplied content can flop just like GM-supplied content, which in itself isn't so bad. As to support to make it interesting, with the sort of system I outlined above, you could have players suggest themes for the setting at the start, and periodically you could assess what you're doing with them and whether to change them. The players would still be able to suggest avenues of conflict, but they wouldn't know when they would appear. There are a lot of other ways to do it, and I'm almost tripping over myself avoiding braindumping into this comment field, so I'll leave it there for now.
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Meramec
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Posts: 9


« Reply #21 on: February 10, 2010, 05:49:46 PM »

athornton: Thanks for the vote of confidence and point taken regarding the rules-light system.  I guess I want a rule system to help resolve things, but not in the sense of “any given action can be thrown into this black box and out shall be spit a YES or NO”.  Rather, I want the resolution to spit out some creative hooks that I can then use to drive play as the spirit moves me.  I want a social resolution scheme that doesn’t say “Roll d20+diplomacy vs a 25 DC to see if you convince the hot elf to join the party”, but that says “Roll to access a list of parameters to give the DM some guidance in how to resolve the action.”  These parameters could be “she hates the party but will come along anyway” or more crytpic like “secrets are kept, wine is imbibed, and her past will haunt”.  This way it’s not just a board game.  Since I’m not a good enough DM to come up with that sort of creative material on my own during play, I want my resolution system to do it for me.  I guess this is “rules-heavy” perhaps, but not in the WOTC D&D way where you have to roll to see how many feet you can jump and all that.

I did facilitate the players having fun, but I want more than that. I want it to be reproducible to some extent. I want to be able to write down the resolution rules I used and be able to play out the same scenario again and see how the rolling of different creative hooks drives play in other directions. I want to be able to play the same adventure over and over, even with the same players, and have different outcomes.  I also want it to be enough of a “game” that there are player-knowable rules governing the manner in which I, as DM, am allowed to introduce new content into the game as a response to their actions.

Your “sit back and let the narrative win” scenario is awesome.  You introduced creative hooks that the players grabbed a hold of to drive play in new directions.  That is the essence of what I am trying to do here, except I realize that to do that consistently I need help—I need rules which aid me in generating these creative hooks.

I find myself in conflict between the “game” of it and the “narrative” of it.  For example, there were several chase sequences that I completely flubbed because I didn’t know how to resolve the “game” part of it.  I lost the “narrative” completely because I was just like “OK, so the bandits know the woods better than you and are just as fast as you therefore you can’t catch them” because that seemed reasonable from a “game” standpoint.  It completely ruined the “narrative”, however.  I am trying to link the two via resolutions a bit more strongly, but without each completely losing their individual souls.

You ask if you can add these elements and still be playing D&D?  Well, I don’t so much care whether I am still playing D&D as much as I care whether the game I am playing is the one I want.  My understanding of Dogs in the Vineyard is that the mechanics drive play towards moral dilemmas and then the mechanics are there to resolve the situation on the moral level as opposed to the “can I do it?” level.  If you are willing to shoot the 8-year old in the face, say, then you can do anything—the only thing stopping you from accomplishing something is putting up on the player level with the morality of what it costs your character.   I am not really after that. I still want the “can I do it?” to be determined in part by stats on the character sheet (to me, that makes it a “game”).  I just want some direction for how to adjudicate the results.  It’s just a system to tack on to D&D or any other game of its ilk, not something to redefine the entire way a player thinks about the game.

I’d say Essential D&D is just open-ended imaginative group problem-solving within a magical and dangerous environment.

Adding to that a system whereby players can challenge themselves in some way--morally, spiritually, intellectually--is not severing D&D from its own essence. 

Daniel: point taken Re: the “severity” of killing a baby.  It seems from one perspective the reason to have moral dilemmas during play is to reflect on the situations as players (if I read your soccer video game analogy correctly) and that if it becomes just another number-crunching resource management process then such reflection is robbed from the players.  I guess I was hoping to split the difference—allow the players who want to engage in the moral dilemma for “narrative” or personal reasons to be so absorbed while not alienating the players who are not interested in such play.  I can see how it could end up satisfying neither rather than drawing both in perhaps.

I don’t think I want a table with “lizardfolk mothers in a fire” as a random encounter—what I want is a table that helps guide me as DM how to resolve the fallout from setting lizardfolk mothers on fire.  As you point out, the adventure as written provided for this possibility, and it also provides zero guidance as to how to turn it into a “burning sandbox” where the non-combat results of the actions are adjudicated within the “game” without the DM just “making stuff up.”

I like your notion of "burning sandbox" where moral dangers abound just like physical ones.  This is a great way of summing up some of my wordiness in previous posts.  To me, in order for the moral dangers to be a real part of the "game", then there must be rules to cover how to resolve their outcomes.  And this is what I'm driving at with all the talk of "tables" full of content to help focus the way I as DM am allowed to introduce stuff to the imaginary field of play in response to various actions.  (In comparison, the combat rules do this: if I roll a 1 for the goblin attack, then I am not allowed to add to the imaginary events the element that "the goblin hits you for 8 points of damage" because the resolution system says the 1 is a "miss".  I just want a similar system for noncombat resolutions.)

Callan: I don’t know that I’d say I want to “impose my sense of justice” or anything, although I suppose by statting up the moral fallout of encounters I am necessarily saying that the writer of the moral dilemma gets to impose his or her sense of right and wrong on those playing the game.  This leads to more issues, I think. You must have some human arbiter in the loop regarding these things and the game must impose some sort of consistent definition of good and bad else you have players taking the same action but assigning to it different morality stats.  I need to think on this more. Thanks for the question.

contracycle:  the revenge attack is a fine idea, but I have two issues with that:  (1) I am probably too lazy to come up with such a thought on my own in the heat of play and (2), even if my laziness is overcome by surge of creativity I feel like I am no longer playing a “game” because I am introducing elements to the imaginary world based on absolutely no input from the system at all.  I feel that to play the “game” means to introduce elements in a way at least partly prescribed by the game. If I am playing Temple of Elemental Evil and take out the green slimes on the stairway to the moathouse dungeon then I am actually NOT PLAYING that adventure.   So, I want each scenario to have the ability to be respected on its own, in a sense, and any ad-libbing I do must be through the prism given to me by the scenario. 

For the lizardman situation, I want there to be a system in place to tell me the parameters acceptable for the fallout of the action.  Is a revenge attack appropriate? What is the severity?  Are there higher powers invovled? Do the hirelings find out?  Etc.

I don’t want every step planned out, but I want some creative push to help me come up with stuff and to reign in and focus the things I add to the imaginary world that are not already given.

I don’t know that I want a rules system to drive players into troubled situation. I just want one that helps me resolve the non HP related results of them when they arise.

JoyWriter: I like what you say about boundaries using rules or my own internal consistency.  I guess I see value in the resolution being a formal part of the rules, as this establishes at the social level that the “game” actually does include such things.   And although I reference “tables” a lot, I don’t really care if the resolution is in table form.  Tables are just a shorthand way to write “some sort of systematic method.”  It could be a full-on state machine whose transitions I’d calculate on the fly or a list of short poems which I'd allow to move me towards some path. 

Another reason for this is because it is just more rewarding for me. I’d rather PLAY the game while DMing than see the DM role as just providing fun for the “players” (as if I weren’t one of them.)  Getting to riff off of awesome seed content within a constrained way is really fun and rewarding and lets me as DM actually play in a way that I can’t do without the rules.  So my goal here is one-part “help DM figure out what is going on” and one part “give the DM a game he can play, too.”

I love your idea about the list of themes and conflicts.  This is close to what I am getting at.    I need to further study your post to be sure I really understand it.

I am not too excited about getting hunkered down in character-psyche necessarily. I want the players to add content to the story because they think it will be cool, for whatever definition of cool they have at the moment. Sometimes it’s because “my dude is mad at his father for leaving when he was 5” and sometimes it’s because “yeah, I watched Die Hard today so I think it will be awesome when this inn we are staying at gets taken over by criminals.”  Whatever.  Just so long as we have a system in place to give parameters to what is allowed to be generated and players can decide from session to session what they want to get out of their play.

The way it is now, when a player decides to "role-play" a long encounter with a barkeep or something, the other player get tired of it after a few minutes and view this as a disruption and a waste of time. I want to get to the point where the player wanting to "role-play" can do so in a way facilitated by the rules (spend his "generate encounter" power on this or something) so that the other players see it as part of the "game" and not an imposition on their time at the table.

Much of this could be a reflection of my play group and may not generalize to other groups.  This could be why some of my desires here may seem a bit off to some.  I do think there is value, however, in accommodating a group of people who may want something different out of play that evening but who all want to play the same game together.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #22 on: February 10, 2010, 07:49:53 PM »

Callan: I don’t know that I’d say I want to “impose my sense of justice” or anything, although I suppose by statting up the moral fallout of encounters I am necessarily saying that the writer of the moral dilemma gets to impose his or her sense of right and wrong on those playing the game.  This leads to more issues, I think. You must have some human arbiter in the loop regarding these things and the game must impose some sort of consistent definition of good and bad else you have players taking the same action but assigning to it different morality stats.  I need to think on this more. Thanks for the question.
I didn't mean impose absolutely your sense of justice - I mean imposing an influence. Imposing it to a degree. The amount you can impose it being limited by mechanics and so your going no further than the mechanics they know are there.

This is what you did with the lizard women and children carrying the treasure - as you noted, you realised you were pushing a pressurised issue toward the players. Because their responce and how it turns out is interesting.

I mean, I think your sensing that if you impose too much you'll determine that responce yourself, which makes play pointless. But if you don't impose at all you wont get pressurised situations. I'm thinking your looking at mechanics to help regulate that? Or does it seem way off?
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athornton
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Posts: 5


« Reply #23 on: February 11, 2010, 09:08:03 PM »

athornton: Since I’m not a good enough DM to come up with that sort of creative material on my own during play

Bah!  (See below)

You ask if you can add these elements and still be playing D&D?  Well, I don’t so much care whether I am still playing D&D as much as I care whether the game I am playing is the one I want.

YAY!  Seriously, yay.  Playing the game you (well, you and your players) want is the important thing and something that a lot of Serious [Insert System Here] Gamers lose sight of, in my opinion. 

I'd suggest reading a bunch of different systems and seeing what works for you.  Weirdly, Trail of Cthulhu (or maybe Gumshoe which is the generic form--and which I haven't looked at) might fit--the mechanics are all about "what does your successful (usually investigative) action cost you?" rather than "is the action successful?"  Which is weird at first, but it grows on you.  Well, grew on me, anyway.

As far as introducing creative hooks and letting that steer the story--I didn't even realize I was introducing the hooks.  I don't think you really need rules support per se although I understand wanting your players to not think your decisions are arbitrary.  I think what's needed is to realize that stuff you just threw out there may be taken to have significance by your players, and then the confidence to--and this is the part I struggle with--not say "no."

That is, yeah, it's your story you're telling as the DM, but the awesome comes from the player actions.  And so if they suggest something awesome, even if it's something you were totally unprepared for, the right answer is usually "yes"; sometimes "yes, and..." or "yes, but..." but, usually, "yes."  But to do that you have to believe that no lasting harm will be done if things veer off in a direction you didn't expect.

I find that reminding myself that it's a game and that there are five of them and one of me, and so if I didn't get to use my super-duper planned encounter, well, that sucks for me, but if they pulled off something they're still going to talk about ten years later (true story: just after Thieves in the Forest came out, one of the very first 3d-party 3E modules, we fired up a brand-new 3E game.  The players went about it the wrong way, met the wererat, had no silver weapons yet, and one of them grabbed a fistful of silver coins and socked him....and rolled a 20.  The moment is still remembered) then that was a win.  And they'll never know that Draco The Irritable was really supposed to be in the Tower of Deceit and not actually where they found him in the Caves Of Unreasonably Foul Odor three weeks later.

I don't think rules help with this.  Experience as the guy behind the screen helps with this--those nights when it went off the rails, in my experience, it wasn't because I let the players do what they wanted to do.  And players who will tell you "DUDE, THAT WAS F*#@*$)N' AWESOME!" help a lot--especially when you're all like "I didn't do anything here...it was all you guys.  All I did was roll hits and narrate NPC death scenes." I do have a Dastardly Trick, which is (I think) yet another Jeff Rients (if you don't read jrients.blogspot.com, you probably should) great idea: the Big Purple d30.

I have a Big Purple d30 at my table.  Once per session, each player, and I, get to roll it instead of whatever die we'd usually roll for....whatever.  Last session my group took down a vampire they shouldn't have because a Magic Missile did 23 points of damage.  Letting the DM roll it once per session means that even if Otto The Flatulent is going to get pasted a lot faster than you planned for him to, he can put the hurt on someone.  Players....usually use it for damage rolls, actually.  I don't know why such a stupid trick makes everyone (DM included) feel more in control, but it really does.

But, in some sense, all RPG rules are really just Dumbo feathers.  My advice would be, scout around and see what you can find between the full-on morality-poker bet-and-bluff game of Dogs and the "morality, schmorality; how many XP did I get" of straight-up classical D&D.  As I've said, I think Trail of Cthulhu might be an interesting place to start, but the Sympathy rules from Dying Earth could work, or a Humanity Point tracking system, or lots of other things.
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Daniel B
Member

Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #24 on: February 13, 2010, 12:29:14 PM »

athornton:
I find myself in conflict between the “game” of it and the “narrative” of it.  For example, there were several chase sequences that I completely flubbed because I didn’t know how to resolve the “game” part of it.  I lost the “narrative” completely because I was just like “OK, so the bandits know the woods better than you and are just as fast as you therefore you can’t catch them” because that seemed reasonable from a “game” standpoint.  It completely ruined the “narrative”, however.  I am trying to link the two via resolutions a bit more strongly, but without each completely losing their individual souls.

O_O   .. yow! Very interesting!

A quote from Ron Edward's essay System Does Matter:
Quote
I have heard a certain notion about role-playing games repeated for almost 20 years. Here it is: "It doesn't really matter what system is used. A game is only as good as the people who play it, and any system can work given the right GM and players." My point? I flatly, entirely disagree.

"Whoa," you might say, "my GM Herbie can run anything. The game can suck, but he can toss out what he doesn't like and then it rocks." OK, fine. Herbie is talented. However, imagine how good he'd be if he didn't have to spend all that time culling the mechanics. (Recall here I'm talking about system, not source or story content material.) I'm suggesting a system is better insofar as, among other things, it doesn't waste Herbie's time.


When I first started reading this post, I was of the opinion that the juicy narrative stuff necessarily *had* to be at least considered beforehand, if not outright fully prepared for, because of the limitless possibilities for such things. Therefore it was pointless to build rules for their resolution, lest you risk building parts of "system" that a lot of Herbies out there must waste their time culling.

However, you make a great point!! Your comment on trying to link the systems without losing the souls of either really struck me. Not an ugly mongrel of game and narrative, but an economic and aesthetically-pleasing union of the two such that the two halves complement each other to make a whole greater than the sum of it's parts.  If I may propose: the gamist rules should be like a swiss-army knife, handling all the mechanical issues quickly and efficiently, but should neatly sliiiide out of the way when the players (and GM) collectively decide the encounter is more elegantly handled "narrativistically".

How interesting would your game have been if the battle with the bandits began fully within the game system, maybe with a touch of the narrative system to handle the budding romance between a PC and the hot elf adventuress bandit (and with some link handling it's effect on the battle), before switching fully into narrative mode when the bandits escape into the forest, since the normal gamist rules simply fall flat in this domain.


I don’t think I want a table with “lizardfolk mothers in a fire” as a random encounter—what I want is a table that helps guide me as DM how to resolve the fallout from setting lizardfolk mothers on fire.  As you point out, the adventure as written provided for this possibility, and it also provides zero guidance as to how to turn it into a “burning sandbox” where the non-combat results of the actions are adjudicated within the “game” without the DM just “making stuff up.”

I like your notion of "burning sandbox" where moral dangers abound just like physical ones.  This is a great way of summing up some of my wordiness in previous posts.  To me, in order for the moral dangers to be a real part of the "game", then there must be rules to cover how to resolve their outcomes.  And this is what I'm driving at with all the talk of "tables" full of content to help focus the way I as DM am allowed to introduce stuff to the imaginary field of play in response to various actions.  (In comparison, the combat rules do this: if I roll a 1 for the goblin attack, then I am not allowed to add to the imaginary events the element that "the goblin hits you for 8 points of damage" because the resolution system says the 1 is a "miss".  I just want a similar system for noncombat resolutions.)

For a system like this to be feasible, I think it would either need to be tailored to a specific adventure, or you would need to find some way to pare down the problem. Even within a single setting, there's too much scope for a simple catch-all table. However, you switched me on to the idea of trying to find a system that could resolve general non-combat encounters of the "moral" variety.

JoyWriter: Another reason for this is because it is just more rewarding for me. I’d rather PLAY the game while DMing than see the DM role as just providing fun for the “players” (as if I weren’t one of them.)  Getting to riff off of awesome seed content within a constrained way is really fun and rewarding and lets me as DM actually play in a way that I can’t do without the rules.  So my goal here is one-part “help DM figure out what is going on” and one part “give the DM a game he can play, too.”

I like this. It's something I've strongly believed in for a while. If even the GM is not engaged and entertained by the very game he's running, the players certainly won't be either. You're right; if the system itself provides little nuggets of content into play that the GM wasn't expecting (outside of the content introduced by the players'), it certainly would be a breath of fresh air.


Thanks again for the original post, Meramec
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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."
contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #25 on: February 15, 2010, 07:31:05 AM »

Seems to me the lizardman situation is a classic Revenge plot.  Or at least, it could be assumed to be a revenge plot, although it could also be a "falling prey to cruelty" plot.  That kind of stuff is easy enough to determine, and could be selected from an appropriate list (such as those lists of plot archetypes that already occur).  What is much less clear is how you actually go about building a revenge plot such that it is more than just another simple encounter.

I think the same applies to the chase situation.  Chases by their nature demand immediate creation of setting elements, and usually elements more interesting than "the road stretches out before you endless and straight".  Anyone who has, say, played for example Grand Theft Auto will be aware that the are in which the chase occurs produces different kinds of hazards, and can spill over from one area to another.  But this is very difficult to systemtize in RPG, and would need to be contextualised not just for setting as a whole but for small local regions within a setting.

In both cases the key problem, IMO, is content creation rather than system or even conflict resolution.  The conflict res mechanics of HeroWars, for exmaple, do not IMO serve any better at producing interesting content for chases, even if the mechanical problem of the chase is much better represented by a conflict res mechanic.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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LostSoul
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #26 on: February 15, 2010, 11:05:09 AM »

You might want to check out Kellri's Encounter Reference .pdf.  It's got a ton of random tables for all sorts of different things.

Here is the link to the blog (the .pdfs are on the right hand side): http://kellri.blogspot.com/
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Dave Lucas
Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #27 on: February 15, 2010, 06:49:46 PM »

But, in some sense, all RPG rules are really just Dumbo feathers.
I think they're dumbo feathers as much as a guitar is a dumbo feather to a guitarist - as if he could do what he does without the 'dumbo feather'. Some people might want to treat rpg rules that way (which at it's full philosophical extension is air guitar, AFAICT), but I'll leave a dissenting view against the idea that all of roleplay and it's rules always and only work/exist in a dumbo feather way.
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Meramec
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #28 on: February 22, 2010, 03:14:44 PM »

Daniel,

I think you've nailed what I'm getting at here with your comments about rules that come into play when needed and recede when they are not and rules to help engage the DM.

I the end, this post was for me to discuss and work through some issues that crop up in my play that I want a game to address.  Like most gamers, I am working on my own "design", and I firmly believe the rules affect the play.

You read a lot on "old school D&D" forums things about "superior players and DM's will generate awesome play" regardless of rules.  But I think rules can add value considerably.

Take one example:  say a game has a social skill.  Now, lots of games have these.  In WOTC's first D&D offeirng, you roll your diplomacy or intimidate check and consult a table for the result.  What if instead you roll your check and, depending on your success, you were given "points" to spend during the social engagement as a PLAYER.  You could spend a point to say "wait, I didn't know the guard was going to attack me if I made fun of his armor, let me say something else isntead" or you could spend a point to ask "how do I think this guy will respond if I ask about why his wife hasn't been around lately?"  Things like that which actually add ot the game but retain the nearly freeform nature of a social encounter.  I think with such a ruleset in play you could have markedly superior "role-playing" encounters than you can without (at least with some segment of players), because the "game" would now officially cover such things in a way that empowers the PLAYER, not the character.   In fact, I think one of the greatest things a ruleset does is direct how a player thinks, and having rules that get a player to actively think along more dimensions is a plus.  So putting some "tactics" or "resource management" into things like talking to the barkeep after the latest foray into the dungeon seems desirable to me.  It allows more easily for the possibility that danger, excitement, imagination and story may emerge from sources not statted with hit dice and AC's.

Anyway, this is the direction I'm heading with most of my "resolution" notions.  The idea that you roll a die, add your modifiers, and consult a chart for resolution bores me these days.  I want something else.  I love the "old school" D&D's focus on player skill and flexibility (the canonical example being the searching for traps sequence), but I think there are ways to capture that with technology much different from that found in 70's era games.   

Thank you all for your comments, and thanks to everyone who helped my thought process here.  I'll try to post more on the Forge, although learning the jargon used here will take some time. I still have no solid idea what is being said on many of the threads here!

Take care and game on!

John
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Jeff B
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #29 on: March 04, 2010, 08:35:47 PM »

John,

I'm really late seeing this thread, but wow!  What a fantastic account, and a DM expressing so many of the key issues in making an experience great.

As others have noted, I was also struck by your approach to rolling the melee round and avoiding the person-by-person interrogation about their actions, which constantly leads to a waste of time.  I remember so many games where, after 10 minutes of bickering, my turn FINALLY came around.  I'd roll a 6, of course.  "Miss".  There it was -- my 3 seconds of active play time for the hour. 

Great thoughts, and I'm keeping your idea of "everybody roll melee attacks!" for use later.  Many thanks.

Isn't it contradictory how source material is good, but over-documented game systems are bad?  Just look at what you did with a tiny book, tiny preparation time.  Eight million volumes of the latest edition sourcebooks were simply not needed.  On the other hand *something* was needed to help with those high-potential moments in the game.  It is not possible for the DM to think of everything, and there is no time for him to sit and wonder -- the game must go on.

In exchange for your great insights, I'll trade one back to you that I hope you will find thought-provoking.  I am determined to construct a resolution system in which the DM never rolls any dice.  Instead of the DM frantically playing 10 goblins and rolling dozens of dice (doing the work of several players), the DM instead says, "The goblins attack.  Roll melee defense.  John and Judy, you have two goblins each on you.  Fred, Estelle, Louise, you have only one goblin each to deal with."  And my rules system will essentially do the rest, leaving the DM free to absorb the combat results, mark damage to his many goblin monsters, move figurines perhaps, and the zillion other mental tasks a DM is engaged in.  Who knows, it might even give him time to throw color and flavor into the encounter!   The whole fight is resolved without the DM touching a die.  Instead of rolling for a trap that might spring, the DM says, "Joel, roll vs. trap avoidance".  I think you get the gist of it -- old habits and language patterns will have to change, but I think it's the way of the future.  The trick is, a simple resolution has to determine which party was hit (if either) and how much damage was taken.  But I'm confident I will eventually solve that problem.  I think making the DM diceless is part of next-generation RPG gaming.  :)

Thanks again for sharing your terrific experience...you sound like a great DM!

Jeff

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