Gamism vs Simulated Gamism

Started by Cliff H, February 16, 2011, 01:40:57 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

David Berg

Hi Cliff,

I ran a homebrew where gaining scars and losing limbs (or the occasional beloved item or NPC) worked well.

I also sat on some 6th-level OD&D where the group was enjoying some Gamism in just the manner you describe (that Dragon editor would sound like a pansy to them).

If threatening their stuff isn't feasible, there's always Shock or Stun: ways for characters to drop in combat without dying.  This is fun because it keeps the challenge open for the rest of the group: can you avoid the TPK with fewer characters, can you escape while lugging bodies, etc.  (It sounds like you achieve this already, but this would let you do it consistently without fear of unacceptable deaths or fudging.)

"Risk of death should be real!" makes perfect sense to me as an approximation of "I want my choices to matter" in the context of a fighty game.  I'd ignore the former and focus on the latter.  But maybe that's me being presumptuous.  You could ask the following:

"As long as it's technically possible to die, and as long as I never fudge anything, is it okay if no one actually ever winds up dying?  Or are a few fatalities important to make the threat of death loom larger, and make survival feel like more of a victory?"
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


I really don't understand any of this either.  I've played happily with no-death social contracts, but in those cases the players at least behaved as if the danger were real; they would take cover and be defensive etc.  Nor was it the "terribly lame" variety you describe.  Both sides colluded in the illusion, but this guy seems to be outright ignoring it, even challenging it.  I'm curious as to whether it has ever been the case in your play history with this person that character death has actually occurred?

Fundamentally, I think this idea that life and death is in the GM's hands is broken.  What does that mean anyway?  It makes even less sense when juxtaposed with the view that the system should run according to its own logic without interference.  Somehow I doubt it means that the GM is free to have a character struck by lightning by simple fiat and that this would be accepted with equanimity.  There is a tangible disjuncture here between expectations at the the player level and actions at the character level.

In all honesty I'd be tempted to take the gloves off and start dropping characters.  Not my usual thing at all, and very confrontational, but if you don't understand the bounds of acceptable outcomes in regards this player then you don't really have a working social contract as it is.  This isn't "advice", it's definitely risky ground, but IMO things like permanent injuries and losses of possessions or relations can have much the same impact as character death and thus they don't really offer solutions.  Plus, all of those end up with passing the burden of how to rationalise these things into game play onto you.  Can you really eb expected to, say, bump off the character's paramour as a substitute for the wounds he should have taken in a battle past?  It just gets worse and worse.

"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."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Jeff B

Beware any tabletop RPG player who says, "I only play.  I never want to GM."  It's a mystery to me what motivates such players to roleplay, but the effect is always the same:  They see the GM as the "giver of fun".  Such players, themselves, take no responsibility for the success of the session.  All responsibility belongs to the GM, in their book.  Even asking such a player, "What is your character's goal?" will often get a sarcastic or meaningless response that merely deflects the question (e.g. "kill, kill, kill!").  For them, the GM's world exists to be torn apart and dominated, and the idea of cooperative creation of a story (or in any way contributing to that fantasy world) is a pointless, irritating notion.  Oh, and if the game is D&D, they will always play a chaotic-neutral, an alignment they universally misinterpret as meaning "I can do anything I want".

With regards to game mechanics helping with this situation (low-lethality probabilities, etc), that won't work.  No matter what odds you present these players with, they will push it further.  If the drowning rules let them stay underwater 10 minutes with no risk, then they will stay underwater for an hour;  If a sword-thrust can only scratch them, they will attack an entire army.  If they can safely fall 50 feet, they will begin leaping off mile-high cliffs.  They will constantly push to take any situation a step further and watch the GM artfully change the world to accommodate them (but subtly, so it doesn't look like he's fudging anything).  No set of game mechanics can cure this syndrome, IMO.

Only a tyrant GM could function under a premise like "I decide life and death, no matter what."  There should always be room for group input.  Anything the whole group thinks is really cool should go into the game ("Hey, Mr. GM, what if Joe's character is saved by an angel, because that would tie in with our quest to solve the mystery of the guardian angels?").  But again, that's contributing to the shared imaginary world, something player-only participants are loathe to do.

I see no clear or assured path to resolution of the situation, because in my experience such players are completely inflexible in their playing style:  It is either illusionism-gamism where they take no responsibility for the outcome or else leaving the table and making disparaging comments about what a pain the GM is being tonight.


Quote from: Cliff H on February 17, 2011, 01:44:06 PMI'm thinking at this point that a good game match for him would be one that relegates defense to passive, establish and forget defense mechanics, like armor in D&D. Yeah, I know since 3e there's been some active defense options, but even the most tactical players in my circle have never, ever used them. Is there anything else out there that has something like this?
Feng Shui has a combat system which seems like it might fit this style of play well: Your attacking skill rating is also the target number for someone trying to hit/injure you, so A. you have a passive defense always and B. it's directly tied to your offensive capabilities.

Also, while "death spirals" happen (i.e. things get acceleratingly dangerous as you start getting really hurt, since penalties hit both your ability to hit your foe and your ability to not get hit by them), actually getting killed is difficult, partly because it's almost never immediate.

In more general senses: You could try games/settings where, rather than directly risking death a lot, the players are in situations that risk something lesser, but which itself then risks death. That might've been a little loopy, so here's an example: In a couple of sessions of Shadowrun that I've played, I'd been in combat with dangerous enemies while playing a beastly tank; the likelihood of actually getting killed by any attack or event was really low even when I was taking severe beatings, BUT. I was often in situations where getting knocked unconscious seemed tantamount to death (because my assailant could then put two in my head while I was out cold, and that's that).

QuoteOr, even better yet, does anyone have experience meeting this style of play to deliver a satisfactory experience in general?
Give them what they ask for, in the bluntest sense. If this guy runs headlong into the most dangerous scenarios every time, then have that danger manifest - if he's truly scared of dying then when he's taking huge punishment he'll start fleeing and with all that much more gravity. If he's actually prepared for death and the rules say it's coming for him, then all you have to fudge is the epicness of that death - not whether or not it happens.

If he's not prepared to lose a character but is constantly running into the most dangerous situations just because he's riding on the meta-knowledge that he's immortal cos his GM's generous, well, then some player death will be a wake-up call all around, maybe. Not everything that players (or GMs) want is worth satisfying.

Quote from: Jeff B on March 06, 2011, 09:04:43 PMOnly a tyrant GM could function under a premise like "I decide life and death, no matter what."  There should always be room for group input.
Well, it depends on what the group's there for - and what the setting/system is. Sometimes giving that kind of "tyrannial" control to the GM is needed to achieve certain elements (like the eponymous mood of survival horror systems). For some players, when they don't have control over their character's ultimate fate anymore, they start exercising that much more control over the situations they want their character entering into in the first place.


Quote from: stefoid on March 01, 2011, 02:52:14 AM
Quote from: Cliff H on February 26, 2011, 11:29:47 PM
However, he staunchly believes two things that lead him to his stated attitude:

1) There are certain things that belong solely in the GM's hands no matter what. Matters of life and death, for PC and NPC alike, are among those things. They should be decision made in secrets ("behind the shiled" was his term) and handed down. It's what a GM's authority exists for, so he says.

2) Rules that allow for easy character survival are fine, even preferred. But death rules, whatever they are, should be played, not circumnavigated. If you forever fudge rolls and rules so that the PCs never die, all sense of risk evaporates from the game and it becomes boring. So if you don't want to run a high mortality game, don't use high mortality rules, but once you pick a set of them, use them and don't cheat them.
So I pretty much think this player has a sim priority - he wants to know what really would happen, and as the GM you are the impartial physics of the world, so you tell him.
I have to agree with Jeff and Contracycle that those desires seem like a contradiction in terms.  If the GM is not circumnavigating the rules, and the rules involve a risk of death, and are resolved in a largely deterministic fashion, and the player is constantly pushing for death-associated activities, then death is eventually gonna happen- the GM cannot really avoid that.  Even if you assume that the baseline rules are intended to be simulationist in emphasis, Illusionism has nothing to do with simulation.

As for the idea of how to handle character death- like Cliff mentioned, D&D-style resurrection mechanics of some kind are the easiest way to maintain character continuity while still allowing death to have some kind of sting.  (I find the idea of automatically re-rolling a brand new PC of comparable power to be faintly silly- it essentially rewards death, since you get to completely re-configure your character at no loss in mechanical effectiveness.)

The only alternative is to turn every combat into a pushover, which means you no longer have a dynamic of Players vs. GM-presented-adversity (because the latter provides no challenge,) but Players vs. Players in a kind of non-contact contest to see who can pull off the most overblown stunts, emerge with the largest fraction of remaining HP, have the highest kill-count, or any number of other largely-arbitrary 'scoring' metrics.  This contest might be entirely friendly and in good fun, provided everybody's aboard with it, but at this point you've sailed straight into the waters of the Hard Core (usually Powergaming.)

Warrior Monk

I have also found myself in this dilemma as a player and as a GM. As a player I got frustrated by character death when I had to create a new character, recalculate the stats, tactics, etc. and then find a feasible excuse with the GM to insert the new character. With a simple system, an experienced master and/or a player not so much into powergaming the process can be done quickly, but this is not often the case.

As a GM a character death somehow interrupts the fun for a while. Even if the death was laughable, game has to be interrupted somehow for that player to reincorpore, or the player has to sit down the rest of the session watching other people play.

Eventually these situations led me to think problem was in the design, so I went for minimalistic designs where powergaming, if not evaded, at least took less time. Story points also worked wonders since players invest them in whatever is important for them in the story and make the GM an other players respect that and keep the game ahead.

However the main issue can remain there as a big elephant in the room. Withouth the feeling of risking something, victory feels empty. Now, since a good part of any RPG is creating the illusion of something, either by fudging or less conspicuous mechanics that illusion should (ok, could) also be fullfiled.

In the end the choice I took as a GM was to use the mechanics of any game to their extent to save players from death, even suggesting ways to use their resources to save their characters or appealing to other players to help their mates. When you add there the choice element "yes, you can survive this way but you won't achieve the main goal now" and the player goes for the goal, that's what they want and as a GM you can't deny them that.

Alas, character death doesn't have to be all bad. For example, if a player risks his character's death on a conflict when I'm GMing, the player still rolls the dice to decide the result BUT even if they roll a catastrophic result I narrate their deaths as something epic and let them accomplish something with it. Perhaps it gave the other characters a clue or a way to defeat the boss, thus giving meaning to their sacrifice.

Ron Edwards

Hi everyone,

This thread needs to be left alone now. Please take all topics you want to discuss from it and start new threads, linking back to this one for reference.

Best, Ron