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Author Topic: Lamentations of the Flame Princess is made of lies  (Read 19957 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #30 on: October 17, 2011, 08:49:15 AM »

Minor point: Vincent, maybe Eyes of the Overworld is the best reference phrase. Vance wrote a lot of stuff, after all. That's how I've been interpreting your "Vance" phrasing, so let me know if I'm reading you correctly.

Best, Ron
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lumpley
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« Reply #31 on: October 17, 2011, 10:15:13 AM »

Yes! What I've been reading is Lyonesse, with Eyes of the Overworld and Cugel's Saga as immediate backup.

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

-Vincent
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rabindranath72
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« Reply #32 on: October 25, 2011, 03:12:19 AM »

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

Cheers,
Antonio
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Abkajud
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« Reply #33 on: October 26, 2011, 12:39:59 PM »

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

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

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

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

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

-- Zac
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Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #34 on: October 26, 2011, 02:38:08 PM »

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

(Of course the notion of "objective resistance" and "appropriate level of challenge" is all about constructive denial. The paradigm of our campaign is consistent, and it's challenging as hell, and that's enough to make us feel that the accomplishments are real and objective even as we know in the abstract that in the next town over there probably is some GM who lets you get to 2nd level without having to learn the skills and earn the treasure.)
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David Berg
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« Reply #35 on: October 26, 2011, 04:15:04 PM »

I want to see them succeed, figure out the solutions to low-level D&D and move on to new challenges. This interest on my part just happens to be completely detached from my responsibility as a co-player, this responsibility being to provide an objective and real resistance that proves the skills of the players and certifies them worthy of getting to 2nd level one of these days.

My D&D experience has been that the solutions to low-level D&D and the skills players must prove depend largely on the DM.  Your phrasing implies that your experiences have been different.  If you'd be willing to explain what solutions and skill requirements you see baked into the system, I'd love to hear it!
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #36 on: October 26, 2011, 05:54:59 PM »

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

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

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

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

I know that I'm asking too much with the following, but it's the hygienic principle I run my own game on: insofar as D&D is a game of skill, experience points are the certification system for player skill. For this reason there are no pacing rules for how quickly characters "should" advance; once you've proved that you can reliably get the treasure out of the dungeon, this proof-of-work in the form of experience points will take you to second level, enabling you to take on more dangerous challenges. If you've already taken one character to second level, you should be able to do it again in a fraction of the time, assuming that the game is truly about skill and not about dancing to the enjoyment of an arbitrary GM.
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James_Nostack
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« Reply #37 on: October 26, 2011, 06:39:12 PM »

Quote
we all need to be able to trust that I'll let the ogres kill their party when they stumble upon them, and also that I won't put the ogres in there just to get the PCs killed.

Very nicely phrased.  I like that a lot.

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

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

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

But Eero, that's a really good breakdown of fundamental skills.  Kudos.
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David Berg
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« Reply #38 on: October 27, 2011, 02:07:55 AM »

Thanks, Eero.  Sounds like we've actually had pretty similar experiences.  XP defines the ends, and the means to get there are very contingent on the particular group.  I have plenty of thoughts about this, but I can no longer tell what's on topic for this thread so I'll restrain myself for now.
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lumpley
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« Reply #39 on: November 03, 2011, 03:54:19 PM »

David, that sounds perfect for an actual play thread of your own.

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

Not tonight! Soon.

-Vincent

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