The Forge Forums

General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: InkMeister on August 25, 2010, 10:44:03 PM

Title: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: InkMeister on August 25, 2010, 10:44:03 PM
I was playing Runequest with my group.  We, the PC's, are guarding a caravan.  The caravan gets attacked by a vampire cult.  After we defend the caravan, the caravan leader remarks that we, the PC's, are drawing enemies to the caravan with our mere presence, consequently putting women and children needlessly at risk.  I retort that the women and children were the very reason the caravan was attacked, and that if it were not for we PC's defending the caravan, many people would have been lost to the vampire cult.  If anything, we should receive extra pay for risking our own hides protecting the caravan.   The GM pauses, a little surprised (I think the story's rails required us to simply disembark from the caravan at this point, so we could go do something else in the game), and, out of character, says "good point..."  Then, "roll a negotiation check."   

I was a little disappointed.  I just acted out my negotiation in character - why do I have to roll?  Why can't the GM act out the caravan leader's part, and come to a conclusion?  I rolled, and succeeded, but I was still disappointed.  I would rather have just roleplayed the whole thing, even if it was just a few sentences of dialogue, and NOT succeeded, than roll and leave all to chance. 

Similarly, in both D&D groups I've participated in over the last year (playing 3.5, and now 4th edition), it seems like dice are filling in constantly for what could easily be roleplayed.   You go to jump on a horse - roll a ride check.   Perception checks are a constant - "so I'm in the room - what do I see?"  "Roll a perception check."   Negotiation checks...  Gather information checks... Find/disable traps checks...   And generally I fail to see the point, unless it is somehow an issue of pacing or story flow; "make a roll so we don't have to act out a boring scene."   Even if it is an issue of speeding things along, if something is so pointless that it should be passed over, why roll dice at all?   Why not just make something up, if it is important to do so, and move on?

I am usually disappointed, as a player, when I have some idea of what I want to do, and how to do it, and I have to instead roll dice and leave it to probability.   It feels disempowering.  It also feels less like I'm interacting with SIS, and more like I'm interacting with abstract dice mechanics (and this in spite of the fact that I am fascinated by dice mechanics).   I want to engage my environment; poke the floor with a 10 foot pole rather than roll a detect traps check.   I'm not much for the thespian aspect of roleplaying, but I want to argue with various NPC's, not roll negotation checks (unless, again, it's a pacing issue, but then again, I don't want to roll dice to decide unimportant tasks either).   

I really dislike having to keep looking up numbers on my character sheet to decide every little challenge in the game.   Still, as I said, all the groups I have played with insist on rolling for all kinds of things.

The thing is, in a lot of games (ones I've seen anyway), you have skills for a lot of this stuff.  Negotiation, Gather information, Perception, Notice, Detect Traps, Etiquette, Intimidation, Taunt, etc...  So that, in itself, raises the question: when should you use these skills (which means rolling dice and checking the outcome), and when should you roleplay?  If you roleplay and ignore the mechanic, are you cheating?  Are you not playing "the way you're supposed to?"   The book says XYZ... so why are we ignoring that?   Or why do we only selectively utilize the skill system?   I think a lot of players/GM's feel a sort of guilt if they don't use the mechanics.   Hell, maybe a lot of people have never even played an RPG that didn't have such mechanics, and so they don't know there's an alternative (just roleplaying your way through things). 

Some reasons I can think of for having such mechanics in a game:

1) People want to know what their characters can do, and not just this, but also how their characters improve over time.  Perhaps there is some kind of dopamine release at each level up (or skill raise, whatever), when the number on the sheet goes up a point or two (I think this speaks to the addictive potential of games like Diablo and WoW).  Also, people do often seem to want player/character separation.  This is bogus to me, though, since unless you come up with some kind of mechanical algorithm to control your character's thought processes, YOU are still in your character, influencing your character with your own real-world traits (and, IMO, this is what makes RPGing fun).   There is the convincing and understandable argument that a shy person may want to play a true social master, but still, I personally don't see the need for any kind of grand thespian display in roleplaying - you can talk third person about your character, describing what he/she is trying to do, for example,  and still be roleplaying. 

2) There is perhaps the idea that having a mechanic for all sorts of skills and challenges will force a GM to be honest.   It's supposed to empower players.  You, as GM, may not want to reveal some piece of information to me, but by golly I rolled a 20 on my gather information check - you gotta let me know somethin!   Except... it's still the GM's decision (in traditional games at least) as to how to interpret the result.  So why not just skip the mechanical step?   In practice, what I notice is that GM's consistently scale target numbers so that actions will always be challenging or impossible when they desire that.   You're level 1: target number for your perception check is X.  You're level 20; your target number for the perception check is X+20!   So again, in this case, what's the point?  The fox is still guarding the henhouse, but now we've added a bunch of dice formulas to try to disguise the fact.

Of course, it's not a simplistic or cut and dried issue.  I don't want to roleplay combat free-form; I like the randomness of it, and I like that there are rules to help decide it (but I'm not that big on combat in general... hmmm...).   I'm not sure you'd handle something like a computer-hacking situation without rules unless players involved are very knowledgeable on computers, so I can see the value of rules/skills/mechanics for those situations.   I also am not sure I'm comfortable with free-forming magic situations.   Rules can help structure magic in such a way that you can have, for example, magic using characters that don't break the game or make other types of characters - warriors, for example - inferior.   But at what point do the mechanics go too far?  How do you know?  How do you decide?  How do you use skill mechanics in games like RuneQuest, D&D 3.5, Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Fate, etc?   Do you always roll for negotiations (for example)?  Sometimes?  Never?  When?  Why?

When is it good to roll-play versus roleplay?  Why?  Does roll-playing enhance or somehow supplement roleplaying, and vice versa?  Do you prefer rolling?  Do you prefer straight up roleplaying?   I'm genuinely interested in people's thoughts on this issue.  Personally, at this point, as much as I am fascinated with game mechanics and like the idea of characters growing and differentiating themselves in a quantifiable fashion, I have to say that I tend to be happiest when I am roleplaying through most situations, and leaving mechanics aside for the most part.   How about you?


Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: masqueradeball on August 25, 2010, 11:09:34 PM
The main reason I like the fact that rules are used to decide the outcome of a social engagement is that it allows players who aren't socially adept to succeed based on their characters merits as opposed to the merits of the player. A second, but important, reason is that it gives the GM benchmarks of fairness. In a lot of systems, its not just the roll but the roll and the interaction that determine the outcome, so the GM can assign a weight to the performance, but not so much weight that it overrides the numbers on the sheet. This is important to some players, because lets say I'm socially inept, but I imagine that my character is suave, so I put a lot points into Smooth Talking or whatever the statistic is. Then, another player in my group, who happens to be socially able and good with words, but who has a character with 0 points in Smooth Talking, manages to talk his way past all the baddies. The sociable player may not even mean to do this. It would take a very deft hand by the GM to deal with how the character/player skill discrepancy affect the fiction without the use of some kind of concrete mechanic.

In my current project (a Fantasy RPG called Shadows) I handle this by allowing the players to choose when they want to invoke the system, but the GM has a strong indicating mechanic to tell him how aggressively he should deal with the players socially.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: InkMeister on August 26, 2010, 01:13:14 AM

Thanks for the reply, Nolan!

Your two main points, as I understand them: 1) mechanics, specifically social mechanics, provide a degree of niche protection, and allow shy players to excel socially as PC's.  2) Social mechanics give the GM guidelines in the interest of fairness.

Speaking to 1): I'm all in favor of niche protection.  Why do you need to roll dice and consult some formula to have it?  What is to stop you, for example, from having characters assign their characters qualities, perhaps based mostly on character background, and having the GM simply take those into consideration in game?  Say I'm tracking some baddies through the woods.  The GM knows my character was raised by druids and I grew up in the wilderness.   There should be no doubt that I'm better at tracking than the urban raised thief character, even if neither of us utilizes anything like an actual tracking skill.   Why can't that same thief character put something like "suave" on his character sheet, and have that be taken into account by the GM during social interactions, even if no dice are rolled for "suaveness"?   

On the other hand, and speaking to your 2nd point, you have something like a "gather information" skill (D&D 3.x).   You use the skill, roll a die, and the GM tells you what happens.   Behind the scenes, the GM has picked some target number (ostensibly anyway), and decided what to give you based on your roll.   This is in line with the rules, but is it really any less arbitrary than what I'm suggesting above?  The GM still picks the target number (or just decides what is going to happen, regardless of the die roll), and also chooses what the die roll will mean.   The book can give guidelines, but if the GM is set on not giving you a piece of information, he/she is not going to give it to you - and how would you know whether you didn't get the info because you failed the die roll, or because the NPC you interrogated didn't have the info, or because the GM simply didn't want you to have the info, even though you did roll high enough and the NPC did have the info you wanted?.   And this is part of my frustration.  I have played with a GM that likes players to be level 20 D&D superheroes.  I also have a very, very strong suspicion that he simply scaled target numbers to be just as hard to reach as they would be for a level 1 newbie PC (effectively nullifying the meaning of being level 20 with regard to certain skills).   IS that how it's supposed to work?   No.  But what's to stop it?   I'd rather cut the pretense and just roleplay it out, regardless of the outcome. 

Just my humble thoughts - I have the utmost respect for differing opinions.   Not just respect, but a genuine curiosity and interest regarding this topic.  Love to hear more opposing viewpoints, or any thoughts on the topic in general. 


Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Moganhio on August 26, 2010, 06:36:08 AM
Quite a few years ago I was mastering an old school game. One of the players (kind of powergamer) used to focus his character in combat stats and get over charisma/negotiating stats with roleplaying.

Even though I could give him a bonus for a good point in a negotiation (or a flirting), he had to roll. Always. He didn't like it, of course, and was claiming quite often: 'hey, man, I can negotiate well, why I have to roll?'

One day his character was attacking other PC, and was at an advantage. I gave the other PC quite a good bonus. He got a bit mad about it and stared at me like 'WTF?'. I looked him back, and answered 'hey, man, he plays martial arts and can fight quite well. You don't. But, if you don't believe me, I have no problem about leaving you both roleplay the fight'

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Adam Dray on August 26, 2010, 07:10:27 AM
I think there are a couple things that are universally messed up in these games you're playing, but also a few things that are a matter of taste (and you seem to think they're universal).

Messed up: The GM making the player roll and then making up whatever result suits him.
Messed up: Rolling constantly for stuff that doesn't matter.
Messed up: The GM feeding you information a bit at a time, on his own schedule, to control "the story."

D&D 3.5 and D&D 4e handle these things differently, so I'd be careful about generalizing.

In 3.5, there's a lot of DM fiat around what happens when a player succeeds on a skill check. Consider setting stakes explicitly with your DM before you roll. "If I succeed at this Perception check, I see whatever is here, right?" "Sure." "What do I need to roll to succeed." "Uh, say DC 18." That can mitigate the "damage" caused by the DM just doing whatever he wanted to do, regardless of your roll. Yes, you're still counting on the DM to be honest about "whatever is here" but if you have talked about this with your DM and he's agreed to be honest, then it comes down to basic human trust. Don't play with people you don't trust.

In 4e, most of the rules surrounding skill checks are pretty explicitly defined, complete with target DCs and consequences. In all of the 4e examples, even the "knowledge check" (e.g., an Arcana roll to see if you know anything about a type of magic) is generally set up with a DC and a block of information that the PC learns on success.

These factors do not address your belief that these tasks shouldn't be rolled at all. Reading between the lines, I gather that you don't object to interaction with the system (I don't see you complaining about rolling during combat, for example), but rather you object to rolling for dumb shit that just doesn't matter. Perhaps you've heard the phrase "say yes or roll the dice," paraphrased from a rule Vincent Baker wrote in Dogs in the Vineyard (a game with a lot of excellent dice rolling that matters). The phrase sums up the idea that the GM often just lets the players do whatever because it doesn't matter. When it matters, when there's more at stake than that silly little task, then that's when you reach for the dice.

In general, a GM can control the flow of information to the players to control "the story." I put it in scare quotes because it generally means that the players on a railroad and have little influence over what is going to happen on any kind of meaningful level. Some players do just play to be entertained for a few hours, but it's pretty clear that you want to have significant "steering power" over the course of events in the game. And you should, in my opinion. So a lot of this comes down to not wanting to be railroaded via information feeding, dice fudging, extraneous obstacles like unnecessary skill checks, and so on.

Not messed up: Rolling for stuff in general and not "just role-play[ing] it out."
Not messed up: Scaling difficulties for characters levels in D&D.

A lot of this stuff comes down to preference. If you're playing D&D 3.5 or 4e, you're playing a game with skills and skill checks. You will be asked at some point to make a Diplomacy check. Can the DM handwave the check for good role-playing? I suppose, but why have Diplomacy on your character sheet if you're going to ignore it when it matters? If you think the game is flawed or not suited to your tastes, try a different game.

In a game where you have no Diplomacy skill, how do you resolve a scene that requires diplomacy? I know you say, "just role-play it," but more than anything else that leaves it to GM fiat. No matter how diplomatically you role-play, the GM can say, "I'm not convinced" or "I'm convinced" and then move the story the way he wanted anyway. So first, if the diplomacy doesn't matter to you or the GM, no one should bother rolling. If it matters to either of you, then it needs a roll (or some other contact with the system). You roll or whatever, and the dice decide what happens.

What if you role-played well but rolled shitty? How do you handle that? A couple solutions:

1. Don't assume a bad roll means poor PC performance. It could mean interference from an external force, or hidden information the PC doesn't have. The PC could have been the most suave diplomat ever but didn't know that the NPC hates elves.

2. Roll before role-playing too much. If you roll shitty, have a blast role-playing a fumbled diplomacy attempt. Failure is a blast to play out.

Every recent version of D&D encourages DMs to scale encounters to the party's level. If you want a different kind of play, you'll need to work that out with your DM.

You will probably love Matthew Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming ( It singles out four "zen moments" that hearken back to a supposedly older style of gaming: 1. rulings not rules, 2. players skill, not character abilities, 3. heroic, not superhero, and 4. forget "game balance." I think these will speak to your heart.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Rafu on August 26, 2010, 07:13:12 AM
I was a little disappointed.  I just acted out my negotiation in character - why do I have to roll?  Why can't the GM act out the caravan leader's part, and come to a conclusion?

That's actually a loaded question.

Either methods are equally valid (and, I contend, there are other methods as well, some of them more valid, but well...).

The problem, here, is the disagreement about which method to use.

Since the kind of ruleset Runequest (which one, by the way?) is doesn't explicitly rule on such matter, it all comes down to "play style". You need to speak to your fellow players, including of course the one player who is game-mastering, and sort out whatever problems you have, until you develop a play-style which is satisfactory for everyone. This is going to be an entirely social thing: clarifying the currently blurry social contract of your ongoing game, basically.
Note that, this being a real-life negotiation, you'd be better advised not to come at it with a prejudice that one play-style or the other be inherently superior. It may well be that you are the only dissatisfied one, while everybody else likes how they're playing the game a lot.


As for the game design angle, those of you who are designing their own games should rather, in my opinion, avoid this issue entirely by disregarding Fortune-at-the-end Task Resolution in favor of more current techniques... like the sort of Fortune-in-the-middle Conflict Resolution you get in an overwhelming number of modern classics such as Primetime Adventures or The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System, just to drop a few big names. Also, and maybe more importantly, clearly explain in your text how you expect players to play your game -- using extensive play examples and explicit play-style tips as well as integrating the desired "style" right into your mechanics. Finally, if something can be done more than one way, say so.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Caldis on August 26, 2010, 10:42:10 AM
I was a little disappointed.  I just acted out my negotiation in character - why do I have to roll?  Why can't the GM act out the caravan leader's part, and come to a conclusion?  I rolled, and succeeded, but I was still disappointed.  I would rather have just roleplayed the whole thing, even if it was just a few sentences of dialogue, and NOT succeeded, than roll and leave all to chance. 

I could be way off on this and turning the discussion on it's ear but here is my take on the situation, feel free to take it as wild rambling of a mad man if it doesnt really relate.

I think the dice rolling is a minor issue and the real problem here is the story rails and the GM's treating the Caravan leader NPC as a tool to advance the story and not a character with actual motivations and goals.  That's why he had you roll the dice he didnt know or wasnt prepared to take on the role of the caravan leader so he left it up to a skill check.  The game didnt feel real because he ignored the fictional situation and turned to some dice to see what happened.  This is a problem in many games with or without dice.  I had problems with AD&D back in the day especially at high level because of all the hit points and the need to whittle them down which made describing combats incredibly boring.

Have you played Dogs in the Vineyard?  It has a resolution system that could make your characters stand off with the caravan leader interesting and it uses dice to do it.  No skill system or negotiation checks but you roll dice based on appropriate traits like say the leader was cheap and is very stingy with his money he could have bonus dice for that, you dice off and if he wins you dont get any money out of him though you can escalate to physical action where you might win and he'll cave in.   This is a dice system that works well when you focus on the fiction and treat the characters as real beings.  It suffers a similar problem though if you dont respect the characters or the situation and instead focus on winning the situation and escalate no matter what ramifications it has on the fiction.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: masqueradeball on August 26, 2010, 10:52:25 AM
Inkmeister, he doesn't need to use dice, but I think making rulings based off a public guideline (when your D20 hits the table and everyone can see it shows an 18, everyone at the table has some expectation of what that means) is different from just making a ruling. I'm all for diceless roleplay, and I think it can work quite well, but very few games really give you a good framework for doing this (Amber is the only example of something that does, and even that very long book about diceless roleplaying fails to work 100% of the time).

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 26, 2010, 11:33:56 AM
Hi everyone,

I suggest great care in distinguishing between (i) a given technique on principle and (ii) a given technique as one person has experienced it to date. Adam's points are really important to keep this thread from becoming a mess of "well I think's" based on various different contexts.

I also suggest that the term "diceless" is so debased at this point as to mean practically anything, and that we'd do well to use a more specific term for the exact thing being discussed. For example, Nolan, the resolution techniques in Amber are highly quantified and therefore have a lot more in common with standard dice-based techniques than either do with the unconstructed, descriptive-term only techniques that Nick wants to discuss.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on August 26, 2010, 04:06:37 PM
Hello Nick

Why can't the GM act out the caravan leader's part, and come to a conclusion?
Equally why can't it just result in a dice roll?

Why would your 'why can't it' come ahead of his 'why can't it'?

The game you've sat down to play textually says the GM makes this call. And if your not willing to adhere to the text that's supposed to co-ordinate how all participants do things during the activity (so they are doing the same thing), why would anyone adhere to your notion of the GM acting out the caravan leaders part, when it comes down to it?

Writing a new game system (or tacking house rules onto D&D) where the text that co-ordinates everyone says to act out the caravan leader, that makes practical sense to me. But sitting there arguing against the current co-ordination text - in practical terms that doesn't work out. Indeed, it just you being disruptive to people who are all trying to do the same thing the text describes.

And I totally disagree with Adam's overview - it makes the classic mistake, in my estimate, of shooting the messenger/the GM.

Messed up: The GM making the player roll and then making up whatever result suits him.
Messed up: Rolling constantly for stuff that doesn't matter.
Messed up: The GM feeding you information a bit at a time, on his own schedule, to control "the story."

The ruleset grants the GM power to do all this - so do we blame the ruleset when the GM, shock horror, actually uses the power granted to him by the rules you knew were there and still sat down to? No, we blame the GM, when he's just the messenger. And because people keep blaming the GM, they don't write systems that stop granting the GM all this power to begin with. You even have Adam calling the GM untrustworthy for just playing the (crappy) rules as they are. It's like calling someone untrustworthy for checking you in chess. Yes, the GM has unlimited resources in D&D, so it's much easier for him to do than check mating in chess is. So why are we writing games which keep repeating D&D's folly on handing him this much power?

One of the hardest things to do is when you think someone else is wrong, is to instead see one of your own practices as actually being wrong. And not wrong by someone elses preferences, but wrong by your own personal standards.

So none of it seems true, of course. But consider this - you can write a ruleset that gives the GM considerably less power/resources/currency/capacity to call for dice rolls. This is definately a true statement.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Jim D. on August 27, 2010, 05:54:13 AM
At risk of temporarily derailing the conversation:


1. Don't assume a bad roll means poor PC performance. It could mean interference from an external force, or hidden information the PC doesn't have. The PC could have been the most suave diplomat ever but didn't know that the NPC hates elves.

I can get behind this.  I roleplayed a 3.5 D&D rogue with a renaissance pistol.  I was having crappy luck with a couple die rolls on to-hit, and I always rationalized it in character; the gun hang-fired, or the wind wasn't with me, or my target juked at the last second.  And the fighter turned to me and said, "do you ever just miss?"  I answered, "no", with full confidence.  The GM liked it.

I really enjoy the idea of not deprotagonizing your players by making them die horribly on ones, or telling them exactly how much they suck when they blow a skill roll.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: masqueradeball on August 27, 2010, 08:10:11 AM
In response to Ron & Nick: When do you mean just role play do you mean unstructured free form role play or is there room for other things besides dice to act as guidelines towards the result. Otherwise, the why use dice thing breaks down into the same thing that most techniques do: Do the dice facilitate the fun? The only pitfall to thinking that way is that I think there's a need to balance between short term and long term: sometimes something that is tedious or distracting now is necessary over a longer period, to achieve a larger goal. I mean, every poster can do what I've done and give you reasons why using the dice might be a good thing, or why systems have done it historically, but ultimately its about your tastes. In the merchant caravan instance that you sight, it seems that the biggest problem with the dice is that they felt like they took away the power of the player to impact the story, is that correct? We could try and think of ways that dice could be used that might avoid this pitfall, or mechanics in place in other games to mitigate this (Hero Points, Stunt Dice, etc...)

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: oculusverit on August 27, 2010, 09:51:28 AM
Two points I wanted to make:

1) Character advancement on skill checks. When it comes to the whole seemingly arbitrary difficulties set by a GM, where things are X difficulty at level 1 and then X-20 difficulty at level 20, this is not something that either realistically or, in game terms, productively reflects character advancement. A skill level reflects how good a character is at a skill, and therefore the better they get the more handwaving (automatic success) should take place at the lower levels of difficulty, whereas simultaneously it's the GM's responsibility to come up with more difficult things to challenge the player's skill. This applies to social stuff the same way it applies to combat.
As an example, at level 1 the PC should have to roll negotiation just to haggle a better place on a room at the inn. The difficulty here is X. Now, at level 10, we can assume that this character can now succeed automatically when performing this same action, and no dice rolling is needed--but the GM may still call for a roll when trying to convince a reluctant but powerful wizard to assist the group, with the difficulty at X+10. At level 20, both of these actions require no roll, but by now the PCs may have to convince the King to lend them an army, and this difficulty is X+20.

2) Fortune in the Middle, Roleplaying at the End. Adam's point is well taken here. The issue here is if the guy who creates a combat monster by giving himself nothing to work with on the social side tries to roleplay his way past obstacles that the GM really wants to be in one's way, this is comparable to someone describing a fight scene in detail and claiming that this allows him to have defeated the monster without rolling. Why have stats at all in that case? The dice say how well you've done at a given action, but by roleplaying before rolling the dice you're investing more in your own success and therefore the dice feel superfluous. Therefore, roll first and then roleplay like Adam said, to show your success or failure. On the other side, if the GM in your particular example was going to call a roll to negotiate with the caravan leader, he should have informed you of this before he had the NPC engage your character in an argument.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Adam Dray on August 27, 2010, 12:37:42 PM

You've misinterpreted what I was saying.

First of all, I'm not blaming anyone. No one is being shot. I'm pointing out that a situation is messed up. If play is dysfunctional, regardless of why it is happening, that's messed up. I don't know why you assume I'm blaming the GM; you could have assumed I was blaming the game designer. In reality, I don't know who is to blame, so I didn't assign any.

Second, even if I grant that I'm "shooting the messenger" (and I am not), it doesn't change the fact that the situation is messed up. If those problems are occurring in the game, then the players have little agency to make decisions that matter, and that sucks. It doesn't matter if it's happening because the GM is just playing the rules-as-written, or if it's happening because the GM is ignoring the rule advice and being a choad. So why are you making this point?

Last, I didn't say anyone was untrustworthy. I talked about a fictional situation in which Nick might ask his GM to do something different in the future. In that fictional future, Nick's new solution works if the GM is trustworthy. If Nick's GM is not trustworthy, my solution still won't work, but I pointed out that there is NO fix for such things except not to play with such a person.

To sum: I'm not pointing fingers at people. I'm not blaming people I have never met. I'm analyzing a problem, pointing at what I believe are the root causes, and offering potential solutions--with caveats.

Please stop tilting at windmills.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 27, 2010, 02:24:23 PM
This thread's hit a moderator stopping point.

There are some fundamentals which were resolved long ago in discussions here which need to be referenced and established as a baseline for further discussion. I haven't had the time and no one else has done it yet.

Please hold off on posting until I do some house-cleaning and clarification here.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 30, 2010, 08:21:00 AM

I apologize for taking so long. I didn't intend to shut the thread down. My goal here is to outline some points which were discussed here in detail, leading to the conclusion that "roll/role," as a commonly-mentioned contrast in role-playing, is a false dichotomy. I also think that we can stick specifically to the game being described and address a real issue without getting distracted by presumed higher principles.

A few years ago, I coined the term "Murk" to describe a phenomenon which I hadn't been too familiar with myself, but seemed to be widespread in the hobby. I focused strongly on when and how a role-playing, collectively, could not manage to know when to apply any particular rule, especially those concerned with resolution. Joel's thread Mother-May-I and 20 questions: Games GMs play ( helped clarify the issue a lot. Callan's thread Warhammer; Chaos! Order! Molasses! ( is a great introduction to it, including his term "Molasses," meaning what it was like actually to get anywhere or do anything during play - slow, sticky, attention-draining, and often pointless. Also, the embedded threads in that one provide a good background.

As a role-player, I didn't experience much Murk in the late 1970s and 1980s; play ran into trouble more often due to clashes in Creative Agenda, or in a certain mis-match between investment in character and investment in play. I can't speak for the wider range of role-playing beyond my experience, except that I was in contact with quite a few Champions groups across the U.S. for a long time, and they didn't seem to run into it much either. It seems to be more common now.

I have some ideas about how it became a major feature of the hobby. These are probably doomed to speculative status forever and best suited to face to face discussions. I do think it's fair to identify the three primary rules systems that settled into primary status during the early 1980s: AD&D in the form of the three late-1970s hardbacks, plus books like Unearthed Arcana and the Wilderness Survival Guide; BRP in the form of RuneQuest (1978, plus Cults of Prax, Cults of Terror, Trollpack, and the three Pavis boxed sets) and Call of Cthulhu (a mash-up of its first two editions across three versions); and Champions, across three editions each with useful supplements, prior to the generic form of the Hero System.

During this time, people grappled a bit with how to resolve interesting problems and conflicts when the characters were not fighting, because most of the resolution rules were concerned with, hell, drooling obsessed with, combat. But I think ... only think, mind you, that the default engagement with one another about what was being imagined tended to hold together pretty well.

I'm thinking as well that the trouble mainly arose when people were confronted by the combination of novels and games, as with Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. I alluded to this in my recent thread on TFT: Wizard,

with books like Forgotten Realms and however many similar ever since, there's a purported connection between a DM's vision of the campaign's story and a novel (or series), in which references to system are more like product placement. So the message to the hopeful user of the game is, the story-of-play is the same as write-my-novel. I think this is exactly the origin of the "system doesn't matter" claim in the hobby, as well as the grotesque confounding of "story" with metaplot.

In other words, and putting aside the merits or lack of merits in something like the Forgotten Realms books or The Wheel of Time, "a good story" or "a real story" was perceived to emerge from a DM/GM with a story-vision, to be visited upon the players, exactly in the same way that a novelist's story is visited upon the readers - as opposed to play itself, with decision-making spread across the participants in distinctive ways, and with its mechanics inserting good and bad bounces for characters, to produce such a thing.

Not only is this potentially a broken creative model from the outset, but trying to do it with legacy systems is nearly unimaginable. Murk arose instantly - what the hell is rolling for? When the hell do you do it? The threads I linked to at the top of the post are all about this.

Two profiles evolved over time from group to group, and new games began to be written from the perspectives of those profiles. The first is perhaps best termed dice-phobic, composed of people who'd learned that the only way to avoid their characters looking stupid or dying was to get things done by maneuvering away from the dice, and devaluing the dice' input in the terrible event that they had to be rolled for some reason. The second is to attempt to use the skills and dice systems as constantly as possible, applying them whenever the characters perform any sort of tasks, perhaps in the assumption that the "game universe" is composed of such rolls. I don't mind saying that both of these, in practice, tended very fast to suck donkey dick. It's true that both represented more genuine system than the rather unconstructed, rather weird tacit system that this generation of gamers inherited ... but two dumb solutions to a problem aren't much of an improvement. Nor is reversion to the original problem, as exemplified by Exalted, as I see it.

I'm not talking about difference in style, or Agenda, or any kind of comparison among functional options. Here, when I say "suck" I don't merely mean something I personally happen not to like. I'm talking about observable lack of enjoyment and at times, outright social disaster including life-disrupting crisis. Perhaps that's why Zilchplay is also more common than I would have believed, based on my older-school experiences that were somewhat isolated from the hobby subculture through the 1990s. If trying to find real enjoyment is disastrous, then better to settle for bland, Agenda-less activity that only rarely accomplishes imaginative fun.

So that puts us when ... probably right around 1990, when the original communities of RPG design had aged into their 40s and the new crop of designers was old enough and spunky enough to define a new standard for RPG content. At this point, each of the defensive approaches then evolved further, representing relatively desperate attempts to fix their inherent flaws. The fixes usually relied on designating idealized social roles to establish creative authority, such that "The GM" took on a lofty degree of artistic and social power well beyond what healthy human interactions can sustain. Yet another secondary effect was to bolster one's own choices in this weird constellation of bad options by labeling others' versions of it inferior, compounding broken local social interactions with identity politics. That is what Roll vs. Role is all about.

What I'm saying, by contrast, is that successful play relies on being Not Murky. If you know when you roll (or use any formalized mechanics for resolution, including formalized dialogue alone!), and when you don't, then the rolling is good and the not-rolling is good. In fact, in Non-Murk play, they are complementary and necessary. In more recent games like Universalis and Polaris, for instance, there is no point in distinguishing between mechanics of resolution and the modes of dialogue among the players - they are the same thing. Apocalypse World does something similar by categorizing participants' significant input into formal "moves," and outlining the exact circumstances that require Move mechanics both fictionally and in reality. As I see it, all three of these games are putting names and terms into techniques of play which had proven themselves under fire for decades in preventing Murk, and organizing them better.

That was really long and maybe boring. Let me know whether we need to discuss it more. I'm particularly stressing the point that "rolling" is a terrible and inappropriate term for what is better understood as formal procedures for determining the course of and consequences of certain fictional situations. The procedures in question can be anything! This is key because the "Roll/Role" phraseology creates this picture:

i) Anything with dice
ii) Anything without dice

Whereas the real contrast should be

i) Anything Murky
ii) Anything not Murky

Hence Amber was called "Diceless" in the sense of (ii) in the first group, whereas in fact, its system is sufficiently formal to place it into (ii) of the second group. (OK, granted, Amber is not without its own brand of confusion here and there, but the use of dice or its lack is not the source of that.) Or any number of games claim to be "Diceless" despite using, for instance, cards exactly as one uses dice, or various quantitative techniques that introduce unknowns without rolls or draws. Or "dice pool" gets co-opted into meaning solely the White Wolf Storyteller system including its idiosyncrasies. In other words, blithering idiocy prevailed.

Let me know if any of this is interesting and/or makes sense. I have a whole new post drafted to talk about your game and points specifically, but let's check on things this far.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 30, 2010, 08:44:46 AM
Ah, why not, here's what I was working on. It was easier to finish it than I thought it would be.

When dice are a pretense, then fuck them. Clearly this goes for any kind of formal procedure for resolving something (or better, to establish consequence) ... and that includes dialogue.

It's not surprising that system-as-pretense shows up consistently in all the following circumstances, here all phrased as the GM might say it : "Do their characters notice this thing? And shit! If they don't, then my STORY loses all that important stuff like foreshadowing it's supposed to have, but if they do, then they might do something and screw up the STORY." "Do they alter my NPC's planned behavior? Shit! Can they do that? If they can, then what do I do?" "Are they in a position of advantage relative to physical danger, altering my planned use of combat mechanics? Shit! If they are, then I don't have as good a feel for how this is supposed to turn out. They need to respect my characters' danger to them so they can ally with them later with the proper amount of respect, or my STORY won't have the scene I'm playing in my head."

Here's my point to you: as far as I can tell without having been there myself, when play is Murky in this fashion, then not rolling is not going to be a solution either. The problem was not how to find out how the negotiations went - no! The point was to get you (the players) into putting the characters where they were supposed to go, while maintaining the desperate illusion that all such events were being internally and causally generated, instead of imposed. If I really had to guess, I think the GM called for a roll in hopes that it would turn out the way you were supposed to go. And now, not guessing but speaking from extensive experience, I know a skilled Illusionist GM uses non-formalized mechanics, "just talking," "role-playing," even more manipulatively.

In fact, I realize you didn't tell us whether your negotiation check succeed. Did it? Either way, what happened? Did you stay on the rails? If so, did you know that was happening at the time? If so, did anyone overtly indicate his or her knowledge of that?

I'm beginning to think this thread should reach back even further into The Impossible Thing, Illusionism, Force, and the Black Curtain. But I'll do that another day.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: masqueradeball on August 30, 2010, 12:34:44 PM
When I referenced Amber, that was exactly my point, that Amber doesn't use dice but it has some solid guidelines for determining what happens in the narrative, and despite the fact that you do compare numbers (in the game), it is very very free form. A conversation like the one that Nicks talking about would be handled in one of three ways: 1)The merchant is way better at talking than you, the GM tells you you lose, 2) Your way better than the Merchant, the GM lets you get what you want, 3) your close enough at being good/not good at talking: you and the gm describe exactly what happens, word for word, and see what results, the GM uses Good Stuff/Bad Stuff as a guideline when he doesn't have an idea of how thing would go. Its not a free form discussion, but its close.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on August 30, 2010, 01:17:38 PM
Wow, looks like a freight train hit this thread, there are so many points that have been raised, I've lost count. I'll say the thing that immediately came to my mind when reading the first post anyway, in the hope it's not too confusing.

Nick, I can totally relate to your disappointment. What I read from your first two paragraphs is this: There you were, picking up all the bits and pieces of fiction that had been created along the game's way, building on them, transforming them into an argument that was rooted in the fictional situation and simply made sense. You were making a good case, and you were probably also acting in character, putting up some performance. And the GM acknowledged you when he said, "good point". You were connecting, he was confirming your interpretation of the fictional situation, your understanding of the NPC and his motivation. The fiction was coming alive between the two of you, you were "getting into it", assessing it, judging it, and this meant something. And then the GM stepped back, taking away the acknowledgement, interrupting the connection by asking for a roll. So it didn't matter after all. You might as well just have said: "My guy tries to convince that guy that it's not our fault", and rolled.

Now that's not to say that the GM was wrong, it's simply what I read from your post as how you felt about it. Maybe I'm projecting, because it's sure how I would have felt. This is something I've been bringing up before, concerning involvement and dedication with the shared fiction, and concerning real judgement of quality contributions. A provocative take on your first two paragraphs would be that you and the GM lingered, for a small moment, at the threshold of entering a higher level of play (higher level of skill, higher level of engagment, higher level of shared understanding, higher level of satisfaction). But I'm afraid bringing all this into the discussion on top of everything that Ron and Adam have already raised would be way too much for this single thread. Let me know if anything I've written resonates with you, then we might spin it off (now or later).

- Frank

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on August 31, 2010, 02:42:19 AM
I think the overview is a useful historical document to gain perspective by. But in terms of this:
When dice are a pretense, then fuck them. Clearly this goes for any kind of formal procedure for resolving something (or better, to establish consequence) ... and that includes dialogue.
Is this advice for if your in such a game now? Or is it advice for designing new games (which includes taking an old game and bolting some house rules onto it)?

What is or isn't pretence seems something it takes a human to determine? If the game relies on this to work, then it's not the game/mechine making itself work? By a machine making itself work, I'd say a piano or guitar makes itself work. Yeah, I know 'they don't play themselves', but making themselves work is different from playing themselves.

Or are you refering to a third thing I haven't thought of?

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 31, 2010, 06:55:01 AM
Hi everyone,

Those are great posts, but I think we need to let Nick respond and act as the thread leader.

I'll post just a little based on what y'all have written.

Nolan, that technique you're describing is not "free form" at all. Or perhaps it's better to say, if we want to use the term "free form," we need a better definition of it than merely "not using dice." As far as I'm concerned, as soon as we reference the quantitative/comparative features of the two characters to frame how to resolve this situation, then we've entered mechanics-land, and are well out of anything called "free form," whatever that might be.

All of which is to say, yes, I think your earlier point and my big posts above are compatible. Let's not argue because we agree; that's silly.

Frank, your post addressed Nick specifically, and I mainly agree, so I'll only say I do want to try to avoid the pitfall of saying the "higher level" of play you mention is predicated on abandoning dice. But I think I hit that dead creature a few times already with my keyboard, so I'll leave it.

Callan, my "fuck them" can apply both to play and to design. As it happens, I try to play games without doing that, by instead acknowledging and tolerating the parameters of the pretense in order to discover what might be excellent in some other part of the game. But that's just me in research + fun mode, and it seems unreasonable to ask others to do it, when they're in fun mode alone. So for anyone who's not inclined toward analysis of the game, then yeah, my advice is in fact, fuck the dice or fuck the talking or fuck some specific combination of them, if any of those things is generating Murk. Life's too short to play in that stuff, ever.

So, over to Nick.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: InkMeister on September 01, 2010, 12:37:19 AM
Thanks for all the replies!

Frank absolutely hit the nail on the head with his post.  That is EXACTLY what I'm talking about.  Why did the GM bother to act in character to accuse we, the players, of attracting trouble to the caravan, if my own in-character response was not sufficient, but would instead depend on a die-roll (which did, in fact, succeed, Ron)?   Just as you say, Frank, we could just as easily skipped the roleplay and settled the whole situation with dice, or, as I would have prefered, simply acted the situation out in character.  Even though I succeeded with my die roll, I would have preferred merely acting the thing out, and failing. 

Ron, your posts are both interesting.  I'm not sure I've adequately processed everything, but I do very much appreciate your idea of murky versus not murky.   So, from my perspective, the murk is in the fact that I'm not sure what a negotiation skill means in a game, and a lot of my post is really about trying to figure this out.  So returning to my actual play example involving the caravan leader, am I to 1) roll my negotiation skill and then roleplay with the guard based on what result I get?  In other words, if I succeed, is the fun of the roll the fact that I get to act out a successful negotiation?  Or 2) do we not act out the negotiation at all, but instead let the roll determine what happens, possibly by deciding BEFORE the roll what the stakes are?  (in which case, maybe it was simply bad play for me to invest myself in trying to act out the encounter in the first place) Or 3) do we roll only if we don't feel like acting the situation out in character?   

I mean, when I made the post, I had in mind which option I prefered.  But it's not clear to me how these mechanics are supposed to work.  When do we use them?  When don't we?   What place does in-character roleplaying have in a system where there are skills and mechanics for everything?   THIS is where the murk comes in for me.  I'm genuinely not sure when one should roll and when one should not.  If a game has a negotiation skill and some mechanic to utilize it, then am I wrong for wanting to act out my negotiations without dice?   Does it mean I should be using a different system?  So far, my preference is to not roll for a lot of this stuff, since it feels like rolling overrides whatever effort I put into acting the part of my character.  And I say this as a person who genuinely is not interested in using roleplaying as a way to gain some advantage;  I have no interest in making a character that is a total combat machine, and then using free-form roleplaying (as opposed to formal mechanical procedures) to circumvent that same character's weaknesses.   I'm interested in the free-form because it feels more fun to me, thus far.   But I'm interested in how rolling the dice CAN be fun, which is a big part of why I made this thread. 

AS to rails and whatnot...  I will gladly defer to Ron's far more extensive experience and concede that free-form is potentially more easily turned towards GM manipulation and so on. 

I don't intend for this thread to be entirely about me.  I started the thread with the hopes that I could get some insight into why one would prefer rolling dice to settle negotiatiosn versus acting out a negotiation free-form.   As far as all that goes, I appreciate the notion of niche protection and game balance.  I also happily concede that I don't really want to free-form my combats, and I'm not sure why I feel that way.  Also, I am uneasy about free-form magic.  Am I hopelessly oldschool?  I am very familiar with the rhetoric of old-school D&Ders, but I'm not an evangelist for that style of play, though I find it attractive in some ways.  I am genuinely drawn to what I know of games beyond the D&D world.  I'm wanting to expand my horizons.  But I'm not sure I'm at all sold on the benefits of having negotiation rolls in a game.  My experiences of these sorts of mechanics seem to cheapen my own experience of a roleplaying game.   As my actual play example points out...  having to roll the dice was kind of a jarring, unpleasant thing.  Why invest oneself if you can roll instead?  And is rolling really that fun?  For me, in situations like my actual play example, it's not.   If the main benefit of having negotiation skills and the like is to prevent some kind of munchkinism or the overwhelming power of DM fiat, I'm not sure that's enough for me to be sold on them. 

I feel some of the comments are pretty strongly stated... so let me be super clear here; my intention is to better understand this stuff, not to step on anyone's toes.   Sorry if I stepped on anyone's toes.   I'm not trying to tell anyone else how they should enjoy their games. 


Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: contracycle on September 01, 2010, 05:48:49 AM
Weeellll....  I can suggest some reasons why the role might have been made.  They may or may not have any relevanece to the actual event in your game, though, but let me throw some ideas out there.

The GM isn't playing one character like you are; the GM is playing every other character.  So while your thoughts can intuitively align with your characters thoughts, this isn't true for the GM's characters; otherwise they will all be the same.  In this context it's quite dangerous for the GM to simply rely on what they personally think is reasonable when it comes to portraying NPC's; after all, there are multitudes of people who fervently believe things I think are quite ridiculous, and vice versa.  In this sense, some kind of randomisation serves as a check on the GM falling into the habit of making all their NPC's think along similar lines.

The second thing is that the result of the roll might not have mattered that much in terms of content, but rather only in subjectivity.  Let's say for example that the GM recognised your point was good, and yet you failed the roll; now whatever happens happens, and you can go away with the feeling that the caravan master was unjust.  Does that make a big difference?  It provides you with a motivation of sorts.  And the same may apply the other way; the GM may interpret the result as meaning that the caravan master was unconvinced there and then - blinded by anger, say - but later comes around to see your point and regrets whatever decision they made.  Or the GM could decide that while the caravan master was not convinced, other people in earshot were and intervene or talk him down.

In this way, the roll can add to play, and produce events that were otherwise unexpected or unlikely if it were just an argument made player to player, and therefore be fun.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 01, 2010, 09:27:10 AM
Hi Nick,

I'm going to do something I rarely do and choose part of your post for bit-by-bit dissection. Please double-check me on whether I've disrespected the bigger picture of your post.

I'm not sure what a negotiation skill means in a game, and a lot of my post is really about trying to figure this out.

I think I understand you. I want to stress that the problematic issue on your end is what I've bolded: "in a game." Because there is no answer to this question if it's applied at this very general level that's strongly implied by that phrasing. The posts so far have been good, but limited to the necessity of saying "If this, but not [/i]this, then rolling is good," or "not good." All the ifs seems to me to be unproductive.

So what must you do, conceptually, to frame the (excellent) question in a way that can be answered? I think there are two basic approaches, both of which are good but have little traps in them too.

1. Talk about this particular application, i.e., this very exact group and set of characters and moment in the session and overall series of sessions. I often recommend this because then we can say whether the use of that rule/roll had any utility for the aims of play, and how that particular game was being used toward those aims. The pitfall here is armchair psychology, guessing and possibly accusing regarding the GM's motives, which I think lends itself to projection and self-justification. Although Gareth (contracycle) is providing a good example of how to avoid that trap, thankfully.

2. Talk about the textual game as a system and how social skill use relates to the rest of its parts, and see whether the game design itself favors the use of its own rules about this issue I often favor this approach, although in this case, huge traps await us. D&D is the Torah of role-playing discussions, with people feverishly and defensively referring to its contents but not willing actually to look at them and read them. My own threads about skill use in D&D 3.0/3.5 were quite instructive in this regard.*

My questions about the success of that roll were aimed at these issues. Telling me only whether it succeeded isn't helping much, though. I asked a number of questions about its result, including whether it was plot-consequential or not, and how people responded socially.

So returning to my actual play example involving the caravan leader, am I to 1) roll my negotiation skill and then roleplay with the guard based on what result I get? In other words, if I succeed, is the fun of the roll the fact that I get to act out a successful negotiation? Or 2) do we not act out the negotiation at all, but instead let the roll determine what happens, possibly by deciding BEFORE the roll what the stakes are? (in which case, maybe it was simply bad play for me to invest myself in trying to act out the encounter in the first place) Or 3) do we roll only if we don't feel like acting the situation out in character?

All right, let's see. I'll go by my 1 and 2 above. The part 1 has two bits to it.

1 i) You're focusing on the integration of "acting" with "rolling." Bluntly, this is not a very interesting issue. How that's done is clearly a matter of what kind of acting you want to do, and when, and how much the other members of the group feel like paying attention to it. If it really matters to you, then ask them, and I mean collectively and in person, not just the GM and for God's sake not by email. There's not much for us to say.

1 ii) I recommend going back to my questions about the roll. OK, you succeeded. What I don't know is, in terms of both the fictional events and the real-world experience of play, what happened?. Did or did not the characters leave the caravan? If they didn't, then did they get bumped off it later in order to get into the pre-planned material? What I'm driving at through these questions is, was calling for the roll a desperate move on the GM's part in order to keep you on the rails, or not? And if it was, then there's no point in talking about how it could have been done "right" or "fun."

2) The various forms of D&D prior to the mid-1980s had no skill system to speak of. Certain highly specific abilities came with certain classes, but that was it. The notion that each character's complete range of competency across a complete in-world menu of skills was absent. It didn't show up in the rulebooks until 1989. Historically, it's worth pointing out that neither the Champions-based trajectory of game design nor the D&D-based trajectory were skill-oriented for their most productive design phases, and that when the BRP model became very popular in the early 1980s, both of the other "schools" of design incorporated skills - and not, in my view, particularly well. Social skill rolls in particular were totally opaque. The AD&D2 attempt to do so was particularly badly shoe-horned into the already-existing design parameters. What did you do with them, relative to the other activities of play? To put it very bluntly, no one knows when to call for skill rolls in this game or those influenced by it. Nor does anyone know what to do with a success or failure in those rolls. The 3.0 and 3.5 material is especially contradictory and confused about this, simultaneously calling for and moderating against DM override of results.

Let me know if any of this helps or makes sense.

Best, Ron

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: John S on September 01, 2010, 09:57:19 AM
I've been watching this thread and it is churning up flashbacks of similar problems I've had as a GM.

When I was a teenager, I had a long-running GURPS campaign with a couple friends, and we all thought very highly of "good role-playing". The "social skills" in GURPS didn't make a lot of sense to me apart from adding color, and I never used reaction rolls or the reaction table. As the GM, I just went into the shared imagined space, and when social conflicts came up, we always handled it "in character" through dialogue and narrated actions, unless someone was using a mind power or similar. I just couldn't see how social skills and reactions could be quantified without stripping out a fun and meaningful dimension of the game; it seemed like using the social skills and reaction rolls reduced rich narrative interaction and dialogue to a pass-fail die roll, and I knew nothing of Fortune In The Middle or other methods of tying the narrative interaction to the dice.

My friends were gifted thespians, which made the game come alive. For the most part, not only did they get away with role-playing social skills that weren't listed on their sheets, I probably awarded them Character Points (GURPS's XP) for it. But not having a formal system to deal with social conflicts created a lot of trouble too, for reasons already mentioned in this thread. Because we had no rules, the only methods I had to push back were acting and GM fiat. Clever manipulators (which was probably part of our social contract), the players could usually get me to say "good point" and twist my NPCs' wills around their plans. As a reaction, I basically kept most of the main NPCs out of their reach, except for a few encounters in carefully-controlled environments; sometimes these scenes were driven toward preconceived outcomes (so that the NPC could escape alive), which was both alien to the rest of our game and uncomfortable.

The other problem this created was that it eroded meaningful scene-framing. I had no concept of GM authority over the beginning and end of scenes. GURPS had an interesting system for tracking character time between adventures, which could be used for training, employment, travel, or other things. But we almost never used that system, since the players knew they could get more Character Points and social resources in the game by role-playing every single interaction. This led to some dramatic, vivid, and life-transforming events in the fiction, but it also created hours of banal, mundane, aimless scenes and pointless conflicts. While it kept the players in the driver's seat as far as exploring the fiction, it often degraded and deprotagonized their characters. To put it another way, we often played scenes where nothing interesting was at stake, just in case something interesting might come up. Is that what people mean when they talk about "sandbox"-style roleplaying?

I recognize that last part as bad prep: there probably should have been more overt stakes in the fiction generally, so that character choices in any scene will bang. On the whole, we had fun in spite of our lack of meaningful scene-framing, but so much simulation burned me out. After that, I didn't role-play again for years, not until my daughter was born. It was then that I discovered games like Sorcerer and Trollbabe that really illuminated me on the role of systems in role-playing social conflict, particularly how dice rolls can be combined with narration to creatively enrich the role-playing experience rather than emasculate it.

Nick, you mentioned a few different ways to deal with social conflict in the fiction: A) Make a skill roll and role-play the result. B) Determine what may happen and roll for a result. C) Just roll, and note whether you succeed or fail. D) Just role-play, narrating the actions and dialog without using dice. My sense is that A, B, and C would feel artificial and knock you out of character immersion, and out of the fiction, and I can see why; hence my strong preference for D in the GURPS campaign I described. Reading Sorcerer helped to knock my brain open about the use of fortune mechanics in social conflict:

"Rolls force the situation to CHANGE and victories describe the DIRECTION OF CHANGE. ("

I recommend you read Jesse's article on social conflict in Sorcerer (, and if that speaks to your condition, share it with your GM. The fact is, most role-playing texts are not clear on the role of narration in any kind of conflict. D&D 4E allows the GM to assign a +2 or -2 modifier to a roll based on favorable or unfavorable circumstances, but that's about it. GURPS goes into much more arcane detail, but it doesn't deal with these issues as squarely as Sorcerer.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: John S on September 01, 2010, 10:09:50 AM
If it really matters to you, then ask them, and I mean collectively and in person, not just the GM and for God's sake not by email.

I just saw Ron's post, and this part applies to what I said too. If you're not on the same page as the rest of your group in terms of the creative agenda of play, showing your GM an article won't get you there.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 01, 2010, 02:48:02 PM
Just as a side note, to me it looks quite the opposite of Franks estimate (which you agreed with), where the GM acknowledged the point, then somehow took it away by asking for a roll. Quoting Frank
And the GM acknowledged you when he said, "good point". You were connecting, he was confirming your interpretation of the fictional situation, your understanding of the NPC and his motivation. The fiction was coming alive between the two of you, you were "getting into it", assessing it, judging it, and this meant something. And then the GM stepped back, taking away the acknowledgement, interrupting the connection by asking for a roll.
Indeed, why would he take it away if he was confirming your point so very much?

Perhaps because he wasn't confirming your point at this time, you and Frank just thought he was?

Instead perhaps your lines were enough to earn a roll that let's you change the mind of the NPC on the matter. You earned a chance by talking, you didn't just earn an automatic change of his mind. I'm thinking of what Gareth/Contra cycle said, but with the GM thinking "Hey, now he's made me/my NPC uncertain...I really don't know which way to go. I'll let the dice decide!". If that were the case, it's functional for me, atleast.

Indeed from your agreement with Franks comment, it seems to show your own priorities - you wanted it to all work at this talking level and some sort of connection and confirmation. It's like you want pizza - is ice cream gunna cut it as pizza? No. Here, you want it all at the verbal connection and confirmation level - are dice or some other mechanic gunna cut it for you? No. You have to want to use the mechanics instead of keeping it all loftily above all that at a verbal confirmation level. Your own priorities are against using dice. You can't have a priority against using dice, but then just somehow using the dice make sense and are fun to use.

Indeed I'd say you have to want to use mechanics first and foremost, always, for the mechanics to be anything more than decorative. But that's another thread.

In terms of the idea of railroading *long sigh* the thing is, the rules designate someone as a GM, and grant them a ton of resources. To call someone who uses their massive resources in game to do what they want a railroader, is essentially a sirlin scrub ( Taking the word 'railroader' to mean something that's against 'how to play the game'. Because to use massive resources to do what you want when the games rules fully grant you that capacity, is obviously not against the game. It's the sirlin scrub who cries 'Throwing is cheap!' in street fighter, even though it's well within the games rules. In roleplay, the scrub cries that 'Railroading is cheap!', even though it's well within rules which grant the GM a metric shit ton of resources. Note: I've called the GM a railroader in various games. I'm not somehow above emotionally saying what I'm describing (though I am above seeing it as a functional. These days, atleast)

So I don't think this is about railroading, specifically. It's a mechanics design issue (how and how much of those resources are assigned to whom) - and it's an issue of whether you want to put mechanics first. If you don't, there's no way out of this for you, except to find people who exactly match up with you (or that you can tolerate the missmatch) and also that those peoples way of playing doesn't evolve or change in future (nor yours). Only putting mechanics first can shift you to a new way of playing. Without putting mechanics first, you will only play the way you've always played, and can only play well with people who exactly match up with you (or missmatch within your tolerance), and you hope that nobodies play style evolves, since that causes a missmatch, and instead hope their play style stays relatively static.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 01, 2010, 04:16:38 PM
That last post was for Nick, just in case I left it confusing...

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on September 02, 2010, 02:09:20 AM
Hi everyone,

Nick, I’m glad I interpreted your post correctly, I thought it was an excellent example and well presented.

I really see two linked follow-up questions. One of them is how to make mechanical skill checks, in particular concerning so-called “social skills”, meaningful and consequential. And the other is how to make in-character acting and moment-by-moment verbal negotiation between the real people at the table meaningful and consequential.

This thread is already deep into addressing the first question, which is good and well. My initial reaction was to tackle the second question because I personally have found that to be the crucial point of my enjoyment of play. It appears that not everyone places equal emphasis in this regard.

I’ll leave the “higher level” aside for now, and I’m with Ron that it isn’t predicated on abandoning dice. Me personally, I enjoy in-character acting and moment-by-moment verbal negotiation of the in-game events because I feel they provide context and substance to what happens to the characters.  This is something I have found to be absolutely vital to my enjoyment of play. It challenges my imagination, wit and acting skill, and I enjoy it in particular when playing with imaginative, witty players who are good actors.

A key point in this type of negotiation is the point where the players at the table assess the fictional situation, using their real, human judgment, making a decision based on their idea of likelihood, or genre conventions, or tone which they imagine for the game. That decision may have mechanical consequences that lead to fictional consequences, or it may only have fictional consequences. And even if it’s the latter, it may still incorporate some mechanical scores into the process of decision making. Vincent Baker has termed this key point “Moment of Judgment” and you should absolutely read his excellent blog post ( if you haven’t already. It also quotes some great people. ;-)

Nick, I think you were disappointed by the GM because you felt he denied that Moment of Judgment. Your own interpretation of the fictional situation was that your argument could not fail to convince the caravan leader. There was no point of arguing about it, the argument made sense and he had no reason not to follow it. It had been established that your character had said what he said, so the GM would have had to assess this and act accordingly. There was no space for a skill check to determine how convincing your character had been—the argument stood for itself.

Now we don’t know if your GM really denied his judgment, or if he just has a different idea of what a skill check means. Here is where the Moment of Judgment and the Murk connect.

- Frank

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on September 09, 2010, 10:41:14 AM
Hm, this thread seems to have faded out which is a pity because there were some points I still wanted to make. I’ll just go ahead with some musings on the intersection of a Moment of Judgment and a skill check in a traditional RPG. I used to think it was rather clear. As I saw it and always applied it in my games (for all task resolution based systems), a skill check was meant as a tie-breaker in a situation of doubt. Can I swing across the chasm on that rope? It’s not impossible, but neither is it trivial, so the dice will tell.

Some rulebooks of traditional RPGs explicitly stated, and I used to think that those who didn’t took for granted two things:

1) If something was trivial, you’d succeed without a roll. “You don’t need to roll to walk down the street.” The German RPG, Das Schwarze Auge, has often been laughed at for a practice of not following this rule which somehow evolved among the players. With some GMs, a person who could swim reasonably well faced a statistical chance of ~50% of drowning when swimming in a lake on a sunny day. I used to think that common sense should suffice to see this couldn’t be right.

2) If something was impossible, you’d fail without a roll, or much rather, you just wouldn’t try because that would be silly. A normal human cannot jump straight up to the fourth floor of a building. Not even Jacky Chan.

And this would be the Moment of Judgment, the point where a player (usually the GM in a trad game) decided whether something was trivial, impossible, or somewhere in between, the last meaning a dice roll would determine the outcome. Sometimes a little bit of a debate would ensue and the GM might even change his mind. Sometimes a player would accept the GM’s final judgment only under protest, but by and large, in the groups I played in, there was a common understanding and usually the group would find the GM’s judgment mostly appropriate.

In the so-called “social conflicts” it was just the same, only the required judgment tended to be more complex and sometimes not as transparent. Let’s say your character is holding a knife to a little boy’s throat and telling the boy’s mother to hand over the ruby or else... Now if the mother is a normal person, I’d probably say this is trivial, she will hand over the ruby without you needing to make an intimidation check. But what if the mother isn’t a terrified normal person, but a ruthless scheming noblewoman in a Swords ‘n Sorcery setting who knows your character to be much too honorable for his own good? Suddenly I’m thinking the GM wouldn’t be out of bounds to simply have her laugh at you: “Or else what, you pathetic fool?” And I can imagine games in which I, as a player, would be totally thrilled by such a move. I find this kind of interaction to be the most challenging and fun part of role-playing, this is where strong contributions really shine and lame contributions really... don’t.

And that last bit, to my mind, is the core of the “roll-playing vs. role-playing” debate concerning “social conflicts”. Some role-players prefer to leave the outcome of social interaction entirely to the dice because they don’t want to submit themselves to their fellow players’ judgment in this field. And there may be valid reasons for them doing so. But me personally, I find play to be the poorer for it.

- Frank

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 09, 2010, 05:08:33 PM
I guess one of the reasons I held off posting, is because I'd say 'So that moment of judgement - you can decide for him how he judged the matter? As in you say he definately denied the moment of judgement. Like you know the process of his own mind better than he does?'. It's like there's actually a second moment of judgement going on in the observer here, as to whether the other person is 'thinking right'.

While I think that that's technically correct, there is nothing in the universe I'm aware of that ensures saying what's technically correct will go well.

It measures up like this: if the rule hands the GM full authority on this, it's just 'I don't have to follow rules/what I've agreed to if I don't think somethings right' on the observers part. Indeed I'm pretty sure lumpley principle is either being bent to this idea these days, or was this all along (and I projected a functional variant onto it when first readig it).

Historically : Of course you have a mechanical set up where nasty things like your characters ears getting clipped off (we have an old thread on that somewhere), or being orc raped, or whatever are within the wideranging capacity the rules grant him. Human brain thinking this can't be right, it argues against it. This becomes a gamer tradition. And it becomes traditional to ignore the rules on a regular basis and call it 'good roleplaying'.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on September 10, 2010, 06:58:59 AM
Hi Callan, let me make a few clarifications. I didn’t say Nick’s GM denied the Moment of Judgment, I said that Nick felt he had denied it. That’s a huge difference. I don’t claim to know what’s going on inside other people’s heads. For Nick’s game, heck, I don’t even know enough to say how I would have ruled, as GM.

But in a game I play in myself, I will have a notion of what makes sense and “fits” in the fiction and I will argue it to the other players if I feel the need. I indeed believe that these things are not purely subjective, there are objective criteria by which they can be reasonably assessed. That’s not the same as saying my own judgment is always right, mind you. Of course it isn’t. I remember we debated this exact question before and had to agree to disagree, so let’s maybe not resurrect that debate.

Concerning all those bad gamer traditions, luckily I’ve had contact with them almost exclusively in internet discussions. I don’t really care about them. Abuse is always possible, but a concept isn’t wrong because the wrong people mistakingly applaud it. But let’s be clear about one thing: “The GM is always right” is the most stupid sentence that has ever been written in an RPG book.

It’s sometimes helpful for players to not question every single call by the GM and grant him the benefit of the doubt so play can move on and not be stuck in endless discussions and justifications. But that requires the players to trust the GM is not trying to screw them over, and such trust cannot be imposed by the author of an RPG book. You don’t just claim it as a GM. You need to earn it.

- Frank

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Caldis on September 10, 2010, 11:13:30 AM

My reading of the initial situation (and what Nick was complaining about in regards to gather information checks etc.) is a difference between the players and gm on the value of System (in this case specifically the mechanical factor of a skill check) versus Character, Situation and Setting.  The Gm is emphasizing the system and allowing the specifics to be abstracted by resorting to a skill check.   What the character said makes sense and has some value so we'll check on it but he doesnt value the situation enough to develop it further by exploring the character of the caravan driver and his response to being attacked and engage the pc in a dialogue that could change how the situation turned out.  In the end he resorted to system and let the roll determine the relatively meaningless results of the situation.

I talked a bit about D&D earlier but I'll expand a bit.  D&D featured a lot of combat and we at one point tried getting dramatic and making descriptions of our actions, swinging swords wildly or crouching and aiming for a certain target point, but all those descriptions are essentially meaningless when you have a group of 10th level characters with 60-90 hit points fighting a half dozen monsters with similar hit points.  The abstract nature of hit points and the combat system rendered the description of the actions meaningless.  You could describe the most amazing battle manuever but it didnt really matter it all came down to the math of subtracting hit points until the combat was resolved.

I think that is the heart of the matter.  A willingness to abstract that level of detail is harmful to any vision of what is going on in the moment.  I think one of the problems in detailed complex systems, like the D&D combat system or Gurps and its infinite skill list is that the mechanics can easily overpower the fictional content.  I'm not sure whether it's an actual desire or preference on the part of those doing it or just a habit that one tends to slip into but it's definitely something I've noticed since the beginning of my experience with rpg's.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: masqueradeball on September 10, 2010, 01:50:36 PM
Caldis: But the opposite can be equally true. If things are two specific or tie too specifically to "in fiction" content, people either have to frame their narrative to the rules (which they have to do an a highly abstract system, like AD&D's combat system (one roll per minute)) or they have to try to determine how rules apply to fictional content in a very specific way.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 10, 2010, 06:12:21 PM
Hi Frank,

As much as I understand you describe it as relevant whether the GM shared some sort of moment of judgement. Your only question is whether he was doing this or something else. Let's say hypothetically he definately did share a moment of judgement with Nick, then denied it - your saying in that case that denial of judgement is relevant somehow, when the shared rule is the GM pretty much does whatever?

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on September 11, 2010, 12:56:56 AM
Hey Callan, but it's not "the GM does whatever"! The GM gets to make the call, but not all calls are equal. That's exactly my point.

- Frank

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 11, 2010, 02:09:23 AM
Frank, your so used to taking the left fork in the road, so to speak, when I try to point out the right fork in contrast, you think I'm refering to the left and that's also the one I'm taking "Come on, you know the GM doesn't get to do whatever - your here next to me on the left fork in the road!". I'm not.

The rule says the GM can do whatever then he can do whatever and all calls are exactly equal. It's like in chess where if the rules say he can move a piece a certain way, he can, and all the moves he can make are equal. As in they are all perfectly valid. In an RPG however he uses 'do whatever' it's valid use of the rules, no matter how much suck 'whatever' is. This is the right fork in the road.

"But that's horrible!"

Yes it is. It pushes, bloody strongly, the desire to design rules that grant the GM considerably less power and the rule empowered ability to only do fun things (fun by the designers measure, atleast, and playtesting to check that's the case whilst in design). To move on from 'The text says the GM can do anything...but he can't do anything, ya know!'

I would question exactly who is somehow empowered to decide which calls aren't equal, but there's not much point. I'm pretty sure having described the right fork, you'd say it's drastically different from what you do (am I wrong?). It's an alien at the dinner table moment for you ("You can't seriously play in that way!"), if I estimate correctly. But atleast you know when I say whether he ignored the moment of judgement is irrelevant, I'm talking about having taken the right fork in the road, not the left.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on September 11, 2010, 02:31:22 AM
Callan, I understand your line of argument, but I don't understand your point. I just can't relate to it, like, at all. To pick up on your example of Chess, if someone were to play Chess with me and make random moves, valid by the rules but without any strategy whatsoever, so I'd wipe him out in no time (although I'm a lousy Chess player), what point is there for either of us playing? There isn't any. So is Chess broken, as a game? Of course it's not! Would Chess need rules to stop people from making stupid moves, is that your conclusion? Are you looking for a game that people can enjoy by making random decisions, without any purpose or common sense, just by following the rules?

- Frank

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 11, 2010, 11:52:23 PM
Facinating. The fork grows deeper.
To pick up on your example of Chess, if someone were to play Chess with me and make random moves, valid by the rules but without any strategy whatsoever, so I'd wipe him out in no time (although I'm a lousy Chess player), what point is there for either of us playing? There isn't any.
Except there is. I win!

Of course there is the gamist honour of whether you keep beating clueless people (the gamism essay even touches on this).

But that aside, it's still fun to beat even a randomly playing person.

So yes, games already exist that can be enjoyed by making random decisions without any purpose or common sense. A hell of alot of them.

The fun is at the human relations level - I enjoy that between me and them, my relationship involve me having won over them. I'm pretty sure Nar can do the same, simply by having a modicum of human relations understanding between participants 'It was scary when Luke realised he was becoming like his dad!'

I have no idea about sim. But I really don't think gamism or nar need to follow 'not all calls are equal' at all as they are fun with all calls being equal. Because certainly in gamisms case, there are thousands of examples where random play is still fun to beat. And nar - well, nar hasn't been around as long, so perhaps it's debateable. But I think it shares many qualities with gamism and so most likely can be fun with random play.

More fun without random play? Sure! But a bit of a laugh even with random play? Yes.

But what was facinating, when I read your words, I get flashes of what you do and how that made you choose those words. But it doesn't sync with me and the flash collapses before I can see it much at all. And by talking about the above, I've probably talked over it. :(

I just get this flash reading 'So is Chess broken, as a game? Of course it's not! Would Chess need rules to stop people from making stupid moves' and I just get this vague notion you see your own common sense as some sort of binding agent or something. Like chess is some dreadfully hollow shell, like a house in desperate need of renovation, and your common sense and purpose that makes the real value house in the end. Like it's nothing without that. Kind of like players are hero's bring life to a grey, dead and desolate landscape.

Just a flash. The notion of chess being absolutely hollow was stunningly counter intuitive to me, so I decided to mull it over.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: masqueradeball on September 12, 2010, 01:54:10 AM
Playing chess not to win is not playing chess. Its like if we play poker, but there's no money involved, and people bet like the chips don't mean anything... this might be fun or functional or whatever but its not what most people are looking for when they talk about playing poker. I can't remember the name of the thread but this reminds me of a topic you started about people playing D&D and not wanting to have a big conversation about what playing D&D is about or this game is about or whatever.

When you sit down to play chess you do so with certain expectations that are probably reasonable, for the other person not to share those expectations isn't a negative quality in them, but it is a miscommunication between the two of you, because without those expectations your fundamentally changing the nature of the game.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 12, 2010, 02:42:16 AM
I've heard an account of someone thinking a certain unit in starcraft was just coooool, so he made tons of them. Essentially random activity. Then another player turns up with units weak to them and as the accounts go, the first players units breathed on them and they vaporised! Won the game! Sometimes by sheer ballsy luck, random wins.

People can win without playing to win (lucky bastards). It's not a requirement.

Indeed I've heard of someone losing a duel in wow and calling the winning player crap, because he did 'all the wrong moves'. Sometimes people become so wrapped up in their expectations, their expectations are more important to them than who won or who lost.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: masqueradeball on September 12, 2010, 02:30:30 PM
but its not a question of winning or losing, its about the definition of the activity. you can bet like an idiot and win poker because you've got good hands, but the meat of the game lies in the betting and the bluffing, in guessing what the opponents thinking, its where the fun is for (some/most) people who play. The fun in chess, why most people would want to play, is because its cerebral and strategic... People go to these activities because they provide a certain type of enjoyment/engagement that is associated with them, and facilitated by them, but not 100% in forced by them (all though, in the long run, one type of play will be more successful than others). Doing something else when playing them, without the consent (on some level of the other player(s)) is thoughtless at best and shitty at worst. 

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Callan S. on September 12, 2010, 03:28:54 PM
Nolan, your treating your definition as if it's the default. Dave Sirlin has the nickname 'low strong' because in street fighter, he'd often use it with a particular character (when he estimates it'll score him a win) the low strong attack over and over (18 times in a row on one count). Isn't street fighter about all sorts of moves? Doesn't that make thoughtless or at worst, shitty? If he uses throws, doesn't that make him 'cheap'? It's worth reading the essay on the scrub ( in terms of this. (personal side note: not that I endorce Sirlin as a forum moderator - he's a little immature for that)

The only pivotal thing I think exists is this: If they win, are you going to congrats them or say good game? Even if you think they used some other defintion?

Your defintion isn't just play to win, it's meet your expectations or your thoughtless. Alot of other people would congratulate the other person, even if they are a clueless lucky bastard. They still won. There are alot of people who follow this second definition of congratulating, regardless. Those are the people who find what I described, fun. We could go on and on, but I think you'll find those people exist and in high numbers (though I suspect in low numbers in the roleplaying community...but that's just a side suspicion).

All moves are equal is entirely functional (particularly given a game that mechanically shifts itself to it's own end (as opposed to one waiting on 'fictional cues' to move towards the end)). I suspect for Nar as well, if it's actually designed that way too. I dunno about sim, so if you wanna argue I'm wrong there you've got plenty of room from me to do so.

Title: Re: Roll-Playing Versus Roleplaying
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 12, 2010, 06:33:30 PM
For this thread to continue, Nick needs to bring it around to relate to his thread topic and general hopes for the discussion. Otherwise it ends here.

I am not saying the discussion in the last page and a half has been poor. I am saying that it's time for people to take it to daughter threads with Actual Play starting-points of their own.

Moderator hat definitely on.

Best, Ron