There, Daniel Solis fixed it for you!

edited December 2011 in Story Games
From Do: Pilgrims of the Flying TemplePilgrims get into trouble.
One sentence, four words. You're not supposed to protect your Pilgrim. She's not supposed to be a boring, flawless hero. She is going to get into trouble. You will be lead to your Pilgrim's weakness again and again, and that's a good thing!

Every game needs a rule like this. (The first sentence of Call of Cthulhu should be "The object of this game is to drive your character's sanity to 0." There, I fixed it for you!) Games like D&D or Vampire, where getting your character killed really does reduce your ability to contribute to the fiction (rules as written), are fundamentally broken as potential literatures, because they incentivize players to "protect" characters, "advocating" for them. D&D is a set of rules for making short, bearded Mary Sues. Vampire is a set of rules for making Mary Sues with heavy eye makeup.

I don't know if this even merits a discussion. I specifically avoided posting in the "Character Monogamy: Does it Suck" thread, to avoid giving the appearance of trolling, but here you go. Character monogamy: Does it lead to Mary Sueism? Some say it is so.

That is all. </rant>. Bonus points if you can figure out how to fix a game for us in this way.
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Comments

  • Posted By: ccreitzGames like D&D or Vampire, where getting your character killed really does reduce your ability to contribute to the fiction (rules as written), are fundamentally broken as potential literatures, because they incentivize players to "protect" characters, "advocating" for them.
    Huh! Didn't realize character death was so common in Do.
  • edited December 2011
    Yeah, uh, D&D3 says in the very first paragraph, the very first one, your character will get into dangerous situations to gain glory and wealth. Sooo.

    Also, the object of Call of Cthulhu is not to drive your sanity to 0, it's to stop the badguys? The "epilogue" section of each pregenerated adventure where "what happens next" is described has nothing whatsoever to do with the sanity or lack thereof of the player characters (in fact, if you do well, you GAIN sanity). So saying that's the object of Call of Cthulhu is flat wrong, get out forever.

    :)
  • Posted By: Mike_OlsonHuh! Didn't realize character death was so common in Do.
    Do avoids character death by not having death be the stakes.

    The biggest problem with most adventure game systems - D&D, Savage Worlds, Shadowrun, etc. - is that death is the default stakes, and it's really easy to forget to add other stakes in because you have crunchy combat systems with death as the default failure point.

    And most players don't really want death as the stakes most of the time, even when they say they do. So the games put so many obstacles in the way of death - hit points, healing surges, bennies, etc. - that it makes it so that death isn't really the stakes until you've used up lots of other resources first. Because once you've used up those resources, you start feeling vulnerable and tense, but then that doesn't last very long, because you win and get your resources back.

    That's why so many more recent games have focused on other forms of failure, other than death.

    Cause, ultimately, death is a pretty boring failure. And merely not-dying isn't much of a win.
  • "using the D&D full ruleset grants you to have a game for sizzies. You can even drop the wound, recovery and death mechanics to turn it into a non-stop killing and looting frenzy. However if you and you pals are feeling simulationist today you can start with level 1 characters, throw the players a dragon like the one in our book cover and have a very short session (like 2 hours for character creation and 1 hour for rolling and processing the side-effects of the dragon`s first and last attack)"

    A friend of mine made a game absurdly complex. The way he used to run the game, PCs were dying every session, in what was meant to be a very large campaign (it started 7 years ago and it's still running) finally the players complained enough for him to change the system, however it still takes a whole 3 hour session to build a character properly. I's say players wouldn't object to die so easily given character creation would take only minutes so they could be back playing in the next scene.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyYeah, uh, D&D3 says in the very first paragraph, the very first one, your character will get into dangerous situations to gain glory and wealth. Sooo.
    And then tells you, in a hundred pages of rules, to make a flawless immortal. It's great that it tells you that your character will get into dangerous situations and all, but that's just color. The mechanics agree: You've only succeeded when you've taken away the DM's ability to murder your guy. There are an even half dozen problems with that.
  • edited December 2011
    Posted By: JDCorleySo saying that's the object of Call of Cthulhu is flat wrong, get out forever.
    It's not. That is my point. I just fixed Call of Cthulhu! The book tells you to make guys who survive and thrive. I made it so you make guys who you throw into the mouth of madness itself. That is so obviously better that I shouldn't even have to say it.

    EDIT TO ADD: Everything in Call of Cthulhu that isn't revelation, madness, or death? Is drowning and falling.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidultimately, death is a pretty boring failure. And merely not-dying isn't much of a win.
    Yes, sir. Although I think that there are plenty of games where death counts as a kind of success, Cthulhu among them, and just hanging around with your sanity intact and all your limbs and no terrible wounds that heal into toothed maws is definitely a kind of failure.
  • I never understood* why character death had to be such a huge deal. Maybe because I GM a lot and am used to my characters coming and going.

    As a player, I have an infinite number of awesome characters in my head. This current one dying just lets me move on to the next one.

    (* this is a lie, but I'm making a point so shut up)
  • Posted By: ccreitzAnd then tells you, in a hundred pages of rules, to make a flawless immortal. It's great that it tells you that your character will get into dangerous situations and all, but that's just color. The mechanics agree: You've only succeeded when you've taken away the DM's ability to murder your guy. There are an even half dozen problems with that.
    No, you succeed when you defeat the bad guy.

    Your reading of D&D is really weird and backwards. What are all those modules for if the goal is not to put your guy in danger?
  • Traveller: You might die in character generation.

    D&D: Life is unfair. Maybe you'll have 3 Con. Maybe you'll be an 8th-level fighter with 11 hit points. Life is unfair.
  • edited December 2011
    Posted By: ccreitzPosted By: JDCorleySo saying that's the object of Call of Cthulhu is flat wrong, get out forever.
    It's not. That is my point. I just fixedCall of Cthulhu! The book tells you to make guys who survive and thrive. I made it so you make guys who you throw into the mouth of madness itself. That is so obviously better that I shouldn't even have to say it.Agreed. Mostly.

    Personally, I'd say that playing about Sanity loss is more important than specifically playing toward Sanity loss. Driving toward 0 is probably the clearest and easiest way to enjoy the game, but it also messes with the player-to-character relationship that a lot of players prefer.

    I like trying to stop the badguys. And I like the color CoC imparts to that. But whether you stop the badguys is not supported by anything about the game. Any choice I make or die I roll is on the GM to translate into relevance, and most GMs don't have particularly rewarding systems for doing that. Accordingly, my inclination is to worry less about whether I stop the badguys, and more about the experience of trying.

    And that experience is about curiosity, omens, majesty, anxiety, fear, horror, and madness. That's why most folks are drawn to CoC rather than some other "stop the badguys" game, right? So, in terms of support for that experience, there's color, and then there's Sanity.
  • edited December 2011
    We played CoC (the Chaosium one) somewhat like what ccreitz and David are talking about. It was a given that we would defeat mortal threats but at what cost was the open question. How far would you push your sanity, how much physical punishment, what kinds of psychopathic behavior would you engage in, how far would you push your contacts/family/friends (and leave them burning) to reach that goal.

    ara
  • @John Harper: I totally get what you mean, but that brings up a question from me. When you designed Lady Blackbird, you made it so that characters only die if the player permits it, which goes toward preserving characters. Was that just to keep those characters alive since they're all pretty important and there aren't creation rules, or was it something else? I'm just curious since it seems at odds with that philosophy on death.
  • Posted By: RogerD&D: Life is unfair. Maybe you'll have 3 Con. Maybe you'll be an 8th-level fighter with 11 hit points. Life is unfair.
    I've heard this argument a lot. If D&D* (or other "unfair" games) are supposed to be life sims, they are broken in many more areas than if you approach them as the story makers their texts and/or rules tend to focus on. I'm not buying that there's an unwritten "life is unfair" theme.

    *Except for the original D&D. That was clearly a game about fantasy characters setting out to prove themselves to be heroes and quite often with deadly consequences due to life (and Referee's) being unfair (and/or cruel).
    Posted By: John HarperAs a player, I have an infinite number of awesome characters in my head. This current one dying just lets me move on to the next one.
    I agree!

    BUT my problem with most games (historically) that have death as a very prominent stake is that "lets move onto the next one" is not a seamless transition (though AD&D Dark Sun and Paranoia had interesting solutions to this problem).

    At best it requires an hour or two of character creation (possibly alone after going home) and social contracting with the group to determine how this new character gets introduced and what that means for any existing plot-lines and stories. The problem might be, outside of horror stories, we don't have many good models on what a high rate of protagonist death looks like. Either they die at the end of Act 2 or during Act 3, or they're never presented as important as the actual protagonist(s).
  • There's a middle ground between "My character is a flawless immortal immune to any negative consequences" and "My character is a failure missile launched directly at endless catastrophe," isn't there? Like, one where you want your character to succeed and prosper despite the inevitable struggles and setbacks that will confront him? Or even one where different people can get different things out of the same game?

    My best friend is famous for deriving great pleasure from the suffering of his PCs; he makes characters who aren't just bad at what they do, but are actually actively self-destructive, going to great lengths to snatch a personal defeat from the jaws of even the most overwhelming victory. The more cringe-inducing and awful the consequences for his characters are, the more fucked up they are by what has happened, the happier he gets. And that's fine, for him. It's what he likes.

    He doesn't force that on anyone else, though; if he's running a game and his wife is playing, he doesn't hammer her character with misery after misery, because that's not what she likes. She likes her characters coming through a challenging situation having learned something and bettered themselves in some definitive way, and so his magic formula of character+situation=disaster=fun just won't work for her. When he's playing in a game, he doesn't insist upon every other PC suffering as much as his PCs do. He knows that for our games to work, everyone's gotta get something out of it that they like, and that means we won't all drive our play down the narrow slaughterhouse chute that he prefers.
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidCause, ultimately, death is a pretty boring failure. And merely not-dying isn't much of a win.
    Amen, brother.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyNo, you succeed when you defeat the bad guy.

    Your reading of D&D is really weird and backwards. What are all those modules for if the goal is not to put your guy in danger?
    Do you succeed by defeating the bad guy?
    Or by putting your guy in danger?
    Or by not dying?

    Those are not all the same thing.

    ~90% of the rules in all the forms of D&D are about tactical combat.

    So there are basically 2 ways to deal with any given situation - engage with the system and have a tactical combat or ignore the system and talk. Because the system only effectively covers tactical combat, it highly incentivizes interacting in that way.

    If death is really the consequence of failure, then the player is encouraged to avoid failure because failure is not fun. So you are not really incentivized to seek actual danger. You are seeking tactical combats that are weighted in your favor from the beginning. It's like a 3 year old playing a board game with their parents - they expect their parents to play at less than their maximum ability so that the kid will either win or at least be allowed to get much closer than they would if the parent were playing to slaughter them.

    Some folks don't play like that. I know. But those are still the exceptions that prove the rule.

    You don't go into each fight with a relatively even chance of not surviving it and needing to start a new character afterward.

    In a game like Dogs in the Vineyard, for example, you go into a fight with a fairly good chance of getting some fallout. The odds are typically in your favor regarding pure survival, but you come out of it with consequences. And those consequences are a major source of the fun of the game. You are strongly incentivized to put your character in danger of facing fallout because fallout adds awesome stuff to the game.

    When I run adventure style games, I remove death as the default negative end condition of combat - for both sides. Roughly 50% or so of the defeated NPCs survive - more or less depending on how appropriate it feels for the situation. This does a couple things. For one, the story of a fight continues after it is over - I get a lot more mileage out of each encounter, as the PCs decide what to do with the survivors afterward (my current players are a pretty moral group in a pretty realistic setting, so they don't just slit everyone's throat without a second thought). And secondly, it sets the stage for what would happen if the players lost a fight - they would be captured by their opponents, and the story would continue from there. So it removes combat failure as a full stop ending.
  • edited December 2011
    Posted By: David BergPersonally, I'd say that playingaboutSanity loss is more important than specifically playingtowardSanity loss. Driving toward 0 is probably the clearest and easiest way to enjoy the game, but it also messes with the player-to-character relationship that a lot of players prefer.
    It also makes a shit story, I mean, the best way to get to 0 Sanity in a CoC game is to do nothing, aggressively - investigate enough to get the initial sanity losses, then stop doing anything until the monsters and cultists win and you lose the maximum Sanity in the endgame. I really don't get this at all. Yes, Sanity loss is good, but it's good because you get into situations through your motivation to help things out, to defeat the bad guys, to save the world one more day.
    Posted By: David BergI like trying to stop the badguys. And I like the color CoC imparts to that. Butwhetheryou stop the badguys is not supported by anything about the game. Any choice I make or die I roll is on the GM to translate into relevance, and most GMs don't have particularly rewarding systems for doing that.
    Systems? Well, I mean, the game has pretty good advice to GMs on how to make character action relevant. Isn't the GM the system Call of Cthulhu identifies?
    Posted By: akooserWe played CoC (the Chaosium one) somewhat like what ccreitz and David are talking about. It was a given that we would defeat mortal threats but at what cost was the open question. How far would you push your sanity, how much physical punishment, what kinds of psychopathic behavior would you engage in, how far would you push your contacts/family/friends (and leave them burning) to reach that goal.
    This is actually the exact opposite from what ccreitz is proposing, and is what CoC is normally about (though I think "vanilla" CoC includes a strong possibility of PC failure.)
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidDo you succeed by defeating the bad guy?
    Or by putting your guy in danger?
    Or by not dying?
    Great point. In most D&Ds, the answer, mechanically, is "by defeating the bad guy", although some have indicated "by getting the bad guy's treasure" is really what you're after.
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidIf death is really the consequence of failure, then the player is encouraged to avoid failure because failure is not fun. So you are not really incentivized to seek actual danger. You are seeking tactical combats that are weighted in your favor from the beginning.
    Yes, choosing your fights and setting them up for maximized chances of victory is a big part of strategic/tactical games, absolutely!
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidIt's like a 3 year old playing a board game with their parents - they expect their parents to play at less than their maximum ability so that the kid will either win or at least be allowed to get much closer than they would if the parent were playing to slaughter them.
    This...doesn't follow at all. Not at all, not in the slightest. Being smart about picking your battles is not the same as being a bad player who needs to be coddled. In fact, it's the opposite.
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidWhen I run adventure style games, I remove death as the default negative end condition of combat - for both sides.
    I also normally do this, for many many reasons.
  • edited December 2011
    Posted By: JDCorleythe game has pretty good advice to GMs on how to make character action relevant. Isn't the GM the system Call of Cthulhu identifies?
    That's a sensible reading, but how has that worked out, really? I can't tell. The amount the game sells and gets played would seem to attest to some level of success, but the number of dissatisfied play reports on the internet (and from my friends) makes it look failure-prone.

    I played in one game with a lot of really cool players and a GM who really thought he was playing the game as intended. I've heard good things about this GM, but this game fell flat. It was never clear which of our choices and actions were going to be relevant, nor how that was determined.

    Our module-based game included lots of roleplaying going through each drawer one at a time, reading journals and letters that looked like puzzle pieces but didn't help us deduce or solve anything, and then a monster came out of nowhere and we lucked into defeating it by setting it on fire. Yech. Could be a fluke, but this sort of thing seems typical of CoC accounts I've read online (and heard from friends).

    My conclusion is that the current system of "GM + advice" is not optimal.
  • edited December 2011
    Yah, it ain't perfect, that's for certain. Some modules demonstrate this too. There are pitfalls, chokepoints and so on. But in general it appears to have worked out not just well, but GREAT, given how long the game's survived and the devoted following it has.

    Let me give an example, at our local con last year there were 2 CoC games, each with 5 player seats. Less than an hour after registration opened, both games were completely full, with 10 different players, and 4 alternates.

    But...the final encounter...winning by luck is perfectly okay with CoC as written. It fits a lot of pulp horror situations, Lovecraftian and no. "Oh my god, all is lost, but wait, it looks like, microbes! Yeah, microbes beat the martians."
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI also normally do this, for many many reasons.
    Then you agree that the rules as written need to be fixed, because they don't address this effectively, right?

    And that's a big part of what the OP is talking about.
  • edited December 2011
    I don't consider that a "fix"? Because it's not broken? It just doesn't do what I in particular want sometimes? The world doesn't revolve around me. I don't know if you got the second memo.
  • Posted By: David Berg[As to CoC...] the number of dissatisfied play reports on the internet makes it look failure-prone. [...] My conclusion is that the current system of GM + advice is not optimal.
    I assure you, you're right. I've GM'd Cthulhu over a hundred times, it is failure-prone, and that's because the rules don't do a good job of channeling the fiction. The rules essentially tell non-GM players to spend an hour fussing over characters they're supposed to advocate for and protect. The advice for building color and planning plot/theme runs directly contrary to that. GMs wind up railroading the cast through their clue gauntlet, then "punishing" characters with unbeatable monsters and SAN loss because that's the only way to even touch them. My very favorite game in the whole hobby is not actually a good game, it pains me to relate. But it has a beautiful, perfect, elegant game hiding inside it! The first step to freeing that game from its shackles is to agree that if everyone dies or goes insane, that's actually a good and appropriate thing, way better than the alternative. There, I fixed it for you!

    Is there a better game hiding in D&D?
  • Posted By: JDCorley "Oh my god, all is lost, but wait, it looks like, microbes! Yeah, microbes beat the martians."
    War of the Worlds wasn't a character-driven story at all. It was pure concept-driven. So the fact that an abstraction like microbes lucked out and won doesn't really matter, because there are essentially no characters in that story anyway - just newsmen reading reports.

    In character-driven stories, you expect the characters to make conscious actions that drive toward a positive outcome.

    When you have character-as-avatar stories -- a la story games -- you expect the player who is making the decisions for the character to be enabled to make meaninful decisions.

    There's 2 ways to do that. Either give the player really good information to make a decision on (regardless of how well they do on perception type rolls). Or make it so that whatever decision the player makes is a potentially correct one, as long as it's reasonable and not just gonzo bullshit.
  • edited December 2011
    I don't disagree with you. But I don't think that pulp horror fits that model of protagonist action exactly, especially not Lovecraftian horror. So the occasional "wow, we barely skated by on that one, phew" is not a bad outcome so long as it doesn't always happen. A system that guaranteed it would never happen would be a bad fit for the source material. Nevertheless you're right. If you NEVER want to play in a game where you luck into a particular outcome, CoC is a bad fit and would need some adjustment for you.
    Posted By: ccreitzThe first step to freeing that game from its shackles is to agree that if everyone dies or goes insane, that's actually a good and appropriate thing, way better than the alternative.
    This is great advice, and not at all what you said at first. Good job. Though...is it better than all alternatives? Because if it is, it will lead to abandonment of the game halfway in, as I mentioned.
  • Posted By: ccreitzIs there a better game hiding in D&D?
    Yes. If you assume a few things.

    Defeated enemies aren't just dead loot-sacks. They're wounded sentients and now you need to figure out what comes next for them.

    Defeated players doesn't mean the story is over. It just means they've been captured and now you need to run an escape story or something.

    And "not die" shouldn't be the primary victory condition of the vast majority of combat encounters. Put other victory contitions in, like "get across the the burning rope bridge before it collapses in a few turns" or things like that.

    Changing some of the defaults like that makes it a better game.

    Still, I prefer something like Savage Worlds that gives me all the tactical combat options I want and also has better systems for things like social interactions. And much less "levelling" focus. I hates me some levels.
  • Here's some thoughts:

    CoC:

    "Losing Sanity points is not bad, losing Sanity points is good - you lose Sanity points the first time you gain any Cthulhu Mythos score, you lose Sanity points when you read evil tomes, bend reality, or view a monster or horrific scene. You have to lose Sanity in order to achieve the goals of the game! Lose too much and you could be out, though. Managing Sanity is an important part of the game."

    D&D:

    "Losing hit points is not bad, losing hit points is good - it shows you're battling in a dangerous situation that your character might grow from. If you're wiping the floor with all your opponents, there's not much challenge, so you won't gain much from it. Plus their treasure is likely to be not as good as what you've already got. Sometimes kicking the shit out of some crappy little goblin is a good idea, because you need to save the farm or whatnot. But unless you're losing hit points, you're probably not in a dire situation that will help you advance."
  • In Call of Cthulhu, your characters investigate Mythos activity. Full stop. That's it, that's all.

    Corley is viewing the game from the optimistic angle, where investigators attempt to stop the Mythos, because if you try to be on the Mythos' side, you run out of Sanity points in a hurry and can't play your character anymore. But as long as investigators survive and stay sane, they don't necessarily have to stop the Mythos. But they DO have to investigate the Mythos, unless the GM wants to write some adventures about non-Mythos stuff, which the game won't ever tell you how to do.

    I don't know what edition you're looking at, but 4th and 5th editions don't tell you to make characters that will survive. They tell you to make characters that have whatever skills make sense for their profession, which should be one that will investigate the Mythos. I agree to some extent that the skills are unnecessary, and counter-intuitive, in that you spend a lot of time making a character who will die. But if you play the game the way every published adventure tells you to play it (which is how the game is supposed to be played), that issue is somewhat mitigated by building up to a climax (as opposed to D&D, where the first thing that happens when the first monster is encountered can be a PC getting killed).

    It could be tighter, and it could be better-targeted to its audience, but I'd say I've had more hours of fun and successful gaming (as GM and player) with CoC than any other game ever.
  • I don't know how anyone can argue with you, Colin.
  • edited December 2011
    Posted By: Nathan H.I don't know how anyone can argue with you, Colin.
    Madness, obviously. Sheer madness. Unhinged speculation, feverish hallucination, or what-have-you.

    I mostly just started this thread to uncork my rant, provoked by the monogamy thread, then by the Amber thread. It is gratifying that people seem to be enjoying it!
  • colin,
    duh, obv gamism is just not your thing. psssht, who wants to win, amirite?
  • I dig that, J.D.
  • edited December 2011
    I'd really like to hear more about the difference between Colin's and Johnstone's CoC experiences.

    Johnstone, I agree that "investigate Mythos" is the only requirement imposed on the players by the game. But in play, it's never that simple, is it? Players usually put more into their characters' pursuit than just, "I would like to witness the next thing." For all I know, being pure spectators might be great, but people don't seem to do that. They want to stop the evil, or join the evil, or have an emotionally intense experience, or rock out portrayals of madness. And it tends to be unclear which of those will actually play well at a given table.

    A GM who wants to turn it into a hardcore puzzle-solving challenge totally can. A GM who wants to trap the characters in a haunted house, push them around with powers beyond their comprehension, play for fright, and then eat them all, can do that too. So which will it be? I don't think the game does a good job of telling you. There's extra work to be done in order to achieve group coherence and proper expectations. Maybe your group did that extra work more successfully than Colin's?
  • Whoah, I never said it did a good job of explaining itself!

    A lot of the stuff in CoC is legacy rules from earlier games, but the published adventures (most of the ones I ran and played anyway) didn't push towards hardcore puzzle-solving. They always made sure there were enough clues scattered around that the PCs would eventually end up at the horrible ceremony or the bad guys' lair. The problem with the rules is that the only thing that teaches you how to run CoC is the published adventures, and only by example.

    And sure, most PCs are going to try and stop the Mythos activity. Because that's optimal behaviour--if you can't stop them, they'll destroy you, and if you join them, they'll destroy you. But it's not required. If you don't try and stop them, you can still play CoC, but if you don't investigate, you can't.
  • edited December 2011
    Posted By: ccreitzIs there a better game hiding in D&D?
    If there is, and if the central point of this thread is true, then the path may be to make more explicit the ridiculous ease with which people (and dragons and mind flayers, et. al.) can be brought back to life in D&D. If death are the stakes in D&D, then the game is rigged, because death isn't much of a permanent consequence in D&D unless the player really wants the character to die. Very few D&D settings really embrace this notion as deeply as is probably warranted. As an example, assume that people could come back from the dead as easily in our own world as they could in D&D. Right now, the Occupy Wall Street people would be bitching that only the 1% can afford true resurrection. Nixon would almost certainly be alive (thanks to the machinations of the lich Kissenger). Someone would be trying to bring back Sadaam Hussein, etc. Not to mention the thousands of years of yahoos who would still be kicking around.

    In any case, the point: if there is a better game hiding in D&D, flushing it out probably has something to do with the idea that the "death stakes" in the game are fake, and finding what the stakes really are.
  • Posted By: horn_head_o[In] Lady Blackbird...characters only die if the player permits it, which goes toward preserving characters...I'm just curious since it seems at odds with that philosophy on death.
    Completely the opposite. Putting character death totally into the hands of the player makes it a non-stake. It's not about preserving the characters, it's about setting the stakes.
  • Posted By: WordmanPosted By: ccreitzIs there a better game hiding in D&D?
    If there is, and if the central point of this thread is true, then the path may be to make more explicit the ridiculous ease with which people (and dragons and mind flayers, et. al.) can be brought back to life in D&D. If death are the stakes in D&D, then the game is rigged, because death isn't much of a permanent consequence in D&Dunless the player really wants the character to die. Very few D&D settings really embrace this notion as deeply as is probably warranted. As an example, assume that people could come back from the dead as easily in our own world as they could in D&D. Right now, the Occupy Wall Street people would be bitching that only the 1% can afford true resurrection. Nixon would almost certainly be alive (thanks to the machinations of the lich Kissenger).Someonewould be trying to bring back Sadaam Hussein, etc. Not to mention the thousands of years of yahoos who would still be kicking around.

    In any case, the point: if there is a better game hiding in D&D, flushing it out probably has something to do with the idea that the "death stakes" in the game are fake, and finding what the stakes really are.

    I can't help but think "Okay, so the DM's goal isn't (just) to kill the characters, but to make the characters want to stay dead. And the PCs goal would then be to find something worth living for, no matter what." That's kind of hardcore!
  • Posted By: WordmanIf there is, and if the central point of this thread is true, then the path may be to make more explicit the ridiculous ease with which people (and dragons and mind flayers, et. al.) can be brought back to life in D&D. If death are the stakes in D&D, then the game is rigged, because death isn't much of a permanent consequence in D&Dunless the player really wants the character to die.
    This is close to the mark but not quite it. Normally it's not "do I want my character to die", but "do I want to go through the hassle of coming back to life". Before later levels, this might include a hilarious reincarnation or level drain. Remember that the reward in D&D isn't "I survive", the reward is "I level up and get more cool stuff and achieve my goals". So death being a speedbump is actually good design, because death makes you not level up so much (in some editions you lose XP and levels! gasp!) and you might lose your cool stuff and you certainly won't achieve your goals. Yet it doesn't necessarily take you out of the game forever.
  • Posted By: toddPosted By: horn_head_o[In] Lady Blackbird...characters only die if the player permits it, which goes toward preserving characters...I'm just curious since it seems at odds with that philosophy on death.
    Completely the opposite. Putting character death totally into the hands of the player makes it a non-stake. It's not about preserving the characters, it's about setting the stakes.

    Yeah, I sort of realized that an hour after posting but didn't bother to go back and edit :/ But yes, what you say is true, thanks.
  • Posted By: Zac in Virginiacolin,
    duh, obv gamism is just not your thing. psssht, who wants to win, amirite?
    The problem is to define "winning" in the coolest way. I think it is possible and desirable to set up Call of Cthulhu so that you win by learning terrible secrets, going mad at the revelation, and maybe dying, because that's what's supposed to happen in fiction of that form. I hope (and think) it's possible to set up D&D to emphasize something other than surviving to level up as the "win" condition. Storming the Wizard's Tower, for instance, is a fantasy game that does just that.

    In brief... gamism is my thing more often than not. Games that harmonize the gamey-game and the story-game - Showdown, Grey Ranks, Do, Mouse Guard - are especially interesting. Games that spit out a stream of facts about the fiction, based on a game-like process, which lay the bed for a rich literary output, are doubly so. It's hard for me to get enthusiastic about compromises.
  • I think of (Basic) D&D as a game about tourists. The players discover an unfamiliar setting, the DM reveals it. Everything else is pretty much optional. I explained that in more detail in an old blog post. Y'alls might disagree, of course.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyThis is close to the mark but not quite it. Normally it's not "do I want my character to die", but "do I want to go through the hassle of coming back to life". Before later levels, this might include a hilarious reincarnation or level drain. Remember that the reward in D&D isn't "I survive", the reward is "I level up and get more cool stuff and achieve my goals". So death being a speedbump is actually good design, because death makes you not level up so much (in some editions you lose XP and levels! gasp!) and you might lose your cool stuff and you certainly won't achieve your goals. Yet it doesn't necessarily take you out of the game forever.
    Emphasis mine.

    The thing is, D&D is really really bad about facilitating the process of developing goals other than level up and get cool stuff.

    And it gives you 1 system-driven way to accomplish anything - hit it until is stops moving.

    So that whole part about accomplishing your goals - that's the extra game that players bolt onto the core game of D&D. (Which is what lead to the whole System Matters thing at the Forge). It's not really in the core game. And the system does a horrible job of addressing it. All the systems. All the editions.

    Yes, players in individual groups have had a good time addressing goals and all that. But not because the actual game actually helped them do so.

    So here's the thing about stakes:

    Stakes are something you're put up in a gamble because you're willing to potentially lose them. You'd rather not lose them, but you could.

    If the stakes are "If I lose, I don't get to participate in the rest of this years-long story anymore in the same way I've been doing." then the player isn't really willing to risk losing that, so the GM throws the gamble in their favor.

    What D&D is not very good at is helping players set other stakes and address those stakes in interesting ways using the system.

    A skilled GM can do it. But the game itself provides extremely little guidance toward doing it effectively.
  • Posted By: JohnstoneThe problem with the rules is that the only thing that teaches you how to run CoC is the published adventures, and only by example.
    Oh. Well, at least a few of the modules are pieces of shit that don't accomplish that. So you've got to find the right modules.

    For those without the money and patience to go through that process, I'd say Colin's advice ("Pursue zero Sanity!") is a godsend. It changes the game, curtailing some of its fine possibilities, but it also makes it playable.

    I actually prefer my take on Sanity (and JD's latest one), but that's more words, harder to remember, and less obvious to act on.

    Actually, hey, have we stumbled upon Chaosium's business model? Publish a game with huge fictional appeal, fantastic color, the crappy BRP task resolution system that doesn't do anything important, and the idea that characters can lose Sanity. Let groups struggle to figure out how to make that work. Then, swoop in and save them with a module! And another! And another! Once you get them hooked on the idea that modules are the best way to play Cthulhu (and Cthulhu is indeed awesome when played coherently), you've got a customer for life, and can even charge $75 for pimped-out books like Mountains of Madness which offer whole campaigns.
  • Interestingly, in the first few versions of D&D you get XP for every GP of treasure you collect as well. The suggested treasure values tend to give you the same amount of XP as if you killed the monster guarding the treasure.

    The idea as I understand it was you'd start your career like Conan, stealing things. And again like Conan, later you'd end up being able to fight and smash things for treasure, eventually retiring when you had enough money to have your own little kingdom.

    Since getting XP for treasure 'doesn't make sense', it often gets left out even when people are playing older editions. But a lot of the OSR folks insist it's the key to the whole game.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidThe thing is, D&D is really really bad about facilitating the process of developing goals other than level up and get cool stuff.
    Well, I included that because most modules/adventures have some other goal than just "level up and get stuff", you have to save the villagers from the goblins or the kingdom from the evil demigod or what have you. It's pretty standard D&D play, long-supported.
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidYes, players in individual groups have had a good time addressing goals and all that. But not because the actual game actually helped them do so.
    No, the game very clearly is able to support those other goals. Not necessarily "any goal that the player thinks up", you're right, but other goals besides getting treasure/etc. You're there to save the Forgotten Realms! And to level up and get cool stuff, but you're still saving the Realms!
  • I don't know. I've been reading through some of the early D&D modules lately. A lot of the treasure is pixel-bitch hidden. You presumably have to specify where you search (cause there's no search skill that lets you find it by rolling dice). And you have to do things like gut every monster and search through their innards for swallowed gems. And strip every bandit you kill, hunting for coins sewn in to their breeches and crap.

    Reading through those modules, I could see the game getting really really tedius, as you painstakingly disect every room and monster, looking for the hidden goodies. That just sucks any shred of "act like a hero from a fantasy novel" out of it for me.

    Sure, crpgs do that sort of thing. But when you do it visually, it's way the heck more amusing than when you do it verbally.

    Plus, it means you end up with hugely bloated game world economies that take the silly difference between level 0 commoners and level 5 adventurers and adds an additional level of differentiation. Not only can the adventurer get shot with a crossbow 9 times without passing out, but he also have 100,000 times the wealth that the commoner has. And how do you have a rich non-adventurer, when wealth = experience levels? Do tax collectors get to throw fireballs? To me, it just adds more emphasis on the wacky bad stuff about the game.
  • With all of these terrible qualities, truly I stand amazed that D&D and CoC ever became the giants they are...
  • Posted By: JDCorleyNo, the game very clearly is able to support those other goals. Not necessarily "any goal that the player thinks up", you're right, but other goals besides getting treasure/etc. You're there to save the Forgotten Realms! And to level up and get cool stuff, but you're still saving the Realms!
    But those aren't player/character goals.

    Those are scenario goals created by the GM.

    There's a huge difference.

    The GM puts an obstacle in front of me. I knock it down. The GM puts another obstacle in front of me. I knock down.

    My only goal is really to be able to succeed at knocking down those obstacles. I'm not really driving toward anything in particular.

    Maybe at some point in the course of a campaign, I've gotten invested in certain elements of the world enough that I want to actively pursue something. But for the most part, I'm just killing whatever target dummy the GM puts in front of me.

    So the key is making really interesting obstacles. Things where "did I reduce it's hit points before it reduced mine" isn't the only thing going on.

    But the game doesn't really help you with that very much. It just gives you things with hit points to stand in front of the players so they can knock them down. And some special powers to mix it up.

    The most interesting of the old modules I've read up to this point is Keep on the Boarderlands. Because there's all kinds of interesting things you could do with the different factions in the Caves of Chaos - convince one group to help you fight another, etc. But there's no way in hell I'd run the scenario using straight up vanilla D&D of any edition to run it. Cause there's nothing in the system that helps you engage with all that good content in an interesting way. Yes, you could just use lots of talking and GM fiat. Or you could use 3ed's crappy social skill rolls (which only let maybe 1 character in the party interact meaningfully with them), But how much cooler would it be to use a game system that actually addressed that sort of thing better? 4ed's skill challenges are a step in the right direction, (and there's some interesting ideas in that about using a group of different skills in creative ways toward a common goal), but it seems to be underdeveloped and poorly understood.

    Which is sad, cause I think the 4ed skill challenges are probably the most interesting thing that D&D has contributed to tabletop RPGs in a long time.
  • Posted By: Captain Thark
    The idea as I understand it was you'd start your career like Conan, stealing things. And again like Conan, later you'd end up being able to fight and smash things for treasure, eventually retiring when you had enough money to have your own little kingdom.
    Actually, in AD&D, you get your own little kingdom simply through sheer force of leveling (which, as it's tied to gold, supports your point). It's a kind of built-in character/goal arc that I wrote a little bit about.
  • Posted By: David BergPosted By: JohnstoneThe problem with the rules is that the only thing that teaches you how to run CoC is the published adventures, and only by example.
    Oh. Well, at least a few of the modules are pieces of shit that don't accomplish that. So you've got to find therightmodules.

    Could be yeah. I thought the ones in the 4th and 5th edition rulebooks were a pretty good sampling, but then again some are better than others.
    Posted By: David BergFor those without the money and patience to go through that process, I'd say Colin's advice ("Pursue zero Sanity!") is a godsend. It changes the game, curtailing some of its fine possibilities, but it also makes it playable.
    Probably a better solution than any other, yes.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidBut those aren't player/character goals.

    Those are scenario goals created by the GM.
    They are character goals if you play the scenario? Don't understand this at all. Of course the characters want to save the Forgotten Realms! (Most of the time the players do too, right?)
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidThe GM puts an obstacle in front of me. I knock it down. The GM puts another obstacle in front of me. I knock down.

    My only goal is really to be able to succeed at knocking down those obstacles. I'm not really driving toward anything in particular.
    What?! Were you not paying attention when I read that boxed text at the beginning of the adventure? Of course you are!
    Posted By: komradebobWith all of these terrible qualities, truly I stand amazed that D&D and CoC ever became the giants they are...
    Nobody ever plays D&D or CoC, looking at this thread logically. Probably they all play Apocalypse World?
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