GM vs players: collaborating to compete, competing to collaborate

edited July 2013 in Story Games
@WarriorMonk was recently describing the way his group plays, negotiating what's possible and likely in the fiction as players and GM jockey for advantage. This discussion reminded me of both how awful that can be what it fails and how creatively rewarding it can be when it works. I think the key is how the group negotiates the parameters of an in-game challenge. Does the GM simply toss out an obstacle, and the players tackle it? If the players think of a way to dodge it, is the challenge overcome, or moved, or simply negated? Which of these are acceptable? Does the usual challenge resolution method, such as die rolls, need to be employed?

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about:

1. No competition for advantage:

GM: Around the corner, it dead ends! You're now trapped! Looks like you'll have to turn and face these scary bastards!

P1: Shit! I draw my sword. Alright, guys, let's form a wall so no one gets surrounded.


2. Taking turns or trading advantages:

GM: Around the corner, it dead ends! You're now trapped! Looks like you'll have to turn and face these scary bastards!

P1: I jump onto a rooftop to escape!

GM: Oh! Um, can you jump onto a rooftop?

P1: Sure I can!

GM: Hmm. Well, okay, I'll go along with that, but only if you are now spotted by the archers of the city guard!

P1: Yikes! Okay, yeah, I jump up, lose the pursuers, and then, uh oh...

GM: ...you see an arrow heading toward you. Roll to dodge!


3. Negotiating and then rolling for advantage:

GM: Around the corner, it dead ends! You're now trapped! Looks like you'll have to turn and face these scary bastards!

P1: I jump onto a rooftop to escape!

GM: Oh! Um, can you jump onto a rooftop?

P1: Sure I can!

GM: Hmm. Well, okay, I'll go along with that, but only if you are now spotted by the archers of the city guard!

P1: Oh geez, which is worse? I dunno, man.

GM: Let's roll!

P1: Yeah! High roll, I get up there quickly and subtly, no one notices.

GM: Low roll, the guards shoot you as you're pulling yourself up, defenseless. Medium roll, you fail the climb, and the scary guys catch up.

P1: Here goes nothing!


4. Competing for advantage by pure argument:

GM: Around the corner, it dead ends! You're now trapped! Looks like you'll have to turn and face these scary bastards!

P1: Wait, how do we get trapped? As soon as we look around the corner, we can see it's a dead end, so we just keep going past it.

GM: Okay, you're running full speed, then you change your momentum to turn, then you change it again to go straight... the scary guys make up ground and swing for your legs!

P1: Why would we break stride until we knew we could turn? You can glance to the side without slowing.

GM: Well, you did say you were turning. You didn't say "we'll look first, and then turn".

P1: But that'd be stupid.

GM: Doesn't seem stupid to me. Let's roll. Evens you don't break stride; odds, they make up some ground and get a swing at you.

P1: But if I roll odds, I still don't see how it'd make any sense for them to make up ground on us. Any idiot can glance without slowing. We're not incompetent.

GM: Okay now you're being a dick and trying to delay the challenge. What fun is that? How much longer do you want to run and turn corners before you fight?

P1: If I have to fight, fine, but don't give me a bogus reason for it. Don't tell me I'm in a fight because I'm too stupid to look before turning.

Turning (1) into (2) or (3) is where a lot of the creativity comes in! This is part of why you'd tackle an imaginary challenge instead of a well-calibrated board game. But how do you make sure (2) and (3) don't become (4)? I have plenty of thoughts on this, but I think this post is good to go as an opener.

Comments

  • Man, it like 4 came from secret audio recordings of any of a number of games I ran from awhile back. My working plan for the next time this came up has long been to try to turn 4 back into 3, though you paint a pretty clear picture of how an argumentative player can even dispute "Let's roll...."

    Would it go better if that suggestion to roll were specifically framed as rolling something on their character sheet (rather than roll even/odd), I wonder? Like: "Well, things are stressful and confusing. You're moving pretty fast. Roll against your Perception. Succeed, and you notice it's a dead end before you turn. Fail, and through a trick of the shadows, you mistake a dead end for a way through, but don't realize until it's too late." Or perhaps it would be better to let them have that first set-up as a freebie, then reframe the same obstacle a few moments later as something harder to argue with, like: "Okay, you can run past that dead end without breaking stride. Ahead, you see turns to the left and the right as far as the eye can see. You can keep running at full speed as you pass each one, but if you do, you're going to have to make an Agility roll to change directions suddenly. And along the way, you'll be making contested Strength rolls against their Strength to see whether they catch up...."

    I personally dislike turning everything into rolls like that, but I tend to lean on it when players don't get the logic of why things are happening. Really looking forward to how others address this kind of thing, though.
  • edited July 2013
    Find different players than the one in example 4. Problem solved.

    Before anyone considers that too facile of an answer, do consider this bit of advice was something I got listening to a podcast interview with Dave Wesley. Invite the right people for the kind of thing you're trying to do. Some people are not the right people and it is worth recognizing that.
  • edited July 2013
    With all due respect, that answer doesn't do it for me – at least not all the time. I mean, yes, I have played with people who have given me trouble and who I won't play certain games with (if ever again at all), so sometimes that advice is fine. Personally, though, I don't consider example 4 above a "banished from my gaming circle" offense. As WarriorMonk pointed out in the thread that inspired this one, these are my friends we're talking about. My friends are reasonable and intelligent people; we learn and change and grow, we have gotten better about how we play games together. They're people I enjoy gaming with, despite the occasional dispute. I would rather figure something out that works for all of us than just declare them exiled. (Edit to add: And if getting pissy over a game were a one-strike-and-you're-out kind of thing, I'd have been booted myself years ago...)

    More to the point: The player in example 4 might be acting like a jerk about it, but they might also have a valid point. Even if you're not concerned with cries of "That's not fair!", what about murmurs of, "Wait, why is this happening? I don't get it." If I'm putting players into situations that they have a hard time following or enjoying, that's a problem I need to deal with.
  • I can think of a few occasions I would have booted myself as well.

    Actually, if you count those times I dropped out of something I wasn't enjoying due to clashes in playstyle (pissyfit or not) as self-booting, I guess I have done that on a few occasions.

    Back to the original point, though.

    I look at those examples and wonder how much a given player has available to manipulate in terms of resources and what that means in context of continuing to play.

    I know I harp on this point, but if I'm playing an RPG and all I have to use is my personal character and chargen is lengthy in one fashion or another, I may well be tempted to play like the player in example 4. If advancement is a big part of play, it becomes even more likely.
  • I think we all recognize that some players are a poor fit for certain games. There are people who will argue over the rules of Monopoly or Chess. But I think we've all played with (and even occasionally been) That Guy in #4; usually late in the evening and libatiously lubricated.

    So, let's assume a baseline indicator of willing/enthusiastic/creative players (GM included). I've been toying with the idea that parameters must be set for the fiction.
    That is to say: establish what the basic result is first, then collaboratively agree on how that result occurred.

    In the "2d6 mechanics" thread, I had a notion of establishing patterns of thought.
    A roll would indicate Linear (straight forward, obvious, task-resolution) solutions; Centers (to the heart of the matter, what is your actual goal, conflict-resolution) solutions; and Corners (outside the box, creative/dramatic) solutions. A successful roll would tell us that what ever we come up with WILL work; we just have to fit the pattern to the fiction (of course always keeping with the setting and tone of the situation).

    In the example of the alley-way, what is a (Linear) straight-forward, obvious solution? What is the (Centered) actual goal of the players? Escape? Gain tactical advantage? What is the (Corners) cinematic/dramatic/just-so-crazy-it-might-work solution? Having already established that it WILL work, you are no longer arguing against each other but, perhaps, arguing to top one another's ideas. Collaborative one-up-manship until someone says: Oo! That's cool! THAT'S what happens!" The same can apply to failure. There's many ways of establishing who gets the final say but I would suggest the player who initiated the action (rolled the dice). And, yes, That Guy/Gal will still argue his/her idea was best - good rules can't fix bad behaviour but they can help to identify it.

    I also have the Alec Baldwin - Glenngary Glen Ross solution but I'll let you pick this idea apart first.
  • edited July 2013
    There are so many problems with 2, 3, and 4, honestly.

    In #2 and #3, you're negotiating with the fiction? Like, they can do A but only if the GM can do B? That seems really weird. Some games have mechanics that work that way, where you force someone to make a choice, but it seems really strange and socially messed up as part of freeplay. RPGs aren't some sort of zero-sum game where each player has to have some kind of boon to make up for a boon given to another player. How about you just follow or interrogate the fiction and see what happens? Like:

    GM: Around the corner, it dead ends! What do yo do? (This last sentence is missing in the examples, where the GM tries to tell the players what to do.)

    P1: I jump onto a rooftop to escape!

    GM: Cool! I'm not sure you can really leap onto it, since they're 12 feet off the street, but you could try to leap up and pull yourself over the corner of the roof.

    P1: Is there anything around here I can scramble up to make it easier?

    Etc.
  • Well, most of the time we keep going with 2, changing the subject of the test to keep the tension, until either:

    -The GM can't come up with nothing to keep that challenge on, because players made a surprise move that cancels the whole scene.
    -The scene goes unresolved for a short while, so the GM pushes an end to it in a way that keeps the story going on (some NPC lends them a hand, pursuers are called back for some misterious reason, another challenge appears and they both have to join forces, etc)
    -Player's luck and strategy are soo poor even GM can do nothing for them, in which case it's usually so ridiculous it's a laugh. Extremely rare case. Even this doesn't mean a TPK.

    On the few occassions something like 4 happened, the rest of the players tend to collaborate with the GM and add logical arguments to help the negotiation, for the sake of not breaking the inmersion or letting players emotions contaminate the creative agenda. Worst case escenario is when situation isn't resolved to satisfaction of one of the sides and then later they use the fiction to make them even. On this, an angry GM is as bad as an angry GM. We have seen games breake before because of this, so our first reaction is to negotiate and concede something to each side.

    The worst kind of player/GM we ever had on the table were the stubborn kind, for whom no logic applies save their own and keep the argument going until they win or even raise new arguments later just to have it their way somehow. It's because of this that we made 3 into a rule where, never mind the logic arguments used, one side wins, the other loses, there are no hard feelings except against the dice, and the game moves on.
  • It's hard not to see this kind of dysfunction as a case of bad game design. (Although I recognize that is not all it is!)
  • edited July 2013
    What's being described here? Is this freeform play with no pre-discussed conflict resolution mechanic or method for assigning narrative authority?

    Without knowing that, I don't understand the dislike of the player in no. 4. Looks to me like she wasn't told what type of game she was getting into. Maybe figure that out before playing (e.g. GM-controlled freeform versus 'say yes or roll the dice')?
  • edited July 2013
    Clarification: Assume all players in the examples are playing a competitive fiction-first game, with some gamist elements, which can sweeten into collaborative sometimes. Competition is mainly between players and GM, though it can switch to Player versus Player or Players versus setting in cases where story logic demands it or players go into my-fun jerkmode when bored or have no clear inmediate goal. Oh, and GM has narrative authority... as long as she keeps logical coherence. Logical authorithy isn't assigned to any player so when contested, all discuss until agreement.

    Yes, I know it sounds contradictory and barely functional, but there are more than one fun way to play a GM-controlled freeform.
  • edited July 2013
    There's really no room for argument in the example.
    - GM: Around the corner, it dead ends! You're now trapped! Looks like you'll have to turn and face these scary bastards!
    - (later) " - trying to delay the challenge. What fun is that? How much longer do you want to run and turn corners before you fight?"

    The GM is setting up a tactical situation and providing the only course of action. The argument starts when the player tries to de-rail the train. May as well roll the dice for me and text me the results. I'll be at the theatre.

    Personally, I prefer a kinder, gentler GM; one who opens up a window when He closes a door. Where's the sewer grate? The forgotten door behind the pile of garbage? The challenge of "Fight to the Pain" (Princess Bride)? Hiding, if only for a brief respite to plan? This guys already pulling out the minis and battle map. If that's the game you sat down to play, fine ; plenty of folks do. Why then bitch about it? Check the tables and add up your modifiers. If all roads lead to Rome, all that's left to do is to figure out your marching order.

    Edit: clarification was posted while typing. Sorry, bad timing. Not my cup of tea, obviously. Good Lord! I'M the player in the fourth example!
  • Biffboff, I concede, my clarification doesn't make it sound fun. Let me rephrase it, just to see if I can find out why do I still play it that way and enjoy it:

    In my table, example 1 would also be totally a no-go. For us GMs shouldn't tell you what to to, they are supposed to ask you what do you want to do and say if it's possible and the requirements. If player's input looks like an improvement to the story, the GM may even adjust the fiction, bend or breake some sules to make it happen. This is our new Rule Zero, which doubles for a "say yes or roll the dice" specifying when to say "no", "yes" or "roll the dice".

    Example 2 happens most of the time, though it's actually more like:

    GM: Around the corner, it dead ends! You're now trapped! Either you'll have to turn and face these scary bastards or find another way out! What do you do?

    P1: I jump onto a rooftop to escape!

    GM: Oh! Can you jump onto a... 12 feet rooftop?

    P1: (checks his character sheet) Sure I can!

    GM: Ok, roll perception, or better alert if you've got ranks on that.

    P1: no, no Alert, Perception it is! (rolls and fails)

    GM: Yeah, jumping up is the best way to get out! No, don't roll for the jump, you're already up there. (rolls for archer's perception, success)

    P1: Oh boy, this can't be good...

    GM: Now you're a perfect target for the archers of the city guard!

    P1: wait, wouldn't my character know that the guards had bows? we've seen them before!

    GM: Agreed, roll Intelligence to see if you remembered that before jumping up the roof.



    GM: The rest of you, roll alert, perception or intelligence, try to save him please! Of course, whoever fails is right up behind him on top of that roof... don't worry, you still get to Roll to dodge.
  • In 4
    P1: Wait, how do we get trapped? As soon as we look around the corner, we can see it's a dead end, so we just keep going past it.

    You don't go past corners,,,, only T junctions can you go past.

    Ok lets say its a T junction, I don't see a problem with four. In fact I would welcome it.

    I would say the player is participating, awake not just sat there. Do you remember at school when some clever kid spots a flaw with the maths teachers calculations ?

    Are we just talking about rail-road play?











  • When someone in the table goes like this on and on without providing arguments able to convince the whole group, then we're talking about dysfunctional play. If that person is the GM, we call it "Bad Railroading". If it's a player, we call that "somebody you shouldn't play with"

    If GM arguments are convincing, it's Illusionism. If player's argument are convincing, it's cooperativism. When one predominates, it's Good Railroading or Rollercoasting. Oh, players can railroad too, though it's less usual.

    BTW, does people actually play trads making that much assumptions? Like, "You're now trapped! Looks like you'll have to turn and face these scary bastards!" (which assumes PCs can't find another way out or that they can't try to talk things out with their pursuers) or "As soon as we look around the corner, we can see it's a dead end", which assumes they can see from one side of the alley to the other? I mean, for me part of the work as a GM is to single out these assumptions and turn them into skill or ability checks. And as a player I'd feel it as bad railroading to have the GM assume I can't think of nothing else.
  • edited July 2013
    Dani, that's a solution a lot of people take -- to stop basing play on challenges to player cleverness, and go for story and drama instead. I like that too, but it seems off-topic to me here.

    WarriorMonk, if the GM is proud of the challenge he's invented in These Scary Bastards, I believe that "now face them!" style of narration is quite common.

    Paul, I agree there should be some game design here. I may throw around some ideas for that.

    Jonathan, yeah, playing tit for tat with establishing fiction looks really weird when highlighted, but I think this secretly goes on in freeform tactical play all the time.

    When it's the GM's job to provide challenge, and the players' job to overcome challenge by applying their wits to the fiction, then often there's a mismatch between what's prepped* and what happens. So as the players are stepping up to be clever, while hoping they're not ruining a fun prepped challenge... and as the GM is trying to reward their cleverness, while hoping there's still some challenge left... "what should happen next?" often enters a murky state.

    There are many ways out of this murk:
    - impartial arbitration based on game principles
    - two sides compete to get their way
    - two sides collaborate to compromise
    - let the dice decide
    - give one side fiat powers
    - pause play and discuss out-of-game
    - pay game resources (the Universalis solution)

    WarriorMonk's style melds a bunch of these, and it while it isn't my personal first choice, I think it has a lot going for it:
    - anyone who's firing creatively has a lot of options for input
    - color and fictional situation can change quickly, which can be exciting
    - it strives to channel and arbitrate problematic player impulses rather than simply prohibiting them, and some players respond way better to "yes, but" than to "no"
    - with lots of ad lib and the nature of challenges turning on a dime, the GM will probably (a) get the hint not to waste much time on prep, and (b) not need to prep much anyway

    Which is not to say that the bad scenario, # 4, isn't a threat. How to keep it at bay? Here's the trick, I think: the group needs to know, and be able to reference when needed, the higher-level collaboration that encompasses the immediate competition. I think the collaboration is always there! Always! But naming it and having it at your fingertips can be tricky. Any game (or non-game freeform toolkit, if you view it that way) that helps the players with this is doing a great service, in my opinion.

    * if not before the session, then at least a little bit before it comes up; the point is that the GM has some investment in X happening
  • David, I think Dani is spot-on and not off-topic at all. It's not about making decisions based on drama or story concerns. Forget that. It's about letting go of the idea that the GM's job is to make things difficult. You're playing an exciting premise, right? Full of danger and challenges? So if you do your job as GM and just say what's happening in the fiction, it'll be exciting and dangerous and challenging and the players will have to use their cleverness to overcome the obstacles. The NPCs are trying to trick the players, but the GM shouldn't be trying to. You don't have to try to make things difficult; things are already difficult! It's an incredibly freeing perspective to take, actually. At least, it was for me.

    It also means the GM really can't have any firm ideas about what's going to happen. You just say what the current situation is and ask the players what they do. If you try to think about drama and story and such, this will mess you up here, actually. It's not about what's difficult or dramatic, but about what naturally happens next, given all the other things that we know. Sometimes this means looking at your prep and being like: "Who is going to be upset about what just happened?" and then have them do something about it. It's not always at the tip of your tongue. But if the premise is full of excitement and danger, then exciting and dangerous stuff is inevitably going to happen.

    Actually, it's much easier to challenge the players if you don't try to decide what's going to happen next! You just are like: "So... uh, now you're surrounded and have discovered that there's archers up on the rooftops... what do you do?" It's the players' job to figure out how to get out of the situation (fighting, negotiating, fleeing, magic, surrendering, getting killed, whatever), not the GM's job. The GM's job is to make the situation clear and then answer any questions the players have about it, since they probably need more information if they're going to use their cleverness to get out of it. Playing the "what is the GM thinking?" game where you try to guess the "correct" answer that will get you out of a situation is, IMO, really frustrating to the players. But if the GM has no particular ideas, then the players really can be clever (as opposed to playing bullshit mind games) in figuring out a way out of an "impossible" situation.

    Anyway, that's my experience.
  • edited July 2013
    Everyone, please avert your eyes while I bring up GNS! I'm only doing it because I think Jonathan and I share enough understanding that it's an effective shorthand between us.

    Jonathan, I'm talking about Gamism. One popular version of Gamist play does give the GM the role of making things difficult. Cool?
  • I'm not sure that's going to help. I'm not talking just about AW but about sandbox play in general, which applies equally to AW-engine games, old school D&D, and the newer OSR-influenced stuff. "AW is good for Narrativism, bad for Gamism" is also not really true (take, say, World of Dungeons), but that's a discussion for another time. If we're talking about something that's not sandbox play, where the GM plans a plot (which is why I mentioned pre-determined outcomes), then that's something else entirely. But it sounds like you're talking about something that's kinda sandboxy but maybe not all the way, which is why I'm confused.
  • P.S. David, if engaging with me is ruining the conversation you're trying to have, that's cool. Just ignore me!

  • WarriorMonk, if the GM is proud of the challenge he's invented in These Scary Bastards, I believe that "now face them!" style of narration is quite common.
    No wonder people wrote that many articles about railroading at the Forge! I mean, I understand why, but this is totally preposterous and unnecessary. For once, there's Illusionism (well, Collaboration too, though I don't rely too heavily on it, I'll go later on this) and there's also Recycling: that challenge the players avoided can always be reused later if designed in a modular way.

    But after seeing myself and a three other GMs using this style of narration with different degrees of failure I think I found the root of the problem: Player/GM expectatives on their Creative Investment. The more time and effort a GM or player uses to create something for the game, the more attached they grow to it and the more payback they want from that investment. The more payback they want from it, the more prone they are to use railroading techniques. The more they use railroading, the higher the chance of misuse.

    Think of the detachable Paranoia Troubleshooter's clones or characters from games with a really simple character creation processes, or how easy is to whip out a can of generic Orcs come out from nowhere against the players; think about pre-gens; fun and cheap in terms of time and creative investment. Now compare those to an hour of careful character creation, two for making a session, a couple of weeks invested in creating a campaign setting, all the time and money we spend on manuals and modules... doesn't make you want to railroad as a GM, or argument your way out of trouble as a player until your GM's ears fall?

    That's why I've been working in less and less complicated systems that still produce the same color or effect than the setting original system (which means less time to create anything) and randomizers to create interesting color & tactics for challenges on the go (which means you can still get quality material without wasting enough time to grow attached to it.

    Which is not to say that the bad scenario, # 4, isn't a threat. How to keep it at bay? Here's the trick, I think: the group needs to know, and be able to reference when needed, the higher-level collaboration that encompasses the immediate competition. I think the collaboration is always there! Always! But naming it and having it at your fingertips can be tricky. Any game (or non-game freeform toolkit, if you view it that way) that helps the players with this is doing a great service, in my opinion.
    You're right about Collaboration. It's part of every single game, on it's most basic form as a way to level everybody to the same situation to start the game fairly. Now, asking players more than that requires a different approach to the definition of the game and limiting what's going to be fun about it and what not. It's not a usual philosophy for an RPG, though RPGs now aren't going for usual at all and that's what is so good about them.

    So, for a game with a more collaborative agenda, assuming things that will ruin the excitement of overcoming a difficult challenge is no fun (and cheating) Main fun here will be creating a coherent story with the help of all players, so don't railroad or ruin the mood insisting in something that won't fit the setting's logic. You'll be given author tools to bend the fiction along with the responsability of not breaking it, so you better leave competition out of this. Have your group of players adhere to this and the game will work wonderfully.

    For a game with a flexible agenda between competition and collaboration you'll find a moment for each one, though you will need coordinating a set of techniques that allow players to discern when is being applied one or the other. Otherwise you risk dysfunctional play at each step. Players need to be this flexible too for this to work, but the reward when you make it work is as you say Dave: you get the best of both worlds, players compete against the GM or each other and collaborate to make both victory and failure memorable moments.
  • edited July 2013
    I'm not sure I tooooootally get what's going on in this thread, but I seem to have thought juice dribbling out, and that's a personal problem but now you must all be embarrassed for me by beholding my off-topicality(???).

    In my experience with Apocalypse World, there is definitely a level of competition in this sense going on between the MC and the PCs. My interpretation is that "Be a fan of the PCs" often means "put them through the ringer to see what they're made of"! And since THAT (and "Make their lives interesting") is the core of the MC's agenda in that game, anything that puts the MC in a better position to put the PCs in situations that challenge them personally, I mean really put them through the crucible psychologically and morally, is essentially an advantage for the MC---if I understand @David_Berg's use of the word up there. In fact, I thought Vincent was pretty explicit that it's the MC's job to make things "difficult" in this very specific sense of "difficult". This design principle is even clearer in the Sundered Lands games, but as far as I've ever played AW, it's there too. In short, I see AW as a clear case of 3, and indeed right in a really satisfying gamist sweet spot.

    (To be clear, I'm not saying the PCs don't want to be put in those positions. It's just not their job to put themselves there; it's their job to get out of them more or less intact. And getting them OUT of trouble isn't the MC's job---"being a fan" means wanting to be with them to the bitter end, though it be an untimely one! It means wanting to see what they were made of after all, and wanting to see how their fate shakes out for them.)
  • edited July 2013
    I was thinking ,, when I said in my last post are we just talking about rail-road play, this could apply to anything that has an agenda or path set down.

    Players trying to use the best skill in a situation, instead of being creative with the character,,, are we being rail-roaded by the game set-up to play in a skills way.

    A positional system is great for knowing how good you are compared to,,,,
    But a creative system doesn't tell you anything only your imagination can help you out or the combined collaboration of the table, (playing group)
    That out the way, I think 4 falls down with cause and effect issue, simulation. This has all been mentioned above.
    I don't have a solution but I find this whole discussion fascinating, its like trying to catch fish, by hand!



  • I've played AW and I've played challenge-based gaming, and I do not find the two to be remotely similar experiences, regardless of how the fictional transcripts may resemble each other. "Character faces tough choice about what to do! Clever action would be good!" is nearly universal to improv character play. So, sure, that's a challenge to the player, in the same way that coming up with good threats or setting description is a challenge to the GM. But if you think that's the same as being challenged to make a clever move in chess, I strongly disagree. I'm talking about roleplay that's more chess-like. I wish I could succinctly describe the difference, but I don't think I can. For anyone who wants to discuss that specifically, might I suggest starting another thread?

    Regarding difficulty, in challenge-based gaming this is important, and the idea that the GM can just do "whatever would happen" and expect good challenges (i.e. satisfying difficulty levels, as opposed to cakewalks or sure TPKs) to fall out is pure fantasy. There are many ways for the GM to attempt to provide optimal difficulty:
    - rigorously prep encounters and railroad like crazy (no good for sandbox)
    - rigorously prep for everything the players might possibly do and set them free (takes forever, burns out GM)
    - take stuff that other people have prepped (i.e. modules) and plop it into a sandbox (just be sure to pick good modules, and provide enough info for players to meaningfully choose between them)
    - total or partial ad lib (that's what this thread is about)
    The more time and effort a GM or player uses to create something for the game, the more attached they grow to it and the more payback they want from that investment. The more payback they want from it, the more prone they are to use railroading techniques. The more they use railroading, the higher the chance of misuse.
    Agreed. That's is a technique appropriate to dungeon crawls, where the players opt in to a physical railroad of "next room; next room; next room". No GM manipulation required! You entered the dungeon!

    For sandbox it sucks.
    You're right about Collaboration. It's part of every single game, on it's most basic form as a way to level everybody to the same situation to start the game fairly. Now, asking players more than that requires a different approach to the definition of the game and limiting what's going to be fun about it and what not.
    I'd like to hear more about this in your group. For me, it's easy to talk about "let's all play nice together", because I can make that work with my buddies, but I realize that's not always a good approach. It seems you have an instructive in-between -- a mix of people who totally do have fun together, but totally do not simply follow a game's advice about how they're supposed to play.

    So, what are some of the sources of fun that "approach this as a collaboration" tends to stifle? Is there any way to reduce that opposition, so you can collaborate without losing that fun?
    For a game with a flexible agenda between competition and collaboration you'll find a moment for each one, though you will need coordinating a set of techniques that allow players to discern when is being applied one or the other. Otherwise you risk dysfunctional play at each step. Players need to be this flexible too for this to work, but the reward when you make it work is as you say Dave: you get the best of both worlds, players compete against the GM or each other and collaborate to make both victory and failure memorable moments.
    I think this is absolutely key. "When does which principle apply?" Ideally, I think the answer is to define the principles without dissonance, such that it isn't a matter of "collaborate or compete" but rather you're always doing both, and the game helps you see where to look for each to make sure neither is being violated. I mean, that's the way I see it already. Is it possible for advice or principles or procedures or rules or rewards to make others see it that way too?

    Some folks in this thread are claiming that certain principles in the Apocalypse World book might help, and I agree. As long as the GM knows how to synergize "be a fan" with providing challenges, "be a fan of the characters" is great. "Look through crosshairs" is also a useful tool, and I'm sure there are more.

    Some of the stuff I use for Delve certainly applies, like "make sure everyone has all the relevant info to make decisions from". This is not a GM job or a player job, but an "everybody" job -- we're all doing this for each other, because we all want a fair and informed competitive arena. There's something else I use for Delve, which I wish I could implement here, but I think it kills some of the fun for WarriorMonk's group: "GM preps challenges, and then in play upholds what's prepped no matter what; beyond that, GM collaborates with the players to help them tackle those challenges, without ever doing it for them".
  • I've played AW and I've played challenge-based gaming, and I do not find the two to be remotely similar experiences, regardless of how the fictional transcripts may resemble each other.
    I'd like to throw in here. I agree with Dave: I don't understand how these two are similar at all. And yet I hear people talk about using World of Dungeons for an "old-school dungeon crawl", with a heavy Gamist approach, and I can't even imagine how that would work. Is it just a question of trying to roleplay cleverly enough to avoid rolling the dice? Because the mechanics themselves seem entirely disconnected from fictional-positioning-for-advantage. (With the exception of finding clever ways to use unusual moves, like an arresting skinner or WoD's magic.)

    [If this is off-topic here, I can start a new thread. But it seems to me that it's quite relevant.]



  • edited July 2013
    With the proviso that I'm still not entirely sure I grasp what we're talking about still firmly pasted to my clammy brow—

    (And, as a corollary, I can't quite tell what's on- or off-topic, so please forgive me for my transgressions—)
    But if you think that's the same as being challenged to make a clever move in chess, I strongly disagree. I'm talking about roleplay that's more chess-like.
    Is Apocalypse World like chess? Well, no, obvs. Is example #3 like chess? Uh—iunno.

    Well, okay, let's say, in chess, White wins when Black loses, and vice versa. An advantage for White is a disadvantage for Black, and vice versa. Is that what we're talking about? Games where the GM wins when the players lose, and vice versa? Okay, AW isn't like that, but I didn't understand that from the context of example #3. If that's what we're talking about then, sure, my comparison wasn't apt. Sorry!

    In Apocalypse World, the MC and the players have different objectives and agendas. They're not always mutually exclusive but they are in tension. So the MC, pursuing her agenda, is very often led into conflict with the players, pursing theirs. That's when the magic happens! Advantage for the MC is not necessarily disadvantage for the players, because the players don't necessarily lose when the MC nails her agenda. But the MC still has to wrestle for it, because it doesn't always directly serve the players' agenda to give it to her easily.

    That seems to me to be true both of fictional positioning and game mechanical strategy. I mean, those are the same thing in AW. So, @Paul_T, when you say,
    Because the mechanics themselves seem entirely disconnected from fictional-positioning-for-advantage.
    —man, I just gotta say, that does not compute for me. The mechanics of AW directly plug into the fiction, and the MC's and the players' respective agendas are satisfied or frustrated there. Fictional positioning is where the game is happening, and it's where advantage is won or lost. Most fictional positioning has nothing to do with rolling the dice, but in AW, every roll of the dice results in a change in fictional positioning, and therefore advantage to the MC, or the PCs, or both, or neither.

    All's I was saying before was, the MC is not "collaborating" with the players "to tell a story", as some games romantically portray their GM's role. The MC's job in AW is, expressly, to futz with the PCs. Not maliciously—but, nevertheless, very, very aggressively.

    Now, the story might be different if we were talking about a game where the GM or the players had extra-fictional objectives, and they had to jockey for advantage in the fiction in order to use moves that would give them extra-fictional benefits. Is that what we're talking about? Because that's not what I was talking about, but it is also super cool and I would love to hear more about that.
  • creases,

    Basically, yes. The AW rules state certain things, like "getting into a straight-up fight is dangerous and you'll get hurt", and then they help conflicts and actions resolve into snowball effects which drive forward the story. The dice provide randomness we don't have a ton of control over.

    It's pretty hard to use the system for one-upmanship, where you fight someone and we see that, "Hey, what a smart move! I didn't expect that combination: I guess you found a way to make violence in Apocalypse World to be quite safe after all!" As you say, it's never clear that *someone won*; it's not really an outcome which we can easily strive toward in that game. For instance, when you roll a failure (or a 7-9), you don't get a sinking feeling that you're not playing the game well and that's why you're losing. It's not what the game is optimized to deliver.

    I may be explaining it very poorly. I hope Dave will come and do it better, as he usually does! He's given this a lot more thought than I have.
  • edited August 2013
    Paul, yeah, I agree that this is relevant, but I also think it's going to dominate the conversation, which is why I suggested starting a new thread to talk about it. I think creases' reply demonstrates that you'll get plenty of response!
  • With due respect to Mr. Berg and it all being a contrived example, i'd say it really looks like if the whole problem is based on a bumbling error on the part of the GM. clearly the the players are running away. just declaring that there is a dead end amounts to heavy-handed manipulation and saying no to player agency in a blunt and transparent manner, no wonder the player in (4) get contrary. he probably already was subject to GM whims indiscriminately before.

    the more basic misunderstanding is probably that there is a competition between payers and game masters. the game masters can always be overbearing, but it's like dropping 30t weights out of the blue sky on players and reveals an awful lack of skill in framing the experience and was rightfully ridiculed even 30 years ago. the AW/DW equivalent is pulling a hard move out of nowhere without ever asking "what do you do?". isn't it revealing that the hypothetical GM says: "now you have to face my guys" instead of "what do you do?".

    if one wants to do illusionism for the sake of drama: "there is a dead end. now do the dramatic fight i imagined", one needs to learn to frame it better, or i can understand players saying:"If I have to fight, fine, but don't give me a bogus reason for it."

    I better add that if someone wants play that way, the more power to them. Just be ready that out of competitions with the winner having a narrative free pass, hard feelings will arise. (unless you advertise it before gameplay begins see "houses of the blooded")

  • Regarding difficulty, in challenge-based gaming this is important, and the idea that the GM can just do "whatever would happen" and expect good challenges (i.e. satisfying difficulty levels, as opposed to cakewalks or sure TPKs) to fall out is pure fantasy.
    I agree, though I've seen so much good gaming advice that I think is possible to single out what things work better and make them into rules. AW's principles are the proof of that. Principles help the GM focus better on using techniques that optimize the game flow, though probably he learned those techniques somewhere else or extrapolated them from the book examples and by trial and error on the game, if he hadn't any previous experience with RPGs. Now I consider Principles a must for every RPG design, but the Techniques are still missing, and both should be enforced as game rules and not as game advice.
    You're right about Collaboration. It's part of every single game, on it's most basic form as a way to level everybody to the same situation to start the game fairly. Now, asking players more than that requires a different approach to the definition of the game and limiting what's going to be fun about it and what not.
    I'd like to hear more about this in your group. For me, it's easy to talk about "let's all play nice together", because I can make that work with my buddies, but I realize that's not always a good approach. It seems you have an instructive in-between -- a mix of people who totally do have fun together, but totally do not simply follow a game's advice about how they're supposed to play.

    So, what are some of the sources of fun that "approach this as a collaboration" tends to stifle? Is there any way to reduce that opposition, so you can collaborate without losing that fun?
    To reduce opposition I'd need really good examples of why is it fun to collaborate in X way, and why that fun is better than the fun I already have with other games. The examples should include the basic tools I need to make it work (the techniques) along with the game Principles -best if both are stated as game rules and not just game advice. Otherwise "Let's play nice" kind of advice sounds naive for a group bent on bringing up Competition when provoked, and keeping the right game flow for that kind of game looks like an impossible task for the GM of that group. Whenever the "fun intended for this game" seems unclear for either players or GMs, or difficult to achieve due to lack of proper techniques and/or, the current group's set of techniques is still being perceived as "more fun" or "able to breake the fun of another game", your chances of convincing that specific group will decrease.

    "When does which principle apply?" Ideally, I think the answer is to define the principles without dissonance, such that it isn't a matter of "collaborate or compete" but rather you're always doing both, and the game helps you see where to look for each to make sure neither is being violated. I mean, that's the way I see it already. Is it possible for advice or principles or procedures or rules or rewards to make others see it that way too?

    Yes. I guess we should add a couple of principles to the list:

    -Collaborate whenever you've got to do (whatever process in the game require this)

    -You (can) compete for (whatever field of your game can handle this, being either the gamist challenge or verbal negotiation of advantages in the fiction)

    I think that the questions we need fo focus on a bit are: What makes us compete? What makes us collaborate?

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