Can we make reading the GM's mind more reliably fun?

edited November 2014 in Story Games
Okay, so, that phrasing -- "reading the GM's mind" -- is usually used to describe why some RPG play was not fun. The assertion is that mind-reading is inherently not fun. So why would I want to look there, of all places, for fun?

Well, one reason why this keeps cropping up in play is because sometimes there are some parts of it that are fun. Check this out:

(italics = character speech)
GM: (looks away briefly) Well, sirs, I really would help you if I could (wrings hands) but I don't know anything about the Alley Stalker. (looks down)

Player 1: I understand your position, but look, if we can find the Alley Stalker, we will take him down! Then no one will have anything more to fear from him.

GM: (hopeful but skeptical expression)

Player 2: We have a safe house. Give us something we can use, and we'll escort you there, to stay until this is all over.

GM: You promise I'll be safe? Very well, then. Here's what I've seen...
This is one version of the interaction, and I think it has a lot going for it. But because it's hard to rely on this method every time, a lot of games have chosen another solution, where the players' way forward looks like this:
Player 1: I roll Persuasion to get him to tell me what he knows. 15. Success! Right?

GM: Right. He tells you what he's seen...
Some designers have noticed that this can be flat in play, and so have added on the requirement that players show their skill uses in the fiction, which can look like this:
Player 1: Greetings, sir! My friend and I are here to help your community and put an end to the Alley Stalker! Now we've heard you might be able to help us. Tell us all you know, and we swear to deal with him! I roll Persuasion to get him to tell me what he knows. 15. Success! Right?

GM: Right. Very well, then. Here's what I've seen...
Many roleplayers consider this to be good enough. And if you have a whole group who wants more play-acting in there, they can of course embellish:
GM: (looks away briefly) Well, sirs, I really would help you if I could (wrings hands) but I don't know anything about the Alley Stalker. (looks down)

Player 1: Look, if we can find the Alley Stalker, we will take him down! These streets will be safe and you will have been a great help to your community.

GM: (skeptical expression)

Player 2: Give us something we can use, and we'll reward you handsomely! How does 15 coppers strike you? I roll Persuasion. 15. Success! Right?

GM: Right. Very well, then. Might I also ask for some protection? Whatever you can offer would be most welcome! Here's what I've seen...
So, the fiction winds up quite similar to my first example. We've got just as much color and fictional detail. The big difference is not in product, but in process.

In this last example, everyone added flavor and portrayal to the scene as befit their taste, rolled to resolve the key matter of interest, and worked the roll result into their ongoing portrayal.

In the first example, on the other hand, the GM and players attempted to communicate via the fiction regarding the key matter of interest. Upon successful completion of this communication, the matter was resolved. Fictionally, the characters succeeded because they deduced the NPC's needs and concocted a way to meet them. At the table, the players succeeded for the same reason, deducing the NPC's needs by way of close attention to the GM's portrayal, and the GM approved their solution in similar fashion, by paying close attention to the level of reassurance offered in words, tone, action, and promises.

Now this is clearly a matter of taste, but I think communicating via the fiction in this context is awesome. I mean, yeah, as a player, I can enjoy simply answering the question of whether I get info... and yeah, I can enjoy taking that and dressing it up with some character-acting... but what I enjoy most is when our acting and narrating has some challenge and some stakes. Not because I always love those things for their own sake, but because we listen to each other in a different way when they're present. We hang on each other's every word, the players looking for vital clues, the GM looking for solutions or gaffes. That kind of intense interaction has generated probably 90% of the most fun RPG scenes I've played, over decades in the hobby.

That's why it's worth bothering to refine this process. Because when it works (if your taste is like mine), it's The Best.

I'm guessing that most readers know what it looks like when it doesn't work, and especially when it turns out like failed mind-reading:
GM: Well, sirs, I really would help you if I could, but I don't know anything about the Alley Stalker.

Player 1: Don't hold out on us, you lout! We have good reason to believe you know something! You aren't allied with him, are you?!

GM: The old man runs away!

Player 2: I run him down and tackle him!

GM: He curls up into a ball and cries and you don't get anything useful out of him. Now what?

Player 1: That was our main lead! What the hell?!

GM: Sorry. Being aggressive didn't work.

Player 2: How were we supposed to know that?

GM: He was scared...

Player 1: He was?
So the challenge is to eliminate that without eliminating the need for players and GMs to hang on each other's every word.

Specifically, I'd like to explore design solutions (advising everyone to hone their acting and people-reading skills doesn't seem very helpful to me). I think that with a little better system of feedback, we can make communicating via the fiction more accessible to non-actors.

What I have in mind is something like Charades:
- Being a good actor helps, but is not required.
- We know this is an attempt at communication, and we accept certain obstacles in order to make a challenging game of it. Instead of the gestures of Charades or the whispers of Telephone, we use fiction and all the limits we've included with it.
- When solutions are tested, knowledge is updated. ("Is it Gone With the Wind?" "No.")
- The endeavor will come to a definite end, with either success, permanent failure, or failure until you can try again with new resources.

I haven't really gotten thinking on how to achieve that yet. Anyone else who shares my enthusiasm for this sort of play: any ideas?
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Comments

  • edited November 2014
    Can you extend the explanation of the obstacles a little bit? Because it can breed a mind where the game master should make things difficult for the players, and then the game is steered through game master bias. The last example isn't to me a failed mind-reading. It's about the game master not willing to "give everything away" aka "not making things to easy for the players". A mindset born from the thought that the game master should create obstacles.
  • What it looks like is happening is that the GM isn't giving away the fact that there's something up, but is able to create an atmosphere of suspicion. The challenge and satisfaction comes with a solving of the puzzle: there's something up, and the players need to dig a little more. In one sense, it's trying to play the Hot-Cold game while subtly communicating with the players the whole time.

    I think I can see where you're coming from, and one main challenge in RPGs is that it's an extra level of mechanics to resolve: you need to play a social game with the GM to determine when you need to use your character's social mechanics. The problems start arising when the players misinterpret the situation as you've set it out.

    In that vein, I guess it does start to feel like the GM is forcing the players along the preset path that they've picked. If you don't figure out that you're supposed to get information from this person, then the game just stalls until someone gets frustrated and the GM spills it.

    What I think you want is some sort of clarity in the game. Imagine, for instance, that the GM had some indicator that they could flag a situation with. Think of it as "Spidey-Sense". It's a neutral indicator (such as flipping over a card) that something's not quite right, and that the PCs should dig. If the card's flipped, now the players know that they need to find something in particular, and the game's afoot. Maybe even couple it with a non-random mechanic like GUMSHOE's spends.
  • I grew up doing the first method. There were no rules for interpersonal interactions.

    The rules in D20 systems now just need a single roll and skip the roleplaying.

    There should be a set of challenges the player has to meet to convince someone to act a certain way.

    You get the roll when you find the angle, but even with the roll it doesn't just mean the player gets the info. Maybe he reveals his reservation. Which allows another roll. If the player can offer something to deal with his reservation.

    So it would work like this:

    GM: (looks away briefly) Well, sirs, I really would help you if I could (wrings hands) but I don't know anything about the Alley Stalker. (looks around scared)

    Player 1: I understand your position, but look, if we can find the Alley Stalker, we will take him down! Then no one will have anything more to fear from him. (I rolled a 18 persuasion!, success right!!!)

    GM: (Yes) I fear him. He hunts for me. I'll never be safe (He wrings his hands and looks over shoulder)

    Player 2: We have a safe house. Give us something we can use, and we'll escort you there, to stay until this is all over. (I rolled a 15 persuasion, success?)

    GM: (Yes) You promise I'll be safe? Very well, then. Here's what I've seen...

    OR-FAIL-------------

    Player 2: We have a safe house. Give us something we can use, and we'll escort you there, to stay until this is all over. (I rolled a 13 persuasion, success?)

    GM: (No) I don't know. If you get me to the safe house then I might be persuaded to talk.

    ----------------

    So it requires interplay to get the rolls. This is really rough but if it required more than just a roll I think it could work.
  • edited November 2014
    Love this conversation.
    - Being a good actor helps, but is not required.
    - We know this is an attempt at communication, and we accept certain obstacles in order to make a challenging game of it. Instead of the gestures of Charades or the whispers of Telephone, we use fiction and all the limits we've included with it.
    - When solutions are tested, knowledge is updated. ("Is it Gone With the Wind?" "No.")
    - The endeavor will come to a definite end, with either success, permanent failure, or failure until you can try again with new resources.
    Seems like AW's "read a person"accomplishes a lot of this
    -It explicitly sets the stage for communication in both directions
    -It rewards social communication skills, but doesn't depend on them
    -It allows guesses, then gives immediate feedback
    -It creates an explicit end for what's knowable; anything that comes after the holds are exhausted is explicitly outside of the player's responsibility to intuit.

    By saying "you can't know," play can move past uncertainty while sparing the players any liability for missing something socially. The uncertainty is pulled out of the social level and becomes part of the fictional situation.
  • I'm interested to see if your project yields results. A few things come to mind (most of which aren't direct answers to your conundrum):

    1. The need for a fair way for players to deduce what they need to do strikes me as a symptom worth examining. For example, imagine a linear campaign where the GM has pre-planned that the PCs have to take a particular conversational tack with an NPC in order to get the clue: the players are going to get frustrated if there isn't a way for them to figure out what the "right" approach is.

    But in a more freewheeling game, it would seem that accidentally insulting the barkeep is fine, as long as the players can still talk to the rest of the staff, poke around the tavern, ask other villagers about the barkeep to drum up more leverage, etc.

    The phrase that keeps coming to mind is "surface area of agency." A roadblock NPC presents only a narrow surface area. If that's the situation, I can see wanting to look for ways to increase the surface area of player agency within the conversation.

    But if you accept that the NPC (or just this particular conversation) is part of a large surface area upon which the players can act, then it seems it's fine for the conversation to turn into a dead end. (Naturally, colorful and clue-filled dead-ends are preferred.)

    2. I can imagine a stylized etiquette, where certain phrases the GM utters are code words that indicate particular avenues of approach. (I'm thinking of the meaningful phrases within Polaris, just uttered in character.) A sort of conversational tea ceremony.

    I'm having trouble imagining this working unless the clues are dead obvious, though; I keep seeing a table erupt into, "Hey, that's not fair, you totally dropped your tone of voice when you replied to my question about airships - that indicated the NPC was going to be vulnerable to placating! But then you ignored my placating statement. I made like.. four of them!"

    3. So, Amber RPG is Diceless, but it has an essay about swordfighting to prime both GM and players on the texture of duels, the factors that are relevant and should be part of the conversation. Despite the fact that sword-fighters are described by a single number (e.g. Warfare: 42), this leads to a fairly nuanced and rich sword-fighting experience. A similar essay like that about talking to NPCs seems useful.

    For example, let's say you guess wrong and become aggressive, and the farmer curls up into a ball. Rather than pop out of game play by deeming the GM's portrayal as somehow "unfair", the players (having read the essay) knew this was a possible outcome, and were prepared for it. This doesn't need to be a dead end, because the group has pre-agreed options that could work - pat the guy on the back, rotate in the "good cop," buy him a whiskey and switch to being reasonable, whatever. The GM is armed to recognize this as an attempt to coax the farmer out of his fear (because the GM read the essay too).
  • In all the responses so far, I see insights I'd like to use, but I also see obstacles that I'd need to address first. I'll go one by one:

    @Rickard, here are some of the ways this play style can fail:
    - GM isn't even aware he's using "read my NPC" as a requirement for progress
    - players didn't buy into playing that sort of game
    - players have agreed to play that sort of game, but didn't realize this particular scene would go that way
    - GM fails to provide useful signals and actionable info
    - players fail to pay attention to the GM's portrayal
    - the converse of the previous two; uncommunicative players, inattentive GM
    - everyone gives a solid effort, but when the players and GM don't complete the communication successfully, no one knows where to go from there

    I figure a game that includes the proper social dynamics as part of its pitch will cover the first three items on that list, so my focus here is on troubleshooting the rest.

    @CarpeGuitarrem, I think your flag suggestion fixes the "I didn't know we had to read this guy!" problem, but doesn't address the murkiness of the ensuing back-and-forth. A non-random spend, if it gets the players something, can take the focus off the speech itself, in the same way die rolls can. I think that it might be fine to include mechanical input somewhere in the process, but unless the most important work is done by the words, you lose that "hanging on every word" dynamic that I love. Do you have any thoughts on a useful way to incorporate a Gumshoe-style spend within those constraints?

    @chaiboy, I've definitely played some games where you roll on a more minute scale, and I don't think that inherently has anything to do with generating the style of verbal interaction that I like. Going from caring about one die roll to caring about several isn't an improvement in my book. However, there are some other elements in your example that I like a lot! It seems like the players aren't allowed to roll Persuasion to "get what they want"; rather, they're only allowed to roll it to respond to an immediate prompt. How far a successful roll gets them depends on what the prompt was. If the style of interaction I like is rolling along fairly smoothly, this seems like a good way to inject some concrete feedback into it. However, what about when it isn't going so smoothly?

    Suppose the GM has in mind that the NPC is scared, and does their best to portray that. The player fails to get that, instead judging them to be insolent, and tries a persuasive tactic of threatening rather than reassuring. What happens then? If the player gets to roll Persuasion with solid odds of success, then we've short-circuited the need to care about the GM's performance and defeated the entire purpose of this thread's endeavor. If the player doesn't get to roll Persuasion (or gets to roll with terrible odds), we need to know what happens at the table at that moment. Any thoughts?

    @Dirk, I agree that AW moves offer some nice options in that the broad Move definitions require fiction-specific refinement. No roll in AW is going to tell you "you persuade the NPC to help you" completely regardless of what's going on in the fiction. Then again, the same is true in D20; we still need to know what we're persuading them to do, and verify that that's within the bounds of the rules and fictional plausibility. I've played a few AW campaigns myself, and spoken to others who've played it in very different styles. The impression I get is that it varies by GM and by social contract. Some GMs always Announce Future Badness in unmistakable fashion, handing the players all the info they need to pick the actions and Moves that will actually benefit them in the situation. Other GMs challenge the players to assess the situation (beyond just rolling Read and picking a result) in order to choose an action that will actually achieve their top priority.

    I'm not sure what to think of all this. The one thing I know for sure is that, if I wanted my friends to play AW with intense attention to their own speech and the GM's, I'd first have to kill their characters several times for inattentiveness, to break their expectations, and I'd also have to lecture them about "I don't care if the rules leave this open, and I don't care what so and so said on the internet; we're doing it this way."

    Sounds like a chore to me. I'd like to do better than that.

    Can you think of a good way to embed AW-style moves in a game where it's obvious to everyone that the talking is what really gets things done?

    @Fuseboy,
    1. For this thread, I think we should assume good adventure design, or good ad-lib. The problem is not one of roadblocks, it's of failing to proceed (whether to successes or dead-ends) in an enjoyable and coherent fashion. Even if players have no trouble finding another avenue to pursue, they still don't like feeling disoriented by avenue # 1.

    "We saw an opportunity to assess something; we assessed it as best we could; our assessment failed, but we feel like we had a fair shot; on to the next thing," is just fine by me. And it's certainly possible for social contract to get us there alone! I've done that when GMing long campaigns. But it'd be super sweet to do it with some game design I could share with others.

    2. I think dead obvious clues would defeat the purpose. No one gets to the edge of their seat over something that's supposed to be a cakewalk. I think stylize etiquette might be a great addition to communicating via fiction, but it shouldn't replace it in terms of getting the job done. Key phrases might be used to signal things like, "I'm done assessing, I'm committing to this approach now" or something. Hmm.

    3. I am generally underwhelmed by advice and essays, but it sounds like Amber swordfighting was a big success! Any thoughts on why it worked for you guys? Do you recall any key ingredients that made it easy to remember and apply in the moment?

    Thanks!
  • edited November 2014
    @Rickard, here are some of the ways this play style can fail:
    Cool, but you didn't address my question. My point being: you probably need to see "play" from another perspective if you want to go through with this. Most of the other thoughts are given from this very traditional perspective - a game with obstacles.
  • A matter of playstyle, obvs. I keep thinking I have something to say here. But upon examination, all my suggestions come down to observational, psychological, literary, rhetorical and oratory techniques, in other words, real world skills.

  • Rickard, I answered your question, thinking you meant "obstacles to this kind of play working". I now gather that you meant "obstacles to the players getting what they want". Oops! So, to address your actual question:

    I have no idea how it's on topic to question the obstacle mentality, seeing as how the dynamic I enjoy (hungry attention) is born of stakes and challenge, which you don't really get without obstacles. A different perspective, presumably, would allow me to pursue something else, and thus be a topic for a different thread.

    But maybe I'm missing something. If you can make my type of player-GM conversation more reliably fun with techniques drawn from a new perspective, please show me how!
  • @Rickard: I believe this stuff is intended for use in the context of "gentle Gamism."

    @AsIf: I think I agree with you for once. Good conversational skills, and applying such skills to GMing, simply takes a lot of practice.

    I don't see why every RPG needs to be GM-able by a novice, after all.
  • /nodding and smiling.


  • @CarpeGuitarrem, I think your flag suggestion fixes the "I didn't know we had to read this guy!" problem, but doesn't address the murkiness of the ensuing back-and-forth. A non-random spend, if it gets the players something, can take the focus off the speech itself, in the same way die rolls can. I think that it might be fine to include mechanical input somewhere in the process, but unless the most important work is done by the words, you lose that "hanging on every word" dynamic that I love. Do you have any thoughts on a useful way to incorporate a Gumshoe-style spend within those constraints?
    So, this isn't exactly GUMSHOE, but you could get something out of a system where players declared particular approaches.

    So you give the flag, they know something's up, you ask them what approach they're taking. Maybe it's persuasion, bribery, intimidation, etc. You react accordingly.
  • edited November 2014
    I do think "let's pick a formal Approach" has something going for it in terms of coherence and clarity. The tricky part then is to make that selection relevant without rendering the performance irrelevant.

    I believe the Finnish Stalker system has the GM factor two criteria into a behind-the-screen determination of player success. I wonder if something like that could work? One factor could be the chosen Approach and the other could be the execution of that Approach. So the GM is asking themself, "Was that the right strategy?" and also "Was it well executed?" Which is pretty close to what the GM's asking themself already, but now you have a GM chart for the result.

    What does that look like to the players? Is "watching the GM read a chart before responding" all the coherent feedback they need?

    @Eero_Tuovinen, if your Stalker experience yields any answers, I'd love to hear them!
  • edited November 2014
    But maybe I'm missing something. If you can make my type of player-GM conversation more reliably fun with techniques drawn from a new perspective, please show me how!
    Cool, because I don't feel like writing a lot of stuff that's not going to be used. :) I also like to do smaller posts, both to stimulate discussion but also so things can be corrected right away. So I will be vague and paint with large brushes and then we can delve deeper into some of the parts I'm talking about.

    What if the game master suggested possible outcomes? So that the game master and the players interact with each other in a creative manner, and try to collaborate to advance the story?

    This is what I think is "wrong" with the moves in AW. You don't need to roll, but the game master has instead moves that triggers if the players use a move. The game master's are additional possibilities of the players' moves. This will make the game run smoother but also create a natural way of communicate between the game master and the players, where the game master responds on the players' actions - and offering a new situation or changing the current situation as a response. This response is then up to the players to give a response back to.

    That's something that I would feel would feel natural to use. It's how typical dialogues works.
  • Hi, thought I might add my insight.
    For it all to make sense you need to take a step back. In fiction and on the screen (and in real life) what is the thing you see before the protagonist questions/ intimidates/ interrogates the clue carrying npc? You see (or get a description) of the clue carrying npc! The roll (if the system swings that way) is to read the npc. The PC then uses this information in a role playing scene as they attempt to use the NPC to achieve their goal.
    If the GM has a list of descriptive observations and the Player makes a social roll (or spends some points or however the game rules work), they get some portion of that list based on their success. The player then uses this to engage the target to win the clue. If they haven't deduced enough of these observations due to a poor roll they will have to figure it out during the conversation (roleplay).
    This means that social skills are observation and deduction skills. My high persuade skill doesn't mean that I have some mystical ability to influence people (unless that is exactly what it does!), it means that I am very good at reading people, reading their body language, interpreting how others react to them, how they dress, what they own, where they go and I therefore am able to present to them the exact interaction that will persuade them in my favour.
    If social skills are about what happens before the transaction then the transaction can be roleplayed. The dice, skill point spend (or whatever the game mechanics are) gives the player information that they use to impose their will in the social transaction. They can still fluff it but are less likely and don't have to rely on GM acting skills for the result. The roleplay of the transaction affirms the information they have deducted from observing the target and they feel as though they have had a meaningful encounter where character skill and player skill were both engaged.

    This raises the question - why do many RPGs have lots of social skills? It doesn't make sense having intimidate and persuasion if they both draw on deductive observation of the target. I don't bother in my games. I use one skill to observe the target, it's up to the player what they do with the information. If you want to have more than one social skill you could justify them as representing the deductive part of the target shaping process. Eg: My Character has high intimidate skill and yours has high torture skill and we are watching an informer limping down the street. We see that he has experienced an injury to his left leg and he is clutching a paper bag to his chest. I would muscle up to him and demand to know the answer to my question, standing on his left foot and gradually applying pressure. You snatch the bottle out of his hand telling him that the only thing more painful than his leg is knowing that he will never get to drink this bottle, unless he speaks up.This example implies that intimidate is the threat of pain (physical or emotional), torture is the threat of loss of control (physical or emotional).

    PS:- I work with some very effective sales people and this is pretty much how they operate. They can break down any social encounter into their goals and observations leading to a strategy that they deploy and modify if need be on the go. Have a chat with someone in sales or recruiting (who is good at it!) some time and they will tell you that most of the work is done before any words are said.
  • edited November 2014
    The way you make approach matter (as well as skills) is simply not to permit their use until they're performed. This is normally the way it's done in regular RPGs - AW formalized the order very firmly.
  • edited November 2014
    J.D., I believe I acknowledged that and am aiming for something beyond it.

    That is, unless you're talking about a GM saying, "You failed to notice that my NPC is scared, and your approach didn't factor that in, so no, you cannot roll Persuasion, no matter how persuasive that speech you gave might seem to you."

    I think there's some logic to that, but I've never seen it embraced. In my experience, most players actually prefer explicit GM fiat over having a skill on their sheet which the GM can decide not to let them use based on communication via fiction. It kinda defeats what numeric skills are for -- now it's nothing more than a second potential failure gate after the gate of GM approval. Better to just have the GM say "Yes, it works!" with no roll.

    That said, adding in rolls does help on the clarity front... Maybe the GM determines Yes/No but then there's a roll for degree?

    Brainstorm:
    GM has a white die and a black die. Player has no dice.

    GM roleplays NPC. Player roleplays PC. When GM thinks an Approach has been chosen and executed, GM picks up dice. If player wasn't finished, they can interject; otherwise, they wait to see which die the GM hands them.

    The GM hands the player one die. Black die means failure, white die means success. The die is then rolled, with low results meaning a moderate version (maybe a 1 Failure allows you to simply try again) and high results meaning an extreme version (on a 6 Failure, the NPC attacks you; on a 6 Success, the NPC tells you everything and is totally flexible about what they'll accept in return).
  • @Matt_Haines, that is awesome. I am trying to figure out whether or not that gets at what I'm after in this thread (more on that to follow), but I would love to play a system like that regardless.
  • That's an interesting system - what I was getting at is that in most social systems there isn't a rule that says (sticking with the same example) scared people can't successfully be intimidated. Instead, there is normally a list of potential effects that can be created by a successful use of a skill roll. In Monsterhearts, you say and do something to Turn Someone On, you grab the dice, you roll and maybe it happens or maybe it doesn't, but it doesn't rely at all on some secret knowledge the GM had about what does or doesn't turn on a particular NPC; in fact the explicit rules of Turn Someone On say that what you previously imagined about the NPC's preferences doesn't matter.
  • Similarly, in D&D, all Diplomacy does is shift someone's attitude towards you and all Fate Core does is allow you to Overcome an Obstacle or Create an Advantage. How that translates back into the fiction is very firmly made optional. In fact I'm trying to think of a single system where the GM is told "be sure to under no circumstances let approach X work in situation Y".
  • @JDCorley
    I guess it all comes down to whether the system (or gm) predetermines NPC motives or not. The AW games don't. I like predetermining motives so that npcs don't feel like player toys. Rickards fish tank method is good for this.
  • edited November 2014
    Well, in D&D you do predetermine motives, but the existence of the Diplomacy skill means a certain amount of latitude in NPC attitude (thank you Jimmy Buffett) has to be built in. In other word, in D&D what you want may be fixed but what you think the best thing to do about it in relation to the magical traveling rockstars that the PCs always are is variable. You may still want to blow up the moon for Satan, you just are open to the idea that maybe helping these people right now may be the best long term way to get that.
  • edited November 2014
    What D&D die rolling neglects is a feedback cycle like playing "Hotter, Colder".

    Perhaps have a red and green token on the table. The distance the GM places these from where his/her hands naturally rest will hint at the "distance" to achieve a positive (green) or negative (red) outcome.

    As the Player and GM talk, the GM moves a hand towards a token to silently indicate how the PCs are socially-reading the NPCs.

    Perhaps an initial die roll would determine how accurately this movement happens (a la Matt_Haines - character sheet social skills are more genuinely accuracy about social reading).

    Sometimes have a third token of a third color to represent an outcome not easily described as "success" or "failure". (No, ma'am, we really do not want you to join our investigation. Please let us escort you to the safe house.)

    Sometimes have multiple green or red tokens, if the PCs clearly understand there are multiple successful or failing outcomes. (Not only does he refuse to answer your questions, he draws a knife...)

    ---

    It's a bit clunky. But if the GM and Players do not have enough social skill themselves to make plain dialogue reliable, it is a crutch that at least allows everyone to be focusing properly on the conversation as it happens.
  • Well, I think the issue with D&D3's Diplomacy is that people think it should do more than it does - people think it means "I persuade you that I'm right" instead of "What I say makes you have a Helpful attitude towards me". (This is despite what the rules say, not because of what the rules say.)

    So like, persuading the guy that you're right, there's no systemic way in D&D to do that, either you convince the guy by roleplaying and the GM roleplaying, or you don't, and 1) this doesn't matter, and 2) this is good design. Because D&D3 is a fantasy adventure game about overcoming adventuresome challenges, so the only thing that matters is whether a person is hostile (a challenge), unfriendly (an enhancement to another challenge), friendly (provides assistance with another challenge) or helpful (will directly help you overcome a challenge). Within those categories, they can think you're full of shit, an evil bastard, a raving monster, or a perfect saint, and it literally doesn't matter. "Oh my god, this guy is a horrible cruel vicious SOB, we better help him" is absolutely fine as a successful Diplomacy result.

    I now actually think I'm going to have to look directly at social systems because I frankly can't think of ANY off the top of my head that operate in the space where "reading the GM's mind" actually is a problem.
  • @JDCorley
    This works so well for D&D because it is a game with a heroic narrative. The universe is a backdrop with the sole purpose of reinforcing the fact that it is all revolving around the player characters like some glittering sideshow attraction. The fact that everyone will fold to the PCs is... Inevitable. Also, everything in these stories is conflict driven and the PCs are the conflict event horizons within their story- everyone else's priorities will be drawn to the singularity.
    This is awesome and advisable if you want to make or play a heroic game. If not, it seems bizarre in play because every character becomes an extension of the player characters and this is an uncanny valley in non heroic stories.
  • edited November 2014
    Well, everyone doesn't fold to the PCs in D&D3, that's just nuts and the opposite of what the rules say. (But again, maybe nobody reads the D&D3 rules when they play D&D3.) You can miss Diplomacy rolls in D&D3. You can get killed in D&D3. But yeah, it's an adventure game focused on challenges, so the social system is designed accordingly. This is 100 percent a good thing and not in any way a bad thing.
  • Maybe this is besides the point, but the GM in our hypothetical set of examples could use the first method but just give the players more information. I would describe this as 'the Vincent Baker method', from playing the town in Dogs through the bit about how NPC motivations in AW are simple and obvious and most importantly of all basically transparent to the players.

    Like, there is a huge gap between 'communicate via the fiction' and 'communicate via direct dialogue, the GM's actorly ability, and description of character action', which is actually what is happening in the first example. 'The fiction' of the game includes things like 'it's obvious to you that he is scared', after all -- that's a statement about the fiction. It could even include a whole interior monologue from the point of view of the NPC. The GM is free to share absolutely everything she knows about the fiction of the scene, and that would still be communication 'via the fiction'.

    Similarly, the players could say things like 'my steely look of determination makes it clear that we are going to deal with this Alley Stalker once and for all.' They don't have to convey that through acting, they can just say it out loud, as narration. And that's 100% part of the fiction. It also makes their intent ultra-clear, much in the same way the GM making the NPC's fear more transparent makes the obstacles to the interaction more clear than just hoping she can get that across with her nascent acting chops.

    So yeah, this is obviously about reducing the need for mind-reading, but based on the OP it seems like the actual mind-reading thing is not really what is being discussed.
  • edited November 2014
    ICE, yeah, "Here, I'm giving you the vital info that you need," is definitely speech that gets everyone's attention! Same with, "Having parsed that info, here's how I act on it." I like playing this way! It might be appropriate for the majority of scenes.

    I also want other scenes, though, where the situation is not obvious to the characters, and none of the players or GM are allowed to simply resolve that uncertainty without struggle. So, I guess this thread is about those scenes. "Communicating via non-obvious fiction" is the challenge. Thanks for helping me refine that description!

    The scared dude in the alley may not be the best example, if it's not apparent why a little uncertainty would be fun there. Maybe a frenemy NPC imperfectly attempting deception would be better.

    Note: some historical frustration with this play style may stem from doing it compulsively, including in scenes which don't deserve it. I think that's yet another dimension where having a formal system, which the group must consciously choose to engage or not, might help.
  • edited November 2014
    I dunno man, even when you say it in a way you think is particularly pensive or pressured or subtly hinting or whatever, there's a good chance your players won't hear it that way. Likewise you can say something you think is relatively innocuous and they take it like an auspicious sign and run with it.

    And that's part of the fun.

    Since we know both of the above are going to occur, and since we know we're not really talking about game mechanics enabling telepathy, this seems a pretty good way to go. You said "uncertainty" above. Well, one of the best ways to retain Uncertainty is for the GM to not know themselves what's being said. I might say something, perhaps deliberately in a "weird way", perhaps not. But you hear something in it, or you think you hear something in it, and you say something or ask a question. Maybe you think he sounds scared, and you say "He sounds like he's gonna pee his pants any second, huh?"

    Well guess what, I actually wasn't going for fear, I was trying to sound like a junkie. But hey - now that you mention it... That's not a bad way to go. Someone rolls dice. Depending on the playstyle and system it might be me, or it might be you. Maybe there's a skill name for it. If the system has no mechanic I roll a binary tree. "Is it what Dave just suggested?" Dice say yes. Holy shit, that's cool, now I just need to make up a reason why this guy is so scared. And on we go.

    This is the positive face of illusionism. :-)

  • edited November 2014
    Tod, let's try to avoid "Instead of doing that thing you said you want to do, Dave, why don't you do something completely different instead?" posts. If I don't shut those down, I fear this thread will absolutely drown in them.

    Regarding your point about it being very hard to avoid miscommunication in portrayals, I agree, but I think that's a challenge to be tackled rather than avoided. If you as GM figure out what your NPC is thinking, and are open to revealing that to me through roleplay, and I have the opportunity to test and probe a bit, I will bet you that I can in fact arrive at what you decided your NPC is thinking. :)
  • ICE, yeah, "Here, I'm giving you the vital info that you need," is definitely speech that gets everyone's attention! Same with, "Having parsed that info, here's how I act on it." I like playing this way! It might be appropriate for the majority of scenes.

    I also want other scenes, though, where the situation is not obvious to the characters, and none of the players or GM are allowed to simply resolve that uncertainty without struggle. So, I guess this thread is about those scenes. "Communicating via non-obvious fiction" is the challenge. Thanks for helping me refine that description!
    Okay sure, but there is still a spectrum there, and the trick is to find the place on it that is satisfying to play -- unless the actual goal is to rely solely on acting-based portrayals. I mean, if I say the guy is scared, that doesn't tell the players why -- they have to figure out why he's scared, and how to react appropriately. Same if I point out that an NPC is acting suspicious. It simply ensures that the players know at least that much, whatever 'that' is.

    In any case you still have a much wider variety of description available, while still remaining focused on 'non-obvious fiction.' GMs and players who limit themselves entirely to emotive dialogue/acting are going to have more trouble communicating even non-obviously, as it were. And some players are going to have an easier time playing this guessing-game when given cues through other means. Since the goal presumably has to be finding a descriptive sweet spot -- where things are not obvious, but they are also not completely unclear -- it is going to be easier if more modes of description are on the table.

    This is mostly what I was hoping to point out. You have a stated preference for acting and voices and the like, but that's not the only way to communicate via the fiction, whether your goal is obvious or non-obvious communication.

  • David: I don't get why you talk about communicating via fiction when the only thing you seems interested in is to solve this out of fiction via game mechanics.
  • Oooh, oooh, I know the answer to that one! Pick me!!!

    The reason is because Dave wants mechanics that don't break the player out of the point of view of the character. He does want mechanics, but within a very specific technical agenda that allows the players to have only the knowledge that their characters would have.

    This also answers ICE to an extent—communicate too obviously or too directly, and you're breaking that wall.
  • edited November 2014
    Shouldn't there be a dialogue based structure for communication rather than a ruleset for interaction?

    Interaction and communication are the same thing (to me, in this post), and game mechanics (as a category) are part of structures (another category). Rules exists to frame interaction between participants. When we talk to each other, we still use a structure otherwise we couldn't have a discussion over a forum.

    So, a ruleset for interaction is a structure for communication but a structure for communication can be something else too. Having a debate follows a structure formed by those ancient Greeks that we constantly hear about.

    COMBATANT A: first argument.
    COMBATANT B: first argument.

    COMBATANT A: development and counter-argument.
    COMBATANT B: development and counter-argument.

    COMBATANT A: counter-argument and wrap-up.
    COMBATANT B: counter-argument and wrap-up.

    This is then sprinkled with ethos, pathos, logos. This is an example of dialogue based structure for communication. We don't have to make it as competitive as a debate though. This is what I mean with when I talked about the mindset, and what kind of mindset that trying to come up with "obstacles" can create. A competitive mindset. Competition also occurs when the player tries to beat something and having, for example, skill rolls adds another layer of competition because the player can fail.

    What I suggest is instead a collaborative mindset, where you create an interaction between the game master and the players to make the story progress. It doesn't matter if it's win or fail; it's playing to see where things are heading. Interaction is created through feedback loops, so create a structure where one participant create responses for another.

    If we look at, not at WHAT a debate consist of, but HOW a debate is structured, we can see a purpose (winning an argument), a theme (the topic of the debate), a basic structure to involve each other, and how certain elements (ethos, pathos, logos) can be used to make the basic structure feel different from time to time.

    Look at HOW the interaction occurs in this little improv exercise. They don't have points for it or dice rolls. They follow other kinds of structures. Don't look at WHAT they use though, but HOW they use it. What each element brings to this certain exercise.
  • edited November 2014
    Off topic thoughts

    All this is also related to design-through-rewards. You can give a token if someone says a spell's name in Korean but a game designer must be able break down what a reward really does.
    1) The reward easily conveys what should be done.
    2) The reward is a feedback of what the player is doing.

    The game Magicians does this differently. The player need to say what the spell should do in Korean and an app is telling the player if the pronunciation was good enough for the spell to succeed.
    1) The game mechanic conveys what should be done.
    2) The app gives a feedback.

    There is also a third point to both these ways. 3) One purpose of the game is to learn Korean.

    So the structure for communication should include all three points.
    a) It should let everybody know the purpose of using that structure.
    b) It should convey how to proceed with the structure.
    c) It should create responses from other participants.

    It's not that hard to do actually. Is it just me who thinks this is obvious when we talk about game design, game mechanics, and communication between the participants?
  • The reason is because Dave wants mechanics that don't break the player out of the point of view of the character.
    That may be so. But the point of view of the character is a literary/communicative construct, and it does not have set boundaries. It has enormously mutable boundaries constantly being negotiated between the players of the game. How this point of view is conveyed is just as mutable, as reading any number of novels or looking at any number of story games should hopefully confirm.

    Anyways, maybe this is beyond the scope of the original request. But if you want to achieve this goal without relying on people to 'hone their acting and people-reading skills', it seems like you are best off stepping outside the standard modes of 'in-character' interaction. And if you want to do that while still maintaining focus on the fiction, then the first and most obvious place to step to is the space immediately surrounding those modes.
  • edited November 2014
    Yeah, maybe the way to do the thing in the OP is just to say "in this game I try to portray characters as clearly as I can and you pay really close attention to what I'm doing and you try to respond accordingly." The key would be to reward both GM and player when they sync up, not just one or the other. Or don't use mechanics, just tell people "you need to get real good at acting to play this game." Most games don't do that (because you don't need to.)
  • edited November 2014
    Matt, I'm actually not hell-bent on a specific technical approach here except insofar as it's mandated by the goal. The goal is a certain type of conversation, where people listen to each other with a certain level of intensity because something is actually in play and at stake in the talking-and-listening itself.

    In theory, OOC knowledge/resources are just fine as long as they don't interfere with that dynamic. Practically speaking, I'm not sure how that shakes out.
    David: I don't get why you talk about communicating via fiction when the only thing you seems interested in is to solve this out of fiction via game mechanics.
    The only thing I'm looking to solve is how to enable and aid that conversation. And if I didn't think game mechanics could do that sort of thing, I'd only play freeform RPGs.
  • there is still a spectrum there, and the trick is to find the place on it that is satisfying to play . . . I mean, if I say the guy is scared . . . It simply ensures that the players know at least that much . . .

    GMs and players who limit themselves entirely to emotive dialogue/acting are going to have more trouble communicating even non-obviously, as it were. And some players are going to have an easier time playing this guessing-game when given cues through other means. Since the goal presumably has to be finding a descriptive sweet spot -- where things are not obvious, but they are also not completely unclear -- it is going to be easier if more modes of description are on the table.
    Agreed 100%. I only omitted non-obvious descriptive techniques from my examples for the sake of brevity and simplicity.

    I think you're right to point out that not just any level of uncertainty will do. Any game that includes this play style needs either rules or damn good advice about getting to that satisfying level of, "We're scrutinizing for clues, but not because we're completely lost!"
  • edited November 2014
    The key would be to reward both GM and player when they sync up, not just one or the other.
    That seems like a good idea. Whenever I've gotten in a groove in this play style with a group, the informal rewards have definitely gone in both directions. So something formal to help establish that groove might make sense.

    I wonder if some manner of "I think I know where you're going with this!" would suffice. Either say it as a ritual phrase, or pass a "Scared" card once you deduce the NPC is scared, or award the GM a token, or something. And then this could give the GM a prompt for some sort of, "Yep, good job," response or otherwise, depending. Hmm...
  • Not to get culty or anything, but some of the NLP ("Neuro-Linguistic Programming") stuff might work as a basis for game mechanics. Eye movements, for instance. Looking up and to the right means something different than looking down and to the left, etc.

  • Whoa! I can see how that might work for acting or description tips, but I'm blanking on mechanics. If you have any mechanics thoughts, please share!
  • edited November 2014
    Maybe both GM and player write one word they think applies to the NPC in this immediate conversation on face-down cards, and if, when turned over, they match or come close, that could be cool. Literally do a Zener card thing, with adjectives describing the NPC.

    I've done a similar thing with plot and mysteries- just straight up ask the players "what's your current theory of what's going on?" if they seem to be stuck. One failure state of Dirty Secrets is when the players aren't constantly sharing their current thinking on the crime (two at a time always have a privileged position from which to do this.)
  • edited November 2014
    The only thing I'm looking to solve is how to enable and aid that conversation. And if I didn't think game mechanics could do that sort of thing, I'd only play freeform RPGs.
    The thing is: all of your examples of play in the OP is about the game master throwing in an obstacle: the person is hesitant to give away information. I guess you did that to make things "interesting" by creating an uncertainty if the task would succeed or fail.

    How about turning this around? All the examples assumes that the player wants to get the information, so how about having a structure for getting information out of someone? It can be called Getting Information Out of Someone.

    Getting Information Out of Someone
    REQUIREMENT: The player must know or make up any fact that ties the target to the relevant information.
    REQUIREMENT: The player must impose that fact to the target.
    RESPONSES: (pick one or two)
    - The target actually doesn't know anything about it (the imposed fact was false).
    - The target can give pointers to someone who knows more about it.
    - The target is hesitant and needs a promise or favor from the player.
    - The target will exchange the information for items or money.
    - The target sees the good in revealing the information.

    This can still create an obstacle but it's something that will occur through the use of an interaction model. You can sprinkle this with emotions, like anger, nervousness, relief and so on. You can add flavor to it by having the participants including one or two personality traits. You can even tell them to talk in a certain way, like having them go through the How to Introduce Yourself structure first. All these can come as requirements.

    You can have structures within structures, like one structure called Using Structures that explains ... well ... how a participant should communicate when using a structure. You can have structures that triggers other structures. The example above could, for example, be cut into two structures. One that starting the structure and one that responds to it. (I would actually rather see that solution.)
  • edited November 2014
    How do you see this as an improvement? What problem does it solve? (I think if I knew that, I'd be better able to evaluate your proposal! Right now it merely strikes me as... different. And I can't tell if you're solving my problems, or solving something else that you see as a problem but I don't.)
  • edited November 2014
    If I assume that I didn't leave something important out of that description:

    1. It sends a clear message of what the player wants to do by saying the name of the structure.
    2. It gives a clear understanding of how the process should look like.
    3. It creates an interaction between two people by invoking responses.
    4. By knowing the responses, or at least part of them, the "mind reading" will become more apparent.
    5. It gives guidance to what we should talk about in this specific moment.
    6. It changes every time because of what you sprinkle on top of the structure. Not so much changes in the straight-forward process, but what it looks like.
    7. It doesn't have to be about creating obstacles but it's instead about moving forward together.

    This is what moves does in AW, but for some obscure reason, it got dice rolling in it. And people think that's good game design! A tradition that game designers should use when they create a roleplaying game. I would even go so far to say that people that played Sorcerer, AW, Burning Wheels, Primetime Adventures and FATE (among others) are brain-damaged because of that, to use a fairly well-known reference.

    Seriously though, Forge-games and traditional games doesn't have that much differences rules-wise. They still do the same things (obstacles + dice rolling): it only looks different. And because of this, people have a hard time looking beyond what these basic core mechanisms really does. They are blinded by the WHAT it looks like instead of looking at HOW it's done.

    Or at least that's what I can see in threads like this.

    I can see the exact same trouble on rpg.net, where people argue about rolling 2d10 or 1d20 when it does the same fricking thing (obstacles + dice rolling). It only looks different. (This is also why I say that AW is traditional gaming seen from a different perspective. Vincent Baker got some really good ideas but he's still stuck in the traditional stream of how to design, and write, a roleplaying game.)
  • edited November 2014
    I think I disagree with you regarding the value of obstacles. If you'd be willing to post those thoughts in a new thread, I'd love to discuss!

    Regarding your 7 bullet points, the first 6 sound pretty appealing, but I'm not actually seeing how they'd be achieved. I'll re-read your posts and see if I can figure out the right question to ask.
  • There is something quite funny about the fact that this thread is about the mechanism of communication between players and GM and methods to enhance transferral of understanding and trust without resorting to acting - and the thread itself fails to achieve these goals between the OP and responders.
    David-people keep offering solutions but they don't seem to suit your requirements. Maybe a precise statement of what you want would help...
  • edited November 2014
    I've given the precise statement. Unfortunately, it's very long, as its subjects are complex. "I want rules to enable, assist, and protect the specific type of extremely engaged conversation that arises from attaching challenge and stakes to non-obvious communication via fiction," probably just sounds like gobbledygook without going through and defining every other word in there. I think my opening post is the necessary grounding, and my subsequent responses are clarifications. I don't think I can do better than that.

    Honestly, I'm not disappointed at all that some replies have taken fairly oblique approaches. I've never seen this sort of thread stick only to complete & targeted solutions. If anyone really knew how to optimize this play style, someone would have done it by now. We're all trying out various ideas, and possibly inspiring each other in the process -- that's how I look at it. All I ask is that people do their best to read until they understand the objective before chiming in. I think we're doing above-average so far. :)

    My ambitions for roleplay are much higher than my ambitions for revolutionary game design via internet forum chat. I'm kinda surprised that you're surprised at the mess. :P

    There are tons of posts in here I'm still meaning to get back to, including yours, Matt...
  • Cool. That's a... Bold statement.
    When you say you want rules, do you mean RPG mechanics or do you mean strategies, or a series of comparable metrics, all of the above or something altogether different?
    The reason why I ask is because what it seems to me you want is a way of reliably achieving and retaining a flow state and what you need to do that is Trust.
    If there is a deep investment in trust shared between the participants the intrinsic capacity for nuanced communication at all levels increases. In the most trusted and intimate interactions we communicate without speaking. Do we get that intimate in a game with friends? Probably not but building trust in that direction will get you what you want. Can rules do this? Yes, but maybe it is about building the basis for deep trust in communication rather than focusing on the communication itself.
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