When the players try something and the GM knows more than they do...

First off, let me say that I think that situation (the players try something and the GM knows more than they do) can be a lot of fun, so I'm approaching it from that perspective.

Brainstorm:

Players try something that isn't a total shot in the dark, but isn't fully known or understood either. Let's say it's a magical ritual to summon a demon. They're trying to summon a demon with tunneling powers to get them under or through an enemy fortress wall.

Dice pool time!

For every part of this process that the players/characters absolutely do know, they place a die on the table. We know summonings require a magical power source, so we take out our magic crystal.

For every part of this process that the players/characters think they might know, but haven't proven, they hand a die to the GM. The demon summonings we've seen involved human sacrifice, so we're going to guess that's necessary too and kill one of our captives. The GM then secretly places that die in one of two hidden piles -- the "yes, that's how it works" pile, and the "no, it doesn't work like that" pile. If the GM hasn't yet established how it works, now's the time to decide or roll or look it up.

For every part of this process that the players/characters are fully aware that they're clueless about, the GM takes a die whenever it comes up. Well, we don't know how to indicate "tunneling", so I guess we'll dig a little under the ritual spot (GM takes a die) and draw a circle in dug-up earth (GM takes a die) and hope that sends some sort of signal. The players will expect these dice to go into the "no" pile, but still cross their fingers that they've guessed luckily or well and that some will end up in the "yes" pile.

If the GM notices anything else that isn't called out by the players but might impact their endeavor, the GM grabs another die. So, we stand in a circle, I guess, spread out evenly around the crystal, and- (GM grabs a die) oh, I guess that's a relevant part of the ritual too, huh? Or at least it might be.

Dice rolling time!

If doing it right means that it works, then no need to roll the players' table dice and the GM's "yes" dice. Just bring the "yes" dice out from behind the screen and add them to the players' dice, and total them up. The more the better. 12 dice of doing this spell correctly! That's enough to summon our demon, right? Yep!

If doing it right means only that it has a chance to work, then the GM rolls the "yes" dice in secret, pushing forward only the "successes" (rolls of 4-6 on a d6). The players roll their dice too and all successes are tallied. 6 successes on 12 dice of doing this spell correctly! That's a great effort, but only average luck. Enough to summon our demon?

Here's the nifty part: doing it wrong. The GM rolls the "no" dice in secret. For every success, the GM has to tell the players something that updates their understanding of this endeavor. For 4s and 5s on a d6, the level of clarity is flexible. GM: try to give them something they can work with, but don't just tell them "here's the right way to do it". If you're a little too obvious or a little too subtle, oh well, it's fine. For every 6 on a d6, though, the GM has to give the players something they can definitely use going forward. GM: narrate what happens, and if the players aren't clear on what it means, keep going until they are.

For every failure (1-3 on a d6) on a "no" die, the GM has to mess things up! 3s cause incidental damage to the characters and their stuff without ruining the endeavor itself; 2s partially ruin the endeavor itself; 1s do both. The more 1s and 3s, the greater the damage; the more 2s and 3s, the greater the ruining.

Note: "ruin the endeavor" does not mean "you didn't do enough right for it to work" -- that'd be the same as merely subtracting successes. "Ruin the endeavor" means that the task is completed just as successfully as it would have been otherwise, but the intent behind it meets opposition. For example: The tunneling demon appears and instantly begins tunneling through your target wall, while emitting a piercing shriek that can be heard for miles around. The demon then stands in the tunnel that it has created and continues to scream, blocking your path as guards rush in.

Fun?

So, bascially:
- If you stick to what you know, there are no surprises.
- If you branch out and take some very educated guesses, you probably improve the range of what you can accomplish, but you invite a little risk.
- If you start really speculating and experimenting, then you probably learn stuff for the future, and possibly increase the chance of a longshot working, but at massively increased risk of getting hurt or in trouble or losing your stuff.

Comments

  • I really like where you're going with this, Dave!

    I'll be thinking about it.
  • This is interesting!

    How do you do it if the players think they've got it nailed down, take a die with absolute confidence—but you the DM know they're wrong, they've persuaded themselves of an error! Do you let them have that die but then also add one to your "no" pool too?
  • edited November 2015
    Short answer:

    Maybe 6s on "no" dice need to be formally recorded in some way, so that whatever the players learn goes on a sheet where it's then available for future player dice. Anything not on the sheet doesn't get a die.

    My thought process that led me to that:

    My thought is that, for players to buy into this system in the first place, they have to enjoy navigating this sort of uncertainty. Accordingly, there's no reason for them to make false declarations -- if something is strongly suspected but not conclusively proven, then it's a GM die, and the players just assume it's going in the "yes" pile. If a player thinks something is conclusively proven but it isn't, then anyone else at the table should remind them, "Well, we're not actually 100% sure of that..."

    If all the players agree that a thing is proven, then they're probably correct, and the GM is probably mistaken and needs to revise. The players need to have high standards for proof; I think it'll be less fun for the GM if the players are just convincing themselves of things and putting it on the GM to stop them.

    That said, if an honest, good faith error occurs, then the GM can probably step in and say, "Why are you so sure of that one?" and introduce a little doubt and get the players to voluntarily take back the die.

    Everything I just said relies on some things being 100% certain, though, and on certainty being achievable in a way that's actually fun. I'm not sure if performing the number of experiments in play you'd need to isolate your variables and prove stuff would actually be fun or not.

    If it's not fun, then yeah, it might be better to let the players call it close enough on stuff that appears to probably be correct. I think what needs to happen at that point, though, is that something in the result of the experiment needs to correct them. So instead of adding a die to the "no" pool to be rolled with the others, maybe the GM could just add a 6 after the "no" dice are rolled (so here comes the info!), and then add a 1 to balance it out (so over-certainty isn't a straight-up advantage).

    That seems like a hack to me, though. I think the best approach is to make sure that the quest for actual certainty remains fun. Maybe 6s on "no" dice need to be formally recorded in some way, so that whatever the players learn goes on a sheet where it's then available for future player dice.
  • edited November 2015
    What I really liked with your system was that the game master also revealed ("offered") more facts to the players, instead of just screwing things up for them. That's more a collaborative thinking than a competitive one.

    I think I understand what you're aiming at but ...
    If doing it right means only that it has a chance to work, then the GM rolls the "yes" dice in secret, pushing forward only the "successes" (rolls of 4-6 on a d6). The players roll their dice too and all successes are tallied. 6 successes on 12 dice of doing this spell correctly! That's a great effort, but only average luck. Enough to summon our demon?
    Why should the game master roll it in secret, and not just hand it over to the players? The game master will probably roll any "no" dice anyway and make up, on the spot, any eventual effects of that roll. This section seems like an unnecessary burden for the game master.
    Here's the nifty part: doing it wrong. The GM rolls the "no" dice in secret. For every success, the GM has to tell the players something that updates their understanding of this endeavor. For 4s and 5s on a d6, the level of clarity is flexible. GM: try to give them something they can work with, but don't just tell them "here's the right way to do it". If you're a little too obvious or a little too subtle, oh well, it's fine. For every 6 on a d6, though, the GM has to give the players something they can definitely use going forward. GM: narrate what happens, and if the players aren't clear on what it means, keep going until they are.
    I tried a similar system a lot, and you can get either an anti-climatic feeling or a creative block, for the game master, because of the randomness. There are smoother ways of solving this, and I hope @Simon_Pettersson will post his Drakar och bananer soon on this forum for one suggestion of how to think to solve this.

    - It's sometimes anti-climatic because the game master can have eight "no" dice and roll no misfortune.
    - It can create a creative block because the game master can have five dice and have all dice show 2's and 3's.
    For every part of this process that the players/characters absolutely do know, they place a die on the table. We know summonings require a magical power source, so we take out our magic crystal.
    But what if the magic book that they read about that crystal gave them false information?

    My point with this question: the players can never place any dice on the table because the game master is sitting on the truth.

    --- Suggestion
    × Players can place dice in a bowl. These are auto successes.
    - The game master can respond by giving them a black die to their hand, if the players' fact doesn't add up or is true. These will generate either successes (4+) or misfortune (1-3).
    × The players can, instead of placing dice on the table, take the dice to their hand. These will succeed on 4+.
    × Roll all dice that the players have in their hand, and add any dice in the bowl to their successes.

    Possible outcomes:
    × Players need to succeed and can push their luck but also suffer the consequences.
    × Players have a lot of facts - so many that they can take all dice to their hand.
    × Players decides what facts that are reliable enough to place in the bowl, and take the rest to their hand.
  • Dice are only rolled in secret so the players don't know how many were in each pile. If you see the piles, then you're getting your info about how on-track you were directly from the mechanics, rather than from the fictional outcome of your experiment. I hate that.

    Having 8 "no" dice and rolling no misfortune is awesome. The players know they've gotten a huge break (though they don't know why -- could have been that all their guesses were correct, resulting in 0 "no" dice, or it could have been the uncertain nature of magic, with all the "no" rolls coming up positively) and that's every bit as fun as rolling a 20 on a d20 when you needed one.

    I think you are correct on potential creative blocks, though. This system does demand that the GM fictionalize a lot of system outputs. Perhaps I could write some roll-on tables for that -- 6 types of damage, 6 types of goal interference, 6 types of hints, etc.
    the players can never place any dice on the table because the game master is sitting on the truth.
    I agree that if that were the case it'd be a major issue. What did you think of my reply to creases above? Knowledge learned from 6s on prior rolls goes into the player dice pool; everything else doesn't.

    I think it messes with the fiction-based certainty the players will have via their characters, but less so than your suggestion.

    Your suggestion sounds like fun gameplay to me, but the GM giving out black dice doesn't map to anything the characters are learning, and the players' table/hand decision doesn't map to any character decisions. I don't just want a system that creates cool gameplay and fiction about characters who are discovering things -- I want the players, in character, to actually discover things! I know that this is by no means implied in the post title or my first post, so you were completely correct to proceed without this constraint. But it's a constraint I'm sticking with.
  • Dice are only rolled in secret so the players don't know how many were in each pile.
    But they will be revealed anyway, through fiction. It's like having a player giving the game master a secret note that the game master then reads out. Why being secretive about it in the first place?

    I can get having the dice behind the screen can create a certain feeling, but it's pointless to try to prolong that feeling when it comes to rolling the dice.

    So here is how I can see this work in your system.
    × Players are giving the game master dice.
    × Game master categorize those into two piles when being given a die.
    × Game master then gives back "yes" dice to the players when they are about to roll. I don't see the point of having the game master roll these behind the screen.
    × Game master rolls the "no" dice behind the screen.

    Knowing the game master's pot, but not the outcome of it, can create a certain feeling too. That's why we got random elements in roleplaying games in the first place.

    But in the end, it's probably just a matter of taste and perspective so it's not really an issue to discuss.
    Having 8 "no" dice and rolling no misfortune is awesome. The players know they've gotten a huge break ...
    Sure, it can be awesome for the players, but I was talking about the game master.
    I think you are correct on potential creative blocks, though. This system does demand that the GM fictionalize a lot of system outputs. Perhaps I could write some roll-on tables for that -- 6 types of damage, 6 types of goal interference, 6 types of hints, etc.
    That's sort of how Drakar och bananer works.
    I don't just want a system that creates cool gameplay and fiction about characters who are discovering things -- I want the players, in character, to actually discover things!
    Just add that any black die that shows 1-3 adds an unknown fact that is revealed, or any kind of combination that you want (2s doing something, 3s doing something, 6s doing something).

    ---

    Anyway, you sort of got a "create fact" game hidden in your system. Do the players really know that fact? What if they decide on something, and the dice gives no side effects, does that mean that the fact is true? Having the game master rolling only successes on his/her dice, is that the same thing as turning what the players said true?

    I lifted forth that aspect in my suggestion to clearer show how I interpreted how your system can be used.
  • I can see two possible versions of this game:

    "Descartes & Dice"

    Or

    "Scientific Method: the Dice Gathering"

    So now you have your title.

    I would say that "how do you know what you think you know?" Is the biggest issue here.

    I can see mechanizing it, like your suggestion of recording "truths" from 6s rolled, or perhaps another system where using a fact three times in different experiments means the GM has to tell you whether it's true or false...

    It's a bit disappointing, because it's not coming straight from the fiction (even though the GM can pretend that it is, if she's good enough). But workable.

    In this case I would try to add something to the fiction itself which helps players "see" cause and effect in action. (For instance, if your experiments use electricity or magic, you can have a measurable or visible effect when components are "used" - they conduct electricity, they light up with magic auras, or the demons you're praying to come and take all the components which were actually useful in the ritual.)

    I wonder if there's any danger of this system encouraging players "spamming" ingredients or steps in order to learn faster - "hey, let's throw in two pounds of holy water, too, see if that does anything! Yeah, and I'll stand on my head!"

    In any case, this is exciting and thought-provoking stuff.

    One thing which may or may not help is to think of this as AW's workspace move, but with uncertainty added. (The workspace move assumes that the person doing the work ALWAYS knows how what they're doing works, effectively.)
  • Logically, the GM should have a third pool: "completely irrelevant". (You don't want the guy standing on his head to help or hinder the other scientists who are digging up an old crashed alien ship.)

    But I like that your system forces the group to have a conversation about that instead.

    I suppose striking that balance between accurate/realistic and working in terms of the social interactions at the table is the real challenge here.
  • @Rickard, sadly, I can only read English. I don't suppose there's a translation of Drakar och bananer I could look at?

    As for game master satisfaction, I suspect that this system isn't viable if the GM wants to hide stuff from the players and is hoping to thwart their efforts. I think the GM still has too much power in terms of how they interpret things, and could really make player progress slow and difficult. My thought all along has been that the GM is rooting for the players to progress and learn, and helping them insofar as the rules allow it. So rolling a result that is absurdly lucky on the players' behalf is basically fun for the GM too. This comes naturally to me -- would it be a tough sell for you?

    Yeah, there's a "create fact" dynamic lurking here. I'm not sure whether to use it for all it's worth, or to get rid of it.

    I don't want to force the players to actually play through the full amount of experimentation that real-world certainty demands; if there's a way, though, for the characters to do that while the players skip ahead, then that would be fine.

    If I can't manage that, then giving the players an actionable level of certainty that hasn't been 100% earned is still probably preferable to leaving them clueless; so, yeah "create fact". That's not my ideal scenario, though.
  • @Paul_T, agreed on the disappointment of the meta-level info dump. And agreed on how it'd be cool if fictional channels could be used to communicate the relevant info. I think they can! And your examples of visual effects are actually things I've tried in the past. My conclusion is that when the GM ad libs this stuff, it tends not to be very educational for the players. I think that designing it beforehand could work, though -- establishing some patterns that will provide varying degrees of clarity for use as needed.

    I should probably brainstorm a list for:
    - this had the effect you wanted
    - this had some other effect than what you wanted
    - this had no effect
    - you have no idea which of the above occurred
    - you can eliminate one of the above
    - in the case of "some other effect":
    - you know what the effect was
    - you don't know what it was
    - you have some partial info about what it was
    With a different corresponding type of fictional phenomenon for each.

    As for spamming, that was big in my diceless versions. That's part of what I wanted to use this system for -- the more low-percentage stuff you try, the more risk you run of getting hurt or buying trouble! Anyone who spams in that context will usually suffer the consequences. Having an "irrelevant" category would mess with that, I think. I'm happy to say that, once you've unleashed a magical power source and a spell is in progress, nothing the players think might influence the spell is completely irrelevant. Remember, the players describe their logic when it's dice-picking time -- if they start doing random stuff without describing any logic, then the GM can just ignore them.
  • Ah! That last sentence is good, and important.
  • So what happens when people try stuff blind, with no logic?

    There are some contexts where that might be relevant (like chemistry); or perhaps even just because they want to see what it does.
  • edited November 2015
    Two possibilities: (1) the stuff you'd want to experiment with is rare and precious and experiments use it up, so no way you'd ever experiment randomly; (2) the GM treats anything with no logic to it as a "no" die unless the players actually luck out and do something the GM knows works.

    Actually, hmm, when I said "ignore them", I was thinking about irrelevant details, like the fact that I'm wearing a gray shirt, or you're sleepy, or it's 10:33pm instead of 10:34pm. Stuff that it'd just be a chore to bother with. But if it's anything the players are intentionally doing, for any actual reason, then it probably needs to go into the "yes" or "no" pool.

    Not sure of the best way to draw the line, though, because a player might intentionally wear a white shirt for a cleansing spell, and then wear whatever color shirt without thinking for another spell. So, now, does shirt color matter or is it irrelevant?

    In science, there needs to be an answer. In magic, I'm not sure. I think that, for this specific spell, shirt color can matter, and then for this other spell, it can be irrelevant.

    So I guess I'd draw the line at "players do it for some reason". Hopefully the required number of successes will serve to offset any impression that the players create the spell's concerns -- if you needed 12 successes, but only got 8 or so dice, then you know there's 4ish things you left out!
  • With you so far. But I hope (and was led to believe from the OP!) that this process works for non-magical things as well. :) It would be disappointing to find out otherwise.
  • Well, I figure this system would be pretty weird for anything in the game that works exactly the way it does in the real world. But yeah, "non-mundane" doesn't necessarily mean "magical". Alien technology would be great for this, I think.
  • @Rickard, sadly, I can only read English. I don't suppose there's a translation of Drakar och bananer I could look at?
    I foreshadowed in an earlier post that it will appear later on this forum, but I can send you the test document for now.
  • @Rickard: the only thing missing from the D&B document is the example dungeons. Feel free to post any relevant details from the game, if it helps this discussion. No need to be secretive! I'll see if I can get myself to jot down some example dungeons and send them to you for editing tonight.
  • edited November 2015
    Well, it's been taken care of already. :)
  • I really do like what Drakar och Bananer manages to milk out of its rolled dice. "Random selection between 6 distinct types of badness" and "more failures is worse" are the patterns, and then the specifics provide a lot of different mechanically relevant effects. Losing the items you get dice from, raising the success/failure threshold, losing dice, giving more resources to the enemy -- I don't know whether these are all mechanically redundant in practice, but the fact that they're each paired with different fictional flavor makes them seem distinct at first glance. I can easily imagine shaking my hand of dice before a roll, with the group having already lost many of their best items, thinking, "Don't roll another 2 on the red die!" Nice.

    My system for tallying up outcomes could probably benefit from moving in this direction -- making the GM narrate 1 or 2 perfectly-suited things is way better than making the GM narrate 6 different things. Degree of harm and interference can easily be compacted from many outputs to just a few, but I'm not sure about degree of learning. Hmm. Maybe different numbers of successes (4-6 rolls on "no" dice) correspond to different levels of information, with each level giving the GM guidance but also allowing them some choice. Like, 5 successes could mean 2 hints and 1 clear answer or 2 clear answers or 5 hints... that sort of thing.
  • Here's a random thought:

    This could work quite well with cards. Red cards are successes (in two different colours, if desired), spades are levels of failure (on "no" card draws), and clubs are unexpected side effects and problems, complications, and so forth.

    If you were going to make some kind of table of effects, this would make it easy to reference them, as well.

    If desired, the GM could pass the cards over to the players for a "reading", so they could try to match the outcomes to the cards they see (but that's getting into a whole other thing, of course).
  • How about a "task resolution" version of this technique?

    You're in a scene/situation/challenge and you're trying to accomplish something. You take actions which you hope help you resolve the situation/challenge/scene.

    Each time you do something which is relevant to the challenge at hand, the GM can say:

    * "That works" and count one 'success'
    * "That will work if you're good enough", and have you roll, counting a success if you roll well
    * "That might work", and, either way, secretly roll a die to see if your action counts as a 'success'.

    When the correct number of 'successes' is reached, the goal is accomplished.

    I also really like how this mechanic creates a flow of information to the players. I don't know if linking it directly to trying things which don't work is good in this variation, so perhaps each time the dice roll (an odd number, a multiple of three, doubles... some condition) the GM also describes in certain terms how the action reveals a new piece of information.

    If it's a social challenge, this would be your "opponent" giving away an obvious tell, for example.
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