What games reward performance rather than choice or luck?

Most games (and probably all RPGs) have this pattern somewhere within them: attempt a course whose fulfillment is uncertain, make a decision, try your best, see how it goes. Game uncertainty tends to involve luck (look how common dice are!) and game decisions tend to involve meaningful choices (whether it's sneak vs fight or one NPC's life vs another's), but trying your best in RPGs seems pretty hit and miss to me -- sometimes it matters, but a lot of the time it doesn't.

Maybe "pick a move from a list and roll" is a natural way to free up brain space for another sort of performance -- performing your character for the other players, and contributing to a vivid and engaging imagined fiction. Sometimes, that's exactly what I want -- to enjoy playing pretend, and to let a simple formal system push things forward without taxing me.

Other times, though, not so much.

When I'm playing some badass operator who fulfills a tactical niche on his team, and we're going on a mission, then simply enjoying the flavor of the experience is not the first thing that occurs to me. My first impulse is, instead, to apply myself to the mission -- to think of the right questions to ask, to invent new solutions to problems, to react quickly to surprises, to act out convincing maneuvers or deceptions, etc. This helps me feel like it's me there on the mission, and that every moment of play is important. And it feels awesome when I earn success, rather than just my character earning success.

Unfortunately, I haven't run into a lot of support for this in RPG land. I've yet to find the RPG equivalent of Cranium, the board game which challenges you spell words backward quickly or mine your real-world knowledge for facts or depict something recognizable with pencil or clay. The best support I've found out there to reward my performance is The Right GM, often one guided by reality-simulation principles, or fair-challenge principles.

What other options are out there? What RPGs, or subsystems of RPGs, satisfying your cravings to have your best efforts rewarded?
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Comments

  • I guess there's a reason for why you don't mention wargaming-type rpgs like D&D here? At first blush what you describe seems to pretty much be what old school D&D has been for us. The game's got plenty of procedures for real problem-solving performance (as opposed to merely abstracting it into dicing) centered around expedition logistics and commando operations. Admittedly most of the real core stuff is not described much in the game texts, but it's also pretty easy to bridge the gaps, so we can say that the game does exist out there at real game tables despite the texts being somewhat vague. Most of it is pretty much ubique wargaming culture anyway, as the entire game fits pretty well in the "let's sit on sofas and debate about knights vs. dragons a while" school of wargaming, so you could pick it up from the subtext of a sufficient number of older wargame manuals.

    (I'll note that D&D also has certain shortcut options that can be used to short-circuit the planning and leave everything up to lady luck. For example, you could choose as a player to simply kick the door in and trust to the round-by-round combat dicing to see you through. The existence of these types of "calling" mechanics that enable players to go directly to the dice does not mean that the other stuff isn't there, though.)

    In general, other games where the weight of play differs from the weight of the rules mechanics are usually performance-based in the way they are actually played: the rules of the game might be all about shotguns and circumstance modifiers, but if the actual scenarios are e.g. investigative, then the reality of functional play may be less about shotgunning and more about player performance in tracking clues and making deductions. This is, of course, a particular curse of the traditional style of game-crafting, to leave the performance-intensive parts of the game sort of floating in the air, unmentioned in the rules text.

    Looking outside gamist rpgs, I think that narrativist games that reward performance are very common. My own game Zombie Cinema is explicitly and intentionally so, for example: I am entirely serious in saying that the game's only as good as the players are, and the challenge the game posits is the one of learning to use the tool that is the game to execute a beautiful story together. The performance reward is different, because we're mostly not looking to "win" in the game, but you can still perform well or badly in storytelling, so I think that this applies. Few of the actually good story games promise an effortless and automatic success, in fact; it is more common for these games to be heavily based on player performance in achieving their goals.
  • edited March 2016
    When I said "The Right GM guided by reality-simulation or fair-challenge principles" I was thinking of old-school D&D as well as semi-freeform deduction-heavy old-school play of various games, e.g. Call of Cthulhu. Of course, it's not just the GM, it's all the other stuff you mention too about culture and subtext. In my experience, though, all such play relies on a somewhat fragile player-GM back-and-forth, where exactly the right amount of exactly the right sort of info must be communicated if the challenge is to be properly actionable. Thus the thousands of screeds of "how to play it right" for those games.

    Are you seeing something inherent to the actual rules themselves for expedition logistics and commando operations, which demand and reward player performance as is, even with (e.g.) a brand new GM just doing the obvious?

    I'm not claiming that play with challenges is in short supply as a behavioral phenomenon, but as I discover more and more RPGs which approach things in different ways, I'm seeing a dearth of new takes on supporting challenge. I'm hoping folks can point out some neat stuff I'm not already aware of!

    (As for narrativist play like Zombie Cinema, yeah, that's a whole different "performance" dynamic, and not the one I'm looking for. I could try to enumerate the differences, but I fear a derail. I think you and I probably already agree on the differences anyway.)
  • edited March 2016
    I should probably note that one type of performance is system-mastery. Pathfinder handles this one way, Burning Empires another. I'd be happy to hear of more RPGs that require system mastery of different types! I'm more interested in other types of performance, though, e.g. clever solving of fictional problems.
  • If we're discounting "performance" of the Narrativist sort, or games like The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, then I would say that the scope of games where "do as well as you can at overcoming challenges, given your character as an avatar" falls on a spectrum between two extremes:

    1. Games which mechanize challenge, and present in-game choices which present mechanical differences. At the total extreme we have board games or card games, with something like D&D4E being a likely exemplar of "player performance" challenge. It seems to me that people get this kind of jolly out of the Burning Wheel series of games, too, but I've never played them, so I'm not sure. I understand that Agon does player vs. player competition pretty well.

    2. Games where the challenge is presented fictionally, and your aim as a player is to be a creative problem solver and risk/reward balancer.

    In the second category, there is freeform roleplay with a good GM (which I've generally found to be unrewarding, but I can see how it might be possible) and games like old-school D&D, which do this really well by providing a number of tools. They're getting pretty good at presenting the tools for GM arbitration (or maybe that's just me remembering smart things Eero has said! but probably both), but less good at explaining how to manage the flow of information. (What Dave's comics deal with, for instance.) That tends to be taught informally and varies from GM to GM.

    I find the second category, when approached by skilled players with the right mindset, is very rewarding.

    Dave, want me to run a Eero-style OSR game for you? I'm down!
  • edited March 2016
    I'm seeing the same things you are, Paul. A few quick replies:

    • I'm blanking on any examples of mechanized RPG challenge which don't come down to system mastery. Succeeding at D&D4 is all about being good at D&D4, right? There's no use of skills that I brought with me into the game, except my skill at learning new systems. I don't mean this as an objective criticism, it's just usually not my taste. Games which reward mental skills I'd be exercising if I were my character are much more my taste.

    • Fictionally-presented RPG challenge of the type you describe is well-traveled ground. I like it (no need to run it for me, thanks), while also seeing its limitations.

    • If your two points actually do lie on a spectrum, maybe there's some point in the middle where they blend? Where my problem-solving efforts interact with helpful mechanics, and the fiction and system cohere in gameable-ness? That's one example of less familiar stuff I'd love to see. Contenders has a little bit of this, where the system considerations and character considerations around and during a boxing match are heavily overlapping.

  • • I'm blanking on any examples of mechanized RPG challenge which don't come down to system mastery. Succeeding at D&D4 is all about being good at D&D4, right? There's no use of skills that I brought with me into the game, except my skill at learning new systems.
    Interesting. At first I thought, "Well, of course! How else could that work?"

    But then, I suppose there are some games which challenge extra-diegetical skills of the player. For instance, Dread (Jenga), or (I believe) Medical Hospital.

    That's not what you're talking about, though, is it?

    As for blends, that's a really interesting space to design in, I think, but also challenging. I've seen various ways to do this - I'll give a thought as to whether there are any patterns.



  • edited March 2016
    Adding player dexterity challenges to RPGs is definitely interesting! Not my taste, but I like the expanded view of what skills might be tested. For my taste, the best example I can think of, in terms of end result, is the challenge game with the impartial ref GM and scenario that's well-engineered for on-the-ground problem-solving. Great end result, but I'd like to see new ways of getting there, hopefully some of which avoid the difficulties I've mentioned upthread.

    A similar example of "cool result, but can be tricky to get there" is the purely-roleplayed NPC negotiation, where if the player can deliver a convincing-enough in-character speech, the NPC complies. The big hurdle here is typically the black box of the GM's judgment. I've worked on systems to make the GM behave more like a game and less like a an inscrutable and preferential arbiter, though I haven't finished any of them. But that sort of design effort is a good example of the kind of stuff I'm looking for.

    Agreed on the challenge of the blend! I'd love to hear patterns, but even just examples would be nice!
  • Well, I hate to paddle a dead horse's mouth, but there is lots of exploration in this direction in the OSR community. While sometimes the means employed might be more limited in scope than what the story game community does (which, in turn, might be less wide-ranging than what the LARP/freeform/Nordic/etc communities look into), the precise kind of thing you're talking about is often a subject of discussion.

    Here's an example:

    On the Non-Player Character
  • Are you familiar with the social combat "map" in Diaspora? That might be an interesting example to look at.
  • As David says, the standard approach of providing a complex boardgame skirmish combat system to make gameplay more objective is not an entirely satisfying answer here, because of the inherent limitations that this approach has for actually discussing the fiction; newer D&D editions with their detailed step-by-step mechanics are pretty good about enabling morons to GM the game, but they do nothing for actually having the players' wargaming skills make an impact on the proceedings of the game. They fail to bring player skills in exploration logistics and commando operations to the front, and instead substitute with system mastery.

    Anyway, let's brainstorm some more. I think that it's possible that the core of what David is looking for is not necessarily very mechanizable in the conventional sense (based on the example of how old school D&D and similar games handle it), but perhaps we'll find some hints towards it in how different games treat player performance.

    For instance, consider boffer LARPing: here we have a combat subsystem that relies entirely on player skill, to such a degree that boffering by itself is apparently more popular nowadays in Finland than using it in a LARP. Boffering also has clear rules, at least by the standards of sports and such.

    Another example to consider is Amber Diceless, which pretty much does the D&D kind of wargaming gameplay, but with entirely different rules mechanics. Perhaps its approach of codifying character capabilities and adjudicating success would offer more useful lessons?
  • edited March 2016
    Most games out there have decisions in them. In Chess, the only thing you do is decisions, and the same can be said with any tactical roleplaying game combat system out there. Participation (which includes decisions and other kinds of performances) and Uncertainty are two different things that can create engagement in an activity.

    image

    ---

    But to answer your question:

    Dungeons and Bananas: you have to explain how you use a banana to get pass the locked door, otherwise you can't do it.

    Fishtank: you must come up with how relations fit together with all the factions

    Traps: you must realize how the traps works, and figure out a way around it.

    Being OP: finding loop holes, and finding game breaking combinations in a game system, or finally getting that overpowered combo to work.

    Magicians: You must say the spell in Korean into an app. If the pronunciation is good enough, the spell works.

    ... aaand also any, to me, despicable fan mail reward mechanic: if your performance in understanding what someone else thinks is cool, and you do that, then get a dog treat.
  • I'm very interested in this topic, as I'm trying to concoct a game that does exactly that.
    Are there any links for the Traps and Being OP games?

  • Another example to consider is Amber Diceless, which pretty much does the D&D kind of wargaming gameplay, but with entirely different rules mechanics. Perhaps its approach of codifying character capabilities and adjudicating success would offer more useful lessons?
    That's definitely interesting to consider.

    How would you describe its fundamental methods?

    I've also thought that harnessing the basic concepts of the Diplomacy boardgame for an RPG medium could be very interesting, as well.

    I wonder if there is some useful technology to glean from Braunstein-style proto-RPGs, as well? I've never played one, so I'm not entirely sure how conflicts get resolved there (descriptions of the games usually leave out the mechanics/procedures entirely).
  • Another random thought:

    There are fine variations in any procedural kind of approach, even, let's say, considering a simple "task resolution" kind of process.

    Imagine, say, searching a room to find an item, and some kind Search roll which can be used to determine whether the item is found. We need to look for something, and we have a die roll we can use.

    How can that be handled? Some examples I've seen in different play cultures?:

    * Freeform/positioning must be established in order for a chance to roll the dice. The die roll then settles the question. (e.g. "Where do you look? Here and here? Ok, roll the dice. If it's in any of those places, and you succeed, I will tell you.")

    * A successful die roll must be made before we play out/freeform the finding of the object. (Consider various AW moves which grant the player "hold", for example.)

    * A die roll is made for a chance at a simple success. If it is unsuccessful, however, the player may attempt freeform investigation instead. ("Ok, I don't see anything right away. How about if I take the wallpaper down? Now do I see anything? No? What if I spend two hours looking? What if I use a microscope?") This might be more costly or dangerous or time-consuming (or simply carry the weight of wasting table time on the effort).

    * A freeform roleplaying exchange is made to locate the item. If it is not successful, then we may default to a die roll. ("I still haven't found it and I'm out of ideas." "Ok, do you want to just roll the dice? Here are your odds..." "No, wait! I have another idea...") (Maybe the freeform roleplaying modifies the die roll - like a bonus for trying clever things.)

  • Another example to consider is Amber Diceless, which pretty much does the D&D kind of wargaming gameplay, but with entirely different rules mechanics. Perhaps its approach of codifying character capabilities and adjudicating success would offer more useful lessons?
    That's definitely interesting to consider.

    How would you describe its fundamental methods?
    I've never read the game text for Amber, actually - I've played it, but that's not the same thing. Thus I'm not really in a position to pronounce anything definite.

    I find it interesting, though, that the game seems to act at a slightly less organic level compared to D&D in its resolution loop, with certain formalistic details: character activities are guaranteed by definition to fall under one or another of their ability ratings, for instance. This kind of thing should make it more supportive in the sense David was looking for, so the only question is whether it also interferes with the performance-oriented agenda by the virtue of being more solidly rules-based than the freeformish D&D process.
  • edited March 2016
    I'm very interested in this topic, as I'm trying to concoct a game that does exactly that.
    Are there any links for the Traps and Being OP games?
    Those aren't games per se, but something that occur in games. D&D got both, as an example. I love breaking D&D4, or at least finding unexpected combos, and anything with oD&D that I played had traps and more traps.
  • In The Trouble with Rose, there is no dice or card mechanic for scene resolution. It's based on how well you embody the attributes of your character, achieve your secret agenda, and audience approval.

    It's a freebie here, http://tangent-zero.com/trouble.htm
  • Thanks @Rickard for the clarification :)

    What I am mostly interested in right now is this:
    * Freeform/positioning must be established in order for a chance to roll the dice. The die roll then settles the question. (e.g. "Where do you look? Here and here? Ok, roll the dice. If it's in any of those places, and you succeed, I will tell you.")
    This is what the Quick Primer to Old School Gaming basically describes.
    The fiction is used to present what in the end is a mind-puzzle to the Players.
    The Players then use their own resources (knowledge, ideas, expertise) to solve it, through the tool offered by the PCs.

    Problem is, so far this kind of experience has largely worked on the shoulders of a very imaginative, very prepared, very knowledgeable, very impartial Game Master.
    The GM knows exactly where the trap is.
    And how the trap is built and works.
    Thus he knows what signs of the trap might be visible at first glance, or findable with a more thorough search.
    And, more importantly, he will know HOW this is all possible.

    So that in a dark straight corridor the PCs might have little to no chance of seeing a pit trap in front of them. But if one spills water on the ground, the water will pool revealing the hedges of the trap.
    A roll at this point is useless, you already know there is a trap, and where it is.

    Thus a good idea trumps the dice (where dice = uncertainty & risk)

    Now there are some huge problems with this.

    1) is it impossibly high maintenence GM-side
    You need lots of preparation, to start with.
    You need lots of practical / technical knowledge.

    2) it is very prone to arguments
    Too often my imagined reality somehow diverges from your imagined reality; unsolvable discussions on how reality should work, what is possible, what is realistic, are a plague that too easily chews away the fun (and the time) of the game.
    And high personal stakes make this discussion very likely: the GM wants the PCs to earn victories and be challenged, the Players want their PCs to survive and succeed, and often both parties involved honestly believe that "things work this or that way".
    A game can't expect its participants to be certified experts on any field of knowledge applicable to the imagined fiction; and just conceding that the GM is always right when you honestly believe otherwise is effing frustrating.

    3) the Players are not the PCs
    And in my opinion, Players should not be expected to be their PCs.
    Having cool ideas is one thing, and should be rewarded.
    But punishing Players because they have not real world technical knowledge of how a pit trap works, or are not natural born actors thus unable to improvise a whole in-character dialogue with actually compelling arguments ... this should not happen.
    If the game establishes my PC as a fine swordsman I should not be expected to KNOW swordsmanship and to describe it at the table, for my PC to succeed in a swordfight.
    Same goes for dialogues and persuasions and puzzles and whatnot.
    Unless the system somehow supports this in a non-punitive, fun for everyone way.

    - - -

    So far, games like Dungeons & Bananas have been too abstract. You can kind of describe whatever, then what matters are the dice. It's not really a challenge or a mind-puzzle.

    On the other hand games like Dungeon World make the fiction matter, but in a sort of unchallenging way. Like figuring out a way to describe the Spotlight Banana into the fiction, you simply figure out a way to trigger the desired Move. Still, it's an improvement.
    As shown by the "16hp dragon" it CAN help the GM in presenting a fiction based problem that, Move after Move, CAN help the Players figure out in a fiction based way.

    So the dragon has scales so thick our weapons are useless, what can we do?
    Maybe someone thinks of targeting the eyes, then of a way to hit them.
    Maybe someone Spouts Lore or Discerns Realities in a way that helps someone (a Player or the GM) with the eyes idea, and then with a plan for action.

    Still, too often this is a rare occurrence and most groups play merrily disregarding most of the fiction, happy to abstract away everything that is not strictly needed (and sometimes that too, incurring in a host of problems).

    Classic D&D-clones are usually the worst at this, which weirdly makes them also the best :P
    In "older" D&D versions (let's say anything before AD&D 2ndED) the mechanics are SO OFF that participants are forced into GM-Fiat-land; which if you have the aforementioned Amazing Spider GM can lead to the classic mind-puzzle approach. Just ignore the game and have your über-cool GM handle everything.

    This is not true for "new" D&D versions (let's say anything from D&D 3rdED) where the mechanics work in a way that actually kills the fiction: you can just say "I search for traps" and then roll, and the game actually sails smoother than if you actually came up with details and ideas (which usually are either not part of the rules, aggravating the GM, or end up imposing negative modifiers to the over-creative Players).

    Either way you end up with too little mechanics, or too much mechanics, or too wrong mechanics, and (some) participants are consistently pushed towards a playstyle that lives outside of the game rules.
    This I think is why classic-style but much lighter games are so appreciated in the last few years: Into the Odd, Lamentations, DungeonSlayers, etc
    They offer minimal rules in a familiar frame so that GM and Players can focus on something else.
    I would not really call it "better" ... it's more like a "less bad" formula ... to not help and not solve problems, but at least also to not get too much in the way.

    - - -

    With this in mind... would you deem possible to concoct a system of procedures that would make a mind-puzzle kind of game not only possible, but also lighter on the GM shoulders and even actively help/teach to new and unexperienced participants?
  • Torchbearer, being a descendant of old-school D&D, has this in the form of the "Good Idea" rule. Finding creative ways to beat challenges will conserve your mechanical resources.

    GUMSHOE games are aimed at this, as well. The ideal dynamic (although this doesn't always seem well-supported by the game) is "you get all the pertinent clues, now you need to put them together to arrive at the solution".

    Surprisingly, I've found Golden Sky Stories to fit this dynamic. Characters have all sorts of magical powers (that cost resources) with specific effects, and it's up to you to figure out creative ways to use those powers in order to fix the humans' problems.
  • I did solve the trap part in a zero prep needed way, as I discussed with David in another thread (sorry, can't remember where). I made a list of triggers and effects, combine them randomly and as a side effect of this and the way I narrate things, I can let good player's ideas triumph over the dice without them needing to know a single thing about traps in real life.

    Basically, I describe the place before the character's eyes taking in consideration the conditions present (lightning, noise, clues, distractions, NPCs or monsters nearby, etc). Then I ask players to describe their actions. As soon as any of those actions matches the trigger, the trap springs and only then it's time to roll the dice. If not, I ask the players more information about what they do each and reveal anything they could find by changing the conditions.

    For example, If the PCs approach a door enchanted to produce a cone of fire anytime is iluminated, the runes in the door will begin to flicker and sprout sparks if the players describe their characters approaching to it without putting out the torch first. I've signalled them they are about to activate something, so they can try and avoid it. If they choose to keep going, the trap activates and they roll their saves. If they retreat, I simply describe the runes going dark again. Since I have signalled there's a safe distance, they can now experiment to find out the trigger. The mage can try to read the runes at the door, which is somewhat difficult because the place should remain in darkness. Anyone with darkvision wouldn't need to roll for that anyway. They can try to disable the runes, try crossing the door in absolute darkness, etc. No roll needed there.

    It's the same for any trap. I just need to have clear in my mind what triggers the trap and what it's going to do once it's activated, then I generate all the obvious clues for these, which I generally impro.

    Could this be done with puzzles like NPC interactions? It's possible, though it's more complex, like a trap that has not only several different triggers and a wide range of effects, but one that is proactively doing something.
    The triggers could be reduced to the current emotion of the NPC (disposition if you want), objective (or even agenda if it's a more important NPC), a couple of mental traits and bonds. The reactions would be related to the NPC resources: phisical, mental, economical, contacts, ownership of places, services, etc.

    But then it would probably lost the human touch without a good GM behind it. In comparision Fronts work better when handled this way.
  • edited March 2016
    Torchbearer, being a descendant of old-school D&D, has this in the form of the "Good Idea" rule. Finding creative ways to beat challenges will conserve your mechanical resources.
    What is the "Good Idea" rule? Who's in charge of saying whether or not an idea is good? What exactly happens when an idea is deemed good?
  • edited March 2016
    "you get all the pertinent clues, now you need to put them together to arrive at the solution".
    The "core clues" identified in the Trail of Cthulhu book are not defined as pieces of a true puzzle (in the problem-solvable sense, not just the experiential mystery sense). I'd say they're more factoids plus pointers of where to go next. Whether the sum of all the factoids and "go here next" encounters is a collection of pieces that can be truly puzzled out by the players (as opposed to being totally inscrutable or totally obvious) is, as far as I can tell, entirely on the Keeper.

    That said, I do think the schema you describe is viable, that one good puzzle to solve could be turned into a full session or short campaign. I've played a few arcs that achieved this... but in none of them did the system contribute much; it was all just brilliant GM work.

    I've never played Conspiracy of Shadows, but on reading it I was struck by how it does guide the GM in creating a conspiracy that is effectively a sort of puzzle worth solving. I couldn't spot the support for delivering the right amount of clues to the players, though, such that solution depends on skill, rather than being easy or impossible.

    My best guess is that ToC and CoS add a few tools to the group/GM's "create and solve a puzzle" kit, but any group/GM that can deliver on that is adding so much themselves that they could probably do it with many other trad systems too.
    Surprisingly, I've found Golden Sky Stories to fit this dynamic. Characters have all sorts of magical powers (that cost resources) with specific effects, and it's up to you to figure out creative ways to use those powers in order to fix the humans' problems.
    That description reminds me a little of FreeMarket. My group created a little business ("XP 4 Me") based on giving people extreme experiences. An NPC approached us about us helping her get over her recent break-up. We took our skills at art and history and theft and manufacturing to cook her up an adventure with a centaur. We were definitely very creative in applying our abilities to the task at hand! Ultimately, though, the mechanics attached to the relevant stats decided the outcome, and all our creativity really allowed us to do was to invoke those stats.

    I have seen this sort of thing referred to as "challenge" in many RPGs -- the player must stretch their brain to find a way in the fiction to narrate an action that lets them roll their character's high stat (or make a move with a bonus, or spend a point for success, or whatever). In my experience, though, it rarely works out that this is a fun test of player ability. Nearly every group I've played in either lets people roll the stat they want given any justification, no matter how weak, or proceeds with characters doing what they would do, with stats getting reckoned after those decisions.

    I'm not saying that "find a way to use the things you're good at to solve this problem" isn't friendly to tests of skill, I'm just saying that it isn't sufficient.

    Does Golden Sky Stories add anything to that dynamic that tends to reward cleverness in practice?
  • edited March 2016
    the precise kind of thing you're talking about is often a subject of discussion.

    Here's an example:

    On the Non-Player Character
    I actually own this! It covers a lot of bases, only some of which I'm interested in, and it resolves a whole lot with dice luck. But I'm reading the example of play on page 27 now, and it sounds like there's some quality GM-facing system in here, sorting player negotiation decisions into mechanically-relevant categories, in a way that might reward good strategy. Looks like there might be a pretty good fit between fictional and system concerns of what's strategically sound when, though it's hard to tell just from reading. The mix of info that the players get from GM die rolls and GM roleplay is actually pretty complicated, and I can't tell what sort of strategic feedback it constitutes. That complexity might be a good sign, though -- I wonder if maybe it's inherent to a system which avoids being reducible to either "master these rules" or "guess what the GM's roleplay might have indicated".

    This might be a good system to test by playing through an encounter!
  • Thinking about this in the abstract, wouldn't a system that utilizes actual player knowledge and skill necessarily regulate and educate the skill in question? That is, wouldn't system mastery equal subject mastery in that kind of game?

    This occurs to me because the "system" that one needs to master to rule the roost in our local D&D campaigns is pretty much just a relevant mix of military history, logistics, strategy, tactics and political acumen. There is a slight formalization present over all the raw armchair-general knowledge and skill in the form of precedents and rulings - for example, the decision that a 10 feet tunnel (itself a slightly abstract concept) fits three melee combatants, or four in "close order" (the definition of which is also part of the system legacy) by default, without needing to debate it out anew every time - but in principle anybody could step up to the table with the relevant expertise and start punching at a pretty proficient level despite not having played the game before and not being familiar with the precedents. The skill is the system, simply.

    Most language-learning games follow this same strategy: learning to speak the foreign language is the system, and there is no appreciable system mastery outside mastery of the subject matter.

    Are there any other ways to approach the challenge of systematizing a game that rewards player performance, aside from making the relevant performance skill the actual system of resolution? If not, there may not be too many options about how to go about all this - you can work on the knowledge base your game presents (pretty sucky in the case of D&D, interestingly - you really want to bring your own commando operations understanding into it to bulk it up), and the pedagogy (which D&D nails very well, I feel - the constant failures and occasional successes with their rewards all works to hammer the relevant skills into the players), but aside from that I don't think that it's somehow possible to make a "clever system" that does the work for you: either the game actually deals with a skill, or it will necessarily be mere performance art, with the players making abstract choices and narrating pretty stories over the dice rolls, just as David described.
  • And to clarify my point: if the above analysis holds water, then we actually have a pretty clear roadmap for developing games with real player performance - you need to know the subject matter well, you need to form the core activity around performing the skill, and you need to build the focus and pacing of the fiction, and the reward systems, so that the performance remains the core of the game. The way you formulate the subject matter, teach it to the play group and test the performance are all core to developing a next-level game text for this purpose. Trad games often include all sorts of ostensibly real research on their subject matter in the rule book, presumably to help the GM referee it in a life-like manner, but surely one can do much more than just a quick primer on medieval lifestyles or whatever in this area, should there be interest.
  • Torchbearer, being a descendant of old-school D&D, has this in the form of the "Good Idea" rule. Finding creative ways to beat challenges will conserve your mechanical resources.
    What is the "Good Idea" rule? Who's in charge of saying whether or not an idea is good? What exactly happens when an idea is deemed good?
    So, you describe what you're doing against a challenge. Normally, you'll be using skill rolls in order to overcome obstacles, but those also increment the turn counter in the game, which starts putting conditions on you after a period of time. However, if you take an action and use the resources at hand in a way that bypasses the obstacle, the GM can rule that you don't need to make a skill test, which prevents the possibility of failure and also doesn't increment the turn counter.

    A great example from media is when Indiana Jones brings a weighted bag to swap for the idol in the temple. (In the movie, because Indiana Jones is closer to Dungeon World, it naturally goes wrong and sets the big boulder rolling towards him. In Torchbearer, though, I would absolutely deem that a Good Idea, and let the players get away with something clever like that.)

    I'm not saying that "find a way to use the things you're good at to solve this problem" isn't friendly to tests of skill, I'm just saying that it isn't sufficient.

    Does Golden Sky Stories add anything to that dynamic that tends to reward cleverness in practice?
    So, what I'm specifically thinking of is the actual magical powers in GSS. They work accordingly: you spend some of your Wonder stat, and you do a magic thing, no dice roll or anything necessary. It basically winds up totally bypassing any notion of skills/difficulty, and you have to engage it on a level of "what would this do in the story?"

    Like, the game does set up a difficulty dynamic (it uses a GUMSHOE-esque diceless system where you spend points of your Feelings stat and add your appropriate attribute in order to overcome a challenge) for standard tasks, but using magical powers totally bypasses that. Whether that works to overcome a challenge is up to discretion, but you can often do an end run around a hard challenge, if you use your power to approach it in a singular manner, like when the characters used a magic power to evoke a human's old memory of a friend by creating a simulacra of an important item from their relationship. Basically, you use magic powers to totally redefine the frame of the challenge.
  • Really enjoying the conversation!

    Here's my two cents: Wasn't the point of having some system of mechanical arbitration (classically dice + modifiers) being to avoid some of the issues this thread is uncovering in the first place?

    "Who's in charge of saying whether or not an idea is good?" feels like an argument without end. I've been in games where players have insisted that their knowledge and infallible ability to apply that knowledge on behalf of their character should guarantee success (we were hacking into computers), but where's the fun in shifting to a paradigm of lecturing the table on your specialist subject until it concedes you know enough to advance? Sure, you have the skill but you aren't really performing it - only demonstrating your ability to verbalise it convincingly.

    I like dice. They help to convey a shorthand for contextual/situational difficulties in perfectly transmitting your skill into your character (or allowing your character to have skills you do not - or cannot - possess). Difficulties like time constraints, material issues or environmental factors (there's 30 seconds before orcs arrive, the lock is rusty and it's dark as hell, as respective examples) are real things that would impact your real-world skill (in this example lock picking) but just couldn't be quantified effectively in conversation.

    Unless we're going to bust out some locks, egg timers and use only candlelight we might as well leave the table and go LARP.
  • I don't know if you intended to ask, but it sounds like you're asking about why anybody would want to remove the dice and insert player performance in their stead.

    For myself, the answer is that if we actually want to talk about the subject matter and put our knowledge of it through its paces - perhaps learn more about it from the other players and from applying the knowledge to different situations - then it is much more effective to allow that knowledge to actually influence the events of play, instead of merely having the players talk about things while the dice determine the actual results. The players will feel that their knowledge matters, and they'll be more motivated to present that interesting knowledge for the others at the table, and they'll enjoy sharing a mutual interest with each other.

    But yes, historically GM fiat and dice have indeed been introduced specifically to resolve disagreements about the ponderables and (more meaningfully) imponderables. I wouldn't want to try to do this thing without dice and abstraction options at hand, it just simplifies the entire affair immensely if you always have the option of cutting the Gordian knot by rolling for it instead of having the players lock down into a debate about increasingly obscure minutiae.

    That is, in fact, one of those basic cornerstone techniques that would probably go into the magical game text that instructs one in how to be the super old school GM: enable functional debate, but act as a chairman to facilitate reasonably quick conclusions, utilizing dice to cut through the uncertainties and imponderables. The dice are not there to replace the facts, but merely as a practical resolution tool that maintains playability.
  • I like dice too. But I also like the flow attained by a group when you give them total freedom to bring up things to the table. Blocking kinda kills trust and creativity. But I would also like to have something a bit more deterministic. My friend developed a system where collaboration between players and planning is rewarded by lowering the difficulty of a challenge, which has made wonders of our collaborative teamplay and planning. We've never worked together as much as we've been doing in the current campaign.

    Which took me to another idea, as a compromise betwen rolling dice and having performance determine the consequence. Let's say we've got this list of possible outcomes of a challenge, from best to worst possible:

    -Yes, and an opportunity appears for everyone else.
    -Yes, and an opportunity appears for one other player.
    -Yes, but somebody needs to do something else or it will become a no.
    -Yes, but because of this a threat (old or new) targets someone else.
    -Yes, but because of this a threat targets you (or a consequence of a previous threat applies)
    -No, but if somebody does something else it becomes a yes.
    -No, but another course of action becomes clear.
    -No, and because of this a threat (old or new) targets someone else.
    -No, and because of this a threat targets you (or a consequence of a previous threat applies)
    -No, and a threat targets everyone present.

    As you can see, this list is nothing new, the only new thing I'm propossing is this: if players go into a challenge unprepared and in disadvantage, they roll but the GM can only apply the bottom three results. Each good idea, plan, observation, good question, proper equipment used, etc. makes the GM choices slide one line up. So, the most prepared party will only have to deal with the three top posible outcomes, though getting there will certainly require players to think, plan, and prepare.

    Wanna avoid players taking too much time? Use a clock and for every 5 minutes of time they take, slide the choices down one line. Make players notice this somehow; perhaps having these outcomes written and using a cut-out paper marker to signal which outcomes are currently active may work. Even if you're not showing the exact outcomes to them, they will certainly notice if you moved the marker up or down.

    I'd combine this with a system in which player initiative is defined by who reacts first in the real world, and the GM doesn't roll dice but makes opponents move and act when the players fail a roll or when the situation demands it to keep things interesting.
  • Also, on a different angle, I found this yestrday and this part caught my attention. I believe this concept may apply here too:

    "Back in high school, I developed a pen-and-paper alternative to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition, which I chose to call (rather uncreatively) “Epic RPG.” The primary design idea behind the Epic RPG system was to streamline combat and focus on role-playing. It dispensed with randomized damage rolls. It ditched saving throws. The few rolls that remained were made uniform: all of them were performed on a 100-point percentage scale using two 10-sided dice.

    The system also employed a large stable of skills and spells designed to open up the player’s options for approaching different problems through role-playing. There were no spells that dealt direct damage: no magic missiles, no fireballs. Rather, the spells all had simple, descriptive effects that required players to combine them creatively in order to take out enemies. Gravity Well, for example, was a magical trap that would suck enemies flat onto the ground and hold them there for a certain period. Rubberfoot gave the caster two consecutive bounces where he could soar up to 60 feet into the air, then land with impunity. Crumble would cause a stone surface to break apart into chunks with a touch.

    You can imagine how a clever player might prepare for an encounter with a large group of enemies in a cavern. She might set up a Gravity Well trap, then cast Rubberfoot, and once the enemy triggered the gravity well, leap up to the ceiling of the cave and Crumble a portion of the ceiling down onto them, crushing them.

    After years of playing D&D, my friends and started using this system. We quickly found our battles involving less time rolling dice and more time role-playing. I bring this up to make the point that a good RPG combat system should be elegant. It should establish relatively few, simple rules that can interact in interesting ways, thus creating a vast possibility space."

  • edited March 2016
    Edited to keep myself on topic:
    Thinking about this in the abstract, wouldn't a system that utilizes actual player knowledge and skill necessarily regulate and educate the skill in question?
    I suspect so.
    That is, wouldn't system mastery equal subject mastery in that kind of game?
    If the group/game goes for that equivalence and nails it, sure! If any of the connections are broken or absent, though, from the fiction -> player knowledge -> rules -> fiction loop, then no, at least not to my satisfaction.

    Playing a board game on top of an RPG doesn't appeal to me much. I mean, I like the part of Time and Temp where you roleplay under-skilled/under-motivated characters altering history; and I also like the part where your situation generates some random numbers that you slot into a sudoku-style grid to try to achieve number sequences that give you good stuff and avoid the ones that trigger disasters; but Dave's sudoku skills and Dave's character's efforts to change the past have literally zero connection to each other. I don't think that type of design is a puzzle that needs solving. I'm more excited about earning bang (or failing to) from my character play.
  • WarriorMonk,

    I'm not 100% convinced by the "you/someone else/everyone" aspect of your yes/no chart, but otherwise it's a very interesting list. I think it deserves some exploration!

    As for your depiction of spells with fictional (not mechanical) outcomes, that describes a lot of the best aspects of old-school D&D (as well as a few other games I'm fond of, like Red Box Hack abilities). It's a great example of how fictional options can take over from mechanical options (and vice-versa).
  • edited March 2016
    One note to everyone (myself included): I distinguished between performance and choice for a reason.

    I think a lot of RPGs have reasonably good systems for rewarding system-optimal choices, whether it's "I choose to roll the normally-low stat that is higher here because of situational mods" or "if we just run off with all the treasure we can carry before the dragon gets back, then we get 80% of the available XP without incurring healing and resurrection costs!"

    One of the things I like best about RPGs, though -- as opposed to better-developed choice games like Chess or Dominion -- is that execution of my choices (i.e., performance) is also potentially in play. "Okay, Dave, you made the decision to bribe the guard rather than shoot him; now, can you?" Rather than rolling my character's relevant skill, I really enjoy doing my best at the actual task. I have no real-world experience with bribery specifically, but I'm decent at reading people and decent at presenting arguments, and if I can put those skills to the test on another character (PC or NPC), that's a lot of fun for me.

    Most of my experience with rewards for such play has come via other players' reading of the fiction. The group finds my efforts plausibly effective, or the GM finds them convincing, and the guard takes the bribe. And then, other times, I perform less well, and the guard refuses.

    I would play that way all the time, except that, "What do you think?" is a pretty flimsy system prone to all sorts of interference from factors other than my actual performance. If there were a more objective way to translate my efforts into success or failure, that would be awesome.

    Footnote: I think it follows from this that the relevant conflicts of a "player performance of character" game, the moments where success and failure hang in the balance, must map to mental tasks, not physical ones. It doesn't seem practical to me to test my own strength or agility or endurance when those attributes are tested in my character; for that stuff, rolling some probability dice makes the most sense to me. The stuff I can actually test, as a player, probably maps better to conflicts of speech or style or reaction speed or interpretation or puzzle-solving etc. This might indicate that fiction based on "thinky" or "talky" characters is the most suitable.

    That's not to say that characters can't shoot each other! Quentin Tarantino's movies provide several examples (including one we discussed here) of violent characters whose primary conflicts concern who gets seduced or persuaded into lowering their gun first.
  • edited March 2016

    I would play that way all the time, except that, "What do you think?" is a pretty flimsy system prone to all sorts of interference from factors other than my actual performance. If there were a more objective way to translate my efforts into success or failure, that would be awesome.
    I feel like it's always going to be subject to someone's judgment, though. Performance has to be quantified somehow, and that quantification is going to have to filter through an intelligent authority at some point, because your performance has to be interpreted in relation to the world.

    It seems to me that "performance" as discussed here is really another way of saying "the physics of common sense". You say that you do a thing in a particular way that leverages your knowledge, and it's up to common sense to determine whether what you describe is probable or possible.

    If you're not being held accountable by anyone, then they have to take you at your word, that the thing you're describing makes sense and achieves the result you want. Not only could you be totally making it up, it's also possible that you're overestimating the effect of that action.

    So, who holds you accountable? I feel like if you want something objective to assess your performance, you'd find a sufficiently-advanced physics simulator for your needs. RPGs, on the other hand, are totally about each players' fictional input/performance being judged (whether by the group, by a central authority, or both) so that they can be synergized into one cohesive narrative. I don't think that you can really do this without going through someone.

    I don't really think it's a "What do you think?" system, either. It's more like this...

    "I do X"
    "Okay, that sounds pretty good."

    vs.

    "I do Y"
    "Seriously? No way that can work."

    In my experience, it works pretty well when all parties involved have a more relaxed notion of things, and aren't prone to micromanage and hyper-criticize one another's judgment.
  • edited March 2016
    So far, games like Dungeons & Bananas have been too abstract. You can kind of describe whatever, then what matters are the dice. It's not really a challenge or a mind-puzzle.
    Depends on the situation. Defeating a dragon with a sword is self-explanatory, but defeating the dragon with a feather requires at least some thought. And it was performance that was the topic, not challenge.

    And you got several other things to take into account as well, when it comes to describing the action. I played a similar game, and we had to take a break afterwards because we were mentally exhausted. I had to change the pace of that game so it didn't put that amount of workload on the participants.

    Saying it's not hard is like saying skipping ropes is not hard after only doing one jump.
  • This discussion is being so interesting and fruitful for me... thanks to all the participants! :D

    - - -

    @Rickard
    Performance is only assessed if it is aimed to achieving something; to me this is the broadest definition of "challenge" possible.
    You want X, so you do Y to achieve it... will it work?

    Now I might be wrong, I only had one experimental session playing D&B, but the over the top, not too serious, anything goes style of D&B means I can describe how I tickle the dragon with the feather, and this might allow me to roll dice.
    Or I can fast talk the dragon into thinking the feather is magical.
    Or whatever else... there is not really the intent to apply "the physics of common sense" (as @CarpeGuitarrem called them) ... the important bit is to say _something_ that more or less sounds fun / funny / cool.
    At least to me this very much about a player's storytelling ability, and very little about a player's puzzling / problem solving ability.

    - - -

    Personally, I don't think a game structured to truly leverage real world skills would be fun.
    Or at least, not to people without those skills, which usually is the near totality of people; it's so not inclusive it bothers me.
    @Potemkin raised the correct argument, and @CarpeGuitarrem possibly nailed it more in detail.
    At the table it does not matter what skills a player has, it only matters what a player can convince the others that it makes sense.

    I can be a nobel prize in applied physics and use that in my gaming, but if the things I describe to my friends raise eyebrows and they judge them "unlikely" or "no way!" that in our game my real world skill has zero value and actually hinders me.
    All of this on top of the (far too common) endless arguments this kind of topics generate.

    Considering all of this, I am inclined to think that focusing on "real life skill" is a way to not see the forest for the trees.
    WHY do we want player knowledge, creativity and ingenuity to matter?
    Because it makes us feel clever.
    (which is a positive feeling, which helps make an experience "fun" and worth repeating)

    And here @David_Berg raises a good point.
    Unless the source of my feeling clever and the game fiction are tightly connected, the result will not be particularly satisfying. Solving a sudoku to "simulate" my character navigating her way through a trapped dungeon is a cool and functional idea, but too disconnected and abstract to really heighten the immersion/engagement within the fiction.

    So what we should be looking for is a system of procedures that can help/reward players for being clever through their fictional actions within the fictional world.

    Looking at this, there is one concept that is crucial, and that needs unpacking: what is clever? what does "being clever" means? how can the procedures help the people at the table recognize clever ideas? how can the procedures help establish a consensus about it in case of disagreement?

    THIS to me is the point.
    And can be achieved through procedures, and a design choice that will clear to the players "what this one game considers clever".
    From that, a system that supports, facilitates and rewards such contributions to the game can be built more or less easily.
    And a host of secondary design aims can also be targeted: achieving this clever gameplay with the need for less preparation or none at all, for the GM to have less work and responsibility, or maybe find a way for a gmLess solution to be found (my wet dream).
  • edited March 2016
    I'd say that one of the most iconic examples of "player cleverness" in the RPG world is the use of spells in old-school D&D.

    We have:

    * Clearly defined (fictionally) triggers and effects. I do this... and THIS happens.

    * A puzzle or challenge presented by the GM (or chosen by the players, and then described by the GM).

    * Ideally, no obvious solution. If the player has no *obvious* direction to move in (e.g. "Door Opening Spell" on a locked door), then whatever they end up doing will be unexpected (which I'd say is desirable).

    The interaction of the fictional puzzle and the pre-determined fictional effects of the spell(s) give us a relatively solid chassis for player cleverness. ("Oh, there's a wall of stone there? Great, I have the Stone to Mud spell...")

    This gives enough objectivity (at least sometimes!) to create emergent complexity and the unexpected, which in turns gives players a chance to exercise creativity.

    I've seen this accomplished in more freeform play, via negotiation with the GM. The player interrogates the GM about a certain course of action, the GM states possible consequences, and this forms a contract for moving forward. The player can now use that combination of cause and effect to build towards their desired goal.

    For instance, the player says, "I use Stone to Mud on the pillar there, does it look like that will be enough to bring down the roof of the temple?" The GM might answer, "Sure," or "you can't tell", or "not likely", or perhaps, "I'm not sure. If you do it we'll roll a 1-in-3 chance for it to work."

    So, one possible conclusion here is that some kind of "contract" about fictional cause-and-effect enables player cleverness. I think this can range from clearly defined fictional consequences to system-supported cause-and-effect (example to follow) to negotiated cause-and-effect to various approaches where the GM/system is biased to "say yes" to player statements.

    Here's an example from an AW game (I was the player, not the author). I was playing the Quarantine, just emerged from stasis, and I met the Brainer, who decided that I fulfilled some kind of prophecy, and started calling me the Messiah.

    There was an action scene, and an NPC down on the ground, shot (dead). The Brainer says to the Quarantine: "Hey, you're the Messiah. Bring him back to life!"

    Well, as it happened, I'd just earned an advancement. Here's the MC's actual play report (from "barf forth apocalyptica"):
    Die resolution, character advancement, and fiction, all gear together in an incredible way.

    The Quarantine makes a bunch of rolls in a standoff with the Chopper. I was concerned that we might just be rolling for rolling's sake, but the negotiation scene was pretty tense. Then, when Q. got to the surface and saw the dead body, he decided to bring in a character advancement that he had just earned by the preceding rolling (so much for my concerns).

    His first encounter with the Brainer involved being called Messiah. Given that he could not sort reality from hallucination, he tried to resurrect the comatose biker. And he chose the advance that allowed him a "healing touch." And the dice came together to allow him to do it, freaking out the dubious Chopper and Savvyhead.

    The player had made such a bold intervention in the game's fiction, and did it by using the experience system and a clever move choice, that I felt compelled to jump out of my chair and give him a hug. Really, if there were instant replay moments for RPG-ing, the resurrection move would have been ESPN's "play of the day."

    Way cool!
    I think it's an interesting example, because, in this case, the agreed-upon rules for advancement and playbook moves enabled it. These elements are somewhat outside the fiction, and yet it not only created a powerful fictional moment (and interesting consequences for my character, who became known as the Messiah for performing this "miracle" - arguably a challenge won) but also showcased player cleverness.

    It's kind of borderline in terms of whether it counts as "character cleverness", being partially outside the fictional space of play, but not entirely so, which is interesting.

    Edited to add:

    I suppose my hypothesis here is that some kind of contract of established causes and effects within the fiction is (or can be) an important part of enabling player cleverness to matter in-game. I'm not sure how universal that is, or whether it's just one very limited way.
  • @CarpeGuitarrem, I'm with you on the broad strokes there. "What do you think?" was just shorthand. We're talking about roughly the same thing, I'm just saying that I've done it a lot, and that if you want to support actual skilled performance, the group needs to bring a lot to that that games themselves historically haven't. I'm looking to see if the games can add more. Maybe there's no way to completely remove subjective judgment, but maybe there's a way to make it simpler or more reliable or more transparent via procedures that even novices can use? I've gotten good mileage out of driving home some principles and, as GM, "training" players in the sort of logical fiction-interrogation process that pays dividends in my games. I'd like to think that similar things might be accomplished by rules and systems.
  • edited March 2016
    What is the "Good Idea" rule?
    if you take an action and use the resources at hand in a way that bypasses the obstacle, the GM can rule that you don't need to make a skill test
    I really love the concreteness of this! It's got a catchy name, it's invoked at a time when the group expects a formal procedure (a die roll), and it has a specific effect (you succeed without rolling! and without advancing the clock!). This is a great step forward from, e.g., the GM who thinks "good idea, that works, no roll, and you would have needed one otherwise" in their head but hasn't established a way of communicating that to the players, or sometimes forgets to consider it as a possibility.

    Is "use resources at hand to bypasses obstacle" a specific criteria for Good Ideas? Like, every time a player tries to deal with an obstacle, does the GM think, "used resources at hand to bypass it, yes/no?"? Or does that phrase simply describe the process where a player tries to deal with an obstacle, and the GM can't map that effort to a particular test, and so judges that play proceeds without one? Or is the specific "bypass w/ resources" construction forgotten in practice, and the GM just rewards whatever they purely subjectively judge to be "good ideas"?
    So, what I'm specifically thinking of is the actual magical powers in GSS. They work accordingly: you spend some of your Wonder stat, and you do a magic thing, no dice roll or anything necessary . . . Whether that works to overcome a challenge is up to discretion, but you can often do an end run around a hard challenge, if you use your power to approach it in a singular manner, like when the characters used a magic power to evoke a human's old memory of a friend by creating a simulacra of an important item from their relationship. Basically, you use magic powers to totally redefine the frame of the challenge.
    That sounds neat! So it's kinda "spend to succeed at a task; now how useful a task success can you come up with?" Basically, an inventive problem-solving challenge. Right? Are there well-understood constraints on what tasks a character can perform with magic? Like, this example sounds fun to me only because "mind-control the human to remember their friend" was not an option.

    I love redefining the frame of a challenge! What did the challenge appear to be, before you conjured up this memory-evoking item?

    When you came up with the item idea, before committing to actually following through on it, did the GM say, "Great idea! That will (possibly)/(probably) work!"? Or was it "try it and see!" instead?

    If the latter, did you feel a lot of suspense about "will this work?"?

    I'm wondering whether the performance criteria is more "impress the GM" or "impress yourself" (with the GM following your lead in the latter case).

    I think "impress yourself" might actually be a legit challenge criteria for creative invention challenges. As GM, I often try to get a sense (or just ask directly, depending on the game) of, "Are you just taking a stab in the dark and hoping, or is there a reason why you expect this to work?" If they outline an honest reason why they expect it to work, I'll allow that to persuade me in the direction of "yes, that happens". Performance without any feedback is empty, though, and "I think it works, so it works" is dangerously close. In my experience as a player, the most rewarding moments of creative solution invention have been the ones where my idea earned an instant reaction of appreciation when I proposed it (well, as long as some subsequent step didn't render my idea irrelevant, that is).
  • edited March 2016
    At least to me this very much about a player's storytelling ability, and very little about a player's puzzling / problem solving ability.
    And storytelling is not performative? It is, in my book. Seems to me that your perspective is clouded by how roleplaying games are normally played. Performance in roleplaying games doesn't only include puzzling and problem solving. My first post gave several examples of different kinds of activities that required participation - or performance - any kind of participation.

    I played several storytelling games that had restrictions in them. Drakar och bananer has its traits and troubles, Nerver av stål got 1940s censorship in movies, Once Upon a Time got its cards and the ending, Prosopopee can't have anyone saying a name. If you want something to be hard, just make the restrictions more apparent.

    But enough of this. We don't agree, and that's it. I don't see the point in continue this for the sake of the rest of the thread. I'm kind of turned off when someone is negating someone else.

    ---

    Another thing that requires performance is the role of the game master, often in form of improvisation to make everything fit together. If you can make a game where everyone got parts of the game master's role in the group, then you got a different performance. Heck, Coyotes in Chicago is pretty close to that, where you need to take the other game master's contribution into mind when creating your own version of the story.
  • Maybe there's no way to completely remove subjective judgment, but maybe there's a way to make it simpler or more reliable or more transparent via procedures that even novices can use? I've gotten good mileage out of driving home some principles and, as GM, "training" players in the sort of logical fiction-interrogation process that pays dividends in my games. I'd like to think that similar things might be accomplished by rules and systems.
    What if we actually include part of the training in the rules/character's sheet? Not like, how to use a sword and shield (though some moves/feats are actually meand to inform player of some choices he probably didn't thought were possible) but as procedures about how she's supposed to cover the role assigned to her character?

    I loved how in 3:16 you had guidelines for what was expected of your character. If you were a soldier, you only had to follow orders and kill everything in sight. As a Corporal, you had to maximize the killing output of the soldiers on top of the previous guidelines, and as a Sergeant you had to make sure everyone returned alive, besides de soldiers guidelines. That was about it, but as it was proven in a friend's homebrew game, these guidelines were essential for obtaining the atmosphere, as without these players usually played the game more like Paranoia. Mostly because the players themselves never went under any kind of militar training before so when faced to danger they relied more on their individual abilities instead of disciplined teamwork.

    I believe that any D&D experience could be greatly improved by explaining players (better if it's in-game) what is actually expected from her character in the group. Yeah, the name of the classes is supposed to do that, but it doesn't say anything about how and when. As a result the fighter will default to "I hit it with my sword" and roll the dice, and work as the tank only because she will charge towards the enemy and stay on the first line only because otherwise she wouldnt' get to do anything else.

    Compare that to telling the player through the PC's teacher how a fighter is supposed to define the axis of the battle, trace an impassable line between the enemy and the casters, create openings for other party members and take advantage of opportunities created by them, hold the line until the caster's magic takes effect and delay as much possible asking for magical healing as party's resources are scarce and valuable.

    It's the same for the wizard, a guide I found a long time ago made me want to play a wizard, presenting it not as a glass-cannon but instead as someone who fights not only using spells but the rest of the PCs as resources. Buff everyone appropiately, create opportunies for them and not only you will be more popular among your party members, but more efficient in dealing with any kind of opponent. Sure, fireballs can do the work perfectly fine, but you'll be out of them pretty soon.

    It took me some time and bad experiences but when I finally understood how the D&D and PF monk I got a great time. At first I thought, well, I have a flurry of blows, let's put it to good use. So I went into melee, rolled some bad rolls, got my combo interrupted and lost more than half my HP on the enemy turn. Definitely I was doing something wrong. my AC would never be like the fighter's so whatever I did, I couldn't remain on the first line for too long.

    So I started making a list of things I could do without resorting to my class skills. I could throw caltrops here and there and wall-run my way out of a room. I could outrun everyone and still have an attack. My GM allowed me to charge with a flying dragon kick, and the rest of time I was distracting the opponents with range attacks, flanking and getting better opportunities for the fighter. I got lunge and spring attack so I didn't need to rely on my AC at all. And later I could teleport and grapple spellcasters (sadly we didn't found much of those, it was mostly undeads who got nasty touch attacks, so my DM helped me to a radiant khopesh that I could use as a monk weapon.

    I most probably would had more fun if my expectatives weren't somewhere else at the start of the game, and today I still feel playing monk is like playing D&D in hard mode, depending on the opponents you get. But definitely, a guide for character's role into the party would had done a lot of good for me there. And it's something that shouldn't need to be left to the GM.
  • Interesting idea. But wouldn't writing all those things on the character sheet rob you of the opportunity of learning those things and engaging in playing the game as well as possible, at some level? I'm not sure where the line is to be drawn, here (and maybe it shouldn't be!).
  • What is the "Good Idea" rule?
    if you take an action and use the resources at hand in a way that bypasses the obstacle, the GM can rule that you don't need to make a skill test
    I really love the concreteness of this! It's got a catchy name, it's invoked at a time when the group expects a formal procedure (a die roll), and it has a specific effect (you succeed without rolling! and without advancing the clock!). This is a great step forward from, e.g., the GM who thinks "good idea, that works, no roll, and you would have needed one otherwise" in their head but hasn't established a way of communicating that to the players, or sometimes forgets to consider it as a possibility.

    Is "use resources at hand to bypasses obstacle" a specific criteria for Good Ideas? Like, every time a player tries to deal with an obstacle, does the GM think, "used resources at hand to bypass it, yes/no?"? Or does that phrase simply describe the process where a player tries to deal with an obstacle, and the GM can't map that effort to a particular test, and so judges that play proceeds without one? Or is the specific "bypass w/ resources" construction forgotten in practice, and the GM just rewards whatever they purely subjectively judge to be "good ideas"?
    More generally, it's that the player comes up with a plan of action that isn't risky/uncertain enough to merit a test. This is stuff like the old-school example of using a ten-foot pole to trigger traps, for instance.
    So, what I'm specifically thinking of is the actual magical powers in GSS. They work accordingly: you spend some of your Wonder stat, and you do a magic thing, no dice roll or anything necessary . . . Whether that works to overcome a challenge is up to discretion, but you can often do an end run around a hard challenge, if you use your power to approach it in a singular manner, like when the characters used a magic power to evoke a human's old memory of a friend by creating a simulacra of an important item from their relationship. Basically, you use magic powers to totally redefine the frame of the challenge.
    That sounds neat! So it's kinda "spend to succeed at a task; now how useful a task success can you come up with?" Basically, an inventive problem-solving challenge. Right? Are there well-understood constraints on what tasks a character can perform with magic? Like, this example sounds fun to me only because "mind-control the human to remember their friend" was not an option.

    I love redefining the frame of a challenge! What did the challenge appear to be, before you conjured up this memory-evoking item?

    When you came up with the item idea, before committing to actually following through on it, did the GM say, "Great idea! That will (possibly)/(probably) work!"? Or was it "try it and see!" instead?

    If the latter, did you feel a lot of suspense about "will this work?"?

    I'm wondering whether the performance criteria is more "impress the GM" or "impress yourself" (with the GM following your lead in the latter case).

    I think "impress yourself" might actually be a legit challenge criteria for creative invention challenges. As GM, I often try to get a sense (or just ask directly, depending on the game) of, "Are you just taking a stab in the dark and hoping, or is there a reason why you expect this to work?" If they outline an honest reason why they expect it to work, I'll allow that to persuade me in the direction of "yes, that happens". Performance without any feedback is empty, though, and "I think it works, so it works" is dangerously close. In my experience as a player, the most rewarding moments of creative solution invention have been the ones where my idea earned an instant reaction of appreciation when I proposed it (well, as long as some subsequent step didn't render my idea irrelevant, that is).
    So, in terms of what a character can perform with magic--in Golden Sky Stories, powers are very, very explicitly-defined, with particular effects. It's on you to find ways to leverage those effects in ways that will help.

    Here's a few examples from an old demo PDF for the game:
    "You can cause a light rain to fall in the immediate area. This rain will come down regardless of whether there are any clouds, and it can come day or night. While in this rain, henge can take human form at no cost and they can use Wonder and Feelings interchangeably (i.e. they can use Feelings for powers and Wonder for checks) This lasts until the end of the scene." (normally, the characters have to pay resources in order to switch between human and animal forms)

    "You can read the heart of another. This mainly lets you hear what someone is saying in their head, not what they’re feeling or what’s true. Still, it lets you find out what someone’s real intentions are from their heart rather than their mouth."

    "You’re such a good kid that for the most part, if you apologize, you’ll be forgiven. If you use this power, people will forgive you for pretty much any non-fatal mistake as long as you apologize, but your words and attitude must be properly apologetic."

    Honestly, the challenge was pretty open-ended. There weren't any specific obstacles or tasks set out before the players, just the problem of an old man whose friend's spirit was unable to move on (because the old man was in such grief, his friend couldn't be at peace). I remember that when they came up with their plan, I had a moment of "wow, that was good". I don't honestly remember much negotiation or tentativeness/intermediate steps of the group proposing the idea as possible. I think they just went with it.
  • And storytelling is not performative? It is, in my book.
    We do agree on this, actually :)
    But unless I misunderstood, the specific point of this specific thread is to nail down the kind of "performance" that is inherent to puzzle/problem solving through the fiction.

    Like when you overcome an obstacle because of a clever idea, instead of just tossing dice.
    Or when you actually formulate a heist plan, or any sort of plan to action.
    Or when you nail down a conversation with an npc because you touch on the right topics.

    So it's less about the ability to improvise a storytelling, and more to do with the ability to find fictional solutions... being clever in a problem solving way.
  • Yes; effectively, it's about being good at interacting with the fiction as a fictional reality, and using established tools within the fiction as such. It doesn't even necessarily require special knowledge, just a particular sort of creativity that looks at two things that have unique effects and says "hey, I could totally combine them like this!"
  • edited March 2016
    Interesting idea. But wouldn't writing all those things on the character sheet rob you of the opportunity of learning those things and engaging in playing the game as well as possible, at some level? I'm not sure where the line is to be drawn, here (and maybe it shouldn't be!).
    I'd say there's a part of it players can learn through the game and part you need to tell the players before the game. Which part and how much? The line for me is to give enough info to the players to inspire them to incarnate, not much the character as the role of his character in the group. They can learn up from there, but you need to be clear on what kind of gameplay the mechanics you're giving to the role are meant to produce.

    I came to PF and D&D expecting the monk to be some kind of Street Fighter, so I painfully crashed into the game mechanics and had to reformulate my approach. It took me two different campaigns, tho different GMs and groups and liters of bad blood; first blaming the system, then the GM and finally my own understanding of both (it was a bit of them three but if I'd seen the last one on the first place, I would had tons of fun before being so pissed at everything)

    PF does inform you of the monk role:

    Monks excel at overcoming even the most daunting perils, striking where it's least expected, and taking advantage of enemy vulnerabilities. Fleet of foot and skilled in combat, monks can navigate any battlefield with ease, aiding allies wherever they are needed most.
    I readed this several times, readed the character mechanics, created one, stressed about choosing the right feats and class features, went over and over on the math and when I finally faced the game I felt like I was the only one trying to fight naked and barehanded in a world where I couldn't touch anything directly nor protect myself against any kind of attack, and barely had the HP to take any damage head on. Every hit and kick felt suicide and there was barely any fight I felt my character was actually contributing. My GM and friends helped me there, and I did had spotlight on the social scenes despite not having the stats for it, but a good part of combat felt like the GM was humoring me, bending and breaking rules and giving me chances because my character didn't had otherwise anything to make it shine by itself.

    So I went back to the book, studied some guides on the web and tried to face the problem the way I felt it: I'm the only one fighting things I can't touch, I can't face them directly nor remain in their reach at any time. What can I actually do? It was only then that things started to click and that I got an image of what kind of character I was playing. It wouldn't certainly hurt at all if that friggin introductory text was longer and somewhat warned me about what I was getting into! I had some great moments with that character, but I'm certainly not getting anywhere close to a 3.5 or PF game again ever in my life, not because the games are bad, but because of all the bad things they remind me, which some "training" could had solved.

    I learned, but I definitely had no fun learning.
  • We do agree on this, actually :)
    image :)
  • edited March 2016
    In Dirty Secrets you have to play liar's dice and if you're bad at liar's dice you're bad at Dirty Secrets.

    In Caliphate Nights, you create stories-within-the-story; when you do so, you the player take over as GM of the story within the story.

    And WM, one of the things the creators of Pathfinder decided was that the D&D3.* Monk was overpowered and needed to be depowered. This is an insane conclusion, completely fucking bonkers, pure design malpractice; yet I think I have to admit you received exactly the experience the Pathfinder creators wanted:you had a shit time playing a monk.
  • What RPGs, or subsystems of RPGs, satisfying your cravings to have your best efforts rewarded?
    Just finished GMing Torchbearer and had that craving fulfilled whenever I introduced a mysterious thing which was an effect of an underlying important secret cause in a way that the players guessed such a cause was the most likely reason for the thing but legitimately weren't sure for a long time. This is very similar to the feeling which Go produces when a stone placed for both tactical and strategic purposes pays off its strategic dividends.

    Have that feeling when I'm playing 5e and assess the difficulty of a fight at the start well enough to know how many just-for-flavor do-nothing actions to take, then take them. It's like succeeding at a challenge that's close to your limit, only the "challenge" is "how much can I get away with". This is very similar to the feeling I get when leaving "late" for an appointment and arriving on time.

    Had the feeling in Dungeons & Bananas a time or two during one session (but no other sessions) when I tied together a late-stage situation and some we-thought-it-was-just-zaniness from early on. This is very similar to the feeling I get when a great pun pops into my head and I say it immediately.

    Have that feeling in Burning X when scripting as if I'm mind-reading, and then being right. This is very similar to the feeling which the boardgame Yomi produces constantly.

    Are those all examples of what you're talking about or are some of them not examples?
  • In Dirty Secrets you have to play liar's dice and if you're bad at liar's dice you're bad at Dirty Secrets.
    I am curious -- is there anything about the fiction which makes navigating it at all similar to playing liar's dice? Or, more broadly, is there any reason why a liar's dice mechanic is nicely apt where it appears in Dirty Secrets, as opposed to any other place in any other RPG?

    Using my bluffing skills in an RPG sounds fun to me, but moreso if it isn't just, y'know, tacked on.
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