fictional causality vs resolving ambiguity

edited October 2017 in Story Games
I've had this happen hundreds of times in immersive play:

We're so into this conversation with this NPC! There are veiled threats and hints of opportunity! We said some charming and clever things! We told some strategic lies! This NPC seems like someone we might befriend! Or kill! We're loving this!

Ten minutes later:

Is he gonna tell us anything useful or not? Did we get anything useful already? What was it? Is there something we're missing? Is there something else we should try? Should we trust this NPC? Plan to kill them? How do we know? We hate this.

There's an obvious solution to the less fun part: get certainty from the game system. Engage a procedure that forces a die or the GM to tell you, "Here! Look! This! This is the important thing, and here's how it is, and now you have to respond to that!"

A fine solution. But not a universal solution. In my experience, although a good game procedure often avoids the no-fun part, it also often discourages the super-fun part. Because why work and struggle and strive to master the fiction from within the fiction if you can push a game button to move forward? I'm not saying a useful dice procedure discourages roleplaying -- but I do think it changes the roleplaying. And I'm loathe to lose the no-rules version.

So! Here's my thought of the moment. The problem in freeform challenges is ambiguity. Can we provide in-fiction tools to remove that?

For example: what if player characters (or one player character per party) can read minds just the right amount? Like, maybe they can spot lies. So now you roleplay a conversation where you try to get the NPC to provide answers to telling questions. The effort is entirely in-character, but the feedback is no longer as ambiguous.

What do you think? Any other ideas for giving players concrete info without an extra-fictional procedure providing that?

I had another idea where players could propose a theory and then probe for things to confirm/deny, or account for what they've already seen to confirm/deny. So there'd be a game procedure -- "propose a theory!" -- but it would be more of a way to organize the conversation than to inject stuff into it from without. Inspired by @2097 's success with Petitioner/Granter, which I quite like, but I want a tool that's less vulnerable to being forgotten or superseded by existing habits.

I also thought about "formal rule as back-up only", where you hope that roleplay will get you there, but if the ambiguity is too frustrating, you can fall back on some Read a Person-type thing that'd say, "Here's one actionable answer. You now have the option to be done."

Comments

  • One of the great conundrums of roleplaying, isn't it?

    I've seen a few solutions along the lines of what you're suggesting, from the GM side:

    * When you feel like the players aren't making progress, or the NPC has spilled the beans, just announce that. "He looks like he's prepared to keep talking about the same thing over and over, if you want. Are you done with him, or do you want to try something else?"

    * The "mind reader" technique doesn't necessarily need fictional plausibility. Ever since reading Vincent's advice, which is, basically, "When an NPC is lying, say so," I've pretty much always applied it, and it's never hurt a game. Basically, I look at the players, and if I have any inkling they might not have caught on (by my portrayal, which I try to make obvious, but don't always succeed), I straight-up tell them, "It's obvious s/he's lying/hiding something."

    I've also thought about reworking the "Read a Person" move or something like it into a more fiction-tangible thing, though - i.e. one where you still need to play out the interaction in detail to get some traction of the move. I haven't done that yet, however. Some day!

    In any case, I'd love to see some better techniques/advice on this front, just like you.
  • I think it's a GM thing to nudge when player nudging is needed. In a certain style of game I could see PC abilities (as described above), but I'd still always make players dialogue to reach the solution.

    Gumshoe seems to do this well. We don't care how well the players roll, and why mechanically hide what we want them to find? But they need to look and ask..

    When there are secrets and lies it gets a tad trickier. Time your reveal, but it usually takes an NPC pointing out contradictions or blunt evidence to let the players know that what they thought was true just ain't. As a GM one has to be careful about how much lying to do...

    With a mostly verbal art form only really lucky or deductively able players can figure out many secrets before they are summarily spelled out.
  • I'll often propose a "cut". Players rarely disagree.
    Of course this leans toward "genre sim" but it needn't be infrastructural; everyone can tell when a scene is circling, and after all there's a shared benefit in making good use of our limited time.


  • In my experience, although a good game procedure often avoids the no-fun part, it also often discourages the super-fun part. Because why work and struggle and strive to master the fiction from within the fiction if you can push a game button to move forward?
    This.
    To me this reads as "the game I use is flawed".
    Either the game fails in delivering the expected result.
    Or your expectation is flawed, as the game was never meant to deliver what you seek.

    In my experience there are two elements to be considered here, one positive and one negative for your desired outcome.

    The positive one is, you CAN design to foster and encourage the kind of roleplay you like while still retaining clear and playable game results.
    Usually this is achieved with "fiction first" mechanics that depend heavily on what is described and how.
    Maybe you won't get a full, true, spontaneous, first person conversation between characters... but you'll get close enough.
    Players finding actual arguments, describing how their PC tries to lean on this or that, describing how their interaction goes and looks like, etc.
    And maybe a bit of first-person talking too, why not?

    The negative one is, not everyone shares your idea of "fun".
    I know tons of players that have awesome ideas, play unsafe, describe moving scenes... but put then in a first-person "play-acted" conversation, and you can physically see them squirm and suffer.
    It takes effort to do what you ask.
    And it feels pretty shitty when in a group you feel like everyone expects you to do a thing you don't feel like doing.

    This two things combines, added to the fact that there are many other things anyone can more easily enjoy in an rpg, lead designs towards more accessible solutions.
    Sometimes not well executed (like in D&D where you can just roll away any social interaction, if abiding by the game text).
    Sometimes better implemented (like in AW where at least the mechanics supports both Players and GM in describing social interactions up to a minimum fictional standard).

    So either pick up (or create) a system that consciously focuses on this activity you like, gently suggesting that anyone not REALLY into it please move along to another table.
    Which is honest and perfectly viable.
    Like old school style gaming.

    Or you accept to compromise. Maybe strive to design something pushing the boundary as much as possible. Support and encourage with various tricks and procedures first-person play-acting, while making it not mandatory, all wrapped in a structure that still pushed gameable outcomes to the fore.
    (easier said than done! :wink: )
  • Here's my theory on this, at least in the context of narrativist games: the fictional detail exists to provide visceral realism in the moment. This visceral realism - or "color", as we used to say - is then leveraged into climatic moments of play by asking players to make meaningful choices on the basis of essentially nothing but that visceral impression. Game mechanics are utilized to provide those choices in a succinct and reliable manner, before the visceral impressions have a chance to fade.

    If a game leads [free play] -> [good buzz] -> [dice rolls], then it's not doing it correctly, because the dice rolls, precisely as David describes, do not actually do anything with the strong fictive nuance you've generated. You need to go [free play] -> [good buzz] -> [important choices] -> [consequences] -> [dice rolls]; this way the black-box-we-call-the-player gets its chance to do its thing: react viscerally to their impression of what's going on, thus precipitating consequences which often imply dice rolls.

    Notably, to get from the viscerally powerful roleplaying to the choice-making, you need a robust system of play. This has nothing to do with the dicing part, generally speaking; this is something that happens before. It sort of answers David's questions about the structural meaning of the scene: you need to have some sort of a system that tells the players what to focus on as a pivotal question in the scene.

    This systemic element does not need to be super-duper complex, but it can be. One of the simplest ways to get from the free play and visceral impressions of the scene to the important issues is for the GM to ask questions. A well-placed "OK, so are you going to trust them or not?" does wonders to focus play and contextualize a moment of free play for the players. They get directly to making the choice.

    So I guess I've got two ideas for David: the first one is to not start your conflict resolution things before the players have actually made important choices. The second one is to ensure that you've got something in there that actually contextualizes the free play so that the players eventually get to those choices. The default option in the history of rpg texts is a chairmanning GM: you the GM know what the dramatic purpose of scene is, what its stakes are, so you can ask the players to consider that same issue.
  • edited October 2017
    The feeling of ambiguity posited in your first post echoes strongly with what David Simon says about the work in Baltimore's homicide brigade. So : do you want to play TV serial, where the signal that there is a clue in a testimony is a TV trope (like "the 2 investigators look at each other thinking - Are you thinking what I am thinking ?") ; or do you want to play "realism". In the first case it's a dice roll (say, like CoCthuluh "I find the item" roll). In the second case, ambiguity IS the goal. It shouldn't matter if they find this thing right now. They may never solve the case. The mechanism is about something else (conflicting loyalties as in BitDark, a list of cue words to dial a sentence with, something else).
  • Eero, I'd be very curious to hear your take on the same issue in an OSR context. ( I suspect that is closer to what David is getting at here, as well. )
  • Eero, I'd be very curious to hear your take on the same issue in an OSR context. ( I suspect that is closer to what David is getting at here, as well. )
    My theory of what goes on in old school D&D is that it's "organic task-based short-loop conflict development/resolution". That is to say: what you do while playing D&D is that you establish a situation and then evolve it step-by-step over certain semi-fixed points of uncertainty, reading the dice and asking the players for input, until you end up with a resolved situation. Certain mechanics, such as hitpoints, are there to help you reach a resolution.

    The visceral color has an important role in this process, but it's different from what you'd find in a narrativist drama game: rather than the color contributing to the gut instincts the players use in making choices, the color contributes by suggesting directions of development and potential mechanical and procedural hooking points for the GM. The players are reading the color as well, of course, and there are all sorts of mechanics where they utilize the color in the same way the GM does.

    The color in both of those game types comes from the same place, the "automatic writing" that the play group engages in while doing free play. For example, the GM playing the NPC is basing their portrayal on certain facts in their prep, but the significant facts for play are not in that prep, but rather in what the GM is inspired to portray on its basis. If the GM feels that this NPC should be fearful, for instance, then via that portrayal this additional factor enters the organic portrayal of the scene. It then becomes a potential hook for further developments - a player would be justified in expecting a bonus to their intimidation attempt on its basis, for instance. So everybody is sitting up and paying attention when the fiction is being established, because basically playing the game simply consists of paying attention and noticing these little details that you can leverage once they get established. That's why you ask the GM clarifying questions, too, to establish facts that you can use.

    On this basis, I think that the solution to David's problem in old school D&D is to chairman play vigorously: the GM can ask the players to act, or to wait for him to act. There's no reason for the scene to go on and on until the eternity. Meanwhile the fact that the players may or may not have figured out the pivotal, important elements of the scene is entirely up to them: the GM is not responsible, and it is in fact a central interest of play to see what the players got out of that scene. Did they decide that they can trust this NPC? Did they decide that they hate him and will want to betray him? Did he tell them something important? My players constantly miss important things and attach to unimportant ones. That's life in D&D.

    I guess that I ultimately don't think that there's a problem here for old school D&D GMs, because the game is ideologically committed to not giving a fuck if the players get confused and lost. If the players catch on they get to seize initiative and make smart plans, and if they remain clueless, they get to react to the events as they occur.

    This does, of course, mean that the players are the guys who should be caring about the fictional ambiguity a great deal in play. For them I have some specific instructions: stay aware of what you're trying to accomplish, pay attention to the useful details and add your own, don't try to play cute with the roleplaying (ask straight questions, speak clearly of your own intentions), go to the dice when the risk/reward ratios are in your favour. That's the game, pretty much.
  • Great thoughts and observations, Eero. I like that approach, too: one where the onus is very much on the players to pick methods which give them results. I think that your explicit and unabashed approach to GMing enables this, as well. (Where people run into trouble has a lot to do with a more typical "Mystery GM Cult" approach, which demands a minimum of "metagame" conversation and opaque communication strategies, necessary for the GM to keep their secrets out of the players' hands.)

    I'm sure David will have more to say on this topic, so I'll leave it to him to go further down this particular rabbit-hole or not.
  • Simplest solution I found is a question I use a lot whenever players engage on a game mechanic to solve anything: How do you do that, exactly?

    I've got to point out that it's important that this question is asked after the mechanic has been called for and only if the fictional details are still unclear. Also, the way I use it signals clearly to the players that yes, we're about to proceed to the roll, but how the fiction happens is also quite important here.
  • edited October 2017
    "When an NPC is lying, say so," I've pretty much always applied it, and it's never hurt a game. Basically, I look at the players, and if I have any inkling they might not have caught on (by my portrayal, which I try to make obvious, but don't always succeed), I straight-up tell them, "It's obvious s/he's lying/hiding something."
    For me, that's either a non-issue (if I'm already attempting to clearly convey "they're lying", then saying "you can tell that they're lying" is just fleshing out my portrayal) or completely antithetical to what I'm going for (I know the NPC is lying, and the players face a challenge to see how much they will/won't be duped). I don't know that either of these is particularly common in my play, though, at least not as The Main Event (see below).
    Gumshoe seems to do this well. We don't care how well the players roll, and why mechanically hide what we want them to find? But they need to look and ask..
    Yeah, I think that sort of thing does get us partway there.
    With a mostly verbal art form only really lucky or deductively able players can figure out many secrets before they are summarily spelled out.
    Agreed. As GM, you can hand it to the players, or you can hide it from them, but making them earn it is hard.

    I think "there is one thing to be earned here, can you earn it?" is a bad formula for a verbal challenge in the RPG medium. I think some element of that is great just in case everything aligns just right -- the GM does some clever portrayal, a player has a guess, another player has an insight, aha! -- but there also needs to be a broader field of opportunity for meaningful choices.
    So either pick up (or create) a system that consciously focuses on this activity you like, gently suggesting that anyone not REALLY into it please move along to another table.
    Which is honest and perfectly viable.
    Like old school style gaming.
    Yep, that's my goal! Good point about not slipping it in to some other game and potentially ambushing players who aren't up for it.
    the players are the guys who should be caring about the fictional ambiguity a great deal in play. For them I have some specific instructions: stay aware of what you're trying to accomplish, pay attention to the useful details and add your own, don't try to play cute with the roleplaying (ask straight questions, speak clearly of your own intentions), go to the dice when the risk/reward ratios are in your favour. That's the game, pretty much.
    This is arguably the core of what I'm striving for. At times I've made some progress by providing Player Best Practices. But I'd prefer sticky game design over forgettable advice.

    Plus, y'know, removing the "go to the dice" option changes things.

    Gotta run for now, but I just wanted to offer these responses to hopefully clarify my mission!

    There's an interesting side of "viscerally respond on moral dimension" that comes up too -- not sure whether that's important to talk about or not.

  • stay aware of what you're trying to accomplish, pay attention to the useful details and add your own, don't try to play cute with the roleplaying (ask straight questions, speak clearly of your own intentions)
    You can't believe how often this is a huge problem for Players I've met.
    Especially those who are more ok with play-acting.

    You have a situation, and they just roll with it, and they talk in-character, and chat, and bla bla bla ... but if you ask them to clarify WHAT do they want to achieve, WHY are they saying what they say, the most common reaction is "panic".
    They don't know, they were not into the fiction, not into the situation... they were just talking shit with a funny accent and using anachronistic-sounding words.
    Asking them to stop and consider what's happening and what do they want to get from it often sorts the same results as slapping them in the face.
    Often in these cases, when in the end they DO express a goal, it appears painfully mismatching to the actions they were performing; they seem convinced that somehow the mere act of speaking in-character with an accent is enough to:
    - clearly convey their meaning and goals
    - convince the other characters to grant them their (un)clear wish

    This I think is the other side of the coin. The opposite problem. What happens when freeform roleplay happens in the absence of clear game mechanics.
    The ideal results are somewhere in between these two extremes, I would guess, as I see the same advice Eero provides being equally applicable to whom play-acts too little or too much.

    This leads me to believe that in both cases the crux of the problem is effort.
    In both cases the problem is that the Players are not engaged with the fiction as a solid reality.
    On the one hand they almost ignore it in favor of dice and rules, as a way to find something clear and solid they can interact with in a predictable way.
    On the other hand they almost ignore it in favor of superficial elements, colour, posturing, as if by immersing in the LOOK of things then they will be how they hope/expect them to be.

    In both cases no one is stopping to THINK.
    One way you just crunch numbers, the other way you just improvise an accent, and no one engages with the real puzzle: to imagine a situation as a problem to be solved and the take appropriate actions to influence it.
    This is a puzzle. This takes effort, brain power. And most people shy away from it on the account that when they PLAY they somehow expect the activity to put their brain to rest, to relax, to escape.

    And you can have a STORY without necessarily facing this kind of effort.
    And you can have a fight, a tactical game, a resource management game, without necessarily facing this kind of effort.
    And you can immerse yourself in a role, escape to another world, have a social experience, without necessarily facing this kind of effort.

    This actually resonate with the MDA game theory, now that I say this out loud.
    Mmm...
    Time to think more about it, and get deeper into it.
  • edited October 2017
    @Hasimir when players just don't want to put a lot of effort into getting info, but the game requires a lot of effort, isn't it just a poor pairing of game and desired aesthetics? I think you're completely onto the answer.

    If the game is a GMed game, a GM who is good at their craft can alleviate 100% of this mismatch. But the GM will need to quickly figure out the aesthetic desires of the players, if they are not already known.
  • My take on that particular issue:

    It's not the players don't have specific goals in mind.

    It's that they have been trained/conditioned to play in a style where they don't have meaningful input into the plot - rather, the plot is something which is placed upon them by the GM.

    In that context, the ideal (and least frustrating) means for a player to engage with the game is to engage in "colour", creating memorable mannerisms for their character (perhaps a certain personal accent!), and reacting to events and to each other. (e.g. One character is always criticizing the actions of another, while a third is embarassed by their fighting, but none of the three try to change this dynamic in any way.)

    If I'm that kind of player, of course I don't have "meaningful goals" in a conversation with an NPC. I'm just portraying the character's "voice" while I wait for the GM to lead me to the next scene.

    I've seen this kind of thing a lot. It's, perhaps, the main reason why playing a strong player-guided narrativist game can be incredibly frustrating with a bunch of "experienced gamers" (if "experienced gamer", in this case, means someone who has been conditioned to play this way).

    You'll notice that advice for players in this style of game is never about "having strong character goals", how to create a character which puts you in a strong position along a moral line, or similar things, but, rather, always a list of tricks for how to inhabit a persona and to make them consistent and memorable. ("Funny personal quirks", "How to create a personal voice", "Learn to do great accents!", "Wear a hat as a prop to the game!", and so forth.)
  • edited October 2017
    Same diagnosis : RP acting is the symptom, the unease coming from the cause.

    "Strong character goals" is one thing, Mr _T. A character goal for the situation at hand is also key to good scene writing.

    This could be resolved :smile:
    1° by character creation rules. Setting goals for each relation level like : related to player character, party, npcs, or story theme. Based on the assumption that any scene will have at least one of these elements, so at least one goal for the player. [Cassandra mode on] This solution is so static it's dead as a log. This kind of rule will be paid lip service to and, more often than not, will in fact left on the side of the road during play. A limb with no sap is a dead log. Thinking in term of "problem" and "mechanical solution" nearly always leads to that. Don't underestimate this. [Cassandra mode off]

    2° Or, as is often done since TSoY, using mechanisms for character abilities that incite the players to get them into specific situations. ISo there is no question what the goal is : the scene is there in the first place in relation with the goal of a character (pb is : maybe not ALL the PCs are interested in this goal).

    3° Conflict-based games, like Capes and my own baby see that there is always a goal in mind for the current action, scene, act and even story arch. In that way : a player action is advancing a goal. If the player doesn't use her action, it means she loses the action, period.
  • edited October 2017
    Yeah, engaging color and performance says nothing about direction or utility. I've played plenty of talky scenes that kept going because they were fun in the moment, not because they actually got the characters anywhere.

    I still like those scenes, as long as we recognize and value them for what they are, instead of wishing we'd made progress instead.

    That's not what I want to discuss in this thread, though. I want to discuss the situation where the group definitely does want to make progress, but their taste forbids too much overt mechanization.

    My opening post mentions a few design ideas for generating (relatively) concrete and actionable results from the often-ambiguous roleplayed dialogue process. Partial mind-reading, a formal theory phase, back-up dice. I'd love to see more thoughts along those lines!

    Player/GM advice along those lines is fine too, and I appreciate what's been offered, but some sort of design that can overcome folks' habits would be way better.
  • An idea for a procedure:
    Whoever gets bored or frustrated first suggests we fast-forward. This can be the GM or any player.

    When a fast-forward is called for, players must name the questions they want to answer in the scene.
    • If there aren't any, then the GM just asks for the bare minimum info about what the PCs do next and then summarizes how the encounter concludes.
    • For each question that remains, the player must state what new approach they'll try in order to answer that question.
      • If they can't immediately think of one, then the rest of the group can either help out, or veto the effort if they don't think it's worthwhile.
      • If the whole group can't think of a new approach to a question, then the GM says, "Sorry, you've already gotten all you'll get on that one."
    Once it's established which questions will be pursued and how, the default is that the GM summarizes how that pans out. However, if the group gets excited to drop out of FFW mode and play through part of it, that's fine too.

    Thoughts?

    I'm still also interested in in-fiction ways to resolve ambiguity, like mind-reading!
  • Sounds like an interesting and maybe functional "Table Move" :)

    .
    .
    .

    About in-fiction ways to resolve ambiguity... isn't this a completely different thing?
    I mean.
    One thing is having the Players understand clearly what's going on. This is just one way to say that the Imagined Space is actually Shared, as we all get on the same page and sync up on what's going on. To me out-fiction communication is the only true way to achieve this.

    But in-fiction?
    Mind reading doesn't fix "ambiguity".
    Mind reading fixes "privacy" :P

    For clarity of play purposes, it's completely irrelevant.
    If you have clear communication at the table you can simply do something like the Read a Person move from AW, where the assumed fiction is "you notice stuff" and this is clear enough for the GM to translate whatever mumbled play-acting was going on into open and clear straight answers. Or for Players to do the same straight-question-to-straight-answer conversion.

    On the other hand, you can totally make even mind-reading obscure. Like, the reading only nets you flashes, emotional impressions, bits and pieces. Very suggestive. Maybe even useful if the Player is perceptive and clever. But definitely not "clear" :P
    It doesn't solve the problem of Players failing their real-life perception roll, thus going on fruitlessly play-acting without truly communicating clear information.

    Also, from FateLess experience, purely in-fiction input can NEVER be trusted. As far as a Player can know, anything and everything presented in-fiction can be false or inaccurate.
    You read someone's minds and it is no guarantee of clarity or truth, as they could be remembering wrong, could be convinced that something false is true, could have only part of the truth and have built their own (incorrect) answers upon it, they could have been tricked or deceived and as a result their memories are just false fabrications.
    None of this is known to the mind-reading player.
    So, you know, back to square one :astonished:

    But maybe I misunderstood?
    Maybe you just want to get a list of in-fiction excuses for out-fiction clarity mechanics?
    Like the "you notice stuff" part of Read a Person.
    So if you say that a character "reads the mind" of another character you feel legitimated to ask out-fiction clarifications: is this a lie? is this all?

    If so, it can work in any number of ways.
    And to me it works best the less weird and obtrusive it is.
    Mind reading?
    Why not just say that "you pay very close attention" to the other person?
    Or that "your sharp mind obviously understands that..." .

    Or, you know, there is the highly efficient and unobtrusive Dogs in the Vineyard approach.
    Just.
    Tell.
    Them.
    Always.
    A talks to B and all goes well but then the GM adds "but you are pretty sure that B is hiding something about it"
    This can be easily done by Players themselves. "I say this and that and even that other thing, of course I am lying, but because I'm mixing truth and half-truths only the most perceptive could hope to notice" ... have Players SPELL OUT what they are doing, or looking for.
    You can even steal live/jeep/theatrical techniques like the Aside to help Players to it in a cleaner way.

    Otherwise, seems to me, you end up crashing in a "real-life failed perception roll" sort of problem.
  • edited October 2017
    What I'm going for with in-fiction ways of resolving ambiguity is neither rules-dependent ("You the player know this thing conclusively exactly because the rules tell you so") nor fiction-murky ("Lemme roleplay this NPC in a way that shows they're lying, I hope the players get that!").

    In the real world, some things are knowable.

    In made-up worlds with magic or sci-fi tech, other things are potentially knowable.

    I'm just looking to give the characters some abilities to know some things, in such a way that the players get some more concrete feedback from which to make decisions.

    I'm not trying to remove all ambiguity; I'm just trying to give the players some data with an increased level of confidence.

    Design-wise, I suppose you could argue that the relevant part of mind-reading is the part where the GM has to tell the player useful truths, not the in-fiction explanation for why. But, as my opening post hopefully explains, my current mission is all about the "why".

    Perhaps it'd be constructive for me to first come up with useful things players could know, and then brainstorm magical ways the characters could come to know them...

  • Design-wise, I suppose you could argue that the relevant part of mind-reading is the part where the GM has to tell the player useful truths, not the in-fiction explanation for why. But, as my opening post hopefully explains, my current mission is all about the "why".
    That wasn't super clear to me, actually XD

    So... I don't know...

    Telepathy, of course.
    Supernatural Empathy (read emotions vs read mind)
    Micro-Expression Reading (like in the tv series Lie to Me)
    Super-Human Hearing ... because I can hear your heart beating and can interpret it as a sign of you being nervous/relaxed or insincere/truthful ... like a living polygraph
    Kirlian Aura Reading
    Super-Human Smell ... because I can smell your fear and other basic emotions out of your pheromones or something.
    I Just Know People
    Thermographic Vision ... because I can read your emotional state out of the heat patterns your body gives off.

    Is this stuff more in the ballpark of what you are looking for? :)
  • edited October 2017
    Extra sources of information like those can definitely help! A smell or sound that gives data not otherwise available can be lots of fun.

    I'd say the best bets for providing concrete data are the least open to interpretation. Hearing a heartbeat or smelling fear doesn't tell you whether it's nerves, guilt, impending betrayal, or just knowledge that the PCs are dangerous. Some sort of magical feedback, on the other hand, can be designed to be very clear.

    Brainstorms:
    Yes/No Lie Detection
    Intent Detection
    Psychometry or other forms of sensing (e.g. visions) a person/object's recent activity/location
    Compel them to speak a certain way (e.g. truthful answer to question)
    Probe their mind for certain facts

    Heck, a lot of the useful Read outcomes from AW could be spells -- "Detect how they're most vulnerable", for instance.

    Unrestricted, such abilities might leave less ambiguity than is fun, so limits of "once per conversation" might be necessary...
  • I really like your suggested rule, actually, Dave. It's a good general procedure. Nice!

    As for the mind reading discussion, looks like you've just recreated the Read A... moves from AW.
  • If it's really about that, the title of the post is misleading.
  • The title is an attempt to describe a source of tension. The brainstorms are attempts to minimize that tension. Alternate approaches very much welcome!
  • Drown the players in information.

    The reason why NPC information is hidden behind clouds is because the game master doesn't want to give everything away. This is a flaw in onion or railroad structures that I think is quite common. If the game master gives too much away, then the players will take a gigantic leap in the adventure.

    But come on, the important thing is not how to get the information. It's what you do with it, and how you should respond.

    So drown them in information. This is how I think Gumshoe should be played. Drown them in information, and let the players sort out the best bits to form a theory. It's not until then it's time to form a response to that theory, and the third act takes place.
  • Simplest solution I found is a question I use a lot whenever players engage on a game mechanic to solve anything: How do you do that, exactly?
    Yes, I love this.
    Also, the way I use it signals clearly to the players that yes, we're about to proceed to the roll, but how the fiction happens is also quite important here.
    Here we differ; I tend to want to resolve the situation via fictional positioning alone and skip the roll.
    So drown them in information. This is how I think Gumshoe should be played. Drown them in information, and let the players sort out the best bits to form a theory. It's not until then it's time to form a response to that theory, and the third act takes place.
    You might be right, Rickard. I still want to note that Robin argued against drowning Gumshoe players in information, here.

    Since I don't really run in the onion layers style anymore, I don't have enough experience either way. With my style I prefer to be more selective with info, since info dumps can come at a significant attention span cost. At least for me since I'm easily bored by droning GMs♥
  • edited April 2018


    Here we differ; I tend to want to resolve the situation via fictional positioning alone and skip the roll.

    Oh, we don't differ too much actually; if fictional positioning is clear enough to solve the situation or a roll won't generate an interesting result, we skip it too. Though whenever fictional positioning turns out to be something like "rocks fall..." I will give the players their rolls anyway before stating that "...everyone dies", "you all suffer 2d6 bludgeoning damage" or "you are miraculously alive and unscathed" :P
  • edited April 2018
    Random thought:

    Social interaction flow chart for the players to look at. For any question that's already answered, skip ahead to the next one.
    What opportunities can this NPC provide for us?
    ----- Which of those is our first priority?
    ----- ----- How might we get them to help us with that?
    ----- ----- ----- Which approach do we try first?
    ----- ----- ----- Second?
    ----- ----- ----- Third?
    ----- Which of those is our second priority?
    etc.

    Every time you want to jump to a new question, you can ask the GM the prior question. The GM will then confirm what the characters have learned, listing both knowns and unknowns.
    Might be a good training tool, to get players in the habit of thinking in an organized, purposeful fashion...

    And then, y'know, a little mind-reading, such that the GM can list more knowns than unknowns, could also help.

    I recently ran Delve for the first time in a while, and I was surprised by how much the players felt they had to work with based just on the results of their supernatural perception powers, none of which give direct GM-to-player answers.
  • If a detailed list like the above were valuable enough, one could always fill it with mechanical triggers. Sometimes you can sustain that "fiction to fiction" feel if you zoom in far enough.

    Potential rolls:
    - elicit opportunities
    - spot opportunity
    - assess opportunity (urgency, actionability, reward)
    - assess approach

    If you want to cover every base you'd roll a ton, but there should be a cost to doing so, e.g. a chance (escalating?) that the NPC gets fed up with the conversation.

    In the end, once an opportunity is chosen and an approach is pursued, the final determination of "Do we get what we want from this NPC or not?" needs to factor in the prior steps. If we're using a roll, then correctly choosing an approach, and executing it well, both need to up the odds on that roll.

    As I type this out, this is starting to feel like a bad idea. But I wanted to get "zoom way in" on the table before I forgot.
  • I still think something like "Let Me Clarify" from boffer LARPs is a great approach, one that minimizes or even, ideally, eliminates OOC communication.

    How it works is that there is a short list of phrases, say 3 at most, that the GM establishes with the players before the game begins. Those phrases, though spoken in-character by an NPC, carry an OOC meaning as well.

    "Let Me Clarify" is actually the only one in use in the Accelerant system, that I know of. It means, "what I'm about to say is true." It's mainly used to deliver instructions about how a particular challenge works. You can see the utility: perhaps the NPC is otherwise shifty or untrustworthy! But the GMs still need a way to deliver this information! And at the same time, "Let me clarify" is just something people say sometimes.

    But I think that, to get at what you want, you'd need 1-2 more phrases. "That's all I know" or "I can't tell you any more about that" could be the signal to move on, to either end the conversation or move on to a new line of discussion.
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