Critical Role and the Rise of D&D

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  • Sounds like pretty typical GM advice stuff, honestly. Which, as Paul has said, is kindof okay, except that it doesn't start out by questioning the base assumptions, so if someone is STARTING with this stuff, they're going to be lacking the ground level understanding of choices that Matt (probably) has and can end up running into a lot of trouble because they're doing things without really understanding why.
  • Isn't that how most GMs learn? ;)
  • edited April 2018
    @Adam_Dray First, thanks for the huge write-up! As someone who doesn't watch videos, this was really needed for me to understand the object of this conversation at all.

    Just a nitpick:

    He also talks about having a page of "plot hooks" that can be attached to any character. This is a little bit, "all roads lead to Rome" in a railroading sense, but it's also kind of "bandolier of bangs" in the Sorcerer RPG sense.

    That is, if they play to character as they've written them, they'll likely do whatever it is Matt wants them to do. But more charitably, he's tailored "the story" perfectly to the characters that they wrote. Of course they want to find the villain who murdered their friends; of course they want to clear their name and get out from under house arrest. Is that GM Force in a bad way, or just the GM writing the player's Kicker for them in a way that serves the GM's plot?
    Bangs? Kicker? For noobs' sake, please don't say that! :DDD
    It's hard enough for people to learn how to play Sorcerer already (and that seems to involve a lot of reading through forum threads around the whole Internet) without us old-hands namedropping Sorcerer techniques and conjuring up false analogies during an unrelated discussion of traditional 1990s-style (A)D&D GM tips. Plot hooks and looking for buy-in in story-first designed, trailblazing/participationist scenarios are nowhere remotely like bangs and kickers in the very different context of an orthodox Sorcerer game, are they?
  • Well, I'm using them as analogies for discussion, not as "Matt is using these techniques."

    I seriously doubt my comment about Critical Role on Story Games is gonna create a giant interest in Sorcerer among noob D&D players. I'm not worried about it, anyway. ;)

    Are Matt's techniques "nowhere remotely like bangs and kickers"? I think they're somewhat like them, or I wouldn't have made the analogy. In both cases, though, I used a "maybe it's THIS, maybe it's THAT" structure because I can't tell exactly what he's doing.

    One thing people don't talk about much in discussions of railroading is that you can railroad a percentage of the time and use other player-driven techniques the rest of the time. It's not all-or-nothing. Of course, if the GM is hiding from you how much agency you really have, or is cherry picking moments to take agency away from you, you might as well suspect you have none.
  • Well, I guess I'm a bit of a noob around here since I don't know my Sorcerer too well. Rather than worry about whether it is misleading to use the terms, could we quickly define what they mean and what the difference would be between whether they applied or did not? I would find that interesting.
  • Of course!

    Ron Edwards coined the terms "Kicker" and "Bang" for his Sorcerer RPG.

    When a player creates a character, they also create a Kicker, which is the character's initial situation. It has to be something that is interesting to everyone, and which the character can't simply ignore. (Rather, ignoring it would be a super interesting choice that says a lot about the player, and consequences would cascade as a result.) Then the GM pushes hard at that situation and play focuses on finding out what happens.

    The idea is that the GM isn't writing a story for the characters. The players aren't writing the story in advance, either. Once a player resolves her character's Kicker, she writes a new one. It takes one or more play sessions to resolve a Kicker, probably.

    “The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.”–Vladimir Nabokov

    In a sense, the player is chasing their own character up a tree. It's the GM's job to throw rocks after that.

    And that leads us to Bangs, which are hard situations. The GM prepares a bunch of meaty situations to throw at each character. Sometimes players come up with them, too. By "meaty," I mean that they reinforce the themes of the game and the development of the characters and the idea behind the Kickers.

    Bangs are resolved in a conflict roll or two or three. They're not as long-lived as Kickers.

    Together, Kickers and Bangs drive play forward. The player chooses a Kicker and thus the direction of play for their character. The GM has no choice but to build play around that player's choice. Bangs are incremental conflicts that tie everything together, pushing at the space around the Kicker's thematic issues and testing the character's resolve.

    Other people may have clearer explanations of these things, or may correct me on my explanations. I've played Sorcerer a few times, read it many times, studied it a lot, but I'm not an expert.
  • edited April 2018
    Thank you, that is a very clear explanation.
    Plot hooks and looking for buy-in in story-first designed, trailblazing/participationist scenarios are nowhere remotely like bangs and kickers in the very different context of an orthodox Sorcerer game, are they?
    So if I understand correctly, in both Sorcerer and the technique Matt Mercer is (possibly?) suggesting, the DM is thinking about the motives of the PC and making up situations to throw at them, but the key distinction is between (1) choosing situations because they will be interesting to explore regardless of the outcome; vs (2) choosing situations in order to lead the player to a certain planned outcome.

    Edit to add: I'm pretty quiet because I don't know if I have much to add, but I am enjoying this thread and have found all the commentary and discussion very interesting.
  • Adam,

    An excellent analysis! I agree in full, with one caveat:

    I don't see any evidence that any of these techniques are transparent to the players or the group at all. The GM Tips, for instance, were all made *after* running, say, Critical Role, and in the moments where the use of Illusionist techniques is clear (like in the shorter examples of play, e.g. with Vin Diesel) we can see that there's no buy-in or clarification.

    Edit: Another point is the use of canned material in the game (he often reads from prepared text, and not for room descriptions, but, for example, the death of a monster). It's another "tell", as you put it. Like the others, not necessarily anything terrible on its own, but it fits the picture.

    That last video, in particular, was the one I was reacting to ("Write One-Shot RPG Campaigns"), so it may help for you to understand my reaction better when that was the first one I watched after the "Player Death" video.

    I don't have a *huge* problem with this style of play. I think it can be fun, and Mercer does an amazing job with it. I'd probably have a good time as a player in his group.

    There isn't even necessarily wrong with people playing in this style together, right? It's a free world, we can all do what we want.

    However, I do think that:

    a) it's a shame that this new culture around D&D play doesn't even touch on other ways to play the game, either as openly Participationist, sandbox/adventure with a "let the dice fall where they may" approach, a player-driven narrative, or otherwise, and

    b) that new people introduced to gaming via Critical Role and then videos like these are at least somewhat likely, I think, to learn all the wrong lessons from them.

    (For instance, I think the "Write One-Shot Campaigns" video is intended for beginners.)

    My point a), above, is what I meant by "retrograde", earlier. It's 2018, but this advice sounds exactly like mainstream RPG advice given in the early 90's to me.

    I've learned a lot of cool stuff by watching Mercer run his game, and admire his skills, but I don't find the videos to be exceptional GM advice at all. Like you say, for example, the lack of interest in getting buy-in from the players for some of these techniques... is a little short-sighted, I feel.

    Now, go watch the OTHER GM Tips videos, not by Mercer by Phoenix et al. (after his series ends), and you'll understand my concerns, perhaps, even better. (I linked to a few earlier in this thread.) Much of my negative reaction, such as it was, was based on those, far more than Critical Role or anything to do with Matt Mercer.

    Thank you for that lovely review - it was a fascinating read for someone who doesn't have the patience to watch all of them. :)

  • So if I understand correctly, in both Sorcerer and the technique Matt Mercer is (possibly?) suggesting, the DM is thinking about the motives of the PC and making up situations to throw at them, but the key distinction is between (1) choosing situations because they will be interesting to explore regardless of the outcome; vs (2) choosing situations in order to lead the player to a certain planned outcome.
    You understand correctly, plus in (1), players have continual agency over the story. In (2), players have little agency over the story.

    I'm leaning toward a belief that Matt Mercer is totally railroading his players most of the time, though he probably engineers his scenarios in a way that reduces the amount of Forcing he has to do in-game, by predicting what players will do with his presented material.

  • (Uh oh! The above few posts are massively cross-posted. I recommend everyone involved reread each other's words before continuing, if possible! :) )
  • Paul,

    Yeah, I watched a bunch of Satine Phoenix's videos after I posted last night. They're very entertaining, but most of the guest GMs seem to believe that they have to entertain the players with a great story, and that they're licensed to manipulate events at the table to make their own story happen.

    And really, I think they are "licensed" to do that (by the culture -- and by the rules as written to some extent).

    As I've said, I personally have an ethical problem with illusionism only as so far as the GM is doing something that the players don't know about. But if everyone in the culture believes the GM's role is to do exactly this, it's participationism by default. I have no issues with that, at large, though I get annoyed as a player in games where I have little real player agency.

    I'm still not convinced that the new Critical Role fanbase is learning "all the wrong lessons." There's nothing wrong with this kind of participationist-by-default play. People are getting inducted into our hobby. They'll have lots of fun, probably. If they end up at my table, I'll show them a different way to play. It's all good!

    I'm pretty sure that any newb gamer who goes digging for D&D stuff will eventually fall into OSR hands and see some stuff that looks familiar and some stuff that seems totally foreign (prep-first dungeon crawls, hex crawls, etc.).

    Also, I think that people who really really like Critical Role are self-selecting for this kind of story-first play, so they'll likely not have any problem with GMs who run games this way. In fact, they may be dissatisfied with sandbox-style play that doesn't tell an epic story.
  • edited April 2018
    Also:

    Adam, that one of the most concise and most effective summaries of Kickers and Bangs I've ever heard. Nice!

    The GM's job is to throw rocks... indeed!

    I'll add, for the reader entirely unfamiliar with Sorcerer:

    The Kicker is analogous to the "inciting incident" in a major character's story. Something happens, and we know that their life can never be the same. For Frodo, it's learning that he has the One Ring and that the Black Riders are on their way to find it - and him. He has to do something now! The story has begun.

    Important for the newbie here to understand is that, while the GM in Sorcerer has the full range of authority and techniques available to them that any other GM does, the Kicker is the thing which, to a large extent, determines what the character's story is, and THAT is player-authored.

    If our game was Lord of the Rings, to follow the example, it would have been the player who invented the Ring, its importance to the Dark Lord, Gandalf, the Black Riders, and all the rest. That makes the dynamic very, very different from a typical D&D game adventure where the GM presents the story and the players are participants in it.
  • Hm. You know, a lot of the examples of "Bonds" in the backstory section of the 5e player handbook do essentially authorize the player to make up something like a Kicker for their character. E.g., for the noble, "I am in love with the heir of a family that my family despises." Or for the hermit, "My isolation gave me insight into a great evil only I can destroy."

    Except then the assumption is not that you will go explore the results of this exciting thing, it is that you will go play the module the DM has prepared (or the hardcover adventure they have bought, which is maybe the baseline assumption on which the 5e rules are based). It is a bit of an odd tension in the rules, like half of a subsystem with the other half missing.

    As far as I can remember there is nothing in the Dungeon Master Guide advising the DM to create circumstances related to the dramatic backstory set up by the player and throwing them at the player. You are supposed to award inspiration if people roleplay in a way that shows their bond, implying it is wholly on the player to do something with their backstory. (Although it is optional to have such a dramatic situation in your bond, since half the examples are more like "I really love my favourite lute.")

    On the other hand I recall that in the 5e Starter Kit adventure (Phandelver), they provide pregenerated characters who each have a bond related to the main goal of the adventure, thereby assuring a connection between the character backstory stuff and the meat of the adventure, a connection that won't exist if the players are making up their backstory and then the DM is separately making up a adventure module.

    So, maybe that is why people come up with brilliant tips about how the DM should make up a grand linear story while incorporating player's backstories. It helps tie up some of the weirdly half-baked story-game threads that were sown into the Player's Handbook and then ignored, and which otherwise will seem contradictory.
  • edited April 2018
    @Vivificient,

    You might consider copying and pasting that comment over in this thread:

    http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/21584/d-d-5e-in-favor-of-inspiration

    We're getting into that stuff in much more detail there!

    Like you say, the problem is that...
    It is a bit of an odd tension in the rules, like half of a subsystem with the other half missing.
    In Sorcerer, the GM is explicitly instructed to use the Kicker as the basis of the character's story.

    In D&D, more often than not (in my experience, anyway), that Bond will never show up in play. As I said, I'm fairly confident that in the first three sessions of Critical Role, Bonds, Traits, Flaws, and so forth do not come up a single time, nor is Inspiration ever awarded.

    Maybe we can keep those two discussions separate for now; that would make it a lot easier to follow along.
  • Oh, that's hilarious... you and Sandra said everything I was thinking but two hours earlier and in the other thread I was meaning to read later! I'll head over there if I think of more to say. Thanks for the pointer in the right direction. : )
  • edited April 2018
    So if I understand correctly, in both Sorcerer and the technique Matt Mercer is (possibly?) suggesting, the DM is thinking about the motives of the PC and making up situations to throw at them, but the key distinction is between (1) choosing situations because they will be interesting to explore regardless of the outcome; vs (2) choosing situations in order to lead the player to a certain planned outcome.
    That's what I meant, yeah! A traditional "plot hook" offers an excuse to go into the dungeon of the week or otherwise buy into the prepared "adventure", whereas kickers and bangs are status-quo upsetting events you're supposed to throw at each other with no preconceived expectation whatsoever about what will come of them. I say "nowhere remotely like" since the two groups of techniques are IMO substantially different to the point of being 100% incompatible. That's because they are predicated on entirely different assumptions what the object of the game is (roughly, "playing to find out" vs "experiencing a certain kind of story"); as such, they're employed in substantially different games, with different objects.
  • Thinking about it, to be fair to whatever we want to call this style of D&D play, the "GM Mystery Cult" thing's still pretty common to the indie scene. "Make your move but never speak its name" and all that.
  • @manixur, that hasn't been my experience.

    For instance, "make your move but never speak its name" is in the rulebook, for all to see. Even if you look at the examples in the Apocalypse World book, you'll see the "GM" in the examples talking quite openly about such things (e.g. "no, no, that was just misdirection - I'm making my move now...").

    I don't see any obfuscation happening - it's just like a directive to "speak in-character" to the players, but for the MC; it's telling you how the game is best played. "Don't show the dungeon map to the explorers" would be a similar directive; no one is being misled in any way, it's just the format of play, explained.

    The core of the GM Mystery Cult, in my formulation of the term, is the deliberate misleading or obfuscation of what actually happens at the table. For instance, a GM who always contrives for the PCs to survive, except when it suits him, but claims, if asked, that death is constantly on the table and up to the dice.

    I've never seen that kind of thing in "the indie scene" (I assume you mean "among people who play games designed in a fashion which is based on or heavily influenced by the Forge tradition), at least not as a trend. Is that what you meant?
  • That does rely on everyone actually accessing the rulebook, which isn't always the case - especially for playbook-based games. Maybe I'm interpreting "Mystery Cult" over-broadly? I was reading it as "opacity as a virtue."

    By "indie scene," I meant "indie games, and the people who happen to play them." Indie in the distribution sense, to contrast with the big publishers.

    So, what I mean is that I've seen opaque GMing both encouraged in indie RPG game texts and practiced by people playing those games.
  • edited April 2018
    That does rely on everyone actually accessing the rulebook, which isn't always the case - especially for playbook-based games. Maybe I'm interpreting "Mystery Cult" over-broadly? I was reading it as "opacity as a virtue."
    I don't really agree; The "mystery cult" results in GMs actively lying about what they are doing (See Paul's quote about "Death is totally on the table all the time!" even though it is, in fact, not). I'm not even sure what the parallel would be with "make your move but don't speak its name". It's just not equivalent. What would a AW game be like if the MC said stuff like "Now I'm going to 'buy out someone's allies'"? The AW MC is not being opaque here any more than a player who doesn't use the exact names of his feats when announcing his attack is being 'opaque' and they are certainly not actively obfuscating what is going on the way a GM who lies about how death happens is.

    By "indie scene," I meant "indie games, and the people who happen to play them." Indie in the distribution sense, to contrast with the big publishers.
    This has often been regarded as an un-useful definition, unfortunately. This is probably why Paul was asking you to clarify. GM practice is Lamentations of the Flame Princess is not the same GM Practice in Chuubo's is not the same as GM practice in Apocalypse World. All are "indie" games. All not only suggest but encourage different practices.

    (There's also the fact that using your definition basically leaves you with "D&D and maybe the Fantasy Flight Games" in the 'non-indie' category unless you use a very loose definition of "Big publisher"

    So, what I mean is that I've seen opaque GMing both encouraged in indie RPG game texts and practiced by people playing those games.
    While I don't want to doubt you, right now based on your singular example, I'm not sure we agree on the definition of "opaque GMing" -- maybe you have some other examples to share? From texts especially would be nice.
  • There's a lot to unpack in there. If you're interested in discussing it and willing to provide examples to discuss, would you like to start a new thread?

    I'd say that "opacity is a virtue" goes against the philosophy of design and play for the vast majority (and I'm only saying that in case I'm forgetting something) of games I'd consider "indie" in this sense. (But, of course, if "indie" just means "not written by a big publisher", then there's always stuff like Metascape II!)
  • Off the top of my head, hasn't Vincent Baker said that the point of Murderous Ghosts is pretty much a bait-and-switch? It's an extreme example, maybe; just the first thing that comes to mind.

    My understanding of "Mystery Cult" was based on this...
    My main issue with this whole topic is that... well, it hews to an old tradition in the RPG world, which elevates to "art of GMing" and then produces a variety of (often good) advice which omits the most key elements necessary for successful and high-quality play. I sometimes call it the Mystery GM Cult. GMs (and other authorities) pretend to hand out helpful advice, while leaving many of the most important underlying techniques, principles, and ideas unspoken. I don't even think it's conscious; it's a cultural thing, a way of talking about gaming.
    ... but applying it to GM-player interactions rather than GM-GM interactions. I don't really see how deliberate falsehood is a requirement here.

    Regardless, I'm not looking for a whole thread on this topic. I was just proposing that the divergence between players' understanding of what's happening in RPGs and GMs' understanding of what's happening in RPGs isn't necessarily specific to 5e or internet-show play, which I didn't expect to be controversial.
  • Personally, I find that to be an immensely complex and controversial topic (and I'm not even totally sure I understand what you're saying just yet!). I'd happily discuss it elsewhere, but let's keep it out of this thread, please.
  • Y'all seem to have a little bit of a terminological issue here. Paul used the term "GM mystery cult", which is old, old theory jargon (I think from the Forge originally, or maybe I just encountered it there first). It's original meaning doesn't refer to anything that anybody does at the game table, but rather it's a description of the social attitudes and ideas that people attach to being a GM - it is essentially a snide name for the idea that being the GM is somehow special and elevated above the ordinary peons, the players.

    It's a "mystery" cult specifically because the traditional gaming culture does not encourage player understanding of game rules and GMing processes. You're not expected to become a GM by playing, for example, so it's not even a case of learning by doing; rather, you have to be initiated, or self-initiate, into the "mysteries". Those mysteries might include stuff like planning plots and fudging dice, yes, but that's not the core observation captured by the "mystery cult" as a term. The core is that GMing is treated as a priesthood with asymmetrical lore that the other players do not partake in. That's how GMing is a mystery cult (in certain types of gaming culture).

    As you can see, all that doesn't technically speaking relate at all to the techniques actually used to play - it's just commentary on how players are infantilized by a culture that expects only the GM to know the rules and use the rules and care about the rules (or not care, as the case may be). It's a matter of social power relations first of all, not of this or that technique of play. If Apocalypse World encourages Mystery Cult culture, then it does that by elevating the GM as a special caste above the other players, and not by telling this or that player to talk in certain way or keep certain things secret from the other players.

    So that's what I understood Paul to be talking about when he complains about the Critical Role GMing advice - that it smacks of mystery cultism. I don't know if that's what it is (still haven't watched this stuff), but it wouldn't surprise me, as mystery cultism is really common in the D&D culture.
  • I thought I had coined the term "GM Mystery Cult" (at least in my own use), and a Google search confirms that's likely (it seems to show mainly in my posts on Story Games).

    However, I'm sure I'm not the first person to have used a term to refer to the idea that Eero outlines very nicely here, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if a very similar term wasn't in use years earlier (for instance, at the Forge).

    I agree with Eero's description here, fully, if that helps.

    Here's a quote from an earlier discussion we had about this, for example, for illustration:
    Really? You don't look back on your adolescent gaming period with a certain mixture of fondness and also chagrin? We had a ton of fun, but we were younger and stupider and less wise. Hell, I "suspended" one of my players for a month because he secretly went out and bought the DMG. One of the other players ratted him out and we had a big confrontation in his attic bedroom, where I forced him to get it out (the other player had told me where he kept it hidden). Talk about Cult of the Mystery GM! I think he still harbours a bit of resentment about that today.
  • Sorry, I thought that I'd heard it before. It's very much "on-message" for the old Forge, so maybe that's why I've been thinking that it's old jargon [grin]. I've certainly understood what you mean by it without ever having to think about it.
  • (That was my hope when I used it! It seems to makes sense to a lot of people...) :)
  • Ah, this makes more sense now, having hunted around for some of the older threads. I wasn't picking up on how central the performance of GM authority is to the "mystery cult" concept.
  • Matt Mercer basically lays out his entire philosophy of GMing, including thoughts on railroading, guiding players back to the story, and so on. His motivations seem to be wanting to tell a good story, feeling that the players have entrusted him to do so, and fear of being caught off-guard.
  • ...and fear of being caught off-guard.
    As interesting as this discussion has been, this whole thread comes down to this point, for me. And then I have to ask. Why is this a fear? I know that Matt and his players are doing this in front of a camera--I get why this might be a fear for them specifically, but I mean in the general sense, for the other GMs out there. Why is this a fear at all?

    I know... different play styles, traditions, and all. We've talked about this here at Story Games often (and probably will continue), but this fear... Maybe it's just the old wargamer in me, but this fear, it just doesn't track with me. I don't get it. Why is opening a book to check a rule, or find a random table, OR having to reacting in some other way to something the players `unexpectedly' do cause for fear? It's a game we're talking about, not a stage play, right?

  • I've obviously missed something important (and I'm not even being a little bit facetious about this).
  • Social pressure via myth of a norm ? Like everybody believes everybody else's house is so tidy, and therefore feels it very important to have a very tidy house when they have visit, giving in turn the impression that (...) Looping endlessly. Whereas messy is normal.

    It has been said all human beings do is stageplay. The presence of a camera makes it objectively so.
  • I'm currently running the Mistborn Adventure Game with four players who aren't really a part of what you might think of as the tabletop subculture (is there a better, common term?). The system is pretty crunchy in some regards, and the rules are laid out in a massive book that is ... I would say less-than-ideally organized. There's definitely a tension between the fact that (a) they understand we're all new to the system and that I'll have to look stuff up sometimes, and (b) my role as the Narrator means that when I stop, the whole game stops.

    I think maybe that's an important part of GM anxiety -- the traditional role of a GM makes them the limiting factor in the flow of play. Even though my players are patient (and are going to try running the game to get a feel for it!), they still have to sit there and wait if I don't know a rule. Staring at me. Just. You know. Flipping through a book. *shudders*
  • I'm currently running the Mistborn Adventure Game with four players who aren't really a part of what you might think of as the tabletop subculture (is there a better, common term?). The system is pretty crunchy in some regards, and the rules are laid out in a massive book that is ... I would say less-than-ideally organized. There's definitely a tension between the fact that (a) they understand we're all new to the system and that I'll have to look stuff up sometimes, and (b) my role as the Narrator means that when I stop, the whole game stops.

    I think maybe that's an important part of GM anxiety -- the traditional role of a GM makes them the limiting factor in the flow of play. Even though my players are patient (and are going to try running the game to get a feel for it!), they still have to sit there and wait if I don't know a rule. Staring at me. Just. You know. Flipping through a book. *shudders*
    But is this even the fear here? Mercer is running D&D5, for heaven's sake, if in doubt, just call for an ability check and give advantage/disadvantage as appropriate. If you can't manage to fake it when you don't know a rule in D&D, you're a terrible GM who shouldn't be on camera (heh.) I suspect that the fear under discussion is rather that of being unprepared to "keep the story good".
  • Yes, Matt wants to ensure that the story is amazing, so if the players take things "off the rails" he needs to eventually steer things back on course. All of his language surrounding his techniques use terms about rails, the path, the story, and so on. He fears that the players will go crazy, do crazy things in the game, and "burn it all down," leaving him unprepared with plot stuff to feed them, because none of his prep works anymore.
  • Well, interesting. That was exactly my hunch. Very "old fashioned" approach to gaming culture; it's weird for me to see it popularized again without (apparently) any critical thought.
  • To play devil's advocate here: Are his players enjoying themselves? Why does it need any critical thought?
  • edited April 2018
    Here's a vaccination booster dose for critical thought :wink: Be seeing you citizen!
    "Au-dessus de ceux la s'élève un pouvoir immense et tutélaire (...) que ne peut-il leur enlever entièrement le trouble de penser et la peine de vivre ?" De la démocracie en Amérique, Alexis de Tocqueville

    "Above those men arises an immense and tutelary power (...) why doesn't it remove entirely from them the trouble of thinking and the difficulty of living?"
  • edited April 2018
    There's an interesting bit here at 1:33 from Adam Koebel on how playing for the stream/youtube audience specifically rewards this kind of game-frame (especially given his position as counterpoint to mercer's style in this discussion, even back on page one), in part 2 of rollplaly's D&D roundtable discussion thing.

  • To play devil's advocate here: Are his players enjoying themselves? Why does it need any critical thought?
    Again, I have no beef with Critical Role. It's an awesome show and I really enjoyed the sessions I watched.

    My hunch is that people trying to learn from and imitate Critical Role, in combination with the advice videos the same sources are putting out (Mercer's are pretty good in comparison to some of the ones which come after) are going to learn all the wrong lessons. There's some evidence for that in this thread (like people complaining about Critical Role fans at the game clubs), but other than that it's just a hunch, based on the not-terribly-fun experiences a lot of people got out of that same advice 20-25 years ago. (The reason, of course, is that the methods aren't transparent; so long as some GM Mystery Cult attitudes remain, there end up being, consciously or not, elements of misdirection in the transmission of the process of play.)

    It also suggests to me that the people involved aren't aware of the more modern understanding of roleplaying we have in the 21st century. I don't think it would be hard to question time-honoured assumptions as people have done, to give listeners and fans more tools and better tools. (For instance, it's not rocket science to explain that games do not need to feature the possibility of random character death by default; that alternatives exist. The idea that the game rules must always model the possibility of random lethal outcomes was an unexamined assumption in roleplaying for many long years, and I much prefer the modern understanding where we are allowed to question that assumption and thereby choose appropriately to suit the game we want to play at the table.)

    @adamwb,

    Thanks for sharing that. I haven't seen the whole discussion, but I listened to the bit you mention, with Koebel and Mercer. It ties in nicely with my point, above, I think: in this entertainment format, random character death is not desirable to audiences. Without managing that somehow in the rules, that creates a bit of a dilemma for people playing D&D online. (Of course, perhaps they address it in more depth later? I didn't get too far.)

  • edited May 2018
    I don't really think filmed D&D sessions with actors prove us much about players' enjoyment. It may just as well be a performance for watchers hungry for author/GM wish-fulfillment. But I'm pretty anti-GM in general, and this colors my views.
  • edited May 2018
    Matt Mercer basically lays out his entire philosophy of GMing, including thoughts on railroading, guiding players back to the story, and so on. His motivations seem to be wanting to tell a good story, feeling that the players have entrusted him to do so, and fear of being caught off-guard.
    I believe what he means by "story" here is not pre-script but instead his word for "whatever happens in the game". A confusing and bad word for it, but once I got over that that's what he calls it, I can hear him a lot more charitably.

    Listening to what you timestamped right there with that in mind and you'll see that he is on our side. He says to not fear being caught off guard. He says that whatever story the players create at the table is "so much more magical and memorable".
    That it's a back of forth tennis-like game of listening

    Then Satine uses the word "story" to mean background-story, world-building and even story-scripting (another friend of hers talking about the hero myth). So they were talking past each other a little bit. And they go down an iffy rabbit hole of some sorta compromise between sandboxing and "guiding them towards a light".

    Matt says if the players go somewhere unexpected, to go along with them "follow that thread and see where it takes you" by knowing your world and that that's where the real magic of the game is.

    I have a vague memory of, and this might be wrong, Adam once saying that when they made Dungeon World they deliberately avoided the word "story". A wise call on their part I think.

    I like these GMs a lot. Sure, they make some calls that I disagree with from time to time. (The "soft moves" from the assassin in Swan Song I had a hard time with, it removed a lot of the edge from that game.) But they aren't about preparing outcome. They do setup and then let the players take it from there.

    I think some of Satine's guests are super wrong and I had to stop watching her version of DM tips. That doesn't mean that she herself is a bad DM.
  • edited May 2018
    I think he actually says the opposite of your summary, Adam, in that clip you timestamped.
  • Oh. I'll have to go back and watch it again.


  • I think some of Satine's guests are super wrong and I had to stop watching her version of DM tips. That doesn't mean that she herself is a bad DM.
    Yes, this.

    Much of my reactions in this thread are to the advice and attitudes evidenced in those videos.

  • But as Eero pointed out in the other thread, this GM-ing style is understandable given the historical context.

    Also, my expectations were a bit high — I was sad that there was gonna be no more Matt episodes and then I found out that Satine was taking over and I thought “That’s gonna be awesome, it’s going to be OSR techniques explained for the masses”. I really wanted to hear her talk about her own method of DMing.

    I don’t know why show then had this format of guests – some with advice that is applicable to my goal as DM, many with advice that are counterproductive.

    This is also tied into our collective neurosis that the 90:s style of DM:ing is some sort of memetic poison that will compromise and ruin gaming if it seeps into the minds of too many watchers. And if we’re ever going to have productive conversation I need to let go of that fear.

    It’s actually been frustrating – I’ve been itching to play some 5e (After reading Xanathar’s & the PHB there are so many characters I want to make) under a DM using my own style but it’s hard to find someone I trust enough to do that. I could maaybe find some B/X clone group. But also I’m not the most popular player or best people person. #emo2097

    Even within this idiom – almost every OSR DM does things that other DMs view as compromise and even taboo. It’s just that everyone has selected their own compromises. (I know I’ve sometimes felt the wish to be able to write some sorta “Dogme breach confession” list. Most notably the way I timed the starting event of Deep Carbon Observatory within a larger sandbox – don’t worry, this incident has also been something I’ve discussed with my own group.)

    And outside of that set of principles, once you bring in the whole “curate drama / arc / pacing” mindset, well, then of course I’m going to be dissatisfied. But I just don’t have to watch.

    I’d say the root of all “sin” of some of the 90:s style GM advice – in storyteller’s guides, DMG:s, magazines, among friends and on shows like this – is less that they want to teach/cause people to introduce incoherence. They want to make people who already do it feel good about it.

    Like, take the 5e DMG. Page after page on how to make a hexcrawl, how to roll up random NPCs, random inns, random dungeons, how to create location based adventures etc etc. And still there’s that paragraph allowing fudging on page 235 – sepecially “don’t let on that you’re doing it”. My own experience is that my game became better once I stopped fudging and of course it’s frustrating to see the contrary position taken.

    It’s just the oft lamented truth that 5e is “all things to all people”. I saw a player on some other site – maybe EN World? – complain that it was so hard to find a group that wanted to play the way that player wanted to (and their wish was opposite of mine which made it extra interesting, that people who want to play in that style also feel that frustration). This old Penny Arcade strip, “The Way Forward” (Fourth Panel here – NSFW/TW/CW, the Penny Arcade guys) becomes funny in hindsight because they did it. They pulled it off. It’s true that 5e makes it hard to find a group that by “D&D” means the same things you mean. But it’s also true that 5e makes it easy to find game material – modules, monsters, mechanics – that work. We just have to be more judicious about the play culture part of things.

    It’s also the case that… you’re never really happy with someone else’s style. I’m watching Adam’s (Koebel, not Dray) run of Tomb of Annihilation and I’m still on the early episodes (I think I’m on episode 6 now) and tiny things like “oh, he’s not using the fishing rule from the DMG, they’re catching way less fish than he would if he were using that rule” and “where are they getting water, do they have enough rain catchers?” are popping up in my mind all the time. I mean in the end, I need to realize that

    1. those rules are modular/optional
    2. he is using rules, he’s just using other rules – and he’s been clear enough to the players what rules are in play
    3. his group has problems finding enough food, mine hasn’t. his group has an easy time with water, mine hasn’t. but the pressure is similar

    Similarly someone could look at my game and say “wtf why aren’t you using weapon speed factors?” or “why did you adapt the simplified travel pace rules from ToA?”

    As I told a player “You might wonder why I am the DM since I’m such a bad DM” and he was like immediately “Yes! I’ve wondered that a lot!” and I answered “While I’m not the best DM in the group I’m the person who is most picky about DM:ing, who is the hardest to please about DM:ing”.

    Maybe that’s true for many DM:s? And that’s why DM advice upsets us.♥

    That’s not Satine’s or even the production company’s fault.

    It feels like we’re blaming them for the 90:s happening.

    D&D is more popular than ever? Or at least it’s very popular. And there are many new players. And I read the other day but couldn’t find a source that 40% of players are women now! And there is D&D on TV now, more than anyone has time to watch. And that’s amazing!

    Whatever is going on seems to be working!

    And it’s even a downhill battle for us who want it “done right”. I believe the problem with the 90:s style for me was lack of information. Sandbox without the OSR-tools seemed completely overwhelming, impro without the SG tools was dissatisfying, railroading without participationism was frustrating. Now these tools are widely available. We can reach&teach people how to run LMoP or Keep on the Borderlands (which was just rereleased for 5e) in an awesome way. Hell, just link someone to Clint’s Damn Good D&D, give them the 5e Starter Set and let them go to town! The town of Phandalin♥

  • ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
  • I love you Adam Dray for writing thirty-one hearts
  • The last few months I've started seeing people all over the net using hearts in their writing like I've done for years
    that's a good development
    I kind of lose my unique voice but... there's more love so that's good
  • We're not blaming them for the 90s happening.

    We are blaming them for not learning from that.
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