What data-structure does your game operate on?

There are two different ways to design these kinds of games and rules.

You can have the relevant central data-structure to be the set of diegetical entities that have been shared by at least two participants. (I.e. the Forge definition of the SIS.) You create rules that inject entities into that set, alter entities in that set, or remove entities from that set. AW is set up that way. This leads to rules such as

Whenever there’s a pause in the conversation and everyone looks to you to say something, choose one of these things and say it.

All well and good as long as you only need to make rules that directly operate on that particular set.

However, when you want to regulate things that are more… offscreen… this design architecture starts to show its limitations. Your rules become indirect and multi-level. Threats in AW have their own list of moves operating directly on that primary data-structure and setting them up means creating new operands on that primary data-structure.

As a concrete example, here’s AW2e on page 118 creating a new operand on the primary data-structure:

When you go into Dremmer’s territory, roll+sharp. On a 10+, you can spot and avoid ambush. On a 7–9, you spot the ambush in time to prepare or flee. On a miss, you blunder into it.

Instead of creating a territory and an ambush team and injecting it into an offscreen canon set of diegetical entities, in AW you set up & prepare & canonize a new rule that operates on the onscreen uttered set of diegetical entities, the SIS.

The threat map is a way to create and organize such rules; rules that are direct operands on the primary data-structure. The secondary data-structure in AW is the list of such rules. This includes the agenda, principles, moves for both MC and players, and also the custom moves created & organized by the MC during prep. And by “created”, some are just selected from pp 107–115 and then injected into the secondary data-structure.

I don’t mean to be picking on AW. It’s a very disciplined design, much more so than many PbtA games, which makes it an excellent and very clear example for the point I’m making. I hope you see what I mean that almost every rule in AW is a direct operand on the primary data-structure, and the secondary data-structure is the list of such currently applicable rules.

In our model (blorb), we want to have rules that operate directly on the (much larger) data-structure of “the set of diegetical entities that are considered canon for this campaign” so that’s why we make that our primary data-structure instead.

An example of operating on that data structure would be
2097 said:

In Dremmer’s territory there are three Scouts (Monster Manual p 349).

(For those that are unfamiliar with D&D: they have stealth +6 and multiattack with longbow. They love hiding and shooting.)

This fact can be added to the set of canon entities directly and straightforwardly (moderated by rules such as “no Paper after seeing Rock” and “separate prepping from running”).

Comments

  • But just putting three Scouts in Dremmer's territory is not equivalent to the AW move, is it? Unless the conditions under which you potentially encounter them is specified in their monster description or alternately the wandering monster table for Dremmer's territory. Is that your point?
  • edited June 7
    I’m not looking for the exact equivalent but I’m saying that in AW, the rules operate on its primary data structure (utterances made at the table), and a new rule, the Dremmer ambush, is created and inserted into the REPL; into the secondary datastructure (the list of rules: agenda, principles, moves) while in 2097e, there are rules that operate on its primary data structure, the prep. Those rules can be engaged to directly insert the trio of Scouts into the map key.

    I am interested in games with rules on that level. Town creation in Dogs in the Vineyard, sector creation in SWN, dungeon stocking in Moldvay…

    I believe this is fertile design space. To solve the “chasm width”–problem

    In both AW and 2097e the result is that if you go into Dremmer’s territory, you is gonna have to roll +sharp vs 10 (or +Wisdom vs 16) or you is gonna get shot.

    (Not that hey, just as for walking in there you need to roll +sharp/+Wisdom or get shot is great or agential game design in either game compared to a “setup+what-do-you-do?” loop.)

  • In fact, the un-equivalence is the point that demonstrate that rules in AW operate on a completely different data structure than the rules governing prep in 2097e.
  • Yeah, I agree there is a fundamental difference between those approaches.

    AW is generally much more self-aware (about the nature of roleplaying) than old school D&D. The rules are expressed in a different format (which is actually what Vincent considers to be the root of the “PbtA” game design structure, I believe).

    (Although they both have a mix of rules which affect different layers or different forms of communication - neither is pure. And I like to use a fair bit of “concrete” prep when I play AW; it adds to the game, in my opinion, rather than detracting from it, in most cases.)
  • edited June 8
    Paul_T said:

    AW is generally much more self-aware (about the nature of roleplaying) than old school D&D.

    These sort of disparaging comments don't belong in this thread. I moved the answer here.

    For the purps of this thread, it's just two different approaches and there's a lot of untapped design space around moderating insertion of diegetic elements into the "D&D-style" data structure.

    Edit: For example, a good question for this thread is: how can we make it more relevant to protagonized PCs (with challenges, and NPC relationships, more relevant to them) without violating "No Paper after seeing Rock" principle [or finding a different rule if "paper→rock" principle can't handle it]?
  • edited June 8
    Oh, dear. That was me agreeing with you, not trying to be disparaging.

    AW has a lot more rules that are “self-aware” in the sense that they concern the conversation at the table directly: for example, it handles IIEE much more explicitly than D&D does.

    I think that’s fairly clear; it’s not a value judgement, but a description of how the rules are written (especially the Principles and Moves). It references the real world space and real world interactions a lot more, in other words.

    I wanted to clarify that this is not in any way better or worse; for some people, what I’m calling a “self-aware” approach ruins the roleplaying. The “spicy dice” Middle Earth game might be seen as being at the other end of this spectrum, for example.
  • edited June 8
    Paul_T said:

    AW has a lot more rules that are “self-aware” in the sense that they concern the conversation at the table directly

    That's not being self-aware, that's being conversation-aware. A self-aware ruleset is more like Nomic and similar games.

    Many roleplaying games have a Nomic component; 2097e also rules that make me create other rules, for example how when finding moss became salient it got promoted from wallpaper to a tier 2 truth rule by making moss-foraging rules. (The wallpaper saliency principle is an example of a rule that tells you when you need to go make new rules.)

    A similar Nomic component in AW2e is the rule on p 118 that tells you to go make custom moves.
    Paul_T said:

    It references the real world space and real world interactions a lot more, in other words.

    Extra-diegetical… yeah. I agree.
  • 2097 said:


    Edit: For example, a good question for this thread is: how can we make it more relevant to protagonized PCs (with challenges, and NPC relationships, more relevant to them) without violating "No Paper after seeing Rock" principle [or finding a different rule if "paper→rock" principle can't handle it]?

    This is an excellent question, and a challenging one.

    I wrote a breakdown of various types of rules for morale somewhere in an older thread that might be applicable to some social situations. I’ll try to dig it up!

    I know a handful of people in the OSR blogosphere who are working on or have published “blorby” rules for social interaction. Unfortunately, I can’t find the link right now. I’ll have to search for that later on, too, but it will take me a couple of days.

    You might try applying the petitioner/granter technique and prepping a few petition and grants the NPC is prepared for or likely/unlikely to grant, as well as topics or points of leverage that are relevant to the NPC. That could help form a framework.

    My general advice to people GMing in this style is to form an understanding of “how something works”. For instance, it’s tempting for new GMs to design traps by saying, “ok! Here’s a dangerous trap: if you do this it kills you, and by doing THAT you can disarm it.” I find that often limits the GM when it comes to adjudicating anything other than those two approaches.

    So, instead, I advise them to develop a basic understanding of how the trap functions, without committing to particular solutions.

    Something similar for NPCs might work. Framing it the right way might be tricky, of course!

    I have not seen a really robust system for this yet (with the possible exception of that OSR fellow’s system) so developing one could be a really cool thing to do.
  • Paul_T said:

    You might try applying the petitioner/granter technique and prepping a few petition and grants the NPC is prepared for or likely/unlikely to grant, as well as topics or points of leverage that are relevant to the NPC. That could help form a framework.

    Yes, I do this a lot. (@Aviatrix helped me with come up with that technique.)

    What I was also fishing for though was rules for when/how we are allowed to inject custom created NPCs or other belief-challenging entities; it runs afoul of Paper→Rock so either we find a way to do it without breaking Paper→Rock or we find a rule that replaces Paper→Rock but is as satisfying.

  • A question to consider:

    How is “injecting a custom created NPC” different from “prepping a custom created trap/monster”?

    What principles govern your prep?

    Can we retrofit techniques from one to the other?

    Perhaps understanding how you decide what to prep and how can give a deeper understanding of the game’s structure and the role of the GM and the prep in it.

    That could be the next concept to “unlock” in your formulation of this style of play.
  • Some ideas.

    1. Burning wheel circles combines two things: The question of whether the NPC exists and whether they are found. In any traditional roleplaying game one can do the following: Consider the probability that such an NPC exists. GM rolls for it, if it is strictly between 0 and 1. If the roll misses by a little bit, the GM should take the strictest or the couple of strictest qualities into account and assume that an NPC with those is not found, but the others are there, or roll for which qualities are not present.
    Then the players get to roll to find the NPC using some social skill, etiquette, streetwise, charisma, ad hoc probability, etc. On success they find the NPC if they exist, and find the close equivalent the GM determined otherwise and know that whoever they are looking for does not exist. On failure, they do not find them, or maybe there is a breach of etiquette required to meet them, or the circumstances are awful, etc. This can be done in as principled a way as the GM usually does things.

    2. When a new character is created, consider all of their characteristics. Add an NPC related to each. Distribute them randomly on the map (or proportional to population in cities or whatever), or as randomly as the nature of the NPC allows. Maybe make the NPCs as randomly as possible, given that they must be related to the characteristic.

    3. Add a random encounter to the general tables: An NPC related to random characteristic of a random player character.

    4. Whenever introducing an NPC that is not carefully defined in terms of personality etc., roll against a fixed probability for their personality to be relevant to the characteristics of some player character.

    5. When prepping between sessions of updating the game world, roll a random characteristic from a random player character or from every one and add a related NPC close to where the characters are or to a random location.

    ---

    Rolling a random NPC related to a characteristic: A characteristic can be about a living person (or undead, or whatever animate), a group of people, or something else.
    Examples of groups: Orcs killed my family and I hate them, the church is the source of all that is good and worthy, I am allergic to cats and fear and avoid them.
    Examples of things: I am the rightful heir to the throne, nobody else must learn about the entry into Dwimmermount, always be kind, I love listening to harp music, Serafina Caldwell is suspicious and up to no good.

    If it is about a particular person, then they should be somewhere in the game world and also on the corresponding encounter and rumour tables, and the characteristic goes back to about being about something else.
    If the characteristic is about a group, than relevant NPC is a member of that group or has opinions about or ties to it. Roll one of the options.
    If the characteristic is about something else, than a relevant NPC is one who has opinions or ties, as above. Come up with a bunch of likely ones and roll a die to choose one. Maybe roll a die to determine if their opinion is positive, negative, or oblique.

    After this use your default method of generating random NPCs.

    ---

    The justification for creating precisely these NPCs is that there are lots of NPCs who have opinions about lots of things, but we are unlikely to pay attention to them unless they become relevant in play. Given a characteristic a player character has, NPCs related to that are more salient and less wallpapery. Therefore we should be more careful in determining who they are and what they do.

    In practice this also increases the chances of meeting them - the shopkeeper you meet might very well have a cat, but that might go unnoticed and undetermined unless it is relevant (someone fears, loves or is allergic to them), in which case there should be some mechanism of making sure a sufficient number of cat owners are present in the setting.

    It is too cumbersome to determine the relevancy of every NPC (given, say, at least four to five characters with four to five characteristics, so 20+ things to check; or make a digital generator with Abulafia or such), so maybe it is better to generate relevant NPCs a few at a time between sessions, or after character generation, etc.

    Or maybe give, say, 1/6 chance that any NPC met is relevant to a random characteristic of someone, and then further 1/6 chance that it is relevant to another random characteristic, too, etc. until the roll fails. Roll for any NPC people interact, any NPC with a name, and any NPC in a charged situation. If there is a larger number of NPCs, assume 1/6 has a relevant characteristic and roll which those are.

    ---

    The same method (whichever one chooses) could be used for distinguishing features of characters themselves - a reputation, an exotic species, a race with a particular social status, holy powers or magic where those are noteworthy or rare, a strange pet/familiar/robot servant, ioun stones flying around one's head, and so on.

    ---

    I do not currently use any of the techniques mentioned above, so they are highly speculative.
  • Paul_T said:

    How is “injecting a custom created NPC” different from “prepping a custom created trap/monster”?

    They are the same in this regard. An entity that is custom built to protagonize the PC.
    Paul_T said:

    What principles govern your prep?

    Relevant to this issue is the “No Paper after seeing Rock” principle.

  • Re BW Circles, that’s less of a problem (we use the rules from ACKS & from XGE to fill that gap), what I’m fishing for here is more akin to the Adventure Burnerish “GM create things that challenge beliefs”.

    Now, I don’t want to specifically just challenge beliefs, but just… be relevant to characterics such as TSoY Keys and 5e TIBFs.
    Thanuir said:

    Add a random encounter to the general tables: An NPC related to random characteristic of a random player character.

    This is what I do but it feels like I breaking the Paper→Rock principle? But I am doing it only between sessions, and I am putting it on the encounter tables rather than forcing an encounter, and I (and maybe this last one can change if I find a more nuanced principle than Paper→Rock) am doing it in explicit consultation with the player.
    Thanuir said:

    Whenever introducing an NPC that is not carefully defined in terms of personality etc., roll against a fixed probability for their personality to be relevant to the characteristics of some player character.

    That’s an awesome idea!
    Thanuir said:

    When prepping between sessions of updating the game world, roll a random characteristic from a random player character or from every one and add a related NPC close to where the characters are or to a random location.

    You know, the fact that this is so regimented makes it feel way less “unblorby” if that makes sense? The fact that it’s so disciplined.
    Thanuir said:

    If it is about a particular person, then they should be somewhere in the game world and also on the corresponding encounter and rumour tables, and the characteristic goes back to about being about something else.
    If the characteristic is about a group, than relevant NPC is a member of that group or has opinions about or ties to it. Roll one of the options.
    If the characteristic is about something else, than a relevant NPC is one who has opinions or ties, as above. Come up with a bunch of likely ones and roll a die to choose one. Maybe roll a die to determine if their opinion is positive, negative, or oblique.

    This is awesome!
    Thanuir said:

    The justification for creating precisely these NPCs is that there are lots of NPCs who have opinions about lots of things, but we are unlikely to pay attention to them unless they become relevant in play. Given a characteristic a player character has, NPCs related to that are more salient and less wallpapery. Therefore we should be more careful in determining who they are and what they do.

    Yes, you put the nail on the head here.

    @Thanuir, this is revolutionary (not just the stuff I quoted, I elided some of the detail in your post because I was just nodding along with a big old grin on face) and I’m very grateful. Seems like this was a ginormously valuable payoff from the flamewar research seminar we’ve been having here on S-G these last few weeks.

    This means that I definitely have homework now, putting the bow on these mechanics; it’s almost table-usable as it is. Got a name for this system, Thanuir?

    Just as how my fighting systems Oh, Injury! and Introducing Late Night Fighting (I use both systems, they operate on different layers of the fight) have awesome names.

    Again, BIG THANK YOU! ♥
  • Thanuir declared winner of flamewar research seminar!
  • We just need to identify exactly what principle is at work that allows this. It's something new alongside wallpaper saliency and the three tiers and the paper→rock.
  • 2097 said:


    @Thanuir, this is revolutionary (not just the stuff I quoted, I elided some of the detail in your post because I was just nodding along with a big old grin on face) and I’m very grateful. Seems like this was a ginormously valuable payoff from the flamewar research seminar we’ve been having here on S-G these last few weeks.

    This means that I definitely have homework now, putting the bow on these mechanics; it’s almost table-usable as it is. Got a name for this system, Thanuir?

    I hope they are useful; if so, you are welcome to name them. I'll be happy to read about them on your blog, here or elsewhere when you finalize something.

    Note that I have not used them; they are just ideas.
  • 2097 said:

    This is what I do but it feels like I breaking the Paper→Rock principle?

    I can sort of infer from the name and the context, but what is Paper→Rock principle, exactly?
  • The “No Paper after seeing Rock” principle means “Don’t make decisions about the game world after seeing the characters”.

    It’s a way to solve the “chasm width”–problem.
  • 2097 said:

    Paul_T said:

    How is “injecting a custom created NPC” different from “prepping a custom created trap/monster”?

    They are the same in this regard. An entity that is custom built to protagonize the PC.
    Paul_T said:

    What principles govern your prep?

    Relevant to this issue is the “No Paper after seeing Rock” principle.

    I think you may have misunderstood the spirit in which I was asking these questions. I wasn't asking you to give me your answers... I was suggesting that really digging into them in depth (as Thanuir started to do here with NPCs and Beliefs et al.) can help us generate tools and principles.

    For instance, if you can figure out the logic which determines when and how traps are "injected" into your "game state", you might then be able to use those same principles to create rules and procedures for creating NPCs (who might, on a conceptual level, operate as traps, doors, monsters, or treasure analogues).

    For instance, perhaps Jim the Barkeep is a combination of a Trap (his wife is a spy for the Enemy, so anything you tell him will likely quickly make it into enemy hands!) and a Treasure (he knows some important secrets), but his boss is a Monster. That kind of thing.

    Like I said, exactly as Thanuir started to do here.
  • After writing the rest of this post, I realized that you might’ve misunderstood what I meant by “custom”; I meant “custom to the PCs”. Am I right that that was an unclear point? It was in the context of how some peeps, I think @Deliverator , were saying BW’s unblorby elements were absolutely carrying their weight because how it protagonized the PCs; without agreeing I was trying to (and I’m optimistic about Thanuir’s approach to) find a solution that satisfied both constraints: protagonization and blorbiness.

    If you reread your own post with that in mind… am I right about where the snag was, or was it something else?

    I’ll also include what I had originally wrote as an answer:

    Oh! I didn’t understand that the questions were rhetorical, I thought you were asking them in order to get clarity about my thought process and then in the follow up get to the “digging”.
    Paul_T said:

    For instance, if you can figure out the logic which determines when and how traps are “injected” into your “game state”, you might then be able to use those same principles to create rules and procedures for creating NPCs (who might, on a conceptual level, operate as traps, doors, monsters, or treasure analogues).

    In which case my answer, that (according to Paper→Rock) injecting traps can never ever be custom-tailored to a PC but instead needs to be done without any knowledge about the PC, is a relevant answer, isn’t it?

    The problem becomes finding a principle (or set of principles) that is as wholly satifisying as Paper→Rock when it comes to addressing the chasm-width problem.

    After seeing Thanuir’s answer, whether or not his specific angle is going to be the basis of the new approach (it might be), I’m realizing that the core idea is disclaiming decision making, which his method seemingly does, and maybe does thoroughly enough.

    (These tables still are going to have to be created between sessions, ideally at character creation time, because of the “two hats”-principle [don’t be a game runner and a game prepper/creator at the same time].)

  • Paul_T said:


    For instance, if you can figure out the logic which determines when and how traps are "injected" into your "game state", you might then be able to use those same principles to create rules and procedures for creating NPCs (who might, on a conceptual level, operate as traps, doors, monsters, or treasure analogues).

    For instance, perhaps Jim the Barkeep is a combination of a Trap (his wife is a spy for the Enemy, so anything you tell him will likely quickly make it into enemy hands!) and a Treasure (he knows some important secrets), but his boss is a Monster. That kind of thing.

    In a dungeon, a trap is a thing that, under certain circumstances, does a typically harmful thing. A monster is something that can think or act somewhat independently. (Then there is green slime, shrieker mushrooms and piercers and nobody knows if they should count as traps or monsters. They are not exact categories.)

    The definition does not say that a trap has to harm the player characters - indeed, they might notice it and use it for benefit, or maybe the trap only affects dwarfs and there are none among the adventurers, etc.

    I think it is well-known at this point that monsters need not be hostile and treasures can be cursed or a double-edged sword, and so forth.

    Thinking of them only in terms of their default functions leads to the kind of "invisible dungeon" school of design (see https://www.d20source.com/post/79192721174/the-invisible-dungeon ), which is useful if you want to build a railroad outside a dungeon or perhaps self-contained balanced encounters players can choose from, but probably not very useful for OSR-style design inside or outside a dungeon.

    ...

    I remember that once upon a time someone had written down a list of different types of bangs, or perhaps a list of ways in which a belief can be challenged, or something to that effect. If one was interested in having GM-independent input that is likely to create character drama, then maybe rolling from that list could work. It would not particularly respect the integrity of the fiction, though, so the GM would be responsible for that.

    ...

    One obvious thing to notice is that different characteristics are likely to come with different frequency in anything resembling a realistic world. Someone breaking gender- or other stereotypes would probably hear about it often (assuming this has been accepted as part of play), while someone who wants to stop an obscure conspiracy would only rarely meet anyone who knows about it or is affected by it.

    One answer might be that if you want drama about the obscure conspiracy, go and make it. It is not like your D&D ranger who hates hippogrifs will have more of those attacking from the skies; you need to take initiative and find them. Why should this be any different for dramatic issues?

    And to this one might answer that an alcoholic is better off not being in situations where drinks are available. But then, so are D&D characters better off when not delving into ancient deathtraps. Still they go into those, due to various justifications of their players, or without any. Revisiting some discussions about turtling might be in order.

    So maybe the characters should be of the type that naturally seek or get involved in dramatic situations? And if they no longer do, then they retire, just like in D&D. The concept of "kicker" in Sorcerer does not seem unrelated.

    I am not going to draw any conclusions.
  • Thanuir said:

    It is not like your D&D ranger who hates hippogrifs will have more of those attacking from the skies

    But in Burning Wheel, that's exactly what is going on. So one question is to what extent this is desirable. The OSR answer might be "none". However:

    Going through your proposed list of qualities and groups, maybe there can be an answer with finer granularity. I.e. maybe "My rival from theatre school" from the player's bonds should have a higher than "one in 7.6 billion people" chance of occurring, and trinkets rolled on the trinket list might possibly have some way of becoming relevant too.
  • (That's all "maybe"s, I'm perfectly happy with the OSR answer over the BW answer.)
  • 2097 said:

    maybe there can be an answer with finer granularity. I.e. maybe "My rival from theatre school" from the player's bonds should have a higher than "one in 7.6 billion people" chance of occurring, and trinkets rolled on the trinket list might possibly have some way of becoming relevant too.

    Yes! I think Eero's take in the thread osr-hexcrawl-sandbox-procedures is spot-on:

    The way I interpret the cosmological status of player characters is that we the players intentionally skew the reality of the setting in favour of having interesting stuff happen to the characters that we take on as our viewpoint characters. This does not always mean "rule of cool" or whatever, but it does mean that time moves faster over boring bits, coincidences that could happen do happen more often that you'd expect, and so on. PCs meet Abraxas all of a 10% of the time when hanging in its territory, where NPC farmers only meet it 0.1% of the time.

    All the rules about regulating e.g. random encounters are as much about allowing the cool stuff to occur (to legitimize that the GM is not just arbitrarily feeding us to Abraxias) as they are about encouraging it to occur; they replace a GM's subjective sense of pacing and drama with an arbitrary system. We often call this a strive towards "realism", but what we actually mean is a sort of enhanced yet arbitrary reality in tension between adventure drama and real concerns.

  • There is some degree of incompability with that attitude and the sort of "They came to the dungeon. The dungeon was there" take on things, the sort of true "mirror story" objectivity that really embodies Paper→Rock.
    So I want to tread carefully here.
  • edited June 10
    2097 said:

    I.e. maybe "My rival from theatre school" from the player's bonds should have a higher than "one in 7.6 billion people" chance of occurring

    That’s quite obviously the case in the real world, so I don’t think modeling that should necessarily compromise the sense that the imagined world is real.
  • 2097 said:

    There is some degree of incompability with that attitude and the sort of "They came to the dungeon. The dungeon was there" take on things, the sort of true "mirror story" objectivity that really embodies Paper→Rock.
    So I want to tread carefully here.

    It seems to me that this entire thread is all about trying to find where you’re going to be comfortable on the spectrum between “total simulation” and “events perfectly suited to the characters/desired gameplay”.

    The problem with this “dilemma”, of course, is that we don’t roleplay everything: we have what you call the saliency and time-zoom principles at work all the time.

    At one end of the spectrum, we have “perfect prep”, where perhaps we name all 7.6 billion people in the world, then decide which one might be the “rival”, and randomize between possible locations to determine as impartially as possible that... the rival lives in Hong Kong now, and works at a record store (how quaint!).

    Then we play, and if the character goes to Hong Kong and visits the record store during work hours, they might have a very high probability of meeting their rival.

    At the other end of the spectrum, we know that the rival is interesting and important, and we have 100% certainty that we will encounter the rival during play, because that’s what we came here to do.

    Eero seems quite comfortable with accepting a middle ground as a compromise between these opposing principles. Where will you find yours?
  • Thanuir said:


    In a dungeon, a trap is a thing that, under certain circumstances, does a typically harmful thing. A monster is something that can think or act somewhat independently.

    I think it is well-known at this point that monsters need not be hostile and treasures can be cursed or a double-edged sword, and so forth

    Yes, these are exactly the kinds of “principles” I was getting at with my questions. Once you’ve established what your prep does, you can find these principles and apply them to less familiar areas.

    For instance, let’s take your definition of a trap is “a thing that, under certain circumstances, does a typically harmful thing.”

    Let’s apply this to my example of Jim the Barkeep:

    Jim’s wife is a spy for the Conspiracy. Jim thinks the Conspiracy is interested in anything to do with magic and historical secrets. Therefore, anytime someone mentions something related to magic or historical secrets at his bar [“under certain circumstances”], Jim relays the information to his wife, who delivers it to the Conspiracy [“a typically harmful thing”].

    This is great, because it determines a mechanism but not what will happen or when. Anyone who figures out how the mechanism works can find ways to use it to their advantage: feeding misleading information to the Conspiracy, for instance, or putting a tracking device on Jim or his wife to find out where the Conspiracy contacts are hiding.

    That’s good stuff.

    More importantly, though - and this is what my question was all about - HOW do you decide when to place a trap in a dungeon? What’s the criteria for that?

    If you can nail that down, you can start to use the same criteria for placing “traps” in other contexts, whether that’s cursed treasure, dangerous people in a relationship map, the distribution of hexes with dangerous encounters on a map, or whatever else.

    For example, maybe your answer is “I never place traps myself, because I know my players too well. I use pre-written modules with traps in them, or I place them randomly, room by room, when that can’t be done.”

    Applying that logic (“someone else places the traps, or i randomize them room by room”) to your urban relationship map might mean “I hand off my relationship map to a friend who knows nothing about the PCs and ask him
    to define which ones are ‘dangerous’” or “I list 1d6 possible ‘traps’ and then use a die roll, checking each person on the relationship map, to see who’s dangerous.”

    It’s a brainstorming tool to develop new techniques for prep. The stronger the principles you start with, the better the results.
  • edited June 10
    2097 said:


    In which case my answer, that (according to Paper→Rock) injecting traps can never ever be custom-tailored to a PC but instead needs to be done without any knowledge about the PC, is a relevant answer, isn’t it?

    I’m realizing that the core idea is disclaiming decision making

    (These tables still are going to have to be created between sessions, ideally at character creation time, because of the “two hats”-principle [don’t be a game runner and a game prepper/creator at the same time].)

    Yes! This is great. Exactly the kind of thing I was pointing at. :)

    I don’t think (until someone shows otherwise, I suppose) that there are right or wrong answers here; just personal taste and trying to fulfill your own goals.

    In a Narrativist context, we don’t want an OSR-like “hands off” approach, because we come to the table to get to the premise-heavy stuff. So we basically mandate for the GM to prep things which interact with the PCs’ Issues.

    It’s analogous to how, in a D&D context, we mandate that prep has to do with things like Porte-monstre-tresor - those are the salient interactive “bits” we come to play out and what D&D’s character generation rules and resolution techniques are all about.

    No amount of porte-monstre-Tresor will get us a satisfying game about how a young person can struggle with the reality of deciding whether to care for an unwanted child.

    No amount of focused, player-authored, Premise-addressing Bangs will give us exciting and impartially adjudicated trap searching, combat, and exploration.

  • Out of interest, would the following mechanics be legit or lame?

    Lets say at character creation, when you choose or roll a value/ethos, they have mechanics attached. Here’s two examples.

    Value/ethos: I’m wrecked by grief from the loss of of my son

    One time when entering a dungeon, the DM will make a dungeon roll as below and populate the dungeon accordingly:

    1: There are undead children, looking for vengeance and rest
    2: There are the ghosts of children at play
    3: The lich lord that owns this place seeks for a way to resurrect his son
    4: nothing

    Value/ethos: I can’t resist a pretty face

    Just before meeting an NPC, if their appearance isn’t otherwise determined roll a d20. On a 20 they have a pretty face.
  • (Good question! My answer to that is immediately above, in my last post, but I’d be curious to hear what other people think.)
  • I'll try to assemble a technology from
    Jim and Jean the bartenders part time occult lore spy

    Try this : every encounter is a trap (/a monster), and a treasure (/resources). Look up prep or roll randomly or both for partial prep. Traps have various possible mechanisms (detection runes, laces, etc.) and ways of dealing harm, etc. Some results will have very little practicality or be innocuous, reducing the trap dimension to nihil. Some traps will yield resources. So many possibilities that I think klokwerk is better suited for computer play.
  • shimrod said:

    That’s quite obviously the case in the real world, so I don’t think modeling that should necessarily compromise the sense that the imagined world is real.

    That’s what I’m hoping, yeah.
    Since the current set of rules I have in place forbid it, I am going to try to make more nuanced rules. Gonna dig into Thanuir’s stuff when I have some peace of mind.
    Paul_T said:

    It seems to me that this entire thread is all about trying to find where you’re going to be comfortable on the spectrum between “total simulation” and “events perfectly suited to the characters/desired gameplay”.[…]Eero seems quite comfortable with accepting a middle ground as a compromise between these opposing principles. Where will you find yours?

    What a weirdly attacking post :bawling: But I’ll de-escalate.

    I think this discussion across many threads have had many purposes and many focuses. The time we spend above the surface, actually designing rules that operate on the on-screen canon, seem to be more and more until we are dragged down under again with some attack like “you should compromise your principles” etc.

    You should know I have kind of a fault when it comes to arguments. I have a brain disease called Dunning-Kruger syndrome which means that “appeal to authority” doesn’t really work on me. Baker does this, Luke does that, Eero does so… well OK. Feet firmly planted on shoulders. Trying to do my thing.

    It’s not about me becoming comfortable with a compromise.
    1. I said we have rules that operate on the off-screen canon
    2. You guys were raking me over the coals saying that Burning Wheel was sooo fantastic because it broke those rules
    3. As a thought experiment, I tried to cook up some rules that are kinda the best of both worlds, if possible. If not possible, gonna stick with the orig rules. Optimistic af at Thanuir’s suggestion though.
    Paul_T said:

    No amount of porte-monstre-Tresor will get us a satisfying game about how a young person can struggle with the reality of deciding whether to care for an unwanted child.

    That has literally been a major theme in my Tomb of Annihilation campaign.

  • I’ll tell ya the story so far.
    Content warning family members in danger
    • Guy rolls up wife and child on life path tables in XGE.
    • Brings them with.
    • Wants to dump kid in city at some sorta hobbit daycare…? because he afraid kid will be in danger.
    • All this which much agony and over many sessions
    • Wife says she and kid won’t part
    • Guy brings along both
    • Months pass
    • Kid killed by living fungi who throw him into a volcano
    • Much sad & crying at the game table
    • Bleed feelings in both directions
    • Wife becomes determined for vengeance
    • Also has affair
    • Later wife’s mistress dies
    • Wife rekindles love after being turned into a goat and husband was turned into octopus
    • And that’s where we’re currently at in the campaign
    It’s hard to summarize 66 sessions without it looking like a joke. But it’s been grim af at points.

  • Paul_T said:


    Yes, these are exactly the kinds of “principles” I was getting at with my questions. Once you’ve established what your prep does, you can find these principles and apply them to less familiar areas.

    For instance, let’s take your definition of a trap is “a thing that, under certain circumstances, does a typically harmful thing.”

    That is not what I do, though. That was an ad hoc definition of what "trap" means in random dungeon generation procedures.

    More importantly, though - and this is what my question was all about - HOW do you decide when to place a trap in a dungeon? What’s the criteria for that?
    Let me look at the two dungeons I have designed.

    A small nest of giant ants has one trap due to neglect, one as an active defensive measure, one an edge case, more of an ambush, and the last one is more of a trick than a trap, but is an explanation for why there are giant ants precisely here.

    I might have placed one of those as a trap (the defensive measure), while the others were "obvious" consequences of the place or its residents, and the trick was a (to me necessary) explanation.

    Another, an abandoned and overgrowing religious fort in a swamp. There is one obstacle, maybe a trap, placed intentionally to make it harder to get around because the place is small (plants that slash or entangle). Everything else is "obvious" consequences of the premise or the history of the place (a statue that animates, flowers with poisonous pollen, green slime, pit traps that are not active at the moment but can probably be activated, mold, trapped chest), or just a dangerous thing that might be there (creature that yells an alarm, creature that is stationary but attacks the curious that was added by someone else commenting on the scenario).

    That is, precisely one object was added due to a structural reason and its role (I needed something to make movement in a man-made structure less convenient to improve it as an adventure), and everything else was added as an "obvious" consequence or requirement to the nature of the place, or by thinking about what dangerous and interesting stuff might be there.

    Treasures likewise: I generally thought about what kind of treasures would fit the concept or follow directly from it.

    For both of these things the primary methodology of adventure design is to think a concept for the place, add whatever makes sense give the concept, and add new complications until satisfied with the density of interesting material. The primary lenses are: What might be dangerous, what might be valuable, what might be strange. (Because it is for a game of exploring dangerous things and trying to get rich, so these are the relevant factors.)

    I do not think up a role like "monster" or "trap" or "treasure" and then start filling them in. Once done I will verify that the place is dangerous and rewarding, but usually only minor adjustments are needed.

    So, at least from my perspective, your idea of thinking about the roles of objects first is completely wrong way around - concept first all the way, I say.

    ---

    If one wanted to use the same method for more drama-based game, then one would first have to specify the generically interesting content, come up with an idea that engages those, write down whatever comes to mind, and then verify that it contains enough of the salient stuff and adjust if necessary.

    The problem with character drama games is that the flags are more character specific. Dogs makes a fair compromise - the town creation is character-agnostic, but then one adds some relationships of the character there (or designates some NPCs as such), if I remember correctly.
  • Here's my take.

    In the diegesis are many, many things. Some will become known to the players and some not. Some will take up table time, screen time, play space, etc and some will not, and that is a spectrum, and it will be a player and DM decision which things in the diegesis are fleshed out and played out and take up real world time to examine.

    That player/DM decision of what to focus real-world time on does not affect the diegesis. But it does affect what a hypothetical third party observer of the real world game might infer about the diegesis.

    We'd like to be faithful to the diegesis and not introduce/create elements which would not have been introduced/created if the PCs had different characteristics. (Unless of course it's coming about because of PC actions. Just avoiding Spooky Action At A Distance here). But we'd also like to spend our real world time efficiently, playing through things which are more interesting rather than less interesting.

    And so. Consider in the diegesis that events A, B, C, D happened to the PCs on the way to the dungeon. Do we play through any of them? Do we stop to examine a summary of each event and then decide? No; instead, we say "here is a list of events which, if they happened, we would deem interesting enough to devote real world time at the table to them; now roll and see if any of A, B, C, D were one of those events, and if so, we'll play through it, and if not, we'll skip to the dungeon".

    That's the aim for NPCs. We'd like to say "here is a list of NPCs which, if they were encountered by the PCs, we would deem interesting enough to devote real world time at the table to them; now roll and see if any of the things the PCs are about to do contain an NPC and further that the NPC is on that list; and if so, we'll play through it (and also we may play through it if the even is interesting for reasons other than the NPC); and if not, we'll skip to [the next interesting-enough event]".

    To me, this puts both parts of Thanuir's ideas on good solid ground. Obviously "when there's an NPC, roll to see if they have any characteristics which are related to PC characteristics" is good. But putting "an interesting NPC" on an encounter table also seems quite justified to me if you do something like:

    1 - 3d6 bats
    2 - farmer (roll to see if related to PC characteristics; if not, use "nothing happens" result instead but you can mention the uninteresting farmer if you like in narration)
    3 - mud
    4 - emperor bat
    5 - pair of angry owls
    6 - nothing happens
  • I am leaning more and more towards a "just do it" solution.

    1. Do the game preparation carefully. Choose interesting characters and situation around the drama you want to play through. Make sure the characters are tied to each other. Use kickers or such if relevant. Since this is set-up phase, there is little need to be blorby.

    1a. If you already have an established game world, select a juicy situation, let players select established non-player characters as their player characters, and add or detail new ones as necessary.

    2. Add relevant people to random encounter tables and for NPCs with little personality check if they are relevant to some flag of a player character.

    3. Run the game as full blorb, even as a full OSR game if you like. Trust the set up. The OSR deal adds a core activity and probably pressure.

    4. Keep a careful eye on player characters and their protagonism and involvement in the situation. If one maneuvers themselves out, treat it as character retirement and turn that characters into an NPC. Make a new character if the situation is still interesting, or pick another established NPC that has gotten involved.

    ...

    The theory behind this is that awareness and creative alignment of players is far more important than the ruleset in use. By keeping a keen eye on the situation, one can notice when some character has maneuvered themselves out of the situation or when the situation is no longer engaging.

    ...

    Another bonus is that this is compatible with challenge-focused OSR play. A typical thing is to play that first and as the characters get established and the world becomes more familiar, pay more and more attention to relationships and goals of the characters. But one could equally well start with a court drama, and after that has been resolved, maybe someone wants to wage a war or go adventuring for a magic item. Or maybe someone finds a ring of creepy mind control and we want to play out how they use it, so we build a drama situation around that and see whether they become a monster or restrain themselves or learn that mind control gives or does not give true and fulfilling social life.

    This would require a group of players with fairly good grasp of different reasons to play roleplaying games, but in that kind of situation, I could see it working nicely.
  • By creating the world the PC perceives GMs really are creating the PC.
  • edited June 10
    For the Just do it -method, some notes:

    1. If the characters spend their time talking and doing other less adventurous stuff, that is fine. This can be done freeform or with traditional roleplaying game of one's choice, or one can painlessly add stake-setting and conflict resolution to there if one wants to. Just be clear about the flags and the methods. This is pretty much what Burning wheel and the Riddle of steel do, with some added mechanical reward systems.

    2. If the characters decide to go adventuring, then they are making a pretty big statement about the risks they are taking. Whatever they are doing, it is worth engaging the merciless OSR adventuring rules.

    2a. If the adventure is trivially easy, zoom out and abstract, as usual.

    2b. If there is drama among the adventuring group, play it out. The risk of death and dismemberment, or someone even dying (do the others help or run; how big risks are we actually going to take for our goal?), are unlikely to remove the drama.

    2c. If there is little dramatic tension among the adventuring group, think of the expedition as an extended resolution system that resolves the risky action they are taking. Just like Fight! in Burning wheel or Bringing down the pain in Shadow of yesterday, but even more extended. Just tell to the players that now we are playing a dungeon crawl to see if they can find the fountain of life; adjust accordingly. Drama continues afterwards. (And there will still be the choices of pushing on or not and which risks to take and how many hirelings are to die.)

    If only some of the characters would go dungeoneering, the other players should make new characters or play hirelings or pets, or something similar. Once the dungeoneering is done, they can continue with the drama-focused cast.
  • Sandra!

    Oh, no!

    You keep reading me in ways I really didn't intend. I'll try to be clearer in the future.
    2097 said:


    Paul_T said:

    It seems to me that this entire thread is all about trying to find where you’re going to be comfortable on the spectrum between “total simulation” and “events perfectly suited to the characters/desired gameplay”.[…]Eero seems quite comfortable with accepting a middle ground as a compromise between these opposing principles. Where will you find yours?

    What a weirdly attacking post :bawling: But I’ll de-escalate.

    I think this discussion across many threads have had many purposes and many focuses. The time we spend above the surface, actually designing rules that operate on the on-screen canon, seem to be more and more until we are dragged down under again with some attack like “you should compromise your principles” etc.
    I wasn't trying to attack in any way; rather, I think this is the challenge before you: to find where along that spectrum you'll be happy. It you want to set your sights on a different part of that spectrum, you should and I encourage you to do so!

    For the record, I think I'd err more to the "klockwerk" end of the spectrum than Eero would, in most respects, so I'm sort of "on your side" in that sense.

    Now, on the other hand, maybe you don't think any compromise needs to be made at all. I think that sounds like a foolish idea (in any game with unlimited choice, it's impossible to prepare all salient details, at least for a human intelligence), but I encourage you to try if you're determined! Maybe you'll come up with something I've never thought of, which is helpful whether you ultimately succeed or fail in the larger goal.
    2097 said:


    You should know I have kind of a fault when it comes to arguments. I have a brain disease called Dunning-Kruger syndrome which means that “appeal to authority” doesn’t really work on me. Baker does this, Luke does that, Eero does so… well OK. Feet firmly planted on shoulders. Trying to do my thing.

    Haha! You always make me laugh.

    I share this "syndrome" with you, by the way. I couldn't give any less of a damn about how revered or famous or old or well-known someone is; each idea stands on its own merit.

    For what it's worth, you sometimes seem to think I'm appealing to authority in these discussions, but nothing I've ever said has ever been intended that way. I really want to treat the ideas as separate from the people saying them, and see if they stand on their own merits or not.

    I think this tendency can be seen in both our lack of hesitation when it comes to changing the rules of games we play. :) Right or wrong, we both believe we can do better than the designers, it seems...
    2097 said:

    You guys were raking me over the coals saying that Burning Wheel was sooo fantastic because it broke those rules
    I don't think anyone was raking you over the coals. It's just that telling someone that their (Narrativist-attempting) AW or BW game could be better with more blorb is like telling you that your D&D game would be better if you fudged the dice; it just removes the very thing that excites you about the game, so it's a pretty hard sell. I'm not surprised people would react negatively to that.
    2097 said:

    Paul_T said:

    No amount of porte-monstre-Tresor will get us a satisfying game about how a young person can struggle with the reality of deciding whether to care for an unwanted child.

    That has literally been a major theme in my Tomb of Annihilation campaign.
    That's a really funny coincidence! And your summary of the campaign is very cool and very exciting. I would really enjoy playing with your group, I think!

    I suppose I should have said that it would be foolish to expect that *consistently* (and I suspect that the lifepath tables and your Hillfolk rules had a LOT to do with that coming about, as well as the players' choice to engage with the whole child plotline, rather than the content of the modules you were running, which is where the porte-monstre-tresor stuff resides).

    This actually refers directly to our earlier Ouija Board conversations. It's more or less the same topic!

  • edited June 11
    Yeah, this is still the ouija board conversation, continued.

    I just don't really see it as a "spectrum" or "gradient" anymore than Napoli pizza means that there's a wheat↔anchovies gradient. We're curious to see how we can have protagonization without compromising blorb.

    Doing things at character creation time (such as Hillfolk relationships & XGE lifepaths) is definitely one way to do that, that has strongly impacted the game, you're absolutely right about that. It's not just good ole B/X straight up.
  • edited June 11
    Yes, I think that’s actually a really good restatement of the design problem:

    “How can we have protagonization without compromising blorb?”

    In this sense, it is just like wheat and anchovies, as you say.

    The analogy here to Ouija Board play is that the Ouija Board group is expecting a Napoli pizza every time but no one ever brings the anchovies, so someone ends up having to sprinkle some on while no one is looking...

    I’m on board with that!

    (I suppose with the caveat that I don’t think adding blorb to games makes them categorically better, any more than adding Narrativism makes them categorically better. If you like both wheat and anchovies, trying to combine them makes a ton of sense. But don’t go telling the guy who loves pizza but hates fish that his pizza would be SO much better if he just added anchovies to it!)

    The challenge in this conversation is that the fun you’re getting from blorb might be completely irrelevant or just not that important to someone into more heavily Narrativist/protagonized/whatever play. You’d have to demonstrate somehow, to those people, that “not compromising blorb” is of value to their game. Otherwise, they go, “why bother with all this work of trying to get anchovies and wheat together when protagonization with compromised blorb is just as good for us?”

  • We seem to be getting on the same page.

    Some nitpix:

    It's hard to "add blorb" to narrativism since blorb is (and this is again why the name wasn't that bad of a choice, it's a sort of 'container') so foundational. Blorb is the physics layer.
  • Hmmmm. I’m not sure I follow that. I mean, I can see how we can treat it as foundational and give it importance, but it seems to me we can easily just sprinkle varying amounts of it into any game, as well. Am I misunderstanding something?
  • After writing that, I wrote a bit more about adding blorb, right after in the other thread.
    However, you want to be careful so you don't get a 90s game with compromised blorb.
  • I see. I can imagine why you’d want to be careful with such techniques (if you’re looking to avoid certain play styles or techniques), but it doesn’t sound at all difficult to do.

    I think I understand what you mean now - you’re saying it’s hard to add blorb in a way that’s successful. Close?
  • You just don't sprinkle in blorb. That just comes across as you forcing ideas onto an impro scene where you instead should've held to your idea lighly.
    "Guys, guys, you know this all impro story that we built together? That steam dragon was real! [rips up envelope] see here I had all along the idea that I tried to steer the story towards that steam dragon!!"
    That sux
  • I think that as long as you're clear about what you're using and why and where, there's no trouble (so long as you're clear! I've made the mistake of trying to mix things before).

    Simple examples:

    * We're playing a relationship drama; a family meeting in a manor after the death of the matriarch. They're squabbling over the will.

    I plop down a map I've prepared, of the manor and its grounds, with each servant's roomed labeled, a map key and details.

    "This is where the story takes place. When you frame a scene, point to the map and tell us where it is."

    * We're playing a game about a political conspiracy. Perhaps it's the Roman Senate, and the characters are new Senators, arrived from far-flung lands, trying to learn the ways of politics for the first time in Rome.

    I tell them:

    "Every Senator has some secrets, which I've written up and prepared. If you can get any one of them to spill those secrets, that becomes leverage for your character: information is power."

    * We're playing a game of honour, love, and piracy on the High Seas. War is about to break out between the Colonies and the Empire, and things are tense.

    I tell everyone:

    "Ok, here's the deal - tensions are high, and things could explore at any moment. At the beginning of each week, we will draw a card from this deck. When we get any two face cards from a matching suit, the war will break out."

    "Your family and loved ones are dispersed around the Caribbean. Here are the different ports of call, and times of travel between them. In addition, for any sea journey, we roll on this weather and navigation chart, to see how many days of travel we add to the voyage. Sometimes weather will delay you, and if you set of on a long voyage unprepared or undermanned, you could even roll a 10, and end up shipwrecked."

    "You'll have to think carefully about where you want to go, how much time you think there is left before the War breaks out, and decide which family members and loved ones are worth saving."

    "Now, let's brainstorm and write some correspondence together; letters from each of your loved ones. For the ones who are overseas, we'll be contacting a friend, someone not playing in our game, to write to you about what's happening with them and how they're doing, to simulate the distance and how out of control their circumstances are from your perspective."

    Is this "sprinkling in blorb", or not, in your opinion? Where do these fall on your spectrum of "this is anathema!" to "hey, sounds fun, go for it"?
  • OK that does sound pretty good
  • The "outside friend" could go wrong : it's a very "open" end.
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