Old-School play, challenge-based adventuring, and avoiding that Fiat

edited April 2009 in Play Advice
I want to follow up on the discussion we had a couple of months ago over here, about old-school gaming, "challenge-based adventuring", and how to deal with GM fiat.

I've been thinking about this some more--and I really appreciate all the stuff that Eero wrote on that issue, both here, and at his blog/website. I'd like to continue that conversation, because I played in this style recently and ran into some of the problems I remember as being inherent to this style of play. I'm looking for some more good stuff from Eero, since he's been dedicated lately to describing this style of play, but anyone else is welcome to chime in, of course.


I recently played a game of Red Box D&D, and had a very good time. However, there were still some awkward moments arising from GM-determination "fiat", and I'd like to hear your take on the situation.

In this particular game, a group of characters encountered a monster far beyond our ability to defeat. The monster was chasing us through some caverns, and the only obvious exit was a steep chute we had climbed down by letting down a rope. The rope was still there, so it could be used to climb up, but the chute was pretty steep.

The DM asked us what we were going to do: this giant monster is chasing us, and we've run into this dead end. Everyone else decided to try to climb up the chute. I imagined seven people trying to climb a rope simultaneously, and figured that going that way was certain death, so I jumped into the river and hid underwater, holding my breath.

However, the DM's vision of the situation was clearly different--the roll he called for the others to climb the chute was a very easy one. They made it out, no problem, while I was stuck, alone, wet and out of breath, stuck in a cave with this machine of death.

This experience was frustrating, because I felt like I was making smart choices (indeed, in this situation I thought at least half the others would be eaten before they could get far up the chute), but, in fact, turned out to be making a really stupid decision, because I was unaware of the details of the fiction in a way my character would not have been.

That's a perfect example of how "GM fiat" can ruin a "challenge-based" scenario. There's been a whole lot of, "well, if I'd known that was going to turn out like THAT, I would have..." whenever I've played in this style.

How do you avoid this kind of situation?

Eero --

Is there a lot of table chatter, discussion of odds, etc, at the table? How extensive is the "negotiation" you're describing?

In other words, how clear are the "stakes" of any given point of resolution? Because in the traditional, old-school RPG way of play ("rulings, not rules"), that's not a popular practice. Rather, the aim is to keep the game moving quickly, make rulings, and see how they turn out. But whenever I play that way, I run into problems like the one I mentioned in this post. (Which would have been much more of a problem if, say, my character had died because of that decision.)

I look forward to your responses!

(Edit: If anyone doesn't understand where I'm coming from with this thread, click through the link I included in the first sentence of this post and go read the last three posts of that conversation for some context. It HAS been two months, after all...)


  • I offer my uninformed point of view: would it have been disruptive in any way if the GM told beforehand what the rolls for the two choices were?
  • I'm currently designing an old school game (much too young to have experienced anything old school so it's kind of pseudo-nostalgia) and I've gone the route of everything being very unfair and people embracing it. What you had above could -maybe- have been solved if you had an extremely allowing social contract so you could have pointed out how it was silly and most of the characters been killed.
  • My view is that sometimes you make the wrong decision and you die.

    That said, I'm not sure it was a problem of GM fiat but more probably of GM description. If there was a good reason for your character to understand the ease of the task then he might have told you, something like this:

    Player: 'We'll never make it all out in time. I'm jumping in the river'
    GM: "Actually, it looks pretty easy to you. You think you'll probably all make it"
    Player: "OK, I climb the rope"

    That said, I've also seen players still say "I don't care, I'm jumping in the river anyway". At which point they shouldn't be surprised if they get eaten. The best of these was a whine in a similar situation in a game of Traveller whilst being pursued by armed guards.
    Player, with no where obvious and a closing door to nip through, "I drop down and play dead".
    GM, "You are in full sight the whole time, are you sure"
    Player, "Yes"
    GM, "They shoot you", rolls dice, "You're dead"
    Player, going up an octave, "But ... but I didn't think bullets were that deadly!"
  • My memory isn't perfect, and probably a bit rosy, but I recall back in the day that there was at least some discussion of odds. Sometimes I didn't have a solid idea, and was just looking for a good roll on the dice (and I do remember that sometimes either a very low roll or a very high roll would result in success [blame that on the fact that in D&D, sometimes low is good and sometimes high is good]).

    There is also a factor of gaining understanding of the GM. The more you play with a GM, the better you know how he will rule.

    Also, GMs who too consistently gave poor odds and made survival hard became known. "Shigawire" Morgan was one such GM. He got to run D&D once at MIT. I just watched, and a good thing too. He had the whole party killed inside of 20 minutes, several through a pit trap with a shigawire (monofilament wire ala Dune) screen that basically pureed you as you fell through it.

    Back in the day I also sometimes fudged those rolls. At some point we also started including "divine intervention" rolls.

    If my view of the odds was that getting back up the slide was easy, and ducking under water was bad, I probably would have also given some warning with an "are you sure?" even if I didn't have clear odds in mind, or didn't want to share them (perhaps I had something keyed in the water that hadn't been spotted yet).

  • One way to deal with exploring the fictional setup of the challenge is to have negotiation phases that specifically lay out the presentation of the challenge and the solution, elaboration and questioning, and the introduction of unforseen complications.

    One way to deal with GM fiat is always to give the players the ability to fall back on dice rolls if they don't agree with the GM's call. This not only avoids player frustration, it also alleviates the pressure on the GM.

    I happen to know of a game that does both of these things and is specifically designed to address this style of play :)
  • I always play the mechanics very much over the table. So if a player asks me whether they can climb to safety before the monster gets them, I don't tell them "yes", I tell them "difficulty 20", which the player will then have to accept by rolling before we go forward. This is the negotiation, it's mechanics and fiction together. The player can then ask me, what about if I hid underwater and waited for the monster to go away - and I could tell them that well, seems like you'd have to hold your breath an awfully long time, how about difficulty 30. Then the player can ask more questions or suggest more courses of action, I can tell him more about his options - and I of course can withhold information to create uncertainty: usually I use a modicum of different perception and intelligence checks, and the players call for them as well; there's a sort of convention that the players can roll idea checks to "get a hint", which basically just means that I speculate freely about the situation with them.

    The important thing to realize is that this negotiation and exploring the fictional space and how it maps into the rules is build-up for the tactical choices the players make. The GM shouldn't have any reason to be vague or misleading in his description of the situation; what he wants is to present the players with tactical choices, not to make them guess what they're going to do. This is ultimately a matter of values, of creative agenda: if the group is invested in getting entertainment from strategic planning and execution, then that's what they're going to take the game towards. Players make choices only when they are willing to shoulder the consequences of those choices, and the GM strives to offer the players interesting choices.
  • I played in this game and had my Magic User try to climb up the passageway rather than jump in the river.

    As a datapoint, here's why I chose to try to climb up the passageway:

    (1) The passageway was 7' high and the monster was 8'tall, so I knew that he would be slowed trying to get up it.

    (2) I knew that there were nasty Lizardmen down the river because my character had fallen into their midst during our previous delve and had to use Rope Trick to escape their clutches. Since I had no spells left (except for Find Familiar), my only chance was the passageway.

    And here are some more wrinkles:

    -I think that in this style of play the onus is on the player to pose the "How hard does it look?" questions to the DM.

    -Because of this, I should point out that there weren't "just" two choices. We could have run down the bank, tried to swim up the river (away from the Lizardmen), dropped the treasure so that the monster would stop chasing us, etc., etc.

    -In this gaming group at least, there's a certain reluctance to give advice/make suggestions to other players, because that is sometime read as "criticizing someone's play". That's partly because of the Old School style and partly because the players rotate in-and-out on a session-by-session basis.

    So, I thought that you wanted to jump into the river because you thought it would be interesting/fun and not because you thought it necessarily be effective. Had I known what you were thinking, I would have said something like: "That leads to the Lizardmen, you should follow us."
  • Eero's process sounds great to me, but I just want to note that that process is only possible if the group is clear on "challenge-first". I've played in a lot of games that, overall, wound up being challenge-first, but weren't viewed from that angle during play. For example, the GM who's trying to facilitate realism and in-character POV might say, "You can't tell by looking how hard the climb will be! Put your weight on it and see if it gives!" Or, "Sure, hold your breath and find out how long the monster sticks around!"

    You can always try to discuss with another player/GM how such an approach might impede your fun strategic choices... but it'll be a waste of time unless you can agree on basic priorities like "challenge trumps realism". I could go on all day about why such agreement can be elusive (and for legitimate reasons, not just players being dicks)...
  • I've had a number of experiences like Paul's original post. As others have noted, this particular case could have been offset by the GM saying in advance how difficult the escape up the chute would be. However, the further you as player are trying to plan ahead, the more difficult it is to ask and/or predict. To David Berg's suggestions for realism -- I think that since the PCs had already climbed down that chute, they should have a good idea how difficult it would be.

    In practice, for nearly any GM in more loose, rulings-based games, I found it much more effective to think in terms of "What would the GM like us to do here?" rather than "What would be the realistically best move from my character's point of view?"
  • I should note that thinking in terms of what the GM expects is just fine with me. The satisfaction in the game ultimately comes from the interaction and meeting of minds anyway. It's not rare at all for players to make a plan and me as the GM to participate, at least by nodding along, throwing out some obvious obstacles the plan will have to account for, or even thinking aloud about the sort of things I might try myself in the situation. This communal puzzle resolution process becomes particularly genuine because I don't particularly devise solutions in advance (I'm lucky if I've even managed to device the challenge in advance), so I'm just as clueless as the players are when it comes to resolving the problems they face. A good example of this was the recent Tunnels & Trolls convention play I wrote about: much of the play was about solving the problem of the first "dungeon level", the wilderness. The characters had to learn about the goblins, their routes through the forest and the best methods for fighting them, without me having any particular resolution in mind - I knew what the challenge was, but I had no idea whether it would even be solvable.
  • Eero, I've done both:
    a) help players puzzle out an optimal solution to a situation that I don't have an answer in mind for, and
    b) help players puzzle out the answer I have in mind for a situation,
    often in the same game.

    I have also found that (a) can be functional and fun.

    I have not enjoyed (b), however. John, do you use any particular techniques to communicate the question of and answers to "What would the GM like us to do here?" In my experience, the players have focused on "reading" the GM, which becomes rather passive, resulting in boredom for obvious answers and frustration for non-obvious ones.

    P.S. Don't worry about the "realism" specific. It was just one example of a competing play priority that might show up in a challenge game.
  • Now that I'm commenting, I like realism as well. It's sort of the guiding light of my inspiration as a GM. I've written here before about my dragonslaying simile: I want the game to address the real (believable, genre-appropriate, whatever) challenges of dragonslaying and not some arbitrary rules things. The system has to go to the fiction for answers in other words, which is what might be called realism. Going back to my goblins-in-the-forest challenge up above, the way I determined how large bands of goblins players had to encounter was purely realistic: I'd decided that goblins are worth MR 20 (monster rating; T&T has a one-number monster stat system), and it made sense to me that you'd get something like half a dozen goblins in each band of goblins. This had nothing to do with how capable the player characters were, except for the basic fact that I'd thought that goblin-hunting would be an appropriate generic environment for a 1st-level party. But the actual challenge environment was determined based on realistic considerations.

    The thing is, anybody who considers realism and GM preference opposite to each other apparently thinks that the ghost of Gygax will come and correct it if somebody breaks realism - there is no objective realism, there is just what the group accepts as believable. When I say that I use "realistic considerations" in some particular game, it just means that the details of the fiction are a major determinant in the choices I make as a GM, not that I imagine that I have some objective truth in my hands. Tunnels & Trolls provides some good examples of this: the game has rules for setting Saving Roll difficulties that may, depending on edition and reading, be read as suggesting that you should always set the SR difficulty equal to the dungeon level. So jumping over a pit on level 1 is SR 1, on level 2 it's SR 2. Another reading of the rules is that the GM determines the difficulty based on how difficult the feat in question seems to him in the fiction - except that the game doesn't provide a table of example difficulties or anything of the sort, so good luck with developing your own sense of scale for this purpose. Anyway, those two methods for determining SR difficulty are illustrative of what I think of as "formalistic" and "realistic" rules; the latter reference fiction (via a player's interpretation of it, of course), while the former just look at other facts in the rules. A major part of my recent adventure gaming has been about researching highly realistic rules systems, as most Forge-style games tend towards high formalism; it's an interesting change of pace to look into how a realistic game works.

    My point here is, I don't particularly see that any of "gaming the GM", realistic considerations or challenge would need to conflict with each other within a single game. The GM may easily make his decisions based on realistic considerations, the players may well try to understand the GM's viewpoint to communicate with him more efficiently, and the game may indeed still be oriented towards introducing and resolving challenges.
  • Ooh, I have to remember to come back to this thread later.

    Real quick - when I see players doing this:

    "What would the GM like us to do here?"

    I try to break them of it. The question is what the players want to do.

    It's hard though. You need good communication and good improvisation and not usually being a dick, but you also need a sense of clear boundaries. I remember one player realized I was 'empowering' the group to go their own way and then when she got out of a narrow scrape she assumed I fudged for her. She was shocked when two other characters got killed the next level down because she thought if I was empowering I was also protecting.

    I don't fully understand the dialectic here but there is a way to cut the knot in practice I think, at least sometimes. Hopefully more later.
  • David (Berg)'s comments, above, hit the knot of what I'm trying to get at.

    When working under a "realist" rules interpretation, as opposed to a "formalist" interpretation (thanks, Eero), I've always run into a stumbling block: everyone's "mental image" of the fiction is a little different. Not only that, but the stuff that happens in our games is often stuff we have no real-life reference for. How hard is it to climb up a rope in a chute while carrying weapons and wearing armor? How hard is it to take your car off a highway ramp at 40 mi/h and land on the other side of the overpass?

    I have no idea, really! Chances are, neither does the GM, or any of the other players at the table. This means that, at any given instance of play, our ideas of how things are and how hard interacting with them might be could clash painfully.

    My point is that in the incident with the chute, no one was wrong. Six or seven people climbing a rope simultaneously up 50 ft. sounds difficult. They'd have to coordinate their actions very carefully. We have no mechanical means of determining how well they are doing that--one GM might say, "okay, you've all determined the most reasonable order, and arranged yourselves appropriately", whereas another might say, "you're all at the mouth of the chute at the same time. Who's willing to knock someone else out of the way to get to the rope first?" Neither is wrong. Likewise, we know the characters' attribute scores, but we don't have a clear real-world reference. Is Strength 9 like a fit but not overly bulky adventurer? Or is it more like "average joe", or even like an "average 20th-century geek"? Are "adventurers" brave, strong warrior types, or just average people thrown into unusual situations? All that impacts how fast we can imagine a person climb a rope. On top of that, we have no objective idea of how close the monster is to us, or how fast it's moving. There's simply not enough detail to be able to agree on any sort of "objective vision" of "what should happen".

    As an example of how this sort of judgement will vary from person to person, I'm pretty sure my own decision and "mental image" of the fiction was heavily influenced by my own life experiences. I've just been reading Zamoyski's "Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March" (a brilliant piece of scholarship, by the way). The book describes many, many scenes where a group of hungry, tired people try to cross a bridge or even walk through a city gate together. Not under battlefield conditions--just regular marching on a nice, clear day (in many cases; some were much worse). Well, the press of the crowd in many cases is so terrible that thousands of people are killed. Just from a group of people trying to walk through a city gate. Imagining people trying to make it up a single rope while a fire-breathing monster breathes down their back... I was certain it could lead to nothing but immediate slaughter.

    Maybe if my head hadn't been full of imagery from this book, but rather had just returned from a heroic adventure film about superhuman heroes prevailing over desperate odds, I would have considered success much more likely.

    But my point is that there isn't a "right" or "wrong" point of view. There simply isn't enough established in the fiction, and usually isn't enough real-life knowledge for the participants to draw on to make an "objective" judgement.
  • [continuing]

    Dave's discrimination of the two types of games featuring this sort of situation is really spot on: are we trying to model an objective reality, or to provide tactics and challenges?

    The problem that I've seen is that the "realistic/immersive" and "challenge-based" paradigms rarely appear as two separate categories. Eero's T&T game sounds like it falls very close to being a pure member of the latter group; Dave's Delve game sounds like a similar "pure" type of the former.

    Whenever I've seen people play "old-school"-style dungeon crawl games, coming out of the D&D tradition, however, what I've seen is a very specific attempt to meld those two. The illusion of an "objective" reality and a strict delimitation of character knowledge and player knowledge is being leveraged to a) create a sense of tension and fear in the players and b) create a set of constraints that delimit tactical choices.

    In addition, in the example of this particular game, there is a strong emphasis on fast-paced action and this whole sense of limited information. It's a scary game to play! Step into the wrong room and you'll be killed. You have to outwit the DM and cover all your bases--if you don't poke the tile in front of you with a pole first, don't be shocked if it triggers instant death the moment you step on it.

    Now, this is a really fun mode of play, and I really enjoyed the game. But these occasional moments of total disconnect always surface for me. The only time I enjoy this style of gaming 100% is when I'm running the game--with total GM powers, of course everything that happens lines up with my imagined "objective" reality.

    The solution that Eero and others are suggesting--go to the rules rather than the fiction--is the most obvious solution. In other words, instead of saying, "that's going to be really hard", you say, "that'll take a 20 on your saving throw". This gets everyone on the same page, in a way, as each player can adjust their internal view of the fiction to match the suggested game mechanics. I see that as the most functional solution, and will be trying it in the future.

    However, it has a number of drawbacks as well:

    1) The pace of the game is much, much slower, if players need to ask about, negotiate, and consider the mechanical details or any important action they want to take. That detracts from the mood of the game, and slows the pace tremendously, compared to the "shout and roll!" school of DM/GMing.
    2) Knowing the mechanical "scores" relevant to various actions works against the sense of danger and the sense of mystery that is often the very point of such games. That tense, unpredictable danger is *fun*! Limiting yourself to only what your character would know increases that effect for a lot of people. In my example, my problem wasn't that my character was in trouble. I fully expected that! But seeing the others "get off easy" really ruined my suspension of disbelief, so to speak. Suddenly the fiction I was imagining wasn't making sense to me anymore.
    3) The lack of objective information is a valid part of the "challenge". If you know the rolls required to do A, B, and C, that's a whole layer of information you can use to manipulate the challenge. It also can allow a player to interact with the challenge on a rules level, sometimes bypassing the challenge present in the fiction altogether.

    Dave and Eero (and anyone else, of course), how do you deal with these types of issues? Are they concerns? When do they come up? What are possible solutions?

    How do you do the whole old-school "rulings, not rules" style of play, and make it work?

    (One thought I've been trying not to voice, but think I should mention is that Dave and Eero both GM this type of game almost exclusively, rarely or never being on the other side of the screen. Does either of you think that might colour your view of the functionality of this style of play? Honest question; I'm curious, not trying to bait you into a terrible admission or anything like that.)
  • Bah, the text is 250 characters too long... easier to cut a paragraph, it wasn't that interesting anyway. As for your list, here's my take:

    1) The pace of my game might be slightly slow... except for the fact that I drop many other things to make room for more intricate conflicts and more extended planning/negotiation phases. You can see this in that T&T thread at the Forge, how I bitch about the game's equipment lists which turn attention to the wrong things (from my viewpoint) and slow the game down. Equipment lists and filler combat encounters are just a couple of things that I don't brook in my game, and removing those makes room for a lot of other things. Each challenge in my game is unique and significant, there is no room for those "20% of your resources" encounters modern D&D uses. Easy and unsignificant situations are automatical successes that segue into the next actual challenge situation. All that being said, I'm not 100% certain that my game is any slower than your average immersion-based thing: we save a lot of time in play when I can just skip complex descriptions of things and speak in gamemechanese; this is especially clear when we come to a new situation and I can just tell the players what I was thinking was the challenge in it. The players don't need to play a guessing game and twiddle with the setting to find out which switch makes the price come out.

    2) I'm not bothered by mechanics as a layer on top of the fiction, perhaps because it's obvious to me that the mechanics are a needed and wanted part of the game. This is a sort of anti-immersionist stance, I guess: the mechanics formalize and emphasize certain relationships in the fiction, which gives it further structure and makes it pleasurable. For example, I find it enjoyable in D&D-type games that a character succeeds in walking a tightrope because he's dextrous and a 5th level thief. A character gains a bonus to a dice roll because he has a suitable tool to work with. A check is harder because you're trying to carry another person with you. The mechanics are just this sort of cause relationships brought to the fore, they explain to us why things happen in the fiction the way they do. There is no incongruence here towards enjoying the fiction and atmosphere, I find.

    3) The player's information might not be complete, and the best challenges cannot be bypassed through the rules. It's important to realize here that I don't even consider a basic combat encounter once the combat has been joined a challenge in most games of D&D tradition. The conflict resolution is not the challenge any more than the conflict resolution is the thematic choice in a narrativistic game. So when I think of a challenge I usually consider some slightly higher-level thing that isn't fully formalized in the rules: beating the guards when breaking into a castle is not the challenge, the challenge is planning the break-in and risking your skin to do it. This really doesn't have much to do with the moment-to-moment resolution, and it's not difficult at all to include unknown factors into it: you didn't know about the monster before it attacked, for example. And if players want more information, they can very well roll for it, again using the mechanics: perception vs. 20, fail and you reveal yourself to the enemy, that sort of thing. And even if the players know all the factors involved, a good challenge isn't any easier to solve, because it's a genuine problem in the fiction and not just the rules: realistically speaking, the people in the setting have trouble with this thing, whether this thing is breaking into a castle or going into a dark pit with a monster or killing a dragon or apprehending a vampire. You just need to answer the question about why this thing is a challenge in the fiction, and the same reason holds no matter how much the players know about the situation or the rules-mechanics related to it.

    So yeah, I guess I'm pretty clear on this: whatever the characters know in the fiction, the players should know the related game mechanics. When I hide a roll's difficulty or type from a player it's only because the character doesn't know, either.

    As for GMing - it's true that I haven't been on the player side a lot recently. It's something of a problem, mainly because the GM definitely gets his satisfaction from slightly different things than the players do, and can thus have large blind spots about his own performance and how the players perceive it. Ultimately we just have to trust in the honesty and communication of the group; if the other players don't tell us when we're full of shit, then nobody else is going to. For all I know the players are lying to me about being entertained. In fact, I'm often sort of surprised by how a player's enjoyment or disappointment can hinge on some relatively minor thing I'm not even registering myself. Might be that players are trying too hard to give feedback, though, and end up hanging onto inconsequential details - it's actually pretty difficult to get data about your GMing performance from a group without getting all inquisitionary about it.
  • Eero,

    That's a great, clear description of what play looks like when you're running it. Thanks!

    I don't want this to be the end of the conversation, though. I'd really like to hear from the others. There are many other ways to run this sort of game, and I want to hear about how you approach this kind of play and whether you've experienced the sort of snag I've described.
  • edited April 2009
    Well, Eero and I agree on what makes a good challenge. :) I'd like to poke a little bit at resolution, though:

    I've actually played "realism-first challenges" quite a lot as a player. We had a very functional group several years back, based primarily on interrogating the GM for sense data and analyzing that before making decisions. Example:
    "How wide is the chasm?"
    "Fifteen feet."
    "Do I think I can jump it?"
    "Can you jump fifteen feet?"
    "Hmm..." (discussion ensues, possibly with busting out a tape measure and trying some jumps)

    Of course, this is hideously slow in terms of progressing the fiction. But once you've been doing it for a while, it's not as bad as it sounds. Interrogating the GM about distances, relative positions, lighting conditions, etc. became a finely-honed science.

    The GM taught us to play this way by playing "no takebacks" on character action annoucements -- if you said, "I charge forward!" without asking what was in front of you, you might run off a cliff and die.

    Anyway, that's one example, and I certainly wouldn't recommend it for everyone. More generally, I have some thoughts on Eero's POV on mechanics:

    Although it is certainly possible to express an in-game reality in mechanics terms (a Climb Difficulty-12 wall), some players like to encounter this reality the way their characters do -- through sense impressions. Basically, I want enough visual detail to say, "Okay, looking at this as my character, it'll be tough to climb, but not impossible." Whereas the guy sitting next to me will say, "Dude, just tell me the difficulty, and if I feel like imagining what that might look like, I will!" Attempting to appease me will bore him, and attempting to appease him will make me feel an unwelcome distance from the fiction (i.e. "not immersed enough").

    Further, these player tastes can change depending on (among other things) the situation in the fiction, and how much time is left in the play session! Trying to provide the optimal level of detail as a GM is rough. That's why I made this.
  • Dave,

    So, your solution to cognitive dissonance was a lengthy and detailed interrogation procedure, with optional discussion of what was "realistic"? Is that right?

    Did that kind of problem ever appear anyway, or was this approach 100% effective?
  • That's a very good point about shifting balance in taste, David. We have that as well - the amount of mechanics vs. description differs according to situation and mood, so it's not all defined. Often we first get fluff description and only when somebody recognizes a challenge we shift to qualities and numbers.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenSo yeah, I guess I'm pretty clear on this: whatever the characters know in the fiction, the players should know the related game mechanics. When I hide a roll's difficulty or type from a player it's only because the character doesn't know, either.
    Most GMs I've played with who share mechanics overshare mechanics. When the character doesn't know the difficulty, the GM forgets that, and gives the player a difficulty number out of habit.

    Dunno whether that's a widespread phenomenon or just my bad luck...

    Similar to Eero's methodology: In Delve, when characters can tell the quality of their own effort (e.g., shoot a bow), the players roll dice. When the characters can't tell the quality of their own effort (e.g., read body language to detect lies), the GM rolls the dice.
  • So, your solution to cognitive dissonance was a lengthy and detailed interrogation procedure, with optional discussion of what was "realistic"? Is that right?
    That was our way to avoid ever having cognitive dissonance crop up, yes.
    Did that kind of problem ever appear anyway, or was this approach 100% effective?
    It was 100% effective with a play group of 4 engineers who were fanatical about knowing every scrap of physical info they might possibly employ to any advantage. It failed horribly with my current group. Thus, the dial I linked.
  • One more note: even in "realistic" rule systems, the application of the mechanics often serves a purpose beyond mere modeling. Shaking the dice, letting them fly, praying you exceed your target number, scanning the thrown dice for the results -- this is fun. We tend to do it when we don't have to.

    One thing I've experienced in "reality-first" play is that, if you look at it closely enough, the gameworld often provides enough information to tell you "yes, you can" or "no, you can't". I've gone whole sessions at a time without any die rolls.
  • One funny detail about our dicing technique here with my semi-regular teenagers: I have this rule that "you don't roll the dice before I've chosen a difficulty number". It's simply because I can't make the choice neutrally if I know what the player rolled. Sometimes the eager ones have to reroll to ensure the sanctity of the procedure.

    Also, obviously the rigor of the method depends on how intense play is. Most of the time we can be pretty lax about stuff, it's only in peak performance moments that the rigid structures are used.
  • I can see where Eero is coming from, with D&D in particular in character and out of character information is all so mixed up together, even more in 4e with its grid based movement, that insisting on some kind of separation is whilst not doomed to failure, likely to throw up problems, not least the "Can I jump it" issue.

    In RQ for example and other BRP games, POW and Magic Points usage is so detailed that the character would know what their ratings are. I don't really like this. It makes it seem less real. A few people might know how much they can benchpress and how fast they can run under perfect circumstances but this isn't generally what life is like. Part of the interest, for me, comes in not knowing.

    So when it comes to the jump I will say "it's easy", "it's hard" or "you think you can make it, but not with that backpack and plate mail", or similar phrases. This is an indication to the player as to whether it will be a DEX+2, DEX-4 or DEX roll (-5 for plate, -2 for pack).

    I don't think is GM fiat though, I think it's improvised scenario creation. I don't sit in a GMs ivory tower, I'm out there with the players making a good game.

    There was an interesting situation in this regard the game last week. The 3,000,000xp+ team had gone on a shadow walk and on a 5% chance bumped into something nasty. I had printouts from the free Book of Beings II monster manual and so used one of them, a Void Demon, a rather hornery critter than can dissolve anything that hits it.

    One of the players who is massively gung-ho in a way that really drives the game forward stepped up to the challenge and started beating the critter up with his massively magical god-sword. Then he found out he had to make a save against disintegration every time he hit the creature or lose his sword. So when he was rolling, he would roll the dice and then say whether it was the save or the roll to hit, massively reducing the chance of losing his sword. I knew what he was doing and he probably knew I knew. But was there any point in making him do things differently? Would that have increased the fun? No. Having a chance of losing his weapon was a frisson, but actually losing it would have been terrible. Obviously it could also have been an opportunity for a side-quest to recover the sword but that wasn't what we were playing that time.
  • Posted By: David BergThat's why I madethis.
    Boy, you really took that to the next level since the last time I saw it.
  • Posted By: Paul T.
    In this particular game, a group of characters encountered a monster far beyond our ability to defeat. The monster was chasing us through some caverns, and the only obvious exit was a steep chute we had climbed down by letting down a rope. The rope was still there, so it could be used to climb up, but the chute was pretty steep.

    The DM asked us what we were going to do: this giant monster is chasing us, and we've run into this dead end. Everyone else decided to try to climb up the chute. I imagined seven people trying to climb a rope simultaneously, and figured that going that way was certain death, so I jumped into the river and hid underwater, holding my breath.

    However, the DM's vision of the situation was clearly different--the roll he called for the others to climb the chute was a very easy one. They made it out, no problem, while I was stuck, alone, wet and out of breath, stuck in a cave with this machine of death.

    This experience was frustrating, because I felt like I was making smart choices (indeed, in this situation I thought at least half the others would be eaten before they could get far up the chute), but, in fact, turned out to be making a really stupid decision, because I was unaware of the details of the fiction in a way my character would not have been.

    That's a perfect example of how "GM fiat" can ruin a "challenge-based" scenario. There's been a whole lot of, "well, if I'd known that was going to turn out like THAT, I would have..." whenever I've played in this style.
    None of us were at the table and can truly say for certain. But I haven't seen anyone else say what's on my mind here.

    The GM asked "what do you do", right? That means the sandbox is open for business. If he wanted to keep the game on the rails, he should have said "make your Climbing roll". By asking the open-ended question, any reasonable course of action should have a reasonable chance of success. Am I correct that you had zero chance of success and your character died?

    The overwhelming nature of the monster is a clue to me that the GM wanted to force the adventure down a particular path. You thought you had a choice but you really didn't. It shouldn't have been presented to you like it was.

  • edited April 2009
    I think Grant is onto something but I wouldn't go quite so far down the "I know what he was THINKing" road. This isn't just about fiat, as everyone has noted throughout this thread, there's really no feasible line between GM fiat and campaign design or adjudication. What there is, instead, is a management of perceptions. There were any number of ways the GM could have cued you that the rope was easier to climb than you thought it would be, ranging from an NPC scurrying up it quickly, to just "The rope hangs, awaiting your ascent" in the style of a movie that tells us where the characters are going to go by zooming in on the place where they're going and having the score go "waaaah!!!"

    And Grant is right, if there was really no choice about which way to go, that should have been made clear too. GMs that create situations with only one way out are relatively rare, though. Virtually always when my players tell me "Gah, we had no choice!" I always think "Are you fucking stupid, you had like a billion choices". It's not that they're fucking stupid, it's that they didn't perceive the choices as feasible even though I did and even though I am the one who decides what's feasible. This is the exact opposite problem of you thinking the river was feasible when it wasn't. Just because you're a GM doesn't mean you get across everything you are trying to get across, and the GM can be just as frustrated by that as the players when things break down.

    Now sometimes no matter what the GM says or does your internal view of the game is going to push you in another direction. Like, the GM flat tells you, "Hey, the rope is really easy to climb" and you say "Uh, no, it's not, it's incredibly hard, I'm going for the river" and the GM says "The river, what, no, the monster will eat you" and you say "it's the most feasible option". This is pretty much what we mean by My Guy syndrome. You have an internal view of the game world and you can't bring yourself to re-evaluate it and you don't want to break it.
  • Posted By: Grant DavisNone of us were at the table and can truly say for certain.
    Actually, I was there, too!

    Just to give some extra context (not meant to deflect/defuse any theoretical concerns):

    One of the interesting things was that the DM really didn't have any particular solution in mind. We're playing through a module, so the DM isn't even the person who designed the encounter. Paul's character ended up surviving - although he did have to ditch his treasure and he also had a close call with some lizardmen, so it definitely wasn't a "climb the rope or die" situation.

    And in previous sessions, we've had players pull their fat out of the fire in very interesting, unconventional, and not-at-all-immediately obvious ways. We've also had characters (4 I think) die trying to fend off large bats (which are like half-HD creatures). So, at the time, it wasn't immediately apparent to me (and probably to the table as a whole - including the DM) whether or not Paul's action would be a case of the former or a case like the latter.

    As it turned out, I think Paul gained a qualified success. He didn't escape with the treasure, but he did manage to turn the monster against some of our "enemies" in the dungeon. And his character survived. So, kind of a win. ;)
  • What Jon posted is 100% correct. This was not a case of railroading, but very much a style of "sandbox" play. In this particular case, my character not only survived, but managed to cause the death of six lizardmen (no easy feat in this game, even for a large group of PCs) and get back up to the surface with a scroll of some kind (potentially valuable and/or interesting). So, things turned out really well for him--although there were several rolls that could have ended his career in those fifteen minutes or so.

    In my view, the DM actually "went soft" on all of us--not only on those who escaped but on my character, as well. However, as Dave pointed out, that has a lot to do with all kinds of factors we normally don't discuss. In this case, the night was growing late, and we knew we had to wrap up soon. Allowing the PCs to escape rather than having to draw things out and end on a sour note may have been on the DM's mind (perhaps even without it being a conscious decision).

    I have a few comments, however, about some of the other things mentioned up above:

    So when it comes to the jump I will say "it's easy", "it's hard" or "you think you can make it, but not with that backpack and plate mail", or similar phrases. This is an indication to the player as to whether it will be a DEX+2, DEX-4 or DEX roll (-5 for plate, -2 for pack).
    The various solutions discussed are all pretty good:

    * Be transparent about the mechanical challenges involved, get everyone on the same page, negotiate if necessary.

    --"Ok, you'll need to roll a 15. And if you roll a ciritical failure, you'll lose your backpack. OK?"
    --"You said it was only 10 ft. high!"
    --"Ok, then, 14. Cool?"
    --"Let's go!"

    * Discuss the probability of various challenges, but keep the mechanics hidden. So, "it's REALLY hard" instead of "you need a 15".

    * Only discuss the probability of challenges based on what the *characters* know. May use game terms of "real life" terms, as above.

    All these are good techniques. However, I've seen them fail time and again, and require retconning. For example, in a battle, I may concoct a plan to ambush the enemy by hiding my soldiers in the high grass East of the battlefield. But, let's say I only come up with this idea later, in the middle of things, and it only ends up happening because of the outcome of roll X after roll Y, and only because the enemy did something last-minute to make that possible. So we didn't discuss the specifics earlier in play, thinking it unlikely to come up.

    When the enemy comes by the tall grass, they spot the soldiers immediately--perhaps automatically, perhaps because the GM is rolling "behind the screen" and assigned them a bonus.

    Turns out the GM was picturing the "tall grass" as being 3 feet tall, whereas the player had assumed "tall grass" meant 6 feet tall. Do we have an argument? Do we go back to the beginning of the battle, three real-time hours ago, when the troops were being set up?

    I _always_ see this kind of thing crop up in this style of gaming. Do the processes you guys are describing prevent them effectively? All the time? Most of the time? Some of the time?

    If they crop up for you as they do in my experience, how do you deal with them?
  • So Paul's character had more adventure and made it though. Sounds like the DM (sorry, not the GM) adapted to the unexpected and delivered the fun.

    Bats, huh? I'll keep it in mind if I ever get to game with you guys.
  • edited April 2009
    Posted By: JDCorley
    Now sometimes no matter what the GM says or does your internal view of the game is going to push you in another direction. Like, the GM flat tells you, "Hey, the rope is really easy to climb" and you say "Uh, no, it's not, it's incredibly hard, I'm going for the river" and the GM says "The river, what, no, the monster will eat you" and you say "it's the most feasible option". This is pretty much what we mean by My Guy syndrome. You have an internal view of the game world and you can't bring yourself to re-evaluate it and you don't want to break it.
    This is interesting!

    Because, after experiencing a lot of frustration of the sort we're discussing here, I came to a different conclusion.

    Here's the thing:

    Whose "internal view of the game" is more important? The player's? The GM's? Who's doing this "My Guy" thing and refusing to re-evaluate their internal view?

    How do we decide whose "internal view" is more important?

    The traditional view, I think, has been that the GM is king. I've found much more satisfaction in my own gaming by shifting that attitude to assume that the player's view is actually more important. They have more at stake, and less flexibility in adjusting tactics to go after what they want. This means there is more "retconning" and discussion necessary when a player's judgement of the situation has to be adjusted, and more frustration.

    When I tend rather to give any tactic that seems logical to the player a chance of success, and adjust my view accordingly, I've had much smoother gaming. You stop having endless frustration and arguments, and usually it's not that hard for the GM to adjust their view a little bit. Players get to maintain their sense of "immersion", if that's a priority, and can continue to make meaningful tactical choices within the fiction.

    Like, if someone says, "I want to climb the tower to get a better shot at the enemy", and I was imagining that there was actually a building between the tower and the battlefield, making such a shot impossible, I tend to say, "sure", instead, and adjust my vision. Unless the position of the tower had been clearly defined for everyone earlier in the game, of course. In that case, the player has forgotten, and made a serious tactical error. But I tend to err in the players' favour in such a situation. After all, as the GM, I have much more leeway to adjust the situation to make it remains challenging, and the game can go on, the players' cleverness rewarded, and everyone still enjoying themselves.

    So, the GM adjusting to make player-side tactics effective: I think that's what happened to some extent in this D&D game, actually, as witnessed by all the characters' survival.

    (Sometimes it works the other way, too, though:)

    --"I search for traps!"
    --"Hmmm... the player is right! If the traitor had planned to trap someone, this is exactly the spot where he would have placed a trap."
    (And now the player may have to deal with a trap the GM had not early planned to place in this location.)

    edited for clarity
  • I was running GURPS awhile back, but someone else would have to judge how strict I was. If you want a really gritty, tactical game, I guess you have to ask the GM a lot of questions and get some specifics on difficulty numbers, even if that makes it more difficult to stay in character.

  • That's a good question with the tall grass. I suppose that I'd catch this sort of thing when the player starts executing: presumably he'd tell me that he's trying to hide his soldiers in the high grass, at which point I'd comment on the rules feasibility of that - the difficulty of seeing them, the difficulty of hiding, whatever, depends on the system. So it'd be up to the player to then decide whether the cover of the grass is good enough for his plan; even if there'd be a chance for the enemy to discover his men (and if he knew the perception checks the enemy would likely be rolling, then he could straight out know the probability), he might still go for it if he judged the benefit worth the risk.

    This sort of thing can backfire on you when the players hide their thoughts and intentions, which is why I'm adamantly opposed to that sort of adversial play: it always ends up biting the player himself in the ass and nobody else if he starts playing the task resolution game and doesn't outright tell me what he's trying to accomplish; without that information I can't catch it if he has misunderstood something about my description of the situation. With the high grass situation I'd probably ask the player what he imagines hiding in the grass to accomplish, but there are other situations where it is easy to misunderstand what a player is trying to do until the last moment when he reveals the plan.
  • Paul types really fast. My tiny posts keep lagging his massive ones. I must be getting old.
  • Grant,

    It's the bats. They get you to learn to move quickly!
  • Eero,

    So let's imagine for a minute the same scenario I described from the D&D game, but rewound a little bit. The characters are being chased by this deadly beast. They come to a fork in the road. They know from prior experience that the left branch means they'll have to climb up a chute, jump over a chasm, then get up a ladder to make it out of the monster's reach. The right branch has a river, then another branch, the left part of it leading to a room half-full of water, the other unknown.

    A lot of these challenges have been traversed before, but never while running from a monster (whose own ability to cross these obstacles is not known).

    Now imagine you're the GM!

    The players are going to have to decide which way to go at this fork, and the monster is breathing down their necks.

    What does the conversation look like? What kind of information passes from person to person?

    In most "old-school" games I've experienced, including this one, there is little discussion, as the priority is to "stay immersed" and/or to keep the pace of the game moving quickly. The GM says, "which way do you go?" and the players respond with "left" or "right".

    How do you do it? What works for you, what doesn't?

    Anybody else?
  • (Eero, great point about the distinction between conflict and task resolution being relevant here, as well! I'd forgotten about it to some extent, taking task resolution to be the default for this style of gaming!)
  • edited April 2009
    Posted By: Paul T.Turns out the GM was picturing the "tall grass" as being 3 feet tall, whereas the player had assumed "tall grass" meant 6 feet tall. Do we have an argument? Do we go back to the beginning of the battle, three real-time hours ago, when the troops were being set up?

    I _always_ see this kind of thing crop up in this style of gaming. Do the processes you guys are describing prevent them effectively? All the time? Most of the time? Some of the time?

    If they crop up for you as they do in my experience, how do you deal with them?
    This kind of thing happens once in a blue moon and only with certain players, known to everyone as "difficult". Generally, the GM's word is final. Not evil, just final.

    But in this situation, as Eero says, I'd hope the GM would catch it earlier when he hears the characters are planning to hide somewhere unsuitable. So the decision is either to tell them it's unsuitable or to make the grass longer.
  • It'd do quite a work on my sense of immersion if my character tried to hide in short grass without realizing that it's too short for it. Actually, I had something like that happen in Keep on the Shadowfell about a year ago... I tried to play it pretty much the way we're sketching out here: competitively, imaginatively and setting-based. So my character ended up constantly doing things that apparently were completely idiotic in the setting (the rules, actually; in that game the rules define the setting), it's just that nobody told me this, so the character ended up failing all the time. This ranged from trying to use a disguise to bypass some monsters to trying to do long-range scouting to trying to interrogate villagers... generally speaking everything and anything I tried failed so bad that one would think that my character would know to not even try.

    As for Paul's example, it'd depend on whether urgency were a part of the current challenge to my mind. I might require the players to choose their route without undue delay as the sort of little subgame that GMs do. If the characters have a little bit of time this probably wouldn't cross my mind and I'd allow the players to open the floor for a full-blown conference, topic "how do we escape the monster". In the latter case a player would probably want to know whether the monster can climb, jump, etc., and I'd allow a suitable roll to find out whether somebody happens to know about it. The players might also ask me to remind them about the difficulties of the climbs and jumps and whatnot on either route, which I'd probably provide: I like the idea that the players are enticed to try to strategize their way out of near-certain death, perhaps by splitting the party and having the athletic characters try to lead the monster towards the pit, which they can then cross while the less able ones sneak elsewhere. (Just what came to mind to myself; I'd probably say this plan aloud the moment I think of it - suggesting things has the positive effect of provoking discussion of tactics and pointing out places where players actually have choices, when otherwise they might just blindly go with the "obvious" solution and never question whether they might do better.)

    Most likely, however, the naturally emerging leader of the PC posse would just make a call on either branch of the tunnel without extended discussion, I believe. Players tend to go into conferencing mode in slightly more controlled situations, especially when they know that the GM has the option to hasten the decision-making process. If I wanted to encourage a conference on monster-avoidance, I'd probably have the monster delayed somehow while giving the players some suggestions for different strategies they might try. I often do all sorts of leading questions like "Are you going to escape the way you came, then, or will you brave one of the unexplored passages?" This is all to promote and emphasize the key content of the game, which is facing and resolving challenges by luck, gut, strategy and tactics.
  • Posted By: David BergThat's why I made this.
  • Posted By: jenskotPosted By: David BergThat's why I madethis.

    Yes, Dan and John, that's right. Next, he's going to have the dial tattooed on his body. After that, once he's got some more money saved up, an actual dial implanted on his chest.

  • Eero,

    Doesn't it ever happen that the players attempt a plan like "have the more athletic characters go left, where the pit is" only to have the GM rule that the pit is either a) really hard to jump across, or b) really easy to jump across?

    Either way, an interesting decision is made irrelevant, if, for instance, the GM decides the monster can easily step across the pit. That kind of decision depends on so many things that may not have been established in detail (e.g. the exact size of the pit, what "athletic" means in this game or this setting, and the size and agility of the monster) that's it's easy to run into situations like what you're describing in the D&D 4e game.

    I've outlined my solution, above--if the characters think that jumping across the pit is a good tactic to escape the monster, I'll give it a chance of success. That is, assuming all those factors have been undetermined. If the pit's width is known, and the monsters ability to leap across pits (or lack thereof) has been established, that's different story!

    I wonder if there's some bit of GMing wisdom you're using that you haven't described yet. You know how we all do things (sometimes good things, sometimes bad things) without realizing we're doing them? Because we assume that's just "the way you play the game"...

    In any case, from what I've seen of "old school" tactical challenge-based adventuring, I'd say the amount of negotiation and conversation you're describing is very, very rare. All the games I've seen tend towards quick decisions, a few dice rolled behind a screen, and then the declaration of the outcome--often within 10 seconds from the announcement of the danger or problem to the final outcome.
  • Yeah, probably I'm not describing something, because I don't quite see the problem. The players already know how difficult the pit is to cross if their characters have already crossed it or at least seen it once. They also might have some idea of whether the monster can cross the pit or not based on whether they've seen the monster or not (and on whether the monster has hidden qualities such as levitation, of course). The players have all the parts of the puzzle except the ones that have been left in the dark due to what their characters are still to discover. They can try actions to gain more information if the situation allows, but if it doesn't, they have to essentially trust luck and sensible, conservative planning. Sometimes wrong choices are made due to limited knowledge, but that's just as valid a way to lose a challenge as losing at dice would be. The only really problematic way for a challenge to get lost is when the GM can't turn the result into significant progress for the adventure, but that's really rare for me now in the age of conflict resolution and scene framing.

    It's true that in some situations the GM doesn't have anything determined, of course. If I end up in this sort of situation without having made any decisions, I often engage the whole group to figure out the situation, or at least signal the players that I'll have to make some judgment calls they should be ready to question if they seem screwy. Something like "I'm not quite sure if the drake stalking you can fly in these tunnels, what do you think?" When we determine the monster's ability to cross the pit depends on when we need the knowledge, and who makes the decision depends on who has the requisite knowledge - often it's the GM, but the players do have rights to parts of the setting as well. For example, I don't usually interfere with character equipment, it's up to the players to determine what their characters have with them. The same goes for a character's past - it's no skin off my nose if a player declares that his character used to in fact live in Nepal and thus is familiar with the language. Usually these choices are made with character integrity in mind on the player side, and even when they are not, it's hardly the end of the world: we just got to learn new things about the character's past. This is key when considering the GM side as well: just like the player will respect character integrity when describing his character's resources, the GM will respect setting integrity when describing the environment.

    Ah, one more technique I've used lately: when I don't care for some particular of the setting or want to signal strongly that it's essentially random and might be different at another time, I've started rolling "the die of fate". Usually this is just a 50/50 randomization for the particular in question. For example, I might declare that "Usually there'd be guards at this junction, let's see how it is at this time, odds will mean guards... ah, seems like they have gone away for now." This is an available technique with the monster at the crossroads as well - if we don't know yet what the monster is, I might give alternatives and roll to see if it's the sort that can cross pits. At least the players will have a very difficult time getting the mistaken impression that I have any clue as to where the game is going.
  • Hmmm. What I'm describing are situations where the outcome appears "completely obvious" to one person at the table... and equally unambiguous to another person, but they don't share that idea at all.

    The example I wrote up seems hypothetical, perhaps, but it's exactly the same as what happened in the D&D game. Sure, the monster had been described to us--as a "huge, black, humanoid statue that shoots fire from its mouth". But that doesn't tell us exactly how tall it is, or what proportion its legs have to its body, or how agile and/or flexible a magically animated statue is---everyone's imagining something different here. Furthermore, while we'd already crossed the pit (in our case, the chute), we did so in the other direction, one at a time, and without being rushed. If it had been a pit, we might have crossed it be placing a log or a ladder across it, for instance.

    All this leaves different people with different impressions of what the situation actually is and what "should happen". I don't know if that clarifies my question.

    I like your suggestions about keeping the GM's mental process out in the open. I've found that very helpful in the past, as well!
  • (By the way, rolling 3 Fudge dice and using the Fudge dice and the Fudge adjective scale for that kind of "die of fate" roll can be really, really great. It's called a "situational roll" in the Fudge text, I think.)
  • Here's a thing that might be relevant. It's mostly an issue for the GM in this sort of thing.

    So, when you're playing a game (any game; roleplaying, board, video, whatever) with win/loss conditions, it is important that losers know why they lost. They have to know where they went wrong, what decisions they made were foolish, and/or where the random whims of fate were against them. Loss must be an opportunity to learn and improve, so that the loser can get back in the game armed with more experience and knowledge, and thus be better able to step up to the challenge.

    The factors leading to loss must be appreciable. If necessary, they should even be explained at the time of the loss.

    Furthermore, it's important that nobody ever loses because of factors that they had no influence over at all. Ending up in a hopelessly fatal situation is okay if it happens because you made a wrong choice; but if there's no way to avoid it, that's pointless.
  • Yeah, yeah, 'cause if the rules of the game are concretely defined and unchanging, as in video games, we know what the rules are. If the rules of the game are whatever the GM says, then we don't know what the rules are, unless the GM tells us. If we don't know the rules, we can't possibly engage in challenge-based play.

    Am I making sense? I can't tell.
  • That's right, Marshall. A proper gamist game really should have clearly lineated goalposts and aftergame analysis so the players can actually see what they've done. This is one thing I'm not happy with in the current state of the art fantasy adventure games; you can do this thing if you know to, but the closest these games come in this regard is the largely informal loot division and spending binge that the players have after the party survives alive out of the dungeon and gets into the town. It'd probably be smart to use that opportunity to go over the choices made through the scenario with the GM, looking at his notes and figuring out what could have been done better.

    And this is totally something that I am not doing right now. Obvious, but it's so much easier to play according to the methods of the current game that it requires a deliberate act of game design to try something new.
  • Applying Marshall's observation to Paul's quandary, you get this:

    GM: It's a huge, black, humanoid statue that shoots fire from its mouth!
    Player 1: A statue, eh? I think I'll try to roll between its legs! Then I'll have free shots on it's back while it clunkily tries to turn around!
    GM: From the way it's charging, you can tell that it's not moving stiffly at all. The rock is almost flowing like liquid.
    Player 2: Well, maybe flanking it is worthwhile anyway. Could he roll between its legs? Is there room?
    GM: Yeah, the thing's 20 feet tall, with average human proportions, so there's definitely room.

    Players communicate intent before committing to action, GM responds with relevant info.

    Paul, did your group ever do this? If so, under what circumstances?

    My group almost always does this, but when we forget, it's usually:
    a) in the midst of fast, dramatic action, where there's high motivation to get to "so what happens?!" So, of course, the worst possible time to miscommunicate. :)
    b) while resolving something presumed to be uninteresting, like travel ("Okay, GM, we buy our usual provisions and head out." "Okay, player, after a few days of slow going you're starving and ill. These mountains are rough." "Mountains? I thought..." etc.)
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