The Spicy Dice Roll: salvaging something coherent

edited May 2017 in Story Games
Lo these many years ago, on The Forge, a user called Silmenume posted extensively about a peculiarly intense Middle Earth campaign run by a guy named Cary. Here's an index of those threads. Don't read them all; they're ridiculously long-winded; the first one gives a good sense of what's going on.

[Middle Earth - home brew] 1st day in July 4 week of play.
[Middle Earth - home brew] - last week - Repost
[Middle Earth - home brew] - A really bad game night.
The Creation and Birth of a Character
[Middle Earth - home brew] 1st day in July 4th '06 week of play.
[Middle Earth - home brew] 2nd day in July 4th '06 week of play.
[Middle Earth - home brew] - a "new" player's perspective
[Middle Earth - home brew] - A first, another group with the same play style!
The spicey die roll - Middel Earth (home brew) Sim

The highlights:

Cary the GM is this charismatic Tolkien nut who has the complete trust and respect of a tight-nit cadre of players. He runs a decades-long game set in Middle Earth, and the group values deep in-character immersion—speaking in-character, physically inhabiting your character and jumping out of your chair and gesturing like your character is gesturing in a kinda chamber larp-ish way, researching things your character would know and bringing that into the game.

They also value knowing your Tolkien cover to cover, and acting without hesitation, and displaying qualities of leadership and, like, wisdom: placing the good of the game-world, their version of Middle Earth, above even personal enjoyment of the game.

The system... looks like it started out as deeply drifted D&D in the 80s, and by this point is basically "Player rolls a d20, Cary glances at it and makes up whatever the heck he wants, and oh yeah there are seven ability scores rated 3-18 and like hit points and skills and stuff I guess". I mean, their combat system seems to have detailed weapon damage, and armor that absorbs damage, and stamina points, and Personal Body Points for several areas of the body... and yet, no round structure or TN to land a blow on your enemy or anything, it's all handled by the conversational flow in a kinda Apocalypse World-like way.

The players seem to nearly worship Cary. Silmenume clearly respects and idolizes him. Another thing this particular table values a lot is player skill: in a game where player skill comes down to knowing what to do and say to get the response you want out of Carey.

Silmenume in particular has thesis about bricolage, how Forge-ite Simulationist play is all about building up the shared imagined space by incorporating whatever you've got on hand—Impronitfol, swerving to create story, in 2097's recent dialectic. In these threads, Ron Edwards is constantly saying stuff along the lines of "This is all illusionist nonsense, you are Cary's emotional prisoner, how can you not see that you are basically a battered spouse." And Silmenume is constantly responding with "You have a point, but we love this game. It is hugely important to all of us. And it's not just illusionist nonsense."

Ron interprets the game's mechanics as Forge-ite Drama, which IIRC is basically the same as Everway Drama: whatever is best for the story (as determined by Carey and cued by the appearances of natural 1s and 20s on the oh-so-frequent d20 rolls) is what happens. And this seems to accord with how Cary describes the game, as relayed through Silmenume: "The dice add spice!" As in, the dice tell you when to shake things up! When to pay attention and build out your world, when to bricole!

It's a hot mess. It's fascinating.

And I want, really really bad, to be a Cary. To have this deep, deep exploration of one huge sprawling world and story, to have a system that really helps us all live in and build out this imaged place, encourages players to really get inside their PCs' skins. But all this shit is tangled up in this one group's cult of personality, and history together, and insecurely attached / semi-abusive social dynamic.

So, yeah. I wanna try and disentangle it all. To extract something useful, and write a game that lays out How To Be Cary, minus the insecure attachment.


  • These guys know how to live
  • edited May 2017
    This is also an argument for "Transparency of Method"; some of the cockamamie initiative systems I've experiment have been received as if they were as arbitrary as Carey's game. Am currently working on a system derived from Kutulu that looks conversation-y and AW-y on the surface but has strict action econ workings under the hood.

    It would look something like this!
    Conversationy and almost arbitrary looking on the surface, but with strict action economy under the hood.
  • Jeph, I'm slowly working through this treasure trove and I'm really happy that you posted it!

    I just came to this exchange and am laughing♥:
    In one recounted scenario that was before my time, fairly early in the night’s adventure a player who was playing a dwarf spotted the evil druid (the BBEG of this particular scenario) on top of a hill a fair distance away. In an instant before the GM could get much more than the description of the druid out, the player reached to his belt, pulled out his imaginary throwing axe and hucked it at the GM calling out, “I throw my axe!” Now this dwarf had strength that went beyond human maximum, so he was strong, but still this was pretty extreme.

    GM – “Roll a twen-“
    Player – “20!!”
    GM – shaking his head for a moment. “There’s no possible way. You need another 20.”
    Player – “20!” Other players at the table start shouting encouragement!
    GM – “Unless you hit him in the head…”
    Player – rolls percentile dice – “96!” (89-100 is a head shot) Table is growing crazy!
    GM – “You’re not killing him unless you roll over half on your damage die.”
    Player – rolls a d6. “5!” Everyone starts high fiving and congratulating each other.
    (BTW yes of course set stakes before dice fall, this particular exchange was bullshit on part of the DM, which is what made it funny that they didn't get their wish. Otherwise I'm with you, there are lots of things to salvage from this amazing game they had going!)
  • edited May 2017
    A DM friend of mine IS a Cary. People still playing in his games usually enjoys more gaming him (as in player skill as described above) and the system (which no matter what he DMs, always end up hacking it in the worst gruesome ways) , and play for the moments described above. At least my friend would have granted players their wishes after a similar exchange, and rewrite his entire campaign once he calmed down and got enough advice on how to exact his revenge from me or other GMs.

    He's got a real good sense of scene framing, can get players there. He will never just give you all the details, you've got to wrestle them out of him by interacting with the fiction in the exact way he had planned. He gets carried by his story so he usually ends up making mistakes, introducing weak spots on his rails, that he doesn't notice until it's too late and the players are derailing the scene. Then they will usually wrestle for scene control: the GM firing all his excuse cannons until he's out of ammo and shenanigans ensue; the players firing their own too and calling for shenanigans. Dice rolling becomes the arbiter then and the game keeps going on.

    The DM now lives so scared of player derail that most of his beloved NPCs are mary sues, forcing players who seek any agency to minmax and munckin their characters into dysfunctional specialized agency machines instead of actual interesting (or even logic) characters. At least that leaves them with enough weak spots that the GM can exploit to regain agency.

    There's some sort of playful resentment going under all this. The GM resent the players for ruining his story now and then, the players resent not having agency, they make fun and humilliate each other when they outmaneuver the other side through reason, excuses or mostly dice, and they all laugh. That's their fun. I personally can't stand it.
  • Am reading through the third AP now ; it says that there's also some non-AP ("theory") threads…? But that might be like trying to drink straight from the Silmarillion firehose
  • Also it strikes me how much I disagree with the Forge crowd in so many of their principles and ideals — but, it was 2003-2009 (the threads I've read to day have spanned that era) and back then, I would've had the same positions.

    E.g. from "A demoralizing day", Mike (who I think posts here at S-G now, 14 years later), says:
    What you're missing is the "failure means adversity" principle.

    Never have a failure mean that things come to a stop. Just don't ever rule that way. Always interperest a failure as a continuation of the situation with an additional problem worked in.

    Failed Intimidation die roll? Don't have the guy clam up, have him give directions to a trap. Once they discover the trap, they can make another roll with a bonus representing how pissed off they are.
    Now that I've got a little OSR experience behind me I can see how much I enjoy the existence of hard stops. If a particular room becomes unreachable, there's always the rest of the dungeon. If a particular dungeon becomes unreachable, there's always the rest of the sandbox. If a particular campaign becomes unworkable, there's always a new campaign. There's no particular story or "momentum" that I want to "fail forward". I just want to know: "What do you do?"
  • edited May 2017
    So heartbreaking to see some of these old threads (some of which I have read before) and not being able to join in and explain :(

    Am reading Re: The Conflict is Yours and one guy is doing exactly what I used to do when I was at my most dysfunctionally anti-agential. They're using an adventure movie called "A New Hope" as an example.

    The player "Luke" after meeting the other player "Ben" wants to go to back to his farm. The GM improvises that the farm is blown up. Ben wants to bring Luke and another PC "Han" to a place, Alderaan, to have a political intrigue game there. The GM improvises that that place is also blown up! Instead, the GM says "Now you're sucked into this big space station and trapped there, what do you do?"
    But of course the GM isn't railroading because there's No Myth, there's no Rails (and it's not Railgnusto, I do agree with that). But there's also no agency. Everything the players do gets shot down. I recognize my old dysfunctional style in this DM so much. :cry:

    What's worse, this guy who shots down every idea of the "A New Hope" heroes, he is — just as I am now — so self-assured of himself, he's such a "teacher" trying to explain the "right way to play".
    The second part has to do with something I call 'the myth of reality.' This is the idea that things in the game world that the players don't know about have some kind of 'place' or 'existence' or 'identity.'
    :cry: :cry: :cry:

    These are from 2003. I thought that way too back then. What I'm trying to say isn't that "look at how wrong they were" but rather... "someone might look back at this thread in 2031, and look at my posts and be like… wtf Sandra?"

    I certainly didn't see the OSR coming and I was late to the party on that one. But it turned all my gaming theory upside down. Some new revolution in story games is going to come again and turn everything in another direction.
  • edited May 2017
    OTOH, @jhkim is also present in those threads and he is repping his solid Skyrealms playstyle w/o regrets. If I can look back in 2031 and see my posts in the same light I'm now seeing his—i.e. something that was on the right track—I'd be pretty happy.
  • Mods, I'm sorry. I should let it go. The past is in the past.
    Thank you.
  • edited May 2017
    Let's talk about that thing Sandra and WM were posting on a few messages back! The one where:

    1. The GM knows what they want to happen!
    2. But they don't have the authority to just say, "X happens," so they call for a roll. They plan to say, "X happens, because the dice say so," rather than "X happens, because I say so."
    3. And the roll is an extreme result! So they move the goal posts and call for another roll.
    4. And get another extreme result! Everyone's yelling and cheering!
    5. And the GM caves! They say, "Wow, guys, amazing roll. Y happens!"
    6. And then, sometimes, later, when everyone's calmed down, X happens anyway.

    I don't think anyone has mentioned it yet in this thread, but there's a point in the Canon of Silmenume where the Dunedain is under attack by vikings and orcs, and a player rolls like half a dozen 20s in a row, and the elves come in to save the day! Awesome!

    And then, later, in the houses of healing, it turns out that one of the injured Dunedain was a Black Commando, and murders most of the survivors in their sick bed. That's #6 in action and I think it sucks!

    But, heretical as it may be, I kinda like steps 1 through 5. I mean it clearly can produce emotional and intense play experiences, so there's gotta be some merit in there somewhere.

    So, here is my proposal for The Core Mechanic.

    As the GM, you may call for your players to roll a d20. Do this a lot. You can do it when nothing much is happening but you want to allow for the possibility that something unexpected might happen. You can do it when a player has their character do something with an uncertain outcome. You can do it when you know what you want to happen, but you don't have the social authority to just say it, you need the dice to back you up.

    There's two ways to go from here:

    The Target Roll

    Announce a Target Number, which is how high the player needs to roll to Do The Thing. If you want you can set the TN higher than 20: "Not unless you roll me two 20s in a row!"

    Either it should be manifest and clear to everyone at the table what The Thing is, or it can be manifest and clear to just you. But if it's all in your head, you need to commit. You need to lock that down.

    (Now, Cary wouldn't lock it down all the time. Cary might move the goal posts after the roll. But that's an element of his style I want to excise. I want to keep the "Fuck you, that's impossible, only on a natural 20" bit, minus the "just kidding only on two natural 20s and a 12% roll and a coinflip" bit.)

    If the d20 is equal or above TN, It Happesn; if lower, It Does Not. If they miss the TN by a point or two, you can throw them a bone, soften the impact a bit.

    And on a natural 1 Fate Is Turning, on a natural 20 that's a Critical Success.

    The Impression Roll

    Don't announce a TN or anything. Just hold in your mind what will probably happen. The most likely, most obvious outcome. As above, you gotta be honest with yourself, you gotta lock it down in a way that Cary never would.

    You don't have to tell the players what this most likely, expected, obvious outcome is, but they should have a pretty good idea a lot of the time. Either because they've been in situations like this before, and you are consistent in your judgments; or because it's manifest and obvious ("I'm a well-traveled ranger going through woods that are practically my back yard"), or because you've just had an exchange where they attempt to clarify in-character, or you just tell them in-character, how the land lies.


    1. Fate Is Turning
    2-3. The worst logical outcome that follows directly from the established fiction.
    4-7. Worse than expected; adjust down from your pre-committed outcome.
    8-13. Exactly as expected; use your pre-committed outcome.
    14-17. Better than expected; adjust up from your pre-committed outcome.
    18-19. The best logical outcome that follows directly from the established fiction.
    20. Critical Success

    Critical 1s and 20s

    These are super important. Players should shout about them, gloating in joy or cowering in fear. They're cues for the GM to make sudden and dramatic things happen. They're a grant of authority to go beyond established scope and really fuck with the scene an d story.

    On a natural 1, Fate Is Turning. This usually means Something Really Bad Happens, often something that doesn't follow directly from the established fiction. The Looming Threat comes crashing down and totally fucks you up. Or a totally new, heretofore unknown threat reveals itself.

    This isn't always all bad, often it's an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire deal. You escape from the thing you were trying to escape from, but here's this new obstacle!

    And, it can mean that you just straight up get what you want... for now. But fate is still turning. And your next d20 throw might not mean what you think it means. Like when Turandir slipped his bonds and got away from his Orc captors, and Elrohir tossed him his blade Gurthang, and figures were running towards him so he swings! ... and cuts down four of his allies in his disorientation and confusion.

    On a natural 20, that's a Critical Success! Roll again! See if you get more than one 20 in a row! A critical success is always an amazing success, but two or three in a row can totally change what a scene is about. Here comes the cavalry! Four or more in a row can be cues to the GM to introduce stuff that changes the whole game.


    So. The mechanic is "The GM decides what they want to happen, or are willing to let happen, and the player rolls a d20. And then the thing probably happens."

    But in order to be a Virtuous Cary rather than a Sinful Cary, we've got an extra layer of being honest with ourselves, an extra commitment that before the dice hit the table, we must know in our heart of hearts that it is the TRUTH that X is the most likely result. And if the dice say so, we need to abandon X. It's time to swerve.
  • Commenting upon the systemic parts of this phenomenon, I've done some similar things over the last few years in my game design. Not the fiat illusionism part, but rather the part where task resolution rolls "don't matter" or matter in very narrow ways for conflict resolution purposes. It's totally legit game design to decide that you want your game to have task resolution procedures even if they don't actually contribute to resolve anything that actually matters plot-wise to the game; the task resolution can still be important for color or pacing or something.

    (RPG theory old-timers might remember at this point that I've got my own pet theory about how task and conflict resolution systems actually interrelate in rpgs - it's not as simple as "you gotta choose one or the other", and there are plenty of games where these simple labels mostly just mislead analysis. So this is me harping about old theory bullshit from last decade.)

    The way I see it, the system of this kind of "GM fiat with dice" game can be analyzed as a combination of two overlapping resolution systems:

    Task resolution: If you're doing something risky or interesting or whatever, the GM will ask you to roll the dice so we'll see how well you do it. You can trust the dice to tell you how well you do, and in fact you can pretty much interpret them yourself most of the time. The GM reliably gives you this - you roll good, your character really does the deed.

    Conflict resolution: The GM decides what happens in the game (who wins and who loses at different times), but they need to be sort of covert about it, so they'll need to run the task resolution show-and-tell for a little while before laying down the law. The proceedings may even inspire them to improvise a bit. Individual tasks do not ultimately matter, except as narrative wrinkles.

    The useful part in breaking things down in this way, for me at least, is that I can peel things away more cleanly and consider them in isolation: does the idea of having a task resolution system without it being super important strike my fancy, perhaps? Or do I like the idea that the GM does covert conflict resolution without telling the players? I feel it's easier to figure out what I want when I think of the perhaps mystifying task resolution rituals and the overall dramatic control system of the game as separate things altogether.

    As an example of how one can mix and match task and conflict resolution, perhaps in ways that were out of conceptual reach during the golden era of the Forge, consider this simplified snippet of rules from a little game I wrote last fall. It's relevant here because it's very similar to what Jeff describes above.
    Whenever characters do task resolution stuff, roll a die against the table:

    1 Failure, plus you're "sidelined" - penalty to further rolls in the situation
    2-3 Normal failure in the task, the situation proceeds without you for now.
    4-6 Success; you're "on the roll" and gain a bonus to further rolls in the situation
    7+ Conflict resolution: you succeed, plus your success rolls over so thoroughly that the entire situation on hand resolves in your favour. Everybody stop rolling until a new situation develops.
    (The game uses multiple die sizes against that table and so on, but all that's ancillary to the point so let's skip the details.)

    As you can see, the central conceit of this particular game combines task and conflict resolution rather seamlessly: you're supposed to roll dice for tasks, and if those tasks should happen to resolve a situation, then all well and good; however, it is likely that a more extensive and complex situation will sooner or later end in some participant rolling high enough to outright resolve the situation in a conflict resolution sense.
  • Eero, I've seen you express that sentiment before (perhaps even on the linked Forge threads?) but I can't agree. But I'm too exhausted to argue my case. I just wanted to state it for the record that when I consult the gloracle I do so with veneration and respect.
  • I had a super long chat with Silmenume about how this game worked. Happy to answer any specific questions!
  • Eero, I don't think the rolls in Cary's game, or the little system I wrote up, are "task resolution rolls" as you call them at all. I think they're cues towards valence, pacing, and scope, which are all bound up in each other. I think some of what you wrote is getting at that, but as you predicted the task / conflict resolution vocab is just obfuscating.

    Valence: When the players at the table see the roll, does that make them excited? Does it make them expect good things or bad things? The GM must adjust their move to match the reaction that the little piece of plastic provokes in the group, or they'll lose credibility and erode their own authority.

    Pacing: Does a critical result tell the GM it's time for a sudden shift in the momentum of the scene? Or, I've got some big thing in mind, something that would make the players balk if I just up and said it as part of the conversation—so I'll wait until I see a 1 or a 20 on the table, then slap that baby into the shared fiction while everyone's prepared to be unprepared!

    Scope: Does a really high or a really low roll prompt the GM to "think bigger" than the expected outcome that they'd had in mind?

    And I want to emphasize: this kind of mechanic, this "Roll a d20!", does not always relate to a task or conflict. Like Silmenume wrote in ages past, "About half the time we don't know what we are rolling for." I think this is the GM just fishing for these cues. And I think, other times, you can call for a roll when a character isn't, like, trying to accomplish anything difficult, isn't in conflict, but just kind engaging with the world: making their way through the woods, having a conversation with an NPC.

    Player: "Alright, I head back to the homesteader's farm. I'll take a shortcut through the wood."
    GM: "Throw me a d20!" (Holding the expected result, 'You get there with no problem.')
    Player: Crap! Natural 1!
    GM: (Swerving) "About two thirds of the way there, you come across several footprints—a band of orc. The prints are fresh. What do you do?"

    Or, using it kinda like an OD&D reaction roll:

    Player: "I step out into the road and hail the rider. 'What news?'"
    GM: "Roll!" (Holding the expected result, 'The rider exchanges a few words and rides on.')
    Player: 19!
    GM: (Adjusting upwards) "He leaps off his horse and bows. When he raises his visor you can see it's one of your vassals."
  • @David_Berg I don't remember ever reading how the players reacted to Cary dealing out damage / consequences to their characters—in D&D or something, the GM can easily fall back to "The monster gets this many attacks at +X which to YdZ damage", but, like, Cary is just making it up. So where does his authority to deal out consequences come from? If ya'll ever approached that in your conversation.
  • edited May 2017
    I don't recall damage specifically, but I do recall that consequence-doling was as per established convention. Whatever method Cary used, he used the same method time after time.

    Whenever the dice were consulted, degree did communicate something to the players. Quality of effort (how high you rolled) + inherent difficulty of situation = severity of GM response, so players got to read the situation accordingly. I dunno if dice were rolled for damage, but if they were, then I assume their results expressed that logic.

    EDIT: The thing I just described is basically the situation-dependence of your Target Roll (i.e. some efforts are easier than others) crossed with the gradations of your Impression Roll (i.e. some successes/failures are closer than others). Combine those and I think the system you put forth is very close to what the group did.
  • edited May 2017
    A few core dynamics which I think bear exploring if one were to systematize this:

    1) The GM is the arbiter of "what would happen in this simulation", but "what would happen" is highly subjective and filtered through the lens of creativity, entertainment, consistency, tone, celebration of the source material, etc. My odds to land my grappling hook are improved by practical stuff like picking a good target to latch onto, but I think they're also improved by callbacks to prior play, earnest character expression, Middle Earthy verisimilitude, etc. This can be an odious experience when the player and GM are not on the same page, and an amazing one when they are on the same page.

    Silmenume described the formation of the group to me as a process of finding out over time who could get on the same page. Those who couldn't weren't invited back.

    2) Formal rewards. Player ratings, best player, wisdom checks, level advancement. +2 to everything for the rest of the night. These are great feedback tools for the GM to show the players what the GM values, but also sound to me like weighty social cudgels to wield. Doing this the Good way rather than the Bad way seems crucial.

    3) The main reason I see to listen to Ron's harsh critique of people having a great time is the spotlighting process. "Delight the GM in order to succeed in character" is one thing, but "delight the GM in order to meaningfully participate as a player" is another, IMO. As Silmenume described it to me, there was zero, "Oh no, I tried to play but got shot down, I'm sad," going on, but I'm not sure how they got to that point. I imagine there was some other sort of positive experience going on in those moments of being ignored by Cary -- maybe daydreaming aloud to entertain yourself, or maybe adding color to the scene for the other players?
  • I think it's super interesting that consequence-dealing was applied consistently, using the same rules every time. It sounds like it was a hard (but high) limit circumscribing the GM's authority: the GM can only do this much to a PC before giving the players a chance to respond.

    (Though maybe this isn't really much of a limit at all, given how deadly the game seems; we see many examples in the Canon of characters, even powerful characters, dropping with a single blow. So maybe it's just so much more illusionism. "See, I'm being fair! Whenever I arbitrarily apply damage to you, it uses this known probability distribution!" Except that known distribution has a 60% chance of one-shotting you, and THEN the GM gets to hand out second chances and Hero's Saving Throws and all that if they're feeling generous.)

    The other limit on the GM's authority is the way player credibility gets stretched by a really, really good dice roll producing a bad in-fiction outcome. (But, again, we see the bullshit illusionism where the GM circles back around after the players have cooled down and re-inserts the thing they originally wanted to happen, just a bit delayed.)

    How much is it necessary to stiffen up those constraints to get functional play? Or do you just need to kinda explicate the ways in which they are squishy and malleable, put it up front so it becomes part of the social contract rather than bullshit?
  • In Cary's game there were two damage types; Stamina and PBP (personal body points or "meat points" ← that's not their word for it, they called it PBP). So you'd be in a clang-clang sword fight and wear out your stamina. Or you could get an arrow in the head and it'd eat PBP.

  • As Silmenume described it to me, there was zero, "Oh no, I tried to play but got shot down, I'm sad," going on, but I'm not sure how they got to that point. I imagine there was some other sort of positive experience going on in those moments of being ignored by Cary -- maybe daydreaming aloud to entertain yourself, or maybe adding color to the scene for the other players?
    In the threads, Jay mentions three occasions (over the decades of play) where this was a very negative experience for him. Two in passing before he started writing about the games on the Forge, where his character had been recuperating from an injury (why they didn't give him one of his many alternates then, I'm not sure). Apparently Cary apologized to him after both occasions. And one other such occasion happened after he started writing on the Forge and we can see it discussed in detail in this long thread.

  • ... it clearly can produce emotional and intense play experiences, so there's gotta be some merit in there somewhere.
    Because it's a gambling system. An insultingly obvious Skinner box, y'all.

    The DM tells a story and when the players interject to change what the characters are doing, the DM lets the roll dice. When the dice are good, good things happen to the characters. When they are bad, the story takes a turn for the worse.

    There's no game here other than how compelling a story the DM can tell and his ability to consistently enthuse players with emotional gambling pay-offs.

    It works because endorphins.

    The reason I'm down on such naked skulduggery is that it's not design you can write down and impart. The only way to be 'Gary' is to learn some combination of stagecraft and carny gile.

    And those are not instructions I am willing or able to write.

    Maybe you can.

    Maybe I'm going to chill over here with the ghost of Ron Edwards and watch playtest groups removed from your force of charisma dissolve into bitter tears.
  • Maybe I'm going to chill over here with the ghost of Ron Edwards and watch playtest groups removed from your force of charisma dissolve into bitter tears.
    You made me ROTFL! XD

  • Let me explain the 1s and 20s thing by way of analogy. In Feng Shui 1 (haven't read 2 yet) normally you make a to-hit roll and a damage roll. But there is an enemy type ("Mooks") where you don't need to make damage rolls or even track damage, they don't have HP, you only need a sufficiently high to hit roll to take them out -- so they could possibly take many hits, if the margin of success isn't enough.

    In a hypothetical 1s-and-20s game, not sure if this is exactly how Cary's game works or not, when you're fighting an orc, you roll for each swing and narrate the swing vividly. "Clang!" roll, "Clang!" roll etc. Soon enough, you'll hit a 1 or a 20 (birthday-paradoxically enough it usually happens pretty soon—after four swings, you're already over ⅓ chance of having hit a 1 or a 20, and after ten swings you're at 65% (unfortunately there's a bit of a long tail of diminishing returns going on)); so the battle pace goes like this: fluff, fluff, fluff, fluff, CRUNCH! (5e instead uses hit points as this "pacing mechanic".)

    Obv if you get good at the math (and I'm realized I'm not as good at this stuff as I thought) you could tweak the numbers to better suit your game.
  • Side note: in those "fluff"-beats, you're fictionally positioning yourself in the SIS, and in the "crunch" beats you're doing the same but significantly more impactfully.
  • Yeah, I understand how it works. It's a slot machine.

    To use an analogy of my own, some wreaks can't be salvaged.
  • That's a bit harsh. I'm grateful to Jay for sticking it out and keeping describing the game despite the slings and arrows from some of the Forgites.

    Just like a slot machine, it's a pacing mechanism. It makes it obvious when you should lightly fictionally position yourself vs when you can really twist the knife.

    Cary's game strikes me as very similar to what I've seen of Dread (BTW, just opened the book for the first time in a while — wow, never realized that it was written by old hands from RGFA). To do it do it, to say it say it, but also very illusionistic, very much focus on mood, very much focus on belief in the game, very much focus on pre-written scenarios held relatively lightly, and then the big slot machine in the center of the table and extreme buy-in in the consequences of that slot machine.

    Yet Dread is an indie darling and Cary's game is a Forge punching bag.
  • If it makes you feel better, I don't have much time for Dread either.

    But I sure respect it a whole bunch more for actually being a game, rather than a series of anecdotes that ultimately amount to "because Gary!"

    If there was salvage to be had, Dread found it.
  • —But, Sandra, I thought you were all about clear mechanics consistently applied?
    —Yes, now. But in 2003-2009 I was down in the same mire as these guys, in my own games. And there were good things. Hence my Project Bathwater, to bring back some of the same sense of presence; instead of discarding rules making them seamless and "invisible" [but able to produce the full flowchart on an ornery player's request].
  • If it makes you feel better, I don't have much time for Dread either.

    But I sure respect it a whole bunch more for actually being a game, rather than a series of anecdotes that ultimately amount to "because Gary!"

    If there was salvage to be had, Dread found it.
    Ah, we crossposted! I am in agreement with you that this game isn't something I'd want to play as it is.

    But I think the Forgites were missing out in how they were talking down to Jay, how rude, hurtful and dismissive they were, and some of the posts were very far over the line.

    They had an opportunity for a field study of something very different to them and they shot it down.

    IOW, yes please to:
    • To do it do it
    • To say it say it
    • very much focus on mood
    • very much focus on belief in the game
    • and then the big slot machine in the center of the table and extreme buy-in in the consequences of that slot machine.

    (In my case, the "slot machine" are the mechanics of 5e as they are, with AC, HP, dice rolled openly, searching through Sage Advice etc etc.)

    And no thanks to:
    • but also very illusionistic
    • very much focus on pre-written scenarios held relatively lightly

    But there's so much of what Jay and his friends were doing that I'm completely on board with. How much they invest in the setting…

    And what do they get in return? Things like "Part of it is the mixing of player and character. Jay, you're not a dwarf. Too much description of the events of the game, not enough about the people playing."

    I wish I was there and could say "GO FOR IT!"
  • Let's make this clear: S-G is not, nor ever will be, the Forge.

    Nor is it a place to put the attitudes of that forum on trail. I feel quite strongly that post-mortems on Forge theory are not what this place is about and there is a real danger of delving too greedily, and too deep.

    Meta-commentary aside, this wish-list isn't isn't tackling my explicit criticism:
    As a game designer, you cannot design for personal charisma.

    But now that you have identified the positives from the anecdote, go play with those ideas for a while. Put Gary to bed as the myth of selective memory and cultishness.
  • You're right. I strayed into putting Forge on trial yesterday and I just did the same again today. :(

    I disagree w/ the charisma thing, if it can be leveraged for better game play, go for it! As long as it's tempered by clear rules applied consistently.

    Btw, he's not "Gary", the DM in that game was filmwriter and producer Cary Solomon. So it's not just some rando who have enthralled the players with dice, it's someone who knows a great deal about theater, story, engaging the audience etc and has made a successful career out of it.
  • Not that that excuses the dysfunctional parts (which I think "it was 2006!" does better).
  • Heh, Ron's analysis that Sandra linked - as incisive as ever [grin]. Everybody's moved on to a less tumultous style of discourse since then, Ron included, but he ever had, and still does, a powerful passion for the gaming art. Delightful how unafraid he was then about putting down an analysis as he sees it.

    For what it's worth, I personally think that Dread is a very interesting game that explores a kind of design that has not had as much follow-through as it deserves. Dread and Dead of Night, those are my two guideposts towards a particular kind of GM-expressive gaming; for years I've tended to play a session or two per year of their particular brand of GM-ful horror sim story game, and I know that when the time's right, I'm going to push that stuff further: there's gaming to be had in that style, even if the trad adherents of the "charismatic GM" school of thought seem to have proven impotent in putting it all into an actionable game text.

    The "Cary's game" discussed here relates to that inspiration in the most important core factor: we're talking about a game that gets its creative core impulse from the GM's theatrical vision. Whatever of interest and worth is in the given session of play, it is there because the GM brought it; the players do not have that responsibility or that credit. I think that this is an interesting set-up, speaking in general terms: in the aforementioned two scenario horror games I can feel this creative contract lift me and motivate me, as I know that it is on me to bring my best literary effort to the table as the GM. If the game ends up being a shallow and stupid geek fantasy thing, that's because I failed to bring a grander vision. That sort of thinking can take you quite a long way in terms of getting something interesting done at the game table, and I think that at least these horror one-shot games manage to keep it all creatively healthy in a way that a long-running fantasy campaign may not. So it's proven that it's possible; the question is merely who will push this kind of game further, and how.
  • Right, we're not here to re-hash Forge analyses and arguments. The links up top are there primarily as a canon of Silmenume's experience, the rest of the threads are kinda ancillary, except insofar as they draw out more primary source comments on the game.

    So, slot machines and personal charisma, yeah.

    @Potemkin I get the sense from your comments that your stance is there's nothing going on here outside of the charismatic GM, the players are his audience to be manipulated and strung along, and their characters clay in his hands or at best a sort of random generator of prompts for him to build off of. I think that's pretty unfair.

    The audience pressure and expectations of the players are real. The GM's need to avoid stretching their authority beyond its limits is a real social constraint, its interplay with the dice and with player decisions is tangible. The GM isn't just doing whatever he wants, he's doing whatever he wants within those constraints.

    Sometimes he stretches it pretty far. But not all the time, only when there's some outcome he's super committed to, like the decimation of the Dunedain. And in those situations, player choices and the dice mostly matter in terms of illuminating a path to the end-point. But a lot of the time it seems like he's not holding onto any outcome so strongly. And in those situations, player choices and rolls are very much influencing both the path and the destination.

    Like, none of this is really so far from Apocalypse World, right? This is a game where the players and the GM begin and end with the fiction. This is a game where the players, always, and the GM sometimes, plays to find out what happens. This is a game where we never speak the name of our move, and turns are determined by the natural ebb and flow of conversation. This is a game where a natural 1, or a miss on the d20 by a large margin, authorize the GM to make a move, as hard or as soft as he likes. This is a game where we deal Harm as established.

    There is definitely something to be salvaged here. I might try to write out the Agenda and Principles and Moves of this game *World style, I think that could help clarify the conversation. (But I'm about to go camping, so maybe on Monday.)

    I think the charismatic GM and slot machine endorphin-cannon are obscuring just how functional and coherent of a core you've got lurking underneath the surface, here. I mean, this is an incredibly natural way to play RPGs, it's what mediocre D&D DMs find themselves drifting towards all the time... but it works out poorly, because it's not what the players signed up for and nobody's made it explicit. But the very magnetism, the very gravity, of this style of play just cries out for someone to scrape off the cruft and bare the core in a clear and concise way, so that we can examine it as its own beast, and not as the vestigial appendage of a charismatic leader.
  • For me, it wasn't so much what the criticism was, as how it was delivered. We call our own failed games wreaks all the time, but someone elses?

    Jeph, I'm interested in this. To some extent, AW sprung out of @John_Harper 's old Kang War session reports, which, when I read them through post-OSR eyes, made me react similarly (negative) as I do to Cary's ME. A development I'm always fascinated by ♥
  • edited May 2017
    I think there's an interesting overlap between Cary's approach, which is being described by some here as personal charisma, and Todd Furler's approach, which we broke down here into some fairly specific techniques. I would like to think there's a way to train people with average-ish charisma to be Cary when it comes to a subject they know and love and much as Cary knows and loves Middle Earth. I've had some experiences kinda in that direction with my homebrew world that I ran games in from age 15 to 30.
  • edited May 2017

    So, here is my proposal for The Core Mechanic....
    Fun fact: THIS is how I've been playing and GMing RPGs since I started in the hobby.

    From my experience I agree that quality of the content depends on what the GM brings to the table. Charisma isn't a must if you tone down both the requirements (above 15 instead of 20, you get to add any bonuses you can talk the GM into) and the punishment (ok, you rolled a one, now roll to confirm something terrible, uh you rolled another one roll to confirm stupid death) (and of course all damage is rolled when pertinent, like when the boss is at full HP and confirmed critical happens. If it's at 5hp from dying or 25% of HP then killed outright, no need for confirmation)

    On top of that you can use the power of Illusionism for good!

    But then again, all this does is just to change the GM requirement from being high CHA to high WIS. You can add unseen mechanics and change the requirement to high INT. Or you can make mechanics simpler, more open and distribute the responsibilities. There are lots of options now, everyone should be free to try whatever they want.
  • @2097 Do you have Kang War links? I've never heard of it; I was kinda AWOL from the scene for a few years that included early AW development.

    @David_Berg as soon as I clicked on that link it reminded of me old posts on which I swear must be about the same game. I can never find those posts, though; I've tried to look for them a few times over the years. Reports of that play definitely occupy similar head-space as the Middle Earth game.
  • It starts here and then you can follow the links at the bottom.
  • FWIW... I think a lot about how Int, Wis, and Cha relate to both GMing and teaching. I think you're right about Wis GMing, WarriorMonk. Though I wonder if all three "mental stats" can be used for non-illusionistic GMing, too?

    Because I think Int GMing is basically what I do when I run something like BW or Spellbound Kingdoms or even 5E: play by the rules, and challenge the players on those terms. What does non-Illusionistic Wis-based GMing look like? Cha would be, like, Dread, I think.
  • My name is Pol Rivas and I'm and Illusionholic. I've been clean for the past six days... so I'll drop the illusionism subject. You're right Deliverator, as bad as my methaphor was, there must be a Wis based way of GMing in every style. Let's try to salvage something out of this.
    Wisdom describes a character’s willpower, common sense, perception, and intuition. While Intelligence represents one’s ability to analyze information, Wisdom represents being in tune with and aware of one’s surroundings.
    So GMing like this should be more about paying attention to either or both the surroundings in the fiction or at the table, and switch the game gears accordingly, which can be done perfectly by both applying the written rules or enforcing the unwritten rules (social contract).

    Paying attention to the surroundings in the fiction means describing properly the whole scene and add the right amount of detail to a limited amount of things in the scene, ask the players where they are, how they react and exactly how they interact with it, then applying the rules to complete the process and give the players a proper feedback.

    At the table means that you can call the players attention back to the game, pace yourself and give it enough time to asking and answering questions about the scene, how quick or slow time passes and anything that anyone wishes to focus in. Rules will come right after this exchange to help decide outcomes and adjudication. Then these get turned into consequences that restart the cycle back again.

    Cha could also mean a bit of Cary in the way of projecting life into the characters and description, by making the whole fiction care and react emotionally to the PCs. Perhaps a more actor stance towards the GMing. Rules can still come right after this without any change.
  • I pray for the Charisma to change what I can, the Intelligence to accept what I can't, and the Wisdom to tell the difference.

    To me, Wis is all about discernment. Knowing when to use which approach or technique.
  • When I started talking about "charismatic" GMing, I think what I really meant was the uncommon degree of trust that the players put in the GM's hands. It's a form of suspension of disbelief, I guess; the players must know that no human can be totally objective, but they at least for the duration of the session allow themselves to think that the GM has Somewhere They're Going With This, that it's better to give them the Benefit Of The Doubt.

    Which of course doesn't always work out well. A lot of us have played with, or been, abusive GMs at some point. Trust is earned, it's often impossible to just give it blindly.

    I think "Give the GM the benefit of the doubt until the session is over" is actually a core technique of this sort of play, and one of the things that unites Cary Solomon's and Todd Furler's styles.
  • GMing is more of an art than a science, which is where Wisdom comes into play. Intelligence is for understanding the game, Charisma is for presenting the game, and Wisdom is for managing the game.

    Most of us can manage only one or two of those, so writing rules in such a way that compensates for them is beneficial to all involved parties.
  • In the past, in discussions about "immersion", I've posited that it is primarily a result of two qualities:

    Familiarity [with the process and rules of play] and trust [in each other].

    Have enough, in aggregate, of those two things, and you start to have a good shot at an "immersive" game.
  • I've finally had a chance to catch up on this thread. Some very interesting discussion here!

    It's prompted me to start a new thread, from the player's perspective:

    Spicy Roll, Player Edition

    A few thoughts:

    If I had to talk about GMing in terms of D&D stats, perhaps I would say something like...

    Intelligence: The ability to amass knowledge, master mechanics and rules, background knowledge, canon knowledge, and remember it all. Know what all the rules are and when to bring them into play. Create new and exciting material, reincorporating details from long-ago sessions, and keep it all in your mind at once, to be able to tie together plotlines and develop, new interesting directions with exciting twists.

    Wisdom: The ability to observe the players and feed off their reactions. Sense when they need more of something and when they need less of something. Be able to adjust to your particular group of players, learning how much time they need to talk, how much description they need, and when they need to take a break. Figure out who should sit next to whom for maximum effect. Know when to discard the rules or introduce new ones.

    Charisma: Draw the attention of your players, both personally and 'inside' the story/fiction. Embody living, breathing, memorable NPCs and produce a "hypnotic" effect on the players. Share your enthusiasm and passion in a way that they can't help but get drawn into the game. Create a "vibe" by bringing illustrations, playing music or sound effects, and choosing just the right lighting for your session. When difficult moments occur in play, you have the ability to talk your way over and through them, making the group feel like that hiccup never even happened, through sheer force of personality.

    There's probably a parallel to being a game designer in all that somewhere...
  • edited May 2017
    As for the "Spicy Roll" itself, there's something really kind of primitive and basic about it, isn't there? The idea of consulting a die roll as an extension of your ability to sense the flow of fate and throw your oar into it... not too different from buying a lottery ticket or asking someone to read your future. From that perspective, it makes sense that you *wouldn't want to know* how it works, or whether it works consistently. Buying into the excitement and the uncertainty is paramount - that's the whole point, to dip into the unknown.

    For those in the know, consider the patented "diceless die system" in Metascape II! That's exactly what this is about, isn't it?
    Slay the Proverbial Dragon in one Blow- The main die system is perhaps the most advanced ever made. So what? Well, it allows any roll to have a chance of success or failure. So, the proverbial dragon can be slain in one blow. Or, the mighty warrior may fail to slay a mouse. Roll results range from 1 to infinity, though the largest recorded was several million (not bad given a base roll of about 20)! This is a true, open ended die system.
    (From HERE.)

    That's an interesting way to look at it, because when I think back to my early game design efforts, it was all about finding the right dice to get a certain *feeling* when rolling them. A homebrew version of D&D I wrote used different mechanics for different types of actions, because maybe rolling a d20 felt good for attacking someone, but - of course! - watching a growing pile of d6s was way cooler for a chase. (Right?)

    I was really in love with WEG Star Wars d6 for a while, where you roll pools of d6s, but the pool has a "wild die". The "wild die" would create dramatic successes and failures, with open-ended rolls on the positive end. The excitement when someone rolls a 6 and a 6 and another 6... wow! Did you just roll a 54 on those 3d6?!?

    I loved the drama of it all. No doubt, at the time, we used it as a "spicy roll", and so those dramatic open-ended results were really key. We were all committed, as players and GMs, to making the difference between rolling a total of 20 and rolling a total of 30 *really matter*, even if the target number had been an 8.

    Interesting memories to reconsider. Thank you for starting this thread!
  • I believe it's been mentioned before but I'm not sure and can't find it in the thread, but has anybody gave a thought at the dice slot machine as a "random table improvised on your mental palace"? It's something at least I use a lot in this style, though I don't know if it will work for the canon

    What I mean is that there are times when you as a GM are undecided on something. As whimsical and railroading as a spicy dice roll GM can be, there are times when she wants to be a bit more fair, leaving things to chance. So you pick up the dice and tell yourself "based on players decisions/NPC plans there are four things that can happen, let's roll to see where things may go". You can also do this in several rolls, walking through the forking path of possibilities in your head and letting the dice choose left or right on each bifurcation. And so, you end up with a twist you could never come up with on your own, trying to connect the missing parts as either a devilish grin forms in your face or you go white pale on realization.

    Well, this can be extended to dice rolled by players even while they are rolling skill checks or attacks. Using this you won't only read the dice in binary as if the PC passed a test or not, or even adding how well she fare, but using them as an oracle to tell which of many consequences that could have happened comes to be.
  • That reminds me of a trick mentioned here from time to time. (Can't remember the source...)

    The crux is, when you don't know what will happen, think of the most obvious thing and the next-most-obvious thing, and flip a coin. If heads, go with the most obvious thing.

    If tails, come up with the next-next-most-obvious thing. If heads, you do the next-most.

    Ad nauseum.
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