Unwanted outcomes

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  • I just tbh can't really get the appeal of finding out which outcome happens. I can't really even get the appeal of multiple possible outcomes. Like, I get that it's just a playstyle difference, but I guess I can't really wrap my head around the appeal of simulation of world, because that kind of simulation just seems wholly uninteresting to me, and like it would only really appeal to maybe historians? Or just generally people who don't care about characters, maybe?
    There is the historical impulse, for sure. People sometimes have discussions about would there really be castles and armies and such in a (D&D) fantasy world, gives all the wizards and dragons and such. An interesting way of answering the question is to take a fantasy world with all the elements and start playing a wizard, a dragon or a queen, and see what you can make of it. Maybe the castles turn out to be useless, and maybe not. But now you understand the question a lot better, in any case, and have one answer in a particular scenario.

    But this can also be about characters, or at least characteristics. Inquisitors are often seen as suspicious figures. So, it is interesting to start playing an inquisitor who is genuinely good, however one understands that, and seeing how that turns out. Maybe it will be a heart-rending tragedy, or maybe it turns out that the church actually is filled with good people and is a force of good. But, again, one will have a clearer vision of the pressures and dynamics in the situation, and what kind of people might manage in the position. It might also create what one thinks is a good story, if the set-up is suitable for that.

    Having a fair dose of simulation does make it less likely that the story turns out to be unbelievable, because there are too many dramatic coincidences. If a murder goes unnoticed because there is thunder just as the gun is fired, that sounds like a suspicious coincidence. But if we estimate the chances for that being true (say 1/10) and roll dice to see if it happens, and it does, then it is much easier for me to believe. But usually that will not happen; but again, given a suitably interesting starting situation, whatever happens is still likely to be interesting. And if not, then move on to something that is.
  • That makes total sense, and thank you for that explanation, Thanuir! That actually helps a lot, the whole thing with the experimentation and testing and stuff.

    I think the thing with the story being unbelievable is a stumbling block for me as far as confusion, because for me, the thunder not happening as the gun fires in the story where the murder is a secret would for me feel unrealistic, instead of the thunder feeling like a suspicious coincidence if it did happen.
    But that's a thing of how I think in story logic, and in a lot of ways wish that the real world were governed by story logic instead of the harsh real world logic that it's governed by, so then for me, when a story doesn't operate like a story, it feels extremely unrealistic to me and falls apart for me, because it doesn't feel like a real story if it doesn't operate like a story.
    Which is also a big part of why I don't "get" emergent narrative/play-to-find-out, because it doesn't feel like stories to me; it feels like simulation, since stories are things you can find out the details of and know about before you go into them (and I'm the type who even with passive media will read spoilers obsessively before consuming a piece of media, and who will be reluctant to consume a piece of media if I can't find spoilers for it), and the fact that I see roleplaying as this very authorial type of thing, and as a writer I'm the type who obsessively outlines and plans stuff before I write, so it feels not-like-writing to me for the authors to not know where the story is going, so the whole thing of roleplaying just falls apart for me when emergent narrative/play-to-find-out is a thing in it, if that makes any kind of sense.
  • The word "story" has been polysemically overloaded, for sure.
  • edited June 2018
    That's very very true!
    I mean story in the context of a story like a novel or a manga or a movie or something would have, with dramaturgical structures, operating on story logic, etc, etc, etc.
    Just to clarify what I talk about when I say it...
  • Yeah, and, when I want those things, I know where to go to find it :smile:

    And when I want to, like... um... "experience" or "discover" something, I turn to D&D instead :tongue:
  • That's totally understandable!
    I think part of my thing is that I have absolutely 0 impulse for discovery and all of that. It just falls very flat for me, and when I spend my time doing that kind of thing, I feel like I wasted it (by my own standards I mean. I wouldn't say that other people waste their time playing DnD if they like it. It's just the feeling I get when I that kind of activity, if that makes sense.)

    I'm so so so sorry for accidentally derailing this thread by being an idiot alien. Please forgive me, because that's not what I intended at all. I feel like I should have known better than to start talking about my confusion on stuff, but it felt relevant in my brain somehow at the time. And I'm really really sorry. I hope I haven't been terribly frustrating.
  • I think you steered it back on track by making the thread about whether or not to play games with unwanted outcomes. Which is an interesting question
  • edited June 2018
    A third type of problem are emergent problems. Problems that just are created on their own when processes interact. Those are my faves
    Well, clearly not always, or we wouldn't be having this discussion, right? Or maybe the problem is that these are the wrong processes to generate the kind of emergent problems you want.

    But you've said that, no, this is not what you want. Now you need to believe that, because it sounds like you are very attached to the idea of some sort of ideal OSR play that says that this has to be a thing in order for your game to be "good". Which is a problem. It feels like you don't trust yourself.

    I feel like you're just too "all in" on your game style here, because this game is working as intended, and you don't like it, but you're trying to convince yourself that this is the way your game should be. It's not. It's not great. You had a bad time. And you don't need to have bad times to have great play. It's not a "gloracle" -- it's just dice and charts. There's nothing glorious or oracular about it. It's not more right than you are.

    I feel like I've said this before, but try to hold on more loosely. I get the sense of someone who is desperately seeking amazing. You keep trying different styles and turning them up to 11 and then they break and you are crushed because you are trying so hard. Paradoxically, I feel like if you were trying less hard, you'd enjoy it more. This isn't so kind of zen statement either - describing this as some sort of spiritual trial that you need to overcome feels like it ties back into the idea of taking it too seriously. I know your games are super important to you, but I think it's possible to hurt them by caring too much.

    And no, I'm not saying to get less emotionally invested in the characters, but rather, to get less emotionally invested in the idea and ideal of the game, because I feel like at least some of the pain here is the dissonance of having felt that this style of game was perfect for you when it turns out it might not be. As you say yourself - this stuff melted your mind, and that doesn't tend to lead to the clearest assessment of what you really want.

    Also, Eero is right, as usual.

    Edit: Oops, there was a second page that I didn't read. =/ Hopefully it doesn't render any of this mean or irrelevant.
  • the gloracle is 100% pure sacred magic♥♥♥♥♥
  • the gloracle is 100% pure sacred magic♥♥♥♥♥
    That makes you sacred magic too!
  • Sandra is demonstrating a technique often called "constructive denial". It's an useful hygienic principle in GMing a certain sort of wargamey D&D: by constructing a pretense that disassociates the GM from certain choices they make, they can engage what amounts to a casual form of automatic writing - making choices without making causal cognitive connections between their own desires and the outcomes they arrive at. Doing this sort of thing right is essentially mandatory for playing a game that is simultaneously emotionally engaging and impeccably fair.

    The D&D heritage is full of these disassociations because of how reliant the early game was on a neutral referee. Deconstructing this edifice by pinpointing how the players themselves are ultimately responsible for their choices - including the choice of rolling the dice when they do - is an useful and necessary step in creating something different, but it may not help one to become a better referee. Pretending that the game is objective and fair helps make it more so.

    As a different example of the same phenomenon, I like to pretend that experience points are a really objective and sport-like measurement of player achievement, and I act as if this was the case, going so far as to detach character level from their XP count when I want to make a higher-level character, because in my little pretense it's impossible for an experience point to exist mechanically without it having been legitimately brought into existence by the process of play. Casual campaigns and monty hauls do not exist in my fantasy land, and every character with 10 000 xp has been played for what amounts to 10 000 points of legitimate achievement. My choosing this pretension is not a mental defect, but rather a little piece of play-acting that enables me to maintain the appropriate mind-set in awarding experience rewards and projecting a sense of accomplishment to the players. Essentially, by choosing to care about the points we imbue them with meaning that helps orient and define the challenge of the game.
  • The D&D heritage is full of these disassociations because of how reliant the early game was on a neutral referee.

    If by “early game” you mean the quite recent game that the OSR amplified and propagated in their hunt for the early game, then yes But we’ve talked about that before.

    Gygax’ writing is full of evidence of “hygiene breach”.

    If there are any philosophers in the audience they might remember the Lisp macro battles where the second generation was way more concerned with “hygiene” and strictness than the first. The first were reliant on their dual namespaces to “eh, it’s good enough. And we can use gensym… selectively”. The second developed strict tools, first the pretty wonky pattern matching macros that made easy things easier but hard things impossible. Arguably pretty crappy. Then later on came the amazing implicit renaming environments that we rely on today♥

    The idea of a process being sacred is something that is interesting to me, and that makes sense to me.

    Just as how chess players pray to Caïssa for a fair game and how go/baduk games are connected to the root of heaven at the 10,10 space.

    I was arguing with an enemy the last month about the idea of f-dging die rolls.

    And he said “why are you getting so upset and throwing so many things and breaking plates? stop screaming, don’t you know that [and here he said the F word] is on a spectrum?”

    And I explained to him through flowing tears and an upset stomach that how often or not a storyteller consults, obeys, ignores, changes, tweaks, disobeys the system that they use to aid them is not relevant to a referee. When I run this game, I am a referee.

    Before we came to live here, there was a cobra in a bowl that always gave true answers. Storytellers would set up shop with such a cobra in the back room. In the front room, they’d gather an audience. In the back room, they’d have the cobra bowl. And they would excuse themselves, go back there, and then return out to the front room and continue telling their story. Some of the storytellers would rely heavily on the cobra’s answers. Only disregarding it if they thought it didn’t make sense for the story – perhaps never in practice, just allowing themselves the idea as a safety net. Others would rely on the cobra talk most of the time, to ground their story in truth, but at key moments spin their yarns freely. Another type of storyteller would be most reliant on their own tales, and only listen to the cobra for inspiration when their glass was running dry and they needed some suggestion or prompt which to disregard or follow according to their own whim. And others still would keep the cobra bowl tightly packaged up in the back room, never ever listening to it.

    Such was the spectrum among the storytellers. And there were much struggle and infighting among them. For the storytellers, the question of how often they disregarded or listened to the cobra bowl was a point of pride and shame and anger. Their relationship to the cobra – the cobra helping them, they helping the cobra, the cobra being their tool, the cobra being their guide… was always personal and different. A storyteller with great knowledge on how to care for a cobra, how to listen to it, and only rarely straying from it when… when they deemed other goals more important… would take great umbrage at being compared to someone with some shriveled up snake bones in the back.

    This was the tradition among the storytellers. Among the curators.

    But we, who strive to be referees… the quibbles among storytellers does not concern us
    we take the cobra out of it’s bowl. And toss into the front room. SNAKE FIGHTS DAILY!

    The Curator's L

    OSR and Forge-style play both come from the same desire: system matters. To players.

    Now, can I understand the idea of change? Yes. Just as the macro philosophers eventually developed implicit renaming with explicit injection, so have we developed new games, houserules etc etc. Perhaps one day I’ll play a system where the chance of BRD (Brutal Raptor Death) is lower than 4%. Or higher. I have proposed changing rules, changing campaigns, adding or removing house rules. Which particular gloracle we rely on is a matter that’s up for discussion with the entire table. But once a gloracle is chosen, attempts to temper her steel fangs is profane.

    A system is the storyteller’s servant.

    A referee is the gloracle’s servant.

  • To me that last statement wanders into dangerous territory. If you are a slave to the dice, then you're not really necessary. You could be cut out of the picture entirely and other people could listen to the dice. But that's probably not true is it? Because you do more than just interpret the dice. So you're probably never reaching absolute referee status. Indeed, I'm not actually convinced it's possible to reach "peak referee" -- it's likely a limit based function. And what I'm still hoping I can get across is: Maybe 99.99% Referee is less fun than 99% referee, since 100% referee is a fiction anyway. (And sometimes it feels like you are aiming for 110%)
  • You can never be 100% referee/neutral referee with only one player team involved.
  • There are GM-less systems for those rulesets that support it.
    They aren't dangerous.
    Games like The Cure come to mind.

    When running Tomb of Annihilation, I have three jobs:
    1. Manage hidden information. The other players may not read the module text. It's not like Pandemic Legacy or The Citadel of Chaos where the material is physically set up in a way to be gradually revealed. Instead, it supports a finely-grained random access.

    2. Enable the 'try anything'-nature of D&D. They want to try to tame a turtle they find in the jungle? I create rules for it. They want to create their own bug salve from ingredients in the jungle? I create rules for it. Bring the rule up with the table and check if there's still buy-in. It's not like ASL where there is a comprehensive but overwhelming rules set. Instead, we can grow or shrink the rules in a way that suits us.

    3. This is the part with the most subjectivity: Play the NPCs. Sometimes there is heuristics or dice there, like the raptor attack which was fully scripted in the module text. Sometimes there is more leeway.

    komradebob, the two teams are PCs vs module. Fiction vs fiction. And the PCs are subjected to a difficult challenge. The participants do their best to find out who wins, according to restrictions such as some information hiding, some dice rolls, some role division. The players do a good job being neutral with things like 'oh, my LAST pc learned fact X, but I haven't learned it yet' (sometimes to ridiculous degree like sending three parties to the same trap) or when a PC is possessed by a haunted cloak or w/e. I strive for learning to be similarly neutral in how I run the module. No referee in any activity is 100% neutral - that's why the diagram has a line at the bottom, why it's L-shaped - but I try for it.
  • If've you've put yourself in a position to modulate to what extent (99 or 99.99) you let the system talk, you've relegated the cobra to the back room. You are a story-teller, a curator.

    What I do that is radically different from Gygax is that I expose the gears to some extent. The players want to go off the map, I reach for the bookshelf for a module they've never played or read and say "ok, how about we place this there".

    I am a DM shaped by playing one-team, GM-less games like Pandemic. And by multi-teamed, GM-less heavily houserulable games like Magic the Gathering or Fiasco.

    Is this also a gender difference? Running the process together, checking in that there's buy-in... more like a mom than a stern, inscrutable professor...?

    And, as much as productive and successful play with those aforementioned systems has informed me, so have bad experiences with the traditional storyteller/curator model.
  • Games like Gloomhaven are seeing remarkable popularity. I think this is an indication for a desire for a different type of gameplay, different than the 'storyteller' model.

    Not necessarily more popular. People love their curated version of D&D too -- witness the rise of Matt Colville (a YouTube DM that advocates f-dging dice, st-cking cards secretly, and similar) -- but popular and preferred in its own niche.
  • edited June 2018
    Without at least two human played teams, you'll never really be a neutral ref. It just doesn't work.

    You can come close, but you'll never be there 100%.

    Having two or more human played teams is what allows for neutrality.

    It gives you something to be neutral about. At its most basic, it allows you not to care about who wins/loses.
  • Well, that's exactly what the constructive denial in hardcore D&D is about: whether you're technically correct about the deeper meaning of "neutral", Bob, you're certainly not correct about it being helpful to the process to stop believing in neutrality. That ideal is a cornerstone, without it there can be no fiction-based challenge play.

    Players in this type of campaign can struggle a lot with their trust in the referee. They wrestle with their own ego, and the temptation of blaming the messenger for any outcomes. This is a poison to the creative process, what the players are collectively attempting to accomplish. Sometimes a player with less self-awareness or less commitment to the common ideal starts talking this way, and it ruins the game.

    "It's the GM's fault that we encountered a too hard encounter."
    "It is not fair that we were not given the appropriate tools for the job."
    "We could choose to fudge these results and instead pick the ones we like."

    The hygiene of play is maintained so tightly precisely because this type of sentiment is so destructive to the GM's ability to do their job: where would your moral strength for doing even the unpleasant things come from if the group doubted your neutrality? Worse, if you doubted it yourself? You would be a bully who destroys good things arbitrarily. To do the referee's job, you have to believe that you are striving to do objective simulation with fair reasoning from non-rigged precepts. If something awful happens, it is what it is, and not some sort of subtle fuck-you from the GM to this or that player.

    At its simplest: the adventurers are walking in a hallway and a pit trap opens below them. One of them plunges to their death. The GM rolled a die to randomize which one it was, and the victim rolled a saving throw. Can you, or can you not, accept that this was a value-neutral simulative process? Did the GM choose you to die in some round-about way?

    I don't think that a person who blames the GM can play a game like this meaningfully. For them there's always another turtle down the chain of causation: the GM was the one who chose to put that pit trap there, after all, and they were the one who chose for a pit trap to do X points of damage when you stumble in there. The fact the falling damage math is very simple, non-interpretative and over 40 years old means nothing, as the GM was the one who chose to use this rules-set over any other - and besides, they've got the golden rule anyway, so they could choose to not apply the rule this time. The fault lies with the GM, and they're insane if they think they are a "referee".
  • It also looks to me like your argument depends on several layers of semantics traps.

    I have been clear enough what I mean when using the seven letters "referee" in this context.
  • Similarly, I've used the word "storyteller" in a novel way too. Obviously the storyteller's game can be interactive in a way that a story isn't.

    I was simply looking for two appropriate-enough strings to attach to the more thoroughly defined concepts of "having the cobra bowl in the back room, selectively applying its ideas" and "wrangling the unruly cobra in the front room, together with the players, and... trusting her."
  • edited June 2018
    I find BRD (brutal raptor death) and even "Rocks fall, everyone dies." acceptable, even compelling.

    To quote Eero from an old thread:
    I am admittedly beyond hardcore on [the matter of (low-level?) lethality]. I entertain myself thinking up ways to make the D&D support even more meaningless lethality. I find that the constant, nihilistic existential pressure focuses minds wonderfully, and makes the occasional streak of success taste all the more sweet.
    "Unfair" outcomes (in the sense of "life isn't fair", not "the referee is unfair") can add to both atmosphere and suspense.

    Consider soccer versus basketball: Basketball scores are a much better reflection of a team's actual skill because a team will typically score at least a dozen times per match. Soccer, by contrast, may end with a single goal scored in 120 minutes (cf. the last worldcup finale, Germany vs. Argentina), and this may be considered luck (if there was a large difference in the number of promising attempts on the opponents' goal). This makes soccer an emotionally wrenching experience for fans -- sometimes the best team does not win (not talking about this particular match anymore, BTW).

    That said, my position above is philosophical because in practice I've never seen a TPK without multiple decisions and die rolls involved.

    MERP's Moria supplement famously has the Balrog on the encounter table (1:100, if I remember correctly). I think it wouldn't feel like Moria without this. And if the Balrog does actually turn up...

    ... he might have good day (i.e. an agenda other than killing intruders). (Reaction Roll)
    ... the party might be able to flee. (Encounter Distance / Initiative)
    ... a character might sacrifice himself by drawing the balrog after him, splitting from the party. (Tactics / Guts)
    ... the whole party might scatter to the four winds, hoping one or more make it out of Moria alone. (Tactics / Luck)
    ... the party may try diplomacy. (Roleplay / Luck, or a combination)
    ... the party may try to surrender (e.g. by abasing themselves in worship). (see above)

    And finally, the party may kill the balrog (with a very, very lucky critical hit in MERP).

    *-*-*

    I think the cobra example is fine, by the way. I think the DM's mindset matters.

    Do I use the rules to inspire me?
    (Feeling proud if I manage to follow them all while weaving my story, even.)

    or

    Do I simulate a world, come hell or high water?
    (This does not obviate the need for a DM, as no set of rules can account for all possible situations or even make sense in all possible situations. Making sudden loud noises (e.g. with a horn) may drive off natural predators like raptors, but what are the chances? There are rules for dropping rations to distract monsters but should this rule apply to the lembas we've brought?)
  • The hours spent on detailed character backstory adds even more of this factor:

    Bleed in games

    Even for me :neutral:
  • I assumed it was clear that all the numbers in my post were for purposes of example only. And I disagree with you assertion, Sandra, that this represents "leaving the cobra in the back room" (I don't really like this analogy, but here we go.) -- or rather, I believe that it is impossible to throw the cobra into the front room. Maybe you can carry him there, but you can't put him down. Which means that even if you are willing to let him bite people, you are still making decisions about where you stand, or possible even involuntary actions like jerking back when the snake you are carrying makes a sudden, startling movement. You can't just throw the cobra. This seems to be contradicted by Eero's example, but it is not, because Eero's example is the sort of thing that you can completely disclaim responsibility for. Yes, you can reach 100% "referee" in that very specific circumstance. But you can't do it for an entire game.

    Imagine a hypothetical counterexample wherein the party is fighting an intelligent monster in a room in that dungeon. How do you choose who the monster attacks? Sure, you could roll dice, but at that point, the monster probably ceases to behave intelligently, spreading damage around instead of trying to eliminate a threat. So how do you choose who the monster attacks? You can try as hard as you want, but you're still making a decision about what the monster does based on, essentially, your feelings and opinions. You have left the role of 100% referee. The best way to resolve these sorts of things has been the subject of argument before there was an internet. You can TRY to be objective. It's noble. Eero sets out the reasons you might want to.

    But you're never going to be perfectly objective. You can't "throw the cobra". It won't let go of you. 100% referee is an illusion. Which means you can't get there for all your striving. Which means that you might want to focus your striving in the areas that produce the best results, and strive less in areas where you could ruin your game by striving too hard.

    Advice given. Peace out.
  • edited June 2018
    So the idea is that I've bringing the cobra front and center. I've having discussions with the players about who the monsters should attack etc etc. That wasn't the problem here.
  • The idea is that the vertical line in the diagram

    Curator's L

    was there to appease all the "you can't be a 100% referee" folks. The "referee ideal" is what I aiming for. We are shadows, we are shadows on the cave wall. But that's the shining light behind us that I try to find.

    Once you are deliberately modulating the system, making it your servant or tool, you are storyteller/curator. You are on the vertical line. But if you are serving the gloracle to the best of your ability, you are a referee. You are on the horizontal line.
  • D&D is the "all-things-to-all-people" game rn. And it can be used for storytelling purposes. That's probably a lot more common than the referee mode. But. The storyteller mode is not what I want personally. I either want to play D&D in gloracle mode, or I want to play something else. Which is also legit. Sleeve up some Magic decks for a challenge or bring out the Skeletons, Microscope or Before the Storm for a fantasy epic.

    I personally like D&D the gloracle mode. I haven't given up on it. The attendance problem rn is a much bigger issue than the BRD
  • The attendance problem rn is a much bigger issue than the BRD
    I strongly suspect the two problems are one and the same, even if the players claim differently.

    BTW, Eero's post reminded me of the player in my previous D&D campaign who was a serious problem. I've posted about her here before. It's exactly as Eero describes: She absolutely could not buy into the idea that when bad things happened to the characters, it was due to the rules and not my volition. Her accusations that I was cheating became increasingly wild, detached for reality, and outright abusive. All the while, whenever we'd actually talk about the game, she'd claim that she was fine with it being challenging and so on... which is part of why I don't trust what players say, only what they do in the moment.
  • oh i remember her
  • In my experience (and judgement) the attendance problems among my gaming circles have been about 50% due to creative issues such as whether the player likes or dislikes hardcore wargame D&D, and 50% because they just don't find gaming in general that important. Significantly, I don't trust player self-reporting either - different people self-express in different ways, and only a minority even understands themselves. It's the rare gamer who has the rarefied experience to even be capable of genuinely comparing two different styles of game, not to speak of being able to analytically isolate the aspects of a game that they like.

    In other words: when you ask, everybody loves "story", everybody loves "challenge", because both are socially accepted high virtues of the form. ("Immersion" is another one, that also polls high whenever you ask about it.) Whether they factually like these things to be present in their game, and whether they will actually engage them themselves, is an entirely different thing. That's something you will only learn by exposing the player to a clear, high-quality sample of the thing; if they don't even recognize it when it comes and goes, odds are good that they're actually more in love with the idea of being that kind of person than with the thing itself.

    (In my experience male gamers in particular regularly maintain a self-identity as tough real-challenge types. This makes it difficult to talk about the level of actual hardcore challenge play that some of us engage in, as you can't know if they're really on board with that or if they've just never encountered it and imagine themselves to be tough guys who like adversity. You'll know once you see them in actual play, but not before.)

    But even with players whom I know to grok the form and like it, about half of them are flakey fair-weather gamers who don't actually schedule the game in their calendars, and consequently will skip sessions for entirely avoidable alternate engagements. Clearly there is a demography of gamers who enjoy the game but are nevertheless flakes.
  • ugh why did this thread now become about the attendance thread, that thread already was supposed to be about that
  • What if you as a player could entwine your next character's background with the previous one and make the game more about legacy, so dying becomes a bit less frustrating as it adds to the game instead of feeling like a block from the system?

    That block is probably the part that feels the worse, it's not about lethality, about challenges being watered down or not, I'd say that we can all deal with that. It's more about the sudden insurmountable block that means we will stop having fun until we get again through the slow process of characer creation, which already had made us invest in a small creation of our own, think of it as a personality, a part of us.

    After all, it's not like we will always or naturally grieve the loss of a character, we most often just get frustrated about it.

    Maybe even something as simple as everyone else getting advantage on the next roll for escaping or getting revenge could help a bit. Your character may not have accomplished anything but it either enabled other PCs to do it or paved the way for your next character to try on better conditions.

    I was also thinking that the DM may need to establish from the start that game lethality here means that whatever resemblance of a plot in this playstyle doesn't guarantee character survival, and that everyone should be ready to see those stories interrupted. Characters will set their goals but may die on the first step of the adventure. The world will change, the marks of the adventure will remain (there you see the corpse of an unlucky adventurer, devoured by what probably was a bunch of raptors...) but that will be for other adventurers to find out.
  • What if you as a player could entwine your next character's background with the previous one and make the game more about legacy, so dying becomes a bit less frustrating as it adds to the game instead of feeling like a block from the system?
    This is what Pendragon does really well, as I'm sure most of you know. Even though it's not a high lethality OSR game, it is high lethality if played RAW because damage is `heroic' and healing is really slow and ineffective. Characters can be easily killed, maimed, or lose their minds (if they fail an important passion check) and out of action for the long term.

    The game has five "work-arounds" by design. First, characters have families. It's part of the game mechanic. And, characters are expected to die or retire and pass the mantle to their offspring. Second, characters have henchmen (squires/ladies in waiting/apprentices) who can be played as characters if worst-comes-to-worst. Third, characters usually have a demense after a few sessions of play, so there is some continuity there as well. Fourth, characters usually have strong connections to their ethnic group from whence new allied characters can be drawn. And finally, characters usually have passions for other individual NPC (not necessarily cannon NPCs). Assuming they're not cannon NPCs, these can be played as characters avenging their friends, mates and allies.

    It's not 5E or an OSR game, but it covers this kind of unwelcome outcome well, IMHO.

  • Another GM running Tomb of annihilation uses a stable of characters and experience from exploration, which must be divided among the characters: https://rollespil.blog/2018/06/22/tomb-of-annihilation-husregel-hexploration/ (in English: https://mortengreis.wordpress.com/2018/06/21/750/ ).

    The writer is also quite good at reporting his campaigns and the reports include both what happens in the fiction and short reflections about how it all is working. The reports do not, at least usually, find their way to the English blog.
  • My idea with this thread was to write with ambivalent heart about the unwanted, about losing something you've invested in. As a sort of tribute to Vincent's original blog post.
    I don't desperately or urgently desire to dilute that grief. Sorrow can be an interesting emotion for games to cause
  • I think the underexplored topic here may be "What makes an unwelcome outcome compelling?"

    I don't think there's one right answer or anything, but I do think there are some patterns.
  • so one thing that both eero and lumps have brought up is the idea that it conveys strongly a sense of stakes and "process legitimacy". or as i call it "tangibility".
  • With D&D, I do think it is possible to have your cake (emotional investment even in PC death) and eat it too (to not risk having an unsatisfying game following random, pointless death). It does not require fudging rules; it just requires some house ruling to account for the fact that you want your characters to be more than faceless pawns. "Raising the Stakes" may be a useful example for this – relatively lightweight to bolt onto OSR or 5e rules (potentially even hacked slightly to mingle with "inspiration" mechanics), still allows for meaningful character death, but puts a lot more agency in players' hands.

    (Apologies if I brought this particular house rule up in some other tangentially related conversation here – I am blanking, but I have a niggling sense I'm repeating myself from months ago. I have to imagine there are other useful D&D hacks to this end, too, but this is the one that came to mind tonight.)
  • Adding drama rules has never been an universal panacea. People just think it is because they don't care about the creative priorities that a lethal, neutrally-refereed game has. Virtues like fidelity to the simulation, and legitimacy of the achievement. You are forced to abandon these creative goals/norms if you want to use things like death flags.

    To be specific: pointless death is an essential feature if you want to survive pointless death. Pretending to do it is not the same thing as really doing it - if it was, nobody would gamble with real money. I think this is a simple thing to understand even if you don't really get why somebody would want that from their game.

    The reverse, of course, also holds: pointless death is a poisonous, primitive gaming tradition if you're a prospective drama gamer stuck in a box with nothing but Mentzer red box and a half dozen hungry geeks for company.

    The key to contentment is to pick the right tools for the job, whatever it may be. My in-coming 4th edition campaign does not have pointless death, for instance, because it does not serve the purpose.
  • edited June 2018
    This has been a really interesting discussion, with lots of excellent points made. I don't have time for a long post, so I'll just leave my initial observation (even though the conversation has long moved on from that point):

    I think that D&D5E is very, very poorly calibrated for a "let the dice fall where they may", high lethality game. Character creation is time-consuming, hard work, uninspiring (in the sense that you have to come with a new character concept each time, instead of the game giving you prompts), and designed to build high investment in the character.

    In my experience, for most people, that leads to the gaming experience being described here: it just *doesn't feel good* to spend two hours making a character who is presented as a colourful, involved heroic adventurer with lots of exciting powers, carefully-chosen or constructed skill and power sets, and a layered personality, and then lose them in an unlucky series of decisions or die rolls.

    Some people could accept that as the cost of the game, and get used to it, but I think for most people it's a terrible match (just based on basic, human preferences for such things). Lengthy, detailed character creation and a gamestyle which occasionally produces character death as an "unwelcome outcome" do NOT play well together.

    My experience of D&D tables almost always sees people consciously or unconsciously flinching away from a more "hardcore" playstyle because of the cost of a TPK in actual, human time and emotional investment. This thread is a good example of that: Sandra is doing a remarkable job of not letting all that pressure affect her chosen methods of playing the game, but you can see how heavy that pressure is!

    The way character creation sets you up for the game is a really important detail here. How does it orient the players to the game itself? What kind of pressure does it place on the referee?

    Part of the fun, I think, in OSR play is the near-infinite possibilities for character concepts (which, in the designs I like, either get thrown at you by random character creation procedures, or can be explored by creative individuals due to gaps in the rules, as Eero likes to encourage - c.f. his Iron Thomas adventures, where we discuss this very issue).

    Some versions of OSR rulesets make character creation fun and easy, and an engaging process to explore. That changes the group's relationship to this kind of outcome dramatically - simply knowing that the game night doesn't need to end, for instance, but can continue in 15 minutes once you make new characters - makes this kind of "tragedy" a very different experience. You have a fun procedure to look forward to, and then you're right back to play.

    I've been working on a version of "house ruled" D&D for my own table, and I'm quite happy with the balance I've struck: making a new character is really fun (and most fun when you roll poor stats!), creates unique and unusual character concepts, and tends to inspire unique ideas while being very quick. I like how you basically end up with either a mechanically effective/safe character, or a really interesting one. :)
  • Eero, we are using some drama house rules, but they have a minor impact. By spending all your drama points, resetting to zero, you can roll two dice and take the highest -- you have to do this before the roll. That's no help when you get 24 raptor attacks, all with advantage due to pack tactics.

    We were rolling on lifepaths and other background tables in the XGE, MToF, PHB and DMG. It was fun in and of itself. It didn't feel like wasted time… it just felt like a hard, sad loss.

    I wouldn't necessarily say it's a cost. It is strangely compelling. I was sad he died. But I… I'm kinda rather sad over that than over (sad, non-game related things like)
    boyfriend trouble, money woes, climate nightmares, or the dire political situation here.


    Being sad, emotions… is interesting in its ways. I was gonna say that I was only sad and crying for like a day and a half but… I then realized that even though I was consciously sad about the PC death for just that short time, I've been miserable since then, I just haven't been aware of why. Although again the attendance problem is something that's weighing more heavily on my mind.
  • edited June 2018
    I've many many times put forth that they use a Searcher for their replacement or new chars. That can be swapped out for a full build later with the searcher's Identity Mastery ability. But they never do this, they always take the rest of the session to slowly build up a new char, with spell selection etc. I've allowed that (thinking it's, uh, therapeutic or something), but, it's a sort of attendance problem in its own right. They're at the table but not engaged with the rest of the party.

    OTOH, this really goes to show that the detailed character creation is something they choose. As with many things in this too many cooked broth of a game♥
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