The concept of a GM is the root of everything that is wrong with RPG games.

24

Comments

  • edited July 2018
    "Never ask the GM, always ask the system," would be great if it were practical, but it isn't practical. To cover every relevant word that comes out of a traditional GM's mouth, you'd need hundred-page modules, or thousand-page modules if it's not a straight railroad.
    How do you know that?
    I think that's the key question here. If it were practical to replace the GM with a set of rules and resources, then we could imagine participating in traditional-style roleplay without risking the downsides of bad GMs!

    But think about all the things a traditional GM needs to contribute to enable that experience. They need to describe what the characters see and hear and smell. They need to play NPCs. They need to offer useful responses when the players are probing what their options are. They need to know which pre-made content to refer to when the players take certain actions or go to certain locations. They may need to ad-lib new content when the players do something unanticipated. Whatever the players do, and whatever the results, the GM needs to make it come to life with something more than the bare minimum factual description.

    Good luck fitting all that between two covers. And if you did do it, good luck to the poor play group trying to actually use it without breaking their flow. I cannot imagine this is remotely possible.

    If you start replacing books with apps, then maybe, but you'd need enormous sales to make up for the gigantic overhead.
  • "We have too many people who want to GM and not enough who are willing to play." This is just not a thing that happens, in my experience
    Oh so another reason why we sometimes misunderstand each other is because our experiences are so drastically different in this and some other regards
  • "We have too many people who want to GM and not enough who are willing to play." This is just not a thing that happens, in my experience
    Oh so another reason why we sometimes misunderstand each other is because our experiences are so drastically different in this and some other regards
    Yes; And I am prepared to say "I guess that does happen" just as soon as someone tells me that it does. I've been following an awful lot of RPG discussions and help spaces for an awful long time, and I see lots of "no one wants to GM" and I've never seen "I can't find any players" except in the context of "I can't find anyone who wants to engage with an RPG at all". So yes, the plural of anecdote is not data, and it's theoretically possible that this happens all the time somewhere I'm not, but at this point it seems unlikely.

    I think yukamichi's idea of "Would a GM enjoy his particular game as a player" is more likely, but I'm not sure that's a good metric either. Because I suspect that most GMs will fall into either the "I am running the game I wish I was playing" camp (whether they are doing that WELL or not is another question -- one that probably hearkens back to the earlier mention of bad procedures and teaching) or the "I'm GMing BECAUSE I'm not interested in playing!" camp.
  • edited July 2018
    “I am running the game I wish I was playing”

    Yeah, this is me. I’m attempting to run the game I wish I was playing, but falling pretty short.

    “I can’t find anyone who wants to engage with an RPG at all”

    This has been me.

    And when I have had players oftentimes it’s that several of them want to GM also. To the point that we argue about it.

    So yes, the plural of anecdote is not data, and it’s theoretically possible that this happens all the time somewhere I’m not, but at this point it seems unlikely.

    I guess to steer this away from the anecdote/data question, what me (and I guess Eero) are going for here is that the kind of engagement that you see from typical GMs is different from those who are willing to play occasionally

    and the hypothesis is that it’s because the GM role is more engaging. More challenging and time-consuming (and… difficult?) but more engaging and agential. Especially more agential than trad games

    I guess the point of this was just yet another chance for me (and I guess Eero) to get in a few extra jabs & snipes vs the trad play I (and I guess Eero) grew up with and struggled with so. Where the GM made the rollercoaster and the players just got on

  • If it were practical to replace the GM with a set of rules and resources, then we could imagine participating in traditional-style roleplay without risking the downsides of bad GMs!

    /.../

    ... good luck to the poor play group trying to actually use it without breaking their flow. I cannot imagine this is remotely possible.
    The good collaborative storytelling games I played did all that without it feeling forced, so I'm curious what you got in mind when you write "breaking the flow". What kind of flow are we talking about?
  • edited July 2018
    @Rickard I know that transferring GM responsibilities to a group is effective if that suits the group's taste. I'm just saying that when that doesn't suit the group's taste, transferring GM responsibilities to a book is not feasible.

    I don't think any kind of RPG flow can survive flipping through a thousand-page book every time a traditional group wants GM-style input.
  • edited July 2018
    @Rickard I know that transferring GM responsibilities to a group is effective if that suits the group's taste. I'm just saying that when that doesn't suit the group's taste, transferring GM responsibilities to a book is not feasible.

    I don't think any kind of RPG flow can survive flipping through a thousand-page book every time a traditional group wants GM-style input.
    I don't understand that at all.

    "A group will only handle it if they like the game. If they don't like the game, then they should look through a huge book instead".

    It doesn't sound feasible.

    Can you use another analogy, where you use board games instead?

    When can we cut the game master from boardgames?
  • When can we cut the game master from board games?
    Even go and magic use judges
  • edited July 2018
    @David_Berg

    When we state our characters intentions, we imagine the desired outcome. So in terms of that atomic building block of RPGs, we dont strictly need a GM for that, players can state both intentions and desired outcomes themselves.

    But thats unsatisfying. Achieving the desired outcome is only satisfying if the stated intentions are in response to a problem that isnt of my own devising.

    And, achieving the desired outcome, even to a problem I havent devised myself, is only satisfying if there is also the possibility of not achieving the desired outcome.
    OR... if you are guaranteed of desired outcomes at the atomic level, then there needs to be the possibility that the sum of your desired outcomes does not achieve your goal. like Chess.

    but... we need problems to solve that are not of our own devising and we need some uncertainty somewhere.

    agree/disagree?



  • edited July 2018
    I find the idea that achieving the desired intention is only satisfying if it's in response to a problem that isn't of your own creation to be really interesting, because I feel completely the opposite, actually.

    I personally find that the most interesting problems for me, the ones I most enjoy exploring, are the ones I devise for myself, because then I'm getting to explore exactly the sort of problems I'm interested in exploring, on exactly the terms I want to. I'm getting to tell that story my way instead of someone else's way.

    I also find it wholesale unengaging when there's a chance that the sum of the desired outcomes doesn't achieve my goal, because if I might not even get to achieve my narrative goals, if I might not even get to tell my character's story correctly, for me there's no point at all in playing.

    For me, there's no point in putting in the effort to make collaborative art if there's an uncontrollable risk that I might not even achieve my goals as an artist in the creation of that art. If I don't achieve my artistic goals in play, then for me, there was no point in playing. I could have just done something non-artistic with my friends, and I would have had a better time doing it, because then I wouldn't be frustrated about wasting my time doing something artistic where I'm not achieving my artistic goals.

    tldr, problems not of our own devising and uncertainty are the absolute last thing I want, but as has been stated and restated again and again and again, my opinions are far from universal. :)
  • edited July 2018

    Oh so another reason why we sometimes misunderstand each other is because our experiences are so drastically different in this and some other regards
    problems not of our own devising and uncertainty are the absolute last thing I want, but as has been stated and restated again and again and again, my opinions are far from universal. :)
    Agreed. Our experiences are different everyone! It doesn't matter how sure you are that your experience is more common, how many people you know in person or online that had the same experience as you. There's still the cursed cognitive bias, plato's cave that doesn't allow each of us to see the whole picture. Nobody here is wrong nor telling lies (I can tell by how passionate each of us is when defending their point of view)

    So best I think we can do is reduce the RPG to basic components in a way that validates as much of each individual experiences as possible. Hence my previous post, that can be resumed to:
    the RPG experience is basically made of:
    -A conversation / exchange of information. It's subject to usual problems in any conversation, but relies on ritual phrases that trigger procedures to hop over some of those problems.
    -A list of rules, mechanics, procedures that limit the scope of the game, help players simulate anything (reality, a particular genre of fiction, an atmosphere, etc), meant to inspire them further. At least rules work best when they do this, but may not be the case for some rules designed with a different agenda than the group has.
    -Reference data, either as prep, predesigned content, knowledge on tastes developed by the group, additional media, illustrations in the core book, etc.

    The conversation may use more or less ritual phrases, may have someone leading it or not, that person may be trying to direct the group, react to their input, use prep, improvise, oracle the dice, use random tables, etc. It's often a dynamic process switching between all these states and more. Everything is valid as long as the group agrees to it and has fun with it.

    The list of rules may have been designed with a specific agenda in mind, may be the same as the group of players or a different one, in which case some of it will be ignored, changed, houseruled, etc. Often designers will have their own cognitive bias and forget to explain crucial things they believe to be "common sense" among players. Other times it's the player's previous experiences the ones that influence them on how they read the game. They will skip those parts they believe they already know how to do and focus on their agenda. If it's the same of the designer's the game will probably click with the group as it is.

    The reference data might be fresh enough in the player's minds that they won't need prep, or the GM may have enough tables and tricks to oracle game content in the spot. The players may prefer the opposite, to stick to a predesigned module. Game challenges may be created by the players openly or by the GM in secret.

    Basically the group will dictate which combination, proportion and complexity of each of these elements is both cool and makes sense. Those are the only true laws behind it all.

    There are patches when any of the elements fail, some may be so nicely handled by the group that they become a functional part of the game instead of a patch though. That doesn't make them a basic element of the RPG experience, as other groups experience with the same patch will be totally different.
    That's it. Would anyone say that any of this goes against their personal experience?
  • I think that's definitely a really good generalized layout of the RPG experience, and it very very much syncs up with my personal experience. :)
  • edited July 2018
    @EmmatheExcrucian Just so we are on the same page, when I said 'problems' I am talking about the sort that your character might have to deal with within in a single scene. Maybe one, or at most a few per scene. Im specifically very much not talking about long term goals/issues/whatever that you may want your character to explore over many scenes.

    If that changes anything.
  • That doesn't really change anything at all, but thank you for the clarification.
    My statement about the type of problems I enjoy exploring in play still very much stands. :)
  • edited July 2018
    can you give us an example of how that plays out?

    cheers

    p.s. oh - when I said 'may not achieve goals' I was reffering to the character's goals, not the player's, although for many games/players these are aligned.
  • My group is very very big on determining the narrative intent of a scene and general content of a scene before beginning the scene.
    So like for instance an example of the sort of thing I'm talking about:

    "So in this scene, Sora is going to get into a fight with her rival Ayako, and she's going to lose that fight, but they're both going to give it everything they've got."
    (Sora's player would frame that, and Ayako is an NPC in that situation)

    "In this scene, Sadie enters the world of Sora's heart with Mizune, and drives the corruption out of Sora's heart, but while they're in the heart, the corruption hurts Mizune to the point that afterwards Sadie has to use heart magic to save Mizune from dying, which is going to lead into some stuff later where Mizune is afraid to enter Sora's heart again, and Sadie comforts her and promises to protect her."
    (Sadie is my PC in the campaign in question, and Mizune is an NPC)

    Or like, something that happens regularly in that campaign is that during a fight scene for instance, there are times where Sora's player is like "I want Sora to get hurt here, and I want her to be outmatched, but then she draws on her powers to win the fight" in the middle of the scene, after having not totally laid that out from the get-go, but she decided in the moment it would be good.
    Or like there was a point where she wanted a fight to feel more largescale than it had been before, so she narrated in several more people from the gang she was fighting showing up and attacking her.

    And that's the sort of stuff I'm talking about. Making your own situations, so that it's definitely stuff that suits your image of your character, and that suits the story you're telling about them.
  • Chuubo's (and derived games) are unusual in this regard, even Microscope, as pure a story game as it is, has the desired outcomes of scenes obscured so players can be surprised or plans change. It's question based -- you'd set up a scene with "What does the victory over Sora cost Ayako?" or similar.

    Your technique does come across as a bit redundant; to state the scene intent fully and then also play it out. But that's a personal hangup of mine, I also have a hard time with "free and clear"-phases in fighting games like Sorcerer and The One Ring (or the weapon speed factors in some editions of D&D). I'm pretty enamored with to say it say it.
  • edited July 2018
    Yeah, Chuubo's is definitely radically different from every other rpg pretty much in that regard. It's super super different on a deep paradigmatic level. The big thing is that Chuubo's doesn't care about consequences. It doesn't mechanize resolution of actions at all, because the resolution and the consequences aren't relevant. It's all about what the things you're doing mean to the characters who are doing them.

    For me, stating the intent fully is a part of the outlining and planning process (just a part that's done in the moment), and then playing out the scene is actually writing the scene - making it a canon part of the story you're all writing together instead of just discussing it as a concept. Basically, the scene in discussion of intent is a vague unformed thing that we're planning out what we're going to write, then playing out the scene is the actual writing.
    Kind of like the difference between a synopsis of a chapter of a manga and the actual chapter.

    I should also note that a big part of play for me and my group is focus on the craftsmanship of scenes. The "what" is established so that we can all be on the same page about where to begin with the "how", then the "how" is the experience that matters, because the "how" is what play is about for us.
    (The "what" just needs to be well-crafted as a story or our suspension of disbelief of the story as a story falls apart, and it starts to feel like bad fiction, that none of us would be comfortable putting our name on.)
  • Right, in manga there's usually a lot of change between the storyboard step and the final comic. (I just the other day caught up with the tankobon releases of kimitodo, only one book left now.)

    I just can't really stand in fighty rpgs where there's a whole "ok, I'm gonna shoot" and "I'm gonna run" and "I'm gonna get some fireballs online" and "I'm hanging back, nocking an arrow" and discussing it, sorting out the timing, chilling, THEN saying all of that stuff AGAIN. Like it's a fight you have one second what do you do? Grumble grumble Sorcerer free-and-clear grumble grumbre


    Anyway I hadn't until today realized how Chuubo & Microscope are in the same genre of game more than any other game. Would be interesting to hear your take on Microscope, Emma, esp after some play experience with it. The differences such as no strong ownership over PCs and that you have to withold informanion, I'd love to hear what your experience with those restrictions would be, when placed in the context of Microscope
  • edited July 2018
    the RPG experience is basically made of:
    -A conversation / exchange of information. It's subject to usual problems in any conversation, but relies on ritual phrases that trigger procedures to hop over some of those problems.
    -A list of rules, mechanics, procedures that limit the scope of the game, help players simulate anything (reality, a particular genre of fiction, an atmosphere, etc), meant to inspire them further. At least rules work best when they do this, but may not be the case for some rules designed with a different agenda than the group has.
    -Reference data, either as prep, predesigned content, knowledge on tastes developed by the group, additional media, illustrations in the core book, etc.

    /.../

    That's it. Would anyone say that any of this goes against their personal experience?
    I think this sums up the play of an RPG really well.
  • When can we cut the game master from board games?
    Even go and magic use judges
    Yes, and so do some team sports (football), but only in competitive play. And Go and Magic are two drops in a sea of games without judges (ex. bowling).

    One huge beef I have with roleplaying game design is that you should be able to play anything within the premise of the world. Then you need a person that boils it down to what a specific group should play – you need a game master to tie all the loose ends together. It's weird how traditional roleplaying games are written as a game engine with the notion that the game master should pick the most suited parts and turn all that into a game (setting up world, plot and coordinating the characters into an adventure).

    You shouldn't need that as a game designer but, if I address the thought the OP had, including the game master as a patchwork for your game is, to me, bad game design because the game is then not complete (hence, any toy analogy). Also, trying to include "play anything" is a flawed focus because it's too wide, and demands a game master to fix it.
  • Bowling uses a machine to see if you've overstepped
  • edited July 2018
    And the GM can't alone, at least in my group, decide freely where to set the focus of play. "Naw let's do Waterdeep please!" is the constant refrain from the players

    uh but once more I find myself strongly arguing over what's essentially nitpix

    The essential idea that more focused packages are appealing is good and true

    Like the LMoP
  • It's weird how traditional roleplaying games are written as a game engine with the notion that the game master should pick the most suited parts and turn all that into a game (setting up world, plot and coordinating the characters into an adventure).

    You shouldn't need that as a game designer but, if I address the thought the OP had, including the game master as a patchwork for your game is, to me, bad game design
    I've seen the thought expressed before that a game master is a game designer, that each scenario, each session, is essentially its own game. That the things we label "roleplaying games" are collections of inspirational procedures and guidelines for creating a panoply of unique, individual games, rather than being the games themselves.

    I like this, to me it hearkens back to the idea of the bespoke wargame, where you didn't go out and buy "The Battle of Gettysburg," you designed the table yourself, arraigned the forces yourself, came up with the rules for representing the important parts of the battle yourself, in order to represent your own idea of Gettysburg.

    I don't think that's "weird," per se, but I do think it's odd that most common taxonomical distinctions have conflated the rules and the game as a whole. Imagine trying to claim for any other game that the rule book alone was the whole kit and caboodle?
  • I've seen the thought expressed before that a game master is a game designer,
    ... and I came to this realization as well, and if the game is created in that way then it's not really bad game design to me. It's like I'm saying a model of a plane is bad game design because you have to put it together before you can fly with it. To me, flying is the important part but perhaps it's the whole experience.

    I cannot deny anyone that kind of whole experience, but cutting the game master would also (perhaps) be a shortcut into create a better focus for the game.
    I don't think that's "weird," per se, but I do think it's odd that most common taxonomical distinctions have conflated the rules and the game as a whole. Imagine trying to claim for any other game that the rule book alone was the whole kit and caboodle?
    What else should be added, apart from the rule book and stuff that are needed to play the game?
  • edited July 2018
    What else should be added, apart from the rule book and stuff that are needed to play the game?
    The module!

    To me the core books of 5e (PHB/MM/DMG) would be a confusing mess if they were the game. If the Starter Set otoh was the game, then the core books make total sense as expansions. (Including the DMG's advice on how to make your own adventure locations and the peachbee's advice on how to make your own characters.)
  • When we state our characters intentions, we imagine the desired outcome. So in terms of that atomic building block of RPGs, we dont strictly need a GM for that, players can state both intentions and desired outcomes themselves.

    But thats unsatisfying. Achieving the desired outcome is only satisfying if the stated intentions are in response to a problem that isnt of my own devising.

    And, achieving the desired outcome, even to a problem I havent devised myself, is only satisfying if there is also the possibility of not achieving the desired outcome.
    OR... if you are guaranteed of desired outcomes at the atomic level, then there needs to be the possibility that the sum of your desired outcomes does not achieve your goal. like Chess.

    but... we need problems to solve that are not of our own devising and we need some uncertainty somewhere.

    agree/disagree?
    I don't think that all of that is always true; but mostly, usually, sure. Honestly, though, I think that's a pretty small subset of reasons why a GM is useful.

    You can roll off a random chart to see what sort of problem comes your way. You can roll dice based on your character attributes to introduce uncertainty into your character's attempt to overcome that problem. You can consult a rule or a table to see what the result of your effort is. You don't strictly need a GM for any of that, even in otherwise-traditional play where the players just play their characters.

    I do think you need a GM to help make that a fun experience, though. For example, a problem involving NPCs is hard to care about if no one portrays the NPCs.
    Can you use another analogy, where you use board games instead?
    I wasn't using an analogy. I was saying literally that it is not possible to take the GM's contributions in a traditional GM-led RPG and put those contributions in a book.

    Maybe that goes without saying, and the obviousness of my point made you think I must have meant something more interesting. :)

    I do think it's interesting to approach that idea (resources which replace the GM in some respects), though.

    Again, I'm only talking about RPGs for players who don't want to do any GM-style tasks. I know there are plenty of other solutions for groups of players who are happy to do things other than play their characters.
  • Playing NPCs are pretty interesting becaues its the most player-like role a traditional GM can take on.
  • edited July 2018
    All right! Let me go back to the proposed model for a moment. As a recipe for the RPG experience we've got:

    -A conversation
    -Rules/procedures
    -Reference Data

    Notice how the GM is missing. It's not necessary. However, nature follows the path of least resistance, and what's easier than having everyone lead and be sensitive and thoughtful enough to keep the conversation focused? Well, having a single person lead and moderate the conversation, familiarize with the rules, research and create the data and manage it. What is more confortable than taking up responsabilities and prepare for a game? Delegating that responsability and showing up late.

    And so on. Especially if it's both part of the designer's, the GM's and the group's agenda. Because they don't know any better. Because all these chores seem complicated and there's another person more passionate about creating and managing the world -either if that person is the GM or the module designer.

    But Story Games came to prove all this wrong, to facilitate and simplify those responsabilities, to distribute them among the players. Ritual phrases have evolved for this, as Archipielago and Witch Mountain proved to me. Then I saw character and story adjudication became free for all in Microscope. Most probably all these evolutions started somewhere else but it was on these games that I found out about them. And there's a lot more of course, piles and piles of tools and different point of views. Even trad games are starting to use them now.

    We just have to remember there's at least a couple of cognitive biases separating the designer and the players:

    -How good the designer is at explaining the game procedures and stating their agenda

    -Player's (as in "players and GMs") previous experiences blinding them to the game experience proposed by the designer.

    You either adress that in the design or embrace it as a designer/player. Both approaches are good as long as you don't ignore the cognitive biases, or you will be as guilty as anyone pretending their unique experience is everyone else's experience, or should be if they weren't playing the game wrong There's no such thing as long as the group is having fun.

    People are only playing the game wrong if the conversation becomes an argument, if the rules misuse or poor design/explanation block the players, if they don't agree on the reference material or find it distasteful and managed poorly or in dishonest ways. Basically, if they don't find a part of the experience cool nor coherent to the point it can't be tolerated.
  • edited July 2018


    -A conversation
    -Rules/procedures
    -Reference Data
    I think if you want to design games without GMs, with limited GM power, that is fine. But this list leaves out crucial elements of roleplaying games like "roleplaying" and "exploration" just to point out 2. I understand you might be able to file Roleplay under conversation but that obscures much of how roleplaying is done. My view is this kind of conversation is going off the rails in the same way that many stylistic discussions go off the rails. If you view the hobby as a zero sum game, where one approach has to dominate or push out other approaches, we get discussions like this (and they occur from the opposite perspective on other forums as well, so I am not saying they are unique to story-games.com). But this notion that the GM is pointless, or doesn't serve a real function, or can easily be replaced by procedures is, I think, highly misguided. Again, the biggest thing that struck me about playing RPGs the first time I sat down to do so, was I was a robot on another planet, that felt real, and I could try anything. Unlike a computer game, I wasn't limited by what was programmed into it. The GM could adapt to what we tried by either using existing rules that cover those things, finding a new application for an existing rule, coming up with something on the spot, or simply deciding that what we were trying to do would result in X result. It isn't about people being led and following the path of least resistance. It is about having a human adjudicate because it takes a human to do so if you want that maximum sense of realness. A human being can be reactive to the players, sensing how much they are buying in, or when things are starting to slip. A procedure and a rule cannot do that.
  • I was saying literally that it is not possible to take the GM's contributions in a traditional GM-led RPG and put those contributions in a book.
    I would argue that replacing the game master with a process containing structures of play demands even less text than traditional roleplaying games, and I do that claim based on my analyses of different adventure writing models in roleplaying games. Every time it was a game with collaborative storytelling, the model was much simpler, because it focused on creating a process instead of a sequential procedure.

    Bare in mind too, that traditional games usually add a rule mechanic and a setting above their adventure models, where collaborative storytelling games are both the game and the process you follow when playing the game.

    I can't say more about this than having something more concrete to talk about. "GM's contributions" doesn't say much, to be honest.
  • edited July 2018
    Every time it was a game with collaborative storytelling, the model was much simpler
    Of course. Because the players are doing GM tasks. Which is why I keep clarifying that I am talking specifically about play groups who are not interested in that.
    "GM's contributions" doesn't say much, to be honest.
    Here are the GM contributions that I said I didn't think a book could provide:
    But think about all the things a traditional GM needs to contribute to enable that experience. They need to describe what the characters see and hear and smell. They need to play NPCs. They need to offer useful responses when the players are probing what their options are. They need to know which pre-made content to refer to when the players take certain actions or go to certain locations. They may need to ad-lib new content when the players do something unanticipated. Whatever the players do, and whatever the results, the GM needs to make it come to life with something more than the bare minimum factual description.
    See @Bedrockbrendan 's latest comment for more good examples.
  • I'm with @Bedrockbrendan . Human awareness, judgment, and feedback is vital to a lot of the unique things RPGs can do -- exploration, freedom, realness, unity, etc. No book/rule/procedure can replace that.

    "Everyone does that equally with no GM!" is an option, but it's a very different option, and not everyone wants that.
  • Here's a thought experiment: imagine if the default orientation of the GM throughout RPG history was to be on the characters' side. What problems would that produce? What problems would that avoid?

    Perhaps the specific downsides that have come with GMed play over time are not at all about having a player who controls the imagined world, but rather about that player's relationship to the activity and the other players?

    I was introduced to GMing by people who used it to power-trip and inflict their will on the players. So that's how I started off. I really don't think it had to be like that.
  • Allow me to say without any actual intent of sneering sarcarsm at you Bedrockbrendan: Behold the mighty power of cognitive bias in action. I mean, for starters


    -A conversation
    -Rules/procedures
    -Reference Data
    Those were my words, not chiarina's. However...

    ...But this notion that the GM is pointless, or doesn't serve a real function, or can easily be replaced by procedures is, I think, highly misguided.
    That was totally not what I meant. And this...

    It isn't about people being led and following the path of least resistance.
    I'd take offense at this if it wasnt all my fault for explaining myself badly. I also admit this may look like derrailing the thread but I happen to be a fan of thinking out of the box to bypass hurdles. Hence this sidestepping, otherwise all we could do here would be quote our personal experiences until the majority of people with a similar experience gets their point across and the rest gets ignored as the exception. Nobody learns anything like that.

    Back to my point, allow me to expand it a bit:

    -A conversation: Any conversation starts when one person says something that requires a response or reaction from someone else. The person starting the conversation in any RPG is crucial. That person has to be informed of the game rules and procedures and a majority od the Reference data. So that person is crucial for the whole experience to happen. Call that person facilitator, or give that person more power/responsabilities and call her GM. But several games have already proven us that the responsabilities can be delegated on other players. Or with some limitations, to a computer program.

    Crap, gtg, but I'll try to write back a few more things later.
  • A lot has been said in this thread since last I responded, and I have a lot to say, but need some time to really organize my thoughts.
    I'm going to answer this bit though, since I was directly addressed: :)
    Right, in manga there's usually a lot of change between the storyboard step and the final comic. (I just the other day caught up with the tankobon releases of kimitodo, only one book left now.)

    I just can't really stand in fighty rpgs where there's a whole "ok, I'm gonna shoot" and "I'm gonna run" and "I'm gonna get some fireballs online" and "I'm hanging back, nocking an arrow" and discussing it, sorting out the timing, chilling, THEN saying all of that stuff AGAIN. Like it's a fight you have one second what do you do? Grumble grumble Sorcerer free-and-clear grumble grumbre

    Anyway I hadn't until today realized how Chuubo & Microscope are in the same genre of game more than any other game. Would be interesting to hear your take on Microscope, Emma, esp after some play experience with it. The differences such as no strong ownership over PCs and that you have to withold informanion, I'd love to hear what your experience with those restrictions would be, when placed in the context of Microscope
    I'm not for planning the blow-by-blow of combat either, but I'm all about planning the meaning, and anything needed to make sure that in the scene that meaning shines through.
    Sometimes that's as basic as "Sora and Ayako fight".
    Sometimes that's "Sora and Ayako fight and Sora wins, but it's a really close fight".
    And sometimes that's "Sora and Ayako fight and during the fight there's a point where Sora has the upper hand, but then Ayako unleashes her new powers and takes the upper hand, but Sora tricks her into running into a barrier that saps her power, and she's forced to fight on even footing, and then Sora takes her by surprise since she wasn't expecting to lose her new powers, so then Sora takes the upper hand and wins by throwing Ayako through the bridge and into the water".
    It all depends on what meaning the scene is conveying, what the narrative purpose is, and how precise of images and moments need to exist in the scene to convey the meaning properly.

    Or to further explain in the context of a different type of scene (this time not a fight scene, although this theoretically could be a fight scene):
    Sometimes a scene where my character talks to her boyfriend exists because we haven't had a scene with the two of them interacting in a while and we need to show that stuff is still going well with them so that it doesn't feel like that relationship is falling to the wayside.
    Sometimes a scene where my character talks to her boyfriend exists because we need to show that he is her foil, because he can still find beauty in the world despite his trauma, whereas my character has lost all hope in the beauty of the world in the wake of her trauma, and that in her story he represents a nearly-metaphysical stabilizing force, a being of light who mirrors and completes the shadows of her depression that hang around her, who can support her through the worst shadows of her life because he has had his own katabasis and found a way to come out the other side without losing sight of who he is, which is something she desparately needs to find to be whole again, and that way he is the metaphorical key to her finding a way to make peace with her life.
    That second type of scene takes much more set-up than the first one, planning symbolism to include, and perhaps even discussing specific lines of dialogue that need to be incorporated for the scene to fulfill its purpose.
    The first type of scene is the equivalent of the "Sora and Ayako fight, in terms of the amount of needed discussion.
    And the second is, of course the "Sora and Ayako fight and during the fight there's a point where Sora has the upper hand, but then Ayako unleashes her new powers and takes the upper hand, but Sora tricks her into running into a barrier that saps her power, and she's forced to fight on even footing, and then Sora takes her by surprise since she wasn't expecting to lose her new powers, so then Sora takes the upper hand and wins by throwing Ayako through the bridge and into the water".

    On the thing about Microscope, I've read Microscope but haven't played it.
    I'm not especially keen to try it, because hidden information is something that freaks me out and makes me feel extremely unsafe, and lack of PC ownership goes against one of my core goals for roleplaying, which is deep exploration of characters, creating deeply character-focused works in play.
    But if I ever do try, I'll let you know for sure what my experience was like! :)
  • Allow me to say without any actual intent of sneering sarcarsm at you Bedrockbrendan: Behold the mighty power of cognitive bias in action. I mean, for starters


    Back to my point, allow me to expand it a bit:

    -A conversation: Any conversation starts when one person says something that requires a response or reaction from someone else. The person starting the conversation in any RPG is crucial. That person has to be informed of the game rules and procedures and a majority od the Reference data. So that person is crucial for the whole experience to happen. Call that person facilitator, or give that person more power/responsabilities and call her GM. But several games have already proven us that the responsabilities can be delegated on other players. Or with some limitations, to a computer program.

    Crap, gtg, but I'll try to write back a few more things later.
    My apologies for misattributing the quote (was unintentional, not sure how it occurred).

    No one is denying you can play without a GM if you want to (or that you could use a computer program). But a computer program is insufficient for what a lot of people want out of an RPG. An RPG isn't just about the rules, the design intent, etc. Especially if you are playing in a traditional style where there is a strong expectation of the world being brought to life. Obviously you can delegate GM responsibilities to multiple people. But I think that does also produce a very different experience from a single GM. I've been in games with 2 GMs (I knew a couple of groups who did that back in the 90s) and even that is a very different experience. But a game where the GMs powers are distributed is going to result in something very different from a traditional campaign. Not saying its bad. But it is different because a key thing that makes the traditional style function is allowing a single person to have those powers.

    Again, I am not saying you can't do other things. It is just going to be different, and there is a reason why some games will always have 1 GM acting in the traditional role.
  • Here is another problem with traditional one GM, many players setup: 'the party'.

    Everyone has to be the three musketeers, because to play, your character has to be in the scene(s). Being 'that guy/gal' whose character is not invested in the same thing as the others for the majority of the time is untenable.
  • "The party" is definitely such a major problem, that leads to really really weird fiction because of the assumption that they're supposed to be together and in all the scenes together, and it takes away focus from individual characters, so then you understand everyone far less deeply.
    It's especially a problem when you get into the fact that party-based games typically assume a large number of PCs, because of the fact that most party-based games are challenge-based, and challenge-based games assume there are a wide variety of mechanical roles filled, which requires often 4-6 PCs (or in some cases even more), whereas in most fiction, 4-6 protagonists is very very rare, and usually isn't any level of character-focused.
  • edited July 2018
    "The party" is definitely such a major problem, that leads to really really weird fiction because of the assumption that they're supposed to be together and in all the scenes together, and it takes away focus from individual characters, so then you understand everyone far less deeply.
    It's especially a problem when you get into the fact that party-based games typically assume a large number of PCs, because of the fact that most party-based games are challenge-based, and challenge-based games assume there are a wide variety of mechanical roles filled, which requires often 4-6 PCs (or in some cases even more), whereas in most fiction, 4-6 protagonists is very very rare, and usually isn't any level of character-focused.
    You got to keep in mind, not everyone is thinking in terms of producing good fiction (or in terms of scenes). The party offers a handy conceit for keeping the group focused on the same task. Whether that leads to challenge-based scenarios is largely a matter of things like system, preference and play style. If you were playing D&D during the height of 3E, then challenge-based scenarios were the norm (and they became more codified in 4E). But in 2E and 1E, I think things are much more flexible in that respect. And if you go beyond D&D to other games, it is even more so.

    But I have run long term campaigns where players were in different places and/or were trying to achieve other goals. The biggest issue that presents is split screen time and also possibly more prep. I find even in groups where the party is quite cohesive, they often are not always in the same places. I've been in countless campaigns for instance that played out like a show like Stranger Things for Instance.

    Which raises the point: the idea of a group that sticks together, isn't exactly unusual though even in fiction, television series and movies. Lots of stories feature teams or groups of characters. Heck even a sitcom has an ensemble cast that is basically a party.
  • That's definitely true that it's not horribly uncommon fictionally. I think I was thinking it was because there's not any media I like that does that kind of ensemble cast, because I like media that's extremely character-focused, and specifically is extremely focused on the arcs of just a few characters (1-3, ideally for me).
    So that might very well have been a confirmation bias for me that made me say that 4-6 protagonists is rare. (It's also largely the fact that I find sitcoms and most team-based stories to not generally be very well-written, and when I took about something not being common in fiction, what I realistically am more getting at is "not very common in good fiction".)
  • edited July 2018
    And that's okay Brendan. As in we all respect GMed games. The reason people defend GMless/GMfull games here is not to try to convince you to play them nor really attack trad games in that sense, they just want their personal experience recognized and validated. It's not "your experience sucks, here's our new one" but "we respect your experience but we want our experience to be respected too". You know, same as with all themes regarding any sort of believe in today's world.

    I'm not listing specifically all trad elements in my recipe of the RPG experience because it's meant to be all inclusive, but as you realized, those elements can be added on the spots listed. The GM is the mediator of the conversation, the facilitator of the rules and procedures, the one who compiles, creates and edits the reference material. The experience with ahd without the GM is different, but as many people can testify, it's possible and fun. How fun it's a matter of tastes, so again, nobody is saying that you will like it or should even try it. We're just saying it's doable.

    EDIT: Personally, I prefer a somewhat GMed game actually. One where players have their main characters but can pick up and play any NPC present on the scene whenever their main PCs aren't there. I've used cards to give players control over minor aspects of the scene, and when it happens it's wonderful how they start buiding over the challenge and complicate it.

    I've got a procedure to brainstorm the setting along with the players. I've put up some other tricks to improvise different things on the spot and I'm working to make them better. I keep using the witch mountain trick and ask my players what they think something is. I steal idedas from them and implement them back into the game if theirs are better than mine. It's all in the open and players collaborate with this.

    I once hacked microscope to play a flashback scene explaining a catastrophe that happened a thousand years before the campaign started. It closed all lose ends we had up to that point and was completely improvised. More than GMing I just facilitated and played a single character chosed randomly. All we needed was to give the players some constraints for their characters. Up to this date it remains as one of the best RPG experiences we ever had.

    Now I still GM more or less traditionally, I make prep, but improvisation and player input is a huge deal in our games. I learned to enjoy and expect the unexpected, let the players come up with the solutions, prep the bangs and let players come up with their own kicks, with a little aid to make them more dramatic. Now my prep only adds quality to the material instead of trying to add interest, motivate the players or herd them anywhere.
  • edited July 2018
    I think you are oversimplifying that last point, Brendan; Yes, lots of stories feature teams or groups of characters, but most of those stories don't involve those characters being together the vast majority of the time. There is definitely something different between a traditional "RPG party" and, oh, The Avengers, or the cast of Elementary or something (sorry, I'm super not up on television.). Even the quintessential "party" -- the Fellowship of the Ring -- only stuck together for one of six books.

    I'd also contest the assertion that early D&D wasn't "challenge based".

    But I believe you have a strong point in that most people playing D&D aren't playing it to learn more about their characters.
  • edited July 2018
    That's definitely true, Airk. Even the most ensemble-focused stories have scenes of just one or two of the main characters interacting with side characters and cameo characters who in an rpg paradigm would be NPC, and scenes of characters alone.
  • I think you are oversimplifying that last point, Brendan; Yes, lots of stories feature teams or groups of characters, but most of those stories don't involve those characters being together the vast majority of the time. There is definitely something different between a traditional "RPG party" and, oh, The Avengers, or the cast of Elementary or something (sorry, I'm super not up on television.). Even the quintessential "party" -- the Fellowship of the Ring -- only stuck together for one of six books.
    In a lot of campaigns the party splits at various points. But the fact that you have 3-6 players sitting at a table together playing, is the reason in RPGs that characters will often stick together. But again this really is dependent on the campaign. There is nothing inherent to the GM and the party that prevents you from having characters in different places or pursuing different goals. The only thing that is going to limit that is the fact that you have 3-6 people sitting together at a table who may want to have their character do something rather than wait for another person to do so. But I just ran a campaign with 4 players where there was effectively a 3 way split at multiple points in the campaign over pretty substantial distance.

    Still though, I don't think you lose much if you are trying to emulate Lord of the Rings but keep the party together for convenience (it is a perfectly functional approach to play).

    Also in fiction and movies there are trends. Right now we are heavy into a single character POV trend where you often get large numbers of characters slowly progressing slices of the story at a time. But that hasn't always been the norm.
  • 3-6 players is in my eyes so many for a campaign, at least compared to what I'm used to.
    My group and I is 3 players including me, with one of those players in a non-GM world-playing role (specifically the HG in Chuubo's), so 2 PCs in a campaign.
    More would get very crowded and cramped for me personally, and to keep up the standards we have for our character-focused play, our sessions would need to be hugely long to accomodate more players, because we believe in each PC-playing player being allocated at least 2.5-3 hours of content focused on their character - scenes they frame that are focused on their character specifically - per session. With 2 PCs, that makes for 5-6 hour sessions, and with 3 PCs that would jump up to 7.5-9 hour sessions, and with 4 it would jump up to 10-12 hour sessions.
  • The only problem you actually have when the party splits is that some people won't play for a while, and watching other people play without the ability to intervene at all is somewhat boring, unless the players involved are good at entertaining others, which is rare from my experience.

    I made an experiment when hacking Tenra by giving the players a deck of cards with instruction to give them the control of different things in the scene. If their characters weren't in the scene they could pick up a card and use the instructions there to add something to the scene. We agreed that as a GM I couls always use, built over, disregard or edit their input, but otherwise they could participate in the scene even if their characters weren't there.

    The experiment was a success, players not in the scene could do things like describe a minor detail there that the GM could build over, like a noise, a smell, an aura, the weather. They could take control of a minor NPC as long as they did something specific with it, like die a gruesome death, deliver a message or participate in a conversation. They could even get to control a minion, elite or boss monster in a fight against another PC or group of PCs. It was amazing how players added difficulty instead of making things easy in purpose for other players. The effect in the end was that players were always engaged and enjoying the game instead of dropping their attention into their cellphones while their turn to play came, and the scenes become more interesting because of that.

    I'm still trying to codify this into a game of my own.
  • Watching and playing to entertain each other is so much fun in my experience, but that might be a product of that my playstyle is very focused on acting, and we're all very focused on producing well-written and interesting fiction, and we're all very engrossed in seeing how the story develops, and how it's written.
    We all deeply care about each other's characters, so we're super super invested in seeing the scenes with them, because we love them as much as we love our own characters.

    We also sometimes play NPCs in scenes our PCs aren't in, but that's more just a thing we do now and then because we find it fun, instead of being a thing to keep us focused. It's also kind of rare. In my group, PC-playing players are usually only playing 1-2 NPCs in a campaign, whereas a world-player is playing dozens of them. Often the NPCs that PC-playing players are playing are NPCs who were given to us because we did some casual freeform in between sessions where we played them and liked one person's performance in particular (because we do a lot of non-canon freeform in between our sessions to play out interactions we're interested in seeing hypothetically but that don't fit into the story, what-if scenarios, and hypothetical drafts for future scenes) or because the world-playing player was having difficulty working out how to play an NPC who one of the PC-playing players had written into their story, and one of the PC-playing players had a really strong idea for how to play the character.

    For instance in our current campaign, the other PC-playing player's NPC is my PC's boyfriend, who she ended up assigned to play because there was a time before we introduced the character in the fiction where she was playing the character in a freeform scene with my character just to feel out how their interactions feel (because they're childhood friends), and we all loved her performance in the role so much that we "cast" her in that role (with the world-playing player taking over the role of the character in scenes where her PC is interacting with him).
    The NPC who I play in this campaign is one of her PC's girlfriends, who the world-playing player was struggling to conceptualize how to play, and it was getting really close to the point where she was going to debut in the campaign, and she still couldn't figure out how to make the character the PC-playing player had handed to her work, and she asked me my opinion on how to play the character, and I started freeforming as that character as an example of the sort of image for her that was in my head, and she liked my interpretation of the NPC so much that she asked me if I'd take on that role in any scene that the NPC was in (with the world-playing player taking over the role of the character in scenes where my PC is interacting with her).
  • edited July 2018
    Heres a 20,000 ft view. (bear with me, longish point to make)

    Roleplaying is a tiny niche hobby like the way boardgames used to be. But now boardgames are a large niche hobby, if that makes sense. In my homecity of melbourne, I can go to a handful of venues on any given night where large numbers of strangers gather to boardgame on a casual basis - the one I choose is a japanese restaurant that fills its 80 seat capacity twice a week, every week, on tuesdays and thursdays.

    The main difference, IMO, is that boardgames evolved to become much more accessible and just generally a better baseline experience for people. You can sit at a table of strangers and expect to be taught a new game in 20 minutes, and expect it to be a reasonable amount of fun, possibly a great deal of fun, for the next 1 - 3 hours. Its rare that a game brought to the table sucks. Most noob walk-ins leave at the end of the night with a smile and a 'see you next week'.

    Now honestly contrast that with RPGs. The internet and then kickstarter helped boardgames a lot, but roleplaying has been exposed to those as well.

    The main difference is that boardgames have evolved to become more accessible and just generally better designed to give at least an OK experience at a minimum. Why cant RPGs do the same - because of their intrinsic nature?

    Certainly the intrinsic nature of the single GM system that the gateway D&D uses seems to preclude it.

    The single GM system relies on that person to an amazing degree, they are the single most important factor in the experience for the other players by a huge margin. I would suggest that the 'experience chart' for trad 1GM games looks like this.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ePIeNQOgmvU8Am9QneQFXBTpPbTh0gz7/view

    where red is RPG and blue is BG, and the areas under the curve are not drawn to scale (blue would be way off the chart in terms of quantity compared to red)

    OK, so I have nothing but anecdotal evidence to back that up.

    So I get that there are people out there that regualrly live in that top quartile of player experience on the red line, and they point out that what happens in that area of the chart relies on a single GM to pull off, BUT - from the 20000 ft view, its aways going to be a small area because of that.





  • I really, really, really like party play. There are a million ways it can go awry, but when it works, you get maximum player interaction, with everyone contributing at all times. I don't think doing it well is trivially easy, just like I don't think GMing is trivially easy, but it is so worth it if you can pull it off. I can name a ton of techniques I employ to foster this sort of interaction -- it's definitely doable.
Sign In or Register to comment.