The nature of the imagined world – what actually causes events to occur

I ran into a recent account of a game that, as I understand it, the DM decided by himself was going to be a vampire campaign and as I understand it told some players but not all of them. It seems a good example of how game worlds actually work.

One player utterly resists and fights back against the vampire, utterly resisting being turned. Everyone else is turned.

People are cross with the player. But he was clueless to the overall agenda and played his character not wanting to be made into a vampire, as characters are wont to do.

The thing is if he had been talked with and told it was a vampire campaign and that his PC would be turned – well, he’d either agree to this premise or not play (or something)

His character might still not want to be turned, but if the player agreed he will be turned then the player would at some point stop giving game world physical reasons that would stop the turning. Eventually the player would cave in and accept the vampire has him pinned enough to turn him – not because the PC is somehow definitely pinned by game world physics, but because the player agreed to being pinned and turned at some point.

Without agreement, he’s struggling and his PC is trying all sorts of physical moves to avoid being turned. With agreement he gets turned eventually.

The difference between them isn’t game world physics, it’s what players agree to (with agreement sometimes being on a spectrum sometimes)


Traps – how to connect fictional positioning and trap mechanics

The trap is probably the least documented in terms of procedures for play in RPG texts. It’ll have some damage and a save listed – done – let’s go out for Friday drinks!

Really no. I don’t have a source on this, but as I estimate it from seeing a range of modules and materials the key with traps is to have hints built into the room. Now there can actually be a range of hints, some of them making the trap nearly obvious – and harder hints that just barely tell the player where the trap is. But starting off I suggest with really fairly obvious hints and build up slowly over sessions from there.

So what’s a hint? Well if there’s a pit trap beneath a carpet, you could say the carpet is flaps in the wind a little. This might be a bit too subtle a hint, but many players might think that’s out of place – and it is for a regular carpet, but one strung across a pit and there are wind currents flowing through the dungeon is going to flap a little.

You’ll notice though that players home in on anything that gets extra description. Something gets described in more detail than it normally would? Players are all over it – they can’t help it, it’s normal, but it makes it a bit easy on them. Which is fine for when you’re starting out. Some players would not really think of poking the carpet with a stick unless they get a fair prompting before – they need the training wheels (and as they play over time they will get better and wont need them anymore). But when you are ready to increase difficulty, describe a few things in detail – like one or two other things apart from the trap. Or make the hint far away from the trap. A burn mark on a wall is classic for this – the trap isn’t on that wall, that trap is on the wall way on the other side and it shoots fire when triggered. The fire flies across the room and scorches the opposing wall. Players have to think inside the imaginary space and work it out.

But that’s the harder stuff – keep in mind as DM you can see the answer. A riddle always seems easy when you already know the answer. So keep in mind knowing the answer will make a trap seem much easier than it actually is.

Once your players are poking at traps with sticks, it’s a matter of using investigation checks or even disarm checks. If the way they describe their characters actions seems in any way like it could be more beneficial, give them advantage. Be generous with advantage at the start, allowing pretty much any extra effort to garner the bonus. In fact this is where many GMs go wrong – they think being really, really stingy with bonuses makes the game really, really real. And indeed it does, because reality rarely ever gives bonuses – but that’s the reason we’re playing a game, because reality sucks a lot of the time. So instead don’t try to be really, really real and instead use a difficulty curve that starts low with lots of encouragement and how hard it is to get advantage on a roll slowly increases over sessions and levels. I’d say to find the players level of skill in investigating traps and try and keep the difficulty just slightly higher than their skill, so as to provoke them to get better. That still means giving advantage/a bonus fairly often. Probably around half the time or forty five percent of the time. Give incentive to them to try more thoughtful and descriptive approaches to working out traps. If you dry up and don’t give any incentives they’ll give up trying to get better – if you give bonuses all the time then they don’t need to get any better.

Semantic Erosion/Post Truth/Semantic Apocalypse, Part 1

It’s funny – it’s a hard to introduce subject because it’s about subjects being hard to introduce. In Venn diagram terms, hard to find some overlap of circles on the subject of non overlapping circles. Who wants to listen on the subject about them not listening?

Fantasy Author R. Scott Bakker has had various posts on the idea of a ‘Semantic Apocalypse’. A recent one here, using a real life example to raise the hypothetical as possibly applying. It’s the Kavanaugh hearings, btw. Not your kind of thing? Well the subject is things that don’t overlap the interests of others, so that kind of fits you have to admit.

A crude way to put it is possibly just that political spin gets bigger and bigger. It’s probably got more nuance than that, but that idea is a circle that kind of reaches out. In addition we have a history where people of differing ideas had to work together to survive – now that’s not so much the case. People can have more and more extreme ideas and use search engines to find people who share those ideas. Rather than having to only be able to talk to a range of people with a range of views, most of which would tell them ‘That’s a bit extreme’. And so maybe take the extremism down a notch or two. Instead you get stuff like theredpill on reddit.

So you get spin and you get machinery/the internet that helps polarised people find polarised people and reaffirm their polarisation. Rather than have it turned down a notch or two by only seeing a range of people with a range of views.

I wanted to get onto some concerns Scott raised in a pair of comments

“I very much worry that warning of the semantic apocalypse will have the effect of contributing to it”

and the other comment

“Understanding the mechanics of human sociocognition enables evermore manipulation of human sociocognition means the eventual doom of human sociocognition.”

And who doesn’t love a bit of doom, eh?

But these I realise are circles inside of the first circle. And the first circle is hard enough to find some tasty gristle in to chew on. But if doom is a kind of tasty gristle, I assure you there’s something to chew on there! And I’ll leave this here as a sort of reasonably bite sized portion and move onto the other parts in future – having not actually reached the subjects I started writing for to begin with! What can I say, there was more gristle than I realised?

World Distortion to try and work around rules

Part of my last post was in responce to a question about passive perception, made here.

But I’ve noticed the thread respondents give great examples of world distortion in an attempt to somehow get at the player with high perception.

My favorite line, for how explicit it is as an example is “Send increasingly sneaky bastards at them.”

Like, would you have done that if the PC did not have high passive perception?

I think the answer is clear – no, the person suggesting that would not.

So the person would (or is at least advocating to) distort their game world – have things come into existence that they would not have done if the PC had a lower passive perception.

It’s GM metagaming (it also ends up in a power struggle with players and a struggle no one actually enjoys because it’s about real power. But never mind that for now)

I think it ties in with my previous post on Rest Rooms & Dragons in much the same way. With the passive perception example, the poster would bring in ‘sneaky bastards’ if the PC has high PP and not do so if the PC doesn’t. With a ruleset that makes fights risky every time, the DM would not bring in anything extra due to a long rest being had – but if players can make a cake walk out of a fight after they rest, the DM starts bringing in extra things to try and compensate for that. Obfuscating between things they might have done in a ‘every fight is risky’ system and things they’d bring in to a ‘it takes five fights before there’s risk’ system, treating them both as if they would have always done it. The sneaky bastards would ‘always have been there’. When really they wouldn’t be.

I don’t think gamers can see themselves doing this, generally. As they say, system matters.

D&D 5e: High Passive Perception Issues

Basically I think it’s bad mechanics. Almost every other part of 5e is rolling against a DC, or two rolls Vs each other. Here it’s DC vs DC – the passive perception level against the DC of the trap or whatever. And that doesn’t work – the DM is just deciding if the person spots the trap or doesn’t. Maybe that sort of dramatic DM fiat resolution would work for a system based around it. But I don’t think it works here – it’s a bad mechanic.

My suggestion for a patch is to stop using DCs in regards to this. Take the DC you’d have used, then subtract ten then use the remainder as a modifier added to a D20.

For example if the trap had a DC of 12 to find it, then subtract 10 from 12 and you are left with a +2 modifier. Add that to a D20. 1D20+2.

You roll for the trap or whatever to see if it remains hidden from their passive perception, trying to beat the players passive perception. So you roll, not the player. This also makes sense in regards to one main thing passive perception is supposed to be for – to determine if PCs see things without raising the attention of the player.

If a player has a passive perception of 22 and the bonus is +1, then they can always find it – that’s the players reward. But that’s an edge case that isn’t going to happen very often. Most traps I’ve seen in printed material have a DC around 12 to 20.

The short version: My suggestion for a patch is to stop using DCs – take the DC, subtract ten then use the remainder as a modifier added to a D20. You roll for the trap or whatever to see if it remains hidden from their PP.