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)


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.


The word ‘gamey’ has a meaning in regard to food. But what about table top roleplaying?

I’d suggest the idea that some mechanics is ‘gamey’ is much the same as the concern some folk express in regards to snakes being classed as prone in a game system.

Ie, they don’t imagine snakes can be prone – therefore it’s ‘wrong’ for that to be the case. Further it’s about fiction (their idea of fiction) coming ahead of rules. Rather than rules coming first and fiction should shape itself to conform to the rules. Anything that tries to have rules that the folks fiction will have to conform to…it’s ‘gamey’. The idea of the game mechanics having a strong control over what happens in play…it’s anathema.

Rest Rooms & Dragons

If you google ‘roleplay, the fifteen minute work day’ you’ll see quite a few entries on it. It’s not quite what I’m going to talk about, because as I understand it the people who raise that concern have an issue with how it fails to depict the genre they imagine. They imagine the heroes fighting all day long, like in the books/movies. But what they find is the PCs have a fight and then….they long rest. Doesn’t matter if they can only do so once in 24 hours, they’ll just wait out that time AND long rest. Making the long rest even longer. This sedentary life is nothing like the genre they wish to emulate and that’s why they have a problem with it.

For myself, it’s a lack of any drama or uncertainty. I don’t really care if the party has one fight a day, that’s fine. I’m cool with how players play as something that creates it’s own genre rather than trying to slavishly emulate some other one.

But a fully charged party – they can pretty much walk over plenty of encounters and there is absolutely no risk to them. So if combat will take thirty minutes to an hour (or even if you can make combat take just ten minutes), what is the point of running a combat where the outcome is predictable?

There is no attrition that will lead to an uncertain outcome. The party will just heal after the combat or whenever they feel like it. There is no point in running combats where the PCs wont even have the minor inconvenience/drama of being unconscious briefly. Let alone actually dying. Caveat: Okay, sometimes having fights like this is nice – but having them all the time just plain sucks.

Sometimes what there seems to be is just the impression in gamers that there is any risk remaining. They roll dice hoping for a high result…not thinking that it really doesn’t matter, their rolls will hit average eventually and the enemy will be whittled down. And then they’ll rest. But if you don’t look at the big picture and just focus on the dice rolls then it can be like running a war reenactment inside a simulation. War reenactors know the outcome of the battle they are about to act out – there’s no surprise there for them, it’s just a matter of acting it out. Here it’s much the same, just a matter of how aware you are off there being no risk – the players roll their dice, lose maybe 10% of their HP, then having overcome the enemy by sheer resources, they long rest (or wait a bit then long rest, so as to not make the 15 minute work day too glaring).

Or I don’t know, maybe like people like to do war reenactments, maybe they like this. If they actually do, ok, there are many ways to game. And my own way of gaming isn’t that one.

However, maybe D&D 5e is designed for that? It takes an hour of combat to break a long rest – a whole hour. Some read the text as taking an hour of walking or any amount of fighting or spell casting – this isn’t correct (though they can run it that way if they want and it probably works out closer to something I want as a result).

Long rests are effectively unbreakable. It is much the same as a simulation inside a simulation from before – there appears to be a way of breaking them, thus satisfying the simulation. But with scrutiny, like a war reenactment gives the same result every time, it becomes clear a long rest will give the same result every time. The party will long rest. You will get the fifteen minute work day. Even if you were to somehow make the party flee for an hour of in game time…they’d just start a new long rest right after anyway.

So, make the monsters worse? Well there’s only so many times you can double, triple, quadruple, etc the XP requirement for a ‘Deadly’ encounter, making it many multiples of ‘deadly’ before players complain that the fights are too deadly. And technically when you’re running at 3x deadly or 4 x deadly, that’s a fair complaint. When is a DM “doin’ it wrong” if he’s taken the XP for a deadly fight, multiplied it by three and run that fight against the PCs? Never mind that of course the fully rested PCs then beat it because they just activate all their powers and best spells on the fight then long rest right after, because there is no need to conserve powers and spells for in between. So you’ve got a DM who appears to be doin’ it wrong, and yet the fights are still beaten consistently and anything less would be spending 20 to 40 minutes on a fight in real life on a fight that is entirely predictable. But then again the war reenactment guys spend hours on reenacting battles that have a fixed outcome – and presumably they do that because they enjoy it.

People call the early levels of D&D the most dangerous – they make much of a skeleton being able to down you in one hit. But that’s good! Or at least A kind of good play. I have to wonder if D&D 5e goes from being a game in the lower levels to becoming a war reenactment system once you get past around level 7ish. I can’t say that’s what I signed up for.


Dramatic Movie Come Backs in Fights and how your Role Play wont do that

The thing is novels and movies tend to make gamers think of ‘titanic battles’ – but the authors of novels and movies just decide what happens. They don’t use mechanics.

In fact what authors depict time and again might be utter bullshit in real statistical terms.

In fact if you watch fights in movies you can see the same pattern over and over – the good guy gets beat up in order to provoke the audience into feeling ‘You’ve got to win!’ as an emotion. Then the author has the main character win, now that the audience will buy it happening because the audience wanted it to happen.

How would this look in terms of stats? The protagonist would just suddenly get large bonuses to their combat stats, coming out of thin air.

Every time the hero makes a come back in a fight in a movie or book, statistically it makes no sense at all.

So how do you represent that in a system based on statistics?

Something like The Riddle of Steel RPG had spiritual attributes. You didn’t so much have a sudden spike mid combat, but characters pursuit of their goals would produce statistical increases out of thin air. You could try to argue it’s a ‘morale bonus’, but it isn’t (it has an essay in it describing how it isn’t a simulation)

But in the end it really is a question of whether you want simulation or want completely meta game elements to have a strong say in play. If you want simulation, you’re stuck with never having the mid combat comeback by PCs (except in statistically rare/once in a blue moon occasions).

By simulationism I mean if daily attacks bother you (why can’t you do it all day or have to use energy points to activate it) or prone snakes bother you, yeah, you’re likely coming from a simulationist inclination.

I originally posted this here.

Player Feedback and Inherent Meaning Worlds

Just a quick thought. Take it that some players have little to say on what they want to see in games. I wonder if it is because they are looking for an inherently meaningful world?

An inherently meaningful world would, if taking its behavior from intuition, have an inherent destiny that draws the character (which is to say, the players externalized expression of their desires) to what they want to happen.

Where as just saying they want X to happen might feel ‘cheap’ for it to happen. ‘As if it wasn’t real’

So then there’s this sort of silent optimism, as they wait for their shining special time to come. Whatever it actually is. I dunno, can you Vulcan mind read people?

I dunno, I always figured you could spit ball, throw out ideas and get feedback after doing a thing. But at this point, if what I’m describing is ever the case (hopefully I’m wrong and it’s not), then there is never feedback beyond disappointment. Of the million things they might like, you can only basically give one thing. So you have a one in a million chance. Pretty much waste of time odds.

All waiting for that shining star, ‘real’ destiny.



Schrodinger’s Railroad

There is a recurring sentiment in gaming culture I find fascinating, since it seems an utter paradox. Here’s a recent and clear assertion of it:

Railroading is forcing players down a narrative route . If the players think it’s their decision, they’re not being forced. Agency is in the mind of the player; they can feel they have it when they don’t and they’ll be happy. But if they don’t feel they have any, even when they do, they’ll become disenfranchised.

A DM’s job is to make it so the players always feel like they have agency, to make them feel their characters are in danger. D&D is a game of illusions, and the DM is the man behind the curtain.

Original Comment

It is so odd. For example, how could players ever get disenfranchised? Consider the chronology of disenfranchisement

  1. The DM makes the players follow his decision
  2. The players feel it is their decision
  3. The players somehow begin to realise it is not their decision
  4. The players are disenfranchised

Okay, so if it is not railroading when the players feel it is their decision, how could players ever get to step 3 when by the logic of the quote in step 3 there is no railroading to detect?? Like Schrodinger’s cat being both alive and dead, somehow it is both railroading and not railroading at the same time?

Ultimately it’s probably pretty simple – the whole notion likely comes from the idea that the agency described is the best agency you can get. The idea being the best agency you can get is one where the GM is making the decisions – the only thing to consider is if the players have their nose rubbed in it that the GM makes the decisions or they are relatively witless that he makes the decisions.

The idea of an agency where the players actually make the decisions – it’d probably sound ludicrous to anyone who has advocated the quote for a long time.

Nearly completed ‘The Blasting Diamond’

It’s been interesting to convert GM advice into an actual adventure – instead of arguing against, for example, ‘you have to do the adventure’ thinking by GMs, actually writing an adventure area that supports PCs that don’t get ‘hooked’ but actually do what their character wants to do.

And calling it an ‘Adventure area’ rather than just ‘an adventure’ is even a result of turning GM advice into material. You don’t ‘have adventures’, you engage with an area of an imaginary world. What is an adventure is something that is seen in retrospect, like a story generated at the table. You don’t decide to have an adventure, you just engage in things that in retrospect was an adventure. And areas of imaginary world can be seeded to more likely trigger an actual adventure to occur.

Quantum Ogre: Redemption

Man, I thought I could find the original of this with a quick google, but it seems only refutations abound!

Okay, in short, the original problem was that you’re at a fork in the road. If you go left, the GM makes an ogre pop out. If you go right, the GM makes an ogre pop out.

The problem – well, it’s curious – I think the problem should be obvious. And I’m tempted to link a controversial forge post as a suggestion as to why some/many(?) don’t see it as a problem (or so google makes it seem).

Anyway, at that point you’re being played for a fool by the person who is GM, who probably has a Gordian knot of control issues about story, his own artistic agency and his perceived responsibilities and with that responsibility, sense of his own scope of control (yeah, I know I mentioned control already – I said it was a Gordian knot!). Of course peeps refute that it’s a problem because when you think when option A is having quantum ogres and option B is having a game that doesn’t work at all, of course you refute that A is a problem. Of course it seems like B is the only alternative, because the GMs in question perceive that anything else gets in the way of them telling a good story – ie, gets in the way of their creative agency. Yeah, again, I know, I mentioned GM agency already! I said it was a Gordian knot – it’s like the idea of ‘elephants all the way down’, but here it’s like there’s a responsibility to the players, which rests on top of the GM getting to tell a good story, which rests on top of B: not having a game at all, and you know why we can’t have that game…well, it’s because of the responsibility to the players, so B sits on top of responsibility, and responsibility sits on top of the GM telling a good story, which sits on top of ‘B’…and haven’t we been here before? How can everything be resting on everything else?? Elephants. All the way down!

What makes it more curious is that I think it doesn’t take much to redeem it – for example, if you went right and there’s an ogre there and if you went left there’s an ogre there, but he has no armour (or has more armour – I can’t remember if they wear any now, TBH!). Now ideally there would be a hint as to what you’ll get either way – if the left has a sign pointing to the ogre baths, maybe that’s a hint an ogre is there and has taken his Armour off to have a mud bath.

But even if there is no hint and it’s a blind choice, at least the choice is a randomiser and the results of either direction will be different from each other. Player input actually decides (part of) the story generated at the table on game night! Who’d a thunk it?

I guess though that such a difference could very well get in the way of ‘GM creative agency for telling a good story’. And then it’s sucked back into the knot from above.