Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pen and Sword in Accord

There's a lot here I agree with. Especially:

As much as I try and present a story for the players to help flesh out though, I keep in mind that this is a game. In all but the most extreme circumstances, I let the dice "fall as they may", and try not to twist the rules simply to accommodate my story idea.

As it turns out, I think letting the dice fall where they may makes for a stronger story experience. One of the challenges for writers of fantastical fiction is making the world and characters feel real enough for the readers to invest in (aka verisimilitude). When writers talk about creating and preserving verisimilitude, they actually use phrases like: "Your world must be consistent; don't break its internal rules!"

When you fudge a die roll or pretend, "Well, ok, that will work this time," you're damaging your verisimilitude. You're weakening your story. (Likewise, when you whip out your story points to change the rules temporarily, you're weakening verisimilitude unless those story points have actual existence within the world of your story. This is why I can't enjoy most story games; they actually have mechanics in them that damage the story!)

But when you apply the rules of your game consistently, you strengthen the verisimilitude and you make the story more enjoyable. When players know how their magic works, or how likely they are to defeat a troll, or how the city guard will react when they discover a pick-pocket, they can invest emotionally in their characters and the world they inhabit.

In short, if you want your RPG sessions to have the effect of a story (rather than just mimic the structure of a story), you need clear, understandable, and consistent rules. (It’s not all you need, but without them you’re not even going to get started). This is also why it’s important that the rules you choose actually promote the sort of story you want to tell. If you’re fighting your rules, you’ll constantly see your story drift away from the look-and-feel you were aiming for.

10 comments:

Ripper X said...

How about if instead of calling them Story Points, we call them Objective points. Do you still feel the same way?





trollsmyth said...

Ripper X: the dividing line for me is whether or not they exist in the world of the fiction. Can the characters (as opposed to the players) discuss, manipulate, or understand them? If they can, then the points exist within the rules of the fictional world, and using them doesn't break verisimilitude. If they can't, then it would be like Bilbo telling Thorin, "Oh, if we were still in the first hundred pages of The Hobbit then I totally wouldn't have been able to do that amazing thing. But since we're on page 134, it's totally within my power!"

I have less of an issue with things like hit points or levels because they are abstractions of things inside the fictional world; hit points represent your ability (physical, mental, whatever) to keep fighting while levels are an abstraction of experience, skill, and aptitude. These are things the characters themselves can kinda discuss, because they are abstractions of things that exist in the game world. "Normally, I'd have no trouble holding my own against that orc scum, but after escaping the worgs and fighting those ogres, I might not have enough left in me to do it."

Story or Object or whatever-you-want-to-call-'em Points not only don't have an in-world rational, they exist specifically to break or bend the rules of the game. Not only can the PCs not discuss them, they can't explain the effects of the player spending those points. "Normally, there's no way I would have been able to jump that distance, but this time I could, and somehow I knew I could do it!" That's the sort of mystery an entire series of books could be written around, but we expect our PCs to just shrug it off and continue on, and that creates dissonance between ourselves and our characters. It makes them more like game tokens and less like people, and reduces our emotional investment in them and the world.

Does that make sense?

Ripper X said...

I guess that I disagree. I think that books and rulesets don't make for great Game Masters. Where is the Game Master in that equation? Reading books and following someone else's designs? That brings me no joy.

I believe that there are fixed systems. We need these, these are important. But there are also supposed to be systems in place that the DM can open or close. Movement and change. As DM, I use dice to keep the game fair, but the decisions are mine. Instead of looking up Gary's mechanics, I'll supplement my own that I just made up to simulate it and just move on. I've been at this for a while, my players don't show up to play somebody else's games, they show up to play mine.

I create those funny Gygax d tables, but I choose if I will roll the dice, just pick one, or ignore it for whatever idea just popped into my head.

I am a big believer in the DIY movement, to create and play without limits. Every table should be unique and different. If I go to your house to play one of your games, and you pull out some module, I gotta say, I'm gonna be a bit bummed. I wanted to play YOUR game, not you remaking somebody elses.

Ripper X said...

I hope that I don't offend, god knows there is enough of that to go around. I know that there are rules guys, and BTB or don't play guys. I'm not one of them.

trollsmyth said...

Ripper X: no offense taken at all. I'm talking my preferences here, and for me, verisimilitude is pretty high on my list of priorities. I don't expect it to be tops on everyone else's list.

That said, I think we're talking past each other here. This isn't about rigorous adherence to modules or anything like that. It's about keeping the rules consistent. When you cast magic missile they never miss, you get x number of missiles per y levels, that sort of thing. If a sleep spell doesn't put the orcs to sleep, my players know there's a reason why and they know they can find out what it is. It's never just because I need the orcs to not be put to sleep.

If I play a module I'll certainly change things up. But again, it'll be consistent with the rules and the world. (Granted, you can get away with a lot in D&D by saying, "A wizard did it.") I want my players to be able to use logic to understand how the world works and that requires that the world behave in a consistent way. Not that it's always perfectly predictable but that the randomness obeys certain patterns. Vegetarian orcs are not just a quirky bit of flavor; they're something very wrong that can and should be investigated. Snow in summer isn't just a random weather chart; it's a clue.

I'm not sure I'm explaining myself any better here. It's late and I just finished a six-hour session. I'm going to stop now, take a look at this again in the morning, and maybe try again. :)

Ripper X said...

Gotcha! Logic & mutual agreement on how the world works.

How far do you go to simulate a living world. We avoid any mention of mechanics, but I will ask questions. Keep things logical and predictable so that when something does go strange the players know and trust that the DM knows what they are doing.

trollsmyth said...

Ripper X: not half as far as Tao of D&D. ;D

First, I try to play by the rules as much as possible. If I can't for some reason, and I need to change things, I explain it up front and I stick to my new rules.

Second, I make sure the world reacts to the things that happen, especially if the PCs were involved. This is just stuff Gygax talked about on pp. 104-105 of the first DMG expanded to include entire towns, cities, economies and nations. (For those of you playing along at home, Gygax described what different sorts of monsters would do after their lair was hit by PCs: mindless undead do nothing different, giant insects shore up damage and replace losses with maturing larvae, and intelligent monsters lay more traps and seek allies, if they don't up and leave entirely.)

Third, I make something like that happen really early on and talk about it so the players get the message. You drove off the bandits? Trade is booming! You opened a tomb? Undead are being seen all over the place! If possible I let the players make a big splash in a small pond on their very first adventure.

Finally, I talk about it. In game, NPCs gossip and trade stories about things that are happening, especially things the PCs didn't have anything to do with. (This lets them know that stuff happens even if they don't touch it, unlike most CRPGs.) And I talk about it out of game, to make sure my assumptions and theirs are not clashing.

Did that answer your question?

Ripper X said...

Yes, and I totally agree with this. Making the world a living and moving environment versus a static one. I apologize for trying your patience.

There are hard rules, rules which work and are needed because they improve the game, or provide a truly superior method of organizing our thoughts in a meaningful way. The basics! Then there are the mechanics which the players need to function else they can't play or plan ahead. And of course, we have those rules which do neither of these things, be it optional rules to increase the challenge or bring a higher form of realism to the game on an 'as needed' basis, or rules which you may feel highjack the system for no other reason than to force a system into a specific direction or account for accumulated bloat which took place over time.

Then we have rules that have become part of our own game, either through misunderstanding text and not noticing, personal or group preference, or due to social reasons or specific play-styles. I've been using AD&D for so long I can't always tell you where a rule comes from, they fix or alter our play experience. Rules that we write in the borders of our books to repair rules which were either errors or we found ways to improve them. I think that the longer that we play the more change happens to the rules. At least on a decent system, it does.

I do think that it is interesting, a DM can run 0e behind the screen, and the players can be playing AD&D rules on the other and nobody notices. How much of AD&D is just bloat, and how much is really needed? I am always testing things out. Trying out new ideas or reverting processes back to older standards. If they directly affect the Players, I'll tell them, but most of the time it just effects design.

If you ask me, I'll probably tell you that I don't always care what the rules are, but the reality is that I know them so well that I don't have to focus on them all that much. I usually have a good idea of what each session will be like ahead of time and can read specific sections of the rulebooks to refamiliarize myself with the rarely used content. I'll make notes of information that I want at the table, or book mark the page, I may compare these special rules with those of previous editions, and blend them together.

At the table, I try to keep the flow going, if I have to make up a mechanic on the fly because I don't want to stop the game I will, but it is very educated and measured. If a player throws a maltav cocktail at a giants face, what is the radius? I don't care. The giant is either on fire or he isn't.

Margrave said...

I could not agree more with this article. Good rules and good design make a good game.

Rob Schwarz said...

You can pretty much guarantee George R. R. Martin lets the die roll stand no matter how grim the outcome. Without risk there is no drama.