Wednesday, 5 October 2011

What Am I Thinking?

There's been some talk about "hardcore D&D", or so-called Fourthcore, recently. Basically, it's 4th edition D&D which sort of models itself on an "old school" Gygaxian understanding of dungeoneering, by people who've missed the point completely and seem to think that saying "we're hardcore" actually makes you hardcore. As an example of what a "Fourthcore" adventure contains, we have the "Tainted Gallery", which has already been called "a load of shit" by people on therpgsite. You can understand why, for the solution to the puzzle in this "Tainted Gallery" is:

[A] kind of black magic puzzle. The stars etched into the base of statues #1 and #4 are the only two to have a number of sides that have an integer square root (2 and 3, respectively). The 16-pointed star (square root of 4) completes this pattern.

I despise this sort of annoying, "what am I thinking?" puzzle, and genuinely have to wonder about the mentality of somebody who thinks that making players perform an A-level maths problem lest their characters die is a good idea.

Here's the way to make a shitty puzzle in D&D: come up with a problem or obstacle with a specific solution which you, the DM, have spent hours dreaming up in the darkness of your parents' basement. Guaranteed to turn into a pleasure-draining excursion into pixel-bitching.

Here's the way to make a good puzzle in D&D: come up with a problem or obstacle but don't think of a solution at all. Let the players work out a way around it and reward them for being creative and intelligent.

An example of a bad puzzle is one in which you have to not only work out integer square roots and use them to complete a pattern, but you first have to establish that integer square roots are the issue. An example of a good puzzle is a room in which a pile of treasure is separated from the players by a channel full of deadly crocodiles. The former requires the players to sit around for ages thinking, or else try idea after idea being repeatedly told "no, it doesn't work". The second requires the players to think of a creative solution to a problem.

D&D is not rocket science in either sense of the word.

126 comments:

  1. I use the first style all of the time with players new to how I run games. The "stupid integer problem" isn't there for them to solve it (though they could). Its for them to realise this isn't a video game, you can open closed doors with that rocket launcher you have and you can scale chain link fences. "Journey Quest" had the best example of this I'd seen.

    If the door has some hideous puzzle lock, use your axe.

    That said, I have been in the games where you HAVE to solve the puzzle, any attempt to just BFI the issue results in fiat death. BadGM: "OH NOES!!!1! you tried to hack the stupid idol in its stupid face, super death magic kills you and sends you to hell! and being hell that means you are stuck trying to solve this puzzle".

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  2. I was worried for a minute there. I saw the title, saw mention of D&D4 and thought you had stumbled into a Fourthcore game.

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  3. I tried such a puzzle in my recent run and lo - it did suck. Sticking with problems from here on in.

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  4. Is your complaint about the puzzles themselves, or is it about making them into unavoidable chokepoints? Put differently, would you accept solving a puzzle as one way of overcoming an obstacle, as long as it was not the only way of doing so? Or are puzzles absolutely unacceptable? How would you feel about riddles?

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  5. I'm glad you went out of your way to find something on the internet, offered for free, for a system you don't play, and then shit all over it for its hypothetical wrongness, despite the evidence of actual players going through this and having a ton of fun (http://grind4e.blogspot.com/)

    LONG LIVE D&D ELITISM!!! YDIS!!!

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  6. John Harpinger Brinegar: I don't mind riddles or puzzles particularly - I just don't like the idea of ONE solution for a problem. The thing about a riddle is that there is more than one way around it; players can try to cheat (like with Rumpelstiltskin) or perhaps even beat the answer out of the riddler.

    C. Steven Ross: I'm glad you care what the fuck somebody you've never met, and never will, thinks about it.

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  7. Honestly I think playing a deadly 4e game is missing the point. It's fun in games like od&d where your character's stats and advancement are partially determined by dice rolls and hence a reward to be preserved. In 4e you can play whatever you want so death is boring- you just have to decide on a new set of powers.

    I say this as someone who quite likes what he's played of 4e, mind. I just think it, like WoD needs the GM to design fights that target things the player can't replace (the old prison escape routine being the obvious example).

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  8. I would say that targeting things the players can't replace goes against 4e's design philosophy. If, as you say, death itself has lost its sting, thinking up alternate ways to threaten the players seems to be missing the point.

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  9. First, I agree with your point: I designed computer adventure games for a while, which were pretty much all puzzles, and the one part of my contribution that I was proud of was introducing multiple possible solutions to some of them. It pained me, however, that we could get nowhere near what S. John Ross calls "tactical infinity" because of the fundamental limitations of designing computer adventures.

    Second, I say even within the context of puzzle gaming, the puzzle you describe sucks in many ways. Are stars with variable numbers of points relevant to the game world/situation? Do the numbers 4, 9 and 16, or 2, 3 and 4, have any "black magic" significance the player might pick up on?* Is there such significance attached to squares or roots? Finally, what is a 4-pointed star? I'm thinking it's either a square or a bow tie, unless you're not even referencing the old star-of-interconnections, in which case it's a cartoon lens flare and I have to wonder why you're even bothering with stars.

    You can have fun with games like this: the Professor Layton titles are diverting and popular, even though they suffer from a complete disconnect between puzzle and story content. But it's not what's special about getting a group of creative people around a table, sorry.

    * I haven't read the adventure: maybe in-game it all makes sense, but I can tell you it's not borrowing from any kind of magical tradition I know of.

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  10. BTW: can anyone tell me what "pixel bitch" (v.) means?

    As in "that's some pixel bitching there."

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  11. richard: That's interesting stuff. Where did S. John Ross say that? He always gives "good quote", as they say.

    Pixel bitching is when, in old point-and-click adventure games, you had click exactly the right group of pixles and then click exactly the right other group of pixels to achieve the desired effect, or else you would fail.

    A bit like how on old text adventurers you would have to type exactly the right verbs and exactly the right nouns, to get past certain obstacles.

    In other words, it's shorthand for a situation in which player skill is irrelevant and it becomes a gargantuan guessing game with no real in-game logic behind it. (The "Simon the Sorcerer" games were a classic example of this, if you remember them. You could probably add most of the Sierra games in there too.)

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  12. @noisms: thanks! That's a problem I fought against as a designer - it's amazing what can sneak into a design without anyone wanting it there.

    This is where "tactical infinity" comes from. The money quote:
    ...what may be the most unique feature of RPGs: tactical infinity. In Chess, the White Queen can't sweet-talk a Black Knight into leaving her be; in Squad Leader, a group of soldiers can't sneak through an occupied village dressed as nuns. In an RPG, you really can try anything you can think of, and that's a feature that thrives on anarchy.

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  13. This is why I think the skill check is a fundamentally good idea. It saves players from bad design (though it also encourages bad design).

    It's also why I am suspicious of a culture of gaming which encourages the GM to make the solution to every problem depend on the creativity and intelligence of the players. As your example shows, one GM's idea of what players are capable of solving isn't universal, and the history of GMing is littered with adventures where the GM though Puzzle X would be easily solved, because they assumed everyone is as good at maths/rock climbing/ geology / the scientific method / ancient history / etc. as they are. Or they just thought that the players are more familiar with the setting than they really are...

    skill checks offer a good fallback in those situations.

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  14. As I see it, the solution to the square root problem does *not* depend on the player's creativity - although perhaps on intelligence in the sense of pattern recognition - and the only way I can think of anyone solving it is with "brute force", trying anything and everything until something works. My players would be sitting at the table, slowly getting drunk, hating my guts until 2 AM if I pulled this. Yeah, a skill check here would save the PCs, but then why put the puzzle in at all?

    The crocodile problem *does* depend on creativity. Are you going to pole vault across? Blow up the crocodiles? Cover yourself in turpentine and swim for it? It's all you! A skill check here to solve the puzzle just takes away from the playing of the game, the actual exact thing that we're all here for.

    Similarly, I try not to give my players 'logic puzzles' or anything like that. Usually it's as simple as finding a key. If they're thorough in their exploration and they ask questions, they'll be able to get into anything. On the other hand if they breeze through the room without sticking their hands in the mud puddle or looking behind the tapestries, they will likely miss the clues.

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  15. HDA, that's exactly the problem. I'm a statistician and one of my regular players was a physicist: we're good at creatively finding solutions to problems like that (or intuitively, if you prefer). I've gamed with Japanese players - not mathematicians - who would consider that kind of problem to not even be a puzzle.

    Conversely, any realistic solution to the crocodile problem is going to involve someone being fast enough or strong enough to do something at some point - it's also a skill check scenario (even if it boils down to the good old OSR dodge of the GM rolling a percentage chance - that's still a skill check, just a very arbitrary one).

    Richard gives some good examples of how skill checks can be used subtly in situations like this. e.g. the wizard does an intelligence test and if he succeeds recognizes that the objects are all mystical symbols so the solution must depend on the number of sides they have. Or the thief does same and says "I get a feeling there's some maths in this" etc. Also where these things completely break down the GM can use the skillcheck to create a narrative for the solution. This isn't the best option but it's a load better than spending an hour drinking beer watching your players pixel-bitching.

    I don't know about this Fourthcore business either but I'd have thought if it's 4th ed D&D there'd be an option to use a skill challenge to get through every puzzle...?

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  16. @faustnotes
    is going to involve someone being fast enough or strong enough to do something at some point

    For someone who is claiming to be creative in the preceding paragraph you show an astounding lack of creativity.

    Now a list of 10 solutions off the top of my head to the crocodile problem that do not require a single player roll of strength or speed - arbitrary or otherwise.

    1) Wizard disables the crocodiles with a web or sleep spell
    2) Party thief climbs the walls
    3) Dwarf or party member with stone to mud reroutes lava flow to the room
    4) Nearby monsters is charmed or charismaed into leading the crocs on a merry chase
    5) poison meat
    6) Gnome or other party member with speak with animals asks the crocs to leave
    7) Treasure is telekineticly brought to the party (perhaps with unseen servant and floating disk)
    8) Ranger befriends the crocs
    9) The players give up on the treasure
    10) The players use passwall (dimension door, teleport, etc.) to bypass the channel and collect the treasure
    11) wish

    There. Took 5 minutes. I'm pretty disgusted with how stupid new school players look thinking that there has to be a damn skill check for everything. There doesn't.

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  17. @-C faustusnotes was being polite and sociable. I disagree with him too, but that's no reason to act bitter.

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  18. -C: I think you misunderstood my "fast enough or strong enough" comment, which I wrote hurriedly. By that I meant "any attempt to get over the crocodiles is going to lead to an ability check." When I wrote it I was thinking of only physical actions (e.g. climbing, jumping), which would be skill checks relying on the PC being "fast enough or strong enough." By all means extend it to include charm; it doesn't change the resolution process, ultimately, as many of your examples show.

    Your choices 1,2,4,6 and 8 all rely on either a saving throw or a skill or ability check. Climbing (how is that not "fast enough or strong enough," btw?), charming, casting spells, befriending - all require skill checks or saves.

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  19. My main problem with skill checks is that, like specific combat actions, they tend to narrow down the possibilities, psychologically if not necessarily intrinsically. Under the 4e system, the crocodile scenario will tend to resolve itself as an athletics or acrobatics check. The PCs' score in those skills becomes more important than the actual problem-solving.

    I also have a big problem with your suggestion of using a skill check to narratively jump the players past the problem if they're having trouble. If it is a pixel-bitching choke-point puzzle that will lead to frustration and tedium, it shouldn't be in your game to start with. If it isn't, and the players fail anyway, don't step in as the beneficient DM to help them out, it cheapens the whole experience for them. Let them fail on their own terms.

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  20. John:

    If it is a pixel-bitching choke-point puzzle that will lead to frustration and tedium, it shouldn't be in your game to start with


    I agree with this, but the reality is that most GMs are not perfect and also, often, very busy, and pixel-bitching can come about for a wide range of reasons that don't have much to do with being a crap GM. (I always blame my players). While I agree with you about the downside of skill checks, the upside is that they are very useful for escaping the kinds of crappy situations that derive from poor planning, making crap up on the fly, poor listening, descriptive errors, stubborn players, playing drunk, and uncreative players (not to mention badly designed modules). They don't, on the other hand, have to be used in the brute force form they're often presented - they can be a tool for adding tension to otherwise creative endeavours, for example (e.g. -C's climbing thief or befriending gnome).

    Trying to get back on topic: I do find it weird that D&D4ed would try to go down this "hardcore" old D&D road, because 4th ed has a skill check system, right? And if one wants to strip all that out and play an old school "player problem solving is the only determinant of success" type of scenario, then surely one isn't playing 4th ed anymore?

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  21. I experimented briefly with trying to adapt 4e to an AD&D style of play myself, once. I abandoned it after I realised I'd have to rewrite so much of it that I'd have more house rules than official ones. It's very difficult to strip the 4e out of 4e; it has a very focussed game design.

    I'd guess the Fourthcore people still want that 4e style gameplay, they just want the obstacle course feeling of a tournament module. I don't think actual old-school influences enter into it.

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  22. "Yeah, a skill check here would save the PCs, but then why put the puzzle in at all?"

    Well, why put combat encounters in at all? They are resolved through dice rolls. My players don't actually need to fight anything - their characters do. They still have to make decisions, but they don't have to actually swing an axe. And if my players are too 'stupid' to solve a puzzle despite their characters having an Intelligence of 17 (or 60+ say in WFRP1e), a degree in Logic from the University of Thyatis, and, obviously, an understanding of the game world that the player cannot have, then a skill check or characteristic roll will, if they make it, help them to solve it.

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  23. ...that said, I favour a 'problem' over a 'puzzle', to be solved by players making decisions for their characters to enact - dealing with problems as characters rather than solving puzzles as players.

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  24. @Bargle: A combat is resolved through a series of player decisions, monster decisions, actions and reactions, and evolving circumstances, with a heavy dose of random chance provided by the dice. A combat encounter solved by a simple roll of the dice would be even more unsatisfying than a puzzle encounter would be.

    Moreover, D&D is not a game in which you swing axes around in real life, but it is a game in which you use your brain. The entire game is played with the brain. Everything the players do is an exercise in problem-solving, evaluation, decision-making, reasoning and intuition. You could, conceivably, replace all that with intelligence checks - and then the PCs would run themselves, no player input required! It's the perfect system!

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  25. faustusnotes: Of -C's list, none of those actions would be adjudicated by a skill check in classic D&D. You would MAYBE ask somebody to check against DEX if the climb was especially hard in 2), but likely not.

    As for saving throws, I don't think they would be relevant except if you were using charm person in 4). But that's not a PC save, only a monster save, so it's not really the same thing.

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  26. This, by the way, is what people mean when they talk about the skills in general and the skill check in particular being a crutch. You absolutely don't need them for any scenario outside of combat (if you count the 'to hit' roll as a skill check, which it sort of is).

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  27. dm: there's an obstacle, what do you do?
    player: i go around it!
    dm: great idea, it works!

    um, i guess i'm missing something here...

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  28. shlominus; "I go around it!" is not a 'great idea'. If we're being facetious, why not just mischarecterise the skill-check approach as:

    DM: There's an obstacle.
    Player: I roll dice!
    DM: It works! You go around it!

    I think we can have a good faith discussion without this sort of reductio ad absurdum.

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  29. apart from the "great idea" i describe the situation exactly as you suggest. climbing around an obstacle without any rolls.

    why would you not use a check there? what problems does the check cause in this situation and what is gained by ommiting it?

    why i would use a check there:
    added excitement
    character skill (yes, this matters too!)

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  30. shlominus, look at the actual examples given by -C. They are all more complex than what you are suggesting. In 1), you've expended a resource in the form of a spell, and now you've got to get past a big sticky web full of angry crocodiles, or a bunch of sleeping crocodiles, or some other non-optimal situation. In 2) the thief might climb walls to get past, but then how does she get the rest of the players over? Or the pile of treasure back across? 3) is a whole set of problems in itself. 4) is either a roleplaying challenge, or expenditure of resource (spell), and what happens to the crocodiles afterwards? Or, if it lives, the monster? They're still wandering around out there somewhere. And so on.

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  31. shlominus: Obviously, the player would not just say "I climb over the obstacle". They would presumably describe how they were doing so, using tools, ropes, and so forth, and in light of the layout of the room.

    I'm assuming here that the obstacle can't be easily climbed over, by the way - otherwise it wouldn't be an obstacle, really, would it? Presumably there is something making climbing impossible or very difficult, otherwise it wouldn't be an issue. "Climbing around it" would thus have to involve the player thinking of a creative way of doing so. In which case what's interesting is not the roll, but the solution.

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  32. obviously i am simplifying to get the point across.

    i don't want to discuss all of -c's examples, lets just focuis on the climbing thief for now.

    john, all you say is true, but these consequences also apply if the player makes a test to get across, right? they won't get the treasure across with a skillcheck. they have to be creative to do that. player skill applies here. but it's the character doing the climbing.

    noisms, if you make a skill-check you'd also describe beforehand what exactly you are going to do. these actions (using a rope, other characters helping, whatever) would cause the check to be modified. that way player AND character skill are challenged.

    the way you suggest such a asituation should be handled, what would the player have to do to fail?

    the way i see it the player faces a situation that challenges his characters skill, with potentially serious consequences. i can't imagine a better time for a skill(or stat)-check.

    i'll ask again: should the characters skill matter at all?

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  33. shlominus: i'll ask again: should the characters skill matter at all?

    Bluntly, no.

    If you are testing the character's skill, really all you are doing is testing a load of numbers on a sheet of paper that were generated before the game. What becomes important in that scenario is character gen.

    This is what killed enjoyment of 3rd edition D&D for me. What went on in the game became subsidiary to what was on the character sheet.

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  34. I'm not opposed to rolling dice to determine the players' success - obviously, since otherwise there'd be no chance of failure and no risk. But I am opposed to a formal skill system like we see in 4e, because as I mentioned above it tends to narrow possibilities and shift focus to the dice roll rather than the solution the player comes up with.

    In the example you give, the player would have to come up with a way to get the treasure across (e.g. put it in a sack and then toss it over the crocodile pit, or tie it to their waist and try to climb back), and I would adjudicate the difficulty and possible consequences accordingly. I will absolutely not decide that to get the treasure across requires an athletics check and then give bonuses or penalties to that depending on the player's method, or anything close to that, since that to me is completely ass-backwards, putting the roll first and the solution second.

    I partly disagree with noisms, though - I will use characters' ability scores to influence rolls, since I feel that adds an extra element to the game (a player who knows his character has certain strengths and weaknesses can plan around them).

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  35. noisms: i see. :)

    the only version of d&d i ever played was ad&d, 2nd edition. no 3rd-or 4th edition experience here (unless you count trying out d&d online... brrr).

    why bother rolling up stats at all if they don't matter? if the "character" doesn't matter?

    i ask again: in the given scenario, what would a character have to do to fail if you are dming?

    john, i don't think we are very far apart. not at all, actually.

    I would adjudicate the difficulty and possible consequences accordingly.

    with or without a roll (don't get hung up on acrobatics or anything like that, it doesn't matter what you roll against as long as it represents character skill)?

    if without, how?

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  36. shlominus:why bother rolling up stats at all if they don't matter? if the "character" doesn't matter?

    Stats are significant for other reasons - for instance, CHA defines the number of hirelings you can hire.

    They are also useful for in-game adjudication. Who wins an arm-wrestling match? The guy with highest STR.

    i ask again: in the given scenario, what would a character have to do to fail if you are dming?

    Failure is failing to come up with a clever way around the obstacle, thus not being able to get the treasure.

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  37. Noisms, the climbing is definitely adjudicated by a skill check in AD&D - percentages increase with level (admittedly, by the time you're about 5th level it's irrelevant, but that's a separate issue). As far as I can remember, anything involving gnomes convincing crocodiles and rangers befriending animals comes down to a reaction check. That's a skill check. Web is definitely a saving throw, as are charm person spells. It's a matter of pathetic quibbling to separate saving throws from skill checks.

    Would you seriously consider having a conversation between GM and gnome in which you played a crocodile? This is exactly what skill checks were invented for. And what situation obtains if we apply them?

    Gm: You have a problem. River, crocodiles, etc.

    Players: talk amongst themselves [undoubtedly for too long, sigh]. "The gnome will use speak with animals and attempt to convince the crocodiles to let us by."

    GM: Well, I certainly didn't think of that ... okay, um, what do you tell them?

    Players: come up with a good explanation

    GM: What's the gnome's charisma?

    Players: 15

    GM: okay, it works... [alternatively, reference to reaction tables with a suitable modifier].

    This is a skill check.

    Incidentally, "the guy with the greater strength wins the arm wrestling contest" is also a skill check. It just happens to follow a very trivial model, and it can be represented mathematically using dice.

    In these situations I always end up wondering why OSR gamers privilege combat over everything else. Why is it okay to use a skill check to attack a crocodile, but not to convince a crocodile to let you pass?

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  38. "Moreover, D&D is not a game in which you swing axes around in real life, but it is a game in which you use your brain. The entire game is played with the brain. Everything the players do is an exercise in problem-solving, evaluation, decision-making, reasoning and intuition. You could, conceivably, replace all that with intelligence checks - and then the PCs would run themselves, no player input required! It's the perfect system!"

    Yes, D&D doesn't involve swinging axes around, and it does involve the brain. But it does have characteristics for Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma. And most fantasy RPGs also feature an imaginary world, the workings of which the characters ought to have much more extensive knowledge of than the players. There is room to use these characteristics in a way that doesn't reduce PCs to automatons, but that doesn't mean that the charming genius playing a nimble strongman with 6s in Wis, Int, and Chr, ends up playing a charming nimble strongman with an sharp mind.

    The other solution is to drop Intelligence as a characteristic, as Greg Stafford does in Pendragon, arguing that player intelligence is what matters, not character intelligence. But even then, whether a character behaves with the correct etiquette, understands the heraldry of the approaching banner, a whole range of game world specific intellectual tasks, is determined by a skill check.

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  39. Faustusnotes: Ah, semantics.

    I wasn't talking about AD&D; I was talking about classic D&D, and was careful to make that point. Remember, the reason AD&D was invented was for tournament play where it was important to have objective standards for things.

    In any case, it's entirely beside the point, because we're not talking about what the rule books say; we're talking about what's best. The introduction of the thief class, with thief skills, was the beginning of the end for D&D, though it took a long time to play out.

    Your "speaking with the crocodiles" example doesn't have to be run as a skill check and I wouldn't expect it to be. The reaction of the crocodiles would be based on a mixture of what the gnome said (yes, I'd make him say it), reaction adjustment for CHA, and random rolling on the relevant table. This is not a skill check, unless you're taking a ridiculously broad definition of "skill check"... which brings us to your point about the arm wrestling, which really is pretty facile. If it makes you feel better to think of that scenario as a skill check, then fine - the rest of us will carry on as we were.

    The interesting question here is, why combat? I'd give two reasons:

    1) It's near-impossible and very time-consuming for players and the DM to describe what their character is doing in combat, blow-by-blow, while adjudicating who is doing it "better". You have to resort to the dice because the situation is too complex and fluid, and the DM's role as neutral arbiter is somewhat compromised as he is controlling one side in the combat.

    2) D&D evolved out of a wargame.

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  40. "This is not a skill check, unless you're taking a ridiculously broad definition of "skill check"."

    Ah... perhaps I'm not talking about a skill check in the sense that 4e does. I haven't played 4e (or 3e) - I did buy the 4e Red Box, but reading through the game it didn't read much like D&D to me, even given the nostalgia factor of the packaging.

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  41. @Faustusnotes. As a DM, I've roleplayed speaking crocodiles, beavers, weasels, rocks and gods. Sorry, this was just a side note but it shows slightly how differently we all play. Oh, and sahuagins too, I'm an expert in sahuagin roleplaying.
    I've had a friend tell me one day "we need skills, so that the shy guy can play a bard and be a master diplomat as well". I felt very sorry for the shy guy in his game, bound to remain shy with his D20 forever. I say if you're shy, you either don't play a bard or you get over it, begin as a very crappy bard and overcomes your shyness through the game. Don't you see what he's missing if a skill replaces his wits?

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  42. Noisms:

    The reaction of the crocodiles would be based on a mixture of what the gnome said (yes, I'd make him say it), reaction adjustment for CHA, and random rolling on the relevant table

    I'm sorry, but that's exactly what a skill check is. Claim semantics and broad definitions if you like, but that's a skill check. See the bit about reaction adjustments for CHA and random rolling "on the relevant table"? You're already basically discussing Rolemaster.

    If you think comparing two skill ranks and having the better one win isn't a skill check, you're the one fiddling with semantics. You're also reducing a complex setting to a trivial resolution that ignores, for example, willpower, trickery (you can shift elbow position, bluff, choose your environment), rope-a-dope tactics, etc. How is this different from your description of combat?

    Even more so when negotiating with crocodiles. Who knows how their lizardy minds work? Surely the GM doesn't have a plan for the inner workings of every monster and animal in his campaign world - why not let the dice help? And can't some players choose to forego some combat and spell advances to improve their negotiation skills? Police and some types of soldiers get a lot of training in this sort of thing because native talent is not considered sufficient when facing an angry hostage-taker. Why should it be different for PCs facing crocodiles?

    Finally, regarding your "classic D&D" climbing check ... almost certainly it would be resolved by the GM listening to the player's description of their actions, considering the PC's class, armour type, and prior history of climbing (i.e. ... skill), thinking up a percentage chance and rolling under it. This is just a very arbitrary and cack-handed skill check.

    Which isn't to say that 4ed have improved on that, or that fourthcore is an improvement on OD&D or 4ed. Or that your original suggestion isn't excellent. But I think that when you design a bad trap (like the one in the OP) the skill-check is your go to guy to avoid pissing off your players.

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  43. kabuki kaiser, maybe it's a different approach but I think the skill check can a) enhance his or her wits and b) add tension to tasks that witty people come up with. Yes, your idea was very clever, but you're a thick-as-shit warrior whose history says he was raised by wolves. Now you want to charm the Yeoman. You've given a good approach to charming the Yeoman, but you're still an inbred stinking fool from beyond the frontier, so your efforts to charm the Yeoman are going to require a bit more effort than if you'd left it to the cool elf chick (who unfortunately is unconscious in the Yeoman's wagon, so no choice there). The whole party wants to save the elf chick and this is their best bet, so they're hanging on your roll because they know if you fuck it up they're going to have to fight ...

    I happen to be very very good at role-playing party adversaries. But that doesn't mean I think the whole resolution of every interaction should come down to such things. When I lay the dice out everyone knows that the result of the interaction isn't entirely arbitrary. Having the GM decide whether or not the conversation works is the essence of story-gaming - and isn't that what everyone here hates?

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  44. faustusnotes: If you think comparing two skill ranks and having the better one win isn't a skill check, you're the one fiddling with semantics.

    No, you are!

    No, you are!

    Do me a favour.

    And can't some players choose to forego some combat and spell advances to improve their negotiation skills?

    No - their negotiation skills derive from their own cleverness as players.

    Having the GM decide whether or not the conversation works is the essence of story-gaming - and isn't that what everyone here hates?

    No.

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  45. Who knows how their lizardy minds work?

    The DM knows, because this isn't in fact an independent world. Moreover, Kabuki Kaiser beat me to it with the "I've played keys that were lost in the magician's vault" line.

    The best advice I've ever seen about when to roll is "roll when you want to introduce some random hazard into the results." I find I usually want to introduce some hazard because, in old-fashioned anthro-theory terms, hazard "pays for" the PCs' success: the chance that it could have gone wrong despite everything, and the consequence that the players therefore have to be there with their best improvising trousers on while the plan is executing, is why I bother with dice at all.

    I contend that's basically different from the approach to skill checks that I have seen touted for 4e (perhaps wrongly: I don't know 4e really). In the latter case it seems a mechanical check is often substituted for role-playing or player thought. I keep the check for tension only, and to provide room for exceptional results that I prefer to be random for aesthetic reasons.

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  46. @Faustnotes
    "any attempt to get over the crocodiles is going to lead to an ability check."

    Is patently not true.

    I'd like to point out that half of the examples that proved my point were ignored, and instead the skill apologists choose to focus on several classic misunderstandings.

    Climbing walls: Climbing walls for a thief is automatic. Just like it is for any character. Hiding for a thief is automatic, just like any character has the ability to hide.

    Thieves have the ability to climb an unclimbable wall, and hide in the very shadows themselves instead of in a barrel.

    i ask again: in the given scenario, what would a character have to do to fail if you are dming?

    The problem is here, is that you want the game to be a railroad. You don't want your players to decide what to do, you want to call for a skill check.

    If you take off the safety rails and give them some freedom, you will be astounded at the bodies and rooms they forget to search, and the actions they neglect to do. How many monsters or NPC's they leave on the ground unconscious to get up and get revenge another day.

    I've got a post up about treasure generation. I put the opportunity for about 50,000 experience, 45,000 of which is treasure to give the party the 10k total they need to reach second level. Why is that? because they miss a full third or more of the treasure in the dungeon.

    The fact is, if you don't lead them by the nose, player skill is a real thing they will need to have, and if they don't have player skill then they will fail.

    The whole skill system is a crutch because it allows them to fail without feeling personally responsible, among other reasons.

    Why is it okay to use a skill check to attack a crocodile, but not to convince a crocodile to let you pass?

    Because at the table, I can't use my personal skill to swing an axe, but I can use my personal skill to convince a crocodile.

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  47. Richard:

    In the latter case it seems a mechanical check is often substituted for role-playing or player thought

    I don't know if that's true for 4e or not but in my experience of these here wide internets, it's usually what people say about games they don't like. Doesn't mean it's true.

    Noisms: besides the obvious implication of your claim, which is that this game is closed to people who aren't smart (and who gets to judge that? I play with a physicist - to them, everyone is dumb, but their negotiation skills are non existent, often), how do you know that success in negotiation has anything to do with cleverness? I've played with myriad GMs whose main traits have been stubbornness and vanity. How is my cleverness meant to penetrate that?

    And, pace Richard, how is negotiating with a GM based on "cleverness" going to introduce any element of hazard into the game? They'll just let me win or lose the negotiation according to what they wand to happen. And even if they do use their "objective" judgment to decide the outcome, how am I to know that they were using this impartiality, given I don't know what they're thinking? Isn't a skill check a much better way of defining "objective standards for things" than the random, arbitrary decision of some vain actor who spent his whole weekend preparing an adventure that has gone pear-shaped because his players didn't notice the three clues he placed in the first room?

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  48. The other problem I see being avoided in this discussion (discounting the combat red herring, and yes you can describe combat just as well as anything else)is favouratism. Not matter how unbiased you think you are, you are not. Some players you will instinctively understand what they are saying better than others. Maybe you have a similar educational mindset and just "get" what they are seeing in the same manner they are. Maybe someone else just highlights different parts of their plan than you are envisioning in your head (the "You never said your character was wearing pants!" syndrome).

    As a GM, ask yourself if you would be as cool with the system if you were the setting manager but not the rules arbiter. If you made another person at the table (perhaps one who is also a player) in charge of handling rules arbitration, would you be as cool with "making judgements based on the solution proposed" if your own challenges and descriptions of the problem itself were being held to judge?

    If so, trying playing it that way. I do it from time to time and if nothing else it will sharpen your GM skills (making you realise the flaws in your descriptive abilities when players call you on things and rule that its "too late, you should have mentioned that when the encounter started, etc").

    Dice rolling is also FUN. The tactile sensation of rolling weird little lumps of plastic around.

    Though that last part, the uncertainty, is a personal preference. Some people prefer chess to games with an element of chance.

    However, if that is the case, don't make combat different.

    If its a "yes/no" your strength is high enough style game you want, make combat the same. If a players skill with a sword is not enough to best the monster they don't kill the monster, it kills them. Does fireball do enough damage to kill the monster on average? if yes the player wins if not the monster kills them. Problem solved, Amber diceless works much like that.

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  49. -C, most of your comment doesn't make any sense - thieves' climbing is automatic, even on unclimbable walls? - but this takes the cake:


    Because at the table, I can't use my personal skill to swing an axe, but I can use my personal skill to convince a crocodile.


    I would wager you have never met a crocodile. I would suggest that you are much, much better at swinging an axe than you would be at convincing a talking crocodile not to eat you.

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  50. Faustusnotes: You're doing what you usually do in an extended debate, now.

    What -C meant about climbing walls is that CLIMABLE walls are automatically climbable by anybody (thieves included), as opposed to unclimbable walls, which can only be climbed by theives. You obviously knew this, but you chose to put a facile and facetious spin on it.

    Likewise, the point with the crocodiles: nobody is arguing we have to be realistic here. Of course nobody is saying a DM can accuratenly portray the psyche of a crocodile. But they can give a workable impression, and for our purposes that is all that is necessary. Again, you obviously knew this, but you chose to try to score a silly cheap point instead.

    I assume you're doing this deliberately, because you never engage in a debate with anything other than the intention to reassure yourself of your own position.

    As for the rest of your comment, about the GM and his carefully prepared adventure, you're clearly missing the point entirely, and have taken in absolutely nothing of what you purport to know all about (the attitude of "old schoolers").

    As a GM, you are not supposed to want anything specific to happen. You are not supposed to have spent all weekend preparing an adventure. Your adventures cannot go pear-shaped because the players have failed to notice a clue; you do not design adventures that way. You do not care whether the players get the treasure or not. You do not care what they do, so long as they are doing something. You are a neutral arbiter responding to their actions.

    What is more, you are a nice pleasant grownup gaming with your friends, and not a complete tool whose main traits are stubbornness and vanity.

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  51. @faust:

    I guess my problem is, you keep saying things that aren't true.

    Climbing walls is automatic,

    and thieves have the ability (i.e. skill) to climb an unclimbable wall, means that for a wall that's impossible to climb (slick, etc.) or for a normal like wall that needs to be climbed super quickly - thieves have a skill.

    Nowhere in my reply did I say that the climbing was automatic on unclimbable walls.

    I would wager you have never met a crocodile. I would suggest that you are much, much better at swinging an axe than you would be at convincing a talking crocodile not to eat you.

    I personally have not only met crocodiles, I've eaten them.

    I am also not able to speak with animals. Since the very supposition of talking the crocodile down rests on a gnome magical ability, perhaps we should avoid the absurd arguments and address the actual point, which is that dice rolls are used only as a last resort to arbitrate things that cannot be decided by agreement or fiat.

    Or, if you still think making 400 search checks is a superior experience to just, I don't know, using your mind - you might suggest something about why that's a better approach.

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  52. Next time one of my players wants to lift a portcullis, I'm going to get them to lift something really bloody heavy!

    "But my character, Boland the Brave, has 18(00) Strength!"

    "Yeah, but ten minutes ago you convinced the crocodile to let you pass even though Boland has Charisma 3, on the basis of your own ability to talk your way out of trouble, so lift the bloody weights."

    ... actually, scratch that scenario. A player who is able to actually talk a crocodile into letting him pass obviously has far to much 'player skill' - they ought to be able to convince any DM into playing the game exactly how they want it played.

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  53. I ask if some PCs might forego combat and magic to gain skill at communication, and Noisms answers "no".

    Then Noisms (and -C) go on to point out that unclimbable walls are only climbable by thieves. That is, some characters can choose to forego combat and magic options in order to get a skill in a different area.

    And again, in a trivial mathematical sense, this either/or process represents a skill check.

    To follow on from Noisms complex contradictions, -C presents us with this beauty:

    Since the very supposition of talking the crocodile down rests on a gnome magical ability, perhaps we should avoid the absurd arguments and address the actual point, which is that dice rolls are used only as a last resort to arbitrate things that cannot be decided by agreement or fiat.

    In this mysterious comment are you suggesting that talking down a crocodile is something that we can arbitrate by agreement? We all have some common understanding of how crocodiles negotiate, and how gnomes use their magic powers? Are you arguing this situation is not absurd?

    "Things that cannot be decided by agreement or fiat" ... "Talking the crocodile down depends on a gnome's magical ability" ...

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  54. @faustusnotes

    If your supposition that any die roll is a skill check then ipso facto skill checks are being made, because we are playing a game where we are rolling dice. The weapon damage is the 'skill' of the weapon at doing damage.

    The discussion is about using player skill, versus some selection or 'build' of the character. We explicitly do use the dice to resolve actions that cannot be resolved by agreement (involving discussion, as any agreement is wont to do) or fiat.

    You definitively stated that there was no solution to the crocodiles other than a die roll, when clearly their are many. No die roll in any game is necessary to feed them poison meat.

    We are playing a fantasy game and that requires imagination. So we accept at face value, that gnomes can speak with burrowing animals, and wizards can cast spells.

    Your implication that by accepting these fantastic powers as abilities in this game means that we can't rely on either a description of an action, or the having of a conversation to determine the outcome of an action; is at best a lack of imagination.

    At this point, you've avoided addressing or rebutting several key points in my argumentation, and while making claims that are distorted versions of my claims (the proverbial "strawman").

    If you can provide no further points or rebuttal to this discussions, then any reply is nothing more than trolling.

    For clairty:
    are you suggesting that talking down a crocodile is something that we can arbitrate by agreement?

    Yes.

    Elaborated. Player says X. DM replies as alligator "Oh sure I'll leave" or "What's in it for me?" or whatever. Player replies. DM makes a decision as the alligator as to its response. It is called role-playing.

    We all have some common understanding of how crocodiles negotiate, and how gnomes use their magic powers?

    The strawman you are presenting is that you ignore "agreement" or "consensus" being necessary for avoiding the die roll - not just fiat.

    As in it is in the rules how speak with animals works, or we come to a consensus at the table about the ability. No per-existing common understanding is necessary.

    Are you arguing this situation is not absurd?

    That we are playing a fantasy game where fantastic things happen? No, it is not by definition absurd.

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  55. Wow - I'm late to the kerfuffle.

    I'm going to go back to Faustusnotes original point - It's also why I am suspicious of a culture of gaming which encourages the GM to make the solution to every problem depend on the creativity and intelligence of the players.

    It seems that much of the discussion has off-roaded into whether the old school resolutions have snuck in skill checks through other means; as saving throws or reaction rolls or to-hit rolls, for instance.

    I say, so what? I'm an old school DM most of the time and have no problem introducing skill checks into the game under numerous circumstances: where I know there is some probability of failure or random chance that could derail the player's plan. But here's what takes it out of the realm of DM fiat or arbitrariness; you tell the player the odds up front.

    "Yes, I do think you could use the pike to pole vault across the crocodiles, but you'll need to make a dexterity check (roll 2d6+2 under your dex) but the pole will have to make a saving throw or snap... Do you still want to proceed?"

    You can argue that the new school moves all those "skill rules" into player facing rules and it's more transparent because the players can do their own calculations up front; I just don't like the tone this argument took that old schoolers don't use skill checks. Isn't the real issue that the skill system defenders think there is something foul about creating rulings or probabilities on the fly?

    It can be transparent in a player-facing rulebook, or transparent because the DM shares various odds with the players at run-time; I do like the old school approach because no one solution or skill check chance needs to be laid out in advance.

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  56. We all have some common understanding of how crocodiles negotiate, and how gnomes use their magic powers?

    It occurs to me upon rereading that you may be saying here, since we have no personal experience with talking with a crocodile or activating a magical racial power, or any one of a thousand other fantastic things we should not rely on consensus, discussion, or our own experience, but instead only mechanical written rules.

    I guess what I have to say to that is I can play a video game if I want someone else to have already decided all the manifold ways I am limited in action. I play tabletop RPG's for the tactical infinity, which engages and uses my imagination, not my ability to do numerical comparative analysis.

    I'm still waiting for some kind of argument about how that is superior to creative play.

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  57. -C

    Creative play does not mean "Fiat". That isn't creative play, it is story telling. If you just roll dice and don't think creatively, that also isn't creative play, its gambling.

    The key is the blend of the two, its why despite the ability to just "fiat combat" no one does (well, not enough to matter) because at some point people realise that some things should be beyond the reach of your plans. That is the game, you can reduce risk but never really eliminate the chance of disaster.

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  58. Faustusnotes: Your argument here is so weak that it beggars belief.

    are you suggesting that talking down a crocodile is something that we can arbitrate by agreement? We all have some common understanding of how crocodiles negotiate, and how gnomes use their magic powers? Are you arguing this situation is not absurd?

    We have a common understanding of next to nothing in a standard D&D game. It may have escaped your notice, but elves, dwarves and orcs do not exist, and there is no such thing as magic, and people don't gain levels as they advance through life. Yet no DM would ever say to a player: "You're playing an elf. We have no common understanding of how an elf would deal with this situation. So you're going to have to roll the dice whenever you want to so much as even fucking breathe. We have no common understanding of how elves breathe!"

    No. We use our imagination, common sense, and ability to negotiate. It's absolutely the same as a gnome talking to a crocodile.

    You're going to have to do better, I'm afraid.

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  59. I think I understand what Faustusnotes tries to say here. He basically says that having a rules system with actual, predictable and fixed scores is better than struggling to reach a shared imagination in fantasy role-playing games and managing to maintain a common suspension of disbelief despite the sheer absurdity of the setting we joyfully base ourselves upon.

    To me, this is the end of magic. And the end of role-playing games as I define them: shared imagination and the building of emergent common beliefs, even upon rules and rulings, and stories. You can play chess and pretend you're the Queen and talk in funny voices, it's still chess, not a role-playing game.

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  60. -C (with bold for emphasis):


    Elaborated. Player says X. DM replies as alligator "Oh sure I'll leave" or "What's in it for me?" or whatever. Player replies. DM makes a decision as the alligator as to its response. It is called role-playing.

    That's fiat - that's story gaming right there. If the GM doesn't want you to cross the river, the crocodile will say no and the GM will tell you you just don't understand how crocs think. You, the player, have no control over the GM's decision. This is how railroading happens. It's also a common source of "what am I thinking?" Because you have to guess how the GM thinks crocs think, in order to convince him to let you through.

    Under Beedo's understanding of the OSR skill check system, the GM will tell you before you start arguing with the monster what you need to roll to convince it, and then will come up with a modifier based on your argument and whatever secret knowledge he has about the crocs. Player creativity is retained, but some degree of independence from the GM's whims is also established.

    If you fail despite an excellent argument, the GM can come up with a reason - you weren't sufficiently deferential, crocs only respect power and you didn't show enough, etc.

    This remains a test of wits and player cleverness; it still involves the GM manipulating the world setting; there is still an interaction between players as PCs and GM-as-challenger; it just liberates the players from the GM's whims.

    Contra kabuki kaiser's last point, this isn't "the end" of role-playing or magic. It is the construction of a shared framework that both GM and player get to manipulate in order to facilitate role-playing.

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  61. Noisms:

    We have a common understanding of next to nothing in a standard D&D game.

    This is patently not true. We have spell and combat systems, equipment lists with costs and stat blocks for monsters. The outline of our world is very carefully constructed to give a common understanding; so that, for example, no one would tolerate a GM deciding by "fiat" that a party of 10th level characters were killed by an unarmed orc. The idea being resisted here is that that common understanding could possibly be extended to allow random elements to enter into the determination of how non-combat skills (especially, negotation and acrobatics) might be used.

    In essence what this means is that a first level character can randomly manage to beat someone slightly better than them in combat, through planning and a bit of luck; but it's impossible for you to imagine that a minor noble could convince a neutral Orc chieftain to back them in a war, through careful planning and luck. For some reason the former must be entirely run on dice, with a large element of luck; the latter mustn't - or alternatively, all the luck must be decided by the GM on a whim. Even though we know much more about how a fight would pan out than we do about how negotiations between minor nobles and orcs would work out.

    This just seems perverse to me.

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  62. You didn't get my point, Faustus: I consider the construction of a shared framework - and yes, by both DM and players - as the game goes as the essence of play whereas you buy a system before you play, expecting it to rule everything (which it obviously can't anyway, but this is another issue). It takes a big deal of what these games are about away, indeed.

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  63. "That's fiat - that's story gaming right there. If the GM doesn't want you to cross the river, the crocodile will say no and the GM will tell you you just don't understand how crocs think. You, the player, have no control over the GM's decision."

    I wonder how you as a DM create the world. You can put a dwarven dungeon on the map - that's fiat. Every dungeon has the same creatures off the encounter list because deciding that only some live here is fiat. You can't name a city and populate it with people or with quests, because as the DM anything you add to the game that doesn't come from a table is fiat.

    How do you create your sandbox without making decisions as the arbitrator of the game?

    I should point out that this also shows a misunderstanding of what story gaming is, which provides specific mechanics for the control of the tale, which D&D does not do (unless I missed the mechanic where as a player I get to decide what's in the treasure room).

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  64. The reason why your argument is a malformed example of mine (i.e. a strawman)

    "You, the player, have no control over the GM's decision."

    This assumption is precipitated on the idea that:

    A) The players can't ask the GM any questions

    B) That the players can't or aren't in control of their characters or choices.

    Here's your hypothetical situation, that assumes that the DM doesn't frontload the situation to make it interesting.

    P1:"Mr. Crocodile, won't you please let us pass"
    DM:"No."

    You assume that this is the end, when in fact the next part - the part with agency and information is crucial to this style of play.

    P1:OOC:So, what is the deal with crocodiles? Is there a reason he's not talking to us?
    DM:They only respect power and they think you are weak. Or, They aren't interested in talking to anyone who doesn't have food.

    Skill check or rolling dice not needed. Discussion, agreement and fiat, without 'railroading' because the players can do whatever the hell they want - including leave.

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  65. -C, you did notice that this post is entitled "What Am I Thinking?", right? Your example is a classic case of exactly what Noisms is complaining about, and you show it here:


    P1:OOC:So, what is the deal with crocodiles? Is there a reason he's not talking to us?
    DM:They only respect power and they think you are weak. Or, They aren't interested in talking to anyone who doesn't have food.


    In your example, "player cleverness" depends on the players knowing what the GM is thinking. In this example you seem to think that they can just ask and be told; in the OP Noisms is assuming they won't be told. The difference here is just the GM. If the conversation instead ended with the GM saying "you have to work that out," you'd be back to pixel-bitching, wouldn't you?

    And what is the context here? A gnome - a race that lives its entire life underground - meets an animal that lives in jungle rivers, in a medieval fantasy world where almost no information on one setting would reach the other. Why should the GM be so kind as to assume that the gnome even knows what crocodiles eat, let alone what they think? Such a GM would be perfectly entitled to leave it to the players.

    Of course in a skill check setting, we have a different solution. One of the players may have chosen to forego some combat skills in order to learn about the natural world (or even to learn to read!) and so can do a skill check to work out how to approach the crocs. Then the GM can reveal what he/she is thinking, or not think anything at all: tell the players they now know the best way to negotiate with the crocs, and ask them what it is. If the players fail they're back to having to guess the best approach - which is what your players will be doing unless they have a GM who is willing to tell them the answer to every question built into the setting.

    Which approach do you think puts the players more "in control of their characters and their choices"?

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  66. "In this example you seem to think that they can just ask and be told; in the OP Noisms is assuming they won't be told. The difference here is just the GM. "

    Yes. If you tell the players what they need to know to solve the problem, they don't have to guess. They still have to solve the problem.

    "A gnome - a race that lives its entire life underground . . .

    Yes. In my pathfinder game the gnome has 'speak with animals 1/day' and I assume that's a racial power. In my 1e game, gnomes can speak with burrowing mammals. But your point here is correct.

    In this example - I ask, is anyone a druid or a ranger? If they are, they know, if they aren't they don't.

    Here is the important part - if anyone can come up with a reason that they would know that is reasonable, then they do.

    This way, the dice don't get in the way of creativity, and your success depends on your choices at the table, not where you put your skill point three moons ago.

    I find having a disscussion and using your brain a more entertaining method of play, rather than "do a skill check to work out how to approach the crocs" which boils down to roll a die to see if you win.

    Something that is relevant - In old school play, creating situations to avoid randomness and die rolls is a key to success. Better to kill or bypass the monsters using your brain then ever giving them the chance to hit you in combat.

    "Which approach do you think puts the players more "in control of their characters and their choices"?

    I think it's the one where I search the mouth of the idol, and find the key that is a tooth gives me more control of my character and his choices, instead of searching the mouth of the idol, and missing the key because I got unlucky or built my character wrong.

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  67. [-C] Player says X. DM replies as alligator "Oh sure I'll leave" or "What's in it for me?" or whatever. Player replies. DM makes a decision as the alligator as to its response. It is called role-playing.

    [faustusnotes] That's fiat - that's story gaming right there. If the GM doesn't want you to cross the river, the crocodile will say no and the GM will tell you you just don't understand how crocs think. You, the player, have no control over the GM's decision. This is how railroading happens.


    I'm copy-pasting this whole exchange because I find it fascinating. faustusnotes believes that a player roleplaying a question to an NPC (or crocodile, as it may be), and the DM roleplaying an appropriate response, is DM fiat and that it leads to railroading. That's an intriguingly alien point of view. He also continues to insist that the DM wants something and will control circumstances to get it, but that's much less interesting (though maybe related). faustus, how on earth do you run your games? I really want to know, now.

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  68. faustusnotes: This is patently not true. We have spell and combat systems, equipment lists with costs and stat blocks for monsters. The outline of our world is very carefully constructed to give a common understanding;

    Are you being deliberately obtuse, here? I clearly wasn't talking about a shared understanding of the rules: I was talking about a shared understanding of the game world. Neither you nor I nor anybody else on the planet knows how elves think because they don't exist. Yet DMs up and down the land roleplay NPC elves as if they know how they think and nobody says "OMG THATS DM FIAT!!!!!1"

    It is DM fiat of a kind, but only if you're interested in semantics, not an actual discussion about games.

    In essence what this means is that a first level character can randomly manage to beat someone slightly better than them in combat, through planning and a bit of luck; but it's impossible for you to imagine that a minor noble could convince a neutral Orc chieftain to back them in a war, through careful planning and luck. For some reason the former must be entirely run on dice, with a large element of luck; the latter mustn't - or alternatively, all the luck must be decided by the GM on a whim. Even though we know much more about how a fight would pan out than we do about how negotiations between minor nobles and orcs would work out.

    I'm going to echo John here, and say that your approach to role playing is intriguingly alien, if this is what you really think.

    Why is the GM deciding things on a whim, as opposed to the numerous other reasons he has to decide things (what the players say, what they players do, how they say it, how they do it, what sounds like fun, what gets him interested, what would lead to interesting consequences, etc. etc.)?

    This sentence is especially baffling to me: it's impossible for you to imagine that a minor noble could convince a neutral Orc chieftain to back them in a war, through careful planning and luck.

    I'm interested to know where "luck" comes into negotiations in the real world. In the real world nobody rolls dice to determine outcomes of meetings. Rather, people decide based on their own personal set of motivations. So will the orc chieftain in your scenario, and the DM knows these motivations since he created the orc chieftain. And if the players have any sense they will be able to work those out, or make good guesses at them. So what roll do you think luck should play in that?

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  69. After watching, and participating in, several discussions of this length and longer with faustusnotes, I feel like really the easiest thing would be for noisms to just play a game on G+ with him running it and see just what the hell goes on in those games.

    Because, honestly, the number of assumptions he makes (in general) which seem--prima facie--to be completely and in all ways alien to any brand of fun I associate with RPGs leads me to believe he's just doing some whole other thing I've never seen before over there.

    I mean, I've played with zzarchov and noisms and so I have context for their comments, and they make sense to me, and we successfully had fun, so I defer to their interpretation of reality being somehow compatible with existence as it occurs.

    But Faustus? I get the feeling every time that people are trying to translate back and forth using London rhyming slang without knowing it or something.

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  70. and, faustus, no offense. I mean, I know sometimes I commented on stuff you say and do completely mean offense, but this isn't one of them

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  71. These comments are interesting ... going backwards in order...

    Zak S, I'm not actually talking just from my own GMing perspective here I think everyone on the internet thinks they're a great GM - it's possible they are, since to bother blogging on gaming you need to be focused, I suppose - but most GMs in real life are actually shit. I met a whole series of them over a year in London, in different venues. Example here. This is what ordinary mortals have to put their soul into the custody of, and this is why I rebel at the idea of a GM having complete control over everything but combat and search checks. [To be clear this is far from my only experience of poor GMing, though it's undoubtedly the clearest example].

    So my approach is to try and have as much of the structure of decision-making as possible be shared between GM and players. Not in the "roll a die to do everything" way but in the way that I have repeatedly described here, where players get to have as much chance to pull tricks out of their arse as possible. It's not enough for me that if there is no druid in the party no one knows about crocodiles - there's always a chance someone might figure something out.

    Recall the Asian tsunami? One family famously survived (so the story goes) because their daughter saw the sea going out and remembered her geography lesson from school the week before. If that's not a successful intelligence check, I don't know what is. But in an RPG, the GM would describe clearly the sea going out, but because he accidentally mentioned some detail - a rare fish on a rock, or an uncovered chest or something - or because none of his players have studied geography and none of them thought to look up "tsunami" on wiki the night before (as the GM did), the players will all ignore the sea going out and charge forward to the chest. You think you've given a clear explanation and someone, somehow, misconstrued and led the whole party to their doom. Happens all the time. Why waste everyone's evening with the arrogant assumption that it's all their fault?.

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  72. Noisms and -C have two good examples of missing the point about luck, that I'll try and address. First Noisms:

    I'm interested to know where "luck" comes into negotiations in the real world. In the real world nobody rolls dice to determine outcomes of meetings.

    Luck comes into negotiations all the time. It comes in the form of inspiration, in what the other person says and remembers to say, and in what you manage to remember in response to that stuff. On Monday I watched my student - an excellent student - giving a talk on her thesis results before a very challenging audience, and twice it looked like she was going to fumble and lose it out of nervousness. She got it together each time, but how is that not a die roll type of situation? And the questions she gets asked depend on who's in the room, whether they've got a hangover, whether they got laid last night, what they've been reading recently ... this is luck. You can't seriously be trying to tell me the outcome of something like this is a deterministic function based entirely on how much planning and prep you did?

    Then -C:

    I think it's the one where I search the mouth of the idol, and find the key that is a tooth gives me more control of my character and his choices, instead of searching the mouth of the idol, and missing the key because I got unlucky or built my character wrong.

    So -C, in your real world life, you never overlooked something while searching for it? Every time you look for something you find it? No asking your partner where you left your keys, no mummy or daddy telling you to go away and relax and come back and look again later, you never had to ask someone else to look and they found the thing straight away? You never overlook anything, ever? Never pointed straight at the cloud that looks like a dragon and your girlfriend said "where are you pointing, I don't get it?" It's all just a fixed outcome to every search you do?

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  73. Rather than arguing on here, I thought I'd give a link to a blog post I wrote a long time ago about preparation. It was for a blog carnival but it happens to cover a side adventure in our campaign that was heavily based on the construction of a particular skill check. It might help to explain how I view skills (but maybe not).

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  74. @faustusnotes - re the lost keys: for me that falls between the stools of simulationism and fun. IRL it's no kind of fun to hunt unsuccessfully for your keys only to discover them ready to hand the next day. It feels like the world or your subconscious is pulling a douchebaggy stunt on you. I try to avoid that feeling at the gaming table. cf. randomly missing library books, cancer - I prefer roleplaying, as a work of emergent fiction, to obey some of the rules of fiction. If you're playing CoC and the vital book is missing it should be reasonable for you to suspect that it has been deliberately removed as part of the mystery and not just conclude that the library is badly run - the former is a spur to action (who removed it?), the latter is an invitation to grind uselessly for hours (search the antiquarian bookshops of Europe, search everywhere 19 times in case you just missed the clue you didn't even know about...)

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  75. (no I don't have a watertight theory of when RPGs should simulate the "real world" and when they should simulate conventions of genre fiction)

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  76. Richard, I guess Noisms would argue for a second option here (I certainly do; and it's usually harder than the original one, or more dangerous).

    Certainly, always finding what you're looking for seems to take the challenge out of the game, to me.

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  77. This is what ordinary mortals have to put their soul into the custody of, and this is why I rebel at the idea of a GM having complete control over everything but combat and search checks. So my approach is to try and have as much of the structure of decision-making as possible be shared between GM and players.

    Your linked story has a number of examples of bad DMing (and kicking you out when your character died was the height of assholery) but the DM not retroactively changing the situation as he went along to make things easier for you is not one of them. Isn't that the exact opposite of what you've been arguing? I thought you didn't wand the DM to have complete control? You're contradicting yourself.

    As an aside, I get the impression that maybe you run "story" games rather than sandbox games. Is that the case?

    I'll leave the question of whether a skill check can be considered shared decision making up in the air for the moment. Are you saying that you see other DMs behaving badly, and so you've put rules in your own campaign to help prevent that same behaviour? You don't trust your own DMing, in other words?

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  78. Ah, I see from your last link that I was right about you and "story" games. That actually explains a lot to me.

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  79. Now there's alotta verbiage up there, and I may have missed something. But here's this:

    Combat is an especially privileged situation in RPGs largely because it _always_ involves: (1) trying to do something quickly, (2) in competition with someone else, (3) with death (or "failing-to get to play with the PC you patiently levelled up") as the consequence, and (4) successful performance isn't remotely model-able at the table (unlike, say, talking, which can totally be modelled right there at the table via acting).'

    These are the 4 conditions which suggest that an action (combat or otherwise) could not be performed easily by an imagined character--that is, conditions that suggest that -elements (people, monsters, forces) within the fiction- would want to contest the character's success.

    They also suggest that the thing occurring has a great deal of narrative tension--character death means you stop playing the game you enjoy playing and have to start again playing a different way.

    I mean, the narrative tension in the game may or may not necessarily "care" whether your character climbs a wall on a sunday morning or not, but if you're in combat, someone inside the story being told wants you to fail--always. Otherwise the fighting part of the fiction wouldn't have happened. (yes, marginal examples exist--test fights, whatever)

    Nearly every other skill sometimes is and sometimes isn't performed under these 4 conditions.

    When they do they're diced.

    The more of these 4 qualities -any- action usually has (fast, competitive, life at stake, not modellable at the table), the earlier in the history of RPG evolution you see subsystems describing them being developed.

    Riding horses, climbing walls, etc.

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  80. C- My take on the whole crocodile conversation would be:

    P1: "Crocodile will you please let us past?"
    GM: "No."
    P1: What's up? Why won't it let us past?
    GM: Is that what you're saying to the croc?
    P1: Uh yeah. "Why won't you let us past?"
    GM: "You will taste nice after rotting on the bed of my pool for a few days."
    P2: Rotting? Hold on those zombies we killed a few rooms back!
    P1: Good idea. "If we provided you with food that was ready to eat now can we pass?"
    GM "Yes. One of you may pass for each food you provide." (and he'll attack you on the way back, the GM thinks evilly)
    P1: "It's a deal!"
    P2: I'll go get some zombie corpses.
    P3: The best thing is that once he's eaten his fill the croc will be too full to attack us.
    GM: (Blast!)

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  81. @Faustnotes

    I think a problem you are having communicating your use of excessive rhodomontade.

    For example: "but most GMs in real life are actually shit."

    This is an opinion, but for this opinion to be valid, you must have played with 'most' GM's, since that is the metric required to determine if they are shit or not.

    You say this:"So my approach is to try and have as much of the structure of decision-making as possible be shared between GM and players."

    This is exactly what we are talking about, and we don't need dice to do it.

    "You never overlook anything, ever?

    Of course I overlook things, but we're playing a game, and that game is based around the encounter structure, and part of that structure is when an area is searched, something is found. The party will always find the secret door mechanism (three crystals, a torch sconce on the wall - whatever it is) even if they don't locate the secret door. etc.

    "It's all just a fixed outcome to every search you do?"

    yes. Because the challenge of the encounter is to figure out the right place to search. Just to be clear that we're not being jerks about this - any sort of mention of the statue will result in a comment to the players about it's teeth, and any sort of mention about the teeth will result in finding the key.

    You think that's too easy? Remember, they just came through 4 empty rooms, some of them with idols or statues.

    As far as your bad DM article - What is a final battle? You should be able to go anywhere - what about this battle makes it final? That seems like something that would never be in my game.

    Part of what I notice about your planning blog post is a list of things the players have to do. The very idea that the players have to do anything is anathema.

    You do realize where you are posting?

    I've put up my own blog reply here, but the point is this.

    More rules will not make an unreasonable person reasonable.

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  82. *I think a problem you are having communicating is your use of excessive rhodomontade.

    Wouldn't you know it. When I'm talking about how someone else is communicating poorly, I leave out a whole word.

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  83. Zak S. "I feel like really the easiest thing would be for noisms to just play a game on G+ with him running it and see just what the hell goes on in those games."

    You know what? That. The more I think on it, that is probably the best way to get a point across. "Show not tell", as I bet part of the disagreements is just (at least in my case), is being a shitty communicator in text.

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  84. I feel a bit uneasy with the example of shitty DM-ing you give, Faustus notes, because I actually think that the session you describe didn't went that bad.

    There's two mistakes I wouldn't have done: leaving no clue for traps/teleporters/dangers and kicking you out for dying, that's pure assholery. But these mistakes aside, I would have done just the same: you find a way to get to the final room in a flash? I'm fine with that. You put yourself in a danger you can't face? I'm fine with that. You ruin the adventure as I intended it? I'm fine with that.

    That's actually good DM-ing.

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  85. I know this is counter-productive, but I'm still stuck on "Would you seriously consider having a conversation between GM and gnome in which you played a crocodile?"

    Man, that one of my five main reasons for roleplaying, shit like that.

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  86. @taketoshi
    Yeah, it's weird. I don't know any DM who wouldn't immediately role-play the crocodile.

    This is what I mean about how I feel like faustus is just doing some whole other thing

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  87. I love coming up with situations or problems and then deliberately not imagining a solution. Players WILL figure something out, and their actions will in turn inspire me as the GM. That's what gameplay is all about... letting PCs do their thing, then responding to what they do.

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  88. There's way too much going on here for me to respond to all of it, and I have a rugby match to go and watch that promises to be way too good for me to delay here, so I need to be brief.

    Zak S, I like your explanation for the development of skill subsystems but I would add one additional context in which skill checks have developed: that in which the risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding between GM and player is very high, so that innocent mistakes can ruin the gaming (see e.g. my tsunami example). This is why I think search checks developed early (even D&D has them with the whole secret doors thing) : it's just too easy for players to miss the hint you're dropping and that doesn't happen because you or they are "bad": it just happens.

    Kabuki kaiser, that shitty dming example is a classic case of dying because you don't know what the GM is thinking. What do you think the chances are we would have taken the teleport option if we had any warning that it was there? But we couldn't have any warning because the GM would not let us know anything about his thoughts. This is not a person you can trust to decide on the outcome of negotiations or standard actions without a system to restrain him.

    -C, I don't think I particularly appreciate your criticizing my GMing style (you have heard of "manners" haven't you?) but in response to this:

    Part of what I notice about your planning blog post is a list of things the players have to do.

    I recommend you try reading a little more closely. This is a description of a side adventure the PCs went on in order to weaken their enemy through a magical ritual. This leads to things they "have" to do just as surely as going to kill their enemy leads to things they "have" to do. i.e. they "have" to successfully do the ritual. But they didn't "have" to go to Ireland at all. Your complaint here is like saying "oh no! Noisms decided his players have to cross the river of crocs! That's such bad GMing!"

    I'm out of here to watch the rugby. Let's hope Ireland wins. Noisms, what's your preference?

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  89. Watching it now - it's half-time. Great match so far. Wales look more dangerous going forward but Ireland have had almost all the play since the try. Something tells me the Welsh will tire in the last 20 and Ireland will get a try or two then and win.

    Don't care which side wins - I just think it's a shame one of these teams has to go out without giving one of the Tri-Nations teams a proper test in a knockout game.

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  90. What's with the arms-locked-around-crotches thing?

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  91. It's called a scrum.

    Rugby is sort of a sanctioned form of homoeroticism.

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  92. Well we both failed our Rugby Lore checks didn't we, Noisms?

    Relating all this rugby talk to skill check discussions:

    Ireland's decision to ignore 4 penalty kicks in favour of taking tries ... this is clearly a skill check failure. The decision about what to do in such a situation is obviously decided by a tactical plan, but when you're 20 minutes in, 4 points down, you've watched two penalty kicks go to nothing against the Welsh defense, the decision not to change plan has to be driven by adrenaline/fear/elation. Those sorts of vagaries are best handled by skill checks.

    And even more so, how did England get back into their game in the second half? THrough a sudden slew of French handling errors. What about the final drop kick that sealed it for France? Drop kicks fail so often ... that's a skill check right there.

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  93. Faustusnotes: You fool, rugby union is clearly something which cannot be modelled at the gaming table, like combat, and is thus in the arena of dice rolls.

    On a more serious note, yeah, my prediction turned out the exact opposite. It was the Irish who tired, thanks to sheer Welsh physicality.

    I have to say I'm looking forward to the Wales/France game now. If the French come out like they did in the first half against England it could be an all-time classic. I predicted France would be up there at the end, if not winners, so maybe *that* prediction will come true.

    I can't wait for tomorrow's games, now. I think South Africa could take Australia apart. In the other game I'm hoping for an Argentina win because the All Blacks are just utter scum, but in reality NZ should walk out easy winners, by 20+ points. Maybe Argentina's only hope is if it's raining heavily so the All Blacks can't play a quick passing game.

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  94. W-wait a second, are you guys saying your country lost a game--like in -sports--to -French people-?

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  95. It's a depressingly regular occurrence for the English. Happens even more often in football.

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  96. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  97. the decision not to change plan has to be driven by adrenaline/fear/elation. Those sorts of vagaries are best handled by skill checks.
    I disagree. Players care about their characters, and their plans, and players panic, changing their plans. I saw it in our Pathfinder game last night, when the paladin's player bottled it when a door shut behind the character leaving him alone. Instead of facing down the minor haunt coming down the corridor, he turned around and smashed the door down in order to escape.

    So returning to Ireland's decision, the kick would be a skill check, but the decision to do so wouldn't be.

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  98. Or rather, I should say that that's how I would run it. I wouldn't be so arrogant as to say that my way would be the right way.

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  99. Zak, yes, because English teams have a sense of entitlement that more often than not bears no relation to reality.

    I wasn't expecting Wales to win, I'm glad they did, but I suspect they'll fluff it against the French. If they get to the final, and they face South Africa, they might just win it.

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  100. W-wait a second, are you guys saying your country lost a game--like in -sports--to -French people-?

    It's usually the way it goes with France, we suck 95% of the time and become really brilliant once in a while in a way nobody can foretell nor expect - not even us.

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  101. your country lost a game--like in -sports--to -French people-?

    Britain insists inexplicably* on fielding 3 or 4 teams for all these events. Perhaps if Burgundy, Normandy and the Pays d'Oc played separately things would work out differently. Or Rhode Island, California and the Midwest. I can't decide if it's arrogance or some sense that it's less painful to lose while handicapped than it would be to lose on a level playing field.

    * Before anyone lectures me on nations and identity in the UK, I am Cornish - the ethnicity that falls just below the line of acceptance when it comes to being not-quite-actually-English/British/Ukonian.

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  102. richard: It's our perogative for having invented all these sports.

    The first rugby union international was between English and Scottish representative teams, and the first international rugby tournament was between English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh representative sides. Much the same story as with football and a lot of other very popular team games.

    Gradually, teams representing France, Australia, New Zealand and the like started competing with these individual representative British sides, and things became entrenched.

    Nowadays I'd say the reasons you don't get British or UK teams are twofold:

    a) Pride on the part of the Welsh, Scottish and Irish, who naturally want to maintain a sense of independence from the yoke of English oppression.

    b) Every team in the world loves beating England and loves to hate England. This is true in basically all team sports. If you had a GB or UK team it would dilute this, and that would no fun for anybody.

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  103. b) surely Argentina could take on that role ;)
    or Germany?

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  104. Richard, noisms.

    Everyone hates the English, especially the English. Never has there been a nation so filled with self loathing.

    I say this as an English ex-patriot, now living in Scotland.

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  105. I heard 'shitty GMing - London' and I thought "hmm... could it be..."

    faustusnotes:
    "Zak S, I'm not actually talking just from my own GMing perspective here I think everyone on the internet thinks they're a great GM - it's possible they are, since to bother blogging on gaming you need to be focused, I suppose - but most GMs in real life are actually shit. I met a whole series of them over a year in London, in different venues. Example here.
    http://faustusnotes.wordpress.com/2008/08/23/shitty-dm-ing/"

    *waves* Yep! Hi there, I was the DM who kicked faustusnotes out of that game! I've DM'd many dozens of games at the London D&D Meetup since mid 2008, and he's the only player I've ever kicked out mid-session, although I can count 4 others I've told or asked not to come back, including the player of the half-orc barbarian (not a nice guy). I was running the Basic D&D adventure B7 'Rahasia' with 3rd edition D&D PCs, the monsters, traps etc still ran off B/X rules, so 4+1 hd ogres, etc.

    It was bad luck faustus' brand new 4 hp 1st level Wizard PC was right beside the bone golem when it got its 4 x 1d8 full attack routine, not his fault, but these things happen. AIR I ended up kicking him out because he took personal offense at the death of his new PC, and was arguing with me about bringing in a new PC while the battle between the bone golem and the other PCs was still going on. I was distracted and getting annoyed; I felt he was being obnoxious and I didn't have any particular investment in keeping him, so I kicked him out.

    It caused some trauma to the other players AIR, especially the female player. I wasn't particularly proud of my GMing there, and I did take some advice from my regular players to try to ensure something like that didn't happen again - and it never has. Partly because I'm better prepared now for when a PC dies unexpectedly, but mostly because I have never since met a player quite like faustus.

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  106. I'm not sure whether to think:

    a) Ah, the role playing world is so small, isn't that wonderful?

    b) Oh, there are so few people playing D&D these days that somebody says "GMing in London" and somebody else realises "that must have been me".

    c) Playing with random people sometimes doesn't go very well, and a regular gaming group is worth its weight in gold.

    d) This is getting interesting.

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  107. Kabuki Kaiser said...
    "I feel a bit uneasy with the example of shitty DM-ing you give, Faustus notes, because I actually think that the session you describe didn't went that bad.

    There's two mistakes I wouldn't have done: leaving no clue for traps/teleporters/dangers and kicking you out for dying, that's pure assholery. But these mistakes aside, I would have done just the same: you find a way to get to the final room in a flash? I'm fine with that. You put yourself in a danger you can't face? I'm fine with that. You ruin the adventure as I intended it? I'm fine with that.

    That's actually good DM-ing."

    Re the teleporter - I can't recall if the adventure (B7 Rahasia) included any clue to the existence of the teleporter, but almost certainly not - the adventure is full of teleporters, none of them inherently lethal. I wouldn't have written it the way the authors Tracy & Laura Hickman did, but I have no particular objection to their design decision there. I did cut out most of an extradimensional teleport maze at the end of the module, though.

    I didn't kick Faustus out for dying, as mentioned above; I kicked him out for disrupting the game and being obnoxious when he demanded to bring in a new PC right away, rather than go get a beer or something while the fight finished. Normally if a PC dies 2 hours into a game I'd have them roll up a new PC once the current battle was over.
    I do like the way 4e D&D makes those random PC deaths much rarer than in eg 3e or B/X, BTW.

    Apart from the dead PC, I liked how the disruption played out - the PCs ambushed the Rahib, the BBEG, through the trap door he was 'supposed' to escape through, ruining the module authors' plans to have him reappear later on.

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  108. BTW I am an Ulster Protestant by upbringing, we are a famously obnoxious & hot-tempered bunch, and I don't think I'm representative of London D&D gamers, even in pubs! My formative RPGing experiences in Northern Ireland in the '80s were pretty close to those Mark Barrowcliffe's The Elfish Gene describes in working-class Coventry, England in the '70s; IME most English RPGers in London are from a fairly different milieu.

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  109. I thought it sounded incredibly weird for a DM to kick someone out for dying. I'd never heard of anyone doing that before, except in that one Jack Chick comic.

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  110. Noisms, once again you are relying on the claim that some things can be modeled and some things can't, without any defence.

    Zak S, I know you're just being cute but actually the French are quite a scary mob on the rugby pitch. They're particularly fond of stepping up when they play England or NZ. Which could make the final a quite brutal affair (if NZ have any players left by then).

    S'mon, I don't think it's particularly edifying to get into a he-said/she-said on the internet but it's pretty clear to me that you can't remember what happened. The fight was over when I asked for a new character. Everyone else supported that request and no one was interrupting their fight to wait for it, either. Also, acting like the incidents of the night were "just how the dice rolled" when we had gone through multiple junctures where you could have changed things with a simple decision is really disingenuous. It wasn't the random dice rolls (e.g. the bone golem's attack) that ruined everyone's day; it was your unbending refusal to change the adventure as written, to give any hints that we were heading to our doom, or to do anything at all to help us avoid a TPK we had no power to see coming.

    Which is my point here - leaving the outcomes of non-combat actions entirely for the GM to adjudicate is fine until the adjudication has to be handled by someone like you.

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  111. Ignoring the he-said/he-said thing:

    -This game always sucks if the person DMing isn't good.

    -Or does it? You would like to idiot-proof it. That's fine. So would WOTC. The things done to idiot-proof games annoy DIY D&Ders who blog and so they run their games a different way.

    -Their games go well so long as they like the way their GMs run things. So far, so good. For them. If you would like to play games with people you don't know and don't necessarily get along with and would like to get the rules to compensate for that situation, you have different requirements than everyone else posting here.

    -It can be argued that he DMs-must-be-good-or-screw-the-game approach shrinks the hobby. I don't think anyone here with the possible exception of you cares.

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  112. Simon in London10 October 2011 14:51

    faustus:
    "S'mon, I don't think it's particularly edifying to get into a he-said/she-said on the internet but it's pretty clear to me that you can't remember what happened. The fight was over when I asked for a new character. Everyone else supported that request and no one was interrupting their fight to wait for it, either. Also, acting like the incidents of the night were "just how the dice rolled" when we had gone through multiple junctures where you could have changed things with a simple decision is really disingenuous. It wasn't the random dice rolls (e.g. the bone golem's attack) that ruined everyone's day; it was your unbending refusal to change the adventure as written, to give any hints that we were heading to our doom, or to do anything at all to help us avoid a TPK we had no power to see coming."

    I have a pretty good memory of what happened; it's the only time I've kicked a player out mid session and I've tried to ensure nothing like it happens again. That's about anticipating that emotionally fragile players may react badly to PC loss, and developing techniques to deal with it when it occurs.

    On the facts of the game - the other PCs had fled the bone golem, they were spread out throughout the dungeon level and still fighting (AIR a gelatinous cube was involved) as you were demanding to bring in a new PC. I got the impression at the time that you weren't really aware of what was going on. I had not encountered your reaction to losing a PC before, was not prepared for it, and did not handle it well. I guess it would have been better if I had taken a couple minutes out of the battle to get you started rolling up a new PC. That said, you clearly want something completely different from the game than I do so it wouldn't have made much sense for you to keep playing in the campaign.

    You are entirely correct that I don't change the adventure ad hoc, partly to maintain the feeling of a consistent world, partly because I run it fairly Gamist - the challenge being to see if you can 'win', which normally means survive. If the group screws up and/or is unlucky I'm fine with them losing. In this case, you arguably made a mistake being the only PC to follow the raging half-orc barbarian into unknown territory, but the real mistake was by the half-orc player; it was his determination to maintain his Rage and blunder on into whatever came next that got you into trouble. The guy was incredibly selfish and did several similar anti-group things subsequently.

    Your PC was the only one to die BTW, although it was a close-run thing.

    I highly dislike the 'illusionist' style you advocate, changing the facts to obviate the effects of PC choices. I won't do it to keep a villain or plot alive, I won't do it to preserve a PC either. I get a lot of praise from players who love this style - "I fear for my PC's life every session - and it's great!" said one recently, and another recently told me that he loved my GMing because I don't fudge, whereas he would no longer play with another GM because he realised the guy fudged to keep PCs alive, and this ruined the challenge. But some players don't like my GMing, and that's ok, they don't have to play with me.

    I do think random PC death is too common in 3e D&D, it's much less so in 4e D&D (death at - 1/2 hp) or even 1e AD&D (death at -10, but lower damage outputs than 3e), as both have more effective death's-door rules. With 3e I eventually went over to death at - (10+CON) hp to help keep PCs alive without obviating the challenge.

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  113. S'mon:
    "arguing with me about bringing in a new PC while the battle between the bone golem and the other PCs was still going on."

    That was a bit inaccurate - AIR the surviving PCs had evaded the bone golem by fleeing the chamber, but had run into other foes and were still fighting; 3e's cyclical intiative system for combat rounds means there aren't really any good breaks to go deal with non-combat stuff like other players wanting new PCs.

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  114. Faustus:
    "Also, acting like the incidents of the night were "just how the dice rolled" when we had gone through multiple junctures where you could have changed things with a simple decision is really disingenuous"

    To me that's a complete non-sequitur. Changing the adventure to stop PCs dying would be to not let things fall out as they may. I've always taken an objective approach - this is the situation, let's see what happens. IME most players find this more satisfying than the illusionist approach, as long as they have a reasonable chance to survive and prosper. And they certainly find victory a lot sweeter when they know there was a real risk of defeat.

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  115. Being late to the thread, I wanted to respond to a couple of earlier comments.

    Faustus:
    "And, pace Richard, how is negotiating with a GM based on "cleverness" going to introduce any element of hazard into the game? They'll just let me win or lose the negotiation according to what they wand to happen. And even if they do use their "objective" judgment to decide the outcome, how am I to know that they were using this impartiality, given I don't know what they're thinking? Isn't a skill check a much better way of defining "objective standards for things" than the random, arbitrary decision of some vain actor who spent his whole weekend preparing an adventure that has gone pear-shaped because his players didn't notice the three clues he placed in the first room?"

    You know, a skill system is zero protection for players. A bad GM can make a skill DC arbitrarily high to ensure failure. I was playing 4e recently, a pixel-bitching puzzle-solving magic-trap encounter. The GM arbitrarily made everything in the room immune to damage, so the only way to win was to solve the magic puzzle the way he'd designed it. The rules system is no defense.

    noisms:
    "As a GM, you are not supposed to want anything specific to happen. You are not supposed to have spent all weekend preparing an adventure. Your adventures cannot go pear-shaped because the players have failed to notice a clue; you do not design adventures that way. You do not care whether the players get the treasure or not. You do not care what they do, so long as they are doing something. You are a neutral arbiter responding to their actions."

    Bingo - that's exactly how I do it.

    Now the fact is, I'm happy when the players succeed, and sad when they fail. But I don't have that affect my DMing.

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  116. I wasn't there, so I shouldn't comment, but I think the issue here is just a matter of different expectations and perhaps a clash of personalities.

    This is really just grist for the mill for the argument that establishing expectations before the game is one of the most important things a DM can do. If Simon had been clear that he was GMing in the "neutral arbiter" sense rather than the "plot ordainer" sense, perhaps there wouldn't have been an argument.

    faustusnotes: Are you really suggesting it's preferable to get out a rugby ball and start throwing it around a gaming table??

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  117. noisms:
    "I wasn't there, so I shouldn't comment, but I think the issue here is just a matter of different expectations and perhaps a clash of personalities."

    Yes, I agree.

    "This is really just grist for the mill for the argument that establishing expectations before the game is one of the most important things a DM can do. If Simon had been clear that he was GMing in the "neutral arbiter" sense rather than the "plot ordainer" sense, perhaps there wouldn't have been an argument."

    I agree, and it's definitely one of the problems of GMing a public, open game. To me, you read the 3.5 PHB, you see immediately that per the written rules, 1st level PCs are fragile and likely to die a lot. The 3e books don't say much about ordaining plot, and nothing AFAICR about changing things to keep PCs alive. It didn't occur to me that some people could apparently take the written material and form completely different expectations.

    I do try to explain my GMing style, but it's difficult if many new players are joining in an ongoing public game, as was happening with that game at the time. Normally IME most new players try the game/campaign with an open mind, see if they like it, if not they can try another GM or decide it's not for them (that's what I do). Faustus seemed unusual to me in that he seemed to take strong personal offense at what happened; mostly at the death of his PC, to a lesser extent at the game not stopping so he could bring in a new PC - but he was already angry at that point.

    His expectations may not have been that unusual; I think his sense of entitlement was much stronger than what I normally see, though. That seems to come out strongly in his earlier comments on this thread, too. He's certainly unusual in being the only player I've ever expelled from a game during the game, so he may not be that typical even of players who share many of his views. In the blog post where he discusses my shit GMing he talks about a culture of childhood bullying in England he hated, that might be a factor. He seems to be extremely sensitive to what he sees as bullying behaviour from GMs.

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  118. S'mon, I'm going to avoid further engagement with the he-said/she-said on this blog: you can take it up on mine if you're interested in defending your reputation (that's where it's being traduced, after all).

    Noisms:

    Are you really suggesting it's preferable to get out a rugby ball and start throwing it around a gaming table??

    My ball skills would certainly preclude this. But I think as a non-combat process we can use it as a good example of the abstract processes under debate here. Let's imagine, for example, that a group of players set up a rugby match between Oz and Seth Efrica as a way to bankrupt their chief enemy[1]. So the outcome of the match affects them, but they don't necessarily have to run through the whole game in detail. Instead, the GM asks them "who do you bet your money on?" If the team they bet their money on wins, they're home and hosed...

    now, an earlier commenter suggested using ability scores as a way of resolving this kind of conflict - the better endowed PC wins. In this circumstance, such a situation would be resolved by having the team that is better "on paper" win; maybe the GM presents the players with the facts about each team and they choose. In this case, the players would obviously choose Seth Efrica.

    Similarly, under a "GM fiat" resolution system, the players would choose a team and explain to the GM why, and he/she would decide the outcome. Again, anyone would choose SA (just as in the England/France game they would choose England - France have never beaten England in the RWC, and were resoundingly shit this time around).

    The reality, on the other hand, is that Seth Efrica had 74% of the possession and did only 30% of the tackles, but they lost. This fact would not be represented under the above two systems in most games. However, if you ran a skill check system, this would simply be an unusually bad roll for Seth Efrica. I.e. the players chose the best team on the night, fully expecting to bankrupt their enemy in the gambling parlor, but instead they rolled a 1.

    I just don't see a reason not to include randomness in these kinds of circumstances. It adds texture to what the players try to do, and gives the GM and players a chance to construct a shared concept of reality (through manipulating DCs, or whatever mechanism is used).
    ---
    fn1: bear with me!

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  119. faustusnotes: You seem to have become confused. Scroll up and you'll realise you're agreeing with me. I said that rugby is like combat, i.e. it is not adjudicable at the game table through negotiation or fiat. Dice have to come into it.

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  120. I thought the similarity between rugby and combat was a big part of its appeal, for players and fans alike. Although the logical extension of that line of thinking is Aussie Rules.

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  121. Noisms: you still don't seem to be able to explain the distinction you want to apply is necessary. Dice for rugby at the abstract level of the game, but no dice for international trade negotiations. Why?

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  122. You're getting confused again. We've established a very clear rule: if something can be represented and adjudicated at a game table (e.g. international trade negotiations) there is no need for dice. If something can't be represented and adjudicated simply at a game table (e.g. rugby) there is a need for dice.

    If you can't see the difference between these two categories of thing, you're probably being deliberately obtuse.

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  123. You've established this rule, Noisms, but haven't proven it.

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  124. No, and I don't intend to prove it; nor do I believe it possible to do so. You can't prove that football is better than rugby, and you can't prove that one type of approach to roleplaying is better than another. You can just see how it works in practice - and before you start, no, that doesn't mean turning up to S'mon's game without a clear idea of what was going to happen, accidentally adopting a play style that didn't fit the game, and then being told to go home.

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