Thursday, 13 March 2014

Unexpected This Is: Planned vs. Improvised

This post comes in response to a series of comments left by Vanguard, in which he is promoting a viewpoint that I simply do not believe to be accurate.  It is a conversation that we have had before, and the circularity of the argument may give "burning wheel" a whole new meaning.

I am not going to respond to the thrust that follows this amazing game, that both is a traditional role-playing game and yet is so unique that having played dozens of traditional role-playing games for decades doesn't give one any insight into general principles.  Nor am I going to discuss Vanguard's particular campaign milieu using that setting, where lack of prep doesn't cause inconsistencies, and the inconsistencies only deepen the mystery.

There is no point.

What I am going to do is disentangle two threads that Vanguard is trying to weave into one:  namely, planned vs. improvised play on the one hand, and shared world-building on the other.  And then, barring more input that isn't part of the same circular argument, I am done with being derailed for a bit.

Planned vs. Improvised Play

Every GM needs to improvise.  It is impossible to prep a game so completely that all contingencies are accounted for.  Even were you able to do so, the odds are good that your game would lose a spark of vitality by so doing.  Having to come up with answers in the moment is a spur to creativity.

BUT...If you put 100 prospective GMs in a room, and made them all create material on the fly, and also create material using some method of actual prep (brainstorming ideas, refining, and then actually going to the effort of writing them down), at least 95 of those GMs will have done better with prep, and at least 95% of the prepped work will be better than the aggregate of the on-the-fly work.  This assumes only a single scenario - the advantages of prepwork become more dominant as scenario compounds on scenario, and a campaign milieu is more fully realized.

This is because of several factors.

(1) Human brains are lazy. We have default answers. If we don't force them to do more, they will come up with the same or similar material repeatedly.

(2) Human brains are slow. Those easy answers come a lot quicker than harder (and often times, more interesting) answers.  The game is played in real time.  The odds are good that the easy answers will predominate.

(3) Human brains are forgetful.  When you bother to write out your material ahead of time, not only can you see connections that you might otherwise have missed, not only can you ensure that you add appropriate "footprints" to the elements that you add to a scenario, but you have something to refer to which can aid your memory of what has gone before.  You might not remember that the Duke of Duck had a limp; that doesn't mean that your players won't.

Factors (1) and (2) mean that on-the-fly material tends to be less inspired that the material that comes from careful prepwork.  Factor (3) means that logical inconsistencies also tend to arise.  In terms of The Walking Dead, these three factors together explain why the abilities of the walkers seems to change from episode to episode, why the characters seem unable to think of basic ideas that would occur to anyone in the same situation (ex., Rick is waiting for people in an area with many abandoned cars.  After hours of waiting, Rick runs out of gas, not having checked his fuel level earlier, and not having the good sense to siphon some gas from the many vehicles available.  He then decides to abandon the vehicle rather than siphon a small amount of gas from each of the other vehicles so that they can all continue to drive.), and why Rick is apparently unaware that a prison lies within a couple of hours of his house, despite his job as Sheriff.

Making it up as you go along gave us Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, so if you have had only good experiences, or you think you are Douglas Adams, by all means continue doing what you are doing.  Most people, though, benefit from prepwork.

Of course, if the game milieu cannot be effectively prepped because it is going to change whenever the players make decisions, there is no point to doing the work.  Otherwise, it is the "work" in prepwork that causes most people who avoid it to avoid it.

I have been doing this for a long time, in lots of places, and with lots of people. I have run games with good, minimal, and no prep. I have participated in games run by others with good, minimal, and no prep. In well over 30 years of gaming, I have never seen no prep trump minimal prep, or minimal prep trump good prep.

If your mileage varies, go with your experience instead of mine.  If you want me to believe that not prepping is just as good as prepping, well, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and I have yet to see any evidence at all.

Assertion is not evidence. It doesn't matter who is making the assertion. I know that I keep harping on not taking my advice if it differs from your experience, and this is why. Your mileage really may vary. Someone saying something - me, Vanguard, anyone - does not make it so.

Shared World-Building

Let us imagine three different GMs are prepping a game, and all three want their players' input on what to include.  I have been all three of these GMs are different points in my gaming career.

(1) The GM is devising a city to be the hub of his DCC campaign. Let us call this city Shanthopal. He asks his players, "What would you like to include in this city?" and takes notes, but does not guarantee anything. By so doing, the GM gains an idea of what his players would like, and the players gain some idea of what may be there, but no concrete idea of what is there.

(2) The GM is preparing a 3rd Edition D&D campaign, in a region he calls the Lakelands. He invites players to devise the details of their characters' backgrounds, including information about where they may have come from, but cautions the players that what they come up will be what their characters believe to be true. It will not necessarily be true.

(3) The GM is preparing a city for a 2nd Edition AD&D campaign. Following the advice in one of the 2e books, the GM invites the players to aid in creating the city, with the understanding that what they decide to be true will be true.

In all three cases, the players began with an initial sense of excitement and ownership.  In the third case, the players ended with a sense of meh as they were forced into positions where their associated game was damaged by the dissociated game they had played earlier.  In short, it is less fun to "discover" vampires in the sewers if you have placed them there and are actively manoeuvring the game into that "discovery" than if there happen to be vampires in the sewers and you discover them the hard way.

It is not difficult to extrapolate to the situation where the players also choose what will and will not be allowed into the game. One of the best series of sessions that I have run was using James Raggi's Death Frost Doom, along with some time travel, and the DCC ruleset. If the hard-hitting contents of these sessions had to be vetted prior to play, the scenario would not have been interesting at all. Sometimes we want material that pushes our comfort zone. For some of us, knowing that we don't get to decide what the world is, only how we respond to it, is the point of the game. The exploration of the game milieu is in turn an exploration of ourselves, of our strengths and limitations, of our ability to deal with the unexpected or the unwanted. It is not that we want to lose, but rather that we want to know that it is always possible to lose. It is not that we want to face extremely hard choices, but to know that those choices are always out there in the wings, and that the game can turn on a dime.

By these criteria, a game of Medieval Walking Dead, where you are never confronted by the decision to either help or ignore a sorcerer being stoned, not knowing whether the walkers are due to his magic (as the mob is screaming) or not is a pale sort of game indeed.  Unexpected and unintended consequences, and the need to important make choices with limited information, are, IMHO, part of a good role-playing game.

Examples (1) and (2) I would advocate. Example (3) I would not.

A Poisonous Meme

Read this quote:

For the purposes of the game, the world consists of what players encounter. Anything they do not is waiting to be discovered.
Finally, players are limited by what they can discover by both their in-game decisions and time (as in, we play once a week for four hours).
In either approach to GMing (planned vs. improvised), the kind of things they discover are necessarily constrained. For the former, it's restricted to whatever the GM put there. For the latter, it will be something within the scope of the shared fiction.
When you're playing the dissociative game, you have every option, sure. Once play begins? No, not if you're sticking to your notes. Likewise, when we sit down to build the situation, we have every option as well. Once we play, however, we are firmly within the prison of our own making. 
This might make why I broke down the players' and the GM's game slightly more clear. From the GM's (dissociative) perspective, the world consists of that which is prepped. From the players' (associative) perspective, the world consists of what they know, what they imagine they know, and what might be. Like a quantum wave-function, it only collapses into a single possibility when it is checked.

This is a primary function of the divide between the associative and the dissociative game, and one of the major things that the GM provides the players that they could not gain by merely making up the game milieu in turns while playing. Until the wave function collapses, the scope of the game from the associative side is wider than that from the dissociative side, and the game is so designed that some wave-functions can only collapse in the case of either (a) an event occurring within the game, or (b) the players partaking in the dissociative side of the game to at least the degree described in example (3), above.

Take our poor sorcerer being stoned as an example. The possibility is there from the associative side of the table until it occurs. That it does not occur does not take it off the table. Even its occurrence immediately opens up a new wave function that it may occur again under different circumstances. The GM need not even have considered this possibility for the wave function to exist; it exists merely because the players consider it. And players tend to put a lot of thought into the parts of the game milieu that they do not yet know, because their doing so increases the chances of their succeeding at their goals.

From this wave function arise additional wave functions. What if the mob turns on one or more PCs? What if the mob is wrong? What if the mob is right? No mob need appear in the GM's notes or in actual play for these wave functions to arise.

The associative game allows the game to be much, much larger than what is played at the table.

When you understand this, you also understand the limitations inherent in shared world-building. The more the players know about the world with certainty, the more wave functions collapse, and the more limited the associative game becomes. The poison in the the meme that "no limitation occurs" is that, if you accept it, you might find yourself trading away something without even being aware that it existed in the first place.

In Conclusion

Vanguard says

I should note, I'm deeply amused by one thing in this conversation. You're arguing here that on-the-fly GMing doesn't lead to a believable consistent world (which is not true), but criticiszing this approach as more akin to fiction writing. Isn't verisimilitude, which is what you're going for, part of that same equation? 

This is not actually true.

I am arguing that shared world-building of the "hard" kind - example (3) rather than examples (1) or (2) - damages the associative game.  I am further arguing that, if the world is being written or re-written in accordance to the players' choices or expectations in situ, then the players are no longer exploring a world; they are exploring the GM's evaluation of their choices.

The outcome/consequence of choices being based upon pre-existing conditions/context is a hallmark of role-playing games. The outcome of choices being based upon the needs of plot is a hallmark of fiction. If the writer does his prepwork, the fiction can be good fiction. Most writers who do not do their prepwork create bad fiction.

"Golly," said Sheriff Rick.  "How did I forget that Federal Penitentiary was here?"

While the GM can (and IMHO should) strive for verisimilitude as part of the creation of the context and consequences of choice, no one at the table is creating a story. The story is what comes after the game, when events are distilled into story form.  What is happening during the game is context-choice-consequence, repeatedly, creating a pattern of expanding and collapsing wave-functions. A story is static; the game is not.  Good prepwork allows for context and consequence that rationally and consistently follow the available choices. Bad or no prepwork leads to situations where everyone thinks sorcerers caused a plague, but no mobs are out looking to lynch sorcerers.

40 comments:

  1. I'll respond to subject headers/numbers rather than quote, since there is a lot.

    "Planned vs. Improvised"

    1) This is true, which is why, in the shared fiction we decided they were not the product of necromancy but an actual disease (hell, if the players really did push to learn where the disease came from, they could theoretically discover it was a magical disease, just not the kind associated with raising the dead). We specifically wanted to avoid the familiar trope.

    2) Improvisation is a skill. Learning to improvise interesting situations on the fly takes practice.

    3) I don't think I was advocating for not writing things down? If something new comes up in play, I put it in my notes. The gravedigger that the zombies ignore because he smells like death? Discovered in actual play, now has stats since he traveled with the group for a few sessions.

    "Shared World Building"

    You can make it as granular and as detailed as you want or you can do more broad strokes. I prefer broad strokes. Where are you currently located? What's the major situation going on right now? What's the mood? What kind of things do you as a player want to do? We can fill in the details through play (and they do get written down!).

    As to your vampire scenario, that's just an example of bad setup. If you are running a campaign about vampires terrorizing a city, make the players find that out in game. You can just as easily as a group create, "We want to play a game with lots of mystery and intrigue focusing on vampires terrorizing a city," instead of, "We want to play a game with lots of mystery and intrigue focusing on vampires terrorizing a city. They're in the sewers."

    In the specific reference to my game, you're reaching. How do you know my players aren't encountering "unexpected and unintended consequences"? You don't.

    "A Poisonous Meme"

    "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

    In the case of gaming, I would argue no. If you build a megadungeon that the players never set foot in, never hear about it, does it exist? In the sense that you can show me maps, traps, and creatures? Absolutely. In a way that is at all meaningful for your game? No.

    "In Conclusion"

    How does a world, prepped solo or created collaboratively, not have pre-existing conditions? More importantly, how does my game lack for consequences?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I said to begin with, I am not doing this merry-go-round. If you have something to say that has not already been addressed, and is relevant, I will be happy to address it.

      Delete
    2. There are actually a number of things in this post that have not come up in other posts, but if you don't want to talk about it, fine.

      Delete
    3. We'll have to agree to disagree about that, too.

      AFAICT, I could answer using cut & paste. I assume that most readers do not need me to do that for them.

      Delete
  2. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"

    In the case of gaming, I would argue no. If you build a megadungeon that the players never set foot in, never hear about it, does it exist? In the sense that you can show me maps, traps, and creatures? Absolutely. In a way that is at all meaningful for your game? No.


    This is very wrong. Or at least the product of a narrow DMing style and player attitude.

    My game world is FULL of things the players have not experienced or even heard of yet...but they know I have put those things out there. They are waiting to be discovered. They are present. They exist but have yet to be found. From a player perspective, this means that there is a real reason to go and adventure. There are real mysteries to uncover and real things to find in the context of the game. They do not spring into being wholesale because they decided to look at them.

    Furthermore, many of those things have moving parts that interact with the world at large. These parts collide with other particles and create fallout as they bounce about. The degrees of separation, however, can make the underlying causes entirely invisible or unknowable (just like in the real world).

    Because you CHOOSE to have the unknown have no effect on the PCs unless you wish it to become known does not mean that it could/would/should have no effect. You are ultimately responsible for that as a DM. You are responsible for how much the world breathes and how much of that blows across the PCs. I do not run Schrodinger's Setting...I know if the cat is dead or alive because I prepped it...and because I prepped it, I know what impact it has had, is having and may have in the future. Just because the PCs don't see the butterfly doesn't mean they can't feel the wind from its wings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love it when I'm being told that I'm pretending wrong.

      "My game world is FULL of things the players have not experienced or even heard of yet...but they know I have put those things out there. They are waiting to be discovered."

      I actually say almost this exact thing in another one of these posts you're in. But I pare that with the idea, for the purposes of the game, the only things that matter are what the players encounter. I don't know if you're familiar with critical theory at all, but it's basically Reader Response Theory applied to gaming.

      As to the Schrodinger's setting. . .nothing about that kind of approach precludes the "overlapping ripple" effect from happening.

      Delete
    2. I'm going to break off this discussion just as RCK did. You're being really self-contradictory and circular. Sorry.

      Delete
    3. Now, this content adds a new turn to the same wheel, so I will respond to it.

      "I love it when I'm being told that I'm pretending wrong."

      This, along with "It's just a game" or "it's just playing elves in your basement", can be generally taken to mean, "I don't want to think about that". Logical thinking doesn't require that the topic be serious.

      "I don't know if you're familiar with critical theory at all, but it's basically Reader Response Theory applied to gaming."

      If it was, you wouldn't be arguing the way you are, because Reader Response Theory differentiates between the creation of the text and the experience of the reader in a very similar way to what I am doing. Your claim that what is not encountered in the text is meaningless when taken with an understanding that the reader brings his own experience to the interpretation of the text, in the same way that the player brings his experience of what could be and layers it into what is concretely known. Having the reader also act as author is not a particular part of Reader Response Theory, insofar as I am aware.

      Delete
    4. "If it was, you wouldn't be arguing the way you are, because Reader Response Theory differentiates between the creation of the text and the experience of the reader in a very similar way to what I am doing."

      Sorry for lack of clarity on my part - the comparison to RRT applies specifically to "the only that matters for the purposes of the game is what the players encounter", not the other stuff about shared fiction, improv, planning, etc.

      Delete
    5. Excepting that the existence of that information, as known to the DM but unknown to the players, can directly influence the DM (as it should). The DM, in turn, directly interacts with the players. Hence, information totally unknown, unrelated or separate from the PCs has relevance to them. The tree fell, the PCs didn't here it...but via the DM it impacts them (to what degree may vary wildly from not at all to immensely)

      Delete
    6. If something is happening that has no impact to the game ("not at all") I'm curious what the purpose of it is. Who is that information for? How does it add to a game if it never impacts it?

      Delete
    7. "The only thing that matters for the purposes of the game is what the players encounter" is far more analogous to formalism than RRT. Just as formalism argues that only the text manners, rather than the interplay of text and reader, so does your theory argue that only what is encountered matter, rather than the interplay between what the player imagines may be encountered vs. what is.

      What is encountered is arguably the same in any game, on the basis that you argue for: it is limited by actual play. The larger scope, pointed at by RRT, is that the game is more than what may be encountered, but also what the reader/player views as potentially encounterable. And it is there, where the game can be so much more than "what the players encounter", that your limitations are created.

      IOW, in two games, in which both only Encounter Set A occurs, if in the first game it is known that only Encounter Set A will occur, the players are perforce experiencing a more limited play (effectively a text-only rather than reader-and-text experience) than in the second game, where, although only Encounter Set A occurs, the players also plan for and must consider Encounter Sets B, C, and D.

      It should also be clear that if both games occur where only Encounter Set A occurs, but the basic design of the scenario allows for Encounter Sets B, C, and D to potentially occur, the first game will be more limited than the second if only the first game makes a preclusion (say, Encounter Set B cannot occur).

      To argue otherwise is to argue that 4 is equal to or more than 3.

      Now, you can claim that there are benefits to removing Encounter Set B that outweigh the limitations imposed in terms of getting what you want out of the game. But this is not the same thing as claiming that the limitations themselves do not exist. One indicates a rational decision based upon an understanding of the trade-offs involved, and the other indicates a lack of understanding and an unwillingess to examine what one is doing.

      What you are doing may well be what will give you the most bang for your buck, in terms of what you want from the game. But there are always trade-offs. There is no free lunch; to get one thing, you have to give up another. The only thing you have to decide is what you value more.

      Delete
    8. Because something is irrelevant NOW doesn't mean it isn't relevant in the future. Irrelevant to the players right now =/= irrelevant to the game world.

      Delete
    9. You didn't specify now. That's a little different.

      Delete
    10. @Vanguard, again The Walking Dead supplies examples.

      What difference did it make that the prison "didn't exist" until Rick & Co. got there? "Golly," said Sheriff Rick. "How did I forget that Federal Penitentiary was here?"

      Using RRT again, does it make any difference to the viewer that we can infer that there are more walkers out there, and more groups of bad living folk, than actually appear on screen? What would the impact on the viewer be if he KNEW that there would never be another bad living person on the show again? Would that impact be immediate, or would it have to wait until no bad people showed up for several seasons? Likewise, how would it change things if Rick KNEW that none of his friends could ever be turned into walkers any more? What if Carl knew that Rick had the same level of plot protection?

      Rick doesn't have to turn into a zombie for the potential to affect the others in his group, or for the potential to affect the viewer. That encounter need never happen, but its effects both within the scenario and watching the scenario have real consequences. The only thing that removes that impact is knowledge about what can and cannot affect the programme.

      From a gaming standpoint, letting Rick's player decide that Rick can't be bit is the same thing.

      Delete
    11. (Just to be clear, the above are rhetorical questions. You are either willing to consider the implications, or you are not. I neither expect nor require answers to them.)

      Delete
    12. RCK, now this is interesting. I think we need to define "encountered" if we're going to keep talking about games vis-a-vis theory (I like this!). Also, because an "encounter" has a particular meaning within the lexicon of RPGs.

      Encounter, as I mean it in "the only thing that matters for the purposes of the game is what the players encounter," is "become aware of".

      "The larger scope, pointed at by RRT, is that the game is more than what may be encountered, but also what the reader/player views as potentially encounterable."

      Yes, but in order to have a sense of that larger scope, they must be aware of that potentiality, no?

      Also, I was interpreting, for the sake of the example, like this

      Author = GM
      Text = Game
      Reader = Player

      Delete
    13. In RRT, the reader interprets, but does not change, the text. If you rely on "Text = Game", I think that you are going to have problems with the validity of the analogy. It is to be hoped that the players actually have more input into the game, through actual play, than the GM does. If the game is the text, then there is no distinction in RRT between author and reader; the model falls apart.

      If we take the game world as including all that occurs, seen and unseen, much of it will always remain outside the "spotlight area" the PCs occupy.

      The analogy works, however, if you assume

      Author = GM
      Text = The Dissociative game
      Reader = Player
      Reading = The Associative game

      However, whether you accept that or not, shared world-building in the sense of example (3) is analogous to the reader and author limiting the context of the text prior to it being written. In addition, by conflating the role of Author and Reader, you make any conclusion you might draw through RRT (or any other similar critical theory) suspect.

      If I agree to "encounter" meaning "anything the players become aware of", then in your Medieval Walking Dead, an encounter with a sorcerer being persecuted on the basis of the belief that magic caused the walkers is something the players are a priori encountering due to the prologue you supplied. Your earlier arguments about how the limitations placed on the same, because it would not be encountered, are therefore rendered void.

      That's part of the problem with this argument. A precludes B, and B precludes C, but you expect us to accept that A, B, and C are all true because you have reasons to argue A, reasons to argue B, and reasons to argue C, but an unwillingness to examine the logical repercussions of the claim that they are all true.

      Delete
    14. "In RRT, the reader interprets, but does not change, the text."

      I think this is where the analogy breaks, honestly. Games are not static, texts are. Or at least games shouldn't be static. The world should respond to the character's actions.

      "In addition, by conflating the role of Author and Reader, you make any conclusion you might draw through RRT (or any other similar critical theory) suspect."

      Can you elaborate on this? What do you mean conclusion? The end of the game/scenario?

      Delete
    15. Are you really asking me if "any conclusion you might draw" from a proposition is the end of a game or scenario? "A judgement or decision reached by reasoning."

      Delete
    16. I wasn't asking for you to define conclusion, no. I was asking for you to put it in context since we're talking about how certain things affect play, play theory, and our ideas about them in like three different threads on this page.

      You might want to try being less condescending, especially when I was asking for clarification.

      Delete
    17. "What do you mean conclusion? The end of the game/scenario?"

      "I wasn't asking for you to define conclusion, no."

      Back on the merry-go-round. No thank you.

      Delete
    18. I was asking for clarification dude, not for you to quote the fucking dictionary. You also ignored the point I made about game/text to be condescending. But let's not be disingenuous.

      Delete
    19. Clarification of what, exactly? Clarification of what is meant by conclusion in the statement "any conclusion you might draw through RRT (or any other similar critical theory) suspect."? How is that unclear at all? How does that related to your second question, "The end of the game/scenario?" which is clearly a direct follow-up to "What do you mean conclusion?"

      Sorry, but anyone with even a grade school reading level is going to read that exactly the same way I did, and a higher reading level isn't going to change matters. Nor in your claim that you were asking for clarification are you able to clarify the question in such a manner as to point toward another reasonable explanation. If we are not to be disingenuous, the obvious conclusion is exactly that...obvious.

      Earlier, you had accused me of shifting the goal posts when I clarified a definition. The difference between shifting goalposts and clarification is this: clarification both clarifies and delimits. It changes the nature of conclusions drawn about the general, and validates conclusions drawn about the specific.

      For example, moving the goalposts goes like this:

      "You cannot understand what I am talking about unless you have created a shared fictional space."
      "You have? Oh, well you cannot understand what I am talking about unless you have played Burning Wheel."
      "You have? Oh, well you cannot understand what I am talking about unless you have played Burning Wheel at my table."

      Compare this to clarification:

      "I believe BW is a traditional RPG, but you cannot understand it unless you have experience in creating a shared fictional space."
      "You have? Well, I still think it is a traditional RPG, but you need to play it to understand it."\
      "You have? Well, what I am doing at my table is different, but if you need to get that granular to understand what I am talking about, I guess it is not a traditional RPG."

      Clarification cuts both ways; the conclusions on both sides are affected. Shifting the goalposts works only one way; it is an attempt to fit whatever evidence may exist into a predetermined conclusion. You can generally tell the difference by whether or not what follows the "clarification" still makes logical sense.

      And, no, I am not going to try to be "less condescending" to circular reasoning and ignoring the objections to said reasoning. That RRT breaks down if you consider the game to be the text is part of what you are responding to. The point is already raised. Again, it is back to the merry-go-round.

      (1) I believe my point is valid because I am making an analogy using RRT.
      (2) An analogy using RRT is not valid.

      The logical conclusion is that the point cannot be valid due to the analogy (although it could be valid for other reasons).

      (3) Of course, RRT as an analogy is not valid

      may agree with (2), but unless you follow through to the rational conclusion, you have added nothing to the conversation.

      Delete
  3. @YagamiFire

    I believe it is. If something that had, has, or will have zero impact on the game occurs in the game world I'm still curious what the purpose of it is.

    If it's something that will impact the players, but they have no way of perceiving it until it affects them, what difference does it make whether or not you toil in the background or show your hand at the time of revelation?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If PC action A moves widget B into position C...that may have NO known impact until PC has the chance to become aware of C. It still occurred though. Their action still had impact...in fact, more impact than they might be aware. It gives greater agency to the player to impact the world. As a DM I don't know if it will definitively be relevant to the players later on...but I am running a WORLD for them. I have told them their actions matter in that world. In that WORLD...not in "the game".

      Additionally, it keeps the DM honest by not allowing him to shift his battleships from behind the screen...and it simplifies running because things work more like moving clockwork with events occurring from other events and action->reaction being observed.

      I firmly believe this is also experienced on a subtle, subconscious level...the DM is more prepared, the world is more consistent, the players feel more empowered. It is an undercurrent...invisible but there...like gravity.

      Delete
    2. Also...why the concern over "purpose"? I do not care about "purpose" as a DM...that way lies madness and tyranny.

      Delete
    3. "My game world is FULL of things the players have not experienced or even heard of yet...but they know I have put those things out there. They are waiting to be discovered."

      Seems a little different than

      "If PC action A moves widget B into position C...that may have NO known impact until PC has the chance to become aware of C. "

      Because C is a logical, though unexpected extension of B, which was put into action by player doing A. The former quote just implies there is a whole world the PCs haven't interacted with, regardless if they do A, B, or C.

      More specifically, I'm more interested in what the below even looks like.

      "The tree fell, the PCs didn't here it...but via the DM it impacts them (to what degree may vary wildly from not at all to immensely)"

      What would you as a GM be doing where something happens completely unaware to the player/character and it never affects them?

      Delete
    4. "If it's something that will impact the players, but they have no way of perceiving it until it affects them, what difference does it make whether or not you toil in the background or show your hand at the time of revelation?"

      I realize that you are being hypothetical here, but in a game of the type I advocate, I am not sure what would qualify as something that the players have no way of perceiving.

      I think the difference, of course, is that when you reveal your hand in the second case, the players may well wonder why they had no way of perceiving whatever it was you just revealed, or its "footprint" on the world, before now. One method allows perception or lack thereof, to reside with the players ("Damn! Why didn't we think of using that prison earlier!") and the other just leaves cognitive dissonance ("Golly," said Sheriff Rick. "How did I forget that Federal Penitentiary was here?").

      Delete
    5. "What would you as a GM be doing where something happens completely unaware to the player/character and it never affects them?"

      If you create a non-linear dungeon, you may create areas that are never explored by the PCs, but which nonetheless are necessary if you are presenting actual choices, rather than the illusion of choices. If there is A down path 1 and B down path 2, the players might never discover what is there, but if they use spells such as /second sight/ to get an idea, or /wizard sense/ or just look, there is something there.

      There is a world of experiential difference between playing with a GM who (1) creates a world to explore, (2) wrote an encounter with an ogre, and godnaggit, you'll have that encounter!, and (3) didn't write a damn thing but thinks an ogre would be good now.

      Delete
    6. I think the dungeon example is a little different than what I'm asking, because the PCs COULD potentially interact with the path never chosen if they turned around.

      I'm talking about the "tree" scenario again. The tree falling was not due to a player's action, they did not hear it falling, and they never see it after it fell. I don't even know what that looks like.

      The difference in your final example boils down to (1) sandbox, (2) railroad, (3) make-it up as you go.

      Delete
  4. Let's not be disingenuous, if we can avoid it. No one is suggesting that the GM is creating falling trees that have no chance of impacting the PCs, but the impact depends upon other factors in play. Player choice is a primary factor. What difference if it is in a forest or a dungeon?

    Note: We are getting mighty close to the same old merry-go-round now, and I am not hopping back on if that is where you are hoping to lead this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. I'm not trying to be disingenuous at all. YagamiFire made a claim that the idea I proposed was "very wrong". The examples he provided seemed, at least to me, to be about something else (unintended consequences as opposed to not causing/never encountering).

      Note: Sorry for the double comment - I was in my professional account.

      Delete
    3. To address your question (what matter forest vs dungeon), I suppose it doesn't, aside from the fact that dungeons are much easier to map to the exact foot.

      "No one is suggesting that the GM is creating falling trees that have no chance of impacting the PCs, but the impact depends upon other factors in play."

      I guess this is what I want to know about your game, specifically. When do you draw that line between "the players have a good chance of finding/being interested in this" and the "tree"? This is part of the reason I prefer on-the-fly Gming. There is literally no "waste", so to speak.

      Delete
  5. ravencrowking. You have a very sharp mind. I often do not even want to discuss such topics as this post because by their very intricate nature, I often feel like I am trying to converse with people who only want to argue or "be right" without delving deeply into the complexities of the topic.
    I feel this topic is close to one I wrote about concerning Quantum Ogres and creating information beforehand or by ad libbing.
    I have a question for you. You wrote something to the effect that "preparing" the game helps with the quality of the game, but it is not possible because we are human and fallible. My question is, If you were super-human and not constrained by time (hypothetically) would you try and "prep" every possible thing you could that the players might encounter or do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After thinking about this, my answer is that, it would probably make the game better for the players, and it would probably make the game better for me too. No matter how much prep there is, once the players are set loose, things are going to change in unexpected ways, and the interest in the game would remain just as vibrant....or more vibrant, if I were actually able to hold all those moving parts in my mind at the same time.

      Delete
    2. I have been thinking about this again today. I thought of an analogy. I realize there are faults in all analogies but they can be useful in describing an idea. I wonder if it is like a chess game. Except instead of two player's fighting each other, the DM is setting up the pieces for both sides. Then, once it is set up, the player's take on one side (say black) and the DM takes on white.
      The DM is not going to know how the game is going to go because the amount of possibilities after just a couple of moves is too complex to memorize. But, he can play a fair game, because how the pieces move are known rules and the player's know them.
      In collaborative story games, the players actually get to move the DM pieces from time to time. In D&D, they do not.

      Delete
    3. That is an example of how a non-traditional rpg can differ from a traditional one. There is nothing inherently wrong with non-traditional rpgs, but a trade-off will be involved in the strengths of a trpg and a n-trpg.

      Your question in your previous comment required some thought. At first, I was going to reply that, at some point, additional prep would actually reduce the GM's enjoyment of the game. If you posit the kind of superhuman intellect that could create and maintain perfect or near-perfect prep, though, the same basic joy in seeing the players do unexpected things would still occur, the only difference is that it would be easier to supply context and determine consequences.

      In realistic terms, though, the GM needs to be judicious in what prep is done, because none of us has such a towering intellect that they can do that,and, even if we did, there are probably better uses that we could put it to. There is, at some point, a diminishing return on prepwork, and the GM must balance the projected return against the level of effort required.

      The claim that there is no return - which is what a claim that prep doesn't matter really is - is one that I don't believe is ever true.

      Delete