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Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Halzebier on March 05, 2005, 10:52:19 AM
GAMIST ADVICE FOR D&D (LONG)

Background
Our D&D group has mostly gamist tastes, but I sense some simulationist and illusionist tendencies in some of the others. For this particular game, I'm personally interested in gamist D&D only, so I'm trying to purify and refine our mode of play (rather than sneak up on or drift mode).

My past attempts to discuss theory or preferences with the others have failed, so I'm trying a new approach: Show, don't tell. Hence, the following list is for the most part just brainstorming for my own benefit. I hope to implement it when it's my turn to DM again.

My ideas are coined in D&D terms, but I think they can easily be applied to other games as well.

The list is still under construction and I'd love to get some feedback, especially as I have tested only a portion of this stuff so far.

(Lurking on the Forge, playing DIABLO on the PC and reading Robin D. Laws' RUNE are among the influences behind this list. I have read neither TUNNELS & TROLLS nor DONJON, but I hope to remedy this some day.)

*-*-*
 
GAMIST ADVICE FOR D&D v0.1

1. Use aggressive scene framing to set up a challenge.
However, do not screw your players or their characters: Do not make them look dumb and compensate them for being set-up, if applicable. Better yet, have them start in a reasonably advantageous position.

Simply put, if you start out with the characters as sacrifices drugged and captured for a dark ritual, please (a) rule that they have escaped their bonds, stealthily slain the guards and found their equipment right before the guards come to fetch them, and (b) take the ugly situation (e.g. the drugs' after-effects) into account when calculating the encounter level and the rewards (see 4. and 5. for more on this).

2. Clearly delineate and define the challenge.
Lay out the victory conditions, the rewards, the terms of conflict and the consequences of losing as precisely as possible.

The idea is to really nail down the challenge and make everyone aware of the stakes.

3. Don't bother with boring fights.
The standard encounter should have an encounter level (EL) equal to Party Level (PL) plus four. However, avoid using enemies with access to effects the party can do nothing about yet (e.g. damage resistance which cannot be overcome).

YMMV, so you might want to go with EL = PL +3 or +5 or whatever. However, EL = PL is just pathetic and a waste of time.

4. Include a fight's circumstances in calculating its EL.
Terrain, reconnaissance and most of all last-minute preparations make a huge difference in D&D and should be accounted for when calculating ELs.

I suggest the following modifiers for starters:
# EL 1 if the party is ambushed
# EL 2 if the party is ambushed by a buffed-up enemy
# EL +1 if the party has prepared for an unspecified conflict
# EL +2 if the party has set up an ambush

Please note that player accomplishment outside the framed challenge does not count.

This requires some explanation: If the party goes on a dragon-hunt, it's a bad idea to decide on the dragon's CR ahead of time. Either it's going to be a push-over when ambushed or deadly when it has surprise on its side. Neither option is fun. (Here, more than anywhere else, YMMV.)

Instead, determine who gets the jump on whom (e.g. with appropriate skill rolls) and then adjust the dragon's CR to get the desired EL (see 3. above).


5. Give the players their due.
Base all rewards (i.e., XP and treasure) on EL, not CR.

(This logically follows from points 1. and 4. above.)

6. Don't pick on individual characters.
Decide on the enemy's tactics ahead of time and generally randomize and spread the pain. If the tactics are particularly ugly (e.g. attacking downed foes, concentrating on one target), adjust the EL by +1 or +2. Do the opposite for poor tactics.

This is more or less straight from RUNE.

7. Don't pull your punches.
Never fudge, whether it's die rolls, hit points or whatever. Don't have the enemy retreat, gloat, or otherwise give the characters a break (except if that's part of its write-up and included in the EL). Don't hesitate to kill the entire party (but see "Softening the blows" below).

Passions run high during a fight, so for the sake of tension and preventing a loss of trust, it's best to adopt rolling in the open as a general policy.

8. When in doubt, always decide in favour of the players.
If a rule call could go either way, rule in favour of the players. Always.

It's more fun (and far less frustrating) to fight a big monster and feel that the DM is on your side than fight a small monster and feel that the DM is on its side. Passions run high during a fight, so for the sake of fun and friendship, it's best to err in favour of the players. YMMV.

9. Take it like a man.
If your encounter isn't up to snuff or the players were lucky or competent, don't whine and never fudge. In fact, don't waste everybody's time with fleeing enemies or protracting the mopping-up phase. Just cede victory and hand out the rewards.

A DM often identifies with the enemy and views it as 'his' side. Well, don't. It just means losing all the time and will most likely make you act as a sore loser at some point.

*-*-*
 
SOFTENING THE BLOWS

"Step on up" isn't everyone's cup of tea, but many players like the trappings of gamism, i.e. they love to win (ostensibly) tough challenges, earn (worthless) bragging rights and get (undeserved) rewards.

(Truth be told, I'm one of them most of the time.)

Here is a trio of suggestions to accommodate this style.

A. Grant personal life insurance.
If the players can't handle PC death, settle for another option and announce that the issue will be handled as follows:

When a character would normally die (e.g. by dropping below -9 hit points), the DM uses blatant fiat to save the character and take him out of the current fight for good. Also, the character will be "shaken" during the entire next challenge (but not in the meantime).

If a character fails his save against a disintegrate spell, the DM might rule that he reaches deep down into himself and shakes off the terrible energies, diverting them to the dungeon's ceiling. Which comes crashing down and buries the character, of course.

B. Guarantee the use of a deus ex machina.
If the players lose a challenge, use a deus ex machina to save their characters' asses.

The players can invoke a deus ex machina at any time, effectively ceding victory (and preventing characters who are still active from being "shaken" during the next challenge).

It's a good idea to think of a suitable deus ex machina ahead of time, but I wouldn't sweat the details too much. It's an ungainly and obvious plot device and nothing is going to change that.

C. Hand out consolation prizes.
If the party loses or the players cede victory, hand out half the XP reward anyway.

Continually gaining levels is one of D&D's main perks, so give your players some XP. Hopefully, they will approach further challenges with renewed vigour when their characters have just gone up a level.

*-*-*

So...what do you guys think?

Regards

Hal


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Bankuei on March 05, 2005, 11:02:06 AM
Hi Hal,

Great stuff.  I tried a run of gamist D&D a year ago and stopped, and the poor gamist advice in the DM's Manual and the bad CR system played a significant part in it.  I particularly like the idea of modifying ELs based on tactics.

Do you think that the Life Insurance & Deus Ex Machina are basically necessary to functional D&D play?  Aside from the Sim use of it, it shows up universally in console rpgs in the form of resurrection spells/items and escape spells/items, and it's commonality seems to indicate its necessity for this kind of play.

Chris


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Simon Kamber on March 05, 2005, 02:38:32 PM
Quote from: Bankuei
Do you think that the Life Insurance & Deus Ex Machina are basically necessary to functional D&D play?  Aside from the Sim use of it, it shows up universally in console rpgs in the form of resurrection spells/items and escape spells/items, and it's commonality seems to indicate its necessity for this kind of play.

I personally think that if you play without it, you have to make sure it's ok with the players. Risking loss of character in a gamist game seriously ups the ante, because when you die not only do you fail to meet the challenge, but you're OUT. You can, of cause, roll up a new character. But you lost your old one, you have to spend time rolling up new stats and you have to get used to a new set of stats. Thus, failing to meet challenge just one time is fatal.
The same is true for party kills, only on a grander scale. Any mood that had been building goes bust when the GM announces "allright, you're all dead".

So, yes, I'd say that for 9/10 groups, you need safeguards if you want to pursue gamist play where the challenge comes from the game itself and the adversity that the characters encounter.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: NN on March 05, 2005, 04:54:48 PM
I think your advice applies to a particular sub-type of Gamist play.
Tactically focused rather than strategic.

For example, your point #4

If the party goes on a dragon-hunt, it's a bad idea to decide on the dragon's CR ahead of time. Either it's going to be a push-over when ambushed or deadly when it has surprise on its side. Neither option is fun.

Seems to me you are defining the Challenge as the final fight against the dragon. But one could define the Challenge as the entire dragon hunt.


[Or is my "strategic gamism" disguised sim?]


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: tj333 on March 05, 2005, 06:52:23 PM
Myself I like everything that you have here but the Consolation prize; it just seems out of place with everything else. If you can already lose without dying and have fights end when the outcome can already be seen I say let them take any loses that they get without any rewards or less generous rewards then you offer.

I can see how a game run like this can be fun but as NN mentioned it focuses on individual fights rather then a procession of fights.
The usually EL=PL is usualy only good for multiple fights without time to recover between them. If the players can go back to town whenever they want to and recover everything they need like in Diablo then EL=PL fights are indeed a waste of time.
If you are giving them a fight that is PL+4 then they are not likely to be able to take more then one of these before needing to rest.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: JMendes on March 05, 2005, 07:40:36 PM
Hey, :)

Wow. I'm gonna post links to this all over the place. Cool stuff! :)

Cheers,

J.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Halzebier on March 06, 2005, 01:12:32 AM
@Chris and xect:
My experience matches xect's: The vast majority of people I've gamed with enjoy the challenge and the adversity, but *not* high stakes.

Interesting that you should mention computer & video games, Chris:

As far as console RPGs are concerned, the problem is that if you died for good, you'd have to play the same levels all over again. Given that it usually takes between 20 and 60 hours to complete a game like FINAL FANTASY, those would be high stakes indeed.

In a pen & paper RPG, you'll either join the party with a new character or in the case of a TPK the DM comes up with a new adventure. However, the attachment to the character is far stronger.

Blizzard's MMORPG WORLD OF WARCRAFT has been universally lauded because it has done away with penalizing death. You lose neither XP nor equipment. The designers' achievement has been to take a step back and pose the question "Does penalizing death actually make the game more fun?" It doesn't, but apparently somebody had to cut the Gordian knot.

However, there are gamers in both pen & paper games and MMORPGs who like high stakes. I've played and DM'ed such games and there are, for instance, DIABLO servers without resurrection.

Personally, I prefer gamism with light stakes. (For the record, I should not have denigrated this style with attributes such as "worthless" or "undeserved". I got carried away with a triplet of bracketed adjectives.)

@NN:
You're absolutely right: It's entirely valid to frame challenges at a strategic, rather than tactical level.

In my experience though, the strategic level is much harder to resolve in an objective and transparent way. I'd have no problems engaging in this sort of play with a DM committed to gamism, but at least some of the DMs in my group have other tendencies. I'd fear that they'd give in to the temptation, say, of envisioning this really cool scene where the dragon surprised the party by charging out behind a small waterfall... Just imagine the spray of droplets, the blood in the water, the unique fighting conditions standing chest-high in the river! Wow! The only problem is that DM might manipulate the scouting process to arrive at *this* scene. *If* he had this vision, I'd rather have him frame it directly.

@tj333:
Consolation prizes just lower the stakes some more, obviously below the threshold you find interesting. This threshold is bound to vary from person to person.

I played in an extremely deadly Shadowrun campaign a long time ago and have to admit that the thrill of danger and victory (heck, even of mere survival!) was one of the most visceral experiences I've had in any RPG. But the level of frustration was also unparalleled, so at the end of the day, I may look back fondly on the experience, but would not want to repeat it.

You're correct that EL = PL can be interesting with multiple encounters. In fact, that's how I recently ran a module's dungeon: The villain had fled there in gaseous form and the party followed. Rather than run things by the book, I introduced a time limit. I told the players that there was an inscription on the ruins which revealed that a gate to the underworld (where they would not be able to follow) would open somewhere in the dungeon in three days' time. Read: You have to clear out the dungeon and nail the villain on three regeneration phases. This worked like a charm the players pressed on even as their characters were low on resources. And post-game, they applauded the time limit.

Still, I personally prefer EL = PL +2 or more, because I find the first couple of EL = PL fights in a procession tiring. I don't find "How much resources are they going to spend?" particularly interesting.

By the book, EL = PL +4 is equivalent to an 'even' fight, e.g. against mirror images, where the chances of survival should be roughly 50/50. However, it's usually not quite as bad, because the players often have special advantages which are hard to quantify (e.g. intimate knowledge of their characters, four people wracking their brains about tactics instead of one etc.). Hence, EL = PL +4 slightly favours the players, but is still very deadly. A boss fight, as it were. Personally, I plan on moving to those exclusively, at least as an experiment.

Regards

Hal


Title: Re: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Callan S. on March 06, 2005, 01:16:29 AM
Quote from: Halzebier
1. Use aggressive scene framing to set up a challenge.
However, do not screw your players or their characters: Do not make them look dumb and compensate them for being set-up, if applicable. Better yet, have them start in a reasonably advantageous position.

Even better, simply throw down the gauntlet along with directorial power. Explicitely say in advance that when you throw down the gauntlet and say "Can you handle this?" your also handing over directorial power. So feel free to just say they've escaped their bonds but are equipmentless. Then it's up to them to adjust that with directors stance. Some might say they find their gear in a nearby room. Others might say they don't, but do find sacrificial daggers nearby and weild those, along with some makeshift shields.

They'll set up the challenge themselves, but strongly egged on by you "Can you handle this situation I'm laying down". Of course, be careful with that situation...you may get them so pumped they don't use director stance to adjust things, even though they should. So don't be too challenging in the scene you pitch, even if they do get directors stance after you pitch it.
Quote
7. Don't pull your punches.
Never fudge, whether it's die rolls, hit points or whatever. Don't have the enemy retreat, gloat, or otherwise give the characters a break (except if that's part of its write-up and included in the EL). Don't hesitate to kill the entire party (but see "Softening the blows" below).

I'm not sure about this one. Although we haven't explicitely stated it in our group, if the monsters retreat when they could press the advantage or gloat or such, the message is 'You lost!'. We don't need dead characters to indicate this...everyone knows that really they are dead, which isn't diminished by keeping your character (hell, your just going to make another anyway...why not keep the same one). Indeed, that character is now like a debt, since you need to kick ass with him now to redeem your gaming honour.

This isn't explicitely stated in our group, but probably should be if you use it.

Quote
Continually gaining levels is one of D&D's main perks, so give your players some XP. Hopefully, they will approach further challenges with renewed vigour when their characters have just gone up a level.

Your not suggesting this, but I've always hated the idea of everyone getting a level for every session they are in. I hate it for various gamist reasons.

However, I thought I might mention a hybrid idea I had, where you go up a level each session, but you also collect XP so that if you earn enough, you'll go up two levels. I'm not sure how to handle the math (I'm sure its possible though), but it certain engages the leveling without undercutting the value of the XP currency.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Halzebier on March 11, 2005, 05:40:38 AM
NOTE: This is a draft of one of the posts which got lost in the attack on the server. I'm not sure if this sort of re-posting is a good idea, not least because I am quoting missing posts. Still, I was hoping for some more discussion and never got a chance to read all the replies to my post or the thread.[/i]

@Callan:
Quote from: Noon
Even better, simply throw down the gauntlet along with directorial power. Explicitely say in advance that when you throw down the gauntlet and say "Can you handle this?" your also handing over directorial power. So feel free to just say they've escaped their bonds but are equipmentless. Then it's up to them to adjust that with directors stance. Some might say they find their gear in a nearby room. Others might say they don't, but do find sacrificial daggers nearby and weild those, along with some makeshift shields.

I like this idea.

And I've actually seen something like it once. Sort of.

   DM: "Four ogres charge out of the woods."
   Players: "Four ogres? Is that all you've got? We wanna make 5th level tonight."
   DM (disgruntled): "Okay, eight ogres."

The ensuing fight rocked, though we did lose.
Quote from: Noon
[Don't pull your punches, kill the characters.]I'm not sure about this one. Although we haven't explicitely stated it in our group, if the monsters retreat when they could press the advantage or gloat or such, the message is 'You lost!'. We don't need dead characters to indicate this...everyone knows that really they are dead, [...]

If everybody is on the same page, no problem. But in my experience, this approach blurs the line all too easily.
Let's face it, the DM rarely says "The Warlock has a heart attack." Instead, he comes up with something which is more believable, less disruptive to the dream, less visible. So he says "The Warlock casts flesh to stone at the fighter." rather than "The Warlock casts flesh to stone at the rogue. IOW, the DM uses poor tactics on purpose to give the players a break. And at that point, you can't determine if the players won or lost. Maybe the rogue would have made his saving throw, even though it's much weaker than the fighter's. And maybe not, so we're in maybe-land, with all its could haves and might haves etc.

For this reason, you have to cede victory or see things through to the end. And it doesn't have to be a bitter end: The DM can still use fiat to save the PCs, once the dice spell death. It seems more jarring because you're going against the dice, but to me that's in the same league as using poor tactics, i.e. pulling your punches.

@Chris:
Quote from: bankuei
In a videogame, if you had to start over, you'd at least be armed with foreknowledge of how to approach it better the second time through.

[...]

Its probably safe to say that folks enjoy the strategic challenge but not the high stakes for the type of play you're talking about. Actually- given high stakes play and no drift, I can't imagine how anyone would get to, or get beyond 10th level.

Agreed on both counts.

I once met a player who proudly told me of the exploits of his 6th-level PC. He was the longest lasting PC ever in a campaign which had been running for five years. The other PCs were all 1st to 3rd level. Such play exists, but the characters do indeed not get very far and from what I've heard, there are all sorts of aspects I wouldn't care for, e.g. newly rolled-up characters being forced to act as Polish Mine Detectors to protect the more experienced and thus precious characters.

@M.J.:
Quote from: M.J. Young
An entire layer of their tactical planning has been rendered meaningless by one shift in the rules.

Exactly.
Quote from: M.J. Young
Of course, if you're talking about players who don't want to think strategically or tactically but want to feel like they did, you're probably on to something.


Well, I wouldn't keep up the illusion of the player's strategy mattering at all I'd just provide some flavor text for the scouting process and then frame the challenge at the tactical level.

Both approaches have their advantages, I think.

*-*-*

Integrating the strategic and tactical level as you prefer has two main advantages:

1. Play is seamless.
There's no disconnect between "now your actions matter" and "now they don't". This is easy on the dream, which is usually at least a secondary concern.

2. The strategic level offers a whole new arena for challenges.
Lots and lots of options and at an entirely different level. How cool is that!
 
*-*-*

Ignoring the strategic level and framing everything at the tactical level has some advantages, too, at least under certain circumstances.

1. Tactical challenges are easier to adjucate than strategic ones.
In the case of D&D, the rules for combat are very detailed, i.e. they account for almost everything that could happen. Hence, combat adjucation is very objective it could almost be run DM-less.

(D&D's rules for overland movement and spotting are quite detailed, too, but not nearly on the level of combat. It's certainly possible to wing this, and to wing it fairly at that, but it's difficult or will tend towards abstraction. For instance, I could imagine setting up a scouting/spotting contest between the party and the dragon, where the winner gets to decide on some advantages (e.g. one piece of knowledge or one advantageous terrain feature for the ambush per five point difference). The traditional "What do you do next?" approach can also work, of course.)

2. Tactical challenges are easier to run.
We run lots of modules and many depend on certain outcomes you know the drill: "You enter the secret temple just as the bells begin to sound midnight." If you stick to the module, you have the choice between (a) illusionist techniques, (b) aggressive scene framing and (c) abandoning the module (or at least its plot, if not its locations etc.)

3. Tactical challenges adjusted to offer a specific difficulty are always interesting.
For instance, if you set the "encounter level" at "party level + 4" and frame it accordingly, the fight will be exactly as tough as you want it to be, i.e. hopefully guaranteed to be interesting. If the strategic level is allowed to bleed into the tactical level, the latter's challenges may become moot.

An ambush is incredibly deadly in D&D, particularly at high levels. Hence, if you set the dragon's level ahead of time, you may end up with an execution. If the dragon's power is such that the PCs can only overcome it if they scout successfully, you'll have to execute them if they fail at that. Similarly, if the dragon's power is such that the PCs could overcome it even if surprised, it will be an easy kill if ambushed.

Personally, I do not like one-sided affairs, whichever way they go. My motto in sports and online games has always been that I'd rather lose a close match than win by a large margin.

However, people's tastes do differ in this regard. Utterly crushing your opponent ("owning him", in the terms of the first-person shooter scene) can be satisfying, though I'd note that the dominating party will often increase its own expectations (e.g. "Okay, he sucks, so I ought to beat him 10-0 or just using the machine gun.")

Regards

Hal


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Callan S. on March 11, 2005, 09:56:01 PM
Quote
If everybody is on the same page, no problem. But in my experience, this approach blurs the line all too easily.
Let's face it, the DM rarely says "The Warlock has a heart attack." Instead, he comes up with something which is more believable, less disruptive to the dream, less visible. So he says "The Warlock casts flesh to stone at the fighter." rather than "The Warlock casts flesh to stone at the rogue. IOW, the DM uses poor tactics on purpose to give the players a break. And at that point, you can't determine if the players won or lost.

Absolutely. I think some formalised language is required. Something like:
"Well, he's pretty much got you by the balls, so he casts fire strike on the fighter. He says he's keeping you alive for torture latter"
If that's too much of a hit on the dream, your probably not that interested in gamism to begin with. Proper win/loss notifications are always meta game...which is a good thing.

This also leaves it open for the player to respond in such a way that says he does want the attack directed at him...ie, it allows the player to up the ante, if he so wishes.

Quote
For instance, if you set the "encounter level" at "party level + 4" and frame it accordingly, the fight will be exactly as tough as you want it to be, i.e. hopefully guaranteed to be interesting. If the strategic level is allowed to bleed into the tactical level, the latter's challenges may become moot.

An ambush is incredibly deadly in D&D, particularly at high levels. Hence, if you set the dragon's level ahead of time, you may end up with an execution. If the dragon's power is such that the PCs can only overcome it if they scout successfully, you'll have to execute them if they fail at that. Similarly, if the dragon's power is such that the PCs could overcome it even if surprised, it will be an easy kill if ambushed.

I think your wandering into illusionist simulationism here. When the idea of each conflict is that they effect a greater strategic level by changing the plus added to PL in a future challenge, but you then just use PL+4 anyway, what was the point of those previous challenges? Certainly the player is supposed to care about them because they effect the strategic level...but they don't. The only thing left to love there (since importance, as seen by the group, has been removed from each challenge) is seeing what happens...pretty sim to me. In other words, no one will cheer me for fights that aren't important...if I'm not getting cheers (not even from myself, because I know I'm not having a strategic effect, which is the intent), the only other way to enjoy it is just to watch what goes on.

I'd really think you should use PL+4, dropped by one point if they suceed at the previous challenge. Your still adjusting so it's always a difficult/interesting fight, but there is still an effect happening. It doesn't matter what level the challenge is in the end...as long as it's modified for previous challenges, then those challenges are strategically tied to it.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Halzebier on March 11, 2005, 11:48:20 PM
Quote from: Noon
If that's too much of a hit on the dream, your probably not that interested in gamism to begin with. Proper win/loss notifications are always meta game...which is a good thing.


Exactly.

Also, this enables you to have a situation where the character loses, but the player wins, and noone confuses these things.

For instance, a player might have his exhausted Shadowrun mage cast a final spell which will kill him (too much drain), but also his enemies. Depending on the victory conditions, this might be a win. Not a solid win, but a win nonetheless.


Quote from: Noon
I think your wandering into illusionist simulationism here. When the idea of each conflict is that they effect a greater strategic level by changing the plus added to PL in a future challenge, but you then just use PL+4 anyway, what was the point of those previous challenges?


It'd be illusionist if I did not cut out the strategic level completely, so there are no "previous challenges" (i.e., no challenges connected to the present one).

In the dragon hunt example, I'd just jump from the point where the party takes on the job to the point where they fight the dragon. I'd put in some flavor text ("You scout the mountains for two weeks, finally finding ample tracks in one of the canyons.") and then I'd aggressively frame the challenge of the fight.

Naturally, this isn't everyone's cup of tea.


Quote from: Noon
In other words, no one will cheer me for fights that aren't important...if I'm not getting cheers (not even from myself, because I know I'm not having a strategic effect, which is the intent), the only other way to enjoy it is just to watch what goes on.


Yes. So I'm doing away with fights that aren't important and fast-forward through sequences where you can only watch.

Quote from: Noon
I'd really think you should use PL+4, dropped by one point if they suceed at the previous challenge. Your still adjusting so it's always a difficult/interesting fight, but there is still an effect happening. It doesn't matter what level the challenge is in the end...as long as it's modified for previous challenges, then those challenges are strategically tied to it.


That's a workable idea, as PL+3 is still quite tough.

However, it's not so easy to come up with a non-combat 'preliminary' challenge in D&D which...

(a) can be set up with clear victory conditions (to receive the bonus, i.e. "PL+3 in the next encounter, rather than PL+4") and

(b) takes more than one roll (e.g. a DC 20 Survival check) to resolve.

(Combat is right out, because I'm bored by anything less than PL+3.)

Regards

Hal


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Callan S. on March 12, 2005, 04:00:15 PM
Quote
It'd be illusionist if I did not cut out the strategic level completely, so there are no "previous challenges" (i.e., no challenges connected to the present one).

In the dragon hunt example, I'd just jump from the point where the party takes on the job to the point where they fight the dragon. I'd put in some flavor text ("You scout the mountains for two weeks, finally finding ample tracks in one of the canyons.") and then I'd aggressively frame the challenge of the fight.

Ah, gotcha. Nah that's cool, your just doing a (really good, IMO) scene frame. I thought you'd be running combats or some conflict in between the taking of the job and the dragon, which although they would have resolution, they would have no effect on the final PL+4 challenge.

Quote
That's a workable idea, as PL+3 is still quite tough.

However, it's not so easy to come up with a non-combat 'preliminary' challenge in D&D which...

(a) can be set up with clear victory conditions (to receive the bonus, i.e. "PL+3 in the next encounter, rather than PL+4") and

(b) takes more than one roll (e.g. a DC 20 Survival check) to resolve.

(Combat is right out, because I'm bored by anything less than PL+3.)

Do they have to be non combat? I could easily imagine having a few tracking rolls and then the players run into some other monster/or group of monsters on the mountain. They have to beat them if they want to keep tracking (ie, if they want you to scene frame on to the next or final challenge). BTW, my idea is that those earlier tracking rolls, if passed, give them an idea of what they are about to run into (ie, they come across more than one set of tracks).

You could have stuff like an avalanche set off, so as to up the challenge level to the required level of interest. Or on a cliff edge, or a third party (giant bird protecting its nest notices PC's and monsters and attacks both). Whatever to amp up the PL. Although I'm wondering if that might have a weird pacing effect...the players might find this prior challenge more difficult, depending on how things work out. Would that be a prob, do you think?


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Halzebier on March 13, 2005, 12:20:39 AM
Quote from: Regarding 'preliminary challenges', Noon
Do they have to be non combat? I could easily imagine having a few tracking rolls and then the players run into some other monster/or group of monsters on the mountain.


Right, I totally overlooked this. Yeah, that should work.

Quote
Although I'm wondering if that might have a weird pacing effect...the players might find this prior challenge more difficult, depending on how things work out. Would that be a prob, do you think?


Yes. I've had this effect with the last module I ran. The players had a great time clearing out the dungeon on a time limit, but the final boss encounter was over quickly with no PC getting seriously hurt. The boss had a very powerful attack (level drain), but he rolled abysmally and none of his hits connected.

I think the player of the front-line PC thought it was exciting, as he was the target of the energy drain attacks (and knew them for what they were), but the other players just blasted & hacked away and were a bit disappointed.

Even though we have not been playing illusionist, I think that some expectations from years and years of that may still be in place, i.e. the players are used to boss fights being close, on account of DMs manipulating them.

(Just look at the advice in Shadowrun modules: "If the PCs are winning too easily, send in a few more elementals to attack them. If they are in danger of losing, send in a few more cops to help them.")

Once I crank up and announce encounter levels -- and most importantly, once they lose --, they should count themselves lucky if things go as well as they did here.

(And if my encounter sucked, I'll have to fess up and admit as much.)

Regards

Hal


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Callan S. on March 13, 2005, 01:16:15 AM
Again looking at the original post...new thoughts popping up.
Quote
Decide on the enemy's tactics ahead of time and generally randomize and spread the pain. If the tactics are particularly ugly (e.g. attacking downed foes, concentrating on one target), adjust the EL by +1 or +2. Do the opposite for poor tactics.

I've always wondered about this with other groups. Do you or other people here spread attacks? So if the monster has three attacks and there are two PC's in front of it, you might lay one attack on each, then randomly distribute the third. If there were three PC's, then they each get one attack.

I've always found this to be an instinctive thing to do, but wondered what it would do in terms to gamist play. I get the feeling that it doesn't matter in D&D too much, as all the party's HP are like a pool...as long as that pool is drained, it doesn't matter which individual(s) contributed the most or least to the drain. But I'm not certain.

Quote
8. When in doubt, always decide in favour of the players.
If a rule call could go either way, rule in favour of the players. Always.

It's more fun (and far less frustrating) to fight a big monster and feel that the DM is on your side than fight a small monster and feel that the DM is on its side. Passions run high during a fight, so for the sake of fun and friendship, it's best to err in favour of the players. YMMV.

I wonder if this advice is actually more powerful than it seems. I mean, if the GM decides in the players favour, the player is then presented with the option of saying "Nah, do it the harder way", if they like. It's another directors stance option.

Though I think that it might be a good idea to make it explicit that the GM is ruling in the players favour. You don't want the player to think the GM is against them when really they are in control of their difficulty level and should be tweaking it if they feel too comfortable/the game isn't enough of a challenge for them, in their opion. I might try making this really explicit, next time I GM. I get the feeling it's possibly a very core gamist technique (since gamism is a lot about self challenge). Must experiment.

Quote
Even though we have not been playing illusionist, I think that some expectations from years and years of that may still be in place, i.e. the players are used to boss fights being close, on account of DMs manipulating them.

Yes! I wonder...could you do something where, if the fights going too easy, explicitly offer the players more challenge. Like ask them if they think they can handle a surprise bunch of goons busting in? So it's up to the players. A little tricky to handle in terms of maintaining the dream, might have to work out some ways to handle it, but otherwise it's another self challenging mechanism.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Vaxalon on March 13, 2005, 08:51:35 AM
WRT spreading the pain:

My players have always been very satisfied with my "The rather stupid monster attacks whoever hurt it worst" tactic.

The way this usually works out, on the first round (when the rogue gets his sneak attack dice) the monster whomps him, taking him down a peg, but not totally flattening him.  On second and subsequent rounds, the fighter is the one who gets whomped, but he's got good AC and HP so he can take it; finally, the wizard finishes the monster off with a big evocation.  (before that, he limits his casting to buffs and little spells to avoid catching the monster's attention).

Of course, intelligent monsters act differently.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Halzebier on March 13, 2005, 09:28:10 AM
Quote from: Regarding dividing a monster's attacks among PCs, Noon

I've always found this to be an instinctive thing to do, but wondered what it would do in terms to gamist play. I get the feeling that it doesn't matter in D&D too much, as all the party's HP are like a pool...as long as that pool is drained, it doesn't matter which individual(s) contributed the most or least to the drain. But I'm not certain.


If the DM concentrates his fire on one PC, he will often be able to take him or her out, especially if he is focussing on a weakness. This may or may not be a good tactic, but in any case, it is usually not much fun for the player involved. Hence, I'm all for both randomizing and spreading the pain. Especially randomizing, as it were, because then it does not feel as if the DM has it in for a player.

(The usual defense "But these are intelligent monsters and it's the best tactic available" often strikes me as just another variant of "But that's what my guy would do." IOW, the DM is being a dick and tries to hide behind the game.)

Two ignoble examples with me as a DM:

(1) The party is attacked by a lich and a horde of shadows. The party's cleric is the only one with a low touch-AC, so I send all of the shadows against him. Despite the entire party's valliant attempts to save him, he's a goner a couple of rounds later.

To the player, it felt as if I had crafted a "kill the cleric"-encounter. I hadn't set out to do so, but once I had assembled my monsters (going purely by story reasons), I recognized it for what it was ... and went ahead anyway.

(2) The party is mopping the floor with some cultists. The rogue is unconscious, but everybody else is doing well. The last cultist standing sees no chance to win and decides to cause as much grief as he can by hacking the rogue's prone body to pieces. He knows the party will have the rogue raised, but hey, he will lose a level.

Can you spell "petty revenge" (because the players stomped my encounter)?

Regards

Hal


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: M. J. Young on March 15, 2005, 08:47:08 PM
I feel like I've been gone forever, as the site was down pretty much right up until I shut down to prepare for Ubercon, and now I'm catching up on everything as fast as I can but still took a day to get here. I hope my comments are still relevant.
Quote from: Quoting Halzebier, Callan
Quote
(Combat is right out, because I'm bored by anything less than PL+3.)

Do they have to be non combat?

My thinking was along these lines, but not exactly so. In the example of the dragon, my first idea was that the party approaching the dragon's lair encountered otyughs--those foul beasts that live on offal and carrion. Rather than make it "party must defeat otyughs to reach dragon" I would make it "party must prevent otyughs from alerting dragon, or dragon will be ready for them when they come". This inherently explains why the encounter level would be 3 if the party is successful with the previous encounter and 4 otherwise.
Quote from: Later, Callan
Do you or other people here spread attacks? So if the monster has three attacks and there are two PC's in front of it, you might lay one attack on each, then randomly distribute the third. If there were three PC's, then they each get one attack.

I've always found this to be an instinctive thing to do, but wondered what it would do in terms to gamist play. I get the feeling that it doesn't matter in D&D too much, as all the party's HP are like a pool...as long as that pool is drained, it doesn't matter which individual(s) contributed the most or least to the drain. But I'm not certain.

Whether it makes a difference depends on whether the fight is serious enough that the party starts losing people. From a player perspective, I try as much as possible to focus our attacks on the smallest number of opponents at a time, because eliminating opponents means reducing attacks against us in most cases. The same is true when the referee starts eliminating players. Even apart from whether a character is killed, seriouslly endangering one of them will usually mean at least one and possibly two give up attacks while aid is being rendered to restore lost hit points, and thus focusing attacks on one or two player characters does have a significant strategic impact.

As to how I handle it, it's rather seat-of-the-pants, but I think I follow these rules:
  • If multiple attacks are due to multiple adversaries, these spread among the player characters as much as is reasonable under the circumstances. Five orcs are not going to surround and attack one player character while the other four player characters in turn stab them in their backs. Rather, the orcs will each take one man.
  • If these are the multiple attacks of one intelligent creature not larger than man-sized, I will roll to determine whom he attacks among those who should be within his reach.
  • If these are the multiple attacks of a larger creature, such as a dragon, I will probably roll for who is attacked, but will rule out results that I deem unreasonable--the same opponent does not get hit by a bite and a tail on the same round, if the dragon isn't airborne. Most will attack individuals who have already launched attacks on them, as these will be perceived as threats.
  • If there is an intelligent strategic or tactical choice the creature could make and the creature has the intelligence to recognize such a possibility, I'll usually use a intelligence check to see whether it does that.[/list:u]I think that's how I generally handle it.

    --M. J. Young


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Halzebier on March 15, 2005, 10:01:50 PM
Quote from: M. J. Young
In the example of the dragon, my first idea was that the party approaching the dragon's lair encountered otyughs--those foul beasts that live on offal and carrion. Rather than make it "party must defeat otyughs to reach dragon" I would make it "party must prevent otyughs from alerting dragon, or dragon will be ready for them when they come". This inherently explains why the encounter level would be 3 if the party is successful with the previous encounter and 4 otherwise.


Yeah, that sounds good. The fight will deplete some of the party's resources, but may yield a small advantage in the fight that immediately follows. Also, its victory condition isn't "kill 'em all", but "prevent them from raising the alarm". I like that.

Regards

Hal


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Sean on March 16, 2005, 11:43:32 AM
I really like your nine points of advice in general. I'd note though that a feature of 1e AD&D that 3e loses is that the 'wimpy' fights were actually a feature of 1e, where they are a total waste of time in 3e. This is because (a) healing was a lot rarer in 1e and (b) the narrower spread of armor classes meant foes say six hit dice down from you had a chance of getting in one or two hits. There was a serious 'war of attrition' effect you could get in a 1e adventure.

All this goes out with 3e though. Healing spells pop up like popcorn and big power asymmetries almost always lead to scratchless kills, plus casters have so many more spells and items that there's hardly any point attriting them. So your point #4 is sound for the current game but not for the early versions.

As far as the 'softening the blow' part goes, I understand intellectually that Step on Up occurs at the social level and you could still have a functional game with lots of resurrection spells, life insurance policies, no real risk, etc. However, my viscera tighten up and I want to take my +2 battleaxe and hack the shit out of every human being who plays that way when I read that passage. It's really abominable to me, like little kid sports leagues and contests where everyone gets a prize.

My friends and I stripped raise dead etc. spells out of the game already in grade school because we felt it made victory hollow. (Actually, that was only part of it - some of our actual reasons were IMO proto-narrativist, but all of our spoken justifications were gamist.) People who we caught playing killed characters in other people's games were let back into our games just long enough for us to tear the character sheet to pieces in front of the "cheater's" (as we saw them) eyes. This was kids mismanaging a social contract issue, as they do, but the feeling remains.

But this is me. I like there to be something at stake beyond self-esteem in the games I play: money, a chess rating, the ability to continue playing my character who I've lavished attention on, etc. I do look down on people who spend a lot of time on supposedly 'competitive' activities and brag about it but who only do so in that half-assed way. I know adults with jobs play nickel-ante poker and have fun too, but you wouldn't catch me dead at those games.

I want to say that people who play this way are playing wrong, but that's a moral stance on my part, and the vast popularity of video games which don't involve broader social competition and which allow you to save over and over until you get to the end of the puzzle suggests that there are - pardon my French - a lot of fucking wimps out there who enjoy that kind of bullshit, so it's probably good to give them advice on how to get the kind of play they want out of tabletop RPGs.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Callan S. on March 16, 2005, 06:31:02 PM
Quote from: Sean
My friends and I stripped raise dead etc.

Yeah, but I've started thinking a surviving character doesn't always mean the player actually won. Since step on up is at the social level, deciding who has won ought to be closer to that level. If someone dies but really it wasn't a loss, and you can't raise them, then they loose a huge resource when everyone really thinks they won. While a playing can have a surviving character, but I don't respect him. He keeps the resource weve put social investment into as a win status, but his 'winning' is killing the value of that status for me. Because all the social investment for what is winning is in that one basket, not spread out at all, and that basket has been tainted. Yuck.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Sean on March 17, 2005, 06:04:50 AM
I agree. You can be impressed with someone's math skills in nickel-ante poker, and you can be impressed with the quality of tactical and creative play in a D&D game where nobody ever loses their character to death no matter what they do. That's why I characterized my criticism as 'moral': I find these kinds of play pointless and vaguely offensive, but there is no a priori argument against them as functional forms of gamist play. For the weak and timid.


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: ADGBoss on March 17, 2005, 12:45:06 PM
Although I do not quite feel the vitriol that Sean (cool name) apparently does for this kind of play, I will admit that any sort of softballing to me undercuts Step On Up completely. It also undercuts the GM / DM and relegates him/her to the Dominant whipping boy.  For those familiar with BDSM terms you might consider it Topping from the Bottom. In this the "submissive" or "bottom" tells the "Top/Dom" exactly how he or she will be "dominating" the sub.  Softballing is similar.

In any game, football and D&D alike, there are times when the referee does have to make a judgement call. However, he or she should do so with idea of making the decision based on the rules of the game and the intent of the game to the best of their ability.  It should not be done with the idea of favouring the Players. Remember, like it or not the players are not going to cut the GM/DM any breaks, even if they play by the rules (which most do) and they have the advantage of group tactical planning.

I would also say that people should remember the GM/DM is there to have fun to and in these sorts of games they have a role to play.  So let them play their role as judge and advesary to the best of their ability and the limit of the rules.  Let the GM/DM have fun as well.

Final two points and I will shutup.  First, as unpopular as this opinion is I am sure, D&D is NOT IMHO a Gamist system/game. D&D is dillusional Sim in that it wants you to focus on exploration but does so via hack and slash.  I liken it to a reality tour of the middle ages, where you earn promotional miles by gutting the less fortunate while saying Thee and Thou.  

Second, Step On Up has to include REAL risk and REAL challenge for it to be effective.  How much of a winner can you be when you know the refs had the odds stacked in your favor?


Sean (not the same Sean though lol)


Title: Gamist Advice for D&D (long)
Post by: Callan S. on March 17, 2005, 07:21:46 PM
Quote from: Sean
but there is no a priori argument against them as functional forms of gamist play. For the weak and timid.

Oooh, that throws down the gauntlet to my gamist sensibilities!

I don't find anything balsy about loosing a PC, when they are just going to make another one straight away. There is no terrible impact on the players resources there, that makes it balsy. Sure, if you play through a few levels and get attached to your character, it'd be an impact. But that's a self damaging currency...if characters can die as a 'you lose' sign, then the higher the pressure, the more your not going to emotionally attach because you know you could lose this PC at any time. Young players will attach, until they learn this hard lesson, but anyone else will loose a sense of attachment. Therefore there is no impact from death and the player is not loosing a resource, since he's just going to just make another character anyway/replace those resource automatically.

In the context of this thread, it's interesting to note how resources are valued. The more likely you are to loose/use up a resource, the less attached you are to it.