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Author Topic: A demoralising day  (Read 26912 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2003, 02:26:08 PM »

Hi there,

A bit of terms/reference clarification ...

What Fang is describing is very much what I'd call Narrativist GMing, or one of the techniques in that category.

What John called Narrativist (quoted by Fang) is emphatically not in that category.

Best,
Ron
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John Kim
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« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2003, 04:04:02 PM »

NOTE:  In retrospect, I shouldn't have put in the labels "Simulationist" and "Narrativist" on my points.  I've had a number of clashes of definitions over this (especially since the terms here have a different meaning than the ones I am more used to).  I would prefer to talk more about the styles and then let others decide on labels.  

Quote from: Le Joueur
 
Quote from: John Kim
An important alternative is simply not having a pre-defined plot.  If you don't have an established end you are working to, then failures can be seen as opening up new story possibilities rather than closing old ones.  There are two approaches to this:
    [*]Prepare setting elements: i.e. locations, NPCs, groups.  As long as there is conflict among the characters and groups, there is interesting material to play out.  You improvise what happens in response to the PCs actions.  (Simulationist - Exploration of Setting/Situation)
    [*]Prepare story elements: i.e. you have a Theme or Premise pre-defined, and then improvise setting material and events in response to what the players do with this.  (Narrativist)[/list:u]

    Nope, once again yer reachin' back into the 'traditional gaming' bag o' tricks.  Setting elements should be as familiar as the genre, no need to prepare; not places, people, or things, it should all pretty much flow out of what everyone expects.  Flying wings, deuce-and-a-half trucks, desert roads, nazi u-boats, hidden bases, all of these things are absolutely no surprise coming from Indiana Jones' world.  I'd go so far as to speculate that every single thing you prepare ahead will feel like a hoop.

    Well, no it doesn't.  I've had a lot of experience with this.  The main reason why it feels like a hoop is exactly because it is a hoop.  Whether prepared ahead of time or improvised on the spot, the GM has put it in for the specific purpose of being a Complication for preventing the PCs from getting what they want.  One alternative, at least, is simply not trying to pre-determine the end-point.  Instead, you simply have a situation which could go in any number of directions.  Whatever the PCs do, you simply follow what would happen.  

    I suspect that you simply have never played in a game which works this way.  Far from being a "traditional bag of tricks", this is a fairly rare style as far as I have seen.  Nearly all GMs as well as modules will prepare an intended plot.  This is simply because it's not obvious how to keep things interesting without any intended plot.  The answer I have usually tried for is to define a limited space of interest, which nevertheless has complexity of relationships and differing values.  For example, in my Worlds-In-Collision game, the PCs started out allying with one group and then later turned against them.  I didn't design the group as either enemies or allies of the PCs -- I just made them as a group with their own agenda, and what happened arose spontaneously out of what the PCs decided about that.

    (more later, I think)
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    - John
    John Kim
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    « Reply #17 on: April 22, 2003, 04:12:45 PM »

    Quote from: Ron Edwards
    What Fang is describing is very much what I'd call Narrativist GMing, or one of the techniques in that category.

    What John called Narrativist (quoted by Fang) is emphatically not in that category.

    Sorry, Ron.  In retrospect, I shouldn't have put the labels there, since the GNS terms are something I have frequently had problems with in the past.
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    - John
    Le Joueur
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    « Reply #18 on: April 22, 2003, 04:16:14 PM »

    Quote from: Ron Edwards
    A bit of terms/reference clarification ...

    What Fang is describing is very much what I'd call Narrativist GMing, or one of the techniques in that category.

    Buzz! I'm sorry, that's not the correct answer.

    (I was expecting someone to chime in with this one.)

    One crucial point: 'No Myth' neither requires nor conflicts with addressing an Edwardian Premise.  I developed this originally strictly from a Simulationist style of play.  Remember, what you choose from is
      [*]What has gone before
      [*]The actions of the characters (perhaps cognizant of the player's desires)
      [*]What you can expect from the source material (Fang's infamous Genre Expectations)[/list:u]Do you see any GNS priorities implied?  Me neither.

      I use 'No Myth' for any kind of GNS mode, they merely inform 'what is important to play' in #2.  While some might speculate that following the 'tension spiral' ala Raiders of the Lost Ark might qualify as Dramatism (whatever the heck that it), it counts as Simulationism: Exploration of Color (the cliffhangers) and possibly Situation (Ark, Ark, who has the Ark), if I am not mistaken.  There's no Edwardian Premise (meaty, engaging, moral question answered through play) anywhere to be seen.

      I can even use this in Gamism to orchestrate the Challenge better for the social perks of relativistic play.  (The 'step on up' section from the upcoming Gamism essay will explain that better than I could.)  I think 'the old definition' of Gamism might be clouding how this works; since the stakes are actually social and not necessarily circumstantial, there's no need to subscribe to the 'Myth of Reality' that the opposition is actually static or continuous.  What's more important is that the opposition satisfies the social requirements (and that means it's perfectly capable of changing to suit Gamist meta-game priorities on the fly).

      Also, I must caution against this kind of in-brief synecdoche; certainly it could be used for Narrativism.  It might be a strong tool for Narrativist-supporting play, but I think it a little blind to come down with a pronouncement so simplistically.  You don't really provide much of a discussion why this couldn't or doesn't support the meta-game priorities of either Gamism or Simulationism either generally or in specific.

      I accept your beliefs regarding 'No Myth' gamemastering, I just don't agree with them.

      Fang Langford
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      Le Joueur
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      « Reply #19 on: April 22, 2003, 05:11:41 PM »

      Hey John,

      Either we're not quite communicating, or we're gonna have to agree to disagree.

      Quote from: John Kim
      Quote from: Le Joueur
      Nope, once again yer reachin' back into the 'traditional gaming' bag o' tricks.  Setting elements should be as familiar as the genre, no need to prepare; not places, people, or things, it should all pretty much flow out of what everyone expects.  Flying wings, deuce-and-a-half trucks, desert roads, nazi u-boats, hidden bases, all of these things are absolutely no surprise coming from Indiana Jones' world.  I'd go so far as to speculate that every single thing you prepare ahead will feel like a hoop.

      Well, no it doesn't.  I've had a lot of experience with this.  The main reason why it feels like a hoop is exactly because it is a hoop.  Whether prepared ahead of time or improvised on the spot, the GM has put it in for the specific purpose of being a Complication for preventing the PCs from getting what they want.

      That's not at all what's up with 'No Myth.'  A 'No Myth' Complication is not something there to "prevent" anything, that'd be an 'impediment.'  It would also require orientation upon 'what the characters want.'  A Complication is a change in direction or more accurately the stimulus which might change the game's direction.  It is irrespective or 'what the characters want.'  In fact, I see no problem with a Complication that puts the characters closer to 'what they want;' all that matters is that it Complicates things (as in, leaves more to deal with).

      This is one reason I like the Indiana Jones example.  Obviously Indie and company want to get the Ark safely home; do the players?  No, they want that raucous conclusion; does the Complication, impede that?  No, but it does pretty much blow the characters' plans out of the water.  Is it a "hoop?"  Depends on how quickly you redefine what that means in this discussion; is it a "hoop" when it takes the players where they want to go despite the characters' wishes?

      Quote from: John Kim
      One alternative, at least, is simply not trying to pre-determine the end-point.  Instead, you simply have a situation which could go in any number of directions.  Whatever the PCs do, you simply follow what would happen.

      Not to be terse, but how many times have I said 'no predetermined ending?'  A Complication exactly creates a situation "which could go in any number of directions;" you've got it exactly.  It changes "directions," not impedes play.

      Quote from: John Kim
      Nearly all GMs as well as modules will prepare an intended plot.  This is simply because it's not obvious how to keep things interesting without any intended plot.

      So?  At one point no one used electrical lighting, that's no reason to say we should espouse the virtues of it.  Go plotless, go plotless!  Shout it from the hills!  Use 'No Myth' to "keep things interesting."

      As far as making it "obvious," I'm working as hard as I can (and you can see how poorly I'm doing).  Your ideals seem to match my poorly-worded descriptions.

      Fang Langford
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      John Kim
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      « Reply #20 on: April 22, 2003, 06:22:20 PM »

      Quote from: Le Joueur
      Quote from: John Kim
       The main reason why it feels like a hoop is exactly because it is a hoop.  Whether prepared ahead of time or improvised on the spot, the GM has put it in for the specific purpose of being a Complication for preventing the PCs from getting what they want.

      That's not at all what's up with 'No Myth.'  A 'No Myth' Complication is not something there to "prevent" anything, that'd be an 'impediment.'  It would also require orientation upon 'what the characters want.'  A Complication is a change in direction or more accurately the stimulus which might change the game's direction.  

      OK, we are talking about different things here.  In the above quote, I was talking about my experiences in games of feeling that I was jumping through hoops.  For those games, I do feel that a primary reason for feeling this way was because the GM was conceiving of the twists as hoops to jump through.  (Sorry, I shouldn't have used "Complication" to refer to the hoops.)  

      I haven't played in one of your games and haven't heard any details (I don't think), so I don't know exactly what your "No Myth" games are like.  I'd like to hear more about it, by all means.  For example, do you prepare any GM-specific prior to the game session?  

      Conversely, though, I was also talking about a third sort of game.  Unfortunately, due to terminology clash I don't have a good name for it yet.  There is no predetermined plot, and it is pure myth-of-reality.   The GM prepares background and simply plays out what he thinks would happen.  This is distinct from traditional module structure because the GM doesn't have a particular adventure or plot in mind.  However, it is certainly also different from your "No Myth" model.
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      - John
      hyphz
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      « Reply #21 on: April 23, 2003, 02:13:18 AM »

      Thanks for all the replies here folks - I'm sorry if I'm covering old ground.  I did wish to raise one big question about the 'No Myth' style, but I couldn't really express it in words on the previous thread, so I'll have another go at it here.

      Just to address some other replies here: I don't really want to discuss the breakdown of the M&M session here, as the thread on Green Ronin has done that perfectly well and I don't think it's too relevant here.  Secondly, I did know about the "consequences of failure" in Bill In Three Persons, but they didn't apply - I wasn't talking about overall failure.  As an example, in the second subscenario, the players killed Bill, thus ensuring he would never reach the crossroads and succeeding at the subscenario as far as the adventure (and the Comte) were concerned.  The problem was that, if they afterwards failed their roll to get information from Don, that could easily have been basically it - back to the crossroads - and the players would know that they'd appeared outside an apartment, gone in, and blown a guy away.  Where's the interest or the "cool weirdness" in that?

      The big question I've had about "No Myth" GMing is basically to do with how it can be kept flowing.  I mean, as far as I can see, you have to desperately avoid the situation where the players wind up saying "ok, we've exhausted all our leads; where else in this city is there for us to go?"  Not only do you then have to make up an entire city on the spot (bit tricky, that), but when they decide where to go you're left either arranging that their choice advances the story no matter where it was (feels like a railroad, though it may not be intended that way) or telling them that nothing happens there (in which case you get to play a guessing game with the list of locations).  So there always have to be clues or leads or something - the players have to know, by the time they leave Bill's, that their next destination is going to be Don's, or Bill's local pub, or the police station to turn Don in, or the hospital where Bill might have been treated for those scars, or or or....  Any of those is fine.  But, then the problem is: if there are clues and leads, they either have to be blatant, or the players can miss them.  And if they miss them, you get the "where else in this city?" question.  So how do you resolve this situation by always making sure there's a chain to the next step?

      I mean, yes, the business of interrogating the captured villain in M&M could have been done better, now I think of it: if they can't get the info from him, just have one of the *other* villains try to break him out of jail, fail due to the PCs, and fly off casually explaining their entire evil plan as he goes (heck, it's a trope).  But I've only just thought of that, a long while after the moment was past.  I'm not sure how to practise this. ;)
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      Garbanzo
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      « Reply #22 on: April 23, 2003, 03:11:09 AM »

      Hyphz-

      I think you've exactly hit it.
      Nevermind the characters, you're sensing the players getting frustrated and tired.  They're wracking their brains, can't come up with anything viable.

      And the key is right there: you're sensing how the players are feeling.

      My take on all the great advice from Fang and Christopher is to run the game with an emphasis on everyone enjoying themselves, versus an emphasis on the characters not seeing cracks in reality.  
      Because never mind the characters, if the players aren't having a great time, it just doesn't matter.

      So pace the game, rather than construct a reality.


      As the players interest wanes (which you can feel), throw them a bone!
      They investigate 4 likely locations, they're getting frustrated, have that last one be the payoff.  
      That's it.

      Suddenly it's the players who are making up the city - throwing out ideas of likely places to go.  You build on these, throwing complications in (Argh.  No info here.  What can we do next?) until it starts to get stale.  Then the characters find what they want, the game moves on a notch, and the players have a new type of worry to think about.

      Listen to your gut, not your brain.

      -Matt
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      hyphz
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      « Reply #23 on: April 23, 2003, 03:26:33 AM »

      Quote from: Garbanzo
      Hyphz-

      I think you've exactly hit it.
      Nevermind the characters, you're sensing the players getting frustrated and tired.  They're wracking their brains, can't come up with anything viable.


      I think you've misunderstood me.  The "what else is there in this city?" was a hypothetical consequence I could see arising from me trying to run in the No Myth fashion, not something that actually happened.

      Quote

      As the players interest wanes (which you can feel), throw them a bone!
      They investigate 4 likely locations, they're getting frustrated, have that last one be the payoff.  


      Again, that's not the issue.  The locations list was a list of examples.  

      The issue is this: suppose they go to the one starting location, can't get the information from the guy there, but work out he's bad and kill him.  Now they need to know where to go next.  But, they fail all their Search checks to find stuff in the place they're in now.  With no clue, they say "where else is there to go?"  And I freeze, because I can't make up every location in a city on the fly.
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      ADGBoss
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      « Reply #24 on: April 23, 2003, 03:46:34 AM »

      Quote from: hyphz
       

      The issue is this: suppose they go to the one starting location, can't get the information from the guy there, but work out he's bad and kill him.  Now they need to know where to go next.  But, they fail all their Search checks to find stuff in the place they're in now.  With no clue, they say "where else is there to go?"  And I freeze, because I can't make up every location in a city on the fly.


      Ah well here is where the Players need to get off their big fat butts and think. I do not need to be harsh but if you search a place and find no clues then you have to move on. Where? Well use your brain. In general if the rolls go against the players, I tend to let THEM come up with another solution and reward them for that.

      So in the above, they Kill Bill or whoever but find no evidence of what they need to stop. Ok. Let them make the next move.  Maybe they try and find clues at a different location. If so and they were obviously playing well and into their characters, then reward them with success.  If they say "We goto the 7-11 and wait" well its their choice and they fail.

      Perhaps alot of what has been said maybe could be said like this:
      Excitement / Game Enjoyment do NOT = Success in Game.  Meaning that the amount of enjoyment you and the Players should get out of the game should not be 1 for 1 on how successful they were in the session / scenario.  Again, no one likes failure and if the Players have to punt ALL the time because of bad die rolls, then maybe that system is not properly rewarding their play. Or your effots.

      The Three Bills mini-mod is one of the better mini-mods I have seen personally, but its still a case of getting on the A-Train from DC to NewYork.  You just cannot expect such a scenario to offer you as much freedom as you yourself would make.

      Sean
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      Marco
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      « Reply #25 on: April 23, 2003, 03:53:15 AM »

      My comments:

      1. "Balance" (after a fashion--and you can PM me if you wish to discuss that) *is* acheivable. Games can be made with rules which make them either harder to exploit or make the exploit more obvious. M&M fails badly in this regard (lots of cheap-shot powers, I understand--I'm not an M&M guru ... but I *do* like what they've done with it otherwise).

      2. I think the problem with not having ways to embed your character in the world (what someone called the "cool stuff") exists only if the player in question wants it to. There are standard role-playing conventions (which along with some mature GM-player cooperation) address those problems. Doubly so for super hero games.

      3. I'd also be interested in seeing examples the no-myth play. What if I'm running something where the genre isn't established? When the play is in genre, does it become simply a list of genre tropes (euphimism for cliches)? I've got a few listed samples of play around here: what genre were they?

      As far as pre-defined situations: I find that they reward the player with logical outcomes of investigation or maneuver (strategy). They also allow complex plots without paradoxes (something my eyeball examination of no-myth would have problems with--I may be misunderstanding it).

      4. I agree with John Kim--the failure as complication if taken to extreme becomes hoops. My interpertation of that is that after a few complications the attempt simply fails.

      Here's my advice:

      1. Examine the game. Discuss it. If necessary (for example) make the players characters with/for them. It's an extreme measure but it'll prevent you from being surprised.  Find some compromise in character-design philosophy. If you can't do that, consider allowing the character to exist so long as you're acutely aware of the character's powers. If that's no good: leave.

      2. Construct scenarios in the usual way but:

      a) be very careful about oganizing must-win/must-lose fights. They're usually unnecessary. Build the situation to omit them (a slightly different cant on the "no chasms" approach).

      b) Use the concepts of backup antagonists, forces acting on the PC's, and the leverage of plot-hooks to keep things in motion. An investigation that revolves around one credible wittness who is a target for assassination (and is pinned down under cover when the PC's arrive) is a *very* fraglie situation. Avoid it. Build other avenues into the structure of situation.

      If the PC's beat the villains, the villain's boss will come looking for them (as a very basic example).

      c) Figure out what you really like. One of our members sat in a game (Exalted) where the GM, as he threw low-powered monsters at the party continously appologized for not challenging them. The players were having a great time. The GM seemed to be fine as well--but he felt he wasn't doing his job.

      I find that low-powered oppostion is often more satisfying to all parties involved than nail-biting fights--especially those that are life and death (and that's just a generality).

      Decide if you're hanging on to something that you can let go of. In another light, taking down three villains with one attack could just be a splash-page intro to the story (kinda like Spiderman comics where he annihilates some nobody before moving on to the rest of the story).

      -Marco
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      Valamir
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      « Reply #26 on: April 23, 2003, 04:15:21 AM »

      Quote
      But, they fail all their Search checks to find stuff


      This is the key sentence for me.  

      Search rolls.  Blech.  Total nonsense and useless in ANY GMing style.  They are a pure holdover from the days of D&D where the extra good treasure was hidden behind secret doors or the like and you only got them if you remembered to search and got lucky enough to find it.  If you failed...no biggie, you just missed some prime loot, you'll have another shot at prime loot in the next dungeon.

      But to use the same tactic to hide important plot information...ridiculous.  What author or screen play writer of a mystery rolls a random die to determine if the detective finds the clue and if he doesn't the book is over.  Nonsense.  If it is important for them to find...let them find it...the alternative is what...hmmm...not finding it?  How is that good.

      The best way to run any pre written module is to completely disregard all calls for "make a search check to...find, notice, spot" anything.  If its important for them to find it...they find it.  Period.  Give the player some props for being clever enough to ask, or the player of the character with the big search skill for having the skill...whatever.  All of those modules are written with the assumption that the check is going to be passed or else you can't finish it anyway.  Its pointless.
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      hyphz
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      « Reply #27 on: April 23, 2003, 04:46:50 AM »

      Quote from: Valamir
      Quote
      But, they fail all their Search checks to find stuff


      This is the key sentence for me.  

      Search rolls.  Blech.  Total nonsense and useless in ANY GMing style.  They are a pure holdover from the days of D&D where the extra good treasure was hidden behind secret doors or the like and you only got them if you remembered to search and got lucky enough to find it.  If you failed...no biggie, you just missed some prime loot, you'll have another shot at prime loot in the next dungeon.

      But to use the same tactic to hide important plot information...ridiculous.  What author or screen play writer of a mystery rolls a random die to determine if the detective finds the clue and if he doesn't the book is over.  Nonsense.  If it is important for them to find...let them find it...the alternative is what...hmmm...not finding it?  How is that good.


      But then we have the same problem as above.. no matter what the players do, the guy will be intimidated, because what he has to say is necessary to advance the plot.  And once the plot advance is given, the decision as to what to do next is very often a no-brainer.  So what you wind up doing is exactly what FELT like happened in our game - the players stop caring and just sit back while the story burns through to the next bit where they get to roll dice, usually a fight.
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      Valamir
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      « Reply #28 on: April 23, 2003, 05:42:52 AM »

      You should consider relying a bit more on karma than fortune.

      There is no way for the guy to be intimidated by the players unless the players state they are trying to intimidate him.  They could state they are trying to befriend him, they could state they are trying to fast talk him and get him to slip up, they could approach the task in any number of ways.  Lets say they did approach the guy in an intimidating fashion.

      Is the punisher an intimidating guy?  How is the NPC likely to respond to such intimidation?  But most important if this is the only way the module gives to provide the party with the information they need to continue you have a decision to make:  end the session, or find a way to get it to them.  That's your job as GM in this sort of a game.  IMO relying on the dice to decide is a huge cop out.  "The dice said you don't find out what you need to know...sucks to be you" is insufficient.  If you allow the dice to say this than you MUST have something else to fall back on.  If you don't have something else to fall back on then you CANNOT allow the dice to say this.  If you cannot allow the dice to say this, then you should roll them to begin with.  

      Relying on the players to ask the right question to the right person or they don't get the clue is identical to this.  Its basically just a different form of randomization where players go through the game of playing 20 questions until the get the answer.  I submitt that if they enjoy playing 20 questions, they'd be playing 20 questions.

      There are only 2 possibilities in a scenario like this.  The players uncover what they need to know, or the game ends.  That's it.  Period.  If ending the game is undesired than you have only one choice left.  Find away to convey the information to the players.  Period.  The dice aren't going to do this for you.  

      On any thread where the subject of GM vs GMless comes up you'll find someone commenting that a GM is necessary because he is the holder and dispenser of the secrets.  Personally I think secrets in the game are not nearly as important as some people do and that some players have simply gotten trained into thinking this way.

      Theres a host of discussions around here about ways to play that don't involve GM as dispenser of secrets...simply empower the players to drive the plot where they want and to hell with the GMs secrets.  Thats certainly one solution.

      But if you're a fan of the GM as dispenser of secrets model of play...then you have to step up and actually do it.  If that's the way you're going to play then you have the responsibility to handle it or the game is going to crash.  No written module where the side bar says "make an alertness check to uncover the secret" is going to do this for you.  Your take away from text like that should be that alert characters and alert players get the secret and find a way to deliver it to them that is entertaining and interesting.  If you have no such characters and players than you again have a choice.  Don't run that module or adapt it.  Maybe your characters are more persistant than alert...so do that.

      Whatever you decide, if this is the style of play you want, you HAVE to get that information into the hands of your players somehow...or else don't play this way.
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      hyphz
      Member

      Posts: 157


      « Reply #29 on: April 23, 2003, 06:41:40 AM »

      Quote from: Valamir
      You should consider relying a bit more on karma than fortune.


      But then it's just my arbitary judgment of their roleplaying rather than a dice roll.  Oh, except I have to get them the information whatever they do or the session will end.

      Quote
      There are only 2 possibilities in a scenario like this.  The players uncover what they need to know, or the game ends.  That's it.  Period.  If ending the game is undesired than you have only one choice left.  Find away to convey the information to the players.  Period.  The dice aren't going to do this for you.  


      So has the whole "No Myth" idea just fallen out of the window now?  

      Quote

      Theres a host of discussions around here about ways to play that don't involve GM as dispenser of secrets...simply empower the players to drive the plot where they want and to hell with the GMs secrets.  Thats certainly one solution.


      But is it? I don't see that it is.  The GM *has* to give the players something with which to make a reasoned next move.  Otherwise, it's the "where else is there in this city?" problem.
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