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Author Topic: [Lendrhald] helping GMs create Challenges  (Read 15788 times)
Callan S.
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« Reply #15 on: October 26, 2007, 03:47:58 PM »

Hi David,

One thing is clear - when players step on up, they fuck up the causality of the world. They really do fuck it up - because their skill, or lack there of, is from outside the game world - it is not part of its causality. Whatever the results of their step on up, it is a stain on the game worlds causality - it's a stain that will spread, butterfly effect, across the whole game world over time.

Can I ask - do you have in mind that if the world is perfectly derived from causal procedure (with every little bit derived from that which came before) then that simply must mean that anything the players do WILL be a continuation of that causality? That if the game world is presented perfectly enough, the player wont have any choice that is outside of causality. That the only things it's possible to do would also be part of a proper causal continuum?
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David Berg
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« Reply #16 on: October 26, 2007, 04:20:46 PM »

Callan,

Huh?  Is this germane?  I want you to tell me how to implement the ideas form your last post!

Re: causality, the players' only ability to affect the gameworld comes via their characters.  So the only way they could fuck it up is by making choices that their characters wouldn't make if they weren't being run by players.  The gameworld can simply assume that these people (the player characters) are mildly insane* and no causality is upset.  These insane people have no superhuman powers, so their ability to change the world significantly is nearly zilch.  Opportunities to invent world-altering technology will not be presented. 

*or innately gifted at strategy, or whatever
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Rafu
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« Reply #17 on: October 26, 2007, 05:10:33 PM »

To put it straight in very "D&D-like traditional roleplaying" terms, is what you need a method to instantly set up encounters and whole "adventures", in quasi real-time, just as the players decide to bite at one of countless adventure hooks offered to them?
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J. Scott Timmerman
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Posts: 164


« Reply #18 on: October 26, 2007, 05:38:59 PM »

Aloha David,

Sounds good... just want to make sure, though, that we're talking about mechanics that determine what's in the world (i.e., nature/identity of Challenge situation).  I don't intend for this thread to discuss my task resolution system any more than absolutely necessary.
I was referring to Challenge creation, primarily.  But my point extends to task resolution, since task-res mechanics will be an extension of how the elements you add to the Challenge will function.  And how they function will be intimately intwined with how challenging they are.

The thing is, with the players determining what gets played, the list of potential things the GM needs to worry about is infinite.
Hmm.  But Infinite can still be Limited.  The "can" and the "can't" define themselves against each other.  The GM only really needs to think of the things that could dramatically affect the outcome of the situation.  Everything else just happens.

Answer me this: why does it matter whether the character does something, unless it's important?

My feeling is that, as a GM, I don't want to be the arbiter of causality, so I either shirk it off on the mechanics, or give the players the benefit of the doubt.  But it sounds like you don't want to provide any aberrant drift from in-game causality here; as little 4th-wall breaking as possible.  I hadn't thought about how my ideas might work in such a system.  Causality is the sacred cow on my barbeque.

That way, when setting up Conflict in the Scene, you decide directly, is "lift without help" an option, or not, rather than having to either in preparation or arbitrarily decide during gameplay what the weight of the peasant is.

"When setting up Conflcit in the Scene."  Please elaborate (with an example if you don't mind). 
I had assumed that "Setting up Conflict in the Scene" was what this whole thread was about.  The GM creates a town/building/field/whatever, and sets up all the elements within it, with one or more Conflicts in mind.  Without Conflict, the only other reason we even need a scene is for Exposition, and when we're just getting information, why do we need mechanics at all?

If you're instead talking about setting up the Challenge for the entire Session, you can't be expected to think of how every little element in every Scene is working at once.  From that level, just think about what Scenes you need, and how they might be linked based on player decisions.  In that sense, the level of the Challenge is really not even decided until you get down to the Scene level, when deciding the attributes of various elements (including NPCs) becomes important.

Perhaps this can be done with everything, so that every Conflict in every Scene can be broken down into simple options such as this.  These simple options work within in-game-world logic, because the scenes were designed that way.

And the GM can be helped to create this how exactly?
Most importantly, by simplifying what decisions the GM really is making.  It's like structuring department heads at a company: the GM shouldn't have to micromanage every little detail (like the weight of a peasant).

To that end, start thinking of Conflict from the top down.  Start with the overarching game, and then work down into greater details only when necessary.  Of course, if this feels too artificial to you, to engineer conflict, perhaps I misunderstand the point of this thread.

Sets of typical ways of manipulating the Scene from within itself could be covered in system, and others could be creatively made up (preferably in advance) by the GM.

When you say "covered in system" do you just mean that the book provides the GM a list of ways in which PCs might tackle situations?  (I'm already working on one, in fact.)
I wasn't thinking that precisely.  I was referring more to the task resolution system itself.  But having a list like that could definitely be helpful.

Best of luck with your system.

-Jason Timmerman
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David Berg
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« Reply #19 on: October 26, 2007, 06:06:57 PM »

Jason,

I think you've played some games that go about setting things up in a different way than games I've played.  There seem to be a few definitions whizzing past me here.

When I quoted "When Setting up Conflict in a Scene", the key word was the word you omitted in your response: When.

It sounds to me as if you are suggesting distributing GM prep tasks so they occur in small intervals interspersed with play.  I imagine your process thusly:

Before the game, the GM comes up with the basics of a Challenge and some ideas for small mini-challenges within the big challenge.  The play starts.  The first mini-challenge the players pursue becomes a Scene.  The GM then halts play when a mini-challenge is chosen so he can prep the particulars of that Scene.

Is that right?

I see some upsides and downsides to this, but before I go into them, I want to see if I understand you thus far.  (That's the point of this thread: the process by which the GM prepares challenges (and sub-challenges).)
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Callan S.
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« Reply #20 on: October 26, 2007, 07:01:14 PM »

Callan,

Huh?  Is this germane?  I want you to tell me how to implement the ideas form your last post!

Re: causality, the players' only ability to affect the gameworld comes via their characters.  So the only way they could fuck it up is by making choices that their characters wouldn't make if they weren't being run by players.  The gameworld can simply assume that these people (the player characters) are mildly insane* and no causality is upset.  These insane people have no superhuman powers, so their ability to change the world significantly is nearly zilch.  Opportunities to invent world-altering technology will not be presented. 

*or innately gifted at strategy, or whatever
It's relevant, as you've been asking about gamist challenge design. For example, someone makes a $5 bet you can't run 20 laps of a field. You run 20 laps, but then they don't pay you out the money. Does that strike you as gamist?

Now, they could bet money, or watermelons, or just pure flat out personal recognition of your feat. Recognition of your own qualties as a human being - not some fictional character. My design had 'paying out' as first priority. I don't think it will help you, as you ascribe the players only ability to change the gameworld are with their characters, there is no recognition of a players own personal smarts, cunning, or guts. And the 'gameworld assumes these people (PC's) are mildly insane', making any recognition occur only at a purely game world level only because that would causally make sense.

I don't think gamism is possible if your not paying out. My ideas on proceduraly generated content are only for people who want to pay out, due to their mechanics, and ethic. I'm adding this as a side note post to further detail the idea I posted before.
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David Berg
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« Reply #21 on: October 26, 2007, 07:31:35 PM »

as you ascribe the players only ability to change the gameworld are with their characters, there is no recognition of a players own personal smarts, cunning, or guts.

No recognition?  If I invite you to play a game where the stated objective is to tackle in-game challenges without getting our characters killed, and you agree that that sounds like fun, and we both do it together, and succeed by using our characters strategically, why wouldn't there be recognition around the game table?  We kill the monster, we come up for air (the game's term for ceasing immersed play), we high-five each other and talk about how ingenious the trap we rigged was.

If I'm not up to your level of strategy, maybe you're getting high-fives from another player while I draw up a new character (cuz my old one's dead -- and got no loot out of the deal to boot).

If everyone at the table agrees that this is why we're here to play, isn't that Gamist?

I realize that having a more formalized reward system would make it more obviously Gamist, but I'm trying to have my cake (un-fucked-with immersion) and eat it too.

If my game winds up not being suited for your procedurally-generated content (and I don't think I can tell yet if that's true or not), I don't think it's because my game is aligned against rewarding player smarts, cunning, or guts.

Note: your point about recognition occurring at a gameworld level is astute, but not problematic, as players will often basically be playing themselves.  The real-world high-fiving might be appropriately accompanied by character high-fiving if anyone felt like playing it.  Not that I expect them to, because once the Challenge is done, it's time to come up for air and think about the next one.
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J. Scott Timmerman
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« Reply #22 on: October 26, 2007, 09:18:33 PM »

I think you've played some games that go about setting things up in a different way than games I've played.  There seem to be a few definitions whizzing past me here.
Let me know if I'm ever using jargon.  I realize at the very least I've used some terms in, if not necessarily forgite ways, then at least in ways I've heard from other sides of the indie gaming community.

Before the game, the GM comes up with the basics of a Challenge and some ideas for small mini-challenges within the big challenge.  The play starts.  The first mini-challenge the players pursue becomes a Scene.  The GM then halts play when a mini-challenge is chosen so he can prep the particulars of that Scene.

Is that right?
That's a pretty fair analysis of my method, except for the "halts play" part.  Like you said, I come up with simplified ideas for the "mini-challenges," which most often correspond to a single scene.  But I don't find myself needing to stop to stat out every NPC.  I have a reasonable idea of what they can do, and that's good enough.

But the When you speak of is really dependent upon the GM.  Some people like to halt the game to do that.  Some people are just good enough at improvisation that prep happens on the fly.  I prefer to plan enough material for an entire session beforehand.  My games just seem to flow better that way.  It would seem thus far that you have a different idea of how Challenge creation works best for you.

-Jason Timmerman
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Callan S.
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« Reply #23 on: October 27, 2007, 11:43:06 PM »

If I invite you to play a game where the stated objective is to tackle in-game challenges without getting our characters killed, and you agree that that sounds like fun, and we both do it together, and succeed by using our characters strategically, why wouldn't there be recognition around the game table?
The recognition is meaningless. It's nice, it's supportive, but meaningless. If you bet me $5 in front of a group of friends that I can't do twenty laps, but I do so and all my friends are high fiving me, that's really supportive. But if you don't pay me the five bucks, is that gamism? If you made the bet with me, but wont pay up the recognition because your busy ascribing it all as qualities of the game world - well, is that gamism?

Quote
We kill the monster, we come up for air (the game's term for ceasing immersed play), we high-five each other and talk about how ingenious the trap we rigged was.
Who decides when you come up for air? During this post it doesn't seem like you would enjoy 'coming up for air' while prepping the games material. It strikes me that perhaps you might have split the GM'ing jobs in your group - you might take on a full on 'run the world' job, while someone else in your group actually organises the gamism part (including when people 'come up for air').

You might say its you, but during this post I see a full on aversion to coming up for air. If you do do it yourself, I don't know how at the moment. While splitting GM duties across the group is a pretty common pattern, if not recognised as being such. If it is that way, you yourself don't need to do any gamism stuff at all - you should be focusing on what you call cake - causally generating the world. But the other guy, now that's a different subject to talk about - however, that subject probably wouldn't appeal to you (which makes sense - your a world runner specialist - specialists love their speciality!)

Quote
If I'm not up to your level of strategy, maybe you're getting high-fives from another player while I draw up a new character (cuz my old one's dead -- and got no loot out of the deal to boot).
It's a blunt question, but do I get a high five from you? Or even a solumn 'Congrats, you won/did better'?

Basically my idea for procedurally generated content involved quite alot of system determined coming up for air, for just the reasons you made in your post - how do you do it all without it taking up all your time? Well, exactly - if you don't come up for air, then the only playing your ever going to do is procedurally generating the world (as the world is so big and detailed). That's a flat out simulationist agenda, as I see it. That's one reason why people do simulationism - because it can so thoroughly engage them. To do it properly is to be fully engaged by it, no room for something else like gamism.

I think help on designing challenges really depends on who in your group determines when you come up for air. If you do it yourself, how you do it will be key to making challenge design simpler.
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David Berg
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« Reply #24 on: October 28, 2007, 08:52:51 AM »

Callan,

Could you please explain this reneged-upon promise without the metaphor?  I am viewing the recognition aorund the table as the $5.  You are clearly viewing something else as the $5, but I don't know exactly what that is.

As for when you come up for air, and who decides that, I will post the current rules in the next post.  The way these rules are structured is based on the idea that it's no fun to try to force every activity related to pay into an "immersed" mode.  Repetitious travel, shopping for goods, etc., should often be "fast-forwarded" through to get to the next challenge.  I've seen no need to define some sort of scenario of "okay, this si where the challenge officially ends, you all must come up for air now", prefering to let the players agree upon that naturally.  If you think there's something to be gained by changing that, I'm certainly open to the idea.
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David Berg
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« Reply #25 on: October 28, 2007, 09:08:12 AM »

there are two general modes of play:
1) In The Gameworld
2) Up For Air

Players can spend as much time as they like in either of these modes.  What's important is that everyone agrees which mode is occurring at every instant of play.

When you are In The Gameworld, you will use certain rules intended to facilitate a sense of "really being there".  When you wish to Come Up For Air (for whatever reason), these "being there" rules no longer apply.

In addition to In the Gameworld/Up For Air, there is one other factor that determines which rules apply in play: Challenge Situation or not.

A Challenge Situation concerns something the players wish to achieve, wherein success is not guaranteed.  If the players wish to befriend the mayor, then ANY opportunity to help or hinder their chances of this becomes part of the Challenge.  A situation where the guards of the city gate are rude to the player characters is a Challenge Situation, because the actions of the player characters may or may not lead to an incident that damages their reputation in the city.

Most character activities that players and GMs concern themselves with are related to Challenges.  Exceptions include purchasing goods at established prices, getting from one point within a city to another along a route that has previously been traveled, spending a second night at an inn, and other types of repetition.  In scenarios where the players have come to form expectations of safety and mundanity, it is the GM's job to tell them when they need to switch modes.  "You're just falling asleep when you hear a sound... ready to Dive Into the Gameworld?  Okay, go!"

No Non-Challenge Situations are intended to be played In The Gameworld.

However, that does not mean that the entirety of every Challenge must be played In The Gameworld.  During any part of a Challenge, players may wish to Come Up For Air in order to discuss something as themselves rather than as their characters.  Still, all character actions where a) success is not guaranteed, and b) success or failure impacts the Challenge at hand, must be done In The Gameworld.

 RULES FOR MODES

Rules for playing when you've Come Up For Air in a Non-Challenge Situation:
1) no one can speak in-character (including the GM).  describing the gist of what characters say is fine: "I thank the bartender and leave."  But NOT, "'I thank you, innkeeper.'  Now I leave."
2) no one can initiate a Challenge Situation without consulting all the other players.  One player's desire to "get to business" should not cost other players opportunities to have their characters "take care of down-time stuff".  Note that all that is required is consultation, not joint participation.  If Player 1 wants his character to engage a Challenge while Player 2's character is elsewhere, Player 2 cannot veto this.

Rules for playing when you've Come Up For Air in a Challenge Situation:
1) no one can speak in-character (including the GM).
2) no one can have their character perform any action.  announcing an intent to perform an action is fine, though.

Rules for playing In The Gameworld:
1) players must be consistent in their expression of a character's speech
2) players must keep Character Appearance sheets up-to-date
3) players must keep bandages and any other physical symbols of their character's condition visible and appropriately placed.
4) players must describe character actions in the first person: "I enter the cave," not "my character enters the cave".
5) players must do their best to rely on their characters' knowledges when speaking and tackling challenges.
6) the GM must be able to answer any and all questions about the characters' environment. 
7) four types of speech are permissible:
a) speaking in-character
b) describing your character's actions (or, for the GM, describing any features of the characters' environment)
c) requesting information about something within your character's perceptual environment from another player.  "Hey, GM, how high are the walls?  Hey, Player 2, does your character look tense?" 
d) requesting Coming Up For Air
That's it!  No other talking!

Don't worry, you'll still get to chat about computer games, work, friends etc. when you Come Up For Air.  In fact, this is part of what Coming Up For Air is for! 

How smoothly the transition from playing In The Gameworld to Coming Up For Air goes depends on how in-synch the players are.  It's like taking a bathroom break from a video.  When one person says they want to break, and others want to keep watching, some compromise must be reached.  "Okay, we'll break right after this scene ends!" works well for most movies and most roleplaying Challenges.
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masqueradeball
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« Reply #26 on: October 28, 2007, 09:13:08 AM »

Um... I think maybe this thread's gotten a little off topic. Maybe not though, not my thread...

Anyway. So are we talking about generating challenges or balancing them?

To generate encounters, there's a whole series of options. I think that something akin to Callan's system that might be more manageable would be to make a list of threats that exist in the campaign world and use points to determine when those threats manifest: example: Orcs live beyond the mountains and come down for raids. At the start of the campaig their is 0% chance that the orks will raid. On day one, for each of X factors present, the chance increases (factors could include the weather, how long its been since the last orc raid, how much activity is going on in the ogre tribes that put pressure on the orcs, etc...) by X%. Then at interval X (say once a month) you roll to see if the orks raid. The raid would then increase the chance of other threats arising.
Though this is book keeping intensive, your limiting yourself to only keeping track of as many different threats as you think you'll need to keep the players busy.

Now, about balancing:

Really, D&D 3.5 has the best to date encounter creation and balancing mechanics around. 14.5 encounters per level that should take at least 2-3 sessions to complete with a % break down of how many encounters out of the set should be X higher or X lower than the character's level.

The problems are this:
1) Outside of traps and monsters this system breaks down pretty rapidly. The original D20 Star Wars tried to adjust this by having skill check DC's tied to Encounter Levels, but they dropped it for unspecified reasons. It seemed unclear to me playing that game which skill rolls were considered challenges or part of challenges and which weren't.
2) The game assumes a balanced party of four players.
3) The game doesn't provide accurate guidelines for creating new monster/trap challenges, its simply provides examples that are supposed to, when combined with game play give the DM an intuitive sense of how to design.
4) The slew of source material constantly widens the base of what is possible, giving clever players ways to complete challenges while circumventing danger.

The system I offered early assumed that you would have a similar system to the one offered in D&D, i.e. that you would have encounters with "levels" or challenge ratings or whatever that would indicate what skill level a character would need to be at to successfully deal with them.

The suggestions were meant as a way to diversify D&D's basic approach and provide guidelines for how to make such a system more inclusive. Since your game uses real world mechanics, it should be far easier than in D&D to create encounters with predictable out comes (see problem #4 above).

If I knew how your system worked, I could provide an example of point-by-point rules for balancing encounters, without that knowledge I can only make generalised suggestions.
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David Berg
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« Reply #27 on: October 28, 2007, 09:31:26 AM »

Quote
If I'm not up to your level of strategy, maybe you're getting high-fives from another player while I draw up a new character (cuz my old one's dead -- and got no loot out of the deal to boot).
It's a blunt question, but do I get a high five from you? Or even a solumn 'Congrats, you won/did better'?

That is a damn good question.  (My short answer is, "Nice job man!  Kick ass!  Damn, I wish I hadn't decided to jump that Orc...")  It gets convoluted, though:

Despite the fact that you performed better than I did, the thing you succeeded at was a goal that I too was striving toward.  So I've lost in the sense that my ability to effect the gameworld in future play is diminished (my new character won't have as much gear or XP as my old one) and that I don't get the loot from this particular mission... but I've also won in the sense that I contributed (or at least put forth a genuine effort) to the "team" victory.

A much clearer situation of losing happens when the group can't achieve their goal.  "We're getting creamed, forget the emerald, run away!"  Especially if one or more player characters die in the process.  Poor strategic performance ought to result in this not too infrequently.

I have tried to think of ways to make winning and losing more concrete, but I haven't come up with anything better that doesn't wind up fucking with the opacity of the in-game reality.
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David Berg
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« Reply #28 on: October 28, 2007, 09:54:25 AM »

I think maybe this thread's gotten a little off topic.

I can't tell; I'm figuring that'll become clear once I have a better idea of what certain folks are getting at.  For the moment, I don't want to cut anyone off without being sure that something's off-topic.

So are we talking about generating challenges or balancing them?

Generating them.

make a list of threats that exist in the campaign world and use points to determine when those threats manifest: example: Orcs live beyond the mountains and come down for raids. At the start of the campaig their is 0% chance that the orks will raid. On day one, for each of X factors present, the chance increases (factors could include the weather, how long its been since the last orc raid, how much activity is going on in the ogre tribes that put pressure on the orcs, etc...) by X%. Then at interval X (say once a month) you roll to see if the orks raid. The raid would then increase the chance of other threats arising.
Though this is book keeping intensive, your limiting yourself to only keeping track of as many different threats as you think you'll need to keep the players busy.

Good thoughts.  Thanks!  I have anticipated character parties wandering around the world looking for trouble, but there are certainly also reasons why they might want to stay in one place for a while, so having some sensible way to generate, "Boom!  New threat appears!" would be good.  Orcs, natural disasters, extreme weather, civil strife all should have the potential to impact the game.

The primary goal of this thread, though, is more to say, "The GM is prepping a situation that he expects the players will want to tackle as a Challenge.  How should he go about making sure that the players can tackle it on various levels?  How can the game text guide him in this?"

Let's say some mind-controlling daemon is using the peasants of a small village to construct and enchant a golem that the demon will then control as its body.  Now let's say that some die-roll determines that this Challenge be Extremely Difficult.  The GM now has to set something up so that the players have more options than just:
a) destroy the demon and free the villagers (too difficult), or
b) die / give up and leave the demon to complete its plan

The GM is now thinking, "What else can the player characters do here that would be challenging and a fun accomplishment?  In what way should I make this 'extremely difficult' (hidden information? demonically strong peasants?) in order to allow that?"  I'd like to help him out.

Really, D&D 3.5 has the best to date encounter creation and balancing mechanics around.

I'll dig out my DMG soon and check it out.
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Vulpinoid
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« Reply #29 on: October 28, 2007, 12:41:55 PM »

The primary goal of this thread, though, is more to say, "The GM is prepping a situation that he expects the players will want to tackle as a Challenge.  How should he go about making sure that the players can tackle it on various levels?  How can the game text guide him in this?"

I think this is the crux of the topic.

And this is like trying to predict the weather. There are so many variables in play that trying to resolve them all is a quantum impossibility. You can predict where the characters will head, but not necessarily how long it will take them to get there.

How long does the hypothetical GM have to resolve and generate new encounters for their party? Are they preparing for a solid week between games with no full time job or studies to get in their way? Are they generating meaningful encounters on-the-fly which are still attuned to the principles of the gameworld?

How much leeway is being given to the players? Are we looking at a purely character driven storyline, where the players can immerse themselves in the game world by exploring at their own whim? Is it a setting where the character will be ordered to follow specific mission and therefore be forced into certain types of encounter at the whim of the GM?

If you're trying to get all of these options resolved into a coherent and "easy to use" system that doesn't require high end computing power sitting along side you and displaying options on a screen, personally I don't think it can be done.

Good luck if this is what your attempting. I hope you prove me wrong.

V   
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