Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Careful what you say you may ruins someones play.

This blog goes into a few different topics, I'll try to break it up with headings.Mostly its about GMing

Pro GMs Chatting with Casual GMs

Sometimes when your talking to someone that seems to understand what your saying, is on the same page as you, you might get a bit deeper into the topic, but if the other person wasn't really there on the same page, and they have a different world view on the topic, your deeper thoughts can trigger negative thoughts. 

I belong to several RPG chat groups. Its quite common to engage in discussions about new rules. Its as common to me that people pull the strings of rules to see if they are knotted well, or robust enough, so that players won't pull said strings in the middle of the game.

When describing how the players can or might pull at the strings, examples are given.

So, when I saw a fellow community member mention a new rule, I did what I thought was normal and pulled some of the strings of the rule, presenting ways in which a player or a situation could ruin the rule.

Instead I offended the guy, he got extremely defensive of his rule, politely attacked me and when I apologised, politely slapped my face. I was of course miffed, I had too late realised it was a public post, not a group post, so I was likely jumping into his realm and just rambling on about his rule having holes.

Facepalm: Meaning, Oh, Oh sorry, I made a mistake, my bad.. lets look at this differently.

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Player Agency: This was my point in the pulling of strings. And brevity was my downfall.
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I have often forgotten that I'm not thinking about things like others do, and I often don't want to write a paragraph of explanation to get people onto the same page as myself. So I'll often not bother, but when I think that I'm talking to a fellow games master / games designer, I just jump straight in, and I'll talk at the person, like they know exactly what I'm talking about. which often gets mis-interpreted.

Gamesmastering is not simple or easy

Case in point: Story Telling is an Art, not just in that its artistic, but that it requires an artist, to get it right. One key factor that many casual GMs will quote "its just a game". The problem is that regardless if they think its a game or not, Its also an exercise of the mind, it teaches us things, about ourselves, our players, and the world in which we live.

If you present your players with a cliff, and they talk about how to scale UP this cliff, they spend minutes talking about pitons, rope, how far up is it, your players are engaing in player agency, you've given them a chance to shine, for them to solve the problem in a creative way. Do they have pitons, do they have rope, does anyone have the climb skill, do we have spells that can break the laws of gravity, can we go around? Is there anyone nearby that can supply us with tools for scaling? should we actual scale it? is it a good idea. The discussion of how to solve the problem is players engaging in the game. Its part and parcel of roleplay.

You know what it also does? it teaches players, regardless if you want it to or not, it teaches them to be creative in their ability to solve problems. It makes them better people.

Its one of the reasons why Roleplay IS such a great medium. The Agency of creative thought.
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Two ways you can destroy this part of a roleplay experience, either directly or indirectly, is to take away this agency, the players choice in what solution should they use. Because players will often, if not always, take the path of least resistance.

The First, is why the above disagreement happened: Give players an out. Give them the choice to teleport the simple material objects, pitons and rope, to their characters, without any consequence.

If players can, teleport or retroactively buy components, tools, arrows and the like directly to their character, they will always do so. No need to ask around town before leaving, 'what kind of terrain will we cross' and pre-buy the goods needed, No need to worry about packmules for the goods, nor the path chosen, to get to the quest, not even a care, if the character steps on a weight based trap.. his back pack is now empty, but later, it'll be retroactively full, breaking the immersion of the game.. 

The Second, slightly less common, is when the solution is so impossible to solve, that the players, having 0 agency in the situation can only give up, a frustrated GM can't understand why the players can't see the forest for the trees, and the frustrated players can't understand how the GM can think they CAN see the forest, since they're in a desert.

As an example, back at our cliff, no material objects and the instructions clearly say they need to walk this direction, but the players are being chased by a dragon. They cannot think how to solve it, the GM keeps saying he's given them all the hints, and yet the dragon arrives, the GM has to fudge the encounter (the players gain too much XP and become OP for the rest of the campaign) change the plot (the big nasty dragon is actually goblins in disguise, but if that's so.. then how did the goblins manage to enact all those creature powers & fly & breathe fire?) or stick to the reality and kill off the party with a single flame of the dragon.

Face Palm.

The GM points out after killing off the players, that they needed to 'walk' up the cliff, its enchanted. The quote "walk this direction" was so obvious.. was it not? 

Well, unless the players had ANY experience that walking up the side of the cliff was even possible.. this is 0 agency.. they can't make the choice, because they can't foresee it being possible.

The Problem is that Casual GMs might see that arriving at the cliff without pre-purchasing pitons and rope, as 0 player agency, so giving them a retroactive purchase seems like a good idea.

But its not. because you made the choice for the players: You will need equipment, I want you to use equipment, but I know you won't buy the right stuff, so I'll let you buy it retroactively. you took away their agency.
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Player Agency, Don't take away choices
I had a player, who wove elven nets into his clothes, and carried a ball of string. He'd tie objects to his body as A) access easy items and B) crude armour. When in town, he'd buy up sets of things that he felt were needed by the group. often he was asked "why are you buying a fishing hook? we're going to a dungeon!

I had another player who would guide the group on regular outings to find rare and curious material components for spell casting. Each and every time, he'd end up with something curious, and as often as not, the group would encounter some creature, guarding its lair or out hunting or protecting its territory. Not often so horrible, but always a welcome side quest, with XP.

Another player, loved to try out different woods to craft arrows, sharpening his skills as a fletcher. At one point he managed to craft a masterwork redwood sapling arrow with a crystal holder head, allowing a crystal of ice to create his +6 distance +3 armour penetration +6 ice damage arrow , which helped take down a malicious fire demon. 

If I played any of those games where arrows, spell components or mundane equipment and or backpack arrangement was cast to the side by the game or the GM, those players would not still be talking about those events, to this day.

Player Agency allows players to choose to create interesting games, They can do things, without needing to change the plot or rules or interfere with the world building.
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Yet.. for all that's said and done.. players need choice.. so if your players are new.. get them used to the nitty gritty to start with, get them experienced with how it 'can' be done.. then after 5-10 sessions, let them relax on those rules, and present them with faster approaches to do the same thing.

in Dungeonworld, we have a thing called "down time" between adventures, Its done instantaneously for us, but takes weeks in game: Often while the warrior is healing, the mage gathers components, the rogue brews up potions, the archer crafts arrows and the merchant straps all these crazy things to his next set of armour.. Facepalm. 
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