On Successful Communication With the Other Side

I engaged a story gamer with questions!

We didn't talk past each other!

We communicated! And understood each other!

"I'm not really interested at all in attempting to simulate a movie? What I want to do is play a game that is it's own thing. I grant it's all informed by media, but 'do something that is like in that movie' is not really a goal of mine.

I think we can both agree the actual play of OSR D&D is not very movie-like. It's more like. . . a game. :-)"

Stras Acimovic:

Oh. You say that flat out several times, but I think I just put together the pieces. . .  Because see, I assumed we were referring to the same beast with different bits. We're not.

I see an RPG as Role-playing, where the word 'role' indicates an actor, similar to theatre. . . To you RPG stresses Gaming. . .

I was going to ask 'but why don't you just play a video game/board game', but I think I figured it out. Player Agency and Infinite Play. The ability to have the story be about you and your meaningful choices (which is lacking in a video game) and the ability to go off the grid (which is lacking in a board game). . .
"My confusion is over the logistics of rewarding everyone for separate things? How does that not create difficulties in logistical structure?" 
 Stras Acimovic:
In your OSR style games there are two facts.  
 #1) Combat, despite being lightning fast compared to the morass of minis games like the later editions, still takes a while. As do investigations of dungeons, negotiations with bandit leaders and so on. If the group is not of a like mind, and not focusing on performing the same action you get the split party syndrome where the GM is forced to spend alot of time with group A while half the players (or more) in group B are bored.

Many story games do 2 things.
1 - they resolve the whole conflict in a single roll. So Bob can negotiate with the bandits (or fight them) in a single roll. Assaulting a town? Roll once, done. . . . In other words 'rounds' and 'actions' can be defined very differently. . .
2- Meta rules also allow you to change probability-to-story relations. For example most OSR games are FatE (fortune at the end) as opposed to FitM (fortune in the middle). In other words in your games you declare intent, execute, then check to see success . . . Whereas in FitM games you declare intent, roll knowing success or failure, and then narrate the scene . . . Why does this matter? . . .\. If you do FatE you almost have to tick time because you're moving in actions, rather than in scenes. . .

If you say "I swing my sword" (FatE) you then have to check to see what happens. If you say "I fight the monster" and you fail, you can narrate 100 swings but the outcome of the overall fight is the same without having to check for success or failure of each one.

. . .You can do disparate things, because you're not punishing the rest of the group by having them be bored. Doing something away from the group frequently takes no more time than an action in a round would in a trad game.
#2) Many story games have meta rules that guide player, and provide them with opportunity which are different than rules that guide the group. You are equating player success with group success which isn't wrong if all the players are in a group, and the group is of one mind. To have a player be separate from the group and acting against the group interests is the same thing in your game since then the player is acting against the win-condition or goal of the game. We've established that this is bad. What story games often do though is decouple these rulesets. In other words, the party can be acting towards the same overarching goal, while the individual is not. The individual can pursue divergent goals, which benefit him (by giving him xp and levels for example) and therefore party in the long run. . .
I am stridently anti-illusionist. http://hackslashmaster.blogspot.com/search/label/series%20%28Quantum%20Ogre%29
Stras Acimovic:
You know I read that article and almost cried. You see the reason most story-gamers think OSR games are bad is because we grew up playing in bad ones. You're having fun because you're 'doing it right'.

So let me answer something for you now that I understand the question. What I think OSR games do 'wrong' (loaded word!) is that they . . . don't have articles like this included in the books. The 'problem' is that while the 'correct' way to do things may be exactly what's addressed in that article there is a way to do it without any player agency contained in the ruleset. In other words a bad GM can run a game full of illusionism completely removing player agency while acting within the rules themselves (if not the spirit necessarily).

Many story-gamers depart the trad games BECAUSE this bad-GMing behavior leads to a hostile game experience they associate with the genre and the games, instead of associating them with bad individual games.

What meta rules (like story points) do is not hack rule 0, but provide . . . a system of checks and balances for controlling GMs that act within the rules while being hostile to the players and denying player agency. OSR games have the potential to generate an us-vs-them gm-vs-the-players mentality, which can bring out the worst traits competitiveness and damage cooperation and fun (on the player end mostly). The meta-rules (like story points) often create a better environment (us-all-together-making-a-story-by-playing) and often results in a better play experience.

So let me clarify. When the original author (of the article at the very top original post) says 'meta rules are better' what he means is that there are rules to teach the GM how to 'play right' and if not put the power in the 'hands of the players' to maintain a good game environment. It's usually about setting up a system of rules and rewards that incentivises 'more productive' behavior. It's not about making a better game (in the sense of probability, and piece moving) so much as it is about mitigating bad games, and bad GM behavior. In other words they're not necessarily adding good, they're removing bad. So these rules may not help your game (specific) so much as they might help your game (OSR). . .
4)"I think I grok what you're saying. It seems more abstract.
I don't think it's accurate to say D&D characters don't have flaws - since the role they are taking is what would the player do in this situation, their flaws are really the player's flaws. :-) "
Stras Acimovic:
You know I realized I have 'story gamer' brain damage when I almost went 'but this is not a good thing'! Let me instead present you with an explanation (this isn't a suggestion because it may not work for what you're trying to do).

If you play a character with no goals or personality of their own this is often called being '2 Dimensional'. There are all sorts of other derogatory and negative connotations attached to it. Shallow. Boring. Not-fleshed-out. But the thing is in the OSR having your dude be a meeple isn't a bad thing. You spend too much time fleshing a character out and he gets axed by a troll in two bad rolls and wowzers. You just wasted a whole lot of time.

But some people enjoy the activity of fleshing out the character much like you like making a dungeon. And some people just desparately want to play something they saw in a movie or a book. They don't need the whole game to be a movie or a book, but if they can 'pretend' to be a cool lone-wolf badass-in-a-trenchcoat it makes them happy. So if you let them play a 'lone-wolf-badass' instead of a fighter while not breaking the game, they are happy and still benefit the party. The meta-rules allow for them to essentially design their own class while keeping them focused on the game goal (get gold, get xp, get badass enough to conquer lands) and not disrupt what the others are doing or break game-balance.

5) "You're saying the "encounter I would construct" is instead of a trap or monster, a thing like "debt" playing into whatever is on their sheet. I see. "
Stras Acimovic:
Yes! Yes! Exactly! happy dance This is it exactly! Hopefully now you can see that 'traps' and 'monsters' while flexible enough as challenges - also are somewhat impersonal. The troll may have great reasons to murder you for crossing it's bridge, but ultimately you don't care. You're just trying to get to your objective. When you dig into something personal, players can get more invested. As they say 'it's personal'. Also this opens whole new avenues and options of risk and conflict to explore and to use to drive your story and events.

I've learned as much about what you like, and what you like about it and more importantly WHY you like it from these discussions as I may have helped elucidate :)"


  1. > What I think OSR games do 'wrong' (loaded word!) is that they . . . don't have articles like this included in the books.

    Yes, indeed. The original old school failed to impart much practical wisdom about good GM'ing and so reproduced itself in a myriad of hack'n'slash/monster motel/plot railroad campaigns. This is one thing that has improved over the years.

    1. I don't really have any experience with story games, but I have yet to see an RPG that really teaches you how to play it well. For example, try figuring out how to play Vampire from reading the rulebook.

      The best I have seen regarding this issue are probably Mentzer D&D and LotFP Grindhouse (mostly because Grindhouse has such a strong idea of its own identity and doesn't try to be everything to everyone).

    2. This is so remarkably true. The more I've learned in the last few years since I really began reading about other people's games online, the more I have realized that the books don't really prepare you for playing at all. I, personally, could double the size of many core rulebooks with what I've learned about how to play a game.

      And there are many more learned than I.

    3. I would say that Holmes' approach to D&D as a toolkit to create your own personalized game, and his accent on having fun playing adventurers in a mythical, weird and honestly, frightening setting that sports a malevolent Underworld full of strange, alien, and dangerous creatures did an *excellent* job on this score.(To a great degree Moldvay/Cook/Marsh's B/X with its examples of play also stressing intra-party roleplaying and with the 'monsters', was great as well, though unfortunately in my opinion it was set more in a bog standard fantasy world, at least from what I could gather from the text.) Then you have the nonpareil adventures from that era: B1: In Search Of the Unknown(with DM advice); B2: Keep On the Borderlands(also with DM advice); X2: Castle Amber; X1: Isle of Dread; and B4: The Lost City modules, which are anything but standard linear ruin prodding!

      Tunnels and Trolls 5.0/5.5's authorial voice and step by step handholding towards building your campaign does a bang up job as well, not to mention its short lived Sorceror's Apprentice Magazine, along with all its fanzines and other hobby produced materials. And the solos are in a class all by themselves, let me tell you! AS for GM adventures, Larry Ditillo's Isle Of Darksmoke is one of the greatestr of all time. The 5.5(since 1979, with no revision! Well, a few pages shuffled and a 30 page or so appendix, which affects only as much as you allow, but still.. 1979 and *in print*!) rules set, and all of the official game supplements are still available from Flying Buffalo, btw!

      ('The', back then!)Chaosium's Stormbringer 1st Edition and Runequest 1st and 2nd Edition had solid advice, but with T&T's Ken St. Andre co-authoring Stormbringer how could you not? And those legendary supplements.... The Introductory Apple Lane, the deadly Snakepipe Hollow, the excellent Pavis and Big Rubble adventure sets, the *epic* Griffin Mountain, and the awesome Cults of Prax/Cults of Terror campaign materials. Call of Cthulu 1st-3rd Editions and the mega-adventures Shadows oF Yog-Sothoth, Masks Of Nyarlathotep, Spawn Of Azatoth, etc... did a pretty good job of imparting the vibe of the game, I thought.

      Honestly, I'd say these older RPGs do a much better job of enthusing and instructing potential players and GMs than the cut and dry, overlarge tomes replete with dense jargon(especially the 'indy' ones!) that often appear in the market today.(Why must *RPGs* emulate the look and feel of textbooks nowadays? :-/) I've loaned copies of the Old School classics out on occasion over the years, and they *still* work their wonder, and start players on the Path To Adventure, just as they did when their copyright was new, their ink fresh, and their ideas in currency! Holmes/B/X is especially potent in stirring up longings for Swords & Sorcery Adventure, ime.

    4. @brendan check out Apocalypse World for an example. Your quote about Vampire is 'spot on'. Moreover in reading the GM sections of Vampire they explicitly laud and support Illusionism.

  2. Yeah. What I got from this was I understood what he was saying, and have no desire to do it.

    I mean, if someone wanted to play 'a dark brooding loner' I'd kick them out of my house.

  3. 'Half the group is bored' reflects an attitude toward gaming that I find very self-serving and myopic.

    1. Very interesting article. I'm uncertain on this oppinion being self-serving or myopic though.

      Myopic (ie: shortsighted) indicates that without a 'long view' they can't see that 'their turn' will come. I'm curious though. If someone is sidelined for a whole game, why are they present? What have they added or contributed, and what can't they get from a quick summary at game start the next game (or the grand retelling at food after game)?

      And self-serving implies selfish. I don't know if wanting everyone to engage and have a stake in something is self-serving. I'd rather play a game with 5 friends who are all playing with me, than play a game with 2 friends gambling on the fact that there is enough 'investment' and 'long-sightedness' to keep the other 3 present engaged, interested, and happy for the usual 4-6 hours.

      Your game may very well work with this and for this, but I don't think doing it "the other way" is only taking the 'short view'.

    2. Why are they present? Because they enjoy hanging out with their friends, because they want to be part of the banter around the table, because they enjoy seeing the others in the group doing well, because hearing about it after the fact isn't as fun.

      And yes, self-serving does imply selfish. When I'm a player in a game, I have a stake in the action even if I'm not integral to that action at the moment. The idea that you don't have a stake in actual play unless it specifically involves your character strikes me as selfish.

    3. There is a line.

      Ten minutes while the thief scouts ahead? Fine.

      Twenty minutes of a break because the players choose to split the party? Fine.

      Making a player sit out for four hours because "There isn't a good time for his new character to show up"? Shitty.

    4. Agreed. When I'm behind the screen, I make a point of getting new characters into the game as soon as possible, and if it's not possible right away, then the out-player gets to run npcs and such.

  4. What your interlocutor says about storygames sounds like stuff I say about storygames and get yelled at by storygamers for saying.

    Mainly: storygaming often is the result of having had a mindbendingly bad trad RPG dm the likes of which nobody in the OSR would put up with.

    And, I would add: the ability to create a fully-rounded character exists in trad games but you have to do it through play. ("earn it) If you want a personality you have to survive first.

    1. I'd consider myself a storygamer and I wouldn't yell, but I never had a bad DM and still found a lot of story games did things I wanted. Then I found out Moldvay did a lot of things I wanted. It's not some hard divide.

      As for rounded characters: some games have them up front, some have them through play, both are good for different things.

  5. The troll may have great reasons to murder you for crossing it's bridge, but ultimately you don't care. You're just trying to get to your objective.

    Disagree. Understanding the troll's motivation is a tool in your toolbox. Maybe the villagers stole the troll's stuff, or any number of things. Example:


    But the thing is in the OSR having your dude be a meeple isn't a bad thing. You spend too much time fleshing a character out and he gets axed by a troll in two bad rolls and wowzers. You just wasted a whole lot of time.

    I don't think that traditional D&D characters are transparent veneers for the players. They can be just as creative, interesting, and unique as any new game character that has 10 pages of backstory. The difference is that generally the trad D&D character develops through play rather than being predetermined. This also allows the other players to share in that development, which makes the activity more social. And if they get axed by a troll, that death will have more meaning; no time will have been wasted.

    You can play a lone-wolf badass-in-a-trenchcoat in an OSR game too, you just don't start out as a superhero (well, unless you are playing a game that starts out at a higher level, which is totally viable). However, you can't just say you are a badass, you have to play that out.

    1. Brendan, I agree with you about the troll.

      Also people often think that random encounters are just about fights. I have discovered that this is often not the case, many encounters can end up being pretty personal and involving. There is just so many ways to try to interact with them (or to make them interact with the PC with a simple reaction roll).

  6. It took me a little while to wrap my head around this exchange. I think it comes from the disconnect I have with old-school RPGs.

    For me, story games and D&D have always been one and the same.

  7. Seems like a nice enough exchange, albeit with the standard litany of easily refuted complaints about Old-School RPGs. Especially the fallacy that someone who is playing a 'scrub' who may die any moment won't roleplay(or without rules forcing the player, *can't* properly do so; another baseless 'story gamer'/'new school'/uninformed personage canard)! Not to mention, the idea that the time spent playing 'cannon fodder' Disposable Heroes(who are oftentimes neither heroes nor disposable) is rendered worthless is stunning in its solipsism and seems to imply that anything less than precision, laser focus towards accomplishing (often pre-set, before the campaign begins)in-game character 'goals'(as opposed to just hanging out and having fun, watching an interactive, unpredictable, and exciting tale emerge from play) isn't 'worthwhile' and therefore a 'waste of time'. It seems to me a hobby that 'wastes time' isn't a hobby at all, honestly... More like makework.

    Old School combat 'taking a while'? Define a 'while'... In any event, this person must be referring to something other than Tunnels & Trolls, Holmes/B/X or Basic Roleplaying(BRP), etc.... Rolemaster?(If by the book...) GURPS is often considered Old School and it can take a while, if, as I mentioned with RM, it's run RAW. It's up to group style, really. This 'fact' is an assertion at best!

    'To have a player be separate from the group and acting against the group interests is the same thing in your game since then the player is acting against the win-condition or goal of the game. We've established that this is bad.':

    As to the assumption that splitting the party is going against the grain, or even inherently incorrect: If you look at the history of Old School Gaming, you'll see that this style goes all the way back to the beginnings of the hobby, and is nothing new. Old school does not have any one set 'way' to play and I'm surprised that this tack is still tried, what with all the information about gaming's past now available on the Net.

    As for my experience, plenty of games I've participated in, whether as a player *or* a GM, have featured a 'split' party, with PCs actively opposing one another for various ends, and *no one* thought we were 'doing it wrong'! Even horror of horrors, PCs valuing alliances and personal ties with NPCs over and against the other group members wishes! Up to and including PC vs PC combat, with no hard feelings; due to players' respect for depth of characterization and of course, the mature personalities involved.(Even if some of them were 9-12 years old! :-) ) Nor was it boring, frustrating, or incoherent from what I experienced! We all thought it made for gripping play, and therefore quality stories. It should go without saying that the group was playing distinct personalities most times, with a fun variety of types and individuals abounding. There were, of course, a few laid back 'it's me, only as a Lizard Man' guys, but that's cool, as they were having a blast! The main goal of an RPG, in my opinion. To have a great time! And people do that in different ways, even within the same game, genre, style, etc... It's all 'role playing', regardless of whether or not you place yourself in a different mindset at all times(or even never)during a game. To say or imply that those who don't utilize this style of 'immersion' are lesser players incapable of playing 'correctly' or at a 'higher level', is condescending and smacks of the one true way-ism RPG enthusiasts should shun and despise.

  8. Part 2:(Sorry for double post!)

    ''traps' and 'monsters' while flexible enough as challenges - also are somewhat impersonal. The troll may have great reasons to murder you for crossing it's bridge, but ultimately you don't care.':

    Wow. I've found that players find 'traps and monsters' to be very personal. Especially as either can kill them! All the more so, if a potential, or actual, nemesis(nemeses) is(are) involved in supplying either or both. To 'not care' about in-game happenings signifies the PC is disconnected from the setting, and lacks investment in the world. A lack of immersion would be a larger problem to me as a player than a speedbump in the road leading towards achieving my PC's personal aims. If I were to seeing this as a GM, I whould probably have a talk with the player to see what(if anything, perhaps there are deep-seated personal issues that render the player incapable of enjoying the game right now, and nothing *can* be done; also, sometimes people just don't mesh, unfortunately) could involve them more in the world.(And, of course, the possibility I need to refine my technique, 'cuz no one's perfect! :-) )

    This: '(us-all-together-making-a-story-by-playing) and often results in a better play experience.' is how it's supposed to be done, at least from everything I've experienced in my gaming career.

    Thanx for posting!

    1. Yeah and the core of sandbox play is to be able to choose what you care about. So as a player, if you want, you can very much choose to care about the troll. I mean you can choose to care about the troll in so many ways.


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