On the Fiction First Failure

This week, I am putting the finishing touches on a little book/.pdf covering the creation and use of non-player characters and "Social Combat". It expands on previous offerings such as the Gameable NPC and the Eloquent NPC. There is nothing else like it that I've found.

It's the simple, fast system for designing and running non-player characters in ways that are determined by player skill, not natural social ability or character skill.

It has an objective resolution method that bypasses the need to subjectively convince anyone of anything.

One of the ways it meets these goals is by categorizing player actions in moves.

What it does not do is require the player to 'consider the fiction first'.

Why is that?

On the Separation of Fiction from the Rules


I have this to say in the book:
"[T]he players should all be exposed to the complete list of moves and how those work mechanically during play (See APPENDIX D for play aids).
When they choose what to do during play, before it is resolved, the mechanical effects and consequences should be explained and the player should be allowed to confirm their action. The only hidden information should be the number of actions they have remaining.
It is a resolution system for actions. . . Because the resolutions are abstract players are allowed and encouraged to just state which move they are doing next. They are also free to talk in-character and apply the appropriate mechanical resolution, through it is not necessary."
Again, why is just stating the move encouraged?

For the exact same reason that abstraction is a strength. It allows the fiction to be discovered by the results of play, rather than by attempting to shoehorn the results into the stated fiction.

There are other advantages too, let's look at them.

The Concrete versus the Abstract


A simple example of concrete versus the abstract is modern saving throws versus traditional saving throws. Modern saving throws have the benefit of being clear, easy to conceptualize, and concrete. What this means is, when the rogue is targeted by a fireball in the middle of a bare stone room and makes his saving throw, he takes no damage. He did this by dodging out of the way. It's a reflex saving throw, right?

But when you start to examine this example it immediately breaks the fiction. He isn't prone. He hasn't moved. He just hasn't been hurt by the explosion of fire that is forty feet in diameter.

This really isn't a problem. It is, after all a game, and nothing is preventing you from immediately abstracting out that reflex saving throw.

The mechanical separation of early Dungeons and Dragons was a feature. When you save versus Poison or Fireball, how you save is left undefined. Perhaps you use your cloak to redirect the flame, or call upon your god, or stare down the fireball defending with the very force of your will. You find a piece of fiction to match the result rather than define the fiction first.

Why is Fiction First a problem?

When require fiction to be produced before mechanical results are resolved this limits your ability to interpret the result. Doing it first, you lock yourself into a certain idea, your idea, of what's going to happen. Dictating what occurs during play rather than going through an organic process of discovery has many pitfalls.

There are other costs also. Play of the game must stop while the player is put on the spot to create something interesting and creative; players are required to do this for actions that occur very frequently. Definitively stating things closes the door on other future more creative options. And it can sometimes create uninteresting results ("That cool thing you tried to do, failed")

This problem is exacerbated in the new wave of 'wolf-in-sheeps-clothing' storygames, attempting to break out of their general unprofitability by co-opting the rising cachet of the old school renaissance movement. Demanding that the play of the game must stop so players can make the 'fiction come first' slows down play and inhibits creative results.*

Sometimes the problem of Fiction First is even encoded into the rules of the game itself. A well documented problem with this is Dissociated mechanics.


What's this mean?

If the player is allowed to bypass the fiction and simply play the game, you sidestep all the problems above.

A good example of selecting a move without deciding the fiction first is the Attack Roll.

This creates a situation where the abstract mechanical resolution is handled first, and then the reality of events can be augured as a group experience. It's faster too and nobody has to be put on the spot.

This does not mean I or the people I play with are unable to handle being put on the spot. It means we are not forced to be there. We discover the reality of play as a group, instead of constantly forcing individuals to be put on the spot and 'immersed' in the 'fiction' whether they want to or not.

Your axe swipe was cool, because you critted. You became Conan because you survived.

Personally, I find the memory of communal events much more immersive than having to constantly stop the game and manage several different levels of play. It isn't that I can't keep track of character goals and what I'm trying to accomplish and the relative tactical benefits of various moves while continuing to present my character in an entertaining way and trying to think of what I'm going to do to activate the move I want. I can.

It's that I find it more immersive to play a game and then after the results are known talk about what is actually happening.

What's This Mean for Non-player Characters?

The moves the book uses have always been in Dungeons and Dragons from the very beginning, much like the attack roll, so there isn't anything new to learn.

There's no hoop jumping either. The player just says what they want to do ("I want to ignore them so they leave us alone." "I ask them where the ghoul leader is." "I attack them") and the action and possible consequences is communicated and resolved. You can talk naturally to the non-player characters also, objectively resolving issues as they come up. You aren't in the dark about any effects of your choices. You don't have to worry about themes, or balance, or arcs. You can just play and see what happens.

You are never forced to stop playing by the Dungeon Master and jump through the hoop of explaining how you are doing what you want to do. If you are trying to avoid the encounter that is what you are doing. You don't have to explain how.

More information on the book is coming soon. . .


*In an effort to be very clear about things that cause a lot of cognitive dissonance from people, I am going to be explicit here. Yes, I am aware of the "success" of kickstarters of story-games that I'm not going to link to. But the 50,000$ or 100,000$ or 440,000$ dollars raised is peanuts compared to the 20,000,000$-50,000,000$ million dollars that Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder does annually. Yes. that is two whole additional zeros against the absolutely most popular story game. Games of the traditional sort are vastly more profitable than a few dozen or hundred or even two thousand copies of story games sold. What's more is that many of the most profitable story games are in fact doing what I say, attempting to co-opt the success of traditional gaming.
To the second point, it is a literal physical truth that rolling dice and determining actions must stop while you wait for the player to generate the fiction first. And that once generated, the fact that it is stated aloud prevents any other option from being true. Saying one specific thing is happening and no other thing happens inhibits creativity by eliminating the possibility of any other thing happening.

22 comments:

  1. Interesting article. Kinda sums up what's been bugging me everytime I go outside my regular group and try some new game (lots of story games fans in Prague).

    But now after finishing long odnd campaign I'm going to run Dungeon World for a change. How much do you think it suffers from fiction first? I hope it'll be fluid enough. All the player moves except "Defy Danger" doesn't have to be described before the roll.

    Sorry for wasting your time if you didn't read Dungeon World.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It only suffers from Fiction First if you make your players jump through hoops. Don't do that ("I go aggro!" Say "Great!" instead of "Not till you tell me how.") and you won't suffer from it at all.

      Delete
  2. I'm well and truly confused. What you're describing as a core defining element of old-school play seems to me like a textbook example of a dissociated mechanic.

    From the Alexandrian post:

    "An associated mechanic is one which has a connection to the game world. A dissociated mechanic is one which is disconnected from the game world... Dissociated mechanics can also be thought of as mechanics for which the characters have no functional explanations."

    How is that not a perfect description of the "roll first, explain later" mechanics you're positioning as core to old-school play? If the character doesn't know what a saving throw represents in the game world until it's all over, that strikes me as a textbook dissociated mechanic.

    I previously got into an extended discussion over at the Alexandrian when I tried to argue that old school hit points are also dissociated. My interlocutors took a very narrow view (in my opinion) of what hit points represent that, while associated, was much narrower than the sort of language used by Gygax in describing the mechanic.

    I remain unconvinced that dissociated mechanics have not been a big part of D&D since day one. Can someone please explain to me again, since I seem to be block-headed on this point, why I am wrong?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just to eliminate any ambiguity about my argument, here's a more lengthy excerpt from the same post at the Alexandrian which is even more directly on point:

      On a similar note, there is a misconception that a mechanic isn’t dissociated as long as you can explain what happened in the game world as a result.

      The argument goes like this: “Although I’m using the One-Handed Catch ability, all the character knows is that they made a really great one-handed catch. The character isn’t confused by what happened, so it’s not dissociated.”

      What the argument misses is that the dissociation already happened in the first sentence. The explanation you provide after the fact doesn’t remove it.

      To put it another way: The One-Handed Catch ability is a mechanical manipulation with no corresponding reality in the game world whatsoever. You might have a very good improv session that is vaguely based on the dissociated mechanics you’re using, but there has been a fundamental disconnect between the game and the world. You could just as easily be playing a game of Chess while improvising a vaguely related story about a royal coup starring your character named Rook.


      I mean, this is almost EXACTLY what you're describing here: ex post facto fictional groundings of the mechanical result. Telling stories about what happened between two chess pieces when one of them was lost to the other.

      Delete
    2. From the Alexandrian's post:

      "The player understands the metagamed and abstracted mechanic (d6’s and caster levels), but that understanding is directly associated with the character’s understanding of the game world (burning flames and skilled casters)."

      Here's where I think it might get a little mixed up ; confusing "dissociated" with "abstracted". For example, the "one-catch ability" is designed from the start without any connection to the in-world reality, while hitpoints (my conception of them, not nessecarily the original game designers') are designed from the start to represent a very wide range of possibilities that are likely to occur in that reality. With a dissociated mechanic you need to shoehorn an in-game explanation after the fact, while with an abstract (associated) mechanic the explanation is assumed to have been present all along. Or to put it another way: You know better than your character why she can't use the ball catching ability twice the same day, but she knows better than you how she managed to side-step that fireball.

      Delete
    3. This is a somewhat complicated topic. This is also an opinion blog. This is not an academic journal.

      For some un-named readers, this fairly obvious distinction escapes their view. Or they are aware of it and are unable to figure out what exactly that means for the type of content presented. I am not talking about either Ronson or Picador.

      You bring up very good points. The issue is, in the endeavor to be entertaining to those sitting down on monday morning reading their Monday Morning news would not be served by a dry explicit breakdown of point by point exhaustive explanations. So I likely assume an intelligent reader (like Ronson or Picador), who will either draw their own conclusions or think of an intelligent question for discussion and bring it to me.

      Often, people are unwilling to do this. They don't bother to either read what I have written and instead respond to something they think I'm saying or they become upset at the dissonance they have and don't actually make an addressable point. Somehow this translates into their head that I'm uninterested in discussion.

      I am very busy. I work a full time job, I am a working writer and artist. I also have a little blog I write for. I have a wife and six-month old child. If readers (again, not people in this comment thread at this time) cannot take the time to work out what specific concrete thing they wish to discuss is, then it is likely they might feel I'm not interested in discussing thing. The truth is, I am. I just can't address logorrhea.

      To address your comments:

      I quickly mention and talk about several things. I also conflate two uses of the words "Fiction First" in the article.

      The first use of "Fiction First" used is as the technical term used in games like Apocalypse World. The second, looser, use of the term, is literally having to decide the way in which something is done before the resolution of a thing.

      The other conflation is the issue of abstracted versus concrete. This is related to the above by being forced to decide the way in which a thing happens (Concrete) before resolution as opposed to having an undefined, but not necessarily disassociated way a thing happens (abstract).

      The specific issues that I am referencing when I talk about the fiction first problem are as follows.

      1. AW has explicit instructions on page twelve that if the player does not describe the way in which they are using the move the DM should stop play and make them. Not a suggestion, a rule. In my experience with AW, this is akin to asking someone to describe how they are attacking every time they make an attack roll. My problems with it are as follows.
      1a) It comes up a lot. How many different ways can you say "I hit it with my axe."?
      1b) In my experience, it often causes the situation where someone says "I do this cool thing." and the reply is "That doesn't happen." This happens maybe thirty times in a session.
      1b1)This sucks.
      1b2)It takes a lot of time and creativity out of the players which is wasted
      1c) It stops play while the player sits thinks of something.

      I understand that some people don't play it that way, but it isn't a suggestion. It's an explicit rule. Some people have said they just let players say they are going aggro. That's what I'd do. Rule 0 doesn't mean a rule isn't an issue.

      Delete
    4. Now I've seen responses to this about how it's "roll-play over role-play" and I understand those responses. However when I "role-play" in our games we are not taking the "role" of a character as an actor would, but are instead as a player acting out the "role" of an individual unit in a regiment - Taking the role of a commander, fighter, wizard or other single unit on the wargaming table. This is the original use of the word in relation to "role-playing games". I talk about that extensively here. This does not mean one is better or worse than the other. It just means that the argument that I am talking about "roll-play" over "role-play" is a poor one. My players do plenty of talking and making choices and investigation. They just aren't concerned about accurately representing fictional people.

      I understand that sitting around thinking of the fiction is the game to some people. This is fine. I don't play those types of games. As mentioned in the article, marketing those games as being like a traditional game is false advertising. There are stronger objections I have to the idea that waiting for someone to come up with the fiction is the game, but then I like progressive metal also, so far be it from me to rain on someone's taste. I only focus on the concrete issues in the article above.

      2) Abstraction versus Disassociated Mechanics
      This is not the focus of the article so is somewhat glossed over. Having an abstract resolution method (a to-hit roll for instance) is not a disassociated mechanic. You roll the dice to do damage and your opponent is closer to defeat. How that occurs is completely abstract.

      4th edition powers are disassociated, because they do very specific mechanical things that are not associated with actions that the character takes.

      I can for instance, fire a lazer from my sword that explodes in a bomb and damages everyone in a 2 burst area. However, I cannot fire a lazer from my sword when I am not in combat. Because I am not actually firing a lazer from my sword. I am just getting the mechanical result. If I try to fire this lazer at a door, I can't. It's because I am not actually firing a lazer-bomb.

      If it is a lazer, can I bounce it off a mirror? No. Are people in reflective armor immune? No. etc. It isn't really a lazer.

      And yet, in an anti-OGL move, the powers were named explicit things so that they could be copyrightable. These specific things described in the fiction were what the attack was supposedly doing (i.e. firing a lazer). However, since that wasn't actually what was happening the mechanic was disassociated.

      Delete
    5. Your question brings up a very good point about association in the game world.

      Why is a daily power stupid while a magic item that is used 1/day isn't?

      Because in the game when the character goes to use the magic item a second time, it doesn't work. It's out of juice. But if a character can perform the power "one-catch ability", why can't they just do it again? Why can't they do it out of combat?

      This is a mechanical effect abstracted away from the reality of the world to balance a game, versus something abstracted because the method in which it occurs can be decided later.

      Just because we don't know how you save, doesn't mean that the way you save is disassociated. It's abstracted and flexible.

      Saying you're making a reflex save (in 3.x/PF) or using Radiant Pulse(TM) (in 4e), means you have already decided within the fiction how something is occurring, but that the results in play don't follow from that fiction.

      I am aware that this conflation of 'fiction first', (1) about making sure everything has logical results within the fiction by putting it first and (2) creating dissociated mechanics by describing a concrete action in the fiction that doesn't have logical results that would occur if the action would take place are two very opposite results of the idea of putting the fiction first.

      I try to think of eight impossible things before breakfast. I hope that clears up the confusion.

      Delete
    6. Thanks so much for the extensive response. I had hoped simply to provoke a group discussion in the comments thread; I'm gratified to the point of embarrassment that you took it upon yourself to compose such a thorough reply.

      So I'm submitting the following solely to try to spark further discussion on this point, with no expectation of a reply from anyone in particular.

      1. I agree 100% with "fiction first" being a problem, for all the reasons identified above. I'm a big fan of "resolution, then description".

      2. I also understand some of the complaints about dissociated mechanics. The "one-hand catch" mechanic from The Alexandrian, and the laser-beam-sword mechanic described above, are both potentially annoying mechanics because of the way they leave players scratching their heads about what, exactly, is going on in the game world and what their character can do with these powers.

      3. My skepticism about the positions taken here and on The Alexandrian is not grounded in later editions of D&D (I haven't played any), but in the domain of story games.

      4. Most story games have a "resolution, then description" mechanic. So far so good.

      5. However, many also have one or more dissociated mechanics. Or at least, I think they do.

      6. For example, you might have a currency players can spend to achieve in-game effects which doesn't correspond to anything concrete in the game world. The Shadow of Yesterday has various fairly abstract Pools that are refreshed by social interaction, for example, and are spent to influence conflict resolution. Thus, a player in TSoY might spend a point from his Instinct pool to win a conflict, then ground the effect in the fiction by narrating a series of fortuitous events which result in his character achieving his goal for the scene. Or better: the Instinct point is used to fuel a magical effect which in turn leads to the achievement of the character's goal. If that point exhausts the Instinct pool, that character can't use the same magical effect again until the Instinct pool is refreshed by, say, playing a game of cards with a friend.

      Delete
    7. 7. This looks, from one angle, very similar to the laser-sword example. Why can't I cast the same spell again? Because I ran out of Instinct points, i.e., I did too many clever things, and I won't be able to cast it again until have a scene involving social interactions that recharge my cleverness meter.

      8. The difference being, I suppose, that players in story games tend to explicitly have an Author or Director stance rather than the Actor and Pawn stances mostly commonly used in old-school play. Which means that you make decisions for your character based at least in part on story structure, not just world structure. You can't cast your spell because the STORY doesn't allow it, not because the WORLD doesn't allow it.

      9. I think that the upshot of all of this is as follows:

      9a. In old-school play (as described here), ONLY the DM has director stance. The DM is responsible for grounding game effects in the fiction. Sometimes this is straightforward and concrete (the rules say you're dead; that means you're dead) and sometimes it's abstract and requires more creativity on the DM's part (you made your save vs. spells; the DM says that you managed to dive behind the table before the fireball exploded).

      9b. In story games, this process is very similar, but sometimes it is a player other than the DM who takes on the director stance to ground the mechanical result in the fiction.

      9c. However, in some story games the player occasionally has to make a CHOICE which is constrained by factors that have no in-game-world analogue, but are instead dictated by dramatic/narrative conventions coded into the rules (e.g. no more Instinct-fueled magic until you have a card-playing scene). This, as I understand it, is a big no-no for old-school play: the choices presented to a PLAYER have to be exactly the choices presented to the CHARACTER.

      10. So am I right that it's only point (9c) above that is what is meant by a "dissociated mechanic"? Or is it also (9b) and/or (9a)? Because it seems to me that the post on The Alexandrian is criticizing (9b), and possibly also (9a), not just (9c).

      Delete
  3. When I run, the relationship between fiction and rules is more dialectical. For example, you can't always make an attack. The ability to do so is conditional upon supporting fiction, not rules, at least in the versions of the game that I play. If you are tied up, you don't get to make an attack, even if you are in the middle of melee. That's fiction first. B/X and OD&D, for example, don't have any rules for that sort of thing, and I would argue that all character capabilities flow from the same kind of reasoning.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've only seen this system in action a handful of times, but I sincerely want you to take my money and give it to me.

    To say it is better than any social interaction system I've ever encountered is an understatement. I would go so far as to say that it's the ONLY social interaction system I've ever encountered that makes sense to me.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm with LS.
    You had me at "book/.pdf"
    It shall be had, and the having of it will be had by me.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I'm really intrigued here. I usually detest "social combat" systems, but being familiar with your gaming philosophy, I have a lot of hope that this will actually serve my needs. I really have trouble running NPC interactions, and I suspect that your method will help me focus on what the game needs from the interaction, without getting hung up on trying to shift gears from refereeing to "acting."

    Also, I appreciate your discussion of the difference between dissociated and abstract mechanics, even if that's a bit tangential to the post itself.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Interesting post.

    I wrote a hack of 4E that I called "Fiction First". The basic idea is that the player states an action for their PC and we resolve that action using the dice mechanics. With this approach I don't see the problems that you outline - there's a lot of organic discovery after the dice are rolled (because two conflicting actions can turn out in a number of possible ways, and one situation rolls into the next in unexpected ways) and play doesn't stop because dictating your PC's actions is the game.

    I worry about being an impartial DM/referee during social interaction, and I've thought about implementing some form of what you've written about social interaction in the hack - though perhaps in a different way, not sure yet.

    Anyway. The reason I run this way is because I found that, when the fiction isn't taken into account during mechanical resolution, the fiction falls away and focus is on the mechanics themselves. For example, when someone makes an attack roll, we just check AC vs. the result and subtract HP. We don't take any time to describe what just happened because the mechanics don't care - taking that time to describe the outcome doesn't change the choices the players have to make in the next exchange.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi, I don't mean to come charging to the defense of Apocalypse World here -- if you don't like the way that game works, that's totally your right of course, and I wouldn't dream of changing your mind. I fear you may misunderstand the way "fiction first" works a bit, however.

    The intention of the rule on describing what your character is doing is not so much for the purpose of making the player be creative and put him or ner on the spot as it is to clarify what is really going on. "I hit it with my axe" is a totally valid way to trigger either the "Go Aggro" move, or the "Seize By Force" move, depending mainly on whether or not the one you want to hit could hit you back. "Go Aggro" is sort of like an attack of opportunity, while "Seize By Force" includes both your attack and your opponent's counter attack. You don't need to embellish your action or describe the details of what the outcome could be at all.

    What doesn't work is saying "I Go Aggro on him" or "I want to Seize him By Force," because the move might not fit the situation at all -- the orc your trying to kill might be denied his chance to strike back at you, for instance, if you "Go Aggro," unless of course that's exactly the point, since you're attacking him by surprise. You should say, "I attack from the shadows!" and then you're done -- the GM will say, "cool, Go Aggro," and that's it. Essentially, it's just a different way of dealing with things that D&D handles with initiative, attacks of opportunity, and so on.

    It sounds to me that you're not so much opposed to "fiction first" as such as you are to the excessive burden of "pre-play", as it's sometimes called, which you sometimes get in games that ask you to set stakes beforehand, or engage in other similar bargaining before you can actually roll the dice. Apocalypse World and "fiction first" ought not to be conflated with that, because they're two different things.

    (By the way, if the GM in AW is saying "that doesn't happen" so often, that's actually against the "MC" rules of the game. They explicitly say that the GM should "be a fan of the player's characters," "make the player characters' lives not boring," and "look through crosshairs" at NPCs. Quite often, the GM may say, "okay that happens" without any need to roll for it. Check out page 108.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, what you say is all pretty clear.

      I really don't have a problem with pre-play. Happens all the time in my games. In fact, I would say most of my games are presenting situations, clarifying things and describing possible consequences. I don't have a problem with people describing their actions, and I don't have a problem with people not describing their actions.

      I have a problem with the Dungeon Master stopping play. Now, if you say that declaring the move doesn't give enough information on what is happening, then that seems to be an issue with the move. Only, I don't believe that's the case.

      The move does give enough information to describe what is happening. The player is trying to surprise hurt the opponent. Or he is trading blows with the opponent. Saying that you are doing the move contains all the information you need to know what the move is accomplishing, because the move is defined. It doesn't need clarification. I think that the fact the AW book specifically states that it does and that you better not move forward until you force your player to give it, is the crux of the issue I'm talking about.

      If that's the case, personally I don't care how the player does what he does. Maybe they do? If they do then they can tell me. But it doesn't seem like it's my job to make them. That's something I think is a real issue with the game.

      Why as a human being do I have to stop everything and tell my friend, "You didn't do it right. Do it again."? Not for me.

      Another issues, is that in my experience, in play, this type of 'pre-descriptive' attack results in a fairly frequent "Oh, that doesn't happen" type reply. This isn't because the "MC" isn't a fan, or is looking for his players to fail, it's because the players have failed on their roll.

      It isn't about a hostile relationship, or being unwilling to fiat things. It's specifically about the procedure of "Describe cool thing" -> "Roll" -> "Roll fails" as opposed to "Generic attempt (I attack or I save)" -> "Roll" -> "Describe a cool thing about what actually happened".

      This doesn't mean it needs defending. People love search checks. Actually playing a game in them where you roll them every 5'? Where they replace actual in character exploration? Not for me. I can tell you why.

      I'm sure this works for some people. I'm sure they can work around this issue or find some way to minimize it. But rule 0 doesn't actually make a thing not a problem. Never stopped people from using skill challenges, diplomacy, clerics, etc.

      Delete
  9. I don't see the argument that you should state what you're trying to do, roll to determine success (or even better, you're level of success) - and then narrate how you succeeded or failed with the action.

    The only mental hoop I have to jump through for this is that the player sometimes really does need to describe the how earlier than the resolution. This is generally the case if there are some stakes to the player for success/failure or degree of success/failure. For example, if I'm trying to bribe a public official, and I roll to barely succeed in my bribe - how much do I pay? What if now, as a player, I'm not willing to part with that amount? Or maybe I'm trying to strike a deal with the King of Hearts, and I'm going to have to make some compromise as a result. Again, the fiction can't completely follow here - the stakes need to be stated before the action takes place.

    One related question - if a player gives you a clever method, do you ever adjust the difficulty of the check or give a bonus to the roll as a result?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think my last comment didn't post for some reason... let me try to summarize:

    I understand letting the player roll for what they're trying to do, and then narrating how they succeeded or failed based on the die roll. The only issue I have with this process is that if there are any stakes involved, they need to be defined up-front so as to determine whether the player will be willing to accept even on a success. If I'm trying to bribe a guard, but don't offer any stakes, you might work the fiction into the die roll that I pay the guard a small sum or a larger sum based on the degree of success. I succeed by a small margin, but decide I'm not willing to pay the larger sum, and now the fiction-follows mechanic led us astray.

    A related question - between this post and the immersion post, you seem opposed to granting bonuses or changing difficulties on checks based on clever tactics. It looks like you make a clear distinction between player and character skill. What is your philosophy on listening to the "how" of an action and changing the difficulty of the check or providing bonuses on the resolution for a clever "how."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do not have any issue with setting stake before a roll - that often happens at my table.

      This leads to your second point.

      A clever tactic is one that obviates the roll. Saying "I want to strike the monster" gives you the same chance to hit as saying "I want to strike the monster really well and hard so that I chop its head off" That's the mechanic.

      If you want to do something else besides hurt the monster (such as wound it in a specific way) then we are back to talking about stakes.

      Delete
  11. If I play in a "system first" game, where do we draw the line?

    So my rogue is in an empty room dodging a fireball, I roll saving throw and succeed. The rogue did it (somehow). I now figure out an explanation...

    Should that saving throw have had a higher difficulty due to the lack of shelter? I guess that's up to the DM, right? Or does that add an element of "fiction first"?

    Should I have the option of describing how my rogue saves, possibly for a bonus? ("Fire only burns because of exposure to the heat... the rogue holds his cape over his face & hands, and runs directly at the fireball, leaping through it, and being exposed only for a moment.") - does the GM think "Hey, that would work!" and not increase the difficulty to save? This isn't really the same as saying "I chop off their head" and expecting a bonus on damage - it's more like saying "I drink my potion of mist" and expecting to be allowed to pass through a portcullis. It's telling the DM how your PC makes an action possible to achieve, when otherwise the DM might have thought it was impossible or more difficult.

    Assuming the difficulty to save is set by the game mechanics - a fireball has a difficulty of X against a reflex save... does that mean I can use other mechanical options without needing an in-game explanation? Can I roll my lockpick skill to escape the room, and come up with an explanation afterwards? ("I succeed. Let's pretend there was a door.") Or would I be limited by the fiction?

    Is there any difference between being limited by the fiction of the room-without-doors than being limited by the fiction of "there's nowhere to hide from this fireball"?

    You also talk a lot about stopping play, or telling players that they didn't do it right. Can the two co-exist? Can I, as a DM, say "the fireball shoots out. Roll reflex save" and either accept that roll, or accept the player saying "Right! My rogue was prepared for this, and does X action"? Nothing says I'm forced to give the rogue a bonus, but also nothing says that the description needs to slow down play just because it (or part of it) happens before the dice was rolled.

    Similarly, if a player says "So, I convince the guard to look away while the ranger sneaks past" isn't particularly slowed down by the GM asking "How?" - it's slowed down by the extra words as the player responds "I drop my pants, mooning him", or responds by saying "I go over and flirt" or whatever other thing. The "how" question doesn't have to, and shouldn't be, a statement of "you can't do that" or "making things harder" for the player. It should be a query so the DM can better tailor the game to the player's decisions. A game is all about players making decisions, right? Asking the player to make a decision, which might lead to a different skill being rolled, doesn't negate the value of the skill roll, nor slow down play.

    Does it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These are good questions.

      My only issue is not with fiction first, it's with forcing it; specifically in situations like "I kill the monster". 'I hit the monster' (implied 'with my weapon') should be enough. In many cases, and probably at most tables, it is. The text in AW says it's not.

      Your final example sounds fine.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...