Sunday, June 3, 2012

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before

(Note: There's a lot of traffic coming in on this post from G+ where people are asking about the 5th edition of D&D. This post is not about sth ed. I'm not talking about 5e because that. This post is about a dumb argument that keeps happening on the internet stirred up by 5e. If you wanna read that, carry on.)

This argument never ends, but D&D Type V has made it go round and round and round so many times I now know the whole thing by heart.

Never have this argument again, just cut and paste from this handily-numbered cliche farm:

______________________

(cue dumb argument...)
1. But that isn't fun. You play and then die and are dead, that isn't fun for anyone.

Depends who you are. You often do not die, but the possibility of death can be what makes it like a fun horror movie or an exciting challenge for many kinds of gamers. Gamers that, granted, aren't you, but still actual human beings.

2. Challenge based on what? DM whim about when you die?

Of course not, that really would be boring. The idea is the GM's job is to create challenges that can be won or lost fairly plus with a margin of randomness. If the GM fails to be able to do that, the game is not fun and everyone should stop.

Different groups need different levels of deadliness to feel tested.

3. Why not just write the rules of those challenges in the damn book at least rather than having the GM decide?

Because that would obviate the whole point of that kind of test: sometimes it's similar to the way a riddle works, you have to solve a thing within parameters, not succeed in a given direction.

4. Isn't that just pixelbitching and playing "what am I thinking?"

A good challenge doesn't work like that. Like with some real riddles, you can find an answer that fits the solution but isn't what the GM is thinking.

5. But that opens the door to the GM being arbitrary and a jerk and thinking up reasons your solution won't work.

Yeah the GM has to be good at both creating interesting challenges and expressing the kinds of things in the environment that you might use to overcome them. Affordances both expressed and implied. The GM has to not only be just hard enough to provide a challenge but open to solutions that make the game more fun.

6. Well don't you think that's a problem?

Dude or ma'am, the GM has to: write interesting fictional content, be the switchboard operator of a multi-hour conversation, convince people s/he's fair-minded, express the "grit level" and kinds of affordances you'd see in an environment and create challenges that are not so hard all the players die and are frustrated but not so easy that they get bored like when you are playing a video game on Easy mode plus give you snacks. Yeah, it's a hard job. But so?

(6a. Wait, are you saying if I don't want to do all that challenge/affordance stuff I'm not a "good GM"?

Not at all. A good GM does what any good creative person does: defines goals and then does all s/he can to fulfill them. A good GM who rolls in the high-lethality style has to do certain things. A good GM who is more about something else has to be good at other stuff. Either way, you have to fill that 2-12 hours of game time with Good GMing of one kind or another. If you're a good chef making an omelette, the things you must do are different than if you are making a tuna casserole.)

7. Most peoples' GMs can't do all that stuff in #6 and many GMs and players would like to have some back-up and not have to worry about all this business.

Um, sure, but if you roll back to the beginning we weren't talking about "most GMs" we were talking about whether it was possible for this thing to be fun and it is.

8. What if your GM sucks and doesn't know it?

What if your friend who is giving you a ride to the airport sucks at driving and doesn't know it? Suck it up, talk to them about it or get a different friend to give you a ride.

9. I hereby posit that all GMs who do this suck and do not know it and none of the people playing have fun but refuse to say so for social reasons.

Um, actually I was in the OP's game and it rocks and was fun and I have and would eschew other ways to spend my time to play in it again.
(others chime in)
Me too!
Me three!
Me four!

10. You aren't everybody, though. Or even representative of most people.

We aren't everybody, we didn't say we were. The whole original point was "This kind of game isn't fun for anyone". It is fun for some people.

11. Ok, this kind of game may be fun but it is not fun for anyone who does not have a given personality flaw: pointless nostalgia, immaturity, fear of change, etc etc
You are getting perilously close to abstract statements impossible to prove or disprove (or simply tautology) but here is a person who in no way fits your thesis who enjoys a high-lethality game...
Hi! (Waves young, non-Caucasian stripper hand with fantastic nails.)
(People fitting essentially every other sociological profile including game designers and authors and a few actors you like also wave.)

12. Well it's just they have never played a better game.

Wait, actually they have played and enjoyed different kinds of games with the same and other GMs who were also good (Keith Baker good enough for you?) and like both. Some may even like the high-lethality game better.

13. Well I secretly posit that all the players who have designated themselves as enjoyers of this kind of game have crippling personality flaws. I will not tell you this, but use it as my secret reason to myself to bring this up over and over in the face of what appears to be airtight reasons not to.

Not much I can do about that. I'll get back to you right after I'm done getting this three-girl blowjob while listening to Onslaught at maximum volume and eating a chicken cutlet sandwich with melted M&Ms and reading JOESKYTHEDUNGEONBRAWLER.

14. Ok, but about your friend with the nails: sure but that's not most people.

Again, we aren't having a conversation about most people, we're having a conversation about whether it is possible for humans without crippling personality flaws to enjoy this style of play on account of words that came directly off of your keyboard. Proving something is possible is easy--just produce one example. Proving something is common is some whole other thing I don't care about.

15. Ok, I grant that this style of play can be desirable, but it inhibits Other Desirable Game Thing like for example characters with any depth or interestingness.

First of all, campaigns are long and the high-lethality part of the game is not necessarily all of it. Second, the character that survives the highly lethal parts of the game is often treasured and developed and identified with all the more just for having survived. Also, the PC very often has acquired interesting characteristics while you got to experience it happen in the course of the game because fear of death is the mother of invention.

16. Well I like a game where I get more narrative control over the kind of interesting my PC is.

Well depending on how much you want, that is something that is hard to do. Puzzles (and, therefore puzzle-like phenomena) are very often by definition a thing where the solver does not have narrative control over the thing to be solved.

There are possibilities even here though: You can chop the game up into phases with different sorts of rules and procedures for different phases (like character generation vs. the actual dungeoncrawling v. PC downtime) or you can play a different kind game. In Jeff's game, for example, you have a ton of narrative control when you're not in the dungeon--people buy sell and create things all the time there. Anyway, we are mostly talking about a kind of fun being possible for a well-adjusted human, not whether all possible ways to have fun all must always appear together.

17. Well then so what if I do that and it doesn't work?

Then do something else until you gain that confidence. Like any creative activity, knowing yourself is a key part of being good.

18. Well anyway this lethal playstyle seems boring and invites conservative play so cautious I'd fall asleep.

Actually a good GM can create situations by accident or design which reward alacrity as well as shrewd caution. The bold and aggressive players in my game have fun and like it, despite the risk. Like in Super Mario sometimes its best to just RUNNNNNN immediately all the way past the jumping fish and immediately fireball the guy and sometimes it's best to sit for a bit and watch for a pattern.

19. What's "alacrity" you fuck?

Look it up.

20. Hey wait I'm a fictional person you just made up in an example, why are you making me dumber than you? I know what "alacrity" means. That's a totally dick move.

Sorry. My bad. Anyway...

21. Anyway, right, now that I'm fixed: Creating both of those types of situations would appear to require good GMing.

Yeah, I never said it didn't. Your GM should be good. Just like the person who drives you to the airport should be good at driving. We're back to that again.

22. I have never experienced such GMing.

Are we back to the thing we did a minute ago where you claim this does not exist and I produce players who say they like they experienced it and they did? Back at #9?

23. Of course not. But, it's rare which means: Should a commercial product rely on that GM existing if it's rare?

I'm not talking about a commercial product. I said I like a thing, you said it was always unfun for all good people, I disproved that (to the degree you will accept anyone who isn't you's own testimony as evidence).

24. Well I just don't think official D&D should be that way because I don't like it and I think lots of other people wouldn't either.

So you're moving the goalposts into this "ok but what grows the hobby" territory?

25. Yeah.

Ok, well you might be right. Someone should do some market research. If they care.

26. Why wouldn't you care?

Is this what all this is about? Someone goes "I like this" or "I want this" and you assume they are claiming 'This will definitely make some game company some money and/or grow the hobby?"

27. Well I saw someone do that on this forum once and...

Well we're not talking about that forum where some idiot lives. We are talking about "Is it possible for x to be fun".

28. Well anyway this playstyle is always terrible for new players.

Uh, hello, I got lots of both new and experienced players who are into it. Unless you are denying their existence you just lost that one.

29. Well anyway this playstyle often results in arguments and long-term trauma when people fail to socially negotiate how this stuff works with their GM and die and it feels unfair and they are sad.

If you are blaming the rules or playstyle instead of the people who use it to be pricks because they can't communicate or are just actually assholes then you need to take a closer look at who you play with. Are you seriously suggesting that because you saw or heard about this horrible trauma it is an inevitable consequence for any given group of people?

30. What if there isn't anyone else to play with but these jerks?

Then prioritize: get a life first, then worry about killing bugbears.

31. Did you just tell me I didn't have a life if I played a game and it made the people in the game act like jerks?

Yes. That or you're 12. Learn the Explosions In Space Rule. Use it.

32. Well if you just make a narrow claim like "Some people without personality problems enjoy this playstyle and nothing bad happens" then you're not saying much.

No I'm not. But if you go up there and read what you wrote you'll see that someone said that tiny little narrow thing and you argued with them about it.

33. Well--wait, how come I'm the jerk in this totally made up dialogue? It's just as plausible that I'd go "I like tactically complex, heroic persona, lethality-unlikely-because-character-survival-and-therefore-development-play-is-optimized-for play" and somebody would argues with that totally unarguable statement of opinion?

Why? To be honest, I could've made either party the jerk. This conversation only ever happens when someone is being a jerk. If you say "I like this playstyle" and somebody goes "That's never fun unless you have this personality flaw" that person is always being a jerk.

34. You point that out a lot.

It's true a lot. Also: since this very long argument only ever is triggered when one party is a jerk and creates a lot of words on the screen, it gives an impression there are more jerks than people who are just like "You like that? Cool." or "Some days I'm in the mood for deathpuzzle diegetic problem-solving and sometimes I'm in the mood for other stuff".

35. Ok, but wait, you're saying I can't solve puzzles and think unless I play a high-lethality game? Because let me tell you, buddy, just because...

No I am not saying that. In fact low-lethality high-tactical-interplay games rely on a whole other kind of problem-solving skill based on known and transparent rules. It's a real skill and is interesting. It also requires a kind of creativity to think this way. And, of course, a game where you have so much narrative control you have to keep inventing stuff to keep the game interesting requires creativity, too, but a different kind.

36. But some guy on some forum somewhere said...

I'm not that guy and neither is whoever you picked a fight with, otherwise I wouldn't be defending them.

37. Ok, now you're writing me kind of whiny.

Sorry. It's hard to reproduce the tenor and multidirectional attack vectors of this kind of argument without including all arguments I've ever heard, which is bound to make you look dense when consolidated down to one symbolic imaginary person.

38. Alright, well then now I have to bring up all the people who tell me I'm an anime World of Warcraft illiterate attention-spanless entitled baby for liking...what was it I'm supposed to be liking? 4e?

Those people are irrelevant to this discussion and should die a thousand deaths. You experiencing suffering does not license you to be wrong.

39. Umm..did we cover every cliche? Oh wait, how about: "Why are you arguing with me about this you nerd!?"

Because I am curious about what assumptions about life could cause a person to take a position which appears to me to contradict observed and reported reality and am wondering if I missed anything. I have to have a conversation to find that out.

40. Oh, got one: "Well, it's just my opinion, mannn aren't I entitled to my opinion?"

First: you are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts, second: that is an explanation of the rhetorical tactic you just employed and if you didn't know that you should read it.

41. This post is really boring.

You're telling me. I never want to have to write any part of this ever again or see anyone I know who might potentially have something useful or interesting to say about games get involved in any part of it. That's why I wrote it out here. Maybe enforcing its status as a cliche--like "roleplaying vs rollplaying" or "realism" will shut some people up so they can move on. We did, after all, eventually get people to realize Jack Vance was a person who wrote some good books that weren't by JRR Tolkien. Anyway, that's why there's numbers, so you can just go "Hey JR McSuckinstuff, you are at #37 on this conversation, read it".

42. But your site is blocked where I work, I can't read it.

You have my permission to cut and paste it whenever.

43. But I am in the middle of an argument with someone who posts a link to this blog to prove their point and it's blocked at work but I don't want to admit it so I am just pretending I read it and I keep arguing. Like with smug smilies and stuff.

Yeah, maybe just always cut and paste, then.

44. Couldn't at least half of this argument have been obviated just by playing this kind of game with a good GM on G+ and seeing what it was like for myself?

Yes.

45. I still disagree because I didn't read this, it was like long or something...

Ah, the desperate "it was poorly written" defense. While not a logical fallacy, this is often pulled out just because the actual argument is airtight and the person arguing against it can't figure out what to say back so pretends to misunderstand. Kinda like Ronald Reagan saying he didn't remember selling arms to Iran. However, if you really want to say that, just quote the part where I lost you and I will re-explain it to you.

70 comments:

  1. I'm glad I'm in a hobby that has people like you in it, Zak. This was a fantastic read, causing me to relive fond memories of both the logic class I took freshman year and the time I spent studying other DMs and parsing what I liked and didn't like about their styles in order to help develop my own.

    On an unrelated note, I'm picturing you in a smoking jacket, fez and monocle for that three-girl blowjob/Onslaught rock-out/chicken cutlet sandwich. Just classy as all fuck.

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  2. Man that completely imaginary person you were just arguing with had some crippling personality flaws. I wanted give them a hug and tell them it was going to be okay. If they weren't completely imaginary you should have just run a game for them.

    But that might be because playing with you and Jeff Reints is sorta how I imagine playing with Gygax and Arnson would have been like.

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  3. Ever think some people *like* attempting to nail jello to a wall? :-)

    In all seriousness, this is a very useful post which will no doubt see a metric fuckton of linkage in the coming days. I know I coulda used this write-up in particular a few times at my local meet ups! I might want this on a T-shirt come to think of it...

    Oh, and you'll probably catch this real quick, but I figured I'd mention it anyway.... Your numbering is off by +1 after the 30th exchange.

    thanx!

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  4. but if you're willing to actually play this style with a good GM on G+ then you probably won't start this argument.

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  5. Then can block you from their thread, but they can't stop you from holding them up to the light.

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    Replies
    1. "They" are pretty vain if they think this thread is about "Them".

      This argument happens everywhere on the web.

      Delete
  6. "5. But that opens the door to the GM being arbitrary and a jerk and thinking up reasons your solution won't work."

    This is the one that drives me up the wall. Is the GM holding a gun to these people's heads to make them play in their jerkwad game?

    Why do people think that the solution to playing with a dickhead is to make "don't be a dickhead" a rule? When did that EVER bloody work?

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  7. This is pretty awesome and nicely makes an important point: there is a huge difference between "I have a different play-style than you" and "nobody has the play-style you are advocating" One can be the basis of interesting discussion; the other is pretty much bound to be unfruitful.

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  8. The idea that regulating against bad DMs seems to be behind so many of the "advancements" of recent years in roleplaying games.

    I wrote about the issue a while ago but I'm glad to see such a comprehensive refutation of all the points that are commonly leveled against the OSR playstyle so eloquently put forward.

    Bravo, indeed.

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  9. You have so much more patience than I do, to write this.

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  10. Y'know, it's never seemed to me (speaking as a fancy hippie gamer most of the time) like this kind of play is unfun or impossible, but just that it's 1)really hard to get to reliably (at least when one starts playing) and 2)most texts that claim to teach "how to play" are dreadful for this style-I think maybe Tunnels & Trolls and the Red Box are the closest thing to real exceptions.

    So, yeah, the best solution to all of this is folks talking about how to do it, and what the principles of good DM'ing for this style (or any style) really are.

    Which is what you're doing the rest of the time on this blog. The only irritating thing is when people talk about "good GM'ing" as if it were 1)all one thing and 2)just "the natural thing" to do.

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    Replies
    1. A "good GM" is like a good anything. They achieve the task they take on. What task they take on is largely a matter of playstyle.

      Delete
    2. Playstyle and system. I think they're distinct.

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    3. They are distinct. Only one matters.

      Delete
    4. The best case scenario for beginners is to learn by doing, ime.(Joining an ongoing campaign, doing a oneshot at a gamestore, jumping into a G+ game, etc...) Failing that, the blogosphere, various fora, and newsgroups have a wide range of well-informed and generally friendly individuals who can assist puzzled newcomers. I generally point people interested in Old-School at This Very Blog and Jeff's Gameblog. Personally, I advise neophytes to view the I Hit It With My Axe webisodes for a great example of a home crew adventuring in a customized, interesting setting with a demonstrably capable(if not superior, imo) GM who illustrates the virtues I personally esteem in a referee: flexibility, patience, rules mastery(he's the master of the rules[with helpful player input, of course]), humor, creativity, and gregariousness. In addition, you get KK.(She's my favorite!) Moar Axe. :-)

      As for intro texts, here's my ¢2 on which works might be helpful for anyone looking:

      'Olde Skule', yo. You can't go wrong with Tunnels and Trolls!(Especially the seminal 5th Edition[5.5 currently]) In truth, *anything* written by Ken St. Andre.(Stormbringer 1st is another standout.)
      To that, I would add Holmes' Blue Book(also see his works of/about fantasy), Moldvay's Red Book(the 'B' from B/X), and Erick Wujick's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness(now called After The Bomb, but still authored by him.), Beyond The Supernatural 1st Edition, and Ninjas and Superspies. And for my money, Call of Cthulu(any edition) breaks it down right. Also invest in the AD&D DMG, by E. Gary Gygax, of course!

      For that 'Nu Skool' flavor, I'd go with West End Games Star Wars, 2nd Edition(authored by the inestimable Bill Slaviscek), Mike Pondsmith's Dream Park(an underrated gem with info on scaling opposition, constructing narratives, building 'relevant' NPCs, and it even picks apart the novel the game is based on in useful and interesting ways.), Ralph Mazza and Mike Holmes' Universalis, and Erick Wujick's Amber Diceless.

      Dang, I hope this wasn't *too* tangential. :-)

      Delete
    5. Zak, sure, I get it. Only system matters. (I kid). Seriously though, isn't it possible that this is something of a blind spot given that you've developed so many ways to get your preferred playstyle going that you end up changing systems you play with such that they're all effectively the same (and therefore support your preferred playstyle)?

      (Please don't read me as demanding an answer or whatever-I didn't say that 'cos I'm sitting here all like "I've trapped him-with my logic!" My experience, after I first ran the Mormon game and My Life With Master, involved making the mistake of thinking that, because those games work as written, that of course one can & should port all the tricks in their texts to get their playstyle onto all other games, and it hurt my play of other games.)

      Veteran, I get you about ways to start and agree that there are some good texts (I did mention T&T and Red Box D&D in my original, for instance). I started with T&T 5ed, so I'm always going to give that book love. And it is more possible to get good advice out the gate than it's ever been. I give lots of credit to the OSR (and Zak is a shining example of that) for making talking about how to play a key issue.

      My only beef is with the way that this gets deployed online, too often, as 'you just need a good GM' as if it were the end of an argument, rather than the place to start articulating how you do the good GMing thing in this instance, relative to the goals you want to achieve. It's a bad conversation that doesn't get to that as quickly as possible.

      Delete
    6. @x the owl

      To be honest I don't really understand what you're talking about at this point but I would like to because it sounds interesting.

      I also don't know if you're talking about something I actually said being questionable or we're just at #36 here.

      Delete
    7. @x the owl
      I think it's common to over-state the "you need a good GM" aspect. In reality the bar is lower: is your GM a dick? If not, then you should be okay; the GM doesn't have to be some sort of super-GM to play OS style (although who's going to complain if they are?) but they do need to not be out to screw over the players.

      So, it's inevitably easier to define what is bad GMing than it is to be specific about what the non-dick GM might do because the latter is a vast area.

      Delete
    8. @ Zak-1st off, I read your whole post, but didn't realize that you were following up/responding to silly people having ridiculous internet arguments apparently at your expense. None of what I've said is about that, and I get that your imagined interlocutor is in some fashion emotionally committed to proving you wrong instead of actually talking to you.

      Onto substance-my only problem with your post is that whole good GM'ing thing. If your imaginary interlocutor is actually interested in having a conversation about this stuff, then #16-18 are where, to my mind, you go a little off the rails, since that's the point to be talking about what people actually do at the table to make puzzles cool, or to invite audacity, or to make character death real but not sucky and so on. And since I've always read you as being pretty interested in that conversation, it was kinda disappointing to see you fall back on "good GM" as opposed to "here's a way this works."

      I do take a bit of issue with your #29, and it is related to the issue I was apparently somewhat opaque about w/r/t tools to work one playstyle sucking hard ported to other systems. Here's an article about how to GM "My Life With Master":http://ipressgames.com/manifesto.html. Whatever one thinks of the game, the advice in that article works reliably to make that game more fun (for the values of fun MLWM provides). It seems transparently foolish to think that being a great MLWM GM translates perfectly into other systems. I'm guessing the folks you play with would leave the table immediately if someone tried.

      From my own experience, I found myself sputtering like crazy trying to DM Type IV as if it were the Mormon game. I tried to, essentially, use the game's (Type IV's) tools to create grabby situations with no pre-planned course or definitive resolution, and found that the game's tools really didn't help at all with that, and kinda made play sputter and suck (I'm oversimplifying greatly, but I know you've seen both games, and can probably see ways in which it might not work). It took a big mental twist and a decision to ref it like I used to ref Car Wars as a teen to make the game begin to work.

      So, my analysis is, that I took GMing procedures and techniques that work like crazy for the game they were written for and tried to port them to s system where they don't really work very well.

      Doing that means that I had to essentially throw out a lot of Type IV's system and tools and kinda rebuild the game from the ground up (or would have if I'd stuck with it). Shifting GMing priorities and ways of framing things made it easy for me to take the good stuff the game has and make it work for me. (And for shift, I really mean "make a huge screeching 180 in just about everything I had said I was going to be doing starting the game") Still doesn't mean I played as written, exactly, but since there's still plenty gaps in Type IV's procedures I didn't feel bad about that.

      So that's my just-so story. Reading some of your play posts it appears to me that you're kind of using the same system (in the broadest sense of "how we decide who gets to say stuff that sticks & when") for lots of different games. It works well for you 'cos you've found lots of ways to make it work across a bunch of games, but does that mean it's the only system worth talking about?

      I think that was more clear, and I'm completely open to the possibility that this is all a me-problem. Certainly the examples I've provided are laughably bad enough that it could be.

      Delete
    9. @ Nagora-"Don't be a dick" is kind of a minimum condition for any kind of play. It's like being willing to, say, try to play softball instead of standing in right field whining about the heat & the quality of the beer.

      So, yeah, lots of things go into good GM'ing (and playing!), for various people and various games and various times. Talking about them is still the more productive conversation.

      Delete
    10. re: 16-18 You have made an error: A good group handles itself and they have a good time. If the good GM lacks the skill to pull off a given thing (system, playstyle), then s/he doesn't DO that thing.
      You define your objective, then accomplish it. If you define an objective you cannot achieve--you suck, at least for that session. You can never blame the system. Like blaming a casserole recipe that you never tried before for ruining the dinner party. You chose it. Not choosing the wrong system for you _is a skill_.

      I talk about things so that:
      1-people who have not yet taken on a certain challenge might try it, armed with knowledge
      2-people who have ideas about what I say can tell me things i don't know so i can extend my own range.

      re: 29 Again: part of being a good game master is reading the text and figuring out how to run it so it's fun. If you can't do that, you lack a GM skill.

      A sushi chef is not a bread baker, but both are good if _they know which they are_ .That's the key--knowing yourself and your players well enough to evaluate the rules. If you don't you are a sucky GM until you do. Knowing your limitations is an important part of any creative activity. That way you know where you have a learning curve BEFORE you get burned.

      When you tried to run 4e and it didn't work it was _all your fault_. When you got better? That was also all you. (Good job!) The game could've helped you more, but it was not obligated to, and it would've been hard as it is a book, not a dynamic actor observing your friends--you know your players and self better than it could ever hope to. Each game MUST be tailored to fit a group (no RAW ever!!!) and if a game ever takes you into it's warm soft hands and tells you everything you need to know and it works that's just luck and coincidence (hippie theory to the contrary).

      As for your 2nd to last paragraph, it is hard to understand. "system"? I say any true thing I can think of that other people might benefit from. No system.

      Your message suggests you have bought whole the myth that a game text can be equally "accessible" to all readers whereas what actually happened with the games that came easy to you is you stumbled luckily upon a game that was legible to you. I don;t know where the myth of universally accessible language came from but I know it is popular among people who want to pretend AD&D was universally INaccesible so they can blame the system for not taking up the slack for them when they were young and argued with each other about the rules and got sad rather than maybe asking why they let that happen.

      Delete
    11. My last post was way too talky, so I'll just respond to a couple things I think worth saying. Not dodging you, just cooling off. Besides, we agree about a lot-I said straight out that my thinking that Mormon game skills could directly be translated (by me, for the benefit of anyone who has or thinks they have successfully done it)into 4e was foolish.

      "I say any true thing I can think of that other people might benefit from" is a hell of a lot of system. Given the depth in which you've written about it, I'd venture to say it's like, Hero System-crunchy. Add on what you have to say in response to what others say and you've pretty much written a game. It's pretty trivial to come up with lots of other ways to apportion talking, and that's all any system does.

      Second, it's not so much that I believe there's any such thing as universally accessible texts so much as texts that are more or less clear and easy to read. Some people may have easier or harder times with a given text, but there are genuine degrees of accessibility. Saying that doesn't require me to say that AD&D was inaccessible to everyone-lots of folks figured out ways to play from the books-or that the Mormon game is accessible to everyone-tons of Forge threads with jaw-dropping levels of do not get it bear that out. I can still claim one is more accessible, w/r/t telling you what to actually do to play the game, than the other.

      And, y'know, sure, Gary Gygax did not cause me to have stupid arguments with people, but he did put a lot of genuine suck into some of his books. Like those little "punish players for not playing their alignment properly" subsystems (lose a level if the DM thinks you've changed alignment in play, & DM rates your alignment performance [and roleplaying] and penalizes the character money & time if it's no good). I'm assuming we can agree that that's just as close as it gets to an objectively bad rule.

      The point is not that "Gary made people play this way" but that, without a set of principles (shared aesthetic, goals of play, can be roughly synonymous at this level of generality) from which the group or DM is approaching play (and "play D&D" or "have fun" are not particularly good guides in this regard) you don't really have anything to appeal to about whether or not this rule will be good. Gary certainly thought it was important (wrote a whole little sub-game for it!). Absent a set of genuine priorities for play, which need to be developed, at least in part, by attempting to play, there's no reason to single that rule out as special suck. (Assume here, that, "at least in part" is an attempt to allow for the possibility that a bunch of folks read Lankhmar stories and get this game that sez "play Lankhmar stories together". Still doesn't help anyone see, before playing it, that that rule is really bad.) And therein lies the desire for a text to try to tell you what it's for and how it'll help you do the thing it's for.

      I really do want to ask-no debate thing, no argument, just genuine curiousity, why "No RAW ever!" is such a point of principle. I'm happy to acknowledge that people actually playing by RAW can be pretty rare for lots of reasons, but the idea that roleplaying games are the only games in the world where all rules, to be good rules, have to be provisional and negotiated just strikes me as strange on its face. Lots of games get played in groups, so it's not an essential group feature, and lots of social creative activities are very clear about what we're here to do and why. So, I do not get the uniqueness of roleplaying in this regard.

      Again-no argument-just trying to set out the parameters of what an answer would look like to me.

      Delete
    12. 'NO RAW EVER. is enshrined in White Box(OD&D), Holmes Blue Book D&D, Moldvay Red Book D&D, *all* versions of T&T, Runequest, and pretty much all the original generation of RPGs. 'Make the Game Your Own' was the Whole of The Law. It's believed to stem from the tradition of tinkering with Wargame Rules to streamline and expand them. And, of course, for shiggles.(Fukkin with rules is fun stuff!) This inherent(and healthy) disregard for the RAW eventually spawned RPGs, as players like the late, great Dave Arneson decided to transgress strict guidelines on character interaction and awesome up a Braunstein or three with his natural deviousness and wit. From then on, it was Dungeon Delving, Wildernes Whacking, and Fireball Flinging for all! Thanx, Dave! :-) (As an aside: check how DA used to handle stats, races, classes, PVP bitd. Too sweet!)

      Delete
    13. We cannot at all agree that's an objectively bad rule. I don't use it, but I can imagine many social contexts (jocular, wargamey, thick-skinned ones) in which it'd be fine.

      Why never Rules As Written?

      Because RPGs are THE MOST COMPLEX KIND OF GAME. And not because of the math or even the pandora's box of storyworld simulation but because of the constant participation on a relatively high creative level of all the people involved and all their social weirdness.

      Saying you would not assume you;d alter the rules to fit the players is like saying you would not alter the script and direction of a film to fit the cast. I'm sure once in a while some house-rule-free game could work fine, but it should in no way be the default.

      RPGs need to be customized because people are all _profoundly different_ . And that's OK. Gygax and Arneson realized that from day one and wrote it into the early rules, & only said otherwise once money came into it.

      To suggest, essentially, that one would create rules for a 2hour long social situation & a 2-hour long creative situation (rules provided by a bunch of people you never met) & expect to follow them & never reconsider them is to suggest a level of social naivete I find staggering.

      As for levels of accessibility, well I think frankly the fact that niche games are marketed through niche channels to niche audiences who niche buy them gives them an inflated sense of their own "accessibility". But either way YOU may think there are clearly "more" and "less" accessible games but the fact is that's because you're you. The weird post-wargame semiacademic speak in the AD&D DMG probably seems way more accessible to a lot of people who'd be into D&D than the collegiate drumcircle language employed in many allegedly accessible games. People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different People are different, people are different people are different people are different and that's why you can't expect the game to know how you want to hear about its rules

      Delete
    14. @ Zak-I'm not sure I entirely follow you-something about differences in people? Dunno.

      You can't design rules for social and/or creative groups that you've never met? Google "improv games" "structured dialogic design" "group therapy practice" "how to run an AA meeting" "brainstorming techniques" "Stanford prison experiment" and lots of other things that I'm sure you're thinking of. No one sez it's easy, but people try and report real degrees of success all the time. I'm kind of at a similar pshaw when you say RPGs are the most uniquely complicated of all games-structured talking happens in lots of different games. I can leave it at that, 'cos "people are so very very different that they all require infinitely carefully customized stuffs" is not something you're being talked out of.

      The question really is, tho, if that's the case, why are your games (by your own report) so consistently good with new people, including internet strangers? And the answer can't be 'cos I'm a super-rockin' GM, 'cos you're saying, again and again, that the art of the thing is in customization by group.

      @velaran-two things-1)'cos it's always been that way, hence it's a good idea isn't really an argument as such.

      2)Re-read T&T (5e) in this light. I just checked, and while it says spot-rule, it also explicitly says that spot-rules set precedents and includes a remarkably strong stunting mechanic designed to give a strong guide as to how you spot rule well. It never says "just throw out anything you don't like" with the exception of including a book of specifically defined optional rules. It just doesn't say the thing you think it says.

      Delete
    15. @ Zak-W/r/t the "not objectively bad rule" thing-maybe you're kinda falling into the internet trap of arguing here? I can imagine lots of things, but a conversation that starts "I've been keeping a secret track of how well your talking about your dude lines up with how I think your dude should be talked about, and now you get to suck relative to everyone else 'cos I don't think you measure up." ending well among any group of people who act, y'know, like people.

      The internet habit of postulating a freaky counter-example, without any evidence that there either is such a group or even a compelling scenario in which it could be fun, is one of the things I kinda read you to be calling out in the post above.

      Delete
    16. @X The Owl:

      1)Tradition is no defence of ideas, certainly. But, the rationales of customization and skepticism seem like a good idea to me. I personally think Arneson, Gygax, and co. knew their stuff.

      2)Look at 1.1 Troll Talk. Starting with the 2nd paragraph on that page.

      To wit:

      Tunnels and Trolls will require that you actively use your imagination, not slavishly follow a set of rules around a world not of your making. Although there are many "rules" in this book that follows, please remember this: they are largely intended as guidelines to spare you the effort of re-creating everything yourself from scratch. If you find something that you would like to change to make the game more to your liking, then go ahead and change it, There is no "right" or "wrong " way to play, only suggestions. This Fifth Edition is an n attempt to clarify and exemplify the meaning of the playing "rules," and to expand with such new material which will help the whole system. In some cases the new rules and tables contradict those printed in the previous four editions. I feel that the new rules improve the game, lending it more playability and "realism," but the cardinal rule remains: adjust the system as you see fit to suit your own style of play.

      Ken St. Andre

      In other words no 'RAW', only advice.

      Delete
    17. @ velaran-You are correct on the T&T issue. My apologies for looking at the wrong sections in making my case-I got into the over-eager internet debate-y mode.

      No one disputes that all the old-school pioneers were smart fellows. It is debatable whether or not everything they did is obviously the right way. (It is certainly a right way, and I have never said otherwise.)

      Delete
    18. @x the owl

      "You can't design rules for social and/or creative groups that you've never met? Google "improv games" "structured dialogic design" "group therapy practice" "how to run an AA meeting" "brainstorming techniques" "Stanford prison experiment" and lots of other things that I'm sure you're thinking of. "

      In all of those cases, if you wanted MORE success you'd customize the thing. I am sure there are lots of "I ran an AA meeting and it didn't work so we do things slightly differently here" stories out there.

      Or "I went to group therapy and it didn't work" or, really, any number of things.

      It's not like "There's one way to do it and the one that works for 60% of people is objectively better than one that works for 40% of people". It's like "People are all fucking different so find out if they're in the 60% or the 40% or the 1% or--more to the point--realize you have a TINY group of people and narrow your rules to fit _every single thing that tiny sample might have in common_ then make new ones so _their energy feeds on each other_ .

      Customized things are gonna fit better. Who would argue with that? So you bought something off the rack and it fit perfectly once. Great. Still, if your main concern in life is fit, the services of a tailor will probably save you a lot of time and money and heartache. You need The Maximum Good, not An Acceptable Lowest Common Denominator For Tonight.

      "The question really is, tho, if that's the case, why are your games (by your own report) so consistently good with new people, including internet strangers? "

      OBVIOUS REASON: I exclude people I can't communicate with or who I don't think the game would work with. In real life this is by knowing them socially, but when it comes to "internet strangers" there is a very elaborate self-selection system going on here. Most people I roll with on-line got in touch to be in a game because they read this blog, decided to follow me on G+, etc etc --all these things winnow away people. It's the internet "you're in a bubble where everyone likes you" effect.

      When you go "Who wants to play D&D"? You are not excluding a lot of people.

      When you go "Who wants to play D&D with this guy who put out this specific D&D book you probably have or heard about and has this extensive list of opinions and actual play reports and likes these products and wants you to roll your PC using the rules printed here and have already had the following D&D-based conversations about..." then you are screening a lot of people out.

      Then you have an online group. Then you evaluate them socially during the game and change shit even more.

      Delete
    19. "The internet habit of postulating a freaky counter-example, without any evidence that there either is such a group or even a compelling scenario in which it could be fun, is one of the things I kinda read you to be calling out in the post above."

      Actually the exact opposite:

      The internet habit of claiming a phenomenon Does Not Exist (which you just did) is what I am calling out. That is one of the kinds of claims that can be disproven.

      Claiming Things Usually Happen a certain way is really really hard to prove especially in RPGs. All I have to prove a given Gygax rule could work for his group is ask some dude on Dragonsfoot for an example. Just because you lack the imagination to think of a kind of human being who isn't you doesn't mean that person does not exist.

      Personally I would totally play in a game where lightning punished my paladin for acting like my thief. I think it'd be funny (and it might not entirely stop me form acting like a thief). I wouldn't run that game for my current group of players but I'd totally run that way if it was, say...just Adam, Darren, Connie, and Caroline and the campaign was taking a sort of light-hearted turn.

      Delete
    20. Or to put it another way:

      The more popular way of doing things isn't "more right" it's just the one that works for a group of people that happens to be larger.

      Very often that group of people doesn't include the group you will be rolling with.

      Delete
    21. The rule thing-OK, fine. I still think it's important that you, in coming up with a fun rule, re-wrote in at least three significant ways: 1) the feedback is immediate-stop doing that vs. I know pronounce a judgment on all that stuff you've been doing, based on a secret chart I kept. 2)The feedback is temporary and does not make your guy matter less relative to everyone else. 3) You chose paladin for the rule (I think) the only class that explicitly includes a mechanic saying the DM can strip you of this class if s/he doesn't like what you're saying. I think these matter to the point of effectively making a whole new rule.

      The other thing-Empirically, lots of the things I mentioned pride themselves pretty strongly on the robustness of their procedures. AA meetings, for instance, have a really set way of dealing with people who come in to say "Bill W didn't know me" or tell war stories or don't do the thing the meeting is there to do, and it is the same for all participants-everyone says "thanks" and "keep coming back" and someone else speaks. (It's pretty important that really good participation gets exactly the same feedback as well) They're designed to be minimum-function procedures, true, but that's because that's part of how AA defines itself.

      Improv people might customize along the axis of "don't go to that fictional content with this person," but that's really not the same thing as "in our group, we block like crazy" The basic principles are remarkably robust across different improv groups and styles, in my experience.

      In both those cases, it's a minimum requirement of participation that "we all trust and use these procedures." W/r/t you getting reliably fun play, it seems like you're basically screening for people who trust and use stuff very similar to your procedures, plus generate nifty fictional content. Which is what I was suggesting when I said you use an extremely strong system.

      Bigger deal, is I'm not disagreeing at all with the idea that customization for individuals takes place. I just don't think that making the procedures of things the most important subject for customization is always the best way to go about it (and, I would submit, given your account of how you know who to play with, neither do you).

      The above is the reason lots of fancy hippie games have very little or none in the way of canonical setting-the awesome comes in when the group collectively customizes fictional material that they're all very jazzed by. That's true of MLWM, Sorcerer, the Mormon Game, S/lay W/Me, an lots of others. Not the only way to do customization given a group that is trying to trust the procedures, but a common and good one. It's the reason you'll never see the "fake-Utah super-setting" or the Sorcerer "Book O'Demons" or whatever.

      I'm cool leaving it there if you are, since I think the issue of what gets customized and how to customize and when or how procedures should be the customized thing is hella big. I mean if all we're disagreeing on is what to customize when you've got robust procedures (your 60%, as I read it), then we're just talking about ways to get more awesome, which is what you do on this blog anyway, so I'm not sure you need or want my input on that.

      [I get that you think I'm full of shit when I say you're using a big fat system. I'll explain if you want, but all I'd really be doing is repeating stuff Vincent Baker said here: http://lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=23]

      Delete
    22. I don't know what this means:

      " I just don't think that making the procedures of things the most important subject for customization is always the best way to go about it (and, I would submit, given your account of how you know who to play with, neither do you)."

      Please take specific statements made by me and quote them and tell me specifically where they are not correct.

      _
      I also do not know what this means:

      "[I get that you think I'm full of shit when I say you're using a big fat system."

      I do? Again:
      Please take specific statements made by me and quote them and tell me specifically where they are not correct.

      Delete
    23. I really don't think I'm calling you incorrect, chief. At most, I'm saying that, like it or not, you and the groups you play with have really strong deep-in-the bone procedures of play, that aren't really up for negotiation. Just 'cos it's not all written down doesn't mean it's not there.

      (I consider the new GM fiat post as evidence of this as well)

      I think the second is easier, so I'll start there. You said, a few messages ago, "As for your 2nd to last paragraph, it is hard to understand. "system"? I say any true thing I can think of that other people might benefit from. No system." I took that to mean that you don't think that that's a system. I'll stop here and be completely open to you saying I just misread you.

      If I'm right in the way I read you, I say it is (or, more accurately, a big chunk of one). I think your post about GM fiat bears this out, too, since you're articulating what "other people might benefit from" in a really strong fashion. You have lots of other ways to articulate this, and you use them as seems good/right/fun as needed. I find the Vincent Baker thing pretty transparent about this.

      w/r/t my reading of your "how I know who to play with" stuff-the quote I'm parsing is: "I exclude people I can't communicate with or who I don't think the game would work with. In real life this is by knowing them socially, but when it comes to "internet strangers" there is a very elaborate self-selection system going on here. Most people I roll with on-line got in touch to be in a game because they read this blog, decided to follow me on G+, etc etc --all these things winnow away people. It's the internet "you're in a bubble where everyone likes you" effect.

      When you go "Who wants to play D&D"? You are not excluding a lot of people.

      When you go "Who wants to play D&D with this guy who put out this specific D&D book you probably have or heard about and has this extensive list of opinions and actual play reports and likes these products and wants you to roll your PC using the rules printed here and have already had the following D&D-based conversations about..." then you are screening a lot of people out."

      I did misread this a bit, since I at first took you to mean you were also seeking out people who made cool shit, which is entirely my bad. Still, you're saying that the self-selection process weeds out people who don't want to play using your system. Since there are apparently lots of folks who don't believe that a system without, for instance, strict rules about "what stuff the GM doesn't get to talk about" written down can work, you're pretty much screening for buy-in to "my procedures of play/system." (I think you do follow such rules, though-do you get to say what a PC thinks about stuff? How they feel? I'm guessing you only get to do so under very limited and negotiated circumstances, if at all, even if you technically reserve the right to do so. If you buy that Baker stuff, we're only talking about what you actually do at the table.)

      Delete
    24. It also seems worth pointing out that one of your big jobs, as I read your system, is having lots of ways to generate imaginatively potent fictional content. This ties in with my earlier stuffs 'cos it seems like that's often the site for customization as needed for individuals. I mean, would it be harder to get you to let me play a bard in one of your games or to convince you that it'd be fun to let another player decide what monsters come out and what they do (Although I wouldn't be likely to try either, the second seems like it would also be damn-near objectively unfun with the "old-school style"-just a parenthesis. Dismiss as you please)?

      All that feels pretty straightforward to me. Reading over this thread, I'm prepared to cop to some nonsense and overstatement on my part, but I do care about having this conversation. Going back to my original reason for posting, I hope it at least makes sense for me to say that I translate "good GMing" in the original post into "really strong and mindful attention to working with a set of procedures I call old-school."

      Delete
    25. "you and the groups you play with have really strong deep-in-the bone procedures of play, that aren't really up for negotiation."

      Incorrect.
      They can always always protest or leave.

      ""As for your 2nd to last paragraph, it is hard to understand. "system"? I say any true thing I can think of that other people might benefit from. No system." I took that to mean that you don't think that that's a system. I'll stop here and be completely open to you saying I just misread you."

      Yes, you misread. Iwas trying to figure out what the hell you were talking about and then I described what was in the content of my blog. "Hey look, one page dungeons!" is not a system.

      "you're pretty much screening for buy-in to "my procedures of play/system."

      Duh. however, anyone I want to play with can negotiate to change those.

      "would it be harder to get you to let me play a bard in one of your games or to convince you that it'd be fun to let another player decide what monsters come out and what they do "

      If I wanted to play with you enough, either thing could happen. You mistake me explaining a procedure (repeatedly) to saying I'd play no game that followed another.

      " I translate "good GMing" in the original post into "really strong and mindful attention to working with a set of procedures I call old-school.""

      You have translated entirely incorrectly and have made a disastrous error. I fear you are not paying attention. I fear you are dangerously illiterate or trolling this error is so disastrously, painfully incorrect

      "Good GMing" means "really strong and mindful attention to whatever motherfucking procedures and rules and actions and content you are using and who you are using them with and whether they are compatible with an eye toward distributing maximum fun."

      AGAIN: IF YOU CHOOSE _Any Way_ OF GMING and your players walk away unhappy or less happy than they could;ve been, you fucking did it wrong or they did. It just so happens with me and my players this way happens to be what works for us. If I switched players I might very well switch procedures.

      A chef wants to make a good meal that is tasty. That is all. If you decide to do salty, do salty right, if you decide to do a dessert. do a dessert right. If you decide to use player-generated environmental content fucking use it in an interesting way. If you decide not to, make that decision make that game better in a different way

      Delete
    26. Fuck it. You win. Whatever I accused you of, I retract it. However I insulted you, I apologize.

      Delete
    27. @x the owl

      I am not insulted and you should not take your toys and go home. I swear a lot, it is not an indicator of anger or offense.

      If you are confused, read this:
      http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2012/02/another-utility-post.html

      And then explain, take specific statements made by me and quote them and tell me specifically where they are not correct.

      Delete
    28. Can I just recap what I thought I was trying to say instead? I'd rather be able to say that we actually had a conversation than that I proved you wrong. I'm really & truly pretty unsure as to what we disagree about.

      I read the post I was commenting on as you responding to various & sundry internet arguments about how certain mechanics relying on"strong GMing" are inherently unfun. I thought my first comment was just an attempt to say that invoking "good GMing" as a solution was unhelpful and potentially cut off better conversations about how to do specific GMing things. I thought it was disappointing that you, specifically, whose response to lots of other GMing problems is to come up with neat-o ways to do the thing, just fell back on "good GMing" as the solution.

      I'll skip over a bunch of stuff to the point where it seemed like the conversation was going off the rails, which was my "why is no RAW an rpg principle" question.

      In my post after the "people are different" post, I should have been clear that I intended my examples as amplifications of "what an answer should look like" rather than more arguments-I really meant it as a question, not a debating tactic. It really seemed(and still seems) to me like a really strange place to plant a design principle flag.

      So, your next post looked to me like substantive agreement to at least some version of "rules that structure social and/or creative activities workably are possible." We differ about how well they can work, and whether altering them to fit specific people is always desirable. That's my AA example-the procedures don't get altered based on an individual participant's engaging with what we're here to do or not. That's (to them) literally a matter of life and death. I thought that the improv group example is an example of an instance where some alteration based on people's real issues is generally warranted, but the "how we do this" is really not up for debate.

      I was trying to suggest that customized procedures are not always the ideal customization axis, and sometimes they are actively counter-productive. I think that this might be the case in RPG design, for at least some sets of procedures.

      I also start committing a rhetorical boner of saying "I know something about you you don't." Dumb. So, cards on the table: I thought, based on my reading of, especially, the time when your group played S/Lay w/Me & Dread (tho really just S/lay, 'cos I haven't read/played Dread) and the kinda flag-waving tone of the "internet-argument ender thing that provoked this response, that you've got this really excellent system that makes a lot of things work well, and that you choose to call "playing D&D" 'cos it involves 20-sided dice (a little charity, here, please-I'm trying to get over a lot of ground here, and not being careful in my phrasing)-and thought is in the past tense for sure at this point-I was really focused on the "no system" thing and thought I had to convince you that you were in fact using a system. (Am I correct in thinking that you're in agreement with VB's definition of system?) Your last post convinced me I was not correct in that, and that I had somehow mistaken you for rpgpundit. Again, my bad.

      Delete
    29. Cont'd

      So, as I see it, there are two issues on the table that might be discussable: Are there existing or possible RPG systems that have good enough procedures that a group's customization efforts ought to be devoted to fictional content and social contract issues? (I think your current answer to this is "Hell, no!" Correct if I'm wrong) Still, if there's a baseline that some social/creative group rules do work (given preliminary nature of agreement as to what "work" means) that could be profitable. Or, related, what's the cue that it's time to switch procedures rather than switching fictional stuff?

      Or, maybe, there's an actual disagreement about whether or not it's ever productive or interesting to talk about "good GMing" at anything other than a crude "don't be a dick" level without talking about what procedures you're using and whether or not you're using them well.

      That's my take on this thing we've done-I hope it's different enough from yours that you'll take my protestations of good faith seriously. Being given a binary choice between accepting illiteracy or being a straight troll is not usually a sign that someone wants to talk.

      Delete
    30. "Are there existing or possible RPG systems that have good enough procedures that a group's customization efforts ought to be devoted to fictional content and social contract issues? "

      For my group? No. Are there suits that fit you off the rack? If so: lucky you.


      I do not know what this means:
      "Still, if there's a baseline that some social/creative group rules do work (given preliminary nature of agreement as to what "work" means) that could be profitable. Or, related, what's the cue that it's time to switch procedures rather than switching fictional stuff?"
      _

      "Good Gming" is a real thing. And measurable.
      You did not have fun? Good GMing has failed to occur. Or possibly there was a bad player, or two.

      If someone GMed a game with people who have had fun with that same game before with a different GM and it wasn't fun then probably the GM is the problem. Not the module (which the GM chose or let themself be bullied into running) not the game (which the GM chose or let themself be bullied into running) or any rule (which the GM chose or let themself be bullied into not changing).

      There, a Bad GM has been isolated. It can now be discussed.

      Good GMing means not being a bad GM. Easy. Simple.

      Delete
    31. I thought the "I don't know" paragraph was a question about, how do you know, for a given player and a given instance of time, that it's time to switch our procedures vs it's time to offer different fictional content.

      Two points: I don't know if, at bottom, I buy that people are all sooo different that there's no such thing as reliable social rules. If you think the prison experiment was valid or teh Milgram, then it's trivially easy to design social situations in which people who have no reason to do so will fuck each other over badly. If you believe what structured dialogic design proponents claim, they can take any group struggling with how to communicate about any vexing issue and create structures that get to solution. Individuals have different tastes , yes, but we get pretty preditable in groups.

      2nd, "fun" is a tarbaby. I can think of any number of games that could be well GM'ed, and woudl leave me cold and/or angry. I'm thinking specifically of an old John Wick article about running good horror as an example, in which he advocates lots of really invasive techniques, including deliberately pushing player's personal space and uncomfortable touching, to really get a sense of creepitude in there. Lots of people say he runs the greatest Cthulhu ever. So he's not a bad GM, but he would run games that I would find deeply unfun. People write and do Nordic LARPs that they report as fun, yet would be very bad for me for many of the same reasons. I find MLWM fun, but don't need you to, and wouldn't expect the greatest GMing of it ever to show otherwise.

      "He's the greatest Nordic LARP GM ever!" "I/we had zero fun playing with him and was highly creeped out." are not contradictory statements.

      Possible analogy: you did not like it? Good art has failed to occur.

      Delete
    32. " how do you know, for a given player and a given instance of time, that it's time to switch our procedures vs it's time to offer different fictional content."

      How do you know if someone is tired or bored or uncomfortable? Don't be Martin--sense social cues.

      The stanford experiment is a perfect example: I would never have behaved like one of those "guards". Even less now that I've seen the experiment. A lot of people wouldn't have. Your group is not People In Bulk. It's 5 people out of 6 billion on earth. Even if only 1% of people don't fit a pattern, that;s a HUUUUGE number and you could easily have someone who doesn't fit it. Unless the number is 100%, then you cannot design a game that way. Aesthetic experiences rely absolutely and entirely on nonuniversality. Otherwise when I went to see a David Lynch movie everybody else on earth would be there.

      John Wick is a bad GM if he did not contort his horror game around you.

      Art is "bad" for anyone who doesn't like it. Good art has indeed failed to occur if you didn't like the art. For you.

      A major difference is: the GM can (and should) be responding to the audience because RPGs are interactive and have that opportunity. A painting has to simply sit there and encounter some people for whom it is good and some for whom it is bad,

      Anyone who thinks there is objectively good art is a fascist.

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    33. "John Wick is a bad GM if he did not contort his horror game around you."

      That is, if you showed up and he wanted to play with you.

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    34. Made a mistake: John Tynes, not John Wick, similar high-status Cthulhu GM guy. Essay is here: http://web.archive.org/web/20011224143100/http://www.johntynes.com/rl_mofo.html

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    35. irrelevant. If he wants you in his game and won't change the game to fit you, he sucks.

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    36. ...or won't at least, talk to you about it so you can agree about how it should work

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    37. Maybe it's an end, but the first question is not how do I tell if someone is tired or bored or whatever-give me a little credit. It's how do I tell if it's the fictional things that are screwing up the fun or our procedures?

      If fun is subjective, then good GMing is not measurable in a way that it makes any sense to talk about.

      You don't have to talk about objective good & bad to talk about better or lower quality in art-it's generally pretty silly to so that. Nobody ever got a crit that said "this ain't as good as a Rembrandt, so just go back and work til you can paint like him." There are lots of standards you can talk about that have nothing to do with "objective good & bad."

      Small groups still exhibit group dynamics, and I wish I could share your confidence that there are no artificial circumstances that could ever be engineered to get me to screw people over for no reason.

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    38. The Tynes change was a crosspost, just to fix my error. Not a reply to anything.

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    39. "It's how do I tell if it's the fictional things that are screwing up the fun or our procedures? "
      Ask them.

      "If fun is subjective, then good GMing is not measurable in a way that it makes any sense to talk about."

      Incorrect. The good GM helps make the players s/he has happy. You can totally look at that. Unhappy players with good will=worse GM.

      For the 100th time: the Good GM is the one who takes on players and goals with those players that s/he CAN achieve and does NOT take on ones s/he can't. Not one that has a certain style.

      "better or lower quality in art"--I have a painting in the MOMA and went to art school for like 10 years and get paid to talk about art for a living and write a column in a magazine about art and have no idea what that could mean.

      _
      "I wish I could share your confidence that there are no artificial circumstances that could ever be engineered to get me to screw people over for no reason."

      I understand there is a certain bill of goods sold to certain college students about this subject and I further understand I disagree entirely.
      http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2011/11/put-on-your-beret-light-gauloise-and.html
      Blaming a noncoerced system for your own behavior is just a way of avoiding responsibility for your own actions.

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    40. Good Gming is putting the fun of the players you have first. And then achieving it.

      Not putting following the rules first

      Not putting your precious little world first.

      You can be measured. You can be found wanting.

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    41. Well, the setting itself can be as much a character as any PC, particularly when it outlasts the lives of individual PCs.

      Of course, that being said, you have to have players that want to partake in such a setting.

      The screening process you mentioned, I think, is as important (maybe more?) than polling the players for their likes and dislikes. While the GM may be obliged to provide the players with a game they enjoy, he is by no means obliged to play with players that don't enjoy his game.

      At the end of the day, a setting without players is material but players without a setting are just daydreamers.

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  11. Thanks for this! #28 will be especially helpful, I seem to come across that one a lot, even though (like you) I find that neophyte players easily grok old-school premises and embrace the game happily -- even when their PCs die in the first session.

    Well done!

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    1. I introduced total RPG newbies to the hobby with Rolemaster. They took to it like the proverbial thing to the other thing.

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    2. Rolemaster?(Just out of curiosity: full-on Classic or Express? Or perhaps the old MERP? [Though I suppose if you utilized that rules set you would've mentioned it.]) With Noobz?
      Man, I thought there were *laws* against that sort of thing nowadays! :-D

      This sounds epic, I'd love to read the 'Actual Plays' of these sessions. Especially their first reactions to the brutal and dreaded crits.

      Very interesting. An experiment worth repeating, imo.

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    3. Classic RM, as far as I know. Three red books, guy with improbable mohawk on the cover? I have never understood RM versioning, so I dunno.

      Anyway, it worked great. It turns out that (as you might expect) photocopying a chart for a player and telling them to look up their result on it is *way* easier than explaining some complex bit of math. Each player got the attack table for their weapons of choice.

      These were honest-to-god newbies, too; no previous RPG experience of any kind.

      The first 'oh shit, you're kidding me?' moment was one of them taking a frost crit while they fled some terrible thing. It destroyed his foot. They never stopped tormenting him about his frozen foot.

      I am a huge advocate of RM-esque games for newbies, where almost all the heavy lifting is done by tables that are easy for anyone to look things up on.

      (Every one of them, without exception, went on to become committed gamers, and all of them still pester me about running more of the RM game... ten years later.)

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    4. Three other minor notes on this game:

      1) It ran weekly for about a year. There was some agitation for me to run it more often, but I am not a machine, and couldn't manage that pace. It was your typical old-school sandbox set in a world I designed one day while thinking about the original Beastmaster movie.

      2) Typical combat round: 'I'm going to use half my OB to hit that fucker.' 'Ok, roll and look it up; his armor type is 12.' '15 and a B slash critical!' ... a hush falls over the table as I turn to the crit table and ask for the roll. These guys (well, guys and girl) *lived* for the critical tables.

      3) I frequently had to stifle laughter when they'd make jokes about how complicated 'those THAC0 games' were (this was pre-3e). My newbies, veterans of Rolemaster, complaining about how confusing AD&D was.

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    5. @Kevin:

      Hey, thanx for the follow up!

      RM Versions(Most are pretty similar, honestly, with the box sets/booklets/hardback containing the components of RM: Arms Law/Claw Law, Spell Law and Character Law/Campaign Law. Comparatively little seems to have changed system-wise since RM appeared in 1982!)
      -----------

      1)RM 'Classic' is simply a slightly tweaked(as in mostly cosmetic changes) reprinting of the 1989 Rolemaster 2(RM2) rules.

      2)RM Standard System came out in 1995 and was a re-packaging of RM2 with a few significant changes.

      3)RM Fantasy Roleplaying is a all-in-one book version of RMSS, which was touted as being 95% compatible with RMSS. You still would want the other supplements for the 'complete' experience/so you could exercise all your options.

      4)RM 'Express' is a short(89 pages) inexpensive, pared down, simpler to understand, quicker playing version of 'Classic' costing about $9.95/copy. Express was meant to introduce newcomers to RM as easily and painlessly as possible. It is effectively the old MERP rules brought back to life. This hit in 2007. And it's awesome! RMXFTW!

      (Only #1 and #3 are supported with product.)

      If your books are red, softcover with Rolemaster lettered in gold, sporting some sort of funky round, spiked, seal/shield with a sword, mace, and axe jutting out at equidistant points in the upper left, chances are you have RMFRP.


      'I am a huge advocate of RM-esque games for newbies, where almost all the heavy lifting is done by tables that are easy for anyone to look things up on.':

      I've heard so many people label this as counter-intuitive, if not counterproductive, for new players, that it is kinda stunning to hear the contrary. Ya know, tables make novices weak in the knees, all that page turning makes their eyes cross, cross-referencing is too slow/hard, and so on...(Oddly, no one seemed interested in a sensible solution like yours. :-/) I'm glad to hear different, though.

      'These guys (well, guys and girl) *lived* for the critical tables.':

      Man, our fictional counterparts gotta die/get maimed sooner or later. I mean, if *your* PC was gonna Join the Choir Invisible/receive involuntary body modifications, it might as well be morbidly funny, appallingly brutal, and freakishly memorable, right?(That spells Rolemaster, don't it?) The look on people's faces when they discover they've been critted *twice* with one hit is golden!

      'My newbies, veterans of Rolemaster, complaining about how confusing AD&D was.':

      Yeah, ime it's almost always the reverse with (A)D&D people(and sometimes aficionados of other systems) lambasting RM as Roll-master or Chart Master or some other not particularly funny or clever moniker.

      Glad that this worked out. It's phenomenal that ten years on, they want another chance to dance with that unseen, imaginary, deceased turtle. :-D It's a great testament to your ability as a GM. Great job. Your contribution to World Awesome is noted and appreciated.(If only by me.)

      This gets my hopes up that the Days of High Adventure and Low Life Expectancy will return!(Not around here though, no Era of Execution ever dawned, 'cuz my people are scared of the wrath of the Crit Tables.) :-)

      All joking aside, folks, RM *is* survivable, if caution and care are liberally applied to temper daring and doltishness.

      I find it oddly appropriate RM is mentioned in a response to Zak's blog post. Ime, many of the arguments put forth above are leveled at the notion of even attempting to play it at all. It's one of those unfairly maligned RPGs that really deserve more consideration, if not love, imo.

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    6. Rolemaster motherfucking rules.

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    7. To me, RM is the ultimate triumph of substance over style.

      Modern RPG authors often take the approach that they don't have to do the hard work of making a game full of options and content. If you have a clever dice mechanic, you can basically hand-wave the rest. 'Oh, think of some spells yourself. We can't be bothered to design any.'

      That's laziness. RM is the opposite of lazy. And because they've invested the time and effort in the game's actual contents, it's really easy to use.

      (Also, I dug up my copy of Spell Law: 'Second US Printing, 1989' is what it says. So whatever that means.)

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  12. I see #5 and #7 usually summarized as "You need better rules to protect players from bad GMs". My recent response to this was: No amount of rules is going to protect you from a bad GM, because a bad GM *will* ignore any such rule, guaranteed. So you will have to say "I don't like that" and have a conversation with the GM... which you could have done anyways, without the extra rules.

    Extra rules make sense for a part of a game that is meant to be playable *without* a GM. Like the way combat and magic works in TFT. Or the way point buy character build systems work. Trying to do that for every possible aspect of a broad-reaching RPG would probably be unwise.

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  13. Came for the Maxim pick of the girls.

    Already know I'm not changing anyone's mind on the subject and no one's changin' mine.

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    1. I'd play with you any time I'm in NYC, Adam.

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    2. I second Zak!

      Anybody who loves FASA Trek like you do is all right by me, man. :-)

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  14. You hit the nail right on the thumb again, Zak. Thanks for taking the time to post this, however, methinks you may be preaching to the choir...

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    1. I'm not preaching. I'm writing the Catechism.

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    2. And now whenever this argument starts again, we can just link right here and be done.

      Alternately, come back and refresh your counter-arguments once a month with a good re-read to be ready for all the Player's Rights advocates you meet in your day to day life.

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    3. I can't see any qualm a player's rights advocate could possibly have with this.

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  15. #38 " You experiencing suffering does not license you to be wrong."

    What a gem!

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  16. This is the best post ever. I want to start a website devoted to it.

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