thread: 2011-06-27 : The Dice & Clouds series from 2009

On 2011-06-30, Moreno R. wrote:


I am writing this to reply to some observations made in the comments of "2009-04-10 : A Moment of Judgment". In particular, to the post #88, where Vincent wrote:
"I wish we were talking about a real game, Ralph. I've posted some real rules from Storming the Wizard's Tower, we could talk about them instead. Otherwise I'm going to do the unattractive thing where I get more and more absolute.

I am not always in agreement with Valamir's posts in this blog, but seeing that, in that specific case, I was in complete agreement with the objections he did make, and I think I HAVE a couple of specific cases to cite, I thought of posting them

The issue, of course, is the... "naive", I think, belief that the GM's judgment is LESS contested when the players are MORE invested in the SIS "rightness" (something that I think goes right against the concrete experience of almost everybody who ever played D&D for a long time). See reply 93 by Valamir for more about the issue.

This is my first example. We were playing Call of Cthulhu. You know how it is in CoC: the GM is the complete master of everything. The players don't even have the hope that the GM will be "fair": he is SUPPOSED to kill their characters, at the end, in horrible ways.  So I was playing in my usual (at the time) "master illusionist mode": 90% of the times, the dangers I described were only for color, to create an atmosphere of fear. Then, sometimes, I really rolled the dice and observed the results, even if they killed a PC, to "prove"  that the risk was real.
I think it worked very well, for a time, until a new player entered the game. And he was very invested in the fiction's correctness. Gone were the times when I could "wing it" regarding the dresses, the cars, the travel time..  there were A LOT of discussions and arguing about every single detail that he did think was "wrong". Most of the time I simply corrected myself, even if I found the thing really annoying, but not always.

The precise case I want to talk about happened during a scene where all the PC were barricaded in a house in a mountain, with a sniper outside who already dis kill one of the characters (forcing them to return quickly into the house).

What they did not know was that with the critical hit a PC did with a rifle from a window just after entering, they had already killed the real sniper. There was still someone with a rifle outside, but it was an accomplice who had no "shooting" skill to talk about, and with the penalties for the darkness and running target and long range, he had less than zero, so he was only shooting in the air to scare them. They were not at risk anymore. (this is important to show that, at least on my part, the issue later was ONLY about SIS correctness, not game balance or anything like that).

The PC had to take with them a stone table weighting about 50 Kg. There was snow, a lot of snow (enough to sink to the upper thigh walking on it, even without the tablet), it was dark, no moon, and the terrain was rugged.

And that player said "I can easily carry 50 km on my back, running outside, the sniper will have the time to shoot to me just 3-4 times until I reach the trees (it was a run of more than 100 meters)and then I will go to the village to ask for help".

A combat round was around 12 seconds, 4 shots were 40-50 seconds... if they were real (with the intention to hit the target, I mean)

I replied "you are saying to me that you will be able to run in that snow with that tabled - that was not even balanced - more than 100 meters in less than a minute?

And he answered "yes, I did it all the time, when I was playing american football, even with more than 50 kg on me during the training".

And I asked "have you ever tried to run in thigh-deep snow?" He hadn't. I had.

He did know football. I did know snow, and mountains.

We argued for two hours. I am not joking. Even if I did know that he could even go for a stroll outside with no real risk. The idea of the character making a clear sprint in that snow was too ridiculous to me.  It was not only damaging my suspension of disbelief, but it was, in my opinion, damaging the entire atmosphere of "danger" I was trying to build, that was the entire point of the game.

He did believe that his character's life wad in danger, but, more than that, he saw in my objections a dismissing of his experience when he did play football (something he did care a lot and continue to cite very often).

Both considered the other's opinion utter "unrealistic" to the point of sheer absurdness. The game stopped. The other players, at the end, complained and we did go on with a compromise that made nobody happy.

This was 6 years ago. To this day, when we talk about about that scene, we argue. After 6 years!!!

This is the most extreme case, but it was a very, very common experience, debating what was "realistic", for years, with a lot of different players, with different game, even if every one of these games gave the GM complete control of everything (the usual lie of Rule Zero: "you decide everything"... but you still have to convince the others at the table, so at the end you have to "convince" people, instead of simply showing them a rule in the book...)

Less than a year after that, I discovered indie games (DitV) and solved this problem. Really, solved.  Because I never did play a game, after that, that said "you must choose what is more realistic" AND gave that choice mechanical "weight" in "life or death" situations

Another time, when I was playing DitV, the GM did describe a "mountain people" village. I was horrified! I am somewhat of a western nut that can cite every classic of the genre and did read something about the real Native Americans. He is not interested in the matter at all, and narrated what I can only describe like a "McDonald version" (there was even a teepee where you could have "a mystic vision" in 15 minutes for a dollar!)

But this time, even something so comically absurd and wrong, did not create a long discussion. We simply laughed, and I told him "I will let this pass, once, but I hereby forbid you from ever using again mountain people when you GM Dogs in the Vineyard". And so it was. He did not care about the realism of his mountain people village, it was simply something that he made up on the spot.

The magical ingredient in this later tale is simple: he did not have to decide what was "more realistic", so his judgement of reality and his own life experiences were not threatened. And when the judgment count, like in conflict, there are dice to spend, and EVERYBODI'S judgment, not only his own.

In short: my entire gaming experience confirm what Ralph was saying in that thread.  In your example in the original post, the GM is fucked. You have put him in an untenable position: he has to be able to convince every other people at the table that "they are wrong and he is right". The only thing that can save him (and saved me at the beginning of the CoC game) is having passive players that don't care about the "correctness" of the SIS, but simply want to be entertained.

Do you have an example of a published game where this can't happen?


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