2011-09-08 : Trad vs Indie: FIGHT! pt2

(Pt1 here.)

The Art of the Table: GMing Beyond the Basics
You've sat behind the screen before. You've run your players through adventure after adventure. Once you've learned the rules, what comes next for a truly good game master? Plot, character, and setting are vital, but what about often overlooked parts of the equation? What exactly is the social contract between players and game master? How is spontaneous improvisation managed? Who really controls the flow of the gaming table? Come dig deeper into what makes a good RPG and what turns a good GM into a great one.

Ben Mandall, Vincent Baker, Jason Buhlman, Amber Eagar, Jeff Fasenfest, Sage La Torra, Ben Lehman, Erik Mona

It doesn't look at first like a trad* vs indie knock-down, but then you get to the panelists. Walking over to the panel, Ben says to me "you know I'm just going to answer every question with 'that's why you shouldn't have a GM,' right?"

It was a fun panel. I got to put on the Vincent show a little, which, well, I find entertaining even if I'm the only one. I'm all "when you have a social contract conversation before you start the game, the only thing you know for sure is that it's a lie," and "no, you're wrong, sometimes you SHOULD violate your group's social contract. Sometimes a game just NEEDS a little child endangerment," and "kill puppies for satan," and "violation glove," and "but what I didn't tell them was that it was a survival horror game!"

But here's the interesting part, and I think it's again significant that the panel was all D&D vs indie, not trad generally vs indie:

Someone stands to ask a question. "What should I do when my players mess up my plans?"
Unsurprising answers:
Me: "Go with it."
Jason Buhlman: "Go with it."
Amber Eagar: "Go with it."
Jeff Fasenfest: "Go with it."
Sage La Torra: "Go with it."
Ben Lehman: "Go with it."
Erik Mona: "Go with it."

"Yeah, but, how do I plan, then? How do I know what they'll do?"
Unsurprising answers:
Me: "Don't plan. Play to find out what happens."
Sage La Torra: "Don't plan. Play to find out what happens."
Ben Lehman: "Don't plan. Play to find out what happens."

Surprising answers (to me, at least):
Jason Buhlman: "Don't plan. Play to find out what happens."
Amber Eagar: "Don't plan. Play to find out what happens."
Jeff Fasenfest: "Don't plan. Play to find out what happens."
Erik Mona: "Don't plan. Play to find out what happens."

The idea that the GM has a story to tell and that it's a problem in a group when the players don't go along with the GM's story was represented in the audience, but it wasn't represented on the panel. None of us thought that the GM should bring a story and the players should go along with it. All of us on the panel thought that the point of roleplaying is to collaborate, and that if there's a story, it comes out of everyone's play together, it isn't any one person's responsibility.


1. On 2011-09-08, Vincent said:

* I prefer "conventional" to "trad," as in conventionally published vs independently published, but that's because I'm an ideologue. And when we're talking about play styles or how to GM, I don't think the distinction makes the slightest bit of sense.

But I here bow to common usage.


2. On 2011-09-08, Jim D said:

This doesn't sound like much of a fight.


3. On 2011-09-08, Vincent said:

Yep! It was set up as a fight - again the jokes about weapons and please clear the front aisle for duels to the death - but it didn't turn out to be one.

As close as we got, I think, was my contrarian stance on up-front conversations.


4. On 2011-09-08, Jonathan said:

Are you really that contrarian? I'm increasingly coming to similar conclusions, that the strongest social contracts are predominately composed of intuition, love (sometimes tough love), and a passing familiarity (too familiar is often less good, because it lacks edge and risk when you can predict what the other players will do).


5. On 2011-09-08, jenskot said:


I love the Pathfinder GameMaster Guide. I love playing to find out what happens. But I think some planning can be useful although I also think games can function well with no plan. I don't think "playing to find out what happens" and basic "planning" are in opposition.

::Flips through the Pathfinder GameMaster Guide::

"Don't Plan" is not the message I receive when reading the Pathfinder GameMaster Guide.

Although they do have notes on winging games by using published adventures. They do have some advice on structuring planning around your player's interests and their characters. And they do mention sometimes ignoring your plans in favor of the directions the players move in if the 2 come in conflict, "part of the fun of being a GM is being surprised by your players, go with it". They also mention" gently nudge the game back onto the original track".

The Pathfinder published scenarios and convention games also don't seem to back up "don't plan."

Again, let me be clear. I really like Paizo as a company. And I'm not anti-planning. I'm just surprised by the results of this seminar given all the "actual play" and "actual published work" I'm aware of that contradicts it.


6. On 2011-09-08, sage said:

The other disagreement was me and Amber on roleplaying via setting aside the dice. She was a big proponent, something like "sometimes to really roleplay you just set aside the dice." My response was "if you're getting what you want from NOT playing the game, you're probably playing the wrong game."

It was a really fun disagreement! Amber and I talked about it later, she's pretty cool.


7. On 2011-09-09, Jonathan said:

Sage, can you expand on that a bit? (or, better yet, Amber, if she's around)

Was it that:

1. she hasn't played games where she felt like the dice added to the experience rather than getting in the way

2. she's played those games, but dice still get in the way of the experience she wants (which, fair enough)

3. something else?


8. On 2011-09-09, Ben Lehman said:

Amber had a neat point actually which was that people tend to fiddle with dice during scenes when they're not used. I find this is true, and it is a distraction.

We're used to using "the dice" as a euphemism for "the mechanics" but there are actual dice on the table, or not, and that affects play.



9. On 2011-09-09, Joel said:

It strikes me that the conventional RPR scene tends to be a bit schizoid on the subject of "play to find out what happens." In my old conventional circles, EVERYONE was against "railroading." That was CLEARLY the mark of a bad GM and maybe even an abusive person.

But everyone had different ideas about what constituted railroading. The same person who in X's campaign would complain about being forced to do this or that or having options cut off would look you in the eye in their own campaign and clearly herd you into a predetermined situation.

My read, based purely on my own group, is that everyone agrees that railroading is sucky and disempowering for players, with a silent "...but of course you've got to control the story SOMEhow" appended on, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes strongly, sometimes mildly. So it's kind of hard to get to the bottom of that issue with any given player/GM without interrogating them pretty thoroughly on their whole body of techniques.



10. On 2011-09-09, Joel said:

Ben, that's a good point. I played some games with Ross Cowman this weekend—all Apocalypse World Hacks—and he likes to keep as few dice out on the table as possible. We all shared the same 2D6, which were kept in a leaf-shaped ceramic cup. It brought a nice feel and focus to the game.


11. On 2011-09-09, cc said:

"Play to find out what happens" and "don't plan" seem just as empty statements to me as they have ever been.


12. On 2011-09-09, Vincent said:

Hello cc!

They don't seem empty to me. What are you missing?


13. On 2011-09-09, Jim D said:

Throwing my two cents in real quick, and at risk of being off-topic, I've noticed that when I'm playing rules-heavy systems such as D&D 3rd, I pretty much *have* to plan or the game goes nowhere.  There's too much that has to be set up.  When I play rules-light games, like BESM 3rd, Ghost/Echo, or my own OneShot, the less I prep, the better the game goes.  My experience has been that "play to find out what happens" works marvelously, if only the mechanics will stay out of your way when you try.



14. On 2011-09-09, David Berg said:

Joel, agreed.  "Don't plan, play to find out!" is easy to say on a panel, but really devoutly holding yourself to that in play is something else entirely.

I learned GMing as a railroad to present my story, got enough positive feedback on it to persist for years, and still find my instincts tugging me in that direction.  Unless a game forces you to play to find out, making that change takes a lot of effort and practice, not just good will.

I think a lot of folks don't understand that many "my story!" GMs actually are doing it with good will, and that misunderstanding has stunted the conversation down to a "be nice and share" level that most groups are already philosophically on board with it.

Absent more info to the contrary, I'd assume that Buhlman, Eagar, Fasenfest and Mona were saying "be nice and share".

A panel which discusses how stake-setting broad resolution of conflicts is more conducive to "play to find out" than binary resolution of atomic tasks, for example, might have produced more meaningful panelist disagreement.


15. On 2011-09-09, Jonathan said:

Jim: It's certainly true that the fixed "encounter" can get in the way of "play to find out" if they're not easily improvized and adjusted on the spot. Mouse Guard and Agon can do improvized encounters, but 4E is less flexible, partially due to the importance of well-designed maps. Somebody should solve that problem :)

David: AW is mostly task resolution and no stakes, so "play to find out" isn't really about the task/conflict distinction. We may have differences with the folks working on trad games, but I don't think that's it.


16. On 2011-09-09, David Berg said:

I just said "more conducive", not "required".  I think AW is easier to fuck up and railroad than, say, PtA.

I think indie vs trad, in a design sense, actually is largely about the range of techniques we're willing to consider.


17. On 2011-09-09, David Berg said:

Er, wait, AW is, like, the opposite of binary resolution of atomic tasks.  In D&D you can't roll to land a hit and wind up victorious, injured, disarmed, or separated from your group.

Ethos is less interesting to me than methodology.  I guess you can argue that if trad publishers were interested in new approaches, they'd come up with systems suited to those approaches.  But I think the publication history says otherwise.


18. On 2011-09-09, sage said:

Jonathan: my understanding was that she felt the rules don't help with roleplaying. It was the "we had such a great session we didn't even roll dice!" thing.

I also mentioned that, if you don't have to roll the dice, what is the game providing? Is there a way to get that in another way? Like a jeepform or larp (didn't use those terms).

This was all in response to an audience question on "How do you encourage roleplaying?"


19. On 2011-09-09, Per said:

Joel's got it:
"My read, based purely on my own group, is that everyone agrees that railroading is sucky and disempowering for players, with a silent "...but of course you've got to control the story SOMEhow"

That is very much my experience as well.

Thing is, if what you really want to do is to "tell your story", roleplaying is a sucky medium for that, perhaps the worst - but it still seems like almost the gold standard in some roleplaying subcultures (the "classic" Fastaval scenario, as is developed through the 90s, is a great example of the author telling his/her story - with the help of a game master). One of the reasons for this is that some scenario authors have writing ambitions and writing a convention scenario at least gets you some audience - even if it's only six people. I know I've been there.

It's worth noting that some players LIKE to be railroaded through someone else's story, I've heard that over and over, not the least from Fastaval con-goers, and I have to accept that's how it is. But hey, there's also an audience for "Twilight" movies or whatever, so...


20. On 2011-09-09, David Berg said:

Per, I've found that being led through a story isn't nearly so bad when that's advertised up front.  It's being told to advocate for your character and then finding out you're there as a story audience that sucks.

Sage, I think tabletop without mechanical resolution needn't be subsumed into live action.  The design goal becomes about decisions, and who gets to make them when, according to what principles.  In my experience, great sessions with no rolls probably have some informal version of that happening.


21. On 2011-09-09, Vincent said:

I can't answer to how they play at their own tables, and besides, who cares? I also don't care what their books say.

250 young, curious GMs heard, from both nuts like me and solid citizens like Erik Mona, that they should be excited when the PCs do interesting, unexpected things. They heard that they should go into play having prepped an initial setup, not an outcome, and they should be curious to play to see what comes of it.

They heard from both of us that if a PC dies because of how the dice fall, that's sad, and you should treat it as the misfortune that it is, and be sad - but no way on this beautiful blue earth should you fudge it away.

I think that's plain great. I think that those young, curious GMs will have more fun because of it.


22. On 2011-09-09, Sydney Freedberg said:

An aside:

"On 2011-09-09, Jonathan wrote: [various games] can do improvized encounters, but 4E is less flexible, partially due to the importance of well-designed maps"

Really? I ran a 4E mini-thing for a several sessions and found it delightfully easy to set up improvised encounters. The detailed "build an encounter" system was the single thing that impressed me most about the game and which I think is the feature most worth imitating.

Specifically, I popped the XP values for all the monsters I wanted to use for the particular environment, quickly generated several packages of beasties that would constitute an "easy" encounter, and then used these as modules to build harder encounters. Sticky notes in the monster manual helped me flip to the right pages in a hurry. And as for maps, I just scrawled stuff on my friend's battlemap, sometimes with a little sketching before session. They seemed to provide enough tactical interest.

(N.B. Where I did find 4E cumbersome was how LONG it takes to attrite away each side's hit points at higher levels.)


23. On 2011-09-09, Jesse Burneko said:

I would also like to point out that a full prepped dungeon with every room hand crafted and lovingly drawn before play is still a "starting situation."  There's nothing inherent in that setup that says the PCs "have to" solve or resolve any of the encounters in a specific way.

The problems come in when you try to force-ably introduce certain narrative beats.  "This is when the PCs are captured by the bandits."  "Make sure they trust NPC X until the key moment of betrayal."  "The only way they can escape prison is accepting the deal from the shady noble."

Even a well-paced fully prepped clue-chain scenario doesn't have this problem as long as at each "node" in the chain the players are free to find the path to the next "node" in a manner of their own choosing.



24. On 2011-09-09, Sydney Freedberg said:

YES! Jesse's exactly right.


25. On 2011-09-10, cc said:

"They don't seem empty to me. What are you missing?"

They're like that cartoon which has has a blackboard full of equations in the middle of which is a set of parenthesis containing "and then a miracle happens".

It doesn't explain anything, elucidate anything, or describe anything.  To me it's just as bad as saying "we didn't even roll the dice".  What never gets addressed in this topic is why the GM felt the need to assert some kind of story control in the first place, and the answer is that without it, when just playing to "see what happens", nothing did.  Because why would it?  A set of random actions is not anything like as sensible as a story, and GMing in a manner that amounts to little to more than playing system-nanny to a bunch of wish fulfillment fantasies is boring and dull.  Or worse, to a bunch of actions in which "finding out what happens" results in the PC's all getting butchered and the players all going home pissed.  Thats not just "sad", its deadly to anyone wanting to play again.  Why play a game that is no fun?

So to me it's just a claim to being cooler than thou.


26. On 2011-09-10, Vincent said:

cc: It's true that "GM, don't plan outcomes" and "play to find out what happens" don't, in their little 1-sentence selves, provide a system for making fun things happen.

You've put forward three possibilities, right: the GM preplans outcomes, the game is boring because nothing happens, and the game is bad because everybody gets killed. There are other possibilities, and thank goodness! All THREE of yours are bad games.


27. On 2011-09-10, cc said:

No, two of them the bad games.  The first is a working solution to bad games, even if it is not to your taste.  I'm not even going to defend it particularly.  But as I said, what hasn't been addressed is why people resort to that solution, and no alternative has yet been offered; or at least, the slogans "don't plan" and "play to see what happens" do not in themselves provide any.


28. On 2011-09-10, Vincent said:

Oh, I'd love to talk about that!

I agree that "GM, pre-plan outcomes, and if necessary fudge to get them" can be a solution to terrible game design. In the texts of some games, it's a substitute for game design altogether.

Some people are pretty put off by this question, so understand that I'm asking it because I'm curious and I'm happy to continue the conversation either way, I'm not gatekeeping: have you read any of my games? Have you played any of them?


29. On 2011-09-10, cc said:

Pre-planning outcomes and fudging are not necessarily the same thing as the GM having a story to tell.  That needs to be borne in mind becuase it leads to different sorts of things being conflated.

I've read whats online, chunks of KPFS, AP reports of most things, the AW playbooks, the space tyrant thing.  I have not played any.


30. On 2011-09-11, David Berg said:

A crisis of faith for our GM!  If the imprisoned PCs don't accept the shady noble's deal, what'll happen then?  Does our GM have faith in himself to invent and offer another opportunity?  Does he have faith in the players to do something interesting rather than rot in their cell?  Does he have faith in the game system to help either of these?

Once bitten, twice shy.  Once you have a game derail due to brain freeze, bad players, or crap system, then pre-scripting quickly looks like the safest bet.

To really sound appealing, "Don't pre-plan" would need to come with an assurance that you and your players, and/or the game system, will in fact bring the awesome.  Otherwise it's like saying "take a leap of faith, good luck".

I don't know of any RPGs that can give that assurance of awesomeness 100%.  That said, having seen the downsides of pre-planning, I know plenty of RPGs worth the leap.


31. On 2011-09-11, cc said:

Very well put, David.  Thats a neat encapsulation of much of my concern.

I'll just add one other thing.  That even if you are the kind of people who improvise comfortably and easily, you may find that in the broader sweep the things you create on the spur of the moment are fairly incoherent and head off in more or less random directions.  Someone empowered to bring some order and design to the action can enhance the overall effect by directing play towards ends which have greater consistency and which hang together thematically.

So it's not ONLY an negative thing, although that is very much a part of it.  I also think that planning can add its own value and make the experience of play better.


32. On 2011-09-11, Weeks said:

The most amazing thing about playing Universalis is how all of the identically-empowered players all contribute stuff with no guiding principles other than what they bring to the table internally and a story forms out of the chaos.  The first two scenes of the game may seem disconnected.  Maybe the third, also.  And then, without me trying to do anything, someone frames a fourth scene that hooks some stuff together.  Maybe it's a plot or a common character or a relationship or a location or event.  But it always, always happens.  And having everyone "empowered to bring some order and design" is really cool because it always works and you get to play to find out.

Also, I think Vincent has reached a very good place in teaching you one style of how to run a game where you "play to find out" with Apocalypse World.  You should try it out.


33. On 2011-09-11, Judd said:

Play to find out what happens is not anti-planning.  There's plenty of planning and prep one can do.  Town-creation in DitV, Fronts in AW, Monster-burning in BW but what that prep doesn't tell you is a narrow place the GM has to harangue their players into.

There's plenty of planning one can do that still leaves the players' choices with meaning.


34. On 2011-09-13, Josh W said:

Exactly, and people need to hear that.

Because when they say, "How do I plan" they're not just saying, "how do I fix the story", they're saying "how do I prepare, how do I make myself ready".

What structure of prep do these GMs need to produce to be able to keep making interesting and awesome stuff in responce to the other players? If a player doesn't know what to do, they ask each other and they look down at their sheet.

"Don't plan" can be accompanied by "don't panic, look at your sheet and imagine ways to do that stuff" or all the other peices of advice. If it isn't, there is no displacement of anxiety, and more importantly, no sign of actual solutions.


35. On 2011-09-13, cc said:

No.  You guys are running down your rut again.

Having everyone empowered is not really cool, it's too many cooks spoiling the broth.  Universalis is the epitome of the game I don't want to play.  I don't want the GM to harangue the players into a narrow place, but I do want them to have a fairly narrow place to go to.  If I ask how to plan, I am not asking how to be ready; I know how to be ready, it is by having a plan.


36. On 2011-09-13, Vincent said:

I'm losing track of what "plan" means, so bear with me a minute.

CC, would you write a couple of paragraphs from a game you ran once, about what you planned, and how it came to pass (or didn't), to illustrate what you're talking about?

Everybody else, hold off please until I've had a chance to read CC's answer and reply to it. Thanks!


37. On 2011-09-13, cc said:

In one CP-type game, I set out to create a recurring villain.  I had this NPC who had stabbed the PC's in the back once before, I wanted to do it again.  But obviously, not only were the players aware of the genre convention, but they had previous experience of him.  So I had to put quite a bit of thought into how to manipulate their perceptions, and how to set certain scenes, and even how to word certain conversaitons, in order to convince them that this time they had the upper hand, all the while having a solid, plausible substructure that made this untrue.  And when it finally worked, it produced howls of entertaining outrage.

This was doubly pleasing to me, because I'd had the intellectual satisfaction of forming and pulling off this plan, and having created an experience that clearly entertained the players.  And the players had the satisfaction of having the genre convention confirmed, even though they were on their toes and looking out for it, and even forwarned. Instead of it just oh ho hum, we've been betrayed, we knew that was coming, I'd really suckered them, and that made it truer and more real.

I couldn't have done that by improvising on the spot.  I had to sculpt situation that would induce the players to think and perceive a certain way.


38. On 2011-09-13, Vincent said:

That's cool!

How often did you have to correctly predict what a player would have his or her character choose to do?

When you had to predict, did you always predict right, or did you sometimes misguess? What did you do when you got it wrong?

I'd love to hear about examples of those, if you've got 'em, from that same game.

When I do things like that, I don't like to base my own plans on guesses about what the PCs might do, so I spend most of my time figuring out what my NPCs are doing right now, how they're reacting to what the PCs have done and how they're adapting their plans to try to stay one step ahead. It's important to me to make it fair - my NPCs don't have access to all the information I do, only what they've seen or learned or figured out - so sometimes they misjudge too.

Keep holding off, everyone else, if you will. Thanks!


39. On 2011-09-13, cc said:

Conversations are the least predictable.  There were occassions in which I didn't manage to impart the information or apply the spin, as it were, that I had intended.  If that ccurs, then I have to construct some other method to convey that info.  That might be improvised there and then, or I might tackle it as part of next session prep.  I had a hacker NPC who served as a useful conduit for this sort of thing.

I had, perhaps foolishly, expected that the players would balk at some of the things they were asked to do, but they didn't.  That actually meant that some things went ahead faster than I had anticipated.  I also altered some exposition to make the NPC look more villainous as a result.

I don't feel I do a huge amount of guessing what decision the players will make.  In practical terms, if I haven't framed the context sufficiently, I've already screwed up.  That's why it has to be thought about ahead of time.  I'm not going to tell you you can't go left; I'm going to try to set things up so that there would be no reason for you to consider going left, and more immediate things to worry about.

As far as NPC actions go, yes I treat them as knowing what they would reasonably know, and doing what I think they would reasonably do.  But I should have a pretty good idea of what that will be at any given moment from before play begins.  If I plan for the PC's to go off and do mission A and then mission B, I will have factored the response to mission A into the design for mission B.

Fairness isn't an especially important concept to me.  I'm knowingly crafting this, its inherently lopsided.  But NPC actions of course have to hang together and appear human and reasonable and so on, so they make mistakes and suffer from limited information etc.  But thats only important because it's part of the impression I want to create, not because it's fair.

Its not as if there are no cockups of planning in my gaming, but this game was the result of learning from those experiences.  Back in the ur-history of my teenage gaming there was a classic Rocks Fall scenario in which I brought the PC's into contact with a villain in a public place, expecting, wrongly, that the implied legal and social restraints would create a tension as they socialised, but instead they tried to cut him down there and then.  Much as David described, therefore, I plan to avoid such potential single points of failure.


40. On 2011-09-19, Vincent said:

I think I understand so far, but I have more questions!

You say mission A then mission B. Is your game mostly missions? Do the players' characters get much time to pursue their own agendas, or what?

When you create a mission, do you also create the way the PCs will be able to complete it, or do you just create the objective and the obstacles and leave it to the players to come up with solutions?

Do your players' characters ever decline to undertake the missions you've prepared?

I'd love to read just a quick outline of a mission you enjoyed creating and playing, just a paragraph or so, too.


41. On 2011-09-20, cc said:

I'm not really clear where this is going, and not keen on wirting a bunch more stuff.  This isn't about me, and I feel like I'm being put on the spot.

I say missions but you could say episodes or whatever.  They are discrete I can't plan for an indefinite future.  I don't create a way it has to be solved, usually, but I will create a way it can be solved. I don't want to put the players in improvise-or-die situations any more than I want to put myself in them.  That doesn't mean some other solution, even subversion, wouldn't be acceptable.  They don't decline, partly because I design it so they can't or won't and partly because I ask them what they want.


42. On 2011-09-20, Vincent said:

No spot! I'm just curious, and I think it'll help me explain myself if I actually know what you're doing, instead of just going back and forth without establishing between us what "plan" even means.

Which, here I go: the functional alternative to planning outcomes is to plan situations and challenges, same as you do, but instead of making sure there's a solution, using a ruleset that guarantees the characters' ability to discover the bounds of and act effectively in the situation. You don't have to plan a satisfying outcome because the rules you're using guarantee you one. Even failure and loss, when the players have agency and their characters are reliably effective, is satisfying, because we all know that they really did do everything they could, I as GM didn't screw them out of a single opportunity, and this is just how it turns out sometimes.

Sometimes you're playing Bruce Willis in Die Hard, sometimes in 12 Monkeys, and nobody knows which until the end.


43. On 2011-09-20, cc said:

Well, even taking that at face value, I've never seen nor even heard of a system that can guarantee that.  Plus, I'm not sure how that makes sense in the context of the OP; if the answer is that you should use some particular system, then how is it a really useful answer to what is presumably a hall with a heavy representation of D&D players?  I didn't say that it couldn't be done and wasn't suitable for some people and play styles, all I've objected to is being touted as a universal good.

Certainly I don't see that the implication that orthodox style rule sets deny players agency and knowledge of the bounds of situation is valid, or that they would not be able to do everything they could or that the GM screwed them out of opportunities.  I would think those are pretty much bad practice in any context.


44. On 2011-09-21, Vincent said:

Oh, I'd count (most versions of) D&D in that group of systems. A ruleset has only to be competently designed and competently handled to offer what I'm asking for.

If, under the normal circumstances you're thinking of, players have full agency and their characters are reliably appropriately effective - which I don't dispute, I consider it to be the minimum for worthwhile play - why plan an outcome at all? The outcomes will look after themselves. I'd rather be surprised and satisfied along with everyone else.


45. On 2011-09-21, cc said:

Well no, why would the outcomes look after themselves?  The point of planning is to achieve an outcome that is better than the inherent randomness of immediate response and improvisation.  I wouldn't expect that to work out any more than I'd expect a group of enthusiastic amateurs to be able to build a skyscraper from a pile of bricks.  They might be able to build something but it won't be nearly as sophisticated as if they were working from properly engineered architects drawings.

Mostly my experience with that sort of thing is is that it gets jokey and lighthearted, influenced by random pop culture referents and lacking any kind of unifying aesthetic.  This wears thins fast.

If sundry iterations of D&D are included, then I have even less idea of what you mean than I thought I did before.  I can imagine a game facilitating certain thematic kinds of play, but I can't imagine any iteration of D&D doing so.


46. On 2011-09-21, Josh W said:

CC I'm glad you keep commenting here, you are being put on the spot, but you're handling it like a man.

Why bother asking you all this stuff? Because you've got a different approach that is helpful, a different enough viewpoint to bring something new to the discussion. There's little pride to be had in everyone saying "don't plan" if it means that some people have to just stop the games they are playing, and then never get the particular experience and creative challenge they were after.

My understanding of D&D is that you can get an aesthetic out of it pretty reliably, without planning out a specific path, but the scope of that aesthetic is very constrained. Dungeon crawls work, with tales of low-tech improvisation and reconnaissance. The further you go beyond that the flakier it gets.

I could reel off a list of indie games too and the scope they work in. It's in a way amazing that they work, and a lot of people are suprised by it, but you can get distinctive stories out of using them that you were not expecting. And through my game-designer eyes, the solution is simple; you haven't yet got systems set up to reliably set up the kind play you want without pre-planning. But I suspect my prejudices about pre-planned stories might be getting in the way!

I have a theory that there is a playstyle here that I can't run effectively, which is essentially "I tell the GM what I want to do when in character, then he manipulates the environment so that I do".

It's like putting on a blindfold and being directed by your friends. When you open the blindfold, you're roughly where you expected to be, but it's a nice surprise to actually be there. And they've probably messed with you a bit on the way there, but not so much that you're bothered by it.

I could be right or wrong about that, can't tell without more details.

I'd also like to see the kind of way missions work in your games, because it may say all kinds of stuff about the way your planning works; where players get to plan ahead themselves, where and why they bump into stuff and change their plans, what parts of their ideas you re-incorporate into the game etc.


47. On 2011-09-21, Judd said:

Josh, why don't we let this continue to be a conversation between Vincent and Cc.  I feel like we'll just muddy the waters.


48. On 2011-09-22, Josh W said:

If you like.


49. On 2011-09-24, David Berg said:

Been holstering myself so as to respect Vincent's request for no interruptions.  Hopefully posting my thoughts on my journal and adding this link is copacetic.


50. On 2011-09-26, Vincent said:

Thanks guys!

CC, you've completely lost me. Of course we're talking about D&D, we were talking with D&D people to a roomful of probably mostly D&D GMs. "Don't plan outcomes" applies to lots of kinds of games, but it comes from D&D.


51. On 2011-09-28, cc said:

OK.  Well that seems very weird to me.  Clearly we must be talking past each other.

By necessity, dungeons were carefully designed, sculpted experiences.  Even venerable old Keep On The Borderlands, for example, has "scenes" with a set-ups in them: the players come across a room with some goblins, and wade in; but an ogre who is providing protection to the goblins intervenes, turning the fight into a surprising, much more serious affair.

You asked me "why plan outcomes at all", and my answer was and is, "because it creates much more entertaining and interesting games".  And I don't think I'm alone in that view.  From my reading of the discussion that went on in Dragon Magazine and the like, a lot of people were unhappy with the results they were getting from "just playing". What they had wanted, what they had thought or hoped they were getting, was something that was a bit like LOTR, and what they got instead was a lot of mercenary looting, clowning around, and a barrage of Monty Python jokes.  So the search was on to make something more serious, more engaging, more "immersive".

Now I'll agree that many of the solutions they come up with were bad ones.  But I don't see how that it can be argued that the drive wasn't there.  And it was there because just playing was NOT automatically successful.

At that point to say "don't plan" is tantamount to saying "play shitty games".  Now I'm willing to accept that the may be some other method of play, like that of universalis frex, that is provides good play without planning for some subset of the gaming population.  I'm certainly willing to consider the idea that there may be some other, superior methodology that would work without planning for the people I've described above.  But I can't understand how a D&D-like system, combined with lack of planning, can be confidently asserted to produce satisfying play, because if that had been the case then there never would have been any drive toward all the stuff that subsequently developed.


52. On 2011-09-28, Vincent said:

Ah, good. Excellent.

Here's thing one: planning encounters is not planning outcomes. When I say "don't plan outcomes," I DO NOT include "don't plan encounters." Planning encounters as GM is a fun and productive part of the kind of no-planned-outcomes play I'm advocating here. (Which makes it unlike Universalis, for instance.) With me on that?

Here's thing two: there's a way to play D&D that makes it a legitimate tactical game. We're playing to find out whether we can defeat these goblins, and when this ogre jumps into the fight, it's a tactical problem that nobody at the table knows whether we can solve. This is a fun way to play, and serious in its own way, even though it's nothing at all like - and fundamentally incompatible with - Lord of the Rings.

With me on that too?

If you are, I can talk about no-planned-outcomes play that IS a bit like Lord of the Rings. Yeah?


53. On 2011-09-29, cc said:

Sure,I'm perfectly comfortable with those, although I would mention that in designing encounter 2 you are tacitly assuming the characters will both survive encounter 1 and find encounter 2.

Also,I'm not particularly interested in the tactical game mode.  I'm not dismissing it but it's not what I'm interested in.


54. On 2011-09-29, Vincent said:

Fair mention! That's a source of real tension in that kind of play - when as GM you prep your favorite encounter, the one you're really excited to see through, for encounter 3, and encounters 1 and 2, contra your expectations, wipe the party out. What do you do? Do you fudge? Do you save your choice encounter for some future game that may never happen? Next time, do you plan outcomes for 1 and 2 and fudge to bring them about so the party hits 3 the way you expected them to? Or next time, do you lead with your favorite encounter? Do you under-prep subsequent encounters? Playing that kind of game means dealing with that question.


55. On 2011-09-29, Vincent said:


In Lord of the Rings, as you're encountering it as a reader for the first time, there are some open questions. Here at the other side, having read it, all these questions are closed, but going into it, they're open:

Will Frodo succumb to the ring's power?
Will Boromir betray Frodo and take the ring?
Will Sam have the strength to carry the ring when Frodo can't?
Will Frodo have the strength to toss the ring in the fire?
Will Gollum get the ring and run off with it?
Will Strider lead the hobbits into a trap?
Will Gandalf survive his battle with the Balrog?
Will the ringwraiths capture the hobbits and bring them to Sauron?
Will the willow tree swallow Merry and Pippin to death?
And so on and on and on.

When you want to play a game a bit like Lord of the Rings, I propose that there are, very broadly and admitting much haze and overlap, two ways to do it. One way is to treat the questions as generally open; the other is to treat them as generally closed.

A different answer to any of these questions would change the books, some fundamentally, but very few of these questions are genuine dealbreakers. Maybe none! If the willow tree had swallowed Merry and Pippin to death, that would have established a different sense of peril and seriousness, and changed the character of the fellowship later, but it wouldn't have made it impossible for there to be the Lord of the Rings. Frodo, in fact, didn't have the strength to chuck the ring into the fire! If he had, it would have been a different trilogy, but it wouldn't have undone the whole trilogy. If Boromir had seized the ring, what would they have done then? Something! The story could have gone that way and still been every bit as good.

In fact, one of the appealing features of roleplaying is that you get to take these same questions and answer them different ways than the original author did. "What if Boromir HAD gotten the ring" is fantastic let's-play-an-alternate-LotR fodder.

So, as I see it, there are two things that have to happen when you sit down with your friends to play a game a bit like Lord of the Rings: you have to raise questions like these and then you have to answer them.

Do you see how I'm looking at it? Is this way of looking at it, as raising and answering questions, making sense to you, even if it's not the way you look at it yourself?


56. On 2011-09-29, cc said:

My disagreement is not based on a failure to understand the principles you work from.  None of this alters my expectation that I'd be better off with planning than with trying to ask and answer these questions in play.  Thus, as you say, when you start reading, these questions are all apparently open; but then Tolkien goes and answers them for you.  Now I'd contend that if I chose to answer some of them while wearing my GM's hat, they are just as apparently open, in the subjective experience of the players, as they were to Tolkien's readers.  But by answering (some of) them I can, like Tolkien, create a deliberate and thought-out effect that I/we probably couldn't if improvising in real time.  And this has the added advantage that as and when I do have to improvise, I can do so in the knowledge of what I have already planned, which minimises the danger of doing something I might later regret, or which violates the theme and mood, or which has implications that are not immediately apparent.


57. On 2011-09-29, Vincent said:

Back up.

You can create a perfectly consistent mood, tone, and experience by asking questions with the right qualities, and demanding answers with the right qualities, without pre-planning what those answers will be in particular.

If you could be confident that all the questions you and your friends would raise in play would be fit ones, and all the answers you and your friends would give would also be fit ones, this would replace the need to plan outcomes.

That's what planning outcomes is giving you: fit questions with fit answers, right?


58. On 2011-09-29, cc said:

I originally wrote more but decided I was repeating myself.  So instead, let me say that I think that's a very big "if", that I remain to be convinced that it's feasible, and that even if I were convinced that to were feasible I'm not convinced that I would enjoy it.

I'm having to read an awful lot into what you mean by questions and answers though.  I'm not even sure that accepting that framework is advisable.  We can talk about questions that are pertinent to LOTR because we share knowledge on what that is, but that may not be the case in a game, or if it were, it might even defeat some of the point of play.


59. On 2011-09-29, Vincent said:

Sure, it's a big if. Is it wrong?

If you could be confident that all the encounters in your game would be thematically, dramatically, and moodily appropriate, and that all their outcomes would be too, this would replace the need to decide the outcomes in advance, wouldn't it?


60. On 2011-09-29, cc said:

Yes, on the basis of my experience, and not in gaming alone, I think it is wrong.  In fact I used to be employed in ensuring that teams of engineers stayed on focus, and they weren't even creating things out of their imagination.

The last is dangerously "motherhood and apple pie".  Essentially I am invited to imagine all the things I could want for encounters and whatnot, and to then assume that they can somehow be met.  Well sure, seeing as that would all go on in my head, the answer would necessarily be "yes".  But CAN all the things I would want be realised in this manner?

In addition, even if all this happened, it would mean that I would be denied the joy of sticking a cigar and my mouth and remarking that I love it when a plan comes together.  And from the other side of the GM's screen, there just seems to be something less valuable about a sequence of stuff that arises out of a sort of random walk rather than from human artifice.

But those are fairly vague aesthetic concerns.  Fundamentally I don't think ad hoc decision making can achieve the kind of the things that deliberate and thoughtful planning can.  There are any number of real world examples; there are very few scenarios in which extemporising is superior to having a plan, even a bad plan.  So yeah,I think it's wrong.


61. On 2011-09-29, Vincent said:

I get that you may not enjoy the kind of play I'm advocating. Chomp your cigar! Fine by me.

But if you want to understand, back up! I'm not advocating ad-hoc decision making. Far, far from it.

You keep lumping preparing scenarios and encounters with predetermining outcomes into "planning," when the fact is that different circumstances, different creative projects, demand different things planned and left unplanned.

In tactical D&D play, predetermining outcomes is bullshit, utterly destructive to the point of play. Of course it is: the point of play is to FIND OUT, for the GM just as much as for the players. You can't play to find out if you're rigging the game to get the outcome you've planned.

Prepping scenarios and encounters is, nevertheless, crucial to D&D.

In the kind of play I'm advocating here, same thing: predetermining outcomes is bullshit, but prepping scenarios and encounters is crucial. Planning is crucial, for the reasons you say! But you don't plan outcomes, because the point of play is to find out the outcomes. You plan other things.

So here's me: I agree with you that planning is essential. You're absolutely right.

Now I'm trying to talk about different things you can plan. I've mentioned one: scenarios and encounters. There's another thing that's just as important to plan, that I've touched on but haven't named, which I'd love to talk about next.



62. On 2011-09-30, cc said:

Go right ahead.  Although we seem to have come a long way from the OP.


63. On 2011-09-30, Vincent said:

Not very! I bet you understand the story in the OP better now that I've made my comment #61.

The other thing to plan is the bounds on how encounters and scenarios become outcomes. The purpose of the game's rules, here, is to make sure that the questions and their answers are both fit, right? So your rules for creating encounters and scenarios have to make sure that they raise fit questions, and your rules for resolving them have to make sure that they become fit answers.

So check this out. Tactical D&D's rules for creating encounters - its monster manual, essentially - are all tactical. The question tactical D&D raises isn't "will the willow tree swallow Merry and Pippin to death," it's "can it?"

Then, its resolution rules aren't dramatic or thematic either, they're all tactical too. The Lord of the Rings gives us answers like "no, it won't, for there are ancient, wild forces in the earth that care for the helpless" and "no, it won't, because your friends are there when you need their help." But D&D just gives us answers like "sometimes it can, sometimes it can't. Husband your hit points and good luck!"

This is the dissatisfaction that you describe in your comment #51, right? People who want something a bit like Lord of the Rings don't get it from D&D, because all D&D knows how to do is count your resources, calculate your advantages, and see who would win in a fight.

So to make don't-plan-outcomes play that's nevertheless more like Lord of the Rings, you need to set your game up so that its resolution rules are savvy about the kinds of questions you're really asking, so that they help provide the kinds of answers you're really asking for.

Make sense so far?

The next step is to talk about those questions and their possible answers in more detail, I think. Are you still interested?


64. On 2011-09-30, cc said:

You know, I'm interested, but I'm not entirely convinced that you're responding to my position anymore.  I have not asserted that playing-to-find-out is impossible or unworthy.  As already mentioned, I have read many AP accounts of DITV, and so I'm pretty sure I have a good idea of what you mean by creating rules that provoke the right questions and answers, and what kind of play that produces.


65. On 2011-09-30, Vincent said:

Cool. Then remind me! What's your position on playing to find out?


66. On 2011-09-30, cc said:

That it is less interesting something skilfully designed.


67. On 2011-09-30, Vincent said:

Oh. Yeah, that's not a well-founded position.

I'm talking here about how to skillfully design a play-to-find-out game. Not as the game designer, but as the GM.

The premise of your position is incorrect. Playing to find out is fully compatible with skillful design, and indeed is best when skillfully designed.


68. On 2011-09-30, cc said:

Well, its a pretty well founded position given that its based on the actual play of games.  It's not a premise, it's an observation.

However, if you would like to discuss methods of GM design applicable to play-to-find-out games, I would be more than happy to read them.  It's quite possible, even probable, that a lot of it will overlap with stuff I've encountered myself.

But then I'll note that, when asked by the floor "How do I plan", the answer "don't plan" wasn't really the most useful.


69. On 2011-09-30, Vincent said:

Pf. They asked us what we thought. We told them. They'll have a lot more fun for a lot less work if they play the game instead of trying to pre-play it. You too.


70. On 2011-09-30, Gregor said:


I'm super interested in continuing this discussion. I think you're riffing on something that was already briefly touched upon on SG sometime ago.

Particularly the kind of questions "LOTR-play" asks and how to resolve them. You still willing to talk about it?


71. On 2011-09-30, Ethan said:

I also thing this is a pretty awesome discussion, and would love to hear more about using games to structure what you might call 'conversations' between players.


72. On 2011-10-01, Paul T. said:

I'm really enjoying this discussion, too.

I keep thinking about that "herding engineers" example you gave, "cc":

Your job was to keep them on task.

Do you think it would have been better if you had just dictated the solutions to them?

It sounds like you were using planning and "herding" strategies to move them forward, but toward their own solutions, right, ones that you yourself would not have come up with?

Your task was to move them forward, to keep them moving forward... but not determine the end state yourself. The solutions would be theirs, not yours.

And that brings me to another point -

For the GM in this hypothetical "planning vs. non-planning" dilemma, one major sell is precisely the opposite of what you're suggesting:

Instead of the satisfaction of munching on a cigar as your plan comes together, it's the suspense and excitement of the unknown, of tension and surprise. It allows the GM to be part of the audience, to experience the story as a participant and to be moved by it to a greater extent.


73. On 2011-10-01, cc said:

They'll have a lot more fun for a lot less work if they play the game instead of trying to pre-play it. You too.

The only slight problem being that it isn't true.

re: herding engineers:
It's true that to would have been quite wrong of me to impose a solution.  But the reason the scenarios differ is that they had more knowledge than I did.  It's the reverse when I'm GMing.  But even so, the overall problem benefited from having someone like me who had the specific job of keeping an eye on the big picture.

re: GM as part of the audience

The might be true, for some people.  But those things don't particularly interest me.  And when I do find them interesting, then I want to play as a pure player, without contributing to the design, so that I can experience it as fully external.

For Josh W re: Blindfold analogy
That is basically correct.  I do interrogate players as to what sort of things they want to do, and then create a way for them to do it.  But the idea that I might be "messing" with them en route is wrong. I'm certainly going to try to do some things they wouldn't expect, but I don't get my jollies out of dicking with the players, I get them the same way a writer or similar does, when people express appreciation for it all after its over.


74. On 2011-10-01, Paul T. said:


You wrote:


re: GM as part of the audience
The might be true, for some people. But those things don't particularly interest me. And when I do find them interesting, then I want to play as a pure player, without contributing to the design, so that I can experience it as fully external.


You are quite right, of course.

However, I have a feeling that this community of designers (the community that Vincent is part of) consists mostly of people who ARE really interested in engaging in the story as participant and audience, and being surprised by the outcomes, in the role of the GM.

Nothing's wrong with that either, of course. We all have our preferences!


75. On 2011-10-04, cc said:

For sure.  Never suggested anything to the contrary.

What I dislike is making sweeping generalisations like "don't plan", especially when applied to people whose proclivities don't run that way and who aren't likely to get much success out of it.  Even worse when its presented as being almost definitive of good practice.


76. On 2011-10-04, Vincent said:

"What should I do when my players won't go along with my plans?"

Your way of playing is already failing them, cc (and for pretty obvious reasons).

"Well, your friends think that what you're planning is poor. Your only choice is to be more subtle and manipulative in getting them to go along with it." What? No. Screw that.


77. On 2011-10-04, cc said:

Well, MY way isn't failing that at all, actually.  Not least because MY WAY is that if your friends think what you're planning is poor, then you do something else.

See, this is where things break down: the constant presumption that a GM who plans is some kind of tabletop tyrant imposing their will on others regardless of their wishes, or desires, or consent.

But, a professional stage magician can be subtle and manipulative and have people pay to see them perform.  Those things are not, in the right context, negatives.  They're just techniques.


78. On 2011-10-04, Vincent said:

So what would you have told them to do?

"What should I do when my players won't go along with my plans?"
"What should I do when a throw of the dice ruins my plans?"


79. On 2011-10-05, cc said:

1) You shouldn't make plans that require the players go along with them.  You should make plans that are essentially in tune with what your players want from the game.  If you're going to have such an explicit plan, that should be openly negotiated and agreed.  It's quite possible to propose to the group that you all play a game around a group of ringbearers trying to destroy the ring, its not so useful to just assume that they will "naturally" want to do that.

2) You should never rest your plans on anything that is going to be diced.  That is, by definition, unsafe and unreliable.  Anything introduced in that context is going to be fair game, of necessity.  Basically, played out encounters of that sort should be treated as a black box. Your setup has to surround and encompass them, not determine what happens within them.


80. On 2011-10-09, David Berg said:

Hey CC, your responses in this thread have reminded me of some long-ago play experiences that did have some unique highlights.  I asked for some stories and thoughts about GM pre-planned outcomes here and here, in case you'd like to read or chime in.


81. On 2011-10-09, Josh W said:

@cc Awesome, thought so. The "dicking with the players" thing is just something that can happen quite easily in that mode of play, given the GM's position of power. From the players perspective they can put up with it for the other good bits, but your players are probably quite glad you're avoiding those problems!

If you and vincent have exhausted your discussion for now, there are some things I was wondering about earlier that come into focus again given your answers to the panel questions:

You were saying that the plans should fit around the explicit desires of the players. How does that match with situations where player's characters will be tricked or otherwise suprised? How do players signal the sort of stuff they want to happen without spoiling it for themselves?

In other words, when you have conversations about the sort of planning you will do, how do those conversations normally go?


82. On 2011-10-10, cc said:

@David, I read those threads, they looked very good to me and I recognised a lot of what was being discussed.  I do read the Story Games forum from time to time, but I have not joined because its "tell us how cool you are" thing in the registration process irks me.

@Josh.  Obviously deception is the trickiest possible circumstance. It's not something I do a lot, and it skates pretty close to the edge.  The way I came to the decision for the cyberpunk game was this: it was part of the genre expectations which until then, had never been realised in play.  Shadowrun made the idea of the PC's being back-stabbed so routine that it became a joke.  So every game would play out the same way, the players would be all cynical, they would anticipate the betrayal, and they would blow it off.  All very world-weary, but not much fun, not much engagement.

So I set out to deliver it properly, to make them feel betrayed, to make them take it personally.  That was why it had to be done twice, and why other stuff had to happen between these two episodes.  The first time they were expecting it, it was stock content, no biggie.  But the second time it stung; the anguished cry went up "I don't believe it, he's done it to us AGAIN!".  They shook their fists at the heavens.  And they really, really hated him, hated him more than they ever hated any Mr Johnson that had gone before.

I felt licensed to do this because of the genre, because it was there in the expectations but not actually there in play whether I was GMing or someone else was.  I was reading between the lines.

I could make a general case of the argument that if the players are up against a cunning villain or conspiracy or something of that ilk, it's an implicit part of feeling villainy of the enemy.  If you were playing L5R, it would be pretty wussy to go up against the Scorpion and not get tricked.  Same for superhuman AI's, ancient elder vampires, etc etc.

In these conversation, I really do ask them "what sort of thing do you want to do".  I don't make any promises, and don't make it happen right away, and I don't get too specific.  So by the time it happens they may well have actually forgotten that we ever discussed it.  And even if they do remember, I will try to approach it in a roundabout way so its not overbearingly obvious.  And so, hopefully, it won't be spoiled because they will suddenly find themselves in it.

It's like one of those heart-warming family movies where the kid always asks for a bike for christmas, but there is no bike among the presents on xmas eve.  But when they go out to play in the snow on xmas day, there's a bike with a bow on it standing in the drive.


83. On 2011-10-11, stefoid said:

Hi.  Ill throw in some personal experience from someone who is a recent convert.

I converted to 'dont plan' because I have a shit list a mile long of things I hated as a player about a lot of the games I have played in and the GM 'not planning' seemed to address most of them.

CC, I totally get the 'and then magic happens' part of 'dont plan and play to see what happens'.  My analogy is advice that says 'to make great wine, select good grapes and process them well'. yeah, OK, thanks, but how?!?!

Im designing my own game with a strong structure to support a noob 'dont plan' GM like myself, and also support noob 'dont get planned' players.  (which amounts to having characters that are strongly self-motivated, and a game structure that encourages and supports their right to be self-motivated.

So the main part of my design that supports that is that players set explicit long term and short term goals for their characters, and no formal conflict res mechanics kick in unless a character(s) is close to achieving a goal.  In between those times, the GMs focus is purely on what complications and consequences follow on from character decisions.  So the players have a fair bit of control over the pace and direction of the story by what goals they set, and how hard they go for them.


84. On 2011-10-11, Vincent said:

CC, I think your advice up in 79 is good.

How do you include a black-box diced (or free choice) encounter in your prep without making its outcome irrelevant?


85. On 2011-10-11, cc said:

That... seems like a circular question to me.  On the one hand, they are indeed irrelevant, because they're not going to make that much difference.  On the other hand they're entirely relevant, because that's the part where the players get to interact with the setting, the NPC's, walk around in the character's skins.  And if it's a tactical type thing, then there is always the inherent risks that go with that and opportunities for derring do.

If you do know you're seeing a Die Hard movie, you know which Willis you're going to get, but it can still be entertaining.


86. On 2011-10-15, Josh W said:

I've noticed that in a game a friend of mine runs, the power of paper; GM writes stuff down and the players don't, so the natural erosion of memory will allow you to be suprised by your own ideas! I imagine that means that the game is naturally long form; an intro of expectation-building content as you work on their ideas, then the really cool stuff starts popping up. How many sessions does it take to get in to it?

On the black box question, that's why I was asking about missions earlier, I was wondering if there was an area demarcated where players have full decision/consequence loops, like "whatever the consequence of your mission, x will happen, but let's find out how the mission goes"?


87. On 2011-10-16, cc said:

Well, my practice isn't quite like creating a dungeon for them to romp around in, but that would work.  In the CP game I would for example give them a mission to penetrate an arcology and kidnap someone.  I figured out defences and whatnot by I didn't script events that were to be included.  So how they plan this, what contacts and resources they call on, all that stuff was within their control.

Obviously, I do actually want them to succeed; there is stuff coming that is premised on the fact that they do.  But that doesn't mean they to succeed right away or on the first attempt.  It might mean I throw a softball if necessary, but it usually isn't.

Anyway, it's not like I'm leading them by the nose through the whole thing.  I just have an investment in the ultimate ends.

As for time, I would expect an "episode" or whatever you want to call it to run for about 4 sessions of about 4 hours.  The first one has to be written "cold", but the second and subsequent can be developed with information derived from things emerging in play.  But its tricky because there is a lot of time pressure to keep the thing running continuously.  That's where I start to run into some dissatisfaction, and I like to see more interest in useful techniques to facilitate this sort of thing.  And I'd like to see more prepared storylines available as products.


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