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Jarawara
2008-11-11, 01:02 AM
OK, first off, I don't know what to call my particular style of gaming. Accepting nominations for a name to call it by.

But basically, I rely alot on cut-scenes, written out stories, and even collaborative stories with my players, fully integrated into the ongoing game. This is benefitted partially by the fact that we play online, so everything that we do is written out anyway.

A cutscene is when I cut away from the action to show what is happening elsewhere, as a off-screen warning to the players. I often do this in story form, but it can be done in a single online post if the point is simple enough. I have heard others describe the 'cutscene' as simply a descriptive attack sequence, and those work just fine, but I'd call them what they are, descriptive attacks, not cutscenes. I use both, of course.

As for stories, both singular author and collaborative, we've been using these as a way to develop the personalities of the characters (both PC and NPC), and I use the stories as a way to provide hidden clues to the direction of the campaign arc. I've introduced BBEG's in them, or provided subtle hints to the source of upcoming dangers, and so on. Collaborative stories are written in short portions, sent to the players, they add-on, send back, and so on. Just another way of describing play-by-post, I suppose.

But let me get to my main question.

There have been times where I have set up roleplaying scenes with key NPC's, so that the players can find out key information at a critical point in the game. Sometimes, these roleplaying scenes blow up in my face, because of the oddest things. The players don't want to talk to that particular person, or they want to talk about something else, or when I try to give them information, it just doesn't quite come out right. And nothing irritates my players more than when I set up a scene, they starting asking questions of NPC Bob, and Bob says "That's a really good question, but what I really need to tell you is... " So I find myself answering the questions they asked, and soon we've spent a whole session off-topic to what we really needed to be doing.

So I found a solution, using the very format I described above. I wrote the roleplaying scene out in a story, and just presented it to the players at the start of the session. This allowed me to pre-think out exactly what the NPC needed to say, and allowed me to control the conversation and keeping it on-topic. It also allows me to cover it quickly for when timeliness is a requirement (for example today, when the roleplay actually occured in the middle of a major battle - the PC's were kinda busy, and couldn't take too much time to chatter). It allows me to keep the pacing of the game, and keep the roleplays from being too much of a distraction.

Sounds like a perfect situation, right. Except for one thing...

I just played the PCs. Instead of, oh, say, having the PLAYERS play the PCs.


So my question is simple: Have I committed a cardinal sin against all of D&D-dom? Or have I simply supplemented the fully free-willed players with some written dialog, in order to facilitate faster play? If I presented some key info in a story, but used your PC in the story (complete with actions and dialog, written by me), would you enjoy the story development, or would you cry foul and show me the door?

Ok, that sounds like more than one question, so I'll simplify it: Give me your opinions! Thanks.

DMfromTheAbyss
2008-11-11, 01:25 AM
Sounds like it may be railroading though I understand your reasoning. It is the very act of playing the character in these situations that many people find to be the enjoyable part of playing these RPG games. If the players are missing the key points in conversation it might be them showing they're interested in different aspects of the game. If the game goes exactly as planned, your not playing much of a game. Much of the fun of being a game master is in seeing which way the PC's go given a situation. If there is one defined RIGHT way to go, and nothing can really progress without that word/action/mcguffin than your playing a very linear game, or writing a novel.
Letting cutscenes happen occasionally to get some basic stuff established, to skip by the boring parts is ok. If it starts to get to a point where the PC's are arguing they wouldn't have gone there, or done that, then you have a problem.

If I had to give what you put forward as a style of game it would be "Narrative", which is fine, but takes certain types of players to enjoy, and others might take outright offense depending. Just please make sure you have a discussion with your players on the subject, as long as everyone's cool with it... happy gaming. If not hey you and they would likely be happier with them in a different game anyway.

My 2 coppers

ClericofPhwarrr
2008-11-11, 01:53 AM
Frankly, it sounds like you'd sooner be writing a novel than running a game. Don't take that in a bad way, the world can always use more good authors. But players want to have an influence in the story too, and when the DM's got everything planned out ahead of time, that tends to end up in railroading. Part of the beauty of roleplaying is that the story isn't told by just one person; the most interesting roleplaying stories aren't the result of a DM whose players follow along like sheep doing everything according to plan. It's when the players throw a wrench into things, screw themselves over, find a brilliant shortcut, and other actions that don't fit what's expected that truly entertaining tales are made. Don't be afraid to let your players have a lot of leeway in what goes on--oftentimes you'll be surprised at how much better things become.

When I started DMing, I ran sessions rather like you described. Since then, I've noticed my players and I have a lot more fun when I have numerous situations instead of a single plot (read this (http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/49/situations-not-plots/) for some top-notch insight about that).

For instance, I just ran a Spirit of the Century game where the players were aboard the Hindenburg, when it was attacked by the zeppelin of Captain Morgan (pun intended). I didn't prepare any dialogue, but I had a feel for what various NPCs' personalities and dialects were like. I knew what the NPCs had planned, and what they would do if things went according to plan--that is, until the PCs stepped in. I knew they'd probably fight back against the pirates, but I didn't know that they'd hide first and jump the pirates from surprise, then take the fight to Captain Morgan's zeppelin. But it worked out wonderfully--Niels the blind swordsman swiped Morgan's prized hat midfight, and then he and the fake gypsy had some hilarious dialogue with Morgan after they'd restrained him.

I did know that if it looked like he'd lost, the Captain had an escape biplane ready with the last crate of his life-prolonging rum. So when he had an opportune moment, he escaped! With a locked door in the way, the PCs were sliding back along the grapnel harpoon ropes to the Hindenburg, when the biplane took off below with Morgan inside. I thought that'd be the end of it, but Niels surprised me by spending a fate point to say that the biplane passed right below him (which I okayed with a grin), and leaped after it. In the ensuing struggle, the biplane's engine was destroyed. It plummeted toward the Atlantic, but at the last moment Niels kicked the top wing loose and used it as a makeshift hang glider to get to shore.

The players had an absolute blast. I couldn't have planned it better--and I mean that. I did suggest the hang glider idea when Niels' player was at a loss for how to save his character, but in a way that made it seem like his idea: "You notice that the weakened plane could be broken with a few good kicks."

Next session, I have the following situations planned: a short expository scene where the players discover what's been stolen from a museum; an assassination attempt on the players in the museum (with info from the assassin depending on how it plays out); a car chase scene; depending on the PC's actions and what they know, a clue-revealing scene in a library, with an arson attempt while they're inside; a scene where the PCs must race to the top of a skyscraper; and finally a scene where they confront the leaders of the cultists who are attempting to summon a demon. I have some NPCs developed for each scene as needed, and have little notes for each scene of things I want to make sure to insert--an enemy plane toward the end of the car chase scene, for instance. Dialogue will be made on the fly, since I don't know what the PCs will say. The enemies have their motives, but their actions will change depending on what the PCs do.


If I presented some key info in a story, but used your PC in the story (complete with actions and dialog, written by me), would you enjoy the story development, or would you cry foul and show me the door?

Depends on the system. Spirit of the Century has it built in, where players get a Fate point (used for bonuses, rerolls, or to adjust minor plot details) if they agree to be the DM's mouthpiece for revealing info. Other systems, why not present the info to the PC's player, and let them do the talking?


Finally, is this Play by Post, or IRC/MapTool/AIM chat style?

Sstoopidtallkid
2008-11-11, 02:05 AM
The basic answer to any question of style for a GM:Are you having fun? If yes, go to question 2. If no, change styles.
Are your players having fun? if yes, continue playing. If no, go to question 3.
If you change styles, will you continue to have fun? If yes, change styles. If no, change groups or stop GMing. That said, I would hate your games. I want to make my character do what I think he would do, and not what you think needs to happen. It sounds like what you really need to do is learn to guide the players more without them realizing it. But a lot depends on the group itself, and yours may like this.

Harp
2008-11-11, 02:17 AM
I think it depends on the players involved. I am about to do some similarly railroady stuff in one of my campaigns while offering the players chances to respond but not really influence the course of the dialog much. I plan to allow more freedom later, but not until they get a sense of what the campaign and my own DMing style is like.

Alternatively, you can simply have your NPCs just rudely tell the PCs to shut up and listen and proceed from there. If what they're saying is important enough, a reasonable group will indeed do just that. If a player responds, "Eff that, I attack!" there's plenty of spells said NPC can have prepared to make the PCs play nice and hop back on the tracks.

People complain about railroading, and allowing freedom is important, but I think a directionless campaign where the players constantly explore meaningless, one-dimensional dungeons is equally unappealing for both sides. In the end its a balancing act, and if that means occasionally talking over the PCs or having a 20th level spellcaster hit one of them with Quickened Geas/Quest in the interest of having a narrative, then so be it.

ClericofPhwarrr
2008-11-11, 02:30 AM
I think it depends on the players involved. I am about to do some similarly railroady stuff in one of my campaigns while offering the players chances to respond but not really influence the course of the dialog much. I plan to allow more freedom later, but not until they get a sense of what the campaign and my own DMing style is like.

Alternatively, you can simply have your NPCs just rudely tell the PCs to shut up and listen and proceed from there. If what they're saying is important enough, a reasonable group will indeed do just that. If a player responds, "Eff that, I attack!" there's plenty of spells said NPC can have prepared to make the PCs play nice and hop back on the tracks.
From your description, I wouldn't be coming back to a campaign you ran. I've been in campaigns where there's next to no freedom and the DM is just living out their personal fantasies or telling their "next great book idea" to a captive audience. If a player responds "Eff that, I attack!" in this case it's because they want their decisions to have some impact on the story. If you're going to railroad, do it subtly. Either path in the woods leads to the encounter, fine. Players don't chase the dragon so the dragon comes after them instead, acceptable. What you're describing? DM of the Rings (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?cat=14).


People complain about railroading, and allowing freedom is important, but I think a directionless campaign where the players constantly explore meaningless, one-dimensional dungeons is equally unappealing for both sides. In the end its a balancing act, and if that means occasionally talking over the PCs or having a 20th level spellcaster hit one of them with Quickened Geas/Quest in the interest of having a narrative, then so be it.

Railroading is not the opposite of pure dungeoncrawling. Railroading is the opposite of a sandbox game, which can have an incredible amount of depth to it. A sandbox game could be dungeoncrawling, but it could also be about political intrigue, or exploration of different planets, or about a war over an empire. Railroading is a DM's crutch, and when subtly used is acceptable. Blatantly telling your characters that they had best "get with it" and sit on the tracks is terrible DMing.

Bosh
2008-11-11, 04:41 AM
I would strongly recommend not doing that in the middle of the game session. If your adventure requires that the PCs do X or the adventure won't work then you should try a bit more flexible adventure planning :)

However, if you just want to get things set up and headed in the right direction you can start things In Media Res, basically start the adventure with "roll for initiative!" and give the players a brief explanation about how they got into that situation. Works for episodic gaming...

Riffington
2008-11-11, 09:56 AM
Is turnabout fair play?
Can the players write dialog for your NPCs?

Raum
2008-11-11, 10:21 AM
OK, first off, I don't know what to call my particular style of gaming. Accepting nominations for a name to call it by.

--snip--

So my question is simple: Have I committed a cardinal sin against all of D&D-dom? Or have I simply supplemented the fully free-willed players with some written dialog, in order to facilitate faster play? If I presented some key info in a story, but used your PC in the story (complete with actions and dialog, written by me), would you enjoy the story development, or would you cry foul and show me the door?

Ok, that sounds like more than one question, so I'll simplify it: Give me your opinions! Thanks.It's called railroading - scripting if you prefer a term without the negative connotations. That doesn't mean it's necessarily "a sin against D&D-dom" though. While I probably wouldn't enjoy that style of game, I'm not playing with you so that doesn't matter. Telling stories is perfectly fine - as long as that's what the players are expecting and enjoying.

Besides, railroading / scripting is far more common than most are willing to admit. If you've used a prewritten / published adventure and ended it as planned, you probably railroaded. That covers most of us at one point or another during our GMing 'career'.

If you're looking for ways to change your style I'd recommend starting by avoiding any PC 'musts'. Pull every 'PCs must do', 'PCs must know', and 'PCs must be at location X' out of your plot. Replace them with choices for more of a flow chart or CYOA style. There are a number of other things you can do depending on what style you're aiming for but choice points are probably a good start.


People complain about railroading, and allowing freedom is important, but I think a directionless campaign where the players constantly explore meaningless, one-dimensional dungeons is equally unappealing for both sides. In the end its a balancing act, and if that means occasionally talking over the PCs or having a 20th level spellcaster hit one of them with Quickened Geas/Quest in the interest of having a narrative, then so be it.It may be worth pointing out there are (at least) four distinct styles of GMing (scripted, flow charted, goal driven, and sandbox). It's not simply a choice between railroads and directionless.

Fishy
2008-11-11, 11:38 AM
Your problem, specifically, is bottlenecks.

In the scenario you described, the plot can't continue until the players have information A, which they can only get by asking NPC B about conversation topic C. The yellow door needs to be unlocked with the yellow key.

The reason this is frustrating for players is because they do that isn't the 'right' decision is just a waste of their time and yours. Nobody likes being told they can't do things, everybody hates being told the things they wanted to do don't matter.

Now, you've found a solution to this problem, and a reasonably elegant one. If it works for your group, great. If you'd like to try something else, here's how.

Instead of writing a script for your game: A happens, then B happens, then C happens, draw up a series of boxes. Each box represents a discrete chunk of your game world: either a particular location, a length of time, or a segment of plot. "In this chapter, the village is attacked by zombies." "In this chapter, the PCs don't know who the murderer is." Make boxes small enough to be manageable, and large enough for the players to fool around in, because inside each box, you are going to let the players do whatever the heck they want.

After that, start connecting the boxes: You can put them all in a straight line, you can have paths that branch or double back on themselves, or however you'd like.

Now, for each connection, you need to write *three* separate, independent, and equally valid ways of getting from point A to point B. If, in the next chapter, the players need to know a certain piece of information, then Bob the NPC knows it, and it's in an obscure book in the local library, and there are a half dozen physical clues lying around for the players to piece it together themselves. Then, write a fourth connection, which is your 'blunt instrument'. If they haven't found out what they need to know and are starting to get frustrated, a dead drifter shows up on the doorstep of their inn, clutching a hastily-scribbled note with the necessary information.

And finally, and this is the important part, if the players come up with their own way to get to point B, let them. If they want to pole-vault over the yellow door, it's your solemn duty as DM to make it work: because once they're on the other side, you don't really care how they got there.
Short version: To avoid bottlenecks, build in redundancy and reward creativity.

Eorran
2008-11-11, 12:16 PM
So my question is simple: Have I committed a cardinal sin against all of D&D-dom? Or have I simply supplemented the fully free-willed players with some written dialog, in order to facilitate faster play? If I presented some key info in a story, but used your PC in the story (complete with actions and dialog, written by me), would you enjoy the story development, or would you cry foul and show me the door?

The only cardinal sin in D&D is making the game unfun. If the players like what you're doing, awesome.
Personally, I would be OK with having the DM narrate my character if he was careful to respect the way I've played my PC so far. If the character stays true to his goals, personality, etc, then we can skip over some of the boring parts.



But let me get to my main question.

There have been times where I have set up roleplaying scenes with key NPC's, so that the players can find out key information at a critical point in the game. Sometimes, these roleplaying scenes blow up in my face, because of the oddest things. The players don't want to talk to that particular person, or they want to talk about something else, or when I try to give them information, it just doesn't quite come out right. And nothing irritates my players more than when I set up a scene, they starting asking questions of NPC Bob, and Bob says "That's a really good question, but what I really need to tell you is... " So I find myself answering the questions they asked, and soon we've spent a whole session off-topic to what we really needed to be doing.


That's a semi-separate problem in my mind. I'll admit that neither I, nor any of my players, enjoy or are good at unscripted in-character dialogue. Our solution is usually to ask and get the relevant information OOC, using social skills as a substitute.
Example: "I ask the merchant if he saw anything this afternoon. (rolls diplomacy & perhaps sense motive/perception)
"He says there was a group of men dragging a large sack over to the boat that was berthed here, but he didn't see what was in it."

If your players aren't enjoying dialogue, perhaps you can find a way to shorten / lessen it.

I also agree with Fishy on making sure there's more than one way for the PCs to learn stuff. 4e suggests Skill Challenges for this purpose (although the suggested ways to do a Skill Challenge kinda sucks).
If your players want to go off-track, though, don't force them back. That just generates resentment, and soon you're playing DM of the Rings.

Vagnarok
2008-11-11, 12:39 PM
Wow, there is some fantastic information here. Specifically Fishy and ClericofPhwarrr have given me some excellent insight on how I want to set up my new campaign. Originally I was going to have more scripted events, but I was worried about the difficulty of making them seem natural and unforced to the PCs. Now that I've read your posts I'm really excited to try and implement your ideas!

Cheers!

fil kearney
2008-11-11, 01:05 PM
I follow Fishy's method of "boxes" for the game, and it is incredibly liberating as a DM, because you really DON'T care anymore... just be sure you have a number of boxes lined up ahead of time (ie, prepwork) for when the party inevitably vaults past a few boxes through sheer luck/intuition... and reward them.

On to new territory:
Since you are running online with lots of text, the game will lend itself to narrative.
I run a couple different PbP on other sites, and my players are allow to narrate nearly as much as I am as a DM.
we have "off stage narration" where they can make up anything they want as long as it is not directly related to the current story. Many NPC's are created out of their imagination to introduce as future BBEG and villain organizations, and they love seeing their own ideas get twisted around them in the game.
we also "make assumptions" when posting.. If I have something important I need to put across as a DM for the sake of the plot, I'll go into whatever dialogue I need, give a "best guess" on how the characters would reply to the information, and then summarize what I need to express, and then hand it back to them. Video games do this all the time, and then "open the game up" to normal play mode with new information.
For example, BBEG gives a short speach about how the City of Sharn is going to be hit by a Tsunami. The crusader in the team makes a few attacks in narration while the villain is taunting him, and avoiding his attacks. When the villain finishes what he has to say, the party is totally justified in opening up initiative and continuing the attacks I had narrated, or they can "calm down a bit" and ask some more questions/hurl insults.

They turn around, and do the same with most of my NPC's. they want to highlight their character a bit in game, so they'll do their dance and narrate a bit of insubstantial activity from the baddies, providing the kind of tone the players want from the NPC's... I can take their cue and continue the story from that perspective (and if I did a good job preparing, I have these type of things as possible branches to the next square)

kinda wordy, but there ya go. text gaming is awesome like this.

Saph
2008-11-11, 01:15 PM
There have been times where I have set up roleplaying scenes with key NPC's, so that the players can find out key information at a critical point in the game. Sometimes, these roleplaying scenes blow up in my face, because of the oddest things. The players don't want to talk to that particular person, or they want to talk about something else, or when I try to give them information, it just doesn't quite come out right. And nothing irritates my players more than when I set up a scene, they starting asking questions of NPC Bob, and Bob says "That's a really good question, but what I really need to tell you is... " So I find myself answering the questions they asked, and soon we've spent a whole session off-topic to what we really needed to be doing.

I'd like to suggest an alternative solution to this specific problem.

Problem: You want NPC Bob to tell the players about the Plot Hook of Awesomeness, but the players are mostly interested in the local town's chicken population.

Your solution: Make the PCs ask about the Plot Hook of Awesomeness rather than what they want to ask. Pros: gets info across. Cons: the P in PC is supposed to stand for 'Player', not 'GM'. :P

My suggested solution: Have NPC Bob respond to the players naturally, answer whatever they ask about, and only then start talking about the Plot Hook of Awesomeness. Either wait for an appropriate point to slip it in, or just wait until there's a natural break in the conversation. Here's an example of this in action:

NPC Bob: "Hey guys! How's the search for the Plot Hook going?"
PC: "Not bad, but what we really want to know is what the chicken market of Townsford is like. We're planning to start a chicken farm."
NPC Bob: "Really? Well, okay, I guess if that's what you really want to know. The major chicken breeds of Townsford are . . ."

(Five minutes later)

NPC Bob: " . . . not including badgers, amphetamine cranberries, and rains of umbrellas."
PC: "Great. Well, the chicken farm idea won't work, but I bet we could make lots of money on the badger market you're describing."
NPC Bob: "You'll need some seed money for that. Would the Plot Hook of Awesomeness that I just happen to know about help?"
PC: "Why, yes it would."
NPC Bob: "Here you are! Everything you need to know about the Plot Hook of Awesomeness."
PC: "Wow! Now we can realise our dreams to be livestock farmers, and advance the plot as well! Thanks, NPC Bob!"

Okay, so it probably won't go exactly like that, but you get the idea.

Note that this requires two things:

NPC Bob's essential info has to be relevant, interesting, and short. PCs are not going to sit around for half an hour listening to an NPC talk about stuff that's only tangentially relevant.

The players have to actually care about what they're 'supposed' to be doing. If they don't, your plot is doomed and nothing you do is going to make any difference. If this is the case you may be better off relaxing the reins and just letting the players do whatever they feel like; you'll all have more fun in the long run.

- Saph

elliott20
2008-11-11, 09:53 PM
Another Spirits of the Century player!! ClericofPhwarr, the reasons you listed is why I personally now play SotC more than I play D&D. Heck, I've even taken the liberty to hack up the SotC system a little so I can fit it for different genres.

But the principle of the game is definitely there. You WANT your players to succeed, no matter how they do it. So, any puzzle you put in needs to have more than just a single arcane solution that requires you input things into an exact sequence of events. It should be putting lots of clues and hints as to how to proceed.

The SotC book (and the SRD) has an entire section (http://zork.net/~nick/loyhargil/fate3/fate3.html#information-management) in it talking about this kind of information management, and I think it would be an excellent read for any would-be GM.

Harp
2008-11-11, 11:47 PM
From your description, I wouldn't be coming back to a campaign you ran. I've been in campaigns where there's next to no freedom and the DM is just living out their personal fantasies or telling their "next great book idea" to a captive audience. If a player responds "Eff that, I attack!" in this case it's because they want their decisions to have some impact on the story. If you're going to railroad, do it subtly. Either path in the woods leads to the encounter, fine. Players don't chase the dragon so the dragon comes after them instead, acceptable. What you're describing? DM of the Rings (http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?cat=14).

Obviously one would want to go about it in a subtle fashion. I thought the post was a bit outlandish to the point where people would pick up on the fact I was being less than serious, but I suppose I'll save the tongue in cheek humor. I am also aware of that comic, and had it in mind while I was writing.

The point is the OP sounds like he has a limited amount of time during sessions and its getting sidetracked with other silliness, and he wanted to know if reading off a script every once in awhile to move the narrative along was alright. My post was meant to convey that its perfectly reasonable to do so, and many have taken that notion a step further and still had an enjoyable experience. There are certainly some ways that are better than others to accomplish that goal, but I think you and others touched on that point enough that I don't really have to go into it.


Railroading is not the opposite of pure dungeoncrawling. Railroading is the opposite of a sandbox game, which can have an incredible amount of depth to it... and all other points about different DMing styles and game types.

Pure dungeoncrawling and railroading are in my eyes equally undersirable, as I made clear in my post. I am well aware there are different ways to run a campaign, but the issue dealt with in the OP is if railroading is okay to a certain degree. I believe it is.

Tsotha-lanti
2008-11-12, 12:27 AM
What you describe initially - collaborative storytelling with the players - sounds great, and is pretty much the ideal, for me. GMs are already expected to improvise well, but I think the medium really comes onto its own when the players do, too.

Cutscenes are good, too. It's a stylistic choice, and definitely a good one if you can pull it off. Many "how to run X genre" guides include advice to use them.

But then, yes, you do cross a line. Your story is not more important than the story the players and you would or could create together. What's the point of having the players there if you're just going to write stories about their characters?

In a game like yours, with such obviously deep character involvement, I would be even more "territorial" than usual about my right to control my character exclusively (dominate person notwithstanding) - the heavier the RP, the more important it is, and the more critical it's all player-controlled.

It appears to me, from your description of your frustrations, that your plots are too rigid. The first rule for GMing in any style is to have open, "tamper-resistant" plots. Generally, you don't want to write scenes (exceptions apply) - you want to write set-ups, NPCs, and their motivations and histories. Then you throw the PCs in, and they start messing up how things were going to go. It's the entire point - the PCs are the sand in the gears, the mutagen in the groundwater, the applied phlebotinum in the medium, changing how things were going to go.

So, don't script, except where it's appropriate, and even then you have to be ready to improv. (Personally, I prefer to write down bulletpoints and improvise all details on the spot.) If the king is going to give a grand speech, you can sure write that out. If the king is going to discuss a matter of great urgency with the PCs, don't script that. Never script when the PCs will definitely directly affect the scene. Cutscenes are still completely fair game, since the PCs aren't around to affect them - well-done cutscenes are just icing on the cake, making the game better.

If you need to relay a clue, you must always have at least three (and preferrably five) entirely different ways to drop it (or, rather, 3-5 clues that point in the same direction). Not only are your players guaranteed to blithely waltz past one of the clues, they will misinterpret or ignore another one, and hopefully finally catch on to the last one. (Clues and similar things are always obvious to the person who thought them up.)

This applies to all information in general. You can not control the PCs, and they will definitely stroll past "important" NPCs. That's why you always need multiple clues, and a lot of spare hooks. (Although polite players at least grab any story hook they recognize and start pulling on it.)

It sounds like yours style of playing is very involved. As a MUSHer who plays a MUSH centering around intrigue, I can say that there is absolutely no way you can guarantee your players will ask the right questions at the right time in the right place to the right person. You need to build failsafes. If there were already heavy hints that they need to talk to person X about thing Y, then the next clue can be a dramatic, critical, urgent, or dangerous one. You can use another NPC to point the PCs to the right NPC, or just switch around which NPC knows what useful fact, on the fly.

This is all general Good GMing 201, and applies to any style.

ClericofPhwarrr
2008-11-12, 01:51 AM
Another Spirits of the Century player!! ClericofPhwarr, the reasons you listed is why I personally now play SotC more than I play D&D. Heck, I've even taken the liberty to hack up the SotC system a little so I can fit it for different genres.

But the principle of the game is definitely there. You WANT your players to succeed, no matter how they do it. So, any puzzle you put in needs to have more than just a single arcane solution that requires you input things into an exact sequence of events. It should be putting lots of clues and hints as to how to proceed.

The SotC book (and the SRD) has an entire section (http://zork.net/~nick/loyhargil/fate3/fate3.html#information-management) in it talking about this kind of information management, and I think it would be an excellent read for any would-be GM.
There's actually quite a lot of people who are embracing SotC. I believe most of them congregate on the rpg.net forums, but I've seen a number of fans on /tg/.

As you were mentioning, SotC is very easily adapted to other fluff. I know LogicNinja's group has played a "Spirit of Eberron" campaign, which apparently was a rousing success (they didn't bother trying to adapt full casting style magic, IIRC). I've seen adaptations for general fantasy, western, Exalted, and more. There's also a published space version called Starblazer that recently came out (along with the Dresden Files, where we'll soon see how Evil Hat manages to fit magic into the system). I've also heard of people dropping the Aspects part of it into other systems--even D&D 3.5.

It is far and away the best RPG system I've ever read or used. DMing was a breeze compared to D&D, and my players had an absolute blast. They really loved being told "You can play as whatever you want, just fit it within the rules." In D&D the system restricts the options available to the players. SotC doesn't offer a slew of options (to be expanded upon with splatbooks), but instead says that your options are limited by your creativity--if their suggestions don't fit your character as well as you'd like, make up your own! It literally encourages you to homebrew new stunts (with GM approval) if it will better fit a character. Success is measured less in whether or not you succeed, but in how well you succeed (Roll poorly? It might take longer, be rougher, etc. But you don't have to keep rerolling until you finally hit a target number). It also has some of the best minion rules I've seen in any game. Players are actively encouraged to put their own twists to the plot. I could go on for a while, since the longer I use it the more things I find to like about it.

If you'd enjoy playing as a robot named Father Steel, Two Fisted Iron Man of the Cloth, who carries a card with an Ex Cathedra statement that he has a soul; as someone so rich they can buy the villain's moon base out from under them; as a mad scientist who carries a homemade Tesla Coil gun and various problem-solving gadgets; as a carbon-copy of Indiana Jones; as a blind swordfighter with a canesword and an atomic powered radio wave generator that lets him "see" through walls (one of my PCs); or a gunslinger with a prototype jetpack--Spirit of the Century is something you should check out. If you're into more restrained sorts of characters, it handles that well too (but those aren't as fun to talk about).


I thought the post was a bit outlandish to the point where people would pick up on the fact I was being less than serious, but I suppose I'll save the tongue in cheek humor.
Outlandish? Hardly. I've had DM's who've followed that to the letter. The first one was my first time roleplaying, and I didn't know to expect better. The second DM never was able to get the group back for another session.

Piedmon_Sama
2008-11-12, 02:08 AM
So my question is simple: Have I committed a cardinal sin against all of D&D-dom? Or have I simply supplemented the fully free-willed players with some written dialog, in order to facilitate faster play? If I presented some key info in a story, but used your PC in the story (complete with actions and dialog, written by me), would you enjoy the story development, or would you cry foul and show me the door?

Ok, that sounds like more than one question, so I'll simplify it: Give me your opinions! Thanks.

That's exactly what we used to do in the online games I played as a teenager. We'd generally write small interchanges of dialogue instead of making a whole post that was merely something like: "the merchant folded his arms and said he can't reduce the rate.... what do you say?" It let us move the story faster, flex our writing muscles, and better our characters' understandings of each other. Of course, it's a balancing act: your players shouldn't write each other's characters' soliloquies or presume a massive, personality-changing epiphany on each others' parts. But a short, characteristic response where it would be natural to have one? Go right ahead.

There's nothing at all wrong with what you're doing, if your players are alright with it. It's not what you'd do in a standard D&D game, sure, but 'standard' D&D games are played around a table with an expensive battlemat and miniature collections laid out. There's no "right" or "wrong" way to play the game; it's still roleplaying, and as long as you use the basic game, even if it's only as a springboard, it's still D&D. Don't let anyone tell you "you're doing it wrong!" or "that doesn't sound like D&D to me!" if you and your players are cool with it.

Raum
2008-11-12, 07:23 AM
Pure dungeoncrawling and railroading are in my eyes equally undersirable, as I made clear in my post. I am well aware there are different ways to run a campaign, but the issue dealt with in the OP is if railroading is okay to a certain degree. I believe it is.Most pure dungeon crawls are railroads. :smallsmile:

Jarawara
2008-11-12, 08:44 PM
Hey, thanks everyone for the replies. There's alot of good tips and advice here, and it feels good for once to have spawned such a helpful thread.

Hmmm... "Narrative" style. OK, so now I know what to call what I do! :smallbiggrin:

I had connection troubles getting here the last couple of days, or I would have responded sooner. So instead, I now post the big 'ol post of 'Reply All'.

First of all, I should have explained that this was not a problem with my current players. This is how we've been playing all along. We have discussed on how we'd like the next campaign to be different (I'm not sure of the specifics - less narrative style, less intense plot-focus, less mystery, or just the same, but a different local?), but the fact remains that the game's been going on now since November of 2001. We meet every Saturday, play for 6-10 hours, and only occasionally have to skip a game.

Heck, I've seen my player redragon go from that young schoolgirl to entering the workforce to becoming a college girl to becoming a high priced consultant in her chosen budding career and yet she still finds time to game with me every week. I must be doing something right!

But I was thinking of starting a more local group, and I wondered if I could take the skills I've learned in my online game and apply it to the face to face group (or even to another online group), and if they'd accept me like my current group does. And of that... I'm beginning to think no. It may just be I have the right players for the right game. I'd have to find out what the other players like and play to their preferences.

I've not done this before (as in, before discovering the internet). I played face to face games before that, and it was much more 'standard' play, not the majorly narrative style I have now. I'm not even sure if I'd be able to keep up such a story-intensive game with a group of face to face players. If nothing else, we'd not have the written record of the game, which has been a godsend in keeping up on the storyline threads.

Anyway, so I didn't really need a solution to my problem, but rather, I just wanted to know if you'd enjoy the solution I already chose. Sorry for not making that clear in the beginning. And thanks - as your replies contained some very good advice, for me or any DM.

So, on to some replies.


"Frankly, it sounds like you'd sooner be writing a novel than running a game."

Well, that's a legitimate claim. I do like writing, and I do intend to turn this campaign into a book someday. However, I've been able to turn the direction of the campaign on months-long storyarcs based on the choices of the players, and their actions have morphed the original plan into something wildly different than how I had envisioned it.

The classic example of this was a point in time was a scene where it became clear to the players that nobody in town was willing to do anything about the raiders threatening the outer farms. The mayor was unwilling to organize a militia, the constable was unwilling to send the police force outside of town, and nobody wanted to call in the army ('cause then they'd have to feed and house them, bankrupting the town). This was the cue for the players to 'become adventurers', and go out to confront the bandits themselves, be the heroes, and you know, play D&D.

Instead, they decided the town needed a new mayor who was willing to take action and protect his town. They sponsored the old mayor for a rematch vote, challenged the current mayor Lethral, with Jaran (the PC) doing most of the campaign speeches. This led to many sessions of in-town intrigue which ultimately exposed how Lethral was working with the raiders in an elaborate plot to start a fake war with the Kargish. Lethral lost the vote, the old mayor Qualgin was elected, the town elders gave Jaran the position of leader of the militia and the job of training the men to defend the town, Lethral then killed Qualgin, tried to kill Jaran (and died messily), the town was leaderless so Jaran took over, disbanded the town council, appointed his own hand-chosen (and relatively powerless) mayor, and effectively became ruler of Vhommlette.

He then decided that the country had for too long been only a collection of semi-independant towns, and needed consolidation, so he rallied his new army and went marching across the countryside taking town after town, expanding his army as he went, exposing the corruption in the failed leadership, and finally unifying Tiatia. Then he negotiated with the Kargish, who in fact had not been behind the raids in the first place, and together they are now planning to get the ones responsible.

So I look now at my original adventure set for low level characters, and I have much more experienced PC's leading a couple of thousand footsoldiers, and I think perhaps I need to update my little bandit lair... :smallcool:


A quick shout out for Fishy's 'box' system. It's a very good way to script out a storyline without, you know, scripting it out.

As for redundancy, I fully agree. I often leave a trio or more of clues for the players to find, knowing that the players will invariably ignore one, misinterpret another, and totally miss others. Redundancy is my backup for redirecting the players back to what they needed to find. And in fact, often the reasons for my written out stories is to gloss over a scene that now has been proven redundant, because they already got the clue from elsewhere.

A hypothetical example would be if they learned they need to talk to NPC Bob, in which they will get a clue, but they put that off till later. They find their necessary clue, then go back to talk to NPC Bob. Unless I have some kind of alternative plan to entertain them with Bob (and I'll often ask the players if *they* have specifics in mind, other than simply because they knew they had to talk to Bob about 'something'), then I'll just write out the story so it only takes 5 minutes reading time to gain and we can get back to the game at hand.

Using the yellow key analogy: There's a Yellow door, and they need a yellow key to open the door. There's a half dozen identical yellow keys to be found; they only need one, and they've already found three of them. But right now, they're hurtling towards the Blue door, have forgotten about the Yellow door, and have stuffed the yellow keys into their back pockets without further comment. So I need to remind them once again about the yellow keys, but without it looking too obvious. Thus I set up (or in this case, had set up long ago) a roleplay with NPC Nglalekth in order to give them a yellow key.

Now if they have truly forgotten about the yellow key, then this scene is desperately needed (they have to at least know what options they have). But what if they're fully aware they have the yellow keys, already aware of the Yellow door, and they're just not discussing at this point in time? Then we play out a roleplay, possibly having the roleplay divert to the price of livestock and how to profit with chicken farming, only to have Nglalekth finally redirect it back over to the point at hand, and have him give the PC's a yellow key. Players then look at 5 hours of roleplay and say "Yeah, but we already have three of these."

And remember, this *is* in the middle of a major battle between two armies, being fought out as we speak.

So I figured that what I need is a gentle reminder of the yellow keys, but one that can be done in 5 minutes of reading. If they needed the reminder, they just got it, and if they didn't, it was hopefully a well written story, and we're back to slaughtering Maithoorans and Baccor.

Oh, and as for the Yellow door... they need to know about the option, so they don't just charge through the Blue door without possible alternatives. But once they see they have the choice, then it's still up to them which of those two choices they'd prefer to take. They are perfectly within their right to find all six yellow keys, and then take the Blue door after all. Either choice can lead to 'victory' in the campaign, just by different methods.


Saph, that's also good advice, on how to let roleplays develop where they may, and only then direct them back to the 'Plot hook of Awesomeness'. Problem is, my players *really, really* like to roleplay. As in, 6 hours long of off-topic chatter. And even then, it's not a problem, as long as the players don't think they "need to discover something important". That's when they get frustrated, thinking they needed to discover something big, but didn't know what to look for. But when it's poultry they really want to discuss, they seem to have perfect fun discussing it, and I'm ok with that.

Our standing record on roleplay is that we played 11 consecutive 9+ hour sessions and never had a single combat, and only a little bit of investigation. The rest was just various roleplays, some of which forwarded the plot along, some of which was just about cheesebread.

And of course, there was the time that goofing around with oranges directly led to the creation of a major BBEG, but that's a story for a different post.

But we've also had our swing to the other extreme, like our current battle, which has now been running for six sessions straight, (after several session of roleplay and events to set the battle into motion). So with the tension this high, I didn't want to distract them with an unneccesary roleplay, and certainly didn't want it turning into a discussion of poultry, so that's why the story. And it worked just fine, but I'm still doubtful such tactics would work on most people. I suspect it works only because of the players I have, but I guess I'd just have to try it out on others before making that judgement.


An interesting question popped up: "Is turnabout fair play? Can the players write dialog for your NPCs?"

Well, I can't think of a specific example of the players writing the dialog for the NPC's in-game, (though there have been times where the players gave heavy hints as to what response they were expecting, and I picked up on that). But the players have, at times, written stories involving the NPC's, and yes, written dialog for them at the time.

More than that, they have also from time to time invented the NPC's themselves, on their lunchbreak or whatever, and presented them to me as people I could add into the game. Most of the time that works just fine, as they seem to have a good understanding of what type of individual fits to this campaign setting.

There was one classic case where redragon threw me for a loop, making a merchantman who would be competing with the local merchant company for business contracts with Tiatia. I hadn't planned on there being competition, and in fact the point of that part of the story was that the Hytio-Burman trading company had a near monopoly and was taking advantage of Tiatia, so this new NPC would complicate things. But redragon had written up several pages of character background and included a six-page story on how 'Arom Teskan' arrived in Tiatia... I just couldn't let that go unrewarded. I declared Arom to be a semi-PC, and continued with my plotline of the PC's investigating the corrupt Hytio-Burman trading company, but with the added angle of having Arom as an ally in the investigation, as a playable specialized PC for certain circumstances.

And of course, there was the major plot hook of awesomeness wherein Issac (major NPC who would turn into a possible BBEG) would lose his wife and child in one of the various raids, but just before the event occured, one of the players decided that Issac's child, who the player named Livia (I didn't name her, the player did, and in fact the child was going to be a boy, but the player defined it for me first!)... uh... I got sidetracked with this sentence, where was I? Oh yeah, the player decided that Livia would make a really cool PC, and I allowed it - and quickly concluded that Livia was not at home when the raid killed Issac's wife... so instead of Issac being alone with his grief and prone to becoming a BBEG, it was NPC Issac and PC Livia working together to find the real killer.

That whole episode really became a trainwreck, destroying six months worth of planned out storyline, but out of every major trainwreck can develop new tracks, and the main campaign storyline became supercharged, pushing us quicker along to where we have now arrived. I wonder if Livia's player knows exactly how improved our game is from that one offhanded idea she had to claim a seemingly unimportant NPC as her own. Note to self, gotta thank her for that.


A response to fil kearney: That's a good idea, to complete the BBEG's monologue even as the players would be launching attacks. Once the monologue is over, the players are free to lauch those attacks, or 'cool down' and continue the roleplay. Thus the players were not denied their choices, just delayed long enough for the DM to get his point across, then the game was 'opened back up'.

I guess that's what I'm doing here, as the story obvious scripted the roleplay and the action, but at the end of the story none of the NPC's involved go anywhere. From that point forward, the players can choose to attack, ignore, or discuss poultry farming to their hearts content. Considering the fact that my story was titled "Taking Sides", the story was intended to direct them into a choice, but of which choice is completely up to them.

*~*

Ok, if you knew how much money I lost on the market today, you'd understand why I'm spending all my time on posting and games, and not reality. But I'm sure I've wasted more of your time than you'd prefer, so let me just say again, thank you for all your responses, they were thoughtful and informative. I'll be saving this whole thread for reminders to myself later. I can also use reminders and advice, lest I fall back into my bad habits of old. :smallwink:

-Jar

Riffington
2008-11-12, 09:24 PM
I think you've found/created a fun way of playing (and also, that you could enjoy Ars Magica, In Nomine, or Amber, which lend themselves more to this kind of style than D&D sometimes does).

In my mind, what makes an RPG work is that it's collaborative storytelling. You and the players together are creating a story together. Now, for most people, that something is closer to drama than to written work - but that doesn't have to be the case. For most people, the parts that become closest to written are the sole domain of the DM... but you're letting your players write interludes as well.

When I was in middle school, a friend of mine wanted to learn what roleplaying was all about, and I agreed to run him a freeform Star Wars scenario. He shocked me a few minutes into it when he said something like "I look around and find a hidden door off to the side. I duck my head and sneak in through it". At the time, I thought he didn't get it at all, and I explained that he can only say what he tries; only the GM can say what actually happens. Only when I got to college did I realize that his intuitive "I get to make part of the story too" was spot-on. It can be hard to put into a game properly, but when done well can be extremely fun/engaging.

I'm glad you guys have developed this kind of give-and-take. Do you have (formal or informal) rules for it, or does it just happen? For me it's definitely easiest when done in short story (I call it "interlude") form; is this the case for you too?

elliott20
2008-11-12, 09:30 PM
wow, that's a huge post.

Anyway, your narrative style so far works fairly well with your group, so if you were to reproduce that with them, I'm sure it would be fine. But with other groups? I would be a bit more careful. You do have the right idea about narrative style game play though.

In general, narrative style gameplay focuses more on player control. It yields itself to a different approach towards planning your games. But the focus is just that, player have far more input in the game beyond just their own character. Some game systems are more flexible than others in that regard. In SotC (the game ClericofPhwar mentioned), it's built in that the players can effect the course of the storyline by calling on an aspect. In a game called Prime Time Adventures, players can even propose scenes they want to see happen to develop the plot line or the characters better. In games like these though, the book keeping needs to be kept light or else you will end up spending a lot of time creating catch-up content.

Your current approach to me feels a little too strict for my own standards mostly because you're still pre-planning encounters and it's resolution. To whit, think of this way. Yes, there's a yellow door and you've scatter 12 different yellow keys. If the players, however, forgot the yellow door and went straight for the blue one, the important thing is not necessarily to blunt them over the head and say "YELLOW DOOR", but let the consequence of ignoring the yellow door come to fruition through it's logical conclusion.

i.e. Ignore the major battle long enough to pursue goat herding advice and they essentially lose control over the outcome of the battle.

part of the narrative gaming approach (and ultimate the approach that will free you from having to pre-plan all the solutions and stay ahead of your players) is to be okay with letting the players ignore the yellow door all together and pursue a different course entirely. And from what I've read, at some level you already do this, you just seem to get caught up at times about how to resolve it.

The best approach towards planning a narrative game? consider what would happen if the players aren't there. Without player involvement, what would be the sequence of events and it's conclusion? That is your base "script". Things could get shifted up or down, modified as a result of PC actions, but in the case of the PCs failing to respond, this is what happens. Really, all you need are a series of scenes that you'd like to see happen, and try to fit them in as the game goes. In the mean time, allow the players to call their own scenes and pursue their own agendas.

And don't let PC failure be a way of punishing them! Let it be a springboard for MORE adventure. Failed to replace the corrupt mayor of the city? now the raiders have become mainstays in this area and the PCs are being targeted for political assassination.

Raum
2008-11-12, 11:02 PM
But I was thinking of starting a more local group, and I wondered if I could take the skills I've learned in my online game and apply it to the face to face group (or even to another online group), and if they'd accept me like my current group does. And of that... I'm beginning to think no. It may just be I have the right players for the right game. I'd have to find out what the other players like and play to their preferences.You'd need to adjust style to audience...or audience to style if you want to keep the storytelling format. It's quite possible, I'd just recommend being up front about how you want to run the games and what you expect from the players. That way there shouldn't be any surprises.


I've not done this before (as in, before discovering the internet). I played face to face games before that, and it was much more 'standard' play, not the majorly narrative style I have now. I'm not even sure if I'd be able to keep up such a story-intensive game with a group of face to face players. If nothing else, we'd not have the written record of the game, which has been a godsend in keeping up on the storyline threads.Something you might consider (perhaps even for the current group) is one of several VTT (Virtual Table Top) packages available. It's still not face to face gaming but they're pretty good. They also tend to have communities of players.


Ok, if you knew how much money I lost on the market today, you'd understand why I'm spending all my time on posting and games, and not reality. But I'm sure I've wasted more of your time than you'd prefer, so let me just say again, thank you for all your responses, they were thoughtful and informative. I'll be saving this whole thread for reminders to myself later. I can also use reminders and advice, lest I fall back into my bad habits of old. :smallwink:

-JarEh, you had to go and mention the market. :smallfrown: