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Monday 14 December 2015

An Answer to Tom, About why Narrative Control is Insidious

In the comments section of one of this series where I point out what's so awful about player control of narrative in RPGs, someone named Tom felt I was being too harsh about the possible consequences of granting some 'say yes or roll the dice' type authority to players. After all, he reasons, it is not much more of a step than asking things that players have always done like asking "I talk to the goblins. What happens?"  or house rules where there was a 1% chance of Divine Intervention when a cleric prayed.  It was Tom's position that surely a little Player-agency, outside of their character, could do no harm. Right?

This is my response:
'Say yes or roll the dice' is taken in practice by the Storygamers to be an absolute law. In fact, most Forge games don't even require it explicitly because they make it clear that the GM is bound by the rules and not allowed to change them.  There is a whole culture of strongly discouraging GM authority, including any kind of discretion in what to allow or not allow.  Think about it: you can't downplay the radical extremism of "say yes or roll the dice" as a statement or else there'd just be no need to even say it; it's not "say yes or roll the dice or don't and just say no or whatever". It's TAKING AWAY the option of "no", or else it would be nothing at all. You can say yes, or you can roll the dice, but you can't say no. If that wasn't the intention of this mentality there wouldn't be any need to express anything!

And "say yes or roll the dice" is NOTHING like the cases you described above. It is much more about Players getting to change the reality of hte world itself, not on their characters getting to do things.

In a regular RPG, something like having a Player ask "Could my character pick the lock?" is obviously fine. It is something the CHARACTER is trying to do; whether he succeeds or not will be based on the character's abilities.

Asking something like "is there a book on botany in the library?" is also a fine question to ask; but it's a great example of where the danger of player-agency over the world begins to rear its ugly head.
The mentality of "say yes or roll the dice" would there demand that the GM not have a concept of that question beforehand (that is to say, not decide beforehand, when he's creating his universe, that a book on botany exists in the library or doesn't exist) and instead just MAKE one be there because the player asked for it (or alternately, not get to pick himself but make the player or himself roll for it). Obviously no GM ever goes through every library in every place in his setting and writes out every book, so what does it matter, right?  The point is, a GOOD GM, one who is turning the setting into a living world, will not have a list of all 10000+ books in the great library, but he WILL already know, the moment the question is asked, whether there's a book on botany in it or not. Because he will use his own sense of the Living World to judge: based on history, on culture, on what he knows to be true about his world. In a living world, there already either is or is not a botany book on those shelves.

So this is already a problem, because proper Emulation doesn't involve world editing. The library is a REAL place, not the blind backdrop for a story. An RPG world is a LIVING WORLD, not just a fuzzy pseudo-reality to suit some narrative. So in that living world, in that living library, there already either IS or IS NOT a book on botany. The Player asking whether there is one does not affect this virtual truth in any way shape or form, any more than you, in real life, asking a librarian at the Toronto Public Library if she has a book on botany would magically make there suddenly be one when there was not one before.  Take away consistency, and the world becomes less true, less alive, and Immersion becomes much more difficult.

But the third and worst (and most typical kind) of narrative-control move is to ask something like "Can my sword actually turn out to have been forged here, by the very blacksmith I'm talking to now, and it was his favorite work?" or "Could I spend a 'story point' to make it that I have the antidote in my pocket because, in fact, I knew all along that the dukes plan was to poison me, and all this time when it looked like I was a complete idiot falling into his trap I was just faking it?" or "could it be that actually the dowager had a change of heart and had written a new will before she died leaving everything to me?"

This sort of bullshit is the mainstay of the demands of narrative-control: the ability to directly cut & paste the virtual reality, to edit whatever one wants.  It takes the player COMPLETELY OUT of his character and puts him into the role of an author writing the story. It DEVASTATES the setting, which is no longer in any way a Living World, it's just a Potemkin Village, a totally fake backdrop, irrelevant to anything but story-creation.
ANYTHING can then be changed, at anyone's convenience, for the sake of the story. Nothing is real, and thus nothing is actually worth doing. Why the fuck go kill the orcs, if it all gets resolved by spending a story point anyways?! (of course, the Forgists' answer to that question is that they want RPGs to not be about game PLAY at all, but rather about deep and sophisticated story-creation; not about going to kill orcs, but about addressing the deep themes surrounding orc-killing.  That's why they have games like the one where you play holocaust victims, or child-soldiers in the Warsaw Uprising, and the point is never ever to win or even to survive, it's just to play out the misery of the character's deaths and 'tell the story' not really of the characters, but of that misery).

Narrative-control is an insidious trap for players, because at first, it makes it sound like you as a player will get more power, and that you'll be able to use that power to give your character the stuff you want for him (either literal stuff like more items or treasure, or the more ephemeral stuff of him getting to be as awesome as you hope he'll be). But it's always a trick, that's not what the Storygamers give a fuck about after all; they know that what narrative control really does is make the triumph or disaster of your PCs totally IRRELEVANT. If the whole world is an illusion, there's no satisfaction in triumphing because there never was anything to triumph against, no true risk of failure.

So the draw for Players to join in this revolt against GM authority is that it will be more awesome for their characters, but the end result is that actually their characters will stop mattering completely, and the game will stop being an RPG and become a storygame, where the goal isn't about caring about your character but telling a larger 'narrative', one where it really doesn't matter if your character wins or loses in it. He won't matter to you anymore, because the world is fake and because you aren't in your character, you're just a guy making up some shit for a little while.


Currently Smoking: Italian Redbark + Brebbia no.7


  1. I had a friend who was teaching somebody completely new to tabletop roleplaying. He gave the player a few basic pieces of info about the setting, it was fantasy, and asked him what he would like to play. The player said I wan't to be a bad-ass fighter with a powerful sword out to rule kingdoms.

    So my friend told him to write down a few a things and the result was indeed a big ass fighter with a powerful sword capable of taking on whole armies and ruling a kingdom.

    So he launches into the adventure and within 15 minutes the player had defeated two armies and was now king of a kingdom. The player said gee that wasn't very challenging or even fun. My friend replied "But you got to play the character you wanted?". For the player it was like a light bulb going off in his head. He made a more typical starting character and had a lot of fun for the rest of the session. Understanding that while the point of the game to achieve goals like becoming king, it is made more worthwhile by doing it with a character with limitations.

    Metagaming allows a player to circumvent the limitations of his characters. The more metagaming in a RPG, the less the sense of achievement one get from earning a goal.

    1. Seems like ruling a kingdom and able to defeat armies leaves a character in a position to see how he handles facing off against an empire and fighting the gods. Maybe not coolest game ever, but pretty cool nonetheless. (Call it the Elric game...)

    2. Rob - Respectfully, that is a straw man. The "Yes, and" method in RPG does not give the player anything they want. It allows for the addition of details to a scene if the detail is realistic for the scene/genre.

      The book in the library is a perfect example. There is no good reason a book on botany would not exist in a large library. If you say "No" to a player who has an idea for his PC to do some research on botany, and he's in a huge library and you say "No, there is not botany book", then you are the worst DM in the world. You have denied the player a minor desire for absolutely no good reason except for some misguided bias against narrative.

    3. If the book SHOULD be in that library, based on the world, then it should be there.
      If it should not be in that library, based on the world, then it should not be there.

      Just like in real life, the question of whether you really want it to be be there should have NO bearing on what is.
      By saying "no" because that library should not have the book, you are helping the player understand his character's world better, letting him Immerse more, opening him up to a new challenge rather than satisfying his immediate whim, and therefore being a GREAT GM, rather than a bad one.

      Bad GMs are the ones who castrate themselves just because Ron Edwards said they needed to.

    4. @Marty first I don't see how it is a strawman as it was an actual conversation between my friend and his player. I myself had similar conversations although not I will admit they are not quite as illustrative of the issue as the one my friend had.

      As for the book example.

      The library in question is a specific place in a specific location. Either one of two things will be true, either the referee has specifically specified that the library holds a botany book among it collection or not. Or the referee didn't go to that level of detail and the library's contents are unspecified.

      If it the former, then the referee's notes determine whether the book exists or not. That would be fair as the referee took the time to figure out the content of said library before knowing what the player wanted or desired.

      If it the latter the referee has to make a ruling as to whether a botany book exists. The answer could be obviously yes for example the campaign takes place in 1920s New England and we are talking about a University Library. The answer also could be a probability if it is a small library. In which case the referee assigns a chance and rolls.

      What rules these paths to a ruling is the reality of the setting and the specific circumstances of the locale within the setting. It not the narrative no matter how convenient it would be to fulfilling the player's goals to have the botany book in that specific library.

      Obviously there is some kind of problem going on here as it is not uncommon to suggest narrative mechanics to fix it.

      The real problem is the lack of context. While a specific library may not have a book on botany there would obviously be some library somewhere that would have a book on botany. And if the character is skilled enough to make use of a book on botanty then it would be, to me as least, safe to assume that they have a general sense of where to find said book in a given region.

      A better way of handling of this is for the referee to be aware of this and supply the information that the character would logically know as a result of being an inhabitant of the setting. For example "Oh well it looks like the Wareham public library doesn't have the botany book you are looking for. But you remember that Miskatonic University does and it is a hour drive away. Also you still have your university pass to use the library."

      Now it may not be convenient for the characters to drive to Miskatonic University. It may make for a poor narrative when you recount it later. But it is part the experience of being in 1920s New England investigating strange supernatural occurances. And one of the main point of playing RPG campaign is to EXPERIENCE another place and time. To see given the circumstances that you can achieve your goals for your character. Some elements work in favor of achieving your goals and some don't.

      The more metagaming that is used the less the experience becomes. Because you are continually switching from viewing the campaign as player and viewing the campaign as a character. It also lessen the sense of achievement as the bias of actually using metagaming mechanics is to benefit the player and/or the group. It doesn't have to blatantly obvious. It builds up over time and when the campaign reaches its conclusion you are left wondering what you actually accomplished. One night you conveniently find a botany book, another night a wall collapses just in the right way to provide crucial cover, and so forth and so on.

      RPG work best as a pen & paper virtual reality with the human referee acting as the adjudicator of the player's action and the player focused on playing individual characters.

    5. @Rob - It's a straw man because no RPG actually exists where there is a mechanic that says "Give the player whatever they ask for."

      It is completely irrelevant to the conversation at hand because we are talking about narrative sharing in actual games, not "Let's pretend we're gods".

      If someone can point to an RPG that actually allows this kind of Mary Sue "I spend a plot point and get whatever I want", then I will concede that is a stupid game.

      But that game does not exist. It is a construct made up for this article as a straw man to knock down.

    6. As for the library example, I understand your point... but why just offer the player the book? (if, for example, the library is not a lawyers office where you'd only find law book).

      So, keeping the general in mind (that the subjects in the library are not constrained by setting or library size), what is the harm in just giving the book to the player? If it doesn't impact the plot why not give the player the opportunity for his character to come up with an interesting idea related to the book?

      What possible harm to the game could result in throwing the player a tiny bone?

    7. @Marty, metagame mechanics like Fate Points, are essence mechanics designed to give the players something he wants. Yes in practice they are wrapped up in mini-games that limit their use and effect. But when shorn of that they allow the player to get what he wants as a player.

      As for why not just give him the book anyway? Because we are not talking specifics but a general concept. Of course the referee is being a dick if he says that the player can't find a book on botany in a average New England library. If you give me a specific instance in a specific locale I will be glad to tell you how I would rule and why. But the general principle I advocate is based is whether it is my notes first, or does it make sense given the context.

      What I don't like is idea of a mechanic that creates stuff out of thin air just to make the challenge of the campaign easier. This including even spending a Fate Point that was earned by the player roleplaying a consequence well to have a book be conveniently located on a nearby schoolhouse desk because the teacher was interested in botany.

      Using the above if a player went "Hey Rob, I need a botany book, I think the local one-room schoolhouse will have one." I would look at my notes and see that I have nothing on the contents of the local one-room schoolhouse. So my reply "Well one-room schoolhouses are focused on the basics so it not likely. But the teacher could have an interest to warrant a book there. So I will say there is a 20% chance of a book on botany."

      Now this can go one of two ways. The players accepts my ruling and rolls taking the result of the dice. The player (or more typically the group) thought I made an error. I give a minute or two to state their case. Sometimes I stick with my original ruling, sometimes I revise my ruling, and other item I am convinced that I was incorrect and one will be found. Because of the way I conduct myself when I make a ruling I don't get bent out of shape, and neither do my players. I do this because I am human and in 35+ years of gaming I learned that sometimes the players more right than me about how something works in my setting.

      But still why I don't just give them the god damn book? Well where does it end. Where the cutoff to where you stop distorting the reality of the setting? If you allow a book to be found, why not a horse, if not a horse, why not a stagecoach, if not a stagecoach why not a castle and so forth and so on.

      My solution I stated before is to expand the context of the game. To be willing to supply extra-information that the character would logically know. Because I lived in my hometown all my life I know of a dozen places where I could find a botany book. I probably find one a strange city by virtue of the fact that most american cities have things in common like libraries and bookstores. All this I know because I was born and raised in the United States in the 20th century.

      What I see is that many referee don't go far enough in filling the gaps their player characters would not as a result of living in the setting. If you find your players playing twenty questions with you, then it likely a sign you the referee didn't supply them enough enough information. So make the effort to fill in the info gap rather than taking the lazy way with metagame mechanics.

      You know what the biggest sin a referee could commit in tabletop roleplaying is? It to render his player's choices meaningless. Railroading, mary sue NPCs, tyrannical referees, all the ills that story gamers rail against reduce this single core problem. The players choices as their character has no meaning within the campaign.

      If a player really wants to find a botany book enough that he is willing to do something out of game to do it. Then it because that referee for that campaign didn't give him any alternative. The player didn't have enough information to figure out where they could find a botany book.

  2. HA! I see you skipped that third paragraph (There's ALWAYS a third paragraph when I post these things for some damn reason. Brevity and I aren't that tight.) where I pretty much said: "Now, does that mean I want players to have total agency over my plot? No. I'm not in the business of collaborative world building." That's what you are talking about here. Collaborative world building. An equal partnership between the GM and the Player(s) in the shape and function of the world. So I think we may be comparing apples and turnips here.

    Let's look at your library example. Yes, as a GM, I know pretty damn well there won't be a book on Botany there. But that doesn't mean I won't through a d10, d20, or even percentile dice at a player's request to see if maybe, just maybe, by some freak chance, one might turn up. One lonely book on botany in a library otherwise dedicated to tactics, engineering, and war machines. Because in the real world, weird shit like that creeps into our libraries all the time. Because that smidge of random chance makes the game interesting. And while yes, it may dislodge the player from deep immersion, but not in a negative way in my experience. I've even been known to answer the question, "can I spend a benny/hero point/drama die so that I find a book on…" in the affirmative, but that is my prerogative as a GM. Not because something in any rulebook says, "Thall shalt acquiesce to the whims of thy players lest the holy fires of the gods of proper gaming consume you."

    See the difference?

    I think some people might call that, "Bad Wrong Fun." But it's all good. Different GMs have different styles and different modes of play. And that's not a bad thing.

    Now, with "collaborative world building," or 100% shared agency between the GM and player, that isn't an option, and that's where things get sketchy and where you and I are in agreement. Giving one of my players absolute veto authority or script control certainly limits my investment in the game. Because why should I go through all the effort to create an adventure scenario or a world setting with any depth if that design can be overridden at the capricious whims of a player? It's a complete waste of time.

    But to my understanding, that isn't what collaborative games are going for. They encourage, and are played by people looking for, a shared experience in that sense. Dungeon World isn't really set up for the GM to build a world visa-vie D&D. Does that make it a "not roleplaying game?" Eh. It certainly doesn't fit the traditional model, that's for sure. But now we are getting into a whole different line of discussion.

    So again I'll state that player agency, granted by the GM, is not a bad thing or coercive to the play experience. In fact, it can make the game more entertaining for both players and GMs. But there is a big fat glaring red line between "granted by the GM" and "equal authority hard coded by the rules." Yes, I can see where, as to the core of your argument, if immersion is your chief objective, player agency can be an obstacle (though I could make the same argument about dice rolling and subsystems). I see where you are coming from on that note. But I feel it's a useful tool to have in my quiver as GM to reward player involvement and creativity (and not something I should have to give any asshat player who is barely paying attention).

    Make sense?

    aka blusponge

    1. I skipped your third paragraph because I had nothing to add about it.

      As for Dungeon World, it's a really really shitty RPG.

      There's no question about the red-line of "rules-enforced GM-disempowering". But my argument is that beyond that, every tiny degree of player agency (in anything other than their own PC and its actions) is harmful. You can make the argument that some of it is not so harmful as to cause significant damage, but all of it is damaging to at least some degree.

    2. I think part of the point is not, “can I often think of some remote reason why a book on botany might be on the shelves” but rather “are there going to be times when the DM will know with certainty that a book of botany does not exist on these shelves.” If the latter is true, then you can’t just say yes or roll the dice. You have to say no, and potentially you might even ask, “what the hell is botany?”

      At that point, it’s “say yes or roll the dice or say no”. Which is perfectly good advice, but is also the opposite of “say yes or roll the dice.”

    3. "say yes, say no, or roll for it" are the three general options of any regular RPG GM. Which is why it's an inherent property of the statement 'say yes or roll' that the only difference is TAKING AWAY the authority to say No.

    4. No, just Freaking say yes. It makes no @$#%ing difference to the DM if the botany book is there or not. It makes no @#$%ing difference to the story if the book on botany is there or not.


      If you say "No", then you SUCK as a DM because you have squashed their idea FOR NO GOOD REASON.

    5. Read Rob Conley's story above. "Just give the player whatever they think will be fun immediately" is a really fucking quick path to being a shitty GM no one will want to play with.
      My players will often find their efforts frustrated by the reality of their character's limitations or the reality of the world; it makes their eventual triumphs all the sweeter because they know it was EARNED.

    6. We're talking about a book, not a +10 Magic Sword of Wankery.

    7. There is no "slippery slope" argument here. If you play a Monty Haul "Let's Make A Deal" campaign, you deserve what you get.

      But that's a straw man because that is not what we're talking about. A good GM knows the limits. There is *nothing* saying the player's get everything they want whenever they want it.

      To say that is the case is a straw man.

    8. And if you say there is a slippery slope, please cite examples.

      Name me ONE game that allows the players to declare "I am a god and people must kneel before me" where the DM has to say "Yes or roll the dice."

      Name one RPG that exists today that uses that methodology.

    9. "say yes or roll the dice" literally says that the player can get whatever they want, as long as they make some dice roll. Otherwise it's a meaningless statement.

    10. Marty, this line of reasoning seems to contradict your point downthread: "if it makes sense within the context of the market/library/whatever." I think that ultimately goes to the crux of the Pundit's argument. That giving the players things that contradict the internal logic of the world destroys the sense of immersion the GM should be working to create. That "say yes or roll the dice" provides a chance where there should be none.

      If providing the book on any subject (botany, dragons, porn...) at player request goes against the internal logic established by the campaign, then its a bad idea. But if "Say yes or roll the dice" is an absolute (as the Pundit argues), then the GM has no choice in the matter. That's if I understand his argument correctly.

    11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    12. RPGPundit -- I already asked the question. Please name a single game that uses "Say Yes or Roll the Dice" as you propose. I am merely asking for the name of a single game that uses the mechanic as you state.

    13. Tom - It's broader than that. Pundit is saying giving the players ANYTHING, even if it does make sense in the context, breaks immersion because they asked for it.

      I think that's poppycock.

    14. No, that's not what he is saying. He's saying that giving the player something that wouldn't otherwise be available just because the player asks for it is a detriment to immersion in play. To continue with the library example, if the player is looking for a book on cooking, and the GM has previously determined that such a book would reasonably be there, or determines the request is reasonable given the known make up of the library, then sure, that player might find such a book. But if the library is run by militant vegans and the player is looking for a book on cooking with animal fats, then the GM should say no, not roll the dice and see what happens. Because when you start doing that, the internal logic of the world starts to fray around the edges.

      Now, personally, I think having a contraband book on cooking animals show up in a library run by militant vegans makes for an interesting contradiction — one I know a couple of my players would dive into exploring. But doesn't make the Pundit's point less valid. Only that different GMs value different things in play.

    15. Marty: I nowhere said that giving players something they ask about breaks immersion. What breaks immersion is giving them something ONLY because they asked for it, which would otherwise not be part of the world.

    16. Also, for your question re. a game that uses "say yes or roll the dice" in that way... the honest answer would be any of the games that include that rule. Some of them don't seem to, but then they have made the rule meaningless because it is still allowing the GM to say no. Of course, a lot of other Storygames don't use that rule at all because they don't need to, it is already otherwise stated that the GM cannot say no, and must only strictly follow the rules. Even Dungeon World is that way, for example (and Apocalypse World, which it is based on). The GM is admonished that he must strictly just adjudicate the rules as written, like a Monopoly-banker, and cannot alter those rules.

      Then there's Dread, which essentially uses the inverse of that rule (only with a Jenga tower instead of dice): the GM cannot force the player to roll for anything. This means the GM can neither kill nor otherwise eliminate the player's character from the game (because a PC can only be eliminated by failing at the jenga-tower check), no matter how absurd the circumstance, as my famous review of that game demonstrated.

    17. Apocalypse World has no rule that would preclude the MC from saying 'no' to player. Counter-examples abound in the write-ups in the book.

      By your convoluted logic, if I play D&D strictly by the rules, it suddenly becomes a game where I can't say no to a player without rolling the dice. That's ridiculous.

      So, please, name a single game that has this "say yes or roll the dice" principle in the sense you are discussing here. Just give us one fucking name.

    18. RPGPundit -- To be absolutely clear, I am asking about a game that allows you to say whatever it is you want and the GM has to grant it to you.

      My question specifically was "Name me ONE game that allows the players to declare "I am a god and people must kneel before me" where the DM has to say "Yes or roll the dice."

      Are you saying Dungeon World / Apocalypse World does this? Because in no reading of the SRD was I able to discern that the player narrative is unlimited.

      I don't know about Dread, but I'm guessing that your statement is hyperbolic. Are you saying in Dread I can declare myself a demi-god and the GM has to say yes?

      That was the specific question I asked.

    19. The reason I am pressing into this is that you set up the premise of your whole article with the implication that there are *no limits* to the methodology, which is a lie to set up a straw man you can knock down.

      Now, if you had limited the article to talking about how it can impact immersion using your Living World example, I would disagree, but respect that, for you, the play style hurts your immersion and therefore you do no like to use it.

      And although it is subjective, that is a perfectly valid opinion.

      The problem is that you set up a whole bunch of bais against the play style using a completely false premise. Additionally, you are telling people whose immersion is NOT impacted by the play style that they are playing wrong.

      And that is why I think your article is not worth the pixels it is written upon.

    20. Marty, in a way you're also pulling a straw man because the Pundit never went as far as talking about god like powers. Which by the way only affect a small subset of stories. What I find interesting in his article and you seem to be overlooking is this: "what narrative control really does is make the triumph or disaster of your PCs totally IRRELEVANT. If the whole world is an illusion, there's no satisfaction in triumphing because there never was anything to triumph against, no true risk of failure."

      Your own question lets this shine through as you ask as a player and not a character. Your question is '"Name me ONE game that allows the players to declare "I am a god and people must kneel before me"' You ask from the player perspective not the characters. If you have points or any mechanism to rewrite the story then you're already a god or at least a lesser god standing side by side with the GM.

      My question to you is what does it mean to be a god? Is it casting an illusion, changing in some strange language and convincing the local village your character is a god? If so, then a good game that answers your question is D&D itself. On the other hand if being a god is spending a point so you "find" (that is insert into the story and discover) a secret passage at the bottom of the pit that takes you back to the main hall after you failed your find traps roll and fell into said pit, well I believe you'll find a multitude of games like that.

    21. Yeah, you guys are the ones setting up the Straw Man here.

    22. Pundit -- You said the player could say anything and the GM has to say "Yes" in several different threads. I was refuting that by asking for an example game where there are no limits on what the players ask for.

    23. In the thread RIGHT BELOW THIS ONE Pundit writes:


      Straw Freakin' Man.

    24. It's a straw man because even narrative sharing games have limits on what can be asked. Pundit claims otherwise. He is wrong.

    25. Marty, Dmitry does a good job of giving an example. He mentions 'The "say yes or roll the dice" principle explicitly covers only those situation when the GM does not have the answer beforehand. If you have prepped a town where there is no place for underground pit fights, you MUST say 'No' to the player, obviously.'

      Since there are clearly more situation in which the GM will not have an answer beforehand it is easy to see how just about any game that uses this rule will give the player what is wanted as long as the question is cleverly constructed to address something to which the GM lacks an answer beforehand.

    26. I've said this before but you know that consciously using a rule against its intent is a kind of rules lawyering, right? Just because some people might do that in a game (be that Dogs, D&D 3E, or whatever) doesn't mean the rule they abuse is de facto bad.

    27. >as long as the question is cleverly constructed to address something to which the GM lacks an answer beforehand.
      Theoretically, yes, though you seem to forget 'or roll the dice' part. But so what?

    28. I haven't forgotten about the roll dice. I simply omitted it since I've touched on it in other comments alongside the relevance of the book on botany. The part about it being current, not missing pages, etc. Do you want me to recap on dice? Maybe we can dive deeper into dice mechanics, probability curves and their relationship and impact alongside the application of this rule.

    29. I only meant that "cleverly construct you questions to address stuff that does not follow rigidly from GM's prep or previously established facts" does not look like a viable strategy to me. In particular, because things can be relegated to dice, and failed rolls in DitV often have lasting consequences.
      Once again, you can hardly discuss a mechanic or a GMing technique out of its context.

    30. Then why conjure a rule that invites such action?
      Personally I prefer to say yes AND roll dice. As i find using dice to determine degree of success way more interesting than so much math to obtain a simple yes or no.

    31. But the rule doesn't. And motives behind the conjuration have been listed in the thread I gave a link to below.

  3. PS. Just because storygamers take "say yes or roll the dice" to be absolute law doesn't make it any less a useful philosophy for use in moderation. You can't let the terrorists win. ;)

    1. There's no 'Moderation' "Say Yes, or Roll the Dice". There can't be! Why is this hard to understand?
      If I tell you "you can no longer have sex with any women", that's a statement that needs to be said. Watering that down into "you can't have sex with any women unless you really think you should or just kind of feel like it" is a MEANINGLESS STATEMENT.

      If I say "you must never ever kill" that doesn't mean "you must never kill, except if someone really pisses you off, or you're bored".

      "SAY YES OR ROLL THE DICE" means you CANNOT SAY NO, EVER. The two options you have are: give in automatically and say yes, or b) leave it to the player doing some kind of mechanical die-roll. But you ARE NOT ALLOWED to say no.

      If you were allowed to say no, then what fucking option is excluded?! WHAT WOULD BE THE POINT OF THE STATEMENT IN THE FIRST PLACE??!

      It's like saying "you can anything you want except turnips. And turnips too if you want". IT MEANS NOTHING. The only way "say yes or roll the dice" matters in any way as a statement is if you interpret it in the fundamentalist, radical, extremist stance that it was intended: as a tool for neutering the GM and stripping a major power from him (the ability to say no).

    2. Your argument is basically "if you interpret it idiotically, you get idiotic results". I could have told you that without even knowing what the "it" in that sentence referred to. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of people who read pieces of advice like that will continue to have fun taking them as just that - advice, not ironclad rules - and cheerfully ignore both relevant brands of idiocy, the one you attribute to storygamers, and yours.

    3. Well, the actual piece "Say yes, or roll the dice" comes from a specific game ("Dogs in the Vineyard" by Vincent Baker), where it used in a specific sense within the specific context of this game, quite different from the interpretation Pundit is trying to attack here. Btw, DitV does not grant much narrative control to players.

    4. Jeff: My argument is that it MUST be interpreted idiotically because it is an idiotic statement. If you do not interpret it the way I'm suggesting, the term itself would have ZERO meaning. If you interpret "say yes or roll the dice" as "actually, you're allowed to say No too" then you've stated NOTHING. You've included all previous existing possibilities and thus have made a non-statement. The only way "say yes or roll the dice" means anything at all is if you are NOT ALLOWED TO SAY NO.

    5. Dmitry: it has come to mean more than that. You can pretend that Storygames aren't Anti-GM all you like, but everyone knows the truth on that point. In most Storygames the GM has next to no power.
      Any game where a GM cannot say No to his players, where he can't arbitrarily kill player characters without requiring any justification or permission from the player, is NOT AN RPG.

    6. First of all, the "roll dice or say yes" rule in Dogs in the Vineyard is there to achieve to goals. I'm going to tackle them separately.

      The first one is eerily similar to how tests/checks in basically every traditional RPG are handled, that is, only use the mechanics if there is a meaningful conflict, if there is someone in opposition. Note that the text literally says "If they ask for information, give it to them. If they have their characters go somewhere, they're there. If they want it, it's theirs." - very much like how in skill-based games GMs don't have the players roll for every minute thing, only for the ones that count (because of time limitations, direct opposition from an enemy, etc.).

      The second one is actually to facilitate a smooth play and the mutual understanding of the setting. The text explicitly says: When a player asks you, "is there a [whatever] here?", you should either say yes outright, or turn the question back to the group "I dunno does it make sense to you all that there'd be a [whatever] here?". Which is actually a practice traditional GMs do very often with details they have not prepared, like the following:

      Player: "Is there a place I could do underground fighting?"
      GM: "Sure... It's a big city, there might be people involved in this kind of stuff."

      And bang, the player just influenced the sandbox. The GM may or may not have thought of placing underground fighting in this city before. The only difference is that DitV is very open about endorsing this behaviour, while other games might not even mention it.

    7. Ynas so far you've covered the "YES" part as used in both rules. Now the GM can say "NO" from the Pundit's perspective, but the Dogs in the Vineyard "roll dice or say yes" does not allow that. For example:

      Player: "Is there a place I could do underground fighting?"
      GM: "No, even though it's a big city such activities are banned and actively searched for and those involved quickly arrested."

      There is also the other aspect of the Pundit's point. Which goes along these lines as based on your example:

      Player: "Is there a place I could do underground fighting?"
      GM: "Sure... It's a big city, there might be people involved in this kind of stuff."
      Player: "Ok, I'll go there and since they have a 10,000 GP price I'm going to setup a fight in which I can rig it so we make 100,000 quickly. This is how it's going to work out...."

      So basically you haven't addressed the important part: saying "NO" and the other key point in the article with points at the player picking up on something like the underground place actually existing and then start making up NPCs, fighting rules, etc. and having the GM be unable to say NO outright.

    8. First, adding bits to the setting is _not_ covered by "say yes or roll dice" in Dogs; "say yes or turn the question to them" does that.

      Second, if such a rule was implemented in traditional gaming, the GM's response could be:
      "I'm not sure, it's kind of a strict town; what do you think?".

      Third, and most crucially, if the players were "immersed" prior asking such a question, they can actually evaluate the situation and might not even ask, becuase they already know the guards wouldn't allow such activities.

      The whole problem of narrative control was assumed to be breaking immersion; but if the players have been immersed, then they wouldn't propose such ideas unless it would feel logical.

      Plus, and it's not really covered above, the GM's veto power is not magically invested in every single player: it is divided and shared, so the idea of an underground fighting arena needs to be okayed by the whole group. Usurpingt the GM and using this rule to turn everything into chaos and insanity is as much a violation of the principle as is rules lawyering in traditional games; a disdainful act, to say the least.

    9. Ok so far. You still haven't tackled the "no" part of it. What if the rule were "Say no or roll dice"?

    10. Ynas: "
      The second one is actually to facilitate a smooth play and the mutual understanding of the setting. The text explicitly says: When a player asks you, "is there a [whatever] here?", you should either say yes outright, or turn the question back to the group "I dunno does it make sense to you all that there'd be a [whatever] here?". Which is actually a practice traditional GMs do very often with details they have not prepared, like the following:

      Player: "Is there a place I could do underground fighting?"
      GM: "Sure... It's a big city, there might be people involved in this kind of stuff.""

      One of these things is not like the other. In your latter example, which is certainly something that could happen in any D&D game and would be perfectly acceptable, the process would be that the GM considers his world, the place where the PCs are, and based on that understanding of his world agrees that there would likely be underground fighting in the seedier part of town. Conversely, if the PCs were in the middle of the wilderness or in a very small village, the GM would consider his world and say "no, there's nothing like that here", or perhaps "as far as your characters would judge (based on what they see and understand about the world they live in) you would be extremely doubtful that any such thing would be found around here" (with the GM being sure that there's not).

      Your former example, on the other hand, is completely disrespectful of the whole concept of a Living World. What does what the players 'sense' have anything to do with whether or not there is something in the world?!

      If anything, your examples highlight the exact difference between how RPGs work and how Storygamers approach their type of games. In one, the world is concrete and alive, in the other, it's just a facade that can be radically altered at any time to suit player whims.

    11. There is obviously a difference, namely, that in story games the GM is not the single mastermind behind the world; every player gets to chip in with their own ideas to build on it. No one has been doubting that.

      What we don't understand is why this would break immersion. If as a player I don't have an understanding of the world deep enough to judge whether some fact seems plausible, then I wasn't really immersed in the first place, was I?

      Also, I don't get to contradict already established facts; no story game works like that.

      As for the "living world" sort of viewpoint, let me try to explain why I don't think RPG settings are different from movie or novel settings.

      Fictional worlds (that is, everything except our own reality) don't move forward unless someone engages with them. Even "behind the scenes" things when the GM advances the timeline and makes the necessary adjustments (be they as simple as newcomers to a dungeon or as complex as determining the outcome of a borderlands war) require the GM to at least think about it. Without doing that, things don't change.

      Which means that things that have never been engaged or that are not engaged at the moment virtually (not pun intended) don't exist.

      Think about how game worlds that are built from the bottom-up can have really complex relationships between locations and NPCs; but they were retconned in the GM's mind, like having a random encounter with bandits for the third time, so they must have a lair somewhere, and when the players ask about their leader and stuff got improvised that just got into setting.

    12. I'll admit you present an interesting argument. However, the fact that you need an observer (and that's really all you need, just as you said, literally, "the GM THINKING about it") doesn't really affect the living quality of the world.

      What I mean by this can maybe be best understood by comparing that to the alternative: a world where nothing is actually happening anywhere except when it relates to the PCs. In a living world, the GM should have NPCs who are doing things, and larger-scale events that take place completely unrelated to the PCs. That is to say, things don't happen only because the PCs are either there or have something to do with it.

      Even in a badly-run Living World, say by a less experienced GM, where there is a lack of skills to allow a really effective process of the life of the world progressing in a complex fashion, there is still a crucial difference from the world of storygames: in the latter, and here I'm extending the definition of 'world of storygames' to mean any world where the world can be edited by player choice or mechanic totally divorced from the in-world actions of their characters, it's not that 'nothing is happening when the PCs aren't there' (as might indeed occur in a badly-run regular RPG setting), it's that NOTHING EXISTS except as the Players are interacting with it through their characters at any given moment. If things can be willy-nilly edited out, retroactively changed, altered without concern for the versimilitude of the world, then none of it is concrete. It is all just a potemkin village.

    13. If one could do that, true, that would be awful.

      But you can't.

      Each has a mechanism that regulates exactly how much "power" any participant has at any moment, the simplest of which is that no newly added detail/fact/whatever may contradict previously established facts.

      Also, in some of them no person might single-handedly veto anything, but then usually a democratic consensus needs to be reached.

      As for really game-altering changes, such as turning Dogs in the Vineyard into War of the Worlds and such, there is a mutual understanding assumed between participants. Very much like how players are assumed to do adventurer stuff in D&D-esque games, because that's why we're playing D&D.

      (As a not so serious post scriptum, because I've wanted to make this joke: it's so amazing how much we don't agree on this matter, yet how much I liked both Indra and Albion; I guess you really can't tell an author by his book :D)

    14. Ynas, I'll try to answer the lack of immersion point based on my recent experience developing a cyberpunk game in a collaborative way.

      We put all the key elements in motion, points, how to use them, the whole distributed narrative so everyone got to say something. It worked great for somethings, that is all that world building related and investigation aspects of the game. Yet it became hard when we came around to doing challenging and risky things like combat. Who manages the bad guys? It became like playing chess on a spinning table, I play whites, then you play blacks, then I play blacks, then you play whites and then I play whites and so forth. How can you build a mid to long term strategy like that?

      How can you be discovering the world and defining it at the same time? So it's my turn to explore this room in the dungeon and then my turn to draw out and describe the next room in the dungeon?

      You can't be playing a character who is a newcomer to a city and then define the underground fighting club and still hold the same degree of immersion as if you were just the observing character run by you as a player. You can make believe you can, some players actually may be capable of doing so, but I don't find it sane to generalize to all players based on the gifted qualities of a few.

      I'll give you another example based on the work I've done with my games. I've centered entirely on opposing die rolls in my mechanics and hiding the GM roll from the players so the outcome of an action may be hidden. This allows the players to fire into a treeline without me having to give the exact position of the enemy soldiers. They can shell a position, they can set a trap, defuse a bomb, etc., and still not be 100% sure of their outcome because I hold the other half of the die roll hidden.

      You can not have the same degree of immersion if you're involved in both aspects or have access to privileged information. This holds true for any game, not just storygames. In the previous example the game mechanics are quite different from otherwise "classic (combat) RPGs" like Twilight2000. It is stripping even more detailed (and privileged) information from the players like "there's a russian here and two more behind this tree", turning this into "You're being shot at and it seems to be coming from this direction, what do you do?".

    15. I'll add something to the previous post said with a bit of nostalgia from the early days of me playing D&D. Being a DM was not some supreme power trip meant to make you feel good. It was a duty and it carried a burden. I see how the Pundit can thus say the GM can say NO and even has the duty to say NO.

      The DM saw all and said all so the players need not to. That is the service the DM gave the players. As a player you didn't know how it worked, it just worked, and you enjoyed the experience. The price the DM paid for such "power" was full immersion.

      Now let me set this straight. Players did contribute to the story and setting. I had many players with powerful characters, nobles, princes, powerful swords with lineage and legend. They forged their backgrounds and settings. This is not something story games brought it. It's not a turn of the century discovery. Luck points, karma, you name it, we've had it since Marvel Superheroes back in '84.

      So it wasn't that the GM crippled the players' creativity or the storytelling process, no, no, no, nothing like that. The GM's duty was to create a sense of the unexpected so things never got old. Like the first time you met a goblin and then sometime later an orc and then a gnoll. As a player it's a thrilling experience to sit back and enjoy the ride as this world unfolds in front of you.

      To place a rule in a game that takes a bit (if not all) of that burden from the GM and places it on the players shoulders just because the game designer had a lifelong experience with shitty GMs is to screw players two times over. Once for having to deal with a shitty GM who will not get better without due practice and once again for leaving them out of the fun of actually being a player immersed in a setting.

    16. Gerardo,
      >Ynas so far you've covered the "YES" part as used in both rules. Now the GM can say "NO" from the Pundit's perspective, but the Dogs in the Vineyard "roll dice or say yes" does not allow that.

      You are falling prey to Pundit's libel. The "say yes or roll the dice" principle explicitly covers only those situation when the GM does not have the answer beforehand. If you have prepped a town where there is no place for underground pit fights, you MUST say 'No' to the player, obviously.

    17. Dmitry, that makes no sense and only invites the GM to over prepare and potentially railroad the adventure. It also means I can't make something on the fly just like I want it. Some GMs get really good at improvised adventures that show depth, it's a pity to see an adventure clipped by this rule.

    18. Dmitry, that makes no sense and only invites the GM to over prepare and potentially railroad the adventure. It also means I can't make something on the fly just like I want it. Some GMs get really good at improvised adventures that show depth, it's a pity to see an adventure clipped by this rule.

    19. Nope. It makes perfect sense *within the context* of DitV, where it even helps against railroading. Here's the author's own words (and you may find the rest of the thread of interest too, it's short):

      "Roll dice or say yes" is one piece of a GMing package; I don't think it stands well on its own. The other pieces are a compelling backstory, a situation at the beginning of play that the PCs *will certainly* throw out of balance, NPCs who seek out and respond actively to the PCs, PCs already entangled and ready for action, and just a general confidence on the GM's part that *no matter where the game goes*, it'll be good. Leave out any one of those other pieces, "roll dice or say yes" becomes weak advice. Leave out any two or more, it becomes maybe even harmful to play.

    21. Not being allowed to say NO to your players is ALWAYS harmful to play.

  4. I'm going to say "yes, but ..." to your point about the botany book in the library. If, as a DM, I can think of a reason there should not be (or could not be) a botany book in a particular library, I will rule accordingly. If that's not the case, which is the most likely circumstance, there is no reason not to roll randomly to determine the books existence or just allow it to exist. Hell, I don't know for sure whether or not there's a book solely about botany in my personal library in the real world and I'm currently sitting in it.

    To give a real life analogous example, in the AD&D 1E campaign I'm running (every week for four hours for the past two years) there is a open air book market in the main city. A player wanted to search until they found a book on dragons. Was there one? Sure, why not. It made no difference to the campaign in the short term, and, in the long term, I have made use of that book to clarify an important point about the differences between dragons in my campaign and the players' preconceived notions. It was a complete win-win scenario.

    Did I abdicate some important DM authority in that example? Did my game suddenly transform from a traditional 1E sandbox campaign into a story game? Does this mean I would violate my vision of the campaign world to give the players what they want? Not at all.

    1. If you had previously determined that there wasn't a dragon book in the market, then yes, you abdicated GM authority, but more importantly you broke the versimilitude of the world.
      If you didn't, if on consideration there was a book in the marketplace, then you lost nothing.

      Because if so, you are not running a living world. You're running a pointless facade.
      If not, then the player asking for it is irrelevant, as much as in the real world my wishing for pistacchio ice cream in my freezer will not make it magically appear where there was no ice cream before.

      Do you get what I'm saying here? It doesn't even really matter HOW you determine if there's book there (though it must come in some way through your own understanding of an existing living setting in your consciousness; it can still be determined for example by a percentage chance based on the logical internal probabilities of that world), what matters is that it NOT just get to be there when it wasn't ever there before because the player wanted it.

      Thou shalt have no other gods of your world but you, and even you don't fuck with it beyond a few cheap tricks, once the world is in motion.

    2. "The whole point is this: DID THE BOOK EXIST BECAUSE THE PLAYER ASKED FOR IT?"

      The problem with that phrasing is that the referee is a human being who doesn't think of all of the possibilities inherent in a setting or even in a specific locale at a specific time.

      So if you are in a market that could have a dragon book then it is reasonable for the player to ask if one existed. By whatever means the referee decides yes, technically the book exists because the player asked for it.

      I understand what you getting at, but you need better phrasing of the issue. For me it hinges whether the game has a actual rule forcing the referee to grant the player request. Even phrasing it that way is simplistic because D&D and other RPGs have tools to determine what actually in a market.

      The issue, as you pointed out, hinges on whether the referee can say no based on either the circumstances of the market, or his notes.

      Also I will point out that none of this is particularly clear cut. I am talking about the whole issue not your article. For example what the different between the wargame Melee, and the RPG The Fantasy Trip? They both use the same rules. I would argue Melee is a wargame because that how it is presented, and TFT is a RPG because that how it presented. You can't look at the rules to say which is which in this case. It the author intent in how the rules are used that makes the difference.

      The same with the issue of metagaming, narrative, and storygames and their rules. What the intent of the author in writing the rules. And you do focus on intent in your articles. And the reader need to understand it not just about specific mechanics. It about the intent behind the mechanics.

    3. What I mean by my earlier statement is that the GM must treat his world as a world that actually exists. A Living World. So things should exist or not exist in the world because of the conditions of the world, not because of post-world-creation editing (especially on the part of players! But even the GM should do as little of this as possible; sometimes adding details is necessary but taking away or changing is not recommended).

    4. Your point is exactly why my response to your initial post was a "Yes, but ...". You are right that allowing player input to define the campaign world can lead to a break of immersion and campaign integrity, but it doesn't need to and very often will not. Your fear of allowing the possibility of a DM using this tool/method is analogous to a story gamer's fear of rulings trumping rules -- you're afraid of how something might be abused, so you want an ironclad rule (i.e., "this is a bad thing civilized people don't do") to prevent abuse that may or may not happen.

      Was there a dragon book? Beats the hell out of me -- it's an open air market with independent vendors selling out of stalls. Before a player asks, both all books possible and none exist in the marketplace. If they never ask, no specific book will ever exist (unless I wondered to myself ahead of time whether a certain book would be available there -- which is a waste of time, by the way, unless I have reason to think the players will ask about it). There are lots of things in tabletop RPGs that only come into being when observed -- most trees, many buildings, many shops, some NPCs, some trails, many monsters (after all, what is a random encounter?), etc. The don't exist until the dice indicate them or the players ask about them. You can even argue that this is part of what makes tabletop RPGs superior to cRPGs, which must decide ahead of time the reality of every pixel before a player loads up the game.

      Stepping back for a moment, though, there is a useful conversation to have about the "say yes" idea and its limitations. The key point of that conversation is that nothing should be made to exist that doesn't have the potential to exist -- and that the DM is the final arbiter of that potentiality. Personally, I would add that the potential for something existing that wasn't decided prior to a gaming session should never be 100% (dice should be rolled), but I wouldn't turn up my nose at a DM who just said yes by fiat.

    5. @Craddoke - Well put. Personally, I would go ahead and let them have a book on botany or dragons (rather than roll a die) if it makes sense within the context of the market/library/whatever.

      Rule 0 is known that the DM is a final arbiter, but my Rule -1 is let the players run with an idea as often as possible if there is no good reason not to allow it.

      Since there is no good reason for them not to find a book on botany or dragons, then so be it.

      Now, if the printing press does not exist in the game world, or non-religious texts are forbidden by the local church, that's a different story because the PCs are asking for an item that might not logically exist in the market place... But even then, a DM could add a hook - "That books would be forbidden by the church, but perhaps you could see if there is a black market..." BOOM! New subplot invented on the spot.

    6. There is a good reason, that you are ignoring. Because you can 't have everything you want just because you ask for it. Case in point, my local library is poor and relies on donations. There might be a book on botany in there, but nothing after 1980. Your pointless arguing a silly point shows that you have no knowledge of the real world, and as such, I don't trust you to administer a fantasy world.

    7. RPGPundit writes: "So things should exist or not exist in the world because of the conditions of the world, not because of post-world-creation editing."

      The premise is flawed. The DM adds details to the game world ALL THE TIME post-world creation. New ideas present themselves that weren't considered at the outset of the campaign. Even if the DM doesn't use narrative sharing, observations and action by the players generate new ideas in the DM's mind and she adds them.

      To say that the world is somehow fully static is baloney. To say that the DM "would know whether the book exists or not due to the internal consistency of the world" or similar is a bizarre rationalization.

      That book did not exist in the DM's mind before the player suggested it. Observation changes the game world (almost like Quantum Physics). Whether they DM uses narrative sharing or not ** that book did not exist in the library prior to the player's question ** even if it is makes sense to the internal consistency of the game world, it did not exist because no one had yet thought of it before that moment.

      To say that it "always existed if the DM says so" is a weird ret-con rationalization for bias against narrative sharing.

      We're not talking about the Toronto Library which is a real world physical construct where one can validate the existence of a given text. We're talking about a world that only exists in the DM and players' minds where reality changes *every moment of the game* as players observe new places.

    8. No, to say "it always existed if the GM says so" is at the very crux of how a living world works. It is a space in consciosness set apart from the regular intellect. But knowing you're probably a post-modernist, I don't expect you to get that.

      The world must have its own concrete internal reality, or else what you are doing is meaningless. What is the substantive difference between saying "i will use a story point to have a book be there that wasn't there before" and saying "i will use a story point to become king of the world"?
      Both are equally absurd. Both destroy the Living World concept, because they reveal the lie. They show that the world is just an illusion, and that nothing the characters do actually matters because it can all just be changed for the sake of the 'narrative'.

      The GM never 'adds details' after the world is set in motion. What he does is DISCOVER details that were already always there, that he just didn't know was there until that moment.

    9. If you don't see the difference, then there is no help for you.

      Both are not equally absurd. One breaks the reality of the setting; the other doesn't.

      If you can't recognize that, than there is no point talking about this anymore.

    10. Well, strictly speaking, "i will use a story point to have a book be there that wasn't there before" is indeed absurd. But nobody ever says that, except voices in Pundit's head.

      What people actually say is "i will use a story point to have a book be there, the existence or non-existence of which has not been established yet in the course of play".

    11. BOTH break the reality of the setting. One just seemingly does it in a very tiny way, the other in a very large way. But both end up proving the whole of reality an illusion, meaningless, and arbitrary.

  5. I agree with the statements that you have made here. We've got to watch out that other rules aren't being violated by this. We have to be able to separate what the player knows from what the character knows, and also make sure that they are not getting a free wish; however, don't you think that, sometimes, by simply saying "No", that you are giving them a free pass as well?

    For instance, if they want to find a specific type of book in a large library, if we just say no, then effectively we've let them search the entire place with no penalties.

    1. Well, obviously from the point of regular RPGs, I would certainly assume the question could only possibly be asked if the character is actively searching the library and taking the time necessary for that.

  6. Great example with the Book on Dragons! I guess that it is something of an achievement, that my players know no more about the setting, the campaign, than their characters. No arguing that DM has the dominant narrative.

  7. There is no difference between saying "yes", "no" or "rolling dice". Reducing it to "say yes or roll dice" is only a limit on how questions can be asked in a game, provides no substantial benefit to the players, and can make things quite confusing.

    Is the Schrödinger's cat alive? "Say yes or roll dice" means it is either alive by GM decision or dead by dice decision based on GM set odds.

    Is the Schrödinger's cat dead? Mhhh, asking the exact same thing in another way. In this case the cat is either dead by GM decision, the GM has to say "YES", which implies the cat is dead or maybe alive based on a die roll.

    So was the Schrödinger's cat alive in the first place? We don't know until the players observe the box. Is there a book on dragons in the book market? We don't know until we observe the book market, but observing only reveals what was or was not already there.

    RPGs are full of Schrödinger's cats, that is unless we spend all our time planning and none of our time playing. If I actually defined every book in the market "a priori" in anticipation to any player question I'd end up with a pretty long ToDo list in my game prep. I could optimize my time by focusing on the "probable questions" my players might ask, reduce the set of books to a highly probably subset I expect my players to want, but this is a good formula to start down the railroad path, and we all know how that ends.

    So I won't define all the books in the book market and I won't write down if the Schrödinger's cat is dead or not. Instead I define such things at when they come up. Does it matter if I define it there and then or the day before? What if during game prep I asked "Is the cat dead?" and I answered YES without rolling dice and then the players actually ask "Is the cat alive?". Fuck, I asked the right question the wrong way, what then? Do I trash all my prep and re-roll just because players won't take NO for an answer to a question I YES but I worded inversely?

    You must be as confused by now as I am, and we still don't know if the Schrödinger cat really alive! Well that of course depends on the way the player phrases the question and if we're using the "Say yes or roll dice" rule. If so, is the player asking me if the cat is dead or are asking me if the cat is alive. Because I'll have to say Yes or roll dice. So the cat may be certainly dead and just maybe alive or certainly alive and just maybe dead depending on how the player phrases the question and how I roll the dice.

    To summarize, the "Say yes or roll dice" rule places more emphasis on question wording that story, character and setting. The wording of the question has more importance than the actual world it is asked in and has no real lasting benefit to the players. Because, after all (chuckles and grins evilly), the cat's name could be Church and being found alive could lead to a much more interesting (and dangerous) story, just like that book on dragons the party "does" find may hold a bit more than what they bargained for.

    Like a said, to the good and resourceful GM, the "Say yes or roll dice" rule makes no difference. Sometimes forcing a YES can have more devastating effects than taking a NO for answer. Bwahaahahhaha!

  8. I played with some story gamers despite them calling my games less evolved and backward - i felt no risk or danger. So i took outrageous risks because i didnt care - i even exaggerated my wounds - they all thought i was a crazy risk taker and seemed amazed by my antics. The worst that could happen is i was out till next scene. Very little consequences for my stupid aggression. I felt zero risk or achievement while others patted each other on backs and ego stroked themselves.

    In these games the most egotistical, pushy players, loudest talkers and fast imaginations get fruit. Slow thinkers, shy ppl and others come last. Rules in any game help players have basically equal chance. Dice and cards help randomize stuff a bit but in some games random beats skill more often.

    I did add a card deck with some limited story complication and life saving possibilities but clever players used tactically and use was only a few times a session or minor.

    If i was interested in acting id join a theatre group not a rpg group. There are story games with dice and cards that do not pretend to be rpgs they seem fine for a occasional game but not really for regular play. I know drawing games id rather play and at least i get better at drawing.

    Story gamers talking up their intelligence and superiority seem to use the same script.

    1. Yup. Important to remember that Storygames, and the push to storygamify RPGs, is a movement led by Narcissists to serve narcissists. Almost everything it does is to help useless people pretend they're doing something deep and meaningful without having to work at it.

      Obviously such a movement would want to strip away as much of the GM's power as possible; there's nothing narcissist primma donna players hate more than being told "no" by a GM who doesn't want them ruining it for everyone.

      The Forge and Storygames was just these same smug pretentious useless totally self-absorbed assholes trying 'ruin it for everyone' on a grand scale.

  9. >Why the fuck go kill the orcs, if it all gets resolved by spending a story point anyways?!
    Any real example of a published game in which you can destroy the antagonists by spending a story point?

    1. I asked essentially the same question and am still awaiting an answer.

      Since that would destroy his straw man, Pundit will ignore the question until you just shake your head and walk away.

    2. IIRC, Sorcerer kinda works this way. You could use your demon to kill all the orcs by spending your resources, but your character becomes increasingly dependent (and subservient) to your demon. But its been a looooooong time since I waded into the hot mess that is Sorcerer.

    3. IIRC, Sorcerer kinda works this way. You could use your demon to kill all the orcs by spending your resources, but your character becomes increasingly dependent (and subservient) to your demon. But its been a looooooong time since I waded into the hot mess that is Sorcerer.

    4. I've been using the term storyline distance to explain this that you ask. A storyline distance is a distance measured in "probability" instead of say time units or distance units. From any given point in a story two events that share the same probability of occurring have the same storyline distance. If said odds near 100% the distance nears 0 and if the odds near 0% the distance nears infinity.

      Simply put a story point allows you to warp story space in such a way that points that were at a time quite distant (improbable) become now quite near (probable). Pretty much like Star Trek, I don't need to actually "travel the path", I can just spend a point and "warp around it". Basically story points allow you to create a singularity in which otherwise different points in the story occupy the same space for the duration of the point's usage.

    5. @Tom:
      Nope, Sorcerer doesn't work this way. You don't just spend a metagame resource to have your opponents wiped off without a roll. And the game is very explicit (a rare case, I agree) about NOT giving any narrative control to players.

    6. I stand corrected. I did say it had been a looong time.

  10. It is perfectly fine for the botany book to not exist, arbitrarily, for no reason at all. Whether the player had a cool idea for it is immaterial to the question. We don't always get everything we want unless we're in preschool and the teacher wants us all to think we're special snowflakes which is a total lie. Those are the kind of stories I told my kids when they were 5 because they lacked the intellect and emotional maturity for something more complex.

    The fact is life sometimes sucks. Real living is not getting what you want on a silver platter, it's taking the cards you're dealt and striving with blood and sweat to stamp your will on it, to make the best of it, to test yourself. That is where real victory and satisfaction and drama are found. A story without that is a childish and simplistic story.

    Sometimes a good story will go down a path that leads nowhere, and you think why was that even in there? It's just texture. The little false leads and dissapointments are the backdrop against which the real story is set. They lend versimilitide and keep you guessing. WHY is there no botany book? That is far more interesting than "say yes" and there may not even be an answer. The GM might not know. But it's interesting, and it's a twist that maybe sends the "story" in a new direction.

    Also not all player ideas are cool just because they came from a player. Some a stupid and lame. Yeah its true. And the GM is lame sometimes too. Shrug. There is no reason to inflict EVERY dumb idea a player has on everyone else.

    Then too, maybe the player's cool idea was to NOT find a botany book and play out some related drama. By saying yes you ruined the idea! The fact is you can't know.

    So yeah there's no botany book.

    1. This doesn't really make sense in the context of RPGPundit's original point -- arbitrarily not having the book would seem just as bad as having it because a player asked. My take, on the other hand, is as follows:

      1. If there is no potential for the book to exist (because of some pre-determined feature of the campaign world or current location), it cannot exist no matter what. The DM is the final arbiter on the question of potentiality. It's hard to imagine botany not existing, but let's take my example about dragon books: perhaps in the campaign no one has heard of/imagined such creatures and therefore there are no books on them. That's fine. Perhaps a particular culture thinks invoking their name is verboten and won't have books about them; that's also fine.
      2. If the book could potentially exist, but the DM didn't determine its existence ahead of time, the best course of action is to roll to determine whether it truly does -- yes, you're likely pulling the percentages out of your ass, but it's better than nothing. Hell, you could always fall back on the traditional one-in-six chance when you have no idea what the percentages should be. This still allows the book to not exist with all the wonderful story-telling opportunities that entails as described in your post.
      3. If the book could potentially exist, just allowing it to exist doesn't strike me as always terrible, but I wouldn't do that myself in most cases. Much like your arbitrary no, it feels a little too much like railroading the adventure (arbitrary yeses railroad it according to player wishes, arbitrary nos railroad it according to DM wishes).

    2. The problem is burden of responsibility and player ego trips. There is no difference, information wise, between dice and a GM decision. They are both random events that can't be predicted. If I need to ask the GM if there is a book then I don't know the answer, and said answer is a random variable that will be filled by the GM when the question is answered. If it were not random it would be certain and I'd know the answer and thus would not be asking the question in the first place. To delegate the decision too a die roll with a probability of success set by the GM is just to set a proxy for the burden of responsibility. I'm still screwing the player, but I can't be blamed because the player is rolling the dice.

      Ironically the GM saying "no, there is no such book" is as much a story telling process as any other on the player's part. It just doesn't happen to be the player calling the shot and the player making the story. So there is a player ego trip in which the story has to be "the player's" as the player tells it. It can't just be "a story", it has to be "my story" as I want it to be told because I want to relive that Game of Thrones episode or whatever. You use the term "arbitrary" when referring to GM decisions, but somehow the player's decision to look for a particular book is "not arbitrary"?

      Speaking of arbitrarily, you said "arbitrarily not having the book would seem just as bad as having it because a player asked", but this cuts both ways and thus having it because the player asks for it is then as bad as arbitrarily not having it because the GM says so. So if you take the "say NO" out then you must take the "say YES" part out too and leave only the "roll dice" part.

    3. Sorry if my point was hazy. I was reacting largely to the idea of "say yes" as if that is superior to saying "no", and I think I got a bit carried with that thought. But I don't think you should say no just to be a dick, and really I dislike arbitrariness altogether. (Except as a function of dice.) Just give a factual answer, and if uncertain, roll to discover what the fact is.

    4. Sorry if my point was hazy. I was reacting largely to the idea of "say yes" as if that is superior to saying "no", and I think I got a bit carried with that thought. But I don't think you should say no just to be a dick, and really I dislike arbitrariness altogether. (Except as a function of dice.) Just give a factual answer, and if uncertain, roll to discover what the fact is.

  11. To much player agency also leads to "design by committee" of which you can decide whether that's a good thing. Dungeon World suffers from this if you let the players have to much input.

    A GM provides an editorial hand and a consistent vision. It's one reason the job is demanding and takes some skill. The solution to a GM with poor judgment or a lack of vision is not played agency, it is practice, study and/or a new GM.

    1. Absolutely. Almost all the 'problems' that storygames try to 'solve' are only ever problems because of bad GM skills. The solutions are always worse than the problem itself.

    2. Alcamtar -- Too much water will also kill you. Does that mean you should stop drinking?

    3. Marty: poor analogy there. A better one would be drinking booze while you game. The more booze you drink, the more fun you have, but the worse your play is. So if you're goal is an expertly run game, you really need to think hard about how much you are going to drink each game session.

      Drinking water is like dice rolling to RPGs. You won't know you've had too much until you have.

    4. @Tom -- Fair enough, but my point is that anything not taken not in moderation is harmful. One of the propositions presented in the various arguements is that narrative sharing is terrible and should be excised from RPGs because it can be abused.

      Well, ANY mechanic in a game can be abused... So should we throw them all out? Of course not.

    5. My argument is that any amount of narrative 'sharing' is terrible. There's no minimum amount of bleach that is healthy to drink, even if it might not quite kill you.

    6. You know that metaphor is completely inaccurate since people play and enjoy story-based mechanics in RPGs all over the world.

      This goes back to the "I'm RPGPundit and if you don't play games the way I say you should, you are wrong" argument.

    7. Except they mostly don't. A tiny minority do. The rest of the world plays D&D. I know you really really wish it wasn't so, but there it is.

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  14. "The point is, a GOOD GM, one who is turning the setting into a living world, will not have a list of all 10000+ books in the great library, but he WILL already know, the moment the question is asked, whether there's a book on botany in it or not. Because he will use his own sense of the Living World to judge: based on history, on culture, on what he knows to be true about his world. In a living world, there already either is or is not a botany book on those shelves."

    I reject that. If it's truly a "living world", then the GM won't pretend at absolute knowledge of everything in the game... like, for instance, if there's a book on botany in the library.

    Usually, it's not black and white, and a roll is more appropriate than a pronouncement by the GM.

    Using the dice to decide - as a kind of oracle - doesn't affect immersion. The library is a "real" place, but it is simultaneously a minor backdrop for the larger story. The narrative is important; it should be the focus, as long as, it's somewhat fluid. Not only should the players and their characters be able to influence the narrative, but chance, too (the dice).

    1. There are three possibilities: the GM is certain (whether or not he thought it through beforehand) that there is no book there; or the GM is certain (again, whether or not previously conceived) that there is definitely that book there; or the GM is certain that there is a possibility of the book being there. In the third case, whether the GM decides it at the moment, or by rolling a die based on what the probability is, doesn't matter. A GM can certainly roll a die to determine it if he wants.

      The points that are relevant:
      1) Whether or not the book is there should not be affected IN ANY WAY by the player wanting the book to be there. No more than the presence or absence of ice cream in my real-life fridge would be affected by my craving it.
      2) the GM should not be FORCED to say yes to the players, or roll a die to determine it, by some asshole storygame designer who doesn't even know him or his group. The GM ALWAYS has the right, and often the duty, to say NO.

    2. Satanis, I don't see the Pundit asking for absolute knowledge of everything in the game as he's not supporting a "Say yes or say no" rule. He's in favor of a "Say yes, roll or say no" rule instead of a "Say yes or roll". Clearly he still considers a die roll as an option for the GM.

      Now, as far as this discussion has been going on, the focus has been black and white. There is or there is not a book. The relevance of the book has been left unanswered and the point the Pundit brings about the third type of narrative problem, the one he exemplifies as "Can my sword actually turn out to have been forged here..." is left unanswered.

      Ok, we got the book. Now what? Why was the book needed in the first place? Is the book current enough to be helpful? Is it missing a few pages and among them the ones covering our topic of interest? Is it written in a foreign language? Is it cursed?

      Who gets to determine the relevance of the book? The GM or the players? Will the players spend some point so the book actually contains the means to contain the treant army? Who gets to say how powerful the book really is? To address Marty Walser's question, can points be spent to gain more power and reach some type of god status?

    3. RPGPundit writes: "1) Whether or not the book is there should not be affected IN ANY WAY by the player wanting the book to be there. No more than the presence or absence of ice cream in my real-life fridge would be affected by my craving it. "

      Again, you are using a flawed premise. The real world has existence outside of your head. Whether ice cream exists in your fridge is a provable fact in reality.

      But a game world only exists in the minds of the DM and players. If my PC craves ice cream, his fridge may or may not contain ice cream. Either case does not break game world consistency. It makes no freaking difference to the immersion of the game world whether the ice cream is there or not.

    4. Marty I don't follow you there. You're talking about a "flawed premise" yet you use it in your own point. The real world has existence outside my head. In that we are in agreement. The world also has existence outside the player character's head. So the character needing a certain book (need in the character's head) does not mean the book must exist in the book market (reality outside the character's head). You seem to agree with the Pundit that the GM can simply say no, there is no book.

    5. Gerado - No, I have several comments here and on the G+ thread(s), so I think the thrust of my point is lost in this one sub-thread which only talks about a narrow part of the larger point.

      Pundit posits that the book either does or does not exist (or has *always* existed) in the game world because of its internal consistency in the mind of the DM. He also posits that to add the book breaks immersion for the player.

      I strongly disagree on both points. The book doesn't exist in the game world until someone suggests that it does, either a player or a DM, because no one had thought of it prior to that moment.

      And if the DM just says "Yeah, you find a book on botany in the library" by DM fiat, that does nothing to break the immersion because its existence of the book does not defy the consistency of the setting.

      Where I most strongly disagree is that if the player has an idea that they think is interesting and gets excited such that they are asking very specific questions about minor detail, ** give it to them **.

      If that item doesn't break the game, give them the option to run down the road with their idea... Because they are excited and will enhance their fun in the game! Otherwise, you are just squashing their idea for no good reason other than some misplaced bias against narrative sharing.

    6. Marty, I agree with you about allowing good player ideas into the game, but I don't follow you in how this has any relevance in the Pundit's argument about taking the "no" out and enforcing the "Say yes or roll rule". In no way do I see the Pundit's article going against your stance that if the player has a good idea the GM can grant it. It is mostly against the idea of removing the GM's veto power.

      In a game in which the GM can say yes, roll dice or say no a good idea from the players part can be accepted by using the "say yes" part of the rule. I don't quite follow you on how expanding the GM's power from "Say yes, or roll dice" to "Say yes, roll dice or say no" in any way cripples the GM's ability to say yes to a players good idea. Could you explain this further?

    7. Marty: if you're running an RPG the right way (and I understand you wouldn't get this, because you've clearly never done so), the game world has an existence outside of your conscious mind. It makes all the difference.

    8. That... was actually the comment that made me realise how literally you interpret the phrase "the setting has a life of its own". Which means there is a fundamental difference between us in understanding how fiction works, so there is no point further discussing even this silly "is there a book on botany in the library?" example...

    9. An RPG setting isn't 'fiction'. Maybe the facade of a storygame is 'fiction' (or an attempt at fiction); but an RPG setting is a virtual world.

    10. RPGPunit - all games are fiction. If you believe games are reality, then you have other problems.

    11. So, what exactly is 'virtual world' and what makes it non-fictitious?

    12. You guys are confusing the Pundit by using the real meanings of words rather than fanciful interpretations that change depending on how the argument is challenged. No fair.

    13. An RPG world is not a fiction, because a fiction is just a story that is told from beginning to end where what matters is the telling.
      An RPG setting is a virtual world, a VR reality in our own Deep Consciousness. It isn't just a backdrop for a story, it has its own existence, it does not just exist for the purpose of creating some bad pseudo-artistry.

    14. Oh, I see. Just to help you a bit:

    15. Finally! A roleplaying game discussion worthy of blogging about:

    16. But now you're engaging in the standard Forgist manipulation of language. Because you want to just pretend you're using the word 'fiction' as "imaginary", but you're actually insinuating it means "story-making". So fuck you there.

      Obviously, an RPG setting is 'imaginary' in that it doesn't exist on this material plane other than as an idea.
      But this doesn't change the fact that the REASON it exists isn't as a shallow, malleable backdrop to tell a story. It exists as virtual-reality framework to have fleshed-out characters explore and adventure in.

      Those are two very different things. One is reading (or drawing/writing) a comic book, the other is playing in the greatest MMORPG possible.

    17. Good blog, Venger. The place for Player Agency, btw, is in THEIR CHARACTERS. They should have agency over what their characters do, not be railroaded, not have the GM imposing anything on their characters (with reasonable exceptions like if the character is under mind-control or what have you), and their power to change the world around them is based on what the CHARACTER can or can't do.

    18. I clearly see manipulation on your part here. You misinterprete Marty's use of "fiction" as 'narrative with beginning and end' instead of just 'product of imagination'. When the error is pointed out to you and misunderstanding cleared, you stick to your interpretation and accuse others of changing their statement retroactively. It's not the first time, alas, that I see this pattern in conversations with you. Can't you really see how ridiculous you sound? Sure, you know better what people mean than these people themselves! Are you a mind-reading psychic, or what?

    19. Thanks. I tried to find a middle ground.

      When it comes to evolved "storygames" like FATE, I don't have a problem with RPG mechanics that give players a modicum of narrative control, limited by the GM's ultimate authority, of course.

  15. Kudos, Satanis, Living World needs the Uncertainty Principle.

    Whether the GM has the right and the duty to say no, it comes down to his vision, and his desire to stick to it. Every player who wants to DM, will have their own vision and ideas for improving your game. Whether you hold to your vision absolutely or let others change it is your decision.

    I got rid of the (usually) more traditional players, without knowing what I was doing, who wanted me to run the game with Difficulty Checks, etc, when I had no idea of what it was. One day I looked through deleted e-mails and realized that I got rid of three times more players than played in my games. Astonished, it later occurred to me that what I was doing, was maintaining control over my vision of what my game should be.

    You have to accept the premise, that in real life there is often more going on at the game table than the game itself, and conversely, I wish I had been in more games, where the DM had a good imagination and was a good story teller and the only thing going on at the table was the game itself.

    1. Separating the wheat from the chaff is a necessary component of initiation. Carry on, Brooser Bear!

  16. To quote The Dude: "Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

    Every GM has his or her way of running the show, and they all have their reasons and opinions on the issue.

    The corollary which is often added to "yes or roll" is "if you're having fun, you're doing it right." So this is basically admitting that the principles expressed are informal and that there are exceptions to every rule. Doing it fun is more important than doing it right. It seems you're pretty concerned about doing it right.

    I see more than a little absolutism in your point of view, which, hey, if it works for you: great. But at the same time, it's the nuance of how someone pulls something off that is often the difference that makes the difference, and I think it's important to remember that.

    Formal correctness in terms of following principles might give someone a good feeling, but to me it's not as important as having fun at the table (this goes for GMs running their games as well as the players playing them)... and often adhering to principles is anathema to fun.

    1. Dude, there's nothing more 'absolutist' than a gang of pseudo-intellectual cunts telling all GMs: "You are NOT ALLOWED to say No to your players!"

      THEY are the absolutists. In what fucking universe is me saying "as Gm you are allowed to say yes, no, or roll the dice" somehow more restrictive to people than the other side saying "GMs should be neutered of all real power and forbidden from doing anything without player permission"??

    2. The unspoken corollary to “if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right” usually seems to be that “if you’re not doing it right, you’re not having fun.” You’re only having fun because D&D produced something like brain damage to make you only think you’re having fun.

      Doing it fun is better than doing it right is, whenever I have seen it used with examples, a very selfish definition of fun, because what it really means is that doing it fun now, for you, is better than doing it fun for everyone, in the long run as the world and the adventure are discovered. Doing it fun, now, will give you something to talk about all night. Doing it right will give the group something fun to have done for much longer.