jack: (Default)
How to adjudicate when the GM and player have diverging expectations?

Someone has to act as arbiter, and by default that's the GM, but when the GM decides, what should they decide?

I have no one answer, but a few principles.

If it doesn't matter much, get it out of the way quickly, and defer any discussion about the rules till later.

If the player had a particular expectation, try not to undermine them. I think this is one of the most important things to try to deal with in the moment.

If the player misunderstood an explanation and tried to jump across a 100" wide chasm not a 10" wide chasm, you may need to clarify some other things, but at a minimum, you probably want to say, "you'll just fall to your death, do you want to do something else?" not "are you sure?" "uh, yeah, why?" "ok, you fall to your death".

That applies whether you have someone who knows what the official rules say and was relying on it. If they've set up a shot that depends on the cover rules working the way the rules say and you've never previously altered, it sucks for them to have that yanked out from under them if you improv something instead. Or whether you have a new player who doesn't know what's covered mechanically or not, and tries to do something dramatic like swinging on a chandelier that in-rules doesn't provide any combat advantage. In both cases, the player shouldn't have a hissy fit, but also in both cases, it's your job to do the best you can in the spur of the moment to allow the player's action or give a good substitute. FWIW, I would allow the first player their interpretation of the rules that once, and if it kills an important NPC, I never rely on an important NPC surviving. And for the second player I'd do something like, "make a dex check, if you succeed, attack with a modest bonus (or choose to knock the enemy back)". That fits the sort of action they wanted.

If it's a one-off, it probably doesn't matter much. If it's going to come up repeatedly (eg. rules for hiding), get past the immediate problem, and then review the situation later. Check what the rules really say. Decide if you'd prefer those, or some modification. Check with the player if they have a sensible request, and if so, consider if it makes sense. Then make a decision, make it clear and stick to it.

If you're not sure which rule to go with? Look for easy to adjudicate (if it doesn't matter, you can always go with what's in the book). Look for fun -- the beginner is right, random stunts should TOTALLY be in lots of combat, and it's a flaw in the rules they're not. Look for ones that avoid breaking a tone you're evoking. Look for which way your players would prefer.

Part of this is just, how to make good rulings in the heat of a moment whichever side you come down on.

Part of it is, where do you draw the line between "what happens because of common sense" and "what happens because what it says in the rules". There's a gulf of people's expectations. Both in terms of tone (is this action adventure where heroes do things humans MIGHT be able to do? Or more like an epic norse legend, where great heroes wrestle sea-serpents?) and in terms of pedantry (do you expect the GM to allow an unconscious villain to have their throat slit? or rely on the weapon rules on how much damage that deals?). There's an amount you can stretch to accommodate different players, but only so far: beyond that, you just have to accept you want to play different things.

It's important to figure out if that's happening or not. You can totally have a tone that has character drama all over the place, *and* swashbuckling *and* fart jokes (see: all of Shakespeare). But if 4/5 players want wall-to-wall drama and one wants fart jokes, it may well not work. And the same in reverse.

Likewise, you can easily have some characters who chose well-optimised powers for their class, and some who chose whatever felt cool, and as long as there's not a big difference in power, it's fine. But if some characters want to hand wave away combat to get to the character interaction, and the other characters want to use the class abilities they just levelled up into, it's a stretch to keep both happy. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't.

But that's often the underlying dynamic when players react in very different ways, they're focussing on different parts of the adventure, and you want to give both what they want, but avoid what you give one player obviating what the other player wants. Eg. if conversation is always pointless when combat happens, people who want to learn about NPCs are screwed. If you let one character do things because they're cool, but everyone else sticks to the rules, the other players are eclipsed. Can you do both, or not?
jack: (Default)
DnD 4e and 5e introduced the idea of skill challenges. Basically a unified framework for handling various things other than combat or parallel to combat that should involve more back and forth than a single roll, like a chase scene, or defusing a bomb.

The idea is, instead of a single "defuse bomb" roll, you need multiple things, open the panel without setting something off, find the deadman's switch, choose the right wire, cut it.

And these might be things that require a variety of skills.

4e designed a version which really rubbed me up the wrong way. It optimised for designing a scenario that could be run mechanically for different groups and present a particular level of challenge, and assumed that each challenge would be defined by "achieve N successes before X failures, using skills A, B, C or D".

I've only skimmed the rules for 5e but it seems to be somewhat more freeform. Because I thought this was a *great* idea, basically codifying something that a good GM would do automatically, but I really didn't like the way it was hard-coded, and presented to the players up-front.

Ideally, it should be obvious without specifying to the players. For the bomb, maybe each failure makes the bomb arm itself, then begin flashing, then finally explode. You don't know for sure how many steps, but you can tell things are getting critical. (And if you're aiming for fun rather than challenge, the GM can escalate or descelate the requirements according to how challenging this encounter should be compared to other ones that have happened this session.) It should be obvious which skills might apply, but they might lead to different paths -- a knowledge skill might open up an easier path to success, not count as a success/failure itself; different skills might stack or not; etc.

Or it ties into combat, each failure makes combat more difficult (it makes the platform you're standing on move dangerously or lets more enemies catch up), or you need to coordinate making skill rolls with other characters doing combat.

If you're improv'ing, that's all fairly easy to do, even though it's hard to spec in advance.

I said on twitter, skill challenges are a great idea, but I find it more fun if it's "how the GM designs the scenario" not "a mechanic the players need to be familiar with". Now I think of it, I see the same contrast with "what monsters you encounter". That easily can be pre-specified, and the players know, basically, the mechanics are "here's the monsters who exist" or "they spawn every two rounds" (as in 4e)[1], and know everyone faced a similar challenge. Or it can be improvised -- if the players faff around, the reinforcements arrive early, if they players have a lucky plan to bar a door, they can't come in, etc, etc. (as I'd like it).

[1] This makes sense from a tactical combat perspective, but I found very frustrating. Every 2 rounds skeletons climb out of a sarcophagus. No, you can't look inside. No, you can't judge how many skeletons could fit inside. No, you can't judge what sort of spell or effect is responsible (well, you can, but you can't expect it to matter). No, you can't try to block the lid. It's screaming "accept the premise and desperately avoid imagining being there". Except that if you do that, you have no way to judge "having the infinite spawning skeletons finished or will they continue" and are punished for guessing wrong. I feel like you could have 90% of the effect by saying "there's a pile of bones, a skeleton assembles itself out of them, there's still 3/4 of the pile left" or "the sundered skeleton parts begin to reassemble themselves" or "the air shimmers and a skeleton warrior sprouts from the ground".
jack: (Default)
I wish I was not so amateur at this. I think it's worth me thinking and talking about it, but I'm sorry when that comes across as unhelpful.

Read more... )
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Again, my brain has got totally wrapped up in roleplaying. Except, I feel enough more confident GMing I may actually do something about it this time. I want to finish session with osos, and get some more one-shots in, and consider running something regular (maybe once a month). Ideally something where (a) there is an ongoing arc, so I don't need to do too much worldbuilding when I'm busy but (b) each session is self-contained, so it can be with "whoever's free", and not feel like it's only worth it if you come to all. Maybe mixed with some pure one-shots if I have cool ideas. "You travel in a boat or spaceship but not all of you leave at every port" would work well). I have *too many* ideas, but hopefully can decide on something practical to try out.
jack: (Default)
Especially for a one-shot or a new party, strive to have the first few minutes include (a) some kind of positive choice by the PCs to establish them as making choices, not just doing what you say and (b) include a FLASHING NEON OBVIOUS HOOK SAYING "HERO'S GO HERE" so the players have an immediate goal/challenge to work towards. I keep trying to make this much much more obvious and still falling short.

Remember pcs and npcs may have ranged attacks, make sure encounter is sensible if so.

If a PC has helped or angered an NPC organisation, note it down, it may not be anything, but it might be a useful hook later.

This is a big different-style-for-different people, but for me, when I'm thinking for 5e or 3.5e, plan a variety of encounters some of which will be bypassed or won in one lucky action, don't try and make each separate combat equally difficult. (Many people play the opposite, that each combat should be a separate winnable tactical challenge.)

Understand what players are likely to want, not in terms of free gifts, but in terms of what they want to achieve with their character.

Don't usually fudge things after they're already in play. If one lucky roll can wipe out the the monsters or the party, it can be too obvious if you adjust it on the fly. But do design flexible encounters that can be included or not, so if the first half is harder/easier than expected, you can rejig the overall difficulty to be about what you wanted by including or leaving out some of the encounters later.

In general plan lots of small things, and only include what fits well at the time. Make up locations, NPCs, backstory, history, cool NPC speeches, cool environmental effects... so they're there when you want to use them or when the players ask. But don't commit yourself to what you'll include on the spot, trust yourself what to pull in or leave out as it comes up, or what to replace with a better idea.

On a smaller scale, the same for objects, NPCs, locations, etc. Sketch a bunch of detail, and tell the players *some* of it, and more as needed. Just make sure you clearly separate some scene-setting with a nice clear understanding of "there's a big ogre here" :)

Likewise, don't plan a linear sequence of events, plan a physical layout or a political situation, plan at least one "obvious" path through, with an end the players will get to eventually, drop them in, and let things happen. They'll generally explore *most* of it, and whatever happens last can be the finale, if it's what you expected or not. It usually falls into place as a reasonable story for the session, and fits a lot better because the players feel like their choices were right, not like they were just guessing what you intended.

And feel free to plan some set pieces of a dramatic showdown in the ballroom. But if the players get horribly sidetracked and then blunder into the BBEG on the rooftop instead, don't try to force it, cannibalise the relevant parts to the new rooftop encounter, and save any other cool ideas for another time.
jack: (Default)
Liv: I was thinking a ranger fit my character in most ways, but I'm a sailor not a tracker.
Liv: I'm not sure what skills to take.
Me: It's ok. Take survival, that deals with "wilderness-type-stuff" including a lot of appropriate things and some others like tracking. We'll switch out "wilderness-type" for "ship-related".
Me: It's not like there's going to be a lot of tracking.
Me: (sotto voice) Except in the first session. I didn't really think this through.
Liv: What?
Me: Nothing.
Me; (sotto voice) Maybe someone will spontaneously volunteer to play the ship's cat.
Liv: What?
Me: Nothing.

Cleric: We don't have a proper tracker, but it looks like the footprints go that way.
Fighter: My rating is about the same as yours, but that sounds right to me.
Cleric: OK, now... I'm not sure.
Fighter: Me neither.
Wizard: I don't have survival or a wisdom score worth mentioning, but I roll high.
Wizard: I'm not expect, but maybe we should look for footprints in the soft mud by the stream, about 2 yards that way?

Cleric: Whew, that was an eventful stream-crossing
Cleric: Maybe I should have cast "detect traps"
Cleric: Wait, or does that only count if someone put an unpleasant surprise there? If it just happened, it doesn't find it? Would it have worked?
Me: That's a very philosophical question.
Cleric: I mean, someone like an NPC. "God" doesn't count.
Cleric: Nor "GM".
Me: Oh. Then no.