Keeping the rules from players

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Ladybird

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Well, yeah, no rules system, or lack thereof, is going to fix plying with a crappy GM. Although I think there's generally some big warning signs that a GM is going to be antagonistic or deliberately unfair to the players before the game even begins if you know what to look for.
I don't feel it's necessarily always a case of "bad GM" (Although there are bad GM's out there), more "GM hasn't been taught that this is a bad thing to do"; there's a lack of good tablecraft advice out there.

Personally I feel PbtA games do their GM advice very well with Agenda / Always Say / Principles / GM Moves concepts and explicit explanations as to why things are the way they are; to show GM's how to run this game and cope with how it differs from other games, but where's the line between "practical advice" and "training wheels for the GM"?

This problem and this entire class of problems are especially prominent in D&D, because the rules say one thing-- very clearly-- but the majority of players and referees want them to say something else, because they want to be playing in a very different kind of setting than the one implied by what those rules say. And the problem is, a player can know the rules, but even knowing the referee isn't much of a guarantee of how they're going to make their ruling... especially when a lot of referees (not without reason) impose harsher house rules when they know the player is intentionally relying on dissonant rules for tactical benefit.
Yes. D&D wants to be both very specific and also a very generic toolkit, and those are two things you can't have together - it leads to situations like this.
 
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hawkeyefan

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Personally I feel PbtA games do their GM advice very well with Agenda / Always Say / Principles / GM Moves concepts and explicit explanations as to why things are the way they are; to show GM's how to run this game and cope with how it differs from other games, but where's the line between "practical advice" and "training wheels for the GM"?

I’m currently reading Heart: The City Beneath and it has some really great GM advice. It breaks it down into three sections; “If this is your first time running an RPG”, “If this is your first time running a story game”, and “If this is your first time running Heart”. These three sections are followed by several pages of GMing principles.

It’s a great example of the kind of specific guidance that a book can offer.
 

Ravenswing

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Back in the 70s and 80s, I just assumed everyone started playing rpgs with just a character sheet in front of them and little to no knowledge of any of the rules. The DMs would roll everything because there was only one set of dice. Worked perfectly well. We were all friends and trusted the DM not to be an ass.

I have walked out of a few campaigns, over the years, because I felt the GM was being a capricious nincompoop and/or had pulled an egregious bait-and-switch. In all but one of those cases, the GMs were good friends of mine, were all players in my own campaign, and we kept on being friends after I dropped out. That I can trust someone to be my friend doesn't mean I can trust them as a GM.

The question is verisimilitude to what. Most rpgs are not simple, real world roleplaying. Players want to know whether a lot of things about their character that they have no real world experience with. Can their fire spell kill an ogre? How fully does their super armor stop bullets? The cliff example is way out on the edge; there is a lot going on in less extreme example?

Not only +1, but +10.

See, here's an exercise for anyone who disagrees. I've got a Beretta 82 pistol in my hand (.32 ACP ammo, for those scoring at home). I'm moving at a jogging pace from left to right, but am otherwise well rested and uninjured. I am a good shot -- having been trained by avid pistol shooters -- but I'm not an expert marksman. I'm firing one handed. Don't look it up in a book, a gamebook, on Reddit, whereever. What are my odds of hitting a human target at 40 feet? In real life, not in whatever game system you use.

That actually described my level of pistol training at one point. I could give you rough numbers then. But that's as far as it goes. I certainly couldn't quote you odds of how well I'd have done with a .45 or magnum load, but they'd have been a good bit worse: I neither have large wrists, large hands or prepossessing strength, and I really preferred a Weaver stance to firing a .32 one-handed, thanks. So what's your real life experience with firearms, folks? Probably not a whole lot.

I have not had a regular player I knew to be proficient with firearms in 16 years. Other than my wife and myself, you have to go back to the early 1990s to find a player in my campaign with any swordfighting experience, and even there we're talking SCA, not steel on steel. The most recent black belt in my campaign played last in 1998. It's been thirty years since I had anyone I knew to be a proficient amateur athlete. One of my current players used to be a mountain climber ... 25+ years ago, before his health problems put a stop to it. Hmm, at least some of my players over the years knew how to handle a sailboat.

But I'm pretty durn sure that no one's ever had any idea about what a fire spell can do.
 

TristramEvans

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According to FBI statistics the average gun use episode lasts less than 8 seconda and has a hit ratio of 20% at close range

Elmer Kieth recounts a case where a police officer just happened to be walking in front of a bank as the robber ran out. They both emptied their revolvers at each other at face-to-face range.... And missed.

12 rounds at 3 yards.... No hits.

Here's the point though, if you don't know the exact percentage chance, why would your character know that?

To take this back to my earlier point though " Can their fire spell kill an ogre? How fully does their super armor stop bullets? "

Setting information a character should know should be relayed by the GM. That's not a function of a rules system. The player might know how much "damage" (in whatever abstract system terms that's measured in any given system) their fireball spell inflicts, but why should they know how much damage the average ogre can take, let alone any specific individual ogre they encounter? If they might be able to hazard some idea ("your fireball can blow through a brick wall, so you're pretty sure it can kill a flesh and blood creature under 10 tons in size pretty easily") the GM can relay that, easily. If they have "super armour", it's fair to ask what it's capabilities are, assuming they'd know that. I know generally what the effect of me wearing a kevlar vest is - I don't have specific measurements compared to different guns & ammo memorized, only a few specialists will.

These are not functions of a rules set. This is just information. A GM should provide players enough information for them to make reasonably informed choices. For some games, this means the players need to learn the system, for others - it simply doesn't.
 
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hawkeyefan

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like what?

Well Ladybird Ladybird posted the general advice that follows the “first time running an rpg” section, which I think is some pretty solid foundational stuff.

They get more specific with the next section by describing the differences between Heart and a trad game, and how to get a better handle on a story game if one is used to only trad games. They explain the difference in focus as being a shift from simulationism as a goal and why.

Then they get to specific advice for Heart, with sections on each of the below:
  • Stop Planning
  • Ask Questions
  • Reuse Setting Details
  • Evoking Atmosphere (wonder, tragedy, horror, humanity/inhumanity)
  • Tension and Breaking It
  • Giving the Players What They Want
  • Callings and Beats (each PC has a calling which is their general reason for delving into the Heart, and each Calling has Beats, which are lists of goals that the players will
I like very much that they give three tiers of advice from the very general about RPGs to the very specific about this particular game. And while they do present this all with the typical “it’s your game feel free to change things as needed” they get pretty specific. I think some games (particularly 5e D&D) lean way too much on the “there are many ways to play, do whatever you want” caveat and as a result they lack a clear approach.
 

ffilz

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That gets at why I'd rather not play games where everyone knows the setting... various famous IPs where I've seen a lot of arguments about picayune details of 'canon'.
Yeah, you can say, "This is MY version of Star Trek/Star Wars and not beholden to the shows/movies"... but that still invites a whole trivia night as the fanboys comment on the digressions... at least with SOME people (often the ones who really really want to play in that setting).
Yea, this can be a problem. Thankfully despite running RuneQuest for a variety of players over the years that have had extensive setting knowledge of Glorantha, I have actually had very few clashes. But I have heard my share of horror stories.
 

ffilz

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This problem and this entire class of problems are especially prominent in D&D, because the rules say one thing-- very clearly-- but the majority of players and referees want them to say something else, because they want to be playing in a very different kind of setting than the one implied by what those rules say. And the problem is, a player can know the rules, but even knowing the referee isn't much of a guarantee of how they're going to make their ruling... especially when a lot of referees (not without reason) impose harsher house rules when they know the player is intentionally relying on dissonant rules for tactical benefit.

Which... isn't really a criticism of the referee or the player in this situation, or even the rules. It merely highlights a problem that arises when the rules aren't written to function the way that people desire/expect them to, and aren't compatible with what people are trying to do with them. Not sure why, but I have the strangest feeling like I've tried to express similar concepts before...
Yea, that's a problem when the implied setting of the rules doesn't match the intended setting of play. Generally the way I resolve those contradictions is to adapt to the implied setting of the rules, but there's always the option of changing rules that are a mismatch for the intended setting of play. Mismatch between falling damage rules and perception of what kinds of falls should be fatal is a great example.
 

ffilz

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That's the opposite of Ken Hite's dictum that you should start where possible with Earth, the setting that everyone knows (supposedly an advantage).

You can have nasty accidents with canon in things set on Earth in reality. If the players know some detail of the canon and the GM does not, and it never occurs to the players that the detail is not true in the setting of the game, they can go on relying on unstated certainties, making unstated deductions, committing to courses of action that would work in reality and that won't work in the setting of the game. I was once involved in a game that turned out badly because the GM assumed that radio jamming is completely inconspicuous and forgot that international air travel is available to the military, whereas the players assumed the broad spectrum radio jamming is very conspicuous and that the military can get special forces reinforcements across the Atlantic in a week. Each party assumed that the other was on the same page, and the players made and acted on deductions that the GM was unaware of until they got themselves deep into a no-win situation.

Not that there is a lot that you can do about it if it never occurs to the GM that he or she has altered canon and it never occurs to the character players to check every piece of knowledge they are counting on.


One thing that I have done with some success is to devise a setting that is explicitly, radically different from the default cliché setting in fundamental and conspicuous ways, to disengage player's presumption that they know canon. For example, my most successful fantasy setting design I set in a tropical archipelago where the people were ethnically, politically, militarily, economically, and agriculturally completely different from people in the pseudo-European, pseudo-mediaeval fantasyland that everyone "well actually"s you about.
I feel like these issues come up more in modern and SF campaigns. Not that they are absent in fantasy or earlier history games, but the modern world is so vast and technology is so prevalent yet not always well understood. A key is good communication so mismatches in knowledge are caught earlier, and a willingness to retcon things if some assumption really got things off the rails, and a willingness to let things go, the NPCs made poor plans, oh well....
 

ffilz

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To reiterate, I've been the referee in campaigns were the rules and rolls were hidden from the players with no issue at all. Kult being the last instance of it. It suited the mystery, horror and general unreliability of characters (who often had flaws that made them do things the player may not want). The rules the players needed to interact with the most were skill rolls, a simple d20 roll-under system. So players could easily decide if they felt confident about a task since the chance of success was right there on the charater sheet.

No wild guesses... No mother may I... No need to negotiate anything... No game destroying lack of vital information...

Again, I'm not saying this is the right, only or best way to referee. But it's a perfectly viable option. I haven't used it myself for a long time due to not running a game I felt would benefit from the extra effort.
If the skill rolls are on the character sheet, that's a bunch of rules information NOT hidden from the players.
 

Simlasa

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I didn't think we were discussing hiding character sheets...
I did... or at least, that's part of what I've done when I've started newbies on the game. Because there's a bunch of info there that is otherwise meaningless. But at some later point they did come out.
 

Ravenswing

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Elmer Kieth recounts a case where a police officer just happened to be walking in front of a bank as the robber ran out. They both emptied their revolvers at each other at face-to-face range.... And missed.

I once drove through a drive-by shooting. On a cramped city street, cars parked on both sides, and I doubt I was going more than 30 mph if that much. With shooters on BOTH sides of the sidewalk, at least two to my left, at least one on my right returning fire.

My car wasn't so much as scratched.
 

Malleustein

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I did... or at least, that's part of what I've done when I've started newbies on the game. Because there's a bunch of info there that is otherwise meaningless. But at some later point they did come out.
But is that non-essential 'under the hood' information (such as the assorted modifiers for skill values) or the actual skill values themselves?

I do the former quite often, the latter never.
 

AsenRG

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There is certainly a monetary incentive to promote look at the rules, and rules mastery. It sells books, Who knows what new book or supplement could give you PC a big advantage. DIY? That doesn't sell books (well it could but that is another thread).
Yeah, but the books that DIY sells aren't the same books that most RPG publishers sell...well, apart from Osprey:shade:!

See, here's an exercise for anyone who disagrees. I've got a Beretta 82 pistol in my hand (.32 ACP ammo, for those scoring at home). I'm moving at a jogging pace from left to right, but am otherwise well rested and uninjured. I am a good shot -- having been trained by avid pistol shooters -- but I'm not an expert marksman. I'm firing one handed. Don't look it up in a book, a gamebook, on Reddit, whereever. What are my odds of hitting a human target at 40 feet? In real life, not in whatever game system you use.
"Pretty bad, assuming he's moving (especially sideways, not in a straight line towards you)":shade:.

And I'd written you a reply mentioning HEMA and sparring with black belts (short story, the results varied extremely widely:grin:), but at the end...all of the above is meaningless. The thread was talking about keeping the rules from players, not about not having any rules you believe would be useful:shade:!
So if you believe rules for magic are useful, use them. If you believe rules for shooting, naval action, swordfighting or whatever else are useful, have those as well!
You can still not tell the players what they are, or keep them completely transparent - basically, the rules you might be using (or not) aren't related to your position in the thread.

According to FBI statistics the average gun use episode lasts less than 8 seconda and has a hit ratio of 20% at close range

Elmer Kieth recounts a case where a police officer just happened to be walking in front of a bank as the robber ran out. They both emptied their revolvers at each other at face-to-face range.... And missed.

12 rounds at 3 yards.... No hits.

Here's the point though, if you don't know the exact percentage chance, why would your character know that?

To take this back to my earlier point though " Can their fire spell kill an ogre? How fully does their super armor stop bullets? "

Setting information a character should know should be relayed by the GM. That's not a function of a rules system. The player might know how much "damage" (in whatever abstract system terms that's measured in any given system) their fireball spell inflicts, but why should they know how much damage the average ogre can take, let alone any specific individual ogre they encounter? If they might be able to hazard some idea ("your fireball can blow through a brick wall, so you're pretty sure it can kill a flesh and blood creature under 10 tons in size pretty easily") the GM can relay that, easily. If they have "super armour", it's fair to ask what it's capabilities are, assuming they'd know that. I know generally what the effect of me wearing a kevlar vest is - I don't have specific measurements compared to different guns & ammo memorized, only a few specialists will.

These are not functions of a rules set. This is just information. A GM should provide players enough information for them to make reasonably informed choices. For some games, this means the players need to learn the system, for others - it simply doesn't.
Yeah, that.
Also, fun fact, I've seen more than one black belt who didn't have any idea about their own chances against a semi-proficient opponent with a blade. So even "a black belt" isn't a guarantee about you character knowing the odds:devil:. Which is...exactly as in your ogre example - they might know what they're capable of, but unless they also know what the opponent is capable of, there's no guarantees (barring large disparities in skill or power, as in the case of "fireball that can blow through a brick wall"...but those are acutally rare outside of Exalted, high-level D&D, or other supers games:skeleton:).
 

Simlasa

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But is that non-essential 'under the hood' information (such as the assorted modifiers for skill values) or the actual skill values themselves?

I do the former quite often, the latter never.
The entire character sheet... skill values and all.
Each kid had a notebook/pad for whatever the wanted to jot down. But at first they had no hard numbers, just the things they told me they wanted to be good at.
 

TristramEvans

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Also, fun fact, I've seen more than one black belt who didn't have any idea about their own chances against a semi-proficient opponent with a blade.


Yeah, I was really into martial arts in my teen and I couldn't even begin to guess how useful any of those katas or moves would be against a pointed stick - if I learned anything, it's the value of not fighting and getting the hell out of the situation before things go south.
 

Acmegamer

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I've been reading The Elusive Shift and apparently there was a camp that was strongly in favour of keeping players distanced from the rules in the early days of RPGs. They were also in favour of doing all the dice rolls for the players, not letting people know their hit points etc.

Very little of that seems to have survived into modern RPGs, including the OSR. The closest I can think of is Unknown Armies keeping exact HP from players. Well, that and Paranoia (and Paranoia's "the players aren't allowed to know the rules!" may have had an element of satirising those arguments. Certainly, Costik was involved in debates in the fanzines at the time).

What do people think of it as a concept? I'm intrigued by it, but I can see a lot of players pushing hard back against it.

If you can manage it, I can see a much stronger case for keeping setting details from players.

Although a pet hate is that 90s thing of keeping setting secrets from the GM. (Bonus points for those games that failed to complete their planned print schedule and left large numbers of questions unanswered. I'm looking at you Fading Suns).
I think anyone who subscribed to that was fucking bonkers. One of my biggest on going bitches that slowed down game play back in 1978 to 1999 time frame was how often I had to carry players as GM. I simply couldn't get a decent percent of any group to learn the fucking rules. When your running GURPS, RuneQuest etc that's a problem.

I ran games in California, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Virginia and Europe and never saw that mind set about keeping the players dumb to the rules. Never even read anything like that and in the magazines of the time. Dragon, Space Gamer, Different Worlds, Judges Guild Journal, Pegasus, White Dwarf, etc, you name it and I tended to collect it. I won't say that there were some who might have felt that way but I honestly never met them.

Did I withhold details of my campaign and adventures I was running? Sure but that's nothing surprising, it's good game play to keep such things hidden until discovered. I'm equal part fascinated and gobsmacked that there are those who have that point of view and I bet it wasn't a common held view.
 
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