Three links

21 February, 2009 at 3:30 pm (roleplaying)

Rick Neal has a post about terminology, design assumptions and especially differences in them between 4e of D&D and World of Darkness. The subject is something that continuously trips me: Much of the material that people who play solely 4e or 3e of D&D (Pathfinder qualifies) have this strange focus on building possibly balanced encounters and then having players “play through” them. Maybe WoD people have the same thing going with scenes, I don’t know. For me the entire concept of game being a series of scenes or encounter to play through just feels boring, as a GM, and restrictive as a player.

Willow posted two articles on character creation. They are very comprehensive articles and full of good material. Highly recommended. The advice does not translate completely unaltered to dungeoncrawlish or run-through-my-premade-story-styled games. (Technically, that’s two links, but it doesn’t matter anyway.)

taichara has a blog committed to imaginative monsters, magical items and other stuff. The material is a hybrid of fairy tale and D&D sensibilities. Stats are provided for some not-quite-modern edition of D&D. I can’t tell the differences between them, anyway.


  1. Thasmodious said,

    “For me the entire concept of game being a series of scenes or encounter to play through just feels boring, as a GM, and restrictive as a player.”

    You have to play by scene/encounter. I’m sure your group does as well. I think you are just getting hung up on terminology. I mean, how else do you play?

  2. Tommi said,

    Hello Thasmodius.

    In our play there are scenes and encounters, but what those scenes and encounters are is a matter of organic play, as opposed to some GM-designed or scenario-mandated list or order.

  3. apotheon said,

    That’s pretty much the way I’ve always played, too. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t discrete “encounters” planned out in advance. It just means that, the way things are handled, there’s no obvious delineation between them, and the players may never be able to determine exactly when an “encounter” starts or ends. The big hints would be that when combat rolls are being made there’s probably an encounter in progress (though that’s not the only time, of course), and when the GM is fast-forwarding (such as during sleep or long periods of travel) there probably is not an encounter in progress (though that’s not the only time, of course).

  4. Tommi said,

    Personally, I try to prepare motivations and characters. Encounters or scenes are too restrictive and they’d make the impro less fun, as opposed to only making it easier.

  5. apotheon said,

    Do you have a setting in mind where the PCs will meet the character whose motivations you have worked out? If so, you have an encounter. If not, I wonder how they end up meeting any character you’ve designed.

  6. Adaen of Bridgewater said,

    I think that the important distinction (well, one of them) that Tommi is attempting to make is that there’s a difference between working out a locale, its inhabitants, and how they are *likely* to be encountered vs. working out the exact circumstances in which an encounter occurs.

    I see merits in either or even both, depending on the gaming goals that are at the table.


  7. Tommi said,

    Like Adaen said: I design some characters and the setting (or sufficient information to derive the setting from in play). The exact encounters or scenes are up to play. Maybe the player characters will, for example, visit a certain lord or summon that lord to their abode or do nothing until the lord goes hunting and then create an ambush. Which, if any, of those happen is not mine to decide, it is up to the players.

  8. apotheon said,

    I don’t think of an “encounter” as necessarily involving “exact circumstances” worked out in advance. I guess I get my understanding of the term, as I use it in a gaming context, more from the dictionary definition.

    I can see how some descriptions of what “encounter” means in a D&D context might give you the idea that they’re these rigid, almost pre-scripted things, but I’ve never treated them that way in practice, always willing to be flexible in seeing how things play out. I think most people would identify something as an “encounter” without necessarily being predefined in excruciating detail.

    In fact, the way you just used the word, Tommi — saying “the exact encounters or scenes are up to play” — fits my usage of the word over my last 25+ years of gaming. In fact, whether there’s any preplanning or not has no effect on whether I consider something an “encounter” in my games, and while I do try to plan ahead for various counters I think are highly likely to occur, I don’t hesitate to throw away my plans and wing it if things don’t progress as I thought they would (which is a very common occurrence when I’m running a game).

    • apotheon said,

      Pretend I didn’t say “In fact,” at the beginning of two sentences in a row, please.

  9. Adaen of Bridgewater said,

    25+ years will do that. The games, as written, when you started playing did not emphasize scaling encounters necessarily to the capabilities of the PC’s so as to make them be a specific level of challenge for them. More current iterations of some of these same games (e.g. D&D) stress the importance of the appropriate “Challenge Level”. You seem to have carried your experiences from 25 years ago right on thru.

    There is nothing wrong with either style of play, but they do serve different gaming goals.


    • apotheon said,

      I like this nested commenting thing that I didn’t even notice was here until I posted a correction to my own comment above.

      Anyway . . . I guess a case could be made that my experience of “encounters” is strongly influenced by my vintage, but I don’t tend to find gamers who are anywhere near the same vintage of me even when I game with people in the same age range, and the people I game with tend to have a very similar approach to organizing a game (birds of a feather, and all that). I somehow doubt this is entirely a result of my own influence. I think a more likely explanation is that people with a more roleplaying (and less “rollplaying”) bent will usually tend to think about “encounters” in a manner similar to the way I think about them, based on my own experience.

      In fact, I get the impression that Tommi thinks the same way I do about encounters, but just doesn’t use the word “encounters” to differentiate them from other aspects of play. As such, upon encountering (pun intended) a discussion of the meaning of the term in the context of D&D, thinks of “encounter” as being a more rigidly defined term than what comes to my mind.

      • Tommi said,

        Nested comments are a new thing. just introduced them.

        In play I consider scenes and especially transitions between them pretty carefully, so that chars have time to do what they want and everyone still gets spotlight, even when the characters are spatially in different places, which is not rare in my games.

        When preparing, I pay practically no attention to scenes. They are something that happens in play.

        Encounters I consider a useful design tool for old school dungeoncrawling, mostly in the sense of wandering monsters. But usually encounters are a foreign concept to me, in that I don’t pay attention to them as distinct from scenes, with scene being defined as “mostly same characters, mostly same place, continuous time”.

      • apotheon said,

        They don’t appear to nest very deeply.

        I’d say that what you describe is “encounters”. You just don’t really plan them very much in advance, and don’t keep track of when they begin or end very clearly. I’ve done a lot of that too.

        The concept of “encounters”, I think, is mostly useful for keeping track of experience-worthy discrete accomplishments (as opposed to “story awards” and the like). For instance, in D&D and Pathfinder, one tends to earn experience by overcoming difficult obstacles such as hostile enemies. Those obstacles qualify as “encounters”, and you award experience based on how those encounters were handled.

        • Tommi said,

          Now they should nest sufficiently deeply for most purposes. I wonder what happens when these get too narrow…

          What happen in play can certainly be called encounters, but that is of little benefit since the rules I use don’t tend to reward players or characters on per-encounter basis.

  10. Adaen of Bridgewater said,

    I believe that you may be right. A combination of your experience/preference and you players bowing to that (deferring to your wisdom) + the idea of like birds flocking together may be the main two instruments here.

    That being said, the whole Role vs Roll Playing is bit of a loaded term. When people make this distinction they typically are saying, I ROLEplay as opposed to ROLLplay. No one ever says that I ROLLplay as opposed to ROLEplay. Its essentially an elitist expression that implies that ROLLplaying is somehow less than TRUE ROLEplaying. Its kind of elitist actually as it implies that ROLLplay is somehow a lesser or immature form of play.

    Unfortunately, it seems to have fallen into the vernacular of a lot of well-meaning gamers who do not realize its negative connotations. I’ll assume that is the case here.

    This is a bit of a pet peeve for me, but I hope I haven’t come off too harshly. This is a really good conversation and I hope it continues.



  11. apotheon said,

    I’m not so sure anyone’s “deferring to [my] wisdom” for gaming styles. All but one of the people in my current group who’ve been in games I was running have done a fair bit of gaming before meeting me, and already had some pretty well entrenched gaming preferences.

    I wouldn’t say “ROLLplay is somehow a lesser or immature form of play.” Rather, I’d say that its focus is on the “gaming” part, and not on the “roleplaying” part. That’s how I mean it, anyway.

    I know “rollplaying” has been used in a pejorative manner. I just don’t mean it in quite as negative manner as it has sometimes been used in the past. I meant it as a much briefer way to say something that would otherwise take a paragraph or two to properly explain.

  12. Adaen of Bridgewater said,

    Based on your earlier comments, I assumed this to be true. I sensed no malice.

    No worries. I just like to caution people as to terms that may be taken in a different manner in “mixed” company so to speak.

    All the Best,


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