Monday Lab: Roll to Know

Usually I wait a week to post Monday Labs, partly to get enough time to edit properly, partly to keep at least something on a regular cycle at the site. But this time I couldn’t help myself, it’s been only two days and here you go.

The reason is nothing less than an impressive meeting of minds, specifically the degree of listening and response, regarding the two participants. It’s boilerplate to say “it’s a privilege to meet you,” but in this case, I just could not ask for a better confirmation of the Monday Lab concept, especially from people who did not know one another previously. Anything that I was able to extract or summarize arose from the material and insights that they brought, and it was so easy to edit – basically just removing the odd pause or some stupid digression of mine – that I want to share it right away.

Our topic? Well, it’s based on a clip from the Defiants game, using the alpha for Champions Now, which is included at the start. When do you “roll to know?” And to know what? With the consequences of what for success or failure? When is such a roll or other device (e.g. spending points) not used, whether in the moment or for that entire game?

As usual, the standard-fare responses – hardly worth the name “answers” – are dismissed, in favor of discovering what is really being asked.

, , ,

7 responses to “Monday Lab: Roll to Know”

  1. Awesome video! Halfway

    Awesome video! Halfway through, it made me anxious about starting to GM – there's simply so many ways to hurt someone, and the Planescape Perception example was just heartbreaking. Then I shook it off and felt pumped to organize local gaming groups, get to people before they get struck by something like that. At the end, it was really relieving to have the matter at hand clarified into one of personal investment, being at stake. Now I'm back of the track of being just a guy who's getting into roleplaying and strives to be comfortable at it one day. We'll leave the world saving for later.

    From the GM's point of view, the problem of how to present a fixed storyline that's meant to be discovered by the players, and the contradictions thereof, has been discussed in a text I really like. It's about text videogames, and it's a response from Emily Short, an important author and researcher, to a dismissal of the situation in principle. The problem as they conceive it is that, in the part of a clever hero, there's no way to actually traverse the experience of coming up with an original solution for a problem, because deep down you know you're actually just guessing what the author already thought. In the following link Short dismantles and responds to that set of assumptions. It's also very worth it to follow the link she provides to the original post of the guy that made the critique. Also, now that I hunted the link, I see that critique was already a responde from him to an earlier comment from her about his work.

    It's called "What Would James Bond Do?", and bear in mind: It was published in 2007, eleven years old at the time of this writing.


    I've begun to reread it, all three texts, and so far my thoughts are that once you have this problem you're way out of the "we're playing on the now" realm of roleplaying. 

    • I agree with the “thoughts so

      I agree with the "thoughts so far" you conclude with here. I tend to think of that entire topic as over there, someone else's problem, and that when it's present in role-playing, it's because the persons involved made the mistake of going over there at all. I can't even categorize it as a form of functional play because it seems to be characterized by ways to shut down the medium of role-playing, and also by constant kvetching about why and how it's not working.

    • What remains then, I think,

      What remains then, I think, is the question of how to make the mystery genre work in the medium of roleplaying. We've thankfully moved away from the question "How can I experience being Sherlock Holmes and solving a mistery", which was misstated from a wrong set of assumptions. Using what I've learned from the discussions in this site, I can ask: How can we experience being Conan Doyle and his readership? If anyone reading this knows of games, or better yet Actual Plays, that display this, please let me know.

      All I can think of is that part of the text of Dogs In The Vineyard that asks the GM to let the NPCs come forward with all sorts of explanations to the PCs, not trying to hide anything as a GM. And the comments of Vincent Baker and Ron around Primetime Adventures suggest you really could build any sort of TV show with it, so I assume that includes police procedurals.

      Am I veering too much from the topic? I'd be happy to participate on a Seminar, or peruse old threads of The Forge if someone points me there, etc.

    • The topic of genuinely fun

      The topic of genuinely fun investigation and mystery-solving in role-playing has a long and productive pedigree at the Forge, and has resulted in many different angles of design and play. It's a huge task to hunt it down and to produce a summary, and would definitely be a frustrating rabbit hole to open here as a little subtopic comment. It could very well be a Seminar topic, perhaps even a multi-session one, and I'd probably want a couple people besides me to be discussion leaders for some of it, especially Jesse Burneko and Seth Ben Ezra.

  2. Mystery/Mirth

    Hi all,

    I’m Daniel, former Forgite until ~2005-06. Happy to have discovered this site.

    My group’s gaming goal is Secondary-World Immersionism [~Simulationist], and so we all want our players to (as much as is possible) to be bound up with the minds of our characters [“Unity of Perspective”].  Therefore, we never have the players make any rolls having to do with perceptions/intuitions, etc. Instead, the GM is the one to make the rolls and then tell each player what their character perceives. This prevents the players from knowing something that their character would not know. E.g., roll terribly, then the player knows that he missed/misinterpreted something, or roll perfectly, and know (for a fact) that the perception matches reality. Both cases damage mystery/immersion.

    But I should add that my system is skill-stable & not dice-dependent. That is, if you’re a good tracker, you will only fail if the track is very hard to find, or other extenuating circumstances.  Additionally (as is the case with one of my players at this time), if a character has an extraordinary intelligence, he gets reminders that other players would not get.  Or, if a character has a very high intuition, she would get notes concerning someone’s psychological reactions that others won’t get.

    We also expect the GM to never play "the asshole djinni" routine, where we hold players to the "letter of their sentences" as one of the guys mentioned happened to him (leading to his character's death). The GM knows good and well what the PCs would be doing in a given situation (whether the player is explicit or not).  That is, a normally cautious character isn't treated as careless just because the player didn't say, "I watch/wait/etc. The GM is also to make sure that the group is on the same page, either in a global sense ["People in this world do not think in those terms, therefore, you all know that…"] or in a specific sense ["You can all tell that this building is crumbling; stepping inside could be a real hazard."]

    We also want GMs to carefully deceive players so that they can’t catch the “tells” (a la poker). So, GMs frequently roll (even when no actual roll is needed) so that the players don’t know if something “real” is being rolled or not, or do other things so that the players cannot peer into the meta.

    I wrote these a while back if interested:



    • Plenty to discuss! I’d like

      Plenty to discuss! I'd like to drill into the technique of locating player understanding (of any kind: perception, revelation, realization) and character understanding (the same) at the same moment. Not too long ago, I presented my views in very pointed language in the comments to Unmasking the ad-hoc villain – please check them out.

      However! Don't mis-read that passage as an attempt to disagree with you. I want to avoid a pointless argument based on preference. If you and your group straightforwardly want to do this, then it's a technique that can be done, or striven toward, and there's no point in talking about why or why not, nor any point to dragging in terminology. I can put myself on your side, and we can discuss it as a technique simply because you like it, with no reason to debate whether it does or does not promote immersion, or what immersion means to you, or whether it "should" be done or not.

      I do note your use of the word "deceive." If the players are invested in this exact technique, presumably as much as a GM is or even more so, why is deception employed? Do you think it is necessary?

  3. Unity of Perspective

    We use the term, ‘deception’ because it’s technically true, but perhaps there’s a better one we could find. The spirit of the practice is, the GMs should smoothly convey non-truths as well as they do truths when dealing with a character’s perspectives/beliefs.

    Short version: If a GM begins using the method of relaying to a player what her character believes in an instance, he may find himself speaking naturally when her POV matches reality, and then technically when it’s incorrect.  EG, “There’s no one in this patch of woods,” when it’s true, but then, “You think that no one is here,” or “You hear no one in this patch…” when it’s incorrect.  So, to combat this habit, GMs have to either always force themselves to speak technically (which seems awkward/tedious) or to also employ straight lies.

    The goal is to keep the players (especially when they know you well) in the dark about what’s actually happening (and keeping their POV as close as possible to their characters). Some groups may hate this, & so pre-gaming buy-in is required.

Leave a Reply