OOG discussion after a weekend of play


The gaming group that I DM for has been playing the same game (characters) for twenty years. We recently ( a couple of sessions ago) began the painful switch to D&D 3.5. We had a topic come up on our gaming forum (yes, we have a private site devoted to the game -- how nerdy is that?) that I thought others might find useful, or have comments about. I'm trying to be a stickler for the player describing what the character is doing. By default, if you haven't said it -- your not doing it. Often times this contradicts what the character would logically be inclined to do.

While we did not state in detail about how we were looking out for additional attacks in the void, the characters logically would have been in serious "high alert" mode especially after the first and second attacks. Yet this was not recognized. I think we would all appreciate a little flexibility in scenarios such as this. Technicalities can get a little frustrating at times.

I understand completely... However, Role-playing game theory shows that there are three elements to an RPG. They are the Gamist; Narrativist; and Simulationist perspectives. The gamist perspective seeks to overcome the challenges of the rules and maximize conditions to achieve results. Narrativists ask that they engage the game from the point of view with the character, with story taking precedence of character "advancement" and achievement of goals. The simulationist point of view seeks to faithfully re-create challenges and overcome them.

These three perspectives can co-exist nicely under certain conditions, but sometimes come into conflict. In the situation above the simulationist point-of-view is coming into conflict with the narrative (or lack therof). If I always allow what your characters "would logically do" to always intercede and replace the need for the narrative, then I am not coaxing the narrative perspective during action sequences. No one perspective is more important than the other and I strive towards an ideal of balance.

After many years of playing with you guys I have a good idea where each person sits on the spectrum of the three. Let me tackle the dangerous task of telling you about yourselves:

Rob: Rob is a SNG (Simulationist-Narrativist-Gamist) who enjoys imagining the sub-text of the adventure. He is not concerned if a few rules get broken along the way, yet enjoys the gamist endeavours of optimization and syncronization. These tools are a means to an end and sustain the idea of his character and his place in the imaginary context. Faced with peril, he seeks to have security and contingency so that the character and story will endure.

Karl: On the other end of the peril spectrum, Karl is focused on the immersive thrill of being in the battle. Karl is a NGS. He acutely feels the thrill of battle, or the bitter frustration of theings going poorly. The identity of Arondil is less important than his actions and experiences.

Rick: To counter-point Karl's focus on the actions, Rick is very interested with the identity of Bleys. Identity actually sits in the realm of the simulationist. "Who is Bleys?" "What would he do." "How is he changed by this experience?" Rick is a SGN. Adhering to the rules and ensuring that things are done correctly are important because they validate the identity of Bleys. Making sure that the encounter runs correctly, and as it should are facets of the Simulationist model.

Carlos: If Karl is active, Carlos is the passive. Carlos enjoys problem-solving and challenges that are unusual or have a non-standard solution. Less inclined to worry about what should happen Carlos wants to engage the game as a balanced NS; Story, Logic, and then, in the distance, Rules.

It is too easy to lose the narration in the game and get caught up in HP, Attacks-of-opportunity, Alignments, and AC. With so much focus on rules and structure I want to make sure that you are still describing what you are doing, imagining it as you say it, and feeling it as it happens.

Here's the thing. If you didn't say that you were looking around in the darkness, it is probably because you weren't thinking about it enough. If you had said it, you would have felt more -- imagined more. I'm not trying to make a rule that you can solve by saying "okay, we always do this." That is the furthest thing from what I want. I want you to put yourselves in character. When you fail, I'm gonna be a prick and shove it in your face. You'll miss clues; monsters will get the drop on you; and you'll have the eerie feeling that the bad guys have an inside track -- because they do. They be "in-character" always remembering to engage with the environment and ask the simple questions (even when the players forget.)

I don't want to "push" too far against your own natures. But, you have more fun when you are more deeply involved in the narrative. It is a better experience with a balance between the three perspectives (Gaming/Simulating/Narrating).


Do you want logic to always shape your encounters? I can relent, but we would sacrafice narration to do it?

So where do the "Greeners" fit on these spectrums? How do you handle the logic versus un-stated actions?

This is interesting, but I feel like I'm drowning here. Everywhere I go everyone seems to have a different perspective on what these three facets of gameplay are. Personally, I think that the definitions aren't clear enough, which is natural since they're an attempt to objectify subjective matters, and so find they usually muddle up these conversations. Especially when arguing about D&D as a good or bad game, these terms fly around everywhere with everyone carrying a different interpretation. So I'd like to see some more direct clarification of what you're thinking here, Gil, so I can be on the same level with you. I don't really care to argue about the "true" meaning of the phrases, I just wanna hear your meaning of it.

However, beyond that, I figure I can handle the problem you're dealing with here. I think a certain level of balance here is useful. Having the players state everything the characters do can be good and bad. While it's true they do engage more with the world and the drama, it can also get tedious. I think that a player should say what he/she is doing when what they're doing goes against the grain of the situation. If the players are placed in a tense situation, like sneaking past the kings guards, or infiltrating a haunted crypt, it stands to reason that they would be on their guard, and having them state the obvious can break the connection between the players and the game world, because you just don't question it. When you watch a movie and the character therein are in a similar situation, you don't wonder if they're on the guard, if they're tense and watchful. You know they are. The director taking careful pains to point it out is bad directing. Now, being on their guard never meant they drew their weapons, for example, and I don't think it's safe or obvious to think so. I for one, would make sure the players told me they had drawn their weapons before allowing them to start wildly throwing them about.

But I do like it when players state as much as possible. I think the players should make that effort of it, but I don't require it of them. If a player tells me his character eats his dinner I don't make him state what he's eating, drinking and having for dessert. I certainly don't mind if they say so, and I try to build an immersive game world so they can do so easily but I don't force them into it. And I think that's the key. In moments when it's not life and death, it should be encouraged. In the aforementioned life or death moments, so things are obvious, but most things aren't. The characters certainly can't be on their guard all the time, but there are moments when it's obvious they are.

I understand your pain, Gil - we underwent a similar transition only couple of years back and we still haven't ironed out all the bumps, though I will say that it is definitely worthwhile. But not a smooth ride by any means.

I've had to deal with very similar situations to that which you describe. Because 3rd edition has denser rules, and feats and skills cover more of the activity space of the game than in earlier editions, I find that there's a tendency for the players to abdicate responsibility for their characters' actions. This isn't such a problem (in my view) that it's a deal breaker for 3rd edition, but it *is* something that should be actively guarded against, and some sharp timely reminders can jolt them out of their 'I make a listen/spot check every other round for the rest of my life, tell me whenever I hear/see something' torpor. You need to draw a balance somewhere with this kind of thing; I'd allow my players to state their modus operandi and assume that this is running maybe up until the next encounter or rest period, but if they start assuming that they can disengage from the need to state these things from time to time they're much mistaken. Their computer games might have macros they can run at a keypress to make their life easier, but my D&D campaign world is 'realer' than that. As in less convenient.

Here's a recent event that I had to deal with. The party are trying to solve a puzzle room, which involves eleven tiles that, when stood upon, have the same effect as a specific eye-ray of a beholder. The tiles are marked up with pictures that give a vague clue to their effects. Some of the tiles can be repositioned, and the players have deduced that, in order to proceed beyond this room, the tiles must first be placed in an order indicated by a poem on the door to the room. They also believe that, once this has been done, they will be able to open the way forwards by standing on a particular tile - but they don't know which one. (I can't claim credit for this puzzle, it's in a published module - Barrow of the Forgotten King).

I've also very explicitly stated to the players, as soon as their characters entered the room, that 'touch move' is in force. If they move their figure to any location on the layout, then that is what their character has done. I've also told them not to move anyone else's figure for them.

So anyway, we're out of time on the session, so we have to break off until the following week. The characters' positions are recorded, and they also make a record of the positions of the tiles and the effects they have deduced for them (about a month previously they happened to have visited a museum where they viewed a mechanical beholder exhibit enhanced with illusions of the eye-rays and their effects, which was handy for them).

The next week, we reconvene, draw out the room layout and the players transcribe the tile pictures onto the plan from the diagram they have. Unfortunately, they make a mistake, and draw two tiles the wrong way around.

So, the party's wizard decides to continue experimenting. He is going to stand on one of the less dangerous tiles - let's say the one that puts people to sleep, (though it may have been something else, I don't exactly recall). He moves his figure and places it standing on a tile, which he believes is the Sleep tile. I tell him to make a Fortitude save. He fails. I tell him he has just been turned to stone.

Oh, the complaints of injustice I had to deal with over that one! The argument went, that the reason this happened was due to a transcription error in a record that had only been made because of the real-time session break we had had; and that it would have been completely illogical for for the character to step on the Petrification tile, because in-game it would have had a picture on it that the party had already deduced as corresponding to petrification. But I was adamant, because I explicitly stated the touch-move rule at the outset. The player's transcription error could quite readily be interpreted as a moment of absent-mindedness on the part of the wizard when he stepped on the wrong tile. I stressed to them: "This is why we have figures; this is why we have a grid; this is why I said that everything in this room would be literal, touch-move."

There was no long-term harm done. The other characters dragged the statue'd wizard to the tile corresponding to the beholder's central anti-magic eye, and this reversed the transformation (though they were not at all certain that it would).

Thanks, it is tricky. I really do see the reward in some areas, but I'm very concerned about the role-play. I'm glad that you have found it overall a worthwhile endeavour. That gives me encouragement. The rules give them a d20 roll for a lot of things. I get to set the DC based on situation, and am inclined to keep them relatively high. The "training of their character" can help them overcome these difficulties. Bonuses can be earned for reacting to the environment.

Spot I think I have figured out. I let them spot scratches on the floor, changes in the surface texture of a wall, a pool of water with a straight edge. I don't give them trap doors, secret doors, and pits. I let them modify their initiative by using spot to get the jump on enemies, or be pounced upon. Am I giving them less than the rules indicate? Probably. But I've given them the potential for bonuses based on narrative actions. Remember when we used to probe the floor ahead with a stick, pole, or staff? We didn't have a spot check to fall back on. No narrative meant no chance of avoiding the trap.

Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate. How do you handle these things?

How I'm using the terms. I think they identify the point at which the player connects to the game. The game may have other elements, but the point of connection is the point of interaction.

Gets to the game through the rules. Prefers to interact with the rules during a session. They make tactical moves and strategize about how to maximize effects. They build characters for optimization. They believe that each player should do the same amount of speaking each session. They believe that the rules are used to settle disputes.

Killing an "evil" creature is never wrong to them, because they are defined in the rules as evil.
Shooting an arrow over a 10' wall to hit a target on the other side is impossible because the rules forbid it ; while slicing through 6 opponents with one blow is acceptible with "Great Cleave". Neither is supernatural.

In a nutshell: Don't break the rules.

Narrativists get to the game from the story. They prefer to interact with what is around them and explore the gaming "moments." These are times when characters are presented with dilemmas or there is a heightened sense of drama.


They will work against the goals of the party or themselves because of a compelling narrative reason. ie. when their character is drunk or delirious they may put themselves in more danger.

They will be slow to give up on impossible tactics, or over-react to minimal threats.

They may use Out-of-Character knowledge to either help or harm the situation.

They can either monopolize the playing time, or participate very little.

In a nutshell: Don't break the story.

These players interact with the tactical and practical. They value the story, but not in the way a narrativist does. They want the story to move forward and the characters to improve and the goals to be achieved. They want to ensure that the story remains credible.


They support tactics that are sound in the absence of a rule to support the action.

They are concerned about what their character would do, and don't like anything that is out of character.

In a nutshell: Don't break the laws of physics, except with magic. Don't break the laws of magic.


1) An archer sees a wall of fire 10' high errupt in front of him. She knows that 50' beyond the wall stands the foe that summoned it. Can she fire over it?
...Gamist.... No, the rules are clear that you must have line of sight to perform an attack. The wall breaks line of sight and line of effect for archery.
...Simulationist ... Yes, archers have "arched" arrows since the dawn of time.
...Narrativist .. It depends on the situation. What else is going on?

2) A player leaves the group and is replaced by another. They make a character who...

...Gamist.... is equal in power and fits well with the group.
...Simulationist... has a good reason for being there and adds value to the group.
...Narrativist.. is introduced in an interesting and excited way.

We all have traits of each of these.

Thanks. That clarifies a lot of things. Most times, the terms are used derogatorily, almost like racial slurs. "You're just a gamist!" "This game's only good for gamists!" etc. So it's good to see them appreciated as different facets of a players personality and delineated usefully.

All in all, I don't think the conundrums presented here really apply to these types, however. For instance, in gherkin's example with the beholder stone trap, you can see this being justified from all three perspectives. A gamist expects the rules not to change, and the rules state what happens with the trap, how to avoid it, etc. It has little to do with breaking the rules. A simulationist wants things to be plausible, so the stones inexplicably switching places would be an affront to that. A narrativist is concerned with story, so they could really go either way. What they care about is that the story moves on, taking into account the wizard's new face. I think this particular conflict revolves around just natural player-GM conflict. It's like when people get mad at God (or fate, or chance, or Shiva, or whatever). It's not that what happened violates your world-view (we all know shit happens) but that what happened was unexpected, unwanted and perhaps undeserved. Where you come down as GM reflects less your gaming approach than your stubbornness as a GM. It's not a bad thing to be stubborn, just a facet of your way of doing things (or not doing things if you're not stubborn). Breaking the illusion ties into it, but in gherkin's example, the illusion's already been broken. It's not supposed to be there and so it doesn't make sense that it is until a reason is offered. All of this, by the way, gherkin, is not a comment on the goodness or badness of your decision or GM style. It's just my analysis of the situation, and why it caused problems.

As for what you're talking about Gil, I still don't think the perspectives have as big a place as you think they do. It's understandable to be frustrated when you're surprised and (guessing here) some serious consequences are given because of it when you thought all along it was clear you were watching carefully. I had a similar incident once when I sicked a t-rex on the group. They were making their way through a forest, and, this being one of my very first attempts at GMing and being then very much in the D&D mold, the t-rex was one of their random encounters. He was hidden behind the trees (it was a big forest, and being a dinosaur freak when I was little, I knew that t-rex's were surprisingly camouflaged for their size), and suddenly attacked, in a surprise round, bit and summarily began to eat one of the players. He was given a little leeway, what with the being bitten and all, but nobody else was. The dinosaur surprised them, plain and simple. My thoughts were similar to yours, Gil, when my players jumped down my throat for that one (the dwarf who got swallowed survived, but only barely - he was at -9 when they cut him out of the t-rex's stomach, but I thought it was a thrilling encounter, very tense). They all thought they should've gotten a check, but this wasn't a truly dangerous situation (I mean, how often do you expect to get attacked by a t-rex), and so I didn't feel the need to put them on alert beforehand. A great deal of this conflict was due to my inexperience as a GM, however, and a few rather aggravating characters in the group. But, in the end, like yours it has more to do with "not being given a chance" to avoid a rather nasty experience, rather than any amount of perspective-killing on anyone's part.

As far as practicable application, though, I totally agree with gherkin. Letting them set up a modus operandi for a given set of circumstances when faced with those circumstances is good. When confronted with something strange and they say, "We watch things closely and draw our weapons," I assume those things stay in play until they feel the threat has passed (after which I slam them with a new one, because it's much more fun that way). If they never say it, I never assume it.

As far as Diplomacy, Bluff, Intimidate, I always used those as crutches for the players. If a player is attempting to Intimidate someone, I have him/her roleplay the intimidation, then roll the relevant skill. If they don't say something intimidating, I don't let them roll. If they do say something intimidating, but get a bad roll, it's assumed that their face broke at some point, or the intimidatee is tougher than was previously thought. Similar things for Bluff and Diplomacy. After the players have given me the bluff they're going to use, if it seems good, I'll let them roll, to determine their delivery. Though I no longer use d20, I still have this in use when I game. The player states what they say, then back it up with dice. This allows the character (as filtered through the dice) to have an effect on the outcome, and also the player, by deciding what to say and when, etc.

Tzuriel, just to clarify - the tiles did not inexplicably switch places. The tiles were where they were. It was the player's (re-)labelling of the tiles that was at fault. The issue they had was that this labelling error had arisen as a metagame glitch - because of the session break - and this led to the wizard stepping on the wrong tile.

My reasons for being harsh and operating in strict accordance with the placement of the figures rather than the character's stated intention to step on the Sleep tile were that this was the nature of the beast as far as that room was concerned. If I were lax in enforcing that instance, the characters might well have made other figure placement mistakes and then when unpleasant consequences ensued, they could have similarly insisted that their character's intentions were different to the way they had enacted their movements with the figures, which would make a mockery of the whole room setup.

Immersion-breaking? If a player's sense of immersion is predicated on the need for all their own mistakes to be hand-waved away with the statement 'but my character wouldn't have made such a mistake', then their sense of immersion comes at too high a price. ;-)

Diplomacy is a tricky one, because players may try to insist on a very lax interpretation that's overly favourable to themselves. It's not too hard for characters to have a very high Diplomacy skill, but Diplomacy should not be regarded as a non-magical charming ability with no saving throw. I allow for characters to use Diplomacy to change a creature's overall attitude towards themselves, as in whether they like them or not, but just because someone likes you, this doesn't mean they will do everything you say or agree with all of your opinions. Changing a creature's mind about a specific issue should require an opposed check of some kind, and possibly more than one (see 'Complex Skill Checks' in Unearthed Arcana).

Yes, you can make the insane wizard really like you with Diplomacy skill. In fact he likes you so much he wants to keep you. Forever and ever.


Well, Gil, I meant that it appears to the players as if they did. I know that you always had them the same, which is the source of the conflict. Other than that little misunderstanding, I totally agree with you. It's still hard for me to say where I'd come down on such a thing, but, in the end, I'd probably stand with you.

Yeah, diplomacy is a tricky one. I like your interpretation of it. Personally for roleplaying diplomacy the best system I've come across so far (in my admittedly limited experience) is that in Dogs in the Vineyard. It's method for dealing with conflicts is one that really appeals to me. But, in d20, I always had them make sure to roleplay it and then roll and go from there. It doesn't mean they "win" the conflict with one dice roll. A success gets them a little farther. Maybe he was too busy to listen to them before. Now they've got his attention. Of course, you could also just roleplay it all the way through until the character drops the difficult part that requires the check, and, if they haven't butchered things beforehand, they can roll then. It's really up to you.