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Author Topic: Increasing Challenge / Earned Feelings in Games  (Read 888 times)

PencilBoy99

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Increasing Challenge / Earned Feelings in Games
« on: June 15, 2020, 01:22:31 pm »
By default, when I run games, the pattern is

1. Players have an overall objectives;
2. Players tell me what they want to do next towards that objective;
3. We RP a scene where the players do that thing. They usually do it very successfully and nothing unexpected happens;
4. Repeat steps 2-3 until inevitable, wild success.

I don't want to run games like this anymore.

In real life, in fiction, and in my own RP experiences, things are more fun and interesting if they seem "earned" - if it was Hard to achieve the thing you wanted, things didn't go as expected, and maybe you succeed in the end but it was very difficult.

What do all of you do, particularly on the fly, to make things seem challenging, unexpected, and earned?

I know there are mechanical systems that remind the GM to do this: GM Intrusions, optional Pass/Fail in Questworlds, Success at a Cost / GM Moves in PBTA like games but I'm not always using one of those systems.

oggsmash

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Increasing Challenge / Earned Feelings in Games
« Reply #1 on: June 15, 2020, 01:30:33 pm »
Quote from: PencilBoy99;1134202
By default, when I run games, the pattern is

1. Players have an overall objectives;
2. Players tell me what they want to do next towards that objective;
3. We RP a scene where the players do that thing. They usually do it very successfully and nothing unexpected happens;
4. Repeat steps 2-3 until inevitable, wild success.

I don't want to run games like this anymore.

In real life, in fiction, and in my own RP experiences, things are more fun and interesting if they seem "earned" - if it was Hard to achieve the thing you wanted, things didn't go as expected, and maybe you succeed in the end but it was very difficult.

What do all of you do, particularly on the fly, to make things seem challenging, unexpected, and earned?

I know there are mechanical systems that remind the GM to do this: GM Intrusions, optional Pass/Fail in Questworlds, Success at a Cost / GM Moves in PBTA like games but I'm not always using one of those systems.

   What game system are you running?

PencilBoy99

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Increasing Challenge / Earned Feelings in Games
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2020, 01:52:21 pm »
I usually run Savage Worlds. I'm running Spire right now, which at least has a mechanic where your rolls yield negative consequences. I'm usually not running a D&D type generic fantasy or dungeon adventure.

FYI I don't think it's mechanics that cause my GMing style. I've run lots of different game systems (SW, Vampire LARPs, etc.) and it's only when I accidentally make things difficult that I get a really satisfying play experience.

The Exploited.

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Increasing Challenge / Earned Feelings in Games
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2020, 02:01:00 pm »
'Yes... But...'

Pretty much Jim Butcher's mantra for the Dresden files (not that I like the books, tbh). That, 'but' pretty much causes the great tension in all the best writing, and RPGs.

"Yes, you manage to leap across the rooftop, BUT there's a hidden member of the Watch who ambushes you."

'Yes, you manage to open the safe BUT the black alien cube has already been stolen by the Nazis and is now on the way to Berlin." Etc.
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oggsmash

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« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2020, 02:04:58 pm »
Savage worlds, I find that using Gritty damage puts a fairly big Challenge to combat.  I would also ask, what sort of setting do you usually play?  I asked system, because there are  tricks I have used for systems I know.   Are you looking to raise the challenge in combat, overall objective completion or reward versus risk.  Though I can say from experience with SW, it seems the balance between too easy, and oh shit everyone is dead is tricky.

PencilBoy99

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« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2020, 02:14:53 pm »
Quote from: oggsmash;1134209
Savage worlds, I find that using Gritty damage puts a fairly big Challenge to combat.  I would also ask, what sort of setting do you usually play?  I asked system, because there are  tricks I have used for systems I know.   Are you looking to raise the challenge in combat, overall objective completion or reward versus risk.  Though I can say from experience with SW, it seems the balance between too easy, and oh shit everyone is dead is tricky.

Good Questions. It's not usually combat, since that's fairly easy to do (just make more challenging opponents). I usually pull punches in combat which feels good in the short term but, really, player's feel much more satisfied if they feel that they had to work hard / be smart to achieve their goal. I could stop doing that which would help.

Normally I like to run some combination of social / investigative / horror. I'm running Spire now (which I can't say enough good things about except it's GM Advice chapter, which could use more stuff). I thought that by using Spire I'd achieve my goal, since when you roll in Spire there's a reasonable chance you'll take stress / fallout (something you don't want to happen happens). However, the first session I ran out of it went the way that my games normally go - player's declared what they wanted to do, then sent the best person to do that thing, the best person did that thing in a scene that went exactly the way they expected (and because it was the best person they were rolling in a way that made bad outcomes unlikely).

I agree Gritty Damage is excellent for SW. If I run it again I'll 100% use it.

Zalman

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« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2020, 02:36:14 pm »
Quote from: PencilBoy99;1134211
I usually pull punches in combat which feels good in the short term but, really, player's feel much more satisfied if they feel that they had to work hard / be smart to achieve their goal. I could stop doing that which would help.

Yes, that's a great start. You might discover this one switch is enough to change the timbre of your games. If you find it emotionally difficult to avoid fudging the dice, I suggest rolling in the open -- that ensures you're as bound as your players are by the results.
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S'mon

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« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2020, 02:38:42 pm »
Are your players incredibly competent? And lucky? Do you roll dice?

This is not a problem I see much!

Edit: Smart, motivated, proactive enemies.  Enemies with clashing agendas. Treacherous friends! All good for spanners in works. The traitor especially is great for a TPK...
« Last Edit: June 15, 2020, 02:41:04 pm by S'mon »
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oggsmash

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« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2020, 02:47:35 pm »
Once one of them dies/loses a leg, the group is going to appreciate coming out of it whole and successful a lot more.  It also will give them more context for if they are kicking asses, or being told a story.  I think what you may be doing is helping them along so as to see your story unfold, maybe because you feel that is the thing to do.  But from your post I think you are looking to have a tale of great deeds write itself.  That means there has to be failure or the real risk of same.  Sometimes, we find out this party will not be the great heros, they will be a cautionary tale for great heros to hear about and learn from.   I lay down some paths, the players decide where to go, what to do, and the dice fall as they may.  I also play the bad guys, especially wild cards, as they should be played.  A wizard is not going to fight to the death, or really get into a fight he/she has no way out of.  Add in rules for using bennies to re-roll damage (which I think is RAW in the latest version) for the wild card enemies, and fights get a great deal more harrowing.  

   For tension/challenge have traps or events that will split the party.  Make the ones not there leave the room, and have events transpire, rotate the others in and repeat.  The people who are not active while you rotate players will spend the time on the porch/kitchen/where ever discussing what they should do and wonder what if going on with their pals.   Anyone who ever read the 1st edition DMG knows this is the most deadly dangerous situation there is in RPGs (splitting the party).   It does not have to be over used.

estar

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« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2020, 02:49:45 pm »
Quote from: PencilBoy99;1134202
What do all of you do, particularly on the fly, to make things seem challenging, unexpected, and earned?
I do two things.

1) I think of how would a player handle X and play the NPC accordingly in regards to the NPCs motivations and plans. Modifying the specific based on what I established about the NPC's personality.
2) Like in life there is a hierarchy of power and resources and reasons why it got there. As far it as it make for interesting adventures I replicate it. Which winds up creating more interesting situation although it is rarely balanced one way or the other.

The general idea is to imagine what going one as if I was there watching these character doing stuff. This forces me to consider the world around the NPCs and bring some of it to life creating a more diverse and thus interesting situation.

So the usual pattern in my campaign is that when the PCs first start running into "something" is that they run into the run of the mill soldiers/operative/minions and their immediate superiors. They generally have a pretty easy time of it at fire. But as time goes on the leaders become aware of the PC's activities. If the PCs don't plan well likely they will get overwhelmed and dealt with.

However keep in mind this is a simplistic explanation for something that is nuanced. There are several other things I do to make it work. For example no everybody the players meet is somebody with a plan or an enemy. Some are just folks living out their life and react accordingly. I make sure there are opportunities to meet friendlies as well as antagonists. That if the players get a drop on their opposition then I follow through on that and the opposition has a bad day. Likewise if they are idiots, they know I will kill all of their character. But also they know that if there something obvious I will proactively point it and they don't have to play twenty questions to figure out what is going on.

The biggest problem you will face is that if your players are used to getting encounters compared to their PC's experience then they will have a hard time adapting when it is no longer the case. Take for example my Scourge of the Demon Wolf. One way to complete the adventure is to simply try to kill all the wolves in the area. It time consuming but the PCs can find out where the various wolf pack to try to kill them. And with one of them is the Demon Wolf. However the problem if they try to do that they will get one or two packs totalling around 24 wolves. However the Demon Wolf will do one of two things based on what the circumstances of what it finds out. Either it will scatter the remaining wolves into the nearby mountains and leave for a time. Leaving the PCs empty handed. Or it will mass the wolves (around 120 total versus a 4th to 6th level party) and attack. Not just as giant mob but using ambush tactics and other tricks.

I had one party started to try this and by the 2nd night they returned to the village and quit because two out of the six were nearly dead (Swords & Wizardry/OD&D). Back when I ran this using GURPS the party then also retreated back to village after trying to stay out while performing their investigation as one of the party got mauled by pack tactics.

If you send me a PM I would be willing to comp a copy of the PDF for Scourge of the Demon Wolf as an illustration of how I think and organize this stuff.

Omega

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« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2020, 03:59:06 am »
Quote from: PencilBoy99;1134202
What do all of you do, particularly on the fly, to make things seem challenging, unexpected, and earned?

I know there are mechanical systems that remind the GM to do this: GM Intrusions, optional Pass/Fail in Questworlds, Success at a Cost / GM Moves in PBTA like games but I'm not always using one of those systems.

1a: play should not seem to be challenging. It should either be challenging, or not.

If every time my character leaps across a chasm they allways succeed no matter what the odds. Then there is no challenge. Its just a backdrop as there is no chance of failure. Or failure was just arbitrarily decided. Thats storygaming. Or in some cases not even role playing - its just storytelling.

That said. It is a valid playstyle as long as everyones on board and knows that the Wizard is behind the curtain.

2+1b: With this sort of playstyle one thing to do is let the dice fall where they may. Let the unexpected happen. Let failures happen. But there should allways be some means to either continue on or work around the setback. Or even follow the setback now.

The character leaps over the chasm. This needs a stat check to succeed as they are exceeding the normal distance that can be leaped. What happens on failure?
A: they miss. Depending on the distance or degree of failure can then either
B1: Have them make a stat check to grab onto the ledge.
B2: They start plummeting and possibly can make another stat check before impact.
B3: Impact and take damage, possibly lethal damage depending on distance and what they hit. Death may be the only outcome at that point unless theres something down there to miigate this.
C: Now they can climb up and out. Or look around down there and see what they find. Or are dead.
D: if Dead this is possibly not the end. Someone can climb down and retrieve the body and haul it back somewhere to be raised. Or if they have the ability or item. Raise them right there.

only failing all this and a few more things would you be at
E: the character is dead. Roll new character.

Or the character is picking a lock and fails. They could try again if their tools did not break. And if the tools break they can try bashing down the door. And if they cant bash down the door they can try finding some other way in. Or make another way in.

Or the character is in a car chase and looses the target. They could try guessing the route based on what they know, possibly using any shortcuts to make up lost time. Or use this to their advantage to see if the spooked target rabbits to someplace important they know of. Or look for clues elsewhere. And so on.

Spinachcat

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« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2020, 04:19:15 am »
Focus on your villains. Make them badass and play them to the hilt.

And villains don't fight fair. Revel in their evil.

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« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2020, 11:47:59 pm »
A game world consists of a combination of events the PCs cause, and events that are caused by circumstances of other things happening in the world, that the PCs have to react to. It sounds like you're only doing the first thing.
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« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2020, 02:06:47 am »
Quote from: The Exploited.;1134208
'Yes... But...'

Pretty much Jim Butcher's mantra for the Dresden files (not that I like the books, tbh). That, 'but' pretty much causes the great tension in all the best writing, and RPGs.

"Yes, you manage to leap across the rooftop, BUT there's a hidden member of the Watch who ambushes you."
This. Make them pay for what they want. Sometimes a complication they can't control is harsher than health loss or the risk of death. A dear NPC lost/hurt/kidnapped, a hideout blown, a rival faction getting stronger, a valued possession damaged or corrupted, being forced to do something against one's principles.

Also: don't pull punches. Play the world straight and let the dice fall where they may. I'm also a soft GM and have to police myself to not let them have things easy. Being harsh first and then adjusting if needed is usually better than being soft first and doing the reverse.

Good luck. :)
« Last Edit: June 23, 2020, 02:10:00 am by Itachi »

CRKrueger

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« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2020, 02:38:45 am »
Quote from: Itachi;1135776
This. Make them pay for what they want. Sometimes a complication they can't control is harsher than health loss or the risk of death. A dear NPC lost/hurt/kidnapped, a hideout blown, a rival faction getting stronger, a valued possession damaged or corrupted, being forced to do something against one's principles.

Also: don't pull punches. Play the world straight and let the dice fall where they may. I'm also a soft GM and have to police myself to not let them have things easy. Being harsh first and then adjusting if needed is usually better than being soft first and doing the reverse.

Good luck. :)


That's always been the biggest load of bullshit imaginable.  The idea that "consequences" that allow the player to go on are harsher than death is silly.  It's absolutely no coincidence that the people who always throw this one out are narrative roleplayers.

In RPGs you roleplay a character.  If you're not playing a tournament scenario, there is no endgame, no win state unless you retire the character.  The point is Roleplaying that character.  Consequences let you continue to play that character with MORE DRAMA!  A lost loved one, Oh the Humanity!  Characters fucked up, looking for revenge, spurred on by tragedy and bearing scars...those are the roles people love to play, because they're full of emotion.

But, the narrative roleplayers would have us believe that fucking up that character, giving them those scars, giving them that emotion is worse than not ever being able to play the character because they're dead.  The whole reason they WANT consequences is that drama, they want those scars, they want that emotion.

The very idea that death is better is ludicrous on its face.  Always has been, always will be.
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