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Apr. 27th, 2017 @ 02:16 pm Adjudicating
How to adjudicate when the GM and player have diverging expectations?

Someone has to act as arbiter, and by default that's the GM, but when the GM decides, what should they decide?

I have no one answer, but a few principles.

If it doesn't matter much, get it out of the way quickly, and defer any discussion about the rules till later.

If the player had a particular expectation, try not to undermine them. I think this is one of the most important things to try to deal with in the moment.

If the player misunderstood an explanation and tried to jump across a 100" wide chasm not a 10" wide chasm, you may need to clarify some other things, but at a minimum, you probably want to say, "you'll just fall to your death, do you want to do something else?" not "are you sure?" "uh, yeah, why?" "ok, you fall to your death".

That applies whether you have someone who knows what the official rules say and was relying on it. If they've set up a shot that depends on the cover rules working the way the rules say and you've never previously altered, it sucks for them to have that yanked out from under them if you improv something instead. Or whether you have a new player who doesn't know what's covered mechanically or not, and tries to do something dramatic like swinging on a chandelier that in-rules doesn't provide any combat advantage. In both cases, the player shouldn't have a hissy fit, but also in both cases, it's your job to do the best you can in the spur of the moment to allow the player's action or give a good substitute. FWIW, I would allow the first player their interpretation of the rules that once, and if it kills an important NPC, I never rely on an important NPC surviving. And for the second player I'd do something like, "make a dex check, if you succeed, attack with a modest bonus (or choose to knock the enemy back)". That fits the sort of action they wanted.

If it's a one-off, it probably doesn't matter much. If it's going to come up repeatedly (eg. rules for hiding), get past the immediate problem, and then review the situation later. Check what the rules really say. Decide if you'd prefer those, or some modification. Check with the player if they have a sensible request, and if so, consider if it makes sense. Then make a decision, make it clear and stick to it.

If you're not sure which rule to go with? Look for easy to adjudicate (if it doesn't matter, you can always go with what's in the book). Look for fun -- the beginner is right, random stunts should TOTALLY be in lots of combat, and it's a flaw in the rules they're not. Look for ones that avoid breaking a tone you're evoking. Look for which way your players would prefer.

Part of this is just, how to make good rulings in the heat of a moment whichever side you come down on.

Part of it is, where do you draw the line between "what happens because of common sense" and "what happens because what it says in the rules". There's a gulf of people's expectations. Both in terms of tone (is this action adventure where heroes do things humans MIGHT be able to do? Or more like an epic norse legend, where great heroes wrestle sea-serpents?) and in terms of pedantry (do you expect the GM to allow an unconscious villain to have their throat slit? or rely on the weapon rules on how much damage that deals?). There's an amount you can stretch to accommodate different players, but only so far: beyond that, you just have to accept you want to play different things.

It's important to figure out if that's happening or not. You can totally have a tone that has character drama all over the place, *and* swashbuckling *and* fart jokes (see: all of Shakespeare). But if 4/5 players want wall-to-wall drama and one wants fart jokes, it may well not work. And the same in reverse.

Likewise, you can easily have some characters who chose well-optimised powers for their class, and some who chose whatever felt cool, and as long as there's not a big difference in power, it's fine. But if some characters want to hand wave away combat to get to the character interaction, and the other characters want to use the class abilities they just levelled up into, it's a stretch to keep both happy. Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't.

But that's often the underlying dynamic when players react in very different ways, they're focussing on different parts of the adventure, and you want to give both what they want, but avoid what you give one player obviating what the other player wants. Eg. if conversation is always pointless when combat happens, people who want to learn about NPCs are screwed. If you let one character do things because they're cool, but everyone else sticks to the rules, the other players are eclipsed. Can you do both, or not?

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From:alteregon
Date:April 27th, 2017 05:51 pm (UTC)
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I'm entirely with you up to "That fits the sort of action they wanted.", including the killing of NPCs. If there's an NPC that I need to be absolutely unkillable, I need to keep that NPC out of reach for the players… but it's typically a good idea to have at least one, preferably several backups.

In my experience, especially if I have a very large and/or very heterogeneous group of players, letting players alter the rules I based my game on while the game is running is a very bad idea, since over the course of a campaign it will lead to situations where different scenes are played out based on different rules. When this happens – when I start adjusting the rules as we go just because a player would like to play it this way or that, and then again because the next player wants to play another thing a different way – then I effectively take away the safety net that rules are for the rest of the players. Inexperienced players – again, this is my experiences and other people's experiences may be different – rely on this safety net, and the rule set is also a kind of minimum consensus to make sure that a group of players that is not ideally matched will still be able to play together comfortably.

"Review the situation later", in my experience, leads to episodes of "But X worked, so, why can't I do Y now?!" I think "make a decision and stick with it for the rest of the campaign" works better.

As for "sensible requests" from players: If you're a first-time player and you want me to change something after I already said that's how it is: Forget it. You play by the rules I gave you, and you see how the game works. You can start making suggestions when you have seen the rules in action and know what they're about from experience rather than a guidebook.
If you're a player I know has experience but I haven't ever played with before, I'll consider your request if you can explain to me why it's sensible, BUT: If you're an experienced player than I actually expect you will have told me about the sensible requests you have for rule changes BEFORE we started the campaign (This is a question I always do ask my players before we start, actually), because I expect you will have experience with the rules and know which ones you find difficult/have better solutions for.
If you're a player I have played with before and I know you think things through, I'll most likely assume that your request is reasonable based on experience.
If you're a player I've played with before and I know from experience doesn't think things through, see "one-time players" without the last bit.

When I played in my first campaign, I was handed a sheet with a rule summary, and the first item said: "The GM is right."
Since the GM is responsible for the game working, and not every GM is equally capable of adjusting on the fly, I think this is a reasonable rule.
This DOESN'T mean the GM needs to be an asshole about things. It also doesn't mean the GM SHOULD be an asshole about things. But if the GM simply isn't good at improvisation and needs to stick to the word of the campaign description, that is okay.
If a player doesn't like that, they can GM the next time and see how well they do at it. They might want to think about this very well, though. If they're good at it they're likely to be stuck with the GM role forever after.

Your paragraph starting with "Part of it is, where do you draw the line between…" While I absolutely agree with the statements as such, this is something that I think should never come up in the middle of a campaign. My advice would be to get these things out of the way before you start playing. Get them out of the way before you as the GM pick the campaign even. And as a player, remember that not every GM can do every kind of campaign. GMs are allowed to have limits to what they can do, and limits to what they are willing to do. The GM does a lot of hard work already. Don't make them bend totally out of shape for you mentally in addition to that.
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From:alteregon
Date:April 27th, 2017 05:52 pm (UTC)
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In this context, what I do when I start out with a new group, or after larger changes to a group, I ask around to determine what people are expecting. I lay out the house rules I see as non-negotiable. I ask players with experience if they have any special requests or anything they think we should add to the house rules. I ask new players if there's anything they want to ask me or the other players about, because they typically don't know enough yet to know which special requests would or wouldn't be sensible to make. I write down the consensus for later reference.

I ask about special requests that are not really rule changes but more like specific, singular accommodations for a player. I may accept special request subject to conditions.
One player once said she'd be unable to deal with it if her character died, so could we just agree that this doesn't happen?
I said we could agree on that IF I would have a right to veto her actions (so she wouldn't use her de facto immortality to do things that would otherwise be unsurvivable) and IF she was okay with potentially being kept busy elsewhere in particular high-risk situations where I'd find it really hard to "explain away" an unlucky roll. This is the kind of situation I would not have wanted to deal with in the middle of a combat after the unlucky roll already happened.
Some special requests I would not accept under any circumstance.
One player once wanted to play a kind of demigod. Every draft she brought me had that character virtually omnipotent. I sent her back to fix that several times. Eventually I figured she hadn't understood the problem with playing omnipotent or near-omnipotent characters and spelled it out for her again. Her response: "Oh, but he IS, he just doesn't use those powers all the time because that wouldn't be fun, but he COULD." Well, no… I think I literally told her that either she could geld him herself or I would, but she definitely wasn't going to play him like that.

Another non-negotiable for me is that first-time players don't play Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil, and that a party with a first-time player doesn't contain any Chaotic Evil members. Period. I want to know people know how RPing works before we get into the extremes, and I have no interest in having to wrangle player-player trouble because player A doesn't get that player B's character's attitude towards their own character doesn't reflect player B's attitude towards them.
Other GMs I know have limitations to which alignments they're willing to GM for in general, and yes – that is also fine.

Other things I make sure we have an agreement on are things like "can we kill the NPCs" (yes, you can), or "when do we roll?" (no, we're not going to do dexterity checks for sliding down the banister. I'll just believe you if you say you do that. We don't need to roll dice for the sole purpose of stalling the game a bit).
Far-fetched solutions? Fine with me, but we'll roll on those, and I'll slap on a pretty heavy modifier. So yes, if you use your head as a battering ram, MAYBE the door will turn out to actually have a weak spot that you just happen to hit, but it's much more likely you'll be out cold for the next few hours and playing through a thundering headache for a while. Yes, this will lead to modifiers on all your next rolls.

I think things like that, as well as the degree of detail in combat, should be clear before the game starts. They shouldn't be an issue in the middle of a session.

So yes, absolutely: All of what you say in that section – but if I'm the GM it's not going to happen in mid-game.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:May 3rd, 2017 11:04 am (UTC)
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"first-time players don't play Lawful Good or Chaotic Evil"

That's fascinating, because I think I know what you mean, but it seems you play with people who treat lawful good like being a robot, refusing to compromise at all?

Whereas I think of lawful good as a common default for people living in civilisation, not "obey every law", but *wanting* laws (or codes of behaviour, or fate) to be fair, not just assuming that they're a chore you have to put up with.
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From:alteregon
Date:May 3rd, 2017 12:21 pm (UTC)
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"Lawful Good" ... not so much a robot, but a very strict code of duty or honor, which ist just likely if, when played fully, to cause a dispute of some knid among the characters sooner or later. I've had way too many situations where the "you are NOT your character" and "an objection to something your character says or does is not an objection to YOU" situations to be comfortable with inviting those. Think paladins... I think a Lawful Good character fees really, really strongly about the thing that is "Good" for them, which is great if I have players who know how to play, but not so great if I have a player who will take any objection to what their character does personally.

Also: Interesting! I would have classified the default you described is Lawful Neutral.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:May 3rd, 2017 11:08 am (UTC)
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I think you've played a lot more, with a much greater variety of players than me. It sounds like you've needed to do a *lot* of herding players to avoid problems, whereas I've mostly had good luck having players on the same sort of wavelength as me.

If I *had* a fixed set of rules, I'd definitely want to advertise them, but I usually haven't been that much more experienced with my players at a particular system. I more have an expectation of "how much is Rules-As-Written, how much is what's-obvious, how much is deadly-combat, how much is dramatic-heroics" which I'd have difficulty putting into words, but happen to have been mostly lucky with. (Now I'm more seriously likely to be playing with people I don't know well, doing that well may be more necessary.)
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From:alteregon
Date:May 3rd, 2017 12:29 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I've played with some insanely heterogeneous groups, especially during my time at uni, when I'd have some people with 10+ years of experience at the same table with people who had just happened to see our "Roleplayers are welcome to join us" poster and dropped by without really knowing anything beyond some very very scant basics.

I've played since 1995-ish (I keep wavering a bit about when to place our first rounds... definitely after 1994, which was when my family moved, but some things blur a little). Started GM'ing a few months after first playing, and have played maybe two campaigns as a player since. If I was living closer to you, I'd ask you if I could join yours, I'd REALLY like to play as a player again at some point.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:May 3rd, 2017 11:16 am (UTC)
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I think most of the tweaks I was considering were smaller scale than the sort of things you've had to deal with.

"Can I not die" is a sort of social contract thing it's really hard to make for some characters and not others, you found a way to make it work, but that's definitely the sort of thing where I'd make it work if I could, but I'd likely just not be able to.

I think I was thinking of things that sound like the sort of accommodations you have made, except that, I have a lot more "this doesn't come up much so I haven't really established in how much detail I handle it" and a lot less being bombarded by fifty bizarre requests all at once.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:May 3rd, 2017 11:16 am (UTC)
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Out of interest, what systems have you/do you usually run?
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From:alteregon
Date:May 3rd, 2017 12:39 pm (UTC)
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Mostly D&D and AD&D; I started playing 2nd edition for both, and I'm not too much in love with the more recent editions. As settings go, we've done Greyhawk, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. I've run both the regular rules and campaigns adjusted for the d20 system.

I've run campaigns in the German roleplaying system "Das Schwarze Auge" (The Dark Eye in English), which is fine as a system but IMO ridiculously convoluted when it comes to magic.

A personal favourite of mine is Deadlands (which supplements dice with poker cards), but that one's so obscure that it's hard to find players (never mind a chance to play instead of GM).

We've also played some obscure sci fi system that I can't remember the name of right now...

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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:April 28th, 2017 10:31 am (UTC)
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Thank you! That's helpful. OK, I probably have replies to more individual bits, but probably later on.