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Jun. 8th, 2017 @ 11:42 am Weird rpg question
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So... no-one else have an opinion on rules interpretation in http://jack.dreamwidth.org/1032556.html ?

I thought the answer was so obvious, but apparently not?

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jack
From:khoth
Date:June 8th, 2017 11:41 am (UTC)
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I meant to reply but forgot.

I think you're right. "If A then do X" isn't actually a plan unless you have some way of determining A.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 01:46 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for following up on this.
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From:vitriol_
Date:June 8th, 2017 12:56 pm (UTC)
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I actually think it's possible to rephrase the other person's approach such that it's a valid question to ask (at least if I were GM), so long as it's relying on the augury spell's knowledge of hidden information rather than the character's.

For instance, if the portion you quoted was rephrased to instead ask the augury "What is the outcome for me, if in a universe where bag A contains a demi-lich I open bag B, and in a universe where it does not I open bag C", I'd be ok with the spell providing a correct answer.

Edited at 2017-06-08 12:58 pm (UTC)
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 01:48 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for following up on this.

I sort of see where this is coming from, but I don't see why the spell would give you extra information over and above what it normally does.

Like, it doesn't answer *any* yes-no question (there's a higher level spell for that), it only tells you the result of a course of action you plan to take. I'm not sure how "there being two parallel universes" is something you can plan to do.
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From:vitriol_
Date:June 8th, 2017 02:05 pm (UTC)
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I think it really comes down to the definition of what's covered under a course of action.

Do you agree that, for a higher-level version that can answer any yes-no question, the question "If in a universe where bag A contains a demi-lich I open bag B, and in a universe where it does not I open bag C, does the bag I open contain treasure" is valid?

If so, then really it comes down to whether Bayesian pre-considerations are covered under "a course of action". I'd personally rule that that's OK, since in the end the augury spell itself does know the contents of all the bags, and so knows which universe this is, and as such the question does resolve to a single course of action with a single valid answer of "good", "bad", "mixed", and "neutral".

(Actually, knowing the sort of people I roleplay with, my actual GM answer would be "Terry, you're playing a Barbarian with an Int of 7 who hasn't been able to count to five since he lost that finger in the fight with the necromancer last week - your character cannot possibly phrase a question like that". I've noticed that whenever puzzles come up in games all pretence at characterisation goes out the window and everyone tries to solve them as players, not their characters.)
From:khoth
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:00 pm (UTC)
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I'm not Jack but...

I'd agree that if any yes-no question is allowed, then your question is valid.

I'm not sure what you mean by "bayesian pre-consideration" - there's no probability involved in the question. I've got a much better idea of where you're coming from now though I think. If I understand correctly, you're arguing that the player is specifying a definite plan, but that the player does not know what that plan is. I'm not sure if I'm convinced it would be allowed, but it's a lot more reasonable than I previously thought.

But then, it feels a bit analagous to saying: I've discovered the 50th Mersenne prime. It's "the next Mersenne prime after the 49th one". I suppose you need to make sure the god you're asking doesn't mind that sort of thing.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:05 pm (UTC)
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Do you agree that, for a higher-level version that can answer any yes-no question, the question... is valid

Sure.

my actual GM answer would be "

Yeah, fair enough. Although I just accept this as how roleplaying games work, if I want to avoid player-expertise of that sort, I'd try to avoid anywhere it was useful. If it came up occasionally, I guess I might ask them to avoid it.

But I feel like, it's still valid to want to know how the spell behaves. After all, suppose, say, the treasure is hidden somewhere in a crypt, well enough the party can't find it in 30min and they want to know if it's worth spending days taking it apart.

The cleric casts the spell and asks what question they should ask.

Wanda the Wizard says "We search for the treasure, what happens", gets "nothing", and doesn't know if the treasure is here but hidden well enough you can't find it in 30min, or not here at all.

Barb the Barbarian cries, "we go straight to where the treasure is and dig it out!" That seems a very barbarian question, one they could easily ask by not-thinking-very-hard. But does that mean they get the extra information not provided to Wanda?

I'd personally rule that that's OK, since in the end the augury spell itself does know the contents of all the bags

Huh. So many experienced people are telling me this I feel like now I have to take it seriously but I still don't get it.

(Do you agree that you can establish if something is a valid question for an augury whether or not it's actually useful? If so, I'm going to ask about a few of them, if not, this next bit won't make sense, skip it.)

Which of the following do you think are valid questions for augury? (Ie. that tell you the result if you COULD do what's in the plan, not tell you what happens if you don't know how to start.)

1. The red ruby is in the top room of the red tower in the mountains of the eagle or the padoga on the isle of sharks. The party want to know which way to go, but getting there will take weeks, not minutes. They have no way to teleport. Their plan is "we teleport to the top room of the red tower, and see if the ruby is there". If it is, is the answer "yes", or "nothing" because they can't teleport?

2. As above, but the augury is granted by a being which can teleport (I assume this doesn't make a difference?)

3. There is a corridor in the dungeon blocked by half a dozen big portcullises. They are magic and will open only if you toss a bundle of sticks in front of them and affect how the sticks fall. It will take a day to force them all. The party want to know if there's anything valuable on the other side. The only spell they have is a single augury. They plan to augury "we walk along the passage, tossing a bundle of sticks and manipulating the fall of the sticks in front of each of them. If there's treasure, there, is the answer "good", or "nothing" because they can't pass the doors?
From:khoth
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:17 pm (UTC)
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So now I'm going to argue the other side of what I was saying was true in my first comment.

Would you agree that "If the Goldbach conjecture is true, then 'The cat sat on the mat', otherwise 'A dog bites a man'" uniquely specifies a sentence?

If not, bail out now. If so...

Would you agree that "If there's a lich in box A, 'Open box B', otherwise 'Open box C'" uniquely describes a plan?

In this formulation, the conditional isn't trying to be part of a plan, it's just part of the description used to specify the plan. If you decide to open box B, you may or may not be following the plan you're thinking of asking the augury, but you don't know.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:28 pm (UTC)
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Oh I see!

But in that case, we don't need the spell to be divination at all.

"Centred on the goblin on the left if goldbach is true, else centred on the goblin on the right" uniquely specifies a target position, right?

So, "i cast fireball Centred on the goblin on the left if goldbach is true, else centred on the goblin on the right" is a valid casting, right? Poof, solving unsolved problems in mathematics by the application of applied KABOOM! (Ok, ok, not fireball, a cleric cantrip.)

I don't think that works. Yes, it's unique, but even if the god in question knows the answer to goldbach, I think you need to be more direct when you specify something for a spell[1].

[1] I assume "target you choose" etc usually means that in-universe, you're designating them somehow with a physical gesture or a mental choice, not playing 20-questions with a god. In fact, augury implies that it needs to be a course of action you're intending to take, not just one you describe, even though I've been letting that slide.

Edited at 2017-06-08 03:30 pm (UTC)
From:khoth
Date:June 8th, 2017 04:12 pm (UTC)
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In fact, augury implies that it needs to be a course of action you're intending to take, not just one you describe, even though I've been letting that slide

I think you shouldn't have let that slide. If the augury god reads your intention instead of a tricksy verbal description, I don't think the cunning scheme can work.

And yes, I'd assume fireball targeting is more like aiming a gun than saying something that uniquely identifies a target.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 07:13 pm (UTC)
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I agree that, if there's any ambiguity or potential rules-holes, insisting on only evaluating the plan you're *intending* to take would avoid the problems. But I didn't think there *were* any such problems, which is why I didn't dwell on that restriction.

(Eg. I'd think it in the spirit if not the letter of the spell to allow you to evaluate a very risky plan you're not sure if you'd follow through without augury, with the risk that it does just say "bad plan". So I would tend to allow that, even though it's not technically allowed. If I'm persuaded any of the this rules trickery makes sense, that might be a further reason to do so, but I'm not yet persuaded.)
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:35 pm (UTC)
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Aside about Goldbach. I agree it uniquely specifies a choice, although with the caveat that it's possible it's true-but-unprovable-in-ZFC which might require extra dancing.

In DnD, I have usually avoided the question if gods are omniscient. I would guess, they generally have any reasonable knowledge about the world, but don't in general have the answer to *any* question, don't always know every maths theorem, or know the future.

If this came up, I'm not quite sure what I'd do. I would probably play the god as ambiguous about whether they knew the answer. Or I'd pick an answer (probably "true") and decide that was true for this universe and cope with being proved wrong only if it came up. Or I'd say the god can choose to reject questions it judges as taking the piss, or doesn't understand :)

Come to think of it, you'd think some difficult player would have cast "commune" about Goldbach's theorem, but I've not seen it yet :)
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From:vitriol_
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:44 pm (UTC)
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1) While I'd want to check the precise wording on the spell I'd say that the party has to be capable of the course of action that they take (given that augury is limited to just determining a course of action) and so this fails.

2) As you say I don't see the capabilities of the divine being providing the answer to be relevant to the question, since it doesn't lend those capabilities to the user, just its omniscience.

3) Unlike question (1) it's established that the characters do have the capability to open all the portcullises and get at what's on the other side, they just need to spend a day doing so. Since as far as I know there's no time limit on the course of action the augury can provide feedback on, this seems like a very valid use of the augury - the course of action is well within the remit of the party, and they want to spend the resource of casting the augury to determine if it's worth the effort.


I accept that my lenient interpretation of 'course of action' from my original comment does mean that augury is essentially equivalent to the higher-level "ask a yes/no question about X" spell, since you can pose the course of action "in a universe where X is true I stab myself in the hand, while in the universe where it is false I eat a chocolate" and see if the outcome is good or bad. But I see that more of a problem of avoiding combining fantasy tropes with tortuous rules-lawyering unless you actually want to play games in a setting like https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8096183/1/Harry-Potter-and-the-Natural-20 .
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:54 pm (UTC)
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Ah, sorry, I didn't specify because I thought you'd already looked up the spell spec (I didn't expect anyone to necessarily know off the top of their head): it's limited to 30 minutes. I didn't think that was going to be important, except with #3 I used it to establish a course of action the party had no way of taking.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 03:59 pm (UTC)
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I see that more of a problem of avoiding combining fantasy tropes with tortuous rules-lawyering

Huh. I sort of see where you're coming from. I agree with part of it -- sometimes logic-twisting is encouraged (often with me because I like it) and sometimes it's just not what I'm going for (in which case I'll describe the omens as too vague for that sort of thing to work, etc).

But, I generally still go with the spell descriptions. The existence of commune says to me that augury does NOT do that.

And I generally allow rules-lawyering that actually works. If something allows a yes-no question, and doesn't limit its intricacy, I assume you *can* specify in lots of detail and get a fair answer. (It will break down at some point, if the being granting the answer doesn't want to get into it, or it's too complicated for the GM to guarantee an answer). But I don't allow rules lawyering that (to me) makes no sense. Like, if someone just strings a bunch of words together so it SOUNDS like the spell might do that, but there's nothing in the spell description that means it will, I'll assume it doesn't?
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From:vitriol_
Date:June 8th, 2017 04:08 pm (UTC)
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As you say, in a real game I wouldn't actually allow the augury spell to be used the way I think is technically valid because I agree it doesn't make sense to give augury the ability of another, higher-level spell through chop-logic.

I think in-character, thematic rules-lawyering is fine. After all, genre wizards are basically general that world's equivalent of geeks. In a world where wizards make deals with capricious djinn, being very careful about phrasing ones' requests fits both the character and the theme. Though of course the more time a player spends crafting a convoluted request, the more as GM I'd look for ways for the djinn to screw them over while staying within the bounds of the wish.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 04:13 pm (UTC)
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I think I basically agree with you on the sorts of thing I would allow in a game and not.

Where I disagree is I don't see how this is "technically valid". I don't yet see how it's valid in any way whatsoever.
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From:vitriol_
Date:June 8th, 2017 04:43 pm (UTC)
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I've now done a shocking thing and actually looked up the spell, and there's a few key words that I think makes all the difference.

Per the spell's text, you get an answer to "a specific course of action that you plan to take". If it was just "a specific course of action" then I still go with my original comment, I believe that the omniscient spirit performing the augury has enough information to resolve the query *into* a specific course of action, making it a valid request.

But I *don't* think it's an expression of "a specific course of action that you plan to take" because *the originator* doesn't know which universe this is when they make the request, and hence they can't be planning to take it at that point.

So having read the spell itself I do certainly agree with your arguments that augury can't be used that way - interested to know if you think a looser-worded version like the above could, though.

Edited at 2017-06-08 05:39 pm (UTC)
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 07:31 pm (UTC)
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What do you think about my reply above, starting "Centred on the goblin on the left if goldbach is true, else centred on the goblin on the right" etc?

I think uniquely specifying a course of action based on a conditional you don't know is just as dodgy as specifying the target of any other spell based on a complicated conditional you don't know, they both depend on what it means to specify something, but I think you need to be more upfront than that to just say/know/point to it without a lot of hoops.

I don't think the key is whether you "plan" to do it, although that cuts out a lot of the possibilities, rather the fact that it's "you". I think the spell (even without those particular words) is asking about a course of action *for you*, I don't think you can ask about *someone else's* course of action. And likewise, I don't think you can ask about hypothetical versions of yourself in different universes, I think you need to have a concrete plan which, if augury fails, you COULD carry out.
From:khoth
Date:June 8th, 2017 04:38 pm (UTC)
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Out of interest, by symmetry with "You're a barbarian with 7 int, you can't do that sort of thing", would you accept "I can't think of a way to rules-lawyer this djinn request, but my character is an 18-int wizard and he surely can"?
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From:vitriol_
Date:June 8th, 2017 05:22 pm (UTC)
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This is something I think is one of the most interesting questions of RPG design, actually, and one I've spent far too long thinking about!

The short answer is that I'd make this a test against Int so that yes, the smarter your character is the more likely you are to come up with a request without loopholes (and, of course, I wouldn't tell you whether you actually succeeded or not, you'd get to find that out in play when the djinn betrayed you or not), but that if the play group were the sort of people who enjoyed that kind of thing I'd give a modifier based on how well the player did it if they wanted to make an attempt.

The long answer would consume many more paragraphs...
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 07:23 pm (UTC)
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I think this is a big question of rpg design and different games find different compromises. I think it's always a compromise, which behaviours people want to spend most time on, and which behaviours people want to avoid.

I think if it happens all the time that the players say "I want to make a clever plan, but I'm not sure what, can my character do it for me", I think that probably indicates something is out of whack with what the players want and maybe needs to be resolved.

But if it's just one-off, then I'd probably just give them an intelligence roll. But depending on the situation, it's not automatic that an 18 intelligence character will just succeed, DnD naturally has a fair variance on die rolls. And if they roll high, I'll give them a plan to follow. It's rarely the case that one good insight is the turning factor in an adventure, they still usually need to *carry out* the plan.

I don't usually do djinn-trick-wishes type stuff, because I usually find it an unsatisfying example of rules-trickiness, but if I did, I'd clearly have to be ready for them to make a clever wish and for them to fuck it up, so if they'd rather decide that with a dice roll than by player-intelligence, then that's not what I'd expect, but that would probably work fine.

Sometimes I do an "incremental reveal". Like, if there's an investigation, it ruins the interest if they make a roll and just say "your investigator character thinks X did it". But I can usually say, "you notice some frayed edge on the carpet, and a picture is misaligned on a shelf", and then assuming they ask about those clues, I'll give them follow-up rolls until they reach the conclusion I planted.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:June 8th, 2017 07:14 pm (UTC)
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So what would your answer be to #3 as intended (ie with the time restrictions, or some other reason they can't traverse the corridor during the plan except by placating the doors)?