Presentation Issues | The Offended GM

Let’s bulls$&%.

Take into account your self warned. It is a Bulls$&% article. Simply me spinning my wheels and spraying mud throughout every part y’all suppose is nice GMing and good recreation design. Like I do.

Right this moment, I’m speaking about how presentation is every part and why gamers shouldn’t know the foundations and the way nothing proves it greater than how Apocalypse World’s most good, lovely concept completely fails on the desk.

Sure, I do know that subject’s one thing like twelve f$&%ing years outdated now, nevertheless it’s what I’m fascinated about immediately. So it’s what I’m writing about.

In brief… let’s bulls$&%.

Presentation is every part. Simply ask any GM that grudgingly runs D&D 5E for a bunch that completely f$&%ing refuses to think about taking part in actually another recreation system.

Final weekend, I ran off to Ohio to recreation with three dozen Offended supporters on the first ever Offended Video games NonConvention. However I ain’t right here to brag about that. Although I might. As a result of I put collectively a kicka$& NonConvention and a good time was had by actually all. I do know as a result of two separate folks informed me that had nice occasions.

I get quite a bit of mileage out of that gag.


Whereas chatting with some of us on the Offended Video games 2022 NonCon — sure, I do know what it feels like and other people stating what it feels like is strictly why I’m retaining the title perpetually — whereas chatting with of us on the Offended NonCon, I really complimented Dungeons & Dragons’s presentation. Which isn’t one thing I do ever, actually. As a result of D&D 5E isn’t very well-presented. Like, think about in the event you in some way managed to make a midway first rate sandwich with some rancid, outdated components you had mendacity round. And to make it look good, you fished the greasy prime of a moldy pizza field from a dumpster, plated your crap sandwich on that, after which provided it up with a flourish. “Ta-dah!”

What I’m saying is D&D 5E’s presentation isn’t doing the sport any favors.

The factor is, although, that D&D 3.5 — the objectively and axiomatically greatest version of D&D ever — wasn’t actually offered higher. Which is what that dialog I alluded to was about. Somebody requested me, “so, what’s it like studying the three.5 rulebooks?” And I stated, “it’s like studying a compiled textbook filled with stereo directions.”

I do know that’s an outdated analogy, nevertheless it’s a Beetlejuice reference, so f$&% off.

Sure, I do know that’s an outdated reference, nevertheless it’s Beetlejuice, so f$&% off. When this millennium begins producing some popular culture price a f$&%ing reference, I’ll begin referencing it.

It’s like this children: stereos had been large, clunky digital gadgets we used to play music from big, clunky audio system earlier than the invention of MP3s and iPods and streaming providers. They usually consisted of a number of completely different digital parts that needed to be related along with precise wires as a result of we additionally didn’t have Bluetooth. So that they got here with instruction manuals.

Manuals had been printed, step-by-step tutorials that we used to place s$&% collectively earlier than the invention of instructional movies. They had been written in indecipherable — however extremely detailed — damaged English. Normally as a result of they had been translated from another language utilizing a technique that makes Google Translate appear like the f$&%ing Rosetta Stone. Not the software program, the precise rock.

The Rosetta Stone was an precise stone inscribed in 200 BC with some Egyptian authorized code repeated in Egyptian, Greek, and Demotic script and due to this fact allowed archaeologists to…

I believe I’ve misplaced my laser-like deal with my level.

My level is, I wasn’t paying the three.5 rulebooks a praise. They had been very detailed, they had been very exhaustive, they usually had been a horrible slog to learn. However they had been beautiful and actually well-indexed and arranged and cross-referenced. They had been made for wanting s$&% up and following procedures. They only weren’t made to learn.

In contrast, the 5E rulebooks are erratically edited. In some paradoxical method, they handle to be concurrently over-vague and hairsplittingly nit-picky. They’re ugly — three phrases: encephalitic halfling bard — they usually’re unattainable to navigate. However they’re tremendous readable. Assuming you skip all the category talents and spell descriptions, it’s a breeze to learn that PHB from cowl to cowl.

And it’s all the way down to a single phrase.


5E’s written totally from what we writers name a second-person perspective. The books tackle the reader instantly. “You are able to do this,” they are saying, “and if you do, roll that to search out out what occurs.” It’s all good, direct, crucial sentences as an alternative of oblique and sometimes passive declarations.

It’s the distinction between:

a creature could make an assault in opposition to another creature inside its melee attain by making an assault roll to find out whether or not the assault is successful.


You may assault any creature in your melee attain. Make an assault roll to find out whether or not your assault hits.

Sport Offended: The right way to RPG the Offended Approach is additionally written within the second-person perspective. And so are most of my articles. Have you learnt why? As a result of it’s f%$&ing readable. It actually takes your mind extra effort and power to parse oblique, declarative, third-person sentences than direct, crucial, second-person sentences.

Have you learnt what else used the second-person perspective?

Dungeon World.

And that was a promoting level.

What’s a ten-year-old hack of a twelve-year-old RPG obtained to do with any of this s$%&? Let me clarify.

Within the weeks main as much as NonCon, I used to be agonizing over tips on how to fill 20 hours of gaming at my private NonCon desk. What the hell was I going to run? And I briefly flirted with filling a few of these hours with an outdated conference standby of mine: Dungeon World.

Dungeon World — or DW — is an early Powered by the Apocalypse — or PbtA — recreation. And, arguably, it’s the sport that turned PbtA right into a mainstream time period within the on-line gaming group for some time.

I used to be a really early fan of DW, having came upon it at GenCon a yr earlier than its Kickstarter publication. And I cherished it. DW’s straightforward to grok, rules-lite, straightforward to prep for — nevertheless it’s not zero prep and it by no means claimed to be regardless of what some a$&hats in the neighborhood insist — and the character technology in DW is tremendous approachable. Not a whole lot of RPGs allow you to get character technology and a whole journey performed in three or 4 hours.

DW didn’t make the lower although. See, Kobolds Ate My Child can be straightforward to grok, rules-lite, straightforward to prep for, and consists of super-approachable character technology. However it’s additionally humorous as hell. And you’ll ignore the foundations and simply riff for just a few wacky hours. Which was exactly what I wanted for the final recreation of the final night time of NonCon.


Dungeon World. It was on my thoughts even earlier than that dialog about how a second-person perspective makes s$&% infinitely simpler to learn. And on the lengthy drive house from Ohio, whereas Tiny dozed within the passenger seat, I discovered myself reflecting on how DW and PbtA video games and even the granddaddy of all PbtA video games — Apocalypse World itself — all completely failed to make use of you they method they needed to. However they obtained so damned shut.

I need to discuss Dungeon World’s core mechanic. However as a result of it’s technically Apocalypse World’s core mechanic, I’ve obtained to provide credit score the place it’s due. So let’s do the begats.

In 2010, Vincent and Meguey Baker begat Apocalypse World. And it made some waves. Earned some awards. Why? For one, it had a bunch of distinctive options. Like, for example, a easy mechanic to create messy and complex relationships between the PCs based mostly on Mad Libs type fill-in-the-blank statements. And since the Bakers informed everybody that in the event that they favored Apocalypse World, they need to really feel completely free to print and publish and revenue from their very own video games and name them AW hacks, even when that inspiration was completely of the vaguely artistic selection they usually didn’t use any AW mechanics in any respect. Thus was born the Powered by the Apocalypse moniker. PbtA for brief.

PbtA meant any recreation in any respect that was impressed by a love of Apocalypse World. By phrase of the creator gods. These days, PbtA typically means a recreation that makes use of the core mechanics and relationship programs from AW. PbtA begat numerous video games like Monsterhearts and Transit. It obtained so that you couldn’t swing a lifeless tabaxi on DTRPG with out hitting a PbtA recreation.

So the Bakers begat Apocalypse World. And Apocalypse World begat the Powered by the Apocalypse brand. After which, in 2012, Sage Latorra and Adam Koebel begat the primary actual PbtA recreation to get actual, severe traction and name consideration to the entire PbtA factor. That was Dungeon World. Principally, DW was D&D PbtA. Bought it?

And that begat my curiosity.

What’s essential for immediately’s dialogue is DW’s core mechanic. Which can be AW’s core mechanic. And which can be typically handled as PbtA’s core mechanic. And it includes two intertwined yingyangs.

Yingyang One is the Capacity Test. Have to resolve an motion? Roll 2d6 and add a capability modifier — Energy, Dexterity, Structure, you realize the music so sing alongside. Bought a ten or higher? Nice, you unambiguously reach your job. Bought a six or much less? Crap, you completely failed in your job. However you get a shiny expertise level so you possibly can study out of your f$&% up. Bought a seven, eight, or 9? Effectively, that’s difficult. You succeeded in your job, however solely kinda. The GMs going to throw some form of price or cut price or one thing your method. It’s a “sure, however…” form of success. Or sometimes, “sure, if…”

Actually? It’s a fairly elegant mechanic. And simple to maintain in your head. I dig it. I dig it far more than I used to, the truth is, however my emotions on non-binary outcomes have modified over time.

Yingyang Two is the Transfer. A Transfer is a discrete chunk of guidelines that inform you what to roll when. Or when to even roll in any respect. The designers themselves described it as a codification of the conversational movement that fashioned the core of the RPG expertise. the one I imply: GM units the scene, participant describes character motion, GM determines and describes end result, yaddah yaddah yaddah.

So there have been all these Strikes within the recreation. That’s what they had been known as. Strikes. For instance, Hack and Slash. Within the guidelines, it seemed like this:

Hack and Slash

Once you assault an enemy in melee, roll+STR. *On a ten+, you deal your injury to the enemy and keep away from their assault. At your choice, you select to do +1d6 injury however expose your self to your enemy’s assault. *On a 7-9, you deal injury to the enemy and the enemy makes an assault in opposition to you.

And that straightforward rule construction is completely f$&%ing good. As a result of it encapsulates completely probably the most meta job each GM has to do.

When you’re performed narrating — as a GM — you develop into a bit of like a type of evil Alexa issues. See, your gamers say numerous s$&% on the recreation desk. Inane babble, intra-party planning, pissing-and-moaning, out-of-character jokes that completely break the temper, and so forth. Sometimes although, a participant will really state their character’s intention to do one thing which may really have an effect on the sport world. And which really requires a die roll to resolve.

When one thing like that — an motion declaration — comes from a participant’s noise gap, you — the GM — must get up, resolve the motion, describe the consequence, after which shift again into low-power mode ready for the following motion.

After all, very like an Alexa, you’re really all the time listening and taking notes so you possibly can in some way screw your gamers later. However that’s neither right here nor there.

This s$&% is far more difficult than you understand. Think about, for instance, a social interplay encounter. These are just about the toughest issues for GMs to parse. Particularly if the gamers are attempting even a tiny little bit to play in-character. Plenty of phrases get tossed forwards and backwards, together with pleasantries and insults and banter and repetition and clarification and ineffective pleading that may’t probably change anybody’s thoughts. As a GM, you’ve obtained to remain on excessive alert for the occasional sentence which may really change somebody’s thoughts.

Once you hear a factor like that, you set a DC and ask for a social talent test otherwise you roll one your self behind the display screen in order to not wreck the conversational movement. And you employ the end result to resolve what the NPC says subsequent. You then return to simply form of taking part in the NPC.

That is simply one other of the umpteen billion important issues RPGs don’t clarify. Effectively, Apocalypse World — and by extension Dungeon World — determined not solely to elucidate it, however simply to codify that s$&%.

In PbtA video games, you — the GM — are ready for the gamers to set off Strikes. To say particular phrases that inform you they’re doing one thing that requires some recreation mechanics. That’s what that bit within the Hack and Slash Transfer about if you assault an enemy in melee, is all about. That’s the factor a personality does on the earth that Triggers the Transfer.

Hey, Alexa, I need to kill that orc with my sword.
Okay. Roll two cube and add your Energy modifier.

See why this s$&%’s good? As a result of it offers an ideal Child’s First GMing Expertise. It’s coaching wheels for operating a recreation. Listening for s$&% that qualifies as an precise motion after which resolving it and going again to sleep.

Let’s think about an RPG with out all of the crap. Think about the only RPG ever. Characters have six Skills — you realize those — and a modifier for every. They usually’ve obtained a listing of single-word Abilities. Issues they’re significantly good at. Skilled to deal with. That’s it.

Is {that a} playable RPG? Is it runnable? F$&% sure. It’s the best to play. Best to run. And likewise the deepest and probably the most enjoyable RPG that might probably exist. It’s supremely open-ended, supremely approachable, and as mechanically rigorous as any GM wants.

The gamers know the way sturdy and sensible and charismatic their characters are. They usually know what they’re significantly good at. And that’s all they know. All they should know.

In the meantime, you — the GM — know tips on how to hear for something that feels like a player-character attempting to have an effect on a change on the earth. And you realize that if that motion would possibly succeed and would possibly fail and carries some threat or price, you possibly can decide a capability rating, set a DC, and ask for a roll. And if a participant says, “I’m skilled for this,” you give them a bonus. If you happen to agree.

And despite the fact that I usually succumb to the siren’s music of crunchy mechanics and recreation stability and initiative programs and s$&% like that, I’d in all probability really take pleasure in operating that simple-a$& RPG greater than any version of any RPG system ever. It’d be hella clean, hella playable, and hella enjoyable. As a result of every part you layer on prime of that straightforward s$%& is extra more likely to impede the expertise than improve it.

Particularly if the gamers see it.

If you happen to’ve ever really run Dungeon World — or something Powered by the Apocalypse — you’re in all probability laughing your a$& off so laborious proper now that you simply’re going to want emergency gluteal reattachment surgical procedure. As a result of that good design philosophy I talked up? Yeah, that s$&% has by no means materialized at any Dungeon World desk ever.

Gamers don’t describe their fictional actions and look ahead to the GM to say, “you activated my Transfer card!” As an alternative, they only say s$&% like “I Hack and Slash the ogre” or “can I Spout Lore about this metropolis” or — worst of all — “a entice? I Defy Hazard it” Despite the fact that the foundations of the sport explicitly f$&%ing forbid the gamers from invoking Strikes, gamers invoke Strikes. And it’s unattainable to get them to cease. So that you simply quit and go together with it.

Why? As a result of the gamers see the Strikes. Hell, there are reference sheets for them. And even in the event you don’t hand these out, there’s nonetheless a bunch of particular, distinctive, class-based Strikes spelled out on any character sheet.

And the trick of not letting the gamers see the Strikes? Each PbtA GM has tried that one too. It doesn’t work. As a result of there are some Strikes that by no means, ever get triggered if the gamers don’t know they exist. Strikes like Spout Lore and Discern Realities form of depend on — in a bizarre method; it’s difficult and I don’t need to go into it — sure Strikes depend on the gamers sorta appearing on data they received’t have till they take the motion to search out out what data they’ve.

In the meantime, some Strikes — like Defy Hazard — completely can’t be used proper in the event that they’re invoked by gamers. Defy Hazard is triggered if you — the GM — warn a participant about some form of in-scene hazard or upcoming horrible factor after which the participant says, “rattling the torpedoes, I cost and assault anyway.” However when gamers understand it exists, they use it as a saving throw or trap-avoidance roll. Which it ain’t.

By all rights, DW needs to be a great, open-ended RPG by which the gamers suppose solely in regards to the fictional world the characters inhabit and their character’s capabilities. In observe, it’s a regular D&D-like recreation of pushing buttons and invoking guidelines and dragging the fiction alongside for the trip. What a f$%&ing disgrace.

However I nonetheless actually like it for single-shot play.

What’s the lesson right here? I don’t know. It is a Bulls$&% article. Is it even speculated to have a lesson?

Let’s say the lesson’s about how presentation and perspective make the sport. How guidelines are offered and who will get to see the foundations matter far more than no matter good design intentions you write down. Which in all probability ain’t information to any of you. It ain’t information to me.

However possibly the lesson’s really about letting the gamers see the foundations. And letting them work together with and instantly invoke the foundations. Each rule the gamers can see and contact damages the open-ended, freeform nature of RPGs. And actually, that’s in all probability the largest factor worrying me in regards to the DBox One playtest s$%&. As a result of it’s positively placing an increasing number of guidelines on the flawed facet of the display screen. Letting the gamers see, work together with, and instantly invoke too many guidelines.

It ain’t good for roleplaying video games if the gamers can use the foundations by title or name for rolls. And the newest One D&D playtest paperwork are leaning laborious in that route with the brand new social interplay and data and notion guidelines. And that s$&%’s unhealthy for open-ended play. The gamers ought to be capable to play the overwhelming majority of the sport with out ever naming a rule or asking for a die roll. In any other case, you’re in board recreation or online game territory. Not RPG.

Huh? I assume I do give a crap about this DBox One bulls$&%. Think about that.


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