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This post is mainly directed at diehard roleplaying and storytelling fans like me, and those who game with us via play-by-post (PbP) or face-to-face (F2F).
As a diehard PbP and F2F gamer with a love of the creative elements of the game, I have frequent opportunities to debate the finer points of roleplaying and metagaming.
One question that often comes up is how much player characters are likely to know about each other, specifically in terms of metagame knowledge about spells, powers, etc.
A related complaint that often arises is that asking questions or making assumptions about such things is 'metagaming.' And that metagaming is bad / evil / the antithesis of (capital R) Roleplaying.
However, Pathfinder isn't just a game about roleplaying and storytelling. It's a game about cooperation, strategy, and dice, in which our storytelling is mediated by rules.
Both the game and storytelling aspects of Pathfinder are greatly aided when players and characters find ways to communicate what qualities and abilities we and our PCs bring to the table.
Put slightly more poetically, the metagame is the skeleton upon which we build the flesh of our story. Being able to speak to the metagame can be distracting, but it can also help us ensure that the overall body of the game is healthy.
The question is, how do we communicate the metagame aspect of the game, while preserving a sense of immersion, which is critical to good storytelling and roleplaying?
I submit to you the best roleplaying doesn't mean avoiding metagaming. It means recasting our metagame knowledge and requests into evocative roleplay and narration, and conveying when we're slipping out of narrative mode.
Let's look at a specific example from one of my PbP games: How would a Varisian bravo / battle herald possibly know that an elven cleric of Nethys, who is an extremely reticent chauvinist who looks down on humans, has antimagic field as a domain spell? It would be metagaming to suggest otherwise, if his elf had never cast the spell.
True. The Varisian likely has no in-character way of knowing about antimagic field, if the other player doesn't indicate such through either narration or roleplay.
If I were to have my Varisian say, "Hey, elf, mind casting antimagic field?" other diehard roleplayers might respond by crying foul: "Metagamer! Get a rope!"
Rather than get bent out of shape, why not look at this as an opportunity to encourage with each other more roleplaying and immersion.
Instead of getting mad at another player for asking your character to do 'X,' roll with it.
Encourage that player to reframe their request in a way that's more immersive / non-game-speak, or just respond with your in-character or narrative voice, with a smile on your face.
It could even be fun for the player being approached with metagamey requests to quickly write up (in PbP) or engage that player (in F2F or PbP) in a flashback that shows how that player's PC knows about X ability. Chances are characters are spending a lot of time together off-screen—an infinite pool of potential vignettes to tap into.
Also, when leveling up, why not take some time to talk out how your character describes their growing expertise in narrative terms? Maybe talk excitedly in-character about a new spell. Or describe narratively the lightning crackling from her fingertips, if you have a more reticent character.
Anyway, there are lots of potential ways to navigate metagaming that are constructive, and help set a positive expectation for roleplaying and storytelling. Let's help each other, instead of getting bent out of shape.
Immersion & voice
I love immersion in roleplaying games—little touches that players and GMs add that are crucial to RPG storytelling and roleplaying.
Immersion is not the same as always being immersed, and never speaking in metagame terms. Rather, it's about getting the right balance of speaking in metagame-ese and speaking immersively. One doesn't have to fight with the other, and it's hard to play the game if we don't do some of each.
The trick is finding a way to distinguish between when we're speaking metagame, and when we're being immersive.
One thing that is beautiful about PbP, but harder in F2F, is the ability to separate out-of-character metagame writing from narrative description and dialogue. A few simple tags and you're set!
It's harder in F2F gameplay, but not impossible. Some suggestions:
The more we can make clear when we're putting flesh on the story and when we're talking about its skeleton, the less of a problem metagaming will be.
What happens off-screen?
Sometimes we talk about PCs relationships with each other as though they only spend time together during the hours when we're gaming. In most campaigns, though, PCs spend huge amounts of time together.
What do they learn about each other during that time? Do they pick up things about each other? Sit in stony silence? Lie to each other?
I believe it's reasonable to assume that PCs learn a lot about each other during those long ocean voyages or caravan trips. Enough for us to give each other the benefit of the doubt about how much they know about each other. The roleplaying fun comes with filling in the details—explaining how we know what we know.
Metagame: yes. Play other people's characters: NO!
It is a point well taken that control freaks like me can really push the envelope in terms of claiming to know more than our PCs would know, and then provide 'suggestions' that are too directive.
This isn't the same as assuming that we know something unstated about each others' characters based on metagame knowledge—the subject of this post.
Let's find ways to make metagaming a catalyst for more creativity, while agreeing not to be directive jerks (which is a much taller task for jerks like me than, say, making roleplaying lemonade out of metagame lemons).
I'm sorry to say that I'll be withdrawing from this PBP. A lot going on in life right now, and I find I'm not able to bring to Malki and the game the level of attention I desire in a game.
Thanks to Slosh for his good, hard work putting things together for the campaign, and apologies if this leaves the group in the lurch for a while.
I hear you, and wouldn't necessarily expect you to develop a separate line of avatar images. Best to build up the overall image library, from an art direction perspective... I'd be curious whether the art department is working with the sort of grid that I mentioned above as it develops NPCs, new iconics and their images...
Thanks for your quick response. Yes, I did review all of them. I only saw about 1-2 male avatars that fit the Legacy of Fire campaign setting. There weren't a huge amount of options for other racial, er, phenotypes (though much more for European).
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I might suggest art direction plans that try to fill a cross-section of:
A quick scan of the available avatars will likely show that European-style avatars cover a lot of these categories (e.g., girthier white men with goatees in armor or in cloth; young, slender, buxom women and perhaps fewer older or full-figured women...), but other race/ethnicity types don't.
I appreciate your efforts, in any case! I know the budget for image licenses must not be high...
I have just begun play in a Legacy of Fire campaign online. Several of the PCs are playing Keleshite, Mwangi or Vudrani characters (from what I understand).
Unfortunately, as we look at the available avatars, there are very few available.
I've been super grateful for the free service you provide for play by posts, and appreciate that you've worked hard to broaden the range of available avatars since an earlier conversation in 2006. The options are still pretty narrow, though.
Perhaps licensing out images from folks like prismaticart.com...? I know it costs you money, but would be very meaningful for those of us who use your non-European-inspired settings or just want to see ourselves or our character types represented as options.
Of course, one could say that the options aren't wide enough around other dimensions, like body shape, gender, etc.. However, to me it's especially meaningful as a player to have options around racial, ethnic diversity, and different genders (from muscular, masculine looking men to masculine, heavy set women to slim, femme dudes).
If licensing images for a public website weren't an issue, I'd just suggest allowing us to upload custom avatars. My sense is that you use images for which you already own the rights, which makes sense.
I'd be grateful if folks responding to this post don't equate a frank discussion of race and ethnicity for 'playing the race card' or use it as an excuse to rail against 'political correctness.' I'm all for chatting about race and other elements of diversity within roleplaying games, but this is about a pretty specific request.
Hey all. I was just having a conversation with GM Sloth and Aldebert, and wanted to discuss with the broader group:
Although this is a setting where slavery is common and legal, I realize I'm not going to be comfortable playing in a game with PCs who unambiguously favor slavery, own slaves, twirl their waxed mustachio at the prospect of buying them, etc.
Knowing that some players enjoy making a comedy out of things like this (and perhaps might enjoy playing a flamboyantly nasty slaver), I wanted to discuss before jumping into the campaign. I'm not judging folks who enjoy that, but I don't think I'll enjoy dealing with it over the course of a long campaign.
Aldebert and I talked, and it sounds like he as a PC will likely have a complex relationship with slavery. This wouldn't necessarily kill my enjoyment of the game. There are some themes that could be maturely explored (e.g., is temporary, indentured-servitude-like slavery different from U.S. chattel slavery? could it ever truly be practiced in a way that's not corrupt?). But for me it's too fraught a topic for PCs to lampoon offhand.
If I understand GM Sloth correctly, he and I agree that even in Golarion slavery as a practice is an 'Evil' act, though Neutral characters may engage and perhaps even Good characters might have a complicated relationship with it.
Anyway, let me know if this is going to crimp on your style. I will likely bow out of this game. If your character is going to explore some of that Neutral gray area around slavery, I may change my character, but in any case you can count on me getting pretty *intense* with some of the roleplay.
Thanks for reading!
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
This is quite possibly the most baffling, nonsensical ruling I've seen come from a game designer. I'm frankly flummoxed that there wasn't an actual note in the books with Communal spells, particularly since the alchemist was already in existence...
Fortunately, the Gray Reek had plenty of PA for Raise Dead. His player had made a terrible tactical move unbecoming of a cowardly witch.
Twigs, you really shouldn't worry about playing a second dwarf. I recently played some sessions in an all-dwarf game, and it was one of the fonnest gaming experiences I've ever had.
I'd be very interested, but don't have any unplayed low level Seasons 0-2. Would anyone be up for the following?
3-05 Tide of Twilight
It is likely I would play a certain extragolarial adventurer named Jondolph Qartayr. The longrifle is mostly for show, Euan and Painlord. Mostly.
My apologies if it seemed like I was actually doing PvP, D30. I'm not personally feeling the need to attack you or Petrel.
I am trying to roleplay how Mobled might respond to being compared to an orc. She's a bit of a bully and sensitive to certain slights, like being compared to her people's greatest mortal enemy, who've been holding her captive and torturing her for weeks or months.
Honestly, it would probably be more in character for her to start wrestling Petrel to the ground, but I'm trying to avoid actually have her assault the party...
I totally respect the weird delusional creation that is Petrel, but I don't see a way around an argument in this situation.
I'm pretty out in my gaming, and actively work to weave my mostly gay, lesbian and/or trans characters' love and sex lives a part of my roleplaying. Not usually in a salacious way, although there was that tantric temple prostitute/sorcerer...
In general, i've found gaming groups and Pathfinder Society to be fairly tolerant places, but definitely not always comfortable or fab. I'd put gamer homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism in a few buckets that can be a drag.
Most straight gamers don't say anything when these things surface, leaving it to the queer folks to call bad behavior out. It's pretty rare that a straight gamer realizes they have to actually make an active, vocal effort to create a welcoming space for LGBT people. Usually, I feel like we have to sink or swim. Luckily, the gaming community is relatively tolerant. But folks could do a better job of making it explicitly welcoming.
I've been really pleased with Paizo for actively creating LGBT non-player characters in mods, and hope they continue to build on this tradition.
They've also been pretty ground breaking about trying to address some of the legacy of racism in the industry, like by having a greater diversity of skin tones and phenotypes in their artwork. Still, as I've said elsewhere, there's still room for improvement—the pulp fiction references in their Sargava materials are especially in need of a 21st century tweaking, but that's all been said before...
Having read Mike Brock's post in follow-up to the 'cheaters' discussion, I feel that he and Paizo have addressed my primary concern, which was about tone and inclusivity. I appreciate the great care Mike brought to this latest communication.
Thanks, Euan, for leading a great conversation. I don't know how others feel, but I believe your approach helped draw out some great ideas in a constructive manner. Glad that the Society has you!
Thanks, Mike, for a post that greatly eases my mind as a player and customer. I appreciate the great amount of effort and commitment you have put into your work, and the great care you put into crafting this post. It reaffirms my respect for you and Paizo as a company.
The added detail about the specific problems is very helpful—especially your framing of the Fourth Instance. This was the substantive area of most concern to me in discussion around your previous post. It makes sense that you would want clear feedback about mods, not just have judges tweak without any sort of consistency, and without any sort of feedback or communication when a mod proves clunky.
As a sometimes-judge, I would be more than happy to provide more immediate feedback about scenarios (and that includes positive as well as corrective feedback), especially if there were a standardized form with specific prompts.
It's a pleasure to be able to have open, respectful dialogue with you and the rest of the Paizo community on these matters. Thanks again for being receptive while also taking on leadership of this society of grave robbers.
Unfortunately we have been explicitly told not to do that until official guidelines on permissible modifications are announced, and in addition not to make any posts on the forums that could be read as encouraging such activity.
Hi John! I think we may have met last week across the gaming table.
With respect to Mike, Mark and other PFS leadership, I will happily go along with the former part of that directive, while pressing for adjustments to policies that meet my and other players' needs.
As for the second part, as a loyal Society member and Paizo customer, I am not certain how I can give feedback about products and my needs as a customer without honestly sharing my desires and perspective as a player—including my concerns about the policy as stated.
I'm sure my words could be interpreted as encouraging others to break the rules as stated, just as my vocal opposition to Federal same-sex marriage policy could be taken as an encouragement for any given same sex couple to get married, or for same sex couples to file Federal income taxes as married rather than single people. (For the record and super off-topic, I'm a gay man who doesn't love the institution of marriage, even though I support those who seek that right.)
But discussing or disagreeing about a policy is not the same as telling people to break it or follow it. I share my concerns and perspective out of love for Paizo, respect for the people who are creating its products, and fond hopes for PFS' continued success. Both PFS and Paizo depend on open support and engagement with the public.
Vinyc Kettlebek wrote:
I agree that tweaking clunky mods needs to be monitored, and believe that our local coordinators have done a great job of monitoring it, such that it has not been a problem at our store. I disagree that we should consider tweaking mods to be verboten or automatically cheating, since it adds to fun and the attractiveness of our game.
But I think it's healthy for us to be discussing more sanctioned ways to tweak existing and future mods, to adapt them to the desired challenge and role play level of local play groups. I'm all for creating rules and structures that enable flexibility, but also disagree that judicious adjustments (in the absence of such structured flexibility) is either cheating or a real issue.
Also, I feel that Season 0-2 power levels are often a bit weak, even when I don't optimize characters. That's because I and other players are clever. So giving judges some extra tools and license to adjust to smart ideas is very helpful and needed.
We may just need to disagree on this, Vinyc, and learn to coexist as part of a diverse society. If I'm labelled a cheater and asked to leave, we won't have the opportunity to do so.
Vinyc Kettlebek wrote:
Why do you continue to buy product that you are unhappy with "as is"? What is the point of starting off with a PFS scenario if you need to make changes every time to fit your group’s playstyle? Wouldn’t you simply be better off spending that time on creating a home game that is 100% customizable to your group?
Lots of points to respond to here, Vinyc. I don't want to hijack this discussion, so I'll keep my response spoilered for now, and happy to spin off into another discussion thread. However, my post was intended as a sharing of my POV, not to debate with ya.
Why don't I just leave if I don't like mods as-published?:
Let's turn this around a bit. I come back to PFS on a regular basis because of how the campaign is played at the tables, and out of a love for Pathfinder as a game overall (despite there being a fair number of clunky PFS scenarios).
To the extent that my enjoyment of PFS comes from judges not being in strict adherence to RAW, I want to preserve a degree of flexibility. (Though my players when I judge and judges when I play will tell you that I am quite a rules stickler, overall. So are the handful of folks whom I suspect might be labeled cheaters, despite demonstrating an excellent grasp and respect for rules in-game.)
I can feel frustrated with and speak out critically about aspects of a thing without leaving it behind. In fact, the more I care about a thing, the more inclined I am to fight for that thing to fit my needs and wants.
Here's why I keep coming back to PFS, despite finding some of the scenarios clunky and worthy of tweaking:
(a) The overall source material for Pathfinder is pretty stellar. Fun game!
(b) I have befriended many players at my store, and appreciate their creativity. Half of them are the people who actually make PFS blossom and grow in local conventions and stores. They're not more-than-full-time paid employees like Mike Brock and Mark Moreland, but most of my PFS friends are judges and coordinators who work extraordinarily hard to make this campaign happen and to boost the profile of the game in general.
I have joined home and PbP games with some of them. But PFS continues to be a regular spot for us to hang out and meet new, creative players.
(c) In my view, PFS and Pathfinder have benefited from a core base of players who left 4E and LFR in search of a better creative, roleplaying outlet. PFSers are not all heavy roleplayers or story-driven people, but that part of our community is a powerful part of what makes PFS and Pathfinder play experience great. And it's helping the game grow.
I suspect that this same base of users has a lot of overlap with people who want a degree of flexibility, and who may feel like they/we are being asked to leave Society play simply for trying to add quality to clunky, mis-balanced mods.
It is clear, I hope, that I'm distinguishing between judicious tweaks that are rooted in the rules, and outright disregard for rules such as changing the way combat game mechanics work, or pre-reading mods.
(d) I was personally moved a few years ago when Paizo green-lighted my brother, Tom Beckett's adaptation of Burnt Offerings into a (kick-ass) middle school play. I actually met many of them at the closing night.
Paizo's openness to the fan-base and the overall excellence of their product made a true believer out of me. I had already been impressed by the whole creation of Pathfinder, via public betas. This was a company that respected its customers and recognized the importance of balancing game mechanics and creativity.
Frankly, labeling a significant portion of those customers as 'cheaters' (when those customers are working hard to make PFS blossom and grow) makes me sad, and concerned about the game's future.
But that doesn't mean that I am just going to leave PFS or Paizo. Instead, I feel moved to speak up, and share how (a) loyal and (b) passionate I feel as a Society member and Paizo customer.
No new suggestions with this post. Oh, except perhaps to permit a standard +1 to +2 to trap DCs when playing with 5-6 table size in 0-3 mods (though probably not trap to-hits, since they tend to be very high already).
And truly, emphasizing the need to clear some authorized tweaks for Season 0-3 mods—unless we miraculously switch to 4-6 new mods per month, we will be working with that material for some time to come.
Slightly off-topic regarding the tone of the 'cheater' and DM flexibility conversation:
I want to acknowledge Euan for facilitating this thread in such a measured fashion, and appreciate the similarly balanced tone that folks, including Mark, have used.
I am afraid what I have to say in this spoiler might disrupt that careful approach, and apologize if my words are too strong at some points.
This is slightly off-topic of me to say, but pertinent to the larger conversation:
One thing that I hear from both folks who support GM fiat / flexibility and those who do not support it is this: we all care about PFS, and want it to be the best experience for us as individuals, and newbies who come in the door each week.
Whether we're volunteers who put in countless hours to produce conferences, bottom-feeder (irony intended) players like myself who dislike judging, or Paizo staffers, we pour quite a bit of ourselves into this game. Really important things come into play for all of us: creativity, friendships, grey hairs from trying to make publication deadlines.
I was disturbed by the 'cheating' post by Mike last week, which labeled one side of this discussion as 'cheaters,' a term that's being applied to friends who pour COUNTLESS hours and energy into making PFS grow.
I'm sure Mike didn't intend to disrespect anyone. However, I wish the tone had been more inclusive, rather than off-putting. We need everyone in this community, if we're going to continue to make it grow and deepen in quality. It's just not helpful to cast a good 1/3 or 1/2 of the PFS community as cheaters or villains, when we're all trying to make the community strong. And if we're bringing more players in the door and showing them a good (PG- or PG-13 rated) time, that has direct benefit to Paizo's revenues and the sustainability of our FUN together!
If Mike is reading this: please know I don't mean to attack you. I can tell that you and Mark are enormously hard working. I am a huge fan of Paizo as a company, and feel an Apple-like loyalty to the stuff you're producing. (Of course, I hope the people in your Chinese manufacturing facilities are treated better than folks at Foxconn...).
Frankly, coming down hard on folks with regard to this discussion is a sure way to damage that brand loyalty among Paizo's most devoted fans. I know that Paizo staffers understand this, and appreciate that discussion since last week's post have been more measured in approach.
. . . . . . . . . .
I am a bit of a power gamer myself, although one who highly values roleplaying. I power-game through being tactically creative, and by leveraging the abundance of new rules that Paizo has released outside of the core assumption. I don't spend hours and entire discussion board threads crunching numbers so I can do 500 hp DPR, but I usually create characters that are more effective than Seasons 0-3 scenarios are designed to challenge.
Most of the players in my store are similarly smart. It's pretty common wisdom among us that PFS scenarios are under-powered for skillful players. That's where our judges often crave (and have sometimes 'cheatingly' used) the kind of simple power boosts that Euan is suggesting.
Frankly, I feel pretty bored with the Season 0-2 mods that continue to fill our schedule. Some are great, while quite a few are flat on both story and challenge. It will take time to create enough newer mods that address some of the power balancing issues that we've been discussing. Therefore, it'll be especially helpful to create some simple policies/allowances that can be applied retroactively.
Anyway, it's because of the good humor and friendship of other players, many of whom might be labeled 'cheaters,' that I keep coming back to PFS and deepening my involvement, despite not feeling very satisfied with the scenarios.
Having said all of that off-topic stuff, I like what I'm hearing about mods that include finer detail about customizing for large or differently balanced parties. I also like the sound of designing Season 4 scenarios to be for 6 person tables.
For older scenarios, Euan's suggestion for judicially using advanced templates is a good one. I'd suggest the simple advanced template, and not the one that gives a +4 AC boost. I don't have a particular suggestion for traps, but I don't see a reason to not apply the simple advanced template to monsters with class levels. (I will admit, I have used the advanced template when judging in the past, and avoided applying it to NPCs with class levels—I shared the concern that Mark sited previously.)
I might also suggest a rule about tier mustering: Why not allow players to play up one tier, if everyone at the table consents and acknowledges maturely the risk of character death? My suggestion would be to allow this, but to also stipulate that the character can only get credit at their actual, appropriate tier level.
In fact, I suggest that this should always be the case—if table mustering means that the average level is four (even though I'm level 2), I should always just get Level 2 rewards, even if we play 'up.' This would help prevent character power-level bloat...
I'd like to suggest a variant treasure system that lets crafting characters discover useful components over the course of an adventure, even if stranded in wilderness (see Smuggler's Shiv). And then balancing that sort of system against more pre-generated treasure troves.
One home brew rule that I've encountered is using Craft (Alchemy) or similar skills to roll on a table similar to the Pathfinder Society Day Job table. We would only use this when encountering unusual things, like magical beasts or strange plants.
Something that fits this overall spirit but which has been play-test proven would be great.
The elf looks more like a weird bunny/bat-eared furry than the elves I imagine. I would tone down the ears just a bit—perhaps have them just peak out of the hair instead of looking like they're glued on over the hair...
The rogue is classic and very versatile. Good work.
The Mwangi woman is great too. I hope you'll be producing a healthy amount of brown-skinned humanoid figures, representing a variety of roles. Especially as you *hint, hint* start publishing more stuff about even more of Golarion's, er, global south and east. Vudra, please!