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Questions re: black box resolution

SlideAway

failing every quest
Validated User
How many of you have played in PbP where you declared actions (e.g. players PM to the GM three things they want to accomplish over the first half of a combat) and then the GM resolved the action, rolls and all, and posted the narrative results? (then three more actions for the second half of the combat, more hilarity ensues--or GM checks in with a player if their PC is in mortal danger)

Was it fun?

How did it work out for you?

Did it feel like a Choose Your Own Adventure?

(I'm trying to find actual game examples here in the PbP Play Forum, but haven't found any yet)
 

Iustum

RPGnet Newsletter Editor
RPGnet Member
Validated User
How many of you have played in PbP where you declared actions (e.g. players PM to the GM three things they want to accomplish over the first half of a combat) and then the GM resolved the action, rolls and all, and posted the narrative results? (then three more actions for the second half of the combat, more hilarity ensues--or GM checks in with a player if their PC is in mortal danger)

Was it fun?

How did it work out for you?

Did it feel like a Choose Your Own Adventure?

(I'm trying to find actual game examples here in the PbP Play Forum, but haven't found any yet)
I have played in that sort of game and didn't care for it. Mechanical engagement is important to me as a player,* and black box-style resolution leaves me too separated from the mechanics to feel engaged in that aspect of the game.

That said, I can see the conceptual utility of that approach for some genres (horror, especially) - it just isn't for me.

*And as a GM, but that's orthogonal to this question because I'd never GM a game that way.
 

inoshiro

Registered User
Validated User
I co-ran something like this; without much combat, honestly, but the action resolution was a complete black box to the players.

There's no surviving extant example of the turn writeups, (that I have available), but I can tell you what we did and how it worked out for us.

It was space opera thing with a big mystery at the core, and we found it much easier in terms of resolving actions, because instead of players declaring intended actions and then riffing off one another's intended actions (in situations where they wouldn't be doing that) we just had players declare their intent to us, occasionally clarified contingencies with players who did have a reasonable chance to change course when they saw what someone else was doing, and then we just sort of stitched it into a scene.

The players seemed to enjoy it, at least until out failure to sort out the pacing issues plagued the game and finally brought it down like the Hindenburg. Partly it was because of our ambition and inexperience with PbP (or, as we called it then, "PbeM"): we produced final resolution outcome emails that read like snippets of short fiction, describing the action to everyone present in the scene, but we didn't devise any kind of handwavey "downtime" mechanic so everything ended up being played step by step, and it oh boy did it draaaaaaaaaag.

The other GM and I "enjoyed" it too, but producing well-written turn summaries at the level we were shooting for was pretty labor intensive. We adjudicated character actions, but honestly resolved everything the way screenwriters or fiction authors would: that is, mostly following the Rule of Cool, with everything resolved so as to make the story more interesting and move the plot along. We didn't get much combat in, but I think basically mooks were understood to be essentially insta-kills, major NPCs were very hard to kill or nail down until it was dramatically appropriate, and actions were sort of whatever made sense for the character and advanced the story. Honestly, it was more of an investigative thing, and I imagine if we ran it down it's be a PbP using Ashen Stars in a homebrew setting or something like that.

The problems, I don't think I'd attribute to the black box resolution aspect, though. It was really more about the standards we set for the resolution outcomes being so high, and our inability to get the pacing to work. (I doubt an experienced PbP GM would struggle with with these, black box resolution or not.)
 

Iustum

RPGnet Newsletter Editor
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It was really more about the standards we set for the resolution outcomes being so high, and our inability to get the pacing to work. (I doubt an experienced PbP GM would struggle with with these, black box resolution or not.)
I've GMed a lot of PbP games and write an advice column about running PbP games and well over half the time pacing is still a challenge for me. Don't be hard on yourself.
 

inoshiro

Registered User
Validated User
I've GMed a lot of PbP games and write an advice column about running PbP games and well over half the time pacing is still a challenge for me. Don't be hard on yourself.
Thanks, I'm not too broken up about it. It's hard! But... we didn't do ourselves any favors in the way we set things up, either...
 

SlideAway

failing every quest
Validated User
I have played in that sort of game and didn't care for it. Mechanical engagement is important to me as a player,* and black box-style resolution leaves me too separated from the mechanics to feel engaged in that aspect of the game.

That said, I can see the conceptual utility of that approach for some genres (horror, especially) - it just isn't for me.

*And as a GM, but that's orthogonal to this question because I'd never GM a game that way.
If everyone indicated their action for a round, but the GM resolved everything and then posted a short narrative to set up the beginning of the next round, would that scratch the itch for mechanical engagement, or does it still miss? (obviously it speeds up combat quite a bit) Would it work for a mega-dungeon crawl in your opinion?

I co-ran something like this; without much combat, honestly, but the action resolution was a complete black box to the players.

There's no surviving extant example of the turn writeups, (that I have available), but I can tell you what we did and how it worked out for us.

It was space opera thing with a big mystery at the core, and we found it much easier in terms of resolving actions, because instead of players declaring intended actions and then riffing off one another's intended actions (in situations where they wouldn't be doing that) we just had players declare their intent to us, occasionally clarified contingencies with players who did have a reasonable chance to change course when they saw what someone else was doing, and then we just sort of stitched it into a scene.

The players seemed to enjoy it, at least until out failure to sort out the pacing issues plagued the game and finally brought it down like the Hindenburg. Partly it was because of our ambition and inexperience with PbP (or, as we called it then, "PbeM"): we produced final resolution outcome emails that read like snippets of short fiction, describing the action to everyone present in the scene, but we didn't devise any kind of handwavey "downtime" mechanic so everything ended up being played step by step, and it oh boy did it draaaaaaaaaag.

The other GM and I "enjoyed" it too, but producing well-written turn summaries at the level we were shooting for was pretty labor intensive. We adjudicated character actions, but honestly resolved everything the way screenwriters or fiction authors would: that is, mostly following the Rule of Cool, with everything resolved so as to make the story more interesting and move the plot along. We didn't get much combat in, but I think basically mooks were understood to be essentially insta-kills, major NPCs were very hard to kill or nail down until it was dramatically appropriate, and actions were sort of whatever made sense for the character and advanced the story. Honestly, it was more of an investigative thing, and I imagine if we ran it down it's be a PbP using Ashen Stars in a homebrew setting or something like that.

The problems, I don't think I'd attribute to the black box resolution aspect, though. It was really more about the standards we set for the resolution outcomes being so high, and our inability to get the pacing to work. (I doubt an experienced PbP GM would struggle with with these, black box resolution or not.)
Thanks for this info! Yes, I've learned that write-ups can be tedious (from writing summaries of live sessions, which was probably more for my own utility frankly), but I think they would be fun if they revealed the plot and exciting "who saw that coming?" kind of moments.

How do you think it would work for a mega-dungeon crawl? Would pacing issues be negated because the whole party was usually in one place, or at least close by and play running at the same time pace (e.g. old school 10 minute increments)?

My other idea is for a more political game, with players ruling a small state using a small cadre of PCs: rulers, emissaries, military leader/assets. Obviously if a player is offering a treaty and at the same time sabotaging another player, it should all be handled black box.

I see what you mean about downtime. I've had problems with that in live games. The action starts the next day, but one player wants to get 5 things done before then. Snoresville. Important to fast forward when needed.

In the case of a political game, if someone wasn't messaging their actions during the week, other players would get stuff accomplished, but that player could jump back into the action once their schedule was freed up again. I'd make sure any NPC rulers gave them a hiatus...but PC rulers might not be quite so kind. That way the game isn't stalled because of one scheduling hiccup.
 
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DannyK

One Shot Man
Validated User
I've never played in a true "Black Box" environment where the player doesn't know any of the numbers, but I've played in games where the players declare intentions and the GM does all the rolling and tracking of effects and then narrated the outcomes and that worked great.

You need a GM with a steel trap mind for that though, and I'm just the opposite, I prefer games where the GM rarely if ever touches a die and the players do all the work. (Don't tell anyone.)
 

SlideAway

failing every quest
Validated User
I've never played in a true "Black Box" environment where the player doesn't know any of the numbers, but I've played in games where the players declare intentions and the GM does all the rolling and tracking of effects and then narrated the outcomes and that worked great.

You need a GM with a steel trap mind for that though, and I'm just the opposite, I prefer games where the GM rarely if ever touches a die and the players do all the work. (Don't tell anyone.)
Thanks--then I think "everyone declares intentions first" should work for a dungeon crawl. I used to play Panzerblitz against myself as a 14-year old, so I relish the thought of a little war-gami-ness.
 

Iustum

RPGnet Newsletter Editor
RPGnet Member
Validated User
If everyone indicated their action for a round, but the GM resolved everything and then posted a short narrative to set up the beginning of the next round, would that scratch the itch for mechanical engagement, or does it still miss? (obviously it speeds up combat quite a bit) Would it work for a mega-dungeon crawl in your opinion?
Speaking just for my personal preference: maybe if the dice and results were transparent, though at that point you've largely gone from black box to just the GM rolling dice, which is quite a bit different from entirely black box resolution.

What it boils down to is that the game part of role playing game is quite a large part of my enjoyment, so the more that's disconnected from the play experience, the less likely I am to be on board.

But, of course, this is just me. Not every style of game is good for every player.
 
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