Orthodoxies I: Compiled Answers

I got a lot of encouraging responses to the first Orthodoxies post! Since people expressed curiosity about responses, I’ve compiled as many of them below as I could, along with comments on things I want to touch on, highlight, or muse upon.

The Nothic’s Eye had an interesting response to #7:

Your players arrive in an abandoned city – the first thing they do is enter a home, asking what’s left of the pantry. What do you say to them? “There’s nothing in the pantry.”

-Orthodoxies I, #7

Man this is nearly the exact opposite answer I would give. Saying there’s nothing there at all kind of invalidates the player’s curiosity, which is, in my opinion, a bad. Let them find a weird bug or something. 

-Nothic’s Eye

I think that one of the biggest questions as a Game Master that you must answer for yourself is – are you responsible for validating your players, or are they responsible for validating themselves? There’s no right answer to this, but I’ve seen a lot of Game Mastery advice which is fundamentally built upon one of these two viewpoints. Be vigilant, dear reader! When you are trying to find Game Mastery advice for yourself, it’s worth thinking about what that advice is built upon. If you disagree with the foundations, then don’t follow the advice!

Prescriptions which are built upon the idea that you should validate player curiosity tend to push for more partiality – be a fan of your players, pay attention to what they find fun, focus on engagement as a metric of your success, and find ways to engage! Prescriptions which are built upon the idea that this isn’t your responsibility tend to push more for impartiality – run your world as a referee, worldbuilder, adversary, narrator, create an environment where player actions could result in fun…but don’t bend your world around (such as spawning cool things in pantries) player expectations of fun, and if they have no fun in a given session – well, that’s not a fail-state, that’s just a result of their choices.

Again, neither of these views is right or wrong. I just think Nothic Eye’s response provides a segue into this “be vigilant” talking point of mine.

Sundered Shillings had an interesting response to #5:

Your players enter a dungeon you have prepared, and leave after being spooked by the monsters within…players ask [sic] you, “Do you think we’re ready for this dungeon?” How do you answer?

-Orthodoxies I, #5

If they need something in it, I remind them of their objective. “How badly do you want the Orb of Aggimoto?” Or some information they’re forgetting. “Remember, you can get up to the balcony if you have a way to avoid the Ropecutter Hawks, and make your way around the basilisk den.” If they’re in the dungeon without a clear idea of purpose, I’d let them leave and explore other things. Usually my players don’t back down- when you use the Timer Threat Treat method, you usually introduce enough variables into every combat for players to make sense of it all and triumph in the end.

-Sundered Shillings, emphasis mine

I’m always intrigued by the specifics of Game Mastery techniques. I very much want to hear more about this Timer Threat Treat method, preferably in a teaching blog post for new GMs who don’t have this technique in their toolkit yet. I know that the phraseology comes from Runehammer, but I don’t want just Runehammer’s advice! I’d love more people to write about how they use things like Timer Threat Treat for GLoG, for B/X, for every system under the sun.

Cosmic Orrery and Throne of Salt both share their notes on #4:

Read the following entry for “point of interest”, and then refine how you would present it in a game in some way. 

-Orthodoxies I, #4

In my notes it would look anywhere between…
Ash Dwarf Shrine, Salamander Guardian
Ash Dwarf Shrine, Granite Pillars (ivy), Salamander (guardian of the fountain, greeter of pilgrims, keeper of its history, pretty chill), Hot spring water grants protection from flame

-Cosmic Orrery, emphasis mine

In my notes, it would likely just be
Ancient ash dwarf shrine
– Guardian salamander
— Harmless to anyone who treats it and the shrine with due respect.
-Water grants protection from fire

-Throne of Salt

New GMs take note – other peoples’ adventures are rarely optimized for your use at the table. It’s advisable to take notes…and those notes aren’t very commonly represented on the internet! Getting to see how Cosmic Orrery and Throne of Salt jot this down is a treat, and you can see that all you need is a bit of shorthand description to remind yourself of what’s there. A good bit of praxis to adopt for everyone.

Filth Pig offers us a scathing critique of the hypothetical GM in #13:

Are there patterns that emerge about how this GM runs? Would you want the GM to be more consistent and predictable about anything?

-Orthodoxies I, #13

I don’t think there’s too much a pattern, sometimes this hypothetical DM is spot on and sometimes he’s so far off base he’s playing a different sport than the rest of the team entirely.

-Filth Pig

The fact of the matter is, all of the hypothetical GM’s answers were from different GM’s that I’ve had, including storygame, OSR, and Mercer-esque GMs. And so there is a correct answer to #13 – that these answers don’t show much of a pattern, and that, as Filth Pig puts it, “[they are] playing a different sport than the rest of the team entirely.”

But what I want to highlight here isn’t that Filth Pig is correct. Rather…how often do we make this sort of observation to ourselves or our GMs? My challenge is that I don’t think we do either of those things anywhere near often enough.

Check in with your feelings the next time you engage in play – is your GM running a different sport from the one they were running half an hour ago in the same session? What changed, if anything – did they go from treating NPCs as a world of possibilities to a “fight to the death only” encounter, did they go from treating a county fair as a boisterous event for you to look forward to to a single, rote roll on a carousing table, et cetera et cetera. What about you – are you playing a different sport from the rest of your team? I’m not saying to stress about it. But paying attention can only pay handsome dividends.

There are further responses for you to read, but I’m running long in the tooth, so I’ll speed things up a bit. Nerdhogg’s response as a really solid Reflection section which I think everyone should take a look at, as does Mapping the Goblin Caves. In the former, I want to highlight how Nerdhogg is particularly cognizant of his players’ behaviors and how that has influenced his GMing. In the latter, I just think the individual reflection points by question number were kind of neat – an even more detailed peek behind the screen, as it were.

Traveling Mailman muses a bit for question #11 on how the Game Master might come across as a little mean, and muses on how tone is important when answering player questions. Gendernihilist has a delightful answer to #3, in which she gets the player directly involved in fleshing out the world’s canon in a spontaneous and fluid transition to collaborative worldbuilding. Tim B, who gave response to me in picture form…

…has two fascinating thoughts – first, he actively tells Player 2 to “fuck off” in #6, which tells you just how strongly people can feel about these things! That’s very useful, I think, for a newbie GM to know and understand – you need to be ready to assert yourself when conflicts arise. And then, secondly, he comments in #10 that being unable to picture the shrine due to minimalism is an issue. Again, useful for a newbie GM to know – this is the sort of thing that your players are thinking about.

Last but not least, NASA (the keyholder to the Discord of Many Things) gave this great, detailed answer to #4, which I will leave the reader to chew on. It shows a thorough breakdown of how many different “stages” there are, in describing but a single location.

“The underbrush falls away in this direction, the sounds of fallen leaves and wilderness growing steadily weaker around you. Every few feet a bare white-barked tree with ash strewn about its roots pokes out of the ground at an odd angle. Your feet leave clear footprints in the fallen ash. No other footprints are obvious around you.

[When finding the shrine.]

Hidden in the midst of the ashy clearing is a dark object half as tall as the naked trees which surround it, is a thin black obelisk with flecks of white embedded into the stone itself in strange and chaotic patterns.

[When interacting with the shrine.]

The object glows dully as if heated from within. The white flecks turn red as they burn through the dark color of the stone. You can make out the shape of dwarven runes in their ignited shapes.

[If they can read Dwarvish, runes say “Great Guardian of Fire, let us prove our worth to carry your Light.”]

[After defeating the Salamander.]

The runes on the obelisk turn gold.

[“The Lord of Making deems you worthy of glory. Touch again my altar and receive your just reward.”]

[On interacting.]

A raging fire bursts from the obelisk and engulfs you as well as the nearby trees, sending a cloud of ash dozens of feet into the air. As the rain of ash subsides, the fire swirling about you does not. You gain the effects of the fire shield spell while the blessing remains.

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