Moments of Judgment–AAARRRGGHH!

14Apr09

Vincent is drilling into the nitty-gritty of how Points of Contact work over on anyway.

In his most recent post, he calls attention to the “moment of judgment” that is required when providing mechanical teeth to wholly fictional input. In most traditional games, this often applies when the GM hands out situational modifiers for tactics, weather, etc.

In reading his comment about how many recent games deal with the problem of these judgments being potentially biased by “commoditizing” them. That is, players spend game currency or the like to buy the verdict of the judgment. I find myself drawn to this solution repeatedly.

Why do I commoditize or avoid as many moments of judgment as possible? Quite simply because whenever I have to make them, I feel like I’m wrong. 20 years of playing these games, I still always feel like I’m wrong. If I decide against the players, I feel like I’m being mean or cheating. If I decide for the players, I feel like I’m being a pushover or not challenging the players enough. Even when everyone agrees with my decision. I hate it.

This probably explains why–despite my admiration for the intricate construction of Luke’s games–I failed as a Mouse Guard GM. MG and BW depend heavily on the exercise of the GM’s judgment. And I find that taxing in the extreme.

No big conclusions here, except about my own psyche. And, if you’re interested in RPG theory and not reading anyway, you should!

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16 Responses to “Moments of Judgment–AAARRRGGHH!”

  1. What’s interesting is that I feel that Luke’s B* games essentially have CYA mechanics built into the game to protect both the players and the GM from having to make arbitrary fiat decisions. For instance, the Die of Fate is a d6 roll, with 6 meaning “OMG big thing happens,” while the Duel of Wits system seems tied closely to the notion of “two players are in opposition and the GM should not decide for them, so go to the DoW!”
    So I don’t think those games necessarily use GM’s judgement at all, so much as they say “here are written rules to formalize arbitration in every sense to protect the players from tyranny and protect the DM from whiners.”

    • You’re absolutely right about the moments of judgment not being as prevalent or obvious as in most games. However, they sit there in the helping rules and the FoRKs. Is your idea good enough to merit a helping die? Can you come up with an acceptable rationale for FoRKing in your skill? It’s up to me as GM to decide.
      Slightly less so is with “Let it Ride.” IIRC, the GM can decide if conditions have changed sufficiently to allow a 2nd attempt.
      Plus, I was running Mouse Guard, primarily, which has no Die of Fate.

      • Aha, I see what you mean now. Yes, this can be frustrating. I don’t think I have this problem nowadays, but I do recall having just this issue for many years. I still don’t like my players’ characters to die, and if I’m guilty of anything it’s of fudging a way out for them (well, more like offering them a consequence that could be better or worse than death, to make failing interesting.)
        What really helped me was running Amber DRPG for several years. I know you love a good Theatrix session, right? How does that jibe with your issues over moments of judgment?

        • Theatrix? Well, it would certainly be like a session of shock therapy. Theatrix and Amber are both all-GM-judgment all-the-time. Theatrix has even broken down the process of judgment into a lovely flowchart. The first time I ran it, it took longer than a “diced” session because I agonized over the flowchart too much! <>
          Running Theatrix (or the like) seems more likely to result in a miserable Michael than in any sort of improvement. Plus, with my gaming time as limited as it is, I don’t have the patience for any sort of long-term “cure.” I think I’ll stick with my handy-dandy commoditized judgments for most things and wince when I have no choice but to make a judgment call.
          But simply identifying the problem has often lessened such anxiety in other instances, so maybe this will prove useful as well.

  2. I’ve been falling along with the series as well.
    …And i completely agree with you about how “moments of judgment” are very taxing on the GM in most games, especially the “old school” ones.
    However, i find that BW manages to alleviate some of that stress by having lots of little judgments (& good guidelines), and, probably moreso, by pushing a lot of the work onto the character players.
    I wonder how much of a correlation there is between openness/freedom-of-action in the play space and the need for many “moments of judgment” from the GM or players?

  3. 6 Anonymous

    Moments of Judgment
    It’s interesting that I feel exactly the opposite way. I like to be able to make immediate judgment calls and move on, sometimes even when the system I’m using dictates that I should do otherwise. To me, the purpose of game mechanics is to make decisions about which way the story is going to go as expediently and entertainingly as possible and get on with it. Good mechanics are ideally fast and flavorful.
    It’s not that I necessarily believe I’m making exactly the right call every single time, but I do believe that I’m close enough for all practical purposes and I’m comfortable with erring a little on one side or the other some of the time in the name of keeping the game interesting for as many of the participants as possible.
    Scott

    • Re: Moments of Judgment
      A difference in our personalities, certainly. A good indicator is that you have and do well in the job you have, while I broke down in the interview for the same job when faced with hypothetical decisions you make every single day. In general, I dread doing the wrong thing too much.

      • 8 Anonymous

        Re: Moments of Judgment
        Good point. But depending on what you’re doing, dreading doing the wrong thing might be exactly the right behavior for the situation.
        My wife actually criticizes me (and rightly so) for hesitancy in making some decisions (such as which car to buy), but in certain narrow areas where I have a lot of experience (such as my job and GM’ing) I can be very decisive.
        Scott


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