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Fictional Position

by | Nov 28, 2018 | GM Tips, Uncategorized

If you have ever run a tabletop roleplaying game, chances are you’ve thought about fictional positioning even if you don’t know what it is. Does this sound familiar?

 

Dungeon Master: Pushing open the door you feel the cool, stale air on the other side hit it. It smells faintly of brimstone and the sound of the creaking hinges echoes down the long corridor ahead.

Teagan (playing Cyrilla): Something doesn’t feel right here. I want to look for traps.

Dungeon Master: Okay, how would you like to do that? What does it look like when you’re searching? Where are you going to be checking?

 

Questions like the ones the example DM is asking – What does that look like? What exactly are you doing? How will you be doing that? – clarify specifics about the unfolding narrative of the game and help you understand the relationship between the character, their actions, and the environment. If you’re a particularly ambitious Dungeon Master, you might use the answers to these questions as you decide what rules to invoke or how to determine what happens in instances where the rules are silent or obscure. While fictional position isn’t something that the core Dungeons and Dragons game explains, a thorough understanding of this concept can help you run a better game with less effort.

What is Fictional Position

Expressed generally, fictional positioning is the concept that characters or objects within a narrative have definite relationships to all of the other elements of a scene. When a conflict occurs in the story, or a character or object is put in a risky situation, these relationships can be used to define what the potential outcomes could be. Favoring the fiction as you decide what these results are is what sets a game like Dungeon World apart from one like Monopoly. Gameplay in Monopoly is procedural and the rules aren’t impacted by what you imagine your tycoon says to the banker when you’re buying Boardwalk.

In contrast, the moves in Dungeon World are triggered by the story and not by rules – or as it says on page 18, “the action and effect come from the world of the characters we’re describing.” To return to the example above, if you’re playing a game that prioritizes fictional positioning you likely couldn’t just enter a room and say, “I’m looking for traps.” You would need to first describe more precisely the fiction – “I’m going to cast create water and watch as it pours over the floor to see if it slips into any cracks where a trap might be hidden.”

Utilizing fictional positioning involves more than just narration. The fiction has to ultimately inform and impact the results that the described actions or interactions achieve. The Game Master takes the information provided by the player and decides what happens. If there is a trap in the room, but it’s on the ceiling, flooding the floor is unlikely to yield useful information. This is the opposite of when a high result for the Find Traps skill tell the GM that your character finds the trap and leaves it up to them to narrate where and how you find it.

For 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, fictional position has the greatest opportunity for impact outside of combat. Other roleplaying games approach the use of fictional position in any number of various ways. You can look to games like Blades in the Dark and Dungeon World for inspiration, but until you have the time and means to experience them for yourself you can use some of the tips below to better utilize or modify your D&D games through fictional positioning.

Emulate Old School Gameplay

Much of the unique character of OD&D (and some of the editions that followed it) comes from using the fiction to justify changing, ignoring, or adding rules unique to the moment. You can turn your use of fictional position up to 11 in order to emulate this style with 5th edition Dungeon and Dragons. Bookmark the Objects section on page 246 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide along with the section on Improvising Damage on page 249. When you have players come up with wild plans to jump off a cliff and use their weight and the protection of their suit of plate armor to turn themselves into a living weapon, don’t worry about the typical rules minutiae. Have them make a single attack roll or Strength (athletics) check and then tell them to pick up a fist-full of six-sided dice.

Adjudicate Ability Checks

You don’t have to fully embrace the OD&D style for fictional position to be a useful element of the game to pay attention to. Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Masters Guide, in The Role of Dice on page 236, says that when it comes to rolling ability checks, “[t]he extent to which you use them is entirely up to you.” There is also a variant rule for Automatic Success on page 239. If you want to use these ideas, understanding the fictional position of elements in your game allows you to make meaningful and impactful decisions that reinforce those story elements when you invoke these options to forgo dice rolls to speed up gameplay.

Foster and Enrich Immersion

Even if you’re more comfortable with an exclusively rules-oriented game, engaging with the fictional position can improve the quality of your game. Having a character sheet that is focused on displaying rules mechanics for a character often prompts players to focus exclusively on skills and ability scores when trying to decide their actions. “I want to use investigation to look for traps,” they might say. Asking them to position this intent fictionally requires that everyone at the table be as precise as possible when describing the scene and the actions that are taking place within it. This ultimately helps everyone feel more invested in the unfolding narrative at the table, which hopefully makes the game more fun.

David Adams

Part-time freelancer, full-time wizard. Works for coin or spell scrolls.

David Adams has been pestering Dungeons and Dragons publishers for the past 12 years and managed to collect a myriad of credits in that time. He has had the good fortune of seeing his content published by the likes of Kobold Press and Wizards of the Coast in addition to other recognizable companies.

David started playing D&D when he was 16 and the game has been an amazing outlet for creativity as well as a fascinating space to explore complex social issues while simultaneously slaying dragons in epic combat. The ability of the game, regardless of edition, to transmute his interests into exciting experiences he can share with friends is the key aspect that keeps his interests fixed upon it.

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Fictional Position

by | Nov 28, 2018 | GM Tips, Uncategorized

If you have ever run a tabletop roleplaying game, chances are you’ve thought about fictional positioning even if you don’t know what it is. Does this sound familiar?

Dungeon Master: Pushing open the door you feel the cool, stale air on the other side hit it. It smells faintly of brimstone and the sound of the creaking hinges echoes down the long corridor ahead.

Teagan (playing Cyrilla): Something doesn’t feel right here. I want to look for traps.

Dungeon Master: Okay, how would you like to do that? What does it look like when you’re searching? Where are you going to be checking?

 

Questions like the ones the example DM is asking – What does that look like? What exactly are you doing? How will you be doing that? – clarify specifics about the unfolding narrative of the game and help you understand the relationship between the character, their actions, and the environment. If you’re a particularly ambitious Dungeon Master, you might use the answers to these questions as you decide what rules to invoke or how to determine what happens in instances where the rules are silent or obscure. While fictional position isn’t something that the core Dungeons and Dragons game explains, a thorough understanding of this concept can help you run a better game with less effort.

What is Fictional Position

Expressed generally, fictional positioning is the concept that characters or objects within a narrative have definite relationships to all of the other elements of a scene. When a conflict occurs in the story, or a character or object is put in a risky situation, these relationships can be used to define what the potential outcomes could be. Favoring the fiction as you decide what these results are is what sets a game like Dungeon World apart from one like Monopoly. Gameplay in Monopoly is procedural and the rules aren’t impacted by what you imagine your tycoon says to the banker when you’re buying Boardwalk.

In contrast, the moves in Dungeon World are triggered by the story and not by rules – or as it says on page 18, “the action and effect come from the world of the characters we’re describing.” To return to the example above, if you’re playing a game that prioritizes fictional positioning you likely couldn’t just enter a room and say, “I’m looking for traps.” You would need to first describe more precisely the fiction – “I’m going to cast create water and watch as it pours over the floor to see if it slips into any cracks where a trap might be hidden.”

Utilizing fictional positioning involves more than just narration. The fiction has to ultimately inform and impact the results that the described actions or interactions achieve. The Game Master takes the information provided by the player and decides what happens. If there is a trap in the room, but it’s on the ceiling, flooding the floor is unlikely to yield useful information. This is the opposite of when a high result for the Find Traps skill tell the GM that your character finds the trap and leaves it up to them to narrate where and how you find it.

For 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons, fictional position has the greatest opportunity for impact outside of combat. Other roleplaying games approach the use of fictional position in any number of various ways. You can look to games like Blades in the Dark and Dungeon World for inspiration, but until you have the time and means to experience them for yourself you can use some of the tips below to better utilize or modify your D&D games through fictional positioning.

Emulate Old School Gameplay

Much of the unique character of OD&D (and some of the editions that followed it) comes from using the fiction to justify changing, ignoring, or adding rules unique to the moment. You can turn your use of fictional position up to 11 in order to emulate this style with 5th edition Dungeon and Dragons. Bookmark the Objects section on page 246 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide along with the section on Improvising Damage on page 249. When you have players come up with wild plans to jump off a cliff and use their weight and the protection of their suit of plate armor to turn themselves into a living weapon, don’t worry about the typical rules minutiae. Have them make a single attack roll or Strength (athletics) check and then tell them to pick up a fist-full of six-sided dice.

Adjudicate Ability Checks

You don’t have to fully embrace the OD&D style for fictional position to be a useful element of the game to pay attention to. Chapter 8 of the Dungeon Masters Guide, in The Role of Dice on page 236, says that when it comes to rolling ability checks, “[t]he extent to which you use them is entirely up to you.” There is also a variant rule for Automatic Success on page 239. If you want to use these ideas, understanding the fictional position of elements in your game allows you to make meaningful and impactful decisions that reinforce those story elements when you invoke these options to forgo dice rolls to speed up gameplay.

Foster and Enrich Immersion

Even if you’re more comfortable with an exclusively rules-oriented game, engaging with the fictional position can improve the quality of your game. Having a character sheet that is focused on displaying rules mechanics for a character often prompts players to focus exclusively on skills and ability scores when trying to decide their actions. “I want to use investigation to look for traps,” they might say. Asking them to position this intent fictionally requires that everyone at the table be as precise as possible when describing the scene and the actions that are taking place within it. This ultimately helps everyone feel more invested in the unfolding narrative at the table, which hopefully makes the game more fun.

David Adams

Part-time freelancer, full-time wizard. Works for coin or spell scrolls.

David Adams has been pestering Dungeons and Dragons publishers for the past 12 years and managed to collect a myriad of credits in that time. He has had the good fortune of seeing his content published by the likes of Kobold Press and Wizards of the Coast in addition to other recognizable companies.

David started playing D&D when he was 16 and the game has been an amazing outlet for creativity as well as a fascinating space to explore complex social issues while simultaneously slaying dragons in epic combat. The ability of the game, regardless of edition, to transmute his interests into exciting experiences he can share with friends is the key aspect that keeps his interests fixed upon it.

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Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.