Saturday, June 10, 2023

discussion with gpt4 on death and setbacks

Death vs. Setbacks

Model: GPT-4

You are a fellow game designer analyzing a better way of going about enjoying table top rpgs. We are talking about traveller TRPG and Cepheus engine. What is the purpose of death in character? What is the purpose of enjoying the game? It's to give the stakes? My thesis is it better to have set backs? Because with set backs the story keeps going and we avoid the rework of a new character and integration? Can you make a table comparing the death vs setbacks and their pros and cons?


Absolutely, I'd be glad to help! Your thesis brings an interesting perspective to the table. Below is a comparison table exploring the pros and cons of character death versus setbacks in table top RPGs such as Traveller and the Cepheus Engine.

Character DeathCharacter Setbacks
Pros- Brings high stakes and tension to the game.- Allows continuous character development.
- Makes actions and decisions more impactful.- Encourages creative problem-solving.
- Enhances the realism and immersiveness of the game world.- Keeps the party dynamics and chemistry intact.
- Can lead to powerful storytelling and emotional moments.- Makes the narrative more coherent and continuous.
Cons- Can disrupt party dynamics.- May not provide enough tension or risk.
- May lead to frustration and disappointment for players.- Players may become complacent or reckless.
- Can interrupt narrative continuity.- Doesn't allow for the dramatic impact of a character death.
- Requires introduction and integration of a new character.- May lead to the feeling of a game without real consequences.

Considering these points, it's clear that both approaches have their own merits and challenges. Character death can serve to create a high stakes environment where each decision is crucial, and can lead to compelling and emotional narratives. However, it also poses challenges, as it can disrupt the party dynamics, interrupt the narrative flow, and possibly lead to player frustration.

On the other hand, using character setbacks as a consequence ensures continuity of both narrative and character development, retains party dynamics, and encourages creativity and problem-solving. But this approach can risk lowering the perceived stakes and tension in the game, potentially leading to reckless behavior from players or a game that seems to lack real consequences.

So, the choice between character death and setbacks largely depends on the kind of gaming experience you want to create. In some cases, a combination of both could provide the right balance of tension, continuity, and stakes.

Is it harder to formulate setbacks than character death? Does it require more life experience of kinds of set backs? Can we give a younger gm or player with less experience am example of life setbacks? Examples you can add and elaborate. Debt Financial obligations Relationships and duties Additional responsibilities Punishments like a reduction of social status (a penalty to ones credit score and othe examples?) Tragedy - the psychological burdens. Trauma - an internal mental minefield.


Certainly! Creating meaningful setbacks may require a deeper understanding of character development, narrative crafting, and life experiences compared to character death, which is a rather definitive outcome. Below are some elaborations on the types of setbacks you mentioned:

  1. Debt/Financial Obligations: A character may acquire debt due to a failed business venture, gambling losses, or even being tricked by a cunning adversary. This creates tension as the character needs to find a way to repay the debt, leading to quests or tasks they wouldn't otherwise undertake. This could even lead to moral quandaries if the means of repaying the debt conflict with the character's values.

  2. Relationships and Duties: A character's duties to their family, kingdom, or organization can serve as a setback. They may be called away to deal with a family matter or required to perform a duty that conflicts with the group's plans. Relationships too can create conflicts of interest, leading to dramatic character moments.

  3. Additional Responsibilities: The character may be thrust into a position of power or responsibility unexpectedly. This could be as grand as being named the heir to a kingdom or as personal as taking care of an orphaned child. These responsibilities can create logistical challenges, emotional stress, and narrative complications.

  4. Reduction of Social Status: The character could lose their status, reputation, or rank due to a scandal, false accusations, or political machinations. This can affect their interactions with NPCs, restrict access to resources, and require them to work to clear their name or regain their status.

  5. Tragedy: The loss of a loved one, destruction of a cherished place, or failure of a personal project can have deep psychological impacts on a character. This can affect their motivations, change their attitude, and even alter their alignment or worldview. The character would need to process their grief while continuing their adventure.

  6. Trauma: This could be a result of a near-death experience, witnessing a horrifying event, or surviving a disaster. Trauma can manifest as phobias, flashbacks, or other mental health struggles. It can affect the character's ability to function in certain situations and require them to seek healing or therapy.

In using setbacks, it's important to remember that these should be meaningful to the character and their story. They should create opportunities for growth and character development rather than just being obstacles. Also, it's crucial to handle sensitive topics like trauma with care and respect.

What would be the most likely problem of someone who doesn't have the introspection or life experience of setbacks as to incorporate it in stories? Off the bat I can think of integrating into the story. Wouldn't an AI large language model help in that? How about modeling scenarios? Like how would other characters behave and the risks and issues of introducing the set back? But wouldn't AI help elaborate risks and problems? Avenues of attack and strategies and actions to move the story forward? Would it be crippling to also the player thinking through setbacks? If they lack the life experience overcoming it they may favor death over dealing with consequences and nuance.


Certainly, there are some challenges in implementing setbacks, especially for those lacking in life experience or introspective ability. Here are a few of those challenges:

  1. Creating Believable Scenarios: Lack of life experience might make it difficult to create believable and engaging setback scenarios that resonate with players. If the setbacks don't feel real, they may not provide the intended tension or spur character growth.

  2. Character Reactions: It could be challenging to predict how a character would react to a given setback, especially if it's a situation the game master (GM) or player has never personally experienced. This could lead to unrealistic or inconsistent character behavior.

  3. Moving the Story Forward: Without enough understanding of how setbacks can be overcome, it may be difficult for a GM or player to guide the story beyond the setback. This could lead to a stalled narrative, player frustration, or a premature end to the storyline.

  4. Handling Consequences: In the real world, setbacks often have far-reaching consequences that can be complex and nuanced. A less experienced person might struggle to fully represent these consequences in a game, leading to oversimplified scenarios that don't capture the full impact of the setback.

AI tools like GPT-4 can indeed be helpful in addressing some of these challenges. They can suggest plausible setback scenarios, help predict character reactions, propose strategies for overcoming the setback, and explore possible consequences. They can draw on a vast amount of data and information to generate these suggestions, making up for a person's lack of life experience to some extent.

However, AI has its limitations too. While it can provide suggestions based on patterns and examples in its training data, it lacks the personal understanding and emotional depth that comes from real-life experience. It also lacks the ability to understand the specific context of a game, the nuances of player dynamics, or the long-term narrative arcs that a human GM may have in mind. Thus, while AI can be a useful tool for generating ideas and solutions, it should be used in conjunction with human judgment and creativity.

Ultimately, the most effective way for a less experienced person to get better at using setbacks in their games may be to gain more experience—both by playing and running more games, and by seeking out diverse life experiences outside of gaming. Reading widely, exploring different genres of fiction, and engaging in empathetic conversations can also broaden their understanding of different types of setbacks and how people respond to them.

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