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Beginning to Doubt That RPG Play Can Be Substantively "Character-Driven"

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
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This is a great question and a great way to focus conversation. Thanks for asking it.
Thanks for answering it seriously.

I have no issues with your descriptions of agency types, so I'll move on ...

How do you think "authorial choice" and "participant choice" relate to one another when you've got competing interests and rules/role constraints that bind or deny authorship rights?

Put another way, the GM can't do x because system or built-in constraint (a players move/feature says thing n happens; GM doesn't get to ignore it or erect a block that negates it) says so. The player can't do y because system or built-in constraint (the GM has erected an obstacle that requires overcoming a certain fictional positioning - say reach advantage by the obstacle - before the player can close to melee...the player doesn't just get to ignore that and close to melee).

I would say "participant choice" is different than "authorial choice" because when you're writing a book, you don't have competing interests and system architecture that both constrains possible fiction and mediates outcomes.
That's reasonable. I guess I was thinking about corroborative/cooperative authorship, or possibly playing in a band (I've done both). The player is the author of his character, using the game system at the table (I mean, it's no use to bring a FATE character to a D&D game, or vice versa, right?). The entire table is generating a story (or a story is emerging from the entire table playing a game), and the player is directly responsible for a portion of it, centered on one character. I'm thinking this through more or less right now, but I guess I'm at a point where Player's authorship of Character is absolute, within the rules of the game, until/unless it interferes with another Player's authorship. The GM has (mostly) authorship of the world/setting, and I'm not entirely sure where the boundaries are between that and Player authorship (or, I'm not sure I can elucidate them; I think I have a decent nonverbal feel for them, though).

I'm not sure I've answered your question about constraints and bindings on authorship rights.
 

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prabe

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There are also three ways of handling this I'm aware of; the D&D way, the GURPS way, and the Fate way. That's the order they appeared in the gaming community in and the games I believe represent the styles. It's also IMO worst to best.
Snipping your descriptions for space, not as dismissal.

I don't think that a D&D character written up as "struggling with unfathomable anger" needs to be played in a way that disrupts the group, or persistently interferes with their goals. I've played such a character (in a game that was about on this level, on this axis), and it was neither anti-social nor showboating. Obviously different tables are different.

I've also played games that had disadvantages in character creation. As I think about it, I realize those don't bother me much, probably because they're pretty concrete. You have [chance] for [bad thing] if [condition]. You've received build points in exchange for taking that disadvantage (or however the mechanic works). Presumably you've had a talk with the GM before starting the game about what that disadvantage means and how it works, and it won't really interrupt the flow of the game if/when it comes up.

I've played FATE. I think I like it least, because it's ... not concrete. Your aspect is probably plain-language, so it's probably imprecise, at least around the edges, and your GM is kinda obligated to try to find ways to bring that to bear against your character in some way or other. The mechanics for that feel to me very much like a combination of bribery and extortion, and because the GM is going to be using the limited number of aspects, it seems to me as though there are a limited number of stories where the GM can pass Fate points to you, so you're going to get a lot of stories (in this case) about your unfathomable anger, probably until you have unfathomable anger coming out of your ears.

This isn't to say I disagree with your descriptions, especially not with your correlations to the categories @Manbearcat listed. I think they did a reasonably fair job of capturing the styles.

EDIT: Apologies for the tone in part of this. There were, as @Umbran has said elsewhere, unpleasant things going on my head about the time FATE and I parted ways, and they echo, and I should either avoid the topic or moderate myself better. I'm leaving what I said up, solely so things below make sense.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Plus ca la meme chose.

Without diacriticals because who has time for that?

Yeah. I think in the end it comes down to GMs and players all operating in good faith. Other than that it's horses for courses.
 

It's a whole thing about constraining the DM/GM. Whether it functions as actual constraint or illusory constraint, whether it works best for good DMs (who wouldn't need it) or bad DMs (who could ignore it), whether it provides great training wheels for inexperienced DMs (in terms of systems cues and constraints) or is even more baffling for them ... it's all a question of preferences.

It seems to go round and round. Some people would say that the "DM Constraint" model was a backlash against the excesses of certain ... darker ... Wolfier.... DM-driven games.

But then, of course, we saw the renewed interest in the games of the 70s and early 80s, especially ones like D&D (Moldvay), OD&D, 1e, retroclones, Traveller, WFRPG, and so on. Which tend to be very, very ... old school in their approach because, um, yeah.

Plus ca change.
Good post, but let me offer a subtle counter.

When GM-constraint is brought up, its often said (I've seen Tony and others speak on this as well) that "good GMs don't need constraint."

Let me just say that I disagree with this. By my sense of things, "good GMs may need constraint THE MOST because (a) they know so much more, (b) have so much more experience (and success), and (c) therefore are likely the most apt to fall prey to reckless hubris and lack of self-awareness of their cognitive blind spots."

I mean, let me just testify. (a), (b), and (c) DEFINITELY apply to me, even though I'm borderline pathological in my introspection. I'm VERY GLAD to have codified system constraints and diffuse authority to protect me and the tables I play with from my "conceptual worse self."
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I've played FATE. I think I like it least, because it's ... not concrete. Your aspect is probably plain-language, so it's probably imprecise, at least around the edges, and your GM is kinda obligated to try to find ways to bring that to bear against your character in some way or other. The mechanics for that feel to me very much like a combination of bribery and extortion
Bribery? Might as well say the GM in D&D is bribing the players with gold, magic items, and XP! Is the GM in D&D bribing you when you get Inspiration for playing to your Ideals, Bonds, of Flaws?

Extortion? The problem with extortion is that it isn't consensual.

In Fate... you make up the Aspects. You're setting allowed places where the GM has a hook to play with. And, you can negotiate about using that hook each time!

...and because the GM is going to be using the limited number of aspects
In Spirit of the Century, you have 10 Aspects - not a very limited number. In Fate Core, you have 5.

In either case, the Aspects are pretty central to who the character is. You think who your character is shouldn't come up very often?

...it seems to me as though there are a limited number of stories where the GM can pass Fate points to you, so you're going to get a lot of stories (in this case) about your unfathomable anger, probably until you have unfathomable anger coming out of your ears.
Your Barbarian rages at least once every game in which there's a combat, right?

I think there's huge misconception about Aspects, too. YOu guys focus all on how, "OMG, the GM can make yoru life difficult for you using an Aspect!!!1!"

First off, realize - in D&D, the GM can make life difficult for you any time they want - "Whoops! A whole bunch of kobolds! Oh no!". At least in Fate, you get something for it, and it'll be thematically appropriate for the character.

Second of all - each and every Aspect is also useful for you. Folks continually seem to forget this.

I was in a Spirit of the Century game, playing a private investigator type. The GM had asked that we not make up any characters that were really gun happy - he didn't want to run a game where the basic solution to problems was a spray of bullets from a tommy gun mowing down bad guys. But, I was playing a noir-ish P.I. Of course his basic weapon was a revolver.

So, I took the Trick Shot stunt (giving a +2 on Guns skill rolls against inanimate objects), and took an Aspect, "I set 'em up, you knock 'em down". With that stunt and Aspect, I could be insanely good at gunplay that created scene aspects that other players could invoke. But, if I wanted to just shoot someone in the face, the GM could give me a Fate point, and have things not work out quite as I intended. And, if I found myself short of Fate Points when going into a big conflict... all I had to do was try to shoot the BBEG, and either it worked, or I got a Fate Point that I could use!

I got to have bullets flying everywhere, being effective as a support character by using a gun, and the GM gets his game not to be a bloodbath. Everyone wins! Way more fun than just having a character who was good at killing people with bullets.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
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@Umbran

I've played FATE, and I've run FATE (specifically Spirit of the Century, in a homebrew collaborative setting) for about a year. I'm not speaking about it from ignorance, and I'm not going to elaborate on my feelings about FATE here, other than to say I probably won't GM it again, but I'm a better DM for having run it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
@Umbran

I've played FATE, and I've run FATE (specifically Spirit of the Century, in a homebrew collaborative setting) for about a year. I'm not speaking about it from ignorance, and I'm not going to elaborate on my feelings about FATE here, other than to say I probably won't GM it again, but I'm a better DM for having run it.
That's fine. I don't mean to compel you to justify your position.

My point stands, however, that the elements I raised about how Aspects are used are pretty consistently passed over, leaving what I feel is a pretty skewed depiction of how the system operates. This doesn't require your response - my point is there for folks to read and take in.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
That's fine. I don't mean to compel you to justify your position.

My point stands, however, that the elements I raised about how Aspects are used are pretty consistently passed over, leaving what I feel is a pretty skewed depiction of how the system operates. This doesn't require your response - my point is there for folks to read and take in.
No worries. I didn't mean to be attacking anyone's preference for FATE. It probably came across that way, and I apologize if so. It just gets my back up a little when people who prefer FATE act as though someone who doesn't, doesn't know the game.
 


prabe

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But sometimes running across a true FATE devotee makes me wish I was stuck in an elevator with a Rush fan who needs to really, truly explain to me the genius of the late drummer Neil Peart with both words and by banging on the walls.
All the walls, while sitting in a chair that spins.

I've noticed that about FATE, here. If I'm feeling at my most fair, I can admit that my reasons for disliking FATE are not entirely about the game, but sometimes life gets in the way of things.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
IME, people that like FATE really, really like FATE.
To be clear. I like the system, but I know that it is for a particular style of game, and that's not a style I want all the time, much less expect everyone to want.

And people that don't can appreciate it, but don't care for it.
Just a couple weeks ago, we were told, here on these boards that it was a system, "best enjoyed by ruthless power gamers." That sounds less like appreciation, and more like desire to cast aspersions on people. Ymmv.
 


prabe

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Supporter
Just a couple weeks ago, we were told, here on these boards that it was a system, "best enjoyed by ruthless power gamers." That sounds less like appreciation, and more like desire to cast aspersions on people. Ymmv.
I remember that thread. I'm endeavoring not to bring all that into this thread.

I agree with @lowkey13 that "being for powergamers" isn't one of FATE's aspects.
 
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mwittig

Explorer
There was an issue re: the ongoing litigation and settlement between Arneson and Gygax. Basic D&D had a different royalty rate than AD&D (which had a core books royalty rate).
While they had different royalty rates, I believe the reason was because Gygax convinced Arneson that 5% rate they were entitled to on D&D per their original 1975 agreement was excessive. Arneson appears to have agreed to a 2.5% rate as part of their March 6, 1981 settlement agreement.
 
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uzirath

Adventurer
In GURPS if I struggle with unfathomable anger I got points for taking that as a disadvantage. When it occurs it's because the dice told me it did - I'm not in control of my character while this happens (so I'm genuinely struggling) and it's the fault of the dice rather than something I've decided to do despite its impacts on group cohesion. So I'm not being anti-social out of character playing it. But it's not something I struggle with so much as am subject to.
Note that for most GURPS disadvantages that affect your personality (like Bad Temper or Overconfidence), you are encouraged to roleplay the flaw unless circumstances are dire:

"You never have to try a self-control roll—you can always give in willingly, and it is good roleplaying to do so. However, there will be times when you really need to resist your urges, and that is what the roll is for." — GURPS 4e Basic Set: Characters, p. 121.

Interestingly in terms of the comparison with FATE, further down on the same page, GURPS provides an option where you can effectively spend XP to automatically avoid succumbing to your disadvantage: "Optionally, the GM may permit you to use one unspent character point to 'buy' an automatic success on a self-control roll." It's a common rule among groups that I've observed or gamed with.

I've also played games that had disadvantages in character creation. As I think about it, I realize those don't bother me much, probably because they're pretty concrete. You have [chance] for [bad thing] if [condition]. You've received build points in exchange for taking that disadvantage (or however the mechanic works). Presumably you've had a talk with the GM before starting the game about what that disadvantage means and how it works, and it won't really interrupt the flow of the game if/when it comes up.
I agree with this. In most instances, players who succumb to their disadvantages (even voluntarily) aren't "showboating" or being "anti-social." Sure, I've seen a handful of dud players abuse the system and say "that's what my character would do," but that's true in any system. At most tables that I've played at (and I've played or observed GURPS games with hundreds of people over the years), character disadvantages become part of the texture of the group—a regular source of roleplaying banter. When the stakes are high enough that a player chooses to roll the dice, it's often one of the highlights of the session because it can send the fiction veering in new directions. For me, it's satisfying if the dice helped dictate that the barbarian lost his temper and yelled at the duke. If it was just a player making a dramatic choice, it's potentially more obnoxious.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I agree with this. In most instances, players who succumb to their disadvantages (even voluntarily) aren't "showboating" or being "anti-social." Sure, I've seen a handful of dud players abuse the system and say "that's what my character would do," but that's true in any system. At most tables that I've played at (and I've played or observed GURPS games with hundreds of people over the years), character disadvantages become part of the texture of the group—a regular source of roleplaying banter. When the stakes are high enough that a player chooses to roll the dice, it's often one of the highlights of the session because it can send the fiction veering in new directions. For me, it's satisfying if the dice helped dictate that the barbarian lost his temper and yelled at the duke. If it was just a player making a dramatic choice, it's potentially more obnoxious.
While I wasn't specifically thinking of GURPS (in fact, I haven't played it for the simple reason that none of my gaming groups played it), I concur about disadvantages overall, in systems that have them.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I've noticed that about FATE, here. If I'm feeling at my most fair, I can admit that my reasons for disliking FATE are not entirely about the game, but sometimes life gets in the way of things.
Yeah. Life... sometimes isn't our friend. This may lead into something. Hang in there...

IME, people that like FATE really, really like FATE.

And people that don't can appreciate it, but don't care for it.
So, this is a bit about the internet that we supposedly know, but always seem to forget. It is a communication issue that I tend to think of as "Words mean things."

Now, @prabe seems to be pretty thoughtful and philosophical about it all. And you say folks, "appreciate but don't care for it."

But still, here I was having to react to the mechanics being described with worlds like "bribery" and "extortion" - things that are considered unethical and illegal. The connotations of those words are not "appreciative", unless you're a crook, which I don't think prabe is.

maybe folks will agree, there are two basic options:

1) Those were actually the feelings - in which case I submit that something not according to the rules, or otherwise pretty unfortunate or toxic was going on. Then yes, some not-good was happening in play, and unpacking what was going on may be a useful exercise. Prabe's comment about life kind of fits in here... no need to elaborate, as that could be pretty personal.

2) It was hyperbole for effect. I think getting on the case of fans for going over the top is misplaced when detractors get a pass for over-doing it themselves, hm?

Thus - words mean things. People will react to what you put on the page. If you don't want that... don't put it on the page, you know what I mean?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Well, this sure went a long way in the last 18-ish hours. :)

Without quoting a bunch of posts or going on at ridiculous length, I'll just sum up thusly:

To those who are speaking in favour of social mechanics being able to determine or force PC decisions/actions - that's all well and good, and no doubt such things enhance your games at your tables. All is good.

But if any of you ever start advocating for player agency (and some of you have in the past) I'll reserve the right to either take such advocation with a rather large grain of salt or outright call shenanigans; because the sort of mechanics you're favouring are completely antithetical to a player having agency over his/her character.
 

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