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

@lowkey13

Let me try to distill my premise into something pithy and maybe this will reveal the machinery of the purity test (and, of course, you know that “purity” here doesn’t mean “lacking badness”).

TTRPG Instantiation 1 features starting conditions A and 100 parameters (conflicts). At none of 1-100 is GM Force introduced to change the outcome of the conflict/parameter. Every moment of the gamestate and the ultimate end of the gamestate bears no “Force Noise.”

TTRPG Instantiation 2 features the same starting conditions A and 100 parameters (conflicts). At conflict/parameter 12, 39, 64, and 92, Force is introduced to alter/dictate the outcome of those particular sequences of play. Now that is only 4/100 conflicts/parameters.

My contention is that, despite it being a very small number of instances of Force, the 1st order and downstream effects are going to change all of the gamestates from 12 onward, and the ultimate gamestate as well (possibly significantly so).

That is why I’m calling it binary instead of a continuum. Obviously, more or less force (in quantity and potency) will affect the instantiation, but that isn’t relevant to my point. My point is that instantiation 1 will not be reproduced in trajectory, outcome, and agency distribution by any instantiation where Force is introduced (UNLESS more Force is introduced to Curve Fit the new instantiation with 1...which of course will perturb things again and impact the agency distribution...so...no).
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
@lowkey13
That is why I’m calling it binary instead of a continuum. Obviously, more or less force (in quantity and potency) will affect the instantiation, but that isn’t relevant to my point. My point is that instantiation 1 will not be reproduced in trajectory, outcome, and agency distribution by any of instantistion where Force is introduced (UNLESS more Force is introduced to Curve Fit the new instantiation with 1...which of course will perturb things again and impact the agency distribution...so...no).
I think I see why you're calling it a binary, here, and it's not entirely wrong. I think, though, that you could posit an instantiation where the Force was used to alter all the outcomes, and now you you have a game of Pure Force, and you're kinda back to a continuum or a binary where Force is always used, or not always used. This binary isn't any more (in)correct than yours, I think.

As a side thought, is the GM using judgment to interpret an ambiguous outcome (in, say, a skill--the question doesn't seem applicable in combat) Force? If so, it would seem to make a Pure Forceless game harder to achieve.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
A: Player Agency is best accomplished through rulesets that allow specific rules to determine what the PC does. In other words, the use of specific and constraining rules regarding social interactions, or how the PC acts in certain circumstances, allows the Player to make informed choices given that they have adequate knowledge of possible outcomes.

B. Player Agency is best accomplished by allowing the Player complete freedom to determine the inner processes of the player (outside very limited circumstances). Rules that would force the PC to do something are a codifiction that prohibits player agency.
Oh, jeez. I think that both A. and B. are (or can be) correct. :ROFLMAO:
 


So I've recently had the opportunity to play some Blades in the Dark, instead of running it for my group. And as I was playing, I was thinking about this thread a bit, and how I feel that Blades lends itself to character driven play more so than D&D does.

Again, I don't think D&D can't do this, I just think other games are designed to promote that kind of gameplay where as D&D leaves it up to the group to decide how they want to do this. I play and enjoy both games. Each does certain things well. In regard to character-driven play, I think Blades is better. I'll offer a couple of comparisons to show how.

In 5e D&D, the player is meant to choose two Traits, an Ideal, a Bond, and a Flaw at character creation. Per the rules, when the player evokes one or more of these elements in play, the DM can grant him Inspiration. This can then be spent by the player to gain Advantage on any future roll that he chooses. You can only have Inspiration or not have it, so you cannot bank multiple uses through repeatedly evoking your Traits/Ideal/Bond/Flaw during play. You need to spend Inspiration before you can gain it again.

In Blades in the Dark, the player must choose a Vice. This is the thing that they struggle with. It's both how they cope with the harshness of life as a scoundrel, and also a point of weakness. It is mechanically meaningful because it is the way that the PC can reduce Stress, which is a PC resource taken in order to power special abilities and to resist Harm and other consequences. So when a PC takes a Stress, they need to indulge their Vice in order to reduce their Stress. There is also the risk of overindulging, which can have consequences of varying degrees for the PC and their crew. Also, Vice is directly related to one of the XP Triggers: "You struggled with issues from your Vice or Traumas during the session." At the end of each session, the player decides to take an XP point if they struggled with their Vice or Traumas. If they did so more than once, they can take 2 XP.

There are a lot more differences I can go into, and maybe I will in a future post, but just looking at these two areas of these games, I think it's pretty clear that certain games are just designed to deliver play that's more character-driven.

In D&D, the entire structure of the Traits/Ideal/Bond/Flaw is optional. Yes, it's meant to be there to give the PC some sense of character, and the player may portray the character accordingly. If they do, they may be rewarded by the DM with Inspiration. Yes, there are ways to tweak this, or alternate systems we could use for this....but ultimately, this system as is is nothing more than suggestion.

In Blades, the decision of Vice will not only inform the player on how to portray their character, but it also determines a weakness that absolutely must come up in play. They will indulge their vice often, and will potentially accumulate Traumas that make it harder and harder to resist their Vice, and will also permanently impact and shape their character. Ultimately, their Vice may consume them. It also has the strong hook to grant 1 or 2 XP per session if the PC struggles with it. And I think this is a big distinction here.....not just that it comes up, or that the player portrays the character as having a vice, but that they must struggle with it. That's big.....it means that play is impacted in some way by this Vice.

So if a D&D PC has the Flaw of "I'm a compulsive gambler. Games of chance and taking risks gets my blood flowing like nothing else" the player may play that up quite well. He may earn some inspiration for doing so. He may even go above and beyond and make decisions for his character that may be harmful because of this Flaw. That's all quite possible, and can be a lot of fun.

He could also ignore it and never bring it up in play.

With Blades, there is no avoiding the PCs Vice. It is essential to the character, and essential to the game. Perhaps that's the big take away.....it is essential to the character and to the game. Hence, play is character driven.
 
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dragoner

Dying in Chargen
C. With a bit of luck, the PC's life was ruined forever. Always thinking just behind some narrow door in all of his favorite inns and taverns, men in red breast plates are getting incredible kicks from things he'll never know.
"I am that child with the dirty face, no doubt unwanted, that from far away contemplates coaches where other children emit laughter and jump up and down considerably"
-Reinaldo Arenas

Even rules, et cetera, can't solve this between character driven, or whatever; nevertheless it is good, because that is where the different games lie. In one game recently, the PC, she was on a beach at a resort, trying to convince a reporter to listen to her story and maybe glean other intel from her. How would this reconcile hacking up Orcs for xp? Backing it up to the let's play make believe stage of RPG's, one does seem more free-form and the other mechanical.
 

pemerton

Legend
I keep seeing examples throughout this thread (and, for that matter, in any lengthy thread on the subject here), usually involving "angels on the head of pin" discussions about what DM Force, of DM decides, or Player Agency really, really, really means.

Because the viewpoints of people contesting the jargon are not orthogonal; they are diametrically opposed.

Too abstract? Let's make it concrete.

A: Player Agency is best accomplished through rulesets that allow specific rules to determine what the PC does. In other words, the use of specific and constraining rules regarding social interactions, or how the PC acts in certain circumstances, allows the Player to make informed choices given that they have adequate knowledge of possible outcomes.

B. Player Agency is best accomplished by allowing the Player complete freedom to determine the inner processes of the player (outside very limited circumstances). Rules that would force the PC to do something are a codifiction that prohibits player agency.

These are 100% completely different viewpoints that cannot be reconciled, and yet they are debated
I don't think I"ve seen A and B debated in this thread by anyone who is familiar with both. Various posters have put forward instances of the system you describe in A (eg I've talked about MHRP/Cortex+, and maybe morale in Traveller, and Prince Valiant). Various posters have also put forward instances of the system you describe in B (eg Apocalpyse World, Burning Wheel at least as far as PCs; Beliefs are concerned, @hawkeyefan's excellent post about BitD).

Who is asserting that MHRP is better for character-driven play than BitD? Or vice versa.

What is being widely asserted is that a game in which the character's emotional/social state is at risk is better for character-driven play. @hawkeyefan has give a terrific explanation of how this is so in BitD. And it doesn't turn on A vs B - after all, BitD (at least as he describes it) is an instance of B. (Which would make sense - Apocalypse World, of which BitD is sort-of a derivative, is an instance of B.)

@Lanefan and maybe one or two others are asserting that A-type systems are incompatible with player agency, but without actually ever having played such systems, or even read them as best I know. That is angels-on-the-head-of-pin territory.
 
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pemerton

Legend
PC trained by master. Master disappears for a number of years popping in and out of PC's life. PC discovers his master was the werewolf the party had been chasing for months (Secret Backstory by DM) and who is responsible for an ally's death.
I guess my first question is how is this secret backstory? If the PC discovers it (by whatever mechanism) it's not secret!

It could be a consequence (eg following a failed check, the GM - to borrow AW/DW terminology - reveals an unwelcome truth ie that the master is really a werewolf). Or it could be an element of scene-framing. From you description either possibility seems open.

PC confronts master with the truth. With the mask now off, the master attempts to manipulate/seduce PC to his cause which is played up....

DM invokes mechanics (sanity/morale) to prompt change in aspect of PC. The player can allow the mechanics to play out with the risk of effecting change or utilise a character resource (inspiration) to ensure the emotional fallout does not affect the character - because the player does not want it.
This seems like it could happen in any system with some sort of PC-affecting social/emotional mechanics. Assuming the GM is not just cheating, the resolution will depend on the outcome of the mechanical process (which in your version depends on whether or not the player spends a resource).

The DM does not know how it will play out but suspects if the PC beats the mechanics or utilises a resource, the PC will likely attack the werewolf, at the very minimum deny his call for joining. If the player suffers a change - who knows what could happen.
Given the bolded part, I still don't understand how this is meant to be an example of character-driven play occurring when the GM knows what is going to happen in virtue of having pre-authored "the adventure" or "the plot".

Is this an example of character-driven play in your estimation - whether this revealed backstory is part of the main storyline or not in a GM-driven rpg.
Whether or not it's character-driven in my view can't be known from what you've set out due to the stuff I mentioned in my first paragraph of response in this post - without knowing where the revelation came from (what sort of consequence?; what sort of framing?; how did it relate to already-established fiction?; how was that prior fiction established?) we don't know how this moment of crisis is related to the character who has the master.

Probably the best-known variant of what you describe in popular culture is Darth Vader being revealed as Luke's father. In the fiction, the ground has been prepared in all sorts of ways - we know Luke is an orphan, who knows little about his father except that he was great pilot; Luke has a mentor who knew his father, and who taught Darth before the latter turned to evil; Darth himself is a mysterious figure with his face hidden behind a mask, but is said to have killed Luke's father.

Whether or not the RPG version of this counted as character-driven would turn on how all that unfolding stuff was actually done. If the GM just narrates it all through to the moment of revelation than it is certainly not what the OP is talking about, because the mechanical process of play hasn't had any hand in it.

But suppose the backstory is gradually set-up as some sort of interplay between player and GM in the course of play (eg Luke's player fails a check, and the GM reveals an unwelcome truth via narration from the NPC Obi-Wan - My former star pupil killed your father - sorry about that!). And suppose further that the final revelation is the ultimate unwelcome truth narrated in response to some failed check by Luke during the confrontation with Vader. That looks like it could be an instance of what @innerdude was referring to.
 



Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@lowkey13

Let me try to distill my premise into something pithy and maybe this will reveal the machinery of the purity test (and, of course, you know that “purity” here doesn’t mean “lacking badness”).

TTRPG Instantiation 1 features starting conditions A and 100 parameters (conflicts). At none of 1-100 is GM Force introduced to change the outcome of the conflict/parameter. Every moment of the gamestate and the ultimate end of the gamestate bears no “Force Noise.”

TTRPG Instantiation 2 features the same starting conditions A and 100 parameters (conflicts). At conflict/parameter 12, 39, 64, and 92, Force is introduced to alter/dictate the outcome of those particular sequences of play. Now that is only 4/100 conflicts/parameters.
But it's still force-free 96% of the time.

My contention is that, despite it being a very small number of instances of Force, the 1st order and downstream effects are going to change all of the gamestates from 12 onward, and the ultimate gamestate as well (possibly significantly so).

That is why I’m calling it binary instead of a continuum. Obviously, more or less force (in quantity and potency) will affect the instantiation, but that isn’t relevant to my point. My point is that instantiation 1 will not be reproduced in trajectory, outcome, and agency distribution by any instantiation where Force is introduced (UNLESS more Force is introduced to Curve Fit the new instantiation with 1...which of course will perturb things again and impact the agency distribution...so...no).
Not necessarily.

If each of the 100 conflicts can end one of two ways (let's keep it simple and say there's just two outcomes possible for each, shall we?) then there's a bell-curve chance covering all the possible end results after all 100 have been gone through.

Applying force to four of them might skew the bell curve a bit but in the end not much; every possible end result is almost certainly still in play, only with the odds shifted a bit.

Applying force to 80 of them is going to skew the odds a lot and very likely put some initially-possible results out of play.

But it's only when you apply force to all 100 that you've also outright forced the end result.

So it is a continuum or spectrum, rather than purely binary.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
@Lanefan and maybe one or two others are asserting that A-type systems are incompatible with player agency, but without actually ever having played such systems, or even read them as best I know.
There's various systems I can't speak to from play experience, but there's some I can.

Social mechanics in 3e D&D (and 3.5, and PF, and games based on those), the existence of which mechanics in my view make them A-type systems, can and do trample the aspect of player agency that has to do with - absent external control mechanics - playing one's character as one sees fit. The rub here is that the game doesn't really make this clear until you're already into it.

Some mechanics in other games seem explicitly geared toward denying player agency in how one plays one's character; perhaps on the assumption that's what you've signed up for when you agreed to play that game.

What boggles my mind there is that someone would ever sign up to play a character using a system where, in the end, you can't play your character in the manner you want to.
That is angels-on-the-head-of-pin territory.
Meh - my angels jumped off a while ago, and are now down in the pub having a beer. :)
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
This question you've posed above seems to presuppose something about TTRPGs:

Game systems are discrete tool-kits meant to be deeply curated, to taste, mixed/matched in a modular fashion by x (typically the GM, but sometimes the group).

This zeitgeist seems to be so deeply embedded in the D&D cultural fabric that people just take it for granted that "this is the way, the one truth."
Not by most of the people over the last 40 years I've gamed with. They were modular - a campaign used specific book, not pick-and choose from the rules in those books. Which is why I ran a lot more Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer than AD&D1E. 2E claimed this in the text, but again, I haven't encountered many who played it that way; most who did seem to have had a binder elucidating the nasty snarl of rules they cribbed from elsewhere, and no one willing to play their "D&D"...

I think, over time, there's been a growth in the number of systems available, and an improvement in the design of systems, in general, that helps to support the increased emphasis as RAW/RAE, and a bit of a decline in retooling systems.
A lot of it also seems to be that more players are less "social outliers" than in the past; the hobby still isn't mainstream, but at least isn't instant social pariah for gaming.
It's rare, however, that a social interaction is going to have as direct and immediate influence on the health and-or functionality of your character as is combat.

Exactly. Stop here and we're all good. :)
Sounds like you weren't the one being bullied in the 'hood. "Is my sister pretty?" from a black kid to a white one in a black neighborhood was an intentional mine placed before the white kid, so as to excuse the beating of the white kid when asked what triggered the fight... My childhood included a lot of running from bullies because I couldn't navigate the 1970's ethnic violence triggering social minefield.


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.

In D&D if I have a character who struggles with unfathomable anger that's entirely a player choice. And if I do something with this flaw it's because I the player have decided to, and have decided to do something that's inimical to the interests of the wider group. By roleplaying this I am being anti-social and sabotaging the rest of the group while showboating. (@Manbearcat would call this the player having their say, above)
Not always true. Many a GM said, "If it's on your sheet, it counts"... and so if you chose not to play the angry, you got docked a chunk session XP. But if you played it, you got a bonus chunk. So, while it's entirely your choice to add that or not, the GM is (at least in AD&D onward) entitled to enforce it with XP awards/penalties.
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!
Even the rules of both SOTC and Fate Core make it painfully clear: Only put things into your aspects that you want to come up in play.

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

And people that don't can appreciate it, but don't care for it.

Unfortunately, the people that really, really like FATE seem to think that the people who don't like FATE just haven't played it enough, haven't played it right, or just need it explained again.
Many of the people claiming to dislike it after playing it cite reasons that are explicitly against the RAW, so it's clear they haven't played the game as written.

I'm not a preacher of it as the Überspiel... it's good, and it works well at pushing the character drama...
... but I think Mouse Guard, Burning Wheel, and Modiphius' STA do better at that. (I may dislike STA's buying more dice, and next I run it, that goes away... but other than that, the system does make beliefs and goals both important and able to be required to be changed.

Hold on. Someone said FATE .... Fate .... FATE .... darn it, is it supposed to all-caps because of the acronym? Or is that just annoying?

So someone said FATE is a system best enjoyed by ruthless power gamers?
I've found that many powergamers can thrive in Fate. Once they realize what's happening mechanically, they can be very, very effective. I know, because that's how I approach Fate as a player! Getting the stubborn powergamer to actually try it, however...

Oh, and as of Fate Core, its Title Case, not all caps.

That being said, I think your last line is very telling of the mindset you've brought with you. Your trouble isn't something you should see as the GM using to hose you, but rather something that you've chosen to hose yourself. Of course, I apparently have an idiosyncratic view of FATE, [...]
It's not hard to use Fate to do a strong GM driven story... provided all you plot out are the encounters, not how they should end... For example, plan the encounter where the Camel Dealer has the information they need. He's got his aspects... and the players interact with him to get the information... but the GM plans for the 4-5 most common ways... and makes note of who later will be affected by various approaches. Beat it out of him? NPC 13 is going to have a grudge against the PCs. Bribe him? NCP 12 changes his Nth aspect to "I can be bought, too!"...
2nd Edition AD&D came out in 1989.

White Wolf games was founded in 1991, and Vampire: The Masquerade came out that year, 1991.

Did someone from TSR travel ahead a couple years in time, to co-opt rules that hadn't been published yet?
Lion Rampant published Ars Magica in 87, and it's chock full of Marc Rein•Hagan's story-first mentality.
I guess my first question is how is this secret backstory? If the PC discovers it (by whatever mechanism) it's not secret!
It's secret until the players find out about it. If the exemplar mentor turned werewolf disappeared without the characters' knowing why, and then find out the new werewolf is the mentor... it was a secret bit of backstory - the why and where - which may be based upon the player having chosen to have lost touch with the old mentor, leaving the GM room to push buttons and make decisions about backstory...
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
The issue with GM Force from my perspective does lies more in its implication then the act itself. It pretty much kills any meaningful unity of purpose. Instead of following these characters down their path where ever it might lead you are exercising your will. When GM Force is on the table at any time that means it is always on the table and choosing not to employ it is a willful act.

For me this is not too big of a deal when playing a more plot focused game, but in a character driven game that focuses on who these characters are as like people there is a certain amount of vulnerability involved. When the things at stake are more personal picking and choosing outcomes based on what you want to have happen runs the risk of taking advantage of that vulnerability.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
There's various systems I can't speak to from play experience, but there's some I can.

Social mechanics in 3e D&D (and 3.5, and PF, and games based on those), the existence of which mechanics in my view make them A-type systems, can and do trample the aspect of player agency that has to do with - absent external control mechanics - playing one's character as one sees fit. The rub here is that the game doesn't really make this clear until you're already into it.

Some mechanics in other games seem explicitly geared toward denying player agency in how one plays one's character; perhaps on the assumption that's what you've signed up for when you agreed to play that game.

What boggles my mind there is that someone would ever sign up to play a character using a system where, in the end, you can't play your character in the manner you want to.
Meh - my angels jumped off a while ago, and are now down in the pub having a beer. :)
Because many of us realize that the agency you claim is in older games is often an illusion in the game as played. If one accepts Gygax Rule 0 (The GM is always right, and can mod rules on a whim), your agency ends wherever the GM decides, including the potential of telling you how your character feels about something!

The GM I had the least agency as a player under was running AD&D 2E. Second worst was AD&D 1E.

The game I had the most agency as a player under was Fate... But I was also able to powergame the rules to make for a strong narrative situation where I wasn't at risk, but was making the tank-type character wipe the walls with the big bad.... I was truly able to affect the story state more as a player in that game than any time I wasn't GMing.

D&D game rules prior to 3E explicitly give the GM the power to change the rules on the fly for pretty much any reason. Sane DM's don't... they pick a subset, superset, or superset of a subset of the rules, and stick to them, because player agency requires knowing enough to make informed decisions, and a GM willing to let the player have some.

In, say, Mouse Guard...
Yes, I give up some agency by writing the belief, "I will do the underhanded if it is required for the common good." I'm saying, "This is a conflict I want to explore" - if the GM agrees, great. If not, I can still use it to nerf myself in the GM phase, so I have more freedom (more rolls I get to make) in the player phase...

The other thing is that most of the more narrativist games do is explicitly deny revision on the fly from GM prerogatives... many Fate flavors are pretty clear that only the group as a whole gets to change rules. Many in fact also limit a lot of other traditional GM prerogatives that actually thus deny the GM the authority to do certain things.

What a ruleset cannot do is force the GM to follow it, but I know that I'd rather not play if the GM isn't using a cogent and clear set of rules.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The issue with GM Force from my perspective does lies more in its implication then the act itself. It pretty much kills any meaningful unity of purpose. Instead of following these characters down their path where ever it might lead you are exercising your will. When GM Force is on the table at any time that means it is always on the table and choosing not to employ it is a willful act.

For me this is not too big of a deal when playing a more plot focused game, but in a character driven game that focuses on who these characters are as like people there is a certain amount of vulnerability involved. When the things at stake are more personal picking and choosing outcomes based on what you want to have happen runs the risk of taking advantage of that vulnerability.
I didn't have time before to respond to @Manbearcat, but you've actually helped sum up that response. I agree Force can be damaging to a game where everything is character focused. If the GM is Forcing a character outcome, that feels bad all around. But, that wasn't the conjecture as I understood it, but rather that you can have character arcs in a game with GM Force. I still think this, because you can have Force existing in areas that aren't about character choices and not have it in places it doesn't. People (players) can have multiple tiers of acceptable interference whereby you can have a social group that accepts certain applications of Force and doesn't accept others. Force is not a all or nothing affair, but it's often treated that way.

Now, that said, my preference is largely that Force not exist in a game focused on character, but I don't agree that any existence of Force precludes character driven play. It's not the binary @Manbearcat or you suggest -- reasonable people can enjoy a mix if properly constrained.
 

I get what @Manbearcat means about GM Force being binary. I mean, it’s either present or it’s not, a game allows for it or doesn’t.

And I agree that even one instance of it coming into play can shape an entire campaign as a result.

But I don’t know that it must be so, and therefore it’s always a thing to avoid. And I do think character driven play can take place in a game where GM Force has been present. But whether it can survive when GM Force is directly applied to the character driven elements...that seems less likely.

It’s more a question of whether GM Force can be used in a principled manner.
 

I had to read that twice, but I think I have it.

The fundamental issue is that ... people use terms in different ways. It's like a battle over what something means, as opposed to observing what things are ... and because people are using their own jargon to develop their own theories, they don't see that their specialized cases are not applicable to others.

I keep seeing examples throughout this thread (and, for that matter, in any lengthy thread on the subject here), usually involving "angels on the head of pin" discussions about what DM Force, of DM decides, or Player Agency really, really, really means.

Because the viewpoints of people contesting the jargon are not orthogonal; they are diametrically opposed.

Too abstract? Let's make it concrete.

A: Player Agency is best accomplished through rulesets that allow specific rules to determine what the PC does. In other words, the use of specific and constraining rules regarding social interactions, or how the PC acts in certain circumstances, allows the Player to make informed choices given that they have adequate knowledge of possible outcomes.

B. Player Agency is best accomplished by allowing the Player complete freedom to determine the inner processes of the player (outside very limited circumstances). Rules that would force the PC to do something are a codifiction that prohibits player agency.


These are 100% completely different viewpoints that cannot be reconciled, and yet they are debated, ad inifinitum, every single time one of these threads comes up. You can apply the same test to most of the jargon being used. Such as, in your example, DM Force. To me, the concepts that you think are "DM Force" I don't necessarily view as such.

More often than not, these meta-theories about game play that employ this jargon are not used to improve the game experience for a table, but to justify the gamestyle one is already playing, and to denigrate the gamestyle that other people play. Not you, by the way. Not singling out you. You are always more than reasonable. :)

So instead of people having conversations about the games they play and what it means for them (and why they like them), they end up having arguments about what "player agency" is, which is really just a veiled attempt to BADWRONGFUN and ONETRUEWAY.

Moving this to your particular case, I don't agree that it's binary, because I don't agree with the conceptions you use of DM Force; but that's okay. I respect that you think deeply about this, and that you care about your players and the games that you run.
Alright, so multiple things here:

1) With respect, I'm not a big fan of the meta-analysis of the psychology and sociology of what is happening in your post above. Its not that I disagree with it. Honestly, its that I don't care. I don't come to this board to accuse people of ONETRUEWAY or see people accuse me or others of it. That is so_effing_tired on this board. Its not going to condition people away from talking about games the way they are. If that worked, it would have worked a long_long_long time ago.

In my opinion, all of this "YOU'RE (not you, people) ACCUSING ME OF BADWRONGFUN ETC ETC" does nothing but stifle actual conversation about design imperatives, GMing techniques, and actual play analysis based on design imperatives and GMing techniques. People have to sift through the weeds of dozens of back and forth of this meta-analysis of board culture and motive-hunting all the time.

Yes, there is blatant edition warring troll stuff. That is, by far, the worst. But now that 4e is gone, its cooled by orders of magnitude. This other stuff has become, by far, the WORST part of trying to engage and sustain interesting discussion on ENWorld.

I come here for interesting, technical conversations about TTRPGing. I know some folks are offended by that and/or don't think that is possible because they believe that TTRPGs are mostly/wholly art and reducing it to technical conversation is unsettling (or something). I obviously concede it is some art, but also lots of other stuff. I want to talk about that other stuff. I'm certainly not going to spend my time telling them that they're unsettled or offended by the art:engineering (and whatever else divide) and belabor that over_and_over_and_over.

With respect, if they don't want to engage in technical conversations about TTRGing, they can just not engage. Telling me to stop or that they feel that I or anyone else uses technical conversation about TTRPGs to diminish them or their play...its not going to stop me from trying to have these conversations.

So with that out of the way....

2) Unrelated, I can't remember where you and I were having an exchange about murderhobo play, but the implication you made (I think) was that some people want murderhobo play. Of course they do. If that is their aim, then their play cannot degenerate to that. It can only ascend to that. If I say "degenerate into murderhobo play", I would hope the inference you would draw is that (a) they don't want to be engaged with murderhobo play yet (b) they've found themselves there do to some combination of system design (like screwy PC build design, incoherent incentive structures, or action resolution mechanics that don't propel play toward their aim and away from murderhoboing, or an approach to GMing that propels play toward strategic disconnectedness from setting/situation and expedient/pragmatic slaughter).

To repeat, if I say "degenerate", the inference that should be drawn is that the participants at the table didn't want to end up where they are. They wanted to be somewhere else but ended up here anyway.

3) Back to technical conversation, you disagree with me on the definition of GM Force. I've offered my definition many times (in this thread and others). Here is my definition in a different arrangement of words:

Manipulation of the gamestate (typically covert) by a GM which nullifies (or in slightly more benign cases; modifies) player input in order to form or maintain a narrative that conforms to the GM's vision.

Disagree with that?

If so, could you explain whether you think this thing that I've described above is a phenomenon in TTRPGing?

If it is, could you explain what we're disagreeing about? Is it impact on the trajectory of play? Is it impact on the psychology at the table (due to players' perception of the new mode of authority distribution at the table after the GM has deployed it)? This latter bit seems to be where @Ovinomancer and I are disagreeing.

You can correct me if I'm wrong here @Ovinomancer , but it seems that your position is that all of the following are true:

* The impact on the trajectory of play (the present and future gamestate) of a GM who uses Force is continuum-based.

* The impact on the psychology of the table (regarding newly defined authority distribution post-Force) is also continuum-based.

Is that correct?

Let me interject here (interject...with...myseeeeeeeeeeeeeelf?).

Like the conversation about about "degenerating into murderhoboing", the conversation about Force has to entail 3 table states when it comes to expectations and psychological ramifications:

STATE 1 - None of these players care about Force. Therefore, there can be no degenerate play with respect to Force. They're just completely casual, hang out and have a good time and GM do whatever the eff they want to entertain them.

STATE 2 - These players EXPECT Force to be used. They want the GM to hit the "Force accelerator" as need be to ensure that the story told at the table is compelling in the way they want it to be compelling.

STATE 3 - These players abhor Force. They expect it to never be used. They want player-facing rules that work sans-Force and clearly delineated authority distribution and transparent GMing.

To be clear, when I'm having these conversations, its STATE 3, that I'm talking about. There is no purpose in talking about STATE 1 or STATE 2. Those tables probably exist in much higher proportion than 3, but when it comes to Force, they're agnostic or supportive...so talking about Force's effect on play for their table psychology is irrelevant (in the same way that play doesn't "degenerate" into murderhobo play when the players are agnostic and/or want/expect it).




So then, thoughts on that definition of Force above and all the crap I threw up there surrounding it.

Also, to @Ovinomancer (and anyone else who wants to reply, including @hawkeyefan who just posted directly above about it), outside of table psychology, but back to the impact on the actual machinery of play (as it pertains to GM-driven vs Character-driven), do you have in mind a break-point where something becomes GM-driven vs Character-driven? I'm not looking for a quantity here, but a quality (if you're able to describe it).
 

One addendum right quick:

First PLEASE DON'T GET HUNG UP ON THE CONNOTATIONS OF THE WORD CHEATING.

The Astros cheated and won the 2017 World Series.

We can't precisely quantify the cheating or measure its impact.

However, we all feel it was significant enough to alter the trajectory of play sufficient that the Yankees contribution toward their own winning efforts was subordinated/nullified.

And we all feel badly about it.

I feel like this is VERY apropos to TABLE STATE 3 above and the present conversation.
 

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