Dealing with agency and retcon (in semi sandbox)

Thomas Shey

Legend
Toss a coin and I'll tell you what happens allows someone's action to matter and to have meaningful consequences.

But it doesn't give that person agency over the game. All the decisions about what happens next are being made elsewhere.

Which is @hawkeyefan's point.

It is possible to have RPGing which has more agency than a blind coin toss, and that doesn't involve the players just making things up like "whose line is it anyway". But to talk about that sort of RPGing we need to talk about techniques, and systems, that go beyond state-of-the-art circa 1984.

I don't think it even does, honestly. As I noted, if I know the costs and benefits possible, have some way to be able to assess them, and can do things to put my thumb on the scale, I have a serious degree of agency, even if I can't walk away from the decision entirely. The less true that is, the less agency I have there.

That's why the old two-doors example is so agency free; until more options are provided to assess the doors, providing me those just makes me a human randomizer; there's nothing meaningful there in the way of agency. I don't know if the doors matter at all, and if I have reason to think they do, I might as well flip a coin myself. This can be changed by any number of elements in the situation, but those elements have to exist, and among other things, the greater degree of blind decision the GM wants, the less, in the end, they really want any meaningful agency.
 

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TheSword

Legend
This would be more relevant if the risks I was taking were more than a rounding error, and I knew that.

The problem with the examples you were using is that they're either well beyond a rounding error, or they're effectively zero, and the person doing them has no way to know which.

As such, again, they're a black box with no way to assess the risk involved.



Actually, if something I can't assess harms or helps me, I consider my agency in it effectively irrelevant too. Essentially, my decision making matter not at all. That's not agency in any meaningful way.



Depends on whether its completely deterministic or not. If it is, that destroys any meaningful agency just as much. If, on the other hand, it gives probabilities, that increase my agency; I can make assessment of value-to-risk that actually means something.



See above.




Its not the presence of risk that's the issue. Its the fact the risk is, effectively, blind, or at best, so broad strokes that there's no useful way to assess it beyond "there's some degree of indeterminate risk to gain here".
It’s very easy to signpost risk. That’s where GM tools like world building, foreshadowing, factions and rumours come in. Also if your world is internally consistent (easier with a single DM) then players can use logic to foresee risk. Foreseeing risk is a judgement call after all.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
It’s very easy to signpost risk. That’s where GM tools like world building, foreshadowing, factions and rumours come in. Also if your world is internally consistent (easier with a single DM) then players can use logic to foresee risk. Foreseeing risk is a judgement call after all.

The fact it is doesn't mean that all, or necessarily even most, GMs are good at doing so in any fashion that provides matter-of-degree.

After all, we're sometimes talking about about a hobby where people can't even agree to communicate clearly how hard the GM assumes it'll be to jump across a 5' gap. This is why I fundamentally roll my eyes at "natural language" as a method to do this; "natural language" only works if everyone is coming from the same place. If its something that is going to have a mechanical resolution, it needs to be explained in mechanical terms or it means nothing particularly useful.
 

TheSword

Legend
The fact it is doesn't mean that all, or necessarily even most, GMs are good at doing so in any fashion that provides matter-of-degree.

After all, we're sometimes talking about about a hobby where people can't even agree to communicate clearly how hard the GM assumes it'll be to jump across a 5' gap. This is why I fundamentally roll my eyes at "natural language" as a method to do this; "natural language" only works if everyone is coming from the same place. If its something that is going to have a mechanical resolution, it needs to be explained in mechanical terms or it means nothing particularly useful.
Don’t you just come up with a mechanical convention at your table? Does it actually matter provided you are consistent?

If plate armour grants AC 18 and a foe is in plate armour then the PC can deduce a potential range of AC. What is the virtue of giving them the exact number?
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Don’t you just come up with a mechanical convention at your table? Does it actually matter provided you are consistent?

If I believed people were often all that consistent, I'd probably agree with you. But a lot of situations are less clearly player-facing than your plate armor example. For example, what does the fact you're dealing with a large lizard tell you, when things like AC, hit points and damage (let alone special abilities) don't map to that description in any direct way? Has that description actually told them anything?
 

TheSword

Legend
If I believed people were often all that consistent, I'd probably agree with you. But a lot of situations are less clearly player-facing than your plate armor example. For example, what does the fact you're dealing with a large lizard tell you, when things like AC, hit points and damage (let alone special abilities) don't map to that description in any direct way? Has that description actually told them anything?
Why would all abilities map to description? I was always taught not to judge a book by its cover.

A large lizard could be a monitor lizard or it could be a dragon. Better descriptions are needed I think. I wouldn’t expect to get any more from that than I would a ‘tall man’ about a persons fighting ability. Now if he has the sash of a master of the Aldori fighting school and has numerous scars suggesting he can handle himself then we might be getting somewhere.

Part of the art of successful war is surprise. So how clearly a creature telegraphs its strengths and weaknesses is all part of the tactical element of the game. Probing attacks to test a creatures skill and further study. I personally love monster knowledge tropes like the Witcher and would allow players to recall information with knowledge checks.

I also think you can reveal more information with interaction. When a person misses I give a rough indication of how much. When a blow hits and deals damage I show the proportion of hp this removes. This allows people to make estimations.
 
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It's my view that agency in a game is a product of inviolable rules which players know and can rely on to achieve known goals.

Each of these elements are placed under considerable stress by a lot of rpg play, which typically:
  • does not treat rules as inviolable (for the GM)
  • features no reliability in resolution for key elements of gameplay and passes it all to the GM to resolve
  • assumes the GM will create ad-hoc resolution processes - with resultant lack of transparency for players
  • assumes the GM sets goals in secret
I'd suggest:
  • It's clear from many posts on these boards and the text of the games themselves that rules are assumed not to work or to need replacing, patching or wholesale improvising - always by the GM with no acknowledgement that transparency is required for informed decision-making, which is the bedrock of agency.
  • That 'I make an ability check and you narrate the outcome you think is appropriate' is not reliable resolution for achieving my goals. It's reliable resolution for achieving yours.
  • That the traditional game set-up - of 'hooks' and fetch-quests and NPCs who only co-operate once the PCs have done what they're told - is a way of endlessly concealing the GMs actual pre-authored goals for the character or group - until the 'big reveal' 90% of the way through 'the adventure'.
While all these elements can function together to produce fun, functional play, it is low agency play where player agency is ceded so the GM can pace the 'story' to create tension and unexpected plot reveals.

High agency rpg play, on the other hand, typically features;
  • No agreement that the GM / MC / narrator can unilaterally disregard the rules
  • Transparent rules and processes that offer guaranteed outcomes (good and bad)
  • Transparent goals for characters - often through authorship of them by the players
  • Faciliatation of that authorship through group creation of setting and/or situation such that character goals are given meaning and context by player choice, not secret GM backstory
 
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CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
i feel like there are currently three different judgements of what defines 'agency' right now:

-the player's actions have 'meaningful consequence' and effect on the world, though they don't need to know what those are going to be beforehand
-the players are capable of establishing 'the stakes' of their actions
-the players ought to know the consequences and the odds of success of available actions so they can make 'informed decisions'

if you think i've missed or misstated a definition please clearly state how you think it should be presented it in it's clearest basic phrasing when you reply
 

i feel like there are currently three different judgements of what defines 'agency' right now:

It's my view that agency in a game is a product of inviolable rules which players know and can rely on to achieve known goals.

The different judgements are purely the product of people wanting to (mis)represent minimal agency play as high agency play.

And your paraphrasing of my view was wholly insufficient. Quelle surprise.
 


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