Do Random Tables Reduce Player Agency?

Reynard

Legend
I had a thought and couldn't find an appropriate existing thread.

Does the use of random tables in play reduce player agency in gameplay? I am specifically talking about generative tables used to provide inspiration or even outright game elements to the GM when the PCs explore an otherwise undefined area.

Allow me to use an example: the PCs are heading from Southron to Northlund and can choose to take either the long but safe road or the faster but more dangerous road. Importantly, they don't know the mechanics behind those two road choices.

The rules (GM developed or otherwise) say that the chances of a negative encounter are double on the fast road -- but literally nothing else is defined before rolling.

If the PCs only have the barest information about potential difficulties -- thd fast road is "more dangerous" whatever that means-- are they being robbed of agency specifically as compared to a more carefully crafted route and potential dangers?

Let's assume that the description given to the PCs is equivalent, but yhe potential table roll results are much more varied from a challenge perspective than the designed routes.

What do you think?
 

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Reynard

Legend
Though seriously, I see "player agency" in the freedom to make an action declaration: action resolution can be well outside of one's control still, though success should st least be possible.
The reason I asked is that some definitions of "player agency" demand a certain level of understanding potential outcomes. I am curious where that line is for folks.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
The reason I asked is that some definitions of "player agency" demand a certain level of understanding potential outcomes. I am curious where that line is for folks.
I mean, I'm sure that works for some games: but I fail to see how one necessitates the other. I have agency in my life, but I'll be darned if I understand all the potential outcomes of my actions.
 

pemerton

Legend
I had a thought and couldn't find an appropriate existing thread.

Does the use of random tables in play reduce player agency in gameplay? I am specifically talking about generative tables used to provide inspiration or even outright game elements to the GM when the PCs explore an otherwise undefined area.
It depends, doesn't it?

For instance:

Allow me to use an example: the PCs are heading from Southron to Northlund and can choose to take either the long but safe road or the faster but more dangerous road. Importantly, they don't know the mechanics behind those two road choices.

The rules (GM developed or otherwise) say that the chances of a negative encounter are double on the fast road -- but literally nothing else is defined before rolling.

If the PCs only have the barest information about potential difficulties -- thd fast road is "more dangerous" whatever that means-- are they being robbed of agency specifically as compared to a more carefully crafted route and potential dangers?
In this case, it seems to make no difference which road the players choose - they can travel (let's say) twice as fast, for twice the chance of encounters, for no net practical difference. So it all seems like mere colour.

If in fact the expected setbacks are meaningfully different for the two choices, then the players seem to simply have to solve an optimisation problem with incomplete information. I'm not sure that that is very connected to agency.

The real questions about agency, in this example, are Why have the players chosen to have their PCs go from Southron to Northlund? and Why does it matter how long this takes?
 



MGibster

Legend
If the PCs only have the barest information about potential difficulties -- thd fast road is "more dangerous" whatever that means-- are they being robbed of agency specifically as compared to a more carefully crafted route and potential dangers?
I don't see how this scenario robs the players of agency. To me, agency is all about making meaningful choices and you don't need perfect knowledge to make a meaningful choice. The PCs understand that the fast route is the most dangerous route. i.e. They get to make a meaningful choice even if they don't have perfect knowledge of what might happen.
 

pemerton

Legend
It seems like if the desire is for the players to make informed choices, they should be made aware of the mechanics of them.
It also seems that, if the goal is for the players to make rational choices with partial information, then we should be upfront about that. We can then talk about when, as a player, it makes sense to apply (say) maximin rather than maximisation of expected utility.

In the example of taking the fast road, a particularly salient question is what happens if the PCs are slow? In a lot of RPGing that is entirely subject to the GM's control, and is partly and perhaps largely hidden from the players at the time of their decision-making. So part of the issue in applying maximin is not knowing the possible payoffs - eg there is "danger" on this fast road, but there is "bad stuff that will happen* if we arrive too late. It's not really possible to reason rationally about that. Which again means that from the player perspective it just seems like it's all colour, and hence agency isn't really a relevant consideration.
 

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