Do Random Tables Reduce Player Agency?

pemerton

Legend
I don't think that random tables inherently rob players of agency. They are arguably a form of illusionism
I GMed a session of Torchbearer yesterday. I made 8 rolls on random tables:

*Town Event roll
*Weather roll x2
*Trouble on the Road roll x2
*Camp Event roll x2
*Loot Table 1 (which sent me to the Gear subtable, which in turn sent me to the Vessels subtable)​

There was no illusionism. Each time I rolled on the table, it was in accordance with the relevant rules (for Town Phase, Journeying and Camp Phase, and for Loot), I told the players I was rolling, I applied the appropriate modifiers (which I explained to the players), I told them the result of the roll (and some probably could see my dice).

In every case but one, I then read the appropriate result off the table in question. We then applied the result as made sense given the established fiction; anyone who is interested can read the details and context here.

The one exception to the first sentence of the previous paragraph was the Loot roll - I didn't tell them what the outcome was until a few minutes later, when the PCs arrived at the Tower from which they had driven off the bandits, to see the water barrel that the bandits had left behind. At that point, I told the players that the barrel was their loot.

The referee controls literally everything except the PCs, so saying the referee has no agency is a real WTF moment.
This thread is in RPG general. Obviously what you say here isn't true of many RPGs. Eg in the Torchbearer session I mentioned just above the PCs were ambushed by bandits trying to drive them off; but I lost the conflict, with no compromise owed to the players, and so the PCs drove off the ambushing bandits. Having decided to frame a bandit ambush, I did not then get to decide what happens next without regard to the conflict resolution rules.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
I GMed a session of Torchbearer yesterday. I made 8 rolls on random tables:

*Town Event roll​
*Weather roll x2​
*Trouble on the Road roll x2​
*Camp Event roll x2​
*Loot Table 1 (which sent me to the Gear subtable, which in turn sent me to the Vessels subtable)​

There was no illusionism. Each time I rolled on the table, it was in accordance with the relevant rules (for Town Phase, Journeying and Camp Phase, and for Loot), I told the players I was rolling, I applied the appropriate modifiers (which I explained to the players), I told them the result of the roll (and some probably could see my dice).

In every case but one, I then read the appropriate result off the table in question. We then applied the result as made sense given the established fiction; anyone who is interested can read the details and context here.

The one exception to the first sentence of the previous paragraph was the Loot roll - I didn't tell them what the outcome was until a few minutes later, when the PCs arrived at the Tower from which they had driven off the bandits, to see the water barrel that the bandits had left behind. At that point, I told the players that the barrel was their loot.
It may not have been. I don't have enough information from your description of the session to infer whether it was or was not.

The pertinent question is, had the players made different choices, would you have made those rolls on those same tables? If yes, then I would argue that it was in fact illusionism (although, as I said in the part you clipped, a useful and accepted form thereof). If not, then it wasn't.

I was primarily discussing such random rolls in the context of the OP. Certainly, not every random roll made at the table is illusionism. But if we have two roads (fast and slow) and irrespective of the players' choice between them the GM rolls on the same table for encounters, then that's arguably just as much illusionism as if the DM had pregenerated a single string of encounters and simply had them occur on whichever road the players picked. The difference being that IMO the players are a lot less likely to feel that their choice has been invalidated in the former case than the latter, assuming they know of it. The former case is generally better accepted.
 

Reynard

Legend
But if we have two roads (fast and slow) and irrespective of the players' choice between them the GM rolls on the same table for encounters, then that's arguably just as much illusionism as if the DM had pregenerated a single string of encounters and simply had them occur on whichever road the players picked.
Under what circumstances would that make sense, with the established truth that there is a difference between the two routes?
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Under what circumstances would that make sense, with the established truth that there is a difference between the two routes?
If you refer back to the post that @pemerton quoted, you'll see that I said that players have agency, because the two roads do present a valid choice (fast but dangerous vs slow and safer). But if you get to the first area to roll a random encounter and you roll, I think it's fair to say that you would've rolled the same encounter regardless of which road they picked, hence I do think it qualifies as illusionism (albeit, as I've said, not the negative kind of illusionism that we usually discuss, but rather a useful and accepted form thereof). The paths allow for agency, but the encounters themselves would arguably be the same irrespective of the path chosen.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Is the goal for characters to have more agency in the fictional world than we do on the real one?

If you have to have perfect information in game to have agency, having agency is going to mean a boring rpg exploration/combat game.

We all “take our chances.” If we go through the troll moors, we know there are trolls there and it’s dangerous. If we take the high road, we suspect we will there after you.

If random die rolls make it the other way around, sh*t happens. It’s like going into combat thinking we have the upper hand and getting shafted by rolls. We knew odds were in our favor but also knew odds don’t tell us what will actually happen.

Random table, random d20, arrow from another part of the battlefield…we make choices fighting and traveling factoring in uncertainty. Looked good on paper…

We have effected the story with our choice. Does not always have the exact effect I wanted.
 

Reynard

Legend
If you refer back to the post that @pemerton quoted, you'll see that I said that players have agency, because the two roads do present a valid choice (fast but dangerous vs slow and safer). But if you get to the first area to roll a random encounter and you roll, I think it's fair to say that you would've rolled the same encounter regardless of which road they picked, hence I do think it qualifies as illusionism (albeit, as I've said, not the negative kind of illusionism that we usually discuss, but rather a useful and accepted form thereof). The paths allow for agency, but the encounters themselves would arguably be the same irrespective of the path chosen.
But why would they? Why wouldn't the dangerous swamp road have different potential encounters than the patrolled King's Road? It seems a very flawed premise to suggest the only difference would be the number of checks rather than what the potential outcomes are.
 


pemerton

Legend
It may not have been. I don't have enough information from your description of the session to infer whether it was or was not.

The pertinent question is, had the players made different choices, would you have made those rolls on those same tables? If yes, then I would argue that it was in fact illusionism (although, as I said in the part you clipped, a useful and accepted form thereof). If not, then it wasn't.
I rolled on the tables as the rules dictate. If the players had not entered Town Phase, no Town Event roll would have been made. Had they not entered Camp Phase, not Camp Event roll would have been made. Had they not beaten off the bandits who ambushed them, no Loot roll would have been made.

The rolls are triggered by particular sorts of events, which in turn flow from particular sorts of player action declarations.

In classic dungeoncrawling, the GM typically doesn't advertise their rolls on wandering monster tables, but these aren't illusionistic either. The players know that X turns of activity will produce a wandering monster roll, and by choosing to spend time, or not, on various things can pursue a balance between the benefits of exploration and the risk of wanderers.

I was primarily discussing such random rolls in the context of the OP. Certainly, not every random roll made at the table is illusionism. But if we have two roads (fast and slow) and irrespective of the players' choice between them the GM rolls on the same table for encounters, then that's arguably just as much illusionism as if the DM had pregenerated a single string of encounters and simply had them occur on whichever road the players picked.
If the GM makes the same rolls at the same rate, regardless of whether the players have their PCs choose the "dangerous" or the "safer" road, that does suggest illusionism, and also more generally a very casual approach to the relationship between colour/flavour and actual methods of framing situations.

if you get to the first area to roll a random encounter and you roll, I think it's fair to say that you would've rolled the same encounter regardless of which road they picked, hence I do think it qualifies as illusionism (albeit, as I've said, not the negative kind of illusionism that we usually discuss, but rather a useful and accepted form thereof). The paths allow for agency, but the encounters themselves would arguably be the same irrespective of the path chosen.
But if danger is reflected by more frequent encounter checks, then the first encounter on the "dangerous" road will occur sooner, in terms of ingame time.

As I discussed in a series of posts on the first page of the thread, the players may or may not have agency in this situation - but if illusionism is involved, it wouldn't be in the fact that the same encounter table is being used, assuming that the "danger" does, indeed, produce more frequent checks.
 

pemerton

Legend
Is the goal for characters to have more agency in the fictional world than we do on the real one?
The thread is about the actual agency that actual people - participants in a game - enjoy in their play of the game. Eg is it more like chess, or more like snakes and ladders?

It's not about the imaginary agency that imaginary people - characters in a fiction - enjoy in their imaginary world.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
The thread is about the actual agency that actual people - participants in a game - enjoy in their play of the game. Eg is it more like chess, or more like snakes and ladders?

It's not about the imaginary agency that imaginary people - characters in a fiction - enjoy in their imaginary world.
Understood.

However, when we have dice there is always some chutes and ladders.

My point is that is always the case in and out of game and I did not explain that well.

D&D is rarely a perfect information game. If that is required for agency, D&D players never have agency.

On that point I would disagree. Mitigating randomness is enough for me to say there is agency even if it did not work out.
 

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