Do Random Tables Reduce Player Agency?

Fanaelialae

Legend
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.

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.

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.
Yes, I wasn't implying that your game rolls were illusionism, or that all random rolls are. I was talking about the scenario in the OP (and assuming that the same encounter table was used for both roads).

If you think that the same encounter table for two roads is in bad faith, let's use the scenario of a small dungeon with only one faction, where you are faced with the choice to go left or right, and based on the information (maybe a partial map left by a dead adventurer) you can determine that one path is short but dangerous and the other is longer but safer. IMO, a single encounter table for a small, singe-faction dungeon is reasonable.

I don't think that time is really a factor. If the DM decides that regardless of which road the PCs take the next encounter is a red dragon, it's still illusionism even if the encounter takes place on Day 1 for the fast road and Day 2 for the slow road. All that means is that their choice of route had (some) agency. The encounter itself is illusionism, despite the choice of route having agency. IMO, this also applies if instead of simply deciding on the red dragon, the DM rolls on the same table at the respective time interval for either road. Presumably, the rolls would have been the same for either path, unless we want to get philosophical and question whether the players' choice alters the quantum state of our universe, thereby resulting in different outcomes for the rolls in the two hypothetical timelines. But I'd rather not go there.
 

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Ondath

Hero
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?
I think there's a distinction to be made.

In principle, I don't think random tables limit player agency at all. If anything, they limit GM fiat by tying their hands to the constraints of the table. If the table is good at achieving verisimilitude in terms of the content it generates (e.g. the random encounter table really gives the impression that the region is a believable, dangerous wildland area), then the random tables actually enhance the players' agency, by making them think as people actually living in the world, by immersing themselves in the world's logic.

But the example you gave is a loaded one. In it, the tables do not interact with the immersive elements of the game at all (no signs about the encounters you can get, no way to find out more info etc.). They simply force the players to suffer the consequences of RNG. But that's not because they're tables, that's because they're bad tables.
 

Reynard

Legend
I think there's a distinction to be made.

In principle, I don't think random tables limit player agency at all. If anything, they limit GM fiat by tying their hands to the constraints of the table. If the table is good at achieving verisimilitude in terms of the content it generates (e.g. the random encounter table really gives the impression that the region is a believable, dangerous wildland area), then the random tables actually enhance the players' agency, by making them think as people actually living in the world, by immersing themselves in the world's logic.

But the example you gave is a loaded one. In it, the tables do not interact with the immersive elements of the game at all (no signs about the encounters you can get, no way to find out more info etc.). They simply force the players to suffer the consequences of RNG. But that's not because they're tables, that's because they're bad tables.
I mean, the tables don't exist. They are hypothetical. Hell, how and when you roll on them is also totally hypothetical. You can't say anything about how they potentially "interact with the immersive elements of the game" and so I am not sure how you are coming to the conclusion that yes agency has been reduced, but by the "bad" tables. Maybe I am missing something, tho.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I mean, the tables don't exist. They are hypothetical. Hell, how and when you roll on them is also totally hypothetical. You can't say anything about how they potentially "interact with the immersive elements of the game" and so I am not sure how you are coming to the conclusion that yes agency has been reduced, but by the "bad" tables. Maybe I am missing something, tho.
I think you need to know something about the tables and how they interact with the region they apply to in order to provide an accurate answer. Otherwise, as was said above the principle doesn't reduce agency, but the application might.
 

Reynard

Legend
I think you need to know something about the tables and how they interact with the region they apply to in order to provide an accurate answer. Otherwise, as was said above the principle doesn't reduce agency, but the application might.
I think this is the information issue we were talking about earlier in the thread. if the players know that the tables reflect the environment and risk, then they have more information than if they can't be certain of that, and hence more agency in the choice of which road to take. And because we are talking about player and not character agency, some information about the mechanics (how many rolls are made, for example, or what the chances of an encounter are) also contribute to agency.

I don't think that it is particularly helpful to the discuss or even particularly interesting to try and undermine the premise with arguments against theoretical tables.
 

Ondath

Hero
I mean, the tables don't exist. They are hypothetical. Hell, how and when you roll on them is also totally hypothetical. You can't say anything about how they potentially "interact with the immersive elements of the game" and so I am not sure how you are coming to the conclusion that yes agency has been reduced, but by the "bad" tables. Maybe I am missing something, tho.
On top of what @Micah Sweet said, there are a few things that to me read like assumptions even if the actual tables themselves don't exist. Namely:

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
These made me think like the players have absolutely no way of knowing what the tables contain or how they work besides "The RNG for Road 2 has more dangerous results". When defined in this way, the tables obviously rob the players of agency - it's like doing a randomised Pokemon run - you just don't know if the patch of grass you're walking on contains a Pikachu or a Mewtwo. That's bad design, and it takes away agency. It doesn't give me an option to choose besides "Try to force the RNG to get you good results", and some people are into that (people do Randomised Nuzlockes all the time, and even then the players are well versed with Pokemon stats and they try to build times through their system mastery), but I don't think it makes for good TTRPG.

However, compare these to, say, the Region Encounter Tables in Level Up. There, the kind of things you might encounter are determined by the Region's type, and the system (notably through the Monstrous Menagerie book) actively encourages the DM to add more in-universe knowledge about what the encounters might involve (each monster has a Signs table for their Monstrous Menagerie entry, for instance, so that the DM can telegraph what kind of encounters populate each table). This kind of random encounter table would give the players options to strategise around, and the tables actually constrain DM fiat by being divided around Tiers - so a GM who is faithful to the tables won't drop an Adult Green Dragon on their Tier 1 party. By constraining the GM this way, the tables also increase player agency since they know the limits of what the GM can put in front of them - and strategise accordingly.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I think this is the information issue we were talking about earlier in the thread. if the players know that the tables reflect the environment and risk, then they have more information than if they can't be certain of that, and hence more agency in the choice of which road to take. And because we are talking about player and not character agency, some information about the mechanics (how many rolls are made, for example, or what the chances of an encounter are) also contribute to agency.

I don't think that it is particularly helpful to the discuss or even particularly interesting to try and undermine the premise with arguments against theoretical tables.
I really disagree. How can the relevance of the tables to the region they're potentially traveling through not be relevant to the agency the players have in this situation? If the players trust that the DM will use a fair method of encounter determination based on the terrain, climate, and danger level of the region, and those factors don't change for out-of-setting reasons (like which way the PCs actually go), then the information is potentially available for the players to make a decision that matters, which equals agency.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
On top of what @Micah Sweet said, there are a few things that to me read like assumptions even if the actual tables themselves don't exist. Namely:


These made me think like the players have absolutely no way of knowing what the tables contain or how they work besides "The RNG for Road 2 has more dangerous results". When defined in this way, the tables obviously rob the players of agency - it's like doing a randomised Pokemon run - you just don't know if the patch of grass you're walking on contains a Pikachu or a Mewtwo. That's bad design, and it takes away agency. It doesn't give me an option to choose besides "Try to force the RNG to get you good results", and some people are into that (people do Randomised Nuzlockes all the time, and even then the players are well versed with Pokemon stats and they try to build times through their system mastery), but I don't think it makes for good TTRPG.

However, compare these to, say, the Region Encounter Tables in Level Up. There, the kind of things you might encounter are determined by the Region's type, and the system (notably through the Monstrous Menagerie book) actively encourages the DM to add more in-universe knowledge about what the encounters might involve (each monster has a Signs table for their Monstrous Menagerie entry, for instance, so that the DM can telegraph what kind of encounters populate each table). This kind of random encounter table would give the players options to strategise around, and the tables actually constrain DM fiat by being divided around Tiers - so a GM who is faithful to the tables won't drop an Adult Green Dragon on their Tier 1 party. By constraining the GM this way, the tables also increase player agency since they know the limits of what the GM can put in front of them - and strategise accordingly.
Level Up does this right in so many ways. It is the  best 5e.
 


Reynard

Legend
I really disagree. How can the relevance of the tables to the region they're potentially traveling through not be relevant to the agency the players have in this situation? If the players trust that the DM will use a fair method of encounter determination based on the terrain, climate, and danger level of the region, and those factors don't change for out-of-setting reasons (like which way the PCs actually go), then the information is potentially available for the players to make a decision that matters, which equals agency.
Isn't that what I said in the post you quoted?
 

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