Do Random Tables Reduce Player Agency?

Ondath

Hero
Sure. I was responding in the context of 150 posts of pretty good discussion around the details, so did not frame it based on the OP. That's my fault.
Apologies! I jumped in to the thread straight from the OP, so this one is really on me. Thanks for humouring me though!
 

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Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
Does one table represent more risk?

Can the player “choose” a table with less risk?

If so, agency is intact. It may not turn out how they predict. Maybe they roll 00 on one table and 01 on the other 🤷‍♂️

But they modified their chances. A patient asks for a more complete cure with a riskier surgery. Do they have less agency if there is a surgical error during the simpler procedure?

I don’t think outcome determines agency by itself. If the player “chooses” a low risk route but they were going to run into trouble either way (my dm notes say no matter what they are surprised and face the werewolf), they don’t have agency. Their choice does not matter.

It’s not outcome but the potential to change outcome that matters. Stuff does not always work out the way intended. But if my choice can change outcome agency is intact/present.
 

pemerton

Legend
If you think that the same encounter table for two roads is in bad faith
But it wouldn't be, would it, if the rolls on the "dangerous" road were made more frequently? Frequency of rolls would be one way of trying to give danger some mechanical expression.

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.
Sure. But as D&D is often played, I would expect the danger here to be a function of keyed areas of the map (eg traps) rather than random encounter rolls.

If the danger is being expressed by rolls, then again I would expect there to be some other variation for the dangerous path - eg more frequent wandering monster checks.

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
I'm not seeing the illusion here. The GM has made an encounter roll in advance (I think @Reynard flagged this upthread, and Lewis Pulsipher wrote about a version of this approach back in the late 70s, in White Dwarf), and noted the outcome.

But the GM has told the players that one road is more dangerous than the other; has implemented this via frequency of encounter checks; and has rolled those encounter checks in advance. The GM isn't pretending to the players that some different form of encounter determination is being used; hasn't manipulated the background fiction to negate a player choice; etc. So I'm not seeing the illusionism here.

That's not to say it's necessarily high agency play (see my posts on the first page for my thoughts on that). But pre-rolling of encounters doesn't make a difference in that respect.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
But it wouldn't be, would it, if the rolls on the "dangerous" road were made more frequently? Frequency of rolls would be one way of trying to give danger some mechanical expression.

Sure. But as D&D is often played, I would expect the danger here to be a function of keyed areas of the map (eg traps) rather than random encounter rolls.

If the danger is being expressed by rolls, then again I would expect there to be some other variation for the dangerous path - eg more frequent wandering monster checks.

I'm not seeing the illusion here. The GM has made an encounter roll in advance (I think @Reynard flagged this upthread, and Lewis Pulsipher wrote about a version of this approach back in the late 70s, in White Dwarf), and noted the outcome.

But the GM has told the players that one road is more dangerous than the other; has implemented this via frequency of encounter checks; and has rolled those encounter checks in advance. The GM isn't pretending to the players that some different form of encounter determination is being used; hasn't manipulated the background fiction to negate a player choice; etc. So I'm not seeing the illusionism here.

That's not to say it's necessarily high agency play (see my posts on the first page for my thoughts on that). But pre-rolling of encounters doesn't make a difference in that respect.
Just for clarity I was advocating rolling all the potential encounters at once after the players declare a route, just to have an opportunity to weave them into a more satisfying experience. It's only "in advance" by a smoke break.
 

pemerton

Legend
Just for clarity I was advocating rolling all the potential encounters at once after the players declare a route, just to have an opportunity to weave them into a more satisfying experience. It's only "in advance" by a smoke break.
Suppose that the rule for random encounters is this:

* The route/location chosen by the players determines the frequency of rolls;

* The GM is expected to make the rolls, and apply the results, independently of any other details about the players' choices;​

Then I don't see how it matters whether the GM makes the rolls in a 5 minute break after the players' declare their route, or well in advance as part of their prep.

Another approach would be to have (say) 10 dungeon level 1 encounters pre-rolled and prepared; and then as the wandering monster dice dictate, you choose the next encounter from the list.

This would contrast with, say, Torchbearer, where the rules (Scholar's Guide p 94) say the following:

The individual camp events leave a lot of room for interpretation. When something odd comes up, roll with it. It’s the game master’s job to call for tests or single out victims of calamity and sort through the chaos.

Some camp events will provide a small benefit or penalty. Be sure to color these results so that they mesh with the current events of the adventure.​

The actual event roll itself is also modified by the immediate context and player decisions. So in this case, there can't be rolling in advance.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Suppose that the rule for random encounters is this:

* The route/location chosen by the players determines the frequency of rolls;​
* The GM is expected to make the rolls, and apply the results, independently of any other details about the players' choices;​

Then I don't see how it matters whether the GM makes the rolls in a 5 minute break after the players' declare their route, or well in advance as part of their prep.

Another approach would be to have (say) 10 dungeon level 1 encounters pre-rolled and prepared; and then as the wandering monster dice dictate, you choose the next encounter from the list.

This would contrast with, say, Torchbearer, where the rules (Scholar's Guide p 94) say the following:

The individual camp events leave a lot of room for interpretation. When something odd comes up, roll with it. It’s the game master’s job to call for tests or single out victims of calamity and sort through the chaos.​
Some camp events will provide a small benefit or penalty. Be sure to color these results so that they mesh with the current events of the adventure.​

The actual event roll itself is also modified by the immediate context and player decisions. So in this case, there can't be rolling in advance.
There's nothing wrong with this approach, I just wouldn't do it this way because the energy at the table is integral to my process.
 

DrunkonDuty

he/him
Legend of the Five Rings (3e) uses random tables in their mass battle system that allow for some player agency.

I'll try to keep my explanation short.

There are 4 levels of "engagement" in a battle. These represent how much fighting is happening in a given time and place, from "not much" to "so this is it, we're going to die." As you can probably guess, different engagement results in different encounter tables to roll on. Players get to choose which engagement level they begin the battle in. They can then make skill rolls to move to different levels of engagement.

For my homebrew version (HERO System, of course) I've taken it further and allow the skill rolls to modify the results on the specific encounter tables. A character with decent tactics skill can almost dictate what they encounter in any given mass battle round. As an optional rule some encounters give modifiers to the army commander's own skill rolls for determining victory in the wider battle, so players can effect that if they wish.


Obviously this doesn't address broader questions of agency like "how'd the battle come to be?" and "why are the PCs involved in it?"
 

Suppose that the rule for random encounters is this:

* The route/location chosen by the players determines the frequency of rolls;​
* The GM is expected to make the rolls, and apply the results, independently of any other details about the players' choices;​

Then I don't see how it matters whether the GM makes the rolls in a 5 minute break after the players' declare their route, or well in advance as part of their prep.

Like I said earlier, if the roll is made way advance, then at least in theory the characters could learn what specific danger awaits them and prepare for it. That the players have such an additional option to me is higher agency.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
But it wouldn't be, would it, if the rolls on the "dangerous" road were made more frequently? Frequency of rolls would be one way of trying to give danger some mechanical expression.

Sure. But as D&D is often played, I would expect the danger here to be a function of keyed areas of the map (eg traps) rather than random encounter rolls.

If the danger is being expressed by rolls, then again I would expect there to be some other variation for the dangerous path - eg more frequent wandering monster checks.

I'm not seeing the illusion here. The GM has made an encounter roll in advance (I think @Reynard flagged this upthread, and Lewis Pulsipher wrote about a version of this approach back in the late 70s, in White Dwarf), and noted the outcome.

But the GM has told the players that one road is more dangerous than the other; has implemented this via frequency of encounter checks; and has rolled those encounter checks in advance. The GM isn't pretending to the players that some different form of encounter determination is being used; hasn't manipulated the background fiction to negate a player choice; etc. So I'm not seeing the illusionism here.

That's not to say it's necessarily high agency play (see my posts on the first page for my thoughts on that). But pre-rolling of encounters doesn't make a difference in that respect.
Rolling more frequently on the different roads means the paths have agency. It doesn't make the encounters not illusionism. If the first roll is a traveling merchant caravan, the second is a dragon, and the third is a band of mischievous pixies, what does it matter for illusionism whether the the encounters are all on the same day on the fast road, vs subsequent days on the slow road? The same rolls happen either way. It's not meaningfully different from if the GM is choosing those encounters and placing them on whichever path the players choose.

No, in the OP, which is what I was discussing, there is no mention of making rolls in advance. @Reynard later mentioned that that's how he runs things, and that if the PCs backtracked to the other road a different set of rolls would be made. And I agreed in my response that in that case, there's no illusionism. But that is not what was presented in the opening post, which is what I've been discussing.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If the danger is being expressed by rolls, then again I would expect there to be some other variation for the dangerous path - eg more frequent wandering monster checks.
Well, either that or there's two different tables, one for the "safe" areas and one for the "dangerous"; you roll just as often but rolling on the "safe" table isn't (usually) going to result in anything that offers much of a threat - say, 1-3 on a scale of 10 for danger, while rolling on the "dangerous" table usually produces something that's likely to make the characters sit up and pay attention - more in the 4-8 danger range.
 

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