I want my actions to matter

This comes up often in my games, and it came up on another thread here too.

When a player is asked what they want out of an RPG game, a very common answer many players give is that they "want their actions to matter". And, sure, as some blind general bomb throwing it does sound great. But how doe this work out in actual game play?

For example, one player says something like this "I want my actions to matter. That means that if I do something unexpected, the DM doesn't shut it down or just make it unimpactful if should have impact. Even if it's something the DM predicted might be done by me, let it still have the full impact that it should. It also means that if I wander away from a plot hook, it won't follow me and hook me against my will."

And sure, the above sound great. Except in game play where it does sound like the player just wants to be able to alter game reality on a whim. Of course, the player will snap back that is not what they mean. So, what DO they mean?

How does a DM "let a player do something unexpected" with out "shutting it down" or making it have "no impact". Assuming the player is being reasonable, they don't want to alter the game reality in their favor on a whim. So what do they want?

There is a vault full of gold, and the player wants to "unexpectedly" rob it. So, does the DM just say "your character now has a billion gold coins"? Because if the DM even says "well the vault is locked" then the player will whine they are being "shut down" by the DM.....right?

Another example player might say : "I want to make choices for my character that actually matter. My preference is a purely open-world sandbox. The players pick the direction and go, which direction they go actually matters. The players pick the quests, assignments, missions, etc. The players determine what they do, where they go, etc. I'm perfectly fine with the referee making the challenges difficult, opposition smart, etc but I'd rather read a novel if the referee is going to force feed us their precious story or linear plot."

It does sound great for the players to pick the quest, but once the players pick a path that does set a lot of things in the game.

Can anyone give me an example or two that make sense? How does a DM "allow a characters actions to matter" without just altering the game reality for the players whim and not even playing a game?
 

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Reynard

Legend
How does a DM "let a player do something unexpected" with out "shutting it down" or making it have "no impact". Assuming the player is being reasonable, they don't want to alter the game reality in their favor on a whim. So what do they want?

There is a vault full of gold, and the player wants to "unexpectedly" rob it. So, does the DM just say "your character now has a billion gold coins"? Because if the DM even says "well the vault is locked" then the player will whine they are being "shut down" by the DM.....right?
Actions in play are discrete things. "I want to unexpectedly rob the vault" is a statement of intent, not an action declaration. An action declaration is, "I want to spend a few days staking out hte bank where the vault is located." The GM then (maybe) asks for some checks and describes the outcome. When PCs do something, their action matter in the context of a shared narrative.
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Can anyone give me an example or two that make sense? How does a DM "allow a characters actions to matter" without just altering the game reality for the players whim and not even playing a game?
It seems to me that you're referring to the arguments from specific people, so the best answer is whatever those people would give.

That being said, if you tell a player, "this is a role-playing game. You can do whatever you want," that's going to set an expectation. Then there's the book, which usually says " you can do all these things! " Another expectation. Then the GM comes along and says (unfortunately), "no, you can't do that." Well, now it seems like the GM is being unfair.

So you walk a fine line between maintaining a consistent narrative and giving the PCs agency to affect that narrative/ game world.
 

Old Fezziwig

What this book presupposes is -- maybe he didn't?
I agree with everything that's been said in response to your question so far, but I do feel like I've had experiences where "I want my actions to matter" means different things. For some folks I've played with, it's meant "I want to do whatever I want," basically asking for sandbox-style play, while for others it's been "I want to reap the consequences of my actions," where they want the game's narrative to follow logically from preceding events. And some folks have wanted both.
 
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BookTenTiger

He / Him
You seem to be mixing up "my actions matter" with "not following the rules of the game." Players want their actions to matter within the rules of the game. If I'm playing rock-paper-scissors, I want to win, but I want to do so by beating my opponent's choice, not just by someone declaring I'm the winner.

Similarly, in an RPG I want to be able to make choices and take actions, and then use the ruleset of the game to resolve them. Let's take your heist as an example. If I find out that there's a vault with a billion coins in it, and I say "I want to rob the vault," what I'm communicating to the DM is that I want to use the rules of the game we are playing to attempt to rob that vault. If you're playing D&D, there are explicitly rules that allow you to do this- Stealth vs the guards' Perception, Dexterity Check using Thieves' Tools... Or just a good old fashioned Knock spell!

Let's say we're doing a sandbox game, and the characters see the ruins of a castle on the horizon. If I say, "I want to turn those ruins into my new fort," what I'm communicating is that through exploration, combat, finding and spending gold, and roleplaying, my characters wants to put in the work to turn the castle into his new fort. If the DM just said, "Okay, it's your fort," I'd feel shortchanged. I'm agreeing to play a game with rules that allow my actions to have meaning, and I want to use those rules to play the game. If the DM says, "No, you can't turn it into a fort because only Fighters get to do that," I also feel shortchanged because the DM isn't allowing my choices to have meaning.

However, let's say the DM says something like, "That sounds awesome, but it would require a really different campaign than we are playing right now." The DM is acknowledging my desire to turn the ruins into a fort, but we are agreeing to the kind of game we are playing, which may not allow those kinds of story choices. And that's alright.

Please note that "actions having meaning" and "whining" are two entirely different things, and not related at all. When you say "players will whine," you are really speaking down to people.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
thats why I love FATEs Aspects and advocate using them in DnD to allow Players to add discrete assets to the world that everyone can then interact with. It may take getting use to and require some creative negotiation between player and DM but I think they can really enhance game play and give the players a way to visualise their impact in a visceral manner
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Set expectations, check in frequently, and calibrate. That's the only thing that works for me and I've been playing with the same players for years. In my experience, many of the issues the OP discusses are not only issues with new groups. People change over time or they think that want, or want to try, "A" but as they play they find they actually prefer "B."

When I'm getting ready to start a new campaign, I throw out some ideas for game systems and campaign ideas. I explain the nature of the system, giving an overview of the rules. I describe the setting and tone. I discuss whether it is a very open ended sandbox or a whether it is heavily story driven, or even a bit of a rail road. As we play, we touch base, and ask ourselves, are we still having fun? Are we not feeling engaged by the story or would we like a bit more direction in our sandbox?

Also, I only run one long (8-hour) session once per month. So at the end of every session, I'll ask the party where they would like to go / what they are thinking of doing next. I generally have plenty of time to prepare for a change in direction. But during a session, if things go in a direction I'm not ready for, I simply state that fact. I don't get upset or blame the players, I just say, "guys, I'll need some time to prepare for this, I'm happy to do so, but either we'll need to end the session now or perhaps you can do somethings in what I have prepared based on last session and I'll be ready for the new area or change by the next session.

And, finally, I have no problem saying "hey, this isn't working for me. I'm not having fun running this campaign any more. Happy to run something different.". I'm too old and have too little time to be guilted into running something I don't enjoy or don't feel ready and comfortable to play. But, similarly, I realize my players are in the same boat. I don't lay blame or try to cajole them into playing what I want to run. I may be disappointed if I have to give up on something I am personally excited to run, but which isn't working for the players. Luckily, there are so many systems and settings that I'm excited to try that I'm fine scrapping a campaign and starting a new one‑-just give me a month to prepare. :)
 

mamba

Legend
Can anyone give me an example or two that make sense? How does a DM "allow a characters actions to matter" without just altering the game reality for the players whim and not even playing a game?
Your actions matter when your actions have consequences, so they obviously change the game world in some (small) way. When the player wants to do something unexpected, then the DM not shutting it down to me is simply the DM not saying 'no, you cannot do that' and deciding what it takes for this unexpected action to succeed. Have the player / char explain what they are doing, make a roll or something similar and decide the outcome. Obviously this is limited to things that make sense, the player / char cannot just wish for things to happen and they do.

If the player wants to rob a vault, then let them. By that I mean turn it into an adventure, have there be traps, guards, whatever else, and have the chars learn about the vault, stake it out, plan their heist and then attempt it, with the DM arbitrating how things are going. There is no guarantee of success, but there also should not be one of failure either, then you would have been better off saying 'you cannot do that'. Depending on the vault, the chances might be very slim and they can consider themselves lucky to make it out alive and without having been identified, as far as I am concerned.
 
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Actions in play are discrete things. "I want to unexpectedly rob the vault" is a statement of intent, not an action declaration. An action declaration is, "I want to spend a few days staking out hte bank where the vault is located." The GM then (maybe) asks for some checks and describes the outcome. When PCs do something, their action matter in the context of a shared narrative.
This does not seem to be what players are compiling about though. And this is still being too lost in the vagueness.

It's not a difficult concept. The players should have experiences that reflect their choices. If they set out to rob a bank they probably should not experience a game about politics and intrigue. The choices they make about how to go about robbing the bank should lead to different plausible paths. Maybe some choices lead to failing to rob the bank and that's OK.
Again, this sounds great as a vague statement....but what about game play?

Yea, the players want to rob a bank and the DM throws politics at them is an easy 'bad'.

It seems to me that you're referring to the arguments from specific people, so the best answer is whatever those people would give.
I typically have the problem that the player/person will refuse to speak with me. And the few that do get stuck on the vague concepts that don't really make for a conversation.

That being said, if you tell a player, "this is a role-playing game. You can do whatever you want," that's going to set an expectation. Then there's the book, which usually says " you can do all these things! " Another expectation. Then the GM comes along and says (unfortunately), "no, you can't do that." Well, now it seems like the GM is being unfair.
This is a bit of a false thing players think out of context. Sure in an RPG you can do anything, in a vague sense. But when you get down to the game play level of an active game the player can't just alter reality on a whim and 'win' the game. That would not even be a game.

Similarly, in an RPG I want to be able to make choices and take actions, and then use the ruleset of the game to resolve them. Let's take your heist as an example. If I find out that there's a vault with a billion coins in it, and I say "I want to rob the vault," what I'm communicating to the DM is that I want to use the rules of the game we are playing to attempt to rob that vault. If you're playing D&D, there are explicitly rules that allow you to do this- Stealth vs the guards' Perception, Dexterity Check using Thieves' Tools... Or just a good old fashioned Knock spell!
Yea, this is the Video Game Problem. The player walks up to the vault and wants to "roll stealth" and get past the guards. So when I explain that the hallway is bare with nothing but the door and the guards, the player gets upset they can't just "roll stealth".


Let's say we're doing a sandbox game, and the characters see the ruins of a castle on the horizon. If I say, "I want to turn those ruins into my new fort," what I'm communicating is that through exploration, combat, finding and spending gold, and roleplaying, my characters wants to put in the work to turn the castle into his new fort. If the DM just said, "Okay, it's your fort," I'd feel shortchanged. I'm agreeing to play a game with rules that allow my actions to have meaning, and I want to use those rules to play the game. If the DM says, "No, you can't turn it into a fort because only Fighters get to do that," I also feel shortchanged because the DM isn't allowing my choices to have meaning.
This sounds great in the vague way. However, when the player has their character wander into the nearby town they get all upset they can't just "hire a massive construction crew" to rebuild the castle. And they get upset the town does not have 20,000 stone blocks at Wal Mart (haha) that they can "just buy" and put on their single wagon.

However, let's say the DM says something like, "That sounds awesome, but it would require a really different campaign than we are playing right now." The DM is acknowledging my desire to turn the ruins into a fort, but we are agreeing to the kind of game we are playing, which may not allow those kinds of story choices. And that's alright.

Please note that "actions having meaning" and "whining" are two entirely different things, and not related at all. When you say "players will whine," you are really speaking down to people.
I say that a lot.

I don't see much difference.

If the player wants to rob a vault, then let them. By that I mean turn it into an adventure, have there be traps, guards, whatever else, and have the chars learn about the vault, stake it out, plan their heist and then attempt it, with the DM arbitrating how things are going. There is no guarantee of success, but there also should not be one of failure, then you would have been better off saying 'you cannot do that'. Depending on the vault, the chances might be very slim and they can consider themselves lucky to make it out alive and without having been identified, as far as I am concerned.
I'm on board to "turn anything into an adventure". But many players are not.

The adventure starts, and the players accept to quest. Then, suddenly at random they decide to rob the gambling house where the adventure started. I don't care, so they "try". They quickly find out the vault is guarded and protected by all sorts of tricks, traps and security. A lot like a typical real world vault. And the vault has no huge easy way in...like an unlocked back door (Yuk Yuk). And the players can't even just 'roll stealth' past the guard dogs.

So the players with their default "stumble around" style find it "impossible" to rob the vault. And this is where the "I want my actions to matter whine starts".
 

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