Is "GM Agency" A Thing?

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pemerton

Legend
This literally does not make sense to me. How can they have high degree of authority while they're basically just quoting a book?
The book is not self-actualising! In the process of play of the RPG, it is the GM who is telling the players how things are.

I mean, the GM could be quoting their own pre-authored material and the structure of authority, as far as play of the RPG is concerned, would be identical!
 

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pemerton

Legend
to me it seems plainly obvious that a creative that is following even a loose script that someone else has written is excercising less agency than one that is making it all up from scratch.
I think it is pretty fundamental, if we are going to actually understand how RPGing works, to separate who authors stuff in the abstract from who makes stuff part of the shared fiction as part of the process of play.

When a player rolls up a Dwarf PC and calls that PC Gimli, they are of course borrowing from JRRT. When a player rolls up a paladin PC and decides that their paladin is on a quest to regain the sword that will unify the kingdom, they are of course borrowing from Arthurian legend and all the many authors (including JRRT) who have themselves borrowed from that material.

This shows us the players in question aren't fully original. But it doesn't have any bearing on the degree of agency they exercise as players of the RPG in question.

Likewise for the GM.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I don't think so, because the incentive structure is completely different. At the moment of decision, player's are invested in their characters and probably a bit immersed even if modern gaming theory says otherwise. Unless you have some countervailing pressure (e.g., some kind of reward point for failing, a stable of equally effective characters), a player's motivation is to be as successful as possible, whereas as a GM I'm thinking about how things will work in the long term.

That'd be more of an issue if I didn't think more players should be invested in the game as a whole, too. In addition, if most mechanical decisions are going to be precedential, I think a proper group is going to recognize that making the decision that serves them in the moment (and remember, it may not be serving more than one of them) will pretty quickly teach them to think about how they're going to feel when that decision comes back around.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
The less you expect the GM to make rulings, the more robust your ruleset needs to be. That doesn't necessarily mean "complicated" ("all actions have a 50% chance of success; flip a coin" is robust and simple) but it probably will.

I don't disagree. But then, I think non-robust systems are a problem no matter who or how frequently someone is making judgment calls.

As to "rule zero" coming down to consensus, I think in practice that is pretty much how it works in most groups. I know when I am playing a game with my long term group, corner cases are usually discussed at least briefly before we decide what to do about it. I will say that isn't the case if I am running a convention game, and I don't think it would work in that situation.

I lack your faith in this.

I think it is important to remember that "Rulings not rules" isn't there to empower the GM, it is there to facilitate play. If the GM can make a call, we don’t need to bring play to.a screeching halt to look up an obscure rule or Sage Advice or something. We can just keep playing.

Except, it also can end up damaging the ability of players to make decisions that make sense unless they're allowed to back out of decisions (and sometimes they have to back out past the current event), and its not like that doesn't slow things down, too.

Finally, in my experience most players don't want the GM's responsibilities. If they did, the would be GMing. I think many players would balk at being given responsibilities above and beyond running their PC. Half of them can't be bothered to do that with full attention.

Well, my own feeling is that players who aren't even engaged enough with the rules enough to judge if an ad-hoc decision is a good one are probably not engaged enough they're going to not be problems in other ways except with the most minimalist games--and since I'm not a fan of those, they aren't likely to be players I'm liable to find too amenable to play with anyway.

[Note the above is only regarding games with mechanics; such people can (though may not) be perfectly fine in freeform or semi-freeform environments like text roleplaying.]
 

pemerton

Legend
I see three possibilities, but if there's another way of looking at this I'm very interested:

GM Fiat: The player narrates a desired action and the GM simply decides if it works.
Middle Ground: The player narrates a desired action, which triggers a rule and a dice roll, but the GM sets the difficulty level
Strict Rules: The player narrates a desired action, and the system has both a rule and a difficult to cover that

My issue with the third option is that either the rules are vast and unwieldy, or fun scenarios that the players dream up are just not supported.
Apocalypse World is an example of your third option, has a pretty straightforward rules set (certainly neither vast nor unwieldy), supports every possible action declaration via its process of play, and is one of the most influential RPGs ever invented.

Some might see the middle hyrbrid option as a happy medium, but instead of combining the best parts I think it really combines the part disliked by both sides: it really is a kind of GM fiat, because the GM is free to pick either a really high or really low difficulty level. But then it still subjects it to RNG. Blah.

So I'd rather just acknowledge the at the GM gets to make these calls, and let the GM do so, with as little RNG as possible.
Given how you describe your "middle option" here, it seems that Burning Wheel, Torchbearer and even Classic Traveller are also examples of your third options (in none of them is the GM free to pick a really or high or really low difficult level irrespective of the fictional position as established in play).

None of those games is vast and unwieldy. I would recommend any of them in a heartbeat. The play that they generate is the exact opposite of Blah.

I see the GM not as "the person who drew the short straw and got tasked with implementing the rules" but "the person inviting us into their imaginary world". I'm perfectly happy to let the GM make arbitrary decisions that they feel bring that world to life.
That's a perfectly fine preference, thought it's not mine either as player or GM. But characterising as "Blah" approaches to RPGing that use a different method from the GM decides what happens next, and that give the players more agency than your preferred RPG experience, seems a little narrow to me.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Apocalypse World is an example of your third option, has a pretty straightforward rules set (certainly neither vast nor unwieldy), supports every possible action declaration via its process of play, and is one of the most influential RPGs ever invented.

I'm not sure it does actually describe his third option, at least in the sense he means it, because the output is quite as broad and needing interpretation as it is. PbtA doesn't seem to have any holes in it while being relatively rules light, but that's because very little of the mechanics does much lifting for you; it just produces a set of output buckets you fill to suit the situation (and of course more of that filling is done by players in many cases than in trad games).
 

pemerton

Legend
I'm not sure it does actually describe his third option, at least in the sense he means it
Well in that case @Bill Zebub's options don't cover the field - but my understanding is that they are intended to.

the output is quite as broad and needing interpretation as it is. PbtA doesn't seem to have any holes in it while being relatively rules light, but that's because very little of the mechanics does much lifting for you; it just produces a set of output buckets you fill to suit the situation
I am not purporting to speak for all PbtA games. I am talking about Apocalypse World. And I don't think what you say is accurate.

Eg if I go aggro, and succeed, either my victim does what I want or they suck up my threat (GM's choice). That doesn't need much interpretation.

If I read a situation, and succeed, I get to ask one of the questions, the GM provides me with an answer, and if I act on that answer I get +1 on my roll.

Etc.

I don't see how these are "output buckets" in a way that is any different from other resolution systems dealing with coercion, perception, etc.
 

pemerton

Legend
I just made some notes for an opening scene for my next Torchbearer session - the arrival of the adventuring friend of one of the PCs, the Elven ranger Glothfindel riding his horse Asfaloth.

In making my notes, I quickly reviewed how JRRT introduces Glorfindel in the Flight to the Ford (the last chapter of Book 1 of LotR). I was particularly interested in how he describes the bells and the hooves, and which it is that the Hobbits hear first.

In terms of names and tropes this is all highly derivative. That doesn't mean that JRRT is exercising agency (from the grave?) over my RPGing.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Well in that case @Bill Zebub's options don't cover the field - but my understanding is that they are intended to.

I just think if it did, his first statement would be pretty meaningless, given there are a number of trad games that are exhaustive in the same sense PbtA is; its just that all the output is handled by the GM and they're often even more undefined.

I am not purporting to speak for all PbtA games. I am talking about Apocalypse World. And I don't think what you say is accurate.

Eg if I go aggro, and succeed, either my victim does what I want or they suck up my threat (GM's choice). That doesn't need much interpretation.

I'd call simply that choice filling in the bucket (especially since the player has had to pre-fill his end before he started). It doesn't have to be completely open-ended for my statement to be true.

If I read a situation, and succeed, I get to ask one of the questions, the GM provides me with an answer, and if I act on that answer I get +1 on my roll.

Etc.

I don't see how these are "output buckets" in a way that is any different from other resolution systems dealing with coercion, perception, etc.

I think most of those are output buckets, too (maybe not perception since they're usually an output already extent before the roll is even made). The only time that's not true is when you have "If Y is made, X happens" (with X being a specific thing defined by the roll and the situation, not a participant). And of course that doesn't even get into the definition of the "consequence" in the "success with consequences" cases (I'm not misremembering that AW does those, am I?)
 

Bill Zebub

“It’s probably Matt Mercer’s fault.”
Well in that case @Bill Zebub's options don't cover the field - but my understanding is that they are intended to.

Yeah, PbtA is an interesting case. On the one hand it seems to cover everything because, by definition, anything that might possibly happen fits into one of the buckets. On the other hand, the rules don't really tell you what to do because, for an awful lot of those cases, they don't really tell you the outcome. Ok, so I either put the player "in a tight spot" or she "loses something of value". Now I have to invent what that means. So I'm really just improvising the outcome after all.

And if the player is the sort that wants to rules to define everything, so that the DM doesn't have too much power, there's a decent chance when I say, "Ok, you succeed, but you lose your grandmother's locket that you've had since you created the character" she is not going to like it.
 

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