Is "GM Agency" A Thing?

Status
Not open for further replies.

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'll add an example to illustrate my position.

Let's say that during the play it for some reason becomes important to know what gods, if any, northern ice orcs worship.

Some ways we can get this information are:
1) The GM decides.
2) The player decides.
3) A book tells us.

To me it is pretty clear that 1) gives the GM agency, 2) gives it to the player, whilst 3) really offers no meaningful agency to either. And I don't really think it much matters who reads the information from the book.
Who chooses which book is used and-or whether the decision will be deferred to a book - the GM, one or more players, or both combined?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

pemerton

Legend
I am actually quite surprised about you stance here. You have talked endlessly about how Story Now games allow greater player agency and one manifestation of this is that the players have greater freedom to introduce things in the shared fiction, such as having their chracters "remember" that tower of a named wizard exists and happens to be nearby. By your logic the exact same player agency would be attained if the player was handed the setting book and they were allowed to quote things from it to introduce into the shared fiction!
Where do you think the name "Evard" came from? I first learned of it in the mid-80s, from the original Unearthed Arcana. Although at the time, I would have been reminded of it by the revisiting of Evard in Heroes of Shadow.

I mean it is highly derivative and I prefer settings with more originality.
I use the Greyhawk maps to establish the large-scale setting. And the Torchbearer books to establish significant setting elements also (eg stock, spells, settlement types, Immortals).

In any case, it was inclusion of an named character that I found particularly jarring. Like there certainly can be human smugglers in Star Trek setting, but including one called Hans Solo flying Millennium Hawk would be rather bizarre.
Mixing Star Wars and Star Trek would seem odd. Mixing JRRT and the rather Tolkienesque approach to Elves and Dwarves that comes out of BWHQ (and Torchbearer follows this in respect of its Halflings) doesn't seem odd to me.
 

pemerton

Legend
I'll add an example to illustrate my position.

Let's say that during the play it for some reason becomes important to know what gods, if any, northern ice orcs worship.

Some ways we can get this information are:
1) The GM decides.
2) The player decides.
3) A book tells us.

To me it is pretty clear that 1) gives the GM agency, 2) gives it to the player, whilst 3) really offers no meaningful agency to either. And I don't really think it much matters who reads the information from the book.
Why do we need to know? What is at stake, and how was that established in the context of play? That will tell us who has agency in the situation.
 

Where do you think the name "Evard" came from? I first learned of it in the mid-80s, from the original Unearthed Arcana. Although at the time, I would have been reminded of it by the revisiting of Evard in Heroes of Shadow.
Yet you invented the location of the tower. But by your logic the agency had been the same if you had searched the location of the tower from canonical map and announced where someone else had put it on the map.

Why do we need to know? What is at stake, and how was that established in the context of play? That will tell us who has agency in the situation.
You're just kicking the can to avoid addressing the issue. It doesn't matter what exactly is being entered in the shared fiction, you can still use my three sources. So yes, the book can tell us that this is important. What then, who had the agency?
 

pemerton

Legend
Yet you invented the location of the tower. But by your logic the agency had been the same if you had searched the location of the tower from canonical map and announced where someone else had put it on the map.
This is exactly the sort of player-initiated content introduction that gets complained about in canon debates, isn't it? It seems to especially be an issue with FR, but maybe also Star Wars and Star Trek.
 

This is exactly the sort of player-initiated content introduction that gets complained about in canon debates, isn't it? It seems to especially be an issue with FR, but maybe also Star Wars and Star Trek.
No? I really have no idea what you're talking about.

You also are still avoiding the actual issue.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I'm wondering if it can be said that some acts of GM agency create player agency, potentially as a) opportunities that would not otherwise be constituted by the game system, b) enactments of rules in ways that optimise agency across players, including constructive denials of agency c) prompting of intentions that lead players to express their agency in ways they otherwise would not, including challenges to agency on some axes that forces players to develop agency along other axes.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
I think it matters how the game/group is approaching setting material. Is it inspirational or binding? I think if you take what you want from it and make changes to things that have not yet seen the table than it's not really system's say. If you take an approach to say running a game in the Forgotten Realms where a player may object to non-canon interpretations of a particular NPC or location than it is binding. The same can be said if a GM agrees to run a Pathfinder Adventure Path as the book lays out with minimal alterations. However, if they tailor it to the characters in play at the table, make alterations to encounters and change up some plot points that's not really treating it as binding.

In the Blades in the Dark game I played with @niklinna, @AbdulAlhazred and @kenada run by @Manbearcat my character was a dispossessed Iruvian noble left at the Wayward Souls orphanage as a young child. Throughout the game there were points where we had to establish details of how Iruvian society. We took elements from the U’Duasha section of Blades in the Dark Collector's Edition as inspiration for the details we established at the table but made some fairly substantial changes in order to propel the game in interesting thematic directions. That's the intended direction for how the game instructs you to treat its setting material, as inspirational rather than binding until it sees use at the table. John Harper refers to it as your Duskvol is not my Duskvol. That's fairly different in approach to some of the L5R and Vampire games I have been involved in both sides of the screen where observing the setting material as written was an expected part of the play experience.
 

I'm wondering if it can be said that some acts of GM agency create player agency, potentially as a) opportunities that would not otherwise be constituted by the game system, b) enactments of rules in ways that optimise agency across players, including constructive denials of agency c) prompting of intentions that lead players to express their agency in ways they otherwise would not, including challenges to agency on some axes that forces players to develop agency along other axes.

I think it matters how the game/group is approaching setting material. Is it inspirational or binding? I think if you take what you want from it and make changes to things that have not yet seen the table than it's not really system's say. If you take an approach to say running a game in the Forgotten Realms where a player may object to non-canon interpretations of a particular NPC or location than it is binding. The same can be said if a GM agrees to run a Pathfinder Adventure Path as the book lays out with minimal alterations. However, if they tailor it to the characters in play at the table, make alterations to encounters and change up some plot points that's not really treating it as binding.

In the Blades in the Dark game I played with @niklinna, @AbdulAlhazred and @kenada run by @Manbearcat my character was a dispossessed Iruvian noble left at the Wayward Souls orphanage as a young child. Throughout the game there were points where we had to establish details of how Iruvian society. We took elements from the U’Duasha section of Blades in the Dark Collector's Edition as inspiration for the details we established at the table but made some fairly substantial changes in order to propel the game in interesting thematic directions. That's the intended direction for how the game instructs you to treat its setting material, as inspirational rather than binding until it sees use at the table. John Harper refers to it as your Duskvol is not my Duskvol. That's fairly different in approach to some of the L5R and Vampire games I have been involved in both sides of the screen where observing the setting material as written was an expected part of the play experience.

So, I'm not going to use the term "agency" here @clearstream (for awhile I've been using the term "say" for system, GM, and player contribution as I find that is considerably easier to triangulate and discuss), but here is something I'll throw out about your (a) - (c) above.

In Story Now games, all participants have both discrete and overlapping responsibilities. GMs frame scenes and use the rules to do so and to give expression to the obstacles/strife/antagonism particular to the game in question. Players play protagonists and use the rules to give expression to their struggle, to their efforts, to their protagonism.

However, everyone needs to "stay frosty." Everyone needs to have their radar on high alert for a participant introducing stuff into the play space that provokes and can give rise to conflict whether that be strife internal to a particular PC, intraparty where one PC might be pitted against another, or PC(s) vs external antagonism. * GMs have to make decisions on that stuff and introduce content via scene framing, consequences, and give expression to antagonist agenda/motivations (like Faction or Setting Clocks in Blades). ** Players sometimes might say and do something through their PC like "yeah, I'm taking a stand here...what are you (another player through their PC) going to do about it(?)".

If you (a participant in the game) feels like your "say" is being negatively impacted because of one of the above, then you're not in the right headspace. That is not how you approach any participant provoking/challenging/aggressing your character. Your job is to (a) be aware, (b) be open and receptive (try hard to find a way to onboard this and make this provoking/challenging/aggressing moment interesting and impactful so we can all learn something about your character...this 100 % entails not having this super-narrow, evolved, and mature conception of your character early in the game...let the actual play do that evolving and maturing), and (c) , on the rare occasion you can't resolve things through (b), be solutions-oriented if the framing of the provocation/challenge/aggress feels like it needs a little bit of massaging to something that feels more engaging to you.

Players who are in the wrong headspace (who are either looking at play through the lens of "my character...my matured conception...the game should be about mapping this onto play rather than challenging/aggressing it" or who are looking at play exclusively as an optimization problem to resolve all stakes and conflict down to as close to zero as possible) might erroneously misperceive these games and these moments within these games as "agency-defying" or something. But that is totally missing the point of the games precisely because you're in the wrong headspace. Through the confluence of this sort of systemization of participant role, procedure, technique, and participant meta/headspace, a type of play and a type of "say" is afforded to the participants that they otherwise would not have available to them. But if you're in the wrong headspace, if you don't understand the rules/procedures (and that includes either disregarding key aspects of the game text rather than incorporating it), and/or aren't observing the play meta...then you're going to have a bad time. And that blind spot (of your own doing) might make you blame that bad time on the game or another participant (rather than taking upon the responsibility yourself).
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
So, I'm not going to use the term "agency" here @clearstream (for awhile I've been using the term "say" for system, GM, and player contribution as I find that is considerably easier to triangulate and discuss), but here is something I'll throw out about your (a) - (c) above.

In Story Now games, all participants have both discrete and overlapping responsibilities. GMs frame scenes and use the rules to do so and to give expression to the obstacles/strife/antagonism particular to the game in question. Players play protagonists and use the rules to give expression to their struggle, to their efforts, to their protagonism.

However, everyone needs to "stay frosty." Everyone needs to have their radar on high alert for a participant introducing stuff into the play space that provokes and can give rise to conflict whether that be strife internal to a particular PC, intraparty where one PC might be pitted against another, or PC(s) vs external antagonism. * GMs have to make decisions on that stuff and introduce content via scene framing, consequences, and give expression to antagonist agenda/motivations (like Faction or Setting Clocks in Blades). ** Players sometimes might say and do something through their PC like "yeah, I'm taking a stand here...what are you (another player through their PC) going to do about it(?)".

If you (a participant in the game) feels like your "say" is being negatively impacted because of one of the above, then you're not in the right headspace. That is not how you approach any participant provoking/challenging/aggressing your character. Your job is to (a) be aware, (b) be open and receptive (try hard to find a way to onboard this and make this provoking/challenging/aggressing moment interesting and impactful so we can all learn something about your character...this 100 % entails not having this super-narrow, evolved, and mature conception of your character early in the game...let the actual play do that evolving and maturing), and (c) , on the rare occasion you can't resolve things through (b), be solutions-oriented if the framing of the provocation/challenge/aggress feels like it needs a little bit of massaging to something that feels more engaging to you.

Players who are in the wrong headspace (who are either looking at play through the lens of "my character...my matured conception...the game should be about mapping this onto play rather than challenging/aggressing it" or who are looking at play exclusively as an optimization problem to resolve all stakes and conflict down to as close to zero as possible) might erroneously misperceive these games and these moments within these games as "agency-defying" or something. But that is totally missing the point of the games precisely because you're in the wrong headspace. Through the confluence of this sort of systemization of participant role, procedure, technique, and participant meta/headspace, a type of play and a type of "say" is afforded to the participants that they otherwise would not have available to them. But if you're in the wrong headspace, if you don't understand the rules/procedures (and that includes either disregarding key aspects of the game text rather than incorporating it), and/or aren't observing the play meta...then you're going to have a bad time. And that blind spot (of your own doing) might make you blame that bad time on the game or another participant (rather than taking upon the responsibility yourself).
Good post. It made me reflect that to say that game rules are constitutive is to say that they shape a space for agency.
 

Status
Not open for further replies.

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top