Is "GM Agency" A Thing?

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Victoria Rules
That's ... not what the example was. The PC's kill the emperor and the DM decides that a civil war occurs. I'm just using the example given.
As it was my example, I should perhaps clarify some context.

The PCs' original mission in that realm was to, if they could, knock off the evil Emperor; widely (and correctly) assumed to be a lich. Some of the same party had recently finished a version of the Slavers series and had met the various slave lords while largely busting up their slaving operation, so now there's a bunch of deposed and scattered slave lords looking for trouble.

Party goes in, and against some rather long odds does in fact manage to knock off the lich Emperor. Thinking it a job well done, they go home and then carry on to other adventures elsewhere, completely ignoring what they left behind them. Meanwhile, the deposed slave lords (each of whom already has a power base in or near this nasty land) plus another powerful NPC, all see an opportunity: there's an empire waiting to be taken. Negotiations between these parties weren't going to go anywhere to start with, thus civil war would erupt unless interrupted. It wasn't interrupted. A 5-way civil war followed.

How did I determine all this? A combination of random rolls plus knowledge of the personalities of the various leaders (mostly ex-slave lords).

The next time any PCs (only a few of whom were in any of the Slavers series) visited that land the war was well underway, providing a quite different backdrop from when anyone was there before. Since then assorted PCs have fought in one of the armies, spent some time as welcome guests in the camp of another, knocked off the leader of a third (not that it helped any), and had peaceful dealings with soldiers of several. A party on an unrelated mission following up on Slavers, a year or so later, also unintentionally busted up a peace conference where the five leaders were trying to come to some sort of agreement - oops - leading to the murder of one of the army leaders shortly followed by the disbanding of her army; so now it's a 4-way war.

Since then that war has largely faded into the background, though it's still ongoing and snippets of news occasionally arrive elsewhere; and play has moved fairly far away from that land.
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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
(1) What is the tightly defined premise of Burning Wheel? Or even Apocalypse World?

(2) So I sit down at @Micah Sweet's table, or your table, and my goal is to liberate my ancestral homeland of Auxol, drawing in part on my status as the last knight of the Iron Tower. How does that fit with GM ownership of the setting?
Did we talk about that goal prior to the beginning of the game? If so, Auxol likely exists somewhere in the setting, as does the Iron Tower. Liberating it is thus entirely within your grasp as a PC, at least potentially.

I'm flexible. I just want to talk to you before you drop into the campaign fully formed.


Victoria Rules
(2) So I sit down at @Micah Sweet's table, or your table, and my goal is to liberate my ancestral homeland of Auxol, drawing in part on my status as the last knight of the Iron Tower. How does that fit with GM ownership of the setting?
Poorly. Or, well, maybe not so poorly in some ways. :)

OK, maybe I can fit Auxol in there somewhere (though I'd be bloody annoyed if it meant I had to redraw any maps, as those things take me forever!); and adding mention of an ancient (and largely vanished) order of knights to the setting's history is a fairly trivial bit of work. I'd very likely be more than happy with the knight-order idea, in fact.

But - how do you square being the last knight of the order (implying you've already got considerable experience in knight-ing) with being a raw 1st-level character along with all the others just starting the campaign? I think that might be where your initial idea might fall down.

That said, reskinning your character as the son or daughter of the last knight, just starting your adventuring career with an eye to later taking up that we're talking!
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First, many, if not most DMs do not have the "My way or the highway mentality" and will work with players within reason. The DM has to have fun, too, so the game can't change too drastically or the DM won't have fun and you won't have that person DM.
As a Great Highwayman Robber Baron myself, that will kick a player out "to game with me forever more!", even I work with the good players.

Second, a lot of players don't want more authority. I've tried several different ways over multiple campaigns to get my players more invested in having more control over the game. They pretty much refused to use it so I've given up on it at this point. That's not to say that they are not opinionated about how the game should be run. They just want me to do the running.
Very true.

If the situation changes when the players explore it - which is pretty much the core of the "living, breathing world" - then the players lose their agency.
It does seem odd that your saying for players to have 'player agency' the style must be the Interactive World Stasis type game. With everything in the game world frozen in time \, just like a video game.
A core feature of the map-and-keyed dungeon, which makes it amenable to game play, is that it is relatively static. So you an scout, make plans, retreat, change your spell and gear loadout, and then come back and undertake your raid. This is the approach to play that Gygax sets out in his PHB, but that he then starts to undercut with his advice to GMs in his DMG.
This is a popular way to do a dungeon crawl. Again, just like a video game. The dungeon just sits there...frozen in time and space. Then as the PCs move from place to place the dungeon 'moves" cheep animatronics at a kids restaurant.

Though the Living Dungeon is also popular. You can even find the better written ones telling what each person/place/thing/effect might or might not do and what it's 'short term goal is' in the dungeon. Not just a 'static X frozen in time'.

(it is not uncommon for players to ask the GM to run a specific module to them.)
I'd say this is very common. It really went into hype with 3E: every players wanted their d20 cred for having played adventure, module or adventure path X. A huge part of the player base must play the new adventure from WotC as soon as it is released. And you get a lot of it for classic adventures too.


Morkus from Orkus
If the situation changes when the players explore it - which is pretty much the core of the "living, breathing world" - then the players lose their agency.
Not according to the most common definitions of player agency. In fact, they lose their agency if they can't change the world as they explore it, because then nothing that they say or do matters.
A core feature of the map-and-keyed dungeon, which makes it amenable to game play, is that it is relatively static. So you an scout, make plans, retreat, change your spell and gear loadout, and then come back and undertake your raid. This is the approach to play that Gygax sets out in his PHB, but that he then starts to undercut with his advice to GMs in his DMG.
No. If they go in and make a bunch of trouble and then leave, the dungeon denizens being aware of them and preparing for their return is not denying the players their agency. They CHOSE to go in. They CHOSE to leave. They CHOSE to return. Their choices are being honored so they have agency. Agency doesn't require the world to freeze as soon as they are no longer looking at that specific portion.


Morkus from Orkus
I've found there to be very little of that. Mostly, it's been vague "do what's most likely" and so on. Actual methods and specific examples are pretty few and far between.
I've given more than one example. Others have agreed or given their own.
So when I hear "the party goes into a bar to hear rumors" I read that as "Players going to the GM for plot hooks"... and that doesn't scream living world to me.
Of course it doesn't. What the party chooses to do is not part of the "living, breathing world" portion of the game. As for what they are doing, there are a number of reasons to go look for rumors, seeking potential adventures(plot hooks) is only one of them.
Few people have offered anything like this during the discussion. Do you have any other examples you can think of that have come up in actual play?
This is a Red Herring. Actual play examples are 100% unnecessary. I've given non-play examples that demonstrate what we are talking about just as well as any actual play example. Ignoring the examples we give and asking for "actual play examples" is a distraction.
"I want it to be that way" would, I expect, be a very popular answer. Likely right after "That's the way I think it would go."
It may very well be right after, but that doesn't make it popular. If 1% is the second highest total, it's still "right after," but not at all popular. Any DM choosing "I want it to be that way" is not engaging in a living, breathing world.
That's very harsh. I wouldn't say that a DM with a story in mind shouldn't DM. That would invalidate Adventure Paths entirely, which is the dominant play style.
No, A DM who runs adventure paths is not inherently someone who is so invested in himself that he forces what he wants on others.
Maybe the news will travel. It's not necessary for news to travel to depict a living breathing world. Not always. We can also assume that the PCs hear of the far off war, but since they're involved with other stuff, they just don't do anything about that news.
That's for the players to decide. If I assume it without the rumor reaching the PCs(and therefore players) ears, I am playing their PCs and making decisions for them(ignoring the rumor and not doing anything). Absent mind control magic of some sort, I'm not going to be making decisions for a PC.
I mean, why would they? Do they have loved ones affected by the war? Are they mercenaries looking for employment?
The answer to all of those is yes, no and maybe. It's up to the players to decide their characters' motivations.
Or are they PCs waiting for some plot hooks?
Same as above.
No, that's not true. It's a combination of the person and the system. Some systems or processes/practices resist railroading much more than others. They make it much harder to do so. Others make it easier to do so.
No it isn't. I promise you that if I want, I can railroad people in any and every RPG system you give me. Or in none of them. It's not possible for a system to resist railroading in any form, because the DM can always modify the game and/or ignore any such systems.

"Easier" and "harder" are meaningless terms when it comes to railroading. If a person wants to railroad, he will. He he doesn't, he won't. System be damned.
If a person has always played a game that makes it easy to railroad, they may not even realize they're doing it. Or they may only see "railroading" in its most extreme versions.
It's pretty hard to accidentally railroad a group, and those times when it happens the vast majority of those DMs instantly stop once they are made aware. The ones that don't are the ones with the personalities I described in the other post.

aramis erak

Question: can the System itself ever in fact author anything, or can it merely tell (or make strong suggestions to) the GM and-or players what to author next in their narrations?
The system itself, very, very rarely, but the authors of the system do. In some cases, most especially solo modules, the author uses the system to place their authorial content in. Remember that old-school solo modules have almost no player authorial content, if any, and yet, have a small amount of player agency still.

One can argue that the system for World Gen in Traveller is a case of authorial mechanics. One can make similar claims about many 80's games random generation of setting elements. And an extent, that is a (limited) form of authorship. Interpreting its output? less so...
Jacquays' Central Casting systems are authorial in combination of tables. That is, Jennel didn't write any given character's backstory nor make any given dungeon, but provided a combinatorial system with millions of potential unique outcomes per book. The system is, essentially, authorial; despite every bit having been penned by Jennel, no single outcome is able to be said to be solely Jennel's work, despite Jennel having penned every word save the names.

So, it's possible for both system author's authorial control, and when suitably configured, to have the system recombine the authors' contributions into novel authorial constructs... whether that is genuinely authorial or not? Yes - the only real question of its authorial nature is who is the author - the creator of the the table-content, the creator of the system where those tables are used, the user of those tables, the dice, the system itself by being used?

That's philosophical. The practical is that the system is, if allowed to be, presenting an authorial contribution... albeit at that point, one devoid of any person's agency.

Unless one counts the dice as a person. I certainly don't.


This is not a fact, though. A lot of DMs present a sandbox and let the players explore. There's no set agenda there
Absolutely there is.

The agenda is to present an interesting place for the players to adventure in. IOW, every town WILL have something going wrong. Every cave WILL have a monster in it. At no point will the party travel through peaceful areas with no conflicts. Because that would be boring. If the party wanders into that dungeon, there's going to be monsters in that dungeon. No dungeon is ever just a bunch of dusty, empty rooms with nothing in them.

It's all part and parcel of playing a game. Which has zero to do with creating a "living world". A sandbox without conflicts would be a boring thing indeed.

aramis erak

Naming a PC after a famous fictional character is something I've seen a few adult players do. It's all good. However...

...I've never seen the bolded occur, regardless of player age.
While I've had 4 players do so, a total of 7 times. Including the second module I ever owned... Q1. Birthday gift, Sept. '81. A couple Traveller ones, a few AD&D ones, and one 5E one. (My players kicked in to get me the 5e Out of the Abyss. While it was brand new.)

I'm not counting the more than 20 modules the stores have provided me to run since 1989. Most of which I got to keep. In the 1989 to 1994 time frame, I ran a monthly AD&D Retail Play module for my FLGS. A few times, it was Alternity, instead. I didn't have to buy my Alternity cores - but I did have to run 16 hours of Alternity modules from the Retail Play modules. I also was given a severe discount on LUG-Trek for running a demo.

This also does not count the three core rulebooks players have bought for me so they could try them as players. One of which was TMNT.


I don't see that there is any particular difference between the dungeon and the wider world. Why would we presume the GM setting the stage is okay in the dungeon but not in the wilderness or civilization? It seems an arbitrary and frankly ridiculous distinction. There is no difference between saying "You see an ogre in the room before you" and "You see a thieves guild working this neighborhood" as long as each is followed by "what do you do?"

Because it is the "what do you do?" that makes an RPG a distinct and (IMO) superior form of play from other game types.
There is nothing wrong with that. No one ever said that there was anything wrong with it. Even I never said that there was a single thing wrong with this. This is bog standard trad play. Nothing wrong with it whatsoever.

But, again, this has zero to do with creating a "living world". As you say, the GM is "setting the stage". As in, the DM is authoring the world. As in, the world is not, in any way, shape or form, a "living world" but is simply a stage for the DM to tell stories on. Which is fine. There's nothing wrong with that. The only issue I'm having is that people seem to refuse to accept that.

And, I do believe that the game would be better served if we could break free of this, at least a little. Add in elements which allow players to "set the stage" from time to time and actually teach players (and DM's) that it is perfectly acceptable and even can result in a great time to do so. Not that a trad game has no place or I want to replace anything. I don't. But, it would be nice if we could actually acknowledge in the game that there are alternatives and those alternatives can work too.

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