Is "GM Agency" A Thing?

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To highlight why this is bad, let's remove the fisking (and a couple of words so the sentences actually work together.

This is my original post:

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.
This is your answer.
I'm living proof that there isn't. When I set up events, I don't have a desire for the players to interact or not interact. My "agenda" is only to present the world in a living, breathing manner. I often have towns where things are fine that the PCs travel through on the way to wherever they are going. Some caves are empty.

The games you describe are odd to me. A world where there's a monster or event around every corner and/or hiding behind every rock and tree is highly unrealistic and I would find such a game unfun. As would my players. But, that is mostly true. There have been very few dungeons where I haven't encountered anything, and those were all very small tombs and such. Anything worth the name dungeon has something of interest to the players in it. Setting up adventures isn't a part of a living, breathing world. Adventures are aimed at the players being present. Living, breathing events are independent of the players.

They just aren't going to be in every town, behind every tree and in every mud puddle. There will be towns where the PCs stop off to buy supplies, maybe blow off steam in the tavern. Nothing of adventuring note to be found.
See how that suddenly doesn't make a whole lot of sense? It becomes mostly gibberish. And self contradictory as well. "Some caves are empty" but, "there are very few dungeons where I haven't encountered anything". And, that's even further contradicted because, "Anything worthy of the name dungeon has something of interest to the players in it". This is why fisking is bad.

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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.
The differences are stasis, and knowability.


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.
Have you read Gygax's advice in his PHB, under the heading Successful Adventures, and then thought about what must be happening on the GM side for that advice to be of any use at all?

(1) What is the tightly defined premise of Burning Wheel? Or even Apocalypse World?
I don't think BW has one any more than D&D does and whilst AW's "desperate madmaxian mess" a tad tighter, it is still pretty broad too. But I was thinking about games like Blades in the Dark, Monster Hearts and Dogs in the Vineyard. In any case, I think I said "many," not "all."

(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?

We would establish how that fits in the world together at the character creation. (Granted, in my current world there is no iron, or knights, as the most advanced societies are still at the early bronze age, but I'm sure we could come up with something analogous that would fulfil the concept.) As with Auxol itself, my settings tend to be big and bread strokes enough that we probably could insert a whole city state, but alternative would be to choose one of the already existing ones that doesn't have much lore about it and use it instead. I assume the exact name of the nation is not what's important here.

But in any case, whilst this of course is fine and normal way for the players to contribute to the campaign content, I don't understand why you solely focus on such out-of-character influence and ignore the influence via character action. I think "let's start a revolution and kill the emperor" was a great example of that. Actions taken by characters can alter the direction of the campaign massively and forever change the game world. Seems like a lot of agency to me.
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But at no point can they add a civil war to the game without going through the DM's gates. If the DM doesn't want a civil war in the game, it's not going to happen. If the DM DOES want a civil war, it's going to happen. [snip] , but, at the end of the day, it's 100% up to the DM.

It feels like the game needs some structure that interprets the rules, serves as referee, etc... Every edition of D&D has had the DM do that.

I imagine a table could have the entire party vote on things. There could even be something where at any moment of the game a player could make a motion to vote to adjudicate it some other way. Having run a game of 10-13 year olds.... this seems inefficient? Especially when they were first learning to play

<Note: the character names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the situation is probably slightly modified from what we'd see with a time machine, but it catches the spirit.>

"Ok Jace, it's your turn, there are three goblins about 10' ahead on the right, a bugbear on the left next to Ajani, and you think the evil cleric is down the hall." "I cast fire bolt on my sword to heat it up as I slide down the hall, behead the three goblins, and then use Ajani as a springboard to launch myself at the cleric and stab him through the heart."

In my game I tamped down the excitement a bit and gave them the choices of which part they wanted to TRY and did let them decide to heat up someone's sword with firebolt for extra damage. I imagine if it was put to a vote that it very well might have gone off as he originally narrated with no die rolling. That would be fine for a fun game of something, but it seems like it would have gone well out of the range of a single combat action at 3rd level in DnD.

There could also be specific rules where the players could author parts of the background world. In this as well it feels like there would be some checks and balances somewhere. I assume if player A wants their home town to be Star Fleet academy and to be able to be transported back to it whenever, that players B-D and the DM might want some checks and balances on that.

What is your preferred adjudication structure for different parts of the game? (Who decides: DM, player who added the material to the game? vote of all players including DM, something in the rules that addresses every situation? Does this vary from Combat, to travel, to social situations, to world creation?).

Going back to the DM being the final say. To be more clear, the DM has final say within the game. The players have equal say about whether the game happens at all.


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.
I was responding to @pemerton who did suggest that there was a difference.
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.
If it matters, I did change my own terminology to "responsive world" brcause i think it better desribes what actually happens.
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.
I agree. How would that work in a traditional RPG? Would you ask a player to author an adventure, or just the hook? How does a GM, in a traditional RPG like D&D is usually played, enable players to "set the stage"? Or can it only be achieved in non-traditional style RPGs?


The issue of who is establishing the shared fiction is a matter of fact, not a matter of charitable perspective.

The issue is that you keep overlooking the actually important part: how the decisions are made. The GM deciding things is not arbitrary. They're doing so based on pre-established information and the the actions of the characters. Thus the players' decisions guide the GM's decisions, greatly influencing the end result.

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