Is "GM Agency" A Thing?

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You say it's "yeesh," but I know that I personally won't respond to a wall of quotes or will ask the person who made the response to summarize key points from their post. It's easier to read small paragraphs, but fisking tends to create far more scattered text that is divorced or removed from its original context, which becomes an issue when discussing things in a forum, where it can be difficult to follow the flow of conversations through quotes. This is one reason why fisking is considered poor form in online discussion in particular.

Moreover, it's far more difficult to respond to a whole bunch of selective quotes than a smaller set of quotes, and it tends to lead to even more walls of selective quotes. It's also usually a sign, again IME, that the conversation has broken down. It becomes less of a conversation and more of a line-by-line argument that drifts into tangents about the fine points rather than the whole.

And again, its rejecting a response not on content but on form, which isn't fair to the person responding, especially when you're asserting without evidence that just by doing it in a particular way that context is being ignored or warped.

Personally I find the ease at which fisking is being thrown around as a bad thing to be rather shallow; as though one has read that its a bad thing and internalized it, but without any real understanding of why and how.

And its also good to note that not everything in a post needs a direct response or even a response at all.

Some things can simply be left undisputed or unspoken because they simply aren't anything the responder disagrees with or cares to comment on.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
And again, its rejecting a response not on content but on form, which isn't fair to the person responding, especially when you're asserting without evidence that just by doing it in a particular way that context is being ignored or warped.

Personally I find the ease at which fisking is being thrown around as a bad thing to be rather shallow; as though one has read that its a bad thing and internalized it, but without any real understanding of why and how.

And its also good to note that not everything in a post needs a direct response or even a response at all.

Some things can simply be left undisputed or unspoken because they simply aren't anything the responder disagrees with or cares to comment on.
It's also about ease of reading for me, Emberashh. You say that it's easier to read smaller paragraphs. I agree. However, I also think that it's easier for me to read and respond to a body of text that succinctly addressess the main issue of my point rather than a bunch of smaller responses that have broken up my post into a wall of individual, selective quotes. As you say, the person need not respond to everything and yet they choose to do so. I do not have to respond to everything but that also equally applies for the person who chose to break up my post into a bunch of selective quotes, if not moreso.

Moreover, fisking has not been thrown around "willy nilly" in this thread. The why and how of why fisking is bad form has been addressed multiple times, so simply calling its use "shallow" and "without any real understanding" not only rings hollow to me but it's also clearly quite patronizing in its tone.

However, since you think that ChatGPT is a valid form of criticism and response to someone else, I have asked ChatGPT to address the issue of fisking to you:
"Fisking" is a term that originated in the early days of the internet and refers to a style of online criticism or commentary in which a writer dissects and criticizes an article, blog post, or statement point by point, often in a mocking or aggressive manner. While some people may find fisking entertaining or informative, there are several reasons why it can be considered bad or problematic:

  1. Lack of Constructive Engagement: Fisking often devolves into a form of aggressive point-by-point criticism, which can make it difficult to engage in constructive and meaningful dialogue. Instead of fostering productive discussions, it can lead to hostility and polarization.
  2. Confirmation Bias: Fisking can reinforce existing beliefs and biases. People who read or engage in fisking often do so with the intent to confirm their own views rather than to genuinely engage with differing perspectives. This can contribute to echo chambers and a lack of open-mindedness.
  3. Hostility and Negativity: Fisking is often characterized by a confrontational and negative tone. It can use sarcasm, mockery, and personal attacks, which can escalate conflicts rather than promote understanding or compromise.
  4. Oversimplification: Fisking can sometimes oversimplify complex issues by reducing them to a series of isolated points. This can lead to a shallow understanding of the subject matter and miss the nuances of the argument being critiqued.
  5. Deterioration of Discourse: Fisking can contribute to a decline in the quality of online discourse by encouraging snarky and hostile exchanges instead of respectful and informed debates.
  6. Lack of Context: Fisking may ignore the broader context of the argument or statement being criticized. This can result in a misrepresentation of the original author's intent or message.
  7. Intellectual Dishonesty: In some cases, fisking can involve cherry-picking isolated points or quotes out of context to make the original author's argument appear weaker than it actually is. This can be intellectually dishonest and misleading.
  8. Inefficiency: Fisking can be time-consuming and often requires a significant amount of effort to respond to each point made in the original piece. This can lead to a disproportionate investment of time and energy in online debates.
It's important to note that not all criticism is inherently bad, and thoughtful, respectful critique can contribute to healthy and constructive discussions. However, fisking, as a specific style of criticism, tends to emphasize the negative aspects of online discourse and can hinder productive communication and understanding. Engaging in more respectful and nuanced forms of discussion is generally more conducive to meaningful dialogue and intellectual growth.
Any questions?
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
Here's that example, from its proponent:
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.
I'm not seeing the player agency in this.

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. At best the players can try to beg and plead their case, 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.

<snip>

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.
So a game in which the GM has final say is certainly one with plenty of GM agency!

But here's an alternative model: if the player declares an action for their PC, and succeeds on their roll, then their declared action and intended consequences come to pass; if the player declares an action for their PC, and fails their roll, then the GM gets to narrate a consequence.

Under this model, civil wars might result from PCs succeeding at provoking them (if that's the result the player(s) were trying to bring about, and their actions succeed) or from PCs failing to prevent them or inadvertently bringing them about (if the players fail a roll and the GM narrates a civil war as a consequence).

This model is not a radical one. It doesn't require any player to actually do anything at the table but declare actions for their PC. There are multiple published and highly playable RPGs that actually implement this model, in various technical ways. So I think it's more likely that @Hussar has something like this in mind, than a system where every declared action is resolved by a table vote.

I don't understand why so many discussions on these boards take place as if the model I've just described hasn't yet been invented.
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
But here's an alternative model: if the player declares an action for their PC, and succeeds on their roll, then their declared action and intended consequences come to pass; if the player declares an action for their PC, and fails their roll, then the GM gets to narrate a consequence.

Under this model, civil wars might result from PCs succeeding at provoking them (if that's the result the player(s) were trying to bring about, and their actions succeed) or from PCs failing to prevent them or inadvertently bringing them about (if the players fail a roll and the GM narrates a civil war as a consequence).

This model is not a radical one. It doesn't require any player to actually do anything at the table but declare actions for their PC. There are multiple published and highly playable RPGs that actually implement this model, in various technical ways. So I think it's more likely that @Hussar has something like this in mind, than a system where every declared action is resolved by a table vote.

I don't understand why so many discussions on these boards take place as if the model I've just described hasn't yet been invented.

I'm imagining my son's friends a couple years ago, if they had a few more years of media exposure but no more maturity, in a fantasy game picking something truly outlandish. ("I MacGyver a tactical nuke and blow up the dragon.")

I can imagine there are a number of ways this gets headed off in various games. In DnD the DM might declare it impossible. If it was more reasonable they might set a difficulty and then narrate the success. I can easily imagine the DM allowing the player to narrate a success if they decided to set a difficulty for it (I ask folks if they want to narrate killing blows if it was a dramatic moment or great roll sometimes).

I assume most of the time the players don't go for the truly outlandish. But say they do go way out there. How do some of your favorite games handle it? (Who holds up the stop sign? Or do they get to nuke the dragon with the rigged up bomb they quickly cobbled together?)
 

pemerton

Legend
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.
I've never asserted that the GM deciding things is, or must tend to be, arbitrary. That the GM decides things for a reason doesn't show that anyone else has agency, though. That one of the reasons is a prompt provided by another person doesn't show that that other person has agency either.

The point can be made in the abstract: the decision to play a lottery prize to A rather than B isn't arbitrary, but A and B don't have agency in playing a lottery.

The point can be made in the RPG context too: the outcome that @Lanefan has described about the civil war, that I quoted just upthread, is not arbitrary. But the players have not exercised agency in bringing it about - it's all being decided by the GM based on considerations that the players don't have access to, haven't sought to draw upon or shape, and had no say in establishing.

Can you explain how these things are different between a dungeon and a wilderness area or a city?
A dungeon is an extremely artificial environment, invented to be a venue for game play. The paths are learnable by making the moves the game allows for: "I look down the left corridor"; "I tap the floor with my 10' pole"; etc. The scenes/situations that are latent in the dungeon are segregated (in rooms) and set behind player-controlled "triggers" (opening the doors to those rooms). And those situations can be ascertained without triggering them (eg by listening at doors, by using detection magic, etc).

You can see all this in examples (like Gygax's example in his DMG, or the early TSR modules), infer it from stories (like the stories of freeing Fraz Urb'luu or the demigods in Castle Greyhawk) as well as the list of tricks in the DMG (many of which are about making it harder to map accurately), and it is the underlying basis for Gygax's advice in his PHB. That advice is that players should engage the dungeon in various "modes": first, scout out a section of the dungeon to establish what is there and identify the target loot; then, after retreating and changing spell and gear loadout as appropriate, raid the target. This advice makes zero sense if the fact of scouting and mapping the dungeon also changes it, so that the players can no longer withdraw and then choose to re-enter so as to trigger the (latent) situations they have identified (in the fiction, this means the PCs are exploring the rooms they have found via their scouting). If every foray into the dungeon means starting from scratch in terms of knowledge of threats and opportunities, the advice is pointless.

Another author who provides advice to GMs which reflects this same approach to dungeons is Lewis Pulsipher, writing in White Dwarf in the late 70s and early 80s. Pulsipher in particular emphasises the importance of detection magic, as a tool that good players will use and hence that the GM must have regard to in their adjudication of the players' play.

A wilderness and a city are not knowable in the same way that a dungeon is. The pathways are (for practical purposes) infinite. The threats and opportunities are not static behind doors in the same fashion. And in D&D, this is even reflected in the ranges of detection spells, which are meaningful in the artificial dungeon environment built around 5' or 10' squares on A4-or-thereabouts graph paper, but are virtually useless in the sorts of scales that operate in the wilderness and even in urban areas. Hence wildernesses, and cities, are not amenable in the same fashion as are dungeons to the explore-retreat-raid model of play.

Of course it is possible to keep some of the basic tropes of a dungeon but to try and reduce its artificiality - a working castle would be an example of this. Gygax heads in this direction in his DMG (which is written later than the PHB, at a time when the whole approach to RPGing is unfolding and changing rapidly). But a GM who follows Gygax's advice about "living, breathing, responsive" dungeons in his DMG is making the advice to players published a year earlier more-or-less useless.

****************

In game terms, you can't have all three of (i) the GM establishes more-or-less all the content, and (ii) the GM controls the way this is revealed to the players and engaged with by them, and (iii) the players exert significant agency over the content of the shared fiction.

The classic dungeon crawling of Gygax's PHB puts constraints on (i) - the artificial dungeon - and hence largely drops (ii) - the players, by choosing how to engage the content (in the fiction, by having their PCs collect knowledge of the dungeon and then raiding this bit rather than that bit) - and hence achieves a version of (iii): play is about beating the dungeon by solving its puzzles (understood in the broadest sense) and thus extracting its loot.

A game like Apocalypse World or Burning Wheel puts completely different constraints on (i) - the players, by establishing relationships, goals, etc for their PCs, generate many of the salient elements of the shared fiction - and also different constraints on (ii) - the GM reveals the content in a way that puts the player-authored concerns at stake - and hence achieves a version of (iii): play is about the players engaging in and perhaps resolving (in whatever fashion) all those conflicts and emotional/thematic/relational potentialities that are suggested by those PC elements they have introduced into the shared fiction and that unfold further through play.

AW and BW don't need the artificial dungeon as an environment, in order to underpin player agency, because they take a completely different approach from map-and-key dungeon exploration to how declared actions are resolved. The constraints on the GM operate in a different fashion, and at a different point in the process of play.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Mod Note:

A couple people have been reported for making things personal as opposed to just addressing the contents of the posts. I came in here to check it out.

Lo and behold! It’s more than just those two.

So, please, for the sake of civil discourse, let’s dial back the jabs at each other and stick to discussing posts’ content. If someone’s really getting under your skin, perhaps it’s time to disengage or even put someone on your ignore list.
Mod Note:

Quoting a pretty good movie, “What we have here…is failure to communicate.”

The levels of people making it personal did not decrease, and may have even increased. Got several more reports on the same posters as last time. So, time to lock the gates and shut down the ride.
 

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