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Player-authored plot in RPGing

You're probably right that my (somewhat dogmatic) terminology obfuscates meaningful decisions, but I would point out that in your exampe, the DM introduces the homestead-- but who went to the homestead? The DM introduces orcs as a consequences of a failed roll, but who failed the roll, who failed the action that introduced the orcs as a consequence?
Well, the players only choices here are those presented by the GM. GM says "there is a homestead", sure the players can say "nope, not going there" but then the ball is back in the GM's court! At some point there are a finite number of meaningfully distinct actions the PCs could take in terms of "we are going on to a new scene now." Each of those is a 'menu choice' presented by the GM, unless the players decide to attempt to take control of the narrative. Classic RPGs don't give that option, so the story still comes entirely from the GM in that type of system.

In terms of going into the homestead, sure, but again there's a finite menu of options that are genre appropriate, etc. It isn't action declarations that make it possible for the players to get control, it is the way BW allows action resolution to be told by the player, not the GM.
You say that Thurgon and Aramina have to fight off the orcs, but do they? Can they not attempt to evade them, and flee? Can they not attempt to cut a deal with the orcs? Can they not attempt to lure all of the orcs into the homestead before they burn it down with all of them inside?

There's an important distinction to be had between "player authored" and "DM authored" content, and it's a blurry enough line without my refusing to acknowledge it. But it's likewise an important perspective for both official and homebrew adventure design that players can choose to engage with content, regardless of who authors it, in any way they please-- up to and including declining to engage with it at all. It's an important perspective to remember that players and PCs are not supposed to do anything, and should not be expected to do anything, except show up to the table willing to do something.
Right, so I think the difference between trad and Story Now, at least in how I've seen it, WRT the plot is that trad games are menus of choices, the GM writes the menus, the players only pick from those. At best they 'pick' a choice the GM didn't write down, and he pretends he did, and serves up his rendition of that.
Story now games universally, IME (albeit perhaps limited) provide that when a player attempts an action, they get to describe the desired outcome of success, and the only bounds on that are genre and maybe willingness of the rest of the table to accept whatever the player offers.

Now, in some game systems this stuff can be limited to specific sorts of actions, or require the spending of meta-currency, or whatever. Pretty universally though, the GM is disallowed from saying 'no'. Its not HIS STORY to present, there is no preordained path at all. A LOT of traditional RPG players insist there's no difference, oddly, which always bemuses me, lol.
 

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So, the issue I've seen isn't so much about "taking out of character".

It is akin to the difference of opening a present you didn't know about, and opening one that you bought and wrapped for yourself. Reveals are emotional and surprising to the audience, but not the author.
Right, but I am pretty sure that the GM can still throw those out there in any system (well, the ones I know well enough to talk about). Yes, a player could engineer "Luke, I'm your father!" in DW, pretty much, but it is far more likely to come from the GM. I guess what I would say on top of that is, the 'Luke player' probably signaled this sort of thing was coming via his backstory and maybe in other ways. At least the GM recognized it was not ruled out by anything the player stated previously.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Right, but I am pretty sure that the GM can still throw those out there in any system

Sure. Maybe you got the idea that I was arguing against something? I'm not.

I said that there's good need for knowing when and how to do player-authoring. That's all.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Here is an account of five sessions (about 10 hours) of play, with the moments of player-authorship of plot called out. The system is Burning Wheel. I'm the player; my friend is the GM. I've sblocked for length.
There's a key element here that no-one else in the thread has yet remarked on: you say above that you are the player, rather than a player, strongly implying this was a solo game.

This makes a huge difference, almost regardless of system.

I've been running a boatload of solo games for the last year-and-a-bit, and in those games (as opposed to more typical play with several players and a GM) I find it's far easier to take whatever the player comes up with and just work it in, as clearly that's what matters to said player at the time. And this is in an otherwise quite traditional game and system.

And I can do this because I don't have to worry about balancing player input or whether I'm prioritizing one player over another or showing favouritism or any of that; or whether what's being added is good or bad for party/troupe play, etc. There's only one player, and thus only one set of player priorities.

As soon as there's more than one player, I know my own focus very quickly turns to party-as-a-whole priorities rather than those of an individual player; in part to reduce the risk of my favouring or over-prioritizing someone wihtout realizing it.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
There's a key element here that no-one else in the thread has yet remarked on: you say above that you are the player, rather than a player, strongly implying this was a solo game.

This makes a huge difference, almost regardless of system.

I've been running a boatload of solo games for the last year-and-a-bit, and in those games (as opposed to more typical play with several players and a GM) I find it's far easier to take whatever the player comes up with and just work it in, as clearly that's what matters to said player at the time. And this is in an otherwise quite traditional game and system.

And I can do this because I don't have to worry about balancing player input or whether I'm prioritizing one player over another or showing favouritism or any of that; or whether what's being added is good or bad for party/troupe play, etc. There's only one player, and thus only one set of player priorities.

As soon as there's more than one player, I know my own focus very quickly turns to party-as-a-whole priorities rather than those of an individual player; in part to reduce the risk of my favouring or over-prioritizing someone wihtout realizing it.
Yeah, no, this isn't a key point. Sure, solo games are solo games, and you get to focus entirely on one player. But adding more players does not require that the game move to troupe-focused play at all. Apocalypse World, for instance, runs just fine with everyone doing their own thing and interacting when they bump into each other. Priorities can be all over the play, and competing.

The focus on party priorities is a function of the game design. D&D (and many other games as well) build the unit of contest on the party -- encounters are party things because the combat engine is based around action economies and covering weak spots with redundancies. Because of combat being the primary way to resolve things with finality in these games, combat becomes the center-pin of consideration: it's always an option and often the best one to get what you want. This means I need to have a party, and that then pushes the game into requiring consensus building to keep the party together and aligned so that the primary resolution method works. Nothing wrong with this, by the way. However, if you change that resolution to one that's centered on characters, and doesn't require a party to engage in resolutions with finality, then you don't need to seek consensus or share goals to maintain a unit that can successfully drive resolutions to final outcomes.

In other words, if a character can always (attempt to) resolve an issue and do so with finality, you don't need to balance a party.
 

pemerton

Legend
There's a key element here that no-one else in the thread has yet remarked on: you say above that you are the player, rather than a player, strongly implying this was a solo game.

This makes a huge difference, almost regardless of system.

<snip>

As soon as there's more than one player, I know my own focus very quickly turns to party-as-a-whole priorities rather than those of an individual player; in part to reduce the risk of my favouring or over-prioritizing someone wihtout realizing it.
On this, I agree with @Ovinomancer. Multiple players don't have to necessitate party play.

And I'm not talking here just about fancy modern games. In our Classic Traveller game the PCs pursue their own agendas to a notable degree. They are often physically proximate with one another, because they travel in the same starship(s); and some of them have shared goals. But they're certainly not a many-headed hydra!

There is a GM skill in achieving an inter-weaving of these things. In the OP, the example of the letters in Evard's Tower shows the GM demonstrating this skill, by making Aramina's wizard-ly agenda intersect with Thurgon's family-and-heritage agenda.
 

pemerton

Legend
If the player is the one resolving the question of his character's relationship to his father, by providing the statement "I am your father" in the voice of Darth Vader, the argument is this is taking the player out of character. Now, in BW presumably there must be some sort of belief involved here to test, at least implicitly. So, how could it play out? If you, in character, aren't bringing it up, then it must be the result of some failed check, but then the GM would probably introduce it. I am not sure how BW would actually produce that scene! I guess it would be a 'Battle of Wits' or of some other attribute, which the character loses? I just more wonder if we're mostly talking here about limitations in BW's approach brought about by the fact that it never WOULD take you out of character like that.
I don't think it's that hard for BW to produce that scene. For reasons I'll explain, I think it would most likely be a variation on my second category of the three set out in my post #6 upthread.

First, it's easy enough for a PC to have a background involving a mysterious parentage, and a Belief along the lines of I will realise my father's destiny or something similar.

Second, there are skills that are relevant to that sort of content: Ugly Truth ("the singular and unique ability to strip a situation or argument to its bare, naked core"); Family Secrets-wise (the first skill on the Bastard lifepath); other Wises; Persuasion or Interrogation to extract an answer to a question; etc.

In the Empire Strikes Back, we already have it established that Luke's father, a great Jedi, is dead; and that Ben has said that Vader, a fallen Jedi, killed him. In order to have the revelation scene take place, I stipulate the following about the processes of establishing this initial fiction:

* Luke's player has established, as backstory, a relationship with Ben Kenobi and a description of Ben as someone who knew his Jedi father, who is presumed to be dead;​
* The player calls on his relationship to hep with the Sandpeople fiasco;​
* In the ensuing interaction, there is some free roleplay; there is the revelation that Ben was Obi-Wan, a Jedi, which also reveals that an earlier suggestion that an important person was dead was (it turns out) false; Luke's player succeeds on an appropriate check to have Ben be in possession of his father's light sabre (eg Jedi-wise) and given the established relationship Ben gives it to him;​
* Luke's player then asks, in character, how his father died, and this is framed as a check - maybe Luke's Persuasion vs Ben's Soothing Platitudes - which the GM, playing Ben, wins, explaining that Luke's father was killed by Vader.​

Now we cut to the scene in The Empire Strikes Back:

*The events of Star Wars have led Luke's player to author a Belief for Luke about confronting Darth Vader;​
* The fight with Vader has been taking place, being resolved via Fight! But there is a lull, probably due to Luke's player failing a Steel check;​
* The GM free narrates Darth's remark to Luke, and Luke replies "He told me enough . . . you killed him!";​
* Luke's player wants this resolved as an Ugly Truth check, to force a Steel check by Vader which might rebalance the situation (and perhaps there is a FoRKing in of Family Secrets-wise or Jedi-wise or whatever other appropriate skills might augment the check);​
* Luke's player fails the check;​
* The GM narrates Vader's response, "No, I am your father."​

In the context of BW I think the revelation has to be a failure result, because it cuts so strongly across the PC's Beliefs. Hence why it has to be a variant on my second category - instead of co-authorship by way of the player seizing the momentum from the GM, it is co-authorship by way of the GM seizing the momentum from the player. The player has provided the core components: Luke with a mysterious Jedi parentage; Ben as his mentor; the initial prompt to have Ben tell the truth about his father, which failed; the opposition to Vader, established by the player's authorship of a Belief; the attempt at stripping Vader's evil bare with the Ugly Truth check. But the failure at that last moment allows the GM to turn the tables.

At that point, just as we had an assertion from Ben (via Soothing Platitudes, say) so now we have an assertion from Vader. What locks it in? A subsequent Force Sense check by Luke's player (which in mechanical terms would be similar to Aura Reading) - whether its a success or a failure on that check would depend on how Luke's player has responded to the revelation over the next few minutes of play.

In the climax of Return of the Jedi we then get to see a fully player-authored plot-moment, as Luke's player succeeds on the check to turn Vader to his side rather than vice versa, and Vader defeats the Emperor. Part of the lead-up to this is the revelation that Vader still has good in him - which would be the result of a successful Force Sense check by Luke's player.

EDIT: I think this post also speaks to @Umbran's point about wrapping your own present. Different systems have their own dynamics, but in BW it's roughly the contrast between good news (there's still good in him) and bad news (not only is your enemy and the killer of your mentor your father, but your mentor lied to you about it). And the use of check at key moments means you don't know in advance what you're going to get - every time you shoot for good news you might get bad news. (Which goes back to what I said in post #6, about the centrality of action resolution.)
 
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I think BW is a bit meticulous for me, lol. Playing it would be interesting, but I think its not the game I would excel at GMing. PbtA games seem a bit more visceral and 'loose' in terms of how things can be worked out. Moves are more focused on the actions vs the motivations, at least in DW (other PbtA games not so much, you could certainly write one like Monster Hearts that focuses almost entirely on emotional/mental states).

Even in the case of a game like MH though, there's less specificity in terms of leveraging specific traits (like Wises) and more on simply ACTING in the fiction, from what I can see. Motives are important in say DW, but I think there is more just 'playing' and then working out the details. At least for me.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
PbtA games don't put the same emphasis on knowledge type skills, that's for sure. They exist, but dont fill the same play space as wises in BW, IMO anyway.

Other games, like The Between, place almost no emphasis on knowledge skills and rely instead on player authored how-do-you-know-this type exchanges. The Between is a mystery/monster hunt that also places the duty of weaving clues into theory entirely in the hands of the players, which I find very interesting.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, no, this isn't a key point. Sure, solo games are solo games, and you get to focus entirely on one player. But adding more players does not require that the game move to troupe-focused play at all. Apocalypse World, for instance, runs just fine with everyone doing their own thing and interacting when they bump into each other. Priorities can be all over the play, and competing.
Which as written sounds like an exercise in herding cats. :)

My issue there - and it happens in my game all the time as well - is that when one player/PC is doing its own thing it often means at the table that no-one else is doing anything. There's only one of me, and I don't multi-task all that well.

Also, in-game time and timing is very important to me; and if the possibility exists of characters bumping into each other while doing their own thing I need to keep very close track of who is where, when. Doable, sure, but it can be a nuisance sometimes.
The focus on party priorities is a function of the game design. D&D (and many other games as well) build the unit of contest on the party -- encounters are party things because the combat engine is based around action economies and covering weak spots with redundancies.
The covering-weak-spots piece also applies to exploration, which seems a generally downplayed element in some non-D&D systems.
Because of combat being the primary way to resolve things with finality in these games, combat becomes the center-pin of consideration: it's always an option and often the best one to get what you want. This means I need to have a party, and that then pushes the game into requiring consensus building to keep the party together and aligned so that the primary resolution method works. Nothing wrong with this, by the way. However, if you change that resolution to one that's centered on characters, and doesn't require a party to engage in resolutions with finality, then you don't need to seek consensus or share goals to maintain a unit that can successfully drive resolutions to final outcomes.
Sure, I get this. However unless the players do a fair bit of metagame co-operating this could - and in my case probably would - very quickly become cat-herding; with each character doing its own thing in exclusion of (or even in direct opposition to) what the others were doing.
In other words, if a character can always (attempt to) resolve an issue and do so with finality, you don't need to balance a party.
I'm not talking about balance within the party. Of the various posters on these boards I'm probably close to the bottom of the list of who cares most about in-party balance. :)

What I'm more talking about is two things:

--- at-the-table (or "spotlight") balance, not so much in terms of actual spotlight time but in terms of which character's goals etc. get resolved first and which have to wait, in concerns that one player's PCs end up consistently getting resolved first (or at all) while others do not. In other words, I'd prefer not to allow GM favouritism to rear its ugly head.
--- trying to find ways of getting the party/group to stay together in the fiction, such that I'm running one 5-or-6 character party most of the time rather than 5 or 6 one-character parties. Having them split up now and then is fine; having them always splitting up makes me wonder why we're all at the same table....even more so as I'm adamant that if someone's character goes off and does its own thing the other players not know what's being done (or said) until-unless there's an in-fiction means of their characters getting that info (usually, by the "away" PC returning and reporting).
 

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