Players choose what their PCs do . . .

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Well, this goes back to the quote from Donald Davidson in the OP:

If the PC winks at the maiden and softens her heart the PC hasn't done two things (wink, and as a separate thing soften her heart) - that way lies madness because it will quickly lead to near-endless multiplication of the number of events that have occurred (eg you'll have each movement of an eyelash through each point of space as a separate and distinct thing that the PC did).

There is one action but it falls under more than one description. In the context of playing a RPG, which involves generating shared agreement on the descriptions that are true in the fiction, I think the question of who gets to establish which descriptions is quite interesting. And I think that saying the player gets to decide what the PC does isn't a useful way of answering the question.

Eh, no. That's not the same thing at all. This is not the case where the winker is committing several micro-actions that are all connected to form one single larger action. He is engaging in the action of winking. And then after that action(and all of its micro-actions) concludes, there is the result of that action, the softening of her heart. The act of winking concludes before there is a softening of the heart.

In a game, I don't get to declare that I am going to pull out my sword, threaten the prince, have him concede half of his lands to me, go farm those lands, harvest the crops, and then sell them all as a single action.
 

log in or register to remove this ad


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The premise statement is a longstanding falsehood, all too often unchallenged.

Players decide what their character attempts, not what they do.

GM's decide what the PC's do, based upon the stated attempt, the rules, and their common sense, and sometimes, their story sense.

Players may or may not be deciding how their PC's feel; many systems allow forced emotional states, which only works when players agree to those stakes, but can be fun for some.

That is, indeed, one way it happens, and one of the ways [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] noted in his OP. There are other ways, though, like the other one in the OP, that you've dismissed as a falsehood. Given that it exists in a number of games, and can exist in even more, you should reconsider whether or not you've grasped the intent of the OP and whether or not you're the one engaged in a falsehood.

As [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] noted, Burning Wheel's core loop is opposing truth statements about the world, on the player's the other the GM's, which the dice then decide which occurs. If the GM wins, the GM get to both narrate their outcome AND any actions the PC takes to realize that outcome. If the player wins, they get to do the same. This fundamentally disagrees with your universal assertion. "There are other ways than these," to paraphrase.

I like Blades in the Dark, which does a similar thing. The player nominates both the action and the outcome -- what they want to happen and how they're doing it. The GM then sets the risk of that action (how bad will the consequences of a failure be) and the effect of that action (how much will it go towards achieving the player's goal). There's a negotiation that can occur, here, and the player has a number of PC resources to bring to bear to improve odds, but, when the dice fly, a success means the player gets their goal or gains ground towards it. On a failure, the GM uses the risk setting to level consequences. There's also a more likely middle ground where the player partially succeeds and the GM gets to level a partial complication. Many games that feature the player having the ability to set both the action and what a success looks like have partial success mechanics.

So, the intent of the OP, if I divine it correctly, is to get people to step back and think about which method they use, which they might prefer, and why that may be so. I know that doing so helped me better understand what it is both I and my players get out of games, and has made me more successful at GMing in either style (because I don't fight the system, which is a primary cause of system frustration for people). I, until rather recently, thought as you did. Turns out I was wrong. Not that play is wrong, but that it's the only way play occurs. It's hard to grasp games that place the authorities in different places if you've come from a D&D only background. It's a different way of thinking about games entirely -- which may or may not appeal to you and that's just fine.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Eh, no. That's not the same thing at all. This is not the case where the winker is committing several micro-actions that are all connected to form one single larger action. He is engaging in the action of winking. And then after that action(and all of its micro-actions) concludes, there is the result of that action, the softening of her heart. The act of winking concludes before there is a softening of the heart.

In a game, I don't get to declare that I am going to pull out my sword, threaten the prince, have him concede half of his lands to me, go farm those lands, harvest the crops, and then sell them all as a single action.

Is there, maybe, a middle ground between 'I pull my sword" and the entirely of what you posit? Could, maybe, discussion happen about things in that middle ground? In other words, no, you can't do the bottom in any game, but that's because you're not engaging the fiction of the scene or the genre of the game and are, in fact, being a jerk. Can we please dispense with the "but if a jerk does it" arguments?

Stating the result of your action isn't the same as assuming success. That's why games have resolution mechanics. In your above, it fails because there are multiple goals. [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]'s example doesn't fail because it's a single goal -- soften the heart of the maiden. The action is to wink. The difference between what you're trying to say and what [MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION] is saying is that, in your preference, the player can state their goal as information to the GM, but the GM will decide both what a success and what a failure will look like. The other way to do it is to take the player's goal as the only success option. In other word, if a success is rolled, then the GM's job is to narrate how they player's goal comes to be given the player's actions. The GM doesn't get to decide what success looks like.

That said, actions and goals need to be rooted in the fiction of the moment. Your example runs off into future goals that aren't established as at stake in the current scene. This is a player violation of the game construct, and is just bad play, not a problem with the player getting to say what success is.
 

pemerton

Legend
In a game, I don't get to declare that I am going to pull out my sword, threaten the prince, have him concede half of his lands to me, go farm those lands, harvest the crops, and then sell them all as a single action.
That sounds like it may be several actions eg that are separate in time and space.

But (eg) threatening the prince and having him concede lands sounds like a single action, again perhaps falling under multiple descriptions.

Whether or not one can do some or all of these things via a single episode of resolution in the play of a RPG would depend on the system.
 

pemerton

Legend
I recommend Vincent Baker’s Anyway blog as a great place to read interesting ideas on games as conversations and authorship
Yes, I'm a big fan of Anyway - although in my experience it's not very popular among ENworld posters.

You'll recognise my example of the safe in the OP as coming from Baker's blog. Though I think framing the matter in terms of who gets to make what descriptions true may be more helpful than framing it in terms of task resolution vs conflict resolution.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Yes? How does this advance a discussion about the differences in play who chooses makes?

A good example of a game that can go either way, look to 4e, which has a split personality depending on which method of outcome resolution you choose. So, no, it's not always about the game you've chosen -- there are opportunities in a number of games to let choice of outcome drift. I let this drift in my 5e games, where I, as GM, try to let the players choose outcomes more often than not.
Yea, I agree, assigning the method to individual systems isn't really correct. Except for a few modern games, most game designers probably haven't even considered the question.

I don't even think it's uniquely the GM's purview as to what method is used (although they hold considerable sway, and will end up as the final arbiter if they decide to be). Even as a player, you have the opportunity to frame your declarations in terms of physical actions or in terms of overall intent. I know my personal play has improved when I switched to always stating my actions in terms of overall intent, as it leads to less confusion between myself and the DM as to where the play is leading. Ideally, you can steer the situation so that any resolution check can help you achieve the stated goal, but the question as to the extent of the resolution mechanics will still be primarily driven by the DM and the system. For most of the DMs I know, I can tell them that I'm looking in a safe to find the secret documents, but they probably aren't going to add them into the safe even if I succeed.
 

pemerton

Legend
I like Blades in the Dark, which does a similar thing.
I don't know BitD beyond what I read about it.

I've played a bit of DW and am slowly working my way through a close reading of AW preparatory, I hope, to playing it - it actually feels more compelling to me than DW, though some of that may be the visceral Vincent Baker prose!

In BitD does a failure permit the GM to narrate a PC's action at the "micro-"/thin level (eg you failed to wink)? My sense of AW is that the answer to that question is assumed to be no - that when the GM makes a move, even a hard/direct move, it draws on prep to establish stuff beyond the intentional bodily motions of the PC. Though (as in BW) it can extend to the PC's gear.

Which sends me off on a whole other tangent - in what ways is gear able to be brought under descriptions of actions, and by whom? I have a soft spot for the way that AW and BW encourage the GM to use effects to gear as part of their narration of failure; and BW's approach to this infuenced my GMing of 4e and similarly (but probably more cautiously, given how gear is part of PC build in 4e) making effects to gear part of my narration of failure.

(A variant of this is the Old School Primer's "Rule of the Ming Vase" - that is, the GM including threats or actual damage to valuable objects in the vicinity as part of the descriptions of PC actions.)
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
I totally agree. The Czege Principle ("When one person is the author of both the character's adversity and its resolution, play isn't fun.") means that the authoring of scene framing, adversity, action and result need to be shared around to keep the game fun.

A GM could set the scene - but not always. There are games like Hillfolk where anyone can set a scene, and games like Wrath and Glory and D&D 5e where spending points can add things to scenes.

A GM could choose the adversity - but not always. There are games where other players can add adversity to rolls such as Danger Patrol.

A non-GM player could choose the action a character makes - but not always. There are situations in D&D where a DM might say ‘your character can’t do that because they are charmed’.

A GM could choose the result - but not always. There are games where you roll to see who narrates the outcome, like John Wick’s Blood and Honor, where a player can win and choose to narrate their character failing.

in addition, any GM might rule that winking to impress someone is irrelevant and so allow it, or is important and require a resolution irrespective of the rules of the game. This is down to factors like the preference of the table, how late in the night it is, etc.

Since playing PbtA and Blades games I have become enamoured with the way these games cleverly move authorship around, and we have ported this concept successfully into the way we play more ‘commercial’ games. I recommend Vincent Baker’s Anyway blog as a great place to read interesting ideas on games as conversations and authorship - although my simple summary is not doing it justice.

We are living in a golden age of RPGs, where there are options to support many styles of play. Have fun with yours!

XP for the username.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I don't quite get this.

The player decides I wink at the maiden. Who gets to decide whether it's also true that I soften the heart of the maiden with a wink? They're too different descriptions of the one action, so framing things in terms of difficulty doesn't seem to help.

I know the poster of this already replied, but I want to reply how this means to me.

Amount of uncertainty that can be dictated is the limit of player narrative control.

"I wink at the maiden" has a very low uncertainty. Unless you've been paralyzed without knowledge, this is very likely true. "I wink at the maiden attempting to melt her heart is the same" - low uncertainty, just providing more contact so others interpret correctly.

Melting their heart though may have a lot of unknowns. She's a recent widow, she's in a true love relationship, she secret hates something about the PC, etc.

"I drink everyone else under the table" - an established hard drinking dwarf at a table of halflings could probably make this statement in any game because it has low uncertainty. In some games it would be fine all the time. Other time, like when said by the 8 CON wizard, saying it requires the players to have a strong amount of authorial control, and others may dislike it if there isn't a narrative reason supporting it.

"I open the safe and find X" - again, needs very strong authorial power on behalf of the player. Some games have this as assumptions for the game. Others don't. (Even if silent in the rules, there's usually an assumption one way or the other.) It's few that either allow both natively, and if they do it's usually that there is some sort of limited narrative currency that needs be spent, like in FATE.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Players decide what their character attempts, not what they do.

yoda-perturbed-angry.jpg

Suppose the player says I wink at the maiden to soften her heart.

And the GM replies OK, that's a Difficulty 4 Presence check. . . Now, what is true in the fiction? From the failure, we know it's not true that the PC winked at the maiden and softened her heart. Is it true that the PC winked at the maiden? Who gets to decide that, and according to what principles? Is it true that the PC winked? Who gets to decide that, and according to what principles?

. . . I don't think you can answer by saying the player decides what the PC does - because if this was true, then the player could decide that the PC softens the maiden's heart with a wink. Yet we know that has been taken off the table in virtue of the failed check result.
Well, in Modos RPG, you wouldn't tell the player that she failed. Success/fail is just as old as Prince Valiant. You'd tell her that she got an unfavorable result (a "Con"), and then the player would "let the other players know what the contest result means." The GM would guide that as needed to keep the story rolling.

An old wise man once said:
1) Player control is based on difficulty. Clutching a sword is easy. Swinging a sword (at least the first few times) is easy. Attacking an orc is more difficult. Killing said orc is (probably) far more difficult. Player agency ends where difficulty begins.

2) Does the game require the players to act -through- their characters? As in, you can do whatever you want, as long as it's something you could do as your character. The GM doesn't often have this limitation. Does the GM want to place a volcano in the middle of town? Done. No character needed.
So, is it true that the PC winked? Yes - it's not difficult. Or yes - it's something you could do as your character. Is it true that the PC winked at the maiden and softened her heart? Evidently not, since we're using succeed/fail mechanics here. But, since I've already weighed in on the winking part: no - heart softening is difficult/more difficult than winking. Or no - it's not something your character could do (with a simple wink).
 

steenan

Adventurer
Isn't this what the IIEE framework for resolution is about?

There are two separate but connected parts of an action a player declares. What the character does (in a "thin" sense) and what the player wants to achieve. Action description is necessary to give it a solid form in the fiction. Intent is necessary because that's what gets resolved.

As soon s the action and intent are known it's possible for the GM to decide if it will obviously work, obviously not work or needs a roll (or whatever given game uses) to resolve. It is also the point where potential misunderstandings may be discussed until everybody is on the same page. Maybe, for example, the player wants to attempt something that is possible, but bunches too many activities into a single action, while the GM thinks that the situation needs more focus and should be played step by step. Or maybe some facts about the fiction weren't communicated clearly and people imagine it differently.

Up to this point, the player and the GM are discussing potentialities. After that is agreed on, the action happens and the dice hit the table.

Because the intent is known, it's clear what a successful roll will achieve. For the same reason, a failed roll may, if the GM decides so, still mean that the action itself succeeded, but that it brought a complication instead of achieving the intention.
 

In a game, I don't get to declare that I am going to pull out my sword, threaten the prince, have him concede half of his lands to me, go farm those lands, harvest the crops, and then sell them all as a single action.

It seems to me like this discussion is based on a certain assumption of scale; people saying "this seems like a single action" or "those are two actions" -- these depend heavily on the scale of the game.

I have been in games where the above would be a fine description of an action; as an example, I was running DramaSystem and a player declared "I take control of the army, march to the coast, make a speech to my warriors before battle, kill the Black Knight in one-on-one combat and march home to a feast in my honor". That was a fine declaration and everyone was OK with it. If the same player had said "I bring a smile to the Queen's lips by playing a tune" then that would have been challenged and would need an entire scene to resolve. This is because DramaSystem is all about relationships, so a war can be resolved by fiat or a quick check, but making an important character happy is a major event.

I've also played games where "I hit the orc" requires multiple steps: determine who goes first, determine if the attack hits, determine if the attack causes critical damage, determine damage, determine critical result. It's just a question of what your game wants to focus on.

The OP says, effectively, that the scale of an action is ambiguous. Absolutely. Until you specify the game, when it becomes a lot less ambiguous. But in the little bit of ambiguity that remains, it's never been my experience that it's an issue. Players learn what the group likes pretty rapidly, and at most a clarifying question revolves the odd confusion.
 

Wightbred

Explorer
It seems to me like this discussion is based on a certain assumption of scale; people saying "this seems like a single action" or "those are two actions" -- these depend heavily on the scale of the game.
...

The scale of the game is definitely critical to the discussion. But so is the fictional situation and the dynamics around the table. In the last few minutes of a D&D campaign we might wrap up the story by making a few critical rolls like this.
 

Wightbred

Explorer
I've played a bit of DW and am slowly working my way through a close reading of AW preparatory, I hope, to playing it - it actually feels more compelling to me than DW, though some of that may be the visceral Vincent Baker prose!
...
Which sends me off on a whole other tangent - in what ways is gear able to be brought under descriptions of actions, and by whom? I have a soft spot for the way that AW and BW encourage the GM to use effects to gear as part of their narration of failure; and BW's approach to this infuenced my GMing of 4e and similarly (but probably more cautiously, given how gear is part of PC build in 4e) making effects to gear part of my narration of failure.

I love DW (wrote for the Kickstarter) but I definitely feel AW is the tighter implementation. Seemingly the further a PbtA game gets from AW the less I like it.

Gear is an awesome tool for engagement - even more so than the environment, because it belongs to the characters. Engaging this is where the conversation comes in. When we play any game, all players can suggest bad / good things that might have happened - particularly on critical - and the relevant player chooses and narrates.
 

pemerton

Legend
Isn't this what the IIEE framework for resolution is about?

There are two separate but connected parts of an action a player declares. What the character does (in a "thin" sense) and what the player wants to achieve.
Yes, although we can then take the inquiry the next step: what descriptions are permissible in respect of what the player wants to achieve?

For instance, is this to be described as I open the safe or I find such-and-such stuff in the safe? As my wink is a jaunty one apt to soften a maiden's heart or my wink softens the heart of this very maiden?

Maybe, for example, the player wants to attempt something that is possible, but bunches too many activities into a single action, while the GM thinks that the situation needs more focus and should be played step by step.
This is a thing, but I think it's orthogonal to the issue I'm raising in the first para of this reply.
 

pemerton

Legend
Amount of uncertainty that can be dictated is the limit of player narrative control.

"I wink at the maiden" has a very low uncertainty. Unless you've been paralyzed without knowledge, this is very likely true. "I wink at the maiden attempting to melt her heart is the same" - low uncertainty, just providing more contact so others interpret correctly.

Melting their heart though may have a lot of unknowns. She's a recent widow, she's in a true love relationship, she secret hates something about the PC, etc.

"I drink everyone else under the table" - an established hard drinking dwarf at a table of halflings could probably make this statement in any game because it has low uncertainty. In some games it would be fine all the time. Other time, like when said by the 8 CON wizard, saying it requires the players to have a strong amount of authorial control, and others may dislike it if there isn't a narrative reason supporting it.

"I open the safe and find X" - again, needs very strong authorial power on behalf of the player.
Can you elaborate on uncertainty? Are you meaning epistemic uncertainty - as in, we don't know whether or not X is in the safe; we don't know how this maiden will respond to this character's wink?

Or are you meaning metaphysical/causal uncertainty - as in, there are very few causal pathways that allow these halflings to stay sober while this dwarf is drunk; or there are very few causal pathways that allow this frail wizard to stay sober while his/her drinking comanions are drunk.

When you refer to player authorial control/power, are you meaning the power to decide that X is in the safe or the power to decide that, on this occasion, it so happens that the wizard stays sober while the other drinking companions fall down drunk, or both?

So, is it true that the PC winked? Yes - it's not difficult. Or yes - it's something you could do as your character. Is it true that the PC winked at the maiden and softened her heart? Evidently not, since we're using succeed/fail mechanics here. But, since I've already weighed in on the winking part: no - heart softening is difficult/more difficult than winking. Or no - it's not something your character could do (with a simple wink).
I'm not really following this difficulty thing.

By difficulty I assume that you mean difficutly for the character in the fiction. But then, how do we know that winking is more difficult than softening a heart? Eg if just as the character decides to wink s/he sneezes, winking may be very difficult; yet that display of vulnerability may be just the thing that softens the heart of this maiden!

Or turning to the safe example: suppose it's a true description of the character's action I opened the safe. Is it also true that I found X in the safe? Is it more difficult to find X in the safe then to open the safe? Not really, if X is in there. Obviously far more - to the point of impossibility - if X is not in there.

So I'm having a hard time seeing how you would implement a rule about who gets to establish what descriptions by reference to how difficult it is for that description to be true.
 
Last edited:

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
That sounds like it may be several actions eg that are separate in time and space.

But (eg) threatening the prince and having him concede lands sounds like a single action, again perhaps falling under multiple descriptions.

Whether or not one can do some or all of these things via a single episode of resolution in the play of a RPG would depend on the system.

It may be a single episode, but what you are doing is declaring one action for your PC, winking at her, and declaring a separarte action for the NPC, she softens her heart.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
It seems to me like this discussion is based on a certain assumption of scale; people saying "this seems like a single action" or "those are two actions" -- these depend heavily on the scale of the game.

I have been in games where the above would be a fine description of an action; as an example, I was running DramaSystem and a player declared "I take control of the army, march to the coast, make a speech to my warriors before battle, kill the Black Knight in one-on-one combat and march home to a feast in my honor". That was a fine declaration and everyone was OK with it. If the same player had said "I bring a smile to the Queen's lips by playing a tune" then that would have been challenged and would need an entire scene to resolve. This is because DramaSystem is all about relationships, so a war can be resolved by fiat or a quick check, but making an important character happy is a major event.

So what I'm not understanding is if, "I bring a smile to the Queen's lips by playing a tune" would be challenged and possibly fail, why is it phrased that way at all. Why wouldn't the player just say, ""I try to bring a smile to the Queen's lips by playing a tune?" In both cases the intent is the same and there is going to be a challenge that could fail, but only in the latter does the phrase not contradict one of the possible outcomes.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I totally agree. The Czege Principle ("When one person is the author of both the character's adversity and its resolution, play isn't fun.") means that the authoring of scene framing, adversity, action and result need to be shared around to keep the game fun.

Which is itself another untennable stance. As stated, it only takes one to falsify. I have met many who not only don't want adversary authority, but their fun is diminished when said authority is shared, because they may have to use it. I have found most of my friends do NOT appreciate being put on the spot to be in the authorial stance.

It's worth noting that I often see (for lack of a better term) disciples of Mr. Baker stating shared GMing as if it is universally good. It isn't. It's good for some, bad for many (perhaps most), and is certainly uncomfortable for most groups I've tried it with.

I should rephrase for clarity, my prior...
A player declares what their character attempts, while the authority uses the rules and their common and story senses to determine what they accomplish. The authority might be another player, might be the group as a whole, might be a table which is rolled against... but the distinction of an RPG being a game is that lack of authorial stance on the outcome of at least some actions.

None of your examples are GM-less - they're all variations on variable authority. Noting the Wick games... essentially, HotBlooded and Blood & Honor rotate authority turn-by-turn, but the player, unless they win the roll, does NOT control the outcome. And, due to the bidding, even the winner seldom controls the outcome entirely. Never play these with someone you cannot trust to stay inside the boundaries of inoffense to others...

Let's address the AWE/PBTA use case...
AWE/PBTA typically presumes several key things:
  • Assent may be assumed on any narration unless the authority states otherwise.
  • The authority should stop for resolution any narration that constitutes a move.
  • The authority should stop any narration that is not in line with prior narration by asking suitable questions
  • The authority should encourage participation by all, usually by asking questions of inactive players
  • The authority should narrate NPCs in a manner consistent with the above, sometimes allowing players to act as authority towards his/her NPCs.

The wink to melt her heart bit is fine, right up until the GM says "roll ___." In if he allows it without roll, he's still using the rules... because he doesn't see it as a move. On the other hand, if the character doing so has been defined as a being of no romantic appeal and no sexual appeal at all, the GM is perfectly reasonable to say, "and what about your repellant contenance?" or even to put it to a group vote, or even deny flatly, for violating the existing narrative.

But, until the authority (in most PBTA, a GM) remains silent after, it's still describing the attempt, not the outcome.
 
Last edited:

Dungeon Delver's Guide

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top