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D&D 5E Respect Mah Authoritah: Thoughts on DM and Player Authority in 5e

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
That's my take on most forms of metacurrency as well. They are simply tools to enable players to temporarily gain some 'non-character action declaration' narrative control. The purpose seems so transparent and yet it's often acted like there's no difference in metacurrency mechanics for that purpose and for ones that allow players to declare X happens in combat (whose reason for existence is to balance martial combat abilities around more than %chance to proc mechanics - example battlemaster superiority dice).
Oh, like hitpoints! And AC points! And Death Saves!

ETA: the opposition to metacurrency always seems so much special pleading to me.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
You've got a really strange definition of metacurrency.
Do I? What do hitpoints represent? They are points the player spends to alter the fiction from their character getting run through to them escaping with a scratch.

ETA: What does AC represent? Let's say I have an 18 AC. What's going on there? If an opponent misses my AC, did I dodge? Did I direct the blow to the strongest part of my armor? Did I parry? I mean, what's up here? It's whatever's convenient.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Do I? What do hitpoints represent? They are points the player spends to alter the fiction from their character getting run through to them escaping with a scratch.

ETA: What does AC represent? Let's say I have an 18 AC. What's going on there? If an opponent misses my AC, did I dodge? Did I direct the blow to the strongest part of my armor? Did I parry? I mean, what's up here? It's whatever's convenient.
Hit points aren't a currency. You don't spend them on anything.
 

Hit points aren't a currency. You don't spend them on anything.

I’m curious how you perceive them as “not currency?”

They’re like chips in Poker. You wager them every time you enter into a physical conflict (or enter a game). You make a move to get into melee with 5 monsters, you’re staking your HP in the same way you’re staking your chips when you push in a hand against 3-4 other players.

This hand you lose your Small Blind.

Next hand you fold and lose 1/4 of your stack.

Next hand you bring out the big guns because of your prior setups and
you take a big chunk out of someone else’s stack (or maybe 2-3 “someone elses”).

Eventually, either you’re claiming their chips or they’re taking yours. That is pretty much what HPs are. You’re busting out of the D&D combat as poker tourney whoopass or they are. Either way, your HP/chips are what you’re staking and those going to zero means they go bust.
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I’m curious how you perceive them as “not currency?”

They’re like chips in Poker. You wager them every time you enter into a physical conflict (or enter a game). You make a move to get into melee with 5 monsters, you’re staking your HP in the same way you’re staking your chips when you push in a hand against 3-4 other players.

This hand you lose your Small Blind.

Next hand you fold and lose 1/4 of your stack.

Next hand you bring out the big guns because of your prior setups and
you take a big chunk out of someone else’s stack (or maybe 2-3 “someone elses”).

Eventually, either you’re claiming their chips or they’re taking yours. That is pretty much what HPs are. You’re busting out of the D&D combat tourney or they are. Either way, your HP/chips are what you’re staking and those going to zero means bust.
Nevermind, I've decided I'm not going to go down this stupid tangent.

I'm just in disbelief that 1 person let along 3 are arguing this.
 

These both seem run-of-the-mill uses of GM Force. Seems pretty typical of 5e play to me.

I think they’re definitely examples of GM force, but I think they were different enough to look at separately.

The first I would have personally found irksome.

The second would not have bothered me in the slightest from a fair play perspective.

Yeah, that’s largely how I felt. In the first example, I just had to accept that the hag was escaping, I guess.

The second seemed less like thwarting the player and more like building on what a player did. It seemed at least a bit creative and we wound up in a new situation. Like I said, I think I’d have preferred a roll of some kind with this as a consequence. It bothered me far less and the player of the character who cast the spell thought it was an interesting turn of events.

At minimum, this seems like a hella clumsy. Though it also kinda depends on how distances are normally handled (was there a battlemap?) If distances are always handled somewhat abstractly, then this might be more understandable. Though coming up bunch of reasons why you couldn't attack seems like BS either way. Better hope that if your characters ever need to flee the GM handles that with equal generosity!

It was indeed clumsy, I’d say. We’re playing via discord, full theater of the mind, so distances aren’t exact by any means, and terrain isn’t always perfectly established. But the range of the longbow certainly covered the entirety of the battle area, which was likely maybe 100 feet between the furthest combatants.

This is just weird. But I guess it is kinda funny. Rules really don't work like this, but I can see the GM thinking that this would make metaphysical and narrative sense.

From these and your earlier example I get the impression that your GM thinks more in sense of 'would this be a cool scene' and 'how this would go in a book/movie' and might not be that concerned with what the rules actually say. Cool standoff with the soldiers, an enemy flees so that they can become a recurring villain, the fae cause unexpected and weird hijinks. Not necessarily a problem, but if there are mismatch of expectations then it is. Also, an issue with this sort of thinking is that the GM might get too enamoured with certain scenes happening, which leads to railroadyness.

Yeah, he definitely leans toward trying to present dynamic and fun scenes. And often he’s successful, but I think these examples show he sometimes gets too married to certain ideas, and then steers toward them, perhaps even not realizing it.

I think I'd be bothered by it. Seems a little ... beyond the rules to me--and I think I'd have a hard time trusting this GM to go beyond the rules, from the little bit you've mentioned.

I don't disagree that it could work for a consequence, if there'd been a check, and if the table was playing that way. The party is fighting hags, so manipulating the Feywild isn't implausible; I'd want it to be more telegraphed/foreshadowed.

Well in this instance the hags weren’t involved…these were two separate situations with only some minor connections.

I don’t think the rules support this happening, but I don’t think they specifically block it, either. Certainly the Find Familiar spell is worded in such a way that this kind of thing isn’t addressed at all. I think this is one of the reasons that it bothered me less. The situation with the fleeing hag undermined a few rules to some extent.
 
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I'm a bit unsure about your formers and latters (because of the negations - "nothing" - and also the verbs embedded in the "encourage" verbs). Are you saying that the assumed approach tends towards ignoring player cues rather than paying attention to those cues?

That seems plausible, based on my exposure to D&D play. But that has nothing to do with players not wanting to tread onto the GM's field of authority; nor with "living sandbox" vs "story now". You can have full GM authority over backstory and situation and still have the GM pay attention to those cues. And that could be story now (I mean, this is basically how AW works - the cues are mostly going to manifest in the process of asking questions and building on the answers) or it could be @Campbell's story-now-in-the-streets-right-to-dream-in-the-sheets.

Yeah that was poorly phrased, but you got it. Also, reading it again, I think how I’ve described it is more absolute than I intended. Certainly there are examples of each in the books. But I think the text probably leans far more toward a GM if not ignoring player cues of that kind, then simply assuming they won’t happen

Your first example is uncannily like my bad-guy-in-the-valley-then-in-the-volcano scenario. It's a transparent exercise of GM force.

That seems to be the consensus.

To me, this seems like a GM trying to do something interesting, and the system letting them down a bit.

In 4e this would be easy to adjudicate, because the skill challenge framework creates a context for imposing consequences for failure, framing new complications within an overall context in which the players can achieve finality of resolution, etc.

5e seems a bit weaker in this context. How should the GM have handled this, short of fiat, in 5e? Let the player of the wizard roll a save? Make the redcaps roll an Arcana check? This is getting into the terrain where it's hard for me to stick to analysis rather than evaluation: I prefer systems that have the flexibility to handle this without raising any eyebrows or relying on largely arbitrary assertions of GM authority (eg Cortex+ Heroic, which has incredible flexibility in consequence narration; 4e D&D, which comes pretty close to that; Prince Valiant, which has not player-side magic of the D&D sort and so doesn't raise the "unsupported by rules as written" issue; etc).

Yeah, this is the kind of thing where the rules aren’t really clear, and so the GM will have to come up with something. I’d prefer there be rules, or a process to lean on besides “make it up”, but given the nature of 5e it’s not all that surprising that in the absence of actual rules the GM is gonna make stuff up.
 


pemerton

Legend
Well, I suspect its assumed the latter represent some in-fiction process mostly, whereas metacurrency is explicitly (except in some odd cases like TORG) just what it says on the tin.
Even putting TORG to one side, I don't think this is right.

I believe that @FrogReaver and probably @Crimson Longinus regard a Circles or Wise check in Burning Wheel as a form of "metagame" "narrative control (although it is based on a check rather than a currency). I believe that they would see a player's use of a Special Effect (via a Storyteller Certificate) in Prince Valiant as a form of "metacurrency".

But in all these cases the process at the table - of making the check, or cashing in the certificate - represents an in-fiction process. A Circles check corresponds to looking around for and/or hoping to meet a person. A Wises check corresponds to trying to remember the details of something. And I quoted the relevant rules about Special Effects in Prince Valiant upthread (from p 44 of the rulebook): "The Storyteller must create a reasonable explanation for the way in which the Effect takes place, in terms of the current situation."

So whatever it is that sets the conventionally-received boundary between "metacurrency" and other stuff, I don't think that it is about in-fiction processes. Rather, as you said upthread:
where does the no-die-roll, straight-declarative authority stop? I think some of the functions of some forms of metacurrency are to keep a largely traditional separation here while permitting limited ability for the player to put his oar in in areas where most older trad games wouldn't.
Those traditional separations/boundaries aren't explained by representation of in-fiction processes. In addition to the examples I've given, which do represent such processes but I think are controversial in a traditional context, it's widely accepted that a player can specify stuff in their PC's orbit (names of parents; colour of cloak at the start of the campaign; etc) without those decisions having to represent an in-fiction process (eg the PC didn't name their parents).

This is why I prefer an analysis in terms of backstory and situation, which I think actually does track what is going on pretty closely:

* The GM has primary authority over backstory - some minor details within the PC's orbit are the exception (as I said just above). It's easy to find debates about where this boundary lies - everything from GMs policing race and class choices, to people arguing about whether random family generation charts are a good or bad thing.

* The GM has primary authority over framing situations - but there are significant differences here in the use of eg random reaction tables, random weather tables, etc, which can be seen as imposing constraints (ranging from the minor to the very significant) on the GM's framing.

* The big point of difference is the basic principle that guides the framing of situations:

* Is this largely fiat, with backstory then adjusted (behind-the-scenes) to support it? It seems pretty clear that this is what happened in @hawkeyefan's Folk Hero episode of play - that is, the GM had a scene he wanted to present, and he manipulated backstory (about how the duke's soldiers discovered the PCs) in order to support that framing. But the more this is done, the more the game drifts towards a "situation first" game of the "living novel" sort, and the role of backstory becomes less and less important as an input, and more something that the GM just develops as needed to support the series of fiated situations.

* Is this highly constrained by pre-authored backstory, whether map-and-key or the "evolving" backstory of a "living sandbox"? This is what Gygax and Moldvay present as the norm - they have no objection to the GM writing interesting stuff, but that is presented as something to be done as part of prep, in designing the dungeon, and not really as part of play (an exception, which sits a little uneasily with the general tenor of his advice, is Gygax's suggestion that the GM might manipulate dice rolls to support more interesting framing, on pp 9 and 110 of his DMG). Just as it's possible to write an interesting dungeon during prep, and rely on the prep to generate interesting situations in play, so I think the same can be done for a "living sandbox", as @Campbell has outlined above.

* What is probably fairly common, I think, is a mix of the above two approaches - ie the GM does prep, and in principle treats it as constraining on situation-framing, but adjusts or departs from the prep when that seems desirable in order to fiat a situation.​

One thing that I find interesting about response to @hawkeyefan's example of the escaping hag is the relative uniformity of critical response:
one point of frustration I experienced as a player.

<snip>

I haven't yet had a chance to discuss that specific point of play with him, but I plan on it. I found it to be pretty frustrating.
The first I would have personally found irksome.
At minimum, this seems like a hella clumsy. Though it also kinda depends on how distances are normally handled (was there a battlemap?) If distances are always handled somewhat abstractly, then this might be more understandable. Though coming up bunch of reasons why you couldn't attack seems like BS either way. Better hope that if your characters ever need to flee the GM handles that with equal generosity!
Only @Ovinomancer seemed comfortable with it:
These both seem run-of-the-mill uses of GM Force. Seems pretty typical of 5e play to me.
Now if one takes the play loop of 5e D&D literally and as admitting of no further qualifications, then this episode fitted it: the GM described the situation (fleeing hag), hawkeyefan declared his PC's action (ranger tries to shoot the hag) and the GM narrates what happens next (the shot is impossible and so no roll is required).

We can quibble at the edges - it seems that the GM may not have described the outcome of a shot ("you miss" with no roll called for) and rather have described the ranger's state of mind ("you realise shooting the hag is not possible") but I don't think that's the crux of the issue (in a sense, that is doing hawkeyefan a favour by helping to conserve ammunition). The crux of the issue, as I see it, is that most RPGers don't regard the GM's authority to narrate what happens next as unconstrained: in this case, rules for range (as found in the weapon rules, the feat rules, etc) and for spotting enemies (as found in the Perception rules, the spell rules, etc), as well as a general sense of "fair play", are expected to constrain that authority.

I think this shows that, whereas in traditional RPGing there is a diversity in understandings of how scenes should be framed, there is less (not no) diversity when it comes to the action resolution process. I think most RPGers, even traditional RPGers, are suspicious of the GM just suspending the standard action resolution rules.

And I'm prepared to conjecture even a little bit further: I think that if hawkeyefan's GM had used his authority over backstory and situation to conjure up a rules-legitimate way for the hag to escape (eg a newly-authored powerful friend teleports her out), that might be seen as a bit dubious by many traditional RPGers, going as it would not just to initial framing (as in the Folk Hero case) but directly to the resolution of a conflict-in-progress.

A player can be very sceptical of a certain sort of meta-currency but still have these sorts of reasonably clear views about what counts as acceptable exercise by the GM of their authority over backstory and over situation.

EDIT:
Oh, like hitpoints! And AC points! And Death Saves!

ETA: the opposition to metacurrency always seems so much special pleading to me.
That's why I don't really regard the issue being one of either "metacurrency" or "in-fiction processes". It's about "domains" (for lack of a better word) of the fiction, and who has what sort of authority over those.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Well in this instance the hags weren’t involved…these were two separate situations with only some minor connections.
Well. I misread, then. It could make sense, if there were hags--but that's kinda counterfactual, innit?
I don’t think the rules support this happening, but I don’t think they specifically block it, either. Certainly the Find Familiar spell is worded in such a way that this kind of thing isn’t addressed at all. I think this is one of the reasons that it bothered me less. The situation with the fleeing hag undermined a few rules to some extent.
I think the rules are pretty clear that when you cast find familiar you get your familiar--there's no rules anywhere indicating that getting anything else is possible. I think it'd bother me at least as much as not being able to shoot the fleeing hag, to be honest with you.
 

pemerton

Legend
There's been a good amount of discussion about a player looking for their brother only to get tasked by a faction to do a non-backstory thing to get a backstory clue, and that the GM may have already determined that the brother was dead without checking with the player. This was presented without irony as a totally normal thing to do. The player, in all of this, is entirely passive. They don't even declare actions. But this is held out as normal play!
Right. This really struck me, particularly when it was presented as a supposed point of convergence between a "living sandbox" and my BW experience.

I look at what's happening in play -- and what's often relayed (when you can get anything) is a very passive -- as in not much is actually demanded of the player by the game -- experience. The players receive the fiction from the GM who has sole authority to create this (and the expectation). The players marshal resources and manipulate this fiction to find a why to get the GM to narrate the next bit of fiction. And the GM responds by narrating the next bit, or narrating a failure of the manipulation and the cycle starts again. I mean, the basic 5e play loop has been repeatedly cited and banged hard upon in this very thread.

<snip>

I'm not playing 5e to put my stamp on the fiction and forge forwards on a personally defining quest, to learn about my characters and be surprised by that learning, to learn about the setting and surprise the GM with that learning along with myself. It's not the point. The whole combat minigame exists to add some bits of control and engagement, but it's extremely shallow on the fiction front while very heavy on the manipulation of the fiction pieces the GM provides front.
Let me extrapolate as to why I find this fun. I'm absolutely on the receiving end of the fiction. I can and am expected to not contribute to the overall fiction very much at all, and in many cases not at all. I am to declare actions for my character and find out, from the GM, what fiction results. The fun here is that I am 100% in manipulation of that fiction mode. I am trying to marshal my resources against the puzzle to find a solution that results in the GM advancing the fiction. I find the combat minigame fun and engaging for the most part. My job as a player is to receive fiction from the GM, figure out how to manipulate it (often by marshalling my resources), and then declaring the appropriate actions to get the GM to narrate the next bit of fiction. Along the way (hopefully) the GM is doing a skillful job of presenting an entertaining story, but even they aren't, so long as the puzzles are intriguing, I'm good to go. It's very low effort for me -- not much is expected from me and it's relaxing play.
Am I right to think that the bolded "it" refers to 5e D&D as a whole, rather than just the combat minigame?

Anyway, I think that what you describe here can become a frustrating play experience if the GM does not hold the fiction relatively constant. What counts as "relatively" constant is of course highly contextual. But the less constant the fiction, the less predictable the results of declaring actions that manipulate it, and the less that the players are solving puzzles as opposed to making implicit suggestions to the GM as to what they should say happens next.

In Gygax's DMG, I think this sort of issue arises in his discussion of "living"/"reactive" dungeons (pp 104-5). If a GM really takes that advice to heart, then the player advice in the PHB (about scouting and planning an objective for the dungeon mission: pp 107. 109) becomes less useful and even unhelpful, because the knowledge obtained in today's mission will be rendered outdated and perhaps even irrelevant by the changes the GM makes between incursions. My own experience of GMing in a "living sandbox" style suggests that this is a significant risk for that approach. The game can be in danger of drifting into "living novel" territory.

I think this is a reason why the puzzle-solving/fiction-manipulation approach is associated with rather simple or even corny/inane backstory setups. It's not that the author couldn't think of anything cleverer or more realistic: it's that they wanted to keep the fiction relatively constant so as to preserve the integrity of play.

The last time I played in this sort of game, the puzzles were a series of interlocking prophecies connected to one (maybe multiple?) PCs (it's been a while, and it may be that we never got clear on that as players). Over time the impression grew that we were in a "living novel" game that was masquerading as something else. That didn't improve the play experience!
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Even putting TORG to one side, I don't think this is right.

I believe that @FrogReaver and probably @Crimson Longinus regard a Circles or Wise check in Burning Wheel as a form of "metagame" "narrative control (although it is based on a check rather than a currency). I believe that they would see a player's use of a Special Effect (via a Storyteller Certificate) in Prince Valiant as a form of "metacurrency".
That seems accurate.

But in all these cases the process at the table - of making the check, or cashing in the certificate - represents an in-fiction process. A Circles check corresponds to looking around for and/or hoping to meet a person. A Wises check corresponds to trying to remember the details of something. And I quoted the relevant rules about Special Effects in Prince Valiant upthread (from p 44 of the rulebook): "The Storyteller must create a reasonable explanation for the way in which the Effect takes place, in terms of the current situation."
This seems fundamentally off in that virtually all metagame currencies or metagame narrative controls can be viewed in some sense as corresponding to the fiction of which they allow or attempt to allow the player to 'alter'.

What's different about that kind of fictional correspondence and what @Thomas Shey is getting at is how closely the metacurrency or metagame control is limited to corresponding to just the character and their very immediate situation. This is why a metacurrency that a battlemaster fighter can spend to knock a creature prone (representing his skilled swordsmanship to some degree) is acceptable to such players while a metacurrency or metagame control that allows a character to specify 'this is the location of evards tower' is not acceptable. One is limited to the corresponding character and some particular contest they are in and the other is related to the character and establishing fiction outside a particular contest the character is in.

See also the metacurrency of inspiration that 5e allows DM's to hand out. Players can use that metacurrency to affect their characters chances on a single chosen skill check and skill checks are specifically related to a character in a very immediate situation.

The further away something drifts from that specific character and that immediate situation the more issues you will find these players have with it.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think the rules are pretty clear that when you cast find familiar you get your familiar--there's no rules anywhere indicating that getting anything else is possible. I think it'd bother me at least as much as not being able to shoot the fleeing hag, to be honest with you.
We have quite different responses to this.

The FInd Familiar spell says

As an action, you can temporarily dismiss your familiar. It disappears into a pocket dimension where it awaits your summons. . . . As an action while it is temporarily dismissed, you can cause it to reappear in any unoccupied space within 30 feet of you.​

This seems to leave open who/what else might be in the pocket dimension. Can the familiar grab something and take it into the pocket dimension? Can something grab it and come along for the ride? I don't see that there is any contradiction of the rules or the fiction in the redcap scenario: rather, it's about what is considered "fair play" in situation framing.

Whereas the inability of a ranger with Hunter's Mark cast to shoot the hag seems to contradict both the rules and the established fiction.
 

Well. I misread, then. It could make sense, if there were hags--but that's kinda counterfactual, innit?

Well there were fey involved, and the familiar is a fey creature. So it kind of makes sense that when the familiar was dismissed to the pocket dimension, the redcaps may have been able to go along with it, and then when it was resummoned to the PC, they’d come along then, too.

When I say “makes sense” I mean it seems suitably backed by the made up elements

I think the rules are pretty clear that when you cast find familiar you get your familiar--there's no rules anywhere indicating that getting anything else is possible. I think it'd bother me at least as much as not being able to shoot the fleeing hag, to be honest with you.

Well I won’t say you’re wrong. One of our group kind of balked at the idea. And I get it. I just don’t see any rules being overruled by the GM here.

This was not the PC’s initial casting of Find Familiar…it was already on scene and he sent it out to scout, and the redcaps jumped it. The PC was unaware at that point because it was more than 100 feet away. He dismissed it to a pocket dimension per the spell, and then brought it back within 30 feet (this allows you to dismiss and bring back your familiar multiple times with a single casting of the spell). The redcaps came along for the ride.

Again, it’s not in the rules in any way….but it’s less clearly overriding the rules. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.
 

niklinna

Looking for group
Again, it’s not in the rules in any way….but it’s less clearly overriding the rules. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.
Also, it gives at least weak precedent for the Wizard to use their familiar to store/hide items in the pocket dimension, or even creatures touching/grappling the familiar. There are GMs I would absolutely explore this revelation with...and others I would know better than to bother.
 


I don't really care how they choose to see it. Most of them have never done anything differently. I look at what's happening in play -- and what's often relayed (when you can get anything) is a very passive -- as in not much is actually demanded of the player by the game -- experience. The players receive the fiction from the GM who has sole authority to create this (and the expectation). The players marshal resources and manipulate this fiction to find a why to get the GM to narrate the next bit of fiction. And the GM responds by narrating the next bit, or narrating a failure of the manipulation and the cycle starts again. I mean, the basic 5e play loop has been repeatedly cited and banged hard upon in this very thread.

There's some nuance -- players may be expected to have a backstory with some drama, but then they wait until the GM shines the spotlight at them so that they know they're on stage. However, the play really doesn't change much, because what usually happens is that the GM is still inventing and presenting the fiction, just with an eye to engaging whatever the player hook was. There's been a good amount of discussion about a player looking for their brother only to get tasked by a faction to do a non-backstory thing to get a backstory clue, and that the GM may have already determined that the brother was dead without checking with the player. This was presented without irony as a totally normal thing to do. The player, in all of this, is entirely passive. They don't even declare actions. But this is held out as normal play!

And it is! If I were playing 5e, I would not be the least surprised by this play. It's what I expect. I'm not playing 5e to put my stamp on the fiction and forge forwards on a personally defining quest, to learn about my characters and be surprised by that learning, to learn about the setting and surprise the GM with that learning along with myself. It's not the point. The whole combat minigame exists to add some bits of control and engagement, but it's extremely shallow on the fiction front while very heavy on the manipulation of the fiction pieces the GM provides front.

All in all, the experience of playing D&D is pretty passive. I mean, there's a whole branch of approach called "beer and pretzels." The primary goal of D&D is not uncommonly referred to as "kill things and take their stuff." These aren't derogatory statements, they're fans talking about a game they love! But they certainly are showcasing a pretty passive approach to play, given the entirety of ways to play.
Well that's the thing about words...they have connotations and associations that exceed their literal meanings. And yes, generally, "active" has more positive connotations than "passive."

Relatedly, it's not the best word to actually describe what you are trying to describe. The 5e play loop does not situate the player in an inherently passive position. Passive players are those that are not engaged or have no reaction to the world as presented. I would say that 5e players are reactive: the DM initiates the play loop, the player responds, and then the DM responds in turn. The GM has more work to do in their steps, but that does not mean that all the puzzle-solving and tactical combat-having is passive (let alone the character-building and backstory-creating, which may as well be a pillar of play).

I don't really care how they choose to see it. Most of them have never done anything differently. I look at what's happening in play -- and what's often relayed (when you can get anything) is a very passive -- as in not much is actually demanded of the player by the game -- experience.

Perhaps more importantly, "passive" may or may not be how players describe their own experience with a system. For example, Call of Cthulhu scenarios are fairly linear, and a lot of what the keeper does is literally hand the players sheets with pre-made backstory. Yet from experience I've had, players find that experience to be engaging and dialogic, involving both their imagination and problem-solving skills. When considered in the whole range of ttrpgs, it's easy to forget that even traditional games and linear scenarios feel very "active" for a lot of people, new and continuing players. That feeling of engagement is what draws people to 5e as well.

Unlike me, you seem very confident that you can look at other people's games, and overwrite their own experiences. That if someone (and actually lots of people) say that they play 5e modules more or less by the book, and they find the time they spend with their characters to be active, collaborative, and engaging, you'll be able to step in with your "unromantic" analysis (with its already-set categories) and say, "nope, 5e is passive." That's what I mean when I say you are articulating a prescriptive, axiomatic perspective in these posts.
 

Oh, like hitpoints! And AC points! And Death Saves!

ETA: the opposition to metacurrency always seems so much special pleading to me.
And spell slots. And turning attempts, and any ability with uses per day/turn/arbitrary period. And - prior to 4E - character levels, xp, Constitution points; yadda yadda; blah blah.

The entire game in any iteration is predicated on numbers which we track. The numbers go up and down. Meanwhile we beat our heads trying to cram them into representing something they really don't and cannot - some kind of objective measure in the game world.

Some cows are sacred, but on inspection it transpires they are not flawless red heifers.
 

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