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RPG Theory - Restrictions and Authority

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
It seems to me most all rpg theory discussions eventually start talking about authority over the fiction, who has it and what process or rules provide that authority. However, I would suggest that just as importantly as understanding fictional authority is understanding what restrictions are put on it, who did so and what process or rules provide those restrictions. It also appears that restrictions happen to be one area that I never see talked about much despite them being absolutely critical in understanding how games play differently. IMO.

D&D authority is fairly traditional. DM's have authority over most fictional content and all resolutions - however there are restrictions (Spells work as listed, enemies die in combat at 0 hp, etc). Players have vast authority over their characters - however there are restrictions (fictional mind control magic can restrict player authority 'charm' or flat out override it 'suggestion/dominate', players normally only have authority over what they character does in a very narrow sense - it may be better to say they control what the character attempts to do, etc.) Key for the player is that no matter whether success or failure comes up, the player was able to direct their PC to make the attempt.

I suggest it's this interaction between authority and restriction and the source of each that really shapes games into appealing to different kinds of players.

Some areas of restrictions:
Rules
Principles
Genre Expectations
Other Expectations
Players
DMs
Meta Currency Mechanics
Established / Pre-Established Fiction

Thoughts on the importance of Restrictions and whether these coupled with Authorities would make a solid classification matrix?
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
What empowers the sources of the restrictions in your list to impose them? It seems like, assuming we have agreed for all parties to follow them, they all flow from the rules (or more generally from the social contract of the group).

Do you have an example of player-imposed restriction? Something like the x-card or lines and veils where anyone can veto or limit certain content in a game? A build choice (e.g., my character is immune to all diseases, so the GM cannot impose that on him)?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I suppose an example, which I think falls under the category of rules, but which may contradict the idea of players having “vast authority” over their characters, would be something like Background or Class choices in a 5e campaign.

Are they all available for selection? Are there restrictions? Who determines this?

If we go by the book, it would appear to be the GM. However, I know many folks who make these decisions as a group.

The decision on how to handle this would seem to have significant impact on the players’ authority over their characters.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
What empowers the sources of the restrictions in your list to impose them? It seems like, assuming we have agreed for all parties to follow them, they all flow from the rules (or more generally from the social contract of the group).
Everything always flows from the social contract so that’s not a particularly interesting point.

Obviously on some level the rules are what empowers all participants authorities and also their ability to restrict.

Yet sometimes the rules directly restrict. Think principles in story now games. Sometimes rules empower a player or dm to restrict while another authors.


Do you have an example of player-imposed restriction? Something like the x-card or lines and veils where anyone can veto or limit certain content in a game? A build choice (e.g., my character is immune to all diseases, so the GM cannot impose that on him)?
An example might be in a D&D sandbox where the DM introduces a dangerous dungeon that the players actively use their play to avoid. The DM is faced with a choice. Honor that play or force the players to interact with that dungeon. Here you can see player authority along with an unspoken principle restricting the DM from putting the players through that dungeon.

Basically anytime the player has authority over something in a scene and the dm authority over the scene there must be some navigation to determine which authority is going to restrict the other.

I think story now games probably have better restriction examples but I’m not as familiar.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I suppose an example, which I think falls under the category of rules, but which may contradict the idea of players having “vast authority” over their characters, would be something like Background or Class choices in a 5e campaign.

Are they all available for selection? Are there restrictions? Who determines this?

If we go by the book, it would appear to be the GM. However, I know many folks who make these decisions as a group.

The decision on how to handle this would seem to have significant impact on the players’ authority over their characters.
Great example.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Thoughts on the importance of Restrictions and whether these coupled with Authorities would make a solid classification matrix?
I don't think it would be a very big matrix. Six boxes should do:
Traditional AuthorityMiddlingPlayer-side Authority
Dungeons and DragonsEverything ElseDungeon World
To the left of D&D are board games, in which the rules are so strict that no referee is needed. To the right of Dungeon World is improvisational acting, is which the PCs have so much freedom that they are no longer playing a game.

Bonus points to whoever calls out the false dichotomy in this post...
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Everything always flows from the social contract so that’s not a particularly interesting point.
I saw a hierarchy in the list you provided and figured it was worth noting, but I otherwise agree.

An example might be in a D&D sandbox where the DM introduces a dangerous dungeon that the players actively use their play to avoid. The DM is faced with a choice. Honor that play or force the players to interact with that dungeon. Here you can see player authority along with an unspoken principle restricting the DM from putting the players through that dungeon.

Basically anytime the player has authority over something in a scene and the dm authority over the scene there must be some navigation to determine which authority is going to restrict the other.
Or the type of restriction that prevents a GM from negating skilled play in an OSR game? If you dismantle a trap without ever rolling the dice, the GM is precluded by convention from demanding a check anyway.

I think story now games probably have better restriction examples but I’m not as familiar.
One that comes to mind from Story Now games is who gets to say you get XP. In some games like Blades in the Dark, the GM is restricted from saying whether you get XP. The group can offer feedback, but if you think you should get it, you get it.

I suggested this approach in the sandbox thread, and it proved a bit contentious because of disagreement on whether and what restrictions were needed on who decides when it comes to rewards and incentives.
 
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Yora

Legend
If we go by the book, it would appear to be the GM. However, I know many folks who make these decisions as a group.

The decision on how to handle this would seem to have significant impact on the players’ authority over their characters.
It depends. If the GM listens to the players' wishes and suggestions and decides to approve all of them, it's still the GM who makes the call.
The GM only loses authority if the GM does not have the option to say no.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
It depends. If the GM listens to the players' wishes and suggestions and decides to approve all of them, it's still the GM who makes the call.
The GM only loses authority if the GM does not have the option to say no.

Sure, that's true!

Basically anytime the player has authority over something in a scene and the dm authority over the scene there must be some navigation to determine which authority is going to restrict the other.

I'm thinking here of a comparison using two games I'm currently playing. Let's say my character is in a situation where something has been revealed, and there's a chance my character knows something about it.

In my 5e D&D game, I would ask the GM if I know anything about X. The GM would consider what if anything it is even possible for me to know about X, and then would set a DC for that knowledge. He'd then call for a roll, indicating the Ability and any applicable Skill. He may or may not share the DC with me. I'd roll and share the results. The GM would then determine what I know based on the result of the roll. This process is chock full of GM authority.

In my Stonetop game, I would declare that I was attempting to draw on my accumulated knowledge which would trigger the Know Things move. The GM would tell me to roll, and I'd roll 2d6 and add my INT modifier (or perhaps another modifier if I have certain playbook abilities). The results are set. On a 10+ the GM is obliged to offer me something both interesting and useful. On a 7-9 the GM must tell me something interesting, and then it's up to me to make it useful. On a 6 or less, the GM will make a move of some sort in response.On either a 10+ or a 7-9, the GM may ask me to explain how I know this.

In the Stonetop example, there's far less GM authority. However, there's not a huge increase in player authority, either. I think the player is a bit more informed in that he knows his chances for success, and knows what he will get based on the results of the roll. But is the player's authority really increased? If it is, I'd only say that it is such that deciding to make such a roll carries a risk, and so the player has introduced this risk to the game; he's made this thing that has been introduced more focal to play, and play will now depend on this thing in some way. But I don't know if this is the kind of authority you are thinking of, @FrogReaver . Certainly the player doesn't get to dictate what the information he gains from the roll may be, or anything along those lines.

In each case, the authority comes from the rules of the game. The constraint on the participants is according to the rules. In D&D 5e, this type of action requires a lot of input from the GM, with minimal direction other than whether a roll succeeds or fails to hit the DC. It's hard to even pinpoint the constraints in this set up. In Stonetop, the GM is still the one that comes up with the information that results from a success, but he is obligated to make it interesting and possibly also useful, depending on the result. He's also obligated to make a responding Move in the case of a failure. The constraints are more specific.
 

It seems to me most all rpg theory discussions eventually start talking about authority over the fiction, who has it and what process or rules provide that authority. However, I would suggest that just as importantly as understanding fictional authority is understanding what restrictions are put on it, who did so and what process or rules provide those restrictions. It also appears that restrictions happen to be one area that I never see talked about much despite them being absolutely critical in understanding how games play differently. IMO.

D&D authority is fairly traditional. DM's have authority over most fictional content and all resolutions - however there are restrictions (Spells work as listed, enemies die in combat at 0 hp, etc). Players have vast authority over their characters - however there are restrictions (fictional mind control magic can restrict player authority 'charm' or flat out override it 'suggestion/dominate', players normally only have authority over what they character does in a very narrow sense - it may be better to say they control what the character attempts to do, etc.) Key for the player is that no matter whether success or failure comes up, the player was able to direct their PC to make the attempt.

I suggest it's this interaction between authority and restriction and the source of each that really shapes games into appealing to different kinds of players.

Some areas of restrictions:
Rules
Principles
Genre Expectations
Other Expectations
Players
DMs
Meta Currency Mechanics
Established / Pre-Established Fiction

Thoughts on the importance of Restrictions and whether these coupled with Authorities would make a solid classification matrix?
I didn't get a chance to post yesterday, so probably others have covered this but:

So, 'authority over my character' in a basic core sense really doesn't need to be considered, if you don't have that as a player, then its hard to say its even an RPG (there may be exceptions to this, but I'd expect those are games that are pretty far 'out there' in terms of diverging a LOT from the more common structures of RPGs and may not even be relevant in this whole discussion, though I'm happy to be educated on that subject).

Now, that last being said, some games give more or less authority surrounding 'the character', and that might include more or less background authority (which generally implies some authority over established prior fiction). It might also include more or less authority over the pre-established traits of the character, including ones that might be critical in terms of how the character thinks and acts. USUALLY most games give these to the player, as D&D does, but some games are less generous, like say Paranoia (where players have authority over basically nothing except how they will provoke the computer into murdering them).

So I think the main fruitful area of discussion is authority over contents of the fiction outside of the character itself, and authority over things like the consequences of actions. There could also be questions about the authority over the actual process of play (IE is there a referee-like GM who has authority over adjudication, etc.).

I think your categories of things which can impact the allocation of authority is OK. I guess it might be interesting to look at different games and see which of these apply, and to what, and then we could talk about what that tells us about that particular game.
 

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