D&D General What is player agency to you?

Golroc

Explorer
Supporter
For this tangent I’m going to be speaking under the assumption that different games have differing amounts of agency.

1) Particular game rules make for different games
2) particular game rules make for differing amounts of agency

Thus, To the game rules is to change both the game and the agency it offers.

This next piece I think is why @clearstream has been working towards. Given that all games limit agency to some degree in order to be a game - then there should be games with more agency than PbtA or burning wheel or etc (and if they don’t currently exist then they theoretically do so as we can all imagine them). In short the posters saying they prefer higher agency games aren’t actually looking for the highest agency possible. Instead they are content with the amount and types PbtA and others offer them. It’s not simply a desire for high agency - it’s also a desire for particular types of game rules.

What this and the points above together show - agency and game rules are inseparable. To be content with a certain level of agency is to be content with the rules of that game and to be content with the rules of a game means you are content with the level and types of agency it provides. This conception of agency in relation to playing games is a tautology - and that’s is trying to be conveyed.

But you still have the players and (in most systems, in particular) the GM using the system, which does change the "baseline" of the system. For example, a GM can deprive players of agency in any kind of system by making a certain type of scenario. This can be done even purely using prepared materials and no direct railroading. You can devise sandboxes that regardless of how impartially you adjudicate the game, the players have low agency when acting within them. And the opposite holds too - a system which is comparatively low agency can be turned into a session of massive agency if the GM hosts a session that gives players tons of agency by virtue of the scenario and the interactions.

That doesn't mean I think agency is irrelevant and everything is the same. I'm saying that the system is part of what contributes to agency (and it can be a big part) - but one cannot ignore the people playing the game. I'm pretty sure there are posters in this thread who would GM a "vanilla" 5th edition game so radically different that the player agency was as different, as if they were using different systems.

So yes, agency and game rules are inseparable. But agency and conventions, preparation style and scenario conditions are also inseparable. Which makes sense - all aspects of the game (system and human) contribute to the type and level of player agency.

I don't think agency when it comes to negotiating (explicitly or implicitly) the social contract for a game is an unimportant and not real agency. Especially as the negotiation in practice may often not be purely a session 0 thing. While some are lucky to have groups where the expectations are known and aligned ahead of time - there are many tables where the contract is constantly being renegotiated in various minor ways. "Can I do this?" "Could we do this?" "I'd really you rather didn't do this." and so forth. In such groups, a player who is left without ability to properly affect this process can feel loss of agency.

Are any of these (hypothetical) examples of lacking of agency less valid?
  • we're playing D&D and it doesn't let me do what PtbA does in regard to the shared fiction
  • the GM is using quantum ogres all the time and my choices are fake
  • the group is constantly shutting down my attempts at shifting the game towards urban adventures and social interactions instead of hack 'n slash dungeon crawls?
  • the GM has prepared an obnoxiously difficult scenario and it's really hard not to be forced into a game of stealth, resource management and min/max'ing of mechanics - which I might not find interesting
  • the other players are spending half the game session chatting up NPCs, but I'm playing a mute cyborg and I just want to get to some proper combat and action adventures

I agree that system is an important factor, but there are so many aspects contributing to player agency that I think it is important to consider it as a multi-dimensional and complex concept, highly tied to what the player is actually trying achieve by playing the game.
 

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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
But you still have the players and (in most systems, in particular) the GM using the system, which does change the "baseline" of the system. For example, a GM can deprive players of agency in any kind of system by making a certain type of scenario. This can be done even purely using prepared materials and no direct railroading. You can devise sandboxes that regardless of how impartially you adjudicate the game, the players have low agency when acting within them. And the opposite holds too - a system which is comparatively low agency can be turned into a session of massive agency if the GM hosts a session that gives players tons of agency by virtue of the scenario and the interactions.

That doesn't mean I think agency is irrelevant and everything is the same. I'm saying that the system is part of what contributes to agency (and it can be a big part) - but one cannot ignore the people playing the game. I'm pretty sure there are posters in this thread who would GM a "vanilla" 5th edition game so radically different that the player agency was as different, as if they were using different systems.

So yes, agency and game rules are inseparable. But agency and conventions, preparation style and scenario conditions are also inseparable. Which makes sense - all aspects of the game (system and human) contribute to the type and level of player agency.

I don't think agency when it comes to negotiating (explicitly or implicitly) the social contract for a game is an unimportant and not real agency. Especially as the negotiation in practice may often not be purely a session 0 thing. While some are lucky to have groups where the expectations are known and aligned ahead of time - there are many tables where the contract is constantly being renegotiated in various minor ways. "Can I do this?" "Could we do this?" "I'd really you rather didn't do this." and so forth. In such groups, a player who is left without ability to properly affect this process can feel loss of agency.

Are any of these (hypothetical) examples of lacking of agency less valid?
  • we're playing D&D and it doesn't let me do what PtbA does in regard to the shared fiction
  • the GM is using quantum ogres all the time and my choices are fake
  • the group is constantly shutting down my attempts at shifting the game towards urban adventures and social interactions instead of hack 'n slash dungeon crawls?
  • the GM has prepared an obnoxiously difficult scenario and it's really hard not to be forced into a game of stealth, resource management and min/max'ing of mechanics - which I might not find interesting
  • the other players are spending half the game session chatting up NPCs, but I'm playing a mute cyborg and I just want to get to some proper combat and action adventures

I agree that system is an important factor, but there are so many aspects contributing to player agency that I think it is important to consider it as a multi-dimensional and complex concept, highly tied to what the player is actually trying achieve by playing the game.
I don’t think I disagree with anything here. But I think trying to cast such a Wide net does undermine the important narrow specifics that I did talk about and I think that’s a real shame.
 

But it is wrong about improv. Improv, like anything else, is a sliding scale. Even the most prepped games have a little bit and then it slides to pure improv which I've never seen in an RPG. So when making general statements, it helps to know how things work so that you aren't wrong so often.
I think the problem is your casting to wide a net. You try to fit way too much under just one word. I call a burger with no cheese a Hamburger and a burger with cheese a Cheeseburger. But will insist that a hamburger can have cheese on it and still be called a hamburger.

So, an Improv Game, by definition is all improv and no prep....it's kind of the point of "improv" after all. You say you have never seen a Pure Improv game, and ok, so you have not. But trust me such games do exist and it's even some peoples preferred way to game.
I reject the implied False Dichotomy here. The options are not "General statements with no knowledge or proof of what you are saying" and "Talking about one specific game."
Feel free to reject anything, does not matter to me.
Sure, because it's mostly about the DM making things easy on the players. Some games like 5e are built to be pretty easy, but the DM can dial things up if he wants to.
Again, note how you drag a named game into it?

Easy Button is a play style: it can be used in any game

Again, these statements are false. I've both DMd and played in casual games with a lot of prep. Casual is far more a statement of how the game is played than of prep.
Odd, was I not making a statement about how games were played?

You can say whatever you and your players do, you will always call your game a casual game...and really that's fine for you. But when talking to the wider world you can't do that.
Or, you know, casual. ;)
See my posts above.

Wow. That's incredibly wrong. That's not at all what casual DMing or game play is like as a general rule. As for forgetting dice, I'm not a casual DM(yet I improv a lot!!!), nor do I have casual players, yet we still sometimes forget our dice. Being forgetful doesn't make you casual and having a good memory does not make you serious.
Odd, if your not a Casual DM running a Casual game, as you say, why do you care?

I guess you can call a Casual DM or game something else.....but Casual fits, so just use it.

A Casual DM often does no prep and shows up with nothing, wearing dollar store sunglasses and their "Backstreets Back, Alright" hat backwards and say "Woah Bros, I am so ready to play some RPG game!"

No, your unfounded assertions are not how things work.
If you say so.....but wait, you can't say so. Right?
I can't say that I'm shocked that you refuse to back up your unfounded assertions.
I can't say that I'm shocked that your not shocked.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think the problem is your casting to wide a net. You try to fit way too much under just one word. I call a burger with no cheese a Hamburger and a burger with cheese a Cheeseburger. But will insist that a hamburger can have cheese on it and still be called a hamburger.
No. It's the opposite really. The net I'm using is what the word means and how it is used in RPGs. If you mean something more narrow, then you need to describe it as other than improv, because improv is the wrong word.
So, an Improv Game, by definition is all improv and no prep
No it's not. You're altered definition falls flat. You aren't describing an improv game. You're describing something else and incorrectly attributing it to improv. What you are describing(I'll help you out here) is freeform roleplaying.
....it's kind of the point of "improv" after all. You say you have never seen a Pure Improv game, and ok, so you have not. But trust me such games do exist and it's even some peoples preferred way to game.
Sure. They're called freeform roleplaying, because that's the term. Not improv. Improv runs the range I described in the other post/
Feel free to reject anything, does not matter to me.
(y)
Again, note how you drag a named game into it?
Funny how evidence works that way. Anyone can say things without anything to back it up. Proof is...........................you know..................specific. ;)
You can say whatever you and your players do, you will always call your game a casual game...and really that's fine for you. But when talking to the wider world you can't do that.
Except the wider world does. The narrow you does not, but your altered definitions don't change anything.
Odd, if your not a Casual DM running a Casual game, as you say, why do you care?
Because words and terms mean something and when I see them being grossly misused it bugs me. 🤷‍♂️
If you say so.....but wait, you can't say so. Right?
I've demonstrated why already. I don't need to repeat myself every time you get it wrong.
I can't say that I'm shocked that your not shocked.
Makes sense.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
I'm not gonna read up on 200 pages though I might go back and read the more recent discussion, but the direct answer to the OP:

Player agency to me is the ability for one 'run' of a particular piece of 'content' to be different than another piece of 'content' based off choices the player makes-- that could be direct choices like choosing to use a different entrance to a dungeon and therefore experiencing it differently, or choosing to have an ability that makes it easy to detect secret passageways meaning you don't miss the hidden lore and treasure cache along second floor causeway of the same dungeon, or the choice to talk to the kobolds and enlist their help against the goblins vs. sneaking past both groups.

It's interesting because it raises the question of why it matters, since players won't generally play the same content multiple times to get different experiences, I think that it's a matter of that mentality helping the overall design-- it creates a stronger sense of cause and effect in terms of how things actually go at the table, and often the routes are visible enough that players appreciate the presence of the routes they don't take, it also gives players more room to establish a 'style' as they proceed.
 

No. It's the opposite really. The net I'm using is what the word means and how it is used in RPGs. If you mean something more narrow, then you need to describe it as other than improv, because improv is the wrong word.
You can see such colorful descriptions in most of my posts.
No it's not. You're altered definition falls flat. You aren't describing an improv game. You're describing something else and incorrectly attributing it to improv. What you are describing(I'll help you out here) is freeform roleplaying.
So, see, more word mixing. Free Form role playing is intentionally playing a 'free' role playing game with no rules right from the start.

The Casual Game is where people are in full agrement that they playing a single set specific game. They just don't care about the game rules too much as their focus is to relax, have fun and goof off more then anything.

An Improv Game follows all the normal rules. The GM is just improving everything.
Sure. They're called freeform roleplaying, because that's the term. Not improv. Improv runs the range I described in the other post/
Again, while you will seeminly call lots of game styles 'improv', I give each game style it's own name. Just works better that way.
(y)

Funny how evidence works that way. Anyone can say things without anything to back it up. Proof is...........................you know..................specific. ;)
Just be glad we have the freedom of speech.

Except the wider world does. The narrow you does not, but your altered definitions don't change anything.
Unlike many other people you may have met, I'm not trying to change the world.
Because words and terms mean something and when I see them being grossly misused it bugs me. 🤷‍♂️
Maybe you can just accept that your personal definitions or whatever 'group' you might be representing are not the only offical definitions?

I'm drinking a glass of Pepsi as I write this, and I call this beverage "Pop". You might very well call it "soda", but it's not like I care.

I've demonstrated why already. I don't need to repeat myself every time you get it wrong.
Makes sense
Makes sense.
Well Nickles to Navy Beans!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So, see, more word mixing. Free Form role playing is intentionally playing a 'free' role playing game with no rules right from the start.
So you know, freeform roleplaying usually(but not always) has rules. They are just often informal or very simple rule sets. They have these informal or simple rules so that the game doesn't devolve into childhood cops and robbers games.
The Casual Game is where people are in full agrement that they playing a single set specific game. They just don't care about the game rules too much as their focus is to relax, have fun and goof off more then anything.
Sure. Nothing there prevents a lot of prep, though. Casual DMs often prep a most to all of what they need for the game. They just don't feel obliged to stick to a particular rule if having fun would be better and/or are just there to enjoy things and not stress over details.
An Improv Game follows all the normal rules. The GM is just improving everything.
Prep is part of the rules for many/most games.
Unlike many other people you may have met, I'm not trying to change the world.
But you are trying to change what words mean it seems. And to be honest, I've met very, very, VERY few people who are out to change the world.
I'm drinking a glass of Pepsi as I write this, and I call this beverage "Pop". You might very well call it "soda", but it's not like I care.
Sure, but to make this analogy accurate, you're calling "soda/pop" juice and expecting us to call it juice with you.

P.S. Are you in the midwest or on the east coast? The west coast uses soda. :)
 

So you know, freeform roleplaying usually(but not always) has rules. They are just often informal or very simple rule sets. They have these informal or simple rules so that the game doesn't devolve into childhood cops and robbers games.
Though here you go again with every single word has another meaning.

Freeform is no rules what so ever...it's free. People are free to just say whatever in the role play. People have been doing this online from the start of the 'net.

But ok, you want to call freeform role playing something else. Ok, fine, make up your own name.
Sure. Nothing there prevents a lot of prep, though. Casual DMs often prep a most to all of what they need for the game. They just don't feel obliged to stick to a particular rule if having fun would be better and/or are just there to enjoy things and not stress over details.
Again your stretching out the Casual DM to be "anything". And ok, in your view all DMs are Casual.

In my view, a Casual DM is a much more specific type of DM

To me, the DM that does prep for a game but then ignores it "for fun" is a Loony DM.

Prep is part of the rules for many/most games.
True.

But not every GM or Group follows every rule of every game. Most cheery pick some rules they will follow, some rules they will change, and some rules they will ignore.
But you are trying to change what words mean it seems. And to be honest, I've met very, very, VERY few people who are out to change the world.
Me posting does not change the meanings of words.
Sure, but to make this analogy accurate, you're calling "soda/pop" juice and expecting us to call it juice with you.
Not once did I ever make any expectation of you.
P.S. Are you in the midwest or on the east coast? The west coast uses soda. :)
I'm from the Country and we like it that way....
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Though here you go again with every single word has another meaning.

Freeform is no rules what so ever...it's free. People are free to just say whatever in the role play. People have been doing this online from the start of the 'net.
Tell you what. You get let all the freeform roleplayers know that they are playing wrong and let me know how that goes for you.
And ok, in your view all DMs are Casual.
Nope
In my view, a Casual DM is a much more specific type of DM

To me, the DM that does prep for a game but then ignores it "for fun" is a Loony DM.
Who ever said they ignore their prep? Not me.
But not every GM or Group follows every rule of every game. Most cheery pick some rules they will follow, some rules they will change, and some rules they will ignore.
And they're very happy to do so! :p
Me posting does not change the meanings of words.
Correct.
I'm from the Country and we like it that way....
We here in California have lots of country and they call it soda. 🤷‍♂️
 

Tell you what. You get let all the freeform roleplayers know that they are playing wrong and let me know how that goes for you.
Don't really interact with them folk
OK
Who ever said they ignore their prep? Not me.
OK
And they're very happy to do so! :p
Everyone's Happy!
We here in California have lots of country and they call it soda. 🤷‍♂️
The end?
 

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