D&D General What is player agency to you?

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Something to consider is that what counts as "fiction" is potentially diverse. Some play aims to produce dramatic fiction (as I think you are acknowledging with "potentially".) Much or most play aims to produce protagonist fiction. Other play can aim to produce the fiction of what it's like to be the character (and nothing beyond that!) Lyric games aim to produce a poetic fiction. These are mixable and scalable, and there may be further alternatives.

Some commentators divide "story" from "narrative", in order to imply that the former is tighter and more constructed - deriving more from linear forms of narrative - while the latter is looser... meanings that a person can read-off or construct for themselves. Several have started bridging the narratological/ludological divide by speaking in terms of micro-narratives, for example pointing out that "ludo-narrative dissonance" cannot be anything but "narrative-narrative dissonance", for if there is no implied narrative in the ludo part, from whence the dissonance? Postclassical narratology lets in highly diverse possibilities for fictions or narratives.

It could be most accurate to cut it at - TTRPGing produces a shared fiction with characters.

When I (and I presume @pemerton) speak to shared fiction I am not speaking to the narrative output of play. I am speaking to the fictional situation that has been established and accepted by the table. Roleplaying games are played in the fiction (or shared imagined space). That's what I'm looking for agency over (changing the shared imagined space). The fiction is not the story produced by play.

You should be more than aware of the connotation of the fiction used by @pemerton by now.
 

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clearstream

(He, Him)
When I (and I presume @pemerton) speak to shared fiction I am not speaking to the narrative output of play. I am speaking to the fictional situation that has been established and accepted by the table. Roleplaying games are played in the fiction (or shared imagined space). That's what I'm looking for agency over (changing the shared imagined space). The fiction is not the story produced by play.

You should be more than aware of the connotation of the fiction used by @pemerton by now.
Yes, I know. (Refer to my previous posts - I include process in outcomes.)
 

pemerton

Legend
Something to consider is that what counts as "fiction" is potentially diverse. Some play aims to produce dramatic fiction (as I think you are acknowledging with "potentially".) Much or most play aims to produce protagonist fiction. Other play can aim to produce the fiction of what it's like to be the character (and nothing beyond that!) Lyric games aim to produce a poetic fiction. These are mixable and scalable, and there may be further alternatives.
I don't know what is supposed to follow from this diversity of fictions.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Is there a way of preserving the game of the RPG, including via the traditional allocation of participant roles, while increasing the degree of agency enjoyed by players over the shared fiction beyond what is achieved by Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, and some other RPGs that emerge from the same set of design ideas and intellectual milieu? I'm not persuaded that there is: those systems, in different technical fashions, fully deploy the device for bridging player agency across participants roles so as to achieve player agency. That device, as I first posted in post 211, is that players

establish their own goals and aspirations for their PCs (including working with the group collectively to establish the appropriate backstory and setting elements to underpin those goals and aspirations), and then the GM relies on those goals and aspirations as cues for their own narration of framing and consequence​

What device, consistent with the RPG allocation of roles, are you suggesting would allow even greater player agency over the content of the shared fiction?
I like this line of thinking. Players establishing goals is extremely effective.

When we played our Griffin Mountain sandbox, players established goals but, crucially, they didn't communicate them explicitly to their GM, and the RQ system did not explicitly make them the focus of play (notwithstanding the presumed shared goal of the eponymous quest). Players would show interest in S (standing for secret goal: a goal known only to the players) and GM would (possibly) discern S, and build out content in the direction of S (including adversaries/adversities). This wasn't narrativism - important elements were missing - but it was, rather inefficiently, PC-goal-based RPGing.

Important differences that I notice when playing TB2 or GMing my radical mod of 5e, is that a) players explicitly communicate their goals to GM (and one another for that matter), b) the creation of said goals is well-structured and meshed with progression (and players explicitly have that goal-creating job to do), and c) GM is under an explicit obligation to base structured/focused content (situations etc) on their goals.

It seems easy with hindsight to observe that players having secret goals wasn't all that efficient, although there were times every few sessions where GM would ask something like "What are you interested in or trying to do? Where do you expect to go next?" in order to focus their prep for subsequent sessions. One can easily see also the benefits of meshing with the reward system.

Anyway, I certainly count explicit, structured PC-goal-driven-play as one of the key innovations in RPG (along with fiction-first and a few other things.) Writing that, makes me think also about GM-goals. That they can drive play seems obvious (whether or not one feels they ought to.) That they benefit from being structured by design equally so. And that there is a worthwhile distinction (pros and cons) between secret and open (noting that means to open them may be part of "structured".)
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
I don't know what is supposed to follow from this diversity of fictions.
I was wondering about that, too. Taking fiction very broadly, it's just what we imagine. A sub-category of that is imagined narrative, a sub-sub-category is imagined story, and a sub-sub-sub-category is imagined dramatic-story.

Theorem: Given fiction is diverse, optimal process to achieve agency over fiction is diverse (along the same lines.)
 

The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
No. It's a desire to play a RPG as opposed to, say, a conch-passing game. Eero Tuovinen wrote about this over a decade ago: The pitfalls of narrative technique in rpg play
One thing I really enjoy about the article you linked is how it parses two different possible 'activities' participants can engage in when a question comes up-- uncovering information versus creating information and how the player can desire a specific one and be disappointed when they got the other.
 

One thing I really enjoy about the article you linked is how it parses two different possible 'activities' participants can engage in when a question comes up-- uncovering information versus creating information and how the player can desire a specific one and be disappointed when they got the other.

There is also a third one; recapitulating/vetting information (as in canonical information).

Its absolutely imperative that players understand the best practices/meta of the game they're playing and exactly what their role (the player meta) is in that process.

If you're participating in a game of Agon which features Greek Classics/Mythology, none of the players (including Strife; GM) should be occupying a cognitive space where they believe that content which is introduced into play should be properly vetted according to the canonical elements of those classic stories and myth. This is the tables' own mythology to carve out during play. It merely draws upon the source material in broad strokes and in the few ways the rules make explicit. So a player who deviates from that, who positions themselves to think in terms of vetting the canonical fidelity of this particular Agon Island we're playing right now is in the wrong headspace. We're creating information. We're not recapitulating/vetting information.

There are games out there that are about recapitulating/vetting information. I've called them Setting Tourism in the past. A game where the participants are attempting to recapitulate a setting (like canonical Forgotten Realms or something) does that to (a) passively explore, peruse, chew, experience their beloved canon and often (b) use their canon-expertise as a primary input for orientation to content, to draw inferences, and to act upon those inferences. So you have a relationship here of both recapitulating/vetting information and then using that model to uncover information and then act upon it.

Players playing Agon in that headspace would be undermining the player's meta which is about creating via making big, bold moves that are within the broad genre but not constrained by granular canon.




Something else I've been thinking on recently is related to Euro's statements and your quote above about uncovering vs creating. Its about bread crumbs and who has the bag?

When a GM frames a scene in a Story Now game and asks "what do you do" or "what do you think" or any kind of question, they're handing you the bag of bread crumbs. If you don't realize that you've been handed the bag of bread crumbs and now its your job to leave a bold, vibrant trail for others (especially the GM) to follow, that is a problem. If the GM's scene includes 2-4 elements and your thinking is preocuppied by "what are they trying to tell me...what can I uncover and then infer to make the 'correct' move and solve the puzzle (?)"...that is a problem. If your response to those same 2-4 elements is "those breadcrumbs are missing canonical ingredients/texture...I'm going to use my canonical expertise to ensure that we properly hew to the source material"...that is a problem.

And, of course, the inverse is also true. If the game is a Trad/Sim/Immersionist game about canonical fidelity and recapitulating already told story elements and hewing to source material, then players shouldn't be situated mentally in a place of creation. Or if the nexus of gameplay features challenge-based priorities that are meant to leverage source material expertise to uncover & infer, then players shouldn't be situated mentally in a place of creation. Because either of those would be a player meta : game mismatch that is a problem.

So this is why I'm always harping on demystification of the priorities of play, of the process of play, of what participants should be thinking about and doing at all times. One participant orienting themselves to conveyed information, to their role, to a rule or rules, to "what is the point of all of this" in the wrong way can partially or entirely eff up a game. And that often leads to a bad time that didn't need to be a bad time.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
There is also a third one; recapitulating/vetting information (as in canonical information).

Its absolutely imperative that players understand the best practices/meta of the game they're playing and exactly what their role (the player meta) is in that process.

If you're participating in a game of Agon which features Greek Classics/Mythology, none of the players (including Strife; GM) should be occupying a cognitive space where they believe that content which is introduced into play should be properly vetted according to the canonical elements of those classic stories and myth. This is the tables' own mythology to carve out during play. It merely draws upon the source material in broad strokes and in the few ways the rules make explicit. So a player who deviates from that, who positions themselves to think in terms of vetting the canonical fidelity of this particular Agon Island we're playing right now is in the wrong headspace. We're creating information. We're not recapitulating/vetting information.

There are games out there that are about recapitulating/vetting information. I've called them Setting Tourism in the past. A game where the participants are attempting to recapitulate a setting (like canonical Forgotten Realms or something) does that to (a) passively explore, peruse, chew, experience their beloved canon and often (b) use their canon-expertise as a primary input for orientation to content, to draw inferences, and to act upon those inferences. So you have a relationship here of both recapitulating/vetting information and then using that model to uncover information and then act upon it.

Players playing Agon in that headspace would be undermining the player's meta which is about creating via making big, bold moves that are within the broad genre but not constrained by granular canon.




Something else I've been thinking on recently is related to Euro's statements and your quote above about uncovering vs creating. Its about bread crumbs and who has the bag?

When a GM frames a scene in a Story Now game and asks "what do you do" or "what do you think" or any kind of question, they're handing you the bag of bread crumbs. If you don't realize that you've been handed the bag of bread crumbs and now its your job to leave a bold, vibrant trail for others (especially the GM) to follow, that is a problem. If the GM's scene includes 2-4 elements and your thinking is preocuppied by "what are they trying to tell me...what can I uncover and then infer to make the 'correct' move and solve the puzzle (?)"...that is a problem. If your response to those same 2-4 elements is "those breadcrumbs are missing canonical ingredients/texture...I'm going to use my canonical expertise to ensure that we properly hew to the source material"...that is a problem.

And, of course, the inverse is also true. If the game is a Trad/Sim/Immersionist game about canonical fidelity and recapitulating already told story elements and hewing to source material, then players shouldn't be situated mentally in a place of creation. Or if the nexus of gameplay features challenge-based priorities that are meant to leverage source material expertise to uncover & infer, then players shouldn't be situated mentally in a place of creation. Because either of those would be a player meta : game mismatch that is a problem.

So this is why I'm always harping on demystification of the priorities of play, of the process of play, of what participants should be thinking about and doing at all times. One participant orienting themselves to conveyed information, to their role, to a rule or rules, to "what is the point of all of this" in the wrong way can partially or entirely eff up a game. And that often leads to a bad time that didn't need to be a bad time.
Of course, unless the entire group (including the DM) is on the same page as far as understanding and actually wanting a particular game's meta, it might need to be a bad time (for someone) regardless.
 

pemerton

Legend
Of course, unless the entire group (including the DM) is on the same page as far as understanding and actually wanting a particular game's meta, it might need to be a bad time (for someone) regardless.
Why would people play a game with a misunderstanding as to the "meta"? I mean, that would be pretty weird at a poker game or a chess tournament or whatever. Why would we expect RPGing to be different?
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Why would people play a game with a misunderstanding as to the "meta"? I mean, that would be pretty weird at a poker game or a chess tournament or whatever. Why would we expect RPGing to be different?
Anyone playing a narrative game whose highest priority is not the player's dramatic needs.
 

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