D&D General What is player agency to you?

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
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.

Kind of tangential, but...

It feels like it happens a lot with people trying to play EDH/Commander MtG at game stores - granted many probably leave after a hand or two if they get curb-stomped or do the curb-stomping due to the power level the decks were aiming at (not necessarily anything to do with player skill or $$ spent). Showing up at a chess club where everyone else is vastly higher or lower rated probably isn't fun for long - and some serious bridge players seem not to be fans of the not quite as serious play groups but might try to stick it out if there aren't other players around.
 

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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?
Because people are people. A lot of people "misunderstand" a great many things.

Poker is a great example. A person can show up for the game knowing all the offical rules....and loose. Why? Because they don't understand the meta of the game.

And for RPGs.....wow, they are so different.

Now, a lot of people do only game with a small social group of people that are all in the same mindset and agree with each other on nearly everything. So, of course, when they play an RPG, they are all on the same page about everything all the time.

And anyone playing any RPG outside of that small group of people...will have all sorts of different ideas...even opposing and dramatically opposite things.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Anyone playing a narrative game whose highest priority is not the player's dramatic needs.
Huh? I don't quite get how that is an explanation of why someone would play a game while misunderstanding the "meta."
Nor do I. The statement isn't even an explanation at all. At best it might be an attempt to give an example of it? I would flatly disagree with using it as an example too, but that's neither here nor there when it comes to explaining why someone would do the alleged thing.

Because people are people. A lot of people "misunderstand" a great many things.

Poker is a great example. A person can show up for the game knowing all the offical rules....and loose. Why? Because they don't understand the meta of the game.
This doesn't answer the question asked. This is "some people unwillingly play games where they misunderstand the meta." Because--by your own examples here--these people wouldn't play poker, or would play it very differently, if they did in fact understand the meta. They are not willingly doing this thing; they only do it by accident or due to having been deceived.
 

pemerton

Legend
This doesn't answer the question asked. This is "some people unwillingly play games where they misunderstand the meta." Because--by your own examples here--these people wouldn't play poker, or would play it very differently, if they did in fact understand the meta. They are not willingly doing this thing; they only do it by accident or due to having been deceived.
I think you're setting a fairly low bar for "unwilling" - it seems to me that people can willingly (but perhaps not wilfully) do things whose nature, context, consequences etc they don't understand.

But I agree that this is not a very interesting example, in that it presumably only takes one or two goes to work out that one is in the wrong place/game!

It feels like it happens a lot with people trying to play EDH/Commander MtG at game stores - granted many probably leave after a hand or two if they get curb-stomped or do the curb-stomping due to the power level the decks were aiming at (not necessarily anything to do with player skill or $$ spent). Showing up at a chess club where everyone else is vastly higher or lower rated probably isn't fun for long - and some serious bridge players seem not to be fans of the not quite as serious play groups but might try to stick it out if there aren't other players around.
I think these examples are consistent with what I've suggested just above. Sure, people can turn up in the wrong place/game, but it's not normally hard to sort it out. Particularly in the context of RPGing, which doesn't have any competitive incentive to keep victims of curb-stomping around.

Anyone playing a narrative game whose highest priority is not the player's dramatic needs.
Coming back to this, I think these people are particularly easily rescued from their plight, given that the vast majority of RPG play seems to be either GM-led "setting tourism"-type play (or APs as a variant on that), or else "neo-trad" play which emphasises realising the colour of the PC in play, over challenging the PC's dramatic needs.
 

Coming back to this, I think these people are particularly easily rescued from their plight, given that the vast majority of RPG play seems to be either GM-led "setting tourism"-type play (or APs as a variant on that), or else "neo-trad" play which emphasises realising the colour of the PC in play, over challenging the PC's dramatic needs.
You missed the third popular game type: The Player Led "setting tourism, the "high player agency" type games. They are quite popular.
 

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.

I'm a bit unsure of what you're imagining here. You'll have to maybe explain with an example from your home game or personal playing experience? Why might it need to be a bad time (for someone)? It seems to me there are two easy solves:

(1) The individual who misunderstands the meta has it explained to them or otherwise some sort of "eureka" moment, adopts the meta, and things snap into place.

(2) The same individual either suddenly understands the meta and rejects it or proceeds to struggle with understanding the meta, yet they have a graceful parting from the rest of the group.

I'll give an example of (1) that I had in mind when composing that post.

The Agon game that I'm playing the Strife Player (GM role) here and there has three excellent players. I know one of them well and he's a swell guy and a great player. I barely know his sister but she is clearly cut from the same cloth as he. They have a third player who is a Greeks Classics professor or teacher (I'm not sure which) so she is verrrrrrrrrrrrry well acquainted with the source material that inspires Agon. She also seems to be very sweet and a very good player. However, her experience with these types of games (where play is merely inspired by myth/canon rather than playing in an attempt to hew to it or outright recapitulate it...the role of play is "creation" not "recapitulation of source material") appears to be somewhat minimal.

The play of the last Island I ran for them (an Island scenario that I devised rather than using the game's stock Islands) resolved into a moment where the PCs (I think all of them?...though it may have just been this particular player through her PC) decided to convince the habitable island's starving inhabitants to sacrifice their last viable goat of the three (the other two were the breeding stock) to Hephaestus, but not via throwing the animal into the archipelago's volcano which was their custom of yore. So here is the interesting moment:

The player calls a timeout and lets us know how such sacrfices are handled in the Classical canon. The animal is sacrificed to the god in question and rendered for a meal and celebration. Ok, that's cool.

However, we are not bound by this canon in our play. In our play, the actual conflict of this Island is about the strife over battling allegiances to a pair of at-odds gods, the fallout to the people, and the ire of Zeus in the middle. The history of these people entail a real sacrifice here and a tough decision with a particular brand of fallout no matter what you choose (sacrifice to x, sacrifice to y, don't sacrifice and face down that fate, appeal to Zeus, etc and whatever). Their customs have informed them that they can't sate their suffering of privation (the meal of the goat) and simultaneously attain proper favor of the gods; sacrifice means sacrifice in proportion to the hardship you take on here.

Ok, cool. No problem. She easily resolved this in her mind in the moment ("the meta snapped into place"). They just need convincing that their is another way; their customs are not the only way to sate the gods. And so did the right thing, stipulated an intent, and she went to the mechanics of the game to appeal to the fighting priests that their custom of sacrifice is not the only way; Arts and Oration Domain Test (for storytelling, culture and persuasion) and I believe one of the players marked Pathos (think harm/hit points) to bring in their Domain of Craft & Reason (for Academics, History, Scholarship) to make an appeal to an alternative custom of sacrifice and celebration (which includes feasting upon the slaughtered animal).

This_is_perfect (in all ways; social contract-wise and as an example of a player grokking and employing the meta in the moment). This leads to "the best play" the game affords (and its not because they succeeded in their test...failure would have led to play equally as satisfying).

I rolled my Strife Pool. I got a target number. She and her allies made their Arts and Oration Tests and resolved that scene, affirming her intent. And so it was that they sacrificed and feasted and Hephaestus was pleased.

It was a trivial grokking of the meta by the player and a cool moment of "creation" and resolution to fiction/gamestate that led to subsequent cool play and downstream strife with Poseidon and his priest, and ultimate resolution of the Island's nexus of conflict.




That is an example of (1) above. Do you have an example of (2) in your play that you care to share? Or perhaps another example of (1)?
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I'm a bit unsure of what you're imagining here. You'll have to maybe explain with an example from your home game or personal playing experience? Why might it need to be a bad time (for someone)? It seems to me there are two easy solves:

(1) The individual who misunderstands the meta has it explained to them or otherwise some sort of "eureka" moment, adopts the meta, and things snap into place.

(2) The same individual either suddenly understands the meta and rejects it or proceeds to struggle with understanding the meta, yet they have a graceful parting from the rest of the group.

I'll give an example of (1) that I had in mind when composing that post.

The Agon game that I'm playing the Strife Player (GM role) here and there has three excellent players. I know one of them well and he's a swell guy and a great player. I barely know his sister but she is clearly cut from the same cloth as he. They have a third player who is a Greeks Classics professor or teacher (I'm not sure which) so she is verrrrrrrrrrrrry well acquainted with the source material that inspires Agon. She also seems to be very sweet and a very good player. However, her experience with these types of games (where play is merely inspired by myth/canon rather than playing in an attempt to hew to it or outright recapitulate it...the role of play is "creation" not "recapitulation of source material") appears to be somewhat minimal.

The play of the last Island I ran for them (an Island scenario that I devised rather than using the game's stock Islands) resolved into a moment where the PCs (I think all of them?...though it may have just been this particular player through her PC) decided to convince the habitable island's starving inhabitants to sacrifice their last viable goat of the three (the other two were the breeding stock) to Hephaestus, but not via throwing the animal into the archipelago's volcano which was their custom of yore. So here is the interesting moment:

The player calls a timeout and lets us know how such sacrfices are handled in the Classical canon. The animal is sacrificed to the god in question and rendered for a meal and celebration. Ok, that's cool.

However, we are not bound by this canon in our play. In our play, the actual conflict of this Island is about the strife over battling allegiances to a pair of at-odds gods, the fallout to the people, and the ire of Zeus in the middle. The history of these people entail a real sacrifice here and a tough decision with a particular brand of fallout no matter what you choose (sacrifice to x, sacrifice to y, don't sacrifice and face down that fate, appeal to Zeus, etc and whatever). Their customs have informed them that they can't sate their suffering of privation (the meal of the goat) and simultaneously attain proper favor of the gods; sacrifice means sacrifice in proportion to the hardship you take on here.

Ok, cool. No problem. She easily resolved this in her mind in the moment ("the meta snapped into place"). They just need convincing that their is another way; their customs are not the only way to sate the gods. And so did the right thing, stipulated an intent, and she went to the mechanics of the game to appeal to the fighting priests that their custom of sacrifice is not the only way; Arts and Oration Domain Test (for storytelling, culture and persuasion) and I believe one of the players marked Pathos (think harm/hit points) to bring in their Domain of Craft & Reason (for Academics, History, Scholarship) to make an appeal to an alternative custom of sacrifice and celebration (which includes feasting upon the slaughtered animal).

This_is_perfect (in all ways; social contract-wise and as an example of a player grokking and employing the meta in the moment). This leads to "the best play" the game affords (and its not because they succeeded in their test...failure would have led to play equally as satisfying).


I rolled my Strife Pool. I got a target number. She and her allies made their Arts and Oration Tests and resolved that scene, affirming her intent. And so it was that they sacrificed and feasted and Hephaestus was pleased.

It was a trivial grokking of the meta by the player and a cool moment of "creation" and resolution to fiction/gamestate that led to subsequent cool play and downstream strife with Poseidon and his priest, and ultimate resolution of the Island's nexus of conflict.




That is an example of (1) above. Do you have an example of (2) in your play that you care to share? Or perhaps another example of (1)?
Just that people play in games they don't fully agree with in principle to maintain the social contract of the group. They neither accept the games principles whole-heartedly nor reject them and leave the game amicably, but instead continue to play and endure the parts they don't prefer for the sake of staying with the group.
 

I'm a bit unsure of what you're imagining here. You'll have to maybe explain with an example from your home game or personal playing experience?
As a high level mismatching DM, I think I can given endless examples:

A group of young players comes to me and says they want a "cool fun pirate game". We do the lame zero and everything seems good....they want a pirate game and do to. So we start the game.

The younger players, raised on Disney Sop...even more so Pirates of the Caribbean movies...are expecting a goofy, silly, lite, funny where one of them "talks like a Pirate and says the word "booty" " and then they make "booty jokes" for like ten minutes. They want to have their characters dance around, follow a treasure map and fight a (super weak) kraken.

So....the above is not me...I'm anti-disney...and see pirates as dark and evil to say the least. So only a couple minutes into the game as the players were singing "pirate songs" and thier characters were just aimlessly going in circles in the sea, they were attacked by rival pirates. In a couple minutes their ship was disabled, and the characters were slaughtered. The players happy smile fades in a flash when they are told "your character is dead".

Now note....not a single player EVER even came close to saying "we want a goofy, silly, lite, funny where one of them "talks like a Pirate and says the word "booty" " and then they make "booty jokes" for like ten minutes" type game.

I would OUTRIGHT REFUSE to even consider DMing a game like that for even a second. But they "thought" that when they said "cool fun pirate game" that I "knew" exactly what kind of game they were talking about.
 

Just that people play in games they don't fully agree with in principle to maintain the social contract of the group. They neither accept the games principles whole-heartedly nor reject them and leave the game amicably, but instead continue to play and endure the parts they don't prefer for the sake of staying with the group.

I'm not so much talking about acceptance vs rejection. I'm talking about understanding and applying.

You can reject a game internally yet understand the meta and apply it so that the gameplay fundamentally works.

However, if you reject a game internally and either cannot understand the meta or refuse to apply it (despite you understanding it)? That is not going to work. Protest internally all you like, but let that protest bubble to the surface with a "I refuse to apply the best practices of my role, refuse to engage faithfully with the procedures of play, and will make it a thing?" That will harm the game, harm the experience of the game for the other participants, and it will eventually come to a head.

So like...take the above anecdote. If the Greeks Classics teacher/prof refused to accept that this island archipelago featured dueling priests, their clans, and a sacrifice model that doesn't hew to the earth-canon? If, rather than playing the game as it is meant to be played, this player goes all in on "NOPE, THIS IS WRONG FICTION, CHANGE IT AND NOW THERE IS NO CONFLICT OVER DUELING PRIESTS AND SACRIFICE /ALLEGIANCE/PRIVATION/LOOMING APOCALYPSE OF HEPHAESTUS VS POSEIDON WITH ANGRY ZEUS IN THE MIDDLE SITUATION...THE GAME IS ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE SO WE CAN HAVE EARTH-CANON AGREEMENT!" Dying on that "recapitulation of/true to source material" hill? that is game-set-match for the actual TTRPG Agon. Stone dead. Cannot continue. We are no longer playing Agon. We're either playing a new game of "Agon reimagined as Setting Tourism" (which isn't Agon) or, more likely, we're not playing at all.
 

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