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Worlds of Design: The Tyranny and Freedom of Player Agency

“Player agency” refers to the player being allowed by the game to do things in the game that have real consequences to the long-term course, and especially the result, not just for succeeding or failing. Some campaigns offer a lot, some only a little. Are players just following the script or do they have the opportunity to make decisions that cause their long-term results to be significantly different from another player’s?

maze-1804499_960_720.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

I play games to specifically be an agent in the universe that does effect things. I watch netflix or read books to be an observer. I have to be in control of something.” Kaze Kai

The subject of player agency is a controversial topic in game design. We have “rules emergent” games which are “open” versus “progressive” games which are “closed”; or “sandbox” which is open versus “linear” which is closed. The first of each pair can also lead to strong player agency, the second almost never does. I'll add a third one: games, which are open, versus puzzles, which are closed, because in a pure puzzle you must follow the solution devised by the designer.

Player agency is important because many long-time gamers want control, want agency, yet many game and adventure makers want control themselves, and take it away from players. It’s the difference between, say, Candyland or Snakes & Ladders(no agency), and games like Diplomacy and Carcassonne. For adults, Tic-Tac-Toe has no practical player agency, as it is a puzzle that is always a draw when well-played.

When a GM runs a particular adventure for several groups, do the results tend to be the same for each group (beyond whether they succeed or fail), or do the results tend to be “all over the map”? If the former, it leans toward being a linear adventure, while if the latter, it’s more “sandbox.”

Books can help us understand this. Most novels have no “reader agency”; the reader is “just along for the ride." Films offer no viewer agency. On the other hand, “Fighting Fantasy” and similar “you are there and you make the choices” books, where you choose what to do next from among about three possible actions, gives the reader-player agency over the short term. (Dark Mirror’s Bandersnatch is a more recent example.) Though in the end, if the player succeeds, there may be only one kind of success. Video games usually let players influence the small-scale/short term stuff a little, but not the large scale.

In between broad player agency and no player agency can be found games with false impressions of player agency, which you can recreate in an RPG adventure just as well as in a standalone game. The Walking Dead video game was often praised for the choices the player had to make, but in the end it all comes out the same way no matter what the player does (see this reference for a diagram of all the choices). Mass Effect is another game highly touted for player choices that ended up in the same place despite their decisions.

Full player agency creates story branches that don’t come back to the same place; the player’s choices just continues to branch. The reason this is rare in video games is because more choices and branches means more development, which costs money. In tabletop RPGs, a good GM can provide whatever branching is needed, on the fly if necessary.

The one place where player agency is seldom in question is in competitive tabletop games, especially wargames. Even there, many of the old SPI games more or less forced players to follow history. And many Eurostyle “games” are more puzzles than games, hence players must follow one of several solutions (“paths to victory”).

Why would a designer not provide Agency? I don’t understand it emotionally myself, but I can understand it intellectually. Some game designers are frustrated storytellers (or puzzle-makers) who have chosen not to use traditional forms such as novels, film, plays, oral storytelling. They want to provide “experiences." But in order to do so in a medium not as suited for it, they must introduce limitations on players in order to retain control of the narrative.

Only games (as opposed to novels or films) offer the choice of agency or not. There’s nothing wrong with a “lack of agency”, if that’s what players expect – as in a typical film or novel. I am not saying it’s wrong, just that most highly experienced game players don’t like lack of player agency.

I recommend you ask yourself a general question: “am I imposing my ideas and notions on the game, or allowing the players to use theirs?” Part of that answer is relevant to player agency. What you want the answer to be is up to you.

This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. Lew was Contributing Editor to Dragon, White Dwarf, and Space Gamer magazines and contributed monsters to TSR's original Fiend Folio, including the Elemental Princes of Evil, denzelian, and poltergeist. You can follow Lew on his web site and his Udemy course landing page. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Comments

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Exactly. So, if we can't collect reliable data, should we speak as if we do have that data, and assert as if they were known facts? Or, should we be clear and honest, and say somethig like, "I suspect that..." so that we can clearly see the difference between things that are known, and things that are not?
I tend to operate on the philosophy of: Assume all my experiences are 100% true and universal. Then I quickly accept and adapt to new information that shows otherwise. So far I've seen nothing to counter his statement...
 

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Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
I suppose there's different sorts of rules lawyers, too. I became very aware of the concept in the TSR era, with AD&D. There were plenty of rules, they were plenty vague, contradictory, and hard to parse, so you could always make an argument that the DM should interpret them in your favor.
Yes, this is the "Coke" (before there was a need to use the term Classic) version.

As rules got more clearly-presented, and less arbitrary, even if not exactly fair or balanced, the lawyer analogy maybe became a bit of an exaggeration. Sticking to the RAW with a build clearly to your advantage wasn't rules-lawyering in as impassioned and skillful a sense as making your case for a favorable interpretation had been.
Also not in as disruptive a sense. Unless you count the disruption inherent in wildly OP characters. ;P
And this was the "New Coke" version, although the "Classic" version who was always angling for a beneficial interpretation never truly went away. However, I do think that the New Coke version could be very disruptive insofar as they insist on RAW when the DM has made a reasonable ruling in the interest of keeping the game going forward.
 

Campbell

Legend
I think there is an issue with conflating the impulse "I like playing in games with clear and consistent rules I can depend on" with the behavior "disrupting a game that favors rulings". That player should find a group that fits his preferences better if he does not want to play in the type of game he is playing in. The impulse isn't like wrong. It's the issue of stepping over the social contract that is a problem.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
I think there is an issue with conflating the impulse "I like playing in games with clear and consistent rules I can depend on" with the behavior "disrupting a game that favors rulings". That player should find a group that fits his preferences better if he does not want to play in the type of game he is playing in. The impulse isn't like wrong. It's the issue of stepping over the social contract that is a problem.
That's true but RL complicates things, as it always does, and doesn't make for a clear and dispassionate decision about what one wants from a game an easy thing. Until fairly recently often the group you had was it, so you had to invest in it more and may well have put up with things you might not want to have any game at all.

People's behavior can shift, for instance. Someone with a lot of RL stress in other areas might have it it start leaking into the game. I've seen it more than once and I'm honest with myself enough to know that there have been times it's been me whose fuze was short. Unfortunately, some people aren't particularly aware of their own reactions. Group dynamics and logistics can hit, too. At least when it comes to groups that meet in real life rather than online, they aren't just people who play RPGs together but may have other things happening outside the game. Two players might be old friends and one covers for the other's bad behavior due to the length of that prior relationship. Obviously, this may well happen when a couple is playing together. You can have the person who's hosting starting to feel pressed by it or, vice versa, some kind of entitlement.
 


Campbell

Legend
That's true but RL complicates things, as it always does, and doesn't make for a clear and dispassionate decision about what one wants from a game an easy thing. Until fairly recently often the group you had was it, so you had to invest in it more and may well have put up with things you might not want to have any game at all.

People's behavior can shift, for instance. Someone with a lot of RL stress in other areas might have it it start leaking into the game. I've seen it more than once and I'm honest with myself enough to know that there have been times it's been me whose fuze was short. Unfortunately, some people aren't particularly aware of their own reactions. Group dynamics and logistics can hit, too. At least when it comes to groups that meet in real life rather than online, they aren't just people who play RPGs together but may have other things happening outside the game. Two players might be old friends and one covers for the other's bad behavior due to the length of that prior relationship. Obviously, this may well happen when a couple is playing together. You can have the person who's hosting starting to feel pressed by it or, vice versa, some kind of entitlement.
All of this is true. Real life socialization is like hard and stuff.

The larger point remains though. We should not vilify people who happen to have desires outside of the mainstream. Condemn their antisocial behavior where it happens sure, but that behavior comes out of very real frustrations. They want to be playing in a different sort of game than they are playing, but for some reason go about addressing that in the wrong way. Instead we should work on ways to communicate those desires and channel them into positive directions or help them find a place where those desires are not unwelcome.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
The larger point remains though. We should not vilify people who happen to have desires outside of the mainstream. Condemn their antisocial behavior where it happens sure, but that behavior comes out of very real frustrations. They want to be playing in a different sort of game than they are playing, but for some reason go about addressing that in the wrong way.
It may, but it may be griefer type behavior as well, where a person gets their jollies from being disruptive.

I guess one could say bullying and the like comes from a very real frustration but this can extend all the way up to personality or character issues but IMO that's a set of psychological problems that's well beyond what should be expected of an RPG group. I've played with some folks who are "high conflict persons" or have other personality issues beyond the scope of mundane human crankiness. One I can think of quite likely has a full-on personality disorder and another has what a clinical psychologist would describe as "features". (I hasten to add that while I am not a clinician, I do know a bit about clinical psychology nonetheless.) There's really no winning with them as any reasons you provide will ultimately get twisted into whatever pretzel reality suits their condition.


Instead we should work on ways to communicate those desires and channel them into positive directions or help them find a place where those desires are not unwelcome.
Well true, but I've met people who just can't seem to do it. When it comes to adults I generally think it's on them to responsibly manage their behavior. I endeavor to treat adults as adults and expect the same in return.
 

Campbell

Legend
@Jay Verkuilen

I definitely agree that the onus is on each of us to behave responsibly. Anyone insisting that an entire group of people should change and do things their way right now is unworthy of respect. It is the antisocial behavior that is the issue.

I guess what I am trying to say and not succeeding at very well is that there are group of desires that are outside the mainstream culture of play that seem to be denigrated because of antisocial behaviors when the same sort of insistence in different context from say a player who just wanted to get on with the story in a game where there is no predefined story and would not take no for an answer would be just as worthy of condemnation. The same is true of a player who insists on a quick ruling in a game where the group cares enough about the rules to usually the spend the time to get it right. Likewise a player who complains about their character being defined by dice in a game where we play to find out what happens and are expected to hold on loosely to how we see our characters.

Does that make any sense?
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
What is your favorite game, if I may ask?
I don't have a singular favorite. Some of the ones I want to run soonish are...
Mouse Guard,, Arrowflight (1E), Marvel Heroic RP, Sentinel Comics, Pugmire, Alien, Tunnels and Trolls.

Ones I've run recently and players want repeat on:
L5R 5, Pendragon, My Little Pony, The One Ring,

Ones I want to try for short (4-6 session) mini-campaigns include: Forbidden Realms, Mutant Year Zero, Pugmire*,

My favorite Traveller is MegaTraeller (the shattered sunburst is colored a faction a color)... that comes as closest to my favorite game as any, but I don't have players willing to invest the learning curve to make it fun for me.



* uses a stripped down D&D 5E engine
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
@Jay Verkuilen

I definitely agree that the onus is on each of us to behave responsibly. Anyone insisting that an entire group of people should change and do things their way right now is unworthy of respect. It is the antisocial behavior that is the issue.
I'm not sure I'd say "unworthy of respect" but they are certainly expecting too much. I endeavor to treat everyone with respect as much as possible, especially when I disagree with them, although that obviously gets very hard.

I guess what I am trying to say and not succeeding at very well is that there are group of desires that are outside the mainstream culture of play <...> Does that make any sense?
Yeah to me that sounds like more of a playstyle or culture difference. A player wanting much more narrative game from hex/dungeon crawling grognards or vice versa wants the latter but is in a narrative heavy game is likely in the wrong game. However, in most cases the group needs to balanced the desires of the members. Of course, some problematic players are ones who get what they want and keep pushing for more.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I don't have a singular favorite. Some of the ones I want to run soonish are...
Mouse Guard,, Arrowflight (1E), Marvel Heroic RP, Sentinel Comics, Pugmire, Alien, Tunnels and Trolls.

Ones I've run recently and players want repeat on:
L5R 5, Pendragon, My Little Pony, The One Ring,

Ones I want to try for short (4-6 session) mini-campaigns include: Forbidden Realms, Mutant Year Zero, Pugmire*,

My favorite Traveller is MegaTraeller (the shattered sunburst is colored a faction a color)... that comes as closest to my favorite game as any, but I don't have players willing to invest the learning curve to make it fun for me.



* uses a stripped down D&D 5E engine
I use classic traveller because the starter is free, and it has a good online character generator; it is also the most rules light for me to hack, house ruling a 3D real star atlas, fusion rockets, and no easy anti-grav. I could hack cepheus engine, but by that time, it would be like making a completely new game, and I might as well do that if I were going to do it. Both versions have issues.

Lately I have played or ran Mythras, M-Space, Paranoia, and Call of Cthulhu; I am often on the look out for new games, I have been looking at both the new Expanse and Aliens games.

Mtant Year Zero I have heard good things about.
 

Shadeflayer

Villager
“Player agency” refers to the player being allowed by the game to do things in the game that have real consequences to the long-term course, and especially the result, not just for succeeding or failing. Some campaigns offer a lot, some only a little. Are players just following the script or do they have the opportunity to make decisions that cause their long-term results to be significantly different from another player’s?
Very interesting (6+ month old) post. I have been researching this after a recent incident and wanted to see what this forum thought.

I created an adventure where players have milestone events that they must complete to proceed to the next milestone. The first half of the adventure goes something like this:

  • Players decide to research a legend they overhear concerning a lord and his knights that failed to live up to their vow in life of defending their lands from a red dragon. The legend says that the lord and his knights, long since dead, cannot be released from their ghostly conditions until they fight the red dragon. The ghosts only appear during a full moon.
  • Uncovering details of the legend requires research to find the truth / more clues.
  • Research and clues identify the location of the castle ruins, when the ghosts appear, and that this all happened 600 years ago. (Milestone)
  • Players travel to the castle ruin’s, but no ghostly dead, so they wait for a full moon
  • The ghosts appear with the full moon.
  • After communicating with the ghosts, the players are told by the lord of the ghosts that they need to battle the same red dragon in order to be freed. This means they have to find the red dragon and convince it to attack the ghosts. (Milestone)
  • Players realize there is nothing in the ruins that would be worth a red dragon’s benefit, time, or interest (Chaotic Evil Red Dragon are selfish like that). Not to mention that the ruins are barely an outline after 600 years. No hope for a new lair even.
  • Players now have to find out when this original red dragon attacked, and if anyone recorded where its lair may have been.
  • Players research identifies the location of the red dragons lair. (Milestone)
  • Players travel to the red dragons lair.
  • Inside the lair are the bones of the long dead red dragon.
  • Full stop! (resurrecting the red dragon would be the next milestone).
Questions: What do the players do? Drop the quest? Figure out how to fake the dragon attacking, if possible (its not)? Find someone to resurrect the red dragon? Find something they can use to resurrect the red dragon (they are too low level to do that themselves)? Also, what happens when the red dragon is resurrected? Free lunch for the red dragon (TPK possibly)? Party flees? Etc. There are many possible choices and outcomes.

So, the real overarching question to this post is how much of this scenario is “railroading” and how much of this is “player agency”?

My thoughts...
  • Following this legend was a group decision (player agency)
  • Researching requires lots of player decisions and actions (player agency)
  • Traveling to the ruins and engaging with the ghosts (player agency)
  • Researching the location of the red dragons lair (player agency)
  • Traveling to the lair and finding the bones of the now dead red dragon (player agency)
Where in the above scenario is there “railroading”?
 
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S'mon

Legend
It looks like a linear scenario, which is not the same as the technique called railroading.

Per "Full player agency creates story branches that don’t come back to the same place; the player’s choices just continues to branch" I'm not seeing any Pulsipherian agency in the scenario.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Where in the above scenario is there “railroading”?
It does look more linear than railroad, though one can still make it railroady in play. One way to not be that way is to "Jaquays" the scenarios, meaning things like having three different ways to get into the dungeon (Caverns of Thracia). Also, "the sandbox" gets evangelized on people's doorstep way more than it's worth; where it's better to look at adventures as being on a number line between a sandbox and railroad. It is also about the journey vs destination, like "the real treasure we found was in looting corpses along the way".
 

pemerton

Legend
I created an adventure where players have milestone events that they must complete to proceed to the next milestone. The first half of the adventure goes something like this:

  • Players decide to research a legend they overhear concerning a lord and his knights that failed to live up to their vow in life of defending their lands from a red dragon. The legend says that the lord and his knights, long since dead, cannot be released from their ghostly conditions until they fight the red dragon. The ghosts only appear during a full moon.
  • Uncovering details of the legend requires research to find the truth / more clues.
  • Research and clues identify the location of the castle ruins, when the ghosts appear, and that this all happened 600 years ago. (Milestone)
  • Players travel to the castle ruin’s, but no ghostly dead, so they wait for a full moon
  • The ghosts appear with the full moon.
  • After communicating with the ghosts, the players are told by the lord of the ghosts that they need to battle the same red dragon in order to be freed. This means they have to find the red dragon and convince it to attack the ghosts. (Milestone)
  • Players realize there is nothing in the ruins that would be worth a red dragon’s benefit, time, or interest (Chaotic Evil Red Dragon are selfish like that). Not to mention that the ruins are barely an outline after 600 years. No hope for a new lair even.
  • Players now have to find out when this original red dragon attacked, and if anyone recorded where its lair may have been.
  • Players research identifies the location of the red dragons lair. (Milestone)
  • Players travel to the red dragons lair.
  • Inside the lair are the bones of the long dead red dragon.
  • Full stop! (resurrecting the red dragon would be the next milestone).
Questions: What do the players do? Drop the quest? Figure out how to fake the dragon attacking, if possible (its not)? Find someone to resurrect the red dragon? Find something they can use to resurrect the red dragon (they are too low level to do that themselves)? Also, what happens when the red dragon is resurrected? Free lunch for the red dragon (TPK possibly)? Party flees? Etc. There are many possible choices and outcomes.

So, the real overarching question to this post is how much of this scenario is “railroading” and how much of this is “player agency”?

My thoughts...
  • Following this legend was a group decision (player agency)
  • Researching requires lots of player decisions and actions (player agency)
  • Traveling to the ruins and engaging with the ghosts (player agency)
  • Researching the location of the red dragons lair (player agency)
  • Traveling to the lair and finding the bones of the now dead red dragon (player agency)
Where in the above scenario is there “railroading”?
I can't tell how much of this is a report of the events of actual play, and how much of it is a GM-authored "script" for the game.

To the extent that it is the latter, to me it looks like a railroad. I don't see any point at which player decisions actually change anything of significance. You have already specified the results of the research, of the travel ie it is to the ruins), of the engagment with the ghosts (we know what the ghosts tell the PCs, and the script assumes that the PCs care about what the ghosts tell them and try to act on it), of the research around the red dragon's lair, and again of the next lot of travel.

No element of the fiction that matters seems to be established by, or even influenced by, the players.

But as I said, maybe this is a report of actual play in which case one can't tell from your report which participant at the table established what element of the fiction.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
I have never heard of a puzzle with multiple solutions. Do you have an example? All I can think of is a Gordian Knot puzzle with an intended solution that allows for out of context unintended solutions.
I decided to bring a more mathematical example.

Take the magic square puzzle... fill a 3x3 grid with the numbers 1-9 such that the sum of each row and each column adds up to the same sum. That sum, it turns out, is 15..

A B C
D E F
G H I
A+B+C = 15
D+E+F = 15
G+H+I= 15
A+D+G =15
B+E+H = 15
C+F+I = 15
set [A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I] contains the same members of set
[1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]

It has 8 solutions: Let's call solutions [K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R]...
K is rotated 90° to make L, again to make M, and a third time for N
O is a flip of K along the diagonal, P, Q, R are rotations of that. One pattern of solution, but 8 permutations of it in the workspace.
Taking [A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I]=[8, 1, 6, 3, 5, 7, 4, 9, 2], rotated 90° gives set [6, 1, 8, 7, 5, 3, 2, 9, 4]

Now, if we start the puzzle with an edge or corner filled, we block all rotations, reducing only to reflections, and thus have two solutions.

With two non-center squares not on the same diagonal filled, the puzzle collapses to one of the original 8 only.

Sudoku is a perfect exemplar - if given a blank grid, there are thousands of possible solutions. Each puzzle one is given in a book is a single solution to the larger blank grid sudoku... and so that blank grid sudoku is a superset of every single-solution sudoku puzzle's solution... but despite multi-thousands, if not millions, of valid solutions, the blank grid is hard for those who lack memory of a 9x9 solution.

for more detail on this: How Many 3×3 Magic Squares Are There? Sunday Puzzle – Mind Your Decisions

Which brings me to the relevance to RPGs and my original complaint about Mr. Pulsipher's omission...

So, to explain more fully....

Fundamentally, the point of rules in RPGing is to create a more managable condition for story to emerge than the blank slate of no restrictions at all of single-person-controlled narrative.

Literally, a ruleset limits your ability to affect the story state. Even if it is just a group agreement to turns and "yes, and"/"yes, but"... that's a limit on agency in order to createplayability.


The blank slate is comparable to the empty sudoku grid... where to begin?

The choice of ruleset narrows that open story field by answering at least these following things:
Who is narrates when?
How is that transition made?
When is randomization used to influence story state?
When are point pools used to make store state?

Most also answer these
Who is the group's designated rules authority? (Usually a GM, sometimes the group as a whole, a few leave it to player choice by vote)
Who is the group's authority on the narrative (IE, Veto)? (Uually also the GM, but not always. EG: most VSCA games make the group vote the veto
What is a reasonable character's capabilities? (Usually defined in Character generation, often also in the opponents/bestiary sections).
What is the genre? (Often to Subgenre level, tho' generic games officially don't, most have some genres where they are better fits than others.)
What is the setting? (Either to a semi-generic set of tropes, or to a specific defined locale. Some to a single place, eg: Kagematsu is a single village)
What kinds of activities are expected to be abstracted, which are expected to be detailed out, and which are left to the group's designated authority?

All of these limit player agency via setting the scope of play. And reduce it to the point where it's playable, and, barring kitchen sinks like TORG or Rifts, strongly reduce the character options, and that reduces the opening salvo of agency: definition of character.

And defining a character is, ultimately, he largest limit on agency. If you define your character as X, but not Y, then narrating anything that only Y could do implies is pre-agreed "but it fails" response, if even that soft a landing.

Rules help keep the story state sensible (usually) and help control narrative flow, as well as just action resolution. Every rule reduces overall agency of the player, but, within reason, having some rules makes it more playable, just like having some filled in spots on the magic square or the sudoku makes it easier.

But, rules can become cumbersome, unlike starting hints in sudoku... (tho' excessive hints in sudoku make it less rewarding as well as easier.) So the balance point has to be found, and differs by group... more rules for easier narration of consistent and/or genre appropriate story, in exchange for incresed handling time and/or release of story state direction to the mechanical resolution.

Every rule affects either story state or story authority, and thus reduces agency of at least some players.
 

pemerton

Legend
Every rule affects either story state or story authority, and thus reduces agency of at least some players.
I enjoyed your post.

But I think a lot of posters on these boards don't think of GM has veto-power in respect of the shared fiction or Only the GM can introduce new content into the shared fiction as rules. (Eg they will talk about "rulings not rules" and "rule zero" and the like.)

Which tends to make it harder to talk about the issue you raise in your post, namely, that rules are a system for allocating and managing authority over the content of the shared fiction.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Which tends to make it harder to talk about the issue you raise in your post, namely, that rules are a system for allocating and managing authority over the content of the shared fiction.
This is indeed one of the core characteristics of a TTRPG. I also agree that it can be devilishly hard to discuss because of the immense range of rule sets in question. Not only that, but a portion of that authority is allocated via shared table conventions in some cases. So we have a huge range of allocations of authority in the rules, ranging from all GM to no GM, with a thousand stops in between, and added to that each of those could be modified by the individual table conventions of the group using the rules set in question.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
This is indeed one of the core characteristics of a TTRPG. I also agree that it can be devilishly hard to discuss because of the immense range of rule sets in question. Not only that, but a portion of that authority is allocated via shared table conventions in some cases. So we have a huge range of allocations of authority in the rules, ranging from all GM to no GM, with a thousand stops in between, and added to that each of those could be modified by the individual table conventions of the group using the rules set in question.
A large part of the problem with discussing it is indeed the table conventions (all too often the GM's conventions only)... largely because most are unable or unwilling to separate rules as written from rules as played, and in many cases, players don't even know that what they played only vaguely resembles what was written.

This effect seems to me to be strongest with AD&D 1E... but a large part of that is that AD&D is written in stream of consciousness ramble, and so a bunch of things are in odd places, especially in the DMG, And not all printings of the DMG match, either, further embiggening the issue.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
A large part of the problem with discussing it is indeed the table conventions (all too often the GM's conventions only)... largely because most are unable or unwilling to separate rules as written from rules as played, and in many cases, players don't even know that what they played only vaguely resembles what was written.
For sure, and there was no internet to turn to, or to drive consensus on rulings and whatnot, and no sage advice. We all lived in out own little homebrew silos, watching the shadow play on the walls of our cave, ignorant of the wider world. :p

This effect seems to me to be strongest with AD&D 1E... but a large part of that is that AD&D is written in stream of consciousness ramble, and so a bunch of things are in odd places, especially in the DMG, And not all printings of the DMG match, either, further embiggening the issue.
[/QUOTE]
I'd like to give some serious props for your use of embiggening here. (y) Nicely played.
 

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