A Thought on Player Agency and GM Control

Just a thought I wanted to share: being a GM becomes easier when you think of yourself as a text parser for an adventure game. Players can input commands, but unless you acknowledge and change the game based on those commands, nothing happens. This eliminates BS such as using meta-game knowledge, and acting in a manner that deflates the tone of the game or is disruptive to other players, e.g.:
PLAYER: I shoot [PC] in the face
GM: No you don’t. This action is impossible because there is no PvP in this campaign.
or
PLAYER: I open the secret door.
GM: No, you don’t. Your character doesn’t know it exists.
Many times I’ve simply said, “I’m sorry, traveler, I cannot accept your input until I’ve finished describing the scene for the viewers at home” (holler if you get the reference) when players are excitedly talking over my description. 
This isn’t a license to run rough shod over player agency, simply a reminder that GM control is more absolute than you might think. The GM’s brain IS the game. I do hear people complain from time to time: “My players did X” (that ruined the game, or that I’m having a hard time managing). You don’t HAVE TO let them.
The tendency is to hold player agency sacrosanct above the spirit of the game, but in reality you ought to balance player agency and group enjoyment, especially if a player’s agency is infringing on the enjoyment of other players. Dont forget, the GM’s enjoyment matters too!
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RPG Review: A Red and Pleasant Land

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Buy it here

I’ve been wanting to run this setting for some time now, and recently, I finally got the chance. What follows is a review of the most beautiful RPG book I’ve ever encountered in the wild (the book is a true work of art in and of itself), and one of the most bonkers and ridiculously fun settings I’ve ever had the pleasure to run.

Zak Smith is a talented artist (as you’ll see from the illustrations I’ve included) as well as a highly competent game designer. I highly recommend this book if your usual D&D sessions are lagging, and you’d like to inject a healthy dose of random madness.

There are mild spoilers in this review, but only of the very basic kind. If you are a player who absolutely must be completely surprised by the game, do not read this review until you’ve played a handful of sessions. If you are a GM, planning on running this setting, read on.

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Mechanics Vs Immersion: How Aspects Mechanize Narrative

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::pokes nose into old, dusty corner of blog::

Oh! I forgot this was here. Maybe… maybe I should post something? Let’s see… what should I talk about? Oh yeah, RPGs!

Today I want to talk about immersion and mechanics. I’ve talked about this before, but my thoughts on the matter have developed over many sessions Gamemastering and playing. More and more, these days, I’m growing a little weary of extraneous mechanics. I’m less and less fascinated by involved dice mechanics that play like mini-games (Fantasy Flight, Modiphius, Cortex Plus, etc…). I’m more interested in getting the check over with, inserting that little bit of randomness that makes the story surprising, and moving on to what really matters: the narrative.

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Mechanics Workshop: Player Facing Mechanics

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Powered by the Apocalypse games have changed the way that I roleplay. Unlike others, I don’t believe they are the final evolution of roleplaying, or even that they can cure cancer. But GM-ing PBTA games has thoroughly convinced me of two things that have changed the way I GM most other RPGs.

NPCs and PCs do not have to be, and often should not be, symmetrically built.

By this, I mean that a GM shouldn’t have to go through the same painstaking process to make an NPC that players do when they make their PCs. The reason is twofold: NPCs are not the focus of the story, and therefore should not be as intricate, and since the GM has to manage several NPCs at once, and the PCs have to manage only one, NPC stat blocks should be drastically abbreviated.

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Moves & Stunts: Premonition

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Dungeon World (and by extension, the other Powered by the Apocalypse games) and Fate Core are two of my favorite games. Probably, their appeal for me stems from the fact that they are both so very hackable. Due to their modular design, it’s easy to create new content for them in order to create the exact roleplaying experience that you’re looking for.

Fate, I must say, does this better than Dungeon World because DW classes are pre-written whereas Fate characters are always built from the ground up. However, due to this difference, DW is a much quicker game to start playing than Fate (unless you have a crafty GM, and they start the game with on-the-fly character creation), because all you have to do is pickup your character class, select some options, and get to adventuring.

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Non-Violent RPG Review: Quill

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A Solo RPG by Trollish Delver Games

Dear Archduke,

Pursuant to my previously stated interest in non-violent games of the roleplaying variety, please find enclosed a review of the indie darling Quill, which touts itself as a solo, letter writing roleplaying game. As a connoisseur of the written word, conversant in the subtle art of communication, I’m sure you will find this game delightful in its elegant simplicity.

I Have the Honor to be Your Obedient Servant,

Sir Tristan


I mentioned last week that I’m interested in non-violent RPGs. The reasons for this are expounded in the introductory post, but suffice it to say here, that I do love to bathe in the blood of my enemies as much as modesty will allow, but I’m presently interested in exploring RPGs in which combat is not the point of the game, games which may expressly forbid violence, or else have no explicit mechanics for supporting it, and games which explore relationships other than hero vs. monster.

Quill is such a game. While this indie darling (it’s won awards) does not forbid you from telling stories of bloody conquest, it doesn’t especially encourage you to do so either. You’ll find there are no rules which tell you the balance of your sword, the bonuses to damage, weapon reach, or any other such nonsense. Instead, the three attributes you’ll be concerned with are your Penmanship, your Language, and your Heart. You’ll be more concerned with the quality of your words than the damage of your broadsword in this letter-writing RPG.

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But Only If… Fiat as Negotiation

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All roleplaying games have mechanisms for deciding what should happen when there is a question as to what will happen next. Surprise, you could say, is the reason we play roleplaying games, rather than writing a novel. In many games, the surprise comes from the outcome of rolling dice, but this isn’t the only way surprise can be injected into a story.

Fortune, Karma, and Drama

The mechanisms for deciding the crucial question of “what happens next?” are as varied as the thousands of roleplaying games that exist, but all of them boil down to some combination of the following:

  • We consult dice or cards, or some other randomizer, which will tell us what happens next. This is known, in game design, as a Fortune mechanic.
  • Someone pays an amount of some kind of points in order to purchase the authority to say what happens next. This is known as a Karma mechanic.
  • And finally, someone who has the authority to say what happens next, simply says what happens. This is known as a Drama mechanic.

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