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Player Authorship

Started by Jeph, April 07, 2004, 09:11:34 PM

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So, thus far I've run two sessions of Exemplar, a brief and poorly initiated discussion of which may be found here. But what this post is concerned with is player authorship, my concepts thereof, how the game says to implement it, and how it was actually implemented in play.

In the game text, player authorship is discussed very little. The only mention comes under Story Tokens. Each player gets a few per game session, usually 1-5. (In this game one character has three and the other has one.) There's a paragraph that says something like "Spend a token to get a few seconds of total narrative control."

Erm. Not exactly how we used them. Definitely getting a revision.

So this is how things would normally go in my Feng Shui games.

Player: I pull a machinegun from my pack--
Me: That's a bit large. I'll let you have a pistol.
Player: Sure. I pull it out and [shoot people].

This is how it went during the Exemplar games:

Peter: I pull out some X-ray goggles that we looted from the Purity--
Me: Hold up. Those're a rather big deal. Not standard issue.
Peter: Token.
Me: X-ray away.

Peter: What kind of weaponry is in the rack?
Me: Are you willing to spend a token?
Peter: I'm out.
Wade: I'll give.
Me: Okay. Large array. Lots of small arms, quite a few rifles; both microwave and slug thrower. A few high explosives and a IARBG.
Wade: What?
Me: IGAC Approved Really Big Gun.
Peter: Sweet. I'll take that.

Wade: What've we got on the hovercraft?
Me: Standard stuff. Filters. Kaleb's interceptor. Guns for the crew.
Wade: Any other transportation?
Me: Like what?
Wade: Idunno. Jet skis?
Me: Sure, one. I'll make it three and give them missiles if you spend a Story Token.
Wade: Deal.

Almost the same thing between the two systems, but sort of the other way around.

The way it worked out reminded me of Vincent's Adventures posts. Lots of negotiation with a very shady meta-system that we all know is being used but can't really pin down without a bit of effort.

I also found it interesting that so far, out of the 7 story tokens total that have been spent, 5 have been used on equipment and supplies. One was used by Peter to extend the range and power of his character's telekinesis, and the other by Wade to let his character, a non-Exemplar, manifest a psychic power. On a related note, that means that there's only been one unused point in two sessions. Not sure what that means.

Now let's take a look elsewhere.

This Monday last Peter ran a totally sweet D&D game. We had raided this tomb last session, see, and found this book with a ritual that was going to take place in seven days in some swamp, so we went to stop it. It was cool.

Examples of player authorship therefrom:

Me: Are there any other wizards in the area?
Peter: Yeah. An astrologer who live just outside the outpost.
Me: How powerful is he? Like, more than me?
Peter: A bit. Around 10th level, in game terms.
Me: Cool. I assume I know him?
Peter: Yeah.

Of course, then you have:

Peter: So by now you can tell that the lump on your shoulder is going to develop into a second head.
Me: Fuck. I tell the others to tie me down and chop it off. I hope it's not learnean.
Peter: ::Pause:: :Evil Grin:: They lop it off easily, but then it just grows back.
Me: Fuck. Break out the fire and acid.

But, all things considered, Peter is as accepting of player authorship when he runs D&D as I am when I do the same. Of course, we learned to game with eachother and play in all of each others' games, so we're not exactly a random sample of the population at large. To wit:

Quote from: Domanhall, in the Mystery Essay threadBut, I must admit that I am truly lost as to some of the gamestyles you are presenting. Do you guys mean that as you are playing, that the players can create people and situations along side the GM? That the GM is the not sole "world narrator" that the PCs are dwelling in? That sounds like what I am hearing, but correct me if I am wrong. Is this phenomenon common? I have never been exposed to that before. You mean that as I (when a player) can decide, "This is a good spot for an orc" and then I can have one appear? Is this fun?

And the GMs at the North Carolina Game Days haven't been as flexible as Peter nor me in this regard.

So I guess there are differing opinions and practices. In truth I'm not even sure where mine came from--I certainly didn't get them from Peter, and most definitely not from the Olde Dayes with Sam, Max, Patrick, and Clay. Feng Shui might be responsible, as may you mangy louts.

So: Are my experiences with player authorship relatively common to those of other Forgers? How as a greater/lesser degree of such effected the games that you have run or played in?

Thanks for reading,
Jeffrey S. Schecter: Pagoda / Other


The types of player authorship you list are, I think, the common types of things that people are getting used to (along with changing the dice via meta-game mechanics). The core assumption seems to be that the GM has final authority to grant or deny player requests. That seems pretty typical of what I experience with folks.

The next step in player-empowerment is to formally extend that power to ownership of NPCs, plots, scenes, and whatnot. Seems like experienced roleplayers can be a bit freaked out by this. The gamer response is often the idea that they should pay something for such power.

I've had decent luck getting players used to the idea of authorship (and in some cases directorship). In fact, after getting one group used to the notion of player scene framing with Dust Devils, I had a player start to take over the scene in another game that wasn't meant to be played that way.

<edited to correct terminology>
Jay Loomis
Coxcomb Games
Check out my">blog.

Andrew Norris

My experience with getting players to author was similar to what the first poster described. I give them X tokens a session, and most of them get spent on things like making sure they have the right gear, or pulling stunts during combat. But as the sessions have gone on I've found they've loosened up and are starting to use them to initiate or modify scenes in a way that addresses the issues they have going on with their characters.

I agree that having players spend some metagame resource in exchange for authorship is probably the best way to ease them into the process.


QuoteSo: Are my experiences with player authorship relatively common to those of other Forgers? How as a greater/lesser degree of such effected the games that you have run or played in?

I think this ties into this post pretty neatly.  Must be the meme of the day.

Largely, it's been an evolutionary versus revolutionary process for me.

Playing DnD back in high school (lo those many years ago) it was all gamist/sim stuff -- players played and the GM made the story.  Period.  Full stop.  It was '89 in the midwest -- whattaya gonna do? :)

This style of play continued into college.  Towards the end of that period I was running a game using Dangerous Journeys/Mythus (a game I still adore).  This was my first experience with characters who essentially started out as competent, experience people, and it had quite a lot of influence over the game.  Everything was very heavily Sim, but there was a lot of player-initiated plotting and interaction, though still well within the bounds of the designed game, and I remember the players sometimes trading in Joss (luck) to get things to happen that otherwise would not have.  Never occured to me that that was player authorship, but it certainly was.

The next game was my first time GMing Amber, which I think was a game that people looking for more authorship control might have naturally gravitated towards at the time, since it gave the player so much say over what was going on -- I specifically remember part of the Combat section that told players to "just add what you like to a scene -- you need a sword and your in the castle?  Put one on the wall and grab it!" Heady stuff.  One player faked his own death and passed himself off as a 'new' family member for two-thirds of the entire eighteen-session campaign.

The setting helps with player-empowerment as well, since there was an inherent ability within the setting for the PCs to invent entire new worlds exactly (heh) to their personal specifications, populated with people they found interesting, and focusing on their own stories since they were compentent enough to be able to go off on their own.  Players could seek out whoever they wanted to seek out, have the encounters they wanted to have ("I shadowwalk to someplace were there's a bar fight"), and talk to whomever they liked, even if they weren't nearby (Trumps).

This was one of the revolutionary shifts to the player/GM dynamic.  I started GMing with much less prep on 'scenario' and much more focus on 'what happens as a result of the player actions'.  I don't think it was diceless, karma-based play that did it, I think it was the setting and the sense that not having dice really 'opened things up'.

I moved after that and spent a few years finding new players (and learning that I can't PBeM worth a damn and playing Muds, where my need for Player Authorship was (sadly) channeled into an obsessive need to spend as much time Building as I did playing), after which I ran a very rewarding, very long, Amber game.  While I gradually became less and less enamored of Amber DRPG's "system", this essentially cemented my expectations for player-control.  In fact, it got to the point where I actually became annoyed with the players who seemed to 'just sit there and wait for some NPC to give them a job'.  The players that worked well in the game were those who were self-starters or who would take a plot hook and run with it.  "Passive" players were just a lot more work.

Following that game I did some stuff with the original little BESM book (which I think of as a sort of 2nd edition Amber RPG in a lot of ways).  This didn't work quite as well in terms of giving the players input (which meant I was prepping a bit more and not really thrilled about that). D20 was out though and everyone was in the mood for some 'old skool' games.

The glow of that faded, however (though not as quickly as some of the campaigns have, unfortunately), and I found myself looking for something that would give me that "shared creative energy" that I had in previous games.  (I still didn't have the Forge vocabulary to see that I was looking to recapture some Author-stance for my players.)

I was really down on the ADRPG, which led me to put it off for a really long time, but eventually I gave in and bought Nobilis.  (Which I think really feels like an Indie game -- it's big and thick and published by someone else, but it's owned by the author and has a lot of shared philosophy with the kind of play you can get out of Forge games -- grist for another thread, perhaps).

Love at first read.  Granted, the book is... well, a big beautiful mess, but there's a great 'Nobilis 101' doc on the internet that really helped me get the rules, and I started running a game.  That was a year ago, and I've been very pleased -- it's a great game and allows from some fantastic character interaction.

Also, in the last half of that time-period or so I started picking up on the threads of thought on the Forge and have begun implementing some of the techniques found here as a way of giving the Nobilis system the last few things it didn't naturally have built into its setting (the way Amber did) to facilitate player authorship.

The Forge was the other big revolution in the evolution, as it's crystalized and defined some of the things I've been looking for without knowing I was looking for them.  I'm starting up a proper Sorcerer game this Friday, having some great fun with the pre-game chargen (using something called Themechaser for background stuff) for an online Paladin game (running Tuesday nights on #indierpgs -- come on over!) in which the player creation has already influenced the setting, and I'm just hopping up and down in anticipation of getting to the next Nobilis sessions and tightening the focus of the Premise for the game and getting some more player control going.

Whew!  Long post.  Really helped me get my head around where some of my inclinations evolved from, though.  Thanks!
Doyce Testerman ~
Someone gets into trouble, then get get out of it again; people love that story -- they never get tired of it.


Quote from: Andrew NorrisMy experience with getting players to author was similar to what the first poster described. I give them X tokens a session, and most of them get spent on things like making sure they have the right gear, or pulling stunts during combat. But as the sessions have gone on I've found they've loosened up and are starting to use them to initiate or modify scenes in a way that addresses the issues they have going on with their characters.

I agree that having players spend some metagame resource in exchange for authorship is probably the best way to ease them into the process.

Yeah, it's a method I've really been up on as of late. Although I'm working on a game now inspired by something quick I wrote in the Birthday forum that's GMless--we'll see how my group reacts to that! I'll probably want to run another double handful of sessions of Exemplar first though, likely until someone's Nemesis kicks in.


Great post! Most of it, however, doesn't mirror my gaming past at all. :D Although I do think that much of my recent interest in player authorship and so forth has come from the Forge, and, to an extent, other internet fora--they've given quite a boost to my GMing skills.

Jeffrey S. Schecter: Pagoda / Other


Hi Jeff,

I think that this form of authorship is more prevalent than folks would think.  I stumbled upon bits of it through Feng Shui, mostly in that I found that player input was more fun.  The big deterent for most people is that this idea is completely shut down by many game texts that advocate that GM's apply an iron fist or the game will crumble.

This is why games that explicitly hand over control and input to the players, such as the Pool, Inspectres, Dust Devils, Donjon, etc. scare the daylights out of some people.  The rules in those games fly in the face of a massive amount of text, philosophy, and ingrained habit.  

That is also why games that don't require such an extreme shift, but a smaller, significant change, such as using Author Stance, such as Sorcerer or Riddle of Steel, confuses some folks.  They assume that the iron fist is to be used, when the rules themselves are designed for a different sort of environment.



I think at least part of the fear comes from performance anxiety -- if you're used to straight-up vanilla play where you don't have to worry about anything but your own character, it might seem like a big new responsibility to also keep track of metagame concerns.  I imagine a player thinking something like, "This sucks, not only do I have to fight the bad guys, I have to come up with cool ways for the bad guys to fight [I} me [/I].


I think this style of play is more really more natural.  It seems to be what I did before I learned "the right way" to do things.  Now that I've been exposed to the Forge I feel like I'm getting back in tune with my inner storyteller who thought group authorship was great.  

On a closely related note, in one of the GNS essays the idea of the various "powers" that make up the GM's role are mentioned.  The idea being that there is no real reason why one person has to be in charge of all those things.  In fact in most long term functional groups one person probably isn't.  I'm looking forward to some games with a more divided authority structure.  I think this will allow greater group authorship.
Brendan J. Petroff

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Love is the law, love under Will.