Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Agency

This will be short.  I don't seem to have as much energy as I'd like, and I've got a bevy of other things on the go.

Last week, I talked about player agency, and got slapped around a bit.  I don't mind.  Mostly, I got the impression that people just didn't think grammar was that important; that the future tense is as viable as any other tense; and that in general the social system is breaking down and this is what we've got.

My players offline did have a real good time regarding issues of permission when they came around Saturday to play.  As it happened, I was too sick to run and we chatted about life and sociology and watched a 1959 movie, The Bridal Path, which my daughter, her Scotland-loving boyfriend/husband (they live together), and the lesbians who run in my world hadn't seen.  A good time was had by all.

If I am talking about agency, I intend to make a simple point:  I have power as a DM.  We don't play without my say-so, and if we are playing, then I'm going to lay out some rules of propriety and address that I think are appropriate for players to follow if the game, as a whole, is going to run smoothly.  There is a shibboleth to running in my world, and those who participate and enjoy the pleasure of my labor are going to adhere to it.  It is, if you can forgive the absolutism, a point of privilege of being a DM.

Why should I care about grammar?  Because communication requires clarity, and communication about action, doubly so.  If I make a statement as a DM that is unclear to the player, I do not quibble and haw about how I made the point previously.  I fix my statement and extend my effort to make the point clear.  I expect in absolute terms for a player to do likewise - and if my insistence on clarification includes that they will put the previous statement into the present tense, I don't really give a damn how inconvenient that is, or how much permission it requires, or whether the player is in the mood.  Clarity is more important - by a damn sight - than the differences between future tense or present.

I run a good world.  When I ask a player, "Are you doing it, or will you do it?", it is done for good reason.  I attempted to express that good reason, but I suppose I missed getting that across.  Lord Thanatos, besides, put it better than I could have hoped.

Such little idiosyncracies and shibboleth's are the way it goes.  I wonder how many DM's recognize the frequency with which they give ground on things they find important just to make players happy.

I wouldn't recommend making it a habit.


Talysman said...

I don't exactly buy your grammatical arguments in this post (or the other one,) but I do get the underlying concept you're getting at. It's what the Forge people label "IIEE" (bad, opaque abbreviation, but pretty decent insight.) Intent, Initiative, Execution, Effect.

"I will eat a day's worth of rations" expresses what you intend to do.

Then, "I begin to eat the rations" occurs at the moment of initiative. No turning back now, you've taken at least one bite.

"I am eating the rations" is the execution. If something else happens, you can't say "I shout to warn him" because your mouth is full; you also can't say "I raise my shield while stabbing with my sword" until you say "I drop the rations" (or at least agree with the GM when he questions you on the matter.)

"You start feeling ill from the poison in the rations" is the effect. It can't happen until after the process of eating the rations has started.

Different games and even different GMs handle these stages differently. Some GMs are hard-nosed and treat all "I will" or "I'm going to" statements of intent as also being in the initiative and execution phases; you said it, it happens. Some are more lenient and won't even require the poison save until after initiative has passed. Some are sticklers for order and won't allow changed actions after an initiative roll, but allow actions to be stopped prior to the call for the saving throw, which occurs during the execution phase.

Alexis said...

Yes. And if you want to avoid a hundred hours of useless argumentative bullshit at your gaming table, as a DM you'd better embrace some kind of consistency regarding this order.

David said...

Your game your rules. I'm fine with that. From your last post on the subject I thought you were open to discussing agency, play styles, and related issues. It seems that this was not the case and thus I will be on my way.

Alexis said...

My god, man! I'm not talking about my rules, I'm talking about the importance of having them. Can you not see the difference?

David said...

We're talking past each other. I agree fully with the need for rules. Yet, as you say, rules are often idiosyncratic and can even serve as shibboleths. Thus your game, your rules.

I am interested in discussing player agency, immersion, and perhaps even the distribution of power between DM and players. However when we agree that rules of this sort are needed but are also idiosyncratic we've hit somewhat of a barrier to discussion.

David said...

Perhaps I should add one more thing. One reason I said that I would be on my way is that I am in a very different phase in my gaming life than you are. At times I have felt the privilege of being the DM. However I have moved (whether on or back is probably up for debate) to a view that is less stratified; to game at all requires both the DM and the players and neither one is privileged. Thus my emphasis on group social contracts on behavior between equals instead of DM enforced rules on the way to do things.

Perhaps this is the social order breaking down?

Alexis said...


All it proves is that you have never read my online campaign - if you had, you'd see how very, very rarely I ever have to rely on DM fiat to resolve issues. My perspective is to advance a reason for why I do things ... which was the original point of the previous post about Agency. Your comment on that post, among others, struck me as a kind of player-fiat suggesting that my reasons were frivolous. So I wrote this post ... which it seemed to me you interpreted as DM fiat.

So I'm baffled, again. As near as I can tell, the barrier to discussion is that you don't know what I'm talking about, you don't know my campaign style and you appear to be arguing a position that isn't up for question here.

Lord Thanatos said...

Hey! I got my name dropped in your post, wow, didn't think anyone listened.

We played last night. I am not the DM, I'm enjoying playing these days. I paid close attention to how people spoke. At critical points, I tried to catch whether people were using present or future tense when describing their actions.

I think you would have been pleasantly surprised. The majority of us were "doing" things, at the moment we were describing them. There were one or two backpedals, a character trying to re-phrase what he said when everyone disagreed with his proposed actions. But for the most part, everyone was in the moment.

Like I said before, I think this is because the majority of our group has put a lot of effort into their characters; their background, personalities, and motivations. I have a feeling that everyone in our group has created a fantasy version of themselves, and therefore, is playing their character vicariously and in the first person.

You sound a little heated, but like you said, YOU are the DM. Your rules. If they're explained up front, shouldn't be a problem.

Nine-toes said...

Speaking as a player in the online campaign, I do get annoyed with deleting future tense from my speech. It's more annoyance that I keep forgetting to do it in the first place. Yes, it's a pain in the ass to break the habit (ongoing at this point). I don't do it out of spite or obstreperousness (at least, not at all conciously). But it's been a pain in the ass for me to break any habit.

As far as GM priviledge and whatnot, I really don't look at life that way. If I want to drive a car, I have to abide by certain rules or that 'priviledge' may be taken away. I can rail against the government and law makers all I want to (or, if I were more proactive, get a group of like-minded individuals to protest ever having to stop for pedestrians at a crosswalk) but it won't get me back by lisence if I lose it breaking those rules.

I take life, and people, on their own terms. I've found living much easier when I espouse this.

Alexis said...

Sorry about the angst, Nine-toes. I can always back off.