A conversation on the Forge regarding how or when the idea of Player Authorship crept into your style of play. What follows is my reply, which I’m posting here simply to have it at hand:
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?
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) 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.