Not this, but that.

Randy and I were talking last night, and I mentioned Capes — parenthetically commenting that it and games like it (which is to say, games with more player authorial input like Amber, Nobilis, Sorcerer, Mortal Coil, TSoY, Galactic, Primetime Adventures, Shab all-Hiri Roach and even FATE, depending on how you run it) appealed to me was because it meant I got to use players’ creativity more in the game or (with the full-on no-GM games like Capes or SaHRoach) I got to flat out be-a-player more.
His reply was “well, you don’t like being a player anyway.”
And… okay, yeah, I do GM a lot, and I’m bad at being a player, but neither of those things are because I don’t LIKE being a player.
1. I like contributing bits of ‘scene’ at a director/author level to stuff that’s going on. In most traditional games (with the exception of Amber/Nobilis and the like, and those are HARDly traditional RPGs, just old) that level of input ability is solely under the control of the GM. If I want to DO that, I have to GM. Period. I can look at Fate or Mortal Coil and say “hey, there are concrete mechanics in place in this otherwise pretty traditional game that give me the ability to do that kind of stuff EVEN WHEN I’M A PLAYER,” and I get tingley in my naughty places.
1a. Giving players this ability scares the shit out of potential GMs that I could be playing with, and it shouldn’t — Amber players have been doing this for years.* Nobilis players have been doing it for (fewer years, but still) years. *I* have been GMing games where the players steer and/or change the story for well over a decade, with progressively more and more freedom to do this and overt acknowledgement that they’re doing it, AND been successful at this, and I am NOT THAT FUCKING SMART. Other people than me can do it. Other people do it all the time.
1b. GMless gaming is such a bogeyman in RPG circles. Why? MOST GAMES in the world do NOT have a “Player Who Does Not Play, But Just Runs Stuff” — games where all the players involved are responsible for understanding the basic rules of the game they’re all playing and, through that understanding a strong social agreement, keeping everyone basically all playing within the same Shared Imaginary Space. It’s not new. It’s not even HARD.
2. I’m a bad player because I don’t get much practice. See 1, above.
Now, I *have* played in some games where (a) i did a good job being a simple player (b) I (mostly) didn’t do any scene imagery contributions (at least not official ones) and (c) I had a good time, consistently, and for long periods. Those are rare.
So… yeah. Partly, i want to run these dirty-hippie-indie games so that someone picks one up and says “hey, I wanna run this.” That’s not the only reason, because I *do* like GMing, but thats part of it. 🙂


  1. Edited multiple times for tpyoes — I have headache.
    also, the footnote:
    * – How did Amber slip under the radar for so long with all this hippie player-narration-control running rampant? Easy — if you want to play in the Amber universe, you have to allow for that kind of control, cuz THAT is part of the setting.
    Funny/scary thing? Get this: on enWorld (the d20 gaming online mecca of resources), there are regular, recurring threads on the forums, debating whether or not DnD 3.5 takes away too much of the authorial power from the GM and gives it to the players.
    Talk about worrying about losing a thimbleful of rice.

  2. Regarding #1.
    I don’t think it is necessarily required for “player authorship” to be specifically part of the rules set for it to be part of a campaign. I think you simply need a flexible GM who is willing to “go with the flow” independent of what rules you are using.
    For example, there is really no player generated plot/scene in an Amber game that can’t be duplicated in a crunchier system like D&D or Rolemaster if the GM is on board with the concept that he doesn’t *have* to pre-generate everything.
    I think the issue is more one of player style. Sometimes people overlook the proactive possibilities in a game like D&D because they are used to DM’s spoon feeding them the plot week to week in those games. There is no mechanical reason the game has to progress in that way though.

  3. John, I’d have to agree. I think most of the entrenched behavior comes out of what the games tend to encourage or assume, so that shapes a lot of the play. Amber tends to assume that players are going to be making up supporting cast/historical details/whole worlds as a normal part of play… DnD doesn’t.
    Doesn’t make it a bad game, just makes it different, and it drastically increases the likelihood that, if I walk up to a DnD table at a convention, I’ll get a group of players who don’t expect or are not comfortable with me say “so, the guy’s attacking… I’m going to … let’s say there’s some weapons hanging on the wall, and I’m going to grab one of them to fight with.” or whatever.
    To paraphrase something I said to Randy a few days back: You’ve got a GM like you’re talking about that can run anything. The game can suck, but he can toss out what he doesn’t like and then it’s good. OK, the GM is talented. I submit, however, that he’d be even better if he didn’t have to spend all that time culling the mechanics, or if there were actual mechanics supporting the ‘laid back’ things he allows, so that everyone knows how it works, and how they can get some of that action. I think if you’ve got a GM like that, they’re even better when using a system that doesn’t waste their time or present obstacles or rules they have to get around or ignore.

  4. Well, I agree “system does matter” to a great degree. A system tailored to allowing a player to craft his own story as opposed to presenting the player a tactical challenge will result in a different style of game of a certainty. Neither is “better” than the other, but they emphasize different playing styles and motivations.
    I think my main issue with a system that fully empowers the player’s authorship is the implied lessening of challenge. In my experience, players are not good at challenging themselves. I’m not the player type who just wants to tell a good story, but rather tend to be one who treats the game as a series of challenges (usually not under my control) to overcome. When that results in a good story as well, it’s even better but the story isn’t my primary motivation as a player.
    While from a storytelling standpoint it might be more enjoyable to be able to just pull that sword off the wall and start swinging/swashbuckling, from a *gaming* standpoint it may be more fun to have to improvise with what other players or the gm have given you as a challenge. Suddenly you have to break off a furniture leg or disarm an opponent for a weapon, and success is far from guaranteed. Therein lies the fun for players like myself who are in it more for the “game” and not so much the “story” per se.
    I think most players like a bit of both. They want to succeed in creating a story they like while not having it handed to them on a silver platter. I’m probably a 70% game 30% story kinda guy myself.
    Unfortunately, most systems aren’t split like that so no matter what you do, the GM will need to do some adjustment to hit that sweet spot players like myself want.

  5. Mmm… I’m more and more convinced I need to run a lot of Mortal Coil for folks. It turns player authorship into an interesting conflict, imo.
    Also, maybe check out that Capes flash demo. I’m not espousing Capes as a system, but check out this central Capes idea — you can get Strong, non-Pushover conflicts without a GM when you reward the Other Players for amping up the difficulty of a conflict you’re in so that it’s not just a pushover easy thing.
    Mortal Coil does this in a less overt way… trying to think of other ones that do, but the FIRE ALARM JUST WENT OFF AND I SUDDENLY CAN’T THINK OOWWWWWWW.

  6. I keep feeling like the Devil’s Advocate here, but …
    One of the thing that bothered me about Capes’ description was that, yes, it depended on the players amping up the conflict against each other.
    I’d rather be competing against the GM (so to speak) than the other players. Which is funny, because when it comes to board games, I tend to be, if not ruthless, enthusiastic about competition. In an RPG, though, not so much.
    My two cents, kicking and screaming …

  7. I was thinking of 1b… I have found that I have more fun when I, as GM, play along with the players. You know, when I want them to “win,” too! Some of it’s also that I always consider myself a player: I just play the environment instead of a standard character sheet.

  8. 1b. GMless gaming is such a bogeyman in RPG circles. Why? MOST GAMES in the world do NOT have a “Player Who Does Not Play, But Just Runs Stuff” — games where all the players involved are responsible for understanding the basic rules of the game they’re all playing and, through that understanding a strong social agreement, keeping everyone basically all playing within the same Shared Imaginary Space. It’s not new. It’s not even HARD.
    But MOST GAMES don’t depend (caveats below) on one of the members to develop the challenges and keep the secrets. Most games don’t even have a “Shared Imaginary Space.” The closest you get is who plays the Banker — but that’s just book keeping (literally).
    The best case I’ve seen of GMless to date is the Roach — but there, the scenarios and goals are already set for you in the game. And the competitors are there (in the other players), so John’s worry about players softballing challenges doesn’t apply.
    I’ll confess, to turn to MT’s note, that I tend to play a dual role as GM — wanting the players to win, but feeling like I need to keep the players “honest” about it, not be a push-over, not let the phantom nerdy little guy who haunts my mental gaming table game the system and take advantage of me again. Which is not necessarily a healthy attitude to take (in either case).
    What I really want as GM is, when all is done, for folks to be (a) happy (and out of breath), and (b) appreciative of the job *I’ve* done in the scenario/story, the NPCs, the challenge.

  9. I have an issue with “secrets” in general, but that’s my thing. When you read the section in DitV about playing the towns and staying away from the traditional-game trap of “OMG They’re going to find out what’s going on!”, that will illustrate my point a lot.
    Generally? I actually *want* the players to find out what’s going on. Maybe the characters don’t find out right then, but why not the players?
    Yes, you lose the “holy crap, I didn’t see THAT coming”, but I think you get to trade it in for “My god, that was so tense, waiting to find out of my guy would realize in time that Doctor V was the Zero Killer!”
    * – It’s pointless to try to hide it anyway, Margie will invariably figure out whatever your big secret is 45 minutes before your Reveal and ‘ruin’ the surprise anyway.

  10. I am way too much the drama queen to not want the Big Reveal. The close I might get is a flash-forward and then “but how do we get there at the end?” tension (which is even less amenable to a non-railroaded or multi-author plot).
    But I’ll peruse that part of DitV — I realize it’s possible to do things a different way. Heck, “Columbo” isn’t about the viewers figuring out who the killer was — they see it at the very beginning — but about the viewers watching Lt Columbo figuring it out, and that approach can work pretty well and still maintain a mystery.

  11. And that’s where I think PTA might serve you well — I mean, you learned to love the Big Reveal, which is (in part) a Television Thing, and PTA does Television Things really really really really really well.
    The thing with DitV that I see a lot of people initially fighting their instincts over is that “Figuring out what happened” is not the point. “Deciding what we do about it” is.
    And the shooting of demons.
    In the face.
    With love.

  12. Well, I have the PDF of PTA now, so I have something fun to read when my last paperback runs out …

  13. N.B. I don’t know if I enjoy being on the audience side of the Big Reveal more or being on the stage side more, but I love it regardless — the huge CLICK as the final piece falls into place … great moments.

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