Discussion Episode 17: Player & GM Authority

The crew sits down to discuss the big issue we’ve been avoiding for the entire time this podcast has been around: Player and GM Authority. We break down the different kinds of authority and cite examples of how different games use them. Then we discuss how the traditional model of authority (most of it being in the hands of the GM) can cause problems.

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6 Responses to “Discussion Episode 17: Player & GM Authority”

  1. Duncan Timiney Says:

    Hey that was a really interesting episode. I’m having problems getting players to accept any responsibility whatsoever. We’ve just started a D6 Space campaign. I outlined the basic setting to the players, and emphasised that we can fill in the blanks together. But the oldschool DM/Player relationship must be hard to shake off, or something – when we were assigning equipment, I asked one player what the name of the corporation that manafactured his laser gun. He looked at me, aghast: “How am I supposed to know?” he replied. After 5 minutes he couldn’t think of a name at all :/

  2. Kevin Weiser Says:

    Yeah, those habits can be hard to break. That’s one of the things that really fascinated me about discovering indie games: I could feel my brain re-arranging how it thought. It takes time, and practice, like any skill.

    I’d suggest running a one-shot of In A Wicked Age. It puts the collaborative nature right out in everybody’s lap, and the Oracles pretty much guarantee some interesting starting points. Plus, one-shots are much less stressful. I can see how people would freak about that.

    Are you going to use that weapon corporation against them? What if they make a stupid company name and it messes everything up? OMG I DON’T WANT TO BE LAME! Your player has a whole campaign he’s got to worry about. Not so with a one-shot. He can just try stuff, and see that it works out ok.

    But either way, just keep at it. It’s scary at first, but it does get easier.

  3. Noclue Says:

    Polaris is good for that re-arranging of the mind as well. I’d be interested in hearing your review if you decide to play it. Its a game that I love, but don’t get to play often. It definitely blew my mind about what games can be. It was one of my early experiences with Indie games and it flies in the face of many assumptions I had about what makes RPGs work. One thing that I love is that the mechanics trade narrative authority back and forth but avoid the common criticism of being “just a pass-the-stick game.” IaWA does this in a very different way, as well.

    Oh, one slight correction: The full moon guides important characters that represent social and hierarchical relationships for the protagonist. He/she also guides unimportant males. The new moon guides important characters who have a emotional and personal relationships, and also unimportant females.

  4. Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) Says:

    So, first of all, it’s not a crime for players to “just wanna play the friggin’ game”. The “traditional” distribution of responsibilities is comfortable to some people/groups, and if it works for them, there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course, when one or more members (often the overworked GM who’s tired of doing all the work) decide they want to try something different… well, then it can be a problem. But it’s not because the players are jerks for not wanting to do more stuff. It’s just that the members of the group now have conflicting desires for play. Sometimes compromises can be worked out. Sometimes not.

    Anyway, M.J. Young wrote a series of brilliant dissections of this stuff, the main article of which covers Authority vs. Credibility. Here’s the link:

    Pretty much anything by Mr. Young is worth reading, so Google away.

  5. Sean Nittner Says:

    Games where it is impossible to tell, until you get into the middle of it, if the group-think can put together a good narrative. Example: We’ve had games of Penny that turned into contests of one upping each other and the story went to hell in a handbasket. The same group has done Fiasco with brilliant success, largely in part because the mechanics restrain the narrative.

    My anecdotal experience: Some authority (GM, group consensus, or system) must put creative constraints on a game to ensure that aberrant ideas don’t either burst the thought bubble the game was being played in or mutate that bubble so severely it is no longer fun to play in. These constraints need to be very clear up front, so everyone goes into the game with the same expectations.

    Echoing Paul Tevis, creative constraints make better play. Adding my part, these restraints remove some of the authority conflicts later in the game because it isn’t the GM, or any specific player trying to rein in the narrative, but expectations set up front, that can be referred to. (example: Okay, the die says this scene ends with things going badly for your character. Why are you narrating him making out with that hot chick? Oh… she’s your step mom… okay).

  6. Scott Says:

    I’m actually in the middle of this episode on my commute disk (took an extra long weekend), but Kevin asked me to repost this here from someplace else…

    What I’ve found to be most enjoyable for me lately is for the GM to be limited to situational authority for expediency (ala IAWA, WGP, and BE) or for the system to be GM-less.

    I’m sure it can be covered in the types of authority listed above, but to me the crux of the matter is who is in charge of the opposition, or the antagonist if you like. I’d call that Oppositional Authority because to me it seems that it’s a different type of power. I think a lot of issues can arise if opposition power and authority is unchecked by rules, social contracts, or fictional credibility.

    I want the opposition to be strong but fair or at least appropriate to the tone of the fiction. In Burning Empires the opposition might have a huge advantage (depending on the phase and planet), but that’s what the fiction there is about. As a GM in With Great Power, I want to do my darndest to crush the heroes, but I realize the rules are stacked against me in the end (and that’s appropriate to the fiction).

    What I determined through lots of play is that I don’t like systems where the GM has too little Oppositional Authority. I feel that PTA turns out that way for most of my groups. I only enjoy the first game session where we do the pitch and the pilot and everything is awesome. After that, as GM, I feel I have very little to do.

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