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Master of their fate

There’s a hefty little thread over on the Forge about ad lib GMing. (Well, it starts out as a thread about player fulfillment and winds up as a big discussion about “No Myth” roleplaying, but you know, it’s still rock and roll to me. Ad lib GMing, with player acceptance. OK.)

The early advice from Le Joueur is very solid and can be turned to slightly less extreme ends. My experience is that many players need the possibility of failure in a way that his Complication theory doesn’t really address. To put it differently: ends must be mutable in play. And… hm. Ah.

OK, so this comes back to one of my personal roleplaying theories, which can be summarized thus: “Roleplaying is the intersection of storytelling and prophecy.” By this, I mean that randomness is a necessary and important element of roleplaying. While there will certainly always be people who enjoy non-random roleplay (including myself), I think that non-random roleplay satisfies somewhat different needs than more traditional roleplay. (Similarly, pure diced roleplay — certain D&D campaigns come to mind — also satisfy different needs.)

This is a distinction I draw not to criticize Amber or Nobilis or Theatrix, but rather to express the opinion that one shouldn’t apply theories of roleplay to all three aspects of roleplay. Generally, intellectual roleplayers don’t try to extend their theories to cover the wargamish nature of hack-and-slash D&D; I think they should also recognize the important distinctions and differences between non-random games and random games.

The perceptual experience of a story which is completely in the hands of the people creating it is essentially different than the perceptual experience of a story which contains random elements. We know this instinctually — it’s the reason why improv comedy troupes take topics from the (random) audience, and it’s the reason why the Flying Karamazov Brothers take objects from the audience to juggle. Because of that difference, theory that applies to one may simply not apply to the other.

OK. So, back to the Forge posting. I read Le Joueur’s advice on Complications as non-obstacles as removing the randomness — removing the oracle — from plot twists. There must be something at stake, because nobody consults the oracle when nothing is at stake. When “failure” becomes a measure of difficulty and/or complication rather than true failure, the stakes are lowered. I am not sure how one maintains high stakes in this model. Character emotional pain is one way to do this, but it requires a level of immersive play which cannot be assumed to be desirable by all one’s players.

Thoughts to chew on. Don’t let them get in the way of reading the excellent GMing advice Le Joueur and others provide.


  1. Wow, that’s a great thread (she says, not having finished it yet). Lots of chewy meat.

    I do a lot of the things they’re talking about in the thread, but I don’t claim my advice will work for everybody. I just say I don’t want to GM for people who don’t want to play that kind of game.

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