Tag Archives: Agency

Player Agency

I’m going to go a lot deeper into player agency in this post, so be warned it’s a little bit denser than my usual fare.  Reader wylliamjudd wrote the following comment on a post about setting the tone of a game to enable players.

I thought we were talking about player agency. I thought we were talking about a sandbox RPG, that gives players the freedom to explore and choose their own path through the game.

Maybe it would help if you explain what you see as the alternative to this.

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Setting the Tone

Players, how would you feel if the GM opened a campaign with this speech?  You would be excited about being handed this level of control?  Would you be anxious?

The goal of that kind of speech is to empower player agency – to tell you that despite years of conditioning to the contrary, the players are gathered around the table in order to make the game happen.  The players are not there to be pawns that the GM manipulates into telling his or her preconceived story.  The game is yours to tell, so be active in the world.  Make the GM react to you.

I wonder how many players want this kind of game.  After all, with this player agency comes a shifting of responsibility.  Now it’s up to the player to do things – to do interesting things.  The game is going to be far more difficult this way.  It’s harder to play the game than it is to spectate.  Maybe this connects in with the difficulty mode of the game.  I can imagine that not everyone wants to be taking on that responsibility, and probably not all the time.

Keep in mind though that you’re not alone – you’ve got a group of players around the table.  It is your responsibility to help them to achieve their goals at the table, whether that’s to spectate, entertain, explore, role play, or move the pieces around in a tactical war game.  As a team, you don’t always have to be the one pushing the agenda, but if you’re not, don’t sit idly by.  Just like any other team activity, by paying attention to the details you can work to make your teammates better!

I think an essay belongs at the beginning of the Lost Worlds guidebook that explicitly gives the players this kind of agency in the game.  I want players to be inspired by the endless possibilities, and I want the people playing Lost Worlds to realize that as the players, they are the centerpieces of the game.  The GM is there to facilitate and officiate, to make it hard enough on the players for the game to be interesting,.

So, I may work on a similar speech to Alexis’ for the opening of Lost Worlds.  I’d like to invite any of the you reading this to suggest would you would like to hear from the GM when setting the tone for a new campaign.