Remember the old posts about player agency and the “quantum ogre” back in 2011? Today I was reminded of a different issue regarding agency.
Philip Watson mentioned on Google+ that he moved from AD&D 1st ed to Pathfinder with his group. The DM basically continues GMing like he did before, making up rulings rather than looking stuff up, but now some of the players are questioning this and even arguing with him, especially those who know the rules of Pathfinder better.
Here’s what I said: I left D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder because of the rule discussions. I think the reason these rules afford (encourage, invite) arguing about the rules – and I think it’s perfectly rational, which is why I decided to change the rules instead of trying to convince my players – is best summarized by Courtney Campbell in an old blog post called On Skills in Games.
By giving me agency (making choices matter) for those choices made while building my character, I am having my agency removed during play.
Courtney was using this passage in a slightly different context, but I still find it apt: players made important choices during character generation where as the GM is making rulings at the table, possibly negating the choices they made (“How can I fail to convince the guard having rolled a 15 and having a Diplomacy of +17?”) – and now the only recourse they have during play in order to make those choices they made matter is to argue their point using the rules. That’s why players might feel cheated if a game master ignores the choices they made.
As I said, what I took away personally is that I needed to change the rules such that not many choices are made during character creation and thus agency returns to the moment at the table where play happens.
(As an aside, back in 2010 I was playing a paladin on level 12 with Charisma 19, Diplomacy 32 und Sense Motive 24 and felt unhappy about the GM making too many rulings instead of sticking to the rules. I reacted just the same without really understand why I felt so unhappy.)