Monday, 3 October 2016

Hear! Hear! Player Agency; or Listening to a train wreck

The last two episodes of Campaign, a FFG Star Wars Edge of the Empire podcast, were pretty cringe worthy. As the GM, Kat Kuhl thought the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU) canon so immutable, her attempts to prevent a player action figuratively reached into my ears to administer a chemical beat down to that part of my brain that made me cringe throughout episodes #72 and #73.

GMs, certainly in our current era, are developing greater and greater skills thanks to the internet. Blogs like Gnomestew, actual play podcasts, general topic outlets of similar content, even dare I say story mechanics, allow GMs of all stripes to hone the skill of running a game and master the craft with practice. And no greater technique can be mastered as the Rule of Yes, and...

Yes, and ... is generally considered an improvisational technique and at the gaming table is used to foster and increase player agency. Too often in the early days of the hobby, GMs, or DMs, might simply rule NO when the player wanted his or her character to reach for a beer stein and use it as a weapon. "What beer stein?" "The one I was drinking out of..." "Oh, you can't use that, you walked away from the table." "I use A stein on the table I was just thrown into..." "Oh, the table was just bussed."

Yes, and... proclaims "Do that thing!" However, a consequence may result. Though surrounded by Improvisors of Repute, Kuhl really struggled with a character's, Tryst Valentine, decision to blow up an established EU spacecraft, the Wild Karrde.

In Episode 72, Ms. Kuhl simply sounded as if she wasn't going to let it happen. John Patrick Cohen (JPC), Tryst Valentine's Player, with clear intent, pressed ahead as Kat's voice cracked with shock and even a, if paraphrased, "Please don't do this thing..."

It came to a close in Episode 73, when despite protests and even an in media res effort to steer JPC/Tryst from the course of action—unilaterally producing an NPC to disable the craft Tryst was using to destroy the Wild Karrde! JPC was not deterred and turned the tables on Kat, stunning the NPC and turning Kat's own story device on the Wild Karrde, destroying it.

At this point Kat broke, explaining JPC's/Tryst's error: CANON. JPC deftly countered: so the Wild Karrde everyone knows is really just "Wild Karrde II." BAM! This is Player Agency and the establishing of collaborative story fact. So what if the Wild Karrde is destroyed? Roll with it for the story. Roll with it because it's fun and it is a game. Damn, Darth Vader wasn't being killed. The whole scene had Yes, and ... oozing out of it. Talon Karrde certainly has a reason now to do the same to Tryst and everyone close to him. JPC created a deeper story and wrote Tryst into the alternate Star Wars canon of Campaign. Kat, in this writer's opinion, fought too hard to keep the status quo. Relenting only after JPC forced the hand.

These alternate canon storylines are why we play in settings of established Intellectual Property: To have characters affect and be affected by the settings and characters. My close friend Doug loves to recall his PC from the heady days of West End Games Star Wars, well before most of the EU: a Rebellion Pilot that later designed the A-Wing.

Player Agency gives us those moments around the table everyone wants to tell again and again. JPC ultimately got what he was after: something that would pit Talon Karrde against the characters, but didn't feel like "It's what my character would do." Kat clearly struggled with that, but came around in the end. But damn it was hard to listen to as it unfolded.

Posted by caffeinated at 5:10 PM in d10
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