December 2013 RPG Blog Carnival: GM and Player Roles

Mainly coincidentally, the YouTube RPG Community has been delving very deeply into a topic which aligns with the concept of this carnival, that of taking charge of how the group dynamic is balanced at the table. The question on this dynamic is split into “What are the ways in which creative responsibility can be shared at the table?” and “What are the effects of shifting the balance too far in any one direction?”

The discussion has been a good one. Much like the RPG Blogging community, the YouTube RPG Brigade as we laughingly call ourselves, interacts in stages via solo contributions which sponsor responses throughout the group of contributors. It also, however, moves hot topics forward more rapidly by making use of G+ Hangouts to have multiple viewpoints interact on and sometimes debate ideas. These hangouts are sometimes private, but are typically open affairs with interaction with those writing comments as it progresses as well.

The discussion on GM & Player Roles this month has been both a timely and a good one and has even spilled over into the associated Facebook group for the Brigade, bringing in more viewpoints from older participants who produce far less content now, and newer commenters who have not really begun.

This entry for the blog carnival will look at this great discussion from two points of view, the content itself, and the way in which the community took charge of the discussion to facilitate open communication and fruitful effort.

The Participants:

Below is a list of links to the 11 different video contributors to the discussion on the current paradigm of responsibility at the gaming table. The specific contributions are listed in order of production. In some cases, precursor videos which set up the environment for discussion, or were referenced directly or indirectly during the discussion are also provided. During the discussion, outside sources were also brought in including this post from the Gassy Gnoll, and this episode of the Fear the Boot Podcast as being relevant to the conversation. As might be expected, these references did not receive as much attention as the people actively conversing at that point in time, but the effort was not wasted.

Jean-Francois St-Onge (Sameoldji)

Brian Gregory

Anthony Boyd (Runeslinger)

Guildmaster Dan (The Fourth Wall)

John Alan Large (Red Dice Diaries)

Rob Davis (Swamper)

Colin Goodman (EryxUK)

Matthew Dawkins (Gentleman Gamer)

Sean Conners (Outsiders68)

Tim Harper (Samwise7RPG)

Alex Guillotte (Gothnog)

Casting Shadows (Hangout featuring Runeslinger and Sameoldji)

Perhaps most importantly, in fine ‘show, don’t tell’ tradition, the whole thing finished off with Sameoldji running a session from his Mongoose Traveller campaign via Live Hangouts so that the concepts under discussion could be seen in action. The whole session was presented in its entirety and annotated with specific notes and explanations of how the game was conducted and under what agreements the group was operating in terms of explicitly delineated play style.

The Discussion

The discussion itself ranged over most of a 12-day period, and had 11 people producing one or more videos in support of the initial or later stages of progress. Additional material was referenced from previous work done by contributors, and it is generally held that a new consensus on the topic was reached among those people who got involved. How did this happen, particularly in such a geographically and temporally dispersed group of participants communicating out of sync across two different social media sites?

The first aspect was of course, a vested interest in the outcome. Among the primary participants in the discussion the topic was of immediate interest. Contributors like Sameoldji, kept the core points of the initial questions in sight the whole time and spoke up politely when the topic was caused to drift by some outside influence. This kept the original goal of the discussion in mind from start to finish and reduced the speed of the inevitable death spiral long, text and video-based conversation faces. Throughout, contributors did their best to reference the contributions and direction of the conversation before the point where they joined in. This has the effect of putting their thoughts into greater context, and in aiding newcomers to join the discussion more comprehensively. The group chose to vocalize support for dissenting or unusual opinions rather than just thinking about it, or openly trashing these ideas. Finally, contributors like Brian Gregory and myself stepped in to systematically synthesize and summarize stages of the conversation and ask the pointed questions needed to attract new contributors and focus original contributors on what logically follows what had been worked out together.

An added bonus was the group’s ability to have new gamers, experienced gamers, and older gamers interact cordially, without falling prey to the old school vs new school arguments which can derail a conversation when just one demographic informs the participants.

The Content

The content of the discussion was primarily rooted in the way that description and action occur around the table, and how that influences and is influenced by the sharing of narrative responsibility. Using the examples of Live Play videos available on YouTube as a primary example, it can be suggested that there is a high probability that games where the GM assumes authority over the game, or has that authority thrust upon them are the norm. The most extreme of these demonstrate a state which we came to refer to as the “Mother, May I?” type wherein no action or detail was accepted in the game unless it had the GM’s stamp of approval. Extreme cases such as these sparked the initial question, “What could be a new paradigm for presenting an RPG so that this gradual shift of shared responsibility toward sole authority does not happen?”

Along the way, terms had to be discussed of course, but in a pleasantly proactive stance. Does the term “master” interfere with maintaining a balanced state of shared responsibility between those people who are at the table to play a character, and those who take on the duties of running the game? Is responsibility too harsh a word to cover the awareness of players that they have narrative control over their characters’ thoughts, feelings, and attempted actions? Is narrative space a clear enough term to use to define the separate creative and narrative zones of control of the GM and the Players, and those areas of overlap?

In the end, consensus on many basic things was reached, and many people contributed thoughtful examinations of what they expect from play, what they actually experience in play, and ways in which they may consider gaming in the future. The group identified an area of play which concerned all of us, albeit in different ways, and worked together to share the aspects of the problem which concerned them most, clarify concepts so that everyone was on the same page, review what was agreed, isolate specific items which could be worked on now, and found common ground in that process.

The discussion is by no means over, but when it returns, it will be with a greater degree of depth and focus on the specifics of how, rather than the details of games or styles. The best part is, that through this discussion and others like it, I know I am not alone in looking forward to being a part of that discussion when it comes.

2 Responses to “December 2013 RPG Blog Carnival: GM and Player Roles”
  1. Brian G says:

    That is one sweet summary. I am so looking forward to this years Blog Carnival.

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