The Advantages of Advantage

Every time I go back to reading The Angry GM, that sonavabitch makes me want to try running a game again. Not just any game, but good ol’ DnD. What can I say? Either he’s a persuasive writer or I’m just a gullible sod.

In either case, reading the latest batch of rants and articles got me thinking about player agency. After looking up some old stuff of bankuei’s on fictional positioning, and I’m thinking the two go hand-in-hand with 5e’s Advantage and Disadvantage system.

A brief overview: In 5e, players can sometimes either get “advantage” or “disadvantage” when performing an action. If they have an advantage, they roll two d20’s and take the higher number, if they have a disadvantage they roll two and take the lower result. As part of 5e’s unifying superstructure, there’s a lot of conditions, statuses, and spells that grant advantage and disadvantage in specific situations, but there is also a surprising amount of leeway given to the GM.

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The Needs of the Many…

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about goals and motivations as they apply to tabletop RPG’s, specifically how and why they motivate the story of a game.

From reading bankuei, I’ve reached the (somewhat tentative) conclusion that an essential component of Narratavism is that the player character’s goals drive the story. If one PC wants to find their long-lost sister, well, then, that’s what their story is going to be about. If another PC wants to start their own religion, then their portion of the game is going to be about that.

You can probably already see the problem. What happens when players goals aren’t compatible? Or if they don’t want to work together? Well, narrativism doesn’t particularly care, I think. A narrativist game is perfectly happy to let each player pursue their own independent agenda, maybe sometimes working together, sometimes working against. You can see this in the design of narrativist games like “Burning Wheel” or “Dogs in the Vineyard” whose mechanics emphasize one-on-one conflicts and confrontations, rather than group v. group encounters.

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