Game Master Tips – Giving your Players Agency in Your Campaign

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Game Master TipsNerdarchist Ted here and today we are going to be talking about Dungeon master tips or game master tips for your Dungeons and Dragons game, or what ever RPG you play.  So for those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, lets ask the question, What is Player Agency?

Player Agency is when you allow a player to actually control the on goings of a story for a portion of the time or to create something and you allow them to run with it.  Technically when a player makes a back story for their character they are doing so with agency but with most groups it actually ends there.

Do you use Player Agency in your RPG?

But this powerful element within your control of a Game master need not end there.  If you allow your players to fill in a story based on the current events of a game it can enrich the game for all involved.

So lets use an example.  In Nerdarchist Dave’s Dungeons and Dragons game I am playing a cleric by the name of Rellion.  He is based out of the town where most of the games events happen so he probably Player Agencyknows many people around town.

Suppose Dave wants to introduce an NPC to the party for the first time, but inspiration hits me, and I go into a quick story how I already know this NPC and tell the tale how he came to the church with an injury that I was able to use my divine magic to heal.

Now if Dave wants this meeting to be for the first time he could say that must have been someone else or just not allow the tale to go through.  But maybe it leads to other sub plots, especially if this NPC turns out to be working against us.  So Dave lets my story through and it builds more relations between PC and NPC.  It also encourages players to be more involved in the game that is going on.

Now Player Agency is powerful and it needs to be controlled, especially if you have over the top players.  Some people might abuse this and use it to gain advantages all the time or to attempt to “write in” items on their character sheet.

Don’t abuse Player Agency in your Dungeons and Dragons Game

This is not what player agency should be used for but to create a richer story and fill time that might have passed uneventful to be filled with something noteworthy.  For instance:  In my game I wanted to have some significant time pass between sessions.  I asked each player what they wanted to do and most came up with some really cool stories.

Daves character enacted a ritual to remove a curse or hex that had been put on his characters life journal. This tome was a family requirement that he must meet in order to return to his clan.  He had been working between sessions to undo the magic from the beginning of the game.

For more information on this you can see our series on Dungeons and Down Times over on our YouTube Channel.

So what does the Game Master get out of allowing players to come up with story?  It is is simple.  You get unique story that potentially offers up new plot lines.  You get further insight into what the player and Dungeons and Dragonscharacter are looking for out of your game and lastly you also get a break from the spotlight.

As a player goes into the tale all eyes will naturally go to the talker and here you can relax for just a bit.  When I allow player agency on our recorded games I tend to speak to the player before hand to make sure we are both aware of were the story is looking to go but if you are not doing as Nerdarchy does feel free to encourage live inspiration at your table and you might be surprised what you get in return.

I do not want to part without mentioning another aspect of Player Agency.  As most of you out there are probably playing  Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder or one of the other popular games out there I recently, just this past year, had a chance to play Dungeon World.

Dungeon World is a fantastic game that thrives on player agency.  Typically the game master only comes up with the adversaries.  Everything else is actually dictated by player agency.  I was so surprised that the character I was playing when I said I was looking for an ancient dwarven relic that the GM just totally went with it and we actually in just a couple of hours came back with that relic.

So if this concept of player agency does not sit well with you, you might not have the right group for it, but if it reaches a part of you that is unexplored and inspires you, go for it.

If you have not played Dungeon World I highly recommend it.  you can get your copy here.

So let your players have some freedom and you will be rewarded for it.

Until Next Time, Stay Nerdy!

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Follow Ted Adams:
The nerd is strong in this one. I received my bachelors degree in communication with a specialization in Radio/TV/Film. I have been a table op role player for about 20 years 17 of which with the current group. I have played several itterations of D&D, Mutants and Masterminds 2nd and 3rd editions, Star wars RPG, Shadowrun and World of Darkness. I am an avid fan of books and follow a few authors reading all they write. Favorite author is Jim Butcher I have been an on/off larper for around 15 years even doing a stretch of running my own for a while. I have played a number of Miniature games including Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy, Heroscape, Mage Knight, Dreamblade and D&D Miniatures. I have practiced with the art of the German long sword with an ARMA group for over 7 years studying the German long sword, sword and buckler, dagger, axe and polearm. By no strecth of the imagination am I an expert but good enough to last longer than the average person if the Zombie apocalypse ever happens. I am an avid fan of board games and dice games with my current favorite being Quarrios.

4 Responses

  1. David Quick
    | Reply

    Taking player agency a step farther, try The Fate RPG, a veritable player input engine.

    • Nathan Riggins
      | Reply

      I did really like the Fate’s level of player agency but I didn’t really care for the dice system.

      I think I will have to play it a few more times to really decide what I like and don’t like.

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