Giving up Player Control

"Player Agency" is a big buzz-phrase in one of the wings of RPG development these last few years, but that's not what I'm talking about today.

No, I'm talking about a situation that is similar in some some few ways to the discussion +Douglas Cole  started the other day about the "Bait and Switch" style of game, where the GM has players make up characters with a specific genre and game type in mind, and then switches it out on them: Wild West, but with Zombies! Spec Ops soldiers, oh, but I'm going to have you abducted by aliens! That sort of thing.

The idea I have in mind is one where the players know going in what sort of game it's going to be, but they give up control over some or all of their character design. Maybe you go in totally cold, with the moral equivalent of a pre-gen. Maybe you get to describe the character you want to play. Maybe you even get to create a "mundane version" of your character, who gets to be improved in some fashion.

I've been playing in just such a game, over on Myth-Weavers, in the super-hero genre. We all gave the GM characters based on a handful of points with full backstories of our normal lives. We could choose to build our own character if we wanted to, tell the GM what sort of hero we wanted, or give up all control and let the results be revealed in time.

Well, we started with six characters, and not one of us created our own heroes. One gave some broad suggestions of the types of powers she wanted. Others of us said the sort of heroes we didn't want to play. But we are all learning our powers as we go along, in separate threads (occasionally crossing), and it's been a total blast. We may never get everyone together in the same scene, at the rate we're going, but we're all having a great time reading about all of our adventures.

What do you think about this? Would you enjoy this sort of play? Have you done it?


  1. For one-shots and other short games, I like to create the characters so I can give them interconnected back stories that are relevant to the plot. My players seem to like it.

    1. Yes, I do a similar thing for one-shot convention games, of which I generally come up with about two per year (and, when I have time, test them on one of my regular groups). In a four-hour convention slot there isn't really time for character generation anyway.

      For Age of Aquarius I got the players to generate 100-point students in London in 1967... and then laid on another 100 points of psi powers that seemed as though they'd fit the characters as established in the introduction.

    2. Roger, did your players know, in the AoA game, that you were going to to this? I'm wondering if the situations we're seeing are all working out well because a) it's a con game/one-shot and there's no time for a chargen session or b) the players were in the know all along.

      That sort of thing mitigates the problems that Doug focused on, where the GM doesn't tell the players that he's intending anything of the sort, and lets them build characters, well, not in a vacuum, but not with the full knowledge of what will be asked of them either.

    3. AoA is interesting because I ran it both ways. For the convention version, the blurb ran:

      It's 1967 in London, and you've answered an advertisement for "healthy young people to assist with drug research". After all, the money's good, and they wouldn't be testing it on humans if it weren't pretty safe already... would they?

      For the longer face-to-face game, I told the players when setting it up that the campaign was going to be about the emergence of psi powers, so they knew roughly what to expect.

  2. As you have experienced first hand, I like to create characters that start with a player concept, but then weave them into a story. I kind of like the idea that people look back at their past and try to start from there. Nobody has complained so far. But I'd never feel comfortable trapping a player into a challenge that isn't fun to deal with.

    1. It was definitely the nicest part of this particular campaign kickoff - we all had the option to make our own characters start to finish and not one of us opted for that, even after there had been some contentious discussion in an earlier thread discussing the concept behind it. Granted, those who were averse to it likely didn't apply to be in the game, but it has been gratifying to those of us who did, I think.

    2. The next step is to get all these fine character bloodied... or at least trying to build a pontoon bridge out of inflated goat bladders. ;)


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