Flip-a-Card: Authority part 2

January 22, 2020 - 2 min read

Imagine a flock of birds, flying in close formation. Or a painting being created by collective, with each color applied by a different person’s brush.

Part 1 talked about spotlight: the basic idea that everyone at the table deserves a fair allocation of time. Part 2 is going to talk about a related idea: vision.

When I talk about vision, what I mean is “each player’s idea for what ought to happen next in the fiction”. Sometimes this means what you want your principal character (PC) to do. Other times this means an idea about the world - a famous event, an interesting place, a notable ensemble character (EC).

But ideas also don’t flow outward all the time. I believe that the players at the table, at every moment, are either ready to produce or to consume inspiration and ideas. Some of us are ready to say “hey, what if…” while others lack that creative spark in the moment, or like hearing stories and want to be told one right now. This creative tide ebbs and flows, coming in and going out, for each different person.

Different people also have fun in different ways. I can’t say it any better than this post did: Covering the Bases

To keep the game fun, what we as players are doing in the moment ought to match our creative state most of the time. If we want story, there ought to be a source of story. If we have ideas, there ought to be an opportunity to share them.

This flow of collaborative creativity can face three risks.

  1. Idea collision. If people have different ideas about the tone of the game, or how an event ought to happen, there must be some way to resolve the conflict. Only one idea (if any) can win out in the narrative, after all.
  2. Lack of creativity or confidence. Sometimes, nobody feels ready to speak up, either because they don’t have an idea, or because they don’t believe in the idea they do have.
  3. Lack of fairness. It’s easy to say “my character wins all the time”, or “the bad guy is obviously going to be defeated”. But one reason we play the game is to be emotionally invested, and when you’re invested, you risk not being fair, either to your own character’s story or to the rest of the group.

The usual tools to address these risks, in order, are: a GM (game master) or MC (master of ceremonies) player; pre-written ideas supplied by the rules; and randomizers like dice.

Everyone’s vision ought to get the spotlight sometime, but the same things that make collaborative play fun (everyone has different ideas) are the same things that mean disagreements can happen. These tools are ways to delegate authority over the game, the rules, and the narrative in ways that minimize the risks to the group’s fun.