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Why We Prefer Not to Use "Mutual Consent" on Reality Fault

Continuing: When Theory Meets Practice:

Gaming by assertion/mutual consent offers no risk or challenge.

Gaming-by-assertion has no GM or structured system to enforce mutually agreed-upon standards of play. When there are no objective, measurable standards a player can use to compare to their character's capabilities, individual perception at any specific moment determines what a character is (and is not) capable of.

This means a self-centered or over-eager player can easily reign supreme. They can always assert that they have exactly the capability, equipment, or invulnerability that is required for any situation that arises -- to the detriment of both the game and the other, more reasonable players. This is exacerbated by the use of Mutual Consent, since each player is managing their character's entire relationship to the campaign world, and vice versa.

Why is this a detriment? Consider: one of the things that is important to many players is overcoming challenges. If every challenge in the game can be solved by simply saying, "We do so!" then the characters may 'triumph,' but the players have no reason to think or plan, and no motivation to take any 'real' action.

"The Cthulhic entities are boiling out of the ground -- what shall we do?!"

"Oh, I'll just give them a psionic enema. There, all gone."

In such a campaign, players are not motivated to work together. Why should they, when their character can cover themselves with glory and reign supreme by hogging center stage -- even if that supremacy is only in their own minds? The other players are not seen as valuable contributors to the game, but at best supporting roles, or sidekicks. At worst they are seen as simply part of the background -- not another player at all.

When isolated this way in a blanket of self-importance, each character is effectively alone in their own personal campaign; only loosely connected to the other characters by the shared story elements.

This being the case, there's no reason whatsoever for an over-eager player to exercise any restraint at all when the going gets 'rough' and the player gets excited. Here are some of the more obvious (and increasingly implausible) situations that can arise when depending on this method of play:

  • Does the story call for someone who can fly? He can -- even if he never could before.
    "Why yes, I do have this Ancient Device that allows unhindered flight through the Nebula -- here in my duffel bag."

  • Would speaking another language be convenient? He knows just the right one.
    "Hm. Fourth Dynasty High Squamish? I probably learned that at my alma mater, Miskatonic U."

  • Will people possibly be injured unless daring action is taken? He is the most daring of all -- just ask him -- how fortunate that he escaped with but a scratch!
    "I spring down into the foaming maelstrom, bounding lightly from flotsam to jetsam, being pummeled by the crashing waves and bits of debris. I nimbly pull the child from certain death and leap gracefully to safety, then wipe the sweat and blood from my brow."

  • Might an evil empire win the war due to overwhelming resources? Fear not, he shall save the day -- by refusing to face facts he can force the person running the plot line to accede to his wishes.
    "My tiny, nimble ship dodges the Third Wave of Armada Reinforcements, the fiery, lambent Sunbeams and inky Nega-spheres, and flies directly into the heart of the fleet -- to confront the Greater Sputterish Battle God Mega-Destroyer in hand-to-hand combat! Come out, you big coward, and take your lumps!"

Why do these players predominate in a Gaming by Mutual Consent / Assertion campaign? What options are open to more restrained, rational, and mature players in such games?

Frequently they find only two courses of action open to them. They may chose to keep their characters more realistic and in balance with the capabilities of other sensibly-designed characters, but unable to participate in the large story lines dominated by the all-powerful demi-gods. The reasonable characters are stuck tagging along behind, dutifully applauding as the stage-grabbing player poses.

Alternatively they must escalate their characters' abilities to at least roughly match those of the self-centered player's character -- in which case the less-restrained player simply escalates his character's abilities further, since he wishes to be the center of attention. The sad part is that most of the time these players do not even realize they are doing this, and will angrily deny it.

As a consequence of these actions, a vicious cycle of ability-escalation ensues, changing the nature of the campaign from one of exploring a story or character, or discovering and overcoming challenges... to the goal of any Monty Haul game, i.e. caring for nothing except acquiring arbitrary personal power. Where is the challenge or risk in such behavior, or in such a game? Why bother making an interesting and evolving environment, when any fool can simply assert it's not so?

In small, close-knit groups with a strong and cohesive understanding of the campaign, and strong individuals to lead, Gaming by Mutual Consent and Gaming by Assertion may work. In such cases, if someone isn't playing by the group's expressed guidelines, they are encouraged to change, helped to fit in, and, if they continue to conflict, asked politely to leave.

However, if any of these elements are missing, the game will eventually collapse under the weight of uncooperative, power-gaming, immature players.

To sum up: gaming-by-assertion is subject to the tyranny of the lowest common denominator, i.e. the weakest, least skilled player determines the course of the game, and forces the action to match his expectations.

Next page: people will find a way to compete.

Last modified: 2002-Mar-17 18:06:03

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