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 Post subject: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Tue Feb 03, 2009 8:49 am 
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This thread started over in The Wizards Tower forum, where a few of the posts diverted from "Has anyone got a quick and simple Magic System for TRoS?" towards game philosophy. So I thought I'd split out the relevant posts and see if we could get further input from the community on this specific subject.

My apologies if this means I'm taking anyone out of context or if the thread doesn't flow very well at the start.

Crow Caller wrote:
Also, concerning the Powerful Sorcerors that can kill at a glance, I love that stuff, I just prefer them to stay in the Realms of the GM (or Senescahl), and not fall into the hands of the PCs. I find it difficult at best to GM for powerful Sorcerers. I also think that Epic quests are reduced to brief encounters when Magic gets too much room to play.


If the game is about the characters completing an objective rather than how a player reconciles a character's conflicting SAs then magic can bone your game. Straight out of char gen a min/maxed sorcerer can change the world -- literally. If you need an objective completed send the wizard while the rest of the PCs sit around a tavern fireplace sipping ale and playing dominoes...

On the other hand if the game is about how the player reconciles the way their character's SAs conflict under the current circumstance, how they compromise their SAs, or how they reconcile their character's SAs with those of another character, then magic is but a tool for impotence. When you have all the power but the situation renders you impotent then you have a mage's tale worth pursuing.

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 Post subject: Re: General queries on the Magic System and creating a quick fix
PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2009 5:52 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
On the other hand if the game is about how the player reconciles the way their character's SAs conflict under the current circumstance, how they compromise their SAs, or how they reconcile their character's SAs with those of another character, then magic is but a tool for impotence. When you have all the power but the situation renders you impotent then you have a mage's tale worth pursuing.


Ian, thank you for saying this. It was really an aha moment for me.

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 Post subject: Re: General queries on the Magic System and creating a quick fix
PostPosted: Wed Feb 04, 2009 7:33 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
On the other hand if the game is about how the player reconciles the way their character's SAs conflict under the current circumstance, how they compromise their SAs, or how they reconcile their character's SAs with those of another character, then magic is but a tool for impotence. When you have all the power but the situation renders you impotent then you have a mage's tale worth pursuing.


Daeruin wrote:
Ian, thank you for saying this. It was really an aha moment for me.


Thanks for that, I appreciate the complement. TRoS isn't an easy game to play until you and your gaming group "get it". Then it is a great game. Part of what makes it hard is working out what the objective is in the game. Players often don't grasp at the beginning that the objective of the game isn't external to them -- it is internal. When the objectives are external -- save the Princess, find the traitor, whatever -- then having more power equates to performing better within the game. Therefore, there will be players who perceive having more power as being well on the way to completing the external objectives and therefore "winning."

The fact is, in TRoS, the objectives are internal. You rescue the Princess only if doing so is relevant to the story you want told through your character. The character's relative power is irrelevant in terms of the players capacity to tell the story they want to tell through their character. It only contributes in the sense that the player wants to tell the story about a powerful individual who ...

As such having more power contributes nothing on the path to "winning." It is just a facet of the character. And mages are just about always very powerful. Chances are their tale will involve failing in spite of the power, rather than succeeding because of it. I know which of those two possibilities looks most likely to be an interesting tale to me.

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 Post subject: Re: General queries on the Magic System and creating a quick fix
PostPosted: Mon Feb 16, 2009 4:59 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
Thanks for that, I appreciate the complement. TRoS isn't an easy game to play until you and your gaming group "get it". Then it is a great game. Part of what makes it hard is working out what the objective is in the game. Players often don't grasp at the beginning that the objective of the game isn't external to them -- it is internal. When the objectives are external -- save the Princess, find the traitor, whatever -- then having more power equates to performing better within the game. Therefore, there will be players who perceive having more power as being well on the way to completing the external objectives and therefore "winning."

The fact is, in TRoS, the objectives are internal. You rescue the Princess only if doing so is relevant to the story you want told through your character. The character's relative power is irrelevant in terms of the players capacity to tell the story they want to tell through their character. It only contributes in the sense that the player wants to tell the story about a powerful individual who ...

As such having more power contributes nothing on the path to "winning." It is just a facet of the character. And mages are just about always very powerful. Chances are their tale will involve failing in spite of the power, rather than succeeding because of it. I know which of those two possibilities looks most likely to be an interesting tale to me.


This might be the best "what TROS is" post I've ever seen. Wow. Awesome.

Jake

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 3:35 am 
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Deja Vu, lol, I thought I was losing my frickin mind when I read Daeruin and Jake's replies and was like hang-on I know I've read these but... lol.

Anyways, I really wanted to contribute to this discussion but for some reason my brain is refusing to apply itself right now. I'll try and post again later with smething a little more useful.

Cheers and God Bless!

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:14 am 
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Firstly, let me say that my post was to the wider TRoS community and not Daeruin specifically. I know Daeruin and his group "get" TRoS. I was soap-boxing.

Anyway, to my way of thinking inherent in the question "Is the game balanced?" is the idea that the goal of the game is external. If the goal of the game is external -- Save the Princess -- then each of the player characters is effectively competing for the rewards that flow from the scenario. Under these circumstances play balance is important -- otherwise one or more players will have an advantage over the other players in grabbing their share of the rewards. These rewards can be metagame -- like experience points -- or in-game. Either way the "better" character gains more of the benefits.

On the other hand, if the goal of the game is internal -- Save the Princess because I want to tell the story of a character who saves a Princes only to betray her in her hour of greatest need -- then play balance is irrelevant. My capacity to tell my story through my character is not affected by the in-game abilities of any other player character.

What though of balancing the capability of the player characters with their opponents in a scene? Doesn't the game need to be balanced for the referee to easily provide suitable opponents?

I really do invite debate on this concept. I'll throw down the gauntlet here and say that I have only heard this issue raised when it comes to combat -- and that's for any system, not just TRoS. I haven't heard anyone complaining that the haggling rules are unbalanced because their dwarf keeps paying too much for goods at the market.

In TRoS, if the referee gets it wrong and the opposition in the combat scene are just too strong or rolling too well -- then I think the player's judicious use of Luck/Drama should be evening things out.

I wonder though whether this issue too is about external goals. This time though the issue lies with the referee as much as the players. If the goal of the game is external to the players then it is largely if not entirely in the referee's hands to set the goal of the game. The referee sets the goal -- Save the Princess -- but then wants desperately to be seen as impartial to the result. The referee wants to be seen as indifferent to the result -- as long as everyone has a good time then whether the goal is met or not doesn't matter to the referee. At least that is the theory. Unfortunately the result matters very much to the players as it drives their character's development within the game. So already there is pressure on the referee to err in favour of the players "winning", whatever that might mean in the context of the scenario.

So the referee wants the players to be successful most of the time because that is most likely to keep them happy. The referee wants to appear to be the neutral arbiter of the game so that when the players are unsuccessful the referee can claim innocence. It follows on from this that the referee wants a "balanced" game so that the opposition can be accurately tailored (or predictably tailored) to the player group.

When the goals of the game are internal the referee is freed from all the angst that devolves from this situation. The referee knows the story that each player wants to tell through their character. Individual successes and failures along that narrative journey are the meat on the bones of the tale. The players have within their power, through Luck/Drama, the capacity to change outcomes along the way. The players are as much responsible for character death as the referee. There is simply no way you could say that about most other RPGs.

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:01 am 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
What though of balancing the capability of the player characters with their opponents in a scene? Doesn't the game need to be balanced for the referee to easily provide suitable opponents?

I really do invite debate on this concept. I'll throw down the gauntlet here and say that I have only heard this issue raised when it comes to combat -- and that's for any system, not just TRoS. I haven't heard anyone complaining that the haggling rules are unbalanced because their dwarf keeps paying too much for goods at the market.


My issue with Game Balance has never been with PC's vs the Enviroment, hell I'm the DM that'll let 5th level PC's walk into a dragons lair if they ignore the signs (as subtle as they may be). My issue, is with balance between the PCs. The reason I feel there needs to be this balance (or even just a semblance of balance) is to prevent one PC from dominating the scene all the time. Or worse yet, lording it over the others.

Say I have a PC that wants to save the Princess because he is secretly her brother, this is a huge moment in his life. If the PC Mage next to him then decides to simply teleport into the room, grqab her and teleport out again, then that puts a great big damper on the the story. Likewise if the Wizard has the ability to do such and doesn't then that destroys the scene as well. Unless ofcourse the Mage is simply self-serving in which case other problems arise, though atleast that could make for interesting gaming.

I dunno, any thoughts?

Cheers!

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:47 am 
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Crow Caller wrote:
My issue with Game Balance has never been with PC's vs the Enviroment, hell I'm the DM that'll let 5th level PC's walk into a dragons lair if they ignore the signs (as subtle as they may be). My issue, is with balance between the PCs. The reason I feel there needs to be this balance (or even just a semblance of balance) is to prevent one PC from dominating the scene all the time. Or worse yet, lording it over the others.

Say I have a PC that wants to save the Princess because he is secretly her brother, this is a huge moment in his life. If the PC Mage next to him then decides to simply teleport into the room, grqab her and teleport out again, then that puts a great big damper on the the story. Likewise if the Wizard has the ability to do such and doesn't then that destroys the scene as well.


That's exactly why I have in the past advocated -- and still do -- that it is preferable from a storytelling viewpoint that players are very much aware of the secrets of all characters. They just have to keep the character from acting blatantly on player knowledge, then the increased knowledge and control over the progression of the narrative makes for a better story, without balance of power between the characters being of any concern.

In your princess-princess' brother-mage example, if the mage's player knows how important rescuing the princess is for the brother and thus ultimately for the brother's player, he will likely refrain from having his mage interfere in the rescue to allow the brother to shine. If he does not do, despite him knowing how important staying his character's hands would have been from a storytelling-viewpoint, he has effectively broken the social contract of his group; he has consciously, needlessly and even spitefully sabotaged the story, and the whole group will and should take it up with him. Who wants to play with a guy who is repeatedly detracting from his fellows' enjoyment?

Following this, I have played with groups with characters differing vastly, even exponentially in power, both socially and from their capabilities. The notion that protaonists need to be balanced against each other is a myth of roleplaying that you find neither in real life nor anywhere in fiction. Peregrin Took and Aragorn are hardly balanced, yet their adventuring together works smoothly - because both characters' "players" (i.e. Tolkien) avoid making the imbalance into an obtrusive and abrasive issue. Imbalance between PCs works beautifully when everybody knows that anybody lording it over another character and thus another player would be asked to sesist if done for the first time, and not be invited back if he did it ever again. Players and referees must understand that roleplaying is a social hobby and should 1) be fun and 2) requires, like any social activity, consideration for the other participants. Anybody who is not willing to acknowledge and act according to especially the latter guiding principle is in my firm opinion not fit for any social activity, including roleplaying, and should be speedily evicted from any such group pursuit.

But this approach requires that players are aware of each others' characters, or else they can not know wether an action of their character would ruin the fun for another paricipant. And that's unfortunately something that I know doesn't sit well with many gamers.

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:22 am 
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Ok but how does the Player justify the Mage-Character not rescueing the Princess? If he is aware that his companion needs to rescue her and it is well within his power then why would he not do it? Also there would have to be a very good reason why the Prince would not enlist the mage's help.

This IMO leaves very few options and none of them seem very satifying.

What I see as a good exmple of why balance is essential can be seen in the Tale of the Mage and the Thief. The Player playing the Theif obvisouly wants to play a character that lives off his wits and is able to sneak into places unseen and get information or pilfer goods, who is able to open locks and climb nigh-unscalable walls. Now I agree this is all what Ian would label as External, however I don't think everything is so black and white, I think alot of internal issues are directly linked to external circumstances, the Saving the Princess cause she's my sister, is a good example.
Now along comes the Mage, he is able to do everything the Thief can, only he can do it better and faster. He can turn invisble and walk into a room to spy or steal, or he could use clairvoyance, he can walk through locked doors or open them with a mere flick of his wrist. He can walk up the nigh-unclimbably wall or simply fly, or teleport.
Now the Thief is trully limited to playing internally as everything he can do externally is dominated by the Mage. So what kind of internal game can the Thief play? (I'm not saying it can't be done, it just seems kiind of pointless playing a Thief unless you want to explore the harsh life of the streets, but how long will that last when you start rocking around with a mage?).

Cheers!

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:26 am 
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PS: I just want to clarify that with Magic taken out of the equation I agree almost 100% with Ian's take on what TRoS is. I just think that Magic (especaily the unlimited power of the magic found in TRoS) interferes in nigh-irreconcilable ways with this concept.

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:44 am 
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Crow Caller wrote:
Ok but how does the Player justify the Mage-Character not rescueing the Princess? If he is aware that his companion needs to rescue her and it is well within his power then why would he not do it? Also there would have to be a very good reason why the Prince would not enlist the mage's help.


The exact answer tot his calamity would of course depend on the specifics of the game situation and the personalities of the prince- and mage-characters, but in general terms the answer would always be the same: Retroactively motivating the mage-character.

Retroacitve motivation is a technical term I have explained in some detail in the Tools of Shared Story Creation thread, so allow me to quote the key passage:

Grettir wrote:
A Stance more conductive to shared story creation is Author Stance. In Author Stance, the player decides the character’s decisions and actions based on the player’s own priorities, fully acknowledging OOC knowledge and goals. This kind of Stance, but without use of the terminology, has also been amply illustrated in the “Anatomy of a Story”-thread, with the example of Bilbo, Gollum, and the One Ring. In this context, it has already been pointed out that the player, having his character act on his own OOC wishes, needs to “retroactively motivate” his character to act in the way intended (i.e. he needs to come up with some reason why Bilbo brings up the Ring). Motivating a character retroactively means deciding upon a character’s actions based on OOC knowledge, but using in-game reasons to explain why the character does act in this specific way.

Something that is almost completely alien to Author Stance is arguments about “what the character would do”. The character does whatever the player wants him to, and the entire group accepts that some degree of plausibility is the sole constraint, but that nearly any retroactive motivator is alright. The referee and indeed all participants are free to comment about the validity of the retroactive motivator, but the referee does not have final judgement in this matter.

A subset of Author Stance is called Pawn Stance, and is not usually deemed desirable. Pawn Stance arises when a player has his character act upon OOC knowledge and goals without providing a sufficient retroactive motivator. The character’s actions lack plausibility, he becomes a mere pawn of the player.


So - some degree of plausibilty is all that's required to explain the mage-character's inactivity. From my gaming experience, coming up with a plausible reason for a course of action (= retroactive motivator) that's not too outlandish is never a problem; roleplayers are sufficiently creative.

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 10:52 am 
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Crow Caller wrote:
PS: I just want to clarify that with Magic taken out of the equation I agree almost 100% with Ian's take on what TRoS is. I just think that Magic (especaily the unlimited power of the magic found in TRoS) interferes in nigh-irreconcilable ways with this concept.


I think that the magic system ie alright and enjoyable in itself, but its drawback is its limited use. The magic system from MRB is only usable in a world where magic is 1) rare and 2) powerful. If you want a setting where magic is more common, the system becomes unuseable, as the societal implications of magic users of this power being common would be most grave -- wizards would be running everything. Similiarly, it is hardly useable in a setting where you wanted magic to be rare but very subtle.

I like the system as it is, but it is unfortunately only useful on a very narrow spectrum of settings. Alternatives for different settings would be desirable.

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:16 am 
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Ah - see I'm of the school that Character should do what the Character would do, and not what the Player necesarily wants him to do at that particualar time (ofcourse the Player generally wants the Character to do what the Character would do, that's why he made him that way).

This is to me, and my group, the heart of Roleplaying. You create a Role (The CharacteR) and then play him according to that role. To do something Retroactively would have to based on extreme plausability.

Indeed, acting on OOC knowledge is extremly taboo in out social situation, unless it is done very subtlely.

*Shrugs* I'm learning alot about how other people play through these kinds of forums. In alot of ways I envy other groups.

One thing I discovered about What TRoS is, is that it is a game of that Player's have almost as much control over the setting and story as the GM, for instance, in traditional RPG's it was up to the GM what Magic Items the PC's would find. However in TRoS if a PC selects both his Drive and his Destiny to find a certain Magic Item, then it is pretty much going to be a major focus of the game. For the PC to not find the item would be IMO against the Social Contact. Ofcourse there is a world of diffence between finding it in a treasure pile, and in the hands of a powerful Warlock ;)

Cheers!

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 11:59 am 
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Crow Caller wrote:
Ah - see I'm of the school that Character should do what the Character would do, and not what the Player necesarily wants him to do at that particualar time (ofcourse the Player generally wants the Character to do what the Character would do, that's why he made him that way).

This is to me, and my group, the heart of Roleplaying. You create a Role (The CharacteR) and then play him according to that role. To do something Retroactively would have to based on extreme plausability.

Indeed, acting on OOC knowledge is extremly taboo in out social situation, unless it is done very subtlely.


I am aware that these are rather sacred tenets of roleplaying – so sacred in fact that they are hardly ever questioned and the problems arising from them accepted as if they were inevitable and decreed by faith. An nigh-anal fixation on balance of power between the the PCs is one of the results, and a fetish for raher mundane realism instead of plausibility is another, something that has recently been talked about here.

I think it cannot be stressed sufficiently that rolplaying is not recreating real life, but recreating fiction. Even in the most down-to-earth medieval setting, the model for roleplaying adventures are not so much real history but rather adventure fiction set before a historical background, things like Ivanhoe or Kingdom of Heaven or some of Bernard Cornwell’s books. And all of these stories don’t write themselves, merely creating interesting and believable protagonists (=PCs) isn’t enough, some kind of guiding hand is also needed. But applying this guidance requires stepping momentarily back from the character and think not in the terms of what the character would most likely do, but what course of action is best for the story while being still in-character for the protagonist.

So, yes, that's using OOC knowledge, but not for the sake of gaining an advantage for the PC, but merely for the sake of realizing the goal of having a good and enjoyable story. This is after all the ultimate goal of meeting to roleplay, and it is an OOC goal; the ultimate motivation to roleplay is well apart from the PC and completely alien to him. I think it is a little bit naive to expect an OOC goal to be realized by merely IC means.

When presented with a dilemma in “traditional” roleplaying, one asks habitually “What would the PC do?”. The way I and my group are now playing for some four or five years, we ask “What action would I like to see from my PC, and is there a way for him to act in that way without violating his character concept and fictional personality?” That’s quite close to how a writer works – you specify a desired outcome toward which you want the story to progress, and try to get there, again (and that’s really important) without doing things that would go against the PC’s personality.

I have found the resulting adventures and stories to be so consistently better and more meaningful than before I and my group made the switch that I have become something of a proselytizer, I’m afraid – I would dearly love other gamers not to allow themselves to be blinded by sacred tenets but to become aware to the full possibilty inherent to roleplaying, and to try for themselves if the another way of playing is not actually more fulfilling, even if it does not sound so; I remember well that I was extremely sceptic when first learning about the concepts of this other way and for quite a long time thought them boulderdash and "bad roleplaying". The reason I am making my missionary effort here on this board is that it was TRoS, being a system very conducive to the described style of play, which has initiated the broadening of my own awareness of what roleplaying can be like, something for which I will always cherish this game. Thanks Jake! :)

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 Post subject: Re: So -- what is TRoS actually about?
PostPosted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 8:43 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
Anyway, to my way of thinking inherent in the question "Is the game balanced?" is the idea that the goal of the game is external. If the goal of the game is external -- Save the Princess -- then each of the player characters is effectively competing for the rewards that flow from the scenario. Under these circumstances play balance is important -- otherwise one or more players will have an advantage over the other players in grabbing their share of the rewards. These rewards can be metagame -- like experience points -- or in-game. Either way the "better" character gains more of the benefits.

On the other hand, if the goal of the game is internal -- Save the Princess because I want to tell the story of a character who saves a Princes only to betray her in her hour of greatest need -- then play balance is irrelevant. My capacity to tell my story through my character is not affected by the in-game abilities of any other player character.


Crow Caller wrote:
The reason I feel there needs to be this balance (or even just a semblance of balance) is to prevent one PC from dominating the scene all the time. Or worse yet, lording it over the others.

Say I have a PC that wants to save the Princess because he is secretly her brother, this is a huge moment in his life. If the PC Mage next to him then decides to simply teleport into the room, grqab her and teleport out again, then that puts a great big damper on the the story. Likewise if the Wizard has the ability to do such and doesn't then that destroys the scene as well. Unless of course the Mage is simply self-serving in which case other problems arise, though at least that could make for interesting gaming.


I would make two points here.

Firstly, the idea that "My capacity to tell my story through my character is not affected by the in-game abilities of any other player character." holds true in the above circumstance. The abilities of the mage neither hinder nor promote my character's story simply by existing. Instead, in the above example, the mage player's actions have ruined the game for another player.

Secondly, in TRoS the SAs are used by the players to inform the referee and the other players about the story that they want to tell through their character. The SAs are created as a group exercise. This is how you ensure some degree of party unity -- some of the SAs align -- and some degree of player conflict (in the narrative sense) -- some of the SAs oppose either directly or through clever play by the referee.

In these circumstance a player would be breaking the social contract if he decided to hose another player's reason for playing. Quite literally everyone at the table would go "WTF?" if the mage player announced his character was going to perform the actions in the example above. In this circumstance the issue goes far beyond what a set of game mechanics can dictate. There would be underlying issues between the players.

In TRoS, the question to ask isn't "What Would the Character Do?". Rather, the question is "What did I tell the referee and the other players was the story I wanted to tell through my character?". That is written on the character sheet for all to see -- in the definition of the character's SAs. The SAs define what is uppermost in the character's mind right now. Assuming for the moment that the mage doesn't have an SA that says "Rescue the Princess", the question everyone would ask would be why is the mage rescuing the Princess? The mage's player never mentioned that that was the story he wanted to tell through his character...?

Regards,

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