Player owned threats

I want to ask about Authority distribution in play. What players are entitled to say without playing “Mother may I …” And I want to ask about Auhtority on the Opposition.

Most games I like allow Players to not only raise stakes, but right out initiate Conflicts. And many games I don’t like do that, too !

In this day and age, many games let players chose the Consequences of conflicts, or at least default to Harm or some kind of resource to reject Consequences they don’t like. I see that as, in a way, picking their Threats, in that the Consequence of today can easily turn into the Threat of tomorrow. That’s not Authority proper, but clearly a way Players can frame initiating Conflicts.

In some games, like Champions (a major inspiration for Ron Edwards, it seems), Players have a lot of power to Frame Conflicts. For example, they can roll for Hunters to be on their tracks or their Loved one to be among the hostages, etc. Of course, the GM has Authority on how it happens, and can by pass the requirement, but the idea is there.

What games let Players handle Opposition in original ways that don’t infringe the Czege principle ? Or more precisely, what PvP games are not a war of all against all (I am looking at you, Capes…) ? I know Polaris does, I love BoB for doing that, I am reading Strange Gravity could do that. What else ?


If I understand this, wouldn’t Apocalypse World count?

I’m not sure if this is what you mean, but some PbtA gama have playbooks with threats they introduce. The Unicorn in Monsterhearts 2 has Unicorn Hunters, the Dragon in Urban Shadows the Ordo Draconis. These threats are controlled by the GM, but the player has say in who they are, and what they’re like.

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Rereading your post, I’m not quite sure I understand it through, despite my previous answer. Especially the end. What does PvP have to do with players’ authority over threats?

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Some Apocalypse World games do at least use the “Champions way” : Players ask for certain Threats, and the GM plays this Opposition.

But let’s look into it to see whether that’s original or not :
Do the Players get to declare Unicorn Hunters presence in a scene ? absence ? props ? backstory ? goals ? conflicts ? actions ?

The more Players have authority on a threat, the more it looks like either :

  • infringement of the Czege principle (the player describes the villain and how it gets punched and how it is disposed of)
  • PvP : the players describe all about the villain, but the villain can only complicate the life of a character not its own (Bob)
  • total PvP : players characters are the threats.

What I am after would look like Players GMing for each other, as in GM-less Ghost/Echo, Polaris, Dream Askew’s “You also play the…”.


This is the text of the Unicorn Hunters move:

Some side characters are hunters in disguise. If someone is, or you say they are, your friends mark experience when they chase the hunters off.

So what players get to do is declare a character a unicorn hunter, everything else is up to the GM. In practice, I find GMs tend to ask questions like, “Why do people hunt Unicorns?” “Are they organized, or lone wolf type hunters.” So they let players have some control over who they are and their motivation, but the final control remains with the GM. A player can declare a hunter’s presence in a scene, by declaring an NPC a unicorn hunter. (The text of the move is kind of ambiguous about whether the player can actually control the fiction this way. It may simply be that the other PCs get XP for fighting off any character the Unicorn says is a hunter, whether they are or not. In my experience, GMs usually let the declaration be true, but I don’t think they have to necessarily.)

RE: the games you’re talking about, I think reframing some of the terminology might be helpful. Like, those aren’t GM-less games, those are games where the all the players divide up the classic GM role between themselves. It’s why they’re often referred to as GM-full games, unlike, say, For the Queen, where there is no GM role at all, and threats are arrived at through conversation and negotiation through the responses to question prompts, but there’s nobody with the sole authority to declare a threat. Kingdom and Fiasco both work like this as well, in that threats, such as they are, are negotiated between players as scenes are set, rather than created by a player with authority, as in GMed and GM-full games. And yeah, those games violate the Czage principle and they do so deliberately because they’re just not interested in players overcoming threats and challenges, it’s just not what the games are about.

So coming back to your question of authority division, in GM-ful games, everybody has some level of GM authority, where they can declare certain things, usually opposition, to be true. This thread, linked below, has an intersting conversation around some of the issues you’re talking about, as well as lots of examples:

This comment here, by @BeckyA, is especially on point: