I feel for Quest Giver. Dude only wants to help adventurers reach their full potential through questing… The ungrateful bastards. Don’t get me wrong here, guys. Player agency is cool and all, but at some point you’ve got to accept the job if you want to go on the adventure.

Here’s the scenario I’m imagining. Suppose you’ve set up a murder mystery scenario. The opening scene concludes a little something like this:

“Alright guys. The Duke’s body lies dead on the floor. The nobles eye one another distrustfully. Everyone knows that someone in that room is a cold-blooded killer. What do you do?” 

“I go back to town and see if there are any other quests on the bulletin board.” 

This is called “rejecting the premise,” and depending on style and group dynamics it can be more or less acceptable. Are you running a sandboxy game without a lot of overarching structure? Maybe you’re one of those gamers that compulsively shouts “play to find out what happens” when someone asks what you want on your pizza. If so, then player decisions like the above are within the bounds of good gaming. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum and playing in a published module however, rejecting that premise makes you a bit of a dick.

This all has to do with player expectations and the social contract. You’ve got to understand when you sit down to play where the story is coming from. Are the players generating it through their shenanigans, or are they only embellishing a GM’s outline? In terms of concrete examples, are you going to fight against Strahd and eventually storm Castle Ravenloft (the path the module expects) or accept his offer and become his evil generals (subverting the expected storyline). Both can make for fun games, but you’re setting yourself up for frustration if you’re trying to subvert when the guy behind the screen wants to play it straight. As in so many parts of this hobby, Session Zero is your friend.

Question of the day then. Have you ever seen these two styles clash at the table? Have you witnessed players refusing a quest despite a GM’s best efforts? Conversely, have you seen a truly railroady GM refuse even the slightest variationg from his script? Did the game survive the conflict of opinions? Let’s hear it in the comments!


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