On the Importance of Agency
Everyone is familiar with the fact that the ancient romans were complaining about their disrespectful children and the sad state that the world has fallen into. People do that to this day.
I think we are doing fine, how about you?
The downside is that things once proven have to be proven and discovered again by a new generation. Examples of what we have to relearn are: if you give up privacy for security you end up with neither. Or restricting speech to curtail 'offense' makes us all slaves of our neighbor.
But this is an role playing game blog, so it is that time when things like Quantum Ogres and Fudging again crawl out of the woodwork.
The explanations of why these things are bad have been examined and discussed to death. I am explicitly not interested in rehashing the basic principles. A search for player agency or reading the articles above will tell you what you want to know and answer any question you might have.
Each and every person who fudges, denies agency, or uses an Ogre that is Quantum and still feels childishly compelled to dig into their position says the same things.
But I had a good reason!
"It was a new player that died, and they would have quit playing!"(1)
"It would have 'been a better game' if the encounter goes the way I want it."(2)
"The encounter was unbalanced I was just fixing it!"(3)
"I can get away with it without them ever finding out!"(4)
Why is it so important that you use agency in your games? Why aren't any of these reasons good enough?
Because in your daily life, your choices are by and large meaningless. You have little control over events and make few decisions that affect any long lasting change. You spend your life making meaningless choices and latching onto them in a desperate bid for meaning. What sports team am I a fan of? Do I like apple or android? That's why agency is so important.
What requires for something to exist in a quantitative and real sense is that it be observed. Role playing games are the few hours a week when decisions we make matter. As a DM, you should not stand in the way of that.
Why is there such resistance to providing agency? Because in order to give the players the ability to affect the consequences of their choice, you also have to give them the ability to reap the consequences of their choices.
Consequences that are not always positive.
And most people don't have the wherewithal to do so, to the detriment of their friends. See, if you think by preventing a bad thing from happening to the player, preventing them from making a mistake, preventing them from missing treasure, or preventing them from dying will make sure they have a good time -- what you're really doing is making sure they know that their choices don't matter.
And if their choices don't matter, why bother gaming -- then it's just like the rest of modern existence, a tedious slog of meaningless choice after meaningless choice.
(1) Then man up, stop the game and explain to the new player that you made a mistake in forcing whatever situation killed them. Don't set the expectation that their actions don't have consequences.
(2) For who? How is robbing the players of free will improving your game? Your "better" encounter is boring as shit to people playing a game. Who wants to wait for someone else to decide when something happens with no control over the situation. Now the reverse of the situation when things go their way drastically, that's something they will talk about for years.
(3) Perhaps the problem here is the players aren't smart enough to avoid the encounter. If you've decided that they have to fight it, we're back to the original problem.
(4) How long can you keep your unspoken assumption that your players are aquamaroons before they catch on and quit your game? Or do you act or play poker for a living?