The essential attribute which differentiates roleplaying from reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to a story is that in roleplaying, there is no audience distinct from the creators or performers. All participants are active in deciding the outcome of the story. The action they take is choice. There are two main questions that need to be answered about choice:
- Who has the authority to make which choices?
- What information can be taken into account when making a choice?
Who has the authority to make which choices? The traditional arrangement is to divide the choices between the players and a GM. The players make choices related to the actions of their characters, while the GM makes the choices about everything external to the characters (the world.) Other games run GMless, with greater player control over the game world. Beyond that, what “stances” are acceptable? Traditionally, each player controls one character which they identify with (like an actor) and whose actions they control. Is it OK to transition from “actor stance” to “director stance” to make statements about how the world responds to your character actions?
What information can be taken into account when making a choice? Is it ok to make a choice based on what the player knows, but the character doesn’t? This is often called “meta-gaming,” and frowned upon by many groups. (For the record, I call it “active postmodernism.” It breaks the walls of the reality. I want to reserve the term “meta-gaming” for something else, specifically what I’m doing right now: thinking/writing/talking about gaming.) Is it ok to make a choice based on what the player wants, as opposed to the character? This is a less touched upon issue, but I think generally more contentious. Choosing to stay with the party as opposed to going off by yourself is sometimes justified on these grounds. “It makes the game more fun, so you should stay with them.” “But my character wouldn’t do that!”