Coming from a background of other roleplaying games as Joann and I do, I remember how long it took us to wrap our minds around the idea of the GM intrusion. From our earliest times of looking and Numenera through the original print of the Cypher System Rulebook, GM Intrusions were confusing initially. We had always assumed (and acted on the assumption) that the GM was the final arbiter of the story and that, narratively, they could steer it as they wished. We had our opinions about how much was too much and our complaints about “heavy-handed GMs”, but outside of things like combat or other situations where mechanics called for dice rolling, the GM narrated the world as they saw it, and the players simply reacted.
With both of those games being a few steps shifted toward the narrative end of the spectrum, we discovered that without the GM Intrusion mechanic (or something like it), the GM really did experience less input into the world. Sometimes that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but since both Numenera and Cypher advertised that they were primarily collaborative storytelling games, doing so without them seemed problematic to everyone having fun. Especially since they specifically do not need to be “bad”. We’ve covered GM Intrusions in another blog post, though.
With the second edition of Numenera and the Revised release of the Cypher System, Monte Cook Games added a new mechanic: the Player Intrusion. Now, narratively, the GM can directly change the setting and the NPCs, and can affect the PCs with GM Intrusions. The Players, however, could only affect the world through their PCs and the actions that they tried to take (and whether or not the dice gods were in their favor as applicable). With the introduction of Player Intrusions however, the players were given a tool that allowed them to directly influence the setting in interesting and exciting ways, taking the story in sudden shifts to make it more interesting.
So why do that? In my mind, this is very much an extension of the thought process of collaborative storytelling. It seems to me that the shift in mentality here is something like the difference between some of the older style role playing video games such as the Baldur’s Gate series by BioWare and Black Isle Studios and the subsequent shift towards things like Bethesda Studios’ Skyrim. The evolution of a sandbox tabletop RPG by design. In other words, not just allowing the GM to dream up a world that the players can go stomping around in, but empowering the players to help the GM make that world come to life in a much larger way than some of the older games we had played did.
By giving the players tools to affect the story like Player Intrusions, it encourages them to think about the story in a much more “meta-” way. What I mean by that is, instead of isolating Players’ thoughts on the story of the game to simply what their characters did in that story, Player Intrusions is a way to get the Players thinking about the story at-large and what would make it interesting as a whole. Then, they use their resources to reach their hands in and collaboratively change it. The GM, on the other hand, has the opportunity to give up more narrative control and look at storytelling in, what seems to me, a freer way. Not something that they alone have the power to build, but something that the entire table has a say in. In the future, we at Angel’s Citadel are going to do a piece on a Kickstarter we backed that takes this to even a whole other level. It’s a product by Adept Icarus called Arium and, quite frankly, the collaborative potential of Arium: Create’s structure for worldbuilding is amazing.
The point is, having personally used both models of world building and many flavors in between, we find that relinquishing such tight control is incredibly empowering in building a trust between GM and Players. That trust allows you to tackle some extremely powerful stories and situations and character ideas that might otherwise be unable to be told with tighter GM control over the story. For more design information on Player Intrusions and the intent behind them, have a look at the Monte Cook Games blog post here.
In our opinion, anything that allows the players more involvement in story development and world building is a good thing. We have very much enjoyed the direction Monte Cook Games has taken their line with regards to that subject, up to and including the release of Invisible Sun which is another step further in that direction by integrating player-assisted worldbuilding as a formal part of character creation. I know I personally look forward to seeing more new and innovative ideas along these lines as time goes on, both from Monte Cook Games and other publishers. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles