How to quantify importance of a decision to a player, and more tangibly maintain narrative balance thereof?

In accordance with the suggestion, I'm asking this different, broader question than my previous one, in relation to the same problem.

Situations in Which Problems Occur

Many times, a group needs to pick one out of several contradictory or even mutually exclusive courses of events or actions. This can involve PCs$$\^1\$$ deciding between multiple things to do based on their personal values and motivations, or players deciding which plot would be more interesting to play (especially with more shared-storytelling types of campaigns), or even choices that span both the IC$$\^2\$$ and OOC$$\^3\$$ decision (such as when PC motivations reflect player interests).

Which of the choices is taken seems to have a major effect on the narrative, so such decision-making moments can easily be as important as - or even more important than - the 'mainline' mechanics of a game (and than the corresponding mechanical balance).

The Main Part of the Problem

For an N-sized group of players (GM$$\^4\$$ being distinct from players), in my experience it is common for one player (when N>=3), or sometimes even two players (if N==5), to be proportionally underrepresented in terms of narrative balance, i.e. getting significantly less than 1/N 'weight' in terms of influencing the narrative (again, both in cases where influencing the narrative happens through purely IC decisions, and when meta-influencing the narrative through OOC suggestions and the like). This seems to be occurring whenever 2-3 players and/or characters have a similar preference that leans in a direction opposite of some other player.

The Secondary Part of the Problem

There is a factor which also aggravates it: the underrepresented member may not be able to get proportional influence even on issues subjectively more important to the player/character. Inability to have stronger narrative weight in a personally-subjectively more important issue can be a drawback to everyone, but it seems to be even more unfun when one already has disproportionally reduced influence.

What Outcome Would Be Preferable

It would be nice to maintain a proportional narrative balance. E.g. in an N==5 party, for each party member to have a roughly 20% weight of influencing the narrative on average. It would also be nice to have the personal/subjective importance of an issue be evaluated and quantified, and to make a participant gain higher influence with subjectively more important issues and lower influence with subjectively less important ones (but in a way that doesn't allow just claiming that all issues are super-important). Given the failures experienced with other solutions (below), I'm seeking a solution that is tangible, actionable, enforceable.

A Solution Considered But Not Tried

I have considered a bidding mechanic (and asked about it in the previous question), but did not get a chance to try it out.

Unsatisfactory Solutions

I have witnessed or been part of (as a player) or personally tried (as a GM) several unstructured solutions and have found them wanting.

• 'Just talk about it'. Probably the vaguest / least informative of the advice ever given for the problem, and most unstructured. Also tried out the most. And IME$$\^5\$$, it shares some characteristics of UN GA$$\^6\$$: an issue is raised, people express their deep concern, a consensus and joint resolution are seemingly reached, but then later things keep happening the way they did, and people start saying how they understood the joint consensus differently, or forgot, or broke it unintentionally, or 'that was agreed under different circumstances which no longer apply' or or many others that are not as well remembered. End result: a lot of wasted time and effort, but increased frustration. Essentially the solution fails because it isn't really actionable or enforceable in the long term (and not even necessarily due to malice!). Also, IME people pushing for this solution seem to have a tendency to do that in a very condescending and uninformative way.

• 'Vote on it'. Less insidiously frustrating than just talking, but also largely ineffective, because it means that, for example, for N==4, having 50% of the vote (2 members with matching preferences) tends to result in having 100% of the influence in most situations with multiple choices. Also, totally fails to differentiate levels of personal subjective importance of issues.

• 'Spend 30 minutes on each player/character at a time, and start over when you run out of players'. Mixed results. It gives everyone a proportional activity time, which mitigates the worst possible outcome of outright sitting in a corner . . . but not even always that (I have seen cases where the overall direction of the campaign results in the underrepresented player just not having anything to do when the turn comes). It also tends lead to a split party (either partially or completely) for its duration, making it so that, for example, for N==2, the similar-preference duo gets their 60 minutes of working together and getting chances for fun interactions, while the underrepresented one gets 30 minutes of solo activity. The duo working together can still get a disproportionately higher influence on the overall campaign narrative.

I'm interested in trying out solutions other than the ones I have tried and found wanting, as well as any advice about implementations thereof. Could you help me with that?

$$\^1\$$ PCs: player characters.
$$\^2\$$ IC: in character.
$$\^3\$$ OOC: out of character.
$$\^4\$$ GM: Game Master.
$$\^5\$$ IME: in my experience.
$$\^6\$$ UN GA: United Nations General Assembly.

• (Beware that you can’t properly create a header using bold and need to use the header button/markup. FAQ here.) – SevenSidedDie Jan 19 '19 at 23:06
• By “pretext” do you mean “background”, or perhaps “foreword”? “Pretext” seems to be the wrong word here. – SevenSidedDie Jan 19 '19 at 23:08
• What is "UN GA"? The UN General Assembly? – V2Blast Jan 20 '19 at 0:21
• This question would be easier to parse if you spelled out some of your acronyms. IC, OOC, IME, and UN GE won't be familiar to all readers. – Erik Schmidt Jan 20 '19 at 0:50
• @V2Blast Yeah, the style changes are really unnecessary. I have my preferences too, I get it, but we don’t have a style guide here and we officially discourage changes that make zero clarity improvement, like altering matters of stylistic taste. Save the editing for where it’s useful please. – SevenSidedDie Jan 20 '19 at 1:14

I don't know of any system like you describe. I wouldn’t really want one, myself. But what I do have, and use, is this:

A quick and easy improvement on voting: voting against

With thanks to CGP Grey, a really quick, simple, easy mechanism for voting on what to do is to have everyone vote against things they really don’t want. That way no one is really unhappy with the result, and you don’t have to resort to anything complex or time-consuming to get there. Participants should immediately grasp the rules and mechanism, so there are no instructions necessary.

Multiple rounds can be helpful: “are there any options you absolutely don’t want?” “are there any options that don’t seem all that interesting to you?” and so on, perhaps. At some point (usually the second or third round, to be honest), you can switch to a more typical positive vote, secure in the knowledge that none of the results are going to really upset anyone.

If you really wanted to get a truly robust system, CGPGray has a series of videos on voting schemes, noting pros and cons. But really, they seem massive overkill here—this is precisely the sort of situation the somewhat tangential video linked above was created for.

The same applies to the quantification scheme you actually ask for—even if one exists and someone explains it, it’s hard to imagine that it would be wieldy enough to actually be worthwhile here.

• That's certainly an approach that I should've explored more. (I tried to partially use vetoing once, in the most recent campaign. It didn't quite work out.) It's certainly more streamlined than the alternatives I am contemplating. Do you think your approach can be further improved to allow proportionality, and prevent claiming higher importance of an issue and overusing vetos? – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Jan 20 '19 at 8:40
• @vicky_molokh In truth, this is really a problem at our table. We rarely take a time-out and even discuss options out of character, much less feel the need to vote on it. People are comfortable speaking up if something is decidedly not desired, and that’s respected. No one abuses it. A couple of issues have required a broader, more detailed discussion, where people has objections to others’ vetoes, but we were able to come to consensus on them (not any kind of voting, but convincing everyone that we had the best path forward). – KRyan Jan 20 '19 at 16:03

Make them handle it.

I'm assuming that all of the following things are true:

• You're playing a game which doesn't assume the entire party has to agree on a single course of action.
• You're playing a game where you can't "spend all your points on sniping", resulting in a character who is not meaningfully competent at any action other than headshotting people half a city away; or, if you are playing that type of game, people have chosen not to do that.
• Your players have legitimately different interests in play but not so divergent that they want to stop playing with each other.
• Your players are approaching this problem in good faith and trusting you to be a neutral arbiter.

Assuming all that's the case, here's what to do. (CAUTION: if you only suspect your players don't want to stop playing with each other, this might not confirm those suspicions.)

When you frame a scenario (a coherent sub-objective consisting of one or several linked scenes - ideally you will be able to have three or four such scenarios per session) designate one player of your choice to take the lead. This player is responsible for setting a goal and outlining a rough course of action. They then ask every other player what they want out of the scenario. There are three possible responses:

• "Meh." The plan as presented doesn't particularly excite them and they're fine with being told what to contribute.
• A personal goal. Accomplishing this goal can't significantly compromise the lead player's plan, in the GM's estimation. The lead player can decide whether or not to incorporate it. Or, if accomplishing the goal would compromise the plan but they want it anyway, they can demand:
• The lead. Outright. And then bid with Contempt to take it. So let's talk about how you get Contempt.

1 Contempt: (Dis)Engagement

When, in your judgment as GM, the scenario comes to a close, anybody who said "Meh" can take up to 1 Contempt. (Contempt's always an "up to". If the scene worked out better than they thought, they might not want to take all the contempt. Because it's contempt, a rough measure of how cheesed-off you are.)

2 Contempt: Inclusion

Anybody whose goal (which would not compromise the lead player's plan) was rejected can take up to 2 contempt at the close of the scenario. Alternately, they can immediately spend 2 contempt when they're refused to force their goal to be accepted instead.

3 Contempt: Betrayal

Here's where you really start sitting in judgement. If the leader promised to include somebody's goal but, in your judgement, ended up not doing it by the end of the scenario, that player can take up to 3 contempt at scenario close, or 5 contempt if they spent 2 to get their goal included. Or, since the leader's not controlling people, if someone acts to betray the plan (and the leader calls them out and you agree) the leader can take up to 3 contempt per person.

4 Contempt: Revolution

If somebody has at least 4 Contempt, they can demand the lead. At this point, you can call for anybody who wants the lead to ante 4 contempt, then if you get multiple takers, pick someone at random to start and go around the table, either upping the bid or dropping out. The leader has a bit of a tiebreak in that they can use their leader token like it was contempt. All contempt bid in this way is lost, but if the lead changed hands the former leader can take as much contempt as they want from the winning bid. The new leader has to set out a plan, ask for goals, and make promises or not, as normal, but you can't have two revolutions in a row.

End of Session: Forgiveness?

End of session, you should take stock of contempt as part of your session wrap-up: how much people are holding onto, and how much they spent. People can give up as much contempt as they want at end of session. (Somebody grabbing a bunch of contempt, used or not, might also be a suggestion for you that you need to consider their angle when plotting sessions in future.)

I would suggest starting with revolution off the table, the only spend of contempt being 2 points to be reasonably included in the plans for a scenario.

Assign Points to Priorities

If you insist on quantifying the issue, you could go around and ask each player to distribute a certain number of points for certain character goals. For the sake of simplicity, let it be three players and each can assign 3 points, so we could have a distribution like the following:

Player 1:

• Slay a dragon (2 Points)
• Save a princess (1 Point)

Player 2:

• Slay a dragon (1 Point)
• Befriend the king (1 Point)
• Kiss a frog (1 Point)

Player 3:

• Save a dragon (2 Points)
• Slay a frog (1 Point)

And now you can start identifying their priorities, see the mutual exclusive ones and try to resolve those. Two players want to slay the dragon, while one wants to save it, so they either have to make a decision in the party, battle it out or you find some compromise... maybe the princess is not imprisoned by a dragon, but a giant frog, so Player 3 has no problem slaying it and the others are happy about fighting something big and can save the princess and use her to befriend the king...

Not everyone needs to assign all their points immediately, maybe give them the chance before of after a session. And whenever you have used up most points, you can let them distribute more and focus on the players who still have unfinished priorities.

So, you at least have a chance of making everyone happy, but... Quantifying alone does not solve the problem! No matter how well you resolve conflicts of interest, you will eventually end up disappointing someone, even just temporarily.

If you really have 5 players with 3 of them dictating the course of the game mostof the time and not minding that 2 others are unhappy, that's a social issue you have to solve, you know, by talking. It might just be the case that you need to be more creative in aligning the goals of party members. If one member really wants to kiss the Golden Frog that lives in the Heckwhere Swamps and no one else in the party is interested... maybe that Frog just happends to know where the artifact is that they need?

• Both of your offered solutions seem to be variants of the tried-but-unsatisfactory solution: the prioritisation is subject to the same disproportionality as the simple majority vote; your second solution is a reiteration of another tried-but-unsatisfactory solution, and has the predicted shades of being, 'you know', condescending (and vague too). – vicky_molokh- unsilence Monica Jan 20 '19 at 12:03
• It might sound condescending because I think it's not solvable the way you apparently want to do it. No ingenious voting mechanic or anything else will solve the issue on its own. And maybe I should address it more clearly, but the disproportionality could be addressed by letting players assign ever more points to their unresolved priorities and acting accordingly. – Silverclaw Jan 20 '19 at 12:57