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A situation occurred in a recent game in which one PC ended up in control of a being of power from the outer planes via their true name.

The being confirmed that they would attempt to "slip the leash" and kill all of us at any opportunity b/c we all knew its true name. The PC in question decided that the best way to keep us all safe was to have the being remove our memory of its name. The DM stated that the entity would be able to do this by means of granting a wish for the PC in question.

My character (a multi-class warlock) indicated that it would require payment for the removal of that memory. The payment for the removed memory was agreed to by all parties and approved by the DM.

The DM & the player of the PC in question spoke in private (in between sessions) and agreed that the memory of the deal itself would also be erased from my character's memory.

I take exception to this as it was outside the terms of the agreement. I also believe that the DM would not have allowed this were it not for favoritism (the DM & the player in question are "involved").

I've looked into things and I don't believe that I'm being a problem player. That said, is this is a violation of my Player Agency?

Further, should I even be upset by the resolution of this situation?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to be clear, what was the payment to your PC? Most importantly, was it paid to you, and are you saying that the DM allowed the memory to be removed without paying you? \$\endgroup\$ – as.beaulieu Jan 30 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ For clarity (without making it BLATANT to them should they read this), the payment was a magic item & the reading of a tome that would increase an ability score. Play hasn't actually resumed since the deal was proposed but it's been finalized via direct messaging with the DM. In those messages the DM stated that I'd have payment but no memory of why. Also the condition, were it proposed to my character, might even be something that he would agree to. It was not. It is being stated that it will just be done. I proposed that we pick up play where left instead of implementing b/w games. \$\endgroup\$ – Shadows Jan 30 at 23:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related (though definitely not a duplicate), Is there a RAW limit on the DM's power regarding a Player Character’s emotions? \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Jan 30 at 23:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ How did the party come to know the true name of the being to start with? If you were left with the knowledge that you knew the name but it was erased in exchange for the tome then there is the danger that you could backtrack your steps and work out the true name a second time. That would be against the spirit of the deal which is for the true name of the creature to remain a secret in exchage for the tome. \$\endgroup\$ – Allan Mills Jan 30 at 23:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mazura Don’t use comments to answer the question or point out flaws other than in clarity. (Flaws in the plan do not help improve the post, they only give advice/critique of the situation. Comments may only be used for the former, and the latter may only be done as part of answering.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jan 31 at 21:14
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Violating the agency of a player as a DM is different from an NPC violating the character's agency

As a player, it is your job to play your character. You know your character's mind, their feelings, and their priorities better than anyone else. And all of this knowledge goes together to allow you to do the role you are assigned in the rules (PHB, p. 6):

The players describe what they want to do...

Naturally, what your character does and doesn't remember is an important element in this decision, so it is unambiguous that agency is being violated here. And your agency as a player may or may not have been violated, depending on some specifics. But before we get into those specifics, it's important to realize that there's a difference between a DM violating your agency as a player and an NPC violating your character's agency.

NPCs can violate character's agency

If a Lich drops a character to 0-hp with a Magic Missile spell, that character's agency has been violated. They may want to stand up and attack the Lich, but they can't because their body is too harmed to allow it. Similarly, if a Vampire uses its abilities to charm a character, that character's agency has been violated. The character normally would want to attack the vampire, but it can't because it is Charmed.

These types of violations are usually not much fun for the player. It means that you don't have much choice in the matter, or at least your choices are severely restricted. If done often enough, these violations can take all the fun out of the game, which is often intended to be a fantasy of empowerment. But they are not a violation of the agreement between player and DM to control their assigned elements of the game.

Messing with your character's memories is an established element of the rules that your DM can inflict upon your character by means of forces in your environment. In the same way your characters can be knocked to 0 hp by damage or Charmed, they can be under the influence of the 5th level spell Modify Memory. And the creature that cast this spell could be so powerful that the DC on the spell was too high for any die roll to overcome (e.g. DC 70). While this could be a frustrating outcome (and one the DM shouldn't use often, lest the game stop being fun for the players), it's something that could happen in the story, and isn't necessarily a violation of your agency as a player.

This could also be a violation of your agency as a player by a DM, depending on how the deal went down

A violation of your agency as a player occurs when your DM decides what your character wants to do for you by virtue of being the DM. While the DM may subject your character to any number of external influences (e.g. magic spells or an ancient dragon's Frightful Presence) that could restrict what your character can do, they cannot assume control of your character without appealing to one of these outside forces. If you say "I stand up and walk away" the DM can't say "No you don't, that would be boring. You sit there and listen." That would essentially ammount to the player being pointless at the table: the DM is controlling everything including you, and you're just here to roll dice.

The removal of your character's memory is not necessarily a violation of your agency as a player: but it sounds like the terms of the agreement were discussed with this outer planes being as a group. So it would be a violation of your agency as a player for the DM to decree that your character agreed to terms you, the player, never heard.

If the "PC in question" had the ability to discuss with the outer planes being privately (as the player discussed with the DM), then the deal might have been altered without your knowledge. This would be frustrating, but not necessarily a violation of your agency. But if the discussion of the deal must have happened in public, then you should get a chance as a player to describe how your character reacts to it. Otherwise, your agency as a player has been violated.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 and beautiful breakdown of the nuances. To make it even more effective I would suggest making the very last paragraph's point (that it may or may not be a player agency violation) at the very beginning, or maybe even just moving the last paragraph as a whole to the very beginning, because I suspected that was possibly where you were heading, and I read your answer with that interpretation in mind, but someone who hasn't already thought of it on their own, and is in OP's situation might start parsing this as a "this is why you're wrong" sort of answer, and might never to the end if so. \$\endgroup\$ – mtraceur Jan 31 at 2:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mtraceur Thanks for that insight. I think you're right. I won't get to it tonight, but I will get to it soon. \$\endgroup\$ – Gandalfmeansme Jan 31 at 3:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mention of Charm in the context of agency. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 31 at 6:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I asked the question here after deliberating on it for about 2 weeks. I couldn't shake my butt-hurt so I came here seeking clearer heads. This was precisely what I needed to hear, all the way to the end. I'll take what I can from the many good answers here and see what happens at the table (with a much lightened heart I may add). \$\endgroup\$ – Shadows Jan 31 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Shadows If your player's agency wasn't violoated, just your character's, it could make for some interesting story telling. Your character might know something is missing, but not know why, and become increasingly more paranoid. Or they could catch wind of the treachery, and become vengeful. They might even live out their life in ignorant bliss of the event, and contribute to the overall themes of the story. \$\endgroup\$ – Vaelus Jan 31 at 14:10
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Player agency is about your character's ability to control their own actions, not their ability to not have others take actions you can't control - even if those actions impact your character.

If the GM has said "Well I think your character would've agreed & you no longer remember your agreement so I'm not explaining why", yes they've violated player agency as they are taking actions on behalf of your character.

If the GM has said "You may not have wanted it, but your character wasn't exactly consulted & no longer remembers not being consulted", no they have not violated player agency. Just cause your character wasn't in control doesn't mean they don't have agency, it just means they're not all powerful and events happen outside their control.

The question of whether any of the socially agreed constructs of the game have been violated is a separate and far too social topic for anyone to answer here - I've played games where this kind of thing would be blocked by the GM and I've played games where this would be utterly tame in the scale of in-party betrayals. YMMV, but as always session 0 is a great time to set up any expectations like this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center to learn how things work around here. This is a pretty solid first answer, though I'm not sure I agree with the distinction between your wordings. They both seem more like denying agency than the original question does to me. Thanks for participating and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jan 31 at 4:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks - long time browser first answer. I guess to me it's only infringed player agency if you remove the player's ability to control their characters. Some players think player agency means everything you want for your character comes true and any interference is against your agency... but if your character had no ability to control an event then you haven't lost your agency if it plays out in a way you don't like, you just haven't liked the outcome. If you literally were the character it'd end the same. It may be a crappy GM choice if a player isn't happy, but not a question of agency. \$\endgroup\$ – fyjham Jan 31 at 5:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I actually agree with what you are trying to say. I think that the quotes don't differentiate between player and character well enough. "You may not have wanted it, but you weren't exactly consulted" being said to a player is pretty antagonistic, but it is fine to say to a character. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jan 31 at 5:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah I see your point, I've reworded it slightly to say your character wasn't consulted. I'm used to talking as if to the character when I talk as the GM :) \$\endgroup\$ – fyjham Jan 31 at 5:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Much better +1, you aren't the first person I've left that comment for. I think something we forget is alot of the distinct between character 'you' and player 'you' is done with tone and inflection that don't come across in text. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jan 31 at 5:49
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No

Allow me to summarise my understanding of the situation:

  • Your entire party was in mortal danger
  • A rescue plan was devised
  • Your PC decided to use that as leverage to extract money from your fellow party members
  • Another PC came up with a clever plan to avoid having to pay

I trust that captures the essence of it.

You exercised your agency in deciding to extract money from your party. The other player exercised their agency by thwarting your plans. Within the context of a group norm that allows you to profit from danger to your fellow party members, this seems totally reasonable. To be clear, having a game dynamic that allows or even encourages intra-party conflict is perfectly fine if that's how you want to play.

This is no different from you exercising your agency to cast a spell and your opponent (PC or NPC) exercising their agency to cast Counterspell.

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    \$\begingroup\$ No. While I agree with your final answer of "no violation of agency," perhaps I was less than eloquent in my presentation of the situation. It's a matter if debate as to whether or not the entire party was in mortal danger. A plan was devised, whether or not it was a "rescue" plan is also up for debate. My character requested payment in exchange for a specific memory. That payment as requested was "a favor". That was rejected. The payment came not from any PC but from an agency controlled by a PC, IE no loss from any PC. And finally there was no clever plan come up with to escape payment. \$\endgroup\$ – Shadows Jan 31 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ This breakdown is very important. Particularly "The other player exercised their agency by thwarting your plans." - insisting on this being a breach of agency would in turn mean that making the deal would be a breach of agency for the other party. \$\endgroup\$ – VLAZ Jan 31 at 15:10
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This is not a player agency violation. A player agency violation would be if the DM told you: "No, you can't do X thing. There's no mechanical reason stopping you, I just would rather you do Y thing instead."

No, this is just straight-up PvP. A fellow character chose to mess with your character, and the DM played it out. It's true that the DM could have violated this other player's agency by forbidding her from attacking you. But the DM didn't do that, and that seems like a reasonable decision on their part.

(We don't know your DM. If your group had some sort of official rule that PvP would not be allowed, then your DM has broken this rule. Most groups don't have rules like that, and simply rely on everyone being reasonable people who don't start fights with other members of the group.)


So let's now talk about PvP. It was actually quite rude for that other player to mess with your character the way she did. But, in her mind, she probably feels that you started it.

You've told us that the group had a plan to save everyone's lives, and you held the whole plan hostage because you wanted to extort loot out of the situation. This is a surprising and rude thing for you to have done.

I recommend that you interpret this memory-erasure thing as a gentle request to be more of a team player in future. You got the loot that you wanted, and you haven't suffered any serious consequences for what you did. It seems to me that you should be happy with this outcome, and glad that nothing worse happened.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My only real problem with the situation was that in the scenario where I played "Let's Make a Deal" the other player was at the table and able to participate in the discussion. They were able to make choices. After that, I was not. Maybe they'll surprise me at game time. I hope they do. If not I guess we just know the new rules to the game now, eh? \$\endgroup\$ – Shadows Jan 31 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can do that if you want, of course! But please note that "I guess we just know the new rules to the game now" can wreck your OOC friendship in addition to wrecking your game. It's really, sincerely better to avoid PvP. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Jan 31 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Shadows I don't know how your game/group works, but playing devil's advocate for a sec I'd suggest that perhaps the other player spoke to the DM privately in this case because (s)he wanted to take an action that your character wouldn't know about or remember. Maybe they're planning a fun plot hook and want you to discover the truth at the same time as your character. As DM, I really enjoy those opportunities to slip a note to a player with some info/activity that the rest of the group doesn't know about (yet). I dunno - just offering a more optimistic interpretation of their IRL actions... \$\endgroup\$ – A C Feb 1 at 9:13
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Yes, this is a violation of your agency as a player, especially since the conversation that decided your character would lose the memory of the deal happened out of game. This seems like a bad situation, especially since the DM is, as you put it, "involved" with one of the players, which is something I have never seen end well. (It may work with a married couple, or people who are otherwise a bit older and more settled in their relationship than my age group. But I digress.)

I would raise this issue with the DM, in private, and address the fact that you are upset by this deal being changed. I would not bring up your concerns over favoritism, however, as the DM might end up being defensive. Depending on how they resolve this, you may end up needing to leave the game, if they indicate that this will be a pattern, or you may end up being able to create some IC drama; I imagine your warlock will notice whatever payment they received and begin questioning it, which would likely cause some fun consequences down the line. Of course, for any of that to happen, the DM and the other player must first believe and accept that this was an overstep of boundaries.

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This isn't violating your agency

I can certainly see why you are frustrated that discussions that should have happened at the table happened via text or without you present. This issue should be discussed separately, it may even warrant it's own question on this site for how to deal with it.

Regarding the deal though I don't see this as an issue of agency. You choose to agree to the deal and there is payment. The only issue would be if they were to not pay you since "you don't remember the deal".

I can see clear, in game, reasons why your character will need to forget about the deal. If you knew you made a deal to forget something wouldn't you then spend time trying to work out what it was?

It would be denying your agency if you choose to resist the mind wipe and the DM ruled that it worked anyway, but that isn't what is happening here.

In those messages the DM stated that I'd have payment but no memory of why. Also the condition, were it proposed to my character, might even be something that he would agree to.

The DM seems to be sticking to the deal and paying you what you asked. It's possible that this question is preemptive and you made have read things into those messages that weren't really there. It is worth being prepared to explain your point of view but don't go into the next session with a defensive mindset.

You said that the new deal is something you would likely agree to at the table, give them the chance to present it to you at the table.

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I'm not sure I understand the problem

  1. From a strict agency theory, it's not philosophically different from another PC or NPC restraining your character, or attacking him. It's certainly not worse than being charmed. Agency doesn't mean your character's desires are all enacted; it means your character's desires are under your control as a player.

    I see how this is an edge case, in that your character cannot form a desire based on knowledge that has been removed, but it strikes me as less an edge case than charm.

  2. Logically, forgetting details aside from the True Name are almost required to make this scheme work-- you need to forget the name, that you knew the name, maybe even that this being was even under your control if it's going to lead your characters back down the rabbit hole of trying to learn that name again. (Or even of just reminding that being that you exist.)

    There does come a point when you need to follow the internal logic of the solution you signed up for.

  3. The payment that you extracted from going along with the scheme is still to be delivered (presumably with some convoluted and fictitious back story to keep your character from wondering where it appeared from.)

    It's not clear what you're losing, here. I do see the red flag of the GM and player being "involved," but I don't see how this particularly advantages her or disadvantages you. And I can see this arising out of a last minute brainstorming session to get rid of all the loopholes, and just going with it.

  4. The only sense I can see having an issue from deep in-character. I myself (as a person who consumes science fiction, not as a character in a game) would be quite unhappy to have my mind tampered with like this and probably wouldn't agree to such a scheme in the first place.

    Perhaps your character has similar feelings.

    But if so, why agree to the overall deal in the first place?

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