Who are the Prime Movers in your game?

Choice - Limited

Prime Movers

You’ve just sat down at the table and are ready to begin a new role-playing game with your friends.
The entirety of possibilities lie before you like a landscape of infinite opportunity.

As the game begins, and Prime Movers start to act upon the landscape, decisions are made and that landscape begins to collapse down to a described and defined story.

Possibility is replaced with plausibility.
Opportunity is exchanged for choice.
The story is discovered hidden in the nebulous chaos of chance and decision.

But what are these Prime Movers? What do they do and how does their action and interaction change the possible to the plausible? How do they change opportunity into choice?

Let’s take a moment to examine these questions and the implications of the nature of the Prime Movers in your game.

Prime Movers 101

Let’s start with s simple definition:

Prime Movers are the ultimate decision-makers and arbiters of chance in a given game environment. They are the decision makers built into the framework of a given system and agreed to as the final arbiters of any questionable outcome.

For our purposes, let’s break down the Movers into categories based on their possible scope of impact:

  • Active – Active Prime Movers change the game, and are impacted by game changes, by making both active decisions from a limitless pool of choices that impact, as well as responding to decisions made by, other movers.
  • Limited – Limited Prime Movers change the game but are not impacted by game changes. These Movers make decisions from a limited pool of options that impact other movers but are not impacted by the decisions of others.
  • Passive – Passive Prime Movers neither change nor are changed by other decisions, but are set prior to game play. These Prime Movers may describe or shape the decisions of other Movers, but do not interact with them directly.

So based on these categorizations, let’s place some of the decision makers at the table into our newly detailed Prime Mover list:

Luck vs. Skill

We can categorize the Movers based on a Luck vs. Skill analysis:

  • Skill based Prime Movers
    • GM
    • Players
  • Luck based Prime Movers
    • Dice
  • Neither
    • Rules
    • Tables
    • Story
    • Board/Map

Active vs. Passive

Or as an Active vs. Passive analysis like so:

  • Active Prime Movers:
    • GM
    • Players
  • Limited Prime Movers:
    • Dice
    • Tables
  • Passive Prime Movers:
    • Rules
    • Story
    • Board/Map

While these categories are interesting, and provide some insight into the type of game being played, I understand that the placement of a given Mover is fluid and one of personal definition and use.

What’s more, not all the Prime Movers identified here are used in all games. Some play but a minimal role while others have an almost overwhelmingly significant impact on how a game progresses and develops.

Now I’m curious if you think I’ve missed a major actor in this discussion – feel free to post my error if I’ve omitted a significant Prime Mover. But that said, I believe I’ve placed the major decision makers I have identified into their most logical category and am only tangentially interested in discussions on where a given mover should be placed. – KO

The Big Questions

So here are my questions to you:

When you either play a given game system, or are playing a game in general, what are the Prime Movers you allow to shape the scope and discovery of the story? What percentage would you (in general) place on each Prime Mover as it defines the actions at your table? Who is really in charge and what are the Prime Movers in your game?

And of greater interest to me: Are certain game systems designed, or benefit from, a given Prime Mover (or set of Prime Movers)  being the significant arbiter of decisions? Does playing a game a given way lend itself to shifting arbitration to a specific Mover? Or is the corollary true? Is a given system designed to prevent (or ignore) the input of a given Mover? In either case, if so, then why?

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