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People say all kinds of stuff during play. The question is who gets to say what so that it sticks. Meaning, we're going to proceed from this point having accepted what was said into what's going on.

When you cut the goblin's head off, do you look at the dice and whatever, and say so? Or does it not quite count until the GM says so?

Four distinct types

Content authority - over what we're calling back-story, e.g. whether Sam is a KGB mole, or which NPC is boinking whom. This includes preparing such information at any point as well as revealing it in play.

Plot authority - over crux-points in the knowledge base at the table - now is the time for a revelation! - typically, revealing content, although notice it can apply to player-characters' material as well as GM material - and look out, because within this authority lies the remarkable pitfall of wanting (for instances) revelations and reactions to apply precisely to players as they do to characters.

Situational authority - over who's there, what's going on - scene framing would be the most relevant and obvious technique-example, or phrases like "That's when I show up!" from a player.

Narrational authority - saying how it happens, what happens - I'm suggesting here that this is best understood as a feature of resolution (including the entirety of IIEE), and not to mistake it for describing what the castle looks like, for instance; I also suggest it's far more shared in application than most role-players realize.

The fallacy

"If someone has Authority over one of the above types, then he or she must necessarily have it for all four, or else play will fall into chaos." This is a deeply cherished concept in role-playing, but it's wrong. For example, sharing Narrational Authority by itself poses no threat at all to centralized Content Authority. Also, what actually happens in a given group may not be what they say or think happens - Situational Authority, for example, may be nominally held by one person, but in practice, people frequently request scenes for their characters, or state a character's actions and expect a corresponding scene to be held for them.

A little more technically: Authority is a Techniques issue which is all too often handled (or not handled) as if it were a Social Contract issue.

Organizing Authority

Distributed vs. centralized

Historically, role-playing culture assigns one specific person most or all of all four types of Authority. Such an arrangement is viable, but the assumption that the four types must be held by one person is not. Holding that assumption while not actually applying it in play can cause trouble at the Social Contract level.

Related issue: The Good GM.

Fixed vs. changing


Acknowledged or unacknowledged status regarding different aspects of the Shared Imagined Space as well as of System; usually most evident regarding IIEE and Narration.

Relevant threads

Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship. See also Credibility.