Consent in a Nutshell

We have a limited-consent rule on this MUSH, which comes down to four basic things:

  • Always retaining control over your own character's actions
  • Not playing with a certain other player
  • Refusing to agree to something dealing with an OOCly offensive matter (such as rape)
  • Refusing a particular RPG consequence (requiring negotiating an alternative consequence)

(For those familiar with AmberMUSH's consent rule, ours is a much more limited version of it. You can call consent to basically throw a flag on a play and say "No", but if you withdraw from the conflict, that makes it your responsibility to lose.)

General Principles

In general terms, players are always in control of what happens to their characters, but players must accept reasonable IC consequences for the IC actions of their characters. However, IC consequences should generally create play; we generally frown strongly upon consequences that take characters out of play.

Players must remember that certain types of actions, such as rape, are disturbing or distasteful to others, and to exercise both sensitivity and good judgement when proposing consequences that might not be broadly regarded as in good taste.

Characters are all people of consequence in the "novel" of the game, and therefore don't die easily. Character death should be narratively powerful. Unsurprisingly, people generally don't consent to killing off their characters unless the death feels like a rewarding conclusion to their saga. If you can't kill someone in a story-significant, entertaining and cool way, you should probably be trying to find some other kind of consequence.

Our structured-negotiation system for conflict resolution is designed to encourage people to mutually agree on narratively interesting consequences. We expect everyone to be a good sport, and to win some and to lose some, and be aware that other people are also just trying to have fun.

If you feel that another player is habitually unfair about accepting the consequences of his character's actions, please discuss it with the staff.

What Consent Is

The quick summary of our consent policies are as follows:

  • You always have the right to not play something that you find distasteful or disturbing. Express your discomfort and fade to black, or ask for some other consequence.
  • You do not have to participate in any conflict, nor play with any particular player. If someone is trying to force you into a situation that you haven't yet become engaged in, please ask a GM for help.
  • If you are trying to avoid something, avoid it. If you engage (even indirectly), and then decide to withdraw for OOC reasons, it is your responsibility to figure out a way to lose IC, and avoid the situation in the future. If you need help doing so, please talk to a GM.
  • If you have decided that you don't want to play with another player, it is your responsibility to withdraw, and not theirs. For instance, if you are entering a scene and the player you are avoiding is there, it's your responsibility to cope or leave — not theirs.
  • We strictly define consequences in the context of our conflict system. Consequences can never take a character out of play (unless this is what the loser wants). All consequences must be mutually agreed upon. Given that consequences are not play-damaging, we expect people will be reasonable in agreeing to them.
  • Some outcomes are the result of non-mechanical resolution; political manuevering is a good example of this. Our guidelines for consequences continue to apply, as does our general consent policy, but keep in mind that it can be substantially more nebulous, especially in cases of indirect impact.
  • Anything that would take a character out of play should probably be agreed upon using storybuilding, although of course you can simply negotiate it. If you run into difficulties, ask a GM for help. However, we do have a hard and fast rule: Genuine consent is absolutely required for anything that would take a character out of play. We will look very, very dimly on any attempt to force a player down this path.

What Consent is NOT

  • Consent does not allow you to dictate everything that happens. You cannot say, "I don't want anyone to say anything mean to my character". You cannot say, "I don't want any fights to happen in my presence". You can certainly walk out of a room if someone is mean to you IC, or leave a fight that is occurring, but you do not have a right to tell other people what to do.
  • Consent is not an excuse to duck consequences. If you've engaged in a conflict, withdrawing for consent reasons requires that you lose. You're not obliged to play something, but it is also not fair to do something to someone else and then say "neener neener, you can't touch me".
  • Consent does not require that you be happy with the outcome, only that it be something everyone can agree is fair and reasonable to all involved. It's better if everyone is happy, but frankly, not all negotiations are going to result in things that everyone is thrilled with; sometimes the best that can be hoped for is mutual agreement on something everyone can live with.

Consent and Fairness

We are a consent-based game because, frankly, it is nigh impossible to get people to accept things that they are unwilling to play; if you force such things down a player's throat, all you generally succeed in doing is making their play experience suck, and the stress and effort of trying to do so will probably make your play experience suck, too. It's better and much more straightforward to simply let people say, "No," and work from that point.

That said, if you are on a MUSH, you are in a multi-player environment. Because you are in a world with other people, you do not have full authorial control, and everyone has different notions of what is "good story" and what is a reasonable outcome. Your right to determine exactly what happens to your character stops where it collides with other people's rights to determine what happens to theirs. Demanding absolute control is selfish, and inconsiderate of the rights and desires of other players. Even if you're a player who usually chooses to lose, insisting on "choosing when to lose" is equivalent to "demanding to always win unless you decide otherwise" — it's the desire for control, which transcends any concept of "winning" or "losing". Control needs to be shared between players in order to be fair to everyone involved, and the system mechanics are our way of encoding what is fair.

What you have is the right not to be abused. This is paramount in the design of our RPG system. Our consequences system strictly limits the scope of consequences to things that do not make your play experience suck, and our storybuilding system offers structured negotiation with the option to call a GM if the negotiation seems abusive. We've tried hard to structure the mechanics in such a way that they cannot be abused, and we take action when we learn that something is being abused. We take OOC harassment seriously, as well.

Consent in the Context of Pre-Negotiation

Players can set a Trouble preference (+help trouble) indicating their openness to IC conflict, and the degree to which they prefer that it be pre-negotiated. Trouble is a preference and not a rule. You do not have to pre-negotiate anything, although someone's Trouble preference will indicate the circumstances under which that is probably wise, and unless you want to be known as a jerk OOC, you'll probably want to avoid putting other people in situations where they are going to be angry at you OOC.

Consent is fundamentally limited to controlling your own actions, not playing with someone (avoiding engagement), refusing to deal with something OOCly offensive (such as rape), and refusing a particular RPG consequence (requiring mutual agreement on a valid consequence). As such, nobody is required to discuss anything with you beforehand; issues are handled during the scene if necessary.

Note that a consequence is very strictly defined — it is the result of a mechanical resolution, an outcome that is singular, conclusive, and that generates play for the loser. It is, in other words, a scene-level resolution. If you are engaged in a conflict whose outcome is dependent upon multiple scenes, you probably don't want to pre-negotiate the end result, because you simply do not know what the outcome of each individual scene is going to be. It's unlikely that one or the other of the parties involved is going to win each and every scene's resolution, meaning that neither person is going to get exactly what they want, and it's likely that other people and circumstances will interpose in the meantime. You need to play through the conflict, not try to settle it in page.

We encourage pre-negotiation when dealing with trouble-averse players, because we believe that it decreases the likelihood that the conflict will break down into something that is unresolvable to everyone's reasonable OOC satisfaction. But it is not required.

We strongly suggest, however, that people pick on others of their own size. Conflict-happy players are likely best off seeking other conflict-happy players, rather than using conflict-averse players for punching bags.

Consent in the Context of Prop Control

Consent applies to props just as it does to individual characters. Players have the power of consent over what happens to the props they control. Other people who are interacting with a prop are obliged to deal, OOC, with the prop's controller, in a reasonable fashion, keeping the prop controller informed of interactions with the prop and ensuring that the prop controller has agreed with what is being asserted about that prop. The prop controller essentially acts in a GameMaster role for the prop.

That said, consent as applied to props is "weaker" than consent applied to individual characters, particularly for props that are inherently part of the game's setting and have been loaned out from staff control. We have props so that they can be contested. We encourage conflict over props because we feel that this level of indirection tends to make conflict feel less OOCly personal to the players involved, and provides a broader range of consequences than strictly interpersonal conflict can offer.

Mechanically, in deference to consent desires, we consider roughly 80% of a prop's assets in the Resource syste to be "safe". The remaining 20% is fair game for conflict, and may also be at risk from plot events and the like (whether player-proposed or staff-generated); if it makes you feel better about the risk, you can consider this 20% to be "bonus" assets instead. Again, prop owners have the right not to be abused — but absent abuse, their opt-out on such risks is limited to simply deciding to not participate, possibly taking the temporary loss of the 20%.

More broadly, we expect that prop controllers will consent to all reasonable IC actions taken against a prop, subject to player reasonability, the boundaries of good taste, and general good sportsmanship.

If you feel that a prop controller is being unfair about putting a prop on the table for conflict and agreeing to reasonable play involving it, or you're a prop controller and you feel that another player is being unreasonable in his requests regarding a prop, please discuss it with the staff.

Consent in the Context of Prop Play Avoidance

A prop controller can OOCly declare that his prop is avoiding play with a particular player, usually due to some form of interpersonal conflict. This is an individual right of consent that is being exercised on behalf of a prop but not a playgroup. It indicates that the player should avoid interacting with the prop's plots, and should not enter rooms owned by the prop's builder. Individual players associated with the prop retain their right to decide whether or not to play with someone who has been "banished" from a prop; as per normal, any player who exercises their right of consent in this way assumes the responsibility for avoiding the "banished" player and not the other way around.

A player who is subject to this issue retains his IC affiliations in an unchanged way; it does not normally make the character any different than before, although it may result in the loss of OOC privileges such as being on an org, or being granted access to a channel. Furthermore, a prop controller may exercise normal rights with regard to resource delegations and the like. Prop controllers have a responsibility to both the player and the prop to smooth transitions of this sort.

Consent in the Context of Tokens

For the purposes of consent, tokens are no different than any other claim made by a player. A token simply proves that a player made a claim at a particular time (and may have gotten support for that claim from other players). This doesn't mean that anyone confronted with that token has to accept it, either in part or in whole.

A token should be treated no differently than a statement made in, for example, page or +mail, for negotiation and consent purposes. If this claim would be considered abusive, obnoxious, nonsensical, or otherwise unacceptable in +mail, you should also consider the token to be abusive, obnoxious, nonsensical, or otherwise unacceptable.

Tokens can no more contradict play than +mail can. OOC disagreements over what happened when should be settled via negotiation. As with all communication mishaps that result in consistency issues, an effort should always be made to avoid a retcon of play; trying to minimize the number of tokens contradicted should be a secondary goal.

Consent in the Context of the RPG System

More broadly, there is nothing in RPG system that ever, at any time, takes away a player's right of consent and negotiation.

The conflict systems entitle winners to demand a certain number of consequences or to name a certain number of facts, but they do not entitle winners to any specific consequences or facts. What the consequences and facts turn out to be is subject to agreement between all of the parties involved. It is everyone's responsibility to exhibit good sportsmanship and to work together to come up with things that are both playable and fun. Our Consequences philosophy is heavily rooted in the idea that consequences ought to create play. Story should come out of conflict, and mutual enjoyment, not winning, is very much at the core of our vision for the game.

Gifts are generally written with consent explicit, but even when the particular consent points are not explicit, consent is still implicit. You are never, ever forced to do anything against your OOC will. Again, however, it is everyone's responsibility to be reasonable. It is also everyone's responsibility to be sensitive to other people's play desires, as well as to cooperate OOCly in generating better play and accepting the consequences of their IC actions.

The Difference Between Consent and a Protest

Consent is the formal invocation of a rule. As such, it has the narrow, well-defined meanings given by this wiki entry. However, players will sometimes attempt to claim "consent" in a way that is neither intended nor supported by our consent policies. In truth, these are not really claims of consent per se. Rather, they are protests.

A protest is, in short, a player's expression that he is unhappy with the direction that something is going, usually when whatever is happening is presently outside the realm of the formal consequences system. (In a less positive vernacular, the player attempts to whine his way out of the results of his actions.)

We believe that the first place to begin, when one player protests something that is happening, is to try to shift the conflict to the established systems for mechanical resolution. Our mechanics are certainly not for combat alone. They are explicitly intended to also settle conflicts over resources and where NPC opinion is involved. Resource-level conflicts should be settled on the flagpole. NPC opinion can be altered via gossip. Mechanical resolution via +compare can be used on a scene level to settle issues like whether listening NPCs support one character over another. Shifting a conflict to mechanical resolution allows the invocation of the formal consequences system, and thus something specific to negotiate.

We strongly encourage mechanical resolution even for conflicts that happen within props. Prop controllers do not simply win such conflicts by virtue of OOC control. For instance, if a player wants the Navy to mutiny against Gerard, and Gerard is the Navy's propco, Gerard should not simply declare that the attempt fails. That is a conflict that is reasonably settled via the flagpole, with Navy NPC opinion swayed by use of the gossip system, or via other mechanical resolution.

If a situation cannot be resolved mechanically, it must be resolved via negotiation. Broadly, however, we believe that if negotiations between players break down repeatedly, that those two players likely have incompatible play styles. Both players would likely find it less frustrating to simply avoid one another. Note, however, that our rule about not engaging applies. If player X tells player Y, OOC, to lay off him, then character X should not do anything IC that would logically cause character Y to retaliate.

Consent Examples

Here are a number of examples of consent negotiations.

Negotiating a Consequence

Sergeant Tubbins of the City Watch is apprehending Chumpley, a criminal. Tubbins and Chumpley use +compare, and Tubbins wins, getting one consequence.

Because they are not storybuilding, Tubbins can't lock up Chumpley for an extended period of time. But he'd like to try, so he makes an OOC offer — he'll lock Chumpley up overnight, during which he can get visitors, and after that time can either escape or be released.

Even though this is reasonable, Chumpley's player doesn't want to agree to it — he's got a scene planned for the evening for which he is central, and although being locked up might make for an interesting twist on the story, he'd rather go forward as planned. He explains this to Tubbins, and suggests that they set up a situation in the future where Tubbins can capture him then, or that he simply takes a wound while escaping now.

Tubbins decides that a future capture is fine with him, and they agree on that.

Indirect Engagement and Avoidance

Commander Connor of the City Watch has put out warrants for the arrest of members of a notorious gang, the Blue Jackets. Chumpley is a member of the Blue Jackets. But Connor and Chumpley's players have just never managed to get along; every time Connor has gotten into a conflict with Chumpley, he has been frustrated, and he has decided that he really doesn't want to play with Chumpley.

Problematically, though, Connor has engaged — by interfering with the Blue Jackets, he has also interfered with Chumpley. If he ends up running into Chumpley, it'll be his responsible to cope — he can't arrest Chumpley, for instance, since it would obviously be unfair to impose consequences that Chumpley didn't have any ability to respond to.

Circumstantial Victimization and Avoidance

Caine is not responsible for the round-up of the Blue Jackets, but through some IC circumstances, it becomes a widespread belief that he was the one who provoked Connor into taking action.

The Blue Jackets have decided that Caine will pay for this. Caine is effectively an innocent bystander, but he's been caught up in the action anyway.

Caine has not yet engaged, so he can inform the Blue Jackets that he refuses to play the conflict, but it will become his responsibility to avoid the Blue Jackets and their turf while the matter blows over.

If Caine engages — for instance, by getting into a fight with a Blue Jacket — then withdrawing becomes more complex. That would likely require Caine to take a consequence that reasonably settles the matter, so he can withdraw from play with the Blue Jackets.

Circumstantial Victimization and Informal Consequences

Caine's difficulties with being blamed for the round-up of the Blue Jackets continue. Corwin, through IC circumstances, comes to believe that Caine is responsible for the unrest that is spreading through the city. Corwin ICly decides that he needs to do something about his wayward brother, and decides to remove him as Admiral of the Southern Fleet.

Corwin confronts Caine in a scene, and accuses him IC. Caine claims innocence IC, but Corwin, IC, doesn't believe him. Corwin states the punishment, IC, and Caine's player protests, OOC, saying that his Naval play is important to him and he doesn't want to lose the position over an IC misunderstanding.

This is not a situation that might seem like it has a clean resolution, and formal consent does not come into play. Corwin, as King, does indeed have the IC authority to make this decision. However, Caine's actual control of the fleet — the real power behind the title — comes from an IC delegation of the Navy prop. Gerard, the Navy's prop owner, can revoke this designation, via his OOC control of the prop.

Corwin could simply cave to the protest and agree to retcon part or all of the scene. But that does not necessarily make IC sense for him, and it would be problematic if someone else was deliberately trying to frame Caine for the Blue Jackets trouble.

Using the principle of shifting the conflict to mechanical resolution, though, Corwin can make the proclamation IC, with Corwin, Caine, and Gerard working out an OOC deal to reflect the conflict mechanically by allowing Caine to retain his delegation of the Navy prop, creating a tension between sailors who support Caine as Admiral, and the Crown's official stance. This ensures that Caine can continue to get Navy play, and creates an interesting story out of the conflict.

Chain of Events

Gerard believes that Caine is engaged in piracy, and wants to have him arrested, tried, and punished. Obviously, Caine and his player are interested in not having Caine exiled from Amber or otherwise taken out of play. But the results of this are not necessarily dire. So let's consider some hypotheticals.

If Caine is in hiding, Gerard needs to find him IC. If Caine is in Shadow, this is not easy; Gerard can recruit a PC with appropriate gifts, or he can start trying to investigate via mundane means. Mechanical resolution can be used to handle this; the players can negotiate what the scene in question, and therefore the relevant +compare, looks like. For instance, if Gerard is beating up suspected pirates at dockside taverns in Amber in order to get information about Caine's whereabouts, that's very different than if Gerard is laying cunning traps at sea. (The former, for instance, might allow Gerard to get a bonus from cashing out a gossip token, but the existence of the gossip should spur play for others.) If Caine loses the +compare, his consequence is reasonably "Gerard finds Caine's location". If Gerard loses, he takes a consequence (for instance, "Gerard owes some tavern owners money for wrecking their places, and has to go get a level 1 resource token to cover it"), the method doesn't work, and he has to try something entirely different. (Because a consequence is conclusive, he can't keep trying this failed method.)

Once Gerard finds Caine, he has to confront him. Each person can bring other characters into the confrontation scene with them, but because the conflict is between Gerard and Caine, it is settled by a +compare between the two of them — the other people in the scene may offer contributions (for instance, there are gifts that allow the creation of "helping" tokens), but otherwise their presence is color (thus discouraging a gang-up effect). If Caine loses the +compare, his consequence is reasonably "Gerard captures Caine". If Gerard loses, he takes some similarly meaningful consequence, and his attempt fails. If Caine doesn't leave the place where he was found, Gerard can come back in another scene and try again, but it needs to be materially different from the first attempt (think of this as "a TV viewer doesn't go, man, they're doing this again? This is a lot like last week!"). If Caine goes into hiding somewhere else, we're back to the beginning — Gerard has to go find him, with appropriate mechanical resolution.

Now, Gerard wants to bring Caine back to Amber to face justice. Remember that because the consequence needed to create more play for Caine's player, if time is spent traveling back to Amber, Caine needs opportunities to interact with people. Each of those interactions may create a chance for escape. Again, this is scene-level resolution. If Gerard has left Julian to guard Caine, and Caine treacherously outsmarts his brother in a scene (winning a +compare against Julian), he might get away, which brings us back to the beginning of Gerard having to hunt down Caine.

Assuming that Gerard manages to haul Caine back to Amber and drag him before Eric's throne, we again have some potential form of mechanical resolution. Eric might very well want to have an open trial in which to demonstrate his magnificent kingliness. That gives Caine the opportunity to sway the opinion of others, be defiant, or otherwise try to get some kind of goal accomplished (for instance, there could be an outcome where Caine is stripped of his naval commission, but Eric is humiliated in some way; there can be give-and-take within the context of a consequence). This is a social conflict, possibly involving NPCs, but it's still settled by a +compare between Eric and Caine, with the consequences spinning out of how that comparison is framed. Note that if Eric is stripping Caine of his naval commission, this is an action likely to result in less play for Caine — so Eric needs to compensate for it in some way (perhaps by saying, "if you eradicate your former pirate allies, and make recompense, I'll give you your commission back", which would be represented by scenes and some number of resource tokens).

In the case of each of these scenes, the winners are entitled to just the consequences they've earned from the RPG system, and that's it. Consent, in each scene, applies to the right to negotiate the particular fairly narrow consequences that have resulted from that scene. It does not apply to Caine saying flat-out that he doesn't want to engage in this conflict; he has already implicitly engaged by committing acts of piracy, which are obviously illegal and thus would logically draw the wrath of the Admiral and King.

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