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Author Topic: The GM should stop me!  (Read 12667 times)
Filip Luszczyk
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Posts: 771

roll-player


« on: December 26, 2009, 08:00:29 AM »

I've found this situation intriguing.

The game in question handles character effectiveness primarily via player <-> player permissions. I'm in the middle of running a campaign, and our last session concluded with a significant level-up fest.

So, one of the players adds a rather unexpected new ability to the master list, and my first though is "Ouch, an automatic adventure solving skill!" That's my first thought, so I'm immediately asking the player whether it actually has any usage limits. He considers my question and restricts the ability, but really that's no real restriction.

A few seconds later, however, I'm re-assessing things. What I'm thinking is this "Oh, but I'm so silly - that's powerful, but the system is designed to support that sort of stuff, no point to worry."

That's when the player adds another "automatic adventure solving" skill to the master list, looks at it silently for a while, and goes like "Uh, this is wrong. The GM should stop me from doing this." At this point I'm shaking my head, and another player jumps in to explain why the GM shouldn't have anything to say in this matter and how those abilities are fine.

Now, what strikes me here is the player's initial refusal to accept responsibility for his own contributions. Rather than "I shouldn't be doing this," it's "the GM should stop me." There's this expectation that everything goes, but the GM will protect the game and moderate wild stuff. The player, however, seems fully aware that he might be going too far himself. Still, he goes there.
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Moreno R.
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Posts: 547


« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2009, 08:20:21 AM »

In "traditional" roleplaying, the GM has full responsibility for the game. So much that he can override any rule or any rolls (and this mean that if something go wrong, it's not the game system's fault: it's his own, because he did not override it). I think it's an absurd way to play a game, but it's widespread.

In this kid of set-up, the GM is a policeman. If you see someone violate the law, you don't arrest him yourself. You expect the policeman to do it. It's his authority, it's his responsibility.

The player in your game probably didn't consider HIS responsibility to create a character who would not ruin the game for others. His sole responsibility was to listen to "the Law", as given by the GM.

In my opinion, this kind of set-up will destroy in time any kind of functional play you could have with that group. I strongly suggest (not to you in particular, but in general) to make very clear to everybody that everybody is equally responsible for making the game fun for everyone.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 771

roll-player


« Reply #2 on: December 26, 2009, 08:55:02 AM »

The game is specifically an anti-trad design, and I think all players should already be well aware of that. As in: I've been talking about this "board games with fiction, not rpgs!" thing a lot, so at this point any lack of clarity should only emerge from not experiencing hitting the invisible wall strongly enough yet. It is true that the player in question has the least experience with this sort of games in the group. So far, however, he didn't manifest a particualry trad mindset as well (in my 10+ sessions with him, at least), allowing for functional play.

Also, I didn't make it clear enough, it seems. The player wasn't creating his own character here. He was only contributing options for other players to choose from. It only related to his own character in that by permitting others to do that stuff, he had to exclude his own character from ever attempting such achievements. Still, by the rules, he was "the Law" regarding those abilities, not the GM. In this case, the entire table, GM included, had to listen to him, offering suggestions at most.

What I don't quite get is the "I don't have to moderate myself, the nanny should take my toys away when things get dangerous" mentality. I find the GM as a policeman/nanny/whatever outlook absurd in general, it annoyed me since I first tried rpgs. The specific attitude here, however, seems to be some weird byproduct of that, which I haven't observed clearly yet.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2009, 10:53:57 PM »

Well, you can't authoritively tell someone to take up authority - because obviously when you do so, your taking the full authority. The desire to self moderate and be ones own authority has to naturally occur (though I guess it can be seeded - but that seed has to grow by itself, if it does at all).

That might actually make a good RPG in itself, one themed on taking up authority for oneself not because one is told. Or not taking it.

But I'll add that a gamer can also take so much responsiblity in moderating himself that he is practically making a/the sessions game himself. If the rules/the author of the rules doesn't also take some of the weight/responsiblity, the rules are basically non content and worthless (RPG equivalent of stone soup).
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2009, 06:25:54 PM »

What I don't quite get is the "I don't have to moderate myself, the nanny should take my toys away when things get dangerous" mentality. I find the GM as a policeman/nanny/whatever outlook absurd in general, it annoyed me since I first tried rpgs. The specific attitude here, however, seems to be some weird byproduct of that, which I haven't observed clearly yet.

Shrug.  This seems totally unsurprising to me, although the context is a little strange.

I think the existence of the game world as an external entity which pushes back against the players' desires is important for a lot of people.  I certainly think its critically important to really powerful Exploration, but even beyond that it adds a potency to the experience as a whole.  Moderating yourself cannot reproduce that sensation because at root you always know that that is what you are doing.  You cannot run at full stretch, as it were.

I don't approve of describing these responses are a desire for "nannying" or "policing".  Those seem unecessarily derogatory terms to apply.  It's not nearly so absurd when understood as an intimately human desire to test itself against unsympathetic reality and to thereby discover its hard limits.  The appeal to the GM here is, I think, to the GM function as a genius mundi who represents those limits.  Such a role can of course be taken by opposing players, but if as you describe, those players also stand to "benefit" from these abilities, then the oppositional role is not really functional at this point.

@ Moreno, I think you really misunderstand and misrepresent the form of play you try to describe.  Even in strongly GM-led play, there is definitely still a responsibility for all parties to contribute to the fun.  What is different is that there is a division of labour as to what sort of contribution GM's and players make.  The "problem" you describe is not a problem, the play style is not absurd, there is no delinquincy of responsibility, and it can be perfectly functional as long as appropriate expectations are shared by the participants.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: December 27, 2009, 08:06:54 PM »

Gareth, I think a player treating a GM as a genius mundi is a player moderating himself - he's just using someone else as a method of moderating himself in the long run. And if he isn't moderating himself by that method, then the GM is just a glorified rubber stamp to that players desire for how things go.

Imagine someone who says they want the GM to represent that hard limit, but then whinge he's not being realistic every time it doesn't go their way. That's the same lack of self moderation as noted in the first thread.


I had an old thread called design phase and run phase - it covered the idea of self moderation, but then playing at 'full stretch' so to speak, and the need to seperate the editing phase from the play phase to facilitate both self moderation and playing at full tilt. But most traditional roleplay games blur them utterly - like in the link I talk about alignments like 'good'. What the fuck is 'good'? Well, if you seperate the design phase, the player (or the GM if you moderate yourself that way) could write up actual rules for it. Then in play you could actually play at full tilt on those rules. But traditional RPG's want you to moderate AND play at the same time. Gareth, I think you've said trying to do both at the same time doesn't work out (in any functionally FUN sense), and taking it you have said that, I agree fully.
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Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2009, 03:42:18 AM »

Gareth, I would agree on this part:
Quote
it can be perfectly functional as long as appropriate expectations are shared by the participants.

But it's not always so simple. Well, from what I have seen in more than 24 years of gaming (and counting) is almost never so simple.

First: the kind of set-up we are talking about is a learned behavior. I have played many, many times with people who had never played a rpg in their life before. Sometimes for a simple one-shot, sometimes that did lead to them starting to play in our group.  And this "need" you talk about (and that exist, I have seen it myself) is very, very strong on the player who started with me in the '80 and '90, with the GM style I was using at the time (a lot of illusionism based on my knowledge of the player's psychology to make them do what I wanted and keep them entertained). Some of them had a lot of difficulty to learn to play in other ways (ANY other way, from gm-less gaming to the naked gamism of Agon). Some of them weren't able to. The strongest things I noticed were a total refusal to do anything as could be associated to "GM-ing" of any kind, seen as something that would irremediably taint their fun, forever, and wanting to be "told" what they have to do. Both of these are very complex reactions, based on concept learned playing the game ("The GM"). These are people who were teached, years after years, that the GM was not "playing", that it was "less fun to be the GM", to "avoid "looking behind the screen". It's for this reason that I think that the policeman analogy is very apt: it's work that someone has to do, but most people wouldn't. And a "common citizen" has both a desire do avoid doing it himself and a sense of a "right" to have someone do it when  they need it.

They need someone to do it. They don't want any part of it. It's seldom a good foundation of a good partnership. It put a lot of pressure on the single GM (the case where they rotate on the role is very different at a basic social level). It get people to play together because they NEED someone to do something, even if they don't really like the way each other play.

And it's a fully learned behavior. A created need. Because I have never. ever, had this problem in the last years with people who did not know rpg before, with new games. I have really not noticed any less "immersion" or less desire to play their character or less game enjoyment in these new players. To be blunt, it's the contrary: they usually beat my old players by a mile. I have seen a 17 years old girl in a in a demo in a library get "in the skin" or her character in a way I have never seen by "traditional" players in almost twenty years.

Returning to the part I quoted above: it's about choice. If a group, knowledgeable about many ways of role-playing, decide to play in the way I described in my first post (because in that group they have a GM who like the role of the policeman and the others like to play in that way) I suppose it will cause no problem whatsoever and they will have fully functional games. But I think that what you have a "need", that remove most of your power of choice. If you are trained for years to think that you need something that you can't give to be able to play, until that need become real, because you are not able to play in any other way anymore, then it's probable that you will try to beg, force, cajole, push other people to fulfill your need. Even if they really don't want to.

How many stories about GM who play in a way they don't like "for the good of the group", "to be able to play" or "to keep the group together" have you heard? Hundreds? I think that it's so widespread a case to be really difficult to dismiss..
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
contracycle
Member

Posts: 2984


« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2009, 07:08:16 AM »

Gareth, I think a player treating a GM as a genius mundi is a player moderating himself - he's just using someone else as a method of moderating himself in the long run. And if he isn't moderating himself by that method, then the GM is just a glorified rubber stamp to that players desire for how things go.

Well, thats partlyu true and partly sophistry.  I consent (theoretically) to the existence of a police force and being policed, even when this may be inconvenient for me.  The fact that other humans are appointed to carry out this role doesn't mean I encounter it as any less of an objective reality, capable of imposing itself on me.

Your point about players complaints of lack of realism would take too long to untangle; sometimes this is really some other issue masquerading as realism, which is being appealed to because it has cachet.  Sometimes it is the GM citing the impositional role as an excuse for behaviour that is functionally adversarial and persecutorial.  I'm definitely not saying that such a style is never prone to various forms of breakdown, I am just pointing out that it is a real desire and valid goal.
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2009, 07:40:36 AM »

They need someone to do it. They don't want any part of it. It's seldom a good foundation of a good partnership. It put a lot of pressure on the single GM (the case where they rotate on the role is very different at a basic social level). It get people to play together because they NEED someone to do something, even if they don't really like the way each other play.

And it's a fully learned behavior. A created need. Because I have never. ever, had this problem in the last years with people who did not know rpg before, with new games. I have really not noticed any less "immersion" or less desire to play their character or less game enjoyment in these new players. To be blunt, it's the contrary: they usually beat my old players by a mile. I have seen a 17 years old girl in a in a demo in a library get "in the skin" or her character in a way I have never seen by "traditional" players in almost twenty years.

You're taking your argument too far.  Neither you nor anyone else is in a position to really determine what is going on in the heads of x many players, however many they may be, and certainly not in a position to assert that it is definnitely and universally a learned behaviour.  I would point out that bulk of traditional RP carried the hobby as a whole for decades, and that suggests that it was doing something right for at least a significant proportion of the player population.  And given the cargo-cult nature of many local play cultures, the idea that an RPG text could and did reach out and influence people in that consistent a manner is pretty much implausible.

I don't dispute, though, that there is a lot of extant RPG advice text which overstates and overplays the impositional role of the GM.  But I do not think that therefore that this is all a mistake and that nobody ever wanted it to be that way.  It certainly was, and probably remains, frustrating for people who want and wanted to play differently, and I welcome the fact that conceptions of RPG have broadened; but that doesn't mean you can simply assert that everyone would want that if only they could break free of their indoctrination.  That is firstly a case of making an argument to someones psychology, which is always dubious, and secondly a case of assuming your conclusion.

I disagree that refusal to engage with co-GMing is some sort of learned behaviour, or a refusal to accept responsibility for the game.  It is a different conception of what the game should be.  I for one have absolutely no desire to share the GM's perspective when I act as a player, that does indeed completely undermine the point of play for me.  And seeing as GMing is more usually what I do, it cannot be said that I'm phobic about the duties.  I do not agree that this is tantamount to being "told what to do"; quite the opposite, when the world is outside of my control I am free to experiment and explore under my own steam.  I haver no desire whatsoever to "look behind the screen" - doing so would invalidate much of the joy of play.

And, extending your policeman analogy, it may be true that its a kind of work, but its also true that we are never short of people volunteering to do it, are we?  Nor or we short of writers willing to pour hundreds of hours of labour into a creation that they do not and cannot know that anyone else will appreciate.  It's not a case of a burden being unwillingly borne; lots of people thrive on that sort of thing.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2009, 02:02:56 PM »

Well, thats partlyu true and partly sophistry.  I consent (theoretically) to the existence of a police force and being policed, even when this may be inconvenient for me.  The fact that other humans are appointed to carry out this role doesn't mean I encounter it as any less of an objective reality, capable of imposing itself on me.
With what I'm thinking police don't match - it's not exactly taken with good grace if you don't consent to the idea of police and that idea being acted out. Indeed it's down right persecuted.

But if you wanted to stop gaming mid game - well, I suppose there would be grumbles, but you could walk away. That is socially acceptable. Since it's an actual, viable choice whether you stay or go, your moderating yourself by staying and facing the GM you assigned to play out reality. Or even if you couldn't walk away mid game, you could decline to game at all - a similar choice (although I grant in some groups social pressure to be there means they don't have this choice)

Anyway, I am getting long here - I think your describing some self moderation as well, with a series of different techniques. And I think you could have much the same problem as Filip, if people didn't take up self moderation where it's supposed (by rule structure) to be taken up.
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contracycle
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« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2009, 02:40:27 PM »

There is a difference between moderating yourself and consenting to be moderated.  Even when that consent is ongoing, they are experientially very different.
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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2009, 08:03:49 PM »

To me, yes, there's a difference between someone who A: Hands their car keys to a friend before they start drinking and B: Someone who relies on willpower to not drive.

But all the same I'd call them both self moderation - even when guy A after a few drinks tries wrestling with his friend to get the keys.
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Daniel B
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Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #12 on: January 01, 2010, 04:44:56 PM »

To me, yes, there's a difference between someone who A: Hands their car keys to a friend before they start drinking and B: Someone who relies on willpower to not drive.

But all the same I'd call them both self moderation - even when guy A after a few drinks tries wrestling with his friend to get the keys.

They may in reality BE different forms of the same thing, but when we're talking about fiction, they FEEL quite different.

I used to spend virtually all of my time behind the GM's screen, but I hit the GM's version of writer's block a few years back and quit cold turkey. My friends (i.e. the players) have been taking on the role and passing it between themselves, and have many times asked me for advice, or checked with me on how the game is measuring up "fun-wise", or told me how they set things up mechanically and asked how it could have been done better.

I found myself uncomfortable with this for two reasons:
     (1) I think being a GM is like being a writer; there's no right or wrong way, just ways that are more or less appealing to your particular audience, and
     (2) I found it somewhat wrecks the experience, seeing the rigging behind the props and the writer's notes behind the script.

In my opinion, there is a vast gulf between active self-moderation and the handing off of moderation duties to another party, when the creation of fictional content is involved. Callan, this is as compared to your car-keys example, because no creative content is generated here. There is no fiction that could be potentially damaged when the responsibilities of moderation are freely passed around.
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Arthur: "I don't know. I didn't listen."
Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 771

roll-player


« Reply #13 on: January 01, 2010, 09:56:04 PM »

Callan,

Quote
Well, you can't authoritively tell someone to take up authority - because obviously when you do so, your taking the full authority. The desire to self moderate and be ones own authority has to naturally occur (though I guess it can be seeded - but that seed has to grow by itself, if it does at all).

That might actually make a good RPG in itself, one themed on taking up authority for oneself not because one is told. Or not taking it.

But I'll add that a gamer can also take so much responsiblity in moderating himself that he is practically making a/the sessions game himself. If the rules/the author of the rules doesn't also take some of the weight/responsiblity, the rules are basically non content and worthless (RPG equivalent of stone soup).

The rules require the player to occasionally (as a "tax" for his own character's advancement, specifically) contribute certain bits of content, and give him the power to enforce his vision regarding those. That's where the rules end. There is some "soft" non-mechanical advice regarding how and why to do it, but following the rules alone produces acceptable enough outcomes. Limits can be set high or low, and there are subtle trade-offs to it. The system is pretty much self-correcting, however, and it's virtually impossible to screw things up.

It seems the player might not be trusting the system, consequently, though he clearly trusts the GM. Whether it's a learned behavior, I'm not sure, but probably so, considering Moreno's points. At the same time it seems the player lacks trust in himself, and therefore turns to external authority. This seems to be curiously conflicted with the player's desire to go wild creatively - in the instance I describe in my opening post, I sensed that moment of tension that he just couldn't resolve on his own. Or perhaps his creative vision was actually internally conflicted, thus hindering self-moderation?

(And I'd rather the player didn't turn to me since, well, that's not my job as the GM in this game. Also, as far as I'm concerned, after re-establishing my trust in the system, due to its self-correcting nature, the issue of my trust in the player becomes largely irrelevant.)

Now, I'm not particularly sure how well the player understands the rules at this point. The entry requirement for this campaign was that the players read the document, but that's hardly any guarantee of in-depth understanding. Assuming the text was approached with the trad mindset suggested by Moreno, chances are the reading was actually limited to resolution basics, as that's all there is for the player to know in an average trad game. Without learning to be attentive to hints of unusual dynamics, such things are always easy to miss in game texts.

contracycle,

Quote
Such a role can of course be taken by opposing players, but if as you describe, those players also stand to "benefit" from these abilities, then the oppositional role is not really functional at this point.

Note that no such thing is occurring here. The individual player does not benefit from the abilities he contributes directly. On the contrary, when contributing an ability, he necessarily gives up a certain share of potential spotlight. Now, the group (as a whole, including the GM) might benefit from such abilities, but that's beyond the individual player's control. The player only gets to provide specific options and set their limits, and later holds veto power regarding their usage that he deems improper.

Quote
I think the existence of the game world as an external entity which pushes back against the players' desires is important for a lot of people.

Yes, the system in question is all about it. In this particular instance, the rules make it the player's job to specify that external wall for the others (and in return, the others specify the walls for him). With that, the player isn't expected to self-moderate any more than the GM would typically have to moderate himself in some other game. What strikes me is the player's expectation that there should be another layer of moderation when a certain portion of GM authority is delegated to him. Even in trad gaming, the central, all-powerful GM would have no such safety net to rely on. The fact that the GM is the final arbiter in the trad setup does not mean he does not have to self-moderate.

Quote
I don't approve of describing these responses are a desire for "nannying" or "policing".

Well, I think the descriptors are adequate enough for the purposes of the discussion.

Also, I don't think I recall ever seeing any instance of functional trad gaming that included the "nannying" thing. Similarly, I don't recall there being any "testing itself against unsympathetic reality involved" in such cases - at most, those games involved players testing their wits against unsympathetic GM, on a purely social level, should they refuse to submit to "nannying" in a particular case.

Quote
The "problem" you describe is not a problem, the play style is not absurd, there is no delinquincy of responsibility, and it can be perfectly functional as long as appropriate expectations are shared by the participants.

The problem is, I can only remain unconvinced. In practice, I have never encountered the sort of hypotetical setup that you describe. The "appropriate expectations" seems to be the issue - such things tend to be very vague until a random transgression crashes the game, even in groups where the players think they know each other rather well.

But here's the thing: whenever someone talks trad gaming in such discussions, I feel a growing disconnect. It feels like some entirely different, barely related type of games are being discussed (with concerns of their own that likely do not necessarily apply to the matter at hand fully). Frankly speaking, I guess I'd rather not discuss trad gaming at all. I feel more comfortable discussing board games or video games than that vagueness.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2010, 03:01:17 PM »

Daniel B, I think I'd argue the priority you setting on fiction over moderation. But my point was that they are both moderation - I'll totally grant they have very different effects, feels and ramifications and I think your post was illustrating that, if I understood it correctly. I don't think I disagree with you?

Hi Filip,
Quote
The rules require the player to occasionally (as a "tax" for his own character's advancement, specifically) contribute certain bits of content, and give him the power to enforce his vision regarding those. That's where the rules end. There is some "soft" non-mechanical advice regarding how and why to do it, but following the rules alone produces acceptable enough outcomes. Limits can be set high or low, and there are subtle trade-offs to it. The system is pretty much self-correcting, however, and it's virtually impossible to screw things up.

It seems the player might not be trusting the system, consequently, though he clearly trusts the GM. Whether it's a learned behavior, I'm not sure, but probably so, considering Moreno's points. At the same time it seems the player lacks trust in himself, and therefore turns to external authority. This seems to be curiously conflicted with the player's desire to go wild creatively - in the instance I describe in my opening post, I sensed that moment of tension that he just couldn't resolve on his own. Or perhaps his creative vision was actually internally conflicted, thus hindering self-moderation?
If I'm understanding you right on the impossible to screw up, that'd mean he doesn't need to self moderate at all (except at the most basic level of following procedure...assuming he can do so during those soft bits as well).

I miss-understood your point then - he doesn't need to self moderate?

Are you just looking at the sort of hurdle of just pushing past the hang up and playing and then finding it's all fine anyway? (assuming he does - it could be that the hang up wins and he decides not to play because of 'that problem')

Though I'll be cheeky and note in the same way he sought authority you also reflexively sought to provide authority at the 'auto solve the adventure' bit. You'd both be moving on from something. >:) *smiley is a cheeky but well meaning smile*
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