The Trouble with Playing Locals

I also really appreciate this, Gus. In a session zero, I’ve had a player ask for challenge, specifically. In cases like that, where I know what the preferences and expectations are, I’m more likely to reach to the Classic model if it fits that vision we discussed, instead of the “shared setting” approach.
Even so, to stay germane to the original post, the example of not honoring the fiction of a character being “a local” is probably bad referee habits in either style (if the decision of being local was discussed in advance). I also respect the decision to have the characters be outsiders on purpose.


Honestly, most of what I see there is seemingly intentional foiling of intentions by GMs. If that happened at a table I was at, I would not play with that GM again. Like the brothers thing - he accepted you knew they were brothers but then hosed you by saying you didn’t know which was which. The checking where the town square thing is again - if you are meant to be a local you would have that info you wouldn’t need to make a check. It once again feels like pulling the rug out from under you for the lulz.

If GMs are going to allow their players to have some control over the setting they should just talk about it and talk about how much comfort they have. Talk about the okay stuff and talk about the not okay stuff. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing for control of setting and narrative elements. Everyone at the table should say what they feel comfortable with. And honestly if you are playing a GM’d game the GM is likely going to have a veto - but it shouldn’t be arbitrary. They should be willing to give reasons why.


My own games don’t use session 0 - though likely that’s because my group contains a fair number of veterans (of my games) who know what to expect, I carefully set expectations via email leading up to play, play Classic style settings/games (simple character creation, fiction is referee directed), and play mostly online with the greater communication prior to play that relies on.

However, I agree it’s important to think of these things in terms of player expectations. If you allow a player to play a local and they talk about their aunt Nell a but it doesn’t matter what style you are playing – you need to include Aunt Nell. If the player tells you she’s a witch, you’re stuck with that as the referee as well. You don’t get to say Aunt Nell died of the red sneezes just because the name sounds weird for your fiction or lonely characters without family are better for your fiction - as referee you gave the player the power to effect the fiction and need to own that decision without being unfair to your players.

You don’t of course have to make Aunt Nell the most powerful witch in all the realms - her healing tea, might just make people feel a bit sprightly, not cure disease. She might not be wise, she might be a huckster - the referee still has some control, but intentionally being spiteful to players narrative adjustments, foiling theme as Sean says, is a betrayal of trust. Trust of course being the primary attribute your need to foster as a Classic referee, because you have so much power and yet the core play loop puts referee and players in opposition – meaning that the referee depends on being seen as a neutral arbitrator.

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I think it can work with older style setting if you set up some assumptions perhaps along the line of, whatever you setup the gm can complicate? In a very up front way I mean, generally agreeing to reasonable expectations.

Or if not doing that then yeah the best practice is just for the gm to provide all the information characters would reasonably know when they ask.

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It is, and to be fair I am currently in a kind of aztec-cthulhu horror game playing a local and it is going very well this time. I think because the GM in this case is a little better at filling me in and being clear on what narrative I have. But for future and lesser GMs than this one, I think I am going to set expectations.

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Lots of good advice here!

My only addition is a thought or a reminder that (a) the GM providing enough context to make interactions make sense doesn’t at all need to be related to (b) how much or how little a player is allowed or expected to add to the setting/backstory/lore.

In my own play/GMing, I try to give players an abundance of context for any encounter — so if they are locals I will provide everything I think they should know and I will step in and check if it seems like they are doing something a local “wouldn’t” (sometimes they are meaning to do that and sometimes I just didn’t provide the context clearly enough). However, I tend to dial back on allowing the players to add more to the backstory/lore (at least after character creation is over). Although I do welcome and work with suggestions like “don’t you think I’d have some kind of history with the mayor’s son?” but even for these questions/suggestions I like the buck to stop with me.

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Do you play in the same setting repeatedly? Honestly for my money, the best way to play locals is the Tekumel method - you start off playing wanderers from a distant realm, and when you the player become a local to the setting you’re empowered to make a character who is.

This has a number of benefits for what I usually look for in a game - for one it still gives me a sense of discovery of the setting. I still get to plumb the nooks and crannies, find the interesting hooks and connections, and interact with fiction - not by rolling dice or reading a bio. Secondly it lets my characters knowledge be a reflection of my knowledge. Obviously not a priority for everyone, but a big draw to gaming for me.

Could be worth trying out if you do return to the same setting repeatedly, but obviously is of limited value if you’re always playing in a different world each campaign.