Complicity is the experience of acting within the story [...] in terms of emotional or moral complicity [or] a vicarious thrill or a power fantasy [...] It’s the experience of being in the driving seat[...] - Failbetter Games
The core emotional loop of Dungeons and Dragons is the choice and its consequences. But they are nothing without complicity. As the missing puzzle piece, complicity is the emotional reaction that comes from having an effect on the world. When your choices to players fall flat, it is because you’re failing to engage the players’ complicity.
Our mentors of Failbetter Games have described complicity as “being in the driver seat”. Looking back over past discussions, putting someone in the driver’s seat means the choice can’t be a calculation, because that doesn’t really ask the player to express their character. It also means the choice needs to be consequential and respond to the player. It also means the choice needs to be clear to the characters, at least insofar as they feel informed to make a meaningful decision.
The point of this discussion isn’t to tie our previous discussions with a bow, there's just too much to be said about choices. It’s not about complicity being a nice word to describe something that we’ve been mentioning for months (though it is and we have), it’s about highlighting the role of the player in making choices. The emotional reaction is a result of all of those wonderful structures, of informed choice, and intent, and expression, and all of these wonderful things, but it’s mostly a result of the person sitting across the table from you.
Tools to Take Away
Never forget that there is a person behind the character, and that the person has desires and wants and needs as much as you do, as much as the character does. Engage your players in crafting the decisions that you make, and seek feedback on the choices you offer. Your goal from the start, when you sat down and said “who would like to play a role playing game?” has been about building an emotional experience together. So never forget that your goal isn’t to kill PCs, or flex your storytelling muscles, or strip them of everything they’ve earned. Those are just tools in your belt. Your goal is to feel something, something that you built with a group of people, but could never have predicted. It’s to be in the driver’s seat, but not know where the road really leads. And it’s magic.