Respect Narrative Authority
“Narrative authority is a lot of things. More than anything, authority signifies believability.[...]Authority casts the illusion that the story exists as its own world, for its own sake” - LitReactor
Narrative Authority in Tabletop Roleplay Games in this context refers to the capacity for a player’s suggestions for how the story continues to be accepted by other players. This includes the DM, and is the difference between a reveal being met with an “Oh, what?!” of excited joy, and an “Oh. WHAT!?” of frustrated confusion.
The Golden Rule: Why You're A Bad DM
I used to work along a Naval Lieutenant who had problems asserting his authority. This resulted in him one day yelling to our troops: “I am an Officer. I don’t need to hear your concerns. The only thing I want to hear out of you is ‘Yes, Sir.’” Self-justified authority is weakness. One’s ideas, one’s orders, should stand on their own. One of my biggest problems with old-school or very new GMs is this same belief in self-justification. That they, out of nothing more than self-righteousness, believe in the old Golden Rule of “Whatever the DM says, goes.”, One’s stories, one’s decisions, should be justified. Not by arguments at the table, but by the narrative.
Methods of Granting Authority
Soft Moves - When your helpful NPC turns out to be mind controlled by the big-bad, it should have been suggested by the aura of magic around him, or the way he forgot your names between missions. Your hard moves are authorised by soft moves.
Dice and Mechanics - When players scream “I run the gerblin through with my sword!” they often look to the dice for Authority. When a Fighter says “instead of attacking once, because I’m 5th level, I’ll attack twice!” they point to mechanics for Authority. We can do the same as GMs. When the red dragon kills two players, we can point to our dice, to a fair CR, and say “I guess that’s how the story goes.”
Themes and Motifs - Curse of Strahd is about Vampires and Werewolves. When a woman approaches the party in the dead of night and says “I’m just so hungry” the theming of the story grants the DM a special kind of authority. If this woman turns out to be a vampire, it’s understood. Maybe even expected. Imagine the same scenario during a game set in Aether Sea, the sci-fi-fantasy setting. There’s no presupposition to that theme, there’s no authority.
Tools to Take Away
Not building the right amount of Authority into your story turns any action you take from a fulfilling tale into narrative Calvinball. This can often be considered the difference between “I should have figured it out, the clues were there!” and “I could have figured it out, I guess. If things were different.” Execute soft moves often, stay within the mechanics of your game, and ensure your choices speak to what your game is about.