I talk a lot on this blog about talking to your players about things you may want to do to their characters. A lot of blogs actually talk about just that thing. But how many of us actually bring all of our plans to our players? I know that, personally, I don't all the time. I don't, not because I'm a hypocrite but because I feel I know my players well enough to know how far I can go without specifically bringing things up to them. In any game, with any group, there is a level of implicit permission that is just assumed to be there. Knowing where it is, where its boundaries are, is the difference between going too far unknowingly, bogging your players down with needless permission requests, or just running a great game. So, lets talk about it a bit more below.
Basic Levels of Assumed Permission
So, right off the bat you have a basic level of implicit permission. I mean, you don't ask players for permission to run lethal combat scenes, to send them on adventures, to add complications to their lives for those quests. These are all things that the players have agreed to when they have come to the game. There are other things that are given depending on the game. For instance, when playing Dark Heresy, or any of the 40k games, you have given permission over to maim your character. Why? Because it is a basic part of the system. In L5R you have given permission to be judged, and judged harshly, by your decisions and your honor rank, as it is part of the world. These are all basic, entry level things, but it is good to know that they are there. Not sure how to find out which ones are here? Just ask yourself what basic level things you expect to encounter when you play a game. Those are the things you can generally be safe in assuming you have permission to do.
Group Specific Permission
Now, this is a trickier one, and one that I can't really tell you how to find. Basically, you should know your play group. You should know your players. You should know what they are, and are not, comfortable with. This changes from group to group, and the only way to find it is to pay attention to your group. For example, with my regular play group I know I have a very wide range of specific permissions. I know that players in my group are ok with capture, they're ok with the occasional god moding (as long as I have good reason, and it is within reason), they're ok with me involving NPCs in their stuff, and they're ok with me doing a certain level of horrible things to those NPCs and to their characters. I know about how far I can push them, and for the most part I stay within those bounds. Find the same level with your own group, find the lines, and stay within them for the most part. THat doesn't mean you can't be near the lines, just don't cross them.
Game Specific Permission
By Game Specific, I mean specific to your own campaign. Now, this is different than Group and Basic because it can change game to game. Basically, at the beginning of the game sometimes the rules change. A player asks for a specific focus, say a more "four color" comic book game, as opposed to the normal Iron Age stuff you do. This changes the rules of what is allowed, narrows - or widens - the boundaries. It can even shrink the boundaries to much narrower than what the group normally has. To deal with this I recommend asking, at character creation, what sort of rating people want from the game. Use a system everyone is familiar with, like the movies (or ESRB if you have a bunch of video gamers), and ask them. For example, usually my super games are PG-13, while the more recent Greymoore game was rated R. This gives you more guidelines in setting things up, as you now know about where the limits are for what the players want to experience.
Role Specific Permission
This came up yesterday in the comments, but basically, in this post, someone said that they generally assume that when a player takes a position they are giving permission for the problems of that position to come up. In general, I feel this is true. If you make a noble, expect the issues of a noble. If you take the throne, expect the problems of the throne. If you make a peasant, well, you get the idea. However, sometimes with this you still may want to refer to the other guidelines given here. Sometimes the player may have only taken the position as they felt it was expected to, or through some other machination. However, you can still assume that the player is ok with the basics of the position, and what those entail.
The Grey Areas
Almost everything I didn't cover is a grey area. This is generally bigger than most people think, and the only way to be sure is good judgement. If you think you are going too far, stop and ask if things are ok. If you are planning something, and think it may be too mean, run it by the player in a vague way to see if they'reok. Something like "Would you be ok if your character was essentially tortured?", or even more blunt "Where are your limits?" Can work wonders for your game. I know Atraties has a general pass to do what he wants to my characters, as my limits are so far beyond the rest of the groups (in general) it is ridiculous. However, he found that out by asking me point blank where my limits were. I've done the same thing back to most people in my group, and it is generally something you should do. Why? Because it beats floundering around unsure if you are being an awesome GM, or hurting a friend on accident.
Is there more? DId I miss anything? Requests for more detail? Let me know!