GM Fiat is an interesting thing. Most forms of GM advice say not to do it because it takes away from the players' ability to impact things. At the same time, every experienced GM I've spoken to knows that fiat is sometimes necessary. Sometimes things need fiat in order to get going, the trick just lies in minimizing the fiat and maximizing the players' ability to choose. A lot of systems in the "new school" have a mechanic for this that I kind of like. Today I'd like to talk about that.
Payment in Plot Points
I'm going to refer to the points players get in exchange for suffering from fiat as Plot Points. It is a fairly easy, non-descript term that some of the systems do use to call their payment points but also is still generic enough that I feel comfortable enough using in. Plot Points generally are a currency that the player can use in order to make things better for their character. They give bonuses to rolls, add dice to pools, let the player soak or modify damage, and sometimes even let the player make a minor modification to the scene. In short, they give the player power and control over the game.
How It Works
Now that we know what the currency is, here is how the mechanic works. There are two ways of doing it, but most games seem to use the following method:
The GM will offer the player a point and state what the GM fiat will be. An example could be "The Joker gets away" for a DC adventures game, or something like "you run out of gas" for a modern day game. The player then has a choice. They can accept the point, at which time the GM Fiat goes into effect, or the player can spend a point to refuse the fiat, at which time they don't get the point the GM offered.
To be clear, the player either takes the point and allows the fiat or loses two points (the one they would have gained and the one they pay to counter the fiat) in order to deny the fiat from happening. If the player has no plot points to stop the fiat, then they have no choice but to accept.
Help Me Out Here
One of the reasons I like this method is that it lets the GM know they can fiat, but in order to do so the player has to be given more power. This naturally helps to contest adversarial GMing - something most new school games are against - because in the worst possible case for the player your fiat right now gives them the power to deny a fiat later down the road. So what does it leave? Well, it simply gives the GM a way to basically ask the player to help him out with getting some part of the game going. When the GM offers the point he is saying "I would really like to make something happen, I think it will be cool" with an unasked "is that ok?" attached to it. If the player takes the point, then the GM gets to go ahead and try for their cool thing. If the player denies the point, the GM knows that the player isn't interested in that sort of thing happening right then. However, the second one is less likely to happen because the player has incentive to play along.
The other thing this does is give the players incentive to play along with whatever it is the GM has cooked up. Why? Because they are being offered mechanical power in exchange. In addition, there is also the fact that you will get to be the center of attention for at least a little bit - otherwise someone else would be getting offered the plot point. So you get the RP/play/social incentive in the fact that part of the story is going to revolve around you for a bit and you get the mechanical benefit that the plot point gives you.
When you combine the two things together you get the GM and the player working together, able to communicate their coordination through this mechanic, and helping to make for what is hopefully a better game. It isn't perfect. Not by a long shot. Every system is prone to abuse and other foibles like that, but it does work well.
What do you think?