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Author Topic: GM Bias  (Read 9648 times)
Logan
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« on: May 23, 2001, 01:10:00 PM »

This is the beginning of a discussion about GM bias. So far, G/N/S has addressed the behaviors of designers and players. But GMs also have preferences, and I think these preferences impact what games they choose to run, what changes they make to the games they choose to run, and how some GMs relate to their players. Here are three basic ranges for initial consideration.

Gamist GM: The GM is primarily interested in providing fair judgment of events and the right amount of challenge for the players.

Subtext: Can the Gamist GM win by defeating the players?

Simulationist GM: The GM is primarily interested in providing the players with a believable simulation of life in the game world.

Subtext: Why does it seem that a Simulationist GM can easily present a good game for Gamist players?

Narrativist GM: The GM is primarily interested in helping the players to create the best possible story.

Subtext: Can a Narrativist GM really run an adventure with pre-programmed encounters and still run a primarily Narrativist game?


Best,

Logan
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2001, 01:59:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-05-23 17:10, Logan wrote:
Narrativist GM: The GM is primarily interested in helping the players to create the best possible story.

Subtext: Can a Narrativist GM really run an adventure with pre-programmed encounters and still run a primarily Narrativist game?


My question sort of comes from the above quote. I would considet myself narrativist (I think, still) but I'n not all their yet. The players take responsibility for the story as well as me, but not in the big way 'pure' narrativism would demand.

As a result, I still sort of roughly structure the story (subject to change of course) and plan the scenes and what the emotional theme is of such scenes.

In other words, because my players are not strong narrativists (though story is king) I tend to assume the 'scriptwriter role' even though it is all subject to change (and hopefully will be, but rarely is).

If you get my drift? I consider myself as having good players, but the story is still a bit in the GM's hands. I'd still consider the game primarily narrativist though?
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Ian O'Rourke
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Logan
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Posts: 153


« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2001, 03:10:00 AM »

Hey, Ian.

This is exactly the sort of thing I've been thinking about and that I want to test. Your outlook is Narrativist, but your players might have other views. I think a Narrative-oriented GM can use pretty much any adventure he wants to run his game, but the players have got to have the power to make changes. The GM really has to encourage this, because most players are accustomed to having no power. Then, to really have a narrative-oriented game session, the players have to use the power to create story. Maybe one of the challenges of Narrativist GMs is getting players to use the power when it's offered.

Other opinions?

Best,

Logan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2001, 05:44:00 AM »

Hey there,

This is a great thread topic. It might surprise folks that in my mind, I have always lumped players and GMs together when discussing G/N/S in terms of decisions and behaviors. There's the text over here, printed words, and people over there, players and GMs.

That's pretty much as far as I'd broken it down for theory purposes; application, as far as I could tell, was a matter of figuring out how the group interacted on this basis. After all, it might be one of the players who suggests a new game to try, rather than the GM; it might be one of the players who spearheads a G/N/S focus in the group, rather than the GM.

In practice, of course, the GM is "first among equals" in many ways. I've tried to diminish this in some ways, because I really dislike the usual model of the GM who dominates players emotionally and socially, even out of game. But even in my mode of play, the bass player really isn't equal to other members of the band. They rely on him, and I still find (in one group) that my "approval" is tacitly required for whatever it is we're going to do next.

Therefore Logan's points are significant. They relate to his older points about Balance of Power in terms of in-game events. We need to spend some time on this stuff.

Ian, I wanted to point out that, at least you describe, sound like a plain ol' Narrativist to me. A lot of people get the idea that this mode of play is radically free-form, but I don't think that's true. The degree of "give," in terms of actual back-story in particular, is going to vary widely across groups without any one of them being less Narrativist.

This was kind of a side-note, as your main point concerned the discrepancy between you and your players. However, I think that what matters is FUNCTION - if the outcome of play is an on-site-created story, then you guys are making a lot of Narrativist decisions.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2001, 07:21:00 AM »

Quote

Gamist GM: The GM is primarily interested in providing fair judgment of events and the right amount of challenge for the players.

Subtext: Can the Gamist GM win by defeating the players?

Simulationist GM: The GM is primarily interested in providing the players with a believable simulation of life in the game world.

Subtext: Why does it seem that a Simulationist GM can easily present a good game for Gamist players?

Narrativist GM: The GM is primarily interested in helping the players to create the best possible story.

Subtext: Can a Narrativist GM really run an adventure with pre-programmed encounters and still run a primarily Narrativist game?


I think your definitions of the types are pretty accurate, so I'll focus on the subtextual questions.

Gamist GMs cannot win by defeating their players, unless, like in Rune, there are strict mechanics to limit GM power. In most RPGs a GM would probably be well within his "rights" to say that a bolt of lightning flashes down from the sky and obliterates the characters. No, Traveller had it right whe they labled the GM "referee". As in neutral arbiter of the rules. For most Gamist games this is necessary. Otherwise, trust is lost and then the players start to compete with the GM outside of the game. Which often results in te quick dissolution of the game. No, in most conventional Gamist RPGs the players want to go up against the game and the reasonable challenges chosen by the GM.

Simulationist GMs in an attept to make a reasonable world are the neutral GMs that most Gamist are looking for. Small comfort to the Simulationist GM who may be horrified when the Gamist players start having their characters act irrationally in his well crafted world. "Well, the baby kobolds weren't worth any eperience points alive!" Find another subtext on this one; too easy.

The answer to the Narrativist question is that it all depends on what pre-planned means. If it means that the characters must come across it and it must play out a certain way, well, that's not Narrativist. If it means that there is an NPC who needs help who often visits the character's favorite coffee shop with whom the characters can interact freely, then that's a Narrativist encounter.

Am I being obtuse here? Were there deeper meanings to the questions asked? Can my answers be interpereted?

Mike Holmes
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Logan
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« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2001, 02:01:00 PM »

Mike,

You're not being obtuse at all. The questions are straight questions. I have some thoughts about their answers, but I also really want to hear what other people think about this stuff in order to get a better picture of the ranges in the relationships.

As far as GMs winning, I don't know if a GM really can win, but I think a lot of Gamist GMs put themselves in one of 3 positions: The GM wants to win, but only if it's fair (not fudging die rolls, not cranking up the monsters' stats or numbers; just capitalizing on player mistakes), the GM specifically tries to be fair and impartial, or the GM lets the players win (but nevers let them win too easily, and kills characters when the really players screw up). There are potential pitfalls to all 3 approaches, and I agree with your overall assessment of Player-GM relations.

I completely agree about your take on Simulationist GMs. :smile:

The idea of pre-programmed Narrativist adventures... Yes. The encounters must be open-ended. That's a given. Even more, the GM has to be prepared for the players to alter the conditions of each encounter in unexpected ways. I think you're right about presentation being a key to acceptance.

Thanks!

Best,

Logan
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Mytholder
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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2001, 04:31:00 AM »

Gamist GMs have to do an amazing balancing act. On the one hand, they're got to be fair, and not wipe out the PCs casually. They *must* give the players a chance to succeed, which means not hitting the PCs with lightning bolts and impossible-to-beat monsters.

At the same time, they've got to provide a real, difficult challenge for the players. There has to be a real possibility of failure, of character death. It has to come down to player skill and luck.

I'm amazed when it works.

It's odd that it's only recently we've seen tools for the GM to balance challenges - like encounter levels in D&D and the whole RUNE thing (or am I missing earlier instances of this type of thing?)
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2001, 09:00:00 AM »

Original D&D.  Characters, Monsters and Dungeons all had levels.  You would expect a party of 3rd level characters to be able to deal with the inhabitants of the 3rd level of a dungeon -- inhabitants that are all 3rd level monsters.

OD&D is kinda funky.
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
Logan
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Posts: 153


« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2001, 06:26:00 PM »

With regard to the balancing act of Gamist GMs, there is the question of what makes a good challenge. It's not always just "This level monster for this level dungeon." With good tactical placement, even the good, old 1-3 hit point kobolds could pose a serious threat to the health and well-being of mid-level PCs. Admittedly, in an open melee, the PCs could wipe out hordes of the little critters, but what about a melee where the monsters strike from the trees with arrows, from dozens of little hidey-holes, or from safety when the PCs are most vulnerable? It has happened! That said, I agree with Mytholder. It's a balancing act, it's impressive when it works, and the threat of death must be real.

I've heard Ron say that the only way D&D PCs survive to 3rd level is because the GM lets them. I'm prone to agree.

Best,

Logan
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greyorm
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« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2001, 10:10:00 AM »

Quote

I've heard Ron say that the only way D&D PCs survive to 3rd level is because the GM lets them. I'm prone to agree.


I disagree, though I can very easily see why and how it might be seen that way.

The D&D GM, in designing a typical adventure scenario, is primarily entering into a gamist enterprise...Here's the problems, here's the goal (the "win-point"), here's the solution (the PCs).

In a good gamist game, the GM is fair and takes into his design considerations the power and abilities of the party, because a meat-grinder isn't a challenge to overcome, just a misfortune.

If the GM isn't fair and doesn't play by the rules and design-appropriately-for-challenge (which, in examination of the D&D rulebooks, are almost subtextual and social ones), then, yes, Ron is correct, the PCs die because it is the GM's whim that they die.

Interestingly, I'm going bring up the 'worst game of all time': Synnibar.  Good gods, no, I actually have a point to make in referencing it: In there is a rule along the lines of the players being able to vote invalid anything the GM does, with the condition that what the GM did was against or fudged the rules of the game.

I wonder if this wasn't a poor attempt at creating a rule to give gamist players the power to overrule GM callousness?  ("You're struck by lightning!  HA-HA!  You're facing a 50 HD dragon and it attacks...sorry, you're dead!  HA-HA!"  "Unfair!  We vote this circumstance illegal!")

So, looking at this, a fair, balanced design isn't 'letting them survive', it is throwing them into your creation and letting them live or die by their own skills.
Callous disregard for those skills breaks the whole system, and indeed the trust that I think is at the heart of a gamist session or group.

Comments?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Logan
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Posts: 153


« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2001, 12:17:00 PM »

The point is, especially at first level in D&D, you don't need a meat grinder to slaughter the PCs. Sometimes, a stiff breeze is enough to wipe out a first-level mage. A string of unfortunate die rolls is enough to leave half the party laying in heaps on the ground. That's just the way the mechanics work.

Ideally, the players should be looking for ways to outsmart the enemy. It doesn't always happen, but that's certainly part of the game. Otherwise, the GM has choices: Try to be fair and see what happens, make easier challenges, front-load the PCs so that they're more survivable, make replacement characters easily attainable, or modify the death mechanics in the social contract so that PCs won't actually be killed unless they do something supremely stupid. Some GMs use a combination of those. Then again, many players do some front-loading of their own. They may fudge die rolls for attributes, hit points, equipment, etc. Players aren't dumb. They know they're vulnerable early on. They'll take all they can get. And isn't that also part of the game?

Seems to me, except for players who just love that edge-of the-seat sense of teetering on a precipice every time their first-level character does anything, maybe the easiest way to resolve those balance issues is just to let the PCs start out at 3d level or so and proceed from there. If they play poorly, they won't last long; but at least they can survive a couple unfavorable die rolls.

None of that is in the same league as "lightning bolt kills player instantly" or "50 HD dragon breathes on everybody." I'm just talking about the sort of compromise that goes on in games all the time.

Very little is absolute. D&D is very much a Gamist game, but it has some aspects of Narrative and Simulation. Those aspects are supressed. Even so, if the GM who runs it is more strongly Narrative-oriented, some of the challenge may be compromised for better story. If the GM is truly game-oriented, he may use the rules to his advantage and treat his forces as pawns acting in unison against the PCs. Then the game becomes very tactical and dangerous. If the GM is more Simulation-oriented, the players may indeed get the fair and balanced presentation you describe. In fact, undisciplined creatures may act more believably, running off or surrendering when the tide turns against them. Regimented creatures with military organization may fight fiercely in formations and make themselves tougher to kill, as is appropriate.

The thing about the term "good gamist game" or any "good game" is that what constitutes a "good game" will depend on the desires and sensibilities of the GM and players. And even that definition may occur over a wide range of conditions for some players; a much narrower range for others.

Does that make sense?

Best,

Logan
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