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Author Topic: Simulationsit Reality and Narrativist Reality  (Read 7023 times)
Christopher Kubasik
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« on: February 21, 2002, 08:09:29 AM »

Oops.  My bad.

I just resurrected a thread Jesse had started eight months ago.  My intention wasn't so much to give Jesse advice (I assume he'd probably dealt with the matter since then), but discuss the concerns he brought up -- since I think they're quite pertinent to anyone who wants to play around with Narrativism.

Here's the link to the first thread.  It's only about six posts -- and the last couple are admonishments to me not to resurrect posts from nearly a year ago so it won't take that long to read.  (And thank you, Ron, for correcting me so gently.)

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=186

Okay.  Read it?

Just another thought when I woke up this morning (and jeez, if someone's already covered this, I'm sorry.  Clearly I've been rooting around the older threads, but I might have missed something.... )

In a Simulationist game, we want every square inch of the world mapped out as well as every trait of anyone we might meet already defined.  Or, at least, have a model for generating such information.  Nothing should be retrofitted. This is what makes it "real."  What works best is the feeling that: "It's all there".  Even better, it's not just a feeling: It really is all there!

The Narrativist game is completely different.  David Mamet (a fantastic playwright and maker of, I think, not great movies) says that in dramatic writing the life of the characters before and after the play do not matter.  Let me repeat that: They do not matter.  He says he's flattered when people think of his characters having a life beyond the stage, but really -- they don't.  The sole life a character has, in Mamet's view, is when they are on stage doing something dramatically interesting.  That is: when in a scene.  No more, no less.

Think about how absolutely different that is in thinking from what we're used to in RPGs.  Especially with our "campaign" mentality.  We want this whole world to exist in all directions, and all characters to exist completely into the past and present.

But in dramatic narrative, and in Narrativist gaming, this isn't the case.

For example: someone around here related a TQB game, and mentioned how one of the major NPC characters completely changed from his original conception as the players kept redefining him.  This is completely not Simulationist, but is completely Narrativist, because all that matters is what is done and said "On Screen."  There is no fixed reality beyond what's already been established.

I'm remember a Robert Heinlein story, I think, where a character becomes aware that the whole world is essentially a sound stage built and rebuilt as he moves around to create the illusion of a static, stable environment, but in fact, it's all a pack of lies.

This story might well serve as a founding myth (myth in the good way, not the bad : -)  ) for Simulationist.  It is assumed that everything should be there all the time, even if you're not involved, and if it isn't, it's a pack of lies, a conspiracy.

This makes sense for reality.  But for a story?  Well, that's apparently a matter of taste.

For a Narrativist, like me, I'm not trying to recreate reality.  I'm trying to make a story.  Yes, I know, all games have stories, but it's a matter of priorities, and, more importantly, a Narrativist isn't trying to make an a priori reality -- reality is defined on the fly.

However, this isn't "winging it."  *Winging it assumes there's something you're missing as the GM.*  This is not the case in a Narrativist game.

A Narrativist session assumes that reality will be defined through character *and* player action.  The fun is sharing this creation process, not poking around for holes.  (Which, by the way, even for me, is its own kind of fun.  Who can ever forget peculiar joy of finding that first potion in D&D and playing out nearly an hour of game time as you try to determine its properties without dying?)

The Simulationist wants to know there's a world out there, waiting to be found.  The Narrativist wants to know there's a story out there waiting to be found -- with elements of character, plot, and world mattering *only insofar as they matter to the story.*

A Simulationist assumes something's missing when the players ask, "Wait, why?"  A Narrativist sees an opportunity.  An opportunity for all the players, not just the story guide.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2002, 08:53:50 AM »

Hi Chris (Christopher? Chris? which?),

This is great - it's like watching you clean house, in a way, clearing out assumptions, finding what works for you, lookin' around ... "Why did I keep that? Chuck it!" or "Ooh, look at this! How did I ever let that escape me?"

Since you've entered what some consider to be a stinky hive of Narrativist cultists, I imagine it doesn't surprise you that my response is, "Uh-huh!" and not much else. The issues you're describing are those that have been worked out among many people here in great detai, through play, through dialogue (some of it very plaintive or aggressive), and through design - all here, in the Underground Scene.

Two points follow.

ONE: NOT ALONE
Tons of people email me about Sorcerer and The Forge, and the message I get over and over is, or is founded on, "I thought I was the only one." I knew it, God damn it, back around 1992 - my experiences of play, ie real people's concerns, and of what games were actually providing had diverged so sharply that it was time for a serious re-boot.

Armed with The Fantasy Trip, elements of early Champions, and Over the Edge, I said, "Something in here does do what I really want," and set to finding it. Drama-based systems were not it ... Color-driven play wasn't it ... I got to work, expert Illusionist as I was, and discovered that everything I knew was wrong (for my goals).

Everyone I talked to said I was nuts. "People want [fill-in-the-blank]," they said, using terms like "balance" or "realism" or "setting." A game, according to the industry, was either "universal" or "all setting," and that was it. I stuck to it, and said, screw it, I'm trying, and if anyone likes it, good for me and good for them, that's all I want. [Hey Raven! Remember those days?]

Now? Tons of emails. People saying, constantly, "I thought I was the only one." Now precisely? Games like Orkworld and Hero Wars on the shelves; games like Soap and Wuthering Heights on the internet.

Welcome back! And most especially, welcome here!

TWO: AVANT-GARDE, BABY
I'd like to focus on the game you mention specifically - The Questing Beast, or more generally speaking, The Pool. You see, as the author of Sorcerer, I was pretty proud of myself. I'd distilled just about everything I'd been looking for into that game, and doing so had two results - (1) it grew beyond that conception and into the content of The Sorcerer's Soul, and (2) it freed me to delve further into game design like Elfs and others.

As I mentioned in my "Top Five" article, everything I saw in RPG mechanics fit into my scheme of thinking, and I felt on top of it - offer me a putative Narrativist system? I recognized its parts, saw how they needed work, asked the right questions, and helped you get it going. Cutting-Edge Question Guy, that was me ... as well as my pals from GO, varying in outlook, but just as savvy. Between us, you had the Underground ... right?

Then this guy from Kentucky offers a shy grin and a two-page freebie on a fucking geocities website no less ... "Hope y'all don't mind." I have this image of James with a weatherbeaten face and a six-string, hitching up on the stool in the smoke-filled Big City Bar, you know, the one where they toss out the commercial-agents on their ear, and the cats jam all night long, and the few who've "made it" still show up to play so they can stay "real" ... anyway, this hillbilly's there with his notion and we're all kinda waiting for another GURPS-lite knockoff or a long droning description of his kewl setting ...

Cue utter shock - dudes with the cigarettes hanging from their open mouths going out, others pushing their shades down their nose to reveal eyes that haven't been seen in years, the chatter of hangers-on dying out as all the artisans stop paying even humorous attention ...

Since then, nothing's been the same. This game actually hits the engine of role-playing on its head: "Who gets to say what, exactly when." We'd seen flickers of this - game after game played with it, distilled other aspects of play towards it, grappled with it. But now the central issue is on the table.

No one - no one - can toss up a list of attributes and skills with some setting background, and claim they've "designed a role-playing game." I am not saying that game design should approach The Pool; I am saying that game design henceforth must stand in relation to the Pool. Does one designated person ("GM") get to say all the stuff? OK. Does everyone get to say stuff? OK, specify when, and why. Does it cut across more than one person per action/event? OK, specify. This shit matters; we can't design any more without making some sense about it (whatever that sense may be, for that game).

Now we are the Avant-Garde. Now we're the Underground Scene. Once The Pool hit, it all stopped being "ideas fluttering in the dark," and became something.

To everyone: let's live up to this something, in actual play, in game design, and in our dialogue about both. I'm seeing it already in the discussions, and most especially in the profusion and focus of games produced over the last six to eight months.

I ... want ... more.

Best,
Ron
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A.Neill
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2002, 08:58:51 AM »

This thread has made me think about some of the more recent, enjoyable games our group has had. I am starting to realise how “stuff” has been used in two different ways in our games. By “stuff” I mean the flotsam and jetsam I keep located around the gaming environment – old architectural floor plans, a few historical and scientific reference guides (including a pocket sized physics dictionary), Osprey military hand books, old directories, pictures – you get the idea.
 
Whenever the group needs some idea seeds we reach for some “stuff” to help us out. This availability of “stuff”  seems to help players with both simulationist and narativist tendencies, but they seem to use it with different goals in mind..

I’m fitting this retrospectively and I will start to watch this from a more predictive POV at the next few games, but I think the sim leaning players use “stuff” in a more immediate and obvious way – “stuff” is used to give consistency and realism to pcs, npcs and the game world in general. For example they may use it to form equipment lists or for tactical PC manoeuvres. We have also had success with Nar leaning players using “stuff” on an ad-hoc level with player-driven scene framing proving a lot more fluid when they grab “stuff” lying about and use it to describe environment, personalities and motives.

This may fit in with what you’re suggesting Christopher, with Sim leaning players having a “make it real” goal in mind in their use of “stuff”, while the Nar leaning players are using “stuff”  as something more ephemeral or abstract to help them get their description of scene across (to themselves and others).

As a by-the-by using stuff seems to be a lot easier when we game in my house where “stuff” is available rather than at the local gaming club where we’re limited to what we bring with us – which is generally just the odd prop that could be classified as colour.

Hmm, I feel the old neurons firing up……

Alan.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2002, 03:25:42 PM »

This looks like a good place to say . . .  

Man, I love this place.  The pure, concentrated gaming goodness found here is absolutely overwhelming at times.

It's actually reached the point where I really am overwhelmed by all the "good stuff" - I can't participate in 50 - hell, 80 - percent of threads I find interesting and valuable.

Like so many here, I'm working on a game (game idea?  game framework?  ah, who knows WHAT to call it).  I'm continually amazed by how USEFUL these discussions are to my thinking - when I'm trying to work through an issue, someone starts a thread that's relevant.

In some areas, in looks like there's a real . . . "convergence of thought" happening - issues develop connections that suddenly make things clear(er), positions that seem opposed are reconciled, and etc.  I suppose (and certainly have seen "Forge critics" elsewhere claim) this could be a sign of overly-inbred conversation and mutually-affirmed delusions . . .

Which is why hearing about Ron's messages of support , and seeing that "outside" thinkers like Christopher are on the same track, is so valuable.  It *is* wise to defend against mutually-affirmed delusions.

Christopher, I found your comments really deepened my understanding about differences between Sim and Nar - that's never a bad thing.  I look forward to more exciting discussion here on the Forge, from old members and new.  

Gordon
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2002, 08:58:56 PM »

Ron,

I hope you don't mind, but just so everyone is going to understand what you meant about watching me "clean house" I'm going to post the email I sent you when I joined The Forge.  This will not only let me compliment you in public, but let me before god an everyone say how awesome I think The Pool is:

****

Dear Ron,

As you know, few years ago I wrote a four part article for Inphobia proposing what else RPG could be like.  I didn't know it at the time, but that was my good-bye to the hobby.  Only a few months after the series ended, I chucked all my gaming stuff and let it go.

Years pass.  On a whim, I decide to start poking around the current world of RPG.  I meet up with Jesse on RPG.net (he's a great guy and we both live in LA), and he mentions your name.  I?m intrigued, but don't follow up.  (I incorrectly assume your work is another "roll-playing vs. role playing" manifesto.)

But keep looking around.  There are some cool settings to be sure.  Tribe 8 is spiffy as all get up, but I read the rules...  And I'm thinking, "Will these help me take advantage of all this?"  Then I bump into Fading Suns ? the Traveller game I would have run as a kid if I'd already soaked up all the information about the world I have now.  And it's got Passions!  But it's also got this pokey business with all these damned attributes and stats....

And I realize I'm looking at the game differently than I used to.

I don't turn to the fiction intro or the world crap like I used to.  I check out the character sheet, and then the rules, first.

Because, of course, the rule do matter.

I go to a game con.  I play in an Adventure! game.  It's good.  I have fun.  The metagame rules are fun... But it seems to be fighting itself with all the "regular" game stuff.

But I've tasted games again.  The next day, I grab a copy of Unknown Armies as soon as a game store opens, read the rules through a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and  set up my shingle to run a game for the first time in years.

I decide I'm going to do character creation at the table. There's no way around it.  I can?t shove a generic character at a player ever again.

"You're all associated with High School," I say.  "Students.  A teacher.  A parent of high school students.  Hell.  You can be a janitor.  But it's a story attached to high school."

We make the characters.  Two students, one history teacher.  I encourage them to find an emotional connection.  The players decide the teacher's the father of the other two. There's tension at home. Mom's gone cold. Their little brother is fading away.  I get them to school swiftly.  They're in class rooms.  They have no magick. They're just people.

"Pop," I say. "Pop. Pop.  You hear screaming."

"Oh, shit," one of them says.

And before they know it, they're tying to hide the youngest son, the second shooter and unwitting assistant in a magickal ritual with lots o' sacrifices.

I like UA, and yet... Still no go. Exactly who's in charge of these characters who are so fucking obsessed with magick they'll murder people?  Apparently me, cause nothing's going to happen unless I make it up first..

I go back on line.  Jesse's sent me a couple of emails referring to the forge.  I check it out.

My name's listed in the acknowledgments, with a reference to my Inphobia good-bye rant.  Weird.

I download the essay, pretty it up, read it.

It makes sense.  More important, there's that part at the end, about getting out of games when you don't like them, and finding the write players, and accepting the fact that all games can't do all things and most players only want a few things.  About how some people keep coming back to the table long after its time to stop.

Hey. That was me.  Unable to see what was wrong, unable to get anyone to believe me anything was wrong, calling out: "Hey! Can't we try this instead? Cause I'm just not having fun anymore!"

The GNS essay assures me we can, that I could have fun, and the games I wanted to play were already being written.

I check out the Sorcerer threads.

Oh. My.

I buy the book.

Oh MY! Every other item about setting up the characters reminds me of what I did just a few days earlier with UA.  Except it?s *part* of the game.  The rules matter, and here's a game with rules that matter to me!

I check out a thread on game play.  See your scenario opening for the "Questing Beast, Again."

I check out The Pool rules.

I'm frozen.  Really.  Because this really sharp moment of my past's frustration comes rushing up to meet me in the present, the banshee of specific and then dissipates like a ghost.  Because some joker actually wrote the game I was asking for in my Inphobia rant.

Wow.

And wow to you too, Ron, for your amazing tenacity as a RPG R&D wonk, for setting up The Forge, for getting Sorcerer out.

I had to get out the hobby because it was screwing up my fiction.  Now I think I can enjoy a hobby I really loved all over again knowing it will feed what matters to me most.

Sweet.

Thanks.

And nice to meet ya'.

Sincerely,

Christopher Kubasik

*****

By the way: Strange Fact #487 (Collect Them All!) ? I wrote the Interactive Toolkit articles while holded up in a cabin outside Campton, Kentucky.  A Nexus of Narrativist Spirits holed up in them hills?
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2002, 09:48:47 PM »

Whoah...Christopher Kubasik! Welcome to The Forge.

My own testimonial starts with me running across Ron discussing GNS on the Gaming Outpost in the late summer of 2000. I had spent ten years after college hardly gaming at all, out of a vague and poorly understood dissatisfaction. In retrospect, it's obvious to me that I'd been a frustrated Narrativist basically from the publication of Dragonlance. I'd railed against it from the get go. I skipped game sessions and drifted apart from the group. I didn't know why I was doing it; I thought I just hated the game world. As soon as metaplot and scripted-events were the "right way" to run games, I couldn't figure out how to have fun anymore, either as a player or as a GM. So for ten years I bought games, read games, talked an awful lot about games, but hardly ever played.

Subsequent to GNS, for the past 16 months, I've been gaming like a fiend and having a fantastic amount of fun.

And your "Interactive Toolkit" articles are a well-respected contribution to that around these parts. Whenever someone suggests that Narrativists are a marginal and fairly self-contained interest group, I direct them to your articles, which have an entirely different set of vocabulary for some key concepts. I think it forces a realization that Narrativism didn't originate from a single meme, but instead arose from a situation like that surrounding Pascal and Leibniz both inventing calculus. It didn't exist, there was a need for it, and the time was right.

Now all we need is Mike Nystul. Did he drop out of the hobby as well? Could you get on that Jesse?

Paul
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joshua neff
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« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2002, 10:13:16 AM »

Christopher--

I hear you, brother! I actually stopped playing RPGs for a short bit in high school & my first year in college. When I got back into them, I rarely enjoyed playing them (only when Lon "Uncle Dark" ran stuff) & almost never enjoyed running them. And I couldn't figure out why. I took another long break from gaming, not by choice but simply because I'd become really picky about who I played with (but again, I couldn't verbalize why) & wasn't meeting anyone I wanted to game with.

Then a couple of years ago, I started gaming with some friends of mine. Right as we started to game, The Oracle reprinted your "Interactive Toolkit" essays, & a lightbulb went off over my head. I printed them off & made my group read them. "That is what I want. I don't want to be the 'storyteller', I want to be the 'Fifth Business'!" It occured to me that the job of a narrativist GM (& this was before I'd met Ron & started using the term, but it's what I was predisposed towards) was to facilitate story-creation, & an RPG should help with that. And the games I was playing (Mage, mostly) weren't doing that, system-wise. Reading Ron's posts (about the same time as Paul) & essays helped me move further towards verbalizing what it was I wanted to do.

Anyway, welcome to the Forge.
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Steve Dustin
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« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2002, 10:30:58 AM »

Quote

Gordon says:

I suppose (and certainly have seen "Forge critics" elsewhere claim) this could be a sign of overly-inbred conversation and mutually-affirmed delusions . . .



No, I don't see signs of inbreeding here. Everything that you guys are hitting at, is out there.

I'm a literal outsider in these parts, just a Joe Roleplayer who somehow got sucked in from, I think, a post at RPGnet. But this place has totally changed my outlook on roleplaying forever.

I think it is something that is reaching critical mass in the roleplaying world. Not too long ago I was in conversation with a friend about how players approach the roleplaying experience. The prevalent attitude is of "complete GM-control," of the world, the situation, etc., ("illusionism," I'm guessing). And it's frustrating me. 100% of the players I've played with have been "re-active" players, waiting for the GM to throw something at them. Either it's a clue, or it's combat. As we talked, it came down basically to either you are playing DnD or Call of Cthulhu. You're on a power trip, and you're solving a mystery; and the GM just feeds it to you. (that's been my experience anyway)

How does that make a GM anything less than a computer roleplaying game that can over-ride "story blocks"? Eventually I'm down to the point, why am I GMing if I know what's gonna happen anyway? What the hell fun is that? It's not, it's dull, it's boring. I need a challenge.

This place has given me a vocabulary to identify my wants and needs, and what I want most out of my roleplaying experience. I'm more then likely a passer-by, but I'm hooked. After I run the Pool with my players, we'll see if I can hook them too.

The only thing I find bad about the Forge is it has a formidable barrier to entry: the jargon and GNS theory itself. Everything reads like Greek, until it starts to melt together coherently. It takes that "A-ha!" moment, but I can see lots of people skipping past this place.

Ron's essay is good, but very obtuse and academic. It's taken me a long time to understand it. A glossary of the terms might help (I'd be willing to help work on it). Also, examples of what those terms mean would help.

Anyway, thanks for opening my eyes. And inspiring me to try my hand making my own game, addressing my needs.
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jburneko
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« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2002, 10:35:40 AM »

Guys, I'm really touched.  There's another thread where Ron recommends me as someone to talk to about Narrativist ideals and now my name is mentioned so favorably here.

I find all this so interesting because basically, I'm the only person I know who could be described as a 'Narrativist Convert.'  All the 'testamonials' mentioned in this thread seemed to be coming from people who recognized Narrativism on sight and had a kind of a, 'I thought I was the only one.' experience.

I, on the other hand, have ALWAYS been into RPGs for the 'story'.  But when I first saw Narrativism I thought it was the fastest way to create an incoherent mess that ultimately wouldn't produce any kind of story at all.  But then I discovered that my problem wasn't with the techniques but that I really didn't understand what made a 'good' story in the first place.

Before I came here I would have told you that Die Hard was about a guy fighting terrorists and Aliens was about marines fighting aliens.  Before I came here I would have considered the Sixth Sense to be a massive failure had I gotten the twist before the characters did.  Before I came here I would have thought Gosford Park was the worst movie ever made because it totally fails to present a coherent murder mystery.  Similarly, I used to really dislike the source material given in Sorcerer's Soul because it was 'unfair.'  All we were doing was watching the detective go from point to point gathering information that would lead to the next point and eventually we would find out who did it with absolutely NO WAY for me, the reader, to get their first.  What kind of a story is THAT?!

That's really what prompted my "Narrativism: I still don't get it" thread eight months ago.  To me a good story was defined by it's ability to either fool the reader into believing something that wasn't true and then whacking them over the head with a twist ending OR to slowly build up a clever case and reveal something thought provokingly abstract about some unknowable cosomological truth.  And you simply CAN'T do that if the players are allowed to just 'make shit up' because they don't know what your clever cosomlogical twist ending is going to be.

You see The Forge hasn't just saved my ability to enjoy an RPG, it's saved my ability to enjoy ANY FORM of entertainment media.  I was on the verge of becoming very disillusioned with books and movies because nothing could 'surprise' me any more.  But now I can go to Gosford Park and marvel at the excelent examination of the relationships between Servant and Master.  I can sit through Brotherhood of the Wolf and recognize the questions about Savagry and Civility.  I can read a Ross MacDonald novel and forget about the 'mystery' and focus on the relationships.  And so on.

Now that I know what a story is actually about, I totally understand Narrativism and how it's supposed to work and have discover that it's something I want too.

Jesse
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2002, 12:22:08 PM »

I've been doing the Writers Boot Camp program out here in Los Angels, working with new tools to organize my material... And it's actually given me new insights into how to handle RPG sessions in the Narrativist mode.

A lot of the concepts are similiar or overlap slightly (no surprise).  My brain is sparking the concept of running TQB games over at Boot Camp for my fellow students to help them with some of these issues.  (For the record Jesse, I'm surrounded by students who want to be *writing* movies who know a lot less about how to *watch* a movie than you do.)
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« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2002, 02:00:30 PM »

I'm a convert too, Jesse, but from the other side I think.

I was sucked into the Forge by the explicit power-sharing going on in so many of y'all's game designs.  This time last year I'd given up on talking RPG theory at all, except in my own little play group.  I'd been hanging out online with the hardcore Ars Magica folks, and let me tell you, they were not into boat-rocking.  With a capital not into.  I swore off game design and wrote kill puppies for satan to prove it.

Back in the olden days, I was Sarah Kahn's housemate while she and John Kim and the Theatrix guy (and forgive me, I forget who else) were hammering out the RGFA threefold.  One of the side-debates there was Description Based vs. Quantified, and I fell hard for DB.  I remember when Charles Ryan made a worst-of-both-worlds DB game and concluded that who would want to play it, and between that and Fudge the issue sank out of sight.  (Fudge was never the DB champion it wanted to be, I think.)

So I liked Soap, I liked Sorcerer, I liked yes the Pool, but what really got me was the World, the Flesh, and the Devil.  I think I showed up here at about the same time it did.  It's the best 800-odd words for Description Based gaming that I've ever seen ever.  It hit me about the way the Pool hit so many of you.  

Meanwhile I assumed that Narrativism was Dramatism but that Ron had had some sort of minor quibble.  Funny, huh?  

I was a happy Simulationist subtype: Immersion, toodling along, using massive power-sharing, Author Stance, and DB to support my in-character experience.  Then I followed avidly the whole Art Deco Melodrama series of threads, and I said to myself:

Ron would be right at home in our Ars Magica game.

And then I said:

But wait, what's this about Premise?

It didn't take me long at all to figure out that what I really love about Sim-Immersion isn't just being my characters, it's being my characters when It Matters. A very good way to get that, of course, is to drive them into positions where they have to make compelling moral decisions that bear on their whole surrounding world and situation.  (It Matters actually means something literary, wouldn't you say?)

I still don't care much about Story, as such.  But roleplaying is such a literary and dramatic pastime, making it more dramatic and better literature seems only natural.  Well, now that I've seen it, anyway.

-Vincent
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