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Ying in the Yang?

Started by giblin, September 12, 2002, 11:40:44 AM

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I have been reading the GNS types and was wondering about the following question that hit me;

If Narativist gamming gave you bonuses to do something based on the flashy way or evocative description of your action(acting?) then isn't that also(the giving of bonuses to your skill roll) possibly both Gamist and Similationalist?  Example-

If you get bonuses in combat for "painting" a good picutre of the combat by saying, I leap on the rock and swing at the attacking wolves with a downward diagonal stroke behind me as I climb to keep them from following me up for the moment so as to allow me to get ontop of the rock for better ground"

Isn't that all 3 types of gameplay right there?  1).  The description is prolific so we check-mark Narrativism.  2) & 3).  Your thinking tactically by looking for advantage(like any good general should) by using the terrain to augment your defense.  

Or, does the Narratist not want to think and do math so they would be unhappy getting "bonus" points to their skill test??

What do you all think?


Tim C Koppang

Quote from: giblinIsn't that all 3 types of gameplay right there?  1).  The description is prolific so we check-mark Narrativism.  2) & 3).  Your thinking tactically by looking for advantage(like any good general should) by using the terrain to augment your defense.  

Or, does the Narratist not want to think and do math so they would be unhappy getting "bonus" points to their skill test??
First of all, Narr play isn't just about cool description.  And furthermore, it's not about getting rid of math.  I think you may be confusing rules-light play with Narr play here.  You have to ask yourself the question: how does this scene affect the overall premise of the game?  If fighting the wolves advances the premise then a Narr player wouldn't object to the modifiers, unless of course his character has a death wish and feels it's time to pass on to the next world.  :-)

As to the situation addressing all three modes of play, you have to keep in mind that the theory is all about making decisions.  If the primary goal of the player is Narrativism then the decision could be a Narr decision, but that doesn't mean that he won't want to consider tactics.  If on the other hand the player is worried about Gamist goals (winning) first and foremost, then the decision is a Gamist one, but that doesn't mean that he has to describe the scene as stagnant and boring.  Gamists may want flare too.  The emphasis of Gamist play is not math.  Same goes for Sim play.  What I'm trying to get across here is that one mode of play does not assume a certain style of description or mechanics, and that while elements of other modes of play may seem to be present, it all boils down to the goals of the player who is making the decision at that moment.

Ron Edwards

Hi Dave,

Welcome to the Forge!

I'm not sure whether you're working from the older essay called "System Does Matter" or the newer, longer one called "GNS and related matters," or from either at all. A great thread to get you started on the references is Words of gratuitous capitalization, so if you haven't cruised the essays and threads that are linked there, I suggest starting with that.

But on to your inquiry.

I think the first concept to go over is the notion that GNS "types" (more accurately "modes") are all pretty diverse. There's a ton of different in-game things to be Gamist "about," for instance, so it's not as if any single instance of Gamist play is going to be like every other one, or even compatible with it in terms of fun. Nor is it useful to talk about "the Narrativist" as if he is a single type that's the same across all role-players.
The other concept is that a *technique,* by itself, in isolation, isn't necessarily "fixed" by mode. Your example refers to giving bonuses for flashy description, and you are assuming that this is necessarily a "Narrativist technique" - but that's actually not a safe thing to do. It's the play that's Narrativist, so we'd have to see whether the technique, in a given instance of play, is being used in that fashion. To do that, we'd have to look at all sorts of aspects of the game, not just this one thing.

For example:

- In a game like Pantheon, a flashy description of an action may get a player more "points" that he needs to win the game. (Yes, Pantheon is a role-playing game, and winning is the stated goal of play in the text.)

- In a game like Feng Shui, a flashy description of an action makes the action harder, but it does contribute to the style/genre that the game is about and is highly encouraged in the text (I read this as Simulationist).

- In a game like Sorcerer, a flashy description gets you bonus dice (making it easier) even though the action in-game would be difficult (I read this as Narrativist). Again, in all these examples, to reach these conclusions, I'm taking into account many other features of the games that I'm not mentioning.

I strongly recommend that you not equate "description" or even "talking" with Narrativism, which I think you might be doing. Talking and description are a big part of any role-playing of whatever mode, and can be used in certain ways to reinforce any of them.



Welcome to the Forge, Dave.

I believe you're struggling with the same conceptual problem alot of people struggled with, but lucky for you this has led to a quick-dirty-and-correct short answer: gamism is not about rolling dice and getting bonuses.

That is to say, a mechanic is not inherently gamist because it involves rolling dice and garnering bonuses; similarly, a mechanic is not inherently simulationist because its results are "realistic" or it attempts to be all logical simulates-natural-law-and-physics.

It ain't about's about intent.

That said, the next problem is: "But if it is about intent, how can system matter?" The statement would seem to imply the mechanics don't matter, only the intent does.  The quick-dirty-and-correct short answer here is: mechanics facilitate intent.

That is, the mechanics can either help or hinder one's intent.  Frex, if a narrative game's goal is about enabling protaganism in the PCs and making their actions matter, then it is easy to short-circuit that intent by using mechanics that make it more difficult for protaganism to be inherent in character actions; similarly, the mechanics could easily foul-up making PC-actions matter (and we're talking "right here, right now" matter, not "somewhere down the line, you'll realize that the choice mattered" matter).

A good example is the typical "whiffiness" of the combat systems in any number of RPGs...that is, if the character misses their attack, that's it, they big deal, nothing exciting, the conflict is not advanced or framed in any meaningful way directly because of that specific miss.

A more immediately comprehensible example is horse-buying...haggling with the merchant over the price of your horse or new goods is often no-big-deal...that is, the stakes don't really matter in the big picture.  However, if you were playing a game where you needed that horse in order to chase after the varmits who defiled your daughter, or they could get away, then the consequences really, really matter to the overall theme and conflict of the game (buying the horse becomes a protagonist action because we, as players, know directly what is at stake and the immediate consequences of the results).

For example, if you fail to haggle the farmer down to a price for the horse that you can afford, the following very important options are some of the immediate results or options:

You can steal the horse and ride it off (big decision there, because going this route makes you just as much an outlaw and law-breaker as the those you're hunting...this is a character-shaping your daughter's honor worth becoming a homeless outlaw or even your own life? (since we hang horse-thieves 'round here)).

You can go it on foot, possibly losing the trail of the varmnits you're chasing, or falling so far behind that your revenge will be delayed or drawn out, building the conflict (How far are you willing to go?  How long are you willing to hunt?  And at what cost to your family?)

I won't even get into the situations and conflicts this can being caught red-handed by the farmer in the middle of your horse-theft...what do you do?  How much is your own revenge worth?  Is it worth the farmer's life?  How do you deal with the situation?  That's protaganism-what-I-do-right-now-matters-right-now.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio


Some quotes from the Ron's GNS article:
Gamist Premises focus on competition about overt metagame goals. They vary regarding who is competing with whom (players vs. one another; players vs. GM; etc),
what is at stake, victory and loss conditions, and what particular sort of strategizing is being employed.

Narrativist Premises focus on producing Theme via events during play. Theme is defined as a value-judgment or point that may be inferred from the in-game events.

If I read it correctly, a Gamist premise can involve competition against other players, the GM, or just a victory condition in the scenario.

If that's the case, then I can see where some element of competition can come into any kind of RPG.  Even in a narrativist heavy rpg, there's rule mechanics by which the players and the GM perform, and an assumed goal for "victory."  

In such a case, can't a player still use the rules to achieve competitve meta-game goals?  There's just a shift away from explicit representation of the goals: from working to get a better magic sword or working for your next level, to working to get a better dramatic experience.

In fact, I think that good mechanics in a narrativist game would harness and direct competitive impulses towards the exploration of theme.

Does that make sense?
- Alan

A Writer's Blog:

Ron Edwards

Hi Dave,

I think you're still struggling a little. It's not about what a person can do - of course someone can "play Gamist" with any system, because the metagame goals exist in the "social box" that surrounds and includes GNS. However, some systems will provide bright and glowing tools that are so Gamist that they can be seized upon and validated among the group instantly (Shadowrun, Amber, D&D in three very different ways); others will require that all the Gamist play has to ignore the system tools that are lying there (Sorcerer, Hero Wars).

In other words, playing Gamist in Hero Wars will be difficult - everyone would want to have to do it, and a reward-system for success would have to be generated at the purely social level, ignoring tons of the existing reward system in the game.

Second, you might want to look up the Seven Misconceptions about GNS thread in this forum. It points to one of the most important paragraphs in the essay, which people almost always fail to understand the first time through. With any luck you'll see that one GNS mode (or even two) can serve as a "subordinate" to another. I'd appreciate it if you took the time to do this - and I kinda  apologize about that, as I realize that you've already invested a lot of time in reading the essay in the first place. I do appreciate that, believe me.

Third, you've managed to get the idea that if "victory" exists in-game, then Gamist play must be going on. That's not the case. All role-playing involves challenges and problems in the game-world; that's what "Situation" means. Gamism arises when among-humans competition or a variant of it is the priority of play.

Finally, people have often confounded the concept of "winning" as I describe for Gamism with the concept of "success" in terms of either in-game goals for the characters or with the general goal of "having fun." I think these are three very different things, and Gamist play is the kind in which "winning" as I describe it is an explicit part of the "fun" - in other words, you might play basketball and not win, but winning had to be part of the situation for it to have a fun edge in terms of sports. ("Win-less" games exist but they ain't common; I suggest looking up the educational classic "New Games" for anyone who's interested.)

So in Gamist play, winning (or trying to) is part of the fun, but that doesn't mean that having fun is, for all role-playing, to be construed as winning in the Gamist sense.



The short-hand I use to remember how GNS works is this:

GNS modes represent player motivations for in-game actions.  Thus, the particular actions taken are not as important as asking "Why did he do it?"

Let's say someone has just gunned down a dozen muggers.  Why did he do it?

The Gamist player might say "Hey, I killed a dozen people, which gives me more points than everyone else!"

The Simulationist player might say "My character has a particular hatred of muggers.  His personality doesn't really allow any other action to make sense."

The Narrativist player might say "Killing them all made for an intensely dramatic scene that underscores the point of our story."

Granted, those are not the only answers for "Why did he do it?" just some particularly revealing ones.  As a result, even though we presumed each player just performed the exact same action, the motive behind the action varies greatly based on the different modes of play.  This is why I agree with Ron that only one mode can be dominant in any decision - those motives are all mutually exclusive from each other.

When we say that a game is G/N/S, it's talking about the kinds of motives it encourages or enables.  Ron gave good examples of this, so there's no need to repeat further.
Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis

Ron Edwards


Justin and Raven, there's one point of phrasing I'd like to object to in your presentations, because it offers a lot of pitfalls and isn't actually part of my model at all.

The terms intent and motivation are not formally part of the model. The reader is free to inject them where he or she thinks they fit best, but the model works without motives being explicitly identified. Such an "injection" should be understood to be a personal, individual interpretation.

The modes of play (G, N, or S) are best understood as expressed goals, that, is expressed through actions, interactions, and statements during play. These actions etc are directed toward the imaginative events themselves or toward one another, ie, the people. It is best to think of the modes as categories/ranges of behavior ("styles of play" although that terminology is often abused), not categories of internal psychological states.

I'd like to get away from the notion that an expressed goal is the same as (or even wholly directed by) anything so intangible as a "motive." "Intent" isn't quite so bad, as the pop psychologists tell us that intent is only identifiable through behavior, so that fits OK.



Hrm...I can buy that.  Indeed, that is more or less what I mean with "intent."  However, you'll have to admit that the words "intent" get thrown around in regards to GNS quite a bit, especially around here.  If "intent" isn't specifically a part of it, then I believe the essay should be clarified or expanded upon to make that clear.

On the other hand, of what use is the model without the motive being identified?  I guess I don't see how to even remotely utilize it without pointing to specific instances of G, N or S behavior.

"expressed through actions, interactions, and statements during play" verily screams "intent" to me...but this may just be a difference in understanding of what the word's meaning entails.

The problem, as I then see it, comes down to the method used in the categorization of those expressions.  Obviously, you are against the presumption of the intent -- on either the part of the actor himself or audience -- and I agree with this. On the other hand, I fail to see how else to properly categorize an instance of play, since one must presume (or rather deduce) the intent from the expression.

Of course, this leads to either/or situations, where the action could be said to have specific consequences in any of the three categories, and thus be described as an instance of play of that type, as well as an instance of play of another type.

(Unless, of course, I have misread entirely what you meant to say.)

This is, obviously, a major stumbling block in my own understanding of the methods of the model's use, so if you could hopefully help clarify this with concrete examples, or point the way to such, I'd greatly appreciate it!
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi Raven,

This is actually why I avoid the word "intent" at all. (And it's not in the essay, nor is "motive." The only way it gets into the model is if someone projects it there.)

Let me see if I can lay it out, or emphasize a point in my previous post that may be helpful.

1) I am not saying anything about "motive." That means I'm not saying it's there, and I'm not saying it's not there. People want to talk about motives, then I say I'm not describing them, and they get worried because they think I've said motives don't exist (or something like that). It's pretty hard to process the idea that I'm not saying anything at all about them.

2) Why am I so cagey or weird about this? Because no one knows what a motive is - and more importantly, no one can see one. All we can see is what people say and do. As long as we are talking about the concrete goal of having more fun when role-playing, we can't let putative internal states - which are not observable, verifiable, or even rigorously shown to exist - be part of the functional lexicon.

To put it as clearly as I can: the only "intents" that I'm interested in are those which are being expressed through actions, interactions, and statements - and hence we can focus on the latter and leave the intent out of the discussion.

3) The good news is that if you see any kind of "motive" or "intent" in my phrase "expressed through actions, interactions, and statements during play," then that's fine. You can "have" it, to put it that way - it's perfectly all right by me. As I said, though, that's a personal interpretation, a way for you to reconcile however you view the human mind with the observable stuff that I'm talking about. Everyone's free to do this, whether it's a psychological, spiritual, material-biological, or even totally eclectic view of the "self" he or she is working with.

We all have to be careful about using those terms in discussion, however, because where one person's "intent" and "action" cause and overlap with one another is not necessarily where someone else's does. That terminology is necessarily opaque to meaningful discourse when we have so many people involved with so many different personality/self outlooks.



Quote from: Ron Edwards
To put it as clearly as I can: the only "intents" that I'm interested in are those which are being expressed through actions, interactions, and statements - and hence we can focus on the latter and leave the intent out of the discussion.

I think you're unnecessarily confusing the issue by trying to focus on the visible, outward expressions of GNS modes.  After all, your stated intent for the article was to establish a lexicon in the interest of helping players have "fun" which is already an internal, subjective element.

Focusing on actions instead of motives simply forces us to look at many actions to see if there is a common thread of play.  This common thread hints at a motive - what you call an "expessed goal."  I really don't think "motive" "intent" and "expressed goal" differ substantiantially in meaning.

In any event, by trying to take motive out of the discussion, it becomes nearly impossible to use concrete examples of GNS modes because no single example is sufficient to illustrate a GNS mode without a motive behind it.  Thus, we have to look at a series of actions - and some of those actions fit different GNS modes than others, hence the confusion that seems to be very common in this forum.
Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis


Quote from: Ron Edwards

To put it as clearly as I can: the only "intents" that I'm interested in are those which are being expressed through actions, interactions, and statements - and hence we can focus on the latter and leave the intent out of the discussion.


Unless I've horribly mis-read the G/N/S essay, or horribly misunderstood some of the discussions I've observed here - there is no objective way to tell whether a secific instance of play is G, N or S, right?

When you say to focus on the expressed goals through observation of actions - how does that not involve ascribing intent to the action to arrive at a conclusion about whether or not the given instance is G/N/S?

What you are in essence saying we are left with in terms of evaluating instances of RPing using the G/N/S taxonomy is explicit, stated, verbal intent.  Is that right?  Are you saying that the only way to tell whether or not a given instance of play might be an expression of preference for G, N, or S mode of play is this explicit stated intent?

It seems to me that relying so much on those things that are only tangilbe and explicit, while at the same time fighting against the existence of any objectively G, N, or S archetypical actions, mechanics, rules, whathave you, renders the entire taxonomy nearly useless.  It means to me that the only meaningful dialogue we can have about instances of play using the taxonomy are those that involve explict, stated motivations expressed at the time of the RP instance.

I'm probably reading way too much into your responses please correct me where I'm wrong.


"Oh, it's you...

Mike Holmes

Quote from: deadpanbob
Unless I've horribly mis-read the G/N/S essay, or horribly misunderstood some of the discussions I've observed here - there is no objective way to tell whether a secific instance of play is G, N or S, right?

Sure there is. Not easy, and not always possible, but it can be done. By observing behavior, not by trying to guess at motives. And, actually, it's much easier to attribute a general behavior to an array of Instances. The more data points, the more likely you are to be accurate. Which is good for design anyhow, because who cares what a single Instance is anyhow. It's only the general flow of play that a designer can be concerned with.

Explicit statement is the only way to be near 100% certain (and even then, communications will set you back). But it's not the only way.

As Ron always says, GNS is a limited theory, and as such it does not address motives. We have tried to go down that road before (do a search), and it always ends up with starting a completely new theory that never really gets off the ground. Too many motives, and they are satisfied by all sorts of different things.

Doesn't matter, however. Though GNS might be "improved" by being able to attribute motives, that does not mean that it's not useful now.

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Mike, Ron or anyone who'd care to comment,

I'm really confused now.  I've done some searching, and not found anything that would amount to a set of examples for what kind of observed behavior would equate to a given instance's or set of instances' G, N, or S mode.

For example - a palyer in Donjon is exploring a cavern with his character, using the character's spelunking ability.  He generates 4 successes on the spelunking roll.  He stipulates four facts: I find a secret door; The door's mechanism is a protruding stone; I hear goblins on the other side; they don't hear me.

The character goes on to surprise and defeat a party of goblins in mortal combat.

What behaviors/actions on the part of the player would have to be there to delineate whether or not the Player was in Narrativist Mode or in Gamist Mode (primarily) for this Instance?  I mean, of course, other than an explict statement on the part of the player.

It seems to me, that if the player cheers when he defeats the goblins - it might be read as Gamist joy at having 'won', but it might also be Narrativist joy at having set up and played through a dramatic encounter that adds to the overall exploration of the Theme.  No matter which choice we as outside observers make about what this action says about which mode may have been used, it is an objective observation that necessarily ascribes motive to the behavior.

Even if we follow this same player through dozens of instances, observering their behavior - and then we try and analyze this behavior to decide whether or not this player generally prefers Gamism or Narrativism for any given instance of play, we are ascribing motivation to the behaviors.  We might guess the player is generally using Gamist mode within most Instances of play, but without asking the explicit question, we can't ever really know.

So, what am I missing here?


Confused Jason (scratching his head)
"Oh, it's you...

Ron Edwards

Hi Jason,

Actually, you've tied yourself into a knot here and it's going to be hard to untangle without going to the end  of the string ...

1) GNS preferences are tangibly identifiable. What they're not easily identifiable from is a single moment or action of play. My term "instance" refers in most cases to a set of moments/actions of play. In my experience, I'd call an "instance" to be close to an entire session, minimum. Particularly focused moments or actions could be an instance too, though I think that's getting too "atomic" in most cases. Other people have shorter or longer scales of perception they prefer to stick with.

2) I avoid the word "objective" strenuously. This is my scientific background speaking - the best term is "rigorous," meaning the claim is defensible through a combination of evidence and logic. Not true, not irrefutable, and in fact admittedly possibly wrong - but rigorous given what we know and how we've agreed to argue. (This may or may not be relevant to the tied-up knot, but the objective/subjective thing can be a stumbling block, and it's unnecessary, so I thought I'd remove it.)

3) Your use of "motivation" isn't the same as mine. When I see Bob the Player say, "Yeah! You suck!" and eagerly grab the dice for his turn as his fellow player laughs ruefully, gazing at his failed saving throw, then I recognize one of the many kinds of Gamism in action ... or at least I'm alerted to keep an eye on how the group reacts over the course of the whole session to this sort of behavior. Three rounds later, the two players cooperate like fiends to double-team the troll wizard and a good roll saves their bacon - they high-five each other, and Sam the Player says to the GM, "Yeah! You suck!" and they all laugh, delighted. OK, I say, point 2 for Gamism goin' on here, and keep watching.

To you, I might be talking about "motivation." As with my comments above, that's your privilege and it's OK for you to perceive that. Don't let my claim that I'm not including motivation to confuse you - it does not exclude your interpretation, it simply means that you are free to add it without any input/specs from me.

4) I suspect we may do very well to discuss real examples of real play, and that will help you to see how the model is supposed to be applied.


P.S. Other forms of Gamism exist, many of them quite gentlemanly. I've used this form as an example because the metagame-behavior is so easily identifiable in shorter-scale instances.