Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Inspectres Narrativist?

Started by Tim C Koppang, October 15, 2002, 08:59:57 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

Tim C Koppang

My question was provoked by this thread:

Let's Talk About "Meaningful" Choice

Now here's the question:

What makes Inspectres a narrativist game?  This really bothers me and I've gone over the GNS article and looked at Jared's ISystem document, but I still can't quite come up with an answer I like.

The problem I see has to do with the nature of the play-structure.  Each session asks the players to solve a mystery; overcome an obstacle.  What's more is that they also have to make sure that their business doesn't tank.  I'd even go so far as to say that a goal of most players would be to increase their business' power over the course of a few games.  There aren't any character advancement rules, but there are business advancement rules?

So isn't that gamist?

I understand that players are allowed to explore conflict in any way they like.  In fact they get a great deal of control over what the conflict will be, but is that enough to make the game narrativist?  I guess what I'm really asking is: what's the premise and how does the system enforce the exploration of that premise?

If the game is just about catching ghosts and running a business then the game is gamist - but I'm convinced that there is something key that I'm missing.  Is it possible that what I'm describing is drift? - or maybe Inspectres is some sort of hybridization?

Ron Edwards

Hi Tim,

Some of your post makes me squint ... most notably the notion that "advancement" automatically means Gamist, which is pretty far out there in the fog.

Anyway, back it up: Narrativism is about Premise, with Premise in this sense meaning an emotionally-engaging problem (even a dilemma).

InSpectres is bluntly and thoroughly about whether you permit your own stress (a) to fuck up the company's functioning because you can't do your job, or (b) to suck up the company's resources while you recover. It's all tied up with the idea of a "startup," which has at its root the assumption that everyone involved will be 110% all the time, and also that no matter what, they'll always be on one another's side.

Real startups rarely permit these assumptions to survive. Neither does InSpectres. Sooner or later, how your character handles the stress is going to be what the game is about, because unless all of them do it, the company goes under.

Just what it means that they succeed or fail, depends on the various circumstances - hence different Themes can emerge about "stress + friendship + commerce."

Emotionally-engaging Premise + multiple possible Themes (results) = Narrativism.


Tim C Koppang

Quote from: Ron EdwardsSome of your post makes me squint ... most notably the notion that "advancement" automatically means Gamist, which is pretty far out there in the fog.
Sorry 'bout that - bad wording.  What I was referring to, and I should have mentioned this, was a statement in the ISystem manifesto wherein Jared cites a lack of character advancement as one of his goals/preferences.  I wrongly associated Jared's preference with Narrativist design.

What I was actually getting at was the idea of the business.  I consider the advancement of the company a major goal of any Inspectres campaign.  If your company tanks then you might consider your campaign a failure.  That to me is Gamist.

Same thing goes for each individual session.  If you (the company) fail to catch the ghost etc, then you have failed and your business will take a hit.  That also seems very Gamist to me.

But then there are also rules like the resolution mechanic, which emphasizes the exploration of conflict - not overcoming obstacles, or winning.  There are also the stress rules as you described in your post.  Both of these seem to reinforce Narrativist goals.

However, I'm not convinced that individual stress levels and their effect on the company is the central issue of the game.  I'm basing this on my own play experiences in which maybe I should have played up stress more than I did, but in those games the players were more interested in the mission and their "success" more than anything else.  That's when I started thinking about Gamism.

I thought that the Narrativist premise only arose in long-term play, when the fate of the business would hang in the balance.  I admit that if the fulcrum for success/failure of the company was the stress mechanic, then the conflict would be based on characters.  In that case, I see Narrativsm.  On the other hand, if the focus is only the business staying above water, then I can envision the players doing anything possible to keep it going = win = Gamism.  You also mention interpersonal conflict and friendship, but these things aren't really enforced mechanically and I don't think it's a hard thing to imagine them fading into the background.

So I suppose I answered my own question in typing all that out, but your comments on stress helped me to get there.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but what you are saying is that the whole thing depends on depicting stress in a more powerful/influential way? - that stress should be the catalyst for themes of friendship, commerce, and ultimately emotional engagement?

Let me end by saying that I really like Inspectres, whatever camp it falls into.  :-)

Ron Edwards

Hi Tim,

I think that you're mistaking "in-game goal" for Gamism. Gamism is about competition among real people. Unless the GM were literally out to keep the players from succeeding at the mission, and if the players were empowered to "stay alive and keep shooting" through their own tactical acumen, then Gamist InSpectres is pretty far out of bounds - at the very least, a number of rules would have to be added and others ignored.

The essence of Gamism is not that there's a goal, or that you succeed or fail, but that one's "wit and savvy" are opposed to someone else's whose goals conflict with yours.

The mission-success issue in InSpectres is only Situation; it's not in and of itself a competitive situation for anybody. Granted, it's fun, and given that players have lots of power to affect its content, clearly a ton of effort will go into constructing it. That's great.

It also might help if we were to specify whether we're talking about InSpectres as written (long-term play, lots of Stress issues) or as it's often played in convention demos (one-session-only, Stress often ignored). I'm focusing on the former. Few Narrativist games reveal themselves as such in a single session of play.


Tim C Koppang


Well then what about D&D?  Where's the competition between real people?  Let me try to answer my own question.  Is it Gamist because the GM is out to get the players, so to speak?

The D&D player is trying to increase his abilities or gain wealth or gain equipment - that's his goal.  The GM is the one who will reward these things to the player and is the one withholding them.  It's the player's job to beat the GM and reap the rewards; that's where the competition stems from.  Yes?

On a similar note, I understand what you are saying about in-game goals.  Every game deals with players and characters overcoming conflict.  Obviously that can't be the standard for Gamism.

Jared A. Sorensen

Quote from: fleetingGlowOn a similar note, I understand what you are saying about in-game goals.  Every game deals with players and characters overcoming conflict.  Obviously that can't be the standard for Gamism.

I'll just jump in to say that in D&D-as-written, the point of the game is to surmount the obstacle (be it through combat or problem solving or puzzle solving). In fact, it specifically doesn't matter how the problem is solved as long as the problem *is* solved.

Contrast that to InSpectres where really, it's more important what happened en route to the solution rather than the solution itself (which can be as simple as, "I rolled a 6. Um, we win."
jared a. sorensen /

Ron Edwards

Hi Tim,

I tend not to answer questions that start with "Well then," for a number of reasons ... but then you did answer the question yourself, which is a good thing.

To clarify slightly, "D&D" is a game text; Gamism as a term is correctly applied to actual play. As written in the early versions and most recently in the latest version, the game text facilitates Gamist play by deliberately stating that the GM and players operate at cross-purposes - the GM to present with "fair challenge" (i.e. the chance for a character to die and to be eliminated from play for a while), the players to match-and-beat that challenge, if they're good enough (the players, not the characters). All of this is placed, rightly, at the feet of the uber-goal to "have fun."

Historically, most of early D&D's rules were developed for tournament play, in which whole groups competed in the identical scenario, run simultaneously with official GMs ("referees"), in order to see which group survived with the most total hit points left and the most E.P.'s earned (kills and loot). The rawest Gamism imaginable. Modern play tends to be somewhat more "fair fight fun" oriented.

"Can" one play D&D entirely differently? Sure. (and some Drift will almost certainly creep in) Does the D&D text suggest or promote doing so? Rarely, if ever, barring the heavy-Simulationist content of the "middle" phase of D&D.


P.S. Hey Jared, looks like you ended up with a GNS debate in your forum ...

Tim C Koppang


I totally agree with you: the way in which the problem is solved in Inspectres is more important than actually solving it.  That's what makes the game so entertaining.  And it's also exactly one of the reasons that I started thinking about this whole mess of an issue - because I was confused.


When I say "Well then," I don't mean it as a provoking comment - it's just me musing.  And as for the rest of your post . . . yes, I see.  I think what was really tripping me up was the idea of Gamism encouraging competition between actual players and not their characters.  Somewhere in my ragged history of exploring rpg theory - in between reading Scarlet Jester's GENder and the rec...advocacy faq - I began to muddle up the different ideas.  In my own way I'm still trying to sort out all the ideas that I've acidentally merged together in my head.

And thanks.

"P.S. Hey Jared, looks like you ended up with a GNS debate in your forum ..."

lol.  Hey, GNS debates should happen in every forum.  ;-)

Ron Edwards

Hi Tim,

Thanks! Makes lots of sense.