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Author Topic: "RPG/GNS Encyclopedia Draft 4a"  (Read 2893 times)
Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« on: November 13, 2002, 03:17:06 PM »

This is a continuation of a discussion started here.  Feedback is being actively sought to help develop this entry.  Any and all questions are welcome, as are suggestions for sub-entries, or revisions to the main title.

This represents work on a edit in progress.

Special thanks to Mike, Seth, MK, Ron, and everyone else without whose feedback in the original thread and e-mail this current draft is unlikely to have been formatted as it is.

Copyright © 2002 C. Demetrius Morgan


Role-Playing and the GNS Theory

by C. Demetrius Morgan

Draft 4a



What is a role-playing game?  It is a often asked question about what many consider to be a little understood hobby, yet role-playing isn’t merely a hobby.  Within a role-playing game play is strictly defined by the sorts of character that players are able to create.  Unlike chess or checkers, where the pawn are fixed and predefined, in a role-playing game the pawns, or rather the “characters”, are dynamic entities within the game environment.  They represent archetypal "persona" which the player is able to "role-play" during the game.

While there exist many dozens of styles of rules systems, the actual style of play wasn't so important in the early days as was the rules of play.  This factor has since changed dramatically within the role-playing game hobby.  It has been said that the biggest problem in the early days of FRP games was in getting gamers to understand the difference between "player knowledge" and "character knowledge", thus the IC (In Character) and OOC (Out of Character) short hand often seen in discussions of game play, which is perhaps how the larger debate of “gaming styles” truly began.  Since those early games the role-playing genre, indeed the rules of play, have evolved.

{{transition, may need to interject something here}}

In order to understand the “Threefold” or “GNS” Theory one must understand role-playing games, their origins, the context in which they are played, and the group dynamic involved amongst the players.  More than that one has to realize that the theory, as a whole, draws upon a rich and detailed background of extant terminology.  Terminology which is not always applied in familiar ways.

History:  For the historian the tale begins in 1915 with H.G. Wells and the publication of a rather unassuming book titled "Little Wars".  A book that would become known for containing the first set of amateur wargaming rules.  Rules intended for use by anyone who owned those once popular lead army men of yesteryear, now long surpassed by the ever present green army men found in most stores toy aisles.

That Mr. Wells found it necessary to provide a codified set of rules for resolution of conflicts which arose in games played with toy army men is proof that, from the very beginning, a debate has waged amongst game aficionados about resolving basic game issues.  Chief amongst these is determining victory conditions, defining styles and methodologies of play, and making these “rules of play” available in a set format.  We take it for granted that our games come with rules, but it was not always so.  In centuries past board games were purchased and the rules of play literally passed on by example, meaning through first hand experience.

Of course it is unlikely that Mr. Wells, or the wargamers who followed, realized that they were ushering in the modern role-playing era.  Yet once such parameters were put into black and white and printed for all and sundry to use it was only a matter of time before game players began to wonder why it should be that units, as a whole, were always destroyed.  After all in real life warfare much could hinge upon sorties made by the individual; be they a soldier, spy, scout, or saboteur.  Thus rules for running individual units were created.  Once individuals were created they ceased to be units.  Thus the players began to associate with these individuals, naming them, giving them traits, which eventually built into personalities.  Yet role-playing games aren’t said to have been created until the mid nineteen seventies.

Of course there were precursors, of a sort.  Many old parlor and diner games could be said to share basic elements of the role-playing experience and theatrical troupes have been taking on roles far longer than the RPG is said to have existed, yet these contained mere aspects of what the true role-playing game entails.  Thus, for the average role-playing game enthusiast, the story doesn’t really begin until roughly 1974 and the publication of Dungeons & Dragons.

Amazing as it may sound role-playing games are not the evolutionary culmination of any singular extant form of game, at least not by conscious design.  Yet role-playing games do contain elements from a myriad number of game forms.  The use of characters, specifically the taking on of character roles, has existed in parlor games and murder mystery games since well before the first role-playing game was printed.  Yet none of these precursors are truly a role-playing game anymore than Chess would be classified as a historical war game, despite the fact few would argue that Chess isn’t the direct precursor of the modern historical war game.

What this comes down to is perspective  and definition.  Such definitions can be easy and straight forward, witness the following:  "In a fantasy game, each player assumes the persona of a particular character, be it witch, warlock, mighty warrior or pious priest...".(1)  This from “Fantasy Wargamming”, a early book upon the subject of role-playing.  Or the explanations can be vague and ambiguous non-starters like: “The very nature of RPGs makes them almost impossible to codify in any exacting terms.”(5)

Oddly enough that last quote comes from the opening paragraphs of a chapter attempting to provide an explanation of how a RPG is played.  When read in comparison to the previous example one might assume this if from some older tome, yet it is not.  The book was published circa 1999 while the previous one circa 1982.  But is the ability to define what a role-playing game is really so impenetrable that some feel it necessary to make statements like, “Getting involved in gaming can sometimes feel like trying to join a secret society.”(5);  or is it merely that the hobby, read the role-playing game itself, has evolved to the point that it now encompass not a single type of game but rather games of a type.  Thus leaving hobbyists racing to catch up with the realization.

Certainly that was the case when Fantasy Wargamming was published.  The facts loudly declare themselves in the terminology employed.  It is, yet isn’t, role-playing jargon.  But this is only because the book was written during the developmental infancy of the role-playing game.  Yet it is the peculiar jargon which readily identifies a game.  Poker has it’s full houses, but use the word “houses” in reference to Monopoly and the meaning shifts dramatically.

I. Role-Playing, Theory and Practice

There are games we play then there is Game Theory.  One is obviously those amusements with which we entertain ourselves, pastimes and hobbies.  Such are games.  Game Theory can seem disingenuous at times because so few of us realize that it exists.  Yet Game Theory is a very real field of study which has both a sociological and economic aspects.  Yet the theory is also about the dynamic interactions of the decision making process, as relates to game models.  Game Theory is a attempt to analyze decision making in conflict situations using statistical analysis, it attempts to measure who is most likely to do what, when, and under what given circumstances.

Threefold Model:  A game model originating in the “rec.games.frp.advocacy” discussion group..  The Threefold model was a attempt to provide a standard reference concerned with categorizing styles of play, as pertains specifically to role-playing games, by “aspects of group contracts”; group contract being the terminology used to refer to the various methods of how a role-playing game could be played.  Per the Threefold Model these aspects of play were grouped into three primary categories: Dramatist, Gamist, and Simulationist.


GNS Theory:  At its core the GNS Theory can be considered a evolved incarnation of the ever present "roll vs. role gaming" debate, yet it is also much more.  It is a model of Role-Playing Game Theory, at least as outlined by Ron Edwards in his essay: "GNS and Other Matters of Role-Playing Theory"(2)- where the GNS model is essentially summed up as the underlying premise native to basic role-playing methodology that refers specifically to the styles of actual play.  The basic premise is also otherwise known as the "Threefold Model"(3).  In order to better understand the GNS Theory one has to understand the basic model, or rather the styles of play as defined by this model.  These styles of play are:

{{}}

I've had some general feedback about this section.  If you have any specific points you'd like to make please quote the pertient text and tell me what needs emending.  This will greatly help future editing of the text.  Thank you.

Gamism (Gamist):  That style of role-playing which stresses direct competition amongst players.  Such games center upon a central "Strategy Profile" for game premise, usually defined by games in which goals or predefined victory conditions are part of the rules.  In the early days of FRPG games this premise was archaically referred to as "roll playing" and typified by a style of play stressing the strict adherence to use of established game mechanics over wandering narrative.
     This style of play is not limited to role-playing games, evidenced by the fact it is also a element of table top war games, traditional board games, and many card games.  Of course as applied to FRP games it is a very distinctive style of play.  One to which much is owed since it is gamist play, as developed within the role-playing environment, and it's rules oriented method of game play, which translates best into static CRPGs.


Simulationism (Simulationist):  Where gamism relies upon the "Strategy Profile" to define a game simulationism relies more upon the interplay of “decision makers” in situational conflicts where “determined objectives” in relation to "Genre Labels", these being the categories which games may be sorted by, are the primary stakes.  Thus simulationism is that style of game play typified by the assumption of predefined roles for the purposes of in-game exploration of roles which sometimes, though not always directly, fall within the pursuit of set objectives.  Thus making this style of play, in part, typical of the sort of role-play closest to the methods used in certain forms LARP gaming.


Narrativism (Narrativist/Dramatist): That style of role-playing in which story telling, or rather the underlying narrative of the game, takes precedence over all other aspects of game play.  At it's extreme Narrativism relies purely upon the interplay of decision making and chance in the form of choices depending from direct player narrative to provide structure and direction within the role-playing environment.  While this method of role-playing has been variously described and defined over the years it must be noted that this method of play holds much in common with early parlor games of the "Murder Mystery" category.  Also very close in nature to this style of gaming, though not directly related to it, are the improvisational exercises used by theatre troupes.
     Visitors to The Forge will probably be aware of Mr. Edwards essay on the matter in which he described this method of play as being "expressed by the creation, via role-playing, of a story with a recognizable theme"(2) (and) as set within one of the classic milieus of the literary genre.  These being easily typified by classic "Genre Labels" such as: Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, and etcetera.


{{above needs further reworking, once done what should follow?}}

{{ of course this part below will be retained }}

1.  From the introduction to "Fantasy Wargamming", page ix.

2.  Mr. Edwards original article may be accessed in full here.

3.  Related articles pertaining to this trefold model of role-playing can also be found at "Styles of Roleplaying" and may also may be found here "Role-Playing Games: Theory and Practice".

4.   pg 20, “The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible“.

5.  Pg 25, “The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible“.


Bibliography

"The Encyclopedia of Games"; ed. Brian Burns, Barnes & Noble, 1998; ISBN 0-7607-1025-2

"The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible"; Sean Patrick Fannon, Game Codex, 1997.  ISBN 0-9674429-0-7

"Fantasy Wargaming"; ed. Bruce Galloway, Stein and Day, 1982. ISBN 0-8128-2862-3

"Hoyle’s Games"; Lawrence H. Dawson,  Wordsworth, 1994; ISBN 1-85326-316-8


Copyright © 2002 C. Demetrius Morgan
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
Seth L. Blumberg
Member

Posts: 303


« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2002, 10:43:10 AM »

The overall style is much better, but I still think you'd be well-advised to limit your mention of the threefold model to a single sentence explaining its historical relation to the GNS model, or else expand on it and give complete definitions of (its version of) Gamism, Dramatism, and Simulationism.

It is particularly important to distinguish between Dramatism and Narrativism, since there has been much acrimony on that subject. Thus, the following sentence is wildly inappropriate:
Quote
Narrativism (Narrativist/Dramatist): That style of role-playing in which story telling, or rather the underlying narrative of the game, takes precedence over all other aspects of game play.

That is, in fact, a good description of Dramatism. It is not an accurate description of Narrativism as defined in GNS. The element of conscious attention to Premise is crucial.

Furthermore, the definition of Simulationism is almost unintelligible. In Threefold, Simulationism is defined in terms of attention to verisimilitude ("realism"); in GNS, it is defined in terms of Exploration as an end in itself. "Determined objectives" and "Genre Labels" don't enter into it.

Lastly, Gamism need not include "direct competition amongst players"; players vs. scenario author, with GM as impartial moderator, is also a Gamist submode (arguably more common that player vs. player).
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the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2002, 10:56:39 AM »

Hi there,

Seth, I agree with your post in full, with one tiny quibble. Instead of conscious attention to Premise, I'd say demonstrated or evident attention.

Best,
Ron
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Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2002, 11:43:56 AM »

Greetings Seth,


Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
The overall style is much better, but I still think you'd be well-advised to limit your mention of the threefold model to a single sentence explaining its historical relation to the GNS model, or else expand on it and give complete definitions of (its version of) Gamism, Dramatism, and Simulationism.


Indeed!  Which is, more or less, what I outlined in e-mail.

Likely what will be done, when next I sit down to work on the entry, is this:

The "Threefold Model" will have each of its stances thumbnailed, so too the "GNS Theory", then and *only then* will I go back to see what, if anything, is salvagable from the text I excised.  With an eye toward including information as a *comparitve* analysis of the two.

Alas, I think I have decided to plow through and expand the entry beyond the initial scope of a purely "GNS" article.  Thus each theory shall be illustrated and put into proper historical context, as relates to the field of role-playing.

What do you think?

Any suggestions for a new entry title?  (Or should I keep it simple and call it "Role-Playing Games"?)

Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
It is particularly important to distinguish between Dramatism and Narrativism, since there has been much acrimony on that subject. Thus, the following sentence is wildly inappropriate:
Quote
Narrativism (Narrativist/Dramatist): That style of role-playing in which story telling, or rather the underlying narrative of the game, takes precedence over all other aspects of game play.

That is, in fact, a good description of Dramatism. It is not an accurate description of Narrativism as defined in GNS. The element of conscious attention to Premise is crucial.

Furthermore, the definition of Simulationism is almost unintelligible. In Threefold, Simulationism is defined in terms of attention to verisimilitude ("realism"); in GNS, it is defined in terms of Exploration as an end in itself. "Determined objectives" and "Genre Labels" don't enter into it.

 
So, my sketch-definition of Simulationism was terrible?  *laughs*

That, sadly, is what happens when you try to scrunch so much into so few lines.  (Well, it's what happens when I try to do it at any rate.)  However, I notice your mention of "Exploration".  Perhaps I should point out that I have rather pointedly been not trying to cover the rest of the terminology, but rather stick primarily to the big-3 while relating them to extant terminology.

I know, my effort was mildly amusing, somewhat appalling, yet had a good thumbnail history of our fine hobby, er, sport.  *smirk*

Will be working to expand what I have.  Maybe provide a more detailed history of role-playing, put the theories into historical context as part of the "Theory" behind the hobby, etc.  Not 100% yet how much i am going to need to do.

Any ideas, suggestions, good chili recipes?


Quote from: Seth L. Blumberg
Lastly, Gamism need not include "direct competition amongst players"; players vs. scenario author, with GM as impartial moderator, is also a Gamist submode (arguably more common that player vs. player).


Well, like I said, I'll probably be taking apart those definitions in a effort to reassemble them into something a bit clearer, context wise.

I would like to keep everything simple, have entries that literally anyone can read and, hopefully, come away with some basic understanding.

Talk of "submodes" and "stances", I think, would only confuse matters for non role-players reading the entry.  But might be good in a essay written for those with a basic knowledge of the "GNS Theory", or even a article.

In fact if all the modes could be outlined, and placed into a article, that might be good essay to do in and of itself.

Has anyone started a thread to identify all the various aspects?


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
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"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri
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