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Author Topic: Rough categories of Narrativist play/design  (Read 10880 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: September 02, 2003, 01:16:52 PM »

Hello,

I've been discussing some Narrativism stuff with some people, and here's a little snippet, as a preview to the Narrativism essay. I most recently presented these ideas to Chris Chinn (Bankuei) and then decided to move them into public discussion.

I see three main branches of Narrativist game play/design (not ordered within categories):

1. The Window (partly), Over the Edge, Castle Falkenstein, possibly Puppetland - strong setting ("genre") emphasis, relies highly on GM control (hopefully beneficent) of IIEE, liberal Drama resolution; dangerously vulnerable to railroading; I think Soap, InSpectres, and Universalis represent a development in this category of stronger IIEE-structure but retaining the Drama emphasis for resolution. This sort (or rather, the play best promoted by these games) of play asks, What happens? And, then given that the answer to this question is not randomized, What am I trying to say?

2. Prince Valiant, The Whispering Vault, Zero, Sorcerer, Dust Devils, Trollbabe, Hero Quest, Orkworld - very strong reward mechanics design, resolution relies highly on Fortune in the Middle, relationships and motivations are forefront regardless of setting vs. character emphasis; TROS is a "stealth" version of this category. This kind of play centers on, What will I promote and bring into being? What change do I want to effect upon the environment? How will I leave my mark? Where do I make my stand?  

3. Wuthering Heights, Violence Future, My Life with Master, Le Mon Mouri, Otherkind, The Dying Earth - highly strictured behavior/descriptor mechanics, with choice often playing an "against yourself" role for the character. This sort of play (or rather, the play best promoted by these games) says, Things fall apart; the center (I) cannot hold. Then it asks, What bit do I want to hold onto the longest? What, if anything, can be salvaged? Notice that Schism, Urge, and other sorcerer/demon combination versions of the game effectively shift Sorcerer into this category.

Any of these may be funny or grim, shallow or deep, highly affected by external aspects of the fictional world or wholly internal, uplifting or depressing, and so on.

Thoughts, comments?

Best,
Ron
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Green
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« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2003, 02:22:46 PM »

Looking over your branches and then thinking about my own game, Kathanksaya, I'm wondering if maybe another category is needed.  I'm not precisely sure exactly what it is, but at least one of its traits would be the emphasis on character as the medium through which other elements are developed.  Of course, I may be trying to create a broad category for what is in reality a small number of games (or perhaps just mine).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2003, 03:01:00 PM »

Hi Green,

I should clarify that I'm not trying to set up three incontrovertible and fixed sets of Narrativist play, so much as trying to identify historical trends and priorities. It wouldn't surprise me if further categories, or more likely individual games that fit none of these, were identifiable.

I need to go over Kathanksaya (I haven't reviewed it since your first version) before commenting on it specifically, but the variable you've presented - emphasis on character - isn't really related to these categories, I think.

Category #1: Castle Falkenstein derives its conflicts primarily from Setting, Soap from character, and both Universalis and The Window are pretty laissez-faire about where conflict comes from (in terms of the five elements).

Category #2: Hero Quest derives its conflicts primarily from Setting, Prince Valiant from Situation, and The Whispering Vault, Sorcerer, and Dust Devils from Character.

Category #3: Wuthering Heights derives its conflicts primarily from Character, My Life with Master primarily from Setting (the Master being for all intents and purposes the Setting), and The Dying Earth from Situation.

So it seems to me as if it makes more sense to critique your game in terms of Fortune vs. Drama resolution, the uses and nature of Fortune in resolution (if any), the presence and role of personality mechanics (if any), and the role of Director Stance, to see whether it matches any of these or has proceedd in an altogether different direction.

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2003, 03:49:04 PM »

Hey Ron,

Where would you put The Pool?

Paul
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joshua neff
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2003, 05:31:48 PM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
Hey Ron,

Where would you put The Pool?

Paul


In the backyard, between the rock garden & the sauna. Ha!

*ahem* Sorry. Just picking up Jared's slack, since he doesn't post here so much anymore.
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--josh

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Paul Czege
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« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2003, 08:31:13 PM »

In the backyard, between the rock garden & the sauna. Ha!

Ugh. Josh. Get thee to a punnery.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
HMT
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« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2003, 04:06:02 AM »

Quote from: joshua neff
... between the rock garden & the sauna ...


between Scylla and Charybdis?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2003, 05:19:25 AM »

I think that what Ron is saying is that these categories don't include the entire range, and aren't neccessarily mutually esclusive, either. The idea is not to create categories into which every Narrativism facilitating game can be fit, but just to discuss some directions that these games go off into. So, it might be the case that The Pool doesn't fit any category.

With that caveat, it would be #1 for The Pool, if I had to chuck it into one of these categories. The important thing is that there's no real reward system that encourages addressing anything in particular, and the results aren't at all random (in an MoV, the result is entirely at the players whim).

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2003, 05:47:22 AM »

Hi Mike,

Actually, I think The Pool represents a very stripped-down, "essentialized" version of the second category ... if one plays it like I do, with the dice roll dictating success or failure for the stated conflict. If one doesn't, and goes with the "complications" or "narrate how you want" interpretation of both failed rolls and Monologues of Victory, then you're right, it's in the first category.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, The World The Flesh and the Devil goes into the first category.

Edit: also forgot to mention, Extreme Vengeance goes into the third category.

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2003, 06:56:24 AM »

Oh, and I forgot to mention, The World The Flesh and the Devil goes into the first category.

Gak. Why do I have to be in the first category? I want to be in the second category, next to John and Greg :(

Seriously though, in looking over the categories yesterday I was struck by the thought that they hint interestingly at a similarity of outlook among designers categorized together. Specifically, the "meaning of life" to the designers in the third category is identity differentiation; what's important to them is how a person defends and establishes himself in the face of situational adversity. And the meaning of life to the designers in the second category is interpersonal relationships; you are defined by the interactions you have.

But I can't quite put my finger on the meaning of life for the designers in the first category.

Paul
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And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2003, 07:01:35 AM »

Quote from: Paul Czege


Gak. Why do I have to be in the first category? I want to be in the second category, next to John and Greg :(


Gee thanks Paul... ;-)

Quote

But I can't quite put my finger on the meaning of life for the designers in the first category.

Paul


Simple, its all about power and control.  Who has it, who wants it, and how do they get it at the meta level :-)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2003, 09:30:24 AM »

Hey,

Ralph's right. I plan to spend a fair amount of time talking about how play/design in this category is extremely vulnerable to Narrativist powergaming (which is basically railroading by a non-GM).

When that powergaming, and who's "best" at it, becomes the point of play, then the Story Now priority shifts to Step On Up, which is to say a full GNS-Drift to Gamist play, of the hard core variety.

Which is why much Amber play and LARPing tends to look a bit Narrativist-y at first, but is actually solidly Gamist.

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2003, 10:29:42 AM »

Which is why much Amber play and LARPing tends to look a bit Narrativist-y at first, but is actually solidly Gamist.

That's interesting. You've said before that were you to play Nicotine Girls, you think it would be pretty Gamist. Would you put Nicotine Girls in category one?

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2003, 10:37:57 AM »

Hi Paul,

Regarding Nicotine Girls, what I really say (and few notice) is that it's an unfinished game. I can only infer certain things about what it might facilitate and speculate about them. I emphatically disavow any "tag" that people think I've licked and stuck on the current text.

The reason I speculated about its Gamist potential had to do with the players' ability to undercut one another's attempts for their girls to reach their Dreams, and with my reading that play, per character, culminates in a do-or-die shot at the Dreams.

Whether that is actually what the game promotes, or how it gets played, is another question entirely.

Let's say, on the other hand, that aspects of the completed game, some day, instead promote intensive Narrativist play. Given the current approach to attributes and to play in the text, I'd lean toward putting it in the third category.

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2003, 08:30:34 PM »

Given that these three categories are observed historical trends (and not offered as a fixed or complete schema for categorizing Narrativist play), it might be interesting to compare them to another channel historically feeding Narrativist play: Narrativist drift. Especially, Narrativist drift of the most popular game systems (not because they're especially prone to such drift but because they present the most numerous individual opportunities for such drift to occur).

Most of the Narrativist-drifted play I've experienced seems, in retrospect, to fit quite comfortably into type 2. But that could be an artifact of the particular techniques my friends and I have used to get from point A to point B -- particularly, no-myth play as an intermediate step, during which Fortune is retained.

I can see at least the possibility that different routes could lead to the other types. Drifting to Narr play by means of prevalent story points or drama resolution seems like it could lead to type 1, while drifting by way of sweep-the-cards-off-the-table crisis/disaster scenarios could lead to type 3.  

Does any of this accord with others' experiences? Is there any value in looking at Narr design or play from this angle?

- Walt
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