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Author Topic: d20 and narratavism  (Read 6629 times)
MongoosePaul
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Posts: 11


« on: September 03, 2003, 07:06:18 AM »

Not sure if this fits better here or in the GNS forum but given it's not specifically GNS I opted for here.

Ohh and long time reader, first time poster, though I do know Ron and Jake a little from GenCon and email exchanges with the former.

Assuming standard d20 features such as levels, classes, skills, feats and the resolution mechanic, how to make d20 have a more narratavist bent.

My own personal solutions (which may, or may not be featuring in a forthcoming gamebook, or three) are to allow character's backgrounds to have a greater impact on their starting skills. To introduce a passion-based option (up to 3 key focuses of the character that grant a bonus to their dice rolls when pursuing), enhanced use of fate/hero/luck points (not just the adds x die/bonus to your roll as some d20 games have done but everything from max damage to 'change the game world').

Ideally i'm hoping this turns into a discussion on d20 and enhancing the story play aspects through empowering the players more but if nothing else - is d20 with a more narratavist aspect still d20?
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Paul Tucker
joshua neff
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« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2003, 07:31:32 AM »

I'm coming to find that the quickest, easiest way to push narrativism is through relationships. Relationships push drama, relationships push us to deal with thorny issues. Whether it's Sorcerers built in dysfunctional relationship between Sorcerer & Demon (the same goes for My Life with Master, between Master & Minion) or the quantified relationship traits of Trollbabe or HeroQuest. I think you could also view TROS' SAs as relationships, either with abstract concepts or people ("Protect the king at any cost").

So, if you made a d20 game with, say, quantified relationship abilities--bam! You've got a much better shot at pushing narrativism. I love Mutants & Masterminds, but I'd love it more if it had relationship abilities that one could roll on. ("Aunt May is being threatened by Doc Ock? NOOOOOOO! Okay, I'll roll my Protective of Aunt May trait to boost my attack. I've got to save her!") Or to take another example, Babylon 5. Watch Sheridan's reaction when Delenn takes a knife in Season 3 (I can't remember the episode title--the one right after they break from Earth). He goes nuts & beats the crap out of the guy who did it. Game mechanic? Sheridan's Player used his "Loves Delenn" trait to augment his attack against the Earth Loyalist. Earlier in the series, Sheridan risk a whole hell of a lot in dealing with the Shadows because of his relationship with his dead wife. The relationship pushes him to do some questionable things & make some important thematic decisions.

So, yeah, I think a "passions" mechanic would work, especially if it were centered around relationships. But it can't be in the "these traits limit how you act" way, but in the "these traits boost certain actions" way. The passions (& relationships) aren't limits. Narrativist characters have to be able to act against type--Sheridan the Earth Alliance captain has to be able to severe connections with Earth; Superman has to be close to killing Lex Luthor because Lois is threatened; the samurai has to break his own code because of his love for the princess. The "passions" need to drive the character (& back the Player up), not limit them.
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--josh

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Rob Donoghue
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Posts: 146


« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2003, 07:53:03 AM »

Since we're talking d20 specifically, Criss Aylott had a great mechanic for this in Dynasties & Demagogues (which is, to my mind, just about the best piece of d20 support material out there) in the form of personality feats.

The mechanic is simple - you take a thematic feat that has some sort of behavior associatited with it, and when you follow that behavior, you gain an action point (one per session).   The action point can be spent for a roll bonus, or can be turned in at the end of the session for xp for the whole party.  That last bit is genius, since it makes even the most gamist players willing to tolerate non-optimal behavior from their compatriots in the name of role playing because there's a tangible reward for it (for gearheads, the xp reward for a single point is the same as an encounter of a level equal to the party's average level).

There's a sampler of the rules with some example feats in pdf form here.  The only thing I should add is that the common practice (Even by Mr. Aylott, or so I'm told) is to give each character one personality feat for free.

I think it's a nice approach, and while I prefer something like the passions mentioned or Fate's Aspects, it's much less of a step away from the core of D&D, so it's probably an easier sell in some circles.

-Rob D.
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Rob Donoghue
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2003, 08:36:56 AM »

Rob (or anyone who might know), how able were characters to change their Feats using Dy & De? In Fate, you can change Apects any time it's appropriate; is it that easy in Criss' system? Are there any effects to going against your chosen personality?

Mike
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Rob Donoghue
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« Reply #4 on: September 03, 2003, 08:53:46 AM »

As written, the personality feat system did not deviate far from core D&D.  As such, there was no real mechanical support for changing feats - it would be trivial to house rule, but since it's really directed at core D&D players who don't want to deviate too far, how desirable that may be is probably subject to debate.

As written, it's entirely a positive reinforcement mechanic - there's no penalty in going against the personality, just the reward for going with it.  In fact, the feats generally only matter once per session (the first time you use them and gain the reward) - subsequent playing to or against type has no mechanical impact.  This could mean that a committed min/maxer could ignore the personality for the entirety of a session, excepting the one incidence used to get the point. Not great, but sometimes baby steps are better than nothing. :)

All that said, I think it succeeds admirably at its goal (which seems to be provide an advancement path that rewards roleplay without drifting too far from the core of D&D) and provides a nice tool to provide a little narrative depth to D&D without making it too different a game.

-Rob D.
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Rob Donoghue
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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2003, 09:33:07 AM »

Hi Paul,

More key than simple rules modifications would be to introduce the very necessary idea of opening the game up to more player input.  Specifically, the linear or plot path sort of scenario design and GM prep MUST go out the window for Nar to really have a chance to happen.  

You can see very strong Nar games, such as Riddle of Steel and many of the conflicts which people have when they try to apply linear (read: no player input) scenarios to the game, and the system clashes with it, and the usual response is, "It's broken" or "It's unplayable".

So, the main things to cover would be player input, whether we're talking open negotiation for scene set ups(ala Trollbabe) or open response(such as in Scene Framing).  Finally, if the game utilizes some form of alignment system, making it more fluid in the sense of being able to make serious meaningful decisions with players choose to change their alignment...

Chris
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2003, 10:04:38 AM »

Chris, I'm thinking that the player input should be less a matter of techniques like your talking about, and more a matter of mechanics. Because if the idea is to capture D20 players, I think that it's less of a stretch this way. That is, I think you could totally stealth it in with the right mechanics.

Start with the Personality Feat idea. Make sure it's player tailorable. And further, then make them the ONLY way to get Exp. Most importantly, have the only use for Exp being changing and adding these Feats (and name them something else).

Basically replace D&D monsters slaying for levels with the characters' inner demon slaying for personality development.

Head off in that direction, and I think you'd have something that D20 players could grasp and run with.

Mike
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Bankuei
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« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2003, 10:09:42 AM »

Hi Mike,

I'm with you 100% of the way, I'm not arguing against the mechanics supporting it, I'm just saying that the #1 obstacle is the bog-standard method of railroading, which prevents any chance of meaningful choice being made.

Even high powered Nar engines such as TROS runs into problems when people don't grasp that simple concept.

Chris
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2003, 10:29:47 AM »

True. But what I'm saying is that you ought to skip scene framing, and requesting. Instead, do like what I have above. And then in the section on how to build an adventure or whatever, the GM will be told to make open frameworks like towns and Relationship Maps, and that sort of thing. But not to make plot. But definitely to include the Personality Feats in every potential encounter somehow.

Basically a mechanical method for session prep that would result in Narrativist potential, but wouldn't require any new skills whatsoever. Just following the mechanics as written.

So, for example, instead of worrying about the contents of rooms in a dungeon and the challenges these create, the GM is told to create a "personality web" (like a dungeon, it allows you to go where you like as long as it's still related to the web) in which the player has lots of choices, all relating to their personality Feats. Or something like that.

Mike
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MongoosePaul
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« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2003, 10:31:12 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes


Basically replace D&D monsters slaying for levels with the characters' inner demon slaying for personality development.

Head off in that direction, and I think you'd have something that D20 players could grasp and run with.

Mike


We've done away with monster slaying=xp gain in all the new games we've done (insert long list of MP's d20 games). Instead we've gone with storygoal objectives and the achievement of them resulting in experience.

In the game I'm developing at the moment, for varied reasons I'm wanting a far more narratavist approach to 'standard' d20. So, I currently have fate points, which can be spent on everything from inflicting massive damage on an opponent to changing the game world (when under arrest the jailer releases you because he has a grudge against someone else), to changing a character's background (spend a point to rewrite the game so that the bartender is actually someone you saved 10 years ago and will now help you out).

I've also got a good or contextual descriptive action=dice bonus modifier, a system for resolving conflict against low-powered opponents without removing the threat of them entirely (cut through the palace guards to get to the evil vizier without playing out 10 rounds of combat to do so) and also the germination of a personality drive/passion type system.

Now, i'm not wanting to 'rip off' RoS with it but i'm leaning towards a flexible system that the player can adapt over time (no longer thirsting for revenge on DR Z once you've achieved it).  The idea being to add a bonus to the story xp goal for any session in which you don't use your personality drive/passion. Invoking the 'passion' is either automatic (+2 to all dice rolls against the evil slavers band who stole your child) or invoked as mentioned earlier in the thread with the MNM reference.

I still need to work out a way of making the 'trait/passion/goal' more story/background driven and not something a pc picks to be the only one in the spotlight or just for the xp potential.

The inner demon slaying idea would work well for a lot of games and i'm going to pencil that into my mind for something I'm doing next year but doesn't quite fit this specific setting.  

In terms of 'solving' railroading, I see a big chunk of this as being in the 'how to run the game' chapter and the overview chapter. Essentially, talking about the idea of discussing what the players want to do, along with what their characters want to do rather than just throwing things at them whether they want them or not. This is a big aspect of the setting of this particular game because of the source material for it. It's not the only aspect and sometimes railroading can be important but going encounter 1-20 in order is definitely something I don't like in my own games, d20 or not.

One thing I'm looking at for the 'guide to running X' is differentiating between the meta aspect of the game and the micro aspect. The micro aspect being the encounters on the path to the Nar objective the players want. So, the players get to go after the giant ruby in the bank vault, and have some other things get brought into the story, but the method of getting it is still, if not linear, then more set.

Adventures for the game would therefore look more like 'and here are some methods your players might take to accomplish this, with notes on each of them', than 'encounter one, two, three'.

Essentially though, while this particular game might appear to be very much at the heart of d20, it's far more story and character driven than 'typical' D&D and I'm wanting the rules and guidelines to reflect that.

Sorry, overly long reply before dinner
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Paul Tucker
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2003, 11:31:15 AM »

Quote from: MongoosePaul
We've done away with monster slaying=xp gain in all the new games we've done (insert long list of MP's d20 games). Instead we've gone with storygoal objectives and the achievement of them resulting in experience.
Yep, I'm somewhat familiar with some of your modifications. It's not so important that you get rid of killing so much as what you replace it with. Story goals is an idea I've seen a bunch that has some merits (I'm surprised it hasn't come up here more). But it's only Narrativist in some cases, and in some versions it can be downright stutifying. I can't speak to your games, on this, but I would say that you ought to check those particular mechanics out. How often and in what manner are goals changed in your systems?

Quote
In the game I'm developing at the moment, for varied reasons I'm wanting a far more narratavist approach to 'standard' d20. So, I currently have fate points, which can be spent on everything from inflicting massive damage on an opponent to changing the game world (when under arrest the jailer releases you because he has a grudge against someone else), to changing a character's background (spend a point to rewrite the game so that the bartender is actually someone you saved 10 years ago and will now help you out).
OK, big clarification. This is Director Stance empowerment, which, out of context says nothing about Narrativism. That is, Narrativism is often conflated with the ability to affect things outside of one's character, but there's no direct link. Heck, if I can use them for "inclicting massive damage", that sounds a tad Gamist. But it all depends on other context. Like what you get the points for, for one.

Quote
I've also got a good or contextual descriptive action=dice bonus modifier, a system for resolving conflict against low-powered opponents without removing the threat of them entirely (cut through the palace guards to get to the evil vizier without playing out 10 rounds of combat to do so) and also the germination of a personality drive/passion type system.
See, it sounds to me like you are trying to keep the Gamism alive at the same time. It is a Hybrid game that you're leaning towards? Narrativist games might make low powered characters easy to dispatch, but if they do it's probably because they're not important to establishing theme in the game. Othewise this sort of mechanic is merely "cinematic" or something, not particularly Narrativist.

Quote
Now, i'm not wanting to 'rip off' RoS with it but i'm leaning towards a flexible system that the player can adapt over time (no longer thirsting for revenge on DR Z once you've achieved it).  The idea being to add a bonus to the story xp goal for any session in which you don't use your personality drive/passion.
?? You get a potential bonus for not using your dive? I'm not clear on what you're going for here.

Quote
I still need to work out a way of making the 'trait/passion/goal' more story/background driven and not something a pc picks to be the only one in the spotlight or just for the xp potential.
Again, confusing. You want player's to pick traits that work together? Or has some setting link? Is that it?

Quote
The inner demon slaying idea would work well for a lot of games and i'm going to pencil that into my mind for something I'm doing next year but doesn't quite fit this specific setting.
Cool. Thanks. :-)

Quote
In terms of 'solving' railroading, I see a big chunk of this as being in the 'how to run the game' chapter and the overview chapter. Essentially, talking about the idea of discussing what the players want to do, along with what their characters want to do rather than just throwing things at them whether they want them or not. This is a big aspect of the setting of this particular game because of the source material for it. It's not the only aspect and sometimes railroading can be important but going encounter 1-20 in order is definitely something I don't like in my own games, d20 or not.
Talk isn't enough, IMO. Unless you really coach the GM on what they need to tell the players in order that they really nderstand what's being asked, and explain exactly what needs to be asked. It's really problematic, IMO. I very much suggest relying on mechanical methods to solve the problem.

Just as an example, and probably a really bad one, you could list all the PCs Drives on a list and then roll randomly to set up a scene. Then roll again to select a type of Conflict. And then select appropriate NPCs to be involved. Something like that.

Remember that good Narrativist GMing involves getting the players to the Conflict, and letting them make the decisions. So the GM should be informed that he needs to include something player selected in every single scene, and how to refrain from making the decision for the player by accident (much less intentionally). The following sounds a bit backwards:

Quote
One thing I'm looking at for the 'guide to running X' is differentiating between the meta aspect of the game and the micro aspect. The micro aspect being the encounters on the path to the Nar objective the players want. So, the players get to go after the giant ruby in the bank vault, and have some other things get brought into the story, but the method of getting it is still, if not linear, then more set.
Usually in Narrativist play, the player goals are constantly changing. This is the problem with the whole "story goal" thing in most cases. And the GM having any sort of linear plot is completely contradictory to the idea. I'm starting to get the feeling that what you want is some sort of very Dramatic Sim play.

Quote
Adventures for the game would therefore look more like 'and here are some methods your players might take to accomplish this, with notes on each of them', than 'encounter one, two, three'.
That sounds pretty good. Check out Ron's Relationship map examples and other Sorcerer notes for how to write session material for this sort of play.

Quote
Essentially though, while this particular game might appear to be very much at the heart of d20, it's far more story and character driven than 'typical' D&D and I'm wanting the rules and guidelines to reflect that.
Cool. What's the general idea of the game? Or is it under wraps?

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2003, 11:51:03 AM »

Narrativist D&D using d20 rules...cool, someone else looking to do the same. You can check out the threads about my 3E campaign in the Actual Play forum for ideas of how I did it specifically.

Narrative 3E: Real Time & Effects on Play was the last post in that series, with links to older posts. Non-silly D&D was the first in the series.

Another favorite of mine that might help out is Get to the Point: A Minor Revelation.

Keep in mind the game I describe in the above threads is the same game that started out as detailed here Stupid Player Tricks[\url]. Ron's suggestion was to drop the group, but I'm hard-headed and stubborn, and managed to pull it all out of the fire, as evidenced by my later posts about the game.

I'm hoping something in all that might give you ideas about ways to deal with the situation described without using purely mechanical changes. Let me know if there's anything I can clarify for you.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Cemendur
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« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2003, 08:01:31 PM »

This is all from my perspective with limited knowledge of GNS.

Paul, what is your Narrativist design theme?

Judging by your way of using Director Stance empowerment, and your suggestion for a linear plot that supports theme, it is, “power and control. Who has it, who wants it, and how do they get it at the meta level*”.

I realize I may be muddying the waters while panning for gold in assuming that is your theme.

You are using a form of meta-game mechanism, a Direct Stance empowerment (fate points) to support a Narrativist theme of “power and control” which in turn supports simulationist High Concept exploration.  If these fate points are practiced with risk, it is a gamist mechanic; it is exciting for performers with gamist priorities.

So what you have is a gamist mechanism supporting a narrativist theme supporting High Concept exploration. Yes, having a linear plot entails High Concept exploration.

It is my opinion that “fate points” are best  used this way when “fate” is a part of the High Concept.

Until receintly I was playing Rokugan (the Legend of Five Rings for d20). In Rokugan, Metagame mechanics (Void points) support the theme of power and control which in turn support the High Concept Empire of Rokugan. In turn Void is a prominent part of the High Concept Empire of Rokugan.

Not much more to say until the narrativist theme is clarified.

*Quoting from Valamir concerning Ron’s category #1 in “Rough categories of Narrativist play/design“
 http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=7819 )
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"We have to break free of roles by restoring them to the realm of play." Raoul Vaneigem, 'The Revolution of Everyday Life'
MongoosePaul
Member

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« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2003, 06:59:52 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Yep, I'm somewhat familiar with some of your modifications. It's not so important that you get rid of killing so much as what you replace it with. Story goals is an idea I've seen a bunch that has some merits (I'm surprised it hasn't come up here more). But it's only Narrativist in some cases, and in some versions it can be downright stutifying. I can't speak to your games, on this, but I would say that you ought to check those particular mechanics out. How often and in what manner are goals changed in your systems?


The first point to answer is that in the main we don't publish adventures/scenarios. The ones we have feature a range of experience awards from solving riddles, accomplishing short and long-term story goals and general play awards. In the experience explanations it's largely left up to the GM with some guidelines given as to pacing of xp gain.

Quote
OK, big clarification. This is Director Stance empowerment, which, out of context says nothing about Narrativism. That is, Narrativism is often conflated with the ability to affect things outside of one's character, but there's no direct link. Heck, if I can use them for "inclicting massive damage", that sounds a tad Gamist. But it all depends on other context. Like what you get the points for, for one.


My current 'award' of fate points is that they're gained at the completion of stories or story arcs and with notable achievements. I also have an idea for them to be given for resolution of a character's personal goals (the putative, work in progress passion system). The massive damage is just one use - putting the 'change the world' aspect into a more obvious format for your typical dnd players.

Quote
See, it sounds to me like you are trying to keep the Gamism alive at the same time. It is a Hybrid game that you're leaning towards? Narrativist games might make low powered characters easy to dispatch, but if they do it's probably because they're not important to establishing theme in the game. Othewise this sort of mechanic is merely "cinematic" or something, not particularly Narrativist.


Yes, I am. This is still using a number of the d20 icons - classes, levels, hit points (tweaked) armour (tweaked a lot), DCs etc. I'm not trying to rewrite the entire game structure (that's an entirely different project) or invent a new game (different project) but to add to it.

Quote
?? You get a potential bonus for not using your dive? I'm not clear on what you're going for here.


This is something i'm still playing around with. Essentially I see it as follows:

Bob has a 'story goal/passion/personality trait' of 'Revenge: Vengeance on the slavers who killed his family.
George has 'reclaim my position as chieftain of the bandit tribe'. Despite Bob having this as a major goal for his character, the GM is focusing more on George, so Bob gains a small bonus of xp to compensate.

It's still something i'm playing around with - my other idea in style would be to go for two 'passion' type traits, one positive, one negative, the latter having a potential xp reward on it.

Quote
Again, confusing. You want player's to pick traits that work together? Or has some setting link? Is that it?


Ideally, yes - it's something i'm also playing around with.

Quote
Cool. What's the general idea of the game? Or is it under wraps?


Well, the general idea is Sword and Sorcery. The more specific one is that this is the Conan Roleplaying Game and I'm adding more to the game to make it less like 'DnD in Hyboria' - not that the current rules are that. I just want to cram more into it, including introducing d20 players to different gaming ideas.

Quote
So what you have is a gamist mechanism supporting a narrativist theme supporting High Concept exploration. Yes, having a linear plot entails High Concept exploration.


What I have is game system and setting. What i'm trying to do is add more to lessen the linearness and give options to players and games masters who want more than the 'typical' simulationism of the system - or at least change it from the 'normal' a-z.
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Paul Tucker
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: September 04, 2003, 07:39:58 AM »

Hi Paul,

Welcome!! Good to see you here.

My thinking is, based on your goals as stated, you're on the right track regarding resolution (which is to say, rolling for success or failure in various conflicts, in this case). What you've presented is probably sufficient for the goals of "getting the feet wet."

But the responses so far are correct: you're introducing some metagame outcome-effecting power, a means of preserving a character's life (disconnecting "defeat" from "flush character; stop playing"), and some Director Stance possibilities. These aren't, in and of themselves, Narrativist; they're techniques that may empower someone who'd like to play Narrativist, especially if they get socially reinforced around the table.

So let's look at the reward system, which is arguably the most important feature of role-playing play and design, or rather, the component with the most power to reinforce or upset the enjoyment of play. How it relates to everything else (resolution, character creation, etc) is key.

The D20 reward system is ... vague. I have a very hard time telling whether the E.P.'s + level-up paradigm is an obligatory feature of D20, or a customized version of D20 specific to D&D and often carried over to other D20 games out of habit.

I think it's the former, such that if I wanted to publish a D20 game in which everyone starts at "8th level," and just ... you know ... stays there forever, with the reward system being about something else entirely, that would work in legal terms.

I don't want to get into a discussion of D20 and OGL legalities, though. What I'm driving at is trying to understand your design leeway for this or another D20 product in terms of the reward system. If you're stuck with the notion of "gotta level up," then that's pretty limiting. If not, then I have a few subversive notions for you to consider.

Best,
Ron
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