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GNS and Other Matters of Role-Playing Theory, Chapter 3
by Ron Edwards

Chapter Three: Stance

Chapter Two was about what a person wants out of role-playing; this material is about specific acts and moments of role-playing, that is, what a person does. Stance is defined as how a person arrives at decisions for an imaginary character's imaginary actions.
  • In Actor stance, a person determines a character's decisions and actions using only knowledge and perceptions that the character would have.
  • In Author stance, a person determines a character's decisions and actions based on the real person's priorities, then retroactively "motivates" the character to perform them. (Without that second, retroactive step, this is fairly called Pawn stance.)
  • In Director stance, a person determines aspects of the environment relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character's knowledge or ability to influence events. Therefore the player has not only determined the character's actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters.
In most of the stance-discussions, we've considered players rather than GMs because the player:character relationship is usually 1:1 and very intimate. I think that GMs employ stance too, however, that discussion awaits development.

Stance and GNS
Stance is very labile during play, with people shifting among the stances frequently and even without deliberation or reflection.

Stances do not correspond in any 1:1 way to the GNS modes. Stance is much more ephemeral, for one thing, such that a person enjoying the Gamist elements and decisions of a role-playing experience might shift all about the stances during a session of play. He or she might be Authoring most of the time and Directing occasionally, and then at a key moment slam into Actor stance for a scene. The goal hasn't changed; stance has.

However, I think it's very reasonable to say that specific stances are more common in some modes/goals of play. Historically, Author stance seems the most common or at least decidedly present at certain points for Gamist and Narrativist play, and Director stance seems to be a rarer add-on in those modes. Actor stance seems the most common for Simulationist play, although a case could be made for Author and Director stance being present during character creation in this mode. These relative proportions of Stance positions during play do apparently correspond well with issues of Premise and GNS. I suggest, however, that it is a given subset of a mode that Stance is facilitating, rather than the whole mode itself. Some forms of Simulationism, for instance, may be best served by Director Stance, as opposed to other forms which are best served by Actor Stance. Similarly, some forms of Narrativism rely on Actor Stance at key moments.

Consider the previous example of a group who has arrived at the agreement to role-play a vampire-character game, with three members who have radically different GNS and Premise approaches but share a superficial commitment to "story," undefined. What sort of Stances might be most common during play, from each of them? (In this example, each person represents one possible approach within each of the modes, and does not represent the entirety of a mode.)
  • One player is interested in competing, using his or her real-person influence and strategizing about dramatic outcomes to "score higher" than the other players, so he or she spends a lot of time in Author/Pawn Stance.
  • Another is interested in experiencing and Exploring the nuances of the story as it is presented from an external source (perhaps a sourcebook and/or a GM), and spends a lot of time in Actor Stance.
  • The third is interested in generating climactic and conflict-resolving moments derived from his or her character's decisions, and so those decisions are most likely going to be determined from Author Stance (but not Pawn).
Conflicts may well arise among these players as their decisions regarding their characters and expectations of one another disrupt the various goals. Stances and their impact on both the outcomes and experiences of play may be understood as part of the mechanisms of achieving GNS goals.

Let us take pity, though, and suggest that they do happen to share enough Stance preferences, of some sort. They don't have to be exactly alike! Getting the most out of a GNS mode of play does not mean cleaving unswervingly to a Stance, but arranging Stances relative to specific types of scenes, decisions, and moments of play. Again, speaking historically rather than by definitions,
  • A Gamist approach to Stances usually involves preserving the Author-power of Pawn Stance in competitive situations, such that the player is not hampered in the range of possible options.
  • A Narrativist approach to Stances usually involves keeping Actor Stance confined to limited instances, such that Author and Director Stances may generate a lot of metagame impact on the storyline.
  • A Simulationist approach to Stances usually involves designating when Actor Stance, the default, may be exited.
So our vampire-interested players may take individualized approaches to Stance within one of these goal-orientations (or some other GNS-reinforcing conformation). Insofar as those differences facilitate similar goals, and hence cannot be too different in the crucial instances of play, all is well.

Misunderstandings and complications
A great deal of attention and rhetoric is devoted to "in-character" (IC) and "out-of-character" (OOC) role-playing, but I think that this topic is not related to Stance. IC role-playing, at its most literal, means that the role-player is using first-person diction to communicate the character's actions, and OOC role-playing means that he or she using third-person diction. However, that issue and the decision-making aspects of the Stance issue do not precisely correspond. Otherwise-excellent discussions and guidelines can be derailed or muddied by this problem. In the text of Nobilis, for instance, IC/OOC terminology is consistently used to indicate, as far as I can tell, Actor vs. Author Stance.

Another common misunderstanding of Actor Stance is to confound it with "acting" in the histrionic, communicative sense - using a characteristic voice, gestures, and so on. The communicative and demonstrative aspects of "acting" are not involved in Actor Stance at all, which only means that the player is utilizing the character's knowledge and priorities to determine what the character does.

Taking the above two points together, Actor Stance may be seen in the most technical-realist style play (which may use entirely third-person diction) as well as in the most channel-the-PC Turku play (which may use entirely first-person, in-character-voice diction).

Immersion is another difficult issue that often arises in Stance discussions. Like "realism" and "completeness" and several other terms, it has many different definitions in role-playing culture. The most substantive definition that I have seen is that immersion is the sense of being "possessed" by the character. This phenomenon is not a stance, but a feeling. What kind of role-playing goes with that feeling? The feeling is associated with decision-making that is incompatible with Director or Author stance. Therefore, I suggest that immersion (an internal sensation) is at least highly associated with Actor Stance. Whether some people get into Actor stance and then "immerse," or others "immerse" and thus willy-nilly are in Actor stance, I don't know.
The term Audience Stance has been proposed elsewhere, but at this point I am not convinced that the phenomenon exists. It remains as a potential topic for discussion.

Chapter 2: GNS Chapter 4: The Basics of Role-playing Design

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