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Title: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 10, 2009, 04:43:14 AM
Hi,

Short introduction:
I'm new here, and I came to the Forge because a new player in our group (well, he's been with us for over a year, but the rest of us have been playing for 15 years) pointed me here. He was unsatisfied with the kind of play he got at our group and wants something else. I'm open to something else (I think we should be able to get a lot more out of our RPG experience), some others might be too, so I read a couple of posts and articles on GNS theory, and I still don't understand a thing about it, mostly because the articles are really vague, verbose and use ill-defined terms. I'm looking for examples, and while I understand that GURPS is aimed at Simulatonist play (few other RPGs try to model so many aspects of real and imagined realities with that kind of accuracy), and I suspect old-school D&D is typically Gamist, I still have no idea what a Narrativist system would look like, and I'm completely unfamiliar with all Nar systems mentioned in various places, with one possible exception.

My actual question:
In a few places, I saw Zero mentioned among lists of Nar RPGs. I happen to own Zero. Never played it, mostly because it seems a bit too outlandish in setting. Basically it's Paranoia meets The Borg. All you've known all your live is this underground Hive Mind society ruled by Zero, the queen. Suddenly your telepathic link is severed, and Zero wants you dead. You've never experienced individuality before, and need to develop your own identity while fleeing from and leeching off Zero's society. The mechanics include a really cute mathematical trick that automatically balances all characters (the more you can do, the worse you are at it, and the better you are at the stuff you're not specialised in), which means that characters don't get stronger, they just specialise or diversify in different skills.

So what exactly is so narrativist about this? We're exploring freaky characters, an unusual setting and a weird situation. Sounds like freaky character-driven Sim with lots of room for deep character roleplay to me. It seems related to WoD storytelling to me (creepy setting where freaky characters are wrestling with themselves and their surroundings), but as I understand, that's all Sim.

I would have expected something like Serenity RPG to be a better example of a Narrativist system. It has Plot Points that players can use not just to save their ass or get some bonus on a roll (which many other systems including Shadowrun, CORPS and WFRP have), but also to actually change the story. Introduce a new NPC, a new relationship their character has with someone, mess with relationships between NPCs, etc. I realise Serenity is probably too new to be listed in those articles, but what the hell is Zero doing there?

I hope understanding this will help me understand the Forge lingo a bit better. Because so far, Narrativism sounds like a big contradiction (according to some definitions, it sounds like something really hard and artsy-fartsy, according to other definitions it seems like what lots of roleplayers have been doing for decades counts as narrativism too).

I hope you won't take too much offense at a new guy questioning the big model. I'm just trying to understand what you're talking about, because I do think there might be something useful in there.


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 10, 2009, 11:12:25 AM
Hi there, and welcome!

I'll dive straight into your question because it illustrates a common misunderstanding: it confuses Agenda with Techniques.

All that shit about Plot Points, narration, funky counters you trade around, anything like that, whatever, that people describe variously as "Forge games" or (ugh) "story games" and so on ... all of that is mere Technique. It's not trivial, as I'll explain in a minute, but no Technique is an Agenda, in and of itself.

That's right - you can have a game with all kinds of these wild and non-standard rules where you get to narrate the outcome of a roll if it's Tuesday, but on Wednesday you don't roll dice but bark at the moon to resolve combat ... whatever. And that doesn't make it Narrativist. That game, or more accurately, the way it runs most fun, could be facilitating any one of the Agendas.

Creative Agenda is definitely facilitated by System (best understood as how the various Techniques work synergistically) ... or rather, a given System might be good or bad at doing so ... but the point is that Creative Agenda is something the people playing want to do, not any intrinsic quality of any of the Techniques being employed.

I have a lot to say about Zero specifically (Ralph Mazza always bugs me with the same question), but I want to make sure that this basic issue gets cleared up first. Past experience has shown me that sometimes it requires some extensive dialogue, so let me know what you think.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 10, 2009, 12:01:03 PM
So Zero, despite not having any story-oriented techniques, does facilitate a narrativist agenda more than it does any other agenda? Because if that's so, then how does it do that? How does it do that more than, say, GURPS or Fudge in the same setting?

And if it doesn't facilitate a narrativist agenda, then why is it (only occasionally, I admit) listed among more narrativism-oriented games? And what is it that makes those games better geared for narrativism than others? Because to be honest, I still have no idea what narrativism really is.

What I understand from your articles is that it doesn't have anything in particular to do with narrative, at least. It's either about moral dilemma's, or about "addressing premise", whatever that may be. But I fail to see how Zero does that more than other systems. Or is it about setting? Does GURPS Traveller tend towards Simulationism, whereas GURPS Transhuman Space tends towards narrativism? (addressing various issues like: what the hell makes you human anyway?)


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 10, 2009, 12:24:16 PM
Well, hold on there.

First, I didn't say Zero had no story-oriented techniques. It happens to have few or no techniques that happen to be trendy at the moment, that's all. On a related point, those techniques you're referencing aren't "story-oriented," they're merely aspects of how authority and narration get traded around.

In my experience of play, and so far anyone objecting happens not to have played it, the game's various features including its Techniques do facilitate Narrativist play-goals. I'll talk about that later, as I said. I totally want to answer your question about GURPS and FUDGE; it's the perfect question and I'm not dodging it. But not this minute.

The reason for that is, as you said, you aren't seeing what Narrativism is. That's why I want to talk about it first, rather than zooming into a Zero discussion with confused concepts banging around. If you're fiddly on Zero (having not played it) and fiddly on Narrativism, then it's impossible to discuss it - it's like trying to adjust two dials at once.

So to start with the Narrativism thing ... A lot of people say that Narrativism has "nothing to do with narrative." They are flatly incorrect. I often don't know what they mean when they say that. Sometimes it seems they're confusing narrative with narration, sometimes something else, whatever. With just you and me, here, I say that Narrativist play concerns the core emotional motor of experiencing and creative a narrative. So when you say, "its about moral dilemma or about addressing premise," (which happen to be the same thing, so the "or" makes no sense), that is about making a narrative through play itself.

It's like baking a cake. You can't start with the cake, you start with components and carry out processes that arrive at a cake (and in this case, we don't even know what sort of cake it is, to start). So Narrativist play can't start with a story ready-to-go, or use any processes that lay down a story in an arbitrary way regarding the important stuff. Maybe that's why people say that; maybe they think that if it's about a cake, there must be a cake to see right away.

I dunno; analogies work sometimes in on-line discussion and sometimes not.

One last thing: I don't have the ability to fire messages back-and-forth in units of a few minutes. I'm not avoiding you, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get back to the Forge before tomorrow. I'll pay attention to what you say, and let's focus on the Narrativism thing for now. But I ask some patience in awaiting responses.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 10, 2009, 01:36:52 PM
First, I didn't say Zero had no story-oriented techniques. It happens to have few or no techniques that happen to be trendy at the moment, that's all.

I have no idea which techniques are trendy at the moment, but my impression was that Zero has pretty standard mechanisms, apart from that cute mathematical trick with die multiplication and rolling above or below Focus, and how that inherently balances specialists versus jacks-of-all-trades. But that doesn't sound very story oriented. But I guess I'm overlooking something.

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On a related point, those techniques you're referencing aren't "story-oriented," they're merely aspects of how authority and narration get traded around.

How is narration not story-oriented? "Telling a story" is pretty much the dictionary definition of "narration.

Quote
So to start with the Narrativism thing ... A lot of people say that Narrativism has "nothing to do with narrative." They are flatly incorrect. I often don't know what they mean when they say that.

But... I got that from you! You said, in Narrativism: Story Now: "story can be produced through any Creative Agenda." Webster gives as definition of narrating: "to tell (as a story) in detail ; also : to provide spoken commentary for (as a movie or television show)". I admit story and narrative are not complete synonyms, but they're pretty closely related. So now I'm wondering what subtle distinction you mean.

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Sometimes it seems they're confusing narrative with narration,

Now you're confusing me even more. Narrative is, now that I've got Webster open anyway, "the art or practice of narration", or "something that is narrated (story, account)". So what is there to be confused about? One of them is the process that produces the other.

Quote
With just you and me, here, I say that Narrativist play concerns the core emotional motor of experiencing and creative a narrative. So when you say, "its about moral dilemma or about addressing premise," (which happen to be the same thing, so the "or" makes no sense), that is about making a narrative through play itself.

Moral dilemma is something I understand, and have appreciated ever since I started roleplaying. (Boy, that's a long time ago!) I fully agree that moral dilemma's often make interesting stories (though not always, and it's not the only way to get there), but now I'm wondering what's so special about it that it requires special facilitation by the system. I've encountered lots of excellent moral dilemma's in systems I'd consider highly Sim or Gam, like Traveller, GURPS or D&D.

Zero, on the other hand, seems (to me) to be mostly about survival and self-discovery. I don't see a lot of room for moral dilemmas there.

Quote
It's like baking a cake. You can't start with the cake, you start with components and carry out processes that arrive at a cake (and in this case, we don't even know what sort of cake it is, to start). So Narrativist play can't start with a story ready-to-go, or use any processes that lay down a story in an arbitrary way regarding the important stuff. Maybe that's why people say that; maybe they think that if it's about a cake, there must be a cake to see right away.

I dunno; analogies work sometimes in on-line discussion and sometimes not.

I don't know either. I do agree that roleplaying is about the process, not the end result. Or maybe the ideal end result is establishing a good and satisfying process that works for that particular group. Something like that.

Quote
One last thing: I don't have the ability to fire messages back-and-forth in units of a few minutes. I'm not avoiding you, but I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get back to the Forge before tomorrow. I'll pay attention to what you say, and let's focus on the Narrativism thing for now. But I ask some patience in awaiting responses.

Take your time. I'm in no particular hurry, and I prefer a thorough answer over a quick one.


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 10, 2009, 03:22:18 PM
Browsing around on the forum, I noticed that replying to individual sentences is frowned upon according to local etiquette, and may be seen as a flame. I'd like to point out that my previous post is in no way intended as flame. I'm just trying to be really explicit about what I'm confused about, hoping that that will enable you to explain it to me more clearly.

In the end, all I want from this thread is to understand what you mean by "Narrativism", and how it differs from several styles of play that I think are Simulationism, so I may understand what the "new guy" in my group really means when he says he doesn't like Sim at all and wants to try Nar instead.


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: Per Fischer on February 10, 2009, 03:23:51 PM
Hi mcv :)

I'll throw in a comment or two while Ron is away, hope that's OK - and may I add the wish that this thread could incorporate some "Actual play" instead of purely speculative?

One of the many points in the Story Now essay is that the fact that you are able to tell what went on in the game's fiction as if telling a "story" afterwards, doesn't give you any clues about what kind of agenda the participants were engaged in while playing. If you're saying "Narrativism = story outcome" you're missing a vital point.

The core thing is that when you engage play with this agenda, you create that story through play. The story is not pre-planned or laid out before playing through it , hence "story now". Play becomes a proces, a creative proces, or as Ron puts it: concerning "the core emotional motor of experiencing and creating a narrative". I think that's rather nicely put, and describes pretty welly what exites me about play.

I don't know if that's helpful, mcv, but I think the above is a necessary starting point before you can ask or nvestigate why a particular game supports one agenda or the other.

I do understand your connfusion over Ron's distinction between "narrative" and "narration", I'm struggling with that as well. I'm sure there was a thread here somewhere where the difference was explained, but I couldn't find it. Help?


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 11, 2009, 01:48:30 AM
Hi Per,

That narrativism isn't the same as story, I already got from Ron's article. What confuses me is that narrativism apparently is about narrative, or possibly narration, and I don't understand the distinction.

Creating a story through play sounds more meaningful, but is that necessarily the same as focusing on moral (or other) dilemmas in play? I have my doubts. I think in any RPG where players have a lot of freedom and are willing to use it, story is created through play. And that includes quite a lot of what I understand to be Simulationism. Then again, what I understand to be Simulationism is extremely broad, and I'm starting to get the impression that that includes Narrativism.

From what I understand from GNS and Other Matters of Roleplaying Theory (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/1/), Simulationism is focusing entirely on Exploration. Celebrating it, even. And one of the five aspects of Exploration is Character. This leads me to believe that "deep character roleplay" is Simulationism. And yet deep character roleplay can lead to exciting story, conflict and moral dilemmas.

In order to avoid discussing another badly understood term, I guess I should offer a working definition of "deep character roleplay", so here's mine: It's seeing your PC not as a sort of avatar of yourself in the game world, but as an independent person with its own personality, world view, beliefs, goals, etc; and in play trying to do justice to that character, its personality, beliefs, goals; and trying to get inside its skin, instead of merely using him as a set of stats with which to interact with the world.

Of course there are still many ways to go about this. One of the pitfalls is getting so involved in that character that you forget to share it with the other players. In another thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27205.0), Big J Money seems to have an inflexible deep character roleplayer that doesn't share, and that causes problems with the other players who just want to get on with the challenges ahead.

To insert some actual play (as per your request) into this discussion, one particularly intense session was the result of two character roleplayers with very incompatible characters going head to head. It was a one-shot, and the GM had designed all three characters (I think it was a try-out for CORPS, a system we were enamored with at the time): a Mad Max type, a Victorian Mad Scientist, and a Wizard from a fantasy world. I played the mad scientist, the other character roleplayer (an excellent roleplayer, but dominant personality, he enjoys making his own plans or messing with those of others, and has a tendency towards being a Prima Donna) played Mad Max, and the third player (more of a casual player) played the wizard. Wizard and Mad Scientist were teleported to Max's post-apocalyptic world where apparently there's some sort of problem caused by scientifically minded people. Mad Scientist was supposed to be the perfect guy to find the solution.

Instead, Mad Max and equally Mad Scientist had a serious personality clash that derailed the whole thing. It started with "Oh, you're a doctor? We could use a medic here", escalated with Max insisting he explore the bad guys' lair on his own, Scientist following him anyway, falling and breaking his legs, and Max leaving him there, and ended with shots being exchanged and Mad Scientist joining the bad guys, because they at least respected Science.

It was by far the most intense RPG session I've ever seen, and then some. Not something I'd like to repeat for two big reasons:

1. There was a third player. He had a character too, but was completely overshadowed by the escalating conflict between two stubborn character roleplayers.
2. When it was over, I needed to remind myself that these were my friends that I liked to play with, and I didn't want to kill them at all.

The fact that we completely derailed the GM's plans is of little importance to me, but a session that's closer to scary than fun isn't good, and the third players needs a chance to play too. Instead, his wizard's role was crushed between the huge lumbering personalities we created out of the other two characters. We did, however, get plenty of story and moral dilemma, and it was all player generated, directly resulting from play itself. That and the immersion is something I'd love to see more often in our group. Just without those two problems.

So is this Narrativism? Accidental Narrativism? Narrativism coming from Simulationism? Or does it have nothing to do with Narrativism at all?

And what does that mean about deep character roleplaying? Is it Simulationist, Narrativist, or a bit of both? Or does that distinction even matter?

(Two other, more practical issues are: how can we get this level of deep character roleplay more often, and most importantly: how do we keep it from overshadowing "shallow" character roleplayers? But I think that would deserve a thread of its own.)


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 11, 2009, 07:40:08 AM
mcv,

Here's something that made things click for me:

So, make up a character.  He wants something, k?  Something concrete or abstract or both, but it's something.  Put obstacles between him and that something, and have him take action to try to overcome those obstacles.  Make sure his actions stem from who he is as a person, whether that means following his personal tenets, breaking from them, or some combination thereof.  Gradually escalate and complicate this conflict, until it comes to a head and the situation finally resolves in some manner (i.e. for better or for worse), due in some part to the protagonist's actions.

If you do that, whether in your head or on a piece of paper or in a roleplaying game, you just created a story.  In that process, you also addressed a Premise, and your story thus expresses a theme.  Whether you meant to or not.  And this can happen in Narrativist play, Simulationist play, and Gamist play.  The difference is, is that the fun part?

A good trick to tell what you've got is, where did the protagonist's thematic decisions come from?  When I say "thematic decisions," I mean all decisions that led to the situation's resolution and had an impact on the nature of that resolution.

So, here's some sources of thematic decisions that are not Narrativism:

1.  Frontloaded by another person.  Usually the GM, as in he preps the adventure and we play along.
2.  Frontloaded by the game's design.  kill puppies for satan is my go-to example for this one.
3.  Frontloaded by character.  Like when we play D&D with strict adherence to alignment.  "My guy's Chaotic Good, so he's going to break laws to benefit others whenever he gets the opportunity;" doing otherwise would be a breach of contract.
4.  Frontloaded by motifs and tropes.  "This is what happens, because this is what would happen in Star Trek."  Also known as pastiche.

Here's where thematic decisions come from in Narrativism:  the character's player.

Does that help at all?  Hopefully I have not muddied the waters.
-Marshall


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 11, 2009, 08:17:14 AM
That definitely helps a bit, Marshall. But I'm not out of the woods yet.

So, here's some sources of thematic decisions that are not Narrativism:

3.  Frontloaded by character.  Like when we play D&D with strict adherence to alignment.  "My guy's Chaotic Good, so he's going to break laws to benefit others whenever he gets the opportunity;" doing otherwise would be a breach of contract.
(...)
Here's where thematic decisions come from in Narrativism:  the character's player.

Depending on how I interpret this, there seems to me there's a big gap between these two, and I'm in that gap. Or I fit one or the other, I'm still not sure.

You say one comes from the character's player, which gives me the impression that it's about me, rather than my character's personality. But the other is about a game mechanic. That's what alignment basically in D&D. Not a very good one IMHO, and I really don't like using alignment as a shortcut for a real personality. There's millions of different personalities that would count as Chaotic Good in D&D, yet they'd all react differently to a variety of situations. And there's milions more personalities where it's not obvious if they're Chaotic Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Neutral, or something else entirely. Witness the many "What alignment does Batman (or whoever) threads on various forums.

I don't want to make decisions based on alignment, but I also don't want to make decisions based on what I would do in a situation. I want it to be my character who makes the decision. I mean, sure, he's just a figment of my imagination, but he's real in my head, and I've asigned him a personality of his own, distinct from mine. I want to think: What Would Bob the Barbarian Do? when I make a decision. That's what I call "deep character roleplay", and I still don't know whether that counts as Sim or Nar in the GNS model.

My take on this (so far) would be:
Gamist decision: My guy has alignment X or disadvantage Y, therefore I must do Z. (But if  had any freedom in the matter, I'd take the most profitable option.)
Narrativist decision: I think doing Z would be interesting/fun/dramatic/whatever.
Simulationist decision: Considering Bob the Barbarian's unhappy childhood, his principled stand on X, and his weakness for Y, I think action Z is most appropriate for him.

But is that what the agendas really mean? Or am I still mixing stuff up? Is Narrativism about making decisions that suit the character from the character's perspective (which is what I usually try to do), or is it about making decisions that make a cool story?


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: John Adams on February 11, 2009, 08:40:11 AM
That narrativism isn't the same as story, I already got from Ron's article. What confuses me is that narrativism apparently is about narrative, or possibly narration, and I don't understand the distinction.


Hi MCV. Those terms have some local definitions, or at least specific usage here on the Forge.

Narrativism = one of three Creative Agendas

Narration = Talking (in the context of role-playing). "I command my demon to teleport to the other side of the door and unlock it" is narration. The word is usually used when talking about who gets to say what, when; and is related to Authority, who gets the final say over certain things being true in the fiction.

Narrative = I think Ron's using that in the Webster sense. Story, fiction.


Definitions are messy things but I've found that when discussing role-playing it's very easy to get tripped up on words, people think they understand what you're saying but half the time they don't.

You and I come from a very similar place, I think, so let me share a bit about my experience at the Forge and RP'ing over the last few years.

I read the articles and thought I understood Creative Agendas. I didn't. Then I got my long time Sim group to play Capes which is about as un-Sim as you can get. It takes it's Creative Agenda (Nar supported by Gam) and hits it with a nine-pound hammer. It isn't subtle. I tried to make sure we followed the rules as written, but we screwed up as often as not. Didn't matter, we got close enough to "get it" or at least to understand that this was a completely different kind of game than we usually played. One of my friends exclaimed afterward "but that was NOT ROLE-PLAYING!!!". That's what a new Creative Agenda feels like the first time.

Ever play with someone who just wanted to win? You wondered if he really understood what role-playing was all about, right? That was Gamism. It's fun and it's just as valid as the kind of play you and I usually do. The two Agendas just don't usually mix very well.

So what does Nar "feel like"? It's story, ON PURPOSE.

Contrast with deep Exploration of Character (where you're really into your PC) where you make decisions based solely on what you feel in the moment the character would do. Nar turns the whole thing upside down. You start with "here's what I want to say" and design a character who must, who cannot possibly escape, engaging that question. Story, but on purpose, front and center all the time.

Contrast the kind of story that often came out of my Sim games with Story Now. I'd call most of my Sim stories "water cooler stories"; stuff happens and it might be amusing but there usually isn't a Theme in the Lit 101 sense. Story Now stories are all about creating Theme. When I tried to impose a Theme on my Sim game (as the GM) it felt like a square peg in a round hole and I usually had to decide between using Force to push the PC's where I needed them to be in order for things to turn out "right" or letting the players, you know, play their characters and to hell with the story. A good Nar game produces a story with a Theme working with the players, you just don't decide before hand exactly how those big questions will be answered.

You can achieve a Nar Creative Agenda using "Sim game". Most of the Techniques will be very similar. But not all. And the purpose behind how and when you use those Techniques will be completely different. You'll run into some common game-related questions and the answers will be completely different because your goals are completely different.

One more contrast. When Luke destroys the Death Star at the end of Star Wars the story and its theme demand that all of those little details line up at exactly that moment. It must happen that way or the story sucks and the Theme goes "poof!". Luke must be the one to fire the shot. He must hit, despite it being an hard shot. He must turn off his targeting computer first. R2 just got fried and can't help him. His human friend, Han, did just help him by getting Vader off his ass.

Lining all of that up is directly at odds with the Sim ideal of "being there" and the internal consistency it usually demands. Either R2 got fried or he didn't based on the die roll and whatever modifiers we use. Han would only get there in time if the Millenium Falcon could in fact fly fast enough, and we might argue about exactly how far he had to go. In my games at least, I would insist that Luke could MISS, which kills the Theme dead in its tracks. Now in some campaigns I would really, really want my story to go just this way and fudge it so that Luke must hit. We'd pretend, more or less, that of course Luke could have missed and wasn't it just so cool that he hit that all important shot. That's not Nar. That's GM-driven Theme in a Story Before Sim game.

Playing Nar I can't script exactly what will happen in advance and I don't need to. All of the characters are set up in such a way that Theme is pretty much going to happen, all we need to do is play. How System can facilitate this is the topic of a great many threads here on the Forge.


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But is that what the agendas really mean? ...  Is Narrativism about making decisions that suit the character from the character's perspective (Nope, that sounds like Sim), or is it about making decisions that make a cool story?

That last part is very close. When the overall goal of the whole group is to "make a cool story" (with a Theme) and you actually sit down and do it, then you have reached your group's Creative Agenda, which is Narritivism. I phrase it that way to emphasize that it's what actually happens in play over time that matters.

In discussions like this that sounds so nebulous. It's easy to pick specific moments where you think you can see the Agenda at work, but those moments are not themselves the Creative Agenda. Stringing lots of those moments together over time as a group is what makes your Creative Agenda.


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: lumpley on February 11, 2009, 11:51:32 AM
I don't want to make decisions based on alignment, but I also don't want to make decisions based on what I would do in a situation. I want it to be my character who makes the decision. I mean, sure, he's just a figment of my imagination, but he's real in my head, and I've asigned him a personality of his own, distinct from mine. I want to think: What Would Bob the Barbarian Do? when I make a decision. That's what I call "deep character roleplay", and I still don't know whether that counts as Sim or Nar in the GNS model.

Hey, MCV.

Story Now play can easily include deep character roleplaying, but it doesn't require it.

Right to Dream play can easily include deep character roleplaying too, but also doesn't require it.

By itself, deep character roleplaying doesn't point to any creative agenda over the others. It's a technique that has its place within any of them.

-Vincent


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: FredGarber on February 11, 2009, 12:40:28 PM
To chime on on the Star Wars Example, if the Conflict (and maybe the dice roll) at the end of the Death Star trench is "Will Luke use the Force to hit the exhaust port and blow it up, or will he use the targeting computer to hit the exhaust port and blow it up.", then you have a Nar game.  Whether or not he succeeds in blowing it up might never be in doubt (like it would in a Gamist or Sim game).

I feel that Character Exploration is more about "How does my avatar's character, his personality, feel about issue X."  It's internal, and how you respond doesn't change the challenges or the behavior of the character.  Narrativist play tends to be more "Given that the GM has just forced Choice X or Choice Y (or Choice Z, doing nothing) about Issue X for me, how do I respond?"  It's external, and how you respond determines what happens in the story.  But you are right, the difference is very subtle between Deep Immersion Character Exploration and Narrativist Play.

"Narrative" creative agendas, by the way, got it's name when it used to be called "Dramatic" need, but got changed.  "Dramatic" had too many connotations with particular style of play.  When the word Drama got used to describe a certain type of technique (instead of rolling dice, whoever has authority describes what happens.), the name changed.  Now that "Narration Rights" from Authority issues has entered the jargon, the term is all confusing again.

That said:  The way I finally understood it is that Creative Agenda (Nar / Sim / Gam), despite the word "Agenda" right there, is all about game theory and not about practical application.  Practical application, in my head, needs the feedback from a session.  If you are rewarded (by the game mechanics or by the group) for stepping up to the Challenges? You've played a Gamist game.  If you went into the game saying "I want to be rewarded for playing Narrativist," then you have Dissonance.  If you are rewarded (either by the game mechanics or the group) for addressing Premise?  Then you are playing a Narrativist game.

Also yes: games based on TV shows (like Serenity) are often good vehicles for Narrativist Play.  Unfortunately, they tend to be designed around a Gamist/Sim bias: Unless your group is created to be a rag-tag band living on the frontier fringes of a civilized universe, taking whatever jobs they can to stay free, then there isn't really a whole lot of rules to the rule book.  What if the game was designed around, instead of a Guns rating, Jane has a Loyalty rating, and the dice roll isn't whether or not Jane can successfully shoot the Alliance guy kidnapping River, but does he shoot the bad guy or give in and turn over River?  It'd be a very different sort of character sheet.

-Fred


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 11, 2009, 01:02:25 PM
I read the articles and thought I understood Creative Agendas. I didn't. Then I got my long time Sim group to play Capes which is about as un-Sim as you can get. It takes it's Creative Agenda (Nar supported by Gam) and hits it with a nine-pound hammer. It isn't subtle. I tried to make sure we followed the rules as written, but we screwed up as often as not. Didn't matter, we got close enough to "get it" or at least to understand that this was a completely different kind of game than we usually played. One of my friends exclaimed afterward "but that was NOT ROLE-PLAYING!!!". That's what a new Creative Agenda feels like the first time.

That's interesting. Our "new guy" also had us play Capes half a year ago. Didn't trigger my roleplaying-button at all. Also, I don't think we had a theme or moral dilemma we were addressing, so I guess we were playing pure Gamist? It felt like a somewhat story-oriented game that wasn't an RPG. A bit like Once Upon A Time, I think, but with more mechanics (although it's been years since I played that; all I can remember about it is that the guy with the longest beard begins). But when I hear "Gamist", I think D&D focusing on killing the monsters and looting their stuff, getting XPs, leveling up, and finding an optimal build. That is something I do recognise as roleplaying, just not my kind of roleplaying.

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Ever play with someone who just wanted to win? You wondered if he really understood what role-playing was all about, right? That was Gamism. It's fun and it's just as valid as the kind of play you and I usually do. The two Agendas just don't usually mix very well.

To me, winning and roleplaying just doesn't belong together. You don't win life. Stories aren't won either. My understanding of Gamism was about beating the challenges the GM throws at you, resource management, building the most powerful character, that sort of stuff. Can be fun, but doesn't strike me as as deep or meaningful as a more realistic approach to the world and the characters. And while it can be mixed, it tends to make the whole game shallower and sliding towards Gamism. At least my kind of gamism. I'm not sure if that fits in your definition of gamism.

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So what does Nar "feel like"? It's story, ON PURPOSE.

Contrast with deep Exploration of Character (where you're really into your PC) where you make decisions based solely on what you feel in the moment the character would do. Nar turns the whole thing upside down. You start with "here's what I want to say" and design a character who must, who cannot possibly escape, engaging that question. Story, but on purpose, front and center all the time.

So to get back to my decisions:
Simulationist decision: Considering Bob the Barbarian's unhappy childhood, his principled stand on X, and his weakness for Y, I think action Z is most appropriate for him.
Narrativist decision: I think it would make a good story if Bob the Barbarian did Z. Or even: to get to what I want to say, Bob needs to do Z.

Is that what you mean?

Actually, you mention designing a character. I sometimes do have some theme or engaging question in mind when I design a character, but once designed, I play him (almost) entirely from  the character's own motivation, rather than mine. If I did my work right, the theme or question will come out. But what I'm doing is still mostly Sim, I think.

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Contrast the kind of story that often came out of my Sim games with Story Now. I'd call most of my Sim stories "water cooler stories"; stuff happens and it might be amusing but there usually isn't a Theme in the Lit 101 sense.
I like the description "water cooler stories". And I agree, most of my campaigns have been like that. But they haven't been pure Sim, IMO. They've always had a layer of (what I consider) Gamism. And some Sim games do result in a pretty exciting, dramatic and unexpected story, like the Mad Max-Mad Scientist trainwreck I described above. We didn't start with a theme, but I guess a theme emerged about cultural differences and irreconcilable world views or something like that.

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Story Now stories are all about creating Theme. When I tried to impose a Theme on my Sim game (as the GM) it felt like a square peg in a round hole and I usually had to decide between using Force to push the PC's where I needed them to be in order for things to turn out "right" or letting the players, you know, play their characters and to hell with the story. A good Nar game produces a story with a Theme working with the players, you just don't decide before hand exactly how those big questions will be answered.

But what exactly is the difference in actual play? Do you agree on a theme or some big questions beforehand? Does every player agree not to focus on playing their own characters, but to focus on getting their characters to address those big questions somehow? Because if you don't, I can't really see how you can get to answering those questions. And if you do, aren't you basically limiting the freedom, scope and/or focus of your character? (Maybe that last sentence only means something to a die-hard simulationist.)

And what about moral dilemmas? Ron said Narrativism is all about moral dilemmas, but you can easily address moral dilemmas in character-driven sim-games. I suppose players (or their characters) can decide to avoid those dilemmas or choose the easiest way out, whereas in a narrativist game, they all agree to face the moral dillemas head on?

And should you do agree in advance on what the moral dilemmas are going to be? I guess my problem is that I still have some trouble seeing how Narrativism would work out in practice. How to pull it off, what to agree on in advance, how each player should play, that sort of thing.

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One more contrast. When Luke destroys the Death Star at the end of Star Wars the story and its theme demand that all of those little details line up at exactly that moment. It must happen that way or the story sucks and the Theme goes "poof!". Luke must be the one to fire the shot. He must hit, despite it being an hard shot. He must turn off his targeting computer first. R2 just got fried and can't help him. His human friend, Han, did just help him by getting Vader off his ass.

Lining all of that up is directly at odds with the Sim ideal of "being there" and the internal consistency it usually demands. Either R2 got fried or he didn't based on the die roll and whatever modifiers we use. Han would only get there in time if the Millenium Falcon could in fact fly fast enough, and we might argue about exactly how far he had to go. In my games at least, I would insist that Luke could MISS, which kills the Theme dead in its tracks. Now in some campaigns I would really, really want my story to go just this way and fudge it so that Luke must hit. We'd pretend, more or less, that of course Luke could have missed and wasn't it just so cool that he hit that all important shot. That's not Nar. That's GM-driven Theme in a Story Before Sim game.

Playing Nar I can't script exactly what will happen in advance and I don't need to. All of the characters are set up in such a way that Theme is pretty much going to happen, all we need to do is play. How System can facilitate this is the topic of a great many threads here on the Forge.

But how do you ensure that Luke will make that shot? Many Simulationist games also have plenty of mechanisms that increase the chance you'll succeed when it really counts. CORPS has ass-save-points, Shadowrun2/3 has dice pools and karma, Shadowrun4 has Edge. Hell, even GURPS has extra effort, although that's perhaps a bit too realistic to count. Serenity RPG (not sure if that's a Sim or a Nar game) allows you to use Plot Points that can guarantee success even after you missed (unless you missed by such a big margin that you don't have enough Plot Points, which means you'd better do lots of cool stuff or suffer from Complications in order to earn enough Plot Points for the big finale).

But all of that had little to do with moral dilemmas. In fact, Star Wars (the original movie had least) didn't really have a lot of moral dilemmas, did it? It's plain Good vs Evil.

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But is that what the agendas really mean? ...  Is Narrativism about making decisions that suit the character from the character's perspective (Nope, that sounds like Sim), or is it about making decisions that make a cool story?

That last part is very close. When the overall goal of the whole group is to "make a cool story" (with a Theme) and you actually sit down and do it, then you have reached your group's Creative Agenda, which is Narritivism. I phrase it that way to emphasize that it's what actually happens in play over time that matters.

So now we have:
1. Moral dilemmas
2. Everybody makes decisions based on what makes the best story (according to a theme)
3. Luke needs to hit that deathstar

Is that it? Do I need all three to have Nar? What do I have when I have only one? Because I still get the impression that the line between (my kind of) Sim and Nar is really fuzzy. Really, really fuzzy.

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In discussions like this that sounds so nebulous. It's easy to pick specific moments where you think you can see the Agenda at work, but those moments are not themselves the Creative Agenda. Stringing lots of those moments together over time as a group is what makes your Creative Agenda.

So mostly you balance between different Creative Agendas? Alternate bits of Sim with bits of Nar or Gam? Ofcourse then you have the problem how to get everybody to do Sim or Nar at the same time. I suppose it can be frustrating if one player spots a perfect opportunity for a great twist in the story, and another decides to maximise his profit from that scene (which is a bit how I've come to interpret gamism, I think).


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 11, 2009, 01:29:34 PM
To chime on on the Star Wars Example, if the Conflict (and maybe the dice roll) at the end of the Death Star trench is "Will Luke use the Force to hit the exhaust port and blow it up, or will he use the targeting computer to hit the exhaust port and blow it up.", then you have a Nar game.  Whether or not he succeeds in blowing it up might never be in doubt (like it would in a Gamist or Sim game).

Thanks! This really makes it a lot more clear. It's not about whether he hits or misses, it's a choice between relying on proven technology or putting his faith in a hokey religion. That's the dilemma here. (Not sure if it's a moral one, but it's definitely a dillemma.)

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I feel that Character Exploration is more about "How does my avatar's character, his personality, feel about issue X."  It's internal, and how you respond doesn't change the challenges or the behavior of the character.
Or his personality, for that matter. I can see where you're going.
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Narrativist play tends to be more "Given that the GM has just forced Choice X or Choice Y (or Choice Z, doing nothing) about Issue X for me, how do I respond?"  It's external, and how you respond determines what happens in the story.  But you are right, the difference is very subtle between Deep Immersion Character Exploration and Narrativist Play.
The comprehension that suddenly seems to break through suggests that in Nar, you let the decisions in the game shape your character's personality, whereas in Sim, the personality shapes the decisions. Is that (part of) it?

In Sim, characters can grow and change too, ofcourse, but it's not a focus of the game. It's just something that happens. Slowly. You wake up, and you realise your character isn't the same person he was at the start of the campaign. In Nar, it's at the end of the session that you realise he's changed. This is a really interesting angle that I think I can work with.

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"Narrative" creative agendas, by the way, got it's name when it used to be called "Dramatic" need, but got changed.  "Dramatic" had too many connotations with particular style of play.  When the word Drama got used to describe a certain type of technique (instead of rolling dice, whoever has authority describes what happens.), the name changed.  Now that "Narration Rights" from Authority issues has entered the jargon, the term is all confusing again.
From an old Threefold Model FAQ I got the impression that simulationism isn't quite what it used to be either. Words, meanings and distinctions change, and that makes this all very confusing. But I think I just got something really useful out of this, thanks to you.

Whether it's really what you mean by Narrativism, having personalities shaped and changed by decisions instead of the other way around is definitely something I intend to try in my group.

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That said:  The way I finally understood it is that Creative Agenda (Nar / Sim / Gam), despite the word "Agenda" right there, is all about game theory and not about practical application.  Practical application, in my head, needs the feedback from a session.  If you are rewarded (by the game mechanics or by the group) for stepping up to the Challenges? You've played a Gamist game.  If you went into the game saying "I want to be rewarded for playing Narrativist," then you have Dissonance.  If you are rewarded (either by the game mechanics or the group) for addressing Premise?  Then you are playing a Narrativist game.

That doesn't help me nearly as much, I'm afraid. One of my most satisfying RPG experiences, despite its glacial speed, is a GURPS PBeM I'm currently in where I've never received any experience points, or a word of appreciation, for that matter. The fact that I can get in my characters (somewhat repulsive) skin and act based his egocentric and mysogynistic personality and have it all work out fine, is more than enough reward for me.

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Also yes: games based on TV shows (like Serenity) are often good vehicles for Narrativist Play.  Unfortunately, they tend to be designed around a Gamist/Sim bias: Unless your group is created to be a rag-tag band living on the frontier fringes of a civilized universe, taking whatever jobs they can to stay free, then there isn't really a whole lot of rules to the rule book.  What if the game was designed around, instead of a Guns rating, Jane has a Loyalty rating, and the dice roll isn't whether or not Jane can successfully shoot the Alliance guy kidnapping River, but does he shoot the bad guy or give in and turn over River?  It'd be a very different sort of character sheet.

It would. But then wouldn't you be letting the game mechanics make a decision that the player should be making? Or is that the whole point?


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: lumpley on February 11, 2009, 01:31:50 PM
I sometimes do have some theme or engaging question in mind when I design a character, but once designed, I play him (almost) entirely from  the character's own motivation, rather than mine. If I did my work right, the theme or question will come out. But what I'm doing is still mostly Sim, I think.

Nope! No sim at all. That's a perfectly good, easy, common, and natural way to do Story Now.

Deep in-character roleplaying is fully compatible with all of the creative agendas.

Hey, I have a request for you. I'm not the content mod, that's Ron, so just take this as the friendly request of a guy who's had this conversation a lot before. Please, if you can, use the current correct names for the creative agendas: Step on Up, Story Now and the Right to Dream. I think you'll find, especially, that "the Right to Dream" won't actively mislead you and others the way "simulationism" is doing.

-Vincent


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 11, 2009, 02:20:45 PM
You know what's really frustrating? I just explained to my wife what counterintuitive concept I just grasped, and before I finish talking, she finishes my sentence. What took me weeks, she understands in seconds, despite her having no roleplay experience whatsoever and wanting to have nothing to do with it.

She did come with some management theory and psychology, and from that point of view, she's extremely Simulationist and would send Narrativists on a training program.

Just thought I'd share that bit with you.

Anyway, back to my original question: what's narrativist about Zero? Allow me to make a guess:

The characters' history and personality in Zero is just too weird and freaky. You can't roleplay someone with no identity, no sense of self. There is no personality on which to base decisions. Instead, you address the issue of what makes a personality, what shapes your individuality, and you have the problems, dilemmas and decisions in the game shape your character's personality.

Of course that's not necessarily about moral dilemmas. I mean, you can still approach moral dilemmas from the viewpoint of your character, and that's still simulationist, not narrativist. You can have simulationism with moral dilemmas. What makes it narrativist is instead of tackling the dillemma's through your character, you're tackling your character through the dilemmas.

Is that it? Or is it close, at least?


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: lumpley on February 11, 2009, 02:32:52 PM
I know absolutely nothing about Zero, so I can't answer about that. All I can answer about is narrativism.

I mean, you can still approach moral dilemmas from the viewpoint of your character, and that's still simulationist, not narrativist.

Nope! Approaching things - anything, including moral dilemmas - from the viewpoint of your character is perfectly compatible with both Story Now play and the Right to Dream play.

Does your roleplaying have something to say about human beings (sometimes shortened to "moral dilemma")? Do you take on the question actively in play? Then it's Story Now. If you take on the question actively in play but limit yourself only to the viewpoint of your character, that's fine - you've still got the thing, and you're still taking it on. Thus: Story Now.

-Vincent


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: greyorm on February 11, 2009, 02:47:19 PM
Greetings, MCV. Welcome to the Forge! Let me interject quick with an observation of two of the underlying issues that are making this difficult.

One of the problems is your use of the "moral dilemma" idea -- I know where you're coming from, and the problem is your idea of what that encompasses is too narrow, I'm betting tied to a right/wrong or "hard choice" conception. "What does individuality mean?" is a premise/moral dilemma. That those are the same thing may not make sense unless you're familiar with authorial terminology and usage/understanding, so how about you stick with "premise" and forget "moral dilemma" for the moment. (In fact, you might go back through all your answers and swap out "moral dilemma" for "premise" then see if your questions still make sense or if your own answers/ideas change.)

Another problem I've noticed is a consistent confusion between Technique and Agenda -- and while it has been explained a couple times, I don't think what that really means has come through for you. Simply: ALL Techniques can be used for ANY Agenda. So when you say, "If I do this thing, say deep character immersion, is that Narrativism, or is that Simulationism?" the answer is "Might be." When you ask "Does rolling the dice this way make that Simulationist or Gamist?" the answer is "Might be."

The very same thing goes for "Is this game a Narrativist game? Is this a Simulationist game?" It COULD be. If it supports that Agenda. You know that premise I just mentioned? That's built into Zero. The game is literally ABOUT that...but that doesn't necessarily have to be explored in play. You could play Zero as a big old survivalist dungeon-crawl. This is because games aren't X-type game, they're X-facilitating games.

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3. Luke needs to hit that deathstar

Is exactly the opposite of Narrativism. Whether or not Luke hits that Deathstar can not be a given. If he fails to do it, THAT has to say something about the premise as well. Otherwise, who cares if he hits or not? Also Star Wars is FULL of premise (this ties back to problem #1 above).


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: Per Fischer on February 11, 2009, 03:35:25 PM

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3. Luke needs to hit that deathstar

Is exactly the opposite of Narrativism. Whether or not Luke hits that Deathstar can not be a given. If he fails to do it, THAT has to say something about the premise as well. Otherwise, who cares if he hits or not? Also Star Wars is FULL of premise (this ties back to problem #1 above).

This is important - I think Fred said quite the opposite earlier on in this thread, correct me if I'm wrong, Fred. But this, THIS, is addressing premise right there and of course we don't know the outcome, that's the whole point. If I played with a "right to dream" I'd know m character would succeed, even if he turned of the targeting computer.


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: JB on February 11, 2009, 04:43:18 PM
I can't offer much help in regards to answering the question posed in the title of this thread, as I also know less than zero about Zero.

McV did mention Serenity RPG as a possible example of a narrativist game though, and I can say a little something about why/how Serenity isn't narrativist.  Seems like we've likely moved beyond that on this thread though, and I don't want to threadjack, so I'll refrain unless it'd help to clarify what narrativeist/Story Now is for the OP.

-------

As an aside, I'll say this: At some point after reading Ron's GNS essays, I too went, "It's all Sim, man." I wrote a little essay and everything. 'Story Now' really is it's own thing though, and not a subset of 'The Right to Dream'.  Keep bashing at it, you'll get there.

Cheers,
Jim


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: FredGarber on February 11, 2009, 11:09:51 PM
Well, in the words of  Rorshach, hrrmm.  A lot to post about.

I do agree, swapping out "Premise" for "moral dilemma" is a wise move.   'Moral' is a word loaded with connotations, and it's confusing the issue.

I think the hypothetical Star Wars game is a little too hypothetical right now, and it's also confusing things.  If I played a Star Wars game where the Premise to be addressed is something like "Is a Neo-Budhhist Faith or a Technological Materialism a surer road to personal happiness?", then a conflict where the Hit on the Death Star is never in doubt might be an appropriate conflict.  In fact, Han is far happier when he receives his monetary reward, answering the Premise differently than Luke does.  If the Premise is something very similar, like "Can I protect my friends and family with my Faith and Will and Positive Outlook, or do I need to depend on Weapons and Strength of Arms?", then whether or not the Death Star is blown up might be in doubt:  Not blowing up the Death Star by depending upon Faith is a surefire answer to that Premise!  So what Premise is chosen to address in that hypothetical Star Wars game will definitely affect the gameplay.

So I think you can get by without #3. 

1. Dilemmas are about the Premise
2. Everybody makes decisions around what makes the best story.

That said, you can go WAYYY deep down the rabbit hole and get to Vanilla Narrativism, and Constructivist Sim Play, and I'm pretty sure 3:16 has a strong Story Now aspect tied right into the characters competing for Kills and Cooperating to Frag the Alien Menace, a very Gamist setup. 

I believe Too Much Analysis Kills the Fun.   At some point, GMs and Players need to step away from the theory and say "knowing what I have learned, can I make my game session deliver more Moments of Awesome?" and try it out.  RPGs can be like any sport hobby: the fun is in the doing of them, not necessarily in the training to do it better next time.  Running wind sprints and practicing layups is not nearly as fun as actually playing basketball, so I've been told.

-Fred

BTW: I think you nailed the important part of my hypothetical Serenity build: The challenge is directly about how the Story/Plot goes.  Note that that's just an example of how to use System Mechanics to push a game into Story Now mode, instead of using the current Serenity Mechanics, which push the game into Step Up or Support the Dream category.  You certainly can play any type of game with any System: But some Systems have a lot more pain and work on the part of the GM to reward different agendas.


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 01:20:50 AM
One short issue before I tackle the moral dilemma dilemma:

I sometimes do have some theme or engaging question in mind when I design a character, but once designed, I play him (almost) entirely from  the character's own motivation, rather than mine. If I did my work right, the theme or question will come out. But what I'm doing is still mostly Sim, I think.

Nope! No sim at all. That's a perfectly good, easy, common, and natural way to do Story Now.

But in this case I'm basing my decisions on the personality I established for my character. The character was designed with story in mind, so I'd argue that character design was Story Now, but if in actual play, I'm not focusing on that story anymore, but hoping it will emerge automatically from the well-designed personality of the character (which it probably won't if the game, setting or other characters aren't what I expected), isn't that closer to The Right To Dream?

Now on towards a very real problem: the meaning of the term "moral dilemma". Unlike many of the other words you're using on the Forge, including Premise, Adressing Premise, Narrativism, etc, "moral dilemma" has a very old and very well established meaning. I know what premise means in logic and in movies, but your usage of the word is clearly different, and I don't quite grasp the concept yet. But I know what a moral dilemma is. It's a well known concept that most people can deal with, so when I'm given the option to use that instead of a vague term like Premise, I prefer moral dilemma. But now I'm getting the impression that even for that phrase, The Forge is using a completely different meaning than the rest of humanity, which, if true, would be really unfortunate, because moral dilemmas already have a very valuable place in RPGs.

A dilemma is a hard or impossible choice (Scylla and Charibdys). A moral dilemma, is a hard or impossible choice related to moral (or ethical) issues. Often the idealised ethical choice conflicts with practical considerations, so it boils down to "does the end justify the means?", although it's not strictly limited to that.

Since an example is worth a thousand words, here's a link with a fine selection of moral dilemmas: http://www.friesian.com/valley/dilemmas.htm (http://www.friesian.com/valley/dilemmas.htm)

For a long time, "moral dilemma" had been my only hand hold while trying to understand Story Now, and Ron's insistence that that's basically all there is to it was a real comfort to me, although it did make me wonder what all the fuss was about. Now my new insight that instead of addressing the story, theme, dilemmas, through my character, I could also address my character through the story, theme, dilemmas, gives me the impression I've discovered a new way of roleplaying, but that insight has nothing whatsoever to do with the presence of moral dillemmas an sich. (You got me so confused I can't think of an English of a German phrase.) And your usage of "moral dilemma" in this thread gives me the impression you don't really mean moral dilemmas.

Does your roleplaying have something to say about human beings (sometimes shortened to "moral dilemma")?

While moral dilemmas usually do say something about the person making the decision, not everything that says something about people is automatically a moral dilemma.

One of the problems is your use of the "moral dilemma" idea -- I know where you're coming from, and the problem is your idea of what that encompasses is too narrow, I'm betting tied to a right/wrong or "hard choice" conception. "What does individuality mean?" is a premise/moral dilemma.

It may be a premise, but it's definitely not a moral dilemma. A moral dilemma really is a hard choice (but usually wrong/wrong; right/wrong wouldn't be hard at all).

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That those are the same thing may not make sense unless you're familiar with authorial terminology and usage/understanding, so how about you stick with "premise" and forget "moral dilemma" for the moment. (In fact, you might go back through all your answers and swap out "moral dilemma" for "premise" then see if your questions still make sense or if your own answers/ideas change.)

I'm probably not familiar with authorial terminology, but I am familiar with philosophy, ethics, and the common and philosophic use of "moral dilemma". If you're using "moral dilemma" to mean something else entirely, then all the places in this thread where I thought I understood based on that phrase, I didn't. On the other hand, when it all started to make sense, except for the tacked-on moral dilemma part, the confusion is caused by a misunderstanding, which perhaps I should ignore, so I can just stick with the part that does make sense.

Another problem I've noticed is a consistent confusion between Technique and Agenda -- and while it has been explained a couple times, I don't think what that really means has come through for you. Simply: ALL Techniques can be used for ANY Agenda. So when you say, "If I do this thing, say deep character immersion, is that Narrativism, or is that Simulationism?" the answer is "Might be." When you ask "Does rolling the dice this way make that Simulationist or Gamist?" the answer is "Might be."

And that, I think, is also the case with moral dilemmas. You can have tough choices between two wrongs in any Agenda. Only when that choice is tied to the theme or premise that's central to your game, is it Story Now.

If I understand The Forge's usage of "moral dilemma", it's that usage, that drift of meaning, that's causing a lot of confusion. I've noticed a lot of words here have drifted quite a lot in meaning. Simulationism in GNS isn't quite the same as simulationism in the Threefold Model (but it's always been a vague term in RPG theory), premise here is neither the premise of logic, nor the premise of movies (but since premise has two totally different meanings already, so at least there's a precedent), and I'm sure there are other words that mean something diifferent on The Forge than in the outside world. But "moral dilemma" is where I draw the line. It has an old, well established meaning that most people already know, and it is a useful concept in RPGs already. If you mean something different, then use a different word. Leave "moral dilemma" alone, because fiddling with its meaning will only create confusion and misunderstandings.

I'll handle Luke and the Deathstar in another post.


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 04:14:47 AM
McV did mention Serenity RPG as a possible example of a narrativist game though, and I can say a little something about why/how Serenity isn't narrativist.  Seems like we've likely moved beyond that on this thread though, and I don't want to threadjack, so I'll refrain unless it'd help to clarify what narrativeist/Story Now is for the OP.

I'm very interested in how it isn't Narrativist/Story Now, but I'm even more interested in how it could be. For that purpose, I've started a new thread: Establishing Premise in Serenity RPG (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27581.0). (What a terribly pompous title, now that I think of it. I'm getting infected by those GNS articles.)


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: lumpley on February 12, 2009, 04:26:46 AM
But in this case I'm basing my decisions on the personality I established for my character. The character was designed with story in mind, so I'd argue that character design was Story Now, but if in actual play, I'm not focusing on that story anymore, but hoping it will emerge automatically from the well-designed personality of the character (which it probably won't if the game, setting or other characters aren't what I expected), isn't that closer to The Right To Dream?
This is so good! This is so smart! Your boldface is the key, the capstone to the whole endeavor.

Okay. Ready?

IF, in actual play, the story emerges automatically from the well-designed personality of the character, because the game, setting, and other characters (and their players) work to make it so, that's Story Now. If it doesn't, it isn't.

Your attitude toward your own character isn't the point. Whether you create story, actively, as a group, in play, is the only point.

-Vincent


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: mcv on February 12, 2009, 05:16:24 AM
IF, in actual play, the story emerges automatically from the well-designed personality of the character, because the game, setting, and other characters (and their players) work to make it so, that's Story Now. If it doesn't, it isn't.

Your attitude toward your own character isn't the point. Whether you create story, actively, as a group, in play, is the only point.

So in order to get Story Now, all we really need is a setting that facilitates Story, and that everybody designs their character so that it ties into that. Correct?

Because that's what I have been trying to accomplish, particularly in a recently failed GURPS Traveller campaign. The problem is that nobody actually designed their character in such a way (especially not the new guy who wants more Narrativism), except for one player (our usual GM), and one character that I deisgned for another player (a disruptive deep character roleplayer who played the Mad Max in our little blood opera I mentioned earlier (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27567.msg260274#msg260274)).

But I have trouble getting a story going even with those two characters and those two players. But I think that's because of two big problems:

  • I did everything wrong, forgot my original intentions, and went into full GURPS Traveller Gearhead mode. I was reading all my GURPS Traveller books searching for irrelvant details to make it a more realistic Sim, and for little missions and plot hooks that would get the crew going, but didn't affect them personally in any way.
  • 2. We hadn't agreed on a Premise in advance, so there wasn't a common theme. Especially not with the two characters that completely lacked story, obviously. The other two actually fit the "Outcasts & Misfits" and "Keep Flying" themes I identified in the Serenity Premise thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=27581.msg260334#msg260334), and they even both had a "Hidden Secret", one of them identified (a mad scientist doctor who had participated in a horrible massacre on a nearby planet), and one them not (a Scout with uncontrolled psychic powers who had some unidentified tragic event while in the Scout Service).

Now that I read it, I think there should have been plenty to work with. At least with those two characters. But I didn't use it. Instead, I suckered them into a simple heist, executed it badly (one guy went in on his own, I wanted to get the rest involved, so I had the one guy shot), and then followed up with a few sessions of boring travelling and trading. The only one who addressed premise was the mad doctor. The simple heist did come with a minor moral issue (I hesitate to call it a dilemma): the gem they stole from a rich collector wasn't a gem, but an egg from a newly discovered sentient race, and trade in it is highly illegal. The player played the mad doctor just a bit madder than I'd envisioned, and murdered everybody who knew about the heist. Also, whenever the crew was about to pick up a cargo headed for the planet where he was involved in that massacre, he sabotaged it, sometimes by murdering the passenger.

One other error was that I allowed the doctor's player to do all his secret murders hidden from the other players (not just their characters), so the others never got the chance to appreciate his actions or his reasons for them. It was also probably a bad move to give a Dr. Mengele to a character roleplayer who loves any excuse to disrupt, dominate or twist. And yet, from what I read here, I get the impression he was more on track towards Story Now than anyone else (including the new guy who explicitly wanted narrativism).

My guess is that in order to fix this, we should agree on Premise before we design the characters, and remind ourselves every session that we need to address that premise. Is that correct?


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: lumpley on February 12, 2009, 05:49:42 AM
So in order to get Story Now, all we really need is a setting that facilitates Story, and that everybody designs their character so that it ties into that. Correct?

Correct! That's one way to do it. Here's a thread of mine from ... holy crap a long time ago, on precisely that point: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle" (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=4704.0).

Your GURPS Traveller experience makes a lot of sense to me.

Quote
My guess is that in order to fix this, we should agree on Premise before we design the characters, and remind ourselves every session that we need to address that premise. Is that correct?

Well, that can work, I expect.

If the game's rules bring focus to the premise by default, instead, unlike GURPS', you don't need to always remind yourselves. That's a driving principle behind Story Now design: to create game rules that help everyone make appropriate characters, and help the GM (or the group) to challenge them appropriately, all without too much explicit, social-level discussion about what we're going to do. (Ask my friends: explicit, social-level discussion about what we're going to do makes me all twitchy.)

Anyway, yes! Yes and yes.

-Vincent


Title: Re: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?
Post by: greyorm on February 12, 2009, 06:56:11 AM
Looks like its coming together for you, mcv! That's great!

I'll drop back in quick with the term issue, then. I do understand the term usage confuses you, but in this case, you admitted yourself that you have no understanding of these term's usage in literature. To use a computer analogy for a moment, imagine you've called tech support because your computer doesn't work, and when the technician asks you if your mouse is working, you answer "huh?" (because you're thinking small, furry rodent), and when he tells you to open up a window, you ask "in the living room or upstairs?" (because you're thinking rectangular glass plane mounted on your house), etc.

Now, you can either tell the technician his terms are nonsensical and then go find a dictionary and look up "mouse" and "window" to show him how he's "wrong" because you feel you need to prove it to them and tell them how using those terms are confusing etc., or you can accept that the problem with the jargon in this case is not a case of "those crazy computer people using descriptions for words that don't mean what they say and just confuse everyone (ie: me)!"

I can assure you that these definitions are not a "weird Forge thing" at all, and are established literary terms with real and specific meanings, even if they are unfamiliar to you. And I think the best way to approach the issue you are having with them is to ask if you would keep in mind we aren't talking about philosophy or ethics, that the terms seem weird right now and that's OK, and for you to be willing to try to avoid confusing moral (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral) dilemmas and ethical (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical) dilemmas.

Though this is only going to work if you're going to trust me on the above. Deal?

Quote
Premise (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/ramshead/StoryElements.htm): In his seminal work, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lajos Egri introduced the world of theatre to the idea of premise. Premise is very similar to theme but to Egri it is much more powerful, decisive and less open to misinterpretation. The goal of any good play must be to prove its premise and all aspects of the play must be focused on leading the audience to that conclusion. Offered as examples are premises such as: "great love defies even death", "Blind trust leads to destruction, "Jealousy destroys itself and the object of its love".

You can Google for more info on Egri's premise (http://www.google.com/search?q=egri+premise) if needed, but with the above in mind, it should hopefully be clear the premise is the "moral" of the story in a particular work, like the moral of a fable ("slow and steady wins the race", etc).

The premise is a human issue and commentary on that issue, but it is not usually a single troubling ethical decision point. Which I mention because I sense you are thinking of such you hear "moral dilemma" and when you talk about them occurring in all sorts of games. For example: "Do I save the village or the girl?" <---- but this is not a premise.

Make sense?

As an author of fiction, one tries to show (or "prove") the premise you've already chosen ("love is blind", "fear destroys humanity", etc) by highlighting its effect on the protagonists. If you are a GOOD author, you don't throw the premise in the reader's face, they don't even really know it is there, and you make that outcome--that answer--that premise--that "the moral of the story"--seem uncertain, even while you keep hammering on it (foreshadowing) right up to the end.

That is, you write such that it seems the moral you're proving isn't decided ahead of time, so the premise isn't completely obvious until the end of the story when the premise you chose before writing is finally proven once-and-for-all (or perhaps revealed to the reader), and you find out what "the moral of the story is". (Example: "Oh, the hare won, because...{moral, ie: premise}")

So when an author writes a story, even though he's chosen the outcome, he presents a conflict between story-morals to the reader, where any particular "moral" seems like it could win out. This crates conflict and tension. So you have the protagonist wanting something and something else getting in his way, telling him "Nope, it's going to be THIS WAY instead".

For example, if we're writing about the jealousy premise above, then the main character wants to be jealous and not be destroyed by it (etc) even though all signs in the narrative are pointing to that being the outcome. You read and think, "He's going to destroy himself and his love if he keeps up with his jealous behavior!" which is put-in-your-head by the conflicts the reader sees reasserting and supporting that idea, with the protagonist braving jealousy and destruction to their (and his) ultimate end when the moral/premise is absolutely revealed ("Oh no! See! He destroyed himself and his love through jealousy!").

A well-crafted story presents an uncertainty about the success-correctness of any particular action and what that outcome means in that situation: it presents "conflicting morals", making the actual moral to the story both apparent and yet uncertain, such as in the story of the Tortise and the Hare (see below). So we, the reader, don't really know what the moral is going to be until the last page, until the revealing situation resolves (either the fast, cocky hare or the slow, steady turtle crosses the finish line first).

That's how premise works in fiction. Or at least it is a really quick and dirty version of it, but hopefully enough for you to understand the authorial perspective on the terms and get what this "premise" thing is.

Premise isn't much different in an RPG, with one alteration.

In a Narrativist game, the premise can't be already answered. Instead you have to ask "the question" of the premise, and gameplay proves or disproves the premise/answers the question: "Does great love defy even death?", "Does blind trust lead to destruction?", "Does jealousy destroy itself and the object of its love?", "Does slow and steady win the race?"

In the case of Zero, if that game were a work of literature instead, the writer would be writing "The price of individuality is..." and have slotted something in there which would be revealed and supported through the course of the fiction. So in literature, you would start with something like: "The price of individuality is NOT worth barely surviving." And then prove that true with what you show happening to your protagonists.

But with a Narrativist game, you're asking during the game, rather than before you start: "What is the price of individuality?" (or narrowing it down even further "Is the price of individuality worth barely surviving?" or etc). The answer--the triumphant moral arising from the conflicting possible morals--isn't known going in and won't be answered until the end of the game. It's what the protagonist is trying to figure out for the player through play: what's the moral here in this situation and what does it tell us about the human condition (or rather, this particular human's condition here-and-now)?

So, in a Narrativist RPG, the answer--the moral--becomes interactive, rather than set, with the players making the choices that will reveal the resolution to the dilemma/the premise/the moral of the story based on their choices and the results of those choices--and the GM takes the role of presenting situations that allow that premise to be explored and answered one way or another until the encompassing situation resolves.

Does the hare win, or the tortoise? Is the premise, the moral of the story, going to be "slow and steady wins the race" or "speed and certainty decide victory"? (see "conflicting morals" above)

Is it coming together for you, I hope?

Again: Through play, one answers the premise: (at its most simple) "does it?" "doesn't it?" The answer--the triumphant moral arising from the conflict issues--isn't known going in and isn't answered before play. The premise (the question, the dilemma) itself is known, and the GM keeps providing scenes and situations where that question can be explored and answered.

But another important ingredient here is the human connection of the premise. It's relation to the human condition, to human emotion or human drives like love, fear, desire, hate, jealousy, courage, etc.

That's what is being talked about when we say "premise" in regards to Narrativism. It's also why "moral dilemma" is interchangable with the term (though unless a light bulb went on as to why that is, really do just forget about the "moral dilemma" phrasing and use "premise" for the moment because the former is causing you more confusion and frustration than anything).

Also, mcv, thanks for the "right/wrong" correction. I was clearly typing faster than I was thinking at that moment. I should have said "an unclear choice of what's good and what's bad, or what the better solution is between equally unpalatable ones". "A hard choice" was probably sufficient!