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Title: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 24, 2011, 01:04:32 PM

This is gonna take a little while for me to go over, so bear with me.

A couple a' months back now, me and a few semi-regular players were playing a zombie-horror-survival game where the basic premise was that we played ourselves as our hometown was overrun by the undead, without a strong focus on 'realistic' outcomes and no deliberate effort to impose a predecided storyline.  The game itself wasn't perfect by any stretch- the underlying system was some BRP-derived relic with plenty of support for combat, but not much else, and in the event we wound up doing chases, conversations, investigations and agriculture more often than direct combat, but the GMs' adjudications on the subject were reasonable, and it all seemed to mesh.  Despite occasional lapses into illusionism, and a frank admission that he was improvising various bits and pieces as he went, the story took interesting twists over time and it definitely felt like our choices had genuine consequences.  (One interesting scene involved me butchering, not once, but twice, what seemed to all appearances to be a totally non-hostile zombie-child, but that's a long story.)  The campaign only lasted a couple of sessions, but it seemed to be a promising start.

Which all brings me back to an excerpt from Narrativism: Story Now (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/_articles/narr_essay.html)-

Quote
Jesse: I'm just still a little confused between Narrativism and Simulationism where the Situation has a lot of ethical/moral problems embedded in it and the GM uses no Force techniques to produce a specific outcome. I don't understand how Premise-expressing elements can be included and players not be considered addressing a Premise when they can't resolve the Situation without doing so.

Me: There is no such Simulationism. You're confused between Narrativism and Narrativism, looking for a difference when there isn't any.

Here's the thing- I don't see anything about this description which violates, to my mind, the core tenets of Simulationism.  Let's pretend, for a moment, that you had a game which ran as follows:
  •   Beyond the 'initial setup', and the effects of in-world human agency, nothing (or as little as possible besides Colour) is improvised or invented ex nihilo.
  •   Once play starts, no deliberate effort is made to have scenes revolve around topics of primary emotional importance to the PCs (though such 'priming' may well be part of the 'starting conditions'.  I distinguish this from episodic play such as DitV, where towns are improvised each session.)
  •   Once play starts, Internal Cause is King- that is, internal events are the primary or sole deciding factor behind events.  (This is subject to the understanding that character decisions do constitute a form of 'internal event', and as such, have actual fucking consequences.)
  •   Moral/ethical problems are embedded in the character/situation/setting combo presented (i.e, the 'starting conditions',) such that the characters' decision-making cannot help reflecting on those problems.
  •   Because the characters' decisions have consequences, as long as their power to affect events is commensurate to the scale of the setting, then the premise necessarily produces a theme (in the sense of an Egri premise- '<insert moral quality> leads to <insert outcome>'.)

I think that some of the confusion over defining what Simulationism's basic character is, then, can be understood as follows:  There should be, in principle, a kind of Narrativist play that I would consider functionally indistinguishable from a kind of Simulationism.  Note, here, that I am not saying that all Narrativism is a brand of Simulationism or vice-versa- only that there is a particular combination of 'initial prep' conditions and techniques/emphases in play that should, theoretically, fulfill the criteria of both.  Taking this form of play and branding it as Nar-But-Not-Sim may lead to a fractured and inconsistent understanding of Sim's true character.

Does any of that make sense?  I mean, I consider myself a Simulationist at heart, and I've always considered it's basic principles to be very intuitive- let things happen as they actually would happen, having seeded the world with certain starting assumptions, and with as little interference as possible thereafter.  Do the results that come out match what you're trying to model?  Does the theory make predictions that accord with known observations (of a particular subject matter)?  (Note that 'unpredictability' could itself be a key prediction.)  I personally feel that if you have to 'fudge' outcomes to get a desired result, then the simulation has failed, and then it's no longer a useful tool for investigation and understanding.

I possibly touched briefly on these concerns in a couple of previous (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=30684.msg281979#msg281979) threads (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=30191), but, I thought it might be useful to go over some of the "things" that are commonly associated with Simulationist play, the degree to which they can reinforce/interfere with Narrativist goals, and whether they are, in fact, good for Sim play- in the sense that they allow events to unfold in a fashion such that (A) Internal Cause is King, and (B) produce large-scale outcomes that conform well with observations of... whatever it is they're based on.  (I'll be taking 'realism' as the baseline template for this, well-aware that this only represents a fraction of all Simulationist design, but bear with me.)

Techniques/Emphases commonly associated with Simulationist design/play that often interfere with Narrativist play but do not, to my mind, have much or anything to do with the impartial and honest simulation of events.
  •   Illusionism or other ad-hoc Force techniques.  The attempt to impose a predefined storyline behind the players' backs is neccesarily external cause trumping internal cause.  It has nothing to do with the basically reductionist ethic that large-scale outcomes should be the natural emergent properties of small-scale interactions.  It's absurd that interactions involving (A) free will and/or (B) randomness should regularly produce fixed outcomes.
  •   Rigid personality profiles.  Rational human beings adjust their beliefs and goals over time in response to accumulated experience.  (I appreciate that a system like Pendragon isn't so much 'rigid' as 'randomised', but that's not much more true-to-life.)
  •   A lack of embedded moral or ethical problems within the Situation that induce conflict within the PCs' motives.  Deliberately distorting events so that they always reflect on topics that matter to the PCs is arguably an 'artificial' approach, but so is any effort to ensure that they never do.  Anything resembling an honest presentation of a fleshed-out world or setting is going, statistically (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHVqxD8PNq8), to contain moral or ethical problems embedded within it.
  •   A lack of proficiency-boosting mechanics based on or feeding off of character motivations.  Character psychology is a valid form of in-world cause-and-consequence, and working toward a clear goal or principle can, within reason, drive individuals to greater heights of endurance or concentration.
  •   Restriction of player knowledge to what their characters would know.  Anyone trying to role-play a character different from themselves in real life is going to have to erect a partition in their heads between 'I would do X' and 'character would do Y' (though how permeable that membrane should be is another question.)  Given you have to take this one on trust, hiding information perhaps has less to do with keeping players honest and more to do with letting the GM be dishonest.
  •  

Techniques/Emphases commonly associated with Simulationist design/play that potentially interfere with Narrativist play, but do, to my mind, have something to do with the impartial and honest simulation of events.
  •   Time and space are generally held as binding constraints (http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080213/REVIEWS/703454342).
  •   Realism in general (to the degree that the setting resembles or borrows from reality (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMDTcMD6pOw&t=0m16s).)
  •   Minimisation of need/openings for improvising facts about the world after 'initial setup'.
  •   More generally, restriction of openings for player/GM choice to human agency in the imagined world, (again, after initial setup.)
  •   In general, minimisation of openings for 'metagame', which I'm defining as factors without a clear correlate in the imagined world nonetheless having a strong impact on the resolution of events.
  •   In-world cause-and-consequence having primacy, such that player autonomy can be crushed between the gears of implacable large-scale forces.  (However, in theory, this can be worked around if the PCs have positions of power and influence commensurate to the scale of the setting/situation.)
  •   No deliberate effort to distort probability so that experienced events always focus on issues of primary emotional importance to the PCs.  (However, such 'targeting' may well be part of the initial setup, and it's not impossible that 'dull' intervals could be skipped past, provided some effort is made to account for the behaviour of the world at large in the interim.)
  •  

From this perspective, artificial nudging to maintain a predecided storyline invalidates Sim to the same degree that artificial nudging to maintain an emergent theme or PC-centric spotlight would be in other Nar play.  But if you can get premise on the base of pre-play preparation alone, and reflection on that premise simply by tracing the flow of events in an impartial fashion- and to the degree that PC choices' impacting events is entirely expectable- then at no point do I see how this violates basic Sim principles.

I feel, for example, that so many fantasy yarns gravitate toward feudal settings because it helps to satisfy these conditions:  the nobility's decision-making has a disproportionate impact on events regardless of individual competency, while political stability is cemented by kinship ties that frequently conflict with large-scale social priorities.  This combines to ensure that a privileged handful of characters- and only those handful- make really big choices with really big consequences.  (It makes for, at one and the same time, a wonderful dramatic premise and a truly shitty system of government.)

So, I was wondering- have other folks experienced play of this type, and would they describe it's basic 'feel' as Sim, Nar, or whatever?  Did I get my bullet points right?  I'm not necessarily holding up my zombie campaign as the ideal example, but has anyone else been looking to visit El Dorado?


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Roger on March 24, 2011, 01:20:17 PM
This feels all a bit vague without some actual Actual Play to sink my teeth into, but I've come to realize that a request like "Please barf forth all the Actual Play you can physically recall" can be less than helpful.  So I'll structure it like this:

Can you please provide a recap of a scene or scenes and point out:
  - What the Premise is, and
  - How the players are addressing the Premise within the scene.

I think that might be a fruitful place to start.  It'd be just as fair to start from the other end and ask for the Simulationy bits first, and I think we'll get there eventually, but I suspect that's the sort of thing that we're better at recognizing at face value already (look, an encumbrance check mechanic.)


Cheers,
Roger


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 24, 2011, 01:42:49 PM
This feels all a bit vague without some actual Actual Play to sink my teeth into, but I've come to realize that a request like "Please barf forth all the Actual Play you can physically recall" can be less than helpful.  So I'll structure it like this:

Can you please provide a recap of a scene or scenes and point out:
  - What the Premise is, and
  - How the players are addressing the Premise within the scene.
Like I said, this wasn't a particularly extended campaign, but here's a simple example:  We were holed up in a local supermarket depot with enough dried food to last for about 3-4 months, and had constructed greenhouses on the roof so we could try growing food before our stores were exhausted.  Another survivor came banging on our fortified entrance (heavily armed, and alone) and wanted us to let her in.  One of the other PCs was in favour of admitting her, but I pointed out that our food reserves were stretched thin as things stood, and I wasn't entirely sure she could be trusted- for all I knew, she might kill us in her sleep or let in another gang of survivors in the night (I should mention my character had been getting increasingly paranoid.)  I wanted her to give up her gun first or bring enough food to make keeping her worthwhile, and in the end, we wound up turning her away.  After she left, we could hear gunfire and the screams of closing zombies off in the distance.  That was the gist of things, in any case.

The premise- I'm guessing something to the tune of trust vs. self-interest, and I'm reasonably sure we couldn't avoid addressing it there.  As for the Simulationist elements- we were doing things like measuring out distances on a map pretty strictly, referencing real landmarks, checking how much we could carry on a bike vs. a truck, etc.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Roger on March 24, 2011, 02:25:12 PM
Thanks, Alfryd.  That helps, although it's not quite enough to help us determine what's going on here.

That basic Situation -- someone is going to die if we don't let them in, what do we do? -- can be explored through any of the creative agendas.

From the Right to Dream essay:  The point is that one can care about and enjoy complex issues, changing protagonists, and themes in both sorts of play, Narrativism and Simulationism. The difference lies in the point and contributions of literal instances of play; its operation and social feedback.

And here's a bit from the Story Now essay which I think might be helpful:

[...]
But Narrativist role-playing is defined by the people involved placing their direct creative attention toward Premise and toward birthing its child, theme. It sounds simple, and in many ways it is. The real variable is the emotional connection that everyone at the table makes when a player-character does something. If that emotional connection is identifiable as a Premise, and if that connection is nurtured and developed through the real-people interactions, then Narrativist play is under way.
[...]

Now, I'm personally not entirely sold on this whole "yeah, but what are you feeling, man?" vibe I sometimes get from this approach to Story Now, but that's probably a discussion for a different thread.  As it stands as defined, Story Now deals a lot with the emotional connections of the players at the table.

So:  what was your (you, the player) emotional connection to the woman outside the door?  What was the other player's emotional connection to her, the one who wanted to let her in?  How did you feel about condemning her to die?  How did the other players around the table feel about you condemning her to die, and about their own decision to let you condemn her to die?


Cheers,
Roger


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 24, 2011, 03:05:35 PM
Now, I'm personally not entirely sold on this whole "yeah, but what are you feeling, man?" vibe I sometimes get from this approach to Story Now, but that's probably a discussion for a different thread.  As it stands as defined, Story Now deals a lot with the emotional connections of the players at the table.

So:  what was your (you, the player) emotional connection to the woman outside the door?  What was the other player's emotional connection to her, the one who wanted to let her in?  How did you feel about condemning her to die?  How did the other players around the table feel about you condemning her to die, and about their own decision to let you condemn her to die?

Well... that strikes me as something of a trap.  If I say the other players were uncomfortable with letting her die, this implies we weren't having fun.  And if I say they were cool with it, that implies indifference to the premise.  *shrugs*  I think the characters' perspectives were clear enough, and we spent some time arguing it out in-character out without any real-world acrimony, so clearly that was an emotional investment of sorts.  As it happens, I personally regarded it as hard but necessary measure and the other players came around to it reluctantly.  (Strictly speaking, we don't actually know she died- she got off a lot of shots, and looked fairly tough, but it definitely increased the risks she took.)  It didn't strike me as a purely tactical, cost/benefit consideration, nor was it a choice proscribed by our predefined personality descriptors (we didn't have any.)

The principle point I took away from that section of The Right To Dream you cited was that, in Simulationist play, character personalities are treated as a sort of formal guarantee of future behaviour, or otherwise left out of the player's active discretion.  Which, again, I think either leads to outcome that don't actually accord with observations of how people behave in reality (i.e, not learning from experience,) and/or requires that the GM deliberately shield players from any situation that really challenges the characters' mindset.

The point I'm making is that situations like this were built into the setting/situation.  They're inescapable.  Something like 'the desperate survivor comes knocking' was essentially guaranteed to happen sooner or later, just on the basis of internal plausibility.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: contracycle on March 24, 2011, 04:08:24 PM
I feel, for example, that so many fantasy yarns gravitate toward feudal settings because it helps to satisfy these conditions:  the nobility's decision-making has a disproportionate impact on events regardless of individual competency, while political stability is cemented by kinship ties that frequently conflict with large-scale social priorities.  This combines to ensure that a privileged handful of characters- and only those handful- make really big choices with really big consequences.  (It makes for, at one and the same time, a wonderful dramatic premise and a truly shitty system of government.)

Well, just as a quibble, I don't think that RPG's do gravitate to Feudal settings at all.  None of them, or at least none that I have ever seen, have ever done anything remotely like it.  Sure there is a sort of nominal genuflection to it, but the texture of the world is actually very modern, such as for example having highly flexible, overproductive economies, countries with strong nationalist sentiments and identities, and yet an ethnic melting pot.  Makes me shake my fists at the sky and yell "this is all wrong!".

Now on your broader point, it is quite possible to have moments of premise-addressing play within a broader Sim agenda.  Just as it is possible with a generally Narr game for someone to step up to a challenge.  CA doesn't mean 100% consistency with everything else totally excluded.  But on the other hand, if your setup was so rich with premise issues, and required that they be addressed, and you all did so and enjoyed doing so, then it would likely be described as vanilla narr.  The question is not what the setting implies, but what the group actually does.   An essentially explorative game which, here and there, raise ethical dilemmas is perfectly feasible and can still be counted within Sim.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 25, 2011, 03:47:32 AM



Well, just as a quibble, I don't think that RPG's do gravitate to Feudal settings at all.  None of them, or at least none that I have ever seen, have ever done anything remotely like it.  Sure there is a sort of nominal genuflection to it, but the texture of the world is actually very modern, such as for example having highly flexible, overproductive economies, countries with strong nationalist sentiments and identities, and yet an ethnic melting pot.  Makes me shake my fists at the sky and yell "this is all wrong!".
I can completely agree with this sentiment, it's just that I was referring to fantasy stories in general, rather than specifically RPGs.  Also, fantasy RPGs tend to be designed for the 'little people', insofar as PCs aren't usually all kings and caliphs and sultanas.  OMG!  That would be totally overpowered!  Then they could actually affect the plot!  *slaps hands on cheeks*

I would entirely agree that what we were doing could reasonably be called vanilla narrativism, but the point I'm making is that there was nothing about how we played that actually broke with Sim.  In other words, as best I can tell, Vanilla Nar is just a specific kind of Simulationism to the same degree that it's just a specific kind of Narrativism.  I am not seeing how these modes are exclusive, under those circumstances.  (Specifically, premise-rich starting conditions that pose ineluctable moral questions, reasonable power to affect outcomes, some focus on character exploration that recognizes conflict in motives, and no force techniques.  Choices+Consequences == Theme.)

Treading further out over the creaking ice, I would suggest that part of the trouble folks on the forge have had with defining Simulationism stems from the idea that they are mutually exclusive.  "Gee, this Sim stuff looks kinda wierd.  Hard to sum it up succinctly.  It's almost as if there's something missing from it- maybe it's a kind of constructive denial?"  There's nothing missing from Sim- it's just that the overlapping section on the Venn diagram that was also functional Narrativism got misfiled as Nar-And-Nar-Alone.

Squirming out on my belly to distribute weight more evenly, I would furthermore aver that a lot of techniques/emphases traditionally associated with Simulationist design/play aren't actually Simulationist.  They don't enhance verisimilitude or immersion once you actually stop  to think about 'em for ten minutes.  Or, at least, there are a significant number of traditionally-Narrativist techniques/emphases that have just as much rationale within a Simulationist context.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on March 25, 2011, 05:31:15 AM
Alfryd, I totally get this. When I was in the thick of trying to figure out GNS, looking at some of my favourite game sessions, one day I thought they were Sim and the next day I thought they were Nar. One day I read some comments about Nar that seemed just alien to me, considerations on a seamingly abstract level of “statements” and “meaning” and, worst of all, “premise” that I never could relate to, and I thought, these guys are playing a totally different game than me. Another day, I read some account of a supposedly Nar game and I thought, hey, that sounds fun, that’s the kind of thing I like to play, too.

I wrote a lot about my game sessions of old, Star Wars d6 and Vampire, which were pretty clearly Sim by Big Model terms. I know some things have changed for me since then, in particular my approach to GM vs. player tasks and the players’ part in deciding what happens. And sure I emphasize different elements when I play different games. System does matter and all. But when did I cross the Nar line, if ever?

I’ve been a Forge regular since 2004, and for a while I’ve been contributing pretty actively. I even wrote up a summary of the Big Model once which Ron confirmed to be correct. I tell you something. With some games I played in, to this date, I can’t tell you whether they were High Concept Sim with a strong emphasis on drama and player-driven play, or Vanilla Nar with a strong emphasis on Exploration. Or maybe even a Hybrid, though to my understanding of the “state of the Model”, the idea of a “Hybrid” is kind of a relic.

At some point I decided I just don’t need to know.

- Frank


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: stefoid on March 25, 2011, 05:33:00 AM
Not that it really matters so much the label you stick on your gaming, but isnt it about the agenda of the players rather than what happens?  Two groups playing a survival horror game with different agendas might produce the same scenarios occasionally, by different means.  The first group is trying to be as true to in-game cause and effect as possible, whilst the second group is actively pursuing opportunities to confront the characters with interesting decisions -- they both end up barricaded in a stronghold with a hungry person outside.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Roger on March 25, 2011, 09:29:57 AM
Nope, no traps here.  "Fun" isn't anything worth talking about in this context, but that again is a whole other thread.

So, yeah, we all agree that play under all Creative Agendas can have lots of moral quandaries, big solid Premises, etc, embedded in it.  Here's what I think the big difference is:

In Story Now, the player characters (and, by proxy, the players) are deciding how to resolve the Premise.

In Right to Dream, the player characters (and, by proxy, the players) are discovering how the Premise is resolved by the System.

That might be sort of a subtle point, so let me illustrate with an example:

We've got our Premise -- "Is a ruthless selfishness necessary to survive in a crisis?"

In a Story Now game, we're typically going to have player characters across the spectrum of ruthless selfishness, and the game will consist of pushing the characters into crisis and seeing how it works out for them.  Some of the characters may survive, some may not; some may change their opinions about the Premise along the way.  An individual's answer to the Premise is fundamentally a subjective opinion.

In a Right to Dream game, answering the Premise is essentially an exercise in the scientific method.  You've got characters who require a certain amount of food each day and who can grow a certain amount of food in a month.  What are the minimum and maximum size of a viable group?  It's simply a matter of crunching the numbers, rolling the dice, and finding out what the System tells you.  The answer to the Premise is already in there, within the parameters and models of the System, waiting to be discovered.  It becomes a matter of objective fact.

In my own experience, I think I've seen this come to light most obviously with Vampire: the Masquerade.  When I was a bright-eyed naďve new player, I thought, wow, this'll be great -- let's address what it means to be a monster, what it means to be driven by an insatiable hunger.  Then I discovered it means that you get three extra dots in Stamina and you need to test versus Willpower to not bite some dude.  The theme that I was hoping to personally address was already sitting there, fixed and naked, in the Simulation.



Cheers,
Roger


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 26, 2011, 07:17:22 AM
Nope, no traps here.  "Fun" isn't anything worth talking about in this context, but that again is a whole other thread.

I didn't mean to impugn your motives, but the thing is that- while I agree there needs to be an 'emotional connection' in the sense that the players do care about how the characters feel, that doesn't mean player feelings equate with character feelings.  (To my understanding, that can be disastrous, especially in Nar play.)  So, in that sense, focusing on player responses as opposed to character reponses could be misleading.

Quote
In a Right to Dream game, answering the Premise is essentially an exercise in the scientific method.  You've got characters who require a certain amount of food each day and who can grow a certain amount of food in a month.  What are the minimum and maximum size of a viable group?  It's simply a matter of crunching the numbers, rolling the dice, and finding out what the System tells you.  The answer to the Premise is already in there, within the parameters and models of the System, waiting to be discovered.  It becomes a matter of objective fact.

Again, I would say this is predicated on the assumption that (A) the player-characters are all perfectly rational and (B) that large-scale outcomes are deterministic (which is to say, you can forecast in advance what the 'optimal' outcome would be without, as it were, 'experimenting' with different courses of action.)  I don't think either of those assumptions actually accords with observations of reality.  Which means it is, at best, a rather selective application of Sim principles.

I mean, in our situation, a lot of the parameters involved in the calculation were fairly 'elastic'- we could increase the amount of food available by ranging farther afield (as we might need to do regardless if the crops failed, an outcome partly dependant on random factors)- but that increases exposure to roving zombies.  Whether we chose to band with other survivor groups to clear out the undead could, in principle, also lower the risk of those encounters substantially- but that involves a decision to trust.

At some point, the range of potential outcomes and knock-on-ramifications of choices grows too large for reliable, exhaustive, logical analysis, and you just have to nut up and go with your instincts.  Which, arguably, is what instincts are for.  They're generalised, rule-of-thumb heuristics for navigation within the space of possible sequences of choice.
Quote
In my own experience, I think I've seen this come to light most obviously with Vampire: the Masquerade.  When I was a bright-eyed naďve new player, I thought, wow, this'll be great -- let's address what it means to be a monster, what it means to be driven by an insatiable hunger.  Then I discovered it means that you get three extra dots in Stamina and you need to test versus Willpower to not bite some dude.  The theme that I was hoping to personally address was already sitting there, fixed and naked, in the Simulation.

Again, from my POV, I don't think really accords with how believable, fleshed-out characters should make decisions.  Test-versus-willpower regardless of whether and how much you care about the person, whether they're vital to your long-range goals, whether it risks your discovery, etc.?

The classic example is the D&D paladin, who is not allowed under any circumstances to violate their code of conduct.  The problem is that their code of conduct specifies multiple clauses which are only tenuously casually related- so what does the character do when defending the innocent requires telling a lie?  Do they short-circuit, or reassess their priorities in light of accumulated experience?  The system-imposed-straitjacket here not only doesn't handle decision-making very well, it eventually self-destructs unless characters are kept in the storytelling-equivalent of a padded cell.

The only feasible method of weighting all these factors into consideration is to get a genuine human brain in on the action.  I'm not saying that numbers on a sheet shouldn't have a significant influence- but you can't wholly exclude human agency from characters' large-scale decision-making and expect to reproduce human behaviour.

Not that it really matters so much the label you stick on your gaming, but isnt it about the agenda of the players rather than what happens?  Two groups playing a survival horror game with different agendas might produce the same scenarios occasionally, by different means.  The first group is trying to be as true to in-game cause and effect as possible, whilst the second group is actively pursuing opportunities to confront the characters with interesting decisions -- they both end up barricaded in a stronghold with a hungry person outside.

The point I'm making is that, under these circumstances, "trying to be as true to in-game cause and effect as possible" becomes "actively pursuing opportunities to confront the characters with interesting decisions."  There's no way to do the former without effecting the latter.

I consider the situation analagous to preparing a town in DitV.  All the essential premise-elements are built into the relationship-map of the town beforehand (e.g, love vs. duty, faith vs. reason, individual vs. group) and because the PCs' motives imply ferreting out the town's dirty little secrets, there's an inevitable collision between player agency as expressed through characters' decision-making and certain underlying moral dilemmas.  (Now, sure, DitV includes plenty of other techniques/emphases that aren't remotely Simulationist, but heck, by my admittedly esoteric standards, so does GURPS.)


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 26, 2011, 08:47:34 AM
Alfryd, I totally get this. When I was in the thick of trying to figure out GNS, looking at some of my favourite game sessions, one day I thought they were Sim and the next day I thought they were Nar. One day I read some comments about Nar that seemed just alien to me, considerations on a seamingly abstract level of “statements” and “meaning” and, worst of all, “premise” that I never could relate to, and I thought, these guys are playing a totally different game than me. Another day, I read some account of a supposedly Nar game and I thought, hey, that sounds fun, that’s the kind of thing I like to play, too.

...At some point I decided I just don’t need to know.
Frank- thanks for sharing.  I mean, personally speaking I feel that this style of play is still focused on 'saying something', it's just that group wants a relatively strong guarantee that what wounds up being said is... I guess you could say 'accurate'.  I just get this sense that if you have improvise things in order to prove a point, then the point isn't genuinely reflective of life.

I've been giving some thought myself to creating a solidly Simulationist system that would sort of 'push the envelope' as far toward Nar as I think it's possible to get without violating what I'd consider to be basic Sim principles (minimal improvisation, IC/OOC separation, fidelity to source material, etc.)  I'm a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, for example, along with Dune and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, so I thought that a terraforming-simulation overlaid with faction politics/philosophies and influential leaders would be an interesting way to approach the 'closed system' ideal of Sim design (after all, systems don't get much more 'closed' than an entire frickin' planet.)


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: stefoid on March 26, 2011, 11:38:17 AM
Whats improv got to do with GNS?


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 27, 2011, 11:03:33 AM
Whats improv got to do with GNS?
Nothing in itself- it's just that a lot of Simulationist design (and I definitely get this feeling myself) seems to emphasise this idea that 'the world exists, we're not just making it up'.  I mean, in one sense it's obviously false- the whole proceedings are imaginary- but I think the ideal is that you have (A) certain starting assumptions and (B) everything else should follow logically from that within the framework of the laws governing the imagined world (including the oft-unarticulated laws that operate within the characters' simulated psyches.)

When I say 'minimal improvisation', what I mean is that, if Law X states that 'A + B implies C', and A, B and C all refer to potential events or properties of the world, and A and B are presently true within the world, then C happens, and that's fine from a Sim perspective.  However, C popping into reality spontaneously is not cool, and if the GM just decides that C has 'popped', for whatever other reasons, you have 'improvisation'.

Of course, this ideal raises all kinds of practical difficulties, and gets even uglier when you toss in the insistence that players must know, and have control over, nothing the characters wouldn't.  Because then the GM has to keep the machinery of an entire universe in their head (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/12/13/), and the players have to essentially take it on trust that he or she is some kind of Mentat paragon always capable of maintaining a perfect separation between (A) what would genuinely seem most likely to happen on the basis of pre-established knowledge of the world, and (B) what he or she would personally like to happen as a real human being.  (I would personally contend there is such a distinction, but the temptation to mix the two is perfectly real.  And of course, depending on your overarching goal, may not be a bad thing.  But it ain't Sim.)

Anyways, I didn't initially mean to go at such length, so I'll wrap it up there.  I guess that's my personal take on the matter.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: stefoid on March 27, 2011, 03:59:24 PM
I think the general understanding of improv is that the GM reacts to the players during play, and the 'plot' arises from that interaction on the fly, as opposed to preconceiving a plot before play and walking the players through it.  (to some degree or other).

Your definition of improv seems to me to be :  introducing a situation into the fiction for reasons other than in-game causality.  Is that a fair understanding?

If so, I would use another term for it.  It seems to me that using 'improv' as I define it is going to help simulation play because you are reacting (with 100% causality) to what the players are doing, rather than trying to direct them back to the pre-conceived plot which may result in you ignoring/lessening causality of player actions  because it would take the game away from the preconceived idea of where it should go.

Your version of 'improv' is better described as 'agenda' , as everybody has been saying.   If your agenda is causality then you are playing a simulist game, regardless of the situations that arise during play sometimes being the same as what might arise with a narativist agenda.

However, to have a narrative agenda you cant railroad, because that wouldnt allow the players to explore the situations as they see fit.  So narativist agenda and improv go hand in hand.  Which is probably why you are saying that imrpov is about narativist play and should be avoided for simulist agendas, but that isnt the case.  Two seperate issues.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: contracycle on March 27, 2011, 04:40:35 PM
Of course, this ideal raises all kinds of practical difficulties, and gets even uglier when you toss in the insistence that players must know, and have control over, nothing the characters wouldn't.  Because then the GM has to keep the machinery of an entire universe in their head (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/12/13/), and the players have to essentially take it on trust that he or she is some kind of Mentat paragon always capable of maintaining a perfect separation between (A) what would genuinely seem most likely to happen on the basis of pre-established knowledge of the world, and (B) what he or she would personally like to happen as a real human being.  (I would personally contend there is such a distinction, but the temptation to mix the two is perfectly real.  And of course, depending on your overarching goal, may not be a bad thing.  But it ain't Sim.)

Uff.  I dispute that.  First of all, I think the logic of "what would happen" is weak.  All too often that means "what would be the most probable outcome", but reality is more complex than probable outcomes.  What if the odds between two outcomes are 51% and 49%?  To assume that Sim MUST take the former when the two are so close is very limiting.

Second, I don't think that individual preferences are ruled out.  If "what would happen" was all that was inviolved, most FRPG sim play would be reduced to peasants harvesting their fields.  After all, that's where you'd most likely be born, thats the limited world you would most likely encounter, and maybe if you're lucky one day you'll get to go to the town fair 10 miles away.

So, I think there is a lot of personal preference type choices being made in sim, and this is not inherently flawed.  As long as it maintains the integrity of causality and consistency, there is room for a lot of improbably, atypical, and unusual sorts of outcomes, which are frankly necessary for play to also be fun.  At any rate, I don't beat myself up over it.

The issue of holding universe in the head is I think a problem that is potentially mechanical.  We've got all sorts of sim type mechanics for how far someone can jump or how fast they can run under a heavy load but very little that deals with things like sociology and politics.  And I don't mean "persuade" rolls and the like, I mean things like how bodies of people act and react.  One could rather flippantly argue that Jan Huss wasn't burnt at the stake because his Persuade roll failed, but because it succeeded.  Dealing with the probablities of physical things is all very well, but the absence of mechanics for social things means that these are left to the GM by default, not because it is a necessity of the form.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Caldis on March 27, 2011, 08:21:35 PM

I cant say I've ever experienced this kind of play but maybe that's because I just tend to see all the dials and knobs being turned and dont worry about it.

Take your post apocalyptic game for an example, there are literally hundreds of choices you have to make in determining what is 'realistic' in the game world and in a whole lot of these choices what may be most realistic would likely end up with a pretty uninteresting world.  How the characters will interact with the game world is a huge question.  Do you want the characters fighting zombies or should they be to dangerous to fight and the characters should run and hide?   Will their be constant masses of zombies moving around hunting for the characters or can the characters settle down and try and grow food and create a new society.  Can animals become zombies?  Do zombies move fast or slow?  How badly injured do you have to be to become infected?  What's the chance of characters becoming infected? 

You talk a lot about once play starts but really the things that are decided before play starts have a huge impact on how the game will turn out.  Embedding those moral/ethical problems in the setting is one, chosing situations that come up in play that emphasize or ignore them and make a choice necessary or treating it as meaningless is another, that includes things like the ramifications of these ethical decisions happening offscreen or outside the scope of play.   Conversely all these decisions made before play begins shape how play will turn out to such a huge fashion that I dont see the difference between the preplay manipulation and the in play manipulation like railroading.  Some people may not accept it, others do, I cant accept that it is anathema to sim play.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Roger on March 28, 2011, 10:15:54 AM
...the thing is that- while I agree there needs to be an 'emotional connection' in the sense that the players do care about how the characters feel, that doesn't mean player feelings equate with character feelings.

Oh, absolutely -- you'll notice that I asked exclusively about player feelings.  I don't think character feelings have any relevance here.

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So, in that sense, focusing on player responses as opposed to character reponses could be misleading.

This look very interesting, but I'm finding too many ways to parse that to have a good sense of what you're saying.  So far I'm between:

1.  Focusing on a player's emotional response to the fiction, as opposed to a character's emotional response within the fiction, could be misleading.

2.  Focusing on a player's response to a situation, where the response is deciding to leave someone outside to die, could be misleading as opposed to focusing on the character's response to do so.

Or possibly you mean both.  Or neither.  Anyway, I'd really like to hear more from you about this; I think it'll be important.

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Again, I would say this is predicated on the assumption that (A) the player-characters are all perfectly rational and (B) that large-scale outcomes are deterministic (which is to say, you can forecast in advance what the 'optimal' outcome would be without, as it were, 'experimenting' with different courses of action.)  I don't think either of those assumptions actually accords with observations of reality.  Which means it is, at best, a rather selective application of Sim principles.

Looking back over what I wrote, I was definitely unclear about how the players and the player characters each relate to the Premise.  Let me take another stab at it:

Players address Premise through the lens of the player character.  However, there's no requirement that they reach similar conclusions about the Premise; indeed, it's quite common for them to reach opposite conclusions.

Considering a Premise like "Is a ruthless selfishness necessary to survive in a crisis?", I might personally be predisposed towards the opinion that No, it's not at all necessary and in fact dooms the ruthless person.  In order to address it within the game, I may very well be inclined to play a character who is of the opposite opinion -- he believes that it is necessary, and quite possibly he'll believe that right up until the moment of his death.  Or if I'm personally predisposed to believe in ruthless selfishness, I might play a character who actively pursues selflessness, and who is likely to do so up until the moment of his death.

I think this approach appeals to me because it makes it a little easier to avoid Anvilicious Aesop play; I mean the characters sitting around and telling each other "You know, I've learned an important lesson.  In such troubled times, we cannot pursue our own ruthless selfishness at all costs, lest we lose our humanity and become little more than the monsters we are fighting."  That's enough to turn anyone off Story Now.

So, yeah, there's no need for the player-characters to be at all rational, or to resolve the dilemma of the Premise in the same way the players do.

That being said, is there any requirement for the Right to Dream player to be rational?  Hmmm.  Deep question, this.  I would suggest that it is a fundamental feature of Right to Dream play.  The enjoyment comes from Exploring the rational cause-and-effect System.  As the Right to Dream essay proposes, "Internal Cause is King".  I can't think of any examples of irrational play that would persist beyond a short-lived superstition, but I'm happy to hear suggestions.

Of course, there's no inherent requirement for a player, having rationally reached an optimal plan, to make his character equally rational.  Indeed, I suspect there's a strong mode of Right to Dream play that I might characterize as Guinea Pigging -- intentionally sending one's character into harm's way as an experimental way to Explore System.  I suspect this may be what's happening in the description of play at Does chance favour a good story? (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=31269.0) but perhaps extensive discussion about this point belongs in its own thread.

Anyway, that feels like quite a lot already to respond to, so I'll wrap it up there.



Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 28, 2011, 10:41:08 AM
I think the general understanding of improv is that the GM reacts to the players during play, and the 'plot' arises from that interaction on the fly, as opposed to preconceiving a plot before play and walking the players through it.  (to some degree or other).

Your definition of improv seems to me to be :  introducing a situation into the fiction for reasons other than in-game causality.  Is that a fair understanding?

If so, I would use another term for it.  It seems to me that using 'improv' as I define it is going to help simulation play because you are reacting (with 100% causality) to what the players are doing, rather than trying to direct them back to the pre-conceived plot which may result in you ignoring/lessening causality of player actions  because it would take the game away from the preconceived idea of where it should go.

If you want to phrase 'improvisation' in that way, sure, yeah I can agree with that.  And, yes, being 100% faithful to in-world causality does not have to entail that PC choices are insignificant, because PC choices are an in-world event that should have some repercussions.  The trouble with Sim is that everything else that happens in the world would also, logically, have repercussions, so in order for player choices to be significant, they would have to be expressed through control of characters who are powerful/influential enough to give the environment a run for it's money.  Otherwise, you have to resort to metagame.

In other words, I consider railroading/force to be a misrepresentation of in-world causality to the same extent that, say, heavy use of Director stance would be.  The former completely poisons Nar play, the latter can enhance it, but I would argue that Sim properly rejects both, or occupies some kind of middle ground.

Going further- and I realise that a lot of folks don't really see the difference- I would distinguish between-
*  "Player choices don't always matter because the GM spontaneously invents stuff that negates the consequences of their characters' actions", and-
*  "Player choices don't always matter because the world's internal logic had consequences which cancelled out the effect of PC actions."

The simplest example of the difference I can give is as follows:  The GM rolls dice and compares the result to a table to determine the weather appropriate to the local climate and current season.  Turns out a Force 10 hurricane is headed the players' way, and wipes out the irrigation system they were working so hard on.  I think it's clear that, however much it sucks for the PCs, this wasn't an arbitrary decision to impose some predecided plotline on events.

Why would you want to include this?  Because it can increase the accuracy of the simulation to incorporate certain forms of random event.  After all, weather happens, and chaos is fair (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iwf20t9J1k).

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Your version of 'improv' is better described as 'agenda' , as everybody has been saying.   If your agenda is causality then you are playing a simulist game, regardless of the situations that arise during play sometimes being the same as what might arise with a narativist agenda.

I still incline toward the view that if it looks like address of premise, walks like address of premise, and quacks like address of premise, it's address of premise.  I'll freely concede that premise-addressing moments-of-decision may arrive with somewhat lower frequency than dark-chocolate-with-cinnamon-sprinkles narrativism, but if stories are about (Moral Choices)X(Consequences), this simply strikes me as a question of tradeoffs between how strictly you model Consequences versus how reliably you hit with Moral Choices.  But how, exactly, do you walk out of this game without player actions producing a theme?  Where is the ostensible boundary condition between Sim and Nar?


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 28, 2011, 10:53:58 AM
Uff.  I dispute that.  First of all, I think the logic of "what would happen" is weak.  All too often that means "what would be the most probable outcome", but reality is more complex than probable outcomes.  What if the odds between two outcomes are 51% and 49%?  To assume that Sim MUST take the former when the two are so close is very limiting.

Yup- this is indeed one of the 'practical difficulties' one might mention, and I absolutely agree that this is exacerbated by a lack of well-defined techniques for handling large-scale social outcomes (wars, famines, revolts, etc.)  The result is that the players not only have to trust that the GM is calculating the odds fairly within his/her head, but in some sense rolling internal mental dice to see how those odds translate to specific events, and also without any inclination to 'load' those dice.  Which, again, rather strains belief.

So yes, I would absolutely agree that having express, up-front mechanics for resolving large-scale events in a fair and plausible fashion would greatly benefit Sim play of this type.

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Second, I don't think that individual preferences are ruled out.  If "what would happen" was all that was inviolved, most FRPG sim play would be reduced to peasants harvesting their fields.  After all, that's where you'd most likely be born, thats the limited world you would most likely encounter, and maybe if you're lucky one day you'll get to go to the town fair 10 miles away.

I would argue that this is a question of the 'initial assumptions'- namely, it's fine to assume that the PCs will be characters who will, in likelihood, get up to 'interesting' stuff (in this case, powerful nobility.)  I mean, just from the perspective of a Simulation's purpose being to determine 'how events could really turn out', there's justification for focusing on those individuals whose actions would have the largest impact on events.  It's the most efficient allocation of 'processing power' when it comes to computing final results, because it gives each player responsibility for modelling aspects of the world that are likely to be roughly equally influential.  From that perspective, it's fine and dandy not to dwell too much on the hapless peasantry, precisely because they have almost no voice in the proceedings.  (Again, shitty system of government.)

You talk a lot about once play starts but really the things that are decided before play starts have a huge impact on how the game will turn out.  Embedding those moral/ethical problems in the setting is one, chosing situations that come up in play that emphasize or ignore them and make a choice necessary or treating it as meaningless is another, that includes things like the ramifications of these ethical decisions happening offscreen or outside the scope of play.   Conversely all these decisions made before play begins shape how play will turn out to such a huge fashion that I dont see the difference between the preplay manipulation and the in play manipulation like railroading....

I understand your point, but one of the points I'm making is that, by ensuring the PCs genuinely have a level of mechanical power/influence/information that's commensurate to the scale of the setting/situation, it's possible for their choices to have a dramatic impact on final outcomes without having to distort the strict modelling of in-world causality.  An example I gave was influential nobility within a feudal setting- the idea that their decisions could have major historical ramifications doesn't hinge on some fluke perturbation of the odds, but is entirely expectable.  (With that said, the result would quite possibly be a form of Blood Opera.)

In the case of the zombie scenario- sure, the PCs are only a handful of guys/gals, but there's only a relatively small number of other guys/gals left in the locale regardless, so again, it's entirely reasonable that a handful of survivors could tip the balance of whatever conflicts are underway in the setting/situation.  And the various questions you raise as to how the zombies react/behave, how vulnerable, persistent, contagious and numerous they are, etc., would all be part of that initial calibration with respect to PC influence/ability.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Caldis on March 28, 2011, 12:58:37 PM
I understand your point, but one of the points I'm making is that, by ensuring the PCs genuinely have a level of mechanical power/influence/information that's commensurate to the scale of the setting/situation, it's possible for their choices to have a dramatic impact on final outcomes without having to distort the strict modelling of in-world causality.  An example I gave was influential nobility within a feudal setting- the idea that their decisions could have major historical ramifications doesn't hinge on some fluke perturbation of the odds, but is entirely expectable.  (With that said, the result would quite possibly be a form of Blood Opera.)

This is exactly the point though.  By setting the game up in such a manner and then following through on those expectations in play and also allowing the players to freely choose how to respond to those situations you are engaging in a narrativist creative agenda and not a simulationist one.   I dont have a link handy but there was a fair bit of talk about technical agenda in play which would refer to preferences as to the techniques used in play. They differed from creative agenda because creative agenda extends beyond play, it's the reason for the game and what you hope to achieve with the game.

I think this reflects back on what you were talking about above with contra.  You 'initial assumptions' are chosen to find characters who will get involved in 'interesting stuff' but not everyone is going to find the same stuff interesting.  Feudal nobles could have a lot of influence in political situations but I dont find many games about feudal nobles.  In my experience with fantasy games characters tend to be sword swingers or spell slingers, trouble shooters capable of certain actions but with little political power.  Usually those political characters are npc's and they provide opportunities to the characters, engage them in activities where they can show off their abilities.  What the players find to be 'interesting stuff' tends to be mission based play and gaining powers and abilities over time while a bigger plot plays out in the background that they slowly uncover.  This is simulationist play, certainly not the only kind of such play but a definite valid form, it may have the appearance of gamist play at times but there is never a question of step on up, no challenges to face simply a question of how the characters will succeed.  A strength of this form of play is that you keep your group united, working together and they can all be present and involved in most scenarios.



Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: stefoid on March 28, 2011, 02:23:51 PM

If you want to phrase 'improvisation' in that way, sure, yeah I can agree with that.  And, yes, being 100% faithful to in-world causality does not have to entail that PC choices are insignificant, because PC choices are an in-world event that should have some repercussions.  The trouble with Sim is that everything else that happens in the world would also, logically, have repercussions, so in order for player choices to be significant, they would have to be expressed through control of characters who are powerful/influential enough to give the environment a run for it's money.  Otherwise, you have to resort to metagame.

Players choices are significant if you focus on, and play out the consequences of those decisions to their full extent.  the magnitude of those consequences doesn't really come into it.  they could be earth shattering or purely personal for the character involved, depending on the game.  If you rob the players of a chance to make a decision or modify the natural consequences of the decision, in order to drive the plot, then thats where player decisions become less significant.

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Your version of 'improv' is better described as 'agenda' , as everybody has been saying.   If your agenda is causality then you are playing a simulist game, regardless of the situations that arise during play sometimes being the same as what might arise with a narativist agenda.

I still incline toward the view that if it looks like address of premise, walks like address of premise, and quacks like address of premise, it's address of premise.  I'll freely concede that premise-addressing moments-of-decision may arrive with somewhat lower frequency than dark-chocolate-with-cinnamon-sprinkles narrativism, but if stories are about (Moral Choices)X(Consequences), this simply strikes me as a question of tradeoffs between how strictly you model Consequences versus how reliably you hit with Moral Choices.  But how, exactly, do you walk out of this game without player actions producing a theme? 
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Where is the ostensible boundary condition between Sim and Nar

In the agenda of the people at the table.  If your agenda is causality, you arent addressing a premise or producing a theme, you are addressing causality which might have a few themey moments.  and it doesnt matter!   Is it the right agenda for you and the rest of the people at the table?  thats all that matters.  Or do you want the chocolate and cinnamon sprinkle badge of narrativist superiority that is awarded to sim players of exceptional merit?  :)


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 28, 2011, 04:08:49 PM

This look very interesting, but I'm finding too many ways to parse that to have a good sense of what you're saying.  So far I'm between:

1.  Focusing on a player's emotional response to the fiction, as opposed to a character's emotional response within the fiction, could be misleading.

2.  Focusing on a player's response to a situation, where the response is deciding to leave someone outside to die, could be misleading as opposed to focusing on the character's response to do so.

Roger, I'll probably have to think about this and get back to you.  For now, I'll just say that, to me, direct player input to characters' decision-making isn't so much the overall goal as an incidental (though strong) requirement of getting character responses that are actually convincing.

I still think that there is an expectation on the player to maintain a healthy respect for the character's internal motivations, whether established before or altered during play, but there also needs to be a kernel of choice in the equation if you're going to reproduce human behaviour.

However, I don't really think that bringing your personal, real-world beliefs to the characters you play, all of the time, or other fairly obvious breaches of IC/OOC motivation, is particularly healthy for Sim play.  I think it's possible to play characters that hold beliefs that are radically different from your own as a real person and still get perfectly valid input to theme.

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That being said, is there any requirement for the Right to Dream player to be rational?  Hmmm.  Deep question, this.  I would suggest that it is a fundamental feature of Right to Dream play.  The enjoyment comes from Exploring the rational cause-and-effect System.  As the Right to Dream essay proposes, "Internal Cause is King".  I can't think of any examples of irrational play that would persist beyond a short-lived superstition, but I'm happy to hear suggestions.

That is an interesting question, but I don't think the subject is all that complex.  I absolutely agree that Simulationist play has a deep emphasis on the rational analysis and modelling of internal cause-and-effect.  But at the same time, the imagined world can contain not-perfectly-rational characters, and some or all of those might be PCs.  And in order to rationally model their behaviour, you need to have them behave irrationally, at least on occasion.  1 times 0 == 0.  (This is assuming you can even define perfectly rational behaviour under all circumstances, which, as I went over, I would contend is not always possible.)

All I'm sayin' is, in the real world, folks don't always see eye to eye.  It seems out-of-character to insist that never happen in Sim, if you want to get outcomes that resemble reality.

In the agenda of the people at the table.  If your agenda is causality, you arent addressing a premise or producing a theme, you are addressing causality which might have a few themey moments.
This is exactly the point though.  By setting the game up in such a manner and then following through on those expectations in play and also allowing the players to freely choose how to respond to those situations you are engaging in a narrativist creative agenda and not a simulationist one.

Again, I would venture that this is defining Simulationism as "Internal Cause is King, except when that also produces Theme, in which case it is only Narrativist."  There's nothing inconsistent about the definition, but it possibly sells Sim short, and leads to a fractured understanding of what it's really 'about'.

I entirely agree with your characterisation of PC roles in most FRPGs, but I would also point out that the great bulk of such systems are not especially Narrativist in emphasis.  And I agree that combat-physics and skill-advancement is a perfectly valid and interesting aspect of in-world cause-and-consequence to explore, but so is exploring the ways in which PC choices can affect large-scale events, and any potential to create Theme as a side-effect would not, in my opinion, cause it's Sim qualities to suddenly evaporate.

Players choices are significant if you focus on, and play out the consequences of those decisions to their full extent.  the magnitude of those consequences doesn't really come into it.  they could be earth shattering or purely personal for the character involved, depending on the game.  If you rob the players of a chance to make a decision or modify the natural consequences of the decision, in order to drive the plot, then thats where player decisions become less significant.

Well, strictly speaking, if the local environment consists of a ten-by-ten foot padded cell, then you can focus on and play out the consequences of the players' choices to their full extent and none of it will matter a damn.  Because the full extent of your choices is ten feet.

Now, I entirely agree that choices with small-scale consequences can be very meaningful and potent when the 'arena of resolution' is similarly small.  For example, a small-town drama, or heck, just a bunch of people in the same room with a lot of emotional baggage.  But the harsh fact is that the bold company of plucky adventurers is actually hugely unlikely to topple the grave threat which besets all the realm unless you bend over backwards to rig the odds in their favour.  Which has nothing to do with Sim.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: contracycle on March 28, 2011, 04:56:51 PM
If "internal cause is king" more or less accidentally goes ahead and creates theme, thats fine.  It just won't do it consistently.  So if you play according to "internal cause is king" consistently, MOST of your play won't produce theme.

See, this is what I was trying to get at by pointing to situational selection.  I don't think it'sd limited to initial setup at all.  Although the fundamental draw is exploration of causality in the imaginary world, you still need to contrive situaitons in which that is brought about, in which Interesting Stuff Happens.  And when Interesting Stuff Happens, you have reasonable odds of stumbling into the same sort of fictional situations that might potentially produce address of premise and thence theme.  But that is a side effect, and if the players at the table aren't actively trying to pursue that, it may well flop or just be incidental.  But more often, you're going to find they more or less contradict each other.  The thing that would be most thematically satisfying would require causality be rejected or vice versa.

And the only reason that this is worth mentioning, worth attaching a label to, is because you might have one player who lives for the thematic moments and another player who enjoys the exploration of causality, and one or the other is not going to be fully satisfied.  I think you have overextended the definitions; the description of RTD does not say "and it never ever produces any kind of thematic play whatsoever", just as the Narr definition does not claim "and it never ever includes any kind of causality exploration".  They are PRIORITIES, not absolute limits.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: stefoid on March 28, 2011, 05:02:41 PM
I guess I really just dont understand the point of what you are trying to resolve here?  When you sit down to play a game, you prioritise the elements of play that are important to you and your group and you play that way.  The resulting game might have gamist moments, it might have themey moments, it might have simmy moments.  It doesnt matter what you label the resulting mishmash - what matters is a) are you getting what you expect and b) is that satisfying for everyone playing?

Are you engaging in a theoretical play-labelling discussion here, trying to understand the convolutions of forge theory, or are you having problems with a) and/or b) at the table?


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 29, 2011, 01:14:27 AM
Look, it's possible that I'm reading too much into this, or that I'm just fussing excessively over arbitrary labels.  And I apologise if I've pored over some article from years ago and seized upon some isolated remarks out of context.

I would add that I have an immense respect for the body of practical observations that folks on the forge have built up over time, and that I have found the various on-site articles and discussion threads to be enormously informative and full of useful insights- Ron's in particular.  I absolutely do not dispute that various techniques associated with the different modes can severely undermine and contradict eachother in non-obvious ways, and I entirely agree that analysis of player motivations is hugely important.  There is, in my mind, absolutely no question that discussion of The Threefold Model, GNS, and The Big Model has had a huge and overwhelmingly positive impact on system design and promoted healthier habits within the hobby as a whole.

However.

I don't understand how Premise-expressing elements can be included and players not be considered addressing a Premise when they can't resolve the Situation without doing so.

I don't understand how a heavy focus on in-world causality that incorporates observations of how people behave in the real world cannot be considered Simulationist.


Because apparently, you can have High-Concept Sim with a strong focus on drama and player autonomy, and that'll be just Simulationist, and you can have Vanilla Narrativism with a strong focus on Exploration, and that'll be just Narrativist (even when the group itself had no conscious notion they were playing that way or the other, and if you asked them, might give totally different answers.)  But hey- these are, evidently, both potentially totally functional creative agendas that the whole group can groove to.  And apparently, very very difficult to functionally distinguish from eachother, in terms of how much time and attention is paid to which bits and pieces during play.

If it's a question of 'no artificial additives, flavourings or preservatives means Sim', and 'inescapable moral questions with consequences equals Nar', to whatever degree, then I contend it is possible to accomodate both.  Or, if it's a question of procedural tradeoffs being involved between promoting one or the other, then it seems there are viable positions all along the spectrum between that can be totally functional creative agendas for particular groups.  I have absolutely have no problem with that idea.  But either way, that invalidates one of the key predictions of GNS theory, which is that groups that 'muddy' their agendas should experience at best mediocre and at worst dysfunctional play.

I'm just getting a distinct sense of 'oh, it's a particle', or 'oh, it's a wave' depending on how on how you interpret the results, with the implication that never the twain shall meet.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: stefoid on March 29, 2011, 04:25:55 AM
Im the wrong person to talk forge theory with --  I find the way it is defined by "story now" where players  collectively agree to address an ethical theme as a bit freaky in some contexts.  However I can see how playing nar games where the entire ruleset revolves around a specific premise means you cant possibly avoid it if you play that game.  So perhaps thats all the 'agreement' amounts to -- lets play this specific game that is about this premise.  Agenda.  But I havent played any of those games.

I just know what elements of role playing I prioritize - drama over 'realism', cinematic style conflict resolution, conflict res over task res, improv over predefined plot, etc...    What classification that falls under doesnt matter.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: contracycle on March 29, 2011, 05:38:55 AM
Things is that, back in the day, when the internet put large numbers of gamers into direct contact with each other for the first time, it rapidly became clear that there were massively conflicting ideas about people in games should be doing.  This collapsed into a whole bunch of you're-doing-it-wrong type arguments, and worse, you're-a-pervert-dteroying-the-hobby type stuff.  And to cool this down somewhat, a model was devekloped that recognised that not everyone was after exactly the same experience of play.

So the one thing we know is that there are a bunch of people out there who would have liked to address premise, but the rest of the group compromised that goal becuase they were more interested in The Dream, and vice versa, and that there are whole groups who would look at other groups play style and say it's sucky and boring. The GNS categorisation is an attempt to explain that phenmonon, not to assert or impose it.

I'd agree that if players really CAN'T resolve a situation except by addressing premise, and if this is a CONSISTENT feature of play, then that is Narr.  But I'd bet real money that in a sim game most of the time players COULD resolve the situation without addressing premise, and that even when it does occur it's NOTa consistent feature of play.

Now at the risk of making gross and unfair assumptions, I think the example you gave is one of an essentially accidental occurrence.  It looks to me rather like the following happened: the GM wanted to intoriduce a pet character, or a source of plot or setting information, into the group; and chose a female character in the hopes this would arouse greater sympathy, and gave her a lot of weapons so she would appear useful and competent.  When you rejected her, she was disposed of, because the GM is either going to abandon the attempt or try another device to introduce whatever function that character was supposed to fulfill.  It's probably caused some sort of prep rewrite.

That doesn't seem to me like the GM pushed a situation that was intended to invoke a premise addressing response, not least because ther decision was so sharp and binary, without buildup.  Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe you will find that the GM is indeed doing precisely that, and similar situations continue to arise, and are in fact the important part of play, both to the GM and to the players - rather than the exploration of the dream world that you're inhabiting.  From the rest of what you've said about the game, the strong interest seems to lie in the pseudo-reality of the game world; it doesn't seem to me that the players or GM are actively seeking out opportunities to address premise.  So I see no reason not to describe this as sim.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Caldis on March 29, 2011, 12:40:47 PM

One of the things to remember about premise and addressing premise is that it's something that remains constant throughout the game.  You dont just do it in one instant of play its something that affects play throughout the game.  The idea comes from Lagos Egri's work on stage plays and it referred to the whole play being focused on addressing the premise of the play.   Now there are differences between a stage play and a roleplaying game so it's not a direct translation but the idea holds true.  Your one moment of ethical choice doesnt necessarily express premise, if it doesnt have any further impact on the game.  I'd suggest that setting up a post-apocalyptic game world where your characters will constantly be challenged to survive and they have to make ethical choices based on that challenge to survive is predisposing the game towards narrativism, it could go towards gamism if it's a test of the players ability to see if they can get the characters to survive or sim if it's not so much about what ethical choices the characters make but how there physical abilities and possesions change over time as they live through the apocalypse.

I think another problem is you've set out that you think certain elements are essential sim elements but you havent really been outlined what those are.  I notice in the one thread you linked to Eero started to talk about how your assumptions fell in line with nar thought, character integrity being essential to nar whereas you had claimed it for sim territory.  So it might be more fruitful to discuss what are the baseline assumptions for sim play and see if we can come to agreement on those rather than just continue what looks to be talking past each other here.  That might warrant another thread or maybe we can just discuss your bullet points I see problems with associating several of them with sim play and not play in general.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 29, 2011, 01:38:12 PM
Now at the risk of making gross and unfair assumptions, I think the example you gave is one of an essentially accidental occurrence.  It looks to me rather like the following happened: the GM wanted to intoriduce a pet character, or a source of plot or setting information, into the group; and chose a female character in the hopes this would arouse greater sympathy, and gave her a lot of weapons so she would appear useful and competent.  When you rejected her, she was disposed of, because the GM is either going to abandon the attempt or try another device to introduce whatever function that character was supposed to fulfill.  It's probably caused some sort of prep rewrite.

I'm not holding up the zombie campaign as an ideal example, and I totally agree that might well be what was going on (I definitely suspected the GM of lapsing into illusionism on occasion.)  But again I don't consider illusionist techniques to have anything to do with simulation.  Spontaneously inventing an NPC for Plot Reason X, with a basis in prior events, is not internal cause being king.  However, anything like a fair assessment of the larger situation would essentially mandate bumping into other ragged survivors sooner or later- sooner, to be honest.

To give a different example, in a Traveller game I took part in recently, one of the other PCs was arrested for lingering around the scene of a murder (that my character had, incidentally, instigated by cheating at a gambling game and flubbing deception rolls.)  The GM clearly didn't want the PC to be dragged off into custody, since that would interfere with the central plotline he had in mind, so he had an angry mob coincidentally storm the plaza at the precise moment that they were reading the PC his rights.  Even when the PC chose to go along quietly, the GM had the mob pursue and knock out the windows at the interrogation chamber when they sat down.  Now, this is railroading with 'positive' pressure rather than 'negative' pressure, but it's still a concatenation of miracles that had nothing to do with the impartial assessment of in-world causality.  That is not Sim, and it strikes me as unfair to make this mode the collective GNS scapegoat for that kind of nonsense.

Conversely, if the other PC had been arrested, the other group members would be confronted with a choice of whether and how to rescue him, and/or the arrested PC might have been offered terms of release if he agreed to spill information on his comrades' likely whereabouts- both totally logical developments which raise valid ethical questions about loyalty, and don't require systemic distortion of in-world causality.


I think another problem is you've set out that you think certain elements are essential sim elements but you havent really been outlined what those are.

I thought I outlined this in the OP, but my understanding is largely as follows:
*  You have certain starting 'seed' assumptions that, ideally, resemble those of particular source materials.
*  Beyond that, events ideally unfold based on in-world causality and ONLY in-world causality.  Internal Cause Is King.  (This is subject to the understanding that player input as expressed through character decisions, along with certain random outcomes, are valid forms of in-world causality.)
*  The events that unfold should, in turn, ideally exhibit properties that resemble the source materials.  (However, 'unpredictability' may well be one of those properties.)

This applies on the level of physics/system, politics/setting, psychology/character, and everything in-between, though I acknowledge this doesn't mean that every Sim-inclined group is going to enjoy every aspect of Sim equally.  One group might go bananas for physics and care nothing for psychology, another group might be bowled over by politics and psychology and care nothing for physics, and might not care if certain aspects of Sim are heavily enforced and others are played very fast-and-loose.

But this basic idea that's present in so many Sim-oriented RPGs- namely the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast- has absolutely nothing to do with allowing in-world causality to reign supreme.  Nothing.  Not a damn thing.  Zip.  Nadda.  Nil.  Zilch.  It doesn't make inherent sense in terms of politics, it doesn't make inherent sense in terms of psychology, and it doesn't make inherent sense in terms of physics- particularly not when you take reality as your 'source material'.  In reality, we are not just puppets dancing on the strings of some magical force that predecides our fate, or rigid automatons with fixed patterns of stimulus/response.  If the world were a character, a railroad plot would be Pawn stance, not Actor.

Now, sure, there are certain kinds of Simulationist play where foregone conclusions might be justified to a fair degree- anything based on the Cthulhu Mythos, for example.  There's definitely a strong 'trend' within the original H.P. Lovecraft stories that the protagonists wind up insane, dead, or corrupted by the end of the proceedings, so if you want the system-expressed theory to make predictions that accord with observations, you'd want to reproduce that.  But there are ways to model this using explicit, above-board mechanics, precisely as From Beyond (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=31266.0) is currently attempting to do, in a way that isn't wholly dependant on illusionism, and allows for much more improvisational play (at least as I understand it.)  Hell, Arkham Horror (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkham_Horror)'s 'doom track' is more honest about it, and that's for pure Gamism.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 29, 2011, 01:52:54 PM
...for Plot Reason X, without a basis in prior events...
Whoops.  Fixed.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: stefoid on March 29, 2011, 02:58:46 PM



I think another problem is you've set out that you think certain elements are essential sim elements but you havent really been outlined what those are.

I thought I outlined this in the OP, but my understanding is largely as follows:
*  You have certain starting 'seed' assumptions that, ideally, resemble those of particular source materials.
*  Beyond that, events ideally unfold based on in-world causality and ONLY in-world causality.  Internal Cause Is King.  (This is subject to the understanding that player input as expressed through character decisions, along with certain random outcomes, are valid forms of in-world causality.)
*  The events that unfold should, in turn, ideally exhibit properties that resemble the source materials.  (However, 'unpredictability' may well be one of those properties.)

But this basic idea that's present in so many Sim-oriented RPGs- namely the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast- has absolutely nothing to do with allowing in-world causality to reign supreme.  Nothing.  Not a damn thing.  Zip.  Nadda.  Nil.  Zilch.  It doesn't make inherent sense in terms of politics, it doesn't make inherent sense in terms of psychology, and it doesn't make inherent sense in terms of physics- particularly not when you take reality as your 'source material'. 

The bolded bit is interesting -- when I made my bronze age fantasy heartbreaker, I had some personality stats which consisted of 6 or so sliders which represented opposite ends of a behavioural spectrum.   At one end of each spectrum was complete freedom of player choice and at the other end was complete constraint.  i.e.  <brave/cowardly>,   <immoral, moral>,   etc...    If you were perfectly brave and perfectly immoral, the player was 'allowed'  huge amounts of freedom in deciding character actions, whereas a craven, goody-two-shoes character would be constrained by those personality traits in relevant situations.

How these were used was pure sim.  During character creation, you set your sliders, and you got some points for spending elsewhere if you moved your sliders to the constrained end of a scale.  and having done that, thats how you were supposed to play your character.  There was even a rule that said if the player chose to play out of character as defined by the sliders, then the GM could call them on it.  so yeah, there was a player decision during character creation -- how much freedom of decision do I want for my character in certain situations...  and then during play, you were expected to stick to that.

Now during my current game design, I also have some 'personality stats' called Motivations which the primary purpose of is to drive character goals and complicate things for them.  And the rule in regard to how they effect player decisions is :  You decide under what circumstances the characters motivations might kick in, or when the character might break with those motivations.

So there is significant change in my outlook between those two games.  Is the first one sim and the second one supportive of nar?  probably...  but thats tangential to the issue behind the change in outlook.  The point remains, youll be much better off worrying about concrete aspects of play which you enjoy or dont enjoy and what you can do about that.  The GNS stuff is handy in that it if you find an aspect of your current play that you dont like, it might point you in a direction of a solution.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on March 31, 2011, 06:50:18 AM
I guess my personal opinion on the subject is that a character shouldn't violate a particular Motive gratuitously.  That is, if you've established particular goals, urges and ethics for your character, then the character shouldn't break them without a reason.

But there could be lots of reasons for breaking with a particular goal, urge, or ethic- some of which might be posed by the GM in a deliberate effort to foster drama, and some of which might emerge 'organically' on the basis of in-world cause-and-consequence (including the actions of other PCs, or the character's own personal epiphanies.)  "It's dangerous" could be one.  "My friend disagrees" is another.  Or- and this is perfectly possible- one of the character's basic motives could conflict with another.  In fact, I would contend that all moments of drama- i.e, the kind that drive good stories- involve a conflict between the character's motives which makes their behaviour difficult to predict.

It's just that not all the character's motives can be explicitly enumerated or formalised on paper.  Some of them could be ephemeral, some of them might develop or wither over time in response to accumulated experience, and some might barely need mentioning- the urge to preserve self, friends and kin, for example.  The only way to really grapple with the full nuances of the situation is to get a human brain in on the action, directly.  Factual mission-statements, dice-rolls and stats can help, but they cannot possibly capture the whole story.  You cannot exclude choice from the equation and expect to reproduce human behaviour.

So within that framework, I think there is still an expectation the player be able to put him or herself in the character's shoes, and think as they would for a bit.  I just don't think you should simplify the problem to the point of falsification.


Title: Re: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse
Post by: Alfryd on April 04, 2011, 03:39:38 PM
Anyway- since I'm largely babbling to myself at this point- I'd just like to say that if I've offended anyone who may have been involved in the games I cited, or if I phrased things indelicately, then I'd just like to apologise for that and hope it doesn't sour them on the idea of trying relatively plot-less games in the future.  I appreciate that getting this right is not trivial, that some RPG systems are better adapted for it than others, and that even under ideal circumstances, it ain't neccesarily for everyone.

To close- since I've basically been crapping all over the idea, and I do enjoy playing Devil's Advocate from time to time- I'll just make a few idle speculations as to why Sim games might, historically, have been conflated with fixed plotlines, for reasons that are, in and of themselves, sympathetic and understandable.

The first is that there is a focus on predictions matching up with observations.  Insofar as Sim-inclined players/GMs get a kick out of following the logic of internal cause-and-consequence, there is a certain pleasure to be gained from a sense of underlying predictability to events.  Hence, the association between Sim rulesets, and (A) Fixed-personality-profiles that allow the characters to be bounced off pre-scripted crises like billiard balls until they go down the right pot, or (B) Pastiche imitation of existing source-materials.  The Impossible Thing, after all, is not obvious on first viewing, and because drama applies to large-scale outcome and deep motivations, a focus on reductionist explanations means it's entirely possible to miss the forest for the trees.

Secondly, the strict focus on in-world causality and maintaining an illusion of tactile 'reality' means that baring the system mechanics too nakedly can disrupt the sense of 'immersion' that Sim players value- it can be an uncomfortable reminder of the underlying, artificial, real-world, stats-and-dice-driven scaffolding to the experience.  Hence, some players prefer that the GM keep all the dirty, oily, cantankerous details of the nuts and gears of the engine hidden behind the sleek, chrome-plated exterior of narrated outcomes and a well-placed GM screen.  (This might also account for the use of code-phrases like "easy", "difficult", "challenging", etc. in place of explicit target-numbers in things like FUDGE and Cyberpunk, IIRC.)  Hence, this huge investment of absolute trust in the GM to keep things humming along quietly in the background that often hides substantial operational defects.

Thirdly, in the same sense that rules-bloat in Sim design is often a kind of encysting inflammatory response to Gamist Calvinball-tactics (i.e, rules-lawyers,) it's possible that the rigid insistence on fixed responses to stimuli is a similarly ineffective 'precaution' against Hard Core Gamist incursions, but in the realm of psychology rather than physics, and in the opposite direction- simplifying things past the point of all reason.  In other words, the only way to get some Gamists out of naked Pawn stance is to make adherence to character motives mandatory.

So, I guess I'd just leave it there for now.  Thanks to everyone for the feedback.