[Werewolf] Simulationism: Dreaming is cool, but what's with "The Right"?

Started by David Berg, January 02, 2008, 01:16:04 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

David Berg

So, about a year ago, I played in a game based loosely on various World of Darkness books and rules.  It was not without hitches, but was generally fun, and folks looked forward to returning for each week's session.  I posted about this game here, and voiced various incorrect understandings about the Big Model.  I've since improved my understanding, but this game still has its lingering mysteries for me.  Here's the biggest one:

Quote from: David Berg on November 05, 2006, 02:25:56 AMMatt is the GM; Meg, John, Paul and I are the players.
. . .
John's character is extreme.  He was born and raised as a lizard.  He's spent most of his life in the Amazon.  Most of his kin hate technology . . . He's played [his character's] views with great passion during discussions with my "death is good" nut and Meg's atheist tech geek.

When success is on the line, though, John's decisions are quite predictable -- whatever's most effective.  The results follow a pattern illustrated by this example:

During a time crunch, he once tried to convey a concept, in-character, by starting with, "You've seen the Matrix, right?"  Paul and I instantly gave him odd looks, and Matt yelled, "John!"
"What, Matt?"
"Has your character seen the Matrix?"
"Uh, well, he could have..."
"Recently.  He's been trying to understand his new environment."
(Skeptical looks all around.)
"Would he understand it even if he did see it?"
"Oh... probably not.  Good point."

Sometimes this is followed by a second, more character-appropriate attempt.  When it's done well, everyone at the table smiles in approval, and John sometimes throws in something like, "Sorry about the Matrix, I hadn't though it through."

On days where someone's mean about calling him on such a discrepancy, or John's not in a good mood, this can go less well.  "Matt, you know what I want to explain to the guy, can't we just say my character explains it?!"

At the time, I thought, "Look!  Look!  John's playing Gamist and the rest of us aren't!  CA Clash!  Incoherence!" 

Ron corrected me, and since then, I have come to understand that John was a functional participant in our group CA (which Ron explained as being Sim), so he certainly wasn't "playing Gamist".  Rather, the clash he was embroiled in was a matter of Exploration itself.  Some gaming groups care that PCs not speak in "game-inappropriate" ways or use out-of-game knowledge, and these groups can be playing any CA and still retain (and enforce) these preferences.  It's an issue of "how do we use our characters to add content to the SIS?"

So, where's my lingering mystery?  I'm almost there!

In explaining to me why this game was Sim, Ron said:
Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 13, 2006, 04:45:50 PMSo here's what I mean - if you're in a scenario, then the investigations, conversations, and fights are part of making that basic scenario into the SIS, and resolving it as a feature of an ongoing, developing plot (for lack of a better word).  Think of this as "starting large," from the GM's prep, and then you guys all "fill in small" with the characters' actions and their outcome. But then, conversely, those actions and outcomes end up strengthening and making more internal sense out of the big picture, most typically when the GM returns to the prep stage for the next session.

In this case, what I'm saying is at first not relevant to GNS, because it's merely the useful interaction which generates an SIS, with a bit of a defined division-of-labor between GM and the rest of the group. No big deal. However, when this is made into the primary, driving aesthetic goal of play, so that the syncretic, responsive attention to the whole SIS' integrity not just a key feature, but actually a goal in action - there you go, that's some Sim for you, baby.

"Okay!" my brain went.  "The Dream!  Super important!  Exploration that is consistently fun and rewarding without needing to have G or N tacked onto it = Sim!"  All gaming groups care about the SIS' integrity to some degree, so any group might have admonished John for saying "The Matrix" -- but our particular group, with said SIS-integrity being our driving goal, well, it's no wonder our admonition was both firm and instantaneous.

The thing was, at that time, I missed the "Right" in "Right to Dream".  Ron covered it (I think) in that quote above, but I didn't fully digest it.  Subsequently, I read some older Forge threads, and found a lot of folks saying, "Sim is as simple as Exploration for it's own sake," and I still felt like I knew what the deal was.  But then I found this from Ron, which draws a distinction between Exploration and Sim that had eluded me:
QuoteA great deal of the aesthetic power of Simulationist play, as I see it (and I mean that literally), lies in (a) adding to or developing that package, and (b) enjoying its resiliency against potential violation. At its least extreme, this is pure emulation. At its most extreme, it is parody. In between, you get modifications like "Lovecraft on a starship" or "steampunk fantasy" and so on. In each case, the goals are just as I've stated with (a) and (b).
Always remember the (b)! Without it, (a) is merely the chassis for any Creative Agenda.

"Enjoying its resiliency against potential violation" sounds to me like "Enjoying my Right to not have my Dream intruded upon."  And assuming this enjoyment is participatory rather than passive, then that's what Ron said (and I glossed over) with, "responsive attention to SIS integrity = goal in action".

So, here's the lingering mystery:

Trying to Win?  Sounds like a solid reason to sit down and roleplay.

Trying to craft morally significant statements through addressing a problematic situation in play?  Also makes sense to me; let's roleplay and do that.

Even incoherent play held together by shared taste in Techniques and an enjoyable social setting makes sense to me.  We hang out and bullshit, and from time to time we have cool game experiences -- good enough, man, let's roleplay.  We all enjoy Exploration after all, we might as well do some together.

But maintaining the integrity of stuff we've agreed to imagine together?  Why the fuck would that make me want to go roleplay?

I just can't get this through my head as an answer to "what is Sim play for?"*  It just feels like a means to an end, not an end in itself.  "I went, I played, I won/lost," makes sense in a way that, "I went, I played, I imagined stuff without having the sacrosanct portion of that stuff violated," simply doesn't.

In the Werewolf game, it seems to me that the "adding to and developing the package" aspect of play was much more rewarding and more "the point" of play than making sure no one decided that Werewolves were really benevolent holographic space aliens or some such violation of agreed-upon-pre-game material.  Which I think means Exploration for Exploration's sake, with the "right" to explore in a certain way only more prominent than in G or N games because there's no G or N to override it.

Is my focus on fun and rewards off-base?  Should I just be thinking about how this "right" functions as an organizing principle (something I'm fuzzy on)?


*Ralph's ideas of "discovery" or "running a Simulation to see what happens" seem more plausible to me, though I'm not sure if those kinds of rewards are higher up (Exploration) or lower down (Techniques, Ephemera) on the Big Model than the rewards of Gamism or Narrativism.  I have further thoughts on where this kind of play would fit within the model, but I'll holster those for now.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Ron Edwards


Great post! Let's see if I can do this like throwing darts: toss, hit; toss, hit. If it doesn't work, then we can shift into a more lengthy-posting mode.

There are actually two parts to your question, I think. The first is "what is the 'right,'" and the second is, "jeez, why bother."


The key to the first question is that "Dream" is a grammatical variant of "the Dream" meaning the SIS - because it's a verb. It refers to the act of contributing to the SIS, which barring some kind of telepathy means talking (of which the SIS is composed), and which also means prompting and adding to whatever it is everyone else is able to contribute from that point on.

So if that's "Dreaming," then what is the right? It is the right to be listened to, and in the specific context of Simulationism, to tweak the shared material very strongly. Whatever the parameters are for that group and that game (a given reference, like Firefly or whatever; a given commitment to known physics; a genre as such; an aesthetic value given to depicting one's character; whatever), everyone else has to deal with what you are doing to the "input" material of play. That's your right: to have the contribution be taken seriously and enter into the realm of "the played," toward that end.

That's why Simulationist play is, using most existing RPG systems, delicate - because every time someone opens his or her mouth, there's a risk that the material-of-input will be stretched past the breaking point. And yet the point of play is literally to see that material stretched, at the very least put through its paces as genre or whatever, and in many cases to sustain significant challenge. Otherwise there's no snap or verve to the experience.

The group relies on a shared, constructive denial that they avoid such breaking points. Hitting one evaporates the denial and means that everyone is looking at one another with the essential contrivance revealed ... and their hopes of pushing the parameters they wanted to push, constructively or colorfully or whatever, completely dashed.

Classic example: playing superheroes, including a team member character who is willing to kill and talks tough. This requires a great deal of judgment and acceptance of risk, because if Wolverine-clone just turns around and guts Cyclops-clone in some scene or another when he's annoyed ... it's more than merely violating genre. And it's even more than the social gaffe of removing someone else's character from play. It most especially means that the player has broken the input-material (comics, superheroes, Marvel, X-Men) in a way from which it cannot recover, and he and everyone knew damn well that he didn't have to do that. The other people know that it was a gratuitious act, and that this person has violated their right to contribute further to this whole situation - it's now unplayable.

Within those limits of constructive denial, though, each person does have a powerful and perceived-as-inalienable right (i.e. social agreement) to stretch and challenge and work with any of the agreed-upon, valued, existing material that they treat as input into play. So it has to be done, or it won't be fun; the right to do it is the essence of powerful Simulationist play; and tacitly avoiding breakpoints in the material, which make doing it further impossible, is obligatory.

Traditionally, the systemic approach relies on probabilities and quantities, placed into relation with one another. Another, later approach that immediately became so widespread as also to be called traditional, relies on method acting and depiction. I suggest that neither works particularly well, and it's not surprising that the immediate fix (to privilege one member in the group with complete propositional and complete veto power) isn't satisfactory. After all, what good is a right when it's only to hit your mark and deliver your cued line? It's also not surprising that "system" became a dirty word for the latter group, because what good is a resolution technique which causes those breaking-points to happen  (i.e. the gunman rolls critical hit and critical damage and Superman fails his Health roll, and is killed by a pistol shot)?

I give all respect to some good tries, though: Unknown Armies, Fvlminata, and others come to my mind. I think we could also discuss Ysgarth, Hârn, the Avalon Hill version of RuneQuest, and similar games, which succeed so well in their weights-and-measures approach to everything in play that any character is guaranteed to be utterly plausible and utterly boring. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Pendragon is really successful, but people more experienced with it will have to investigate why.

Only recently, I think, has Simulationist play entered a systemic revolution. There are a number of good examples, of which my favorite is Dead of Night. I hope that the various Actual Play postings about it already show why and how it works as such. I'm sort of cursing at the moment too, because I keep remembering a title that I mean to mention in this same context, and yet failing to post about it because I forget, and now I'm forgetting again - and knowing I'm forgetting. Damn it.)


As for "why bother?" Well, I've noticed that once someone really gets the concept of Creative Agenda and understands the various options pretty well, at least one of three seems awfully unattractive to them. It was Simulationism for me, too. At first, all I wanted was finally to get consistent and fun Narrativist play of certain forms into action; then, secure that I and others could do it, I found myself branching into some forms of Gamist play with great zest and even ruthlessness. Only then, much later, did I find myself enjoying some forms of Simulationist play.

All I can say is, it's a lot like attending a big fun party in which everyone ... geez, I'll pick a real example, dresses up like a concept in evolutionary biology. I went as Constraint (a trench coat, label on the back) / Adaptation (only shorts underneath, label on my crotch). Other people went as the Plastic Phenotype, the Wild Type, Kamikaze Sperm, and Mosaic Habitat. Sue me, it was grad school, OK? My point is that we all liked seeing concepts with which we were familiar get lovingly twisted or even a bit abused into funny costumes which were references to them. The actual concept and controversy over adaptation vs. constraint is one thing; my extremely rude costume was another; and the payoff was realizing how the costume brought the concept into visual reality by mocking it. So I mocked it, and yet celebrated it, and it worked.

"Let's do Lovecraft on a space ship!" is a lot more potentially risky to the concept of the Mythos than it looks, at first. You're really putting one set of ideas (existential horror, nihilism, a-rationality) into a box of entirely different ideas (optimism, technophilia, faith in can-do, positivist science). Will it work? Even without knowing that you're doing this, only overtly processing "X with Y!" color in your mind, that's what makes the whole thing fun. It's not like someone says "Let's do Lovecraft in a rowboat!" Whether they pick another era, or pick another genre-trope to combine with the Mythos, it's only fun if it puts a little pressure on the Mythos ... can it do what it does (inspire a frisson of fear, revel in the breakdown of the mind, end quite badly for most concerned) in this new context which doesn't quite lend itself to such things?

Or if you're sticking to one genre or set of tropes, e.g. Bob's fantasy world, then it's a bit simpler - can the agreed-upon system actually sustain our characters' actions? If I cast this spell and do this and that and the other thing, are we able to celebrate Bob's world, or does it all get fucked up when we find the system can't cope? Playing Rafael Chandler's game Dread is a great example: you have to kind of jump straight into a no-holds-barred mode play, and you know that your character might do one last great deed, or that he or she might end up being as useless and worthless as a hero as he or she was in the back-story. Can the system live up to the necessary suspense and the shocking outcomes? As it happens, it can. It's fun to see it do that.

I mean, don't get me wrong, David, because I'm not trying to convince you to like Simulationist play. It is perfectly OK not to like a particular Creative Agenda, and it is also perfectly reasonable for the dislike to manifest as "why the hell would anyone do that?" After all, it's quite possible that that's exactly how a preference against a given agenda is experienced by definition.

My point in all of this is that past experience at the Forge has shown me that, over time and given much rewarding and coherent play experiences, one's CA preferences do tend to broaden.

Best, Ron

David Berg


Boom!  The first toss hits my first dart board smack in the middle.  I think it's a bullseye, tranforming "The Right" from something lame into something not lame, but I'm still squinting to make sure it isn't lodged in the "Big Model Structure" board divider next to the bullseye or some such.  More response to follow after further digestion.

The first toss also shakes the wall, dislodging my second dart board, which is labeled, "How could The Right: Lame Version be a fun goal?"

The second toss hits a whole new dartboard I hadn't seen before, which is labeled, "How could The Right: Not Lame Version be a fun goal?"  And then an "I'm not trying to get you to like Sim" disclaimer falls out, which cracks me up, because my entire past history of roleplaying includes no Narrativist play and only a few isolated occasions of maybe-Gamist play, and the bulk of what I've loved about roleplaying to date has been Simulationism if it's been any CA.  "Like Matt's Werewolf game, but with fewer hitches, more immersion in the 'place' of the gameworld, more player direction of what to Explore, and my favorite color bits," is largely what I'm interested in playing, GMing, and designing.

I have some thoughts on Sim design, and some questions about Dread and Dead of Night, but I'll wait on those until I've made sure that "The Right" is truly in "Not Lame" territory in my mind.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


Here's my take on the why do it question:

Have you ever heard of the concept of a finite game? A finite game is like, say, checkers, you play towards a stated goal, at the conclusion of which, you quit playing. On the opposite end you have infinite games... an infinite game is a game that you play in order to keep playing. That's the goal of play. The most important of these games is life itself... under a certain train of thought, living is one big infinite game that we play in order to keep playing. Another good example is World of Warcraft, or any other MMO. People participate in those games in order, primarily, to keep participating. The SIMs and other simulation style video games follow a similar model...
So why do it? Well, if we think of life as an infinite game, and we see people as being wired to play that game, to get pleasure from its experience, than things that simulate life, but allow for faster, more immediate gratification of reward cycles have an appealing and almost addictive quality, its like living life with less risk (you don't risk dying, or ruining your real life by taking chances) and more compact, quickly delivered rewards (in the form of in game goals). Also, the simulated experience's rewards are more tangible, since they normally measurable in the game's construction.
So the point is, its enjoyable... we're wired for it to be.

This doesn't exactly apply to Simulationism, Big Model Style, at least not all of it, but I definately think its the base line for most on the market RPGs, that the games are suppose to be infinite in the sense that the only purpose of play is continuing the act of play until it becomes unsustainable...

David Berg


Okay, I'm inching closer to being able to look at your post and say, "Inspiring reason to roleplay?  Check!"  But I'm not quite there yet.  So, I'd like to address my first two of several potential hang-ups:

Hang-up 1: "input-material"?

I'm gonna go back to the Werewolf game to tackle this one.  For anyone reading along, please check out the earlier thread on this game if you get disoriented.

Matt approached me and said, "I want to run a White Wolf game.  Based on Werewolf, but with the players playing different changing breeds."  I'd never read a Werewolf book before, and I told him so.  He asked how much Werewolf mythos I'd soaked up over the years, and we had a nice discussion about Werewolf's deities and metaphysics.  Matt didn't want any one metaphysical interpretation to be obviously "true", but he showed a distinct preference for complexity over simplicity; extremists were likely to be farther from the truth than those with a more nuanced view.  Regardless, PCs and NPCs were intended to do a lot of bouncing metaphysical interpretations off of each other.  I told him, "Sounds like something I can have fun with."

Matt then told me about his gameworld.  He briefly filled me in on the general mood and milieu of World of Darkness, to an extent that left no impression on me whatsoever, and then proceeded to give me a detailed history of New York City from the year 2005 to 2011, establishing the Werewolves as both dangerous extremists and the dominant power in the area.

I like playing maverick and dissident characters, so I decided to be a servant of the Wyrm, the Werewolves' enemy.  The Wyrm is something between simple Death/Destruction and hideous Corruption/Putrefaction, so I said, "How about a were-vulture?"  Matt loved it.  I decided that my character would believe that "Death/Destruction" was true and good, while "Corruption/Putrefaction" was a baseless smear campaign.  Matt told me that this view might be dead right, or dead wrong, or neither; "Cool," I said.

John and Paul had played plenty of World of Darkness before, and had read many World of Darkness books, so their pre-game chats with Matt were somewhat different.  Paul picked a were-panther because he'd loved their powers and color for almost a decade.  John picked a were-dinosaur because he liked their combat stats, and then invented a "let's all get along, all viewpoints are valid" ethos because, well, that's what John's like in real life.  Meg had never roleplayed before, she primarily wanted an excuse to be snide and bitchy.  She didn't care about metaphysics, so she made a character who didn't either.

Matt clarified to each of us: "I want to run a game where the PCs have a reason to stay together as a group, and that reaosn is going to be that they all want to help, in the way that seems best to them.  Helping humans and deities is nice, but the focus is on helping changers."

So, here's my question:

First session, we sit down to play.  What's the package we're going to be exploring?  What's the "input-material"?  What's the "stuff" that we're going to stretch and challenge and reflect and celebrate but not violate?

And here's my answer:

We show up with a variety of shared and individual ideas and expectations. 

We all agreed that (a) our PCs were working together as a group, for some cause greater than individual self-interest, (b) our PCs would initially hold quite disparate metaphysical assumptions, (c) we were going to Explore Matt's version of Future New York City, which included just about every creature in any White Wolf source book, and maybe (d) some other stuff I'm not focusing on now.

No problems there.

I personally had a few unimportant ideas/expectations, e.g. the Black Spiral Dancers would be the main villains, religious moderation would prove to be "better than" extremism in the end, my character's views would influence New York City.  None of these happened, but I didn't mind, which is why I retroactively call them unimportant.

No problems there.

I personally had a few strongly-held ideas/expectations, including the idea that my character would be feared, and treated with a certain respect that is aesthetically consistent with someone who is feared.  I didn't want to bluster and command, I wanted to be subtly creepy and unnerving.  I even spent a lot of character points on some powers intended to pull this off.  I made a mirror that could affect anyone whose face it had reflected, making them see themselves as a rotting corpse whenever they looked in any mirror for a certain duration.  Unfortunately, I hadn't prepared myself for the pattern of play that this game would entail: prep for Action Mission, go on Action Mission, make progress, repeat.  There was no time for, and no point in, terrorizing individuals, and the pragmatic nature of the inter-PC discussions inclined everyone to treat my character as just another opinion rather than a creepy dude.

Problem.  Seriously.  The first time I said something ominous that was just brushed off with, "Yeah, anyway, what's the plan?" I felt, "Well, I can't play the game I wanted to play anymore."

The problem, as I see it, with this kind of play:

It's hard to get everyone on the same page about the boundaries of the "inviolable" portion of the package for Exploration.

So what happened?

Well, play moved along, and I readjusted my expectations.  In our first session, there was a big fight, with lots of emphasis on tactics and color, and John's character got killed, and then quickly resurrected as soon as the fight was over.  The NPCs we interacted with were all slotted into their belief-set niches and showed no inclination to debate, but the metaphysical arguments between the PCs were enormous fun.  The Setites appeared, announcing themselves as "main badguys" to anyone who's seen them used as Vampire's "more evil than thou" trump card.  We took over a magic cave that benevolent NPCs told us was super-important and super-useful.

Accordingly, when it came time for session number two, the shared material that would serve as "input" for play had been both clarified and expanded, getting everyone slightly more on the same page than we had been before about the package Matt wanted us to work with.

The takeaway, as I see it:

Getting everyone more on the same page about the "inviolable" package through play is an important feature of much successful Simulatonist play.  (Am I overgeneralizing?)

Now let's skip ahead several sessions.  We went on many missions, had many arguments, always worked as a team, always made some sort of progress toward understanding the Evil Plot or defeating it.  When the PCs clashed about what to do, play tended to drag a bit.  Paul had left the game due to increased family obligations, leaving me to deal with John and Meg at "what do we do?" time.  I formed a plan, which was to side with some powerful fringe psychos (Spiral Dancers) in order to accomplish what we wanted (Werewolves lose power) in a particularly destructive way (sic Vampires on 'em).  John, true to his character concept, was pretty malleable, while Meg, true to hers, was quite the opposite.  A fun answer occurred to me: brainwash Meg's character.

I came up with a plan and the Black Spiral Dancers agreed with me on it.  Matt was a little nervous, but he seemed more curious to see if I could pull it off than invested in stopping me.  I came up with some lie that entailed John and some NPCs going to Staten Island while Meg and I went to Harlem.  I presented it flawlessly, and they both went for it.  Matt played through John's entire mission with him, exploring these tunnels with nothing in them.  Then he played through me and Meg entering the Harlem sewer, and our lights being blown out, and some sort of attack, which ended with me "unconscious" in the sewer and Meg unconscious and being led to walk the madness-inducing Black Spiral.

Session over.  Matt turns to Meg.  "Um, your character's about to be transformed from a mousy, rationalist, OCD geek into a chaos-worshipping turbo-slut.  How do you feel about this?"

I crossed my fingers.  Had I broken the game or not?  Did this count as "working together"?  Is a team where one member brainwshes another still a team in the "oddball supers tac squad" paradigm?  Did subverting Meg's character to Spiral Dancer influence allow her to still "work for a greater good"?

My takeaway from this:

Truly pushing the boundaries of the "inviolable package" is fun, and rewarding when it works, but risks totally ruining the game.

I'm wondering if we're on the same page regarding these italicized points.  If we are, Sim play seems scarily fragile by definition.  Your example where Wolverine-clone kills Cyclops-clone is an obvious case of, "You didn't have to do that and ruin our fun, asshole," for the group you imagined, but could be perfectly legit package-stretching in a different group.  Further, this variation isn't just group-by-group, it's player-by-player!  What might not break the game for me might well break it for Meg!

I think this simply supports the point you made when you said "Sim play under most existing systems is delicate", but this seems like a big deal to me, so I want to be sure.

How "safe" to play?

It seems to me that the obvious way to avoid such maybe-breaks is to "play safe", and stick comfortably within the boundaries of the "yes, agreed on by everyone, definitely" package of "inviolable" material.  Regarding this, you said, "there's no snap or verve to the experience."  I wonder: do you believe that to be categorically true, or just a matter of taste?

Let me ask that another way: suppose that after several missions in Matt's Werewolf game, we'd just stuck to the pattern of "follow GM lead, fight things, get GM's scrap of info, repeat".  Suppose his leads had all been obvious, our choices had all been predictable, and we'd explored and expanded the package without ever really putting any pressure on it.  Hardly sounds ideal, but I think I've enjoyed games like that for maybe as long as 2 or 3 instances of play, and even if my memory's off, I don't see why it wouldn't be possible.  So.  Is that still Simulationist play?

Does Sim cover the full "challenge your input material" spectrum from "no challenge" to "push it 'til it almost breaks"?  Is that what you meant with this quote?
QuoteAt its least extreme, this is pure emulation. At its most extreme, it is parody.

What about pushing it 'til it does break?

Meg initially was shocked at the idea of losing her old character, but during the week between sessions she reflected that she'd been bored lately and it would be fun to fuck with John's head by having her character show up totally transformed.  So she went with it.  But Matt told her she didn't have to.  If she'd said no, he would have just had her be rescued from the Spiral Dancers by someone; he told me so, while she was mulling her decision.

This process was constructive, but there sure wasn't any denial going on.  Gameworld causality and opacity bent over for the Social Contract.  Didn't matter to me at that point, because Matt's world already felt hopelessly contrived ("non-contrived" had been ejected from "inviolable package" at John's resurrection in session 1), but in some games (the "deep immersion in character and setting" Sim games) this kind of open GM world-manipulation would be completely unacceptable, leaving me never wanting to play again... 

Never again, that is, until I'd busted out with some "I'm just gonna forget that ever happened" self-brainwashing, a sort of after-the-fact constructive denial.  I've done this in supposedly "immersive" games.  I loathe it.  But I can get past it, in time, and enjoy the game again.  (I should admit these might have been instances of some kind of Exploration-level dissonance that was not actually violation of "the inviolable package" -- not sure I'd know how to tell the difference.)

Do you think this is normal in Sim?  Play on the edge, break the game, experience a moment of, "Oh, this is awful, we can't play," and then find a way to play on anyway?  (I wish I had an actual example of this from the Werewolf game, but I don't; if my "what if?" example is distracting, ignore it for now.)

Hang-up 2: Constructive Denial

Avoiding breaking points already sounds tricky enough to me.  Now we have to do it and at the same time deny we're doing it?  Gah! 

How complete is this denial supposed to be?  The two mental acts of (1) recognizing a potential break-point and (2) veering away from it -- are these supposed to happen unconsiously?

I don't like spotting break-points, and I don't like veering away from them.  Maybe that has more to do with me liking Setting Immersion specifically than Simulationism generally; I dunno.


I know I've asked a ton of questions in this post, but I hope it's clear how they're all interrelated: they concern the forming, molding, challenging, defending, breaking, and (possibly) reforging of the "package of material" that Sim play adresses.  (I should also probably acknowledge that I have special interest in controlling this process, making sure it "works out", to help me design Sim-supporting games.)

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Frank Tarcikowski

Hi David,

Let me try a quick stab at your 2nd hang-up. These things tend to sound pretty abstract and complicated when you don't relate them to a conrete experience of play where you saw them in action. I like to look at constructive denial this way: The source material has a life of its own. Well, of course it doesn't, but that's what it feels like. It's a pretty intuitive thing. Someone does something that seems kind of inconsistent? But it can't be, it simply can't, because our source material is alive, it will not let the inconsistency pass. It will shake and rumble and then it will smooth down and whatever that something was will have become incorporated. That's what constructive denial feels like... as long as it works.

I like your breakdown, especially about the safety issue. You are asking all the right questions. But the answers are only to be found in actual play. There is no fool-proof step by step instruction to this. Shared appreciation for whatever constitutes your "package" is key. You can build mechanics to facilitate that, but it has to be there in the first place (this is true for any Creative Agenda).

The scope of how the "starting package" is established at the beginning of play is vast. I kind of don't know where to start. Even for a specific RPG setting as "package", the scope is still vast. I don't want to derail this discussion by going into too much detail right now (plus, I'm at work and I already spent way too much time writing this).

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

Frank Tarcikowski

P.S.: Don't get hung up on the "steering clear" thing. It's not a paraphrase for "actively looking for obstacles". It's rather just like, y'know, "keeping your boat in the water". The trick is to know what water looks like, not what obstacles look like.
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

Ron Edwards

Hello David,

I think Frank has tended to Hang-up 2 about as clearly and accurately as anyone could possibly do it. What he hasn't done, and what I'm not sure can be done in this venue, is explain and confirm that such an approach can work, effortlessly, to someone who hasn't experienced it and has in fact experienced a great deal of the converse. I'm not speaking of you specifically, but rather of someone whose coping-mechanisms (which result in consistent shallow, risky-in-the-bad-sense Simulationist-play, or conversely, substantial but boring and surprise-less Simulationist play) are so well-developed that they've practically taken on the definition of role-playing itself for that person. To such a person, Frank's posts will read like some kind of pop-culture feel-good reassurance, rather than the cogent and accurate descriptions they really are.

As I say, I think he did the job for that Hang-up, so I'll speak to Hang-up #1 in detail.

QuoteHang-up 1: "input-material"?

Two things to talk about here: (1) directly answering your questions about how delicate Simulationist play is or has been in some circumstances, and (2) doing a bit of a tutorial on how to understand and recognize the input-source material.

Part one

Pushing the boundaries is only a risk when everyone thinks they don't have to be mindful of them, that "play my character" is all one has to do. In practice, that means that the GM has to be a kind of weird control sub-God of the play-experience, constantly heading off or putting out small fires, as well as the source of all true plot developments.

What we're really talking about, David, is an entire subculture that's trying to do X without any real road-map or vocabulary for it. It'd be like trying to play card games by putting a a few unopened decks into the middle of the table. Do we use more than one? How do we pass out the cards? How are they utilized? What's the point? We look at the rules, and they say a bunch of stuff like, "Black ace beats all other black cards, but red ace is beaten by all red cards," and "Dealer states wild card for each round." H'mmm. Perfectly clear in isolation, but absent of context, completely opaque. Oh well, let's "just start" and see if we can hammer those things into shape as we go, especially since Bob here knows how it's supposed to work, and he'll show us. (This point applies to all role-playing, not just Simulationist play.)

So I absolutely must distinguish between Simulationist play as represented by most game design and practice until recently, and Simulationist play as an existing potential activity, in the context of System Does Matter and the Big Model. If you look at my posts so far, you'll see that I've been very careful to specify the former when I talk about all the delicacy and risks. If you look at Frank's posts, bear in mind that you're reading the thoughts of someone who was initially fairly hostile to the Big Model and the Forge, and who has come to agree (and to refine and to help articulate it) over several years' course of extensive, intelligent debate and extensive, thoughtful play. In other words, he's talking about the latter.

Here are my thoughts for this part:

1. It's easier to get on the same page prior to play than you think. All you have to do is to do it, especially by opening up a conversation among the group as a whole rather than merely GM-per-player. It also clinches the deal when you really do reference the source-input material, which is not the game text, as I try to explain in the next part.

2. Being on the same page is indeed developed further during play, and in fact, without it happening during play, any amount during pre-play was just blather anyway. This is supposed to be fun, not stressful or fraught with the risk of making it not-fun at any moment. It's fun when everyone has knowledge of one another's characters (especially how each provides a little "stretch") and the Right is truly present during play. Therefore the management, safety-net mode of GMing that I talk about above is actually counter-productive: like a set of braces that protect from breaking your legs by preventing you from walking.

3. Risking the fun of play by pushing the boundaries is not such a risk after all when #1 and #2 are taken into account. For one thing, the breakpoints are not just all lying around in profusion, and for another, the material is "live" in the way Frank describes and far more robust than in the circumstances that you're referencing.

Part two

As I briefly began to say above, the input-source material is not the game-book. When Matt waved the Werewolf material at everyone, and when he was talking all about "his world" and the setting for play, he was not giving you the information you needed. As with many White Wolf based games, all that stuff is kind of a signpost pointing at the real source-input material. Vampire and Mage do a better job than Werewolf in this feature, for all iterations of the games; therefore, it doesn't surprise me that Matt had to add this specific bit during the recruitment and preparation process:

QuoteI want to run a game where the PCs have a reason to stay together as a group, and that reaosn is going to be that they all want to help, in the way that seems best to them. Helping humans and deities is nice, but the focus is on helping changers
QuoteWe all agreed that (a) our PCs were working together as a group, for some cause greater than individual self-interest, (b) our PCs would initially hold quite disparate metaphysical assumptions

There it is. Right there. The references are clear as day: The A-Team, plus Marvel Comics series with thrown-together and rather disparate heroes who yet have a common cause (X-Men obviously; one might also hark back to the old Defenders in the 1970s, and to a couple of the "bunch of monstrous heroes at once" stories from that time), plus  Star Trek: The Next Generation after the series included some dissident or multi-faceted characters like Ensign Roe and the butched-up version of Lieutenant Worf after the first season or two. (1) You all reliably want to help re: the common cause; (2) you all differ greatly in your personal styles and reasons for helping. Add a dose of monstrous bad-assery for spice and the enjoyment of power.

It sounds a bit Narrativist, right? Well, it's not, because #1 and #2 above are rock-solid and shall ne'er change, thank you very much. This is not what we use as a springboard for conflict, this is what we reliably do while we go through a bunch of missions.

I really want to hit this hard: look outside gaming and game-books when talking about the input-source material that is so central and special for Simulationist play. It often looks very little like the colorful trappings of Character and Setting in the upcoming game; its correspondences are found in Situation instead. Also, it is very likely that the person organizing the game does not, himself, necessarily reflect upon the input-source material at this level. However, in my experience (and I mean my direct experience with years and years of superhero and fantasy role-playing), he will ultimately cough up a values-oriented, do-it-this-way statement because he rightly feels he has to, and that statement can be directly referenced to a number of sources with little effort.

QuoteHow "safe" to play?

I'm fairly convinced that "no challenge" Simulationist play is not worth doing, because in many ways, such a game focuses so tightly on the specific game material that it loses the connection to the input-material. My perception of games oriented in that direction is that they tend to garner a small and rather clique-ish fan-base in the early stages (i.e. grassroots publishing, zine-heavy participation), which disappears when the Final Colorful Long-awaited Version is finally released and proves rather bland in its "perfection." Or it is so wedded to the source material that all of play is taped from the start.

As for whether it's still Simulationist play or merely a boring ol' Exploration platform with nothing on it, that would depend on a look at the actual play group in action. As I see it now, if there were truly absolutely no stretching of the boundaries, then one would not even be able to deviate from the source material in any way beyond complete trivialities. That source material might be a genre or body of work, or it might be a set of operative principles (physics, e.g.; or similar), and play would simply show it in action as we'd all seen it before and nothing else. It's sort of hard to imagine it being fun for any length of time.

The challenge to the material can be quite tiny and still sufficient, for instance many games I've played of Call of Cthulhu without any deviation from the Lovecraft/Derleth Mythos, in setting, permissible plot-outcomes, range of characters, or anything else, but even they had a touch of "extra" we brought to it - in fact, some class issues that are wholly absent in the source material. Would you like to play "The Matrix" by playing Neo's actions as already seen in the movie? I wouldn't, and as it happens, apparently most people prefer to play their own Neo-like character - that's a way to preserve the power of the source material but also have a chance to put a personal spin on it. Personally, I'd like to play such a character whose Matrix-artificial life history included a loving family. See the spin, the challenge, the stretch? (I'd have to be careful, though - my own proclivities would probably lead me to push toward Narrativism ...)

I betcha that in your stated examples of such play, that there was some spin/stretch to be found, even if it was fairly tiny. I hope my description of the Werewolf-game's source and input material helps you see where to look.

I hope you can see that your Werewolf game was already unable to be played as safely as you describe. The source-input material is the super-squad of bad-asses, an A-Team, basically, with oogly-scary trappings that are not entirely trivial (although not as consequential as you, one player, had hoped). The "stretch" is inherent in this basic idea: can we play the A-Team with decidedly non-clean-cut heroes, who represent a true diversity of outlooks, up to and including sympathy for at least one faction of bad guys? To so it totally safely, you would have played something like the A-Team, certain Marvel Comics, or certain Star Trek: Next Generation sequences literally, up to and including the source characters or total clones of them. So you were already off the no-stretch reservation, so to speak, and into the possibility of fruitful stretching, by definition. That's what Matt sold you guys on in the first place!

QuoteWhat about pushing it 'til it does break?

That "gonna forget that ever happened" is a perfect example of the constructive denial concept, in the form of  a coping mechanism rather than an integrated and fun aspect of play in the moment. After all, if it's not happening in the moment, then it's gotta happen sometime - or else, as you've said, the people involved will never want to play again. Chris Bankuei and I have both written extensively about play we've witnessed or participated in, in which the inter-session, collective "forget that part" step's material is arguably an order of magnitude bigger than the retained and remembered events of play, which are now retroactively elected to be "what really happened, and boy was that fun."

So you're absolutely right: there was no constructive denial occurring during play itself for that set of events. What you're really talking about is the Black Curtain as I've defined it, with the interesting twist that the GM told you that her decision was not as fraught with risk as he wanted her to believe. Why do you think he told you that at all? Based on my experience of doing precisely the same thing, I suggest that he was enlisting another person in establishing the Curtain, as well as reassuring that person that the overall input-source material (the super-team) was not actually at risk.

As for whether it's normal, well, it's certainly widespread. Again, I must distinguish between Simulationist play as we've all historically encountered it (mainly coping-mechanisms for multiple violations of the Right and the Dream), and Simulationist play as it can very well be done and for which games can very well be designed to facilitate. We do have both historical and current examples. {Hey, I just thought of one of the greatest and best exemplars of the "points measure reality" game designs: Pocket Universe, by Jeff Dee. It distills the principles pioneered messily by Champions and GURPS into a few pages of powerful,  functional application, including situational and relationship-oriented mechanics. And again, let's not forget DC Superheroes, Pendragon, and others.} This isn't specific to Simulationist play; in the past few years, we have all seen Gamist play finally slough off the assumptions of old-school D&D (in part by satirizing them in Elfs and Hackmaster, in part by the resurgence of those assumptions in pure functional form as represented by Tunnels & Trolls, and in part by D&D itself being upgraded to the late 1980s), and we have all seen Narrativist play finally slough off its own crust of especially-nasty (non) coping-mechanisms, the Typhoid Mary and Prima Donna tactics. So Simulationist play is undergoing the same process.

All of which is a long-winded way to say that the lurching sense of "oh shit, that broke it," is not what one might necessarily have to accept as an ongoing feature of playing Simulationist. The positive version has a lot to do with what I just posted in reply to Nolan in the concurrent thread, about what the people bring to the situation, and how that empowers them to act in the SIS rather than tiptoe along or merely wait for cues and clues.

How does all of that sound? By the way, I'm enjoying the pace of the conversation, and the opportunity to reflect between posts. And also, if anyone is unsure whether to post in the midst of this dialogue, please feel free.

Best, Ron

David Berg

Quote from: Ron Edwards on January 03, 2008, 06:22:39 PMSo I absolutely must distinguish between Simulationist play as represented by most game design and practice until recently, and Simulationist play as an existing potential activity, in the context of System Does Matter and the Big Model . . . If you look at Frank's posts, bear in mind that . . . he's talking about the latter.

Frank?  Can you point me to any Actual Play threads that illustrate this?

I read Eero's recent thread on Dead of Night, and man, that is nowhere near the kind of relationship I like to have with the SIS.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Frank Tarcikowski

Hi David,

My best write-up of such a game of my own is this one. I got a little bitchy with Adam Dray in the beginning, but Adam remained patient and did help me explain much better than I could have on my own. However, the stuff related to System (as per the Lumpley Principle) is mostly about unwritten System. The mechanical rules (Vampire 2E, as it were) only played a minor role in the context of Creative Agenda and Reward System. As for a report to illustrate how well-designed mechanics facilitate this style of Simulationist play, I fear I am of little help. Yet.

- Frank

P.S.: Danke für die Blumen, Ron!
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English

David Berg


You've clarified that the act of dreaming which the "right to dream" fortifies is not passive observation, but active probing.  I have this lightbulb going on that tells me that the right to dream is largely the right to contribute to the creation of Situation.  The "inviolable package" is a statement of what kind of Situations* you will create and Explore.  The package covers Setting (what "Lovecraft on a Starship" looks like to a player character, and how it functions when they interact with it) and Character (what the players will use their characters for in the context of this Setting).  Setting + Character = Situation.

So what do the players use their characters for?  The players pose questions ("What would happen if I tried to form an acid cult on this Lovecraftian Starship?") to the Setting**, using their characters to perform actions ("I try to form the cult!") that create the kind of Situation ("Let's find out what happens!") that pressures the System ("Geez, will we be able to find out what happens?") used for keeping the "inviolable package" safe ("Yep, we were able to find out!  This type of Situation seems viable, let's do another one next week!") instead of broken ("We couldn't find out.  This type of Situation is not guaranteed to be viable using this System.  We need to either change the System, give up, or accept that our fun will be intermittent.").

Yes?  No?  I have a ton of questions brewing in response to your last post, and I think it'll help me shape them if I'm actually on the money with this formulation.

* I'm dividing up the "Situation" component of Exploration (which is present continuously during play) into individual "Situations".  These correspond roughly to individual "interests the group is pursuing".  If that fits with Big Model usage, good.  If not, I should re-word this whole post.
** by this I mean a Situation in which the player characters aren't yet doing anything.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Ron Edwards

Hi David,

Well, you're right about nearly everything, but some of it applies to all of role-playing, and some of it applies only to a subset of Simulationist play.

I'll start with the small bit that needs revision. I think the "inviolable package" concept applies to the outcomes of situations, not to the posed situations themselves. That's what makes them especially tricky, if the System in question isn't robust and if the "social mandate" (Jesse's term) isn't either.

A lot of what you say about Situation, pretty much that whole first paragraph,  is definitional, for any mode of play with any Creative Agenda. Your use is correct, by the way, because the term Situation in the model is actually referring to any given Situation (what you're thinking of as "smaller") during the course of play. By using it in the singular in the model, I do not mean that only one situation actually occurs during play.

In your second paragraph, the one with parentheses and blue text, it's all good and strong stuff. However, it is not necessary for the players actually to be saying those phrases, or even knowing that this is what they're doing. If you ask them, they'll say they are "just" playing their characters, or "just" making a story, or whatever.

Also, since System is such a phenomenally diverse concept, two different groups who do represent what you describe in this paragraph may be utterly different from one another in the details of what gets tweaked or challenged, and what is held as a given. I bring this up because when queried, each group might point to the other as "those crazies" who play in a funky way. Your reaction to Dead of Night might be a good example of this. That reaction is based on your comfort zone regarding authority during play, as well as Stance, and I think you might be missing that playing Dead of Night would fit what you're talking about just as well as (say) Pendragon, despite the phenomenal procedural difference in how each player relates to the SIS.

I also think you might be overlooking the sheer joy that occurs when the System proves robust, and therefore one's full Right is now freed to be exerted upon the SIS, with everyone else excited to see what you'll do. So it's not just a series of endless poking; we should perhaps focus a bit more on what is done with the robust SIS, rather than the potential breakpoints. Particularly because it relates to the basic issue of the thread title, which is to say, the Right.

Best, Ron

Callan S.

Quoteusing their characters to perform actions ("I try to form the cult!") that create the kind of Situation ("Let's find out what happens!") that pressures the System ("Geez, will we be able to find out what happens?") used for keeping the "inviolable package" safe ("Yep, we were able to find out!
I'm not certain, so this is partially a question. But I'd think question of whether they will be able to find out what happens, is not acknowledged. If everyones devoted to not breaking the dream, it's creatively denied that such a difficulty exists 'since everyones commited'. The difficulty exists, it's just not acknowledged. Overcoming that difficulty (usually not that hard for imaginative gamer guys) gives oomph to the game, but no one admits it and instead describes the world as 'alive', as you see here.

It denies their own work and effort - just as when you sleep and dream, you don't think about how the night time dream is actually a construct/effort of your own mind. I once had a sleeping dream (forgive me saying 'sleeping dream' to seperate it from the forge term), where I was driving a car and crashed it - I then loudly announced inside the dream (to those imaginary people in it), for no one to worry, cause it was just a dream. As soon as I realised what I said, I woke up. I think it was a really interesting example of how I could be aware I was dreaming, but unaware. And also how important I found the people in the dream, to speak to them in such fourth wall terms. I guess those people were my own emotions, but I wasn't talking to them as such at the time.

That said: Since I think there's no recognition of work, what I'm seeing in the your quote is a distinct hint of looking for recognition of adversity existing, and explicit recognition of adversity overcome. As Ron said, he's not trying to sell you on sim. While you say yourself you've enjoyed sim, just because you've enjoyed something doesn't mean that's what you want to chose. I think most people are capable of enjoying all three agendas. But while considering the questions, look at yourself considering and see if your looking for recognition of adversity overcome. There might be something your putting ahead of other things - in that it has to be there.

David Berg


Let me start with the parts of your last post that I do understand, just to confirm and move on:

1) Player awareness of the process in my big paragraph with all the blue.  The process is vital, the awareness of it is not.  Callan, I hear you too on this.  (However, your "overcoming adversity" characterization doesn't match with what's in my mind; I see more of a "find out what happens" with a little suspense thrown in, as per Ron's "Can we play the A-Team with decidedly non-clean-cut heroes?".  As for how much I really like Sim, hopefully I'll have a better handle on that by the end of this thread.)

2) Diversity of System.  Yep, all sorts of different-looking play styles utilize the process I referred to in my big blue paragraph.  That even includes Dead of Night.  (That game doesn't seem like my kind of game because its package doesn't seem like my kind of package. Plus, yes, I do have my authority and stance preferences.)

3) "Free to contribute creatively to the SIS" = "fun."  ("We can play the A-Team with decidedly non-clean-cut heroes!  It's cool, even if it never occurred to us to doubt that we could do it!")  I am clear on how this is true of Exploration in general, and I am making progress in this thread toward seeing how this is especially (differently?) true in the case of Simulationism.  I'll get back to this as soon as I can clear a few things up.

Okay, now the parts I don't understand:

Which parts of my post with all the blue apply to what (all roleplaying, all Sim, some Sim)?  How could my use of Situation in my first paragraph be true of all roleplaying when my point was about how Situation creation relates to Sim's "package"?  How could the post have any friggin' value at all if the "package" is not about Situation creation, but rather about Situation resolution?

See, the "lightbulb" I alluded to was the idea that the "package" is not passive reference material, but rather something of a mission statement.  That's a huge shift from the way I've been viewing Simulationism to date.

I understood this mission statement as an expectation of what the player characters do, in terms of general types of behavior; so Wolverine-clone just doesn't gut Cyclops-clone.  Wolverine doesn't gut teammates in X-Men, so it's unacceptable in a Sim game with an X-Men package.

As I understand your last post, however, you're saying that the mission statement is an expectation of what'll happen, in terms of general types of outcomes.  Wolverine-clone isn't allowed to gut Cyclops-clone because in X-Men, teammates don't wind up dead at each other's hands.

This is a huge difference! 

In the first case, the part of the package that is "inviolable" structures intent, and tells the players, "Initiate these kind of Situations!  You like them!  They're fun!"  In the Werewolf game, this is Matt saying "(1) You all reliably want to help re: the common cause; (2) you all differ greatly in your personal styles and reasons for helping. Add a dose of monstrous bad-assery for spice and the enjoyment of power."  And we players saying, "Sure, we'll play that!"  We then proceed to go on world-saving missions together and argue a lot; when there's nothing fun going on, a player knows that his job is to create a Situation that is about world-saving or arguing.

In the second case, the part of the package that is "inviolable" doesn't tell players what to do in the same sense; rather, it tells them to not do anything that'll produce "bad results".  If Matt had said, "Okay, guys, don't go off and selfishly pursue personal ends, I don't want PCs getting separated.  And don't be monolithic and boring in your motives, I don't want y'all to have easy agreements on what to do," I don't know if we would have said, "Sure."  But let's say we did, cuz we liked the Color or something.  When nothing fun is going on, what's my job as a player?  Do whatever I feel like... but with a sort of vigilant wariness, saying, "Oops, can't do that, it'll lead my character off on his own," or, "Oops, can't say that, that's too compatible with John's character."

I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, I'm just trying to illustrate what needs explication as clearly as I can.

I'm afraid Frank's description of Constructive Denial won't make any sense to me until I have a firm grasp of how the "package" influences player decisions.

here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Ron Edwards

Hi David,

I think you're making it harder than it is. I think that both "ways" you're describing are probably exerted, in whatever proportion to one another and however often, to reinforce the constructive denial in action.

Remember, as Jim Henley and I discussed in one of the original threads, we are totally talking about process of play, and that process is composed of many, many parts. Some parts involve what sort of scenes arise, some parts involve what sort of decisions are made in the scenes, and some parts involve how the scenes ultimately turn out.

I know I emphasized outcomes in that previous post, and it looks as if it's thrown you. I did so because I was trying to counterweight your stated emphasis on initiating scenes. Now I realize that my counterweight was a bad discussion choice; instead, I'll say it this way: "Don't forget that within-scene stuff and outcome-of-scene stuff are also subject to consideration from the perspective of the constructive denial going on for that group."

Does that help?

Let's remember the topic of the thread: the Right to Dream. At the risk of getting into metaphysics and politics simultaneously (geez ...), I suggest that rights are always recognized, exerted, and preserved in the context of a set of historical agreements which everyone pretends don't exist, instead referencing things like "natural" or "inalienable" or "human."

So let's look at rights in action: they can be invoked to permit someone to do something without being blocked, to provide force and convincing power to something that is being done at the moment, and to seek redress for someone who tried to do something but was prevented or punished for it. In all cases, in order for the concept of "right" to function in any of these ways, the set of agreements I just wrote about must be operating among the members of the larger society. Otherwise the talk of rights will be squashed, and the actions prevented, disrupted, or punished – the right by itself has no actual power; the agreements within which they operate is where the power is.

As we are talking about Simulationist play, the constructive denial is the context that applies at any stage of dealing with the SIS, in whatever way works for that particular stage. It seems to me as if you're quite enthused about the "going into what sort of scene" stage, and less enthused about the "coping with tricky material in the midst or aftermath of scene" stage. That's fine, but I think it's a personal preference (or perhaps scarring from the past) that doesn't need to be important in the discussion.

I think that instead of trying to pick apart every sentence in your post and in my reply to it, we can do better to examine this one (as well as the original constructive denial threads, which I just reviewed) and not get tied up in frustration.

Best, Ron