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Author Topic: What's narrativist about Zero RPG?  (Read 5616 times)
mcv
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Posts: 34

Martijn Vos


« on: February 10, 2009, 04:43:14 AM »

Hi,

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you won't take too much offense at a new guy questioning the big model. I'm just trying to understand what you're talking about, because I do think there might be something useful in there.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2009, 11:12:25 AM »

Hi there, and welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

Best, Ron
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mcv
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Martijn Vos


« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2009, 12:01:03 PM »

So Zero, despite not having any story-oriented techniques, does facilitate a narrativist agenda more than it does any other agenda? Because if that's so, then how does it do that? How does it do that more than, say, GURPS or Fudge in the same setting?

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

What I understand from your articles is that it doesn't have anything in particular to do with narrative, at least. It's either about moral dilemma's, or about "addressing premise", whatever that may be. But I fail to see how Zero does that more than other systems. Or is it about setting? Does GURPS Traveller tend towards Simulationism, whereas GURPS Transhuman Space tends towards narrativism? (addressing various issues like: what the hell makes you human anyway?)
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2009, 12:24:16 PM »

Well, hold on there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best, Ron
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mcv
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Martijn Vos


« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2009, 01:36:52 PM »

First, I didn't say Zero had no story-oriented techniques. It happens to have few or no techniques that happen to be trendy at the moment, that's all.

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

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

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

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

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

Quote
Sometimes it seems they're confusing narrative with narration,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take your time. I'm in no particular hurry, and I prefer a thorough answer over a quick one.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
mcv
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Martijn Vos


« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2009, 03:22:18 PM »

Browsing around on the forum, I noticed that replying to individual sentences is frowned upon according to local etiquette, and may be seen as a flame. I'd like to point out that my previous post is in no way intended as flame. I'm just trying to be really explicit about what I'm confused about, hoping that that will enable you to explain it to me more clearly.

In the end, all I want from this thread is to understand what you mean by "Narrativism", and how it differs from several styles of play that I think are Simulationism, so I may understand what the "new guy" in my group really means when he says he doesn't like Sim at all and wants to try Nar instead.
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
Per Fischer
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« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2009, 03:23:51 PM »

Hi mcv :)

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

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

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

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

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


« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2009, 01:48:30 AM »

Hi Per,

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

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

From what I understand from GNS and Other Matters of Roleplaying Theory, Simulationism is focusing entirely on Exploration. Celebrating it, even. And one of the five aspects of Exploration is Character. This leads me to believe that "deep character roleplay" is Simulationism. And yet deep character roleplay can lead to exciting story, conflict and moral dilemmas.

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

Of course there are still many ways to go about this. One of the pitfalls is getting so involved in that character that you forget to share it with the other players. In another thread, Big J Money seems to have an inflexible deep character roleplayer that doesn't share, and that causes problems with the other players who just want to get on with the challenges ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Two other, more practical issues are: how can we get this level of deep character roleplay more often, and most importantly: how do we keep it from overshadowing "shallow" character roleplayers? But I think that would deserve a thread of its own.)
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
Marshall Burns
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« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2009, 07:40:08 AM »

mcv,

Here's something that made things click for me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


« Reply #9 on: February 11, 2009, 08:17:14 AM »

That definitely helps a bit, Marshall. But I'm not out of the woods yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But is that what the agendas really mean? Or am I still mixing stuff up? Is Narrativism about making decisions that suit the character from the character's perspective (which is what I usually try to do), or is it about making decisions that make a cool story?
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Martijn Vos - gamer, coder, soon-to-be dad
John Adams
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« Reply #10 on: February 11, 2009, 08:40:11 AM »

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


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

Narrativism = one of three Creative Agendas

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

In discussions like this that sounds so nebulous. It's easy to pick specific moments where you think you can see the Agenda at work, but those moments are not themselves the Creative Agenda. Stringing lots of those moments together over time as a group is what makes your Creative Agenda.
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lumpley
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« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2009, 11:51:32 AM »

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

Hey, MCV.

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

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

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

-Vincent
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FredGarber
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« Reply #12 on: February 11, 2009, 12:40:28 PM »

To chime on on the Star Wars Example, if the Conflict (and maybe the dice roll) at the end of the Death Star trench is "Will Luke use the Force to hit the exhaust port and blow it up, or will he use the targeting computer to hit the exhaust port and blow it up.", then you have a Nar game.  Whether or not he succeeds in blowing it up might never be in doubt (like it would in a Gamist or Sim game).

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

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

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

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

-Fred
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mcv
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Martijn Vos


« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2009, 01:02:25 PM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that what you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


« Reply #14 on: February 11, 2009, 01:29:34 PM »

To chime on on the Star Wars Example, if the Conflict (and maybe the dice roll) at the end of the Death Star trench is "Will Luke use the Force to hit the exhaust port and blow it up, or will he use the targeting computer to hit the exhaust port and blow it up.", then you have a Nar game.  Whether or not he succeeds in blowing it up might never be in doubt (like it would in a Gamist or Sim game).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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