GNS and Hierarchy

Started by Ayyavazi, August 11, 2009, 03:16:06 PM

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Ok, there's a lot to address here. First off, thanks for the clarification Moreno.

Now, on to the objections. Alan, I will try to use the proper terms from here on out. As for whether I am trying to add to the theory, or merely exploring a parallel one, I am unsure right now. I like to think that I am adding, which is what I am trying to do, but parallelism seems possible.

Now, lets talk about the agendas also being techniques. This is probably where a lot of my confusion lies (yes, you have all been saying this for a good long time). If the agendas are also techniques, separate from the agendas, and all of the definitions are correct as they stand, then I am wrong. But, I love checking your premises (in this case, I mean the things we assume to be true in order to build an argument). This assumes that the definitions AS THEY ARE are correct. I dispute this. To me, when you tell me the techniques and the agendas look the same in the small moment but not in the big moment, I get confused. Maybe its like squares and rectangles. Its a one-way compatibility. Or, maybe what we assume about CA is wrong.

What I mean is this. Every technique (GNS-wise) will be used in a game in varying degrees. Everyone seems to say that these individual techniques are not the agenda. There is just some overlap. But the overlap is where I think we need to focus. If the techniques are used, they must be being rewarded. Maybe not on a large scale, but on a small one for sure. People wouldn't bother putting a fictional wrapping on their game if it wasn't worth it. They would just play a miniatures game or other board game, depending on their tastes. The fact that a technique mirroring "Right to Dream" is used in Step On Up and Story Now says to me that that element of Right to Dream is rewarded, and further, it says to me that it is part of the agenda, however small. In essence, it is part of the hierarchy. I know you all keep saying that you can't observe GNS at the technique level, and so this idea is wrong, plain and simple. What I am asking to be examined is this: What if you can? You have all given me some very good analogies, and some very good examples from actual play. These examples are all very good indicators that I am wrong, as long as the premises you are using are correct. If the premises are incorrect, then though the argument may be accurate, it is still invalid. (I hope I'm not confusing anyone with these terms. If I am, let me know)

So, here is what I am trying to say. Instead of proceeding from your premises (GNS is a one-agenda only deal, Techniques cannot be show agenda on their own, one agenda operating at a time, and so forth), change a premise and explore from there. This would be an exploration of an argument, rather than a series of proofs for your premise.

Try to envision it this way. For those of you who have taken a geometry course, imagine you are doing a geometric proof. You have a list of premises, and an end result you are working toward. If you change a premise, you either invalidate the proof (it becomes impossible to solve) or you must find a different way to get to the same conclusion.

In this case, the conclusion is a question-answer combination. With your given premises (as I listed them above) they logically work their way down to the answers you continue to give me to my question. When you change the premise (because I am trying to explore whether the premise is wrong or not), you must then change the way you think about it, because the old rules no longer apply.

I hope that clears up what I am trying to do, and explains why I am not simply saying, "Ah, your answers are correct! The light has come on!" For me, you seem to still be progressing from flawed premises. And touting out all of the proofs you have gives me nothing, because they are all proof derived from the same premises I am disputing. To put it another way, imagine you are a non-believer in God and you speak to a believer about the Word of God. They say, "This Bible is the work of God." You say, "How?" "Well, he inspired people to write it." "But there is no God" "Well of course there is! Can't you see the Bible I am holding? Its proof he exists because He wrote it!"

*I am not trying to ignite a religious argument. I am trying to give an analogy for the problem I believe I am facing

So, hopefully this will work in my favor and I will be able to understand where this is all going. As for people having hierarchies and that being incompatible with long-term play, that sounds a tragic diagnoses, don't you think? The whole point is that when you identify what a person's agenda is in play, you can match up to it or find other people that share your goals and tastes, and ensure you get the most enjoyment out of the hobby. What you seemed to just say is that if a person has an agenda, they can find others like them, but if they have a hierarchy, they are screwed because there aren't enough people to play with that would have their exact hierarchy (or something similar enough to play with minimal difficulty). Is that correct?

And about childish problems, yeah, its childish in one way. Mastering the conflicting desires is an adult thing to do, but this isn't supposed to be a psychological argument about whether it is correct to do that. However, isn't being frustrated and "mastering it" as a means to continue play called dysfunctional or incoherent play? Because that is the point at which people aren't getting the maximum amount of fun they could be. Sure, they could master it, or they could find people who share their goals. Which is easier?

Thanks again for everyone's input. I am really enjoying the discussions, and learning a great deal about GNS.


Jasper Flick

I'd like to illuminate a possible disconnect that might be going on and which could breed hostility.

I just like to point out that the "premises" Ayyavazi proposes to discard didn't come from nowhere, badly articulated as they may be. There's a huge body of written material that preceded them. Take a look at RPG Theory, GNS Model Discussion and a load of APs that came after that.

So some people might be assuming things are unfounded premises which are easily set aside, while others consider them conclusions derived from years of research and study. Some people might consider Ayyavazi an upstart, like someone who insists that Pi could be a rational number if you just let go of all mathematical theory that's been established, which he by the way didn't bother to extensively study himself. In turn, Ayyavazi might consider others conservative old men, stuck in their ivory tower.

I'm not saying this is the case, I just warn that it might be lurking underwater.
By all means, continue the discussion.
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Jasper, Thank you!

You have pinpointed something I have been wanting to address but not been able to due to my own lack of focus. I do not consider myself an upstart. I personally recognize that the theories involved here have been developed from years of research, and work to some extent (otherwise they wouldn't be theories that see regular use). I have read all of the articles Ron has posted, and am working through all of the many threads he has recommended. So I am studying to the capacity I am able in theory, and having a couple of discussions as well on this forum to help answer my questions and put forward my own ideas.

I'm not trying to say anyone is in an ivory tower or any of that, though I do suspect that some of these ideas are so personal to those who had a hand in making them that letting go and shifting perspectives is at best difficult. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. Thanks again Jasper, and everyone for your input thus far. Lets make this a good discussion.


Anders Larsen

I think that the confusion between agendas and techniques, is probably the thing most people struggle with when it come to GNS theory, but, actually, they are two very different things. It is always hard to know what makes sense for other people, but the explanation that helped me understand this was: Techniques are how you make input into the game, agenda is what what experience you want to get out of the game.

If you think about a painter as an analogy for this (sorry, but I do not know how else to explain this). For a painter techniques are what brushes he use, what paint he use, how he make the single strokes, how he think about perspective, and other stuff he do to put something on the canvas. He may enjoy many of these thing, and he may have passionate discussion about why oil is better than acrylic, but these things are in the end not the reason for why he is an artist. The reason for why he do this is that he what to create a certain experience with his finished painting, and what experience he is after is what is equivalent to a creative agenda. Of course a painter has some favorite technique he normally use, but that is not what will determined what experience he try to create with his work.

In a rpg the canvas is the Shared Imagined Space, this is very imported to understand properly. The SIS is what the players has agreed are part of the game her and now. So the SIS is actively kept alive between the imagination of multiple people.

So this would be like you have multiple artists trying to paint on the same canvas at the same time. And not only that, they could modify what the other artist already had put on the canvas. If one of the artists wanted to paint something super realistic, an other wanted to make caricature, and one wanted to make something completely abstract, you can see that non of this would probably be satisfied with the finished painting - even thought all of them agreed on which technique it was best to use.

So you see. Techniques are used to slowly build something in the SIS (to stroke for stroke build the painting on the canvas). And over time the SIS will build to something that will create an interesting experience for the players. To build something interesting out of the SIS most be the reason why we play roleplaying game - so that is the creative agenda of playing. What techniques we use to build the SIS to get that agenda, is not so important.

I hope all this makes sense. If it don't, just ignore it

- Anders


I think that there is a logical fallacy lurking under the surface here, linked around the false premise: "Why you roleplay is the same as How You Have Fun roleplaying."  I do not believe that is necessarily true.

If I am satisfying my Creative Agenda, I am having fun playing the game.  <TRUE>
If I am having fun, I am satisfying my Creative Agenda <NOT NECESSARILY TRUE>

If you are dead, you cannot move your legs. <TRUE>
If you cannot move your legs, you are dead  <FALSE>

When I look at putting Forge Theory into Practice, my goal is to design or play a game that is never NOT Fun.  I can't predict the moments of Fun that are going to occur.  I wouldn't want to. However, I can make sure that my Reward Cycle aligns with my Creative Agenda, making sure that I have a consistant baseline of Fun, even if every moment isn't a Moment of Awesome.  All I can do is present a fertile garden for Moments of Awesome and hope they grow.


Marshall Burns

Quote from: Ayyavazi on August 13, 2009, 02:43:06 PM
Now, lets talk about the agendas also being techniques. This is probably where a lot of my confusion lies (yes, you have all been saying this for a good long time). If the agendas are also techniques, separate from the agendas, and all of the definitions are correct as they stand, then I am wrong.
Hang on here, we need a crowbar separation.

Step on Up is not a Technique. Competition is a Technique. Competition must be present (in some form, to some degree) for Step on Up to be occurring, but its presence does not mean that Step on Up is occurring. For an example, my game Super Action Now! is built for (and works for) Right to Dream, but makes heavy use of competition. (Which, among other things, makes it quite innovative in the world of RTD design as far as its set of Techniques goes, if I may brag for a moment.)

When people say that "Techniques can't show CA on their own," what they mean is that no SINGLE Technique (e.g., competition) can indicate the Creative Agenda. However, a specific combination of Techniques in play will support a given CA, or it won't.

For an example, SAN! again. The competition + TILT! rules + Character model + resolution combine to support Right to Dream play in which the players create, develop, and enjoy a Situation with loads of crazy-ass Color, by establishing wacky characters, juxtaposing them with each other and off-the-wall situational elements, and letting them run amok, while the players are expected and permitted to fuck with each other's characters at every opportunity.

To say that competition is rewarded in SAN! would be true, but misleading. Competition in SAN! is rewarded only in the context of the other Techniques, all of which must be applied for the game to deliver the experience and provide the tools it promises.

Am I making sense? It's always hard for me to tell.


Callan S.

Is there any goal being sought here? GNS is a means to an end, like a hammer or chisel - or perhaps a compass. You don't argue hammer, you don't argue chisel. You use whatever gets you to your goals. Right from the start I only considered GNS as to whether it was helpful or not. Even if it seems helpful, doesn't mean you can't discard the tool five minutes from now. Measure GNS theory by how much your getting to your goals as opposed to if you weren't using it. And even if it rates highly, that doesn't mean you have to 'agree' with it or even can agree with it - you don't agree with hammer, you don't agree with chisel. You don't agree GNS, you use it.

It seems, and I may genuinely be wildly incorrect, that GNS theory is being discussed here without any reference to trying to achieve some goal?


Thanks again everyone. You have all contributed meaningfully to this as far as I am concerned.

So, let me re-state some of my assumptions so that we can be clear about where I stand (and why).

1. Creative Agenda is not player based (that is, a player does not have a creative agenda or a default setting. a player can want a certain creative agenda and actively or passively pursue it, but the agenda can never be a defining characteristic of a person as person)

2. Creative Agenda is not at the beginning, middle, or end of play, it IS play. Everything within the scope of play, from start to finish (and even beyond) is Creative Agenda in action.

3. A game system cannot have a Creative Agenda any more than a person. It can support one agenda over others, and it can try to support more than one, but in doing the latter will mostly likely only promote incoherency at best, dysfunctional play at worst.

4. Techniques (of which each Creative Agenda is also an individual technique) are separate from agenda, but a group of them will point to a supported agenda. Techniques promoted by system will point to one agenda, but because agenda is realized only in play, and never from outside of it (in the sense that you cannot accurately predict how a system will perform for every group), techniques used in play will determine the agenda that is in practice.

5. (I do not personally share this assumption, but it is common enough to be involved in the discussion) Inidividual creative agendas are mutually exclusive. A game, examined in all of its wonder, will always fall under one creative agenda based on the techniques being used. This is both due to definition (the definitions of each GNS agenda are written in such a way that they are mutually exclusive) and to practical reasons (if some members pursue one agenda within a given game, and others pursue a different agenda, play will be incoherent or dysfunctional).

This is how I understand GNS so far. these are the basic assumptions I am bringing in to the discussion. Here is where the rub is for me.

Assumption #6: No group can pursue multiple creative agendas within a single game session (even if they are completely united on wanting to do so).

Now, I assume that the reason GNS works is because when a group pursues a given agenda uniformly, they maximize their fun and minimize or eliminate any incoherent or dysfunctional play. That is, they eliminate those un-fun moments where they suspect the other player(s) "just don't get it" However, it seems that because of the definitions forcing exclusivity on agenda (the point of play definitions), having a group dedicated to pursuing, say, Right to Dream and Story Now uniformly cannot achieve coherent play, even if they are all using the same techniques in the same ways. At least, this is what I have been told: Hybrid play is impossible.

Now, since no one is going to remove the exclusivity from the definitions of creative agenda, new Creative Agendas (if they are possible) need to be defined that allow for the play that I am envisioning, and which I sincerely believe is possible.

But this topic is about Hierarchy, not hybrid play or new agendas. This topic puts forth the notion that indeed, no person can be pursuing all agendas (or even two) at the same time due to the necessity of preference. When a choice is presented that calls any two agendas into conflict (which will mostly happen at the meta-game level, but not necessarily only there), the player must choose one to support and one to deny (if only temporarily, and assuming the choices themselves are mutually exclusive). I think of it a lot like the Halting Problem from Alan Turing. So, instead, each player must have a hierarchy within their mind (and it can change from session to session, or even moment to moment) of which agenda holds the most weight for them for this game for this moment. Even if all players agreed to a hierarchy ahead of time from which they would never deviate, they would still run into problems.

The problem would be that if any choice ever brought the agendas into question, like above, they would of course follow their hierarchy. But the fact would remain that most likely, they do not all share exactly the same goals moment to moment, and so may disagree with their pre-existing and predetermined hierarchy. As a result, there can exist a dis-connect within the play experience. This occurrence is extremely unlikely in single agenda play (or so it seems) because people tend to have certain preferences, and matching those preferences along one axis (the single creative agenda) is easier. Effectively think of GNS like trying to group people together. If you want to find all the men(your creative agenda of choice) in the world, you have a large section of the overall human population to draw from. If you want all the blue-eyed men in the world (a specific agenda, and certain unique aspects of it set to one value or another, such as gamist dials) you will have a smaller group. As you apply more filters and get more specific, your potential play group that will not experience this disconnect shrinks, and rapidly.

I believe that different agendas exist than these classic three. I also believe that agenda hierarchy can be used to achieve the same play experience that single agenda play strikes. But I also believe that it is (at the very least) currently impossible to find even one other person (let alone an entire group) that perfectly matches not only your preferred hierarchy, but also your exact tendencies of when to switch that hierarchy. As a result, this play is not currently possible, Its not because it can't work in theory, but because finding the people that match up as perfectly as you need them to is simply impossible at this time in history.

Now, I know some of you will argue that trying to have hybrid agendas is like asking for all participants to be both Male and Female (a strict impossibility, with certain bizarre exceptions) at the same time. You might also argue that hierarchy calls for Women at the top, followed by a filter for men, which can't happen, since all women are by definition not men, and so no individual will be both (again with certain bizarre exceptions). If this is true (which to me the verdict is still out on), then I fully understand that what I am saying is totally and completely wrong. But please refrain from saying the following: "But it is true!" It contributes nothing to the conversation. Giving a good reason or example of why it is true will contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

So, I proceed from the assumption that new agendas and agenda hierarchy are possible, but not with our current population size, or with our current toolbox (the techniques we have discovered and know how to use, such as chisels and hammers. Perhaps when we learn about and how to use laser blasters, we will have something new to talk about).

So, now to the WHY. Why is this important? What goal am I pursuing? The same goal that GNS pursues: Defining creative agendas and their application as a means to influence game design in such a way as to maximize fun for those who choose to play the game designed. Of course, with what I wrote above (that we lack the people and the tools), this seems like a fools errand. How can we try to design a game for a population that doesn't yet exist and that must possess tools we don't currently even conceive of? I like to think this is what it means to be on the cutting edge. I want to invent these tools, and I believe everyone else here does too. I want to bring about the play experience I am seeking, in which I play with individuals so matched up to what I want that I don't need to restrict myself to an agenda that doesn't do everything I want it to. And I want to have a system that promotes exactly the agenda I want so that those who play it play the same way as I do. Yeah, its selfish. But in the end, if we accomplish any of what I want to, we will have vastly improved what is available to everyone else, including generations of gamers to come.

So, any thoughts?

Thanks again,

Adam Dray

I'm trying to understand what you mean by a new creative agenda. Do you mean your prioritized hybrid, like "primary Narrativism, secondary Gamism"? Let's use the notation N>G for that, but realize it means a single, hypothetical creative agenda, not two different agendas.

Compare pure Narrativism (N) to Narrativism-with-Gamism (N>G). How are they different? Isn't this just N with "gamist" techniques tossed in? Assuming this N>G thing exists, how do players embrace it differently than pure N? Given that all the players at the table want N>G, during play, how does it affect their creative choices in the various layers of the Big Model? Given a handful of creative choices, don't they just choose the Techniques and Ephemera that point at Narrativism? Where does the "G" ever come into play? Maybe there are "gamist" techniques, but I don't see them connecting layers together the way techniques pull a Creative Agenda together.
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777


Thanks Adam,

This is exactly the kind of thing I want to explore. My problem is that as far as I am aware, all of the technique glossaries are outdated, so I don't have all of the terminology down pat. Either way, I need some actual play examples and for them to be dissected. The problem is I haven't played an RPG in months and my memory is just fuzzy enough that I am afraid I would be changing the memory slightly in favor of supporting my view, making it invalid as a choice of actual play. Plus, I have little memory of the moment to moment interactions, which is where techniques and ephemera are most noticeable. I only remember things in broad strokes. So, what I need first is to learn about the techniques and ephemera in up to date language, and then I can address this. Does anyone have any threads they recommend?



I think what you are missing is that the three Agendas are not monolithic things.  All Step on Up is not the same, neither is all Right to Dream or Story Now.  So when we group Creative Agendas they do entail wide differences in how you play.   Here is a discussion of skewers which may help you out with your ideas.

Beyond that I think the discussion is getting highly theoretical with little basis in reality.  I'm not sure what you are meaning by a hierarchy of GNS.  If we could bring it back to your actual play examples or any actual play examples then that might be helpful.

I'm going back to your examples from the Gamism and Narrtivism mutually exclusive thread.  From what I see you seem to be under the impression that there was gamism involved in the example you went into with Ron.  To be blunt there wasnt.  There was strategy, tactics and what Fred called competition but as Ron explained those things are not gamism.  What you are missing is the reward cycle, what pushed the game forward and moved it from one situation on to another.  The reward wasnt how well you did tactically or how smart you played leading to more tactically challenging situations it was the moral consequence of your actions leading to more moral quandries.  

I hate to say it but I think you may have glossed over what was said there because Ron made some pretty strong points that counter any idead of a Hierarchy of Agendas or multiple Agendas in play.  You might want to re-read that thread, especially once you and Ron get talking about the example of the game you enjoyed.


Thanks Caldis,

I will be reading that thread post-haste. Until I do, I probably can't speak to your question.  But, I did at least reference that each agenda had separate "sub-agendas" in one of my most recent posts (the one before the last one). But you are right. It is getting too theoretical. I do thank you for pointing me back to my original thread, but the problem there is that I still do not understand the other reward cycles. I understand Story Now reward cycles because I had a game experience and there was a definitive "This is how it all worked together and why." discussion, which was very accurate. Like I have said plenty of times, my memory is hazy. I am not sure that my representation of that particular instance is complete and accurate. I believe that there was a lot going on there that I simply don't recall properly or at all, which makes it hard to address other possible reward cycles from that example.

So, what I need is for someone to show me, "These are Gamist reward cycles, and here is how they work in actual play. These are Simulationist reward cycles and how they work in actual play, and these are Narrativist Reward cycles and how they work." I need this breakdown for each of the different sub-agendas, such as actual play and reward cycles for Gamism at the various Dial combinations. I also need something pointing me toward common Ephemera, and groups of Ephemera that are common techniques, and then common technique groups that point to Creative Agenda. If any of that is in the Skewers discussion above, then I won't need that once I have read it.

Also, being that I am discussing several instances of Actual play as necessary to continue this discussion, it may become necessary to make each one (play instance and technique/ephemera/reward cycle analysis) a daughter thread of its own until I fully understand the terms and can address this issue in this thread (or a continuation thread).

Overall, I want to learn more before I confuse myself more. Also, I recognize that tactical combat does not equal gamist play. Nobody needs to repeat that to me any more, I get that techniques do not an agenda make. I even understand why, thanks to the countless analogies people have been so kind as to give me. Until I understand Reward cycles, ephemera and techniques more, I won't be able to have meaningful discussion about hybrids (or new agendas) or hierarchies.


Adam Dray

Working on a post describing Gamist reward cycles... =)
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777

Adam Dray

Have you played D&D 4E? It's a great game, right? It provides amazing support for Gamism.

Start at the beginning. You make characters. The rules encourage (tease?) each player to make the strongest character, the most optimal build. Further, through the use of roles, the rules encourage the group of players to make sure their characters fit together. Having a good mix of roles is the most basic group strategy, but having powers that enhance one another in symbiotic ways is the more detailed strategy.

Play is focused on exploration and challenge. These challenges are usually combat against monsters but sometimes they involve traps, hazards, and other encounters that use skills rather than combat powers. The text provides rules for generating appropriate challenges based on the level and size of the party. Combat encounters test player skill. Specifically, combat tests a player's "character build" and the player's knowledge and proper use of the character's abilities and the player's knowledge of the game rules. There are tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) choices for a player to make. If a player performs poorly, he might cause his character or another player's character to be injured or killed. 4E particularly shines where it offers character abilities that help out party members, thus promoting teamwork.

The game's main reward is experience points (XP), which are gained mainly by killing monsters, encountering traps and hazards, and by completing skill challenges.  XP allow characters to gain levels. Gaining a level is the main reward cycle because you've proven yourself as a player long enough to change the character in a meaningful way. When you gain a level, you return to the "character build" part of the game and gain new abilities (and a new chance to test your skill at character building). Moreover, you have opened new doors in play. At the very least, there are new (higher-level) monsters for you to face. At certain level increments, like 11th and 21st, you also change the entire tier of play (heroic to paragon to epic). A change in tier changes game play in a significant way, widening the scope of your character's influence in the game setting.

To look at Gamism support in 4E, you need to start at the Social Contract level and work your way down. The game assumes that the players get together to play 4E and they understand that they're gonna kick some ass and take some names. Exploration is strongly pointed at challenge. There's a particular focus on Character and System (building, planning, tuning PCs) between "play sessions," but it's also "play," in my mind (strong character building requires interaction for party tuning). Setting is hostile, full of challenges for PCs. Situation is usually focused on getting players to combat encounters that test their abilities. The Color (e.g., read the "color text" for the powers and the racial descriptions) is challenge-focused. The game's Techniques are dedicated mostly to combat, traps, hazards, and skill challenges. There's not much else to the game. Combat rules comprise the vast majority of the game text.

To categorize an actual instance of 4E play as "Gamist," you need to look at the behavior of the players over a period of time that touches all of the above-mentioned aspects. You can play 4E in a Simulationist way or in a Narrativist way. You'll be fighting against the current of character optimization, fighting monsters, and leveling up, though.
Adam Dray /
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at 7777



Sounds pretty good but do you have a play example that would really showcase it in action?  If not we can look to the [Rifts] GNS my session thread and I can try and point out what look like reward cycles there.