What is Right to Dream for?

Started by Simon C, March 18, 2010, 10:11:27 PM

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So, I have an example for you. We're in the middle of some Right to Dream play in my current game.
My overarching goal for this game is to make the world feel as real and reasonable as I can. Real and reasonable meaning "like the original, adventurous, cartoon inspiration."

For example. I've done a re-working of some of the basic monsters in the early dungeons. The dungeons were set up as a training exercise, and the monsters were at a pretty good level of challenge for the party. However, the monsters were too challenging for the expected targets of the training. So, I re-did all the monsters, apologized to the players, and blamed a mischievous NPC. I think this would be generally counterproductive in a Step On Up sense, and meaningless in a Story Now sense.

The best moments in the game are when some details come up, or are added, and there's a sudden revelation. For example, due to some art, it turns out that one of our character's family is a group of reformed pirates. One of the side NPCs, is (in her unrevealed history) also a reformed pirate. She's been rather nice to the character, mostly because he gets in trouble. But now there's a connection there that we're going to explore. And the world is a little richer for it.

This game is very concretely about the slow revelation of a world, enjoying the taste and texture, and finding out what these hidden secrets are.


Quote from: Simon C on March 19, 2010, 02:36:02 AM
I think my point is more that calling it Right to Dream doesn't give me any tools for examining play, working out what the fun parts were, and finding out how to make other games similarly fun.  Treating it as if it were Story Now, and looking at the premise of play, does give me those tools.  It's more useful to me to ignore Right to Dream as a thing, and just treat all my play as Story Now for the purpose of examining my play.

In other words: Cool.  It's Right to Dream.  What use is that to me?

What help is "story now" without the further detail that focusing on premise brings?  The words on their own are more a motto than indicative of a deep understanding of the subject.  The right to dream requires similar attention and you see a lot of it in many traditional games, including probabilities of dice rolls to get that feeling of realism or a focus on whats important in the game. 

So how do you build the dream and get that realistic feel you want?  Well you move from systems like early D&D where hit points are an abstract measure of how hardy your character is and an attack roll is supposed to represent a series of attack and defensive actions to later systems where more detailed systems that got you in the feel of every sword swing and parry.

I think there are a lot of "tools" that came with right to dream think, a lot of them have become so ingrained in the hobby that it's hard to see them as anything more than just part of how roleplaying is done.

Simon C

This thred is moving a little faster than I'd like.  I'm not really able to keep up with so many different points of view, and as Eero pointed out, people coming in with radically different interpretations of what the Big Model says (or should say) is making the thread even more confused.

Probably something I should have started out saying is that my thinking on Right to Dream is pretty heavily informed by Vincent's (somewhat) recent writing on the subject, mostly contained in these two posts:



It's hard to tell, but I think Vincent's thinking has progressed (diverged?) from the Forge orthodoxy on Right to Dream to some extent, which might be causing some of the confusion.

One of the important things that I take from Vincent's posts is that "simulation" in the sense of having mechanics that recreate the feel of real-life situations, or else enforce genre tropes is a technique that can fit within any creative agenda.  That's I think causing confusion because people are saying "Of course Right to Dream is useful - with Right to Dream you can think about simulation and appropriate emulation" and I'm all "nuh-uh, that works for ANY game".

Let me talk more about what I'm trying to get at.  Here's Luke Crane's (incredibly controversial) definition of RPGs:

"[An RPG is] A game in which a player advocates the goals, priorities and survival (or doom) of a persona who, in operation of the game's mechanics, is confronted with one or more ethical choices."

Here's Vincent talking about game design:

"When you design a game, you're taking three different positions, expressing three different insights, putting forth three different opinions. Saying three different things. First, you're saying something about the subject matter or genre of your game: something you think about adventure fiction, or swords & sorcery, or transhumanist sf, or whatever. Second, you're saying something about roleplaying as a practice, taking a position on how real people should collaborate under these circumstances. Third, you're saying something about real live human nature."

So what I see in both of these is that there's a moral dimension to RPG play, by definition.  Making a clear space for that moral dimension within your design, or within your play, isn't a question of agenda, it's a question of good play vs. bad play (in the sense of more or less fun).  I think that a lot of the thinking on Story Now has monopolized discussion of the moral dimension of play, such that the thinking is that it's only relevant to Story Now games.  In other words, I think that a lot of the insights about how to make good Story Now games are actually insights about how to make good games in general.  I'm not sure if there are a lot of insights about how to make good Right to Dream games, but I think that probably many of those apply to all games too.  (David, I'm still getting to that thread you linked me, but thanks for doing so, I think it will be useful to me).


Wel, of course Narr etc can take advantage of tight causality and emulation.  That should, I would have thought, go without saying.  But it's not a priority, and so to a great or lesse degree it can also be downgraded in significance and importance by comparison with attention focussed on premise.  And similarly, Sim and Gam games can and do partake of moral concerns in some respects, but they too can afford to downgrade it by comparison to the real driver which is provoking interest and engagement.

Do all games say something about human nature?  Hmm, maybe, I'll even go so far as probably, while rejecting Luke Cran's formulation out of hand.  But I point to these caveats: we might well be saying about the world rather than human nature as such, and that it's only there in an implicit, mood music sort of way.

I agree with your point that "moral dimension" as you put is under investogated for sim games.  I totally agree that they can benefit from this, but primarily in the sense of filling out human in-game interactions and motivations.  They will be a thickener added to the existing material, and in some cases the actual conduct of play may become superficially similar.  But I don't think they will be engaged with the same way; they will be lumped in with other forms of cause-and-effect rather than explored in their own right.

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

David Berg

Quote from: Simon C on March 20, 2010, 07:36:37 PMpeople are saying "Of course Right to Dream is useful - with Right to Dream you can think about simulation and appropriate emulation" and I'm all "nuh-uh, that works for ANY game".
I agree (that it works for any game)!  It's not uniquely true for Sim, it's just especially true.

If you get your challenges and premises rolling, you might be able to get by with less perfection on the simulation/emulation/etc. front (as Gareth just said).  If the simulation/emulation/etc. is the point, your standards might get more exacting.

It's also worth noting Constructive Denial (willfully experiencing the fiction as an active arbiter of what can/can't happen in play, rather than maintaining awareness that it's just people making shit up) as a limiting factor on the tools available in Right to Dream play.

So, all the stuff I mentioned in my prior post can help or hurt any roleplay, but it can absolutely make or break Sim play.

As for a moral dimension, isn't that endemic to sentients in conflicts?  The only way to lose it would be to play automatons or encounter zero resistance.  Otherwise, "What will you do to get what you want?" is out there.
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development

Simon C

David, briefly: "Isn't that endemic to sentients in conflicts?" I think so.  Therefore, what matters is treating the characters as if they were sentients.  "Ethical choices" is Luke's very clever way of talking about a shared imagined space, I think.  It's very clever because it highlights exactly what a shared imagined space is for.

Here's another reformulation of what I'm talking about:

I'm not seeing any differences between Right to Dream and Story Now design and play that couldn't also be described as differences in premise within a Story Now agenda.

Eero Tuovinen

Good stuff, Simon - I think that this is an interesting and worthwhile discussion. I do not agree with Luke on ethical choices, but I do agree with Vincent about robust fiction; I do not think that this is a particular development in comparison to Forge theory from, say, five years ago, but more of a clarification: a robust fiction, which at times has been called "realistic" or "simulational" or whatever, is a necessary ingredient in developing Color and thus communicating the SIS effectively among the participants of a roleplaying game. This process of Exploration can be streamlined in some ways by heavily engaging genre expectations and other narrative shorthands, however, which might make it seem like some games are more or less concerned with the robustness of the fiction. In fact, though, Exploration is, no matter how detailed and realistic, a rather agenda-neutral activity: it's just the process of constructing a fictional environment, a Shared Imagined Space, and the extent to which you do it doesn't really comment on what you do it for.

The key claim, the most interesting one to me, is the idea that there is a moral dimension that is effectively engaged by any and all roleplaying. This might be the case for a certain understanding of "moral", but then that's not controversial - the exact model of Premise-cum-Theme is there exactly because just referring to a moral dimension vaguely can be understood in so many ways. For instance, take a purely immersive Nordic-style roleplaying game. Some game where the whole point is to imagine that you're a polar expedition that's slowly freezing to death while occasionally butchering a dog for food, say. (Not very hypothetical, waiting for death is a very popular premise in the Nordic scene.) What is the "moral dimension" of this game? Is it just that we as people are interested and engaged by impending death and desperation? If it's just that, then it's much more transparent to say that all roleplaying games need to "engage the players by being interesting". Mostly people are interested by people, so I guess you could also say that "roleplaying games need to have room for human action". That's still pretty far from any exact meaning of "ethical choice", unless you construe any and all choices as ethical, in which case that word isn't even needed.

(Personally I think that insofar as it matters for us, both Luke and Vincent are speaking of strictly narrativist rpg design in those discussions. Vincent actually has clearly stated as much - unless otherwise clarified, his blog concerns only narrativist design, which is his forte and main interest.)

Getting back to simulationism, my take is that it's pretty much experience for the sake of experience that seems to drive the simulationistic games I'm familiar with. "Right to Dream" is a very on-the-point description. The GM has a powerful image of being there, one he wants to transmit to the players; the players have a powerful interest in being there; the group together uses a range of techniques to build a Shared Imagined Space efficiently, and then engages it around the creative aspects that originally motivated the practice. The tableau is moved forward and progress is made in the game insofar as the art form is narrative in nature; events occurring and their temporal relationships are the interesting thing, not just still snapshots. Sometimes the stills are actually the interesting thing, like when you're playing a highly stylized superhero game and all you want is for your character to get to grandstand. Even then the whole game can't be just grandstanding, you need context that is created, ideally in efficient and cooperative manner.

As a practical example of a very simulationistic game that I've played in several sessions, I'd like to name Dead of Night. This is an useful example in that most times I've played the game we have in fact had situations that could be construed as narrativistic when isolated from the overall game. For example, in Hair II (Hair is this serial killer movie series I'm GMing with Dead of Night now and then, centering on a legendarized Charles Mason / James Dean who pops up in different parts of the USA for acerbic, bloody social commentary splatter stories) we had a situation where the serial killer had cornered a local artist at an art gallery, tied him in a chair and tortured him. Another player character, a police officer, stumbled on the scene in progress. Now, had this been a narrativistic game, in hindsight it's obvious that the issue of the scene would have been clear: will the player character, who'd earlier been entangled in a romance with the killer, try to save the innocent victim, or will he just escape as far and fast as he can?

However, this is one of the most coherently simulationistic games I've known, so nothing like the above question was evident in our play: my point in bringing the scene was to display my favourite serial killer, the scene was full of his fictional trademarks, the player's thing was to feel the fear and despair, and nobody really stopped to hesitate when we were all so busy in experiencing the story. Dead of Night has less railroading than many simulationistic games because of some very clever structural techniques, but it's still very much the GM's show in that he's responsible for the powerful horror elements, while the players are mostly responsible for experiencing and reacting and making choices as to the angle and velocity of the situation exploration in the game. In our session (which I really should write AP for despite its age, it's that cool) the creative drive came from our common willingness to experience a slasher story situated in an American mid-west small town, nothing more and nothing less. This was executed, and that's that - thematically the game was pure Hair, entirely pre-established by the GM. I've characterized this style of Sim as akin to computer adventure gaming: the GM provides a limited amount of subject material while the players have their characters walk around and click on various parts of the game. Just like a computer adventure game, the GM controls  the content, but the player controls the pacing and focus at which that content is explored.

Hmm... I should actually write a bit more about that Monkey Island metaphor at some point, it sounds like it might develop into an useful design framework.

But anyway, I think that experiencing things is really a central quality of Simulationism in that when you play a simulationistic game, what you have at the end is an experience devoid of external measure such as dramatic arc or finished challenge. This is really powerfully seen in some immersionistic play: you pretend to be an elf just because you want to pretend to be an elf, and that's it, no external measuring stick to it. In the same way I want to play another session of Hair just because I'd like to "enjoy" another night of rebellious, pretentious pretty boy slashery (the next movie will be set in San Francisco, incidentally).

Am I even on the topic anymore? Sometimes it feels like this whole Simulationism thing is so under-developed that we really should just talk about simulationistic game experiences at length before even trying to figure out any second-order things like the actual topic we have here. At least I touched on the central question: Simulationism is separate from Narrativism, and I don't think that it is constructed of ethical choices like Narrativistic play largely is. While we don't really have superbly clear simulationistic design frameworks, at least we have some good games and gaming skill; for instance, I'm pretty certain that I can replicate a simulationistic gaming experience any day with the narrow range of simulationistic gaming tools I understand and appreciate myself. Same probably goes for others.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

David Berg

Quote from: Simon C on March 20, 2010, 08:58:42 PMI'm not seeing any differences between Right to Dream and Story Now design and play that couldn't also be described as differences in premise within a Story Now agenda.
I'm pretty sure that to describe them as such would be using the terms in a very different way than Ron intends them.  Ethical choices resulting from sentients facing obstacles gives you Story Eventually, but that's vastly different, socially, from Story Now.

Fred Simster and Joe Narrster might both want to explore what happens when cult members are exposed to their leader's hypocrisy.  But they might drive each other nuts if they tried to do it together, because Joe wants every scene to take that exploration one step further and then cut, while Fred wants to let the exploration go wherever some colorful character play takes it.  (I'm not saying either of these preferences is definitional of a CA, I'm just going for examples that might be familiar.)
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development


I'm sort of with Eero about Luke's thought on ethical choices, my take is that while ethical choices may have been made by characters in all role playing games if the players dont really care about the ethical choices during the game then it doesnt tell you that much about the game in question.  I think it misses the distinction between just having a theme and exploring premise as its done in Story Now.

Let's take it back to your play example.  You stated the theme as "How does a person make their way in an indifferent universe?"   It's formulated as a question here but in play is this really a question?  Are the characters questioning how they should make their way in an indifferent universe?   Does the player make an ethical choice for the character in the game or has the decision already been made?

Your example where they crash into the asteroid, that was special because it reaffirmed that it was an uncaring universe but was there ever really an ethical choice involved?  You started the game as unscrupulous mercenaries so it was pretty much guaranteed from the get go that they would be making bad ethical choices, did it say anything about the characters that this specific incident did them in rather than some other point?

I think considering morality and ethics is probably a good thing and inevitable in most RPG's, so yeah it's probably a good thing to consider in design but there are different ways they can be used in play and you have to consider how you want to use them.


Anders Larsen

I more and more begin to think that describing Simulationism as genre simulation/emulation is not very useful, because while genre simulation is important in Simulationism, it is not that alone which make it fun. It is like in Narrativism where it is not the moral choice alone that create the fun, but what you do with it and what consequences it creates.

I have experienced two approaches to Simulatonism in my own gaming life that I have found interesting:

The first one is the same that Ron explain in the thread David Berg links to. This is where you challenge everyones understanding of the fiction by throwing in a new element, that with the first glance seems to be out of place; it does not completely fit with what is already established. The fun is then to, through play, find hidden connections that can explain how this new piece of fiction actually fit into the established understanding. It is especially exiting when a number of pieces does not quite fit, and suddenly something is reviled than make everything fit perfectly in an unexpected way. A murder mystery is a perfect example of this.

The second one is more about exploration. It is where you explore how new pieces of the fiction relates to other elements of the fiction. And to explore what causally consequences the new piece have for the character and the rest of the fiction.

Genre/setting simulation is a very important ground rule for those two approaches, but it is what you do with it which make it fun.

- Anders

Simon C

I think a thing that's causing confusion in this thread is that there are two kinda-overlapping but disparate ideas of what Right to Dream is.

There's the one that Ron proposes in his essay on the subject, and which has been developed a little since then, which is all about the experience of the "Rightness" of the "Dream": Building a fictional world, and testing the limits of what it can contain.  Enjoying the resilience of your vision.  Probably this also contains the kind of immersive, experiential play that Eero talks about.

Then there's what Vincent talks about on his blog.  I think this is an attempt to define the same thing in a different way.  Vincent talks about play where moral judgement of the characters is off the table - play is entirely "wish fulfillment" in the sense that you have a vision of the character, and everyone else acts to affirm and not challenge that vision.

Here's my take on these.  I don't see how the first formulation of Right to Dream is incompatible with Story Now play.  I don't see how you can't enjoy and test the resilience of your vision, while also exploring premise.  Those two things don't seem mutually exclusive to me.

That's why I think Vincent reformulated Right to Dream as about not making moral judgements of the characters.  That is, clearly, incompatible with play where you do make moral judgements of the characters, which characterises our current understanding of Story Now.

So what I'm saying is that I think this second definition of Right to Dream isn't exclusive of exloring Premise either.  I think that not making judgements of characters is a technique, a technique which makes it impossible to explore many of the Premises that I personally find most interesting, but that does allow you to explore other Premises.  These are typically pretty bland, phatic statements: Can good triumph over evil? What does it take to be a hero? Can a few people working together change the world?

I think you can reformulate many of the problems that have been called Creative Agenda clash as actually a clash about what premise is being explored in the game, and what techniques are appropriate for doing that.

Simon C


Those are good points.  For sure, ethical considerations were not at the forefront of our decisionmaking.  The premise was not "Can you be a good person in an uncaring universe?"  But I think every decision that the players made on behalf of their characters was answering the question "What do you do in an uncaring universe?".  I think that's why we cared about what happened in play.  We cared about the characters making some kind of mark, doing something significant.  Not, I think, for the Gamist challenge of the thing (though that's possible), but because that's what gave the characters' actions some kind of meaning.  The fact that it all ended in a fireball achieving nothing, was, I think, significant to us on that level.


Simulation as something seperate from creative agenda is right on.  Vincent talks about it in one of the posts I linked before.


I'm not seeing the distinction you're talking about.

Lance D. Allen

I'd like to weigh in briefly, as Simulationist play is still my primary preference.

I've probably fallen behind the bleeding edge of what GNS means these days, but I've got a decent grasp on the foundations. Sim play and Nar play can look very similar. The events of play can be identical. The difference is in the priorities of the players playing those events. Nar prioritizes asking thematic questions and answering them through play. Sim prioritizes exploration. I should say Big-E Exploration, in the Big Model sense. Every CA utilizes Exploration extensively, but only Sim makes Exploration the point of playing.

It's the difference between asking "How far will you go to save your family?" and "What would this character do in this situation to save his family?" Or more explicitly "What would it be like to be in this situation, forced to make a hard decision about saving my family?"

Also, exploration of character, situation and setting are only some of the types of exploration prioritized by Sim play. As Eero pointed out in his example of stylized superheroes, sometimes it's about exploration of color. Other times, it's about exploration of mechanics.

So, if I understand correctly, you're asking what tools this gives us? I'm assuming you mean tools to explore what went wrong/right in a given instance of play, and tools to improve future instances of play. If I'm right, we have a few tools. You can still keep the "moral choices"-centric focus, even. How does setting force/encourage moral choices? How do given character archetypes deal with moral choices? How do the mechanics reward/constrain moral choices?

I've more thoughts, but less time. I'd also like to make sure I'm in line with your goals, Simon, before going further.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls


Vincents talk about moral judgements being off the table isnt anything new.   Take a look at the Right to Dream essay, it's big and there's a lot to go through but if you read down aways you'll find this.

"In Simulationist play, morality cannot be imposed by the player or, except as the representative of the imagined world, by the GM. Theme is already part of the cosmos; it's not produced by metagame decisions. Morality, when it's involved, is "how it is" in the game-world, and even its shifts occur along defined, engine-driven parameters. The GM and players buy into this framework in order to play at all."

So Vincent isnt talking about anything new he's just breaking the ideas down into bite site pieces.

I think your on to something important about games and possibly game design.  That thematic question that you are getting at is a necessary component in having a game at all and makes it compelling to the players, gives the action meaning like you said the ending in a fireball did for your group of characters.   I think it's been talked about in terms of design and having an idea of "what your game is about" and having it shared amongst a group is integral in having an active creative agenda.  What you do with that question depends on the CA and how you are going to use it.

So looking at the thematic question again that your play posed. "What do you do in an uncaring universe?"  For your group that question was already answered for the most part.  They were unscrupulous mercenaries who I'm guessing would do pretty much anything.  Play revolved not around how they answered the question but on the ramifications of that answer.  They've chosen to go outside the law and morality, put themselves in dangerous situations, what's going to happen when they do that.  Story now play on the other hand would be about pushing that question and it's boundaries and taking an ethical stance about the question for this character.    Will your character break the law?  Will he murder if pushed hard enough?  Will he turn on friends and family?    That type of questioning doesnt work well if the ones being questioned arent interested in the questions, conversely if someone is looking for those questions but they arent getting them they may lose interest or turn the game in an unwanted direction. 

David Berg


A Story Now version: the players want every scene to push toward addressing "What do you do in an uncaring universe?" and they want to answer that question (or a chosen sub-premise thereof) in a single session.  If the premise gets ignored for a while, players get bored or antsy.  If they can't answer it in a way that makes a statement, they feel unsatisfied.

A Story Eventually (specifically Sim) version: Putting their own unique spin on space mercs, exploring the setting, and celebrating the genre is quite enough for players to enjoy scene after scene and session after session.  No one gets bored or antsy if "What do you do in an uncaring universe?" is barely recognized, pursued or developed.  The fact that it's explored eventually is good enough.  In fact, it's good enough even you already could have known what the answer would be (as Caldis describes).

(Again, these are just examples, and not definitional of the CAs.  I'm just trying to highlight the difference in priority.)
here's my blog, discussing Delve, my game in development