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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 38 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: GNS - works as description, but I don't buy the prescription  (Read 2148 times)
Bloomfield
Member

Posts: 22


« on: November 02, 2010, 10:34:19 AM »

First, I really don't know what I am talking about or what I think I'm doing walking into a roleplaying theory discussion. (I won't be hurt if you stop reading now.)

Second, I've been taking in GNS and other aspects of rpg theory, and loving it. But there is one aspect that I am unconvinced of: Ron's GNS prescription for game design. He says (I'm taking this from the appendix of Sorcerer, but it's other places):

Quote
I suggest that RPG system design cannot meet all three outlooks [G, N, S] at once.... One of the biggest problems I observe in RPG systems is that they often try to satisfy all three outlooks at once. the result, sadly, is a guarantee that almost any player will be irritated by some aspect of the system during play.... I suggest that building the system specifically to accord with one of these outlooks [G, N, or S] is the first priority of RPG design.

It makes sense to me that a system that wants to be everything to everyone is doomed to fail. But that doesn't mean games require purity. In fact, what I am most delighted in right now is the interaction of narrative elements with gamist or simulationist elements.

Third, the actual play part: I remember a moment during a long-running RoleMaster campaign I ran as a teenager. One of the character didn't know her background and was the only one of her species (humanoid with wings, think female Gelfling) and slowly figured out that she was the daughter of a deposed queen. She did find her mother, who lived in exile but just as they met, the mother was assinated - and the character realized that she was walking into a deadly political intrigue. The player wept at the table. After many sessions seeking to find her most tangible link to an unknown past, and losing it again immediately. The moment sticks in my mind because I realized that I had transitioned from "Imagine yourself doing awesome things" to "telling a story together." (RoleMaster didn't enable this, but unlike other systems I've played it didn't get in the way either.) I agree with Ron that system does matter, and I am not trying the point that it all depends just on the players and the GM, anyway. I would have loved a system that supported my narrative agenda (embarrassing as that agenda now seems, looking back). I was building a Hero's Journey story, and in all of our minds game mechanics and the story were unconnected. Interestingly, I came across Ars Magica around that time and tried to switch the character to that system. The campaign fell apart and one of the reasons may have been that the flavor had changed so much. But there is a bit of irony to think that a more narrative system killed my story.

So here is where I am going with this. There are Game Mechanics and Story Mechanics. Game Mechanics are things like how jump a chasm, hit an opponent, convince someone, how much armor you can carry. They are mechanics that are neutral to why you want to do something or how what you're doing relates to a story. Story mechanics on the other hand deal with the story, or narrative arc, explicitly: now this type of scene occurs, and you must narrate it this way. Examples are Character Transcendence in TSOY ("narrate this and retire your character!"), or The Horror Revealed from My Life with Master, all of Penny for My Thoughts, or other rules that tell you what to narrate when (and who narrates).

What makes me happy is a system where Game Mechanics and Story Mechanics are linked. This can be done in a crude way or in an elegant way. A crude way to my mind are explicit narrative modifiers. Sorcerer (since it's sitting on my desk already) has these: A dramatic or appropriate quip while announcing the task: +1 die; Especially stupid move: -2 dice; The announced action moves the plot along significantly: +2 dice; and so on. A more elegant way to link make game mechanics link to the story are Keys in TSOY, or something like FATE points: an element of the story (aspects are rich descriptions of the character, and thus elements of the story the player wants to tell) grants a mechanical bonus or limited narrative control.  (The FATE point economy is thus actually a subtle mechanic for narrative control.)

What cuts across here is the distinction between task resolution and conflict resolution. (Vincent Baker's take here, scroll down a bit.) In task resolution, only the task itself is at stake (fail/succeed). In conflict resolution, what's at stake flows from why you are doing a task (win/lose). Conflict resolution is much richer narratively, because every "why" ties into the character's motivations, hopes, fears. Why not think about right mixture of narrative elements and Gamist or Simulationists elements in terms of a 2x2 chart (which really represents a continuum on each axis, of course):



I put in couple of arrows to show the movement that is exciting to me right now. I am not interested in games that just provide game mechanics for resolving tasks. But there are two ways of moving: move resolution from tasks to conflicts (I see frequent advice only to call for rolls "when it matters," or "when failure is clearly defined"). The other movement is from Game Mechanics to Story Mechanics, which happens when you introduce fate points, and role-playing modifiers. Think Donjon, where task resolution results in narrative control.  Once you get to the bottom right, you find games like Houses of the Blooded, where conflict resolution replaces task resolution and the wager mechanic determines not success/failure, but narrative control. If I understand them correctly a lot of story games these days try to get as close to the bottom right hand corner as possible, providing Story Mechanics only for conflict resolution only. So you'd have rules about framing the scene, or establishing the conflict, followed by shifts in narrative control, "Player A gets to narrate," etc.

To tie it back to the point about GNS: Maybe I have already been replaced by the Narrative body snatchers and don't realize how far away I am in my thinking from Gamist/Simulationist approaches. Here is where I'm at: The cool thing about good RPG systems is the way narrative elements or dynamics are captures in mechanics and how the resolution of risk or uncertainty is made relevant a narratively meaningful conflict. The coolest thing about good RPG systems happens when those mechanics feel a bit gamist (the reward system aligns with roleplaying incentives) and a bit simulationist (a drop in sanity/humanity feels real; mechanics do more than state who talks in what order under what constraints). In other words, I don't think I want G, N, or S purity.
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Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2010, 11:35:02 AM »


I'm not sure you have GNS down all that well which makes it hard to discussion your proposition.  Your play example sounds interesting but it doesnt really give us enough information about the interactions of the people at the table. I'm going to quote the example mostly for my own reference and then ask a few questions afterward.

Third, the actual play part: I remember a moment during a long-running RoleMaster campaign I ran as a teenager. One of the character didn't know her background and was the only one of her species (humanoid with wings, think female Gelfling) and slowly figured out that she was the daughter of a deposed queen. She did find her mother, who lived in exile but just as they met, the mother was assinated - and the character realized that she was walking into a deadly political intrigue. The player wept at the table. After many sessions seeking to find her most tangible link to an unknown past, and losing it again immediately. The moment sticks in my mind because I realized that I had transitioned from "Imagine yourself doing awesome things" to "telling a story together." (RoleMaster didn't enable this, but unlike other systems I've played it didn't get in the way either.) I agree with Ron that system does matter, and I am not trying the point that it all depends just on the players and the GM, anyway. I would have loved a system that supported my narrative agenda (embarrassing as that agenda now seems, looking back). I was building a Hero's Journey story, and in all of our minds game mechanics and the story were unconnected. Interestingly, I came across Ars Magica around that time and tried to switch the character to that system. The campaign fell apart and one of the reasons may have been that the flavor had changed so much. But there is a bit of irony to think that a more narrative system killed my story.

First question about moving from "doing awesome things" to "telling a story together", what choices did the player make that was part of telling the story?  Was there anything she could have done that would actually change the story or was it more her actions revealing the story you had created for her?   Is she really part of telling the story or is she just "doing awesome things" inside the story you are telling?

If you have any more to say about what happened when you switched systems I'd be interested.  You say the flavor changed but what was happening in the fiction at the time?  How was the story progressing and how were the players involved in the progression of the story?

As for your last comment about mechanics it hints that you are looking to small scale when considering GNS.  A moment of challenge in a game doesnt equate with a Gamist agenda, likewise events in play feeling real dont equate to a Sim agenda. 

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Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2010, 12:34:42 PM »

Hi Bloomfield!

As Caldis already said, Creative Agenda is not about a single decision or moment of play, but is seen in the entire run of a game (an "Instance of play"). This is one of the many differences between GDS (the threefold model of old) and GNS and the Big Model, and it's difference that trip a lot of people up (in many forum discussions people talk about "rpg theory" switching continuously between GDS and GNS and propagate this confusion)

So, nothing forbid a gamist game from having parts that address a premise, or from having something that that the player has to solve or fight using his strategic ability, in a Narrativist game (I am using "game" here as "the activity we do when we play", not the book or the box). GNS is never, ever, about the "presence" or "absence" of elements, because every rpg game has ALL these elements, in the course of play.

GNS is about PRIORITY.  Usually,the problems the player has to solve with his (or her) own strategic mind is not something that lessen his ability to address premise.  But what you do, when during the game a situation arise where they do? What is "good play" and "bad play" in your group for that game?

If the game is clear about this, this choice should not be problematic (for example, dogs in the vineyard is not about "winning" the conflicts, even if the player usually try to win them: addressing the premise is much more important, to the point that when you play DitV is accepted that you can, and should, lose conflict that you could win if you played "only to win". This is "good play" in DitV, the game book is very explicit about that. If you play DitV to win every single conflict without caring about the fictional situation and the premise it presents, you are playing "wrong" and the game book is not timid in saying you that)

But if the game book is not cleat, there are only two other alternatives: 1) the ENTIRE gaming group is "on the same page" about the way to play, so that they have a really good idea about what is "good play" and what is "bad play", and they can play without problems as in the DitV example above (but they are actually using rules of behavior that aren't in the book, rules they had to come up of their own, and it's not always simple or immediate) , or 2) they aren't.  So you have cases like the classic one where a character lose a conflict because of something he wanted to say with his/her character (even just "it's not right to attack people from behind, even if they are the villains") and the other players look at him like he was stupid or something like that, because in their mind "playing well" means "playing to win", and he has played very badly in their eyes. (and usually after a while they throw out from the group enough people to get to the situation (1) above, thinking that every other player in the world apart them is a bad player)

How can you play a game where you don't even know WHAT YOU SHOULD DO in these situations? When the rules don't even tell you if the objective of the game is to kill every other character in play or to create a story that means something to you? (Think about teaching chess to people without telling them that they should try to checkmate the other player's king, and then looking at them while they move their pieces in various directions without knowing what to do, then say to them "a good GM - <Game of Chess Master> - would know what to do, and would force other players to play in that way" and you have a good example of what role-playing has become in the Land of Incoherent RPGs)

"Writing coherent RPGs" is simply that: writing a game where is clear that the objective is checkmate the other player's king, and not a game that don't even tell you how to play.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Bloomfield
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2010, 02:18:03 PM »

Thanks for the response. I think you're right that I don't have GNS quite down, and like any newbie I am floundering around, trying to tell lack of comprehension from disagreement.
First question about moving from "doing awesome things" to "telling a story together", what choices did the player make that was part of telling the story?  Was there anything she could have done that would actually change the story or was it more her actions revealing the story you had created for her?   Is she really part of telling the story or is she just "doing awesome things" inside the story you are telling?

If you have any more to say about what happened when you switched systems I'd be interested.  You say the flavor changed but what was happening in the fiction at the time?  How was the story progressing and how were the players involved in the progression of the story?
There wasn't anything built into the system or rules that gave players narrative control, other than character creation and making choices during game play. But there was a strong sense that play was about the character's story, and that we were telling the story together; but you have the right hunch: mechanically she was just revealing a story (apart from character creation which was collaborative). So that's part of what fascinates me because we neither had a narrativist agenda (the term hadn't been coined back then), nor did we throw out game mechanics in order to get there. The moment may not be that theoretically significant, but it was personally significant as at that point I became fully aware that we were telling stories together. When I started out role playing I just wanted to be able to imagine myself in awesome and dangerous situations; elements of stories weren't required, like story arcs, character development, conflict revealed and sharpened, catharsis, or any of that.

Quote
As for your last comment about mechanics it hints that you are looking to small scale when considering GNS.  A moment of challenge in a game doesnt equate with a Gamist agenda, likewise events in play feeling real dont equate to a Sim agenda. 
Helpful. I think what I want to grasp is the point of transformation: from agenda to game mechanics. Mechanics aren't neutral, people seem to agree on that, and hence agenda is revealed in mechanics. How much Sim bias to mechanics will poison a Narrativist agenda.
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Ar Kayon
Member

Posts: 438


« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2010, 02:30:16 PM »

It seems like no one ever seems to "get" Ron's theory.  I blame the articles' poor use of language: too esoteric and too convoluted.  If there are a thousand people who have read them, then there are three thousand interpretations.

I propose a new design theory:

Step 1: Post your work on the first thoughts forum.
Step 2:  ???
Step 3: Profit!
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2010, 02:40:12 PM »

Hi Bloomfield,

The coolest thing about good RPG systems happens when those mechanics feel a bit gamist (the reward system aligns with roleplaying incentives) and a bit simulationist (a drop in sanity/humanity feels real; mechanics do more than state who talks in what order under what constraints). In other words, I don't think I want G, N, or S purity.

There's a classic mixup that happening here. 

When we talk about Creative Agenda, we talk about the overarching experience of play, and, what the group playing prioritizes above the others.  That is, if things came into conflict ("Is realism more important, or the story choices? Hmm.") which wins out when you're actually playing.   This puts it higher than any individual mechanic and at the point of how the mechanics work together (and, which ones the group actually applies).

A good example is Burning Wheel - very crunchy game, very detailed mechanics that enforce a strong "realism"  in it's own way.  It has a lot of tactical stuff in combat.  But the core reward system and way of setting up and running the game is all Narrativist.

Now, you can enjoy stuff like tactical bits, realistic rules, etc. without it changing the CA - it comes down to which one takes top precedence in shaping play.

Two terms which come to mind are: Versimilitude and Technical Agenda.   The first refers to a game giving a consistent quality of it's fictional world/experience, and the second refers to what you enjoy having in your mechanics of your game ("I hate dice pools" for example).

Chris
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Bloomfield
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2010, 02:52:03 PM »

Hi Bloomfield!

As Caldis already said, Creative Agenda is not about a single decision or moment of play, but is seen in the entire run of a game (an "Instance of play"). This is one of the many differences between GDS (the threefold model of old) and GNS and the Big Model, and it's difference that trip a lot of people up (in many forum discussions people talk about "rpg theory" switching continuously between GDS and GNS and propagate this confusion)

So, nothing forbid a gamist game from having parts that address a premise, or from having something that that the player has to solve or fight using his strategic ability, in a Narrativist game (I am using "game" here as "the activity we do when we play", not the book or the box). GNS is never, ever, about the "presence" or "absence" of elements, because every rpg game has ALL these elements, in the course of play.

GNS is about PRIORITY.  Usually,the problems the player has to solve with his (or her) own strategic mind is not something that lessen his ability to address premise.  But what you do, when during the game a situation arise where they do? What is "good play" and "bad play" in your group for that game?
Thanks - I think I do confuse GDS and GNS in my mind (or did, until just now). I'll need to mull over this a bit, but I can grasp priority as you describe - what I can't quite see is how purity in game design (as in a clear choice between G, N, and S) is necessary or desirable. And the two things I am confused about seem connected. Because if design agenda is revealed in mechanics (clearly there is a difference between "you gain an XP" and "you may narrate your success"), then the incentives created by mechanics affect the table's ability to engage in "good play" or "bad play." Seems to follow that if you have a narrative agenda, you would want to minimize mechanics that set G or S incentives - which doesn't sound right as a conclusion to me (as I tried to explain with my clumsy distinction between game mechanics and story mechanics).

I find that I care about this issue quite a bit because at the core of my fascination with role playing is the transformation of an effect or dynamic in the world or the mind into a mechanic. And by mechanic I mean something that both enables, restrains, and incentivises in-play choice through some formal means (a rule, a dice roll, a Jenga tower). How cool is it enable and propel descent into insanity through a Humanity score in Socrerer or the Madness Meter in Nemesis? If GNS really refers to only the level of agenda, can it have anything to say about the way this transformation takes place? There is a difference between "the orc takes 10HP," and "tell us what happens to the orc and what it mean to your character's goals." I like your DtiV example, because it shows a tension, or perhaps an impurity in design (mind that I am not convinced that purity in design is desirable).
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Bloomfield
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2010, 02:57:57 PM »

Now, you can enjoy stuff like tactical bits, realistic rules, etc. without it changing the CA - it comes down to which one takes top precedence in shaping play.

Two terms which come to mind are: Versimilitude and Technical Agenda.   The first refers to a game giving a consistent quality of it's fictional world/experience, and the second refers to what you enjoy having in your mechanics of your game ("I hate dice pools" for example).
Makes sense. But it does feel like reducing Creative Agenda and GNS to terms of literary criticism rather than useful guides for game design.

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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2010, 03:07:35 PM »

Quote
But it does feel like reducing Creative Agenda and GNS to terms of literary criticism rather than useful guides for game design.

This graphic might be useful:

http://www.shrikedesign.com/bigmodel.gif

When you have functional play, all those circles work together based on "lining up" with the Creative Agenda.  Design-wise, you're giving people instructions on how to line those things up and keep them in alignment while playing.

Creative Agenda serves as an overarching guide, that helps you shape all the parts towards fulfilling it in working play.

An interesting consideration is that if you've successfully done your job as a designer?  Any group picking up your game should be able to follow the instructions and reliably get a consistent Creative Agenda experience, without having to know or consider the theory behind it.

So if you mean "Literary theory" in the sense that "Writers should know this to make good stories for readers who shouldn't have to know it", you're absolutely correct.

Chris
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Bloomfield
Member

Posts: 22


« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2010, 10:11:38 AM »

Honestly, I meant literary criticism as in self-referential with little or no practical application for authors. :)

I am not sure I buy (or understand) the point about GNS being creative agenda only but doesn't require the absence or presence of certain elements (mechanics are elements, right?). There are big differences between mechanics in how explicitly the affect construction of the story. Does assigning narrative rights ever make sense if the agenda is G or S?

To put it provocatively, I am beginning to think that N is the only possible creative agenda for rpgs. S is appropriate for war games. G is for board/card games (marked by indifference to high levels of abstraction). S or G can't make good role playing games, because games with either CA can't help but be a war game or a board/card game disguised as rpgs.  (Perhaps The Forge is the wrong place to ask that question.)

Thanks for helping me understand this issue, coming late to the discussion.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2010, 12:53:20 PM »

Well, yeah, if your definition of rpgs doesn't include those other goals, naturally CA aspects of Big Model theory won't be very useful, and there really isn't much to discuss here. 

It's good to note, that, as far as the Big Model is concerned, those other types of play DO count as valid roleplaying, and it's important to note how they work in order to make sure you are clear to others in your designs/organizing games that you are not playing in those methods so you don't end up with 5 people trying to play 5 different games together (http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2009/12/19/a-way-out/ ).

As far as mechanics interfacing with CA - you have to remember it's how ALL the mechanics work together to create a Creative Agenda.

An Actual Play example was me playing Dogs in the Vineyard with a GM used to Illusionism, who flatly avoided the advice in the game to throw the conflicts and problems of the Town at the players. 

Though there's a lot of mechanics that make DitV a Narrativist game, that simple bit of stonewalling completely blocked the flow of play of dealing with the primary moral issues.

You can have 90% of the same mechanics support completely different CAs based on that last little bit.  (Interesting enough, that last little bit doesn't always produce the same things if you slap it on a variety of games...) 

Some common games that see this shift include - when people ignore Sorcerer's Humanity & Kickers, ignore Beliefs in Burning Wheel, ignore Spiritual Attributes in Riddle of Steel, whether the role of characters are to be "within" the setting or to shape it in Hero Quest, etc.

Obviously, though, if you don't consider other forms of play as "roleplaying" Big Model is going to be of very limited use to you anyway. 

If you are interested, try looking up some of those games in the Archive forums and looking at some of the discussions that ensued - a lot of people ended up talking past each other because of that little bit ignored or applied - but they're talking about two completely different ways to play, under the same game name.

Chris
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1429


« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2010, 01:26:27 PM »

Does assigning narrative rights ever make sense if the agenda is G or S?

Yes.  You have to realize that "competition" is a social phenomenon and does not require explicit articulated or even acknowledged win conditions.  I've seen Primetime Adventure games turn competitive.  The game stopped being about addressing the Issues on the character sheet and started being about "one upping" each other.in terms of "cool factor."  Drama wasn't expressed through a genuine investment in the characters but instead became the currency by which the game was being "won."  Play was about out "Drama-ing" each other.  This happens in many LARP environments as well.

Jesse

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Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2010, 02:56:18 PM »


I think you are mistaking creating a story together for narrativism and it's understandable because they do have some similarities but they dont mean exactly the same thing.  It's entirely possible to create a story as a group and not be playing in a narrativist fashion, Frank Tarcikowski has an example a few posts down of a sim game that was group created story but features no narrativism.  Likewise there are several examples of gamist play that include solid story and there's no guarantee that nar play is going to give you a great story.

So what's the big difference then?  What sets narrativism apart from story creation with any other agenda?  If we look back to the example you gave in your first post with the character discovering her lost past and we see that you are creating story as a group but what you arent doing is allowing the player to reveal the depths of what the characters is about, what they stand for and what they are willing to do and what that says about the character.  Mechanics in play are the least significant thing when it comes to those decisions and actions the player has the character take. 

So if resolution mechanics are so unimportant when it comes to CA then how does system matter?  It's in the bigger things, in creating situation and propelling characters into premise rich environments.  Look at things like Kickers in Sorceror or town creation mixed with the position of authority the dogs take on in Dogs in the Vineyard.   
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 285


« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2010, 04:53:18 PM »

Caldis, what do you mean by "system"?
When folks say "system does matter", they mean more than just what's typically called "mechanics" - the way you are told to use mechanics is another part of system, dubbed "procedures", and the very act of playing the game together involves a whole slew of agreements, i.e. the social contract.

To truly interact with a system, you have to use ALL the rules, unless certain rules are tagged as explicitly optional. If you pick and choose rules, that's Drifting, and it will change what the system can actually support. To go a little deeper: Dogs mechanics, taken one by one, are not explicitly "Narrativist". You have to be doing the whole thing, all at once, to get effective support for Nar play. Step-dice, for instance, could be used for anything; they aren't inherently Narrativist.

A given Agenda is a package deal - it doesn't have to be complicated, but Nar play needs player authorship for thematic content. It's gotta be in the rules, or you just don't have a Nar-supportive system. So, with Dogs, if you removed the escalation system... no, wait, if you just removed the player's choice to escalate/not escalate a situation, you would lose the Nar support. If players can't meaningfully give input on the themes of the game, it ain't Nar. Does that help at all?
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Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/
Caldis
Member

Posts: 392


« Reply #14 on: November 04, 2010, 06:30:26 AM »


I think we're pretty much in agreement Abkajud, I believe the Dogs system is very much a nar-facilitating system.  However even with its system you wont necessarily get Nar play.  You could easily take the system as written and play it in a gamist or sim fashion, it might not be the most compelling play but it would be possible.  To get Nar play out of any system you need the intent to use it to address the premise rich material the game gives you, a recognition between the players and the gm that what you are doing is adressing the premise, and the freedom to do so.   

I think the best description for what the rules of the game do, and things like conflict resolution mechanics are an excellent example, is give the game bounce.  Ron used it recently (I think) when talking about the energy in a game and comparing it to throwing a ball back and forth.  With the right ball when you throw it back and forth it has some bounce, it adds energy and life to the game you may be able to bounce it off something and get it moving in an entirely different direction.   A different ball however can just be a weight to toss around, it can be light and easy to throw about or it can be a dead weight dragging things down, either way they dont add anything to the game on their own.
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