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Author Topic: Finding El-Dorado in the Zombie Apocalypse  (Read 5071 times)
Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« on: March 24, 2011, 01:04:32 PM »


This is gonna take a little while for me to go over, so bear with me.

A couple a' months back now, me and a few semi-regular players were playing a zombie-horror-survival game where the basic premise was that we played ourselves as our hometown was overrun by the undead, without a strong focus on 'realistic' outcomes and no deliberate effort to impose a predecided storyline.  The game itself wasn't perfect by any stretch- the underlying system was some BRP-derived relic with plenty of support for combat, but not much else, and in the event we wound up doing chases, conversations, investigations and agriculture more often than direct combat, but the GMs' adjudications on the subject were reasonable, and it all seemed to mesh.  Despite occasional lapses into illusionism, and a frank admission that he was improvising various bits and pieces as he went, the story took interesting twists over time and it definitely felt like our choices had genuine consequences.  (One interesting scene involved me butchering, not once, but twice, what seemed to all appearances to be a totally non-hostile zombie-child, but that's a long story.)  The campaign only lasted a couple of sessions, but it seemed to be a promising start.

Which all brings me back to an excerpt from Narrativism: Story Now-

Quote
Jesse: I'm just still a little confused between Narrativism and Simulationism where the Situation has a lot of ethical/moral problems embedded in it and the GM uses no Force techniques to produce a specific outcome. I don't understand how Premise-expressing elements can be included and players not be considered addressing a Premise when they can't resolve the Situation without doing so.

Me: There is no such Simulationism. You're confused between Narrativism and Narrativism, looking for a difference when there isn't any.

Here's the thing- I don't see anything about this description which violates, to my mind, the core tenets of Simulationism.  Let's pretend, for a moment, that you had a game which ran as follows:
  •   Beyond the 'initial setup', and the effects of in-world human agency, nothing (or as little as possible besides Colour) is improvised or invented ex nihilo.
  •   Once play starts, no deliberate effort is made to have scenes revolve around topics of primary emotional importance to the PCs (though such 'priming' may well be part of the 'starting conditions'.  I distinguish this from episodic play such as DitV, where towns are improvised each session.)
  •   Once play starts, Internal Cause is King- that is, internal events are the primary or sole deciding factor behind events.  (This is subject to the understanding that character decisions do constitute a form of 'internal event', and as such, have actual fucking consequences.)
  •   Moral/ethical problems are embedded in the character/situation/setting combo presented (i.e, the 'starting conditions',) such that the characters' decision-making cannot help reflecting on those problems.
  •   Because the characters' decisions have consequences, as long as their power to affect events is commensurate to the scale of the setting, then the premise necessarily produces a theme (in the sense of an Egri premise- '<insert moral quality> leads to <insert outcome>'.)

I think that some of the confusion over defining what Simulationism's basic character is, then, can be understood as follows:  There should be, in principle, a kind of Narrativist play that I would consider functionally indistinguishable from a kind of Simulationism.  Note, here, that I am not saying that all Narrativism is a brand of Simulationism or vice-versa- only that there is a particular combination of 'initial prep' conditions and techniques/emphases in play that should, theoretically, fulfill the criteria of both.  Taking this form of play and branding it as Nar-But-Not-Sim may lead to a fractured and inconsistent understanding of Sim's true character.

Does any of that make sense?  I mean, I consider myself a Simulationist at heart, and I've always considered it's basic principles to be very intuitive- let things happen as they actually would happen, having seeded the world with certain starting assumptions, and with as little interference as possible thereafter.  Do the results that come out match what you're trying to model?  Does the theory make predictions that accord with known observations (of a particular subject matter)?  (Note that 'unpredictability' could itself be a key prediction.)  I personally feel that if you have to 'fudge' outcomes to get a desired result, then the simulation has failed, and then it's no longer a useful tool for investigation and understanding.

I possibly touched briefly on these concerns in a couple of previous threads, but, I thought it might be useful to go over some of the "things" that are commonly associated with Simulationist play, the degree to which they can reinforce/interfere with Narrativist goals, and whether they are, in fact, good for Sim play- in the sense that they allow events to unfold in a fashion such that (A) Internal Cause is King, and (B) produce large-scale outcomes that conform well with observations of... whatever it is they're based on.  (I'll be taking 'realism' as the baseline template for this, well-aware that this only represents a fraction of all Simulationist design, but bear with me.)

Techniques/Emphases commonly associated with Simulationist design/play that often interfere with Narrativist play but do not, to my mind, have much or anything to do with the impartial and honest simulation of events.
  •   Illusionism or other ad-hoc Force techniques.  The attempt to impose a predefined storyline behind the players' backs is neccesarily external cause trumping internal cause.  It has nothing to do with the basically reductionist ethic that large-scale outcomes should be the natural emergent properties of small-scale interactions.  It's absurd that interactions involving (A) free will and/or (B) randomness should regularly produce fixed outcomes.
  •   Rigid personality profiles.  Rational human beings adjust their beliefs and goals over time in response to accumulated experience.  (I appreciate that a system like Pendragon isn't so much 'rigid' as 'randomised', but that's not much more true-to-life.)
  •   A lack of embedded moral or ethical problems within the Situation that induce conflict within the PCs' motives.  Deliberately distorting events so that they always reflect on topics that matter to the PCs is arguably an 'artificial' approach, but so is any effort to ensure that they never do.  Anything resembling an honest presentation of a fleshed-out world or setting is going, statistically, to contain moral or ethical problems embedded within it.
  •   A lack of proficiency-boosting mechanics based on or feeding off of character motivations.  Character psychology is a valid form of in-world cause-and-consequence, and working toward a clear goal or principle can, within reason, drive individuals to greater heights of endurance or concentration.
  •   Restriction of player knowledge to what their characters would know.  Anyone trying to role-play a character different from themselves in real life is going to have to erect a partition in their heads between 'I would do X' and 'character would do Y' (though how permeable that membrane should be is another question.)  Given you have to take this one on trust, hiding information perhaps has less to do with keeping players honest and more to do with letting the GM be dishonest.
  •  

Techniques/Emphases commonly associated with Simulationist design/play that potentially interfere with Narrativist play, but do, to my mind, have something to do with the impartial and honest simulation of events.
  •   Time and space are generally held as binding constraints.
  •   Realism in general (to the degree that the setting resembles or borrows from reality.)
  •   Minimisation of need/openings for improvising facts about the world after 'initial setup'.
  •   More generally, restriction of openings for player/GM choice to human agency in the imagined world, (again, after initial setup.)
  •   In general, minimisation of openings for 'metagame', which I'm defining as factors without a clear correlate in the imagined world nonetheless having a strong impact on the resolution of events.
  •   In-world cause-and-consequence having primacy, such that player autonomy can be crushed between the gears of implacable large-scale forces.  (However, in theory, this can be worked around if the PCs have positions of power and influence commensurate to the scale of the setting/situation.)
  •   No deliberate effort to distort probability so that experienced events always focus on issues of primary emotional importance to the PCs.  (However, such 'targeting' may well be part of the initial setup, and it's not impossible that 'dull' intervals could be skipped past, provided some effort is made to account for the behaviour of the world at large in the interim.)
  •  

From this perspective, artificial nudging to maintain a predecided storyline invalidates Sim to the same degree that artificial nudging to maintain an emergent theme or PC-centric spotlight would be in other Nar play.  But if you can get premise on the base of pre-play preparation alone, and reflection on that premise simply by tracing the flow of events in an impartial fashion- and to the degree that PC choices' impacting events is entirely expectable- then at no point do I see how this violates basic Sim principles.

I feel, for example, that so many fantasy yarns gravitate toward feudal settings because it helps to satisfy these conditions:  the nobility's decision-making has a disproportionate impact on events regardless of individual competency, while political stability is cemented by kinship ties that frequently conflict with large-scale social priorities.  This combines to ensure that a privileged handful of characters- and only those handful- make really big choices with really big consequences.  (It makes for, at one and the same time, a wonderful dramatic premise and a truly shitty system of government.)

So, I was wondering- have other folks experienced play of this type, and would they describe it's basic 'feel' as Sim, Nar, or whatever?  Did I get my bullet points right?  I'm not necessarily holding up my zombie campaign as the ideal example, but has anyone else been looking to visit El Dorado?
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Roger
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« Reply #1 on: March 24, 2011, 01:20:17 PM »

This feels all a bit vague without some actual Actual Play to sink my teeth into, but I've come to realize that a request like "Please barf forth all the Actual Play you can physically recall" can be less than helpful.  So I'll structure it like this:

Can you please provide a recap of a scene or scenes and point out:
  - What the Premise is, and
  - How the players are addressing the Premise within the scene.

I think that might be a fruitful place to start.  It'd be just as fair to start from the other end and ask for the Simulationy bits first, and I think we'll get there eventually, but I suspect that's the sort of thing that we're better at recognizing at face value already (look, an encumbrance check mechanic.)


Cheers,
Roger
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« Reply #2 on: March 24, 2011, 01:42:49 PM »

This feels all a bit vague without some actual Actual Play to sink my teeth into, but I've come to realize that a request like "Please barf forth all the Actual Play you can physically recall" can be less than helpful.  So I'll structure it like this:

Can you please provide a recap of a scene or scenes and point out:
  - What the Premise is, and
  - How the players are addressing the Premise within the scene.
Like I said, this wasn't a particularly extended campaign, but here's a simple example:  We were holed up in a local supermarket depot with enough dried food to last for about 3-4 months, and had constructed greenhouses on the roof so we could try growing food before our stores were exhausted.  Another survivor came banging on our fortified entrance (heavily armed, and alone) and wanted us to let her in.  One of the other PCs was in favour of admitting her, but I pointed out that our food reserves were stretched thin as things stood, and I wasn't entirely sure she could be trusted- for all I knew, she might kill us in her sleep or let in another gang of survivors in the night (I should mention my character had been getting increasingly paranoid.)  I wanted her to give up her gun first or bring enough food to make keeping her worthwhile, and in the end, we wound up turning her away.  After she left, we could hear gunfire and the screams of closing zombies off in the distance.  That was the gist of things, in any case.

The premise- I'm guessing something to the tune of trust vs. self-interest, and I'm reasonably sure we couldn't avoid addressing it there.  As for the Simulationist elements- we were doing things like measuring out distances on a map pretty strictly, referencing real landmarks, checking how much we could carry on a bike vs. a truck, etc.
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Roger
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« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2011, 02:25:12 PM »

Thanks, Alfryd.  That helps, although it's not quite enough to help us determine what's going on here.

That basic Situation -- someone is going to die if we don't let them in, what do we do? -- can be explored through any of the creative agendas.

From the Right to Dream essay:  The point is that one can care about and enjoy complex issues, changing protagonists, and themes in both sorts of play, Narrativism and Simulationism. The difference lies in the point and contributions of literal instances of play; its operation and social feedback.

And here's a bit from the Story Now essay which I think might be helpful:

[...]
But Narrativist role-playing is defined by the people involved placing their direct creative attention toward Premise and toward birthing its child, theme. It sounds simple, and in many ways it is. The real variable is the emotional connection that everyone at the table makes when a player-character does something. If that emotional connection is identifiable as a Premise, and if that connection is nurtured and developed through the real-people interactions, then Narrativist play is under way.
[...]

Now, I'm personally not entirely sold on this whole "yeah, but what are you feeling, man?" vibe I sometimes get from this approach to Story Now, but that's probably a discussion for a different thread.  As it stands as defined, Story Now deals a lot with the emotional connections of the players at the table.

So:  what was your (you, the player) emotional connection to the woman outside the door?  What was the other player's emotional connection to her, the one who wanted to let her in?  How did you feel about condemning her to die?  How did the other players around the table feel about you condemning her to die, and about their own decision to let you condemn her to die?


Cheers,
Roger
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2011, 03:05:35 PM »

Now, I'm personally not entirely sold on this whole "yeah, but what are you feeling, man?" vibe I sometimes get from this approach to Story Now, but that's probably a discussion for a different thread.  As it stands as defined, Story Now deals a lot with the emotional connections of the players at the table.

So:  what was your (you, the player) emotional connection to the woman outside the door?  What was the other player's emotional connection to her, the one who wanted to let her in?  How did you feel about condemning her to die?  How did the other players around the table feel about you condemning her to die, and about their own decision to let you condemn her to die?

Well... that strikes me as something of a trap.  If I say the other players were uncomfortable with letting her die, this implies we weren't having fun.  And if I say they were cool with it, that implies indifference to the premise.  *shrugs*  I think the characters' perspectives were clear enough, and we spent some time arguing it out in-character out without any real-world acrimony, so clearly that was an emotional investment of sorts.  As it happens, I personally regarded it as hard but necessary measure and the other players came around to it reluctantly.  (Strictly speaking, we don't actually know she died- she got off a lot of shots, and looked fairly tough, but it definitely increased the risks she took.)  It didn't strike me as a purely tactical, cost/benefit consideration, nor was it a choice proscribed by our predefined personality descriptors (we didn't have any.)

The principle point I took away from that section of The Right To Dream you cited was that, in Simulationist play, character personalities are treated as a sort of formal guarantee of future behaviour, or otherwise left out of the player's active discretion.  Which, again, I think either leads to outcome that don't actually accord with observations of how people behave in reality (i.e, not learning from experience,) and/or requires that the GM deliberately shield players from any situation that really challenges the characters' mindset.

The point I'm making is that situations like this were built into the setting/situation.  They're inescapable.  Something like 'the desperate survivor comes knocking' was essentially guaranteed to happen sooner or later, just on the basis of internal plausibility.
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2011, 04:08:24 PM »

I feel, for example, that so many fantasy yarns gravitate toward feudal settings because it helps to satisfy these conditions:  the nobility's decision-making has a disproportionate impact on events regardless of individual competency, while political stability is cemented by kinship ties that frequently conflict with large-scale social priorities.  This combines to ensure that a privileged handful of characters- and only those handful- make really big choices with really big consequences.  (It makes for, at one and the same time, a wonderful dramatic premise and a truly shitty system of government.)

Well, just as a quibble, I don't think that RPG's do gravitate to Feudal settings at all.  None of them, or at least none that I have ever seen, have ever done anything remotely like it.  Sure there is a sort of nominal genuflection to it, but the texture of the world is actually very modern, such as for example having highly flexible, overproductive economies, countries with strong nationalist sentiments and identities, and yet an ethnic melting pot.  Makes me shake my fists at the sky and yell "this is all wrong!".

Now on your broader point, it is quite possible to have moments of premise-addressing play within a broader Sim agenda.  Just as it is possible with a generally Narr game for someone to step up to a challenge.  CA doesn't mean 100% consistency with everything else totally excluded.  But on the other hand, if your setup was so rich with premise issues, and required that they be addressed, and you all did so and enjoyed doing so, then it would likely be described as vanilla narr.  The question is not what the setting implies, but what the group actually does.   An essentially explorative game which, here and there, raise ethical dilemmas is perfectly feasible and can still be counted within Sim.
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Alfryd
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Posts: 118


« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2011, 03:47:32 AM »




Well, just as a quibble, I don't think that RPG's do gravitate to Feudal settings at all.  None of them, or at least none that I have ever seen, have ever done anything remotely like it.  Sure there is a sort of nominal genuflection to it, but the texture of the world is actually very modern, such as for example having highly flexible, overproductive economies, countries with strong nationalist sentiments and identities, and yet an ethnic melting pot.  Makes me shake my fists at the sky and yell "this is all wrong!".
I can completely agree with this sentiment, it's just that I was referring to fantasy stories in general, rather than specifically RPGs.  Also, fantasy RPGs tend to be designed for the 'little people', insofar as PCs aren't usually all kings and caliphs and sultanas.  OMG!  That would be totally overpowered!  Then they could actually affect the plot!  *slaps hands on cheeks*

I would entirely agree that what we were doing could reasonably be called vanilla narrativism, but the point I'm making is that there was nothing about how we played that actually broke with Sim.  In other words, as best I can tell, Vanilla Nar is just a specific kind of Simulationism to the same degree that it's just a specific kind of Narrativism.  I am not seeing how these modes are exclusive, under those circumstances.  (Specifically, premise-rich starting conditions that pose ineluctable moral questions, reasonable power to affect outcomes, some focus on character exploration that recognizes conflict in motives, and no force techniques.  Choices+Consequences == Theme.)

Treading further out over the creaking ice, I would suggest that part of the trouble folks on the forge have had with defining Simulationism stems from the idea that they are mutually exclusive.  "Gee, this Sim stuff looks kinda wierd.  Hard to sum it up succinctly.  It's almost as if there's something missing from it- maybe it's a kind of constructive denial?"  There's nothing missing from Sim- it's just that the overlapping section on the Venn diagram that was also functional Narrativism got misfiled as Nar-And-Nar-Alone.

Squirming out on my belly to distribute weight more evenly, I would furthermore aver that a lot of techniques/emphases traditionally associated with Simulationist design/play aren't actually Simulationist.  They don't enhance verisimilitude or immersion once you actually stop  to think about 'em for ten minutes.  Or, at least, there are a significant number of traditionally-Narrativist techniques/emphases that have just as much rationale within a Simulationist context.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2011, 05:31:15 AM »

Alfryd, I totally get this. When I was in the thick of trying to figure out GNS, looking at some of my favourite game sessions, one day I thought they were Sim and the next day I thought they were Nar. One day I read some comments about Nar that seemed just alien to me, considerations on a seamingly abstract level of “statements” and “meaning” and, worst of all, “premise” that I never could relate to, and I thought, these guys are playing a totally different game than me. Another day, I read some account of a supposedly Nar game and I thought, hey, that sounds fun, that’s the kind of thing I like to play, too.

I wrote a lot about my game sessions of old, Star Wars d6 and Vampire, which were pretty clearly Sim by Big Model terms. I know some things have changed for me since then, in particular my approach to GM vs. player tasks and the players’ part in deciding what happens. And sure I emphasize different elements when I play different games. System does matter and all. But when did I cross the Nar line, if ever?

I’ve been a Forge regular since 2004, and for a while I’ve been contributing pretty actively. I even wrote up a summary of the Big Model once which Ron confirmed to be correct. I tell you something. With some games I played in, to this date, I can’t tell you whether they were High Concept Sim with a strong emphasis on drama and player-driven play, or Vanilla Nar with a strong emphasis on Exploration. Or maybe even a Hybrid, though to my understanding of the “state of the Model”, the idea of a “Hybrid” is kind of a relic.

At some point I decided I just don’t need to know.

- Frank
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stefoid
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« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2011, 05:33:00 AM »

Not that it really matters so much the label you stick on your gaming, but isnt it about the agenda of the players rather than what happens?  Two groups playing a survival horror game with different agendas might produce the same scenarios occasionally, by different means.  The first group is trying to be as true to in-game cause and effect as possible, whilst the second group is actively pursuing opportunities to confront the characters with interesting decisions -- they both end up barricaded in a stronghold with a hungry person outside.
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Roger
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« Reply #9 on: March 25, 2011, 09:29:57 AM »

Nope, no traps here.  "Fun" isn't anything worth talking about in this context, but that again is a whole other thread.

So, yeah, we all agree that play under all Creative Agendas can have lots of moral quandaries, big solid Premises, etc, embedded in it.  Here's what I think the big difference is:

In Story Now, the player characters (and, by proxy, the players) are deciding how to resolve the Premise.

In Right to Dream, the player characters (and, by proxy, the players) are discovering how the Premise is resolved by the System.

That might be sort of a subtle point, so let me illustrate with an example:

We've got our Premise -- "Is a ruthless selfishness necessary to survive in a crisis?"

In a Story Now game, we're typically going to have player characters across the spectrum of ruthless selfishness, and the game will consist of pushing the characters into crisis and seeing how it works out for them.  Some of the characters may survive, some may not; some may change their opinions about the Premise along the way.  An individual's answer to the Premise is fundamentally a subjective opinion.

In a Right to Dream game, answering the Premise is essentially an exercise in the scientific method.  You've got characters who require a certain amount of food each day and who can grow a certain amount of food in a month.  What are the minimum and maximum size of a viable group?  It's simply a matter of crunching the numbers, rolling the dice, and finding out what the System tells you.  The answer to the Premise is already in there, within the parameters and models of the System, waiting to be discovered.  It becomes a matter of objective fact.

In my own experience, I think I've seen this come to light most obviously with Vampire: the Masquerade.  When I was a bright-eyed naďve new player, I thought, wow, this'll be great -- let's address what it means to be a monster, what it means to be driven by an insatiable hunger.  Then I discovered it means that you get three extra dots in Stamina and you need to test versus Willpower to not bite some dude.  The theme that I was hoping to personally address was already sitting there, fixed and naked, in the Simulation.



Cheers,
Roger
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Alfryd
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Posts: 118


« Reply #10 on: March 26, 2011, 07:17:22 AM »

Nope, no traps here.  "Fun" isn't anything worth talking about in this context, but that again is a whole other thread.

I didn't mean to impugn your motives, but the thing is that- while I agree there needs to be an 'emotional connection' in the sense that the players do care about how the characters feel, that doesn't mean player feelings equate with character feelings.  (To my understanding, that can be disastrous, especially in Nar play.)  So, in that sense, focusing on player responses as opposed to character reponses could be misleading.

Quote
In a Right to Dream game, answering the Premise is essentially an exercise in the scientific method.  You've got characters who require a certain amount of food each day and who can grow a certain amount of food in a month.  What are the minimum and maximum size of a viable group?  It's simply a matter of crunching the numbers, rolling the dice, and finding out what the System tells you.  The answer to the Premise is already in there, within the parameters and models of the System, waiting to be discovered.  It becomes a matter of objective fact.

Again, I would say this is predicated on the assumption that (A) the player-characters are all perfectly rational and (B) that large-scale outcomes are deterministic (which is to say, you can forecast in advance what the 'optimal' outcome would be without, as it were, 'experimenting' with different courses of action.)  I don't think either of those assumptions actually accords with observations of reality.  Which means it is, at best, a rather selective application of Sim principles.

I mean, in our situation, a lot of the parameters involved in the calculation were fairly 'elastic'- we could increase the amount of food available by ranging farther afield (as we might need to do regardless if the crops failed, an outcome partly dependant on random factors)- but that increases exposure to roving zombies.  Whether we chose to band with other survivor groups to clear out the undead could, in principle, also lower the risk of those encounters substantially- but that involves a decision to trust.

At some point, the range of potential outcomes and knock-on-ramifications of choices grows too large for reliable, exhaustive, logical analysis, and you just have to nut up and go with your instincts.  Which, arguably, is what instincts are for.  They're generalised, rule-of-thumb heuristics for navigation within the space of possible sequences of choice.
Quote
In my own experience, I think I've seen this come to light most obviously with Vampire: the Masquerade.  When I was a bright-eyed naďve new player, I thought, wow, this'll be great -- let's address what it means to be a monster, what it means to be driven by an insatiable hunger.  Then I discovered it means that you get three extra dots in Stamina and you need to test versus Willpower to not bite some dude.  The theme that I was hoping to personally address was already sitting there, fixed and naked, in the Simulation.

Again, from my POV, I don't think really accords with how believable, fleshed-out characters should make decisions.  Test-versus-willpower regardless of whether and how much you care about the person, whether they're vital to your long-range goals, whether it risks your discovery, etc.?

The classic example is the D&D paladin, who is not allowed under any circumstances to violate their code of conduct.  The problem is that their code of conduct specifies multiple clauses which are only tenuously casually related- so what does the character do when defending the innocent requires telling a lie?  Do they short-circuit, or reassess their priorities in light of accumulated experience?  The system-imposed-straitjacket here not only doesn't handle decision-making very well, it eventually self-destructs unless characters are kept in the storytelling-equivalent of a padded cell.

The only feasible method of weighting all these factors into consideration is to get a genuine human brain in on the action.  I'm not saying that numbers on a sheet shouldn't have a significant influence- but you can't wholly exclude human agency from characters' large-scale decision-making and expect to reproduce human behaviour.

Not that it really matters so much the label you stick on your gaming, but isnt it about the agenda of the players rather than what happens?  Two groups playing a survival horror game with different agendas might produce the same scenarios occasionally, by different means.  The first group is trying to be as true to in-game cause and effect as possible, whilst the second group is actively pursuing opportunities to confront the characters with interesting decisions -- they both end up barricaded in a stronghold with a hungry person outside.

The point I'm making is that, under these circumstances, "trying to be as true to in-game cause and effect as possible" becomes "actively pursuing opportunities to confront the characters with interesting decisions."  There's no way to do the former without effecting the latter.

I consider the situation analagous to preparing a town in DitV.  All the essential premise-elements are built into the relationship-map of the town beforehand (e.g, love vs. duty, faith vs. reason, individual vs. group) and because the PCs' motives imply ferreting out the town's dirty little secrets, there's an inevitable collision between player agency as expressed through characters' decision-making and certain underlying moral dilemmas.  (Now, sure, DitV includes plenty of other techniques/emphases that aren't remotely Simulationist, but heck, by my admittedly esoteric standards, so does GURPS.)
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Alfryd
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Posts: 118


« Reply #11 on: March 26, 2011, 08:47:34 AM »

Alfryd, I totally get this. When I was in the thick of trying to figure out GNS, looking at some of my favourite game sessions, one day I thought they were Sim and the next day I thought they were Nar. One day I read some comments about Nar that seemed just alien to me, considerations on a seamingly abstract level of “statements” and “meaning” and, worst of all, “premise” that I never could relate to, and I thought, these guys are playing a totally different game than me. Another day, I read some account of a supposedly Nar game and I thought, hey, that sounds fun, that’s the kind of thing I like to play, too.

...At some point I decided I just don’t need to know.
Frank- thanks for sharing.  I mean, personally speaking I feel that this style of play is still focused on 'saying something', it's just that group wants a relatively strong guarantee that what wounds up being said is... I guess you could say 'accurate'.  I just get this sense that if you have improvise things in order to prove a point, then the point isn't genuinely reflective of life.

I've been giving some thought myself to creating a solidly Simulationist system that would sort of 'push the envelope' as far toward Nar as I think it's possible to get without violating what I'd consider to be basic Sim principles (minimal improvisation, IC/OOC separation, fidelity to source material, etc.)  I'm a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, for example, along with Dune and Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, so I thought that a terraforming-simulation overlaid with faction politics/philosophies and influential leaders would be an interesting way to approach the 'closed system' ideal of Sim design (after all, systems don't get much more 'closed' than an entire frickin' planet.)
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stefoid
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« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2011, 11:38:17 AM »

Whats improv got to do with GNS?
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Alfryd
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« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2011, 11:03:33 AM »

Whats improv got to do with GNS?
Nothing in itself- it's just that a lot of Simulationist design (and I definitely get this feeling myself) seems to emphasise this idea that 'the world exists, we're not just making it up'.  I mean, in one sense it's obviously false- the whole proceedings are imaginary- but I think the ideal is that you have (A) certain starting assumptions and (B) everything else should follow logically from that within the framework of the laws governing the imagined world (including the oft-unarticulated laws that operate within the characters' simulated psyches.)

When I say 'minimal improvisation', what I mean is that, if Law X states that 'A + B implies C', and A, B and C all refer to potential events or properties of the world, and A and B are presently true within the world, then C happens, and that's fine from a Sim perspective.  However, C popping into reality spontaneously is not cool, and if the GM just decides that C has 'popped', for whatever other reasons, you have 'improvisation'.

Of course, this ideal raises all kinds of practical difficulties, and gets even uglier when you toss in the insistence that players must know, and have control over, nothing the characters wouldn't.  Because then the GM has to keep the machinery of an entire universe in their head, and the players have to essentially take it on trust that he or she is some kind of Mentat paragon always capable of maintaining a perfect separation between (A) what would genuinely seem most likely to happen on the basis of pre-established knowledge of the world, and (B) what he or she would personally like to happen as a real human being.  (I would personally contend there is such a distinction, but the temptation to mix the two is perfectly real.  And of course, depending on your overarching goal, may not be a bad thing.  But it ain't Sim.)

Anyways, I didn't initially mean to go at such length, so I'll wrap it up there.  I guess that's my personal take on the matter.
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stefoid
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« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2011, 03:59:24 PM »

I think the general understanding of improv is that the GM reacts to the players during play, and the 'plot' arises from that interaction on the fly, as opposed to preconceiving a plot before play and walking the players through it.  (to some degree or other).

Your definition of improv seems to me to be :  introducing a situation into the fiction for reasons other than in-game causality.  Is that a fair understanding?

If so, I would use another term for it.  It seems to me that using 'improv' as I define it is going to help simulation play because you are reacting (with 100% causality) to what the players are doing, rather than trying to direct them back to the pre-conceived plot which may result in you ignoring/lessening causality of player actions  because it would take the game away from the preconceived idea of where it should go.

Your version of 'improv' is better described as 'agenda' , as everybody has been saying.   If your agenda is causality then you are playing a simulist game, regardless of the situations that arise during play sometimes being the same as what might arise with a narativist agenda.

However, to have a narrative agenda you cant railroad, because that wouldnt allow the players to explore the situations as they see fit.  So narativist agenda and improv go hand in hand.  Which is probably why you are saying that imrpov is about narativist play and should be avoided for simulist agendas, but that isnt the case.  Two seperate issues.
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