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Author Topic: Odd Narrative Habits  (Read 19926 times)
Trevis Martin
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« Reply #15 on: January 06, 2011, 06:20:47 PM »

I have a suggestion from experience.  Don't have a big theory talk.  What I would do is something like The Same Page Tool that Chris Chinn has on his blog.

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David Shockley
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« Reply #16 on: January 08, 2011, 03:55:46 PM »


However, the players absolutely love Lovecraft, and have been begging me to include something mythos in a campaign for the better part of a year.

....

Additionally, the verve with which this same player has launched himself at any text that seems heretical, all in an attempt to pump his Mythos lore in the game, and has wholly embraced the madness mechanic I wrote to deal with the side effects of such study, says that he's quite into it.

It's odd. When I think about it, the group is perfectly capable of recognizing when things are taking that turn for the horrid. I deliberately change my language to use some of Lovecraft's phraseology when it happens. With that cue, they often respond "in atmosphere" the whole way through.

The above sounds like it might be a CA, even if its not fully functioning.

When the enthusiastic player is launching himself at this stuff, do the other players respond positively? Do any of the other players initiate this sort of content themselves (Including via character creation/advancement options)?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #17 on: January 08, 2011, 05:07:59 PM »

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People were arriving, pulling out characters, assembling dice, and spending xp from last session. While doing so, we usually chat until everyone's ready. I remarked that there were countless times when I tried to run something like Lord of the Rings but wound up with Royal Highness instead. There were nods and agreement all around.
I don't know what royal highness is. But really this doesn't sound like a creative agenda issue at all. You could shoot for narrativist lord of the rings but end up with a bunch of clowning around, perhaps at a princess bride level and...it'd still be narrativist. You might be holding onto the idea that perfect (until it's almost tangible) genre emulation is critical to CA. Well, in a simulationist CA it's pretty critical. Otherwise, it's not vital or indicative of CA issues.
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Cliff H
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Posts: 49


« Reply #18 on: January 08, 2011, 06:59:21 PM »

When the enthusiastic player is launching himself at this stuff, do the other players respond positively? Do any of the other players initiate this sort of content themselves (Including via character creation/advancement options)?

There are three other players in the game. One never heard of Lovecraft before this campaign, which shocks me not only because I've known him for over a decade and never heard this, but most basically because I didn't think you could be a gamer and not know who Cthulhu is. Isn't that knowledge requisite for your membership card into the gaming community? Obviously, he can only react to what he sees in game, and there's only been a light touch of mythos stuff so far because we've only played a few times. He clearly understands that somethings not right when these things crop up, and not right in the big sense, but he doesn't share the otherwise collective titter that comes up when things that should not be are spotted in the shadows. He's asked to be kept in the dark about it, though, and wants to only learn through his character. He feels it makes for a more genuine experience, and everyone at the table has been very good about respecting his wishes.

As for the remaining two, they don't jump on the available knowledge, instead acknowledging the danger and doing everything they can to stay alive and safe. This amounts to burning books, slaying beasts, and running away when necessary. They studiously avoid corrupting contact with the material, in a way rejecting it, but doing so because they believe that's the smart/sensible thing to do, not because they hate the material. While they've not said so, I know them well enough to know what they're doing. When they see themselves in a horror movie, they take the most pragmatic action without thought to genre, staying well away from those things that get your typical cast member killed. They see it as playing smart more than anything else.

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I don't know what royal highness is.

Fantasy comedy coming out in April. Compared to Princess Bride, it looks sillier and more low-brow. It also looks quite funny, and when I showed the trailer to my group, they all looked at one of my players and asked if he was paid a consulting fee, since the comedic lead was pretty much a carbon copy of his character.

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But really this doesn't sound like a creative agenda issue at all. You could shoot for narrativist lord of the rings but end up with a bunch of clowning around, perhaps at a princess bride level and...it'd still be narrativist.

I apologize, but this leaves me thoroughly confused, so please bear with me. I thought creative agenda was more than agreeing on a game, regardless of its GNS approach. My understanding was that it established communally held boundaries of behavior and tone so that everyone was playing not only the same game (as in title) using the same approach (as in GNS), but that they were viewing it through the same tonal lens.

I had a conversation with a different group about this just today as part of setting up a playtest campaign. I did in fact use a buffed up version of the Same Page Tool (thanks to Chris Chinn for creating it and to Trevis for pointing me to it), but I started off the discussion with a general, non-theory explanation of its purpose. As we'd all played Shadowrun relatively recently, I pointed to that game, and said we could all agree to play that. We could take it and use any system out there, since porting SR to other mechanical systems is a thing of mine (I like the setting, but have never found an engine that works for me). Even so, with all that agreement, Mark could make Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs, John could make Jules from Pulp Fiction, and Gary would come in with the character Lou Diamond Phillips played in The Big Hit. All are perfectly valid ways of interpreting the setting, but they can't all exist in the same game. We need to pick one version and all of us make characters and play according to that specific tone.

That said, your point above leaves me confused, Callan. It sounds like CA has much more to do with the GNS model than my interpretation lead me to believe. What am I missing here?

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You might be holding onto the idea that perfect (until it's almost tangible) genre emulation is critical to CA. Well, in a simulationist CA it's pretty critical. Otherwise, it's not vital or indicative of CA issues.

But consistency of tone is important to CA, is it not? As in, it's fine to have clowning around as long as everyone has the same expectations as to what level of ridiculousness is appropriate to what we're trying to do. A difference in expectation among players would suggest a lack of commonly held creative agenda, yes? Or am I still missing something?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #19 on: January 08, 2011, 09:04:56 PM »

Hi Cliff,

Taking this from the glossary, which is in the articles section.
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Creative Agenda (CA)

    The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing. Three distinct Creative Agendas are currently recognized: Step On Up (Gamist), The Right to Dream (Simulationist), and Story Now (Narrativist). This definition replaces all uses of "Premise" in GNS and other matters of role-playing theory aside from the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativist play. Creative Agenda is expressed using all Components of Exploration, but most especially System.

As I'd put it, for narrativism (and gamism), what you enjoy doesn't come directly from tone. Narrativism is like eating a meal off a table - if someone suddenly switches your mahogony table for a plastic one, yet your meal is still sitting there...it doesn't really matter. You are there for the meal - the table is simply a means to an end. However, if your admiring tables (sim?), it matters a great deal to switch them around.

Eg
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All are perfectly valid ways of interpreting the setting, but they can't all exist in the same game. We need to pick one version and all of us make characters and play according to that specific tone.
To me, your showing a sim inclination, because it's not that you'd like one version, or enjoy one version - you need it.

Presumably you need it otherwise the whole thing is a steaming mess, right? A trainwreck? Nothing left? Or without coherant tone, there's nothing to start with - just emptyness unless it's coherant?

Except if your playing for nar enjoyment, you toss in say a choice between an easy job robbing a little old lady or a hard job robbing some nasty stock broker and suddenly all these utterly tone broken characters are arguing with each other over which to do (if not both). And that arguements fun...but how can it be fun, eh? Surely tone is all there is and it's wrecked? Well in sim, yeah, tone is all there is. But in nar, there's that argument fun, still fit, fat and functional. That argument fun sits on top of the tone. Sure it's nice to have coherant tone, but it's not needed. Unless your playing sim.

Have you ever had a bit in a game session where the characters argue about what job to pull, based not (just) on fiscal profit, but their own (the characters) senses of right and wrong? That, except the whole session is about stuff like that.

That's my estimate - get second opinions and different evaluations from other people as well.
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contracycle
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« Reply #20 on: January 09, 2011, 02:35:16 AM »

Cliff, you say in post 10 that the players recognise and respond to mythos elements and situations that are particularly evocative of the setting etc, and in post 18 that your two old hands are highly defensive players, goiong to lengths to protect themselves from risk.

So these are your hardened adventurers; they know what the game is, what they are supposed to do, and how to follow your lead when you give it.  The one thing that doesn't appear here is the desire to assert control over the narrative in any proactive sense.  So I'm not sure that outcome narration is suitable for this group, or if it is, it will need to come in some other, more radically distcint form.  Playing a game familiar enough that it allows them to fall back on their veteran habits will reliably prompt them to do so, I think.  Inasmuch as you are attempting to demonstrate a new way to play, you need to make a much sharper break with the past, I think.

I suspect that what is happening is that as defensive players, that surivivalist element is important to them.  And so to fail, to really fail in a serious and meaningful way, would be a threat to their competence and effectiveness.  And the solution to that is take the failure and draw its sting, to make it comedic rather than harmful or bitter, so exaggerated it cannot be taken seriously.  That way they can even gain applause (laughter) from what would otherwise be a threatening outcome, and their self perception as effective and competent is preserved.

Short of radical shifts in system as suggested above, I'd be inclined to just deny them failure narrations.  You've got a system which allows them narration outcomes on success, it would be perfectly consistent to claim that failure puts the outcome in your hands.  As long as this is done with justice and mercy, and not the vindictiveness Ron described, it's perfectly viable, and will allow you to keep the tone in check.  But it is moving in the opposite direction to your aspiration to change the style of play overall.
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #21 on: January 10, 2011, 09:34:19 AM »

The thing I find interesting about this whole conundrum is that it happens only during a failure. The players don't seem to be interested in adding much detail at all to their successes. So the question is: why embellish a failure, especially in such a self-debasing fashion?

If you’re playing 7th Sea, then I assume you’re using task resolution. The players tell you what they are doing, they roll, and then either succeed or fail at the one particular task they were trying to accomplish. From the players’ perspective, especially if they have no experience narrating the results of their own rolls, the narration may seem obvious to them. Why add additional, even superfluous, detail? This happened to me the first time I tried to encourage players to narrate their results. There was a bunch of floundering until someone added a few things like, “After I hit him, he falls down the stairs… I guess.” No one knew what to do because they were so used to the traditional GM/Player division. Under that traditional division, the only way a player exerts control is through narrating character actions. It’s the GM’s job to decide outcomes.

So what I’m saying is that it sounds like you’re players simply haven’t gotten used to the idea of narrating outcomes for themselves. This may resolve itself with practice. Or you may need to change to a very different system (per contracycle’s suggestion).

As for the exaggerated failures, it may be that the players don’t know what to narrate, but sure has hell don’t want to make their failure appear to be an example of actual incompetence. Comedy is the obvious out (again, per contracycle’s suggestion).

The other alternative is that the players are looking specifically for a bit of comic relief. I’m thinking about this:

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They dealt with the devil, and if they couldn't get their friend to shut up, they were going to have to kill him. That actually made them quite uncomfortable (until the one player started asking if the man's mother was "bangable").

If you’re really throwing a lot of uncomfortable situations and choices at them, they may want a break just to blow off some emotional steam.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #22 on: January 10, 2011, 02:41:55 PM »

If you’re really throwing a lot of uncomfortable situations and choices at them, they may want a break just to blow off some emotional steam.
I think that's could be applicable, because unlike a TV show the roleplayer doesn't get a break in a pressurised. I remember a commentary of burn notice where the lead kept cracking up at a line Bruce Cambell delivered (mind you, it's Bruce Cambell), because it was such a tense scene. Comedy relief has been around in serious shows for hundreds of years atleast. They could just be providing their own comedy relief. As a GM, sometimes your unaware of how much pressure a scene develops for a player, until you become a player.
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Cliff H
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« Reply #23 on: January 11, 2011, 07:46:42 AM »

A whole lot of great stuff came in, I see. I find myself left in the position of agreeing with many of the details posted, but at the same time feeling like there's an element of mutual exclusivity to much of it. At the moment I'm thinking I'm missing the forest for the trees. But let's start looking at those fine specimens of wood and leaf.

Except if your playing for nar enjoyment, you toss in say a choice between an easy job robbing a little old lady or a hard job robbing some nasty stock broker and suddenly all these utterly tone broken characters are arguing with each other over which to do (if not both). And that arguements fun...but how can it be fun, eh? Surely tone is all there is and it's wrecked? Well in sim, yeah, tone is all there is. But in nar, there's that argument fun, still fit, fat and functional. That argument fun sits on top of the tone. Sure it's nice to have coherant tone, but it's not needed. Unless your playing sim.

Actually, that situation sounds like it would be wonderfully evocative in terms of character exploration, and that's the primary reason I like those situations. The dilemma I mentioned in which the characters almost had to kill a friend because of an agreement with an enemy was another good situation like that. Do they uphold their bargain, or do they break it for the bonds of friendship, even though it'll probably cost them their lives? And when the group first encountered texts hinting at the Cthulhian things out in the world, I sat back and effectively stopped running the game for a half hour as they debated in character what the proper course of action should be (burn vs. study vs. kick it up the chain of command). It was so great I gave lots of extra xp that session.

However, most times that's not the kind of discussion we wind up with. To again return to that example of trying to get their friend to clam up about a discovery, the group was in the man's ship quarters, with a massacre of a village still visible as a red stain in the shore waters. They are able to communicate with each other in public via secret code, so I let them carry on conversations in front of NPCs freely. There were two conversations going on in this case: what the characters were saying to each other, and what they were saying to their friend.

PC 1: Look, Egil, I know this is a big deal for you, but you can't tell anyone about this.

EGIL: Not tell? Are you mad? The whole purpose of this expedition was to recover evidence that the golden man of Kalak Ur'Nagath was real. If we didn't recover the artifact itself, we need to at least publish an article in the journals detailing our discoveries.

PC 2: (in private) If we can't keep him quiet, we're going to have to kill him. Reis will butcher everyone who reads that article. He said so.

PC 1: (in private) I got this. Don't worry. *rolls dice, fails* (to Egil): So, Egil, my man, let me ask you. Are you married?

EGIL: Mar- what?

PC 1: More importantly, is she hot?

EGIL: No, I'm not. I hope to one day-

PC 1: Too bad. What about your mother. She hot?

EGIL: I -

PC 1: Sister? Cousin? Neice? Seriously, I'm not that picky. Even if they're a little heavy, I don't mind the weight.

And so on.

It's not the inclusion of mirth. I like laughing at the table, even if I myself am not good at introducing funny characters (they're never popular, regardless of the game or circumstance). But this didn't seem to be the appropriate time. I'll totally bite on the sim theory though. I've never cared much about historical accuracy in settings or needed to know the intricacies of how everything worked, but I'm enough of a literary snob to want tone and genre to be a certain way, certainly.

If you’re playing 7th Sea, then I assume you’re using task resolution. The players tell you what they are doing, they roll, and then either succeed or fail at the one particular task they were trying to accomplish. From the players’ perspective, especially if they have no experience narrating the results of their own rolls, the narration may seem obvious to them.

You have it exactly. As it turns out, I didn't discover games that used anything but task resolution until after I started this campaign. So not only have the players not encountered anything else before, but the concept is still relatively new to me as well. While I try to suggest the narrative options they have available, the game table is a self-reinforcing structure in terms of behavior sometimes. They as players are conditioned to look to dice for resolution after all this time, just as I am conditioned to ask them to roll in those situations. It's very easy to fall into old habits, especially when surrounded by the people with whom you've engaged said habits for a long time.

Quote
So what I’m saying is that it sounds like you’re players simply haven’t gotten used to the idea of narrating outcomes for themselves. This may resolve itself with practice. Or you may need to change to a very different system (per contracycle’s suggestion).

My entry for the Ronnies used a narrative resolution mechanic. Dice didn't tell you what happened, but who got to say what happened. I tried it out with a couple of these guys, and again, I think you're right. When dropped into a game where the dice required more narration because they didn't provide resolution, the self-effacement disappeared and they took much more tonally-appropriate control of situations from an author's standpoint. In that case they weren't in the position to narrate failures (well, they were, but the idea of winning a die roll and choosing to fail wasn't something that occurred to them), since failure was more that I got narrative control over them, so we didn't see the same sort of "I drool on myself" responses.

So these are your hardened adventurers; they know what the game is, what they are supposed to do, and how to follow your lead when you give it.  The one thing that doesn't appear here is the desire to assert control over the narrative in any proactive sense.  So I'm not sure that outcome narration is suitable for this group, or if it is, it will need to come in some other, more radically distcint form.  Playing a game familiar enough that it allows them to fall back on their veteran habits will reliably prompt them to do so, I think.  Inasmuch as you are attempting to demonstrate a new way to play, you need to make a much sharper break with the past, I think.

With that observation, and a number of recommendations that came to me both on this thread and privately, I'm looking to shift to a game that uses a radically different resolution methodology to see how that flies with everyone. It might not be to taste, but there's only one way to find out, and better we try it in a game designed to be played that way.

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I suspect that what is happening is that as defensive players, that surivivalist element is important to them.  And so to fail, to really fail in a serious and meaningful way, would be a threat to their competence and effectiveness.  And the solution to that is take the failure and draw its sting, to make it comedic rather than harmful or bitter, so exaggerated it cannot be taken seriously.  That way they can even gain applause (laughter) from what would otherwise be a threatening outcome, and their self perception as effective and competent is preserved.

Harkening way back to the post where Ron noted that old school D&D was all about screwing the PCs, and where survival itself was something of an accomplishment, it does seem that sort of mentality is ingrained in their approach to things. And I say that not only because they look to safeguard their characters, but because at the beginning of the campaign I introduced an idea that John Wick mentioned he used in his campaigns, which was Grave Danger. The rule was that your character couldn't die. He could be beat up, maimed, lose an eye, lose his possessions, close NPC ties, and suffer in all sorts of ways, but Wick wouldn't kill him. Until he said the character was in Grave Danger. At that point the safety came off and mortality entered the game for that scene. I thought it sounded appropriate for 7th Sea, so I said I'd run with that idea.

One of the players asked I remove it. He wanted to know that I'd be looking to kill his character at all times, not just when I said the magic words. He told me without that, things lacked excitement. But then in response to that, these characters keep clear of danger. They'll get into all kinds of fights, because fights in 7th Sea aren't typically dangerous, and frankly these guys like to beat up the bad guys, but whenever there's something that might be dangerous, the preferred method is to burn it, preferably from a distance.

So, now that you mention it, old thinking may very well permeate this culture deeper than I realized. A clean break into something radically different may be just what's called for.

Thanks again for all the feedback. Your input routinely gives material for use and trial.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #24 on: January 11, 2011, 02:11:26 PM »

Still thinking...

After the whole pick up line thing, what happened in terms of keeping him quiet or not? Or did you already describe that and I'm recalling badly? I think you said they didn't need to kill him in the end. But what changed the NPC's mind to not publishing the article?

I'm thinking one issue is that the dice roll, which seemed initiated by the player, was a bit 'premature ejaculation'. Ie, no one at the table talked about how dire the ramifications would be on a failed roll, or whether there would no ramifications at all in the short term (ie, rolls, fails "Please don't publish!" "Sorry, I'm going to! Goodbye my friends! Catch you at the party next week! :)" leaving plenty of time for other plans...). Just suddenly he rolls out of nowhere and nobodies internalised what significant context a fail will have (if any).

I mean, imagine if he rolled to persuade, fails, then just grunts 'Oh, failed it'. Seems a bit non climactic. So perhaps he's trying to make it somehow climactic on his own. Mainly because he rushed to dice and everyone else was left behind?

Perhaps if it becomes an informal rule that if a player picks up dice like that, he has to turn to the group first and go 'So...how bad is it if I fail' and actually wait a bit to get some feedback and back and forth on the matter? I'm not saying determine it in fine detail, just an overall sense of bad result?
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Cliff H
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« Reply #25 on: January 12, 2011, 06:02:10 AM »

After the whole pick up line thing, what happened in terms of keeping him quiet or not? Or did you already describe that and I'm recalling badly? I think you said they didn't need to kill him in the end. But what changed the NPC's mind to not publishing the article?

The PCs brought up how they met this NPC. Upon first meeting he begged a favor, which turned out to be substantial. So they said he owed them, and he conceded. That part of the conversation, by the way, didn't require a single die roll.

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I'm thinking one issue is that the dice roll, which seemed initiated by the player, was a bit 'premature ejaculation'.

Quite right. The players are familiar enough with the rules that they often feel comfortable enough matching stat + skill and rolling right after they make some declaration of action. The only time they ask is when they're not sure what to roll. I have said sometimes that a roll is not required, but in general the reflex is to declare an action and reach for dice.

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Perhaps if it becomes an informal rule that if a player picks up dice like that, he has to turn to the group first and go 'So...how bad is it if I fail' and actually wait a bit to get some feedback and back and forth on the matter? I'm not saying determine it in fine detail, just an overall sense of bad result?

Assuming the snow allows everyone to get together (we're in eastern PA, and currently snowed in), tonight is game night. That sounds like something small I can add in right away.

(edited to fix quote format - RE)
« Last Edit: January 12, 2011, 01:46:12 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
stefoid
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« Reply #26 on: January 18, 2011, 10:07:19 PM »

Obviously I don't know your group, or the groups Ron referred to, so I could be way off base. But this strikes me as a pretty straightforward example of Creative Agenda in action. I'm not sure how versed in the CA concept you are, but the idea that CA is what you intend to do, or that CA is what a specific person prefers to do, are both common misconceptions. CA is how you use the medium of play to enjoy the game _together_. It doesn't matter how invested in Lothar the badass barbarian, and his epic struggle to avenge his fallen village a player is, its not a part of CA until its enthusiastically shared and reinforced by the group. If everyones eyes glaze over when you talk about Lothar (perhaps not out of fundamental disinterest, but because we all know it really doesn't make a damn bit of difference), but they all grin or laugh when you have him trip over his feet and fall into a hole when you roll a 2 on your spot check... Then thats what you are going to do.

In the essays Ron talks about how Sim is easily supplanted by the more basic human activities of competition (gamism) and story telling (narrativism), but Sim-comedy seems to be just as basic and powerful.

Narration mechanics are a technique, that can support any agenda based on the context. In this game, they are supporting the Sim-comedy agenda. If you don't want to support it, I'd suggest removing or refocusing the mechanic. Honestly, what sort of failure narration would matter to the other players at the table? If the answer is none, then its not a useful rule.

dude, you nuked that nail!
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