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Archive => GNS Model Discussion => Topic started by: Paul Czege on April 29, 2001, 07:47:00 PM

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Paul Czege on April 29, 2001, 07:47:00 PM
Hey everyone,

Somewhere in our G/N/S thoughts, between the creation of the RPG hobby in the 70's by TSR with a Gamist game and more recent developments of Narrativist game designs are, I think, some unscrutinized assumptions about the evolution of games. One assumption, driven perhaps by a pervasiveness in the hobby during the early 80's of house rules and efforts to "fix" the game mechanics of AD&D, is that somehow Simulationist games evolved in response to Gamist games. And another assumption, perhaps based solely on the fact that Narrativist games are more recent to the hobby, is that somehow they're the newest stage of the evolution.

I'm one session into the second hardcore Narrativist game scenario I've ever been part of, and some seemingly unconnected things have driven me over the past few days to scrutinize some of my assumptions about RPG evolution. The current game I'm playing is Theatrix. The GM is one of the players from my recently completed Everway scenario. He's running an awesome Watchman-esque comic book scenario, making aggressive use of the Theatrix mechanics for flashbacks, cut-scenes, and subplots. At one point during the first session he framed a flashback that centered on my character in his office. One of the features of Theatrix is that a player can introduce himself into a flashback, cut-scene, or subplot at will, with either his own character or with a character he invents on the fly for that scene. And I had assumed going in to the game session that the other players would have difficulty with it. I was very wrong about that in regards to one player...the most Gamist one of the group. He casually had his character knock on the door of my character's office as if we were old acquaintances, a fact that we hadn't established prior to the game. He used his "wealthy" descriptor passively to present my character with an expensive asian rug for having helped him during a recent incident when he was implicated in a murder, another fact he invented as part of the scene. The other two players struggled to introduce themselves into the scene. Time dragged on for a bit without their presence in the scene. Finally, the GM said, "Call one of them." And I hesitated. I couldn't come up with a single reason that I'd  would prompt me to call one of them. But the other player, again very casually, just called. And he was comfortable doing it. My Simulationist need for an in-character reason had me struggling with a highly Narrativist aspect of the game that a more Gamist player was having no trouble with.

That got me thinking. In the "All-out dissection" thread, Logan says that his RPG biases are more Gamist and Narrativist than Simulationist. And Ron likewise has said in threads on GO that he understands Gamism better than Simulationism. And I had a realization about that linkage...Author stance. The reason my more Gamist friend was so comfortable with what Theatrix was requiring of us as players is because both Gamism and Narrativism permit the player Author stance. The reason myself and other players were having trouble is because Simulationism does not.

And that got me thinking about the evolution of RPG's, questioning the idea that house rules and fixes gave rise to Simulationist games. My remembrance is that the hobby had fairly sophisticated efforts toward both Gamist and Simulationist games from pretty much early on. In contrast, sophisticated Narrativist systems didn't arrive until much later. Chronologically, games like Traveller didn't come that much later than Dungeons & Dragons; not compared to how much longer again it took before we saw Prince Valiant. Going back to the common ancestor, wargames have two essential characteristics: they're competitive and they're simulations. The evolution of RPG's from wargames is an adding of story elements. What if games like Dungeons & Dragons are an evolutionary branch that preferenced competitiveness and games like Traveller are an evolutionary branch that preferenced simulation? The preferencing of competitiveness came with things like player use of Author stance and of metagame. The preferencing of simulation came with an explicit denial of both of those things. By this phylogeny, where the evolutionary trend of each branch was toward story, Narrativism is an evolutionary outgrowth of Gamism. Gone is the competitiveness that drove the original evolutionary branch, replaced by collaborative creativity, but remaining are player use of Author stance and explicit metagame.

But then you have to ask yourself, what the hell happened to the Simulationist branch? Did it fail to generate a descendent form? Shouldn't you expect an emergent descendent of Simulationism on somewhat the same timetable as Narrativism? It's hard to prove an evolutionary theory without a specimen. But man I think there is one. And I have Scarlet Jester's "Exploratory" theory to credit for pointing me at it. The key insight was the concept of simulation of character. The trend along the Narrativist branch is toward lighter, more focused rules and increasing reliance on player skill. I thought to myself, is there a form of simulation of character that relies on lighter, more focused rules and increasing reliance on player skill? And strangely, the thing that leapt into my mind was the Turkuist Manifesto ( It's a Finnish manuscript detailing an aggressive style of heavily LARP-based simulation of character. Check out the Turkuist Vow of Chastity ( for the most condensed overview of what I'm talking about. They use the word Eläytyjist to describe the style of role-playing descended from Simulationism. If you read the rest of the site, you'll see how their thought is almost an evolutionary mirror image of Narrativist thought. Whereas  hardcore Narrativists have described relating to Gamists better and understanding Simulationists poorly, the Turkuists preference Simulationists as well as their style of Eläytyjist roleplaying, and misunderstand Narrativists (which they refer to using John Kim's "Dramatist" term) and Gamists. To a Turkuist, Narrativism is plot pushing at the expense of the character, all the worst stereotyping of railroading. Interestingly, both Narrativism and Eläytyjism have opinions about histrionics; the Narrativist deemphasizes them, because they aren't Authorial, and the Eläytyjist repudiates them because they're often dramatic for the sake of drama, rather than a natural outgrowth of simulation of character.

But in any case, what I'm suggesting for consideration is that there are two paths of observed RPG evolution from the common ancestor of wargames, and that a LARP-based simulation of character, with lighter rules than older Simulationist games, that relies more heavily on player skill, is the descendent form of Simulationism as Narrativism is the descendent form of Gamism. Whaddya think?

Paul Czege

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: GreatWolf on April 30, 2001, 11:09:00 AM
That is an interesting thought....

You see, I have a harder time relating to Gamism than Simulationism.  (Of course, I'm also a semi-purist wargamer, so that might make sense.)  My goals for a long time have been aimed towards immersion in character, rather than manipulation of plot.  In retrospect I think that this goal jarred somewhat with my attempts to be more story-oriented.  However, this line of inquiry does seem to connect with my personal experience.  It would also seem to account for the "Possessor" stance of John Kim (if I am remembering aright).  I'll be looking forward to hearing others' feedback on this topic.

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on April 30, 2001, 11:22:00 AM

On 2001-04-29 23:47, Paul Czege wrote:
Interestingly, both Narrativism and Eläytyjism have opinions about histrionics; the Narrativist deemphasizes them, because they aren't Authorial, and the Eläytyjist repudiates them because they're often dramatic for the sake of drama, rather than a natural outgrowth of simulation of character.

You said 'histronics.' All pause for a Gygax moment.

(Please excuse the bad joke. We now return you to serious discussion.)

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on April 30, 2001, 11:30:00 AM

I'd have to agree with you here. There's been something I couldn't put my finger on about several modern games--a sense they definitely weren't Narrativist or Gamist, but not quite what I'd consider Simulationist. (As mentioned earlier, Blue Planet's a great example of this.)

This also could explain why Narrativists and Gamists usually manage to get along, if not agree on terminology, while the strongest negative reactions to both the G/N/S model and hardcore Gamism come from players of modern post-Simulationist games.

(Take a look at sometime. You'll notice that the strongest detractors from G/N/S and 3rd Edition D&D--a pretty much hardcore Gamist system--are the same people, and they almost all play the same games: Blue Planet, Ars Magica, and Vampire--which I'd put in Exploratory, or post-Simulationist.)

If post-Simulationism is a distinct evolution, what are the goals of a post-Simulationist game?

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 30, 2001, 01:03:00 PM

I nominate Jim Henley and the Scarlet Jester to handle that one. I think they've probably thought more about it, and tried more games with these issues in mind, that anyone else I know.


I agree with your phylogeny entirely. Simulationism AND Gamism are strongly present in the pre-role-playing, wargame design scheme. I also think there's been an "undercurrent" of "struggling Narrativism" from the very beginning, such that many games were probably PLAYED in a Narrativist fashion at-home with the designers, then WRITTEN in a Simulationist-fashion as a published product. It's evident in a lot of Forewords, which talk about "shared story creation," to utterly non-story-creation games.


Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: GreatWolf on April 30, 2001, 04:27:00 PM
Okay, serious question then, in light of our current discussion.  Where does this form of play fit on the G/N/S chart?  Or could this be a fourth spoke?  None of us would say that Narrativism is a subset of Gamism (I can hear you twitching over there, Ron. :wink:)  Would it be proper to roll this Eläytyjist form of roleplaying into Simulationism?  After all, it does appear to be distinct....

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 04, 2001, 09:00:00 AM
As far as I can tell, Seth, it's simply a form of Simulationism.

A lot of people have trouble with understanding this goal or priority, and I confess I find it rather alien in terms of IDENTIFYING with it ... but the behaviors and design priorities are very clear.

Behavior: the purpose of play is to see "how events play out," specifically without VICTORY or THEME as the indicator of success. (One very knowledgeable poster on the Forge does not think any player REALLY conforms to this, but opinions differ.)

Another aspect of Simulationist behavior is that the player is "inside" the character and has complete and utter authority over "my guy" and what he does. The GM, by contrast, has complete and utter authority over anything external to the PCs. Author stance is frowned upon; Director stance is unheard of. Railroading is an ongoing, constant issue in these circumstances.

Design: (1) system mechanics that act as final resolvers to a stated/established set of conditions. This concept is found in games as diverse as The Window and RoleMaster, and it is a direct contrast to "in the middle" mechanics like those in Hero Wars and Story Engine.

What I mean by this is that "announce action completely," "resolve success or failure," and "resolve outcome" are ALWAYS handled in precisely that order. The system OCCURS LAST in the resolution process.

(2) In the most common brand of Simulationism, rules are intended to function as the game-world's physics, and they often present layered, flow-chart style probability sets (especially in combat).

Optional: (3) Metaplot (in the sense of published plot events via supplements that people are expected to insert into their own, ongoing games) is common in Simulationist design.

What we see in this "new" (or at least newly acknowledged) form of Simulationism is a de-emphasis of the reality-based, highly-layered mechanics common to 80s-style Simulationist games like RoleMaster and GURPS. Instead, we have an emphasis on the experiential aspects of "being your character" and WHATEVER that might entail, irrespective of whether that gains the PC any kind of success or produces any kind of thematic impact. However, I see no change in points #1 or #2 above.


Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on May 04, 2001, 09:20:00 AM

I just got Simulationism. I also realized that it's very often confused with focus on story.

There is a good Simulationist game on the market. 7 of them, actually--but let's choose one--Vampire: the Masquerade.

You focus on one character in an expansive world, where the point of the game is to experience the inhumanity of being trapped as a beast, surrounded by other beings like you who control most everything. Neither by mechanics or setting do you have any real control over anything besides what your character does. And, it's worth pointing out again: the point is to experience a character in a "what-if" type scenario. What if I were trapped as an immortal beast? It explicitly isn't on a continguous story, even if it's called a "Story-teller Game." The world is dynamic, but not controlled by the players, or even the GM.

Wow. It's all so much clearer to me now, and strangely, I can appreciate V:tM a lot more now that I know what it is.

Clinton R. Nixon webmaster

[ This Message was edited by: Clinton R Nixon on 2001-05-04 13:52 ]

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Paul Czege on May 07, 2001, 02:02:00 PM
As far as I can tell, Seth, it's simply a form of Simulationism....Another aspect of Simulationist behavior is that the player is "inside" the character

Okay...let's see if I can convincingly explain how and why I'm thinking that Eläytyjism is not simply a subset of Simulation, but a form of RP evolved from Simulationism which is as distinct from it as Narrativism is from Gamism. (Note that I can't pronounce Eläytyjism either, but I'm not sure saying "LARP-based simulation of character" or something similar over and over is going to solve the problem either.)

So going forward on this, I made us a graphic:

|                        (wargames)
| red vector              /      \
|                       /          \
|               Gamist RPG's    Simulationist RPG's
|                     |              |
|                     |            (simulation of character)
|                     |              |
V          Narrativist RPG's       Eläytyjist RPG's

And what I've been thinking about most is the red arrow labeled
"red vector". It is the direction of development in my proposed phylogeny.

I wrote before that I'm thinking both Gamist and Simulationist RPG's were evolutions from wargames (rather than that Simulationist RPG's somehow evolved from Gamist RPG's). I think the essential Gamist trait of competition and the essential Simulationist trait of simulation are both present in the ancestor; they're the two key traits of wargames. Note that I didn't say exploration; I said simulation. I'll get back to that. I think we all agree that the creation of RPG's from wargames was an adding of mechanics and conventions for story. Red Vector is the direction of adding mechanics and conventions for story.

We've categorized a number of RPG's as Gamist because of the way the game mechanics are carefully balanced relative to each other and facilitate competition. We've categorized a number of RPG's as Simulationist because of the way the game mechanics are designed to simulate aspects of an external reference source. Interestingly, also embedded within traditional Gamist design are things like allowed metagame and player use of Author stance and OOC knowledge. And within traditional Simulationist design are explicit prohibitions against metagame and player use of Author stance and OOC knowledge.

I actually think we've been too hasty to alter our early concept of Simulationism as simulation of world to simulation of character based on recognizing that a player doesn't simulate the world. For one, most RPG's are a collaboration between a player and a GM; just because the player doesn't simulate the world doesn't mean simulation of world isn't a large part of the game's goal. I think with early Simulationist RPG's there was a great deal of player buy-in to the idea of simulating a game world. Warhammer 40K is a wargame that sacrifices accuracy of simulation for competitiveness; Squad Leader, I think, is further down the path toward simulation at the expense of competitiveness. There are some Squad Leader scenarios where it's nearly impossible for one side to win. Yet there's a great deal of player buy-in to the accuracy of the simulation as the objective of those scenarios. If you think back, early simulationist games like Traveller were more about the simulation of the world than they were about simulation of character. Remember how you could die at any time during character generation? Just where in Traveller is the "simulation of character" rhetoric? This is why I put "simulation of character" as a descendant of Simulationist games in the graphic. I think early Simulationist games were exactly what we first defined them as, simulations of world with player buy-in.

So, moving in the direction of mechanics and conventions for story down the Narrativist branch, you see that the Narrativist keeps player use of Author stance and OOC knowledge, and allowed metagame, but that competitiveness is left behind and replaced with collaboration. The key defining factor of the game type is left behind. And you see a trend toward lighter rules, an increasing reliance on player skill, and GM behaviors based on expectations of greater player trust.

The same thing happens as you travel in the direction of the red vector down the Simulationist branch. The branch maintains it's previous attitude toward explicit denial of Author and Director player stances, use of OOC knowledge and disallowance of metagame, but trends toward less over-wrought rules, and an increasing reliance on player skill, and the expectation of greater player trust for the GM. And simulation of world is abandoned in favor of simulation of character. I don't think it's a subset of Simulationism. I think it's a different goal. I think it's a descendent form.
Someone on named Psyke wrote:

Immersion was previously called "Deep IC", which may be where "deep immersion" came from. It is one of the stances, which is to say a separate stance than Actor. The difference is: IC is entirely about playing based on what the character would do, while Actor is about playing to demonstrate who the character is. Actor is a stance in which you are deciding what to do based on how you want your character to be percieved, rather than what you feel the character would "really" do, which is the IC stance.

And those are two entirely different things. In the way that we've been dissecting the nuances of Author and Director stances for Narrativist games, the hard core simulation of character folks have been dissecting their stances.

I think there are probably two factors that have inclined us to subset the hard core simulation of character folks under Simulationist, rather than considering their games as separate and distinct: 1) their increasing reliance on player skill and situation embedded in character concept as preset by the GM is reflected in a lack of published game systems for us to examine, and 2) the intermediate stage of published simulation of character RPG's that feature elaborate settings has backgrounded our recollection of the earlier purer simulation of world games.

Whaddya think?

Paul Czege

[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-05-07 23:04 ]

Title: a variant phylogeny
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 09, 2001, 07:54:00 AM
I still hold with my original view, based on the defining features of Simulationism. Those features are preserved in this "new flavor," although the focus of attention has shifted. The features (to review) are:
- Actor stance for players
- chronological correspondence between out-of-game task resolution and in-game events themselves

Here's how I see it. The primary conflict in Simulationist play of the 80s and early 90s is this: the GM has total control of the "world," and each player has total control of "my guy." When working out events during play, you get conflicts between these.

In the 80s, that meant extensive debate and system-concentration on rules themselves (hence GURPS) and "the world" in anthropological and geographical terms (hence Harn, and the approach to Glorantha at that time). An interesting exception is Call of Cthulhu, which focused on simulating a particular story-structure in a "Evening Murder Mystery" kind of way.

In the 90s, with Vampire as the transition step, that meant extensive metaplot and the importance of EXPERIENCING one's character. The GM-player conflict is resolved either by (1) defining the GM as a "channel" of metaplot and setting rather than as a dictator, or (2) by reducing the emphasis on GM ("story" as defined locally), leaving only character-experiencing as the priority. This is, I think, at least one interpretation of the problematic term "immersion."

To support my point further, I cite the Vow of Chastity made by the advocates of the E-thing, which specifically disavow any obligation of the player to facilitate the enjoyment or understanding of ANYONE ELSE in the role-playing experience. This is drastic Actor stance, which in my opinion is only possible in a Simulationist context. "Story" is totally out the window - completely NOT the priority, and therefore I disagree with your suggestion that the E-thing has evolved along the same trajectory as Narrativism, in any way at all.

(This picture also explains the bevy of system-lite RPGs like Agent X, Purgatory, and to some extent Underworld, which present LARPs as what one does after "graduating" from traditional RPGs. Interestingly, none of these games emphasize decision-making and moral weight of story-making in any way, shape, or form - just BEING the character is enough.)

I see this new thing (the "E" thing) as refining #2 into its most rarefied form. It resolves some of the conflicts inherent in Simulationism as seen in the 1980s, and it eliminates many of the priorities of 80s-style design, like highly-physically-simulative probability tables. However, those specific priorities never DEFINED Simulationism, but merely expressed it in a particular way. Now we see it being expressed in a different way, perhaps more tuned to the priorities of more players (there's certainly a market for it).