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Author Topic: Some more definition insanity  (Read 7649 times)
greyorm
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« on: May 12, 2001, 06:30:00 PM »

In a recent message here, Ron, it seemed you were saying that the narrative game has far-reaching plots set-up in advance ala Tolkien and the simulationist game is more like a soap opera in its focus on the characters and their lives and the lack of a cohesive start-point and end-point.  Is this an accurate understanding of the difference between narrative and simulation?

I've also been wondering something else...what would a narrative mechanic actually be?  That is, how would it work?  (I'm not looking for games with examples in them, I'm looking for the examples themselves, since I probably don't own the games with the examples)

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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2001, 08:24:00 AM »

Raven,

"it seemed you were saying that the narrative game has far-reaching plots set-up in advance ala Tolkien and the simulationist game is more like a soap opera in its focus on the characters and their lives and the lack of a cohesive start-point and end-point. Is this an accurate understanding of the difference between narrative and simulation?"

This is ... horrendously inaccurate, and I totally disavow any such claim.

"set up in advance"Huh? Where could this have come from, given what I wrote?

By definition, plots cannot be set up in advance if we're talking about Narrativist play. The entire point is to CONSTRUCT plot, as a group.

Yes, many things ARE set up in advance, in such play, but they are elements and components of a story, and placed in such a way that the sequence, ending, and meaning are to be created during play, specifically with the players and GM acting as co-authors rather than entertainer and audience.

The same goes for your paraphrase about Simulationism. Soap operas ARE narratives. They are stories, and the "arcs" do contain beginnings, middles, and endings. I cannot imagine where you get the narrativist-this, simulationist-that comparison you ascribe ... I am getting really tired of repeating that Simulationism is defined by one approach to announcement and resolution of in-game actions, and Narrativism is defined by another. That's it.

I cannot take the time right now to summarize the past year of work on GO, in which every single post of mine addresses your question about mechanics that meet these needs.

Raven, you have consistently acted as watchdog on my posts in order to identify any potential arrogant or inflammatory elements. Looking over your post this time, it's hard to believe you haven't deliberately stated your paraphrase of my stuff in the most absurd way in order to get a rise out of me. It may be that you are using this notion: "well, a person COULD interpret what you said in this way, so what do you say about that?"

If this is so, please stop. It creates mud and misunderstandings. We've been working together for over two years now, and I'd really appreciate it if you took this to private e-mail or phone.

Best,
Ron
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greyorm
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« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2001, 11:57:00 AM »

Ron,

Whoops, I think we had a major miscommunication.
I was asking for clarification for myself, not trying to tear you down or deliberately misquote you for any reason; it was meant as an honest question to enhance my understanding.

I am VERY sorry that what I said set you off and angered you, it is often fairly late when I read and/or respond to things on the forum, so it is entirely possible that I completely misunderstood what you were saying (and obviously did).

Given that I may have been brain-dead tired when I read the post that prompted the question, I think I see how I established my inital understanding.  Your statements quoted from the other thread:

Quote

...most pervasive inaccuracies across role-playing culture is that a good story may be built "as you go along"...

When the "story" content is established in a creative work, at that moment, such methods must be shelved, however useful they may be for generating raw material.

Simulationist role-playing...relies on exactly this mode of event-determination - A to B to C, both in terms of announcement at the table and in terms of resolution in the game-world. It cannot be relied upon to CREATE quality stories.


Quote

I am getting really tired of repeating that Simulationism is defined by one approach to announcement and resolution of in-game actions, and Narrativism is defined by another.


I had thought your statements were saying that simulation is different from narrative because the method of story construction is "during play" (what happens is undetermined, undecided, unspecific...there is no 'narrative goal' to be aimed for), whereas in narrativism the method or events/results of story are bound up with pre-game decisions and collective input that will structure the plot as the game occurs.

Is that (better written) understanding of the statement more accurate, or am I still missing the point?

I will go take a look over on GO for the answer to the other question when I have the chance.
I asked here as I only read the "Sorcerer" discussions there and didn't wish to spend the night digging through the forums to find what I was looking for (and not knowing if  a clear example even existed), so I had been hoping for a summary here.

Once again, I'm VERY sorry this set you off.  My post wasn't written with anything but good intention and an honest desire for understanding in mind.

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[ This Message was edited by: greyorm on 2001-05-13 16:23 ]
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2001, 01:25:00 PM »

Hey man,

Cooling off ... and my apologies. OK, let's try this together.

"I had thought your statements were saying that simulation is different from narrative because the method of story construction is "during play" (what happens is undetermined, undecided, unspecific...there is no 'narrative goal' to be aimed for), whereas in narrativism the method or events/results of story are bound up with pre-game decisions and collective input that will structure the plot as the game occurs."

I'm seeing your point better here, but we really ought to clarify what "narrative goal" means - it is NOT a given event or outcome. It is simply that the events during play carry the "weight" that a story in another medium has.

Let me also clarify, quickly, that "weight" as I see it does NOT imply depth of meaning. A soap opera arc fits my bill perfectly. Is it shallow, repetitive, and manipulative? Yes. Is it a story? Yes.

Simulationism in certain practices appears VERY story-oriented at first glance - especially when the setting is extremely detailed, plot-events are written at great length and channelled by meticulous GMs, and the players are avidly acting-out the parts of their characters during play. A lot of L5R play, if I'm not mistaken, is in this mold (corrections from Gareth are welcome, if necessary). It looks like a story, however, because it was CREATED as a story BEFORE play - now, with only minor nuances to be added through play, it is merely being depicted.

Narrativist play is much harder to pin down because it does not lend itself to elaborate development, promotion, and RPG publishing. Of the three priorities, historically it has been the least likely to gain fan recognition and distributor + retailer support. Also, its mechanics have evolved, mechanically speaking, FROM those of the other goals, and therefore we see all manner of Narrative mechanics in odd combinations with the other mechanics in various games.

The reason I tooted off on your earlier post is that it is SO, SO hard to explain to people that metaplot and elaborate, talented, entertaining depiction thereof is NOT making a story.

Here's my metaphor for the most visible sort of Simulationism. Imagine a fellow who has a big ol' Moog synthesizer and pedals and cymbals and what-all, and he's playing up a storm - and there his players are, permitted to toot on their penny-whistles when he so designates. Imagine now that he's using a pre-recorded CD for most of what the Moog puts out, and now you have metaplot.

Or if we go with the E-thing, we now have everyone with penny-whistles and the reigning aesthetic that no one need concern themselves with any other, as long as they play sincerely for themselves.

Okay! Okay! Remove ALL traces of contempt that you might have perceived in that description. If the people involved are HAVING FUN, then, okay!

But it ain't playing the 12-bar blues with fellow bluesmen (as an analogy for fairly structured Narrativism like Extreme Vengeance), or jamming beebop (as an analogy for more free-form play). In these modes, you must make decisions during play not only about what the character CAN do, or what he FEELS like doing, but about what, given everything else, would be BEST for that character to do in terms of making a great story emerge.

Be in touch,
Best,
Ron
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james_west
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« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2001, 07:39:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-05-13 12:24, Ron Edwards wrote:
"set up in advance"Huh? Where could this have come from, given what I wrote?

I cannot take the time right now to summarize the past year of work on GO, in which every single post of mine addresses your question about mechanics that meet these needs. "


Two things: first, glad to see that I'm understanding the system properly (I burst out laughing when I read the line about set up in advance.)

Second: While you might not have time now, I think a lot of people would find it useful if you would write such an essay.
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greyorm
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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2001, 08:48:00 AM »

Quote

I'm seeing your point better here, but we really ought to clarify what "narrative goal" means - it is NOT a given event or outcome. It is simply that the events during play carry the "weight" that a story in another medium has.

My fault...I realize that my initial example could easily be read as saying "pre-plotted."  What I meant by "narrative goal" is more along the lines of story-goal...that is, what you hope to accomplish with the narrative AS a narrative.  Do you want an epic quest?  Do you want a 'peasant-hero-comes-into-his-own'?  Do you want an exploration of the ills of society?
Quote

Let me also clarify, quickly, that "weight" as I see it does NOT imply depth of meaning. A soap opera arc fits my bill perfectly. Is it shallow, repetitive, and manipulative? Yes. Is it a story? Yes.

I was seeing soap operas as bereft of a "narrative" quality, in that they have no "guiding vision"...they exist to make money, they will continue as long as they do so...there is no "story arc" that will tie it all together at 'the end.'  In essence, this is perfect simulationism.

Compared to, say, "Babylon 5", which has a background story that is being told through the events of the story...a decided theme guiding the flow of the narrative.
Or say the difference between B5 and Star Trek...one has a story arc, one does not. Or the difference between a miniseries and a sitcom.

Though note that I am NOT saying that pre-plotting or story-arcs in this fashion are the seperating factor.  I have a feeling I may not be making my (rather vague) point clear, but I THINK it is saying the same thing you are.

Or to use your music example...the narrative is, "We're going to play the blues, let's make it moody."  And within that structure, the narrative occurs; whereas a simulation would be, "We're going to play THIS sheet music, here are your parts" or "We're playing free jazz, but you must play at only these specific intervals."

Or I could still be completely crocked.

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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2001, 09:13:00 AM »

Hey Raven,

I do think we're in general agreement, but the soap opera issue is crucial enough for me to stick with.

1) Both B5 and a given soap-show are narratives. The former has several large-ish, slow-developing "arcs" and the latter has many small ones. It is widely-stated that soaps are not legitimate stories and "bereft" in many ways of what DEFINES a story ... but I cannot agree. They are stories for the same reason that [pick your fave classic] is.

There are plenty of depth-differences between the two sorts of shows. I think that PREFERRING one or the other based on these differences is a fine thing - but it's a matter of depth, not of "is it a story." When people speak of soaps as having "no story," they are referring to the fact that the small arcs rarely add up to a big one, or future arcs can be wildly inconsistent with past ones, as long as enough time has gone by.

I happen not to like soaps, by the way; this series of posts is not a personal defense of them. I do think the usual contemptuous reference to them, on the basis that they are not stories, is not founded on real observation.

2) Motive for the show's production is irrelevant, and I'd also argue that B5 was made "to make money" to the exact extent that any TV show is so made. What ELSE it was made for, IN ADDITION, may well be a substantial issue, but it is an add-on. I'm aware that disputing POVs exist about this issue.

Much is made of the "vision" of B5, and I have a lot of respect for the people who worked hard to keep it from becoming an episodic show like Star Trek. However, this is a matter of the SCALE of the story arc(s), not their existence.  

3) Why am I going into this in such detail? Because an RPG that follows a "soap" model, specifically in the sense that such a plot/theme structure emerges through play, would be intensely Narrativist. In this thread, which IS about what the hell Narrativism is, it would be wrong to use "soap opera" as a term meaning "no story" - instead, we should talk about "no story" with real examples. I don't think we'll find many, if any, examples in TV shows with characters facing morally-relevant conflicts - by definition, such a situation is a narrative.

If I'm not mistaken, what you are describing is a series of events in which characters ARE present, they DO behave and interact with characteristic ways, and there ARE scrapes and events ... but there are few or no conflict-resolution arcs of any weight. (Again, many people use "soap opera" to describe this are missing the fact that soaps do not actually look like this at all.) And yes, I agree, that Simulationist role-playing is the mode that most likely results in this pattern - and, evidently, many people seem to enjoy this and to enjoy systems which make it possible. So in the ACTUAL point that you are making, we are in full agreement. It's only the example/term which I'm questioning.

(Of course, an entirely different branch of Simulationism includes metaplot, in which you get a solid story-structure, which just happens not to be created via the role-playing itself.)

Best,
Ron

P.S. If anyone's interested, I also dispute the cunning advertising-claim that Seinfeld was "about nothing." In detail.
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greyorm
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« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2001, 05:50:00 PM »

Quote

I do think we're in general agreement, but the soap opera issue is crucial enough for me to stick with.


That's really a side-issue for me, as I meant it as a loose example to help illustrate the point, not BE the point.  I also figured I might catch some flak for the example, if it were taken a certain way (which it was -- my fault for not taking my time).

Quote

Both B5 and a given soap-show are narratives. The former has several large-ish, slow-developing "arcs" and the latter has many small ones.


Actually, I consider the "story-arc" to be a red herring.  As I mentioned, the underlying "thing" I'm trying to point out is the "meaning" of the entirety, the way it works, what it says.  I'm not entirely certain if I'm being clear enough in my meaning, however, so let me try again.

B5 is arguably about the struggle of Law and Chaos, the rigors of duty versus morality and a number of other things.  It is meant to show, watched from beginning to end, these underlying themes in its narrative.

Contrary to this, a soap has nothing of the sort (now before anyone accuses me of not watching soaps, I used to be addicted to them back in high school), there is no "underlying theme" as was written into B5 guiding the development of the whole in a soap or sitcom...it is simply people in situations reacting to them.

Quote

Motive for the show's production is irrelevant, and I'd also argue that B5 was made "to make money" to the exact extent that any TV show is so made. What ELSE it was made for, IN ADDITION, may well be a substantial issue, but it is an add-on. I'm aware that disputing POVs exist about this issue.


I'd argue that B5 was made first as a story, then sold to make money; whereas soaps were created first to make money, second as story.  But that's really tangetial to the discussion.

Quote

Much is made of the "vision" of B5, and I have a lot of respect for the people who worked hard to keep it from becoming an episodic show like Star Trek. However, this is a matter of the SCALE of the story arc(s), not their existence.  


Well, it is not the existance of the story-arcs, or rather the narratives, as I'm well aware all are narrative.
Obviously, however, much of the problem is in the translation of a television show or movie to game terminology.  The show will ALWAYS be narrative, because the medium is by default narrative, so comparisons are difficult and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Quote

Why am I going into this in such detail? Because an RPG that follows a "soap" model, specifically in the sense that such a plot/theme structure emerges through play, would be intensely Narrativist.


Hrm...see now this is where I get confused.  I had thought at one point the definition of a simulationism would be where the plot/theme structure is tacked onto the story after it has taken place...the theme emerges in hindsight, created after the fact, not before.  Though this seems to be my original mistake in interpreting your statement.

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[ This Message was edited by: greyorm on 2001-05-16 21:51 ]
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2001, 09:00:00 AM »

Hi Raven,

"I had thought at one point the definition of a simulationism would be where the plot/theme structure is tacked onto the story after it has taken place...the theme emerges in hindsight, created after the fact, not before. Though this seems to be my original mistake in interpreting your statement."

I took a day or so to think about how to respond, because here's exactly the crux of the problem.

1) What you describe above, quoted, rarely if ever happens. In practical terms, I've NEVER seen it happen. In all instances I've seen, if you get a "story" from a Simulationist series of sessions, it's because GM railroading/dominance or publisher-derived metaplot was in place FIRST.

2) I define Simulationism, both for play-decisions and for RPG-design, in the "variant phylogeny" thread - it is the goal of 1:1 correspondence of player-announcement with character-intent, 1:1 correspondence of order of action-announcement with order of resolution, and 1:1 correspondence of order-of-event with order resolution.

a) "I hit him." Proceed to (b).
b) "You miss." Start next guy at (a).
b') "You hit." Proceed to (c).
c) "You hit him HERE." "You hit him THIS HARD." Proceed to (d).
d) "He now encounters these effects." Start next guy at (a).

We can bulk this up with tons of mechanics, adding sub-steps, throwing in modifiers, having it all accord with any number of genres (including very unrealistic ones as well as "realism"). Equally, we can strip it down to simple Drama-assertions, and even to one little step.

But the order-of-game-resolution and order-of-world-resolution remain in the 1:1 relationship. That's Simulationism. It accounts for games like Call of Cthulhu, much if not all of GURPS, and Vampire LARPing equally, even though many things (sub-categories) about these games are very different.

3) So from my perspective, the mechanics that I think facilitate Narrativism do so by breaking that entire assumption - thus mechanically, you get Author and Director stances appearing among the players (with "rights," not just covertly), you get retroactive event-resolutions for both success and failures, and more.

In terms of the larger episode or series of episodes, you also get story EMERGING. This is due to Premise being the foundation for everyone, GM and players alike, on an emotional level. WHAT happens is not pre-set, and it may be frighteningly un-pre-set from a traditional-GM point of view. But WHAT'S ENGAGING about what happens, on a shared basis, is on everyone's mind almost from the very beginning.

4) So "in-game created story" is at most a lucky side effect of Simulationist play (I specifically exclude imposed metaplot and pre-game stricture of any kind from this concept), whereas it is the actual goal of Narrativist play. I contend, and have from the beginning, that the mechanics of each are in nearly-direct opposition to one another in practice.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2001, 09:27:00 AM »

Raven,

In your first post, you asked for examples of Narrativist-facilitating mechanics. Some of them come in these categories.

1) Director-stance facilitators, such as causing a bale of bat guano to fall on the villain's head (not through magic or character action, but in exactly the way a GM makes such a thing happen), or having a "show up in the scene" ability.

2) For games with Fortune systems, resolving from GENERAL INTENT to OVERALL OUTCOME to [SPECIFIC-INTENT + SPECIFIC OUTCOME]. This means you rarely announce an attempt to "hit," but rather an attempt to "subdue," "shame," "disarm," "kill," and so on. Then the outcome of the rolls or whatever gives both GM and player a place to work from, in order to determine what SPECIFIC actions led to what SPECIFIC results. You don't throw an elbow strike and whiff, you got kicked in the groin before getting to that close-distance in the first place. Pick-pick, whiff-whiff, chip-a-hit-point style combat doesn't occur in these games.

3) In recent games, #1 and #2 above have been integral to the resolution systems. Previously, such things have been found primarily in metagame mechanics, which permit the player to override the "regular" resolution system on occasion. Some games, like Hero Wars, have #1 and #2 as well as additional metagame mechanics, allowing a great deal of player power over what happens in a scene - not just in terms of potentially-announced options (like a bunch of Feats in D&D3E), but in terms of outcomes.

Hope this makes some sense,
Best,
Ron
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james_west
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« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2001, 10:49:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-05-18 13:27, Ron Edwards wrote:

3) In recent games, #1 and #2 above have been integral to the resolution systems.


Ron -

Care to mention some examples ? I've tended to do this by ignoring mechanics, but I'd like to see some games in which this is done well.

                   - James
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« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2001, 11:01:00 AM »

Hi James,

Sure - real briefly, though (sorry).

1) Hero Wars - see my review right here on the Forge, and check out some of the threads at the GO forum.

2) Swashbuckler combat

3) Zero combat - which frankly, I swiped whole cloth in terms of action/order resolution for Sorcerer. At least I cited it!

4) Castle Falkenstein magic

5) Story Engine scene-resolution (not Story Bones, but either the small Story Engine book or the original Maelstrom rulebook)

6) Extreme Vengeance - don't be fooled by its comedic presentation, this is the single most radical RPG design currently available for Narrativist goals.

7) I am given to understand that Theatrix has mechanisms of this sort, but Paul's the man for explaining that to us, these days.

There are probably a few others I'll say "duh!" about right after hitting Submit, but those are what come to mind now.

Best,
Ron
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greyorm
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« Reply #12 on: May 23, 2001, 09:31:00 AM »

Whew...ok, Ron, I believe I've got it.

Now I'm going to throw something at you, figuratively, in regards to mechanics:
In my D&D games I've usually implemented Hit Points a little differently:

1> I allow HPs to be burned to influence events (gain bonuses to hit, damage, ensure success, reroll, etc) because I view them as luck, karma and skill -- NOT physical health or beat-upability.

This is obviously a metagame mechanic.  Apparently you can do the same with poker chips in Deadlands.  Is this gamist? (since the goal of the mechanic is attempting to win/help overcome the odds)

2> The more relevant portion is how I describe HPs in terms of damage to the character.  Whenever a character takes damage or gets hurt, they lose HPs...however, those HPs allow description of the events in avoiding the actual physical damage.

Frex, you fall off a flying ship.  Instead of impacting with the ground and taking your 10d6 damage, however, you still take the HPs in damage and (assuming you don't lose all your HPs) are caught up in the ropes, catch a guide-line, fall onto the back of a flying horse, whatever.
Basically, you're burning luck, circumstance, destiny or divine blessing.  The events are written based on the roll or rewritten (in the example of "I drink from the cup." "Roll a save, take HP damage from poison." "Ack...I realize the wine is poisoned!  I pour it out!" <10 hp damage>)

Of course, I know that typically a simulationist would flinch at such a method...since the damage and saving throw are caused by the poison in the cup, but if you don't drink the poison how do you lose the HPs or why make the save?
This is definitely not the 1:1 action resolution you were talking about.

So, my question, is that (#2) narrativist?
I'm assuming "yes", since it looks it to me, and can't be simulationist.

If so, good gods!  No wonder I couldn't make the mechanic click until now!  I kept trying to force simulationist sequencing onto situations like the 'poisoned wine' because I didn't realize that the episode could be written in this manner (resolution before event)!

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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2001, 12:25:00 PM »

Raven wrote,

"I allow HPs to be burned to influence events (gain bonuses to hit, damage, ensure success, reroll, etc) because I view them as luck, karma and skill -- NOT physical health or beat-upability. [paragraph break] This is obviously a metagame mechanic. Apparently you can do the same with poker chips in Deadlands. Is this gamist? (since the goal of the mechanic is attempting to win/help overcome the odds)"

No, no! This is a metagame mechanic that influences a Fortune resolution-method. There is nothing inherently Gamist about that. Fortune resolution-methods can be found across all of G/N/S design. If the metagame mechanic influences its odds, then it's doing so within the already-existing G/N/S context, whatever that might be.

This is exactly the same misunderstanding that showed up when people said, "Gamist? Oh, you mean the dice part of role-playing, 'cause dice are, like, games." It's no more valid with metagame mechanics than with resolution methods.

That was clearly less important than the following, though:
"So, my question, is that (#2) narrativist?  I'm assuming "yes", since it looks it to me, and can't be simulationist."

For YOU the answer is "yes," and your final comments seem right on target to me. But to be accurate, what we're really talking about is a mechanic (in this case, a metagame mechanic) that is permitting AUTHOR STANCE. In your case it's serving Narrativist purposes.

Best,
Ron
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