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Author Topic: Nar play with Sim Rules  (Read 4402 times)

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« on: January 30, 2005, 08:45:25 PM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
Marco, I want to thank you for sticking with us here through a lot of arguments about the various agenda. I think your contributions have often assisted me in clarifying my own thoughts.

I want to focus for a moment on the notion of a simulationist game.

First, it's pretty clear that we mean a simulationist-facilitating game, that is, one whose mechanics tend to reinforce simulationist choices and produce simulationist-friendly outcomes.

Second, and this I think gets lost in the shuffle, it must also be recognized that we're talking about a game that facilitates a particular variety of simulationism. We're very clear that gamist-facilitating games can facilitate or impede different styles of gamism. The same is true of narrativist-facilitating games, although we don't see it as much perhaps. It makes perfect sense that some games would support one type of simulationism, but not all types of simulationism.

Third, a game might be engineered to facilitate one specific agendum, or even a specific type of a specific agendum, and yet neither impede nor facilitate a different type of play, even a different agendum. A great deal of narrativist play took place within simulationist designs before narrativist games were developed, and it is entirely likely that some still does.

There are a couple of spots at which simulationist mechanics impede narrativist play to a significant degree.

One of those is in character death. It is extremely rough on narrativist play for the referee to announce, "The hero of the story just got killed by a lucky shot from the villain's henchman." Narrativist games often include mechanics which prevent protagonists from being killed without player approval; simulationist games rarely if ever do. In a narrativist game, when the character says, "It doesn't end this way; I don't die like this," he's probably right. In a simulationist game, he's probably wrong.

You are absolutely right that mechanics that support verisimilitude do not force a game to be simulationist, nor do they necessarily impede narrativist play. However, such a game is more likely to be simulationist, because the mechanics provide the sort of reliability of outcomes on which simulationist play is largely built, and narrativism requires something other than reliability of outcome--it requires injection of premise in a way that impacts play.

This is why the Spiritual Attributes of The Riddle of Steel are recognized as narrativist: suddenly the issues at stake to the players impact the outcomes of game events. Without those, the system is extremely good at reproducing "who would win" in fights. Those introduce into play a notion of "who should win", based on who cares about this enough to win.

So a game that is perfectly simulationist in design can be played narrativist without removing rules if things work right (e.g., the hero doesn't happen to get killed). It can also go narrativist if it is drifted unconsciously--for example, if the referee would never think of having some lowly henchman take a cheap shot at the player character when his back is turned, we've got a narrativist-facilitating decision interfering behind the scenes and we don't even realize it. (Of course, in a solid simulationist game, the henchman would take that shot, and he might just succeed.)

--M. J. Young

Hi MJ, I'm quoting this (excellent) response from the RPG Theory thread.

I think this is very well stated--and I'm not unfamiliar with the argument. The comment that a game faciliates some specific brand of whatever CA people like is a good one.

Thesis: I propose that to have a Narrativist game under many Nar systems there will have to be substantial agreement and perhaps even a good deal of ongoing work on the part of the GM and players in order to keep the game Nar.

Furthermore, for all the games where that work is reduced (MLWM, for example doesn't need any great agreement amongst the players to play Nar) there is a price for that in that the Premise is fixed, which, in and of itself, may not suit all styles of Nar gaming

Problems with Sim Systems
There are a huge number of things that a given mechanics set might or might not do for a game that could help or interfere with someone's preference for Nar play.

A game where you can't die? Then life isn't really "on the line" and the consequences of the ultimate sacrafice aren't ever "on the table" when your risk violence based.

A game that's too deadly? Then someone could be killed before their statement is made.

I think both of these are a wash (that is, if the players have cognizantly chosen the game then we assume whatever position it takes on combat deadliness, it's the right answer for Nar facilitation) and TRoS illustrates that beautifully. Because the game is both very open-ended (i.e. it can be used to play a lot of different games with many premises) and very deadly, even with a moderate number of SA dice in play (take on multiple trained opponents with just a few dice of SA's operational and see what happens) the GM and the players will have to do a lot of work together to make sure that a Narrativist agenda is achived.

(this also solves the treacherous hencheman problem too: if the GM has an attack launched when the player isn't looking in TRoS and there are no applciable SA's then he's screwed. The same restraint is just as easy to exercise in GURPS).

What It Takes For Nar Gaming Under A General System*
1. Agree before the game starts about what kinds of actions will take place (the SA's are great for this--part of the brilliance of the system).
2. The GM will have to calibrate the situation to the PC's power-level and the player's skill level.
3. The scenario will have to be chosen to engage the player as well as the character (if the adventure is just that the character's wife is kidnapped by orcs and he has to slaughter them and get her back, this sort of thing has been done 1000 times in D&D--the TRoS guy just happens to roll some extra dice for this exercise--there isn't any more premise inherent in the situation than in a standard DNPC or D&D adventure).

Consider that this sounds very, very similar to my suggested scenario with the Nazi scientist in the thread on Sim-Story.

1. Someone (GM or Players) suggests what the game will be about (Allied Supers running missions  in WWII).
2. The game, to be reliable, will be structured so that death isn't likely. If the system makes death or failure impossible, that may be a bonus--but it may not. A slim chance of death may be seen by the players as added excitement. The trail of clues is either obvious or well within the power of the players to figure out: under an agreed Nar agenda, the GM might even use the Moving Clue technique to make sure the PC's stay on the path. There's perhaps a small chance of mechanical failure but not enough to call the game "unreliable."
3. If the play is to be Narrativist then the players need to be engaged by the idea of justice vs. patritoism/duty. If the GM knows the players have feelings about that--and plays to them--then the game should be Nar.

If the players don't connect with that, the game will be Sim or Gam.

To get Nar play, the procedure is the similar to that of TRoS.

Where Mutants and Masterminds would be different is that the PC's don't get to specify what they want (there is no "extra dice for fighting for justice" or "extra points awarded for battling for duty").

This may be a major drawback to some players--but it isn't required for Nar play. There's nothing wrong with saying "surprise me with the situation" that I can see from the essays.

Mechanically, however, this is a non-issue. In the final scene there need be no mechanics involved at all. Even if a character got +100 dice for the pursiut of justice, they wouldn't need to roll in order to execute the scientist (who's a normal guy).

In a hypothetical system, where a character got SA-style dice for the pursuit of  justice or dice for doing one's duty a character who decided half-way through that he was going to kill the scientist no matter what would lose dice for duty (and maybe gain dice for justice).

This would have a way of focusing the play on that aspect of the game throughout it. Some people might really love that. But I wouldn't.

I'd find the game system limited and--next adventure with the supers, we'd either have to do the same thing again in some different permutation or alter the mechanics in some way. A fixed Justice v. Duty mechanic would cease to be valuable once I wanted to do something else.

That's why I think having the premise conflict in situation and having the resolution system represent the real world is a valid approach to take.

One can argue that that's not a superior methodology--I very much agree. But can you argue it's an inferior way to play? I don't think so either.

* IIRC Over The Edge was considered Narrativist for the reason that it set out a pretty clear (easily agreed on) Premise of "your character is going to have to question fundamental assumptions about his or her self" when the rug is ripped out from under you.

I think this is an example how a purely Sim-ish system (i.e. one that doesn't have any real relation to Premise) can work well in a Narrativist context--once you have that PC-GM agreement then things flow pretty easily (IME).

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« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2005, 05:46:04 AM »

Hi, Marco -

This is an interesting post. I agree to you that bonus dice for addressing premise or narrative elements more broadly is merely an often narrativist-faciltating technique, not narrativism itself. In certain cases limited applications of this technique could also help with Sim though ("these guys are Celts, they hate Normans, so they get a +1").

People here often say two things that superficially conflict: that e.g. AD&D and earlier versions of D&D are gamist-facilitating games, and that to facilitate gamism you need something with mechanics that provide a challenge at the player/pawn-stance level. Certainly, a lot of solid gamist designs (T&T, Great Ork Gods, 3e with its feat, skill, spell, and PrC combo minimaxing) have this in different forms. But what was early D&D's mechanic? Essentially, roll a d20 to hit, with modifiers from class/level and magic items, and then roll damage. There's really no 'game' there in the sense that there is even in say T&T; it's just a random walk.

But I think it's right to say that D&D was used to facilitate Gamism, and that it did it for many groups. How, then? The Challenge was at the metagame level: figure out how to maximize your edge in a situation before the dice hit the table; select spells and charged items judiciously by situation; follow up on GM clues; and so on. This was where you 'stepped on up'. (Another way was to have a list of magic items a mile long, but this character-fetishism (alive and well in most incoherent Sim/Nar RPGs produced by Big Games Inc. today) needs a different analysis.)

So anyway. We need, in many discussions here, to distinguish between rules that simulate something in an imagined reality but may nonetheless be designed to facilitiate Gamist or Narrativist play and rules that are designed to facilitate Simulationist play even though they may employ techniques that seem gamey or story-making. Regardless of the outcome of the recent "TRoS is Gam/Nar, not Sim/Nar" thread, there's an important point there: nothing about having long lists of weapons and maneuvers, which might seem 'Simmy' because you're going to a lot of work to model an imaginary reality, dictates that you're looking at a Sim-facilitating ruleset. Rather, it might just be color for a Narrativist fantasy game - or maybe there's another table which gives each weapon an emotional significance of some kind - or it might be a springboard for hard-core player-level RPS, prisoner's dilemma, or other tactical competition.

There needs to be a HARD distinction between rules that spend time on simulating an imagined reality and rules that facilitate Sim play. There's really only the loosest sort of connection between them.

So, where am I going with this? Well, the fact is, 'light simulation' rules - that is, rules that try to provide a simple simulation of an imagined reality and not much else - are actually better, in many cases, for facilitating certain kinds of Narrativist and Gamist play than many more complex RPG rulesets are. Why? Because these rules just give you a broad idea for an SiS, give you simple mechanics for resolving tasks or conflicts or both, and then get out of your way. If you're going for Gamism, then, you do the thing I wrote about in my 'Grognard speaks' thread, where you put all the challenge at the 'scene-framing' level, the player's use of their in-game resources to dictate the conflicts they will face and how they will face them; if your'e going for Narrativism, you use any of a variety of techniques to get people on the same page thematically (or at least weave the different characters together based on what they're looking for individually) while using the rules as a backdrop for when they actually do stuff.

An interesting thing about this is that while making the rules lighter can facilitate better Nar and Gam play relative to a traditional RPG, the zero-point solution - freeform - is functional for Nar but not really for Gam, I think. Maybe if someone has ideas on that they can start another thread to analyze the claim or call bullshit on it.

SO, anyway, conclusions. I agree with you that Nar play is possible under a good generic or Sim-facilitating system, that there are techniques for doing it, that some of the tricks TRoS uses are good models for how you might push any Sim-facilitating system in a Nar direction, and so on. But I guess what you're seeing as a weakness in Nar systems in your original 'thesis', if I understand you correctly, I see as a strength. "Hello? If you don't want that premise, play some different game!" I thought that was the whole point of one style of Nar-facilitating design, to give people a game with a focused premise to explore. Doesn't grab you, play something different.

I also think the amount of work you have to go to varies with a lot more things than with what a system is trying to facilitate and how well it does it.

But anyway, I'm mostly agreeing with you, assuming that I understand where you're going. The corollary I'm adding is that there's a parallel to what you're observing for Narrativist play with certain forms of Gamist play. Vincent once wrote something to the effect that he was a 'serious advocate of freeform relative to the rules of a traditional RPG'. "Traditional" is vague, but I'm definitely 'a serious advocate of rules which lightly simulate some imagined reality and do nothing else relative to the rules of a lot of RPGs which have been popular since the early 1980's, if you want to facilitate certain types of Gam and many types of Nar play'. They provide a minimum framework for resolving disagreement and don't get in your way when you want to engage in other sorts of exercise.

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« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2005, 07:12:16 AM »

I agree with this--a two things to point out:

1. D&D's tactical challenge is traditionally said to come from resource management. That means spells, items, and HP. We have to know when to push on and know when to head back. The fights are just resource sinks.

This, clearly, is a simplification--but the simplicity of the combat mechanic isn't the end of the story there, is all I'm sayin'.

2. For Narrativist play I think it is difficult to say with certainity what the premise will be. Mike Holmes once postulated that having a character visit every weapon store in town looking for the right sword could be a statement about "what makes the warrior--the man or his weapon?" (I'm paraphraseing--I'm just pointing out that no single behavior is indicative of a CA).

In a sense, TRoS is exemplary of this: if you fight with enough SA's going it doesn't matter too much what your weapon skill or weapon choice is. If you don't then it *does*. That could well be Narrativist.

[ And if you just picked your SA's to be going "when you fight" then, you know, it may not be too. ]


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Ron Edwards
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Posts: 16490

« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2005, 08:56:19 AM »


Here's a big "me too" on the content of the thread so far. And a heavenward glance in hopes that no one is considering any of this to be disagreement with the essays. Absolutely necessary processing and clarification, as well as others' takes and examples, yes.

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