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Narrativism = few stats?

Started by Joe Murphy (Broin), February 21, 2002, 11:17:48 AM

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Joe Murphy (Broin)

There's a simple subject line for y'all.

A game like Sorceror has 4 stats. Donjon Krawl has about half a dozen. Is more than a few stats necessarily a bad thing for a Narrativist game?

I'm working on TransMachines a bit at the moment. It's a Narrativist system for giant robot games, based on source material like TransFormers and the Robo Machines comic. Now, originally, I'd been working with Fudge, but since discovering the Forge, I've got more of a sense of how I should emphasise Narrativism in the game. Fortune in the Middle and that sort of thing.

Originally, the game has mismatched Sim/Narr goals. I was working with 12 fairly ordinary attributes, divided into two categories: physical and programming. I originally felt it was important to quantify the characters in lots of different fields, so we had stats like Experience and Style, Sensors and Courage.

Now that I'm working towards Narrativist goals... am I confusing my goals by having so many stats?

Should Narr stats just cover the stats that make a difference to the Premise? Eg, if the TransFormers game is about, say, loyalty to the cause, should it just concentrate on 'Loyalty'?


Mike Holmes

This should be covered by the "Size is not relevant to Mode" axiom. It has nothing to do with the number of stats, but how well those stats support hte premise.

Is the game really all about loyalty? If so, then do any of your stats miss the target? So they all pertain in some manner? Or are they just distractions? If so, then you might ditch or consolidate a few. Note how Sorcerer does not get rid of physical stats entirely, but instead focuses them al into one stat that has an impact on the premise.

OTOH, perhaps your game is about more than just that simple concept. Perhaps you need more stats? If this is a Narrativist game, what's your Nar Premise? Loyalty is just a topic, not a conflict. Get the Premise sorted out, and you'll have an easier time figuring out what is important and what is not.

BTW, the idea of programming stats sounds cool to me. Then again, I am a programmer. Perhaps if you posted the stats themselves along with the Premise we could be more helpful.

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Ron Edwards


This is one of those questions which can spawn thousands of wriggling larva but not a single, actual, developed offspring (answer). There are so many foundational questions that have to be addressed first ...

Why attributes at all? As opposed to skills, or as opposed to more abstract things? (Notice I don't use the term "stat," as it does not apply - this is one of those jargon terms that ought to be expunged.) Are you asking about descriptors of any kind?

What does "too many" mean? Does it apply to other forms of role-playing besides Narrativist ones? For instance, a Rolemaster character has 10 attributes in addition to a long skill list and a lot of secondary numbers. Does it have too many, too few, or just right?

To re-phrase the above question, is asking about the number of descriptors of any kind a specifically Narrativist issue in the first place? Or should it be considered more in terms of role-playing at all?

Contrast Zero, which has a list of specific skills/abilities and a single number used to manage their Effectiveness(es), with Amber, which has four abstract values to "account" for any activity the player cares to name. Which has too many, or too few, and of what?

Since we are talking about Narrativism, Mike is absolutely right (I would say that; he's quoting my usual interrogatory pattern) - "What's the point?" We can't talk about Narrativist design unless Premise, of the focused, Egri-style Narrativist sort, is well-articulated. Give us an idea of what a protagonist in the stories-to-be-created must necessarily cope with.

Please do not mistake any of the above for recommendations. I am not suggesting, for instance, that attributes are "bad." I do think that each of these questions needs to be addressed, by you, with care, before even thinking of the question you've presented.


Joe Murphy (Broin)

Thankyou *very* much, Mike and Ron. You asked exactly the right questions. The Forge is absolutely *fantastic* at asking the right questions. I must apologise for using the forum like a blackboard, but I now know what to do.

What I'm putting together is a toolbox system for giant robot fiction, primarily based on the TransFormers comics and shows. I was overly concerned that in my attempt to model giant robots, I was ignoring the premise of the source fiction. Hmm, how to explain this...

Sorceror asks a very broad question, and each mini-supplement refines that question slightly. Each playing group refines that broad question too. And *then*, each session refines the question a little more. 'What would you do to get what you want' becomes 'would you sacrifice Bob as part of your plans?' Humanity is a generalised track that we rate our answers on.

My very broad question is 'What does it mean to be both a machine and a person?' The game will not be grippingly soul-searching stuff, so that premise should do. Each game session, though, will ask more specific questions, just like at the end of every show, we have a moral (and what did we learn in today's episode, kids?). I just had an idea about tracking the exploration of stated morals/themes in a sort of Gamist way (characters get scores for exploring the moral in some way each scene) but I'll think on that.

This game is going to be about as Narrativist as Donjon Krawl. Lots of author stance, plenty of pace and fluid combat. It's not a Narrativist game like Sorceror, with assumed depth of character and emotion. It's a lot less 'serious', if you see what I mean. (Are there any comedic Sorceror supplements?)

So, we have a premise: 'What does it mean to be both a machine and a person?' As an example of a system that will explore that, there will be no equivalent of 'experience points'. Characters will generally not change over time, apart from one attribute: 'Experience'. They might receive modifications and upgrades, so the system will handle that instead. Upgrades will not relate to how a character behaved in the past.

Phew. This is fine. I think I was taking the game too seriously, and looking for depth where there didn't *need* to be.

To answer your question, Mike, here's a rough outline of what I planned. Not terrifically interesting so far.

Characters have 6 physical attributes and 6 'core' attributes. The physical are Frame (both toughness and strength), Coordination, Style, Sensors, Fire Combat and Close Combat. The core attributes are Intellect, Courage, Experience, Reaction (flexibility, creativity and reaction time), Communication (the ability to inspire, for example) and Tech (facility with technology).

Physical attributes can change relatively easily - a better paint job will spruce up your Style, or a cutting edge radar suite will improve your Sensors. Core attributes generally don't change, and in fact, can be extracted and moved to new bodies.

Like Sorceror, rolls can 'snowball' - a good Coordination roll might boost Close Combat ("I drive into the bad guy at top speed!"), or a Communication roll might boost the Courage of the group. Characters also have a 'Function' attribute that adds to related rolls, a bit like Cover.

Anyway, that's beside the point. Thanks again, both, I think I have more of a sense of where I'm going.

Joe, adding The Forge to his will.

[Addendum: I realised that in this game, the core attribute does not have to be some representation of the duality of being a machine and a person. *All* the attributes can explore that question, all the time.]

Ron Edwards


Quick key point: Donjon Krawl is Gamist, not Narrativist. You're mixing up some methodological concerns for goal-oriented ones; since Gamism and Narrativism both rely on real-person agendas as priorities, certain elements of design will be similar for certain types of each mode.

Comedic Sorcerer supplements? Well, Demon Cops is a tad lighter than most (hell, after Schism and Hellbound, there was nowhere to go but up[beat]). But if you want biting comedic Narrativism, I shyly offer Elfs ...

A lot of what you describe for your game is a great Narrativist foundation. It's also the basis for an older design of mine called The Human Machine. I'll send you a copy - give me 24 hours to hunt everything down.


Joe Murphy (Broin)

Sorry, Ron, my bad. I reread bits of Donjon Krawl after posting, and realised I was mixing up just that. The goal of the game is not to tell a story, per se. Ok, all filed away now. I'd mistakenly learned to associate certain stances with Narrativism.

Thanks for your shy Elfs, I'll pick up that... ooh... looking at my finances, possibly in quarter 3, 2002. I already owe Raven for a copy of Electric Ghosts.

'The Human Machine'? Groovy. =)


Jack Spencer Jr

OK.  I'm responding to the subject line rather than the thread, so take this as you will.

By this I assume you mean and are questioning the trend of narrativist games to have fewer stats.

I believe it's more along these lines.  At it's core, RPGs are a social activity for using the imagination.  The rules are heaped on top of this.  The design philosophy of many RPGs until recent years has been to model reality in some way.  The reasoning behind this is that when you have a bunch of people trying to imagine the same thing, a structure is required to help this happen.  

Literature have the structure of the what the author says goes.  Should the author state a character has red hair, the reader has no choice but to envision that person with red hair.  But part of the power in literature is in what the author leaves up to the reader's discretion.  Does the character wearing a blue or yellow shirt?  The author doesn't say so it can be whatever the reader chooses and in this very subtile way the story ceases to be just the author's invention but the reader's as well.

RPGs increase this shared ownership greatly so it requires a different structure from literature.

Realism was seized upon early because it seemed to be a logical common ground for people to use.  This has, unfortunately, proven to not be the case as countless pointless debates rage wherever RPGs are discussed.  Recently, a concept called versimilitude has gained favor but this just breaks down the concept of reality into various categories (an RPG about movie action heroes should not work the same way as on about wacky cartoon antics) and the previous debate is just more complicated.

But what has been happening, and it seems to be espacially true of Narrative design but history will tell better, is an RPG will have as many stats as it needs or requires.  An RPG concept where the character's strength is irrelavant will not have a Strength stat.  One of the stats that is typically included out-of-hand.

So a Narrativist design does not have less stats, per se, just that it only has the stats it requires.  It is quite possible for a Narrativist design to have more stats that any other RPG that has gone before.  It's just that no one has made this game yet.

I can understand that you're just noticing a trend, but it is a trend that does not necessarily reflect how to make a Narrativist RPG or even how to make a good one since it looks only at the surface and not at the reasons behind it.

It would be like listening to popular music and deciding that for a song to be good (or popular) it must have the following attributes:

first verse
second verse
guitar solo
third verse

Many good songs may follow this formula (or part of it) but it is not the formula that made them good and following the formula will not make a song good.  And several great songs do not follow this pattern even slightly.

In the end, a good song is just that, a good song.  We can recognize patterns in the songwriting technique, but there are reasons behind these patterns that can be missed if we focus on the pattern.  So it is in RPG design.