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Chasing Premise

Started by erithromycin, March 04, 2002, 03:59:00 PM

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Spot on.  

The Gurps blurb is attractive because it promises to provide a consistent framework within which one can explore the characters and worlds of one's own choice.  Premise has nothing to do with it.  Premise is not an end in itself for all gamers, nor even a desirable feature.

In my Elizabethan Call of Cthulhu game I have not included any form of premise.  The game is about exploration of setting essentially.  A premise certainly could be fitted in, how much can you close your eyes to the consequences of your ambitions would be a good one, but I didn't.  Why?  Because it would have added nothing to what I wished to do with that game.

What did I wish to do?  I wanted a simulation of an alternate history Elizabethan era, identical to our own save that Cthulhoid entities and magics were real.  The characters then live in that world.  As a simulationist goal that is pretty much complete, premise adds nothing.

In fact, premise would potentially get in the way.  The real world lacks a premise, save to the extent we create our own.  A simulated reality therefore ideally should also lack premise, save that the characters create themselves.  This would be fatal to most (if not all) narrativist games, but it is wholly compatible with simulationist gaming.

Premise is a narrativist thing.  It is, IMO, important in narrativist gaming.  Extrapolating it to gamism or sim just doesn't work, IMO.
AKA max


Simulationist gaming is about situation, not premise in the narrativist sense.

Exploring what it is like to be a vampire is simulationist.  Asking what price is worth paying for survival is narrativist (I would suggest).  One is about character and setting.  The other is really about the player and their perceptions of the question which lies at the game's heart.

Different things and different goals.  The former does not require the latter.  Simulationist games generally don't have questions lying at their hearts.  They have interesting people to be and places to go.
AKA max

Mike Holmes

Again, there is potential confusion here. Some people are using the terms in one of Ron's fashions, and then ignoring the other meanings from Ron's Essay, while other people are defining Premise by their own terms. To paraphrase Ron's concepts (correct me if I'm way off here, Ron):

Early or Proto- Premise: somewhat like E's pitch, just an idea of what the game is about in general.

Premise: specifically what the characters will be doing in the game.

Narrative Premise: a premise that asks a question about an issue so that the characters can answer it thematically

Gamist Premise: a premise that defines the arena of competition (or realm of striving, or something like that to be more PC) in which the characters will find themselves

Simulationist Premise: a premise that defines what is to be explored by the characters. Just like Max (Balbinus) said above.

So, by Ron's definition, all games have premises. Only Narrativist games have Narrativist Premises.

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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Mike's got it nailed. I reeeaally reeeaally wish people would be more careful about that.

One eensy point:Simulationist premises are qualitatively different from both Gamist and Narrativist ones, as the latter two modes have overt, secondary personal agendas during play and the former tends to downplay or limit such agendas, sticking with the "primary" agenda of Exploration (ie imagining things).

Thus Max's post at 11:14 is perfectly correct insofar as Narrativist premise is concerned, but his post is potentially confusing because, obviously, the broader meanings of premise still apply to Simulationist play.



To move forward then, if the question is "does every game have an implied narrativist premise, even where the game itself is not narrativist?"  then I would say that the answer is unequivocally no.

Does Gurps contain a narrativist premise?  No, again IMO.

Does Gurps contain any sort of a premise, again I would say no.  It is a tool kit.  It raises no questions about issues.  It defines no arena (the game world or relevant supplement will do that).  It contains nothing to explore.  It is a system, like Fudge it is there to be used in order to create something else.  That something else will then have some form of premise (used in the larger sense).

So, if the question is "does every game have some form of premise?"  I would again say no, not in design.  Although it may always acquire one in play (again premise used in the broader sense).

Does DnD have a premise?  This is more interesting.  I'm not sure.  The rules hardwire certain gamist concerns such as levelling up and gaining prowess which suggests to me that a gamist premise is built right in there.  Agree, disagree?
AKA max

Seth L. Blumberg

Quote from: erithromycinDid anyone just play GURPS, or did they port things over?

I've played GURPS. It never worked very well, even back when I was a gonzo ultra-realist Simulationist. (Aria cured me of that little neurosis.)

Quote from: erithromycinDo GURPS sourcebooks introduce Premise [we know they've got Pitch]?

Generally, no. GURPS is very Simulationist; sourcebooks focus on providing Setting to Explore.

Quote from: erithromycinWhere does RIFTs sit in all this?

Far away from me, I dearly hope.
the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Maybe my fundamental point in the essay about GURPS in particular is being missed.

GURPS has a Premise - a Simulationist one, i.e, to Explore something. That something is causality, in and of itself. GURPS is very satisfying to those who, in play, are reassured and happy when "Z" happens as a result of (in-game) X and Y.

Jumped over the fence as the hail of bullets whistles overhead? Fine. Mowed down by the bullets upon failing to jump the fence? Fine.

The point is that the guns' type and number of rounds fired, the character's ability to jump, the respective characters' rates of motion, and the circumstances of things like visibility and the height of the fence were all taken into account. That was the point of play, period - to make sure that nothing relevant in that game-world is being left out of the causal picture. Either of the outcomes presented in the above paragraph is perfectly OK as long as no one muddied the waters with their personal agendas. (That is to say, the deliberate negation of agenda is now, itself, the agenda.)

Thus GURPS, at its root, Explores System. As I've said before, the next step is to provide Setting in which this can be done, and the publishing line helpfully delivers this as well.


P.S. I'm not claiming that GURPS is the be-all and end-all of this sort of game design. Marco's JAGS, for instance, is presented specifically as a "better mousetrap" for this mode of play.
P.P.S. I'm pretty sure that my essay is explicit both about this form of play and about GURPS in particular, in the Simulationist Premise section.

Blake Hutchins

For what it's worth, I've played quite a bit of GURPS in my time, mostly in the '80's, and enjoyed it.  I'm an inveterate world-builder, so I always used original settings, and they seemed to work pretty darn well, even with my loosey-goosey style of running games.

Strangely enough, the most fun I had with GURPS was with a short-short, "limited series," four session game using the SUPERS rules.  My theory now -- armed with the intellectual tools of the Forge -- is that I stumbled onto building the game around a strong premise instead of producing a deep background and storyline.  I had a few linear chokepoints I steered players toward in the beginning, but the last three sessions went completely off the deep end, to the point where the players and I were sitting around in a half-stunned, half-delighted state after the game wrapped.  That's an argument for being able to use Premise with non-optimized systems, clunky as it is to do so.  What seemed to drive the evolution of the premise from the rules perspective was that I retained the full GURPS lethality with the use of superpowers, such that collateral damage became a HUGE consideration during play.  In practice it meant the characters had a choice to make regarding how ruthless they were willing to be in pursuit of "good."

The Premise was:  "Who chooses what is the greater good?"