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Author Topic: A prefabricated story: is it Nar or Sim?  (Read 7144 times)
Aaron M. Sturgill
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Posts: 20


« on: August 16, 2005, 07:09:22 AM »

So, I have this story. It's a serialized psychological drama, in the genre of modern occult conspiracy, in the tradition of Twin Peaks, and somewhat in the gaming style of Unknown Armies. However, these details are semantic.

The story has a definitive progression, with a specific cast of characters. I've run the first installment/episode at a local convention and with some short-term (summer) groups in my area, where the response has been very positive. I constructed the campaign for use with such short-term groups. . . but naturally, the only drawback is that I haven't yet been able to complete the campaign beyond three or four episodes.

Now, I know that there are some 'struggling novelists' among the Forge members. However, I do not consider myself among their number. Point A: each and every player has breathed life into his or her character far beyond what I had envisioned for them. Point B: a couple of players have taken the narrative progression in different directions than I had imagined, creating a very different (and often superior) narrative to the one that I wrote.

In summation, I wish to tell a specific story with a specific cast of characters, but I wish to publish it as a role-playing campaign to be used with any play group that wishes to use it. Is this type of play considered Narrativism or Simulationism?

For now, I'm ignoring the amount of railroading of which I, as a GM, am guilty. I consider this an unavoidable side-effect of the style of play that I am trying to construct.

Any and all thoughts, including harsh criticism, are invited.

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Andrew Cooper
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« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2005, 08:34:23 AM »

My actual experience with Narrativist play is limited, so take my comments with a grain of salt.  Another disclaimer is that you've given us very little real information about the actual play experiences of the module/campaign and that makes analyzing anything difficult, if not impossible.

However, from your comments, I would gather that you have a pre-defined plot and that you employ quite a few Force techniques in order to hold the characters to that plot.  This in itself would indicate to me that you are not playing a Narrativist game.  Narrativism requires that players address Premise or create Theme.  To do that they must have the freedom to choose in the important and thematic decisions that occur during play.  Force techniques destroy that freedom in order to maintain a scripted outcome.  Hence you can't have both Narrative play and a lot (maybe not any) of Force at the same time. 

Of course, that doesn't mean your game is Sim either.  Hard to say without actual play.  In fact, I'd suggest posting over in Actual Play with some transcript of the games if you're really curious.

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Adam Dray
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« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2005, 09:01:47 AM »

I'm with Andrew. Without some examples of Actual Play, it'll be hard to call your game anything. But as it stands, I'd call it incoherent, since that's where railroading tends to fall. Give us some real examples to work with?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2005, 09:04:43 AM »

Hello,

Guys, quit saying "I can't tell" and then guessing. That always has disastrous consequences.

Aaron, I have to say, I can't even tell what you're asking. You say, "Is this type of play Narrativism or Simulationism," but what type of play? The type you performed? Some type you hope to promote with your text? Are those the same? None of that is clear to me.

Please clarify. Also bear in mind, there is absolutely no way I can help you with play that hasn't happened as promoted by a text that isn't yet written.

Best,
Ron
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Aaron M. Sturgill
Member

Posts: 20


« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2005, 03:30:54 PM »

Fair enough. I'll be posting shortly in Actual Play, once I transcribe a telling segment of play.

There are, however, a couple of questions I can pose at this point, given the feedback I've already received.

      (a) Is it Force when the PCs are presented with a no-brainer decision for plot development, as found in CRPGs (you can go through this door now and find what you're looking for, or you can screw around for a while, following dead ends, and then go through the door later)?

      (b) If so, is it possible to employ Force techniques while still allowing players to address Themes and Premises? This is more a query of opinion, since in my experience it is, especially if the GM has specific Themes he wishes to address to and with the PCs.

This thread turned into a general query, which I didn't intend, and for which I apologize. As stated above, I'll be posting some more constructive examples soon.
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Alan
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« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2005, 04:12:42 PM »

Aaron,

I like to view moments of addressing premise as a rorschak test, a suggestive, but unresolved question that must be answered.  The players answer _determines_ the direction of subsequent events.  For me as GM, the most delightful moments are when a player spins things off in a direction I never thought of.

The term Story Now refers to creating story _now_.  A moment where only one choice _must_ be made, or only one choice makes any sense, is not a chance to do that.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: August 16, 2005, 06:34:14 PM »

Hello Aaron,

These are pretty good general inquiries, and the answers are straightforward.

Most importantly, NO, it is impossible to address a Premise when the Theme is pre-set. That is simply and clearly using the Theme as a feature of prepped play, something to be communicated from you to them. There is no "address Premise" possible in those circumstances, because "create Theme when there was none yet" and "address Premise" are synonymous.

Best,
Ron
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Bill Cook
Member

Posts: 501


« Reply #7 on: August 17, 2005, 01:15:59 AM »

Quote from: Aaron M. Sturgill
.. is it possible to employ Force techniques while still allowing players to address Themes and Premises? This is more a query of opinion, since in my experience it is ..

This question, this attitude, I've seen before.  To some extent, it's like asking "if I hand voters a ballot with only one name on it*, will I still get the will of the people?" Obviously, no.

Quote from: Aaron M. Sturgill
.. especially if the GM has specific Themes he wishes to address to and with the PCs.

I assume he meant to say "Premise." That's like saying "especially if the name I had on the ballot is one I specifically chose for his views, and the constituency is purposefully chosen for relevance." Well, an incumbent senator may be the nominee because he wants to approve construction of a new nuclear facility, and that state's Labor Party may be the constituency because they need the jobs that would be created, BUT that doesn't make the election any more legitimate. Even if it were the Green Party, the election would STILL be fraudulent.

For Narrativist play, the protagonist must create the issue, develop the options and make a choice.

We've all had experiences where we had an idea of how things would go and the players came up with something we never considered that enhanced play. So which mode is that? Well, to continue my analogy, that sounds like handing them a one-candidate ballot, and they elected a write-in. (Again, we're assuming, this is a Premise-ful choice.) Does that meet the standard for addressing Premise? I don't know. But even if it does, whoever's writing up the ballot slips clearly misunderstands free and fair elections.

*Assuming that there are other, legal candidates.

** ** **

I ran a BW campaign in which one player sent a letter to another, commanding his character to ally a second army to their cause while her character went on a rescue mission. This would mean abandoning his army, leaving his second in command, with enemy forces within their borders; but she was the Etharch's daughter, whom he owed his allegiance! The fact that she sent this letter (her idea) fit her character's Premise quite well, which was something like "how far will you go to assert your quality?" Well, he chose to obey. His demonstrated Premise was "at what price, duty?" (We didn't write it out or anything. That's just de facto. In fact, I'm not a big fan of being explicit in this regard.) So off he goes into a foreign kingdom. The only thing I had decided about these people was that they were war mongerers, about to sail an invading force towards a neighbor. I had nothing more prepared. No NPC to meet with the visiting character, no clue about their opinion on lending an army. Nothing. How the hell could I have prepared? It was this other player's idea, and she made it up at the table!

My supposition: the above process was one of addressing Premise because not only were the options created and chosen by the players, but so were the values** they demonstrated. Nor did a pre-determined outcome color choice. (If anything, it would have been easier on me if the letter-receiving character hadn't been so slavish; then we would have remained in better fleshed out areas of the game world.)

**Independence, Duty.

P.S. I'm aware this forum is slated to become "Ask Ron About GNS." Standing by to back off.
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Aaron M. Sturgill
Member

Posts: 20


« Reply #8 on: August 17, 2005, 03:21:06 AM »

I just re-read the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, which pretty much answered all the questions I've posed here. Basically, I guess I've been designing games for players that are too lazy or disinterested to address premise themselves. Thanks for being understanding, guys -- I guess, even after a couple of years of lurking, reading, and designing, I don't have a firm grasp of the concepts or the vocabulary.
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Halzebier
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Posts: 216


« Reply #9 on: August 17, 2005, 11:28:40 AM »

I guess I've been designing games for players that are too lazy or disinterested to address premise themselves.

Don't be too hard on yourself or your players. Switching to narrativism is a big step, and can be daunting. Also, as Mike Holmes points out in one of his standard rants, "you can't sneak up on mode" (or at the very least, it's difficult), i.e. a gradual shift or hybrid approach is probably doomed with players used to one particular style.

(I'm not saying that's what you've been doing, mind you - it's just a point to (re)examine if you have trouble.)

My search-fu is close to zero, so I can't provide a link.

Regards,

Hal
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Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #10 on: August 17, 2005, 01:02:24 PM »

Basically, I guess I've been designing games for players that are too lazy or disinterested to address premise themselves.

Fuck all if I've figured out a concise remedy to this situation, other than, "Go find some other people to play with who give a shit."

So, what's probably necessary for us to know is if you're more interested now in introducing Narrativist play to your group or if you want to continue to develop your original idea. As Ron points out, Narrativist play cannot occur if your Theme is predetermined.
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Bill Cook
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Posts: 501


« Reply #11 on: August 17, 2005, 01:13:24 PM »

Aaron:

Some other points: If you're having fun (and it sounds like you are, other than some frustration with not being able to complete the campaign), then you've arrived. No need to hang your head if it's not a coveted mode, which there aren't any, and no need to strain towards a perceived high ground. Also, mode is not a barrier to publication. Your enjoyment and success in running the episodes with different groups should encourage you that a customer could buy your campaign and have a great time playing through it.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #12 on: August 18, 2005, 07:24:18 PM »

I just re-read the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, which pretty much answered all the questions I've posed here.
Assuming that's the one at Places to Go, People to Be, I'm glad it helped. I am going to take a moment to answer your previous questions anyway.
(a) Is it Force when the PCs are presented with a no-brainer decision for plot development, as found in CRPGs (you can go through this door now and find what you're looking for, or you can screw around for a while, following dead ends, and then go through the door later)?
This will sound silly, but is it force of the corridor goes a hundred yards and has no doors in it?

There are going to be times in every scenario where there really aren't any other choices. The question about force (or illusionist techniques) comes in when there actually does appear to be a choice. If the players are given to think that they have control of something and they don't, that's force/illusion.
(b) If so, is it possible to employ Force techniques while still allowing players to address Themes and Premises? This is more a query of opinion, since in my experience it is, especially if the GM has specific Themes he wishes to address to and with the PCs.
I think there's some shoddy thinking about force/illusionist techniques; part of it is because of a mistake in the original wording of the glossary (where the word "premise" was used as a placeholder and not replaced with a better word before it went to press).

Yes, you can use such techniques successfully in any kind of play without interfering with agendum, as long as you do not use it where it would interfere with agendum.

At the same time, these techniques will destroy any agendum if they are used to control that which the players need to control.

It is very nearly self-evident that gamism is completely hampered if the referee is surreptitiously guaranteeing that the players can't lose, can't make fools of themselves, and ultimately have nothing at risk. Gamism is about what the players have at risk in the social order, and if they can never fall flat on their faces and be embarrassed, they aren't risking anything, and sooner or later they're going to realize that the game isn't any fun because they don't really have any control over the things that matter to why they are playing.

In exactly the same way, narrativism is about making moral statements, about saying something about the world through your character and his interaction with the situations in play. To the degree that this is blocked by what the referee wants to say about those situations, the player is going to be frustrated.

At the same time, there are thousands of ways you can use illusionist techniques to enhance player agendum by pushing out of the way all those pesky decisions that get in the way.

"I need to buy some bullets."  "O.K., this afternoon you went to the store and bought some bullets. Fifty enough?"  "Yeah, that will be good."

What? Where's the part about finding the store, rolling to see whether they have the right kind of bullets in the right quantity, figuring out how much you had to spend for it? It was all waved away by an illusionist technique, a decision by someone with the credibility to control such a thing that you didn't have to go through those steps to get where you wanted to be.

"You come out of the woods to a road; are you going left or right?"  "I'll go left."  "You continue that direction for half an hour and come into a village."

Not so obvious, maybe; but the village is where things are going to happen next. The referee asked whether the player was going left or right, but the choice made no difference whatsoever.  Whichever way he went, he was headed for the village. Why the illusion? Well, how many games have been ruined because the players went away from the place where something could happen, wandering in the wilderness for days, or whatever? Here the referee used a blatant illusionist technique: he gave the player a choice that had absolutely no impact on what would happen next.  Note that he did not ask whether the character was going to head toward or away from the village; that would have been entirely different. He gave the player a choice with no information on which to base a decision, and took away all impact that such an uninformed decision might have on play. I consider that a good thing, in the right context. It's the use of force to prevent the players from accidentally derailing their story.

Extensively pre-plotted stories generally are very difficult. You have to create situations which are going to happen no matter what the players do, while at the same time getting the players involved in trying to do something. It can be done if it is evident that the unfolding events are driven by forces beyond their control and people beyond their reach, and that there is a course of action they can take now that will move them into a position to stop things before they reach their conclusion. Unfortunately, it is usually done by the referee disempowering all player choice where it would derail the pre-planned events.

What I try to do with my more tightly plotted worlds is set up the opposition and work out what they will do if there is no interference, supplemented with what resources they have to deal with any interference they encounter. Then if the players do nothing, or nothing that will matter in relation to the scheme, the plot continues to unfold as written; but if they interfere, it falls on me to work out how those characters behind the plot will respond to this without going beyond their resources.

The best alternative, I expect, is to establish a trailblazing approach in your social contract, that is, organize play around the concept that the players are primarily interested in making your story happen they way you hoped (which presumably includes their success) by following the clues you've provided, and you will allow the cards to fall where they will without exercising force to put them back where you thought they should be.

I hope that helps.

--M. J. Young
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Aaron M. Sturgill
Member

Posts: 20


« Reply #13 on: August 20, 2005, 09:34:20 AM »

Assuming that's the one at Places to Go, People to Be, I'm glad it helped.

Actually, it was in Story Now, but I imagine the core thoughts have been repeated in articles I have yet to read. I know I've seen this title before, but I can't find it on the Articles page right now. Could you throw a link my way?

Yes, you can use such techniques successfully in any kind of play without interfering with agendum, as long as you do not use it where it would interfere with agendum.

At the same time, these techniques will destroy any agendum if they are used to control that which the players need to control.

[. . .]

The best alternative, I expect, is to establish a trailblazing approach in your social contract, that is, organize play around the concept that the players are primarily interested in making your story happen they way you hoped (which presumably includes their success) by following the clues you've provided, and you will allow the cards to fall where they will without exercising force to put them back where you thought they should be.

This final paragraph was extremely helpful -- or concise, anyway. It states specifically something that I've been struggling with how to express. I feel very confident in giving players the necessary freedom to address Premises that we all have expressed, while still presenting the core of the narrative I have laid out.

It may be that I'm vainly trying to reach El Dorado, but in my experience so far, it's mostly dependent upon the players involved whether it errs on the side of Nar or Sim. I'm certain that Ron and others are cringing at my continued misuse of terms I don't understand, but what I'm trying to say is that with the right players, the narrative can, at any time, take on a new and better shape than the one I anticipated (depending on my skills as a GM, of course).

I'm not sure how coherently that was stated, but I think I've arrived at a conclusion for my purposes. Now I just have to figure out the best way to post a segment of play. . . .
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Larry L.
Member

Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #14 on: August 20, 2005, 03:04:58 PM »

Actually, it was in Story Now, but I imagine the core thoughts have been repeated in articles I have yet to read. I know I've seen this title before, but I can't find it on the Articles page right now. Could you throw a link my way?

Darn, I assumed that was what you were talking about too. The link is
http://ptgptb.org/0027/theory101-02.html
It's really excellent.
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