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Author Topic: Comparing and Contrasting Engle Matrix Games and Narrative RPGs (Long)  (Read 6339 times)
MatrixGamer
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« on: September 20, 2005, 10:35:17 AM »

The following are two article I put out in my newly resurected newsletter "The Matrix Gamer".

These are my thoughts on narrative RPGs. I'd like your thoughts on the subject. I think the basic intent of the games is different even thought they can look the same on the surface.

Oh, also my web page has been updated http://www.io.com/~hamster

The full newsletter is on my live journal for 9-20-05 http://www.livejournal.com/users/matrixgamer/452.html

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

DESCRIPTION VERSUS PRESCRIPTION AND BEYOND
By Chris Engle

In the early 1990’s I ran a small newsletter called “Experimental Game Group.” One subscriber – I can’t remember who now – talked about descriptive and prescriptive games. This article takes that idea and applies it to present day game design.

First some definitions.

Prescriptive games tell the players a set of procedures to follow. The mechanical actions are done (moving counters/figures, adding up numbers, rolling dice, consulting tables and the like) and the rules tell you what the outcome is. There is the idea that you are “simulating” the event and that the game gives some insight into how that action works. To some extent this may be true but it is also false since the mechanical actions done bear no resemblance to the mechanical actions of the actual events. The player gains no insight into these steps. If the game taught cookie baking – this method might list the ingredients but leave out how they are mixed or cooked and just jump to the eating.

Descriptive games by contrast use different procedures. Rather than skip the middle, they ask they players to “describe” what happens. Matrix Games do this by player’s arguments, narrative role play games do it by passing control of the game around between players. The method lacks the mathematical rigor of proscriptive games but has the advantage in allowing players to see how and why events happen.

From the late 1980’s on I’ve always felt I was fighting against prescriptive games, trying to establish the legitimacy of descriptive games/Matrix Games. I was unaware of narrative RPG ideas at the time. Matrix Games grew out of war games rather than role playing. War games are notoriously prescriptive and making things up as you go along is definitely seen as cheating.

Descriptive games still seem like cheating – or at least as not simulating events. Prescriptive games try to find mathematical formulas that recreate in numbers the same patterns observed in nature. In a perfect rigorous world game would be science. In our imperfect world they are art. Napoleon’s maxim of “defense is to offense as three is to one.” Which games have interpreted as it takes three to one odds before an attack is assured of success. This may produce a “correct” outcome but I rankled at not knowing how it happened.

Matrix Game arguments seemed to me a way of getting at the lost data while still having a fun game. Since they allow people to use their imaginations to come up with arguments they are mechanically closer to real life action since brainstorming is a part of planning. The conflict between competing visions of events is played out in the dice rolling of the game (which is prescriptive and not at all how real life events happen) and is in fact a form of communication between the players about their perceptions of how the world really works. It is not mathematical science but it does give good solid qualitative data.

Now my crusader zeal for conflict with “mainstream games” has ebbed, largely due to Matrix Games moving closer to becoming mainstream.

Around 2000 a body of independent role play game writers began publishing narrative games. As I said earlier these games use various mechanisms to pass the authority of the game master to make things up in the game to the players. My sense is that these games play and feel different from Matrix Games but they are similar and as they gain acceptance they move Matrix Games out of their spot on the fringe of gaming towards the mainstream.

Interestingly narrative games make Matrix Games seem more restrictive. I say this because in a matrix argument the player has to keep the referee in mind and not do too much or be too extreme lest the ref give them a crumby change of succeeding. Narrative games pass power between gamers with the only check being dice rolls or bidding to keep control of events and resolve s dramatic conflict. Narrative games seem to have grown out of a rivalry with D+D like prescriptive games that use dice rolls for everything and which seldom create the tension found in a good short story or book. Similar to my self made struggle but different in that they had no desire to create a simulation game.

Narrative role play games and “Indie” RPG’s in general have developed a language to describe what they are doing which is well developed and now difficult to follow to the uninitiated. “Gamist” applies to people who play games to win them. “Narrativist” applies to people who put the story first and who favor rules that allow them to do this easily. “Simulationists” applies to players who want to get into their character’s psychi and be true to it even if it means wrecking the game for everyone else. Rest assured that those initiated in “Forge Speak” (from the Forge web forum) will say I’ve got all this wrong and that I should read half a dozen forum threads so I do get it. I’ve read them, you can to if you like or you can skip it and get back to this article.

Indie game jargon has lead to a lot of new games that have similarities to Matrix Games and though we don’t speak the same language I think we are saying essentially the same thing. Descriptive games are good. Descriptive games are valid.

My crusader quest of winning a kingdom for Matrix Games in a world of prescriptive games seems to be won. Now I find a bunch of other small kingdoms near by to compete with.

One of the big mental shifts the gaming community has made in the last 18 years is to accept that making it up as you go along is not cheating. Now the debate is how to best do that.

Matrix Games can be used to tell stories but that is not what they were first made to do. In their simplest terms Matrix Games are a set of procedures on how to decide which player argument happen and which don’t. I only started applying this to stories around 1995, prior to that they were just war games – no story just fighting. When I did come to the idea of plot – I saw it as just a set of suggestions on what players might want to do. If they wanted to fight they still could – or they could fight over politics, fight over finding clues, recruiting agents, stealing treasures etc. It is all very boardgamie. I even have a mental geography I use in games that looks like a loose area map board game like diplomacy.

Matrix Games use a referee who acts as a sort of weak game master. Play moves from critical event to critical event rather than from scene to scene. It can be done very competitively.

All so different from narrative RPGs – or at least that is what my rivaling brain tells me.

Narrative RPGs grew out of role play games in the late 1980’s, at the same time I started work on Matrix Games. They were not as connected to war gaming and it does not seem they were at all interested in simulation. They wanted good story telling from the get go.  We both opted on verbal techniques (arguments for MGs and scene descriptions for RPGs) but they had the idea of plot there from the get go.

If plot is going to be developed actions need to be focused on that. If players had permission to make up scenes and say what happens in them (just as D+D game master have done for decades) they could move the plot forward in ways undoable in prescriptive RPGs. Rather than do twenty separate rolls on small tasks they would do one big roll after a build up description. Fail the roll and someone else would describe how you fail. This speeds up play and focuses the action on the dramatic conflict rather than all the details of how things happen.

We are so close but so very far apart.

This growing body of descriptive games will confront small differences in personal preference and intent that will make these games heretical rivals. “Look, that man has no soul! See how he rolls the dice wrong.” I suspect our jargon will keep up from understanding one another just as prescriptive game companies have disagreed over the best way to do a simulation game. I’m sure the market will pick the winners and losers. Until then we will market to our individual strengths move fully into the mainstream.

I’m biased. I like the way Matrix Games work in games more than Narrative RPGs. MGs be they Engle Matrix Games, Thrust and Parry Matrix Games, Politics by other means miniatures MGs, feel more like a game. A funny thing about MGs is that depending on how they’re packaged they can look like a boardgame, role play game, miniatures game, play by email game, or a type of game all by themselves.  Narrative games may be able to do this but so far they haven’t. So far they’ve only been used as role play games, since they grew out of RPGs that makes sense.

I look forward to an interesting set of rivalries developing over the next few years as we compete for market share over the growing descriptive game market.  I think a new crusade has begun. Not one about us versus them but more of  us versus us and aren’t those always the nastiest?


MATRIX GAME CHESS A THOUGH EXPERIMENT
By Chris Engle

Ah ha! I’ve found the key difference between Matrix Games and narrative RPGs. They looked the same because when MGs are applied to a narrative task they look the same but applied to different tasks and they look very different.

Imagine you are sitting down to play a game of chess. Before the first piece is moved, you and the other player decide to run two games, simultaneously. One will be run by a Matrix Game. Each turn the moving player will make an argument about what happens next. The other game will be run using narrative techniques – control of the narrative shift from one player to another. The game begins and almost immediately the look different.

In Matrix Game Chess the player makes an argument about what move or attack happens that turn. For instance, “All my pawns move two squares forward.” An outside referee might use the following decision matrix to decide how strong arguments are.

Legal chess moves – Very Strong
Non-standard move or attack – Strong
Multiple piece moves – Average
Multiple stand attacks – Weak
Weird shit – Very Weak

The arguments are used to resolve what moves and attacks happen. They step into the position of the rules of chess – ie what a legal move is. Play still focuses on taking the king because though the “how to play” changes, the goal of play hasn’t. It is still chess.

Meanwhile the narrative game goes off in wild directions. The goal of a narrative game is to find conflict and build up to a dramatic showdown. One player starts describing the game being played. Since watching chess played is about as much fun as watching grass grow the player has to choose – is the conflict in the game itself, is it between the players outside of the game, is it between the chessmen (ala “Through the looking glass”) or somewhere else?

First assume the player decides it is between players. The description launches into a scene about why they are playing the game and what stakes they are playing for. Say it is a knight and devil playing for his soul or some other Swedish plot. The actual moves are mere plot devices. The game could almost be ignored.

Next assume it is a Lewis Carroll fantasy game. Everything is allegory. It has even less to do with chess.

Now assume it actually is about the game. The narrator might decide to have it be about radically changing rules of play and thus be like a Matrix Game but more likely to keep the theme of “chess game” consistent they will stick to the rules of chess and just focus on legal moves.

No mater which type of game is played, the actual game of chess is a foil for the plot rather than a game in itself. The side that dramatically needs to win will win rather than the one who plays the best game of chess.

Narrative games need a story with conflict to structure them.

Matrix Games can take story or leave it alone. Arguments are just a means to resolve which actions happen. They do not have to care which arguments are move dramatic.

I can imagine Matrix Game Chess being fun to play – I doubt a narrative RPG game of chess would be.
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
Halzebier
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« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2005, 03:24:20 AM »

To get some context, I've read your Actual Play thread on the Folio Engle Matrix Game at Gen Con:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16479.0

I'm not sure I'd call this "narrativist". Correct me if I'm wrong - there is a very real possibility -, but it seems to me as if the players play through a - calm down - pre-determined plot (e.g., in a mystery in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes stories, they "find the body", "determine the cause of death" etc.).

The fun is in filling in the details (i.e. add color), but there are two crucial differences to many mainstream games:

(a) The players get to add color in regard to much, much more than just their characters.

(b) The game is coherent, i.e. contrary to many mainstream games, it does not state the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast.

I'd tentatively call it "simulationist", though I do not consider this a negative term. Please keep in mind that very different simulationist designs are possible (i.e. yours might well be unique).

Regards

Hal (who's probably jumped to all sorts of wrong conclusions)
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komradebob
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« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2005, 08:10:57 AM »

Talking about MGs is a little funky, mainly because various MG incarnations use techniques/mechanics that can be used to support games with different Creative agendas.

My personal feeling is that at the technique level, MGs have good Gamist support, but they do get a little weird in that those Gamist supporting techniques are intimately tied to Causal Relationships ( something generally associated with Simulationist play supports).

Throwing a further bit of weirdness in, MGs often allow for participants to affect changes to parts of the SIS outside of the boundaries normally associated with character player participants. Further, in the main line of MG development, the referee is much more neutral than in traditional rpg design, with the bulk of events development/ event introduction resting with the other players. If I understand correctly, the referee generally acts primarily as host and introducer of the initial situation and player goals, with a follow up role as judge of argument likelihood.The ability of participants to heavily influence the development of events is something often (not exclusively) associated with Narrativist design.

( Politics by Other Means is a little different because of the lack of permanent judge, but that can be discussed later).

On a broader level than MGs, however, I think this points to a bit of a blindspot in consideration of the relationship between techniques and other levels of The Big Model. Generally accepted wisdom here at The Forge seems to be that any technique can be used to support any CA. I tend to believe that to be true, however, once we begin to discuss clusters of techniques, that situation tends to change.

That last bit is undoubtedly a derailment, so if anyone wants to discuss it, let's start another thread.

Best regards,
Robert
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Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys
Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2005, 02:02:38 PM »

Chris, I find your article rather troubling. 

First is this part:
Quote
Rest assured that those initiated in “Forge Speak” (from the Forge web forum) will say I’ve got all this wrong and that I should read half a dozen forum threads so I do get it. I’ve read them, you can to if you like or you can skip it and get back to this article.

I don't understand this at all.  Firstly, you're right...your summary of the terms is pretty abysmally off base especially when you start talking about sim players ruining games for others.  But given that you KNOW your summary is off base, why would you persist in publishing them.  Its rather an injustice to the Forge to misrepresent core concepts and then not only flippantly dismiss criticism of your misrepresentation but also discourage readers from seeking out further information.

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive but this whole paragraph seems extraordinarily unfriendly.  All the more so because its only purpose seems to be to provide an opportunity to snipe at jargon.  What gives with that?


Quote
I look forward to an interesting set of rivalries developing over the next few years as we compete for market share over the growing descriptive game market.  I think a new crusade has begun. Not one about us versus them but more of  us versus us and aren’t those always the nastiest?

I also don't understand this.  Rivalries with whom?  Between other games like Matrix Games.  Between Matrix Games and games you're referring to as "Narrative" Games.  Between different "Narrative" Games?

I don't see any such rivalries.  Alls I see in continued ongoing cooperation, assistance and mutual enthusiasm.  I certainly have no intention of developing any kind of "rivalry".  I fully intend to support other games, recommend other games, and even advertise other games for free in the back of my own games (and encourage you to do the same).  Any sort of rivalry would not only be stupidly pointless but also counter productive.  The success of indie games other than mine does nothing but increase market exposure for all indie games including mine.  Why in the hell would I want to shrink the market over some silly idea of competeing.  Where are you seeing us vs. us crusades?..that concept doesn't even make sense to me.


As for the actual content of your article...well all I can really say is that you've confounded "narrative" with "narrativist" two concepts that aren't related in any way save sharing the same root.

There are many games that use narrative (i.e. the mechanical process of resolving things by people speaking) which are in no way shape or form are "Narrativist".  In fact, your use of the term "descriptive" is pretty much synonomous with "narrative".

Further there are many games that are Narrativist (i.e. commonly played in a Narrativist fashion) whose primary resolution mechanic is not primarily based on people describing the resolution in narrative form (Sorcerer and Riddle of Steel are pretty obvious and easy examples).

So I'm not really sure what the point of your article is given that you've bungled the concept of Narrativist rather badly.


My most constructive criticism would be as follows:  Near as I can tell you are attempting to compare Non Narrativist descriptive games (like Matrix) with Narrativist descriptive games (like perhaps Universalis or PTA).  I'd say you have the makings of a draft for a decent article here but you'd really need to focus much more on how you're defining "descriptive" and get a much better understanding of what a Narrativist game actually is.  "focus on story and dramatic moments" is a pretty bolluxed and non-useful definition.  You start to get closer by pointing out the requirement for conflict.

Robert is spot on when he points out the disconnect in your article between Techniques like "narrative" or "description" and Creative Agenda.  They are not the same thing even though you treat them as such in your article.

Such a comparison between how Non Narrativist and Narrativist creative agendas can both use descriptive techniques, but do so in in different ways to support different goals, would actually make for a pretty interesting article.  But why you would attempt to do such a comparison while admitting (in the article itself, no less) that you don't really understand the point of Narrativist play and then publish it without first asking someone who DOES understand it to review it for you is quite beyond me.

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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2005, 01:12:43 PM »

Having spent a bit of time on your site (including the neat little alien-invasion demo) trying to make sure I understand your game, it seems like a very robust, very flexible, very simple engine to drive all sorts of specific scenarios. That's certainly very different from traditional, rules-laden wargames and the roleplaying games that derive from them; that's certainly similar to a number of "rules-light" games in the "indie" family such as The Pool; but that's also quite different from a lot of the hard-core "narrativist" games that have created excitement on the Forge in the last few years (Sorcerer, Trollbabe, My Life With Master, The Riddle of Steel, Dogs in the Vineyard, Capes).*

And when it comes to the first category -- the traditional wargames, D&D, et al.-- and the third -- the Indie narrativists -- I think you may have your "prescriptive" and "descriptive" backwards. Now, if I'm reading you correctly, a game is "prescriptive" when the rules themselves drive play towards a certain set of procedures and even values; a game is "descriptive" when the rules simply adjudicate the outcome of what the players describe and otherwise try to get out of the way. Feel free to correct me, of course; these are your terms.

Based on my interpretration, thought the "narrativist" games I listed above all are highly prescriptive: The rules drive players consistently towards a certain set of choices, each game having its own specific set (including examples such as, in Dogs, "I have power, I have responsibility, how do I use it?"; or in Capes and Trollbabe, "is it worth giving up and losing this immediate conflict in order to have power over another conflict later?"). "Making difficult and dramatic choices" is what Forge-style Narrativism (yes, ugly word) tends to be about, not "story" in the sense of "stuff that happens" or "narrative" in the sense of "people talking about stuff that happens." Note also that if you tried to play those games without making the choices the designers want you to make, you'd be fighting the rules and not having much fun, just as if you played a detailed "prescriptive" wargame and weren't interested in optimal panzer tactics.

Conversely, your classic D&D or White Wolf Storyteller game, as actually played, tends to be highly descriptive: Players say what they want to have happen and make arguments for why it's plausible, and the GM decides how good their chances are. In short, they're very much like your Matrix Game, only with a lot more structure and guidance for how the players phrase their arguments (not "I'm very strong!" but "I have strength 17!") and how GMs/referees judge them (not "roll anything but a 1" but "roll to hit vs. Armor Class 11") -- which can be good or bad, depending on how well that structure and guidance match what you want to do; usually D&D and the like give pretty good guidance for killing things and using supernatural powers but rather poor guidance on doing anything else.

Note also that the stronger the personality, agenda, or knowledge-base of the GM/referee, the more a "descriptive" game becomes "prescriptive" -- implicitly through the GM/referee imposing procedure and values in how s/he rates arguments, rather than explicitly in the game text. (All this by my reading of the terms, again).

(*Universalis I'd have to play before I could categorize it with confidence, because the rules look robustly general-purpose, agenda-less, and thus "descriptive" but seem to brim with potential emergent effects; Ralph, your thoughts?).

P.S.: And I'd agree with others here that the whole "rivalry" thing seems odd, and perhaps unhelpful.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2005, 02:03:15 PM »

Please - no one should ever think anything I write about Narrativist games is at all authoritative. I don't get them. For instance when I read from the glossery

"Story Now
Commitment to Addressing (producing, heightening, and resolving) Premise through play itself. The epiphenomenal outcome for the Transcript from such play is almost always a story. One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority of role-playing, the defining feature of Narrativist play."


I summarize it as

“Narrativist” applies to people who put the story first and who favor rules that allow them to do this easily."

I wrote the article as a way of improving my understanding. I've done this for years in many different journals. I find as I do this I gain insights that are useful - quite often not even related to the presenting issue. In the case of this article I see the differences and that we are not speaking the same language. It reminded me of my love of wargames, just as wargames remind me of my love for role playing. The productive result has been my finnishing a first draft on the second edition of a diceless miniatures battle game that I've translated into a boardgame.

Ritter will be fun to publish.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
Valamir
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« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2005, 02:48:27 PM »

Please - no one should ever think anything I write about Narrativist games is at all authoritative. I don't get them. For instance when I read from the glossery

"Story Now
Commitment to Addressing (producing, heightening, and resolving) Premise through play itself. The epiphenomenal outcome for the Transcript from such play is almost always a story. One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority of role-playing, the defining feature of Narrativist play."


I summarize it as

“Narrativist” applies to people who put the story first and who favor rules that allow them to do this easily."


Please don't take this personally but this is why certain folks are banging their heads against a wall in anguish.

The definition clearly says that what comes FIRST is commitment to addressing premise.  The definition also clearly says that what usually arises AS AN OUTCOME of directing premise is something we can recognize as a story.  Now I admit that when the article was first posted I had to go look up what the heck epiphenomenon meant.  But armed with that knowledge the definition couldn't possibly be any clearer.

How is it then possible to "summarize" the position as "story first" when the definition very very directly says "premise first, story second". 

This has nothing at all to do with deep esoteric hard to understand conceptual flim flammery.  This is basic reading comprehension.  Even if you have no friggin clue what "addressing Premise" means its still perfectly clear that story comes after it. 

"Putting Story First" is not only not an accurate summary, its not even close.  Its actually diametrically opposed to what Narrativism is.  I can say with 100% conviction that anyone who "puts story first" is unequivocably NOT playing Narrativist. 

This is a source of never ending aggravation.  It has nothing to do with wading through dozens of articles or hundreds of threads.  It has everything to do with actually reading the words that are written in a 1 sentence definition.

But honestly Chris my aggravation here is not that you had this difficulty.  You're hardly the first person to not read the definition closely enough.  My aggravation is that you didn't bother to solicit help on your article from people who could have straightened your understanding out before you published it and what's worse you actually took an unfair potshot in the process.  That I don't get at all.  With all the posting you've done on this site, you had to know that all you had to do was ask.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2005, 07:14:00 PM »

On the other hand it is kind of a wacky way to define something like this: "STORY NOW! Oh, btw, this means story actually comes second, not right now/first".

I had to look up epiphenomenal as well. Usually when I don't know a word, I read on anyway to try and get context. I think with the way it's written, if your doing the same thing as me, it's easy to read on and the context you get can easily be whatever you want (kinda like how people read the impossible thing definition, and get whatever they want). I'd already thought that story was a sort of side effect from address of premise, but upon rereading it now I realise I just decided that's what it meant. By co-incidence, I'm basically correct, but still...

Off topic side note: It'd be an interesting game that had strange words in sentences, and then people read the sentence to 'discover' the context of the word...while actually inventing it themselves. Sorry to be off topic, couldn't resist mentioning the idea!
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
MatrixGamer
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« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2005, 11:30:16 AM »

Having spent a bit of time on your site (including the neat little alien-invasion demo) trying to make sure I understand your game, it seems like a very robust, very flexible, very simple engine to drive all sorts of specific scenarios.

Thanks for looking the game over. I have found it to be a durable little system.

when it comes to the first category -- the traditional wargames, D&D, et al.-- and the third -- the Indie narrativists -- I think you may have your "prescriptive" and "descriptive" backwards. Now, if I'm reading you correctly, a game is "prescriptive" when the rules themselves drive play towards a certain set of procedures and even values; a game is "descriptive" when the rules simply adjudicate the outcome of what the players describe and otherwise try to get out of the way. Feel free to correct me, of course; these are your terms.

I checked back and found that it was Calum Delany who came up with these terms in MWAN (Midwest Wargamers Newsletter in 1991). Prescriptive refereed to games that woudl say things like this "Count up the number of combat factors you put into the fight, roll a six-sided die and add that to the total. If the number is higher than the other side's defense total, you win the fight and they retreat." The game gives a result that may be historical (which is a holy mantra of historical gamers) but it does not "describe" how the result was reached. The rules of Engle Matrix Games provide a way to reach a result but do not claim to simulate a mathematical algorythm of the event. Arguments "describe" how actions happen so though it may not be a simulation in a mathematical sense it does help people get a better view of how they got to the result. D+D is highly prescriptive because it uses abstractions like "Hit Points." I roll my attack and take off hit points but really don't describe how the fight would look to an outside viewer. The movie "The Gamers" shows this sillyness wonderfully. I just assumed that Narrativist games were more descriptive but maybe I was wrong about that too.

Based on my interpretration, thought the "narrativist" games I listed above all are highly prescriptive: The rules drive players consistently towards a certain set of choices, each game having its own specific set (including examples such as, in Dogs, "I have power, I have responsibility, how do I use it?"; or in Capes and Trollbabe, "is it worth giving up and losing this immediate conflict in order to have power over another conflict later?"). "Making difficult and dramatic choices" is what Forge-style Narrativism (yes, ugly word) tends to be about, not "story" in the sense of "stuff that happens" or "narrative" in the sense of "people talking about stuff that happens." Note also that if you tried to play those games without making the choices the designers want you to make, you'd be fighting the rules and not having much fun, just as if you played a detailed "prescriptive" wargame and weren't interested in optimal panzer tactics.

Okay! Now this makes sense. I've always views dramatic choises and plot devices. The decisions made carries the plot - and thus the story forward. Making these points of choice the main aim of the game is very different. A private email sent to me explains this futher.

It's called "Story Now" not because story is put first, but because the key acts of
story creation occur in the moment in play.  This contrasts with two common
techniques: 1) Story First--the GM deciding what the story is first and using clues
and directives to guide players through; and 2) Story Afterwards--the players
interpreting the events of play as a story after the fact.

The narrativist creative agenda seeks to maximize the number of moments in play
where a player can choose to answer an emotionally engaging question (the premise).
It is important that the field be open for the player to choose any answer they find
intriguing--and once they've made the choice, they have just scribed part of the
ongoing Story.  The priority is on the moments of choice (the "now"), not the story.
 Story arises from the choices made.


It points out another major difference between choices I made in wirting Matrix Game rules and what Narrativist games aim for. Matrix Game argument resolution techniques do not tell the player what they should do. If players chose to argue out a game of tiddly winks they can without violating the spirit of the rules. I do include what I'm now calling a "plot track" that suggests the actions that I think that type of story should have. It is just a suggestion not a requirement. It sounds like Narrativst games require dramatic moments of choice as their raison d'etre. I don't think that is prescriptive in the say I was meaning since I still imagine players describe the sequence of events in a real life way rather than resorting to mathematical abstractions like "I have a higher strength number than you so I win."

Note also that the stronger the personality, agenda, or knowledge-base of the GM/referee, the more a "descriptive" game becomes "prescriptive" -- implicitly through the GM/referee imposing procedure and values in how s/he rates arguments, rather than explicitly in the game text. (All this by my reading of the terms, again).

This is an interesting point. Authority can be used to stomp on the range of player choices. This is something I don't like on principle but it can be fun to play in a highly controlled game. Study of power, control and abstraction would be a good topic to pursue.

[P.S.: And I'd agree with others here that the whole "rivalry" thing seems odd, and perhaps unhelpful.

I wrote a private note to Ralph explaining this but I'll do it again here. It's just a free market capitalist idea. Competition between products and ideas happens in a market. I view game ideas as swiming around in the market place of ideas. Each idea is trying to get attention. Similar ideas - such as games - are rivals for that attention. I think competition of this sort is good since it makes us refine and improve our concepts. I understand how economic talk like this might not be where other people are at. When I started with Matrix Games it was not a business but a personal project. Now though, I treat it as a business, I own capital equipment, keep double entery accounts, and expect a cash flow, so business language makes sense to me. I'm certainly not suggesting some kind of messy squabble with any other game designer. Heaven forbid! Not useful at all.

Thank you - Sydney and Allan for your explanations of Narrativism. I think I get it now. It is not what I do with my games. I'll still keep reading about them because contrast spurs creativity. I have played and run the odd game where critical moral choices were important and they were fun even if it wasn't the intellectual question that sparked my line of game development.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
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« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2005, 01:56:57 PM »

How is it then possible to "summarize" the position as "story first" when the definition very very directly says "premise first, story second". 

I have viewed premise - preexisting givens, statements of truth from which conclusions can be drawn - to be synonymous with scenario. I always provide scenario information to players and it always includes a suggestion of what kind of plot might be interesting to follow from that statring point. While the story enacts the plot and is thus happening as you play what I wan't getting was this emphasis on the separation of the two. Alan supplied me with the piece I was missing.

It's called "Story Now" not because story is put first, but because the key acts of
story creation occur in the moment in play.  This contrasts with two common
techniques: 1) Story First--the GM deciding what the story is first and using clues
and directives to guide players through; and 2) Story Afterwards--the players
interpreting the events of play as a story after the fact.


I had never heard of this story first/story now/story afterwards idea. I know I've done it. When I run RPGs I tend to have a clear idea of what is going to happen. It doesn't matter what the players do I know who they will meet next. It works for one shot games, which is all I get to run now a days. I've also seen story afterwards happen. I've even seen story now happen in Matrix Games but it was put there by the players not required by the scenario.

It would be helpful if this story first and story afterwards piece was added to the provisional glossery in the story now paragraph. There are probably others of us out there who have not heard it before.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2005, 06:01:04 PM »

I have viewed premise - preexisting givens, statements of truth from which conclusions can be drawn - to be synonymous with scenario.

Wait wait wait wait wait. You've almost got it, but you're not quite there yet. Let me throw you a definition from the Glossary again:

Quote
Premise (adapted from Egri)
A generalizable, problematic aspect of human interactions. Early in the process of creating or experiencing a story, a Premise is best understood as a proposition or perhaps an ideological challenge to the world represented by the protagonist's passions. Later in the process, resolving the conflicts of the story transforms Premise into a theme - a judgmental statement about how to act, behave, or believe. In role-playing, "protagonist" typically indicates a character mainly controlled by one person. A defining feature of Story Now.


And a bit of Ron Edwards' essay on "Story Now":

Quote
My thoughts on Narrativist Premise are derived from the book The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, specifically his emphasis on the questions that arise from human conundrums and passions of all sorts.

Is the life of a friend worth the safety of a community?

Does love and marriage override one's loyalty to a political cause?
....
The key to Narrativist Premises is that they are moral or ethical questions that engage the players' interest. The "answer" to this Premise (Theme) is produced via play and the decisions of the participants, not by pre-planning.
....
Premise must pose a question to the real people, creator and audience alike. The fictional character's belief in something like "Freedom is worth any price" is already an implicit question: "Is it really? Even when [insert Situation]?" Otherwise it will fail to engage anyone.

Okay, what does all that mean?

It means "premise" in Forge theory is the exact and utter opposite of "preexisting givens, statements of truth from which conclusions can be drawn". Instead, a premise is a question, answered by the interaction of the real people as they play the game. Narrativist play does not start with "statements of truth" and draw conclusions from them, it ends with "statements of truth" that are the conclusions.

Well-designed Narrativist games are "prescriptive" in the sense that they pose a certain question or set of questions that the players cannot avoid -- but they must not be prescriptive about the answer to that question. If the game designer, the GM, or the scenario-writer answers the question, there is no point in playing.

Thus you have Ron Edwards' original Sorcerer. It is very difficult to play the game without addressing the question of "can I destructive and corrupting means (i.e. sorcery, as a metaphor for disfunctional human relationships in general) to achieve my purposes without destroying and corrupting myself (i.e. going to 0 Humanity)?" But the game also lays out four possible types of endings -- four possible answers to the question: the player-character renounces sorcery and succeeds in his purposes anyway ("redemption"); the PC renounces sorcery and fails in his purposes; the PC continues with sorcery and still fails; the PC continues with sorcery and succeeds ("the outlaw triumphant"). The game is deliberately neutral among these four endings and does not depict any of them as the "right" one.

Conversely, play that starts with a given "statement of truth from which conclusions can be drawn," and which is all about drawing out those conclusions in the most logical and faithful manner, is probably Simulationist. (I don't believe Gamism cares that much about making this kind of statement either at the beginning or the end).

The Matrix Game mechanic, as I understand it from your website, is inherently neither Narrativist nor Simulationist. There is some inherent element of Gamism because each player is challenged, every turn, to make the most convincing possible argument and is then judged, publicly and immediately, on whether those judgments are weak, and to be punished with a high chance of failure, or strong, and to be rewarded with a high chance of success. But the Matrix Game core mechanic does not pose any inescapable question (which would be Narrativist), but it does not impose any absolute givens (Simulationist). The specific scenario, or the game master (consciously or unconsciously), or the players themselves, may decide to introduce such questions or such givens; the core mechanic neither stops them nor helps them to do so.
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« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2005, 07:19:37 PM »

Hey guys,

Two things.

1. Let's not make quick and misleading blanket statements about Sim play. For instance, pre-set themes are not Narrativist, but they are only features of some Sim play. Other Sim play doesn't give a rat's ass about themes of any kind.

2. Sometimes, I get the idea that someone posts "Hey, X and Y go like this," where X is near and dear to the person's heart. But he has Y a little bollixed up ... and Y is a Forge-y jargon term ... and now the dogpile of Forge-monster posts begins about Y.

This is bad. The thing the person really wants to talk about it is X. Ask about X. Check it out. See what you can say that's helpful about X, or acknowledges what the person is saying about it. Never mind his or her confusion about Y.

All of which is to say, you guys are all doing a great job of explaining Narrativist play to a general audience in this thread. Why can't you see that you are alienating Chris by doing so? He is looking for validation of Matrix Games here at the Forge. He has labored long and hard in the wilderness for many, many years - longer than I have! This is the closest thing to a welcoming community he's ever found.

C'mon, quit dogpiling and don't give me any excuses that amount to "Well, he brought it up." Read between the lines. This guy is hurting; he busted his hump all these years and hand-makes his books, and here are all these yahoos who think they're the revolutionaries. Why do you think he slides in those side-comments about envy and posted that weird post in the Breaking the Ice forum?

You guys think you're smart? Show me, then - find a way for Chris to make Matrix Games more successful by participating at the Forge.

You won't do it by running Narrativism 101 on him.

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2005, 06:35:17 AM »

I stand duly chastened. (I did say "this is probably Sim" the first time, really I did; I just forgot to caveat the second time). Chris, I got the impression you were really wrestling with "how do my games relate to all these other folks' games?", and I think we've answered, possibly unto death, your (implicit) questions about "what is this 'narrativism' thing you guys are all excited about, anyway?" But as Ron reminds us, that may not have been the thing you really wanted to discuss in the first place. So is there another issue you wanted to raise, and if so, do you want to do it in this thread or start a new thread elsewhere? I will deactivate my lecture mode and back off until you, as the guy who took the time to write the essays and took the initiative to start the thread, say what you want to do.
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