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Author Topic: Criteria for Narrativism, Confusion  (Read 8292 times)
Tobaselly
Member

Posts: 26


« on: September 30, 2005, 10:00:18 AM »

Yes, I have read the glossary and many of the articles in the articles section in addition to looking through the past several months worth of topics in the GNS Discussion Forum.

And I've encountered confusion, with the hopes that someone can explain in clear terms (Since it might be subtle flavors of the jargon that is leading to my confusion) What are the defining features of Narrativism, and what criteria is used to segregate narrativist games from non-narrativist games.

Quote
Narrativism (Narrativist play)
One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. See Story Now.
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.

If I break this down I get "A commitment to addressing the premise of the story through play itself" which  I gather to mean  that a narrativism game is about something, and that something will will be a focal point of the game. ok, so the game has to be about something

"The transcript of the game will be a story" which I take to mean that something will happen during the game through discussion. So there has to be some sort of narration it can't all be game rules.

and the last bit "One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority of role-playing, the defining feature of Narrativist play" just means what it says, it's part of creative Agendas and that Story Now = Narrativist play.

The main part of that that confuses me is, isn't this every role playing game that has some sort of naration? If a game is about something (even if it's not easily described) it has a premise. If the players open their mouths to describe interactions with other players or things, there is a story.

The reason I'm asking this, isn't as a poke towards anything or anything like that, but more of an honest this doesn't make sense to me, what am I missing? I don't like being confused and would prefer to be part of discussions in a more enlightened manner.
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: September 30, 2005, 10:33:23 AM »

Check the definition of Premise.  Its being used in a very specific way.  That distinction should highlight for you what makes it unique from other forms of roleplaying.
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2005, 10:45:41 AM »

Hello There,

What you're missing is that Premise and Story are more narrowly defined than you suggest.

Examples:

A really fun an exciting adventure might be about the characters going to retrieve a powerful magic item from the haunted castle so that they can defeat the evil horde that's about to invade the country.

The game is "about something" but the above is not a Premise as is defined for Story Now play.

Here's a transcript of events.

I went to the store to buy some milk.  While I was there I saw an interesting article in time magazine, so I bought that too.  On the way home, I met my neighbor and we talked briefly about the bad weather we've been having.  Upon returning to my home I put the magazine down on the front table and then used the milk I bought to make some cookies.

The above is a "narrative of events" but it is not a Story as defined for Story Now play.

What's missing in both is meaningful choices in terms of unreconcilliable human conflict.  A lot of people get tripped on "conflict" because they think it simply means "danger" or "hardship."  Fighting the evil dragon is not a conflict.   Surviving a snow storm is not a conflict.  Those things can be cool and exciting and important "stressors" on conflicts but they are not in and unto themselves conflicts.

This is the example I've been using lately to illustrate this point.

John and Ralph have been best friends since childhood.  They both love Elizabeth but Elizabeth favors John.  The elders of their village have conveened and decided that John is the "chosen knight" who must go and slay the dragon that been terrorizing the village.

Let's assume that John is a PC and everyone else is an NPC for simplicity.  Do you see how John must make serious "real world" decisions.  What's more important John's duty to the village or his individual love for Elizabeth?  (That's a Premise).  Can he trust to leave Elizabeth alone with Ralph while he's off fighting the dragon? (That's another angle on Premise).  Is his love for Elizabeth worth jeopardizing his long term friendship with Ralph? (Yet another Premise).

Whatever John decides to do (maybe he runs away with Elizabeth and Ralph dies when the village is destroyed by the dragon or maybe he goes off to slay the dragon and then magnamously bows out when he returns to discover that Elizabeth and Ralph got married or maybe he flies into a jealous rage and kills Ralph, or whatever else may happen) that's John's Theme relative to the Premise and the result is a Story.

Story Now (Narrativism) is predicated on getting these kinds of choices into play and giving the players the freedom to address them as they see fit.  Note: Success and failure are not part of this which is why the best Narrativist facillitating games are heavily dice driven.

Does that help?

Jesse
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Halzebier
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Posts: 216


« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2005, 11:00:46 AM »

First of all, please note that I am not an authority on this and am struggling towards understanding just like you are. Still, I'd like to try. The regulars will correct us, I'm sure.

I'll quote the most relevant part of Ron's essay, but as you've probably read it, I'll elaborate some more below:

Quote from: Ron
All role-playing necessarily produces a sequence of imaginary events. Go ahead and role-play, and write down what happened to the characters, where they went, and what they did. I'll call that event-summary the "transcript." But some transcripts have, as Pooh might put it, a "little something," specifically a theme: a judgmental point, perceivable as a certain charge they generate for the listener or reader. If a transcript has one (or rather, if it does that), I'll call it a story.

Let's say that the following transcript, which also happens to be a story, arose from one or more sessions of role-playing.

Lord Gyrax rules over a realm in which a big dragon has begun to ravage the countryside. The lord prepares himself to deal with it, perhaps trying to settle some internal strife among his followers or allies. [rest of example snipped]

The real question: after reading the transcript and recognizing it as a story, what can be said about the Creative Agenda that was involved during the role-playing? The answer is, absolutely nothing.

A story can be arrived at by different means. Maybe one participant determines it (e.g. a GM running a typical module in a heavy handed-fashion), maybe all participants collaborate. The result could be indistinguishable, but the process isn't. Hence, Narrativism is called "Story Now" - it cares about process, not results.
 
Quote from: Tobaselly
"The transcript of the game will be a story" which I take to mean that something will happen during the game through discussion. So there has to be some sort of narration it can't all be game rules.

Yes, it could. For all we know, a given story might really be the result of rolling on (well-designed) tables. The results would have to be read out, but there would be neither discussion (i.e. negotiation) nor narration (minus the physical act of telling, i.e. embellishment).

Quote
If I break this down I get "A commitment to addressing the premise of the story through play itself" which I gather to mean  that a narrativism game is about something, and that something will will be a focal point of the game.

I may well be wrong here, but the expression "the premise of the story" seems to imply that there is a preconceived premise. This is not the case. It's about addressing premise, not "the premise" or "the premise of the story".

Quote
ok, so the game has to be about something

More precisely, the participants must have the chance to say something which matters about something. Again, process.

Regards,

Hal
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Tobaselly
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Posts: 26


« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2005, 11:23:06 AM »

So if i'm getting this right, a premise isn't simply an about something, it's a focal point for a choice focusing around internal conflict?

Does a premise need to be consistant throughout an game, or can it be constantly changing from scene to scene from player to player? Does it always need to revolve around a particlar theme?

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Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: September 30, 2005, 11:39:07 AM »

Hi,

Let's say you and I had a conversation about something meaningful.  "Meaningful" might be political, it might be about ethics, morality, passions, art, whatever.  We have a topic.  For the conversation to hold, you and I might talk about different aspects of that topic, even if we more-or-less agree.  That "topic", that's the premise.

In play, let's say the big issue the characters are dealing with is "Do we kill an innocent person to save the world?", and the choices and portrayals of the characters, are the means by which you and I exchange that conversation.  We might not even personally hold those beliefs or feelings that our characters are going through, but we're using them as a way to illustrate some ideas about that topic- not unlike most movies, books, or any form of fiction.

The topic might be internal, it might not.  It does deal with human nature on some level- individually, relationships, or as a whole with society.

Just like a real conversation- we may have a couple of related topics we talk about, connect, and look at.  We might even find out that "main topic" is very different than what we started out talking about.  We might find that the "big thing" for you, is not the same "big thing" for me.  But, for that topic to hold meaning, you or I have to have had a chance to come to a full statement about it- to have fully had some input on it. 

So, yeah, you might have a couple of premises floating about, or you might find the premise isn't what you thought it was going to be.  But- just like in a conversation- the topic is shared, so that means you can't have a premise just "in your head", alone.  Different characters might be addressing different premise issues entirely, but the group as a whole is witness to that in action.

Chris
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2005, 02:43:16 PM »

So if i'm getting this right, a premise isn't simply an about something, it's a focal point for a choice focusing around internal conflict?

That sounds like an excellent summation to me.  The distinction isn't so much about what components are present in the play experience so much as the focus on those components and their relationships.
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Bastoche
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Posts: 64


« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2005, 04:44:29 AM »

So if i'm getting this right, a premise isn't simply an about something, it's a focal point for a choice focusing around internal conflict?

Does a premise need to be consistant throughout an game, or can it be constantly changing from scene to scene from player to player? Does it always need to revolve around a particlar theme?



As far as I understand, yes. The premise could in principle change from scene to scene.
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Sebastien
Marco
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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2005, 09:20:20 AM »


So, yeah, you might have a couple of premises floating about, or you might find the premise isn't what you thought it was going to be.  But- just like in a conversation- the topic is shared, so that means you can't have a premise just "in your head", alone.  Different characters might be addressing different premise issues entirely, but the group as a whole is witness to that in action.

Chris

While this is a criteria for Nar play because of the definition (i.e. the definition requires it) I've never understood what it added to the theory. Certainly, if you are playing to impress your friends with your authorship abilities the play could be considered Gamist. If the social apsect is simply required for the play to be functional I don't think that's a real requirement (other players need not "wittness the premise" for play to be fun).

If it's meant to make the assessment objective (i.e. this could not be Nar play because I could not state what premise the player was addressing) I don't think it works especially well since the player, themselves, need not be able to state the premise.

-Marco
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2005, 06:11:10 AM »

On the issue of maleability and visibility of premise, I recently posted my thoughts in this current thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=16982.0

This should answer both Marco and the original poster's issues. Basically mode is only important to the extent that it can be discerned. That is, if you have an agenda, and I have an agenda, and we can never tell that they're different, then what's the importance of discussing agenda? Agenda is only important to the extent that it's either shared or not shared.

Mike
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brightstar
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« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2005, 03:31:53 PM »

Quote
Story Now (Narrativism) is predicated on getting these kinds of choices into play and giving the players the freedom to address them as they see fit.  Note: Success and failure are not part of this which is why the best Narrativist facillitating games are heavily dice driven.

Everything I read here seemed fine, except this.  I'd like to know on what basis this assumption is made?  In my experience it's the contrary.  It can help with the definition of smaller events in the grand narrative, but the dice often become too big of a stumbling block for the character, allowing the story to crumble before it ever gets off the ground.  When putting in a dozen or so checks, a character is bound to fail a number of them (unless they are really high powered).  These failures can heavily interfere in the ability to communicate the theme (I don't know what forum Jargon constitutes theme, but from a literary stand point, Theme is the central "point" or moral of a book).  In order to bring the theme to a head with the character being absolutely well informed and pushed to the edge of reason to make that choice, then the less dice the better.  Because the key in any theme is the character chooses x over y, okay, what happens then with y.  The "penalty" per se is built into the very nature of these type of choices.  Therefore the need for dice should be tossed aside to allow the relavance of the choice to play out to the fullest extent.  Allowing theme (strictly roleplay) to drown away in burdening dice (an arbitrary random number generation device) only serve to disrupt that flow.  Now, I will digress a bit to say that the dice can be used well to heighten the theme.  For instance, guy went away to the war, but his girlfriend will die.  So he decides to leave, a little late, to save her.  Here dice can be used to see if he makes it in time and to decide if he can save her (as dice are normally used).  But that is when the dice become necessary.  When the odds of success go against the character, the dice serve only to heighten the conflict's experience.  But, remember, his failure to save her in no way reflects his success in choosing to save her.  It doesn't even relate.  If you have to have a player make a die check to see if he would save her versus stay and fight it only serves to force a specific response from a player, thereby destroying the function of such a choice.  Furthermore, no matter what the player chooses, failure is inherent in these conflicts no matter what the player does or the dice says because if he choses x over y then y will have an adverse effect.  If they don't it only serves to weaken the validity of that choice.  If the guy abandons the war and they win and everything's fine, then there was no reason to make that choice in the first place.  It becomes irrelevant in the context of the narrative.  Therefore, there has to be some form of impact from his choice.  Even if they win, maybe his friend dies or his town is over run, something to give the choice real weight.   

And I feel, that's where the dice begin to weigh down gaming and why other styles of play seem a bit more "standard" than the Narrativist style.  Because dice are used for arbitration in tasks, not roleplay.  There is no system for roleplayer.  There are no rules for theme.  Every game that has tried to impose them (Pendraggon) often do so in weighty, heavy mechanisms that do not necessarily benifit the game, merely serve as a crutch for the action of those type of choices.  But a system like this only serves to strip the theme of all relevance because it becomes purely system and a player has no freedom to choose by simply, if he fails his check for moral action x then he cannot respond as he wishes to moral action x.  Thus, the players are no longer playing a roleplaying game that emphasizes theme, the dice are the ones who are playing the game.  It's like watching a cut scene in a video game.  All the choices and drama are made by the game before the player is thrusted back into his killing spree.   

I personally have found that most gamers crave what I prefer to call Thematic Gaming (because narrativist style is a bit of a misnomer because all forms of gaming is narrative by the TRUE definition of the Narrative and that confusion in Jargon is the sole existance of this post).  But Thematic Gaming is never put forward to them in the mainstream because of its lack of real system, therefore it is unmarketable  But dice and mechanics are marketable.  And since good thematic play is decided without dice, then the emphasis on dice serve as an anti-thematic device.  How? 

When you buy a roleplaying manual you get roughly, around half to two thirds or in the case of d&d are dice mechanic rules.  Combat normally covers a good third to half of those pages.  Generation, magical powers (which normally are designed on a return to combat), Task resolution and advancement cover the rest.    By simply looking at the book then, from a complete noob experience and by page count alone a roleplaying game looks like it is designed for fighting and fighting is its central purpose.  Because combat, in heavy dice driven mechanics, often need heavy systems to express how those dice play out.  It does not suggest anywhere within the rules pages how to construct a thematic game and if it does, it is often briefly mentioned.  The dice itself, in a mainstream roleplaying game, become the sole purpose of buying x product and narrativist play is left as a side note as to the function of why we will be using dice.  This emphasis on dice then puts narrativist play at odds with the very system itself because two mechanics are trying to operate in the same procedure.  Though they can work together, the fact that the dice mechanic has Authority where as Theme has no authority (i.e. no mechanic), then players will gravitate to that authority as the central focus of that game.  This often leads to Theme becoming window dressing to the authority itself...basically a justification to roll the dice and to spend tedious hours learning how those dice express imaginary people, places and things.  After those hours are invested players want to see a return on that time invested learning system rather than a return on what little time they spent on encountering and dealing with theme (that is a generalization of course and there are a number of gamers who do the contrary, all though I ask then why did you spend tedious hours learning those rules when they have next to no relevance to the type of play you are looking for). 

But I know my opinion of the Authority of system differs from the Forges.  These boards try their best to deemphasize it's relavence where I emphasize its dangers and its control and influence.  Because the idea of the players controlling the Authority and not the other way around is basic post-modern theory.  And it isn't wrong, though over glorified and a bit misleading.  Players do have that kind of impact, however, this type of language game serves the end of Legitimation of a new meta-narrative through the creation of new-Truth.  This new- truth becomes the new definition, therefore a new Meta Narrative is established.  Within the context of that metanarrative is the definition of all that is truthful and that which is truthful responds accordingly to that established truth.  Deviation of the new-truth means that one has deviated from the higher purpose of legitimation of that meta-narrative.  And this cannot be. Because this narrative creates a new criteria to gauge what type of behavior can be or not be performed within it through a series of denotative statements.  These statements are then employed to make distinctions within that truth which give greater definition to that Narrative.  Without these definitions that narrative cannot exist.  Without the Legitimization of those definations that narrative cannot exist.  Therefore deviation from that narrative cannot be tolerated because it threatens the intrinsic properties of that narrative.  For centuries these type of language games have been used to define cultures, peoples, sexuality, etc.  Deviation from the Meta-narrative of a people or culture (i.e. the higher authority) always leads to some form of punishment unless it the violation is done in secret (cheating on a die that no one sees).  It is no different than any form of meta-narrative established by gaming.  Once a meta-narrative is created through any form authority, those who exist within that authority cannot deviate from that authority because it risks the collapse of that authority.  (i.e. a game master cannot allow one player to always automatically succeed where everyone else has to check because of the player's bias to the authority they are prescribed).  Because of this, when trying to implement Thematic elements, the danger of dice is the danger of any authority.  It must be obeyed.  If not, then the meta narrative itself collapses.  At its core in gaming there are two meta-narratives which do co-exist but threaten the existance of the other (the dice mechanic and the imaginary world).  As a real world example of this, I refer you to racial tension in the Southern United States during the fifties.  I know that seems drastic but here two cultures co-existed but were at odds with each other and threatened each other's way of life (as those people saw it within the confines of there metanarrative...remember about a century before that, the accepted metanarrative in the south was that africans served white owners as slaves.  Deviation from this metanarrative would risk punishment by the authority). 

This idea, when transcribed to gaming means that a thematic decision via roleplay is a decision which exists within the confines of an imaginary world.  A dice mechanic exists outside the confines of that imaginary space, within the real world, and are used to say x or y will happen in that imaginary space.  One needs dominance over the other for it to maintain its existence, therefore the authority of the dice and imagainary world are put at odds with one another.  However, since dice in the meta-narrative have the highest authority they have automatic veto power to any event in the imaginary world.  This power (the whites who ruled over the african-americans) serves the ends of sometimes benefiting that imaginary world, but can become very, very dangerous to the events occuring within that imaginary world.  In order for Thematic Decisions to have real "life" in an imaginary world, they need to be free of all other systems so that they can exist on their own accord and devolop as they need within that imaginary world.  Of course, one can bipass that authority in secret (in the real world, helping africans move to the northern states or allowing them to use your toilet, in gaming, fudging a rule or dice roll) but this type of action threatens the collapse of the system (why cheating is strictly not allowed in gaming). 

And as a final point to support my claim, every technological device that is created serves a purpose.  This purpose is known as its technique (a highly specialized process to get a job done).  This technique exists on its own accord and it will always function, no matter what, and all pieces attached to that particular technique must adhere to it (i.e. a gear turns to the left, all other gears that are attached to it must turn in the necessary direction to allow the gear in question to turn ot the left).  This technique is so important in a technology that it overrides any deviation from it.  It, itself becomes its own authority and nothing can stop or control it.  It must do its function and will do its function.  Therefore the purpose of dice will always do their function and narrative play must co-exist with it, therefore the more dice, the more the narrative system is lost and contained within the dice system. 

 

 

         

   

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timfire
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« Reply #11 on: November 08, 2005, 09:30:39 AM »

Brightstar,

Before I begin, I should point out that it's considered bad ettiquette to reply to old threads. (Not sure if you noticed or not, but the last reply was a month ago.) Oh well, live and learn, don't worry about it. Usually, the thing to do here at the Forge is start a new thread that's linked to the old one. The moderator may come along and break off your post into a new thread.

That said, I understand the frustration you feel with traditional games, whose rules only get in the way or hinder the player's ability to create theme. But I would encourage you to check out some of the great Narrativist games that have come out of the Forge, such as My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, Sorcerer, and if I may, my own game, The Mountain Witch. I think you may be surprised at how the mechanics of these games actually *support* the creation of theme, rather than get in the way. These games, among others, have rules that force the players to make the types of thematic decisions that have been discussed in this thread.

For example, in Sorcerer, characters have the option of using the power of demons to acheive their goals, but if they choose to do so, they risk lowering their "Humanity" score. Is the alure of power and success worth risking your very personhood? In My Life with Master, you are the minion of an evil mastermind, but only by building Love with others can you hope to break free of the Master's  twisted control. In Dogs in the Vineyard, you play God's Watchdogs in a pseudo-Morman Utah, charged with keeping the Faithful, well, faithful--by force if neccessary. With mechanics that grant you power for escalating conflicts, the player must decide just far he's willing to go to enforce "justice". And in The Mountain Witch, you play ronin samurai trying to kill the mythical Mountai Witch of Mt Fuji. In my game, you actually rate how much your character trusts teh other memeber of the party, knowing that they can use that trust to either help or betray you. You must decide when its worth putting your life in the hands of others, as well as if its worth sacrificing your own goals for the well-being of others.

I hope you can see how these rules support the creation of theme and not just get in the way.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: November 08, 2005, 11:05:58 AM »

Hello,

Brightstar, I invite you to check out the articles by me in the Forge's "Articles" section. You may discover some parallels to the ideas you've posted so far, as well as some alternate views regarding the conclusions.

This forum is dedicated specifically to the discussion of those articles.

Best,
Ron
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #13 on: November 10, 2005, 08:03:48 PM »

Brightstar, I'm going to apologize for not reading your rant in its entirety, but hope you'll attend to a few points.

You suggest early in the rant that narrativist games are impeded by die rolls because the characters are likely to fail multiple times. This viewpoint comes from experiences using gamist or simulationist-facilitating designs to drive narrativist play.

Most fundamentally, you are viewing all dice rolls as task resolution. While any agendum can use dice for task resolution, that is only one way to use dice in play. Conflict resolution, scene resolution, and event resolution (three phrases that have some overlap with each other and with task resolution) are also perfectly legitimate means of using dice.

Narrativist games such as Sorcerer and Legends of Alyria use die rolls in ways which drive story, because the die roll is not really about whether the character succeeded in doing X, but much more about the outcome of a situation generally.

I'll use the General Effects Roll in Multiverser as an example, mostly because I am most familiar with it. When the dice are rolled, they tell you nothing about whether the character succeeded in doing what the player wanted him to do. Instead, the general effects roll is all about whether events move in the direction desired by the player or in the opposite direction. Using your example of the situation in which the guy going to war will mean that the girl will die, the player might announce that his character is going to head home to try to save her. The GE roll then tells us things like whether his commander orders transport to take him or sends the MPs to bring him back, whether the roads are clear or he has to pass through an active combat zone, and similar aspects of play. The dice drive that, but they don't tell us whether the guy makes the trip--they only tell us how tough it will be to do so, and leave it to the player to find ways to make it happen.

Your experience with role playing games seems too narrow. I speak as one with narrow experience--there are many truly innovative games I know by reputation only--but at least I've recognized that there's a lot out there that is completely outside my expectations and experience. What you describe as standard gameplay is something most people here abandoned years ago.

I hope that helps.

--M. J. Young
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: November 19, 2005, 09:12:52 AM »

Hello,

1. A bunch of "experts" dogpiled on the new guy.

2. A ranty newcomer threadjack.

Thread's closed.

Ron
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