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Author Topic: Who's responsible for Premise - game designer, GM or player?  (Read 4989 times)
deidzoeb
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« on: June 07, 2002, 02:59:35 PM »

[This is really a continuation of some ideas from the Indie Game Design thread "No Premise: Dust Devils, The World The Flesh and the Devil."
at http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1526 ]

Is it necessary to embed a Premise in the mechanics of a Narrativist game?  I'm not arguing whether a Premise is necessary to this kind of game, but whether it is the responsibility of the game designer to hard code it in the game, or whether it can be left for the game master (if any) to provide, or even the players?

On the one hand, the game designer ought to set down a game that can be picked up and played easily without tinkering.  But for some games, game masters become something like designers.  If they have the power to reshape the game, why not let them choose the Premise too?  Then you get down to the level of players in director stance, or games without GM's, and the players are the ones responsible for reshaping the game if they want to.  As long as the designer is explicit about the need for a Premise, then it could be something open for manipulation by GM or players.

...After a little consideration, I think I see the problem.  A person could start with the (Gamist) rules for Chess, then add a Narrativist layer -- developing personalities and flaws and motivations for each character/piece on the board, narrating detailed scenes of what happens in each move. The black queen doesn't just "take" the white bishop: she threatens to reveal his dark secret, so he flees the kingdom.  (Is this what y'all mean by "illusionist" games?)

You could mess around with Narrativist elements on top of games like Chess or Monopoly, but you wouldn't say "Chess is a Narrativist game" afterward.

Could a Narrativist still have fun playing it?  Should game designers of Narrativist games be encouraged to embed Premise in their games, or can you still have a good time if it's left for GM or players to insert?
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J B Bell
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« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2002, 03:10:11 PM »

I think that if you want a Narrativist-enabling design, you need your mechanics to address Premise.

However, Premise is a strange and flexible animal.  It is easier, I'd say, to make very tightly focussed stories from a game that has a fairly focussed premise.  Sorcerer's premise is flexible, but well-defined.  The design that Mike Holmes and I are working on (check the Resource Library, it's called Synthesis now) has a super-broad premise ("what's more important, your self, or everything else?"), but the rules are pretty wound to make sure that players do address whatever premise the group comes up with.

I guess it's another one of those continuums (continua?) you see in game design--some give broad strokes and let the players & GM fill in the blanks, others do quite a bit of your homework for you.  I think if a designer wants to be fair about it, they'd better be certain they understand what range of premises their game allows for--and "anything" is not an acceptable answer, in spite of my "generic Narrativist" ambitions.  For example, Story Engine's mechanics enforce variety (you can only use each Descriptor once/session) and strongly emphasize culture as an issue.  I'm not sure what the meta-premise is, but you can't really address a premise that would allow for solving the same problem the same way repeatedly in Story Engine.  (Can't imagine why you'd want to, either, but there it is.)

--JB
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"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2002, 06:02:26 PM »

Hey,

This question illustrates yet again the so-easy slipover from GNS-as-play to GNS-as-design.

Narrativism is, and can never be anything but, an actual (and diverse) mode of play.

Game design is game design - it can never be anything but an influence on actual play. My claim is that the influence is powerful, no matter how coherent or incoherent the game is. That doesn't mean, ever, that the design becomes the play.

Two more points grow out of that one.

1) Premise can be astoundingly broad - in the case of the Pool it is 100% abstract and only exists as an extension of the resolution system; in the case of Orkworld, it's entirely couched in in-game terms (although equally embedded in the mechanics).

I suggest that a Narrativist game design (short-hand code ON) is best defined as those which facilitate addressing *a* Premise. Internal trade-offs in the mechanics as well as player-input on local effectiveness are the usual means, although others exist as well (by no means do I suggest that these two DEFINE Narrativist design; I'm just naming them as common means).

Now, that's sufficient. After that, the designer may specify Premise a teeny bit from there, or specify it a lot from there (at which point one needs to decide just where it comes from: Character, Setting, or Situation, or some combination), or specify it really really tightly. It's totally wide-open.

2) The "responsibility" issue puzzles me. The answer is, "Yes," or better, "Whoever." If the player plays Narrativist, fine; if the GM GM's Narrativist, fine (and I hope he and the player find one another); if the designer designs to help them, fine. The issue of responsibility plays absolutely no role in this sequence of cause/influence.

Best,
Ron
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deidzoeb
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« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2002, 07:56:00 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

This question illustrates yet again the so-easy slipover from GNS-as-play to GNS-as-design.

Narrativism is, and can never be anything but, an actual (and diverse) mode of play.

Game design is game design - it can never be anything but an influence on actual play. My claim is that the influence is powerful, no matter how coherent or incoherent the game is. That doesn't mean, ever, that the design becomes the play.


Why is it that I feel spanked for using the words "Narrativist game" next to each other, then you can turn around and write,

Quote

I suggest that a Narrativist game design (short-hand code ON)...


??

Is there a secret handshake or a secret knock on the front door of the Forge before I'm allowed to use this "short-hand code?"  Try re-reading my first post with "short-hand code ON throughout" if that helps.

Please ignore the issue of "responsibility."  All I was trying to ask was whether it would facilitate Narrativist play for a game designer to embed a Premise in the game, or whether it hinders Narrativist play for the GM or players to choose Premise instead.  I shouldn't have made it sound like there was any dogmatically "correct" stance one way or the other.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2002, 08:02:40 PM »

Hey,

Should game designers of Narrativist games be encouraged to embed Premise in their games, or can you still have a good time if it's left for GM or players to insert?

My current playtest of http://www.123.net/~czege/WFD.html">The World, the Flesh, and the Devil includes a good example of what can occur in a Narrativist game when Premise is not embedded in system or http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=22086#22086">setting prior to play. I won't go so far as to say this is inevitable, or even undesirable. You can be the judge of those things for yourself.

Briefly, Scott "hardcoremoose" Knipe wrote http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=22743#22743">a Trial that is, in many ways, the movie Jaws transposed to the jungle. Of all the Trials written by the players, Scott's was the one with the most internal awareness of the kinds of events and the story it wanted to produce. And to be completely blunt, although I like Jaws quite a bit, I wasn't the least bit interested in retelling it and re-articulating its exact theme via the content of four sessions of gameplay. So what I did as GM was embroil Scott's character in the middle of a different conflict. That means the first session, and probably at least the whole forthcoming second session of play will be, in conjunction with the Authorial power the game delivers to Scott, basically an extended in-play negotiation between him and me of the Premise of his part of the game. Had the game's Premise been determined by system, setting, GM assertion, or pre-game negotiation, we wouldn't be spending time sorting it out. Depending on how you look at that, it's either a bug in the game, or a feature.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: June 08, 2002, 06:03:58 AM »

Hey,

I'm not sure why you feel "spanked," man. You're reading some kind of punitive content into my post

The "short-hand code" indicates that "Narrativist game" really means "game whose design facilitates Narrativist play."

Which you probably know all about, and which I stuck in the parentheses merely to highlight the difference in my own post between play and design. No spanking. I *did* read your post with the "short hand code" on. The parenthesis "code" was about me, not about you.

You may have retracted the "responsibility" issue, but your first post did raise it - so I addressed it. I cannot tell, telepathically, which parts of your posts are most important or which you "didn't mean."

To get back to your point, Paul's post presents a perfect example. A while ago, I suggested that both the current versions of Dust Devils (by Matt Snyder) and The World the Flesh and the Devil (by Paul Czege) would benefit from an explicit, embedded Premise. Matt agreed - Dust Devils now has one. Paul didn't - The World the Flesh and the Devil still doesn't.

They're the game authors, not me, and the decision is theirs. Looking over both games now, I can see why they went the ways they did, and I think both games make most sense in their current states (one with, one without).

I can't imagine a better example of (a) Premise relating to Narrativist game design and (b) specifically my endorsement of a broad range of possibilities.

Best,
Ron
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deidzoeb
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« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2002, 10:56:16 AM »

Sorry if I misinterpreted your post, Ron.

Thanks for those links to the WFD threads, Paul.

I think WFD exemplifies the benefits and dangers of leaving Premise in the hands of the players or GM.  The benefit is that players and GM can use their own Premises.  The danger is that some players and GM's can't be bothered or don't have the skills to come up with unique settings, and that they'll write Trials or Annotations without understanding the need for a Premise.

When I first read WFD, I felt neutral about the game mechanics, but didn't get very excited about it because it doesn't show much color or setting at this point.  (Not a defect, just another way that these details are left for GM or players.  I guess I instinctively still wanted to be spoonfed the setting and color.)  Reading the notes about playtesting WFD got me more interested.  I think adding examples of play or scenarios would make potential players more excited when they first read the rules.  Dust Devils could use the same thing, although the movies cited serve as example scenarios that would work well.
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Thededine
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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2002, 11:20:44 AM »

I must admit that I have not read over the games cited above, but I would say that, whether the designer or the GM define the Premise of the game, the Premise must be addressed.

When we're talking about games designed for production and consumption of people the designer doesn't know (all commercial games fall in this category, but only some indie games ;), it's imperative that the designer mention and explain Premise somewhere so that he can communicate its importance to the GM.  Maybe the GM already understands it.  Maybe he doesn't.  By discussing it, however, the designer guarantees that the GM will at least be aware of it as he plans his campaign for Actual Play.

To take it a step further, designers can also take this as an opportunity to elaborate on the Premise(s) of the game they've written.  Some games have a limited Premise, others have a broad pallette of possibilities, but the available Premises of any game and any game system are limited -- no game or game system can handle any and all possible Premises.  The designer of the game will probably be the best expert on the matter of which Premises the game system is best suited for -- he won't know every possible application and interesting twist that his game can be put to, but he'll have a good idea.  I won't go so far as to make it some sort of design imperative that the designer discuss this, but dedicating a page or four to Premise certainly can't -hurt- anything, and can only benefit Actual Play, when it happens.
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-- Josh
amiel
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Posts: 49


« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2002, 11:52:23 AM »

ummm...Don't know if anyone has done this yet:
Welcome to the Forge, Thededine. Just so you know, ressurecting old threads is considered bad form here. The preference is to site the old thread with a link.
Again, welcome, your comments show intelligence and insight.
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-Jeremiah J. Davis
"Girl you know I love you. now ya gotta die." ICP
Thededine
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« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2002, 11:57:12 AM »

Wow, this thread was from June -- my apologies.  I only saw it as halfway down the index screen, and didn't think to check the date. =P
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-- Josh
amiel
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Posts: 49


« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2002, 12:01:51 PM »

Don't worry about the apology part, the Forge is different from most forums in this respect. I do, however look forward to more of your posts, don't feel spanked or anything.
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-Jeremiah J. Davis
"Girl you know I love you. now ya gotta die." ICP
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