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Naratavist Game Compatable with D&D settings

Started by Narmical, August 06, 2007, 11:56:42 PM

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So i posted my idea just before and i dont think i got my point across. (previous post quoted below)

I had an idea. Write a game from a naratavist perspective that is compatible with the D&D game.

The idea being a play group who enjoys the settings and world information portrayed in D&D books can simply transform the information into a system that supports naratavist play while still maintaining a mechanical feel of D&D.

To keep the feel it would maintain the following elements

1) lots of polyhedral dice

2) the 6 well known stats

3) race / class combos

4) iconic spells (and rules to transform all spells)

i envision this being a book branded as "compatible with D&D 3.5 ed" similar to the supplement "buy the numbers"

so my questions are:

Has this been done before?
Do you think its a good idea?



The other day a new idea struck my mind.

Here is what happened.

1) I found out that a D&D 4th ed was announced/in the works

2) I was listening to an interview with one of the creators of D&D third. Talking about speculation of 4th and the design process of 3rd. he made comments like "we sat in a room and asked 'what is necessary for this game to be D&D. What can we keep, What can we get rid of?"

3) I listened to the official D&D pod cast. The hosts (game designers at wizards) made comments in one episode complaining about players "getting board when the DM describes back-story but drop a +2 sword and that gets there attention". They made reference to games that supported naratavist play through the rules. predictably they clamed that these rules weren't needed for "good story". (if only they were familiar with  GNS).

This got me thinking, what if D&D 4th released a naratavist version of the game. The designers definably want it (even if they don't know they want it). And assuming there was an easy correspondence with the current rules it would be great for people who enjoy the settings published by wizards but are looking for a naratiavist game (read me).

The question here is:

Is this a worthy idea (is it new, is it good) or is it just a misguided old hat idea?



Just to clarify. The final plan of this idea would be the publishing of a completely separate game (probably by my self) which would have the added bonus of the afore mentioned compatibility.

Grinning Moon

...Well, I mean, I don't want to come across as someone who thinks they're the absolute source when it comes to RPGs, but I really don't think D&D really translates into a strictly narrative sort of play very well. I mean, regardless of what you think of it, the game's crystal clear agenda is to feel like a game (which it does very well at) and let players kill stuff to get stuff.

WotC's drivel aside, D&D is the most popular and enduring RPG out there because it does so well what it sets out to do, and so many people dig what it sets out to do. Sitting around a table and telling a collective story isn't as at home with a bottled beverage and a bag of snacks as rolling attack dice and cleaving goblins in two is - which is the appeal, really.

Stripping out D&D's core elements as though they're the definite cause of the game's success and stapling them into a more narrative RPG, in my opinion, is going to leave you with something that feels like it got the worst of both worlds. So, no - I don't think it's such a good idea.

(Of course, what I think and what actually is tend to be two different things. So if you're set on the project, go for it).
"This game is a real SHIT>.<"

- What amounts to intelligent discourse on the internet these days.

Justin Nichol - BFG

It's certainly a novel idea, and the OGL allows you to use those game elements, but I am less concerned about what you intend to keep from D and D and more concerened with what ideas you have in making it narrativist, as this is your stated goal. I can't say it's a good or a bad idea, but if you can come up with a good system that emphasizes story, then it might be worthwhile. I have personally struggled in my own designs with wanting story but feeling a little emptiness in really freeform games in like was said earlier, it not really feeling like a game, say what you will about minmaxing and munchkins, but it is fun to tweak your character and carefully pick classes and feats. I just wish the two game goals weren't considered so mutually exclusive but I know either of their concerns get in the way of the other.


There are already a few decent deviations from the WotC version of D&D. Some of them seem to be heading in more of a Narativist direction, consider such options as the True20 system, or some of the stuff that Monte Cook is producing.

While people may argue about whether it is Narativist or not, I'd say that these areall just tools that can be used toward a gaming goal. The GM is the final arbiter of which type of game is being run.

I'd be interested to see where this sort of discussion continues.

A.K.A. Michael Wenman
Vulpinoid Studios The Eighth Sea now available for as a pdf for $1.

GB Steve

We played a fantasy version of Dogs in the Vineyard using a scenario that we'd previously played as AD&D. Although we didn't have the 6 stats, just using the four from Dogs, pretty much everything else you mention applied.

We had two kinds of magic. Magic Users could swap d6s from stats to d8s for spells, up to six points. So dropping 6d6 from stats could give you 4d8 Polymorph Magic, 2d8 Dispelling Magic.

Clerics were allowed ceremonies which could come from traits or relationships and which gave similar increased fallout as per ceremonies in Dogs. I think my cleric had such spells as "Bow before the might of Pentateuch" and "Smite Unbeliever".

Other than that we played it as straight Dogs and had enormous fun with. My PC, the nasty, LE, Provost Gondry was my favourite PC this year. We had been drafted as Kings Marshalls and sent to collect taxes and enforce the King's laws.

There's an AP here

Ron Edwards


Let's see if I understand fully ...

You're according with the six characteristic scores, with levels, with basic resolution, and with several other rules that are derived from D&D. Therefore your best option is probably to use the Open Gaming License, perhaps even D20.

You'd like your rules-set to facilitate Narrativist play. I hope it's clear that no one is stopping anyone from using D20 or any other version of D&D to play Narrativist anyway, right? The Creative Agenda is a product of human goals and interactions; it's not sitting there in the rules themselves. All that a rules-set can do is facilitate ... or rather, match the procedures of play to the aesthetic goal in question, in some form.

So the question for you can be broken into these parts.

1. What does "Narrativist play" mean to you? This is really literal. I'd like to know what players are going to enjoy, what characters are going to do, and how that will be fun, as you see it for this game.

It may be that whatever you're calling Narrativist may not, in fact, be Narrativist at all. Or maybe you're totally in accord with the definition, and then we'd have to figure out what way you'd like to see that goal expressed. Either way, the discussion can't move forward until you've presented an answer to this question. Otherwise, we'd have to guess what you want.

2. What does the payoff for play look like? I'll illustrate by describing what it looks like for the existing game. To generalize a bit, at least for many groups over the decades, the payoff in playing traditional AD&D and especially in 3.0/3.5 D&D has been to see one's character become a bad-ass - both in terms of actual personal ability and in terms of magical and social importance in the game-world. That's the payoff. To do this (again, generalizing), one has to show some tactical spirit and some understanding of basic probabilities, along with the default imaginative commitment required by all role-playing, because without that spirit and understanding, the payoff may fail.

The most direct rules-based "match" to that set of goals is the level. Just going up levels doesn't make all that stuff happen, but in combination with most of the other features of play, typically all of that stuff is facilitated, paced, and given in-game rules-support by going up levels.

So, to repeat, what does the payoff for playing your game look like? And once you've answered that, how are levels involved in facilitating it?

Best, Ron


I realize that no one is preventing D20 from being used for narativist play, however as you point out D20's rules don't facilatate that goal.

By Naratavist play i envision the pay off taking the folowing form. Players will have goals and motivations for there charictors. Some examples im thinking of are
1) Exploring secret moments of a charictor's past
2) Participating in Political and Social intrgues

The reward would be the increase of importance of your charictor in the game world. These goals would be brought about through an element of shared narative controle.

Levels may or may not facilatate that. And i think you may have misunderstood my intentions with keeping elements that evoke D&D.
In my list of elements that evoke D&D i didnot include the basic reloultion mechanic (only the requirement that many polyhedral dice be used) and did not include Levels. Although Levels are iconoc to D&D, im not realy sure they fit into my goals.

The D20 reloultion mechanic of d20 i feel is not iconic of D&D. Prevous iterations of D&D although using the same die worked diffrently in some nominal ways (BAB vs THAC0) and some key ways (non-weapon profs vs skills). I would say the only thing iconic about the resoloution mechanic is the die itself.

Thankyou for the good referances. Ive checked the key20 system out. Its a variation on the d20 rules. That path is not where my idea is going howerver.


Honestly i didnt realy put much thought to the payoff of play untill you just asked.

As such my awnser is not set in stone.

Maybe you could help me out. What are the goals of play of other games like dogs in the viniard? the mountian witch? the pool?


baron samedi

Well, as a matter of fact, I DID write and design, and am about to publish very soon, an OGL-based (French-language) RPG which rests upon the core D20 Modern SRD rules but with a Simulationist focus and Narrativist elements, such as "Relationship Health/hit points" (santé relationnelle, in French) and "scene control-sharing" by allowing the player to call on "Narrative privileges" to take the GM's role for a scene or so.

It's the second edition of a 2002-published French RPG well acclaimed by critics, "Les Chroniques d'Erdor", but this times it uses a "d20 light" not unlike a lighter version of Mutants & Masterminds or True20, with one notable exception: the game uses 3 distinct Health scales to measure Physical, Mental and Social status.

The game is essentially oneiric fantasy with alien species and no humans, while the theme is "Can incompatible civilizations, even hostile ones, unite to triumph over an enemy that threatens their very world". There's a wiki article in French on it at

Essentially, *any* action in the game is resolved by a skill test, the result of which can be substracted from one out of three health scales. "Wounds" are lethal or superficial, depending on context and purpose, with scores of zero concluding to possible death (Physical), insanity (Mental) or ritual suicide (Social). This translates the social mechanics of the game's setting, inspired by Antiquity, Africa and Orient not unlike Tékumel, Mechanical Dream (for which I've published a sourcebook, "The Thirtheenth Wheel", in 2004 or so) or Skyrealms of Jorune, for example. "Weird fantasy" of sorts.

For a genuine example on how the system works, which I see workeable for a Sim-/Nar- "d20-based" game, I'd like to share my own experience to contribute to the debate:

A clansman warlord comes to his matriarch, reporting victory over foreigners in a skirmish. He shows her his war prisoners and their captain as proof. The captain furiously says to the matriarch : "You ambushed us at night, attacking weaponless peasants while disguised as pilgrims!" The matriarch reacts in anger: "Have you dishonoured our clan, warlord?"

We've got a conflict.

This would be a Social/relational challenge, played out this way:

- The Diplomacy skill is used for the test by both sides
- The matriarch rolls a d20 + her various skuill bonus for a total roll of 9. The captain testimony counts as an Aid another manoeuvre (+2 to skill check) for a total of 11.
- The warlord defends his cause with passion and spontaneous emotion, choosing a manoeuvre called "Mighty Action" for a -3 to his skill roll but +3 to "social damage". His roll is 12; he wins.
- The warlord rolls his social damage (d6+various bonus) plus his +3 manoeuvre bonus against her "social armour" score (d6 +1 for her court of supporters). He rolls a total of 8, she rolls a total of 5.
- The warlord's total damage is 3 points, deducted from his matriarch's social health pool (which would be around 12 points in average). She's slightly disgraced for challenging a victorious warrior on his day of triumph.

If she yields, the fight could end there, but the captain or the matriarch could keep on accusing him to keep on fighting. The first one to fall to 0 points risks fainting/crying/disgracing oneself, and at -10 it's automatic social disgrace and humiliation (out for one scene). Depending on the culture, the issues might cause for a lethal challenge in which case the losing side (ashamed) would commit suicide to avoid dishonour.

Same mechanic goes for crafting artwork (social), demonic exorcism (mental), battles of wit (mental), fights or races (physical) and so on.  Skills are used instead of "basic attack bonuses". Likewise, a fighter could attempt to wound someone with an axe (Melee Weapons skill) with the victim retorting by cursing him (Diplomacy skill). The winner of the attack would respectively cause "wounds" in either the Physical or Social scale/gauge. How far the challenge goes depends on the issue, just as all combats don't end in murder.

This approach grew out of my gaming groups' dislike for combat, while requesting advanced manoeuvres for commerce, trading, persuasion, theology and the like.

So my take is that it IS possible to take the core d20 mechanics and give them a Nar-/Sim- orientation for actual gameplay. The d20 book DYNASTIES AND DEMAGOGUE does just that as a plug-in to the core d20 books, but Les Chroniques d'Erdor give inherently equal importance to the three gauges, and all manoeuvres, feats and the like are equally spread out between the three.

The game should be out on in French by september 2007; the book's done and laid out, I'm finishing the contractual stuff and the website's layout. So far the 2nd edition hasn't circulated much beyond its creators; september next month is the target month.

Just my 2 cents.

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Baron Samedi, none of that has anything to do with Creative Agendas. You're talking about how conflicts may relate to any aspect of the character's fictional situation, and that's fine. But it speaks to nothing concerning the aesthetic goals of the people playing - what they want to get out of it. That's what Creative Agenda is all about.

Mitch, it took me a couple of days to get the time to answer. You asked,

QuoteWhat are the goals of play of other games like dogs in the viniard? the mountian witch? the pool?

To absolutely clear, games do not have goals of play, not in reality. That's short-hand for talking about what the people want when they play them, and whether the game can deliver without all sorts of mental contortions or unspoken editing.

In all three cases, the games you named permit personal judgment to be exercised at an entirely imaginative, engaged level - the same personal judgment that any author brings to bear on a work of fiction. It does not have to be verbalized outright or even thought about at a verbal level. It has to be mindfully present in the play itself, that's all.

Therefore I have to list both the issues at hand (inherent in any number of aspects of the game) and the reward mechanics which operate toward seeing those issues in action.

Dogs in the Vineyard: Are naive virgins, armed with guns and beliefs, capable of justice? Can religious fervor fuel constructive ends? The immediate reward mechanics are built to generate consequences for the character that arise directly out of how violently and how determinedly the character acted in specific situations. The longer-term reward mechanics concern, not abilities used during conflicts in later scenarios, but rather the kinds of decisions made by that character during later scenarios; they are expressed by how players use the subtler mechanics like Giving, most especially.

The Mountain Witch: What is honor? Can lost honor be regained? Can it found in unexpected ways? Is the past a prison or a springboard? The immediate reward mechanics concern the mechanic called Trust, whether it is used for helping-bonuses or betrayal-bonuses through several repetitions. The longer-term reward mechanics concern characters' back-stories (Dark Fates) and whether they are, in fact, Fates after all.

The Pool: the direct content is not included; this is a generic game. Therefore the only way to come up with corresponding issues is to examine the situation/scenario and the character descriptions in any particular case. Without them, though, play cannot occur. The short-term reward mechanics are (a) based on whether one is prioritizing immediate success or enriching the details of the character (keep dice in the Pool or spend them on new Traits), or (b) based on whether one is prioritizing future effectiveness or immediate framing of the situation (Monologue of Victory). Both depend entirely on the immediate circumstances of the character. The longer-term reward mechanic is fully scenario-based and can't be generalized; we'd have to look at an example. Again, neither of these mechanics make any sense or are any fun to play unless an issue like I've described above is present. You can't play The Pool tactically; it's boring. You can't play it to model how an in-game "reality" works because the dice mechanic establishes causality retroactively.

Now, it is just barely possible that you are posting here at the Forge just to yank someone's chain. I don't need to waste my time explaining what I've already written in multiple essays and posts, unless you really want to know for purposes of a game you really want to design, in which case it's not wasting time at all. I've gone ahead and answered on the slim chance that the latter is the case, and perhaps for the benefit of anyone reading this thread who finds the question interesting.

However, I'm not especially confident that's the case. Clearly you're familiar with the jargon, although you haven't said anything to indicate whether you understand it. You've dodged answering that line of inquiry. I'm asking it again: what sort of play-events do you want to see happen, with what sort of mechanics which may potentially be embraced by people who want to play in that way?

If you can't answer that question, straightforwardly and without jargon, then you don't have a game design in process at all and should post in Actual Play, if at all. If you can answer it, then the various other posters and I are here to discuss it with you. Which is it?

Best, Ron

baron samedi


For clarifications; I should have specified that in the example above, target numbers and health point losses are dependent on one's culture (e.g losing face is cause for lethal wounds for a Central, but not for a Southerner, but failing to respect one's religion would be the inverse). Since the premise of the game is "can people of conflictual cultures unite to overcome a common enemy" (the evil Theocracy of a Shub-Nuggurath-like entity), I'd dare say that enforcing that putting very much emphasis on the cultural element through mechanics does touch the heart narrative premise of the game. It was designed that way, at least. As for whether that's Narrativism or Sim, I'll let the experts decide. :-)

I just think that rolling a d20+bonus isn't by itself nefarious to pursuing a Nar agenda in such a case, i.e. that D20-variants are not anti-Narrativist by design (since system does matter, as you say). That was my sole comment. :-)



Ron Edwards

I see what you mean, and I completely agree with your point. It raises another important point: that when using the basic D20 engine, we can't really discuss Creative Agenda without examining an absolutely local situation of play, and looking at whatever reward mechanics and reward phenomena are going on in that situation. I talk about why this is in my Gamism essay, if anyone's interested.

Best, Ron


I guess one of the themes in this thread is that people have a lot of different ideas about what adding "Narrativist" focus to a game like D&D actually means. I mean, in the posts below, I can see

- exploration of deep issues facilitated through game mechanics / setting
- game mechanics for social conflict at an equal level of complexity to combat
- sharing of responsibility for scene creation and resolution
- replacing alignment with a more complex system of, say, beliefs, which are supported by game mechanics
- etc etc (that's all I can come up with off the top of my head!)

Now, I love "Narrativist" games, but some of these things attract me more than others... and would attract my players more than others. I think it'd be really cool to introduce narrativist game theory to D&D, just to improve the game of D&D. Like, all of my players get enjoyment out of making their characters more powerful, but most of them get enjoyment out of exploring their characters personalities and pasts, and some of them would like to take on some responsibility for framing the game world. I'd be interested in a distinct set of "Narrativist add-ons" that I could plug into my D&D group to enhance and broaden the play experience. We'd still be playing D&D, and still rolling dice and bashing goblins, but we'd be doing other stuff as well.

I guess my point is that I'd be more attracted to a product like you describe if it was a series of stand-alone supplements, or a selection pack of ideas. That way, I can pick and choose which techniques will enhance my group's play. There's a PDF around somewhere called Raising the Stakes, by Ryan Stourton (I bet there's a link somewhere on here, but I can't find it now) that you might want to take a look at, too - it looks at introducing a few ideas that you might call Narrativist to D&D.

Ron Edwards


That's a good summary of the thread. You phrased your list well: what you're seeing people call Narrativist design. Unfortunately, the list is also illustrating confusion - not diversity of opinion, not differing perceptions, but confusion. I'll explain what I mean and with any luck this will make sense to lots of people reading the thread.

Narrativist play addresses problematic, real human issues. By"address," that means that the issue is present in the fictional situation, and that characters' actions resolve it somehow. That's it.

So, on your list:

Quote- exploration of deep issues facilitated through game mechanics / setting

That is right on the money with two corrections. First, "deep" can be read as a value judgment; the only requirement for the issue is that it be relevant to the actual humans playing (which is what I'm pretty sure you meant). Second, instead of setting, it would be the Shared Imagined Space; setting is one of five components of the SIS, with Situation being the biggie among them.

Quote- game mechanics for social conflict at an equal level of complexity to combat
- sharing of responsibility for scene creation and resolution
- replacing alignment with a more complex system of, say, beliefs, which are supported by game mechanics
- etc etc (that's all I can come up with off the top of my head!)

Here's where the conceptual problem is. All of the above are techniques, and no isolated one of them will make play Narrativist or make a game design Narrativist-facilitating. To talk about how game design can facilitate an agenda, we have to talk about a bunch of techniques interacting, especially concerning the reward mechanics and whether they really pay off at the social/creative level.

I've played Narrativist D&D 3.0/3.5, no problem, without any of those modifications, nor any other. It certainly meant ignoring or minimizing features of the system which are very important in other groups (most notably levelling-up), but it didn't require adding anything like what's on that list.

So Millsy, I'm not posting to correct or smack you down, but rather to say, the terminology makes a lot of sense as long as one is not distracted by single techniques and thinks of aesthetic goals instead.

Best, Ron