Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Drift, Synergy, & The Great Unspoken

Started by George Pletz, May 02, 2001, 05:38:00 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

George Pletz

Hello all!

In Paul's thread, A Variant Phylogeny, Ron  made a comment about how early RPG may have played as narrativist but were written in simulation. This made me think back to the early days of my own experience.

Despite doing a story based campaign in D&D 1st ed, a gamist system, which as we all know probably limited my success at reaching my own game goal, there was much that did work in the character development end of things. However now that I have admitted to myself my interest in a good story over a realistic one, I have found limited success in getting these narrative goals across.

Which leads me to a question - Is it possible that the age of those playing has an effect on the abiltity to get into character?(In the aforementioned exmaple, our group weren't consciously acting in character we just did it.)

Now I will admit that it did not begin as everbody keeping journals and developing PC/ GMC relationships. Somewhere from where it began to where it ended, there was a shift. Could it be possible that is why there is so much resistance to the three fold model? Is it common for many groups to drift towards a narrative stance after a prolonged amount of gamist or simulative play? (ie everyone gets to know each other thus becomes more comfortable, more willing to extend themselves into characterization.)

On a side note, I was thinking that the possible reason that narrativists games will be in minority rather than majority is the psychological synergy afforded to really make it work. Simulationist and Gamist games require less meta-game knowledge of a group's members. To the popular way of thinking, any group of strangers meeting at the game shop can hop right into D&D. Whereas if a group decides to do something like Story Engine, you have to know more about the members and more importantly trust their abilties to add to the story without detracting from it. Again this is not my belief so much a practice that I have seen. It is just as likely that a D&D game doesn't come off due to this abscent knowledge of the players as any other game. Still the idea seems fairly entrenched and would require some work to dispell.

I mean the thing I have noticed about stating up front that we're going to do something more character centered that my players get tensed up. It's like they are concerned that they aren't actors.I must admit that I do feel like I have to really push to make the GMCs work whereas when I wasn't thinking in these terms the GMCs came together effortlessly. This effortlessness is not about my ego but the connection PCs developed with them. It is a wonderful thing when a group make a GMC come to life. The question is was  that really a conscious thing or something predicated on The Great Unspoken?

(Aside - The Great Unspoken is my term for that attitude where by not talking about  game issues you make a game  work. I don't really believe it but I think it is a fairly common belief. That gaming is somehow a "magical" experience. That it is something done behind the screen as it were. I guess some folks don't like to see behind the curtain.)

Okay, here's a final question. How do you reduce the "distance" between players and GMs quickly without alienating anybody? At the moment, I am thinking of questionaire over interview.



Heh. I've often seen things go the other way. When you know people fairly well, you feel free to mess around and turn the game into silliness. On the other hand, when roleplaying with strangers, you feel you have to put on a "game face" and roleplay to the best of your ability. I've seen more consistant play at cons that at my own table.

Ron Edwards

Hey George (and good to see you!),

I think the terminology of "character-centered" and so on may be misleading. It can mean too many things.

- Some might say, "Oh, so we have to play 'in character' and be penalized unless we hose ourselves."
- Some might say, "Damn, the GM is going to keep taking over my PC because the PC's actions have to match his pre-arranged chain of events."
- Some might say, "Ooooh, I get to play a big role in determining the story."

And none of these (contradictory) reactions might be what the GM had in mind by saying that.

(He said, looking abashed and shuffling his feet slightly) It might be useful to pitch a game or proposed play session in terms of G/N/S, but not using any jargon terms. For instance, if you're taking a Narrativist slant, then say, "I have no pre-arranged plot and I'm hoping that we can MAKE a story together. Here are some examples of the kind of decisions you can have power over during play." [follow with Author stance decisions.]

I've followed some discussions of "drift" with interest. More on that later, you bet.


Ron Edwards

Ah. Now I remember what I wanted to say. It's got several nuances, so my actual viewpoint exists somewhere at the intersection of the following ideas.

1) I have no problem with the idea of Narrativism as a minority activity of role-players as a whole. Is it? Probably, and that's OK. This is not elitism on my part but rather indifference. The profile of role-players is whatever it is.

I will suggest, however, that quality Gamism is probably also a similar minority. Clinton and I have been discussing the idea that there are really very few high-quality, focused Gamist RPGs, and I suggest that role-players who do well at it are probably as picky about their fellow players as Narrativism-oriented people are.

2) I think your idea that non-Narrativist play is easier, and that Narrativism develops over time, is only true for members of self-identified gamer culture. I suggest that many people are very, very skilled Narrativist role-players without any problem at all - as long as they HAVEN'T been entrained to the other priorities already. I've also found that some youngsters have amazed me in their abilities in this regard.

3) As for drift, we ought to think about constructive drift (which basically means everyone present ends up meeting his or her goals) and destructive drift, which means either (a) the group/game fizzles or (b) it continues with few if anyone having fun.


George Pletz

On 2001-05-02 19:07, Mytholder wrote:
Heh. I've often seen things go the other way. When you know people fairly well, you feel free to mess around and turn the game into silliness. On the other hand, when roleplaying with strangers, you feel you have to put on a "game face" and roleplay to the best of your ability. I've seen more consistant play at cons that at my own table.

That's interesting. So you mean at your own table, it is harder for the players to take your "game face" seriously?
Or do you mean that the Con environment enforces serious conduct implicitly?


George Pletz

Hey Ron!

I've been pretty careful about exposing my players to GNS. It just seems sort of verboten(!)- To those accoustom to the Great Unspoken it is overly analytical. Which is ironic when you consider that gaming can be the long division version of daydreaming but I digress. The point has been to implement subtle but distinct slants in the direction of narrativism. Subtle so as not to intimidate/alienate those coming from the wargames angle but, distinct to let 'em know this isn't a "clear the level" kind of deal. Deprogramming seems like a harsh word but it certainly feels like it.(Breaking the third wall? Nah, too obtuse.)

With the group on hiatus, I am trying to evaluate the games we have played so far for clues on how to improve.(We are doing the rotating GM/rotating game thing. Or as I rather pretentiously call it, a Gaming Showcase - more than a demo, less than a campaign.).The only thing I am clear on so far is that is if anyone is going to bring the narrative thing to the table it's me.

Looking back at the past experiences for ways to improve,I can see another point of resistance to GNS. Without it, the gaming group has only its continuation for a mark of success. GNS emphasizes the shades of success and failure inherent in any game.

More on the second post when I figure out what I want to say. (Besides I need a refresher in authorial stances!)



On 2001-05-03 13:45, George Pletz wrote:
That's interesting. So you mean at your own table, it is harder for the players to take your "game face" seriously?
Or do you mean that the Con environment enforces serious conduct implicitly?

A bit of both. At home, roleplaying's just an alternative to playing cards, watching Buffy or just messing about. (To borrow Ron's playing in a band metaphor, it's a casual jam as opposed to a serious session). At a con, you're there to PLAY. It's not a way to while away the evening, it's your whole reason for being there. You're going to concentrate more on the game...

Also, when you are playing with people you know, there is a temptation to take the piss more and poke fun. It can turn the other way, and your familiarity with the other players lets you go farther and run a deeper, more character-driven game, of course (and strangely, I've seen the same person do both. One of my friends can make one deep narrative game into a farce, then turn around and be the driving force behind the next session, taking it all deadly seriously.) return to a previous comment of mine: one reason that con gaming tends to be serious and intense is because it's on a time limit. You've only got three hours or so to bring things to a conclusion. There's no time for messing around, everything has to count. I wonder if some games wouldn't benefit from this, some mechanic to build tension and urgency.

And as I write this, I realise Tynes did it in Puppetland already. Damn that man.

(Oh - my regular play isn't quite as casual as I make it sound, although it's light years from being hard-core narrativism).

George Pletz

Now that I've had some time to think about it...

I have no problem with narrativism and quality gamism being in the minority besides the obvious ones.

Point taken about the move toward narrativism. This idea expresses something that I forgot. It reminds of the few times I have played with people who were not part of the gaming loop. Just more open to the idea of becoming a character, I guess.

Now we come to the drift.

While the idea of constructive and destructive drift is interesting I am not sure how it fits with my original idea of drift.

I think of drift as a variance from design model For example, the idea that early games were played narratively and written as simulation.

Now this variance can constructive or destructive depending on the intentions of those using the system. So I see this is more a question of focus in the meta-game rather than having anything to do with system or setting.

Yes how tight the reins are held at the table can push things in one direction or another. But I think it would be remiss to say that this will yield a certain result. In other words good luck trying to quantify it.  

For example,I've never been a real ogre about table talk so it has never been an issue. Now I've been in a group where table talk was an issue and it really makes you wonder. Could have the GM handled it better? That's a focus question.

Whether or not Simulationism is just an attempt at compassionate gamism is a drift question.


Ron Edwards

Hey George,

As I understand it, drift most applies to the difference between what's in the book (the text of the RPG design) and how a given group plays (what they do). The drift that occurs between the role-playing experience of game designers and the text they produce is a different phenomenon (damned interesting in itself, but different).

And, again as I understand it, drift could be FROM any textual combination of G/N/S design to ANY logistically-possible version of G/N/S activity. So you're right, predictable outcomes are pretty hard to spot. However, I do think there are some commonly-seen instances of drift that could be linked to certain kinds of game design.

For instance, Amber is (in my opinion) written with a lot of Gamist design features. A group that begins playing Amber with a lot of Narrativist intent or priority may find itself altering the rules quite a lot, playing down the competitive aspects of character design and resolution. Or conversely, a group might find itself drifting TOWARD the Gamist elements of Amber play, simply because the system facilitates it.

Let me know if I'm getting this all wrong, because the rest of the stuff I want to discuss depends on this being on target.


George Pletz


To be honest I am not exactly certain of the extent that drift can be applied.

I can get behind the idea of the variance between theory and practice. However I am not so sure about how deep the idea of drift extends.

With the terms creative and destructive as describing drift it seems to take it someplace beyond the intent of the game design vs how it is used. Are we saying that the faults of those who use a system are the shortcomings of the designer?

Now I can see the presentation of a given set of rules as being a source of drift. But if a game is successful (creative)despite the limits of the rules can that be deemed a success for the designer?

Drift is only as bad as much it is unrecognized. The more unaware of drift one is can certainly be a problem. I think that the more one adjusts in regards to drift determines success or failure.

And that is where my question of drift's depths comes from. I am not disputing the correlation between text and activity but the extent to which drift can be ascribed.

Well that's what I got at the moment. Let me think about it some more.


[ This Message was edited by: George Pletz on 2001-05-05 10:49 ]

Ron Edwards

Your post has confused me a little, so I'll try to clarify, or maybe you can help.

1) "Drift" in and of itself is no bad thing. If a game as written ain't fun for you and your group, then "drift" to a more-fun use of it. Cool.

My long-standing point of course is that the group may be better served by finding or designing a different game entirely.

My point at the moment, though, is that such an event may occur because the game is WELL-written for purpose A, but the group may want purpose B, and it may also occur because the game is BADLY-written for purpose A, and the group does indeed want purpose A.

And another point at the moment is that if a game is WELL-written for purpose A, the group may find itself shifting to very-defined purpose-A actions because that's what the mechanics are encouraging.

2) "Intent" is frankly not an issue. I'm talking about the TEXT of the game, regardless of any and all "intents" of the designers (with very few exceptions, I think that such intents are so incoherent as to be useless).

As a rule, I'm interested in TEXT of game design in regard to G/N/S, and ACTIONS of players and GMs in regard to G/N/S. Getting into "intent" in either case is not my territory.

You know, I'm not sure if I'm helping or hindering your desired discussion of drift on this thread. Please notify.


George Pletz

Ok let's try to recast this question.

Let's lay down some terms first.

Drift = The variance between text and action: the old "theory vs practice" saw. Drift is not good or bad, it just is. Ideally the lower the drift, the closer to the center point of a specfic style one is.

Synergy = Player/GM dynamics. How does a group interact and what comes out of this interaction. The group as holistic block.

The Great Unspoken = The idea held by many gamers that the less one takes the experience apart, the better it is.  Like sh*t, good gaming just happens. I think that this is a big reason for the resistance to GNS. Overanalysis dilutes the experience for many.

Where I am at -

Where do these things intersect?  If there is a drift between theory and practice how can you create constructive synergy especially if you are dealing with the great unspoken? Can drift be used to gauge synergy?

Let's see if this gets it across. I keep writing this post maybe the answer will come to me. Growing up in public sure is tough :smile:


[ This Message was edited by: George Pletz on 2001-05-05 18:23 ]

[ This Message was edited by: George Pletz on 2001-05-05 20:33 ]

George Pletz

Okay here's a reply that Ron sent me privately. I post it here on his behalf. He doesn't have a copy or the desire to reconstruct I don't blame him for not wanting to do it over. It's great.-

The relationship between drift and synergy, as I see it, is as follows:

Synergy is the means by which ANY degree of coherency is achieved by a role-playing group. It is necessary for any of the G/N/S goals to be expressed in any functional way (and I'll admit to the possibility of combinations here).

So one sees synergy in action even in the absence of drift - when the game has Purpose A and the group has purpose A. The synergy comes into play to establish and reinforce that commonality of purpose.

One also sees synergy in action when the game is incoherent or has some purpose besides A. The group's synergy, probably expressed in part by tweaking the rules, results in purpose A.

And it's also there when the game is coherently "A" but the group is coherently something else, and works together along the lines of that something else.

But when synergy fails - in ANY of the three examples above (only the last two of which are "drift") - incoherency results, "fun" vanishes, and you get a fizzle or one of those painful play-forever-but-bitch games.

The band metaphor, the band metaphor, the band metaphor.

If this makes sense, let me know, and I'll pop it up on the thread.


[ This Message was edited by: George Pletz on 2001-05-08 12:19 ]

Ron Edwards

Thanks George! I was kicking myself for not retaining a copy of my letter to you, and now I can stop.