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Author Topic: Top 5 Begins!  (Read 10660 times)
Ian O'Rourke
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« on: October 02, 2001, 12:27:00 PM »

Not sure if this is the place for it, but the Top 5 RPG's series of articles has begun on Fandomlife.net.

The first one is very interesting - or I thought it was anyway :smile:
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Ian O'Rourke
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2001, 07:16:00 AM »

There are to be more of these? I thought that it was just an article by Gliechman.

Readers should be aware that Gliechman's unompromising Gamism is the criteria by which he chooses his games, a fact which he spends a good part of the article explaining.

That being said I agree with a couple of his choices (especially number one), and a strictly gamist viewpoint was refreshing. Which means I've been spending too much time around here. :wink:

Mike
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2001, 08:22:00 AM »

It is a series, always intended to be one, I should probably add something about that but that got lost in the move to weekly updates.

At the moment I have two others, I'd probably leave at this, though one may have dropped out - I'm not sure.
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Ian O'Rourke
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Marco
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« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2001, 08:27:00 AM »

I'm not sure Deadlands (being on the list) was "strictly gamist." It's a good article. I agree with him about Hero and CoC.

Also, he's picking them by how well the system works and not what the concept is--is that 'gameist?' I thought gameist was a motivation (and a pure narrativist could like Hero because his characters come out the way he likes them to).

-Marco
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Ian O'Rourke
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« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2001, 10:08:00 AM »

This is one of the more interesting things about the series though. Brian has chosen his Top 5 almost excusively on system - or at least that is what he focuses on.

My Top 5 mentions system rarely and it's all about background and premise. Another person (who has not completed yet but he sent me a small sample) has an angle that seems to be linked in with effect on his gaming the game had.

Everyone has a different perspective.


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Ian O'Rourke
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[ This Message was edited by: Ian O'Rourke on 2001-10-03 14:08 ]
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Ian O'Rourke
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2001, 11:21:00 AM »

Hmm.. Cool idea for a recurring column.

Brian has stated that he's a Gamist; if you don't believe me, then ask him.

And in the article he pointed out how he rated his games on how their gamist elements (especially maneuver and resource management in combat) were to him the most important things about a game. He discusses the importance of the wargaming heritage and the remaining links, and how good these games are, well, as wargames essentially. Yes, he does stick to the system which is what GNS is all about (System Does Matter).

As I said, it is refreshing to hear such an unabashed proponent of this style of play, and what games he thinks are good for his style.

And, oh yeah Marco, Hero System and CoC rock! But while narrativists may like the open endedness of the Hero System chargen, the majority of the rest of the system is directed towards gamism or simulationism. Very little that actually promotes or facilitates narrativist play. At least most narrativists will tell you this.

Mike

[ This Message was edited by: Mike Holmes on 2001-10-03 15:25 ]
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Marco
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« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2001, 03:26:00 AM »

Ok--but I'm still murky: if what I really like is the stories that get told but I don't want to tell them myself as a player (being in the 'Director' stance?) and wish for the system to make things work out 'right' is that gamist?

That is, if I want a game mechanic naturally that conforms to my 'expectation of reality' so I don't want to have to worry about "burning plot points" or other such mechanics to tell the story does that make me a gamist or a narrativist? I'm not sure.

For me that's what Hero was (and GURPS to some extent too): I wanted a system that was detailed enough and flowed the way I wanted it to so that the stories I was playing in, or telling, worked out 'naturally' in the system.

When the system failed (firearms in Hero) we made changes to it (increased lethality). None of this was done to 'win.' In many cases I'd take a 'loss' (the unearthly demon escapes!) that was true to the narrative tone and story arc. But I wanted (badly) a system that was as close to my concept of reality as I could get so that the events in-game worked out as I thought they should. So maybe that's simulationist?

I'm probably missing something basic here. :smile:

Oh, and as for CoC: the game evokes great atmosphere--but it's not so much (IMHO) the system (outside of the basic mechanics of SAN, and the skill list, and the general lethality level). It's the monsters listed, the artwork, the price list and all that stuff.

I think if GURPS had exactly the same book but with GURPS stats (and the added on SAN system) it'd be just as good (same general lethality, same skill list, and SAN-points aren't all that heavy a mechanic).

So maybe: Cover Art and Source Material Does Matter? Really, I do think system is *very* important but it's important in different ways to different people.

Regards,
-Marco
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2001, 06:42:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-10-04 07:26, Marco wrote:
Ok--but I'm still murky: if what I really like is the stories that get told but I don't want to tell them myself as a player (being in the 'Director' stance?) and wish for the system to make things work out 'right' is that gamist?

Nope. The desire for story is narrativist. The desire for "right" is simulationist.

Quote

That is, if I want a game mechanic naturally that conforms to my 'expectation of reality' so I don't want to have to worry about "burning plot points" or other such mechanics to tell the story does that make me a gamist or a narrativist? I'm not sure.

Simulationist most likely with narrativist leanings. Or possibly the reverse.

Quote

For me that's what Hero was (and GURPS to some extent too): I wanted a system that was detailed enough and flowed the way I wanted it to so that the stories I was playing in, or telling, worked out 'naturally' in the system.

This was the exact point I made in a post that I had not too long ago. These systems tend to stay out of the way of telling stories. They do little to harm them. This does not mean that they are narrativist systems, though. Narrativist systems do things to facilitate story (while possibhly sacrificing that "naturalness" that you refer to, though not necessarily).

Quote

When the system failed (firearms in Hero) we made changes to it (increased lethality). None of this was done to 'win.' In many cases I'd take a 'loss' (the unearthly demon escapes!) that was true to the narrative tone and story arc. But I wanted (badly) a system that was as close to my concept of reality as I could get so that the events in-game worked out as I thought they should. So maybe that's simulationist?

In these particulars, yes, you are a simulationist. BTW, what you describe are may leanings as well, and to that extent I might be labeled more of a Simulationist than anything else.

Quote

I'm probably missing something basic here. :smile:

Yes something very basic. Anyone can be all three. I like to think that I am. The only advantage to this that I can find, BTW, is that I am not disapointed by the choice of mode for the games I play in and I feel fine running any sort of game. It is entirely possible that people with a specific preference of one of the three enjoy that mode more than I enjoy any of the three, though, so there may be great advantages to focusing on only one.

When I say that a person is a Gamist (or whatever ist) I mean that that person seems to either consistently play in a gamist way, or they prefer gamist games. Some people are combinations of two or all three. That is they play each way by turns. Particular decisions are always made with one of the three biases, people just change their criteria sometimes. One moment I am playing to win the scenario. The next I am having my character do something stupid because its realistic that I would do so. The next I am having my character do something unrelaistic because it advances the plot. In this case I'm shifting from gamist, to simulationist, to narrativist play. The question in defining the game is which of these styles does it support best.

Quote

Oh, and as for CoC: the game evokes great atmosphere--but it's not so much (IMHO) the system (outside of the basic mechanics of SAN, and the skill list, and the general lethality level). It's the monsters listed, the artwork, the price list and all that stuff.

I think if GURPS had exactly the same book but with GURPS stats (and the added on SAN system) it'd be just as good (same general lethality, same skill list, and SAN-points aren't all that heavy a mechanic).

So maybe: Cover Art and Source Material Does Matter? Really, I do think system is *very* important but it's important in different ways to different people.

The point of the System Does Matter essay is not that only the system matters, but that people's claim that the system does not matter, or that only the setting and people involved with the game matter, are false. Of course it's the awesome setting of CoC that makes the game great. But an analysis of the system shows a simulationist bent. First, as an early game that avoids HP inflation instead choosing to proportion them out "realistically" you can see it heading towards simulationism. Also, the linking of skills to intelligence and education are indicaive. The thing that most makes the game simulationist, though, is the sanity rules, which attempt to put in place something that simulates with some accuracy, the tendency of characters in Lovecraft's work.

To the extent that CoC tries to balance out starting characters with its random generation, and to which it laboriously details the stats of the monsters, etc. these are gamist details. Note that Gliechman says that it is flawed in this manner, and in this he is pointing out that the system is more simulationist than gamist. But he likes the setting a lot too, and the extreme challenges of trying to actually survive the scenarios.

Note again that most of the games mentioned do not have anything that explicitly promotes the creation of a good story. In fact, most of them have things that do stand in the way to an extent.

For example, Hero System (and similarly GURPS) has a point based system, the tweaking of which often becomes an important part of he game. This focus on points is one thing that may detract from story, or rather that focuses on the gamey elements of play (trying to build better characters, trying to be effective). Also the predominance of the rules in detailing combat and especially in making a rigorously balanced conflict system of it is partiularly gamist. To the extent that these then go further and try to make their systems simulative of reality, further adding complexity to achieve that, these systems then move into simulationism, thereby (though please note that this is only one way to simulate).

Again, this only speaks to how the systems are written. They can be played differently if you like. But as Ron says, this is swimming upstream. The system acts then not as a facilitator of the kind of play you seek, but instead as a detractor. To that extent people often modify these systems quite a bit to make the sort of play desired easier to achieve.

For example, many GMs when generating characters for either Hero or GURPS will do it questionaire style. That is, the GM will sit down with the player and ask a series of questions about the character, and then build the character using the rules to simulate it as best is possible. This method takes a lot of the gamism out as players can't min/max, and instead focus on characters that are suitable for the game in question. Another tactic that I take is to just drop the points systems altogether with experienced players. I just let them choose whatever levels of abilities that make sense. Again, this eliminates the most gamist element from the game.

The above described systems are my favorite, and I think the sort that you are might be interested in as well, Marco. Essentially, they support suspension of disbelief while allowing stories to occur, if they do, leaving that as a matter for the GM mostly. In pratice, because of my players preferences I usually leave in the gamist elements as most of my players enjoy those thoroughly as well and are uninterested for the most part in the story.

Does this help at all? I'm trying to describe from example, because it seems like the definitions aren't doing you much good. Still, you might want to reread them again to see if they make any more sense now.

Mike
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2001, 06:44:00 AM »

Quote

and wish for the system to make things work out 'right'

That is, if I want a game mechanic naturally that conforms to my 'expectation of reality'

detailed enough and flowed the way I wanted it to so that the stories I was playing in, or telling, worked out 'naturally' in the system.

So maybe that's simulationist?


Simulationist = accuracy, 'realism' (remaining true to the genre expectations), versimilitude.  So, yes, I'd say you are definitely a Simulationist.

According to my understanding of the issue, *liking the story that is produced and *wanting a story produced do not make one a Narrativist if one's methodology is different.

(Anyone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong)

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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Marco
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« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2001, 08:24:00 AM »

Mike,

Wow, one hell of a post :smile: I think what I was hung up on was the concept of story promoting simulation systems being picked as top products by an avowed gameist. Maybe put like that it's easier to see my confusion.

Your point about narrativist systems sacrificnign what I called "Naturalism" for 'story-promotion' was well taken too. It's not that I was 'confused' exactly but that I felt that things were being a bit fuzzy (which they could be since you suggested I might be a simulationist with narrativist leanings).

Btw: when I said 'right' I mean 'right for the story' not 'right for relality.' A "real system" would probably have plunged Luke into the Death Star's chasm in the swinging with Leia scene (this is highly debatable, of course depending on what reality it was simulating). I'd want a system that let him make it without the player having to "author" the scene himself.

Thanks,
-Marco
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jburneko
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« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2001, 08:59:00 AM »

Quote

Btw: when I said 'right' I mean 'right for the story' not 'right for relality.' A "real system" would probably have plunged Luke into the Death Star's chasm in the swinging with Leia scene (this is highly debatable, of course depending on what reality it was simulating). I'd want a system that let him make it without the player having to "author" the scene himself.


Hello Marco,

I thought I'd just stick my head in here and say that this paragraph leads me to believe you are what I call a 'genre simulationist.'  I know because I am/was one.  You are interested in finding mechanics that simulate the nature of the reality in which you are playing.  This is why I love 7th Sea and to a lesser extent Deadlands.  Both games have mechanics that make the world work like a swashbuckling movie or a horror-western.  

I was always on a quest to find a game that simulated its intended genre almost perfectly.  I personally never found it. (Although 7th Sea comes close).  The problem is that at some point the system will abandon you.  The system doesn't (and can't) have knowledge of dramatic pacing.  That is at somepoint SOMETHING is going to go counter to genre conventions or more specifically counter to your sense of dramatic timing.  Maybe this doesn't bother you or perhaps it's just never occured to you in a way that you've noticed or cared about.

The simplest example I can think of is Call of Cthulhu which also does a good job of simulating it's genre conventions.  However, in a good Lovecraftian tale everyone should survive and stay sane for at least 2/3 of the story.  However, with enough bad die rolls or a simple mistake on the GM's part in terms of game design there's a good chance someone will die or go insane too EARLY to be a satisfying story.

This is why as of late I have turned to Narrativistic techniques.  Narrativistic techniques puts all that pacing and dramatic flow in the hands of the players (GM included) instead of in the hands of the dice.  The dice are mostly a compass telling you in what direction the game flows but the nature of that flow is left up to the players most of the time.

But that's just me.  If you've had more success with this than I have, more power to you.  

Hope this was insightful.

Jesse
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2001, 09:13:00 AM »

This last that you describe is right on the Sim/Narr line. The classic example is Feng Shui. Nitpickers will point out that Feng Shui is is a Simulation of HK action stories. There are a number off games that do this. The mechanics do not so much promote story as try to make the action in the game seem like the sort of stuff that you'd find in that sort of story. Again, any actual story is not the product of the system so much as the GM and players. Lots of people like this mode of play including (unsurprisingly) myself. Pendragon is another good example.

Using your example, a Star Wars system of this nature would probably use the Robin Laws maxim from Feng Shui and state that exciting actions of this nature get a bonus to succeed. Note that you still have to roll, though. A truely narrativist system would probably just have a means for the player to ensure that he was successful, or at least that failures weren;t bad for the plot.

This is similar to the discussion of the "Whiff Syndrome". That is that many narrativist players find simulationist systems distastefull because characters spend a lot of time attacking each other and missing repeatedly. Many narrative systems have methods that avoid that entirely.

This relates to the difference between task resolution and conflict resolution. In a task resolution system you would roll to see whether you got across the chasm and would get some sort of result that would indicate your level of success. In conflict resolution, crossing the chasm would probably be part of a whole "fleeing" conflict, and failures could be interpereted in such a way that doesn't involve character death from a fall, but other negative consequences. Like getting hurt while swinging across. Or annoying Leia instead of impressing her. Or deciding not to jump and getting caught.

This is narrativist because it makes for a better story than if Luke plunges to his death. It is not simulationist because the player's declared action may not occur as declared. In a simulaionist game you say that you are going to jump and you do; the only question is level of success.

Conflict resolution can be decided by the GM. This is the Model that Ron promotes for the use of Sorcerer in general. So, it does not require directorial or even authorial play by the player, while still delivering the story enhancing play that you are looking for. The one place that this might disrupt the SOD of a simulationist is knowing that the GM is usig fiat to determine the exact effects. But if this sort of thing appeals to you, then maybe you are a narrativist with sim leanings instead.

You can't have your cake and eat it too. Either the test is left to a randomized simulation of game reality which may produce results that are not good for the story, or there is some sort of mechanic operating that will keep the result good for the story but which may detract from SOD due to external monkeying. Which do you prefer?

BTW, others would put you firmly in the dramatist classification which actually belongs to another model entirely, but in this case might indicate that you like story above all else, but are not willing to use authorial or directorial power necessarily to get there.

Probably not too important to nail it down perfectly, you might be satisfied by any of these sorts of games.

Mike
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Marco
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« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2001, 10:34:00 AM »

Mike,

Interesting thread (to me at least :smile: ).

I prefer games that have room for failure vs. rules for ensuring plot. For me it's a drama thing. I realize that drama can come from other areas (and that conflict resolution can be dramatic too)--but my personal preference leans towards making rolls against a chance of success.

*HAVING YOUR CAKE AND EATING IT TOO*
Thinking about Narrativist Game Mechanics (NGM): I wrote JAGS (Just Another Gaming System) to be a simulation for many different genres. For 'realistic' games characters would be more likely to plummet (and probably shouldn't try such risky maneuvers). For more cinematic games characters would be more likely to succeed (part of my mechanic was the bellcurve for the game pretty steep: critical failures are 1:1296 instead of Hero/GURPS's 1:216)

JAGS is a rules-heavy 'simulationist' system with point-based characters. However, I've been toying with adding certain Narrativist mechanics as optional rules.

An example would be "Success Points" which guarantee success on a roll and get alloted based on things like 'being true to your character's theme.'

(I *think* that qualifies as an NGM.)

The idea would be, as described, to take some of the potential bite out of make-or-break die-rolls.

I'm not sure what those rules would be like in terms of dramatic impact for me. It might be cool (maybe players can buy a character enhancement: Gets to Talk His Way Out of Trouble Once Per Session for 12pts).

NOTE: If Luke is going to die and end the game, the GM is taking pretty severe chances with the story. It's much better if, instead of plummeting to his death, he gets captured and has to work his way out. 'Roll or die' is the absolute worst case of simulationism/gameism that I can think of.

*POINT BASED CHARGEN*
One of the great unsung advantages of point-based chargen (and there are many problems with it) is that point-cost systems provide a structure for character conception. I think it was Warren Zevon who said (on being commissioned for a song by, I think, an advertising agency) that he liked to work with parameters and structure because left to his own devices he'd just sit around like a lazy monkey.

Chargen with price-lists and point costs isn't a wonderful way to do make characters but it helps give someone casting about for an idea a way to solidify it.

-Marco
[ If you're interested you can check out JAGS at:
http://jagsgame.dyndns.org/jags/index.jsp ]
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Marco
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« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2001, 10:46:00 AM »

Jesse,

Good post, and good insights. I think you're right about me being a genre simulationist--at least it rings true to me. One way to play a gamist/simulationist system (if there can truly be said to be such a thing) is to run adventures where there's no chance of dice-failure.

Our JAGS Adventure: The Belltower has no combat at all (it's pretty bizzare in terms of story but it's an example of a module with 0-chance of a failure based on luck ... there is a bit of combat at the very end but the PC's literally can't lose, and more-or-less know they can't).

Another is the one-shot survival horror adventure: Season of Worms where the players may live or die (the first set of PC's *all* die, almost no matter what--and hopefully have fun doing it) and again there's no room for failure on rolls (there's a tiny chance but it's far more likely a player will gum things up than the dice).

In both adventures the combat is there for dramatic effect.

I agree with you in essence, though. I've had games go south on me due to bad roll. I've had more go bad due to players who either misunderstood something critical or simply *really* didn't share my world-view about what's going on (someone once executed a cleaning girl in a fantasy game because the "maid with a broom" was taken to be a "maiden on a broom--a witch").

You can always employ the narrativist solution of going back and re-rolling the dice (if the group considers this cheating they might well consider other narrativist constructs cheating too).

Finally, my gamist tendencies (I guess) give me a great deal of enjoyment out of playing my way out of bad situations. I and a friend were once run through a *very* unforgiving dungeon. Our characters knew they had no business being in there and had to play super-carefully to survive. It was quite a blast to know that the generally forgiving GM would mercillesly kill us if we screwed up. I wouldn't want to do that all the time-but once in a while, having no safety net was exciting.

Regards,
-Marco
[ both those adventures and more are available on the JAGS site. ]
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jburneko
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« Reply #14 on: October 04, 2001, 01:01:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-10-04 14:46, Marco wrote:

You can always employ the narrativist solution of going back and re-rolling the dice (if the group considers this cheating they might well consider other narrativist constructs cheating too).


Whoa! Whoa! Before Ron sees this let me just say that this is *NOT* the Narrativist's solution.  If it were then why are we rolling dice at all in the first place?  No, dice fudging is a common misconception.  This is why Ron and other Narrativists have focused so heavily on rethinking how we design systems.  Narrativists want systems that fascilitate story creation and not just task resolution.

This is one of the many reason Narrativists focus on conflict resolution rather than task resolution.  I will use the above chasm/fleeing as an example.

Let's say that one of the players has been captured by canibals in the amazon jungle.  Said player has just escaped and has decided to make a blind run through the jungle in an effort to escape.  Some of the tribe's warriors have spotted the escaping meal and set off in pursuit.

Gamist/Simulationists Method:

A well prepared Gamist or Simulationist GM has probably prepared a map of the canibal's camp and the surrounding area.  He's probably placed some of the canibal's traps around and also put in some natural hazards as well such as a large chasm, maybe a waterfall, and a pirana filled river.

The first thing the GM asks the player is: What direction are you fleeing?  The players says a direction and the GM consults his map and notes that there's a chasm in that direction.  Ah but first we might as well see if the player even makes it that far so the GM rolls the Players sprinting skill vs. the canibal's sprinting skill and the player wins so he manages to make it to the chasm.

At this point the GM tells the player that while running away he arrives at a vast chasm but he can still here the canibals in hot pursuit.  The player is desperate and decides to leap across the chasm.  So the player rolls his leaping skill and FAILS!  Now what does this mean?  If we turn to p. XXX of the simulationist's or gamist's rule book we discover that the player who fails a leaping roll falls X feet short of the intended distance for every X he missed the roll by.

By our calculation the player should have only made it half way across so he surely plumets to his death.  We now have several options.

a) Ignore the die.  This is the whimpy solution.

b) Hope that there's some metagame mechanic like Drama Dice in 7th Sea where we can spend the die in an effort to improve the roll.

b) Simply fess up and say the character is dead.

Now we have to think about this a moment.  You and I who both care about the story wonder why we put the chasm there in the first place.  I know that the reason *I* put the chasm there was to add a bit of drama and tension and cinematic excitement.  I never once intended the player to plunge to his death in it.  So, now the system has failed me.  Even if probabilistically the odds were in the player's favor because we're playing a cinematic game the system has still failed me.

So I've come to turn to:

The Narrativist Method:

Unlike the Gamist or Simulationist GM the Narrativist GM probably has no map.  The Narrativist GM still plans but he plans on a conflict level and in a non-railroady way.  For example.  He has probably planned the fact that the canibals exist.  And he probably planned the raid in which our player got captured.  But he probably didn't plan the capture itself.  That's just how the events unfolded.

Okay, so the player escapes and sets off in a run.  The warriors spot him and take off in pursuit.  Unlike the Simulationist or Gamist GM the GM doesn't ask the player in which direction he runs because there's no point.

Okay so now we're not resovling tasks (sprinting, jumping, etc) we're resolving conflicts (fleeing).  I'm going to use the Sorcerer mechanics to clearify.  So we roll stamina vs. stamina for the player and the canibal.  The player fails.

Okay so the player's attempt to flee has failed.  What does this mean?  The rules don't tell us.  It's up to the players (including the GM) to decide.  At this point getting captured by the canibals a second time seems pretty boring and repetitious.  But the player still failed.  We can't ignore that.  That would be cheating.

At this point the GM (or another player depending on Author/Director rights) decides that as the player is fleeing he encounters a large chasm.  You see at this point the chasm (which was not preplanned) becomes the REASON for why the player failed to flee.  So now the player is facing a large chasm with the canibals closing in.

Okay so now the player says he's going to attempt to cross the chasm.  So the conflict is whether or not the player makes it across the chasm not whether he can jump it or swing across it or run around around (three different kinds of rolls in most simulationist games).  So he rolls stamina vs. some GM difficulty roll and again it comes up a failure.  This is not the player's lucky day.  Again we don't just ignore this result.  A failure is a failure is a failure.

So what happens now?  Again the rules don't tell us.  The GM is feeling generous and let's the player decide his own fate.  The player decides that his character did in fact try to leap the chasm but came a few inches short.  At the last moment he grabbed a few weak vines and is holding on for dear life dangling a few 1000 feet above the ground.  For dramatic effect the GM adds that he hears a snapping sound; a few of the vines snap loose and he drops a few feet further down the side.  And so on...

So you see each FAILURE is used to increase the dramatic tension rather than simply kill the story outright.  No need to ignore rolls or rules.

Jesse

P.S. For another task vs. conflict resolution discussion see my posts about Sorcerer Combat down in the Sorcerer forum.
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