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New essay by Ron

Started by Clinton R. Nixon, October 15, 2001, 12:24:00 AM

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Clinton R. Nixon

There's a new essay up by Ron on his newest thoughts on GNS, stances, actual play, and coherent game design. (This kind of replaces the FAQ - but it's not one. It's solely his thoughts, so don't get all cult-like or anything.)

Anyway, head to the Articles page and check it out - it's not bad.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

joshua neff

There once was a man from Schenectady
Who decided to get a vasectomy;
He asked Doc McCall
"Could you please purge my balls?"
But OUCH! the doc made a synecdoche.

Um...okay, so it ain't brilliant. Do I get a prize just for playing? (Oh, hey, does this make me a Gamist?)

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

joshua neff

Okay, now I've actually read the whole thing.

I like it. I like it a lot. My initial, off-the-cuff response is to say I like it in similar ways to liking Understanding Comics. I particularly like the comments regarding White Wolf & how their games end up working (as opposed to how their theoretically "meant" to work), obviously. In the Mage game I'm currently running, I've rejected the setting in order to further the PCs being Protagonists in exactly the way you said.

And you said "Great Googlie-Mooglie"! I love that expression.

Well done, Ron.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

Paul Czege

But OUCH! the doc made a synecdoche.

Hilarious! Yikes!


[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-10-14 23:05 ]
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


Vedy interesting.  I didn't do an incredibly complete read-through -- the parts that were less interesting to me, I just skimmed.

If I may be permitted a probably offensive pseudo-anthropological note, I think I'm beginning to see a consistent pattern in Ron's work.  When he gets an idea, he tends to see it as the be-all and end-all of whatever it's about, and pushes it strongly, generally past its merits.  After time and reflection, he begins to take a more moderate -- and, I feel, ultimately more useful -- stance on the idea.

Which is a long way of saying that, while I'm increasingly a fan of the ever-more-polished core concepts of GNS, and the first few pages of the document strike me as far and away the best that's been done on the subject, the tone of the document increasingly puts my teeth on edge as we get further into it.

No matter.  If I'm right, it'll settle down eventually.  If I'm wrong about Ron's tendancy to settle down, then I'm probably wrong about them being offensive at all.  Instead, I'm just neo-phobic.

I find the discussion of preparing sessions very interesting, probably because I'm in the middle of changing from a Roads to Rome approach to, uh, something else.

Effectiveness/Resources/Metagame continues to feel, to me, forced into a threefold split.  I will, perhaps, try to articulate a different approach later.

Using inter-player dialogue and knowledge to determine character action, then retroactively justifying the action in terms of character knowledge and motive. "You hit him high and I'll hit him low," between players whose characters do not have the opportunity to plan the attack. [This example could also apply to Gamism over-riding Simulationism; the two are quite similar.]

This bit doesn't strike me as a Simulationism/whatever conflict, but, rather, a conflict in expectations over the degree of allowable non-Actor stances.  For example, I could easily envision a purely Gamist environment having strong problems with players externally coordinating attacks, simply because it's "cheating" -- violating a rule intended to make the given confrontation more challenging.

Despite the admitted correspondence between Actor stance and Simulationism, I think that this is, at best, only secondarily a modal conflict.  Minor issue in a part of the document which is otherwise excellent.

With respect to the baggage carried by the terms "story," "genre," and "diceless":  Word.  If I were a wiser man, I'd just drop out of any thread anywhere in which any of those terms were used.

Ditto the disavowal of "balance equals gamism."  Grrr.  I hate it when people say that.

The Impossible Thing to Believe Before Breakfast:

I think that you're onto something here, but not quite there in terms of succesfully articulating it.  One thing which always bothered me about Narrativism as defined here was the assertion that only by allowing players some degree of non-my-guy control could they be said to be "creating a story."

My criticism is this:  If I'm playing a character, in fully my-guy mode, and at the end of it, a story comes into place, in what way have I not been creating a story?

There is a conflict between GM-as-author and players-as-protagonists, but it's more subtle than what this document presents, I think.

I just deleted a couple of attempts to further clarify what I'm trying to say, here.  Gimme a night or two to sleep on it.  (If you catch me posting here from work tomorrow, yell at me -- I'm way behind on the office stuff).

[ Edit was to clean up some confusing phrasing. ]

[ This Message was edited by: Epoch on 2001-10-15 02:57 ]


Firstly, I have to say I'm annoyed at all the White Wolf dissing - for all your experiences may lead to such negative opinions, it simply does not reflect mine, and the "conflict" that is "observed" in WW seems strongly overstated to my mind.  I can appreciate the difficulties alluded to in embracing Mage, and saw it recently referred to as "unplayable", but I consider this a failure of imagination.

Secondly, the article appears to restate an interpretation of Gamism which I continue to fail to recognise.  The more I see this error perpetrated, the more annoying it becomes.  For example, in the section on premises, a situation is cited of narrativism overiding simulationism by means of use of an abtract dice pool.  Well, how much more player-vs-player-competitive can you get?  Why is the Pool a narrativist/dramatist system instead of a gamist system, when it fills the criteria of direct inter-player conflict?  I find this inconsistent.  And I really don't think gamist play ever meaningfully posits the GM as a competitor against the players, the concept is self defeating in gamist terms.  And this error leads to the absurd conclusion, IMO, that gamist play has been "marginalised", after previously castigating a fair list of games for their excessive or broken gamist tendencies.  Then of course the assertion that gamism exploits the Fortune mechanic primarily or heavily, although one must necessarily conclude from this that Chess is not a game (!?).  Come on, there is a heavy element of Gamist play in Amber, as illustrated by their own combat examples!  

And lastly, I feel the role of premise as a diagnostic tool is hopelessly incoherent, as we keep switching between premise as envisioned by the GM, premise as embedded in the world, and premise as envisioned by the players, without discussing whether they can or do coexist simultaneously, or to what degree.  And as a result the statement that when Narrativist play is brought to detailed settings (V:tM and LOT5R) there is a conflict between the pe-play setting premise and a pre-play character premise.  Why?  All this requires is that play cannot begin uninformed; that players must be front-loaded so that they are able to construct a character-premise in the context of the setting premise (although here we see the confusion of where premise lives laid bare).  This needs to be discussed further.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Ron Edwards

Gareth (contracycle),

The essay hasn't been up 24 hours yet. I am assured that no one - absolutely no one - can possibly have devoted the attention to reading it that I put into conceiving it, at this point, so I am willing to be patient.

Please give me the respect of re-reading, taking a while to consider it, and then responding - specifically as opposed to raging at THIS post to defend your previous post. I respect your judgment and ideas (always have) and would like to have them focused on my essay at the very highest level of comprehension for both of us.

I cannot imagine where the following ideas originated. They are certainly not asserted anywhere in my essay.

- Castigating games specifically for Gamist tendencies.
- Associating Fortune specifically with Gamism (my point is that Gamism encompasses the full range of using Fortune, from none at all to nearly-always).

These and other statements lead me to believe that you are on a "first-read" rush, as they are simply unconnected to anything I've stated, or internally inconsistent.

An example of the former is the idea that an abstract dice pool is necessarily Narrativist, which it is not; it could well be Gamist, exactly as you say. The issue at hand was to provide an example of Narrativism overriding Simulationism, and we have games that do this via an abstract dice pool. Whether other games do this with a Gamist bent rather than a Narrativist one is irrelevant to the point.

An example of the latter is referring to the dice-gambling in the Pool as interplayer conflict, which it patently is not; players do not gamble against one another in The Pool. Or similarly, failing to see my point that Amber's design may lead to rapid Gamist drift, which your point agrees with rather than refutes.


Ron Edwards

Hi Mike,

So, when person A seems to get more reasonable, who has changed, person A or person B? As a university prof, I see so many examples of person B maturing in outlook (and ascribing it to changes in person A) that it seems like the usual course of events. But, just as you are gentleman enough to acknowledge that it may be "you," I will do likewise and acknowledge that you may be right in your initial observation and it may be "me."

Mark Twain joked about it once, regarding his opinion of his father.

"One thing which always bothered me about Narrativism as defined here was the assertion that only by allowing players some degree of non-my-guy control could they be said to be "creating a story." "

I think that my current description in the essay states that "story" can be involved in role-playing in any of the modes, and that Narrativism is defined only by PRIORITIZING that outcome (a story of some kind), not by the presence or absence of that outcome.

"My criticism is this: If I'm playing a character, in fully my-guy mode, and at the end of it, a story comes into place, in what way have I not been creating a story?"

Two things. First, a story has been created, but it was not Narrativist play unless the behaviors/goals and so on actually prioritized it, as I said above. It still may be a fine story, produced via non-Narrativist means.

Second, YOU may not have created it at all. In Call of Cthulhu play (of the classic, absolutely-faithful to text method I have been doing lately), a story does indeed emerge, but none of the players have had any but the most superficial hand in creating it. We have, at most, colored in designated spaces.

With any luck, that clarifies or perhaps helps with the "always bothered you" part of Narrativism.



I have to agree with Ron on the idea of Story creation.  Creating a story is vastly more difficult than participating in one.  

In reviewing my own gaming experience...story has come about either because it was scripted to come about and we just tripped the appropriate triggers, or when we played more free form it was created by shear coincidence.

The former, I've come to think of as the Paint by Numbers approach.  Sure I dipped the brush in water and sloshed it around...but the painting was pretty much there already.

The latter, in my experience, most often can only be considered a story for very generous definitions of story.  Usually they are more accurately called "a series of somewhat related events".  Only by chance do these events coallesce into something resembling an actual story.

I've become convinced that the only way a story can actually be CREATED during play as opposed to simply witnessed or participated in or affected in some limited scope is with Narrativist play (either with or without a Narrativist Game).

This of course is distinctly different from story being created BEFORE play through scripted metaplot.  

Related to that somewhat is that I'm a little unclear as to why scripted metaplot is so closely associated with Simulationism in the article as opposed to either G or S but not N.  But thats another thread entirely.

Ultimately I think this is the best articulation I've seen of these ideas gathered in one place and not scattered across several threads in several forums on several sites.  So thank you Ron for the effort.

Hopefully this article will serve the dual role of giving new members a one stop primer to these concepts so that less bandwidth needs be spent reexplaining the basics and secondly to use that saved bandwidth to spring board into some of the other areas highlighted as under development.

I for one am interested in the idea that Conflict Resolution is different from Scene resolution as they appear at first blush to be synonyms.


A cursory overview reveals that the new doc is good and very appropriate. Clinton, I also like the formatting. Well done all around. NOTE: I am Hunter Logan, not the other way around.


Ron Edwards

Thanks guys!

I want to repeat that Logan's previous work did a tremendous service to me, and that I believe that the majority of its content was never explored, discussed, or considered. I could not have written this one without the effort spent on the first, and I hope that people give Logan the appropriate credit for it.

Any comments of mine about not using the previous document were in regard to showing it to newbies, and did NOT indicate my lack of approval of its contents.




In the short term, the difficulty with what I am thinking about what you are thinkinh is that none of the listed gamist premises ring true for me.  Arguably the best was "Can I play well enough such that my character survives the perils?" when it should have been restricted to "Can I play well?".
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci


Grrr.  After just agreeing with Ron that the word "story" was a dangerous one to use in RPG theory discussions, I introduced it into the thread.  Bad me.

Post more after work.

Ron Edwards


My take on Gamism is that the stakes have to be external and common to the competing participants, not internal and self-assessed. Therefore a Gamist Premise must have an acknowledged challenge and an acknowledged loss/victory condition; furthermore, although degrees of success may be recognized, equal success for all is ... well, not part of the picture.

Huge variety exists among the possible Gamist Premises in terms of the degree of randomness, who's competing with whom, and so on. As I said, there are probably whole spheres of play, design, and Premise-specifications that we have not explored or perhaps even seen in role-playing history. My little list is by no means definitive.

I should also point out, just to be absolutely clear, that competing for "most attention," or "coolest," or similar things falls into this framework as well.



Hi Contracycle!

On 2001-10-15 05:17, contracycle wrote:
Firstly, I have to say I'm annoyed at all the White Wolf dissing - for all your experiences may lead to such negative opinions, it simply does not reflect mine, and the "conflict" that is "observed" in WW seems strongly overstated to my mind.

I personally found Ron's thoughts on the Storytelling System and GNS to be really insightful and "critique-ful" as opposed to negative in a derrogatory way.  I just retired as 16 months of being one of White Wolf's primary STs on their own company sponsored moderated java chats and wrote most of the (now antiquated) rules and guidelines for them for playing in those chats. I'm on a first name basis with a few WW staff/developers and have even been giving a paid position on a non-gaming oriented site to host weekly columns on White Wolf games (site=; contract signed, column not yet up).  I'm mentioning all of this not to toot my own horn, but to assure you that I have loads of experience with WW and I'm one of the Storyteller System's big fans, not someone who loves to bash it.  I still think Ron is really on to something regarding WW games and its worth further consideration.

I know a lot more people who love WW games than I know people who have -fun- playing WW games -together- and Ron's  essay and the entire GNS model have given me a lot of ideas as to why.