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Is GNS Good For GMs?

Started by jburneko, October 19, 2001, 10:58:00 PM

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Hello All,

Over the last few days TrzzlWzzl (sp?) has been expressing his distaste for the GNS model as it pertains to System Design and GMs.  What you are seeing is an extension of a rather personal argument between TW and myself.  TW is one of my players and I'm the GM he periodically refers to.  Because some elements of the debate are of a personal nature I wanted to try and stay out of it as far as humanly possible but unfortnately I'm beginning to see that as an imposibility.  TW, I appreciate your concious efforts to keep me out of it personally.

You see, GNS has really helped me understand what I like about role-playing and what I don't like.  It has helped me look at systems and to pick out Gamist, Simulationist and Narrativist elements to better understand what kind of style the system best supports.  Ultimately, I've come to the conclusion that there is no point in 'fighting the system' so to speak.  If a game supports primarily gamist play there is no point in trying to run a Narrativist game with it.

Of course now that I understand what I do and do not like about role-playing games I want to inhance play the elements I do like and of course down play or discard the elements I do not like.  This is after all what GNS is for.  It's to help us understand what we mean when we say we're having 'fun.'

This 'bias' if you wish extends both to my Player side and my GM side.  And this is where TW and I start to have problems.

In my opinion GNS is good both for Players and GMs.   A GM who understands his preferences should run games and find players who accord with his preferences and Players who understand their preferences should find games and GMs who accord with those preferences.  Obviously some Preferences overlap across the GNS model which is why I'm not saying there should be 'pure groups' so to speak but rather people with roughly the same set of preferences.

I take a similar approach to any other artistic medium.  Don't like Anne Rice novels?  Don't read Anne Rice novels.  Don't like John Carpenter films?  Don't watch John Carpenter films. Don't like Jesse Burneko games?  Don't play in Jesse Burneko games.

TW disagrees.  TW thinks, and correct me if I'm wrong, that GNS is good for PLAYERS but bad for GMs.  It's good to understand the Players preferences but that the role of GM is to put his preferences aside in favor of each individual Player's preference.  It is the GMs job to bridge the gap between the different PLAYERS but that the GMs preferences have no business interfering with the game.

On the personal level TW and I have a serious divergence on what we enjoy in RPGs.  As a GM I keep wanting to bring games to the table and run in a style I don't think TW will enjoy very much.  My response has been simply that TW does not HAVE to play.  I'll call him when I'm going to run something I think is more in lines with his interests.  I have not tried to convert him, only tried to give him a perspective on where I'm coming from.  I have not told him NOT to come or that I think my preferences are BETTER than his.  I've only made it clear that I will not subvert my fun for his just because I'm the GM.  This bit of personal history is provided for perspective ONLY.  I do not wish to discuss the details.

The REAL issue comes down to, is GNS and to some extent RPG Theory in general good for GMs?  Is it fair for a GM to be clear about his preferences and run games in the manner that is most fun for him or is the GMs job to subvert those preferences for the mixed bag of preferences of the players?

Note: Obviously there is give and take between Players and GMs there HAS to be to run a successful game.  I'm not talking about, say, a Narrativist GM who deprotagonizes a particular player.  I'm talking solely about the larger abstract issues that really hit the core of what is fun for one person and not fun for someone else.

So there you have it.  Does GNS apply to GMs?



Now things are making sense.  

Personally, I think its a matter of priority: Players, System, or personal Style.  Is your priority to run a game for a specific group of friends?  If the -players as people- is the GM's focus, then the GM should adapt the system and their style of GMing to what best fits the needs of the players.  

When I was a WW ST for their online game, the -System- was the priority.  Both the players and I as ST were required to adapt to Sim play and canon atmosphere, regardless of our own wants.  System as priority is rare, but it can happen and corporate-sponsored games or game testing are two great examples.

Finally, is the GM's own Style the priority?  Then the GM should only use games and invite players that will enhance his own fun.

Here's what I ~think~ is going on for you guys.  You and TW are involved in the same game, but because you both value different priorities there is conflict.  No priority is bad, but no one will have fun in a game unless they are aware of the priority and can adapt their own gameplay to it.

((has a huge moment of self-realization as she types this post, coming up with all of this as she goes along))

Ron Edwards

TThanks Jesse.

It comes down to the band metaphor. If the goal is to "play together no matter what," then the adjustments are the key. If the goal is to "play together to do X well," then X becomes the key. GNS theory takes no sides in this regard; it's up to you.

I should also like to point out that TrizzlWizzl seems to think that GNS theory specifically and only privileges the GM to decide what "makes a group work." I disavow this concept, and it is nowhere to be found in the essay or in any of my material. In these matters, we are dealing with people, and GM vs. player role means jack-all in those terms.

And finally - to anyone who might be interested, Jesse's post represents the intellectual honesty that I referred to in another thread. If there's a personal conflict occurring, and it gets dragged onto this site under the guise of intellectual debate, then that is USING the rest of us. It treats us badly, as intellectual fellow humans. I kind of wish it was TrizzlWizzl who came clean rather than Jesse, but at least it's out in the open.

To clarify: whenever TW refers to "a GM" who has treated him badly regarding GNS stuff, it's Jesse; when Jesse has in the past referred to "a player" who continually argues with him about it, it's TW. We have been dragged into a messy estrangement-of-friends situation.

The issue at hand - who is the "authority" when it comes to conflicting GNS goals? - is a fantastic one. It's tremendously important. For the most part, I have taken the simple line that "no-group beats a grumpy-group, if no one wants to adjust." That may be too simplistic for some, and the matter is a fair topic for debate. But I will not permit the sticky, nasty issues of "are you or aren't you my friend" to become a matter of general concern at the Forge.


joshua neff

Well, as I said before & elsewhere, no, I don't think it's the GM's responsibility to ensure that everyone enjoys him/herself, nor do I think it's the GM's responsibility to run games s/he wouldn't enjoy. I agree with Jesse--don't like a Jesse Burneko game (or a Josh Neff game), don't play it. Seems pretty simple to me. As a player, I wouldn't play in a game I didn't enjoy. I might voice the reasons why I don't enjoy it (as I did when one of the guys in my group ran D&D & Star Wars & I wasn't enjoying myself), but if the GM doesn't want to run games the way I like to play them, I'll play elsewhere (or, lacking other avenues of play, I'll do something else with my time). I wouldn't play in a band if I didn't like the music we were making. I wouldn't stay in a relationship with someone if we had different paths we wanted to take. And I go with Jared's idea that if the role of the GM is to make sure the players are having fun, then it's the role of the players to entertain the GM.

In this regard, yes, I've found GNS (& Ron's advice in general) to be extremely valuable to me. I can't even begin to stress that enough. I used to be a horrible GM. Now I'm a much better GM (if you like narrativist games)--not nearly as good as I'd like, but I'm getting better all the time. (Cue Beatles song. Okay, now cut out Beatles song.) My group constantly discuss our playing & how we can make each session better. We discuss what we want from the game, what we enjoy, what we don't enjoy, what frustrates us. Having a shared vocab helps a lot, & we use the GNS vocab (at my group's insistence--they're always bugging me for more GNS stuff--they're weird that way). So, we've got a shared vocabulary, we've got discussions out the wazoo, & we've got a GM who better understands what games he wants to run & how he wants to run them. As far as I can tell, it's working for my entire group. And I've constantly reiterated if someone's not enjoying themselves, let's find out why. If it's something I can do differently (speed up the pacing, more directorial power for players, more fight scenes), I'm always willing to oblige. If it's stuff I'm not willing to change (simulationist combat, less intrigue & more tactical problem-solving, whatever), then people are free to drop out of my games & my feelings won't be hurt. I'm not the GM for everyone, & I don't think any GM should be expected to be.

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


I can tell I'll be having to do a lot of work to clarify my position, so let me begin with a short answer:  GNS is good for everyone... the first three chapters anyway.  I think it provides an excellent way to facilitate the discussion between players and GMs pre-game so that everybody (GMs included) will have fun playing the game.  So if you're a narrativist GM (let's say :smile:), you come to the group and outline what kind of game you want to play and what kind of system you propose it be played in.  If people have problems ("I don't see any miniatures rules here... wussup with that?", "I don't really want to take this 'director's stance' thing... do I have to?", "Uh... where's the chapter on abilities?", whatever), those problems can be addressed.  Think of it like going to a marriage counselor to 'fix' that 'co-dependant' relationship everyone's always getting in.  All the problems are on the table and everyone can work as a group to fix them.  Isn't that part of the reason we play RPGs anyway?  To work as a group?  I mean... if I didn't want to work with a group I'd be at home playing video games.

RPGs and movies are nothing alike, and I find the constant parallels drawn on this board misleading.  Movies are linear and held under a single creative vision.  RPGs are not.  Why the constant analogy?  I find the attitude of "if you don't like TrizzlWizzl's games, then don't play" to be a bit incongruous as well.  There are plenty of Anne Rice and John Carpenter products out there just waiting to be snatched up by eager consumers... RPG groups to game with are nowhere near as plentiful, so to just say "bugger off if you don't like my game" seems... (I hate to use the word but) selfish somehow.  Not that you should just let anyone play regardless of their behavior, but if they're good gamers who know what they like then it seems like a good GM will find a way to play a game that satisfies both himself and the player.  

Ever notice how when you have really good sex both you and your partner are all sweaty and smiling?  You take out what you put in, reap what you sow, that kind of thing.  If you give a little as a GM, I believe you'll see the players giving too and before you know it, everyone's having fun.  A GM who feels he doesn't need to adjust his GMing to fit his group seems to be just asking for his game to suck.  Players won't show up week after week just to indulge the GM; they're looking to take home a little something for themselves.

So does a GM need to totally forsake any and all hope of enjoying the game?  No, of course not.  He just needs to understand that he's not going to get everything his way, but in the end... the amount of fun his players have will more than make up for whatever compromises he had to make in order to run the game in the first place.  Of course, this isn't to say that it's possible for the GM and player to come together all the time.  Sometimes, to avoid conflict, it's best if a given player doesn't play with a given GM... but that should, IMO, be the very last resort and by no means a decision taken as lightly as "Hey buddy... my way or the high way!  Love it or leave it.  Don't like it?  Fine.  Don't play then.  Etc."  That's why I'd like to see a discussion of how to work these head-to-head conflicts and seeing as this is probably the most cerebral discussion board (for RPGs) on the web I've yet found, that's why I'm here.  

Ron Edwards

Hey TW,

Not one word of what you've written is counter to the points in my essay. As long as we're talking about people who are willing to make one another's goals COMPATIBLE, then you and I are speaking the same language, driving the same car, or sitting in the same hot tub. (Why did I just spew off a bunch of stupid metaphors? I don't know. Punchy after all of today's posts, no doubt.)

So the only thing that continues to puzzle me is this: why this fixed-idea that somehow, some way, anyone at the Forge or anything about GNS is about the GM being able to demand certain behaviors from the player? It's still central to your posts. I find it as bizarre and unworkable as the reverse notion, that the GM is a handmaid of the player's every desire.

The only thing the theory calls for is effort towards that compatibility, or, failing that, recognition of the fact.

So given that potential compatibility, you're spot on. Without it (which is entirely possible), then Josh is spot on. What's the big deal?

If ALL you are saying is that you prefer people to put their very best effort toward the compatibility, then it makes sense. Seeing some kind of message AGAINST that in the GNS essay does not.


joshua neff

Well, I'm not advocating a "my way or the highway" attitude. Of course any game group is going to involve compromise. However, it's not the GMs job, anymore than anyone else's, to make sure there is compromise, nor is it the GM's job, anymore than any other player's, to make sure people are having fun & the game is enjoyable for all involved. The GM isn't there to entertain the players. In fact, I don't like the division between GM & player, seeing one as different than the other, except within gameplay (that is, the GM plays NPCs, the GM describes the setting, the GM adjudicates conflicts--of course, this isn't a given, there are many games in which the GM doesn't solely do these things).
You're right, RPGs aren't movies, or novels, or comics. They're not a consumer product, there's no customer you have to sell to (I'm talking the actual sessions, not RPG books. This isn't something someone creates & then offers to people, to like or not; RPGs are a collaborative effort that once it's done, it's gone. But the responsibility for the collaboration rests solely on all players equally. On that, I'm firm.

Edited in after reading Ron's post:
I don't think this post really added anything to the discussion, it just reiterated what I've already said. So feel free to ignore it.

[ This Message was edited by: joshua neff on 2001-10-19 20:17 ]

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


And finally - to anyone who might be interested, Jesse's post represents the intellectual honesty that I referred to in another thread. If there's a personal conflict occurring, and it gets dragged onto this site under the guise of intellectual debate, then that is USING the rest of us. It treats us badly, as intellectual fellow humans. I kind of wish it was TrizzlWizzl who came clean rather than Jesse, but at least it's out in the open.

Well, Ron, if you recall I did "come clean" in a recent post (before Jesse's, in fact) and I find your labeling of my argument as 'intellectually dishonest' distasteful.  My issues with the GNS document have nothing to do with Jesse, they have to do with my disagreement with Chapeters Four and above, namely: how the GNS model might be most effectively utilized in game design and application.

As far as your reference to me 'using' the 'intellectual humans' on this board: that is nothing but slanderous propaganda.  My motivation for posting on this board was to open a dialogue with people other than Jesse to gain a more robust understanding of the personalities involved in the 'GNS community' (as it were).  I'm not 'using' anyone on this board for anything other than what anyone else is here to do: discuss, debate, understand.

Personally, I'm quite upset at Jesse for opening my position to ad homonym attacks based on the kind of logical fallacy you've just espoused.  My ideas are quite 'intellectually honest', I assure you.  However before coming to this board my only exposure to GNS was the reading I had done of the core documents and my discussions with Jesse.  I was well aware that his views were not representative of the community as a whole, so here I am.  I don't think a full disclosure of my personal history is at all relevant to the 'honesty' of my ideas.  I wasn't interested in transferring my discussion with Jesse onto this board; I am interested in what others have to say.  Is that 'dishonest' Ron?

P.S.  This is what I posted yesterday (10/19).  After reading it I still don't understand Jesse's motivation for attempting to 'clarify' where I was coming from.  I think I stated it very aptly and as comprehensively as is necessary to understand my GNS background, and I feel that Jesse's personalization of my position was totally unwarranted.  

These are all very valid questions, and thank you Mike for attempting to draw my opinion out of me. A quick point on divisiveness: I have no problem with GNS if it helps a GM to bring his group together. My personal experience, however, has been that it has been used as justification for the GM to be nonresponsive to player preference while assuming a game should be run a certain way given it's design ("this is a gamist game, so I'm going to run it totally gamist and I don't care what you want"). This is the real-life consequence of GNS that I'm dealing with, and I feel it should be part of the discussion. My GM has obviously been influenced by the "System Does Matter" idea and I've found it leads to worse gaming, not better, to more exclusionist practices, not inclusive, and an overall sense of frustration for everybody. Yes, I know that the overall opinion on this board is that GNS is supposed to eliminate the 'frustration' but for me GNS has caused more problems than it has solved and I think that should be understood by people who don't understand what my deal is.

Ron Edwards

I'm taking this one to private e-mail, TW.




I think this thread is more important, and more specific to GNS than Ron's giving it credit for.

Here we have two people who:
Appearently like each other.
Would (appearently) like to role-play together if there was no friction.
Aren't meeting each other's needs (and the GM formerly felt it was his job to live up to the needs of the player).

Walking away is a valid solution: in a marriage it's called divorce, it's commonly known as 'breaking up the band,' and here it's possibly breaking up a gaming group--maybe the only one in the area.

Why I think that's important is, if I read this right (and I want to abstract this), one party wants a more gameist/simulationist game and the other wants a more narrativeist game. Considering that most of the mass-market RPG's out there are G/S (mine included--although it's not mass market by any means), I'd think there should be some effort on the part of the GNS community here to see what specific conflicts exist when priorities differ.

Some things I'd like to know:
1. Jesse had mentioned Premise and OOC information that his players didn't want (OOC) or know what to do with (Premise). This is my paraphrasing.
2. TW asked what would happen if he didn't want to take on directoral power.

I think these are questions I'd like answered. For example:

1. What exactly is going wrong: is it that he tells a player to act as the director and the player says "I'd rather you do it."?

He mentioned that he had to constantly update events based on what the character's decision were and aksed how that was different than when the players used their directoral power. It's a question I'd like answered.

2. Is it that the players don't seem motivated to do anything during play?

3. Is it that, if the players do assume directoral stance, that they do something that "ruins the game?"

4. From the description of Jesse's game (relation map, some potential scenes that could be changed by player intervention, and a premise) it doesn't sound like anything that's different from standard simulationist play (i.e. nothing in that description (and this is my understanding) implies directoral power in the hands of the players). Is there some element that I'm missing?

NOTE: I don't believe that anyone's right or wrong here. It is, ultimately, everyone's right to walk when they feel they have to. It's just that if both parties feel like trying to keep things together, I think maybe a little more examination is in order.


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