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New essay by Ron

Started by Clinton R. Nixon, October 14, 2001, 11:24:00 PM

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More on this issue:

"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?"

Ron's comments:

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.

I agree with both of the things above, but don't feel that they cover the full spectrum of possibilities within my initial assertion.

Let me suggest this as a play style.  I believe that it is not a construct, but a reasonable description, in retrospect, of several games I have participated in:

The players have no control besides the usual "my guy" stuff.  Non-Actor stance is discouraged or at least not publically spoken of except occaisionally to avoid violating anyone's comfort levels.

The player characters define and create the "sequence of caused events."  The GM has either no idea of what is to come or only a loose one, and spends a great deal of time in a reactive mode, allowing the players, through their characters, to define the intellectual terrain of the game.  What planning he does do is generally response oriented -- "Okay, given that the players just decided to go investigate the land of Sarth, what shows up there?" -- but it is done with an eye towards building an overall conflict, creating rising tension, building towards a climax, and all of the other narrative/story conventions that we've come to expect.  The PC's have dramatic immunity, and the GM also works to ensure that they have the full plate of troubles that befits the protagonists of a story.

So:  Your concept number two -- that a story emerges, but that the players have had little or no part in creating it -- does not, I assert, apply.  The players, through their characters, have driven the game a good deal.

Concept number one -- whether behaviours and goals prioritized the story -- is more problematic, as, certainly, there are few or no overt mechanics of the sort you'll see in more consciously narrativist games like The Pool .  On the other hand, a lot of the GM's time and effort -- and certainly, a good chunk of his goal -- is to facilitate a traditional narrative.

You and I have spoken about "high-exploration Narrativism" before, and I think that this situation is an example of it.  I think it's also a fairly common mode of play.  You'll note that it shares a lot of features with the old Threefold Dramatism.  It's also far from incompatible with the Storyteller system.

Let me jump to another example for a moment:  My current Amber game.  Before we began, we sat down and talked about the game.  I explained the premise (this is the premise in the first sense you mention in the article):  there was a rebellion 100 years ago, which tore the Amber family in two.  It failed.  Some Royals died.  After that was an uneasy peace/truce/domination by the winning side.  Now, new events will cause a resurgence in rebel possibilities.

After that, we sat down and talked about each Royal in turn, trying to figure out who the king was.  Eventually, we voted between Random and Brand.  Brand won.  Then we decided who rebelled -- our consensus was that Eric rebelled.  We went through the list of Royals again and worked out who was on each side.  We went through the list again and worked out who died.  The players then chose their parents and the side they were on, as well as their ending circumstances.

Then I went and I wrote all that into an actual story.  The result is here:">The Ancient Grudge.

Now, was I the author of that story?  Sure.  I wrote the entire thing, created innumerable details, made it all fit together.  Or was I the author?  After all, the major events -- Eric rebels, Corwin dies, Bleys remains loyal and is killed by Lot, etc. -- were all dictated to me by our consensus decision making.

It's like what I imagine ghostwriting is all about:  someone dictates to you the barest skeleton of a story.  You then write the book.

I think that there's a good analogy there to a style of GMing -- you don't have to give the players Monologs of Victory, or the freedom to create NPC's, or the ability to spend a Hero Point to ignore everything you said was or wasn't possible.  That's all the detail stuff, the ghost-writer stuff, and you can keep 100% of it for yourself, and the players will still be creating the story if you let them drive it forward, rather than put them on rails.

I feel like I'm still not being clear here, and it's driving me crazy, but that's the best I can express it.

Anyhow, that's what I think the article is fuzzy on in terms of the Great Impossibility -- yes, the GM can be the author in the sense of being the ghost-writer, and the players can be just "their guys," and they can all still create a story together.  I think that the Storyteller games grope towards this concept quite a bit, and -- and this is a failing -- don't quite get there.

But I may just be being egomanic -- this is one of my major preferred styles of play, and we all know how religious people get about those.  :razz:


 I'm not particularly a WW partisan - but I have had many positive experiences with their stuff, and still feel that their approach was rather sophisticated for the day.  Few games have produced as interesting a set of inter-character personal relationships as these, and again I say, I find the criticism very overstated.  Perhaps they were stretching for a fruit beyond their grasp, but that invalidates neither the attempt or the achievements they did reach.
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


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

And thats where we disagree.

Does the marathon runner compete for victory, or to test themselves?  Out of the thousands who enter the NY marathon, or the London, or the Comrades, only a tiny percentage have any expectation of winning, and a broader percentage, of finishing.  What motivates these people?

Furthermore, do we have room for the concept of "sportsmanship"?  That it is the taking part rather than the winning that counts, that you shake your opponents hand after the match, that you abide by the rules because you choose to rather than being coerced to?

To deny an internally reflective motive for competition - well, its just not cricket.
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


I disagree CC, mostly because I don't think you're allowing the concept of external factors to be broad enough.  For your Marathon example perhaps just knowing they completed the thing is enough...perhaps just trying is enough.  In either case the contest is still man vs. Marathon...only the actual goal has changed.  

I don't believe Ron's use of External Factors was suggesting that the Gamist player must always attempt to defeat or overcome these External Factors.  Rather those factors are the measuring stick used to measure "success" by what ever "internal" definition of success the player has.  

In order for you to have competition you must have something to compete against and something to compete for.  By my read of the article, Ron's left the door pretty wide open as to what those things might be.

Ron Edwards


This thread has broken up into two very distinct issues, one about "story" and one about Gamism. Gee, what a surprise ...

I'll provide my take on each one, and then, if they seem to be developing further, someone, please take them to RPG Theory separately.

Hey Mike S (Epoch), can't leave that "story" issue alone, huh? Like a loose tooth. My claim is that your described mode of play - in practice - comes perilously close to what I call "the Moog organ and the pennywhistles" style of story creation.

It all comes down to, Do or don't the players exert preferences and influences over what the story is about? And I mean ABOUT, with protagonists and issues and passions and all that Egri stuff.

On the one hand, if they do, then you have classic Narrativism with the players happening to use only Drama mechanics. This is fine. The mechanisms are there, and they use them, and all is just as described under the Narrativism text. When you refer to "story driving," they're doing just that - but they sure as hell CANNOT be only in Actor Stance when they do it.

On the other hand, if they don't, then their "story-driving" roles are illusions, reduced to nuances of characterization and going 'round the mulberry bush to the left rather than to the right as they travel to the castle. This is fine too, but it ain't story-making by the players.

In practice, I have observed that what begins as the first often becomes, with nary a whimper, the second. I think Jesse would be a good person to describe his experiences in this context.

My goal is simply to call a spade a spade. I'm interested in what happens both before and after a certain quantum of "story meat" has been generated. If the group members ARE driving the story - in which case exerting metagame priorities even if they don't TALK about them - then it's Narrativism. If one member (the GM) is EXERTING the story upon the others, in its essential matters, then it's not.


Ron Edwards

Regarding Gareth's disagreement regarding Gamism ...

I agree with Ralph entirely, and I think he has stated the position fairly and completely. Part of the problem is that Gareth has brought in the matter of MOTIVES, and I consider them to be irrelevant.

To take the example of the marathon runner, I admit to any and all motives that could lead anyone to participate. None of them are, themselves, the fact of competition. That competition utterly relies on the existence of a finish line that all participants utilize as the "end" of the activity, and also on the various standards and practices of behavior during the activity. That's what I mean by externality, and without it, no competition is possible.

Bringing that kind of feature into role-playing is what defines Gamism. I consider it to be a fascinating, high-potential thing which was badly stunted early in role-playing history and only now is regrowing in functional ways.



Motives were introduced to illustrate that the motives I believe that Ron is assuming gamists have do not, IMO, describe gamist motivations at all.  And I think as long as we are working from a false perception of gamist goals and motives, we cannot meaningfully discuss gamist premises - which is the point I started with.  I am suggesting that we are in fact calling a spade a fork.

In the marathon example, if Valamir concedes that the actual runner may be content with just finishing, then this invalidates the claim that the external factors, in terms of goals, need to be shared by all particpants.  Clearly they are not - they are self-imposed not externally imposed.  The conflict is not human vs. marathon, it is human vs. self.

Furthermore, if it is true that the external factors need not be the actual goal of gamist play, then why are such factors assumed to be a component of the gamist premise?  This was my starting point - by framing the gamist premises as victory-oriented it fails to describe, IMO, the goals of gamist play.

I think Valamirs last pragraph about the requisites of competition illustrate the problem very neatly - to paraphrase Gleichman, he has fallen into the trap of confusing gamism as "competitionism".  Is it so hard to accept that the gamist is "competing" against their own stupidity?  As Gleichman has said so often, it is NOT about victory, it is ABOUT performance.  The existance of an external competition is, IMO, wholly irrelevant.  The gamist will measure their own performance in gamist terms regardless of whether such a "competition" is present.
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

And 'round and 'round we go.

Bluntly, I have said nothing about motives. GNS is not about motives, and my list of Gamist Premises, in particular, have nothing to do with motives. They describe contexts for Gamist play, AS OBSERVED. (Same goes for the other modes)

Why do people have such a terrible time with the basic, observable claim that people do not compete in a self-subsumed vacuum? They compete in a social context, with others, about certain things.

Now. Perhaps they DO have an "inner life" regarding the competition that is more important than anything external regarding that same competition. That is not important to my point, because I am discussing the actual competition itself, in which those externalities must be present or no competition is happening.

I can see this entire conversation going right off the rails, as people invent "Bill the marathon runner" who cares nothing for the finish line, nothing for the crowdsd, nothing for anything but the glory and poetry of his bid against his own body ...

Fine. Bill is still running on a road, with other marathon runners, with a tape across the way, with the cameras running. The act of running that marathon is a competitive act, and victory and loss conditions are explicit. Even if "loss" only means "not as fast as I ran it last time," its conditions are explicit.

We might posit a fine Disney movie about Bill running the marathon the day before, all alone, glorying in the experience of testing himself for its own sake, completely divorced from the "sullied" context of victory against others, and so on. Wiping a tear from our collective eye, we are still forced to admit that, although it may express something about WHY real people who run marathons it is utter fantasy concerning the WAY they run them.

The same goes for Gamist role-playing. Perhaps a player's motive is to "test himself." Well, gee, fellas, it just so HAPPENS that he's doing so (a) against a module, (b) against some other team of players, (c) against fellow players, or (d) any ol' other thing we can think of. Gamism is observably present when such things are happening.


James Holloway

On 2001-10-17 10:08, Ron Edwards wrote:
The same goes for Gamist role-playing. Perhaps a player's motive is to "test himself." Well, gee, fellas, it just so HAPPENS that he's doing so (a) against a module, (b) against some other team of players, (c) against fellow players, or (d) any ol' other thing we can think of. Gamism is observably present when such things are happening.

At the risk of being a bad person, it seems to me that this "competition" is something like a framework in which (say) Gleichman's "objective test of player skill" can take place.

So I'm playing DBA the other day (a miniatures wargame which I am only a beginner at) and I won a game.

That never happens! I was very pleased. But I was also pleased with the game I played immediately before, in which I got caned. Because even though I didn't win, I thought I demonstrated a grasp of the tactics my army required. There was definitely a test of player skill going on, at least in my empty head.

The key, I think, to integrating the undeniably true but still speculative "some Gamist players are happy even if they lose" and the observable Gamist trait of competition is that the boundaries of the competition facilitate the individual tests of skill. The players agree on the goals (stay alive, end the game with the most money, score the most points, whatever) and that objective provides the yardstick for individual player goals (stay alive longer than Steve, get more money than last time, whatever).

This seems to me to be especially true in RPGs, which usually have graded scoring systems (Experience Points, for example) rather than either-or victory/loss conditions. I would say that this falls into the category of (d) "any other thing we can think of" above.

So while I think it's absolutely true that many individual Gamists may play games without any expectation of winning, the fact that there are victory/loss conditions (or a scale of success, or whatever) is, I think, an integral part of the play style.

I'm not sure if that makes any sense or if it's just me rambling on again.

Ron Edwards

Hey James,

I think you are dead-on correct. Nothing in my discussion of Gamism says anything about people being ONLY happy with winning. The sequence would go,

Why do you role-play?
"To have fun."

How is that done?
"Competing with my friends, in a discernable, actual competitive arena."

What various arenas of competition exist? (This is the Premise part)
"Depends on who's competing with whom and about what."

Now, someone else may come and ask more personal or experiential questions regarding the importance of winning, but that is not a concern of GNS. I did not say that Gamist play relies on winning as the only source of satisfaction, and objections to that misperceived claim are irrelevant to the topic.

My only claim is that the terms of the competition are real among the players. They may or may not be STATED, but they are there.

For instance, I recall butting heads with Gamist-oriented players in the 80s all the time - I'd say, "But it's not about winning," and they'd say, "Oh, come ON - who are you trying to kid? Of course it is!" and cite both character improvement and covert/overt influencing of the GM as "obvious" proof. Now, unlike then, I see their point perfectly.


[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-10-17 11:51 ]

Mike Holmes

No, James, you're not just rambling. That makes a lot of sense. I think many of these objections on both sides are just perspective problems, and that mostly we are talking about the same phenomenon.

Certainly people would have to admit that for a game to support gamist play actively it must have something in it that can be played against. This is very broad, and can be anything. A player can play very easily in a gamist fashion in a Simulationist game. All that player must do is choose a goal for himself (making his character king, for example) and prioritize that. The system, however, is doing nothing to support that activity. There will be no points in a Sim game for becoming King, and it will not be a condition for winning. These sorts of mechanics support Gamists by giving them something to measure themseves against.

In the Marathon example, it's the difference between running it alone and having a watch and not. The watch is a mechanic that is gamist. Without the watch is analagous to Simulationist. But the watch is an interesting tool for comparison. The Gamist might have a better time if there is a watch. Without the watch the player is left to guage his success on his own. Which is fine.

The theory is that certain of these mechanics can be constructed to make gamist RPGs more interesting to players with a preference for that style of play. D&D Exp may or may not fit that bill for a given Gamist. I'd speculate that it would depend on how much they also like Verisimilitude. This is where you get the very common Gamist/Simulationist player from. They want a challenge, but they want it "realistic". Exp as in D&D is more likely to attract the hard core Gamist.

Does that help at all?

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Clinton R. Nixon

I think a lot of the problems people are having with Gamism is in the wording. Ron stated in his essay, "Gamism is expressed by competition among participants (the real people); it includes victory and loss conditions for characters, both short-term and long-term, that reflect on the people�s actual play strategies."

This does not mean the only form of competition is player vs. player. I consider myself to enjoy Gamist RPGs tremendously, and have found three sorts of competition that they usually involved (these will be obvious to anyone who's taken any sort of Lit class):

- Player vs. player: Rune is the best example of this. Yes, all players are working together towards a goal of killing monsters in a framework. But, all players are also trying to rack up the most points for their character. Pantheon and Baron Munchausen are other great examples of this. They both involve players trying to verbally outwit each other to make a story.

Win/loss condition: Do I get more points than other players?

- Player vs. world: I'd use D&D3E as my example for this. The characters are set into a specified framework (an adventure, a module) and there are set victory/loss conditions. The players work together to win at these conditions. This does not mean they win in the story. The story is irrelevant. The story is fun, and a part of it, but not the point. The point is to get experience points and gain levels. (Yes, you may not play D&D this way. Whatever. It facilitates this, and that's not a bad thing.) A story would suck if the heroes ran back to town to heal after every third fight. In D&D, this is fine as long as the monsters/traps/evil necromancer dies at the end and the characters get the XP.

Win/loss condition: Do we as a party receive the maximum amount of XP?

- Player vs. self: This is one of the least common types in RPGs, but is very interesting. This is more of the "runner testing himself" example above. For my example, I'll use Sorcerer - really. To me, one of the most fun parts of Sorcerer is the Humanity mechanic. It's a gamble of how far I can extend myself summoning demons and gaining power and still keep my character. By looking at odds and chances, I can play this as a huge gamble, seeing how much power I can get before burning out. This is still in a framework, and is still a competition.

Win/loss condition: Can I achieve maximum power and keep my character?

All of these fit in Ron's definition. There are definite win/loss conditions in all of them. They all have a definite framework set out before play to judge the win/loss condition. And they all rely on player strategy to win.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Ron Edwards


Solid. (Cue 70s street-level action flick soundtrack)


Blake Hutchins

Speaking as a marathon runner, I carry a watch in large part to know how long I have to go before I can stop hurting.



Mike Holmes

Very good Blake. :smile:

But just the idea that you refer to yourself as a Marathon runner means that you consider your abilities in the context of how well you can run a twenty-six point whatever mile race (which, BTW impresses the hell out of me; I have trouble running two). These are the parameters of that competition. You could just be a long distance runner, and not worry about time or distance too much, and just guage things more roughly. That paricular distance and the time that it takes to run it are the gamist elements. And they are very engaging, I find. Tho not at all necessary. Different modes.

Mike Holmes
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-Get your indie game fix online.