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Author Topic: Vanilla Narrativism  (Read 7594 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: October 29, 2001, 06:57:00 AM »

Hello,

Before diving back into the wilds of the Gamism debate, I wanted to address something that's been itching at me for a few weeks.

A lot of people seem to be getting the idea that Narrativist play is conducted almost entirely at the metagame level. "I don't want to be a GM and I don't want to play NPCs," says one Forge member, and similar vibrations are reaching me through the grapevine. Some people seem to be equating "playing my character" as being Actor Stance, which isn't right at all.

Let's not forget vanilla Narrativism - no hard-core enforced Director Stance, no overt statements of Premise, no funky mechanics that permit multiple-GMing ... no, just playin' my character and still being Narrativist.

How is this done? It's the easiest thing in the world, if you review the MINIMAL definition of this goal of play. That definition is nothing more than wanting a good story to emerge through the actual role-playing.

That means you never have to get Director-wise, if you don't want to. You don't have to be a GM part of the time, or to consider your character "just an NPC." You don't have to play freaky stuff that upsets half or more of your friends. The only thing you are doing is taking Author Stance a certain amount of the time ... and that doesn't even have to be expressed in out-of-character terms or acknowledged to those around you in any way.

Does your character "care about Stuff," in that you as the player care about how that Stuff works out? Here I define Stuff as things that matter IN GENERAL, like "love," "family," "my people," "my honor," and similar things. If you care about the Stuff that your character is dealing with, and your statements about the character's actions reflect that - well, golly, that's Author Stance and that's a Narrativist Premise. All done. Role-play as usual.

Any of the more extreme material such as might be found in Soap, Extreme Vengeance, or other games is NOT part of the Narrativist definition, but an extension of it.

Vanilla Narrativism is widespread and fun. It's often unacknowledged, seen only in the actions of one player in a group who is tacitly acknowledged as the "co-GM" (or even "real GM" in some cases). It is often frustrated by other modes of play, or sublimated into writing stories about the character, but it is also often the basis for some really fun role-playing, among a group who's into it.

I think a lot of people are incorrectly perceiving the point in my essay about The Impossible Thing to Believe Before Breakfast, because they have had good experiences with vanilla Narrativism. I hope this has cleared that problem up a little.

If not, well, we can always debate.

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2001, 07:19:00 AM »

I've been thinking about it recently, actually. It seems to me that while system does matter (said with that echoey 50's scifi voice), I think the most important parts of narrativism, as Ron & Paul have said throughout various posts, is a strong Premise that grabs & engages the players & the automatic Protagonist-ness of the Player Characters. Yes, mechanics can facilitate & amplify this. But what if you just take these to make "vanilla narrativism"?

Some examples:

* You decide to run Vampire (to use the game example from Ron's essay). Rather than writing up a huge map of NPCs & their relationships (a la the "By Night" sourcebooks) & writing up an epic plot outline (a la a lot of the Vampire "Saga" supplements), you just write up a small relationship map, like in Sorcerer's Soul, & some backstory, using the Vampire game as the guide, & you make sure a strong Premise is understood by everyone playing. In other words, rather than developing a huge setting & potential-story that the players have to work inside the boundaries, you leave a lot of it vague, letting the setting & plot come from the player-driven narrative. Instead of the players inherently being "minor players in the huge chess game who eventually work their way up to become major players", they're automatically the stars of the show, & they drive the game.

* I had this idea recently of running Call of Cthulhu, but without all this "emulating Lovecraft stories" luggage. Just take the basic setting material, & once again, write up a strong Premise (which the game pretty much has a few of already) & a relationship map, & run the game as just a "modern horror" (or "historical horror") game.

I don't know how well either of those examples would work (by which I mean, I don't know how well a group of "hardcore narrativists" would enjoy playing in those games), but in my head it makes sense at least. A strong Premise, player-driven narrative, & some good scene-framing on the part of the GM, & you could have a great story, without all the bells & whistles of games like Story Engine or Hero Wars.
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--josh

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2001, 07:27:00 AM »

Hey,

Josh, that's exactly what I'm talking about. To stick with the example in the essay, that's where our example group would "drift" the Vampire play, if they were inclined in that direction.

At the risk of going off-topic, Sorcerer is written to facilitate exactly this form of Narrativism. It's the style of play nearest to my own preferences, not that that should mean anything to anyone.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2001, 09:32:00 AM »

But, Ron, Josh, System Does Matter. (In the words of William Shatter, "Irony...its so ironic.")

What I mean is that you may want to indicate that what you are promoting with Vanilla Narrativism, is either playing with a Narrativist System (possibly abashedly, whatever that means) or Drifting to Narrativism in a non-Narrativist system. Otherwise you are talking about using the more "powerful" Narrativist tools. I like the point, though. I'd add that few players never get into Narrativist mode. People forget all about shifting play.

I think that to a certain extent this is how Mike Sullivan and I (and others like us) get the stories that we look for. Our players occasionally drift over to Narrativist proclivities just long enough in places for the plot to be able to proceed. Then they hunker back down in Actor mode until the next big decision. You can see the mild resent on the faces of the trenchant Sims, however, when this happens. :smile:

Mike

[ This Message was edited by: Mike Holmes on 2001-10-29 12:33 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2001, 09:43:00 AM »

Hi Mike,

"you may want to indicate that what you are promoting with Vanilla Narrativism, is either playing with a Narrativist System (possibly abashedly, whatever that means) or Drifting to Narrativism in a non-Narrativist system."

I so indicate that very thing. I thought I'd indicated it already, but if I didn't - OK - I now do.

My basic point doesn't rely on playing with ANY particular system. If you try to play in a Narrativist fashion using certain systems, it will be awfully hard and often frustrated. If you try Vanilla Narrativism with something like Soap, that is a little like taking off in a jet engine when you wanted to drive to the beach (ie more stuff to take care of than you wanted, even if it is faster and "better" in an naive or unconsidered sense).

It all comes back to the behaviors. Narrativist role-playing is a certain set of behaviors, and they may be employed as such without mechanics to back them up, especially among a like-minded group. Also, like any mode of play, they may be facilitated greatly by game design that permit or help those behaviors.

My point is that the behaviors associated with Narrativism are nowhere near as extreme as recent discussions may have implied to people. My concern is to prevent people from confusing a highly accessible and perhaps even familiar mode of play with its experimental fringe.

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2001, 09:49:00 AM »

Maybe I'm mellowing on the whole system does matter thing. (New tagline: "System matters...quite a bit.")

Really, what Ron's been saying all along (& I agree with) is that system matters in that, while you can play any way with any game, not every game facilitates every kind of play, & a good system facilitates a certain kind of play. The "hardcore narrativist" (I love that term) games, like Extreme Vengeance, Hero Wars, Story Engine, & so on, actually incorporate the narrativist techniques discussed in ways that facilitate narrativist play. Vampire & the other World o' Darkness games don't facilitate narrativist play (despite claims of "story first!" from them). That doesn't mean you can't play that way with them. It may require fudging rules (for example, instead of following the rulebook & rolling to resolves tasks, you instead roll to resolve conflicts) or pumping up certain aspects of the game that tend to be downplayed or throwing out canonical setting information. (Another example: taking cues from Sorcerer & Sword, I was thinkin of writing up info for a D&D game, with almost no established setting, letting the players define the setting through play, rather than succumbing to the "fantasy novel" approach of loads of maps, a glossary, languages, geneologies, & such. Which is, I believe, how Peter Seckler ran his first 3rd ed D&D game. Ignoring all but the basic d20 resolution system, I think D&D combat can be incredibly narrativist because it's so abstract--it becomes fortune-in-the-middle.)

So, yes, system does matter. It's not exclusive, & there are other things to take into consideration in gameplay.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2001, 10:11:00 AM »

Seems like an odd point to make, Josh. The reason that the essay is entitled System Does Matter is because it is in response to thos who say that system does not matter. Thus it is already the minimal statement. Only that system has some say in the outcome of play. If Ron had implied otherwise that system were more important than that, the title would have been System is the Only Thing That Matters. Or System Matters More Than Anything.

I think the title is pretty self explanatory.

But, in case anybody is confused, Josh is right. Lots of other stuff matter as well. (I like settings :smile: )

Mike

[ This Message was edited by: Mike Holmes on 2001-10-29 13:12 ]
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joshua neff
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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2001, 10:22:00 AM »

Quote
Seems like an odd point to make, Josh. The reason that the essay is entitled System Does Matter is because it is in response to thos who say that system does not matter. Thus it is already the minimal statement.


I think the reason I felt like making that odd point (aren't all my points "odd"? If not, I'll work on it.) was because it seems as if many people read "system does matter" & interpret that to mean "system is the only thing that matters", which I can't remember ever being Ron's point, nor does it make any sense to make that claim. Not that I've ever seen you make that mistake, Mike. But others have. Just trying to keep things relatively clear.

Quote
in case anybody is confused, Josh is right


I'm having that made into a T-shirt.

[ This Message was edited by: joshua neff on 2001-10-29 13:23 ]
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--josh

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Marco
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« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2001, 01:19:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-10-29 09:57, Ron Edwards wrote:
Does your character "care about Stuff," in that you as the player care about how that Stuff works out? Here I define Stuff as things that matter IN GENERAL, like "love," "family," "my people," "my honor," and similar things. If you care about the Stuff that your character is dealing with, and your statements about the character's actions reflect that - well, golly, that's Author Stance and that's a Narrativist Premise. All done. Role-play as usual.


Hi,

I thought this is at odds with Narrativist's implicit player-creation-of-story that Narrativist Premise implies. I'd have said that the above is a tennant of emotionally-involved roleplaying in *any* GNS game and that it isn't specifically Narrativist anymore than Drama is.

What you're calling Vanilla Narrativist Role-Playing is what I'd have called good Simulationist gaming. I'm pretty sure that I once got corrected for using Narrativist to mean "predominantly interested in story" rather than "predominantly interested in player creation story."

Still, Ron, this is the first thing you've written about Narrativist goals that I believe. It's looked to me for some time like much Narrativist play has come out of a frustration with not getting 'good stories' out of GM-Player interaction. I submit that if Narrativist player-directors work best for you, fine. However, Simulationist play with exactly what you described above (and GM attention to player's plot preferences ... and allowing players to make big plot-direction decisions *without plotting the outcome of those decisions*, etc.) works equally well for other groups in achieving the exact same story-results (minus the authorial act of creation in Narrativist play).

-Marco



[ This Message was edited by: Marco on 2001-10-29 16:23 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2001, 02:42:00 PM »

Marco,

This doesn't make any sense.

"However, Simulationist play with exactly what you described above (and GM attention to player's plot preferences ... and allowing players to make big plot-direction decisions *without plotting the outcome of those decisions*, etc.) works equally well for other groups in achieving the exact same story-results (minus the authorial act of creation in Narrativist play)."

When players "make big plot-direction decisions" they ARE performing the "authorial act of creation." To say the first without the second is nonsense.

You are describing Narrativist play.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: October 29, 2001, 02:57:00 PM »

Marco,

It has been patiently explained to me by many people that No, they don't care about Stuff (as I defined it) during role-playing. Furthermore, if asked to care or behave as if they do, they get aggravated during play and would prefer not to be in that group.

For many, it really is about "how fast can I get to the next level," or "can my character be the next heir to the throne." For many, it really is about "what's it feel like to be a cursed mutant or wise wizard," or "how would the widespread use of parthogenetic birth change human society." All of this play is very emotionally engaged on their parts.

I disagree with your claim that caring about Stuff is universal to emotionally-involved role-playing. Too much testimony and too much observational experience is against you.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2001, 05:43:00 PM »

Hey Ron,

My definition of a good role-playing was just my own--not what all groups would prefer (a game I was running was described by one of the players as 'too wordy'). I would say that most players interested in getting to 10th level aren't really emotionally involved in the story--more intellectually involved. I'm not counting excitement as an emotion--or sense of accomplishment.

I thought the relevant part of Narrativist play wasn't the making of big plot decisions but the player's ability to narrate the outcome of their own decisions. If they get to the end of the dungeon and decide not to slay the dragon, that's a big plot decision, the outcome of which is determined by the GM. Is that not right? Or if the GM decides what happens in response to player action does that action not count as making a big plot decision?

-Marco


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« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2001, 06:00:00 PM »

Hi Marco,

I won't be able to address your example of the dragon without more context. To explain why not, I'll give an example that was used a while ago. I apologize to the original authors, whose identities I don't recall and whose words I'm probably mangling.

Person 1: "The airlock blows out and the hero is being sucked out into space. How does GNS explain what to do? Would a Narrativist cheat so that the hero survives, to make a better story because he can fight the villain later?"

Person 2: "The question is a Simulationist question. it can't be addressed in Narrativist terms without knowing the overall sequence of events in which this takes place, and what caused the airlock to blow. Also, the notion of 'cheating' is out of place in a game which, by the rules, permits the player to establish that the character had already put on the space-helmet before the lock blew, AFTER the announcement that it blew."

I believe another way to put this is that all play does not necessarily have to be about "Player announces PC action, and gazes expectantly at the GM to discover what happens." To bring all this home to this thread, I now suggest that Narrativism, as a minimal requirement, permits players to have more say in outcomes of their actions than traditional play tends to acknowledge.

However, this may be a VERY subtle nudge in play style (involving the Intent + Initiation + Execution + Completion process I described last week), and doesn't even require funky rules. A lot of Simulationist-oriented rules sets I've used have been nudged like this during play whether by me or others.

Even more importantly, Narrativist play demands that the decision to fight the dragon MEANS something to the players ALREADY, about justice or loyalty or love or any number of similar "meaty" things. It's not an isolated, "I do X," "Then Y happens," kind of situation.

Best,
Ron
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333Chronzon
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« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2001, 05:18:00 AM »

Hi, I've been lurking for a while and this is my first post, so I'm sorry for any miss-steps on my part as my question is a little off the track of the topic at hand.

I thought I'd ask something about this statement:

Quote

On 2001-10-29 20:43, Marco wrote:
I'm not counting excitement as an emotion--or sense of accomplishment.


Why should either of those things be 'discounted' as 'emotions?'  Excitement and a sense of accomplishment are in many cases the very reason I enjoy role-playing at all.  At least their presence is responsible for my continued participation in a roleplaying experierience.

I experience both as 'emotional states' and as a part particularly of the enthusiasm or lack thereof that I gain from any particular game session.  

What Ron describes as 'Vanilla Narrativism' is basically how I've run CoC for years now.  I felt that My goal as a GM was to *elicit* the emotional engagement of the players.  *To* get them excited about the events in the game and to facilitate what *they* expected from the roleplaying experience.  In the case of CoC 'accomplisment' meant for some people the chance to play somebody going mad and for others to 'triumph' over the 'villian' du jour while still knowing that there was no end to the task of 'protecting the world.'  This role I felt was part and parcel of my commitment to reflect the 'arbitrary and pitiless' nature of the Lovcraftian universe.  The players *expected* to be squashed like bugs or go mad if they got in the way of the 'wrong thing' because this was the essence (to them and me) of the experience of the game and satisfying their *expectations* gave them a sense of accomplishment and built their excitement such that they had a good time playing.

I apologise for the digression, but my point is that if we are concerned about the emotional engagement of the Players, how can we 'discount' excitement and a sense of accomplishment?  
   
Scott Bowen

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2001, 06:38:00 AM »

Hi Scott,

And welcome to the Forge! I agree with you regarding emotional engagement and found the same passage as puzzling as you did.

I'd like to invite you to the Actual Play forum where we are locked in combat about something I've dubbed the "Bobby G" scenario design. How do you think it applies to Call of Cthulhu, especially if the play of that game includes some nudges and driftings toward Narrativist priorities?

As an occasional CofC player and GM, I have found that it takes a lot of effort to get Narrativist with the game, even to a minimal level. (Usually, I don't even try, and just go all Simulationist and enjoy that, for which the game is a masterpiece.)

Best,
Ron
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