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Using D&D 4e as a GNS Litmus Test

Started by Ayyavazi, August 26, 2009, 12:42:16 AM

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Duly noted, Callan. I think you are right that we are co-designers, and that we have to kind of assume the roles of DM and player after we have determined how something works. I could "pull rank" as the more senior player of the game, but I believe that would violate our social contract and make the game less fun overall, and de-protagonize C in a most interesting way: He would no longer be a co-designer! Thanks again. Tonight's game was canceled due to work scheduling, and we might not be able to play again for a couple of weeks. Either way, I'm trying to find a different day in the meantime, so I'll keep you all posted. Thanks again,



Hi Norm,

I've been reading and chewing on this thread with interest for a while and I think I have decided upon a few things to offer.

First and foremost is that, as has already been stated, your best bet at determining your friend's CA bent is to expose him to various systems that clearly support a given CA.  How can C determine if he likes something, expressing a certain CA, if he isn't given the tools to make it easy to do so?  Your two big tools are types of conflict and the reward cycle. If either or neither are functioning properly, that is supporting a given CA, then it will be almost impossible to create a time of consistent coherent play whereby C will have a good solid taste of what a given functioning CA is like.  To make this work you as the GM will have to make a judgment call and reward C for his actions in response to a conflict, but the problem is that the reward must be tied into a specific CA.  Thus a reward that is germane to Gamist play is not going to be useful to Narrativist play and vice versa yet even more so regarding Sim play.  Even more significantly these rewards for play are sending signals from you the GM to the player on an emotional level about what it "right" and what is "not right" play – even if you don't explicitly intend to send those signals. There really is no possible way that you are going to stumble into a coherent mode of CA expression using the means your are employing.

As for your question as to which CA your player "seems" to be exhibiting I do think there are a few clues that can be gleaned. Remember, however, that just because your player may have had some fleeting expressions of a given CA does not mean his choice is fully informed. He may not even be aware of the Narrativist Agenda but once exposed to well designed game supporting that mode of play C may find he enjoys Narrativism best.

Those caveats aside I do be believe that there have indeed been a number of "tells" but they are subtle – and they are ALL Sim.  Ultimately he may enjoy Gam or Nar more, but the choices made available to the player as well as his actions all point Sim.  Absolutely no criticism intended, but the play you have described has been "hostile" (perhaps better said, "non-conducive")  to the other CA's, but on the occasions where such opportunities were made available C definitely shied away from G and N.

The most explicitly Nar pregnant moment that I read came when you dangled before C the possibility "to leave the body and possibly have the village of Barnhallow infected." I am not saying that this was a Premise, but by golly anyone who looking to explore meaty thematic/human issue type choices should have been salivating at the possibilities just pulsating in that situation. C seemed not to have even noticed it at all. It was completely off the radar screen.  As you said, "...he asked for a fight rather than ENJOYING seeing a plague rampage through the small village."

Regarding gamist play I  agree with Dan that we are not seeing any reported emotional activity indicative of gamism nor am I picking up any tells of gamist style employment of mechanics. I also agree with Eero's observation - "D&D gamism is about neutral arbitration in the face of mortal threat (to characters, that is); a soft and input-taking GMing technique runs counter to that, so if you're going to get gamism, it's not going to be the normal sort of D&D gamism."

Here are the Sim tells as I see them (like all CA's they must be looked at as a whole and not just as the component individual parts):

  • "Ignore the rules" - but in a fashion that is consistent with the fictional world – the "logic" of the SIS and the source fiction should be reflected in the mechanics not the other way around.
  • "...wanted to win a convert to the church of Melora" - he wanted to "do" what a "priest would do." This is an expansion (resolving in ever greater detail), through play, on the existing material.
  • Your expansion and C's ready acceptance of said expansions of the "religion check" mechanic to support C's play of his character is another example of the supremacy of the logic of the SIS over mechanics.
  • "None of the religious talk was glossed over with simple rolls...C actually made up scriptures on the fly...and holy quotes and sayings...and between the two of us we fleshed out bit of what Melora teaches" - classic, dead on ten ring Sim behavior. Through play you both are expanding upon the fictional world in a manner that is a reasonable logical extension of what already is. The gist is in the understanding and then expanding on the IMPLICIT logic or functionality of the world. Like the tried and true metaphor of jazz you and C are taking the basic riffs and are building and expanding upon them WHILE playing – and are jazzing on this process (the play in functional in Forge jargon) when you both are in sync with each other. This is SO key – it is SO the heartbeat of Sim. You and your player have a shared implicit "understanding" of how the world works are having a great time "discovering" this (actually creating but feels like discovery) when you are actually riffing off each others actions. Both your and C's expansions on the world "feel" right to each other and its a wonderful moment when it happens.  You even admit it when C "said he loved the third [the bandit encounter with the proselytizing] the most."
  • "...added a lot of depth to what was otherwise a simple eliminate the plague quest." - The addition of the whole part of the economy, which is really a set of relationships, is more than color. It effects everything. It was so important to C's understanding of his character that he felt it interesting enough to his character to "know" this set of relationships.  This newly minted (in play!) information will now strongly impact how C's character will go about his business.  This was not just "color" for it it did and will continue to have an effect of how C sees and thus plays his character. What people are missing as much a C did not see the Nar potential moment describe above, is that what you (both?) did in creating that economy was FUN! It was not a distraction from play – IT WAS PLAY! This is to Sim as addressing Premise is to Nar.
  • "...from a character standpoint and his own preference, he would like to not have random fights with natural creatures since it STRAINED THE IDEA that he was a chosen of Melora. (why would animals attack a worshiper of the animal goddess?)" - Why indeed? We've just extrapolated a little more information about the fictional world.  We've just now firmly established that in this world that it would break with our conceptions of the world, though not thus explicitly laid out, that it would not be logical for animals to attack a "chosen of Melora."
  • "...reasonable to assume." - SIM!
  • "I should have made this cause a mass panic, but instead I assume the small town watch kept it quiet and handled it better than it should have." - maybe you were thinking from a dramatic point of view, but I'll assume you meant your choice did not seem logical (consistent with your conceptions of the fictional world) that matters worked out as you had them. This is an example of a Sim priority.
  • "I remind him that in medieval times..."
  • "Shiro decides to try to quell Eli's fear with words of wisdom and holy light (a natural 20 says he hits it out of the park, with religion)" - I'll be the rules say absolutely nothing about a natural 20 allowing for a run away success! In fact I'll be the rules say nothing about the religion skill functioning in this way at all. Yet by this point in play both you and C had so accepted, via the Lumpley Principle, that the religion skill will have open ended possibilities (as you indicated earlier) and this is OK with your conceptions of how the world works. You've not only made the rules fit your new world creations but you just created a new world creation! All this happened implicitly, smoothly and with apparent great fun. In fact you call on this a few minutes later with restructuring of the mechanical fumble. You came back to an earlier created fiction to over rule the mechanics – and it was AOK because it was acceptable to your growing construction of how the world works! Sim.
  • "So, we determine that the plague..." Yet more extrapolation based upon your implicit understanding of the world plus your creative additions following and extending those same said implicit understandings. Build. Build. Build. Sim. Sim. Sim.
  • "Still, he doesn't seem worried at all that Heskan accidentally ingested some of the stuff." - Your, "concern," lies in that C hasn't, seemingly, reasoned out the logic of how the world works and is going to be blindsided when the logical consequences of the event start to play out – as they will. You haven't given yourself full credit for being concerned. It does play on you, you've said so and I agree, but the real reason isn't what you think it is, though you do dance around it a bit. It's the same problem as in a Narrativist game where the player punts on dealing with the Premise question. It's frustrating, but unless truly self-aware about CA's during play all we know is that said play isn't "playing" properly. But as was discovered here at the Forge that frustration lies in this particular case in that the player is fumbling an important CA moment. In this case, as in Sim, the player has not deduced something important about how the world works – and its important that he does. Just as a punted Nar moment in frustrating so this apparent failure of your player to deduce, put together the rules of the world and then apply them forward, is irking you. You're having a CA "disappointment" and you don't recognize it as such! Maybe a Gamist example might be better. Your player is in a combat situation and you as the GM see in your mind's eye the perfect combination that would put an end to the opponent, but your player keeps fumbling around not using the tools available to him to best effect. It's frustrating! That is what is happening to you and your player right now – by analogy (and all the problems inherent in using analogies – my apologies.)
  • "We are both frustrated by the constraint on options." That is Sim cry of pain if there is no other and I have heard and lived it thousands of times. IF nothing else, that is THE stentorian scream of the Sim agenda begging to be unleashed and being frustrated by system.

So I submit that you and your player have been playing a Sim leaning game, despite the mechanics but have successfully done so because you are using a SYSTEM of play that allows Sim Agenda actions/choices to have effect and place in play in spite of the interfering mechanics. A poster earlier summed Sim as "what is it like to be a priest of Melora?", but that's a category error. The proper way to phrase the Sim agenda from a player perspective is "this is what a priest of Melora is" or "this is what it means to be a priest of Melora." Its declarative, not interrogative. Your job as the GM is to provide Situations, with a capital S, where the player can play out being that priest of Melora under all sorts of RELEVANT circumstances or conflicts.  Why conflicts if the POV or process is declarative? The player needs a reason to make (defining) decisions and the relevant conflicts provide those necessary moments of time in play where such (defining) actions can be made.

I hope I have answered your question as to what CA seems to be being expressed and so far preferred by your player. As to sussing out C ultimate CA interests your best bet is just using a well designed system for a given CA and let him experience first hand exactly what each CA feels like. I wish you the best in your efforts! I am delighted to hear about a GM who is working so hard to find what his players' enjoy. Cheers to you!


(Forgive me if this is particularly rambling. I have always been a rambly poster, but to make matters worse it has been a long time since I have lost posted. If you wish me to clarify something please do ask!)
Aure Entuluva - Day shall come again.