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Author Topic: Confused over Simulationism + example campaign  (Read 31259 times)
John Kim
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« Reply #30 on: February 09, 2003, 09:22:17 AM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
 Like my group that I complained about in Actual Play overmuch. They seem to have a very Sim priority, I seem to wish to explore (small "e") my Narrativist bend. It's like if we were playing the Samurai example from the essay. I wanted to play it Sorcerer style, but the group was playing it using GURPS (to keep using the example) This brings the GNS priorities into sharp relief. I either play within the given system (which require a roll to see if I can break any of my samurai's tenant, and can thus keep me from doing what I wish to do) or I ignore this and break the social contract, pissing everybody off.  


This doesn't seem to be Sim-vs-Nar to me, though.  For example, my Water-Uphill game was apparently Simulationist and had no such restrictions.  As GM, I dislike personality mechanics in general and the GURPS implementation in particular.  As I read it, there doesn't seem to be anything about Simulationism which requires such rules.  For example, no one pointed out how the lack of such meant that Water-Uphill wasn't pure Simulationism.  

My primary dislike of random-roll Personality Mechanics is that they fail to represent human behavior.  A samurai will not break his code of honor at random times -- that is nonsensical.  If he breaks his code, it will be for a reason.  This means there will be a visible pattern to his doing so.  He won't randomly fluctuate between keeping it and breaking it.  

Incidentally, couldn't this same thing come up in Sorcerer? (Note: I haven't played it yet, so I'm really not sure.)  If a player insists on ignoring the Humanity rules and instead just doing what she wishes to do even if her Humanity drops to 0, won't she break the social contract and piss people off?
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #31 on: February 09, 2003, 10:39:23 AM »

Quote from: John Kim
As I read it, there doesn't seem to be anything about Simulationism which requires such rules.  For example, no one pointed out how the lack of such meant that Water-Uphill wasn't pure Simulationism.

This is true. My GM is heavily influenced by GURPS, but let's not focus on that. This is your thread.  
Quote
Incidentally, couldn't this same thing come up in Sorcerer? (Note: I haven't played it yet, so I'm really not sure.)  If a player insists on ignoring the Humanity rules and instead just doing what she wishes to do even if her Humanity drops to 0, won't she break the social contract and piss people off?

Yep.

I think Fang poses an interesting question that may help. Did this game run into any problems?
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John Kim
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« Reply #32 on: February 09, 2003, 05:37:19 PM »

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
 I think Fang poses an interesting question that may help. Did this game run into any problems?  


No huge ones, but yes there were.  The campaign ended because I moved.  None of the players dropped out or had any significant problems with it, they had enough interest to come quite a distance to play (40+ minutes travel).  Scheduling was a problem, though.  

Personally, my reflections are:
    [*] The magic system was a great idea, I think, but didn't really live up to its potential.  One problem, as I think Russell pointed out, was that magical exploration really should have been a solitary activity.  In order to keep PCs involved, though, I had it them appear in magic as a group (magic was a place, sort of).  This had the side effect that they used magic as a secret meeting place and communications center, which felt strange.  
    [*] I never really nailed the character of the Bogart King, which was a pity because he was pretty central.  In part, I think this was a symptom that I simply hadn't worked out the background as well as I would have liked.  It is very hard to sufficiently detail a fantasy world, I find.  
    [*] Integrating Lisa's character was tricky.  She joined the campaign halfway in, which was a problem considering that the group was defined by their all knowing each other from school and being stuck in a fantasy world.  We decided that her PC was also from Earth but from a different time.  I'm a little unsure how well that worked.  
    [/list:u]

    Of the players, I think Josh (who played Noriko) loved it.  Liz liked it, but had some complaints.  There was a point when they went out to eat in the Bogart city when she felt that the story wasn't going anywhere.  On the other hand, Josh enjoyed this quality and said so at the time.  I think in GNS terms Liz was more Narrativist, while Josh was more Simulationist.  Russell, Mike, and Lisa all enjoyed it, but I did not have as much detailed feedback from them.
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #33 on: February 09, 2003, 05:47:31 PM »

    Three pages!

    On a topic I need to respond about in full and with care. And in the last few days I've had time to drop maybe three or four shortie-answers at the Forge as a whole.

    I always do this to John. I'll be back.

    Best,
    Ron
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    JMendes
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    « Reply #34 on: February 09, 2003, 11:26:56 PM »

    Hey, all :)

    Whilst we wait for Ron to come back ;) I thought I'd drop my couple-o-cents(TM).

    In my view GNS is not so much about goals as it is about priorities. These are not completely equivalent terms. For example, I may have a goal to drive from Lisbon to Madrid and get there before 7pm, but my priorities may be to have a safe journey, to enjoy the scenery, to get there as soon as possible, or to spend as little gas as possible. Some of these priorities are compatible, some are not, but definitely, all are within the frame of the goal. Now, those priorities can only be analysed from a series of driving decisions I make along the journey. An instance of driving, so to speak.

    As such: if your priorities revolve around:

    the challenge, getting better, tactical decisions, the riddle - you tend towards gamism
    the meaning, or premise, theme, morals and ethics - you tend towards narrativism
    the cause-and-effect, verisimilitude, what-it-would-be-like, 'realism' - you tend towards simulationism

    Note that priorites do not require any pre-planning whatsoever, and note also that neither a single decision nor a moment in the game can be isolated in terms of priorities.

    I hope that made sense. It makes perfect sense to me, t least. :)

    Cheers,

    J.
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    John Kim
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    « Reply #35 on: February 10, 2003, 09:17:20 AM »

    Quote from: JMendes
     As such: if your priorities revolve around:

    the challenge, getting better, tactical decisions, the riddle - you tend towards gamism
    the meaning, or premise, theme, morals and ethics - you tend towards narrativism
    the cause-and-effect, verisimilitude, what-it-would-be-like, 'realism' - you tend towards simulationism

    Note that priorites do not require any pre-planning whatsoever, and note also that neither a single decision nor a moment in the game can be isolated in terms of priorities.  


    The problem is that this requires saying that verisimilitude is a hindrance or at least a distraction to studying meaning, morals, and ethics.  I think this simply isn't true.  Verisimilitude -- especially of character -- is a benefit to meaning, morals, and ethics.  In general, a drama with flat, unbelievable characters does not have interesting meaning.  In GNS terms, it makes no sense to me to separate out Exploration of Character from addressing of moral and ethical questions.  These are each integral to the other.  

    This is why on rgf.advocacy we ended up defining the Simulation part of the threefold as a methodology rather than a goal.  The Drama-oriented people (such as David Berkman) were vehement that verisimilitude and drama were compatible and often linked priorities, and only by phrasing it as a methodology were we able to agree.  The methodology is avoiding meta-game influence on in-game events, but this can be used towards a wide variety of goals.  

    By the same token, I think that gamers who are interested in modern-day  tactical battles might insist that realistic bullet damage is not a distraction from having a good game.  They might say that the realism is an important part of the challenge.
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    Matt Machell
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    « Reply #36 on: February 10, 2003, 09:57:06 AM »

    Quote
    In GNS terms, it makes no sense to me to separate out Exploration of Character from addressing of moral and ethical questions.


    I can't recall which thread it was in, but it was mentioned a while back that a good way of explaining Narativist play decisions is that they require an external point of view to that of the character. The player is concerned with addressing the thematic question. "Exploration of character" implies internal logic of a character takes precedence, rather than any external concern of "thematic storytelling".

    It's not about either style not having strong characters, it's about how they are used, and to what end.

    HTH

    -Matt
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    Valamir
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    « Reply #37 on: February 10, 2003, 10:04:49 AM »

    Quote from: John Kim

    The problem is that this requires saying that verisimilitude is a hindrance or at least a distraction to studying meaning, morals, and ethics.  I think this simply isn't true.  Verisimilitude -- especially of character -- is a benefit to meaning, morals, and ethics.  In general, a drama with flat, unbelievable characters does not have interesting meaning.  In GNS terms, it makes no sense to me to separate out Exploration of Character from addressing of moral and ethical questions.  These are each integral to the other.  


    John, I think your kind of chasing your tale on this one.  What you're saying above about believable characters being important is 100% correct.  This is why Ron took Exploration of Character out of the Sim box (where it had been in earlier versions of GNS) and placed it quite prominately OVER the GNS distinctions.

    Thus for ALL THREE modes of play Exploration of Character (and setting, and color, and situation, and system) are important.  They are the foundational building blocks for all roleplaying.  Different games may assign different priorities to them, but all are present.

    With Exploration as a starting point than you have the following:

    G:  Exploration PLUS metagame concerns of the player involving having player skill at playing the game be an important detemination of character effectiveness in game.

    N:  Exploration PLUS metagame concerns about addressing the premise issues explained in depth elsewhere.

    S:  Exploration PLUS...nothing.  Simulationism in GNS is placing the act of Exploration itself as the primary motivation for playing.  That doesn't mean there's never a moment of enjoying how knowing the proper time to use the characters "special ability" saved the day.  That doesn't mean theres never an occassion where the game offers commentary on a moral issue.


    So to summarize:

    Merely citing occassions in an otherwise Simulationist game where a moral issue was spotlighted at some point and players had to make a hard choice for their characters...does not make the game Narrativist (or to state it another way, does not suddenly make the game stop being Simulationism).

    Similarly if these moral issues are not simply occassional encounters based on where the Exploration led but rather addressing them is the primary reason you're even bothering to play at all...you're playing Narrativist.  And because Exploration is part of all games including Narrativism it doesn't matter how much Exploration of Character and Setting et.al. you're doing in the meantime.  You could have the crunchiest most detail oriented example of verisimatic roleplaying in history (heh, I just invented that word) and still be playing Narrativist.
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #38 on: February 10, 2003, 10:21:49 AM »

    Hi there,

    Well spoo. Ralph's latest post said anything and everything I was planning to.

    Best,
    Ron
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    John Kim
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    « Reply #39 on: February 10, 2003, 11:42:43 AM »

    Quote from: Valamir
     Merely citing occassions in an otherwise Simulationist game where a moral issue was spotlighted at some point and players had to make a hard choice for their characters...does not make the game Narrativist (or to state it another way, does not suddenly make the game stop being Simulationism).

    Similarly if these moral issues are not simply occassional encounters based on where the Exploration led but rather addressing them is the primary reason you're even bothering to play at all...you're playing Narrativist.  And because Exploration is part of all games including Narrativism it doesn't matter how much Exploration of Character and Setting et.al. you're doing in the meantime.  You could have the crunchiest most detail oriented example of verisimatic roleplaying in history (heh, I just invented that word) and still be playing Narrativist.


    What you are saying is "If you are interested in exploring, then you are X."  while "If you are interested in finding something, then you are Y."  Like I said, that makes no sense to me.  The purpose of exploration is to find things.  

    If my game is about Exploration of Character, then addressing moral and ethical issues are the reason for play -- because moral and ethical issues are at the heart of Character.  You cannot have Exploration of Character without addressing moral and ethical issues, and conversely you cannot address moral and ethical issues without Exploration of Character (in fiction, at least).  They are not just occaisionally found together, they are the same thing.  

    In the Water-Uphill game, developments like Noriko's realization of responsibility were the reason for playing Water-Uphill world.  The primary reason that I structured play the way I did was to facilitate such developments.  So in that sense, it seems that it was Narrativist by your definition.
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    ThreeGee
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    « Reply #40 on: February 10, 2003, 12:25:03 PM »

    Hey John,

    Not to confuse you even further, but there is a minority opinion here that Premise with a capitol P is a white elephant. I find it easier to view GNS in terms of balance-of-power and its emergent properties. I have a friend with definite sim tendencies who loves games that pose moral questions. I would call the resulting play sim/exploration of morality (character?). The rules have all been predetermined and we, the players, are taking those rules to their logical conclusions to see what happens.

    Later,
    Grant
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    Valamir
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    « Reply #41 on: February 10, 2003, 12:38:31 PM »

    John, the first thing you have to realize is that like any attempt at categorizing behavior there are going to be blurry areas.  That's why one can't simply take a bullet point example and point definitively to what it is.

    Certainly there is a fuzzy area between Sim and Nar when both are heavy into Exploration of Character.  As we established there is Exploration of Character in all gaming (to greater or lesser degree)...so is it really any surprise that what you do when you explore character in a Sim game is going to look really damn similiar to what you do when explore character in a Nar game?

    An important piece that you're missing, however, is the importance of the PLAYER in the mix.

    In a Sim Exploration of Character it is the character who is exploring the moral issue.  In a Nar Exploration of character it is the PLAYER who is exploring the moral issue through the proxy of the character.  Subtle difference and I struggle with a way to put words to it, but having done both I can attest that they feel very different when done.

    Similiarly there are differences in how one gets from point A to point B (with standard caveats about making generalizations) in Sim play a character encounters a moral issue the same way as he encounters any conflict in the game.  The causal nature of the series of events that preceeded it have deposited the character at the feet of this dillema and it is your job as a player to figure out how the character will resolve it.

    In Nar exploration of character often times the character was created for the sole purpose of addressing that issue.  The only reason for the characters existance is to act as a window on to that issue.  Once the issue has been addressed in a manner satisfactory to the group, the character has fulfilled its purpose.  This is one reason why a lot of Narrativist play focuses on decidedly short campaigns.  Once the character fulfills its utility, the campaign is over and a new one with a new character can begin.
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    Mike Holmes
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    « Reply #42 on: February 10, 2003, 12:52:14 PM »

    Then you are concerned with Narrativist priorities, John. Which is what Ron said originally.

    That is, despite your contention, some people do play just to explore the character, and not in any particularly moral or ethical context. That is, they are more concerned with what it's like for the character to purchase a sword, or what it's like for the character to escape being mugged. But that's a problematic description. You'll just have to believe us that such players exist. Thus you can "have Exploration of Character without addressing moral and ethical issues". It's just not your bag o tea.

    There have been a lot of statements here about how to categorize your game. I think we have to realize that doing this, in the absence of actually having been there is going to be extremely difficult. Lord knows that I like speculating about such things as much as the next person (and maybe more). And that I've made more poor analyses than anyone, likely. But I've learned a few things.

    For one, we have to get you to understand where our thinking is at, and let you then make your judgment. We can use examples from your play, but that's not likely to be completely successful. We have to be on the same page.

    To that extent, I'll try to clear some misconceptions first. Jack is wrong about the need for a central premise. This is a commonly bandied myth. All that is required for narrativism is that the player be answering some moral or ethical question posed by the game elements, and answering in "directly". That is, as has been pointed out, one can indirectly answer a moral question by answering, "what would my character do". But that's just happy coincidence. The question is what was the player prioritizing?
    Let's look at an example. I will state before hand that my examples are always, always prone to overstatement, and potential misunderstanding, and as such try to read my intent if not my execution:

    Bob's character Raynard has a choice to either fight against a giant that's about to stop on a small child, or to flee. Raynard stands little chance of defeating the giant. If Bob decides to flee, because that's "what Raynard would do", then this is a Sim choice. If he chooses to fight allowing the child to flee, because "that's what's cool for the story", then it's Nar.

    Now, before I get jumped, here's the tricky thing. You can't often tell by looking. That is, the situation has nothing to do with figuring this out, only the reason why. Thus, if Raynard flees because "that's what's interesting for the story" then the choice is Nar, while if he stays "because that's what Raynard would do", then it's Sim.

    Tricky, eh? Both actions have to be plausible, BTW. For Sim it's the point to be plausible. For Nar not being plausible means draining the emotional power of the decision (people scratch heads and go, huh?).

    People at this point often then ask what's the use if you can't tell? But you can tell. You just have to ask in most cases. Which is why I said in my fist sentence that you prefer Narrativism. Because you came out and said it. If the actions of characters are devoid of moral and ethical meaning you are not content.

    But again, I overstate. I'm taking you to mean that if you were playing that you would play that way. But given that you are the GM in this case, you could mean something else. If you mean that you want the players to be driving these decisions such that they are answering moral and ethical questions, then you are looking for narrativist play from them. If you are, instead intent on providing a context as GM in which all decisions have a moral impact, and having the players make decisions based on "what they would do", thus creating theme as a result, then you want Sim.

    And, lest we loose sight, GNS is not only for diagnosing certain sorts of negative play. Yes, I am contradicting Ron slightly. I see GNS as prophylactic as well as a treatment. Which is to say that in addition to fixing current problems, knowing GNS can help you prevent problems from occurring in future games. In both design and play.

    Now for my WAG at what I think your game is about. You mentioned the one dissatisfied player. I think you hit the nail on the head. That player prefers Nar play. But I'd hazard that the problem is not that you don't support that sort of play, but rather that the other players were playing in a rather Sim mode. It's also just as likely that the dissatisfied player meant that you had not placed them in enough of those aforementioned moral and ethical contexts, and as a Sim player wanted to see more of those. How's that for wishy-washy.

    Here is how the Nar player sees the Sim players actions on occasion: "They act in an interesting manner as far as concerns their own characters, playing them well, but they don't consider the bigger picture of what's going on, and most importantly what's going on to my character, when making decisions. As such they don't make the story go except insofar as they create action for their characters."

    Is that illuminating at all? A lot of Nar players understand that, although not completely required, one of the most potent ways to prioritize story is to consider things from angles other than one's own character. Really, the player asks himself, "What would be cool" and ignores "what the character would do" perhaps only bothering to make the action chosen plausible afterwards by rationalizing it. "Sure, Raynard would attack the giant, um... his uncle was eaten by one."

    Are the players bending things so that the story works, or are they bending so that they setting remains objective reality? These are good indicators of Sim and Nar respectively.

    Hmmm. I'm kinda meandering here. Is this helping at all?

    GNS is not about goals (it's about behaviors), but there are some desires commonly associated with each particular preference. The Sim player wants the game world to be "real" seeming so as to get his particular requirements for "Immersion, and as such does not want to be in control of things that do not promote this, or, worse, interfere with it. He wants to control the character, not make story. The story is supposed to result from the play. The Nar player wants to be a part of creating the story, OTOH, as opposed to just being a participant in the process.

    Hope I've shed some light.

    Mike
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    John Kim
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    « Reply #43 on: February 10, 2003, 02:53:55 PM »

    Quote from: Mike Holmes
     That is, despite your contention, some people do play just to explore the character, and not in any particularly moral or ethical context. That is, they are more concerned with what it's like for the character to purchase a sword, or what it's like for the character to escape being mugged. But that's a problematic description. You'll just have to believe us that such players exist. Thus you can "have Exploration of Character without addressing moral and ethical issues".


    Well, this might just be a matter of semantics.  If it is not address any moral or ethical issues, then I would not call it Exploration of Character.    It sounds to me like Exploration of Situation or perhaps Exploration of Setting, because the experience is more-or-less the same regardless of who the character is.  

    For example, I might have a game which tries to capture the experience of what it is like to live in a medieval French town.  Here the GM and players try to convey the character's viewpoint as she buys a sword.  However, for this it doesn't particularly matter who the character's are on the inside.  Thus I would call it Exploration of Setting.  

    Similarly, I might have a game which tries to convey the experience of real combat.  Here we again convey the character's point of view, but again who the character is isn't central.  I would call it Exploration of Situation.  

    Quote from: Mike Holmes
     Bob's character Raynard has a choice to either fight against a giant that's about to stop on a small child, or to flee. Raynard stands little chance of defeating the giant. If Bob decides to flee, because that's "what Raynard would do", then this is a Sim choice. If he chooses to fight allowing the child to flee, because "that's what's cool for the story", then it's Nar.  
    ...
    Which is why I said in my fist sentence that you prefer Narrativism. Because you came out and said it. If the actions of characters are devoid of moral and ethical meaning you are not content.  


    Well, I keep flipping back and forth.  The way you put it here, I am Simulationist.  Personally, I would prefer that Bob answer based on "what Raynard would do".  However, the reason seems the opposite of what you say.  I prefer this way of answering because I find that it has if anything greater moral and ethical meaning.  

    Ultimately, meaning comes from the viewer -- not from the author.  Thus, the act itself has the same amount of meaning regardless of what the player was thinking.  The reason I prefer the the Simulationist answer is because I find that it tends tends to be more personal and reveal more.  For example, in my current campaign I had for a time a player who was fairly Gamist in his preference.   His actions were not devoid of meaning.  The other PCs reflected on his behavior and considered it rather frightening.  

    (cf.  John Tynes' "Power Kill" is a meta-RPG about exploring the meaning of primarily Gamist games).  

    Quote from: Mike Holmes
     Now for my WAG at what I think your game is about. You mentioned the one dissatisfied player. I think you hit the nail on the head. That player prefers Nar play. But I'd hazard that the problem is not that you don't support that sort of play, but rather that the other players were playing in a rather Sim mode. It's also just as likely that the dissatisfied player meant that you had not placed them in enough of those aforementioned moral and ethical contexts, and as a Sim player wanted to see more of those.  


    Well, I can try to paraphrase, but I'll see if she could answer.  I don't think it is the lack of moral and ethical contexts, but rather wanting more of an overall sense of direction to the story.  Being experimental, the story meandered a lot and didn't have a predefined center.
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #44 on: February 10, 2003, 03:19:41 PM »

    Hi guys,

    Mike and Ralph have essentially summarized the points I'd make, but a couple of turns of phrase bear investigating.

    First on the list is that whole "what my character would do" thing. Frankly, this is an example of a non-illuminating criterion. As has been mentioned - but I'm afraid isn't getting internalized - is that practically all role-playing can be phrased in these terms. If one is playing a character such that an engaging ethical or moral dilemma is a high priority, then "what my character would do" will ipso facto meet that priority. Substitute "such that my strategizing earns me the most victory points" into that sentence and you'll get the same thing.

    So let's bag the "what my character would do" issue; I think it's a red herring.

    Second is the Exploration issue. I think that sometimes people are using it way too generally, basically just as "play." I'm using it in about as rarefied, jargony, and Forge-specific way possible: to imagine, communicatively. So, John, to Explore Character does not mean to address an emotional or ethical issue - that would be a Narrativist employment of Exploration/Character.

    For the record, I used to agree with you wholeheartedly that there wasn't any other way to do this; you can see my argument of the time in the Sorcerer mailing-list archives on that website. It resembles yours greatly. However, I have learned that many people do indeed enjoy "just being" the character - they want to make him up, and to play him, to appreciate the character, and to have others appreciate him, and whatever happens, happens. The character "says" what he said already during the act of character creation, and that's the theme, all done. This mode of play would be Simulationist, with emphasis on Exploration of Character.

    The third issue is the medium of GNS needs to be explained much more carefully than I do in the essay. Recently, I hit upon the right way to say it: GNS exists only across and among the lines of communication during play. That's where it is. It's not in people's heads in some vague-ass way, and it's not in the rules, and it's not in the "morning after" regarding the game. We find it in procedural aspects of resolution, in in-character and out-of-character dialogue, in stuff like Stance (as I see the term), and in plain old social appreciation or other supportive elements of interaction.

    Fourth, and related to #3, I think that the concept of the "instance" of play needs to be addressed in detail. What time-unit or social-unit is necessary to assess GNS preferences and play-in-action? In my view, at least a session is necessary. This is not a matter simply of a measurable scale, for operational purposes; I'm talking about fundamental elements of the three modes' definitions.

    In a game that moves as fast and hard as a typical session of Trollbabe or Call of Cthulhu (to pick very different games, good at N and S respectively), the single session is almost certainly enough. So many important decisions have been made in that session, and it's so clear who's making them, that more sessions aren't going to do anything but ramp up the R-coefficient value (to use a not-especially-good metaphor).

    In a game that moves much slower and in which the crucial personal decisions may be conceived, gestated, born, matured, and finally brought to fruition through a variety of encounters and locales, say my years-long Hero Wars game, I'd hate to have anyone take a GNS-whack at it without seeing at least three sessions.

    I suspect - and again, I can only go with what you've presented on these two threads - that we are talking about Narrativist play in which Premise arises through group interest and development, during play itself, and in which Theme is produced at fairly widely-spaced intervals when it seems right to everyone. I think that's why you didn't see much in common with my bass/blues metaphor - it had too much driving force, too ba-dum-ba backbeat going on, too much shared direction from the git-go, to match well with what you experience.

    But Mike and Ralph are right - if, as you say, the "payoff" comes with the illumination and catharsis of a palpable ethical/moral issue ... then regardless of atmosphere, rate, techniques, and "style" - then we are talking about Narrativist play.

    No, it's not like mine (or the kind I described). Narrativist play is not all alike except in terms of the above paragraph. Vive la difference.

    Best,
    Ron
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