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Shoukanjuu
08-14-2008, 03:48 PM
Introduction: I've recently started playing a 4E campaign with a still-forming group, and as we're all new to the system and each other, there's been some minor friction between players as we (and our characters) get to know each other. I don't really have a great deal of experience with tabletop roleplaying (I've done a great deal of roleplaying in the context of text-based games online, however), but I suspect that most of our friction is simply due to conflicts of playing styles/expectations, so I went in search of some reading material on the subject...

So, I found a really great article: GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/1/), by Ron Edwards, which I expect a number of you are already familiar with, so I won't bother going into it. So my question is, to those who are familiar with the GNS perspective and have spent some time with 4E, what mode(s) of play do you think it best lends itself to, and why?

Maelstrom
08-14-2008, 06:02 PM
It is hard to place such a hybrid into one of the three categories, as they all apply in some sense.

I think however, if you compare 4e to 3.5e, you'll find the game much more gamist and much less simulationist... the 4e rules are designed for balance and simplicity, and with the desire to make sure all players can contribute in any given situation (for better immersion and unbroken play).

Whether it is narrativist or not is up to the GM and players. The rulebooks certainly encourage creativity, but a GM or players could just as easily play without it, if that is their style.

fmitchell
08-14-2008, 06:35 PM
Granted, I think GNS theory is about as valid as Freudian psychology (i.e. a faltering first step mired in layers of crap), but 4e is definitely slanted toward the Gamist mode.

Simulationism in the sense of "realism" is almost absent: archers can fire through friendlies without penalties, PC's can completely heal up after a day of rest yet "minions" collapse after one sword-stroke or magic missile, and even warriors have abilities that defy scientific explanation. Arguably, D&D 4e is in some ways a better "simulation" of fantasy literature for precisely those reasons (which is one of my problems with GNS), but since D&D has influenced a lot of fantasy writing for the past 30 years, D&D simulating itself doesn't really count.

Narrativism is a little harder to pin down. Skill challenges provide a more abstract resolution of everything from out-arguing antagonists to advancing the plot through non-combat means. On the other hand, there's no real mechanism like Drama Points for players to shape the plot. (Action Points allow an extra action, but only in combat, and only if the characters press on to the point of exhaustion.) There's also no mechanism for passions, convictions, or relationships to aid character actions, besides the flavor text of certain powers like Infernal Wrath. In comparison to strongly "narrativist" games like My Life With Master, Dogs in the Vinyard, Primetime Adventures, or Don't Rest Your Head (among others), then, 4th edition looks pretty weak.

Which leaves Gamist play, which D&D 4e has in spades: tactical miniature combat on a board, resource allocation during an adventure, obstacles set by a DM for the players to overcome, rewards for meeting objectives, challenges escalating by level, etc. Granted, D&D has mainly had a "gamist" focus, but there's always been room for narrativism (albeit without much rule support), and 3.x flirted with simulationist elements that more often than not made the game more complicated.

agoraderek
08-14-2008, 09:08 PM
Granted, I think GNS theory is about as valid as Freudian psychology (i.e. a faltering first step mired in layers of crap), but 4e is definitely slanted toward the Gamist mode.

you're much kinder to gns theory than i ;)


Simulationism in the sense of "realism" is almost absent: archers can fire through friendlies without penalties, PC's can completely heal up after a day of rest yet "minions" collapse after one sword-stroke or magic missile, and even warriors have abilities that defy scientific explanation. Arguably, D&D 4e is in some ways a better "simulation" of fantasy literature for precisely those reasons (which is one of my problems with GNS), but since D&D has influenced a lot of fantasy writing for the past 30 years, D&D simulating itself doesn't really count.

i'll argue the other side, i think 4e is a better "simulation" of fantasy cinema, 1e & 2e are better simulations of literature, with 3x falling somewhere in between. someone on another board said old school d&d is more like RE howard "conan", 4e more like swartzeneggar "conan" (both meant in a positive way)


Narrativism is a little harder to pin down. Skill challenges provide a more abstract resolution of everything from out-arguing antagonists to advancing the plot through non-combat means. On the other hand, there's no real mechanism like Drama Points for players to shape the plot. (Action Points allow an extra action, but only in combat, and only if the characters press on to the point of exhaustion.) There's also no mechanism for passions, convictions, or relationships to aid character actions, besides the flavor text of certain powers like Infernal Wrath. In comparison to strongly "narrativist" games like My Life With Master, Dogs in the Vinyard, Primetime Adventures, or Don't Rest Your Head (among others), then, 4th edition looks pretty weak.

this is where gns really breaks down for me. "the adventures of baron von munchausen" is the only truly "narrativist" game i can think of. i don't think any edition of d&d is well classified in this category. even VtM has too many rules and is too "gamey" to really be classified here (even if the Gm is called "storyteller")


Which leaves Gamist play, which D&D 4e has in spades: tactical miniature combat on a board, resource allocation during an adventure, obstacles set by a DM for the players to overcome, rewards for meeting objectives, challenges escalating by level, etc. Granted, D&D has mainly had a "gamist" focus, but there's always been room for narrativism (albeit without much rule support), and 3.x flirted with simulationist elements that more often than not made the game more complicated.

only if you take "simulationist" to mean "simulating real life", another plce gns breaks down for me. i think, if we redefine what the games are "simulating", then both are quite "simulationist": to reiterate, 4e is a better simulation of cinematic fantasy (movies (LotR, the princess bride, willow) , anime, more modern fantasy lit), pre-WotC d&d is a better simulation of classic fantasy lit (LotR, vance, re howard, moorcock, anderson) with 3x falling in between.

but, i think your analysis is quite dead on in the context of the gns theory :)

tesral
08-15-2008, 01:50 AM
Granted, I think GNS theory is about as valid as Freudian psychology (i.e. a faltering first step mired in layers of crap), but 4e is definitely slanted toward the Gamist mode.
[Much snipping] .


That says it. D&D in general is far more gamiest than any nod to simulation. Narrativist is a matter of DM style. D&D has never been anywhere near a simulation, from 0e forward.

And I agree about Freud as well. The GNS theory is about as accurate. No one is 100% any of the three if you mess with it. I'm too busy playing the game.

Shoukanjuu
08-15-2008, 11:07 AM
And I agree about Freud as well. The GNS theory is about as accurate. No one is 100% any of the three if you mess with it. I'm too busy playing the game.

Keep in mind that the author of the theory stated (emphasis is mine), "Used properly, the terms apply only to decisions, not to whole persons nor to whole games. To be absolutely clear, to say that a person is (for example) Gamist, is only shorthand for saying, "This person tends to make role-playing decisions in line with Gamist goals." Similarly, to say that an RPG is (for example) Gamist, is only shorthand for saying, "This RPG's content facilitates Gamist concerns and decision-making."

Although I'm fairly sure that Ron Edwards would categorize 4E as being either semi-adaptable or "incoherent" rather then "hybrid", but the benefit is that it allows for the game to drift in the direction that the player's styles tend towards.

And don't mistake me; I'm not trying to defend the GNS theory as the one true way to analyze RPGs and their players, but I've already found it to be quite useful in helping me to understand my DM and fellow players, so that I'm less frustrated when they do things that I see as completely out of order...


I think however, if you compare 4e to 3.5e, you'll find the game much more gamist and much less simulationist... the 4e rules are designed for balance and simplicity, and with the desire to make sure all players can contribute in any given situation (for better immersion and unbroken play).

Whether it is narrativist or not is up to the GM and players. The rulebooks certainly encourage creativity, but a GM or players could just as easily play without it, if that is their style.

I think you're right on target, there. From my (limited) experience and analysis, simulationism is secondary to both gamism and narrativism, so far as what 4E best lends itself towards. As for gamism vs. narrativism, while I think there many aspects of the game that very strongly support the latter, a gamist premise is clearly the most fully supported.


On the other hand, there's no real mechanism like Drama Points for players to shape the plot. (Action Points allow an extra action, but only in combat, and only if the characters press on to the point of exhaustion.) There's also no mechanism for passions, convictions, or relationships to aid character actions, besides the flavor text of certain powers like Infernal Wrath.

And that brings up an interesting subset of this 4E/GNS discussion, and my next question for those more discerning then I: How does 4E variably use Drama, Fortune, and/or Karma in determining the effectivity of actions, and how does this support/prohibit the various modes of play?

fmitchell
08-15-2008, 11:45 AM
And that brings up an interesting subset of this 4E/GNS discussion, and my next question for those more discerning then I: How does 4E variably use Drama, Fortune, and/or Karma in determining the effectivity of actions, and how does this support/prohibit the various modes of play?

Drama is mainly face-to-face roleplaying, perhaps in concert with skill challenges (Fortune/Karma). The PHB is mainly silent on this; the DMG has more "tips for GMs" to facilitate roleplay, but it's mainly in the hands of players and DMs.

Otherwise, 4e is a pretty much standard mix of Fortune and Karma (with Resource, the forgotten mechanism).

tesral
08-16-2008, 12:05 AM
Drama is mainly face-to-face roleplaying, perhaps in concert with skill challenges (Fortune/Karma). The PHB is mainly silent on this; the DMG has more "tips for GMs" to facilitate roleplay, but it's mainly in the hands of players and DMs.

Otherwise, 4e is a pretty much standard mix of Fortune and Karma (with Resource, the forgotten mechanism).

Any system which is not simulation is going to be gamest. For that matter even a simulation system, can be gamed. Something as abstract as D&D reeks of game. As abstract as the concepts of D&D are it can really pound the old believability buffer at times.

Undead water elementals, they are in the water, sucking the water out of the water, but are still dry ... rrright. OK, we kill them ... again.

The old saying is "I watch Star Trek, I can rationalize anything". Trek ain't got nothing on D&D.

I frankly don't believe that drama even belongs in there. I don't even see gameist and simulationist as apposed to each other. You can be a die hard simulationist and still game the heck out of a system while being as dramatic as a Shakespearian Festival. Peg all three in one game. I have seen it done.

The only thing I will positively say is D&D doesn't touch simulation. And the efforts I have seen to inject simulation into D&D fall flat. The System doesn't support it.

boulet
08-16-2008, 02:15 PM
One of the issues with rpg theories is that people try and make them say things they didn't intend to express. Maybe GNS should have used made up words instead gamist, narrativist and simulationist to describe those different purposes which coexist in actual role playing activity. Obviously simulation has a different scope for a wargamer or for a Star trek fan who's trying to find a game which respects his favorite genre coherency. Simulation in GNS, as far as I understand, focuses on the suspension of disbelief, the ability of a game to model a specific type of fiction and empower players to explore it.

D&D and its multiple avatars is certainly not a simulation by realistic wargame adepts standards. Now can it be used to tell a shared story of heroic fantasy and help suspend disbelief ? I think it does, and has been for many years.

Shoukanjuu mentioned that the GNS model isn't advocating that one game falls into one category or another. These three tendencies just reflect different ambitions in term of game design, actual play and fun at the table. If it has a merit it's probably showing how traditional rpgs didn't provide much in terms of game mechanics for a narrativist agenda. Thus it stimulated some game designers into trying other ways to share story.

Back to the original post and the problem of satisfying varied expectations of players during play, I would say that the Big Model (which includes GNS) mentions another aspect of rpg interactions : the social contract. Did players discuss what they expects from the game ? The player's registry on PnPG has features about this question : for instance a member can say he prefers a game with "75% combat/25% role playing"... Which is kind of biased in a way since players may very well role play combat and wing it with very little crunch, or they may rely on very tactical rules and battlemaps etc... This just brings up the common sense observation that rpgs are very much about negotiation because players don't look 100% of the time forward to the same game experience. They have to balance individual desires for the actual play to be fun for everyone.

PS : funny Freud got invited in this discussion out of nowhere. Maybe because Ron Edwards is reminding some people of a father-like figure who brings up issues that very well illustrate the concept of unconscious mind and repression ;)

Shoukanjuu
08-16-2008, 02:23 PM
Drama is mainly face-to-face roleplaying, perhaps in concert with skill challenges (Fortune/Karma). The PHB is mainly silent on this; the DMG has more "tips for GMs" to facilitate roleplay, but it's mainly in the hands of players and DMs.



I frankly don't believe that drama even belongs in there. I don't even see gameist and simulationist as apposed to each other. You can be a die hard simulationist and still game the heck out of a system while being as dramatic as a Shakespearian Festival. Peg all three in one game. I have seen it done.

From my own assessment, by the stated rules, Drama is only used to resolve success in concert with skill challenges (i.e., you can't simply say you're using Diplomacy or Intimidate; you describe how you're using the skill in that situation—at least, that's how I interpret the examples in the DMG), and opinions appear to vary on how believable the player is required to be—if the player is trying to intimidate someone, but only manages to pull off a meek and mild attempt (either acted out or described), should they really get to roll?

As for combat, with my current DM, Drama is an element both mandatory and rewarded. For example, the house rule is that, when using a power, it must be described, or it automatically fails: you can't simply say, "I use <name of power>," and then roll the dice; you act out/describe what happens (1st person isn't mandatory), then you roll the dice. Granted, it helps to illustrate what's going on, particularly if you're not familiar with the various powers of the other party-member's various abilities, but sometimes it gets a bit repetitive and/or tedious with similarly described and At-Will powers. At least the DM applies the same rule to himself. As for the other rewards of Drama in (my DM's) combat situations, that would need to be an entirely different thread...