All You Need to Know About GEN

NOTE: The following is discussion which took place on the forums of Gaming Outpost. It was saved and compiled by Hunter Logan, and is re-posted here with permission from Aaron Powell.

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 06/19/01 10:48 AM

There was a reason for my group coming up with GEN. My group realised the intent of the Ron Edward's model and where it was headed, and found it completely incompatible with our own game design/playing methods. This thread is to show exactly what school of though GEN embodies and how it differs with the other schools of thought on RPG models out there (currently RGFA's GDS and Ron Edward's models).  Hopefully, everybody should find this thread useful, whether you advocate GDS, the Ron Edward's model or GEN, and even the people who want to put down the models, as all the best ammo is here :).  I actually have no intention of fully developing the GEN model. My group instinctively understand it enough to postively gain from it, and I also just can't be arsed :). The intention here then is to set up the model basis for other's to develop and use. What I'll be laying out here then is the 2-tier model for GEN, and how exactly you Game Designers can use GEN to design games, and how you GMs can use GEN to help run games that will better cater to the desires of your players. The rest of the work on the different elements that make up GEN have actually been explored by other people, a lot of that work being on the RGFA site. GEN is simply a structuring system to bring all of those elements together, showing how they interact and support one another.  With that understanding you should be able to develop the subparts of GEN to a good enough degree to get the job done. If you're having problems ask and someone in my group will get back with an answer. Feel free to distribute GEN thoughts. These ideas belong to nobody, being techniques that every roleplayer uses in one form or another. If you want to write these techniques up and put them on your website saying they're all your ideas, go ahead. Just make sure you get the techniques right so they actually help people. This is more important than ego.


            Starting off with these words from Suppy: GDS is about decisions. The Ron Edward's model is about techniques. GEN is about desires. Absolutely. Why did it evolve this way? Taking guesses based on information available I'd go with the following: I think that GDS got changed to the Ron Edward's model because Ron wanted a model to design games with, focusing on those aspects of games that he finds most interesting: stance and power distribution. The Ron Edward's Model got evolved to GEN because my group realised (and I believe RGFA understand this too) that the techniques that the Ron Edward's model advocates as the points of it's triangle are actually applicable to any player desire. That is, the Ron Edward's points are actually bottom level techniques that support top level desires (or decisions in GDS).

The Ron Edward's Model

            As a guide to technique, people have already commented that the Ron Edward's model is more like a line than a triangle, with narrative play at one end and simulationist play at the other. This is because there is no defined technique for running Gamist RPGs.  The narrative end advocates dominant metagame stance (Author in the Ron Edward's model), high use of directorial power, and that directorial power being equally shared amongst the players. The simulationist end is the complete opposite, advocating dominant intragame stance (Actor in the Ron Edward's model), low use of directorial power, and any directorial power that does exist being solely in the hands of the GM. Both of these are perfectly valid techniques for running RPGs.

            Others have mentioned that the Ron Edward's model is a line, but with Narrative at one end and Gamist at the other. This is because they were looking at the definition of the Ron Edward's model's goals/desires, not the techniques offered. As can be seen in the FAQ, both Gamist and Narrative RPGs have strong defined goals/desires, with the goals laid out in the Simulationist definition being subgoals of all roleplayers. The goals laid out in the Ron Edward's model for Gamist and Narrative play are perfectly valid.   Therefore, whether you use the Ron Edward's model to discuss goals or techniques, it is currently flawed. Current discussion is going on to redefine the Simulationist definition so that it's goals become apparent and distinct, thus forming the Ron Edward's model into a triangle with all points being valid. That would actually fix the Ron Edward's model but there are 2 important problems in doing this:

            i) if the Ron Edward's model is meant to be about techniques it's still a line with Gamist left out in the cold;

            ii) if it's about goals then the new definitions are exactly the same as RGFA's GDS model.   Therefore, the only valid path for the Ron Edward's model to take and still remain distinct from the GDS model is to become a model solely about techniques. To achieve this, I would completely remove any mention of player's goals/desires from the model. Then I would totally drop the Gamist branch. You're left with 2 points on a line, Narrative & Simulationist, the techniques for each described above. I would then rename Narrative to "Multi-polar Power" and rename Simulationist to "Polarised Power". You've then got a model brilliantly describing the different approaches to gameplay concerning stances and directorial power, which can be easily applied. Also, such a technique model would be of use to both GEN and GDS. These models would describe the top level concerns of the players while the Ron Edward's model could be used for highlighting one of the bottom level concerns for supporting those goals. 


            I've got no problem with the definitions offered by GDS, just their structuring on the 2-tier model presented below. Some of the goals that they explain as top level I view as just one of many bottom-level method's that you can use to achieve your top level goals. I'd love to see talk about using the GEN model to slightly redefine the GDS model, and finally merging both together.


            Top tier is the superstructure of the game, describing the game's intent, style of play, and limitations.  Bottom tier is the infrastructure of the game, describing the mechanics and techniques used to achieve and support the top tier goals.   Players at any one time will usually have a preference for a certain style of play (Gamist, Explorative, Narrative) as well as an aesthetic preference for a certain technique and ruleset to achieve that goal with. For example, my friend and I both wanted to do some gaming roleplaying (even though we both usually prefer roleplaying), but although our goals were the same, the methods that we wanted to use were different. I was happy to use an abstract light-weight system, where as he wanted to use a more heavy 'design for cause' system.   Go down this check list (not complete by far). A lot of the Bottom Tier stuff for campaign design are taken from Leon von Stauber's proposal for Campaign Classification, found at the RGFA site (those which do are *ed). Everytime you come across a "{XXX}" bit, pick from 1-n items (n being the max items in the {}s). If you come across a "{XX <-> XX}", then you've got a scale between the 2 extremes. Put yourself somewhere on that scale.

Top Tier

Intent {Gamist, Explorative, Narrative}

Premise  Mood/Themes  Focus {Character, Setting, Situation}

Realism {Realistic/Gritty <-> Fantastic/Cinematic} *

Bottom Tier

Reward Mechanics  Resolution Mechanics

Mechanism (Weight) (Heavily Mechanical <-> Freeform}

Mechanism Design {For Cause <-> For Effect}

Mechanism Type {Drama, Karma, Fortune}

Directorial Power {Lots <-> None}

Authorship {Troupe <-> Auteur}

Plot Structure {Pre-plotted <-> Open Plot}

Apply GEN to Game Content

            You can combine the elements from the bottom tier in many different ways. Some combinations work extremely well and some clash.  The technique advocated by the Narrative branch in the Ron Edward's model is made up by picking certain elements from the bottom tier in the GEN model. However, the combination of elements that form that technique can just as easily be used to support other goals (Gamist & Explorative in this case). Also, it is not the only technique that can be used to support the Narrative goals. GDS Dramatism is similar to Ron Edward's Narrativism. They both have the same Top Tier goals, but the techniques they use to get there are different (ie, Dramatism makes different decisions on the bottom tier, not the top tier). This is why you get the Cult of the Ron Edward's model trying to put Dramatism into the Simulationist box: because they share the same technique.

            This is opposed by the Order of the RGFA, who believe it should be in the Narrative box because they share the same goals.  The technique advocated by the Simulationist branch in the Ron Edward's model is another selection of elements from the bottom tier, and that too can just as easily be used to support other goals (Gamist & Narrative in this case). As with the technique advocated for Narrativism, it is not the only technique which can be used to support the Simulationist goal (though as mentioned before, this goal is currently not well defined for the Ron Edward's model).  To say that the only way to support Simulationist goal's is to use Design for Cause mechanics (Fortune-at-the-end), or that all Narrative games must have troupe level authorship powers to achieve the narrative goal is wrong and rather ignorant.   Currently, Mythy and Suppy are putting forward a redefined version of Simulationism forward for the Ron Edward's model. This simulationism is a certain technique which I use for running Explorative and Gamist RPGs. However, the majority of the time I move the slider to the other end of the "Realism" scale, but still support my Explorative or Narrative goals. In summary, I believe they are also describing a bottom level technique usable for any goal, not a top level goal in itself.


            Unless you are one of the rare few who has a group which shares the same GEN goal, you're going to have to support a blend of different goals at the same time. I disagree with all the people and models that say you can't do this. Goals do not clash. The Ron Edward's model states that if you kill an orc and that death has narrative weight, then you are solely supporting narrative goals.  I disagree completely. If the player who killed the orc did so for gamist reasons, and only appreciated the gamist outcomes of that death, then he's supporting his gamist goals, whether that death had narrative weight or not. However, if the guy sitting next to him has narrative goals, and recognises the narrative weight of that orc's death, then he is supporting his own narrative goals, and so on for explorative. One event supporting many goals.

            Goals usually do not clash in roleplaying groups, techniques do. As I said before, when I tried to play a gamist RPG with a friend, our technique's clashed, not our gamist goals. I can't play with groups that use Rolemaster or GURPs to run everything (no offence Caveman), not because I don't like their explorative or gamist goals, but because I don't like the certain method that they use to acheive those goals (ie, Design for Cause, Heavy mechanical weight, low directorial power, polarised authorship powers etc.). Then again, I can play Theatrix (using the techniques advocated in that game) with Suppy till the cows come home, even though I may be enjoying the roleplaying potential of our games while he is enjoying the narrative. A roleplaying session is like watching a film with a group. You all take part or watch the same thing, but you all take away and appreciate something different from it.


            Game designers, pay important attention to making sure that the game content of your RPG can actually support at least one of the 3 roleplaying goals of Gaming, Roleplaying, or Storytelling. This makes your game *playable*. Some designers come up with amazing settings which are useless because they didn't support any of the activities that are actually used while playing.   One of the major examples I use for how to do this correctly is Legend of the Five Rings. You've got the Shadowlands swarming with Oni and Gobbo's and you've got courts filled with conspiring Crane and Scorpions, perfect for supplying any kind of challenges you can think of for your Gamist style of play. Then you've got the major conflicts of beliefs between the 7 clans, which gives rise to a huge amount of roleplaying potential for the group. Finally you've got all the classic tragic premises in the setting, perfect for supporting storytelling. The setting for L5R can be used to support games of any style of play. The system will also not impede any style of play. The only reason why you might like not the system (as I don't), is that the bottom tier choices that it makes (no directorial power, polarised authoship powers etc) are not those which I like to use to achieve my goals. Still, very good job AEG.   Couple of good examples of GEN applied to Game Content:

Gamist -> Character: D&D

Gamist -> Setting: Earthdawn

Gamist -> Situation: Dungeoneer (Advanced Fighting Fantasy) 

Explorative -> Character: Legend of the Five Rings

Explorative -> Setting: Pendragon

Explorative -> Situation: All Flesh Must Be Eaten

Narrative -> Character: Sorcerer

Narrative -> Setting: Alyria

Narrative -> Situation: Theatrix


            No, that doesn't say "GEN & GMS", it says "GEN & GMs", though I'm sure there's an essay waiting to be written about Skarka and 3fold models. GMs, find out what style of play the other players are currently interested in. You'll probably get a mix of answers, and that's fine. When you come up with your adventure content, make sure you give room to support the goals of your players. If your group are all interested in just gaming, then you only need to worry about your scenes being challenges. If you've got a couple of gamists and a couple of explorative players though, make sure that the scene is a challenge but also has roleplaying potential. Add storytelling potential to keep the narratives happy. Take a look at the notes of Blending to help you do this. Job done.

Subnote 1: This idea that there is a "new wave" of simulationist RPGs which are very light and character based is actually false. Freeform Explorative LARPing was huge in Britain in the mid-80s. I started roleplaying when I was 8, and within a year got involved with a large LARP group (about 30 members between 18-40 years old), who used to do this all the time.

Subnote 2: That's about as detailed an overview for GEN I'm ever going to write. If you have questions about it or arguments against it that you need answered that will i) directly enhance the quality of your gameplay enjoyment or ii) help you design better games, then I'll be perfectly happy to go over it. If anybody wants to take this train of thought and try to integrate it with GDS, that would be great. We don't need more models covering the same levels. We need models covering the different levels functioning together. For example, the Ron Edward's model is great for observing the different approaches to Directorial power and Authorship power techniques (if you "fix" it how I've described above). The techniques that they highlight can then be used by any of the goals laid out in GEN. IE, they're a certain combination of bottom tier elements that work well together.

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

   Paul Czege (Paul Czege) 06/19/01 7:04 PM

Jester,   That's a good post.   I do have my doubts about the utility of a model for RPG design based on a gamer's stated goals and desires. I think design would be better served by a model based on player behavior, simply because I don't think people are rigorous enough with their own psychology to accurately report and understand why they desire certain things and make the choices they do. As a result, I think one risk of using GEN for design is that you'll create commercially successful games that actually get played less than otherwise less commercially successful games.   Perhaps reading that you snort. But to me it's a key issue. I'm less interested in a model for game design than I am in a model that helps disenthused gamers understand their frustrations and learn how to find games and mechanics not that necessarily speak to their desires, but that aggressively confront and counteract their frustrations...and have fun again.   Still, I have to say that this post does a great job of making sense of efforts to reshape the GNS model at Heph's, and of comparing and contrasting the three threefolds.   Paul Czege

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 06/20/01 2:35 AM

            GEN is based on designing games/adventures to support the 3 activities of Gaming, Roleplaying, and Storytelling, recognising that there is a huge variation in the different techniques you can use to support those goals. Not only are those the 3 stated goals/desires of a huge majority of roleplayers, they are also the clearly observable core activities of our hobbies. How hard is it to discern which one of those 3 you would prefer to support at any one time? I see that everybody who comes across these 3 fold models has no trouble in recognising these elements within their own gameplay. You show me the proof that a game that sells more get's played less. That sounds utterly ridiculous to me. However, that's got nothing to do with the points I brought up. I'm talking about creating games that support playability, not sales. Yes, L5R sells well, but it is one of the most playable games I have ever bought.

            GEN is a model for designing games/adventures to help disenthused gamers. What GEN does is describes the top level concerns as being the player goals, and all of the bottom level concerns are the different ways to achieve that goal. It's about technique and mechanics just as much as any model. The only difference is that it doesn't set up it's taxonomy for top level concerns based on bottom level concerns.  Player goals determine whether a game is narrative, explorative, or gamist. Mechanics, Stance, Directorial Power, Authorial power, Plot Structure, the Application of Game Content etc, can only be used to determine a specific technique, which can be used to achieve any top level.  The important point for you though, is that the different techniques are there specifically to cater to players technique frustrations, not their GENder frustrations. This is exactly what you're asking for from a model.

            The Ron Edward's Model does the complete opposite, saying that bottom tier concerns are used to actively tackle and determine top tier concerns. If my explorative players tried to play using the techniques that that model ascribes to them, they would be extremely frustrated.   Frustrated gamers are usually quite happy with their chosen goals/desires (top level concerns), but haven't found the right techniques to support them in the manner that they would like (bottom level concerns).

            My brother is a gamist player, and I'm narrative. Both of us were frustrated with our roleplaying experiences until we found Theatrix. He took the techniques from that game and applied them to his gamist goals, while I used them for my narrative goals.  My 2 explorative players did exactly the same thing, using the increased Directorial power and Authoship ability to achieve those goals. Unfortunately, the only other model which attempts to tackle bottom tier concerns would have completely failed my group, saying that the techniques presented in Theatrix are only applicable to supporting Narrative goals.  My group is functional not because we share goals, but because we share techniques.

            In summary, as I said in the first post, a clashing of top level concerns is not usually the conflict that causes frustration in gamers; the conflict in techniques is. The majority of frustration that I observe at my local roleplaying club is based on lack of directorial power or too much pre-plotting by the ref, both of which are concerns of technique.   The best thing that could happen is if GDS dropped any reference to techniques and simply described player goals, and if the Ron Edward's model dropped any reference to player goals and simply described the range in techniques, then you'd one model to help your top tier concerns and one model to handle your bottom tier concerns. Of course, GEN already does both :).

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

glandis (Gordon Landis) 06/26/01 3:40 PM

(carrying a discussion started in the wrong place to this, more correct thread, as requested by Jester)   Here's the thing that currently bothers me about the top/bottom, goals/techniques model you've got going on here - what if someone has certain techniques as their goal? I'm sure I've seen roleplayers of this type - perhaps even been one.   So, there's a quick "cheap shot" at GEN. I really need to digest this thread a bit (and some of the thinking on GNS over at the Forge) to give a full and fair response - later in the week, I promise!   Gordon C. Landis

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 06/26/01 8:35 PM

I can never really see you having a technique as your goal, but I've definately experienced (and observed other people, especially right now) being more focused on the method of creation (technique) than the end product. I've personally gone through these phases whenever I've had a big shift in playing style. The last big shift I had was caused by Theatrix about 4 years ago, and the old diceless thread in this forum is evidence of my fixation on method. I got out of it, though, and started applying that method to actual roleplaying activities, of gaming, roleplaying & storytelling.   A big current problem is that there are a lot of frustrated gamers who've suddenly been "reborn" back into gaming by discovering some of the techniques that the 3fold discussions have brought into a more visible light. Unfortunately, these new techniques have been seen as being solely concerned with achieving Narrative goals, which is false. I've got an idea that this is behind the whole "system must matter" thought prevailent in the Ron Edward's model. A lot of people are currently fixated on the method, not realising that it's not the 'one true way' to achieve a certain goal, just one of the many options.

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

glandis (Gordon Landis) 06/28/01 7:36 PM

My main thought here is that there are clearly certain "traditional" techniques/ways of thinking about RPGing that get in the way of (e.g.) Narrativist goals. If someone were to claim that there are techniques that can ONLY be used to further a certain goal, I agree that that's... unsupportably extreme. But to say (even just as a practical matter, if not in absolute theory) certain techniques work better than others for certain goals - to me, that's just a fact. My personal experience in that area is too strong to be set aside without some REALLY compelling evidence.   Gordon C. Landis

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 06/28/01 10:47 PM

            Ok, let me talk about exactly how I see technique and goals interacting. Taking a look above at the component list that makes up technique, I'm going to focus on Directorial Power, and Authorship. Everything else, from mechanic type to weight, from plot structure to mechanicism design, are mainly an aesthetic choice that doesn't really affect the group's ability to achieve their goals if that is their aesthetic preference.

            Personally I feel that the majority of "traditional" techniques regularly fail the players at getting any enjoyment from the 3 main roleplaying activities. In my mind, a system aids player-goal attainment by communicating what the player actually wants to achieve from the game to somebody who has the power to do something about it. I'll repeat that. The most important aspect of a system, where it concerns helping player goals, is to communicate those goals to somebody else.   In a game with polarised authorial/directorial power, this information only needs to be communicated to the 1 person with that power, most probably the GM. In a game with troupe/distributed power, that information needs to be communicated to everybody.

            There are a few ways to communicate this information. One way is through straight OOC talk, with one player simply saying to another "My character is like this, and I'd love this type of interaction for him". Another way is for the system to act as the communication tool, with some mechanic or attribute communicating this information (usually to both the other players and to the resolution mechanics).  D&D communicates a character's gaming potential by that character's attributes, skills, and feats. Pendragon communicates a character's roleplaying potential by it's Vices mechanic. Theatrix communicates a character's storytelling potential by it's primary descriptor.

            Communication can be used to broaden the player's desires beyond that of just his character. He could state to another player "I would love it if this happened in the world, and then this happened". This can also be supported by the system. Alyria's Plot Templates are a way of communicating a whole concept for a subplot to all the players.   After communication comes execution. If you have authorial/directorial power, to help people attain their goals you use that power to drive towards scenes that will do so, using the information communicated to you as a guide. You will most probably need access to Authorial stance to do so. In a game where this power is polarised, we see no real change in "traditional" techniques, with the GM being nearly constantly in Author stance. In a game where this power is distributed, we see Author stance being commonly used by all of the players.   Both of these completely different techniques work at attaining all goals. I know this because my group has managed to achieve their goals using these different techniques. Experience tells me that any technique that doesn't allow communication of a player's goals to a person with authorial power (whether it's by straight OOC chat or by some system mechanic or attribute) will most probably fail the players.

            Games usually fail because information is not communicated, or the information communicated is not acted upon. I've never had a system fail me. I've only ever had a person with power drive a game towards his own goals, even after we've told him what we want from the game. That's not the system's fault. That's the fault of the group. A lot of the time I think system is turned into a scapegoat for groups with dysfunctional communication. And that really is as much as I think system matters. Everything else is an aesthetic choice.

            In summary, GEN's methodology for setting up a game (which is concerned with this current topic of debate) is:  Define the goals of the game (from just 1 to all 3 GEN goals).  Apply those goals to the game content (characters/setting/situations), making sure that all the game content has the relevant potential to achieve those goals (gaming/roleplaying/storteylling potential). Communicate the potential of whatever game content you have created to those with directorial power.  People with that power drive the game to achieving the game's goals using the potential of the relevant participating game content. To highlight this point, take a look at the game setup Seth & I have created in the Character Potential thread.

            We've communicated the narrative potential of our characters (as well as all other potential) to Valamir the GM of Stoutness, as well as in what manner we would like the narrative conflict to manifest itself as. This was done by straight OOC chat. It could also have been done by using personality trait attributes, and some kind of "destiny" attribute; e.g. some systems would have some list of traits with the option "hidden secret" which Seth could have chosen for Anna, while Leoric could have chosen "Nemesis - Osric" as a trait.

            Armed with this information, I am absolutely certain that this game could be run using any system, and still achieve any of the 3 goals. Valamir has had all the information he needs communicated to him to take full directorial power of the game if he wanted to, and drive the game towards achieving the goals of the players. If he ignores the information we give to him, and instead drives the game to achieving some other goals, then that is the fault of the group dynamic, not the system.   With those thoughts laid out, what evidence can anybody give to prove that, say, a lack of distributed directorial power or the use of a fortune-at-the-end mechanic would actively inhibit the game achieving it's narrative goals?

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

glandis (Gordon Landis) 06/29/01 12:39 AM

Let's fall back on that old RPG standby - combat. Osric and Leoric are probablly headed for a big showdown at some point - this ought to be a major dramatic moment, an epic struggle filled with reversals, colorful description, and etc.   Use GURPS, and one of 'em's dead within a minute.

            Now, if you're saying that someone might have the "aesthetic" that a sudden death technique (read technique/mechanic/system wherever you see technique) IS fitting with their sense of narrative, and they'd choose GURPS to fit their narrative goals... I can't argue. But if you claim that, then I'll claim my goal really is linked to a particular technique rather than to one of G, E or N - because it is FAR more important to me that the battle NOT unfold GURPS-style than whether it feels more G, E or N.   As I mentioned in another post, I *KNOW* certain techniques - or at least certain styles of application of a technique - can interefere with goals. As a practical matter, I've seen Narrative style/goals... enabled by switching from, say, fortune-at-the-end (FatE) to fortune-in-the-middle (FitM) - Fat and Fit? - naw, too judgemental ;-).

            So I'm torn - if Ron et al are trying to make the really STRONG tie between system and goal that you claim (I'm not sure they are), yeah, you're right, that may be going too far. On the other hand, if YOU are really saying there's no relationship... I just can't (again, disregarding theory and looking at the practical issues) accept that. In the two overlapping groups I've played with of late, it's just obvious that using a FitM approach supports Narrative interests better than FatE. Now, not everyone HAS Narrative interests (and even those that do would never call them such), but that's a seperate issue... Gordon C. Landis

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 06/29/01 10:14 AM

I think I see where part of the problem is...correct me if I get it wrong SJ, but Gordon, you seem to be confusing the idea of "any technique can be used to achieve any goal", "with any specific game mechanic can be used to achieve any goal".   By the former we're talking general categories of techniques. Using Fortune resolution instead of Karmic resolution is a technique choice. Using Fortune in the middle resolution vs Fortune at the end resolution is a technique choice.   The specific rules that are written to actually use those techniques may or may not be successful at achieving the goal.   What GEN says is that you can use fortune at the end mechanics to support any goal. It does NOT say that every single variation of fortune at the end is compatable with every single goal.   It is entirely possible that GURP's particular execution of fortune at the end doesn't mesh with Narrative goals. That does not mean that all types of fortune at the end mechanics are incompatable.

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 06/29/01 10:40 AM

That's exactly what I'm saying.   For one narrative group, the way GURPs works suits the style of narrative gaming that they enjoy.  For another narrative group, such as my own, we don't enjoy how GURPs goes about creating narrative, so will use a different technique such as Theatrix.   What are the exact reasons you have for not wanting the game to unfold GURPs-style? You will most probably find that they map straight to top-level concerns.   I've also seen narrative goals enabled by switching to FitM. I've also seen narrative goals achieved by using FatE. The difference was one group had an aesthetic preference for one, while the other group had a preference for the other.  As I mentioned above, while creating story, some people like the structure that a FatE system offers them, while some people enjoy the freedom of FitM. When it comes to that dramatic fight between Leoric and Osric, some people are perfectly content to take the detailed results that the system gives them and appreciate the narrative that is created. Other people like to have the freedom of specifying the exact outcome from the dice rolls.

            What I am not saying is that 1 group can use any system to achieve any goal. I am saying that any system can be used to achieve any goal, but a particular group will have a particular technique requirement/preference to achieve particular goals. However, another group may have completely the opposite in technique requirements/preferences for achieving that same goal.   This problem that you are having where you don't get story out of your D&D game is not the fault of the technique, it's most probably the fact that narrative potential has not been introduced into the game content, and has not been communicated to the GM, and when you try to introduce narrative potential or explore what is already there, your attempts are brushed aside to get to exploring the gaming potential.

            That's the fault of the players not giving you room to achieve your goals, and nothing to do with the system. If you had directorial power to force everybody else to deal with the narrative potential you introduce, you're going to end up with a bad game. These people do not want to deal with narrative. The system couldn't care less. If the game has been specified as being Gamist you should understand that this is part of the game's boundaries, and so shouldn't expect to find story there.  If I suddenly started running that D&D game using Theatrix, it's not suddenly going to start being a narrative game. It's still going to have no narrative potential that we could use to craft a story with, and hardly anybody who is interested in creating a narrative anyway.

            I think that a lot of time where you are blaming traditional techniques for getting in the way of narrative goals, I believe you are mistaking this for the actual players themselves having no interest and giving you no opportunity to achieve your narrative goals. Val has just posted while I was writing this, and I kind of agree. As I said in the first post, certain components come together to create very good techniques. The problem with GURPs is not the system, but usually the way the GM deals with it. GURPs has a huge advantages/disadvantages section yes? Where you can pick loads of options such "Nemesis" and "Dependent NPC" etc. When a character picks these options for his character, the GM should tailor the game specifically to those traits. I have seen the ref completely ignore them to run the game about what he wants. That's bad reffing. The player has specifically chosen those traits because that is what he wants to deal with for his character, and the ref ignores the information communicated and does something else.

            However, saying all of that, GURPs seriously doesn't match my preference for systems when it comes to achieving any of my goals. I have of course argued in the past (particular the old Systemless thread) that my system preference should be everybody's system preference for achieving those goals. I've learnt how wrong that is over the past 2 years. I personally feel inhibited in achieving any goal by not having Directorial power. My brother, on the other hand, does not, and can do just fine without it. Therefore, in what way is FatE and polarised Directorial power going to fail the specific game setup Seth & I have created? As I think I've pointed out, the only thing that can really fail the game is the people with directorial power (in this case, Valamir). If he ignores our wishes for the game then we have a bad game. If he uses the information we've communicated to run the game we want it should be good. I can't see where system has anything to do with it, apart from catering to our aesthetic preference for system.

            What I will say about system though, is that certain system's enforce the use of certain types of potential while ignoring others; e.g. you can't create a character in D&D without considering Gaming potential. You can't create a character in Alyria without considering his narrative potential to the plot. However, it takes under 5 minutes to write a paragraph of information for your character outlying his roleplaying & storytelling potential. It took me about that time to write that for Leoric, and about the same time again to write how he would react with Anna to create some great narrative.   The entity with the job of using that potential to achieve the stated player goals is the person with directorial power.

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

glandis (Gordon Landis) 06/29/01 4:15 PM

Scarlet Jester wrote:
Therefore, in what way is FatE and polarised Directorial power going to fail the specific game setup Seth & I have created?

            FatE - despite our best intentions, this mechanic has (for most people I've met) "pulled" towards the "OK, I'm gonna swing at him again" - "roll your to hit" - "a 14" - "you miss" - etc., much more strongly than FitM does. Yes, you CAN do "OK, you're attacking - any details about how?" - "Yes, I want to finish this quick - VERY agressive attack" - "OK, your opponent is fighting quite defensively. This is going to be hard. Give me your roll . . . " - "a 14" - "that's a partial failure - what happened?", but it is MUCH less well encouraged by FatE than FitM.

            Polarized directorial power - as a matter of practicality, Valamir can't read your mind. As play procedes, his *understanding* of what you want out of your narrative may start to drift from what you *actually* want out of it. Giving you the power directly to correct for this is very likely to be less disruptive of play and more likely to keep things "on track" than having to break into an "out of game" discussion and deal with the normal issues of making sure another person undersatnds what you mean (without the useful cues and markers that the "power to the player" mechanic presumeably provides).

            Again, I don't think I'm entirely disagreeing with you - but I do think you're underestimating the practical and probalistic preferences inherent in certain techniques. If you want to design a narrative game, or have a narrative play experience, certain techniques are more likely to get you there. The fact that any technique in theory could, if you jiggered it right and your variation of narrative desire is just so, seems a practical irrelevancy to me.   Unless, of course, you LIKE (say) FatE so much that you're unwilling to give it up even though you also like story. Then you'll just have to do the best you can with a less than optimal tool, and if the "like" of that tool is strong enough, you'll probably still have a grand old time playing. Which is the point, after all.   Gordon C. Landis   (got at least 1, maybe 2 games this weekend - yeah!)

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 06/29/01 8:04 PM

            3-4 years ago I was extremely frustrated with the common dysfunctionalities of "traditional" techniques. I started arguing against these techniques using statements similar to your own, comparing dysfunctional examples of traditional games with perfect-working examples of the newer techniques I had come across. 3-4 years later, I'm just as frustrated with the common dysfunctionalities of these newer techniques as I am with the old ones. These dysfunctionalities are just as damaging to your games (independent of goal) as the old ones are.

            For example, you make no mention of the common FitM problem of what my group calls "min/maxing". Maxing is where you use the freedom of FitM to "god out", maximising the effect of all of your successes, and minimising the penalties of your failures. This is a lot like dysfunctional power gaming, leading one character to start dominating the events. Minning (as we call it ;)) is the complete opposite, where you maximise the effects of your failures, and minimise the effects of your successes. This can often destroy the credibility of your character as a worthwhile protagonist. When you come to the climactic scene where you suddenly want your character to win, it breaks credibility for your character to suddenly become competent.  This is just as damaging to your game as the common FatE problem of losing all descriptive text from your resolutions.

            Now lets come to polarised power. Obviously we can't read each other's minds; that's why I'm stressing the power of communication so much, either as OOC talk, or as a mechanic or trait built in to the system. You're saying that it is less disruptive to game play for everybody to have the directorial power to achieve their goals instead of communicating their goals to somebody else with directorial power. Experience with this leads me to disagree with your claim. A common dysfunction to occur in that style of play is that I use my directorial power to drive the game towards where I want it to go, Seth drives it towards where he wants it to go, and Valamir drives it towards where he wants it go. You end up ripping the game apart. I've seen this happen on numerous occasions, the worst case being a Traveller style game my group played where the main cast ended up in completely different solar systems telling their own completely seperate stories. That is just as damaging to your game, if not more so, than the dysfunctions seen in a game with polarised directorial power.

            This makes me repeat my common statement about using directorial power: you must use it to help the other players achieve their goals just as much as your own. It is actually easier for a GM to do this than for a player, as he usually has a more thorough view of the entire game and the desires of all of the players, and also has no real invested interest in any particular protagonist in the game (well...he could have. How many times have you been frustrated by the GM's favourite NPC, or he's had his brother/nephew/boyfriend playing? However, let's not dwell on this as this is also a form of dysfunctional playing). Let's quickly come to how you actually aid people achieving their goals. Again, you just have to communicate these to the other players.

            There are many ways to do this, as I've mentioned. I've constantly been mentioning OOC talk and using the system to help you throughout this thread, but I believe I also mentioned an IC method (but in metagame stance) to achieve this goal in the GEN - Stances thread. This was in the form of using Actor stance (GDS definition, not Ron Edward's model definition) to communicate this information. If you're looking for a method which doesn't disrupt gameplay with OOC talk, then this might be the perfect tool for you to use. Another method is the use of 'Character Soliloquies'. I've run a game where, at the end of each chapter, the players would take turns in pretending to read a section from their character's diaries. They would comment on their character's perception of the events that had happened, and their hopes and fears for future events. This was a fantastic method of communicating the player's desires but keeping the discussion within the game. I believe Punk's game "Inspectres" uses a method very similar to this, called "confessionals". This is one of my favourite communication tools, but sometimes just doesn't suit the genre of the game. (It really didn't suit my Og game :).)

            Therefore, I'm not underestimating the practical and probalistic preferences inherent in certain techniques at all. I am absolutely aware of the dysfunctions that commonly occur in these 2 extreme techniques. In fact, you seem unaware of the dysfunctions inherent in FitM and distributed power games, or at least made no mention of them in your post.   Now, personally I can live with a player "godding-out" in a game I'm playing much more than I can live with a game with a lack of descriptive text in the resolutions. This leads me to personally prefer FitM systems. However, I'm fully aware that this component leads to dysfunctional games just as much as any other style of resolution mechanic.

            Also, I prefer to live with directorial power and the chance to completely sod a game up with it that I am to live without and put trust in the GM, but that's because I like to make a huge amount of personal input into the game. In summary, I come back to my original statement, that all techniques can achieve all goals, but I may prefer a specific technique over another for achieving a specific goal. However, the gaming group next to mine may prefer a different technique for achieving the same goal. Now that I've said all that let me come back to Valamir's points because I've just worked out exactly what he was saying. You can tailor a system so that it caters to specific goals. All throughout the GEN threads I've been mentioning how the over-stressing of certain elements of a game's system, such as the "power-up" of abilities in Vampire over it's humanity mechanics, can pull the game towards catering to a specific goal (in that case, Gamist play). However, this is a matter of how a bottom-tier component is implemented, not judgemental of the inherent nature of that specific bottom-tier component. I could write a FatE system, that instead of using typical gamist modifiers to the dice roll uses narrative ones, such as the importance of the character to the narrative. If the protagonist has a hatred of the opposing cast member in the resolution, you could also provide a modifier.

            For example, when Leoric faces Osric, Leoric's dice roll would be modified by his status as a main cast member and the narrative power of his hatred for Saxons in general, and Osric in particular. What I really think is hard to pull off is taking a FatE system that has been written to purely cater for one type of goal and use it for another. This is where I fully agree with Valamir. GURPs has been written to cater for gamist goals. If you try to use it for narrative or explorative goals you'll probably fail. But if you stripped GURPs down to it's base components, such as it's use of FatE, then built it back up with narrative goals in mind (or, at the least, making the system GENderless so it could be used for all goals), then you will have a FatE system that works just as well at achieving narrative goals as a narrative-tailored FitM system.  Great point Val, sorry I didn't pick up on what you were saying first time round :).

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 06/29/01 8:35 PM

For example, when Leoric faces Osric, Leoric's dice roll would be modified by his status as a main cast member and the narrative power of his hatred for Saxons in general, and Osric in particular. 

   In fact, since this was a Pendragon example after all, Pendragon does exactly that. Leoric would have a Passion of "Hatred (Saxons)", a fairly common Passion in the early days of Arthur's reign. He'd probably have it at 16 or higher (16 being the threshold between kinda having a passion and really being driven by it). In such a climactic battle, Leoric would be fully justified in calling upon that Passion to drive him to heroic feats "Inspiration" in Pendragon terms. a d20 roll vs the Passion score is made with Success adding +10 to Leorics d20 rolls for the duration of the scene.

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 06/29/01 10:14 PM

I've played Pendragon quite a few times (never run it though) and I never knew that rule existed! Anyway, I think that is a great example of a specific implementation of traditional techniques that really works for a narrative style game (even if we do personally use it more for explorative goals). Good job Val. When you gonna run this game for me and Seth then? :)

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 06/29/01 11:06 PM

            Jester saith:  
A common dysfunction to occur in that style of play is that I use my directorial power to drive the game towards where I want it to go, Seth drives it towards where he wants it to go, and Valamir drives it towards where he wants it go. You end up ripping the game apart. I've seen this happen on numerous occasions, the worst case being a Traveller style game my group played where the main cast ended up in completely different solar systems telling their own completely seperate stories.
This is what I call the "Round Robin" problem with directorial power.

            Ever played in a Round Robin story? Defining it as an RPG, we have a rules-light, Drama-oriented game with total player directorial power without any mediation of Resource. Sounds like the perfect game, right? ;-) It can also be a huge mess. In fact, I've never seen any really coherent story come from one of these exercises. (Aside: that's why I think that GMless play in nearly impossible. I say "nearly" because I know that some folks have managed to do it.) This makes the case for there still being an individual with overriding power (even over player directorial power) who can keep the game on track. Hmm. Sounds like Ron's bass player metaphor, actually. :-) However, if folks aren't willing to follow the rhythm, there will be problems.

            I once commented to SJ that Narrative-style games (by which I mean FitM, extensive player directorial power, etc.) are the easiest to break. I still believe that. In many ways, this style is fairly touchy-feely with the rules (e.g. Amber, Everway, Alyria). Unless everyone has a shared mindset and a commitment to looking out for everyone else's fun as well as their own, the game will unravel faster than a D&D game assaulted by a rules lawyer.

            Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 06/29/01 11:11 PM

Scarlet Jester saith:
Good job Val. When you gonna run this game for me and Seth then? :)

            Well, we'll be at Origins. You show up and I'll convince him to run it. ;-) 
Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

glandis (Gordon Landis) 06/30/01 1:43 AM

Therefore, I'm not underestimating the practical and probalistic preferences inherent in certain techniques at all. I am absolutely aware of the dysfunctions that commonly occur in these 2 extreme techniques. In fact, you seem unaware of the dysfunctions inherent in FitM and distributed power games, or at least made no mention of them in your post.

            True, I made no mention of how FitM and/or distributed power can fail - you're quite right, even in my limited use of such things they have their own pitfalls. At the moment, I'd say I still find any flavor of FitM I'm aware of "better" for my narrative goals than any flavor of FatE I've encountered - because even the pitfalls we've encountered there have been just the kind of thing you need to confront to have a good narrative, rather than almost wholly external factors.

            I have to make clear (in case it isn't clear already), I'm a neophyte when it comes extensive experience with playing in narrative mode, or with attention to "mode" at all - I've got years and years of "just plain RPGing", some of it good, some of it not so good. But I've got at BEST 18 months of at BEST once a week RP'ing since my exposure to this stuff, and getting things like FitM injected in "just plain RPGing" doesn't always work with those I play with. So it may well be that over time, I'd see as little difference between FatE and FitM as you do. Not at the moment, but I allow as how someday it could happen. Probably much more interesting to focus on how particular implementions help or hinder, as Valamir began to point out and you've clarified.

            I'm also interested in how you respond to the "no metagame" simulation extremists (purists? what word can I use here that doesn't have the somewhat negative conotations those do?) who'd find even OOC/OOG discussions unacceptable "breaks" with the simulation? Can they make practical use of GEN, when the communication you point to (and I agree) as so important is something that ruins the game for them? This may be an extreme of the Berkman/rgfa situation...

            Anyway, thanks for the time and thought that's going into your discussion/responses here. At the moment, I consider anything that advances my understanding of the issues around this stuff valuable - call it a blind faith in the power of intellectual inquiry. I've got a Steve Jobs quote around somewhere that says something to the effect that "Good design is *hard*. It takes a real commitment to fully understand something, to really grasp the issues, before you can even start. Then the *really* hard work begins . . . " And there's this guy named Bertmund (check out for where I got that from) running around in my head - no, this belongs in the other thread . . .   Gorodn C. Landis

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Supplanter (Jim Henley) 06/30/01 7:04 AM

This is what I call the "Round Robin" problem with directorial power. Ever played in a Round Robin story? Defining it as an RPG, we have a rules-light, Drama-oriented game with total player directorial power without any mediation of Resource. Sounds like the perfect game, right? ;-)

    The two most obvious games that come to mind are Once Upon a Time, which is not an RPG, and Pantheon, which in many ways is. I found that OUAT, with the folks I play it with, did on occasion produce something like an actual fairy tale, albeit not an especially memorable one. My Pantheon rant is available elsewhere on this forum, but beyond what I had to say, I think the mechanics of Pantheon totally militate against a good, focused tale rising from it, let alone one that is not regurgitated genre trash.   
I once commented to SJ that Narrative-style games (by which I mean FitM, extensive player directorial power, etc.) are the easiest to break. I still believe that. In many ways, this style is fairly touchy-feely with the rules (e.g. Amber, Everway, Alyria). Unless everyone has a shared mindset and a commitment to looking out for everyone else's fun as well as their own, the game will unravel faster than a D&D game assaulted by a rules lawyer.

            One thing that interests me about this is that I don't consider Amber and Everway to be inherently narrativist games. But what I want to talk about is different ways of games "coming apart." The default style of an Amber campaign may even be that most player characters spend most of their time alone. It's the bipolar nature of the universe, and the power of trumps (which, at their most vulgar, funtion like Muller and Scully's cell phones) that tend to funnel folks together from time to time.

            In the first Amber campaign I played in, the GM had strong simulationist leanings. That meant, among other things, that when a new player joined the game it could easily be six sessions before he even met another player character. (We played weekly.) The GM just was not comfortable fudging time streams and circumstances to a point that would allow instant contact. Even in the new campaign, whose GM is more story-oriented, the typical evening involves rotating spotlight time from character to character, with most players spending most of the night in audience or dude mode. My own character has been, so far, especially unsocial.

            There are pleasures and costs to playing this way that I'll pass over unless someone is especially disbelieving that there can be one or the other. What I want to say is that this kind of "pulled apart" is something distinct from the distributed-direction way of "pulled apart." In Amber style, "pulled apart" actually leaves me, the player, free to make of "Carton's story" what I will, subject to the constraints of the GM -- who is one guy to worry about. Add distributed direction to the mix in the form of plot points or whimsy cards or whatever, and now "Carton's story" is subject to the whims and theories of another half-dozen folks. Moving beyond the harms to "my guy" play, dysfunctional distributed direction comes in when I like the story you seem to be pushing toward, but not the story she seems to be pushing toward.   Best,    Jim

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 06/30/01 8:31 AM

Heh. Next time you fly across the pond you be sure to let me know :-)   Its in the realm of possibility that at some point I could work up a PBEM game but those have their own dysfunctions and limitations.

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 06/30/01 10:16 AM

            Supplanter saith:  
The two most obvious games that come to mind are Once Upon a Time, which is not an RPG, and Pantheon, which in many ways is.

            Baron Munchausen also fits into this category, although I don't usually see the goal being the telling of a good story but the entertainment of the group at large. Of course, my group usually only offers amusing objections and is not actively trying to mess the storyteller up.   Still, I wouldn't say that most of the stories produced are worth retelling. Ah well. It's fun while it lasts. :-)

One thing that interests me about this is that I don't consider Amber and Everway to be inherently narrativist games.

            Point yielded. It was late when I wrote that. :-) Actually, whenever I hear folks talking about Amber, it seems more oriented towards Explorative play then Narrative. However, I think that we'd agree that the point about touchy-feely mechanics still stands. For example, in Amber we're told that a character's Endurance affects if he can walk the Pattern without stopping (and therefore dying). And that's it. No guidelines on how much Endurance is required (aside from the base requirement of being Amber level, IIRC). It's all up to the GM and/or players. Everway is similar. Let's say that Fireson has his "Sweat Fire" power (to steal from a pregenerated character). How much damage does he do? Shrug. He just burns them, you know? :-) Don't misunderstand. I like the freedom that this offers. Alyria is being designed with this style of play in mind. However, without there being a commitment to the enjoyment of others in the game and significant communication between all parties involved, this type of game can be shattered. 
Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: All You Need to Know About GEN

pblock (Jack Spencer Jr) 08/05/01 5:08 PM

            Interesting. That's a bit to bite off and chew all at once, but I'll see if I can comment on it. I have my doubts about multiple player goals getting along so well. There seem to be two different schools of thought on the subject. Yours where players of different goals can get along so long as they enjoy the same technique. And the idea that people should only play with like-minded people who share the same goal. I truely dislike the second since this mean most people should not be playing with their current group or are just plain miserable doing it. But this is not the case. However, I believe that at some point or another the different goals will come into conflict and someone will not like it. The effect is like going to see a movie with your friends and being the only one who hated it. However, this may be an aspect of human interaction beyond the scope of gaming.

            On another note, I'm actually come to a conclusion that perhaps these three-fold models may be better served by dropping the individual terms used for the three points. The definitions are in a constant state of flux, it seems, and this is hardly surprising since this whole thing is still "new" RPGs in general are barely 30 years old, after all. Compare to the centuries other art forms have been scutinized. We're far from done with this. Given this state, it might be in the best interest of intelligent discussion to dispense with the handy-dandy terms and use only the definition in discussion. The terms, especially some of those used tend to bring meaning to the table that are irrelevant or confusing. I think that working on and with the definitions themselves will short-circuit most needless arguements or misunderstandings. For more I'd have to dwell on this a bit.