GEN - Explorative

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) 05/23/01 4:17 PM

            We all play RPGs because we enjoy them. People enjoy different aspects though. The basic building blocks of what we do in RPGs can be termed as Gaming, Roleplaying, and Storytelling. It is the combination of all three of these things that make RPGs distinct from playing other games (board/card games etc), acting, or writing a story. People enjoy these building blocks in varying degrees however, and it is the variations in combining them that the GENder model attempts to highlight.

            GENder stands for Gamist, Explorative, Narrative. The system mechanics of a game should support these different styles of play. The primary part of a system that does this is the Reward Mechanics of a game; that is, what do you have to do to gain rewards, and what you can spend those rewards on. In D&D (and a huge number of other games) you gain reward (XP) by overcoming challenges. Go to Chapter 7 in your DMG. It's all about assigning a challenge rating to various obstacles (monsters, traps, etc), and using this rating to work out a suitable XP reward when the player's overcome it (if they aren't splatted in the process). You use that reward to increase your character's "effectiveness" (usually skills, attributes, etc. Your character's ability to interact successfully with the world).

            An increase in character effectiveness makes it easier for you to overcome future obstacles. A game like Theatrix, on the other hand, rewards good narrative-creation. This reward is in the form of Plot Points (as opposed to XP), which can be spent on creating new subplots that the character is interested in (and thus advancing the narrative). In this thread we take a look at the Gamist aspect of the GENder model. Recommended reading before embarking on the rest of this: Places to Go, People to Be: This article brilliantly highlights and describes the basic building blocks of all RPGs: Gaming, Roleplaying, and Storytelling. Styles of Roleplaying: The progenitor of all the work in this area. Good job the newsgroup newsgroup :). (Especially to the guys who created the Hotel Combat Theatrix example).

GEN - Gamist

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/23/01 4:14 PM


            The principles of Gaming are described brilliantly by Brian Gleichman in An Alternate Definition of Gamism.  The core of Gaming is the overcoming of obstacles, whether it is a villain and his henchman doing evil things that you want to stop, or some enigmatic mystery that most be solved.


            To support Gaming, make sure the system chosen rewards overcoming obstacles. Reward the players for killing the monsters, finding the secret treasure, evading the traps, solving the mystery.   How you are allowed to spend that reward requires a more in-depth look at the various aspects of gaming.  Gaming can be broken down into 3 groups:  Power Gaming  Tactical Gaming  Adventure Gaming

Power Gaming

            Power Gaming is all about using the skills/abilities of a character to overcome a challenge. The rewards gained from doing this are used to increase those skills and abilities in preparation for the next challenge.   To support Power Gaming, make sure the system chosen emphasises spending Reward Points on increasing a character's powers.  You may also notice that many Power Gaming systems abstract all concerns to a few stats or basic modifiers, but devote many statistics and modifiers to the character effectiveness.

            D&D3e is the primary example here. We create characters with numerous skills and abilities, and use these to overcome challenges. With the rewards given (XP), we increase our skills and abilities (and start getting Super-Nashwan powered feats), to help us overcome future challenges. Great detail is given to the various powers that your character can obtain, with other concerns being abstracted into one statistic (such as Armour Class), or simple modifiers.  In many Superhero games we do exactly the same, though skills and abilities are replaced by super powers.      It could also be argued that Call of Cthulhu also fits this style of play. The goal of the game is to solve the insidious mystery at hand, and, once solved and if you survive, your Library Use/Cthulhu Mythos/Sanity is raised, further enabling you to solve the next mystery. 

            On a campaign level, the World of Darkness system is also Power Gamist. Rewards are given for (going by the Character development rules, p196 of Vampire: The Dark Ages): 1) Success in the challenge given; 2) Surviving great danger; 3) Exhibiting great wits in coming up with an idea that enabled the group to succeed (an extension of Reward Type 1).  The rewards given (experience points) are then used to allow the character's powers and abilities to increase. The Chapter rewards that can be gained are extremely Explorative in nature (the WoD style of play). This will be discussed in the Explorative article. The problem here though, is that even though the game rewards Explorative playing, the only method of using this reward is for Power Gaming advancement.  

Tactical Gaming

            Tactical Gaming is all about the use of "environmental modifiers" to increase your chance of overcoming obstacles. Environmental modifiers include: variation in the performance levels of different types of weapons and armour (e.g. penalise daggers vs. Plate Mail); the applicability of a fighting style in the current situation (e.g. penalise "Waving Huge Axe Madly" style in confined spaces; actual environmental conditions such as light levels, density of fog, varying heights of combatants (e.g. penalise shooting in the dark).

            To support Tactical Gaming, make sure the system chosen emphasises spending Reward Points on increasing a player's access to positive environmental modifiers. Allow him to get better equipment, to learn more fighting techniques, to stave off the negative effects of the environment etc. Tactical Gaming systems usually gives great detail in areas that Power Gaming systems abstract completely. In D&D, where the effects of damage are abstracted to a Hit Point total, Tactical Gaming systems provide great detail on the different effects of wounds, modified by the type of weapon inflicting that wound.   Games such as Rolemaster, and it's baby brother MERP, attempt to achieve this style of gaming.            You saw AD&D2e attempt to introduce rules covering these ideas, such as Weapon Type Vs. Armour Type, and some of the additions to the attack bonus table etc. These rules were all moving away from D&Ds Power Gaming foundations, however. No wonder the changes in 3e have been greeted so well, as it stops trying to explore these ideas in detail, and introduces new rules that magnify the Power Gaming aspects of the game.

Adventure Gaming

            Adventure Gaming shifts all concern to the completion of the challenges presented, moving away from focusing on Character Powers, or Environmental Modifiers. Systems which support this style of play usually blend both Character and Environmental modifiers in equal measure, but both concerns are suitably abstracted enough to not dominate the emphasis of solving the problem at hand. The lightness of the systems used can also move the method of overcoming the challenges away from the character to the player.

            We see this in Call of Cthulhu. Although an Idea roll can be used, usually the players must do all the puzzling themselves to solve the mystery at hand.   To support Adventure Gaming, make sure the system chosen does not overly emphasise Character Development or Environmental Modifiers. Mechanics that you might look for to support this style of play are metagame mechanics which give the player some directorial power on aspects of the game which could help them succeed in the adventure, similar to the Fate Chip mechanics in Deadlands. These "Success Points" could be spent on increasing your chance of succeeding in a certain task ("The torch sputters and dies, deepening the room in shadows. I take this chance to sneak past the guard to grab the sceptre in Bafford's Mansion..."); changing the specifics of a situation ("The Orc Chief sees the snake tattoos of my Barbarian, and believes us part of the Tribe. He calls for his people to put away their weapons..."); to save your skin ("He pulls the trigger but the gun just clicks!") (see Fate Points in WFRP); and many other areas.

            An example of this type of game is the Advanced Fighting Fantasy system. Statistics are abstracted to Skill/Stamina/Luck, with a small list of skills giving extra detail.  Any other light system could be used, from Fudge to the Window, with the addition of, if necessary, metagame mechanics stolen from other systems to provide the players the tools to succeed.


Power Gaming - The Tower of Cirith Ungol

            The hobbits have been captured by Orcs and you, a select group of skilled agents, have been chosen by Faramir to rescue them from the dread Tower of Cirith Ungol. This will be a perilous quest indeed. The dangers of the Ithilien woods must first be navigated, even though they are crawling with Orc spies, and other creatures. Next, the vales of Imlad Morgul must be traversed. The bastion of Minas Morgul must be circumvented, and the perils of Shelob's Lair bested. Finally, you will come to Cirith Ungol, where you must break in and steal the hobbits away back to the safety of Anorien and Minas Tirith. Only this will bring you success in the game. Any other result will be considered a loss. So much for no winners in RPGs.  

            The characters chosen to achieve this task are an eclectic group of agents, ranging from a stout Beorning warrior from the Anduin Vales, a skilled Ranger of Ithilien, a shadowy hobbit from the underworld of Bree, and a mysterious eastern sorcerer from the lands beyond Dorwinion. All have their own special abilities, skills, and areas of expertise, which they will use to help them achieve the adventure goal. As they use their abilities to overcome the many obstacles, they grow more powerful doing so. I run this game a long time ago, and although the game heavily supported the Gaming aspect of roleplaying, the other building blocks of roleplaying and storytelling were well catered for as well. I can still remember the roleplaying of the characters as they come across a small band of Orc sentries and debated how best to deal with them, and the story that was created in the process of rescuing the hobbits. All of this wasn't allowed to get in the way of the goal of completing the quest, though.

Tactical Gaming - Rogue Spear

            Listen up people. Here is rumour control; these are the facts. 17 armed members of the HFC terrorist group have taken hostage the daughter of the mayor of New York, and have secured themselves into position within the Maritime Museum. You are to assemble a squad of Rogue Spear operatives to extract the hostages. Further information will be given upon demand.

            In this game, the players create elite operatives to take on missions like those in the Rogue Spear computer game. Once characters are chosen for the mission, armaments are chosen (with the body armour they'll have, definitely go for 10mm HK-MP5s), maps are studied, and strategies are planned. To help them achieve their objectives, the team shoot terrorists with the best guns, give themselves combat advantage through the use of smoke and flash grenades, set up snipers in critical positions, and use other environmental factors to get those terrorists out.

            I ran this game last year. The leader of the squad practiced the use of extreme response to terrorists. This led to great roleplaying between him and the 2nd in command, who disagreed with his leader's severe actions. However, as above, if given the option of roleplaying or completing the mission, the Gaming element was promoted. As Brian states though, the other elements were used to add meaning and greater fun to the game.

Adventure Gaming - The Tasks of Tantalon

            The land of Gallantaria is reeling from the aftermath of a long and costly war. Tantalon, wizard of the court, rules the kingdom over an Inner Council of scheming knights, jealously vying for power. But Tantalon's years are drawing to a close...  In order to seek out the kingdom's sharpest minds, Tantalon has devised an epic adventure quest. One which will test the wits of its contestants to their full. From near and far contenders come to Royal Lendle to take up the challenge.

            You are a competitor in the ageing sorcerer's puzzle quest. Can you steal the Brimstone Dragon's treasure hoard? Will you find a way to free Sir Dunstable from imprisonment in the Stinn dungeon? And how till you catch the Demon Fish?   Do you have the courage and a mind sharp enough to complete the Tasks of Tantalon?   I'm about to run this game for my brother and my 8-year old nephew. It's adapted from a Fighting Fantasy puzzle book (Fighting Fantasy books are FANTASTIC for adapting to Adventure Gaming).

            The characters are already planned: my nephew is to be the hero of the game, a Knight on a big horse with shiny armour, that goes forth gallantly to win the Crown of Kings, while my brother plays the little gnome sidekick (like the Gnome in Legend). With the NPCs I've got lined up, the roleplaying should be great fun, and I'll probably be recounting the story created on many occasions. The whole goal of the game though is the completion of the fiendish tasks (he's 8 though, so he may have problems :\. Good job he's got a gnome sidekick to help him :) ).


            Make sense? Seem right? What games have you run that highlight the differences between Gamist and other styles of play? How did you support the Gamist GENder of a game with the system you used? What games seem to support this style of play, in either system, setting, or premise? Can't read the term "Power Gaming" without thinking of munchkins? :)  Contributions of other ideas, and comments on these ones is the sole reason for this thread. I'm a primarily narrative ref, with 2 players who prefer Explorative games and 1 who prefers Gamist games in my group. Insights on how to cater to their needs is severely needed :).    Thanks to my brother and all the groups at my local gaming club for all the raw data. Thanks to Valamir for giving me the Power/Tactical/Adventure Gaming terms. Thanks to my gaming group for putting it all together.

Re: GEN - Gamist

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 05/24/01 8:32 AM

            Okay. Some random thoughts and reactions:   "Power gaming" does make me think of munchkins. Maybe there's a better label? That being said, I do think that the distinction that you're making is valid.   In fact, the breakdown that you propose is very helpful. My wife and I are in the process of designing an RPG for children that has a definite gamist bent (Sugar & Spice). Seeing this breakdown made me ask the question, "Which subcategory is our goal?" Do I want the game to focus on character abilities? Do I want to focus on the caliber differences between different sorts of pixie stix? I think that your "adventure gaming" category fits best with our envisioning of the design goal. I'll have to go back and consider the design work so far in this light. I will admit that the gamist approach usually isn't my thing. However, I have toyed with running a Shadowrun game, which would probably fall into your Tactical Gaming category, at least the way that I would run it. I must admit that the idea of poring over blueprints and setting up snipers holds a certain guilty fascination for me. :-)   Thanks for the excellent post, Jester. Much food for thought.  Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: GEN - Gamist

M. J. Young (M. J. Young) 05/25/01 1:11 AM

            I am particularly struck by the fact that the most popular games seem to have appeared on your gamist list. I know that there are a lot of followers of games not mentioned here, but generally it's D&D far and away the leader, WoD a powerful second (beat D&D 2E once, I'm told), and everyone else an also-ran--but CoC is a strong also-ran at that. Does this suggest that despite the snobbery of many gamers, the gamist approach is the most popular?   --M. J. Young  Check out Multiverser  Index of my pages

Re: GEN - Gamist

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 05/25/01 4:39 AM

            I would argue that in a heartbeat. Anecdotal evidence: go to a convention and listen to the roleplayers talking. Do you hear them talking about the marvelous story that they crafted or how they really got into character? Not usually. Usually they're talking about how their Xth level Heroic Archtype wiped the floor with Y number of assailants even though said Archtype failed his Save vs. Noodling.  Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: GEN - Gamist

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/25/01 10:26 AM

            The main decider of a games GENder is how the game mixes the 3 core activities that make up RPGs: Gaming, Roleplaying, and Storytelling. The majority of new roleplayers are recruited from other hobbies which share the activity of gaming: computer gamers, CCG players, wargamers. I think this is probably the reason why games which support this GENder are most populare. If you started recruiting from authorial or acting circles, or any hobby which was more focused on Roleplaying or Storytelling, this balance might be readdressed.

            Personally, I moved into Roleplaying games from explorative/narrative hobbies. I was an avid daydreamer and reader of fantasy and science fiction, and roleplaying games allowed to either explore or tell stories about what *I* wanted to, and share it with others. I do have a strong gaming streak, however, but I usually let it out by playing Poker and Rogue Spear on the net. However, my brother, who enjoys the gaming element of RPGs quite a lot, usually makes me have to introduce these elements into my games to cater for his tastes. I'll also be doing the same for my nephew, who gets all happy and excited everytime he beats up the monsters :).

            Another point is about World of Darkness. I actually would classify this game as Explorative, but noting that the system fails this goal. The way the game content (Character/Setting/Situation) gets used is exactly how Brian explains in his view of gamism: not combed for explorative potential, but used to add meaning to the challenges that arise during play. This is done because the system communicates this to the players; e.g. the main way that choice of your Vampire's clan is communicated in the system is the powers you get. It's exactly like choosing your class in D&D.

GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/23/01 4:17 PM


The principles of Explorative play are founded in day-dreaming...What would it be like if I was a vampire? What would it be like if I was shipwrecked on an alien planet? What would it be like if I was aboard a interplanetary shuttle seized by terrorists?   The core of Explorative play is trying to experience something else; being another person, being in another world, being in another situation. It's the enjoyment of roleplaying your character, exploring another world, or dealing with a dramatic situation that attracts people to this style of play.   Let's look at the differing forms in more depth.


            Exploration can be broken down into 3 groups:  Exploration of Character  Exploration of Setting  Exploration of Situation Many games aim to support all three types of Explorative play. What subtype actually gets played depends on what interests you and your group. Personally, I don't relate to being a vampire, so I'll approach it as Exploration of Setting or Situation, while others, even those in my own gaming group, approach it as Exploration of Character.

Exploration of Character

            The attraction here is being somebody else, and interacting with other personalities. While being trapped on a spaceship with a unstoppable Alien lifeform, they'd love the interaction between the crew members, the arguments that occur, the emotions that are released. "'s about time we discussed the bonus situation".  They'd love to play Vampire and concern themselves with trying to retain humanity in the face of the bestial and evil necessities of vampiric life. They'd love to play Legend of the Five Rings and roleplay the courtly intrigues at Ryoku Owari.  

            The support of Exploration of Character is very hard. Very few games have mechanics that can do this. Mechanics that communicate your character's personality and goals are required. Mechanics that *dictate* your character's personality, and what he would do in a given situation, are not. I can only point out some mechanics in the WoD games, and the Virtue and Trait system from Diverse Lunacy (the system used in Alyria), as those which could support this style of play. All other system considerations can be heavily abstracted.

            Exploration of Character is mostly achieved through Live Roleplaying, though I would welcome more game designs bringing this style of play to the gaming table.  The World of Darkness games are Character Explorative in *intention*, but, as noted in the GENder Gaming thread, the core of the system doesn't reflect this intent, supporting the Power Gaming GENder instead. However, the system does contain some method of rewarding good Character Explorative play.

            Referring to page 196 in Vampire: The Dark Ages, under the Character Development section, we can see that awards are given for "Concept: The player acted out her character's concept very well". This mechanic is extremely Explorative in nature. The problem with Exploration of Character comes when deciding how to allow the rewards to be spent. More on this below.   I once asked somebody what their favourite roleplaying session ever was. They recounted an experience with a Vampire LARP. It was just 2 people, in a restaurant roleplaying their characters. The person told me that he got so immersed, he felt *old*, like his character did, with the weight of the years and experiences he'd had on his shoulders. Great level of immersion, great application of Character Exploration.

Exploration of Setting

            Exploration of Setting is not just the exploration of the raw geography of a setting, but the whole feel and mood of a game. Quoting Valamir the Stout:   "At times I'm very much into exploring setting -- not just geography, but the whole playing Pendragon to become part of the Arthurian legend. In fact, I'd say Pendragon is almost purely Explorative. The gamist elements are fairly minor...character improvement is VERY gradual and about the only real "currency" one obtains in any great supply is Glory...which doesn't do a whole lot to advance gamist concerns but certainly drives various roleplaying scenes.

            Likewise "telling a story" is almost secondary...the stories have largely been told, its the act of being part of the story that is the appeal of the game.  Becoming a part of the Arthurian legend and experiencing the panoply of romantic chivalry is what the game is for me (I usually start my campaigns in the early pre Arthur years for maximum contrast in texture). Having a knight who is truly a part of that fabric is more important than exploring who that knight is as an individual (i.e. less emphasis on exploring character) and the situations are often fairly contrived out of traditional stock. Situations are more to illustrate the setting and expected behaviour of those in the setting than to be explored for their own sake. 

            I would think Pendragon mechanics are primarily designed to support setting. The virtue/vices/and passions mechanic isn't there to really delve deep into your character's psyche (Exploration of Character) as it is to demonstrate the kind of behaviour expected of the flower of Christian chivalry. Even the combat mechanics promote the values and beliefs of the feudal cavalier in their pursuit of the ideal of the superiority of armour and steeds."

            It can also be the exploration of themes such as those presented in Blue Planet. It can also be the answering of questions like "What would the world be like if magic was real?". If you try to answer that with a game, you might end up with something like Ars Magica. Systems can support Exploration of Setting very well, by abstracting the majority of system concerns away, leaving the statistics which best communicate the Setting's mood, feel, and style to the player. As well as Pendragon, the rules of Dying Earth brilliantly achieve this. You have stats called Persuade and Rebuff, saving throws verses Avarice and Indolence, and perhaps most importantly, Dying Earth introduces the most Setting Explorative metagame mechanic of all: The Overarching Rule of Efficacious Blandishment.

            This allows the character to do something not covered by the rules provided the player can convince the GM that it falls within the spirit of the story. This asks the players to enforce the mood of the game themselves.   Settings themselves need to be capable of supporting this style of play. Take Legend of the Five Rings, 7th Sea, and OrkWorld (maybe Wick has a thing about this style of playing). These games aren't the most "realistic" of games, but that isn't their goal, or that of Explorative games. Instead they take a premise, wrap it huge amounts of style, and let you get on exploring that flavour.

            Personally, I've found it extremely easy to take these games and *play* them. Of course, if you're more interested in exploring a more "realistic" setting, go for Sengoku, or the Middle-earth setting (if you can find the OOP modules).   When it comes to reward mechanics, see below.

Exploration of Situation

            Exploration of Situation is where we focus on a particular setup, and roleplay it through. The goal is not the observation of the conclusion, to create a meaningful narrative which enforces the premise, message, and themes of the game. The goal is to experience the situation. This style of play has been termed "The Living Chessboard" by Mytholder. Relational Maps, as shown in Sorcerer's Soul are good at setting up campaigns of this type, as well as narrative games that take a more 3rd-person view of the events that occur.   Games that support this style of play need to have an understandable, appealing, and *accessible* premise to hook the players, with a system that communicates that premise well to the players.


Exploration of Character - Vampire

            You should all know this one. It's probably why you bought the game in the first place. We were once human, with human conscience and values, and now we have to kill people to survive ourselves. Add some other personality issues, get some other players with characters in the same position, put them together, roleplay till happy. Job done.

Exploration of Character - The Sopranos

              I watched a documentary on the Sopranos, where the creator said that his goal was to show the everyday lives of members of the mafia. Try doing a roleplaying game like it. How do you go shopping when you kill people for a living? Great character exploration.

Exploration of Character - Alien

            This was a semi-LARP I set up, adapting that CoC LARP by Tynes and Barber (I forget it's name). 6 players, all taking various roles aboard the commercial towing vehicle Nostromo. I started introducing external elements putting the players in danger, and they had great fun just roleplaying arguing between themselves. None of them escaped alive, but they didn't mind :). Roleplaying through the crisis was enough for them.

Exploration of Setting - Legend of the Five Rings

            As I said above, I found this game extremely easy to just *play*. The system wasn't perfect, the setting didn't always make sense, but it was dripping with setting elements that made my players go "Wow! I wanna get involved in that!". They wanted to explore Shinomen Forest, hunt goblins in the Shadowlands (ended up wishing they never even looked south after that bit. Thanks Myth for the tips!), be all intriguish and scorpion-like in Ryoku Owari, hunt Maho-users in the provinces. The list was endless.   What my player's really enjoyed was creating the metaplot as they went along (sorry John, we didn't like your one much :\). They enjoyed explaining how the localised events that they got involved in had greater implications in the whole country, and how that in turn affected future situations they got involved in.

Exploration of Situation - The Pirates of Marienburg

            The power balance between the underworld factions is currently balanced. That balance is completely destroyed with the introduction of an Arabic faction, peddling slaves and drugs from their homeland. What happens? I don't know, but it would be great fun finding out. What would you play? A member of a local underworld faction? What do you try to achieve? Support your faction in driving off the Arabs? Or take the chance to seize more power for yourself?

            When I run this campaign, I ran 2 groups of players consecutively, with one of those groups playing 2 games at the same time. That group played both a small cell of local thieves that took the "claim power for ourselves" route, rallying behind their cell's captain (no, he wasn't called Paulie). On an alternate night, they played members of the authorities trying to break the power of the criminal elements in the city. The other group were playing the Arabs. The effects of what they did were felt in the other party, and vice versa.   During this adventure, the player's spoon-fed me the metaplot for the game, explaining things like how the rules of the city were doing this and that in response to the escalating criminal activity, and how I better take this into account when coming up with the content of future scenes. These scenes were also supplied to me by the players: "Jester, we're organising a sit-down with the heads of the other criminal families. But beknownst to us but unbeknownst to them, we're gonna set up a massive hit, and take them all out. K?"


            I can see what you can reward people in Explorative games for. Roleplaying their character concept; instigating scenes which promote a game's mood or themes; coming up with interesting subplots within a larger situation etc. My question is this: How do you expect to be able to spend that reward within the game?  A player in a Gamist game can spend their reward on bettering their chances of overcoming obstacles. A player in a Narrative game can spend their reward on introducing new subplots which advance the narrative. What can a player in an Explorative game spend their reward on to advance their goals of Exploration?

            I've spoken to many people about this, and had many interesting answers. For those people who frequent GO, I'd love you to contribute your ideas.  Varying ideas I've heard include:  You can't reward Explorative play. For immersive types, game mechanic rewards are not only unnecessary, they may in fact be distracting. (Only true for extremely immersive explorative play?)  Give them Directorial Power to move the adventure in the direction of exploring what they are interested in. This is shown in the Pirates of Marienburg example above. If the player's explored the situation, I rewarded them by allowing them to decide what part of that situation they would explore next. (Applicable to all types of explorative play?)

            The rewards are just logical extensions of the changes to your character in the setting. The gaining of Glory in Pendragon makes a difference to the game. You aren't rewarded by making your goal of Exploration easier, but you are rewarded by seeing how your actions affect the world around you. (Applicable to only Exploration of Setting/Situation?) So far, I've been using narrative reward mechanics from an explorative point of view (from within your character, instead of the authorial view of the player). I think it works OK, but I'm used to narrative games :).


            Make sense? Seem right? What games have you run that highlight the differences between Explorative and other styles of play? How did you support the Explorative GENder of a game with the system you used? What are your thoughts on rewarding Explorative players?  Contributions of other ideas, and comments on these ones is the sole reason for this thread. I'm a primarily narrative ref, with 2 players who prefer Explorative games and 1 who prefers Gamist games in my group. Insights on how to cater to their needs is severely needed :).   Valamir has to share more about his Pendragon games, and Bulbousnuts more about his En Garde games, and his Elizabethan Cthulhu game :).    Thanks to Wolfy, Valamir, Bulbousnuts, and all the groups at my local gaming club for all the raw data, thoughts on the subject, and just for being annoyed with being misrepresented. Thanks to my gaming group (especially Rob and Emma) for putting it all together. No angst-ridden character-actors were harmed in the creation of this post. Don't worry, I won't miss next time :).

Re: GEN - Explorative

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 05/24/01 11:02 AM

            Again, some random comments (not all my synapses are firing today).   First, thanks for the Alyria plug. :-) I think that you are spot on in your analysis.   Regarding the Sopranos game proposal, I believe that your description meshes perfectly with Rob Stone's stated goals for Mafia. The concern is to put the players in Mafioso shoes for a day.   Rewarding Explorative play.... That's a tough one. My initial reaction is to agree with option one. I wonder if, for an Explorative, the experience is the reward. Certainly an Explorative game might include mechanics for advancement of character proficiency (Multiverser, anyone?) but it is separate from the reward system. I'm also curious to see what others have to say on this issue.   P.S. By mentioning Multiverser, I summon M.J. Young to join us on this thread! ;-)   (Just teasing, M.J.)  Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: GEN - Explorative

M. J. Young (M. J. Young) 05/25/01 1:32 AM

            I was already on the way.   Jester, you will be missed.   Certainly it's true that Multiverser's system for character improvement is completely divorced from any notion of reward mechanics--if you attempt to learn a skill, you have a chance to learn it, and if you practice you improve. There really is no reward mechanic in the game. On the other hand, gamist players eat it up--it allows them to build superheroes (given a lot of time and thought and care) from ordinary people, and to face and overcome challenges. But the adventure is its own reward--and I suppose in that sense it probably is explorative/simulationist.

            Were I trying to design a mechanic that would reward exporative play, it would probably be built to open more areas of that which should be explored.   For example, turning a dungeon crawl into an explorative campaign, characters would gain the keys to open more areas within the tunnels by successfully exploring the areas already available to them. Similarly, in a space opera exploratory game characters who had proved themselves effective explorers (e.g., a scientific research and reporting team) could gain transport credits, or be hired/assigned to more interesting/alien explorations.           As an exploration of character/situation, the mafia idea has promise. I believe there is going to be a mechanic that allows characters to advance within the ranks. If the rewards for that were based on explorative issues (that the player has truly grasped the experience of being a bagman), moving up intensifies the opportunities for experience (he's deeper in the organization, eventually becoming close to the core family).   But those are very off-the-cuff ideas.   --M. J. Young  Check out Multiverser  Index of my pages

Re: GEN - Explorative

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 05/25/01 7:06 AM

            One of the things I find so compelling about the GEN model is that it is possible to define each element independently of the other. One of the problems I've had with the term Simulationist (aside from people being more familiar with its usual definition of highly realistic) is that there is no clear unambiguous definition of what a Simulationist game is.

            In the GNS model, one can identify what a gamist game is or a narrativist game is, but by and large games get dropped in the Simulationist bucket simply because they don't fit in the other two. But under GEN, Simulationist (and all of the preconcieved baggage that goes with it) is replaced by the far more precise Explorative. Games can clearly be identified as Explorative not as a default catch all but on their own merits. Another compelling reason for the switch is that OTHER components of game theory now work much better with all three elements.

            For instance Stance. It has been argued that Author Stance and Directoral power can't exist in a Simulationist game. Or take Karma, Drama, and Fortune mechanics. You'd be hard pressed to think of a Simulation that wasn't primarily resolved through Fortune. This left Simulationist as sort of the odd man out of the model. It wasn't clearly defined and it seemed sort of the bastard step child of the other two. In fact, it has been suggested that a Simulationist player is a Gamist who wants to be Narrativist but it to afraid to make the commitment and uses the complexity of the rules as a security blanket. Aside from the obvious elitism of the sentiment, it is clear that Simulations are far more than that. After all wargaming simulations have been around a long time and the motivating factor is something pretty deeply ingrained.

            Explorative games, on the other hand, can use any Stance or any resolution mechanic just like the other two elements. Rather than being the odd man out, it meshes seamlessly into the model as a whole.   In my oppinion Simulationism exists outside of the GEN model, independent of the type of game involved. For example: D&D is a Gamist game with rather abstract mechanics. Rolemaster on the other hand is a Gamist game with very simulationist mechanics. Pendragon is an explorative game with rather abstract mechanics. RuneQuest (when played primarily to enjoy the depths of Glorantha) is an explorative game with more simulationist mechanics.

            As further evidence of this independence I offer more examples from other types of games: Risk is a game of world conquest with very abstract mechanics. World in Flames is a game of world conquest with very simulationist mechanics. The Star Wars CCG depicts battles between the rebels and empire with very abstract mechanics. The Dixie CCG depicts battles between the rebels and union with much more simulationist mechanics. Crimson Skies is a computer flight game with very abstract (or in PC game terminology "arcady")flight characteristics. Microsoft Flight *Simulator* is a computer flight game with highly simulationist flight characteristics.   So yes, Simulationism exists, but not as some ill defined black sheep member of GNS, but rather as a fully appreciated and vibrant component of any of the elements of GEN (although I will admit to not having a clear idea at the moment of what a Simulationist Narrative game would look like)

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/25/01 12:11 PM

Character Advancement

            Seth, your point about character advancement systems being seperate from the reward mechanic in any other form of roleplaying save Power Gaming is quite correct. This advancement is something that just happens, and can be implemented in numerous interesting ways, hopefully communicating the core concepts of the RPG at hand.   Take Call of Cthulhu (which, btw, I consider Adventure Gaming). There is an advancement scheme present, but it so low key that the actual raising of your skills is hardly an ingame goal. I have, however, played with a group who *did* play like this. During combats they would try to use every single attack type *just* so they could get ticks in the skill boxes. This severely jarred with my Adventure Gaming approach to the game.  

Game Content use in Explorative Games

            When it comes to Multiverser, I'm a bit ashamed not to have mentioned it myself. To me, it's a fantastic example of a game that attempts to Explore a specific Situation, which Seth stated on the "Using GENder Thread": "What if I were zapping from universe to universe? What would happen to me? What would I experience? How would I change?"   This answers very well how an Explorative game can focus on one of Character/Setting/Situation. The Settings and Character's chosen should all be designed to help make the Exploration of this Situation more interesting. Does Multiverser support this goal as well as it could with it's rules? I haven't read them, but all the people in the Multiverser have. I'd love to hear their comments.  

            Ars Magica, OTOH, is an example of a game that can simply aim to be "Explorative", and allow the gaming group to use the game content offered to explore what interests them the most. Want to see how the different houses interact with each other? Use the Character content to run Exploration of Character. Interested in magic and fairies being real? Use the Setting content to explore it. Have a great idea of a perilous situation where 2 powerful magi are at loggerheads with each other, disrupting the power balance between the Orders? Roleplay out that Situation.   BTW, if any people from the Ars Magica forum are reading this, I'd love to hear how you go about setting up your games. Do you actually operate how the GENder model suggests, focusing on one aspect of the game content provided, enriching the other components during gameplay? I'll bring this up again in the "Using the GENder Model", along with the same question to the Multiverser crowd.

Explorative Rewards

            I'm extremely interested in this topic at the moment. My explorative players in my group have been a great help in trying to work this out. Currently, one of them believes that while in character, actually exploring whatever you're interested in, and feeling those experiences, is the reward. However, during a game session, you're not always in Actor stance, having screen-time. During these moments, he believes that's where you inplement other reward mechanics. These include control over the world, metaplot concerns, choosing what scenes will next arise in the game etc.

            In playtesting the Alyria system, which incorporates a system of scene-creation, we've started using this for our explorative games. A player will use the scene template as a method of communicating what he is most interested in exploring next. Once this scene is activated, the players slip back into Actor stance to explore it.  This sounds exactly like what Melchie is describing (BTW, you left that off your alias list).

            "For example, turning a dungeon crawl into an explorative campaign, characters would gain the keys to open more areas within the tunnels by successfully exploring the areas already available to them."   I read that and thought of the film Labyrinth. I'd *love* to explore the labyrinth, encountering all the different goblins and other inhabitants. You're way of implementing moving into different areas to explore is actually realised in the game world: supplying keys that open up doors to new regions. You could also make the reward based on Author stance, allowing the player to simply communicate to the GM what he is most interested in exploring next: funny cute dancing monsters, something big and scary, etc.

            This can then be translated back in to the game world as you suggest with the Science-fiction game. The player informs the GM that he's just been assigned to start diplomatic relationships with a new alien lifeform. The GM then supplies scenes that cater to what the player wants to explore. Job done :).   I have a definate example of how this would work for the Ragnaršk, the game I was designing to highlight how the choice of a game's GENder affects how the game content is handled. I'll be returning to this game design over the weekend, now that the model is in working order.


            All games are a simulation. Simulating means to pretend as if something was real. I do this whether I'm assassinating terrorist leaders, running away from zombies on space stations, or creating stories about having tea with the King of the Moon. You communicate the alternate reality by incorporating simulative *rule mechanics* into the system.  Some games try to enforce this alternate reality to the players stronger than other games.

            Which games are good examples of this in relation to the GENder?  As Valamir points out, Rolemaster communicates the realities of a fantasy world to it's players, covering such topics as how different weapons function against different armour types, how hard various manoeuvres are in different environmental conditions etc. This system is then used to support a method of play similar to other gamist RPGs: setting up various challenges in a world and overcoming them.

            Valamir also offers us Runequest as a system communicating numerous reality based issues to it's players while they use the system to explore the Character/Setting/Situational depths of Glorantha.  To round out the example across the whole model, Sorcerer is a system that has a large number of mechanics which enforce the reality of summoning demons to the players. These simulative mechanics are inplemented in a way to allow narrative to be created by using them, but they are still simulative, and there are still a lot of them.

            The 2nd most important part the Alyria system are the mechanics that simulate the effects of sin, corruption, inspiration, and redemption on the moral virtue of an individual. These mechanics are simulative, but are implemented so that they can't operate without creating narrative. The scene/plot creation rules, the actual core of the system, are instead highly abstract.   You should notice that universal systems and mechanics *cannot* be simulative. Simulative mechanics communicate a particular reality.

            Examples of universal systems include the D20 mechanics, the *core* mechanics for GURPs, and the Theatrix ruleset. The plot creation rules of Alyria are easily portable between different systems, whereas it's Virtue mechanics are much harder.   Therefore, I fully agree with you that simulative concepts are a fully appreciated and vibrant component of games across the whole GENder model. Simulative mechanics are, in fact, the core type of mechanics which communicate the concepts of a specific game to the players.   I cannot comment on the advantages of Exploration over that of Simulationism from the GNS model, as there currently isn't an operable definition of Simulationism to examine.

            I am fully aware, however, that the old definition offered by the model does not in any way describe a) the intent and player goals of half the players in my gaming group, and the majority of players at my local roleplaying club, b) the way they use game content to achieve these goals, or c) the systems they would use to communicate the concepts of their games during play.

Re: GEN - Explorative

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 05/26/01 9:22 AM

You should notice that universal systems and mechanics *cannot* be simulative. Simulative mechanics communicate a particular reality. Examples of universal systems include the D20 mechanics, the *core* mechanics for GURPs, and the Theatrix ruleset. The plot creation rules of Alyria are easily portable between different systems, whereas it's Virtue mechanics are much harder.

            Hmm, not sure I agree with this one SJ.   If the aspect that is being simulated in one game (or setting of a universal game) is the same as that be simulated in another, I would say that simulations are actually portable.   In other words if one creates a very realistic simulation of combat injury from various sources (impact, ballistic, falling, fire, etc) and uses that as the core of the combat rules for a universal game. Than those rules would be a simulation and any setting where those rules are appropriate would also be a simulation.

            In fact, I would submit that simulationist rules are the more portable than rules designed to explore a certain setting. If the simulationist rules depict a certain flavor of "reality" than they would be portable to any game where that reality is appropriate (of course, one would have to decide on the degree of simulation vs abstraction desired before simply cutting and pasting). On the other hand rules designed to allow players to interact with a unique setting would be less likely to be directly copyable to other settings.

            One of the reasons I've found the GEN take on game theory so powerful is it allows me to really identify in terms that can be easily communicated to others what I like or dislike about a certain game. For many years I've railed against Universal systems using such vague reasons as "failing to capture the flavor of the genre". Now, thanks to GEN I know that what I'm really trying to say is that my preference is for games that have mechanics custom designed for Exploring a particular setting, character, or situation (Which is probably why I've been panting after Alyria since the first Dreaming column). Universal games, by definition can't have overly specific mechanics, they have to remain generic enough to port their mechanics to a variety of settings and situations.

            Obviously there is alot of appeal to that for some, but for me that leaves a very bland feeling when playing them.   The only time I've enjoyed Universal games on their own merits is when trying to Explore cross setting experiences (i.e. the fish out of water, Connecticut Yankee type game). The portability of a Universal system is what makes that possible (one really couldn't take a Cyperpunk 2020 character into Pendragon without using GURPs or Fudge or something similiar). So for this type of Exploration a Universal system IS custom designed and hense more enjoyable for me.

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/26/01 10:52 AM

            I totally agree that simulative mechanics are portable between games which attempt to communicate a similar reality. I'm saying that simulative mechanics can't be *completely* universal. GURPs attempts to use the same system to represent such diverse realities from High Fantasy to Pulp Fantasy, Super Heroes to Black Ops, Horror to Science Fiction. I don't believe this is possible with simulative mechanics; the nature of reality changes too much between these different games.

            Now, you can take the highly simulative Virtue mechanic in Alyria, rename "Virtue" to "Force", and you've got a brilliant simulative mechanic for a Jedi Knight game; the mechanic simulating the affects of both sides (light/dark) of the force on your character. Both games have a similar desire to communicate the affects of good and evil to the players.  However, you couldn't port it into a more generic Star Wars game, trying to create cinematic action adventures of derring-do Rebels breaking into Star Destroyers, raiding Imperial bunkers, and generally nicking the jam out of Vadar's Donut. It would be too powerfully communicating a concept that isn't the core of this style of game.   Therefore, if you want a scale of "ease of stealing mechanics for other games", you might find:  Simulative mechanics to similar reality type/genre.


            Abstract mechanics to similar reality type/genre.  Abstract mechanics to different reality type/genre.  Simulative mechanics to different reality type/genre.


            You stated "Universal games, by definition can't have overly specific mechanics; they have to remain generic enough to port their mechanics to a variety of settings and situations."   To me, a simulative mechanic is one that communicates a *specific* reality, and I'm therefore saying Universal systems can't be heavily simulative (if at *all* simulative). I think this agrees with all the points you raise :).  

I think we are having a misunderstanding somewhere, because you say:   "I would submit that simulationist rules are the more portable than rules designed to explore a certain setting."   I'm stating that simulative rules *are* the rules designed to explore a certain setting. They are the rules which most thoroughly communicate the specifics of the setting to the players. They are the rules which most thoroughly communicate the specific flavour of a game.  Now, simulative mechanics can be light or heavy.  The rules for Force Points in WEG's Star Wars are a light simulative mechanic communicating a specific concept of the Star Wars setting to the players.  The demon summoning rules presented in Sorcerer, however, are much heavier, but still communicate very well a specific concept of the game's premise to the players.

            I think that when designing games at the moment, you should only include simulative mechanics for *core* concepts of a particular RPG. I think MERP failed because it included an extremely heavy simulative set of mechanics for combat, which isn't a core concept of the Middle-earth setting as depicted in Lord of the Rings. Yes, combat is important, but I think an abstract combat system would easily suffice, allowing room for heavy simulative mechanics to depict other concepts of the setting, such as the affect of corruption on the characters (corruption stemming from the ring, power, the influence of Grima Wormtongue etc). (BTW, the Alyria system could therefore easily be used to run MERP, as both settings share this concern of the affects of corruption on people.)   I also think that too many heavy simulative mechanics can make an game very hard to play. Rolemaster and some of the plugins for GURPs may be examples of this. The Sorcerer system "works" because it only heavily simulates the core concepts of the game.   Other concepts are either abstracted or use much lighter simulative mechanics. Would it be right to say that games should only heavily simulative, say, 1 or 2 concepts?   Which leads me to ask a question about Universal systems. Can they be heavy at all? You mention GURPs and Fudge, the core of each system being quite light, but using numerous rules plugins to introduce heavier simualative mechanics specific to the current setting.

            The Window is an example of this, giving a core system with extra "optional" rules for such things as Luck, Magic, and Sanity.

            Now Multiverser, by it's very nature, needs to have a Universal basis, but adaptable enough to emulate the million trillion billion setting possibilities you could jump in to. I haven't read the game, but I believe it uses the concept of "bias" to handle this. I am aware that MV offers a high number of base attributes though, which might hint that the core system may be slightly heavier than it needs to be.

            Theatrix is another Universal System (this time Narrative) that, using your words, fails to capture the flavour of any genre. However, it was hinted in the core rulebook that the various setting books produced by the company (Backstage Press), would greater customise the rules to the specific setting. I don't own Ironwood (but I know you do Val :) ), so I can't comment whether it takes a similar approach as GURPs and Fudge (adding extra simulative rules) or perhaps renames the universal attributes and traits of Theatrix to those more specific to the setting.  It might not do either, allowing the players to freeform the simulative specifics of different settings within the constraints of the abstract universal rules.

            Another good topic for discussion is the Silhouette system. It is Universal and used in DP9s games, including Tribe 8 & Heavy Gear. You see the simulative rules of Synthesis added to the core system in Tribe 8, but, personally, I feel that the system should have been more greatly customised to simulate the specifics of each setting. Silhouette has no real flavour. This, of course, could have been the design goal. The system is called "Silhouette" because it intends to be invisible. I'll go try to drag Wil 'DP9 Fanboy' Hutton in here to comment :).


            To summarise, I'm saying that the rules of all games create a simulation of the alternate reality presented by the game in question. Some games try to create a more detailed simulation by using simulative mechanics with greater depth and weight than others (Sorcerer, Ars Magica, Rolemaster, Pendragon); some use a collection of light simulative mechanics (Alyria, Call of Cthulhu); some use very abstract rules (Fudge, Window, Theatrix, Silhouette). You then use this simulation to achieve the game's goals represented by the GENder model. Job done :).    Simulative mechanics good :). Simulative mechanics have flavour. Jester like cookies and cream flavour. No game has cookie cream flavour :(. Jester can't wait for Sugar and Spice flavour from Dark Omen Games! :)

Re: GEN - Explorative

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 05/26/01 1:10 PM

I see what you are saying the effort to contribute to the GEN experience let me offer the following.   I think that thinking of Simulation in this way is a mistake. Its the beginnings of how the GNS model started thinking about Simulation and it led to all sorts of problems. Simulation is a word that has a clear and definite meaning outside of role playing games. It is used in wargaming circles to describe the degree of accuracy a game has to what it is trying to portray.

            A good simulation is one where cause and effect adhers very closely to the reality of the situation. It is used in computer gameing circles to describe the degree of accuracy a game has to real world physics models. Realistic games are called sims, unrealistic games are called arcade-play. It is used to describe attempts to portray a particular real world activity in a game format as with the various Sim City spin offs.   I think it is self defeating to try and use the word simulation in a manner different from its most common widespread definition. The difference you are noting between my post and yours I think are entirely the result of my using the following definition:

            Simulation means added attention to reality and a realistic portrayal of events often, but not necessarily accompanied by an increase in number or complexity of rules.   I know this flies in the face of prior definitions of Simulation as it pertains to roleplaying games (which I myself have encouraged in the past)...things like "realism is just a subset of simulation" etc. However, I believe that the Simulation = realism definition is too widespread and well entrenched to overcome, too much time is wasted on explaining to people that that is not what simulation means in this context, and in the GEN model I don't think such a definition is necessary.

            You see, where you are identifying rules that promote the "Simulation of the Setting", I'm saying forget that use of the word. What we're really talking about here are rules that promote the "Exploration of the Setting". It is rules that promote the "Exploration" of the setting that gives the game flavor and uniqueness.

            To me the term Simulation should go back to the roots of the term. It shouls be used as a measure of how concerned the game's resolution mechanic is with obtaining "correct and accurate results" for a particular course of action vs. being satisfied with "fast and functional results".   I propose that Simulation actually exists on a sliding scale with Abstract on the other end, and that this scale can be applied to any game, independent of its position in GEN. That is where I was going with the numerous examples from my previous post. That level of Simulation (as is conventionally defined) is independent of the type or genre of game being discussed.  

            Simulation then becomes a function of game mechanic construction similar to choices such as whether to use Karma or Fortune or Drama.   As an example: Take Amber the Diceless RPG.   One would say immediately that its mechanics are Karmic in nature.   One might be tempted to say the game is a very good *simulation* of the Amber setting (yes I know there are those who think the game is horrible in this regard...ignore that for this example)   I on the other hand suggest that instead Amber is a not highly simulative...its mechanics and outcomes are very abstract and not at all realistic. However, they are excellent at exploring the setting of Amber.   Thoughts?

Re: GEN - Explorative - Universals - Multiverser

M. J. Young (M. J. Young) 05/26/01 2:22 PM

            Now Multiverser, by it's very nature, needs to have a Universal basis, but adaptable enough to emulate the million trillion billion setting possibilities you could jump in to. I haven't read the game, but I believe it uses the concept of "bias" to handle this. I am aware that MV offers a high number of base attributes though, which might hint that the core system may be slightly heavier than it needs to be. Um--yes, yes, yes, yes, maybe/maybe not. But overall you've overlooked an important feature of the game.


            Divide all your skills into four categories, based on where they get their power. Technology skills come from science/natural laws, psionic skills from some mental or mystical force inside individuals, magic skills from a power beyond the universe, and body skills from physical abilities. You'll find a few extraneous skills which can be fit into one category by analogy or relationship (psychology is a magic skill because it's about having a core understanding of reality, and is thus a religion/philosophy), and some which seem to rely on support from one category but are powered by another (hang gliding is really a body-based flying skill, although it uses a technological device to do). These are your four bias areas.

            Next, take all the skills in any one bias area and graph them, such that each one lands at a point in two dimensions. Let your x-axis show increasing levels of basic principles, e.g., steam and pressure power systems are more advanced than pulleys and gears; let your y-axis represent increasing applications of those principles, e.g., maintaining fire in a non-oxygen environment requires greater understanding than rubbing two sticks together. Each skill now has a graph value, an x and y coordinate, which we express as x@y.   For each world, define a single point in each area as the bias of that world for that bias area, x@y. This value defines everything possible in that world in several ways, and how easy or difficult it is.

            First, no indig (indigenous life form, the natural residents of that world) can have a skill whose x value is greater than x. Those principles are unknown to them, possibly beyond their understanding or possibly forbidden by the gods--the explanations are flexible according to the nature of the worlds.

            Second, x@y defines a point on a "curve", a straight line running at a 45 degree slope such that for each increase in x there is an equal decrease in y. Put another way, if x+y=z, then the line crosses every point at which x+y=z; or if your bias is 4@5, then 3@6, 2@7, and 1@8 all represent that line. No creature can use any skill in this world which is above that line, even if they come from another world or are divine beings.

            Third, the value of x for the world is included (doubled) as a addendum in the chance of success for all skills in that bias area; there's a caveat on this. The person performing the skill may have that bonus if his own bias level (x of that skill known to him already having the highest x value) in that area is equal to or greater than that value; if his own bias level is lower than that for the world, his bonus is limited to (twice) his own bias level. Thus if you're a character from a high tech world living in a low tech world, you can't do things as well as you could back home, but you've got the best bonus (because of your better understanding) possible in that world; but if you're a character from a low-mag world living in a high-mag world, you can't benefit (in performance) for what you don't understand.

            There are a few other effects. The bias level of the world affects attempts to learn skills. The bias level (x) of the world can be negative (penalizing everything, and creating special effects on what is possible in several ways; this is rare). But in essence, that's how bias works.   It isn't explained in so technical a manner in the rules--just how to do it.


            The attribute scores in Multiverser (yes, there are fourteen basic attributes) do have application within the game. Believe it or not, it was not my idea. E. R. Jones, the rules-lite narrativist member of the team, essentially told me, "these are the attributes, live with it". Each of them has application within the game, aspects which distinguish them. I initially wondered why some distinctions were made (charisma, persuassion, and animal magnetism) and others ignored (although there is both intuition and will power, I don't know that this covers wisdom adequately). But overall it's a good collection--and it serves another purpose relative to that overlooked feature: interfacing with other games.

Interfacing with Other Games

            You can emulate any genre using just the bias rules within Multiverser; but Multiverser makes it possible to capture those nuances of feeling in other game systems by interfacing with them. Let us suppose that (for some inexplicable reason) I wanted to capture the feeling of Dungeons & Dragons for my players. (I have actually done this, but it's because I have some interesting D&D modules I've never had the chance to run, and this gives me the opportunity). I would land them in the D&D world, and convert their characters:  D&D Strength=MV Strength  D&D Intelligence=MV Intellect  D&D Wisdom=better of MV Intuition or MV Will Power  D&D Dexterity=better of MV Agility or MV Hand/Eye  D&D Constitution=MV Stamina  D&D Charisma=MV Charisma  D&D Comeliness=MV Animal Magnetism  D&D Hit Points=MV Damage Value (It happens that there's a 3d6 conversion chart in the back of Multiverser; it's a common system in early games.)

            Assign appropriate damage dice for each weapon the character uses and convert his chance to hit, and the character is in essence a D&D character with a few out-of-system skills. Specify the biases of the D&D world (T5@3, M15@10, B15@10, Psionic depends on whether you're using psionics rules, either P15@10 or P0@1), and you're pretty much integrated. From that moment, the character is a D&D character, and runs within the D&D world, with a few exceptions. Anything he could do before he has a chance to do under Multiverser rules; any equipment alien to the world has a chance to work, limited by bias. But he can't learn new skills within that world except according to the D&D game rules--anything covered by D&D is done by D&D.

            Were the character to verse into Alyria, he would become an Alyrian character. For any character values needed for play in that game, these would be derived in one of these ways:  Derived from a Multiverser attribute;  Derived from a comparable Multiverser skill the character has;  Listed at the level stated by the game as normative, average, or typical (on the assumption that this is something all characters have that hasn't been significant previously);  Listed at zero (on the assumption that this is something the character does not have and must develop under the rules of this new world). Thereafter, all play is controlled by the rules of Alyria, except when a character attempts to do something which is not covered under Alyria rules but not logically precluded by them either. Thus Multiverser gains the flavor and feeling of such world-integrated systems by integrating them into itself as needed.

            Footnote: Some will argue that a Multiverser character cannot always "fit" into a world system, because he isn't a creature type appropriate for that world. How can you play OrkWorld if you're not an Ork? Although this does restrict the possibilities to some degree, the game does have mechanics for that, as well. The simplest is what we call The Zygote Experience--the character doesn't verse in as himself, but as an unborn child, and so plays through growing up in that world. It's usually done as human (and The First Book of Worlds provides extensive support for this); it can be interesting to alter race or gender of the character in some situations. The variant allows the character to be born as anything sentient (or to be anything, but born sentient). After versing out, the character gradually reverts (through the next few worlds) to his original body, or possibly to a modified body retaining some characteristics of the altered form.     There are also botch possibilities that remove the character's spirit from his own body and put it in another, or that cause the character to have a psychotic event such that he fully experiences the existence of another character living through situations in another world (and is unaware that it is not fully real). Everything is possible.


            As far as the weight of rules is concerned, the combat system might be regarded by some as "heavy". It allows anything imaginable to be part of combat, including  Skills and equipment that will bonus attack success probability  Multiple attacks due to weapon design, character innate ability, and character skill  Initiative based on combat skill  Skills which steal initiative, such as fast draw, iajutsu, or heightened speed  Instant and constant defenses to counter attacks  Time-based skill use in combat, such as starting equipment and casting complex spells  Skills or equipment which increase damage  Greater damage based on character skill  Skills which avoid attacks or reduce damage  Adjustments for distance, movement, size, and cover And more.

            Because of this, the system seems a bit complex at first glance. However, it's all modular in its essence--if no one attempts to steal initiative (or no one is able to do so), those rules are irrelevant. The simple combat is simpler than D&D in some ways: you roll the dice once to see if you hit, and that roll also determines how much damage you do, and since the damage is based on damage categories you don't have to look up the damage for that weapon. If I'm using a good sized sword (and am an amateur user with ordinary ability) and roll a 40, and you're an unarmored ordinary defender not using any special defensive skills, that will hit you for four points of damage--nothing else to check. It is as simple as the players and referee allow it to be, or as complicated as is necessary to accommodate the skills and equipment they want to use.   And throughout the game, this pattern of allowing the players and referee to balance simplicity against options is apparent; it's just most apparent here.


            O.K., it seemed appropriate in this thread.   In order to capture the flavor of any genre, Multiverser uses bias to control what is possible and what is easy. To go beyond this and capture the flavor of special worlds, the system integrates itself into other game systems at need. The number of attributes aids in this integration in addition to being useful for applications within the game itself, and conversion rules cover areas in which immediate correspondence is not evident.

            Additionally, special case rules allow the character to experience non-human character types if desired. The game rules system may be heavier or lighter, according to the demands put on it by the players and referee in terms of what they want to be able to do within it.   In short, a well-constructed universal system can capture much of the feeling and flavor of many worlds if thought is given to how to limit and expand different abilities during play.

            Multiverser does not provide plug-in rules sets for particular genres or universes, but allows other game systems to be used in that fashion and in doing so varies to a greater degree than games with plug-ins, so capturing more of the flavor of many genres. I have not seen nor heard of anything quite comparable in this regard.   Post Script   By the way, I understand that the Multiverser books are available through Amazon UK and Amazon DE. I know you were hoping to get them, and that might save a bundle on overseas shipping.   And thanks for calling my attention to this, and giving me the opportunity to expound.   --M. J. Young  Check out Multiverser  Index of my pages

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/26/01 2:35 PM

            Valamir, I'm pretty positive that we are completely agreeing with each other. There is no difference between the terms we are using, just a misunderstanding that they are the same thing :). You have rules. They are either Abstract or Simulative. Simulative rules obtain "correct and accurate results" for the reality in question. These simualative rules can either be heavy or light. They can be implemented using either Drama, Fortune, or Karma.   They do not "promote the simulation of setting" as a roleplaying goal. They *are* the simulation of that setting, and all of the specifics of that particular reality, and can be used for *any* goal.   They not only promote the "Exploration of Setting".  They are used just as frequently in Gamist and Narrative RPGs as my examples show.  They are used just as frequently in games focused on Character and Situation, whether they are Gamist or Narrative.

            When you say...  "What we're really talking about here are rules that promote the "Exploration of the Setting"." sounds as if you are connecting Simulation to only the explorative goal of roleplaying. However, you then say that the weight and number of simulative mechanics in a game is completely independent of a game's GENder, which I'm sure is your end conclusion.   Simulative mechanics can communicate many different types of concepts of a game world. They can communicate the raw physical laws; eg rules for falling damage, weapons and armour, different wound types etc. They can communicate the game's concepts about morality, good and evil, and mental state; eg the Pendragon Virtues/Vices, Alyria's Virtue Mechanics, Call of Cthulhu's Sanity rules.   You should only enforce the simulation of concepts core to the game. 

            The rules of Call of Cthulhu should not simulate wound types or aerodynamic behaviour. It *should* simulate the effects of cosmic horrors on the human psyche. They do this. Good job Call of Cthulhu.  The rules for Middle-earth should not simulate the affects of different armour types on trying to perform different moving maneouvres. They *should* simulate the effects of the various corrupting powers tugging at the wills of the Free Peoples. They don't do this. Bad job MERP.   In short, simulative rules create a simulation which can then be used for the goals of the game, as dictated by the GEN model.

            You can create a simulation of squad-sized small-arms combat, and use it to run tactical missions (Tactical Gaming Rogue Spear style)  You can simulate an alien world and set about experiencing it (Exploration of Setting Outcast Style).  You can simulate the influence of various power groups upon the underworld of a city and the morality of it's inhabitants, and set about creating stories about the Price of Power (Situational Narrative gaming Marienburg style).   Simulation = Realism (according to the game setting in question, *not* our reality)   Simulative rules enforce and communicate the reality or a particular game. We're in total agreement :).

            All games are simulations. Some are more complex simulations than others. The act of creating a working simulation is not a roleplaying goal. A simulation is a tool used in achieving a roleplaying goal. Roleplaying goals are Gamist, Explorative, or Narrative.   Look, I read over your post and was completely nodding in agreement. What did I communicate wrongly in my post that is making you think there is a disagreement?   I totally agree that mechanics can be rated on a scale with Simulative at one end and abstractive at the other and that this does not affect how you use D/F/K to implement them.  I totally agree that simulation means added attention to the reality of the particular game, and that the level of simulation/realism of a game is not a determinate of it's GENder.  I'm totally clueless as to where you see a disagreement :).


            I do not have Amber. When you say the Amber mechanics are not realistic, do you mean relative to "real" reality, or to the reality of the Amberite books?  Also, I just want to comment on a couple of points I felt were implied in your post.   When you said:   "To me the term Simulation should go back to the roots of the term. It shouls be used as a measure of how concerned the game's resolution mechanic is with obtaining "correct and accurate results" for a particular course of action vs. being satisfied with "fast and functional results"."   I'd just like to comment that I feel that simulative mechanics can be just as light and fast as abstract mechanics. The abstract mechanics presented in Multiverser for interfacing other games, and the bias of different worlds are heavy abstract mechanics. I'm absolutely positive that you agree because you explicitly stated:   "Simulation means added attention to reality and a realistic portrayal of events often, but not necessarily accompanied by an increase in number or complexity of rules."   Now, this is a very abstract debate at the moment. If we're still coming to a disagreement somewhere, we'll cut some game systems up to see how they work :).

Re: GEN - Explorative

M. J. Young (M. J. Young) 05/26/01 2:46 PM

            Not surprisingly, someone had time to comment while I was composing that last epistle. Valamir, I disagree. I think that your definition of simulation confuses several concepts, including realism and complexity.   I haven't played MERPS, but I'm given to understand that it does a reasonable job of duplicating Middle Earth. That would have to include capturing the flavor of Tolkienesque magic by any definition (a different sort of magic than that in D&D). Such magic is not in any sense like reality in the view of most people, and therefore cannot be spoken of in terms of "simulation" under your definition--asking "Does MERPS portray magic in a way that is consistent with reality?" would be nonsense to most people. MERPS (presumably) portrays magic in a manner that is consistent with the imagined reality of Middle Earth. It is a simulation of a fantasy world.

            You mentioned Amber and Amber Diceless RPG. The question in your mind is whether the system creates something like reality; but "simulation" to me in this case means, does the system create something like the world portrayed in the Amber novels? If so, it is a good simulation; if not, it is a bad one.   Simulationist mechanics tend to be complex, because they usually attempt to model many things. But in a sense Toon is a simulationist system, in that it fairly accurately models the realm of cartoon characters. You don't need a lot of systems for emulating physics, because quite frankly such physics do not apply here.   I appreciate your concern that everyone outside our field is using "simulation" to mean something different from the way we are using it. We use the terms "realistic" and "gritty" to capture that (and mean slightly different things by them), "cinematic" and "heroic" for their antitheses (again, slightly different concepts).  

            I maintain that all role playing games are in part gamist, in part narrativist, and in part--well, whether you call it explorative or simulationist, that, and maybe both of those if we discover that they are different. Sorcerer may be a narrativist game, but it attempts to simulate something of its imagined reality and allows players to explore that to a significant degree. Whether it does that in a way which always fits our scientific laws might answer the question "how well does it simulate those aspects which are not its chief concern?", but to say that the rules it provides for summoning and binding demons are not simulationist because you can't really summon and bind demons is ignoring the basic concept of what a simulation is: a representation of some real or imagined reality. (And that's quite apart from the theological debate you could raise.)   --M. J. Young  Check out Multiverser  Index of my pages

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/26/01 3:15 PM

            Ok, based on MJ's disagreement about the Stout One's post, I'll just ask this:   Val, when you say Simulation = Realism, do you mean *our* reality, or do you mean the reality of the game in question?   In Ars Magica, magic is part of reality. The rules which communicate how it works are simulative, and communicate the realities of the Ars Magica setting to the players.   I therefore call them Simulative mechanics. I can use the simulation that the Ars Magica rules create to play Gamist, Explorative, or Narrative games (changing the reward mechanics and some other things to support my choice).

            I agree with Melchie's offering of the word's "realistic/gritty" and "cinematic/heroic". I also want to note that the rules that make up both gritty and cinematic games can both include the same weight and number of simulative rules pertaining to the laws or reality in the respective games.   Melchie, I point you to the introduction to all of the GEN threads. All RPGs share the 3 core activities of gaming, storytelling, and roleplaying (please read the Places to Go, People to Be link mentioned).  I'm unsure as how you can even question how Exploration and Simulation are different. A simulation is a alternate reality created and communicated by a set of rules. Exploration is a style of play goal that uses a simulation.

            As I've stated many times, that simulation could also be used to achieve Narrative and Gamist goals.  I'm not saying that you are saying or implying this, but the suggestion that Exploration is simply Simulation from GNS with a name change to make people like it more is absurd, and I advise anyone thinking this to actually read and compare the definitions. The suggestion that Exploration that is a slightly-tweaked version of Simulation from GNS is also absurd, and I again advise people to read the definitions.  Simulation as stated in GNS, as Val is clearly stating, and I'm trying to show, is totally independent of a game's design or playing goal. Simulation is the act of creating rules which represent the reality of *all* games.

            The Sorcerer rules do indeed create a simulation of a world where the summoning and binding of demons is possible. Whether that simulation is used for Explorative or Narrative ends is currently under discussion. A key determinant of what goal it is used for would be the Reward mechanics of the game.   I'd have to really delve in to Multiverser to comment on it. That's a highly detailed and informative answer though Cardinal Melch, and I thank you for it :). Definately highlights a way to approach creating a universal system.

Re: GEN - Explorative

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 05/26/01 4:25 PM

Val, when you say Simulation = Realism, do you mean *our* reality, or do you mean the reality of the game in question?   In Ars Magica, magic is part of reality. The rules which communicate how it works are simulative, and communicate the realities of the Ars Magica setting to the players.

            Didn't make that clear enough. I meant realistic in the sense of treating it as if it WERE real. If magic is "real" in the setting then it is possible to come up with a set of "realistic/simulative" mechanics for opposed to abstract mechanics. This is the same as how it is possible to have Science Fiction simulation. It may not be reality yet but it can be given the same level of treatment.   Perhaps I should go into a bit more depth to avoid being confusing. Bear with me, this'll get a bit long winded.

            I submit that Simulation should not be used to describe how well the game mechanics matches the genre or setting (which is a prior use for the term I promoted myself and the useage that SJ and MJ are using above). Rather I suggest that only Explorative players really care about such things. A Gamist is more concerned with the fun and challenge of the game than he is with its setting accuracy. Likewise a Narrativist is more concerned with the story potential and powerful premise of the game. Acknowledgeing that most players and games have elements of each, I suggest that only that element in us which appreciates Explorative play really cares about how good the rules are at simulating the setting. Thus, yes I am saying that this definition of simulation is primarily an explorative one.

            My use of Simulation above is completely seperate from this. I draw not on the above use of the word, but on the more widespread use of Simulation ---> Reality. As I caveated above in this post Simulation can also be used to describe things that aren't real (like magic) but in a fashion that treats them as if they were. My thought is that whether a game uses simulationist mechanics or abstract mechanics has little to do with whether those mechanics are well suited to the setting at hand (an explorative concern) and everything to do with how complex and detailed they are [complex is not precisely the word I want to use here, but my vocabulary is failing me at the moment]. I'll use a wargame example:   Lets say in a given military campaign a major factor of how the battles unfolded in the real world had to do with supply and how certain forces ran out of it at crucial times.

            Obviously a wargame based on this campaign would have to account for this. But how? There are really two schools of design here.

                        1) Design for Cause. In a Design for Cause school, supply would be highly quantified. The number of "points" (representing a certain tonnage or a number of days worth of material) that were available historically would be included in the game. Rules accounting for how those points get distributed to the forces at the front would be necessary. Rules would likely account for such factors as wastage, weather, road quality, rail transportation, different guages of rail and the necessity of switching between, etc. In other words a complete logistics system would be built into the game in order to recreate the logistic challenges faced in reality.

                        2) Design for Effect: In a Design for Effect school, the designer would recognize that all of the above complexity was added for the sole purpose of determining which units have the supply they need and which units don't. This designer would then "skip ahead to the end" so to speak. He would write rules (usually much briefer) that ideally would have the same net effect without all of the complexities. As an example he might take the distance a unit is from a supply center, modified by the number of turns it has been engaged in combat and boil the whole logistics question down to a simple die roll, success means the unit has supply, failure means its run out.

            The designer might also include a number of "Priority markers" which could be distributed allowing high priority units a greater chance of passing while inflicting lower priority units with a greater chance of failing thus accounting for a player in a Design for Cause game's ability to control where the points are going.   Taking it back to roleplaying then, D&D can be seen as being very much in the Design for Effect camp. Its Armor Class and Hit Point system are highly unrealistic, but in the end they lead to the same effect: Armored characters are more difficult to injur than unarmored characters, and highly skilled combatants are more likely to survive than novices.

            D&D's system takes a tremendous amount of flak from those who would prefer a more realistic mechanic. They would prefer to see armor and injury modeled / simulated much more according to a Design for Cause type of method.   I hope I'm being clear. My intention by reverting to the traditional definition of Simulation and contrasting it with Abstract is to capture this difference in design philosophies. Even though D&D is a very Gamist game, and does Gamist very well, there are many gamists who can't stand it. Why? Because it has the wrong degree of Simulation for them.  

I agree with Melchie's offering of the word's "realistic/gritty" and "cinematic/heroic". I also want to note that the rules that make up both gritty and cinematic games can both include the same weight and number of simulative rules pertaining to the laws or reality in the respective games.

            I don't really intend to quibble about terms, as I've said before the power of a model is in its ability to provide insight and guidance through practical application.   My use of Simulation vs Abstract is identical to what is being called above Realistic/Gritty vs Cinematic Heroic.   The reason I suggest that Simulation/Abstract or perhaps even better Simulation/Cinematic be the prefered terminology is because this use of the word Simulation matches the way the gaming public at large uses the word Simulation. I believe that to be a very important consideration for those wanting the model to have a more widespread appeal.

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/26/01 8:04 PM

            I hope you don't mind but I've started a new thread for the specific topic of Simulative/Abstract mechanics. I will quickly say, though, great points Valamir. I think I'm convinced :).  What I will return to here is the concept of Explorative Reward Mechanics.  Melchie's suggestions are in total agreement with one of my players. He loves being given the directorial power to choose what he gets to explore next.  Other rewards: More screen time? Gold stars on your character sheet? Yay! I'm a star roleplayer! :). The last slice of pizza? The greater world visibly reacting to the actions of the character?  I'm guessing it's one of those concepts to test during gameplay.

Re: GEN - Explorative

Supplanter (Jim Henley) 05/27/01 7:50 PM

            Jester, thanks for inviting me to this thread. I think your thesis is brilliant. I finally know what to call myself.   Now a problem is that there are people abroad who really do call themselves simulationists and really do mean it. They mean something quite specific by the term and are not depending for the definition on theorists that are biased against their interests. They are content that the term as they have defined it covers their values. And they very much do see simulation as they define the term as an end rather than a means. Wipe the dried blood from the stones of rgfa and ye shall see their testaments.

            I'm not sure where your scheme leaves them, but it does a very good job of explaining me, both as player and GM. I'm quite sure now that as a player I tend toward Exploration of Character and Setting and as a GM I tend toward exploration of Situation. Frex, my Amberway PBEM ( takes its situation from the Oresteia, but has no interest in replicating the STRUCTURE of the Oresteia.

            Cavils:   One of the things you specifically invited me to comment on was the approprate rewards for explorative play. One of the options offered in this thread somewhere is that the exploration-of-character player might most appropriately be rewarded for "good roleplay." Call me Finnish, but I'm inclined to consider this deeply problematic if not actually insulting. It gets back to the distinction between Actor mode and Immersive play that some critics have resisted making:

            The _actor_ aims to present a character to others. The - oh this probably sounds pretentious, but in for a penny, in for a pound - _seeker_ aims to discover the character within herself. From an explorative standpoint, I might do my best role-playing ever and _you won't know_.   I question the notion that an interest in exploring a given aspect requires a reward system structured to cultivate that exploration. It simply requires that any reward system not punish that exploration. Hey, if I'm an explorative player, it's because that's what I like to do! You don't have to pay me.

            I question the notion that an interest in exploring a given aspect requires mechanics geared to that exploration. Any mechanic involves a level of abstraction and a loss of dimension. You may end up trying to get me to explore something you've given the same _name_ as what I'm interested in (character, setting, situation) but that has ended up having nothing to do with the thing itself.   This is especially a problem when it comes to exploration of character. Down in the Sorc forum during a discussion of the difference between immersion and acting, someone remarked that, indeed, in their experience, Amber players as a class seemed to be really "into" their characters, and able to tell you things about their history, personalities and subtleties in, really, more detail than you necessarily cared to hear.   Amber has no mechanics relating to character.

            Back to rewards. One valid GM response to the interiority of character-explorative roleplay is: "Tough." That is, It's very fine that you have your deep inner imaginary life that the rest of us are not privy too. But that doesn't necessarily entertain the rest of us. This more demonstrative actor fellow over here at least amused us, and that's why its okay to give him points and not you. Enjoy the sublimity of your virtue, and we'll see you next week.   Another response is: So how did you do tonight? That well, huh? Hey, take three points then! No no, I trust you. Go on, buy yourself another paradox. You've earned it.   Another is to regularize the reward calculus in a way neutral to exploration that does not also demand counter-exploratory behavior. Frex, if you don't get points for creating subplots OR killing monsters OR successfully using skills, but simply for showing up and playing, then power-gamers have nothing to maximize and explorative players need not fear being dominated by them.   Anyway, scattered responses to an impressively gathered thesis. I thank you.   Best,    Jim

Re: GEN - Explorative

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 05/27/01 8:08 PM

It gets back to the distinction between Actor mode and Immersive play that some critics have resisted making: The _actor_ aims to present a character to others. The - oh this probably sounds pretentious, but in for a penny, in for a pound - _seeker_ aims to discover the character within herself. From an explorative standpoint, I might do my best role-playing ever and _you won't know_.

            This is a great summation. I've begun to argue (in favor of Actor stance in Narrativism) that it is a player's responsibility to communicate his emotional state to the other players. In Explorative play, though, that isn't necessary.   My wife tends toward Explorative play. During our last major chronicle (Mage) she experienced all sorts of character growth as her character changed over the course of the chronicle. For instance, her character started as a man-hating, arrogant loner. Over time, though, she warmed to her companions, became (slightly) humble, and even fell in love. However, most of this emotional growth was internal. As an Explorative, she did not communicate this as part of her contribution to the narrative. In fact, after gaming sessions she'd tell me everything that her character was feeling and experiencing during the session and I had no clue at the time that any of it had been happening. However, that is what she looks for in roleplaying.

Down in the Sorc forum during a discussion of the difference between immersion and acting, someone remarked that, indeed, in their experience, Amber players as a class seemed to be really "into" their characters, and able to tell you things about their history, personalities and subtleties in, really, more detail than you necessarily cared to hear.   Amber has no mechanics relating to character.

            I think that was me. You know, I had never quite considered your point about Amber before, but you are quite right. Amber doesn't get in the way, but it doesn't necessarily encourage this behavior through the mechanics. Rather, the book just says, "Love you character. Be your character." Apparently a bunch of people have taken Eric at his word. :-)    Regarding rewarding character-intensive exploratory play:   I still wonder if this can actually be rewarded. In a traditional tabletop game, I wonder if this goal needs to be secondary to another goal that is more group-oriented. However, LARP could be an excellent forum for character-intensive play, at least in theory, due to the dispersed nature of play. (I've not really LARPed much, and definitely not with advanced folks. I'll be at Origins! Anyone want to indoctrinate me?)   Just random thoughts.  Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: GEN - Explorative

Supplanter (Jim Henley) 05/28/01 8:06 AM

My wife tends toward Explorative play. During our last major chronicle (Mage) she experienced all sorts of character growth as her character changed over the course of the chronicle. For instance, her character started as a man-hating, arrogant loner. Over time, though, she warmed to her companions, became (slightly) humble, and even fell in love. However, most of this emotional growth was internal. As an Explorative, she did not communicate this as part of her contribution to the narrative. In fact, after gaming sessions she'd tell me everything that her character was feeling and experiencing during the session and I had no clue at the time that any of it had been happening. However, that is what she looks for in roleplaying.

            Man, Seth, your brood is like the Trapp Family Singers of roleplaying! Your accounts of your wife and your sister's play make me want to move to Erie, and I don't think I need to tell you how likely THAT thought is to arise unbidden...   Anyway, that's exactly it. Back when I was playing Ramon ( there came a time when Ramon attempted to convince Brigit, the peacenik among the cousins, to help him kill Kiron, a PC from Chaos. Ramon had, for reasons of Cosmic Security, kidnapped Kiron's uncle with an eye toward killing the guy, and Kiron had taken it amiss.

            Now in the course of attempting to convince Brigit to go against her principles, I found Ramon alluding to the chain of events that led to recurring cycles of vengeance and recrimination between Amber and Ghenesh, intending to make the point that if we didn't snuff out the Kiron situation now that -   And in mid-sentence, Ramon shut up. The exact next thing he said to Brigit was, You're right, Thank you; and the very next thing he did was go off and try to give Kiron his uncle back. (You can't help it if some people are just _ungrateful_.) From outside, Ramon simply stopped talking and switched the subject. Brigit's player clearly thought Ramon was just a) giving up on bringing her around, and b) humoring her.

            From inside, I was filled with Ramon's realization that the road he had started down was Ghenesh all over again and that taking it would make him no better than the forebears to whom he so liked to condescend.   It was probably one of the three or four most enjoyable role-playing moments I've had. From an explorative viewpoint, it was close to the "best" roleplaying I've done. But while it led to behavior that "moved the action along" in a way others could see, the actual _role-playing_ was not really visible. As with your wife's Mage character, you'd have to hear about it afterwards.           What strikes me is that, from an outside perspective focused on Actor-based or Author-based standards, the whole thing might look like Bad Roleplaying. Hey, Ramon hates Kiron! And he wants to protect the secret of the World Tree. It makes sense that he kidnapped Kiron's uncle last session - that was _good_ roleplaying, because _we see_ that it fits with what we know of Ramon. But letting Kiron's uncle go is out of character. We need to penalize the player for his inconsistency.   That's why I am so hot on the question of whether actor stance and explorative stance are the same thing, and whether rewards should be based on actor assumptions.   Best,    Jim

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/28/01 9:10 AM

Lots of things here to reply to. Thanks for sharing some great insights with us Jim.   Let me go over the stance stuff first.


            I understand the RGFA view of what stance is (BTW, I can't find their stance stuff on Kim's site :\), and your examples of Immersive & Player highlight this well. However, this is currently at odds at what I use the term to mean. Nobodies definition is wrong, we'll just have to reterm certain things so we can communicate properly. In RPGs, everybody seeks to game, roleplay, and tell stories. The level of each that you try to achieve is represented by your current GENder (i.e. If you're feeling Gamist at the moment, the level might be 50% gaming, 40% roleplaying, and 10% storytelling, which are my brother's favoured levels).

            I use stance to determine how a player goes about achieving his current GENder goal.   Your use of Stance actually introduces a new level of playing goals, in the case of Actor Stance to display his character to those present, or to entertain the group.  My use of the term Actor Stance is somebody who uses IC (in-character) knowledge to achieve his character's goals. This is opposed by Author Stance, which is the use of OOC knowledge to achieve your player goals (determined by GEN).   The goal of presenting your character or entertaining the group (your definition of Actor Stance) is a player goal, and therefore Author stance to me. I believe this is what caused the differences in opinion in the Stance thread in the Sorcerer forum.   However, I believe your use of the term Actor to be more intuitive, so let me change my terms to:

Character Stance: Use of IC knowledge to achieve character goals.

Player Stance: Use of OOC knowledge to achieve player goals.

            I think that the difference in Player goals (shown by GEN) leads to the stance subtypes that RGFA offers. e.g. Token stance might really be Player Stance to support Gamist play. Actor stance might really be Player Stance to support Explorative play. Immersive stance might really be Character Stance to support Explorative play.   All games need Player Stance.  Narrative games use it to drive the adventure towards producing meaningful narrative. Explorative games use it to drive the adventure towards an interesting interaction between the characters and either other characters, components of the setting, or the situation they find themselves in.  Gamist RPGs use it to drive towards interesting challenges.

            The act of presenting your character to the group (RGFA definition of Actor Stance) is one method of Player Stance. The knowledge communicated could be used to drive towards an interesting interaction (Explorative play), or to produce meaningful narrative (Narrative play).   Take your Ramon example. If you had managed to communicate that knowledge to the group it could have greatly helped in producing narrative based on these themes of the recurring cycles of vengeance and recrimination between Amber and Ghenesh. That would have been great narrative play. However, I don't think communicating that knowledge about your character would have helped at all during an Exploration of Character game.

            Now, I'll be taking all of that and going over whether we should be rewarding the acheivement of player or character goals, and whether that reward should then be used to fuel the achievement of player or character goals. Quick examples: D&D rewards both types of goals, and XP mainly fuels the further achievement of both. Narrative games usually reward player goals and that reward fuels further achievement of player goals. First I'm gonna go sit in the sun :). (I'll most probably come back and edit this post a bit too.)

Re: GEN - The Six (yes, SIX) Modes

Supplanter (Jim Henley) 05/28/01 10:40 AM

            You sly dog, Jester, you are flipping stance terms around, but I think it is a useful intermediate step. You've taken 3 or 4 or however many specified stances and tried to boil them down to two ("player" and "character") and breed them with game types (GEN). This is in line with a thought this weekend's Forge discussions ( have been incubating in me, and it's all coming together.

            Now I didn't say character stance as opposed to player stance. I said Actor stance as opposed to Possessor stance, and later subbed in "Explorative" for Possessor. Others have been using Actor to cover both, on the theory that the key issue is whether or not OOC information is used. It is clear to me that there is much more about stance than the players use or abjuring of OOC info. It is clear to me that what I call Actor is one way of being "in character" and that what Kim calls Possessor is another way, and since if "stance" doesn't mean how a player stands in relation to his character then a theory of stance is going to be incomplete, then I can't accept a theory of stance that doesn't comprehend the difference between Actor and Possessor.

            For that matter, I can't accept a theory of stance that doesn't distinguish between Author and Token, and others can't accept a theory of stance that doesn't distinguish between Author and Director.   If you combine a bias that Author and Director really are different things with a bias that Actor and Possessor are not (that is, a Narrativist bias) with a fatal attraction to threefold symmetries, then you end up with Author/Director/Actor and, I submit, lose understanding.   Let's look at another kind of symmetry for an escape route: Ron is convinced that Author and Director are different stances. I see no difference other than degree, that if Director exists it is simply Author stance on steroids..

            Ron is convinced that Actor and Possessor are the same thing, that Possessor either doesn't exist or is simply a variant way of being "in character." I know for a fact Ron is wrong. I suspect that his own antipathy toward what he considers the hegemony of Actor stance leads him astray. Symmetry behooves me to decide that I must be wrong about Author and Director stance too. I am a better authority than Ron on explorative play and stances that support it. Ron is a better authority than I on narrative play and stances that support it.   So we are now at Author/Actor/Possessor/Director.

            I lack the interest to make a lengthy argument recovering token mode from author stance, so I'll make it quick: Story requires character. Game does not. There is actually a stronger case, which one builds from the fact that there is a lively tradition of argument over whether "sub-optimal" play is permissible. The hobby is full of gamists who consider "bad moves" in the name of character to be dilettantism. These people really exist, and what they are clearly saying is that it is the players duty to deploy their "piece" in the way that maximizes the chance of victory. (Usually it is clear they mean victory for "the party.") To these people, character is counterproductive.

             Author/Actor/Possessor/Director/Token. We are up to five, which is almost six, which would be twice three, which would maybe satisfy our threefold itch. If we can come up with a sixth stance, we can stop for the time being.   I'm calling the sixth stance "Dude."   Dude is the player as guy or gal among other guys and gals at a game. Dude fetches cokes. Dude decides not to have his character push on the door because he knows the GM hasn't designed that part of the dungeon yet. Dude doesn't kill the annoying magic user because the magic user's player has been having a bad week at work. Dude GM kills the Paladin because the paladin's player bugs everybody and they want him to go away. Dude is a power for good or evil. Dude is player as social being. Dude doesn't sever the connection of player and character, rather it subsumes character into the player's social goals.

            Symmetrically, it's the opposite of Possessor mode - instead of the character taking me over, I take it over. Dude is distinct from Token because my character is put in service of my personality, not just my tactical vision. Gamer chick joins group. Gamer guy is smitten. Guy's character goes out of his way to interact with Chick's character. In so doing, the character lowers his victory chance, violates previously-established norms of his personality, and throws the story way off track. Gamer Guy is in dude mode. Gamer chick joins group. Gamer guy has issues. His character goes out of his way to make life unpleasant for Gamer chick's character and Gamer chick herself, accomplishing some small, petty revenge for a lifetime of romantic disappointments. Gamer guy is in Dude mode.

            Question that has to be answered: Does "Dude" represent stance or dysfunction? My answer: Taxonomy must describe. Criticism may judge.

            Question: What game type would Dude mode most naturally align with? Answer: What type of game did my examples come from?   Thus, one can draw suggestive parallels between the six modes and your, Jester's, attempt to breed two "stances" (character and player) to three game types. There are two "natural" modes per game type:   Explorative: Actor, Possessor  Narrative: Author, Director  Gamist: Token, Dude   Which is not, not NOT to say that Explorative games don't admit of author or token mode or that Narrative games preclude Actor or Dude stance or that Gamism can never countenance Actor or Director.

            As a SWAG, I would list the grossest incompatibilities as   Explorative: Dude  Narrative: Possessor  Gamist: Actor   I confess that that list is absolutely influenced by an itch to have unique "grossest incompatibilities" per stance though.

Best,    Jim

Re: GEN - The Six (yes, SIX) Modes

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 05/28/01 12:31 PM

            Damn Jim more great stuff to ponder, I'm glad you made the trip over. Since you're in Silver Spring, and I'm up here in Frederick maybe we should get together for a pint sometime.   The problem I'd had with GNS almost from the first, is that I found it difficult to find myself in it. When Jester started codifying his GEN model the light went off..."yeah, thats me" the more I talk to people the more I suspect that "explorers" (of which ever flavor) may, in fact, be one of the most numerous categories of gamer out there.

            When you ask about where Simulation is to be found, what use of the word are you referring to? Simulation the way a wargamer and the rest of gaming society would mean it it? Or Simulation as the Turkus think of it. I've worked up some ideas about incorporating the former into the model based on the idea that far more people are familiar with that use of the word. The Turkus might be an interesting case. I don't know enough about them to determine if they are just extremely into Exploration of character or something else entirely. Since this model is primarily intended for practical application, that style of play may be too much of a minority incorporate yet.

            We had tossed around a number of ideas for Exploration rewards, on that we kept coming back to was in fact, that perhaps the exploration was its own reward. It is certainly important to look at not only what type of play a particular mechanic might encourage, but what type it discourages as well.

            In your commentary on stances I follow along most of it.  Token was a style I'd heard mentioned but not really discussed before, but I can definitely see where that is a real stance. For pseudo RPGs like Hero Quest and most PC RPGs its is the only real stance. I did not have a word for it before, but I'd often felt that style of play (which in olden times we just called bad roleplaying) was on the decline the farther from its wargaming roots RPGs got. Now, however, with PC roleplaying and online games like Everquest commanding far more players than most table top RPGs I see it making a "come-back". After all, the vast majority of Everquest players play in Token mode at least some of the time. In fact, I believe that there is even a way to designate you character as currently playing "in character" vs the more usual mode of play.

            Possesser is also a little new to me. Does this refer to a level of Immersion or is this going back to you "Seeker" stance comment (which by the way you brought up and didn't return to).   As for the Dude stance, I got a bit of a chuckle out of it as I can certainly recall seeing it in action (even being it myself). Tieing back to a topic from the Forge, where we were discussing social dynamics in gaming, I offer the following idea.

            Perhaps the sixth stance is "Social" for periods when the primary mode of playing is social interaction. This would be different from having social interaction as the primary *motivation* for playing. I suspect that Token stance is the stance most often used by players who are primarily interested in socializing with other players.   Dude, then might be a subset of Social. Observer, might also be a subset of Social referring to those people who show up because they're happy to hang out (or they're significant others trying to find a way to spend some additional time with their partner, or perhaps their just having a real bad day). They aren't really there to play and lack the motivation to even think of their character as a vital game piece in Token stance.

            On a related note, we've only just begun digging into the implications of Stance in the GEN model. Perhaps, if we stray too far from the groundwork that has been laid before we might want to use the term "mode" as opposed to "stance" to avoid conflicting definitions. Mode is also a term that suggests it can be switched (as in an electronic device with several modes) which would be appropriate for impying that Actor Mode and Author Mode, etc can be switched between for example. Just a random idea that just popped into my head.

Re: GEN - The Six (yes, SIX) Modes

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/28/01 12:32 PM

            This is another one of those debates I wish would branch off onto it's own thread, as it affects all aspects of the GEN model. Should have thought of that before doing that last post :).   Yes I'm trying to show that all of the stances offered by RGFA are actually the results of breeding GEN with Character and Player stance, which basically deconstructs everything to say that you are either dealing with IC or OOC concerns.   I see the RGFA submissions not exactly as stances, but different implementation methods (or modes) of Character/Player stance.

            I believe that there is probably more than one method (and maybe even several) of implementing a particular stance with a particular goal. That is, you probably won't see each gaming goal (GEN) having an equal number of methods (as suggested by your 'natural modes per game' idea), and you may see more than one method of, say, Player stance for a particular GENder.  The different methods are most probably based on communicating and using different types of game content information (character/setting/situation).

            The Actor and Possessor methods both deal solely with Character information, but one is an implemention of Player stance, the other of Character stance. Communicating or internalising Character information is probably not of great use in a game focused on Setting or Situation (of any GENder), and thus this stance may not be of great use there. However, in Character based games, it is of prime use.  Also, some methods are not exclusive to only one goal.   For example, Actor mode, as defined by RGFA and being to me a method of Player Stance, is of equal use in both Narrative and Explorative games. You can use it to communicate information to further the character-interactions (Exploration of Character) or to give meaning and explanation to the narrative being created.

            Token stance, to me, is about abstracting a character so much that it only supports the player's goal. We do this in some gamist RPGs, abstracting a character to simply his effectiveness in overcoming obstacles ("Shit, we need healing. Someone roll up a Cleric!"). I know it also occurs in narrative games, where a persona is abstracted to only it's narrative potential. I also do this exploratively with some NPCs, particularly with a certain gnome necromancer called the Bonekeeper. The NPCs existence is purely to promote fun roleplaying. I don't know anything about his personality really, I just make him do amusing things that the party can then interact with. Valamir's City Guide, submitted in his Alryia post, is a token character: abstracted to purely his ability to facilitate the exploration of the setting.

            There are also narrative players who find a high level of characterisation just as counterproductive as some gamist players. Where it gets in the way of overcoming challenges for a gamist, it gets in the way of producing narrative. Also note, that some Exploratives players also find it is counterproductive, because they are most interested in Setting & Situation. What this leads me to recognise is that token play is a method implemented in any GENder of game, as long as that game doesn't prioritise the Character part of game content (prioritising Setting or Situation instead).  This is distinguished from "Dude" stance, because the character is put in the service of the player goal (GEN). You have experienced this character in tactical gamist RPGs, hence understand it's use to support somebody's tactical vision. I think if you look closely though, you'll see token characters in all forms of roleplaying.  Token is therefore a method of implementing Player stance, usable in games of any GENder.

            I am very interested in seeing the various methods of implementing stance outlined in a new "Stance Methods" threads. What is also important is recognising how the different methods can support the GENder of a game, which methods are best at supporting a particuler GENder, which methods are incompatible with certain GENders, etc. What isn't important at all is creating a symmetrical model of method applied to stance.

            The concept of "Director" is not a stance to me, nor a method of implementing stance. I believe it is a measure of Directorial power available to the players, a point I raised in the Sorcerer stance debate. Directorial power can be present in any GENder of game, and I believe to either stance. Some methods of implementing stance may rule out the use of Directorial power, or only be possible with it's use.

            Now, lets deal with Dude method. This definately exists, and I believe is a method of Player stance, as it functions to achieve a goal of the player. However, the goals that Dude method aim to achieve are not any of the goals put forward by the GEN model as viable roleplaying goals (gaming, roleplaying, storytelling). Although Dude method does occur at the gaming table, I believe it should be covered by a model which deals with the interaction of social groups, whether those social groups be roleplayers, wargamers, a cricket club, a fishing group, a family unit, etc. In short, Dude method is completely independent of any other concern put forward by models particular to the roleplaying hobby, and therefore should not be portrayed in those models, even though it plays an important part in the functionality of roleplaying groups.

            On abstraction of character, you remember back in the day playing AD&D when you would start roleplaying in depth with all of the NPCs you met, and you started annoying certain other players? They were annoyed because your "pointless" roleplaying was taking up time that could either be used to overcome challenges, in the creation of narrative, or dealing with all those zombies running around. Heavy amount of Characterisation is needed for any game which focuses on the Character element of game content. I point you to the "Using the GENder Model" thread for a current debate on how a game should promote the richness (or lack thereof) of game content.

            Another thread that I'll be starting soon is about mechanics that aid the communication of character personality. If a game doesn't support a stance method to do this, I believe that mechanics should do so (only if communication of personality is important of course). One of Alyria's core mechanic is based on this type of communication. This is why I believe Alyria supports Setting-Narration and Exploration of Character most fully as playing styles. You just need to slightly adjust the reward mechanic to make it better support Exploration of Character.  As you state, Amber does not support characterisation at all. I haven't read Amber so I'm not sure if it's completely devoid of this. However, I've got an idea that the resolution mechanic requires a character-focused stance method (such as Possessor or Actor) which is what creates this level of characterisation.

Re: GEN - The Two (yes, Two) Stances. No idea how many modes though

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/28/01 1:12 PM

            Beat me by 1 minute Stouty :). A lot of my thoughts on your stuff are in my reply to Jim. I'll point them out or add new thoughts here. For the whole Dude method and Social side of gaming, I still think that the ideas which govern how this works apply to *all* social groups, and thus are not part of a model which specifically looks at RPGs. Yes I also got a laugh out of the examples given. My brother and I started LARPing with a large group when we were about 9 & 8. All of the other players were at least 10 years older than the pair of us and a rather equal mix of gender (and GENder ;)). A lot of them were rather attractive so with the amount of practice I've had I must be the dude stance master :). My brother just said "No, you're the arse master. There's a difference". He's good at Cartman quotes like that :).   As for your submission of the term "mode", I'm perfectly happy with that. My last post was all about Character/Player stance and Actor/Possessor/Token/etc method/mode.

Re: GEN - Explorative Rewards

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/28/01 1:45 PM

            Answering Valamir's point on Exploration being the reward in itself I'll submit this.   In the other 2 styles of play (Narrative & Explorative), you usually see (in a functioning group) the enjoyment of the style as a group.  Everyone pitches in with the correct mix powers to overcome the challenges together in Gamist RPGs(K, we need 1 Barbarian, 1 Valkyrie, 1 Elf, and a Wizard. Who wants to play what?). In Narrative games you're meant to create and appreciate aspects of the story as a group. With the current mechanics and stance methods being incorporated in Explorative games, this coming together as a group to enjoy the exploration seems somewhat diminished.  I think it's mainly down to communication. Mechanics and stance methods communicate information.

            We used to have huge AD&D games where there would be 3+ thieves in the party. All of them wanted to be the guy at the front of the party checking for traps, detecting noises at doors etc. Of course, you ended up with 1 or 2 thieves doing this, with the rest mingling around, getting bored, and finally pickpocketing the rest of the party, causing arguments, then backstabbing people. After a bit we realised to use the communicative abilities of certain mechanics. My character sheet says I'm a thief. It communicates this to other people so they know to not also be a thief. Or if they are, my current thief skill levels communicate to them to specialise in something else (like picking locks or sneaking).  The same happens in my Narrative games. One character communicates to everybody else that he is going to be playing the "Mysterious Shaolin Man" narrative role: everybody else play something else.

            In Explorative (specifically Character Exploration in this example) games, there should be a mechanic to communicate your character's personality to the other's, so that they not only pick a different personality type, but so that they also pick a personality type that will create interestig interactions with the other characters.  The explorative players in my group came up with 2 methods of aiding this type of idea:

            A: Mechanics which communicate what you are experiencing and what you want to experience to the other players. This allows them to appreciate what you are internally enjoying in Character stance, and also to allow them to use Player stance to create more interesting interactions that involve your character.

            B: When your character isn't currently involved in "screentime", you shift to Player stance to communicate this information yourself (ie, shift from Possessor mode to Actor mode). Depending on what element of the game content the RPG is concerned with determines whether Directorial Power is also required.   What this aims to achieve is the group as a whole enjoying the exploration, not just each individual enjoying it by himself. Even though I constantly do this when I play exploratively, I find it can be a bit selfish, especially if, through lack of communication, someone's character type doesn't become properly engaged.  

            Going with method A, reward could be given for roleplaying through some exploration of personality, this reward being spent on the mechanical change of the character. The mechanical change communicates what you have internalised to the rest of the group. This method is used in Alyria for Character details. The Character details communicated could be used for either Explorative or Narrative benefit. Alyria also used Method B to communicate Setting details for Narrative benefit. As the mechanics for Method B are more pronounced than those for Method A, I believe the system is more geared towards Setting-based Narrative. Of course, just for Jim and Valamir, I'll offer some hints on how to make the Method A mechanics more pronounced to support their more Explorative tastes :).

Re: GEN - Explorative

Mytholder (Gareth Hanrahan) 05/28/01 4:55 PM

            SJ asked me to comment on this thread.   I can only applaud. The boy done good.   I'll just suggest that from a GM's point of view, "Simulation" is still a better word for the style of play. The GM provides a simulation of a world, which the players then explore....but that's a minor nitpick at most.

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/28/01 6:19 PM

            He did suggest it, and we went over it on IRC till our heads hurt. I put forward that the simulation a GM and the rules provides can be used for overcoming challenges, exploring something (character/situation/setting), or for producing narrative. He disagreed. Then he went to bed. We haven't talked since.

Re: GEN - The Six (yes, SIX) Modes

Supplanter (Jim Henley) 05/28/01 8:25 PM

Damn Jim more great stuff to ponder, I'm glad you made the trip over. Since you're in Silver Spring, and I'm up here in Frederick maybe we should get together for a pint sometime.

            Sure! I resent the fact that you're all the way up in Frederick, though. As I mentioned on another thread, I'm hankering to get a more Maryland-based group of gamers than the Amber bunch to try some off-the-beaten-path games that have been intriguing me. (I must play Tree's Heart Dynasty as soon as possible!)

            When you ask about where Simulation is to be found, what use of the word are you referring to? Simulation the way a wargamer and the rest of gaming society would mean it? Or Simulation as the Turkus think of it.   The latter, I suppose. Really in the rgfa sense, because there, quite a lot of gamers who cared put quite a lot of thought and spent quite a lot of words making clear what they meant by simulation. I find the game types in that model best glossed with just a little lit-crit terminology:

            Gamism foregrounds contest, including fair play; Dramatism (the term at the time) foregrounds the structure of the action; and Simulationism foregrounds the integrity of the game world.   One might prefer to just say Narrativism/Dramatism foregrounds story. You could also frame it in terms of just what flavor of "Let's Pretend" we are up to:   Gamists act as if "winning fair and square" has value. ("Fair and square" is a vital component.)

            Narrativists act as if they are creating a story.   Simulationists act as if the game world and its events are real.   For simulationist players, substitute "character" for "game world," but simulationist players prize game world integrity because if the world is fake and their character exists in the world, what does that make their character?   And by golly, if "seeker mode" wasn't pretentious enough, try this on for size: The three styles represent ontologies of Striving (Gamism), Action (Narrativism) and Being (Simulationism).   * * *  

            I have to chuckle at your bringing up that the threefold-model use of the word "simulation" is at variance with the traditional meaning of the term. I believe I was the first person to use the term "gamism" on rgfa. Prior to that there was a two-fold model, with simulation at one end and drama at another. I am owed no credit for this, because I introduced it as a kind of complaint that "simulationism" as people were using it made no reference to the quality of the simulation; that is, it had no standard for how accurate the model was. So I said what you're really talking about is "gamism," making the game internally consistent. I was, in short, being snarky. I was just back to gaming after a decade's layoff, and just before the layoff began I was running what one would call narrativist superhero campaigns using the great DC Heroes system. (The original.) I didn't like these hoity-toity simulationists at all!   I was also wrong.

            What they meant by simulation was clearly articulated (No Metagame Factors in In-Game Decisions!), and they had good reasons for leaving out standards for the "realism" of the model. However, some of them, in patiently explaining this to me, decided that the throwaway term Gamism did have some use. They did the necessary non-snarky work of creating a concept to stick under the term and the threefold model followed. What I like about Jester's substitution of Explorative was that, even in the pre-Ron model, there was a way in which Simulation was the odd stance out, despite the prevalence of simulationists on rgfa. Look at it:   In gamism, we try to overcome fair challenges.   In narrativism (dramatism) we try to create a shapely story.   In simulationism we try to preserve the integrity of the game world.   Simulation's definition is the only one that is cast in the form of a negation. It could be a Commandment: Thou Shalt Not violate the integrity of the game world. It is not that negative injunctions are bad, it's just that they give no special hint at what one actually does.   "So what did your Ars Magica group do last Friday?"   "We successfully preserved the integrity of the game world!"   "Party on, dude!"   "Exploration" seems a good term for what those gamers inclined to simulation in the rgfa sense would actually do gaming. After all, to explore something it has to exist.

Possesser is also a little new to me. Does this refer to a level of Immersion or is this going back to your "Seeker" stance comment (which by the way you brought up and didn't return to).

            Possessor was John Kim's term, I think. It would map to Immersion to Ellayijtist to Seeker. "Seeker" is probably a worse term than the others. Possessor preserves a grammatical parallelism with Actor and Author that "immersive" or "deep in-character" don't, hence the attraction.   Dude, then might be a subset of Social. Observer, might also be a subset of Social referring to those people who show up because they're happy to hang out (or they're significant others trying to find a way to spend some additional time with their partner, or perhaps their just having a real bad day). They aren't really there to play and lack the motivation to even think of their character as a vital game piece in Token stance.

            But but - ! We've gotta have exactly six! ;)   Perhaps, if we stray too far from the groundwork that has been laid before we might want to use the term "mode" as opposed to "stance" to avoid conflicting definitions. Mode is also a term that suggests it can be switched (as in an electronic device with several modes) which would be appropriate for impying that Actor Mode and Author Mode, etc can be switched between for example. Just a random idea that just popped into my head.   Mode it is! I am off to write a manifesto, to be translated into Finnish, propounding the conviction that it must be mode...   You know, all kidding aside, if I recollect properly there was at least one Finnish participant on rgfa back in the day. I am thinking about transmission vectors now.   Best,    Jim

Re: GEN - Explorative

fleetingGlow (Tim K.) 05/29/01 12:00 PM

Melchie's suggestions are in total agreement with one of my players. He loves being given the directorial power to choose what he gets to explore next.  Other rewards: More screen time? Gold stars on your character sheet? Yay! I'm a star roleplayer! :). The last slice of pizza? The greater world visibly reacting to the actions of the character?

            Most games assume that characters will get better and learn in the course of multiple gaming sessions. However when playing in an exploratative mode, why would characters advance in this way at all? By changing the skills etc. that a character knows aren't you changing the character that you wish to explore?   Instead of advancing a character why not alter that characters personality? This may only apply to explor/char but it's a suggestion. In other words if a character has certain goals or personality traits, don't give him points to spend on his skills, but instead change the degree of his personality traits in some way, or the nature of his goals.   Would this really be a reward though? I'm not sure.  ---  Tim C K  fleetingGlow <>  From the Desk & Mind <>  TiCK's Shadowrun Page

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/29/01 5:59 PM

            Hiya Fleety, yes that's exactly what Method A described above aims to do. Reward is spent on the mechanical change of the character (in this case the mechanical change of personality traits). The personality traits communicate the character to the other players, hopefully allowing the group to work together towards their explorative goals, which is hopefully the reward.   Great pics on your site! :)

Re: GEN - Explorative

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 05/29/01 6:27 PM

            It's funny. I looked right at this post and didn't even recognize a precise description of what Alyria does.   I must be tired.  Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: GEN - Explorative

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/29/01 10:13 PM

            I gotta be subtle sometimes :).

Simulative/Abstract Mechanics & Game-Specific Mechanics

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/26/01 7:08 PM

            Sorry for a starting a new thread but this is a whole different topic of conversation independent of the Explorative nature of a game. For those newcoming to this thread, this is a continuation of the points raised in the "GEN - Explorative" thread in this forum. Ship has been jumped just as Val put up the Design for Cause/Effect argument.


            OK Val. That's a great argument. I see exactly what you're saying, and it definately looks more correct than what I was saying.

Simulation as You Defined

            Yes, I use the term like this myself, and should have done so again here. Using computer games as a quick example, Mechwarrior is obviously not reality, but the game is still a simulation: it feels realistic. I call it a simulation myself. You give this example for science fiction and magic as reality in your post. I'm in full agreement. The use of the term that way is more intuitive and accurate, and more importantly easier to recognise and implement in game design, and easier in recognising in a product you'd choose to support your style of play for a game you would run.

            So we're saying that: Simulation = Realistic = Design for Cause?   Do we see that games from across the whole GEN model can incorporate this design philosophy, from Rolemaster (combat) to Ars Magica (magic) to Sorcerer (demon summoning)? Do we see (or should see) the most detailed simulative mechanics being used/required in Tactical Gamist RPGs, or is GENder really no sign of detail/complexity?

Simulation as I Defined

            Taking Simulation how I meant it (which, as noted above, I'm perfectly happy to concede to another term; see below), we have mechanics which match/communicate the particular genre/setting/core concepts of a particular game.  Why do you say that this is primarily an explorative concern? It may be the what you think these mechanics communicate.   Let me try to find a better definition. I'm open to ideas on what label to give to these mechanics. In the meantime I'll use the label "game-specific". This label is temporary, and is used because these types of mechanic communicate "game-specific" concepts, such as humanity, virtues/vices etc. (Nearly called them "the mechanics formerly known as simulative".)   "Game-specific" mechanics communicate the core concepts of a game to it's players. The core concepts define what the game 'is about', and they arise from how the game content (Character/Setting/Situation) is used.

            Games from across the GEN model use game content differently to form the core concepts of a game: Narrative games focus on the storytelling potential offered; Explorative games focus on the roleplaying potential offered; Gamist games focus on the challenges that are offered and the ways to overcome these challenges.   Therefore:  Narrative "game-specific" mechanics communicate what the stories created are about. e.g. The game-specific Virtue mechanics at the heart of the Alyria system communicate that the stories told are to be about the battle between good and evil and what it is like to be a man of virtue assaulted by the corruption in the world around him.

            Explorative "game-specific" mechanics communicate what is to be explored. e.g. Vampire's humanity mechanics (...attempt to...) show that this game is about the character exploration of the degradation of your humanity as a vampire. I also point to Pendragon's Virtue/Vices.  Gamist "game-specific" mechanics communicate how the challenges that occur are to be approached. e.g. D&D's feat mechanics, Shadowrun's tactical combat mechanics etc.   What seems to arise from this definition is that "game-specific" mechanics can be either simulative or abstract and of any weight. However, they all seem to form the core "flavour" of a game. (maybe we should call them flavour mechanics :)?))

            Now, does this overall definition seem right? I'll doubt we'll get it first time over, but I believe it's a start.   Based on this definition, what I propose is that for a game to "succeed", the "game-specific" mechanics should be the most pronounced in a game. D&D3e works as a power gaming RPG because it's level and feats system are so pronounced during gameplay compared to it's narrative and explorative mechanics. Notice how AD&D2e tried to incorporate tactical gaming mechanics. These muddied the game's focus. Shadowrun's mechanics, OTOH, do not support the core concepts of the game, whether they be power gaming (based on those lovely full-colour archetypes) or adventure gaming (based on the mission setup). However, I could be wrong. If shadowrun's core concept is "Who's got the biggest gun?!" then it's does rather well as a system :).

            Vampire fails because it's explorative & narrative mechanics sink below it's power gaming mechanics. MERP (for me) fails because it's tactical gaming combat mechanics completely swamp any explorative mechanics it may have. Pendragon aims to explore the feeling of Authurian Myth. I believe it's core Virtue/Vice mechanics support this goal. I believe Pendragon has a number of mechanics that do *not* support this goal, but as they are not as pronounced as the ones that do, the game still works.

            A practical question for all game designers is therefore "How do I make these mechanics the most pronounced?". I'm not sure of every method possible, but for a start you should make sure that your Reward Mechanics communicate the core concepts of your game. As said in the introduction of the GEN articles, reward mechanics usually communicate the GENder and core concepts of a game more than any other type.   I now push you back into the GEN - Explorative to come up with ideas on how Explorative reward mechanics should be handled :).   Your description of Design for Cause/Effect reminded me of a funny example I'll never forget (though I forget where I heard it). A group of AD&D players couldn't be bothered rolling for wanderning monsters, playing through the fight, and looting the bodies, so cut that all out and just rolled "Wandering Damage", ticked off the hit points, got given some treasure and carried on gaming :).

Re: Simulative/Abstract Mechanics & Game-Specific Mechanics

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 05/26/01 9:09 PM

            Im glad I got my idea across. Sometimes it takes me a couple of tries to figure out how best to translate thoughts into a form others not currently inside my head can follow (and yes there are several of us in here at the moment).   I'd say you've got what I was going for precisely. I was thinking of Game Specific mechanics as being primarily Setting Specific which is why I was limiting them to Explorative play. But broadening the idea to the other styles I think works well. And yes, I'd say it is these mechanics that are primarily concerned with conveying the flavor of the game and as a general rule are probably the least portable.

             I think that to date, the majority of Simulation mechanics have in fact been found in the Tactical Gamist arena. I suspect this is due to roleplaying's roots in wargaming. Combat being the principle activity being simulated in a wargame, it stands to reason that it is the principle activity seen simulated in a roleplaying game.   I also think it is probably the EASIEST thing to simulate. Even if the designers didn't draw on actual physics and just made the numbers up, simulated combat boils down to forces, impacts and material strengths. In other words, hard science. Hard science will always be the easiest thing to simulate.

            In Ars Magica, Hermetic magic is very scientific in approach and thus can similarly be simulated. Other scientifically quantifiable or pseudo quantifiable items can also be simulated. Such areas are probably the easiest places to locate the tell tale signs of whether a game uses simulationist mechanics. By these I'd include things like falling damage, fire damage, drowning, measureing injury, healing, and character improvement through training. In most of these cases it is quickly obvious whether the rules are abstracted, attempts at simulation, or completely absent.

            Softer sciences should be more difficult to simulate because they are more difficult in reality to quantify. Since much of roleplaying outside of combat involves psychology and human relations it is likely that game mechanics that address these issues (like SAN in CoC) will normally tend to be more abstract. This also probably means that non combat simulation will be hard to accomplish.

            I do think there is something to be said for the definition of simulation that points to cause and effect. If the actual cause of an effect can be identified and measured, it theoretically should be simulatable.   There is likely some grey area between whether a mechanic is simulative or game specific and many will indeed be both. Most likely if one has arrived at this point one already has all of the information one needs to evaluate the game and is starting to split hairs too fine.

            For example: Take an RPG based on real cops which includes rules for all manner of real cop stuff...odds of being granted a warrant from a particular judge, odds of getting unscathed through an IA investigation into a shots fired event, hours spent on paperwork, building a network of relationships in the "fraternity" etc. These are clearly Game Specific mechanics meant to convey the flavor of the setting...real world police activity. Are they "simulating a cop's job?" In my oppinion probably not because I'd prefer to limit simulation to actually scientifically quantifyable type stuff. But practically speaking...does it really matter to the model? Does knowing the answer offer any further insight that enhances ones analysis of the game...doubt it, so its probably not worth worrying about.

            Your summary of the nature of Game-specific / Flavor mechanics seems right on the money to me and you are quite correct in observing that they could be simulative or abstract in execution.   This probably isn't the thread for it, but since Pendragon is my all time favorite RPG, you'll have to explain at some point what parts of its mechanics are less successful at conveying Arthuring Myth.   Love that AD&D anecdote. That is PURE Design for Effect...skip to the end and tell me the results :-) With that in mind one can probably rule that all Fortune in the Middle mechanics (which we haven't discussed yet here) as being Design for Effect, while Fortune at the End would be the primary mechanic used for Design for Cause purposes.

Using the GENder Model - Extremely Rough Guide

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/24/01 6:11 PM

            I was nearly finished on writing a massive post off the top of my head and accidentally clicked refresh and lost it all. It was all a stream of data that my group is currently talking about. Therefore, I'm put up a quick summary of the ideas we're working on here, and put up a finished cohesive thread when our ideas are solidified based on your feedback.   The "Get Valamir Unbored!" thread has veered from "pre-packaged worlds" to "adventure design". That's great because the latter topic is much more interesting.

            I've been told that the GENder model is pretty useless for game design, because it's all to do with how games are played, not how they are designed. The point is, the way games are played *dictates* how they should be designed. Your current discussion on how to set up an adventure highlights this. Jesse, you aren't designing adventures backwards. You're just interested in different things, and using a different method. What is absolutely vital is that the adventure design method is communicated from the game design to the players. I shall quick ly explain.   GO is full of Game Designers. They all go "I've got this great game idea...blah blah blah blah". I say "Woah there punchnuts! I don't wanna know all that. I only need to know 3 things:"

            What do you play? CHARACTER  What do you do? SITUATION  Where do you do it? SETTING

            Please note how the answers to those questions can determine what subset of Explorative gaming the RPG would have, as well as it's Narrative subset (which are identical to those of Exploration: Narrative based on Character/Setting/Situation). Which ever answer grabs you the most, or is supported most by the game material (text and rules), determines the games subset.   In the big post I was streaming out I had gone into each branch of the GENder model, and each subset, highlighting how different RPGs approach Character/Setting/Situation differently. Instead I'll super-summarise the overarching model to game design.


            Gaming, Roleplaying, and Storytelling are the 3 activities that combine together to make RPGs. It is the combination level that determines a game's GENder. A game's GENder is a representation of how a game should be played. This should be communicated to the players by the reward mechanics of a system.

            Subnote 1   Game Content  Character, Setting, and Situation are the 3 core building blocks that combine together to make the content of all RPGs. It is the combination level that determines a game's emphasis. A game's emphasis is a representation of what the content of an adventure will deal with.

GENder & Game Content

            The different Game Content components are used differently across the GENder model. Gamist RPGs use Setting and Situation to give rise to meaningful challenges, and use Character to give concepts for different ways of overcoming those obstacles (Fighter = Direct Force, Rogue = Stealth and Guile, Mage = Magical Powers). Explorative games look for interesting roleplaying potential that the 3 may offer, while Narrative RPGs look for how these elements can offer narrative ideas.   Not many games do this, which is why most RPGs are flawed.

            Jesse designs games from a Situation bias. He comes up with an interesting Situation for his adventure. Communicating this to his players, they should understand that they should write up characters that fit into this situation, that want to either Solve this situation (Gamist), Explore this Situation (Explorative), or create the story of that situation (Narrative). But you've got to communicate the Situation idea to them to get them interested. Situational adventure design also encompasses the idea of "normal people swept up in greater events" idea of adventure design. 

            Valamir describes the Character-emphasis approach. His players come up with Characters with interesting goals, and he creates adventures based on those goals. He could also approach that from any 1 of the 3 GENder biases.  You can of course take the Setting-emphasis approach: here is an interesting setting; come up with characters that would react well with it.

            I'll throw out some examples of RPGs that highlight how GENder affects the use of the Character/Setting/Situation priority. I'll also pick out some games that should have been done completely differently. Please note, I'm not saying that, say, Earthdawn is Gamist with a Setting priority in these examples, just using the game to highlight how different GENdered games use the game content building blocks differently.  

Character with Gamist GENder - D&D3e

            Make no doubt, D&D3e is probably the most detailed Power Gaming RPG with a Character emphasis on the market. With access to all of the rulebooks, including books which add greater depth to the classes such as Sword & Fist, and books which introduce entirely new class concepts such as the Psionicists Handbook, no other Power Gaming RPG can answer "What can I play?" so diversely. Each class offers a different set of powers and abilities to approach challenges with, each new setting they release for it offers new in-game reasons for those challenges to arise, and each new adventure released (which as can be seen is fucking thousands!) offers new situations *filled* with those challenges.

Character with Gamist GENder - Shadowrun

            If D&D3e offers the most diverse answer to the Character question, Shadowrun probably answers it the best. Open up your copy of Shadowrun and turn to those full-colour pages with the Character Archetypes on them. These lumped both Race and Profession in to one, with each archetype brilliantly communicating exactly what it had to offer the party in the way of overcoming challenges.

            You pick up Shadowrun, and the main thing that interests you is your Character. Street Samurai, Deckers, Shamans...fantastic stuff. Where does Shadowrun fail? By attaching a totally Tactical Gaming system to it all. You come up with a brilliant character concept, which is totally skuppered by weapon modifiers, light levels, wound effects. Drives me bonkers. Shadowrun should either:

            1) introduce a Power Gaming system allowing you to super nashwan your character;

            2) try to shift focus to the missions that you actually take on, and adopt a lighter power/tactical hybrid system.

I took the 2nd option when I ran Shadowrun, because I based my campaign on the old Amiga computer game Syndicate. The players were all members of an organisation that fixed things. I would give them the brief printed out in a brown envelope; eg Assassinate the Mayor's daughter. They would then come up with characters to fit that mission. But see how that moves Shadowrun away from emphasising Character to emphasising Situation? See how if FASA had the GENder model, with notes on how it relates to Character/Setting/Situation they would have produced a brilliant game?

Setting with Gamist GENder - Earthdawn

            Earthdawn is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. Thousands of years ago, demons invaded the world, forcing the inhabitants in to vast dungeon-like cairns. Now that the demonic powers have receded somewhat, the cairns start to reopen, and the brave set out to contact other cairns and to rebuild the world. Of course, some of the cairns didn't keep the demons out, and now you've got a massive dungeon with creatures crawling through it, a *reason* for it to be there, and a *reason* for the characters to journey in to it.  Fantastic Gamist Setting design!

Explorative GENder & Character Emphasis - Legend of the Five Rings

            First time I ran Legend of the Five Rings I had 1 player. He said "What can I play?". I showed him the full colour pages with the clan details on them. That brilliantly answered his question. Each clan offered a completely different roleplaying opportunity. As the group swelled to 7 players, each playing characters from different clans (well, there were 2 scorpions), the roleplaying really took off.  Now, I wouldn't actually say that L5R has a complete character emphasis at all. If anything, what attracted *me* to the game was the Setting. I've mentioned in the "GEN - Explorative" thread why I think this, and what aspects of L5R attracted me and my players.  However, you can't deny that L5R (and 7th Sea for that matter, maybe more so with the quality of art on those pages), can very definately answer "What can I play?" from a very explorative viewpoint.  I would use these as models for your own Explorative games.

Explorative GENder & Setting Emphasis - Blue Planet

            Blue Planet is a brilliant example of an RPG as both something to copy, and a lesson on how not to fuck it all up. Blue Planet is undeniably a game about Exploration of Setting. This is solely summed up in the peice of fiction called "Poseidon: A Survival Guide". This describes (from an in-character perspective) travelling from Earth to Poseidon (the Blue Planet of the game title), and your first day there. Reading this, I knew from the description of coming out of deep-sleep that I wanted to *be* in this world, to live in it, and experience. That's impossible of course, but that's why we have the Explorative branch of RPGs :).

            However, this peice firmly shows Blue Planet's dedication to Setting, as it introduces the raw stage details, the technology, the mindset and philosophy of the setting, and superbly hints at the underlying premises, themes, and mood of the game. If you don't own Blue Planet, read this peice of fiction, and the game will most probably go right on your shopping list. Barber, if you're reading this, put this fiction up on the website, because it's a real game seller.  Where did Blue Planet V1 go wrong? By whacking on one of the most unweidly Tactical gaming systems ever devised, which had little joy in communicating the game's setting to the players.

            There are a large number of RPGs which attempt to be explorative, and attach Tactical gaming systems to them, giving rise to the term "Simulative". "Simulative" RPGs are actually Gamist/Explorative hybrids, and the majority of them *fail* as RPGs because of this. If you want a tactical view of overcoming challenges, then go Gamist, make overcoming those challenges the emphasis of your game, thus justifying your decision to attach heavy tactical systems to your RPG.  I haven't read Blue Planet V2, but I've heard only good words about the new system, nearly all mentioning the lightness of it compared to the old system. Good job Fantasy Flight Games!

Explorative GENder & Situation Emphasis - All Flesh Must Be Eaten & Twilight 2000

            OK, all you people approaching adventure design from a Character bias listen up, and Jesse, you can feel validated by this :).  There should be much much more games with Situational emphasis. The Situation should be stated clearly on the back of the product, and should make you go "Wow! What would it be like to be in that predicament?!". Examples include "Zombie Holocaust!". Everybody in the world around you, people you used to work with, socialise with, make love with, are now flesh-eating zombies!

            That predicament fills me with questions. Can I turn them back to human? Are there other people still human like me? How do I escape this zombie holocaust of doom?  Notice how generic that situation is. There is no mention of Character or Setting at all. This is exactly what Jesse tries to achieve. Examples of applying setting include:  Dawn of the Dead (Film): You're in a crowded urban environment when everyone turns into zombies.

            System Shock 2 (Computer Game): You wake up from cryosleep on a spaceship far from earth, and everyone has turned into zombies.   As AFMBE highlights, you can plug any setting idea, and appropriate character concepts, into that situation. It achieves this by describing the situation, giving the rules for various zombies, then supplying numerous setting plugins to play in. Absolutely fantastic Situation design. I haven't read the rules to determine whether they suitably support and communicate AFMBE's priorities though. If anybody owns the game, I'd love to know if it does.

            Now, Twilight 2000 also *should* be Exploration of Situation. The situation is you're stranded in eastern Europe at the end of World War III, and must try to return to America, leaving Europe to rot (you can tell this game was written by Americans ;) ). The character concepts you play are all military types, and the setting is your standard post-WW3 setting, but the situation presented to the players is clearly defined.

            Players should create characters that share the same goal as the game's expressed Situation goal.  Where does Twilight 2000 fuck up? That's right, by whacking a stupidly detailed tactical gamist system onto the side of a brilliant Exploration of Situation idea. Don't fall in to this trap with your own games!

Narrative GENder & Game Content

            OK, I'm getting tired now, so I'm going to condense the summary even more now.

Narrative Games.

            Game Content.  Character concepts should have *narrative potential*. In D&D, character concepts such as Fighter & Rogue have different ways of overcoming challenges. Narrative character concepts should include "Wise old mentor" (Ben Kenobi, Gandalf, etc), "Young apprentice" (Luke Skywalker), "Enigmatic Nemesis" (Darth Vadar). You see what I'm saying here? The character concepts have narrative weight, the titles of these concepts giving you preconceptions on their role in the narrative.

            Setting details usually shift from the raw stage details to the themes and premises in narrative games. Put in a premise with narrative weight into your game! Look at Sorcerer. This game has a strong premise about humanity which carries a lot of narrative weight which is accessable to the players to create stories about.  Situation details can be exactly the same as Explorative Situations. The difference is in the stance that you approach this from. If I ever played Resident Evil: The RPG, I'd do it Exploratively, so I could actually try to feel the fear and claustrophobia my character would feel (that's why I played the computer game).

            You could instead take the situation presented in Twilight 2000, and take a more Authorial stance, using that power to make sure the events that occur and the story that is created echo the message and themes of the game, which *should* be about the price of war, *not* those dumb europeans can rot for all we care, let's go back home, drink beer and play Baseball ;).


            Yes, you can actually use this thing! Here's how:

People Running Games

            Identify what GENder game you want to run. Then find a game that interests you, and identify *what* interests you about this particular game. If it's Vampire, it's probably Character; if it's Blue Planet it's probably Setting; if it's AFMBE, it's probably Situation.   Taking either Character/Setting/Situation, take an element that you can craft an adventure around.   The decline of personal humanity as a Vampire interests you? Then get your players to create characters, and create an adventure crafted to those characters, that confronts each of them individually with what it means to try to retain humanity in the face of their vampiric nature. But whatever you do, *communicate* this to the players. Tell them before hand what idea you have for the game. They can then create characters that will support your ideas, not homicidal nutters who couldn't give a toss if they turned into slavering demons or not.

            The themes of the degradation of the environment by globalised economies grabs you in Blue Planet? Tell your players. They'll create characters with an interest in this area; tribals, GEO Inspectors, a group of independent miners being screwed by the corporations etc.   And finally, the idea of a zombie holocaust rocks your boat? OK, do this in one of 2 ways.

            1) Tell the player's you're running a zombie holocaust. Give them a setting, with character concepts, and let them personalise those character concepts. Get going.

            2) If you want the zombie holocaust to be a surprise, give them the setting, and ask them to come up with sketchy ideas for characters. When you hit them with the zombie holocaust idea, they'll be able to make their character concepts more detailed in reaction to this. Job done.

            For everybody the basic idea is this. You have three things that are going to be used as the content in your games: Character Goals, Setting Ideas, and enforced Situations. To run a game that will work the best, emphasise only one of these at the start of the game. This has in the past been referred to as levels of sketchy/rich.

            Games should only have one rich element for all the players to focus on, and create characters with compatible goals. If the Ref goes for Situation Rich, and runs a zombie holocaust, it's no good someone coming up with a character with the Character Rich goal, even if it's as interesting as "My character is traumatised by the breakup of his marriage, and is planning on kidnapping his son from his wife." Now, this is a *fantastic* character goal, and given this a GM should be able to come up with a brilliant adventure. But if Setting or Situation are made as rich as this, the game becomes unfocussed. Focus good. Richness in more than 1 game component bad.  However, game components which start off sketchy at the beginning of a game, can, and maybe should, move to a greater level of richness through gameplay.

People Writing Games

            Look, this is how people go about actually playing your games. Could you please make it easier for us and try to make games cater to this method of adventure design?   It's real easy. Pick a GENder. Pick a subcategory. Concentrate on one of the 3 of Character/Setting/Situation. Finally, make the game rules support and communicate the 3 choices you have made. Don't write a game with a system that fully emphasises Power Gaming, then have a go at the players for not using that game to explore the inner torture of the vampires they're meant to be roleplaying. It's your fault they're playing it that way, because that's what the system communicates. Job done.


            OK, I know that was meant to be a summary, but I can't summarise to save my donuts. Topics of debate that I'm personally interested in include:  The game components of Character/Setting/Situation can clearly be seen as creating the subsets of both Explorative and Narrative gaming. Is this also true for Gamist RPGs? Are the current definitions out slightly? If rectified, could we see that Power Gaming = Character, a redefined Tactical Gaming = Setting, and Adventure Gaming = Situation? Something is telling me this might be the case.

            I want to hear from *you* about the game you're currently designing. Does your game fit these concepts, and that's why it works as a game? Does your game not fit these concepts, but looking at these ideas you realise that it wouldn't work, but now you know how to fix it? Or does your game not fit these concepts and is *still* a decent RPG?  Other examples of games which fit/don't fit these concepts, and whether they fail or still succeed would be great to hear.  Anything else you think is relevant. GO will start charging soon. People will be paying to use these forums. The content of these forums will be created by the people who are paying for it. Start getting used to contributing :). My group is still knocking around these ideas into a cohesive whole. When this is done I'll post up the model in full. Your contributions are required.

            Thanks to my group for playing games you normally wouldn't touch with a bargepole for the raw data, and for putting aside some game time to knock this into rough form.

Re: Using the GENder Model - Extremely Rough Guide

M. J. Young (M. J. Young) 05/25/01 2:14 AM

            I feel like someone should write something in response to this, but I can't figure out what....   Good thoughts, though.   But why shouldn't a game system be able to support shifting foci over a campaign? In fact, isn't that more realistic (not in the sense of according with our world, but in the sense of having the fullness of a real world)?   There are times and places in my life when it is about character interactions, who am I and who are these people. Other aspects have been about improving my skills and using them to succeed, even at times about adventuring. Still other parts are about interesting situations (working as a radio station DJ, doing microfilm on a nuclear generating station construction site). Can't a campaign system be built to allow all these things to shine in different ways at different times? And wouldn't that be an interesting game for most players?   --M. J. Young  Check out Multiverser  Index of my pages

Re: Using the GENder Model - Extremely Rough Guide

GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) 05/25/01 5:01 AM

            But doesn't that actually display an Explorative bias? :-) What you're saying actually is "Can't a game be designed to allow us to experience the fullness of life's interactions for this character?" Fair restatement? Isn't that an Explorative concern.   For instance, I've read plenty of stories that don't have the fullness of the real world; they're not supposed to. For example, I just saw Fight Club the other night. The setting for this movie is The City. You never know which city; it's not relevant. It just exists to provide the setting and backdrop for the important part of the story: the narrator's interactions with Trevor (hope I'm remembering the name).

            The Matrix does something similar with its city. That is because these settings are not intended to be fully-orbed experiences; they are vehicles to tell certain stories.   So, to answer your question, I do think that there could be a game that gives different weight at times to character interaction, skill improvement, and interesting situations...but if it were executed the way that you describe, it would be an Explorative game. It would not be meeting each component of the GENder model. That is why I argue that Multiverser is Explorative (specifically, Explorative of Situation). It doesn't really allow narrative control. It doesn't reward the overcoming of challenges. But, it is wonderful at answering the question "What if I were zapping from universe to universe? What would happen to me? What would I experience? How would I change?"  Seth Ben-Ezra Great Wolf Dark Omen Games

Re: Using the GENder Model - Extremely Rough Guide

Valamir (Ralph Mazza) 05/25/01 6:47 AM

            Thats exactly the way I've been thinking of it Seth. In fact, during one of my discussions with SJ, I made the following observation.   Game Level: At the game level many Explorative games are simply that...Explorative with no additional descriptor.   Campaign Level: At the campaign level is where these games will generally emphasize character or setting or situation; but its important to note that that emphasis may be different for each player.   Scene Level: In any given scene a player can pursue any of the above, even one that is different from his overall campaign emphasis.    The subcategories of Gamist can shift in the same way. D&D is largely a Power Gamist game (i.e. cashing in the reward system results in more power for the character) but certainly the combat mechanics can be run tactically. It is certainly possible to wargame out a D&D combat to try and maximize available environmental modifiers.

Re: Using the GENder Model - Extremely Rough Guide

Scarlet Jester (Scarlet Jester) 05/25/01 1:07 PM

Richness of Game Content

            This particular conversation is about the richness of the different game components of an RPG: Character/Setting/Situation.   Now, I stated in the definition of Explorative play that:   "Many games aim to support all three types of Explorative play. What subtype actually gets played depends on what interests you and your group. Personally, I don't relate to being a vampire, so I'll approach it as Exploration of Setting or Situation, while others, even those in my own gaming group, approach it as Exploration of Character."

            Valamir expands this concept in his post. Explorative games, as designed, can give equal support to Character, Setting, and Situation (some games such as Blue Planet do not do this, instead focusing on one particular component). When running the game, the players are the people who decide the actual focus, as I try to highlight above in the "People Running Games" section. However, I stated there:   " components which start off sketchy at the beginning of a game, can, and maybe should, move to a greater level of richness through gameplay."   Games which run for a long period of time will most probably do this.

            Although we start the game firmly focused on the zombie holocaust we find ourselves trapped in, we occassionally roleplay scenes which arise from the growing richness of our character's motivation, or the details of the setting (Setting including such diverse components as raw stage details and geography, themes, premise, and mood).   Games which run on a shorter time frame may find that the issues that rise from just one component of game content suitably rich to support an entire campaign. A campaign dealing solely with the characters trying to reconcile their vampiric nature, or an RPG based on the Night of the Living Dead film (where 6 people try to survive the night trapped in a house being assaulted by mutant zombies from hell) are examples of this.  

            Now, the tricky part is communicating all of this in the rule system. How do you downplay the focus of 2 components with the system at the start of a campaign, but allow the system to shift more focus on to them as they develop greater richness during play? Maybe implement optional heavy system mechanics for each? You implement the heavy mechanics when the focus moves onto the game component that the mechanic supports. I believe that Hero Wars may attempt something similar, having a Simple and Advanced Resolution system. The Advanced system is initiated when the particular events that are occurring are conveying the main focus of the adventure. Any other ideas? :)