Saturday, October 3, 2009

G/N/S frantic fun time

If you take the r out of frantic the word becomes 75% more fun to say! True fact. It is Saturday night and there are all sorts of people at books a million. They should all be somewhere else having well protected sex with willing partners. See I don't hate the world! When I want people to go away I wish nice things on them sometimes. Oh yeah the title. So I want to do a series of blogs on RPG theory and I figgure I'll start with the gran daddy of all rpg theory and move on from there.

G/N/S theory stands for gamist/Narrativist/simulationist and it is a representation of the three primary modes of gaming that rpg gamers both experience and propigate. I have lots to say on the subject including my desire to branch off on my own. However, before I do so I am going to summerize the GNS stance here because most people grossly misread it and go off into crazy town when they do so. CRAZY TOWN I tell you. So I think it is important to establish what I mean when I say GNS. Oh yeah I am going to be reffrencing D&D a lot in this post. For our purposes I am reffering to 3.5 and under.

For thous who are actually curiouse and would like to follow this the original theory is here. Okay so now that I've reduced my audience to 1 I can keep going! I owe the GNS a lot. Most of my skills at GMing were developed because of my understanding of the theory. It helped me to understand the underlying flaw of mainstream rpgs and what I can do to help mitigate thous flaws and for that I am more than grateful. But it isn't perfect so lets get a basic list of terms down then rocket off on our own.

Schizophrenic Game Play:

Originaly used as a descriptor for dungeons and dragons, but I tend to broaden the definition to include the vast majority of mainstream games. SGP comes from the sort of open ended view that D&D takes to its desighn process. D&D can be played in any one of three modes and as a result player expectations from each other as well as their gms can be easily misconstrued without massive communication before hand between both the players and the gm. In your average game this communication doesn't really take place ever. Who knows why something to do with human group dynamics. In an attempt to identify the problems with D&D, the GNS model was developed. Most D&D games don't strictly fall into any one aspect of the GNS model but instead they have a blend of two elements with the third taking a distant seat.

G stands for Gamism. Gamist games are sometimes called, rather disparagingly, roll playing instead of role playing. They focus more on the rules elements provided by the games. Gamist games tend to use all the rule books, the battle mat is present, and well the rpg is run more like a board game than a game proper. There is a whole lot more to it but it gets highly nuanced and rather silly. Right now gamism stands for pretty much for what it sounds like it means. Skill roles instead of roleplaying it out blah blah blah. It isn't a bad way to play really. Grab a dungeon modual and a few friends and it makes for a fun evening. It is the inherent confilict between gamism and narrativism that causes the majority of the problems. Gamism is often times reffered to as dismissivly, this isn't fair it is a compleatly valid mode of game play. One important thing that we need to do is to seperate the players from the play mode. 90% of all dooshbag players I met were people who liked to use the rules of the game to their advantage when playing rather than you know the setting or something like that.

N stands for narrativism. N is where most of the games that are written over at the forge come from. It is exalted on high as the prefered mode of role playing. It is also my prefered mode of ropleplaying but that has nothing to do with it. Narrativist game play focuses more on the story. In a D&D game the rules would take more of a back seat, some combats would be a more loosely based affair and and the players would be expected to be in charecter more. Again it isn't all its cracked up to be. Sometimes it is nice to just roll dice and kill things. The amount of contiuned creativity required for naravist game play is pretty intense and not every role player is capable of it. It is definatly something you work up to. Still it is neat. In general narravists and gamists are at odds mostly because of a personality thing. Gamists work long and hard knowing the ins and outs of all the rules and sometimes they get testy when someone just talks thier way through a situation without roleplaying it. This mode of game play can lead to sevear railroading by the gm. It can also lead to a couple of creative players dominating the game while the gamist kids sit back and wait for combat to start.

S stands for Simulationist. Or as it is better known, that other thing. Simulationist isn't really a most of play so much as it is a by product of play. This is especially true in D&D. It also the most poorly defined of the GNS three. It even gets its own essay by Mr. Edwards and you know what? It is a terrible disorganized mess. It is also something that isn't really directly adressed very often and unlike the other two terms it doesn't really mean what it sounds like. Okay here we go. Simulationist gameplay are all those little things in RPGs that try to simulate life and realism. It is like the rules for starvation in D&D. Or that combat is broken into 3 second intervals called turns and that in order for combat to take place unfettered it needs to do so in a 5 foot by 5 foot square. It is the modification for the dice rolls that you make when you are fighting in an area smaller than that square. It is the rules for building, and maintaining a fortress. Oh here is a good one it is pages upon pages full of gear that all have carefully calculated weights so as to not go over the charecter's encumberance. I think I am being clear. It is a slipery motherfucking topic. But I think I got it down.


So those are the basics.

By codifying the three main modes of gameplay we can begin to adress what it is that goes wrong during so many sessions of D&D or Shadowrun, or White Wolf, and hopefully come up with a more hollisic, satisfying gaming experience. I find that it works best when you don't take the whole system to seriously. Some GNS followers are postivly militant and about their adherence. They have their heads stuffed full of vocabulary and concepts that they only half understand, and that drives them crazy. For example you can't mention a thread on about alternative fantasy gaming with someone barging in and making all these bizzare claims about the GNS.

To be fair though the GNS is a pretty specific attack against D&D so it does make sense, but hey lots of D&D games suck when they don't have to so...whatcha gonna do?

So stop worrying and use as much or as little as the theory as nessisary. I see it more as a list of problems than solutions.


Okay first things first. Roleplaying game theory is a relativly new thing, it is also a relativly small thing and it ignores one major elephant in the room. There is both a gm as well as players. Any coherent theory needs to adress the fact that both of these entities excist...and hrm I don't really know how to finnish this sentence so that it is both clever and logical so you get this stream of words instead. The GNS system is dominated by one important idea that kinda lurks behind all others. And this is:

The System Matters. This is where my basic split between the GNS starts! Okay the idea behind system matters is this: D&D is, more than less, an open ended system. The number of diffrent types of stories you can tell, the types ways you can play, they are infinate. Its part of the beauty of the game system and I would say it is a definate factor in its longevity. However! This comes at a price. Everyone comes to a table thinking D&D is one thing. Over the course of a few game sessions the vision of what D&D is, is kinda hammered out an a social contract is formed. Or not. I mean these things do happen. More often than not in fact. The idea behind the system mattering is that by applying the GNS theory to the game desighn process, we can eliminate schizophrentic game play before it has a chance to manifest. As a result most games that come out of the GNS camp tend to be very specific.

Sorcerer is a game where the players have entered into an agreement with a demon in exchange for power. The demon is not a benighn entity and it messes with things, it also has needs of its own which must be met. You can not play sorcerer without demons.

My Life With Master is a game where you and the other players play the equivalent of Igor, or Amiadab if you know your Hawthorn. You have to play a servant. You need to make moral choices, hell there are even win loss conditions. The game play will follow a predifined path and it will end in one of 4 ways. Man when I put it like that this game sounds horrible. It is one of the most brilliant pieces of game design ever.

There are some other examples. I plan on tinkering with these concepts a whole lot more. What I plan on doing is finding some free downloadable games that really encapsulate these ideas. But that will take awhile. Its been a long time since I've been involved in the indie rpg scene 2003 specifcally.

I just spent 15 minuts trying and all I got were broken links and dead ends. So I am going to have to select from a crop of newer games. ANYWAY. The main problem behind these games is that they really like to remove the gm from the picture. In My Life With Master, the flow of the story and the out come of the events are dictated by both system and dice rolls. It is mearly up to the gm to fill in the blanks. The gm and the player negotiate before hand how the scene plays out and certain elements of the out come, such as items the player is garenteed to remain in control of. Heck the gm isn't even allowed to come up with his own master. Instead it is a colaberative effort between the gm and the players to create a master that everyone is happy with.

I would like to take this moment to reiterate that I truely love my life with master. It does, however, take the game mostly out of the hands of the gm and place it in a community center shared by everyone. However, to be fair My Life with Master is a highly exparamental, and awesome game.

It makes for a good example though because it is the ultimate example of system mattering. The actions of the players are sevearly curtailed, and as a result there is a simple system for everything and everything is in its place.

Okay I need to take a break from this for a bit. It is a lot of thinking and organization I just did and I feel my self switching gears but I nned to make a good transition and a break from this post. IE Start with a new post.

I don't really want to clutter up my GNS summary post with to many of my own ideas. I would rather like to present the theory in a more non threatening form stripped away of a lot of extraneouse ideas that have come up because the theory has failed to really adress the inherent diffrences between a gm and the players.

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