Sunday, May 16, 2010


Over at the ol' Story-Games, there's been a flutter of threads about GNS stuff. The link right there goes to a discussion about whether or not Simulationism exists - a chat had many, many times before, for sure.

In any case, the poster JD Corley asked me to clearly define Narrativism against Sim, and, well, I decided something.

Ever notice how many games with strong Narr cred are all about relationships? At least, to me they are. Consider Hero Quest - your character's stats are basically all the strengths of his various ties to culture, spirituality, and family and friends (and enemies). Consider Polaris - your character sheet is literally a relationship web with some Themes (potentially more relationships!) surrounding it.

I think I'm onto something - maybe games that fail to quantify relationships at all are the ones that fall flat, story-wise. Games like D&D and the World of Darkness bunch all have character creation systems that focus only on the individual character (ok, ok, Backgrounds move beyond that a bit, but they're pretty simplistic and non-specific when they DO refer to things like allies and contacts, AND they give almost zero structure on determining the nature of said relationships. Anyway...) and not on how said character is part of a larger world.

I absolutely, 100% think that's why Questing Beast didn't work for me - it doesn't bog you down with too many rules to follow, but the ones it does have are too general - they don't give you much direction for character creation, and the stuff on resolution of conflict only exists to establish authority/credibility for description, nothing else.


  1. Zac,

    I think you're only 50% there. I think what's really important is how Character relates to Situation. To me, a character isn't really complete until we know his crisis. What problem does he face that he must surmount?

    I point to Houses of the Blooded as a game that produces a mega-TON of Relationships but not one iota of Situation. At the end of Character Creation in Houses you have a character with parents and siblings and contacts and vassals and who is just as static in space and time as any Vampire character.

    Relationships are a really great tool for creating crisis but it still requires an extra step. Over on The Forge we used to talk about Premise in the Character vs. Premise in the Setting. I rephrase that simply as where is the source of crisis?

    Crisis in the character (my faith demands I sacrifice my first born daughter) is probably the fastest way to player buy in because usually such things are authored by the players themselves (see Kickers in Sorcerer) but require a lot more up front creative effort. Crisis in the Setting is probably better for getting *unified* player buy in (see The Master in My Life with Master) but basically leaves players accepting or rejecting the game wholesale.


  2. Well said. I haven't played Houses before, incidentally, but I can still grok what you're saying.

    Also, I would definitely agree that conflict is what brings it all to life. Imminent conflict, at that - not something abstract, or far-off; something he's dealing with *now*, in some way. Good stuff!

    Also - Kickers have been the main road I've taken in that direction, but I suppose Polaris's setting is a baked-in crisis, no question.