Not wanting to put this question in "What did you play this week?" I'll start this new thread.
Last week we played Freeform Universal, GM with narrative control, in a "wild west" setting. We, the PCs, didn't start off with a lot of strong interpersonal ties. Just how we set things up. My character was a sharp-as-a-tack peddler. He had a rather stern and fatherly approach to solving other people's problems, and a greedy side that could explain away profiting off of people in difficult situations. I felt he was an interesting character, maybe cliche' in a fun way. In hindsight I should have added a disappointing backstory to help flesh him out more in my mind. In game, more social interaction and ties would have made the evening better. But it had nothing to do with the rules set nor the distribution of narrative control in my opinion.
Pretty open set up in Freeform Universal. Not prompted like a Fiasco set up (but often those PC-PC ties have little or no impact on the story either.)
Last night we play tested the "ultralight" version of my rules set. The premise voted for was 1 of 4 that I'd posted on MeetUp. The winner: Gowns and Guns. Everyone plays a princess. The BBEG attacks the palace. Silk, sequins, and high caliber weapons.
Now, here's the thing about simulationist rules sets: they aren't a whole game. They are an action resolution tool. Depending on the amount of crunch, they let you give PCs and NPCs hard stats. They can yield measurable results when a PC tries to accomplish something. They can quantify injury and death in violent situations. They don't actually tell the players how to distribute narrative control. With some, you could play solo, share narrative control, and anything inbetween.
That said, my dice mechanics needed testing out. And the game pitch already let it be known that there would be shooting. Long story short, there was blood and mayhem, some creative killing, some predictable killing, and one grind.
A few things need revising, and I got some good data to work with. Thank you play group!
The actual scenario of a ball at the palace had tons of promise, in my opinion. And for the first 45 minutes or so all of the sparring and interaction were strictly on a social and political level. People to greet, fancy sports cars, gorgeous gowns, people to probe for business information, being cajoled by a chaperone, possible suitors to converse with, possible suitors to avoid, not-so-marriageable men to flirt with, an overbearing and disapproving sister to suffer, and the technophile princess had a portable robot and surveillance station to attend to.
Had we had more than one evening, the Baron's men wouldn't have attacked so soon. There were other NPCs to meet. Verbal power plays to be made. And after the violence began and the princesses needed to escape the palace, there were non-combat situations which we just didn't have time for. The arrogant older sister didn't have time for her fit of epilepsy. They never got to interact with the dashing-but-not-quite-high-blooded-enough major who was wounded and hiding (so, so vulnerable..)
So really it comes down to time. Now, often with high crunch action resolutions systems, players will spend a lot of time on gaming evenings resolving combat. And if it's how all the time is spent at the table, the personalities of combatants can be extremely sparse. Oh my but how I've been trapped in that for years at a time. But it's not a factor of the rules sets. Not the fault of D&D. Not the fault of Pathfinder. It's the culture at the table. No sharing of narrative authority outside of PC free will? It need not affect the dramatic existence of the PCs at all.
To argue otherwise would necessitate leveling the same accusation at many LARPs. An argument which wouldn't stand up, in my opinion.
So, where did last night's princess game fail? Depends on what you wanted out of the game. The combat at the end became a little bit of a grind. That's more a numbers thing, and when the PCs were failing to think outside of the box, it was up to me to perforate the box for them. Wish I had. Shaken up what was becoming the status quo, let those missiles go off. But really, in my opinion, where the scenario had failings, was where the trope was hobbled in the area of continuity. Which came to be right when the PCs had been created. People voted for the scenario, and then seemed to want to break the trope right out of the gate. Princesses who don't dance and don't think about marriages and politics. The rebellious younger sister in the cocktail dress? Awesome! The boyish princess in a trench coat and robots to converse with? Not so much.
Oh well, to each their own. Maybe everyone else had the dramatic interaction they craved last night. If they did, then I'm essentially all for it. And for the most part I think we had a lot of fun, at least until the grindy part and running out of time (20 minutes?). The options for drama, immersion, discovery, plot twists, etc etc were not bounded.
Do crunch and central narrative control constrain certain modes of play? Do they naturally/often lead people into certain modes of play? Do they have to? Do we associate certain limitations of character development when in reality it is mass observation which leads us to make the conclusion? Do we call it cause-and-effect? If we do, is it an accurate assessment? Are there abundant outliers that are being overlooked? (e.g. tables where character development and interpersonal relationships figure prominently in the story, alongside technical crunch, and with a GM running everything except the PCs).
What are the actual limitations of crunch? What are the actual limitations of central narrative control? What are the trade-offs, i.e. what do the players GAIN when they opt for limitations?