Neurotrash thinks out loud...Narrative, Challenge-Based Play, No-Myth v. Blorb, etc.

I wrote something really long. It doesn't even begin to fit on one post here, so I just put it on my blog.


It's in regards to a game I'm currently designing, but spirals off into questioning the ideas in the "Narrativism vs. Trad Techniques" thread and about what kind of game I'm trying to design and incoherency in general.

I make no promise that the time you spend reading it will be worth it, but do look forward to any comments...


  • edited June 2019
    Well, I read it and think it can work. I try to do this myself with more or less "take that" allowed and suggested (as "playing tricks") in various modes of play. There's a bit of "Puzzle solving" in it, with a big element of "be careful what you wish for". It's sometimes hard to tell if that's player or character facing though. Mostly players, but when the identification hits you, you're no longer playing to win "as a player", so I don't see a clear divide here. In any case, don't stop digging because of any theory. Prove your game by the pudding.

    Your first version of twist is better. Because "be careful what you wish for" and "constructive seriousness", antidotes to power gaming and gonzo, need to be of the same power range as those twists that caused a problem in the first place. You counter a twist with a twist. If you let twists in, let them break all inside a house, and then condemn players to have fun in the broken house, I don't see how it can work. In this case, you just need leading questions : they are powerful, but focused enough to limit abuse.

    My take on twist limitations is :
    1° yes, we're pretty much "RPG-deformed". Playing with kids and newcomers, even with some old hands with open minds, the abuse is none existent (the stated goal of the game is to tell a story, after all). There's some gonzo, but nothing beyond repair.

    2° I take 2 criteria :
    - verisimilitude : if the thing is natural, belongs to the place, would probably happen, (contrast : if it is a bit extraordinary, eyebrow raising)
    - impartiality : if the thing is neutral, aesthetic, "wallpapery", (versus : if the thing gives an advantage to one side or individual).
    This is enough most of the times. The precise rule is that one player doubting on a criteria is enough to tilt it's "extraordinary" or "partial" value.
    One twist can bypass one criteria. This way, you just have to say that a class, the Rogue for instance has, by nature, all sort of tools in their bag. Now they just Twist for the tool to be to their advantage. This also limits the effect of an advantage : it will be advantageous, within the limit of verisimilitude. That you want to communicate early in the game : what "story world" it plays in (you need to add an act structure to play Curse of the Golden flower, From Dusk till Dawn or Psycho). You can also grant the Rogue a "useful tool", with a cost, depending on the "token business model" you want to build.

  • There's some gonzo, but nothing beyond repair.
    Ironically, the game's genre is going to be "Gonzo Fantasy". Part of that choice was the fact it would be much easier for everyone to justify what's "normal" and "expected" when you can have robots and magic and time-travel etc.

    As far as "abuse", I keep going back and forth whether that's really a useful concept with what I'm trying to do. On one hand, if the players are trying to overcome a challenge, there should obviously be limitations on their power. But on the other hand, the power of a GM can turn anything into a future problem. If a player justifies something with "I'm was the Valedictorian of Wizard College" - a justification that seems like it doesn't inconvenience the character on the surface, the DM now has permission to introduce a jealous salutatorian sorcerer intent on revenge for perceived past slight or injustice. Maybe giving them free reign isn't a terrible idea.

    This goes into another thing I struggle with when it comes to the twists...they all have what one might call a "secondary condition". Currently, these are mostly questions the player answers when they enter their Twist into the narrative - "Tell us what you accidentally destroyed in the process" or "Tell us what you accidentally left behind"...things like that.

    An earlier version had a lot of "The GM will tell you what you destroyed in the process" or "The GM will tell you what you left behind."

    This is a major difference, obviously. I keep going back and forth on whether I want to use one, the other, or a combination.

    But thanks for giving me more to think about/ideas to consider!

    BTW, I just posted my current documents online. They contain a lot more than what I have posted up until now.
  • You"re right that a Valedictorian of Wizard College should be wise enough "to be careful what they wish for".
    I am working on Conditions too. This Is Pulp has the " breaking one thing in the process" sort of limitation. Considering the GM should already have enough reins in their hands, I'd also hand the decision to the players. Maybe add "breaking one thing you shouldn't have". To me it's still playing on the "partial" criteria, only adding a "negative" value. I can't choose for you and I am designing GM-ful, so there are some tools I can't use.
  • Is the idea that a game based on creating dramatically-satisfying story requires the players to sometimes consciously decide to make suboptimal choices for their character a hard truth? Can you instead hard-bake techniques into the rules in order to produce guaranteed dramatic conflict, beyond the carrot-technique found in Fudge and others (i.e. do something that’s bad for your character and I’ll give you a point!)

    Lots of personal bias in this reply so take it with a massive grain of salt.

    In stories the character always makes the best choice available, always, without exception. Given their ethos that is. Now later on we might find out that their choice led them to doom and ruin, but in the moment it was the best choice.

    So in Narrativist design, one big question is how in conflict are the goals of the game and the character choices.

    I think if we, the group, have decided that the characters choice is suboptimal, then we’re not really playing to find out. So I don’t think the Fudge carrot/stick mechanic is that Narrativist supporting. It can create drama but (big personal bias incoming) I don’t think trying to create drama is that good a technique for Narrativist play.
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