GNS Theorists wanted: Making my 13thAge and Sentinel Comics games better


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Eric V

Hero
So, first of all, thanks to everyone who has answered. [TedLasso]Appreciate y'all.[/TedLasso]

I hate being vague, but one of the reasons I was interested in a GNS-type description of the game is because I otherwise can't quite put my finger on why it doesn't seem to be working (or working at 75%, let's say); it's why I wondered if it was a matter of approach vis-a-vis the game design that I might be missing.

So, I have been playing RPGs since 1e, and mostly DMing. Very traditional stuff (buy a mod, players run characters through it, etc.); fun, for what it's worth, for sure. Our group got a little disillusioned with 5e, and was looking to try something else (or at least, I was looking to GM something else). It's very difficult to get them to learn another game, even one as similar as 13th Age. Eventually, we did though.

It went well at first, as new games tend to do, and then...I don't know. It started to feel like the "traditional way" of doing things wasn't the best "fit." A lot of what @Blue mentions above rings true to me; the idea of unique backgrounds, One Unique Things, and use of Icon dice seem to lend themselves to what (I believe) @pemerton refers to as "player-authored quests." I expected a more shared worldbuilding type of experience...but it may be that decades of playing a particular way have left my players less than able to do this sort of thing (is this what Edwards meant when he referred to "brain damage?"), and I was hoping the GNS theory also had some applications to make each of the G, N, and S really "pop" when playing...and maybe that would help me out which elements I should lean into in a game of 13thAge.

I do know that I feel like running it like "standard" D&D doesn't feel quite right...but I am also not sure what the alternative is. The mechanics behind freeform backgrounds, OUTs, and Icon Relationships seem to have few limits, which is good in theory, but, sort of like how companies that give unlimited vacation tend to have employees actually take less vacation time, the open-ness of things may end up being constraining somehow?

I mean, it could just be my players. I just want to know that I gave it my best go, and am open to the idea that GNS theory might open my mind to a different approach if my current one isn't a best fit for the way the game is designed.
 

pemerton

Legend
I have been playing RPGs since 1e, and mostly DMing. Very traditional stuff (buy a mod, players run characters through it, etc.); fun, for what it's worth, for sure. Our group got a little disillusioned with 5e, and was looking to try something else (or at least, I was looking to GM something else). It's very difficult to get them to learn another game, even one as similar as 13th Age. Eventually, we did though.

It went well at first, as new games tend to do, and then...I don't know. It started to feel like the "traditional way" of doing things wasn't the best "fit."

<snip>

I expected a more shared worldbuilding type of experience...but it may be that decades of playing a particular way have left my players less than able to do this sort of thing

<snip>

I do know that I feel like running it like "standard" D&D doesn't feel quite right...but I am also not sure what the alternative is. The mechanics behind freeform backgrounds, OUTs, and Icon Relationships seem to have few limits, which is good in theory, but, sort of like how companies that give unlimited vacation tend to have employees actually take less vacation time, the open-ness of things may end up being constraining somehow?

I mean, it could just be my players. I just want to know that I gave it my best go, and am open to the idea that GNS theory might open my mind to a different approach if my current one isn't a best fit for the way the game is designed.
I'm getting the impression that your players aren't quite bringing the creativity you would like to the game. Is that fair?

One possibility: they're just tired. It happens to all of us!

But another possibility: they're not quite sure what they're being invited to do, or how to do it. That happens to all of us too!

So I'd probably focus on one thing for each player (and maybe the same thing for each player if that makes it easier): backgrounds, OUT, or Icons. And then get them to tell you one thing that their PC wanted from that, and has never yet got. Make a list. Then think about how to put those things at stake, in an immediate sort of way. And lead with that. (I don't know how friendly 13th Age is to improvising, and how comfortable you are with that - which will affect details of implementation.)

If the players lean into that, then you can try and build on it. If they don't seem excited by it, well . . . nothing venture, nothing gained!
 

niklinna

satisfied?
So I'd probably focus on one thing for each player (and maybe the same thing for each player if that makes it easier): backgrounds, OUT, or Icons. And then get them to tell you one thing that their PC wanted from that, and has never yet got. Make a list. Then think about how to put those things at stake, in an immediate sort of way. And lead with that. (I don't know how friendly 13th Age is to improvising, and how comfortable you are with that - which will affect details of implementation.)

If the players lean into that, then you can try and build on it. If they don't seem excited by it, well . . . nothing venture, nothing gained!
And, relative to what @Blue said, when you prompt your players for such things, or for things that might normally be established by the GM in more traditional play, they might not believe you're giving them that authority, or they might need a little time to come up with something like that on the spot, so be sure to give them that time (at first; they'll get faster with practice).

If, on the other hand, they clearly don't want to be contributing in that particular way, you can let it slide.

Edit: Fixed a typo.
 
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Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
To echo @pemerton and @niklinna , it's a big mental change for players used to traditional games like D&D to even think in this manner. I know using some of these techniques in a 5e game I ran afoul of a player who was "follow the adventure the DM puts in front of us". And genuinely was attempting to be helpful - when he DMs he usually does from modules (vs. my homebrew) and players going far off-track with those can be a real issue. But it's hard to do even a more tranditional snadbox, much less more player-directed toward their goals, with that focus.

The flip side is during session 0 of a current 5e game I'm running I had let them know this and not sure how much of a mental change it had made. But I had a player from that 13th Age game, and the first request was "hey, I want to play a druid but have something concrete to connect to. Can the world be the body of a dead god and the moon her skull?" None of this impacted any of my (lightly planned, broad strokes only) plans so I was like "sure". That shocked the other players out of their complacence. Suddenly it came up that the Dwarves were genocided, that halflings and drow were created races for by the Imperium, elves live on reservations (but have actual control over them) and lots of other changes to the world. It made the characters richer, but also has drastically affected the direction the campaign has grown.

But even with that start it was a continual push to get them to continue to think they had the authority just to say "I think we should go do this" if it wasn't something I as DM had fed them. Made harder I think in that there's another 5e game with a good amount of overlap with one of the my players as DM who is running a module and it's often "oh, and here's your adventure of the episode".
 



Jay Murphy1

Meterion, Mastermind of Time !
" While often simulationist (in combat) and narrativist (elsewhere) to play to the respective strengths and game expectations of each, there are gamist underpinings to just make it work smoothly and in a streamlined way. Take a look at the feature/spell recovery model. " This does not look like any theory to me, just labels as stand-ins for actual meaning. But this statement nears closer to an explanation to what GNS Theory actually means then the many pages written on trying to explain what these labels mean and how they constitute an actual theory. When you speak of simulation you mean combat in the game and narrativist just means everything else you do in the game. Gamist is just a label for "the rules". Not really a theory, more of a color code for what kind of game you prefer. "Is their much combat, I don't like games with a lot of combat?" "Do I have to do all that silly voice acting? I just want to roll some dice." "Are the rules easy to learn? I don't want to learn something new, can't we just play DnD?"

So to answer the OP. Figure out what kind of game you like to play and play that. How to play better? Really just play as much as you can and think about it as much as you can. Roleplaying games are just thought experiments writ large, and thinking about your play, what makes it good, what makes it bad, can be done anytime you want. Action, reflection, action, reflection, rinse and repeat.
 

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