How Do You Like Your Gamism?


I was reading some old Forge articles and came across this one. In it, I found a very interesting method of roughly identifying gamist playstyles:

How does conflict of interest relate to Step On Up and to Challenge? The crucial answer is that it may be present twice, independently, within the two-level structure.
  • Competition at the Step On Up level = conflict of interest regarding players' performance and impact on the game-world.
  • Competition at the Challenge level = conflict of interest among characters' priorities (survival, resource accumulation, whatever) in the game-world.
Think of each level having a little red dial, from 1 to 11 - and those dials can be twisted independently. Therefore, four extremes of dial-twisting may be compared.
  1. High competition in Step On Up plus low competition in Challenge = entirely team-based play, party style against a shared Challenge, but with value placed on some other metric of winning among the real people, such as levelling-up faster, having the best stuff, having one's player-characters be killed less often, getting more Victory Points, or some such thing. Most Tunnels & Trolls play is like this.
  2. Low competition in Step On Up plus high competition in Challenge = characters are constantly scheming on one another or perhaps openly trying to kill or outdo another but the players aren't especially competing, because consequences to the player are low per unit win/loss. Kobolds Ate My Baby and the related game, Ninja Burger, play this way.
  3. High competition in both levels = moving toward the Hard Core (see below), including strong rules-manipulation, often observed in variants of Dungeons & Dragons as well in much LARP play. A risky way to play, but plenty of fun if you have a well-designed system like Rune.
  4. Low competition in both levels = strong focus on Step On Up and Challenge but with little need for conflict-of-interest. Quite a bit of D&D based on story-heavy published scenarios plays this way. It shares some features with "characters face problem" Simulationist play, with the addition of a performance metric of some kind. Some T&T play Drifted this way as well, judging by many Sorcerer's Apprentice articles.
I thought it might be fun to talk about these as they relate to our individual preferences.

I think I am generally a #1. I enjoy acknowledging the way play happens at the table more than in the world, and it is fun to try and out-do your fellow players and/or the GM.

What about you?

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We always play team -based with none to little competition between players/ PCs. I guess my group would be closer to #4 with little stealing or taking items that should go to other PCs. The party conflicts with the monsters and the dungeon or the rest of the world.


Victoria Rules
I'm all for #2 there, or maybe #3.

The main problem I have with enforced* team-based play is it tends to squash individuality, along with independent thought and-or action, among the characters.

* - whether by game rule, social contract, or whatever.

All the groups I'm in are closest to #4. Characters have some individual goals, but operating as a team is paramount. The settings are all too dangerous to do anything else. Everyone involved is aged 50+ and doesn't need to be competitive.

aramis erak

None of my groups ever agreed on which level of that they should be at... they're hesitant to do PVP even when it's written into the cinematic adventure....
But they also do work at cross purposes often enough. Indirect competition.

We always play team -based with none to little competition between players/ PCs. I guess my group would be closer to #4 with little stealing or taking items that should go to other PCs. The party conflicts with the monsters and the dungeon or the rest of the world.
Mine, too. PvP in any form is strongly prohibited at my table, and players tend to create their own niche within the group.

Since I run long campaigns which react dynamically to PC actions, the group focus must be the outside threats.

There's been some exceptions over the decades, but generally I am able to find and keep the right sort for my GMing style.


actually dracula
While I've ranged across the entire gamut of #1-#4, I guess my preference is for 1-2. Depends on the group and the game, of course. Heavy PvP can be fun with the right people.

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I reject the premise of the cited article, in that it fails to meaningfully engage with why people enjoy games qua games and the exercise is about pejoratively putting games in boxes; not really understanding what is truly appealing to people.


I dislike the GDS and GNS definitions of gamism. I think the GDS definition is actually problematic in that it’s clearly set up as a containment policy for gamists. GNS at least recognizes that problem, but I’m still not fond of the definition it provides. I don’t like the axes of competition and challenge (or the other commentary regarding performance). For me, gamism is about your skill as a player and overcoming the challenges you set. Those challenges need not necessarily be fair either because “fair” in the RPG space usually comes with an expectation the players should win, and a rigged game is not much of a game.

Circling back to the actual question in the OP, I describe my homebrew system and my campaign as “gamist”. There is an attrition and resource model you have to manage. If you aren’t careful and smart with your play, you will be worn down. That can eventually necessitate a retreat, but it takes time to recover, and the world continues on regardless (with structures and procedures for handling that sort of thing). The problems the player face are not necessarily tuned to their capabilities.

Last session, the party ended up having to deal with a bulette. It’s 9th level while they’re only 5th. It will kill most PCs of their level in one round, though the barbarian is a bit sturdier and should be able to survive the first to die in the second. They’ve been able to lure it away a few times, but eventually they needed to take it out. That required working with allies (because it was too risky doing it on their own), which came with its own costs (because the vampire friend they asked for help wanted more from them after they got a mixed Success on a negotiation skill check).

I guess that’s #1 on the above list, but the description after the enumeration would also suggest #1 and #2. I don’t like how mushy and imprecise that is. It doesn’t really resonate with me at all. I think a major problem with this article is it wasn’t written by a gamist, and it didn’t provoke any discussion among gamists to refine it. Instead, RPG discourse seems focused mostly on GDS-style gamism or on other styles indirectly (such as OSR-style play focused on player skill) where proponents of that style may not recognize it as gamist due to hostility and assumptions inculcated towards gamism.

Voidrunner's Codex

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