*The setting* as the focus of "simulationist" play

I'm trying to grok how the setting drives play without everything being a hook, from the way the leaves change in the fall at the emperor's palace, to the beer served in the tavern. When I think about bringing the setting into focus, that's what I think of. If each element presented to the players must propel play, then the density of hooks becomes so high that you end up with option paralysis. If only certain elements are meant to propel play, then you are stuck with either the GM telling the players what is actually important, or forcing the players to interrogate every detail to figure what matters.

I am guessing that I don't entirely understand what you mean, though. Could you explain it indore direct terms, or with an example?

I think it is reductionist way to see setting focused play (not saying you are being reductionist but saying the idea that the GM is the only driver via the setting). I think we have also had enough of these discussions that we probably know where everyone stands on them. But what I will say is the GM isn't really driving play in this kind of campaign, the players are. That is the whole point. The setting is important but player goals, motives, actions, etc are the real things that drive play in different directions.
 

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TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
But what I will say is the GM isn't really driving play in this kind of campaign, the players are. That is the whole point. The setting is important but player goals, motives, actions, etc are the real things that drive play in different directions.
I mean sometimes, sure, and for your own games I'm not questioning your assertion. But I think a lot of setting-first games are focused around the idea of an adventure path, where the characters are pretty much intended to be plug and play and their individual goals are secondary at best.
 

pemerton

Legend
As someone who always does sandboxes, I tend to write adventures by writing them fully with the players assumed entirely absent.

From there, I set up sections of those adventures to be timing fluid, meaning they can shift earlier or later in player progression as needed to keep things more or less on the level.

And then, I just set that adventure in motion, with at most a in media res introduction of early threads to pull, but otherwise leaving the party to their devices.

If they encounter the various parts of the adventure, then great! If not, eventually they will have to choose to ignore it.

After all that, all thats necessary is keeping a few of them running concurrently, so players have choices as to what they pursue, though I typically also have them all converge back on each other eventually.
OK, so this seems pretty close to what the OP described. There are NPCs, factions, etc which have their needs and are doing their things. And the players choose how their PCs connect to/engage with those tings.

the GM isn't really driving play in this kind of campaign, the players are. That is the whole point. The setting is important but player goals, motives, actions, etc are the real things that drive play in different directions.
Well, in the approach I've just quoted the GM seems to be doing a fair bit of the driving!
 

pemerton

Legend
I mean sometimes, sure, and for your own games I'm not questioning your assertion. But I think a lot of setting-first games are focused around the idea of an adventure path, where the characters are pretty much intended to be plug and play and their individual goals are secondary at best.
Even without an AP, the players' goals are established by reference to the dynamics the GM has authored within their setting. As per @Emberashh's post just upthread.
 


OK, so this seems pretty close to what the OP described. There are NPCs, factions, etc which have their needs and are doing their things. And the players choose how their PCs connect to/engage with those tings.

Well, in the approach I've just quoted the GM seems to be doing a fair bit of the driving!

Its more a sharing of the wheel. The thing about sandbox play is that you have to embrace the will of the players.

Which is why I think writing the adventure in full, players assumed absent, is the best course. My story is one of villains and masterminds, gods and demons, etc. Its already a fully functioning plot, even if my protagonists are all villains. No matter the degree to which the Players butt in, the story I weaved is still a satisfying story.

So its simply a matter of learning how to adjudicate those butt-ins so that something greater emerges.

But even sans a background story, just letting the sandbox function can be fruitful if you're dilligent about filling it with, for lack of a better word, toys to bounce off of, which is often more a system issue than it is one of prep.

Thats why for my own game I think it came to be so natural to lean on pushing a wargame/Domain sort of playstyle in the endgame. I was already pushing for the players to be capable of taking on massive battles, even by themselves (10s of thousands vs the Party), so it just made sense to go all the way with it.

And because Im going to be providing the tools and toys to do that, now the game doesn't even strictly need a story at all if the party is sufficiently motivated to make their own. But, it'll still be important that both are supported, so dungeoneering and questing will also still be just as much a presence at those levels as mass combat and domain play will be, and ideally, if I do it right, they'll be able to mix and match considerably.
 

Which is why I think writing the adventure in full, players assumed absent, is the best course. My story is one of villains and masterminds, gods and demons, etc. Its already a fully functioning plot, even if my protagonists are all villains. No matter the degree to which the Players butt in, the story I weaved is still a satisfying story.

Yup. Very good, extremely clear, statement of principles and practices.

This is basically an articulation of what I’ve written upthread. I’ve said many times before that these sandbox principles and practices are exactly what you have written and received enough pushback that I didn’t even know what zipcode I was in anymore.
 


I think "the adventure" is a pretty classical story construct. The motivation might be knowledge or wealth or fame. The journey can be a metaphor for internal change. etc
Well, yeah, but I think the vast majority of D&D adventures owe little to the literary/folkloric/mythical notion of adventure. Now, some other RPGs are going to be a bit different. I'm gearing up to run/play some Agon. That game is explicitly modeled on the pattern of Classical Greek heroic tales of the 'Jason and the Argonauts' sort. So obviously adventure in the classic sense CAN be a model of play in RPGs. As always I think its possible to conceive of a D&D campaign built on that model, but I have never seen one like that.
 

Its more a sharing of the wheel. The thing about sandbox play is that you have to embrace the will of the players.
OK, but effectively the 'will' is simply to choose which pre-generated site to explore. Or maybe if they are hexcrawling around there will be random encounters/locations generated. So, yes, they are in charge of one pretty narrow thing, which direction to walk in.
Which is why I think writing the adventure in full, players assumed absent, is the best course. My story is one of villains and masterminds, gods and demons, etc. Its already a fully functioning plot, even if my protagonists are all villains. No matter the degree to which the Players butt in, the story I weaved is still a satisfying story.
So, what is the point of being a PC in this story? If its already complete and laid out then what are they? Bit players? What you describe is IMHO Dragon Lance, 100%. Hated it! Not saying its bad, but it feels monumentally pointless to many of us.
So its simply a matter of learning how to adjudicate those butt-ins so that something greater emerges.

But even sans a background story, just letting the sandbox function can be fruitful if you're dilligent about filling it with, for lack of a better word, toys to bounce off of, which is often more a system issue than it is one of prep.
But again, you are setting up all of the action without any reference to the PCs whatsoever (as presumably they have not even yet been rolled up). It won't relate to them in any way whatsoever, except via some GM fiat which basically says "the Duke requires that you do X" or maybe "if you do Z you can get some loots!" This is the thinnest of gruel in story terms!
Thats why for my own game I think it came to be so natural to lean on pushing a wargame/Domain sort of playstyle in the endgame. I was already pushing for the players to be capable of taking on massive battles, even by themselves (10s of thousands vs the Party), so it just made sense to go all the way with it.

And because Im going to be providing the tools and toys to do that, now the game doesn't even strictly need a story at all if the party is sufficiently motivated to make their own. But, it'll still be important that both are supported, so dungeoneering and questing will also still be just as much a presence at those levels as mass combat and domain play will be, and ideally, if I do it right, they'll be able to mix and match considerably.
I mean, I did this EXACT sort of game, that was the last time I ran a game that I wouldn't consider at least principally narrativist (there was some transition there) and even THAT game, as I posted about up thread, basically got turned into an almost completely different game with the players calling the shots. It got WAY better at that point! I personally will never lay out plots and such ever again for a game, its actually worse than zero myth IMHO.

But in any case, in terms of the subject of the thread, while not everyone may use the term 'simulationist' for your play, it is certainly fundamentally driven from the GM end of the table. I think the OP described it well. It can work pretty well, IF you you and the players are well enough aligned in terms of what activities are desired.
 

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