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

@Emberashh

What set of RPG rules are you using? What you describe sounds very classic D&D-ish (1974 to 1979 or thereabouts) but obviously there are many other systems out there!

Originally 5e and currently DCC, but Im in the throes of designing my own RPG.

but effectively the 'will' is simply to choose which pre-generated site to explore.

Having the players create the gameworld as they play in it is a very different thing from what Im talking about.

Collaborative worldbuilding isn't what I or my friends play these games for (namely because we all do enough of that without prompting, so its more interesting and less exhausting to explore what we've come up with, rather than to create something at the table).

So, what is the point of being a PC in this story

Thats up to the Players. The point of having a complete story is so that its still a functional story even if the players are entirely disinterested in engaging with it.

This is what I mean about embracing the will of the players. I don't write stories that fall apart if they don't participate, I write stories that can adapt to any level of participation they choose to take, up to and including zero.

No matter how it plays out, Ive got a good story.

It won't relate to them in any way whatsoever

Sure, because they haven't gotten involved yet.

And thats without considering if one of those introductury threads to pull is something related to a PC. Just because the story is functional doesn't mean parts of it can't relate to a PC.

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.

Its just another name for sandbox play, and its the entire point of the GM to be there and run the world, and at its best that world should be functioning regardless of the PCs actions, as otherwise you're not really running a sandbox. Its that philosophy that informed how I write adventures that can actually work in a sandbox.

But its again not one or the other as to who is driving the game. The GM runs the world and keeps the game reactive, as otherwise there is no game, but the Players alsos have to actually be there playing and making choices, or there is no game.
 

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Its just another name for sandbox play, and its the entire point of the GM to be there and run the world, and at its best that world should be functioning regardless of the PCs actions, as otherwise you're not really running a sandbox. Its that philosophy that informed how I write adventures that can actually work in a sandbox.

But its again not one or the other as to who is driving the game. The GM runs the world and keeps the game reactive, as otherwise there is no game, but the Players alsos have to actually be there playing and making choices, or there is no game.
I don't agree that 'simulationist' and 'sandbox' are synonymous. I think its possible that a sandbox (which is a type of meta-plot) may be employed in a simulationist game, but there are many other ways to simulate or emulate something in play.

I'm not, personally, understanding the whole 'functioning world' thing at all. I've never gotten that. RPGs, for me, are not played in a sort of 'doll house' where there must be a pretend version of everything found in real life or whatnot.

I think we have VERY different ideas about what 'driving the game' means. I certainly would not feel like I was participating as anything much more than a spectator adding color in a game such as you describe, as I understand it. You entirely set the stage, plot all the happenings, and thus decide what the game is about and what elements enter into it and what their significance is. I'm just there to take in the sights and react. I don't think we can use the same terms to describe that as we use to describe the player-driven narrativist techniques which were the alternative mentioned in the OP (there are others too, @pemerton didn't contrast with gamist concerns, nor did he discuss other flavors of 'sim', just the setting focused sort).

So, yes, I agree that the kind of game you are proposing is well-suited to nuts-and-bolts exploration play, and site-based challenge play. It can evolve (in D&D at least) into 'Castles & Crusades' as well. Those are fine, they can incorporate varying degrees of player input. Up through the mid-90s or so these were pretty much the only recognized forms of play, with WW branching into more of a neo-trad 'curated character arc' variation.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Various threads - eg the "why rules?" thread, and the agency threads - have prompted some conversations with RPGing friends.

At least from my perspective, a recurring theme or element in discussion has been a contrast, between:

*Play where the players establish dramatic needs for their PCs, and these drive play (in part because the GM presents situations that speak to those dramatic needs);​
*Play where the GM establishes the drivers of play.​
This is an interesting topic. I personally feel the best place to be is in-between player established drama and GM driven play. For example, I think a sandbox still needs walls so you know the boundaries you have to work within. Just because a sandbox has walls, doesn't mean its too confining. This is, of course, my personal subjective taste and not what I think the default should be in general.

I often feel that determining how far into player established drama or GM driven play is dictated by playstyle. I think of it in terms of how proactive or reactive is the player? I know up thread there was some discussion on dramatic need filling out a character so they are not a caricature or simple avatar. However, for a reactive player that is actually desirable. They don't really want to think too hard about it. They are ok with the GM driving the play as that is the game for them. A proactive player, however, will be very comfortable developing dramatic need and offering a lot of material for a GM to use.

The real kicker is that in my experience you often have a mix of proactive and reactive players. Too many in one direction or the other can often spell trouble for the overall experience (at least for the folks in the minority). This has driven me away from starting long running campaigns with folks I don't know. I gravitate towards one shots and organized play with low commitment. I want to suss out the level of proactive vs reactive before engaging in long term play. This has improved the quality of my experience greatly.

I also believe that modern design takes these concepts into account. The mechanics will push play into one direction or the other. In the case of generic systems, the mechanics should be relaxed and allow the GM and players to decide how to push the direction of play. In any case, I am a believer that system matters, and knowing your players will help pick the one(s) most suitable.

Personally, I like a myriad of modes of play and systems. If I'm supposed to lean into a style I will. As stated, my ideal place is in-between the OP contrasts, but I can temper my expectations. What I find difficult is that my online friends and communities have discussions such as these often enough to understand the concepts and form jargon. However, a lot of folks have just a passing fancy with RPG play and don't fully understand the jargon or concepts to be able to discuss as we are here. This is also why I don't join long term games with folks I don't know. I find I can not trust the average person to fully describe their taste and play style. I really only know through actual play experience. YMMV.
 
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I don't agree that 'simulationist' and 'sandbox' are synonymous. I think its possible that a sandbox (which is a type of meta-plot) may be employed in a simulationist game, but there are many other ways to simulate or emulate something in play.

Neither did the people who came up with the term simulationist in regards to describing RPGs. Part and parcel to why the Forge was ultimately a big waste of time driven by a very narrow (and troubling) person.

Simulationist in the sense that Im using it is for a gameworld that functions regardless of the players actions. And by function, I mean that things still happen and life goes on, even if the PCs are entirely off-world.

In other words, the gameworld is there as its own element with agency, not merely a quantum backdrop for the actions of the PCs.


I certainly would not feel like I was participating as anything much more than a spectator adding color in a game such as you describe, as I understand it

If that were true, it would mean you weren't even playing the game.

I think you're getting hung up on me describing stories as fully written. The point of that isn't to railroad players, its to have all the pieces of a story in place so that, when the actual story is weaved at the table, Im not left wanting if the PCs take some unexpected turn away from that story and go towards some other story or even forge their own.

Its the same basic ethos behind GM prep being about prepping situations rather than plots. I write the story sans players so I have a full gamut of situations to utilize.

Whether the players choose to engage the story from day 0 or ignore it until the last minute, or any mix of engagement between them, I have the pieces to work with and adjust so that they account for the players choices.

If you're a spectator in that context, you're literally not playing the game and don't get the point of a sandbox.
 

Neither did the people who came up with the term simulationist in regards to describing RPGs. Part and parcel to why the Forge was ultimately a big waste of time driven by a very narrow (and troubling) person.
Well, you'll have to address the ARGUMENT and not the MESSENGER if you want to have THAT discussion. Lets just say that when your approach to RPG analysis has spawned an entire subindustry of games, then lets talk....
Simulationist in the sense that Im using it is for a gameworld that functions regardless of the players actions. And by function, I mean that things still happen and life goes on, even if the PCs are entirely off-world.
Nothing 'happens' in game worlds, that's the point where we diverge, I have no need for a self-contained novel to exist in my setting. It really isn't all that special anyway! But even assuming you DO want to have completely NPC-driven meta-plot (and I'm not really against that either) I'm not sure why that must be constrained to be 'simulationist'. I think you're bringing some OTHER stuff that is as-of-yet unexamined.
In other words, the gameworld is there as its own element with agency, not merely a quantum backdrop for the actions of the PCs.
As with the idea of things happening in a setting, I am not personally very taken with the notion that 'agency', which seems to involve WILL and certain cognitive functions can be applied to a setting, or to NPCs, or even to PCs except as a shorthand for player agency. So I guess a GM can invent and play through (or at least imagine) a whole scenario that doesn't involve anyone else. I'm perfectly OK with calling that 'GM agency'.
If that were true, it would mean you weren't even playing the game.
It would, to me, mean that I was simply engaging in picking from pre-ordained sets of choices. I could be playing, in a game sense, as for instance, I might fight a battle and utilize tactics to win (or fail and lose). But this gets to be a bit of an 'excluded middle' kind of thing at a certain point.
I think you're getting hung up on me describing stories as fully written. The point of that isn't to railroad players, its to have all the pieces of a story in place so that, when the actual story is weaved at the table, Im not left wanting if the PCs take some unexpected turn away from that story and go towards some other story or even forge their own.
I guess I find it odd how afraid trad GMs seem to be of this eventuality. For instance I ran a 4e campaign that lasted from 2008 to 2011, and during the last 2 years of it, I PREPPED NOTHING. I rand 2 more 4e campaigns after that in 2011-2013, and NEVER prepped anything at all! I mean, I came up with some battle maps, and lists of stat blocks that I thought would probably make a good fight. Often I spent 5 to 10 minutes per session doing that! It might be a case of me overestimating how well those games played, but they lasted a good while and everyone SEEMED pretty happy and kept coming back. I didn't perceive any deficiencies in play.
Its the same basic ethos behind GM prep being about prepping situations rather than plots. I write the story sans players so I have a full gamut of situations to utilize.

Whether the players choose to engage the story from day 0 or ignore it until the last minute, or any mix of engagement between them, I have the pieces to work with and adjust so that they account for the players choices.

If you're a spectator in that context, you're literally not playing the game and don't get the point of a sandbox.
I think you can see why I call what you describe as being 'GM-driven' as it is very heavily centered on setting and material provided BY the GM without reference to anything the players/PCs bring to the table. While I think that kind of play is often 'simulationist' in some sense, I will agree with others who say that the term, as often used in GNS, is perhaps not the best word for it.
 

I'm not, personally, understanding the whole 'functioning world' thing at all. I've never gotten that. RPGs, for me, are not played in a sort of 'doll house' where there must be a pretend version of everything found in real life or whatnot.

I think we have VERY different ideas about what 'driving the game' means. I certainly would not feel like I was participating as anything much more than a spectator adding color in a game such as you describe, as I understand it. You entirely set the stage, plot all the happenings, and thus decide what the game is about and what elements enter into it and what their significance is. I'm just there to take in the sights and react.
.

I run games like Emberashh and have run the same adventures for different groups and got totally different games.

Here is an example: pretend the "sandbox" is Western Europe, 1944. The GM has a plan that (barring player interference) addresses which way thr course of the war goes, which cities are leveled, etc.

Now....based on the players you can wind up with Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Basterds or Overlord. Or one of a million other stories, which may, or may not, impact the arc of the setting.

I will generally lay out easy plot hooks that appeal to the characters based on the kind of game discussed in Session -1 (aka the "what game are we playing next" session) and Session 0. Inglorious Basterds get the French 5th column. Overlord gets drafted. Saving Private Ryan requires a bit more custom-crafted openings.

If midway through Ryan, they decide to pull a Basterds, OK. But Ryan could very well die. Or maybe they so disrupt the Reich that D-day doesn't happen.

Only time will tell.

Addendum: IME most players can't generate/spare the emotional energy for "driven" characters. They want a Forrest Gump game, where fate drops a metric ton of improbable opportunities to be "in the room where it happens" and their character can step up or just enjoy being in the background.
 
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darkbard

Legend
Addendum: IME most players can't generate/spare the emotional energy for "driven" characters. They want a Forrest Gump game, where fate drops a metric ton of improbable opportunities to be "in the room where it happens" and their character can step up or just enjoy being in the babackground.
Question: do you think players can't generate/spare such energy, or do you think they've been primed to expect their roles to be relatively passive receivers of GM-driven play by trad D&D's long history looming over the industry (what often gets euphemistically termed "immersion," as if such a state were possible only through such a dynamic)?
 

Question: do you think players can't generate/spare such energy, or do you think they've been primed to expect their roles to be relatively passive receivers of GM-driven play by trad D&D's long history looming over the industry (what often gets euphemistically termed "immersion," as if such a state were possible only through such a dynamic)?
I think they either can't spare it or don't enjoy it.

If you think about it, having a second person's "driving need" in your head for more than a handful of minutes is atypical. It is the realm of actors, fiction authors and GMs, all of which are small fractions of any population.

We are capable of empathy for prolonged periods of times, but that's mostly passive. This is more emotional projection which is not "walking and chewing gum" levels of mental multitasking, its "unicycle while juggling" stuff.

Can a plurality of people do it? Probably yes, with practice & effort.

Do they derive enough pleasure from it to justify the effort? IME mostly no, or not for long.
 

TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
I guess I find it odd how afraid trad GMs seem to be of this eventuality. For instance I ran a 4e campaign that lasted from 2008 to 2011, and during the last 2 years of it, I PREPPED NOTHING. I rand 2 more 4e campaigns after that in 2011-2013, and NEVER prepped anything at all! I mean, I came up with some battle maps, and lists of stat blocks that I thought would probably make a good fight. Often I spent 5 to 10 minutes per session doing that! It might be a case of me overestimating how well those games played, but they lasted a good while and everyone SEEMED pretty happy and kept coming back. I didn't perceive any deficiencies in play.
I think the sim/trad priority of viewing the game play as deriving from an already extant fiction, and the resulting desire to only create novel elements as extrapolation from previously existing notes, can fuel a desire to do a lot of pre-prep.

As a "lazy DM" who also preps next to nothing, the one bit of illusionism I cautiously use is acting like some of my improvisation is pulled from some well of prepped material.
 

TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
Question: do you think players can't generate/spare such energy, or do you think they've been primed to expect their roles to be relatively passive receivers of GM-driven play by trad D&D's long history looming over the industry (what often gets euphemistically termed "immersion," as if such a state were possible only through such a dynamic)?
My personal belief is that it's much more the former than the latter. D&D evolved into storypath play from more gamist dungeon-crawling in the mid 80s, and the industry has remained there for the past 40 years. If there was a groundswell of desire for that NOT to be the standard of play, I think it would have evolved by now. Yes, there are plenty of games that have evolved into other types of play, but I think they would have higher rates of acceptance if there was actually some kind of disgruntlement with the current types of play.

Plus, passive receiving of a pre-generated story is the norm in CRPGs, books, TV, and movies...I don't think it's a shock that most players walk into a TTRPG not expecting to have high amounts of authorship.
 

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