What is a "Narrative Mechanic"?

Reynard

Legend
It seems like this would lead to a lot of special pleading by players that this specific aspect they want to inflict makes sense in the context of the circumstances, and wasn't chosen just because it provides the most mechanical advantage.

It's similar to the main issue I have with aspects in general. I've played several games that use them, and IME it always leads to players doing their darndest to leverage positive ones whether they make sense of not, and ignore negative ones whether they make sense or not, for mechanical reasons.
I don't think that is especially different than players arguing they should get Advantage for the high ground or whatever. Any game that allows for "rulings not rules" is going to encourage players to wheedle for advantages. It's even couched as "skilled play" in OSR circles.
 

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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
I don't think that is especially different than players arguing they should get Advantage for the high ground or whatever. Any game that allows for "rulings not rules" is going to encourage players to wheedle for advantages. It's even couched as "skilled play" in OSR circles.
But in a game with Aspects that behavior is very much against the spirit of play, even though it is mechanically encouraged. Bit of a disconnect.
 


aramis erak

Legend
Unless you are specific about what "affecting the story state" is, that would seem to equate to the same "all adiegetic mechanics are narrative" which I don't find to be useful.
You're apparently failing to grasp the temporal component of the quoted statement.
whatdoesnegation of followingtime adjectivegerund object of gerund
a mechanicaffects the story statewithoutpriorgrounding in the story stat
In other words, if the mechanic ties to using something already in the story state, it's not a narrative mechanic.
Exactly the opposite of what you appear to have misinterpreted it as.
 


Pedantic

Legend
Diegetic is a litle used word often used by lit majors in an attempt to sound professorial. It's meaningless to most. Looks impressive.
It's more commonly used when discussing film, and it's really not that obscure. The stock standard example is a soundtrack. Background music is part of the text, but isn't experienced directly by the characters portrayed on screen.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
And let's not go full GNS and bring Simulation into this. Simulationism was Ron Edwards talking about things he didn't like, didn't see the appeal of, and wouldn't deep dive. GNS is a manifesto for more and better narrative games - and we're so far beyond where we were when he was writing quarter of a century ago that it's ridiculous. Simulationism was never right and "narrative" games have gone way beyond anything we could have forseen when he was writing those essays as a reaction to Vampire: the Masquerade and the rest of the oWoD not delivering what they promised.
I agree. Reporting a conversation with Paul Czege, Edwards wrote that

No, we think that Simulationism is a form of retreat, denial, and defense against the responsibilities of either Gamism or Narrativism. These two outlooks acknowledge, even require Author stance, and they acknowledge the potential of personal failure in role-playing. The Gamist can lose. The Narrativist can look on the results and say, "That story stunk, and it was my fault."

That would give us Gamism and Narrativism as "real" RPG goals, and Simulationism as a historical, perhaps even regrettable artifact of bad design.

To say something is not a "real" goal of play and possibly a "regrettable artifact of bad design" is certainly not to show it much love. Further on Edwards elaborated that

I am stating that there are many people who fit a Simulationist profile. I am also suggesting that such a profile is NOT an actual role-playing priority in the same way that the Narrativist and Gamist profiles are.

Instead, the Simulationist profile (behaviors) represents a retreat from the responsibilities of either Gamism or Narrativism. It's a way to blame any undesirable outcomes on "the game," or to put all responsibility for the quality of the story on the GM, and ultimately, on the game designers (metaplot).

As Baker would later comment (not intentionally in response to this) it is rather the point of "game" for players to be able to blame undesirable outcomes on it. That aside, if one looks at Edwards' "hard questions" conceit (that at the outset he suggests will tie his three essays together) it goes like this

Simulationists - when will you realise what you are doing is boring?
Gamists - do you choose roleplaying to compete in because you're too weak for other sports?
Narrativists - are you talented and courageous enough?

Being biased in these ways doesn't mean he had nothing worthwhile to say. His piece on simulationism contributes nothing particularly worthwhile and to my reading diverts attention from creative agenda to techniques for achieving it. Conversely, his piece on narrativism is inspirational reading and acutely draws out the consequences of the ludic-dichotomy (player is simultaneously audience and author) that others in game studies had noticed at the time but not yet appreciated. It has consequences that to my mind provide a strong justification for "postclassical" stances on narratology versus ludology (i.e. reconciles them.) Additionally, I think he made arguments that needed to be made forecefully at the time. Existing norms needed to be challenged head-on, so indefensibly hostile stances were perhaps required to shake up assumptions.
 
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pemerton

Legend
I agree. Reporting a conversation with Paul Czege, Edwards wrote that
Notice the date? April 24, 2001: All-out dissection (LONG AND BRUTAL)

The date on GNS, Ch1, is October 14, 2002.

The date on The Right to Dream is 29 Jan, 2003.

And in that essay the following remark is found:

Simulationist role-playing has a great deal of power and potential. In the previous essay, I wrote that it "... is expressed by enhancing one or more of the listed elements [Character, Setting, Situation, System, Color]; in other words, Simulationism heightens and focuses Exploration as the priority of play. The players may be greatly concerned with the internal logic and experiential consistency of that Exploration."​

Familiar? It should be: it is the basis for the remarks from Eero Tuovinen that you have praised.

If one looks at his "hard questions" conceit (that at the outset he suggets will tie his three essays together) it goes like this

Simulationists - when will you realise what you are doing is boring?
Here is the actual text of the "hard question" for simulationist RPGers:

Role-playing is a hobby, leisure activity. The real question is, what for, in the long term? For Simulationist play, the answer "This was fun, so let's do it again," is sufficient.

However, for how long is it sufficient? Which seems to me to vary greatly from person to person. Is the focus on Exploration to be kept as is, permanently, as characters and settings change through play? Some say "sure" and wonder what the hell I'm talking about, or perhaps feel slightly insulted. Or, is Drift ultimately desirable? Is play all about getting "it" to work prior to permitting overt metagame agendas into the picture? Some might answer "of course" and wonder why anyone could see it otherwise.

So! Is there an expected, future metagame payoff, or is the journey really its own reward? Is Simulationist play what you want, or is it what you think you must do in order, one day, to get what you want?

I judge nothing with these questions. I think that they're important to consider and that answers are going to vary widely, that's all.​

I think anyone can see that your paraphrase is neither accurate nor fair.

Gamists - do you choose roleplaying to compete in because you're too weak for other sports?
Narrativists - are you talented and courageous enough?
For completeness, here are the actual text of these also:

Gamism
For the Gamist, the question is, why is role-playing your chosen venue as a social hobby? There are lots and lots of them that unequivocally fit Step On Up with far less potential for encountering conflicting priorities: volleyball, chess, or pool, if you like the Crunch; horse races or Las Vegas if you like the Gamble; hell, even organized amateur sports like competitive martial arts or sport fishing.

Do you play Gamist in role-playing because it doesn't hurt your ego as much as other venues might? Is role-playing safer in some way, in terms of the loss factor of Step On Up? Even more severely, are you sticking to role-playing because many fellow players subscribe to the "no one wins in role-playing" idea? Do you lurk like Grendel among a group of tolerant, perhaps discomfited Simulationists, secure that they are disinclined to Step On Up toward you? In which case, you can win against them or the game all the time, but they will never win against you?

I accuse no one of affirmative answers to these questions; that's the reader's business. But I do think answering them should be a high priority.​

Given how many RPGers, including on these forums, complain about players who think they can "win" D&D - and produce allied complaints against munchkins, powergamers, etc - I don't think that that aspect of Edwards's question is out of order. The phenomenon appears to be a genuine one.

Narrativism
The . . . question is much like the Gamist one: why role-play for this purpose? Why this venue, and not some more widely-recognized medium like writing comics or novels or screenplays? Addressing Premise can be done in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of artistic media. To play Narrativist, you must be seizing role-playing, seeing some essential feature in the medium itself, which demands that Premise be addressed in this way for you and not another. What is that feature? If you can't see one, then maybe, just maybe, you are slumming in this hobby because you're afraid you can't hack it in a commercial artistic environment. Maybe you even hang with a primarily-Simulationist group, with the minimal levels of satisfaction to be gained among them, because it's safe there.

But let's say you do answer that question, and hold your head up as a Narrativist role-playing practitioner, addresser of Premise. Fine - now you have to ask yourself whether you can handle artistic rejection. That's right, no one might be interested in you. This is exactly what all aspiring directors, screenwriters, novelists, and other practitioners of narrative artistry face. In which case, you'll have to decide whether it's because your worthy vision is unappreciated and should seek new collaborators, or because your vision is simply lacking. It's not an easy thing to deal with.

But let's say that's all resolved too, and you are holding the brass ring: successful and fulfilling Narrativist play with a great bunch of fellow participants, fine and exciting content from your and the others' work, and the sense of worthy artistry. Now for the final conundrum: what will you sacrifice to sustain it? Maybe your spouse is tired of the time you spend on this; maybe you and a fellow group member get a little too close; maybe you decide your art would be even better if your best friend's sorry ass was no longer gumming up the group's work. Can you make those sorts of choices? Can you live with the results?

Good luck with it. No one ever claimed that balls-to-the-wall artists were necessarily easy to live with.​

Of course, Edwards has already answered some of the later paragraphs earlier in the essay:

The first minor issue is not really a big deal - simply, not everyone is necessarily a whiz at addressing Premise even when they try. If they were, we'd see a hell of a lot more great novels, comics, movies, and plays than we do. Signs of "hack Narrativism" include backing off from unexpected opportunities to address Premise or consistently swinging play into parody versions of the issues involved. I don't see any particular reason to bemoan or criticize this bit of dysfunction; all art forms have their Sunday practitioners.​

I cheerfully admit to being a Sunday practitioner. As another poster recently noted, any resemblance between Glorfindel, Elf Lord of Rivendell, and Glothfindel the Elven Ranger and friend of Fea-bella the Elven Dreamwalker in my Torchbearer campaign, is mere coincidence!

Or to flip it around: if people think that their RPG efforts - which by their nature consist primarily in the creation of imaginative fiction - are significant art works, rather than hack and pastiche as mine largely are, then I think the onus is on them to show us their stuff!

If they think it's fun because it's theirs, done with their friends - and this is certainly my experience - then what does it matter that, somewhere else, Vincent Baker or Paul Czege or whomever is doing something more sophisticated or avant garde?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
The thing is that what's being called "narrative mechanics" aren't where the differences I notice lie. Apocalypse World is an ultra-strong narrative game that has approximately as much in the way of what this thread defines as narrative mechanics as GURPS or Savage Worlds, and I don't see anyone calling those narrative games. However it does have some distinctive features that make for a strong narrative such as:
  • "Play to find out what happens" - even the GM doesn't do a whole lot of planning and the PCs are the stars of the show.
  • Every roll matters. There's never a "roll to see whether you have to roll again". The outcomes are strong success, partial success, and failure-with-consequences (GM's choice).
    • Because every roll is consequential the story spirals out of control fast and no one truly knows where it is going. Strong plans and pre-written campaigns aren't pointful
  • Characters are tied to the setting and the setting is created at least partially round the characters. You aren't a band of wandering nomads - instead you have your turf and thus things that are inherently valuable. And the player character sheet includes NPCs
  • There are permanent negative consequences other than death and equipment loss and playing into them makes things more fun. (In AW there's the "when life becomes untenable" consequences; in Blades it's Trauma - and your Blades character won't really be rolling until they've picked up their first trauma)
  • An XP system that encourages doing what makes the story more interesting and tangled
  • An expectation of short campaigns with conclusions rather than pretty much open ended campaigns that can last almost indefinitely. This encourages stronger consequences and with it stronger stories.
  • A restriction on the power of the GM such as the GM never touching the dice during play and having more limited power than in traditional RPGs.
  • A focus on getting the right outcomes over step by step processes to get the character to work. (Most "narrative mechanics" as defined in this thread come from doing something here to fill gaps).
In reading this thread I have had similar feelings (without agreeing point-for-point necessarily)! While I liked @Pedantic's rather neat "nexus of causality" definition, and @Umbran's discussion of diagetic/non-diagetic distinctions, I don't think that can be all there is to it. That is, I don't think a mechanic can be called a narrative mechanic just because it is - one way or another - insufficiently explained. Reflection on Vancian spells confirms that. As does the necessity of admitting inadequately explained elements to narrative in all kinds of ways (or even drawing the line as to what counts as sufficient explanation, e.g. what described character act is sufficient to explain proposed narrative.)

Of course we want a definition that is meaningful to those using it, tied to something they want to talk about. On those grounds, perphaps calling a fuzzily defined category of fiat mechanics may be okay, however...

I think what counts as a narrative mechanic is a mechanic that governs the form of the narrative itself, not its content. Thus the snowballing fail-forward, soft-move, hard-move arrangements of PbtA are narrative mechanics. Mechanics that distribute authorship are narrative mechanics (it doesn't matter what the content is going to be or whether it is explained by the existing game state, it matters where its authorship lies). And so on. No-myth mechanics are narrative mechanics because they determine the timing of the formation of narrative.

I can see the appeal of saying that narrative mechanics are in essence about what is demanded as explanation for proposed narrative. (A character act, expenditure of a currency, a spell, etc.) One can say that when there is apparently no explanation in current-state, but a mechanic provides for it anyway, said mechanic is a narrative mechanic. But I think, when really scrutinised, it's over-productive or at least extremely hard to define reliable norms. It's mostly a statement about required justifications for plausibility.

Whereas if we say that narrative mechanics are those addressing the form of narrative, that seems closer to right to me.
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
Notice the date? April 24, 2001: All-out dissection (LONG AND BRUTAL)

The date on GNS, Ch1, is October 14, 2002.

The date on The Right to Dream is 29 Jan, 2003.

And in that essay the following remark is found:

Simulationist role-playing has a great deal of power and potential. In the previous essay, I wrote that it "... is expressed by enhancing one or more of the listed elements [Character, Setting, Situation, System, Color]; in other words, Simulationism heightens and focuses Exploration as the priority of play. The players may be greatly concerned with the internal logic and experiential consistency of that Exploration."​

Familiar? It should be: it is the basis for the remarks from Eero Tuovinen that you have praised.

Here is the actual text of the "hard question" for simulationist RPGers:

Role-playing is a hobby, leisure activity. The real question is, what for, in the long term? For Simulationist play, the answer "This was fun, so let's do it again," is sufficient.​
However, for how long is it sufficient? Which seems to me to vary greatly from person to person. Is the focus on Exploration to be kept as is, permanently, as characters and settings change through play? Some say "sure" and wonder what the hell I'm talking about, or perhaps feel slightly insulted. Or, is Drift ultimately desirable? Is play all about getting "it" to work prior to permitting overt metagame agendas into the picture? Some might answer "of course" and wonder why anyone could see it otherwise.​
So! Is there an expected, future metagame payoff, or is the journey really its own reward? Is Simulationist play what you want, or is it what you think you must do in order, one day, to get what you want?​
I judge nothing with these questions. I think that they're important to consider and that answers are going to vary widely, that's all.​

I think anyone can see that your paraphrase is neither accurate nor fair.

For completeness, here are the actual text of these also:

For the Gamist, the question is, why is role-playing your chosen venue as a social hobby? There are lots and lots of them that unequivocally fit Step On Up with far less potential for encountering conflicting priorities: volleyball, chess, or pool, if you like the Crunch; horse races or Las Vegas if you like the Gamble; hell, even organized amateur sports like competitive martial arts or sport fishing.​
Do you play Gamist in role-playing because it doesn't hurt your ego as much as other venues might? Is role-playing safer in some way, in terms of the loss factor of Step On Up? Even more severely, are you sticking to role-playing because many fellow players subscribe to the "no one wins in role-playing" idea? Do you lurk like Grendel among a group of tolerant, perhaps discomfited Simulationists, secure that they are disinclined to Step On Up toward you? In which case, you can win against them or the game all the time, but they will never win against you?​
I accuse no one of affirmative answers to these questions; that's the reader's business. But I do think answering them should be a high priority.​

Given how many RPGers, including on these forums, complain about players who think they can "win" D&D - and produce allied complaints against munchkins, powergamers, etc - I don't think that that aspect of Edwards's question is out of order. The phenomenon appears to be a genuine one.

The . . . question is much like the Gamist one: why role-play for this purpose? Why this venue, and not some more widely-recognized medium like writing comics or novels or screenplays? Addressing Premise can be done in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of artistic media. To play Narrativist, you must be seizing role-playing, seeing some essential feature in the medium itself, which demands that Premise be addressed in this way for you and not another. What is that feature? If you can't see one, then maybe, just maybe, you are slumming in this hobby because you're afraid you can't hack it in a commercial artistic environment. Maybe you even hang with a primarily-Simulationist group, with the minimal levels of satisfaction to be gained among them, because it's safe there.​
But let's say you do answer that question, and hold your head up as a Narrativist role-playing practitioner, addresser of Premise. Fine - now you have to ask yourself whether you can handle artistic rejection. That's right, no one might be interested in you. This is exactly what all aspiring directors, screenwriters, novelists, and other practitioners of narrative artistry face. In which case, you'll have to decide whether it's because your worthy vision is unappreciated and should seek new collaborators, or because your vision is simply lacking. It's not an easy thing to deal with.​
But let's say that's all resolved too, and you are holding the brass ring: successful and fulfilling Narrativist play with a great bunch of fellow participants, fine and exciting content from your and the others' work, and the sense of worthy artistry. Now for the final conundrum: what will you sacrifice to sustain it? Maybe your spouse is tired of the time you spend on this; maybe you and a fellow group member get a little too close; maybe you decide your art would be even better if your best friend's sorry ass was no longer gumming up the group's work. Can you make those sorts of choices? Can you live with the results?​
Good luck with it. No one ever claimed that balls-to-the-wall artists were necessarily easy to live with.​

Of course, Edwards has already answered some of the later paragraphs earlier in the essay:

The first minor issue is not really a big deal - simply, not everyone is necessarily a whiz at addressing Premise even when they try. If they were, we'd see a hell of a lot more great novels, comics, movies, and plays than we do. Signs of "hack Narrativism" include backing off from unexpected opportunities to address Premise or consistently swinging play into parody versions of the issues involved. I don't see any particular reason to bemoan or criticize this bit of dysfunction; all art forms have their Sunday practitioners.​

I cheerfully admit to being a Sunday practitioner. As another poster recently noted, any resemblance between Glorfindel, Elf Lord of Rivendell, and Glothfindel the Elven Ranger and friend of Fea-bella the Elven Dreamwalker in my Torchbearer campaign, is mere coincidence!

Or to flip it around: if people think that their RPG efforts - which by their nature consist primarily in the creation of imaginative fiction - are significant art works, rather than hack and pastiche as mine largely are, then I think the onus is on them to show us their stuff!

If they think it's fun because it's theirs, done with their friends - and this is certainly my experience - then what does it matter that, somewhere else, Vincent Baker or Paul Czege or whomever is doing something more sophisticated or avant garde?
We'll never agree on this point. I cannot read Edwards and discern any genuine empathy for simulationism. Rather an intelligent dissection that just like his earlier "brutal" version struggles to identify the creative motives of simulationists. Entirely unlike his writing on narrativism.
 

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