What makes an TTRPG a "Narrative Game" (Daggerheart Discussion)

clearstream

(He, Him)
A final argument that I will mention is that - when looked at in the context of ordinary, conventional RPGing with a typical GM-player divide - the most important thing to do to achieve narrativist play is to change the way the GM makes decisions from the sorts of approaches that are set out in "mainstream" RPG books (like, eg, most D&D DMGs). The relevant changes include having regard to player thematic cues, allowing players to set the goals for their PCs (and not asking them to pick from a GM-authored menu), and having regard to those thematic cues in establishing situations (= framing scenes) and establishing consequences. This in turn requires departing from "neutral GMing" as well as "follow the story board" GMing, and is apt to cause friction with some fairly common approaches to action resolution and to the establishing of consequences (eg rules around healing of injuries or recovery/replenishment of gear).
Yes, and as related to the OP, reading the Daggerheart game text I observe structures and statements that will have utility to modes of play that forcefully make that shift, and structures and statements that will have utility to modes of play that do not.

I have no idea what makes this particular bundle of arguments "modalist". It's a series of arguments about the relationships between technique, play procedures, expectations/convention, and various aesthetic goals one might have while RPGing.

I mean, I've actually played RQ and RM, and I can't see the "continuum" pathway from... one of them to the other, even though they're both d%-using purist-for-system-oriented engines.
I appreciate that through a modalistic lense it can be hard to see that continuum. RQ and RM could seem as dissimilar as word puzzles and novels, rather than as similar as one word puzzle with another. Modalism is defined by denying any conceptual space surrounding and between instances.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

clearstream

(He, Him)
Yup. I mean. Edwards (the originator of the Narrativism essay) independently coming to the same conclusions that you and I did (I think he first read and played 4e like 2.5 years ago...I can't recall, I linked you the videos at the time) nearly 16 years ago is the killshot for the skepticism around 4e and Narrativism. The conversation should have been absolutely over at that point. I mean it should have been stone dead long ago...but it never will be. Because the veracity of the claim and the evidence bulwarking it was never the point and will never be the point.

I'll just quickly expand on what you wrote above that links 4e to Narrativist priorities and to its successful implementation as a vehicle for such priorities. If you see the following in a system, you're looking at Narrativist priorities and the means to that end:

* Theme and premise-based goals in the hands of the players and clearly encoded, transparent tools for the pursuit of it that are taken out from behind a GM screen and made table-facing; Player-authored Quests, "say yes," magic items in the hands of players, a conflict-rich setting and Class/Background/Theme/Paragon Path/Epic Destiny that directly indexes those conflicts, conflict procedures with transparent goals + evolving situation state that attends to those goals + Burning Wheel style Fail Forward + encoded resolution that isn't up for GM veto/mediation/effery.

* The advice to cut to the action and make the locus of play the conflict-charged, clear-stakes scene and then a game engine that does exactly that; Skip the gate guards and get to the fun + encounter as the site of play w/ vignettes (transition scenes) linking them and generating cascading follow-on play.

*
A game engine that trivially and reliably delivers duress (because the game engine is balanced such that the difficulty knobs work), crucible-type play where the things players are fighting for through their PCs in those first two bullet points can be denied to them and/or complicated merely as a matter of deftly applying and using system (therefore deriving that system's "say" in the matter).


If the game you're playing features an engine and GMing advice around the above ethos and techniques...you're playing a vessel that has, at minimum, systemitized a host of interlocking dynamics that just so happen (NO WAI?!) to hyper-functionally facilitate Narrativism.
I recall being surprised when folk first drew attention to it, but at no time did it seem to me incredible. At the time I was excited about the tremendous steps 4e had taken in addressing ludic fundamentals such as tempo.
 

I recall being surprised when folk first drew attention to it, but at no time did it seem to me incredible. At the time I was excited about the tremendous steps 4e had taken in addressing ludic fundamentals such as tempo.

That's cool and good for you (sincere). But that isn't how things have gone down here on ENW. IMO, its one of the more weird (yet unsurprising) things I've seen in this hobby. This is my inventory of it:

* Originator of thing x explains it (in long-form essay and in all manner of elaborations).

* Years later, independently (neither @pemerton nor I know Ron Edwards...and there were others still, also independent of both the originator of the essay and myself etc, who made the same observations), some folks who know thing x and have played thing n a lot say....hey this thing n has values and system architecture that generate an orientation to play that looks damn near the spitting image of thing x.

* Many detractors (who utterly hate thing y, hate and misunderstand both thing x and REALLY HATE the originator of thing x) say BOO HISS NO!

* Some decade+ later, originator of thing x says the equivalent of..."just read and played thing n for the first time...to my surprise, its a type of thing x."


Now who thinks that puts things to bed? Of course not. Independent assessment by multiple observers didn't do it. Decades and vast seas of accumulated words depicting how it does it didn't do it. The originator of the essay independently vetting the claim won't do it. Nothing_will_do it. Its not about the veracity of the claim or the evidence. Its about the BOO HISS.
 

Arilyn

Hero
I'm playing in a game right now with lots of roleplaying, deep drama, personal conflicts and tricky moral decisions. The players have choices in a sandboxy way on where we will go and how we'll deal with situations. The game is Shadowdark! Aha, you might say. Doesn't this prove that any game can be narrativist? Well no. We have roleplaying and drama but we aren't playing in a narrativist style. I have played Story Now games and they run very differently from my current Shadowdark game.

Daggerheart is aiming for rules that'll support dramatic games that Critical Role leans into and what my table often does. It's not going to be narrativist.

All of these games are rpgs and yes of course, they all have roleplaying. But there is a big difference between traditional games (most rpgs) and narrativist games.Unfortunately, these discussions always degenerate into stubbornness and veiled insults coming from both sides.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
To swipe from @pemerton

I think doing a cross word puzzle and reading a book of fiction exist on a continuum. They both happen on a page and involve words. I mean you can read cross word puzzles right? and the words don’t necessarily refer to anything that exists? That’s the same as fiction.

In fact these crossword/fiction reader types are binary thinkers. They see the world in black and white. When I do cross words, I often read a bit of the novel I’m working through. In fact it would be weird to just read a novel without breaking it up with some crosswords.

I mean nothing is actually the same is it. Can you step into the same river twice? I don’t think so. So why say that crosswords and fiction reading are fundamentally discrete?
You raise an interesting point here about the possible paucity of dimensions in common, so I decided to reply.

So then, crossword puzzles and novels? One obviously can map a few dimensions in common. Both have a word count, so that can be mapped as a dimension. Possibly the words appearing in both novels and crossword puzzles change with the times, so that frequency can be mapped as another dimension. Overall, however, it feels like we have a paucity of dimensions. Even so, it surprises me that anyone is unable to picture both crosswords and novels being described by their word count. And were I to compare crosswords with some other type of word puzzle instead, I would likely find that I can map more.

The problem you identify is strength of mapping in terms of number and salience of dimensions. I agree with your identification of that problem. I simply do not agree that it applies when comparing a TTRPG game text such as Daggerhearts with other TTRPG game texts such as Avatar or D&D. The theories cited in this thread rely to a very great extent upon there being a robust set of dimensions in common that describe them. To my reading the evolution of GDS to GNS, to today, continues to be one of folk rightly noticing (in some cases even predicting) what I've called peaks or hot spots.

That said, I'm not saying that visualising this way will avail others. Evidently it does not.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I'm playing in a game right now with lots of roleplaying, deep drama, personal conflicts and tricky moral decisions. The players have choices in a sandboxy way on where we will go and how we'll deal with situations. The game is Shadowdark! Aha, you might say. Doesn't this prove that any game can be narrativist? Well no. We have roleplaying and drama but we aren't playing in a narrativist style. I have played Story Now games and they run very differently from my current Shadowdark game.

Daggerheart is aiming for rules that'll support dramatic games that Critical Role leans into and what my table often does. It's not going to be narrativist.

All of these games are rpgs and yes of course, they all have roleplaying. But there is a big difference between traditional games (most rpgs) and narrativist games.Unfortunately, these discussions always degenerate into stubbornness and veiled insults coming from both sides.
To put my observations in another way, a game text has utility to given modes of play that will depend

on the game text itself​
how players grasp and uphold that text​
how players define that mode of play​

For example, "trad" has been used freely in this and other threads to label some mode of play. I don't know what that mode is: different posters assert different definitions. Thus, how can I judge what degree of utility a game text has to "trad" when it labels a host of different modes?

I see game texts as having degrees of utility to whatever play a group have in mind. It's quite possible to identify techniques implemented in a text and say the same thing about those techniques. Examples appear in this thread. And very obviously cohorts can (and do) discover they have desires in common and share their findings.

What I believe we are observing with Daggerheart is a shift repeatedly observed in design and culture

an avant-garde makes important discoveries​
often they have to overcome resistance to have those discoveries acknowledged​
others start to notice and absorb the value of those discoveries​
they implement them into their own designs and activities, with increasing skill​
some refuse to respect putative boundaries and experiment diversely​
further discoveries are made​
I see TTRPG game design and player cultures as living, dynamic, always evolving. It wasn't settled for all time in 1974 and it sure as heck wasn't settled for all time in 2004. Albeit to contradict myself, or hedge, certainly, I do believe that the current shift is one of absorbing realizations that were unavailable to the earliest players and designers, that are fundamental to what TTRPG is.
 
Last edited:

I do find it a bit wild that people find 4e D&D narrativist. Like sure, if I squint really hard, I can see the points raised, but those seem to be more in the eye of the beholder rather than in the game text. For example to me the "player authored quests" is simply advice to award XP for unplanned stuff the PCs decide to do and nothing more. And what is weirdest to me that many of the people who seem to think 4e that way also seem to think that 5e is super bad fit for narrativism. Eh. They're different but ultimately pretty similar. The biggest difference is that 4e is way more combat focused and absolutely requires detailed battle maps to run properly. It is more gamist, than 5e, that's the actual difference.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I mostly assume there needs to be a period of introspective de-conditioning to get N irregardless of system.
I agree with your observation here. Players must conceive and play to goals and other cues that can successfully develop themes, and GM must help ensure the play is about those. The game text can structure and exemplify what players ought to develop, and likewise what GM ought to be doing and when.

Just to develop some wild thoughts, suppose that there were exactly two approaches to TTRPG
  1. Play adopts and pursues premises developed by players
  2. Play adopts and pursues storyline ideas
These are then developed in a Western dramatic tradition (of rising action etc), so that they are alike in that respect. One could then have a theory that at least as regards what play adopts and pursues 2. cannot be like 1. It's either pursue premises or pursue storyline.

Alternatively, one could say that although it took awhile to understand it, play is and has always been about ludonarrative. It's play iff it's about ludonarrative, and not otherwise. Ludonarrativism says that the only way storyline can develop in play is if it is about the premises developed by players. Otherwise it is storyline imposed on top of play, and thus (in that respect) not play at all. The thesis then is that 1. unpacks into multiple further modes of play.
 
Last edited:

thefutilist

Adventurer
That said, I'm not saying that visualising this way will avail others. Evidently it does not.
It doesn’t to me.

I think GNS Narrativism is a red herring in a lot of these discussions and Narrativists (including me), get defensive about the term and drift the conversation. Other than that, I think your overall analysis very broadly matches what’s going on. Although I think you over emphasise system and under emphasise the social aspect.

I think what are colloquially called Narrative mechanics tended to repulse a lot of role-players who occupied the huge middle ground between osr and story games. Because this is a group activity, you only needed one person to dislike them for the group to reject them.

With the influx of new players, this tide is beginning to turn a little bit. I think it started with FATE and gained momentum with Dungeon world. It will be really interesting to see if Dagger heart produces a bigger shift.
 

Autumnal

Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
Now who thinks that puts things to bed? Of course not. Independent assessment by multiple observers didn't do it. Decades and vast seas of accumulated words depicting how it does it didn't do it. The originator of the essay independently vetting the claim won't do it. Nothing_will_do it. Its not about the veracity of the claim or the evidence. Its about the BOO HISS.
It seems like there are two factors at work.

1. Who has the authority to narrate the next segment of forum discussion evolution, and what are the bounds of their narrative authority? The problem is that the meta-currency is invisible, and so are the rules about earning and spending it.

2. Story Then. Swiping the title of an issue of Cerebus the Aardvark, anything done for the first thing unleashes a demon. Invention is of the devil. Sometimes, as with Merlin, a spawn of the devil (not the spawn of the devil) so useful to the forces of good may that it’s worth sparing for a while. But that’s not the way to bet: it simply is much much better that the truth continue to be what trusted sources say it always has been. Revising our sense of what a prior game was all about is a thing never to be done lightly, and preferably not at all. The game is about standing firm and not being moved.

I wanted this post to be more purely goofball than it is, I’m afraid.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top