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


(He, Him)
Because the tool that does everything does nothing. There's nothing saying that games like Wisher, Theurge, Fatalist shouldn't be a thing. Just that Apocalypse World isn't actually one of those games.

To unpack what actually happens is that all mechanics produce drag; they slow things down and they produce barriers to entry. All of which slows down the game (a bad thing), disrupt peoples' flow (a bad thing), makes it harder to play (a bad thing), and makes fewer people want to play it (another problem).
You don't mean to say that popularity should be our measure of a great game, right? Perhaps this raises an interesting question about what a designer can demand of players? Is it okay if players need to learn how to play, and develop mastery? Are we in a rush? If so, why?

I think when interested in the ludonarrative avant-garde, those qualities you list have lower priority. I'm okay with a design being demanding in ways that would be unacceptable for one with popular or commercial aspirations. Particularly when it is the qualities of game as game that I am here prioritising.

They also have benefits - but what Vincent Baker has done is found ways to minimise the drag
  • Apocalypse World moves have the rhythm of freeform; they are made when narration would be handed over in freeform which minimises disruption of flow and slowness - and makes it easier to remember when to play
  • Apocalypse World moves are all the same - 2d6 + stat vs 7 and 10. That's simply adding three single digit numbers against a threshold. It's always the same roll and always easy math so it's again blindingly fast and easy to learn.
  • Apocalypse World moves can lead to interesting decisions/questions and never leave you having wasted your time with a "roll to see if you have to roll again". You literally get more out of handing over narration with a move than just handing it over.
So what you have is an intensifier and an additional element of randomness that stacks with freeform for as minimal a cost as possible. Working out how to do something better is itself a worthy goal.
I agree, albeit it seems tangential. I'm not ruling it out as a worthy goal... AW is a ground breaking take on it's goals.

What I'm saying, however, is that having a ground breaking take on an apple can yet fail to satisfy one's desire for pear. Particularly when it's been apples all the way down until now. That doesn't mean I dislike apples, only that I can appreciate another perspective.

To connect our arguments, I think you'd need to show where pursuing what matters in Western dramatic story has delivered understanding of what ought to distinctly matter to ludonarrative. I've given some examples. And I suppose if you want to refute me directly, show that narrativism wasn't focused on casting what was important in Western dramatism into play.
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Wait a minute. First of all these are different orders of statements, entirely. I didn't say 'all trad gaming is deprotagonizing', although we could argue about that and MAYBE it is! I mean, that's a specific statement which I can explicate in a logical way. According to the definition that I provided for 'protagonist' it includes elements such as "makes key decisions that affect the plot, primarily influencing the story and propelling it forward." If the key decisions are all coded into GM prepared material, that is all the INPUTS to those decisions, that certainly REDUCES protagonism, which I would label 'deprotagonizing'.

Whereas choo choo mother may I railroad, which was used to dismiss the entirety of Narrativist play (well, after denying it even exists) is simply an offhand derogatory statement, nothing else.

I mean, you don't have to accept my judgment, by all means don't. If you wish, refute it, or don't bother, I'm not really interested in getting into this sort of pointless debate, but I see a very significant difference between what I've said and what @Emberashh said.

EDIT: And I again apologize for assigning all of that to Emberassh, it was Celebrim who said 'choo choo mother may I'. I'm a bit under the weather today, sorry.

"My impartial analysis, their baseless slander." :rolleyes:

And you definitely did imply deprotagonisation was about trad gaming as whole. I said many times that if we were talking just about railroady APs then there would be no issue, but you weren't.

The Wikipedia entry on Protagonist is EXACTLY apropos here, as it makes clear that the protagonist makes "key decisions which affect the plot, primarily influencing the story and driving it forward."

Which happens basically in any game, apart most stringent railroads.

Do you think these are more drastic from a GM perspective or a player perspective?
Well, by necessity the GM always knows how the sausage is made, in certain systems it might be possible to illusionise the players in thinking that they're solving a mystery whilst in reality they're not. Now I'm not sure if it matter that much from the player perspecive as long as they genuinely feel that they have agency, but I think in the long run it is just easier to create that feeling by giving them actual agency.

And of course in some games the system simply is such that this sort of chicanery is very hard to do.

Do you think it’s more about the process of how these things are determined or the way they’re experienced?
At least to me the process tends to affect how it is experienced. Like I said, Blades puts me more into "collaborative story creation" rather than "being in in the story" mode compared to trad games. Not that it is like night and day, more of a spectrum as both definitely have some of both.

Well I don’t know about burning the game world down, but I do appreciate the explanations. I’m not sure if pressure needs to constantly rise, only that the game moves forward in some way and that there are clear paths the players have agency to take. One benefit of a well laid out scenario (as opposed to linear plot) is that there can be multiple paths and multiple endings all within a light framework. A dungeon of course in a constraint but Thracia is a good example of a dungeon with multiple ways through it.
Pressure isn't needed at all - but it makes the story work faster and be more intense. And AW certainly doesn't have a linear plot or even a fixed scenario. It just always gives you an excellent and unique starting position and tools to build on it.


(He, Him)
Pressure isn't needed at all - but it makes the story work faster and be more intense. And AW certainly doesn't have a linear plot or even a fixed scenario. It just always gives you an excellent and unique starting position and tools to build on it.
It's interesting what one counts as a "fixed scenario". Some of my favourite "scenarios" have come down to a setting, and some elements each with drivers. The play then is in how everything orbits and collides, with player characters as kickers and catalysts. So this is a set of fixed parameters with (at least notional) rules, that of course unfolds non-linearly. AW can have this - if you assiduously fill out threat maps and write down stakes. DW even more so.

I think you are contrasting with a linear scenario. The "fixed" part is superfluous. Consider Jo the Violent. Whatever Jo the Violent does, they do violently. That's fixed, right? But we don't yet know what Jo is going to go on to do (only that it will be done violently.) To make Jo not fixed I would need a scheduling rule like "Jo the Violent is violent on Saturday, but peaceful on Sunday" or I could have Jo update based on impinging events - "Jo the Violent is violent to those who are unkind to Flo, and peaceful to those who are kind to Flo" - or I could have some sort of self-modification rule, etc. But then aren't those rule assignations themselves fixed? So now I would need a rule-assignation-varying rule.

My point is, while I know what you were pointing toward by using "fixed"; when we submit that to scrutiny it turns out that the "fixed" part doesn't matter (or means something narrow and somewhat deceptive.)

Games very often start from fixed states, and swathes of game parameters remain fixed for long periods. It's that they unfold non-linearly in virtue of the governing principles and rules-based relationships between their elements, that matters.
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Pressure isn't needed at all - but it makes the story work faster and be more intense. And AW certainly doesn't have a linear plot or even a fixed scenario. It just always gives you an excellent and unique starting position and tools to build on it.
See this is more where AW starts to sound more like collaborative novel writing than a game. Can you talk a little more about what the "unique starting position" is? Is it simply the basic theme of the universe you are playing in? Dark Sun vs. Cthulhu vs LOTR vs Marvel Superheroes?

Also, why would "faster and more intense" be a goal? Is that just a game table objective? It sounds optional?

See this is more where AW starts to sound more like collaborative novel writing than a game. Can you talk a little more about what the "unique starting position" is? Is it simply the basic theme of the universe you are playing in? Dark Sun vs. Cthulhu vs LOTR vs Marvel Superheroes?
In Apocalypse World your class (playbook) is your role in the local society; most classes aren't drifters who might as well have been Isikai'd in the way D&D groups can be. And they always have shared histories based on those classes rather than just being randos who met in the inn.

If someone picks the Hardholder class then they are the boss of the settlement the PCs live in. And the settlement reflects them; they get to make choices about how big it is, how well defended, what style, and what it needs and some of the threats. If someone picks the Maestro d' then they run the local venue to be seen in. What is it? A bar? A coffee shop? A nightclub? A brothel? That's up to them. There are fewer threats than the hardholder gets, but some. If someone picks the Hocus then they are a cult leader. What's the cult and what's its relationship to the Hocus? This is a part of character creation; it's that character's cult. The local environment is created as a part of character creation and the mechanics to do this mean that it reflects and amplifies the themes of characters. There are only a few commonalities between all by-the-book AW settings (post-apocalyptic, there is a "psychic maelstrom" although its nature may be different from game to game).
Also, why would "faster and more intense" be a goal? Is that just a game table objective? It sounds optional?
I mean if people want something why wouldn't more (i.e. the events happening faster) and stronger (or more intense) of that thing be a potential objective that some people find legitimate? I just don't understand this question.


The gameworld has to exist, one way or another, and a player who doesn't end up participating in a collaborative approach to establishing its existence is, from this perspective, liable to be just as slighted as they would under a more unilateral baseline.
This claim is not true. The gameworld doesn't have to "exist".

The process of RPGing involves the participants saying things to one another, about a shared fiction. In a standard GM/player distribution of roles, the players say things about what particular imaginary people - their PCs - are doing; while the GM says some stuff about the imaginary circumstances in which those imaginary people find themselves, and also some stuff about what happens to them when they do things.

This doesn't require that the shared fiction have any particular content, except the people who are doing things, the things they do, the circumstances in which they do them, and the things that happen because of what they do.

What it does require is a way of working out new fictional stuff, in particular, the last bit - what happens next.

One way of doing that is by having the GM participant infer consequences by imagining other stuff - the "gameworld". But that's not the only means. The gameworld may be nothing but the sum of the people, their circumstances, their actions, and their actions' consequences.

My first run at COC, we spent IIRC around 3 sessions worth just exploring a haunted house that had nothing to do with the actual mystery. It was just there as an impetus to bring the characters together, and while not known at the time, the Keeper was basically just making things up as we poked and prodded and got lost in that damn house lol that, as it turned out, was just a crappy old house.

Despite making no real progress on anything of note, I would never say that experience was wasted. It perfectly set the tone and even when we all came to the conclusion that it really was just a crappy old house, the mood was still tense going into what we were actually there for, because we didn't know what to make of what we went through.
the context for why the GM Tyrant is being evoked is based on rhetoric that describes issues that go far beyond just a distribution problem.


The perspective on COC you're supporting is that the people playing are coming in to explicitly solve the mystery and beat the game. Thats not how it actually plays nor how anyone I've ever played with approached the game, as I related through my experiences with it. When I play COC, everyone there is present for the spooky and the roleplay. The mystery is near entirely incidental.

The Keeper will eventually introduce a means to get everyone involved, but thats kind of the point, and no Keeper I've ever played with railroaded us. If we reject the Call, to spin a phrase lol, we proceed with whatever consequences that entails, and we as Players as our Characters, are none the wiser precisely because it'd go against the whole premise of the game if it was different.


Our agency doesn't disappear simply because, when we step out of the gameworld we're supposed to be in, the Keeper has a general story line that we may or may not be following.
I have no view on whether or not your CoC GM was a tyrant. I do have a view on the gameplay you describe: it appears to be entirely about the players declaring actions that prompt the GM - by way of "poking and prodding" - to tell them more things about the fiction the GM is imagining.

And this is entirely a "distribution problem" - from my point of view, it is not a type of RPGing that I am very interested in, either as GM or as player. As a GM, I just don't want to exert my creative effort thinking up a "crappy old house" that I gradually tell the players about, in response to their action declarations for their PCs, which actions the players are declaring because they believe that, or at least wonder whether, "what they are there for" will be revealed to them if only they declare some appropriate action to prompt the GM.

Call of Cthulu is about the futility of asserting mans ego over the cosmic. That theme runs deep, and is reinforced whether you go after the mystery or you don't.

It would be futile to begin with to suggest our characters could be anything more than the petty insignificants they are.
The issue that I am interested in is not abut the significance or insignificance of the character in the fiction, but the significance or significance of the player as a contributor to the shared fiction.
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In Agon we weren't getting much more than what the Signs basically tell you verbatim they're about, which kind of works against the idea of having to interpret them when theres only so many things you can actually do on the islands.

And I'd also say that the idea that they sort of just esoterically exist and could be introduced to the players before they've begun, without intervention that is, kind of shorts the idea.

But at that point you're off the rails of the book and just making things up, at which point I start to question the point if I have to come up with the clever ways to have the Signs appear to the players, so that at least some interesting scenarios can come out of the small amount of content I'm working with.

Particularly when, coming back to the present, the idea was supposedly this was supposed to result in a more equal share, and not a dramatic increase for GM and a small, if thematic, increase for the singular leader.
I don't quite follow this. I don't know what you mean by "a dramatic increase for GM"? Increase of what?

I also don't know what you mean about "hav[ing] to come up with the clever ways to have the Signs appear to the players". Here is the rule (p 84):

Each island includes several oracular portents to represent the wishes of the gods. You can ask the leader of the heroes to read them aloud to the group. During the course of play, the leader interprets the signs to understand how to appease the gods here and earn their Divine Favor.​

Is this what you're describing as "just esoterically exist[ing]? But then, what is being "shorted" by following the process of play? With the signs of the gods read, and interpreted, the players then know this aspect of what is at stake in their action declarations. Subsequently, during the Voyage (p 44),

Based on the actions of the heroes on the island, the Strife player [the GM] marks progress on the Vault of Heaven sheet. Mark a star if the heroes honored or pleased that deity while on the island . . . Mark Wrath if the heroes dishonored or displeased that deity while on the island.

Determine divine pleasure or Wrath based on the leader's interpretation of the signs of the gods for this island - did the heroes follow through on what they believed to be the will of the gods, or did they fall short?

If any additional gods were invoked or included in the situation on the island, mark their stars or Wrath as well.​

I can't really connect what you say in your post, to the procedure of play that the rulebook actually sets out.

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