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

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).
Okay, so sounds like some thematic framing, placeholders/starting points for characters in the universe and setting down relationships with other characters (making the need to assemble the PCs in a way that makes sense unnecessary). I'm being reminded of Braunstein right now. Well, it would be a very different experience from a traditional game scenario -- thanks for explaining.

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.
My question was whether it's optional, and based on your description, it sounds like it is. Not everyone wants faster and more intense (sounds like a Fast and Furious movie). Some like "leisurely and cozy," or "meditative and mysterious."

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What conflict resolution (especially the more moment to moment sort seen in Apocalypse World) does is it continually volleys the ball back to the GM to frame situations/scenes that speak to the premise of the game or the characters. Task resolution inherently results in focusing on things outside the core premise of the characters and/or game. When I run Masks I'm always making GM Moves that speak to what's come before, but also bringing in new elements that are relevant to the characters (address their personal situations, reputations, come between player characters, etc).
This isn't, in my understanding, a function of the GM. It actually can't be, unless you conflate several different GM roles that I would view as being professionally firewalled. Setting up all of the pieces and then moving the ones you're supposed to control are separate jobs that simply reside in the same person. Situation is the result of chains of actions from the PCs and those NPCs. Setting up an interesting board for all of those actions to happen on is fairly difficult, and the sort of thing GMing advice is theoretically supposed to teach you how to do, plus ideally you want a series of tools to let you try and evaluate likely outcomes (things like CR in a combat focused game, or even things like a faction-specific list of goals). The actual progress of what does happen is down to system though, it's a result of player choices being fed through mechanics to see the results, which, assuming sufficient GM honesty, sufficiently detailed rules and sufficiently engaged players, should allow players to push an agenda into the situation.
Pedantic, your post doesn't make sense to me. I mean, what @Campbell describes is, literally, the job of the GM in Apocalypse World. And I assume Masks, Monsterhearts and similar games state the job of the GM very similarly to AW.

What Campbell says is also a pretty good description of the job of the GM in Burning Wheel, even though BW uses a different set of framing and resolution techniques from PbtA games. I mean, here is some of the relevant text from the BW rulebook (Gold Revised, pp 9-11):

In the game, players take on the roles of characters inspired by history and works of fantasy fiction. These characters are a list of abilities rated with numbers and a list of player-determined priorities. . . . Expressing these numbers and priorities within situations presented by the game master (GM) is what the game is all about. . . .​
There are consequences to your choices in this game. They range from the very black and white, "If I engage in this duel, my character might die," to the more complex, "If my character undertakes this task, he'll be changed, and I don't know exactly how." Recognizing that the system enforces these choices will help you navigate play. I always encourage players to think before they test their characters. Are you prepared to accept the consequences of your actions?​
The in-game consequences of the players' decisions are described in this rulebook. The moral ramifications are left to you. . .​
Burning Wheel . . . is inherently a social game. The players interact with one another to come to decisions and have the characters undertake actions.​
One of you takes on the role of the game master. The GM is responsible for challenging the players. . . . Everyone else plays a protagonist in the story. . . . The GM present the players with problems based on the players' priorities. The players use their characters' abilities to overcome these obstacles. To do this, dice are rolled and the results are interpreted using the rules presented in this book.​
The GM's job, in BW is emphatically not to "set up an interesting board" and then "move pieces". This may not be to your taste, but that doesn't mean that Vincent Baker, Luke Crane etc are confused in their game designs, or in the instructions they give to the GMs of those games.

Conflict resolution is disempowering to the player; they can't influence what is "framed," and they get so little say in the resolution, because it's always down to one test. You don't have a lot of agency to affect the outcome, and the situation is so transient before the next concern occurs. My sense in those games is that the player isn't supposed to care; you aren't supposed to want any given outcome or drive to any result, the "drive like a stolen car" concept. Instead, you're there to engage with the premise, the real act of agency was agreeing to play a game about X in the first place.
This doesn't make any sense to me either.

First, as @soviet pointed out, your "down to one test" claim is just false. Burning Wheel has linked tests, and also complex resolution via Fight!, Range and Cover, Duel of Wits, and the rules for pursuit. In AW, as the example of play in the "Moves Snowball" chapter illustrates, the resolution of one player-side move can easily feed into another.

That AW example also shows how it is not true that the player can't influence what is framed: in "Moves Snowball" Marie's player first Reads a Sitch, which does influence what is framed - by obliging the GM to tell her who is the real threat here - and then declares further actions in the context of that scene.

In Burning Wheel, when I play, I influence how scenes are framed all the time. First, I sometimes tell my GM what would be interesting! And as per the instructions to players, I also declare appropriate actions. This is from the Revised rulebook, p 269; the same text is also in the Gold rulebooks:

Use the mechanics! Players are expected to call for a Duel of Wits or a Circles test or to demand the Range and Cover rules in a shooting match . . . Don't wait for the GM to invoke a rule - invoke the damn thing yourself and get the story moving! . . . If the story doesn't interest you, it's your job to create interesting situations and involve yourself.​

For instance, I declare Circles checks, or Wises checks, or try to persuade NPCs via Duels of Wits, or whatever.

So far from not caring, I am always trying to drive to a given result: this is part of inhabiting my character, and declaring actions that are the things that character would do.


The question itself doesn't work, was my point, as we shouldn't be approaching them as though they're competing.

Sure it does. I'm not talking about competition. I'm talking about how it feels to GM these two different types of games... a mystery that's predetermined versus one that relies on the processes of play to determine what's happened... compared to how it feels to play these two types of games.

Clearly we can discuss which would feel more different from one game to the other. Just as we can any other comparison between GM and player.

You might be lost in context here. I can't be bothered back track atm but someone was talking about the idea being consistently brought up in these kinds of discussions, and my OP on the issue was in response to that.

No, the context I'm using is that no one is actually invoking the Tyrant GM as a criticism of play. It's being invoked as a caricature of dissatisfaction with standard distribution of authority.

There's a clear difference,

Okay, thank you.

Particularly when, after seeing this, others come in and attempt to temper the perspective by, correctly, identifying that the problems being pitched as solved by Y system aren't a system problem at all, they are then met with a double down, and it just continues in that way until somebody eventually comes along and tries to reframe what was said as something else entirely, and then another someone has to come along and recount how the discussion actually went.


Thats where we come to the Writer's Room descriptor, which then gets rejected and we go round and round.

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. Should the Player be seeking a new system, or is the effect of not having a say on what the gameworld is being overstated?

As said elsewhere, the only actual thing stopping a more collaborative approach is the GMs willingness to do so, not the game system they're running. If a new system is being pitched on the basis of addressing the lack of a collaborative approach, then the pitch falls flat, and the game then has to try and make up for it in what else it actually does.

Hence an argument from yesterday I believe, that much of PBTA style games successes have more to do with just being simple to run and learn because they're not very deep mechanically, and not much to do with what they do narratively.

I'm only basing my assessment of the game consisting of you interacting with the GM's story based on your description.

As I said, the game isn't about racking up a high score. You can just exist in the gameworld and proceed from there.

In other words, you don't have to play the game to win. You don't have to do anything, but you can do practically anything, within general reason given you are just human in the game.

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.

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. 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. It would be futile to begin with to suggest our characters could be anything more than the petty insignificants they are.

This is why I picked on evoking COC in particular, as its a game that's actually really well designed from the perspective of a harmonious ludonarrative. Gameplay and roleplay are indistinguishable.

I don't think that the typical COC experience is what you're describing. I think most players expect for there to be a central mystery. Online accounts of play largely support this. That COC is known for its published scenarios like Masks of Nyarlathotep and Horror on the Orient Express and the like also supports this. My own experience supports this. There's a mystery, and the investigators will try and resolve it. Might there be some meandering away from the central mystery? Sure. Does that change that this is the central experience according to many sources? No.

Okay, so sounds like some thematic framing, placeholders/starting points for characters in the universe and setting down relationships with other characters (making the need to assemble the PCs in a way that makes sense unnecessary). I'm being reminded of Braunstein right now. Well, it would be a very different experience from a traditional game scenario -- thanks for explaining.
No problem. The core playbooks are free online and should give you a good taste but I really would advise getting and reading reading the whole thing. It's also deliberately written aggressively to grab the attention (with 1e being even moreseo) so some people just bounce off it hard.
My question was whether it's optional, and based on your description, it sounds like it is. Not everyone wants faster and more intense (sounds like a Fast and Furious movie). Some like "leisurely and cozy," or "meditative and mysterious."
Oh, indeed. I probably wouldn't use AW for meditative and mysterious (there are better, slower systems for that). But you can guide it in different ways.

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.

This has to be, pound for pound, one of the worst RPG experiences I've ever heard described. To present this as a positive example of play is making me feel like I'm having a stroke.

This claim is not true. The gameworld doesn't have to "exist".

Sure in the same way that we don't have to be playing a game.

The process of RPGing involves the participants saying things to one another, about a shared fiction.

RPGs are not just conversations, and that false assertion goes to the heart of what I'm talking about when I describe PBTA style games as having shallow gameplay loops.

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.

Yes we're exploring a gameworld. Thats how it works.

As I deftly predicted, we appear to be at a stage where the GM simply describing a room is problematic if the players don't get first dibs, and I can't describe how I feel about that without getting modded so I'll just stop there.

What I will still say is that the apparent devaluation of the gameworld and relegation of it to mere "fiction" is telling, given even improv has a gameworld.

Hell, in a more charitable discussion you could actually argue the gameworld is the fiction is the gameworld, but the sheer distaste that comes with denying the whole point of one existing betrays any chance of that particular consensus being reached.

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.

Which is why Setting Books and Adventure Paths are a thing. Masks of Nyarlathotep, to pick one out of the proverbial hat, is huge and has more than anybody is gonna need to handle how any group plays.

And I'm sure you'll chirp those still aren't acceptable because its "someone elses fiction", but then you're just contradicting yourself because you just stated you don't want to make anything up yourself.

And then we move on to you pointing at the players doing it too, but you're still fundamentally contradicting yourself, as no game you'd prefer doesn't still have the GM making something up. Many of them hinge upon that, in fact, a lot more than other games do.

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.

Then you just don't get COC, for one.

And for two, as has been exhaustively argued, de-protagonisim is phoney jargon and you'd face a lot less scruitiny if you just said "i want to collaboratively worldbuild" and not jump through all these hoops to pretend thats anything else.

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.

Following the procedure of play, unless I somehow missed it when I originally perused the book before hopping into a game AND did it again when I re-read the whole book yesterday, would have you handing a piece of paper with the Signs written on it to the leader and then they read it and thats that.

That's fine for fulfilling the mechanical purpose of getting some possibly novel behavior to come out of how the leader thinks about it. But it is so, so, so dull.

For one, as stated, these islands do not have much to actually do, as they're only a tad above being purely linear experiences. This works against the mechanic because most leaders, unless they go out of their way to ignore the obvious, are going to interpret them in very similar if not identical ways as they run into the trials.

What I was relating was the much more clever idea of not just sliding the signs over and having them be a non-diegetic thing, but integrating them into the gameworld.

Even reading it now, I can't remember how we did Apollo's sign, but on Nimos Artemis wasn't revealed to the leader until we were about to slay the Serpent, which was described as a vision before handing a card over with the Sign. Given what happens when that Serpent dies, that was an excellent time to reveal that and wouldn't have been near as effective if they were just alreadly known and half forgotten by the time were elbow deep in whats going on.

This has to be, pound for pound, one of the worst RPG experiences I've ever heard described. To present this as a positive example of play is making me feel like I'm having a stroke.
Three sessions of the GM rolling dice behind a screen and saying 'nothing happens'

It will never not be amusing to see people who take great issue with these kinds of games be completely perplexed by the idea of free form roleplay.

Its honestly kind of sad, because it tells me you folks have never actually been fully immersed into a gameworld. One of my fond memories of those sessions is me, as Mr. Archibald, having an intense philosophical debate on Trotsky's assassination with my friend as the singularly named Pavel. All while we trod around this crappy old house completely lost in the atmosphere the Keeper was conveying, while we all get lost in the roleplay.

Like, have ya'll never played these games and not had entire sessions just be straight up roleplay? Sessions where you never touched a single die?



Doing the best imitation of myself
This has to be, pound for pound, one of the worst RPG experiences I've ever heard described. To present this as a positive example of play is making me feel like I'm having a stroke.
This made me flashback to a game I was in while I was in school. The GM had an elaborate set of rules for finding the ruins that were our destination and other random encounters. We spent about three sessions just wandering in the desert, dealing with supply issues, and rolling percentile dice. It was a turning point for my gaming since I vowed never to do something like that again.

But I think the point is that this problem isn't inherently Narrative in nature at all. If anything, the Narrative part of things is to get you to what's next that's interesting. Of course that attitude isn't inherent to any particular play style. But yeah, shudder.

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