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

I think the failure of communication here is fundamentally one of concept. The intent of the design of Agon is that the PLAYERS interpret the signs, they're not something made up by the GM. Its not a puzzle to be solved! When you encounter an Agon Island you get 3 signs. Now, the GM/Island Author may have in their mind some kind of idea of what these signs might portend, but it isn't up to the GM to assign them meaning! The PLAYERS assign meaning to the portents and BY DOING THAT they establish what the island is 'about'. Thus every island is about a topic which is selected, to a degree, by the players. Now, the nature of the conflicts is GM-determined, so its certainly not a case of the islands being blank slates, but the 'proper orientation' of the players to the island, maybe you could call it the 'win conditions' is determined by what the leader declares the signs to mean.

This is really a kind of unique feature of Agon that sets it apart from other Narrativist designs a bit. But in order to understand how this works, you have to be able to accept that it is players who are in charge of this determination, that there are no 'right answers' as to what the signs mean.
I'm not sure who you are saying has failed to communicate. I think the rulebook is clear. I think what you say in your post is also clear, and is - broadly - a summary of and gloss on what is said in the rulebook.

Judging from @Emberashh's posts, it seems that Emberashh's group did not play the game as per the book, but as a GM-driven thing. That would explain why no difference was noticed between Agon 2e and The Green Knight.

It seems to me that both you don't seem to have much appreciation for the creativity I was speaking to in that post, which runs counter to what you both claim to prefer.

And in particular it seems neither of you got that the point of the idea wasn't to stop the mechanic from fulfilling its intentions, but to enhance it and make it more intriguing for everyone. Context is what matters, and arbitrarily receiving them with no connection to the fiction, as we like to say, robs the Signs of the kind of impact they can deliver.

I mean, just answer this: what is more interesting? Being handed a non-diegetic card before you've played, or seeing the Signs of the Gods appear at crucial moments?

And it has to be said, I've read a number of the actual Greek myths as part of coursework, and not just the big name ones. The Gods don't appear to mortals, as signs or otherwise, arbitrarily at non-descript times. They always have context.

Now of course, I'm sure the next argument will be just rolling all of that up into player interpretation, but thats not how the book reads, and you'd have to be coming into the game with the foreknowledge that you'll be making stuff up

And, just for funsies, I will also highlight here that the Book's own play example doesn't do any of that, so neither of you can try and fire back at me acting like the Book actually expects you to add context to the Signs:

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So, I read through a good hunk of the Daggerheart 1.3 PT manuscript this AM. My impression is that the game is trying to have its cake and eat it too, in a manner somewhat reminding me of how 4e has all the elements needed to play a Story Now Narrativist style D&D game, but doesn't actually ever tell you outright to do that. In 4e's case I think it kind of relies on the fact that most experienced GMs/Players won't actually read much beyond the mechanical parts of the rules before playing. In the case of Daggerheart it is more relying on just equivocating.

Like, on P 95, the last paragraph is literally this very ambiguous statement about the nature and source of the fiction. It talks about how the GM 'could' make stuff up on the fly, or maybe they use a map and key, etc. It then tries to state that either way the story should be generated such that "each player should feel free to affect a story that doesn't exist yet" but what exactly entirely 'affect' means, in concrete terms is pretty slippery.

The text almost feels a bit odd at times, totally avoiding topics like what would be a good scene to frame, or what the level and nature of prep is in scenes. There are a lot of admonishments about 'player driven', but at the 'rubber meets road' level the game seems quite shy about committing to the reality of this. You can kind of 'read between the lines', like sort of interpolating Dungeon World here and imagine how play could go, but I think the intent is you could simply imagine B2 Keep on the Borderlands as well, and interpret all the 'player input' stuff as simply pertaining to 'color' and 'setting'.

Its an odd text, for sure. It's very earnest and bubbling with advice, but I feel like the core, just straight up "what do you do when you play?" is shied away from. Chapter Five seems to jibe well with a type of 'Low Myth' or even 'Zero Myth' play, akin to DW, though. Well, the text IS pretty rough still, particularly in this area, but I sort of feel like some mechanisms and processes/techniques a bit like AW/DW/BitD might not be out of place here in terms of kind of solidifying the GM's relationship to the fiction and providing a more concrete approach to generating it.

In terms of the question asked by the OP... I think Daggerheart is aiming to be usable as a substitute for games like Dungeon World. It COULD play pretty similarly if approached in that way. It COULD also play quite a bit more like a standard Trad RPG, though even then you will have the 'narrative elements' of FEAR/HOPE being accumulated and spent.

One thing that is a bit of a flag in terms of how easy/hard this game is likely to be to run comes up in the discussion of when and how many checks to ask for. More checks will generate more currency! This might make a useful dial for tone, but a miscue by the GM in this area could also lead to a poor result. I don't get the impression that the designers really have a good handle on this! They advise being sparing in terms of checks, only employing them where they're really needed. That seems like good advice.

It doesn't sound like a bad game. A little odd in its tentativeness in embracing PbtA-esque play, but I think you could employ this game in place of, say, Dungeon World, and it will work. I'm not sure I'd personally choose it OVER Dungeon World, which is a simpler game to run IMHO, but choosing a game is in many ways a matter of taste.
 

pemerton

Legend
Mate. Pretending that the imaginary stuff is real is the whole bloody point! Like that is literally what the entire hobby is based on!
I've never direct a play, or a film. I have scene documentary accounts of this, though. And it doesn't seem to me that the director pretends that the fiction is real in the process of producing the fiction.

To talk about how RPGing works - posting on these boards - isn't playing a RPG. We can't talk about how the game play works if we're making stuff up? I mean, a social scientist, who wants to write about RPGs, isn't going to pretend Orcs are real, anymore than a historian of Greece, writing about how the Iliad was created and received at various periods in Greek history, pretends that Achilles really did the things that Homer says about him.

And those words objectively exist, the ideas those words convey exist.
Yes. When I say "I'm twenty feet tall", the words exist. The ideas exist. That doesn't mean I'm twenty feet tall. As it happens I'm not even six feet tall.

This issue prompted a debate between Meinong and Russell over 100 years ago. There are pros and cons to Russell's particular technical solution to the meaning of false or non-referring statements. But no one agrees with Meinong.

How we perceive it ultimately is not that much different than how we perceive non-personal history, even though that actually happened. We don't know what sort of underwear Caesar wore when he crossed Rubicon either. It is just words and stories.
Now you're just running together epistemology and metaphysics.

Of course we don't know what Caesar wore. But we know that he existed, and that he probably wasn't naked, and hence that there probably was something that he was wearing. Michael Dummett defends an anti-realist approach to some of these sorts of things - thinning out the metaphysics in the absence of epistemic access. But no one goes the other way - conjuring Middle Earth into being on the basis that it's just as real, given JRRT's books, as Caesar and his kit who now are recorded only in books.
 

Old Fezziwig

a man builds a city with banks and cathedrals
I think you might be doing it wrong then... :unsure:
Or I just have a different play agenda than you do? Pretending my characters or the fictional world they inhabit is real is not what's interesting to me. They're vehicles to explore ideas or situations or stories, but they're no more real than the contents of the dreams I had last night.

Edit: "more real" not "realer."
 
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Insulting other members
(1) Why wouldn't I just have that conversation with an actual friend?

(2) What does what you're describing have to do with playing Call of Cthulhu? That could be a session of GURPS just as easily - it's just GM narration + players talking to one another while pretending to be someone else.

I mean admitting you don't get the point of roleplaying is just kind of, hilarious actually.

I laughed out loud and spit my drink.

At this point, I can no longer treat anything you have to say as being anything more than a comedy bit for an unknown audience.
 

pemerton

Legend
It seems to me that both you don't seem to have much appreciation for the creativity I was speaking to in that post, which runs counter to what you both claim to prefer.

And in particular it seems neither of you got that the point of the idea wasn't to stop the mechanic from fulfilling its intentions, but to enhance it and make it more intriguing for everyone. Context is what matters, and arbitrarily receiving them with no connection to the fiction, as we like to say, robs the Signs of the kind of impact they can deliver.

I mean, just answer this: what is more interesting? Being handed a non-diegetic card before you've played, or seeing the Signs of the Gods appear at crucial moments?

And it has to be said, I've read a number of the actual Greek myths as part of coursework, and not just the big name ones. The Gods don't appear to mortals, as signs or otherwise, arbitrarily at non-descript times. They always have context.

Now of course, I'm sure the next argument will be just rolling all of that up into player interpretation, but thats not how the book reads, and you'd have to be coming into the game with the foreknowledge that you'll be making stuff up

And, just for funsies, I will also highlight here that the Book's own play example doesn't do any of that, so neither of you can try and fire back at me acting like the Book actually expects you to add context to the Signs:

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I said nothing about your GM's creativity. I said that you didn't play the game as the rulebook tells you to, which explains why you didn't notice the difference from another RPG which is intended to be played the way you played Agon.

You assert that the signs have no impact when used as the book instructs them to be used. But I can tell you that that is not true when I play. You are generalising baselessly from your own experience.

As for your quote of the book's play extract, notice how the hero player recalls the signs (that the GM told her about) and then makes a decision about what Artemis wants. This is not an example of the GM narrating the sign in such a way as to tell the players what the gods want. It's the player deciding what Artemis's sign means, exactly as the book says the game is to be played.
 

Aldarc

Legend
We never played to ‘win’ only to experience the world and the adventure. Unless you are defining ‘winning’ as surviving to continue playing your character. The very concept of ‘winning’ a roleplaying game reeks of computerization and min-maxing.
Again, I think that this is an old-man yelling at clouds statement blaming the ills of today on kids today and their rock n' roll and hula hoops, or video games as it is in this case. It also demonstrates an incredibly selective perception of the history of the hobby. I understand that you never played to win, but that "play to win" attitude and optimzation has very much been a long and standing part of the hobby regardless of what you did at your table. As I mentioned before, the game's origins came out of "play to win" wargaming, and some of that playing to win attitude, min-maxing, and optimization was there at the very beginning before you could blame video games. The reality of this fact does not in any way, shape, or form hinge on what you did at your table at all. Please, stop blaming computer games because it makes you sound out-of-touch and it's quite condescending and disrespectful, unintentionally or not, towards people who did grow up playing video and computer games.

I think you might be doing it wrong then... :unsure:
Do I catch whiffs of OneTrueWayism and BadWrongFun here?
 
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pemerton

Legend
that "play to win" attitude and optimzation has very much been a long and standing part of the hobby regardless of what you did at your table. As I mentioned before, the game's origins came out of "play to win" wargaming
Gygax's D&D is 100% about "playing to win". His PHB has a section titled Successful Adventuring, and it doesn't measure success in terms of the number of campfire stories swapped, or the cut of the toga one purchased at the Hommlet market.

Success is measured in terms of accruing XP, by being successful in infiltrating the dungeon and getting out with good loot. And the advice is about how to optimise for this (in AD&D that's mostly gear and spell load-out, plus party composition), and then how to make rational decisions once the infiltration is actually underway.

I'll admit to being pretty ignorant when it comes to computer gaming, but it seems to me that these games are better understood as successors to or descendants of wargaming, rather than as introducing the notion of winning into a sphere of play that previously lacked it.
 

I know when I spoke about protagonism in the context of roleplaying I do mean in the context of a character whose concerns are the driving force behind what happens. My primary interest in roleplaying games, both indie and traditional, has always been about play that revolves around the concerns of the player characters. I have no interest in being a world keeper or playing in a sandbox. I want the sort of play where my character is deeply embedded in the fabric of the game's setting, and I don't want to play for years to get to what I consider the good stuff. Same on the side of the screen - I want to hit the ground running.

I'm sorry to break it to you, but you are describing a sandbox. I don't know what the apprehension is over that, but it is what you're talking about.

I’m starting to feel like computer gaming is starting to have an outsized impact on tabletop roleplaying. There’s an if/then/else aspect to these systems that feels very computer game like. The big realization for me back in 1977 was the open ended nature and infinite directions a game can take. Quantifying or systemizing that open ended flow always sets off alarm bells with me, but I’m also trying to understand whether that attempt to systemize is actually taking place.

On the contrary, I don't think video game design is being taken seriously at all in the tabletop space, and thats a prejudice that keeps the hobby niche and offputting to a lot of people.

And also why much of the video game world considers TTRPG theory a complete joke.
I hope I’m wrong, I really do. I think my fear is of systemizing the roleplay itself. The improvising and play acting a character. I know some folks don’t like that improv aspect of roleplaying so may be systematizing that. Not saying it’s bad in general, just personal preference to freeform play the character without guardrails.

I find with a lot of RPG complaints, a lot of whats lacking is procedure. Far too much of how these games play is still implied and taught from person to person (see, the improv game) and you can solve a lot of games problems just by adding in more procedure.

When done well, it doesn't get in the way of roleplaying, it can only enhance it. You can get too obtuse and intrusive with it, however, and thats a discussion worth sinking some teeth into. As I've related, Im always trying to find ways to make gameplay indistinguishable from roleplay, as I think thats the peak of doing procedure well.

Speaking only for myself, I can assure you that min-maxing has nothing to do with not wanting to watch Mr. Archibald debate Trotsky’s assassination with Pavel. Nor does it have anything to do with not wanting to wander around a non-haunted house for three sessions.

Those things simply don’t sound very interesting to me as a player in an RPG. If you and your group enjoy them, that’s great, I’m glad there are plenty of games that accommodate that style of play.

What would be nice is if you didn’t classify a difference in opinion as some kind of flaw.

I believe you'll find that's been going back and forth here pretty consistently not just in this topic, but everytime the usual suspects on either side of the debate get together to argue for a week.

But I also wasn't saying being a narrative min-maxer is a flaw. Its just a weird thing that only just then occured to me, that, in hindsight, actually explains a lot about how you folks think and why you prefer the things you do.

I would be very curious to get a census on how much you folks enjoy things like the long, meandering descriptions of Tolkien or something dense like Hemingway.
 

Yeah what was said in the past few posts was kind of shocking, as they aren't far off from sounding like min-maxers. Which is just a bizarre juxtaposition given what these folks seem to want out of their games.

Narrative min-maxers that can't seem to appreciate a slower and more meandering pace is just not something I'd have ever thought could be a thing.
Well, I get, maybe, 4-5 hours a week, tops, to play, often a lot less. While I have nothing against people just kicking back and playacting, or 'muffin baking', or whatever, I find that my hours are most enjoyably spent enacting moments of significance to my characters. I mean, I'm all there in terms of inhabiting Yorath when he's about to get sucked into the void! His call to Helior was pure 'channeling Yorath'. Still, over time I have learned that elaborate subsystems and intricate systems of resource management and such grant less payout than simple, direct, up front input to the content of the story, mixed with playing it out and seeing what happens. There's plenty of dynamism in a DW or Stonetop game! These games are not void of skill or gameplay experience.

But beyond that, there IS a profound difference in the dynamics of play and experience between Trad games and Narrativist ones. You can try to rhetoric it all away and claim everyone's explanations are all BS and whatever, but AT THE END OF THE DAY, I've spent about 49 years playing and running RPGs. Guys like RE and VB, you may not like their explanations and their objectives in game design, that's fine, but nothing you're going to say is going to erase the truth expressed in the design of a game like Apocalypse World. It isn't for you, I get that, but it is pointless to try to erase those distinctions, it cannot but fail.
 

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