I think the random element (or some other system technique) also has to, in some loose way of speaking, "channel" the conflict into resolutions (which can be temporary or partial), to give you the pass/fail, with either producing complications, structure that drives narrativist play.
I accept that without objection.
I don't know the FATE games except by reputation. BW I think could be played in a very Sim way - it would resemble RuneQuest a bit, or even HARP - but certain of its features wouldn't make sense for this play style - especially its advancement rules. (To advance, you have to use your skill/ability in a variety of situations of varying difficulties, including (near-)impossible ones. The purpose of this is to give the player a reason to set his/her PC up to fail - ie a metagame purpose that has no ingame correlation for a sim person to hook up to.)
I dunno about that. Haven't you heard the proverb: "You learn more from your mistakes than your successes."
But I don't think it's right to therefore say that BW is really a sim system being twisted to narrativist goals. It's a narrativist system that heavily emphasises system, and exploration of system, as a subordinate aspect of play. (I know TRoS mostly by reptuation, but I think it would be similar to BW in this respect - and is mentiond as an influence in the Bibliography to revised BW.)
I wouldn't say "twisted". I think more like a Sim system with a Narrativist incentive engine "bolted on". Before I go on, I know that BW is a darling of the Forge community, and I haven't gotten a chance to play it. So I apologize to anyone who might take this more seriously than I do.
I've only got the BW "hub and spokes" (I think its called this. Its the freebie system core.), but reading it....FATE and BW are very similar indeed. IMO, both have a root system which is Sim-lite, and a Narrativist incentive system riding along;
- ability rating/score corresponds to the characters in-universe ability. (in fact, some versions of FATE have almost precisely the same table of ability rating as the BW "expertise by exponent" p12, in mine.)
- base difficulty of a task reflects the fictional difficulty.
- base difficulty can be modified by fictional circumstance. (Heck, BW even has a specific "Take 10" analog for working "Patiently".)
If anything, BW is more Simulationist, taking steps not found in most versions of FATE:
- specified timeframes for skill tests
- 3e-like "skill-synergy" analog in FoRKs
- a (tedious, to my eyes) "learning process" for advancing skills/abilities
- the 6 traditional ability scores, renamed and in reverse order (although not utilized in as strictly a Sim manner as in D&D)
- a few derived stats...derived in a marginally "simmy" manner
Now that takes me up to page 53 of 74 in my freebie guide. Some of the other Narrative bits have been mentioned, but not mechanically addressed yet. My Freebie doesn't have the combat/injury or magic system, nor any substantial explanation of what "Emotional Attributes" may be. I submit that by tearing out the last 21 pages, and the judicious use of a Sharpie, I have a semi-complete, generic, classless, rules-Lite Sim system. I can do the same thing to FATE by removing any references to Aspects outside the Maneuver rules. The FATE version would be a more complete rpg, but more abstract wrt Sim. (Both, I would think, would be generally unsatisfying to Sim players, but imminently subject to houserules, as Fudge, FATE's ancestor system, is.)
Most importantly, there's absolutely nothing "Narrativist" in these parts. No motivations, no premises, no drives, no nothing. Just plain little abilities with numbers to denote "how good you are" with each ability. I suppose that means you can
use it Narrativistly, but no more so than most other games...
Now on to the Narrative engines:
I'll tackle FATE first, because its Narrative engine is simpler and I'm more familiar with it. Characters (heck sometimes even locations, items, etc.) in FATE have Aspects. Aspects don't have to be good or bad, in fact its usually better for your character if they are interesting rather than strictly beneficial or harmful. Aspects are a relatively open-ended descriptor. "Good ol' boy", "Yeah, I dated her.", "Devoted to Erathis" and "Courage indistinguishable from stupidity" all qualify as aspects. "Strong as an Ox", "Always check if you're being tailed", "So pretty it hurts", and "I must protect Susie" are good as well. If you "play up" an Aspect of your character, especially in a way that makes the story more interesting or that impact your character "negatively", you can receive a FATE point from the GM. This transaction may be initiated by either the GM or player. This FATE point can later be spent to modify/reroll the outcome of die rolls and issue minor narrative declarations. If you spend a FATE point in a manner aligned with one of you Aspects, these effects are amplified. Additionally, if you act in opposition to one of your aspects, you can lose a FATE point. Optionally, some aspects, like "Dwarven Infravision", would just grant that ability and rarely interact with the FATE points. There's a few more details, but that's the gist of it.
The BW system is slightly more complicated; PCs have Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits. Beliefs appear to be fairly straightforward drive statements for a PC; "I will protect X at any cost", "I must do X to prove Y", "My life belongs to X", etc. Instincts are part auto-action and part GM-protection; "I always do X", "I Never do Y", and "If X occurs, then I do Y." Traits are again subdivided into three types (yeesh!) for either cosmetics, situational bonuses, or constant bonuses. All three forms of BITs may be used to leverage "Artha". (Like almost everything else in BW it seems,) there are three subtypes of Artha; Fate, Persona, and Deeds. There's a lot of complicated business that amounts to "You get Artha for really feeling/playing your character's BITs, making the game interesting, and for being a good guy 'round the table." My freebie rules are skimpy on how much and from whom Artha is earned, but apparently the GM can award it, and the other players can award it at the end of session by voting. You can spend Artha in a number of ways (most of which are almost identical to the ways in which you can spend FATE points in FATE) to modify rolls or events in play, although this is complicated by the fact that only certain types of Artha can do certain things. Additionally, Artha can be spent as a kind of "super advancement" called an Epiphany, which affects BW's unusual Black/Grey/White ability notation.
As you might guess, I see the BW BITs/Artha system as a more complicated version of the FATE aspect/FP system. (I'm not sure which came first, and its irrelevant to my point.) They both have the following basic structure:
- Characters have a set of freeform traits
- Playing up those traits earns N-points
- N-Points may be spent to alter the course of play later
Many people have taken FATE's aspect/FP system and bolted it onto 3e, simply by adding and tweaking the structure above. (I'll leave the Google search results as an exercise for the reader.) Do you think that would suddenly transform 3e into "a narrativist system that heavily emphasises system, and exploration of system, as a subordinate aspect of play."? I don't. To take it a half-step farther, I really don't see anything about the BITs/Artha system that couldn't just slide over to 3e (re-work the mechanics from the die-pool... or not, +1d6 would probably work okay as a bonus in d20.) Does that
suddenly transform 3e? I still don't think so. I don't see anything about the non-BITs/Artha parts of BW that makes me think its more Narrative-friendly than 3e (other than, perhaps, being Lite-er).
I think the 4e "solution" to this was very clever (from the publisher piont of view). Instead of going for a free-descriptors game (like HeroWars/Quest, or - I gather from other posts of yours - Capes), they go for really, really long lists of fixed descriptors (races, classes, powers, paragon paths, epic destinies, equipment, etc). Which they then sell you in supplements.
Well sure, but they're not just descriptors, are they? They have mechanical implications that are not necessarily obvious. The Eladrin Fey Step
ability, for instance, is not something that I would intuit from the rest of the Eladrin description. People can choose to make these choices not for the narrative flavor, but for the mechanical impact. I know that seeking those great combos was part of the early 4e games I played at my FLGS. People were thrilled that I played a Warlord, because he was the "boring" half of a lot of the combos they were looking for.
To further extend this point. During combat, that Warlord made a lot of decisions that were against my feelings/intuition, but that were strictly better mechanically than what I might have wanted to do for emotional/creative reasons. Isn't that the same issue that people point at for 3e's caster dominance, but on a smaller scale? I point this out, not to disrespect 4e, but to show that Gamism can also "creep" over Narrative.
I agree with this. Those long lists in 4e don't support gamism. They support either high concept sim ("Cool, now I can be a fey plant guy who shoots arrows infused with primal spirits") or light narrativism (I don't think Wilden and Seekers are very rich in this repsect, though maybe others find thematic richness in them that I miss - but (still in the PHB3) I think Minotaurs, Monks, Psions and Runepriests are reasonably thematically laden, within the context of a fantasy RPG).
I think they definitely do
support Gamist objectives. I recall that shortly after 4e's release, complaints of "I can't (yet) play an X!" were regularly met with the rejoinder "Just reflavor a Y!..or a Z!" Even you, Pemerton, have recently suggested in other threads that the flavor text of powers is irrelevant, and should be ignored or reworked as needed. This would mean that the important bit of those long lists is not
the increased availability of flavor, but the increased availability of mechanics. Gamism doesn't require victory so much as earning points by making cool things happen (proving your worth, so to speak), its the mechanics that allow that, not the "fluff."
4e's explicit power curves limit power creep over the game's life. Generally, a combo or class or ability you found in later 4e is no more powerful than one you found at its opening. Which is a good thing, to be sure. Its what allows without encouraging
people to make those choices for non-Gamist reasons. The attendant tightness of the balance between classes also means that those combos don't have to
overwhelm your creative choices as a player. The tables where I saw it at my FLGS were very competitive-minded. My much more casual home game never even had people looking for combos (it took them 'till third level to accidentally realize that it was a possibility, but they didn't think it worth the extra effort.)
The thing that makes the explicit power curve brilliant is the recognition and taming of Gamism's self-destructive tendencies in an expansion-oriented game. These tendencies don't really show up in static games. Imagine what Chess would be like if, every few years, a new piece with new rules was introduced that players could choose to replace another piece. I submit that it would not take long for Chess to degenerate into a game that would be dominated by a particular set of pieces and that games would be over in just a few moves. I believe WotC saw that happen with Magic:the Gathering (and possibly 2e) and intentionally wanted to avoid that in 4e. The explicit math supports 4e and Gamism by preventing it from echoing 2e and degenerating into parties composed entirely of Elven Specialty Priests tweaked with Skills and Powers (or whatever 4e's hot spot would have been.)
I don't know if the above analysis of the Duel of Wits completely confirms your claim about narrativism and mechanics, but I think it is consistent with your view that there is something distinctive going on in the contrast between pysical combat and social conflict resolution.