September 21st, 2005


Musings on the GNS theory

In recent months, I've gotten into conversations with acquaintances who are strong proponents of the GNS theory. One of them insists that games should be designed for one of the three models (Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist), and that a game that has elements of more than one model is flawed, "because it tries to be everything at once, and can't." (The example he used was the World of Darkness system - "If you read the combat section, it's gamist. If you read the character creation section, it's narrativist. If you read the setting section, it's simulationist.")

I'll admit I'm not terribly fond of this take on the GNS theory, because it seems to oversimplify things; games, like people, don't fit neatly into little boxes. And wouldn't designing for only one type of gamer cut out the other two-thirds (according to how I believe I'm understanding GNS theory) of your possible market base? Or, as my husband avers, "As a game designer, I'd want my game to make money."

Maybe I just think too much about these sorts of things....
  • Current Mood
    curious curious

Mind Reading

I used to be good at reading the air, figuring out what the players wanted. You watch which plots they gravitate towards, listen to them gush after the game, read their pulse during the game. Its complicated and its rough. To some degree, a much lesser degree, I still do it. I'm sure every GM worth his/her salt does it.

But there are matter of degrees. With certain games the reading of the air and the energy, the intense amount of energy is not necessary.

Riddle of Steel has Spiritual Attributes. These are goals, written on the character sheet and then the player goes after them they got extra dice in combat, experience points. Part of chargen was the players writing down what they found exciting about their character.

Holy shit.

Suddenly, making adventures was easy. I'd look at their sheets, see what was important to the players. Sometimes a spiritual attribute wasn't working. So, we'd change it between games. Sometimes a spiritual attribute would grow through play. Rock.

All conflicts were made with these attributes, these simple sentences in mind. They were an open letter to the GM, "I'm not sure how but put me HERE. I want to be King by my own hand or DIE TRYING."

Burning Wheel, the game I am running weekly now, has this too. On the character sheet are Beliefs and Instincts.

Sorcerer has kickers, where players write the first scene of the game and they add descriptors that tie them to the setting.

These things (SA's, BITS, Descriptors, etc.) are player-authored and these sentences run the adventure. The GM is still the leader at the table, still deciding how they will all come together, how to present the beautiful moments of conflict but those moments tie into these sentences that your players gave you, the ones that told you what excited them.

We always had them but they were hidden under layers of crap, under social pretense or long e-mails about character history. Truth is, all you needed to know were the five things that were important to that character. The rest is frustrated fiction writing crap (and this coming from a frustrated fiction writer).


Mind Reading II: Addendum

Here's the deal. Let's say that GMing is like hitting a baseball. Stay with me now. I always had a pretty good batting average. I was the local hot-shit GM in my group, no big deal, thousands like me all over geekdom. Cool. Long live the GM's.

My batting average was pretty good and when I hit it out of the park it was a LONG home run. I was proud of those.

Since playing Burning Wheel, Sorcerer, Dogs in the Vineyard and Conspiracy of Shadows, the home runs don't come any more or less often. Home runs are too contigent on the table gelling and the right story coming to the right people at the right time (subject for another post) but my batting average went through the roof. I no longer struck out, my nights were one solid game after another. I am finding that the games of dead air where nothing quite comes together just do not happen anymore.

So I am excited and I post.

I am not saying that those who play D&D won't hit home runs or will have a lower batting average than me. I am saying this is something that has worked for me, golly gee, ain't that swell, I'd like to share my good time with the world. Hence my posting here and at the Forge and on

My good time does not negate your good time. I promise.

That is all.