On CA's and Mechanics

Silmenume's picture


I’ve been thinking about the role of mechanics in RPG’s for many years now and recently had a bit of a brain wave. At first it will sound like something that’s been said many times before but I think this particular take on the role of mechanics is subtlety but importantly different, especially with regards to Sim and why it has been such an odd duck for so long.

Going back to the Lumpley Principle we understand that there is dual role in mechanics in helping to determine (1) WHO gets to say (2)WHAT. Emphasis borrowed directly from Vincent’s writings. According to Vincent this part of his Principle is far more important than the everyone needing to agree on what’s happening part as he has argued convincingly and even demonstrated through game design.

We also know that game mechanics are also employed to try and help facilitate a certain type of CA expression. Again, not particularly controversial as “system matters.” IOW one school of theory proposes the idea that in a “well designed” game there shouldn’t be much or any need for rules drift for successful play. In this game theory there are 2 basic spheres of Situation which match up exactly with Western drama and they are sex and violence. Or put another way, conflict that centers on the internal human psyche and conflict that centers on external physical violence. Sound familiar? Narrativism and Gamism. So where does that leave Sim? What does it deal with? Where do mechanics fit in? I’ll try and grapple with that later as those questions are what I really want to answer but in the mean time there is one more idea I want to express about the role of mechanics.

Mechanics when abstracted up are the Lumpley Principle. Where the rubber meets the road they are typically used most importantly in the role of resolving conflicts. We go to mechanics in Gamism to check the results of our efforts to complete a task – sometimes called Task Resolution. Narrativism’s mechanics can be called into play to resolved the result of a conflict – sometimes called Conflict Resolution. Both add an element of risk as outcomes are uncertain. This can add excitement…and we as players playing a game tend to think of the mechanics as a way of helping us resolve events in play. But what we don’t see is that the form of the mechanics help shape our thinking process. Thus in a Gamist facilitating game the mechanics also serve to help the players to think only about things as Tasks to be overcome. IOW of the various ways we can look at a Situation the mechanics, by their focus on either task or conflict shape how the players think about Situation. That which isn’t touched upon by the mechanics tends not to be focused on in play. While there has been much said in game design posts about getting the game running right what we’re really talking about is getting the players to think in a certain way.

Mechanics can strongly influence how players think. So where does Sim fit into role-play if the 2 known major sources of conflict are already covered by Nar/Gam? By directly engaging the thinking process directly as a whole. Sim/bricolage/myth is a method or process by which people think about…everything! But what its particularly good at is getting to the players to think of the Universe/Reality as not impersonal and meaningless but rather as something overflowing with meaning with humanity deeply involved in it. Mythic thinking (bricolage) and Sim by extension is an experience creation process whose functioning facilitates the shifting of the players reality map to that of the fictional world. You “feel” and think as if you are in that other reality. The hard part in this type of play isn’t the process of bricolage, that comes pretty naturally when you are exposed to it, rather the hard part is deciding what kind of reality you want to run. The game I play in is epic heroic with many themes of sacrifice and good and evil. I have not played Archipelago so I’m not certain where its themes and meaning structures lie but it is still an experience creation process. Our game is fast paced, Archipelago is deliberately slow paced but both manage to create meaningful play and a rich, deep, meaningful experience. Whatever the fictional world it feels like you're there. Each table, in time, settles upon and creates its own meaning structures (what might be called “themes” but not in the literate sense) organically through play. Everything and anything is open to play as long as the players find it compelling and that compelling sense is what binds us emotionally to the created fiction space on a deeply personal level.

In the end the myth (the vast created meaningful structures created through play) acts as its own resolution system as it does also function to steer the thinking of the players. It has normative powers, which is to say, the world works in predictable ways even if we don’t know the specifics. You don’t need or even want abstracted mechanics…you already have a resolution system in the myth itself. You just need to learn to be able to look to it and find (or create) the answer as delimited by the myth aesthetic.

Just some thinking. Anything useful?



Silmenume's picture


I see that I didn’t communicate my ideas well and that’s not to be unexpected. Allow me, if you will, a second chance to see if I can clarify my thoughts.

Game mechanics in a “tightly” designed game serve two purposes. One is to resolve and/or create situations and the other is to encourage the players to think in a certain way. The first is easily understood and easy to see functioning in that role during play and thus the players are highly aware of the mechanics performing in that capacity. The second role is much more obscure as even the idea of a Creative Agenda is not widely known. This is part of the reason many RPG game designs flounder. Most players either like the “feel” of the game play or don’t. IOW the game makes the expression of players unexamined CA preferences easier or harder. This facilitation role of mechanics functions by focusing player attention on certain elements of play and thus guiding their approach to situation. Is this particular set of circumstances a Task or a Conflict? IOW are there rules that cover THESE circumstances? Yes? Then THESE types of circumstances are important. No? Then move along and don’t pay any attention to THESE types of circumstances. So by both attempting to draw attention to and away from certain types of circumstances of play the mechanics attempt to shape player thinking. They cannot coerce player thinking into a path and this is why a given nights play CA can not (forgot to include 'not' in my original posting! Doh!) be determined by the rules set but what the players are reacting to and rewarding socially.

Sim does the same thing but it requires far less focus on resolution mechanics and places much more emphasis on the thinking process itself. This is why Sim can be successfully run without (or virtually without) mechanical resolution systems. This thinking process, myth/bricolage, allows a person to think about whatever said individual thinks is interesting, but for all that myth is normative. Myth/bricolage thinking is also supremely subjective and excels at creating meaning be the individual either creating or consuming it. This maps to Sim’s “Dream”. Myth/bricolage thinking is excellent for creating meaningful personal experiences – just what the doctor ordered for generating and making strong the experience of life in a fictional reality. This lack of need for abstract mechanics is why so few Sim games have been published with the whole RPG publishing industry focusing on “conflict” and its hard wired deterministic resolution mechanics.

In short G/N tries not just to shape player thinking but shape it toward recognizing, engaging and rewarding Situation in the form of psychic conflict or physical conflict. Both are done using tools that are familiar to our Western Engineering Thinking and all its entailments and psychological effects. Sim play also tries to shape player thinking but on a much more fundamental level. It doesn’t try to funnel Western Engineering Abstract Thinking into specific paths but rather Sim attempts to change the WAY we think on a general level from Western Engineering Abstract Thinking to Myth Bricolage Subjective Thinking. What we think about is not influenced by mechanics and rules but by the source material we choose and, in time, the contributions we make during play. Sim is not concerned with objective Task resolution allowing for fair measures of skill nor is it about playing Characters focused on the human condition. Sim can have both of these types of conflicts but it can also not be about conflict and still be engaging. Sim creates EXPERIENCE. Yes having conflict can make it exciting and spicy and are excellent tools to aid in keeping interest but they are not mandatory. Sim is both the creation and experience on a subjective level of a fictional reality. It cannot do this with well with deterministic resolution systems with objective results. Such systems are categorically at odds with myth/bricolage. The “rules” are found in the myth itself generally, but not always, within the aesthetic of the ever growing myth/world.

In almost all cases we play Sim because we want to experience what it’s like to “live” in some fictional realm. This means the human experience as felt by the players under different circumstances. A mechanic is a terrible way to generate an experience. Thinking subjectively is a terrific way to generate and feel an experience and myth/bricolage is bar none the best overall method for doing so.

Is that any clearer?



komradebob's picture

I agree with about 95-95% of this as motivation/CA ( I don't think genre emulation sim is necessarily about living in the world, or maybe more accurately, I think what stances are involved with creative input can vastly impact the experience. IOW, I don't think that first person, in-character play is the be all and end all of fun gaming. Like, I have some real issues with it truthfully).

A couple thoughts:

Any chance that, in terms of description, we can bring this back down to a level comprehensible to folks in the cheap seats?

Now that you've laid this out, what does it mean in terms of practical mechanical design? I've got my own thoughts, but I'd like to hear yours ( and other folks' opinions) first.
Mostly, I feel like the rules/mechanics/methods/whatever are mostly about hashing out consensus quickly and running with it, and then evolving that consensus as play continues.

Silmenume's picture

Hi komradebob,

....( I don't think genre emulation sim is necessarily about living in the world, or maybe more accurately, I think what stances are involved with creative input can vastly impact the experience. IOW, I don't think that first person, in-character play is the be all and end all of fun gaming. Like, I have some real issues with it truthfully).

Real quick...I want to make clear that I am not in any way proposing that "first person, in-character play is the be all and end all of fun gaming." I am saying that myth/bricolage/Sim play is a CA but the very nature of the functioning of myth/bricolage is extremely subjective. The very first step in myth is the assigning a meaning to a real world object or event that relates back to the person assigning that meaning. Everything in myth is subjective and meaning filled as opposed to objective thought that attempts to remove the human from the process. So, to restate, I am not talking about all role-play but specifically Sim play. Second, myth/bricolage cultures actively work to map out man's role in the Universe. The process is messy but meaning laden. Tribal cultures live their lives and think using the myth process as opposed to the Western Scientific method which seeks to remove the human from the process. IOW Western Literate Engineering thought is concise, clean but sterile while myth/bricolage is messy but places human meaning from the beginning at the center of the process. Call this first person or not, but it is most definitely subjective. This is what myth/bricolage does and how it functions. I am saying that myth/bricolage/Sim excels at creating a subjective experience. Can this be done in Director Stance? I don't know, but I suspect that would be akin to playing Dogs In The Vineyard in a Gamist mode. I suppose it can be done, but I suspect (but I do not assert categorically) that it would not be a particularly satisfying experience. (We can break this particular topic [first person play] off to a new thread if you wish to continue on it as you voiced strong concerns about it. It might be useful because I'd don't think I've been very careful with my usage of subjective vs first person.)

I apologize in that I don't understand what "genre emulation sim" means as far how play works or how it is a distinct style of play. If I had really good manners and was truly an academic I would wait for your response before replying but sadly I am lacking in both and I'll take a stab at a reply and foolishly jump the gun. If by "genre" we are employing the term as it is generally applied to writing and movies then by the myth/bricolage model of Sim that I am offering then "genre" conventions must exist in all forms of Sim. Here is a dictionary definition so as to be as explicit as possible and so that we might also expose any implicit misunderstandings - "a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter."

If this definition of genre holds then all Sim play employs and uses genre conventions as part of the meaning structures and as a normative source. FREX if we were to play Star Wars then we'd have an oppressive government and rebel underdogs, light sabres and blasters, huge capital space ships and single seater fighter craft, Jedi and smugglers, faster than light travel and sentient beings of all shapes and sizes, robots and advanced healing, and so very much more. You can't have a Star Wars game without them but in Sim they are more than just Setting. All these "things" have meaning and how we play them in game is important to the experience of play. These genre conventions limit what is allowable in play - IOW they have normative power. These are the things that not only set the world but give it structure and meaning. I don't think it is even possible to play a myth/bricolage/Sim game without genre conventions especially if the game is using source material. If there are "types" of Sim play, I'm not at all sure what they might be however, I am am fairly certain "genre emulation" is not a valid or workable cleaving line. I am curious if I touched on your thoughts on this particular topic in any way that might have been useful.

Any chance that, in terms of description, we can bring this back down to a level comprehensible to folks in the cheap seats?

I'd really love to but my understanding is still evolving and what I know about myth/bricolage I've learned from Chris Lehrich. I have had no formal studies in the topic of preliterate myth and the many books books Chris suggested for reading are well beyond the capabilities of my simple mind. Billy has been helping me out by approaching this process as a game designer. He's been a terrific help moving the discussion from theory to practicum.

Now that you've laid this out, what does it mean in terms of practical mechanical design? I've got my own thoughts, but I'd like to hear yours ( and other folks' opinions) first.

The very simple answer is no deterministic mechanics. The fewer mechanics the better. I'd suggest reading the rules to Archipelago III as an example of how such a game design might look. In the game I play in we have character sheets with many elements that look similar to standard D&D style sheets - Character Attributes, Weapon Skills, Secondary Skills, Armor Class, etc. The huge difference between what we do and just about all other "Sim" game systems published out there is that all those values do NOT (this was accidentally left out for almost 2 weeks in my original post! Apologies.) map directly to the SIS. There is no "Player's Handbook" nor any kind of handout. A 15 Strength is stronger than a 14 Strength. 18/00 is human max...whatever that means. What matters is the subjective meaning of those numbers not their objective values. My character could be average strong, pretty strong, very strong or perhaps a beast of a man. He won't be throwing cows around but he can lift quite a bit. But the problem with quantifying STR is that a single value does not really capture the various types of strength or the possibility that you might be in better shape today than yesterday. All we need to know is that the numbers are relative to each other and their effects go up with increasing values - be they physical or mental. What is important to this mode of play is that we see the effects in the SIS and we draw our own conclusions just like we do in real life. This is absolutely key. We want to engage with the SIS using the same cognitive tools we use to engage with reality on a daily basis as much as reasonably possible.

In such a game you don't want players focusing on abstract rules or mechanics, you want them looking to the "myth" as presented in the SIS for normative guidance. FREX you can use dice with the general gist being low is bad, high is good and if you are looking for a more dramatic game "1's" are critical fails and "20's" are curve busting critical successes on a D20. You can of course use any randomizing system you want but if you are looking for speed the fewer dice rolled the better. One can even have modifiers in conjunction with the randomizers if they are quick and easy but in either case such "mechanics" cannot be deterministic. The idea is you want your players to look to the SIS for ideas or feed back. Just as in real life we never know with absolute certainty the outcome of an action we a taking so it is with myth/bricolage/Sim. The results cannot be capricious as some might claim such a game might become because the normative power of the myth allows us to predict with fair confidence how the world works while constraining the DM's options. People think that a lack of transparent mechanics means an unpredictable game yet we live our daily lives that way. I don't take measurements, consider the physics, calculate the math every-time I take a step forward. I take a step forward with confidence because I have done so successfully an uncountable number of times in my life.

In the game I play in there are mechanics but they are there mostly to help the DM with intangibles such as Hit Points and Magic. They are not deterministic but rather guides that inform his creative choices in response to the player's input. A couple of weeks ago I was playing and my character got slammed in the head such that he was reduced to "0" PBP (Personal Body Points - your character's actual body size and toughness). "0" in a body part is debilitating so I was KO'd for a short while and severely hampered for a while after. My companion helped me up and supported me as I stumbled along. My bell had been solidly rung. We were being pursued by orc in a forest and while we didn't have visual contact we knew they were near by. My GM had both of us roll D20's and I rolled a '1'. This was disastrous for me. For the reasons above I was in bad shape and I knew there were Orc bowmen in the woods so in a flash I folded in half and played throwing up from the consequences of the head wound. I figured that it was reasonable that such a massive head wound would have left me concussed and thus I felt my creative choice was both plausible and appropriate. By playing my injury as debilitating at that moment with me slowing our attempted escape the GM chose not to have me hit with an orc arrow. I painted such a picture of my physical condition and played it at a disadvantage (I was helpless and immobile while vomiting) that he chose not to shoot the arrow he planned and let me paint my picture thus sparing my life in that instance. Remember, I did not know what I was rolling that D20 for but bad is bad and I had to think fast, think inside the myth and play that choice convincingly or I felt that something very "unhealthy" was likely to happen. This dance of back and forth between player and DM is the heart of the game. I didn't have to roll on my retching to convince the DM or has some mechanic tell me that due to luck an arrow missed or the orcs weren't close enough to see me at my moment of greatest distress or anything like that. My action was judged by the GM (and the table via hoots and shouts of appreciation) to have been creative, timely and aesthetically in tune with the whole of the myth of the game we were playing. The outcome of that rolled '1' was not deterministic but rather presented an opportunity, albeit a dangerous one, for quick thinking bricolage. My choice overrode the '1' and I was rewarded for it with my character's life.

The '1' spurred my into taking quick action but my tools were not mechanics but rather the myth itself. My choices and the DM's were not "determined" by the die roll but our potential responses were not without constraint either. This may sound flimsy but it is far stronger than you might think. Consider that entire tribal cultures live and die according to their myths. Just because the a process is oral does not mean that it is without powerful form. What's particularly fascinating about the myth/bricolage is that the normative aesthetic evolves and grows over time organically. To put it in abstract terms what would normally be the mechanics of a game change and grow organically over time.

But as to your question about what does this mean to game designers the answer is difficult. Again I would point to Archipelago III as a very good example of a way to publish a game system that uses myth. For myself I would say that there should be no deterministic resolution mechanics. I would strongly argue that the role of the DM is not that of an objective arbiter ruled by deterministic mechanics but rather the DM is as deeply involved in the world and events as the players are, yet the DM is not there to "run a story" nor "railroad (deprotagonize) the players". Rather his role is to present situations to the players, make the world alive and real through NPC interaction as well as describing the traits of things of the world. The GM is to avoid speaking objectively in facts as much as possible and instead, first person or not, convey information on a subjective level as one's character would filter it. This means incomplete descriptions weighted by experiences and biases that may conflict with those of other PC's...just like in real life. Have the world move whether or not the players do. Do not play a game that is centered just around the PC's but rather have a living breathing world where the power players are moving forward with their own objectives via their own morals and means. The PC's are in the world pursuing their own agendas each of which may come into conflict with the other NPC's (or PC's!).

Actually Billy wrote up an excellent list of guidelines for a GM looking to run this CA. I'll ask him if I can post it here on this thread. It is written much better than anything I could even hope to write. Let me do this before I continue on this particular topic. However before I sign off on this post let me add one last thing. Simply put, Sim play, at the most fundamental level, is the interaction of the PC with the fictional world on a personal, meaningful and subjective level. Not sure how to convey that in game design...

This rambled all over the place, my apologies.



Silmenume's picture


The following is the document that I referenced above written by Billy, created after he and I posted and conversed. He also had access to a couple recordings of some game sessions from my table. Billy originally posted the following document in this thread Edited Discussion on Mythic Games (with Combat Transcript) which may offer additional context.

DM’s Goals, Principles, & Techniques

Hook them by the mouth. Make sure that every player character is interesting and enticing to play. Give them a special power, a unique item, a unique background, a special motivation or goal. Make a different character the “star” in each scenario, and give every character a day in the sun.

Tie them with strong knots. Give every player character a strong personal motivation in each scenario. Integrate the characters tightly in their community. Make them dependent on others. Make others dependent on them. Give them something to protect. Promise them what they want. Make me an offer I can’t refuse.

Lay a spell with your voice. Speak clearly and use vivid language. Fill your sentences with pleonasms (sharp swords and hairy spiders, salt tears and red blood). Make free use of Tolkienisms like “rumour of their passage” and “ruin of fire”.

Cloud their vision. The eyes of the elves are sharp, but trees throw shadows and smoke may veil the stars. Describe everything from the limited point of view of the characters. Say what they see, hear, smell, feel, taste. Let them reach their own conclusions. Show the after-effects. Leave the worst unspoken.

Draw them and quarter them. Pull them in many directions at once. Give them proud captains, false lovers, foolish friends, and pitiful enemies. Have all the NPCs give them different advice. Play to their suspicion, fear, duty, curiosity, and sense of fun. Give them three options, all good and all bad. Force them to choose.

Live a hundred lives. Simple plots, complex characters. Every NPC needs a goal and a motive. Pursue your motive without hesitation, without regard for the players. Inhabit the NPCs. Step into their bodies and become them. Speak in their words.

Fight for your life. Even goblins value their own lives. So play the monsters as if they do not want to die. Avoid needless risks. Lay traps. Kill without mercy. Beg to be spared. Better you than me. Run away and hide. Outrun your friend if you can’t outrun the bear.

Be black of heart. Don’t be afraid to make evil characters. Be terrible and cruel. Be cowardly and deceitful. Think like the deranged people in murder mysteries. Nurse a grudge. Kill everyone who knows what you did. Be petty. Take advantage of people who care for you. Belittle your husband, beat your wife, torment your children. Hit your dog with a stick.

Be fair of heart. Don’t be afraid to make noble and inspiring characters. Stand up straight. Be generous and merciful. Still, don’t overshadow the player-heroes. Make mistakes. Be far too trusting. Put on your helmet, pick up your shovel, and go to the trenches to die.

Take deadly aim. Threaten the things the players care about. This does not mean you always need to go after the characters’ life, their home, or their family (though all these things are on the table). But if she wants to be brave, then question her courage. If he wants to be loved, challenge his reputation. If the players value their freedom, then bring forth chains to bind them. Don’t be petty and perpetually deny their desires; this only encourages the players to disengage. But make them fight for what they want. Let them earn it. Make it easy to fail—and possible to succeed! Rejoice in their triumphs and let them exult in what they have won.

Place them between hammer and anvil. Spin thick webs and leave no way out. Give them impossible choices. Remember that the greatest tales are tragedies, filled with fear and pity. It is up to the players to find their way to comedy.

Open a trapdoor beneath their feet. Don’t show the full extent of the danger from the beginning. Hold the worst part back for a twist. It’s so much worse than you thought. He was dead before we even arrived. The one you trusted was the traitor all along. Leave clues, subtle notes of dissonance that won’t make sense until the sudden key change, the gasp of horror, the terrible anagnorisis. Paint in dark foreshadows, until the painting rips apart and all Hell breaks loose.

Hit hard and fast. Keep the conflicts coming once the game is well afoot. Run combat without rounds or segments. Treat hesitation by the player as hesitation by the character. Narrate a soft move and then continue on to the hard move unless one of the players interrupts you. Cut between parallel scenes.

Thirst for blood. Create scenarios that will have devastating results if the players fail. Treat nothing as sacred. Take no prisoners. Be like Ungoliant, eager to suck the light out of all that is good and fair.

Fly straight as an arrow. Do the obvious thing on a middle roll. Be predictable. Characters act according to their motivations and natures. Wolves feed and orcs despoil. The laws of nature hold true.

Set nothingness above. Don’t pull your punches. Do not bend fate to save the players, howsoever it break your heart. Plunge your sword deep and wash your hands of the blood. Providence dwells only in the roll of the dice.

Welcome the dawn. When a natural 20 is rolled, heave a sigh of relief and let your face split in a smile. Let the dark clouds break, at least for a moment. Let their swords strike true and their enemies quaver. Let fieldmice chew through their bonds. When multiple consecutive 20s are rolled, bring on your best eucatastrophe. Send in the eagles. Move heaven and earth.

Sing their praises. When the players succeed, make them look like heroes. Make it sound effortless; or, like a unique and legendary effort. Let the NPCs admire them. Say how their deeds will be remembered. By welcoming the players’ successes, you build up trust and credibility for the inevitable failures and complications.

Strike with the back of your hand. Show them the results of their choices. Even in victory, leave a seed of doubt. When things go well, take a moment to reflect on what was averted. Speak of the arrow that could have been deadly. Speak of the lands that could have been overrun. Measure the cost, and ask if it was worth it.

Bury the dead. Do not rush over the bad things that happen, but yield to them and give them their time. Run your hands through the ashes and turn over the broken shards. Search for words at the bedside of the dying. Comfort the grieving and weep for the dead. Die badly. Die well.

Remember the widows and orphans. Every action has a consequence, and inaction too has a cost. If a battle is fought or other important events occur, refer to them again and again and let them be the germ of new stories. Lives are woven in a tapestry, and when many threads are cut the whole picture may begin to unravel. Children seek comfort. Youths seek revenge. Tragedy gives birth to tragedy until the price is repaid and the wound is healed.

Be generous in love and beauty. Fill the world with good things. The earth is rich with flowers and the sky is filled with stars. War and suffering are the state of nature, but art and laughter are the gift of God. The human heart overflows with kindness and hope. They dance who return from battle; and they eat and drink who are soon to be hanged. After the darkness comes the rosy light of dawn.

Grave your words in stone. These are the days that are given us. What has happened cannot be undone. Don’t look back. Don’t entertain counterfactuals. Even Aslan cannot say what would have happened if we had made different choices; so who are you to dare? And above all—never, ever speak of what was “supposed” to happen. Do not even think in such a way. For only in play is the web of the Fates revealed. Abandon your expectations and blaze a new trail.

Again, a reminder that this was written by Billy, not myself. I suppose these are more techniques than design guidelines but a little looking beyond the surface should reveal some facet about the CA itself.



DeReel's picture

It's storytelling. It's really genre emulation. The genre being general early XXIst century fiction rules (compared to, say Hollywood classic era).
What this and your forest chase with orcs tells me
is you have internalized narrative mechanics such as "on a miss take harm or pick an appropriate condition" "clear a condition when you play it in a significant way".
What I take from this is : don't use rules you have not internalized. It has 2 problems : beginners can't engage with all of the game "out of the box". It implies that most players out there don't already play like that, taking into account previous information and really taking world facts and events "in".
To me, it all boils down to : "The best authority is the one you recognize". Taking a part in the creation and upkeep of something is a good way of buying in (the best I found).
The only Sim mechanic I have found myself is : writing precedents down, drawing the map, writing a journal / chronicle, etc.

Billy's picture

I agree, DeReel: my list quoted above is mostly narrative and storytelling techniques. That list was essentially my acting notes for playing the role of the GM, to define the type of story or genre I wanted to have in my game. I think you could change many of them and still play (in many respects) a similar game - certainly a game in the same CA.

Your formulation is very good: "don't use rules you have not internalized." I tend to think about it as "living rules" -- those that everyone at the table knows, which have attained social power though group agreement; and "dead rules" -- those which are written on paper or even known to one person, but not being used by everyone. (I suppose this is also essentially the Lumpley principle.)

Of course, for the purposes of this discussion, in the "rules" we are including world rules, genre rules, aesthetic rules, etc. For example, the "rule" that dwarves in our game are serious and honour-bound. These rules may be quite complex and hard to put down on paper, if they have developed organically, and are more a matter of what intuitively feels right.

So the real game design question is: how do you induct new players into all this information? "Game design is about structure," as the heading on Eero's blog once told me. What structures can we use to help new players into the world?

It happens that Jay and I had a conversation recently about the same topic. Here are a few of the ideas that I took away from it, that are worth exploring in game design:

- Scenario / campaign structure
- Run scenarios from different parts of the game world
- Somewhat like Microscope, keep zooming in on different "theatres" of the larger campaign
- Gradually build up the knowledge of the game world from many angles
- Switch regularly to new areas and cultures
- Jumping into a new area helps level the playing field between the experts and the neophytes

- Group structure
- Recognize explicitly which players are experts. Other players look to these players for guidance.
- In Archipelago, each player is an expert in their own sphere.
- In Jay's group, expert players are awarded with a special black character folio; these players have wide-ranging knowledge of the game world and help induct new players into its mysteries
- The game doesn't function well without at least a certain number of the experts present; they create a quorum or a sense of agreement, which helps carry new players along

- Character creation limits
- Limits to which character types new players can play (need to increase your player rating, i.e., mechanical representation of player knowledge of world)
- In Jay's game, the qualities of different cultural groups (elves, dwarves, Gondor, Rohan) are of essential importance to the role-playing; it is damaging to the quality of the game if someone mis-portrays a given character type (newbie comes in and plays a D&D-style drunken fool dwarf instead of a serius Tolkeinian dwarf)
- Before the DM will allow players to play a certain culture, he will first introduce an NPC of that culture and role-play the NPC in a way that emphasizes the rules and essential qualities of the culture
- When introducing a new culture or type of character, spend more time playing through the character's childhood and upbringing (less time will be needed for experienced players who know the culture already)
- Pair up two characters of the same culture, so one can act as the mentor (this could be player/NPC, or new player/experienced player)

Billy's picture

When I reread what I wrote before (the Goals, Principles, & Techniques document), it now strikes me as something of an "outside view", where a lot of it really is describing storytelling generalizations, rather than describing an "inside view" of a mythmaking process. I wrote that document before having successfully run the game, so it was written in an aspirational way, about what I wanted the results to be.

Not that it is wrong, per se, but if I were writing it now I would emphasize different things. The big breakthrough for me is seeing how, as the DM, you must generate concrete details of the world based on your understanding of the "true meaning" or "essential nature" of things within it. I wrote about this more in my post on Jan 6 in the other thread.

In the Principles doc, I like best the parts where it tells you who to be in concrete examples, such as "Be like Ungoliant, eager to suck the light out of all that is fair." Although it is a bit vague and flowery, I think saying "Be Ungoliant!" is the kind of advice that will produce the right mindset -- namely, the mindset of understanding the essential nature of things, and then portraying them in a way that is true to this essential nature.

In the other thread DeReel made a comment (Nov 23) on the "sheer number of principles for the GM!" I think now that the fact I wrote so many principles is a good sign they're not the true underlying principles. In fact, most of them are just specific examples of the broader principle in action (deep sense of essential nature ---> meaningful concrete details).

DeReel's picture

for breaking it down in clear guidelines ! There is plenty to chew on, specifically in the Aug. 28th post.

komradebob's picture

Just dropping by to say that I am reading and considering all of these responses and haven't abandoned the conversation.

I see lots of stuff that I think is really great here overall, and I do like that a couple of posters have been offering non-GM -side suggestions on actions to help build up the shared understanding of the setting.

I'd like to see more of that, really. One of the big things that I like that came out of those now ancient Forge discussions were mechanics that spread responsibility for successful play around ( or at least a strain of commitment to mechanical designs that shared those around) the play group.

What I'm digging at is this:

What are player side activities that can be turned into non-onerous procedures that support the group understanding of the Myth ( and the related bricolagerie)?

I ask that keeping in mind that this can be very different depending on a gamer's preferred stance, GM'ed vs GM-less games, and well, all kinds of things really. So a very broad subject, but perhaps some general concepts or principles can be gleaned.

Silmenume's picture


Before I involve myself in this conversation again I want to apologize to both DeReel and komradebob for my terrible responses to your questions. I will try and do better in the future but I know that I haven't done well in the past and want you both to know that it wasn't due to lack of effort or respect. I have been thinking so hard on this from the theory and myth side (15+ years) that I'm having terrible difficulties bringing my thoughts back to the concrete and useful. I have two things to offer but neither are the type of information that you are looking for - almost 3 decades of play experience that feels as natural as breathing and 15 years of difficult theory that tries to explain what this activity is that feels as natural as breathing. I have no history of game design at all. It is for all these reasons I owe a special shout out to Billy who has been instrumental bridging the gap between theory and practice. Thank you, Billy!



komradebob's picture

FWIW Jay, I've had a similar problem of describing play that I'm in the middle of to people outside of that specific bubble, so I do get that.

And "sim" has always been hard to explain or dissect, made more so by the fact that it was an enormous umbrella term that covered some very different sorts of actual play.

Maybe making it simpler: How do you take evolved, developed "best practices" and make them into actionable activities that are central to play?*

And, importantly, how can that sets of actions be spread around in different types of game set ups, particularly when play from different stances can feel radically different, yet still all be sim?

Here I'm mostly concerned with In First Person AS Much as Possible style Sim needs versus We're all sort of GMs Sometimes style Sim needs

*I apologize for that corporate cheerleader speak I just used in that last sentence.

Tod's picture

Late to the party, but I wanted to clarify something. @Silmenume wrote:

If by "genre" we are employing the term as it is generally applied to writing and movies then by the myth/bricolage model of Sim that I am offering then "genre" conventions must exist in all forms of Sim. Here is a dictionary definition so as to be as explicit as possible and so that we might also expose any implicit misunderstandings - "a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter."

Because, as you point out, all Sim play involves the tropes and subject matter of a particular genre by necessity, it should be clear that this is not what is meant when we say "Genre Sim." For the precise reason you mentioned, the phrase "Genre Sim" is used to designate a playstyle which attempts to emulate another medium in form and style (production) - more than merely in tropes and subject matter (content). Thus a Genre Sim is specialized subcategory of "Sim," and due to its focus on presentation and "movie logic" over realism and physics, it has little to do with Bricolage as I understand the term.

To put it another way: I am a Genre Sim artist. I say this not because I run campaigns that take place in genres you can recognize, but because I utilize writer's terms and constructs (such as "episode," "scene," "frame," even "camera angle" and "fade to black") to emulate the kind of action and narrative structures you see in movies and TV.

DeReel's picture

"all Sim play involves the tropes and subject matter of a particular genre by necessity".
Somewhere on the Sim plane, you could play while discovering a world/genre totally "innocent" of tropes and dramatic preconceptions. Taking a Narrative leaning game, such as In a Wicked Age, and build a world around a cast of characters, but not going specifically for drama, mostly spiraling and musing around to get a good view of everything, to "feel" the world as a Comédie humaine. Why is it not Sim ? Or would it "become" Sim as the world coalesces into tropes and subjects, and its own genre ? Maybe I am just defining my own version of Bricolage ?

Tod's picture

You may consider this merely semantic and therefore perhaps I have nothing to say, but to my mind...

The word "simulation" begs an object larger than a character (genre, setting, narrative arc, whatever) that is being simulated.

Without such an object, all we're simulating is "being a person in a world" - but that seems so vague as to be almost meaningless, since it applies to all RPGs by titular tautology. In other words, ALL fictional worlds are simulations of something - even if that something never was conceived before - but if we go with a definition this vague we would have to say that ALL RPGs are Sim, which of course is not very helpful.

DeReel's picture

Sim to me is really playing a person in a world. Note that you can't "be a person" if you're not "in a world" anyway.
But it's not a tautology in that with this agenda you don't intend to play the bare minimum of a world needed for your character to pass as a person, an expectation passed down from older games. You're definitely not playing a pawn of a character. You want to have a rich milieu for your person to be like a maggot in a ripe fig. You could say you want to focus on the robustness of the simulation.

In creative fiction when you have enough independent logical and chronological chains in your narration it creates something I call "a realism effect", the feeling that indeed, it is a world. Robert Altman pictures regularly do this. Games and stories that constantly or forcefully or meaningfully reincorporate every bit of narrative thread have a hard time giving that impression : they lack randomness we see in nature.

I'll try and deduce something from my rambling : if you want to play a person in a world you may need mechanisms to frame and populate the narration with details (@Tod : I watched Inception again and now I understand how the discussion at the café between Page and DeCaprio can be a metaphor for that) ; if you want to play to be a person in a realistic world, you don't want mechanics to reincorporate narrative elements, such as contacts & perks. In any case, said mechanics will be more guidance (words on a sheet, evocative drawings, a sequence of who speaks after who, etc.) than decision making (throwing dice, spending points, etc.)

komradebob's picture

How can the labor that goes into creating and sustaining/developing that be divided up so it isn't wildly unbalanced ?

As always, while I recognize that what DeReel describes above is certainly a major form of playstyle that many people hold as an ideal form of play, I find that it overlooks, well, pretty much the entire role of the GM in a game. I think at this point we all are probably familiar with the concept of GM Duties as series of duties/privileges/rights/responsibilities that can be split up, so that is probably worth discussing in a Sim context.

Without too much distraction from the topic, while I recognize the popularity of this playstyle ( again, at least as an ideal situation to shoot for), I would again stae my opinion that it is far from the only form hat Sim can take, uhnlesswe are willing to say that Sim can only be associated with certain Stances and divisions of labor.

Silmenume's picture

Hi komradebob,

What are player side activities that can be turned into non-onerous procedures that support the group understanding of the Myth ( and the related bricolagerie)?

If the table's game is based on another creative work (book, movie, comic book, series, etc.) then the simplest action that a player can take to understanding the table "myth" is to consume the source material. Unless the source book is War and Peace or something equally onerous and time consuming then it isn't asking too much of the player to familiarize themself with the material. It shouldn't be too much of a burden because there should be that interest in the source material to begin with. If one is running a Star Wars game and the new or prospective player refuses or complains that they don't want to take the time to watch the movies then why do they even want to play in the fictional world to begin with? As with improv jazz, the individual player needs to not only be familiar with the source material but have a relationship with it. IOW the players should feel something about it.

If the new player cannot, for good reason, make the effort become familiar with the source material there are still many routes to helping the player gain this understanding. To be honest, first contact with the myth and learning about it through play often creates the most intense sense of "being there." I can still remember the response to my first experience at my table. I could not sleep for 2 nights. My mind was such a maelstrom of emotions and ideas about what I had experienced that it would not stop racing. I miss that overwhelming sense of being awestruck by this fictional world. It was overwhelming and utterly consuming. Now I had read the LOTR and the Hobbit years before but the actual experience of the game was better than the book. At least for myself.

How was I introduced to the world? I was given a character that didn't require deep knowledge of the specifics of Middle Earth. My character was a "Man of Ithilien". The GM gave me a backstory with many common human relationships, bonds and responsibilities that are easily identifiable with the basic human condition. IOW something "easy" to play while allowing me to watch the other experienced players do their thing. Watching them play told me that this was not like any game I had played before and showed me just how "out of the box" this game was. Thus, learning by playing is not a bad way to go about learning the world if you have enough experienced players.

I suppose I should note that playing in a game that allows you to develop a folio of characters over time really helps. What I mean is that if you don't do well with your first character, that you play it "wrong", it’s not so terrible in that other characters will come as you learn and grow into the myth. In our game the pinnacle expression of a player having a strong understanding of the myth is when you finally get a Dunedan. They are the characters that require the greatest understanding of the world to really bring to life and as such also come under the most scrutiny by the other players at the table. Not only is playing a Dunedan difficult they face the most difficult and complex situations. You as a player have to be a good role-player in this CA to play it well in our particular game. That may or may not be an issue in other tables and worlds with their own aesthetic sensibilities and priorities.

Not mentioned much in my previous posts is the fact that we often will spend many hours out of game just talking about it. The most interesting and fun conversations typically happen right after a game session where the scenario is still fresh and the emotions are still high. We often pepper the DM and each other with questions about what we were thinking or trying to accomplish. We talk about the ramifications and speculate about the night's events and wonder what they mean or what they might foretell. Other times we discuss the world itself and what's going on or share ideas about the various peoples and events. Maybe we'll create a new type of character or land or culture or whatnot. We might talk about the Silmarils and what they meant or what it would have been like to have been around when they were created. We'll talk about Aman, or Doriath, Eol and Gurthang or whatever we're curious or have an idea or theory about. Whatever the case these conversations shed a tremendous light on the aesthetic of the table myth and help the new (like I was long ago) get a better understanding of the intangibles of the game. I know this probably sounds strange but these conversations with the DM are highly coveted because they are so fascinating, revealing and educational.

Part 1 of 2

Silmenume's picture

Part 2 of 2. (Apologies for having to break my post in 2 but I ran into a bug that the site kept refusing my submission in a very odd way. In the end it turned out it didn't like the word "from" in my last paragraph. Go figure...)

Frequently new players are invited to the table by other players so there is a selection and education process going on even before the player sits for the first time. However, I should note that even when we play at game stores or conventions, we draw players in who happen to wander by and see what is going on. It's not that I'm saying that our game is so great but rather that this CA is highly accessible and a person can walk in and after a few minutes of watching become curious enough that they want to play...and the kicker is they can because they don't need memorized mechanics or rules. A few things are explained and the DM tailors the events for the new player to a more generic experience that is readily understandable.

That there are things going on that a new player (or even an experienced player) doesn't understand is NOT a bad thing. Frequently just the opposite. Learning or experiencing something new is always welcome and interesting. It grabs you. You become interested. You want to know more. It is when the world is least known and you see the most new things that the world is at its richest, compelling and awe inspiring. We are Alice looking through the looking glass for the first time.

Learning about the table myth shouldn't be arduous or difficult. It should be interesting, compelling and captivating in and of itself. I really haven't seen other tables who play this CA but my experience is that our game sells itself. Those players want to play and are excited to learn. The best way is first by showing (through play itself) and then by telling.

I suppose I should also note that the whole of the myth need not be known before the new player sits at the table for the first time. In fact no one player, including the DM, can know the whole of the myth. The history is usually the easiest to pick up, the political situation is more difficult because much of that is opinion as opposed to facts while customs, cultures and mores are the most difficult because they are subtle and often conflicting - just as they are in real life. Learning the myth through play is a large percentage of the fun.

The short of it is that in the real world of mythic cultures myth is easy to pick up as children learn it as a living oral tradition. The hard part comes in bridging these differences between these pre-literate mythic cultures into their polar opposite Western Engineering literate thinking cultures. A specific myth created in one of these cultures will be nigh impossible to make sense of as an outsider but consider that these myths have been stewing and growing for thousands of years. The myths we've created in games have had far less time to become as convoluted and opaque to an outsider. Yet the process of myth production in game or in these cultures is very nearly the same and is very easy to learn. Really it is something we do without much thought in our daily lives much of the time. We're just trying to create the conditions in game where myth production can flourish relatively undisturbed.

I don't know if I have offered any useful food for thought in response to your question. Again, I apologize in that I'm not a game designer so am terrible at generalizing or formalizing our specific methods to something more useful. Maybe Billy could translate my ramblings into something more useful or comprehensible.



Billy's picture

> Maybe Billy could translate my ramblings into something more useful or comprehensible.

For what it's worth those two posts seem very clear to me - I don't know that I have anything further to add to them.

Thinking about a different part of Bob's question...

Here I'm mostly concerned with In First Person AS Much as Possible style Sim needs versus We're all sort of GMs Sometimes style Sim needs

How can the labor that goes into creating and sustaining/developing that be divided up so it isn't wildly unbalanced ?

I think at this point we all are probably familiar with the concept of GM Duties as series of duties/privileges/rights/responsibilities that can be split up, so that is probably worth discussing in a Sim context.

We've talked about Archipelago before as an example of a game that seems to follow similar priorities, without having a single GM. Of course, that seems like it is a more cerebral game, with a little more distance from the action, because of the fact all the players are taking more explicit part in evaluating content and deciding what happens next.

Is there a possible distributed-GM game that will get closer to the experience Jay's talking about? To be honest I'm not sure. I'll engage in some spitballing though. Maybe it would help to put a list of all the GM duties, and then see which ones have to be done by the same person?

(Hopefully this bullet point indentation will work better than last time...)

What would seem to be all the GM duties in Jay's game?

  • Made up the rules system
  • Planning out the scenario
    • NPCs and goals
    • Situation
    • Hidden facts and obstacles
  • Plan larger "meta-plot" across multiple scenarios (like "Fronts" in Dungeon World)
  • Define and enforce social/safety rules
    • E.g., don't tell other players what to do when they are in the spotlight; don't make physical contact with other players when using the prop weapons
    • Kick out players who flaunt rules and play in a disruptive manner
  • Take lead in character creation
    • Use charts and tables to determine basic numerical stats
    • Negotiating with players about their starting skills and abilities
    • Talking to players about their background/upbringing and how it has brought them to the start of the current scenario
  • Adjudication
    • Calling for dice rolls (constantly)
    • Interpreting results of the dice rolls
  • Playing NPCs
    • Use NPC behaviour and responses to drive conflict
  • Managing pacing
    • Scene framing
    • Cut between different players
    • Find ways to inject more excitement if things get slow
    • Make things worse if players don't act quickly enough (soft move -> hard move)
    • Look for opportunities to force players into tough decisions
  • Provide energy
    • Stand up and shout at players when they are in danger
  • Describe scene to players
    • Keep an objective view of the scene and situation in head
    • Present each player with a subjective view of the same
    • Clarify things that are confusing with, e.g., whiteboard diagrams
    • Mime NPC actions with prop weapons
  • Prepare/manage stats for enemy creatures (I think fairly minimal, but it looks like he has something behind his GM screen during combat; and he talks about things like "Level 6 Variag")
  • Evaluate/reward player performance
    • Provide skill advancement checks
    • At end of session, give player awards and ratings

Duties shared between GM and players:

  • Portraying cultures and people of Middle-earth
  • Exploring table's aesthetic goals
  • Teaching new players how to play
  • Senior players vote about whether to invite back a new player

Duties for players:

  • Role-play perspective of specific character
  • Make difficult decisions under pressure
  • Act out actions in combat
  • Roll dice

So then, what do we think could be distributed?

Some duties like "enforce safety roles" and "give role-playing ratings" could definitely be shared democratically. The really hard one (and the thing at the centre of what makes the experience special) is the part where the DM has an objective view of the scenario and doles out information to other players subjectively.

A possible rotating model would look like this:

  • Players together make up world
  • There is a shared map with knowledge about the world (e.g., wiki)
  • Players take turns proposing scenarios
  • For your scenario, you take on the "GM" role:
    • Prepare secret elements of the scenario
    • Keep "objective view" in mind and provide subjective view to players
    • Manage dice adjudication, etc
  • Between scenarios, players discuss adjudication principles, meta-plot, consequences of the outcome of the latest scenario, etc.

In this model, the larger facts of the world (meta-plot) would be known to all the players, but the details within each scenario are approached subjectively (by everyone except the GM running it).

Another variant would split the campaign map into different "theatres" or "storylines"; each GM would GM within a particular theatre (so there could be ongoing secrets there). But then there is a risk of it splintering into N different campaigns, unless the results of scenarios in one theatre are definitely flowing back into the other ones. Maybe it would work, with good communication. I guess you could even end up with "secret GM alliances", where two of the players make up a big metaplot spanning across two of their areas).

For both of these models, you would probably want to adapt a "no myth" mindset (no-myth mythic play?) - in the sense that whatever ideas you had as the GM, they aren't true until the players find out. If another GM reveals something different, you have to relinquish your idea and go with theirs.

The problem with the rotating model is that it is stil extremely demanding at the table for the player in the GM seat. I know that Jay's group has struggled to find a "second Cary" who can run games in the same style with equal skill, energy, and attention to the player experience; how much luck will we have finding a whole group full?

Is there any way to distribute the role more during a single session?

komradebob's picture

That's a cool list.

Does anyone know what "rules" writers use for this stuff, like when they're doing a TV series or fiction anthology in a shared world ( Thieves World and Wild Cards come to mind)?

Can we steal ideas from those to re-purpose for games?

Silmenume's picture


Something was revealed to me by my GM after our most recent game that may shed some insight into the possibilities of what can be done with the CA but also how to approach the process of scenario generation. I don't know if this will be of aid or not but I was blown away when I heard it. But first context is necessary and that means lots of back story both in and out of game.

Some 15 to 20 years ago a player by the name of Montana wanted to play a Dunedan-Vampire-Magic User. Yes this sounds very weird in a Tolkien based world but it did work out - sort of. First the player petitioned the DM relentlessly. Second he was actually a very good player so it wasn't just a power grab - though at heart it was. He wanted to combine the three most powerful bastions of power into one character. The GM let this petitioning go on for at least 6 months before he started the ball rolling on this project. During this time of petition the GM introduced a new NPC Dunedain named Aegrandir whom he played over the months in such a way that we all fell in love the character. The player (hereafter called M) convinced another player (hereafter called C) who had an Istari to "awaken his mind". While the Istari opened his mind and lowered his mental defenses the GM roared as the voice of temptation and pride and for an hour worked on M to seize what was rightly his by history and birthright. Were not the Numenoreans always seeking making to extend their lives? Now was the opportunity to do so. The GM also played on the fact that M's character was a descendant of the Sea Kings and who is he to ask for scraps when by right he should take what is rightfully his as a King. So M eventually mind r*ped the Istari. This was a terrible precedent as the manner M's character stole by force what was originally being given to him freely stained both his soul and the magical knowledge he stole. Not long after all the Dunedain were called away on some task or another (I don't recall) and M's character still young was bidden by Aragorn to stay in Rivendell in safety.

Not long after M's character had a vision of his brother (a Dunedan NPC called Aegrandir) in desperate, desperate need in the city of Umbar. Thus against Aragorn's orders off he went...and was beset, captured and bitten by The Master Vampire in Umbar. One might think that the city was chosen randomly or ease of story but the word "Umbar" translates to "Fate" in Elven. M's character met his "fate" in this eponymous city. This is an example of the constant weaving of setting and character that I keep talking about. Then over a year, possibly more, we see the Master Vampire debase M's character in all sorts of terrible ways while M's character slowly turns into a Vampire. And so the first lie is revealed that while M's characters Attributes and Skills skyrocketed (plus gaining vampiric skills) he lost his magical abilities. This goes on for a over the course of several years while we keep seeing Aegrandir just being this amazing stud. During this time M's character has become very powerful but not nearly so much as the Master Vampire who is a Maia. By this time M badly wants out from under the Master.

So the time comes where the GM opens a scenario in the south beneath the Far Harad. The setting is a castle and the Master has invited M's character to dinner. Let us say that M is extremely wary and concerned about some sort of trap. The evening opens and while civil you can see the worry in M's face. Then there is a knock of the door. The Master Vampire feigns obvious innocence when says, "I wonder who that could be?" M the player is clearly on the verge of panicking when the GM reveals that it is Aegrandir. Standing at the door he announces that he has come for his brother, M's character. M the player's jaw hits the table and is absolutely gob smacked. The Master Vampire refuses and tells Aegrandir that, "You cannot win." Aegrandir replies stoically replies, "I know," pulls his bastard sword and starts attacking for all he's worth. At first it looks like Aegrandir is doing well and might win but it's all a show and the Master Vampire starts driving Aegrandir back and beating him like a drum.

We were all heartbroken at the table because we all loved this NPC. Then M makes the fateful decision and sides with his brother over the Master Vampire. He has failed his final test. During the fight the Master Vampire quickly pins M's character to a table by driving knives through his wrists so he is out of the fight, but M is so into his NPC brother surviving the GM let's M roll the attacks for Aegrandir. We're all cheering as M is a hot die roller and it looks like there is hope for Aegrandir but it isn't meant to be. At some point in the battle a sword is driven into the floor and the hilt broken off. Aegrandir is in bad shape and it is plain to see that death is coming for him so he rushes the Master Vampire like a linebacker picks him up and drops both the Master Vampire and himself onto the aforementioned sword. The whole table goes silent as we just saw Aegrandir impale himself to kill the Master Vampire trying to save M's character. I cannot describe how shocked the table was, but it gets worse.

After a few moments the Master Vampire starts moving and slowly pushes Aegrandir off himself and the broken sword. Then he slowly pulls himself off the sword. The Master Vampire is in bad shape but not nearly so bad as Aegrandir. In a quick aside this creature has been plaguing the world and the PC’s for years and was universally feared and hated so that he appeared to survive was another staggering blow. He then says something to M’s character (I think that by this time after the many years of play as a slave vampire he renamed himself to Eglumbar – which translates to “Forsaken by Fate”) along the lines of, “Since you have shown your true colors as a betrayer then I will have your brother instead.” He manhandles Aegrandir, who was nearly dead, onto a chair and proceeded to bite him. Again we were in a state of shocked despair…but Aegrandir somehow refused the Black Wound which is impossible. Black ichor poured out of the bite marks. We are spellbound by this reversal. Shocked and angered the Master bites Aegrandir a second time. Again Aegrandir refuses the Black Wound. We are now cheering on this NPC, Aegrandir. In a pique of rage and dawning fear the Master Vampire bites Aegrandir a third time and a third he time refuses the Black Wound as the ichor again oozes out of the bite wounds.

But here Aegrandir finally fails and perishes. But then a glowing white gossamer crown appears above his head encircled by seven stars – the heraldic sign of Gondor. The light is painful to the Master and he retreats uttering, “Never again will I bring woe to these people” and exits into the night. During the fight a fire had started and the structure was all but consumed at this time. Eglumbar barely manages to extricate himself just as the structure collapses unable to collect his brother’s remains. We’re almost at the end of the in game context so please be patient.

Recently in the last 2 years we’ve had two run ins with the Master Vampire. Both times a young Dunedan named Strander was present and was allowed to escape because of the oath the Vampire made, though the second time the Master Vampire said something like, “I do NOT let my prey go. You test me. If I should see you again I will be tempted to break my oath.” End of in game back story. Whew!
Now to the out of game which may yield some fruit as to how Cary plans things out. Strander is a Dunedan character who belongs to the GM’s son. He was introduced as an orphan street urchin who over years of play learned of his heritage but not who his parents are. Reaching back further in time to about 8 years ago, when MJ was 8 years old he made his dad tell and retell that story every morning as his dad drove him to school for a year. It was this story that got MJ into role-playing and has been commenting that over this span of years how badly he wants to take out the Master Vampire.

Cut to about a week ago and the night starts off with Strander being rowed down to Cair Andros after the previous scenario when he encountered the Master Vampire. He has a “prophetic dream” while sleeping in the boat while passing the Argonoth. In dream he sees a man slip around the corner of building. Strander follows but does not see the man but continues down the street. He starts to feel evil coming from behind and see a humanoid creature wreathed in shadow and darkness advancing on him. Before this creature is a wall a darkness that advances before him and when it catches up to Strander he can feel the depth of evil that is coming and feel helpless to do anything. Then from behind and then passing the creature of darkness comes the man he saw early in the dream. Walking normally but faster than the dark creature he passes and arrives before Strander before the dark entity. For whatever reason the entity does not seem to notice the man. The man stops and places his hand upon Strander’s shoulder directing his attention to a structure that is consumed in fire. Within the flames shafts of light pierce the flames and soon a dazzling light can be seen within. Soon it resolves itself into a man slumped over in a chair as the room blazes around him. This man slowly turns and gazes upon Strander and smiles. At this moment Strander realizes the man that was with him is gone but the dark entity is now back pedaling in fear…cut to Strander walking up.

What the GM later told me was that the man in the dream was Aragorn. The dark entity was the Master Vampire. Aragorn he warned Aegrandir not to go after Eglumbar as he foresaw that it would not end well. Given that there are so very few Dunedain left in the world Aragorn has sworn that anyone who set their hand against the Dunedain would answer for their actions. So Aragorn using his far sight and will set into motion events. Strander will find a sword that has a special purpose against Vampires. He put into motion events that will cause the two to meet and he foresaw the Master Vampire breaking his oath which will weaken him terribly. Between the sword and the broken oath they will be fighting on equal terms. Also on this journey he will discover that his father is Aegrandir. The GM plans over the next two years or so to have Strander dream similar dreams and then some time after that set about events where Strander will heed the call to pursue whatever it is that will call all these events to transpire.

So the GM has been listening to the his son over these eight years saying how he wants to destroy the Master Vampire and how much he adores the NPC Aegrandir. Part of the reason the GM is waiting about 2 years before setting events into motion is so that his son will be older and a better role-player. He wants to wait until he is at least 18 years old or he will get walloped. Despite the special purpose magic sword and the oath breaking, taking on a Maiar is no easy task and will take everything MJ has as a player to have a hope of succeeding. So we have the GM setting seeds of hints and clues that will pay off years down the line with events happening here and there that will be subtly pointing him toward his destiny. But the germ of all this was formulated by the desire of the player. It wasn’t granted immediately and the GM will build to it with a big dramatic reveal of his parentage. Big drama. Set into motion over the course of years. Setup and payoff to use literary terms. Slow and over time without full knowledge by the player until it all comes together.

I know this was long winded for this paltry payoff but that’s the way this style of meaningful play works. The power of it doesn’t make sense unless the all the other meanings are understood – just like how myth works. The GM reads or gets to know the wants and desires of the players and slowly incorporates them into the game overtime without letting said player know directly what is coming. This leads to great dramatic moments, reveals, reversals, etc. Not knowing everything is one of the tools that the GM uses in our particular take on this CA to create intense emotions. These hints and visions create mystery and an intense desire to know. To keep pushing the boundaries. To be proactive.

Thus ends my long winded post.



PS - @komradebob - I'll ask my DM who did have a short run series if they created a bible and how they went about it and what they put in it.

komradebob's picture


I have two wildly conflicting emotional responses to your story.

1) Wow, that is fricking amazing! Huge amounts of admiration.

2) That is an example of what I find most frustrating about the style of play you describe when it comes to taking it and turning into a functional, shareable, actionable set of procedures. It ends up being entirely on the GM working behind the scenes and it takes forever and a day to come to fruition.

Billy's picture

During the fight the Master Vampire quickly pins M's character to a table by driving knives through his wrists so he is out of the fight

Where can I learn such powers of DM cruelty?!

That is an example of what I find most frustrating about the style of play you describe when it comes to taking it and turning into a functional, shareable, actionable set of procedures. It ends up being entirely on the GM working behind the scenes and it takes forever and a day to come to fruition.

It does come across as the kind of thing for which there's no magic formula, like "How to have a good marriage" (in 4 hours with zero prep).

There's something about turning things into procedures that robs them of their immediacy. Like you just can't make a Dungeon World style move with "On a 6-, you are pinned to the table with knives through your wrists and the Master Vampire kills your beloved brother." It's so specific! It's one of a kind. And the specificity is what gives it its power. The best we can do is, "On a 6-, deal harm to the players as established". But "dealing harm" is nothing; it's obvious that we should deal harm to the player; where do we get that specific, gut-wrenching, unexpected harm?

komradebob's picture

Man, as someone who has been playing RPGs for a 40 years, most of the time ( like 95% of the time) as a GM, I am so very, very against The Mystery Cult of the GM attitude that seems to surround Sim play. (And frankly other play as well).

Tod's picture

I was once a Mystery Cult GM. I prepped like a full time job. My maps and crates full of notebooks were invested with the encyclopedic authority of an entire world.
My players loved it, tbh, but it was a tremendous amount of work and really - looking back at all those pages in all those notebooks - the majority of it was wasted.

Now I am a Psychic GM. I listen and allow magic to occur. I go into play with no expectations, because the PCs' goals will drive the story and I handle worldbuilding mostly on the fly.
My players love it just as much, and there's a lot less prep to do.

It's still magical and impressive - because every GM wants to be that - but now it's more like being an improvisational artist than a builder of escape rooms.

DeReel's picture

It's not bad per se, but I think we are erring too much on specific flavours, and need a wider corpus.
Sim play, improv, storyltelling, they all need to be learned, and in a way, "unlearned". I would not like at all the discussion to devolve into esoterism ("you need to live it from the inside to understand") or value judgement ("what is it ? a thing I like / dislike").

What Silmenume describes is a lot like an initiation. What I am wondering is what part of initiation is needed for Simplay.

Is it "take part and ask questions later, be in it" ? That could be just plain "learning 101". The same kind of advice you find for Improv.

What I feel is that Silmenume group, having a very centralized GM, takes advantage of that : the revelation was written from the start ("really there" in my "realistic ontology" pet idea) is something you can do when you have a strong centralized GM figure willing to prep.
This comes with advantages and drawbacks. In the 90s, many RPG authors, firms and magazines (in France at least) rode the "secrecy" train. It has not only group dynamics, but also proper "ludic" motivations, editorial reasons, etc. It is efficient but mostly un-sane for group dynamics, and for the editors, it's a sort of swindling too. Newspapers feuilletons and after them TV and web series have used revelations as part of their aesthetic.. But that's not the point of Sim play. To me, it looks just like an option. And that seems a reasonable point. I mean : I expect someone who would claim that "mystery" is not optional in Sim play to take the burden of proof.

And I'd like a shot at it : I thought all was well in Mystery land until I read of discussing the mystery between sessions. To me, this is a big NO sign : don't validate or invalidate any hypothesis, don't make the players "play the GM" for this kind of revelations. Let the imaginary be "as is". This makes it much more easy to "take for real". So I'd say, not exactly "the truth is always further", but "there's no definitive knowledge of truth" is necessary. And every breach takes from the game.

In my mind, the underlying principle that is useful for Sim play is : "don't focus too much on the rules, go for the imaginary". I am convinced that you can have that and a good learning ground with an "initiation-like" process. I believe this can be calibrated in such a way that it is de-weaponized.
I'll take 2 examples of games that do that : Hurlements and Lacuna. In Hurlements, the first session is a private individual introduction for each character in "I, potato" mode. You throw the character into a world of raw sensations and facts. After (-15 minutes or so experimenting with the media, the player figures out their character is a potato. Or whatever it is there character is, like, say a wolf or a wasp. It's like a birth, really an initiation. The deal is that it's only for the first session. After that, mostly everything rolls. There's close to no dice rolls, some mystery (1 town 1 mystery) but you don't need to get involved in it to have fun : interacting with ordinary people and pursuing your character project is the meat of the game. The character sheet is : who you are, who you know, the places you've been, and notes about the current town. I'd say that looks a lot like Sim.
In Lacuna, players are thrown into a world whose laws are riddles. Mystery is the game, and the mechanics are about these laws. Players soon begin to try the craziest things to engage unknown mechanics and retro-engineer their way through this maze of a world. Describing Lacuna, I'd say Paranoïa also sort of does that. I'd say that way of playing is very far from Sim, in that you're a player actionning the mechanics, and you mostly don't care about the imaginary ("narrative") level. Well, maybe. And maybe with a change of focus it could be Sim, but with a painful move to get into your character perspective.
It's strange I am brought back to player perspective ("stance").

komradebob's picture

To follow up about my Mystery Cult of the GM, I feel I should explain where my negative feelings are coming from.

First off, I admire talented committed, centralized GMs in groups where the GM is functionally authorized to make decisions about what mechanics to use and when and how to use them. And I admire talent and skill and dedication that lead to frankly, highly admirable results like the vampire story.

However, I have seen and experienced downsides.

Players too intimidated to GM
Players feigning being intimidated to GM so they don't have to do it
GM burnout if too dedicated
GMing so centralized that story development proceeds at an absolutely glacial pace, sometimes in terms of years or decades of real world time engaged with the specific campaign for payoffs
All of the above leading to a choking out of space for other campaigns and settings to be explored, partly because the first o main campaign takes up so much time and effort, and partly because it leads players to conclude that all RPGs should and must be played in the same fashion.
That then leads back to the first point, that GMs are these are figures who develop skills that are beyond the reach of mere mortals ( and an expectation that all GMs always will follow this level of dedication)

Sometimes it can even get weirder, where the GM becomes either a weird cult leader figure to the group ( real world social dynamics get odd and authoritarian) and/or there is some sort of rebellion that happens.

It's these negatives that lead me to want to suss out/tease out/discover ways to spread the duties of building and maintaining the Myth, and make those known and consistent tools accessible to pretty much anyone.

DeReel's picture

I'll try again :
Special frameworks, that make interruptions part of the imaginary : such as Shakespeare's daughter, Directions RPG or PrimeTIme Adventures (players are creative type professionals), La méthode du Dr Chestel, Bluebeard's bride (players are psychologists or investigators working on the GM's "case"), etc.
Or "soft" narrative coordination tools : such as Archipelago's formulas, LARP hand signals and pantomime action scenes.
Maybe even simple clear and high "game feel" resolution mechanics (Dread).

Silmenume's picture

Hi komradebob,

2) That is an example of what I find most frustrating about the style of play you describe when it comes to taking it and turning into a functional, shareable, actionable set of procedures. It ends up being entirely on the GM working behind the scenes [...]

I too am frustrated by the apparent opaqueness of the process and this why instead of observing the known failings that plague the CA I have spent the last 15+ years on and off trying to figure out just what exactly is going on and why it CAN work. But before these high order issues can be tackled the fundamentals of the Creative Agenda needed to be worked out. I finally believe they have. I believe I now understand the fundamental underpinnings of the Agenda, how it works, what it is best suited to and why. The particular incarnations of this CA are yet to be explored. Though it is a game topic or style I don't find particularly interesting I am delighted and intrigued by Archipelago precisely because it is so very different in style of play from what I am used to yet still functions as Sim. I believe its design to be brilliant especially with its distributed GM roles and the way it gets the players to build relationships with the world at large. Its core process is bricolage and as such it has no deterministic mechanics and the game can focus on whatever the players wish as long as they stay within the game aesthetic. One is not forced into looking at Situation through the lens of Challenge or Premise via deterministic mechanics and reward cycles. Every piece of input by any one is run through the myth to check to see if the input adheres to the normative guide of the myth. This is overt with the various players having veto power if a player breeches the aesthetic or conversely it encourages the various players to interject the setting into play. Not my style of play but hurrah for team Sim.

This all goes back to my improv jazz analogy. The music (or the game) goes where it goes because it is interesting or compelling to the players. And just like improv jazz there are no " functional, shareable, actionable set of procedures." There can be structure, as per Archipelago, but it isn't necessary. But like all music what guides the improv jazz performance is the standard (which can be an existing piece or one created by the ensemble before the performance, a creative aesthetic, a good working knowledge (implicit or explicit, it doesn't matter) of music (or dramatic) theory and skill with the musical instrument (or the ability to convey a fictional person well - "well" being defined locally per table). But what you don't have are fixed procedures telling each musician what notes they can and cannot play. It is a creative process for its own aesthetic enjoyment in the NOW. The ensemble can concentrate or delegate the decisions on the standard, the chordal progression the general style. The more the various musicians are involved in the planning process the less the demands on the individual musicians during the jam session itself. If the ensemble leader makes those decisions and unveils them at that nights performance then the more that is demanded of the musicians the greater the rush. But to each his own or to each table their own style. One is not better than the other. But it will never be a paint by numbers affair. That's a major point of this style of play - create now under these aesthetic conditions.

At my particular table we want to feel real emotions in the moment. We want the epic heroic. We have events that build to crescendos just like in Archipelago. My GM is a screenplay writer who loves action adventure and runs his games the same way...but those are all aesthetic choices. All those things he brings to bear in a game he pulls from his vocation right up to the editing of the action at the table. I'm not saying it's better and certainly not the only way to play...it's the way we love to play. We like playing under extreme pressure and having to make difficult decisions rapidly because that the type of rush we like. It is our celebrated aesthetic, not a dictat about the only way Sim can be played. Recall, as I've said numerous times before that Archipelago is specifically set up to be a ponderous and slow moving game. It's still Sim, it still uses bricolage as the mover of the game, but it has a very different set of aesthetic priorities.

Yet another thing different about Sim, unlike G/N, is that the players have a profound voice in developing the aesthetic whether by deciding overtly or just letting it develop organically over time through the play process itself. Just like Gamism with its range from the Crunch to the Hard Core not all aesthetics are going to work at a given table. The players need to agree upon what they like either implicitly or explicitly. Whereas G/N are primarily games of ideas Sim is an Agenda of experience and aesthetics. By the way I'm not saying this distinction is black and white but rather a matter of priorities. Sure you can have heart in a Gamist game but that is not the priority of the agenda.

When I watch a movie I have certain expectations but I don't want to know the ending and all the plots twists before I see it. So it is with my particular interest in role-playing. I don't want to know the plot, I want to react to what's coming at me while still having agency. Agency does not mean omniscience. That's the wacky thing about myth, you are creating your own answers but due to the way it functions it feels like you're discovering those answers, not making them. Is it procedural? No. Is it learnable and transmissible? Yes, absolutely. Indigenous cultures have been doing it for thousands of years. Are there better myth producers (bricoleurs) than others, yes. Is that bad? No. Does it require a different set of skills than we're used to in the West. Absolutely yes. They are obviously learnable but mostly it is done by exposure, mentoring and practice.

What I'm having a hard time understand is the vehemence and sheer venomousness of the reaction to the idea that this CA function in a way that is fundamentally different from Literate Engineered games. Sim is a VERY different beast from G/N. It is precisely this reason that it got such short shrift at The Forge with their laser focus on looking at role-play through the lens of (perfect) mechanics and procedures. Sim is the pale and weak sibling of myth, which is a way of thinking that is very different from our own cultural foundations. The question one needs to ask in Sim design and play is what are we "thinking about" and "why" as well as "how do we get the players thinking this way", i.e. bricolage. That leaves a lot of room for very different answers. But because it is bricolage (or myth) some of the inherent qualities of the process include subjectivity and experience. Not product. Not procedure. Process. The present. Now. Myth is used by preliterate cultures to cope with a scary, capricious, inexplicable world and make it rational, knowable and meaningful. In a certain way it could be said to be used as a balm for the heart and mind. In Sim we kinda flip the process a bit and instead of creating a balm for the heart we are seeking to create experiences that in turn generate real or strong emotional responses. Are there known repeatable procedures the easily transmissible in the arts that are guaranteed to move people's emotions? No.

That doesn't mean there is nothing we can do to help develop these skills, but they are just that...developed skills. You go to acting classes and you aren't taught to act, you do exercises to help the individual develop the skill of acting. The same holds true for music and painting and writing and all the creative arts. One does not teach people to be creative one aids an individual in developing their own creativity. Sure there are facts and theories to learn but in the end it's up to the individual. Some are naturally gifted, some come to pick it up, others may never develop it. But in all cases repetition and practice are vital in developing this skill set. What is music school but a process to trying and get a person to develop an ability to think and communicate sound in an aesthetically pleasing way...no guarantees on success. On the other hand the possibilities are nearly endless. So it is with Sim. Archipelago gets people thinking in terms of bricolage without mentioning that is exactly what it is trying to get the players to do so. Its design is brilliant for doing so especially since it didn't have theory to work with prior to its design. Absolutely amazing...and it distributes GM responsibility. However, it does give a very different gaming experience. Not better, not worse. Different. There are tradeoffs. The GM load is easier and maybe you don't get all the those terrible problems you mentioned but in turn you lose a number of amazing dramatic tools that playwrights have been using since the ancient Greeks.

I do suspect that some, not all, of the problems you mention come from an incomplete or lack of understanding of Sim. Gurps, et. al., FREX, is not a Sim facilitating system despite being sold as such. It's all wrong and as you get all sorts of wonky to highly dysfunctional Sim attempting play or it drifts to straight up Gamist play. Will an open understanding of how bricolage works prevent these problems from cropping up so frequently in the future? Who knows? I do know that extensively designed games in G/N do work very hard to minimize GM influence over play which suggests to me that the problems you indicated are absolutely not limited to just Sim. In G/N games the mechanics work fairly purposefully and effectively to deprotagonize the GM. Isn't that telling? Sim play on the other hand is open to GM's acting like facilitators and not dictators. In fact the lack of deterministic mechanics requires/demands that the players do trust each other and the GM to have their interests at heart. We have very strict rules about player behavior and we can actually call out the GM if he breaks his own rules of behavior and on the few occasions they are invoked they are employed ruthlessly. We know they are there in the background but actually invoking them means something has gone terribly wrong at the table. Ultimately we have failed ourselves because we are all there with the expectation to have the best, most intense possible experience we can create. Why screw it up?

You don't want to use set up and pay off as a technique then don't use it. You don't like foreshadowing, don't use it. You don't like dramatic surprise, don't use it. They're all just techniques (very effective techniques judging from 2500+ years of plays and literature), but not something foundational to the core functioning of Sim. On the other hand the constant drawing in of the world and weaving it into the current situation is absolutely foundational and fundamental to Sim.

Players too intimidated to GM
Players feigning being intimidated to GM so they don't have to do it
GM burnout if too dedicated
GMing so centralized that story development proceeds at an absolutely glacial pace, sometimes in terms of years or decades of real world time engaged with the specific campaign for payoffs
All of the above leading to a choking out of space for other campaigns and settings to be explored, partly because the first o main campaign takes up so much time and effort, and partly because it leads players to conclude that all RPGs should and must be played in the same fashion.
That then leads back to the first point, that GMs are these are figures who develop skills that are beyond the reach of mere mortals ( and an expectation that all GMs always will follow this level of dedication)

Sometimes it can even get weirder, where the GM becomes either a weird cult leader figure to the group ( real world social dynamics get odd and authoritarian) and/or there is some sort of rebellion that happens.

It's these negatives that lead me to want to suss out/tease out/discover ways to spread the duties of building and maintaining the Myth, and make those known and consistent tools accessible to pretty much anyone.

As well you should. Please by all means do so! I'd love to see the results. All the above are serious problems but I should point out emphatically that the whole centralized story thing is not functional Sim. The very nature of Sim must allow the players to follow where there characters will go. If it doesn't make sense that a character is doing something then they shouldn't do it. The GM's job most certainly is not to "tell a story" but to facilitate the player's bricoling efforts wherever it takes them as long as it stays within the normative aesthetics of the myth. We don't have a "main campaign." We have a living breathing world with its own movers and shakers who are going to pursue their goals with whatever tools or resources available to them by the methods the deem fit. It is up to the players to decide how they are going to react to these events. Strander may choose to refuse the call to go south but I'm sure it will be laid out in such a fashion that the player will be excited to go when the time comes, but the chance this particular event may never happen is real and if he refuses or misses the cues then water under the bridge. He's still got many other worries and responsibilities to attend to.

[...] and it takes forever and a day to come to fruition

I'm not sure what you mean by this. When we read a book we might have to wait 600 pages to get to the conclusion of the initial premise and that is commonly understood. The delay I spoke of in my earlier post is an aesthetic choice not something inherent to Sim play process. If you want immediate gratification in your game then by all means have immediate gratification be the aesthetic that guides play. I have a feel I've badly missed your point and sounds like it's a huge bugaboo for you. If you could expand on this I would appreciate it as I could address your concern more directly. You do understand that at our table we play many characters and have many stories going on in the world so we are not just spinning our wheels waiting on just one thing. Even for that character, Strander, that I wrote about he will lots of things on his plate to keep him plenty busy and involved. These aren't just one note characters or at least we strive not to be one note characters. For better or worse, we try to create complex characters with many motives, drives, obligations, hopes and woes, etc.


It's not bad per se, but I think we are erring too much on specific flavours, and need a wider corpus.
Sim play, improv, storyltelling, they all need to be learned, and in a way, "unlearned". I would not like at all the discussion to devolve into esoterism ("you need to live it from the inside to understand") or value judgement ("what is it ? a thing I like / dislike").

I couldn't agree more. The dark turn this thread has taken is quite disturbing and honestly altogether dispiriting.

For now, all the best.


Billy's picture

(Edit to add: Cross-posted with Jay, not in response to him)

Really interesting stuff.

I wrote up a few partial posts here, only each time to find on further thought that I disagreed with what I was writing and had to delete it and think about it more. I think in the end I've very slowly arrived at the same place as DeReel in post #27.

I doubt there's any games or procedures that will get you to the same heights as the Silmenume game, because it's running off years of trained skill and intuition, plus natural talent and endless effort. But there are surely possible games that will help build up those skills in an enjoyable and instructive way.

Like what DeReel says about improv. I'm thinking of Keith Johnstone's "Impro for Storytelling" book which is a whole book full of improv games, each designed to teach some lesson about good improvisation in general. A lot of the games are labelled "not for performance" - in other words, they aren't going to produce particularly worthwhile output, but the process of playing them will help train good habits and increase your awareness of what you're doing.

Thinking in terms of teaching tools... The other thing that Johnstone book has which I love love love is tons of little mini transcripts designed to demonstrate a point. Like, "Here's a transcript where the improvisers block each other. Here's a transcript where they don't." "Here's the transcript of someone trying to be too clever; here's where they're trusting their instincts." It's super informative and much better than raw theory. I've seen similar things for some RPG theory: for example, the Finch primer for OSR where it demonstrates the "old school" (diegetic questions) method of trap finding vs the "new school" (abstract rolls) method of trap finding.

So, yeah, surely one profitable path is looking for the specific skills and techniques, then inventing targeted games to train those skills, or those perfect A/B examples that show a new way of thinking.

DeReel's picture

I like Billy's idea : rather than building a mechanical framework inside the game, to propose balance bikes and training wheels before the game.
For me, the point of theory is to make new games in unexplored territory. A whole train of games like Penny for my thoughts were born from the marriage of parlour LARP and Improv. I consider "Penny" to be an excellent training game : the loops are short, so you can repeat and practice and compare. Pedagogically, the only thing it lacks is debriefing moment (at the most basic, turns of "stars+ and thorns-")
Reading Silmenume definition of Sim, I often think of belonging outside belonging games, or pbta where moves are only a last ditch move. There are lots of advice about fronts and NPCs, storytelling advice really, that can guide Sim play.
Anyway, I'll try to get something done before coming back from the workshop.

Silmenume's picture

Hi DeReel,

Let the imaginary be "as is". This makes it much more easy to "take for real". So I'd say, not exactly "the truth is always further", but "there's no definitive knowledge of truth" is necessary. And every breach takes from the game.

If I could have written one thing better in all my postings the above would have been it. I have used the word "mystery" in a very sloppy way. The "there's no definitive knowledge of truth" is so on the spot with what I have really wanted to say. Myth and Sim works best at the boundaries of what is established and what has yet to be. With the establishment of every new thing the previously established is altered or changed or grown in some new unexpected way. This constant pushing at the edges of the envelope is the constant updating of what is understood, but is never established, as objective "truth." This means the game can continue to evolve and grow as long as the players have an interest because there are no dead stops of "truth" that prevent play from progressing. The most interesting play happens right at this liminal position of knowing. It is here that we build and discover.

Absolutely awesome! Well stated!


Just a thumbs up! I wouldn't know how to design such training tools as I'm not a designer but bless those who do! I think the ideas proposed by you and DeReel are the first real steps towards a functional, teachable method of introducing players to the Sim play process. I look forward eagerly to see what the future holds.