Creative Agenda and GNS

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Creative Agenda and GNS
« on: August 29, 2010, 11:26:10 PM »
On my blog just recently, I posted about some things I've been thinking about. Some of that was just hare-brained rambling, but this bit I'm sticking to:

"Play should be personally and socially fulfilling" is the one big thing to come out of the Forge in the last ten years, apparently. I'm like "Yup. Cool." Creative Agenda, as a thing that exists and makes play personally and socially fulfilling is something I can get behind, no problem. Things happen in a game, stuff changes, on your character sheet, in the fiction of the game, and in the social relationships between the players, and you notice and appreciate that change. You see it as "progress" rather than just change, because you've got a creative agenda.

So no problem with that.

But! I'm not sure that the specific formulation of creative agendas as falling into three general categories of "Story Now", "Right to Dream", and "Step on Up" is a useful way of thinking about Creative Agenda. I don't see it helping in design, nor do I see it helping in fixing problems in play. I do see evidence that specific understandings about how to design for Story Now play are useful, but I don't see correlated insights into Step on Up and Right to Dream play. I do see a lot of arguments and explanations and wars over definitions.

I don't think it's even a challenge to the Forge orthodoxy (if there is such a thing) to say that there are other ways of understanding creative agenda. I guess what I'm suggesting is that:

a) Historically, GNS (as a seperate thing from Creative Agenda) has been more of a burden to talking about design than a benefit.

b) There is a more useful way to think about Creative Agenda (but I don't really know what it would be).

If you like, I can describe what I mean by creative agenda, to make sure we're talking about the same thing and I'm not terribly mistaken.

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lumpley

  • 1293
Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2010, 10:35:07 AM »
(a) The opposite! Historically, GNS discussions put an end to a decade's fruitless squabbling and cultivated a breathtaking development of rpg design. They changed the landscape of roleplaying, for the better, forever.

(b) But it's true, there is a more useful way to think about creative agenda than GNS. It's not an alternate categorization. It's this:

Sometimes creative differences between a game's players emerge that ruin the game. If the players keep playing together, it's a fight; if they stop playing together, it's a relief.

When you're designing a game, or when you're setting up to play a game, how do you give everyone clear expectations and get everyone on the same page, creatively speaking? How do you make sure that everyone buys into the game you're sitting down to play?

What do you do with the players' creative differences that won't ruin the game, but instead give it life and flavor? How do you cultivate those, while also cultivating a powerful, shared overall creative agenda?

Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2010, 04:50:50 PM »
On point A, I guess I submit to your superior experience. I only really got involved in the discussion around the start of 2007, so I didn't see a lot of the initial discussion around GNS.

In terms of answering the question "why do I see people playing roleplaying games in ways that I would hate to play them, and yet they seem to be having a great time and they get all pissy when I tell them they're doing it wrong", I can see how GNS was useful.

I don't see the contribution to game design, so much. I can see how the specific understanding of Story Now play that developed definitely contributed to game design, for sure, but I'm not sure that understanding required GNS. I dunno. Maybe.

I think there's a bunch of stuff about what people want GNS to be vs. what it is, and how categorizing things seems to make people kind of crazy sometimes, which I think you'd agree has been a huge pain in the ass. Worth it? Maybe so.

On point B, which is far more interesting, I'm with you. That is a useful way of talking about Creative Agenda. Is it the most useful way? What tools can we give people to facilitate that discussion? I have a couple of ideas, but they might be all wrong.

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Chris

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Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2010, 03:32:03 PM »
To use an actual example of this in AW, my group is composed of people who are friends first and a gaming group second. And we don't really share the same creative agenda. We're a mix of Story Now and Step On Up, in terms of preference and it kills our AW sessions sometimes.

Playing AW with a Step On Up mentality just destroys it, really. There's not really much of a challenge to the game, in those terms. "Solving" situations really comes down to the dice. Tactics and plans are fine, but execution is iffy, so playing that way is unsatifying.

Interestingly, it's not unsatisfying for the Step On Up players. They enjoy AW just as much. But having a Step On Up style of play crash into a few fronts results in ... problems and they're mostly problems for the players that like Story Now style situations.

Also, I've been thinking about where the mythology of shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica meet GNS. I've seen situations where a lot of the player drive is centered on "figuring things out", but not necessarily on a mystery level of investigation a la Call of Cthuhlu. It's weird. It's more of an expectation of being fed backstory revelations every few sessions or so, but I don't actually have a set up backstory. So it turns into a Czege Principle thing where the players who are interested in discovering this weird backstory are also making it up, which is unsatisfying.

In AW, this is a drive not really to see passionate characters in untenable situations, but to figure out the Apocalypse and the Psychic Maelstrom on a metalevel. Anyone else seen that?
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2010, 10:38:07 PM »
Chris,

How useful would you say the concepts of Story Now and Step on Up are to you in improving the experience of play in your group? Do you explicitly reference them at the table? Do they help you form a coherant creative agenda?

Can you give some examples of this Creative Agenda clash in play?

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Chris

  • 342
Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2010, 12:06:26 AM »
Chris,

How useful would you say the concepts of Story Now and Step on Up are to you in improving the experience of play in your group? Do you explicitly reference them at the table? Do they help you form a coherant creative agenda?

Can you give some examples of this Creative Agenda clash in play?

They're definitely useful for identifying the exact nature of problems after the fact. I'm not usually thinking about CA/GNS at the table, so I only notice the smaller things after the fact.

As far as examples go, the clearest, to me, is ... hmmm. The biggest, for me, is that if we have an NPC that stands in the way of the PC's direct or indirect goals, the NPC often gets full attention. It's non-stop "attack" until the NPC is no longer a threat, where attack is any method the character can think of to get rid of the NPC. No characterization, no attempt at a realistic portrayal of character. It's simply: "What is the best plan that I, the player, can come up with to remove this threat?". Everything else falls by the wayside.

It's not bad roleplaying, really. In literary terms, it's just a fondness for plot-based narrative over character-driven narrative.

So in Battlestar Galactica, a show I'm hammering through for a tangential hack I'm doing, there might be a huge battle. That seems like it's the focus of the show. But it's only the plot. It's only "what's happening". The important part is actually the character interaction leading up to, during, and after the battle. There are melodramatic conversations, there is exploration of character in a variety of interesting situations. The battle isn't even the actual conflict. The battle is simply a backdrop for the actual character related conflict.

That's how I want to roleplay. But one of my best friends is very much a "I play to win". He's not a DnD 4E player who just loves combat. It's more subtle than that. He plays his character well, to some extent, and has realistic goals. It's just that those goals are his whole existence. Things like where he sleeps or who he might become friends with are not things that cross his mind.

Asking questions as the GM is the solution, but only to a point. He feels like the game is slow if the plot is derailed.

Here's a little recap, from the MC's perspective with complete Front knowledge, of an in game example:

Dramatis Personæ:

Rum: A young woman who has seen a lot of bloodshed in her short life. After the Chairman handed over the reigns to the local area's water supply (and the problems that go with it) to her, she decided that she had had enough. The area around her had always had a legacy of death and misery, but she would fix that. She just needed to get everyone and everything under control.

Mustang: A martial man. He had served as part of the Chairman's security force both at a bar and in the Chairman's local government. He was shot in the line of duty and after his Poppy saved his life, he developed a little bit of a thing for her. He's not that happy with a lot of the methods Rum has been using to control the local area, but he has reluctantly agreed that it had to be done.

Fleece: A young woman leading her people away from a terrible disaster. Completely bereft of places to live or things to eat, her and her refugees have been living on the plains for the last few weeks. What's more, a few of them have been showing signs of a sickness, a sickness the local doctor says is very contagious.

So there we are. Fleece's camp of starving, possibly sick, definitely frightened refugees are becoming desperate. Mustang and several beatsticks head down to the camp to see if the rumors of plague are true and possibly instill some kinda order. "Any means necessary," Rum says.

The meeting goes south, as it has to. The armed representatives of those who have are there to control those who haven't. Old story. Fleece is tired of negotiating. She has nothing to negotiate with. They just want some food. Rum has food. Simple equation, in her eyes.

Things get out of control. One of Mustang's men hit a woman in the head with the butt of his rifle. Things are looking bad. We're just not sure yet which side'll get massacred: the small group of men with guns or the huge, angry, unarmed crowd.

Then a guy shows up in a monster truck and runs over some of the crowd, shoots Fleece in the chest and drives off.

The End
« Last Edit: September 10, 2010, 12:08:55 AM by Chris »
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

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Chris

  • 342
Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2010, 01:07:54 AM »
The battle isn't even the actual conflict. The battle is simply a backdrop for the actual character related conflict.

Also, could we do this in games? It's something I've been playing with. If there is no move for fighting, what happens. Obviously you can still fight someone, fictionally. But what happens? I think this is really the way to make games REALLY Story Now. Just remove those types of challenges at a mechanical level. Let the fighting fall back into the childhood Cowboys and Indians games we're all trying to avoid with rules, with just the GM arbitrating the unimportant combat side of things purely through his Agenda and Principles specific to the individual game while the "important" conflicts are handled mechanically.
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2010, 12:36:17 PM »
Hi there people! I wanted to first address Mr. Simon's observation that he doesn't see GNS as something important for game design. Two games that I feel have a very clear creative agenda written into their core are Burning Wheel and Pendragon. Now, I admit I haven't played much of either yet (unfortunately), but still, here is how I see them.

Burning Wheel seems to have Story Now written at the core of its mechanics, thanks to Artha. Artha is a resource a character can earn during the game. In order to earn Artha, a BW character must fight for what he believes. Only by driving toward his beliefs (statements chosen by the player about what his character believes) can a player earn Artha. In doing so, however, the player causes the situation to get more and more complicated. Eventually, the players will probably manage to solve their situation, thanks to the Artha (which can be used to earn very useful bonuses in tests). Solving the situation, will provide more Artha, change the player's beliefs in someway and, thanks to the resolution systems, leave plenty of loose threads. Thus Artha is always driving the game on. And since the way to earn Artha is basically to have a good Story Now game, the creative agenda is written in the very core of the game.

Pendragon likewise has, at its core, a Right to Dream system that helps using Arthurian Legend tropes to drive the story. In Pendragon there are these attributes called Traits and Passions. These attributes are numeric values which can be used in a variety of ways, including being tested to determine how a character will act, being tested against each other to simulate inner conflict, being tested against the traits of another character to solve disputes of will, etc. These attributes can be tested during play to gain heavy bonuses, but they can provide heavy disadvantages too. But the reason Traits and Passions drive the game toward a Right to Dream agenda is because they are only somewhat under the player's control. The way these attributes rise, fall and are tested may be influenced by the player, but are more or less determined by how Mr. Stafford felt an Arthurian tale should go. Thus the game will, ideally, take the players ideas and input without deviating from a predetermined core, the passions of knights that drive Arthurian tales.

By the way, an interesting fact is that, while I am not sure about the first example, at least Pendragon was made way before the Mr. Edwards wrote his essay on the GNS modes of play. I think the creative agenda has always influenced RPG design, even before it was formalized by that essay. So I think that the GNS is very important in determining a game's design, but it can do so without the designer actually knowing about it. It is the ideas behind them that are important, not the name they are given.

Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2010, 09:53:44 PM »
I'm not seeing examples of understanding Step on Up and Right to Dream helping people design games, fix problems in play, or articulate creative differences.

This:
Quote
As far as examples go, the clearest, to me, is ... hmmm. The biggest, for me, is that if we have an NPC that stands in the way of the PC's direct or indirect goals, the NPC often gets full attention. It's non-stop "attack" until the NPC is no longer a threat, where attack is any method the character can think of to get rid of the NPC. No characterization, no attempt at a realistic portrayal of character. It's simply: "What is the best plan that I, the player, can come up with to remove this threat?". Everything else falls by the wayside.

It's not bad roleplaying, really. In literary terms, it's just a fondness for plot-based narrative over character-driven narrative.
Seems like a pretty good explanation of creative differences in a game, that doesn't rely on any kind of understanding of GNS.

I'm not arguing that it isn't possible to categorise play in terms of GNS, I'm arguing that it's not often very useful. As Vincent and I agreed at the start of this thread, there are in fact much more useful ways of talking about creative agenda. It's possible that historically it was useful, I'll grant Vincent that. But outside of the concept of Story Now, which I agree provides a good framework for producing functional games, I don't see GNS contributing to dialogue about creative agenda. Mostly I see it causing arguments, confusion, and a narrowing of the scope of design.

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Chris

  • 342
Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2010, 10:29:44 PM »
Yeah, what I described was the actual difference. GNS isn't really more useful; it's just easier. It's like saying "love" or "fun" or "science fiction". These are just simple words attempting to cover a lot of ground.

Just like no one has the same definition of science fiction (is Star Wars science fiction?), no one really has the same definitions for any of the same GNS terms. We could both go into a game with a Story Now agenda and totally want different things.

So CA/GNS "helps" talk about these things insofar that it's shorthand and most of these discussions happen over the internet. Story Now gives you a rough idea of what we're talking about, although not an exact one.
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

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lumpley

  • 1293
Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2010, 08:18:17 AM »
I propose that the very first thing you have to know about a game you're designing, and the very first thing you have to know about a game you're trying to learn, and the very first thing you have to establish with a group when you're sitting down to play, is this:

Does this game have protagonists, winners, or what?

If you don't even know THAT, the attempt to design, understand, or play is doomed.

There are ongoing, persistent problems with conversations about GNS, it's true. GNS doesn't cause them. GNS takes 10 seconds and makes the interesting conversation possible.

Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2010, 06:55:15 PM »
I confess sometimes these conversations make me want to throw my hands in the air and make noises.

Vincent, you're making a good point, I think. But here's what I stumble on:

When you look at any instance of play, overwhelming, to a great degree, the participants are focused on creating interesting and coherant fiction.

Even in the most hard-core, pawn-stance, play-your-fighter-right-or-we-send-you-home, three-hours-of-combat-five-minutes-of-talking game, the orcs are orcs and they stay orcs for the duration of the game, and it matters that they're orcs and not goblins, and not just because the numbers are different, but because we said they were orcs and you can't change that now. And what's that for? Why go to all that effort (and it is an effort) if it doesn't support what's supposed to be the point of the game?

Can you also give some examples where the game has winners? I only know of a few, and in those it's this thing where you're kind of competing but you're really not supposed to try too hard, and if you're actually playing competitively then you're doing it wrong.

And protagonists. I guess I don't get it. Can you give me some examples of games where the players' characters are not protagonists, and show me why?

I mean, maybe it's a thing where I've only experienced one kind of Creative Agenda, and I just can't wrap my head around other ways of playing. But I've played a lot of games, a lot of different ways, that seem to be encompassed by the GNS agendas, and they still seem like really confusing, pointless categorisations. Like, that other thread here about GM Agenda and Right to Dream and such. What's going to come out of that conversation? To me it reads like Anatomy of Unicorns 101.

I guess I got my cranky pants on there for a bit. I guess I just find it frustrating, because yes! It matters that players are on the same page, creatively. And yes! The way the game is designed matters to what kind of creative agenda it can sustain in play. But GNS just seems like the least useful way of talking about that.

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lumpley

  • 1293
Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #12 on: September 11, 2010, 08:07:33 PM »
I mean, maybe it's a thing where I've only experienced one kind of Creative Agenda, and I just can't wrap my head around other ways of playing.

That's how it looks to me, yeah.

You say, "yes! It matters that players are on the same page, creatively. And yes! The way the game is designed matters to what kind of creative agenda it can sustain in play. But GNS just seems like the least useful way of talking about that."

I say back, yes, if we've already established that we're playing Story Now (or any of them, but with you it's obviously Story Now), then GNS is beyond the least useful way. It's not even a way of talking about that AT ALL. You're misapplying it and then complaining that it doesn't apply.

All GNS is good for is establishing that we're talking about play with protagonists, not play with winners. 10 seconds, bam, and on to something interesting instead.

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Chris

  • 342
Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2010, 08:54:48 PM »
All GNS is good for is establishing that we're talking about play with protagonists, not play with winners. 10 seconds, bam, and on to something interesting instead.

Yeah, theoretically, it's a shared frame of reference that gets us in the same ballpark and then we talk about specifics.

I used to hate GNS a lot more than I do now. I have a guy on my local boards that swears that roleplaying has nothing to do with story. He's gaming to actually be there, in the place, as the person. No story. No narrative. Just reality. Dude is THERE. I played in his game. Took 40 minutes of real world time to do five minutes of game time. I was not THERE. Different CA.

Some people have wildly different goals when they roleplay. You ask for examples where the game has winners? I'm not sure about games, but I have players whose sole goal is to win Apocalypse World. They're gonna solve that shit. It's a clear agenda and it falls into to Step On Up. And it breaks the game. Clearly a GNS issue.

I maintain that GNS is exactly as useful as saying science fiction. We sort of know what we're both talking about, but there's a lot of wiggle room there.

Drunken post concluded. Signing off.
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

Re: Creative Agenda and GNS
« Reply #14 on: September 12, 2010, 01:22:38 AM »
Vincent,

That's maybe true, but also pretty unsatisfying as an answer.

I mean, every rpg text I've read starts with the assumtion that there will be an engaging and coherant fictional world created in play. None of them (except for a very few) talk explicitly about winners and losers. Does that mean that I haven't read any Step on Up supporting texts? That every group playing Step on Up is drifting the rules?

I get even more confused thinking about Right to Dream.

But, whetever. It's not that interesting a question. What seems far more interesting to me is, given the huge range of creative agendas encompassed by Story Now, how do we talk more productively in order to foster better design and play? Is there a framework, a model, a system, for thinking about these creative agendas?