I talked a little bit about the GNS theory (Gamist, Narrativist and Simulationist) in my last post, and today I`d like to elaborate a little more about this subject and give you folks my take on the GNS theory and my addendum to it.
In its core, the GNS bases its premises in three aspects: the game aspect (challenges and tactics), the narrative aspect (the mechanics that deal with character development and story building) and the simulation aspect (how well does the system emulate its proposed genre, like western, fantasy or sci-fi). Albeit a very engaging theory, I find some of its points problematic, specially concerning many of its abstract concepts and the difficulty of applying them in a direct analysis of a rpg system. In part, I believe that happens by reason of its conceptual application. At first, the GNS was used fundamentally to categorize the different player behaviors and expectations. But it took not long for it to be translated and applied to more direct game design and used as a guideline to write rpg systems in general. Thenceforth, many others have theorized and build upon the GNS theory and some of its notions have changed or, at least, the way those notions are apprehended by the public have changed. As of today, the three concepts are normally understood as follows: Gamist (rpg game that focus on rules, crunchiness, tactics, challenges, combat); Narrativist (rpg games that focus on telling stories, shared narration, open-ended player characters attributes); Simulationist (rpg games that focus in character building and realism).
However, I find such definitions either excessively abstract or lacking in their direct application as descriptive tools for rpg systems. So I started to think about the subject of properly describing rpg systems with a more direct approach. The main question that directed my searches was: What composes the fundamental aspects of a role playing game? Are there any characteristics that comprise every single tabletop rpg game? In order to achieve such endeavor, I mingled concepts and played with some ideas and, even though I change my mind from time to time, I believe I've found a manner to which I'm comfortable with and find affordable its application as a descriptive method for rpg systems.
Basically, what is tabletop rpg? It's a game of telling stories in group. But those stories are not told randomly, like those said in a bonfire during a camping trip. No, they use specific sets of rules to direct the storytelling process. Such sets of rules are called Systems, and there are hundreds of them. Every rpg system has 4 main aspects:
. Gamist: The game and rules. Every system has a set of rules that all participants must follow in order to build the story together. The more a system feels like a tabletop game – having rules for specific roles that a character must have (like classes), having the story scenes be based on challenges (like, for example, having challenge levels or specif objectives in each scene needed to be done in order to advance the story), having tactical and complex rules for challenges (like combat grids) – the more gamist elements it has.
. Narrativist: The story and narration. Every participant may contribute with the story building. The more a system gives options to its participants to build the story – having everyone to contribute with the narration, having the world building be done by everyone and having open-ended attributes that allow for improvisation on the part of the players – the more narrativist elements it has.
. Simulationist: The genre and mood. The system has an ideal setting or mood that it tries to emulate with its rules. The more a system has mood and genre components – the design of its nomenclature reflect the genre its trying to emulate, the game rules has specifics for the genre, and the game awards the players for acting in consonance with the mood or genre – the more simulationist it is.
. Personalist: The character and roleplay. There are characters (Personas) that the participants may interpret and play. The more a system focus in character building – giving options to customize the skills and capacities of a character, giving options for mechanical representation of a character demeanor, moral and personality and awarding players for creating a backstory for a character – the more personalist it is.
As you may see, I added a fourth layer of description to the GNS theory – The Persona element, which has elements of the original Narrativist elements, but focusing entirely in character building. I believe that this addition helps better describing a rpg system because it deals with the very important element of the 'characters', be them primary (of the players), secondary (of the GM) or tertiary (the extras of the world). Just for the sake of nomenclature, I call this the 'GNSP' idea.
It is important to notice that the fact that a system has more elements of an aspect than other system does not make it 'better'. This is just a descriptive method, and in no ways it tries to judge normatively a system. Every system can be fun to play, that is not the question in debate here. The proposal is of a method of describing systems.
However, this post is merely an introduction to this GNSP theory I just briefly presented. At length, I hope to introduce more of its parts and discuss every element meticulously.
Until next time,