Narrative vs Simulation

This has been done to death. I’m just putting the place-holder here for potential future use.

For what it’s worth, I’m pretty solidly in the Narrative camp. Within limits.



I do get that managing (micromanaging?) every little item that a character has on their person has a place, and is better than characters literally pulling things out of their butts, but there needs to be a balance.

For instance, say character A is a survival expert from a desert planet and character B is a scholar who has spent most of their life aboard science vessels, and they both find themselves stranded in an arctic wasteland. If character A said “surely I at least have a magnetic compass, some signal flares and some survival rations?” i’d pay that as a GM but not “would I be carrying cold weather clothing, and enough for both of us?”

I think i’d generally handle the gear issue by giving some lee-way to characters for their interests and traits, as well as what they specifically (simulationalist-ly) buy off the equipment list. Even in heavily-equipment-narrative systems like Exalted. Or, in short, if it would be in-character for a character to have a piece of equipment (and it is within their means).

There is also the question of games in which characters are part of an organization, for instance Albedo, Mechwarrior 2, Mechwarrior 3, Mechwarrior 4, Only War and Rogue Trader. The first question being “how much gear can the character appropriate from the organization” and the second being “at what times are they likely to have that equipment”. Taking Rogue Trader for an extreme example, the player characters are the senior officers on an Imperial warp-ship with a crew of many thousands. It is hard to see why the player characters could not access a huge variety of items, and the question of “in what situations would they have access to them” is very complex. For instance “Would you be carrying your delux tool kit with you at all times aboard ship when they ship has a workshop?” If the character knows the ship is headed into a firefight and they might need to do emergency repairs then sure, but if the ship gets ambushed while they are off-duty and they find themselves cut off from the workshop then would they have those tools?



Moving on to other examples, I think that backgrounds really should have a bigger impact. For instance a character from a modern setting should be competent at driving, at least in normal situations. But would they need computers skill to operate an ATM or check their email and so on? Should a character need accounting or finance to do their own taxes? Carrying that on, it’s pretty clear that going full-simulationist in terms of skills can be a huge mistake. Should there be a “everyday situations” sort of rule?

Looking at the Mechwarrior 2 and Mechwarrior 4 (and maybe Mechwarrior 3, I forget) rules, there are “profession” skills which hand-wave away a lot of the myriad skills a character needs to do a job…for instance they would need medtech and surgery to actually treat sick and injured people, but profession doctor would cover all sorts of things like keeping the medical supplies stocked and organized, keeping proper medical records, organizing nurses and duty shifts, local regulations, keeping everything sterile, and so on.

I’d ideally want things a bit more nailed-down than that, though. I think it’s important for players to have a clear idea what their characters can and can’t do. But I wouldn’t want players to stress out investing points in all the weird little everyday skills their character should have…but neither would I want them to be without all those skills either.


Combat and Healing:

I for one don’t mind medical (or psychological) recovery time in RPGs. It’s an opportunity for roleplaying, and stops the DnD tendency for characters to traipse around the world acting more like game pieces than vulnerable individuals.

If it’s a power based game (see Power vs Edge) then combat is an everyday event and damage is usually just some lost hit-points and the wounds don’t impede a character and are easily erased by spells or potions or what-not. That has its place, sure…but “meh” too.

…I am feeling a strong draw recently (November 2014) to a sci-fi game where the healing is more simulationist to allow better narrative play. Systems such as Albedo, Mechwarrior 2, Mechwarrior 3, Mechwarrior 4, Shadowrun 3rd Edition and Shadowrun 4th Edition, maybe Rogue Trader and Only War too. Combat where characters get hurt is rare in these systems because characters are avoiding them. It is a lot more realistic and in-character in my opinion. Power type players will exaggerate this; with the idea that the bulk of time in such games is planning and / or that it’s very arbitrary and overly-lethal if a combat happens.

Well that’s a Power vs Edge issue. Jumping back to simulationist vs narrative…if combat is rare, and actively avoided, then a wounded character has some down-time in which they can roleplay but can’t be too active. I see no problem with that at all.

A bit like how training time in-game can be a problem or an asset or both depending on the handling of it. My handling of training time in the Lunars Game was notoriously poor, for example.



Narrative vs Simulation

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