Monday, 10 October 2011


It comes in for a lot of flack, but I think there genuinely is something to Ron Edwards' GNS theory, despite flaws in elaboration (i.e. Edwards seems incapable of writing about anything in a non-arrogant, non-arsehole sort of way). The "something to it" is this: clearly players of roleplaying games have different preferences when it comes to the style of game they prefer, yet they rarely if ever make them explicit. Rather, they just sort of expect things to be what they want, and blame a shit game, shit GMing, or perhaps a bad day, when it doesn't turn out that way. This is an observation anybody with any familiarity with the hobby will have made, if they've ever stopped and thought about things for a few minutes.

I had this point reinforced to me recently, for example, when my GM and I were chatting and he actually used the phrase "in about two sessions you will have caught the bad guy". Now, to me, there is almost nothing that a GM could say to me that would turn me off a game more. In the first place, given that this game has a pre-ordained plot, I certainly don't want to know how it will pan out. And in the second place, I don't want to play in games with pre-ordained plot at all.

But this is because my preferences lean heavily towards "gamism". I see role playing as a form of strategy game superior in all respects to any other; PCs are avatars of the players, who are aiming to achieve an end result in opposition to a fair set of obstacles that the GM puts in their way. It is superior to all other forms of strategy game because its only limits are what can be imagined: the players are constrained only by the laws of human reason and interaction. Its trappings - speaking "in character", having a fantasy or SF setting, the involvement of Tolkienist acts of sub-creation - while not necessary, add extra flavour. They are the icing on the cake and perhaps, also, sort of inevitable as emergent characteristics.

(I feel I should add that "achieving an end result" does not necessarily mean "having the most power" or "being stinking rich" or "reaching level 20", but it does mean "winning" in some notional sense. For instance, if in a Planescape game your paladin PC has the goal of reaching the top of Mount Olympus, and achieves this, it is also "winning".)

Crazily enough, not everybody in the world shares my preferences absolutely. (They will eventually.) For instance, the GM I referred to earlier clearly likes pre-ordained plot. To him, role playing is not really a game: he's a "narrativist" in Ron Edwards' terminology, although I think this term is misleading. I'd prefer to call him a "plotter". To him, the GM is basically a story-teller and his players are engaged in an act of interactive fiction. I choose this term quite deliberately: if anything, this sort of game very closely resembles a text adventure or choose-your-own-adventure book. The players have a certain degree of choice, but it is highly constrained. They are free only in the sense that within a given scene they can decide on different courses of action, but the scenes which they go through are laid out in advance, even if only in a vague Act 1/Act 2/Act 3 sort of way. And from the very beginning, the GM knows "the ending" and has a rough idea of what the characters will have to do to get there. This type of gamer is apt to use the shibboleth, "it's role- playing, not roll-playing".

I am always left dissatisfied by "plotter" gaming, which I think deprives me of agency and makes me feel like a little kid being led by the nose. I suspect that my GM would be left dissatisfied by "gamist" gaming, which he might feel was arbitrary, pointless, and antagonistic. The point is that our preferences are genuinely real, and it is difficult or impossible to persuade each other whose way is best. (Though mine are of course objectively correct.)

So I can see what Ron Edwards was getting at. Again, though, we should resist trying to draw old school/new school distinctions here. Many hipster story-games are actually most strongly supportive of gamist playstyles: I'm thinking of In A Wicked Age, Burning Empires, and Apocalypse World, which are best played as strategy in the same sense as Gygaxian OD&D, but with a different end-game in mind. Likewise, "plotter" gamers can be equally at home with OD&D as with Vampire: The Masquerade or The Window.

A final point: gamers also exist for whom interaction with a coherent game world is very important (even if they don't consider this their primary motivation), but I'd quibble with Edwards about whether or not a separate "simulationist" category is necessary. I know a gamer who delights in interacting with a game world that makes total sense, in putting things together, in speculating about and understanding how things work, and so on. But I think, at root, his enjoyment in this derives from the fact that it helps him towards the goal of winning. Simulationist gaming, it seems to me, is an adjunct to a person's main preference. Though I'm speaking only from my own experience, here.


  1. I think the interesting thing is some of the games you mention are "narrativist" and "gamist." They make the strategy not about "in game" tactics but rather storytelling. There is a way to get "story" without being directive, though it does require a bit of abstraction that's sometimes difficult for gamers to latch on to at the beginning.

  2. I agree with pretty much all of the content of this post, Noisms. I haven't bothered engaging much with the GNS theory largely because I suspect that its ideological inheritors have made it inflexible and prescriptive, but in my experience most descriptive theories have their uses and their limits, and I guess GNS is the same. The rest of your comments I broadly agree with. For a few quibbles...

    "in about two sessions you will have caught the bad guy"
    You know best, no doubt, but could your GM have meant this in the same sense as "checkmate in 4"? In which case you can get out of this fate (not that you'd want to, necessarily) if you see where it's coming from.

    I am always left dissatisfied by "plotter" gaming, which I think deprives me of agency and makes me feel like a little kid being led by the nose.

    Have you tried subverting this? I have had this experience of "plotter" gaming a couple of times; sometimes I didn't notice, but sometimes I have noticed and rebelled against it, and attempting to undo the plotting has never, ever, ever worked.


    Crazily enough, not everybody in the world shares my preferences absolutely. (They will eventually.)

    This is great!

  3. A preordained plot, aka a railroad, is a major flaw in a narrativist game as well. It's applying the wrong narrative techniques for the medium. What makes roleplaying games distinct from other forms of fiction is the fact that the protagonists are free agents and their actions cannot be known ahead of time. Trying to quash the players' free will is working completely against the strengths of the medium. You'll always makes it worse. You wouldn't write a book the way you'd design a video game or film a movie. Trying to write a preordained plot to a roleplaying game is just as big a mistake, no matter what kind of roleplayer you call yourself.

  4. "Simulationist" to me makes more sense when describing the priorities in a rule set. These can privilege naturalism over the demands of an interesting narrative or a fair game. I suppose they can also intrude into scenario design, to the extent that of course, the world's richest king would guard his tomb with a 20' stone block that pastes the first thieves dead. When put that way I am not so sure there are many simulationist players around.

  5. I think Edwards' main point is that certain GMs TRY to be Narrativist by doing what you're calling plotting but that that is a sucky way of doing Narrativism and it causes "brain damage." And that other players really aren't trying to do what he wants, so he looks down on them but he doesn't think that they're doing it wrong in the same way the thinks about plotters.

  6. Trey: They make the strategy not about "in game" tactics but rather storytelling.

    That's what I was trying to get at when I said many hipster story-games are actually supportive of "gamist" play. In A Wicked Age is the classic example of this, as it involves players trying to play the system to give themselves more narrative control.

    Have you tried subverting this?

    I think in the context of group gaming trying to subvert things isn't very nice, because it ruins everybody's fun. I usually just go along with it, because, well, meh.

    John: Trying to write a preordained plot to a roleplaying game is just as big a mistake, no matter what kind of roleplayer you call yourself.

    I agree, but try telling that to most gamers. I think plotters are in actual fact the large majority. The main culprit is probably the published adventure, almost all of which are plotted railroads and which strongly influence GMs.

    Roger the GS: Yes, that's a good point.

    David: In that case I think he's making a pretty good point. I'm trying to be fair to the "plotters" here, but I do think they'd be much better off playing proper story games. I've written about this before though.

  7. Speaking from my own personal experience:

    The oddest thing to me about GNS is he seems to think a given player wants the same thing for a whole session at a time.

    In my experience, players are really moody and want different things depending on what's dangled in front of them, how much they've had to eat, what time of the month it is, etc.

    While I feel like there's much merit in what you say, I think it;s hilariously boy-centric to imagine a world where players want the same thing every day.

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  9. @noisms: Writing a single plot and using your DM god-powers to force the players to go along is a lot easier than creating a working environment for the players to make choices in. I don't want to put too much blame on the modules when natural human laziness is a simple answer.

  10. Everything you point out as useful about GNS was originally from the "Threefold" model. Or, as the joke goes, there's much that's true and original about GNS; unfortunately what's true isn't original, and what's original isn't true.

  11. Smart post! I would agree with Zak that these categories are extremely fluid when applied to individual gamers and DMs, and I would also offer myself as an example of a primarily simulationist gamer. My main goal for the players and myself is "immersion" in the game-world, and yet I am only narrativist to the extent that the players and I build some kind of ongoing narrative together. As a DM I am extremely sandboxy and while yes, there are some bosses out there doing bad things, there absolutely is NOT a preordained ending -- not only are there multiple possible endings built in structurally, I constantly (and sometimes quite drastically) add and modify my default "plot" elements in response to player action and speculation.

    How might you connect the GNS construct to the categories given in the "gamer test" some of us took? See link:

    As I see it, method actor = simulationist. Maybe with some narrativist thrown in as well. Or there could be "method actors" who are more narrativist than simulationist. My point is, I *think* the sim. category should exist separately, though I welcome your comments.

  12. Just to clarify, I should add that for me, simulationist does NOT necessarily equate to simulating anything realistic or going into great DETAIL about the minutia of the game-world. I provide just enough information for everybody to feel that there is a "world" there. And I am also gamist to the extent that I endorse the finding of monster and treasure and privilege sandbox-style exploration over hitting "plot points" or any of the "adventure path" crap.

  13. The sim category is weird (all the GNS categories have some hairy writing in the) because there's an overlap in the original texts between "sim as in we like acting a lot" and "sim as in like, y'know, Alexis, or GURPS" which seem like different things and with different goals really and with different people (gm, player, designer) taking different roles.

    I would only say that: what distinguishes anything along the chess to wargame to rpg chain-of-being from the thing before it is: more simulation.

    For a gmaist, the nice thing about all the simulating is: the more shit that gets simulated, the more tactical anarchy you've got.

    So it's messy.

  14. @noisms
    "[...]clearly players of roleplaying games have different preferences when it comes to the style of game they prefer, yet they rarely if ever make them explicit. Rather, they just sort of expect things to be what they want, and blame a shit game, shit GMing, or perhaps a bad day, when it doesn't turn out that way. This is an observation anybody with any familiarity with the hobby will have made, if they've ever stopped and thought about things for a few minutes."
    This, I agree with absolutely. Which is why it becomes even more painfully obvious that Ron's articulation of the matter has failed because this...

    " the GM I referred to earlier clearly likes pre-ordained plot. To him, role playing is not really a game: he's a "narrativist" in Ron Edwards' terminology"
    ...isn't true at all. GNS narrativism is above else concerned with the maxim of "Play to find out". It's also why you'll sometimes see people assert that Narrativism and Gamism are close cousins. Apocalypse World is absolutely a Narrativist game and it absolutely rejects (right there in the text/rules, several times over) any kind of pre-plotting.

    In fact, pre-plotting is a feature of Simulationist gaming, if anything, but here we start descending into the maddening spiral of incomprehensible jargon. GNS Simulationism doesn't have anything to do with any kind of "simulating physics".

    So "Forge" theory is very simple and sound, and you identified it spot on in your first paragraph. The jargon however is infinitely confusing and misleading.

    "it;s hilariously boy-centric to imagine a world where players want the same thing every day."
    I agree. It's the main flaw in the practical application of GNS.

    However, I think the main point of GNS is that two styles are incompatible at any given time, not that they couldn't change over the course of the session, or week to week. It's about a concrete instance of play.

    So if you've got some PCs and some Monsters and if one player is trying to do it the Sim way and another player is doing it Gam and the DM is pulling a Nar, then the game won't work right. I think that's the main argument. Not that the group can't shift from one style to another over the course of the session if that's what they do.

  15. noisms: I think he makes some good points. A lot of the "role playing" vs. "roll playing" is so fucking stupid because you have people look down at dealing with the mechanics and rolling lots of dice and then use systems with lots of mechanics and dice rolling built in, which is kind of silly. As you said, they'd be better off running a game in which the dice rolling supports the narrative (which some people have a hard time even conceiving of as an option) or just play freeform.

    As for the GNS categories, although this doesn't match Edwards, how I'd break it down would be "why did the PCs just meet an ogre?"

    Gamist: it is a good challenge for characters of your level, so I made sure you'd meet stuff like an ogre this adventure.

    Narrativist: someone (maybe the player, maybe the GM) thought that running into ogres would be the most interesting thing to happen next.

    Simulationist: ogres came up when I rolled up some random monsters.

    Personally I'm starting to lean back towards the good old wandering monster tables, due to a fun 1ed game I'm being part of. I'm also playing an online Burning Wheel game in which the GM keeps on brainstorming in the OOC emails about what would be interesting to happen next. It's a damn fun game but a lot of that just feels like looking behind the curtain at the Wizard of Oz.

  16. I'm a "simulationist" player. Storytelling or achieving win conditions are less important to me than experiencing the environment of the game setting. Games that I've felt to be most successful at providing this experience are Feng Shui, Call of Cthulhu, Mutants & Masterminds, Castle Falkenstein.

    However, to acheive a properly emmersive and emulationist experience it requires that both GM and players honor the tropes of the genre or setting. That means that when resolving problems occasionally a tactically suboptimal choice needs to be made, such as sacrificing your character or having the antagonist do something stupid in the spirit of the genre.

    This is most obvious in trope-heavy games like the various "supers" rpgs. Superheroes "behave" in a certain way, even if it isn't tactical prudent. It is part of the "simulationist" social contact to respect these tropes. That's why old-time Champions gamers HATED "munchkin" D&D power-gamers. ;-)

  17. So here's a question for you, then. Can Act III "emerge" from a sandbox?

    What I mean is, yea, you set up a world of fair obstacles and let the PCs chart their own course, and at some point all the arbitrary action begins to look like a trail of bread crumbs if you squint at it just right. There's a narrative emerging, something that if followed through just the right way will add depth and resound to the whole campaign. (And, I should add, I'm not talking about coming up with, say, four plausible end points and then deciding which bin your players got themselves into) But you the GM see it, not your players. And you'll need to railroad a bit to get them there, and you feel it's worth the effort. How hard do you try?

    Is it fair to say that if it's a railroad the players have built for themselves, you owe it to them to see that they actually take the trip on it?

    I ask this, in fact, from a software/game designer point of view. Computers are quite handy at churning out sandbox-y content and letting players engage as desired. But - given those actions - is it possible to _discern_ a path that is a connecting narrative? And if you can, can you then generate the rest of the path forward - even a linear one - that leads it toward a fitting conclusion?

  18. I strongly back Gregor's assumptions here. While pretty much okay with the rest of your message, Noisms, there seems to be a misunderstanding here:

    Crazily enough, not everybody in the world shares my preferences absolutely. (They will eventually.) For instance, the GM I referred to earlier clearly likes pre-ordained plot. To him, role playing is not really a game: he's a "narrativist" in Ron Edwards' terminology, although I think this term is misleading. I'd prefer to call him a "plotter".

    This is the exact contrary of what Narrativist play is about. A better term for it is Story Now, which makes much more sense and contradicts the whole idea of pre-ordained plots as being Narrativists. It's all about premises built in the characters and the game going somewhere through the issues they create all by themselves. A Narrativist GM might sometimes quesion, nudge, push or escalate but will never plot on his own. A "Plotter" GM is everything but a Narrativist GM.

    That's why I think that to some, and I'm included here, Narr play and OSR sandobxes might be so close, given a bit of premises in the char building.

  19. @gregor

    Lemme say this:

    I am not ure what the deal is with the Forge documents on-line which attempt to explain GNS theory. They either:

    -misrepresent it by being inarticulate, or...

    -represent it accurately but then the theory must be wrong in the details, or...

    -have self-contradictory stuff in them that is not actually resolved.

    I'm not sure which because I can;t divine the authors' actual intentions (and have asked RE politely and got no answer). Point is: to convince me "GNS is completely right" I'd need a definition of it--in detail--not provided by anything I've seen on the Forge.

    Not that that's really the point of this post. But if anybody wants to answer my GNS questions I'm all ears.

  20. @david

    Looking carefully at your ogre example, I think it doesn't make sense. It's hard to imagine me DMing in a way where 1 ever mattered, and 3 is always true, but the ogre only exists on my random monster chart if 2 is true to begin with.

    Or simpler: supposed ly "gamist" DIY D&D GMs are slippery. They are -always- choosing worldbuilding options because they want to grow the "possible story tree" down to manageable and intersting parameters, always allowing for simulation, and always using the simulatory aspects to be precisely the engine of challenge (i.e. the pc can use unusual tactics BECAUSE the world works in a clockwork and smulatory way which makes all real-world tacitcs have analogues in the game).

  21. @zak:
    Frankly, all three.
    1. I think Ron does a terrible job of articulating what he means.
    2. I think the essays aren't holy scripture. They're full of mistakes, also because...
    3. The essays don't actually represent the fully developed "theory" that was only subsequently fleshed out in discussion.

    And while Ron might have been a very important instigator I think he isn't really the most theoretically relevant or sound guy around. He's not the only one who worked on this, and others have probably articulated it better than him.

    I don't know what your GNS questions are but I can try answering and see if it makes sense to you. Perhaps in another online venue.

  22. @gregor

    zak z smith (one word) at hawt mayle dawt calm

  23. I have less experience with long-time, hardcore gamers, where this idea of clear player desires seems to come up. My players, new and newer, seem pretty happy with what's happening at the table. Maybe that's because we've self-selected. Or maybe like Zak is saying, we all shift so much to label is of little use.

    But what I wonder is what if what your DM wants and what you want aren't that dissimilar, just that he thinks the way to give you it is to plot out acts.

    Is it condescending to think he may be doing what he's doing because he doesn't know better? Maybe, but I've seen over and over through the years people houseruling D&D to get "what they want" and getting the opposite. For example, they want more detailed combats because they think that will be grittier so they add rules that lead to battles like accounting sessions.

  24. What do you call a player who is kinda sandboxing around in a world with no specific victory conditions/goals in mind?

    I realise that's not canonical D&D, which has a goal structure built right in, in the form of levels. But I've played in a few games where you had jobs to do and/or NPCs doing Bad Stuff and/or you were just trading across the galaxy, and it was up to you the player to set your own goals and choose what kinds of trouble you were going to get into. Is that gamist (if you didn't think you were "playing to win")? I don't think it's simulationist as such, because there's no specific situation being simulated, but I confess to not really understanding Edwards' terms.

    (...also I think there are some cogent, coherent essays about GNS that are worth discussing on their own, but they seem to be undiscussable because as soon as you say "GNS" you have a comment section full of people who have different valid ideas about what it might mean, taken from other places. It seems to be impossible to disaggregate the complete body of theory at this point)

  25. First off, forge theory is not written down anywhere properly, it's spread over loads of threads with of people arguing and working stuff out. Ron Edwards is currently trying to get people to summarise this stuff so that there actually will be forge theory you can point at, rather than stuff in the brains of people who discussed stuff on the forge. Then he wants to mostly shut the place down.

    With that in mind, here is how I understand it's been left so far:

    Among a lot of the people on the forge, GNS got replaced by "creative agenda", which is the same thing only people don't get so irate about there being exactly three or not.

    Creative agenda is just the sort of stuff you head towards creatively, and the assumption is that some kinds of things will hit into each other.

    Now a creative agenda is simultaneously a preference and "the way things tend to go".

    It's not just what you like in games, but also the drive towards them in the group, or even without particular conscious drive, just the tendency of the way you play to keep bringing them up.

    So there is a creative agenda where people in the group who have strong preferences are getting their preferences repeatedly fulfilled by the game, either because the game is set up to make it easy, or because people are putting in special effort to make it work.

    So creative agenda is:
    everyone's tendencies -> someone's preferences
    (hopefully more than one person's!)

    Games don't always have this, loads of homebrew games don't particularly go for what any of the players want, but are random enough that they hit someone's buttons accidentally. There's no tendency, no attractor or control process that heads towards people's preferences. They just don't exclude them.

    That game tends to get called incoherent. It's not bad, it just means that "stuff happens, sometimes its stuff we wanted". You enjoy the game mostly as a social lubricator/gathering point, with occasional flashes of coolness. You can't look at the game from a distance and see what they were going for, so incoherent.

    Then there are clashes between creative agendas. This is where they get obvious. Basically you get two creative players going for different stuff, and the tendencies smash into one another.

    Someone's plot outline runs into someone else's sandbox, someone's situation designed to deconstruct fantasy themes runs into someone else's character concept.

    Maybe they push the game in different directions, and players get tired of waiting for each other, more often the techniques used to make one thing more likely cut off the other from happening properly at all.

    You can categorise different creative agendas by how they clash.

    And that (finally), is what GNS is about. Ron reckons that players who want to explore the world as if it existed, give it reality all it's own, will get annoyed with players who try to make it just integral enough to do challenges or thematic statements. This is because the last two player's preferences require them to leave blank spots to tune more interesting challenges/more thematic situations. Their preferences start to conflict when applied as a tendency for the whole group.

    Beyond that Ron has a fight with people who want to push their thematic stuff on others rather than build it with them during play.
    Don't know much about that, but I don't think he's tried to analyse it in terms of creative agenda clash, although it sounds a perfect candidate to me.

  26. @josh

    As far as I can tell, in every iteration, Forge theory seems to include ideas I cannot get behind:

    -games with incoherent designs are bad or at least suboptimal rather than full of options to explore and discard if un-needed

    -two or more players at the same table with different agendas is suboptimal and the idea that these differing agendas could actually feed off each other to the betterment of all is not even addressed

    -an incoherent idea of what your agenda is is bad

    -in traditional games, a GM can't just manage the different agendas the way any good boss, leader, manager or director manages different motives and thus make everybody happy simultaneously

    -that any of this isn't basically, standard op procedure when grown-ups run games

  27. Zak S:
    "-games with incoherent designs are bad or at least suboptimal rather than full of options to explore and discard if un-needed"

    I agree - I think it's the incoherence that has made D&D traditionally so popular and exciting. The simulated world creates an environment for gamism, out of which dramatic tales can arise. The game can work on multiple levels simultaneously, hitting more than one button - I enjoy interacting with a plausible world, facing game-challenges, seeing how the 'story' turns out, and also addressing Premise in the Nar sense, questions about the protagonists - what do they value, what will they do to get it, who they are. The different elements are rarely in conflict; normally they support each other to give a satisfying game experience.

  28. Although I guess I tend to find the heavily plotted 'railroad' game dysfunctional - no real choices (must follow the plot), little challenge unless the GM allows a TPK, no real questions to answer since it's all been decided in advance.

    No matter how well written the linear rail-campaign is, it doesn't give me what I want out of an RPG.

  29. What's most ironic about the "role playing not roll playing plotters" is that I've never seen a style of GMing that so effectively destroys good RP. If things are plotted and the only way you can fail is by getting TPKed then the stuff that you role play out doesn't really matter since the only way you can fail is by fucking up the combat mini-game, which provides a huge incentive to care more about the combat mini-game.

    "Looking carefully at your ogre example, I think it doesn't make sense. It's hard to imagine me DMing in a way where 1 ever mattered, and 3 is always true, but the ogre only exists on my random monster chart if 2 is true to begin with."

    Zak S: like you say, a lot of the Forge stuff is silly, especially in that it things things should be pure one kind of play, but what I was trying to get at is something I've seen a lot in play.

    My 1ed game is run by a DM who runs the game like an indifferent god. He makes lots of judgement calls about how to adjudicate what we do but, as far as I can tell, basically zero judgement calls during play about who and what me meet. If we meet ogres it's either because he rolled up ogres or because he noted "ogres here" before the play starts. For me at least, that's pretty pure Sim. The basic stance is that he makes no real allowances at all for who the PCs are and what we're doing. It works out pretty damn well in play.

    I've also played 3.5ed games in which I knew the DM was monkeying with monster numbers/stats to make sure that fights were tactically "fair." That's pure Gamist, at least for me, although more on a tactical scale than a strategic scale.

    In my Burning Wheel PBEM game, the GM approaches things a lot like an author and approaches things like he was writing the next scene in the book, even writing in some of what my character is thinking. I normally don't like it much, but the GM is good at it so it's fun. It just got the feeling that if I do something really dumb, the GM won't make my character suffer for it since that wouldn't necessarily "make a good story."

  30. Although perhaps the moral of story is that arguing over GMS definitions never makes things clearer :) I'm just trying to explain my own point o view, I'm sure other's won't agree.

  31. @David

    But the DM who gives you an ogre because he's simulating is being totally "gamist" by presenting a challenge because the rules of the world said to.

    I mean: if you;re really "gamist" then you don't want scaled challenges--you want to test your luck against whatever according to rules that make some sense--and if you know "mountains in winter = ogre" then knowing that and avoiding that place is part of the challenge. Grasping the rules of an indifferent fiction and using them to your advantage is total gamism.

    And scaling to the PCs seems totally "narratviist" to me: you're giving PCs less challenge in order to fit some storyish idea of how heroes should face greater and greater threats over time.

  32. Zach, I don't agree with incoherent being bad, yeah it's a harsh name, but I think it's well defined enough for you to see it in good terms:
    "Yeah our play doesn't aim towards what we want, but it can still be good because it doesn't exclude it."

    In more recent forge theory, a game system cannot technically be incoherent in itself, it can only lead to incoherent play.

    Why? Because it has all kinds of tendencies going on in it's rules, and no way to select the ones you want:

    No way to line up the tendencies of play supported by the mechanics with anyone at the table's preferences.

    If you want to make coherent play out of it that fits one of your creative agendas you need to play it for a bit, see where it goes, then blank off some of it's options or add extra ones.

    Just like you and Noisms are doing with D&D:

    Yes preplanning everything is an option supported by the D&D books thanks to the get-out clauses about doing whatever you want, but that risks breaking what makes the game good for you.

    So you put your foot down about it, saying "we want this kind of game, and that just messes it up". Classic creative agenda type talk.

    A game that supports a creative agenda sets things up so that players can easily follow that agenda, and tells them to play it by the rules if they like that kind of thing.

    Or, and this is a sort of game design that I've barely seen, (I can't think of a single example) it gives you options that hop from one agenda to another, but tells you how they change the game!

    Yes there have been games with changable elements and optional rules and stuff, and sometimes they tell you this will make it more gritty etc, but rarely do they jump that far.

    Oh and despite all I've said, loads of people do talk about incoherent systems, often without meaning "systems that only support incoherent play without a load of design work and experimentation on behalf of the players".

    But you make a language and change it halfway through and that's what happens!

  33. "I think Ron does a terrible job of articulating what he means."

    you could say that again. There are a lot worth pondering in Rons ideas, but more food for thought, and not as well chewed and ready for consumption. OTOH, some of it was "thoughts in progress".

    There are a lot worth thinking about in gaming and why it works like it does, which I think Ron have brought to attention. That is his real great achievement if I may say so.