RPG Theory and Design Notes

Clinton R. Nixon and Ron Edwards created a community website called the Forge to explore and promote the theory and design of independent roleplaying games. Some of the discussions on the Forge rise to the level of Theory (with a capital "T"). I made these notes to better follow the discussion.

GNS theory

Ron Edwards wrote an article titled GNS and Other Matters of Role-playing Theory. Many articles and posts refernce GNS theory.

  1. Roleplaying experince is about character, system, setting, situation, and color.
  2. Exploration is the attention given to those elements.
  3. Premise is whatever a participant finds among the elements to sustain a continued interest in what might happen in a role-playing session.
  4. Premise is a metagame concern, wholly different from the listed elements. They are the imagined (Explored) content of the role-playing experience, and Premise is the real-person, real-world interest that instils and maintains a person's desire to have that experience. At this early point, though, Premise is vague and highly personal, as it is only the embryo of the real Premise. The real Premise exists as a clear, focused question or concern shared among all members of the group.
  5. Why do people roleplay? The goals people have for roleplaying correspond to one of three modes:
    Much torment has arisen from people perceiving GNS as a labelling device. Used properly, the terms apply only to decisions, not to whole persons nor to whole games. To be absolutely clear, to say that a person is (for example) Gamist, is only shorthand for saying, "This person tends to make role-playing decisions in line with Gamist goals." Similarly, to say that an RPG is (for example) Gamist, is only shorthand for saying, "This RPG's content facilitates Gamist concerns and decision-making." For better or for worse, both of these forms of shorthand are common.

    Concrete examples #1: Simulationism over-riding Gamism
    Converse: Gamism over-riding Simulationism
    Concrete examples #2: Simulationism over-riding Narrativism
    Converse: Narrativism over-riding Simulationism

Interesting Threads on the Forge