Weeknotes: 121

Work

This week didn’t start out great, with me sleeping through my alarm and waking up at about 1pm. I decided to retroactively take Monday off.

The transition from holiday to work is rough.

Other than that, it was business as usual. A few people are still off, so the team’s a little quiet, but there’s enough to keep ourselves occupied.

One tricky problem came up: we deployed the NCSC password blacklist, to prevent people from signing up with, or changing to, the top breached passwords. For existing users, we can check if they have a breached password on sign in, but what about users who don’t sign in regularly? Well, we just have to check every password (about ~44,000 which meet our minimum length restriction) against every user. Because we’re using good password hashing—a pepper, a random salt, and an expensive hash function—this is going to take a while. Oh well.

Books

This week I read:

  • Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson, the eighth of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

    A very climactic book, with some major characters and plot points being dealt with, with finality. Malazan started out as a GURPS campaign, and Steven Erikson once said:

    Believe it or not, the clash of two major characters in Toll the Hounds was decided on a single roll of the die. If it had gone the other… well, I shudder to think.

    I think I know which clash he meant, and the results of that clash will have a major impact on the remaining books, it going the other way would be a pretty dramatic change. But that’s what’s fun about RPGs, right? Rolling the dice and having events develop in unexpected ways. The way things turned out seems a huge positive, with the other way being very bad; but Malazan is a story based on a game, not the story of the game, so I’m sure if things had gone the other way, the books would still have been good.

Gaming

I finally read about the Threefold Model, a predecessor of GNS, and I definitely prefer it as a model of player goals.

GNS is the most widely known such model, but it’s really confusing. GNS breaks player motivations down into three types:

  • Gamists focus on competition and game goals, leading to ideas like D&D-style levelling systems, hit points, and encounter balance. Computer RPGs are generally very gamist.

  • Narrativists focus on the story, but specifically in taking a step outside the story and focussing on moral and ethical questions, rather than simply on genre tropes. There’s a strong emphasis on “playing to find out what happens” and removing the traditional GM / player split in narrative authority.

  • Simulationists focus on simulating some experience. For example, simulating a world by having detailed rules for the “physics”, or simulating a story by codifying genre tropes as rules (like PbtA games do).

My major problems with GNS are:

  1. It is written as if gamism and narrativism are the ways to play a game (with narrativism being the best way), and that simulationism is something some people think they like, but they’re just mistaken. GNS adherents can be very pretentious.

  2. Simulationism groups two very different types of game—realistic gritty world-simulations and unrealistic genre-simulations—under the same umbrella, because they’re both “simulating”, even though one doesn’t care about the story at all and the other is all about the story.

  3. Nobody really agrees on what each category means, because the original essay is kind of vague. As said, simulationism is particularly bad; but gamism and narrativism are also pretty confusing.

I’ve generally described myself as a “simulationist” gamer—which is already unfortunate because GNS seems to look down on us—but one who wants to simulate worlds, rather than think about the story. But because PbtA games, which are basically the opposite of what I want, are also considered “simulationist” games, the word itself is almost completely unhelpful in describing what sort of games I like to play.

It’s like the GNS authors thought “surely nobody actually wants to play as if the game world were a real place, because that’s just tedious.”

Enter the Threefold Model. It’s much better. It breaks player motivations down into:

  • Dramatists focus on the story.

  • Gamists focus on fair challenges and computer-game-like elements.

  • Simulationists focus on resolving in-game events “realistically”, as if the game world were a real place.

So Threefold-Dramatism covers GNS-Narrativism and the genre-simulating aspect of GNS-Simulationism; Threefold-Gamism is the same as GNS-Gamism; and Threefold-Simulationism is actually a narrow enough category to be useful for describing things.

Since GNS came later, and reads as if narrativism is really the best way to play RPGs, I suspect that it came out of the Dramatist community wanting to separate people who view “the story” in different ways—people who want to play a game with a good story vs people who want to explicitly play with the story—but without introducing a fourth category. And I think that was a mistake.

Miscellaneous

I backed the Little Nuns kickstarter, for an artbook of these nuns with ducks.