PART 0: The Purpose of the Group and Terminology

0) What's this fack thing? 
1) What is "on topic" for this newsgroup?
2) What's with all the acronyms? 
3) What is diceless role-playing? 
4) What do you mean by "plot" and "plotting"? 
5) What about all these other terms? 
6) What are these "narrative stances" that people refer to?
7) What are the campaign "axes"? 
8) What is the point of all this abstract discussion?

Part I of this FAQ explains the "threefold model," Part II deals with "plot", and Part III deals with "diceless roleplaying."

WARNING: Most of the content of the FAQ was written in 1997, and has not been significantly updated since that time. Thus, much of the material here might not be relevant for current discussion.

0) What's this fack thing?

"FAQ" stands for "Frequently Asked Questions". This is a regularly posted document intended to introduce newcomers to common terminology and issues in this forum.

1) What is "on topic" for this newsgroup?

This newsgroup is about comparative discussion of various role-playing systems and styles -- their merits and flaws, how well they work in different situations, etc. Until there is consensus otherwise, this includes all styles of role-play, including live-action -- just make sure to label your posts clearly.

Thus, GURPS versus HERO would technically be on-topic. However, most of what has gone on is more detailed discussion of differing styles and features of games. For example: "Do you prefer to have rules and traits which govern a character's personality?" or "What are the consequences of timelining a plot in advance?"

You should try to avoid asking or stating that a game or technique is generically "better" or "worse". The one thing which is strikingly clear from discussion here is that different people prefer different things in their games. Try to keep this in mind.

The other thing is to be careful about is misunderstood generalizations. Someone might say that "plotted" games are restrictive, and you respond that he is wrong -- they are inherently more flexible. Most likely, he is referring to a different type of game when he says "plotted" than you think of when you say "plotted".

2) What's with all the acronyms?

   POV: "Point of View"
   IC: "In-Character Stance", i.e. the state of thinking from your 
	character's POV
   OOC: "Out Of Character"
   SOD: "Suspension of Disbelief"
   DIP: "Develop-In-Play", referring to players who only have a rough 
	character sketch which is only filled out during the campaign
   DAS: "Develop-At-Start", i.e. players who write a detailed character
	background/personality by the time the campaign begins
   d-b: "Description-Based", i.e. using qualitative verbal description 
	rather than game mechanics 
   PM: "Personality Mechanics," any mechanic with the aim to help 
	simulate a character's personality (which can be advisory 
	or coercive)

   plus more general ones like-

   PC: "Player Character" - usually handled by a player
   NPC: "Non-Player Character" - usually handled by the GM
   YMMV: "your mileage may vary"
   IMHO: "in my humble opinion"
   CF: "Castle Falkenstein", a card-using Victorian fantasy game
   OTE: "Over the Edge", a dice-using freeform conspiracy game
   RM: "Rolemaster"

3) What is diceless role-playing?

Technically, diceless role-playing is simply any RPG which does not use any randomizers like dice or cards. There are currently four published diceless RPG "systems", including The _Amber_ DPRG, by Phage Press; _Theatrix_, by Backstage Press; _Persona_, by Tesarta Industries, Inc.; and _Epiphany_, by BTRC.

Some games use non-numerical randomizers, such as _Everway_'s Vision Cards, and are thus not "diceless" in this sense. These are also distinct from most "dice-using" games, however. Also, some dice-using games have notes on how to run the game in a diceless fashion, such as FUDGE by Grey Ghost Games and _Witchcraft_ by Myrmidon Press.

However, you should *not* assume that all diceless is like it is described in these games. "Diceless" encompasses a wide variety of playing styles, ranging from interactive storytelling to competitive simulation-style games.

For more information on this, see part III of this FAQ.

4) What do you mean by "plot" and "plotting"?

We don't. :-) By that, I mean that there are many different meanings of the term "plot" floating around: at least three and probably more. For more information, see Part II of this FAQ. For now, I will outline three common usages:

  1. Simply a bare sketch of a goal for the PC's and challenges to them reaching that goal. This is sometimes called a "plot-premise" or "line of tension".
  2. A GM-planned sequence of events based on what she expects the PC's to do -- called a "plot-plan" or "preplanned plot".
  3. Just what happens in the game, regardless of how or even whether the GM planned it. This is sometimes called "plot-story" or simply "story".

5) What about all these other terms?

   "group contract":  The set of conventions the players and GM agree 
	on:  including rule system, but also issues like "The GM will 
	fudge things so PCs won't die pointless deaths", or "Pulp genre 
	conventions take precedence over common sense", or even 
	"Don't let the cat in while we play: she bites legs."

   "metagame": dealing with concerns of the players and GM, as opposed 
	to the characters in the gameworld.  Examples of metagame 
	concerns could include "spotlight time", plot scripting, and 
	who brought the munchies.  

   "intra-game": dealing solely with matters within the gameworld. 
	This would include a character's plans and actions, the 
	environment, etc. 

   "three-fold":  A model describing games as a balance of Dramatist,
	Simulationist, and Gamist concerns -- i.e. someone might
	describe themselves as mostly Gamist with some Dramatist
	influence, but not very Simulationist.  Also known as the 
	"triangle model" (for a pictorial diagram of this).  
	See part I of this FAQ for more information on this topic.  

   "dramatist":  is the esthetic of games which try to make the 
	action into a satisfying and coherent storyline.  
	(See Part I.)

   "gamist":  is the esthetic of games which try to set up a fair 
	challenge for the *players* (as opposed to the PC's).  The 
	challenges may be tactical combat, intellectual mysteries, 
	social manipulation, etc.  (See Part I.)

   "simulationist":  is the esthetic of games where effort is made 
	to not let meta-game concerns during play affect in-game 
	resolution of events.  That is, a fully simulationist GM will 
	not fudge results to save PC's or to save her plot. 
	(See Part I.)

   "immersion":  This is a term for trying to cut out all meta-game 
	information and view things from the Point-of-View of your 
	character (or for GM's just look at the game world facts).  
	The player tries to feel what the PC is feeling, and develops 
	a complex intuitive model of the PC.  Some immersive players 
	are "closed" to the GM or mechanics telling them what the PC 
	is feeling, because that interferes with their internal model.  
	Others are "open" to such external input.  

   "mechanic":  A formal method of resolution, which need not be 
	numerical (i.e. Plot Points and Drama Deck cards are mechanics) 
	but must be specific.  A statement like "low roll good, lower 
	roll better" is not considered a mechanic unless it is spelled 
	out just how low is good. On the other hand, a statement like 
	"a 02 or less is a critical" is a mechanic.

	There has been some discussion over what exactly constitutes 
	a mechanic: until that is resolved I am keeping the above 
	description, but direct people to ongoing discussion.  

   "mechanics-light, mechanicless":  Games which have very few to no 
	mechanics (sometimes known as "freeform", but this term is 
	less clear).  _Over the Edge_ is mechanics-light, for example.  
	A game using the rule of "GM Decides" is a "mechanicless" game. 
	(Technically, one can say it has a single mechanic, but the 
	term "mechanicless" still stands for this type of game.)  

   "non-numerical":  a game or game mechanic which does not use 
	meta-game numbers.  Non-numerical randomizers could be judging 
	the result of an action by the theme of a tarot card drawn. 
	Non-numerical stats would be text description without any 
	associated game number.  

   "spotlight time":  The amount of time a player/PC is the center of 
	attention in the group.

   "firewalling":  This is the practice of not letting Out-of-Character 
	information you know as a player affect your decisions in play, 
	which can apply to both the GM and the player.  

   "abstraction":  This is substituting a simpler game handling for 
	something that in the game-world is more complex.  In other 
	words, the GM might say - `You manage to pick the lock' rather 
	than describing how each tumbler was handled.  

   "script immunity":  This is part of the group contract under which 
	certain characters are protected from dying at a metagame level.  
	For example, the GM might fudge so as not to kill PC's unless 
	they do something stupid.  This might also be handled by
	mechanics such as "Fortune Points" which players spend to save
	their PC's.  This can also apply to important NPC's (such as 
	villians in _James Bond_, who can use "Survival Points" to
	always get away.)

   "Fair Play":  This is another group assumption -- that the GM will 
	present problems which are challenging but solvable by the 
	PC's.  If the players act intelligently, it is expected that 
	the PC's should succeed and be rewarded.  This is often an
	integral part of "Gamist" contracts (see above).  

   "assumption clash":  When the GM's understanding of how the game-
	world works conflicts with a player's assumptions.  For example, 
	as a player you might think that your tough fighter can kill a 
	charging boar with his sword with little fear of injury, while 
	your GM thinks that a boar can easily ignore any sword swing 
	and will break both his legs.  You say "I crouch and prepare 
	to meet its rush" and get severely mauled.  
		It doesn't matter who is *right* in this case -- the 
	problem is that their understanding differs.  The player are not 
	privy to information her character would know, and thus she made 
	decisions which simply didn't make sense in the game world. 

   "interactive literature": a term for various forms of Live Action
	Role-playing Games (LARP's), which involve the interactive 
	creation of a story.  Not everything the characters do is 
	neccessarily acted out, but they share some qualities:  There 
	are almost never NPC's, so both protagonists and antagonists 
	are run by players.  The players generally wander around a 
	large area -- a Judge/GM is not always on hand, and bulky 
	rule are rarely carried.  Thus, the resolution mechanics must 
	be minimal.

6) What are these "narrative stances" that people refer to?

This was first formulated by Kevin Hardwick and Sarah Kahn, and 
was so useful that it immediately became part of the jargon of 
the group.  These stances are not precisely defined, but these 
are rough summaries: 

  [A] Actor Stance
	The Actor Stance is the one in which the player contemplates
   what she can do to portray her character more effectively to the
   other participants in the game.  That is, you use it when you 
   have already fixed what your character is going to do -- and 
   your concern is primarily portraying her to others. 
	This is different from Author stance because it is not 
   concerned with character development -- instead of writing the 
   character or trying to think *as* the character, the player
   consciously trying to portray the character as defined. (i.e. 
   "Michael has a weakness for women, so I'll say pick-up lines 
   to this NPC.")  

  [B] Audience Stance
	The position from which the player observes, enjoys, and
   evaluates the game or aspects of it as himself, rather than as his
   character.  This is also a meta-game stance, as it refers to the
   *player's* viewing and interpretation of the game, which may be
   very different from the character's.  This stance is the stance
   from which things like dramatic irony or historical accuracy are
   judged.  It is also the stance adopted whenever the player
   witnesses an in-game event of which his character is utterly

  [C] Author Stance
	The position from which the player evaluates the game with an
   eye towards changing it or affecting its development -- either 
   through her character or possibly through the world itself.  The 
   player adopts this when consciously writing new parts of her 
   character's background, for example.  Usually it is associated 
   with the player watching the development of the game, and trying 
   to spice it up by throwing in new twists (i.e. "Hey, we've just 
   gotten involved with pirates -- why don't I write in that my 
   character's ex-girlfriend was killed in a pirate attack!")  
	Thus, the player is trying to stay consistent with the
   character as defined, but isn't thinking *as* the character.  

  [D] In-Character Stance (IC) or Immersion Stance
	The view of the game from within the inside of the game world 
    and its reality, usually from within the mind of a player 
    character living within that reality.  The player is thinking 
    *as* the character -- he doesn't acknowledge Out-of-Character 
    (OOC) information and tries to concentrate on what the character 
    is experiencing.  In theory, acting In-Character becomes second 
    nature -- the player does not look at his character sheet and see 
    "Weakness for Women".  Rather, he hears the GM describe a woman 
    and reacts by saying a pass at her.  
	There are a lot of conflicting claims regarding this stance. 
    Everyone agrees that it is difficult to get into.  Once there, 
    some people talk about having different emotional responses or 
    different personality types (see below).  In general, this is 
    said to take much preparation effort to drop into -- making the 
    character feel real in your mind.  It also is fragile: 
    distractions can drop you out, making you uncertain of what the 
    character would "really" do.   

  [?] ``Deep In-Character Stance'' (``Deep IC'')
	This is a possible deeper version of IC stance, where the 
   player begins to "channel" her character and just *be* that 
   person.  In theory, this is likened to certain mask work or 
   experiences of spiritual possession -- that is, even though the 
   character is not an external entity, the player feels as though 
   something else were taking over, and she is unable to control 
   what the character is doing in the game.  

	Of course, in any RPG, multiple stances may be taken.  Often 
  players will have a preference for one stance over another, but 
  still a player will usually switch back and forth.  Some claim that 
  this is done quickly and effortlessly -- others claim that certain 
  stances (mostly In-Character) require much time and effort to drop 

	Much discussion hinges on how to encourage and facilitate 
  people's preferences in these regards.  For those who want to 
  play in the "In-Character"(IC) stance, it is important not to have 
  metagame distractions.  They need to be able to get as close as 
  possible to their character's Point-of-View (POV). 

7) What are the campaign "Axes"? (as submitted by Rodney Payne)

This is a concept for "campaign classification" developed by Leon von Stauber and Rodney Payne. From the initial concept, Leon had created a large number of axes on which campaigns could be classified: Plot, World, Drama, Realism, Romanticism, Conflict, Authorship, Direction, Mechanism. His article is on the web at:

A limitation of this approach is that it requires diametrically opposed tendencies. The opposites of drama or realism or such are contentious points under discussion. An important distinction concerns "direction"...


A *directed* GM is one who makes a conscious effort during game play to guide the campaign development. This doesn't mean that she has a fixed plot which she is sticking to, however. There is also purely off-the-cuff directing: guiding the campaign towards higher drama on the spur of the moment, or perhaps just keeping the action moving.

A *natural* GM is one who simply responds to players actions in a manner most consistent with his conception of the world, and perhaps his understanding of the group contract. He leaves dealing with meta-game issues like drama or pacing up to the group, rather than taking a leadership role.

8) What is the point of all this abstract discussion?

Many times the discussion in .advocacy seems purely academic, unrelated to any practical issues of actually running or playing in a game. However, some of us feel that by some analysis of the techniques and styles which occur in RPG's, we can help improve actual game play. Some possibilities:


John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Tue Jan 23 16:18:34 2007