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Game mechanics always imply a narrative, whether they're board games or ttrpgs or video games. Even something as simple as chess has the implied narrative (or ludonarrative, if you're feeling fancy) of the white army fighting the black army. The post that started this thread is about ways of making the expected narrative explicit. So, for example, your game of D&D will always have a plot. It might just be "we kill the dragon and take their stuff," but it's still a plot. When we talk about narrative tools, we mean ways for the game designer to make explicit their expectations for the game's implied plot, what Sandy Pug Games called the "platonic session".  Making these expectations explicit helps players (including the GM) get the most out of the game experience. So when someone who's completely unfamiliar with fantasy tropes decides they want to run D&D, laying out the platonic session for them would help them get the most enjoyment possible out of their own session. It isn't that drama and narrative are things we want more of in our games, it's that they're already there, and that not understanding them often makes play uncomfortable. If you had no picture in your head of a platonic session of Pathfinder, the story that "evolves through play" might be one of pastoral life and farming simulation. This would likely be confusing and not very fun because of the gulf between your game and the game that Paizo designed. Lots of things in the Pathfinder rulebook imply that this is not what your game's narrative should be, but the point of the post is that, because there are members of your audience who have never engaged with your type of story before, your game can only benefit from making these expectations explicit.


tl;dr Your characters already have drama and your game already has narrative construction: now let's talk about how to show your players how to match this drama and narrative to the game you've given them.

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"Why does a dragon, or any large monster, need to have a deeper meaning beyond a potentially hostile encounter as a gate between party and treasure?"

I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging that every monster in D&D has a history in the real world, often tied to traditions and criticisms of those traditions.

Dragons especially are corporations and aristocracy; they hoard wealth, using impenetrable defenses and power both social and physical to take whatever they want from the world around them. 

But, then, I am the person who sort of believes that "meaning-making" is more or less the core reason people exist at all, so. Grain of salt, I guess.

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I mean, I feel like it does give one answer why, but you're dismissing it out of hand much like all the other answers you've gotten in this thread. It seems you simply don't want to directly engage with the subtext of monsters (and themes as discussed above). That's fine and valid, but demanding other people justify their enjoyment of it while refusing to show them or their answers any respect is a good way to drive off conversation.

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I Don't Know How Else To Tell You That Some People Like Telling Stories

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fuck dnd for a minute cause i wouldn't play it if you paid me, and even forget the fact that as the most popular rpg there are so so so many people who want and would benefit from having more storytelling tools to tell the stories they want to tell in the system they want to use. fuck all that for a minute. 

you're coming in here picking fights on every post in the "narrative tools" thread about how Narrative Tools Are Bad and youre So Angry That People Want Them. you're repeatedly dismissing people's legitimate opinions that, in a genre that is largely about telling stories, that people wanting tools to make games where the story isn't 'i found the cleverest way to solve this tactics/thought puzzle isn't my character cool' or 'let's get loot and kill goblins' or whatever, is a bad thing. i'm sorry you've declared some huge crusade against "story gamers" and i'm sorry that there aren't enough angry grognards here for your tastes but maybe let those of us interested in telling stories, talk about how to do that better, without jumping in on every post to say that it makes you so mad that people want to tell stories? maybe take a step back, my guy, and realize that maybe this conversation wasn't for you to begin with, and was for people interested in narrative tools and the construction of a hypothetical platonic session, like the OP said. if you want a groggy thread to rant against people telling stories, go do it somewhere else; picking haughty "debate me coward" fights repeatedly about "explain to me with logic why you like telling stories" over and over is clearly not productive, right now! take a walk, some deep breaths, and then if you wanna come back and treat people with respect and listen to them instead of fighting some strawman proxy fight please come back and hang out! 

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you're still picking fights about people daring to want to play games different from you but go off i guess

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My understanding of your line of thinking, Axes&Orcs, is that you're presenting two points:

1. D&D is not (and is not intended to be) a game that's designed with narrative structure in mind. (And maybe 1a: If people want narrative structure there are better games out there.)

2. Because 1, creating space in the text of D&D for what we might call "narrative training tools" is unnecessary.

If those are accurate readings of your points, I agree with point 1 but I think point 2 is no hill to die on. 

You're right that D&D was designed with particular goals in mind, a lot of people use D&D for stuff that's well beyond those goals (my feathers always get a bit ruffled when I hear "we played the best game of D&D ever last night... we never even picked up the dice!"), and those people might have an experience that's closer to their flavor of fun if they used a different game. 

But for point 2, I feel like there's a lot of stuff in the D&D books that people never use (if we limit ourselves just to the PHB: travel, encumbrance, trade goods, underwater combat, etc.). To me, it doesn't feel like a betrayal of D&D's design if WOTC adds a few paragraphs (or even a whole chapter) on how narrative structure can be noticed and highlighted in the course of improvisational and/or tactical play.

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Fundamentally, the reason we play games instead of rolling dice and doing math with the results is because games are emotionally stimulating. That is, ttrpgs produce emotional responses (whether the emotion in question is fun, fear, sadness, etc.) and we play primarily for these responses. The challenge of working out how to get the enemy's hit points to 0 is, in contrast, intellectually stimulating; the part where you're an elf and the enemy is a dragon is the part that makes it fun or scary rather than simply challenging or interesting. Without the narrative, the game becomes "component one performs operation thirty-seven, decreasing component two's attribute eleven from one-hundred and sixty-two points to eighty-four points." So, the narrative provokes the key emotional response that makes the game worth playing. Metaphor, as you probably know, is the among the most important tools that narrative has for provoking emotional responses (possibly the most important, discounting base sentimentality). A game that ignores basic understandings of metaphor (or a DM who doesn't understand the metaphorical frameworks they're working in) produces narratives that are dissatisfying on a subconscious level. This isn't the worst thing in the world, and I honestly think that D&D's flavor text does a fantastic job of implying its metaphorical framework for players and DMs. But having an understanding of the essential narrative at the core of a game you're designing and the metaphorical framework you're working in lets you design your game so that your players are incapable of missing the particular emotional response you intend to provoke, and that's the idea at the center of this thread.

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Very late to the party here, and I think from the deleted posts you've dis-engaged, but real quick, as to why D&D would benefit from narrative tools, well, it's because approaching fiction as a story comes natural to us as humans. People embellish anecdotes and give them a plot because a simple recitation of events can be pretty boring, unless those events are pretty damn amazing, and even then, it's better with a plot.

So, it's very natural to think that as the gateway to the hobby for many, it might be better to talk to people in the sort of language they're used to from other media, rather than in the simulationist wargaming language that is its default. You may disagree, but wargaming, like hardcore strategic boardgaming, is an acquired taste, and while it's a taste I like, among many, it's going to be confusing to someone who isn't already steeped in its culture or isn't coming from a wargaming  or tactical / strategic gaming background. (My personal problem is that D&D is a terrible wargame, and I like more narrative games just as much so I'd rather play those than D&D, but that's another, uh, story.)

Of course, the one attempt to make use of the lessons learned from a medium that was heavily influenced by D&D, video games, resulted in 4e, which became one of the more reviled editions, even though that arguably was the best modern language for thoughts like "this monster doesn't have any context other than it being a cool monster to fight." (Personally, I felt like 4e came a lot closer in spirit to the way things were done "back in the day" while accepting modern innovations, but it appears if you can't kill a 1st level PC with a simple orc stab, it's not D&D or something. But again, my personal preferences are another story.)

There's a strong element of wanting to eat one's cake and have it still sitting untouched on the plate in some elements of D&D fandom, where fans want to claim D&D is good for deep story but don't want to engage with any tools that make it easier to do that, and still want it to be a tactical wargame, without engaging with any of the innovations in that realm since the 1970s. And that's on top of the whole "adventurers as colonizers" problem.

I don't think you need a BA in Art, Media, and Culture to understand that. Mine was a double major in Computer Science and English, by the way, in case it matters. ;-P

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Hi Ian.

It seems like you care a lot about this topic, and have a lot of feelings about it.  I think it's great that you're interrogating the terminology, because it can be confusing to people who aren't familiar with it. But I'm not sure that the OP said or implied that everyone needs to use narrative conventions when telling stories together. It seems like you're reading a lot Sandy Pug Games' post. I can totally understand how that is! But I think in this case you're reading something that is not there. Sandy Pug Games, and the people replying to you, aren't saying that WotC has to put these concepts in their text. They're not saying that everyone has to care about the concepts. It seems like they're saying that it is okay to care about these concepts, and that they can have a benefit in some cases.

Does my assessment seem fair, or am I off in some regard? I would be happy to hear what I've missed in the discussion.

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I'm going to be honest with you Ian, and I hope you would do the same with me, that some of your posts in this thread do quite seem like you're talking past people. In your response to the post that you linked, for example, you said: "I would need a strong argument to convince me that explicit guidelines, rules, and mechanics would serve a game like D&D by being included in a core rule book." I can't find anything in Sandy Pug Games' post where they implied that they would. I can find points where they said "properly written rules can contain [those concepts]" or that D&D  doesn't have those concepts, but nothing about D&D benefiting from having those concepts in a core rule book. Did I miss something in the post?

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Okay. I hope you have a nice day.

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I'ma use a dungeon as an example.

A dungeon that has a big monster at the end has provided the material for a climax, which is a narrative piece (whether you want to call it a 'beat' or not, dunno; that's not my terminology)

Foreshadowing and building up to that monster by having things like the giant claw marks here, the weird cult of kobolds that pays homage to it in the cave over there, and so on, more firmly establishes it as climactic - it improves its quality as the narrative device (beat?) of "climax".

D&D and many other games have bits pointing this way all over the place; they just aren't typically explicit or direct.

Making them more explicit, in the sense of Do This To Get That, is useful.