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This page is being worked on -- we hope to make a small quiz out of this data, so that people can more easily discern what gaming type they most prefer. However, for now here is parts I and II of the FAQ


PART I: The Threefold Model

1) What is the Threefold Model?

2) Which one am I? A Dramatist, a Gamist, or a Simulationist?

3) Stop beating around the bush!! What is it already?

4) Don't those categories overlap?

5) But I produce stories that are *always* believable. Aren't my games
both fully dramatist and fully simulationist?

6) So dramatism is ham actors playing through arty nonsense, gamism is
munchkins who want to beat the GM, and simulationism is rules-lawyers
who argue over ballistics?

7) I don't think I'm either dramatist or simulationist. I like gaming,
though, so I must be gamist, right?

(Part II of this FAQ deals with "plot")

Complete copies of this FAQ can be found on the WWW at:

The FAQ is posted bi-weekly to by Magnus Lie

1) What is the Threefold Model?

The Threefold Model is one way of grouping many aspects of group contracts
into logical categories. Full group contract includes every facet of
how the game is played: not just the mechanical rules, but also how
scenarios are constructed, what sort of behavior is expected of PCs,
how actions not covered by the rules are resolved, allowance of outside
distractions, and so forth. The Threefold divides up many of these into
categories known as Dramatist, Gamist, and Simulationist.

An important part of the model is recognizing that there are valid
different goals for gaming. Many models of RPGs or gamers tend to
have derogatory categories of "munchkin," "poseur," "rules lawyer,"
etc. which are contrasted with "true role-players". The Threefold model
is intended to promote an understanding of diverse interests; it is not
meant to single out one style as better or worse than another.

Role-playing games don't simply classify into good and bad. The exact
same game which one player enjoys, another might dislike. Rather than
say that one or the other has bad taste, it is more useful to try to
make sense of patterns of what different players and GMs enjoy.


2) Which one am I? A Dramatist, a Gamist, or a Simulationist?

Most likely, none of the above. Your individual style cannot be
pigeonholed into a single word. More to the point, you probably use a mix
of different techniques, and work towards more than one goal. You may tend
more towards one corner of the triangle, but you probably value a mix.


3) Stop beating around the bush!! What is it already?

OK, here is the short definitions:
"dramatist": is the style which values how well the in-game action
creates a satisfying storyline. Different kinds of stories may be viewed
as satisfying, depending on individual tastes, varying from fanciful
pulp action to believable character drama. It is the end result of the
story which is important.

"gamist": is the style which values setting up a fair challenge for
the *players* (as opposed to the PC's). The challenges may be tactical
combat, intellectual mysteries, politics, or anything else. The players
will try to solve the problems they are presented with, and in turn the
GM will make these challenges solvable if they act intelligently within
the contract.

"simulationist": is the style which values resolving in-game events
based solely on game-world considerations, without allowing any meta-game
concerns to affect the decision. Thus, a fully simulationist GM will not
fudge results to save PC's or to save her plot, or even change facts
unknown to the players. Such a GM may use meta-game considerations to
decide meta-game issues like who is playing which character, whether
to play out a conversation word for word, and so forth, but she will
resolve actual in-game events based on what would "really" happen.


4) Don't those categories overlap?

True, these goals are not *constantly* at odds. On the short term, a
given conflict might happen to be both a fair challenge and realistically
resolved. However, every game will have problems, including undramatic
bits, unrealistic bits, and unbalanced bits. The Threefold asks about
how much comparative effort you put into solving these.

Even a perfectly simulationist or gamist campaign will have dramatic bits
in them. After all, people will tell stories about things that happened to
them in real life, or even about what happened in a chess game they were
playing. Similarly, a dramatist campaign will have some conflicts that are
a fair challenge for the players, and some events that are realistic. But
an equally-skilled gamist GM, who doesn't put effort into the quality
of the story, will be able to make better challenges. Similarly,
a simulationist GM, who focusses only on in-game resolutions, will be
able to make things more "realistic" for that game-world.


5) But I produce stories that are *always* believable. Aren't my games
both fully dramatist and fully simulationist?

Simulationism is not defined in terms of believability, it is defined in
terms of method. For example, you as GM you could have a storyline in
mind, and set up the background and characters so well that during the
game, the storyline occurs without your having to noticably fudge. A very
simulationist player might not notice that you constructed the events to
produce that story. However, if she found out, she would feel cheated:
you would have violated her preferred contract.

Rightly or wrongly, a pure simulationist isn't simply trying to produce
a story that is believable. He is trying to actually find out what would
"really" happen by modelling what is in the game world. Of course, it is
impossible to perfectly simulate this, but he finds interest and value
in the attempt.

For example, say the PCs are know that a target is hiding in one
of eight hotels, but they cannot find out which except by searching
them. A dramatist GM might decide based on pacing to have the second
hotel they search be the right one, so that the game doesn't drag as
they go through one after the other. This is perfectly believable,
but a pure simulationist GM will refuse to do this. Most likely, she
will decide on one in advance and let the players choose what order they
search in. The players might find it immediately, or they might have to
wade through seven others.


6) So dramatism is ham actors playing through arty nonsense, gamism is
munchkins who want to beat the GM, and simulationism is rules-lawyers
who argue over ballistics?

No, those are rabid stereotypes. Even if the stereotypes have some
truth to them, the Threefold is not about just the lowest common
denominator. There are good and bad examples of each type of game.

A pure dramatist might run a gritty, low-key drama where the PCs are
true-to-life characters who perhaps concentrate on their work. In this
case, the dramatic story might be framed around how they relate to each
other and the tension produced. A dramatist campaign could also include
comedic campaigns, where the in-game action is tailored for humorous
effect rather than classical "drama". The key is that in-game events
are tailored based on how satisfying the storyline of the campaign is.

A gamist could run a mystery game where the PCs are challenged to find the
killer based not just on physical clues, but also on the personalities and
motivations of the suspects. Note that this is similar on the surface to a
dramatic story, but the emphasis is on making it solvable yet challenging
to the players. A purely dramatist mystery might make a better story,
but a purely gamist mystery will be a fairer test of the player's wits.

Simulationism by definition is going to try to be "realistic" within
the game-world, although it may have natural laws different than the
real world. However, the players are not neccessarily obsessed with
rules or physics. A simulationist game could just as well focus on
political discussion between important figures, or rebels fighting a
propaganda war to win over the masses. Several posters have run diceless
simulationist games.

A purely simulationist mystery would start with determining how the crime
was carried out based only on in-game factors. The logical consequences
of this might mean that the players can solve it easily, or that they
can't solve it at all, or that they can only solve it by turning it
over other authorities. An absolutely pure simulationist GM won't go
back and change things to make the mystery work better for the PCs.


7) I don't think I'm either dramatist or simulationist. I like gaming,
though, so I must be gamist, right?

Gamist was *not* intended as a catch-all for anything that isn't included
in the other two categories. It is specifically about setting up fair
challenges for the players to face. The Threefold is not intended as a
be-all and end-all of gaming, nor is it neccessarily complete. Several
people suggested a fourth group of styles, which was "Social". However,
discussion died down as there was no consensus about what that meant in
contrast to the other styles, or even whether one could even discuss it
on the same level.

Many aspects of gaming are not covered by the Threefold. For example,
any of the three can vary from "Light" to "Serious". "Beer-and-pretzels"
usually refers to Gamist dungeon-crawls, say, where you are trying to
beat the monsters. However, there are also non-serious dramatists, say who
run cheesy superhero plots where the hero always beats the villian. Note
that this is not gamist since there is no challenge to it -- the hero
always wins, it's just fun seeing how she does it.


PART II: Plotting Distinctions

1) What is "dramatic plotting" in an RPG? (by John Kim

2) What kinds of questions come up in deciding on plotting style? (by
Mary Kuhner )

3) How do interesting things which engage the motivations of the PC's
become a part of the setting? (by John Kim )

4) What techniques do GM's actually use in preparing for games? (by John
Kim )


1) What does it mean to pre-plot a game? (by John Kim

Much discussion has been on the subject of "dramatic plotting", based
on certain formulas from dramatic theory. The basic concept is that
the GM should prepare lines of tension which will specifically engage
the PC's. In short, the GM looks at each of the PC's, and the PC's as
a whole, to determine what will engage them: what is interesting and
meaningful to them.

The GM then prepares background on elements which will lead to this
engagement, and arranges for the PC's to get an inkling of what
is there. (This is often called a "hook" in some circles, or the

The key is that once the PC's have committed themselves to a line of
tension (or perhaps even before), the GM prepares a series of scenes
-- his prediction of how the conflict will be played out (using both
his knowledge and communication with the players on what they plan to
do). The sequence is designed as one would write a dramatic plot: with
twists, climax, and so forth.

During the game, the GM may have to abandon particulars of his prepared
plotline, of course, when the PC's do the unexpected. The theory is that
his preparation will still be useful, because even though the particulars
of the second plot twist have changed, the GM can still arrange for
there to be a second plot twist, and thus retain his scene structure.


1) What kinds of questions come up in deciding on plotting style? (by
Mary Kuhner )

The following questionnaire is an aid in helping the GM communicate to
his/her players what type of game will be played.

1. When you are setting up a campaign or scenario, do you attempt to
provide a plot for the PCs to follow?  (a) Will you design elements
of the background to fit with this plot?  ***I need an organization on
about the same power level as the PCs to act as a recurring antagonist,
so let's design one and place it in the setting.***

(b) Will you change the world background in play to keep the plot
on track?  ***The PCs unwittingly destroyed the clue in location A,
so I will provide a similar clue in location B.***

(c) Will you adjucate the results of PC actions in such a way as to
further the plot?  ***If a PC doesn't notice this clue the group will
go off in a totally nonproductive direction, so I will insure that he
does notice it, rather than leaving it up to chance/dice/probability.***

2. Do you deliberately attempt to engage the motivations and inner
conflicts of the PCs?  (a) Will you design elements of the world
background to do so?  ***This PC needs recurring threats to protect the
common folk from in order to develop her view of herself as heroine,
so I'd better provide them in my world design.***

(b) Will you change the world background in play to do so?  ***This
character would react much more strongly to the situation if the
attackers were of his own religion, not (as I originally thought)
a different one.***

(c) Will you adjucate the results of player actions in such a way as
to further engagement of PC motivations?  ***If the PC doesn't manage
to save this NPC's life she won't be as emotionally engaged with the
situation, so I will arrange for her to succeed.***

3. Do the PCs have special advantages, or disadvantages, relative to
NPCs of the same ability?  (a) Do you design the world background to
specifically advantage (disadvantage) the PCs?  ***I'd better set up
some challenges which these PCs are specifically able to tackle, such
as ones slanted at their particular powers.***

(b) Will you change the world background in play to do so?  ***With the
kinds of abilities these PCs have they'll have trouble escaping from
captivity, so I'd better add a traitor among the enemy to make it

(c) Will you adjucate the results of PC actions to do so?  ***An NPC
who took that damage would be killed, but for a PC we'll allow medical
intervention to save her life.***


2) How do interesting things which engage the motivations of the PC's
become a part of the setting? (by John Kim )

A) "GM Hooks": The players create their characters, and then the GM comes
up with a limited number of interesting "plot hooks" which the PC's may
or may not choose to commit to.

B) "Connected PC's": The GM builds various interesting things to do into
his setting, and the players then create characters who are motivated
towards and around those interesting things.

C) "Conflicted PC's": The players build their characters so that they
create interesting things to do -- either by conflict within and between
themselves, or by their very nature.

Let me give three contrasting examples:

A) A pulp action campaign -- the players create various daredevils who
are generically interested in fighting crime. The GM comes up with a
semi-scripted introductory adventure designed to pull them together
into a team. He them creates various villians with schemes for world
domination -- and each week drops out various clues for these schemes
which the PC's then follow up on.

B) A fantasy game, where the GM already has a detailed world designed
which includes (among various other things) an evil empire ruled over by
a sorceror-king. The players look over the source material and tell the
GM -- "Hey, why don't we play rebels in the capital city who are trying
to overthrow the king?" The GM and the players work up more details on
the capital and the palace defenses, etc. Each week, the PC's outline
for the GM their upcoming plans -- and the GM dutifully fills in details
on where they plan to strike next.

C) A modern-world game where the PC's are the majority of a handful
of people who simultaneously and inexplicably gain godlike paranormal
powers. Now their rivalries, aspirations, and other conflict are what
draw out the game. For example, one character is a communist sympathizer
who tries out various political machinations which the others become
concerned about. (Hi, Craig!)

Like in a fractious _Amber_ game, the PC's are by and large their own
enemies. Naturally, one of the obvious themes is their slide from a
"mortal" POV to a "god" POV. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and
all that.


3) What techniques do GM's actually use in preparing for games? (by John
Kim )

As I see it, the most common elements of GM planning might be something
like: Locations/NPCs, Timetables, Contingent Scenes/Events, and
Consequence sequences or flowcharts.

I) *Background Preparation* -- detailing the Locations and NPC's, which
is fairly universal regardless of planning/plotting style. However,
there are some distinctions of *why* that gets detailed:

A] The group has agreed that certain things will be important (as in
my Champions game where they are fighting a conspiracy known as "The
Enclave", which was agreed upon in a group discussion at the start of
the campaign)

B] The players predict, based on their knowledge, that things will
be important and inform the GM (Ex. "We plan on going to Botswana
tomorrow." -- and the GM prepares stuff on Botswana)

C] The GM predicts, based on his knowledge, that the PC's will run into
certain things.

D] The GM thinks that certain locations/characters would be interesting
if the players ran into them, and details them for possible inclusion
if the opportunity presents itself.

E] The GM thinks that certain locations/characters are interesting
in-and-of themselves and works them out regardless of how they intersect
with the PC's.

F] The GM has certain locations/characters detailed which he will direct
the PC's towards (Ex. A _Feng Shui_ GM who prepares a cool site for a
fight scene, and then manipulates the PC's to get there).

II) *Time-tabling* (or "Locational Time-tabling) of things which will
happen due to interactions which do _not_ involve the PCs.

The classic example of this is a literal time-table of NPC interactions
like the Duke's Grand Ball -- where you work out in advance what the
NPC's will do if the PC's don't interfere. Similarly, this would include
working out an enemy's plan assuming only In-Character knowledge for
the enemy NPC.

This may be "unplotted" (i.e. the GM isn't planning on an expected
sequence of events), but it can also be "plotted" if the GM arranges
the events of the timetable with the PC's in mind.

III) *Contingent Events* are things which are intentionally left
indeterminate in space, time, or agent so that they can be made to
intersect better with the PC's.

For example, the GM might decide that at some point along their travel,
an Ogre is summoned by a curse in the middle of a group of nearby
soldiers. The summoning of the Ogre is contingent on the PC's passing
by -- whenever they pass by that spot, that is when the ogre appears.

"Schroedinger's NPC" would also fall into this category -- i.e. the PC's
run into someone with a piece of information for them: If they leave
by the city's West Gate, then a beggar comes up to them. If they leave
by another way, then they run into a wandering juggler on the road who
tells them the same thing.

This is "plotted" almost by definition. It is often used to set up pivotal
"plot hooks" -- but can also be used for just some atmospheric touches
or such (i.e. whenever the players pass by the rear of the church,
they will see a huge raven flutter away from a particular grave).

IV) *Consequence sequences* (or flowcharts) are planned results of
certain actions if the PC's try them -- this is a short-cut to working
out logical consequences during the game (in case they are complicated).

For example, let's say that there is an NPC book-seller who the GM thinks
might be hired to find certain rare books. Rather than working it out
on the spot, the GM decides in advance *if* he is hired to find certain
books how long he will take and what steps he will go through to do so.

In the above case, this is a fairly "non-plotted" (in that the sequence
is not particularly geared to engage the PC's). However, like Locational
Time-tabling, these consequences can be tailored to fit with an intended

Last modified: 2002-Apr-13 23:47:03

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