“In most Narrativist designs, Premise is based on one of the following models.
A pre-play developed setting, in which case the characters develop into protagonists in the setting’s conflicts over time. Examples include Castle Falkenstein and Hero Wars. Pre-play developed characters (protagonists), in which case the setting develops into a suitable framework for them over time. Examples include Sorcerer, Everway, Zero (in an interesting way), Cyberpunk 1st edition, Orkworld, and The Whispering Vault.
I have observed that when people bring a Narrativist approach to Vampire, Legend of the Five Rings, or other game systems which include both detailed pre-play character creation and a detailed, conflict-rich settting, they must discard one or the other in order to play enjoyably.”
This is interesting to me. It makes a kind of sense: if you set up an immutable (or at least, relatively fixed) setting and an immutable (or at least, relatively fixed) set of characters at the start of a game, chances are good that these are not going to work well together. The players don’t know all of what was in the GM’s mind when writing the setting, the GM doesn’t know all of what was in the player’s minds when writing their characters, and if everyone insists on staying faithful to what they pre-decided, chances are you’re going to get some friction.
In fact, I have observed this in many games. The GM writes an awesome, detailed setting that they just can’t wait to set the characters lose in. The players read a light summary of the setting, this triggers a cool idea for a character and they go wild writing up a history for them. All too often, one or t’other ends up feeling their vision is being compromised, or that what they have created doesn’t quite “fit” with the rest.
Certainly from a narrativist point of view it seems relatively high risk – is this going to create interesting issues to resolve in play?
It seems to me that the design of Apocalypse World very much plays on this observation. The players create their characters and then, collaboratively, seed the world. The GM adaptively brings the world to life and introduces elements of conflict, reacting to the characters the players have created. The exhortation to the GM not to plan anything out seems like it must have at least partly had this thought in mind.
Anyway, interesting. I’m pretty sure a lot of my campaign design has totally broken the above advice. I’m not saying this has ruined my campaigns, far from it. But I and my players have certainly had to be ready to adapt things over time to avoid disappointment.