In the big model (and earlier GNS theory), the three creative agendas are families of creative priorities that apply to a period of play. I prefer to understand the agendas by the central creative contributions of players that the group appreciates when playing according to the agenda. It seems that these central contributions can often be framed as choices.

Definition of creative agenda on the big model wiki: "The players' aesthetic priorities and their effect on anything that happen at the table that has any impact on the shared fiction"

My formulation (by the way of central creative contributions) focuses on the way the aesthetic priorities of players have an impact on the shared fiction. To be more explicit, the creative contributions are the way (or an important way) in which the aesthetic priorities show up and are revealed.

This approach (of central creative contributions) works well enough for gamism / step on up and narrativism / story now, but I am not sure if and how I can understand simulationism / the right to dream by it. Is it possible, and if yes, what are some examples of the central creative contributions/decisions in simulationist play?

I will present some examples of central choices in gamist and narrativist play as examples of what I'm looking for.

  • Tactical figure chess; the system might be for example D&D 4: The central choices are the actions you take in tactical play - where you move, what powers you use, etc. The central choices are framed by character build, fictional events in play, and previous tactical choices. The consequences of the tactical choices clearly show up in play and reveal whether the choices were good or not.
  • Character optimization; the system might be for example Pathfinder: The central creative act is creating your character, and especially its rules mechanical aspects. The rules system, with all the options, rulings and edge cases, provides the frame in which the creation is relevant. Feedback, or consequences of the central creative act or choice, are provided by actual play, which shows if your character is effective.
  • Challenge-focused sandbox play; system might be, for example, an old version of D&D or some other OSR game: The choices are the adventures the players choose to take as their characters, and the preparations they do for them. The decisions are relevant, because the referee has prepared an objective sandbox, where the difficult of challenges does not change due to player character power level or because otherwise it would be to easy/hard. The worth of the decisions is shown by the death, survival or triumph of the characters.
  • Character advocacy narrativism; the system might be, for example, Burning Wheel or Solar system: The central choices are the decisions where character acts according to or contra to their convictions and beliefs, or makes other such character-defining decisions. The decisions are relevant due to the fictional situation, and the explicit beliefs and convictions of the character (flags). The consequences of the decisions are shown by future play, and in particular the changes in beliefs and the fate of the character.

So, it boils down to this: I currently classify the Three Creative Agendas in terms of the decisions players make when pursuing them, but I'm having trouble classifying simulationism this way. Am I barking up the wrong tree with this approach?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ On the one hand, a question doesn't have to "dumb it down" so more people can participate. It's fine to use Big Model/GNS terms, if you as another site participant are not conversant with it then use this as a learning experience but don't try to answer. On the other hand your question is a little unclear. It might be "what are the creative decisions made in simulationist play," but the question explicitly asks a lot of other stuff like "am I barking up the wrong tree." Focus on the question you want answered and just ask that. I understand you changed it to what GMJoe suggested but... \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jun 4, 2016 at 23:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Instead of "am I barking up the wrong tree" I recommend that you instead ask for either a how to, or to ask for a clear illustration of what elements (similar to the elements you present for the other two agendas) either support or reflect the simulationist agenda. You title still doesn't fit your question very well, and nobody crafting an answer can predict what you will or won't, or can't, understand. Voted to reopen in hopes someone can provide some help (and provide at least one of us with a learning opportunity.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 0:33

2 Answers 2


You can understand simulationism just fine in the context of creative decisions in play.

The frame is the creation of a "realistic" (in the sense of having versimilitude, though it may have non-real-world aspects or be built around genre rules and not act by real-world rules) world and setting by the gamemaster and of similarly "realistic" characters by the players. (Ideally, the ruleset supports or at least gets out of the way of the versimilitude, and if it doesn't it's part of the GM's responsibility to subordinate the rules to the sim).

The central choices are the actions the players take in play, driven by "what would this character do in this situation," utilizing no meta-knowledge (of plot, players, rules, etc.). The goal is to explore the world as the characters. The consequences of decisions are clear in how much the players are able to immerse in their characters and the game world ("the dream"), failure causes breaks in that immersion for some time.

In gamist play one asks "how can I win" to make decisions, in narrativist play one asks "what makes the best story" to make decisions, but in simulationist play one asks "what is a realistic action for my character to take" to make decisions.

This incorporates elements both of your "challenge-focused sandbox play" in that the world is deterministic and also "character-advocacy narrativism" in that it's the characters' action according to their belief system that provides the choices.

Sim is funny in that it's "hard to understand" but in a very real sense it's "just like the real world works." The characters' goals might be to survive, just like people kinda like to survive, but real people's goals are much more complex. Sim is just being "real people" in a "believable world" and letting that unfold as immersive fiction.


Genre-focused simulation; the system might be Vampire: the Masquerade, Cyberpunk, or Call of Cthulhu: The central choices come from the selection of genre and setting elements to incorporate or reject as made manifest through character choices (for players) or adventure elements (for game masters). The decisions are relevant because if the selections are judged invalid by consensus or GM fiat, the "dream" ends until the conflict is resolved. Feedback is transparent and emotional: through evoking fear, excitement, reverence, pride, glee, or simulacra thereof, the pleasure of play is maintained and the feedback loop continues.

To grok sim play from outside is not easy; some question if Ron Edwards ever did. Whenever I try to explain it, I fall back on "musician-dancer": the pleasure of doing something creative in response to the creative output of another.


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