Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 67: Crunch vs Narrative Mechanics

Main Topic

We’ve danced around this for two years, so we may as well dive into it! The main divide in table top role playing games is between those that are crunch heavy and simulationist versus those that are crunch light and narrative.  You can think of this as an internal versus external orientation in a lot of ways and about the agency provided to the players. Both styles have rules, but their contours are important.

  • Crunch – A “crunchy” game is a game that has a lot of rules and rules that require application to the dice.  These are games that provide a strong framework of rules in books and in empowering the GM to control the overall flow of the world and game by creating an external power center from the table.
  • Narrative – A “narrative” game has fewer rules or rules with more leeway to allow resolution through description.  These are games that often empower the players to take control of the world and story creating a power center internal to the gaming table.
  • Player Agency – Usually stronger in Narrative games, player agency is how much power a Player has to impact the game and world through play.  Generally, the more power is in either the rulebook or the GM’s hands, the less player agency there is though this is also considered in relation to the play style we’ve discussed in other episodes.
  • GM Agency – Usually stronger in Crunchy games, GM agency is about the amount of power or authority a GM has to define the world and set the adventure’s tone.  Generally, the more narrative a game, the less control or Agency a GM has though this is also considered in the context of different play styles as we’ve discussed in other episodes.
  • Rules as Limitations versus Rules as Grants – This is a theoretical debate that can be applied to any game.  Are the Rules of a game as set out in the officially published materials a Limitation on players or are they a specific grant of power to players?  How you answer this question may indicate which style of game you prefer – many Narrative preferring players will see the Rules as Limitations such that anything is possible unless countermanded by a specific rule.  Conversely, if the Rules are express Grants of power where actions are only undertaken within the confines of these rules, you could be a crunchier player. Now, this question can be answered in any way – there are Limitation Crunchy players and Granted Narrative players as well.
  • Simulationist versus Fabulist – Guard-a-Manger uses this to describe a depth of rules or how close to wargaming a system is.  A Simulationist game is a game whose mechanics try to replicate reality, as it is understood in the game world, as closely as possible and often are crunchy conversely a Fabulist game is one that will throw “reality” to the wind in the interest of a story or a system’s design choices creating a more narrative tendency.  The big summer blockbuster that ignores the laws of physics is a fabulist example, but a simulationist narrative style game is possible like DW:AITAS where it very cleanly simulates the world it models, but in a narrative fashion.  

Stat Blocks

Joules – The Obsidian Ballroom

You thought you’ve heard a whisper.  During the long treks between towns, while working with family to prepare the evening meal.  This near omnipresent yet soft demand for attention while you’ve been negotiating with other vendors and swapping stories about life on the road.  You’ve chalked it up to exhaustion, frustration or nerves.

You’re unsure what was the exact trigger.  One moment you were chatting with a fellow traveling merchant, examining his selection of weapons.  Then the muffled whisper you’ve been hearing becomes clear. Your eyes lose focus, a grey metallic haze overlays your field of view.  You shake your head and you’re no longer at the merchant’s stall.

You only have a brief moment to take in your new surroundings. This room is huge.  It feels formal and foreign. Cold and sharp but not unwelcoming. Fully alien and yet intimately familiar. The entire room looks like it was made from obsidian and it’s slightly disorienting. As you try to get your bearings, a figure steps into view from your blind spot and bows. “May I have this dance?” the figure asks, extending a leather wrapped hand.

You’re whisked into a dance unlike any other.  Frenetic yet controlled. There’s a rhythm to it, a pulse.  You know it but can’t place it. Within a few seconds you’re consumed by it.  And in that moment you recognize the true nature of your partner. The glint of steel and a pommel wrapped in soft leather.  A sword. You spin and whirl. Leap and bend. You switch places; becoming the weapon, feeling what it is like to be wielded by a master.  You’re vaguely aware of another partner cutting in and the moves change seamlessly. The cold intimacy of a dagger being spun. Switching hands effortlessly.  A wooden staff, supple yet seemingly unyielding. The speed and flash of a whip. The heft and power of a flail. The dervish spin and impact of a kusari-fundo.  At times you are the wielder and at times the weapon. You dance with an untold number of partners around and around this ballroom of obsidian. You feel the rhythm of innumerable battles.  Duels, street brawls, exhibitions, assassinations. Fights for honor. Fights for revenge. The clash of dynastic armies. The desperation of a fight for survival.

After what feels like hours, the dance ends.  Your original partner approaches you, bows, and softly kisses the palm of your hand. “If you wish to dance again, you only need to ask.”

The scene dissolves and you are right back where you were, chatting with merchant.  No time has passed. Slightly unnerved, you take your leave and head back to your caravan to rest and process your experience.  Time passes and you are awakened to the sound of a scuffle outside. You sit up and fumble around your bedroll for something with which to defend yourself.  Your hand wraps around familiar a leather wrapped pommel. With a slight smile you grasp the sword firmly, turn to the exit and whisper “Shall we dance?”

Guard-a-Manger – Grabthum’s Folly

Golem’s are usually made out of matter – something you can touch and that has weight.  That’s what makes them so annoying and aggravating – you hear them coming and shuffling down hallways and through forests.  What happens when a golem is made out of fire?

It seems that there was a mistranslation of some of the older tomes for Golem Construction.  It wasn’t that they had to be made of the Earth, like rock, metal, or clay, but that they had to be made of this world, like one of the naturally occurring elements.  Grabthum is … was a brilliant alchemist and archeologist. He figured this out. He managed to translate the Manual and see where the old transcription error was made and how the kids these days didn’t pay enough attention to the declensions of nouns.  

He even managed to make a fire golem.  How? Maybe he burned the empowering sigil when he lit the flame so that it became part of the golem.  Maybe the fuel for the fire was arranged in the appropriate pattern. It isn’t really important because he is dead now.  His own creation killed him when he tried to snuff it out. Grabthum’s Folly is still here in the dungeon, and maybe you found a hint about it in a level closer to the surface but it is running out of fuel.  Can you provide it with something it wants, fuel to keep burning, or will you be the fuel it wants to keep burning?


Lees  plural noun

: the sediment of a liquor (such as wine) during fermentation and aging

History and Etymology for lees
Middle English lie, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin lia

First Known Use of lees
14th century

Bottom 30% of words

Closing remarks

Zendead- Black Star by David Bowie This episode is recorded on the 3 year anniversary of his passing. It is my humble opinion the best Album he has ever done. Go find it on a streaming service or buy the album if you still do that.

Joules- Escape Rooms/ Puzzle Breaks find one near you and do this.

Guard-a-Manger- Sleep.  It’s a New Year here on the American calendar and lots of people have resolutions to be better – eat better, live better, exercise more, et cetera.  Sleep matters and gamers will often forget how much that simple act helps in other areas. Get good sleep – cut down on the stimulants before bed, try to get a consistent 6-7 hours (or more) every night, and let your own body and mind heal in that rest.  

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

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Zendead- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

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Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segmentFind us on Patreon

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