GNS: Introduction

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As we continue a series of small improvements all over the site, I wanted to take a moment to discuss a piece of Roleplaying Theory, described by Ron Edwards back in 2001 which he called GNS. GNS, which stands for Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism describes three different modes in which people play and enjoy roleplaying games. For this blog, I will limit to describing these different modes, though we’ll dive deeper into various aspects in future blogposts.


Gamism approaches roleplay as a game, not too different from say Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride or Magic: The Gathering. The key feature here is that there are ways to win and lose, and there is an element of competition.

While that approach may seem alien to some players, it was where roleplaying - at least in an organized format - got started. In early roleplaying games, it was not uncommon for the Dungeon Master role to be considered adversarial to the player role, with players attempting to ‘beat’ the dungeon the Dungeon Master had prepared. Think Tomb of Horrors, where a wrong move by a player can leave a character dead or permanently disfigured.

Gamism oriented players often enjoy having difficult challenges where they can lose if they aren’t smart, and where they will suffer serious penalties, including character death, if they fail.


Narrativism seeks to create a story, with players and storytellers alike being authors of that shared story. It seeks to create narrative conflict as well as resolution for that conflict. Excitement and drama in the moment take precedence over the exact details and a characters fate need not necessarily be a happy one, as long as it contributes to the story.

Theme often plays a large role in narrativism oriented games, and not just in the sense of visual aesthethics. Rather, the story seeks to answer certain moral or ethical questions, exploring different sides and aspects through the game, with the answer being produced through the play and actions of the characters. That question becomes a driving force in the game.

Narrativism oriented players often enjoy challenges that tie into the central theme of the setting and encountering other characters that are seeking different answers to the central questions. They don’t mind if their character eventually fails as long as it fits with their role in the story.


Simulationism approaches roleplay as a simulation of a different reality, exploring the impact of magic, aliens and the likes on a world and its development. What’s interesting is not just the world itself, but why it is the way that it is.

This style of game places a distinct burden on the storyteller to ensure not just that the world responds to players in a consistent manner, but also that the game remains consistent over time. Not that it needs to be stagnant, but any changes need to make logical sense and cannot just happen because the plot requires it or because it will be ‘cool’.

Simulationism oriented seek ‘realism’ or more accurately consistency in how the world works, allowing them to gain an understanding through exploration. They usually benefit from having some leeway to try different things and fail on occasion, so long as the consequences follow logically from their actions.


Naturally, people are more complicated than these three modes, and it is impossible to divide players into three groups like that. So the description should be used more as an indication of tendencies than a hard rule, and players may cover more than one or shift between the three depending on the game. Still, I think it is useful to understand these three core perspectives and how they influence how we approach the game.

Which of the three modes of play best describes your playstyle? We’d love to hear from you on the community forum. While there, why not check out this week’s changelog!