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May 6, 2009 / jadettman


Not long ago I swore off trying to explain my problem with story-games. It wasn’t productive because I couldn’t seem to communicate my meaning in any useful way.

Well, while surfing links for the Module Madness post, I came across this post over at the Mighty Atom that spoke to what I’ve been trying to say.

I want to take the phrase “It would make a better story if…” out behind the woodshed and shoot it. At least its use during play, anyway. During post-game debriefing it has its place. But too much story-planning during actual play just annoys the crap out of me. Who’s definition of “better story” are we supposed to be using, anyway? And are we really going to hash that all out in the moment, while someone is holding dice in their hand?

Overt, explicit story-planning during play is like having an editor watching over your shoulder while you compose your novel. It kills the creative process with over-analysis and robs roleplaying of one of its core features: unplanned, dynamic, creative collaboration that can take any final shape. “Good stories” be damned.

This quote doesn’t fully speak to the issues that I’ve got with story-games but it is a good beginning on one of the issues.

Of course, I’m not anything like an expert on story-games. I’ve now played a total of maybe five  games that could be classified as such (In a Wicked Age, Primetime Adventures, Hero’s Banner, Burning Wheel, Spirit of the Century), more if you count Amber and Everway as the Story-Games Codex does. So, I can’t say that I don’t like all story-games just some of those that I’ve played or read.

It just feels nice to know that I’m not the only one with this kind of problem.


One Comment

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  1. Britt / May 6 2009 3:46 pm

    [That long quote looks a little weird in your new format. Maybe you only want to blockquote part of it?]

    I agree somewhat with the quote, and it definitely helps me articulate a problem that I have with the idea of story games (which I have played even less than you have) which is the tension I feel between being concerned with what my player would do, and being concerned, as a player, with where the plot is going.

    I really hate being caught in a dilemma where I am very sure what my character would do in a certain situation, and yet I know it’s not what my character should do to advance the plot. I refer these dilemmas as getting “metagamey,” and it’s almost always, in my mind, a bad thing, because I think of my job as playing my character, not trying to make plot happen in a certain way.

    It’s kind of like those moments when you’re watching a sitcom when if the character was just honest and upfront, their life would be better, but instead they choose to be deceptive, and hilarity (i.e. the rest of the plot) ensues. Sometimes, you’re groaning with pain because, yup, that’s what that particular character would do in that situation, and in that case, the story is still satisfying. Sometimes, though, you become emotionally disengaged because you feel the character made a choice that was, well, out-of-character, and no amount of hilarity is going to recoup that abuse of our suspension of disbelief.

    I’ve seen it happen in RPGs, too, that a character gets an item, learns a secret, makes a mistake, etc., and they really probably should share with the other PCs, but they don’t. Especially when they actually defy the conventions of the game (e.g. RPGs are all about the group, and we all must be sharing and caring with one another) it can be super awesome. Even if it causes trouble for my character, if it seemed like an authentic choice for their character, it’s cool. If their character is kind of a dick, they should do that kind of stuff. Even if their character isn’t kind of a dick, but they have a good in-character reason for doing what they did, that’s fine.

    Only rarely (in my experience) will someone make an out-of-character choice just ’cause they thought hilarity would ensue. (Indeed, most out-of-character choices are made to make the game go more smoothly.) And if they didn’t do it because their character is kind of a dick, well, to me, that makes the player kind of a dick. Not cool.

    Just MHO.

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