If You've Played Tabletop RPGs

So if you know RPGs, let's put it this way: a story game is a type of role-playing game experience with a lesser focus on "My Character" and a greater focus on "Our Story" (meaning the story that all the players at the table want to make). As an experience, most any RPG out there can be played "Story Games Style" with a little tweaking. As a game, there are some games out there that are particularly tricked out by their designers to aim for a meaningful 'Story Games' experience from the get-go; this kind of game is largely what you find described here on this wiki.

Both ways of story gaming - playing a ground-up story game or using an RPG for a story-games experience - can be really fun. This implies that there's no requirement for "Story Games" (the game rules themselves) to contain certain rules or playstyles, emphasis or de-emphasis on a central game-master, light rules vs. lots of rules, et cetera.

This site is primarily here to introduce you to games that were built from the ground up to be about "Our Story." If you already play role-playing games, soon we're going to have cute little Tips, Tricks, Conventions and Conversions which might help inject some more 'story' into your role-playing game. (If you like your role-playing game the way it is, then hey, that's cool too.)

And hey, please don't hold us too strongly to any definitions of what is/isn't a Story Game/Story Gaming! We're feeling out new ground here as well.

Will the Author(ity) Please Stand Up?

That said, something that's been observed as applying to lots and lots of story games is this: they tend to distribute authority that usually belongs solely to the GM around the whole table, to some degree. By authority, we mean the right to say what happens to things in the world outside the characters. The degree to which a story game does this can be quite small, as it is in Agon, wherein the players don't get new authority over the story (that often) so much as the GM gets his or her authority moderated a bit. Other games, as diverse in form and content as Polaris and Capes, are completely GM-free, taking the traditional game-mastery role and busting it up into component parts to be handed out to all players.

If you know RPGs, this may ring alarm bells for you, for one or more of a few reasons. Some folks simply hate to be on the spot to make stuff up, and prefer a more audience-like role. A few story games pose no obstacle to this kind of play; investigating the ruleset and communicating with your group beforehand might make them perfectly workable for you if this is your favored style. If you'd prefer not, then hey, yet another reason traditional RPGs will always be with us.

Others fear that the distributed authority you often see in story games will result in anarchy, where players are free to dominate and abuse one another. But if that happens, well, you're either playing a bad story game, that fails to keep people from running roughshod over each other, or a game that was intended to be played in a high-trust environment. The latter sort of game will pretty much always tell you up front that that's what it is. Apart from those, distributed authority works fine if you design around it from the ground up. We're not saying story games always do this perfectly, but don't dismiss a game as broken when other bits of it may compensate by not being what you assume!

A final fear is that "there's no there there." Somehow, if the GM has prepared something on paper, or is running a module, some players can feel that's more 'real' than if everyone is making stuff up as they go along. Others find that as soon as the fiction is established at the table, whether it's announced by the GM or the players, it has the same reality as a prepublished module.

All that said, distributing authority can be a big win:

  • when the players are creating the story, they are more engaged and invested in it. We love our children more than other people's, and this is true when the children are ideas as well. It's your ideas in the game instead of the GM's or the game designer's.
  • the GM doesn't have to waste time preparing.
  • the players don't feel railroaded; their characters can truly make choices that weren't scripted ahead of time.

(This article is very much still in progress)

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