Saturday, May 30, 2009

Story Games as a term; its relation to Creative Agenda

Over at, and a couple of other blogs, as of late, there has been some discussion about the term "story games". Honestly, this is a term I've not precisely heard before, but I can get the gist of what they mean. Narrativist/Story Now games come to mind.
Eero Tuovinen, writer of Game Design is about Structure, made some interesting comments at on the subject of "making story" and playing an RPG:

I can't get really interested in conch-passing storytelling games either, the ones where I'm supposed to be responsible for creating a good story. As far as I'm concerned, I want the rules mechanics to take care of that part so I can focus on playing my character / throwing nasty stuff at the player characters or whatever other fun things there are in the game to be done. "Making a story" is not on my list of fun things for roleplaying simply because when I want to make a story, I write one.

Looking at TSoY in this context, though, the xp rules of the game work very well in giving me what I want: instead of me the player getting more control over the fiction the xp gives my character more control over his environment, his fate, his society, his friends and enemies - which in turn directly drives frozen conflicts of his life towards resolution now that he finally has the power to do something about it.

Something really, really important to take from this is that the Creative Agenda stems from the players themselves, not from the game or its rules. I feel like this is something that's been troubling me, distracting, even, when I'm working on game design - from a standard definition of Story Now, the rules are there to heighten the exploration of the Premise. A Story Now game gives the Premise, sets up some rules that allow Exploration, and then the players run around in that space.

I dunno where I'm going with this; I'm not quite sure what the phrase "story game" means to other people, given that I'm a Forgie and it doesn't come up at the Forge, like, ever. But the point of this post is a reminder - if it's protagonism and theme and such that you're after in play, rather than Being There, Stepping Up, or what have you, then grab a Story Now game and you'll put the right foot forward.

It may not need to be said, but it's possible that the misunderstanding here (Eero and others' reasonable misgivings aside), comes about because of what folks think a story is. Without rules that deliberately limit the mechanical focus to the Egri premise, the play group is at a disadvantage for achieving "story". More importantly, perhaps, the GM's role of managing and heightening tension cannot take on the focus needed for Premise without rules to support that.

Unless you put it out there that, say, the forces of good reputation and personal desire clash, and set up mechanics that make these things abstract in some way, you can't play Mask of the Emperor. Not really.


  1. No offense to Eero, but I find it intriguing that quite a few terms like these are being defined by Scandinavians (and other Europeans) with English as a second language. This makes the solid definition of such terminology very difficult for a group to attain, 100% consensus on these ideas becomes even harder.

    You're right that terms such as "story games" don't come up often on the Forge, but then again a lot of GNS and "Forge-theory" is shunned over at Story-Games. Despite their common origins and overlap, there is a distinct cultural divide between them.

    I've tried to argue points about the players bringing a lot more to the game than the rules (arguing both sides of the debate just to see how people voice their opinions...), I've also voiced the notion that background detail and game "fluff" offer a lot more to a game experience than many "Forge-ites" will give credit.

    It's been interesting to see full cycles come and go in regard to many of these ideas, even in just the past 2 years that I've been a part of the assorted "Indie RPG" communities.

  2. I admit I'm one of those guys who struggles with the utility of fluff. There's a phrase I never thought I'd type.
    Anyway, the thing that I take issue with is when the rulebook is like a coffee-table psuedo-novel with bad writing :) A cool premise is great, but when they expect you to remember a bunch of really detailed information (like, more than the background behind, say, Willow, or Lord of the Rings), it drags and doesn't do much of anything for me.
    As far as player background, I leave that to groups to decide on, and I won't judge. Honestly, if a player handed me a bunch of material for their character, I'd be happy with their enthusiasm.
    What's weird about Story-Games is that I haven't come across anyone using that term there, other than in that single thread.