Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I need to say this

There's this constant drumbeat in the hobby about "Story". The Forgites clamour for "Story now!", Andy Kitowski named his post-Forge message board Story Games, some good folks over at theRPGsite have a lengthy thread going called Game; Story. (The latter and threads like it are what prompted this post.) And you know what? I don't get it.

Seriously. Lord knows I've tried. I tried to keep up with the Forge for a while, I read all the big honkin essays. I've downloaded and/or pruchased a slew of story-oriented games. I've even played a few of them. And the more I try to figure out what the hell is going on the more confused I become.

What I'm about to lay on you is going to sound anti-intellectual but it isn't. It's just simple-minded. Story, to me, is one of those things you recall with your gaming buddies weeks or months or years after the game. "Hey, wasn't it cool that time we took out the Elf Hater and his cronies in that tavern?" "We?!? Your little xvart hid behind the bar the whole fight!"

The story didn't happen until after the events themselves occurred. Stories are always already retellings of events past. Those of you out there trying to build stories as you go are speaking incomprehensible moon language to me. I feel like you're trying to skip your PCs lives and get right to the highlight reel.

Does anybody else see what I'm saying?


  1. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Totally with you. Character Background is what you have at level ten, as the saying goes.
    I couldn`t stand the discussion any more, as posts got longer and longer...

  2. Yes, I get what you're saying. Though frankly I'm not sure it's so hard to get. Maybe I need to read these threads of which you speak, but it's pretty obvious to me that your game tells a story as it goes along; is that not as obvious as I think it is?

    In my head, there's Story and there's Plot. (I'm capitalizing them for emphasis only). "Story" is what happens or happened; "Plot" is why and how. Both of these are gonna happen in an RPG, no matter what you do. Okay, okay, a game made up of random encounters with no real rhyme or reason won't have much of a plot, but you could call eac encounter a little story in itself.

    I'm kind of whith Settembrini, too -- I don't really feel the need to explore it any further, myself. To me, it's like saying, "I'm gonna put on some sneakers. Shoe Size Now!"

  3. "it's pretty obvious to me that your game tells a story as it goes along; is that not as obvious as I think it is?"

    I don't see anything wrong with that statement. Your "shoe size now!" comment is exactly where I am at. Either we or they are completely missing the point or (as Settembrini argues) there are at least 2 approaches to RPGS that are so radically different that calling them the same hobby is a mistake.

  4. Anonymous12:26 PM

    Yeah, that's always been my reaction to it. I enjoy a lot of indie games, but...

    Sometimes, I really have to wonder if all the talk of dysfunctional play is a product of the group or a product of the individual. I played RPGs for years, with tons of different groups, at cons, and elsewhere, and my good gaming sessions easily outnumber the bad ones.

    So yeah, story. Remember that time the paladin rang the alarm gong after we spent 10 rounds fighting to stop the orcs from doing just that? Good times man, good times.

    - Mearls

  5. Anonymous2:45 PM

    "To me, it's like saying, "I'm gonna put on some sneakers. Shoe Size Now!"

    I'm down with this, too.

  6. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Yeah. Story is remember-when. RPGs (at least, the kind I'm familiar with) are about the here-and-now of a character's life, even if that "here-and-now" is a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

    And story ... you can get story any-old-where. RPGs let us explore our favorite genres and settings unecumbered by the needs of story. An RPG adventure can be both larger and smaller than "story," and in both cases be excellent for it.

  7. Hey man, I just wanted to throw some background regarding the "Story Games" name thing.

    Basically, it was a brain dump from a post somewhere on Clinton's blog. It started from some post, I don't remember where or which forum or blog now (I'm thinking RPGNet?) where there was another yearly meltdown on "Is X /really/ an RPG? How about Y? What about Z?" etc. In it, people were discussing say how one RPG WAS an RPG because it had stats and skills and stuff, while another game (I forget which now, but it might as well be "Your Favorite Game") did not count as an RPG because it was too focused, or didn't have dice, or whatever.

    Rather than, say, butt heads for eternity over "What is a roleplaying game? Is Your Favorite Game /really/ a Role-playing game?", Clinton or someone on his blog said, "Why don't we just come up with another name for these games, so that people will shut up about the fact that they don't have stats and skills?". Somehow Story Game came out of that discussion.

    When I wanted to build an RPG Site, I was struggling for a name, and just picked Story Games since it sounded nice. We've tried to define a little about what is and isn't a Story Game, but most attempts have fallen short, because the distinction is kinda lame (it only really serves well when you are on one side of the line peeing on the other).

    We've come up with little justification sentences and the like (the one on the wiki that I made up says, '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"'). But really? It's kinda hollow. There's no good definition, cause I don't really stand behind or truly believe in any real deep distinction.

    BUT, I do believe in using tips, tricks and tools to make games do what you want them to do. And I believe in finding the right game for the right person or group. And there's no doubt that a lot of these hippie games may not have rules for autofire, but they may have rules for, like, "When a Character Will Do X in the Story" or whatever.

    So yeah, if anyone came out and said, "Well, you don't understand, you see X is a STORY GAME because of Y, Z and W" in some move to legitimize it over another game, I'd be ther first person to kick them in the junk.

    These days, I'm actually honestly more fond of saying "Hippie Games" or "Dirty Hippie Games" than saying "Story Game", because at least it's easier to qualify Hippie Game (No skills! Rules for relationships!) vs Traditional Game than it is to qualify Story Game vs ...what, Non-Story Game, I guess? Yuck, that's not a distinction I'd ever support anyway. But "Story Games" sounds better for a forum URL than "Dirty Hippy Games". And that's seriously all it comes down to.

    On my part, anyway. I can't speak for everyone else. Maybe there's a Story Game member who, like, REALLY KNOWS the difference between Story Games and other games. Good for him, but that's not the majority of us. I'm all about just tips and tricks for making games cooler and more dramatic.

    BTW, good job with TheRPGSite. You're probably one of the best 'moderators'/'administrators' I've seen. Keep it up!


  8. Hey, Andy. Thanks for taking the time to write up the response. I was kinda afraid when I wrote this that some of the cool "Dirty Hippies" would take this post as some sort of attack. I am thrilled that you seem to dig that I can totally not get it without being hostile.

  9. Hey man- Naw, calling games "Dirty Hippie" games is kind of an easier way for us to tell them apart. Although sometimes it's hard to find which are influenced by Forgethink and the like.

    Like, here's how my friends describe various games:

    Burning Wheel/Empires? Not Hippy. "Normal" or whatever.
    D&D, Shadowrun, etc: Same

    Dead Inside, Spirit of the Century, The Shadow of Yesterday, Dogs in the Vineyard: Hippie Games. They still have like Dice and GMs and stuff, but have pretty out-there points to them (theme, play, the way the rules work, etc).

    Breaking the Ice, The Shab al-Hiri Roach, Polaris: Dirty Hippie Games. These are the ones that don't have GMs, or use tokens instead of dice, etc.

    But we always say it tongue-in-cheek and in good fun.

    BTW, that reminds me that I wanted to subscribe to this blog. I keep stumbling over an entry once a month or so when I remember to check, now's a good chance to add it to my feed aggregate.


  10. Oh, also re "Not Getting It", I think you're wrong there about not getting it; in that, you're actually right in your blog.

    There's lots of stories to be taken out of gaming. There are the stories from the dudes inside the game (which it seems that the Hippie Games try to maximize; "Man, that was AWESOME when Maximo said that he'd rather go to jail than fight at the Gates of Hephestus!"), and OUR stories that we share from gaming "Remember when I rolled that crit against the Elf Queen? Remember when Joe totally roleplayed out that scene in the bar like nobody's business?"

    So, there's two kinds of story to get out of gaming. And you're very right to focus on the latter, those are the ones that, in the end, are the warmest, I think.

    And sometimes there are hybrids. There was a very memorable scene in the last game of Cold City, which I will forever remember, where Remi (the player) had his character (an American CIA agent in post-war Berlin) beat down the door of a black marketeer he was friends with and beat him with a wrench as an interrogation. I will remember this forever as "What Remi did with his characer", and not "What the character did" (in fact, I forget what the character's name was).

    So yeah, I think a lot of the folks who look to be maximizing the "character's story", are perhaps trying to build up situations where the Players make their characters do memorable things.

    Which basically totally 100% agrees with your point (the stories the PLAYERS share about Each Other being the Real Story in roleplaying), just takes it one more step lower.