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Monday, March 8, 2010

Re-Thinking Story

The other big blogostorm over the weekend was about story. I'm not linking to the post that started it because it doesn't say much about story itself; it mostly focuses on characterizations of old schoolers. I'm not concerned with that.

But other, more coherent critics have complained about the adventure-first, sandbox approach to playing RPGs, focusing on the sometimes random, disjointed feel of sandbox encounters: the way they crouch in the dungeon, waiting to be experienced, and the fact that many times, they seem to exist for no reason. There's also a concern about players not knowing what they are supposed to do; there's no pre-planned plot, and sometimes no strong story hooks to pull PCs into the action. The counter to this has usually been a rejection of railroading; strong, pre-defined plots mean prepared encounters and "cut-scenes" that GMs don't want to waste.

So the entire argument is about player-driven, off-the-cuff plotting versus GM-driven, pre-written plotting. That's taking three different polarities and condensing them all into one axis:

  • player-created vs. GM-created;
  • strict control vs. unpredictable;
  • pre-planned vs. improvised.
A railroad is a GM-created, pre-planned, strict control plot. I'd argue that a true railroad has a few more features, but that's not my current point: if players don't like a totally uncontrolled setting with no GM-defined motivations for engagement with the world, there are plenty of other options. Few old school GMs completely avoid planning, control, or creation. Furthermore, there are some tricks we can borrow from indie games to create plot and thus story without railroading.

I'll be looking at a few tricks in future posts.

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