When I wrote the Weaving Worlds post I was right on I believe all the technicalities. But I couldn’t see the wood for the trees without putting it down clearly. What storygames are is quite simple and can be boiled down to one single point.
We should be able to make games that improve on Free-Form
Free-form is, of course, when people sit round a table or write together – no rules, just telling a story together (which means WFRP shouldn’t qualify although it is highly influenced by this wave). And when writing a story a structure (such as a three act structure) can help. Likewise adding a pre-made setting and set of motivations that other people are aware of gets you onto the same page fast, making a collaborative story faster and easier to tell. The other factors listed like failing forward, challenge based and yes-but resolution, and actions mattering more than potential, and everyone designing the universe are all ways of facilitating this.
To make this more than a Mea Culpa post I’m going to give two more ways that are commonly used – and why RPGs where the goal is directly challenging the player don’t use them. Those two are:
- Fiction First
- Fortune in the Middle
Fiction first is simple enough. It’s the idea that you describe what you are doing, and then roll dice to find out what the outcome is going to be. For a group telling improvised stories, fiction first is almost natural. The person describes what their character is doing up to an interesting point of conflict or challenge, then hands things over to the dice/resolution system to see which way it goes and for added inspiration. This gives the greatest creative flexibility to the players to build on each others’ stories. On the other hand some fans of AD&D and other gamist games sometimes hate it – what happens in the game happens in the fiction, so you need to establish the game outcomes first. And going fiction first means getting the game to interfere with the rules. Neither side is wrong, of course; one enables free flowing stories whereas the other enables clearer challenges.
Fortune in the Middle
The Fortune in the Middle question is a simple one. Should there be a way within the game rules to alter the result after rolling? The purest gamer would instinctively say “Of course not” and go for Fortune At The End. The purest storyteller would instinctively say “Why the hell not? The dice serve us, not the other way. And people really do pull out all the stops when their back is to the wall. So more narrative games tend to be Fortune In The Middle and more challenge-based games Fortune At The End.
And then there’s option C: dig deeper and they meet. Which is, as far as I know, mostly the domain of D&D 4e, although WFRP 3e does it a little, and Gurps Martial Arts combos might (it’s been a long time since I read that book). 4e is a pure fortune at the end system – that sometimes allows you to take actions in the middle. So, for instance, the spell “Wizard’s Escape” is a spell the wizard prepares – and when the attack hits them they instantaneously teleport out of the way, leaving the “successful” attack hitting only empty air. And the fighter has the ability to make a “stop-hit” when someone attacks an ally – which if it kills the attacker prevents the attack working. (If it doesn’t, the attack goes ahead). Again, the different rules provide a different feel. So where’s the problem?