A while ago, we (My Lady Wife and I) attended a virtual gaming con . I looked at other things, but life being what it is, I only really played one game, even though there were some cool sounding forums…We played Rapture, by StoryWeaver Games, and were ref’ed by the author, Joe Sweeney. I had the rule set, but the mechanics seemed to elude me. The premise was very interesting, so I figgured I can’t pass up the opportunity to see it in action the way it was meant to be. We had a great time! But, that is not about gaming…
I have thought about this, and realized why I was having a hard time with it, and similar very narrative heavy games, such as the wonderful FIASCO. And I think it is not only because of how my gaming evolved, but because of my gaming motive. I try to live my characters and NPCs. In these games, it is very much about telling the story in a collaborative way! In playing Fiasco! I always felt there was something missing, but couldn’t figure out what it was. Now I see. In these games, the Story is the character, and the characters are just a moving part in it! The mechanics for these games allow other players to narrate the scene using your character! I just could not see how that would work. But now I do. And I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure it would ever replace my heavier character based RPGs’ because I want to explore a character, not a story. If your motive for playing is to TELL the Story, I’m not sure you could get a better system for it. From here on, this will not really be about any game, just observations on our hobby that I hope you might find thought-provoking.
This is actually somewhat linked to one of the draft blogs I am working on, comparing and contrasting narrative vs 1st person game styles. These game systems are much more suited to narrative gaming. Characters can interact in 1st person, and probably should, but when it come to the wrap up of a scene, that 1st person style drops to a distant second. Whether the ref or another player narrates the conclusion, they are not, and should not, be limited to letting someone play out their scene. In Rapture, the rules specifically state that a player may interrupt at any time to narrate their DEATH SCENE…but other than that, only the ref has any real control over how the outcome is presented, so long as it is in line with the pure dice mechanic. This could make the narration a very strategic weapon, and for a player who is very possessive of a character, that could ruin the game for them, when another character sacrifices their character to further the ends of the story. On the other hand, rapture can reward players for dying, and has a mechanic to keep the player in the game. In the game we played, we only lost 1 PC…but we lost many of our extras, putting us at a potential disadvantage for the end game. All that being said, the story went very well, for a deep space horror game!
I think when playing these narration heavy games, with their needed rules-light mechanic you need to approach the play in a whole different way. We, as ref’s, understand that our hugely researched and deeply written adventure plot will never turn into a best-selling novel, or movie, because those pesky players never get to the cool parts of the creation. But, in these style games, your approaching the design a bit different. In a way it is bottom up creation skewed very tightly to a single thread. These games are never meant to be played as the epic story of Ripley through all of the Alien movies, although they could with some modification. They are designed to be not even episodic, but one shot adventures, almost like a con or a tournament game. The characters aren’t expected to survive, at least not entirely intact. We were specifically instructed to expect several character deaths, and Fiasco almost always guarantees a terrible ending for all of it’s participants. I’m sure this system could be used to tell uplifting stories as well, and I think is somewhat implied by the Rapture back story, and of course could be seen that way by the survivor(s) of any horror story.
When the game is over, with or without survivors, you would definitely have a basis for a story, or a short book…maybe a comic or even movie. It is a story that starts, climaxes and ends. And everybody has a part in it’s telling. The big difference is the characters each see the story from their point of view and they probably want to survive, but the players are working to advance the story. In normal role-playing, it is part of the ref’s job to advance the story by providing the characters with the “Button and levers” to roll the plot forward. And most games get that done very well…but often gets sidetracked into personal quests, red herrings and general character survival and improvement. Here, to be ultimately successful, all of the players are pushing the plot ball up the hill together. Instead of investing in a character and their personal advancement, they invest in the story itself. This of course is my biggest problem with that. From a cranky ref’s point of view, plot is my bailiwick, and tying characters into it is the way you make the story work…I encourage people to explore their character and seek the dark corners of them and their world. I have ultimate editorial over the outcome…but…as a player…I really did enjoy myself! Storytellers, escapists and even Bestest should really enjoy these style games. Explorers might be a bit ambivalent as the story tends to be pretty tight and there is not much in the way of pushing the limits. On the other hand, those very strong profilers will probably not enjoy it as much because the character often come off as stereotypical or at least quite shallow. That is not to say hey can’t have fun, as I did…just that it will never become their GO TO game.
Overall, these types of games are a worthy addition to your table, if not a favorite of your group. Until next time…Keep gamin!