The State of Play

Let me deviate from mentor-ship for a bit to present an observation and or an opinion.  In an earlier post, I talked about how our hobby and players evolved.  I am seeing a new evolution becoming popular…the shifting focus from Player Characters to Interactive Story.

What do I mean by this?  The simple version: Role Playing that is focused on telling and improving a story, with little regard for the fate of the characters being played.  Contrast this with the game that the player characters all are main characters of equal value, and the story simply builds out of how these characters respond to their setting around them.  Although a subtle distinction, it makes a significant difference as to game play and outcomes.  Let me see if I can expound on this a bit, and then I’ll do a short opinion discussion.

In our games, in the more traditional character based game, the players each play a character that they invest with various amounts of blood, sweat and tears.  For those that invest a great deal, their characters become dear friends, or even alter egos.  They often play these characters with all the foibles and nuance that they can, or at least are comfortable with.  The characters react to the world as their players believe they would,  usually to the characters best interest, but occasionally, as is the case with real people, sometime self-destructive.  This style of game play puts the fate of a character fully in the hands of their player (and of course the dice.)  The down side of this style is that sometimes one character might well overshadow others in circumstances.

In the interactive story based style, the players again play their characters with as much investment as comfortable, but part of the table contract is the understanding that the characters are part of the shared story, and that the actions they take should make a better story.  This does not necessarily take away player agency, just the shift the focus of their action a bit, with the intent of making the story more enjoyable for everyone.

One of the best things to come out of this shift in focus is the creation of a “plot mechanic” primarily in the hands of the players.  This mechanic, like Bennies in Savage Worlds or Fate Points in FATE, put much more power in the hands of the players to shift either dice results or even plot points.  Of course these same mechanics can be used in either style.  In the more character based stories, they are mostly used to keep the characters from failing (as nobody wants their hero to be a failure).  And, this fits perfectly with that game style.  In the more interactive style, these may be used more often to set up other players or keep a character alive after a story appropriate disaster befalls them.  Of course, these can be used to the pure benefit of ones character, or to make the result flow better with the story.

Anyway…In my opinion, some games are perfect fits for the story specific mechanic.  Games such as Fiasco, and other games designed specifically for play without a game master.  My game group has played this to varying degrees of fun, depending on how much focus was put on characters vs story.  When everyone is trying to make their character the star, the stories often seem disjointed, but when everybody is focused on making a “movie” or story, the games go well.

Well, it is important to be aware of this change in our hobby.  And it may be the “Next big thing” for it.  However, I am more in the character is the star style.  Maybe because I like to play big epic games that take place in a vibrant and continuing world.  The idea of making one story shine above others seems a bit odd.  Of course, I see the draw of making fun stories.  The normally involve more people.  They try to keep any one character from overshadowing another.  I see that benefit.  But, I see that as my role as GM…keeping the players involved as much as they want, and let the others fill in the gap.  Maybe my stories are not always as spectacular as some others, but I rarely have players complain.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’m old and set in my ways…but I am not sure I am ready to make that evolutionary step.  Some of the points seem very minor when looked at coldly, but the way they play out…I still like the character based role play.


OK…now back to your regularly scheduled mentor-ship.




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