DMing is Not Storytelling

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The Mad Hatter

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I have played rpgs since 88/89. GMing is a skill that I never seem to truly master. Players who wanted to try being the GM have often asked me about tips. I always find it hard to answer, because I feel it's a very individual thing. What works for me might not work for them. I have sometimes answered with, being a GM is a bit like being a movie director for a movie without a script.
 

Charlie D

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I have played rpgs since 88/89. GMing is a skill that I never seem to truly master. Players who wanted to try being the GM have often asked me about tips. I always find it hard to answer, because I feel it's a very individual thing. What works for me might not work for them. I have sometimes answered with, being a GM is a bit like being a movie director for a movie without a script.

I always say it is like being a lion trainer. You get in a cage with a pride of lions and try to direct them without getting killed. Everyone around you wants you in the cage for their own protection. You're all alone. And the lions plot against you as a pride with well-honed survival instincts. The lions aren't you're enemy but the lions don't always know or remember that. And they outnumber you. And they bet bored and hungry easily. And lots of people outside the cage think you're crazy.

If you do your job right and work with the lions and don't go against their instincts and everyone outside the cage sees you aren't harming the lions and in fact are trying to work with them in a way that is natural to the lions instincts, everyone is entertained. If you screw up you get mauled or eaten and then the lions complain about how bad a job you did. And the people outside the cage wonder what you were thinking, thinking you could work with lions.

I'm joking.

Maybe.
 
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Yeti Spaghetti

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I have sometimes answered with, being a GM is a bit like being a movie director for a movie without a script.

Perhaps more like a film producer. You help decide the basic storyline and get things ready and set the stage for the performers, but the entirety of the script and how everything is specifically executed is pretty much out of your control. It's the players and the dice.
 

xanther

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Have to say what I always say in these threads :smile:

For me it is "story telling" but an emergent story, not pre-scripted and not the kind that is amenable to one plotting out the PC do X, then they do Y , then Z, I read box text A, and we go to location K.

Rather what I consider a great GM is they set a stage where stories in genre can emerge, the "script" is a combination of player action and how a bit of randomness as that adds spice and drama and causes us all to adjust our best laid plans. The art of it is in setting that stage, so it flow naturally and organically, does not feel contrived and when a PC interacts with the setting in a internally consistent way it reacts in a natural way, not some plot pushing way or the setting is so poorly set up the only way to avoid TPK or a give away is for the GM to start hand waving.

In short, there will be as tory, a genre consistent story, but what the exact details...well we generate those in play by play, not by scripting them ahead of time or via game mechanics that state outcomes instead of actions. So the next day there is a story to be told, and half the fun is seeing it unfold through play for me.

This can be a tall order. My view is people who played in games where the setting was not such and the GMing not such that a a story emerged organically without contrivance (as contrivance makes it feel flat) gravitate to making sure a story is told, by scripting it ahead of time or wanting games that just script it as part of the rules.
 

hawkeyefan

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Encounter on the road:
- You are attacked by bandits. Roll initiative.
- Vs An arrow flies out the shadows and thunks into a tree. You see there is a note tied to it. It says "laydown all your weapons and belonging on the ground in a pile and then laydown facedown on the ground. You have no chance to resist. We have you surrounded".

Both of these are obstacles; both of them are conflict. Only one offers a meaningful decision point.

I agree with this assessment entirely. I just don't think anyone was advocating for the "you're attacked, roll initiative" option.


I'd say it is a storytelling medium. Even if not all RPGs are intended to be. An RPG tells stories in it's own unique way that is related to, but unique from, traditional (and some not-so-traditional) mediums. The storytelling part is always going to be down to the people playing though. I have friends who just play RPGs as minatures-based skirmish games. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with railroads either, if everyone is on board for that and having fun. There's lots of different ways to play and I don't think any one way is objectively superior to another.

I think GMing has elements of storytelling to it. I don't see how it cannot unless a GM were to follow some kind of procedural generation for everything (and there are some games that do this, or come close to it, but I think they're more of a departure than the norm). Simply crafting some kind of scenario that contains a meaningful choice for the PCs means a GM has considered what is meaningful and what will be interesting, and they're certainly steering how things may go with what they are creating. They have a lot of input on what happens in play.

But I do think that this is just an element of it, and it's still subject to being a game. Whatever storytelling is happening, it's not the same as more standard forms like novels or film, because it is a game. As you say, RPGs are unique in that regard.
 

Stevethulhu

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I'd say it is a storytelling medium. Even if not all RPGs are intended to be. An RPG tells stories in it's own unique way that is related to, but unique from, traditional (and some not-so-traditional) mediums. The storytelling part is always going to be down to the people playing though. I have friends who just play RPGs as minatures-based skirmish games. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with railroads either, if everyone is on board for that and having fun. There's lots of different ways to play and I don't think any one way is objectively superior to another.
It tells stories that are all middle. RPGs are about situation and plot. Which are components of, but distinct from stories.

The GM posits a situation. He players respond to and with the GM, cooperatively develop that situation. There may or may not be a plot guiding guiding way the situation away from and orbit of the PCs develops. But that isn't essential.

You can use an rpg to tell a story. But the posts above illustrate perfectly why this isn't an ideal setup. The fact that rpgs suck at beginnings and endings doesn't help. But can be worked around.

As a medium for telling stories, they're about as good as computers for interactive games with freedom of choice to do whatever you want.
 

Chris Brady

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Humanity is built on stories and story telling. RPGs are no different.
 

Winterblight

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I think it helps if the GM is a good storyteller, but that’s different from the GM using the game to tell stories. A GM should be able to set the scene (read text verbatim from a module if required) for the group without verbally producing a novel or forcing a specific ending.


Having said that. Over the years I’ve had the occasional player that’s just there for the ride, and for them if you were telling a story, I don’t think it would bother them in the slightest.


The story is either the background the GM can use to inform reactions to whatever shenanigans the PCs might come up with or its the part where players reminisce about a really good adventure or campaign they played 10 years before.


An RPG session is the equivalent of creating a new post on the PUB. You have this idea/thought in the form of the opening post, but after that you no idea of where its going to go or if its going to ever end.
 

Voros

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These videos do seem to be tilting at windmills a bit as I haven't seen anyone advocate playing an rpg with a pre-determined end since...ever?

Some people did it back in the 80s and 90s but I've never seen anyone advocate for it online. Railroading seems pretty much verboten by consensus.

Even self-identified storygames are about player choice, 'playing to find out what happens,' without pre-deterimned plots or endings, outside of a few horror games and Fiasco which are designed to end badly for the PCs but then so is CoC and Paranoia!

Similarly, the supposed posterchild for railroading, Dragonlance, notes the PCs can blow it and die and so lose the entire War of the Lance in modules like Dragons of War.
 
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Jamfke

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Perhaps more like a film producer. You help decide the basic storyline and get things ready and set the stage for the performers, but the entirety of the script and how everything is specifically executed is pretty much out of your control. It's the players and the dice.
An improv film producer or director.
 

Tommy Brownell

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You know, I really am not sure that we needed yet another thread that argues the definition of story because people have some kind of trigger associated with the word, but we seem to be going again.
If we don't argue these things, how will we EVER convince people They Are Playing The Game Wrong???
 

NinjaWeasel

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The fact that rpgs suck at beginnings and endings doesn't help. But can be worked around.

“a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.” -jean-luc godard

A classic three act structure (presented in whatever order!) is a classic for good reason. However, it's not required that a story have that structure. I got this definition from the Oxford Dictionary website:

a description of events and people that the writer or speaker has invented in order to entertain people

Sums all my RPG sessions up perfectly. A bunch of friends sat around talking shit to entertain each other! And I'd say that most of my gaming sessions tell a better structured story than most of the ones my friends will tell me in the pub tonight!

If we don't argue these things, how will we EVER convince people They Are Playing The Game Wrong???

RPGs have only one rule: If I'm not running it then you're playing it wrong. :grin:
 

Stevethulhu

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Sums all my RPG sessions up perfectly. A bunch of friends sat around talking shit to entertain each other! And I'd say that most of my gaming sessions tell a better structured story than most of the ones my friends will tell me in the pub tonight!
:grin:
Personally, I think an rpg fits the definition of a jam session better than any story stuff.

an often impromptu performance by a group especially of jazz musicians that is characterized by improvisation.
The bit people always forget is, I'm not saying you can't or you shouldn't. But look onto what roleplay is used for outside gaming. See what the strengths of the form are as you see it and play to them.
 

Voros

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A classic three act structure (presented in whatever order!) is a classic for good reason. However, it's not required that a story have that structure. I got this definition from the Oxford Dictionary website:



Sums all my RPG sessions up perfectly. A bunch of friends sat around talking shit to entertain each other! And I'd say that most of my gaming sessions tell a better structured story than most of the ones my friends will tell me in the pub tonight!



RPGs have only one rule: If I'm not running it then you're playing it wrong. :grin:

For sure, regarding the three act structure, it is a useful frame and good to know for writers who want a strong plot but also good to remember that it comes from Aristotle's Poetics, in particular the section on Greek drama and is just part of his overall advocating for an aesthetics that includes unity of place, theme, etc.

To apply it to all storytelling is misplaced, hell it doesn't even fit the greatest plays of Euripides or Aeschylus let alone other ancient writers and texts.
 
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xanther

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If we don't argue these things, how will we EVER convince people They Are Playing The Game Wrong???
Well said. As long as we don't start telling each other we are playing it wrong. :smile:

I have my preferences, can state why, I have my understandings and what these things mean to me, and can state why. I like to hear a different perspective, but bristle if someone tells me my expereince didn't happen, or state their personal experience as universal or inherent. If I do either of those things, you can deduct xp from my character sheet. :smile:
 

Voros

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Personally, I think an rpg fits the definition of a jam session better than any story stuff.


The bit people always forget is, I'm not saying you can't or you shouldn't. But look onto what roleplay is used for outside gaming. See what the strengths of the form are as you see it and play to them.

Wouldn't a closer approximation be actors improving? Music is a much more abstract form, rpgs are constructed largely via language, not the more mathematical form of music.

I just watched an interview with Robert Duvall last night and when asked to explain acting he explained it via the theatre truism of 'acting is reacting.'

He says that he as an actor watches and listens to the other actor and then reacts to that and you develop a conversation.

This reminds me of the PbtA phrase that the game is 'a conversation between the players and the GM.'

It also reminded me of how in The Elusive Shift Peterson notes the structure of rpgs being largely based on the call and response or question and answer conversation of the GM and the players.

A good GM listens to their players and reacts to them.

I realize comparing rpgs to theatre also sets some people off but ironically a lot of rpg discourse around immersion echoes well established actorly practices and terminolgy for 'getting into character.'
 
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robertsconley

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Story
an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Account

a report or description of an event or experience.

So unless you are a time traveler than during a tabletop roleplaying session you are not telling a story because the event or experience hasn't happened yet.

This is why defining RPGs as form of storytelling is problematic. The events and experiences that would go into a story has not happened yet. Other hand given the existence of stuff like referees railroading their players it understandable why the debate exist. Because in order to railroad you have to have a story in mind that you want to see play out.

My opinion is that Tabletop Roleplaying is something new and its own thing. And the first example of a definition problem that later included virtual realities and certain computer games.

For example

  • You could save up, train, and then pay a outfitter to climb Everest.
  • You could make a character using Traveller, have a referee use Gamelord's Mountain Environment to setup Mount Everest. Then have that referee run a short one or two session campaign of your character trying to climb Mount Everest.
  • Or you can have a talented writer write a story about you climbing Mount Everest, supplying the author with your background. Then reading the story that was written.
My opinion is that the middle is more like the first, actually climbing Everest, than it is like the last item, reading a story about climbing Mount Everest.
 
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Voros

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Story
an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Account

a report or description of an event or experience.

So unless you are a time traveler than during a tabletop roleplaying session you are not telling a story because the event or experience hasn't happened yet.

This is why defining RPGs as form of storytelling is problematic. The events and experiences that would go into a story has not happened yet. Other hand given the existence of stuff like referees railroading their players it understandable why the debate exist. Because in order to railroad you have to have a story in mind that you want to see play out.

Semantics
  • the study of the meanings of words and phrases

  • the meaning of words, phrases, or systems
 

robertsconley

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Semantics
  • the study of the meanings of words and phrases

  • the meaning of words, phrases, or systems
Nice however

1625160177545.png

Your thesis would be stronger if you like actually included a source for a definition of story that included what folks do during a tabletop roleplaying campaign. As far as I know I am not aware of any source where the definition of story includes people pretending to be characters interacting with a setting with their actions adjudicated by a human referee.

Oh and
Back at you
 

Nick J

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I sort of suspect these videos are directed at people new to the hobby. If you browse the comments on Trevor's videos (or any tabletop videos for that matter) I definitely see comments about wanting to be a "storyteller" and expressing frustration when it doesn't go the way they hoped. So for these folks, not a bunch of old farts, who are "veterans of a thousand psychic wars" I can imagine there being some value.
 

Voros

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Nice however

View attachment 32543

Your thesis would be stronger if you like actually included a source for a definition of story that included what folks do during a tabletop roleplaying campaign. As far as I know I am now aware of any source where the definition of story includes people pretending to be characters interacting with a setting with their actions adjudicated by a human referee.

Oh and
Back at you

I didn't see anyone here debating the tiresome 'what is a story/storytelling?' line, did you?
 

Voros

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Arguing about whether RPGs tell stories is so last year.

The big issue now is that RPGs aren't actually games, because they don't have win conditions.

Oh yes, now let's get into the endless debate on what is and isn't a game!

 

xanther

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....The big issue now is that RPGs aren't actually games, because they don't have win conditions.
What! That is so 1977, I meant that literally. The gornards (as in the original war game ones) used to say that all the time.
But hey, why let a good contentious topic go to waste. I am all about reduce, reuse, recycle. :smile:
 

robertsconley

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Sure but that's not what we were actually discussing. In fact the video posted barely actually addresses that point either.

Like a good GM, listen and then react to what is being said. :dice:
The actual discussion?
OK like post #38 and the ones that quoted it?

Despite my post following yours I wrote mine more in response to what NinjaWeasel NinjaWeasel said then what you said about actors.
I'd say it is a storytelling medium
 
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