On the definition of “Storygame” and the problems of theory

Patrick Stuart spells out on his blog what he thinks when he hears “storygame”. And I am like “No! You speak ill of sacred things!”. And I nerdrage, throwing nerd-audience luxury goods out of my basement window. Or, at least, I kind of twist up inside like I’ve got a tapeworm or something.

I find this experience very informative, and issue thoughts, below.

Rage about theory can be rage about lumping

I think my nerd-not-quite-rage is that Patrick, someone I respect and think to a degree I understand, is lumping together things that I like (e.g. PBtA games, Burning Wheel, some GMless stuff) with things that I hate (railroaded “Trad” games, where the GM tells a story and you sort of act along).

I think many people who get angry online about theory are angry that a distinction that makes a big difference to their enjoyment is being obscured.

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Bad Dog Island — player guide

This is the advice-and-resources page for players in my Bad Dog Island game.

The flyer for the game is here.

We will be using the Zweihander rules:


Arbitrarily ordered thoughts and observations, issue 1

  1. You can houserule a game to something very different, but then you lose community support. And the communities that are available in these days of hyperconnectivity are extremely valuable (if used well i.e. if you primarily use them to learn and understand rather than to achieve the emotional benefits of human contact).
  2. I’m very wary of giving a trad-role GM more power and responsibility than they have in a default trad game. E.g. 5e says to give Inspiration points for “good roleplaying”, and Zweihander encourages xp awards for the same reason. Both use the GM’s sole judgement, loosely shaped by guidance; both add more power and responsibility on top of the great amount they already have.
  3. Baker’s sketch of Apocalypse World’s “concentric game design” is very interesting, and worth using as a lens for other games. Key quotes are…

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When players treat my world as real, it magnifies my creative payoffs

As I noted in a previous blog post, I think I enjoy GMing most when I think of it as running a simulation in my head that the players interact with.

There are lots of ways I can get a payoff from that. Running the model, seeing the fantasy world work, can feel very good. In running it I create it — most of the images I see come out of my unconscious, stirred from the depths by the game events. They’re as new to me as the are to the players. In this respect, it’s like a film or video game, except that it feels volitional — I am both audience and creator.

But why do I need players for that? Why don’t I just daydream, or write fiction?

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I naturally think of strong-GM rpgs as being a simulation that runs in the GM’s head

When I think about traditional strong-GM rpgs, I instinctively think of the game as being first and foremost a simulation that runs in the GM’s head. I see the GM’s model as the canonical reality — the real imagined space. Players then get a narrow, limited channel of access to it, via which they can build up their own secondary models (in their own heads) and exert very small influences on the simulated world (via their PC’s actions). But the GM’s world is the real one, the player’s mental models only shallow, limited reflections of it.

This is, of course, very much like how player clients access the server in a multiplayer video game.

That’s not the only model of rpgs I have access to. There are others, such as Baker’s “game as conversation” model, that I can use if I make the effort. But intuitively it’s the GM’s-head-simulation model that’s natural to me. If I don’t make an effort, it’s the model I gravitate back to. It’s the default lens I view gaming through. And I think it’s the mode of GMing that I most enjoy.

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