1) What are story games?
Story games are role-playing games that put the creation of a story front and center.
There are two main paradigms for story games. The first requires us to each make a character and set scenes for each other’s characters to interact together. The story emerges from these scenes where we are mostly actors. The second requires us to think like directors or storytellers and construct a plot from the procedures of the game. Most games allow us to use a little bit of both the actor and director mindsets.
2) What do I need to know if I’ve never played a role-playing game before? Can I still come?
Of course! We regularly have new people playing role-playing or story games for the first time. No experience necessary. The key is to come with an open mind, a can-do attitude, and go for it. You might surprise yourself.
3) That sounds hard! I’m not very creative.
That isn’t a question! But here’s an answer: you don’t need to be creative to play. The best action to take or choice to make is usually the most obvious one. The creativity comes from the way our differing obvious choices react and spin off one another. But if you get stuck, just ask for help; these games are designed to help you, plus we like to help each other.
And here is some useful advice from Jason Morningstar on Gnome Stew:
- Be obvious. Just do what comes naturally and say the most obvious thing. It isn’t a contest, and deliberately trying to be surprising or funny usually guarantees that you won’t be.
- Listen. Use the information the setting and other players provide. Part of helping others have a great time is making their characters interesting, and the best way to do that is to listen and use what you hear.
- Be kind. Respect your friends, share the spotlight, and do your best to make everyone else feel awesome. If this isn’t happening for you, remember the three ironclad rules and say something!
- Ask questions. If you aren’t sure what is going on, ask. If you aren’t sure someone is having a good time, ask. If you aren’t sure your idea will be fun for your friend, ask.
4) How are story games different from other role-playing games?
The games we play are designed around distributed authority and improvisational play. Most traditional games have an MC or GM that directs the action and determines what is allowed during play. They also have robust rule systems to adjudicate disputes. The rules and the GM have the authority and the biggest impact on what and how stories get told.
However, we choose to play GM-less games that let everyone at the table have equal say in how the story develops. We also play without prep, so no one has any more knowledge or input into the story we create than anyone else. Instead, the story emerges from play as we improvise together. These are the key ingredients to our gameplay: improvisation over prep; shared, negotiated authority rather than a singular, definitive one; and complete single-session episodes rather than ongoing campaigns.
5) Do I need to commit to coming every week?
No. We play one-shots that start and complete a story in a single sitting, so nobody has to commit beyond one night. That means we can accommodate guests and guest stars without breaking stride.
6) What games do you play?
We are always finding new games to try, but some of our favorites are Quiet Year by Avery Alder, Fiasco by Jason Morningstar, Follow by Ben Robbins, and Final Voyage of the Selene by James Mullen. Never heard of these games? Never fear, we teach the rules each time we sit down to play, even when we’ve played them before. To see a list of the games we play, check out this compendium as of March 2021.
7) How does this work? What should I expect?
When you come to one of our Meetups for the first time, we’ll ask you a few questions, explain a bit about what we do, introduce everyone, and divide up into one or more game tables. One person will facilitate and explain the rules, pass out playing materials, and make sure the game proceeds on schedule.
8) What if I need to arrive late?
It can be tricky when people arrive late, because we’ve often already started and may not be able to fit another player in without disrupting what is already happening at the table. But we have an open table policy and if we can accommodate a new player late in the process, we will. No promises, and it’s best to let us know you’ll be late ahead of time, but we’ll try to get you in.
9) How late does this go? What if I need to leave early?
We often finish in 3 hours or less but sometimes race to finish in 4. If you need to leave early, this is pretty easy to handle, especially if you let your facilitator know at the start of the game. If you suddenly decide you need to leave for any reason, just let the facilitator know and go. There is no judgement and no repercussions; we’ll find a way to carry on so don’t worry.
10) What if I’m having a bad time? What if the story or someone triggers, harasses, bullies, or discriminates against me?
We have some core values around openness and inclusivity at our Story Games Clubs, and we expect everyone to treat others with respect at all times. We use consistent safety tools to make this real at the table. All of our games use an X-card, and we have an open door policy and an open table approach.
The X-card, developed by John Stavropoulos, consists of one or more cards on the table with a big ‘X’ on them. At any time, for any reason, any player or facilitator can tap or hold up the X-card and ask that any content that has been introduced at the table be X-ed from the game. You don’t have to explain or justify using the X-card, but you can dictate how the content is changed to ensure you feel safe and enjoy the game.
The open door policy means that anyone can leave a table at any time for any reason without judgment or consequences. Our open table approach means that our games are inclusive and open to anyone to join, but also that if you feel uncomfortable for any reason, you should feel free to speak up, call on the facilitator for help, or walk away from the table, whichever makes you feel safest. Your safety and well-being are more important than the game or the group.
If you feel you have been the victim of harassment, bullying, or discrimination of any kind, speak to your table facilitator or the event organizer. We will take action to discipline or remove the perpetrator of any action that harms our players or our community.
11) What if I want to talk about the game afterward?
Head over to our group blog at https://storygames.club/ where someone will post a recap of the session and you can comment about your experiences.