Friday, October 18, 2013

Narrativist Storytelling


During a dinner conversation with a bunch of friends who are slowly teaching me the wonderous thing that is Nobilis, we had a discussion about RPGs and LARPs. During the conversation--I forget precisely what the impetus was, but at one point I barked out this:

Do you notice that while most Live Action Role Play events are based on Role Playing Games, that there is no 'G' in LARP? I feel this is intentional. That the focus is Role Play in a Live setting.

There was much nodding of heads and agreement, but the notion stuck with me. I've talked ad nauseum about the GNS Model. It's a flawed system, but it's a convenient one, used to delineating three separate means of behavior in terms of gaming. Gamists play to attain a goal, complete an obstacle or to build an effective strategy to attain their goals. Narrativists are focused on story and plot and mainly do things because it leads to development or challenges to their character as well as them. Simulationist is the adherence to a specific theme or setting and adhering strictly to the rules those settings would have allowed.

I'm a decided Narrativist, both as a player and a Storyteller and a Simulationist as a Secondary. I don't care what dots you have on your sheet, I don't care if your dice pools are fucking righteous. What I care about is that your PC has an arc and is interacting in the world. The only time I use any Gaming principles is in terms of balancing the game to keep it 1) Challenging and 2) Fair. I'm not out to screw the players, they can screw themselves as much as they like. My job and goal is to make sure there is an interesting story with a plot that people are invested in and want to follow, not because there will be some cookie at the end, because they want the challenge and the development for their characters and entertainment for them.

That doesn't mean that things are all story time fun. There are still rules and boundaries of statistics and genre that have got to be kept in line. The Antagonists have to be balanced to keep it a challenge without being totally unkillable, the mystery has to be plausible and have multiple tracks, no small feat when magic is involved. And ultimately, what matters is that the story is driven by the characters first.

This is the one major weaknesses of Narrativist Storytelling, Railroading. It's mightily condescending and entirely too much work. I like being a lazy storyteller and not having to come up with the next plot, save the writing for my novels and this site (like I would ever stop).

So I can't really give much advice on what makes a good Narrativist plot. All I can do is give a few examples and anecdotes:

One of the best Narrativist tools in storytelling is the Conspiracy plot. Who is working for the bad guys, who is working for themselves. Enemies and Allies are sometimes one and the same and that makes interaction and development of ideas major thing. I made this Chronicle of Mage, at least at the onset, by basing the Seers on the Syndicate, the human conspiracy based in the X-Files. However, there is a lot of history and there is definitely an endgame...just not entirely sure how it will manifest itself. This is the simulationist part of the story as it endgame should be totally driven by the PCs, not by me. I just get to referee...

I get to drive the aftermath.

Another thing I try to keep in mind is making plot specifically for some characters. I'm of the mind that unless you have a rather large staff working with you, it should somehow tie in to the plot of the game in some way. One of the challenges I'm facing is with a player's plot tying into his (soon to be) Legacy, which for those of you not in Mage (seriously, get in my game. All operators are waiting) is a secondary type of magic some people can do. It basically hammers down their class and the themes of their magic. This magic is based on Clarke's Law that Advanced Science is indistinguishable from Magic. I suck at any science that is dependant on numbers (x+y= nosebleed), so I'm more or less re-reading my Clarke and re-watching COSMOS before I start again.

As an aside:  to the player in question, I know you're reading this, shut up.

Continue shutting up.

Thank you. The plot will continue until my morale improves :P

Also, and I think this is important, Narrative has consequences. Telling me you wanna do the cool thing because you have the dots on the sheet and wanna do the cool thing is not going to get me to follow with it. Telling me your character wants to do a thing and you're willing to roll with the consequences for them is what is going to get me to go with it. Doesn't matter if that's what the game says. Your PC just did a thing that should have consequences.

I'll give you a for instance. My Requiem PC last Chronicle was tasked with helping an Elder member of his Covenant back from the brink of sanity...or hypersanity, it's a bit wonky what was going on but all that I remember was Taglia went into a PCs brain and saw EVERYTHING in stereo. Taglia brought him back using mental exercises and telepathy to do it. Now, Telepathy doesn't work like that, but the ST was cool with it and ran with it. But to me it felt too easy. My PC is a relatively weak Mekhet compared to this guy and doesn't have enough of a buffer to effectively face what is essentially The Untempered Schism . I got permission to have my PC have a brain hemorrhage every time he tried Telepathy for two months after the event. There was nothing in the mechanics that said that should have happened, there is nothing in it that says I couldn't either. But he did something that frankly Could Have and Should Have put him in a fucking coma himself. He needed to pay the cost for doing that as a person.

For those of you who haven't figured it out, I'm a strong proponent of the Jim Butcher school of protagonism: You want your protagonist to do the cool thing? Great. Make em 1) earn it or 2) pay for it. Again, I'm not out to screw my players, but I do want you guys to know that it is impressive that you've just done a thing.

In the end, and I'll repeat, I am mainly concerned with the story of the game and it's players. If someone is going "I have nothing to do" or "I don't know what's going on" I can plug them into the story. Hell, they are all part of a story. Does that mean I'm going to snub Gamists? Hell no. I'm going to have a challenge with them but as long as we can come to an agreement that's what matters. But in the end, this is a Live Action Role Play

Everything else is just a game.

Later.