“The Story”

I love stories in my roleplaying games.  I love presenting my players with interesting situations, compelling characters, and I love getting a chance to roleplay and see other do the same.  To say I don’t like my games so have any element of story would be flat out wrong.

But I don’t really care about “the story”.  That is to say, I don’t really care much about the thing that other GMs are referring to when they suggest (with the best of intentions) to do something “for the good of the story”.  I have some amount of respect for “this could ruin the game for someone”, or “this could be the end of the campaign”, but if you play with decent people, who are good sports about losing, aren’t out to ruin things for anyone else, and you’d be willing to play ANOTHER campaign with after this one wraps up (expectedly or unexpectedly), those things aren’t really an issue.

As a GM, I have things the characters don’t know, I have NPCs that have plans, I might have a dungeon or module prepared for the evening if we’re doing a dungeon crawler.  If I am really on my game I have some situations to challenge the characters beliefs (whether in the Burning Wheel sense or not) and morals, and get them thinking and ideally demand action.  While I think having those is seriously when I am on my a-game, I think when I have one of those too far in the future or too contingent on certain actions leads to some of my worst GMing when I try to force it.

To me, the Story is something we only know after we play.  It’s not even something we know WHILE we’re playing.  Like I mentioned in my post about Maguscrusher we humans have a wonderful ability to make a story out of random events.  We can even filter out the events that didn’t really matter to whatever it is we’ve determined the story is about (For example if the battleaxe didn’t help us fight the wizard, in telling the story the skeleton likely would not have even been mentioned).  The story of an RPG is sort of the same thing as “the story of my life”, life doesn’t follow the principles of good drama.  If you go to someone’s house and notice a gun is hanging on the wall, hopefully most of the time that gun doesn’t go off and shoot someone.  Things happen, and they’re random, and only make a satisfying story after we’ve applied our ability to give these random events a beginning, middle, and end.

The story is not something that demands Barus the fighter survive an ill-planned (or even just unlucky), encounter with highwaymen just because he still hasn’t saved his sister after she was kidnapped by the evil duke.  The story is that Barus the fighter got in over his head and was killed by bandits because that’s what his actions, and the roll of the dice lead him to.

I get that, for some, that’s really unsatisfying.  It’d be one thing if Barus died fighting the duke in the climatic showdown, maybe it’d even be fine if instead of bandits it was the Duke’s men who showed up to arrest him and lead to the same result.  But unrelated bandits?  The GM should either had made some “adjustments” behind the screen or simply not put that many bandits there in the first place!  Barus needs to have closure on his arc to save his sister!

I understand the sentiment, I get where you’re coming from.  I used to play that way, I used to run games that way, and when I go to conventions I am fairly certain most of the games I play in are run that way.  It took a while, but the more I explored this hobby and discovered what I liked about games and which games I liked and why, I eventually stepped away from that.  To me, Barus dying because he crossed the wrong bandits is a perfectly fine ending to his story, sometimes bad things happen to good people and that’s just how things are.  To me it makes the game more exciting “Will the PCs get out of this one?” is always an unknown question, and it is exciting in the moment to see!

Ultimately, my goals as GM boil down to helping everyone (including me) has fun adjudicating the rules and situation fairly, and making things interesting right now, in about that order.  There’s rarely any conflict between them, for me, because often whatever the dice say IS fun, and IS the most interesting thing that could happen.  Or rather, even if I had a preference for one result over the other one, everyone knowing exactly what that dice roll means makes the result feel more real to everyone at the table, more than if I had just picked the one I liked better.

Current PaDC score: 21/31