Storium Theory: Collaboration – Narrator and Players as a Team

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on February 23rd, 2016.

Storium is a collaborative storytelling game.

This puts it in a field similar to, but distinct from, many tabletop roleplaying games. I’ve been over this a bit in the past in more specific areas, but today I’d like to discuss the overall concept of collaboration…the art of looking at narrator and players as a team in the service of telling a good story.

Many tabletop roleplaying games these days encourage GMs to work with rather than against their players–to build challenges, but always be rooting for the players to succeed (a distinction from the “kill ’em all” playstyle encouraged by some other games closer to the tradition’s wargaming roots).

Still, these games require a sort of separation between players and GM. The GM needs to “challenge” the players–to build battles or events that will interest them tactically and to play the enemies / events in opposition to the player goals. He wants the players to win, but must work against them. He can, and should, root for the player characters and work to give them the opportunity to show off their talents, but for him to do his job well, he can’t totally drop the wall.

There’s a reason GM Screens still sell.

Storium is a little different.

In Storium, the narrator’s goal is to help the players tell a good story. He’s working with the players–totally. Not in part, in whole.

That means that “challenges” in Storium have a different focus. Setting up a challenge isn’t about making things the proper “difficulty” or setting up something that’s going to perplex players or make them use their powers and tactics well. It’s about setting up something that’s going to be entertaining as a story.

If you’re setting up a battle, you’re not planning out enemy moves–you’re setting up the initial situation and handing the enemies over for the players to use. If you’re setting up a puzzle, you’re not asking the players themselves to solve the riddle–you’re asking their characters to do it. If you’re setting up a sneaky infiltration of a building, you’re not setting up lots of hidden traps–you’re setting the situation and letting the players run with it.

With that battle…tell the players about the enemy abilities, their usual tactics, their champions…give them things to work with. With the puzzle, give the answer in the outcomes text. With the infiltration, tell the players what sort of things they might encounter.

Break the walls down!

Storium games aren’t about seeing if the players get through something. They’re about seeing how the characters get through something. The players aren’t the narrator’s audience, they’re his writing partners.

Don’t withhold information to see if your players can figure something out. Put it on the table and see what they do with it!

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you have to tell them every twist and turn in advance–part of the fun of a game is being surprised. All it means is that you need to give players the information they need to write an interesting story at this point in the game. Don’t make them fiddle around with little details or ask you a bunch of questions to get at what they need…just give it to them, straight out.

And remember, again, challenges aren’t about difficulty. Weak results are a story option–not a punishment for player failure. If the challenge ends Weak, that doesn’t mean the players screwed up tactically. It means the story went in that direction. Don’t make Weak results feel like punishments–make them interesting.

And players…team up with your narrator.

This is collaboration.

Work with the narrator. Explain what you’d like to do. Tell him what you’d like to see. Be willing to take the fall. Be willing to work in theme. Don’t fear weak results. Tell an interesting story.

Don’t look at challenges as things to be surpassed or overcome. Look at them as things to work with as part of the story.

If you need some details, tell the narrator why. Explain what you’re looking to do and ask if there’s some way to help that happen. You don’t need to hide it. The narrator’s not looking to keep some kind of difficulty level. He’s not your opponent.

Help him help you tell the story.

Storium isn’t about an adversarial relationship between players and narrator–not at all, not even to the limited degree modern tabletop RPGs maintain that sort of relationship. It’s more like a writing team, with the narrator as guide and sometimes editor. Collaboration, not competition. Cooperation, not challenge.

Foster a collaborative atmosphere, and you’ll find your experience much more fun.