Why Story Gets the Horse’s Rump at My Table
Here’s something that might not be popular. I don’t know. But I see a lot of GMs online talk about the importance of story. And story is the last thing I care about when running a game.
Ok, there it is. I’ve said it out loud. Gather your pitchforks and torches, lads and lasses! 🙂
Here’s why I GM this way.
In my GMing philosophy, there are three stages to an awesome session, and they happen in this order:
Plot => Play => Story
Plot is our world meets campaign + adventure ideas meets conflict. What are villains, factions, and world elements doing to raise some hell?
Play is when a situation meets character goals meets opposition. What stands in between the party and what they desire?
Story are the details that emerge from play. We don’t begin with story, we end with it.
Story is how we describe what the heck just happened. It’s how we mourn, relish, and cheer over the results of character actions, player and GM decisions, and the dice.
So that framework puts story at the back of the cart.
But wait. There’s more. Don’t pitch those forks away yet.
There’s no game in Plot or Story. Zero. Nada.
Plots are our plans. Story is the aftermath of those plans unraveling, heh.
Play happens at the game table, and that’s where we transform mechanics, choices, and actions into consequences. Play is the “game” in roleplaying game.
And I’m not steering for story during play. Story can stay at the cart’s rear, way behind the horse’s arse.
Instead, I’m 100% focused during play on making the best rulings based on:
- Describing the evolving situation that I’ve dropped into play or that’s been generated from party choices and actions.
- Our collective knowledge of the rules.
- My judgement calls as the referee.
I was reading through a rule book last night and it calls the game master The Storyteller. That pissed me off because it’s setting new GMs up for failure.
Our goal as GMs is to set up play, and then detail consequences of play as it unfolds, with the help of our players. Once actions are declared and outcomes determined, THEN we have the opportunity to tell the story of what’s happening right now.
I call this Mastering the Moment. And it’s one of the techniques I always quest to get more GM XP in.
So if this RPG that shall remain unnamed means that the GM tells the story of encounters as they plays out, then ok, I’ll put my own fork-of-the-pitch away.
But that’s not how it was presented. Not how I read it. It read like the GM was responsible for guiding gameplay to some magnificent, pre-planned, tightly-plotted story.
If we were writing a book, screenplay, or poem, sure. But we’re playing a game. And players must be able to make interesting choices that lead to interesting outcomes that open up more interesting choices — The Infinite Game.
We GMs must Master the Moment to observe what’s happening right now, set up situations (encounters) that have emerged from gameplay (or deploy situations we’ve plotted in advance), and then let gameplay determine the outcomes.
Either way, story is how the game turns out afterwards. It’s an artefact.
Hey, in some countries the story might roll you. But at my table, you roll the story!
So how do we do this? How do we Master of the Moment?
This is why I built Campaign Logger with my business partner, Jochen:
- You can’t be fully present when fiddling around with a bunch of data fields three screens deep. We need all our details at our fingertips as we’re running the game!
- Taking crappy session notes ruins your plots and cause stumbles behind the screen. Interesting choices come from previous actions, and if we don’t track these — especially during the heavy cognitive load of running a session — we’ll actually lose the plot and lose complete mastery over the gameplay moment.
- With plots and actions driving gameplay, you never know what details you’ll need at any moment. Flipping through books, scattered notes, and complex apps drags down your hard-earned pacing and rising drama.
Here’s why Campaign Logger comes to the rescue:
- CL’s super-fast note-taking features allows you to capture important details as they happen, so you can focus on refereeing emerging gameplay rather than scrambling to jot down notes.
- With CL, all your campaign information is just a few keystrokes away, ensuring you can stay in the moment without losing track of critical details.
- Let gameplay drive your memorable stories. As your sessions evolve, Campaign Logger’s flexible note system lets you adapt your plot on the fly, ensuring your story remains responsive to player actions.
A quick example from last session. I improvised an encounter when the party entered a swamp to kill a giant skunk that was poisoning the area with deadly purple gas.
I hadn’t planned on mind-controlled swamp critters attacking the PCs, but that’s the way the situation evolved.
So I quickly created a new Log Entry, gave it a fun title to inspire me, and “summoned” the monsters involved into my Log Entry:
Jochen is working hard on Campaign Logger development with continuous deployments every week. The app keeps getting better and better.
However, some of the beta features will no longer be available to Free Tier users after we move them out of beta and into Gold+ subscription tiers.
If you already have a Free Lifetime Account, or get a free Lifetime Campaign Logger account today, we’ll grandfather those features for you so you can keep them for life.
It takes just 10 seconds to sign up thanks to our new and improved flow.
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