What Does “Playing a Story” Mean?

Over the past 7-8 months, I’ve been hard at work developing StoryTogether’s first offical table top role playing game system. Given our goal of getting more and more folks to experience what it’s like to play stories together, the system ideally needs to be accessible to new players without losing the soul of what makes played stories so wonderful and unique.

But one question that I get from new players just digging into our rules for the first time is simply: “What do you mean by “playing a story?” Today’s #newbieTuesday (on a Wednesday) post aims to answer that question so that any new or experienced player has that foundation in their back pocket when they’re trying to expose themselves (or others) to the incredible time that is playing stories.

“Playing stories” is simply a way to describe a group of people around a table living out a story of their choosing. There is a story facilitator, traditionally called the GM, or Game Master, or perhaps DM, or Dungeon Master. The GM facilitates the story and serves as the world’s – people, places etc. – guide for the players. The GM reads and/or narrates the appropriate setups to scenarios (story lines) and dilemmas (story challenges), answers player questions, and guides the story along.

The rest of the people around the table on the other hand are the players. They each control a character within the story. To whatever degree they feel comfortable, they are, for all intents and purposes, that character as the story progresses. They may act as they feel the character would and/or simply defer to the results of the dice. The players can be as creative as they’d like within the rules with a character’s appearance, skills, wants & needs, backstory etc. Like characters in books, movies, and video games, characters in played stories grow and evolve as well.

As I’ve written about in this space in week’s past, the core part of playing stories is making decisions. Players will be confronted with choices every time they sit at the table, some easy, some hard, and some, perhaps, impossible.

The easiest thing for new players to understand is that the main thing that’s required of you as a new player is simply to make a choice when you’re prompted to do so. You may need to roll some dice but the GM will narrate the results and the story will progress. You and the other characters will likely be affected by the results of your choice, whether large or small. And when you reflect on the stories you love, you’ll realize that’s exactly how they progress as well. And very much like those stories, the ones you play with your friends can be epic, hilarious, frightening, mind-blowing, informative, etc.

So new players: don’t sweat the rules, don’t worry about being creative, don’t even worry about what you think you can or should/shouldn’t be doing. Just go with the flow, make a decision when you’re asked to do so, and I promise, you’re going to have a great time. And when you learn and get more comfortable with the flow of things, like the rest of us, you’re going to want to invest in fleshing out your character! It’s a whole lotta fun…

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