April 27, 2021

The Process of Learning to Play Stories

Learning new games can be difficult at times. More complex ones especially require that you take the time to really digest the rules and work with the other players to ensure everyone understands how to play.

Tabletop role-playing games aren’t much different in that regard. And sometimes that process of learning the rules can scare off some prospective players. Today’s advice is aimed at helping those same folks see the story through the rules so they can have a wonderful time playing a story together.

Foundation for Action & Choice

In any tabletop role-playing game, the rules act as the foundation for our characters’ choices and actions. They help guide what we can and cannot choose to do and facilitate the progression of the story. They are the framework and foundation for the collective story experience.

And that’s an important realization to have. Rules don’t typically exist to intentionally act as barriers to entry to your enjoyment of playing a story with your friends. They’re there to allow the story to progress with as few hiccups as possible. Now, some systems accomplish that goal better than others. And others yet are designed with a great deal of complexity because they’re targeting folks who love those sorts of games. And there are many that do, including myself.

But if you’re playing a story for the first time, it’s unlikely that you’re one of those players. Instead, you’re just looking to get into the action and enjoy the time you’ve invested. My advice then, when your eyes are glazing over as you’re reading the rules, is to forget they’re rules for the moment. And instead, focus on the story.

Focus on Story

You know stories. You’ve been reading, watching, and/or playing them all your life. You know characters have traits and you know choices have consequences, good, bad, and everywhere in-between. When you’re reading the tabletop RPG rule book, try and stop your mind from trying to memorize facts and stats. Instead, start imagining interactions between characters, battles, negotiations, chase sequences…those epic scenes you’ve known and loved your whole life.

At first, you won’t have the complete picture on how that scene could work given the rules. Yes, you understand maybe how a character can choose to do something, but what do I roll? Why do I roll? And how? And what happens depending on how well I roll? That’s where you can begin to layer the rule’s instructions for how actions are to be taken.

Piece by piece – instead of digesting the (sometimes) bland wall of rules – you’re building up knowledge on how scenes, actions, and moments of stories are facilitated by this tabletop role-playing game system. Over time, as you stitch your understanding together thread by thread, the scenes will become more and more complete – and your confidence level will grow and grow.

Ready For Your First Session

And eventually, you’ll be more than ready for your first session. You’ll have seen through the rules. And instead, you’ll have taken the time to learn layer upon layer of how stories are conducted in your chosen system. For some games, that will take a few hours. Others, like what we’re trying to achieve with StoryTogether’s StoryNite system, perhaps 15-20 minutes.

Regardless though, the shift in mindset from “unintelligible wall of rules” to “learning layers of what makes a story tic” will be a huge, huge win for you as you get into playing stories for the first time. So good luck – and let me know if there’s anything I can do help you get started!