Advice for new "story now" GMs

clearstream

(He, Him)
As with many things in D&D, there really isn't a line that can be identified. When someone says something is or isn't D&D, what they're saying is, "This doesn't trigger my gut-feeling recognition of 'D&D' things." It's completely personal and unstructured. Which is fine, if all one wishes to do is express personal preference/interest/etc. Issues arise when one starts to reify such things--I'm sure all of us have heard of at least one example thereof.
I feel like DW is most strongly fiction-first, and can be story now if a group want it to be. It has the architecture, but nothing really forceful. MotW is somewhat similar. I've seen and experienced both games played in different ways (and read about that anecdotally here too.) Actually I believe @AbdulAlhazred outlined some elements that are all too easily grasped insufficiently strongly, in another thread.
 

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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I feel like DW is most strongly fiction-first, and can be story now if a group want it to be. It has the architecture, but nothing really forceful. MotW is somewhat similar. I've seen and experienced both games played in different ways (and read about that anecdotally here too.) Actually I believe @AbdulAlhazred outlined some elements that are all too easily grasped insufficiently strongly, in another thread.
Not really sure how it differs from other PbtA games then. Unless your claim is that all PbtA games are No True Scotsmen Story Now games...which would certainly be a hot take.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
You don't need to revamp a single thing to avoid gamism/or gamist dungeoncrawling. And my anecdotal experience is far different from yours. Perhaps it's geographical. I'm in Los Angeles and many of my D&D groups have involved player/DM's who are writers, directors, actors, voice actors, MOCAP performers, stunt men and others in the Hollywood industry.
Folk seem to have widely varying experiences. I started out with Basic, then moved to other games for a long stretch, including FKR, and then picked up D&D again in 3e, 4e, and 5e. I didn't realise I ran D&D in a way extremely different from norms elsewhere until players joining my game told me, and that was driven home when I finally ran an official adventure path as designed (ugh, never again!)

Either that, or barely distinguishable from freeform roleplaying
Can you unpack that a bit? I've played and run freeform and D&D and - at least in my experience - the two are highly differentiated. What do you have in mind?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Not really sure how it differs from other PbtA games then. Unless your claim is that all PbtA games are No True Scotsmen Story Now games...which would certainly be a hot take.
PbtA games differ one from another. I haven't played AW but it looks far more likely to me to stress character-related premises. DW can do that, can not do that. The game works either way. I'm not saying DW isn't intended to though. And OTOH I am saying that DW is forcefully fiction-first.

Another way to put what I am saying is just to hold up the idea of vanilla-narrativism... as defined a couple of decades ago. And say that vanilla-narrativism DW can feel like the focus is primarily on fiction-first. Responsive to @niklinna DW can readily be played as a kit-bashed version of D&D, and what I'm describing here is what that looks like.

EDIT I guess one could take issue with treating story-now and fiction-first as separable. Based on experience I think they are. Maybe others disagree?
 
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I've been mulling this over, not in disagreement. A thought I had is that another sort of "heart of 'story now'" is emergent dramatic premises, in respect of which the player protagonism drives or delivers a story that matters to us. (EDIT See my quote of Callois 1958 in my immediately following post for what I understand to be a direct implication.)


Many story now games will offer some system of bonds or commitments. Often connected to the reward apparatus. Passively, these can work just fine. Related to my first point, as GM I feel like you want to prep something that looks likely to stress these. You've covered that with the fundamental "learn what your player's concerns are for their PCs" and this takes it a little further to say to what ends.


The last decade or so has delivered (or made explicit) several powerful tools to RPG. Fiction first, as brilliantly articulated in AW and found in all PbtA. No-myth and player authorship, which go hand-in-hand and lay the ground work for players to really be authors (not just to establish the fiction, but to do so in the distinct way of forming a story.) Use of the metagame so that "when a player 'really means it' then their character's impact on play needs to increase" as perhaps best demonstrated in BitD. And goal-driven play (instead of adventure-paths or map-and-key).

Those in various constellations can fairly passively give rise to vanilla narrativism: in my experience they can allow successful drift and hybrids. I think story now wants to push it a bit further, so that some combination of situation, system elements, adversity management, and player advocacy finds out what happens when who you are and what you believe is cast into question. As you lay out, situation and system elements are thus important parts of facilitation.


Adversity management comes in here. I have some quibbles with prejudgement, even while agreeing with the not contradicting or overriding part. I don't think you rule it out, so I would just here rule in being opinionated (or grasping the opinion of the design.)


So my comment/question is really - dramatic premise - what about it? I could be wrong, but I feel like it's important to get in there explicitly. Note that I'm talking about a process or emergence. Some designs have certain types or natures of premise implied right in them, but that is without dictating what versions of that will emerge in play.
All games have some pretty strong notion of genre, but not all have a premise that is related to drama. Like DW's premise is simply "there's a party of protagonists" and that's pretty much it, except for the basic notion that stuff will happen. The nature of that fiction is pretty much unspecified. So we may be agree on this part.
 

EDIT I guess one could take issue with treating story-now and fiction-first as separable. Based on experience I think they are. Maybe others disagree?
Well, 4e is about the most 'trad' SN game around, when played that way. You can run combat in a story after kind of way, sort of. However, you still have to name the powers you use, and those powers give a pretty good account of the fiction. I don't think that's an accident. Since SN is ABOUT the fiction that is happening now, it seems weird to not provide that fiction up front.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
PbtA games differ one from another. I haven't played AW but it looks far more likely to me to stress character-related premises. DW can do that, can not do that. The game works either way. I'm not saying DW isn't intended to though. And OTOH I am saying that DW is forcefully fiction-first.

Another way to put what I am saying is just to hold up the idea of vanilla-narrativism... as defined a couple of decades ago. And say that vanilla-narrativism DW can feel like the focus is primarily on fiction-first. Responsive to @niklinna DW can readily be played as a kit-bashed version of D&D, and what I'm describing here is what that looks like.

EDIT I guess one could take issue with treating story-now and fiction-first as separable. Based on experience I think they are. Maybe others disagree?
I do think that's where my mind is catching. I'm not really sure what the difference between the two is. Because every discussion I've had about "story now" and related things makes a big deal of how important being fiction-first is. So, what would it look like to have a game that was pointedly not fiction-first, but still "story now"? Or is this a stacking affair, e.g. you can be fiction-first without being "story now" but you can't be "story now" without being fiction-first--and if so, what is the secret sauce that boosts mere fiction-first into "story now"?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Well, 4e is about the most 'trad' SN game around, when played that way. You can run combat in a story after kind of way, sort of. However, you still have to name the powers you use, and those powers give a pretty good account of the fiction. I don't think that's an accident. Since SN is ABOUT the fiction that is happening now, it seems weird to not provide that fiction up front.
Aye, and to be clear, I believe FF does important work for SN. For the reason you imply. What I'm getting at with "separable" is using FF outside of SN.

I do think that's where my mind is catching. I'm not really sure what the difference between the two is. Because every discussion I've had about "story now" and related things makes a big deal of how important being fiction-first is. So, what would it look like to have a game that was pointedly not fiction-first, but still "story now"? Or is this a stacking affair, e.g. you can be fiction-first without being "story now" but you can't be "story now" without being fiction-first--and if so, what is the secret sauce that boosts mere fiction-first into "story now"?
Right, it's a stacking affair! That's a great way to put it. So as I note above, I see them as separable in that fiction-first can be used outside of story-now, even though it's indispensable or at least naturally useful to story-now.
  • Fiction-first as I see it is about working from fictional position and driving momentum through the linkage between system and fiction. It has some other technical features that I see as important but not salient here.
  • Story-now as I understand it is about premises relating to themes; it's about casting who you are and what you believe into questions that cannot help but play out dramatically in ludic-narrative. The "play to find out" mantra of story-now isn't exceptional in general, it's exceptional in particular: it's a derivative of Callois' observation from 1958. It's not play to find out what happens next - a fundamental truism of playing a game - it's play to find out how problematic questions resolve. Experienced and realised dramatically in the moment via the lusory player-subject duality, rather than known from a preexisting draft of the story.
The latter requires the former because for one thing FF effectively drives rising tension. The former doesn't require the latter, even though it's suited to it. That's how I see it and that's how it played out in DW and MotW for me. We lit on FF right away... it felt like something we were already doing, explicitly articulated. It took much longer to appreciate SN... it never felt forced upon us by those game designs.
 
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loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
Can you unpack that a bit? I've played and run freeform and D&D and - at least in my experience - the two are highly differentiated. What do you have in mind?
In a dungeon, there's a ticking clock of dwindling resources and wandering monsters, but outside of it, what are you left with? Skill checks, that are basically a non-mechanic?
 

loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
I do think that's where my mind is catching. I'm not really sure what the difference between the two is. Because every discussion I've had about "story now" and related things makes a big deal of how important being fiction-first is. So, what would it look like to have a game that was pointedly not fiction-first, but still "story now"? Or is this a stacking affair, e.g. you can be fiction-first without being "story now" but you can't be "story now" without being fiction-first--and if so, what is the secret sauce that boosts mere fiction-first into "story now"?
Full disclosure: I hate the term "fiction first", I think it's just stupid. Games cannot be fiction-first, only particular mechanics can (and even that is murky). AW has a plenty of moves that are very explicitly not fiction first: spending Barter at the start of the session, or changing highlighted stats, or moving Hx don't flow from the fiction, they flow from the real world.

And less explicitly, pretty much every move ignores fiction at least partially: Going Aggro on a scared kid shouldn't bear any risks from what is established in the fiction, but the move still must be made: if you do it, you do it. MC then must make up fiction to explain the result of the roll.

If anything, when the rules and the fiction are in conflict in PbtA, the rules always win (in contrast with games like D&D or Vampire or GURPS, where if the rules "don't make sense" they are just ignored). Ditto for Forged in the Dark, Fate, or any other nar game I can think of.
 
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