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The Story Now Discussion

Arilyn

Hero
It has been suggested that a Story Now discussion could be helpful, so I'm starting one. As a curious neophyte, this could be helpful.

This is not a thread to argue over Story Now vs. other styles. We've had plenty of those fights.🙄 This is for discussion, questions, clarifications, etc.

So my first question. How do super hero games work with Story Now? Especially initial sessions.
 

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It has been suggested that a Story Now discussion could be helpful, so I'm starting one. As a curious neophyte, this could be helpful.

This is not a thread to argue over Story Now vs. other styles. We've had plenty of those fights.🙄 This is for discussion, questions, clarifications, etc.

So my first question. How do super hero games work with Story Now? Especially initial sessions.

MHRP (Cortex+) and Masks (PBtA) are the games I've run that cover this genre.

However, to be honest, you can look at Dungeon World as a super hero game as the Classes aren't careers/common nouns. They're proper nouns, archetypes just like in a Super Hero game. You aren't a Fighter. You're the Fighter. 4e Story Now play with its Themes, Paragon Paths, and Epic Destinies cover this same ground (people aren't playing the same Themese/Paths/Destinies...so they're the, not a).

Broadly, (a) they work well, but, like all Story Now play, (b) the game cannot be generically premised, (c) characters need to be aggressively and clearly themed, and (d) play orbits around this premise and these themes with GMs framing provocative situations that engage with premise and themes.

So:

* Premise play with a measure of specificity (it doesn't have to be hyper-specific, but with some level of specificity) that focuses play but doesn't narrow it to a singularity from which there is no escape.

It can (and will) become more specific as play continues, but it cannot be generic at the outset. Now there is a fine line here, TOO much specificity can also cause problems because you're leaving no room for premise to sharpen during play. But the hyper-generic D&D mercs/adventuring troupe pulling treasure from dungeon delves is WAAAAAY too generic. At the opposite end of the spectrum is "x archetype doing y thing to ensure z outcome" can (and typically does) create a Story Before inertia.

* Aggressively theme characters and (as I said in the other thread) players should be leading their PC and following them simultaneously.

Its kind of like Blades' Act Now, Plan Later, principle for players but applied in a different area. Give them meaning, give them direction, but don't conceive or demand outcomes. There has to be a curiosity and an impulsivity that heavily balances out the urge for advocacy. Don't get me wrong, advocacy is going to be there. But it can't overwhelm curiosity and impulsivity.

* Play orbits around this premise and these themes with GMs framing provocative situations that engage with premise and themes.

GMs aren't framing premise-neutral or theme-neutral scenes. Their job is to provoke the players to action, action that addresses premise and engages with player-flagged themes. The players' job is to answer that call to action aggressively, with care, curiosity, but also impulsivity.

The story will accrete (NOW) around this stuff until all questions are resolved (in some way) and characters are changed (rinse/repeat).
 
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darkbard

Hero
There has to be a curiosity and an impulsivity that heavily balances out the urge for advocacy. Don't get me wrong, advocacy is going to be there. But it can't overwhelm curiosity and impulsivity.

For me, this is the very heart of Story Now gaming: play to find out (what happens). Some of Apocalypse World's principles come to mind: play your character like driving a stolen car, and hold on loosely (roughly paraphrased).
 

Arilyn

Hero
This is helpful. Thank you. The most experience with these games I have is Dungeon World which I really enjoyed. And Troll Babe from some years ago. I have Masks but haven't run it yet. And Mouseguard.

In comics, villains usually have plots. Does the GM create a loosish plot to get the ball rolling, or does it come from questions, rolls. This genre often has secret knowledge. How is this handled in Story Now, so it has the drives of the characters, an important aspect of supers, and have those nefarious plans without too much pre planning?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
This is helpful. Thank you. The most experience with these games I have is Dungeon World which I really enjoyed. And Troll Babe from some years ago. I have Masks but haven't run it yet. And Mouseguard.

In comics, villains usually have plots. Does the GM create a loosish plot to get the ball rolling, or does it come from questions, rolls. This genre often has secret knowledge. How is this handled in Story Now, so it has the drives of the characters, an important aspect of supers, and have those nefarious plans without too much pre planning?
The key is to have a goal -- what does the villain want? AW/DW does this with Fronts, Blades does it with clocks, but both of these are player facing trackers to show how this danger is advancing. So, let's say we have Dr. Bob, Evil Mastermind. Dr. Bob's plot is to "Destroy Metro City!" You put this out in front of the players in bold marker, and when appropriate, you tick it. When you tick it, you should advance the fiction some, but this really depends on what's happened up until this point in the game, and should aim at or harm the PCs. Think of it as a series of soft/hard moves that advance the villain's plot. You do not need to plan these, they should occur in the sense of the game, but it's okay to do some 'offscreen thinking' here and have a loose idea what what "Destroy Metro City" looks like. Just hold onto it lightly.

When you do this, then the players are on notice that bad is happening. If you've made sure that Dr. Bob speaks to the PC's needs, then they should go after Dr. Bob without you prompting much. This is why it's also helpful to have Bobblob and Duke Bob also having their plots that speak to the PCs. That way, you'll always have something ticking towards doom. If I were doing a supers game that didn't already have a nemesis/rival creation as part of PC creation, I'd absolutely borrow from Blades here and have every hero have a rival that they have a personal stake in to use, as needed, as villainous plotters.
 

Arilyn

Hero
The key is to have a goal -- what does the villain want? AW/DW does this with Fronts, Blades does it with clocks, but both of these are player facing trackers to show how this danger is advancing. So, let's say we have Dr. Bob, Evil Mastermind. Dr. Bob's plot is to "Destroy Metro City!" You put this out in front of the players in bold marker, and when appropriate, you tick it. When you tick it, you should advance the fiction some, but this really depends on what's happened up until this point in the game, and should aim at or harm the PCs. Think of it as a series of soft/hard moves that advance the villain's plot. You do not need to plan these, they should occur in the sense of the game, but it's okay to do some 'offscreen thinking' here and have a loose idea what what "Destroy Metro City" looks like. Just hold onto it lightly.

When you do this, then the players are on notice that bad is happening. If you've made sure that Dr. Bob speaks to the PC's needs, then they should go after Dr. Bob without you prompting much. This is why it's also helpful to have Bobblob and Duke Bob also having their plots that speak to the PCs. That way, you'll always have something ticking towards doom. If I were doing a supers game that didn't already have a nemesis/rival creation as part of PC creation, I'd absolutely borrow from Blades here and have every hero have a rival that they have a personal stake in to use, as needed, as villainous plotters.
Thank you for this advice. This is a good starting point. Just picked up the new Sentinels game, and thinking it could be a good fit.

Also, Liminal. But haven't given it a thorough read yet. It's urban fantasy that leans into character drives and factions. I'm pretty excited about Liminal because it has the flavour I like in urban fantasy. It has a lighter touch, both thematically and mechanically than WoD.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Flexibility is key. You might have countdown, or a clock for you big bad, and some idea about how things might turn out, but the real key is turning that over to the players once actual play starts and letting them drive. You prep might get trashed, things might tuen out the opposite of what you thought, but that's fine.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Yeah, I think it's just going to be jumping in. I feel more confident with fantasy tropes, with minimal prep, but super heroes or modern has me a little skittish.
Practice, and see how it goes!
 

Yeah, I think it's just going to be jumping in. I feel more confident with fantasy tropes, with minimal prep, but super heroes or modern has me a little skittish.
Practice, and see how it goes!

Its principally all the same but it depends on what the specific game's tech is to advance the big bad's agenda and let you deploy it. MHRP has the GM building a Doom Pool to make badness manifest. PBtA has the snowballing engine + Clocks to represent bad guy machinations and Complications (as a result of the engine) to tick it until it goes off.

Make it player-facing. Ask questions and use the answers. Make sure the bad guy's machinations engage with the premise of play while placing the PCs in provocative situations that resolve (one way or the other; good or ill) the thematic questions embedded in their characters. Give them difficult decision-points that force them to prioritize their thematic interests (see what Joker did, or tried to do, to Batman in The Dark Knight).
 


darkbard

Hero
What is Story Now? Maybe add a basic definition in the OP for those who have no idea what it means. Might turn out I'm doing it intuitively. ;-)
I'm not Arilyn, but I offer that Story Now games seek to minimize or eliminate the priority of fiction prior to the action of the game itself, be that GM-authored plot, setting details, or deeply-detailed character backstory. It's playing to find out: what is this world, who are these characters, what are their dramatic needs, how will they interface with challenges? The participants (including GM) may have some ideas about these things prior to play, but nothing is set until it becomes part of the shared fiction via gameplay. (Hence the admonishment to "hang on loosely" to any prep or ideas and to "draw maps but leave blanks.")

Further, Story Now gaming seeks to equalize the roles of its participants, including GM, by distributing judgment authority across the table rather than vesting it largely or solely with the GM.
 

Campbell

Legend
The basic conceit is that players create characters with compelling dramatic needs - something they will fight for. As a GM it becomes your job to design scenarios or frame scenes that speak to those dramatic needs. The idea is that players just have to play their characters with vigor and the game will result in a compelling story that we all get to see as it unfolds. GM sets it up. Players just play their characters. We all get to see the fallout together. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
 

Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
I'm not Arilyn, but I offer that Story Now games seek to minimize or eliminate the priority of fiction prior to the action of the game itself, be that GM-authored plot, setting details, or deeply-detailed character backstory. It's playing to find out: what is this world, who are these characters, what are their dramatic needs, how will they interface with challenges? The participants (including GM) may have some ideas about these things prior to play, but nothing is set until it becomes part of the shared fiction via gameplay. (Hence the admonishment to "hang on loosely" to any prep or ideas and to "draw maps but leave blanks.")

Further, Story Now gaming seeks to equalize the roles of its participants, including GM, by distributing judgment authority across the table rather than vesting it largely or solely with the GM.
Sound like what I do when I play solitary random games with 3-4 characters. Nothing is scripted. I discover as I go along. Character reaction is based on a few behavioural lines (+keywords) I put down on each sheet. Authority is equalized because I play both the GM and the Characters. But, of course, there is no actual role-play happening (I'm only half insane). Which is a major difference.
 

Campbell

Legend
Probably the easiest form of Story Now play for someone who is familiar with more traditional gaming to experiment with is starting play with a Kicker, an inciting event. Something that upsets an existing status quo. When I last did this in Exalted it was the death of a crown prince whose skill at diplomacy had been keeping the region from erupting into war.

Just draft a skeleton. You do not want to many details before players create their characters. Then work with players to create characters that fit what John Harper calls the 3 C's of Character : Capable, Connected, Conflicted. Capable of enacting change in the setting related to the scenario. Connected to the scenario in some personal way. Conflicted about what they want to have happen or who they are.

A great example of this sort of scenario design and what characters should look like is Lady Blackbird.

This sort of approach is also fully compatible with more mainstream systems.
 
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Marc_C

Solo Role Playing
Probably the easiest form of Story Now play for someone who is familiar with more traditional gaming to experiment with is stating play with a Kicker, an inciting event. Something that upsets an existing status quo. When I last did this in Exalted it was the death of a crown prince whose skill at diplomacy had been keeping the region from erupting into war.

Just draft a skeleton. You do not want to many details before players create their characters. Then work with players to create characters that fit what John Harper calls the 3 C's of Character : Capable, Connected, Conflicted. Capable of enacting change in the setting related to the scenario. Connected to the scenario in some personal way. Conflicted about what they want to have happen or who they are.

A great example of this sort of scenario design and what characters should look like is Lady Blackbird.

This sort of approach is also fully compatible with more mainstream systems.
My current 5e game, on hiatus, is just that. The PCs (started level 3) are the children of a baron who was assassinated the night before the campaign started. I didn't who did it or why. I told them other barons might invade if they didn't show a firm hand in managing the barony with their surviving mother (regent). I just let the payers give me clues with their actions (and paranoia) and build the campaign as I went along.
 

@Arilyn I recently finished up a pretty long series of a super hero game using the Blades in the Dark system.

So much superhero fiction has the heroes being very reactive (threat then response), but Story Now requiring proactive players, it can seem like a bit of a mismatch. But, you just have to shift your thinking a bit.

For me, I leaned on how Blades in the Dark functions quite a bit, and then used that to help in how I approached the fiction.

So I established some villainous factions and then gave each one a goal of some sort. Based on the scope/scale of the goal, I created a clock, the greater the scope, the larger the clock. Then I thought about what each step in that clock might be. I didn't commit to all this, just kind of kept it in mind as an approach.

So for example, I had a villain called Volt (blatantly ripped off of Spider-Man’s Electro) and I gave him the goal of “Absorbing All the Electricity in the City”. This seems to me like a pretty straightforward goal for him, without a lot of complexity, but I want to give it some space to develop and for the PCs to potentially get involved at different points, so I’ll make it an 8 segment clock.

So looking at that as a comic book arc with some rough stages, I can see it something like this:
1 - Volt realizes he can absorb electricity
2-4 - There are localized brown-outs as Volt hits power plants to drain their power
5-7 - Volt’s power level becomes dangerous- his scale/potency have now increased and his powers are amplified. I increase his Tier to 2.
8- The city loses all power as Volt drains it dry; his scale/potency increases again and he is now dangerously out of control

Again, this is very loose and is kind of a vague notion of how things will go unless the PCs get involved. I don’t introduce the clock until it makes sense to do so. I then present some chances for them to get involved in this in some way. In between sessions, active clocks get advanced by a roll based on faction tier.

Some clocks are more involved. Sometimes completing one clock leads to another, so Factions can have one goal that leads to another, and so on.

All of this also depends on the PCs’ involvement and what they choose to do. So if the PCs never really focus on Volt, I don’t want the advancing clock to mean that I attempt to force this story upon them. Instead, it could just be background details. The brownouts and maybe eventual power-outage could just be flavor.

Again, this is just one example. Ideally you intoduce a few factions and their clocks to give the PCs a choice of different kinds of things to get involved with. Keeping all these things kind of fluid until established in play is key, as well.
 

Arilyn

Hero
What is Story Now? Maybe add a basic definition in the OP for those who have no idea what it means. Might turn out I'm doing it intuitively. ;-)
Sorry, should have explained it, but others have done so better than me, so that lets me off the hook. 😊

I find that having the GM playing to find out what happens gives players a deeper sense of danger or mystery. Initially, I had concerns Story Now could end up with sessions that feel surreal or unfocused, but the opposite happens. Everyone at the table has to be fully engaged, and as a player, knowing that not even the GM has an answer key, or full knowledge made things feel really dangerous in Dungeon World. A sense of, "Oh God, we are really on our own." I dont think I'm explaining this very well, but my character had a strong sense of vulnerability, that I haven't felt since my very first RPG.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Sound like what I do when I play solitary random games with 3-4 characters. Nothing is scripted. I discover as I go along. Character reaction is based on a few behavioural lines (+keywords) I put down on each sheet. Authority is equalized because I play both the GM and the Characters. But, of course, there is no actual role-play happening (I'm only half insane). Which is a major difference.
You might as well dive right in and talk to yourself. 😂 This sounds awesome actually.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
What is Story Now? Maybe add a basic definition in the OP for those who have no idea what it means. Might turn out I'm doing it intuitively. ;-)
Others have taken a crack at this, but here's how I put it: Story Now rose from the idea of Story Before. If you imagine a dungeon, that's story before -- the nature, paths, obstacles, events of that dungeon exist before play. This is obviously a great way to play, because it's the most common way to play and people love it (I'm one of those people). Story Now, though, is about making all of that work at the table, in the moment, and not prepping it before hand. This isn't the same as "winging it," which it's often confused with, because even with "winging it" the GM is the one driving the story. Instead, in Story Now, the story is driven by play -- the GM usually tightly constrained as to what they're allowed to introduce and when.

Largely, Story Now, for me, is driven (mostly) by the following:

1) Be a Fan of the PCs
2) Play to find out what happens
3) No Force

1) Be a Fan of the PCs. This seems like it's obvious, but there's a really key things here -- we enjoy watching the things we're fans of overcome. I'm a 007 fan, for instance, but I don't want to watch 007 enjoy a relaxing vacation (if that's possible). I want to see 007 get beat up, put in impossible situations, and then how he comes out of those! Being a Fan of the PCs doesn't mean go soft, or be nice, it means that you, as GM, really want to see how these PCs deal with the firehose of adversity you're going to point at them. It means creating situations that try these PCs, that go right for their soft spots, and then loving what happens next. It absolutely means no blocking, though -- you cannot predict what's going to happen and drive for that, instead you have to let the PCs be the PCs.

2) Play to find out what happens. This also seems obvious, but it's, again, not. We're not talking about seeing how the PCs overcome these trolls the GM put in the dungeon (or whatever), but instead we're going to play to see if a dungeon even exists, much less trolls. Every action in a Story Now game has the capability to go off in a completely new direction, and usually does. Prep is nearly impossible in these games, because it will be challenged and renders useless very quickly. You must hold onto prep very lightly, as it's likely to go out the window very quickly.

3) No Force. This is critical in Story Now games -- the GM cannot push any outcome or result at all, ever. This goes with 2) above in that the GM can't use the usual tools of GMing to run a Story Now game. You can't have quantum ogres, and you can't have detailed prep down to the cobblestones of a town. These force outcomes. The only thing that's constricting in a Story Now game is what's already in play -- ie, what's been shared at the table, for everyone. Everything else is a possibility.

Now, these things do not work very well with a lot of mainstream games, D&D being one of them. This is because the mechanics of these games do not reinforce this mode of play, and sometimes actively fight against them. D&D's core concept of "the GM decides" is a challenge to Story Now play. Other games build these concepts into the very fabric of the system, and so the system reinforces play in a way that's utterly absent in a game of D&D -- to do Story Now in D&D the GM is going to need to push it hard, and that's kinda not in-line with the concept. You can do it, but it would take a big hack of the system or just outright ignoring it, and if you're ignoring the system, you're going to lose a lot of the ways that system aids Story Now play. Specifically, systems tuned for Story Now have robust mechanics that create complication as they work. This aids in driving play in unexpected ways, and creating a solid, consistent play that isn't at all what most people consider "winging it" to look like. Story Now games work very well, but are a hard shift in perspective from traditional D&D style, GM centered games.
 

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