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The Story Now Discussion

Arilyn

Hero
When I first started looking into Story Now, I thought we were doing this style. Players had a lot of input, and there was a lot of improvisation. I often disregarded my notes if the game headed off down an unexpected path. We played Cortex Firefly for a while and hardly anyone rolled dice because as a group, we knew what should logically happen to create a good Firefly tale. It was a ton of fun, but definitely not Story Now.

I'm interested in Story Now because I've really enjoyed what I've done so far. I appreciate that the style is coming at RPGs from a unique direction. There's a lot of confusion over it and it's often dismissed, which is a shame.
 

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JonM

Explorer
I just wanted to pop in and say "thank you" for some of these posts (especially, Hawkeyefan's, which really brought things home, for me) and to Arilyn, for starting the thread, in the first place. While I have only rarely made my presence known, in the other Story Now discussions, I've been a curious lurker, for a while. During this time, it seemed to me that there were two specific types of fiction that could be problematic for Story Now. I'll go into the first of these, in a moment, but the second is superhero adventures.

The problem is that, in most genres, heroes tend to be quite proactive, which lends itself well to the Story Now approach. Some types of stories, such as heists, push this even further, since, in RPG terms, the GM really just has to get the ball rolling, and, after that, spends most of the rest of the adventure just reacting to the players. I guess I've been running heists more or less Story Now almost from day one and didn't even know it. However, in most traditional superhero stories, the situation is reversed. The villains (and other problems) tend to be the proactive elements, and the protagonists tend to be mostly reactive. This, to me, seemed like a problem, for low- to no-prep Story Now, with the GM leaving the instigation to the players.

Reading some of these examples, however, I can see that I may have overstated the problem by assuming that Story Now = no prep. If we assume that it is "legitimate" to prep some villains with strong motivations, then come up with the barest skeletons of goals that call back to those motivations, then just sit back and see what the players do about it, reacting to their reactions, as it were... Well, that I can get my head around. Heck, I've occasionally run superhero games exactly that way. I always start off making a roster of NPCs with good strong motivations, because I just love doing that, and I consider it to be the GM's most important and time-efficient prep job. From there, I'm often pretty traditional, making plans and maps and the whole nine yards. But, occasionally, I just grab a villain, ask him "what are you doing, today?" and run with that - no other prep. So, I guess that's pretty Story Now.

I'm afraid that your reward for answering questions so well is going to be another question, though, because this brings me back to my first problematic type of story, that I alluded to earlier: mysteries. By this, I mean real whodunnits, with suspects, motivations, clues, red herrings, unexpected twists, and so forth, not just the run-of-the-mill "I wonder where the werewolf is hiding" type of questions that come up all the time, in RPGs.

Traditional mysteries, to me, are always a special case. I run them only occasionally, because they are high-effort high-reward - that is, they take a lot of work, but, when done properly, can have the players talking about them months or even years later. But therein lies the problem: high-effort, in this case, translates to major prep. I usually have to come up with lots of NPCs, locations, past events, possible points of confusion, etc. I have to plan out everything that happened, to make sure there are no contradictions and that, once the mystery is solved, it will all make satisfying sense. A mystery that lacks a satisfying sense of resolution is a pretty lame mystery.

So, my question, of course, is: how do you handle this, in Story Now? Or is this just a type of story best avoided, in Story Now?

BTW, I do have one possible answer, but, I'll warn you, in advance, that I don't especially like it. You could just come up with a crime and a few NPCs and let the players have at it. Don't even bother figuring out the culprit - just roll with it, and settle on one, based logically on what the players turn up. In fact, I've done exactly that, a couple of times, and it was... okay. Just okay. More or less. But it lacked the layering and nuance and, ultimately, sense of satisfaction of a more carefully thought out mystery, and I'm sure it wasn't especially memorable. It also left me in perpetual minor anxiety that, afterwards, one of the players would suddenly say, "Hey, wait a minute... It couldn't have been X, because of Y..." I'm pretty good at improvising and juggling stuff, in my head, but nobody is perfect, especially under those conditions. And, while my players may sometimes guess that I'm winging it, nobody wants their versimilitude ruined by confirming it, in such an unfortunate way.

So, can a Story Now approach handle solid, entertaining, satisfying mysteries and, if so, how?
 
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Campbell

Legend
I think there can be mysteries, as in stuff characters are keen to find out. The focus still needs to be on the characters and what they are trying to achieve though. Like it's all good to have the mystery of Duke Leto's death be unresolved for the time being because Paul has bigger concerns and those are our focus because Paul is a PC.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
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.
Okay, so, this isn't Story Now. What's happening here is that you're taking input and then deciding what game will be presented, and this is awesome! Kudos on taking player input. It's perfectly fine that what you're doing isn't Story Now, as that's not a necessary or preferred thing. It's like the difference between board games -- you shouldn't at all be upset that your Risk game isn't like a game of Backgammon. There's nothing superior, or better, about Story Now, it's just a different way to play.

So, why do I say you're game isn't Story Now from this little snippet? Because you're telling players what will happen if they don't do a thing. You've also given some strong hints that a lot of the player's backgrounds are created in part to serve the game, rather than the other way around. This is, again, 100% fine. I'm running a 5e AP right now, and my game is absolutely nothing close to a Story Now game -- like, not even a little bit and I love Story Now games. These are different approaches.

Quite often, people hear about Story Now and assume that it's something they're doing because they incorporate PCs stuff into their prep. This is superficially similar, but it's like the difference between snorkeling and being a fish. You're both in the water, and you're both breathing, but you're not at all close to being the same thing. Story Now takes the aspect of centering PCs and dials it to 11 -- in fact, it makes the entire game about centering the PCs. There's no adventure, there's only what the PCs are doing right now, and what they've done. What happens next is a complete mystery, and we'll find out in play.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.

As another example, we can bring up the Sentinels Comics RPG.

Each scene has a tracker with some number of steps, going from green to yellow to red. In the scene there is some dramatic situation that needs to be resolved. Each round the tracker goes up one - you might have, say, two green, three yellow, and two red rounds. If the PCs do not resolve the situation before the end of the tracker, the scene ends, and is reframed as a new (probably worse) situation, resulting from the failure to stop the last one.
 

JonM

Explorer
I think there can be mysteries, as in stuff characters are keen to find out. The focus still needs to be on the characters and what they are trying to achieve though. Like it's all good to have the mystery of Duke Leto's death be unresolved for the time being because Paul has bigger concerns and those are our focus because Paul is a PC.
OK, but that's just the "I wonder where the werewolf is hiding" kind of "mystery" I mentioned in my post. That's not a mystery-focused whodunnit kind of thing, which is what I'm interested in, here. Your answer seems to be "no, Story Now isn't meant for this"....?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I just wanted to pop in and say "thank you" for some of these posts (especially, Hawkeyefan's, which really brought things home, for me) and to Arilyn, for starting the thread, in the first place. While I have only rarely made my presence known, in the other Story Now discussions, I've been a curious lurker, for a while. During this time, it seemed to me that there were two specific types of fiction that could be problematic for Story Now. I'll go into the first of these, in a moment, but the second is superhero adventures.

The problem is that, in most genres, heroes tend to be quite proactive, which lends itself well to the Story Now approach. Some types of stories, such as heists, push this even further, since, in RPG terms, the GM really just has to get the ball rolling, and, after that, spends most of the rest of the adventure just reacting to the players. I guess I've been running heists more or less Story Now almost from day one and didn't even know it. However, in most traditional superhero stories, the situation is reversed. The villains (and other problems) tend to be the proactive elements, and the protagonists tend to be mostly reactive. This, to me, seemed like a problem, for low- to no-prep Story Now, with the GM leaving the instigation to the players.

Reading some of these examples, however, I can see that I may have overstated the problem by assuming that Story Now = no prep. If we assume that it is "legitimate" to prep some villains with strong motivations, then come up with the barest skeletons of goals that call back to those motivations, then just sit back and see what the players do about it, reacting to their reactions, as it were... Well, that I can get my head around. Heck, I've occasionally run superhero games exactly that way. I always start off making a roster of NPCs with good strong motivations, because I just love doing that, and I consider it to be the GM's most important and time-efficient prep job. From there, I'm often pretty traditional, making plans and maps and the whole nine yards. But, occasionally, I just grab a villain, ask him "what are you doing, today?" and run with that - no other prep. So, I guess that's pretty Story Now.

I'm afraid that your reward for answering questions so well is going to be another question, though, because this brings me back to my first problematic type of story, that I alluded to earlier: mysteries. By this, I mean real whodunnits, with suspects, motivations, clues, red herrings, unexpected twists, and so forth, not just the run-of-the-mill "I wonder where the werewolf is hiding" type of questions that come up all the time, in RPGs.

Traditional mysteries, to me, are always a special case. I run them only occasionally, because they are high-effort high-reward - that is, they take a lot of work, but, when done properly, can have the players talking about them months or even years later. But therein lies the problem: high-effort, in this case, translates to major prep. I usually have to come up with lots of NPCs, locations, past events, possible points of confusion, etc. I have to plan out everything that happened, to make sure there are no contradictions and that, once the mystery is solved, it will all make satisfying sense. A mystery that lacks a satisfying sense of resolution is a pretty lame mystery.

So, my question, of course, is: how do you handle this, in Story Now? Or is this just a type of story best avoided, in Story Now?

BTW, I do have one possible answer, but, I'll warn you, in advance, that I don't especially like it. You could just come up with a crime and a few NPCs and let the players have at it. Don't even bother figuring out the culprit - just roll with it, and settle on one, based logically on what the players turn up. In fact, I've done exactly that, a couple of times, and it was... okay. Just okay. More or less. But it lacked the layering and nuance and, ultimately, sense of satisfaction of a more carefully thought out mystery, and I'm sure it wasn't especially memorable. It also left me in perpetual minor anxiety that, afterwards, one of the players would suddenly say, "Hey, wait a minute... It couldn't have been X, because of Y..." I'm pretty good at improvising and juggling stuff, in my head, but nobody is perfect, especially under those conditions. And, while my players may sometimes guess that I'm winging it, nobody wants their versimilitude ruined by confirming it, in such an unfortunate way.

So, can a Story Now approach handle solid, entertaining, satisfying mysteries and, if so, how?
I'm not sure you've actually grasped the concept. The idea isn't to imagine what the villain is doing, but to put a indicator out that the villain is doing "something." This should be big, and high concept, but you're not going to elaborate on it at all unless and until that clock ticks, and then you're going to create an immediate situation that challenges something the PCs care about. If I put out Dr. Bob's clock of "Destroy Metro City" then that's going to be sitting there, doing not much, until it comes time to tick it. If I'm doing a good job, then that clock alone will speak directly to things the PCs care about, and they'll be telling me what they're doing about it -- and whatever they tell me they do, that's going to be important to Dr. Bob's plans. The idea of the clock, or front, isn't to prep the plan, so to speak, but to put a red cape up and dare the players to charge it. It's the looming threat that needs to be taken care of, or bad things happen. Now, if the PCs ignore it, or it comes time to tick it, or they bungle an attempted thwarting, then you create some new fiction that speaks to the looming bad. Say the PCs decide to ignore Dr. Bob's threat and instead deal with Bobblob for a session. At the end of that session, when you're checking your clocks/fronts, and Dr. Bob's clock/front ticks over, then you introduce a bad thing that's happened, or you increase the threat level of Dr. Bob, or you do something like this. You don't advance a plan, you introduce a new threat. What that threat is/should be can be prepped, but it absolutely must speak to the current situation and PCs. It's hard to prep well in a Story Now game, because things go sideways often (and good thing, too!).

As for mysteries, they absolutely work. Recall, though, that everyone's playing to find out, so even the GM doesn't know the answer to the mystery when it starts, or even halfway through. Instead, the mystery will unfold in play. This is why I say that Story Now play is very dependent on the system -- a system that does it well will generate complications and the mystery will unfold in an organic and interesting way. A system that doesn't support this play, or fights it, will cause this to falter and feel forced.

An example from my Blades in the Dark game of a mystery went like this: the PCs were looking for a job (they were spies), and got one to recover some stolen alchemical notes that were causing alchemists to become very ill and die. This is actually from one of the jobs tables in Blades, and the group was looking to introduce some new ideas early in the game's run (where things weren't very complicated, yet). We did some free play, and established that there was an alchemist that had recently died worth investigating, and also a minor noble who was connected through a PC's contact to the underground alchemy scene. The party split up to investigate both, and I ran a split score -- two PCs investigated the alchemist's house, and two more the nobles. In the course of play, the alchemist's house was being ransacked by a rival gang (a few failures to sneak in meant there were people in the flat, and I introduced rival gang members) and devolved into a fight where gangers were killed (death in Blades is a "bad thing"), and they only got a fragment of some notes about the formula -- clearly it was disseminated more widely, and people were experimenting with it, but what it was or did remained unknown. This score was a failure, and so actually blossomed the mystery and made it deeper. The other score went even more awry. Failures there led to the introduction of an alchemist suffering the formula trying to kill/capture/scare? the nobleman, and the description was zombielike. The PCs there engaged the zombish alchemist, and more fails occurred, leading to the description the the "zombie" was heavily imbued with the ghost field, and could even stutter step through space (when your crack shot misses the zombie five feet away, you need a reason other than "you missed"). So, at the end of this, the PCs had some tantalizing clues, but had not recovered the formula or even had a grasp on what it did. Meanwhile, the between score entanglements roll indicated demonic interest, so a demon got involved, demanding the PCs recover this formula and destroy it or it would come of them (demons are like elementals in Blades, this one was a fire elemental). This one rolled job had now blossomed into a mystery, one that would take a few sessions, and lead to engaging allies for assistance, ghosts being kidnapped (it's a thing), haunted houses, secret cults, and more demons. None of this was planned, prepped, and most of it surprised the hell out of me.

If you mean Story Now doesn't do planned mysteries well, then, yes, because planned play is the opposite of the intent. If you're asking if Story Now can do mysteries, it 100% absolutely can, but you really can't plan what or how that mystery will go or even start.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
OK, but that's just the "I wonder where the werewolf is hiding" kind of "mystery" I mentioned in my post. That's not a mystery-focused whodunnit kind of thing, which is what I'm interested in, here. Your answer seems to be "no, Story Now isn't meant for this"....?

Having spent a lot of time running mystery games, you can do a Story Now mystery, but there's one thing you have to be careful of - time pressure. If the players think that there's a huge amount riding on solving the mystery now, that can put the players in the mindset of abandoning all personal motivation until the issue is resolved, and they will dodge their personal stories until the plot completes. Even then, you can do it, if the characters are fully invested, but it gets harder.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Having spent a lot of time running mystery games, you can do a Story Now mystery, but there's one thing you have to be careful of - time pressure. If the players think that there's a huge amount riding on solving the mystery now, that can put the players in the mindset of abandoning all personal motivation until the issue is resolved, and they will dodge their personal stories until the plot completes. Even then, you can do it, if the characters are fully invested, but it gets harder.
This makes no sense to me. If it's a Story Now mystery, then it's already about personal motivations. If it's not, then it's not Story now. Are you talking about switching between GM curated and Story Now?
 

On the structure of mysteries in Story Now play, there are really 4 parts to the formula/structure:

* Start out broad and let play winnow results until all other possible conclusions have been eliminated.

Simply put, we start out with set of possible results "a through f." Through interrogation of the mystery, play introduces a number of situations, the resolution of which removes f, then d, then a, then b/c. We're left with e.

* Everyone at the table is handling their responsibilities (GMs bring situations/setting "on-line" via deft deployment of thematically coherent dangers/discoveries while players advocate for their PCs and what they would find to be interesting) but everyone is persisting in a dual state of leading/following for the game pieces they're representing.

This last bit is the cognitive trick to turn that I think most people have trouble conceptualizing until it clicks. Again, as I said elsewhere (and perhaps here), there is a curiosity and an impulsivity that must ride right alongside your attachment. Perhaps it is most similar to that "helicopter parenting" impulse. You have this precious thing that you want to prevent from having bad outcomes...but you have to let go of that to a degree to get there. Suddenly let your child do thing x that gives you anxiety. Be curious if they can do it/about what happens next, but simultaneously be mentally prepared to reassert yourself because you will inevitably have to (if only in degree). You're following/leading at the same time. "Act now, plan later."

* Skillful play should bear out the active winnowing of results to that final conclusion of e.

GMs introduce situations that require players to make moves. Some of these moves trigger action resolution, through which the GM is obliged to change the gamestate and attendant fiction within the constraints of those principles/rules/procedures that govern action resolution. When done deftly, both the actual winnowing of results and the feel of the winnowing of results will yield "the play that got us to these results was skillful."

* Book-keeping, integration, and continuity.

This is pretty straight-forward, but if you're attentively following along and cementing what has come before in your mind, it will result in the care and cognitive horsepower necessary to integrate and maintain continuity.

Most of these things are going to be small-ish (singular session spanning), but if it extends beyond that, don't be afraid to recap, refresh, and talk about it...and have other parties (eg not the GM) doing the recap/refresh to make sure everyone is on the same page as to "how we got here and where we are."




I'm going to deconstruct a quick example of a simple mystery that came into being out of nowhere and was resolved last session in my game with @darkbard and his wife. All 3 of us were leading and following.

* The Wizard PC wants to repair the Paladin's armor that was ruined in the session before last and possibly enchant it. She wants to deploy a Ritual (a Wizard move), but she needs a master smith or his hammer/anvil, a steel ingot, residuum for the enchant, a successful enchant move. They're at camp 2 of a climb up to a K2esque peak.

She thinks "I believe I've read in my books on the history of this place that there once was a Dwarven Smith nearby." She makes a Spout Lore move w/ Bag of Books augmenting it and gets a 10+ result. I'm obliged to create a Discovery here; something both interesting and useful.

She is leading. I (the GM) am following.

* I create a legend out of whole cloth about a centuries old Dwarven Smith whose Forge was built into the rock off the glacier somewhere not too far from camp 2. His sigil was carved into the very rock which signified the secrete forge's location...but that was many centuries ago and no one has seen him since.

We're now all following. I'm following myself (what I've just made true in the fiction) and they're about to follow it to find the truth of the situation. At this point the reality of the situation is extremely broad. We could winnow to a conclusion of any of "a through f (or more)."

* The set out upon the glacier which obliges me to frame the situation as they follow the details of the legend. Eventually we get to an area of the glacier with meltwater pools and a depression near the northern rock wall that the glacier grinds against. A 10+ Discern Realities move sharpens the picture. Initially we think "this could very well be the site because it looks like some kind of unseen heat may be creating this topographical feature" as hold is spent to ask questions which I'm obliged to answer honestly. Could merely be vents or hot springs. But it could be a forge. But is that forge active signifying life? Is that forge eternally aflame and therefore requires no attendant? Whatever it is, the area is extremely dangerous with multiple hidden crevasse by a thin layer of shifting ice/snow. And the last question is picked and answers the question emphatically; we see the signs of a chiseled sigil into the rock wall, barely peaking out from the top of the massive glacier that has buried it.

This appears to be the place.

Follow > Lead > Follow loop continues for all participants and the mystery starts to peel back, but much remains up in the air.

* A decision-point is navigated. They're either climbing the face (which would be resource-intensive and dangerous) and rappel down to the wall vs trying to navigate the dangerous, unstable crevasse field to the face of the rock wall where the sigil is. They choose the latter.

A move triggers calamity and a snaking crack explodes underneath them and much of the unstable groundcover gives weigh. The Paladin rushes, leaps, and grabs the edge of the collapsed glacier and grabs his understudy Paladin with one arm and pulls her up to safety before he does the same for himself (an 8 on Defy Danger w/ the complication being the threat to his "padawan"...a subsequent 10+ Defy Danger resolves the threat fully).

Unfortunately, his Wizard companion friend did the sort of Act Now, Plan Later impulsive move that she is known for and it got her into big trouble. The failed move meant that the ground swallows her and she immediately begins a horrific tumble as the crevasse swallows her. She is thrown every which way, head over heels and back again as she slams into every manner of jagged, unforgiving ice possible...fully out of control. She slams into the ground with d10 environmental damage, no armor suckitude (this is not great for a Wizard PC and she is nearly killed) and in complete blackness.

We're all following at this point.

The air is thick with electrically charged terror...from what?

Unnerved hesitance leads to "eff it" (Act Now Plan Later) and the Wizard enacts a Light spell...whatever happened here happened long ago...nothing attacks and no signs of life/passage.

The door to the forge is massive...so things much larger than dwarves can pass through (utility or a dwarf's boast in scale of creation)?

The door appears to be "soldered" but not in a precise way...and this was done from the outside and not from the inside?

Still following...still leading...and back again.




I'm time-limited right now so I'm not going to go through all of the rest of it, but suffice to say its a continuation of the same loop of leading > following > leading by all participants, the whole of the process winnowing the fiction to a singular point that answers the mystery "what happened to the dwarf...is the forge still here...who occupies it...what is the story behind all of the answers." So we're at (let's say) d+g (@darkbard will know what that means!), arrived their from the initial subset of a - n, with the d tying into something that came into play as a "reveal an unwelcome truth" several sessions before but had never been made manifest (I took the opportunity at this point to make it manifest because it struck me as "right" in several different ways, including as an outgrowth of action resolution and to escalate the scene).

The mystery didn't exist 1.5 hours beforehand and even after the initial move that triggered it, none of us knew the reality embedded deep underneath that initial 10+ Spout Lore move. But we each led, we each followed, and we got there.

And it was cool. And it was skillful play by players (tactically, strategically, thematically, Act Now, Plan Later, and Follow and Lead your PC with curiosity about what happens) and appropriate GMing that got us there.

TLDR - Off-the-cuff mysteries are entirely doable. They take practice in terms of craft, habitation of the cognitive framework, and the proper alchemy with respect to table participants.
 

Let me say one last thing on the above.

I believe the issue with this confident presumption that "in Story Now play, you're invariably going to 'game engine complication improv' your way into a discontinuity corner that is unrecoverable" is a problem of cognitive framing based around first principles.

Here is what you have to accept:

Real life is stranger than fiction.

It fundamentally is. For any given set of variables, there are so many permutations that could spit out a "holy cow I didn't see that coming!" It feels like in the TTRPG space, for some reason, this reality (and it is a reality) is just rejected outright. Its as if any given TTRPG player has such amazing predictive modeling that they are not apt to be surprised by much of anything in life.

Let me say this. I don't work from a significant cognitive horsepower deficit in my life...but (a) I am surprised by all kinds of things with regularity and (b) I expect to be surprised. I work from this same framework in my gaming.

So, simply put, when you start with a - n in any given mystery, there isn't this tiny window of "what could be" at the starting point. Its pretty big. Accept that. Accept that with enough collective cognitive horsepower at the table, with enough trust in system/self/table alchemy, with enough curiosity and holding on lightly...you can absolutely arrive at someplace you didn't see coming...and it won't be riddled with discontinuity.

It will likely be awesome.

Because real life is stranger than fiction and high fantasy fiction is pretty damn strange.
 
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JonM

Explorer
I'm not sure you've actually grasped the concept. The idea isn't to imagine what the villain is doing, but to put a indicator out that the villain is doing "something." This should be big, and high concept, but you're not going to elaborate on it at all unless and until that clock ticks, and then you're going to create an immediate situation that challenges something the PCs care about. If I put out Dr. Bob's clock of "Destroy Metro City" then that's going to be sitting there, doing not much, until it comes time to tick it. If I'm doing a good job, then that clock alone will speak directly to things the PCs care about, and they'll be telling me what they're doing about it -- and whatever they tell me they do, that's going to be important to Dr. Bob's plans. The idea of the clock, or front, isn't to prep the plan, so to speak, but to put a red cape up and dare the players to charge it. It's the looming threat that needs to be taken care of, or bad things happen. Now, if the PCs ignore it, or it comes time to tick it, or they bungle an attempted thwarting, then you create some new fiction that speaks to the looming bad. Say the PCs decide to ignore Dr. Bob's threat and instead deal with Bobblob for a session. At the end of that session, when you're checking your clocks/fronts, and Dr. Bob's clock/front ticks over, then you introduce a bad thing that's happened, or you increase the threat level of Dr. Bob, or you do something like this. You don't advance a plan, you introduce a new threat. What that threat is/should be can be prepped, but it absolutely must speak to the current situation and PCs. It's hard to prep well in a Story Now game, because things go sideways often (and good thing, too!).

As for mysteries, they absolutely work. Recall, though, that everyone's playing to find out, so even the GM doesn't know the answer to the mystery when it starts, or even halfway through. Instead, the mystery will unfold in play. This is why I say that Story Now play is very dependent on the system -- a system that does it well will generate complications and the mystery will unfold in an organic and interesting way. A system that doesn't support this play, or fights it, will cause this to falter and feel forced.

An example from my Blades in the Dark game of a mystery went like this: the PCs were looking for a job (they were spies), and got one to recover some stolen alchemical notes that were causing alchemists to become very ill and die. This is actually from one of the jobs tables in Blades, and the group was looking to introduce some new ideas early in the game's run (where things weren't very complicated, yet). We did some free play, and established that there was an alchemist that had recently died worth investigating, and also a minor noble who was connected through a PC's contact to the underground alchemy scene. The party split up to investigate both, and I ran a split score -- two PCs investigated the alchemist's house, and two more the nobles. In the course of play, the alchemist's house was being ransacked by a rival gang (a few failures to sneak in meant there were people in the flat, and I introduced rival gang members) and devolved into a fight where gangers were killed (death in Blades is a "bad thing"), and they only got a fragment of some notes about the formula -- clearly it was disseminated more widely, and people were experimenting with it, but what it was or did remained unknown. This score was a failure, and so actually blossomed the mystery and made it deeper. The other score went even more awry. Failures there led to the introduction of an alchemist suffering the formula trying to kill/capture/scare? the nobleman, and the description was zombielike. The PCs there engaged the zombish alchemist, and more fails occurred, leading to the description the the "zombie" was heavily imbued with the ghost field, and could even stutter step through space (when your crack shot misses the zombie five feet away, you need a reason other than "you missed"). So, at the end of this, the PCs had some tantalizing clues, but had not recovered the formula or even had a grasp on what it did. Meanwhile, the between score entanglements roll indicated demonic interest, so a demon got involved, demanding the PCs recover this formula and destroy it or it would come of them (demons are like elementals in Blades, this one was a fire elemental). This one rolled job had now blossomed into a mystery, one that would take a few sessions, and lead to engaging allies for assistance, ghosts being kidnapped (it's a thing), haunted houses, secret cults, and more demons. None of this was planned, prepped, and most of it surprised the hell out of me.

If you mean Story Now doesn't do planned mysteries well, then, yes, because planned play is the opposite of the intent. If you're asking if Story Now can do mysteries, it 100% absolutely can, but you really can't plan what or how that mystery will go or even start.
I think we're on the same page, with the superhero stuff. If it didn't look like that, then it may have been bad wording, on my part. I kind of jokingly tossed off my "what are you doing today? " comment, which, admittedly, implies an answer that is a solid plan. And, sometimes, that is how it goes (so, I guess that wouldn't be Story Now, in a purist sense). But other times, the answer is more along the lines of, "Well, I am strongly motivated to destroy Dr. Tachyon, so I'm going to somehow work on that" and that's it - both I and the players get to find out what that means, as the game progresses (so, I guess more Story Now, yes?).

Now, the mystery thing... That, I think, we're not communicating about, very clearly. I tried to make it clear, in my post, but I do not mean the run-of-the-mill puzzles that you always run into in any RPG - the puzzles that require solutions, to further the plot - such as what you described. I'm talking about a true Mystery, in the traditional genre sense. A whodunnit, where some ne'er-do-well has specifically plotted to cause mischief, and it is up to the heroes to disentangle the scheme, usually by wading through red herrings, finding genuine clues, and the like. I tried to be clear about the difference, in my post, but the number of people who have misinterpreted that makes me think I may have failed. Oh, except Umbran. I think he got what I meant.

As I said to Campbell, your answer leads me to suspect that the real answer to my question is, "No, Story Now just isn't meant for that kind of thing." But, then, you pretty much said that, at the end of your own post.
 

JonM

Explorer
Manbearcat: I won't quote both your last two posts, because... well... the first one is super long. But rest assured that does not mean I did not read them, beginning to end, and give them a lot of thought! 😊

I do think, though, that, as with Ovinomancer and Campbell, you may have at least partially misinterpreted what I meant by mystery. What you're describing is more along the lines of my "I wonder where the werewolf is hiding" sort of RPG problem-to-solve, rather than a traditional Mystery. Rather than repeat myself, I'll just be lazy and point you to my last post, replying to Ovinomancer, about that.

So, once again, I'm left thinking that the answer is, "The Story Now approach can be used for most types of stories but is not well suited to traditional Mysteries." Well, unless you try to do it as I described in my original post, but, again, I speak from several personal experiences when I say that running one improv like that just seems shallower. Was it fun? Sure. Was it is as fun and satisfying, for the players, as the carefully crafted Mysteries? Not a chance.
 


A whodunnit, where some ne'er-do-well has specifically plotted to cause mischief, and it is up to the heroes to disentangle the scheme, usually by wading through red herrings, finding genuine clues, and the like.

Here is the thing on this, it comes down to game engine, procedures, and principles.

For instance:

* Player wants thing x to be true. Thing x being true doesn't overwrite already established fiction. Player x makes a move where the stakes are "is thing x true?"

Player gets a success.

Thing x is true
.

GMing a red herring either now or introducing the red herring later in such a way that would render the player's won thing x is true is against the rules and against their GMing principles (say what honesty demands...play with integrity and a table-facing hand). The GM is constrained by these things and subsequent fiction is bound by this.

What if the player gets a success with complication?

Thing x is true but this other thing you don't want to be true (that doesn't undermine thing x being true) is also true...deal with it.

You can't make a red herring about thing x, but you can do some shenanigans with stuff that isn't thing x that doesn't violate prior fiction, rules, or principles.

What if the player gets a failure?

Thing x is not true. Deal with it.

Here is your "red herrings are game" move. And this can snowball into other things being not true that you (the player) want to be true. Or things can stabilize and the picture will suddenly flesh out, constraining the imagined space such that a, b, c, d, e, f, g, l, m, n, o, p are all locked in...the only bit of murk left is around h, i, and j. Subsequent play and the prior, binding fiction (and, of course, the rules and principles) will determine the nature of things.




Now if the question is "can you create a Story Now whodunnit where the GM is not constrained in the ways I've stated above?" The answer is "no, you cannot." But that doesn't mean that a whodunnit where curiosity is sated and the table participants are all both following and leading cannot emerge to create a skillfully played, satisfying mystery. It just means that the reveal of the whodunnit is operationalized in a particular way that precludes absolute GM authority in their preconceptions and extrapolations.
 

JonM

Explorer
So we have mysteries of the land that develop during play vs. the whodunit mysteries that library shelves are crammed with.
Exactly. Thank you. There's the standard RPG problem-solving that leads to mysterious questions. That's not what I'm talking about. Then, there's the traditional Mystery genre, which fills many book shelves and shows up in many television shows. That is what I'm talking about.
 

So we have mysteries of the land that develop during play vs. the whodunit mysteries that library shelves are crammed with.

I'm not exactly clear on (a) what you're meaning by "the land" here and (b) how you're contrasting this with "whodunit."

See my post above about operationalizing things.

For instance, after 1.5 hours of play + many player moves + many complications and snowballing + many reveals/stipulations + a lot of conversation play churned out:

It (the disappearance of the dwarf and his forge) was succumbing to old age, entombed by the Ancient Blue Dragon, w/ the Frost Giant refugee turned pupil, in a bygone era.

A "Clue-ish" formulation of "whodunnit" or "what happened."

I'm curious (in both operationalizing and in the output of play) the contrast you're drawing here. I'm not saying there isn't one...but I am not able to see it.
 

JonM

Explorer
Here is the thing on this, it comes down to game engine, procedures, and principles.

For instance:

* Player wants thing x to be true. Thing x being true doesn't overwrite already established fiction. Player x makes a move where the stakes are "is thing x true?"

Player gets a success.

Thing x is true.

GMing a red herring either now or introducing the red herring later in such a way that would render the player's won thing x is true is against the rules and against their GMing principles (say what honesty demands...play with integrity and a table-facing hand). The GM is constrained by these things and subsequent fiction is bound by this.

What if the player gets a success with complication?

Thing x is true but this other thing you don't want to be true (that doesn't undermine thing x being true) is also true...deal with it.

You can't make a red herring about thing x, but you can do some shenanigans with stuff that isn't thing x that doesn't violate prior fiction, rules, or principles.

What if the player gets a failure?

Thing x is not true. Deal with it.

Here is your "red herrings are game" move. And this can snowball into other things being not true that you (the player) want to be true. Or things can stabilize and the picture will suddenly flesh out, constraining the imagined space such that a, b, c, d, e, f, g, l, m, n, o, p are all locked in...the only bit of murk left is around h, i, and j. Subsequent play and the prior, binding fiction (and, of course, the rules and principles) will determine the nature of things.




Now if the question is "can you create a Story Now whodunnit where the GM is not constrained in the ways I've stated above?" The answer is "no, you cannot." But that doesn't mean that a whodunnit where curiosity is sated and the table participants are all both following and leading cannot emerge to create a skillfully played, satisfying mystery. It just means that the reveal of the whodunnit is operationalized in a particular way that precludes absolute GM authority in their preconceptions and extrapolations.
Okay, this is more what I'm getting at.

Unfortunately, what you are describing is pretty much exactly the way I was doing it, when I was doing what I called improv mysteries (I didn't even know about Story Now, then), and, while it did work, it was kind of lacking, compared to the planned ones. It was fun and all, but I didn't find it as satisfying, and I'm pretty sure the players didn't either. In comparison, it lacked nuance and layering. Sure, we could explain events in a way that held together and was even interesting, but it still felt exactly like that. There was no sense of "oh! it all makes sense, now!" I presume, because... well... we made it make sense, and everybody knew that.

Again, fun? Sure. As fun? Nope. No way.

So, for me, the moral of the story still seems to be that Story Now, as with most approaches, has areas where it shines and areas where you would be better off to look elsewhere.
 

Okay, this is more what I'm getting at.

Unfortunately, what you are describing is pretty much exactly the way I was doing it, when I was doing what I called improv mysteries (I didn't even know about Story Now, then), and, while it did work, it was kind of lacking, compared to the planned ones. It was fun and all, but I didn't find it as satisfying, and I'm pretty sure the players didn't either. In comparison, it lacked nuance and layering. Sure, we could explain events in a way that held together and was even interesting, but it still felt exactly like that. There was no sense of "oh! it all makes sense, now!" I presume, because... well... we made it make sense, and everybody knew that.

Again, fun? Sure. As fun? Nope. No way.

So, for me, the moral of the story still seems to be that Story Now, as with most approaches, has areas where it shines and areas where you would be better off to look elsewhere.

Let me ask you a few questions:

* Do you think what you're responding to is your cognitive orientation toward how this is operationalized (rather than an objective quality...or do you think your cognitive orientation toward how it is being operationalized is you detecting actual signal of an objective quality)?

* Do you think you're responding to your sense (due to the experience you're citing above) that players cannot play skillfully through a mystery and reveal a truth about the "reality" of the shared imagined space that was hitherto unknown?
 

Let me say this about myself.

I've played Clue a ton. I've played through probably 20 of the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Series.

"Is this a satisfying 'whodunnit' mystery in which it feels that skullful play has led to a satisfying reveal" depends upon many factors.

1) Clue entirely lacks depth. There is no visceral impact from the reveal. Its fun, but it (the play and the results) is nested in nothing more than inferrence + guessing + understanding the rules. There are no stakes and there are no deeper implications to any instantiation of play.

2) The variance in the Sherlock Holmes episodes are WILDLY swingy in terms of both (a) "does it feel like skillful play could/did lead to a successful and interesting reveal" and (b) if there is a visceral sense of the result of play being nested in something of depth/impact.

I can say (100 % and without hesitation) that the sort of mysteries that have been operationalized and resolved in the Story Now games I run are more broadly rewarding with more deeper implications than Clue and are profoundly more consistently rewarding from both a skilled play perspective and a "nested in something of depth/impact" than the Sherlock Holmes games.

Now a few of those Sherlock Holmes entries were absolutely fantastic from both a skilled play perspective and a "nested in something of depth/impact" perspective. There was a sense of the game following us around, of coherency in the operationalizing of us putting together the clues, and the "keep score" (against Holmes solving of the mystery) felt like there were stakes.

But my personal anecdote and the anecdote of the people who have played those games and simultaneously played in Story Now games I've run yield the same result. The best done Sherlock Holmes games (a) felt like our Story Now play except (b) the visceral impact of the reveal wasn't anchored in something deeper (because the shared imagined space of those games is vastly more finite, therefore the impact and stakes are less visceral, than that of our Story Now games).


EDIT - if its not clear what I'm getting at here, I'm saying there is a cognitive framing effect ("but there is extra-player volition in the form of a GM that gives shape, persistence, and continuity/coherency to mysteries that isn't/can't be there in Story Now games!") that is an artifact of the person who is orienting toward the play. It isn't an objective artifact of the play itself.

Put another way, there is likely something kindred with The Alexandrian's "dissociative mechanics" thesis happening here.
 
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