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The Story Now Discussion


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pemerton

Legend
I would not call Monster of the Week as typically played a Story Now game. It uses techniques curbed from Story Now games, but the actual creative agenda at play is pretty much traditional.
Here's an excerpt from Edwards' Story Now essay (not that I love it, but that's word we're using)

<snip>

I think this maps to MotW and a lot of PbtA games very well. Maybe you could be more specific about why you think it doesn't fit?
I'm going to have a go at being @Campbell. If I'm wrong he'll tell us both!

In another recent thread the distinction was drawn between "winging it" - as in, the GM makes stuff up as s/he goes along but with the status and purpose of that stuff being functionally comparable to pre-prepared notes - and "no myth story now" where the function of the stuff the GM makes up is different, because made up according to different principles which put the focus on these characters in this situation facing this challenge to their own needs and desires.

I'm guessing that Campbell sees MotW as more like the first - I'm going to guess with robust mechanics to support the improv - rather than the second. Cthulhu Dark could probably be played like that too.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
If mystery/whodunnit RPGing gets defined as the players resolve the GM's pre-authored plot, by engaging the fiction the GM has pre-authored and generating the narration from the GM that will reveal the necessary puzzle pieces - eg classic CoC modules are like this - then I think by definition it can't be done in Story Now.

The couple of times my group has played Cthulhu Dark it's been relatively light-hearted and with somewhat cardboard cut-out PCs: the journalist, the legal secretary, the English butler, the longshoreman, etc. So their dramatic needs and struggles are not too complicated. But I think you're right that it has been what does the mystery mean for these PCs that has tended to be the focus of things. We've had the PCs enmeshed in the mystery - they've not been external to it and brought in simply as investigators.

In that sense it has been (unsurprisingly) more like HPL's own Call of Cthulhu than a hardboiled detective story. I reckon that could be fun, and could also be done Story Now style, but you'd need a slightly more developed protagonist I think so that the right noir elements can be introduced to draw them in.
I am inclined to emphatically agree that one could replicate a noir (or hard-boiled) story with Story Now techniques and mechanics, easily. The focus on emerging twists and betrayals seems to fit well.

I think whether one can do a whodunnit in Story Now will probably depend on the pleasures the players want from it. If they're more interested in using the mystery to explore their characters, Story Now seems to me as though it'll work well; if they're more interested in figuring out the mystery, I think there's something of a mismatch.

I have quarreled with you for describing some sorts of TRPGs as, IIRC, "RPG-as-puzzle," but if the players really want the figuring-it-out pleasure of a whodunit, I think that's pretty much what the game needs to be--at least for that adventure.
 

JonM

Explorer
What system are you planning to use?
Probably Scum & Villainy, since I keep meaning to try it. Not for constant investigations, I mean, but for occasionally having one. Dungeon World has been my primary Story Now experience, so far, even if I didn't think of it as such, at the time, but S&V would bring me more interestingly out of my comfort zone.

Having said that, Sentinels Comics RPG keeps sitting there, saying "Play me!" so.... That was one reason I was interested in the Story Now superhero possibilities.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Monster of the Week is a PbtA mystery game that works just fine. The GM has a basic countdown running in the background (things getting worse) and a handful of NPCs and Locations roughed out, and everything else is the PCs and the 'mystery' that unfolds isn't preplotted at all (and you are told specifically not to preplot anything). It works in part because the moving parts, Monster, NPCs, and Locations are all specifically described in terms of what their function in the game is, or motivation, so you have a built-in idea what that thing does when it's button gets pressed, or when it does something in the background. I think MotW is an excellent example of a clearly laid out framework for running Story Now mysteries.
This is the kind of structure I plan on using with my Liminal game. The game is full of factions and interesting npc hooks that can be scattered around the United Kingdom and unfold depending on the player characters and time.

Loose but available to come into sharper focus, depending on play.

Story Now but not No Myth? I'm a little vague on No Myth.
 


pemerton

Legend
I'm a little vague on No Myth.
No Myth means no established fiction beyond what is established in play. Genre becomes important.

Although the phrase seems absolute - NO myth - I think we can talk in degrees. In my Classic Traveller game there was not just sci-fi genre but the implied backstory of space pirates, and Imperium, etc. In my Burning Wheel game I started the PCs in Hardby and showed them the GH map which establishes forests for the elves, hills for the dwarves, the Bright Desert for the mysterious nomads, etc.

A literal no myth game I ran was Cortex+ Heroic Vikings. We started with PCs as Vikings and built everything else from there.

No Myth contrasts with (say) Glorantha-based HeroWars/Quest where there is a lot of established backstory and part of the pleasure of play is everyone drawing on it. The closest I've come to this is 4e D&D, and there the myth was much less than in a Glorantha game. DitV is also not No Myth given that the GM needs to set up towns and (like @Campbell mentioned upthread) might have preconceived notions of who is doing what to whom that has caused the problems of sin in the town.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I'm going to have a go at being @Campbell. If I'm wrong he'll tell us both!

In another recent thread the distinction was drawn between "winging it" - as in, the GM makes stuff up as s/he goes along but with the status and purpose of that stuff being functionally comparable to pre-prepared notes - and "no myth story now" where the function of the stuff the GM makes up is different, because made up according to different principles which put the focus on these characters in this situation facing this challenge to their own needs and desires.

I'm guessing that Campbell sees MotW as more like the first - I'm going to guess with robust mechanics to support the improv - rather than the second. Cthulhu Dark could probably be played like that too.
MotW, much like many PbtA games, is actually pretty focused on the characters in that situation rather the former example. The design of the playbooks makes this pretty apparent. Obviously you could run MotW either way, IMO anyway, but running the first way is working against the design.
 

JonM

Explorer
Maybe instead of a lair, the mystery itself would have a playbook or sheet. The mystery sheet would have different aspects of the mystery that they could then select what to engage, discover, unlock, or work towards. The actual outcomes could involve either oracles or some variety of character tie-in from their own playbooks. Clocks could apply pressure and complications to the investigation.

I'm also reminded, for example, of a mystery in a Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures regarding angered fey. The NPC "whodunnit," whether intentionally or not, comes from the GM putting in NPCs from the village (usually determined by players creating their characters and generating NPCs) into a table and then rolling that.
This really intrigued me. I'm still mulling it over, trying to see how best it could be accomplished, but it sure feels like there is something workable, here.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Probably Scum & Villainy, since I keep meaning to try it. Not for constant investigations, I mean, but for occasionally having one. Dungeon World has been my primary Story Now experience, so far, even if I didn't think of it as such, at the time, but S&V would bring me more interestingly out of my comfort zone.

Having said that, Sentinels Comics RPG keeps sitting there, saying "Play me!" so.... That was one reason I was interested in the Story Now superhero possibilities.
If you're moving into Scum and Villany as a first go, I'd strongly recommend leaning into the system and seeing what happens rather than having an idea for a story and trying to make the game work for that. The point of these systems is that you don't have an idea what the game is going to be about, except at the genre level.
 

JonM

Explorer
I'm responding to the first page of the thread. Apologies if I'm out of date already!



There have been some answers to the question what is story now?. Here's mine. It relates to Arilyn's post too.

Story now contrasts with story before ie when the table (or the GM) has already decided what the story is. (Eg a typical modern module is story before.)

It also contrasts with story after ie when there is no story during play, just "stuff happening", and a story is imposed after the event. (Playing B2 KotB will typically look like this.)

The reason that it produces the vulnerability that Arilyn mentions - in my view, at least - comes from a combination of the above. Unlike story after, we care about our PCs and the game is set up to put them at the centre of events as protagonists with dramatic needs. Unlike story before, there is no safety net of the pre-established plot. Caring about your character, and pushing his/her dramatic/thematic interests hard, with no guarantee as to what might happen, can be scary!

What helps make this sort of play work are elements in PC build, action resolution, GM method, etc that allow the players to flag their PCs' dramatic needs/thematic concerns and to make those front-and-centre, and also that allow the GM to put pressure on those things.

The only supers RPGing I've ever done was with MHRP - which is a version of Cortex+. Here's a play report.

I didn't worry about what the villains' plot was. I just presented the villains and played them in accordance with the logic the system gives them plus my own knowledge of Marvel stuff, and found out what happened next.

In the next session we had the male PCs (in civvies) meet up with the B.A.D girls (also in civvies) at a bar in Washington DC, which started as a social scene and then turned into standard fisticuffs as it turned out that the villains were trying to steal a Stark-tech M-PORV (from memory that's Multi-Person Orbital Re-entry Vehicle - I made it up on the spot) and hoped to get help from James Rhodes (ie War Machine).

An interesting feature of MHRP is that each character has Milestones which are loosely-described events that differ for each PC (eg Nightcrawler has one involving romance; Wolverine has one that involves meeting old enemies and friends) and which - when triggered - allow the character to earn XP. So the player has an incentive to either generate these events, or to respond to situations by reference to their Milestones (eg in the next session, when Wolverine bumped into the others in a Clan Yashida skyscraper in Tokyo, and then defeated a ninja there, Wolvie's player established that the ninja was an old enemy of his with whom he'd crossed paths before).

This means that the GM doesn't have to do the same sort of framing work as in eg Burning Wheel to make sure that the PCs' dramatic needs can be engaged. (Which fits with the comic convention that it doesn't really matter, thematically, whether the X-Men are fighting Dr Doom or Arcade.) It also means that play will typically be lighter and less demanding than (say) Burning Wheel.

It's a good system if you can still find a copy.
Or there's Cortex Prime, if you can't. I have both (and you're right: Marvel is a great game), and, from what I can see, it is quite easy to mimic Marvel in CP. Which is not really surprising, given their very shared DNA.

BTW, while I'm not going to go into an item-specific reply, here, due to lack of time, thanks for your post, as well as the one that immediately followed! They were nice and clear and rounded out some of my impressions of Story Now, putting me on firmer ground.

Ok, so maybe I'm a little biased, because you said nice things about Marvel and Cthulhu Dark. 😉
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
If you're moving into Scum and Villany as a first go, I'd strongly recommend leaning into the system and seeing what happens rather than having an idea for a story and trying to make the game work for that. The point of these systems is that you don't have an idea what the game is going to be about, except at the genre level.
I'd probably approach mysteries in SaV much like a PbtA game. Have a front for the mystery and some sketched out NPCs, and then let the dice fall as they may and have player actions and consequences drive all the action.
 

JonM

Explorer
If you're moving into Scum and Villany as a first go, I'd strongly recommend leaning into the system and seeing what happens rather than having an idea for a story and trying to make the game work for that. The point of these systems is that you don't have an idea what the game is going to be about, except at the genre level.
Yup, that was exactly my intention.

That was how I ran Dungeon World, and it worked wonderfully. I went into the first session with, effectively, zero prep (everything environmental grew up around the heroes and required little effort on my part). At one point, when a player asked a question, I made a casual, off-the-cuff comment about an odd ruin, on a nearby hill, and, after that, I mostly just reacted to what the heroes did. I was nervous going into it, but it worked well and was a lot of fun. Of course, Dungeon World's principles make it easier, as do its dice rolling mechanics. A lot of rolls just naturally led to twists and turns.

Having said all of this, at the time, I would have never said we were doing Story Now. To be honest, I had completely forgotten the term, from Ron Edward's earlier writings.
 

I would say there is basically two approaches to who-dunit and investigations: skilled play and creative play. Skilled play is there is a thing that happened, which establishes stuff like trails of clues and the skill is in finding, analyzing and putting together of those clues to figure out what happened (and the clues don't all have to be generated before play as the players might come up with an angle of investigation that is sound, even though the GM hadn't thought of it, but the event being investigated needs to be fleshed out prior to play). Creative approaches would be more the story now approach but also stuff like how the Tarokka deck in Ravenloft used to work. These were fortune telling cards and a lot of Ravenloft adventures were mysteries and investigations. The deck could be used to feed players information about objective content that was generated prior to play or by the GM, but there was also a method for having the tarokka deck generate those details (i.e. this card will reveal the location of the big evil's lair, etc). Both approaches are fine. I did a session of drama system recently where we had a murder investion and one of the challenges for me, because I am more accustomed to the skilled play approach, was realizing there were certain details about the murder that weren't pinned down and really couldn't be pinned down until they came up in the scenes. While it didn't feel like skilled play solving of a mystery (because we weren't really solving anything so much as coming up with what happened ourselves) it was a really great mystery story in the end. So both approaches are trying to emulate a genre, but in different ways.

That looks like a solid formulation of what I was trying to capture.
 

This really intrigued me. I'm still mulling it over, trying to see how best it could be accomplished, but it sure feels like there is something workable, here.

Here's the bit from the Mandate Crew Sheet for the Blades in the Dark playtest material for playing Bluecoats and Inspectors, called Flame Without Shadow:

1618850475404.png


So you start at the Warrant box, and then you execute Operations (Score/Mission) to secure Evidence or a Subject. Then you kind of follow the flowchart accordingly, building your case as you go, trying to reach the Primary Subject.

It would seem to me that something like this could be enacted for a more straightforward whodunit type of scenario. Probably would need a bit of reworking, but the general idea would likely work.
 

Story Now - Plot is an emergent quality of the intersection of character thematic interest/dramatic need colliding with provocatively framed (yet open in degree) situations. Contrast with Story Before.

No Myth - Details of Setting have a lack of fixedness and dialed back resolution before play...if those details exist at all before play.

Skilled Play - The way the players are capable of evaluating their aptitude or “keeping score.” This will shift subtly or dramatically depending upon the priority of play which will tell you how “score”/aptitude are derived (Skilled Play in Moldvay Dungeoneering is very different from Action/Adventure 4e is different from investigation + inference “mystery-ing”).
 

JonM

Explorer
Here's the bit from the Mandate Crew Sheet for the Blades in the Dark playtest material for playing Bluecoats and Inspectors, called Flame Without Shadow:

View attachment 135783

So you start at the Warrant box, and then you execute Operations (Score/Mission) to secure Evidence or a Subject. Then you kind of follow the flowchart accordingly, building your case as you go, trying to reach the Primary Subject.

It would seem to me that something like this could be enacted for a more straightforward whodunit type of scenario. Probably would need a bit of reworking, but the general idea would likely work.
Neat! As you said, it would probably need some reworking for a whodunit sort of scenario, but it feels like there is a kernel of something quite useful, here.

I find it interesting the way the flow chart bottlenecks around the Key Subject, because it seems to me that this would help create an appropriately mystery-tropish sort of moment in the scenario. One of those "aha!" moments I was talking about. Also, assuming that I'm understanding this correctly, a sense of escalation may be created by having the Case Dice modifier increase, as you physically progress up through the rows.
 

Complete aside and I don’t want this to get a life of its own. I’m just pointing it out because it highlights how important clarity of collective priorities are in design and how misalignment of Skilled Play priority plus other priorities can create dysfunction at the table.

You see a lot of GMs lamenting CharOp and relying upon “Story Before” or “Blocks” to aggressively shut down CharOp players. This creates major dysfunction and bad feelings at the table.

The problem is when systems reward (and perhaps designers even point it out) mastery over build decisions. The player then interprets this as an important (or perhaps THE important) avenue for Skilled Play in the game. And they love the MtG Skilled Play aspect of deck building and then trying it out against live opposition (this is the playing portion of the game...”the opposition” is the GM’s obstacles).

But now they’ve been blocked or foiled by their assymetric power relationship with a Story Before/Block-activating GM.

Bad feelings and dysfunction because of lack of clarity in play priorities and the nature of Skilled Play.

Some would say this is exclusively a “social contract issue”, but IMO design has to take its healthy share of responsibility here.
 

Neat! As you said, it would probably need some reworking for a whodunit sort of scenario, but it feels like there is a kernel of something quite useful, here.

I find it interesting the way the flow chart bottlenecks around the Key Subject, because it seems to me that this would help create an appropriately mystery-tropish sort of moment in the scenario. One of those "aha!" moments I was talking about. Also, assuming that I'm understanding this correctly, a sense of escalation may be created by having the Case Dice modifier increase, as you physically progress up through the rows.

Yeah, I think looking at it as a kind of pacing tool may make sense.

In our game, the Unit (the PCs collectively) had a Mandate to bring down a criminal organization known as the Steel Syndicate which was responsible for a new drug that was flooding the streets of the Nightmarket district. So we actually would fill in some of the "Key Subject" fields ahead of actually reaching them on the chart. So kind of a "okay, we know that Skinner is in charge of distribution from the tattoo parlor" and so Skinner was one of the early Key Subjects. They had to obtain enough evidence and do so carefully in order to make sure they had a case against Skinner, and then see if they could convince him to cooperate or otherwise get the information from him that would lead them further along.

So that scenario was suited to the flow chart. A bit of tailoring to the specific scenario....whether a whodunit or some other crime.....and you can probably use it as a good guide and pacing mechanism. You could change up the categories of each box, you could expand or shrink the chart, etc.
 

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