D&D (2024) Ways to turn 5e into a Story Now game (+)

Last year I played a lot of Ironsworn, and it made me fall in love with Story Now games. I did some solo Ironsworn games, then ran some for my friends. The experience of being a GM but not actually knowing where the story was going to go was thrilling!

For fun, I'd like to brainstorm some ways to convert 5e D&D into a Story Now game. What would I need to add, change, or delete in order to run 5e as Story Now?

I know there are some fantastic Story Now games out there I could just run or play instead. But that's not what this thread is about.

My understanding of "Story Now" is that the story is not preplanned by the GM. Much of the world is purposefully left blank. As the game progresses, the actions of the characters, and choices of the players, provide opportunities to learn and answer questions about the world. If the characters are traveling to a Wizard's Tower, they might make a roll during the journal or upon arrival. A good roll would set up a positive arrival: what sets the characters up for success at the Wizard's Tower (example: a friendly NPC has a camp nearby)? A bad roll would set up a negative arrival: what is more challenging about the Wizard's Tower (example: the wizard has returned from the dead and is gathering an army of zombies)? The characters would react to the result, and the story progresses from there.

Often Story Now games are supported by a big bank of campaign truths, collaborative world-building, or random tables. In Ironsworn, you start a campaign by establishing truths about the world: how big are settlements? What is the nature of magic? How frequent are encounters with the supernatural? And then are are lots of fantastic tables to generate everything from settlement names to combatant actions. There are also two tables of "themes" and "actions" that can create very evocative results like "withhold chaos." Finally there's a simple system of "Asking the Oracle" which just produces a "yes" or "no" when asked a question.

So what would this look like with 5e D&D?

One of my initial thoughts is changing the basic nature of d20 rolls. In 5e, most rolls are Success or Failure, based on AC or DC. To create a Story Now game, d20 rolls would have to be changed to a similar system of Success / Failure / Success at a Cost. It could look something like:

1 - 8: Failure (with a Cost)
9 - 16: (Success at a Cost)
17+: Success

When picking a lock, the Rogue makes a Dexterity Check with Thieves Tools, and gets a 15. They successfully pick the lock, but the bolt opens with such a loud noise that it alerts nearby guards.

Since there would be a larger chance of costs, you probably wouldn't want to ask for a roll unless failure is actually interesting. Furthermore, it may be useful to have the actions of the whole group be represented by a single roll. For example, if the group is climbing a cliff, everyone's efforts could be represented by just the Ranger's roll. If there's a cost, it could be the weakest member of the party falling or getting hurt.

In combat, would it make sense to remove the enemies from Initiative and instead have them "act" on Failures and Success with a Cost? That might be a little too much of a departure from 5e.

But the most important thing for Story Now 5e might be something D&D has done for a long long time... Random tables! Random Encounters, landscape features, NPC generation... All those things would be important, and could be filled in with Story Truths.

It might also be good to have Random Tables for Costs / Failures for different actions. Many Story Now games do this through "moves." I could see the same thing being applied to 5e. You could have moved such as "Search," "Travel," and "Negotiate." Then each move could have a little table like this:

Negotiate
You attempt to sway someone, usually through Diplomacy, Deception, or Intimidation.
Success: You change the target's mind, or find out what it would cost to do so.
Success at a Cost: You change the target's mind (or find out what it would cost you to do so), but it will also require a personal sacrifice (such as gold, a pledge, or a trade of services).
Failure: You fail to sway the target's mind. Choose or roll for a cost:

1. The target's opinion of you is tarnished.
2. A complicating truth about the target is revealed.
3. A complicating truth about the situation is revealed.
4. Suffer one level of exhaustion due to the stress.

Let's imagine the Paladin is trying to convince the Peasants to organize a militia to help face down a local Hill Giant. He gives a rousing speech and rolls a Diplomacy Check. He gets a 12. The Peasants agree to help if he will stay for the next few weeks and aid in the harvest.

Later, the Fighter is trying to trick the Hill Giant into fleeing the township, saying there's a big scary dragon that visits once a year. He rolls Intimidate and gets an 8. He fails to sway the target and rolls for a cost. A complicating truth about the situation is revealed... It turns out the Hill Giant came here because dragons have taken his precious territory, killed all his clan, and are probably coming to the Township next!

Anyways, those are just my thoughts for now. What do you think? How can 5e be adapted into a Story Now game?
I don't think success with a cost is a necessity, but clarity of stakes IS. So, the plumbing around checks has to work a bit differently. GMs in Narrativist play are responsible for deploying opposition/obstacles, and then we need players describing their responses in a way where the discussion centers on what the positive or negative outcomes entail, and an idea of costs. If everyone is on the right page as far as process of play goes you can do this without really changing the existing rules.

I think 5e's resource rules are likely to create some headaches. Those might be more of a focus for changes.
 

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My understanding of "Story Now" is that the story is not preplanned by the GM. Much of the world is purposefully left blank. As the game progresses, the actions of the characters, and choices of the players, provide opportunities to learn and answer questions about the world.
Man I wish my main group liked Story Now games. I quite like them. But no-one else in the group does - they love abilities that do thing that let them interact with the story, like pulling in a previously-unmentioned old friend or contact or whatever, but the moment they're asked to actually direct the story in this way, despite one of them being a published fiction writer, they always start flopping around. I don't think there's any way to change this sadly.

Definitely interested to see the ideas in this thread either way.
 

ART!

Deluxe Unhuman
Backgrounds Traits- Bonds, Ideals, Flaws- should have had more active wording so they could be used to give in game advantage

Remove the inspiration cap and have Flaws actively earn inspiration whilst making things complicated for PCs.
Let inspiration then be linked to an ideal or bond to give advantage.
I've toyed with the idea of giving traits, etc some mechanical weight. Stealing a bit form Cortex:

Assign 1d6, 1d6, and 1d8 to the following: Personality, Ideal, Bond
Assign 1d4 to your Flaw

This assumes you have only one of each trait. Regardless, you would add that die to a d20 roll when that trait is very relevant.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Man I wish my main group liked Story Now games. I quite like them. But no-one else in the group does - they love abilities that do thing that let them interact with the story, like pulling in a previously-unmentioned old friend or contact or whatever, but the moment they're asked to actually direct the story in this way, despite one of them being a published fiction writer, they always start flopping around. I don't think there's any way to change this sadly.

Definitely interested to see the ideas in this thread either way.
I've definitely noticed a strong dichotomy. Either players just get it, and take to it right away, or they just don't, and "flop around", like you said. Haven't really met players who are just OK with it.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
In combat, would it make sense to remove the enemies from Initiative and instead have them "act" on Failures and Success with a Cost? That might be a little too much of a departure from 5e.

Remove HP and Damage, instead have Con+level = Hits. Attack v AC earn 1 Hits, every 5 points over AC earns +1 Hit. HITS can be damage OR be used to impose narrative conditions.
Yeah, what would be the point of modifying 5e so much that you're even removing the combat engine? A lot of people are attracted to D&D because of the fun of playing through combat.
Rather, you are better off using Story Now approaches to determine what kinds of encounters might happen and what their significance might be but continue to use the combat engine when fights do break out. You'd have to be pretty good at building encounters on the fly or at least modifying a bunch of pre-statted encounters to the current situation. But you'd probably be doing that anyway if relying on random tables for selecting some of them.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Yeah, what would be the point of modifying 5e so much that you're even removing the combat engine? A lot of people are attracted to D&D because of the fun of playing through combat.
Rather, you are better off using Story Now approaches to determine what kinds of encounters might happen and what their significance might be but continue to use the combat engine when fights do break out. You'd have to be pretty good at building encounters on the fly or at least modifying a bunch of pre-statted encounters to the current situation. But you'd probably be doing that anyway if relying on random tables for selecting some of them.
yeah I realise its at the extreme end and was going to leave it out, since combat is so fundamental to dnd - but since we were speculating on a story now derivative of 5e I thought I'd go for it anyway
 

Man I wish my main group liked Story Now games. I quite like them. But no-one else in the group does - they love abilities that do thing that let them interact with the story, like pulling in a previously-unmentioned old friend or contact or whatever, but the moment they're asked to actually direct the story in this way, despite one of them being a published fiction writer, they always start flopping around. I don't think there's any way to change this sadly.

Definitely interested to see the ideas in this thread either way.
I'd suggest basically just roleplay. When the question is where things go next, follow the interests of the PC. Specific games vary a bit, but it's not like they're figuring out a plot, but just what next scene they're headed to.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Yeah, what would be the point of modifying 5e so much that you're even removing the combat engine? A lot of people are attracted to D&D because of the fun of playing through combat.
Rather, you are better off using Story Now approaches to determine what kinds of encounters might happen and what their significance might be but continue to use the combat engine when fights do break out. You'd have to be pretty good at building encounters on the fly or at least modifying a bunch of pre-statted encounters to the current situation. But you'd probably be doing that anyway if relying on random tables for selecting some of them.
Yeah, that's my feeling as well. Although it would be fun to incorporate some Story Now elements into fights, maybe through moves that can reveal advantages (with the risk of adding complications).
 

@BookTenTiger , @pemerton gave you several reasons why 5e is a pretty difficult ask in terms of running a fully-fledged Story Now game. The game engine doesn't possess the integrated qualities that make most Story Now games go (and this is by design, because its very much intentfully designed in the Traditional, GM-Storyteller model). I ran it off-and-on from 16-19 as a stand-in GM and those games were basically Vanilla Narrativism. Don't overwhelm yourself with this project. Think small and build outward. Start with the most important, base substrate elements of Story Now games and see how that goes:

* The premise of play needs to be absolutely clear to all participants and PC build is central to that.

* The players need to be aggressively, boldly, overtly flagging content they're interested in engaging with. Not outcomes of play they want to happen (that sort of player-side railroading is anathema to Story Now play...the players need to be curious and "hold on lightly" to conceptions and aspirations same as the GM), but conflicts they're interested in engaging with to find out what happens (while aggressively advocating for their PC's interests via system). This sort of stuff should be clearly signaled through PC build and through action declarations they make in the course of play.

Keep the metachannel open about this stuff and update it as needed. Being coy or trying to subvert clear communication on this subject is almost surely going to lead to problems.

* Make situation-framing and make action resolution dynamics (DCs, the prospective consequence-space as the players are mulling their decision-space) utterly table-facing and transparent. The game layer should not be hidden from the players at_all.

* High resolution setting backstory that serves as a hard constraint on the outputs of actual play is a dead-end...its kryptonite for Story Now play (because its basically "Story Before" and serves to foil the "play to find out" quality of Story Now play and also subverts where the focus of play should be; on the PCs rather than setting canon). So if you're playing in an established setting, ease up on canon entirely. Use setting stuff as inputs for situation-framing sure, but let the actual play decide the canonical elements as you go...and never make that stuff the focus of play (unless its going to feed right back into follow-on situation-framing around stuff that is fundamental to PC premise/theme).

If you just do that stuff, you'll get in the neighborhood of Vanilla Narrativism. 5e as a system will fight you, but you can figure that out with your players as you go (and smooth out the rough edges of system where you are able).




All of that stuff should lead to (a) clear premise that the players are in charge of (this is "player protagonism" in a nutshell), (b) conflicts/on-screen action that are always intimately relevant to PCs (this is that prior (a) happening in the moment-to-moment and throughline of play), and (c) an inverted orientation to "who has the breadcrumbs (players, system) and who is following the trail (everyone)" vs the Traditional GM Storyteller model where the GM has the breadcrumbs and the players are following the trail.

And again, for good measure...no one should be holding onto strong conceptions or being unwilling to let aspirations go when the churn of play says "sorry...things are going sideways." Everyone should embrace "sideways." Player-side railroading is as much a problem for Story Now games as is GM-side railroading.

Finally, finally...you know how the "Instigator" player archetype and "Main Character Syndrome" archetype have forever been used as epithets for players in Traditional TTRPG circles? Invert that. Anyone who isn't stirring crap up as an Instigator archetype and/or who doesn't "bring the protagonism" (characters possessing clear and intense dramatic needs/goals/beliefs and players boldly and aggressively pursuing them) is actually a "problem player" for Story Now games. So make sure your players are mentally situated correctly in your aspiring 5e Story Now game.
 
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pemerton

Legend
@Manbearcat

I read your post, in relation to mine, as (i) emphasising that framing is fairly straightforward, provided you're wanting to frame "story now" style and work with the players on that, and (ii) extending my point about "handling this in a mostly informal way" to cover not only resource recovery, but also resource deployment and consequence narration.

And to me that makes sense. It fits with how I approached AD&D, and Rolemaster, when I was using them for broadly vanilla narrativist play.

This might work best between levels 3 and (say) 8. At higher levels, the scope/power of D&D magic might push things closer to either player-side railroading, or to GM-side railroading in response.
 

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