Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

We are walking narratives

Jerry Stratton, August 4, 2007

Tunnel Walker

Image from Joaquim Alves Gaspar on Wikimedia.

Over on the Freeroleplay group, Ricardo Gladwell reminded me of the word I’d been looking for: narrative. I can rewrite what I said earlier to:

I think that gaming can more appropriately be described as a new way of finding a narrative. Role-playing is more like reading than writing: none of the players, not even the referee, know what is going to happen “on the next page”. Role-playing is not, as I wrote, just sitting around a campfire telling a story. Neither is it a round-robin tale. It is taking part in the narrative before it becomes a narrative.

Okay, it’s not a perfect fit. But it’s a better one. We’re always looking for a narrative for ourselves.

In real life, we are each a walking narrative, each a protagonist in a story that only we know. Role-playing has an essence of that kind of narrative: each character carrying their own center.

I was using “story” in two ways. At the beginning, I used it in its traditional meaning: a story such as is used in a film or novel. This is what tends to get transferred into games in a way that frustrates players.

The second way, which is the way I don’t understand, is the sense of things we talk about after the game is over. I should have remembered this, having studied schemas and personal narratives in college. Everything we do creates a narrative of some kind. I was fascinated by Bem’s external observer theory, in which a narrative is created to explain a person’s action by that person as if they were an external observer.

That doing this is a skill came up in a Forge discussion about how some players don’t know how to play.

Okay, rearranging your character’s activities for a better story is actually a skill. A skill this player doesn’t have. And before we rush him with bayonets, it isn’t a skill you should automatically have. One doesn’t try and plan out chess for a more exciting game… if a chess player beats his opponent, but does so inefficiently, it’s a legitimate critique to point out how he could have played better, and checkmated 10 moves earlier.

When we say that role-playing games don’t have winners and losers in the traditional sense, this is part of what we mean.

Some of the thinking on this has gone into the Adventure Guide’s Handbook.

In response to Is role-playing about telling a story?: Role-playing is less about creating a story than about finding a story. And it isn’t even that. Like most things we do with other people, it is a shared experience that we (hopefully) enjoy.