What an RPG is Not

RPG’s are not stories. This opinion of mine is a position with which many game masters and game designers would completely disagree. This misunderstanding by designers and game masters is why most published adventures suck. It is why most published campaigns, adventures and supplement books are rarely used without modification.

You may tell stories about your game but the game remains a game. This is very confusing because games have elements which are similar to stories. Both have heros, villains, settings and conflict but the difference is that at the moment the game is happening, it is a game. Afterward, the telling of the events is the story.

Think of a war memoir. One of my favorites is We Were Soldiers Once… and Young by Joe Galloway. It describes the events of two battles in the Ia Drang Valley in 1965. When the battles were happening they were battles. When Joe Galloway wrote them down and I read them, they were stories about the battles. If the officers in the battle had treated the battle like a story and said to themselves, “Ah, this is the second act turn,” instead of “We just got our asses handed to us, link up with 2nd platoon and call for fire on that fucking hill,” the battle would go poorly.

If a game master decides that “their story” needs something or that they haven’t hit a certain beat, then the events become forced. If the game master simply decides, what resources the bad guys have, what the bad guys are doing to thwart the desires and intents of the players then the players can decide what to do about it. That’s a game. There’s no concern for creating a “satisfying narrative”, which usually isn’t what happens when you are actively trying to create one. Paradoxically , when you just let the game be a game, the “story” that you tell after the fact is much better.

When you are sitting at the table rolling dice, that’s a game.  When you are telling your friend who missed the last session what happened,  then you are telling the story of the game.


4 thoughts on “What an RPG is Not

  1. Pingback: Story is Context – Grumpy Wizard

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  4. Pingback: A Message to 5E DMs: You Only Have One Ass. – Grumpy Wizard

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