Quest for the lost city of Empyrea in Frank Mentzer's Aquaria Setting.
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Post by ExTSR » Tue Jun 06, 2017 7:11 pm

For 40 years we've been using scripts onstage.

Those who work in theater will understand. Long ago I got yelled at for not learning my lines soon enough; everybody else was in character, but I was still reading. (That's part of why I got out, memorization issues.)

I've pondered this quandary for years. In roleplaying games, we're anchored to the darn script. We can't seem to get to the final perfect level where you put away the written guidelines and tackle the performance itself.

My style has thus evolved in an odd direction. My event descriptions are minimal, either "Back to 1974" (vague, before complex rules) or "Ad Lib" (make it up when we get there). The characters are adequate, but tied together with backstory and personality... the focus is on creativity, not memorization. Setting, events, plot? We create all that together, after we start. (!)

And so at any given game convention we arrive at the table and meet for the first or 20th time (lots of repeat offenders at these events). I devote some setup time to emphasize two things: First, get to know one another, become a Gaming Group instead of strangers. Then put your emphasis on your own contributions, your creativity, for the duration.

That last part is harder than it sounds. Game Systems reward memorization and speed. You learn the system, and are rewarded for using it right. It's like playing a card game; you learn which 'cards' (character bits) to 'play' in certain situations. But that's rules knowledge, not creativity. Published games put the focus on that knowledge, and in the process they subtly deemphasize imagination. Much like a Multiple Choice test vs an Essay, we are taught to respond in Pavlovian fashion, but that (last?) great step of personal creativity is a tough one.

I don't use a 'screen'; I don't want to be separated from the gaming group. DMs are gamers too.
I don't use notes or prepared materials other than the players' characters, except maybe a generic map or two. Since I have 40 years of encounters, events, plots, and characters floating around in my head, I just go to that well as needed. We use no figures, mats, terrain, or anything but pencil paper & dice, pure 'Theater of the Mind' as they say.

My events seem quite boring from superficial description, so I don't describe them. An accurate summary of my "Saturday Night Special" (6-hr game this past weekend in Dallas): The town guardsmen ambled down the western road, helped a local farm family with a minor fire, crossed the river bridge, and then got kicked out of that realm by a witch. That's it. Yawn? Think again... nonstop fun, laughing, tension, excitement, everything.

So how the heck do these work so well? Just showmanship (Frank the Ham), cute bits and fast dialogue, or something else? These are jaded roleplayers, familiar with Tolkien high-fantasy showdowns and epic stuff. How then does a minor low-combat snoozer compete at ALL, let alone excel?

I think it's about investment and focus, but I'm still working on it.

I deemphasize crunch and premade character and system details, waive away all that memorization and the ancillary reward system, and focus on player contributions. If you add personalized touches, I weave them into the narrative. If you add backstory, that becomes OUR backstory. And so forth. Instead of asking you to appreciate MY ideas (or a published scenario), it's YOUR ideas. Players take ownership. It's truly THEIR game, not mine.

The results are amazing. Outrageously good, fun, and different games; no more of the same-old.
Instead of enjoying My Story and My Ideas, we're doing it together. Makes quite a difference.

You'll find me at various local conventions, still working on this 'new' approach. I still can't describe the adventures in advance; YOU are creating them on the spot. And it's not just 'story games'; character details and die rolls still matter. But the feel, the style, is totally different from the mainstream. And it's totally working. (Just ask my players.)

Your input is welcome as always.

(reposted from FB)
Frank Mentzer
My friend Gary changed the world.

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Re: Storytelling

Post by Sturm » Wed Jun 07, 2017 2:53 pm

On another continent, so probably unable to attend to such events, but many good advices in this post!
Very much agree on everything, indeed it is no accident you created my favourite RpG edition :)

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