In short I feel Story Games spend much of their game time talking about what the story is about while the traditional rpg's I play and run story is happening because we are playing the game. A common refrain I hear about Story Games is “it's about the story”, that somehow without giving PC's valuable session time to bloviate on what their character is about, what they have done, what matters to them a role playing game is terrible and being played wrong. Oh, also no one else at the table (think GM) can say what happens to their PC. I find the structure of a Story Game obliterates the stand out features of traditional RPG's to the point of making them unrecognizable, so much so they have a name; Story Games.
My latest game session once again reinforced my opinion that a traditional RPG delivers story in so many levels that the fall down for folks who cannot get a “story” out of traditional mechanics can't rise to the challenge. Role playing games offer a unique medium with incredible artistic and creative depth. Underneath the term “game” lies a medium which has no bottom, no limits to the quality of experienced to be realized. Therefore, with any artistic exploit, it is not easy to be good at it. And when I mean good I don't mean enjoyment. As a kid I enjoyed RPG's to the exclusion of almost any other activity. Doesn't mean I was any good at it. In fact I was keenly aware that there was much more to the game than my gaming group could really achieve. The D&D, Stormbringer and Gamma World rule books would mention this thing called a campaign? Where the game really shined as over the course of adventuring a world would be built up and the PC's would be a significant part of this. A Final Word in the original Classic Traveller rulebook sums it up nicely; “The greatest burden, of course, falls on the referee, who must create entire worlds and societies thorugh which the players will roam… The players themselves have a burden almost equal to that of the referee: they must move, act, travel in search of their own goals… Above all, the players and the referees must work together.”
Story Games remove and or minimize the Game Master's/Referee's role in a traditional RPG thereby creating something different. Which is all well and good, play the game you want. But to say a Story Game is the solution for not having story in your RPG is rubbish. It's like saying you can't paint like Picasso because there is something wrong with paint, canvas and a stick, the tools you paint with. No, while it is easy to paint it is difficult to paint creatively.
Today's session went like this; some of the players felt they had a cash flow problem. One of them didn't. Some of the players thought they should pursue a dubious means of solving the problem, one of them didn't. On top of this one of the players had a problem with the relations and deals the party had made with dubious factions through play at the present time. One of the players turned to me and asked, “Do I have to role play this out or can I just roll and try and influence the other player?” In my game rolls for the results of social interaction (bluffing, fast talk, intimidation, etc.) are reserved for NPC's. The players have complete autonomy when it comes to deciding what choices their PC's will make. “Look, you guys have to work this out.” And I usually punctuate the moment by clicking off my mic. This is their time and I want the party to sink or swim on their own desires, needs, wants, abilities and investment. In fact, they had a similar situation just the previous session. One character was not hot on letting the party's surgeon remove his recently acquired kangaroo tail through amputation. They had to work this out among themselves. Arguing the risk of death or permanent disability against the complications such an enchantment would cause for the party at large in the campaign world. This was all on them. And it wasn't the first time the subject had been brought up. Anyways, the tail did come off and the PC survived, but this doesn't mean there was a kumbaya moment where they all came out of the barn holding hands. No, the game's story is being made in real time with their choices and decisions. No one used an “edge” or a “move to direct the tale. There were no mechanics to be forced to help them out of a complicated situation. They argued, decided, and hoped for the best. And the PC's character, their personality, their “story” was made before all out of everyone's own imaginative clay. Good, bad, or indifferent as far as quality of “play”, they got what they got not because they followed some structured method of resolution, but because they made it, together.
Now back to today's session; the dissenting PC (on the cash grab) felt so strongly about it he refused to participate in the action. Once again there was no “my character wouldn't do that”, or “my aspect says I will do this” he played his story in real time, played his character his way, and surprise, surprise, with high fidelity based on what has happened to the PC during the course of play within the overall campaign. Because he was invested, because like everyone else around the table they put some decent effort into their role. And this shit happens all the time with the players. No one at the table is shy about arguing over choice, action and consequence. And this is the story. Sure we have arch villains, and mind-bending horrors to battle. Blood soaked combat and PC death, but it is in the session to session PC on PC interaction which makes each one of them stand out and a distinct and unique story emerges every session.
Are the best sessions when they interact with each other for hours and no dice are thrown? No, not at all. We get the extra icing on the cake because the campaign world is dangerous and adventure abounds. Sooner than later the dice must be rolled and catastrophe breathes heavy over their shoulder. Just because you gamed your balls off doesn't mean your PC has plot immunity. That just sounds too much like a Story Game.