Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Big Game Hunting - Should GM’s have a storyboard?

One of my friends was in chat with me the other evening and was idly talking about gaming and ideas for games and asking about some of the stuff that I write, when we hit on one of the questions that she’d always meant to ask, but hadn’t remembered before.

Should GM’s have a storyboard?

That’s kinda like asking whether a writer should have a plot but bear with me on this.

One of the major areas players have a problem with gaming is when they’re put in a position of feeling like they’re not playing the game – they have no control and are instead being shoehorned into a story that doesn’t work for them, or anyone else in the party. In other words, their GM isn’t so much as giving them a place to play and explore as putting them into a linear story that can’t be influenced. In some cases, in other words, a rigid story isn’t a good idea. But rigid stories and storyboards aren't quite the same thing.

As a writer, I’ve spent the last seven or so years listening to one main male voice in my head. His name is Elliot and he’s the main character in seven of my books and lives in a universe with two other characters, which also have their own books. Elliot’s world or stories weren’t consciously storyboarded and unfolded as they went, but at the same time, I had this overarching ‘arc’ that was storyboarded, planned and meticulously plotted in my head. I’m sure many people would argue that you can’t do both, but I did. And as a GM I do the same thing.

Writing and designing games means that you have to have sets of storyboards in your head, but it’s a lot more flexible, because your GMs will eventually come up with the story themselves. But if you’re GMing, you’ve got to walk a very fine line – there has to be a goal, a story arc to reach for, but at the same time, you gotta give your players enough control over some of the incidents that are happening around them to ensure that they not only engage with the game, but feel like it’s positively contributing to the world around them. Only then can you be sure that your players are getting the most out of the game and are feeling good about how they move on from whatever predicament they’ve found themselves in. But, at the same time, it doesn’t mean that you’ve got do deal with your arc in a ‘linear, the players have to be involved too’ way – in fact, sometimes, the occasional element that slipped passed them (such as choosing to deal with one thing over another) makes things even more interesting. Games shouldn’t be about players being all powerful – in fact, kicking their feet out from under them occasionally because of their choices is a good thing.

Which is why I argue overarching storyboards are not only essential, but make the game more enjoyable.

This week, Kai has been starting at storyboards so much that she keeps thinking her conservatory windows are whiteboards...

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