my story - isolated text in vintage letterpress wood type printing blocksI just thought of something. There are two types of role playing games: Games that enable you to tell a story and games that enable you to create a story.

By Paco Garcia Jaen

My friend Jim and I often talk about games that enable good story telling vs. games that are just a killing spree with less focus on the story telling. We often disagree, as he finds games like Pathfinder or D&D generic, repetitive and, basically, not great, whereas I love a dungeon treasure hunting spree like a pig loves a mud bath and think they can be great.

Therefore I will start by stating that I believe there are very few shitty games out there. There are games I like more than others and certainly there are games I don’t like at all, but very few shitty games. Those shitty games are usually games full of sexism, racist tropes or nonsense like that (and believe me there are a number of those games out there).

After a few conversations with Jim about the topic I just ended wondering why he didn’t like some games and liked another ones. And I think the only difference I can think of is that some games allow you to tell the story and be part of it, whereas another games allow you to create the story as you are a part of it.

Let’s take Pathfinder or D&D as examples. When you are playing any of their adventures, the story has been written for you. The locations are there and you can do whatever you like, but unless you do certain things, advancing the story is hard to impossible.

Yes, you can reach a town and visit all its locations and interact with all its citizens in whatever way you want. You can even decide if you want to visit the locations in the adventure in one order or another. But sometimes if you don’t visit a particular location, or defeat a particular monster, advancing is not easy, and if you don’t advance, the story stalls because it has been written for you already.

There is a beginning and chapters that, usually, are defined by some conflict that has to be resolved, thus creating the illusion that the story is unfolding in front of you because you drive the pace and the tone of the adventure, but you don’t create it. You can add to it, make it longer or shorter, but you can’t really create it.

Then we have games that allow you to create your own adventure. You are given just a few pointers and then you take it from there and the players decide what happens, how, the consequences…. everything.

To avoid using any of Jim’s games, let’s use In Spectres. If you don’t know that game, please take a look, it is fantastic. Think of Ghost Busters and you pretty much know what sort of game it is. In that game the players actually create the story. They are told at the start that something is going on –  it can be a strange sound, something disappearing, a sighting… anything – and the players take it from there. They can decide if it is a ghost, or  demon, or a vampire, or a wizard, or just a human playing tricks.

The GM has to make a few decisions, like when to roll the dice or how some of the creatures or pnjs behave, but little else.

Saying “little else” is a bit of a disservice, because that game and their ilk are the hardest to  run. The GM has to constantly deal with the improvisation from the players, offering help when the players are stuck and generally wondering what will happen next.

So I wonder what games people generally prefer.

I don’t mind either, as long as it is fun, though I must admit I have a slight preference for games that allow you to create your own stories.

But how about you?