Lately I’ve become very excited by tabletop storygames and also indie RPGs in general. Most storygames are indie, but not all indie RPGs are storygames; that being said, the indie games I’ve been exposed to tend to be rules-light and more focused on storytelling than mechanics.
Storygames often have affinities to RPGs, live storytelling, story structure, and/or improv. As the Story Games Codex defines it, a tabletop storygame is “a type of role-playing game experience with a lesser focus on “My Character” and a greater focus on “Our Story” (meaning the story that all the players at the table want to make).” Since as a role player, I am firmly in the narrativist camp, these storygames are an intriguing new avenue for me to explore.
This past weekend, I had a few friends over to try out the storygame Fiasco for the first time. Fiasco is a storytelling GM-less game that focuses on telling “capers gone wrong” stories a la the Coen Brothers, Snatch, and the Italian Job. You roleplay the story, breaking it into two acts, two scenes per act per player. The game uses six-sided dice as a mechanic for choosing elements for your story from a bunch of charts, deciding whether things go well or poorly during each scene, and determining some twists and your characters’ endings.
I had a great time trying a system that puts storytelling ahead of mechanics. It was very challenging for a diehard outliner like myself to participate in a game with sixteen scenes that I couldn’t outline ahead of time, but the difficulty was part of what made it fun for me. Plus I am really motivated to play several more times to try to improve my pantsing skills. While Act 1 lagged for us as we tried to figure out what to do, Act 2 really picked up, and the endings were hilarious and satisfying.
In fact, I’m so excited about these games that I’ve compiled a list of games I’d like to try in the future:
1. Spirit of the Century: Okay, I’m actually in the middle of a campaign in this system. It deserves its own post, but for now, suffice it to say that the system is made of awesome. It’s a pulp adventure game tailored specifically for one shots. It does need a GM, however.
2. Microscope: A world building storygame about epic histories. I have access to this game, so I’m hoping to try it out soon!
3. Monsterhearts: I have this on order and I’m super excited about it. It’s a storygame set in a high school where the students are discovering mystical powers (aka Witch, Werewolf, Chosen One, etc.) with a Buffy flavor. I’d love to play a longer campaign to try out this one.
4. Shooting the Moon: A love triangle storygame.
5. A Penny for My Thoughts: A game about trauma and lost memory. (After working so long on The Academy of Forgetting, this game sounds like a great fit for me and my interests.)
6. The Shab-al-Hiri-Roach: A game about competitive and backstabbing professors in a small-town university. I wish I owned tweed, because I would wear it while playing this game.
7. Shock: Social Science Fiction: To be honest, I don’t really understand what this one is about yet exactly. But it references Ursula Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Philip K. Dick in its flavor text, so I want to find out.
8. Polaris: A storygame about brave knights living in a corrupting world. Yes please.
9. Primetime Adventures: An RPG in which you and your friends put on a TV show.
10. The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen: A wagering storygame in which you sit around telling wild stories.
11. Once Upon a Time: A storytelling card game.
12. Gloom: A perverse card game telling the tragic story of a group of misanthropes.
14. Winter Tales: This board game is coming out later this year so it’s a little hard to tell exactly what it is. It might be a story-based board game similar to Tales of the Arabian Nights, but it looks like its mechanics are a bit more involved and focused on collaborative storytelling. Stay tuned!
Have you ever played any of the above games? Do you have more games I should add to my list?