Generic story games

edited January 2010 in Story Games
I'd like to open a discussion on generic story games. Archipelago II is one such game that springs to mind; games that can be used to tell any story, in that they supply both the means to create a setting and resolve narrative challenges within it without predefined fictional elements. Do I presume to much in this definition?

Personally, I've always been turned off by generic games, always allowing a specific setting to grab my imagination and guide my enthusiasm for a certain game. I was made aware of Archipelago II (and the Norwegian Style blog) after reading J. Morningstar's Last Train Out of Warsaw and, while I appreciate the workmanship of Archipelago, I wouldn't be quite so admiring of it had Last Train not revealed its potential to me. Interestingly, however, it's a huge subversion - while Archipelago II is generic and thus leaves great potential for creation, Last Train doesn't even allow you to create the character you play (not to say this is at all a negative thing).

Conan, what is best in life? Potential for invention, or narrative focus? Or?

Finally: The chance to author a setting and characters from the ground up in a sandbox situation is one thing but it strikes me that a system which furnishes a group with the means to enact any story they can devise, should perhaps, in addition to the means of conflict resolution, offer formal structure?

I'm aware Archipelago II isn't the only game of its type, it just made for an easy example. I hope this piques your interest.

-Mike.

Comments

  • What sorts of formal structure were you thinking of Mike?

    Archipelago definitely has some structure that's easy to miss, especially until you take into account the role of players as "canon keepers" over certain specific areas, the use of destiny points created by other players (yet the specific destiny point used chosen by the owner of the character), and the co-creation of the setting.

    What's interesting to me is the way that re-interpreting the concepts of "islands" and "ocean" can make Archipelago into a much different sort of game than it was originally designed as by Matthjis. The first game of it I played re-interepreted the set up to create an astroid belt setting, but you could very easily take it further, making the "ocean" High School and the "islands" social cliques, for example. I'd also done a bit of pondering regarding hacking it for a WW2 resistance game, with the the islands becoming cells or factions rather than literal geographic areas.

    Uniersalis is another very open-ended storygame you might want to look into. It has a scene structure and resource economy built into it, as well as group situation/world creation.
  • Komrade, the sorts of formal structure that encourage focused story telling. The "keepers" in Archipelago are certainly as example of this - disagreements as to certain aspects of play are avoided by giving each player control over a setting element, enabling concise gameplay via swift policy-making. Fates are another example: players are made aware of where to direct a scene as one in a series; the narrative goal for which they strive. Without either, I feel Archipelago play would slow and meander confusingly.

    I like the idea of interpreting the islands politically. I wish you luck.
  • F# is another generic storygame - the engine is a stripped down version of FATE. Players create setting and characters in play with Aspects and rolls. It's on my list of games to try next time I meet up with storygamers.
  • Archipelago doesn't seem like a generic story game to me. It seems to tell a rather particular kind of story.
  • Posted By: jasonArchipelago doesn't seem like a generic story game to me. It seems to tell a rather particular kind of story.
    Can you explain?

    I mean, I don't think Archipelago is completely generic by any stretch, but I'd like to hear your particular take on it.
  • I'm having a hard time working out where games like GURPS and Savage Worlds and HERO don't fit into this definition:
    Posted By: Potemkingames that can be used to tell any story, in that they supply both the means to create a setting and resolve narrative challenges within it without predefined fictional elements.
    GURPS doesn't contain any kind of story structuring elements, though. It uses a GM to resolve narrative challenges.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI'm having a hard time working out where games like GURPS and Savage Worlds and HERO don't fit into this definition:
    No one said they fell outside the purview of "generic", did they?

    Or are you remarking on their omission from the list? Because if so, the answer should be pretty self-revealing - potemkin wasn't including "that kind of game" in his definition of story games.
  • Yeah, Mike, what do you mean by story games?

    As Jason said, GURPS, Savage Worlds, and HERO all fit your definition in the OP. However, we all realize these are games that prejudice a pre-defined description of player character capabilities, and leave narrative, plot, and pacing concerns to the GM's discretion. Since these games are all very popular, I assume you weren't talking about them, but instead about games where the rules directly address the flow of the narrative and/or prejudice player authorship without providing much in the way of mandatory fiction?

    Universalis and F# were already mentioned. There's also a less-stripped-down version of FATE, called FATE 2.0.

    There's also Primetime Adventures and the Solar System rules (the generic version of Shadow of Yesterday). Other than Fate, they are probably the most well-known "generic story-games."

    Many games are generic except for a general conceit (that is still more specific than "tv show"): Dread is generic, but always horror. Mortal Coil is generic, as long as there is magic. Best Friends is generic as long as you play girlfriends. Diaspora is generic hard sci-fi. Shock is generic issue-oriented sci-fi.
  • Posted By: JohnstoneYeah, Mike, what do you mean by story games?
    You'll never take me alive! [Leaps from window]

    Hmm... In my mind (and probably only in my mind) a story game is distinct from a more traditional roleplaying game in that the primary objective of play is the collaborative creation of a narrative by the players and a tacit knowledge of this objective by the same. While it can be successfully argued that all roleplaying games might, by definition, be included in this interpretation I believe there is a clear distinction demarked by design-intention and player-practice.

    ... please don't kill me.
  • Are people really confused about what someone means by "story games" when they use that word, especially with adequate context?
    Really?
  • Posted By: Potemkin... please don't kill me.
    Cool, Mike. And, uh, wink wink nudge nudge, we all knew what you meant.

    Would you prefer a generic game to come packaged with an example of how to use the rules work with specific fictional elements?

    Does a comparison of Archipelago and Last Train Out of Warsaw give you ideas for using other games in a generic fashion? It's quite common to see people using one game's rules to play something else, say using Agon to play Delta Green, or Lacuna to play Krull, or 1001 Nights to play Warhammer 40K.
    Posted By: joepubReally?
    Do you really want anybody to answer this? Cause, like, by asking Mike for a definition, I was kinda hoping to cockblock Jason so he wouldn't have an excuse to mention GURPS again.
  • Posted By: Johnstone Cause, like, by asking Mike for a definition, I was kinda hoping to cockblock Jason so he wouldn't have an excuse to mention GURPS again.
    I feel used!
  • That's what you get when you read the part of the post that's not for you! Haha!
  • Posted By: joepubAre people really confused about what someone means by "story games" when they use that word, especially with adequate context?
    Really?
    I'm not confused at all, I think by every conceivable useful definition, GURPS is a story game. :)

    But having mentioned it, I need not belabor the point.
  • edited January 2010
    I'll add a +1 for Solar System.

    Having played The Shadow of Yesterday in a couple different forms (including Lady Blackbird, which I think owes the largest part of its DNA to TSoY), I didn't think Solar System would interest me, but I just got it, and it makes me want to play about 100 different kinds of games.

    And it's only five bucks.
  • Posted By: BWAAnd it's onlyfive bucks.
    Any chance of getting that in a pdf?
  • A free and open version of the rules for The Shadow of Yesterday.
  • Posted By: komradebobI mean, I don't think Archipelago is completely generic by any stretch, but I'd like to hear your particular take on it.
    Well, in the rules themselves, Matthijs writes, "I wrote this game trying to capture the feeling of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books. I wanted a game of grand destinies, that at the same time had time to dwell on the details of plants, words, everyday lives."

    Granted, you can come up with any any setting you like, but the rules of the game trend any story you tell with it in a certain direction. I'd say Matthijs succeeded; it really seems to focus on stories about characters who have a destiny, and push towards that destiny, consciously or otherwise.

    "But Jason," I hear you say, (oh hypothetical reader), "doesn't that really describe all stories? The destiny mechanic could mean as little as where your character ends up; its use merely keeps the story from wandering too much, so you build towards some conclusion." To which I respond with a challenge: would Archipelago work to play a game based on Camus' The Stranger?
  • There are pleanty of games where you could just take the mechanical engine and it would meet your requirements. I've done this recently for a short game of Houses of the Blooded where we just used the core mechanic and ditched the Shanri setting, and as the PDF is $5 (USD) it is a cost effective option.
  • The Stranger is an existential piece. I'd defy anyone to run a satisfying game of it in any system (although I would be pleasantly surprised to later eat these words). There are some narratives that simply repel conversion to the game-table, however specific or generic. Imagine Notes from the Underground or The Metamorphosis preformed by your group!
  • I'd run The Stranger with Polaris, and it'd work, too.

    Graham
  • Posted By: PotemkinThe Strangeris an existential piece. I'd defy anyone to run a satisfying game of it in any system (although I would be pleasantly surprised to later eat these words). There are some narratives that simply repel conversion to the game-table, however specific or generic. ImagineNotes from the UndergroundorThe Metamorphosispreformed by your group!
    I wrote a game for playing a satircal, lampooned version of Notes from Underground.
    It's called Dostoevskyan Murder Ballad.

    I've since grown weary of it, but when I was into that game... many an awesome session was had.

    Sessions where mopey, insecurity-riddled characters had their lives fall apart, all to the delight of the people around the table.
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: joepub
    I wrote a game for playing a satircal, lampooned version of Notes from Underground.
    It's called Dostoevskyan Murder Ballad.
    You must imagine me rounding on you and gripping you by the lapels. Kiss me, you beautiful man!

    Edit: Just finished reading through Dostoevskyan Murder Ballad. It has its flaws but, God, that's a gem I never knew existed. I commend you thoroughly and would whole-heatedly recommend you finish your Dostoevsky; you may be inspired to write that revised edition I know you have in you.

    Excellent! Excellent! I'm so happy! Ha ha ha! Beautiful, beautiful man!
  • Posted By: TeatainePosted By: BWAAnd it's onlyfive bucks.
    Any chance of getting that in a pdf?

    Yes, Solar System is available as a pdf from my own site. I would agree that it's universal (in that it can be used in pretty much any sort of setting you'd care to imagine), but generic... that's a different kettle of fish. Wouldn't a generic story game need to be devoid of any bias as to what sorts of stories you'd tell with it? Solar System, for example, presumes protagonists and strength that correlates with identity, as well as responsibility correlating with strength - not the most generic model of storytelling imaginable.

    Universalis is much more bland/generic as an example, and so is GURPS, which has no narrative model to speak of.
  • I, perhaps to my shame, cannot think of a generic story game yet to be built that's entirely generic.
    The mechanics of any game will invariably suggest what kind of story is to be produced even if it's just by ruling that, for example, all players own a central character and all players must have a roughly equal amount of the lime-light. That's not to say this overtly manipulates us into a certain setting or genre, but we now have to face up to multiple protagonists/antagonists which puts a small restriction on play-style.
    Following this line of thinking, generic purity can only be found in freeform. Which, some may argue, isn't a game at all.
  • Wushu is a great generic story game. It isn't very good for long term play, but it is fun for short spurts.
  • My favorite generic story games are Dogs in the Vineyard and Mouse Guard. You can use them to run most any premise in which a group of "set apart" characters travel between various places trying to make things better... and that's covers 90% of the content of most roleplaying games.
  • edited January 2010
    Posted By: LaughingJackWiltonWushu is a great generic story game. It isn't very good for long term play, but it is fun for short spurts.
    Wushu definitely needs to get more love around here. A lot of times I see scenarios — like a Transformers game in another thread — where Wushu would be the perfect fit without any modification needed at all. I agree that it's not well-suited to a long campaign, but it's just the thing for scenarios that don't call for a lot of crunch but plenty of narrative freedom.
  • Wushu is great for that sort of game. It is also good for games where you need a warm up before the game starts. Have a running game that is played while you are waiting for everyone to get there and be settled. It doesn't have to make sense, but it gets everyone going.
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