Rehabilitating " Story Boarding"

Yeah, I know, weird to start a conversation when S-G is powering down, but anyways...

So, I'm looking for ideas about how to use one of those unbeloved, degenerate gaming forms in a positive way, namely Story-Boarding.

I'm not sure this even has a working definition, but here is my understanding of the term:
Definition ( for this discussion): Story Boarding
A phenomenon that can occur in games with heavy scene setting *, where almost all of the events and outcomes of the scene are worked out prior to actually playing the scene. Having done this, players then go back and play the scene, adding mostly color ( dialog, etc) to an already-known series of events. Considered a negative term ( much like Railroading). Origin in movie making, then applied to gaming.

*Also often games with dispersed GM duties

So, I've been thinking about this recently. I know some folks already do something like this ( I believe that Emma Ex's games almost always work this way, if I understand correctly).


I want to use it for a game that, well, is kinda movie-inspired anyway, and where more distant player stances ( author, director) are the norm, rather than the more commonly seen actor stance.


How can I make this work and have it still be a source of interest for the players, and how and where can I still leave creative vacuums and perhaps some bits of randomness is resolution mechanics to keep things interesting?



The floor is open

Comments

  • Not directly it but close : propositions. Players can propose an ending for a session or a scene. Then the mechanics and play roll on to see whether the proposition will come true or not. It's not the same in that the end is not decided. It's very similar in that everybody has a clear idea of where we're heading.
  • I like that very much!

    At what point would that be done? Before the scene starts? Can the propositions be altered or modified part way through the scene?
  • edited May 28
    I am glad that you like the idea, it's my nano domain of expertise.
    Many games work with propositions set ahead of time. Systems with conflict resolution do this to some extent. Systems with advancement clocks do this to another extent. I prefer to let anything go : some ideas will fly, others will wither, other emerge mid-scene. Scene framing is never a problem when the stakes (and the boundaries) are clear .

    Presenting propositions as questions is useful for a number of reasons. The main is that everybody gets how it works when you put it this way :
    Will the volcano destroy the village ?
    Will Janet rescue James from the shed ?
    Who is the mysterious figure James saw in the distance ?
    Will Janet burn in the flames ?
    Will they kiss ?
    etc.

    Altering propositions eschews the whole idea. But you can merge and schism them as long as you don't make babies to simple logic. Which in the end can get you the same result as altering them, but I've never seen that. It really depends on the system you put around.
  • One of my very favorite games, My Daughter the Queen of France, does this. I recommend playing it to see how it does iterative scenes, going from broad strokes to detailed. It also has a mix of author/actor stance that's very fun to play. (It's got a Shakespeare setting, but we always play it in modern day)
  • You are correct that storyboarding is a major component of my play.
  • Hmm, you both have my mind turning.


    What do you all think of this basic concept:
    One player sets scene

    Before the start of play, the scene setting player must offer one proposition in the form of a question.

    Then each other player may offer one proposition in the form of a question.

    After all other players have had their opportunity, the scene setting player may
    offer a second proposition in the form of a question.


    The scene may be closed after any one of the questions is answered by majority vote. If majority does not wish to wend scene at that point, scene continues until at least one more proposition is answered, at which point scene-setting player decides to end or continue.
  • You are correct that storyboarding is a major component of my play.
    Nifty! I'm working on something that's right now literally being called The Story Boarders, and it's conceit is that the players are making a movie. Or TV pilot. Or something. But doing it on the fly.

    Have you ever had a problem explaining the fun that goes with storyboarding to people used to more traditional style RPGs?

    How did you get that concept across to them.

    I'm not looking to story board quite as much as you do, but a lot closer than traditional games ( not looking to go back and replay as much; trying to get dialog and such down in one shot)
  • Why not let everybody make all sorts of propositions ? ;P
  • It's a very interesting topic.

    I think Emma is our "resident expert" on this sort of play!

    For people who "get" this, I think, the most naturally, are people trained in acting/theatre/television. They are used to "playing out" a preset plot, storyline, dialogue, or going into scenes with an endpoint in mind.

    RPGs have long been all about "the freedom to do anything you want!", as a way to differentiate them from other "games", so that idea can be foreign to gamers.

    As for historically:

    I remember when My Life with Master was written: it certainly wasn't a "story boarding" game, but it had a defined endpoint in the form of an "endgame". This is, to some extent, the first explicit formulation of this kind of thing in a well-known RPG (unless we include D&D's "level limits"). It's not just that there is an ending to the story we're heading towards... it's the whole idea that the game has an ending in the first place. Shocking, right?!?

    The basic assumptions of RPG play from the beginning were that a) "you can do anything you want", and b) that you're "going to keep playing this campaign together forever".

    My Life with Master was received by a lot (most? many?) of gamers as a heresy. "That's not a real RPG!", went the cries. The whole idea that the game had an ending AT ALL was sacrilege, and fundamentally anti-RPG, in their minds. (I bet a lot of people still feel this way!)

    Now we have a lot more variety in game structures, which I think is really cool. We have endgames, we have Destinies in Archipelago (we don't know anything about your character's story, except that it will end like so), we have games with formal Act structures (like My Daughter the Queen of France and Witch), and so forth.

    Of course, in some ways, the traditional "Illusionist" (railroaded) D&D/trad game is a form of this, in a way, too. It's just not very explicit about it, which can be a problem (though not for everyone!).
  • Why not let everybody make all sorts of propositions ? ;P
    Think of my version of the mechanic as the training wheels version.

    Do that first, then, once you have that down ( as a play group) take off the training wheels and throw them away and go way more freeform, as you suggest.
  • My experience with games like Shinobigami is that players tend to take to this really quickly once they get over that initial "Wait, what do you mean I'm in charge of what happens?" hump.

    It's all the fun of GMing without any of the overwrought handwringing about how hard you work and how nobody appreciates you.
  • You are correct that storyboarding is a major component of my play.
    Have you ever had a problem explaining the fun that goes with storyboarding to people used to more traditional style RPGs?

    How did you get that concept across to them.
    I wouldn't say I've ever adequately explained the concept to people more into traditional style RPGs, unless some of the people here count. My group is all fiction writers and freeform roleplay people who were fundamentally unhappy with traditional RPGs the times they played them, so there wasn't really any explaining with them. It was more of a "Hey, here's a game that does things the way we want to do things. Let's all learn it and play it together", you know?

    I feel like if I were trying to explain it to more traditional people, I'd probably emphasize it being a completely different activity. It's not a traditional style RPG. There's not really even any shared DNA, unless you're really digging into a lot of complex stuff with the history of role-playing, and thinking in an extremely galaxy brain way/
    I'd describe it to a traditional RPG person as being a combination of fiction-writing and experimental theatre. It's writing the scenes and acting them out on the fly, with exact wordings being improvised, and things being played in an experimental style where actions are described instead of performed. Which like, there's some experimental theatre styles that already work that way, you know? The names are escaping me, but I know it's a thing I've read about.

    If I were explaining it to people already versed in storygame-type stuff and other experimental RPGs, I'd compare it to jeepform, but with mechanization that allows us to write our own stories and use mechanics for multiple stories instead of having to just stick to individual published scenarios. Kind of like a jeepform system, but with more mechanics than jeep typically uses.
  • It's a very interesting topic.

    I think Emma is our "resident expert" on this sort of play!

    For people who "get" this, I think, the most naturally, are people trained in acting/theatre/television. They are used to "playing out" a preset plot, storyline, dialogue, or going into scenes with an endpoint in mind.

    RPGs have long been all about "the freedom to do anything you want!", as a way to differentiate them from other "games", so that idea can be foreign to gamers.
    Theatre is definitely a good touchstone here, but I'd compare it more to fiction-writing, since you're writing stuff yourself. Storyboarding is outlining and planning scenes. Playing through scenes is actually writing them. For the sake of the metaphor, it's putting the words on paper.
    Writers with some casual interest in acting is I think who I would say most intuitively "gets" it, you know? Or generally writers who are big fans of some visual mediums (anime, or comics, or something) who often think in a paradigm of scenes being conceptually played out.
  • Hmm, I suspect you're right about not even bothering to call what I'm working on an RPG (or similar).

    It's occurred to me before to just give it its own personal name and let other folks figure out where they categorize it on their own. Treat it like one of those related activities things. If you like aspects 1& 2 of Game/Activity A, you might really like Game B, which focusses in on those activities! ( Or not :D)

    Out of curiosity, what would you call it when you're story-boarding, but one scene/chapter/whatever at a time, then getting into the nitty gritty of fleshing that out, and only having a broad overall design for the flow of events/plot ?
  • FWIW this is very much like how my group and I ended up playing Fiasco. We had pretty much only played D&D up to that point (maybe ten candles as well?). We honestly couldn't figure out any another way to play it. I think there are rules around who frames the scene vs who decides how to resolve the scene, and you get a different colored dice depending on how the scene is resolved (it's been a while). But we threw a lot of that out because everyone wanted to involve the rest of the group in planning the scene.

    It was a lot of fun and no one was like "hey wait a second this ISN'T an rpg, I've been duped!". I actually think there is something comforting for new players about getting group buy in and knowing what's going to happen. I'd like to learn to play Fiasco the way it was intended, but what we ended up doing was really satisfying too.

  • Out of curiosity, what would you call it when you're story-boarding, but one scene/chapter/whatever at a time, then getting into the nitty gritty of fleshing that out, and only having a broad overall design for the flow of events/plot ?
    That's realistically just a different approach to writing, and it's a fairly common one. Discovery Writing. It's not really as effective for like, writing a coherent novel as more structured writing, but for a scenario where the standards aren't quite so high, it's definitely workable.
  • edited May 28
    Is that the proper or broadly understood term, Discovery Writing?

    The overall conceit of the system is that the players are working for an eccentric film studio owner. They are given a broad outline of concept, some possible directions and/or feel, a couple of references to pre-existing similar media, and then expected to flesh it out and complete it in a limited amount of real world play time.

    @ebear :smile:

    I seem to recall doing something similar the first time I played Fiasco as well. My buddy was more versed in it and tried to keep us on track, but the urge was certainly there. And, yeah, it was fun that way too.
  • It's all the fun of GMing without any of the overwrought handwringing about how hard you work and how nobody appreciates you.
    Heh. I've always rather liked that about GMful games as well.

  • Yeah, the writing angle is fair, as well - theatre and writing borrow and overlap here, in terms of skills.

    But neither is unfamiliar to roleplayers: it's just not normally evenly distributed. (After all, lots of traditional games have had pre-scripted story before!)

    I think what makes it uniquely RPG is that as story is being created by a group with no audience outside of that group; the audience and the participants are one and the same.
    <
    That's realistically just a different approach to writing, and it's a fairly common one. Discovery Writing. It's not really as effective for like, writing a coherent novel as more structured writing, but for a scenario where the standards aren't quite so high, it's definitely workable.
    Just a sidenote:

    Some would beg to differ on this point. There are lots of highly acclaimed writers who do not do "structured writing", and even speak out against it. It's a fairly controversial topic, with people taking strong stances on either side.

    (The general argument is that overly structured writing creates predictable and formulaic stories; actually not too different from what "play to find out" fans in RPG land complain about. :) )
  • I think what makes it uniquely RPG is that as story is being created by a group with no audience outside of that group; the audience and the participants are one and the same.
    There are definitely questions of character autonomy (assuming the game has character-player monogamy) and the necessary give and take between a director's authority over a scene and the players' authority over their characters within those scenes.

    I think there's a lot of room to think about how to uphold both, and how those techniques influence the stories you end up telling using them. How to carry other characters without compromising your own, stuff like that. Part of framing scenes with this in mind, I think, entails having a lot of open space for how something's going to actually get done, even when the structure of the game demands it does get done.
  • Yeah, I was going to say something about character autonomy, but then I realized that a lot of games that fit into this space (including some aspects of Emma's games, I think) don't really care about character autonomy. (Any game where you take turns narrating stuff from an omniscient perspective, for example.)
  • I give no damns whatsoever about character monogamy or autonomy in what I'm working on. :)
  • Nobody has mentioned Archipelago yet. It uses destiny points. Players write them for each other before play begins. A player chooses which destiny point to play towards.
  • "Discovery Writing" is a fairly common term, yeah.
  • Nobody has mentioned Archipelago yet. It uses destiny points. Players write them for each other before play begins. A player chooses which destiny point to play towards.
    (Ahem! I sure did.)
  • I'm very much doing a spin off from Archipelago for the core of this.
  • @Paul_T I was scanning the thread quickly this morning.
  • No problem! :)
  • BTW, does anyone have a pithy term for character semi-autonomy?

    Situation:
    GM-less/GM-ful game set up.

    The characters are a pool of characters that theoretically anyone can use in scenes ( so maybe a bit more like Microscope in this regard).

    On the other hand, clearly some players are developing and portraying certain characters more frequently, or with more intensity, or with more ongoing development of the character, or more first person dialog and emoting.

    But...they still don't exclusively own the character and the stances used in the game are still the more removed stances.


    How the heck to you describe and name that situation succinctly in normal, every day, non-jargon language ?



  • semi-player-characters, demi-player-characters
  • Why do you need to distinguish that from "no character monogamy"? Is it meaningfully different somehow?
  • What about games where you do have your own character, but can also play some of the non-player characters when your character is not in the spotlight, like Archipelago?
  • That setup is different from a game like Being John
  • edited May 31
    Ergo : A good name would be that of a game famous for doing just that.
    "You know that sort of games where all the players play the same PC. A Malkovitch ? Yeah, just like in Being John."

    Maybe there should be a new thread for this question. It's quite different from "story boarding"
    So the question becomes : which games are famous for players not being strictly character monogamous ? Due to how empathy works, character polygamy is bound to make room for preferences.
    By another route, I'd use a sport analogy and call this a "character stable".
    Also, I've heard Eero_Tuovinen use the term "troupe play" for Ars Magica but I think it is a bit different in that each player has its own stable. The situation you describe is exactly what happens in Capes, so "character stable a la Capes" would be my private name for it.
  • Man, I'm going to miss you guys. Even when I don't necessarily follow someone's suggestions directly, you're collectively this great sounding board that helps me talk through to solutions

    First off, Character Stable ( or just Stable) are great terms, and I may well end up using that somewhere.

    To be less mysterious, I'm working on a GMless/GMful design, that has something like modules or at least adventure starters that are handed off to the play group. The whole thing is Hollywood themed. That's the conceit anyway: The players are a group of developers, trying to take a bare bones outline and concept and turn it into a film.

    So it's one-shot ( at a time), semi-cooperative, but the challenges are in the following things:

    1) Whatever is created needs to balance novelty with cliché.

    2) There is play against the clock. There are a limited number of scenes and a limited amount of real time to play the game, and post-play wrap up procedures are must haves

    3) Individual players need to balance putting their stamp of creativity on the thing with the success of the project as a whole ( see point 2 above).

    That barebones outline/concept sheet includes characters (or character types) that almost certainly will be in the film, as well as implied characters. None are completely developed ( they'd have, one, maybe two sentences of description). Some may not have much in the way of names or motivations or background. That's part of what players are supposed to develop/evolve during play.

    Buuuutt… I also think I want players to have groups of characters that they have first dibs on when comes to playing the characters in scenes. And those groups of characters should also be set up in a way that two characters by the same player are unlikely to be in a scene together ( unless the second has a very minor roll in the scene).




    So yeah, I don't even know what to call that. A stolen film-making or play-writing term would be great.
  • Why do you need to distinguish that from "no character monogamy"? Is it meaningfully different somehow?
    I'm not honestly sure.

    I'm already working with a design where players are supposed to step back a bit from direct character identification. Yes, get into the characters' heads because it creates greater dramatic situations in scene setting and hopefully better, more memorable character dialog. OTOH, you want to be removed enough to be able to send that character to their utter ruin during the course of play and be happy doing so.

    So, removed stances. Very often Director stance for all players during play.

    OTOH, any given player probably largely in charge of 2 major and/or supporting characters and 1-3 minor or supporting characters or walk-on, one-line extras. That player is expected to develop those characters and portray them in scenes. In theory, I guess they could pass them off or swap them over play, but it would never be with a goal of de facto reducing their stable to a single character.

    Likewise, another player can never directly take over portrayal of a character in your stable without your permission. That of course ultimately means they can't kill a character in your stable without permission ( or without some sort of mechanic being engaged).

    This? I have no idea what to call that situation.

  • Why do you need a special term?
  • It would make it easier than explaining each time it comes up.
  • I think you’ll still have to.
  • Sometimes having specialised terms can help hammer home the fact that a certain activity or idea is fundamentally different from what you've become accustomed to!
  • character monogamy/non-monogamy is pretty specialized!
  • So I thought some more about this.

    I'm still looking for a decent term for the overall concept, simply to short-hand things a bit. Suggestions welcomed.

    I think I'm going with DeReel's suggestion of Stable [of characters] until and unless something even more Hollywood sounding comes along. It's functional.


    What I had considered was coming up with a more firm way to decide which player ends up with which characters in their stable initially.


    I thought vaguely about having a process with a list of characters, starting in order of assumed probability of appearance/importance to the game. It of course includes characters at odds with one another ( since it is GM-less).


    Round 1 of choosing characters starts with any player, then proceeds clockwise.


    Round 2 goes counterclockwise and involves choosing another character that has a relation ( what sort? ) to the character of the person to your right.

    Round 3 goes clockwise, and you choose a character that has a relationship (What sort ?)to either of the characters owned by the player to your left.


    By that point, assuming there are 3-5 players, that's a lot of semi-named/developed/conceptualized characters. I have no idea if anything else at all is needed for even more minor characters or if they can be left as created-as-need One-line extras later in play.


    That is, literally, as far as I got. I was half-asleep. Anyone want to help me flesh that out into something fnctional?
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